Not far away, in the town Nelson was from on top of the valley hills, another routine was going about a far different day. Sarah had known Nelson as everyone in that town had known everyone, yet she did not know him as he was now. She was not aware he too had become a routine though for vastly different reasons, and she had no clue that he was less than ten miles away and would be responsible for the throng of gunshots she would hear later that day.
She was not a military routine at all and would not have the connection to him that his troops had. She had become a routine before the government bought out companies and patents and workers to create their enormous army in the name of ‘homeland security.’ She bought her routine from the privatized company that had created the concept, prototypes, and all the hype to go along with it, Echo Corp.
Being from such a small town she had been ridiculed the first few months she came back and continued to have trouble connecting with some of the elder residents. They would avoid going to the doctor if she was on duty, which was half the time since there were only two doctors in town anyway. Despite the fact that her routine made her one of the most talented and knowledgeable medical professionals in the world some people still thought altering your body in such a drastic way was a disgrace and abomination to what God had given you.
The truth was Sarah had struggled with the decision herself. Having been raised in the church and taught all the strictest moral values a small town church has to offer she knew her mother would have disowned her, were her mother still alive when she did it, and her dad constantly reminded her of the biblical implications of such actions. He was the pastor at the church she had grown up in and, while he avoided saying it directly, she knew he was disgraced to have her sitting in the pews at the scrutiny of the congregation.
But she had weighed all the options and considered all the angles. She had saved all the extra money she made as a CNA while finishing medical school and having done so at the top of her class was offered a large discount on the procedure.
On top of that she was one of the first 500 routines and compared to what people were paying just a year later she paid a small fraction to their small fortune. Echo Corp had struggled to get people to agree to the procedure early on and ridicule to those who did was widespread. Sarah took the time to research everything they were doing and realized not only how beneficial it could be but how much sense it made.
She only had one regret in that she had needed to be one of the early adopters financially speaking because after the 10,000th routine was created they released a new version that was less apparent to the outside world.
The biggest difference between her routine implant and the newer ones was the spinal graft piece at the base of the neck and top of the back. The new implants were only visible below the neckline by a small piece that was too large to fit inside the body where the pieces connecting it to the brain stem and spinal cord were now microscopic, hair-like wires inside the skin. Sarah’s implant was connected with larger wires and a control unit that, while thin and flexible, was long and covered the bottom of the neck.
Both implants were controlled by a unit that was located in the body where the appendix once lay. This unit provided a small amount of power needed as well as the programming itself, technically known as the routine.
Sarah chose a medical implant, a routine designed to make her the most knowledgeable doctor in the world. There were others now, but she had dedicated herself to be the best because that is what it took to get the implant in the beginning.
And she fought hard to get it, too. She sat through all the lectures, trainings, updates, fill-ins, and safety required speeches. Some told her the risks of the surgery itself. Others told her how to care for the implant. Another one told her what to do if the implant stopped working while another said what to do if it started working in a way it wasn’t supposed to.
“In the event that your left arm starts waving at people uncontrollably,” this was the one she remembered most but that was because she started laughing so loud that the instructor stopped to let her finish.
And the longest one went very thoroughly through what the implant COULD do; give you knowledge, and every last thing it could not do. “A person could memorize every piece of orchestral music known to man but if he had never played a piano, what good would he be?” Sarah understood the first time she’d read it in the brochure and again when the salesman told her and yet again when the doctor who evaluated her told her.
She had already been studying to be the best; this just gave her reason to try even harder.
“Why do you want an implant that would make you top of your field in a questionable manner?”
This question was asked of her only once, by the CEO of Echo Corp, Kendrick Keys. He personally interviewed the first one thousand participants and gave final approval. He asked it with a monotone voice without looking up from his computer. She was ready for the question in the sense that she’d thought about it for hours and yet it still gave her pause.
She wanted to know everything and had a sponge-like thirst for knowledge. She wanted to work for the best hospitals and programs and studies and find cures for things that once seemed incurable. She wanted to help people in third world countries and give free advice to those who couldn’t otherwise afford it. She wanted to bring babies into the world and keep the elderly from dying. She wanted…
“I want to save people like my mom,” She finally replied weak and soft, “so that other children don’t go through what I did.” Kendrick looked up from his computer but he didn’t say anything. He had lost a parent when he was young and the feelings came rushing back. There was an awkward pause as he stumbled to find his voice to ask the next question but Sarah never noticed. She was too surprised by her last answer.
Of course, she didn’t get to do any of that.
She finished college before getting the implants being urged by Echo Corp to wait otherwise the school might not let her graduate citing cheating as reason for expulsion. What she hadn’t counted on was the fact that no hospital would hire her for fear of scaring the patients.
After a few months she attempted to cover it up and not tell the people interviewing her about it but she had been on the news for a story about the procedure so, of course, she was well known in the medical community just not in the way she had wanted.
She could have gone overseas where routines were seen as the future of technology rather than the abomination that the US, its creators, would have you believe but she didn’t have any money. She’d spent everything she had on the procedure and now had school debts she would have to start paying.
She had come home to try and figure out what her next steps would be and hoped an answer would come soon considering her dad told her, in no uncertain terms, that this was Gods punishment for defiling her body. She didn’t believe it. She still believed in God and prayed more than she had in her whole life but she believed that what she had been given was good and it was a gift from God.
Still her dad enjoyed having her around again and tried to keep his opinions on this matter mostly to himself. They had never gotten along very well after her mother had died, or before for that matter. Her mom was the glue in the family and her and her father simply co-existed. She’d seen her dad cry once, and that was the day her mother had died.
They didn’t even talk for the first month after they lost her. They ate and watched TV and would grunt approvingly or disapprovingly at various things but they just didn’t have anything to say. The first thing she remembered being spoken between them after the funeral was her dad asking if she would like some almond milk to which she informed him that mom was the one who liked almond milk. After a few moments of silence she eased the tension by requesting strawberry milk instead.
The truth was they had never spoken about how her mother had died or what it meant to either of them or about her at all. She spoke to her friends and her dad spoke to God.
When she had ran out of options of real hospitals she went to see Doctor Lions at the clinic in town. Doctor Lions had been the doctor in town when she was born and there had never been another one or an assistant. If the Doctor wasn’t in, the doctor was most assuredly out.
She expected the same cold shoulder from him as from everyone else but to her surprise he was excited to have her help and asked lots of questions about her implant. He even spent over an hour quizzing her on random medical facts and procedures to see if the implant did what it was supposed to do. He felt quite happy with himself when he stumbled upon an old medical procedure that she was not aware of. A procedure which, while replaced by modern medicine and technologies, was still practiced in a lot of the world. Something the designers of her implant apparently had not realized.
“There’s always something new we can learn,” he chuckled, “Even for you implant.” Implant was the widely used derogatory name for routines at the time, though it eventually got replaced with routine American or simply, routine, most ‘routines’ complained that even this was derogatory because they were still just Human Americans. And worse yet the name ‘implant’ was still being used anywhere discrimination could be found. Sarah never minded Doctor Lions calling her implant, however, and she wasn’t sure why. Did he say it differently? Not really, she later concluded, though he did seem to say it with an air of sarcasm. He never minded being around her and enjoyed picking her technologically enhanced brain.
“I’m getting too old to stick people with needles and tell them what kind of medicines to take,” he confided in her when they were wrapping up the quiz. “These people may not like you, but they don’t have much of a choice because, believe it or not, no medical students are beating down my door to come work for me. We’ll split the shifts for a while to get you acclimated to what this town is like and then I’ll start taking more time off. It’d be nice to see my grandkids before they give me great grandkids.”
“I know people will have trouble accepting me as a doctor but I need to prove that I’m no different than anyone else and nothing to be afraid of.”
“But you are different. You are reminding everyone in this town that they are way behind the times. We only got our own cell tower a year ago, and here you are connected up like a computer. But you’re also reminding people that they could be doing more with themselves, whether artificially or not, and that is what they are truly afraid of.”
Talking with Doctor Lions that day she realized how much she could have learned from the people around her when she was younger had she only not been so stubborn. She took every opportunity she could from that day on to pick his brain and learn little nuggets of wisdom because, as she was told another time by Doctor Lions, someone can implant your brain with all the right answers, but it doesn’t mean you know squat about the world.
On this day she was in the clinic all alone and had been all week. While the nearest hospital was over 20 miles away people had still been choosing to drive that far instead of come see her. She had at first been offended but since the government had created routines for the purpose of Marshall Law she understood now, more than ever, there would be issues.
Earlier that day a few routine troops had swept through the town verifying everyones credentials and making sure there were no runners in the area, which had caught Sarah off guard as she had not seen another routine since she came back home. These routines were different than the ones she had friended when going through her own transformation though.
Her routine, and all private citizens’ implants, left everything intact and simply enhanced the brains ability to memorize and recall information and added a world of information on one subject. Military routines, on the other hand, had given up their rights to emotion and constitutional freedom in exchange for a small fortune in credits and the glory of securing America. This was the new American and a new constitution was being written for all, these routine drones were just the beginning.
She tried to get a look at the implants on the soldiers but they were quick and robotic and not looking to answer questions or expose themselves. They knew that exposing their implant could open them up to attack on the one place that would weaken them as a whole. They knew this because they were programmed to know it, Sarah knew it for a different reason.
When Sarah got her implant she was asked if she would like the medical knowledge of how the implants work and interact with the body. Since she was the first doctor to get one they were eager to have a routine who could do routine maintenance. She agreed but soon realized that they preferred their own doctors do all work and she was not called upon. Had she lived in a bigger city she would have been able to do work on citizens who may not otherwise be able to get help at hospitals for non-implant problems but here there were none.
Still, she had knowledge that no other routine outside of Echo Corp or the government agency creating a routine army had, and she believed she knew more than she was supposed to. She had knowledge of actual programming codes that doctors wouldn’t know. She didn’t understand what it all meant but she had figured out what it was. Someone had mistakenly given her the basic program that transmitted information from the core, in the appendix area, through the stem connected on the spinal column and into the brain itself.
Not understanding or ever having studied programming this really meant nothing to her even if she understood how important and valuable the information was. She had wondered if this part of the program, the piece that actually sense information to and from the brain, was modified and the cause of the soldiers changes in thinking and behavior. She had wondered if this was how the government was controlling people.
But they weren’t actually controlling the mass population yet. They were controlling soldiers, yes, but the soldiers had joined willingly. They had yet to turn any runners into soldiers. And while they were gathering people who seemed to be defecting and putting them in education camps, they weren’t actually asking anything specific of the general public. There were no curfews, no night watch, not even a change in freedom of speech. President Hope had simply said, “In the interest of true homeland security, we are going to dispatch military every square inch of our nation.”
He had refused to answer questions about this and simply stepped down while an aide repeatedly said ‘this is not marshal law.’ Congress moved quickly and did approve several new laws that took away freedom of information. No one could get any answers on what exactly was in the education camps or what they were doing and anyone who showed defiance to the government could be taken into said camps. They said anyone defying the government has a high probability of being a terrorist, ‘which is what we get for giving them near unlimited power in securing our nations’ borders,’ Sarah had thought when she watched the broadcast.
But she didn’t think it was that bad and that was the general consensus in the smaller communities. It’s easy to deny that freedoms are being taken away when you don’t leave your 50 square mile bubble of community and comfort. And since that’s all the government seemed to want anyway, why not abide by it.
The sweep had come through their town twice now and no one had been hauled off or sent away. There was no need for panic and no big conspiracy. They felt safe knowing there were military personnel ready to defend their nearly insignificant community at a moment’s notice.
But all that was before gun shots filled the valley, and the largest airbus they’d seen passed overhead, turning day into night for a few seconds as it passed under the sun. The government siege had found them.