Okay, and now for possibly the most gruesome bit of sci-fi!
* * *
Two days later the surgical team were ready to begin the most delicate part of the whole procedure. It was both the simplest, and the most invasive of all the procedures performed on Innerscape patients, and involved the removal of the entire skull, including the bones of the face. Once the procedure was complete the exposed brain would be encased in a sealed container filled with a bath of proprietary nanoparticles.
In keeping with the morbid humour that had named the contaiment capsules the Catacombs, most of the medical staff referred to these nanoparticles as the ‘embalming fluid’, yet in reality nothing could have been further from the truth. The cocktail of nanoparticles did not just preserve the brain, they invaded it. No part of the brain was exempt. The centres for sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, gross and fine movement and the finer senses like spatial awareness were all invaded. Some of the embalming fluid even made its way to the amygdala because the ability to fear was an integral part of being human.
As the network of nanoparticles grew, they would slowly form artificial neural pathways. In time those pathways would connect with the AI interface, allowing the patient to experience the most minute sensory feedback from the digital world.
Much of the technology for the creation of this digital world came from gaming, but the wizards of Innerscape had taken the technology to heights of sophistication unimaginable to ordinary gamers. The world engine was also built with multiple redundancies so that nothing less than the complete destruction of the facility would interfere with the residents’ lives.
Kenneth Wu had been instrumental in creating the AI-neural interface and few people alive knew more about it than he did. Stage 3 was quite literally his baby, and even Charles McGrath deferred to him in this area.
“The team is ready to begin Stage 3 Dr. Wu,” Charles McGrath said evenly.
“My instruments are ready to begin as well,” the surgical AI added.
Kenneth Wu looked down at Miira’s face for a moment longer before zooming his vision out to encompass the whole operating theatre.
“Sealing external carotid arteries now,” the AI said as its tools cut through the skin with lightning speed. “External carotid arteries sealed. Initiating removal of skin.”
Even before the AI finished speaking a fine mist began to form around Miira’s features, getting thicker by the moment until her whole head seemed to be encased in a swirling ball of white.
As Kenneth and the rest of the team watched, the mist gradually changed colour from white to a dirty pink. When the mist cleared, all the soft tissue of Miira’s face was gone and her head looked like a halloween mask, complete with gaping eye sockets and grinning teeth. It was not a pretty sight but the team had watched this transformation many times before and were inured to its gruesomeness. All of them had grown up with the wonders of nanotechnology and if they felt any awe at its power they did not voice their feelings.
“Phase 2 of Stage 3 complete,” the AI said. “Commencing removal of skull.”
Once again, a ball encased Miira’s head, but this time it was a ball of liquid which contained billions of hard working nanoparticles designed to eat bone. Bone was much denser than skin and cartilage, and the process took a full 30 minutes. At the end of those 30 minutes the ball of liquid bore a rather disturbing resemblance to oatmeal porridge.
As the team watched, one of the tools hovering outside the ball released three drops of a pale blue catalyst onto the surface of the ball. Within moments, the outside of the ball began to look more like dirty concrete than porridge. As the concrete hardened, it began to crack. The cracks turned into shards and the shards turned into even smaller fragments that lifted away from the surface and were drawn away like iron filings captured by a magnet.
Once the hard crust was removed, the ball of liquid held in place by electromagnetic currents was perfectly clear once more. And nestled in the centre was Miira’s brain.
“Phase 3 of Stage 3 complete,” said the emotionless voice of the AI. “Commencing diagnostics.”
This was the moment when Kenneth always held his breath. A great deal of computing power had gone into calculating the composition and number of nanoparticles to use, but there was always a slight risk of failure. If even a microscopic layer of unwanted cells remained around the brain the embalming fluid would not be able to penetrate evenly and they would have to take remedial action. It could be done, and had been done in the past, but the results were not always optimal, with the patients often suffering some small damage to the outer surface of the brain, or to one of the exposed blood vessels…
“Results are optimal,” the AI said.
Kenneth did not cheer like the rest of the team, but he did exhale on a very relieved sigh.
“Preparing to initiate Phase 4.”
This time the AI inserted an array of needles into the ball of liquid cradling Miira’s brain. Each needle was as fine as a human hair and each one dripped a measured dose of embalming fluid into the liquid. These nanoparticles were self-replicating and during the course of the next two days they would grow to fill the entire ball. Once that happened, the semi-solid surface of the ball would be sprayed with a different cocktail of nanoparticles which would grow into the interace connecting Miira’s mind to the digital world that awaited her.
“Phase 4 completed successfully.”
Now all they could do was wait. And pray that the final stages of the process went as smoothly as the first few.