The Mantis Project



Photo of a mantis

Miles turned his head in a 270 degree arc. His vision was so much more acute than it had been, especially in the very center. It was thrilling, astounding. Then he looked at his hands.

They weren’t hands anymore, although they had adaptations that would let him hold objects. New muscles on his back twitched and he felt the wings. He couldn’t achieve sustained flight, but using powerful hind limbs, he could soar almost a kilometer before landing.

“The simulation’s ending, Miles. Relax. It’ll be over in a few seconds.”

Miles Hawkins took a deep breath with his own lungs again. Brilliant scientist Daniel Hunt bent down in front of Miles’s chair. Technicians removed the sensory leads.

“That’s what your life would be like after the adaptation.”

“So, I’d be able to survive on Hansen’s World, explore with other adaptations.”

“We use the word ‘syntheorg,’ and yes, you’d be a new generation of interplanetary colonists, perfectly adapted to the existing environment. One caveat. This is a one-way process. You’ll never be able to come back to Earth again; never be…human.”

“My life ended when my car burned during the riot and I was mutilated. The Mantis project is nothing but freedom.

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction – 19 November 2017. The idea is to use the photo above as a prompt to craft a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 200.

Again, I’m leveraging the technology in the world of Mikiko Jahn, a young technician who was horribly injured in a nuclear power plant disaster and then over a period of years, rebuilt literally from scratch using revolutionary materials and processes invented by brilliant scientist Daniel Hunt. The reconstruction made Mikiko more than human but in some ways, also less.

For this story, I extended the technology and intent and here you see that Dr. Hunt is using the synthecon process to radically adapt human beings to be able to survive on planets outside our solar system, to become the very first interstellar explorers.

I remember in the 1960s and 70s reading about the concept of using cyborgs or cybernetic organisms, machine adapted humans, to do something similar. However, instead of using mechanical and electronic parts, I’m suggesting a complete fusion between the organic and the biosynthetic.

I know this doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with the prompt, but when I saw the photo and was struggling to find a hook for a story, I remembered a 1994 television series called M.A.N.T.I.S. In the series, African-American scientist Miles Hawkins is paralyzed from the waist down by a police officer’s bullet fired during a riot. The officer was never convicted of a crime and Hawkins lost his lawsuit against him.

In an effort to walk again and to perform true deeds of justice, Hawkins invented the M.A.N.T.I.S. exoskeleton, which effectively gave him superpowers.

The television show ended after one season, but it was a brilliant concept. I used the name “Miles Hawkins” for my protagonist as an homage to the series.

In addition to the links I’ve already posted, I also visited the M.A.N.T.I.S. Wikipedia page as well as the page on the actual Mantis. I also had the 1976 Frederik Pohl science fiction novel Man Plus in mind.

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to

21 thoughts on “The Mantis Project

  1. Insects are truly remarkable. I am always amazed how a grasshopper can hold on to my windshield at 50 miles an hour and live to hop off at the next stop sign. And given they have survived where other species extinguished themselves, morphing into insects may be our only salvation. Not sure my comments have much to do with your story but the goal of a good story is to generate conversation. Consider that done.


      • Ah. In Pohl’s “Man Plus,” the altered human felt intense alienation until he arrived on Mars. Then he felt completely at home on the planet, just not among humans. I think it would have to be like that in order to work.


      • I see what you mean. It explores the notions of “becoming”, and “fitting in”, and adapting to changed circumstances sufficiently for them to become “second nature”.

        Liked by 1 person

      • And having noted *that*, I perceive a curious analogue to the process of the Jewish “hozer b’tshuvah” or the gentile convert to Judaism, or the new immigrant (as in Jewish aliyah to Israel). In each case there is an alienation from a former state and an adaptation to a new environment, new perceptions and new responses, until one can become comfortable in the new condition as an altered personna.


      • The one major difference is that Judaism is a well established identity and community, while what I’m proposing is the radical adaptation of humans to a previously non-existence “lifeform” for the purposes of colonizing a previously unknown environment.


      • From the perspective of the adapter, it is always a matter of entering into a previously alien environment and adopting a new personal form and identity. The difference that you cite, which makes the synthorg situation an exaggeration of the analogy, is that for the synthorg there are no existing similar organisms to learn from and emulate, to facilitate the adaptation.


      • True, only an educated set of assumptions by the programmers or a known template used by other types of syntheorgs who have adapted, albeit to other environmental types. It just occurred to me that with this technology, a small elite group of the wealthy could afford to be adapted for higher global temperatures in the next century. Too much conspiracy theory?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.