Carol held her breath as the suit began to squeeze against her, gaining terrifying intensity until it abruptly released and she felt as light as a feather. She didn’t dare move, however, staring at the master sergeant and wondering if he would let her out of the Suit. The irrational part of her hoped that he would apologize profusely, then head off to the medical bay to explain the truth and take his lumps, so to speak, so she could get her to get back to her job like nothing had ever happened.
The sight of blood and his dangling hand made her feel dizzy, and Carol was sure she would faint. She had not been trained for combat, and had never imagined herself getting anywhere near anything that could be dangerous or gruesome. As if in response, the air inside the Suit turned cool and her head began to clear, making her wonder if it had automatically increased the oxygen content.
The master sergeant’s face had gone white, and after a seemingly long period of simply staring, he reached for the radio attached to the collar of his uniform. “The Suit has been hijacked, repeat, the Suit has been hijacked,” he said. “This is MSG Hartmann, reporting casualties, in Bunker One.”
“Okay,” Carol whispered to herself. “Just sit tight, and explain everything when they get here. The security cameras should back up my story, so I just have to keep calm.” No one knew that the Suit had called her ‘commander’, and she could keep that a secret till the day she died. Maybe. At the very least, she needed to escape her present situation without getting killed, or worse, fired, and that was going to keep her from wondering about anything else for a while.
Despite herself, sweat began to tickle her brow. No one was going to calmly listen to her, at least not at any point where it was going to matter for her personally. The master sergeant had accused her of highjacking, and the life of a simple cleaner wasn’t going to matter anywhere near as much as ensuring that the military never lost the Suit. They would storm the bunker with their guns blazing, and she would die the moment she left her protective armor without ever getting a single word out. She was trapped.
A menu appeared on the visor in front of her eyes, and in despair Carol thought that it wasn’t intuitive at all. “I don’t know what it means!” she shouted at the computer. “Help me!”
“Accessing help system,” the computer voice answered, and Carol expected the overlay on the visor to change. Instead, her whole body began to tingle, followed be the strangest sensation she had ever experienced, as if her mind had split in two and the panicked part of her had simply floated away. No one had ever said anything about the Suit being capable of something like that before.
She was now thinking clearly. When the soldiers stormed the bunker, she was ready.
“Access on-board camera and audio, and project video; set height to ten feet,” she ordered the computer confidently, surprising even herself. The Suit flashed a light in front of it, forming a screen in the air. “Begin replay, starting point minus … ten minutes.” She wasn’t sure how much time had passed, and hoped that she had gone back far enough.
Hartmann had ducked behind the line of soldiers, and was in the process of receiving first aid when the replay began. The recording of Carol protested, followed by the echo of his voice loudly filling the room with the words, “You think I care? You’ll have a fatal accident long before you report anything to anyone.”
He forcefully knocked down the medic and bolted before anyone else had the chance to react, clutching the bandages to his wrist and praying that he wasn’t leaving a trail of blood for them to follow. He had acted rashly in a moment of passion, and now he was going to pay the price with not only his rank, but likely his hand as well. All he wanted now was to get away as fast as possible.
After the soldiers had been ordered to stand down, Carol opened up the Suit and stepped out with a smile of relief. She felt high, even as she was seized on both sides and taken to a small dark room, where she was left to wait alone. She was giddy, like she had just made love to her high school crush for the first time, and she was hopelessly caught up in the thought of doing it again. If she was ever let near the Suit after this, she wouldn’t be able to stop herself from nestling inside.
The door opened, and a captain stepped in. He looked down at his watch, then up at Carol. “The General is on his way,” he announced. “We’ll begin then. For now, I want a written statement from you of what occurred.” He set down a pad of paper and a pen on the table in front of her.
Carol hesitated, wondering how truthful she should be.
“This isn’t official,” the captain said quietly, leaning over her. “But I have to ask: how did you know the Suit has recording equipment installed? We could have clarified a certain number of missions had we known about it.”
“I accessed the help system,” Carol replied, her hand beginning to shake. She was abruptly coming down from her exhilaration, and all she really wanted to think about was what it had been like inside the Suit.
“No one has ever found a help system before,” the captain pressed. “How did you know that existed?”
“I just asked for help.” She was growing flustered.
He slammed his hand down on the table, making Carol jump. “Tell me, how did you do it?”
“It wasn’t in safe mode,” she admitted meekly. “The Suit recognized me as a user.”
The captain gaped at her for a moment. “You’ve been inside before, then?”
“No, never. I just clean it.” Carol folded her hands together tightly and stared down at them in her lap. “I don’t know why that happened. If you check the video, you’ll see that I didn’t want to get inside, and that I had been forced to. It’s on the video,” she repeated, “as plain as day.”
“We saw that you were threatened. However, we still don’t see why you closed and activated the Suit, and we strongly feel that your conduct was questionable.” The captain sat down and looked at his watch again. “Hurry up and write your report. I want that done before the General arrives.”
“Am I going to lose my job?” Carol asked.
“Start writing, and worry about that later.”
Her hand was now shaking badly, and her handwriting was barely legible. Carol didn’t know how to put the events into words, and she was certain that her nerves were lowering her IQ by at least a dozen points. All she could think about was how, after she had found true satisfaction and clarity in her life, she would never be allowed anywhere near the Suit again. Maybe she would spend the rest of her days in a cell, forever wondering why it had called her ‘commander’, and never having the chance to learn.
The door opened, and the captain stood and saluted. The General took one look at Carol, and began to laugh.
“From the looks of you, this is a little absurd for me to ask, but how would you like a promotion?”