The body electric is the fabric of our existence, the warp and weave of our intelligence. The muscles of the skeleton and heart contract to the command of electrical impulses, the axons of the nervous system transmit their signals as waves of electrical discharge and the bone matrix grows along piezoelectric stress fields.

When the bullet from Sapphire James gun entered my chest, burrowing a hole through cartilage and bone, through the soft red pulp of my lung to embed itself in my spine, not only had tissue been destroyed, but the weave of my bio-electrical wiring had been ripped and shredded in that same instant.

Repairing the tissue was the easy part, reweaving the bioelectric net would be crossing the river Styx to Hades.

My interview with Sergeant Dillon of the SFPDDHS had been depressing enough, but Dr. Freeman's visit shortly after on his morning rounds provided even more psychic injury. Bad enough was Freeman's attempt to turn me into a human pin cushion probing for signs of movement. Worse still was the good doctor's exceptionally blunt explanation of the hopelessness of my condition.

"The medical community gave up trying to heal spinal cord injuries a long time ago." Freeman scoffed when I asked about any signs of movement. "Oh, they pay lip service to it. There were some promising avenues of research, stem cells for example, but don't get your hopes up as long as Covid, AIDs and breast cancer exist. The Independent Medical Payment Advisory Board recommended spinal cord research be discontinued as a non-essential budgetary matter. It just isn't cost effective."

"Not cost effective? So instead you maintain people in a living hell like this?" I protested. "Paralysed and taunted by a bunch of useless studies, but with no cures? Obviously it's more politically correct to try and cure the latest sexually transmitted disease than help people who aren't self destructive!".

"Please, no need to become abusive!" Freeman warned. "Science, especially medical science, is a subset of the political needs of the nation," Freeman offered a perturbing insight straight out of a government pamphlet. "Health is a rationed good, Steven. National Health Insurance couldn't afford to cure every rare disease and every pathetic cripple, so they stopped throwing resources at hopeless causes! We are a community, not a random molecules. Our health is designed for the good of the community! Please deal with reality."

And then Freeman abruptly left, off on his busy medical rounds and coffee break. I was none too eager to prolong his visit anyway. Fortunately, that depressing interlude was followed that afternoon by the first good thing in the three weeks since the gunshot occurred.

Sally, my physical therapist, promised a surprise as she guerneyed me into the exercise room. Buoyant as a Dallas Cheerleader, Sally's perpetually bright face lit up the place.

"This is Professor Kevin Armstrong from the Neurophotonics Research Center at the California Institutes school of engineering," she introduced a lean, professional looking visitor standing near the exercise equipment.

"Jim Cardle, your friend from mechanical engineering sent me to see you," Armstrong introduced himself, stroking a close-cropped beard. "Professor Cardle said you might be game to act as guinea pig for some experiments we've been running."

I eyed Armstrong suspiciously. "That's all I need, to be guinea pig for a bunch of engineering grad students hunting for a Ph.D. thesis! I'm an academic rat myself, I know the routine."

"It's not what you think," Armstrong defended. "I think we can help you walk again. My research focuses on bionic limbs — integrated photonic signal processing, computational imaging, optical interconnections, photonic neural interfaces."

Armstrong was either a great liar or a great salesman. There's little difference.

"That's quite a resume," I complimented Armstrong. "So you would transform me into Robocop, is that the idea? Not very inviting," I huffed. "But I guess Cardle told you how desperate I am and that I might jump at becoming a guinea pig, no matter how farfetched your scheme might be," I conceded. "Even if the medical profession knew how to regenerate nerves in the spinal cord, they wouldn't pay for it. Even with stem cells the results aren't going to help."

"Well, they know how," Armstrong hinted. "But you're right, National Health Insurance would never pay for it. Not unless you were politically connected. A political Aparatchik."

Armstrong was right. In some instances in the medical histories, the initial paralysis of a spinal cord injury will reverse itself spontaneously if the cord is only bruised or compressed. But there should be some sign of returning sensation after the first couple of weeks, even if those signs are so slight as an increase in tingling.

I had had no such signs of returning function. So without political connections to pay for some mythical under the radar cutting edge stem cell treatment, my options were limited. After National Affordable Health Care was introduced, most of the money devoted to government VIP health went to fancy health spas anyway, not spinal cord research.

My distressing earlier conversation with Dr. Freeman stuck in my mind as I made my response to Kevin Armstrong.

"Well I might be interested in becoming a subject," I confided. "As long as you don't turn me into Frankenstein waiting for a thunderbolt from the sky to bring me to life. "

"I hate to disappoint you but there actually are some small thunderbolts involved," Armstrong smiled. "We want to build you a neural net to take the place of your damaged spinal cord."

Armstrong paused. I may have looked unenthused, or shocked, I'm not sure which, but I was certainly not elated.

"At first we'd use electrical stimulation to keep your muscles toned while your back stabilizes and your body heals." He looked at me as though I were a damaged cuckoo-clock he wasn't quite sure he could repair. "But then we'll take the process a lot further and hook a computer into the electrical network to see if we can't get you walking again."

"I've seen these experiments on YouTube," I returned glumly as the vids replayed in my head; some poor bastard staggering three steps under computer control half supported by parallel bars. "You couldn't make it work for Superman and I doubt you can make it work for me," I remembered back to the classic movie star who had been paralyzed.

"This time will be different," Armstrong shot back confidently. "Christopher Reeve's paralysis and death was a long time ago, ancient history. Reeves was only Superman in the movies, you're going to be Superman in real life!"

"How can you be so sure?" I asked. Armstrong's vision obviously wasn't limited to a handicapped cripple lurching across the room like some grotesque cyborg from a 1930's sci-fi flick. I started to feel some hope.

"One difference this time is our subject. You were only recently injured and haven't lost your muscle tone like most we've worked with. You did karate, weights and biking to keep in shape before the accident," Armstrong explained.

"Just because I work with computers doesn't mean I have to be some potbellied Coca-Cola addict," I protested. "A lot of good the physical conditioning did stopping a bullet, though."

"But the bullet didn't stop your brain. Your intellectual abilities are just as important to us as your physical state," Armstrong continued. "Your knowledge of artificial intelligence techniques and your connections with the SuperGrid facilities would add a huge amount to the project design."

Something clicked as I mulled this bit of information.

"God, we might be able to pull it off after all," I smiled for the first time, musing at the possibilities. "If anyone could pull off the software end of it, it would be me. But do you have the hardware?"

"Only the best," Armstrong assured me. "And a couple of crack bio-engineers to boot. But this depends on your being able to endure a tremendous amount of pain and frustration. It's no cake walk."

"I'm no quitter," I took the challenge. "I really don't have anything to lose, do I?"

After Armstrong left, Sally and I proceeded with my regular exercises, but my mind was elsewhere. It was clear Armstrong's offer was my only hope of surviving. I was a doubly marked man. A turnip has a better future than the crippled vegetable I'd become and to top it off someone was trying to kill me. If I failed to conquer my handicap, either the paralysis would strip me of my humanity, or I'd be killed anyway.

"We need to work harder, Sally," I broke out of my meditation between leg stretches. "I have to be in better condition than any quadriplegic you know!"

"You're already working near your limits," Sally admitted with concern." You're even wearing me out! But if you're serious about the bioengineering project, I'll push you as hard as I can."

The next day, Eric Chang and Andy Rand, grad students from the bioengineering department showed up to watch my workout. When we were done, they came over to introduce themselves.

"Hi, I'm Eric, the Hawaiian terror," the clean-cut Asian-American introduced himself and his co-worker, "and this is my partner Andy. "My speciality is bio-electronic circuitry. Andy's a mechanical engineer who's into kinematics, the study of the mechanical motion of the limbs."

"If you're ready, it's time to wire you in, Dr. Heller," Andy, a buff weight-lifter sort interjected, pulling a wiring harness, a power supply and a controller out of a briefcase. "We don't want to waste any time getting started."

"First names, guys," I pleaded. "Well, wire me up."

The two engineers were quick at their work. They applied a special electrical paste to my skin at about eighty points, covering most of the major muscle groups below my armpits.

"This is a crude version of what we're going to be doing later," Andy explained as he worked. "This is a copper wired muscle stimulation system, but we've got a more flexible fiber-optic light harness that will be used with the fully computerized version. The fiber optics give us position feedback we don't get with the electrical wires."

"We still need to tailor fit you for the fiber optic suit, though," Eric joked. "We make only the finest threads."

What we were doing seemed bizarre, even in a time when the scientifically bizarre was common (I mean, it wasn't like we were experimenting on living foetuses like they did at National Health). Wire wrapping a human being in an electrical web was like creating a wire-silk cocoon spun for a human larvae. I was the pupae encased in an electrical latticework waiting to metamorphose from a squirming bug into a human, or cyborg, or some bioengineered abomination. I wasn't sure I liked the feeling.

"You sure this won't hurt?" I asked unsurely.

"Sure as hell," Eric replied.

"You'll feel great," Andy agreed.

There was a tingle I could feel in my body as Andy powered the system up. I couldn't be sure whether what I sensed was through my spinal cord or through some other primordial sense that lies hidden in the human body. The muscles of my legs, stomach and back began to quiver from the excitation of the electrodes as Andy increased the gain and locked the system into an automatic exercise routine.

The embarrassment of it all. Jim Cardle, Liddy and Kevin Armstrong were at the door and they waved in encouragement. I smiled back as best I could, my muscles twitching to the beat of an electronic oscillator. Neither man nor machine, I felt more like an electric cucumber alone in the vegetable salad called life.

"As your doctor, I can't allow you to continue this!" Dr. Freeman yelled, screamed at me.

I was in a wheelchair hooked to the electrodes that tightened the muscles of my limbs, wearing a corset brace around my chest and upper torso that stiffened me like a board. I looked more machine than man.

"Your neck is a disaster zone that will break if its pushed too hard!" Freeman continued to rant. "And who the hell is paying for this?"

This was the first time Freeman had seen the electro-stimulation equipment we were experimenting with and he seemed outraged it was so sophisticated. I'd asked him to advise me whether I was benefiting from the bioengineering experiments. Originally Freeman had signed off on what he thought were standard rehab procedures, paid for by my father's small savings. It was Sally who had pulled a few strings for me given the restrictions of the national healthcare system. As a Do Not Resusitate I wasn't theoretically allowed extraordinary measures outside the National Health System, since that would be the same as taking resources from the community.

"Your neck isn't stable, it never will be! In my opinion you're better off learning how to use an electric wheelchair than chasing clouds." Freeman continued to rant in his official capacity as People's Health Deputy.

"But this is my only chance," I replied bitterly.

"The Food and Drug Administration hasn't approved any of these procedures and National Health Insurance will never cover this as part of its reimbursable medical procedures and the Budgetary Accountability Act. I will do everything in my power to shut this project down!" Freeman continued huffing, having visible difficulty controlling his blood pressure.

"What does a fancy doctor know about what it's like to be a crippled vegetable?" I yelled back as best I could, gasping for breath. "You're driving a souped up Mercedes hybrid, you've got a pretty wife at home and a knockout mistress on the side. You don't care what happens to me!"

That shocked him, its amazing what you can learn on the hospital grapevine. Freeman had thought his mistress was a secret.

"I went into neurology because my brother broke his neck in a swimming accident twenty years ago," he blustered sanctimoniously. "I believe in the Hippocratic oath and I believe in the notion 'first do no harm'. If you're going to try and put pressure on that spine of yours, I'm going to protest this to the Medical Advisory Committee."

"Do whatever you want," I returned suspiciously. Freeman's reaction seemed too strident, as if there was some monkey riding his back. Even paranoids can have enemies, and my paranoia was reaching a peak.

"You can't stop me, Dr. Freeman. Don't try to stand in my way."

"Or what? You'll spit at me?" Freeman mocked. "You're in no condition to fight me or the FDA! "We're going to fall on you and those bioengineering quacks like a ton of bricks.

"Get the hell out of here," I turned crimson in frustration, but Freeman was already stalking out. "You're no longer my doctor!"

"Unfortunately, the state has assigned me to you," Freeman glared, "Or I'd dump you in an instant!"

Freeman's threats weren't idle. Demographics had made medicine more an act of politics than science as the aging Baby-Boom generation had sucked up available resources. The collapse of Medicare and Social Security after government revenues imploded in the Hyperinflation Crashes had made medical rationing the norm. Once the nation's health care system was nationalized, a lot of options faded away because of budget restraints.

The FDA's and the National Health Insurance Agency's powers increased geometrically even as medical resources became scarce. It reached the point where a patient had to commit an act of rebellion against the U.S. Government to attempt a cure more radical than aspirin.

As if fighting quadriplegia wasn't a big enough burden, now I was faced with having to defy my own government to obtain the medical resources I needed to survive.

"To hell with Freeman, to hell with the FDA and NHIA, to hell with them all!" I swore to myself. "I am going to walk again!"

Bioengineering of the type conducted by Armstrong and his grad students is considered a scarce regulated medical resource. The threat was real that the bioelectric lifeline they were throwing me could be cut by Dr. Freeman's closed mind.

"Pardon a silly question," I asked Armstrong the next day after I'd related my conversation with Freeman. "But how the hell do you get funded for this research? This can't fall under the guidelines of the National Institute of Health for commonly accepted medical procedures."

"Forget those pinheads!" Armstrong responded forcefully. "This isn't considered a medical expenditure subject to the Medical Cost Containment Act. We're funded by DARPA and the Department of Defense!"

"The hell you say!? You mean I'm a military weapon?" I asked incredulously.

"To the U.S. government you are," Armstrong explained bluntly. "

"Don't you think you should have told me about this?" I was hot to say the least. "I try very hard to stay out of politically charged issues, and now you are telling me I'm part of a war-making effort that I don't want anything to do with?"

"Steven, with the collapse of Medicare, Medicaid, and the last of the Baby Boomers crushing the National Health Insurance program, this is the only way to get funding. Don't get me wrong, I'm in this to make you better, but officially, you're part of the 'Future Warrior' program. You are a DARPA project."

"Thanks for the warning," I muttered. What the hell was I supposed to do? Dropping out of the program would only mean they'd find some other guinea pig. As far as war goes, I am an agnostic. Certainly mankind has been hacking weapons out of bone and flint for many millennia before I arrived on God's green earth.

"I have the same reservations as you," Armstrong admitted. "I'm a pacifist myself. But the benefits of this research to normal people would be huge . ."

"I feel pretty damn manipulated," I confessed. "If I'm a human weapon, hopefully you'll tell me before my timer goes off and I explode!"

"Look, it's just a funding source, you're not a bomb." Armstrong diffused my protest. "The military funds daycare centers and golf courses, it might as well fund you too. They've funded a ton of research into rejuvenating spinal cord injured soldiers coming back from the Global Warming crusades." And with that, Armstrong handed me just what I needed to go with a hole in my head, a glossy brochure!


The Future Warrior Concept will be a completely integrated system which will be tailored to each individual, from an electro-spun Combat Uniform to a biomechanically engineered Headgear Subsystem. There are 6 major subsystems included in the concept: The Headgear Subsystem, which we describe as Information Central, is the situational awareness hub of the system. It would include Integrated tactical processing (e.g., maps, routes, SA data); 180° emissive visor display; High data rate (GB/sec) communications; Microelectronic/optics combat sensor suite that provides 360° situational awareness; Integrated small arms protection in selected locations.

The Combat Uniform Subsystem, which we describe as Survivability Central, contains three layers: the Protective Outer Layer, the Power Centric Layer, and the Life Critical Layer.

The Weapon Subsystem, Lethality Central, permits direct and indirect target engagements. The weapon weighs 5 pounds, and combines 5 tubes of soft-launched, 15mm intelligent seeker munitions and 1 tube of stacked 4.6mm kinetic energy projectiles for close quarter combat.

The Warfighter Physiological Status Monitor (WPSM) Subsystem collects information on the vital signs (core temperature, skin temperature, heart rate, blood pressure) hydration state, stress level (mouth sensors), thermal state, sleep status, and workload capacity of the warrior. The WPSM can also recommend remote triage care needed.

The Micro-climate Conditioning Subsystem, a network of narrow tubing built into the material of the Life Critical Layer that provides 100 watts of heating or cooling to the warrior.

The Power Subsystem, Duration Central, consists of a 2- to 20-watt Micro Turbine fueled by a liquid hydrocarbon. Ten ounces of fuel, contained in a lightweight plug-in cartridge, powers the soldier for up to 6 days. Polymeric nano-fiber battery patches embedded in the headgear and weapon provide back-up power for three hours.

This just wasn't my day. Either act as a guinea-pig for the Department of Defense, becoming the poster boy for their Future Warrior program, or consign myself to paralysis. Perhaps in a different universe my conscientious objector alter-ego would have taken over. Certainly that's the course most of the pacifist faculty I worked with would have taken, at least that's what they would have claimed unless it meant a loss of funding. But I was just a lonely digital cipher and I sublimated my moral objections.

"Is the brochure a picture of what you are going to turn me into, a hyped up swat-team cyborg?" I asked glumly.

"Nah, you are the model for the next generation system, it gets rid of the clunky Robocop hardware," Armstrong reassured me. "We won't even be using combat materials, you will be more like a Future Supply Clerk than a Future Warrior. You'll probably be filling orders for tampons for elite marine women's units."

"That's real reassuring." I replied. "The government drone and robotics programs have changed America to ParanoiaLand. Combined with facial recognition software and biometrics and the concept of personal freedom seems quaint." The idea that I would be contributing to a loss of freedom made me slightly uneasy, but the allure of becoming human again overrode that concern.

"The biggest challenge though will be getting you to accept implantation of a neurophotonic sensor chip. I know it sounds wild, but to do this right, we would want the closest and fastest neural brain connection possible."

"Holy Hell," I coughed. "That's a whole bunch more invasive than you've led me to believe! What the hell is neurophotonic?"

"That's why I broke it to you last," Armstrong conceded. "Neurophontic chips were developed by DARPA to provde two-way fiber optic communication between prosthetic limbs and peripheral nerves. The connection is key to realistic robotic arms, legs and hands that not only move like the real thing, but also “feel” sensations like pressure and heat. Successful completion of the fiber optic link allows sending signals seamlessly back and forth between the brain and artificial limbs, allowing amputees revolutionary freedom of movement and agility."

"You are asking a hell of a lot from me," I admitted quietly. "How do I know I can trust you?"

"You don't," Armstrong confessed. "But you will come around. As a Techie, it is the only solution that works."

I didn't know whether I could trust Armstrong, all I knew was that I had no options. The possibility of having invasive brain surgery to couple my brain to my body was more than I could process. But maybe we could take it a step at time?

Two weeks later I was still the main freak attraction in the physical therapy room, my body wired to Eric and Andy's computer. I was covered from head to toe with a fine net of sensory and stimulatory copper wiring that enabled the computer system to sense my body position and muscle tension and then adjust my muscle stimulation to just the right degree. Andy had helped me transfer into an exercise machine and strapped me in. But when the exercises started, my body shook like an earthquake, it wasn't taking it's transformation into cyborg easily, but there was no quitting.

"God damn it, I can't go any further!" I grunted hoarsely, after an hour of work, the sweat poring off my forehead.

"If you give up on us, I swear I'll never let you win another chess game as long as you live!" Kevin Armstrong encouraged me. Actually, I was throwing our games.

I cracked a smile, lost my concentration and collapsed back into the chair behind me.

"Okay, let's try it again," I muttered with sweat dripping off my eyebrows. "Sorry I wimped out."

"Naw, that's enough for today." Armstrong returned. "We're twenty times further than we thought we'd be now. The last thing we need is for your body to give out through fatigue and ruin the whole experiment. "

Despite the obstacles, I was about to reach a major milestone. With Andy's help, I was able to stand upright for a few tantalizing seconds using my own muscle power, and a lot of help from the computer workstation. I was tethered through an Ethernet link to a connector on the little electronics pack I wore, a wireless Wi-Fi hookup would come next. It was only the beginning of static standing, glued stiff to the floor like a stone obelisk, but to accomplish even that was a considerable victory. Maybe motion would come later as my muscles strengthened and more importantly, the software improved.

We'd advanced far and fast since Eric and Andy first wired me to their electrodes. Armstrong's group had worked on this project for more than a year before I arrived, mostly with a sixteen year old patient named Robby Edwards. Robby had had a tumorous growth on his spine since age fourteen and had become a quadriplegic. Like me, his only hope had been becoming a piece of military hardware. Because of that early work, much of the software and hardware already existed in rudimentary form for me to use.

"I'm sure this research has been going on for a long time, but was Robby the first integrated prototype for the Future Warrior project?" I asked once as I rested between exercises.

"I wish Robby had been here to see this," Eric returned, avoiding a direct answer.

"Yeah, I do too," Andy added and the big guy had a tear in his eye. "we need you to go forward with the neurophontonic circuit implant to really make this work though."

Pasted to the side of the workstation was a picture of Robby standing with clumsy leg braces and neuro-wiring, smiling bravely to the camera. A logo for "Mission Research" was displayed proudly on his T-shirt, perhaps a sponsor. It could have been a picture of me except for the brave part.

Robby had been dead only a month, the victim of hospital pneumonia his paralysis weakened lungs hadn't been able to cope with. He'd died shortly after I was admitted, as if a sixteen year old had been pushed aside by God to make room in this experiment for me. I didn't like the philosophical ramifications.

"It was real sudden," Eric admitted. "It came out of the blue."

I felt guilty I wasn't training harder, just for Robby's memory.

"Okay, I'll do it." I told Eric and Andy. "I'll do the implant."

"Hoorah!" was the response from the two engineering grads. Eric slapped me so hard on the back that I saw stars.

We called it a wrap for the day. It was still early in the afternoon, and I was wheeled back to my suite, physically exhausted. My hands were little better than dead clubs, so I asked the nurse's aid to pop the West Coast Blue tape into the DVD player. Then I watched the sparrows out the window while Laura Silvan sang in the background.

I dozed and dreamed about running through fields of flowers with Laura Silvan at my side and Robby Edwards in hot pursuit waving a bloody axe and screaming "It's not fair! It's NOT fair!".