The Infowar: The Phantom Casualties

When I was informed of another patient, I treated it like any other. However, I could not help but notice the military background. The man was Edward Smith, Private, First Class. He was a soldier in the US Army during Gulf Wars Two and Three, where he was wounded in action.

When I finally did meet the man, he was as though I imagined him: crew-cut, fairly well-built, and unsure of what would happen. I asked him to expand on the details of his injury. While on patrol in Baghdad, he lost his arm to an IED. He was rendered unfit for combat service as a result, and was soon discharged from the Army. Because the neocons had more or less gutted veterans' benefits, he was left without any means of paying for the years of therapy and rehabilitation.

He had been directed here by a friend of his from the Network, who went by the handle Colonel Dubois. Of course, he probably wasn't a Colonel and his real name wasn't Dubois. It was just an online alias based off a Robert Heinlein character. Either way, the Colonel was one of our biggest costumers. He had sent several patients our way, mainly wounded from the military.

They were the phantom casualties of the "War on Terror." While the media focused on body-counts, while ignoring the thousands of wounded soldiers. Thanks to political negligence, they were quite screwed. That was one reason the Colonel paid for several wounded soldiers he knew. The other was to show soldiers the cutting edge of medical technology. This would normally impress them into asking more about the Network. The process of training and inducting them would be left to others, like the Colonel. I was content with my job.

I met with Smith at a fairly old warehouse. The truck had parked nearby. To any curious pedestrians, they would see simply a U-Haul moving truck. Inside, however, was where the true cutting edge was. Inside the truck was a sterile environment kept religiously clean, and lit to provide a welcoming experience. There was an operating table with several robotic arms and tools above it. That was one of the real cutting edge things.

All of those robotic arms were examples of tele-operational technology. Doctors from around the world would control those arms by remote. The arms were modular, so we could switch a variety of tools for a variety of operations. Likewise, the doctors worked in shifts around the world, as to compensate for time zone differences and tiredness. Smith, however, would be a procedure we had done several times before.

Our clinic had some other gear. One thing we used to rapidly make prosthetics was a special 3-D printer. Most of the time, engineers used them to make wax or plastic prototypes of finished products. We used them to make the frames of customized prosthetics for a variety of patients. What made ours special was what was inside. Using a few special circuits, we could make it so the patient could control the prosthetic as if it was a natural limb. The only invasive part of the surgery was implanting a chip into where Smith's arm used to join. That chip would allow sensors in the prosthetic to detect neural impulses, and move the prosthetic accordingly. It would also transmit sensations back via a small radio transmitter. So, we were technically making a man a cyborg. Our crude "cybernetics" were nothing compared to the natural limb. (Yet, of course.) But they did allow people who had lost a limb re-adjust more readily to normal life.

The government, desperate to cash in on the biotech revolution, had strangled the design of neural prosthetics in red tape, and invoked plenty of "Concerned Experts" to justify their decision. How both parties (and some independent ones) could screw over a key emerging technology is beyond me.

But, that was why the Network existed. We would spread the technologies they wanted to ban, and give them to the people that need them. Instead of making over-expensive regulations, we charge a fair price, and we even include some insurance. We want to make a better way than simply more red tape. After all, our soldiers put their lives on the line for us, and isn't this the least we could do for them?