Wednesday, May 16, 2012

E.H.U.D.: Part 1, Chapter 1

Prelude to Apocalypse
By Hezekiah Bennetts

30 Years From Now

Part I: Resurrection

Chapter 1

In the beginning, there was darkness. At least, that was the first thing he could remember. Other things slowly began to fill the void: the feel of concrete beneath him, the chill of the air around him, the distant shouts and cries of anguish as his soldiers fought on.
Through all of this, Allen stood waiting. He knew he should be out there helping them, swarming through the tunnels with the men and women devoted to his cause. Every few moments, he could feel their minds touching his, asking him why he didn’t help. But he couldn’t help, couldn’t answer. All he could do was wait.
That seemed to be what his life had been for the last… forever. Just waiting. To take action would bring consequences; he couldn’t afford consequences.
One particular mind called out of the darkness, a strong mind, the one he had chosen to replace him in the time to come. Where are you? There’s too many… we don’t have the strength…
Now. Now was the time to act. At this point, there were no consequences for his actions; everything he did now was set, was preordained. Was right. I’m coming…
Around him, minds suddenly fell quite. Active soldiers shut down, dropped from the war.
Allen? What are you doing?
There was no answer he could give that would satisfy the others. His boots thudded as he crossed the concrete expanse. Soon, he could feel a door in front of him, could feel it opening. Beyond the door stood a man, old yet muscular, his body standing erect in a military uniform even as his eyes stared unseeingly into the void.
Allen touched the man’s shoulder and smiled wistfully, even as the few remaining minds railed painfully against his. “It’s time, old friend…”

“And that’s when I wake up.” John Donalson was surprised at the sound of his own voice. Once again, he had been caught up with the strength of the vision, lost in its reality. He wondered how long it had been since he had begun to tell the story…
“What makes you think you’re awake now?” This voice didn’t surprise him. If anything, it had the opposite effect, pulling him down, soothing and smothering him in its rich, powerfully feminine tones.
He felt himself shrug. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
“You still have your eyes closed.”
Eyelids split, and there was light. John found himself looking out at a blank world, a swirling void of colors and fog. Below him, there was no ground, above him no sky; there was only his body, bald and naked.
“And me; don’t forget me.”
Yes, of course. Floating close by was Suzanne, as bald and naked as he was. But whereas he looked like a skinned rat, she looked like a goddess, purple high-lights glinting off of her dark skin.
“Somehow, I don’t think this is anymore awake than before. At least in the dream, I had some frame of context.”
She gestured to the void. “This isn’t contextual enough for you?”
“No. I have no idea where I am, what I’m doing. And where are my clothes?”
Suzanne shrugged.
“And most importantly, who are you?”
She shrugged again. “How should I know? This is your mind; I didn’t choose to be here.”
The revelation hit John hard; around him, the swirling colors began to dim.
“Not that I wouldn’t choose to be here, given the choice.”
Well, that was better anyways.
They floated for a while longer, John contemplating the void around him and Suzanne… doing whatever it was that she did.
Suddenly, the colors began to shift, to grow more vibrant, to coalesce into recognizable shapes. At the same time, Suzanne began to fade.
“No! No, don’t go; I can’t make it without you!”
“You have to John.” Nothing remained now but a smile and the ghostly outline of her face. “Just live life without me.”
He reached out to touch her smile, but it was gone. “What do I do without you?”
“Try waking up…”

A woman’s voice, thin and slightly accented, sang over him. “Johnnn… Little Johnyyyy… Come to meeeee…. Come to mommyyyy….”
Eyelids split, and there was light. This time, there were few colors: pastel pinks, mint greens. The shapes the colors adorned were strong and well defined: glide rocker, dresser, Mother.
She hovered over him, alternately rubbing his face and rubbing the tears from her own. When she saw that his eyes were open, she smiled and held a hand to her mouth. “Oh, thank you, God. Thank you for returning him…”
The words passed around John. He stared up at his mother, trying to think of why she was here, where here was.
She looked so old.
“Gnnrthhh… Gh’gggg…” That wasn’t good.
“Shh, shhh… Don’t try to talk, not yet. The nurse will be here soon.”
That answered things. Little facts began to register: The little wires trailing from his sleeve, the industrial fluorescents overhead, the terrible buzzing that filled his head. God, what had happened?
The last thing he could remember was driving home from a meeting with some clients. He was on the road, he was full, he had had maybe one more drink than he should have-- Oh.
Well. That was why he was here, and where he was. But why did his mother look so old?
“Oh, John… Oh….”
Suddenly, it didn’t matter. The room was dull and warm, his mother was rubbing his face, and he was so tired…

A day later, John was sitting up in bed, his mother spoon-feeding him flavorless mush, his father dozing in the glide rocker.
He had had to reevaluate some of his earlier assumptions in the light of new evidence. For one thing, his body had changed; his once thin, nearly muscular build had been reduced to a point just shy of starvation, pale skin stretched tight over bone and gristle. For another, his father looked far older than he should; he had changed from a well-kept fifty-something into a broken-down sixty-something seemingly overnight. A drunken car accident didn’t cover this.
There was motion near the door, and John tried to turn and see it, dribbling porridge on his gown in the process.
“Oh, dear… Levi, get me another napkin. Levi! Wake up!”
A woman, slightly younger than his mother, entered the room and stood in front of John. She smiled, her mouth growing far too wide for her face.
“Hello, John. How are you feeling today? Good? If you can, please blink once for yes, twice for no.”
John blinked.
“Good, very good. Tell me, are you feeling well enough to talk?”
“Not right now, doctor. He’s tired, he needs to eat—“
“Please, Mrs. Donalson, let me do my job, thank you?”
Despite some grumbled complaints, John’s mother wiped his mouth and stepped aside so that he and the doctor were face-to-face.
“So, are you feeling up for a talk?”
John blinked.
The doctor nodded. “That is good, yes. My name is Doctor Chandra Shemuptura; I am a physical therapist, with quite some experience in trauma counseling. You know you are in a hospital, yes?”
John blinked.
“Now, what I am going to tell you is why you are here. Some of it may be a bit hard to take at first. If you find it is too much and wish to end our talk, please just blink as many times as you can, and I will return when you are feeling better. Agreed?”
John blinked.
“Good. It seems that you were having a meeting with business associates at a restaurant in Cherry Hill and on your way home you were involved in a very severe car accident. You were hit head-on by an army officer who was traveling the wrong way down the highway. Are you good so far?”
John blinked. So far, this all matched up nearly perfectly with his own assumptions. The only thing he hadn’t anticipated was that he wasn’t responsible for it.
“Would you like to continue?”
John didn’t blink. He held his eyes nearly closed, thinking. Based on what the doctor had said, the way she was preceding so cautiously, the change in himself and his parents, he knew the rest of the story wouldn’t be nearly as easy to swallow as the first. But at the same time, the little clues called out for him to solve them, to put this whole little mystery to rest. With a sense that he had somehow made the wrong decision, John firmly closed his eyes and opened them wide.
“EMTs arrived and took the two of you to a nearby hospital for emergency treatment; you were both rather bad off. And somehow, we’re still not sure how, at that point your identity was confused with that of the officer, Lieutenant Brian Udarian. In a rather cosmic coincidence, you two both had very similar facial structures, the same blood type, similar builds. What with the damage to your faces, no one could tell you apart, and fingerprints and dental records were rather…” The doctor paused, readjusted her glasses, cleared her throat. “Yes, so, you were confused for each other. Once stabilized you, under the name Brian Udarian, were transferred to the Walter-Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Before arrival, you fell into a coma. John Donalson, the man once known as Lieutenant Udarian, unfortunately never stabilized, and died some three hours after— “
The doctor stopped abruptly as John began to blink back tears; no wonder his parents looked so bad off. As far as they knew, he had been dead for… for however long this coma had lasted. They weren’t a painfully tight-knit family, but they were close enough, and the loss of a son, even temporarily, would have shaken his parents. Images of funerals, of nights spent crying with aunts or drinking with uncles flew through his mind. He was at once touched and horrified at what their reactions must have been to the news.
Someone- probably the doctor- patted his arm, and then he heard her say, “Goodbye for now, John. I will return when you are feeling better.”
No! No, the last thing he needed was to be left like this, with the story hanging! He had to know what happened. Now.
His parents could probably tell him some of it. But mother was still too choked up at his return, and father had never been a good story teller.
Opportunity faded with every dull click of shoe leather against tile as the doctor moved away.
With an effort, John turned towards her and tried to speak. “D-dctrrrr… Sssstttaaaaa….”
She turned, and walked back towards him, then disappeared as mother cradled his head and tried to move him back to a more comfortable position.
“Oh, John, please, no, don’t strain yourself.”
Hands appeared on her shoulders. She stiffened and continued to stare at her son.
“Levi, now is not the time—“
“Marge.” Father’s hands slid down and rested on Mother’s, then pulled them away from John. “Let the boy be. He’s been through a lot, and it looks like he wants to go through more. He’s back, he’s not going anywhere, so just let him make his own decisions right now.”
Mother’s eyes became hard, her mouth set; John knew that look. She knew what was best for her son, and wouldn’t let anything stop her from being a mother now. But something in father’s words must have gotten through, because she pulled back and let the doctor within her sphere of protection.
One of the doctor’s hands joined father’s on top of mother’s. “Mrs. Donalson, Mr. Donalson, why don’t you two wait outside while I finish with John?”
“Please, I think it will be for the best.”
They both left, with only token resistance on mother’s part.
The doctor flashed John a conspiratorial smile. “I think you can handle this better than anyone gives you credit for. The mind is incredibly capable of stretching itself. Now, where was I?”
John fought back the urge to try and remind her.
“Yes, you were in Walter Reed, confused for Lieutenant Udarian. There, I am afraid, you remained in a permanent vegetative state for some eight years.”
With great effort, John remained calm.
“After some time, however, the government felt that it was a wasted effort caring for you, as you were unlikely to recover, and called for a consultation with Udarian’s wife, who agreed that it was for the best that you be moved to a private facility.”
Where was this wife before? John silently demanded. Why didn’t she come and out me as an imposter before all of this?
Almost as if she had heard what John said, the doctor paused and backpedaled. “His wife, Naomi Udarian, was present on the first night of your hospitalization, and tentatively identified you as her husband. This was of course, before the reconstructive surgery; after that, she positively identified you as her husband.”
For the first time, John registered the complete lack of any kind of mirror in the room. He dreaded what would face him when he encountered one.
“Naomi visited you several times, but her work overseas prevented her from constant contact.” She paused and pushed her glasses back up her nose. “I’m sorry, I’m rambling. Are you still with me?”
John blinked.
“Excellent. Following the decision to move you to a private facility, your records were re-examined, and small discrepancies were found, enough so that your identity was called into question. It was then that Mrs. Udarian herself discovered the key to making a definitive identification, something that no one had thought of before. You see, Lieutenant Udarian was raised in a rather conservative Catholic household.”
John glanced quickly down at the blanket covering his body and then back up to the doctor.
She nodded. “It was certain that none of the medical staff had performed the operation, so…” She shrugged. “The only question left in my mind is how no one noticed Udarian’s differences when he was buried in your place.”
John tried to shrug, but the movement was awkward and caused a bit of pain. A sudden wave of tiredness washed over him, and he could feel his eyelids drooping.
The doctor noticed and gently patted his arm. “I won’t keep you much longer. I’ll just finish by saying that with your identity confirmed, your parents were contacted, and they immediately rushed to see you. It appears that there presence has been most beneficial, as you are with us now. Wouldn’t you agree?”
John tried to blink in acknowledgement, but after his eyes closed, he found it impossible to open them again.

When his eyes finally did open again, there was his mother, trying to feed him. The day continued, his mother feeding, his father occasionally talking. Several times a nurse came in to check on him, clean him.
Life continued like this for several days, endlessly monotonous. The only distraction came when Doctor Shemuptura visited, bringing with her pain in the form of exercises designed to help John regain muscle mass and control. Within a week he was able to feed himself with only minimal help from others.
The next month was occupied with daily trips to a small gym, in which John was subjected to hours of physical therapy, followed by time spent with in trauma counseling, followed by one or two hours with his parents, followed by sleep. And, in the rare case that he couldn’t sleep, television. Every morning John awoke half dreading his daily routine, half anticipating the advances he would make in his therapy sessions: first sitting up, then standing, then walking short distances. The progress came fast, as he didn’t need to re-learn the skills, merely work up the strength to perform them.
It was early in the month when John had his first encounter with a mirror. It was a small hand-mirror brought to one of the counseling sessions with Dr. Shemuptura.
“I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that we’ve removed the mirrors from your room, and have always avoided them when taking you to the gym, yes?”
She reached inside a canvas bag and pulled out a paddle-shaped piece of green plastic. “I’ve wanted to keep your recovery as simple as possible, and wanted to keep stresses as few and far between as possible. I felt it best to keep your new face from you until you were in a more ready state to accept the change.”
John swallowed, unsure of how to interpret the doctor’s words.
“Oh, no,” she said, laying a reassuring hand on his forearm. “There is nothing wrong with this new face. It is just different from what you’re used to, perhaps a little hard to accept all at once.”
She slowly tilted the mirror until John could see his reflection. He had been prepared for a shock, but the face that he saw didn’t live up to the fears that he had built. There were a few differences: higher nose, thinner nostrils, little changes here and there. But for the most part, he was the same. What did shock him though were the changes that time had made. The skin around his eyes was looser and more wrinkled; his lips sagged around the edges. He even noticed a few patches of grey stubble around the edges of his shaved head.
“So… what do you think?”
John shrugged. “It’s me, I guess. Close enough, anyway.”
“You seem to have taken that very well.”
“How else could I take it? It’s my face.” He tried to sound calm, but his voice wavered slightly.
“You seem upset.”
“I’m just… old now, is all.”
The doctor nodded knowingly. “Yes, nearly a decade of your life, gone. So much time. Tell me: what will you do now?”
John thought carefully over his answer, pondering his lost time.
“I guess I’ll just have to make up for it anyway I can.”
The doctor smiled and rubbed his shoulder. “That’s the attitude I want to see.”
Sometime after the mirror incident, John was taken to one of his sessions with Dr. Shemuptura and was surprised to find another man in the room with her. He stood when John and entered and offered his hand in greeting. “Mr. Donalson, It’s a pleasure to finally meet you!”
John glanced at the man’s crisp green uniform, then at Dr. Shemuptura, who nodded and beckoned to the man.
John accepted the hand. “And who are you?”
The man forced a smile and returned to his seat. “My name is Major Stephen Polmelroy; I’m with the United States Army.”
“I’ve dealt with the army enough thanks.” He rotated his wheelchair so it faced the doctor. “So, what are we going to talk about today? How to react when old acquaintances feel uncomfortable with us?”
“No, I’m afraid our normal discussions will have to be put aside for today; Major Polmelroy wants to talk with you.”
“But I don’t want to talk with him.”
“He’s come all this way, just for you. It would be rude to turn him out.”
“Arlington’s only, what, half an hour away? I’m sure he won’t mind.”
For his part, the major managed to remain quiet and keep the same pained smile stuck to his face. This complete lack of obtrusiveness was what finally forced John to shrug, say “Whatever you want, you’re the doctor,” and turn his chair towards the major.
The major cleared his throat and folded his hands in his lap. “Mr. Donalson, I’m here, on behalf of the U.S. military, to offer our sincerest apologies for the rather… unfortunate circumstances of the past decade.”
“And that would be what? Keeping me at Walter Reed?”
“Yes and no, actually. While we’re more than happy that we helped to keep you alive, and while we claim no responsibility for the unfortunate mix-up that led to you being at Walter Reed, we do believe that it was entirely our fault that we failed to ascertain your true identity and return you to your family. So, we would like to officially apologize to you and your family for any undue stress caused by this,” he paused for a moment and scratched his chin, “mistake.”
“Mhmm.” John absently rolled his chair back and forth. “So you were sent all the way out here to say sorry? Is the price of stamps up too high to send a note?”
The major blinked and looked to Dr. Shemuptura for support, but she was busy examining a file on her palm-top computer. “Well, as a matter of fact, my superiors felt that in such an extreme case as yours, it was best to take a personal interest—“
“You just don’t want me to sue you for negligence and possibly kidnapping.”
The major sighed and closed his eyes. “In not so many words, yes.”
There was a moment of silence, broken by the sound of the wheelchair as it turned towards the door. “Yeah, I’ll see if my dad still has his lawyer on speed dial. Good talking to you Major Palmy—“
The major half-stood and raised a placating hand. “There is of course the matter of compensation.”
The wheelchair stopped. “How much longer is this session, doctor?”
“Fifteen more minutes I believe, although it can go longer if you feel that it may contribute towards your health.”
The wheelchair turned back into the room and the major resumed his seat. “Allright, Major, perhaps I was a bit hasty in my judgment. After all, you did take the time to come see me in person. Let’s talk.”
Something like a smile, almost a sneer, crossed the major’s face. “I’m so glad you feel that way.” He reached down and pulled up a thin screen from a bag next to his chair. He poked at it for a moment, and then returned his attention to John. “Well, seeing as how the primary victim of our mistake was your family, we have decided to repay any stress we may have caused them by completely paying for your expenses while you are here at this facility. Also, they won’t need to help you get back on your own feet after this; we’ll be paying you a small stipend for the first two years following your release, as well as providing you with appropriate housing.”
“How much is a ‘small stipend’?”
The major tapped at the screen again, then passed it to John.
“Wow. That’s yearly?”
Well, maybe it was good that John hadn’t left yet.
“And ‘appropriate housing’?”
“Well, we assumed you’d be returning to Philadelphia…”
“That’s right.”
“So, we went ahead and provisionally reserved a unit for you at Sky Crest Tower.”
There was no immediate response to that; there was none that was appropriate. Sky Crest Tower was, put simply, the most prestigious place to live in Philadelphia. Over sixty stories of luxury apartments topping a ten story stack of tenant amenities, attached to a massive mall that contained some of the most expensive stores in the city. Sky Crest was the eventual goal of every dreamer in Philadelphia. And, most importantly to John, it was the building that had inspired him to become an architect in the first place.
“I’ll take it.”
For the first time in the meeting, the major’s smile seemed to be genuine. “What, you don’t want to check with daddy’s lawyer first?”
“Fuck daddy’s lawyers; this is too good.”
“I’m glad you see it that way. And there’s more. To insure that you’ll be able to become a constructive member of society as soon as possible, we’ve talked Cohen and Associates into giving you your old job back.”
“Okay, I’m sorry, but that I can’t believe.”
If it hadn’t been for Sky Crest Tower, John would have never thought twice about becoming an architect. But if it hadn’t been for Cohen and Associates, John never would have thought twice about Sky Crest. C&A was to the architecture world what Sky Crest was to urban living: the best. And in order to be the best, they only hired the best. John had spent four years after college building up enough of a portfolio and reputation to prove to C&A that he was the best, and he had only been on the job for seven months when he had had his accident. Even after his hard-won start, there was no way that the firm would allow a relatively green architect a decade behind the times onto the team.
“I’m simply too out of it for Cohen; I’ll need to go back to college for at least two years before I’m ready—“
The major waved off his objections. “Things have changed since your accident. For instance, Cohen is now one of the architectural contractors for the government at large, and the army in particular. We hold some sway over them.”
“So… I can just drop in, just like that?”
The smile was beginning to thin again. “Just like that.”
John tapped at his armrest and stared absently at Dr. Shemuptura, who was still engrossed in her palm-top. “What’s the catch?” he said at last.
“You don’t apologize and then shower me with gifts without expecting something in return.”
The major shrugged and spread his hands. “We’re the army; we don’t need anything. Just maybe—“
“Well…” The major tapped at the screen and held it protectively in his lap. “Since we are going through the trouble of compensating you for any damages caused by our… possible negligence, it might give peace of mind to everyone involved if we knew there were no possibility of legal action on anyone’s part.”
He held the screen out to John and indicated a blank line.
John took the screen and stared at it, then looked at the doctor. “Dr. Shemuptura, how much time do I have left with you today?”
The palm-top remained the center of her attention. “I’m afraid I’m needed with another patient now. Perhaps it would be best to wait until another time to sign the document?”
John grinned. “Yeah, let daddy’s lawyer get his hands on it.”
He watched as the major’s smile froze and the color drained out of his face.
A minute dragged by in absolute silence. “Oh, what the hell?” John quickly dragged his finger across the screen, writing his name. He passed the screen back to the major and began to maneuver out of the room.
“Well, Major, it was wonderful meeting you. Dr. Shemuptura, a delight as always.”
This time, she did look up. “I look forward to tomorrow John. Say hello to your parents for me.”
John had just reached the door when something occurred to him. “Hey, Major,” he called over his shoulder.
“What about Udarian’s wife? She get a deal like this?”
“I’m afraid, Mr. Donalson, that that is a confidential matter, and is strictly between Mrs. Udarian and the United States Army.”
John shrugged, and continued out the door.

After two months consciously living in the hospital, John was back to normal enough that he could move freely without the wheelchair. With this newfound freedom, his days began to change. He now took himself to physical therapy and went for walks around the grounds. Each lunch was spent with his parents in the cafeteria, chocking down bland food while he struggled through even blander small-talk.
His parents loved him, it was true, but his absence had led them to treating him more as a distant relative who had come for a rare visit: an enthusiastic welcome, followed by an awkward silence as each party wished the meeting would end. It almost came as a relief when one day father announced that his work was beckoning him, and that he had to return to Philadelphia. The next day he and mother left, promising to return for John when he was ready for the journey home.
With his parents gone, all John had to contend with was the bland food.
Following lunch, he would go back to the gym for some general exercises to get him into better shape, then return to his room and while away the hours by catching up on news, or reading, or playing games on the internet; anything to keep him away from his own thoughts.
One night, shortly after his parents left, John was sitting in his bed, idly surfing through the channels on his room’s wall-screen. An ad for toilet paper, a music video, a sitcom, a cartoon; nothing interested him. He kept flicking his fingers at the screen, and the channels kept changing, spiraling on in a litany of boredom. He was just about to shut off the television and go to sleep when something caught his eye. He twirled his hand counter-clockwise, and the channels began to descend. There!
On the screen was a reporter, a young Latina with close-cropped hair and a strangely frightening smile. For some reason, she looked familiar; the name Suzanne kept rising in John’s mind.
Behind the reporter loomed a massive wall that, based on the swarms of soldiers moving behind her, must have been the Pentagon.
John signaled for the volume to increase, then sat back and listened.
“—after more than thirty billion dollars and fifteen years spent on this project, most members of congress seemed pleased with the results of the ADI Bill.”
The scene suddenly shifted to an obstacle course in the middle of a field. John expected to see footage of soldiers running the course but was shocked to see what appeared to be hulking robots, human shapes covered in grey armor, running, jumping, climbing, and in one case breaking through the course.
“But all agree,” the reporter continued in voiceover, “that the best thing to come out of the research program is the Enhanced Human Ultimate Defense, or E.H.U.D., combat system, unveiled at the Pentagon last week.”
The scene now showed brief shots of different people, all identified by tags at the bottom of the screen as either being senators or members of congress, as they supported the reporters’ remarks.
“Oh, this bad boy is going to turn the war on terror around!”
“I have absolutely no doubt that, in terms of lifesaving mechanisms, the E.H.U.D. is the greatest invention since the seatbelt.”
“Within ten years, I hope we can have these ready for every soldier in the field. If we can keep our own safe, then we don’t have to be so harsh with the enemy. Think of a war where all we do is capture, disarm, pacify, and leave. Clean and simple.”
The reporter returned, again standing in front of the Pentagon. “But for all the enthusiasm over the E.H.U.D., many members of the public have been left wanting to know exactly how the system works.”
John certainly wanted to know. Those things in the obstacle course looked heavy and ungainly, but they were moving and maneuvering like Olympic athletes.
“The actual mechanics and design of the system are of course classified. However, the AmeriNews Network has been fortunate enough to be allowed an exclusive look at the inner workings of the E.H.U.D. combat system.”
The scene changed again, this time to an interior space that seemed to be a cross between a lab and a garage. A man of about thirty stood in front of a locker, dressed in white t-shirt and shorts. He held up a thick black one-piece suit. “This,” he said, “is the first layer of the E.H.U.D.”
He began to pull it on, entering through a slit in the front, then the scene faded into the future and the man stood fully dressed, with a black hood pulled over his head.
The man patted the thick material covering an arm. “The main part of the layer is a standard Gortex weave, able to withstand some good wear and tear, with fiber-mesh quilting on the inside.” He then leaned in close to the camera and shook a bit of the material. “But through the middle of the layer you have packets of a special gel, normally fairly sloshy, which turns tremendously solid when force is applied to it.” He squeezed off a section of the suit on his leg, then hit it with his other hand. The little node was as solid as a bowling ball.
“If a soldier gets hit with a non-ballistic impact, the attacking force basically hits a brick wall, which then fades out into the surrounding gel, blocking and absorbing most of the force, leaving little impact on the man inside the suit.”
The scene faded again and now the man held up a pile of rubber tubes and webbing. “This is the next layer of the suit: the pneumatic sinus system.” After a brief flurry of editing, the man was in the tangle. It criss-crossed over him, trailing thin tubes that connected to sturdy-looking bladders next to joints and along major muscle groups. John noticed that there were also what looked to be medical braces hidden under the sinuses, strapping the tubes close to the body.
“This is where the system really shines,” the man says. He ran in place for a moment, then crouched and jumped. The camera jerked upwards to follow him as he flew into the air and flipped just shy of hitting the ceiling. He landed in a deep crouch, and John could see the tubes and bladders pulsing.
The man smiled into the camera. “The pneumatic sinus system works with the body’s own movement to pump fluid and build up pressure, which can be stored and released in the normal patterns of moving. For instance, if you bend your knee, you move the fluids in such a way that they are sucked and stored in the bladders on the back of the thigh.” As he said this he demonstrated. “When you straighten the knee, an opposite suction is created in the frontal pouch, the fluid is released, and it changes position, providing a significant blast of power to the wearer’s simple, muscle-powered action. In addition to the purely mechanical suction power, the system is equipped with motion sensors that will also create suction and change the internal pressure based on perceived moves, so you don’t have to force movements; the suit works with you. With this on, a soldier need not worry about chasing combatants, getting out of firing zones, or dealing with battle-field rubble ever again.”
The camera faded again, but this time the man didn’t hold up a part of the system and explain it; he merely appeared, about a foot away from where he had been, covered in a thick black suit, much like the first layer. The shape of his body also appeared less human, more like the final combat systems shown earlier in the report. “This layer here is essentially like the first layer; it provides shock absorption and protection to the wearer. Unlike the first layer, however, this is meant to protect against ballistic impact.” He patted several disproportionately large mounds that corresponded to muscle groups, as well as several bulky areas between the mounds. “There’s reinforced armor here, similar to flak armor: Kevlar and Gortex fabric with ceramic plates. In addition to providing personal protection, this layer also protects the sinus system from damage.”
There was another camera shift, and now the man’s transformation was nearly complete: he was covered in thick plates of what had to be armor, with straps and buckles covering the seams and a large frill coming up to protect the neck and parts of the head. “And here at last is the final layer. Advanced body armor, covered in additional Kevlar and Gortex. I’d like to say more about it but,” the man paused and smiled, “I’m afraid that’s classified.”
He reached into the locker behind him and pulled out a full-faced helmet. He slipped it on over his head and turned back to the audience.
John felt a sudden revulsion at this final change: the face was now a pair of dead eye-slits and a grille of some sort where the mouth should be. The mask was corpse-like and alien, yet at the same time weirdly familiar.
The man spoke, his voice clear but modulated. “The E.H.U.D. system is not only proven to effectively protect soldiers against most small arms fire, it has also been proven to protect its wearer from large calibers, traditional armor-piercing rounds, weight loads in excess of half a ton, and high yield explosives. With one of these on, a soldier is no longer a mortal man. He or she is now an enhanced human ultimate defense.”
Now the reporter returned, walking in front of the wall of the Pentagon. “So there you have it: the E.H.U.D. combat system. Promised to be able to save untold lives on the field of battle, it has been fast-tracked for mass production by several military contractors. Despite this, it still may be years before it sees wide combat usage. Until then, it will be deployed to National Guard forces all over the country, for use in both peace keeping and disaster relief efforts. So, be on the lookout for these battlefield behemoths in a town near you very, very soon.” She winked at the camera. “And remember, no matter how scary they may look, they’re here to keep you and the men and women serving in our armed forces safe. For AmeriNews Network, I’m Maria Ruiz.”
A commercial started, and John signaled for the television to shut off. He lay in bed and thought about what he had just seen. The reporter had said that this armor system was revealed to the public a week ago, yet John couldn’t shake the feeling that he had seen the armor somewhere before, and he was also sure that he had not seen the first reports on them.
But as he began to think about it more, he realized that the unveiling may have occurred on one of the nights that he had forgotten to turn of the television before falling asleep; it had happened several times, and he was no stranger to AmeriNews.
Yes, that was a good explanation. John signaled for the lights to turn off, then closed his eyes and tried to sleep.

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