Chapter 7, The Rainbow Over the HorizonMature

Chapter Seven

The Rainbow Over the Horizon

November 3rd 2140, Top secret training facility on the Roman I space station

2:51 P.M.

            John and Brian were on top of the average sized mountain in the middle of the island in front and below the main facility. They were motionless, and both had sniper rifles aimed at the large mountain range that blocked their view of Earth. Neither of them had looked through their scopes yet however.

            "A very vital aspect of your job, is knowing exactly where the enemy is, what their capabilities are, and how many too," John lectured Brian in a soft voice in order to set the mood of a scouting and reconnaissance mission. Connor was testing Margaret's driving skills below them at the base of the mountain. The dull hum of the vehicle they were driving was the only thing they could hear. "Across that mountain range is several targets I've set up. Your job is to spot them all in less than one minute, note their locations, and recite them back to me. Information is everything in war, and trust me, it's saved me and the rest of Vapor Team's butts on many occasions."

            "Yes sir," Brian said in a confident voice.

            "Use your sniper to find the targets, and remember where they are. Three, two, one, go."

            Brian instantly lowered his head to look through his sniper scope. He scanned the mountain from the left to right, transitioning his aim up and down to cover the entire mountain range. Brian began spotting some targets. He desperately tried to memorize their locations as he searched for more.

            "Time," John murmured.

            "Crap," Brian muttered.

            "Something wrong rookie?" John asked.

            "I didn't finish," Brian was honest.

            "Hmm," John murmured in disapproval.

            "But, there are five targets in the wooded area to the left over there," Brian pointed to show what areas he was referring to. "No targets are at the baseline of the cliff, and none are in that open glade between the trees right there. There are two that are along the river just behind the waterfall, and I saw one on that ridge just behind the trees over there."

            "That's only half of the targets laid out there," John glared at Brian.

            "Understood sir."

            "Anyways, we'll come back to this later," John rolled on his back and stared up in to space. Brian looked back through his scope to find the rest of the targets he missed. "Cheater," John murmured with a smirk.

            "Sorry sir," Brian pulled his head away from his scope.

            "You're nearing the end of IBST you know," John said, hinting that Brian could be less formal if he wanted to. "You can call me Mist."

            "I know sir, it's just..." Brian sputtered. "I've never had anyone take so much time to coach or mentor me."

            "You're referring to your dad aren't you?" John asked.

            "Yeah."

            "I'm not adopting you," John joked.

            Brian chuckled, "I know sir. I just wanna say thank you, I guess."

            "Yeah, you're welcome. But if you're judging fatherhood based on IBST, you probably shouldn't be a father. Too much yelling."

            "Haha, I figure as much sir." A few seconds of silence followed.

            "Alright, new test," John rose to a sitting position. "Your sniper is loaded with non-lethal concussive rounds right?"

            "Yes sir," Brian confirmed.

            "Your job, is to find your fellow rookies and the rest of us instructors, and hit every one of us with a concussive round before they find out where the shots come from."

            "Are you sure?" Brian asked, worried that he would only make everyone mad.

            "Oh yeah," John answered. "If they get pissed off then blame it on me. Now you know where Smoke and Dust are," John pointed to the vehicle driving across the landscape down below. "Find Haze, Shadow, Steam, and Fog. Be smart and be quick rookie. Show me the skills you picked up so far."

            Brian aimed his scope toward the blast door of the main facility. He instantly saw Arden slide out of the opening and grab on to the ledge outside, then he noticed Viktor walking to the edge as well. Brian scanned all over the mountain side. Dale hadn't told them what he and Victoria were doing for the day.

            At last, he spotted them. They were both standing on the rooftop of the largest science facility built on the mountainside. He listened for a split second to the hum of Connor's vehicle below to note their location, then fired two shots in less than a second at Victoria and Dale. The shots traveled through the air as he turned to fire at Viktor and Arden. Viktor was helping Arden back in to the main facility, and they were lined up perfectly.

            Brian fired only one shot at them, then swiveled his sniper downward and fired at Connor and Margaret. After each bullet's air time, they all reached their targets in under three seconds. However, the shots fired at Connor and Margaret only hit the rear of their vehicle while they were in a power slide, and sent them off course. John and Brian both laughed at their fellow squad mates' stumbling, falling and sliding.

            "Nice! Just like I taught you," John commended Brian. "A little more practice and you'll be able to hit them even while they're moving," John pointed at Connor and Margaret again.

            "Thank you, sir," Brian smiled.

*

            Victoria and Dale were gazing at the landscape down below the mountain. Suddenly, Victoria was struck in the chest by something and was knocked down on her back. Dale was struck next in under a second in the chest as well. He nearly fell on his back too, but managed to orient himself in to a stumble instead, and remain on his feet.

            "Haze, you okay!?" Dale asked Victoria as he helped her up. He noticed her armor only had a minor ding, and nearly unnoticeable scratch of paint. Victoria felt her own chest, panicked that she was shot by a lethal round, but was relieved to find her armor wasn't breached.

            "Yeah, I'm fine," Victoria answered. Raucous laughter suddenly assaulted their helmet coms.

*

            Viktor grabbed Arden's hand and pulled him back up in to the main facility. Out of nowhere however, a force struck Arden's back and pummeled him in to Viktor, taking them both to the ground.

            "What the fuck was that?!" Arden questioned. He and Viktor heard Brian and John laugh in their ears.

*

            "Almost done rookie!" Connor informed Margaret. He was in the passenger seat of a Shepherd class Transport Vehicle. Margaret was driving. She was performing a time trial through a perilous journey around the large island. She had dodged large boulders, passed by ledges that dropped to the water below, and ramped the STV over sandy ditches. At last, one last curve until the land opened up to reveal a straight plain to the finish line.

            Margaret threw the STV in to a perfectly time power slide, but suddenly the back end of the vehicle jerked to the side and they were spun around. The rear end of the STV collided with well sized tree, just hard to enough to make a small ding in the bumper.

            "What!?" Margaret questioned the odd physics she just experienced. "I'm sorry sir, I don't know what happened."

            "I do," Connor groaned and hopped out of the STV. He pulled his Marksman Rifle off of his back and aimed it high at the peak of the island's center mountain. He spotted Brian and John rolling on their backs laughing. Connor switched his Marksman Rifle to double shot mode and squeezed the trigger twice, firing four bullets. Each of the bullets struck the Brian's sniper rifle, knocking it off of its bipod and sending it sliding down the mountainside.

            "Not funny guys," Connor said over his helmet com. Viktor, Arden, Victoria, and Dale barraged their coms as well.

            "Fuck you."

            "Seriously?"

            "What's you guys' problem?"

            "Are you insane?"

            John defended themselves as best he could, "ah don't be jealous of our skills!"

            "Fuck your skills," Dale spat.

            "You pansies are lucky you're all the way down there," Arden added.

            "Smoke, go teach them a lesson," Victoria pleaded.

            "I would, but I'm busy," Connor replied, reentering the STV's passenger seat. They continued to argue, but Connor and Margaret switched to their own com channel. Connor sighed. "Go ahead and finish it out rookie."

            Margaret straightened out the STV and casually drove across the designated finish line. "So how did I do?" she asked.

            "Pretty good. Actually, really good," Connor was pleased with her driving performance.

            "Yay!" Margaret exclaimed.

            "Very nice, Dust."

            "Thanks."

            "So, about you and Steam..." Connor began.

            "Wh-what about us?" Margaret wondered what Connor was talking about.

            "You got a thing for him?" Connor questioned her with a smile.

            "Is this a trick question?" Margaret asked.

            "No, I'm just genuinely curious. We're actually almost done with IBST, and because of that, I just want you to know I'm totally okay with it."

            "I didn't know I needed permission, Mom," Margaret sassed with an attitude. Were she to say that a few months ago, Connor would have blown up in her face.

            "Oh you know what I mean. I mean I'm not going to get mad at you two for focusing on personal relationships instead of your training. It's a new era; why not spend it with a new relationship?"

            "Yeah, what about you though?" Margaret turned the Q and A to Connor. "Where's your new relationship?"

            "I dunno. Not on this station probably," Connor answered. "You're right though. I've been holding on to a false hope for my previous relationship for too long. It's time I let it go."

            "It's only healthy," Dale suddenly chimed in on their channel, adding his own input to what Connor was saying.

            "What are you doing on this channel Shadow?" Connor inquired.

            "Mist says it's judgment day," Dale replied.

            "Already?" Connor asked in disbelief.

            "Yeah. You remember it took us four months? Well it's going on five for them."

            "I guess you're right."

            "Fog says they're ready too."

            "Alright then. Let's all meet at the VR training center," Connor said.

            "Roger, see you soon," Dale left their com channel.

            "Is judgment day bad?" Margaret asked, slightly worried.

            "Judgment day, is your final test," Connor replied. "You guys are about to graduate."

*

            Vapor Team and the rookies stood in a sort of lobby area inside the training grounds' state of the art virtual reality combat center. They hadn't used the VR center yet, and were curious how it would perform. The VR center was a large structure with several theaters branching off of a central hub and scattered hallways. Its visual architecture resembled something of a political museum. Sergeant Nakahara entered through a set of double doors at the entrance to the lobby and walked over to Vapor Team and the rookies.

            "No more interfering with others' work here," Nakahara shot a look at Dale and Victoria.

            "I don't know what you're talking about," Dale joked.

            "I am not amused. Training sessions that interfere with the research and work of other departments here is not allowed."

            "Geez, Naki, you're no fun," Dale said. They had given Nakahara the nickname Naki for their own convenience. "You'll be happy to know then, that this is their last day of training, if they pass this final test. I assume that's why you're here anyways right? To oversee our finished product?"

            "Affirmative."

            "You won't be disappointed," John proclaimed. "Right guys?"

            "Sir, yes sir!" the rookies responded in unison.

            A building technician exited one of the large theaters through a set of heavy sliding metal doors. He was wheeling a cart of eight milk white colored helmets that were very inefficiently designed for real combat. The exterior design of the helmets themselves were made of a flimsy material, and they were slightly smaller than the average armor suit helmet.  He reached them and saluted as an unofficial greeting with respect. They all saluted back.

            "Your session is all set up. Are you guys ready?" the technician asked.

            "Yup," Connor replied.

            "How does this thing work?" Arden asked.

            "Our goal with the VR tech that is used here was to make a battlefield simulation as real as possible. Currently, that meant disregarding the wish for a small VR setup, and instead building large theatric rooms that featured all of the landscape and structures of a real world scenario. That makes up the 'reality' part. The 'virtual' part, is where these helmets come in."

            "Every theater in this complex is lined with thousands of micro sensors in the walls, ceilings, and floors. These sensors track your helmet's location, it's direction that it is facing, and transmits an exact replica of the theater's landscape and buildings, but colored in with grass, dirt, brick, etcetera. Without these helmets on, the theaters are nothing more than a dull, stale, gray colored room with the layout of a battlefield scenario. Trees are shaped metal poles in real life, but with the helmets on, you see detailed bark."

            "Sounds like a waste of space and funds," Viktor voiced his opinion.

            "This is the best way to get the most realistic combat scenario," the technician quelled his comment.

            "Well let's get started then," Arden said.

            "Not so fast," John halted them. "I want us to run it first. See if it really is as real as you say. If it's not, we'll have to find a new judgment day."

            "Good idea," Connor agreed. "Wait out here rookies." Vapor Team replaced each of their helmets with the white VR helmets. They looked silly with their special colored armor suits, matched with a plain white helmet.

            "Let's go," Dale said.

            "I'll go get in the tech booth to run you through the simulation," the technician rushed up a stairwell beside the sliding doors he came from.

            The rookies watched as their instructors entered the theater. The sliding doors shut behind them. Half of an hour went by. The rookies were relaxing on a cushy bench in the middle of the lobby. At last, the sliding doors slowly opened again.

            Vapor Team stumbled out of the theater. Connor dropped and rolled on his back, John fell to one knee and placed a hand on the floor, Dale fell down sideways and slammed in to the ground, Arden fell flat on his face and slowly started to crawl toward the rookies. He stopped and reached out a shaking hand.

            "Save yourselves," Arden moaned. He dropped his hand and laid flat on the ground. John keeled over and fell on his side too.

            "Really, guys?" Victoria crossed her arms. Dale ruined the moment with a snicker. The rest of Vapor Team subtly laughed too. They got up off of the ground and headed toward the rookies.

            "Come on, we didn't get you even in the slightest bit?" Connor asked.

            "Nope," Margaret answered.

            "Dang, all that 'have no fear' training really paid off," John remarked.

            "No, you guys just suck at acting," Brian said.

            "Gentlemen, please," Nakahara urged them to hurry along.

            "Sorry, Naki," Connor apologized. "Let's move it your four, through those doors." The rookies traded their helmets with the white ones and entered the theater. Nakahara and Vapor Team headed upstairs to observe their performance.

            The rookies slowly walked in to the bland gray theater. They noticed the walls, ceiling and floor was laced with a vast sensor network. The floor was very curvaceous, and several metal frames that resembled trees were dotted around the room. On the far side of the theater was a well sized three story structure, built like a fortress. In front of the fortress was a flat section of floor.

            The fortress itself was shaped like a staircase, where two small sections of rooftop were used as balconies on levels two and three. Two ramps, with a width only wide enough to hold two people, stretched on both sides of the fortress from the base of the structure all the way to the rooftop of the third floor. Lastly, they noticed two large 8 foot cubes on the flat section of floor in front of the structure.

            "Before we start," the technician's voice boomed in the theater from a loudspeaker in the ceiling. "Test your helmets." The rookies slipped on the white helmets. "Initiating VR connectivity, standby." Their helmets' visors faded black and displayed a text box, Acquiring theater coordinates... Confirmed... Loading. . . . . . Assets loaded... VR link established... Bringing tactical HUD online... Visor display activated... The textbox disappeared and their visors faded back in, this time showing a completely different world around them.

            What was originally the ceiling was now a deep blue sky with lush white clouds and a vibrant sun hanging directly overhead. Brown dirt was hidden under bright green grass. A holographic ten foot tall chain link fence ran around the perimeter, marking where the walls of the theater were. Regardless, the world around them seemed suddenly much larger. Mountains rose in the distance, and a forest was few scale miles behind them. Brian stepped over to a tree and knocked on it with his knuckles. He heard metal clanging from his hand armor to what in real life, was nothing more than a metal frame. He chuckled at the juxtaposed sound.

            "Well I don't need to ask if it's working," the technician stated. The rookies were turning their heads left and right, kneeling and touching the floor in an attempt to touch the grass. Brian looked like a crazed tree hugger. "Head to the far corner of the theater. You'll find a shack with all the weapons and equipment you'll need."

The End

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