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Human after Next

Artwork © Paul Hair, 2018.
A short work of speculative fiction regarding how technology might change future warfare, intelligence collection, and national security in general.


12 SEP 20XX, Journal Entry of SFC Weston McKinley, U.S. Army Reserve – Human after Next Initiative

Eighty kilometers. I had navigated over 80 kilometers by foot on the day I reached my objective. That meant I had travelled over 200 km on foot since I had inserted into North Korea. Most of my route was over rugged mountains, many of them layered in snow. I carried 50 pounds on my back plus my weapons. Yet I wasn’t that tired or hungry. Nor did my feet hurt or my back ache. I was in perfect shape to complete my mission: verify the target and then kill everyone. None of this, of course, would have been possible if the government hadn’t genetically altered me and given me superhuman strength and durability.

When I reached the bottom of the last mountain (that is, “hill,” since the Army does not recognize “mountain” as a terrain feature) I needed to climb I started being a little bit more careful about my movement. No observation posts nearby but intel had said there was a detachment that patrolled near the top. So I kept scanning for that while I ascended. But it was nowhere nearby.

Near the top I dropped into a high crawl, making sure I didn’t profile myself as I reached and crossed the ridgeline. Crawling was as painless and swift as climbing the hill was, something I had never experienced before the procedure. No muscle fatigue in my denser, larger muscles. My thicker and more durable muscles also meant that the stones, and gravel, and pieces of whatever didn’t bother me at all as they stabbed and clawed at me through my uniform. Even my bones felt fine; no pain in my elbows no matter how much weight I put on them and no matter how many times I jammed them (and my knees) into jagged edges of rocks. Neither did the wet snow or coldness bother me. Cold always ate away at me before; doesn’t really bother me now unless it’s severely cold.

Once I crossed the ridgeline I could immediately see all the activity in the valley below me. I crawled a few more meters before I got back on my feet. I used whatever cover and concealment I could find—rocky formations springing out of the ground, vegetation, and so forth—as I worked my way another 500 meters or so down the hill. I needed to get closer to what was happening below in order to collect the intelligence I was tasked with collecting before destroying everything.

I spotted a ledge with rocks in front of it and a rocky outcropping overhanging it, and I moved towards it. It would make a good hasty observation post, providing me with a lot of cover from all directions while still allowing me plenty of visibility into the valley.

Bits of grit and a small amount of snow crunched beneath my boots when I snuck into the obscured ledge, crouching in order to stay hidden. I pulled my map and lensatic compass out of one of my cargo pockets, found three distinctive points far in the distance, and did a quick resection to verify exactly where I was. Excellent. I jotted my 10-digit grid coordinate location in my field notebook.

I retrieved the special camera I had been assigned for this operation. It collected still images and full-motion imagery (FMV) like any smart device. But it was more than that. It was capable of collecting biometric intelligence and verifying it. More on that in a moment.

The camera was designed to have no reflective material. Still, I double-checked that nothing on it was going to create a glare before I put it to my eyes and started collecting imagery intelligence.

There was no way to count everyone in the valley. Far too many of them. But it looked like there were about 1,000 men, just like it had been estimated in the intelligence briefing I had received before I had started the operation. Intelligence had also assessed that although it appeared to be an actual mining site, the personnel at it were largely troops and not civilians. But that assessment was made with low confidence. GEOINT, SIGINT, and other INTs could only provide so much intelligence. We needed eyes on the ground to be sure of what was going on before we destroyed it. And my being able to insert into the country on my own, travel a tremendous distance on foot in a short amount of time, and all with minimal supplies made me the perfect superhuman soldier for the job.

As I looked through the camera and kept collecting still and FMV imagery, I could tell almost right away that the low confidence intel assessment about who was at the cite was correct. Indeed, they were mostly troops. Or rather, they weren’t civilians. About half of them were North Korean troops. The other half looked to be Afghans or Pakistanis. And that made sense.

We knew the North Koreans and Pakistanis had a relationship. And we knew the North Koreans (not unlike the Pakistanis) were embracing the concept of fighting wars by proxies. In other words, while it was prestigious to have their own enhanced troops, it would be in their best interest to use them judiciously if at all. If the North Koreans launched attacks anywhere in the world with their own troops it could be traced to them. And that would make it a bad day for them. Retaliation likely would be swift and devastating. But if they were able to use a force of non-North Koreans—the Pakistani-controlled Taliban, for instance—why then, there would be no overt North Korean fingerprints on an attack and thus no retaliation against them.

Hence, half the men here were North Koreans; the other half most likely the Taliban or a related group.

And as I mentioned, the North Koreans had enhanced them all.

Intelligence collected through a variety of disciplines assessed that the North Koreans had a super soldier program. And while the North Koreans weren’t capable of producing anything like me (their technology was limited to enhancing people with performance-enhancing drugs, biological implants, exoskeleton technology, and similar things) they were capable of producing actual, enhanced troops.

As I watched through the camera, it looked like their super soldier program was producing results. Different test and evaluation sites were set up in the valley below. Some of the men were lifting extraordinary weights. Others were jumping astonishing heights and distances. Still others were running incredibly fast, hauling great amounts of weights, and demonstrating great acts of strength by denting and breaking things with punches and kicks. Some of the men wore equipment that allowed them to achieve these superhuman feats. Others didn’t appear to be wearing anything special. All of them looked to be in top shape—beyond top shape. They looked superhuman. So it looked like intel was once more correct.

I smiled as I thought about them being on PEDs and having implants. I didn’t. Or, at least apart from the tech I had implanted in my head to enhance my cognitive and reflex abilities (which, in addition to other things, greatly helps you process the new speed a genetically altered body gives you) I did not. Well, I was also on some PEDs. I’d been prescribed some drugs to help keep me awake and alert for this operation. But nothing other than those two things. Genetically editing me was enough enhancement for me.

I finally captured the faces and gaits of two men who looked familiar. Remember those biometric capabilities I mentioned a few moments ago? I pressed a button and a biometric recognition program embedded in the camera started. It reached into its database and verified those two faces and gaits belonged to General Ro and Dr. Shin, the commanding general and lead scientist respectively in charge of the North Korean super soldier program.

That was everything I needed to collect. I had just verified, beyond a reasonable doubt, that this was the main site of the North Korean super soldier program. And the U.S. government had decided it wasn’t going to treat it like it had the North Korean nuclear program.

In other words, instead of letting them develop the super soldier program, test it, learn from their mistakes, and make corrections until they perfected it without anyone opposing them, the current U.S. administration was going to destroy it at its start. One country with superhuman troops possessed a huge advantage. If everyone else had superhuman troops, everyone was on par.

(On a related note, once the Human after Next Initiative finished testing me in the field, the folks running it would move on to enhancing other troops. And then I would go from being something unique to something . . . less than unique.)

I set down the camera and grabbed my compass and notepad again. I calculated the 10-digit grid coordinates of where the targets were. A light breeze fluttered the pages of my notebook as I wrote it down. The troops that were going to fire the artillery already had the grid coordinates of the mining site. I was going to give them even more specific coordinates to ensure they hit all the personnel here.

That was another thing. You know how I just mentioned that the North Koreans were training proxies so they could launch attacks without attribution? The U.S. was going to do the same thing with the coming artillery strikes.

We didn’t have any artillery in country (obviously). And we couldn’t just launch missile strikes at the site. It’s not that we didn’t have the capabilities to do so; it was that the world wouldn’t tolerate America openly launching a preemptive strike on North Korea. Such an attack would particularly enrage the communist Chinese and might cause conflict with them. We didn’t want that. Furthermore, the American public certainly didn’t have the stomach for such action. So the only way we could destroy the site is if we didn’t destroy the site—if someone else just happened to do it for us. That’s where the disaffected North Korean officers came in.

We had found those artillery officers through earlier intelligence work—through a little bit of operational preparation of the battlefield a few months back. They were eager to start a revolution against their government. Or they at least were ready to strike a blow against it before disappearing into other parts of North Korea or perhaps even China.

With the 10-digit grid coordinates of the men in the valley now in my hand, I reached for my radio for the first time since I had inserted into North Korea. I quickly reached my contact with the proxy artillery unit. I confirmed who I was and made the call for fire. I put the camera back to my eyes while I waited for the death and destruction to arrive.

A few seconds later I heard the noise. And a few seconds after that the metal rained down on the objective.

I had eyes on General Ro and Dr. Shin. One of the first artillery rounds struck them. The fire was a mixture of high-explosive and incendiary ammunition. It rocked the valley, echoing off the ancient rocks of the mountains, shaking the entire area like a tremendous earthquake. It destroyed everything—the men and the mining facility they had been using for cover.

I was at my makeshift OP only a few more seconds, recording the aftermath to allow analysts back home to do a thorough battle damage assessment. With that done, I stowed the camera, gathered up all my gear, and started moving back up the mountain for exfiltration the same way I infiltrated. If I made it back, it would be yet another successful operation.

After the Human after Next Initiative had genetically enhanced me, the very few people involved with it debated what to do with me. Some didn’t want me to conduct operations while I went through the testing and evaluation phase. They wanted to verify the results without the risk of having me in the field in case of failure. They wanted me to remain in a controlled environment to make sure there were no side effects or other negative outcomes.

But others had argued that putting me in the field was the best way to test and evaluate me. They had won out.

I had done a variety of operations before this one. My first was a human intelligence collection operation. Didn’t have to talk to anyone; just take photos in a low-risk environment (no artillery call for fire or other action). After that, I completed some increasingly risky operations, eventually getting to the point where I conducted direct action operations. I had also done logistics missions—long-distance transportation operations by foot.

Eventually someone thought that I would be good for long range surveillance operations, particularly since the Army jettisoned LRS units back in the 2010s and lost all their capabilities. What they figured, and what I eventually proved, was that an individual with my superhuman abilities could perform LRS operations with less manpower (just me), less risk of being detected because I was a singular individual, and with a greater reward because my increased abilities gave me greater capabilities.

So I had done all those types of operations prior to the one that now had me in North Korea.

War is inherently risky, and you can never plan a safe operation. We knew that I might encounter North Korean troops on my way in or out. And while that hadn’t happened on my way in, as I neared the ridgeline again, I could hear on the other side that North Korean patrol intel had said I might encounter. Those troops crested the ridgelines when I was about seven meters below it. They were directly in front of me.

One of the reasons I didn’t try to find cover and hope that they passed by me without seeing me is that time was of the essence. Other North Koreans would be converging on the area, and I needed to exit as fast as I could. But even if it hadn’t been for this fact, I still wouldn’t have tried to avoid them. I knew I could take the ten troops now standing above me.

I leapt that distance in one jump. And it felt like nothing. I still couldn’t get over how much energy and strength my legs—my body—had and how little effort it took for me to use it. I landed inches from one of the North Koreans. An upward buttstroke of my rifle to his jaw smashed it and sent teeth and blood everywhere. The force of it spun him around and dropped him dead on his face. Didn’t want to fire my rifle if I could help it. That would only draw more attention.

A radio call for help would also draw more attention. I moved, faster than anyone the North Koreans had ever seen. Faster than anyone had ever seen. I was on the RTO in a split second and pulverized his face with my buttstock. He fell on his back. Less than a second later I had punched out a third. My punch was so forceful I’m certain I broke his neck with it. I picked up his lifeless body and threw him into the seven remaining men, distracting them and keeping them from getting off a shot.

Fourth and fifth went down with one a single swing of my buttstock. Then I grabbed the barrel of the sixth’s man rifle, ripping the weapon out of his hands and swinging it around to crunch the seventh man’s skull and then his. I threw the rifle at the eighth man. It hit him in the throat. One of my boots crushed his intestines. My fist smashed his face. I bashed the ninth man’s face in with my same fist and broke the tenth man’s neck with my hands.

One man against ten and I had won. I had singlehandedly killed them all. Not quite in the same league as Samson but good enough for today. I didn’t waste any more time. I started sprinting down the side of the mountain towards my extraction point.

I had no idea how long it would take them to find the dead enemies or at least figure out that the patrol was down. But whenever the North Koreans did, I knew it wouldn’t be long enough. I had a long ways to run. And even with my being able to jog at 40 km per hour for hours on end over rough terrain, when your exit point is days away, you really can’t afford to have anyone searching for you.

Still, I made it out successfully. And although I can’t tell anyone outside of the HAN what happened (as I’ve already mentioned several times in earlier journal entries regarding my other operations) the Human after Next Initiative continues requiring me to record my thoughts on my activities and experiences in this classified journal before they secure it back in this SCIF.

One day, decades from now when this is no longer a national security secret and when superhuman people will undoubtedly be common, it will become a historical document. People will be able to learn who the first superhuman was and the first operations that utilized his abilities. But until then, it will serve as the secret record of all that I have done, and all that I have yet to do.