What is it like to use mechanized armor?
First, you approach this cold metal behemoth more than twice your size. You run your hand along its plated hull and feel more than just smooth steel. You feel its heartbeat, the perpetual droning hum of oil and lubricant as they pulse through its veins. Up close you realize the plates aren’t perfect as years of extreme heating and cooling have caused ripples and warps in the metal. They give the armor a face, a distinctive character. You know there is no armor exactly alike. Like a new toy, you can’t help rubbing away the fingerprints you’ve left. You look up at the mirror-image of yourself frozen in steel and smile. Everyone does, their first time, and the armor is happy to oblige. It looks down at you as if beckoning you inward. It seems to say, “Come and ride in me and I shall protect you.” You key in the entry code, and can’t help stepping back as the hermetically sealed armor hisses open. Not shrill. It’s soft like a sigh. You think you see relief in the armor’s face. You feel its thoughts, “At last! At last we can go!”
You reach up and grasp the first rung to ascend, like a child clinging to parent’s leg. You realize the armor is actually crouched down slightly, with arms wide open to you. You get a great appreciation for this accommodating stance as you climb up and the height becomes very real. Spinning off the last rung, you settle down in the cockpit. The armor responds to your weight by engaging belts and straps about your waist and limbs. At first you’re a little scared, leaning forward in the seat matching the armor’s stance, until you take hold of the controls rods. They’re loosely strapped to your wrists to keep them close.
The armor knew you before this moment. Encased within the control rods is a fingerprint recognition system. A series of lights and air circulation units come to life, a monitor to the left of your head displays your name, rank, and vital signs. On your right is a full system display of the armor, surrounded by gauges for temperature, power, and gyroscope. You slide your right hand to the hatch lever and watch it close sealing you in. Simulations have done nothing to prepare you for this. Your heart pounds as you draw in and hold a breath. The metallic thud of it closing jars you as you unclench your eyes. Now comes the moment when one out of four panics, in this dimly light walking coffin. The heat rises in the cavity, and procedures empty from your head. All systems are primed and ready to go. All that’s left is kicking the ignition pedal, until 90 tons of mechanized armor starts moving to your cues. Gritting your teeth, you kick the pedal. Nothing happens at first causing a lump to form in your thought, are you trapped? The floor plates fold downward, leaving you suspended in the air. You’re surprised at how comfortable it actually is, resting in a spider-web of belts and straps.
You start slowly. You stretch your legs out, causing the armor to stand up straight. A moment later your stomach catches up with the ascent and you exhale that same breath, and begin panting fiercely. Your needs become simple. You’ve stood up, now you need to see. You’re not sure which performed the movement first, you or the armor, but both of your left hands rise to forehead. The armor’s hand lifts the visor and sunlight pours into you. You pull a lever with your left hand, and the glass porthole slides open, letting cool air whip into the cockpit. When did you start sweating? Looking down you see your drill sergeant and are surprised to hear nothing of his usual barks and insults. He’s uncharacteristically silent. He half smiles, nods, and thumbs over his shoulder.
“Welcome to the big world, kid.”
You almost catch yourself thinking him like a father watching a child ride for the first time without training wheels. Is this why they have your first go with no one else in the hangar? Just you and ‘dad’? Just as nervously, you take a step forward.