The indian summer was a sure sign there would be an ice storm in the next few days. At the Cullman deputy bootcamp Sheriff Marshall Tyler barked out the names of the potential recruits, and each took a step forward, "Pickens, Jameson, Loveless...Wilder." The noobs were dressed in motley camo, a mixture of hunting gear and army surplus, whatever one could patch together, not-so-much uniforms as practical outdoor wear. "You're guns will be returned to you after you have been processed." Garth looked up at the canopy overhead. An elaborate webbing of thick kudzu ropes woven together with tree branches, carpeted by yet another mass of living kudzu, the primary national resource of the CSA. It reminded him of the ruins of the cathedral he once saw when he went down river during the raids with his daddy.
The Sheriff picked up a black plastic clipboard and read aloud from the clasped document. "Now listen up, this here ain't no regular army, but you will kill. This badge stands for security, but respect can only come from fear. Fear and respect. You will find that fear IS respect. If you don't know this by now you will learn on the job. Each of you will accompany a sheriff for a period of three weeks. If in such time you have proved yourselves to be a real soldier of the Southern State, you will be eligible to earn your degree as an officer and be given your rights as a new citizen: the right to bare arms, the right to a lawyer, the right to speak freely in private. But you WILL uphold the laws by which you will live and die if need be. Any children or dependents of yours will be compensated should you be killed in the line of duty, but not suicide. No suicide pills are to be allowed by law of the Governors. Any evidence of suicide will immediately disqualify you from any and all benefits including life insurance, death insurance, and any and all monies will be frozen and properties will be seized and used by the sheriff's department in support of the law by which you have surrendered yourselves henceforth at this time." He dropped the clipboard on a nearby desk of sturdy construction. "Have I made these rules and regulations clear?" The men nodded once. Garth admired the workmanship of the desk. It was stained with the same native varnish he learned to make in his uncle's workshop. The chair was of a previous age, reupholstered, and functional, but he preferred then handmade. "Lasts longer" he thought.
The sheriff unbuckled his belt holster. With steely fisticuffs dangling and shiny keyrings jangling the pork-bellied middle-aged man handled himself openly as he turned to an old tire filled with dirt and wildflowers and pissed long and forcefully, the pressure of his lunch bearing down upon his bladder, fried ostrich eggs, kudzu taters and greens, southern-style with wild bacon. Another sheriff led the new deputies to the education center, a mud-and-cinderblock bunker half-buried and covered in kudzu and transplanted magnolias. Good camouflage versus spies in the sky, though no dougt the Eastern Army was full aware of the existence of such camps, which was fine, the locals had learned how to keep the location of their true leadership secret, and anyway the ceasefire had lasted for over a year, but there was always the threat of attack by a foreign drone. Sheriff Tyler finished his pee, and returned his meat to its zip locker.
In the bunker Garth Wilder sat in the waiting room of a company clinic. This is where he would be scanalyzed and probed. They were looking for hard-to-find nanochips that may have eluded the initial detectors of the sheriff department's bots. The doctor picked up a metallic surgical wand equipped with mandibles, "You won't be needing this anymore." "What is it? Shrapnel?" "An obsolete birth chip." The doctor swabbed an alcohol prep on Garth's left shoulder, "rendered useless by the EMP, I assume." The big one. People still argue over who set it off. It was a moot point now, Garth figured. The doctor stuck him with the surgical tool which first injected a local anesthetic, then the intelligent machine parts set to work to extract the dead microchip. Garth had the usual squeamishness of a yokel who had little experience with friendly bots, medical or otherwise, and occupied himself mentally by going over the usual EMP debate. Even the officials could not agree. Could Al Qaeda really have gotten so deep into the American National Security State to load a nuclear weapon onto a commercial satellite launch rocket and detonate it at the precise altitude to deliver the Electromagnetic Pulse that would wipe out the USA's electronic nervous system? Garth knew he was a redneck but not stupid. He was more inclined to believe those who blamed the envirocommies, who of course denied it, but they would now wouldn't they. He flinched. The calipers had found their target, "This might hurt a bit." The doctor studied a viewscreen. "Looks like the bone has grown around it. This typically happens with chips from the old days that have been in there for...when is the last time you've seen a doctor, son?" "Ain't never seen one except for a medic when I got shot once back in my home town." "Well, you'll be getting plenty of vaccinations then in the biolab." "I ain't afraid of needles." The doctor was paying attention again to the greenscreen. Garth's thoughts returned to the EMP controversy. Maybe it was Al Qaeda and enviroterrists both combined. But then there was the ultimate conspiracy theory. What if Big Government itself pulled another nine-eleven. His cousin Wally explained it better than anyone else he heard, "After all, why was it most of the government's computers didn't get taken out, huh? And what about all those secret weapons buried underground? Like they was planned. Makes no sense, otherwise, don't it?" Garth's brain was hurting. Dehydration. His arm hurt, too. The Doctor seemed to be more delicate with the chip than with him, but finally withdrew the tool and in the mandibles was held a tiny triangular microchip, greased with blood. He studied it like a jeweler through his electronic monocle, but Garth was too far-sighted and pretty much ignorant of technology, so all he said was, "Pain-killers, doc?"
The doctor scratched his bristled chin and light reflected off the minuscule gold and platinum veins which ran through the once magical triangle. "Got weed."
Garth pressed on. "Nothing stronger like poppy? You were diggin around in there a while, doc." He smiled revealing bad teeth.
"Fine, knock yourself out, boy. Just remember me later when you go looting, alright?" He reached into his scrubs and handed Garth a thumbnail sized bit of plastic bag tied off with thread. "Good shit."
"I can get meth."
"Nigger, please, don't be stupid. No go get your shots." He dropped the chip on a brass plate and placed the tool next to some other medial instruments.
Garth left the room, "Thanks, doc."
The doctor nodded, "Next."