First the exchanger, a small, comfortable block of metal and ceramics, belted around her midriff and plugging into implant pipes that might lead straight to her heart; the machine that monitors her health at the basic level, dumps stimulants and drugs and food and vitamins and micromachines, its pack of mysterious fluids brimful. The machine is an immune system, a digestive system, a set of lungs, a self-repair device and a few other things besides; it can breathe for her, it can eat for her, though in both cases it’s a lot less painful and dangerous to do it the old-fashioned way. Alone, it can keep her alive for days, if you can call it living.
Then, because it can’t do everything for her, the nappy. Sophisticated though it may be, euphemistic though its many titles are, regardless of how much you use uncomfortable words like “waste” and “catheter”, at heart it is still basically a nappy.
A few charms, a few bits of jewellery that only feel right against the skin.
The undersuit, almost skintight and possibly the most flattering piece of the whole uniform, though it’s soon to be obscured. Monitors and sensors, their elements cold for a moment against her skin, sweat drains, heating elements, little hard blisters in the fabric that might be secondary injectors, might be loyalty bombs. Hidden medicines, packets of micromachines, shock plugs that could defibrillate, could murder. This is the life-suit, which does all the time what the exchanger does in an emergency. Technology to keep you healthy for a long time or make you very dead in a heartbeat.
The distribution rig, not so much a set of components as a full suit with a few gaps in it. Strips of memory plastic and tiny servos, tubes and packets and reservoirs of electro-reactive liquid and smart gel that stretch and deform and fill and flex. The computer-controlled distributor isn’t a true power suit; it doesn’t enhance strength on its own. It spreads the stress from an impact or the resistance against a movement as evenly it can across the body. It’s a strange and difficult set of movements to master, but she’s trained and practiced, able to put the strength of her entire body into a push or a blow. Having resistance against nearly all your muscles is a strange kind of exercise; the distributor tones. It’s hard work to wear, but it makes you strong all over. And, with plate, it protects. Recoil that would shatter bones is reduced to a gentle shove across her entire body, an impact that would normally tear her in half will now merely do enough damage to make her wish it had.
Clothes, proper clothes now, loose tunic and trousers of rough, tough navy-blue material, to cover a form now rather stronger and stranger than an ordinary human. They hold together with magnetic strips – there are no buttons – but since those aren’t the strongest fasteners, and since she might not get a chance to change for weeks, everything is bound and fastened tight with belts and straps. Over the tunic, the power pack and its harness, thick leads connecting it to the exchanger and distributor, fuel cylinders snugged tight. Comfortable ankle boots with shock absorbers and armoured soles, locked airtight into the calf seals. Thin, strong gloves, electromagnetic patches in the palms to lock a gun or a blade in a grip even death won’t release.
Now the armour, cold plates of grey-white ceramic that fix onto the distributor rig and uniform mag-strips. The heavy two-piece cuirass, obscuring what remains of her figure; the gorget clamped on top, protecting shoulders and neck. Pauldrons, vambraces, rerebraces, clamping shut over arm and shoulder, armoured cuisses on her thighs, knee-pads, greaves with straps looping into the arch of her foot. Armour all over, obscuring the blue with white.
The armour is not, in truth, all that heavy. Even without the distributor, she could run, jump, move more or less normally. With the full rig… she is perhaps a little slower, a little more ponderous, but a fair exchange for protection against every non-Imperial hand weapon on the planet.
Another lot of charms hanging on cords and thongs, mostly glass beads and bits of strangely shaped copper. She isn’t superstitious, but believes in hedging her bets.
The cross-belt, two broad strips of pure white. The long belt, hanging over her right shoulder and left hip, held tight by belt-loops and studded with mag-strips. The shorter one around her waist, riding low on the right and high on the left, meeting the long belt front and back. Her rank tags go in a slot high on the shoulder, more because she likes having them than for any practical purpose.
The helmet, the link that puts her in direct contact with the column’s command hovercraft, and from there every transport, every combat vehicle, every fighter-bomber, every warship, every camballoon and scout shell, every camera, every sensor, every machine, every man, woman and other-born thing on this world pledged to the Empress of Morrian.
An attentive listener would at this point detect the faint sigh of anticipation that accompanies the click of the armoured door to the weapons locker opening.
Three mixed drums of big thirtieth-cal rounds and five full magazines of poison-coated flechettes, a handful of ammo tubes for the pistol, a parcel of wafer-thin explosive discs, a pair of pulse grenades, a breaching charge, half a dozen sharp things of all shapes and sizes, all secured to their loops and strips on her belts and back. The flechette shredder hangs over her shoulder, K pistol riding her right hip in its white faux-leather holster. The vambrace for her right arm has a motorised rotary mounting and a set of finger controls stowed and silent above her hand; there are two blades slotted into the compartments along her wrist, one a thin plastic strip with a field-sharpened edge and the other a shorter, thicker metal hardblade. Rotary sword.
The huge thirtieth-cal murderer, its long tubular barrel thick with magnetic coils, its hammertree furniture bleached almost white, a cluster of controls and indicators around its breech. The gun perks up as she grips it, runs a quick self-diagnostic and gives a cheerful blue affirmative light. The stock fits against her shoulder perfectly. She can see its line of fire in the helmet display as the gun and suit synchronise, see straight down it through integrated cameras. A drum of assorted ammunition goes into its well. She loads a hard round, checks the settings of the coils, finds nothing wanting. She is ready for war.
One more thing.
The badge, the little Imperial symbol that looks so much like an eye. Strange, half-visible patterns in the layers of translucent ceramic, identity patterns too small to see tied somehow to her blood and her eyes, and her name, just as she writes it, in tiny gold block capitals: SARJANE.
“Ah, yes. Now I feel dressed.”