11 Chapter 10
Early the next morning, 0500 Earth Time, Trace was awoken by a loud noise.
"Alright lazybones! Get outta bed now! We've got a whole day of fun maneuvers ahead of us!" The man shouting at them, Trace remembered, was Gunnery Sergeant Johan. However, the man also insisted that squad members call him "gunney", and so they did.
Proceeding to breakfast in the canteen, Trace shoveled down some kind of sticky green ooze that was supposedly "steak". Much as he hated to admit it, it really did taste like steak… although they were a bit off on the shape, color, texture, and pretty much everything else.
Suddenly James, the squads Texan sniper, sat down next to Trace.
"Heya there. How's it goin so far?" He said.
"Well, I've only just started…" Trace replied jokingly.
"Well then, first impressions! You gotta have some, everyone has 'em!" James said.
"Well… we seem to have a lot more freedom then we had on the base. Things seem pretty clean and orderly, but the ships in need of some remodeling, seeing as most of these things are either rusting or running on the backup systems for the backups. Other than that? Not sure. I guess I'm pretty eager for my first mission." Trace said.
"Well, you got the remodeling part right! I doubt this ship has seen so much as a new part since she was made! But the Odysseus is a good old ship, and she'll treat ya better than the vacuum of space!" James said.
After breakfast, at 10:00, the squad was lead by gunney Johan to a simulator room. Walking through the automatic doors, Trace saw rows and rows of sleek, silver pods lined side-by-side, seeming to go as far as the eye can see.
"So this is where the Union budget goes…" Trace thought to himself.
After entering a pod and going through the basic diagnostics, he was hooked up to the system and fell into what seemed like sleep.
But when Trace opened his eyes again, he was on the surface of a barren desert, surrounded by similarly disconcerted squad members.
After about ten or so minutes, gunney Johan got everyone under control and in neat rows and columns, before proceeding to explain the goal of this.
"We will have two hours to prepare from the moment I start this simulation. We will be fighting off an endless number of enemies, and our goal is to take as many of those bastards down with us as we can. The goal of the exercise is to see how well the unit will work without the commanding officers."
"In addition, each squad member will be ranked on how many enemies they take down and how long they survive for. There is a ship wide leaderboard for squads and individual rankings in these exercises, so do the best you can."
"After we finish these, squad members are free to continue trying in their own time, except they will be ranked on a separate leaderboard without squads and will have only half an hour to prepare."
"The exercise begins in… 3! 2! 1! Go!"
Suddenly, on everyone's virtual HUD a timer appeared in the top right corner, displaying a timer counting down from 2 hours. In addition, health, ammunition, currently held weapons, and a settings button were shown.
Soon enough, gunney Johan started assigning everyone tasks to complete, like setting up anti-aircraft emplacements or trench digging. Trace, as the newbie, drew a short straw and was assigned to be the "lookout", despite the fact that there was guaranteed to be no enemies for 2 hours.
After about half an hour of standing in the shoddily-made watchtower that he had been told to assemble, Trace got bored and started trying to mess around with his HUD. After a while of trial-and-error, Trace found that by focusing closely on the settings icon, he could open settings. After opening it, a pop-up covered the center of his vision. Looking through the multitude of options, Trace started going through each one. Most of it was just the average stuff, like date and time, font, opacity of the HUD, and so on.
But after entering a section called "Advanced", Trace uncovered a multitude of grayed-out options. Attempting to open one resulted in a prompt for a password, one Trace didn't know. But right now, he had another hour and a half, so why not have some fun?
Trace started off with simple passwords, like "Password", "123456", etc., before moving on to more random things like "Pizza" or "Damn Martians!"
After almost an hour of this, Trace tried out "Divide by zero".
And to his extreme shock, as well as laughter, the prompt dissapeared and the boxes became selectable!
"Wow, whoever made the password was probably as bored as me!" Trace laughed to himself.
After getting over his surprise, Chase opened the option named "Time Dilation". Within this menu, Trace discovered that there was a slider that went up to 24, as well as a warning. The warning said: "Do not use without prior experience or mental preparation, as it can cause effects ranging from dizziness and nausea, to vomiting, or in extreme cases, death."
"Time dilation? Wait, so does that mean I could make one hour in the simulator become half an hour in real life? Why would they keep this locked? This would save so much time!" Trace thought to himself, before attempting to move the slider.
"Error: Cannot edit designated value during multiplayer. Please try again later."
Trace was confused at first, before realizing, "Oh, makes sense. I can't have things happen half as slow for me than it does for everyone else, or at least it won't let me."
Moving on, Trace found a variety of other things in the menu, before hearing a resounding beeping noise.
Jerking out of his stupor, Trace realized that the timer had run out, and enemies were due to arrive any minute now!
"Everyone, get to where you're assigned! Remember to do the best you can! And don't you dare let me down, or I'll kick your ass back to boot camp!" gunney Johan shouted to the squad.
Looking around, Trace saw everyone was in entrenched positions, buildings, or manning turrets… everyone except him, that was. Trace panickedly started trying to climb out of the watchtower to ask where his position was, before being stopped by gunney Johan.
"Private Trace, right? Where the hell do you think you're going? I assigned you to that watchtower as a lookout, now stay there and do your job!" gunney Johan shouted.
Little did the gunnery sergeant know, Trace could fully see the smirk on the man's lips. Knowing full well he was being forced into a terrible position, Trace did it anyways as he couldn't disobey orders without incurring punishment.
Getting back to position, Trace noticed blurry objects on the horizon. Using a pair of binoculars, Trace tried to get a closer look at exactly what they were dealing with.
"Reporting to gunney Johan, sir! There looks to be one or two armored divisions made of hover tanks, a full squadron of bombers, and maybe 8 battalions of armored infantry approaching us!" Trace reported.
"Alright. Everyone, get ready!" gunney Johan shouted out.
By the point that the enemies were close enough to make out with the naked eyes, everyone seemed to be a bit nervous, including Trace. It may have been a simulation, but it was one so realistic that you even sweat in it.
After another minute or so, the enemy were in range of the turret emplacements around the hastily-constructed camp.
"All units, fire at will! Take down those bombers and tanks, fast!" gunney Johan ordered.
Suddenly, the quad-barreled beasts of turret emplacements spun up their barrels for half a second, before suddenly unleashing hell on the enemy lines. The barrels glowed red-hot as they spat out seemingly unending lines of bullets straight into the opposing troops. The armor-piercing rounds tore straight through the first line of enemy infantry as though they didn't exist before colliding with the enemy tanks.
Suddenly, the enemy returned fire. Massive booms echoed out as each of the enemy hover tanks fired from their double-barreled turrets, huge shells being flung straight at the emplacements. However, this had been predicted, as the emplacements had angled armor placing as well as secondary force fields, and all but one of the tanks shells bounced off the emplacements. The one shell that made it through, however, immediately and instantly destroyed the entire emplacement, but somehow only heavily wounded the squad member manning the emplacement.
Observing all of this while crouched in his inadequate watchtower, Trace suddenly realized that everyone had forgotten about the enemy bombers! Looking up, Trace discovered that the automatic anti-aircraft systems had taken down 4 of the 8 bombers, yet the bombers were almost directly above Trace.
And then it happened. The bombers finally dropped the first of their payloads, and the first one dead was Trace. Without a single chance to fight, a chance to do anything, he was dead.
Within the next 10 minutes, Trace watched as person by person, squad members left the simulators until eventually the whole squad had been wiped out.
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Looking somewhat disappointed, gunney Johan looked over the squad before saying "That has got to be the most embarrassing fight I've ever been in. Double sim time for the next week as punishment. Alright, let's go check how badly you all did on the leaderboard."
Leading the squad over to a wall near the doorway of the simulator room, gunney Johan stood in front of a massive screen on the wall. Evidently, it was the squad and individual leaderboard. Looking all the way at the bottom, the 504th marine squad was quickly spotted as the lowest scoring squadron. And among the members of the squadron, Trace was the absolute lowest scoring.