1 – From There to Here
-Excerpt from VALKYRIE: A Pilot’s Life, by Maj. Gen Harris Goodman, USMC-JNAC. 1st edition published 2045 by the Institute for Military Studies.
Chapter 1: From There to Here
I’m not going to waste a lot of time in this book talking about the minutiae of a soldier’s life. My story is more or less the same as that of anyone else who fought—I’m just lucky enough to have lived to tell it. No, the reason you bought this book, or are being made to read it by your instructors, is because you want to know about the Valkyries.
You’re in luck. I happen to know quite a bit on that particular topic.
But starting a book like this at the end of the story wastes both our time. If you’re reading this, you want more than just a list of technical specifications. You want to know what it’s like to climb inside the most advanced piece of military hardware our species has ever invented. And to do that, you need to know what it was like to be inside the very first ones.
I’m told my first SPEAR suit (Self-Powered Exoskeleton ArmoR) is on display in the New Smithsonian, with every one of the crazy battlefield repairs we did visible and documented in extensive detail. The first day I saw that thing I didn’t know it would become a legend.
I was fairly sure my Lieutenant was trying to get me killed.
In 2016, our unit was being rotated back from Afghanistan. I was 31, a gunnery sergeant, and looking forward to never showering in a room full of scorpions again. Those things were pretty much everywhere, no matter how hard you tried to get rid of them, and the only really effective weapons we had against them were our boots.
As I was shaking out mine after a hump for the thousandth time, watching the sand pour and wondering how I ever thought this was a valid life choice, the call went out.
“Attention on Deck!”
I was up like a shot, the whole platoon was. Backs straight, eyes forward, waiting to receive either orders or a dressing down. Usually it was me doing the yelling, but with everything going on in Helmand at the time we had almost as many officers scurrying around as scorpions.
“Gunnery Sergeant Goodman!”
“Come with me. The rest of you, at ease.”
Lt. Connelly was good people. He’d pulled us out of the fire too many times to count, but I could hear in his voice that I was about to go back in again, and that I probably wouldn’t like it. I stepped into my boot, sand and all, and double-timed it out of the barracks.
The LT wasn’t alone, he had a couple civilians in suits waiting next to an MRAP of a type I didn’t recognize. It had the right paint scheme, but unlike our Cougars its engine seemed a bit small to be lugging around all that armor, and although I could see dirt puffing around the exhaust, I couldn’t hear it running.
“Get in, Gunny. There’s something I need to show you.”
There were a couple more civvies inside, science types tapping away on tablets of some kind. One of them handed me a bracelet as I got in, one of those life-tracker things with a digital readout. I put it on a I sat back, thinking half about the extra cushy seat that seemed to form itself around me, while the rest of my brain was wondering what the hell Connelly was doing outside with the suits. But before I could come to any kind of answer, the LT was inside with me, the door shut, and I got a better look at the rest of the MRAP.
Instead of something meant for battle, the vehicle was kitted up with a dozen or so monitors, each with one kind of readout that made no sense at all. One in particular caught my eye, a thermal image of a man sitting down, with a blue spot on its left wrist. I raised my arm, and the image did the same. I was about to lean forward and get a better look at the words on the screen when the LT settled in beside me and whispered something as the rig started moving.
“Do you remember your last CFT, Gunny?”
For those of you who weren’t lucky enough to be born Marines, the Combat Fitness Test is an annual physical examination consisting of three parts—a timed run, lifting ammo cans over your head, and navigating an obstacle course under simulated fire, while executing combat tasks like dragging your buddies to safety and throwing grenades at a target you can barely make out through the smoke.
“I remember having to do it twice, sir. Something about a calibration failure.”
Connelly grunted, but I could see by monitor light that he was smiling.
“Yeah, something like that. Your score was perfect both times, but that’s to be expected, at least with you. You’ve always maxed out your PFTs and CFT’s. But the reason you did it twice was because of your times.”
“Sir?” Just then the MRAP went over a bump, and I lost sight of the LT’s face. One of the science types fell off their seat, and I leaned forward to help her up. I used the time to get a better look at the monitor with me on it, but it was blank now. She thanked me as I got her settled back in, and I could feel her eyes on me as I turned and got back into my own chair. It wasn’t a sexual thing, it was more like the wide eyes of a kid in a toy store. When I was back in my seat, the monitor bloomed back to life, and the LT started whispering at me again.
“Your scores couldn’t be properly calibrated, Gunny, because you were 20-30 seconds ahead of the curve on every test. There’s maybe a hundred people on the planet with reflexes like yours, and you’re one of the only ones on active duty right now.”
“I’m not sure I understand, LT. What’s…”I said, twirling my braceleted wrist around, “all this about?”
“Have you ever thought about being a pilot, Gunny?”
I had, of course. Who hadn’t as a kid? But clean living and good genes had ruled me out as a Marine aviator before I was 14 years old, and the Infantry suited me just fine.
“Too tall, sir. Always have been.”
“Not anymore. We’ve got something new in the pipe, something that doesn’t have a height requirement, but does require someone like you. Someone who makes us rethink what a soldier is and does, and makes us design weapons systems to take full advantage of our best and brightest people.”
I may have forgotten exactly what he said next, and to be honest I’m a bit fuzzy on what I’ve written down so far. But I’ll never forget stepping out of the vehicle into an air-conditioned hangar, with the civvie-tech’s eyes still devouring my readouts as my heart skipped a beat when I saw it.
It was about 2 meters , and opened up for maintenance it was more like an equipment rack than equipment itself. It wasn’t painted yet, didn’t have my name stamped on the chest or any of the holes in it that it has now. It was a gleaming, vaguely man-shaped machine with a collection of rifles standing up beside it.
And from what the LT was saying, it was Mine.
“…already met Doctor Canas, but these are Doctors Williams and Daggs. They were the ones that got the power-packs small enough to weaponized the suits, and once we had enough data about the upper end of human capabilities, Doctor Canas was able to simulate mechanically what we could only theorize before now.”
“What does it do?” I remember saying.
“Whatever you can. But better.” It was a woman’s voice, and since it came from behind me I realized that I had in fact met Doctor Elizabeth Canas, future Nobel laureate and the very future Mrs. Colonel Harris Goodman.
“I’d like to see that, ma’am.”
“So would I, soldier. So would I.”