Princess of Mystic Earth: A Secret War

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The Princess of Mystic Earth: A Secret War

-Travis Martin

 

He ducked just in the nick of time, the hot thermal rounds vaporizing everything only a matter of inches above his head.

Thank God rocks don’t burn, Tyson thought to himself. That’s what his cover had been – a slab of granite just large enough to shield a human being from perhaps the most intense flames anyone had ever seen up close. They were always so precise, those thermal rounds. Never burning anything near the target…only the target itself.

He pressed his back against the rock, primed a grenade, then threw it over his right shoulder. A matter of seconds later the ground jarred beneath his feet followed by the horrid screams of enemy soldiers that had made the fatal mistake of bunching themselves together. It made the grenade all the more effective.

Tyson stood suddenly and fired his shoulder-mounted autocannon in the general direction of the enemy, hoping to take out any stragglers with a stray bullet or two. Hot shell casings glistened as they tumbled through the moist air to the forest floor below.

Silence followed. He dropped low and crept forward, his torso barely above the ground. Blades of grass brushed against the battle-blackened body armor strapped snugly to his body as his hands and knees slid into the soft mud of the Drokarian Marshland. Every movement was slow and careful…perfectly balanced for the perfect soldier.

More silence – too much of it. But he could smell them…hear them…almost taste their very presence. The wind rustled the leaves of a nearby bush.

A shuffle came from the trees overhead. In an instant Tyson rolled to face the sky and fired his autocannon into the creature that had leaped at him from above. Bits of bloodied flesh flew through the air. A hairy pile of remains fell next to him in the mud, splashing the saturated soil onto his face. He wiped it on his sleeve even though it didn’t do much good – his entire suit was practically dripping with it.

Static filled his earpiece. “End radio silence. You’re good, Tyson. Just keep moving.”

“How much further? I’ve been going like this for two hours now.”

“About three miles. You’re not that far. How’s the weather in there?”

Tyson groaned. “It’s…disgusting. The air smells like your mom’s house.”

“That bad, huh?”

“Yeah, that bad. And my shoulder hurts from shooting this autocannon.”

“Well no worries. You’ve slipped through their lines like crap through a goose. Just a little further and you’ll have Christy safely in your arms again.”

“I hear tha-”
            Blood splattered onto the ground in front of Tyson’s face. The right side of his vision went out as a cold sensation surged through the side of his head.

He dropped. All of his muscles quivered violently within his body. No scream could exit his lungs no matter how much he willed them.

The end came only a moment later, beckoned by the blackness of death.

 

***

 

Tyson opened his eyes. He was in the Simulator Room of Jackson Laboratories, a mega-corporation that specialized in virtual reality and artificial intelligence. It was a world called “Mystic Earth” that he had just awakened from. His co-tester, Christy Hammond, had lost contact with the outside several days ago, and it was his mission to find and escort her back to safety.

One could die in order to be released from the simulator, just as Tyson had. But under normal circumstances a platform controller would release someone with a special signal sent through the tester’s earpiece. But ever since contact with Christy had been lost this had become impossible for her – at least by a controller, and she obviously wasn’t dead. Something had happened to her so she couldn’t escape.

Tyson sat up and grabbed the right side of his face where a painful tingling sensation had taken hold of his temporal nerves.

The platform controller firmly placed his hands on his shoulders, easing him back down. “Just relax. Lay back down. Your brain still thinks you’re missing half of your head.” He paused. “It’ll take a minute for you to adjust.”

“Half of my head?” Tyson asked as he rested his head back onto the pillow.

“Yeah, a thermal round blew half of your brains onto the ground. One of the Drokarian soldiers was still alive.”

“But John, you said ‘end radio silence.’ Isn’t that another way of saying ‘all threats eliminated?’”

“Sorry, man.” He shrugged. “I just didn’t see that one. I don’t know how I missed him…I just did.”

“Eh, doesn’t matter anyway. I can always be respawned.”

“Yes it does matter,” John countered. He half way raised his right hand. “The longer she’s in there, the longer they could be torturing her.”

“You don’t think they really would, do you?”

John shook his head. “I don’t know.” He then pressed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. “How’s your head feeling?”

“It’s a little better. The tingling is still there, but it’s not painful.”

“That’s good.” He walked over to a computer workstation. “Come here. I have something to show you.”

Tyson obeyed, although it took a great deal of effort.

John pointed to the screen, which showed a diagram of some sort of full body armor. It was white and black other than the silver visor that protruded in the front of the armor’s helmet. “Achilles Combat Suit, meet Tyson. Tyson, meet Achilles Combat Suit.”

Tyson whistled. “Daanng. Now I know what I want for Christmas.”

“Yeah well…no offense but you weren’t moving fast enough. Resistance is thicker than we predicted, so this is what you’ll be wearing from now on.” He smiled. “Merry Christmas.”

“What does it do?”

John cracked his neck and looked up at Tyson. “Well…what does it do?” He laughed. “It’s got auto-camouflage – changes color depending on your surroundings. But remember, it’s not a cloak. So don’t try to stand in the middle of a room or you’ll be seen.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

John continued. “You have an autocannon on your right shoulder just as before. But on your left you’ve got a grenade launcher. Also you’ll be equipped with a knife that ejects from either wrist. That’s not to mention the artillery round you can launch from this cannon here in the center of the armor’s breast-plate. Be careful with that, by the way. It’s meant for long-range only. Splash damage is highly intensive.”

He then pointed to the visor. “Here you’ll have a heads-up display. It will aid you with targeting, infrared, night vision…you name it, it’s probably got it.”

Tyson clasped his hands together. “This is awesome. Oh man, I think I’m in love.”

“Hang on.” John’s eyes seemed to twinkle for a moment. “I’ve saved the best for last. A personal touch I added myself.”

“All right.”

After a series of keystrokes, the screen changed to a schematics display of the armor’s internal systems. “This is why the armor’s so thick: It’s partly hydraulic. Your strength will be amplified many times over.” He paused as an added thought ran through his mind. “If one of these gets damaged, however, your ability to move will be compromised. So don’t get too careless.”

“I’ll try not to.” Tyson put his right hand under his chin. “But is there any way for me to carry stuff I need?”

“Actually I was just getting to that. You have a compartment on your back that stores extra hydraulic rods so you can replace one if it gets damaged. There’s even spare armor plating in there as well. As far as carrying ‘stuff’ goes, you’ll just have to wear the standard backpack you wore before. Shouldn’t be too cumbersome though with the armor.” He shrugged. “You probably won’t even notice it. Keep in mind, however, that it won’t necessarily match the suit if you engage the auto-camouflage.”

“Sounds good to me. When do I start?”

John smiled. “The spawning system’s still booting up. It’ll be ready in five.”

Tyson nodded in approval.

 

***

 

            John carefully snapped the neural transmitters into place. “Okay, you ready?”

            “Only when you are,” Tyson said with a smile. He couldn’t help but imagine what it was going to be like fighting in the Achilles Combat Suit.

            “I need you to keep your head nice and relaxed on the pillow while the system synchronizes with your brain patterns.”

            “Yeah, yeah. I know.”

            John rubbed his hands together excitedly. “All right. Here we go then.” He sat down at a workstation next to where Tyson lay and pressed a few keys. “Dropping into Mystic Earth in three, two…” He hit the enter key.

            The room left Tyson almost as if driven by a powerful wind. He was suddenly back in the Drokarian Marshland, his old, bloodied corpse at his feet. That’s when he realized he was exposed. The only thing covering his skin was the standard backpack. “Uh, John. Where’s the suit?”

            “What do you mean?”

            “I’m naked.”

            John laughed loudly. “Oh, whoops. Sorry bout’ that.” He paused for a couple seconds. “Okay, the suit should be at your six o’clock. I forgot to tell you that I can’t spawn you in it.”

            Tyson turned around. There it was, the white and black Achilles Combat Suit standing motionless. It looked so powerful…so valiant. He could barely believe that such a thing could be built by the hands of man. And it was his. He gently set his backpack on the ground.

            “The power pack isn’t engaged yet. It’s running on reserves for the moment. Go to the back. It’ll automatically open for you.”

            The very moment Tyson walked around, John's words came true. The legs and back split vertically while the arms split horizontally, inviting him to climb in. He lifted the helmet from the suit’s neck and put it on. Then he climbed inside.

            The armor closed around him, a satisfyingly comfortable fit, then sealed with a soft hiss. The inside of the helmet came to life. Dialogue displayed on the heads-up-display:

           

Boot Sequence Initiated.

          Power levels…100%.

          Helen online.

           

A soft, female voice startled him when she spoke into his helmet. “Hello, Tyson.” He jumped. Unfortunately the suit jumped with him, causing him to fall backwards into the mud.

“A little clumsy, are we?” she laughed.

“Who the heck are you?”

“I’m Helen, the most advanced AI ever created by Jackson Laboratories. I’m here to aid you in battle so your friend can…‘relax and watch Cops later tonight.’”

Tyson chuckled as he willed the armor back onto its feet. “Let me guess. He told you to say exactly that?”

“Yes.”

“Well can you patch me through to him real fast?”

A click was heard in the helmet.

“I’m here, cowboy,” came John’s voice. “What do you want?”

“Uh, I want you to do your job.”

“You have everything you need in the suit. Helen can do everything I can, only better.”

“Ah. So how am I supposed to know where to go?”

“She’s equipped with a navigation program that will take care of that. But hey, if you’d rather hear my sexy voice instead of hers…”

“That’ll be enough of that, John.”

“Right. Sorry.”

Tyson thought for a moment. “I’ll check-in in a few hours to keep you posted on my mission status. You’d better not leave the lab. Just because I have Helen doesn’t mean we’re abandoning protocol.”

“Copy that.”

“All right, don’t get too carried away out there. Tyson out.”

There was another click.

“Helen?”

“Yes, Tyson. Do you have any orders?”

“Uh…” He tried to scratch his head, a mannerism he had whenever there was a decision to be made. A clank was heard as his metal hand made contact with the helmet. He quickly put it by his side in embarrassment. “Where are we supposed to go from here?”

“Calculating waypoint,” Helen said flatly. A green three-dimensional arrow appeared at the top-middle of his HUD, indicating that he go due East.

He grabbed the backpack, slung it over his now-armored shoulder, and then started walking. It felt unnaturally easy, so he decided to run. That was when he discovered just how incredibly fast he could run with the added strength of the suit.

A dialogue appeared on the top right of the HUD: 24 MPH

Helen piped up. “Would you like to travel faster, Tyson?”

“Is that even possible? My brain can barely keep up with my feet as it is.”

“Increasing neural interface speed by fifty percent.”

All of a sudden Tyson was able to run much faster. 41 MPH, the HUD read. They reached the edge of the marsh and entered an open field. 58 MPH

There was a lot of noise coming from the power supply, but Tyson was having too much fun to care.

“Alert,” Helen said. “Enemy Drokarian contacts approaching on foot.”

“What? I can’t hear you.”

Suddenly a thermal round whirred past his face. He tripped and fell to the ground, the suit tumbling head over foot for what seemed to be forever. Finally everything stopped.

Tyson groaned. “Holy crap. Helen, is the suit okay?”

“All system functions are fully operational. No reported damage.” She paused. “Enemy contacts approaching. We’ve been spotted.”

            He stood up slowly. Several brown, hairy Drokarians approached wielding thermal launchers.

            “Helen, activate the auto-camouflage.” As he looked at his hands, they changed color to match the surrounding grassland. But it was too late. They had already seen him.

            Thermal rounds tore through the air from what seemed to be every direction. He rolled to the side, trying his best to be a difficult target.

            “Tyson, would you like me to activate military controls?”

            “Yes! Now!”

            The HUD changed to a tactical display of the suit’s weapon systems. “Selecting targets.” Multiple pinging sounds could be heard as several of the Drokarians were highlighted. “Weapon systems ready. Auto-targeting enabled.”

            Tyson selected the main artillery cannon and chose one of the targets. A loud crack came from the breastplate of the suit. Its echo pierced the surrounding land like the sound of a gunshot. Moments later several of the Drokarians disappeared into a cloud of fire and black smoke with a trace of charred dirt.

             Immediately he switched to the grenade launcher and autocannon. Thud…thud, thud, thud…thud…thud…....thud, thud. The staccato fire from the autocannon came simultaneously, sending many of the creatures mowed into the ground. Grenades exploded all throughout the enemy lines.

            Tyson continued this while shaping his fire into a rough semi-circle pattern. Finally there seemed to be no more targets – the Drokarians had either escaped or been killed.

But even with the sudden silence, Tyson knew better than to let his guard down. He looked around. There was no sign of any threats.

Suddenly he heard a sizzle as a thermal round hit his arm, blackening the white armor plating. He looked down. A Drokarian had managed to crawl to him for a clean shot.

He flicked his right wrist, ejecting the blade from its compartment. With a single, quick motion, he swung his arm low, just beneath the creature’s chin. It looked at him for a moment with sad anguish in its eyes. A tear rolled off its pudgy nose. Then it dropped dead, blood pouring from its throat.

“All threats eliminated,” Helen chimed.

“Good.” He didn’t say or do anything for at least a full minute. “Hey, Helen?”

“Yes, Tyson.”

“Why do you suppose that Drokarian was crying just before he died?”

“I cannot interpret emotion, Tyson. But if I had to surmise an answer to your question, I’d say it was probably due to the shock of his injury.”

“The shock of his injury,” Tyson repeated. “I hate up-close encounters.” He then sighed. “Helen, can you take control of the suit’s below-torso portion and set a fast, yet careful speed to our destination?”

“Yes. I can activate the walking pattern when you’re ready.”

Tyson nodded inside the helmet. “Okay, let’s go.”

 

***

 

            It took about fifteen minutes to reach the small village where intel had predicted Christy’s location.

            “Hey, Helen. Patch me through to John, will you?”

            Click.

            “John, I’ve reached the village. Over.”

            There was no response.

            “John. Do you copy?”

            Again, no answer.

            “Anyone from Jackson Laboratories, come in. Does anyone read me? Over.”

            After waiting one last time, Tyson switched the headset off.

            “There’s no detectable interference,” Helen said.

            “Well we can’t reach them. Guess we’re on our own.” He looked around. The village was comprised of simple cottage-style buildings barely separated by narrow alleys. He assumed their close proximities were for protection. “Activate the auto-camouflage.” He disappeared into the shadows.

            It was twilight outside, the sun already set behind a few nearby hills. With the aid of the suit’s night-vision, he figured he could turn the lack of light into a useful ally. Someone would practically have to walk right into him to discover his location.

            There were very few Drokarians on the streets. Most of them had probably already taken to the shelter of their homes for the night. This made Tyson’s progress go by surprisingly fast.

            He came to a courtyard in the center of the village. Just as intel had predicted, there was a small building, supposedly where prisoners were held. Four guards stood at the entrance. He had to get past them.

            Tyson looked around. There were no signs of any bystanders, so he quickly bent down and opened his backpack. Inside was a small, robotic sniping drone that he could remotely control with his HUD. He took it out and activated it.

            A small box appeared in his vision that showed the camera of the drone. He guided it to a hovering position about eighty feet above the guards.

 

            Target 1 acquired and locked.

       Target 2 acquired and locked.

       Target 3 acquired and locked.

       Target 4 acquired and locked.

 

       “Fire.” Tyson whispered. All four guards silently dropped at the same time. “Piece of cake.”

            The drone flew back to him and deactivated. He quickly replaced it into the backpack and made his way to the building.

“Infrared,” he said flatly. The visor immediately obeyed, showing him the contrasting blue and red of various nearby heat signatures. There didn’t seem to be anyone behind the door. As quietly as possible, he opened it.

“Night vision.” The darkness gave way to the familiar greenish hue that so easily amplified the slightest trace of light. He was in some sort of hallway. Carefully, he closed the door behind him.

The silence was deafening. There wasn’t a single trace of life in any direction. He continued onward until he came to an open, circular shaped room that was several stories high. A balcony ran along its perimeter on the second level.

A shuffle came from above. He looked up only to find that nothing was there. “Helen, go ahead and activate the military controls. I don’t like what’s going on here.”

“Yes, Tyson.” The tactical display appeared. “Selecting targets.” A few seconds later she continued. “Zero targets acquired.”

“This is weird. At the first sign of anything, let me know.”

“Yes, Tyson.”

He crept into the center of the room. This could be a trap of some kind.

“There is a possible disturbance on the second level,” Helen said.

“What is it?”

“Unable to clarify.”

Suddenly a loud, high pitch noise echoed through Tyson’s skull. He tried to cover his ears with his armored hands, but to no avail. The noise seemed to be coming from inside his head. It became louder, higher pitched. He fell to the floor.

“Aaahh!” The pain was unbearable.

“Targets inbound. Ten meters and closing,” Helen said.

It was then that Tyson lost consciousness.

 

***

 

            When Tyson woke up he was no longer inside the Achilles Combat Suit. Some sort of rag-like clothing covered his body, and wherever he was the air was unbearably stale. He looked around. A prison cell.

            Footsteps approached. A furry figure appeared and stood in front of his cell, just on the other side of the locked bars.

            “The Princess is on her way,” the Drokarian said with a high-pitched scratchy voice. “She says she knows you.”

            “Knows me?” Tyson chuckled. “Can’t say I recall ever making friends with a Drokarian.”

            The creature stared at him with small beady eyes for a moment, then turned and walked away.

            “Hey, I have a question! Hey!” No answer. The footsteps only faded until Tyson heard a door slam shut off in the distance.

            Something like an hour went by. Water could be heard dripping onto the floor in a monotonous, tiring pattern. Finally more footsteps came. They seemed different. It sounded as if the wearer had high heels on. Strange for one of these creatures.

            There she was: The Princess of the Drokarians. Tyson stood slowly in shock, not too certain that his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him. “Christy?”

            “That’s right, Tyson. It’s me.”

            “How did yo-”

            She held up her hand. “Shut up. I’ll be the one to ask the questions. You can answer them or die.”

 

To be continued…

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