Fiction . . . .

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Wed May 03 2006 - 18:15:54 MDT

Sometimes fiction is the best way to get an idea across.

This is the first fifth of the second chapter of a novel I have been
working on set 100 years in the future. The main thread of the story is
about 3 siblings who are crossing a close-to-deserted North America in a
train--a bit of a summer vacation story. It just assumes that people were
able to build friendly AIs. This is a flashback of about 60 years from the
main story line and a shift to Africa to explain where the population went.

SL4 really isn't for fiction so if the list snipper want to cut it off,
that's fine by me. If you they do and you want to read the rest of the
chapter email me.

Keith Henson
Writing from the Mortmain Mountains (look it up)

Chapter 2

December 2041

Several kilometers off the crumbling road between Mango and Dapaong, a mud
walled tata

of 21 traditional round houses with palm frond roofs was set against the
wall of a wide wadi. The tata incorporated two rusting metal roofed
buildings that were too hot to live in during the dry season (which was
just starting) but made adequate storage sheds. Outside the wall were more
than a dozen melted-down-to-stumps ruins of the round houses--the result of
smallpox that had slopped deep into Africa after being released by a
desperate Russia during the "-stan" wars on their southern border.

Rumors of miracle working strangers had been rife for weeks among the
Tamberma (TAHM-ber-mah) so when a heavy set black man drove a Land Rover
over the marginal track to the tata in the clear light of a late afternoon
it was not a complete surprise. The Land Rover had hundreds of little
hooks welded on it. On many of the hooks were hung fetishes of obvious

Lothar, the driver, was dressed in lightweight khaki shorts, and a light
fishnet shirt. He wore old running shoes without socks; an outlandish
Australian bush hat folded up on one side over his thick gray hair, and
carried a pouch at his belt. His companion, Mabo, was armed with an
AK-47. Mabo sported cut off 501 jeans, a ragged red tee shirt and a fairly
new pair of running shoes. In place of a hat he had an American-style
bright blue "do-rag" over a reversed baseball hat.

Lothar introduced himself in Tamari with more than a hint of Ditamari, but
could be understood. His ethnic background was hard for the villagers to
judge, there seemed to be a lot of European in his features, but he was as
dark as the villagers. (Lothar's blackness was in fact due to his media
skin being set to "dark.") Mabo had features more typically African. Both
of them moved with the easy grace of the rejuvenated.

The tata inhabitants greeted both cordially. Rich visitors had been common
a generation ago but were so rare now that the children hung back and did
not beg.

Lothar and Mabo turned out to be good guests, providing several large tins
of meat and a sack of ground corn. Two of the tins were opened, mixed with
corn and along with local vegetables cooked up by the women into a communal
meal. During the repast, Lothar was asked the provenance of his name.

"One hundred years ago an African, a "Prince of the Seven Nations," named
Lothar lived many day's walks from here." Lothar pointed vaguely to the

"A powerful white magician, Mandrake, came to Africa to learn our
magic." This visibly impressed the villagers.

"Prince Lothar became Mandrake's friend. He gave up his claim to be king
and went across the sea to be Mandrake's companion."

"I carry his name and his mana." Lothar touched his hat--which morphed
into a fez and then with another touch into a magician top hat. A third
touch brought the hat, which was really a mass of preprogrammed utility
fog, back to the bushman hat configuration.

There was a good deal of ooing and ahhing over this, partly because the
ambiguities of the language made it possible that Lothar was a
prince. Well, anyone with a Land Rover and an armed servant had to be
something special.

Lothar's mission (explained to the elders when the children had gone to
bed) was to trade for one of the tata's fetishes.

"I am fated to experience a great danger." Lothar told the tata dwellers.

This boggled the tata elders. What would a man with a Land Rover and an
armed guard consider great danger?

"I was instructed by a powerful seer 'Foundation Gates' to obtain a
protective fetish from as many Tamberna tatas as possible."

"The only thing I have to trade for one of your valuable and powerful
fetishes is a seed that grows into a clinic."

The village elders excused themselves to consider Lothar's offer apart.

(Colloquial translation)

"The dude's stone crazy!" said Elder 1.

"Yeah, but that's no reason not to rip him off," commented Elder 2.

"I don't think we can get any more canned meat, or corn meal. The kids
looked." said Elder 3.

"We have plenty of fetishes from the houses of people who died of the pox."

"He didn't say he needed one that worked."

"Do you think this 'clinic seed' is worth anything?"

The nearest medical help was day's walk for a healthy person. With fuel
for wheeled transport being hard to get, the seriously sick or injured
would sometimes die on the way.

"Strange tales have come from the North, it might be."

After some hard bargaining, the tata elders swapped a prime monkey skull
fetish for a "clinic seed." The planting was to be made in the morning
since the Land Rover was parked outside the wall.

In the middle of the night there was an appalling inhuman scream. The
local leopard had made an unwise decision to mark the strange smelling
object that had intruded into his territory. Unfortunately for the
leopard, urine is a decent conductor at 50,000 volts. Fortunately for the
tata, the cat was not pointed at the tata entrance when it sprayed. The
leopard stopped to lick his tingling privates after bounding half a

Mabo, who slept in the Land Rover, turned off the high voltage anti theft
circuit before he got out in the morning.

Breakfast was a small amount of left over dinner and portions of millet
porridge. After eating Lothar accepted his newly acquired fetish and hung
it on an empty hook. He and Mabo maneuvered the Land Rover to the spot
picked by the elders. Lothar and Mabo got between the seats and the seed
and pushed the half cubic meter "clinic seed" to the back of the Land Rover
with their legs. There were fabric loops in the top and with the help of
some stout poles and half a dozen men from the tata, they got it on the
ground and moved into a place where the village walls could be extended to
it when it grew up.

"In order for it to grow properly and to know to whom it belongs, it must
be touched here on this sticky patch by everyone in the tata." Most of the
tata members were close by watching the "planting" so this went quickly.

"Now it needs water so it can start to grow." Lothar said. Being farmers,
this made sense so they dutifully poured 100 liters of water into a hole in
the top of the seed. Fortunately the spring they used was not far away and
this soon after the rainy season was flowing well.

As soon as the seed had enough water for cooling, it started venting a
little steam and "growing" (assembling) a stalk. The stalk came out of the
hole where the water had been poured and shot up two meters in
minutes. Diamond tipped roots augured into the ground anchoring the seed
so a gust of wind would not tip it over.

The stalk, which started a featureless tan, turned black at the top, and
then the blackness flowed half way down the stalk. It elaborately flowed
and folded, developing shifting swirls of colors like the skin of an Indigo
snake. Then the opalescent black surface lifted away from the stalk like
an opening umbrella. It flattened out, the stalk bent like a sunflower and
the solar absorbers faced the morning sun. At this point it looked like a
black beach umbrella growing out of a packing crate.

The seed now had 2 kW of power available and "woke up." It exchanged
information by IR with Lothar and Mabo verifying that it had passed
diagnostics tests and that it was a happy clinic seed.

Lothar and Mabo took leave of the tata after reassuring the elders that
their seed would finish growing up in a week and open. If the seed needed
help its spirit would call to them and they would come back. And finally,
when it opened they should hang another fetish on the hook it would grow
over the door and send in the sickest first.

As they were driving away on the seldom-traveled track, Mabo broke out

"Those hicks were sure they took advantage of you."

"They did! You got to sleep in the Rover. Next time's your turn. You get
'de lice and I tote 'de gun." Lothar joked back.

Lothar's hair slowly turned black while Mabo's became a cap of kinky white
curls as they swapped roles.

"This one was easy even with banging my head on the steering wheel when the
leopard pissed on the tyre." Mabo rubbed his head.

"I sure hope we don't get another where some kid has a laptop, a satellite
link and starts telling the elders what 'clinic seeds' do. That one was
awful." Lothar made this comment over the grinding noise of the Land Rover
climbing a low place in the bank of the wadi.

Far to the north and a dozen seed plantings ago, village elders had figured
they were in over their heads with this "clinic seed" deal.'

They assigned a computer savvy 10 year-old to discuss with Lothar and Mabo
just what this "clinic seed" did. Lothar and Mabo eventually planted a
seed in that village but only after setting up more bandwidth for the kid
to surf the net and spending several days going through *some* of the
details of the clinic project with him and the elders. The elders,
understanding to some extent what they were getting, had insisted on paying
with a beautiful piece of museum quality artwork, the most valuable
possession the village had. But it put the team behind schedule.

(In fact, the kid understood far more about "clinic seeds" than Lothar and
Mabo realized but did not share all he figured out with either them or the
village elders.)

Mabo nodded and checked the GPS. They were off to pick up another seed and
deliver it to the next tata down the valley. They and thousands of other
teams were moving in a wave down Africa leaving behind no village behind
without a clinic seed. It would take them another year to finish.


For the next two hours the seed concentrated on its "root system" pushing
out self-assembling pipes and sniffing for water. It was equipped to go
down and out for hundreds of meters. It hit water it could pump at
9:30. The seed pushed up its solar stalk and enlarged the collector first
to 4 meters and then to 6. By noon it had 40 kW of power available. It
was venting steam like a teakettle to get rid of the waste heat from its
furious assembly projects. One of these was a mesh microwave dish on top
of the solar absorber. (The dish weighed less than a silk handkerchief.)

As soon as the seed finished the dish and (after consulting its clock, its
GPS location and the place of the sun) it aligned the dish on the African
net communication transponder attached to the geosynchronous ring and asked
for a permanently assigned address on the net. Up to that point the clinic
seed was a generic product. The address it was assigned was just a string
of hexadecimal numbers but it was a *unique number*! The clinic's
personality was human in that it could feel smug about acquiring its *very
own unique identification.*

(to be continued or not)

Keith Henson

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