The tank was a surprising vehicle in many ways. The entryway was through a sliding door in the back that swished when it opened, revealing an interior that mostly held to the dimension of the vehicular silhouette itself. A classic case of looking perhaps even bigger on the inside than it was on the outside.
It was absolutely alien in design to the tank that her tribe had held. It was quite roomy, for one thing. There was no narrow hellhole that connected the crew compartment to the driver’s seat, nor was there an individual compartment for the turrets.
In fact, it more resembled the bridge of a naval vessel than the crew compartment of an armored vehicle.
The four of them stepped inside, and Zell barked some unknown word, then the door swished shut before clunking hard, clamps forcing the vehicular egress-point to seal.
There was a feeling of brutal safety to those clunks. The sort of sound that promised you a good night’s sleep while it crushed your enemies.
Zell spoke another command word, and something whirred and clanked. Underneath that noise was a gentle heating up, a sound that felt like the push of energy through circuits, though Terna couldn’t tell why or how it felt that way.
Zell’s hands started flicking switches and pressing buttons in an order that indicated to Terna some kind of password. The vehicle responded, rumbling to life.
And inside the clean white plastic interior, a series of five beeps sounded. Two opposing metallic rods rose up from near the entrance point, each gleaming white silver in the bright light of the tank’s clean white plastic interior.
Terna stared, waiting for them to do something.
They began to quiver and a boxy device at the very rear of the tank’s cargo space sprouted wheels, then rolled forward to sit down in the center of where they stood. Zell motioned them back, and the box opened up into a large tablet-like table filled with a variety of numbers and bar graphs.
Zell looked over the table, gauging all of the statistics presented to her, and nodding in satisfaction.
“Everything is green and good to go ,” she stated loudly.
Terna groaned. It felt like theatrics. But, she had to admit, it was a compelling presentation.
Zell quickly typed instructions into the table. Terna’s eyes followed her motions and her input, but wasn’t sure how she was doing it. All she saw was a number of unreadable glyphs and side tables run across the screen and then a roster of furious lines and letters appeared in response.
“Computer. Tutorial Basic Cadet Level 1.” Zell said. Horta cackled, clicking his talons together and Crawley beamed as suddenly the previously bright light of the tank’s interior turned to a dark battle red.
“So here is how this particular battle vehicle works,” Zell said, putting an arm around Terna and bringing her closer to the table in order to point out what numbers correlated with what symbols and what they meant. “Over here you can see the number 5,000. That is your shield energy meter as measured in megawatts. it regenerates at a rather constant 10 per second, which is considerable. But if it gets blown down then it takes over 10 minutes to get a new one generated. And as you might imagine, that is pretty bad news for anyone stuck inside here.”
Terna nodded. She could well imagine, her mind filling with explosions, smoke and flame.
Crawley knocked on the interior with a dull bonking sound. “The armor is pretty tough though. And the plasti-steel is really good at absorbing energy weaponry. The downside is that it has a weakness to red-hot plasma. So, keep those shields running. Otherwise you might get yourself covered in molten plasti-steel.”
Horta laughed. “Yeah, you’d be a bright silver mess, but damn, you’d be majestic for the second that you lived.”
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Terna hesitated, imagining having skin that could survive such a bombardment of molten materials. The temptation shook her and she looked down at her lap in disgust. There would be no deals with the BuyMort.
“This number over here indicates the level of synchronicity between the driver and their neural helmet.”
Zell spoke a word and a compartment opened behind her. She pulled out winter camouflage kevlar helmets and passed them out amongst everyone, indicating for them to put them on. A variety of bars, numbers, and even the rhythm of their heartbeats appeared on the tablet table.
“The number next to this set of figures here are for the Gunner and these sets are for the backup pilot and the back up gunner. This tank is also set to have a complement of six ground soldiers that can be deployed from the rear, and these numbers and graphs here show their vital statistics.”
Her face grew more animated as she pointed and lectured.
“The AI also estimates survivability and you can see that number here. It would seem that the AI thinks you are pretty tough, Terna, considering that it has estimated you at a whole 90 hitpoints. A-plus ground troop material.”
Terna nodded, taking it all in.
“Now there is a lot more to learn, but we aren’t here for that. I’m just going to show you that we can defend you. And, more importantly, I am going to show you that in the worst of circumstances, you can defend yourself.”
“Computer, double task. Assign Terna NoMort, cadet level 1, as tank commander, no crew. Battle mission, Planet tundra, the plains.”
Everything was silent for a moment. “Parameters engaged. Good luck, Cadet Terna NoMort,” the computer said, the first time it had talked to them.
Terna’s mouth went wide; wider still when her helmet morphed and covered her whole head, creating a face plate of transparent aluminum from seeming nothing at all. The faceplate was full of tactical data and figures, all in her language.
And all at once everything was chaos. She could see the snowy tundra about her, platoons of small figures running about blasting at each other with a variety of powder weapons and energy ones. She noticed that they were overlaid with different colors. Blue for those on her team, and red for those of the enemy’s.
An explosion threw dirt and rocks up into the sky, and she saw a concrete pillbox, overlaid with blue, explode into smoky orange. The colored overlay vanished, and she knew the occupants were no more.
Tracking through the scene from her tank’s apparently hidden position, she spotted an armored vehicle on top of the hill, far forward and to the right of her position. She instinctively focused her gaze on it. Terna felt herself as the tank, gears spinning and whining as her scope-eyes clicked through a variety of targets.
She could feel it all. With the helmet on and with herself as the tank commander, and no other crew to help her with the tasks, the vehicle was essentially an extension of herself.
It was an amazing feature. She felt like a goddess of war.
Terna pointed her turret at the enemy vehicle and zoomed in. It was an older model, something very similar to the tank that her village had used in times past. A circle formed around the target, and a number of digital lines split off from the vehicle, little messages tagged to them noting the possible effects of a strike in that area.
And for this particular tank that she was aiming at, all of the AI comments amounted to the same thing.
One shot, one kill.
She felt her physical body narrow its eyes. Simultaneously she felt within her the mechanical thunk of a ballistic round dropping into her chamber and corkscrewing out of her extended 130 mm barrel. A tremendous explosion shook the landscape and soldiers dropped to the ground, going prone with their weapons cradled in their arms to keep from hitting the snow and dirt.
From the top of the hill came the righteous white light of annihilation, an after image that would surely blind those who stared at it with their naked eyes. It was followed by a pillar of orange and red, spilling smoke into the sky.
From the crater rolled a visible shock wave that knocked over part of the hill, and a boom that was surely the most powerful explosion she had ever heard.
“Mission success. Welcome to level 2, Cadet Terna NoMort,” the computer congratulated her.