Volume 2, Issue 2 
2nd Quarter, 2007

The Clinic Seed - Africa

Keith Henson

Page 5 of 6

Suskulan had expected this question. "I, Suskulan, can augment the spirits in your powerful fetishes. Placed around your gardens on tall poles they will chatter like a monkey if someone approaches who is not of the tata."

Suskulan's image wavered into a more unsubstantial translucent mode.  The village elders quickly agreed to bring him a number of fetishes to be "augmented."

By the next evening, he had a dozen fetish skulls and the 2-meter poles to hold them placed inside the clinic.  Suskulan's fog of nanomachines equipped each of the skulls with eyes, a solar power collector hat, power storage and a local area transceiver plus enough utility fog to serve as local actuators.

Image 4 - Skulls

There was argument that night if men or women should plant the poles so they asked Suskulan.

"Children," he told them.  "Three boys and three girls."  He told them that Zaba should be included.

Zaba and five other older children took the ward poles out to the garden, planting the first few along the path at 50-meter intervals where they could serve as relays.   Zaba was delighted she could spirit talk to Suskulan through the ward poles all the way to the garden.  Suskulan directed where the ward poles should be planted through her.

It was prudent that the children planted the ward poles and that the adults didn't get a good look at them.  Suskulan had indulged his sense of humor by regenerating skin and hair on the fetish skulls and placing eyes in the sockets that disturbingly rolled this way and that.

In the week after the poles were planted, they grew roots like the ones that had anchored the clinic seed when it first sprouted.  The poles grew dark leaves for solar collectors and the fetishes were able to rotate on the pole.  (An artistic flourish since they had eyes in the back and sides of the head as well as the front.)  All of the poles became strong beyond belief as Suskulan's remote controlled assemblers laid down nanotube fibers. [1] Two of them telescoped up ten meters over a period of weeks to get a wide area view.

Who had shot Zaba remained a mystery.  Suskulan and the neighboring clinics never located a suspect. 

December 2043

The next dry season was almost as brutal as the first.  Suskulan was asked about supplying the tata with food.  He explained that was beyond what he was permitted to do.  Food again was in short supply.  Suskulan restored fat on children several at a time.  Instead of their being unconscious while it was done, or talking only to him, he let them play together in the spirit world, their bodies cooled to near freezing and experiencing ten hours for every real time hour.

Suskulan had enough distributed processing now that wire frame body images had been replaced by polygons, better than cartoons but simplified compared to real life.  The physics model was earth standard even to the point of pain from running into a spirit world tree.

The children who were so inclined were offered instruction.  Most of the children learned enough to manipulate the web cameras where they could look out at places across the world and as far out as geosynchronous orbit and to play games (of which there was a huge variety) in the spirit world.  Eventually they discovered the library that could show them movies.

They finally understood the mysterious fixed lights in the sky that had appeared ten years before as "solar power satellites," or "power sats" that converted sunlight into microwaves beamed to giant receivers on earth.  There were many "rectennas" in Europe and Asia, but the infrastructure to use huge blocks of power was missing south of the Sahara.

In spite of efforts by the children to keep their extra vision secret, the adults figured out the children could see through the ward poles because it became impossible to sneak up on one of the children if they were near the garden.

Producing food out of the simulation or producing babies in the simulated world were two built in limits Suskulan had no desire to break.) The adults asked Suskulan how it was done and could they get it too?  Shortly the older children had to move away from the garden if they wanted privacy for sex.

Then they discovered that sex in the spirit world was more fun, especially after they talked Suskulan into locally reducing the gravity in the physics models.  (Sex in the simulation had no biological consequences. Producing food out of the simulation or producing babies in the simulated world were two built in limits Suskulan had no desire to break.)

By the end of the dry season, the tata inhabitants were spending half their time with their bodies in a very cold state deep under the clinic and their minds in the spirit world--which now sported a copy of the tata sitting in the middle of an otherwise uninhabited world.  With the start of the wet season and the need to plant and maintain the physical-world houses all of them were out of the clinic for a few months except when they needed it for medical reasons.

Expecting him to say no, the tata elders asked Suskulan if he could make their houses more resistant to the rain.  To their surprise, Suskulan agreed and poured a large store of fuel and molecular parts into weather proofing the mud dwellings with tiny diamond sheets.   The houses didn't look much different after Suskulan worked on them (unless you caught the light at just the right angle) but they were as proof against the weather as the clinic walls.

Just before the next dry season arrived, Suskulan got another update, and with the additional processing he installed, life within the "spirit world" became very much like that outside in attention to detail.  (Except no bedbugs, lice or mosquitoes!) 

December 2044

With the start of the dry season, more and more of the tata members spent most of their time in the spirit world, sometimes sleeping there and only coming out to work the gardens or harvest.  With substantially fewer people eating, the granaries filled up.  That and weather proofing the houses further reduced the need to spend a lot of time in the physical world. 

May 2045

Just after the wet season started a "mole" laying an optical fiber burrowed into the tata linking Suskulan to the rest of the clinics.  No longer limited by satellite bandwidth and latency, his "patients" could travel by optical fiber and experience the virtual or physical world any place on the planet while their bodies lay in Suskulan's underground extension.  Few of them were interested in going outside of their language group, even with excellent translation services (Zaba was an exception).  But they did use "seven league boots" to visit relatives in other tatas, something that had been curtailed since the pox years.

At the same time those in the spirit world were allowed to change the simulation, locally for their own consciousness or if they wanted to change public parts by consensus.  The spirit world tata didn’t change much, but the inside of the dwellings became larger than the outside as Suskulan relaxed the physics rules on request.

Zaba often talked to Suskulan.  She eventually acquired a top-level understanding of all of human knowledge and had access to the details through simulated memory.  Suskulan warned her that she might have a difficult time in the physical world if she got out of communication because her mind had expanded well beyond what could be supported in a brain. 

"Why would I want to go back to being stupid?" she responded, but, after thinking about it, she warmed up her body and moved her consciousness back into her original brain.  Her boyfriend was deep in a game and would not come along.  (She had a boyfriend because the older man her parents expected to marry her to had lost interest after asking for and being given half a dozen simulated concubines.)

Zaba was one of the few Suskulan permitted to be in the physical state in his underground extensions.  He was not concerned about the safety of his racks of freezing cold patients, supported as they were in a web of nanomachines.  He just didn’t want those who did not want to know how they went in and out of the spirit world to be concerned about the underlying physical details.

She rode up the elevator and left the clinic and the spirit world for a day.  Walking beyond the reach of the local net was a disconcerting experience at first but even without the net, Zaba's mind was impressive.  She remembered what Suskulan had said about staying awake and learning while being healed and how it would change her and the people of the tata. 

It certainly had!

For better or for worse?  

For better in that nobody died of fevers, nasty parasites, or malnutrition since Suskulan had come into their lives.  People didn't even die of old age with a clinic to regress age for them and they aged in the spirit world only to the extent they wanted.

For worse in that she could not have children unless she left the clinic for their gestation.  Zaba had read the design notes that led up to the creation of the clinics and their spirits and had long understood the mathematics behind Suskulan's limits.  In the long run, births and deaths had to match.  If you wanted no deaths, then there could be no births.

Since fetal development was arrested while in the clinic, (but not post-birth growth) a number of families stuck it out until a child was born, then moved back into the more attractive spirit world tata to raise the child. 


1. Nanotube – a one-atom thick sheet of graplute (called graphene) rolled up into a seamless cylinder with diameter of the order of a nanometer.
May 7, 2007 3:51PM EST



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