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Cybernetics Not Superpowers

Posted on Apr 13, 2021 @ 3:17am by Captain Kassandra Thytos
Edited on on Apr 13, 2021 @ 3:17am

Mission: Black Sun Rising

"Cybernetics not superpowers"

(Cont. Office Hours)

* * *=/\=* * *

Stardate: 2.21.0412.1804
Scene: Sickbay

“Do you understand the procedure which we are about to perform on you?” Doctor Pauli asked Kassandra as she sat on the edge of seat in the medical office. This was just a formality, really; They’d explained what they’d be doing in detail many times over the course of the last few months. But because it was experimental, because it was an untested bit of biomedical engineering, it required more stringent ethical standards, namely she had to be on record saying that she understood what they were going to do to her, that she knew and understood the risks, and that she was agreeing to the treatment without coercion. She nodded. “Please answer verbally.”

“Yeah, I understand what you’re gonna do,” Kassandra responded, her voice sounding scratchy and squeaky to her ear.

“And you understand that this treatment is experimental, and has not been tested before?” Pauli’s face was somber. He was taking this very seriously. The Borg, as Kassandra had learned, didn’t have quite the same concept of ethics and informed consent as other species. Although they didn’t have the collective in the sense that it used to exist anymore, they were able to use a version of it for groups to connect and arrive at a rapid consensus, and once the consensus was reached, the level of consent and general feelings of all participants was clear. They also had far less fear or trepidation when it came to biomechanics failing- an inoperative vision upgrade that left the user blind was more like breaking a bone or needing stitches- inconvenient, possibly distressing at the time it occurred, but not something with long lasting implications, there was always an old version that could be swapped in, or else you’d just find some way to adapt until they fixed the problem with the upgrade.

Pauli found the non-Borg fear of loss of ‘function,’ as he put it, a bit hard to understand fully, and was openly bemused about other species’ hesitancy to be blunt about their misgivings or hedge on what they said in order to put others at ease, and since he didn’t understand these things, but understood that this was a very important part of biomedics in the Federation, he was rather stiffly doing things by the book, based on a long treatise by some medical ethicist. Kassandra found it more gratifying to see the doctor flustered than she should have been.

“Yup. Yes,” Kassandra amended, when Pauli frowned at her first answer.

“And you understand that there is a possibility of death, permanent disability-” Pauli continued, and Kassandra put on her very best ‘listening attentively’ face. In reality, she was taking the last few minutes to really take notice of what it was like to ‘see’ with her nets. There was a possibility, however minor, that she would not be able to see with the new nets, that they would have to take out the processor, and she would have to wait another few months, sightless, until they fixed whatever issue there was. Another possibility, which had wormed its way into the back of Kassandra’s brain and lodged there, waiting until she was doing something else about to fall asleep to start wriggling and gnawing at her consciousness, was that it would work, but it would take her just as long to adapt to the new sensor nets as it had taken her to adapt to the original set. The long year or two of confusion, of being barely able to go anywhere without being two sheets to the wind so that she wouldn’t be overcome with anxiety as she stumbled around in a world of sensor signals that she could barely interpret.

Aerdan and the others had assured her this was unlikely to happen this time around- things would be different, but it would be much easier, more refined, with features that would make her life much easier. All well and good, but Kassandra rather wondered if any of them had had the pleasure of seeing one of their aging parents try to use a “new, more intuitive, easier” gadget, or worse, had to try to explain how to use it via holochat.

Kassandra became aware that Pauli had stopped talking.

“Yes, I understand,” she intoned.

“Good, then let’s put you in the stasis field. You’ll have to be awake for the part where we start messing with the brain-processor interfaces so we can make sure we’re not inadvertently rewiring anything incorrectly,” Pauli said as he lead her over to the operating theater. The whole thing was like something out of a science fiction movie to Kassandra’s mind. The whole place was empty, minus the tray of equipment. As Pauli issued some commands to the HCARS system, a holographic chair was projected into the center of the room.

Kassandra couldn’t see it too clearly, the holographic form put off too much interference with her sensor nets, but she’d been told that the holographic system made it much easier to perform surgeries- for one thing, the patient could be moved gently into new positions by morphing the shape of the bio bed, and a stasis field meant that the patient could even be suspended upside down or otherwise in positions against the laws of gravity if it made the position more ergonomic for the surgeon. Holographic sheets, hospital gowns, and non-technological devices such as swabs and clamps eliminated the chance of infection, or pieces left accidentally inside a patient. If a patient needed a temporary piece of hardware like a stent inserted, then they could be kept with a holographic version in their body until it was no longer needed at which point it could be magicked away.

Pauli manipulated the bio bed into a chair shape, and motioned her to sit. She did so, and felt it as the Borg turned on the stasis field, immobilizing the major muscles in her body, keeping her from making anything but the most minute of movements, apart from the functions necessary for life. Then the chair rose from the floor, floating in the middle of the operating theater. It began slowly tilting to the side until she was in a convenient position for the doctors to access the port for her sensor net systems.

“You’ll have to keep talking to us as we work, don’t worry about what, we’re only interested in that you’re still making sense, although as I have mentioned before I suggest- nothing funny, and nothing so off color as to distract the doctors” Aerdan said solemnly. Kassandra fought back a smile as she mouthed the oft repeated phrase along with him. The prim doctor had made it a point to say it several times in the pre-operative counseling sessions, leading to her to wonder if he had the impression of her as a rather crass goof. Though that description was probably not as far from the truth as she would like to pretend.

“Don’t worry doc, two people I never try to make laugh while they’re workin’ on me; hairdressers and brain surgeons. I got this. An’ yeah, I remember, no spoofin’ ya that something’s gone wrong and startin’ to talk in tongues or somethin’ just to mess with ya. Wanna hear the user manual for my pulse rifle?”

“That will do fine. Now, if anything, anything at all changes, or seems wrong to you, tell us immediately,” Pauli said shortly. He turned around and went to the door of the operating room, and brought in his class. Kassandra had agreed to let them see the procedure, though now that she was immobilized in the chair under the glare of the operating room lights, with them in a circle around the edge of the room gawping at her, she was regretting her decision. There was a current of nervousness off of them that seemed to feed her own uneasiness, and this would be the first time she would be this vulnerable in front of such a large group of people.

There was a slight hum of some piece of equipment, and Aerdan’s soft voice informed her that they were going to make the first incision to remove a flap of scalp to expose her processors. The students seemed to take a collective breath as it happened, and then as Pauli’s surgical protoge Doctor Singh pulled out the processor and began disconnecting it, Kassandra was somewhat gratified to hear the soft thump of one of them passing out.

* * *=/\=* * *

Installing the new processing equipment took far less time than the less delicate, but vastly more time consuming process of removing the thousands of feet of wires that comprised the ‘net’ part of her sensors. The old nets required physical hard wiring to connect the sensor nodes to her processing so their data could be interpreted by the systems. The new system’s sensor nodes were ‘wired’ into neurons which had been grown and trained so that they fed into the new interface with the processing unit. This would give her nets far more stability, since anything that was able to stop the flow of information up a neuron would leave her with far more problems than her nets going on the blink.

The number of sensors were being increased almost fourfold, but the sensors were more specialized than her old ones had been. Instead of generalized sensors which took all the data they could and threw it at the processing unit and Kassandra’s brain to decide what was important, the majority of the processors took only proximity and basic information about Kassandra’s immediate surroundings, acting like peripheral vision or proprioceptor enhancements. The rest of them were more detailed, taking more information like light levels, colors, texture, composition, and other readings which Kassandra’s processor could use to create a ‘mental image’ of what was around her.

Tulla Keiku, having not been part of the delicate neurosurgery and melding of electronics with neurons which was Dr. Singh and Aerdan’s speciality, was tasked with the removal of the wires. She made precise slices up and down Kassandra’s skin, pulling the wire from it as Doctor Allison Samson worked methodically behind her, placing new sensor nodes and connected them to their neurons, as Doctor Pauli coaxed Kassandra’s nanites to leave their decades-long home and enter a flask temporarily until they could be reprogrammed. When they finished and moved to a new section, Nurse Rasmussen healed the wounds back together. Again and again the blue blade of the laser scalpel flicked across Kassandra’s skin, following the holographically projected lines with practiced ease, opening up a raw gash, then Tulla would reach in with some tweezers, grab, and flick the metallic thread of the sensors out like some sort of demented tailor until she stood in a tangle of gold wire.

“This is overkill,” Tulla finally said as they stepped back and took a short break. “We still have a quarter of the system left to go.

“This was a military project, they had some idea of creating a super Marine, I believe, which does partially play into this.” Pauli pressed his lips together, looking slightly annoyed at the thought. “But it is also my experience that non-Borg tend to conflate ‘more’ with ‘better’ where cybernetics are concerned. They seem to think that for an implant to be worth installing, it needs to confer benefits that border on superpowers. ‘Oh, I want an eye implant that allows me to read things from a mile way,’ or ‘oh, I want leg implants that allow me to jump 20 feet in the air’ that sort of thing, never thinking about the practicality of those implants in their daily life, or whether something less drastic would serve the function they need. I believe this in turn is what keeps many non-Borg from getting cybernetics, as they see them as something that are life changing, rather than enhancing. I hope to have my students change this perspective, especially after working with the Major and realizing that what most people want is an improvement or an upgrade, not a drastic change.” Pauli paused for breath. “And I’m afraid I’ve rather ‘gotten carried away’ as the Major says, I’m afraid I’m rather passionate about the subject, and since becoming a professor I have become rather accustomed to pontificating for hours on my favorite subjects, since none of my students will stop me.”

“Everyone has something they tend to go on about,” Allison said with a slight twitch of her lips, though her eyes flicked over to her office where her experiments were busily running without her with an air of longing. “Don’t get Doctor Bartlett started on home canning, or the history of pediatric vaccinations.”

“Ah, well. As long as I haven’t bored you,” Doctor Pauli looked uncertain. “Well, we’d better get this finished, it’s been a long day already, and we won’t get any more rested sitting here. We’d better finish this up.”

* * *=/\=* * *

Kassandra came to slowly as the medical machines slowly dragged her back to consciousness out of the artificially induced deep sleep. She kept her eyes closed for a moment, giving herself time to prepare for the barrage of questions and tests she would soon be subjected to. In a few minutes they would turn the processors on, calibrate the systems, and she would know whether or not this whole thing had worked, or if she consigned to the dustheap of obsolete technology.

She sighed mentally and opened her eyes. There was no point in feigning slumber for much longer anyway, they had equipment monitoring her brainwaves anyway and they no doubt already knew she was no longer asleep. She had the moment of panic that she always had when opening her eyes and seeing nothing, but it quickly subsided. Beneath her the holographic biobed morphed, slowly changing shape until she was sitting up in a natural position.

“Hello Kass,” Aerdan’s voice said off to her right. “Are you ready to have us turn your new system on?”

“Yes- No. I guess so?” Kassandra took a deep breath. “Guess it’s now or never anyway, get on with it, doc.”

“Okay, as always you might experience some nausea or disorientation when we turn it on. We’ll perform the standard calibrations that we have in the past for your sensors once you’ve had a few minutes to get used to it. If you find the system is too overwhelming and need us to turn it off, tell us and we can start by turning on sensor functions on one at a time,” Aerdan’s voice was soothing, a little annoyingly so, but then Kassandra was an oddity when it came to her preferred bedside manner in doctors. She nodded, and braced for the overload of information and data which never came. The best way she could describe it was that her previous sensor nets were like trying to have a conversation in a crowded bar, with dozens of other people holding their own conversations while music played over the speakers, and these ones were like having a conversation in a quiet coffee shop. Instead of the old bombardment of facts about her surroundings and objects in it (light levels 120,000 lumens, floor, replicated wool, color red 98, green 158, blue 160, 1.5 cm in depth on average, walls, 3.256m away at your 3:00, 4.80m away at your 6, etc, etc) with no information prioritized, the new system had taken all the information and taken it one step further, packaging in a way for her brain to just ‘know’ what it meant (the room is very bright, with a short blue-green carpet over the floor, it’s a medium sized room, and you’re not quite in the center of it), and it gave her the basic, important information first, where she didn’t have to sort through all the other sensor information to figure out what she wanted to know. There was movement to her right, and her processor switched to focusing on data from that side of her body. She was given the impression of a medium height Andorian, lean of face, with a shock of silvery hair, blue eyes, highly motile antennae, and the impression of being sharp and angular, and with a little effort she could paint a mental picture of him.

“Aerdan?” Kassandra wasn’t sure why she said it so tentatively, after all, it wasn’t like there were many Andorians on the Phoenix, and of those, only Aerdan Jos was Medical. It just seemed like tentative was the correct mood for this situation. Aerdan flexed his antennae in a movement that struck Kassandra as pleased, and inclined his head slightly.

“I take it the nets are working satisfactorily?” Kassandra turned towards the voice and her sensor nets switched over to ‘looking’ at the speaker. A tall man, blond hair (what little there was of it sticking out from around his implants), blue eyes. Doctor Pauli. From what her new sensor nets told her, he was far different looking than she’d imagined. From the outsized information her old system gave her on his cybernetic implants, Kassandra had been under the impression that he must have looked very similar to the Borg of old, with metal and wires sticking out everywhere. In reality, he looked far more human than she had imagined, with the implants looking more like high tech jewelry, and many of them not even visible.

“I think so,” Kassandra replied, as they began the well-known calibration protocol. “It’s different, but, like *good* different, I think. Ain’t so noisy as it used to be, an I can pretty much imagine what things look like now, though, I guess I may have trouble recognizin’ people now, as I these sensor nets make it clear I’ve been mis-imaginin’ what people look like. An’ I’m wonderin’ what it’s gonna be like to fight, because it seems like I’m not seein’ some of the stuff I used to.”

“I would recommend taking a week or two to get used to your nets before attempting combat, but when you do get in a fight, the processor should switch modes and give you the information our analysis indicated you used most frequently in that situation. That’s why we made you wear that logger for a week, to see what information you were paying attention to from your nets, and in what context, so that your processor could change what information it packages for you depending on the need,” Pauli said, sounding smug. “Now, you can get up and-”

Kassandra pushed herself forward to get out of the chair, but misjudged the distance between the seat and the floor and barely managed to avoid crashing into the cart of medical equipment bound for the waste recycler.

“You might want to take it slow, you’ll need some time to adjust to your nets.” Pauli finished, dryly. “We’ll follow up in a few days and see if any adjustments are needed.”

“Thank y’all, I guess I owe you drinks or dinner or somethin’ once we get back from this nebula thing,” Kassandra bobbed her head as she headed back towards the small changing area where she could ‘remove’ the holographic hospital gowns and put her uniform on. It was certainly going to be interesting getting used to the new system.

* * *=/\=* * *

NRPG: Okay, that's all the character development quota I have for the next 5 years, next post, Kass swears, punches something, drinks, and maybe makes some crude comments ;)

A post by
Alix Fowler
Kassandra Thytos
Certified Cyborg, now 100% Borg free (probably?)


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