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.
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—
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.
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.