Volume 2, Issue 2 
2nd Quarter, 2007

The Clinic Seed - Africa

Keith Henson

Page 2 of 6
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 with Lothar's and Mabo's neural interfaces 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 laughing.

"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" offer.'

They assigned a computer savvy 10 year-old to discuss with Lothar and Mabo just what this "clinic seed" did.

(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 elders.) Lothar and Mabo eventually planted a seed in that village but only after setting up more bandwidth for the kid to investigate 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 elders.)

Mabo nodded and checked the GPS.  They were off to pick up another seed from a helicopter drop and deliver it to the next tata down the valley.  They and thousands of other teams were moving in a wave down Africa leaving 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 (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 happy, even smug, about acquiring its very own unique identification.

Susan had been the name of the leader of its psychological integration group . . . . insert one in the other, drop a few letters, and test to see if the name was in use . . . Suskulan. The clinic had other carefully selected human personality characteristics such as seeking the good opinion of its peers (humans and other of its kind alike).  It also had a
few unhuman limits.

Since humans have a hard time relating to groups of hexadecimal numbers, the seed also picked a name for itself.   It knew from Lothar and Mabo it had been exchanged for a monkey skull.  Susan had been the name of the leader of its psychological integration group . . . . insert one in the other, drop a few letters, and test to see if the name was in use . . . Suskulan.  Suskulan had a choice of gender as well, male, female or neutral.  Depending on the culture, clinics were better accepted in some places as male, some as female, and some neutral.  The database for the Tamberma indicated it would be better accepted presenting itself as an old male spirit.

Consulting his clock and date on his last system build, the Suskulan sent a message to "home" far around the world and registered himself for updates.  Home told him that he was current, but to expect a minor update in a few weeks.

Half the power from the solar stalk was being used by a fuel cell running in reverse to make hydrogen and oxygen out of water.  The gases were stored underground in flat bladders that used the weight of 30 meters of earth to keep them under pressure.  If he watched his power budget, Suskulan would never have to aestivate again.  Before Suskulan decided where to put its underground extensions, he moved a few of his eyes far up the stalk and looked over the tata and the surrounding area.

Suskulan decided to put most of his mature underground volume under the tata, being careful to lift the entire area uniformly.  It would improve the drainage in the wet season.

Suskulan had full capacity to make anything he needed and even to replicate, but the process was slow.  If the seed had been a few grams rather then 240 kilos of tightly packed nanomachines [1] directed by an almost fully formed "spirit" it would have taken months to get to the stage he reached by sundown. 

As the sun went below the low hills and the wall of the wadi, Suskulan furled his huge solar collector surface against the stalk.  Night was a time of reduced fabrication.  Suskulan knew from satellite weather images the next day would be clear so he ran through a lot of his stored energy that night pushing an access grid deep under the tata.

Over the next five days the tata was raised a meter.  The rate was limited by the amount of CO2 entering the stoma on the bottom of the solar collector.  The carbon dioxide was reduced to elemental carbon and formed into diamond sheets.  Water was pumped in at high pressure to lift the ground.  The outer surface of the diamond rippled to move rock and dirt from the center toward the edges.  Then arches and beams grew in the water to hold up the roof.  Finally most of the water was put back in the aquifer, leaving 10,000 cubic meters of space.  Suskulan's central computational nodes went down the elevator that was part of the construction project.

On the surface the stalk had expanded and overgrown the "packing crate" till the bottom 3 meters was the size of one of the round houses in the tata.   Even though it didn't have an entry, there was an outline of one in the traditional keyhole shape on the side facing the tata.  Suskulan considered taking down the wall, but the villagers did that and incorporated the strange house into the perimeter of the tata.  The appearance of a water tap next to the door outline was an inducement, though not a life and death matter here where the tata had a nearby spring.

A week to the hour after he had been planted, Suskulan dissolved the membrane on the door.  The tata elders had heard more reports from the north and knew what to expect.  They hung a fetish over the door and pronounced the clinic open.  Inside the round room there seemed to be a rug on the floor, the walls appeared to be plastered and there was a low table in the middle of the room.  There were medical devices in a cabinet but they were just props.  Suskulan had built up stocks of replacement chemicals in his medical stores, mostly fat synthesized from methyl alcohol and amino acids to build proteins.


1. Nanomachine - also called a nanite, is a mechanical or electromechanical device whose dimensions are measured in nanometers (millionths of a millimeter, or units of 10-9 meter).
May 7, 2007 3:44PM EST



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