Chapter 2Mature

Had this been any other time, perhaps as a part of my team, I’d have never done what I’d just done. I was a recruit, a newbie. The most important task ever assigned to me was to sweep for mines.

But here, I was alone.

I saw the milliseconds ticking away on the visor. I felt the warmth of flesh as my arm passed through my enemy. It didn’t matter who he was, it matter that he was dead, and I’d done it painlessly. The human body took almost a second to register pain. He was dead in less than one.

Third step.

Right foot.

I tried turning myself to the right, and I did. My foot was pivoted on the ground, my weight falling front, and my entire frame turned right, facing the second dark figure.

By now, adrenaline was beginning to take over my system. That meant I could no longer be rational about my movements even if I wanted to. It was fight or flight, and with this monstrosity of technology on, the fight would be short.

Another jab into the ground, and I could feel my foot sinking into the coarse gravel like it was wet clay. It was then that I noticed the scheme of the suit in front of my right eye. It was a little monitor for sensors all over the extremities of the suit. How much force my limbs and joints were under, and how much more they could take.

Right ankle.

Nearly 7000 newton.

My ankle, for that moment, was experiencing 1500 pound of force on it. A human ankle would snap like a twig.

A tenth of a second later, the tips of my fingers touched the figure’s throat. Another tenth of a second later, it had gone through.

No blood spattered on my visor. I had moved ahead too fast for any blood to spatter on it.

This was insanity. I had heard many rumours about the suit’s abilities. Strength, agility, reflex, but none of them ever told me my sense of time would become distorted as a result of it. It felt like I was leisurely flying through the air like one swims through water. The only way I knew I wasn’t, was the timer at the corner.

The jump across the road was powerful enough for me to hit a wall of a building on the other side. As my feet made contact with it, I felt solid ground for the first time. Concrete was almost impossible to crack, even when travelling at inhuman speeds.

A turn and I lunged forward, again.

Two seconds ago, I had two enemy soldiers training their guns for me, perhaps even close to shooting me in the skull. Now, they were mangled, decapitated bodies on a wasteland. Just a skirmish in the middle of nowhere; nobody would come to know, no one would look for them.

A dozen more steps and I had left the little outpost far behind. The lack of showering bullets led me to believe that they had no long-range rifles. It was my lucky day. I would survive if nothing went further wrong.

Our squad leader used to tell us before every mission, “Fear the enemy, but do not be afraid of the fear itself. If you fear the enemy, you will try to kill him before he kills you. That is the most valuable instinct of war. We want you to kill the enemy, not die yourself. I want to see you, all of you, again, tomorrow, and you’re going to live that long only if your fear compels you to destroy the enemy.”

It had sounded pathetic to me then. It sounded pathetic every time he gave us that speech. But today, with my heart racing at over 150 beats every minute and sweat rapidly drying off my forehead, I knew what he meant.

Pity he was dead now. I saw him die in front of me, two days ago, his torso, blown apart by a burst bullet.

Half a minute had passed, and I was almost a quarter of a mile away from that little hellhole.

I slowed down, idled onto a standstill, and collapsed. The suit, sensing idle activity, powered down. My limbs became heavy again. I hated this feeling. I hated being human again. No doubt, the human body had exceptional abilities, but I liked them enhanced further, even though it was confusing and disorienting.

A quick brush over my visor, and I had 93% power, most joints and surfaces at close to 100%. 2.15 a.m. and I was lying face down on cold stone.

I clicked on the communicator. It transmitted at an emergency frequency of 15.2 kHz. At that frequency, it would travel for hundreds of miles on less power than it took to run a wristwatch.

“This is Unit 401, requesting assistance. My platoon has been killed. This is Unit 401 requesting assistance.”

I waited for a reply, even an automated one would do.

Nothing.

I repeated myself.

Nothing, again.

I was alone, without any contact with any friendly military establishment and an enemy outpost maybe a quarter of a mile away: the dream of a veteran, and the nightmare of a rookie.

I was tired. Images of my recent life flashed across my eyelids. The military ambitions, the love for technology, the teenage idea of the army being all impressive technology and polished boots, and perhaps the comforting feeling that real battles were far away, and all of this, flashing as I was slumped on the ground.

I could make out an indistinct rattle from my trance. I couldn’t even figure out if I was dreaming or it was real. What was it? I strained my numbed senses. And just then, I got my senses back. It was one of those moment when you fall asleep out of exhaustion but aren’t fully asleep yet.

The rattle was clearer now.

“Unit 401, please hold ground. Assistance is en route. ETA: 17 hours.”

The voice, computer-generated, repeated itself, and then repeated itself again.

Someone, somewhere, had heard me. There was rescue coming.

17 hours.

It had now been half an hour since my little encounter. I could safely wager that the rest of the outpost had been alerted and were out to find me. It wasn’t too hard to know who was alone in the middle of nowhere. I was stuck here, in coverless terrain for the next 17 hours with a bit less than 19 minutes of power on my suit. This was cutting it very close, and my chances of survival were still slim.

Besides, I had been in combat for less than a minute and here I was, lying like a corpse on the ground, without the will to move. That last part was fine, considering I was told to hold my ground.

Problem was, this was insecure, hostile ground.

This was behind enemy lines.

The End

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