By AntiMingebag on DeviantArt

Welcome to another post in my X-COM: Noises in the Dark actual play report! These are the PCs that participated in the mission:

  • Kendall Fairbarn: A paranoid Hacker from the UK. Was completely convinced human society had been heavily infiltrated by shape-changing aliens… and it turned out he wasn’t entirely wrong.
  • Minette Duvall: A bomb-disposal expert from Southern France, Minette is also quite handy with a rifle. She’s devoutly Catholic and swears a lot when faced with danger, which is all the time.
  • Niu Yulan (AKA Julia Yulan): A former hostage negotiatior from China, built without a template but approaching a shootier Face. Her innate kindness and empathy came in handy in several of the missions! Julia was ran by three different players during the lifetime of the campaign, which earns her a medal for Most Helpful Backup Character.
  • Jack Choi: A former police detective from Hong Kong, and a staunch adherent of the “kick down the door” school of policing despite his light frame. Also built without a template. His player dropped out of the planet near the end of the game, but not before making things interesting for the rest of the group.

Also part of the team were two NPCs: Valenkov from Russia and Gutierrez from Argentina, both built using the Shooter archetype. They were originally PCs, but their players quit before making even a single post and after I had established they were members of the squad. I always found it funny that Strike One never had a single PC Shooter who stayed on for a full mission. I mean, the PCs can shoot, but none of them make it their primary focus.

The Briefing

As we saw in the previous post in this series, the newly formed X-COM spent its first month of existence futilely scanning the planet for alien activity before they found anything actionable. And it came not from their state of the art spy satellite network, but from a Youtube video recorded by a 12 year old.

Her name was Gisela Vahlen, and she was Dr. Vahlen’s niece. The video was little more than a standard “family letter” message, recorded on a laptop camera in Gisela’s room, but anyone who watched could see that a lot was wrong with it. The girl had the look of someone who had been living in a war zone for months, and her room looked like part of said war zone. She struggled to maintain a cheery tone, despite the evident stress she had been under, and spoke in English instead of her native German.

Despite all the strangeness, a distressed Dr. Vahlen confirmed that it was indeed her niece, and that was indeed her room, battle damage notwithstanding. Pointing one of X-COM’s recon satellites at Cologne revealed an anomaly of some sort covering Gisela’s neighborhood. It looked as if someone had smudged the camera lens with a greasy finger. Infrared showed the same thing. And no one else in the world seemed to have noticed it. There were no news that anything was out of the ordinary in Cologne.

All of this was relayed to Strike One, our PC team, as part of the first in-character post of the mission. Their goal was to fly to Cologne, ensure the safety of the civilians in the area, put a stop to the anomaly, and gather information on the aliens, in that order.

There were some questions, but Mr. Fox was the first to admit their intel was crap on this op. The only things X-COM knew were the approximate area the anomaly covered, and that things seemed to be terrible inside it and functioning normally outside. At least it would be easy to evacuate from the zone. Dr. Sokolov had already ordered his team to load the Skyranger up with scientific gear, and all that was left before they were ready to leave was gearing up.

Meet the Quartermaster

At this point I introduced the party to another NPC: their quartermaster, Nobuo Ishikawa. This little troll of a man was known as Kappa-san back in the JSDF, but here everyone calls him Nobby. Because I firmly believe every military organization in fiction needs a Nobby.

Illustration by Paul Kidby.

Our Nobby was more than happy to discuss gear selection with the PCs, and to laugh at Kendall’s ridiculously large wish list that turned the hacker into a one-man Ghost Hunters show crew. Most of this stuff was already in the Skyranger, actually, since Sokolov shared his enthusiasm for unveiling alien secrets.

As for the rest of the gear, I provided the players with a basic list of weapons, armor and accessories to choose from. My goal with the weapon selection was to make it similar to the initial list on the computer games, particularly the 1994 original. The personal firearms were good for fighting people, but a little on the anemic side when it came to damaging aliens. Then you had things like grenade launchers and rockets, which were much more powerful but also heavier and harder to use. No one took those, though they did pick a mix of frag and smoke hand grenades. Julia also took a bunch of candy to win the kids over once they arrived.

Insertion and Investigation

Once everyone had finished gearing up, it was time to board the Skyranger! It looked and behaved pretty much like the one in the 2012 computer game, with a top speed of Mach 1 and enough fuel to cross the Atlantic. It sacrificed everything else you would expect from a military transport to achieve that, being relatively tiny and completely unarmed. It was one of those quirky Russian designs, and those adjectives also fit its pilot Yevgeny Korsakov quite well.

Even at Mach 1, reaching Germany took a while. Once there, Julia asked Korsakov to do a flyby of the anomaly zone from a safe height. The passenger compartment didn’t have any windows, but it did have a monitor wired to an external camera, which showed the same “smudge” as the satellite image. Julia unbuckled and went to the cockpit to look through the windows, and found that whatever was messing with the sensors didn’t affect the Mk I Eyeball. The real landscape wasn’t any prettier, though.

A region of three or so blocks around St. Marien Hospital in Cologne had been turned into a veritable war zone. The commercial and residendial buildings in that area had all been shot up and covered in weird graffiti, gutted car wrecks littered the cracked and cratered streets… the place must have taken months to reach such a state, and yet the city continued to function normally around it, as if no one knew what was going on. St. Marien was the same hospital where all those drugs had gone bad a while back, so whatever caused this must have happened around then as well.

It was a good thing that the PCs asked Korsakov to be careful with the flyby, for soon he spotted someone at the roof of the hospital pointing what looked like an RPG at them! He manages to dodge the missile at the last minute, and flies out of there.

The PCs discuss what do do next, and Minette came up with the following plan of attack:

The Area of Operations.

They’d have Korsakov land about 100 meters to the left of the red X in the picture above, on a wide avenue. Then they’d use the available cover to make it into Gisela’s home, the apartment building marked by the yellow dot. Choi was enthusiastic about kicking the door down, and Julia objected on the grouds that they were there to rescue civilians, not antagonize them. Minette reasoned that they might not have a choice, if the door wasn’t open.

The craft landed, and they made a run for it, cover to cover. Once more it was a good thing that the PCs decided to be cautious about their advance, since a sniper began taking shots at them from the hospital! Kendall threw a smoke grenade to cover the advance, though it didn’t seem to do much. Choi emptied his PDW in the sniper’s general direction while running, which seemed to have a better effect. Fortunately, all the commotion seemed to have drawn the attention of the building’s inhabitants, as a man opened the door for the PCs when they got close enough, and they all scrambled in. Julia paused to take a last, long-distance shot at the sniper, and apparently hit! No more shots came from that direction after that.

The building still housed seven civilians: Gisela, her parents, and another family with father, mother and two children. There was also a cop, Jan Wiest, who together with Gisela’s father was the informal leader of the bunch. Minette was proficient in German, and Gisela’s family was proficient in English, so they managed to communicate acceptably.

Their situation was every bit as bleak and bizarre as it seemed in the briefing. A few months ago, shortly after news broke out about the hospital’s drugs all going bad, a large group of people in unmarked military uniforms and eyeless gas masks appeared in the hospital building and began killing everyone they came across. They haven’t really been trying to occupy the neighborhood - they just stage raids out of the hospital, and drag any bodies back with them when they return.

Wiest’s unit has been fighting them since nearly the beginning, and the remaining civilians in the area have either been helping or hiding. A lot left the area as soon as they could - all those that remain (cops and civilians) stay out of a sense that they must contain the attackers. Wiest calls for backup every day, but no one ever answered, and no one ever came, until today.

Assessment and Planning

This story does nothing to answer the PC’s initial doubts: if this has been going on for so long, how come no one noticed? Kendall uses his skills and advanced gear to scan the airwaves, only to find them filled with something that sounds a lot like wailing and gnashing of teeth run through a “creepypasta” audio filter. It’s like an especially eerie form of jamming, as it prevents him from reaching HQ or anything outside the anomaly zone. His attempts to get through it end up revealing what seems to be alien radio chatter… which sounds exactly like the jamming except for the fact that it also has the cadence of someone with military training talking over radio. He also scans the laptop Gisela used to send her video message, but finds it to be a normal Macbook Air despite the occasional spooky image bleeding through its normal interface.

The squad gets together to discuss what they learned here. The detailed workings of this anomaly are still a mystery, but it’s clear that it’s somehow preventing information about what’s going on here from getting out, and it’s likely affecting the minds of those within as well. The last bit would explain why any civilians still say in there rather than simply making a run for it. Assuming it’s being generated by some sort of transmission equipment, its shape indicates that this equipment is located in the hospital and likely guarded by these masked alien invaders. They’re going to have to get in there in order to stop it.

End of Part 1

To find out how the assault goes, stay tuned for part 2!