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Awakening This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

Lub Dub
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I realize I can hear my heart beat. I try to move my limbs but they don’t respond.
I become aware of my breathing; slow and steady just like when I’m sleeping. The air tastes weird, metallic.
My hearing returns to the sound of artificial breathing. I realize it’s me. It sounds like a character from an old movie I once saw. What was the name of it? Sun battles? Star battles? Star Wars! That’s it! And what was the characters name? Lord tater? Darth Vader! That’s right. I sound like Darth Vader. Great. Whoever did this to me must really like old sci-fi movies.
I try moving my arms again, listening closely because I can’t seem to open my eyes. My arms actually respond this time, forcing their way through some kind of thick liquid. Thick fluid? Why would you immerse someone in gel?
There is a loud “thunk” from somewhere, followed by a weird gurgling, rushing sound. I realize the gel is moving, sucked away by something below me.
The last of the gel vanishes, leaving me standing. I remove the breathing apparatus. I open my eyes and remember.
I am Marcus.
*****
“Sweet Jesus. What did they do to this guy? Is he even human?” the technician wondered, staring wide-eyed through the window into the next room at the creature that had just emerged from the cryogel tank. The creature looked more like a god than a man, tall and well muscled with a face that demanded obedience and foretold of the consequences if it wasn’t.
“Major, you’re going in there unarmed right?” the technician asked into his radio.
“UNARMED?! Are you crazy Simmons?!”
“Sir, this guy seems pretty confused, and he looks like he could rip a man in half with his bare hands. Going in there with a pistol on your hip might be a bad idea.”
“Holy Moses!” the Major got his first glimpse of the creature. “You’re right Simmons. Maybe a pistol is a bad idea.”
“Good luck sir”
“Thanks Simmons” the Major replied nervously. “Oh, and send a squad down here. Just in case.”
“Yes sir.”
Simmons was about to call down a regular infantry squad, then he decided to call a squad from the 10th Heavy Infantry Regiment down instead. “After all, the Major didn’t say which squad to bring.” Simmons thought, fervently hoping the ‘heavies’ wouldn’t be needed.
*****
It’s all coming back now. What happened to me, why I was in the tank. Something is wrong though. Where are the technicians with clothes and to make sure I’m full recovered from cryosleep? I look towards the window, trying to figure out what’s going on.
The door to my left unlocks with a “clunk” and hisses open to reveal a man in a major’s uniform. I almost salute him when the training kicks in. The uniform is wrong. The trim is the wrong color and the insignia is not the circled stars of the United Nations, but instead a winged dagger. The uniform is also dirty and tattered, not the immaculate dress uniform usually worn in the Base.
I decide not to take any chances with this guy. “You have thirty seconds to convince me not to snap your neck.”
“My name is Major Jacques Derringer of the United Earth Defense Force and current commander of Castle Base. You are Marcus-723, courtesy of the Nautica Project, with the equivalent rank of a Chief Warrant Officer” the captain responds nervously, obviously trying to figure out the best escape route if it seems I’m not satisfied.
“And you’ve woken me up why?”
“We need your help. Earth is under attack and the UEDF has been pushed back” The captain replies. “Welcome to the year 2896.”
600 years. I’ve been in cryosleep for almost 600 years. I’m used to losing friends in combat, but I could always come back from a mission and count on being greeted by comrades. Now they are all gone. Dead and turned to dust long ago. She is dust. I have nothing left to lose.
“I’m in” I hear myself say through the shock of revelation. I’m surprised my voice sounds so clam and steady, a total contrast to the turmoil in my head. “I need some clothes first though.”
“I’m afraid I’m unprepared for that. I was expecting you to already be dressed.” Derringer pulled out a com unit. “Simmons! Tell the squad you called up to stand down and get down here with an infantryman’s uniform. Size…9.”
The com squawked “yes sir. Uniform size 9.”
“And hurry up Simmons. Derringer over and out.”
I wait for Derringer to fill me in on the situation, but he just stands there awkwardly. Several minutes pass in silence until a sergeant I assumed is Simmons jogged into the room with a kitbag over his shoulder.
“Here’s the uniform sir. Sorry but the only size nine I could find belonged to the 10th Heavies. Is that alright?”
“Yeah that’s fine. Once they see him in action they’ll be begging for him to join their regiment. Here you go Marcus.”
He hands me the kit bag. I open it and put on what appears to be a toughened wetsuit. Over that goes the uniform itself; the blue and white puzzle pattern of urban camouflage. The boots are a heavy duty synthetic and terribly uncomfortable. My foot must be shaped differently than whoever boot’s these are. The insignia is the same winged dagger that Derringer sports, but underneath are the words ‘Semper Fi’. these guys must be descended from the Marines. I notice the rank insignia. “Have the symbols for rank changed in the past 600 years?”
“No they haven’t” Derringer responds, confused. “Why do you ask?”
I tap the symbol of a private on my left arm.
“Ah. I’ll see if I can get that fixed, along with the unit patch. Lets head down to the armory and get you armed then.”
He turns and walks out of the room with Simmons in tow, grabbing a holstered pistol off a table in the outer room. I follow, curious about how much the base will have changed over the past 600 years. The hallway is dirty, dark and in disrepair for the first hundred meters until we come to a T-junction. I notice sheetrock, or at least pieces of it, covering the entrance to the hallway we were in.
“How long has Earth been under attack?”
“Three years.” Derringer takes a left. Seems like the armory is still in the same place.
“And you found me how long ago?”
“Six days. We had to figure out why somebody would be hidden in the back of the Base and it took some serious arguing to get you reactivated once we realized what you were.”
“How did you find me?”
Derringer laughs. “A couple of troopers were goofing around with a football and one of them tripped and went through the sheetrock covering the entrance.”
We take a final left and reach an open set of blast doors, beyond which is a massive selection of weaponry.
“Howdy Major! What can I do fer yall today?” a gunnery sergeant appears from behind a stack of crates. “New recruit?” He must have noticed I’m unarmed.
“Of sorts. We need a set of ‘heavy’ armor with all the trimmings.”
“yessir. Commin’ right up.”
The Gunny disappears into the stacks of gear. I look around, getting my bearings and bring back memories of 600 years ago. “Major. The Cryo-area, was the entrance hidden behind anything but plaster?”
“No….” Derringer seems confused. There is an unasked question of why I asked.
The gunny returns with a box and sets it down in front of us. I step forwards as he opens it. Between the two of us we make quick work of the armor. Several heavy plates of an olive green metal alloy went onto my chest and back. More plates went onto my upper arms, thighs and calves. The helmet covers my head, but leaves my face exposed. I’m disappointed. Six hundred years and they can’t completely armor soldiers. At least they seem to have figured out how to put a simple ‘friend or foe identifier’ computer into a trooper’s helmet.
I take off the helmet. “This isn’t going to work.”
Derringer holds up a hand to forestall the gunny’s angry outburst. “Why? What’s wrong with it?”
In response I walk to my right and move a rack of rocket launchers that’s in front of the wall, a rack that weighs about half a ton. I smile at the looks of surprise on their faces. I turn and put my fist through the sheetrock that was covering the alcove I had realized was missing earlier. I turn again in time to see the looks of shock on their faces. “How long have you used this armory?”
“Not long enough obviously. You two” Derringer motions at Gunny and Simmons, “go help him open it up.”
The three of us have the alcove cleared in a couple of minutes. The alcove was about a foot deep and ended in a wall. “Looks like whatever was in here is long gone,” the Gunny says with a smirk, taking the chance to try and gloat.
I glare at him. “Watch and learn.” I place my hand on the square in the middle of the wall. The scanner hidden in it activates and accepts my DNA. With a hiss, the wall locks disengage and the wall folds in on itself to reveal my armor.
Three sets of jaws drop at the sight of it. Seven feet of towering black artificial muscle, chrome attachments where the muscles join, and a full face helmet. I take off the uniform but leave on the skinsuit. I pull on my armor, turn it on and run a diagnostic check. Green lights on all external muscle groups, the Heads up Display is working fine, and ‘predator’ mode is operational. There seems to be a software malfunction in the ‘variable armor’ mode however. I pause and ponder this. Should I try to correct the software? Computer engineering has never been one of my strong suits. Or should I sacrifice some mobility and put on the external armor plating?
I continue the diagnostic while I decide. DNA interface is working. The Hard Landing Pulse emitters are functioning. Battery levels are good. S***. The power recharge relays are down.
“What’s wrong?” Derringer is looking at me.
I realize I must have sworn out loud. “The power recharge and armor modes are down. I’ll put on the external power generator and armor plating, but I’ll have to sacrifice some mobility and stealth.”
“Stealth?” the Gunny asks.
“The armor has two modes: armor and stealth. Armor mode is the Standard Operating Mode. It allows me to run faster, jump higher and react quicker than normal. It can also temporarily toughen up and become rather bulletproof.”
“How bulletproof?” Gunny seems intrigued.
“We tested and found out it can take a tank shell at almost point blank range with minimal damage to me.”
“And stealth mode?” Gunny is almost salivating with wonder at this point.
“Stealth mode, or ‘predator’ mode as I call it, allows me to become nearly invisible. Nearly because I still cast a shadow. The external armor makes stealth mode kind of pointless, but allows me to take more enemy fire without using power to increase toughness. Although, with the power generator attached power isn’t an issue and I can actually use armor mode to create an energy shield around me. The armor plating and generator drastically increases my weight, so my mobility and endurance will drop.”
“Will that be a problem?” Derringer looks pretty concerned.
“It might actually help, depending on the missions I’m on. Personally, I use armor mode a lot more than stealth, so no, it shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Good. Do you need help putting on the extra armor?” Derringer motions to Gunny and Simmons. “Go help him.”
I smile. “ahh, the perks of rank right?”
“H*ll yeah. Now hurry up, we got to get you briefed.”
I turn deeper into the room and open up the locker on the far wall. Gunny, Simmons and I start taking out molded plates of a matte black ceramic/metal alloy and attaching them to the suit. Simmons and Gunny step back when everything is on and Derringer gives a low whistle. “I’m really glad you’re on our side.”
“Are you saying I look intimidating?” I motion down at my suit. There is a large plate covering my chest and attaching to the plate on my back with the power generator attached. More plates cover my upper and lower arms, thighs and calves, while another one lies over my helmet. Smaller plates attach on the sides and top of my feet as well as on the back of my hands. The plates on my shins extend to a little past my knee while the ones on my upper arms extend a little to cover my shoulders and sport the symbol of the Nautica Project; an ancient Greek helmet in front of a pair of crossed swords.
“No. I’m saying you look downright scary.”
I laugh. “D*mn right. I need a weapon.”
Gunny makes an exaggerated bow. “Right this way.” He leads me back into the armory and over to a rack of rifles. He reaches for one, then stops and looks at me. “What kind of weapons can you use? I see you have a combat knife already.”
“Yes I do.” I tap the knife attached to my chest plate by my left shoulder. “As for other weapons, that depends on how much weaponry has changed in the last 600 years. I was fully trained on all weaponry that was around back then.”
“All right, that kind of complicates things. What sort of weaponry do you prefer to use?”
“I like shotguns and belt-fed machine guns. I know they aren’t the most subtle approach, but then again subtlety has never been something I’m particularly good at.”
“We’ll start out with the shotgun because that’s the easiest. We only have one shotgun we use; the AS-42. 10 gauge rounds with a 12 round internal magazine. Most effective at ranges below 20 meters.” He hands me the gun along with a utility harness and about a hundred rounds of ammunition.
“Do you mind if I take the strap off?”
“Don’t you need to have the strap on the gun in order to carry it?”
“The back plate on my armor is magnetized and can hold it just fine. The strap will just get in my way.”
Gunny glances at Derringer, who nods. Gunny shrugs and walks toward the racks of machine guns in the back of the armory. I grab the strap and yank it off the gun. I pull on the utility harness then reach over my shoulder and stow the shotgun. I follow Gunny while I adjust the harness and start putting the shotgun rounds into it.
“All right then, there is more choice in the larger Machine Guns. We have .30 caliber Squad Automatic Weapons, with variable size of the ammo-belts. We also have a Mini-Gun with a backpack munitions feeder, but it is not a perfect design and it jams a lot.”
“You got anything with a little more power Gunny?”
“I’ve got a crew serviced 50 cal, but that takes at minimum two people to operate. Or I have a plasma rifle.”
“A what?” At least there seems to have been improvements in weaponry in the last 600 years.
“A plasma rifle. It fires bolts of plasma that will stop anything smaller than a main battle tank.” The Gunny frowns. ”It’s extremely inaccurate though. It’s defiantly ‘spray and pray’ when using as aiming doesn’t really help.”
“ok... What sort of ammunition capacity does it have?”
“Each power cell has enough charge for about two thousand shots.”
“I’ll take one.”
“Sounds good” he picks a bulky yet streamlined weapon off the rack. I weigh it in my hands then place it on my back. “Although I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t throw away spent cells.”

“Why not?” I raise an eyebrow, then realize he can’t see it.
“The cells can be recharged and are rather expensive.”
“I’ll do my best”
Gunny opens his mouth to say something when Derringer’s com unit squawks. “Derringer here. What the situation?”
“Captain, Charlie Sector is saying it’s under attack by enemy troops with armor support. They are asking for reinforcements.”
“Understood. Tell them that backup is on the way.”
“Yes sir.”
Derringer puts away the com unit and turns to me. “You able to help out?”
I reach up, grab the shotgun and rack the slide.
“I’ll take that as a yes” Derringer smiles. “Follow me.”
He walks out of the armory and heads towards the vehicle hanger. I follow him, checking my HUD to make sure I’m on the right com channel.



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