The Wheel tells the story of two men exiting their mining suits, but they have to be inserted at the beginning of each nine-month duty rotation. The process is a little more complicated than simply inserting a brain jack.
For a first timer, a "newbie," a little surgery is involved. Here's how it might go.
THIRD DAY ON THE STATION
"Miner Applicant 456 from Wendy's World, please report to Medical Level, Room 19, for Sync-Connect procedure." The voice whispered from an unseen speaker.
Miner Applicant 456 looked up from his data terminal, and he grimaced as his stomach tightened. His throat burned with the acid taste of dread. This was the step that was irrevocable.
Heck, he'd passed irrevocable months before when he'd palmed the contract committing to a nine-month term down on Purgatoria. If he backed out now, he would be back-billed the cost of transportation from Wendy's Word, and his room and board while on the station. Then, to return to Wendy's World was a death sentence in itself, and that was why he was here in the first place.
The real reason lay in a report that had come through on the link. He'd been watching, out of boredom more than anything else, and the news feed had trumpeted broadcasts from Tri-Star Mining Consortium of the latest developments in near-cyborg mining constructs. One of their latest models had achieved new and unprecedented production levels. The report was as much an advertisement for the units, hoping to create a market off world, but they had shown a unit in action, with the ID 3-L9 splayed across the main torso. In that look, he'd known. He had to find the man who operated that unit.
Now he was here. And it was time. And he could never undo what was about to be done to him.
It was time for the Brain Jack to be installed.
Applicant 456 shivered as he stood, looking for the offending air vent, belatedly realizing the cause. He was afraid. The medteam would cut into his neck, expose his brain stem, and attach a ganglia-rooted Weed into his neck, where it would send fibrous tentacles that would eventually invade his brain, so that when he jacked into his mining unit, he and it would think as one. There would be no difference between him and his mining unit.
They said it didn't hurt. He'd heard otherwise.
FORTY MINUTES LATER
"Yes, face down." The clean-suited medic indicated a padded table, one that was equipped with straps and an opening for a face. It also had a waste bag positioned just below the face opening. "Shirt off, and climb up."
The waste bag said they expected him to be violently ill. Great, Applicant 456 thought. It was going to hurt, and badly, he bet. He pulled the stretchy fabric of his shirt over his head, and he tossed it onto a chair off to the side. He rubbed the back of his neck with his hand, wondering how it would feel the next time he touched it. He'd seen others on station with their jacks showing just under collars, or visible in the cut of their hair. He shivered, and he sat on the table, twisting to lie face down. "Do you put me out?"
"A local only. You have to be conscious for the Weed to track your brain functions and insert itself properly. Don't worry. We've done this a thousand times."
The reason for the waste bag, the applicant reasoned, taking a deep breath. It startled him when they pulled his arms over his head and buckled them in, then a wider strap crossed his back, and several down his legs. How bad was his reaction to the Weed going to be? Violent? Apparently. He looked down at the waste bag, the opaque surface glaring at him in haughty disdain. It was telling him things he didn't want to hear, like he should have followed instructions and skipped his noon meal.
"I'm putting a nerve-dampening patch aside your neck. It'll feel warm for a moment, then it'll fade. Don't worry. We won't start until it kicks in all the way."
A cold hand pressed against his shoulder, then he felt something sticky on his neck. It was indeed warm at first, quickly increasing in heat until he was about to cry out, before the pain faded away.
"How's that?" The medic chuckled. There was the noise of skin slapping skin, but the applicant felt nothing. "Already made the first cut. I'd ask you to hold still, but that's moot, isn't it?" The straps, he meant, and his words had a laugh in them.
"Can I see the Weed before it goes in?" He'd heard about it, and if it was going in his neck, he'd like to make his peace with it before it was installed.
"We normally don't-"
"It's my head. I want to see." He tried to twist his neck to look, but he forgot. He was strapped down. He could feel the pressure around his face.
"Just don't say I showed you." The waste bag was slipped aside, and a closed hand wearing membrane gloves appeared just beneath him. "It'll try to get away from me, so I can't open my hand for more than a moment. Are you looking?"
"Yeah." And he gagged when he saw it. It was about four mils wide, and it was a miniature jellyfish of tentacles, alive and squirming in the man's hand. As soon as the hand was open, it stopped as if searching, and darted for the side and a way out, only to be captured when the fist closed around it one more time.
"You can name it if you want. It will remember."
"Name it?" The bag reappeared, and his vision swam. "Now?"
"Sure. Or you can wait. If you wait, though, sometimes it names itself." The medic chuckled. "They like to have names."
"Slate." It was his dad's name, lost so many years before. He still searched. It was what he looked for here.
"Slate, it is. I'm programming that in." After a moment he continued, "Your Weed won't hurt, but your reactions to its ganglia might."
"The straps, right?"
The medic ignored the question, going on, "As soon as the Weed's in, I have to attach the actual jack to your skull. It's painless, but you'll feel me putting in the impact rivets. Just so you'll know. I'm inserting your Weed now, and letting it go. You should start to notice a tingling in your fingers and toes first, then it'll get worse. Much worse. And I'm sorry we can't warn you beforehand, but you're going to throw up a few times. The first will be about now."
The applicant felt his stomach curl in his abdomen, and his entire body convulsed. His stomach poured from his mouth as he retched over and over, until he lay coughing with exhaustion.
"That was a good one. They'll get worse in a little while as the Weed continues to bond with your central nervous system. We'll keep you here for the worst of it, but you'll feel residual effects for the next month or so. Now get ready. I'm installing the rivets-" Bam! and his body jerked. "-and now for the next one-" Bam! It hit again. ''-and let me seal it up." A hissing sound followed the man's words.
"God! You're killing me!"
"It's not so bad!" The hand, still cold, slapped down on his bare back. "Oh, you have an official designation, now."
"Designation?" He barely got that out. He was still reeling from the retching.
"Your mining unit. 5-Z3 is shined up and fully refurbished just for you."
"I don't get to choose?" About then, his body tensed, and his stomach became a fist thrusting itself through his throat. He didn't care about 5-Z3. He just hoped he didn't see a vital organ falling out of his mouth into the waste bag.
"Slate picked for you. That's your Weed. You should feel it talking with you, now."
And Five Zulu Three did, although it was more a sense of awareness rather than an actual voice. It seemed to be apologizing, then Zulu Three's body convulsed again, and this time he thought he really would die. By the time it was over, he decided it was a shame he hadn't, because by the gods, this was the worst pain he'd felt in his entire life.