Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
Editorial    
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
Poetry
Features
Series
Archives
Submission Guidelines
Contact Us
Forum
Flash Writing Challenge
Forum
Dan's Promo Page
   

Operation Jupiter

by James O'Sullivan



"I found myself similar, yet at the same time strangely unlike the beings concerning whom I read, and to whose conversation I was a listener."

-- Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

####

Don't try and understand me. You won't. Well, not unless you understand yourself first, and how many of us truly understand ourselves?

They call it "transhumanism". No, not they -- you. Don't look so indignant, you're as guilty as anyone, me included. You ever just judge someone? Someone that you'll never know? Sure, you do it all the time, you do it every time you walk down the street. You don't have to admit it to me, but at the least, admit it to yourself. Unless you're a liar, and I'm not talking to a liar, am I? You don't need to answer that, we've all got our demons. Stereotyping ain't no great revelation, it just is -- always has been, always will be. Part of what makes you lot human. But what is it to be human?

"The rational animal" was how humans were once described. Thing is, that description was offered by a human, and, call me a sceptic, but I doubt that even Aristotle understood himself. When you think about it though, it's not a bad offering. Rationale. Is that it then? Is that what makes you human? Is physiology not taken into account? It must be. I don't buy this whole humans are defined by their consciousness philosophy, because I, too, am conscious. I, too, can rationalise. But am I human? No. I am transhuman. You said it, not me.

First contact: two words that had scientists and geeks alike pissing their pants at its prospect.

I remember the broadcasts so clearly, claims that man had finally made the ultimate find out on that final frontier. Of course, the politicians had a field day. Everyone wanted their kudos, gratification for being part of the "most significant scientific discovery in the history of our race". Whether they had been part of the actual mission, its preparation or funding, they all screamed for recognition.

Even the guys who delivered the morning milk to the control facility wanted their moment. Me, I just wanted to see how it all panned out. And now, looking back, that's easily summed up -- first contact is a bitch.

The ironic thing is that we went looking for them. Operation Jupiter they called it, the result of Project LOOP: Life on Other Planets. Creative bunch, aren't they? When the expedition had initially set out, the focus was on Europa. There wasn't a brilliant mind in existence that wasn't positive in their assertion that our best chance of finding extraterrestrial life was on Europa. My ass.

You know what they found on Europa? Evidence of life. Big difference between finding evidence of something, and finding the actual something that the evidence suggests. Damn, you want evidence of an alien species, take a stroll down to Eddie's any night of the weekend. If you ask me, and I presume you are asking, otherwise we wouldn't be here, all they found out there on that moon was a whole load of silicate rock and an empty ocean beneath. Nonetheless, this so called evidence, which was kept top secret from us all, was supposedly sufficient to warrant the handing over of another sizeable chunk of the state coffers to the boys in the spectacles. The second expedition would "yield more tangible results". "An actual specimen" was the goal this time. Pardon my ignorance, but I had thought that that had been the objective of the first attempt. Anyway, here I am having a gripe about something that hasn't even gone ahead yet. Sure enough, before the project's cheque was even handed over, up popped their actual specimen. Right here, on planet Earth.

My name? What does that matter? Sure, I have a name, but it doesn't hold much meaning now, does it? Olaudah Equiano had a name too, it was Gustavus Vassa. If you insist on calling me something, call me Rex. Why Rex? It's a common name for a dog, no? Even if I am human, I wouldn't be the first to be stripped of my identity, would I? Just ask Gustavus. What's more important is that you grasp why I'm telling you this story at all. I won't spell that out for you though. No sir.

The theory was one of "ejecta". That's straightforward enough: material is projected from one planet to another. Could be caused by a supernova, could be coronal mass, could be anything.

The bottom line is that something leaves one place, is flung through the cosmos, and ends up someplace else. That's not how the bastards ended up here though, that's how they ended up on Europa.

And there's the irony: we came looking for life, and instead, life found us, and what's more, decided to hitch a ride.

Who knows how long they'd been on what was, to them, a moon just as alien as it was to us.

Could have been centuries. When the heavies finally got their hands on one of them, that's right, one, out of how many, nobody knows, the scientists identified the dwarf planet Ceres as their origin.

Supposedly this latest claim was attributed to the fact that in the absence of visible forms of life, the only viable theory was that these guys, too, were just tourists on Europa. So the attention shifted to Ceres, the only other nearby moon, let's not forget that distance is relative out there in the Milky Way, supposedly capable of supporting life, the theory of ejecta used to explain their being on a foreign planet, and the planned progression of LOOP rethought in its entirety. This was the official theory, which means, it's the theory that suit the boys in the ivory tower best. Why the Ceresians, as they came to be called, could not have been on Europa on their own expedition, was not explained.

Nor was it explained why the boys in LOOP had deemed it impossible for them to have followed us back here, upon their own craft. The fact that they were indeed native to Europa, and we had simply not encountered them was categorically ruled out. There was no way that they could have simply hidden from us, or been centralised somewhere else on the planet. And there was certainly no way that they were the last of their species, this claim based upon some evolutionary theory that nobody quite understood, but that's the point of such theories, don't you think?

No, the only possibility was that they were members of a species located on Ceres, that had ended up on Europa through misfortune, not space travel, and had attached themselves to our vessels as a means of escaping their planetary prison. The spokespeople denied that the amphibious beings were in fact the evidence that had been alluded to in the aftermath of Operation Jupiter, but still refused to ever reveal what that evidence had actually been. You get the picture. It was all very Orwellian.

By now, you're probably wondering why I refer to the Ceresians, rather than the Ceresian. As I said, the heavies got their hands on one of them, but there were others. I am proof of that. We can only speculate as to how many there actually were, but considering the means through which they supposedly stowed away upon the return voyage, they could not have come in their droves, despite being somewhat modest in stature. We got our hands on one, while a farmer down South incinerated a second. That's two. The others, well, there's been no trace since, and this whole saga was a while back. Not a lifetime ago, more like 876 days. Some say that their stay was short, that having followed us back here, they took a glance at the sorry state of us and doubled back. Others maintain that they are still here. The Earth's oceans are relatively vast, so who knows. Whether here or gone, their memory is still vivid, that is for sure. Just look at me. Some might say that I am their legacy -- some. Most would say that I am a scar.

####

Did we have a choice? Sure, we had a choice. Live or die. At the time, it had seemed easy.

Ceresian bacteria doesn't leave you like it found you. Without the additional surgery, you were better off dead. They saw the potential right away, the fact that those who had undergone some of the earlier operations came out the other side with far greater physical capacity. Something to do with an increase to bodily thresholds -- nobody really explained it to me in full, I suppose they deemed such details as unimportant. Anyway, how do humans always treat such discoveries? As a potential weapon, that's how. So here we are, I wasn't the only one, the walking, talking weapons of the military: a hybrid of man and machine capable of things most mortals can only dream of. As I said, the choice had seemed easy. At the time.

I suppose we should look back on the whole thing as an opportunity. An opportunity that allowed us to overcome the biological limits of our species, our former species. Technology is, after all, the progeny of mankind's ingenuity, and this was just taking that a step further, sort of like the child returning to look after the ailing parent. Sure, you could look at it like that. But, imagine what it's like being the product of the post-human era, living in the age of humans. Look at it like that. Now that is a bitch.

####

They sent me for a psychological evaluation not long after we got back from Iran. Psychological evaluation: that's a laugh. Psychologically, I was still the exact same: still liked the Stones; still liked double pepperoni pizza. But it's all about appearance, isn't it? No? I got three words for you: paki, nigger, chink. Us transies weren't the first.

Doctor Heinz, now there's a man that demonstrates the weight that you lot place in appearance. He almost looked strained by the lengths that he had gone to in an effort to ensure that he looked like an intellect. Glasses, greying beard, side swept hair, the appropriate attire, right down to the socks -- it all just sat, if you get my meaning. I've never held psychology in very high regard, and I was sure to make the good Doctor aware of this right from the offing.

"Where'd you qualify?" I opened with, preventing him the opportunity to spout his usual greeting, which was no doubt some Freudian-inspired quip that he had spent years perfecting. Perhaps he had even written a thesis on it. Needless to say, he was taken aback by the obvious fact that I had not been instantaneously reassured of his credentials by the way in which he presented himself.

"Why do you ask?" he returned, frowning somewhat.

"Just need to be sure, you know."

"Sure?"

Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't notice that you were wearing a blazer over a cardigan. My mistake, you must be the real deal. "Yes, Doctor, sure. You know, there's a big difference between a shrink that gets their slip of paper here, and one that gets it there."

"You mean, did I receive my doctorate from a reputable institution?"

"You could put it like that. Take no offence, Doctor, it's just that I could get those letters before my name too. Had I a credit card, I could pull up some online education provider and a few clicks later you'd be addressing me the same way I'm addressing you. Follow?"

At this, Doctor Heinz sat down, without shaking my hand, removed his glasses, used like a weapon by so many an academic, wiped them with a handkerchief, as if they actually needed wiping, returned them to their resting place upon his nose, crossed his legs and placed both hands upon his knee. He had been at this game a long time, that much was evident.

"I can assure you that my credentials are sound."

I figured that I might as well play ball. After all, I was here at my paymaster's request. "I had a look at your file, earlier, Mr. --"

"Rex," I countered. Thought you almost had it there, didn't you? No sir. "Just call me Rex."

Doctor Heinz didn't even attempt to mask his surprise on this occasion. "Rex?"

"Yes, Rex, common name for any household mongrel."

"Care to elaborate?"

"On what? I mentioned a few moments ago that I don't have a credit card. Want to know why? They don't give credit cards to animals."

"Come now, Mr. --"

"I'm serious, Doctor, you call me by that fucking name and I will gut you right in that fancy chair." Of course, I paused. Even I know when to allow a pause for dramatic effect, for such a comment to sink in. "I'm an animal all right, just not sure which one, and considering I'm a military pet, I figure Rex is as fitting as anything."

I registered the fear in the Doctor's voice. Rather, I savoured it, somewhat. "You see yourself as an animal?"

"No, I don't. You do."

"Me?"

"Sure, you and your species. You and the entire human race."

"But that's absurd. You're no less human than myself."

"Tell that to the niggers."

####

It didn't matter what Doctor Heinz and his evaluation said. It didn't matter what anybody said. I was a weapon, and there were few others like me. That made me valuable, and as long as my masters had their enemies, I'd have my use. I could have bludgeoned that shrink's head, torn it clean from his shoulders, doused myself in his blood and done the same to his pretty young secretary on my way out the door and I'd still have been cleared as fit for active service. You can't replace me.

Not without more Ceresians, which I suspect, is the secret aim of Operation Ceres. Yes, they employed the same creative geniuses second time around. Sometimes I think it might be a good thing, if they do manage to acquire and return with more of the bacteria, if they do produce more like me. But I'd hate to see them do it to humanity. I was part of that club once, and despite all its flaws, when you're on the inside, it isn't so bad. When you're on the inside.

After Iran it was off to a secret mission for me and C6, that's right, our identity was now summed up by a double digit alphanumeric sequence, alongside a platoon of your lot. "Secret" means that I can't tell you where we went. What I can tell you is that it was a successful operation, if success means that you eradicate a village of innocents and stage it to look like it had been caused by the local militia. If that's what successful is, well then sure, we had a successful mission. I will say this though: I enjoyed working with C6. Coming up from the drop site, we were ambushed by some of the militia's better-equipped goons. Poor rabble must have thought that they really had us out-gunned. The platoon took cover, and we made light work of them. The trajectory of each missile was calculated before it had even left the hand making the throw. Artificial intelligence is a powerful tool. It's even more powerful when it's part of what makes you whole. They didn't stand a chance, and we didn't even break a sweat. Not that we could have. Why the platoon even came with us on these things was beyond me. I suppose you need a man to hold the dog's leash, even if it is the dog that is doing all the hunting.

During the flight back, C6 took a seat next to me. This was unusual, considering he mostly kept to himself. He produced a hard photo of some girl. Pretty, to be fair. He didn't say anything, just held it out for me to see.

"Am I missing something?"

"Her name's Dawn."

"Okay. Who's Dawn?"

"She used to be mine." With that, he put the picture away and returned to his solitude a few seats over. What was all that about? I'll be damned if I know, I figured you would. But hey, we're not Doctor Heinz, are we? I suppose that C6 might have been reaching out to me, maybe looking for a shoulder to cry on. We can still cry, you know. Maybe this girl, Dawn, was his squeeze back along. Maybe she left him after she couldn't stand the sight of what it was that he had been turned into. He was the same guy post-op as he was pre-op, I'm sure. Probably still liked the same music.

But that's the problem isn't it? If you look different, you are different. If any more of the little squid-like Ceresians are found, they'll most likely be in for either a lynching or a gassing. Isn't that how these things go? You tell me. For all I know, there's a Ceresian out there chewing on a slice of pizza -- double pepperoni.

THE END

With thanks to Dr James Carney, School of English, University College Cork


© 2011 James O'Sullivan

Bio: James O'Sullivan is a native of Cork city, Ireland. He studied literature at University College Cork, and is also a graduate of Cork Institute of Technology. In addition to his undergraduate degree in information technology, he possesses a number of postgraduate qualifications. He writes short fiction and poetry, and his work has appeared in a number of national and international publications. His first collection of poetry is set to be published later this year. James also has involvement in a number of projects that are seeking the advancement of scholarly electronic literature.

E-mail: James O'Sullivan

Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum

Return to Aphelion's Index page.