My week started with classes, training, more training, and briefings. Honestly, it felt like I was still in college but with more structure but I had started to get settled into the officer's quarters section which honestly felt a little too much like moving into the dorms if I was honest. I had, however, managed to meet a bunch of very nice officers who worked at the base just by proximity which was nice.
It just so happened that I managed to meet one of my new squadmates, Sergeant Heidi Sprinklemann in the hallway outside my room. I had met her briefly at my evaluation and she was the voice of Overwatch in my exam but I found out she was new to the base having just transferred in. It turned out she’s only a few years older than me and was also from Michigan which meant we had some stuff in common even though she’s from the other side of the state, which was pretty cool. I learned that her specialty is communications and that she’d be filling the Communications Sergeant role on the tactical team so we’d be working together, so we made plans to have coffee later in the week to get to know each other better. I did enjoy the possibility of making a new friend.
As for old friends, Christina was still radio silent and it was really starting to drag on me since I was spending so much time on base I had plenty of time to dwell on it. I had stopped texting to give her some space but it had been a few weeks at this point and if she didn’t respond in some way soon I was going to go looking for her and force the issue. I’d really prefer to not have to go that route though because it had a strong chance of pushing her further away which I didn’t want.
Unfortunately, I found myself having time to dwell on it because I was currently in the research testing area’s multipurpose room with Dr. Rokker waiting for Fox and Lieutenant Colonel Amin. The research area was Dr. Rokker’s territory and took up a floor topside and a floor in the sublevels. The sneaky-dangerous stuff was all done on the subfloor while the standard research was done on the upper floor. The research area held all kinds of labs and testing gear, and the multipurpose room I was in was located in the Supernormal testing area and served as a de facto meeting room, locker room, and lounge area.
Lieutenant Colonel Amin surprised me by asking me to meet Doctor Rokker, Fox, and herself on the research floor rather than the usual classroom for our Public Relations class. Doctor Rokker had met me on the way through the floor to the room so we had arrived together.
Deciding I had enough of my brain running in circles I turned to the Doctor, “So Dr. Rokker, working on anything fun that I'd actually understand?” I asked the jovial white haired researcher as he leaned against the wall fidgeting with a pen.
“Hmm?” he said absentmindedly, before realizing I had asked a question. “Oh my gosh. Dani, I’m so sorry I was lost in thought. Can you repeat your question?”
I couldn’t help but giggle at him. He was one of the nicest people I’d met in my time with the program but at times really fit the stereotype of the head in the clouds researcher.
“No worries Doc. I asked if you were working on anything fun that I’d actually understand?”
“Oh yes, we are actually. We’ve been working on modifying the dampening gloves you wear in training to mimic your absorption and discharge abilities. The idea being that it could be used for natural energy applications since your ability to process Solar and Cosmic Rays could revolutionize power production,” he said enthusiastically while waving the pen around as he spoke.
“Oh, that all sounds very cool,” I replied but I couldn’t help but frown and chew my lip at the thought of my abilities being replicated, “But couldn’t you wait a little bit before making me obsolete?” I finished letting the intrusive thought win.
Doctor Rokker froze for a second at my words and then a look of concern flooded his face. “Dani, your gifts are amazing and I dearly hope that I can do something amazing with all the data you’ve blessed me with, but nobody will ever replace you,” he said punctuating the ‘You’ with a pen jab.
“Take some advice from someone who has to deal with military and political blowhards their entire career. If you don’t have self confidence or at least learn to fake it you’re not going to make it. Despite what some here will tell you there is nothing wrong with showing your emotions and being empathetic, but you also have to stand your ground and be proud of yourself and what you’ve worked for. There are going to be times where your conviction in yourself will be all you have to convince others to follow you,” he said pointedly.
Just then the door opened and Lieutenant Colonel Amin walked in carrying a silver case followed by Fox right behind her. Noticing the atmosphere in the room she looked from me to Doctor Rokker and back to me before pausing and slightly quirking an eyebrow and saying, “Everything good in here? Doctor, Dani?”
“Everything is fine Lieutenant Colonel,” I said with a half hearted grin, “The Doctor was just giving me some much needed advice. It seems I can be somewhat…hardheaded.”
My response got a full on chuckle from the Doctor and I did catch the fleeting smile on Fox’s face as he suddenly needed to study the ceiling for some reason.
“Ok, good. The reason you’re here is because your uniform is ready. I wanted to do this down here with a small group before we show it to anyone else in case there are any issues,” Lieutenant Colonel Amin said while placing the silver case in front of me.
“Go try it on and we’ll go over its specs and see if reality matches the design.”
I grabbed the case and moved into the little changing room bathroom tucked away in the back corner room and left my colleagues to chat while I changed. I put the metal case on the countertop and hesitated for a second before popping the latches and opening the lid.
Sitting inside the case was my uniform. The one I’d designed with the Lieutenant Colonel, but seeing it in person sent a chill down my spine. The Red, White, and Blue colors looked so crisp that I couldn’t help but run my hands across the fabric. It had the strangest texture as it felt akin to a thick cotton-spandex hybrid but had a subtle sheen to it that seemed to catch the light.
I stripped down to my undergarments and took the pants out of the case first and slid each foot through the legs into shoes built into the leggings. It took a bit of wiggling to figure out how to get each foot properly locked in as the shoes were custom molded but they fit like a glove. The shoes were reinforced and cushioned to withstand my enhanced strength so that I didn’t have to worry about blowing out a shoe when pushing off and moving at full strength.
After I got my feet in I shimmied the pants up over my hips and adjusted the built in belt and looked in the mirror. The pants had a nice clean look to them with a thick red stripe on the outside of the legs from foot to hip while the rest of the pants were white with the exception of the belt area which was admiral blue with a small white star where a belt buckle would normally sit.
Next, I took out the top and pulled it on taking care to make sure my hair didn’t get caught up when pulling it over my head since the top was just as form fitting as the pants. The collar of the top had a hidden clasp that allowed it to open wider which I struggled with for a bit before sealing it up and making sure the piping detail lined up in the mirror. The shoulders of the top were admiral blue from about my collarbone up and had three white stars in a line across them. Like the pants, the top had a red stripe running up the side along the body ending at the blue shoulders under the arm with the rest of the top being white except for the long sleeves which were black. The sleeves were black from my wrists to my armpits where they angled to point at the shoulder leaving just a bit of white detail for contrast.
The top is where Lieutenant Colonel Amin and I had disagreed the most. When I designed the costume I based the idea loosely on my favorite comic book hero Captain Flag from when I was kid, but I had wanted to give my top the lines of a shield so my top was made so that it came to point at my midriff leaving my stomach exposed. When my arms were at my sides my top looked like that heater shield with the way the black on my arms framed the red stripes and blue shoulder design.
The Lieutenant Colonel was absolutely adamant that I couldn’t leave my midriff exposed but I had pushed back that if they wanted flashy then this would be flashy. It was a pretty fascinating conversion really as different department heads were brought in for consultation and there was a lot of discussion about safety versus public perception. The Lieutenant Colonel did not like the message it sent that I would go out less protected just to look good. In the end, the fact that anything short of a fifty caliber bullet couldn’t really pierce my skin won the argument in my favor.
Looking in the mirror I confirmed everything was lined up and in place and I fingered and brushed my hair to smooth it out. The uniform looked very clean and I had to admit to a boost of self confidence because it looked good on me and hugged my figure in all the right ways. The last piece was the cape which sat folded in the bottom of the case. It was admiral blue on the outside and red on the inside with white trim on the outside edges. It was a different fabric than the rest of the uniform and was more like satin or silk in texture.
Interestingly the cape was also a bit of a contentious choice as nobody wears capes in real life, but I wanted to go all in so a cape was designed. Unlike my training uniform which has a half cape on the right shoulder, this is a full cape that should end at the back of my knees so that I don’t step on it. It was determined that if it could be made functional it would be approved based on my work in the training room with my training uniform.
I picked the caped up out of the case draping it over an arm and headed back out to the main room to see what the others thought. When I came back into the room Lieutenant Armin and Doctor Rokker were chatting and while Fox was just sitting quietly listening and was the first to see me so he cleared his throat and nodded in my direction.
Both the Lieutenant Colonel and Doctor turned and gave me a once over. A big smile appeared on the Doctor's face, where Lieutenant Colonel Armin just kind of scowled. ”Well it looks good at least,” she said before gesturing for me to come closer.
I walked up to the group and raised my arm up to show the cape draped over it saying, “I got excited and put the top before thinking about the cape and didn’t know how to attach it.”
I guess that’s a good segway into the functionality of the uniform I suppose, so Doctor if you’d do the honors,” she said while gesturing for the doctor to fill us in on what they’d created.
“Of course. Dani, if you’d hand me the cape I’ll start there,” he said while I handed him the cape. “This fabric, as you'll notice, is different from the main body of the uniform. It’s a specially developed fabric that started life as a bulletproof parachute prototype. It’s super lightweight but has outstanding ballistic stopping abilities. We’ve layered the fabric so that it’s twice as durable but for Dani, it will still be incredibly lightweight. The cape will stop bullets at a diminishing rate until failure, and will even catch a fifty caliber bullet as long as it isn’t fired from right on top of you. While the fabric is durable and should hold up to regular wear and tear and flying, but much like Kevlar body armor, it doesn't do as well with edged weapons. It will provide some resistance depending on the angle but with a sharp enough edge or force it will give.”
He unfolded the cape and gave it a once over before finding the attachment mechanism and asking me to turn around with my back to him, “Ok Dani it will be easier if you do this before putting on the top but the cape can be attached after the fact. Essentially there is a micronized magnet system embedded in the cape and the attachment point on your back. If you reach around your left shoulder with your right hand and take the edge of the cape it should seat automatically.”
Doing as he asked I reached around with my right hand and grasped the end of the cape and guided it to the back of my left shoulder attachment point by reaching under my armpit and felt the end snap into place like the Doctor said it would. Neat.
“Now do that with the other side and you should be all set. It will automatically pull the cape up and lock it in once the second attachment is made. One of our designers has a Sigma ability in micronization and they improved the original design for your training uniform. In fact, this design is being implemented on that garment as well since you shredded the old one in the exam.”
I attached the other side after a couple of failed attempts but once the cape was on I could barely feel it. I did a quick twirl making the cape swish eliciting laughs from everyone before floating up about a foot in the air and saluting.
“Star on station and reporting for duty. Requesting fit check,” I said while trying and failing to keep a smirk off my face.
Lieutenant Colonel Amin just groaned and closed her eyes while rubbing her temples before saying, “I really thought it was going to be Colonel Morales that turned my hair grey prematurely but now I realize I was wrong. It’s definitely going to be you Dani.”
I heard Doctor Rokker whisper “What’s a fit check?” while Fox actually laughed out loud before chiming in with, “Amen, for the truth.”
“Hey!” I exclaimed in faux outrage while returning back to the floor with my hands on my hips which just made Fox laugh harder and he was joined by the Lieutenant Colonel.
After a minute of everyone enjoying a good laugh, I gathered my composure and asked, “I do look okay though, don’t I?”
Taking a steading breath Lieutenant Colonel Amin replied, “You look great. Everything looks like it fits perfectly and after seeing the uniform it really does have that comic book hero look you were going for, just more modern. I still don’t love the exposed midriff but we don’t plan to send you anywhere that it should be an issue right out of the gate, so we still have time to workshop it.
“Thank you Lieutenant Colonel Amin,” I said with a smile, noting that Fox gave me a thumbs up and Doctor Rokker a smile and a wink.
“Ugh,” the Lieutenant Colonel exclaimed before continuing, “For the last time, call me Rupal when we’re in an informal setting, Dani. You don’t need to be that formal.”
I held my hands up in supplication “I just can’t. You worked too hard to get where you’re at and my parents always taught me to respect people's titles and you’re way too young to call ma’am,” I said defensively.
“Yep, I just felt it. That was a grey hair,” she said before pointing a finger at me, “Then how about you call me by my callsign like you do Fox? Do you think you can handle ‘Astraea’?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Yes ma’am,” I cheekily replied with a big grin on my face.
“Oh…my…God. Do you ever want to go on a mission?” she said, trying to look stern, but mostly failing. Clearly having had enough of my smartassery she turned to Doctor Rokker and asked, “Are there any other features of the cape that we should know about before we get sidetracked again?”
“Actually it’s helpful to know that the cape has been tested in a wind tunnel and shouldn’t cause any significant drag while in flight. The anchor point was also designed and tested to stand up to flight. We never called you in to test it because all of our data models told us that with your abilities it would be insignificant. Obviously, if that is incorrect we expect you to let us know,” he said with a pointed look before continuing, “ Also we designed the cape to break away if enough force is applied. As I said flying shouldn’t generate enough force to cause it to disconnect but if you ever find yourself pinned or in need of removing it in a hurry just pull as hard as you can and it will break away. Lastly, the cape has been treated to be water and fire resistant, so liquids will bead off its surface and it won’t catch fire immediately.”
“Thank you, Doctor. That’s all very helpful information,” Astraea said in a way that led me to believe that she probably had already read a report that had outlined everything the good Doctor had said.
“Now one of the reasons I stopped fighting you on the midriff thing was because of the functionality of the cape. I’ve asked Fox to develop more training about using the cape defensively now that we know its capabilities. Your safety in the field is a priority,” she said proving that I was correct in her already knowing the specs on my uniform.
Dammit, more training. While rationally I understood that practice makes perfect it doesn’t change the fact that I felt like I’d been doing nothing but practicing forever I thought with an inward groan.
My introspection was interrupted before it could really get rolling by Astraea asking the Doctor to continue going over the rest of the uniform.
Both the top and pants are made from a heavier fabric than the cape which is far more durable. This fabric was developed by our in-house research department and is currently only available to STAR and will be implemented in the tactical team uniforms as well. It was designed to be lightweight and breathable but also have strong ballistic stopping abilities and rip resistance. Also, this fabric will stop an edged weapon. However just like with traditional ballistic armor the fabric absorbs and spreads out the impact of a projectile and we’ve done our best to mitigate the energy transference as much as possible but there is still transference so it will hurt to get shot, and anyone with less durability than you is going to be bruised by your standard calibers. When you start getting up to heavier calibers like the 50 cal you might get one or two successful stops before failure, but the average person is probably going to wish the round had killed them. With your enhanced durability we’re not really sure how it will feel for you, Dani, short of putting you on the range and shooting you, but we figured that probably wasn’t the most scientific method and wouldn’t be approved,” he said with a chuckle.
“Yeah, I think I’m going to pass on that option. The sniper rifle in the exam hurt plenty and it was a rubber bullet, so I’m just going to assume it will suck and try my best to not find out.”
“Ok, we’ll table that line of experimentation…for now,” he said with a wink, “Now as I mentioned the fabric is cut resistant and will withstand a normal edged weapon to a point but will only dull the cut of a vibro knife or something like Fox’s sword. As with any fabric, it’s only going to make you harder to stab, so do your best to not get stabbed either.
So, getting back to the features of the uniform we’ve also implemented a few hidden features since your uniform doesn’t have pouches or regular pockets. Your collar has a built-in microphone that will sync automatically with your field issue earpiece and in the event you lose your earpiece a shorter range backup earpiece is located in a hidden pocket on your right hip. On your left hip is a hidden ID pocket for your First Responder card. It’s pretty small so it won’t hold anything more than a couple of cards or some cash so don’t go getting any ideas about trying to fit a phone or anything in there. Speaking of phones, you won’t be able to carry your phone with you when deployed so we’ve implemented a flexible touch screen interface on the underside of the forearm of your left sleeve that is almost invisible when not in use for communication and limited internet. It’s connected to the military communications network so everything going in and out of your communications gear is encrypted. Ok any questions?” he asked while raising his eyebrows comically.
“So what’s the difference between this and my training uniform aside from the tech bells and whistles?” I asked curiously.
“Well simply put this uniform does everything better. Your training uniform served as a prototype and the data we gathered from your training was used to make this uniform and the tactical team uniforms. These uniforms really are a leap forward but presently they can’t be mass produced so they are a STAR exclusive for now,” he explained. “Anything else?”
I don’t think I have any more questions. Do any of you? I said to the group.
Astraea responded with an “I’m good.” but of course she would as she had already read the specs but Fox spoke up from his chair after being silent for most of the discussion.
“Is there any progress on my new helmet Doctor Rokker?” he asked.
“Actually we are finishing a prototype for you as we speak. We had a bit of an issue engineering the visor but we think we’ve got it figured out. Unless we run into another fabrication issue you should have it by the end of today and if I do say so myself it looks very good. We managed to improve on your specs in a few areas but of course, your feedback is welcome.”
“Thank you Doctor, I look forward to trying it out. I’m sure it will perform to your usual high standards. I don’t have anything else.”
Perfect, I’m sure you all know how to get out of here by now so I’ll let you all disperse at your leisure. I’m going to go check on Fox’s helmet while it’s still fresh in my mind,” said Doctor Rokker with a wave and smile before exiting the room.
“Star I’ll leave you to get changed and Fox I’ll set up a meeting to review Dani’s training to figure out how to best work in training on using the uniform’s features,” Astraea said before looking at her watch and muttering a curse. “I’ve got to go anyway, I told Major Ziet I’d have lunch with him today to go over operations and I need to prepare,” she added in a rush and with that, she disappeared out the door.
I couldn’t help but hide a grin at the Lieutenant Colonel as I watched her disappear through the door. It was the worst kept secret on base that Major Ziet had a crush on Astraea to which she was dubiously unaware. My grin turned into a full on laugh when I faintly heard “Fit check passed!” from Astraea as she receded down the hallway. Fox just looked at me and shook his head.
“What?”, I said through fits of giggle, “I can’t laugh on duty?” trying and failing to give him a stern look.
“Not at all. In fact, you seem to bring it out in others. I hope you can retain that quality after getting field experience,” was Fox’s response.
“You're a buzzkill sometimes Fox. I’m going to get changed,” I said to my instructor and turned back toward the locker room to change with a fairly magnificent swish of my cape in my opinion.
It took me a little bit longer to get undressed than normal as I had to figure out all the closures and releases and then fold the garments to fit back in the case. Once I was done I grabbed the case and went back out into the multipurpose room expecting it to be empty but to my surprise, Fox was still sitting there waiting.
“Fox, I figured you’d have taken off to do something better like hang out with Captain Williams,” I said in surprise.
“No, I’m free for a while. I just wanted to tell you that the uniform looked good on you and that you’ve earned it.”
I could feel the heat in my face as I blushed furiously at Fox’s compliment. I still wasn’t used to greeting compliments from the Master Sergeant. He’d been far less uptight since my exam.
“I, uh…thanks. I’m glad you think so,” I stammered. Smooth. So smooth. If Fox could tell how flustered his comment made me he didn’t let on thankfully.
“Come on,” he said getting up from this chair and taking the case from my hand. I’ll walk you to the elevator.
I nodded ok and we exited the meeting room in the hallway. Some of the labs had windows and it was amazing the diversity of environments you could get a glimpse of. Some labs were so clean they would make an Apple Store jealous and others it would be generous to label them controlled chaos. We were just passing the halfway point and I was looking at a sign that said ‘Do not enter. Experiment in progress’ when Fox spoke again.
“I just wanted to let you know the last member of Wolf Unit should be arriving tomorrow or the day after, so we’ll start running unit drills shortly after. Also, we’ve been getting word of increased activity from one of the organizations on our watch list. Intelligence has indicated that Michigan City is a target for something. Early signs seem to indicate a kidnapping but nothing is concrete. I’m telling you this because our chances of deployment have gone up significantly with this news. Hopefully, it turns into a sit around and wait situation but forewarned is forearmed”, he finished as we arrived at the elevator.
Fox handed me the case with my uniform in it which I took and stepped into the elevator car. I pushed the button for my floor but I noticed the Fox didn't step in but rather kept his hand on the door holding it from closing so I threw him a questioning glance.
“I’m going to go check on my helmet. The Doctor has me curious so I’d like to see it while I’m down here so I’ll catch up with you later,“ he said.
“Oh, ok. I guess I’ll see you later,” I said with a twinge of disappointment. I always enjoyed hanging out with Fox even if he was hot and cold with conversation. I always felt like I learned something from being around him.
“One last thing Dani,” he said looking into my eyes, “I want you to remember something my grandmother used to always tell me. Fate aids the courageous,” and with that, he took his hand from the door sensor and the elevator closed with a soft whoosh.