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(Please note, not edited/checked/PR-ed. You may run into a questionable grammar or two. If you happen to spot them, please let me know in the comments below. Thanks in advance!!)
From the cockpit, the view of the looming Rocky Mountains looked utterly imposing and mysterious, totally befitting of the imagery as a place from a long-since forgotten dark fairy tale. Numerous tall white peaks, topped off by the never-melting snow and partially obscured by the gray clouds; framed by the backdrop of the clear blue sky, the mountain range stood majestically, waiting for the mortals to converge at its feet and offer worship.
Jack had never come here, not even on a family holiday. Now that he could see the majesty of the mountain range up here in the air, he felt a tinge of regret for never even thinking of visiting this beautiful place.
His senses, somewhat enhanced by the red souls, allowed him to pick up on several amazing visual cues, regardless of the distance. Jack thought that he could instinctively sense there were many hidden wonders waiting to be uncovered by the enterprising, adventurous minds within the deeper recesses of the mountains.
Meanwhile, Mylorne Akkad was on the phone, making calls to his company’s outlet in New York. The futuristic aircraft was on autopilot and didn’t need his attention for now.
The content of the call was not for the faint of the heart or for that matter, uneducated in the ways of the financial world. Jack certainly fit the bill for the latter. He didn’t want to eavesdrop, of course, but since he was sitting right next to Mylorne Akkad, he couldn’t help but overhear quite a few sensitive business-related discussions.
What was bizarre, though, was the fact that there was someone at the office on a Sunday morning to answer the boss’s call in the first place.
Anyways, Jack thought he was listening to things he had no right to, especially when the chat became slightly heated over the matter of firing close to ten thousand people worldwide in order to protect the interests of shareholders and stuff.
The on-goings at New York was also heavily discussed by Mylorne Akkad and the other person at the end of the line. The stock markets there were closed for the weekend so the impact of the attack on the JFK couldn’t be fully assessed yet, but the two of them agreed to keep an eye out and not act too rashly just yet.
During the call, Mylorne exhibited various facial expressions and temperaments, none of them staying any longer than absolutely necessary while he was speaking his mind, getting his messages across. It was like watching an accomplished stage actor switch out different glass masks to play a new role every five minutes. Jack thought that was quite spooky and unnerving but also remarkable to witness.
Jack figured that one needed to become a ruthless chameleon and adapt very quickly to the changing circumstances in order to stay competitive in the world of multi-billion dollar deal-making. So, who the hell was he to criticize that? Surely, it must be just as tough going for the one doing it.
“My apologies, Mister Mercer. That must have been rather unpleasant to listen to.” Akkad smiled wryly after ending the call. “Even with the threat of world’s end lurking right around the corner, it seems that there is still a need to tame the packs of opportunistic hyenas trying to take advantage of the slightest lapse in my judgment. It’s quite appalling at times if I do say so myself.”
“Yeah, well. People gotta act like people, right?” replied Jack, trying to sound street-wise, or at least as if he was unaffected by it all. But he thought that his response was too lukewarm and unconvincing, and unable to fool the eyes of Mylorne Akkad.
“Quite,” Mylorne Akkad chuckled softly, shaking his head. “We’ll arrive at our destination in about ten minutes or so. Please be ready to disembark at a moment’s notice.”
Jack felt his jitters going up. Finally, the so-called trial was about to begin. How can he possibly not feel worked up? He tried to sleep in order to reinforce his soul so he could access the Soul Sphere thingy but ultimately failed. He thought that by listening to Mylorne Akkad drone on about the past, his past with Gilgamesh, that he’d become drowsy but no, that didn’t work either.
But hey, Jack got to know a lot about Mylorne Akkad’s, or Utnapishtim’s relationship with Gilgamesh just a little better, how the God-King had lost himself in the pursuit of an everlasting life that he nearly lost all of what made him a human in the first place.
Akkad was only too happy to oblige, speaking with a great relish now that there wasn’t anyone unrelated to their past among the crowd.
All that reminiscing, and they hadn’t yet to arrive at their destination.
Speaking of which….
“So, uh, you’re still not going to tell me just what this artifact is? How that thing will make me stronger?”
Jack glanced at the ground visible through the cockpit window. Other than the undulating, mountainous scape, dark green forests and a wide, pristine river cutting through the land like a blue-gray snake, he couldn’t see a speck of civilization out there, not even a quaint little log cabin puffing out smoke from its chimney.
Mylorne Akkad slowly scratched his chin, his eyes slightly nostalgic.
“About ten years ago, I employed a top notch survey company for a purpose of finding precious ore deposits but instead of finding me gold, they ended up unearthing an archaeological site of a significant value.
“Now normally in the case like this, the proper authorities should have been notified of the discovery. But after I personally confirmed of what the site actually was, I moved immediately to purchase the entire area and had it sealed off.
“Three years ago, the technology has finally caught up to a level that allowed me to take a good peek into the secrets of this site, then I had set up a small enclave of researchers tasked to unlocking all the mysteries this site has to offer.”
Jack nodded slightly before frowning when he thought about something that was seemingly too crazy to happen. “Wait a sec. You are not going to tell me that this site has something to do with Gilgamesh and his legends, right? I mean, that would be…. uh, impossible?”
Akkad checked the current coordinates displayed on one of the monitors directly in front of him and disengaged the autopilot. He grabbed the twin joystick-like controller bars and began to slowly lower the altitude of the craft.
“Well… not directly, no. At least, I do not believe so. This site has been carbon dated to be a good few dozen millenniums older than the ages of Gilgamesh. Also, he never mentioned such an object before.
“But since we have not exposed its secrets in full, I am assuming it might have ties to the gods of the antiquities. And please, do remember this, Mister Mercer. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, is impossible. Yes, there are improbabilities but never true impossibilities. Our very existences attest to that fact.”
Jack couldn’t really disagree with that notion. Mylorne Akkad was right; his own being should have been “impossible.”
Being a clone of someone was one thing, but inheriting memories of the previous life was something else entirely. There was no way science could explain adequately for this phenomenon.
Still, it was hard to imagine Gilgamesh, a figure who lived in the Middle East, somehow coming all the way to North America for god knows what purpose. Here and there were separated by thousands of miles of tempestuous oceans, and large land masses in between. How can a person from an ancient civilization even hope to cross that?
Having said that, even thought the image was unclear and fragmented, he did see something that suspiciously resembled a flying fortress in one of his dreams, so….
Nothing’s impossible, huh…..
Jack mulled this line over and over. Sounded like a good advice to remember, although Jack found it a little hard to swallow as his modern sensibilities got in the way.
“We’re here,” said Akkad loudly as he clicked on some buttons before connecting to the ground control, asking for the permission to land.
Jack took a deep breath, trying to settle his jitters, feeling rather glad that all this time, his accursed phobia had not acted up at all. Probably it only flared up when riding in a car or something, as he felt nothing while flying on this aircraft. It was kind of a blessing, really.
What’s not a blessing was his indecisive and easily-flustered heart. It did him no good whatsoever to dither about, not knowing what the correct path was to take.
He had been telling himself to man up and follow through with whatever he chose to do in the beginning. Jack thought wryly that the number of times he chided himself for wavering had gone past his ability to keep track of. But what could he do? 17 years of a certain way of thinking rigidly hammered home wouldn’t be erased that easily, no matter how determined he was. He needed more time. Yet that was precisely he was running short of.
But maybe, he mused, that this very lack of time could be the catalyst for his growth. Forced into acting, forced into moving and fighting, forced into a position where he barely had any time to ponder – maybe, that was the answer. Whether this line of thinking was right or not, only time would tell, ironically enough.
Jack looked out of the cockpit and at the approaching landing area. It was a wide clearing in the middle of a dense forest with tall, straight trees right at the foot of a mountain. There were several temporary lodgings built like the foreman’s trailer offices commonly seen in construction sites with dozens and dozens of satellite dishes pointing towards various directions. Every one of the trailers here was painted in green camouflage to seamlessly blend in with the surroundings.
Next to them, a huge tent, also in full camo. The tent was big enough to hold a circus or a carnival inside. There were people coming in and out of the entrance to the side.
The landing pad was next to the biggest trailer, also covered in camo but as the craft approached, a handful of men quickly removed the netting and exposed it.
Only after the craft touched down, noisily kicking up a whirlwind of dust and grass, did Jack realize there was a hangar situated right next to the pad. It was that well disguised, nearly impossible to discern from the air. The roof of the hangar was camouflaged but with the addition of mock vines and grass to add to the illusion. A spy drone or a stray Google Maps satellite would never be able to take a lucky image of this place, it seemed.
The hangar was well stocked with several jeeps, a couple of helicopters and all-terrain vehicles, as well as crates of some stuff, parked neatly to the side. It was all so very professional.
Akkad and Jack exited the craft in a hurry. A crowd was waiting for them on the side of the landing pad. Jack quickly scanned the group of men and women, trying his best not to form a wrong first impression of them and not to give one himself. It’d be best if he could delay that process until after he got to know the opposite side well enough. His goals were easier said than done, however.
The group that came to receive Jack and Akkad was, more or less, comprised of what could be classified as the archetypal academics – scruffy beards, messy hair, uncoordinated fashion sense, thick glasses, pale skin and slightly hunched shoulders from sitting in front of computers whole day long. There were always exceptions, of course, such as two men in front of this group who looked like proper soldiers, geared up in simple green uniform. Also, underarm holsters with pistols were a dead giveaway so there was that.
Akkad greeted the team leader who happened to be a man wearing the thickest pair of glasses Jack had ever seen in his life. Also, the lumberjack-wannabe beard, too, as if that would make him a little more manly. Jack couldn’t help but roll his eyes. Inwardly, of course. Nothing good would come from offending the other party so early in the relationship.
“Doctor McLean. Apologies for the short notice. How far along are the preparations for the foray into the Crystal Chamber?”
Akkad firmly shook the man’s hand and asked.
“Yes, sir. It’s not a problem. Instead, everyone here is really upbeat and excited for the day’s proceedings. Well, the overall system is fully up and ready as specified. No errors and inconsistencies, so far. Which is a rather swell news.”
“Good. Very good. Doctor, this is Jack Mercer. Mister Mercer, this is Doctor Norman McLean. He oversees this facility on my behalf. And he will also supervise today’s process.”
Jack frowned slightly while shaking the hand of the bearded doctor. “Uhm, how do you do? Nice to meet you, Doctor McLean. By the way, what process are we talking about here?”
“Since we are already pressed for time, let’s talk while we head inside,” said McLean as he ushered the group towards the big tent.
The entrance was actually less of a door and more of a mobile quarantine facility. Those wanting to enter had to relinquish all metallic and personal items that could hide potential contaminants. After that, a pressurized chamber, where the “clean” air was blasted into the bodies, getting rid of germs and the like.
And finally, changing into a set of white Hazmat suits fitted with Geiger counters, LED lighting and shoulder mounted cameras as well as short-wave radios for communication with the others. Each of these rigorous processes was overseen by a stern-looking man who seemed to lack any sense of humor whatsoever.
Jack felt like that after wearing the Hazmat suit he was walking into a disaster zone or something just as sinister and forbidden. Then it was their turn to enter the huge tent through an automatic metal door thick enough to repel an explosive shell fired by a tank, or at least according to the proud explanation from the good doctor McLean.
The passage immediately past those impressive metal doors was also designed to keep out the outside elements. The lighting was harsh, the glare quite prominent even through the Hazmat suit’s visor.
Further up inside the tent, the first thing Jack saw was the metal railings where observers could lean against or grab hold onto, in order to view what’s up ahead. On the ceilings, countless spotlights shining down on the object of all this meticulous attention.
And that was a huge depression, an artificial crater, on the ground. Inside this hole, were nine slender stone pillars arranged in a circle, while nine thicker pillars arranged also in a circle surrounding the slender ones. The whole thing was almost a carbon copy of Stonehenge in England, except that they were a lot more intact, the stones were colored red, and were below the ground level.
There were step ladders to enter this crater. The group descended down and Jack got closer to these strange stone pillars.
An inexplicable chill ran his backside as he got near one of the outer stone pillars after realizing its utterly insane dimensions; it was humongous. Easily twice the height of the aforementioned monument in Britain, this outer stone pillar was richly decorated with carvings depicting wildlife. Birds of unidentifiable characteristics, bison-like bovine creatures, and wild, untamed horses running on the plains as well as primitive men chasing after them were the subjects of the artists’ focus.
Without a doubt, they were quite striking to look at, seemingly enticing all those who gaze upon the pillars to come and unlock the hidden mystery of these monuments. Obviously, Mylorne’s researchers agreed, since plenty of scientific measuring equipment were placed on and around every pillar here. Most of them, Jack had no idea what they were supposed to do, even. And his mother was a scientist, for crying out loud.
But they weren’t the most important objects inside the tent. A man-made hole located left of the circle of outer pillars was. It led down under the ground. And boy, it was pretty substantial. But compared to the sheer size of the two stone encirclements, the hole looked tiny, like a preschooler standing next to a pro NBA player.
As Jack was led towards this hole, he belatedly noticed that there was one more pillar smack dab in the center of the encirclement. This lone pillar was unbelievably short, though. All in the context, of course. But seeing that it didn’t seem to reach the height of a grown man, it did seem a bit out of place here.
A big crane and an electric motor operated the elevator, the only way to go in and out of the hole. McLean stepped into the elevator and motioned the others to follow him. With a creak and a noisy whirr, they descended.
Every few meters, strong fluorescent lights illuminated the darkness and Jack could peer down the edge of the lift to see just how deep this hole went. And it was seriously deep.
The bottom of the hole led to a large natural cavern. The area around the elevator was fashioned into a hub for the researchers. Temporary tents and laboratories were set up here and there where stalagmites weren’t as prominent a geological feature. The electric buggies and large spotlights and people wearing Hazmat suits were everywhere, busy milling about and doing their things.
Jack could feel the temperature in the air which was slightly warmer than that of the surface. Which made things pretty toasty, seeing that it was still in the middle of a Summer where record temperatures were being broken every single day. He remembered reading somewhere that the deeper a person went into the earth’s crust, the warmer it got. Until now he dismissed that as a science fiction fantasy, but hell, here was the proof that his thoughts were an ass.
Past the hub, there were three passageways to the right, left and in the middle. Thick electrical cables lined the floors and the walls; there was a low hum coming from one of the tents, with a number of servers inside. In another, Jack caught a glimpse of metallic crates that might contain weapons at a first glance. The markings on the side said “Property of Akkad Industries, Inc. Do Not Touch.”
McLean hurriedly introduced some other important people to Jack and Akkad before they climbed aboard an electric buggy. McLean did the driving duty himself and led the expanded group down the middle passageway, the biggest of the three. It was a pretty slow going, however. Jack had no idea the thing could be this slow.
The middle passage was lit brightest among the three, with lots of lamps illuminating the walls and the undulating ceiling. All that light played with the numerous stalactites and stalagmites, creating an eerie shadow puppet show on the walls.
It was on these said walls that Jack noticed the details on them, thanks to the snail-like pace of the buggy.
“Wow, are these genuine cave paintings?”
Jack pointed at the fading murals on the walls, his eyes wide open. But he did feel a bit stupid for asking this question right afterwards.
“Yes, of course they are. And we estimate each and every one of them are at least forty thousand years old or more, so please, refrain from touching them carelessly.”
McLean’s expression was apologetic when he said that, but Jack was sure the man was feeling anything but that. Not that he was going to touch these drawings, though.
The subjects of the drawings were not too different from the pillars outside the hole. Freely roaming animals, primitive men chasing after them with spears, homesteads with cultivated fields and the majestic mountains as the background, the usual. But as Jack went in deeper into the cavern, the depictions began to take on a more strange, The Twilight Zone-esque flavor.
The scenes of men encountering, and fighting, even offering worship, to monsters and strange figures were becoming common. Jack couldn’t just chalk the drawings up to cavemen acting out in superstitions since there was the real possibility that these monsters were exaggerated depictions of Supers in the ancient times.
But then, it was harder to make that call as the monsters became more bizarre and horrifying; in one, it was a huge black tentacle thing with a red eye in the middle. In another, a giant with six arms and three heads, busy eating humans. And then there was the biggie: Jack could swear the mural could be mistaken for a UFO. Although it was not round and disc-shaped nor silver in color, the thing was undoubtedly hovering in the air – yep, it had to be a freaking UFO. What else could it possibly be?!
Jack felt like his head was spinning like the proverbial saucers in the old Sci-Fi movies.
What the hell. Is this some kind of a practical joke?!
He glanced at Mylorne Akkad and Doctor McLean but they didn’t seem to care about the murals and were resolutely staring forward. Seeing them, Jack lost any motivation to ask for an explanation of what the heck he was seeing on these walls.
Down further into the cavern, the buggy finally clattered to a stop. And Jack did a double take on what he was seeing at the moment. He was getting real tired of more surprises right about now – he had been in constant state of being in one form of shock or another since yesterday and currently, he could use some of that “back the eff off for a second” to save his mind from going kablooey.
Climbing out of the buggy, Jack was presented with a huge underground arena. It was bigger even than a football pitch, bigger than even an airplane hangar. Truly a ridiculous dimension for an underground formation.
And on top of that sheer nonsensical scale, there was even a miniature pyramid colored in blood red and shaped just like the one outside the city of Cairo, smack dab in the middle of this huge open space. This particular one was not as big, though – maybe only a tenth in dimension, but it was uncannily similar in appearance.
The entire structure was quarantined in the clear bubble-like material. A laboratory was set up just outside of the quarantine, with a ton of equipment and computers set up. And yes, there were also lots of researchers standing around pointing at stuff on the myriad of the monitors, looking important and intelligent.
Jack hadn’t yet had the chance to fully digest everything he saw until now when McLean turned to face Akkad and spoke.
“Okay, so here we are, The Crystal Chamber,” McLean said as he gazed at Jack and at his boss. “The boy can enter it anytime. The prototype Kevlar survival mech suit is ready to wear as well, sir. We got the boy’s measurements down perfect and suit has been adjusted accordingly. While he’s suiting up, we will place the Red Crystal in the chamber’s core.”
Jack’s head was spinning from so many questions wanting to break free, so understandably it took a couple of seconds before he registered what was said. “Eh? Me? I’m going to enter that pyramid thingy?”
“Yes,” nodded McLean and Akkad almost at the same time.
“Okay, uh, slow down, guys. First of all, what the hell is that thing?! Why is a pyramid doing here underground, in continental U.S, halfway across the world from where it’s usually found? And just what the hell did I see back in the cave? Aliens? Monsters?!”
Akkad motioned McLean to speak up on the matters of the pyramid. After all, the doctor knew more of it than anyone in this facility, a fact that he was obviously quite proud of.
“Ahem. Well, Mister Mercer – can I call you Jack? Right. Jack, there are some things we don’t have the concrete answers to, such as how on earth this pyramid had ended up here underground. But as to pyramid-like structures only found in Egypt, that assertion is very much wrong, indeed. You can find pyramids from just about anywhere, from Mexico to China, from India to Australasia, they are everywhere if you care to take a closer look.
“We, my team, posit that this particular pyramid was deliberately built down here. We think that an extremely advanced civilization, not exactly terrestrial in nature, built it for a purpose of…. well, endowing combat experience to the earth-bound warriors.
“The Egyptologists all think that these ancient buildings are tombs of the Pharaohs and stuff like that, but heh, if they knew ours isn’t anything remotely similar to theirs…. Hahaha, it’d be funny seeing their shocked expressions. Well, anyways. Lately, some of the researchers began calling it The Hyperbolic Time Chamber. Unofficially, of course. Tells you all you need to know about it, really.”
There was a gleam of excitement in McLean’s eyes as he fervently spoke, hoping that his great witticism would find an appreciative audience. Alas, his expectant gaze was met with confused pair from Jack as the teen didn’t get the reference. It was before his time, after all. And Akkad was pretty much apathetic to the name as long as it didn’t hinder the purpose of this research facility.
Realizing that he had failed miserably in his mini-quest, McLean’s shoulders sagged just a bit in disappointment before he continued.
“Inside the structure, it’s almost empty, except for two things – a pedestal with a crystal on top and a flat plinth at the core where we can place an object such as the power source of the whole thing. We know that the pedestal acts as a switch, to turn the structure on and off. Once you switch the structure on, the time begins to flow differently inside. And, uh, things happen.”
Jack tilted his head in further confusion.
“What do you mean, the time flows differently inside? Huh? And what… things?”
“Well, it’s like this. Once you go inside and activate the structure, the time will flow faster compared to the outside. One hour outside is equivalent to almost 24 hours inside. So, a day outside, you’ll be spending nearly 576 hours inside, which is 24 days. See, almost like the Hyperbolic Time Chamber!!”
Jack still didn’t get the reference so he ignored that.
“So you want me to go in there? And do what, exactly?”
Akkad stepped in this time and replaced the utterly disappointed McLean. Taking Jack away from the earshot of everyone, he leaned in closer after switching off the radio.
“You’ll be training once you enter the pyramid. First, to reacquire the ability to use the Soul Sphere without sleep. And two, to absorb more of the red souls that will emit from the Crystal after it’s activated and further enhance your abilities.
“I believe you will need a lot more than 24 days to accomplish this, but the time is of the essence and you need to hurry. We don’t know how much breathing room we have, and a single day out here is all we can afford for now.”
Jack gulped involuntarily.
I must do what?! But this….
No, I am going to do this. Let’s not waste any more of my time thinking about this. If the pyramid and what’s inside can make me stronger, then let’s do it. Why am I hesitating, when I’m already this deep down the rabbit hole?
Now that it came down to this, nothing seemed to matter, nothing other than the relentless march forward. At the end of this march, he was going to emerge as powerful and imperious as his former self, the God-King Gilgamesh. Okay, maybe not that soon, but he’d be many steps closer, closer to the ideals of the man and to achieving his goal of exacting justice to the two Supers, Falcon and Master Evil. Jack nodded resolutely, not even bothering to ask what to expect once inside the pyramid.
They returned to where McLean was, and like a small miracle, the dejected scientist had perked right back up already. He excitedly continued with the explanation.
“Only one person can enter and activate the Time Chamber. When activated, you can’t leave it without switching it off. Just thought that I’d let you know. If you are worried about rations, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. MREs, baby. They might taste dry but all the necessary nutrients for a growing body, all in there.”
Jack had a slight idea what an MRE was. But what about the issue of… a bathroom? Or sleep, even the matter of resting?
“Well, you can pee inside your suit. There’s a small reservoir where the discharged liquid is gathered. You can empty it during the breaks. I’ll show you how it works when you’re putting the suit on later.
“As for sleep…. well, I don’t think you can fall asleep inside but resting should be possible. There is a small boundary near the Crystal core that we think is a demarcation for a safe zone.
“But, uh, if you’re worried about, uh, number 2, then well, you gotta make do, somehow. Sorry.”
Jack almost gave up on entering the pyramid but after a strong shake of his head, and a firm bite to his lower lip brought the resolution back to the fore.
“Alright. Tell me what I need to do.”
Jack’s voice sounded grim but determined. It was a declaration from him that nothing would dissuade him from entering the structure. Absolutely nothing at all.
Akkad nodded in appreciation and sighed gently. “Follow Doctor McLean to the locker room over there. You will be advised on the various vital functions of the prototype mech suit before putting it on. It might be a little uncomfortable, but bear with it as you will need its capabilities inside the chamber to withstand its trials.”
There were some ominous words in what Akkad said but Jack didn’t pay heed to them as it was a little late to back out now. Too committed for regrets, as it were.
Wordlessly, Jack followed McLean and entered the locker room. There was a single gleaming silver crate in the middle, placed upright.
“Well, here it is; the pride of Akkad Industries, Inc. The prototype Kevlar multi-purpose all-terrain survival mech suit, GS-011-PX. Now go ahead and get out of the Hazmat suit. I’ll help you put this beauty on.”
Jack entered the clean air chamber located within the room and stripped off the bulky Hazmat suit, then let the clean air scrub him down. As he was doing just that, McLean operated the crate and opened the lid. Inside, a set of unpainted combat armor, waiting for its new owner. Its surface was pitch-dark and non-reflective, as if it was actively absorbing all of the surrounding light.
McLean helped Jack to put on the suit all the while waxing lyrical about the grandness of this suit and its abilities. First, he put on the black fabric that was harder than steel but as supple as silk. McLean explained that it was a new carbon fabric weave that Akkad Industries had come up with but due to astronomical cost it had never been implemented, remaining only as a prototype at this stage.
Next was the armor parts. Each of the parts was tough like steel but light, as light as the black fabric. And finally, the helmet. The visor was black on the outside but from inside Jack had no problem looking out. It was a bit stuffy inside, though. And the sound was muffled as well. This must have been what wearing a racing helmet was like.
McLean explained that each of the armor was enough to reflect any regular small caliber firearms, well up to .45 depending on the distance. Combined with the fabric, the suit would even absorb almost 50% of the concussive force. Knives wouldn’t even be able to cut it, and only the industrial-strength laser could, the ones used to cut diamonds.
The suit also had the important function of keeping the body temperature stable at all times. It also had slots for shots of morphine in case the wearer was injured but it was empty now. On the hips, areas for holsters and weapons. On his left forearm, touchscreen miniature PDA computer, shielded by the same material as the armor. Shockproof, heat and water resistant, and the touch screen that was scratch proof as well – a perfect tool for the most demanding customers. Like him.
Fully suited up, Jack stood before a mirror and examined his appearance. To his dismay, he looked somewhat like a costumed hero wearing the type of things that he’d never, ever wear unless he wanted to commit a social seppuku. Well, he was wearing one and it fit him like a glove as if it was made specifically for him. Although that couldn’t have been, he silently mused to himself. Seriously, who in their right minds would spend millions upon millions on research and development to develop something that was destined for only one person and nobody else?
Dismissing this line of thought, something suddenly came up on his mind. Jack turned and asked McLean earnestly. “Hey, does this armor suit thing come in red?”
“Uh… no, not really. What, you want one in that color? In red?”
Jack shrugged his shoulders. “No, well. I was just curious.”
McLean chuckled. “Whatever, man. Move around a bit, let me see if it’s chafing up somewhere uncomfortable. Once you are happy in it, switch on the PDA and activate the suit.”
Jack did as told, and moved around a little in it; nothing felt amiss. He gave an all-clear thumbs-up, and McLean gave out a few more instructions on how to access the various functions of the suit via the PDA.
Jack switched on the PDA as per the instructions. A dim orange glow emitted from the dormant screen. The first lines it said was:
Welcome, new user. Activate the standard settings now?
Jack pressed the pulsing “yes” button without hesitation.
The suit let out a short hiss, and a subtle beep, before Jack felt a slight tightening of the suit around him. Now, he didn’t feel like he was wearing anything at all – as if he was completely naked. A weird feeling, that.
And on the visor, orange texts floated up. “Initial calibration completed. In-depth calibration to the new user’s specification unable to be carried out: insufficient data.”
Even though he couldn’t see Jack’s confused face, McLean still helpfully offered up explanations.
“Don’t be alarmed. The computer will change some parameters of the suit to best accommodate you. You will need to perform a lot of actions so the computer can collect as much information as possible. Once the in-depth calibration is finished, the suit will be able to show off its most amazing stuff.”
“Okay, then. Is there anything else?”
“Nothing much. Most of the functions the suit provides, you won’t probably need it inside the Chamber, other than the body temperature modulation and the shock reduction and absorption. If you have any other questions that you can’t think of now but might later while stuck inside the structure, the PDA has one or two FAQs so take a look. Alright, let’s get going, then!!”
“Looking good,” said Mylorne Akkad as he sized up Jack emerged from the locker room. “You know, I initially took inspirations from the Armor of Crimson Starlight when designing the GS series. Who knew it would suit you this well?”
Akkad had a gentle smile as he nodded, but he became serious as he and Jack approached the entrance of the pyramid.
“Okay, listen to me, Mister Mercer. The suit is linked with the monitoring system out here but because of the time difference as well as how the structure is constructed, we won’t be able to communicate when you are inside. Even monitoring your vitals will not be possible once the structure activates.
“Once you enter, you will encounter strange and dangerous situations. But overcome them to your best abilities. In the beginning, it will not be difficult. The further you progress, the harder it will get. Bear th
at in mind.
“If you feel that your life is threatened, then do not hesitate and switch off the structure and escape. That is not up for a debate. Understood?”
Jack nodded solemnly. Even though no one said out aloud, but judging from their expressions he could tell entering and withstanding even a single day inside the pyramid would be difficult, most likely deadly. Otherwise, why would there be a need to wear this cumbersome and expensive armor? Or the strict advice from Akkad?
Jack entered through the opening of the quarantine bubble and approached the ornately constructed entrance of the red pyramid. Perhaps fittingly, it was shaped like the mouth of a monster; wide open and ready to swallow the next hapless fool who chose to step within. The Hazmat suit wearing technicians rushed out as Jack stood in front of the entrance. One of them shouted at him.
“Hey man. Good luck in there. I’ll pray for you.”
Jack almost retorted that he was not religious, but saved his energy. The technician meant well, after all.
Taking a deep breath, he stepped inside the doorway.
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Synopsis: The online game <