Boots hit the ground. Panic in the streets. Floaters roaming the rooftops, peering over for a shot at fresh targets. Captain Osvaldo "Hoss" Delgado can see a group of civilians running into a nearby bookstore. The team calls out to them to no avail. Hoss makes a judgment call: sent in the scout.

Lt. John "Soap" McTavish rushes in, shotgun ready as he clears the bookstore entrance. Civilians have spread out around the ground floor while braver souls have ventured up above. An elderly man places his hands on Soap's shoulder and nearly falls to his kness.

"Thank you, son," he cries hoarsely, face blacked from... what? A car fire? Alien weapon discharge? It doesn't matter; he's alive for the next foreseeable minute, and every second is precious.

"VTOL to the south," Soap says, peering over the counter to scan the area. "Go."

The old man sets himself shakily and walks toward the entrance, breaking into a jog as Lt. Eric "Patches" Dooley waves him over.

"Civvie comin' in," Patches announced. "Prep medical. He's lookin' a little worn." The VTOL doors open and the co-pilot emerges with a medkit. The old man crumples into the first seat in the bay and weeps.

The rest of the squad moves in while accomplished squad Sniper Sgt. Jan "Loki" Friedrikz sets up near the VTOL's insertion point to guide civilians in. He has a clear line of sight down an alleyway behind the book store and spends the next few moments calibrating his rifle for extreme range. He waits patiently, as all good snipers do.

By the time the squad has moved inside the bookstore, Floaters are making their rounds through the rubble-filled streets. They pause near cars and scan carefully. Some take potshots at windows, catching sight of a civilian too bold for their own good. Hoss grinds his teeth every time he hears a body slump to the floor. Time is running out.

Soap continues room clearing, bringing in another civilian from behind a series of bookshelves. Patches and first medic Lt. Maura "Whiskey" O'Brien round up another two as they search a staircase and corridor leading into another section of the building. Sgt. Jane O'Donnell takes up the rear and is the last squadmate to disappear from Loki's sight.

Alien forces seem to converge on the building; Hoss notices two civilians fleeing in the streets to the west, while contacts use a destroyed section of the next building to approach. Plasma fire chases the civilians, and Whiskey calls out over comms a warning of imminent contact. A civilian stands between her and a new, unidentified contact.

The hostile, small, glowing bright yellow, crawls forward on four legs, screeching as it draws near.

"Hit the deck, now!" she orders as she levels her assault rifle. The civilian panics and throws himself against a nearby counter as Whiskey looses a burst of rounds into the creature. It stumbles as one round smacks into left front leg but its screams sound more angry than hurt.

Patches and O'Donnell move to support, but aren't fast enough to close the gap before the alien dashes out of sight; Whiskey orders the civilian to break cover, but he's frozen in fear. O'Donnell sets up overwatch while Patches closes on Whiskey's flank.

Hoss fires into a Floater as it advances on the civilians to the west. Its body is consumed in a glorious orange blaze as Hoss makes a break for a nearby window that will take him into the street. He crashes through it, momentarily pausing and turning to Soap.

"Hold the line," he orders.

Soap nods and pumps a shotgun round into a Floater approaching from the north.

Loki listens to the firefights over comms and peers patiently down the rifle's scope. His talents might be more useful from inside; he packs up and sprints for the bookstore's counter and sees Soap taking fire from Floater reinforcements.

"Got your back, Soap," he calls out as he fires a handful of rounds from his pistol.

Outside Hoss reaches the civilians and directs them to the VTOL. Floaters approach from the northern avenue. Hoss hunkers down behind a car as the hostiles direct fire. Plasma clips his right shoulder and burns away at the armor. He roars in pain but dares not break cover.

In the bookstore, Whiskey runs forward and gut-punches the civilian, screaming at him to run for the backdoor, assuming he'll have the sense to go to the big metal flying thing that everyone else is going to. She crouches near the door and fires on one of the new creepy crawlies outside the new storefront, missing as it skitters behind a car.

"Damn it!" she yells as she ducks into cover.

"Fall back," Patches says as he slips into cover. O'Donnell continues overwatch at the rear of the building, ignoring the civilian as he runs for his life.

Beyond the walls, all three soldiers can hear human screams as Crawlimus Prime finds a new victim.

Hoss Delgado sprays down the lead Floater then hustles to the bookstore. Soap's cover burns away under plasma fire and unimpeded enemy fire splashes across his chest. The new Carapace gear isn't only stylish — it's life-saving. Soap returns fire and puts one of the Floaters down for good.

Loki resets his sniper rifle and fires into an oncoming Floater, watching it was away in orange light. Everything seems to be coming together. The team is pulling back into the bookstore, and from their, they can coordinate two-by-two searches of the building for survivors.

All seems to be going in their favor.

Until something shambles from behind Whiskey and bites down hard into her neck. She shoves her attacker away and panic-fires a burst into its stomach. The creature still stands.

"Squad, regroup!" Hoss orders as the aliens continue to advance through the northern store-front. Two Floaters guard the rear as crawlies step inside. O'Donnell's the first to fire on the new hostile, putting a solid grouping into its side. It groans and prepares to take a swipe at Whiskey, but Patches opens fire just in time. It crumples to the floor and dissolves.

Hoss leads Loki and Soap towards O'Donnell's flank to set up fire support for the others. Another shambling creature approaches from the bookstore and draws Hoss and Soap's attention. They pause to fire on it as Loki runs to O'Donnell and readies his sniper rifle.

Whiskey turns to run for cover, but the two Floaters providing overwatch emerge and fire together. Plasma paints a wall of brilliant green behind her and burns through her midsection. The squad's longtime medic falls in a pile of her own gore.

"Patches..." she whispers, reaching out to him in futility.

Her fellow Lieutenant screams and fires the remainder of his magazine in vain. Hoss rounds the corner and sees his Lieutenant dead in the corridor. Soap holds down the storefront in case hostiles try to flank.

The aliens continue to converge in the store down the corridor. The peer around the hallway, screeching and hissing at the XCOM squad. They fire blindly at Loki as he moves to restrain Patches, who seems about to charge the enemy out of sheer grief.

"Clearing hot," Hoss says in a grave, exhausted tone. He kneels, prepares his launcher, and sends a rocket flying down the hallway. It detonates and throws the aliens hard against the walls and windows, sending gore into the streets outside.

The squad moves in and confirms the area is clear, then calls for extraction and burial detail. The ride home is silent, each surviving squad member knowing they're losing, but wondering if they've already lost.

:::

Kinda jacked that last line there from Halo: Reach. It fits my outlook on my current playthrough; it seems like I'm barely ahead of the curve. I'm still learning how to play effectively, and unfortunately, it's getting good characters killed.

Whiskey was the first character I've lost that I was really invested in; she participated in a number of missions, and it was kind of jarring when she died.

Came very close to losing Hoss, Soap, O'Donnell, Loki, and Patches a couple of missions later, when the aliens deployed some sort of heavy green unit. My new South African sniper is really putting in work though, and managed to save O'Donnell from what would have been certain death.

Right now I'm faced with trying to rescue an ambassador without Patches and newly nicknamed "Pixie" O'Donnell, who both served as my new medics. The rewards for mission success are going to be stellar, but I've got a lot of rooks out there leaning pretty hard on Hoss and Soap. Loki's mostly a long-range assistant.

Anyway, if anyone couldn't tell at this point, I love this fucking game and Gamefly won't be getting it back for awhile.