Supernumerary

Harry leaped off a cliff, then hardened his carapace skin and rolled into a ball. Behind him, the explosives he had just planted went off in a display of fire and destruction. A couple of seconds later, he hit the water surface. Without conscious thought, he activated his gills and swam away, already sending his report through the satellite uplink.

At the same time, Harry was impaling an enemy warrior half a planet away. Without pause, he withdrew the blade and decapitated a second one in the same movement. The attack from a third one hit his armour and shook him. The monsters were large, but he was faster and more resilient. Somersaulting backwards, he surprised the third warrior and stabbed right where Harry knew the equivalent to the heart was. The warrior slumped to the ground.

Harry was all Terra needed to conquer this planet. It was all Terra had ever needed for a long time: he and his fifty genetically engineered bodies. Meeting alien civilizations had been expected; that Terrans were the only ones who could use genetic enhancements had come as a surprise. Ambitious politicians had seized the opportunity and had embarked in a crusade of conquest, using the minimum amount of force necessary: Harry.

He didn’t remember how he had become the perfect organic war machine: his previous life had been completely erased, not only from his brain, but from Terran databases. He was sure of that; part of his efficiency relied on his having total cybernetic access, and he had searched for himself.

He had come up with nothing. At first, Harry had tried to find a secret government program related to his creation, but nothing had surfaced. He had expected to find scientists or government officials he could have questioned, but there was nothing he could unbury. He had been worried for a time, for a long time.

But then, Harry was virtually immortal, so time was something he had aplenty. Times fifty.

Eventually, he just worried out.

In a sense, he knew he was programmed for war. His bodies were virtually indestructible, he was stronger than any human being ever alive. His brain was cybernetically enhanced. He could act like a perfectly-coordinated fifty-man hit squad worth thousands of soldiers. That was his whole life; feeling concerned about a previous existence ended up feeling useless.

But it had given him something else to do but combat. That had been nice.

Now, Harry just jumped from one campaign to the next. While on board his ship, the Valiant, he rested. Or at least, he always had forty-nine of his bodies resting at any given time. Forty-nine of his active bodies: he had five hundred available.

Well, not really five hundred. Harry had four hundred and ninety-two bodies left. He had lost eight in action.

Harry often thought about what it was. It will feel like losing a limb, they had told him. But it wasn’t. He had lost limbs and simply regrown them, and losing one of his bodies wasn’t like that. To start with, he’d have to actually be able to explain how it felt, being capable of being in fifty places at the same time, yet maintaining a level of individual conscience for each body, to normal people who had just one body. And then, say a fusion bomb went off (it had actually happened once) and one of those individual minds simple blinked off.

It was as if a part of him had gone. But it really hadn’t, because the rest of his bodies remembered. And immediately, aboard Valiant, an extra body would be brought out of stasis and his conscience downloaded into its brain. Within minutes, Harry would again be his usual fifty-himself self. Eight times now.

He didn’t even have time to feel confused. His body would be there, then it wasn’t, then it was again. He was conscious of the process, but he felt exactly the same when it was all over.

Occasionally, Harry wondered what would happen if he ever ran out of bodies. But he had once made his calculations, and at the current rate, that wouldn’t happen for millennia. And, it hadn’t escaped him, the current rate was slowing down.

Terran politics had been changing, slowly moving towards peaceful agreements. The government still had little qualms when a military intervention was needed, such an intervention meaning Harry. But still, fully connected to all sources as he was, Harry was keenly aware that the number of openly fought war actions was decaying, and diplomacy was the avenue of choice for the successive milder Terran governments. He wondered what that would mean for him.

He found out.

They called it pacifying actions. Harry didn’t mind: he just followed orders. To the letter; no more, no less. He didn’t question those orders, just like he never had. He was touching down just after a parachute jump. He was shooting high-speed bullets at a mob. He was three snipers in an ambush.

Then he heard a woman’s voice, and felt the tip of a gun touching the side of his head. But that should have been impossible.

“Sorry, Harry. You’ve been made redundant.”

Lights off.

All fifty of them.

++++

Harry woke up, but didn’t open his eyes.

“Welcome back,” a voice said. It was a woman’s. The same voice he had last heard. Harry tensed and opened his eyes, ready to leap at her.

He was on a bed. In a ship. He recognized… his cabin? The Valiant? A woman wearing an unmarked Terran uniform sat on a chair at the foot of his bed.

“Sorry for all the fuss, but it was necessary. Plausible deniability, you know,” she said. “I’m general Duarte. From now on, I’ll be your liaison officer. You’ll answer to me, and only me.”

Something clicked within Harry, making him nod in agreement. He noticed something else: for the first time since forever, he was alone. There was no fifty of them.

“You may have noticed the anomaly,” she continued. “Don’t worry, your bodies are in safe storage.” She accompanied the sentence with a vague hand movement towards the bowels of the ship.

“Why…?” he asked.

“I know what you can do, Harry. Better than anyone. Not only that: I know everything you’ve ever done. I’m the link you’ve been searching for.”

“You know who I am… was?”

“Everything. But we’ll come to that. I also know you’re aware of the shifting waters. The changes in policy.” She stood and started pacing the cabin. “You were to be deactivated, Harry. Completely. The peace treaties between Terra and the alien governments required it. This was all I could do.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” Harry said.

“You’re to become a covert operative, Harry. The open war action days are over for you. You’re what we call a Supernumerary.”

~~~~

This is my entry for this week’s Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: One-Word Titles. The challenge this week was to write up to 1000 words choosing one of ten one-word titles Chuck provided.

I chose Supernumerary. And this is the scifi story I came up with. I’m more than happy to admit it’s partly a homage to Ann Leckie’s Ancillary series.

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