Chapter 2: Continue Testing

"Good morning everyone" the research scientist leading the meeting, Kiara had heard him introduce himself as Larry before the meeting, greeted the assembled researchers, scientists and technicians with breathless enthusiasm likely considered by most to be unbecoming of an eight am staff meeting. "Just a few updated health and safety notices which have been sent down this morning. Firstly, I'm amazed I have to keep repeating myself on this issue but I have been asked to remind all staff that the Alien Containment facility is solely for the research of live alien specimens. The higher ups do not want a repeat of what happened at the office party last month. I know we all got a laugh with Wilkinson getting royally sloshed and waking up in the Containment Chamber with 'Do not feed the Alien' written on his forehead but we can't have it happen again. While we're on the subject, can whoever decided it was a good idea to run through the laboratories draped in an alien cadaver not try it again please. Traces of alien material have been detected all over the facility and the Hazmat guys are starting to get twitchy about a possible 'Toxic contamination alert' which keeps coming up on their system"

The mention of hazardous alien materials suddenly put Kiara in mind that she was rather underdressed for the occasion. The number of scientists around her dressed in lab coats and safety gear kind of made her olive green fatigues seem out of place by comparison, the several technicians dressed in Hazmat suits did little to settle her concerns. On top of that the fact that the world was facing an alien invasion threatening to exterminate the human race and yet she still managed to find herself in a health and safety briefing, perhaps this was why the research took so long.

"Secondly, the cooling unit in laboratory Echo-17 is to be used for research and testing purposes only. I know some of the guys have been using it to store their lunches and this has lead to some mishaps. Not naming any names but I am sure the Council would not appreciate knowing that we have spent taxpayers money mapping the genetic structure of a ham sandwich" a low rumble of laughter could be heard sweeping through the lab. "Also, be sure to exercise caution around the luminescent gel we removed from the alien fuel cells. We haven't exactly nailed down what element it is yet" Larry checked his notepad, adjusting his thick glasses. "But we do know this, it's a feisty one, and it does NOT react well to contact with the human appendix so bear that in mind. Moving on…"

The health and safety briefing continued on a similar note for well over an hour. Once it was finally concluded Kiara was all the more determined to begin the experiment, if only so she could return to the battlefield before being crushed beneath a mound of health and safety regulations and accompanying red tape.

"We shall start with something you are already familiar with" Dr. Vahlen indicated the weapon lay out on the table with a wave of her hand. "The Laser Rifle"

Kiara stepped forward to run her fingers across the polished metal, perfectly smooth and shimmering this weapon had yet to see true combat. While her specialisation was in the use of a sniper rifle her basic training had given her a firm grounding in the use of all standard issue equipment. Kiara took the weapon; cradling it in her arms she felt the weight and balance of the device.

Kiara suddenly felt the crawl of another's across her skin, looking up she soon realised that the gaze of every person in the room, scientists hefting clipboards, were upon her in anticipation of some coming revelation. Kiara simply ignored the external stimuli, stepping into her state of mind which saw her ready entirely focused and ready for any occurrence, what her squadmate's had taken to calling her 'Marksman Mode'. She took aim down the length of the firing range and exhaled a stream of breath.

The first target flashed into view, a cardboard cut out of a Muton, a comic shadow of the true beast, a single shot was sufficient to reduce it to ash. Another Muton snapped into place, meeting a similar fate as the first. A 'Chrysalid' scurried across the battlefield in a frantic zigzag if lightning fast movements across the target range, a single shot was necessary to bring the beast down. Clearly the researchers who designed this experiment had no idea how tough these aliens truly were. A pod of Sectoids emerged to the left while a Thin Man scurried in the shadows to her right, each quickly dispatched. Dr. Vahlen knew in that moment that she had found her champion.

"I have been meaning to ask you something" Dr. Vahlen asked as the two of them walked through the polished corridors which connected the vast network of laboratories and workshops. "About your view of the war, as one of the few actually fighting it"

"If you can even call this a war" Kiara considered her response. "I still cannot get my head around the fact that I spent nearly my entire battlefield career chasing 'insurgents' and arms dealers or keeping tabs on military bases, now I find myself flying across the world fighting aliens for the very existence of the human race. And here I thought all the time I spent playing videogames was wasted"

"You should try reading a book sometime Lieutenant" Dr. Vahlen replied. "A little less, how you say, 'pwnage' and a little more knowledge"

Dr. Vahlens muse timed just as they passed the viewing window looking down over the vast hanger bay which docked the projects extensive fleet of Raven and Firestorm interceptor aircraft. "Take Dr Shen's pet project for example, the Firestorm"

"Ah yes" Kiara mused "A marvel of aeronautical engineering whose unique fly by wire propulsion systems enable both its VTOL capabilities and blistering speed capable of shattering the sound barrier. Though my personal admiration goes to its armour plating which while light enough to significantly reduce its overall weight compared to the standard Raven is capable of withstanding direct impacts from the main guns of an alien battleship, allowing a one pilot strike craft to hold its ground against a fully crewed capital ship" Kiara glanced at Vahlen, the woman having only raised a quizzical eyebrow at the surprising flood of knowledge. "You're not the only one in the base with a degree, doctor"

"Indeed" Dr. Vahlen admitted, continuing their tour through the laboratories. "Your file mentioned as much. Though it is rather more your experience in the battlefield that we are most intrigued by at this point"

"You've been checking up on me haven't you" Kiara replied coyly.

Dr. Vahlen remained silent for a brief second, but it said allot about her that Kiara could ever know. "I like to know the people I will be working with"

The truth was that Kiara had originally been studying Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Hertfordshire in the England, planning to enter the Royal Airforce as a combat engineer maintaining the aircraft in the field. However having spent the first three years of her military career piloting a desk and the next two after that following her project leads around the country overseeing manufacturing and testing operations for prototypes which had spent the past two decades on the drawing board. Eventually she decided to transfer to an army rifle company she swiftly found her niche dropping enemy targets from over a klick away. But even after all that time her love for engineering and her passion for technology could not be undone.

"Today we will be testing the rappel line" Dr Vahlens voice was a mere after thought in the back of her mind as she secured the no doubt incalculably expensive piece of military hardware to the forearm of her form fitting black jumpsuit. "It is a self contained propulsion system allowing swift and inconspicuous access to higher elevations in the battlefield via the deployment of a self-propelled grappling line capable of securing onto any solid surface and pulling the soldier to its elevated position"

Kiara flexed her forearm. "Point, shoot, latch, pull"

"In layman's terms" Dr. Vahlen replied. "That effectively summarises millions of dollars of funding and several months' research rather admirably" Kiara busied herself in checking the equipment again and again, as was her habit drilled into her through years of military service. "Our researchers are currently working integrating into a full set of armour, allowing for additional mobility and versatility combined with a stonewall defence. For now though we are just going to be testing the rappel line"

Dr Vahlen checked her tablet. "We will start with some simple accuracy and stress testing-"

Kiara took aim at the overhead maintenance gantry and fired the rappel line, the claw latching onto the metal framework above. Activating the device once again Kiara found herself launching at an incredible speed nearly a hundred feet into the air in the space of a few seconds. As the catwalk fast approached she reached out to grab the railing with her free hand and pull herself over, the claw automatically retracting back into her gauntlet. In a single fluid motion she clambered to her feet and broke into a run along the length of the gantry, her pace only quickening as she found purchase on the uneven surface. In her previous life she had spent allot of her time outside of lectures learning parkour, mastering any free running techniques she dare attempt both across the dense forests and open fields as the towering spires and concrete bastions of the city. Even after several years several years she still carried the jagged scar running up the length of her forearm, a wound born of the miscalculation of a jump which saw her inevitable fall from grace. Kiara had learnt a lesson from that fall, not one of risk taking or the value of the moment but of the harsh realities of physics. Once you left the ground you committed yourself to the direction and velocity until something else acted upon you, be that the overhanging branch of a tree in the forest or the cold kiss of the concrete floor. Less than a week later she found herself back on the same rooftop; the jump was recalculated, successfully.

Taking her previous lessons into account Kiara leapt over the railing into the empty abyss, allowing her body to become fluid and move with the flow of the air around her as she descended in a graceful dive towards the ground. The stunt was no doubt an impressive display for the dozen or so technicians and engineers who had turned out to watch the event while the maintenance staffs were no doubt envisioning the colossal mess they would have to clean up if the experiment failed. Kiaras faith in the technology was well placed however for as she neared the end of her descent she reached out and fired the grappling hook into the overhanging support. The sharp jolt which broke her descent carried her forward into a graceful arc, allowing her to leap onto the fuselage of the docked Skyranger in the centre of the hanger. She ran along the plane from the wing tip to the wing tip, feeling the smooth surface slide beneath her boots.

Reaching the end of the wing she utilised her final step to launch herself up into the air as the solid surface disappear beneath her feet. Firing the magnetic grapple once again it latched onto the surface of the elevator carrying a Raven up towards one of the smaller docking hangers which honeycombed off of the main structure. The arc of her ascent brought her towards the wall of the hanger, allowing her to wall run across the rough surface with ease. Reaching the pinnacle of her swing she leapt from the wall and resumed her descent towards the hanger floor, dropping down onto the peak of a monument of stacked packing crates. Utilising her momentum she continued to leap across the tops of the crates like a stone skipping across the surface of the pond. A final graceful bound she leapt from atop the final height and dropped back onto the hanger floor with a dull thud and broke into a run. Trailing off into a slow jog she stopped a few steps short of Dr. Vahlen. "Well Kiara said, panting some much needed breaths to regain her composure before continuing. "How did I do?"

Dr. Vahlen simply stared up at her with silent eyes. "An impressive acrobatic display" she rechecked her results scrolling across her screen. "If military life does not work out I'm sure you could find ample work as a street performer"

Kiara laughed at the offhanded attempt at humour. "Funny, so how did i do?"

"Well" Dr. Vahlen replied. "Given that this was simply a preliminary concept test there really were no set parameters determining overall success or failure of the test. However i would say that the fact that you were able to successfully perform several acrobatic feats without destroying the prototype or yourself i would count todays experiment as a success"

"I can't help but note how I came second on your little list of what qualifies success there doc"

"Well you didn't take the world's top scientists several months to develop and cost the taxpayer upwards of a few hundred million dollars to replace" the level, monotone voice which she delivered was nothing short of unsettling.

"Today we will be testing our latest developments in the fields of armour and propulsion technology. The technicians have taken to calling the prototype Archangel" once more Dr. Vahlens no doubt insightful overview of the experiment to come became little more than background noise as the team of technicians went about securing the heavy suit of armour to her. One technician in particular seemed to be taking particular interest in ensuring sections of armour around her torso and legs connected seamlessly around her waist. The technicians, finally satisfied with the quality of their work, stepped aside and allowed Kiara to flex her stiff muscles and accustom herself to the movement of the suit around her body. While cumbersome and unyielding to begin with Kiara could quickly feel herself adapting to the sudden weight imbalance caused by the large jets moulded into the suit.

"Improving upon our original designs for the Carapace armour we have now been able to integrate a self contained jet propulsion and support systems allowing the user brief periods of sustained flight"

Kiara rasped her fist against her gauntlet, testing the scientists claims regarding the strength of this new material. "Interesting, now how does it work?"

"Well it is rather simple. Now you must remember the controls are extremely sensitive so I would appreciate it if this time you waited until I have completed my explanation-"

The jets engaged, bursting into life of sapphire blue flame the operator leapt into the air to glide around the hanger with free abandon. Climbing into the high open space she settled into a cruise high above. "M- Mother, standby to take over if anything happens"

"The suit does not have remote guidance controls, that is why i was urging you to-"

"I'm going in chaps, if we're successful this could change the course of the war" Kiara suddenly descended into a swooping dive towards the floor of the hanger bay, the tune of Dambusters March humming through her helmets communication link she shared with the ground support team overseeing the experiment.

Dr. Vahlen could not help but shake her head at the prospect. "I am surrounded by bloody dorftrollel's-"

Kiara passed a few feet above the heads of the assembled technicians, many of them instinctively threw themselves to the floor to save themselves in a no doubt amusing display for their co-workers. "Yes, yes very amusing now you might want to be aware-" Kiara continued her daring acrobatic displays to the ever growing disdain of the doctor. "The suit was never intended for long range flight-" The jets of the suit began to groan and rumble of their own accord, the unshakable thrust they had once held suddenly disappeared beneath her feet. "And so it has a limited fuel supply and-"

The glide slope of the wayward aircraft suddenly dropped sharply as the momentum was torn from her wings, sending her crashing into a pile of shipping crates at the edge of the hanger bay. In that brief instant Dr. Vahlen could see the tens of thousands of millions destroyed and the cancelation of her research and the lawsuits-

A figure emerged atop the pile of stacked crates, a triumphant victor rising from the ashes of the final glorious clash as if to say to the angel of death 'Not today'. At least the prototype appeared intact. Despite the outwardly disastrous view of the crash Kiara simply brushed her palms across her forearms and leapt down from atop the collapsed monument in a single bound to return to the preparation area. "Not even scratched" Kiara remarked as she scanned her gaze across the unmarked surface of the armour plating.

"Our prototypes are made from the highest quality material recovered from alien specimens in the field" Dr. Vahlen remarked. "They have proven to be almost indestructible in the face of battle damage and impacts despite your efforts to the contrary. Now..." Dr. Vahlen quickly shifted the focus of the conversation before her military consultant had the opportunity to provide another witty retort. "Let us move onto the next experiment before you have the chance to destroy anything else"

Thanks to Hoplite39 for the Dambusters bit