(Written by KJ; posted March 26, 2007)
There was always the claustrophobic moment when the helmet went on, the handful of seconds before the computer display imprinted on the inside of it came to life and transmitted a view of the outside. No viewports in it, too vulnerable even if they were in the original design.
"Whew," I breathed out as the view came to life, then diamonds overlayed themselves over sensor contacts, color coding determining between the fen and the boskonians. I moved my arms to check fields of motion then raised my hands, pulling safety pins out of the series of enlarged knuckles on the power armor. Small shaped charges, built with mundane technology but sitting on top of enough armor plate to not dismember myself.
The hardsuit had started out as a clone of Priss's original 2040-spec suit; knuckle and ankle bombers. It would have been impossible to do purely with handwavium, and sort of against my preferences anyway. The basics of the suit actually were as close to fully functional as possible with hardtech; it's just that the actuators worked far better when modified with handwavium, and durability went up by several orders of magnitude. It also took several orders of magnitude more work than just handwaving something and hoping that it ended up right, but it worked exactly how I intended. As long as I spent somewhere in the region of five times as much time doing maintenance as using it anyway, which was perhaps a quirk itself.
Recently, it had been modified. Daisho rode on the left hip in a magnetic clamp, an MG42 was stowed on the back in a similar clamp with a flexible feed-chute going to an ammunition box, and the paintjob had been changed to mostly black with various blood-red accents. The most notable change, however, was the large thruster pack on the back which was well suited to space actions given the fairly minimal mass. What hadn't been changed were the proportions, which was why I was in girlform.
Actually, the suit was one of the reasons that I'd been in girlform almost continuously of late. Nobody still had much idea what happened to the people the boskonians captured, and at this point coordinating boarding actions would cause too many casualties when we didn't even know if there was a point to it. And then someone recalled the hardsuit I'd made and Haruhi asked if I would be willing to go on scouting or rescue missions. I'd have been hard pressed to refuse her most anything, even if I hadn't been looking for a way to do something directly in the war. Perhaps B was right and I was attracted to crazy girls. Leaving that aside though... go and board hostile ships and possibly rescue people because I'd created about the only armored suit that was quirk-free enough to do it? I mean, shit, who wouldn't want to be the "guy with unique widget who goes and does impressive heroic stuff that others can't"?
What was actually entailed didn't become obvious until I was on the first ship. I'd been in a constant state of jumpiness and what I was doing hadn't registered until after I'd come back. Sexist though it may be, the girlform also came in handy when I broke down for a day or so afterwards; it would have been weird for a man to do that, I suppose. The second time was hardest because I knew full well what I was getting into.
This would be the sixth, and probably not the last. As long as there was hope of rescuing anyone, there'd be more.
"Dee, minimum time burn to that big one," I commented softly. The flight controls from the Kestrel were all there, and because of the very low mass, the top speed was even higher. But in comparatively open space, it didn't matter that much. Space twirled around and went very fast, suffice to say. There was a fleet action of sorts going on as well, with twinkly lights, but I ignored it. Dee knew her job and I spent the time carefully cultivating something close to a meditative state. The fundamentals of what would have to happen had gotten ingrained fairly quickly, and I ended up much better off if I didn't think about any of it.
"About there, KJ," Dee spoke up quietly a while later. I nodded to myself and armed one of the shaped charges in the hardsuit's left fist. The sharp crack of the detonation transferred itself through the hardsuit, though muffled, but it did its job, the hull suddenly forming a jagged hole the size of a beach ball. Power-assisted musculature quickly enlarged it enough to fit myself through, after discarding the thruster pack. A handwavium-modified inflatable bed and some adhesive sealed the breach behind me fairly well. I ignored the charred remains in the room as I worked to make it pressure-tight. The whole point of this would be nullified if I found hostages when I opened a door and vented the air into the vacuum.
The door to the corridor was sealed, locked tight. This had been a seagoing vessel at one point, so the compartment door was quite solidly built. I drew the katana and engaged the overcharged structural integrity field, making four quick cuts before returning it to its sheath. The MG42 was brought to the ready position and, with a kick, the section of the wall fell into the corridor.
That they were waiting made very little difference. Spacesuits would be holed by shotguns, and 'waved body armor might have been affected by rifle shots, but the hardsuit was a powered exoskeleton; half inch to inch thick steel and composite armor plate was immune to small arms fire, and after being handwavium modified, was as durable as many tanks. The boskonian's fire, shotgun and assault rifle blasts for the most part, sleeted off without even chipping the paint. My return fire had signifigantly more impact; the MG42 made a sound like ripping canvas or an insane buzzsaw as it vomited flames, lead and brass. In the confined space of the corridor, aiming was superfluous. What body armor they had wasn't proof against repeated hits from the 8mm rifle rounds, and those without armor fared even worse.
"You know, Dee, when I was younger I used to think that, physical problems aside, I might have what it took to become a good soldier. Good aim, intelligence, cleverness, a grasp of tactics, and all the rest." I stepped over the mound of bodies and unsheathed the katana to open the next door and repeat the process.
"Now though... now I know that I was naïve," I commented as I held down the machinegun's trigger and walked tracer fire through the room and its occupants. "All those things are important to be sure, but I had no way of knowing what the most important trait of a soldier is."
"Hrm?" Dee had remained mostly silent, realizing that I was mostly talking to myself.
"Now I know that the most important thing that makes a soldier is," I paused, drawing the katana again and using it on a boskonian that had gotten too close to effectively use the MG42. The halves of his body fell to the decking. "The ability to do this and no go insane. To keep doing this because it's necessary." I sheathed the katana and paused in the process.
"... but damn them to any gods that will listen for making us do this," I added quietly.