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I’d been staring right at the horizon where the nuke went off. My suit’s visor went black, instantly protecting my sight but I knew – even before the shock wave hit – I was dead.

Diagnostics screeched and blared at me, as if I didn't know. The cooling system kicked into overdrive but sweat still sprang from every pore; I was instantly running a fever of 107. Radiation sleeted through the armor, literally cooking me. I panted and gasped, waited for the chillers to bring things back to a semblance of normal if they could.

A few minutes later internal temps were stabilized, but I was still dead. Nobody took that much gamma radiation and just walked away.

Unless they wore Mk.VII Ravager combat armor. Excellent radiation shielding in these things; the EMP barely touched the electronics. A few cores down but main RAM was still good and all systems nominal. Ignoring the damage done to the fragile human pilot, that is.

My visor came back online, and despite it being past 0300 hours light amplification was unnecessary. The very air glowed. The horizon where I’d pointed my eyes now sported a notch where Mt.Casco had been. But then the tortured clouds moved in, shot through with lightning, a whirling, glowing cyclone around a rising mushroom 15,000 feet tall and still climbing. Visibility in that direction quickly dropped to zero. IR was useless, but millimeter wave radar painted a reasonable path through the destruction.

I still had a job to do, dead or not. The suit had never broken stride, its relentless mechanical gait a reassuring thump-thump-thump you could set music to.

Knowing the answer I asked anyway. The suit told me I’d taken a lethal dose – several dozen lethal doses in fact. That I was conscious was miraculous; it had already started a morphine drip + antidepressants and tried its hardest to scrub my blood of free radicals, but that only bought some time.

The suit wanted to know if it was okay that it uploaded my personality. You know, for safe keeping. Sure, why not? I doubted the government would spend money on a clone but who knows? Never give up hope, the antidepressants whispered.

Thump-thump-thump.

35 miles per hour over broken, smoking terrain. This had been a forest at one time. That was once a stream. The suit leaped over the glassed remains of an asphalt road, landed with mechanical precision on the other side and kept on going.

It didn’t need me, I realized. The suit could make the delivery. The items in my storage rack would make it into their intended hands whether I lived or not. All I had to do was—

I woke up in wracking pain, the thump-thump-thump now an agony in my chest. Were my organs liquefying? I doubted I would be conscious outside the suit. How long had I slept?

The suit said 22 minutes. Another 90 minutes or so to the way-point, where I could discharge my duties and sleep forever.

Upload complete, the suit said. 100% checked and verified; backed up in two redundant storage arrays. How nice. I remembered again that I wasn’t strictly necessary anymore – the suit could handle it. Fuck everything; I wanted to sleep. So I did.

The suit buzzed at me urgently from a thousand miles away. Thump-thump-thump. And the buzzing. I blinked awake, eyes crusted over. My mouth kept filling with something vile I couldn’t avoid swallowing, but that hurt too. Everything from the waist up felt swollen and hot. I couldn’t feel anything below that.

Buzz, buzz. Thump-thump-thump. The suit wanted something. It kept asking me for permission to do something. But it wouldn’t accept a nod of acknowledgment, I had to… tell it somehow.

There was a gesture I needed to make but I couldn’t feel my hands. My arms were swinging, pumping, providing balance for the Ravager’s near-parkour antics of running over broken ground. But all I needed to do was make an OK with my thumb and forefinger, twist it just so and…

Yes. The buzz turned to a happy chime, and I could finally sleep.

--

My third awakening was instantaneous: from utter void to 100% hyper-clarity in no discernable time at all. I felt fine. Refreshed, invigorated, completely whole and alert.

And no thump-thump-thump anymore. It took seconds for me to realize that had stopped. Why’d we stop? I decided to find out. But the suit wouldn’t answer my queries. How rude; maybe it had taken damage after all—

Thump.

Oh. Right foot receiving 210 kilos of weight, actuators adjusting, gyros tilting to stabilize, the happy meshing of software systems designed to keep an 8-foot-tall combat suit upright. Hydraulics compressed in slow motion, absorbed the weight, reached their intended limit, began expanding again. Back into the air.

Thump. Left foot receiving 210 kilos—

My vision was perfect, unimpaired. I didn’t need air anymore, for a small fusion reactor at the base of my spine provided all. Reality was wrong, too slow. It took 30 seconds or so for each stride to complete, plenty of time to assess the entire situation.

Assess? I instantly knew. No need to query anything; the knowledge was just there.

I was a human consciousness uploaded into the control matrix of a Mk.VII Ravager combat suit, and it felt glorious. I tried not to think about the grisly meat cargo held within. My not-yet decomposing flesh skeleton that contained yet another skeleton, Russian stacking dolls that—

Whoops. Not allowed to think about that too much. The suit – me – didn’t like what it did to my respiration, heart rate, and emotional balance. Ah… my simulated respiration, heart rate, etc.

Thump.

God this was strange. Without my meat brain time moved slower and I could really think things through. 18 minutes of realtime left in my journey, but with the time dilation factor? Hours and hours. Most of a day. Dammit, the problem here was that I thought too fast now. Wonderful for combat, no doubt, but at this rate I’d grow crazy from boredom before—

Thump-thump-thump. And instantly, just by thinking it, time was normal again. Apparently the dilation factor was a parameter I could control.

At half-time, I’d be there in 9 minutes.

So I cranked it down as far as it’d let me and watched the world scream by, the endless pistoning of my armored legs a hysterical fast-forward movie. Before I knew it, I’d arrived. And automatically back to normal speed, like the starship Enterprise dropping out of warp.

A pair of Mk.VIIs met me at the shattered gate and let me pass. We’d exchanged friend-or-foe recognitions awhile back, otherwise I’d’ve been slagged. My gait changed to an in-camp walk as an older Mk.IV escorted me to Command. Everyone was in suits; that told me how badly we were losing.

I saluted my Commander (Mk.VIII Dominator B) and uploaded my report. Spider drones scampered behind my suit, unbolted the storage rack and took its contents away for processing. Another drone hooked up umbilicals to recharge the suit’s consumables: ammo, rockets, chaff packets, coolant. I waved off the water, meds, air.

The Commander was dead too. I realized this when new orders streamed in, my HUD updating to reflect new maps, new waypoints. His suit, though, was still a recognized authority.

He asked me if I could still fight, which was a silly question. Of course I could. I wanted to. I needed to. Armored hatches snicked shut as the spiders completed their work; I was topped off and ready to rock.

New orders: provide support to a group of formerly-alive soldiers who were holding a position at so-and-so this many klicks away. Images/specs/recognition codes for a platoon of Mk.VIIs like my own Ravager dropped into my memory instantly; I’d know them on sight. I saluted smartly and turned to execute my orders.

On the way out I passed many suits but all were like me: pilots dead but still fighting.

And actually, I kind of preferred it that way.
Humans suck at war. Better leave it to the machines.
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:iconcihge:
cihge Featured By Owner May 26, 2014
Sort of like a bad car accident, but in a good way - it's really morbid, I feel genuine, near-paralyzing fear when I thoroughly consider the possibility of this happening to me; but I can't stop looking at it or thinking about it.
A great mix of grit and tranquility is what makes the narrator strangely easy for me to relate to.

I predict more of these :+fav: for you as I catch up on my inbox in no particular order. :D
Reply
:iconall-my-darkness:
All-My-Darkness Featured By Owner Mar 1, 2014
Soup in a can..I don't want it anymore.

The words lumpy and stew...and why the fuck am I think about eating after reading this??

Oh its lunch time.

...Maybe that should have been my battle cry.
Reply
:icontobaeus:
Tobaeus Featured By Owner Oct 29, 2013   Writer
This is an interesting take on how machines might eventually dominate humanity. Not in war, not in gradually taking over, but because we *handed* them the power. Might be a lot more peaceful that way.
Reply
:iconralfmaximus:
RalfMaximus Featured By Owner Oct 31, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
You know, I think it might go down this way for reals.

Not power suits and nuclear bombs, but handing them the keys and going back to season 6 of Buffy.
Reply
:icontheantimonyelement:
TheAntimonyElement Featured By Owner Aug 19, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
This is...such a great concept. Love it, and it gets more interesting the further you allow it to play out. Bravo. 
Reply
:iconralfmaximus:
RalfMaximus Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Hey you! ♥

Been awhile. How ya been?

Thanks for stopping by to read this.
Reply
:iconalapip:
alapip Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
robots fighting robots, and no humans left
to negotiate a truce.  is that how it's gonna be?

very very well done Ralf!

:) pip
Reply
:iconralfmaximus:
RalfMaximus Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
I've pondered this very point and come to the reluctant conclusion that yes, it's inevitable.

We might even get to the point where wars are fought and over before we are made aware of it. Things happen at lightning speed for machines.

"We have always been at war with Eurasia" might become "We were at war with Eurasia from 6:15 to 6:17 this morning but it's over now. Please exchange your passports for Eurasian ones immediately."
Reply
:iconalapip:
alapip Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
can we ever become a commons supporting,
sustainable global civilization?

i support Kosmos Journal by subscribing - www.kosmosjournal.org/
Reply
:icondoubtingthomas:
doubtingthomas Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2013  Hobbyist
I thought no-one could make power armour seem interesting to me, except perhaps Keith Thompson; but you managed it somehow. O.O Superb.
Reply
:iconralfmaximus:
RalfMaximus Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
OOh, Keith Thompson. Made me google... and now I'm enamored.

You know of Warcraft 40,000?

Empire of Man expands to fill the galaxy in/around the year 40,000AD. We've evolved into full-time soldiers, war being our primary (only?) industry. The most revered soldiers, upon death, are interred in giant walking armed coffins called Dreadnoughts -- to fight again. It's a great honor, a form of immortality. Some Dreadnoughts are thousands of years old and gone mad from the experience. But ever faithful to the Emperor.


I kinda got inspired by that to write this.
Reply
:icondoubtingthomas:
doubtingthomas Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2013  Hobbyist
I think you mean Warhammer 40k. Yes, I know of it - not a fan, to be honest, but I like it much better reinterpreted through your style. :)

And yeah, Keith Thompson is hellsa rad.
Reply
:iconralfmaximus:
RalfMaximus Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Doh!

I like the older THQ video games. Beyond that I'm not much of a fan either.
Reply
:iconbarbecuediguana:
BarbecuedIguana Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2013
Wow, so much better than everything I've read in the last few copies of Asimovs.
I love the imagery in this one, especially the Russian nesting dolls. The idea of battle armor prescribing antidepressants was a hoottoo.

Hmmm.
That was actually supposed to be "hoot too" but I stumbled on the keys and left out the space. Kinda like it better that way....

Anyways, great stuff!
Reply
:iconalapip:
alapip Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
"Asimovs"?!!  as in 'Asimov's sci-fi and fantasy magazine'?

i paid seventy dollars several decades ago, [when it was
SEVENTY DOLLARS!], for a lifetime subscription, and later
on assumed they went broke when the issues stopped
coming.  you mean they owe me like 40 years of issues?!!

[i still have the check stub.]

nah.  it can't be the same magazine... can it?

hopefully, [a little bit].

:hmm: pip  
Reply
:iconbarbecuediguana:
BarbecuedIguana Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2013
The one and only. They seem to be doing fine - I would contact them. Perhaps they lost your address. Or perhaps, in the fine print, it specified that the lifetime you paid for was actually the lifetime of a sea monkey - in which case you now owe them money.

:D
Reply
:iconalapip:
alapip Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
great!  thanks!  now, i'll have to look up that actual check stub.
i've got 'em - all the way back to 1956 when i opened my first
account, also i have the last two copies i had received.

[pack rat]

;)pip
Reply
:iconbarbecuediguana:
BarbecuedIguana Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2013
Tell them you're a time traveler - that'll get their attention :D
Reply
:iconalapip:
alapip Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
i sent 'em an e-mail leaving it up to
what they thought was morally right,
saying i had documentation in case
they were still the same publication.

we'll see.  should i hold my breath?

turning blue...

Reply
:iconralfmaximus:
RalfMaximus Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
High praise, comparing this to Asimov's. I used to subscribe to that (paper!) ages ago and always wondered at their editorial process. I mean it was always so slipshod... decent story, meh story, WHAT WERE THEY THINKING, then greatness in 2000 words.

I discovered Mall World through Asimov's and I'm certain a few other books/series but names escape me atm.

Thanks for diggin this, J. It means a lot. ♥
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:iconbarbecuediguana:
BarbecuedIguana Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2013
No problem, it was great.

Asimovs? I actually have an ebook subscription. It gets delivered to my reader whenever a new issue is released. I don't think I'll be resubscribing though. I think Asimovs is the reason why I have this hang up about being a "professional" writer. Every issue is filled with professional writers doing all the right things in a strategic ways - except for writing anything interesting.

In many ways it reminds me of the stunningly dull literary journals I had to read back in college - but now with spaceships and aliens - who are not nearly as interesting as they should be.

It's easy to kill a story by caring too much about what one writes.
Reply
:iconralfmaximus:
RalfMaximus Featured By Owner Aug 1, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Wow. Epiphany.

Stop caring so much about writing and just write.
Reply
:iconbarbecuediguana:
BarbecuedIguana Featured By Owner Aug 1, 2013
Yeah, it's these finer points we so often miss.
:D
Reply
:iconvardoeger:
vardoeger Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2013
I have to mirror RichardLeach's comment because those last few lines sear the story into the mind. I had a quiet moment re-thinking the phrase "Just following orders" and how easily I've written it off as a lazy default excuse for people shirking responsibility.

I'm sure there are times when escaping blame is the only reason it's uttered, but perhaps, other times, it is because they've been so conditioned they truly cannot do anything else.

Also, on a less ruminative note, the "time dilation factor" part was really nifty. 

Reply
:iconralfmaximus:
RalfMaximus Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
I read an article a few years back about veterans where the main premise was EVERY soldier is a sociopath. It was written by an Iraq war veteran.

It wasn't a condemnation or a call to imprison them, just an observation that killing people for a living requires a different mindset. Some folks never handle the switch to/from that mode and become permanently broken.
Reply
:iconrichardleach:
RichardLeach Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2013   Traditional Artist
Maaaan. The depth of the deadpan irony/satire you reach is amazing.

"Pilots dead but still fighting" - already happens, doesn't it. Sometimes to individual soldiers who lose chunks of their humanity. Sometimes to societies or nations that collectively lose parts of theirs.

And this takes me all the way back to reading Heinlein's Starship Troopers when I was a boy. I thought it was so cool, and later on I realized he was a fascist :O
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:iconralfmaximus:
RalfMaximus Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Deeply honored you saw some Troopers in it. That was a formative work for me growing up, techno-fascism and all.

Heinlein was many ugly things, and even worse near the end. He went full-on Creepy Old Man with his sex obsessions but IIRC some of that was due to a tumor in his noggin. But I wonder what excuse his editors had? Some of his thousand-page masterpieces shoulda been 500 pages.

Some of his classics, packed with misogyny and fascism, are still brilliant. Even the creepy racism of Farnham's Freehold. Allowing for the times or not, that one was... woo.
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:iconrichardleach:
RichardLeach Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2013   Traditional Artist
I still remember the last line of "Farnham's"! I'm pretty sure it was "And they are still hanging on." I read it so long ago, but I recall some of the sex stuff was over the top and creepy.

Ah, now I've looked it up online - incest doesn't occur but it's talked about. Whew. That was it, I couldn't remember whether it happened or was only discussed.
Reply
:iconralfmaximus:
RalfMaximus Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
You want Heinleinesque incest?

Time Enough For Love spends hundreds of pages exploring the "agony" experienced by (twin?) daughters wanting to get it on with the old man. I think I remember them even consummating it. But it's okay because they're consenting adults, which is the justification used in the novel.

Why oh why this stuff is in an acknowledged science fiction masterpiece is anyone's guess. I think Heinlein just wanted to write soft porn.
Reply
:iconrichardleach:
RichardLeach Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2013   Traditional Artist
Oyyyyyyy veh :iconfacepalmplz:
Reply
:iconxlntwtch:
xlntwtch Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2013   Writer
I can't stop thinking about this story a full hour later. It's deep.
Reply
:iconralfmaximus:
RalfMaximus Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
This pleases me. :)
Reply
:iconxlntwtch:
xlntwtch Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2013   Writer
:icontinyheartplz:
Reply
:iconxlntwtch:
xlntwtch Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2013   Writer
Another winner (for a feature) and so well told I could imagine everthing perfectly. You told a war story about the dead so well, and about machines so well, and about how a future could/should/might be, I'm impressed again. *Sigh* You just write friggin well! :+fav:
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:iconralfmaximus:
RalfMaximus Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
When Hell becomes full, the dead will walk the earth.

This time, in power armor.
Reply
:iconxlntwtch:
xlntwtch Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2013   Writer

I think some dead already walk the earth, though as spirits -- not ghosts, but perhaps strong ghosts of memory.

 

 

Reply
:iconindigo-serenade:
Indigo-Serenade Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
This was surprisingly intense. I thought that I was losing track of it, but I never was. XD
Reply
:iconralfmaximus:
RalfMaximus Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
THAT is good to know. I was worried about losing folks with technobabble.

Thankee!
Reply
:iconindigo-serenade:
Indigo-Serenade Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I think the technobabble was the best part!

No prob! ^^
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