Life hadn't started on easy for Janis.
That was the nice, neutral way of describing the childhood of someone who had been raised by Arthur Clay. To anyone who had been an avid reader of seedy tabloids he was nowhere near what someone sane would consider a man. He was much closer to something foul. And his only child knew it from as far back as she could remember.
Janis spent her childhood not understanding the reason behind the women who would oftentimes be brought, drugged in a stupor, into the trailer complex. It was a mild blessing. The other option would have been helplessness in the full knowledge of the evil that was perpetrated in the system of tunnels underneath their trailer. In the end, Arthur was a particularly disturbed, burrowing vermin, but was, nevertheless, barely anything than vermin.
If he was anything, Arthur was pathetically unspecial, save for the evil imagination and lack of empathy he expressed. The only thing "non-human" about Arthur were his eyes. They weren't brown, but yellow, yellow like the eyes of a coyote.
The few positive things that Janis could attribute to the man had been the arduous training he put her through, survivalist training that he continued to train her with the narrative of preparing for the government sending its "jack-booted thugs" in to kill them. There was also the paranoid obsession the man had with watching the skies for things, the names of which he got out of the weird radio stations he listened to. The man certainly had a knack for making even the night sky seem menacing and horrible to his child. Flaps, Pleiadians, Grays, Reptilians—he would sometimes talk about them as though it were as normal as talking about the weather. Or whatever it was that passed as "normal" between a father and his child in the abandoned trailerpark they lived in.
Even Arthur had moments that would surprise Janis in retrospect. Like the time he got her a half-empty box of Natural Ice and a worn, dirty looking copy of a white nationalist physical training guide on her tenth birthday. Once he'd left to do who the hell knew what for the night, she started a garbage fire and threw the book into it and ended up drinking the remaining beers in the ensuing next couple of days. If she were honest in the years to come, it was the twin memories of puking up Natty Ice and looking at the evil, ugly book that turned Janis off of drinking beer nearly altogether. Still, it felt incongruous to her that the man had remembered her birth date.
In the grand scheme of everything, at least the man was right in worrying about the threat of what might come from the great darkness of space. Wrong in every conceivable way possible, but he would end up being her first source for a fear of the great unknown. In the years that Janis would spend, in her own way watching the sky with a degree of paranoia that her father might have been proud of, Janis would wonder about just what other traits she may very well share with the man beyond the obvious.
For one thing, the very yellow eyes that once struck Janis with a mortal terror were also set in her own face. Ultimately, that was a bitter denial of the man's very vocal belief that Janis was not truly his biological child, that her mother had been a whore who had simply offloaded the scrawny child onto a random man she vaguely remembered fucking. She also wondered if she had the endurance and strength that she had witnessed in her father, evidenced by how long he would spend digging pits that she would find had been filled in during the night. A similar endurance ended up being a trait that she would later become well known for.
But aside from those things? Janis would consider herself lucky if she never found a single thing more that would tie her to the man.
She changed her last name as quickly as she could, once she found a way to do it. Admittedly, living in the shadow of an infamous serial killer left her with a chip on her shoulder. One that happened to be exactly what someone like Janis would end up needing.
Above all, the main concern that she heard from people if they managed to make the connection between her and the "Trailer Park Bundy" had been the question of if he had ever "done" anything to her. Or, at least, the expressions they wore when they pushed the eventual conversion seemed to always be questioning it. Sometimes she had seen the skepticism in their eyes whenever she told them that nothing had happened to her, back when she cared enough to try to explain it.
Well, nothing outside of getting hit with a belt whenever Arthur had gotten mean.
What she didn't tend to tell people, unless they had figured it out for themselves, was that she had never had anything to fear from a woman-hating scum like her father had been. After all, she hadn't been biologically born a woman, but had lived most of her life knowing she was one, mostly afraid to express it. Only once she was older and wiser did she learn that living as her true self was the perfect way to spite the legacy of a man whose life seemed dedicated to hating women.
Her life had been a strange uphill climb, and, as Commander Janis Ludovico felt what surely had to be her life draining out of her, she may have thought about how no one would have believed that the teenager who stood, shaking and covered in her own father's blood, would ended up being killed like a rabid animal like this.
As she felt a slow rattle emerge from her chest, however, Janis thought that she could see her father leaning over her, as if to examine the last woman that he would ever break in the last moments of her consciousness. Or, at least, she could swear that she could see his eyes. A pair, resin-yellow bright, felt as though they were looking through her, alight with an unstoppable rage. Just before the darkness took over, Janis realized what she was seeing, understood that it was not some horrible version of her father come back for her, but was a red-skinned, horrible thing. Up close and personal for a change.
Twenty Years Later
John Bradford pummeled the training dummy with a variety of kicks, well aware that he had been in the room at this for far longer than he was supposed to be. Old habits had a way of reappearing, the more angry and fixated he got. And he would have been damned if he could imagine a time when he was more wound up, tense. For now, he at least tried to find solace in working out so hard that some night he struggled back to the bed he shared with his faux wife.
The house was strange. At first it felt, uncannily, like a home, a normal suburban house, all clean and modern. However, the tech panels and displays that turned on, revealing first, always, the ADVENT symbol, never let him forget that this was nowhere safe for either he or his mission partner, Jane Kelly.
As he walked down the hallway leading out of the gym, Kelly appeared out of the end of the hall, stopping John, en route to a much-needed shower. She surprised him, pressing a hand to his shoulder. And she kept pressing, stopping him as he tried to walk past her, who was still too aggravated to want to attempt a conversation.
Before he could ask what she wanted, Kelly forced his face to turn towards hers, and, staring him in the eyes, she asked, "Can I expect you to cooperate on everything like we planned it tomorrow?" In his estimation, having had to put up with a bitter old man and pretend that they were husband and wife gave the young woman carte blanche to tell him whatever she wanted. There were, however, still limits to his patience and he was already at the end of his rope, months into this humiliating and bizarre experience.
It didn't help that, if anything, he was the greasy shadow of a man he thought he once was.
When John scoffed, Kelly tightened her grip on his jaw. "I know it's going to be hard to keep it straight, but we have to work together, do what we need to do to in that Gene Bank."
He hated when people touched him. Still, John behaved, brushing her hand off of his face and started to walk around her. "Don't need to worry about me, Kelly, I still remember how to be a soldier." Translation: I know how to be a good boy.
Kelly shouted after him, stopping John in his tracks. Once he turned to look at her, she demanded, "Then tell me that you're going to cooperate with the plan that we decided on months ago."
John felt his jaw setting tight on his face, could only guess the anger that showed. Knew that it did not help his insistence that he could stay emotionally removed. Still, he stared his co-operative in her eyes and said, "There's nothing more that I want than to have Gatecrasher be a success."
Damn the woman, but Kelly's expression changed into a near copy of the one that John was undoubtedly wearing. "Wanting something and being capable of doing it are two separate things."
It was strange. Once upon a time he could recall someone else giving him near the same verbal spanking. And, like this, he was sure, he most certainly deserved it. Or at least, he would realize it in a few minutes, once he could calm down. So John only shook his head and walked to the bathroom.
Yeah, his communication skills had only gotten better with age, to be sure.
Once the door was shut behind him, John violently shucked his clothes off. His fists still throbbed from hitting the speed bag and then the heavy bag that they had installed in their micro gym—in the room that was designated from the floor plan they had been given as a "nursery". Still, John felt a familiar itch in his hands to hit something until he had destroyed it or his knuckles were bleeding.
Not for the first time since he resigned to live like some schmuck, John thought to himself, I could really use a damn drink.
Everybody John had met that day greeted him the same way, either wishing him it or declaring it to be a happy Unification day. It struck him that it was odd the way he was celebrating something, even if only secretly, at the same time that nearly everyone else was celebrating for the complete opposite reason.
But he would have had to have been insane if he still wasn't riding a nervous terror that was so potent he could taste it like old copper in the back of his throat.
As was to be expected, the bar was almost filled to the brim with people fresh off of their shifts at work. It was this way on the anniversary, but this year would prove to be special.
The place was so packed that John and the co-workers from the manufacturing facility he had agreed to come with had to settle on sitting at tables next to each other. To say the least, this place was far from where he wished to be.
Sometimes John thought that, if he closed his eyes, he could remember that old dive bar the Commander used to bring him to. Before XCOM, he had just been a man floating between positions at the base where he had once been a recruit. His favorite place had been the bar on the outskirts of town. At least, spending time with her had been most of the joy of the place. Still, if he concentrated he could imagine the smell of polished wood, peanuts, and stale beer, paired with the sound of one of the regulars getting rowdy with his friends as well as the slightly lame but somehow fun jukebox music.
The sound, of one of John's newfound "friends" letting out a loud, whooping yell, brought him out of his thoughts. Suppressing the need to roll his eyes, John let one of those ill-fitting smiles grow on his face and approached the table next to his, gladly abandoning the foul-tasting "liquor" that their alien masters had engineered with the full promise that it would have all of the taste of a beer with additional nutritional content.
Letting out a laugh, John asked, "What's the need for the fanfare?"
The man in question was busy on his headjack, talking to someone excitedly when one of the other men at the table spoke up. "He just heard that his wife's got the approval from the ADVENT Research Center that their delivery is going to be a test run for one of the new therapies."
It had taken years for John to learn to not react like he wanted to in a moment just like this. Which was to say, physically recoil and grab the man talking on his headjack like he had just gotten the best news of his life by his neck, then proceed to throttle him.
Instead, he smiled broader and brought his hand down onto the cold circular metal table with a loud slap. "Con-grad-u-lations!" He boomed, earning a new round of cheers from the men at the table with the exception of the man who was awkwardly trying to hear the other end of the conversation on the headjack.
One of the other men had done an impromptu, one-man toast then took a long drink of the venom-yellow liquor in his tall glass. After he gulped his drink down, he looked John squarely in the face and asked, "How about you? Any news, when you're getting your first?"
John felt his eye twitch. Poor Kelly—he was sure that any of the younger operatives deserved someone better to have as a partner for this operation than some old man.
The plan they had decided to implement was that both would live as a newlywed couple, in order to both be seen as innocuous as possible in the relevant City Center as well as to qualify for one of the Family Units, housing that had at least an expectation of privacy.
Of course, getting such a unit was a necessity—privacy an increasing rarity in cities with a strong ADVENT presence. Even after they got their respective places in the community, it had not been an easy thing to stay under the radar. More appropriately, it had been hard on John, having to act to the rest of the world like he was just some complacent man, newlywed to a woman two decades his junior. He took solace in drinking, outside of the house, at bars that operated under the radar and still served good old fashioned whiskey and beer. Maybe too much solace, especially for a man set to be the failsafe if Gatecrasher should fail.
Jane Kelly, in contrast, took everything with almost frightening stride. Hell, she even looked sincere in the faked wedding photos had taken half a year prior, the visible potpourri they used to scatter in their two-bedroom apartment. What a joke, having to act happy while some cranky, scarred, disillusioned old man held her.
Even though Kelly never complained as long as it wasn't about how John was rightfully acting like an ass, he never failed to find a new way to feel uncomfortable in this degrading existence. And it never failed to make John feel like a creep, getting the special medication at the City Center that was meant to help his supposed virility problem. It wouldn't do, after all, for a new couple with no true reproduction issues withstanding to remain unable to produce any children that would need to be delivered in ADVENT's special Nursery facility.
Not that any of that should matter come later tonight.
One of the other men at the table spoke up, saying, "I know it's harder for a man as he gets older—look at me, I had a bit of a problem with my third, but all I had to do was talk to a counselor and they put me on a work plan for fertility treatment." He grinned proudly. "Looks like we're staying in our Class B Townhouse another two years!"
And to think, there was once a time when it wasn't completely normalized to harangue your friends and co-workers about their fertility. Like they were purebred dogs.
What a brave new world indeed.
John wished he had his glass to take a drink out of to momentarily hide his complete emasculation. All he could do was pretend that the reason the heat that had been steadily creeping up his neck was starting to appear in splotches along his jaw was because he was embarrassed. Not completely enraged.
Not for the first time, John had to wonder why he was doing this, if it was all just to save idiots like this. The sad part what that he knew why he was doing this, was seemingly never allowed, for a moment, to forget. After all, all it took was for him to see an ADVENT emblem and he knew that he needed to destroy it.
It was a blur in retrospect. At the moment, it felt to John as though something possessed him, a mixture of old and never forgotten training as well as a rage that had never forgotten him. His chest throbbed, courtesy the rifle butt that an ADVENT Peacekeeper had bestowed on him moments before.
He remembered seeing Kelly, crouched behind one of the hideous light poles that ADVENT had installed. He could remember a passing moment when it almost felt like XCOM had never been incinerated, sending all of them scattering like embers. Like it was all a mission, the kind that he would have spent in the base of operations, watching. Only this time he was up close and personal with the very creatures that had stolen the futures of everyone on his planet.
He thought he could see Kelly give him a look that he knew all too well, the question in her expression plain. Are you going to do what we planned?
And at first John kept his mind straight like a good boy. He watched as the two Squaddies who had dropped from Firebrand flanked and made a successful hit on one of the Troopers positioned in front of the Gene Bank. When he watched the other Trooper make a run to flank the Squaddie that had shot the other Trooper down, John felt the pretense of his calm leave.
Almost as soon as the calm had come over John, any pretense, of the emotional distance that the secret organization had afforded him, was gone. His hands tightened into fists, knuckles bone-white as he clenched the rifle that had been planted underneath the car that had been parked there deliberately. They had told him that him getting the gun had been nothing more than a backup measure until it became his turn in this play.
It more felt as though he was watching himself vault over the concrete barrier, firing the rifle at the Trooper, and then run so that he was standing only a few feet from the sprawled body.
Genie's outta the bottle now, he thought, walking the distance between him and the Trooper. He glanced down at It, watched as the helmeted thing pressed a hand to Its head and began to talk into Its headjack in a too-familiar babble. Without hesitation, he brought his boot down as hard as he could on Its head.
When he heard Shen demand what the hell he was still doing, John felt himself answering back automatically, his eyes trained on the face of the Trooper, now revealed from the cracked-opened helmet. As he heard Kelly approaching him from behind, he felt his stomach turn at the sight of that face, the first real emotion he felt besides rage.
Flat, with small, far-set eyes and a near-non existent nose, the pale face that ultimately lived behind the huge helmet seemed, at first, fake. As though it were a mask, and underneath it there would be a familiar, more humanoid face. After all, they had all been told that this was supposed to be a hybrid, mostly Human. Almost as soon as the thought crossed his mind, John knew that he was staring at the true face behind these sterile hives that the Elders had made for their Human quarry.
Made some additional edits. Sorry, not planning on screwing up and posting broken syntax and such again.