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Luther Patenge

A Species Repurposed

Written by Luther Patenge

[[Author’s Note: The opinions, views and sentiments of my characters are not my own]]

“Moving on, bring up the data for subject candidate 379.” The investigating minister insists as he drums his fingers on the desk, it has been three days of searching and while there have been promising candidates, none have proven to be the ideal fit. When one plans on performing operations at this scale, their assets must be ideal. Patience is the act of ignoring one’s emotions in order to make the best choice at an appropriate time. Here it is paramount. The technicians and presenters bring up a cycle of holograms, both pictures and data visualizations. The projector in the center of the white, ceramic room hums steadily.

“Here we have a mammal, carbon-based. Two manipulator limbs, two motivator limbs, vertical posture, sensory organs are mostly centralized to the head. Their bio-diversity is on the low end of the threshold, only effecting pigmentation, facial bone structure and resistance to regional diseases. There is a variance in size and muscle to fat ratio between tribes but we believe that is due to regional diet and differences in living conditions, not a genetic pre-disposition.” The Lead Voice rattles off basic data to the room from his observation chair high above the large circular room.

“Thank you Lead Voice, we will begin with the Dissenting Voice.” The investigating minister replies, gesturing behind himself and to the left, where he knows the Dissenting Voice is seated. To prevent personal bias the presenters sit behind the minister so he cannot see who speaks, merely hear their voice. This is, of course, in keeping with the custom of not looking at someone while discussing serious matters. While the minister can easily recognize their voices and could simply turn around to see them, such a break from tradition would be rude.

“Technological level is medium-low, at the highest point they barely make it to a six on the standard scale and some of their tribes still live in Paleolithic conditions. They are also among the most ill-equipped for survival of any of their world’s mega-fauna. For temperature regulation they only possess fur on the top of their heads and in other non-strategic regions. Their bite is weak and their muscle mass is low in comparison with the other subjects presented. The subjects’ healing abilities are limited to closing wounds and regenerating minor features. Digits, limbs and organs have to be replaced with prosthetics if available.” The Dissenting Voice replies, running his left hand’s thumbs up and down on the vertical bony ridge that divides his face. He is wearing the standard white lab uniform but also wears the twelve blue-grey bangles that indicate his role.

“If they have low technological understanding, low bio-diversity and no outstanding physical characteristics, why have you even submitted them for study?” The minister asks, his features collapsing into an expression of discontent. “Consenting Voice, are their breeding numbers exceptional? Do they have extra-sensory potential? Genetic memory? Can they even swim?”

“Your honor, we have chosen them for study because they have a volatile temperament, low instinctual threshold and a natual tendency towards hierarchical organization based on a family structure. All of these are major assets. While their breeding numbers are lower than desired we feel that this can be fixed by using existing in-vitro solutions. They’re without genetic memory but this will be useful for long term integration into our society.” The Consenting Voice calls out brashly from behind the investigating minister’s right side. She is the youngest in the room, as is common with Consenting Voices. She struggles with the six red bangles of her position; they were made for someone much larger than herself. Letting them clank together noisily would be unbecoming, though in keeping with her position. “And yes sir… they can swim, if taught.”

The silence is palpable, punctured only by a roaming technician occasionally shivering in his dark grey jumpsuit at the cold. The low temperature is intended to keep everyone awake and attentive during the proceedings. Time and resources for this phase of the project have already worn thin. This limited time can’t be wasted on having to repeat oneself. The minister gets up from his seat and rearranges his badges of office before he approaches the projection. The curved, bronze amulets are older than anything or anyone in the room. He searches through the data in silence, deft flicks of a single finger dispersing old projections and summoning new ones. He nods to himself rhythmically as he makes deductions. All eyes are upon him and all ears are open to him.

“Number of genders?” The minister asks; the question itself sparks the entire room into action. It is a question of feasibility, not idle probing.

“Three sir!” The Consenting Voice answers. She double checks her assertion against her own mobile data projection. “Only two are necessary for breeding though, we think the third might be a genetic aberration.”

“Redundant genders? Fascinating…” The minister comments, his features broadening with curiosity.

“Any redundant organs?”

“The respiratory and some filtration organs come in pairs but I wouldn’t call them redundant, at least not in an immediate situation.” The Dissenting Voice replies, a gesture from him changes the main projection to data and studies that examine this weakness.

“Capacity for education?”

“Low. While they can perform some acts of long term planning their higher processes are barely above animals. Their sense of self is easily compromised and they can barely wrap their minds around relativity.” The Dissenting Voice pushes home his point.

The investigating ministers inhales deeply, expressing his discontent, before continuing. “I didn’t ask about their intelligence, I asked about their ability to store, synthesize and comprehend new knowledge.” The minister stresses those last words. Being so specific is an insult, though nobody in the room is willing to bring it up.

“Their ability to learn is commendable sir. Accelerated in early years but mental plasticity, though reduced, is still significant at old age. While I would not ask them to build new assets, I wouldn’t doubt their ability to use them. Their actual, functional brain capacity is much larger than what they currently use.” In this way the Consenting voice takes the advantage.

“So they have potential. Not an asset, but an investment.” The minister concludes aloud. This thought appeals very much to his sensibilities and towards the overall goals of the effort. “Final question before we move on. At what age are they ready for combat?”

“Not including the nine month gestation period we would say seventeen or eighteen years for optimal results. We do have records however, of both exceptional soldiers and leaders from ages as early as thirteen to fifteen years. We can reduce this number with specialized education and gene therapy.” The Lead Voice states confidently, his words hammering out at a steady staccato. If he can fulfill on such a promise he, and all the Voices involved, will be rewarded greatly.

“Excellent. Flag candidate subject 379 as the top candidate. We will break for ten minutes before concluding analysis of the final twenty-six subjects.” The minister announces to the room as a whole, turning around and clapping all three of his hands together to indicate the discussion is finished.

---

“Oh my god, I’m not going to see Carnival! I took samba classes for years and I always wanted to go to Sao Paulo, and I never went and now there’s not going to be any more Carnival.” Murtha William Sinclair sobs to me while I’m checking her identification. I try to hand her back her driver’s license but the frail, elderly, black woman has already buried her face in hands. Frank starts consoling her before she becomes a problem; we have to keep this line moving. I try not to listen or get distracted while I run her bags through the scanner. She pretty much can’t say anything except ‘Brazil’ and ‘Carnival’ between heaves at this point. It’s not that I’m callous; I had stuff I wanted to see too. We all did.

We have to leave now.

I can’t let myself get distracted. Our supervisor told us this morning that we already lost one of the shuttles out of Berlin because someone brought a bomb on board. Twenty thousand people. Poof. Like we didn’t have enough troubles already. I bet the guy was named Mohammed.  

“There, there. It’s not the end of… end of us at least.” Frank says while he pats this lady on the back. I wince as he narrowly avoids that mistake while I start searching Murtha’s bag by hand. The naughty words list used to just be ‘bomb’ ‘terrorist’ and ‘hi-jack’. Now they don’t let us say ‘Apocalypse’ ‘Rapture’ ‘End times’ and of course ‘Asteroid’.

“Maybe there’s gonna’ be good stuff up there. Like… Saturn, with all its rings and that. We could have Carnival too; we could just do it on Saturn. We could do that, right Terry?”

“Uh, yeah, sure we could. Saturn would be a great place to party. It’d be really nice to see in person, not just like on a telescope or on TV.” I stammer back, not believing what I just said. Frank continues consoling her; he’s getting really good at this. She really wants to believe him, and so do I. It’s a real picture, Frank with his red hair, big beard and chubby cheeks just rocking this old lady he’s never met before back and forth, back and forth, telling her it’s going to be all right. There’s stuff like this happening everywhere in the hangar. Back when we were just doing airport security it was always the crying babies, now the infants are quiet and it’s the adult’s turn. The kids are too young to understand, they’re not even old enough to miss everything.

The work is still kind of familiar though, considering they just tore all the metal detectors and bag scanners right out of the airports and set them up at our temp facility. I’m on the fourteenth hour of my shift though and the noise is killing me. The lines stretch out of the building and down the street for blocks and blocks and blocks. We’re the second of three screening zones for the entire tri-state area. That’s over six million people getting pushed through our center alone. I try not to think about it, just keep scanning bags, keep the line moving, keep telling people that I can’t make exceptions for them. Two duffel bags, everyone is allowed two duffel bags. I know it was your mothers. I know it’s been in the family for ten generations, but if I let you bring it on there won’t be room for someone else’s bags. Or just someone else. There’s a mountain of plates, clothes, toys, urns, books and other stuff in the far corner, the leftovers from when people had to triage their most prized possessions on the spot.

“She’s clean” I say to Frank and Murtha. They sniff a bit and say goodbye to each other, ready to face the day again. I give her both her bags back and she waves, walking away with everything she owns now.

“Send us a postcard from Saturn when you see it.” I call out to her, smiling at the idea of a tiny shack selling tacky postcards on Saturn – smiling for the first time all day.

---

“Fix bayonets!”

Oh god.

Nobody has ever really wanted to hear those words, in the history of everything. I’m holding a weapon that could turn a truck inside-out with a trigger pull and I’ve just been ordered to turn it into a crappy spear. Before I can even think, I’ve already fixed my knife onto the lug and the transformation is made.

Oh god.

We’re leaping out from behind cover, precious, precious cover. It feels like being wrenched from the womb. I’m going to die the same way I was born: filthy, screaming and torn from the woman I love the most in the world. My feet sink and slide as I run through sulfurous yellow mud, or what passes for mud on this planet. We’re running towards a rocky embankment and I’ve made it twenty yards without being vaporized, they must be reloading behind those rocks and all that dirt. The thirty-two of us’ll fall on them, stabbing them with our crappy spears while they’re still reloading their fission rifles. The Lieutenant is up in front, thundering ahead. The hydraulic assists in our boots make us run faster than deer but he still has the edge from training. I watch him look over his shoulder to check for stragglers. I go blind, and then my visor goes dark to protect my eyes. All that’s left of the Lieutenant is his shadow. They’ve reloaded.

Oh god.

One hundred and fifty yards. The tiny computer in my head says that their position is one hundred and fifty yards away. One hundred and fifty yards without any cover. I fire off rounds towards their position, we all do. I don’t expect us to hit anything, just to keep their heads down for long enough to close the gap so I can use my crappy spear. Another flash, my visor is dark. McGrady is gone.

Oh god. I don’t want to die.

It becomes my mantra, screaming over and over in my head until the words don’t mean anything, just frozen animal terror. No thinking, all movement. I load in another clip into my carbine, we use a shorter version of their weapon. I think they sold them to us. My visor is fogging up with all my heavy gasping, I want to tear this stupid bubble off my head but I need it to breathe. I can’t see shit.

Oh god. I don’t want to die.

One hundred yards away, with all the fog I don’t see a rock in my way. I trip and sprawl to hit the ground, skidding on my face and chest. The mud kicks up in a spray behind me. My head clangs off the inside of my bubble helmet, my forehead is bleeding. For a few moments, I consider playing dead before I scrabble to my feet and keep running. My heavy gloved hands can barely wipe the mud off my visor, just smear it around. It doesn’t matter, my visor goes dark again and Murarka is gone. I thought he was supposed to be the lucky guy.

Oh god. I don’t want to die.

Our radios are silent, what can we possibly say? Another flash, more dark and I can hear Sabitov scream. I don’t know how he survived the blast but I wish he didn’t. The wound won’t bleed but he’ll run out of air before this fight is over. The tiny computer in my head mutes him automatically. Run faster or that’ll be you.

Oh god. I don’t want to die.

Fifty yards away and I can see them through the fog and the muck. They’re like elephants with two legs and one arm, only the trunk ends in an eye. They can’t breathe this atmosphere either. I hope I never see them out of their suits. One of them takes a stray round and stops existing, I think that was Lingo’s. I check my visor’s display only to realize that I’m in front. I’m the closest to the enemies’ position and they all know it.

Oh god. I don’t want to die.

A fission blast sears over my shoulder and the tiny computer in my head starts beeping all these warnings at me, as if I didn’t notice a kilometer long jet of nuclear fire. I override the visor’s auto-darken after I nearly trip again. I’d rather go blind from another near-miss than not see a hit coming. The gap is closed; I hop over the rocks with more hydraulic assist from my boots. I land in the midst of them. The computer tells me that there are fifteen of them and that I’m surrounded. They can’t shoot me now, not unless they want to kill everyone in this makeshift trench. I hope they’re smart enough to know that.

Oh god. I don’t want to die.

I stab one of them in the trunk with my bayonet; blinding him before turning around and smashing open his friend’s visor with the butt of my weapon. Stick and move. Stay predatory. You only have to hit them once; the atmosphere’ll kill them for you. They’re panicking, they don’t have knives or side-arms and their rifles are useless. They didn’t expect savages with spears, they didn’t expect us. I stab again, turn and stab again. Some try to retreat but it’s useless, our legs are twice as long as theirs. Their short bulbous bodies aren’t built to run like ours. We’re all in this now, stabbing, kicking, punching and stomping. They did this to us. If it weren’t for them we wouldn’t even be here on this shitty planet.

It’s over. They all died. We didn’t.

I drop to my knees and sit back on my heels. I stare at the green sky and wish it was blue, just for a second. There are twenty-eight of us left, four less than a minute ago. I tilt my head to my left and sip on my feeding tube, nutrient rich sludge floods into mouth. It tastes fantastic. Of course it tastes fantastic, it’s been specially made to match my DNA, to taste perfect to me and me alone. It tastes better than anything I ever ate at home, even on my birthday, like my mouth having an orgasm.

I feel tears fall out of my face.

My hands are still shaking with fear and four of my best friends are dead. I just wish it tasted awful, that it could taste the way I feel. But it tastes fantastic. My tears spatter on my visor and I have no idea how I’m going to clean them out. Will I wallow in them for the rest of the campaign? I don’t know.