Chapter 3: Ghost in the Laboratory
“Perhaps this time I will finally be able to have you assist us with a prototype which you will not so easily be able to crash or fly around the room like a blind bat” Dr. Vahlen said as they returned to the testing facility.
Kiara began to muse of the subject, she had to admit that the lack of a propulsion or self-contained rappel lines would prove difficult to crash, but she knew she would find a way. “I thought bats were blind anyway”
“A common misconception, my young soldier. The truth is bats can see perfectly well but rely on their echolocation ability to hunt their prey. But I did not bring you here to discuss the physiology of Chiropteran’s, instead please direct your attention to this specimen” Dr. Vahlen presented the prototype laid out on the low metal table before them. “This represents our latest developments in the field of stealth technology. Originally these systems were conceived to conceal our satellites against airborne threats; we have now developed a miniaturised version of this technology for use by frontline personal integrated into this new suit of armour”
Kiara lifted the prototype off of the table, passing it between her hands she felt the lightweight armour pass between her hands as though it were made of fabric or leather rather than solid metal. “It’s incredibly light”
“It is made from the same alien material as our previous creations” Dr Vahlen replied. “Using modified stealth fields it will prove the closest possibility to true invisibility”
“Just keep the technicians away from the women’s dorms” Kiara stated flatly.
Dr. Vahlen continued. “In recognition of its unique capabilities we have taken to calling it ‘Ghost Armour’. While not as robust as your Titan armour it will allow you to linger undetected on the battlefield for short periods of time”
“Impressive, so how did you manage to pull this one off?”
“The suit works by bending light around its structure and then projecting it at a 180 degree angle so that anyone observing the suit will only see what is behind it”
“Are you sure it can really ‘bend’ light” Kiara asked smugly. “Isn’t there one of those ‘law’ things about that?” Kiara began securing the separate plates of the armour around her jumpsuit.
Vahlen could only elicit a low chuckle at the prospect. “Oh my little soldier. Within this facility are some of the greatest living examples of humanity from every conceivable academic field in the world. Your military leaders and statesman gave us three weeks to reengineer an alien spacecraft previously unknown to even exist and we accomplished that feat in half the time. Were we not busy fighting for the survival of our race we would be curing world diseases or perhaps creating a perpetually clean fuel source. You don’t really believe we can’t bend a few rules to do it?”
“I wouldn’t put it past you to try” Kiara secured the final piece of armour around her, checking the seals between her plates of armour.
“This new design should allow a greater freedom of movement and flexibility-”
Kiara was eager to test her new toy, leaping out onto the polished surface of the lab floor she suddenly felt her feet begin to slip out from underneath her “Oh, slidely” although initially unsettled by the smoothness of the suits soles against the equally smooth floor Kiara was quick to find her feet like a lamb taking its first giddy steps. She soon found herself skating across the laboratory, much to Dr. Vahlen’s lack of amusement.
“Lieutenant, please, we haven’t spent nine weeks developing this so you can play skiddsy’s”
Kiara continued regardless, ready to test this prototype to its operational limits. Kiara activated her wrist mounted gauntlets in an attempt to uncover any hidden secrets she dared find. “That’s the way this works, doc. The lab techs build it; I test it until it breaks. Thirty go to ten”
By chance Kiaras finger struck the correct key; she began to feel a wave of static raising her hair on end as she watched her forearm disappear before her eyes. She quickly realised that it was more than merely her forearm and she looked down to see her lower body disappear from beneath her.
“Ah, I see you’ve found the controls for the suits invisibility function” Dr. Vahlen said. “As I was saying, this technology was originally conceived to cloak our satellites from hostile strike craft, the technology has since been miniaturised and integrated into a suit of light power armour allowing you the ability to-”
Dr. Vahlen’s explanation began to trail into silence as she watched her military advisor, no doubt under the illusion that her actions remained concealed beneath a stealth field, gave her a certain internationally recognised gesture of disdain. “What are you doing?”
Kiara froze mid gesture. “You can see me?”
“At short ranges, yes” Dr Vahlen replied flatly.
“Well that just means you got something wrong” Kiara was quick to defend her actions.
“As I was about to reiterate the suit only offers a capability close to true invisibility”
“Well what’s it goanna take so I can flip you off and you won’t notice?”
“A 180 degree turn, Lieutenant. But as for your suggestion it could be something to consider for the next prototype” Dr Vahlen turned towards the door. “Let us move on”
“Beyond this door we have arranged a course to test the suits capabilities” Dr Vahlen stood before the large bulkhead door. “The objective of this test is to remain undetected whilst you traverse the facility”
“It’s never as simple as that, is it?” Kiara asked.
“I’m afraid so” Dr Vahlen replied with clear ambivalence. “Inside you will encounter ‘enemy’ combatants armed with standard assault weapons and live ammunition. We don’t quite trust them with the expensive and dangerous tech just yet”
“Aren’t you concerned about the possibility of injury?” Kiara asked as she checked and rechecked her armour.
“Oh, do not be concerned. The prototype is constructed to the highest specifications”
“I meant the other guys” Kiara replied offhandedly as she secured her forearm plate.
Kiara was quick to notice the faintest hint of a smile across Dr. Vahlen’s lips. “That may yet prove a sacrifice we are required to make, they are fresh initiates after all”
“Hardly seems fair”
“They all volunteered” Dr Vahlen was quick to reassure her.
“How did you ever convince them to do that?”
“I believe their squad leader promised extra deserts for a month for anyone who manages to shoot you during this test. And in exchange any who are incapacitated would have ten miles added to their daily run for the same period”
“Will they be dressed as Mutons?” Kiara asked.
“I believe standard armour will suffice” Dr Vahlen replied flatly.
“Alright, let’s get started”
Kiara crept through the finely polished and illuminated hallway designed to mimic the network of tunnels honeycombing the ground which crisscrossed the facility.
“Where do you think she is?” Kiara heard a voice further down the corridor.
“I don’t know” another voice replied. “That’s why you need to keep your eyes open”
Kiara reached the T junction at the end of the corridor, peering around the corner she watched the two guards as they loomed ever closer.
“But she’s supposed to be wearing one of those stealth suits the lab rats made, she could be watching us right now and we wouldn’t know” he was closer to the truth than he would ever know.
Talking during a patrol, it was clear these two had a lot to learn about military discipline. They were about to be taught the hard way.
“All the more reason why you need to keep your eyes open”
At least one of them appeared to have some semblance of common sense. They stepped ever closer. It would do little to save them now.
Kiara activated the armours stealth capability, the wave of static washing over her assuring her that she was now immune to the wayward gaze of the outside world. She took a single cautious step beyond the threshold of the corridor directly into their line of sight; ready to launch herself back into cover should the doctors reassurances prove false. When they failed to respond to her presence, her confidence in her creation growing with each passing second, she slowly crept down the hallway towards the guards. Only once she came within a few steps of them did they catch the slightest hint of her presence, but they were quick to discover by then it was too late.
In a flash of movement she grabbed hold of the sensible soldier’s weapon and forced it back into his chest, hard. Unable to counter the surprise impact the soldier was forced backwards into the wall, knocking the air from his lungs. While his comrade was beaten and broken the other soldier stumbled back in surprise, sacrificing his footing and only now bringing the barrel of his weapon into the vague direction of his adversary. Kiara shifted herself to grab hold of the barrel of the soldier’s rifle and brought it sharply up into the exposed chin of his helmet.
The blow knocked him off balance and left his solar plexus exposed to a single fast strike from her knee, dropping him to the floor in an uncoordinated pile. The first soldier grunted as he hefted his weapon towards his target. Kiara snapped around, ripping the rifle from his grasp and turning the weapon on its handler-
The voice was not her own.
I said don’t move!
She recognised the voice as belonging to the idiot she thought she incapacitated just moments ago; it appears he had a thicker skull than she had anticipated. She felt the press of his gun barrel against the back of her helmet and she knew it was not a veiled threat.
“Safeties on” Kiara said calmly with an immutable confidence born of years of military service. She felt the relief as the weapon was raised from the back of her head. The fact that he even had to check demonstrated just how green he truly was.
Kiara snapped around sharply and smacked the barrel of the soldiers weapon aside, allowing her the momentary lapse in balance necessary to strike him directly in the seam between his helmet and his chest. While he clutched at his neck Kiara brought the butt of her weapon down in a single powerful blow which left her opponent sprawled painfully on the floor. She followed his descent with the barrel of her rifle, preparing to strike out if he attempted to resist once again. This time it seemed her had chosen to stay down for good.
As the surge of adrenaline seeped from her body she suddenly realised she had been holding her breath since she had turned to face the guard. She released the air in a steady stream. As her body began to relax and return to normality her mind drifted to thought of her creation, she was going to enjoy using this.
Kiara treaded deeper into the faux parody of XCOM’s base when she heard another ahead.
“Come out, come out wherever you are” the voice taunted coyly.
Anticipating another approaching guard she quickly ducked into a nearby alcove and waited for their approach as she heard the clank of metal footsteps growing louder. She readied her weapon in anticipation.
“Don’t be shy” she could see him. “I’m only here to shoot you, sneaky little shit” he muttered the final insult beneath his breath. A single guard this time, but his bold bravado showed he was far more agitated than the other two had been, but no less inexperienced.
“Your little stealth suit won’t help you once I find you and I’ll make sure to put one right behind that vapid space between your ears” the soldier said.
It took a particular kind of stupid to throw personal insults at a professional killer you couldn’t see but knew for a fact was somewhere already preparing to kill you. Despite his velar lack of self preservation fate had placed him at such a distance that even with the stealth field he would probably still get a hint of her and start shooting wildly before she had a chance to disarm him. She knew she would have to think creatively.
Kiara aimed high, a single bullet shattering the overhead light above him. Glass rained down on top of him as he instinctively ducked to cover himself, his heavy armour ensuring that the shards were little more than a distraction. “Shit!” the guard yelled, instinctively raising his weapon in search of a target.
The guard thrust out with his gun in frustration. “Fuck!” he began creeping forwards along the corridor cautiously through the darkness. “Very cute, you stupid bitch. Why don’t you come on out and I’ll take you up to the Cafeteria, we’ll get a soda, my treat. What’d you say?”
“Right behind you”
The bulkhead door to the testing facility slid open with a mechanical whirr. Kiara trotted out of the testing facility to stop just short of Dr Vahlen and her assistants.
“Very good” Dr Vahlen checked her tablet. “You were only detected by roughly half the sensors and security cameras and only four of the recruits will require infirmary treatment”
“It’ll toughen them up” Kiara replied.
“Indeed” Dr Vahlen agreed. “I would have thought as an operative trained with remaining undetected would prove a cakewalk”
“A subtle distinction, doctor” Kiara said. “Snipers work to eliminate the enemy at long, what we do not do is sneak through corridors, beating guys over the head with rifles. Just thought I’d make the key distinction”
“As you wish” Dr Vahlen reluctantly returned her attention to her tablet. “We will process the data and continue these tests at a later date, hopefully allowing our volunteers to soothe their wounds and their pride. That will be all for today”
“Right” Kiara stepped towards the exit to the labs. “I’ll see you tomorrow”
“I almost forgot” Dr Vahlen called after her. “Tomorrow report to the Psionic Labs”
Kiara stopped in her step, she swiftly turned back to face the doctor with determination in her eyes. “The Psionic Labs? Why would you need me there?”
“Psionic Testing is mandatory for all off duty strike team personnel” Dr Vahlen said. “You are the next on my list”
Kiara refused to respond, Dr Vahlen knew what was troubling her. “You lead the team which raided the alien base, correct?” Dr Vahlen was quick to take note of the momentary flicker in her eyes. “You saw the Sectoid Commander; you saw what Psionic Power is capable of”
“You want to know what it is that I saw” Kiara asked. “I saw an alien creature enslave the mind of Sergeant Edwards and force him to shoot his sister at point blank range with a shotgun. Angela is still in the infirmary and Lewis is on the verge of resigning completely, frankly I’m amazed I haven’t found him in his bunk with a pistol between his teeth”
“Then you know the true power that the aliens have and how important it is that we develop a counter-measure against them”
“You know what the hardest part was?” Kiara asked with poison on her lips, a looming silence caught between them. “I had the shot” Kiara muttered beneath her breath. “I had the alien in my sights, his glowing red eyes staring back at me in contempt and I couldn’t pull the trigger, because we had orders. Your orders, to capture the creature alive” Kiara pinched her nose between her thumb and index finger. “Frankly I’m beginning to question why at all I am still here”
Dr Vahlen observed the outpour emotion with unwavering silence. “Do you remember what I told you when we first met? If you leave now our research falters, and you will no longer be facing the aliens with sticks and rocks, instead you will be forced to watch as your soldiers armed with the most advanced technology mankind has ever envisioned turn against you with the sole objective of seeing you dead”
Kiara remained silent.
“I will see you in the laboratory tomorrow morning”