The Egg is a collection of six short stories that I published back in 2013, but at least two of them – The Gamer and Brehak – were conceived more than a decade earlier. Both grew out of my fledgling experiences as an online gamer, and the realisation that seeing really is believing, even when you know that what you’re seeing isn’t real.
But if two gamers can fall in love with their respective avatars, what happens when reality intrudes? Or when one of them deliberately deceives the other? Readers of Innerscape will recognize both of these themes. They, and much of the backstory of Innerscape grew out of these two stories.
The following excerpt is taken from the second story, Brehak:
The dark-haired man with the impossibly long legs sprawled on his throne, surrounded by a bevy of naked beauties – all small-breasted, all blond, all wearing the same come hither look. Except he hadn’t come…
“Out. All of you. Get out!”
As the blond NPCs winked obediently out of existence, their lord and master rose from his ornate, padded throne, and strode over to a huge tapestry that hung on the wall behind the throne.
The tapestry hid an iron-studded door that led out to a windswept balcony. From there he would have a panoramic view of the icy wastes that lay beyond the battlements. His realm.
Grabbing the iron ring that served as a handle, Brehak flung the door open, and walked outside. The chill wind, and the snow beneath his naked feet made him shiver, but he welcomed the discomfort. It was nice to feel something for a change.
When he had first created this fantasy realm three months ago, everything had been new and exciting, including the sex. But the thrill of being serviced by his harem of Ktah look-alikes had waned very quickly. No matter how he programmed them, their behaviour was never realistic enough to make him believe he was with her. None of them could ever capture that strange innocence lurking behind her seductive blue eyes.
Had she even been a she?
Brehak had agonized over that question a million times since the night Ktah disappeared from the OR. Her voice had certainly been that of a woman, but he knew that didn’t mean much. When he had tried out a female avatar, just to see what it would feel like, the game AI had subtly altered his voice patterns to make him sound more feminine. His walk though, and his body language, had remained stubbornly masculine.
Ktah had not played typically female classes, yet even so her body movements had always been graceful in a way most men could never match-
…except perhaps a really good female impersonator…
Was that why she/he finally ran away? Because they’d come so close to stimming?
Some days, Brehak was revolted by the thought that Ktah might have been a man. Other days he cursed her/him for not following through. Perhaps if they had finally had sex he would be able to move on. But they hadn’t, and the questions remained.
It was not that he had been in love with Ktah – they had not known each other long enough for that – but the possibility had been there, impossible to ignore. Impossible to forget.
Brehak knew it was stupid to be so obsessed with an avatar, and he had tried to exorcise Ktah’s memory many times, but none of the women he met in OR could hold his interest for long. Most were nice enough, but sooner or later they all started talking about meeting up ‘outside’, and that always killed it for him.
Back when the OR had been in its infancy, he had made the mistake of telling one woman why they could never be together in real life. The pity, and revulsion he had seen on her face had scarred him more thoroughly than all the surgeries he had undergone. Apparently some women could face making love to a man with no legs, but drew the line at one with no bowels…
Would he have seen that same look on Ktah’s face – if he had told her the truth about himself?
“We’ll never know now, will we?”
Leaning on the cold stone of the balustrade, Brehak looked out over his empty, icy realm and laughed. It was not a happy sound.
Brehak is by far the darkest story in the Egg. The rest range from kid-friendly to vaguely funny [The To-Do List], but all deal with how human beings deal the the technology we are likely to face in the future.
The Vintage Egg is starting its five day free run on Amazon tomorrow [March 2 northern hemisphere time, March 3 southern hemisphere time], and I hope everyone grabs a copy while it’s free.
To be quite blunt, I believe that digital innovation will be driven by three things: porn, gaming and medicine. Internet porn is already a huge industry, and so are MMO’s – massively multiplayer online games. Medicine will be the last of the triumvirate to arrive, but it will come because escaping from the real world has been a part of our DNA since early humans painted their hopes and dreams on the walls of caves.
I introduced gaming with Jaimie Watson, and the idea of gaming+porn with Leon in book 1 [Miira], but the focus remained on the purely digital world of Innerscape. In The Godsend, the gaming world of the Shogunate becomes the focus because that is where pure digital and real world escapism intersect for Miira and Jaimie.
The following is a scene that most gamers will recognize. In deference to non-gamers, I’ve kept it very short. lol
Feral Cat Whiskers And Other Junk
“I still don’t see why we have to kill all this low level junk,” Miira grumbled as she despatched her ninth wild dog. “I mean, did they even have wild dogs back then?”
“Yes, they did. Now stop complaining and hurry up,” Jaimie said. “I’m up to fifteen already.”
Miira glared at her partner but kept her mouth shut as she turned and shot an arrow at the next wild dog. Ten.
She and Jaimie had been killing low level vermin for hours, and she was bored to tears. Jaimie, however, was adamant, insisting that building their reputations with the villagers was more important than anything else.
When Miira asked why, Jaimie had simply said that a high reputation would stand them in good stead later, when they went up against bands of enemy players. Just exactly how this was supposed to work, though, he did not say.
Given Jaimie’s knowledge of the game, Miira could not argue with his strategy, but that did not stop her from wishing she was elsewhere, doing something a bit more interesting.
Watching grass grow would be more interesting, she thought as she dispatched yet another wild dog.
“Twenty!” Jaimie announced with satisfaction. “You almost done?”
“Four more to go,” Miira said with a sigh. So far, the day’s total of useless quest items included 46 wild dog pelts, 90 rodent tails and 20 feral cat whiskers…
I’ve included this short scene amongst my Favourite Bits because ‘the grind’ – the time consuming, mindless repetition of pointless actions – has been a part of every single game* I have ever played, and I suspect it will be part of every game I play in the future. The grind also features in every LitRPG story I have ever read, so this scene is a nod to both.
For those who have never stumbled across the category of LitRPG on Amazon, it’s a subgenre of fiction based on the idea of a gamer, or a whole group of gamers, suddenly finding themselves ‘living’ in the game world. This always involves full sensory immersion – i.e. the game suddenly feels completely real – and the plot revolves around a) surviving in a game that can now kill you, and b) discovering how and why the game has become real.
Some LitRPG is really awful because the grind is described in excruciating detail, as is the process of ranking up. At the other end of the scale, however, I’ve read LitRPG that made me want to live in that world. [see Forever Fantasy Online by Rachel Aaron or Ready Player One by Ernest Cline].
Innerscape is not LitRPG, but as a gamer, know what it feels like to become so immersed in a game that it starts to feel real…even in 2D. That feeling led me to ask ‘what would it take to make a digital world feel real?’ The answer became Innerscape.
And now, because this is supposed to be a marketing post, here’s the punchline:
The Godsend, book 2 of Innerscape, will be free on Amazon when the clock ticks around to February 2, 2021 in the US. For those of us in Australia, that’s at about 5pm today [Melbourne time]. The Godsend will remain free for five days, and then it will revert to the special promotion price of $1 until the last book comes off free on April 3, 2021. At that time all six books will revert to their pre-promotion pricing.
My aim with this long promotion is to force myself to do some marketing, give you some freebies, and help Miira and Vokhtah reach the magic 20 review mark [both are on 19 at the moment]. If you know anyone who enjoys scifi and wants some free books, please point them towards mine! Reviews are not necessary, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want some! Of course I do, but only if my stories have managed to help people escape the mundane for a little while.
Okay, that’s it. -breathes a sigh of relief-
Thanks for sticking with me,
…*… If anyone is interested in the gaming side of things, you can find my gaming posts on the sidebar, under the category ‘Games for big kids’.
I’m a little late with this post, but finding ‘favourites’ to post has been a lot harder than expected. Not because I don’t like The Godsend. Far from it. In some ways it’s my favourite part of the story because there’s a lot of action in it, and horrible choices, and gaming. But…that’s actually the problem. Most of my favourite bits are either spoilers for the whole story, or lose their impact without the context of what comes before. And that would be another spoiler.
So apologies, but no action bits. Instead, I’ve chosen a chapter called The New Girl. It’s not as long as it sounds and introduces a new employee to Innerscape. Her name is Marisa Bell, and she’s been recommended by the Chairman of the Board, Andrew Walker. CEO, Peter McAlister isn’t happy about having to find a place for the Chairman’s protégé, but he has to suck it up and make the best of it:
The New Girl
The taxi dropped Marisa Bell off at exactly 3:50 pm the next day, and Peter McAlister watched her every move through closed circuit holo as she swung muscular, silk-clad legs out of the taxi and adjusted her short grey skirt. The skirt was part of a retro power-suit that highlighted curvaceous hips and a narrow waist. Her bust, however, was surprisingly small.
Zooming in on the woman’s face, Peter saw bright red hair, attractive features, and deep green eyes. She was attractive enough but nothing out of the ordinary, certainly not the femme fatale he had been expecting.
If anything, Marisa Bell looked more challenging than seductive, a far cry from Andrew Walker’s normal squeeze. The current Mrs Walker was a pneumatic blond with more ambition than brains, and the previous Mrs Walker had been same, both of them airheads, except when it came to money.
Had Andrew Walker finally changed his taste in women? Or was his story about a ‘friend’ actually true?
Shrugging slightly, Peter turned off the surveillance display and sat back in his deep, comfortable chair. True or not, Marisa Bell was now his problem. But at least she looked smart, which might help with Emily.
As the Nursing Liaison of Patient Care, Emily could not refuse a direct order, but she could make life very unpleasant for Marisa Bell, if she chose to do so.
If that happened, Peter would have to ‘rescue’ the Chairman’s protégée by placing her in another department somewhere, or taking her into his own office, heaven forbid-
The chiming of the comms unit broke into Peter’s thoughts, and he sat up straighter as his secretary, James, announced the arrival of Ms Bell.
“Any word from Emily Watson yet?” Peter asked.
“Not yet, sir,” James said. “Should I offer Ms Bell some refreshment while she waits?”
“Yes, good idea. Oh, and let me know as soon as Emily gets here.”
Rising from his chair, Peter walked to the huge plastiglas window that took up one entire wall of his office and stared out at the gardens. The rain had stopped, but the unseasonal weather continued. He hated waiting, for anything.
* * *
Emily had always meant to be a little late, just to keep Peter McAlister off balance, but just before she was due to leave, a genuine emergency had cropped up, making her well and truly late. And now she was busting to go to the bathroom.
Well, they’ll just have to wait a bit longer, she thought as she came out of the elevator and headed straight for the Ladies room.
Beautifully appointed, with flattering lighting and not a single full length mirror in sight, the executive bathroom was usually a treat Emily liked to savour slowly. Today, however, she was in a hurry and barely noticed that one of the stalls was already occupied.
When she came out a short time later, a woman in a well-cut grey suit with rich red hair done up in a chignon, was washing her hands at one of the white marble sinks.
Innerscape did not get too many casual visitors. Could this be her?
Acting on impulse, Emily smiled at the woman in the mirror as she washed her own hands.
“I always love using this bathroom,” she confided. “Makes me feel important.”
“Oh, but nurses are important!” the woman said with a quick smile of her own. “My mother was a nurse, and the stories she told us about doctors! Make your hair stand on end.”
“Are you a nurse, too?” Emily asked.
“Me? No, I was never smart enough. I just do filing and that sort of thing, although I’ve been told I’m a good listener. Sometimes patients need a friendly ear, you know?”
“Very true,” Emily said. “As nurses we try to provide emotional support as well as medical support, but the medical has to come first.”
“Oh, I’m sorry!” the woman said, her expression horrified. “I didn’t mean to imply that nurses didn’t listen. I just meant-”
“No, it’s fine. I’d be lying if I said we can be all things to all people. So what are you doing here today? Do you have a relative coming to Innerscape?”
“Oh, no. I…I’m here for a job interview.”
“A job interview? Oh, how silly of me!” Emily said. “You must be Marisa Bell!”
“I…yes?” the other woman replied, her expression uncertain.
“Not to worry,” Emily said. “You’ll be working in my department, so Peter McAlister asked me to sit in on the interview.”
“I hope I didn’t offend you-”
“Far from it. I like honesty. I think we’ll get along just fine.”
“Thank you, that means a lot to me.”
“Well, we’d better go, or Peter will fire us both!”
* * *
“So what do you think?” Peter McAlister asked after Marisa Bell had gone.
“She’s nothing like I thought she’d be,” Emily answered slowly.
You can say that again, Peter thought. He was still having trouble reconciling the competent woman he had seen getting out of the taxi with the sweet creature who had just left his office.
“But she does seem…very nice,” he said, wondering if Emily had picked up anything odd.
“Yes, she does,” Emily said with a frown. “I just hope she isn’t too kind hearted. Sometimes Patient Care can be rough.”
“She’s probably stronger than she looks,” Peter said carefully.
At one level he was glad Emily had taken to Marisa Bell, but on another he could not shake the feeling there was more to Marisa Bell than met the eye.
“I hope so,” Emily said as she rose to leave, “because I think she’ll actually make a great addition to our staff.”
“Well, that’s good news,” Peter said. “Keep me posted.”
“Of course,” Emily said with a laugh. “But I don’t think there’ll be much to report.”
I hope not, Peter thought as Emily bustled out. I really hope not because I’ve got enough on my plate already.
I hope you enjoyed meeting Marisa Bell. Apart from Miira herself, Marisa is my favourite female character. She’s ‘bad and mean’, to quote from the Louis the Fly commercial, and yet she’s not all bad. She likes cats, and dreams of owning her dream home one day. And she’s broken.
As a student of human nature, I’ve always been fascinated by why people turn out the way they do, what makes them tick. In my not so humble opinion, we are all the result of nurture on nature. In other words, our experiences act on our innate traits to mould us into the adults we eventually become. Nowhere is this process more stark than in the people [or characters] we call villains.
To an outsider looking in, all villains may appear the same. They do bad/cruel/vicious things so they are bad, cruel, and vicious. But very few people see themselves as evil. In fact, to quote Rebecca Solnit ‘We are all the heroes of our own stories…’ And that includes ‘villains’. They do not see themselves as bad. And unless they are born psychopaths who really don’t care, they find reasons to excuse their bad behaviour, or diminish its ‘badness’.
So, is Marisa Bell truly bad? Mwhahahaha! You’ll have to read the book to find out. 🙂
If the first book of Innerscape is all about Miira, the second is all about the two men in her life – Kenneth Wu and Jaimie Watson. Jaimie is the eighteen year old son of Charge Sister Emily Watson, and the accident that almost took his life is the reason she moved heaven and earth to have him inducted into Innerscape. Kenneth Wu is a brilliant doctor whose research changed Innerscape forever, but he has demons, and now the life he constructed for himself is unravelling. Read on:
Home is Where the Heart is
Despite it being the end of spring, the day was overcast and sullen when the taxi bearing Kenneth Wu drew up in front of his house.
“We have arrived,” the onboard AI said politely. But Kenneth refused to take the hint. Instead, he stared up at the immaculate little Victorian cottage as if he had never seen it before.
When he was a kid, the house had been a waypoint, a place to rest before going on to some place else, and little in his adult life had changed that sense of transience. Now though, he would have to go inside and stay there, licking his wounds until something happened to kick-start his life again.
But what if nothing ever happened? What if that house swallowed him whole and never let him go?
“Dear Passenger,” the taxi’s AI said apologetically. “I must ask that you vacate the taxi as another Passenger has requested transportation.”
“Of course,” Kenneth said, a bitter smile twisting the corner of his mouth. Apparently not even the taxi company wanted him around. At least the house would never throw him out.
“Here,” he said as he jabbed his thumb at the meter.
The biometric device hummed happily as it read his thumbprint and charged the fare against his account.
“Have a nice day, Sir!”
Yeah, Kenneth thought as he slid out of the taxi and began walking up the artfully designed crazy paving that led to the front door. A box trundled three steps behind him, its wheels going clickety clack on the uneven flagstones.
The box contained the sum total of the last five years of his life: a mug, a couple of first edition text books, some clothes, the folded frame of his exercise bicycle, and a few letters of appreciation from the families of his patients. Everything else, all the important stuff, was proprietary, born of his mind, but not his to take.
At least he would not bring shame to the family by going to jail. That was something.
“Find something good in every day,” the therapist had advised his teenaged self, and Kenneth had tried to take her advice. But if not going to jail was the only good thing to emerge from this awful day, then what on earth was he supposed to find for the next day, and the day after that?
Placing his palm on the keypad, Kenneth let himself into the house and quickly reached for the control panel next to the doorframe, but he was not quite quick enough.
“Welcome ho-” The voice of the house AI began before it was cut-off mid greeting.
No, Kenneth thought as he listened to the echoes repeat down the long, empty hallway. This is not my home.
Home was his laboratory in Innerscape, but he would never be allowed to go there again.
Why this scene? Because this is the scene in which you start to get a hint of the seriousness of Kenneth’s childhood problems.
I know that therapy is common in some countries, but here in Australia it isn’t, especially for children, so knowing that Kenneth received therapy as a teen conjures up all sorts of negative possibilities. The fact that the mantra ‘Find something good in every day‘ continues to have relevance in his present hints at the depth of trauma he [may] have suffered.
I’m a pantster, so I knew Kenneth’s trauma would be bad, and I had a feeling it would involve his mother in some way, but I had no idea how or why until I wrote this scene. For me, this is the moment it hit me. This is the moment I knew. I also knew that I could not tell Kenneth’s story yet, and it almost killed me! But you see, Innerscape is Miira’s story so by necessity, Kenneth and Jaimie, and eventually Marisa Bell, had to be secondary characters. Their stories had to wait.
And before anyone says “But…”. Yes, I know they all became 99% major characters, but that 1% I managed to claw back had consequences. So for what it’s worth, I love this scene because I hinted at a heck of a lot but managed to restrain myself. 😀
There are also a couple of little things that most readers wouldn’t have noticed, and both involve the semi smart box that Kenneth brought home with him. Modern tech meant that he could command the box to follow him, but the ‘…clickety clack on the uneven flagstones’ comes straight from my childhood! lol
When I was about eight or nine, I had a little wagon which was just a box on wheels that I could pull behind me via a long handle. The reason I loved that little wagon was the noise it made. It was such a cheerful sound. In my mind, that contrasts so acutely with the sadness of Kenneth’s homecoming.
And last but not least, I love the paragraph about the contents of Kenneth’s box – ‘….Everything else, all the important stuff, was proprietary, born of his mind, but not his to take.’ Like Kenneth, my Dad was an innovator, but because he worked for one of the largest corporates of his day, when he left, he couldn’t take any of his inventions with him. They belonged to the company, paid for by a salary that was no bigger than that given to all the other engineers who only worked 9 to 5. Emlékszem Apu. I remember how much that hurt him.
So there you have my first favourite bit from The Godsend. The ebook will be free on Amazon for 5 days from February 2 to February 6, 2021. It goes without saying that I would love a review or two, but I’ll be happy if the story finds a few more readers. 🙂
p.s. oh and I put a graphic of the schedule of promotions up on the sidebar. Clicking on it will take you to the post in which the graphic occurs.
p.p.s. Just had a very strange experience. When I went to publish this post, WP displayed an error message to the effect that I was not allowed to use ‘the provided terms’. After some experimentation, it appears that the tag ‘My Favourites’ is what caused the error. Some weird kind of copyright/trademark infringement? I thought you couldn’t trademark common words and phrases?
First and foremost, Miira is now free on Amazon for five days from January 19 to January 23, 2021! You should be able to find Miira on your local Amazon. For those in the US, the link to Amazon.com is below:
And in case you’re still wondering whether you should add yet another book to your bulging TBR list, here is my last ‘favourite bit’ from Miira. This scene is shorter than the previous one, but not by that much, so apologies again!
Before you read the excerpt, you will need a little bit of context about the ‘suit’. It isn’t a jacket, vest and pants! Gaming in 2101 involves the use of full body ‘suits’ that contain sensors which help create a biofeedback system for the wearer. For example, if the Gamer stubs his toe, he/she will feel the bump.
The Teslasuit, shown on the left, is almost available already, but by the start of the next century, the best quality suits will have so many sensors embedded in the material that the Gamer is fooled into thinking he/she is experiencing the real thing. The top of the range ‘suit’ is the RT69 by Real Touch.
The rat-tat-tat of someone knocking on the door woke Lennie from a nap, and he started awake, heart pounding. Wha’ th’ fuck?
Nobody ever visited him at home. He made sure of that by keeping the address of his flea bitten kennel a close secret.
Rolling off the mattress, he grabbed the small table next to his bed and hauled himself upright as he tried to shake off the alcoholic fog that still clouded his thoughts. The only person who knew where he lived was the local pizza guy, but he had not ordered pizza. At least, he could not remember ordering pizza…
Gotta lay off the sauce a bit, he thought as he shambled towards the door, one hand scratching his crotch, the other rubbing the stubble on his chin.
When was the last time he’d shaved?
Lennie could not remember, but was not overly concerned. Life had been a very pleasant blur since the money came through, and he was not about to look a gift horse in the arse-
Bang, bang, bang.
“Okay, okay!” he cried. “I’m coming!”
Alcoholic fog notwithstanding, Lennie retained enough sense to check the view port before unlocking the door.
A woman wearing the bright red uniform of a courier stood outside, one hand raised to knock again. She would have been quite attractive had the red of her hair not clashed so badly with the red of her uniform.
She should dye it, Lennie thought as his eye dropped down to the woman’s other hand. It was holding the handle of a bright yellow trolley. On the trolley was a very big package with Real Touch written on it in electric purple lettering.
My suit! Lennie thought in delight as he quickly unlocked the deadbolt and the two padlocks securing his door. It was a cheap neighbourhood. It paid to be cautious.
“Lennie Huffnagel?” the woman asked. “Yup, that’s me.” “Authentication please.”
As Lennie bent to press his thumb into the tablet held out to him, a whiff of his own body odour made him wince. He would have to have a shower before he tried out the suit. Bugger.
“Where do you want it?” the woman asked.
“Um, just sort of in the middle,” Lennie said, suddenly very conscious of the piles of dirty dishes, and even dirtier clothing, that covered almost every available surface. “Hang on, I’ll clear a space.”
“It’s okay,” the woman said with a quick grin. “My brother’s room is just the same.”
Matching action to words, she set the trolley down in the middle of the room and began feeding the dirty dishes into the recycler.
Lennie gave her a quizzical look but did his part by throwing the dirty clothes into a pile by the wall. Soon, an empty rectangle of floor beckoned to be filled.
Spinning the trolley around with a quick flick of her wrists, the woman deposited the box in the middle of the newly cleared space and stood back to admire her handiwork.
“Got a cutter?” she asked.
“It’s okay,” Lennie said, suddenly a little uncomfortable. “I can manage.”
“Oh,” the woman said, her animated expression drooping into disappointment. “Sorry. It’s just…I’m a gamer too, ya know? I saw the label and I was kinda hoping I could get to see the RT69 for myself…”
“You play?” Lennie asked, unease forgotten. “Whadya play?” “Mega Dome,” the woman said with a slight blush. “Nice,” Lennie replied, working hard to keep a condescending smirk off his face.
Mega Dome was billed as a full contact martial arts game, but in reality it was just a fancy dating venue with a bit of slap slap thrown in to get people in the mood. He’d played it himself, before the agency picked him up and introduced him to real gaming. Still, the Ranga* knew enough to recognize a top of the range suit when she saw one.
Lennie gave the courier a quick but very professional appraisal as she stood in the middle of the room, clearly hoping to stay. She was not his type, far too fem with a small nose, small mouth and huge green eyes, but it would be fun to share the moment with someone who knew how awesome the suit really was.
“I’ll get the cutter,” he said.
The woman’s face lit up with pleasure, and Lennie suddenly felt quite warm towards her. If she played her cards right he might just give her a bit of slap slap himself.
My good deed for the day, he thought with a quiet chuckle as he ferreted around in the tiny food preparation area for the cutter.
When the woman finally left an hour later, Lennie lay on the mattress, his brand new suit fully connected and a look of terminal surprise on his face.
So why is this one of my favourite scenes? It’s because I’m fiercely protective of those I love, and I love Jaimie Watson, the only 18 year old Resident in Innerscape. Lennie Huffnagel betrayed Jaimie for money, so killing him off with his own ill gotten gains is poetic justice in my book. But I also love the colour red and characters with depth, so don’t expect the Woman in Red to be a simple anything. 🙂
A word of warning: I don’t write erotica or anything even approaching it, but I don’t pull any punches about ‘body functions’, so an earlier scene with Lennie may shock some people. Apologies in advance, but those scenes highlight the chasm that exists between the lives of the super rich, and those like Lennie who survive by exploiting them. Contrast is the key to everything.
I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing ‘Miira’ through my eyes. If you want to read the whole story, Miira, book 1 of Innerscape, is now free on Amazon until January 23, 2021.
I was going to introduce you to the Innerscape assassin today, but I decided that post would work better tomorrow, when the book is actually free. For now, I’m going to show you my favourite bit of ‘tech’ in the book. It’s a bit gruesome but there is a happy ending. 🙂
So here, without further ado, is the final stage of Miira Tahn’s physical induction into the virtual world of Innerscape:
Exactly one week after entering Innerscape, Miira Tahn was ready for the most delicate and invasive part of the whole Induction process – the creation of the neural network that would link her to her new, digital home.
Before that could happen, however, her entire skull would have to be removed, including all the soft tissue of her face. Only then could her naked brain be encased in the bath of proprietary biofluids that would lead to full transition.
In keeping with the morbid humour that had named the containment modules the Catacombs, most of the medical staff referred to the biofluid as the ‘embalming fluid’, but that was a misnomer. In reality, the biofluid was seeded with self-replicating nanoparticles that would not only preserve the brain, they would invade it.
The centres for sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, gross and fine motor skills, and the finer senses like spatial awareness, all would be invaded. Some of the nanoparticles would even make their way to the amygdala because the ability to fear was an integral part of being human.
As the nanoparticles grew, they would self-organize into a network of artificial neural pathways which would interface between Miira’s organic brain and the electronic ‘brain’ of the Innerscape AIs. Once that interface was complete, she would experience the most minute digital feedback as if it came from the real world, and in a very real sense, she would owe it all to Kenneth Wu.
Back when Innerscape first began, the neural interface had been little more than a net of microscopic sensors surgically implanted inside the skull of each Patient. The neural interface allowed them to enjoy a better quality of life than they would have done on the outside, but the experience had been less than perfect.
It had been Kenneth Wu’s idea to remove the skull completely, and it had been his ground-breaking work in nanotechnology that had been instrumental in the creation of the AI-neural interface Innerscape now used. No one alive knew more about Stage 3 of the process than he did, and even Charles McGragh deferred to him in this area.
“The team is ready to begin Stage 3, Dr. Wu,” Charles said evenly. “My instruments are ready to begin as well,” the surgical AI added.
Kenneth Wu looked up at the image of Miira in his faceplate, but superimposed over that image was the memory of her frightened brown eyes staring up at him as the anaesthetic took effect. She had been scared, very scared, but her last look had held nothing but trust. She trusted him. He would not let her down.
“Begin.” “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. As the seconds ticked by it became progressively thicker 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 was sucked away a few minutes later, all the soft tissue of Miira’s face was gone, leaving her head looking like a halloween mask. Her eye sockets gaped empty, her nose was gone, and her jaw sagged open, exposing the emptiness where her tongue had been.
“Phase 2 of Stage 3 complete,” the AI said. “Commencing removal of skull.”
Once again, a ball of liquid nanoparticles encased Miira’s head, but this time their function was to eat away at the bone protecting her brain. Bone was much denser than muscle and cartilage, and the process took a full 30 minutes. At the end of that time, 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 pale blue liquid onto the surface. The outside of the ball quickly began to look more like dirty concrete than porridge. A few minutes later still, the concrete hardened and began to crack.
As the process accelerated, the cracks turned into shards, and the shards turned into even smaller fragments that lifted 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 of it was Miira’s brain.
“Phase 3 of Stage 3 complete,” said the emotionless voice of the AI. “Commencing diagnostics.”
This was the moment at which 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 element of uncertainty. If even a thin layer of unwanted cells remained around the patient’s brain, the embalming fluid would not work properly, and the team would have to take remedial action.
It could be done, but the results were not always optimal. The patients often suffered 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 hollow needle was finer than a human hair, and dripped a measured dose of embalming fluid into the liquid. Over the next two days, the nanoparticles in the embalming fluid 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 interface connecting Miira’s mind to the digital world that awaited her.
“Phase 4 completed successfully.”
Now all we can do is wait, Kenneth thought with a familiar thrill of excitement mixed with trepidation. If he had done his job properly, the next time he saw Miira, it would be in Innerscape.
Anyone who’s followed my blog for any length of time will know that I love tech, and the life sciences, so I’m sure you’re not surprised by the technical detail that went into this part of the story. I do, however, apologise for the length of the excerpt. Miira’s induction into Innerscape is perhaps the most ‘scifi’ part of the entire story, and I wanted it to feel plausible. I believe that one day, this kind of technology, or something similar to it, will be commonplace. No more cutting through bone with a saw or making holes with a drill. Neurosurgeons will use very different tools to accomplish procedures that are currently impossible. I hope I’m around to see it.
Would I allow my body to become 100% dependent on an AI? Yes….with reservations. A digital world like Innerscape may one day provide terminal patients with a second chance at life, but wherever we ‘go’, we take our hopes, fears, strengths and weaknesses with us. That means no world will ever become a paradise, but with a little lot of good will, it could turn into a home…maybe.
Thank you for staying with me. I’ve had fun and hope you have too. Miira will become free tomorrow [my time] so I’ll post the third and last favourite for this book once the Amazon clock has ticked over. You can find the complete schedule of books coming up for free, here.
Stephen King famously advised writers to murder their darlings, but thanks to Audrey Driscoll, another excellent writer, I’m about to do the exact opposite! I’m going to tell you which of my ‘darlings’ I like the most, and why. But I’m also opening these questions up to my writer friends. Which bits of your stories do you like the best? More importantly, why those bits instead of others?
I thought long and hard about those questions myself, and in the end, I kept coming back to two, very different scenes from Miira, book 1 of the Innerscape science fiction trilogy. The first one features the main character, Miira Tahn.
In the following short excerpt, Miira has just entered Innerscape [a virtual world for the old, sick and dying, or at least those wealthy enough to pay the price of admission]. As the final step in her ‘orientation’, Miira must attend a fashion show at which she will meet most of Innerscape’s current Residents. She’s been hurt by these kinds of people before, but she’s learned to beat them at their own game:
Thanks to Miira’s determination to find just the right ‘armour’, she and the girls were fashionably late by the time they finally arrived at the venue for the fashion show. All around them, beautiful people filled the spacious room, chatting over exquisite canapés and sipping the finest simulated champagne.
Yet even so, their arrival did not go unnoticed. Emily, and Jane wore lovely pastel frocks that enhanced their colouring, but both looked a little insipid next to Miira’s neon presence. She sailed through the crowd like a bright red exclamation mark, impossible to miss and even harder to ignore.
Smiling and nodding at the Residents she recognized, Miira led the way to their seats as if unaware of the ripples she was causing.
The front row seats they had been assigned would give them an unobstructed view of the gorgeous creations soon to grace the catwalk, but Miira knew the seats would also give the Residents an unobstructed view of her. She would be under the microscope, and heaven help her if they found any chinks in her armour.
She had always hated the scrutiny that was part and parcel of her role as the Lady, but over the years she had learned to give as good as she got. Now, as she waited for the show to begin, she welcomed the gorgeous people who approached with a half-smile and a knowing look.
The women did not like her, air-kisses notwithstanding, but each man looked her up and down with cool intent.
Miira returned their looks, her hooded eyes hinting at promises she had no intention of keeping.
Miira is not me. But she may be the person I would like to have been during the six, miserable years I spent in an all-girl, Catholic convent school. I’d always gotten on better with boys than girls in primary school, so high school with only girls was… a shock. I learned that girls en masse are not always kind.
So the chip on Miira’s shoulder was probably inherited from me, but I like how she fought back. And I like the colour red.
Tomorrow I’ll tell you about another one of my favourites, but this time the person wearing red will be the assassin. Make of that what you will. lol
p.s. Don’t forget that Miira will be free on Amazon.com for five days starting on January 19, 2021!
All my science fiction books have now been reduced to 99c, and they’re now on Kindle Unlimited as well. As promised, I’ve also set up the free book schedule on Amazon. Starting January 19, 2021, Miira will be free for five consecutive days. The other five books are scheduled to be free as per the following table:
As you can see, the last book ends its free run on April the 3rd. I had to mess around with the dates a bit to make sure it didn’t finish on April Fool’s Day! -cough-
The 99c price point is so no one who wants a book misses out. If possible, though, please grab the book[s] during the free promotion. And it goes without saying that I would love reviews, any kind of reviews, even critical ones.
And finally an apology. I’ll be talking about these books a lot in the weeks ahead. I’ll try not to bore you silly, but there’s only so many ways of saying ‘read my book’. Bear with me!
I think we all know by now that 2021 is not going to become a good year any time soon. Despite the rollout of vaccines in most countries, it will take a long time before enough people are vaccinated to provide herd immunity* to those who aren’t. For most diseases, that means at least 70% of a population have to be vaccinated before herd immunity can kick in. With Covid-19, no one’s sure how much of the population has to be immune. There’s also a great big question mark around what the current vaccines will actually accomplish. Will they simply stop the disease? Or will they also stop infected people from passing it on?
So…. 2021 is likely to get a lot worse before it gets better. For the Offspring and I, that means we’ll be in self-isolation for a long time yet. Because of that, I thought there was no point setting any goals for the coming year. I was wrong. There are things I can do, both for myself and for others; it just took a while for me to see it.
One thing I’ve always been bad at is marketing, but marketing these days is mostly digital, so I’ve decided that my goal for 2021 is to get one more review for Miira and Vokhtah. Both are sitting on 19 reviews, and I’d love to see that number change to 20. Not a big goal, I know, but it’s an achievable goal if I pull my finger out and actually do some marketing!
“But I hate marketing!”
I’m probably the world’s worst salesperson, but I discovered a long time ago that when I believe in a product, my enthusiasm accomplishes what my lack of skill cannot – I can make others want to see what has me so excited.
“But I hate marketing my own stuff!”
Sadly, women of my vintage were brought up to believe that ‘showing off’ was the worst thing a woman could do short of flashing her boobs in public. I recognize the conditioning. I acknowledge that it’s incredibly unfair – why should men be able to blow their own trumpet while we have to be demure and self-effacing? But this fear of being seen as a show-off is so deeply ingrained that I cannot shift it.
But I can trick it into shutting up. 🙂 And this is where my light bulb moment kicked in. If I give my books away for free, I’ll be getting eyes on my work AND I’ll be providing some escapism for those who are still in limbo. And that is exactly what I plan to do.
The first step of this grand plan is to drop the price of all my books to 0.99 cents. Then, once every two weeks, I’ll put one of the books up for free on Amazon. The book will remain free for 5 consecutive days before returning to the 0.99 cent price point. When the last book has had its turn at free, I’ll put all the books back to their original price points.
This is what my books cost now:
I’m not sure how long it will take for the price change to register on Amazon, but I’ll post an update when the new prices are available.
So that’s my grand plan. If I achieve the two extra reviews I’ll be happy. If I don’t, I can still hope that my stories ease the strain of this weird point in time, at least a little, and…I’ve got a plan for the next twelve weeks.
much love, Meeks
…*… herd immunity works by surrounding infectious people with people who are already immune. To survive, the bacterium or virus needs new hosts to infect. With no new hosts available, the bacterium or virus runs its course and dies. Eventually, every infected person recovers and bingo, no more virus. To get to that point though, an awful lot of people have to be immunised at the same time, otherwise the virus just keeps ticking along.