While there’s many perks to having integral microbots, occasionally things can go drastically wrong. Aside from the usual glitches in template settings or programmed apoptosis, every now and then you get something a tad more apocalyptic in nature.
There is a reason why symbiotic microbots are not generally self-replicating, while having them produced by a prosthetic spleen can limit their speed it also makes them easier to control. However some models of microbots have the capability to go into “VN mode” during emergencies. At such times the microbots will cannibalize dead or damaged cells at the site of trauma to rapidly produce additional microbots that help to patch up the wounds until cells from less vital areas can be grafted into place and transformed into the appropriate tissue.
In and of itself, running microbots in VN mode isn’t too much of a problem, in the same sense that a cell with its’ tumor suppressor genes deactivated isn’t much of a problem.
The problem comes when a parahuman using microbots in VN mode suffers severe bodily trauma, usually around the death threshold. At this point the auto-cannibalism routines will come dangerously close to killing the patient for real, however the microbots will keep them alive and moving, no matter how emaciated they might become.
Or hungry, so very hungry.
Has it been mentioned before that microbots can seemlessly graft living cells from other parahumans into another? Or use dead ones to construct extra-cellular matrix and “filler”?
When microbots are allowed to go out of control in a parahuman body the results can be disastrous. If a parahuman with VN microbots suffers sufficient trauma they may become what modern folklore has dubbed a “Ghul”.
Between the injury and their microbots breaking down their body for raw material, most develop severe protein cravings in short order. Oftentimes the microbots may depress higher brain activity, leaving an animalistic intelligence in control of the body. It gets worse when the brain is damaged, in which case the feral state may be permanent. In this state the subject tends to become obsessed with absorbing additional protein to help their microbots repair them, in Federation regions the standard practice is to get them hooked up to an intravenous feed of synthesized parahuman proteins but outside its’ reach the most readily available source of the necessary proteins may be other parahumans.
The protein hunger subsides after the subject consumes equivalent protein to a pound of parahuman flesh, normal brain functions resume within the hour, assuming the brain was intact. Unfortunately, the microbot population in the subject remains at its high level and continues to cannibalize its host to maintain its numbers. Without a microbot reset at a Federation medical facility they feel hungry again after a day or two, starting to revert to the feral state again within the week.
Some Outworlds harbor covert infestations of intelligent Ghuls, usually initiated by a stranded Federation citizen, preying on the unwary and occasionally infecting a new convert. “Zombie apocalypses” are rare as the microbots are carried only by blood and lymph, a simple bite isn’t enough to transmit the infection, and the Federal Guard is often all too willing to K-bomb the site from orbit.