Editorial Note: I originally published this short story on Oct. 25, 2019 at the previous version of The Loftus Party website. The story did not migrate to our current site. So I am republishing it now (since it is more relevant than ever). Also, two posts I linked to in the introduction no longer exist and are not archived on the Wayback Machine. So I am simply removing those links and bolding the words where they originally were. One link in the intro is archived on the Wayback Machine and I am updating that link to said archive on the Wayback Machine. The header artwork and associated credit for it (at the bottom of the story) are also updated. Everything else—including the video in the intro—remains the same. Enjoy.
Back in September, I wrote a post titled, “So, It Might Now Be Possible to Make the Green Goblin’s Glider.” It featured the following video.
That inspired me to write another military speculative fiction tale. It’s set sometime in the future, and features a U.S. Army Reserve soldier who’s been enhanced with superhuman abilities. The communist Chinese have attempted to rig an American presidential election and their asset has escaped the U.S. The government has sent the soldier on a mission to find and capture him.
Here now, in approximately 1,400 words, is Human after Next: “The Chinese Candidate.”
3 JUN 20XX, U.S. Army Reserve – Human after Next Initiative: OPERATION SWIFT INTEGRITY
Bits of gravel crunched underneath Sergeant First Class Weston McKinley’s knee on the roof of the one-story building in San Pedro Sula, Honduras—the murder capital of the world. Leaning out from behind the HVAC unit, he surveilled a shabby building on the other side of the filthy street. He raised the optical device to his eyes and activated it. The visual display flickered and multi-colored, blob-like shapes appeared. Three people inside the building, he thought. Matches intel. One of them should be Chang.
Chang Yu had entered the U.S. as a Chinese refugee ten years ago. He had never obtained citizenship. Never showed that much interest in it; supposedly bragged about taking advantage of America. And, in fact, he had become quite wealthy working as an IT specialist for Hollywood.
About a year ago, authorities had discovered that someone had committed cyberattacks on American voting machines across the nation. The attacks favored one presidential candidate in the upcoming election. Intelligence later identified Chang as having committed them on behalf of the communist Chinese. But the government had failed to nab him before he skipped out of the country months ago. So it had tasked McKinley to find and capture him.
He stowed the optical device in his civilian backpack, which matched the rest of the civilian clothing of his nonstandard uniform. A six-inch long, AI-enabled micro drone sat on the ground in front of him. He grabbed it and switched it on, verifying that his comms and the optical display in his eye pro—his sunglasses-like eye protection—synced with it. Then he released it, and it flittered into the air like a dragonfly sailing on a gentle breeze. Maybe he’d name it someday. Or maybe not.
Now we watch and wait, he thought.
One hour later and three Chinese men exited the building, walking purposefully towards a black sedan. All of them were dressed in civies. The micro drone sent text and imagery to the display in McKinley’s glasses. It had identified likely firearms concealed beneath the clothes of the lead and trail men.
Security, McKinley thought. “Verify the identity of the man in the middle,” he told it.
“Chang Yu,” the drone replied. “Facial features have been altered but they remain an 89.32% match with his biometric record. His gait is a one hundred percent biometric match.”
McKinley donned a black balaclava, stood up, and ran full speed across the roof, jumping off right before he reached the edge.
He soared through the air, his superhuman enhancement allowing him to clear the entire width of the road. He landed feet first on the sidewalk—not a twinge of pain—next to Chang and between his security team.
McKinley’s left arm flew out and punched out the first guard. He sprang backwards and punched the trail man in the chest, sending him in the air and crashing into the ground ten yards away.
“What?” Chang yelped.
McKinley jabbed an autoinjector into him. He went limp and McKinley caught him with one hand, holding him like a child’s stuffed animal. He flung open the passenger door of the black sedan and jumped into it, dragging Chang with him.
Seat springs squealed beneath McKinley’s weight, his hands fumbling underneath the steering wheel. Metal wire wrapped around metal wire, and the engine roared to life. He shifted into drive and stomped on the gas. Car horns blared and Chang’s body flopped from side to side, his head leading the way, clunking against the door and then the armrest. The left side of McKinley’s mouth curled up.
“Two unmanned ground vehicles have exited concealed positions and are approaching you,” the drone told him. “Both are AI-controlled. One is about to reach the intersection behind you. The other will reach the intersection ahead of you before you get there. Likely course of action is to lock you into a kill zone and neutralize you.”
The smile fell off his face. “Who alerted them?”
“The UGVs launched after you started driving in the car. Chang likely has a proximity device on him that triggered once he was more than a predetermined distance apart from the Chinese security team.”
“Great,” McKinley replied. “Map the UGVs for me.” Two dots blipped onto the micro map on the interior of his eye pro. “Really, great!”
He smashed his foot on the brake, tires screeching, the intersection 50 meters ahead of him. Not waiting for the car to stop completely, he threw open the door and dived onto the sidewalk, Chang in tow. His hands flew into his backpack before he stopped rolling.
A UGV plowed into the intersection, smashing through two cars and sending them spinning. It instantly targeted the sedan McKinley and Chang had just exited, lighting it up with a heavy machine gun. Metal shrieked and glass shattered, bullets shredding the vehicle. Gasoline vapors scented the air, and streams of thin liquid snaked out from the dead car.
People screamed and the gunfire from the UGV was so heavy it sent vibrations through the sidewalk. McKinley ignored it all, kneeling with a micro missile system steadied on his shoulder. He aimed and squeezed the trigger. A roar and a bigger roar, the UGV erupting into a ball of fire. One red dot disappeared from the map on his glasses.
The second dot on the map reached the intersection behind him. McKinley spun, sighted his weapon on it right as it burst into view. Trigger squeezed. Another ball of fire and the second red dot evaporated.
“Any civilian casualties?” he asked the drone.
“Guess the Chinese really didn’t want us getting our hands on you,” he said to Chang, scooping him up and sprinting down an alley. He zigged at the end of it, running down a street. At the next intersection, he zagged into a tiny alley and ran another 100 meters, finally bursting into a ramshackle building.
He dropped Chang and went to a corner of the room. Far right corner, on the northeast. Dust was a little less layered on the floorboards. He knelt down and punched, creating a burst of splinters and wooden fragmentation. One foot down, in the newly created hole, rested a three-foot by three-foot box.
“Give me a SITREP,” McKinley told the drone. “Any more threats coming my way?”
“Two more UGVs 1,000 meters west of your position. Two civilian vehicles are accompanying them.”
He ripped open the box and pulled out a harness and a distinctive device that had two plates on top of it where feet were clearly meant to go. “How fast are they closing?”
“Estimated time of arrival is now less than two minutes.”
McKinley placed the device on the floor, hurried to pick up Chang, and returned to it. He stood on the two places for his feet, locking them tight. Next, he donned the harness and strapped Chang to the front of him. Hair, sweat, and body odor hit him in the face.
“I’m on the hoverboard,” he told the drone, firing up its jet engine. “Are they within line-of-sight yet?”
“Not from ground level,” the drone replied. “They will be when you are airborne. And you will be within range of their weapons.”
McKinley shook his head. “All right. Here we go.” He lifted off and flew out of the room, Chang dangling in front of him.
Outside the building, he immediately turned east, moving faster and faster at street level. People gaped and screamed, and he zipped in between vehicles.
“Running out of ground-level room,” he told the drone, an intersection ahead with buildings looming on the other side of it. “Am I still in range of enemy forces?”
“Affirmative,” the drone replied.
He gritted his teeth, accelerated more and started gaining altitude. Wind whipped in his ears. A burst of zips two feet to his left. Bullets. He swerved right. More zips over his head. He cleared the large buildings at the intersection and rocketed downward, using them for cover.
“You are now out of range of enemy fire,” the drone told him.
Five seconds later it was flying by his ear. He grabbed it and stuffed it into his backpack.
He leaned forward and the hoverboard accelerated, faster and faster, and higher and higher.
The map on Sergeant McKinley’s eye pro estimated that they’d arrive at the exfiltration point on the coast in 15 minutes.
Top Image: Original artwork created by Paul Hair. © 2020.