“Cobalt Blue and the Enigma” (novelette) by Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro
English Publication History: Solarpunk (World Weaver Press, 2018)
Original: Portuguese (Azul Cobalto e o Enigma), 2012
Translated by Fábio Fernandes, 2018
Synopsis: Though neighboring countries, Palmares and Brazil are amid a bitter cold war where subterfuge and clandestine operations are preferable to frank discussion. Brazilian reports indicate that the Palmarines have an agent of great strength and long life, an abomination of human nature code-named Enigma.. To combat this secretive threat, the Brazilian Intelligence Service has created a super solider; though the test subject is a quadriplegic, Jonas Spider is thoroughly armored and weaponed in a cybernetic suit with armies of nanobots, camouflage, atomic batteries, and quantum batacitors. Spider’s first mission is what he was engineered for: assassinate Enigma, who happens to be hiding on the Jovian moon Europa. When the battle ensues, Enigma is able to fight in his natural form while in the moon’s inhospitable atmosphere while absorbing laser blasts and denting Spider’s supposedly impervious armor; regardless, Spider is able to leave the moon with a trophy, which upsets not only Palmares, but also Enigma’s father, a fellow abomination that Brazil has never known about. While Spider and Brazil revel in their victory, the true Enigma plans deceit and revenge worthy of his detestable nature.
Analysis: When we think of war and technology, one thing may spring to mind: America’s use of the atom bomb at the end of WWII. Considering this, yes, technology helped win the war. Cruise missiles, submarines, stealth bombers, aircraft carriers, drones: all of these could assist a modernized military in winning a war, but it’s not always technology that wins wars: America’s Vietnam War and the Soviet Union’s own “Vietnam War” with Afghanistan. Guerrilla tactics and familiarity with the lay of the land earned both Vietnam and Afghanistan their so-called victory. They knew their strength was in small numbers, and being able to ambush then melt away into the terrain.
As with the Enigmas, their numbers were small but their talents known over the decades and centuries of trial by fire with base-form humanity. While they used to be able to lie low, patterns were eventually recognized, thence their capture by Palmares. But like a stealth assassin, they can still penetrate a crowd unobserved to carry out of mission unobtrusively. Brazil, meanwhile, has relied on technology to counter the abomination of nature that Palmares has on their side. On a Jovian mood, the battle between technology and nature is waged first, but when Spider returns to the sphere of Earth, the second battle is waged elsewhere on a footing that is not in favor of Enigma’s nature, but then again, Enigma has a lust for blood on his side.
Review: Though Spider is portrayed as the protagonist, it’s Enigma who gets the reader’s attention and sympathy. This is quite cunning on the author’s plot, to be able to diametrically sway the reader from one character to another. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t solely focus on this titanic shift of sympathy as technology, space, and war push the other significance into the corner. The lingering aftertaste of the story is one of a dark superhero variety, one that is tinged with the memory of the sympathy shift. If the same technology, space, and war mentioned above had been written with a lighter hand, the story would perhaps be more subtle than the gung-ho onslaught in the two fight scenes.