Isaac woke from his deep, drug-induced slumber, feeling a sharp pang of claustrophobia that made him panic for a split-second before his augmented brain became fully aware of his surroundings and situation. Cold metal surrounded him, bathed in dull amber as the standby lights above him flickered on. He sighed as the respirator mask retracted from his face, coughing as the oxygen-carrying tube slid itself out of his throat with a wet gurgle. He breathed in, tasting the stale air as the air recyclers kicked in with a low hum.
He glanced around his cocoon, his head and neck locked in position, his eyes sweeping over his arms and legs, immobile, encased in layers of nano-steel and intelligent carbon fibres, shorn at the elbows and knees and linked to his suit by millions of artificial nerves. Monitors faced him, flickering to life, barely inches away from his face as they began to power-up, displaying overlays of internal conditions, external conditions, his vital signs, his location, and a myriad of other vital pieces of information. This was his home. It had been home for the past twenty-five years. It was his home and his life. He couldn't exist out of it. The tubes and cables linking his naked body to the walls of metal around him were testament to that fact
He sent a mental command via the uplink in his brain, feeling the power systems switch from standby to online, letting the reassuring hum of generators fill his ears or rather, the implants that substituted his ears. A pair of goggles extended from the ceiling of his cocoon, attaching themselves to his face, letting him see the world outside of his home. Inside a hangar, technicians wearing lab coats and safety gear began to back away from his metal form which loomed over them, over twenty feet tall, making final safety checks and disconnecting the pistons that held his body his outside body in place.
The light on the cocoon's ceiling switched to a bright green. Isaac flexed his metal body, feeling the hands of his suit flex and ball into fists. He walked, slowly descending the dozen or so metal stairs designed for his suit's weight and shape. He stretched, reaching the bottom, tasting the countless pheromones and chemicals in the air, smelling the scent of cold metal and sterile air, hearing the sounds of power generators, the low voices of the technicians, the heartbeats of his own and his artificial heart. He looked around, the red cyclopean head of his suit surveying the familiar surroundings.
Director Isaac Dreyfus, Provincial General of the Southern Territories of the Sovereign Human Protectorate, clasped his metal hands behind his back and stood straight.
"Johnathon," he said, his cold whisper of a voice amplified to a deep, strong sound by his suit's systems. "Good Morning. I trust all is well?"
A gun-metal drone hovered down from the hangar's ceiling and projected a red-tinted hologram in the air before him. The technicians had returned to other business, leaving the form of the Johnathon Hackly, Chief Information Officer, to flicker into life relatively unnoticed. Johnathon took off his officer's cap, holding it behind his back.
"Good Morning, sir," came the flat monotone voice, his dull eyes and impassive face betraying no emotion. "I would like to tell you that all is well, but I am afraid that is a lie." He paused, his right augmetic eye flashing. "There has been, for want of a better word, a development."
"Development?" Isaac questioned, feeling a tinge of curiosity. "What sort of development?"
"A significant development, sir, and one that warrants your direct attention. The other Directors are already on their way to Central as we speak, and are requesting a link-up as a matter of urgency. Admiral Marshall will also be attending, as will the senior Ministers and Deputy Directors. You will be briefed when all are present."
"Very well," Isaac said, quelling a rising sense of uneasiness. "Tell them my expected link-up time will be five minutes, no more." Johnathon's figure nodded, replacing his cap before fading away, the hologram drone protracting back into the ceiling.
Uncertain, with a hint of excitement, Isaac strode across the hangar to the private link-up chamber, designed specifically for his size, and prepared to uplink with the other Directors. The last time they were all summoned was during the "Re-social riots" over ten years ago, and even that business was dispatched quickly enough. For Johnathon to notify him only minutes after power-up was unheard of.
Isaac felt memories re-emerge from his consciousness, memories from almost fourty years ago. Memories of a violent, bloody civil war which had seen democracy and freedom fall to the hard-line, but necessary rule of the Human Protectorate. He remembered massive warships in the skies, the threat of nuclear weapons looming over every action and decision. He remembered the pure, unfettered chaos as the war was in its early stages, lootings, daylight murders, fire in the streets. He remembered joining the Human Protectorate militia, rising up the ranks, and being the first to volunteer for the suit-integration trials. He remembered the intoxicating power of the suit, how hard it was to power-down after a day of fighting and bloodshed.
He remembered the fall of the United Powers League, witnessing the bombardment of the General Assembly.
He remembered the acts of slaughter, the gunning-down of surrendering soldiers, the massive civilian collateral damage.
He remembered the death of the Fabricator-General, and his internment in life-support cryogenics.
But he also remembered hope. The continent was now a better place after the war, with sustainable economic growth and a slow-down of environmental degradation, coupled with technological breakthroughs, allowing for future generations to help repair the damage that humanity had inflicted on the world. Igne Natura Renovatur Integra was the official motif of the Human Protectorate.
With our fire, we shall renew the world.
Isaac snapped out of his reverie as a pleasant chime notified him of the uplinks success. The doors behind him closed, and the room darkened. Several holographic drones, identical to the one that Johnathon had used earlier, detracted from the ceiling, projecting hazy-red figures of the dozen or so members of the Senior Leadership of the Human Protectorate. Isaac saw the other Directors, and their respective Deputies. He saw the four Senior Ministers, the members of the Admiralty board, and even James Fell, the infamous leader of the Dissembler Assassins.
Johnathon wasn't lying. This was important.
The holographic figures were arranged in a circle roughly level with his body his real body. There was only one thing left to complete the process.
Initiating a series of complex mental commands, Isaac felt the cocoon slowly open up, steam and other gases hissing as layers of casing slowly opened up, exposing his delicate, emaciated body to the outside world. Already he could feel his bloodstream being pumped full of hormones and drug-cocktails to keep his body safe from airborne contaminants and organisms.
The holographic figure of Johnathon stood up or at least, simulated standing up, Johnathon had lost his legs decades ago and spoke.
"Directors, Deputy Directors, Ministers, Admirals, and our guest Fell, welcome." Once again, the monotonous voice betrayed nothing of Johnathon's feelings. "We are here to discuss a singular concern and development which, despite previous evidence to the contrary, will no doubt be a startling revelation for you all."
Whether Johnathon paused intentionally or not was a moot issue, it still added weight to his next statement.
"The security of the Human Protectorate, ladies and gentlemen, is at risk."