(The following is taken from the first draft and may differ from the final version)
Inside was the armor I seemed destined to wear, suspended by thick cables like a puppet on strings. The overhead lights reflected brightly off of its silver skin, so clean and perfect it was practically a work of art. The face was beautiful, though the expression looked a little sad. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for. My chest suddenly seized with anxiety. What if I screw this up?
“I’m a little jealous, actually,” Leon said as we stopped in front of Silver Maiden. “If you believe what my father says, you have the better armor. Faster, stronger, more durable. He’s supposed to be making me a new one, but with resources split between several new ACSs, I’m sure it’ll be awhile before I see it.”
“How many more?” The prospect of more ACSs was both intriguing and frightening. After all, we were preparing to fight one. What if the new ones are used against us?
“We have two more under construction, another half-dozen in development. My father insists on making improvements for every model, using every step forward to guide the next.”
I smiled. “Yeah, well, I don’t want any complaining when I beat you.”
Leon gave me a confident smirk. “We’ll see.”
I inspected the armor. “So . . . how do you open this thing?”
“It’s already programmed to recognize your specific pheromones. Just turn around and step back into it.”
That didn’t sound like it would work, but I figured he knew what he was talking about. I turned around and stepped backward, hearing a burst of whirring and clanking noises until I felt the armor close around me. I could still see Leon clearly—the visibility inside the armor was excellent—but I suddenly felt very claustrophobic as the interior of Silver Maiden squeezed every inch of my body. I began to feel like I was being crushed. Panic set in. “I can’t breathe, Leon. I can’t breathe.”
“You can breathe just fine, Lacan. You just have to relax and let your nanomachines sync with Silver Maiden’s.” He didn’t sound worried, which made me relax a little.
I took a few deep breaths and let my anxiety fade away. The squeezing sensation eased as well. Within a few moments, I felt completely normal. That was a little scary. I hope that doesn’t happen during a real fight. “I’m okay. I just freaked out a little.”
“It’s normal. I nearly had a panic attack myself the first time.”
The idea of Leon panicking was entirely foreign to me. I couldn’t even imagine it. Is he just saying that to make me feel better?
“Can you move?”
I moved my right hand in front of my face, flexing my fingers, doing the same with my left hand. “This isn’t nearly as weird as I thought it would be.”
“Not at first. But the more you move around, the more you’ll see how much the ACS augments your abilities. If you thought you were strong before, you’ll be amazed by what you can do now.”
I followed Leon down the ramp and into the vast expanse that was his front lawn. “So let’s go already.” I was excited to test my new limits, but cautious of the mistakes I had made after my nanomachine injection. Don’t overdo it this time. Slow and steady—
Leon leaped forward and planted his foot into my torso, launching me through the air like a cannonball. I landed on my back and flipped over backward, landing facedown on the grass.
“What the hell, Leon?” I pushed myself up and stood, waiting for another attack.
“I need you to know how it feels to take an attack like that inside your ACS.”
“It hurts. Shocker.”
“Are you injured?”
Aside from the pain of the impact, I didn’t seem to have any injuries. “No.”
“The ACS will not make you invincible, but it will keep you alive and in one piece, assuming you use it correctly. You are impervious to bullets and most explosive weapons, but with enough force an explosion will leave you flat on your back with a very bad headache. I learned that lesson the hard way from a tank in Los Angeles.”
“You’re about to learn another hard lesson after a cheap shot like that.”
He assumed a fighting stance. “Then show me what you can do.”