Welcome To Reality

Gods It’s stifling in here; you wonder why you didn’t choose a cooler climate. Droplets of sweat drip along your brow and run down the side of your face. Mentally, you start to remind yourself that this is only...

“So, who’s going to die today?” He says this as he saunters down the line-up in his industrial hydraulic exoskeleton suit. The squad lead, eyeing his new batch of recruits with the typical hint of disgust plastered across his face. You wonder if it was a requirement for the role he plays in all this. Someone ruthless enough to inevitably lead cadets to their potential death.

You maintain eye contact as he passes, eyeing with envy his new, upgraded suit. A sleek and far more slender design. The squad lead grips a clipboard behind his back as he moves past you. It’s obvious he’s looking for something—a weak link among you? Based on what you witnessed in bootcamp, that isn’t you. So you hold your head high. You are powerful, and this suit makes you lethal. At least, that’s what you tell yourself.

His metallic boots clank, clank, clank against the cargo deck’s graded flooring as he makes his way back up the line. Stopping in front of you without even a sideways glance. You’ve been dispatched before; you know how this game works; it’s always a big flex of power, and yet something feels different.

He unfolds his arms and flips a page back on his clipboard, studying it for a moment. His eyes flick to his watch and then up to the flight deck. Never once glancing in your direction.

“Cadet, How would you respond to a code 32 mid-flight?” He still doesn’t make eye contact with you, as if you haven’t earned that right just yet. Still standing with his side to you, he seems content looking down at his boots, waiting for your answer.

Shit. That’s one you haven’t heard yet. You’ve read the Codex, of course, and you know the answer for a Code 32 response. But… mid-flight?

You give it your best shot. “Code 32: Indication of a failed O2 Line. Mid-flight… I should have access to a repair master, from which I could test my lines and sensors and then replace what’s necessary. Sir!”

A smile flickers across his lips. “Interesting…” He remarks, walking towards the hatch door before you. He finally turns to face you and the rest of the cadets standing in line. He raises his fist, and there’s a moment your mind pulls at the familiarity of his features, then he slams his fist into the hatch release.

Three warning alarms ring out as the hatch door begins to slide open. Then you jerk your head to the sound coming from the flight deck. Was that a code?

You are unable to finish your thought as your visor’s sight feed scrambles, impairing your vision. Then the comm in your ear screams at you, and instantly you and your fellow cadets double over. Clutching at your helms, at the disorienting chaos. It overwhelms your senses, and you feel nauseated. In glitches, you see the squad lead is talking, but only bits make it through.

"Congratulations, Cadet... Lead... to victory!” He’s smiling, making a show of it.

You blink, and suddenly he’s on you, grabbing you by your chest piece and hauling you up to stand on your feet. It’s as if you weigh nothing to him, as your body is forced upright. Then he comes in close. You struggle against his grip, but there’s no use. Your hands scramble against his arm, trying to pull him off of you. But you fall short; this suit of his is far superior in strength to the one you wear. The others around you are still struggling, clutching at the ground, trying to manually remove their helms to escape it all.

Then, everything goes silent. The squad leader's voice rings in your comm, a whisper at most.

“I finally found you, cadet.” He shoves you back against the cargo deck's wall, and you see your company still struggling on the ground before you. You realise this message was meant for your ears alone; no one else can hear a thing. With his other hand, he rips the back of your neck casing away and pulls a knife from his hip. In one clean motion, he slices your exposed wiring.

Holding onto your chest, he swings you around, and let’s go. He is now standing in your spot in line. “Welcome to reality.” He says, as you stumble back from his grasp, and before you can regain your footing, he kicks you in the chest, sending you stumbling further backwards. Until there’s nothing beneath your feet and you fall through the hatch door, flipping uncontrollably towards the ground below.

“WARNING! WARNING!” Red words flash in your visual feed. “CODE 32! WARNING! CODE 32!”

Gasping for air, you claw at the helm. Trying to reach for the emergency release, trying to remove the goggles you know are there. You feel as if you can’t breathe. But you know that isn’t possible. Right?

“Let. Me. Out” You choke out the words as your oxygen levels plummet. It’s all you can do to remind yourself that this isn’t real. But why hasn’t someone unplugged you?

You know it’s too late when your body flips and you see the ground rushing towards you. A vast forest is rushing up to meet you. Red lights continue to flash as the oxygen levels get dangerously low and your vision begins to blur at the edges. His words ring through your mind once more: “Welcome to reality.”

You black out just as you are engulfed in a thicket of trees. Crashing and snapping branches as your suits takes the brunt of the damage on your way down.

When you finally open your eyes, you see that your helm lies just off to your right. The visual screen clearly cracked—inoperable. Lifting yourself up, you winch at the pain in your side, and you look down to see a branch has penetrated your suit. You see the blood leaking down, pooling around the wound. But it doesn’t frighten you as much as it should. What scares you the most is the fact that you're still here. You haven’t been unplugged, and there’s no way to remove yourself without access to your helm. You're stuck in this virtual reality...

How the fuck is that even possible?

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