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art by Jonathan Westbrook

MiracleMech

Tim Deans is a childrenís social work manager in the north east of England. He has written a nonfiction travelogue about his driving adventures in Africa and India, and is currently writing science fiction stories in the brief moments between work, family life, and sleep. This is his first story for Daily Science Fiction, but hopefully not the last.
***Please Note: This is an adult story, with violence***
The general slapped me on the back with one hand while prodding his forefinger against the observation window. "That meets the definition of a miracle, Doctor."
"Yes, sir," I replied, "it does."
"Don't be coy, Doc. You'll get the credit, I'll make sure of that."
I sighed. "I'd rather you didn't."
The general frowned at my comment, his eyebrows twitching with irritation. "You invented the nanomech, doctor, and even if it is a military secret at the moment, the time will come when the world will know everything about your contribution to medicine."
"You misunderstand me, General," I said. "I agree that this is a miracle. I agree that it happened because of my work. I can't agree that it is a success."
"I don't understand."
"General, there were seven men in that patrol. Only Private Hicks had the nanomech prototype in his system."
"And?"
I pointed through the window at the man on the bed. "That isn't Private Hicks."
"You aren't making sense, Doctor. I've known Hicks for years. That is him."
"It looks like him, I'll grant you that," I said, "but let me tell you my hypothesis. It was a routine patrol and they weren't expecting trouble. They were ambushed in a place where the rebels had established gun emplacements and the advantage of height. In short, General, it was a massacre."
The general nodded. "I've read the report, Doctor."
"It was incomplete; a preliminary report," I explained. "They were attacked with a combination of small arms and heavy caliber weapons."
He nodded again. "Yes, yes."
"In the first moments I suspect that a .50 caliber round blew Private Hicks' right arm clean off."
"His arm is there, Doc. Both of them are still firmly attached."
"Yes, his arm is there, as you say," I agreed, "but if I can continue... his arm was blown off. Private Hicks was then tragically hit a number of times in the chest and head. He was killed outright in moments. The nanomech is capable of repairing a lot of damage, but it can't bring people back from the dead, General."
The general motioned again towards the window. "Doctor, Hicks is alive and well in the next room. Am I missing something?"
"Yes," I said, bluntly. "You are missing the one vital clue in solving this puzzle. Hicks' right arm." I took a marker pen from my coat pocket and drew a body outline on the observation window. I started to mark dots around the figure. "There are a number of sites in the human body where we insert nanomech," I said as I worked on the diagram, "in the head, chest, trunk, limbs. You know this from the briefings, General. At each site is a pack of nanomites, nanomeds, biomass, and an AI unit."
"What is your point, Doctor?"
"The AI unit," I said. I felt like I was explaining the obvious. "Each unit at each site is a quantum computer. Minuscule, but incredibly powerful. Capable of billions of calculations a second. Alert, aware, perhaps even self-conscious. The AI has one aim, General. Just one: save the man. Keep him alive, no matter what it takes."
"It did its job well." He sounded less positive.
"No, General, it didn't. The system works fine when all the AI sites work in concert with each other. We didn't anticipate a situation like this. Hicks' arm was blown off. At the same moment he, Hicks the man, was killed and so were most of his squad. Another member of his squad, Private Rogers, was hit in the chest with small arms fire. Not necessarily a fatal wound on its own, but then something unexpected happened. Something we hadn't anticipated. Something that we couldn't predict in a million simulations. Not even a trillion."
"What?" snarled the general. "What do you think happened?"
I smiled, ruefully. "Private Rogers was also hit in the right arm by a .50 caliber round." I watched as understanding started to seep across the general's face. "It truly was a miracle, General. Hicks' arm, blown off by that round, flew through the air and by an incredible coincidence, a miracle, landed in contact with the bloody stump where Private Rogers' right arm had also been blown off."
"No."
"There is no other explanation, General. The AI unit then followed its programming to the letter. Without the other units to communicate with, it had only one goal: save the limb. To save the limb it had to have oxygen and that meant a blood supply. To access a blood supply it had to attach itself to Rogers."
"But he looks like Hicks," said the general stubbornly.
"Physically he is Hicks," I said. "Aren't you following me, General? Repairing arteries is a simple matter for the nanomech system, but you can't easily evade the defenses of a host body. The AI obviously took the only step it could to protect the limb: it rewrote Rogers' DNA. It turned Rogers into Hicks. The man in there looks like Hicks because he is biologically identical to Hicks. It simply is not him. The man in there used to be Rogers and is now an empty shell, with no memory or mental functioning, who to all intents and purposes is now Hicks."
"So where is Hicks?"
"Dead on the battlefield. They recovered his body yesterday. The man in that room may look like Hicks, but he's wearing dog tags belonging to Private Rogers."
The general thought for a moment. "I still think it is a miracle, Doctor."
"I'm not sure that Rogers would agree, General."
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, November 28th, 2012


I have always been interested in technological development and where AI and nanotechnology may take us. I started thinking about how current technology can have unexpected quirks and doesnít always behave the way we might expect. The more advanced technology becomes the more likely that unforeseen circumstances may lead to unanticipated consequences. I first thought of writing this story from the AIís point of view but decided later to have the characters mention its actions in a matter-of-fact way. As a slight aside, so much new technology is driven by the military the story simply had to have a general in it.

- Tim Deans

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