Operation Stingray                        Part 1 // PG. 2 of 3

 

     Brian visibly relaxed and reached into the envelope again. He removed a stack of papers and placed them on the table. “I'll try to go over what I can, but everything you need to know is right in here.”

     “Seriously, are you going to tell me what I just swallowed?”

     “It started about a year ago,” he said. “I was cracking some DoD contracts for shits and giggles, and I kept seeing the word Stingray being mentioned. Cryptic shit, like top secret memos that just said 'Stingray is a go,' stuff like that. I was curious, so I poked around for leads. There wasn't a lot to go on, but there were a few breadcrumbs that led to a facility out in the desert in bumblefuck Utah. DRS-117, they called it. Tiny place, a staff of a couple dozen with bullshit names like Jane Smith"--he brought up wagging air quotes-- "John White, et cetera. Everything about this place was classified, and I mean everything.  The fucking cafeteria budget was redacted.”

     “Riveting. You've really outdone yourself this time, man.”

     “Shut up and listen,” he said. “The place was a black hole. No info came out of there at all, save for a few emails sent to DoD heads that said, 'The project is proceeding on schedule.' I poked around for a while, and eventually I pulled the name of an 'applicant' they were interested in working with at DRS-117. Some big shot neuroscientist out of Stanford. A few days after I saw his name mentioned, there was a news report that said he had died in a car accident in the redwoods. A few days after that, a memo made the rounds saying that 'the new 117 project member is proving to be a valuable resource to Stingray's development.'”

     A waiter walked up to our table, smiling. “Are you gentlemen ready to order?”

     “I think we'll need a few minutes,” I said.

   “Not a problem, take your time.” The waiter lingered for a second. His mouth continued its smiled, but his eyes studied us. He left and Brian continued.

    “The Stanford guy was a big name in his field. He specialized in developing systems that could link the human brain with computer interfaces. His early work eventually led to the development of some new next-gen prosthetics.”

     He leaned in and his voice dropped to a low whisper. “Here's the kicker. At the time of his 'accidental death' he was working on a method for wirelessly transmitting electrical signals into the brain to stimulate neural impulses. Massively complex stuff, but the gist is that his system could project images, sounds, and sensations directly into the brain from a computer. Not just that, but depending on what part of the brain you targeted, it could create emotions, memories, even thoughts themselves out of thin air. His colleagues thought he'd lost his shit, but he maintained that the system would someday revolutionize mental health treatment. He thought he'd be able to diagnose specific malfunctions in an individual's thinking and fix them with a laptop. Of course, after the accident no one was able to locate any of his research. His hard drives had been erased, and his notes were missing from the lab.”

     I rubbed my eyes. I wasn't nearly drunk enough to be listening to this shit and I was starting to get a headache. “Not to sound disinterested,” I said, “but let's go ahead and order already. I'm not feeling so hot right now.”

     “Try to focus,” he said. “I knew I needed to get more info, so I looked for a weak link in the communication chain. I found the information choke point, the one guy who was the direct liaison between 117 and the Department of Defense. Everything went through him. Over a few months I got into every piece of computerized electronics this guy touched and I waited. The guy was careful, very careful. It took a while, but eventually he slipped. One night he left an unencrypted video file on his laptop without password protection., I snatched it. When I watched it, I...well, here, see for yourself.”

     He tapped his phone and handed it to me. The screen showed a large white room with a chimpanzee sitting in the middle, eating from a bowl of fruit. Off to the side a man stood at a computer console. He was speaking into the camera, “Stingray experimental test subject number 117-011. Simple motor functions.”

He tapped on the keyboard and the chimp stopped eating; stopped moving at all, actually. It sat there completely motionless, like a doll. “Right arm,” the man said as he tapped a command on the keyboard. The chimp raised its right arm. “Stand,” the man said. The chimp stood up. “Take seven steps to your left.” The chimp did so.

The video cut out and started up again, apparently at a later date. The same setup as before. “Experimental test subject number 117-011,” the man said. “Emotional regulation.”

     The man tapped on the keyboard and said, “Anger.” The chimp immediately flung the fruit across the room, and launched into a screaming rage. It rushed at the man and raised its arms to strike him.

     “Sadness,” the man said. The chimp collapsed onto the floor and moaned. It curled into a ball and pressed its face into its knees.

     “Fear,” the man said. The chimp screeched and scrambled into a corner of the room, wide-eyed and shaking.

     Again, the video cut out. When it restarted, the man stared into the camera through a long, unspeaking silence. “Experimental test subject number 117-011,” he said at last. “Self-preservation override.”

     The man tapped away on his keyboard then paused for a moment, looking at the chimp. His finger hovered over a key. He sighed as he pressed his finger to the key. The chimp went motionless for a second and then raised its hands to its face.

     The chimp sat there quietly as it tore its own eyes out.

     The man looked into the camera. “Based on these results I recommend moving into Phase Two immediately.”

     The video went black.

 

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H. K. Reyes

SCIENCE FICTION & HORROR