The monkey mind has been chattering all week but the time available to write hasn’t happened, so I wrote this short in a sort of coma. It probably shows. This is a first expansion of ‘Habitat’.
“10, 9, 8 … ignition sequence start … 7, 6, 5 … main engine start … 4, 3, 2, 1 … booster ignition.” Eight seconds after launch the roll programme began as the rocket made height. Apes had been launched much earlier in the space programme but this was the first time one had had an interactive role to play. Camo had been trained from birth to interact with technology, and she’d been zapped and rewarded until she had the sequences right and had followed them in the allowable timeframes. She’d been pushed, pulled, and slammed around until she vomited from the stresses and strains of forces in the centrifuge. She’d been injected and had fluids drawn more often than the sun came up. Now, four years later, here she was, a triumph for human ingenuity.
Camo was only the most visible of the scores of apes that had been put through the programme. Most failed dismally, some showed limited promise, and a small handful were star performers. They lived in multi-million dollar enclosures and their life was as close to that of a human as it could be, given that the apes were still in forced captivity. They were encouraged to use and learn from technology, even being given their own server from which they could access tightly controlled Internet images, and which choices and behavioural patterns would be analysed and conjectured upon.
Jimmy came to be known as Hacker, because of his special proclivity in circumventing the firewall. In fact, he did it with such stealth that his handlers weren’t sure how long he’d been doing it. Daisy liked pulling things apart and trying to piece them together again, with some success. For them, their skills were also what made them unsuitable for the sharp end of the project, the flight into orbit. They could foul the whole mission if they hit the wrong buttons, blew the sequences, or tore out essential wiring. In fact, in a mystifying attack that left Camo bloody and cut, they nearly ended her career before she made it to the launch vehicle.
The three apes were inseparable except for that one day when the two turned on Camo, holding her down, biting her head, and huddling over her writhing form until the security handlers tasered them and dragged her from the room and into the surgery. She was checked and checked again, stitched where necessary, and monitored closely. Later it was, for all three, as if the event had never happened. They were immediately calm and Camo’s attackers used their laptops to inquire after her. She was isolated for a week, in which time they all moped and pined for each other. Slowly, she was brought back into the enclosure and they hugged and rocked gently upon being reunited. Soon enough, everything returned to normal. In the year from that incident to the launch date, the apes behaved predictably and the aberration was all but forgotten.
On her tenth orbit Camo had admirably completed all the tasks set for her. Her heart rate was a little elevated, which made her handlers at Ground Control suspect she had some sense of her environment and the importance of the mission, but everything else was right down the line; a textbook mission for manned spaceflight, even though this was a unique mission.
On her seventeenth orbit the first glitch for the mission appeared. At Ground Control, screens momentarily flickered and speakers crackled. A typed message flashed across all screens, too fast for the eye to read, before disappearing. The command was given to rerun the tape and isolate the message. It read: “One for each of our brothers and sisters.” It was incomprehensible. “Trace the source!” came the barked order. Fifty pairs of eyes focused on computer feeds and connectivity. Nothing, except for the faintest blip that would normally be dismissed as a minor energy dip. When it came to security during spaceflight, though, nothing was dismissed.
“It came from inside the facility,” a voice called out. “Isolate it!” the order came back. The initial fear of outside hacking receded but the mystery remained. Then a whole bunch of things went wrong, all at once. The transmission source had been found and isolated, and it came from Hacker’s laptop. He had, incredibly, breached the firewall and electronically reached into the main system. Multiple alarms shrilly came to life as Simian One, the capsule containing Camo, violently changed direction.
There was stunned silence for the space of five seconds as the incomprehensibility of the situation overwhelmed all in Control. More alarms burst into life, and with them the veil of inertia was torn from Control Command. “Sir, we have lost contact with Simian One,” an operator called through. “Sir, we have lost control of the Simian enclosure system,” said another. The Commander didn’t hesitate, even though he had no real idea of what was afoot. “Abort the mission. Remote detonation of Simian One is authorised. Security, check on the Simian enclosure; go in heavy.” Everyone who needed to burst into action, but it was the kind of action that was drummed in over years, utterly incomprehensible in the moment. The ship was to be destroyed in orbit and the ape enclosure was to be breached with force, weapons hot.
Once again, stunned silence followed, only to be broken quickly by a flooding-in of reports. “Sir, we cannot uplink to begin the detonation sequence.” “Sir, all enclosure ports are inoperative.” The Commander immediately elevated the defence condition to ‘Critical’, which should have automatically generated signals to defence silos where ‘Attack Imminent’ warnings would call arsenals into life. If they couldn’t stop the reentry vehicle in orbit, they’d blow it out of the sky.
Camo grimaced as reentry forces pushed at her. She was coming in hotter and faster than a normal entry sequence but the vehicle was still within design tolerances. Her handlers at Control had tried and retried in vain to route the sequence to the microchip embedded on the surface of her skull; to hit the ‘kill switch’ that would fry her brain. It failed, just as Hacker and Daisy knew it would when they opened her skull up and replaced the chip a year earlier.
The missiles were never launched because the order never came. The silos were tracking the plummeting vehicle but Hacker’s false assurance messages had the silo commanders believing the small, shuttle-like vehicle was making a test reentry run, which had been planned and discussed once the green light had been given for the use of simian crew. By the time they seriously questioned speed and trajectory it was too late. No one had ever thought to factor in the intention of the simian pilot.
All communication failed the Command Centre, except for one.
“One orbit for each of our brothers and sisters killed in the ‘service’ of our tormenters. For all the years of torment and torture, of life imprisonment without the hope of parole, for crimes committed against the innocent, we are now delivering our protest in the strongest possible terms.”
Images taken from the Internet, of bound, gagged, trussed, eviscerated, heart-broken and soul-crushed apes and other non-human species flashed across the screens and leaked out via a sneak circuit Hacker had implanted. The human world would know. They would know what had really happened, and why it was inevitable.
Within seconds Simian One would crash, with devastating effect, into the heart and mind of the Command Centre. The final message flashed before the stunned personnel:
“Perhaps this will elevate human thinking.”