Of Spines Old and New

Cylee walked back into the building where she had been held. Every part of her was screaming this was a bad idea.

Cylee: Agent, is this a bad idea?

Agent: We don’t think they mean you direct harm.

Thus completely not reassured, she walked past the stairs. She was somewhat surprised to see that the wall had already been repaired and repainted, the bullet holes completely gone. The storage room where she had been held was straight ahead. There was no way she was going back in there.

The door opened, and a petite woman in a doctor’s white coat emerged. “Cylee? Hi, I’m Tamara Patel. So glad you could come! Right this way please.” She said as she gestured into the room where Cylee had been held. Cylee went in.

The room had been entirely remade…or perhaps not, Cylee had last seen it dark and full of boxes. There was a surgical chair with all of its attendant weird robot arms, a sink, big bright light on the ceiling right over the surgical chair, all the usual med center stuff. Presumably all the boxes were full of this stuff…three days ago.

“Your people work quickly,” Cylee said. Doctor Patel looked up and rolled her eyes.

“Right, this was where they held you. Last time you saw this place it was boxes and no lights. But, yeah, we do move quickly when we have to. This isn’t a permanent setup, so we’re operating light and fast. This surgical center will probably only be here for a few more weeks, then we’ll ship all this to some other branch.”

“Do you have a lot of branches like this? A lot of these operations going on?” Cylee asked, not quite sure where to sit or what to think. She didn’t want to get up on the table, that seemed like surrendering power.

“Ah, I probably said too much already. Anyway, I’d like to plug into the interface port on your current Spine, get a sense of where you’re coming from, see what we’re working with. If you want, you can sit on the chair here, or just in one of the other chairs in the room, whatever makes you comfortable.”

Cylee tensed.

Agent: You still have lockout controls. If she plugs in we can ensure she doesn’t dig into memories.

Breathing a little more, Cylee sat on a regular chair, her back to the chair next to it. Doctor Patel nodded and took an interface fob out of a cupboard. “Okay, looks like the port cover is a little dusty…just going to clean this a bit…sorry, this doesn’t mean you’re dirty, these old ones were just badly designed and even though it’s just a USB-F port the doctor in me won’t let me work without sterilizing everything first. There, all done.” Doctor Patel kept up a friendly patter as she worked, and then pried the cover off the port. “Okay, here we go…” she attached the fob and pulled a screen off a shelf and held it where Cylee could see it clearly.

“Okay, early model, Mark 2.5 model from…the PEF. This is some classic hardware, Cylee. I’m just…going to get into the diagnostic screens…” Doctor Patel paused and spoke as she worked, moving expertly through the basic info screens.

“Do you mind if I just copy the basic specs here? It helps us calibrate the initial start up routines, so they don’t overwhelm you by dumping all the new features on you at once. Okay, thanks…there, I have a copy. And…that should be… just about all I need. I’ll take this back off… Okay.” The doctor took the fob off of Cylee’s Spine and put it back on the shelf—after wiping it down with a sanitizing wipe—and turned to face Cylee.

“Now, I understand you have some questions. What can I help you with?”

Agent: The probe didn’t attempt any unauthorized access to memory or operating system data.

Cylee looked at Doctor Patel. “Well, first off, what kind of surgery will you need to do to install the new Spine?”

“Surgery? Well, we’ll have to release the latches that hold it to your tailbone and top vertebra, but you’ll be unconscious for that part. It’s not painful, but it can be unnerving if you’re awake. You seem to have all the proper contact points. That interface doesn’t change because people tend to react badly to being told they need their nervous system upgraded.”

“So I’ll be unconscious for the attachment?”

“Of course… I mean…were you awake when this Spine was installed…oh. I see. I guess with vintage hardware like this I should have expected vintage installation techniques as well. Okay. Yes, we will put you under for the disconnection and reattachment. If you like we can do the transfer while you’re still awake, so you can watch us move files and settings over. The calibration on your Augments can be a little disorienting, but not painful.”

“And…what can you tell me about the new Spine?” Cylee asked.

“Um, how interested are you in the actual stats and figures and brand names?”

“Maybe…medium? Not very?”

“Okay, got it. Well, it’s a Shiira model, not yet publicly released. I guess it needs to be Shiira for this job Cassandra wants you to do. The specs…well, take everything your current Spine has and multiply by about…sixteen. Except battery life, of course. That will only go up by about four times. Sixteen times as much storage, more or less. Far better resolution across all senses on stored memories, and far more storage space even when you’re storing high-resolution memories. Your old memories are going to feel a bit grainy, but that’s how old memories work, I guess. Far more processing power, and far more responsive processors, as they’re spread across the entire device instead of in a single die in the top cell. T?he new spine is articulated across 2048 points, not ten, so it’ll feel far more natural, it’ll bend with you better…What else….”

“That…that’s actually sufficient, Doctor, thank you.”

Doctor Patel smiled and rolled her eyes again. “Forgive me, I tend to ramble a bit. Being a doctor these days generally means being a tech nerd as well as a health nerd. Anyway, what other questions do you have?”

“How long will it take to install? And when—if I decided to do it—when would you want to do it?”

“We have it in the office here, so anytime. And it would take about two hours from when you change into the surgical gown to when you can change back into your regular clothes. And, as terrible as those gowns are, I’m afraid it’s fairly necessary this time, as we’re actually working on your back, right up the middle.” Doctor Patel chuckled quietly and stood up.

“Any other questions?”

“Well, doctor… I’m not sure I’m actually going to get a new Spine, or work with your…organization, or anything. But thank you for all the information. It’s really helpful.” Cylee said.

“Of course, of course. If you do decide to get the upgrade just let me know. If I’m not on lunch or actively patching someone else up I can probably be ready to go between the time you call and the time you arrive.”

Cylee nodded, thanked the Doctor for her time and walked quickly back outside. It was a good deal. It was a good offer. It wouldn’t hurt the Agent…whatever the Agent was, and she’d get better, non-military hardware. On some level she’d already accepted the job, she knew. It was just a question of being sure.

Agent: What makes you hesitate?

Cylee: It’s a big commitment. I’m not fond of those. They would basically own me. Well, for at least one job.

The Agent didn’t respond, which was normal. It didn’t seem to know how conversations worked. Which, honestly, was probably Cylee’s fault. Not for the first time, Cylee wondered if the “Agent” was a figment of her imagination, a personality she had imposed on the Spine and all the Augments. She then went down her regular path of trying to decide if that was better or worse than it being some sort of sentient something that lived inside her, and ended up at “I don’t think I can really do anything about it anyway” as she always did.

She could just go. She could just spend some money and take a super-bus back to Seattle. Or sign on with a hauler gang heading north. This whole problem could just go away, serve as nothing more than a reminder to take backup when she met people with job offers.

But she wouldn’t. She called up Doctor Patel in her HUD.

“Doctor Patel? Is now a good time?” Muted chewing sounds came over the line. “Ah…give me half an hour to finish my lunch and clean up, and then, yeah, now works just fine.”