Death's Head
It's difficult to describe the sensation of connection with a Death's Head. Some people describe it as a second skin, most say the suit feels as though you've suddenly grown about twenty centimeters. The link is, relatively speaking, intense. It isn't like a Super Sam or a Striker, where you can feel the suit moulding itself to you mentally somehow. Nor is it as casual as the Smiling Jack, which has the feel of a bulky set of clothes.

Sometimes, however, in preflight you can hear the computers talking. It's an intensely alien sensation. Something dark and warm gushing across the back of your neck where the main nervous system reader is. Technically this sort of feedback is not supposed to happen at all, but that only lasts for the first sixty days of a Death's Head's life. After that it starts, and no one has ever been able to discern why. Some people are more i to it then others and can feel the computers constantly; this usually means they wash out of Flight RPA training because nobody flies well with a continuous case of the heebie-jeebies.

The HUD warms up. It's not very complex. Altitude, angle of attack, airspeed, and attitude indicators are posistioned on the lower edge of your vision, hard LED-based gauges in right-to-left order. They're small; you need good eyesight to qualify for more reasons than the obvious one. Rightside edge offers visual sensor mode options via projection and threat warning indicator. Leftside has projected radar display.

Abbreviated preflight. A scramble call, no time for full preflight. The reactor is solid but at low power still. The main jets read as green. Wave the tech nearby to disconnect ground power. No time for proper preflight, to test the reactor, manuvering jets, or the main jets. If something goes bad, then you cut main power and fall right back into the hanger. It hurts, but it's better than dying because something blew the hell up on you.

A great deal of the control of a suit of powered armor is by the glance system, which tracks where your eyes look, and hand gestures. Neither of these is truly sufficient for a suit like the SAMAS, which must fly. With one hand occupied by your weapon, the other forms a virtual stick, tracking your hand movements as if you were controlling an aircraft. The system is somewhat arcane, and does not track the movements of your elbow or shoulder, only your wrist, so it can be used with the arm at any angle. The angle of your feet acts as a virtual throttle. No rudder controls to match no rudder; manuver is entirely by thrust vectoring in more recent models. The oldest, ten years ago and more, had control surfaces, but those could become damaged and cause a loss of control in midflight.

A patrol in the Burbs called for backup. ISS had the most assets in range. Hence we were scrambled. Internal Security Service SAMAS fill the role other police assign to SWAT. We are more heavily armed and a lot more heavily armored than most people's idea of SWAT even in this day and age, however.

"Angel flight of four, give us a vector."

"Come hard left to two three zero and proceed out three klicks. Call it when you arrive."

The Burbs around Chi-Town range from as nice as the upper levels to about equal with the sewers. A simple glance told me we were headed somewhere nice. Burb patrols consistently found the "citizens" there to be well-fed, well-dressed, and helpful. The military had a permanent recruiting station there and the neighborhood had produced several distinguished veterans in the recent war at Tolkeen.

This was going to be ugly at the end of the day no matter how you cut it. We're not supposed to treat the Burb-people as if they mattered as much as CS citizens, because they aren't. But they're humans, and ISS looks very coldly on anyone who is unable to see the basic value of a human being. It is the great difference from the military, who divide the world into us and them based on very different rules, and what makes transition between the two difficult.

"Angel flight on station." I called on the ground team's channel. "Squawk targets if you've got them."

In the old days, when I first started flying a SAMAS two decades ago, ground troops had to mark targets for us when they wanted something specific done. Flares, smoke, things like that. When the switchover to the new infantry armor came, they got new toys to play with. Among those was integrated IFF for everyone rather than it being an optional package, and the ability to designate targets for supporting air by range and vector from their own positions. It was a great improvement, and much safer for the infantry.

Two buildings were designated. I didn't see any fire in thermal or visual, and in the armor you don't hear a thing when you're flying because they have to muffle the jets right behind your head. Railguns, probably.

"Left, minimissiles. Right, we hit." Each SAMAS raised its off arm and pushed its thumb between the pointer and ring fingers, triggering its two-tube minimissile launcher at the left building, and swooped down at the right building. The left one went down in a cloud of debris. Method of entry was up to the individuals. At least two of us contemplated simply crashing through the walls since two railgun bursts were fired at the building to see if it could take that kind of punishment.

It couldn't, but nobody actually did the whole wall-breaching thing. Two of us landed on the roof. Two of us took the door. There was a crew-served railgun just inside that knocked the first SAMAS through it over though it failed to penetrate the PA suit's armor. The second cleared it with a long burst of railgun fire.

Working down from the roof wasn't easy. A SAMAS is only roughly human-sized. Try clearing floor after floor of cubicles with that restriction and you start to see the problem.

Still, we made it down to floor five and there we met the enemy. Humans in nondescript bodyarmor, or probably humans; didn't see any sign of supernaturals and they died when their armor was breached.

A SAMAS is a vastly superior instrument to a regular infantryman because what a special forces trooper does by training and instinct, a SAMAS pilot accomplishes because his suit's computer tells him where and how to point his weapon to put a burst through his opponent's visor. This too was a new feature, brand new software being tested for ISS SAMAS use, and if we adopted it the Army might give it a go.

It worked. Sort of. My wingmates swore vehemently it simply cluttered their targeting, and I was inclined to agree that the extra visual clutter outweighed the utility; it did work but it blocked an unacceptable amount of your view while you lined up a shot. Three of them went down with holed visors in their armor but the rest scattered and put up return fire, and I had to drop the assistance program to keep track of the fight.

Small arms, lasers and the like, are no obstacle to a SAMAS suit except in large numbers. We simply rushed them, laying down railgun fire as we went. Three more died before we in among them, and after that it got sort of pathetic. Hitting a SAMAS, unenhanced, is not an effective method of harming it. The reverse is not true. Infantry that let PA suits get in among them are dead.

We took a couple alive, because, well, we're ISS. We like to have some people left over to question. The rest died, mainly of snapped necks and crushed ribcages rather than railguns.

That neighborhood was never nice again, though.