The Present – The Sea of Japan off the Coast of North Korea
Without actually taking on the characteristics of a sea mammal, Mikiko’s body had adapted to become the most efficient human swimming machine possible. The British Naval Submarine Wilson could only travel undetected to within eight kilometers of North Korea’s eastern coast. It was too risky to launch the agent in a raft, so she’d have to swim that distance underwater carrying all of her equipment.
Through the small port in the airlock door, she could see the boat’s Captain Wallace Davies as he gave her a “thumbs up.” As the small chamber filled with seawater, she reciprocated, though for a moment, she irrationally wanted to bow.
She was dressed in a standard civilian wetsuit (no Naval, military, or government markings of any kind) but in addition to the pack she was wearing, she was outfitted with a new carbon fiber fin made in America called the Lunocent. Wearing this device, even an unenhanced human could swim nearly 13 kilometers per hour, twice as fast as Olympic Gold Metal winner Michael Phelps.
Then as the water reached her face, like a sea-lion, Mikiko exhaled and moments later, when the chamber was completely filled, she rotated the upper hatch wheel handle and pushed. She launched herself out of the submarine and quickly put on the Lunocent fin. Mikiko figured she probably had eight to ten minutes before she had to surface for air and she wanted to put as much distance between her and the Wilson as possible before she did.
She had rejected the use of a scuba mask since, among her other physical adjustments, her eyes were quite accustomed to seeing in the darkened ocean. While she didn’t have any form of biological sonar to guide her, she could see well enough into the infrared and her enhanced hearing could detect any life form or undersea craft within several kilometers. Mikiko couldn’t get lost because she had adopted the ability to detect magnetic fields, so she was, in effect, a living compass.
All of this hadn’t originally been intended or even imagined by Professor Daniel Hunt, the author and designer of her Syntheorg body. He did believe human beings could be styled for radically different environments using his revolutionary materials and techniques, but he thought that once the adaptation was complete, it was fixed. Only in his first and greatest creation did he realize that the process never ended and that the host, in this case what was left of her human form, could after a fashion, guide the adaptations. It had only taken her thirty-eight hours to modify her lungs, eyes, skin, and musculature to let her glide under the ocean’s surface as if she were born to it.
Eleven Months Ago – The Project
Her swim instructor Conrad Grunberg was momentarily startled by the unexpected. Mikiko wasn’t at the Project’s Olympic-sized swimming pool for their regular swimming lesson. It wasn’t so much that he thought she was late, although that would have been unusual, it was seeing her sitting at the bottom of the deep end wearing her Speedo one-piece and a weight belt. She smiled and waved at him and he pointed to his wrist watch and mouthed “how long?” She held up nine fingers. Of course she could stay under longer without breathing when she wasn’t expending energy.
He jerked his thumb up telling her she needed to get out of the pool. Mikiko rolled her eyes dramatically like a teenager (something she would never have dared to do in the face of an authority figure when she actually was a teen) and then kicked off the bottom. She grabbed the edge of the pool and in one swift motion, pulled herself up and then was sitting at the edge with her legs dangling in the water.
“I told you to wait for me, Mikiko. What if you’d have gotten into trouble down there?”
“Conrad, it’s only three meters deep. How much trouble could I get into?”
She stood, removed the weight belt and gently put it on the deck next to the pool. He walked up to her and she bowed. He did likewise.
“I’m sorry if I caused you any concern, Conrad. I got here early and thought I’d kill some time seeing how long I could stay under.”
The Canadian took a slow, deep breath and then let it out. “Well, no harm done, but I’ve been told that your adaptations may not be entirely stable or even under your control. Next time, wait for me, or at least have someone here standing by in case you need help getting out of the water.”
“Yes, Conrad. Again, I apologize for any concern I may have caused you.”
There was a part of Mikiko that seemed to be observing the rest of her. A few moments ago, she was acting impudently, even defiantly. Now she was back to being what many considered a traditional Japanese woman, polite, apologetic, even a bit subservient. Which one was the real Mikiko or did Mikiko even exist anymore?
The Present – Off the Coast of North Korea
Eight minutes, thirty-four seconds since she left the sub. She had to surface for air for the first time. There was a sense of urgency as she swam upward but not desperation. She was refueling, not drowning. Now back down.
Her cruising depth was twenty meters, deep enough to avoid casual detection, especially at night, but not so deep that she would require decompression stops each time on the way back up.
Eight kilometers underwater. It would take Mikiko about forty minutes to reach shore. Four more times that she’d have to briefly breach the surface for air. Like the other changes she’d experienced over the past year, this one made it seem perfectly natural to be in the ocean, as if she had always lived here, as if this were home.
That would have to change as she moved on to the next phase of her mission. Fortunately, she could suppress the urge to stay in the water and eventually the effects of this adaptation would fade, that is until she needed them again for her return trip to the Wilson (that is if she survived to return).
She could detect a number of different kinds of fish but no “other” sea mammals. They stayed away from her which was fine. Mikiko wanted no surprises but she knew from experience to expect what she didn’t want. She did sense something larger, much larger, but it was beneath her, very deep. No sense that it was coming anywhere near her, although if she knew it was there, whatever it was probably knew about her.
Even if it were a predator, she was not behaving like prey, not giving an indication of a creature in distress. She could be mistaken for a seal or sea-lion, which would be favored by sharks, but she would be aware of where and how close it was to approaching her long before it could be considered a threat.
Surfacing again, she noticed a few distant lights coming from shore, but no boats were apparent. This part of the North Korean coast was restricted to civilian craft, so she wasn’t likely to run into any fishing boats. There might be military patrols, but she could easily avoid them.
Fourth surfacing. She must be within two kilometers of the shore. She could feel the changes in the water around her. It was more shallow. She could hear the distant pounding of the surf against sand and rock.
Last breath before reaching shore. Less than a kilometer. She was only now beginning to feel slightly fatigued. She was grateful for the carbon fiber fin. Without it and without further structural changes to her body, she would have found the eight kilometer swim to be exhausting.
She crawled up onto the sand from the water like a human-shaped crustacean. She took off the Lunocent aid so she could walk, then found the rock outcropping identified in satellite photos where she planned to hide her wetsuit and fin.
Six Months Ago – A Private Athletic Club Outside of Tokyo
She was running around a track at a private country club. The Project had arranged for her to have the use of the facilities for exercise and they had nothing at their installation that allowed for long distance running apart from various cardio machines. She found that she liked what she thought of as real running better. Here, out in the open, under a blue sky, feeling the cool morning breeze in her face, feeling her heart pump, blood surging through her veins, air rushing in and out of lungs, she felt alive, really alive, really human, and not something that came out of a laboratory.
Professor Hunt himself had guaranteed that she would be alone this morning, no trainers, no guards, no members of the reintegration team. It was just her and the track. For once, she could be herself. She decided to pick up the pace, the specialized training device she wore like a wrist watch was monitoring her vital signs as well as her speed. So much for being alone. The telemetry was probably being examined in real time by half a dozen technical and medical experts.
Five meters per second. She felt like a snail. Six meters. Her legs were pumping faster. Seven, eight, nine meters per second. What was his name? The person they currently called the fastest man alive? Usain Bolt. Ten, eleven meters a second. His record is 12.27 meters per second for the 100 meter dash. Twelve…thirteen…fourteen meters a second. Just over 50 kilometers or something like 30 miles per hour. Not nearly as fast as in those silly American Cyborg television shows, but she was now unofficially the fastest person on Earth, however only because she was synthetic.
Mikiko slowed back down. Six meters per second, a simple, easy jog. She knew her cybernetic regulator was affecting her, adjusting her emotional response, calming her down. These were her legs now, this was her skin, sweating just like any other human being’s skin. Those were her lungs breathing, this is her heart beating, her eyes seeing, her brain interpreting all of the sensory data being input. The materials were a complex combination of synthetic substances designed to mimic biological structures, engineered and maintained by hundreds of thousands of nanoscopic machines infesting her body. It was her body now, and it was a better one than any created by the long chain of human, biological evolution.
She was the realization not only of a dream but of a fantasy, the woman who came back from the dead, her useless, broken, incinerated body rebuilt molecule by molecule, cell by cell, enabling her not just to live an ordinary human life again, but an extraordinary one. In time, there might be nothing she couldn’t do. But there were the missions, the ones she had already completed and then the next one. There was always the next mission. There was nothing else but the next mission.
Mikiko Jahn was dead. Would the person who replaced her ever have a chance to live again?
The Present – North Korea
Now dressed for traveling across the countryside, she looked around, gained a renewed sense of her location and then the distance and direction of her destination, tightened the straps of the pack on her back, and started to run.
Elite human long-distance runners can travel at a sustained speed of about 6.5 meters per second. Mikiko, in her current condition, could make about 7 meters a second or roughly 25 kilometers per hour and maintain that velocity for two to three hours without rest. At that speed, she would arrive at the test site’s outer parameter in just under 50 minutes. Then the real danger would begin, not just for Mikiko, but for anyone who had the misfortune to encounter her.
I wrote my latest story about Mikiko Jahn not for the sake of some tale of adventure or excitement but to practice describing some of her more unusual features. Although not originally intended by her designer, she has the ability to continually adapt to changes in her environment. Of course the more extreme the environment, the longer the adaptations take to develop, but in this case, she has the ability to hold her breath for longer than normal, see underwater without a mask, hear the sea life around her for a distance of several kilometers, and even sense the Earth’s magnetic field well enough to act as a compass (and there are forms of life, including some mammals, that have this ability).
None of this means she looks any different or even slightly inhuman, but it does suggest the idea that, if necessary, she might be able to manufacture even more severe changes if need be, but that might take days, weeks, or longer depending on what they were.
I’m also exploring the idea that as she makes adaptations, not only does her biology change, but so does her psychology. If she stayed in the ocean long enough, she would likely develop the ability to hunt or otherwise find sustenance for herself, shelter, and perform any of the other functions necessary to become a permanent human sea mammal. On the one hand, I’m gifting her with amazing abilities, but over long distances she can still only run about sixteen miles per hour and she does get tired.
I’ve left the rest of her mission something of a mystery, in part because I’m still deciding how to write a more holistic and unified story about her and those who come after her.
I’m also having fun.
Other stories involving Mikiko are:
- The Reconstructed Woman
- Burn Victim
- Woman Under Repair
- Woman in the Shadows
- The Search for Armageddon
I should mention that “Search” was written for a flash fiction challenge and may not represent a “canonical” entry into Mikiko’s stories.
Chronologically, this isn’t the next story in the series, but to read even more about Mikiko, visit Murder at 900 North Michigan.