06:00 Prospect Quarters
“Alright everyone, off your asses!” A deep voice boomed out. “Front and center in ten seconds!”
The sound of the instructor’s voice in the early morning was like a thunderclap that resounded in everyone’s ears, jolting them awake. Some who were sound asleep fell off their bunks while scrambling to their feet. Others who were frightened into confusion barely had enough time to get their bearings together. After five seconds passed, those who were not already in line quickly huddled together with the rest. By the time the 9th second elapsed not even the sound of breathing could be heard. Everyone was wide awake and stood with their backs ramrod straight.
The instructor then swept his gaze over all the candidates as he walked through their midst. Everyone felt a chill run up their spine when the instructor’s eyes swept over them. They felt like mere poultry under his sharp eyes. His face seemed like it was carved from stone with a butcher’s knife. His eyes were bloodshot and the sockets seemed as if they were threatening to become black holes. It was clear to them that the instructor did not have a proper sleep for days. He wore a deep green camouflage suit and a boot so shine, that it reflected everyone’s image as clearly as a mirror with each step he took. When the instructor finished his observations, he returned to the entrance of the barrack then begun his announcement.
“Today’s a special day for the lot of you, and I do mean special!” While speaking the instructor threw a bag the size of a fully-grown bear into the room. As it fell, everyone’s eyes locked onto it. They expected the usual ‘poof’ sound that a bag would normally make when it hits the floor, but against all expectations, it gave off a loud ‘bang’ similar to two trucks colliding head to head on a freeway. When the bag hit the floor, it caused the entire barrack to shake violently. Everyone’s face suddenly lost a shade of color as their eyes snapped open wide in shock, their eyeballs almost jumping out. Everyone had the same thought. “What the hell is in that bag!?” Some looked towards the instructor with both fear and awe in their eyes “How strong, is he? That bag must weigh at least 500 kg (1102.31 lbs.) He just casually tossed that bag with one arm like it was nothing!”
Seeing their reactions, a satisfied smile crept onto the instructor’s face as he spoke: “You have 15 minutes to gear up! When you’re done, assemble at the Amphitheater by 07:00 and await further instructions!”
“Yes sir!” the prospects shouted in concert.
The instructor then shifted his gaze towards the front of the line closest to him and looked at the most senior candidate in the line-up. “Dante!” the instructor shouted.
Hearing his name being called, Dante felt as though he was being pressed down upon by a mountain. The invisible pressure the instructor gave off made him almost want to fall to his knees and bow his head. After forcing the fear down, he managed to stutter a reply: “Y-yes sir!”
The instructor then continued: “You’re the most senior candidate here. You’re responsible for bringing everyone to the Amphitheater, understood?”
“Yes, sir!” Dante shouted resolutely.
“At ease, everyone…” The instructor gave his command then turned and left the room.
At the sound of the door closing, everyone breathed a sigh of relief when the instructor left. A discussion then broke out and several persons turned to Dante with questioning looks on their faces.
One amongst them, a girl, around 16 years old with long brown hair stepped forward and asked the question that was riding everyone’s mind.
“Hey Dante, what’s going on?”
This soft but firm voice brought Dante back to his senses. Ignoring the cold sweat that permeated his back in that brief moment, Dante turned his head to his right facing the person that just spoke. “Jenell, it’s…” his words abruptly stopped as he glanced over her shoulder, his brows furrowed as his eyes caught sight of the bag that the instructor just threw inside the room and suddenly recalled the last time this scene occurred and subconsciously blurted out “…evaluation!”
Across the compound, several similar such situations simultaneously occurred where an instructor would order their division to assemble at the Amphitheatre by 07:00. Everyone was taken aback but complied and made their way there, several questions brewing in their heads.
“What? Evaluation? But… isn’t that supposed to be conducted at the end of the month? We’ve only been here for three days… it hasn’t even been one week yet… we just started.” Jenell complained, a pained look on her face. She was 1 of 2100 carefully selected individuals who passed the initial cognitive and physical examinations carried out by N.A.S.A and were recruited as prospective candidates for the G.E.N.E.S.I.S programme.
“Yeah! That’s not fair! Everyone else got a full month to prepare for their evaluations!” A young male not far from Jenell who heard her comment added.
“Yeah, why the sudden change?” another candidate enquired.
One person after another continued to bombard Dante with questions. They were disheartened at their predicament. If their evaluations were really bumped up three weeks earlier, then they would undoubtedly fail; and would fail miserably at that. They would have no other option but to be sent back to the chaotic world outside where their survival was more difficult than ascending the Heavens.
Many of them were now orphans with no family or home to return to. The war took everything from them. This was their last chance to improve their chances of surviving this war. The more fortunate ones amongst them were the sons and daughters of scientists, engineers, and military personnel that earned their stay at the N.A.S.A compound. But even though their situation was a bit better than the former, they were all in the same boat, that is; no dead weight was allowed refuge here. They had to prove themselves worthy of their shelter and make themselves useful.
Suddenly being under so much pressure from their non-stop barrage of questions caused Dante’s tempter to ignite; he snapped back and reprimanded them: “Quiet, all of you! What difference does it make!? If you got a problem with it then deal with it! Complaining about it won’t make any difference! Besides, it may not necessarily be a bad thing, something different may be happening.”
“Like what?” a young man that was wearing glasses within the crowd enquired. Everyone turned and looked at him. His name was Travis. He was about 4ft tall and his clothes looked new and unblemished unlike most of his fellow candidates. Everyone could tell at a glance that he was not from the outside world. He was one of the sheltered children who had some family member working at the compound. Their faces showed their obvious envy and contempt for his kind.
Feeling irritated Dante howled at the person that asked the question “How the fuck should I know four eyes?! We’ll find out when we get there. Shit! We’ve already wasted too much time! We have roughly 10 minutes left to gear up! Everyone, quick! Grab an Exo-Suit! Don’t worry about the size, it’ll adjust to fit you after a moment.
“Exo-Suit?" Everyone's eyes lit up.
"You mean the ones that the soldiers use in the war outside?!” The same young man in glasses asked, his eyes glittering.
Feeling extremely annoyed Dante shouted at the young man in glasses that asked the question “Of course not, are you an idiot? These are trimmed down versions of the Exo-Suits they wear to battle. What do you think Exo-Suits are anyway? Do you think they’re toys? Did you really think that they would let kids wear something that could destroy an entire building with little effort? If you’re even wearing one of those C class Exo-Suits, a simple flick of your hand can toss a truck several hundred meters away! And if you… @#$%” Noticing the time slipping away Dante nearly opted to choke the kid. “Enough talk! Hurry up and get dressed!”
Dante quickly shoved past everyone and zipped the bag open. When everyone looked at what they saw were stacks of shirts, gloves, pants, and something that resembled flattened shoes. Everyone was baffled by what they saw. “This is what caused the entire barracks to tremble?”
When everyone laid eyes on the contents of the bag they couldn’t help but look at Dante in doubt. “Is he serious?”
“These are, Exo-Suits?” Jenell picked up one of the shirts to inspect it. It looked very similar to a normal shirt but with some minor differences. The shirt had a silver sheen to it and was extremely soft. At the back of the shirt was an impression of a spine that ran from the neck all the way down to what appeared to be the hem of the shirt. After observing the spine of the shirt more closely Jenell noticed that the color of the spine fluctuated between white, yellow, blue, red, purple, black then neutral and then the pattern repeated. “Whoa, this is pretty.”
Noticing that everyone was just looking at the suits, Dante couldn’t help but swear at them again. “Damn it! I said hurry up and get dressed! Or is it that you want me to tell the instructor that you all disobeyed a direct order?”
When Dante mentioned reporting them to the instructor, everyone jumped forward as if firecrackers were going off in their pants to grab a suit as quickly as possible to get dressed. The mere thought of that man terrified them. The training they had to endure these past few days left a bone-deep impression on them of the instructor. They didn't dare to disobey his commands.
Dante observed that the girls were looking at each other in dismay and then at everyone around. He spoke up and addressed the question that was bothering them.
“You don’t need to undress. Just put it on over what you're wearing, and hurry up!”
"Okay!" The girls assented, feeling relieved.
Within seven minutes everyone was suited up and were looking at each other puzzled.
“Dante said that the Exo-Suits would adjust to fit our sizes, but they didn’t do anything! Could it be they're broken? Did the instructor damage them when he tossed them inside?”
“We’ve put them on but nothing's happening, what now?” Jenell asked as she approached Dante from behind.
Dante turned around and realized that everyone was suited up and was looking at him. Seeing that everyone was geared up Dante nodded in satisfaction and spoke out in a loud voice: “Alright everyone, listen up and follow my lead! Place your right hand over your heart and repeat after me… ‘Pulse’!”
Everyone followed his motion then repeated: “Pulse!”
After everyone shouted the command in unison, the Exo-Suits suddenly contracted and hugged onto everyone’s body like a second skin. Those who wore it over their clothes saw it passing through their clothes and felt it stick to their skin. Every time the Exo-Suit contracted corresponded with their heartbeat.
“Aaah!” Some of the girls screamed in fright as they were not expecting the Exo-Suit to become so tight after giving the command. The males didn’t even have the opportunity to take in the views because shortly afterward the Exo-Suits stopped contracting then everyone simultaneously felt 33 pairs of needles suddenly inject themselves into their backs and 20 needles into each thigh and leg. Many wanted to fall to their knees but something stopped them from doing so. The pain only lasted for a brief moment before it stopped which brought no small relief to many.
After the fusion was complete, everyone felt many changes to their bodies. Their senses became sharper, their muscles were gradually growing stronger as time passed, those who wore glasses felt them be a burden now as their vision became so clear that they could see an ant on the wall a few feet away as clear as if they were using a magnifying glass up close to inspect it. Several other changes were occurring inside their bodies but they were completely unaware of it at the moment.
Dante observed everyone inspecting themselves and couldn’t help but give a light chuckle, this was his 8th time wearing an Exo-Suit, so he was used to this feeling somewhat. He then raised his voice to grab everyone’s attention. “Listen up!” Everyone then stopped what they were doing and turned to look at Dante as he spoke “These Exo-Suits can do a lot of things but now is not the time to get curious. Once we get to the Amphitheatre you can ask all the questions you want. Line up and follow me!” Dante then turned around and headed towards the entrance to their barracks and led everyone towards the Amphitheatre.