I’d gotten cocky, see. Major Odessa Simon – for that was her name – had been with me since the first mission, where she’d fumbled with her assault rifle and not killed anything. She’d been out on every sortie that the XCOM project had fought, attempting to stop aliens from taking over the earth by shooting them in the head.
She was so close to becoming a Colonel; she went to battle decked out in a Skeleton Suit complete with grapnel unit and rocking a laser sniper rifle retro-engineered from stolen extraterrestrial technology coupled with a S.C.O.P.E. unit, which is like a normal scope but also an acronym so it must be better.
She was a complete badass. She had jet-black skin and kept her white hair slicked back, and she solved problems if those problems were Aliens Being Alive. She’d get herself into position and line up her shots and rarely, if ever, miss. Every shot a kill. Even though Colonel McFrag – my obvious author insert character, born in the UK, red hair and a daft beard – outranked her, I like to think that he looked to her for assistance. She was calm, after all – she was a Sniper. He was an Assault trooper. Together, they saved the world.
And then, fighting my way through an assault on Manchester city centre, I stacked up three of my operatives – Odessa included – against a wall, either side of a window. Two Muton units – big green fuckers – stood inside, waiting to die. On my next go we’d swing round, smash the windows and dive in and Odessa would offer covering fire whilst McFrag and Ivanovitch, the other Assault trooper, stormed the place with their laser shotguns.
And then – grenades. I didn’t know they had grenades and the first one threw one and it took out the wall and Odessa wasn’t meant for close ops, she needed cover and she had none, and the second one opened up at point-blank range and she died, right there, right at McFrag’s feet. Blood everywhere. She shouldn’t have stood so close. I thought I could take them, and I was wrong.
I knew then that I wasn’t going to turn off the game, reload the save and bring her back to life. I knew that I was going to kill everything responsible for her death as hard as I could. A sort of shocked, determined calm came over me as I ordered the Assault troops into the building and began throwing grenades. Salvage be damned. This mission was now about revenge and nothing else.
I’d dealt with death before, obviously. Every mission saw my original four troopers – now high-ranked super-skilled badasses covered in gleaming carapace armour – accompanied by a single Rookie carrying only his starting equipment and looking sorry for himself.
The Rookie had an unenviable job: he was there to absorb bullets for the other characters. In my head, I was offering him valuable combat experience – and hell, he was wearing lighter armour than the other characters anyway, so recon is the ideal job even if it put him in the line of fire. I was rationalising away the deaths of characters that I didn’t care about. That’s how good a game XCOM is.
And then, Odessa. Odessa died so Earth could live. We fought on. Some other guy died, too, bled out in a shop doorway – don’t even know his name – and my veteran heavy, Marquez, almost bit it too but we managed to pull him out in time and lob a grenade in to cover his escape. Manchester was safe. We flew home.
I went to The Memorial in the barracks and listened to the bad midi bagpipes and wondered which of the shotglasses stacked beneath the pictures of the lost was Odessa’s. Her photo was biggest, placed above all the others, and she’s never coming back.