The bombs in the simulations didn’t feel real. That was his excuse, not that anybody cared. Sai sat back on the cot. Stared at the entire wall, a slate of black glass that doubled as his computer screen, and at the stats pouring out in columns, graphs, and dire percentages. He’d tried to make death within the boundaries provided, and, well, survival was a distinct possibility. The chemical mixture Sai had come up with didn’t quite reach the temp needed to cut through hard steel, and if the detonation couldn’t do that, then the whole idea was worthless. He raised his fist, ready to pound that screen wall and stopped. Hitting things never solved problems.

Not computer problems, anyway.

His cabin was one half cot, one quarter locker, and one quarter screen. His bed brushed right up against both. Sai fell back on on the mattress now. Hard scratchy blankets. A pillow. And when those didn’t work to get the scheduled rest, a little gas vent hooked up to the side wall. A lot people had trouble sleeping on a ship this size, with this much grinding machinery, random chatter, and general messages broadcast over the ship’s p.a. system. A couple deep breaths of the good stuff and Sai would cash out till his ticker, tied into his nerves through his spine, shocked him awake at the right time.

Sai would’ve taken a hit a right then and there, except his right eye started blinking. Green light. No incoming message, then, but an order. More exciting than sleep. Sai curled up and twisted on his cot, slipped his legs off the side and pressed open his locker with a palm to the door. The thin, crimson-painted panel slid open and revealed what had once been a standard issue DefenseCorp action suit. What was now, with Sai’s modifications, something far more fun.

Ridged, plated metal made up the suit’s core. Awkward, but the plates protected Sai from just about anything. Built-in heat dispersion, to send the hot energy from a laser spreading around his body and out the back. Effective enough that the only things that could really hurt Sai were concentrated beams, or close-up knives. Things that could get in between those plates. Of course, the suit weighed a ton. Use it in non-zero gravity and Sai would get tired quick.

But that blinking green light didn’t give him a choice. Anytime he saw that, it meant go and go hard.

Sai reached out with his arms and put a hand each palm of the suit. The suit felt the gesture and jumped forward out of the locker towards him. The first three times Sai had done this, it had been all Sai could do to keep from falling back and letting the suit crush him. Eventually, through practice and a healthy application of calming meds through the ticker to steady his jumpy nerves before every attempt, Sai grew used to it. Same way he learned to fire a gun. Same way he stopped being scared of seeing the eyes of the things he’d fought both before, in fear, and after, in death.

The bombs were different. Explosives appealed in the opposite way the suit, the guns did. They demanded respect, careful treatment, and if you gave them that, they’d wait for you to be ready before doing their thing. And they’d blow up, launch shrapnel, whatever, exactly the way you wanted them to.

The suit’s metal slates ran across his arms and legs. Fit to his torso and before Sai even had a chance to take a breath, the mask was over his head and the hard helmet pressed on tight.

An overlay appeared across his eyes. Quick readouts on system operations. How the suit was functioning, his oxygen level, temp, blood condition. The usual warning about sub-optimal levels of muscle tone and the deleterious effect it was having on Sai’s composure. The ticker could solve that for him, jack in steroids. But Sai’d hit the max for medical solutions for his problems, at least in his opinion. One of these days he’d get Gregor to draft Sai a regimen, end these weakling warnings.

One other thing popped up too. What Sai always looked for. Five out of five. The rest of his squad all punching up and getting in. That meant it hadn’t been a mistake. Sever Squad had received an order. Go time.

Before he left his quarters, Sai turned, a bulky ask in the suit, and a move that nearly had him falling over onto his own bed. He leaned over and wiped away, with a gesture, the bomb data. Then stared, briefly, at what filled the screen. A video. A direct feed to his parents, to his sister. Obviously not live – that kind of data took a long time to cross these light years – but he kept it streaming until new footage came in. The program looped through the recorded videos if Sai had nothing new to see.

The three of them were eating in the kitchen. A breakfast of real food, not the vitamin goop. Around a circular table in a house that had no glass windows. Open-air jungle letting the sun peek in from outside. Peaceful, calm. Normal. A present from the past.

When he left, Sai wiped that away too.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.