I lay in the grass, the blades tickling the back of my neck. As I panted for breath, sweat pouring off my brow, pain lancing through my body, I stared up at my tormentor. She stood there, a mocking smile adorning her plain features. I hated her. With all my being, I hated her.

My simulated drill sergeant looked down at me, like one might look down on a particularly offensive cockroach.

“Is that all you got, little bitchboy? I swear to God and all his angels, if you’d put on an embarrassment like that in my day, you’d be doing pushups until you shat blood.”

Oh, how I hated her.

My “warm up” exercise today had been a ten-mile run, with under five-minute miles required, and a thousand-foot elevation gain, up a simulated mountain. Which was quite picturesque, on the bright side. Aspens flanked the dirt trail, with leaves the color that of fall, oranges and yellows mixing together. When I reached the top of the mountain (a large hill really), I could look out over the expansive plains bellow. It was nearly indistinguishable from reality.

As I stood there reveling in my achievement, the mountain top began to morph into a grungy concrete gym, where I was forced to endure a simply sadistic series of exercises that made my body feel pain in ways that I hadn’t considered to be possible. After my first day in the simulator, I had quickly abandoned my morning exercise routine, the simulator’s taking its place. The exercise machines and the simulators had the same basic concept behind them, an advanced exo-suit with the ability to add resistances. The simulator differed from the exercise machines in that it allowed full, 360-degree movement within it’s horrible metal shell.

It also allowed for a bizarrely religious, highly impolite computer program to berate me for my many failings. Sergeant McBitchface, as I began calling her affectionately, had a ridiculously ripped body and jet black hair that she kept in a short ponytail, with eyes like a winter storm. She was not shy about her opinion of me. She also had a deep southern accent which somehow made the whole thing even worse.

She glared at me, a scowl marring her face, “Lord almighty but if you aren’t the most pathetic sack of worm shit that ever-graced God’s green earth. Quit sucking your tiny little dick and stand up. I’m gonna beat some goddamn sense into your dumb ass.”

This beating she referred to was what was supposed to be sparring, so that I could learn how to handle the Paladin suit in hand-to-hand combat, an important skill for dealing with Assimilators that fought up close. I figured that this would be the easiest part of the training, due to the fact that I wouldn’t feel the pain as I was beaten black and blue. How I long to return to those naïve times.

I thought that I would be learning a martial art, something that would let me perform intricate and impressive strikes on untrained and foolish foes, becoming the skinny nerd that could defeat the hulking bully through technique alone. Instead, I was essentially learning how to be to be beaten straight to hell while suffering the least amount of damage possible. Funnily enough, an Assimilator won’t give a shit about whatever fancy move you can pull out of your ass. They come at you with raw animal-like fury. You had to weather the storm in any way you could, so that you could protect the troops behind you. Paladins were meant to be a front-line tank, a fortress that could absorb whatever was thrown at it while hitting back twice as hard. There was a good reason for the Paladin pilot’s insignia.

I felt every blow as she rained hell on my body. While the training left no visible bruises or scars, because nothing was actually hitting me, it definitely felt like it had. The simulator had direct access to my pain receptors, and would trick my brain into feeling the pain that my body thought it was experiencing. The great irony of it was that I had helped pioneer the technology that allowed the simulator to interface with my brain. I would regret my hand in it, if it weren’t for the fact that brain tech was what allowed me to use my babies, the fabricators.

Still, I couldn’t deny that I was improving. When I started the simulator training about two weeks ago, I hadn’t even been able to block a blow from Sergeant McBitchface. Now, while I wasn’t exactly an expert, I could at least briefly hold my own, until the program inevitably turned up the difficulty on me. The same held true for my basic exercises. They had rapidly ramped up in difficulty, but I was getting noticeably more fit with each passing day. The rate at which I was getting better was a little crazy, to be honest. I’d hope so, considering I’d been spending about eight hours a day in this little metal ball of insanity.

I was taking the “accelerated” training course, which was supposed to take a doughy, fleshy civilian body, and transform it into an elite Paladin pilot within eight weeks. The fact that such a crazy program existed in the first place was a testament to how fucking nuts the world was going before it fell. The military had been slaughtered at every turn, so governments everywhere had been pulling anybody that they could find and putting them on the front lines without so much as a sympathetic head pat.

I couldn’t attribute my ridiculous growth to anything like innate potential though. It was a combination of stims and stubbornness that got me this far. I’ve been a competitive, obstinate piece of shit for pretty much all my life, and I really, really hate being bad at something. But frankly, the stims probably helped more. Somewhere along the line, we figured out how to “safely” enhance the human body with a cocktail of drugs and gene therapy. Though this was still fairly experimental, it had shown phenomenal results, and was actually more or less safe. Unless you were the one in 100,000 that had some sort of horrible allergic reaction to it. Then you’d die in agony as your body destroyed itself from the inside out.

Luckily, that didn’t happen to me, and after a very reluctant Adelaide had been convinced to give me the doses necessary to improve my body, the results were… well, incredibly underwhelming at first. I was expecting to become a superhuman, able to toss trucks around and run faster than an Olympic athlete. Sadly, reality is not as kind as fantasies.

Remembering my conversation with Adelaide about it still made me smile.

“Adelaide!”

“Yes, Sam?” the computer responded, a note of resignation in her smooth voice.

“Why the fuck do I still suck so bad!?”

I could almost hear the pseudo-AI rolling her eyes at me.

“Sam. Did you not read the documents I sent you about the procedure beforehand?”

“I don’t have time to read.

“Did you not listen to the painstakingly in-depth series of warnings and caveats I gave you?”

“I don’t have time to listen.

She actually sighed at that point. I can’t really blame her, but I do wonder about who thought it was necessary to program her with that capability.

“Explain it to me again,” I commanded with all the entitlement of a four-year-old demanding ice cream, “I promise I’ll try to listen this time.”

“Understood, Sam. The GIDS procedure is an experimental, highly classified genetic enhancement procedure that greatly improves the rate that the human body can physically and mentally grow. While it does not instantly make for a physically perfect specimen, it does raise the maximum potential for a human. It also eliminates most known diseases, prevents the vast majority of genetic defects, as well as promotes rapid healing in the human body.”

That was pretty neat and kinda made sense. But I wanted to be cool and superman-like now.

“First of all, that’s a stupid acronym. Second, I don’t wanna work for it. Is there anything you could do for me that would make this whole thing be faster and stuff?” I queried the computer. At this point I was mostly seeing how much I could piss off a mostly emotionless computer program.

“Sam. This procedure was the pinnacle of human medical technology. It allows you to heal from nearly all non-fatal wounds. It allows physical capabilities beyond what humans have ever achieved. And you are asking if it could be better?” I swore I could hear her voice crack.

“Well yes, Adelaide. I thought I was fairly clear about that.”

“I am afraid that is not possible. Now, if you will excuse me, I must coordinate the spider bots.”

That was the first time I had gotten a computer to give me the cold shoulder. I was inordinately proud of myself for that. It was less funny when I later discovered my Lego pirate ship had been “accidentally” knocked off my desk by a clumsy spider bot.

Bullying helpless pseudo-AIs aside, the GIDS procedure really was a godsend. It was one of those things that didn’t seem world-changing at first, but it quickly became apparent that it was. It basically allowed any random person to become better than the best that humanity had to offer. For those that made an effort, it allowed for fitness at the pinnacle of human capability, and well beyond that to those that truly pushed themselves.

It was one of those technologies that might have turned the tide against the Assimilators, had humanity survived for just a little longer. Ah well. Que sera, sera.

Returning back to the present, I had been training in Simulator 001 for two weeks and had yet to so much as touch a virtual Paladin Suit. After yesterday’s daily ass-kicking, I ventured the nerve to ask my sadistic Drill Sergeant about when I would get the chance to pilot one. Her response was reasoned and polite.

“Well fuck me with a floppy cucumber,” Ew, “it seems that bitchboy here is getting a bit bigger than his tiny little dick,” That just straight up didn’t make sense, “and thinks that after two fucking weeks he can just jump on in to the most advanced military system ever devised by man! Ain’t that some shit?” She actually had a pretty good point there.

“Lord almighty, let me tell you something,” she continued, a spark of manic rage in her eyes, virtual spittle showering my face, “if I let your pathetic, pansy-ass, godforsaken body into one of those beautiful machines of sheer destruction, it would rip you and your weak little mind to goddamn pieces. Do I make myself clear!?”

“Yes sir.” I responded, thoroughly emasculated.

She actually growled as she looked at me, clearly at loathe to say what came next.

“Unfortunately for all of mankind, we don’t exactly have a plethora of time or choices. So, I gotta find a way to get your pathetic ass into one of these suits in two goddamned weeks. God help me but I think I might have the hardest job on the planet.”

As she berated me with ever increasing insults to my masculinity, physique, and mental faculties, I wondered idly who in the hell decided to make a stereotypical Drill Sergeant the trainer for a simulator. I guess whoever had written her lines had been a huge Full Metal Jacket fan. Or a masochist. I mean, sure, I saw the point of breaking a new recruit mentally so that they would follow inane orders without a second thought, but it really did lose a lot of its psychological effectiveness when you knew that it was all completely fake. Or it did for me at least, so maybe I’m the weird one. I belatedly noticed that she had finished up her torrent of insults. She was staring at me, her chest heaving, face twisted in disgust.

“I said is that fucking clear!?” She yelled at me.

“Sir yes sir!” I replied, like a good little soldier. I decided that when I left Simulator 001, I was going to take a long bath, maybe have some chamomile tea to relax.

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