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.
“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.