A darkened room, made out of sci-fi props and big-screen TVs displaying useless information. Their lights reflect on a middle-aged woman's glasses, as she puts down a coffee mug and opens an email on her computer.
Your performance in combating the alien threat has been excellent thus far ... and that is not a statement this council makes lightly. The leaders of the world's nations believe that you are making excellent use of their funding.
So excellent, in fact, that they are cutting it in half. Henceforth, all non-combat XCOM personnel under your command will be replaced with artificial intelligences, in order to save money. We have every confidence that they will perform just as well as the employees you're used to working with.
Good luck, Commander.
The woman blinks. Then she Alt-Tabs to Microsoft Word, and starts updating her resume.
* * *
"You want me to dissect WHAT?!"
The woman has put on a sweater now, because last month's cuts hit their fuel budget. She's standing in XCOM's research lab talking to their new head scientist, an AI in a Marigold series hardshell designed to closely resemble a teenage Korean girl. The hardshell is wearing a labcoat and glasses, and has long black hair that goes down past her shoulders. Her nametag reads "*HYUN-AE."
All of the other lab techs have been replaced with Tamagotchi.
The Commander points at the specimen on the table. It appears to be made of claws and spider legs. "Our soldiers need to know what those things are so they can fight them."
"Come on!" *Hyun-ae puts one hand on her hip. "Don't you think you should have a little more faith in our troops?"
"I did. Then it bit off one of their heads and laid eggs inside him."
"Well ... I shouldn't be doing dissections, anyway! I got sick when they made me cut open a frog in high school!"
The Commander scrunches up her face, in confusion. "When, exactly, did you graduate?"
"I'm still going to it. The next semester starts on Thursday, and I'm already signed up for the anime club." *Hyun-ae smiles brightly.
" ... why are you in here wearing a labcoat when you're still in high school?"
"Oh, do you like my scientist outfit?" *Hyun-ae turns around so the Commander can admire it properly. "I sewed it myself!"
The Commander facepalms.
"Commander to the Situation Room," the loudspeaker says. "Commander to the Situation Room."
* * *
The Situation Room looks sort of like NASA Mission Control. Except that instead of a big-screen TV, there is a thing called the Hologlobe that looks like a 3d projection of planet Earth, in the centre of the room. And instead of XCOM's usual generic white male technicians with sweaters and crew cuts, there are Furbies.
When the Commander walks in, most of the computers are showing screen savers. This is because Furbies can't use computers.
One of the screens, however, is showing security camera footage, of a pair of women with shaved heads and military tank tops. They are making out passionately in a darkened room.
The Commander gives it a weird look, and goes over and jiggles the mouse. The screen changes to show a startled woman in a bright red and gold hanbok, with Asian features but blonde hair and blue eyes. Popcorn flies out of the bowl in her lap as she turns to face the Commander.
She has a lawn chair set up on the default Windows XP desktop. A VLC Player window is open next to her, showing the security camera footage.
"Who the hell are you and why are you perving on my soldiers?" the Commander asks.
"Who the hell are you and where's the Commander?" the AI asks.
"I'm the Commander," she responds.
"Ha ha, that's cute." The AI folds her arms. "Let me talk to your husband."
The Commander clicks and drags the AI towards the recycle bin.
The AI freaks out. "Okay! Like, you're the Commander! Put me down!"
The woman does, and adjusts her glasses. The AI on screen breathes a sigh of relief, then salutes. "Central Officer *Mute, at your service. Uh, ma'am. And I've caught these women 'soldiers' you have, like, indulging in acts of perverse, unrestrained lust!" *Mute looks over her shoulder at the video player, and scowls. "Ugh, it's so disgusting!"
" ... why are you watching women make out if you think it's disgusting when women make out?"
*Mute blushes. "Ma'am, as the AI in charge of XCOM HQ's security systems, it's my job to monitor the cameras at all times."
"All of them?"
"All of them."
The Commander checks her watch. "Well. The gas station half an hour away is still open. Be right back, I have to go use their bathroom."
* * *
She's wringing rainwater out of her hair as she steps back out of the elevator. "Commander to Engineering," the loudspeaker announces. "Commander to Engineering."
She sighs, and starts walking.
When she opens the door to Engineering, the facility that she's used to has been replaced with a new one made out of concrete. It has multiple levels, and no obvious way to get down from the top where she's at besides jumping. There are glass tubes as big as she is, poking out of the ceiling, with enormous metal crates inside, and red buttons the size of the crates on the floor. A crate next to her has a pink heart on the side facing her.
Fluorescent lights turn on behind a sign on the wall, marked "01," with black-and-white graphics beneath it. They appear to suggest that if the stick figure man from a restroom sign ever sets foot in Engineering, he will be electrocuted, set on fire, hit in the head with a basketball, and then have a birthday party.
"hello," a mechanical female voice greets the Commander,
"and welcome to the xcom enrichment centre. while fun, and learning, are the primary enrichment centre goals-"
"What the hell is this?" The Commander throws her arms up in exasperation.
"-may occur. for your own safety, and the safety of others, please-"
"No! Stop! Abort mission!" She waves her hands in the air, trying to get someone's attention.
"oh. there you are." An oddly-shaped bundle of black plastic tubes and sleek, curved white plastic shells pivots out of the ceiling, and regards the Commander with a camera set into an otherwise-blank faceplate.
"Who are you and what have you done with Engineering?!"
The voice becomes sly and menacing.
"i am your new engineer. this is the enrichment centre. the foundry is now android hell."
Two white plastic synthetics, which look like segments of the computer given spindly arms and legs, walk by carrying a giant mechanical eye by its handles. It turns every which way, looking around frantically. They round the corner, and there is a flash of heat and light and a disturbing scream.
The Commander stares.
Two more synthetics walk past, carrying a standard-issue XCOM mattress between them. They fling it over the edge of the floor that they're on, and then run back out.
The Commander walks to and looks over the edge. There is a pile of mattresses and bedframes. She points at them. "What's this supposed to be?"
"i am replacing the barracks with a live-fire testing area for combat androids. it was supposed to be a surprise for you. surprise!" Her speakers play the sound of a party popper going off, and confetti sprays out of the ceiling.
"That's ... great. It's really great, that you're showing initiative like that." The Commander brushes confetti out of her hair, and makes a mental note to have this AI replaced with a toaster. "What are you doing with my soldiers, then?"
"i am luring them to the enrichment centre with the promise of free baked goods."
"That's ridiculous. Who would ever fall for such a transparent ploy?"
The computer hanging from the ceiling turns to face a screen on the wall. It turns on to show XCOM's new lead scientist, playing with a Tamagotchi.
"*hyun-ae, i have finished baking. please come down to the enrichment centre to receive your cake."
"Yay!" *Hyun-ae shouts, and runs off-camera to the door. "Cake with my coworkers ~ "
The Commander double-facepalms.
Suddenly an alarm sounds, and the lights flash red. "Hostiles detected."
* * *
"Commander, we have a crisis developing." When she gets back to the Situation Room, Central Officer *Mute is standing there on the nearest computer's screen, saluting while holding a clipboard in the other hand. "Emma Harper has just proposed to Sato Hikari, and, like, you can't tell from their weird-sounding names but they're both women! She thinks that just because she wears pants and fights in our wars, that makes her as good as a man!"
The Commander stares at her in disbelief.
*Mute flips through pages on her clipboard. "Also, the aliens are terrorizing a place called 'Montreal.'"
"Deploy Skyranger-1 immediately." The Commander fixes her steely gaze on a red blip on the Hologlobe, in eastern North America.
"Um, I don't think the Skyranger will fit in the supply closet." *Mute reviews the security camera footage of the newly-engaged women.
"To Montreal!" the Commander exclaims.
"Okay, if you insist ... "
"I'M HUN~GRY!" says one of the Furbies. The Commander drop-kicks it to Android Hell.
A man's voice comes in over the speakers. It sounds like he's using a walkie-talkie. "Central, this is Big Sky. Strike team is on board and prepared to engage, but we cannot lift off. I repeat, the launch mechanisms will not activate."
"What the fffff-" The Commander glances at *Mute.
*Mute shrugs helplessly.
The Commander holds down a "push to talk" button on one of the consoles. "Hangar, this is the Commander. What's the holdup?"
No one responds.
She presses the button again. "Hangar, can anyone hear me? Acknowledge!"
*Mute starts eating popcorn again.
The Commander slams her fist down on the button. "God damn it, open the launch bay doors!"
Suddenly all the lights in the room dim. *Mute and the Commander look up as the Hologlobe is replaced by an enormous, electronic eye, glowing red.
"I'M SORRY, COMMANDER. I CAN'T DO THAT."
-- The End --
... okay, one more scene.
* * *
A deserted city street, with speed limit signs measured in kilometres. Beneath the glow of a streetlight, and next to Skyranger-1's unloading ramp, are a half-dozen white oval synthetics on tiny legs. They are each about the size of a cat. Highly visible laser targeting beams shine out of their single eyes.
"Hello~o," one of them says, in an Uncanny Valley imitation of a human child's voice.
"Are you still there?" another asks.
A civilian peeks his head out from behind a garbage can.
"There you are," a third says, sounding smug.
Their sides pop open and miniguns start blasting away. The civilian runs and dives into an alleyway, just in time.
"Target lost," one of the turrets says, sounding disappointed. Their guns fold back in.
None of them move or look up, as a slavering creature made out of claws and spider legs crawls into the circle lit by the streetlight. Then it pounces and scatters them, their miniguns firing wildly in all directions, and roars as it pulls one of the turrets out of the lit area.
" ... I don't blame you."