From: Keith Henson (email@example.com)
Date: Sat May 06 2006 - 12:01:57 MDT
By the time the long dry season came back the tata inhabitants were used to
Far away, Lothar, Mabo and their fellow teams had completed planting
clinics all the way to Cape Horn. There were just short of a million of
them, one for every 350 inhabitants on the ravaged continent. The planting
went faster in the decimated cities; sometimes a crew could plant two or
even three clinics in a day though security was more of a problem. After
finishing Africa, Lothar and Mabo had a choice planting clinic seeds in
South America, New Guinea or Australia. Vacations were not considered
since the Foundation's goal was to provide clinics seeds to every human
group on earth before the end of 2044. In the opinion of the "clinic seed"
planters, there was no more rewarding work on earth.
Early in the second wet season Suskulan received a major system
upgrade. The upgrade went swiftly because Suskulan had stockpiled tens
of thousands of liters of parts and fuel--most of it in the form of methyl
alcohol--that he also was keeping in stock to be converted to fat if needed.
Suskulan's first serious patient after the upgrade was Zaba, a 12 year old
who had been shot through her spine while working in a garden. She was
near death, and far beyond help by pre clinic standards, when she was
placed in Suskulan's "hands."
As the nanotech mist enveloped her still body, Suskulan told her parents:
"I can heal Zaba but it will take at least a week, perhaps as many as ten
days. You can talk to her this time tomorrow."
This time the nanomachines didn't infiltrate her brain just to shut it
down, though they did that and reversed the mild damage from shock and low
blood flow. The nanomachines mapped out all her neural circuits and cell
connections. Shortly before her parents entered the clinic the next day
they tentatively restored consciousness, partly in her brain--which was far
below the temperature needed to run on its own--and partly in the haze of
nanomachines that were also simulating input in place of her eyes and ears.
"What happened to me? Where am I? Where is my body?" Zaba asked as she
became conscious. She was calm because the nanomachines were acting as
tranquilizers. Suskulan was listening to an interface to her mostly
simulated motor cortex.
Suskulan imposed a wire frame image of the human form he usually presented
on her visual cortex (to give Zaba orientation) then explained:
"You were shot, you are in the clinic Suskulan at the tata, and your body
is being repaired."
"The clinic recently gained new powers to speak to spirits while their
bodies are being repaired."
"The repair will take some time, even I do not know exactly how many days,"
he said. "You were badly injured."
"My mother and father," Zaba started and then stopped.
"They brought you to me and are very concerned. I can extend my power and
let you use it to talk to them as if you were speaking through a telephone."
Zaba had never used a telephone, the tata being well out of range of a cell
tower but she knew what they were like. Suskulan's wire frame image handed
Zaba a cell phone image. She reached out with her wire frame body and took
it from him just as Zaba's mother picked up a phone appearing object from
Suskulan had moved Zaba's body underground for better cooling and shorter
connections to the mass of repair devices. The Zaba on the table was solid
image of utility fog. Suskulan was still wiring up the image body so Zaba
could not feel her mother holding the warm hand of the image. Though
Zaba's skin had been repaired in hours, the image showed a healing but
still somewhat raw looking entry wound.
"Are you going to be all right Zaba?"
"Suskulan says I will be, but he doesn't know how many days it will
take. Can you get Tanko to finish weeding?
"I will do it myself." Her mother said. She did not want to risk her
other daughter. After an hour of visiting Zaba's mother and father left
promising to come back the next day.
When they left, Suskulan offered to let her sleep till the next day, but
Zaba was curious about what had happened to her.
"Who shot me?"
"That I do not know. However, the bullet fragments can be matched with the
gun if someone else is shot or the gun is found. It was an AK-47 or
similar. The bullet went through your spine."
Sensing that she wanted to know more, Suskulan generated a wire frame of
her body and fed it to her visual circuits.
"The bullet entered the outer edge of your right nipple between ribs,
passed through your right lung just missing your heart. It hit the 4th
thoracic vertebrae, shattering it and severing your spinal cord." Since
butchering animals was a common (but not common enough!) practice at the
tata Zaba understood the picture she was seeing.
"That takes a lot of fixing. Your body is being kept very cold so my
healing spirits can work fast without burning up."
"How do they work?"
"Ah. Such a simple question; such a *hard* answer. The problem is you
don't have the words; they don't exist in your language. To understand how
healing spirits work would require that you learn to read and learn another
Zaba, like 99% of the Tamberna, was illiterate. Not that learning to read
in her language would have been much help. The only literature in the
language was a translation of the Bible, not terribly useful to people with
"Can you teach me this language and how to read?" Zaba asked.
There was a short pause, which was really a very long pause for Suskulan as
he projected what would happen and the unstated (though obvious) reason he
had been given the upgrade.
"Yes" Suskulan said at last inflecting his voice to a sigh. "But it will
change you and the rest of the people of the tata in ways you cannot
foresee and may not like. You can sleep through the nine or ten days it
will take to finish healing you. Are you sure you want to do this?
"Yes," said Zaba firmly, "I want to learn."
And thus was the fate of this particular tata determined, though in truth
something like this had been ordained since Lothar and Mabo traded for a
fetish the "clinic seed," that became Suskulan and before that when the
Foundation organized the distribution of clinic seeds, and before that when
an early clinic design was released under a creative commons license, and
before that . . . leading back and back in time to when proto humans first
discovered that a broken stone's sharp edge was just the thing to get at
the meat under a hide.
Subjectively Zaba talked to her parents every ten days after that. Instead
of a phone, Suskulan animated her image on the healing table. Zaba was
able to feel her mother holding her image when she visited while her real
body was near freezing and 30 meters under the tata.
Her biological memory was being mechanically updated in her very cold brain
and her consciousness was running in a swarm of fast nano
computers. Suskulan could have let her experience run even faster but he
didn't want her to get too far out of synch with her family and the rest of
Mechanically constructed memory is a very efficient way to learn. With
Suskulan's help Zaba learned to read her own language in a few hours, to be
fluent in English in 15 days (subjective), to a eighth-grade equivalent
education in 30 days and to a rough understanding of the physical and
chemical background for nanotechnology by 60 days subjective.
Toward the end of her stay in the clinic, Zaba had an understanding of what
the swarms of repair devices were doing to restore her spinal cord,
patiently teasing out where the nerves should be reconnected across the
gap, replacing cell walls and myelin in the destroyed section, rebuilding
the shattered bone, muscle and connective tissue and fishing out the bullet
fragments down to single atoms of lead. She even had some understanding of
how her mind was being supported in the nano computers that were acting in
place of her very cold brain.
A few hours before her parents were to come on the last day, Zaba warmed up
her body under Suskulan's guidance. Her consciousness was continuous as
the reactivated brain cells took over from the slowed down swarm of nano
computers that had been simulating them. The support and information
umbilical connections withdrew and the holes in her skin closed seamlessly
as Zaba started breathing for the first time in 9 days.
She sat up and coughed a few times. Her physical body was different from
what she had experienced for the past subjective 90
days. Better? Worse? She could not decide. Zaba was delighted that
there was no sign she had been shot. She walked around the huge
underground space, which had become familiar to her in the past 3 months as
she shifted her virtual viewpoint among clouds of "utility fog." Zaba
detected a few misconnected sensation nerves in one foot. Suskulan said if
her brain did not adjust to them in a few days she should come back and the
clinic would fix them.
She was mildly distressed that she now had to voice talk to Suskulan, who
appeared as a projection instead of "talking" directly to his spirit in the
spirit world she had inhabited. Then she realized from her new knowledge
there was a way she could if she took a bit of the clinic with
her. However, there wasn't much time to before her parents came.
"Can I come back to visit even if I am not hurt?" she asked.
"Yes. Anytime I don't have another patient."
"Can I take the clinic's interface with me?"
"There is nothing so addictive . . ." thought Suskulan.
"You may." Part of the cloud of nanomachines that had just left Zaba's
brain returned as a momentary haze. Since they retained their memory of
where they had been it was a matter of a few minutes before the machines
reestablished their monitoring posts in Zaba's brain.
"I missed not being able to talk to you in the spirit world." Zaba said
without voicing. A wire frame image in Zaba's visual cortex overlaid the
physical projected image of Suskulan.
"Spirit talk does not reach as far as your garden." Suskulan warned her.
Zaba lay down on the repair table that was now at the bottom of the
elevator shaft. The elevator lifted it into its place in the
clinic. Zaba was treated to seeing the rapidly thinning utility fog image
of her body that had comforted her family for the last ten days before she
merged into her image.
The nanomachine haze that had fogged her image and now her real body
withdrew into the low table. Her family was seated on the floor waiting
for her to awake. She greeted her family and in voice talk said goodbye to
the image of an old man Suskulan was projecting. Then they stepped through
the clinic's keyhole door to where the other members of the tata were
waiting for a joyous celebration of the healing of Zaba.
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