All posts by Troim Kryzl

No Ant Farm

„You‘re kidding, right? You must be kidding! You can’t do this to patients. How are they going to survive a week at the hospital, with this app around? They don’t want to know! Sometimes, you’re so naive, Nerdie. Or would that be plain old insensitivity?“

She‘s joking, of course. Her face tells him as much. Wrinkles around the eyes = joke. Eyes bulging under heightened brow = anger alert, last chance to avert row. Facial expression consistency, that’s one of the many good things, about companion robots. No ambiguity, none of the messy diversity displayed by conventional humans. He’s still intrigued by her reaction, has to ask:

„What is wrong with transparency, chérie? My app will be telling them what‘s going on. That‘s always good to know, isn’t it? Aren’t we all longing for more information, about our circumstances, to feel in control and stuff, to quote a certain expert?“

He’s proud. Remembering that last bit of psychology, that’s very much unlike his former, socially oblivious self. It was an excellent idea, to integrate a social intelligence unit into her capabilities. Sometimes, this leads to boring lectures, sure. But some of the knowledge she forces onto him is valuable, does actually help him understand what’s going on.

She’s laughing now, and shaking her head. Looks cool, with her long braids.

That‘s another upgrade he doesn’t regret. The standard model comes with short, no nonsense hair, and a very basic wardrobe. Three days in, he had had enough of being reminded of his bad old school uniform days. He bought her a set of six sexy wigs, and a closet full of 2030 style velvety dresses in bright colors. An excellent idea. Looking at her now cheers him up, even if she lectures him about stuff he’s fine not caring about. And here it comes, her next lecture:

„Well done, Nerdie, well remembered, you‘re such an excellent pupil. Yes, people often do like to know stuff. Yes, understanding makes them feel like being in control. But, Nerdie Sweetie, often is not always. Let’s look at this together, shall we, to find out why your perfectly well intentioned app will be perfectly unwelcome in the real world…“

He does love being praised. If only her tone was slightly less condescending. Mental note to have another go at the advanced settings manual, to find out if there‘s a way to fine tune her advice mode. All fine and good, to learn, but preferably without being made to feel like an idiot.

„… If I‘m not mistaken, your reasoning went like this: ‚Patients in a private hospital room can‘t see how many other patients there are on the ward, or what the nurses are doing. Not seeing any action makes them assume there isn‘t any, which creates resentment. Fit the nurses with tags, create a map of the ward, show how the nurses are rushing around, ambiance improved…‘“

He can‘t help nod his agreement, strongly. Hearing her spell out his app concept makes it sounds even more convincing than his own, less structured musings. This is one hell of a good idea, and should be worth a nice pile of cash. He can practically feel the efficiency improvements. How the patients with less than urgent needs will wait for a nurse to be nearby, to call her. This alone should save one FTE* per year per ward easy. His idea is a winner!

„… Will readily admit this sounds promising, at first hear. Patients, and perhaps even the wider general public, like everybody in the area who funds the hospital through their taxes, and is bored enough to feel like watching, would be able to see how hard and fast the nurses are working. No more prejudices, about endless coffee breaks in staff rooms, no more public sector bashing…“

That’s it, exactly, that‘s how he envisages this to work. It‘s such a splendid idea.

„…  Nerdie Sweetie, would you please stop nodding? I‘m starting to worry about your neck. Thank you! Yes, you came up with a pleasant little fairy tale. Ward transparency app, as entertaining as an ant farm, and a much bigger thrill to watch. Nurse and doctor dots, different colors, of course, rushing around the map, from patient to patient. The patients in their beds, why not have them fade, each time they ring the bell, until they get cared for? 24/7 action, for free. The nurses are guaranteed to like the idea, no problem getting them to accept those tags.

We agreed on no nodding, Nerdie Sweetie, need I remind you? Thank you!

Now to the interesting part: Why is this app never going to happen? Not because of staff resistance. Their unions might object, because that’s what they’re there for, it’s their role, but the overwhelming majority of the actual staff would love to prove they’re worth their wages, and more.

And that’s our first problem, Nerdie Sweetie. If your app proves, and beyond reasonable doubt, that hospital staff work hard, how the hell are we supposed to keep paying them so badly, without feeling awkward? No good feelings that way. Especially for extremely well paid office dwellers who’d never hesitate to perform some holiday research at the desk because they’re convinced everybody else is having their moment of on the job slacking, too.

But it gets worse, Nerdie Sweetie, much worse.

How the hell are patients going to survive all the stress and hardship that comes with a disease that needs to be treated in a hospital, if they can’t rage about lazy staff?

Their anger about the bad luck that got them there needs to go somewhere. You need something, to complain about, to visiting relatives, and for the benefit of your own aggrieved self.

Fuming about incompetence is still a possibility, if you take away the laziness presumption, but that way lies an awful lot of mental hazard. If incompetence, you might get worse, and even die. Who‘d want to think about that? Exactly, zero takers. Laziness, on the other hand, will cause some suffering that can be moaned about, but mostly none of the lethal kind…“

She has got a point. Again. Her tone needs adjustement, definitely, he has to find and recalibrate those settings. But what she says sounds very much like the lack of rationality that will forever confuse him, and complicate his dealings with fellow conventional humans.

They often don’t want to know.

He’s one of them, but sometimes he feels closer to her.

He could aske her how come, but…

*FTE Definition: The Full Time Equivalent is a measure that allows the company to calculate the equivalent number of full-time employees it would have on a given period of time

Colitis Generosa

“Salf, hurry up, we haven’t got all day. What are you staring at, anyway? Old dude in a lab coat, with piglets?! The piglets are curtey-cutey, yes, ok. Nice piece of educational hologram, whatever it’s supposed to be about. But, need I remind you, Salf, you’re the one who fancies new cotton wear. You’re the one who insisted on walking all the way to try buy old-fashioned pre-sawn from a classical bricks-and-mortar shop that’s bound to be outrageously expensive, instead of going online to align your 3D persona with a nice cut, select a fabric and have your cotton wear custom made, like a normal person. Need I remind you, Salf, how I proposed…”

Lenk doesn’t get to finish his litany. Salf is too excited about his discovery to let him proceed, as he usually would, for at least ten minutes, as per their long established custom:

“You got to read this, Lenk! Yes, it’s an edutainment window, yes, those are not cool. But this is so amazing. Look at this, Lenk, please, who’d ever have thought…” 

Pulling his companion closer to the display, Salf starts to paraphrase the explanatory note:

“Back in 2025, people were eating lots of meat, for whichever disgusting reason, especially pork. Kept at very close quarters, pigs tended to get aggressive, sometimes pretty lethally so, as in maiming each other. Omar Tabori, that’s the dude in the lab coat, people went by two or three names in those days, because of some clan concept, Omar Tabori, he was studying the porcine gut biome. That’s the community of bugs in the entrails of pigs. People have one such community, too, in their guts. For them, it’s called the human gut biome.

The Omar, let’s call him by one name, like he was a modern person, to facilitate, the Omar, he was looking for ways to fatten pigs faster. He worked with different pig farms, in a very practical type of research. In the course of years of study, the Omar couldn’t help notice that one of the farms lost lots of pigs to aggression, whereas there were no such incidents on another, and very few on a third. Intriguing difference. Our guy Omar, he wondered what was behind it.

Different breed of pigs? Nope. Different stables? Nope. Different pig feed? Nope.

Different porcine gut biomes? Bingo! With a lot of help from a lot of very early days AI, our guy Omar found out that a combination of three bugs made pigs peaceful. None of the three bugs worked on its own. But in the presence of all three what was a bad tempered pig on Monday had turned into a zen pig by Friday.

Our guy Omar published his results, got himself a nice pile of cash from a big vetpharm company, and went on to live happily ever thereafter in a nice mansion on a posh island. End of Omar story. But by no means end of overall story.

By 2030, all farmed pigs all over the world were inoculated with PigZen. Please don’t ask how. Details not suitable for polite conversation, like access through the rear entrance,…

Anyway, by 2030 peace reigned on all pig farms, and even some animal rights activists were prepared to concede that the livestock had a better, if still exceedingly short life. Pretty good progress, just like science is supposed to deliver. 

Don’t look at me like this, Lenk.

Yes, we are vegetarians, and couldn’t care less about pretty repulsive ancient dietary choices. But the pigs are not the true story. They’re just the prequel.

Pigs and people, they’re not that far apart, biologically speaking.

By 2040, some army types and football coaches in regions with big pig farms, like the US, Asia and Europe, noticed a marked decrease in animal spirits among juveniles that made it ever harder to find promising new recruits. As national securities were at stake, research was funded, pretty much across the world. And guess what so many scientists discovered, in parallel and in secret, because that’s how defense research is done? 

Exactly! Good old Omar’s zen inducing combination of bugs had jumped host. Pig farm workers had spread the adaptable bugs to their families, and from there on they conquered the world. There was a mild diarrhea associated with the infection, barely noticed by most people. In defense circles, the diarrhea got nicknamed Colitis Generosa, because it not only made people less aggressive, it also made them much more willing to share.

A very secret and nevertheless lively debate occurred. Normally, infections are for fighting. But this particular pandemic came with advantages. 

Just imagine yourself a general, Lenk, you’re a leader kind of person, should come easy.

As a general, you’d be awfully keen, on the opposite side getting infected with Colitis Generosa. No recruits, no combat readiness, that’s exactly what you cherish in an adversary. As long as your side manages to stay just a little ahead, on the agressivity scale, you’ll be pretty sure to prevail, and at less cost than in the past.

Military administrations can do speed, in an unambiguous emergency, but with Colitis Generosa, no one felt threatened enough to move fast. ‘Let the zen bugs roam and weaken our potential enemies’, was the attitude of choice. By the time the bugs had spread far and widely enough to convince majorities to open borders and dismantle armies, it was too late for the top brass to reconsider. As they also had gotten themselves infected, just like everybody was carrying the bugs by 2050, they melted into retirement without so much as even a minuscule last war.

And that’s how our global government came about. Bit late to do enough about climate change, getting there earlier would have avoided us a lot of decades of rationing. But I’d rather not imagine how bad we would fare now, without good old Omar and his pig gut research. Even total no brainers, like the disappearance of racism and homophobia, might have needed help from Omar’s bugs, to prevail. Just imagine it all hadn’t happened, Lenk.”

As usual in this kind of situation, Lenk is torn between shaking his head and melting with love. Not prepared to choose, he goes: “I’d rather not, Salf, but thank you for sharing.”

Mary Mechanic

I will not ask. No way. I‘d rather take all night than ask. Asking is for sissies. I‘ve got no clue what‘s wrong with this bloody beast, but asking is not an option. Never no asking, ever.

Up to her elbows in chain oil, Mary tries not to mumble what she reminds herself to think, to strengthen her resolve to go it alone. She also takes care not to look up from the spread of parts what would be an early twenty first century ebike in its assembled form.

Such so called Pedelecs, because of the electrically assisted pedaling, were a typical fad of the late presustainable era. What passed for a battery in those days delivered minimal storage capacity for maximum bulk, and no wearable  photovoltaics to top up on the go. Pretty much useless over long distances or for steep climbs. But this sorry device reminded its nonagenarian owner of the joys of youth, when it turned up at the far end of a cellar that had to be redone after unusually severe floods. He decided to have it repaired and upgraded, as a vintage gift for the twentieth birthday of a grandchild that will be hard pressed to pretend cheer.

As no expense was to be spared, Mary opted to replace the toxic mess left from the original battery by the best bioreactor money can buy. For a daily dose of ten Milliliters of sugar water the genetically engineered glowyeast delivers enough juice to carry bike and rider over one hundred kilometers flat, with minimal muscular exertion. No annoying stopovers at fast charging stations. Carry a couple of refill syringes, and you‘re good for a whole day of mobile fun.

The bioreactor alone is equivalent in worth to an electric Harley Davidson. That‘s Mary‘s gift to the poor grandchild. If she‘s clever, she will overcome the disappointment, read the manual, discover the hidden gem, have the bioreactor replaced by a nanotube battery and buy herself a one year subscription to a virtual reality chamber instead of the three day pass she had been hoping for.

The glowyeast is in place and humming with productivity, the power transmission is a no brainer, but the mechanics prove more tricky than expected. The cogwheels resist assembly in standard formation. Mary has so far discovered eight ways not to do it, plus one that might work. Unfortunately, that one and so far only viable option runs contrary to basic basics. Every first year trainee knows all wheels should turn this way, and this way only, not that way. Except here, it’s the opposite. Either the elders had different basic basics, or Mary is about to mess up big.

I will not ask. I will not look up, otherwise Esther will come running. She has this way of saying ‘Come on sister, let me help you. Can’t have the boys thinking we’re not up to it, right?’ Drives me mad. Asking is for sissies, totally not ok.

I could go for a soda. With a little luck, Bodu will be at the fridge. Incredible, how many sodas he’s gulping down over a day. We’d have a little chat, about antiques. A chat, that’s not asking.

Of course it is. A chat is asking. Whom are you trying to fool here? No asking, period.

Mary has once again assembled the parts in the only way that feels right, except for running contrary to all basic basics. Only one way to find out who is right, her intuition or tradition. She releases the brake on the bioreactor and gently, gently exerts pressure on the pedal with her left hand, ready to emergency stop the engine with her right, in case it goes against.

Oh marvel, oh wonder. All fine, all parts working together for the common goal, ready to hit the road. Mary heats up in a rush of conflicting emotions. She did it. Without asking. All on her own. She’s one hell of a mechanic, getting even messy antiques back up. But could he, the constructor of this mess?! He owes her a long and sweaty afternoon, the bastard. Pity he must have been dead for decades, Mary would so love to kill him right now. How dare he?!

“Hey, sister, you did it, and all by yourself! Was wondering whether to drop a hint, like about some people in some countries driving on the wrong side of the road. Funny, how the folks in Asia and Europe had their mechanical conventions all upside down, back in the days of this antique, isn’t it? My first one took me a whole day to figure out, so congrats, you got there faster…”

Mary hadn’t heard Esther coming, too busy having more than one feeling at a time. Now she’s back to normal, as in one feeling, strong. She’d love a T-Rex to amble by and select Esther as snack. Nothing gory in her vision. No screaming, no wriggling, no red splashes. Just Esther swallowed by dinosaur mouth, period. Peace.

Esther is still talking, oblivious to the fact that she has just been snacked on, as far as Mary’s personal universe is concerned. Mary does her best not to listen while packing up as fast as possible. Her official workday ended three hours ago, and now she needs out. Otherwise, her inner T-Rex might suggest a novel use for the big wrench. Traditionally, it’s not meant to be used to smash someone’s skull. But sometimes, intuition needs to prevail over tradition.

Paul Plumber

“Shit happens, goes the saying. Technically incorrect. Only a tiny amount, think cholera epidemic, does happen. Happening suggests spontaneous, fast, wild, out of control, right? Of course it does! And that’s not how people move their bowels. Paul, would you mind describing your last occasion, for the sake of helping the class understand? Paul?”

Paul’s mind rushes back from afar. Very joyfully busy picturing himself on a honeymoon with Peter, two rows ahead to the left, profile of a demigod above what must be a superb body ready to be unwrapped from too much cloth, Paul had forgotten about the rest of the world, including this bloody waste of his hard earned cash of a teacher now staring at him with expectant malice. That’s were the sound vaguely identified as relevant must have come from.  

Never lost for words, Paul goes: “Yes, sir?”.

Ending on a question mark usually does the trick. Makes cross costumers spell out. You don’t want to waste time defending the color of a toilet when they’re mad about its height. 

Color complaints, you have to show the customer his online order with the small print stating that colors look different on screen. Takes a while, and skill, to get him to blame his gadget and pay. Height issues, you only need to shrug an go “Norms and standards, need I say more?”.

“Yes, Paul?” goes the teacher, surprisingly well aware of the 101 of efficient full frontal customer interfacing. Might have been a professional, in some earlier life.

A lesser guy would panick, but not Paul. He feels himself winning. He’s good at this, all his team says so. He doesn’t hesitate to elaborate: “Yes, sir? What can I do for you?”.

The class seems to consider his question hilarious. Paul doesn’t mind. A good laugh is always nice to have. The teacher doesn’t laugh, yet, but nor does he look like getting mad. A bit tired, a tad disappointed, not mad. So far, so good.

After a short pause and with a slight raise of one eyebrow, the teacher goes:

“We were contemplating the fact, Paul, that most bowel movements don’t happen spontaneously. They are controlled. We are willing them to occur, or to refrain from occurring. Would you be so kind as to provide an example, from your own personal experience? Where and how do you usually go about your defecating business?”.

Now that’s a nice surprise of a simple task. Paul would have hated one more microbiome question. He’s getting better at naming those apparently vital lodgers of everybody’s bowels, but which of them are good and which bad still eludes him. He’s starting to suspect some of the bugs switch sides, just to make his life complicated. Much easier to tell the class about his when, where and how. Only challenge is how to impress Peter in this context.

Paul is glad to be such a natural born entertainer. A lesser guy would fail at this task, but he never runs short of anecdotes. Using his storyteller voice, Paul goes:

“Well, so glad you asked, sir. Always wondered whether it’s only me, actually. I like to take some light reading along. Depending on mood and season, I’ll vary. Today, I picked the “Biker’s Fortnight”. Fortnight as in two weeks, not as in Fort-n-i-t-e the legacy game…”

Paul was planning to go on describing pictures of a biker outing, guys all dressed up in black leather and bling, to match the chrome of their rides. With a little luck, Peter would share his esthetics, and feel attracted. In a best case scenario, he would even flash the kind of fleeting smile that Paul could use as a conversation starter on their way out.

Not at all does Paul appreciate the teacher cutting in. Instead of letting him proceed with his perfect seduction plan of a story, the brute goes:

“Exactly, Paul, thank you! ‘Legacy’, that’s the word I was aiming for. So much has changed, over the last couple of decades,  in so many aspects of life. But in some areas, we still think inside very old boxes, too lazy to challenge obsolete traditions.

Back in the days of my grandpa, when water fit for washing ourselves, or even drinking, was routinely wasted on flushing away human excrement, it made perfect sense to install defecation infrastructure in the bathroom. Nowadays, no one would dream of spoiling potable water in this way, not least because one ends up in jail faster than one can spell ‘ecovandalism’ for trying.

By the way, never ever do you guys dare fix one of the few remaining old style toilets. Yes, some rich people living in grand old houses are offering excellent cash for this kind of illicit service. Yes, they promise no one will ever find out. But, let me tell you, this never works. Over the long run, all pipes get leaky. You’ve got a better chance to get away with brewing LSD than with fixing a WC. But I’m not here to help you stay out of prison.

Getting back to the point I’m trying to make: Where do we keep installing the toilets that transform our solid waste into fertilizer, as if this was 2010 instead of 2100? We keep installing them inside  individual flats. In the bathroom, more exactly, in that very same spot where grandpa’s version was attached to the plumbing. Absolutely no reason to keep proceeding like this. 

If toilets were invented now, we’d never put them so close to our living quarters, because smells, logistics,… need I say more? Emptying urine bottles into the waste water regenerator, fine and clean, no problem. But no one wants to talk, never mind handle, shit. Much better to commute to dedicated defecation hotspots. The farmers are all in favor, too. Much easier to collect bigger volumes in one central spot than do rounds and rounds for not much.

One dedicated defecation hotspot per neighborhood, nice place, well maintained, with staff keeping things neat and orderly, that’s the modern way. Combine this with some emergency kit at home, just to be on the safe side, and the world will be a better place.

Now, I can practically hear you guys thinking ‘What’s that nonsense he’s talking? Aren’t we supposed to modernize our business and catch up on latest trends by attending this course? Modern days my ass, I’m not giving up thirty percent of my business!’ That’s what you’re thinking, of course. No need to deny it, and you’ve got a point, theoretically. In practice, you lack vision.

You guys, you’re best qualified to set up and own your local defecation hotspots. You go infrastructure and services, guys, and you make serious money. Don’t let some know nothing suits get ahead of you. You’re the experts, you’re best placed to do this…”.

Paul’s mind drifts off once again. He’ll propose to Peter, half jokingly, to hedge his bets, right after class. Not for marriage, of course not. He doesn’t even know for sure that Peter is gay yet. He’ll propose a defecation hotspot partnership. The paperwork is bound to be heavy, the investment to build such premises will be huge, much better to join forces. And later, who knows?

If all goes well, including a police siren approaching fast being meant for someone else, not related to that broken pipe he shouldn’t have touched, even though he really needed that cash, Paul might get himself rich and happily married in one smart move.

Priorities

A slice of salami. Just one slice of this salty, fatty miracle.

Recalling how salami melts on a human tongue sends Paul shivering with want. If there was any chance to taste salami again, just once, he would be prepared to climb the highest tower, and jump. One slice of salami is worth any effort and risk. A life for a slice. If only he could do this deal.

No beer, no problem. The same level of inebriation is perfectly achievable, and faster, by having the odd droplet of former fruit. Plums, especially the green ones, deliver the biggest oomph. The taste is soso, of course, but Paul has had enough stale beers and dubious doses of liquor in so many low key pubs, why would he get picky now? Beer, wine, schnaps, yes, they differ, but flavor isn‘t everything. At the end of the day, ethanolic beverages are for lightening the mood and dissolving mental barriers. Any gourmet experience is an extra, not the point.

As hard as he tries, Paul can’t keep his mind focused on the fun of getting drunk. His useless traitor of a brain comes up with salt and vinegar crisps instead.

Just one tiny blue and yellow, maddeningly overpriced sachet of salt and vinegar crisps. Paul used to order crisps at the pub, to distract his taste buds from the stale beer.

In his youth, he would have taken a shot of cheap liquor with his beer, to cleanse his mouth. The label on the bottle would have said something like Latvian Light or French Fire, suggesting official if foreign distillation. His brave younger self would have known there are no such brands, nowhere, and that he was risking at least his eyesight, perhaps his life, with moonshine. Little did he care. A soul can only cope with one existential emergency at a time, and in those days getting laid, or rather not getting laid enough, filled that slot, beyond capacity.

As hard as he tries, Paul can’t make his mind stay with the fun of having sex. The crisps muscle back in, now as maddeningly alluring as the salami.

Paul knows what’s wrong. Too much sweet. An overdose of sugary, in all imaginable shapes, textures and colors. Whatever he chews on, it will always taste sweet. Never sour, bitter or salty. The only dietary choice he gets, in this rotten hell of a life, is to have his daily dose of sweet associated with more or less starch. Calling that choice is like mistaking football for golf, because, hey, there’s a ball involved, and it’s competitive.

This football-golf analogy feels badly lopsided, even to Paul’s crisps obsessed mind, but he can’t make it right. He’s beyond making anything right. Has been like this for a while.

Yesterday, he nearly drowned on the beach, trying to sip a drop of salty water. The incoming wave was a very near miss, forcing him to perform his biggest jump ever, back towards dry sand, ad hoc, without the slightest bit of planning.

Having landed right next to a seagull, he was lucky the monster was as surprised as himself. By the time it had decided a snack would be welcome after all, even though free meals, and delivered right to the nest, scream trap at the bird, Paul had performed five more jumps and reached a nearby forest of maram grass.

A close call. And what for? To once again discover that even one hundred percent salty sea water doesn’t taste it. Just like human or pig sweat. Yes, pigs do sweat. Behind the ears, mostly.

Or the saltlick block of the cow that ignored Paul’s presence to the point of nearly feasting on him, accidentally of course. Cows don’t mind green stuff on their white lick, he learned. Made sense, on second thoughts, with most of their food being green.

Paul knows he should have listened to his research assistant.

The little lady in her always neat lab coat, like fresh from the cleaner, even after a day of hard work, she did point out it was early days. She did talk about the unknown unknowns of the transfer technology, many, many, many of them. She did warn of unforeseeable and therefore unforeseen downsides. All her concerns were founded, scientifically fair and fine.

Paul knew as much then and knows it all even better now. 

But he was getting old, and this was proving tedious. And there was this worry, meanwhile proven mistaken but big back then, that his aging body and brain would be less and less able to withstand the shock of the transfer. He had to take the leap, the sooner the better, and he took it.

As the assistant wouldn’t help him proceed, Paul transported the equipment to the forgotten barn at the far end of the farm of a former friend, a computer wizard who was wasting part of his fortune on letting very happy livestock breed themselves near nowhere in particular, on the coast. Lots of nature and pastures, food aplenty and no risk of pesticide exposure.

Having set up the experiment, Paul dithered for a long while.

More and more cows were crowding in on the barn, curious, perhaps hoping for an extra treat from a rare visitor, and he was struggling with a sudden lack of courage. Finally, his bladder broke the deadlock by clamoring for a pee. Instead of extricating himself from the transfer equipment to go, Paul pushed the button in one surge of bravery and ended life as he had known it.

The first hours in his brandnew and youthful grasshopper body where a marvel of well-being.

His mind had made it across fine, all higher functions had survived the neural miniaturization process intact. And all the rest was even better. No more heartburn. No more sore knees. All six legs easy to stretch, so ready to bounce him here and there. Jumping around, a marvellous experience after years of mostly useless sessions with his physiotherapist.

It all felt so fine, only to go downhill so fast.

Hungry from lots of joyful jumping, Paul had to eat.

No problem, there was a choice of hay right in the barn, and plenty more fresh greens outside.

He of course went for seasonal fresh. A couple of jumps later, he was sitting pretty amid lovely flowers and grasses. Never had he been in the presence of so much food, towering around and above him. Just like paradise, he thought, and dug right in.

Having expected a taste of some sort of salad, Rucola, perhaps, he was taken aback by an explosion of sweetness. Very much like an energy drink, only worse, and chewing boosted the effect.

Whichever plant Paul tasted, they all came across as sweet.

Marshmallowy, softdrinkily or candyflossy sweet.

Same for the hay. And bark. Even wood.

The shelves in the barn manage to taste sweet, despite having been treated with glaze. 

Sweetness all over, impossible to escape. Takes the mind of a natural born grasshopper to endure.

Paul has had enough. With salami and crisps at the top of his mind, he hops out into the open, to find himself a hungry seagul and suppress his flight reflex.

Novel Pause

Dear readers,

thanks for putting up with my weird ways! It’s always a pleasant surprise to hear I made you laugh, or cringe, or display whatever other emotion strong enough to have you hit the contact button. Please do keep up your reading while I take a break from writing.

Less suffering inflicted on the poor old English language these days:

  • Zero progress on my WIP Beautiful Potholes
  • No intention to participate in Nanowrimo 2020
  • Words-to-go only until at least March 2021

Not getting any kinder or more respectful of the tongue of Shakespeare with age. Me not writing much is a Covid effect:

My dime novels and the 1kYears series all share an aspect, they’re immediate to near future.  It’s our world I’m writing about, plus a little something, a beneficial bug (Think-o-mat), an unexpected climate change twist (Guilty until Proven) or aliens (Plugger Stuff, Felinity Rules and Beautiful Potholes).

There’s a downside to this approach: Writing Tandem, the third novel of the Plugger trilogy, in real time, I had to decide whether Donald Trump would prevail. Not being a fan, I hated to guess he would. US election night 2016 was a bittersweet moment…

Covid 19 is an order of magnitude bigger than Donald Trump. This disease might be the catalyst that brings about the marked societal and international changes I anticipate in my novels.  No time for writing, not for my kind of science fiction. My motto went from “Science by day, fiction at night” to “Science around the clock”.

Stay safe and see you on the other side!

 

Mathilda Mason

Any minute now. Her peace won‘t last. Someone is going to approach her, ask, and the sequence will unfold. Whenever Mathilda attends a posh event, she has to brace herself for the sequence.

She’s used to it, has a bouquet of answers ready. She’ll shoot the right one back, her voice steady, her posture and gaze confident. She’s good at this. Lots of practice. She’ll pretend not to notice the discomfort she’s causing and fill the lag time with her little lecture.

Doesn‘t mean Mathilda doesn‘t hate the sequence. She’d so love the people attending this kind of event to be… different. Easier to handle. Broadened, horizon-wise. More modern.

It‘s just the yearly Great Gulf of Guinea get together, Mathilda reminds herself. She has been in attendance a dozen times. She always managed, well. She will manage, again. She won‘t let some know nothing idiot ruin what is, in principle, a very good night out.

The event is traditionally celebrated on the Moremi Ajasoro, a former cruise liner, nowadays part museum, part event location. A splendid place, even by Mathilda’s standards, and she does like to reward herself with the odd bit of luxury around the house. What’s the point, of making loads, if not a nice and stylish sofa in a cosy living room, to rest her tired butt after a hard day’s work?

Smiling at no one in particular, to delay the sequence some more, Mathilda savours to be in attendance. This is a big honor, for anyone, regardless of their career.

According to local lore, the first edition of the Great Gulf of Guinea get together wasn‘t even intended for its current purpose. Some rich kids, names long forgotten, had chartered the Moremi Ajasoro to celebrate their engagement. Months of planning, no expenses spared, they were sure to make the front pages. But fate would beg to differ. On the big day, early in the morning, the Gulf of Guinea region was declared to have finally, after years of near misses, overtaken the Shen Kong area to make global number one for wealth, health and joy of living. To spare their event the insult of being treated as other news, the rich kids put out a press release announcing they would celebrate the top spot by getting engaged. This allowed them to make the front page after all, under the header ‚Great Gulf of Guinea’, and the tradition was born.

Mathilda isn’t into legends. Seventy years on, layers of myth have been wrapped around a tiny factual core. The Gulf of Guinea region is number one, yes, and this achievement is being celebrated every year, to keep everyone everywhere else envying, yes again. But all the rest is storytelling, a marketing plot to boost the aforementioned joy of living even higher.

Knowing about metropolitan myth doesn’t make Mathilda less proud to be here. Making it in the Gulf of Guinea, to the point of being invited to this event, that‘s a huge achievement, for any professional, whatever her or his trade.

Shen Kong might still pretend to compete in large series manufacturing, but only just. Whereas for anything digital or design, big or small, hard or soft, fleeting or durable, edible or decorative, the must be place is either Lagos proper, for those who fancy a bustling city life, or anywhere neat and green between Accra and Libreville, for those who don’t, as in too old to have fun.

Every aspiring soul in the proverbial rest of the world longs to stand where Mathilda stands. What’s not lo like? The sequence.

The Lagos state governoress walks by, barely looking up from her exchange with the Indonesian ambassador to wink a greeting in Mathilda’s direction. Same for that elderly chap with hair as white as his festive robes. Mathilda vagely recalls them having been introduced on a prior occasion, but no details. Might be a banker, they’re very much into traditional outfits.

And here he comes, the encounter Mathilda has been bracing herself for. Very young, thirty at most, rather more like twenty five, very dressed up for the occasion, most probably his first go at a big event. Very eager, very clueless, and on the hunt for an interview.

„Madam, an honor to meet you. Would you mind answering a couple of questions, for the Flip?“

At this point, politeness suggests the need for a pause, to give the interviewee a chance to react, but that’s not how this works. Mathilda draws a deep breath, to brace herself. She doesn’t even try to stop what has been proven unstoppable on prior occasions. The kid proceeds:

„First of all, madam, your profession, if you please? Something digital, I presume? But on which side of the aisle, madam? Games or robotics? You look like a hands-on person, who might be into something solid, like personalized service robots, always a market for that, right? And who’d be better at making those just the right kind of pliable, not to say servile, than a lady? Ha, ha, just joking, no offense intended, sexism so out. Now seriously, madam, which kind of digital is it?“

Mathilda draws one more deep breath and takes the plunge:

“Something solid, good guess. Doesn’t get much more solid than a house, right? I’m a mason, as in bricks and mortar, which, believe it or not, are still used alongside 3D printed components, to deliver that unique touch of artisanal ambiance…”

Mathilda keeps going, flashing her professional smile at the kid’s disgusted disbelief.

This is a very young journalist, not much of a poker face yet. Very traditional upper middle class, very respect for brain work only. Not even the hint of an aspiration to pretend to be as class blind as modern expectations would dictate. Knows how to hide his doubts around female achievers under a joke. Plausibly pretends not to notice the very light skin of the folks serving the drinks. But trust him to consider artisans, and farmers, barely human, and to show it.

Mathilda’s dad was right. The true revolution is yet to come. The last one managed to get proud craftspeople like them invited to this kind of event. The next one will deliver respect. Impertinent nuisances like the one she’s smiling at will be made to write Words or code will neither feed nor house me. Ten thousand times per day. Otherwise no supper, no bed.

Mathilda is still lecturing. Her smile is no longer fake.

Ronnie Roofer

“Come on, Seedie, good boy, we can do this, one more effort. Less than two hundred square meters to go, you can’t fail me now! We can do it. This will be one more wonderful roof garden, all green, and capturing lots of carbon to deliver oxygen, like the Amazon reloaded in Nigeria. We can do it, Seedie, you’ve got what it takes, you’ve got it in you, one more effort!”

Ronnie is glad there isn’t anyone else on this roof. Would be annoying, to be overheard talking to the robot like it was a dog. It’s the right size, walks on four legs, the planting end could be mistaken for a head at a distance, and the rear stabilizer for a tail, but that’s it, for similarities. 

Seedie is an emotional moron, would never wag its tail in joy to celebrate one more outing. It’s scientifically clever, hard to beat at soil analysis and melioration. It’s well balanced, able to fearlessly stalk along steep roofs that Ronnie’s excellent head for heights considers too dangerous to access. But Seedie is an emotionally blank. 

Seedie doesn’t yawn and moan about lack of sleep in the morning. It never inquires about Ronnie’s last night, to force him into a big brag about an endless series of romantic achievements that of course never happened. Nor does Seedie counter with an even bigger brag. No bragging, no groaning, no yawning, no calling for breaks. Seedie just does the job, without ever clamoring for a raise. Seedie is the team mate from hell, a blank striver.

But Ronnie is as close to tears as a tough guy dares admit, and to himself only. They have been working together for eight years. Seedie was Ronnies first brandnew Roof Planting Mate.

When he started at the firm, directly after his roofer course at the Lagos University for Applied Environmentalism, his manager didn’t trust the novice with proper tools.  Ronnie was forced to work with a semiautonomous model so outdated and hopelessly inefficient he had to go online for help, and in his own unpaid time!

Couple of days and posts later, Ronnie had become a card carrying member of the Roofers for Bright Skies union. A senior activist, code name GetDone, had explained how to proceed, and his trick worked like magic. It was actually quite simple.

One confidential chat with the owner of the three roofs Ronnie was in process of transforming into a tomato-cum-herbs jungle, to inform him of state of the art rooftop planting practices, sent the client calling the firm to yell for proper modern tools, or else bye bye contract.

Right on the next day, Ronnie had barely made it onto the middle roof with his museum exhibit of a hopeless tool, Seedie was delivered. A brandnew, state of the art, autonomous roof planting robot, straight from the manufacturer. Ronnie hadn’t been the star student in his coding class for nothing. He did it, all on his own. After a mere three hours of setup and configuration, Seedie was ready to go and prompty did a marvel. Together, they achieved more in one day, and it wasn’t even a full one, than Ronnie had gotten done in his whole first week.

The client was so pleased he tipped generously, a traditional appreciative practice that is unfortunately getting rarer and rarer, with all the explanations one has to provide since the switch to ecash only. Some kinds of digitalization really don’t qualify as progres…

But Ronnie has bigger worries to tackle right now. Never mind a few missed tips. Him and Seedie, they have been such a great team, right from their exhilarating first day.

And it’s not just all the work they’re getting done. Ronnie spends more time with Seedie than with his family, and he can always tell him anything, without fear of disclosure.

No problem to talk to Seedie about his betting wins and losses, both best no shared at home.

No risks in uttering doubts around the excessive passion at his neighborhood Liverpool fan club. Seedie doesn’t freak out when told that, honestly, it’s but a game, in the end, no need to go crazy about each and every match.

Even wondering aloud about setting up his own firm, to specialize on medicinal plants like cannabis and poppy for rooftop greening, is perfectly possible and safe in Seedie’s presence. 

Ronnie has of course made sure to deactivate all spy functions. He attended a union workshop on how to safeguard privacy in the presence of AI tools, in his own unpaid time, at his own expense. A very wise move. Not even his pretty professional expert self would have guessed just how many data could have been gathered by something as innocuous as Seedie, the settings permitting.

Ronnie and Seedie, they’ve seen a lot, over the past eight years, and now Seedie is falling apart. If its malfunctioning gets any worse, if they keep missing targets due to repair downtime, Ronnie will have to call management to ask for a replacement.

Even thinking about this betrayal breaks Ronnies heart. Two years ago, Seedie would have had a chance to get updated and come back an old fashioned but robust tool with a couple of years to go. But nowadays, after the sudden switch to the new ambient quantum cores, no one will bother. The tech unit is sure to declare Seedie scrap, have him dismantled and recycle the components. 

Ronnie didn’t see the switch to ambient quantum cores coming, despite hearing about some of it one the news, and he hates himself for his mistake. He doomed good old Seedie.

There must be a way to keep going, for a couple more months. Weeks. Days. Hours.

Pretending not to notice the minimal progress since his last cheer, Ronnie once again goes:

“Come on, Seedie, good boy, we can do this, one more effort. Less than two hundred square meters to go, you can’t fail me now! We can do it. This will be one more wonderful roof garden, all green and capturing lots of carbon to deliver oxygen, like the Amazon reloaded in Nigeria. We can do it,  Seedie, you’ve got what it takes, you’ve got it in you, one more effort!”.

No Veg Rack

Having turned the corner, Pride stops short, taken aback by the size of the building she now discovers to her right. She goes:

„Wow. What a veg rack. Never seen one that big.“

And it is big. Huge, even. Totally unlike the row of low houses in the first street of ArcheoTown. This was a pretty unimpressive sight that had sent Pride wondering about what exactly was the point of visiting. Whereas the landmark she discovers now runs is higher than any contemporary structure, and runs the full length of a block.

Turning towards Star, Pride tries to get a grip on the monster:

 „That’s sure to be ten… No, let me count: Two, four, six, eight, twelve. Twelve! This beast is a full meaty twelve storeys high! Must have taken a whole forest to build, and just to grow veg. What the hell were they thinking, in those days? What a waste of wood.”

Star shakes her head in active dissent and retorts:

“You’re getting this so wrong, Pride. And using foul language won’t hide how clueless you are, about the past. Didn’t you pay attention, in history class? The ancients, they were all sickly. Walking too little, breathing bad air, eating tons of all the wrong foodstuffs. Those guys were a mess. Our life skills tutor, she used to say the worst of the ancients spent more time looking at screens than getting massages. That was of course an exaggeration, impossible to survive on less than two hours of massage per day, you’d go brain spike. But the ancients were sickly, that bit of my life skills tutors tale is true. It said so in an immersion tutorial, too, and those are fact checked by both the lieless and the bragimpeded, as true as truth gets. Each and every single ancient had to munch through tons of greens, to make up for all the unhealthy. No wonder they built multistorey veg racks. It was like temples to them…”

Staring at the huge relic of past madness, Pride squeezes her eyes in an effort to recall more than faint shadows of her own history class. Star has a point, but something feels wrong, in her tale. Pride would so love to be better at this knowledge thing.

She does recall her own life skills tutor, Merit, a bloody good looking number. Tall and bulky, he wore his aggressive makeup with impeccable style. Merit made boys half his age, and dressed up for a beauty contest, look bland. All girls wasted fortunes on his kind purple lipstick, to hopefully attract Merits attention.

His name, his looks, his vanilla perfume, that much Pride recalls as if they had parted ways minutes ago. There was this one instant, when his eyes rested on her for that all important additional split second of appreciation. Still makes her shiver. But what the steak did the target of her teenage phantasies talk about?

Merit had such of lively way of describing past ways of life. Pride recalls how his anecdotes made her feel like having been there, with him. All smiles, a nice contrast to the gory conditions he was describing, his eyes gleaming through bright orange contact lenses that contrasted exquisitely with the smooth darkness of his skin, Merit instilled real passion in her. For his person. Whatever he had been talking about is gone.

The enormous grey mass of the big building just sits there, unimpressed by their presence. No pop-up ghosts to tell the story of the past. ArcheoTown is one of the innumerable sites that where created in the frenzy of historical interest after the meteor near miss, too minor for any fancy technology. The locals just opened a gate into an area that had been fenced off for decades, added the sign ‘ArcheoTown’ and claimed the federal bonus.

Star is still waffling about the sickly people of the past. She’s very much on the slim side, not looking all that healthy herself, no wonder this is such a big topic for her.

Whereas Pride’s body is in perfect shape and health. If only her brain could be of the same caliber. Something is wrong, she’s so sure this silent mass of grey wood doesnt’t fit Star’s story and would protest, if only it could talk. But dead wood can’t talk. Nor is it grey!

Excited to be doing the intellectual thing after all, Pride goes:

“Shut up, Star, will you? Just listen to yourself, talking about wood and forests. Never heard of legacy buildings? Can’t you see? Just come with me an touch this so called wood!”

Pulling her friend by the arm, Pride forces her closer to the high building, to give her the chance to feel that this structure isn’t made of wood at all. Loudly and proudly she goes:

“This monster is made of synthetic stone, my dear. Because the ancients, sickly or not, their health not the point at all here, they built their veg racks from tons and tons of synthetic stone. All the wood, and more stuff, like former wood turned petrol, had to be burned, in those days, because there was too little carbon in the atmosphere. Not allowed to use wood, the ancients had to manufacture stone, for their veg racks.”

Star, always the doubter, knocks on the wall, only to discover it really doesn’t feel and sound wooden. She nods, but still finds a way to deny Pride the confirmation she deserves:

“Concrete, it’s called, or sand, cement and water mix, not artificial stone, but you’re actually right for the rest, Pride, this veg rack isn’t made of wood. Pretty impressive, to what lengths our primitive forebears went, to increase atmospheric carbon. Glad we came here, Pride. Seeing and touching such a lot of concrete is far more impressive than a full immersion lecture…”

Pride quietly smiles at herself. It’s going to take Star at least half an hour of waffling, to make good for her initial mistake. But it won’t change a thing. Pride got ArcheoTown first. Perhaps she should reconsider her aversion against further studies? Lots to think about, for the rest of the visit.

A couple of meters back, Joy longs for the two ladies in the matching chameleo outfits to get moving. Or to shut up. Anything that makes very sure she never has to listen to them getting everything all wrong again. What the blood are they doing here, if they don’t even know the difference between an authentic veg rack and a repurposed office building? Why visit ArcheoTown, if they have no clue whatsoever about its main exhibit? Joy would so love to go aggressive witty on her fellow visitors, but she’s lousy at both. Joy shuts up and waits.

Finally, the two know nothings are done knocking on concrete and walk off, not to make sense of the next exhibit. Chances are they will misinterpret the bus at the stop down the road as a tank. Not wanting to listen in again, Joy takes her time at the entrance of the former office building, wondering what it was like, to he a brain worker in its the glory days.

It must have been tedious, to shuttle back and forth, often daily, between housing and brain work compounds. In ArcheoTown, it’s just as three minute walk, but that wasn’t the rule. According to the records she’s studying for her thesis, two hours of commute were considered acceptable, in the early digital era. Tedious, certainly, but also exciting. Incredibly, breathtakingly exciting.

So many opportunities to meet strangers, in person and really close up. Unsafe, of course, to encounter unvetted people, especially in a public space that might not even have been surveyed by cameras and personal space infringement detectors. But also thrilling. 

Joy would love to spend just one day in the past, to find out what it was like, to walk into an office building, sit in a cubicle, eat in a canteen. ‘Office’, ‘cubicle’, ‘canteen’, for her these are not just terms of reference featuring in the glossary of her thesis. Those are the sounds of adventure.

G Day 89

What to do on a cloudy Thursday afternoon in thirty three C heat?

Not much, and certainly nothing physical. Kchalo spares a thought for all the robots doing all that work. To think that the poor ancients would have been busy in such heat. Shocking.

Kchalo turns up the cooling of his reclining chair a notch. Not doing much feels less stressful with a chilly neck-rest helping the body not to sweat more than strictly necessary. Less sweat, less need to raise his beer bottle to drink from it.

Yes, he’s holding an actual beer bottle, well chilled thanks to the convenient fridge under his reclining chair. And he‘s taking actual sips from it.  Kchalo prides himself on his traditional skills. No automatic infusions from a sleeve container for him. He prefers to take in fluids orally, just like the ancients. Yes, there is some exertion involved, but it‘s worth it.

The reward for raising a bottle to the lips to drink, a nice ritual in itself, is a sublime taste experience. 

Some people pretend it’s perfectly replicable, that at the end of the day, the brain can’t tell the difference between drinking for real and the suggestion of the corresponding sensations as conveyed by the next fluid balancer app, but that’s so wrong.

Having heard of the studies supposed to demonstrate the superiority of an infusions-only lifestyle, Kchalo did his own trial and proved the scientists mistaken. His experiment was anything but double-blind, of course, but who the hell cares if the brain can be fooled in an unnatural setting? It’s pleasant, to drink from a beer bottle, period. No need for techie mumbo-jumbo to confirm something as intuitively obvious.

The artificial sensations conveyed by the mind altering substances in the infusion do have an effect, Kchalo won‘t deny this fact.

Yes, there is relief from thirst. It‘s felt rather faster than in an actual drinking experience, as if relief from thirst was the point of drinking beer. There‘s also quite a strong aftertaste of well chilled beer in the mouth. In the proven absence of any fluid that effect is more creepy than pleasant.

Same for the rapid onset slight tipsiness that makes you urge to brag about hacking your delivery drone to have it exceed the speed limit. No one is going to believe you made it fly at Mach 1.2, and scared the neighbors with a nice little sonic boom. You‘re vaguely aware of behaving stupid, but you can‘t resist the fun of the tale.

And the Mach brag is better than the alternative, boozy macho pretense. Everybody so knows that a nerd like Kchalo has a better chance to boost drone speed to impossible levels than to achieve the kind of romantic conquests suggested as mandatory by all screens.

Thinking of which. Kchalo suddenly knows what to do, on a hot Thursday afternoon.

Even more exertion involved than in the act of physically drinking from an actual beer bottle. He‘s going to sweat hard on this one, and so is she, his partner in the strenuous undertaking. But hey, a man has to do what a man loves doing.

To steady his body for the upcoming ordeal, Kchalo reaches into his fridge to pick three spicy high protein cheese cubes he wolfes down without taking the time to munch or savor. Energy input is what counts now. With all this stuff passing through his mouth, he‘ll have to remember to brush his teeth when he takes his shower, but that’s for a later hour. Now he’s going to have fun.

Kchalo pulls down the Virtual Reality visor integrated into his reclining chair, waits for the motion feeder to grab his neck and establish a connection, steadies himself into a well balanced position, with his legs slightly more apart, grabs the armrests, calls on his back and leg muscles to prepare for action hard and fast, takes a deep breath and yells „G Day 89“.

No gentle onset with this episode. Kchalo gets jolted right into the action. All his muscles tense up all at once, making him sweat and puff like a steam engine. He‘s pounding along fast, needs all his alertness to stay on top of events, back and legs aching under the effort.

It’s even worse for the horse, of course, weighed down as it is by Kchalo, the traditional armor and the heavy saddle. But she‘s a tough black mare, racing along the track in a mighty stampede, taking the corners so low the public hums in fear of a fall.

Impossible for the others to keep up with them. After the first round, they’re one length ahead of the field. After the second round, Kchalo and his champion mare no longer recall that field, too busy racing and breathing. In the third and last round, they both feel like dropping dead, but the public cheers them on. They barely make it through the last bend. The mare slips, the public yells in horror, Kchalo shifts his weight, in exactly the right way at exactly the right moment, and they make it, to win the race with five lengths of advance, an all time record.

Kchalo’s back is as sore as a coal miner‘s in the bad old days without robots. He feels like torn up down the middle, what is left of his legs a wobbly mess. But he so loves reenacting Gymkhana Day 2089 at the Ikeja Saddle Club. His parents had brought him to watch the show for his sixth birthday. His dad was carrying him on his shoulders to allow him a better view. He pissed his pants when the mighty frontrunner stumbled. Dad was sweating so badly he didn’t even notice the additional wet and Kchalo went unpunished. Never will he forget that glorious day, never will he tire of reenacting the most exciting event he ever witnessed.