art by Jonathan Westbrook
by Tim Deans
***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."
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?"