FTL-2...Faster Than Life.

FTL-2... Faster Than Life.

Chapter 2

I’ve never been in Suspension before…I wake in pain, not pain, pain but this hurt, my lungs aren’t happy with the change in my breathing or the adjustment to room temperature. My skin prickles with waking sensations pins and needles like the entire surface was asleep and there’s dry mouth and a nasty headache.

“Good morning cadets, please get your belongings and get ready to transfer to the Apollo.”

We fall, shuffle and crawl out of the bed tubes we’re in. Sleep tubes are like coffins with this soft memory mattress stuff and the bio-connections. They slide into the walls like we’re rifles in a rack. I’m bare foot like the others in this simple jumpsuit that’s a light blue/grey and it feels strange. The gravity isn’t like home. I mean I don’t feel heavier or lighter but it’s just off.

Another thing they don’t tell you. That you can feel always when you’re in AG. It actually doesn’t feel like anything that I can place. It’s just strange. And that space ships are cooler places than we think.

We hang around as a group until we are met by thing tall lanky girl in a deep navy jacket with a lot of pockets and a uniform/jumpsuit of the same color but with this shiny, glossy grey pin striping and brocaded cuffs and hems it looks good on her. Did I mention tall? Six feet plus but no Amazon type not this girl, no she’s all legs, with a long torso and despite her lankiness she glides and has this aura of confidence coming off of her. “Morning Conversions and welcome to the Apollo, I’m your handler Sergeant Svenko. If you’re all ready I’d like to get you all set up and started into conversion before we Jump into the milk run. Any questions?”

I raise my hand. “Yes Cadet Stone?” she queries me verbally? Oh…there’s no network here than we/I can access…that’s creepy….it’s too quiet in my brain.

“Uhm, I’ve got a couple actually.” I flush as others are staring at me. I’m not used to the openness of the social situation. People get to be solitary in this age, we’re all a little socially awkward. I’m getting stares for being so forward.

“Go ahead Stone, now’s the time to ask.” She looks at me in an odd measuring way.

“Okay…Are we getting uhm, converted here on this ship?”

“Yes, we’ll be spending a lot of time here on the ship as we make our rounds to pick up. It’s more efficient to have you cadets ready for your training.” She raises an eyebrow in my direction.

“Okay, you said we’re on a milk run? What’s that?”

“It’s an ancient slang term. Milk used to be delivered to homes and it was all over the place travel wise as the delivered the milk. We’re doing the same thing hitting each colony system until we’re troop and supply full before heading out to Grail.”

“Grail?”

“Headquarters for Colonial Naval training. Anything else?” she smiles as she asks.

“Uhm just one more. Why’s the Net so quiet?”

“You’re not in a civilian access zone anymore, you’re not ranked high enough to gain access to higher functions and you’re not on liberty so no public net access. It’s for a reason…” She says holding a hand up stalling me and a couple of others from commenting. I guess I’m not the only one getting freaked by the quiet in our heads. “You are here to train; the lives you’ve led are no preparation for the lives you’ve signed on for. You’re all going to live new lives and be studying, training and all of you are going to need all the attention you can spare for that and that alone. Any more questions?”

I shook my head no and several others did too. Some look upset by this; some look like they don’t know what to do. I’m scared and excited by the idea of being that challenged by what I’m going to be living that I won’t need the Net.

“Alright then, let’s get your belongings stowed and get you to medical.”

***

It’s a much bigger ship than I thought. The Apollo is just over two kilometers long and is just over two hundred meters wide on most decks and there are twenty six decks give or take the room taken up by the various cargo holds and hangars and such. There’s not a lot of transports inside of the ship like you’d seen on luxury cruisers. No motorwalks or even a wheeled transport used for tours. Not for us at least. I’m actually feeling the exertion by the time we get to the locker area and there are several far worse off than me. I exercised myself and dieted down to fit the requirements, I’d lived a sedentary lifestyle as an engineer before this and did most of my spec and design work in my head for years and years. Apparently others who hadn’t had my weight challenges are in just as bad of shape as when I started. The Sergeant barely has a pleasant glow to her.

It’s really anti climatic once we’re taken into the medical and conversion wing where everything is going to take place. We’re injected with these clean cells, cloned versions of what they used to call stem cells. Then we’re fed these supplement shakes and pills until we feel really full. That’s when it gets worse we’re hooked into the most embarrassing thing like cybernetic underwear that has a tube thingy that goes up…you know for waste removal and another sheath like thing too and it’s all hooked to this padded plastic like diaper like thing and you feel…it’s embarrassing and humiliating and I haven’t been naked in front of anyone for so long and yeah they’re just doing their jobs but…Okay, it’s all new and scary and I cry a bit. I cry when they cut my hair and shave it down until it’s nearly nothing. My long hair was one of the only girl things that I had for myself. Yes men home have long hair but most don’t, to me it was a personal thing. Part of my feminine psyche.

Then comes the worst part. They inject you with a sedative and a local as they fit you with the breathing and feeding tubes. You kind of don’t feel it and they use some kind of drug that shuts down your gag reflex a lot but you still do, because it’s in your head. It’s all psychological but it still is horrible as they keep sliding it down and tubes go down your throat and you want to scream, gag, and fight it just on instinct but you can’t because you’re too drugged.

Then they lower you into another coffin tube and it begins to fill with this watery liquid that is a lot more like that congealed stuff in a can of ham than anything else. There was this horrible drugged unable to fight your way free claustrophobic moment before you’re totally immersed and then you drift away into the darkness.

***
Net-Space opens up while I’m under. It’s all stuff for training. Military protocols being taught to us, ranks, insignias, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, French the mother languages of the most prolific of human ethnic types I already know Americana or what’s descended from North American English. There’s a lot just getting us all up to speed just barely. Then there’s tests. Psyche tests, aptitude tests. But there’s a lot of just restful darkness and dreams.

I have a lot of pre-natal in the womb dreams. Warm and peaceful, the lull of the sound of a heartbeat.

When I’m woken up it’s as traumatic as child birth, as being reborn.

The slime is sucked away as stims flood me waking me up and the doors pop and I’m hit by the unholy cold of the ships standard temperature mixing with new skin and lower body mass and being naked and wet. Hands you’re/I’m not expecting are hauling me out of the tube and Pulling the tubes out of my throat and nose causing me to cry out and gag and cough all at the same time and getting the tubes getting pulled out of other places…I’m acutely aware of something being pulled from my vagina even though I’m not able to articulate it. I’d be throwing up if there was anything inside of myself.

The few minutes it happens feel like a few hours and I’m trying to get a hold of myself as there’s people in scrubs spraying me clean of the goop with hot water and some kind of soap. The other girls in my section of the medical area are freaking out too. Close to thirty of us, all like me. Newly remade boys who always should have been girls. There’s these moments in this freaky hell like moment when we lock eyes with each other and there’s this bond there forming, we’ll always get each other, we’ve gone through this together.

Today’s the day I have sisters. We have sisters.

A Corporal comes in with a bunch of other female privates pushing carts. “Attention Ladies!” we all snap to the response Net ingrained into us during conversion. My body is so…It feels right but so not what even my sim-avatars had been like. The water’s dripping off of my breasts and I’m cold and gooseflesh is rising on my skin and my nipples are hardening from the cold air, the grating to let the stuff sloughed off of us is hard on my bare feet. I can feel gravity touching and effecting my new form utterly differently than I could picture.

She walks in front of us. “I’m Corporal Stillwater, and you’re mine for the foreseeable future ladies. I know you’re feeling all messed up right now but you’re in the forces now so your times ours not yours. To your right there’s a door, go through it and shower and line up in the locker room adjoining it you’ve got twenty minutes….Go!”

We bustle into the showers and are rewarded by decent smelling soap and hot water and wash sudsing up and we’re all a chatter about how everything looks and feels and we’re all a little high on the whole thing. I feel it too, there’s this sexy, slinky, rightness to not having what I shouldn’t. To feeling hot soapy water running off my body and everything is intoxicating.

I’m surprised at myself as I dry off with the shammy towels and comb my hair back. I’m shorter, from five foot ten inches to five foot six. I’ve lost a ton of weight too from one hundred and seventy pounds to one hundred and thirty two pounds according to my OBC. My breasts are a generous B cup and I’ve a tiny waist and instead of my light brown hair from my sim-avatar I’ve got the slightly wavy, tumbly jet black locks that I’ve seen in pics of my paternal great grandmother, long lashes and these emerald green eyes that are bio-engineered but just scream Me, Erin to my soul. My nipples are smaller than I thought they’d be and a dusty rose kind of tone like my lips about the only thing I got right are my hips, I’ve got a nice bum but I’ve got these flaring away from me hips like a belly dancer from those old vids and sims you can find. They’re not huge, but there’s real curve there to this part of me….oh and my dimples are close. I’m sort of right in this spot between being sexy, beautiful, and cute. Really leaning more to being cute I guess. I’m more than good with it though, I’m actually right there in the average of the rest of the girls there with me. There’s none that are ugly or homely but most are on the better, cuter side of average like myself. There’s just a few beauties three out of the thirty of us.

Jesika whose Arabic looking but tall and lithe at six foot one inch and model thing with the entire model look. Her modified eyes are an icy blue that just sets off her cinnamon like rest of her. She’s quiet and says little and keeps staring at herself in the mirror like she really didn’t expect this.

Sunshine is this tall blonde with big full breasts and she looks like a sun goddess and she’s got this warmth that comes off of her like her name. She’s already talking and laughing and making friends and had been washing backs and helping to dry hair like this bubbly friend that’s happy but not ditzy. I love her big deep soulful coffee brown eyes. If there’s a girl who might fit the whole companion thing it’d be Sunshine.

And then there’s Anna, a lot like Jesika but she’s already getting this inkling in her eyes of knowing she’s beautiful. Anna is an ice princess though, pale platinum blonde hair, tall, thin, gorgeous. It’s strange seeing her already getting how different she is than the rest of us.

There’s a couple of other that stand out to me. Nelle, who went almost Celtic mythos Irish with the wavy red hair and a body covered in freckles. Literally covered in them like she’s speckled, and she chose that modification. It is oddly exotic though, they cluster under her arms and breasts and down her spine, inside her thighs. Her ears have slight points too like some kind of fantasy sim being. I don’t get why.

Carrington is another exotic, half Chinese and the other half a mixture of Caucasian and African American decent. She’s got this exotic shade of skin for an oriental type and C-cup breast on a tall for an Asian body and the Asian hair though, she has these light brown eyes that look almost amber. I’m not sure where she’s from but she has a UK Colonies accent.

I think already I’m going to be friends with most of these girls, Anna…I’m not sure of and Sunshine I’m sure of. We’re all still hyper but feeling a lot better after the shower and getting dry. We troop into the locker room where we begin learning from Corporal Stillwater and her aides the ins and outs of female hygiene and clothing basics from proper military dress in service wear, to full uniforms to properly fitted underwear and the R-suits that we’ll be wearing through basic. As we’re given out assigned clothes and changes of and our kits and duffels we sip away at shakes we’re given and the whole thing takes hours actually. She even goes through what hair styles are allowed when and what cosmetics are allowed. When she’s satisfied that we’ve got the basic idea she takes us to our barracks in the crew quarters set aside for the news.

It’s four beds to a bunkroom, a dresser/locker each and that’s it. We’re taught how to make our beds, to organize our lockers and that our rooms will be inspected as will we all will be at random times and every morning.

I’m bunked with Carrington, Nelle, and Bree. Bree; She’s a very attractively built OGG (Original Genetic Girl) soft brown hair in a neat braid, altered eyes that are blue kissed with lavender and lightly tanned skin she seems nice and speaks Americana with the slightest of an accent. She is already there and is standing at attention when we come through. She’s there like all the others that were here a month before us as an experienced live in example of barracks life. She shows us the basic and get’s us into acceptable bunk room shape by the time the corporal comes around. This isn’t what I expected. There’s a lot more hard work just living than most of us are used to.

A bunk quad is four bunks in a line, just a bit of room between each one about a foot and a half or so just the length of this dresser/night table thing that’s your personal FX storage. The bunks have curved top that locks down in case of emergencies and become a survival tube. It’s not an escape pod but a coffin with air reserves and an emergency beacon and basic survival pack. Each has a built in lamp for reading and a vid-com system. Our lockers/closets are one each side of the wall heading to the door and are compartmentalized everything is very precise and orderly.

It’s a little scary that there might be a time that you’ll be asleep and them the next thing you know you’re floating in a coffin with only enough air and heat and rations for three days. Space is big and lonely and…I’m looking at Nelle who looks paler that her fair skin usually is.

Bree tells us there’s really three sets of acceptable dress. Work out clothing or barracks sweats. Those are a dull blue grey that has white trim. R-suits which is what we are wearing now and are the standard training clothes for us all. They’re skin tight Lycra like suits with nano spring fibers that offer support and offer continual adjusting mild resistance whenever you move, even breathe. Used to speed us up getting into shape the idea was used before AG was invented to stave off the effects of zero gravity life somewhat.

And then there standard dress, which for some is fatigues and for others is a uniform but some of the time it can be both because you’ll be wearing fatigues if you’re setting feet down in action even if you’re usually in a uniform And there’s a huge difference between your standard uniform and the dress uniform but even we know that much.

“I feel like a sausage.” I mutter pulling at the suit. It’s not sticky hot but it hurts? No, but I’m getting sore.

“You get used to it but you don’t.” Bree offers with a cheerful smile.

“I just got rid of my damned sausage though.” I mutter it but kind of smile too. I’m kind of surprised at them laughing. I’m not used to this personal interaction yet but it really kind of feels good…It’s nice to feel like you fit in.

She tells us the suits are EVA and survival rated, and shows us where the survival hoods are stored. Like a ski mask with an open face and a clear face plate along with an oxygen tube cell that clicks to under the face mask with thirty minutes of air. Bree’s good enough to show us how to get them on and mag-seal them into place and everything. They’re stowed in the top shelf of our lockers. We stow them back where they go but keeping them in mind in case of drills to come.

We leave in a troop from there to the mess hall in and orderly fashion for lunch where we’re on a restricted meal until we’re ready for more solid foods after our changes. Juice with stuff in it like a protein drink, congee? Which is like this rice porridge that is made with some kind of meat stock in it and this blue green algae stuff that looks really gross and a mug of some kind of broth called miso? It’s got lumps of tofu balls in it.

It’s so not food that I’m used too and I’m not the only one. Nelle likes the congee because the algae makes it green which apparently tickles her Irish side. Still though I’m not paying that much attention to the food as to really get to go off on just how gross and weird it is. The people are just too different and strange here for me not to notice and stare.

There are people of almost every ethnic here and some have definite modifications made to them. There’s a ton of cosmetic stuff but there’s these really big massive guys and girls that I’m guessing are the Amazons and the Argonauts. They’re the gene-tweaked heavy combat types, but there’s others too. Thin ones that are graceful and tall but lean like a human greyhound or something, literally ebony skinned people with dark eyes and hair, pale ones with almost milky skin and washed out tones in their hair and eyes. Short stocky people barely reaching five feet even with thick bodies and massive shoulders and arms and legs there’s even quite a few cyborgs here especially amongst what looks like some of the seasoned troops. There’s even a guy two bench tables over with pale skin kissed with blue but he’s got this very fine thin membrane of something like clear snake scales over his skin and I see strange blue green eyes with an oval pupil and he has three slits on his neck that are without question gills, he’s actually strangely attractive with this dark blue grey hair. He’s in fatigues that look really good on him.

I’m looking for longer than’s polite really when he looks at me too and he gives me this bit of a stare and then gives me this shy kind of smile. I can feel this flushed warm feeling play over my skin and through my body. I’ve never seen anyone like him and he’s…he’s…god this feels strange, I think I’m…

I think I’m attracted to him? I don’t know, I think so…honestly I’ve never been attracted to anyone off Net or out of a sim. I’ve never felt like this before. I think I might be crushing on him?

He get’s up and leaves but still looks my way a few times and it just feels like the intensest thing ever. I can’t take my eyes off him until he leaves the mess hall.

Bree giggles at me. “OMG, Erin drool much?”

I color a deep red as I must have been so obvious. The others are chuckling or getting embarrassed themselves or are just still staring or rubber necking their entire area and everything that’s different. I suppose you can tell we’re all as green as grass. I cover my embarrassment by drinking my juice and kind of hunching…okay maybe not the r-suit really tenses at that. Apparently it corrects posture too.

“Oh god he’s so…”

“He’s definitely kind of cute.” Bree grins eating her real food, even if it’s a salad.

“Uhm…yeah? I’ve never seen anyone like him before.”

“He’s a bio-mod type a Triton.”

Nelle beams at that. “Hoy, now so he’s a merman is he now, I might jus fake a cramp next time I’ll be swimming if the life guards are all like him now.”

Anna’s frowning as she plays with her food. “He had scale stuff as part of his skin, gills too. It’d be like kissing a frog except no prince.”

I stare at her. “He’s a person too and his skin looked interesting…” I blush as I’m getting looks and grins.

Bree nods “He’d be all smooth too. And in great shape, he’s aquatic special ops so he literally swims all the time.”

Carrington sips at her Miso. “He’s actually a Deltan, they’re one of the few enviro-gene ethnics that’s part of the Union. He was born that way.”

I look over at her. She shrugs and looks back at me after a sip of her soup saying. “I’m planning on going into medical. You can tell Deltans by their eyes, we don’t have those bio-genetic codes for the advanced amphib eyes.”

I look at her interested. “Enviro-gene-ethnics?”

She nods. “EGE’s are people that had a long time ago bio-engineered themselves to adapt to certain environments so they could better survive. Water planets, super deserts, thermal worlds, high photon exposure worlds all sorts of things. They’re human mostly, so we can like breed with each other but in a lot of respects they’re almost different races.”

“Oh cool, so why aren’t there more of them in the mainstream of society? I’ve never heard of them before.”

“A lot of regular colonies and governments see some EGE’s as no longer human and are being assholes about it. That and the Aberrants.”

“Aberrants?”

“Yeah there a underground EGE type that believes there’s no limits to the gene mods that can be done to the human condition and are constantly “Improving” themselves into things that really aren’t human and see all non-believers as things to be either converted of wiped out. They’ve become zealots but to bio-genetic manipulation instead of religion. Or with religion sometimes too.”

“Sounds scary.” Nelle offers, we’re all nodding.

“It is, picture being forcibly converted into something that a mad scientist thinks up including neural remapping to be one of them, one of the legion.”

I stare and we all stare at her. “There’s not many of them are there?” Anna asks quietly.

The corporal stops at our table. “Yes, millions we think maybe more actually, they deep space it away from most known worlds and they’re not afraid of cloning either. They’re getting to be a bloody problem for everyone not just the Colonial Union.”

I look at her. “So we’re going to fight them?” I didn’t sign on to be in combat.

“Maybe, none of you have started your MOS right now and there’s a lot more out there than the Aberrants, everything from pirates to slavers to hostile governments and terrorists and even the Technarchy who are just as bad as the Aberrants. We leave the combat to the soldiers as a rule but everyone learns a minimum of combat training Stone. It’s why it’s called basic training.”

I nod and she moves on to likely scare the hell out of the other tables of recruits. It’s a much bigger and scarier universe than I thought. We’re all quiet and somber as we finish eating and prep for the ships tour.

Yes… I’m scared, but I’m me now, the real me and I’ll still take this life over my old one.



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