Sentient Conflict: A Change in the Winds

AN: I write for fun. You can be supportive and help me out if you notice any mistake that I missed, or you can keep your inappropriate comments to yourself. I write because I enjoy it and I post so you have more entertainment. Now, enjoy the story.

===Chapter Start===

The current date is June 17, 5216. Over the last three thousand two hundred years, technology has vastly increased. We've discovered faster travel, cleaner energy, and how to create stronger materials. Not to mention, Artificial Intelligence has become a worldwide and affordable thing. Everyone has one. We've managed to explore the oceans and more areas of space. We've created colonies on Mars, the moon, and space stations in between. Mars was transformed into a place of many cities and the majority of Earth was turned into farmland. Many economic problems were solved. All the different nations united under one flag and became one nation. Even though we no longer fought amongst ourselves, we kept the various militaries strong and continued to advance their tech and training. That was a good decision.

Sixteen years ago, we encountered another sentient race. That race was humanoid, but was on average about three meters tall. Their skin colors varied, but the majority were pale blue, almost grey. They were agile. They were strong. Our scientists were ecstatic. There was just one problem. That sentient race wasn't friendly. The first year into the war, we had managed to capture one of the creatures. After months of interrogation and another few months of translating the information we received, we discovered that they called themselves Ascendents and that they were attempting to take over the universe.

I myself was trained in a special unit. My unit, as opposed to the normal foot soldiers who had some of the older exoskeletons that helped increase reaction time and precision, my unit had the newest version, which provided extra protection as well as the increased reaction time and precision. Three years into the war, my unit was deployed on one of the Ascendents' planets so that we could help our troops push them back. We were successful in our initial attempt. For four days we pushed them back. Then they showed one of their trump cards. One of their drop-ships flew in and deployed five mechanical suits, each of which had a pilot. Those mechanical suits, which we decided to refer to as Mechs, tore through our lines and decimated the troops that we weren't able to evacuate. This included my unit. Out of the original twenty-four, only five of us remained, and even we weren't unharmed.

We did our best to help our troops escape, but me and the other four in my unit suffered serious injuries. The youngest member, John, was the luckiest. He only received a broken arm and leg. His fiancé, Jade, lost her left hand at the wrist and broke the rest of that arm, as well as her left leg. Her twin brother, Dylan, lost his left leg entirely and shattered all the bones in his left arm. Our oldest member, Victor, lost the lower half of both legs, shattered his right arm, and had severe PTSD. I broke both arms, lost all feeling in the lower half of my left arm, broke my right leg, and had more shrapnel in me than the other four survivors.

We were taken to a hospital on Mars and were worked on for months. John and I were the only ones to make a full recovery. Jade was given a cybernetic brace to help support the arm while giving full movement, Dylan was restricted to a hover-chair, which was moved through a neural interface, and Victor was put in a mental hospital. As we were in the best condition, John and I were given the option of retiring or going into training back on Earth with newer and better tech. We accepted. Jade took a job as a computer technician while Dylan became a mechanic.

Five years later, our scientists had managed to reverse engineer one of the Ascendents' Mechs, which led to the creation of our own Mechs. The first ten were finished and ready for a pilot five years after that. John and I were still going through training to go back into the field when we were approached with the offer to become the pilots of two Mechs. We were given three days to decide, and we both accepted. They, the people behind the Mech Unit Operations, had also approached Jade and and Dylan with similar offers. The difference was that for Jade, the offer was to be the electronics technician for two mechs and Dylan was offered to be the mechanic for two mechs. I'd guess they wanted us to be in the same unit as there was proof of us working well together in the past.

John and I were taken to a big warehouse. Inside were the ten Mechs. Each Mech was different. They varied in height, build, and color. Although each was unique, they all shared a few features. All of them were humanoid. All of them had a cockpit in the main part of the body between where the arms connected. Inside each cockpit was a harness that would raise you about a foot off of the floor. Using a neural uplink, you could move and the Mech would move. The height that the harness gives you allows you to walk while staying secure. And none of the Mechs had weaponry yet.

John chose one of the Mechs that was 3.6 meters tall, built with a lot of armor for frontline fighting, and was colored a dark green. The cockpit of his Mech had blue hued protective glass. I chose a Mech that was about 4.3 meters tall. It wasn't as heavily armored as John's, but it looked like it would be very agile and fast, almost as if it was built for recon and sniping. However, there was just enough armor on it to allow for a little bit of frontline fighting as there would probably come a time where it was needed. The color was matte black and the cockpit had crimson hued protective glass.

The Mechs we chose were loaded up onto two separate cargo carriers, which were based off of semi trucks from the 2000's but had the ability to hover, and driven off to the location we would be training at. John and I were put in the backseat of an All Terrain Hovercraft as it went ahead of the cargo carriers. Several hours later, we arrived at a training location. It was there that we were introduced to our team and discovered that Dylan and Jade were going to be helping us maintain our Mechs. For three months, John and I trained in using neural uplinks and worked on getting synced with our Mechs. The syncing process was sped up when several scientists created a personal AI for each of us. That AI would help us operate the Mechs and allowed a quicker sync and reaction. We trained in moving around in our Mechs for another four months.

Then we added highly customized and unique weapons to our Mechs. Unique in the sense that few other things could use them. Each weapon was customized by the pilot for the Mech. John played it smart and gave his Mech two gatling guns with a big case attached which could hold a belt for the ammo. Those guns were attached to the right arm of his Mech and the belts and clip were built into the arm for more storage and easier mobility. On the left arm went a grenade launcher that could hold about seventy grenades and a missile launcher that held a maximum of five target lock missiles. An ammo rack was added to the back of his Mech, which he named Dozer, so that he could carry extra ammo. An ammo rack is a protected case with different slots for different types of ammo. Since our Mechs didn't have hands, we had to make use of what we called Personal Tractor-beams. A PT is a focused and precise magnetic field that could move objects with a specific type of metal within that field. Extra clips for weapons had this specific metal built in so that we would be able to reload.

I added a sniper rifle with a detachable barrel to the right arm of my Mech, which I named Ghost. Attached to the left arm was a smaller and lighter version of the gatling guns that John used with the clip built into the arm. I added a small ammo rack to the back of Ghost. This left me enough room to attach a burst pack to it. A burst pack is similar to a jet pack, but it doesn't allow you to fly. Instead, it allows for higher jumps, slower falls, and faster ground movement by using a focused gravity pulse in short bursts. The final piece I added to my Mech was an active camouflage generator. This would allow me to move easier without being seen to a certain degree. The active camouflage worked best when standing still and was distorted by moving.

Once we had our Mechs weaponized, we began training again. This time, we trained in using those weapons and getting used to the recoil. John and I also received an armor suit that hooked into the harness much better than our normal clothes, mainly because the suit was made for the harness. Our suits had the same color scheme as our Mechs, including the visor color. The helmet greatly resembled a full face motorcycle helmet, but the main difference was our helmets were airtight. The rest of our armor was pretty light weight, but remained strong because of the material it was made out of, which we only know of as Metal XLV.

Mech Unit Operations, or M.U.O. as John and I refer to them, had found eight other pilots and grouped them together in pairs with a mechanic and a technician. As there were two pilots in a unit, there were ten units. My unit was the second unit that was combat ready. The reason that another unit was combat ready before ours was because they had already been in intensive neural interface training. Despite them being the first to be ready, none of the units were deployed. We continued to train for another year before our first mission.

By this time, there were twenty new Mechs and pilots, created ten new units. They went into training about the time that my unit and the other four were deployed. Our Mechs had received an addition to their paint job. Each unit chose a number and the Roman numeral for that number was put on both Mechs. The number on our Mechs was XXIV. When we were shipped out to the front lines, each unit was given a small transport ship from which the Mechs could be deployed easily. Three days later, we arrived at the planet hosting the current battlefront.

"John, you ready for this?" I asked.

"As ready as I'll ever be," was his reply.

The small transport entered the atmosphere and everything began to shake as explosions went off outside. A red light lit up and we got in our Mechs, powered up and synced up, and got ready to jump. A moment later, the light turned green and the back door opened.

"We've got a green light! Let's show 'em hell!" I yelled as I ran in place, trusting the neural uplink would translate my movements to that of my Mech, which it did. John followed me out of the ship and we began to descend quickly As we approached the ground, I ignited my burst pack to slow my descent while John merely cannonballed to the ground, causing a crater to appear. We quickly recovered from landing and made a quick survey of the area. We could see where the other units were dropped off, as we had the highest ground, but we couldn't see the units themselves. Nearby was the ruins of a drop-ship and we took cover inside it. "This is Ghost of Unit 24. Does any unit copy?"

"This is Wraith of Unit 15. I copy Ghost."

"What is your current sector and objective?"

"Sector four. Unit 15's objective is to-" Wraith's pilot abruptly stopped speaking and I heard gunfire through the radio. "Unit 24, we need back up in sector four. I repeat, we need help."

"Copy. We're on our way. Hold out as long as you can." I switched to my Unit's private channel. "John, begin moving toward sector four. Weapons free. Watch for the Friend or Foe tags."

"Understood. Spinning up gatlings."

"Copy."

We began moving towards sector four and Unit 15. As we traveled, we kept checking the scanners and our surroundings for enemies. We encountered nothing until we entered sector four. Then our scanners lit up, showing the direction in which our enemies and allies were at. We began to move faster. As we grew closer to our enemies and allies, we began to hear gunfire. When we reached a ravine, our scanners said that we were right behind our enemies. I quickly assembled my sniper and the scope showed up on my Mech's HUD, or Heads Up Display. I activated my Active Camouflage and moved to the top of the ridge. I sighted in on one of the enemy Mechs.

"John, as soon as I fire, I want you to drop down there and open fire."

"Understood and ready."

I lined up my shot and fired. The special sniper round tore through the Mech and shredded the pilot. John dropped into the ravine and opened fire, quickly taking down two more while I sighted in on a second and blew his mech up with a well placed shot to a fuel line. Unit 15 joined the fight when the enemy Mechs turned toward us, and in a quick sweep, we took out the Ascendents and their Mechs. I dropped down into the ravine beside John and we approached Unit 15. Both of their Mechs were similar in that they were 3.6 meters tall, had heavy weaponry, and had a good amount of armor. The coloring was the main difference with one being grey and the other blue, but the blue one had what looked like a deployable sword attachment on its right arm.

"Unit 15, we are Unit 24. I'm piloting Ghost, the black Mech, while my partner pilots Dozer. We are a sniper, recon, and assist unit." Protocol dictated that we were supposed to give the name of our Mech to other Units, not our actual name.

"Copy. I'm the pilot of Wraith, the grey Mech. My buddy here is the pilot of Rhino. Our unit is for heavy assault and Unit recovery."

"Copy. Do you think that you will require assistance in your primary objective?"

"That would be appreciated. Primary objective is to move, find and retrieve an object. We will know what the object is when we see it, or so command has told us."

"Understood. You move out and we will follow at a distance. This will allow us to give you more cover."

"Copy. I'll have my AI send waypoints to your AI for you. Wraith out."

"Copy. We're ready when you are."

Wraith and Rhino turned and began to move off at a moderate pace for a Mech, which was about thirty-two kilometers per hour. John and I followed at slow pace until we were about half a mile behind them, at which point we sped up to about the same speed. With our AI's providing us with waypoints, John and I were able to follow Unit 15 easily. They led us to an abandoned city and waited at the entrance.

"Unit 24, find a place to cover us. We're going inside the main tower and will contact you every five minutes. If we don't make contact, double check your surroundings. Wraith out."

"Copy that, Wraith." I switched channels. "John, come on. We need to find higher ground."

We quickly found and scaled a tall parking garage. I set up for sniping at the top while John made sure his weapons were ready. I continuously surveyed the area and acknowledged when Unit 15 checked in. The eleventh time they checked in, they said they were coming out. Ascendent Mechs began to appear, first in groups of two, then by threes and fours. They assembled around the tower, blocking off any escape route.

"Unit 15, hold your position. Enemy Mechs have surrounded the tower. John and I will be moving to create an escape route. I will tell you when we are almost there so you can join us."

"Understood. Holding position and prepping weapons."

John and I made our way to the tower using alleys as cover. I detached my sniper's barrel to switch to a shorter one and prepped my customized gatling as I brought my burst pack online.

"Unit 15, we're almost there. When you exit the building, watch your Friend or Foe tags. We are coming in directly to the entrance."

"Copy."

John led our charge and began firing both his gatling guns, his grenade launcher, and a few missiles into the enemy ranks, quickly clearing small groups and damaging many more. I followed close behind and shot at the Ascendents using my now short barreled sniper and my gatling, tearing through the Ascendents unfortunate enough to get in my lines of fire. Wraith and Rhino came out of the tower guns blazing. We quickly joined up and cleared a path out. Once we were clear, we took off as fast as we could, which was about 80 kilometers per hour. However, that wasn't fast enough, and we were surrounded once more. We opened fire again, but were already low on ammo and our guns ran dry. We back up until the backs of our Mechs were almost touching.

"Dozer, you still have your extra ammo?"

"Yeah. It'll take me thirty seconds to get it and reload though."

"We can have our guns reloaded in about ten seconds," spoke the deep voice of Rhino's pilot. "Here's my idea. Ghost, since you have the faster and more agile Mech, take my sword attachment and get in close quarters to take them out. If you can draw their fire for even seven seconds, Wraith and I can rejoin the fight and provide cover for John to reload."

There was silence. "It just might work."

"Do it then," John said.

"Ghost, I'll take the attachment off and hand it to you on your right side. Once you have it, attach it and have your AI activate it. Once you attack, we will begin reloading."

"Ready when you are."

I reached behind me with my right hand and grabbed the offered attachment and switched it over to my left before attaching it to my right arm. Once my AI activated it, I broke formation and charged. Immediately, the other three began to reload. I reached the first enemy Mech and swung, slicing through it cleanly and cutting off the arm of another. I spun the other direction and sliced at a third and fourth enemy, dismembering both of them when I heard gunfire. I chanced a quick glance and saw that Wraith and Rhino were standing near Dozer and were covering for him. I went back to slicing and dicing the enemy mechs and a short time later, I heard an explosion and more gunfire. In a total of one minute, we had managed to escape once more, but this time, we found a place to hide. After the enemy passed us, we broke radio silence, but stayed in cover.

"So what was it that we needed to retrieve?"

"Some sort of box about a foot long, wide, and tall. All I could understand was that it radiated some sort of energy. Rhino and I need to get to the evac point, however, we should be fine from here."

I went to reply, but was cut off by MUO contacting us. "Units 15 and 24, you are the last units remaining. Once Unit 15 has their primary objective, make your way to the evac location. Units 3, 7, and 142 are there protecting your transports and waiting for you. Command out."

"I guess we're all going to the evac spot. You go first and we'll bring up the flank."

We said nothing more and began the relatively short journey to the transports. Once all the Mechs were on and secure, the transports lifted off and headed back to Human Space. John and I powered down our Mechs and opened the cockpits to get out. The pilots for Units 3 and 7 stayed in their Mechs, but powered down as well. The rest of the pilots joined us as we made our way to some seats. As we walked, John and I shook hands with the pilots of Rhino and Wraith.

Since the trip would take about two hours, even with the use of our nano-space drive, one of Unit 142's pilots pulled out a deck of cards and we engaged in several different games, laughing as we did so. Once we had landed at the main base, we unloaded our Mechs and put them in the Mech barracks before making our way to the briefing room. All of us pilots stood at attention when one of the commanders entered the room.

"At ease." We relaxed. "We have watched your performances and have grouped up further into two squads. Squad one will consist of Units 3, 7, and 142. Squad two will consist of Units 15 and 24. When you get to your squad's assigned base, you can decide on a squad name. That name must be submitted by next Friday next week. That gives you a week and two days. Any questions?" The pilot that owned the cards raised his hand. "Any questions that relate to this topic?" The pilot's hand dropped back to his side. "Now then, since you each know your Unit member, you now have permission to reveal your identity to your new squad members. Squad one, your Mechs are being moved to your new base at Fairhaven. Squad two, your Mechs have been moved to Unit 24's training base. Make your way to the appropriate transport to go to your new base. New Mech units will be heading to your bases as well. When you aren't on a mission or training as a squad, part of your job will be to help teach them the ropes. Dismissed." He walked out.

I looked at John before glancing at Rhino and Wraith's pilots. I jerked my head in a 'follow me' motion and walked out. John fell into step slightly behind me. I led the way to transport area A, where we boarded a Medium Range Shuttle that took us to the transport terminal closest to our base. At that terminal, we got into a waiting ATH, or All Terrain Hover-craft, that then drove us to our base. As we walked to the main building, I turned around and walked backwards. "Welcome to the Playground. That's what John and I call it. Introductions can wait for a while so we can get you settled in. After introductions, I'll show you around." One of the base's technicians walked up and motioned for the pilots of Wraith and Rhino to follow. John and I walked to one of the armor rooms near the barracks. We had our armor checked and repaired.

When we walked into the hallway, we saw the other two members of our squad. I nodded to them and began to walk. They fell into step behind us. "So, introductions. I'm Raoul and this is John."

"No last names?"

John and I exchanged glances. "We don't find our last names important anymore."

Wraith's pilot nodded. "Alright. My name is Chris Schmidt and my buddy here is Ryan Hernandez."

"Nice to meet you. And Raoul, you can keep the sword attachment. I have another I can use," Ryan said.

"Thanks. So, are you ready for a quick tour?" they nodded. "Then follow me." I turned and began walking as John walked off to do his own thing. "Right now, you are in the barracks and light training areas part of the base." I moved to the side of the hall as four technicians flew by on hover-boards. "Here, there is also an armory if you need to repair, replace, or acquire new armor, weapons, or ammo." I led Chris and Ryan out of the building and got in one of the base's transport vehicles, a modified ATH, and drove to the other buildings. I showed them the vehicle storage, shooting range, training fields, and finally, the Mech storage. "As Mech pilots, we have permission to go anywhere on this base. Actually, thats wrong.

"There is one rule that no one can break. That rule is that unless you were invited and have proof, you can not, under any circumstance other than the base being over run, enter the bathing rooms of the opposite sex. No one is above this rule and all must obey this rule. If you enter the females' bathing rooms, they have every right to beat you nearly to death. A short time before our first mission, a newbie mechanic went in there. Three days later, he crawled out with numerous broken bones and was beaten black and blue. He was just lucky that the bath room he entered wasn't the one that Unit 24's electronics technician uses. If he had, he probably wouldn't be here today."

I got out of the vehicle and walked towards the Mech storage building. "One thing you should always remember, especially around here, is that 'Hell hath no fury like women scorned." I opened the door and walked in. "You mess with one of the women here, may whatever God or gods you worship have mercy on your soul because you're on your own." We walked through another door and I flipped a light switch. "That is your only warning." The lights turned on, section by section, and started above us. "Anyways, welcome to Dragon Valley." The last of the lights turned on, illuminating all four Mechs , still with their battle damage from the mission.

We stood there a moment, taking in the view, before we made our way over to the Mechs. When we reached them, a group of people entered from one of the mechanic doors. I recognized the two people leading the group as Jade and Dylan. Jade noticed us and poked Dylan before pointing to us. Dylan turned, saw us, and came over in his hover-chair as Jade got the group's attention and followed.

"So, how was the mission?" Dylan asked.

"It was pretty good for a first mission with a Mech. We took a beating, as you can see. However, we did take out more of them than they did us. I don't think superior tech or skills played a part in this though. If anything, they've got the better tech and skills. We just had luck and surprise. Think you'll be able to repair the damage and make some upgrades?"

Jade nodded. "Yeah, we should be able to. Just give us a few days and we'll be done."

"Alright. I'll see you later. I'm showing our two new pilots around."

"So these are the newbies. We've been showing their crew around." She moved over to Ryan. "My name's Jade." She held out her hand.

Ryan and Chris shook her hand. "Nice to meet you. I'm Ryan and my friend here is Chris."

"Nice to meet you," Chris said.

"It's nice to meet you both. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll finish showing your crew around and then we'll get to work on the Mechs. Speaking of which, Raoul," she turned back to me, "The new system came in and is ready to be installed. I'll get that put in when I work on your Mech."

"Thanks, Jade. I'll see you later." She waved as I led Ryan and Chris back out to the ATH. "Now that you two have seen everything, is there any specific place you want me to drop you off at on my way back to the barracks?"

"Are there weight rooms near the barracks?"

"Yes. They are in the north and east training rooms. If you have trouble finding them, there should be signs pointing the way."

"Thanks."

I nodded in reply and the drive back was silent. We went our separate ways, Ryan to the weight room, Chris went off on his own, and I headed back to my room to grab my laptop before heading to one of the sitting areas. I met up with John and discussed various things while I looked at several things on my laptop. The main thing I looked at were the new weapon designs for my Mech. The design would completely redesign my Mech from the waist up.

First, the weapon attachments would be uninstalled and taken off, as they were no longer needed. The torso and arms of the mech would be taken off and put in storage. To replace them, a more human like torso, arms, and head would be installed. The head contained the cockpit and would allow for faster turning so the pilot could see in their blind spots quicker. This gave more room in the torso for a bigger and better engine as well as fuel storage for the engine or jetpack, if one was installed. Each Mech's head was created to resemble the helmet of the pilot, which had been customized. Mine had a 2.5 cm wide 1.3 cm tall ridge running from the top all the way to where the helmet ends on the back. The arms on my mech had more armor and were more mobile than the previous ones. The neural interface was updated so that reaction time was decreased once more, as well as the Mech's mobility was closer to the pilot's. On a side note, the mechanics in the legs were redone to match the pilot's mobility as well.

In addition to the new torso and arms, Ghost was to be fitted with a thruster pack. A thruster pack was similar to a jet pack, but only allowed short bursts and used less fuel. It was also much better than a burst pack in mobility and boost. Since the arms would now have hands, the Mechs and their pilots would be able to access a wider variety of weapons and equipment.

I had already chosen a few weapons to use. The first I chose was a new sniper rifle that was known as the Linear Rifle and had been created solely for Mech units. The body of the sniper was similar to the RSASS sniper. Everything else was completely new. The scope could, and would, be synced and transmitted to my helmet's HUD. The sniper itself was semi-auto, had a twenty-five bullet clip, and a silencer attachment. As a secondary weapon, I chose a Hell-storm Semi-automatic Assault Rifle, or HSAM. The body was based off of a FAL OSW, but like the Linear Rifle, contained custom internals. The HSAM had a switch to swap the fire mode from semi-auto to full auto. It also had an extended clip that could hold sixty full metal jacket bullets with an explosive tip and a modified ACOG scope that could, and would, be synced and transmitted to my helmet's HUD. This would seemingly create a problem as I have another scope synced with my HUD, but the scope is only transmitted to my HUD by my Mech holding the weapon in its hands, and could be toggled on and off. The sidearm I selected was the Mech version of a FiveSeven pistol, which basically means the pistol and its components were created in a bigger size so a Mech could use it.

Now that our Mechs had hands, we would be able to reload with needing the PT. Our Mechs were to be outfitted with small, easy access ammo racks on the legs and torso, and a bigger ammo rack on the back. Since my Mech was getting a thruster pack as well, they were being combined into one to create more space for extra ammo. To my knowledge, only my squad would be getting the upgrade. However, I don't have a high enough rank to receive information on the other squads, nor do I care. As long as my squad can work as a team and individuals, I don't really care. I know that John, Jade, and Dylan have my back, and I've got theirs, but I know almost nothing about Unit 15.

Two weeks later, we were notified that the upgrades to our Mechs were complete. Since we were eager to see the changes, all four of us made our way to the Mech storage. When we entered, the lights were on, but we noticed something was different about the room. The four docking bays had been moved and made bigger. Inside each bay was a tall object covered by a big cloth. Above each figure was the name of our Mechs, so we went to the object that was under the name of our corresponding Mechs. When we stepped over a stripped line, the cloth was pulled off and fell into a pile. The objects were revealed to be our upgraded Mechs. John's Dozer was the smallest at five meters and my Ghost the tallest at six meters. Ryan's Wraith was now 5.5 meters while Rhino was about 5.7 meters. With the cloth out of the way, we could now see that the docking bays were bigger because they had our new weapons sitting there in racks.

"So, what do you think?"

I turned to the person that spoke to see a crowd of people, all of who were grinning. "I think we can make them work. Any new installations that we should know about?"

"Well, we've upgraded the AI for each Mech. Before you can pilot your new Mech, you need to have an empty Active AI Storage Unit implanted somewhere in your body. This allows the AI to help you sync up with the Mech even better, more options for your pilot suit HUD, and the ability to remotely control the Mech from anywhere up to two point five kilometers away. We can do the implants now so that you can get out and practicing in your Mechs."

"Sounds like a plan. Let's do them now."

"If you will follow me, I will take you to where we will do the implants."

The man turned and walked off. I followed with John, Ryan, and Chris. When we entered a laboratory, the man had each of us lay on a table with our backs facing up and shirts off. Our hands and legs were strapped to the table and some metal device was set against my spine. I heard someone ask if I was ready, so I nodded. That was my last thought as my world was enveloped in pain. Seconds seemed like minutes and minutes seemed like hours. The pain was indescribable, and I forced myself to stay conscious.

When the pain slowly ebbed away and I became aware of my surrounding again, I heard John groaning in pain and just barely conscious. I heard nothing from Ryan and Chris, so I figured they were out cold. I was unstrapped from the table and I slowly stood up. I kept a hand on the table, which was a good thing as I stumbled a little when I took a step. I caught myself and slowly took another step, then another, then another, until I was walking just as surely as I had before.

I looked at one of the doctors that were in the room. "How long?"

"Fifteen minutes, less than we thought."

I nodded and sat in a chair as I waited for the other three to get back to the world of the living. John was first, five minutes later, and joined me in a chair when he had got his footing back. Ten minutes after that, Ryan was up and a minute later, Chris. When we were all reoriented, the man that led us to this room took us back to the Mechs.

Each of us stood on an elevator platform that raised us to the walkway that went around our Mechs. Technicians helped us get in our new Mechs and get strapped in. The new system had a harness attached to a pad that would form to our backs and hold us in the air, allowing us to move freely and move our Mechs much easier. I had just powered up my Mech and was about to begin syncing with it when a window opened in my HUD. The window showed a moving person that was dressed in a sleeveless shirt and jeans. At first, I thought the window was a video, especially when I found it had audio, but I was quickly proven wrong.

"Hello, are you Ghost's pilot, Raoul?" When I didn't say anything, he frowned. "Hello, anyone there?"

"Yes, I'm Raoul. Who are you?" I asked. I figured that someone from a communications office was testing something.

"I'm Ricky, your A.I. I'll be helping you with your Mech and whatever technological thing you need." There went my thought. Now that I knew he was my A.I., I relaxed slightly. "Now, how about we get you synced up with Ghost," he said.

A bar popped up on my HUD and said 'Sync in progress.' Suddenly, everything felt different. Previous syncs hadn't changed how I felt anything, but this one did. My perception of the world shifted. It felt like I had double vision, but as the sync progress bar moved along, I could feel less and less of the double vision. My view of the inside of my Mech and my HUD faded as the room itself slowly came into focus.

===End Chapter===

AN: Reviews are appreciated as they help me improve my writing. If you enjoy my writing style and would like to commission a story, send me a pm and we will work out the details.