Written by acclaimed sci-fi and fantasy author Gregory Keyes, XCOM 2: Resurrection follows newly-minted resistance fighter Amar Tan as he and his squad combat ADVENT forces outside of Gulf City. Throughout the novel, Tan and his group will encounter Sectoids, Chryssalids and numerous ADVENT troops as they work to uncover a secret that could shift the tides of the alien war forever.
Here is an exclusive excerpt, provided by Insight Editions:
“Our satellites came down like so many shooting stars,” he told Ivan. “What few we managed to get up in the first place. We had no idea what we were dealing with.”
“But you tried,” Ivan said. “You fought.”
He dredged up a rasping, humorless chuckle. “Yes. We fought. And most of us died.”
He regarded Ivan critically across the crate that served as his dinner table. The battered lawn chair and three-legged stool he and Ivan were perched on rounded out his wealth in furniture, unless you counted the ragged futon in the clapboard-and-sheet-metal shack behind him.
Ivan seemed very young, very enthusiastic. So much so that at first he worried the fellow was acting, was another collaborator tracking down what little remained of XCOM. But there was something about him that was convincing.
Besides, he didn’t have much to lose. If Ivan wasn’t what he seemed—well, he wasn’t going to be taken alive. And it would be over.
He took another drink of what he charitably thought of as whiskey. He remembered a time when he had savored a good Highland single malt or American rye. Back then, he would spend half an hour sipping a single shot. Now, he had to make do with whatever rotgut he could find. But then again, these days he only cared about the impact of the drink.
“What do you want from me, son?” he asked.
“There are many like me,” Ivan said. “Many with the will to fight the aliens, to win our world back. But we need leaders, men and women who were there. Yes, the aliens beat you, but—”
“The aliens didn’t beat us,” he snapped, half-surprised at his own sudden anger. Still inside of him, after all these years and a determined campaign to deaden it.
He took another drink, a long one.
“So you have people willing to fight,” he said. “That’s great. But you need much more than that. We had it all—an international coalition to fund us, the best scientists and engineers in the world, highly trained soldiers, air-craft, excellent leaders—everything. We shot two of them down; did you know that?”
“No, sir,” Ivan said.
“Well, we did. We were making headway on cracking their technology, developing the tools we needed to beat them. Our losses were heavy, yes, but we believed we had a chance. I believed.”
“Then . . . what happened?” Ivan asked.
“The coalition caved on us, that’s what. Gave us up. I’m not sure which country went first—it’s not like they did it to our faces. But in the end they cut us off. The aliens hit our headquarters and major facilities in a coordinated strike. Someone gave them our locations.”
“Panic,” he grunted, taking another drink. “They were afraid that if we kept fighting, the aliens would exterminate us all.”
“Do you think they would have?” Ivan asked.
He snorted. “They could have done that from the beginning. Instead they were conducting small raids, abducting people, spreading fear. I think they got exactly what they were after. A compliant population of sheep.”
“I’m no sheep, sir,” Ivan said. “My comrades aren’t sheep. My father was an XCOM squaddie. He died fighting them in Minsk.”
“What was his name, your father?”
“I remember him. He was a good man.”
“I didn’t know him,” Ivan said. “I was still in my mother’s womb when he died.”
Ivan hesitated for a moment, seeming to sit up straighter in his seat. “Sir, will you help us?”
“Haven’t you been listening? We had all of Earth’s resources at our fingertips. And we lost. What have you got?”
“Heart, sir. Determination.”
“Heart. Determination. That and this bottle of whiskey might be able to get you drunk enough to forget the whole thing. Ninety percent of the human race is perfectly fine with the way things are now. More than fine, from what I can tell. Who are you even fighting for?”
“The abductions haven’t stopped, sir,” Ivan said. “Thousands go missing every year.”
“Right,” he said wryly, “And for the most part—you call yourselves ‘Natives,’ right? You get the blame for that. The people swallow that right along with the rest of ADVENT propaganda and that god-awful stuff they’re feeding people now.”
“Yeah. CORE. ‘Reclaimed protein’. That should raise a few eyebrows. Reclaimed from what? But it doesn’t. People eat it. And those weird vegetables . . .” he shook his head.
“There are more of us than you think,” Ivan said. “And many more who just need a little hope. You can give them that hope, sir.”
“No,” he said. “I can’t. Because there isn’t any. The war ended twenty years ago. More people head into the New Cities every day.” He took another swallow. “Now kindly get the hell out of here. I’m bored with this conversation.”
“It took me a long time to find you, sir,” Ivan said.
“Yes, thanks for that,” he said. “It means I have to move again. Go. Leave all of this. I’m not asking again.”
Ivan reluctantly stood, and for a moment the young man looked just like his father from almost two decades earlier.
For an instant, something hitched within him, and he remembered how he’d felt back then.
The pride. The purpose.
It was a fuzzy memory, and as he watched Ivan disappear into the Peruvian cloud forest, he began taking larger gulps in the hopes of erasing it entirely.
“From what little I’ve seen of their technology . . . if the aliens were intent on conquering Earth, there’s not much we could do to stop them. I’m guessing they have something else in mind.”
—DR. RAYMOND SHEN, XCOM CHIEF ENGINEER
Amar jerked back reflexively as a ferromagnetic slug translated a few cubic centimeters of concrete wall into vapor and white-hot spalls that scattered tiny plumes of smoke on his body armor. He’d gotten a glimpse of her position, though. At least it looked like a “her.”
His earphone crackled.
“KB?” It was Thomas, his squad leader.
“Heartbroken, Chief,” Amar replied, wiping the sweat trickling down from his unkempt mop of black hair. “I thought she was the one, but she’s just like all the others—trying to kill me on the first date. About thirty meters, Chief, and I think another one over your way.”
“That’s a damn ugly woman if you ask me,” piped up another voice. That was Rider, off to his left. “You’re better off without her. Kakking jabbers. What’re they doing way out here?”
“There are at least six of them,” Thomas said. “We need to roll up this side before they can encircle us.”
“I’ve got you covered, KB,” Rider said. Playtime was over.
“Moving up,” he said.
Rider’s assault rifle started chattering, and Amar slipped from behind the wall, hammering across the kudzu-covered concrete toward a pile of overgrown rubble. He was almost there when Rider’s fire stuttered off, and an armored head appeared from the other side of the debris. He yelped and dove, but then Rider fired again. He heard the telltale sound of a bullet striking metal as he squatted.
“Took the bait,” Rider said. “Don’t know if she’s down.”
“Took the bait?” Amar yelped indignantly. “I was the bait! You used me for bait!”
“Damn fine bait, too,” she replied.
Off to his right, he heard Chitto’s shotgun boom once, twice. Then a general conversation of arms began.
Amar took a deep breath, let it out, and jumped up.
The jabber was waiting for him. He heard the whine of the mag rifle firing even as he pulled the trigger. In that very long moment, he saw Rider’s shot had glanced from the black, insectile mask, scoring it deeply. He saw the muzzle of the magnetic rifle pulling into line with him and holes appearing in the jabber’s armored chest as his weapon spit bullets into it.
Then he was standing there, looking at a dead jabber.
“Jabber” wasn’t what they called themselves, of course, or what most people called them. To the majority of people on Earth, they were ADVENT police, peacekeepers, protectors. Supposedly they were citizen volunteers, but Amar had never known anyone who had volunteered. He had never met anyone who knew anyone who had volunteered. And they spoke an odd language amongst themselves that wasn’t Hindi or German or Malay or—according to Chitto—Choctaw or any other Earthly language. Which was why Amar and his squad called them jabbers.
As Amar watched, the mag rifle exploded. It wasn’t much of an explosion—no danger to him—but the weapon was now useless. They always did that, which was too bad. It would be nice to have one of the damned things. Or better, a few hundred.
“KB?” Rider asked.
“Got her,” he said, feeling his pulse beating in his temples. His fingers were starting to tremble. So close . . . “You rang her bell pretty good,” he said. “Couldn’t draw a bead on me.”
“You’re welcome,” she said.
“Come join the party.”
He glanced back quickly and saw her slip over to his right and up.
“I’ll just—” she began, then yelped, “Chips!”
“Rider? What is it?”
He looked over his shoulder and saw Rider spin to her right. As she fired, a red burst from a mag rifle slammed into her chest. She dropped and rolled behind the remains of a wall, her breath whistling over the radio connection.
“Rider!” Everything seemed to shine with a peculiar golden light. Rider couldn’t be shot. She’d never been shot. Not even a scratch, in the three years he had known her. Luckiest person in the squad.
“KB?” Thomas demanded. “What’s happening?”
He saw Rider’s assailants now, two of them, advancing quickly toward her position.
Thomas’s headcount had missed some—not surprising given that these guys had had plenty of time to get in place as they arrived, and that all the kudzu and honeysuckle made things thicker than the jungle he had grown up in.
There were more out ahead of him. If he turned his back to help Rider . . .
He didn’t have a choice.
“Falling back, Chief,” he said.
He fired at the oncoming troopers as he ran for Rider’s position. One looked like the trooper he’d just taken down, clad in mostly black armor with a little red on his mandible. The other was bigger, heavier, a walking shield. It projected a faintly luminous energy field that the smaller trooper took care to remain within.
Amar hit the shield bearer three or four times without apparent effect. Mag rounds jetted past him as he ducked down with Rider.
She was panting heavily, and her eyes were wide. The projectile had pierced her armor, but there was no blood—the heat had cauterized the wound, which looked terribly deep. Her always-pale complexion was now bone white, and sweat plastered stray strands of red-gold hair to her forehead.
“Verdamme,” she gasped. “That’s gonna sting in the morning.”
“Just stay down,” he said. He peeked over the wall and was greeted by another blast. He shifted and fired again, but they kept coming on. He needed to grab Rider and retreat, find a more defensible spot. . . .
Too late he realized that Rider had staggered to her feet and was trying to flank the shield bearer to get a clear shot at the trooper.
“Rider!” he yelled.
“I’m dead already, KB,” she shouted. She took her shot but was drilled by mags once, twice. She and the trooper dropped almost simultaneously.
“So there, son of a bitch,” she said. Or at least he thought that’s what she said. It was so faint. . . .
No, no, no! She was okay. DeLao could patch her up. He just had to take care of this thing. . . .
Amar emptied his clip into the shield bearer, scrambling back, watching it take aim, knowing he was next and there was nothing he could do about it.
Then it rocked back. Amar saw a neat hole had appeared in its mask before it collapsed.
“Toby?” he gasped.
“Yes,” the sniper replied. “You’re clear on the right. More bad guys up ahead, though. I’ve got a captain at one o’clock.”
“Thank you,” he said. “Rider—”
“I saw,” he said. “Busy now.”
Amar scrambled over the debris to where Rider had crumpled to the ground.
She wasn’t okay, and DeLao was not going to patch her up. There was no longer a soul behind Rider’s sapphire eyes.
His throat tightened. Rider had been in the squad when he joined it two years ago. She was sarcastic and funny and profane and sometimes a real pain in the ass. She told wild stories about her youth in Utrecht; she was a terrible singer but insisted on singing anyway. She was fiercely loyal to her friends.
And suddenly she wasn’t any of that.
Deal with it later. Or die now.
He ran back up to his previous forward position.
“Chitto,” he heard Thomas say. “You’re with KB now.”
That was bad news. Chitto was as green as they came. This was the first action she had seen, and nothing about her suggested to him that she was up to the job.
“Yes, Chief,” Chitto said. He thought he heard a quiver in her voice.
He noticed another jabber trying to move around.
“Oh, no,” he whispered, furious. “You most certainly do not.”***
Amar’s chronometer said the skirmish lasted just over an hour, but it felt like twenty by the time the last shots were fired and the squad began cautiously sweeping the area to make certain all of the ADVENT forces were dead. His arms felt like lead, and his knee hurt like hell, though he couldn’t remember how he’d banged it.
When Thomas was satisfied, she called them to rest. They had walked into the situation with eight soldiers; now they were seven.
It could have been much worse.
But that didn’t make him feel any better about Rider. He kept expecting for her to walk up, clap him on the shoulder, and ask how badly he had soiled himself this time.
Now that he had the opportunity to have a leisurely look around, Amar realized that the rubble they had been fighting in was the bombed-out ruin of some sort of complex. About a fourth of the main structure was still standing, two walls forming a corner and a roof. The guts of the three-storied building were open to the air. All of it was blanketed in a sea of vines and leaves.
The squad had been on its way to Gulf City to raid for supplies when Captain Thomas had heard a faint signal on her radio. It was an SOS, in the current code, and the source of the transmission was nearby, so they had followed it. The signal had abruptly gone quiet just before they came under fire.
“The question is,” Thomas said, “whether the signal was legitimate or whether it was sent to lure us here.”
Thomas was the real veteran of the group. She’d fought with XCOM back in the day, which he figured probably put her at about forty. She had blunt features and dirty blond hair pulled back into a braid, but she kept a few centimeters of her forehead shaved. She had a burn scar on one cheek and was missing half of her left ear. He had seen her take down a jabber with nothing but a knife.
“If it was a trap,” Toby said, a frown on his dark features, “that’s pretty bad news. It means they’ve broken our encryption.”
“Well,” Thomas said, “why don’t we just go see? We don’t have that long before dark. I’m guessing the signal came from over there.” She gestured at the remains of the building.
He heard DeLao groan. Amar knew why—he didn’t feel like taking another step, either.
“Arthritis acting up, old fellow?” Amar said, trying to lighten the mood, as he usually did. But it came out weird and flat, and he wished he hadn’t said anything.
As they moved up to the battered structure, they encountered a few more dead jabbers. Amar prodded one of them and rolled it over, making certain it was dead.
Even in the oppressive heat, he felt frost on his spine.
The trooper’s mask had come off—whether she had pulled it off while dying or the force of the explosion that killed her had loosened its fastenings, he couldn’t tell. But he could see her face.
The lower part of her face looked human—her lips and cheekbones were familiar enough. Her nose was broad, with very little separation from her forehead, but was still within the realm of human variation. But her ears were oddly flattened against her hairless skull, and there was nothing at all human about her large, silvery eyes. They were set too far apart, almost on the sides of her head, and contained no orbs or pupils.
He felt like he was going to vomit.
For twenty years the aliens had been playing with human DNA. This was one result. Had she begun life as fully human and then been altered?
No one could be sure about that.
When they reached the ruin and entered the only passable hall, they started finding equally dead humans.
They’d made a stand here, obviously, and given their numbers and those of the enemy dead, they had fought well.
To his relief, Amar didn’t recognize any of them. They were armed and armored in the same ragtag fashion as his bunch, at least at first glance, wearing whatever ancient bits of body armor they could find and filling the gaps in their gear with patches of Kevlar, cold hammered sheet metal— whatever was at hand. Most of their weapons were decades old.
But upon closer inspection, these guys looked as if they had new gear. New as in months old instead of twenty years.
Still, it hadn’t saved them.
“This one’s alive!” DeLao said, kneeling and reversing the Mexico City Red Devils cap that held his frizzy brown hair in check.
The man was sitting, propped against a wall just past a turn in the corridor. He was alive, but only barely so. DeLao already had his medical kit out, but Amar doubted they could do much for the fellow beyond easing his pain.
Thomas knelt next to DeLao.
“What happened here, son?” she asked the soldier. “What’s your name?”
He looked up at her with pale gray eyes. His lips moved, but nothing came out.
“Here’s another live one,” Chitto said. Her voice was quiet—she was always quiet. She had moved farther down the hall—too far, actually. She had a frown on her round face, and her wide lips were pressed tight. To Amar, she looked as if she might lose it at any moment.
They had picked Chitto up in an illegal settlement in a contagion zone just a few days before. The squad had been on another mission but ran across her people being rounded up by ADVENT troopers. After they finished off the jabbers, Chitto had asked if she could volunteer. Thomas said yes, and the plan was to take her to a haven for training. Instead, like a bad dream, trouble kept finding them, drawing them farther and farther from their intended goal.
“Wait for the rest of us, Chitto,” Amar said, cautiously moving up to her position. “We have to watch each other’s backs. You can’t just wander off when I think you’re in place.”
“Yeah, okay,” she said.
Amar looked down at the man she’d found.
The fellow was young and wiry, with narrow, pleasant features, and he was unconscious. He wasn’t wearing any armor, and he didn’t seem to actually be wounded. The cause of his insensible state was likely the dead ADVENT soldier a few feet away who had been armed with a stun lance, the weapon used to break up crowds and protesters—and to take live prisoners. It looked something like a sabre or a long billy club with a knuckle guard and could deliver a powerful neurological shock.
“Hey, buddy,” Amar said, kneeling and patting his cheek.
The man stirred and, with a little more encouragement, opened his eyes, which were pale blue.
“What’s . . . what’s going on?” he asked. He had a slight accent that Amar guessed was probably Scottish.
“That’s what we’re wondering,” Thomas said, as she arrived. Dux lumbered back to the rear, while Nishimura padded lithely to the end of the corridor. Even in her armor Nishimura seemed tiny, almost birdlike, but she was as deadly as anyone Amar had ever known—and far more dangerous than most.
“Sergei?” the man said, suddenly trying to sit up.
“If you mean the man down there, he didn’t make it,” Thomas told him, nodding at the young man DeLao had been working on.
The man closed his eyes and sighed.
“That’s unfortunate,” he said. “Did anyone else . . .” He looked around at them. Thomas shook her head.
“They’re all dead,” she said.
He seemed to absorb that for a moment, his lips pressed together hard enough to turn white. His Adam’s apple bobbed.
“Who are you guys?” he finally asked.
“We picked up an SOS,” Thomas said, instead of answering his question. Her blue-eyed gaze stayed steady on the fellow.
“Yeah, that was me,” he told her. “I managed to rig up a spark-gap generator and use the steel beams in the compound as an antenna. It didn’t have much range, but more than our short-range units at least. You must have been close.” His eyes shifted. “You broke the encryption. You’re Natives.”
“Holly Thomas,” the Chief said. “We’re out of Felix, at least for the moment.”
Felix was the code name for their base. She waited to see what his reaction would be.
“Felix,” Sam said. “Outside of Gulf City. I’ve heard of you guys. Hacked their propaganda system, right?”
“Well, that was our tinkers,” Thomas said. “We’re more on the shoot-and-loot end of the business.”
“Lucky for me,” he said. “You can call me Sam. But I can’t tell you my cell. It’s classified.”
“What are you doing here, Sam?” She gestured at the dead trooper. “What were they doing here?”
“I’m an analyst,” he said, as if that explained everything. He slowly stood up. “This is an old XCOM facility. Not one of the larger ones. I came here looking for data.”
“Data,” Thomas repeated, dubiously.
“The central facility was destroyed,” he said. “Utterly. Pulverized into dust and then blasted again for good measure. But XCOM wasn’t stupid enough to keep all of their eggs in one basket. Or, in this case, data in one mainframe. They had backup servers in a closed network. A private mini-cloud. One of the servers was here. Or rather, beneath here. We had just discovered the way down when the ADVENT attack began.”
“How did they find you?” Thomas asked.
“I wish I knew,” he said. “Colonel Dixon and the rest—they killed the first bunch, but when it was over, Dixon was dead, and there were only five of us left. By the time I found what we came for, reinforcements had shown up and penned us in. I rigged the radio, and we tried to hold them off for as long as we could. Then it got down to just Sergei and me. The cuss there with the stun lance did me.” He nodded at the dead trooper. “Did you guys get him?”
“He was dead when we got here,” Thomas said.
“Must have been Sergei, then,” Sam said. “You must have shown up in the nick of time.” His face fell, and he glanced down the hall at his fallen comrades. “For me, anyway.”
“We were ambushed,” Amar said, starting to feel angry at Sam without knowing exactly why. “We lost someone.”
“I’m sorry about that,” Sam said. “But believe me, he didn’t die in vain. None of them did.”
“She,” Amar corrected.
Nobody said anything for a moment. Sam stood there, looking uncomfortable.
“So you found something,” Thomas said, breaking the silence.
“Yes,” Sam said. “Something amazing. Something that will change everything.”
“And what’s that?” Thomas asked.
“I can’t tell you,” he said. “It’s classified.”
“Classified? Classified by who?” Thomas demanded.
“Tell me that,” she snapped. “Right.” She turned away from Sam. “We need to roll, now. More reinforcements are probably on the way. Sam, you’re coming with us. We’ll drop you off at the closest refuge.”
“No,” Sam said, suddenly more animated. “No! You have to come with me! I have to show them what I found, or this really will have all been for nothing. I’ll never survive on my own.”
“No kidding,” DeLao grunted.
Nishimura chuckled at that and pushed a few long, fine strands of black hair back up under the camouflage bandana she wore.
“We already have an assignment,” Thomas explained, a bit impatiently.
“This is more important,” Sam insisted.
“I have no way of judging that,” Thomas shot back.
Sam pursed his lips and nodded.
“Fair enough,” he said. “May I have a word with you in private, Captain?”
Thomas paused a minute, then gestured toward the outside of the building. Amar watched them walk out of earshot. They stood there for a moment and then came back.
“We’re taking him,” Thomas said.
“Why?” DeLao demanded. “What did he say?”
“A name,” she replied. “Just a name.”