Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Hurry up and wait


It’s beautiful. She turns it in her hands, gazing in awe as the harsh light fails to pick out a single flaw in the manufacture or design. She has seen similar before, but always flawed, always ill-conceived. Always with a point of weakness that she can isolate and target.
This however, is perfect.
Around her the laboratory whirls as she slips into a trance like focus state, assessing what she knows, analysing the device against the criteria she can draw up on their systems and seeking, ever seeking for appoint of weakness to be exploited.
Time after time she tests it. Days fly by as she works with her whole being focussed around this one inanimate object. Bullets cannot penetrate, no missile, however big or strong can provide enough force to beat through the shielding. And yet she can hold it in her bare hands without harm.
For months the two armies have been battling on the hostile terrain of the moons around the 12th planet of the system. Humanity, seeking ever to expand had long since left earth, settled in the far reaches of the galaxy and, when every barely inhabitable planet was overrun, they had moved on. Ever reproducing, ever infecting, a plague across the universe. Now they were in a new galaxy and out of resources. No supplies would ever come in and the initial planets they had colonised, while suitable in terms of air and water, lacked severely in metals. Aluminium, iron and the other building blocks of their civilisation could only be garnered from recycling the crafts they had landed in. It had quickly become a race. Large crafts were repurposed into a fleet of smaller ships and, initially working as a team, the first who had happened upon these mineral rich moons had realised the bargaining power they now held and the mining rights had triggered war.
Now the materials that were mined were immediately thrown into the arms race. Designers and technicians on both sides had worked with their limited resources to create ever more fabulous shielding devices, and then counter measures, back and forth in an endless cycle until this.
It seemed unbeatable, the perfect armour.
The wearer was perfectly safe, but anyone outside who tried to hit them would upon impact receive a massive jolt. It was sufficient to repel bullets, axes, lasers even. Nothing could penetrate that barrier, except for a hand reaching out to grasp and manipulate it.
This was the only one they had been able to recover. A freak accident had caused one of the soldiers wearing it to have a heart attack and their own people had got to him first. He was receiving first aid in a hospital near her, while she was supposedly testing it to destruction. In reality she had not yet made a single mark. She couldn’t even begin to take it apart to analyse how it worked let alone devise a means of defeating it.
Frustrated, she recalled her tester for the day to put the armour back on so they could try a few things.
He fitted himself carefully into the armour, then, following her instructions, threw on a set of civilian clothes. They were going, she said, to test it in an exposure zone. As these were all on the opposite side of the facility he needed to cover-up. However, she didn’t want the kit in its usual shielded carry case, because it was a possibility that the kit would be unlocked in some way after being worn in certain environments.
The two walked together through the halls. As they passed a communal room, he nearly bumped into one of his friends who admonished him to look where he was going and punched him playfully on the shoulder, before yelping and waving his had in the air, comically accusing the wearer of being staticy.
Mostly oblivious to this point the woman’s head shot up when she heard the word static. She stared at the two men and as the newcomer was about to head off she instructed him sharply to come with them. Not bothering to ascertain whether he did, she curtly insisted they hurry and charged to the testing zone.
Slamming down a lever which caused both men to whiten slightly, she instructed the newcomer to gently take his friend by the elbow. He did and there was no reaction from the armour. Now, punch him lightly, as you did in the hall. A very small spark appeared between his fingers and the armour as his hand entered the last millimetre or two before the polished surface.
Slap him, she commanded. Don’t be shy.
The flat of his hand moving faster, the spark was bigger and leaped further.  Gazing at a monitor nearby the woman seems satisfied. Now, she said, hit him as hard as you can. The armed man closed his eyes in sympathy, while his friend visibly gritted his teeth, before swinging a fast powerful roundhouse. His fist was still a foot away when it happened.
A bolt of lightning erupted from the armour and flung the aggressor several feet across the room. The lever she had pushed had summoned first aid teams, prepared for treating the outcomes of life threatening testing and they now sprang into action, seizing him and treating him for a massive electric shock.
She took the arm plate off her tester and eyed it closely, stroking and pressing over the device looking for a point that responded to gentle pressure. Suddenly, it popped open and she smiled in triumph.
2 days later she was ready to take her outlandish proposal to the generals.
“This armour has sensors which identify incoming missiles. Objects are assessed by mass and momentum. Any object which is very large but moving slowly will trigger a distributed shield, so a ram for instance will cause the shield to rise, but if it cannot repel the attack, the wearer will instead be flung back. Smaller missiles at higher speeds will cause the shield to rise in focussed areas, to absorb the force of the projectile before impact.”
Behind her, as she spoke, her tester, clad in the armour was undergoing attack from various items to illustrate her point.
“At first glance it would seem there is little we can do without unduly exposing our own people. However, I am delighted to say we have been able to recreate this armour, meaning we will be able to at least protect our people.”
Another individual, wearing similar armour, walked onto the stage.
“Furthermore,” she declared, “we have isolated a single weakness in the armour which can be exploited when both sides have the protection it affords.” The generals, until now morose and only slightly relieved by the news they could create their own armour, perked up a little. The two men on stage moved into a combat stance.
“The suits will work against each other. Should either man attack, both suits will perceive an incoming threat and repel the other. However, in order for them to be wearable the suits first have several unprotected areas – designed to save resources and allow flexibility on the assumption that nothing will pass the shield. Second, human mass is required to be combined with an effective assault speed before it will trigger the shielding. Therefore, by restricting their movements to a slow, controlled action, both men can engage in martial combat with blades and bare fists, which will, if they move slowly enough, pass through the shielding zone and can penetrate an exposed area, enabling the severing of life support systems.”
Behind her, the two men engaged in low speed knife fight, revolved gracefully around the stage. Occasionally one would move too fast and be repelled by the shielding on the other’s suit, but they learned quickly and finally one manipulated an opening and, blade gliding gently through the air he severed the seam of his opponent’s space suit. In the demonstration room this had no impact, but out in the fields, this single breach would mean instant death.
Delighted, the generals provided clearance for mass production of the suits and instant training requirements for all combat personnel to be fully versed in hand to hand combat and, in response to her advice, the ancient art of T’ai Chi.
She, meanwhile, returned to her quarters with a reflective smile on her lips. She hoped he would appreciate the elegance of her solution as she admired the beauty of his designs. It would be a long few weeks until she was able to see his response, but she knew when she received the call that a new weapon had appeared, she would eagerly analyse every iota of data she was offered to play the next level in this increasingly challenging game.