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Chapter Six

 

Jaden Plays Santa

 

"So, do you have any holiday plans, Jaden?" asks Jaina.

"Yeah! I just scored a neat gig. I'm going to be a Santa Claus at a mall in Queens. I'll be there a couple days a week during Christmas vacation, and the pay is good! It's going to finance a nice vacation next summer to Paris. I'll go the Art Institute there and take a course on Post-Impressionism."

"Umm... sounds like a nice double benefit!"

"Yeah. I don't mind being around young kids, and getting to research the French masters by seeing their work in person is a real turn-on for me! And Paris... ummm."

"So did the school arrange this?" I ask.

"No. It was a job one of my fellow teachers had arranged earlier this year. But he got transferred to Washington over the summer. He'd totally forgotten about this until he got a confirmation call. He posted on the school site, and I picked it up."

"Neat!" says Jaina.

 

Dahlia Lesson

 

Lesson Four -- Early Stage Incubating Choices

Once you have a zygote, you get into the choices of where to develop it.

Historically, all zygotes spent up to nine months in the mother's womb and were nourished by their mother's placenta. Unlike producing the zygotes, there was only one way to develop them into fetuses, and even today the zygote developers we produce have to imitate that environment pretty closely. Getting more variation in the environment suitable for zygote development is something today's scientists are spending a lot of effort on. As they succeed we have more choices in what features we can put into zygotes which give us more choices on what the mature human characteristics will be.

Artificial wombs fall into two categories: those inside animals and those that are completely synthetic.

Animal wombs have the advantage of responding quickly to both overt and subtle feedback signals that the zygote issues as it is developing. Some, the domestic animal ones, are also well known to human agri-infrastructure so they are easy to accommodate. A cow uterus, for instance, can be used and it's both readily available and cheap. And, just like different breeds of cattle are raised for beef and milking, womb cattle are yet another breed. Their wombs are developed to be more sensitive to human zygote signaling.

The most expensive of the exotics are chimp wombs. Chimp physiology is the closest to human physiology, but chimps are slow breeders and the adults are touchy and dangerous animals to deal with, so their wombs are quite pricey.

Synthetic wombs have the advantage of complete control over the incubating environment, and they are completely mass producible so they are quite uniform. This makes them cheap for mass producing babies with uniform heritable characteristics -- clone babies -- and it makes them well suited for producing babies destined for exotic environments, such as living in high pressure environments deep under the sea, and low pressure, low gravity environments such as Moon, Mars and space stations -- the MMS environment.

Their disadvantage is that they don't feedback with the zygotes on subtle levels which means a lot more zygotes don't develop well. But this is something they are getting better at with time.

How these translate into personal choices:

Once again, cost-benefit is key. But in this case it may be the government that is paying most of the cost, so they decide the benefit.

If you're going to be raising a commodity child -- one being raised to fill a specific need that naturally raised children are not going to fill -- then you are going to be raising a government-grown child and you will have little say over the incubation. You get the result, and you get paid to raise it.

If this is your child that you are paying for, then you get to make the choices... within the legal constraints. There are some ways of incubating that are considered too hazardous to be good for the child or the community. One example of something in the gray area being the geishas we saw that video about.

Currently cow uterus is the most popular. It's a technique that is well developed and well understood, and cheap.

 

Playing Santa Claus

 

Part of my job as teacher is to review student resumes. I help spruce them up so that they look as good as the spruced up PAT scores they get from attending class. What I mostly look for are ways to add a strategic community service, or two.

But as I was going over Jaden Larkin's, I spotted a huge, waving red flag. I contacted him immediately.

"You, a male, are playing Santa Claus without sexual predator insurance?"

I looked at him with jaw dropped.

"Well it's only over the video!" he rebutted, "Well... until this year, that is.

"And why should I be a target? I don't have deep pockets. I hardly have any pockets at all!"

"Even so." I responded, "The lawyers that run those sex-pred firms are high volume operators. They'll run you through the machine, and you won't stand a chance of ever making money. They'll take your movie money before you've even written the movie!

"And, it's not your pockets they are looking to dig deep into. You're a ticket they will punch. Most of their income will come from the Sexual Predator Relief Fund."

"But I'm not a... a... monster!"

"They won't think you are. What they will think is your a naive fool. Which, I have to say, you are, if you do this.

"Even worse, you will have this huge scar on your record! At best you won't qualify for raising lab rats after you've gone through that process. At worst you'll be serving some hard time, too!"

He sighed, "It's so expensive. And I don't do it that much."

"And that's why ninety percent of the Santas these days are women, even the video Santa's. These days you can argue trauma even over video. You're really playing with fire, Jaden."

He sighed again.

I gave him my best heart-to-heart tone, "It's ironic, Jaden, but if you're serious about child-raising, you're going to have to consider Santa-playing as an expensive hobby."

 

Dahlia's Visit to Annette’s Home

 

"Dahlia, I want you to come see where I live." Annette announced to me after class.

"You've been so helpful, and so tolerant of our different ways that our prophet, Isaac Jesper, would like to meet you in person."

I was honored and we set a date. The colony had no avatars so this would be an in person visit.

The trip there was long and difficult. The nearest airport was a two hour drive by land vehicle, and that vehicle was driven by a person. The first half was standard enough; on a road we shared with lots of creation traffic. The second half was something special! It was on a dirt... road? With the driver really driving! It was a rough ride on cleared dirt -- speeding up, slowing down, twisting, turning, bouncing, bouncing, bouncing. And the heat! Even with the air conditioner running, the heat pulsed through the glass windows. The driver was wearing weathered jeans, a reed hat and a cotton shirt, and his face skin was getting as weathered as his jeans. But he was kind, and when he noticed I was getting a bit green under the gills, and losing my concentration as I tried to text, he tried to steady up the ride.

"Not used to this, eh?" he said knowingly with a drawl.

"It doesn't come up often for me." I admitted.

"Keep your head up. Keep looking out. And think happy thoughts. It helps," he said, "You're not the first city slicker to make this trip... and they all survived." He grinned.

I put away my phone and just looked out the windows -- Annette had advised me that multi-tasking was frowned upon at the compound, so I might as well get used to it early. And it did help.

In fact, now that I was paying attention, I saw that the driver's driving skill was impressive. He seemed to be one with this vehicle and this road, and there was no creation I could see acting as intermediary. When he pushed on the gas, the engine roared immediately, when he pushed on the brake he was determining how much we slowed down. Impressive! Prior to this my only experience with a person directly commanding a vehicle was at an amusement park ride. ...Oh, and my riding my bicycle at the bicycle course in the park.

I knew immediately when we reached the compound. We crossed over a rise and on the far side the view was dominated by a huge white building surrounded by an immaculate green grass lawn -- very out of place in the dusty, arid scrub we'd been driving through.

We didn't go to that building, though, we drove around it and went to a building more modest in size, but equally well maintained.

As we drove in the parking lot the driver explained, "That's the temple. That's for the faithful. Strangers don't go in there. This here's the residence of the prophet. You'll be staying here, and meeting him here."

As we got out, Annette came out and gave me a big hug. She looked so happy, relaxed and comfortable here -- hardly the reserved, strong-willed matron I was so used to in class sessions. The driver brought my bags as we walked in.

"I've scheduled you for a tour first. Then we will meet Prophet Jesper." She took my arm as we walked in.

I got settled and toured. It was fascinating, partly because I was seeing this for the first time in person, not after reviewing a VR summary. It was a strange feeling, and I had to take it slow.

These people had workshops and those workshops were filled with men busy fabricating stuff. "We try to make as much as we can for ourselves." explained Annette, "We don't want creations doing what man was intended to do."

I was polite enough not to point out that all the tools these men were using were made by creations. But I was impressed with how much of the compound was taken up in workshops. It was a lot. And what they produced didn't look like creation stuff, either. It was simpler, cruder, and had a different esthetic. "We sell some of this to collectors and get a good price for it." Annette told me.

We also toured a home, a school and a social hall. As we walked from building to building, we were surrounded with children. They were all over, and going everywhere -- even in this heat that was driving me batty. They seemed quite used to it. There were mothers around doing some herding of the kids, but compared to what I was used to seeing, these were pretty free-ranging kids! I had also noticed a lot of pretty young-looking folk in some of those workshops. I decided not to mention it, but Annette did.

"These workshops where you see the youngsters are not producing anything commercial." she said, "In the commercial ones we have only eighteen year-olds and up. These kids in here are just doing hobbies."

"Part of their learning human-sufficiency?" I said. She nodded. It seemed like a fine line to me, but I guess they were getting away with it.

Late that afternoon, after I'd had a chance to freshen up and recover a bit, I met with the prophet.

<<<*>>

The next day I was ready to head back, but Annette suggested, "Before you go, do you have time to attend a Relief Society meeting? It's where we women get together and talk about self-improvement issues." I hesitated, it didn't sound that interesting, but the look on Annette's face suggested she thought it was a good idea... a very good idea. "Sure." I said.

And I was happy I did. Unlike the meeting with the prophet, this one was very practical. At last I was able to use some of my expertise as these women questioned me thoroughly on many aspects of modern child-bearing and rearing practices.

As the session drew to a close, Annette looked happy and explained, "Thank you, Dahlia.

"The Lord speaks through our prophet, and our husbands, on big issues, but once those are decided we women have a lot to say about the day-to-day implementation of those revelations.

"We have long recognized that our practices of close relative marriage caused concern among those around us... and to many of us within our group. Some of us have wondered if the new genetic testing techniques could be considered a gift from God to help us with our child-bearing and child-raising.

"And if they were... just how much help could we take?

"One reason I'm taking your course is to help us get better information on these issues. That is why I invited you to come here. You have seen more about how we live, you've had a chance to meet some more of us, and we have discovered more about this potential gift from God."

There were a few more questions, then the meeting wound up rather quickly -- kids were getting out of school soon. It was time for me to endure another bouncy, jouncy ride back to the airport -- although this time it wasn't nearly so bad. As my driver would have put it, "My body has learned some."

 

Proposing to Adrian

 

The more I found out about Adrian, the more I liked what I was finding. The visit to his workshop fired me, and I did more research on him.

He was now CEO of Gene Editors LLC. This was a startup that was exploiting some of the latest insights into how the genetic system works. Last year Julian Homeby published about some tertiary effects he had discovered while researching extremeophiles that were surviving surprisingly well on Mars. Adrian was teaming up with him to produce some gene editing tools that would exploit what Homeby had found.

This could be white-hot. It could make all kinds of manmade genetic adapting happen faster. Along with many other things, it could speed up the development of adapting the human phenotype to surviving in Mars conditions -- it could make better Mars babies faster.

Intellectually, I was getting warm and fuzzy over this guy. And my emotional side was not far behind. I loved watching him move when we had class together, and his voice was talking straight to my heart. Ummm....

After only two classes I had started plotting, and after class four I found an excuse to invite him to lunch.

At the lunch, I dropped the big one... I proposed we team up on some child raising.

"So... what do you think?"

Adrian smiled at me. There was a look of surprise on his face, but not delight.

"I'm honored, Dahlia. I know you have lots of choices available to you..." He thought before he continued, he was trying to be delicate. "In answer to your question: I respect you highly, but I haven't had strong mutual feelings because I considered you too... high maintenance... is probably the best way to put it."

"High maintenance! I maintain myself very well, thank you!" I huffed back.

He laughed at that, "Oh, you do on the fiscal and emotional levels, there's no doubt about that! What I was thinking of was the time commitment, and the emotional commitment, to me, as a man."

He was giving me that "man look" again -- the one that says it doesn't matter what you're wearing now, what statement you're trying to make with the hours and dollars you've spent on clothes, cosmetics, and plastics. What counts is what you feel like naked, partly wrapped in sheets, cuddling up to your man's side, and dreamily listening to his heart beat after some happy frolicking.

Feel like both inside and outside: Outside do you feel warm, cuddly, and accommodating to your man? Inside do you feel like you've just been taken closer to God than you ever thought possible? Do you feel like you can never be so happy again... but you sure want to try as soon as your man feels up to it again?

Grrr... Ten, fifteen, well, in truth it was twenty years ago, I hoped and prayed for that look in a man I was interested in. Many feminists discount that look entirely, the thoughts behind it are just not a part of their what-men-think-of universe. Those that bother to recognize the look as a possibility argue that a man caring about what a woman thinks during love-making is just urban legend promoted by conniving males.

I think those feminists overstate their case; there is a gem of truth behind that so-called legend, and I look for it. I should say, I used to look for it -- I'm not a man-hungry, kid-hungry, hormone-raging teenager any more.

"In truth, I'm seriously considering a Geisha." he continued evenly.

"Like we saw in the video?" This I wasn't expecting!

He nodded, "I'm a busy man, and a man of business. I don't have time for a lot of courting and woman-accommodating. A Geisha will accommodate me, and if my next deal goes through as planned, I'll have the resources to pay for one."

"What if your next deal doesn't go through?" I asked, but I really didn't care what the answer was. I just figured asking something, anything, was more diplomatic than slapping him silly and then walking out in a huff. This was just not going as I planned, at all!

"Then I will be reconsidering my options, and that would include what I think about you." Now he smiled at me in a much more pleasing way, he was paying attention to me and what I looked like now, "And please don't take what I'm saying the wrong way. I recognize that first-on-the-wish-list is a rare happening in the real world."

Oh my! I've been flip-flopped again! Well, he certainly was a man of business, if a nerdy one. He wasn't afraid to lay the facts on the line so that good decisions could be made. That part I admired. But... take a Geisha over me! A sex toy! What was he thinking!

... I guess he was thinking like a busy, important, intelligent, man -- just the kind of man I wanted to hitch up with. <sigh>

OK, my search goes on... just in case his first on his wish list happens. But I'll hold off on the slapping him silly for now.

Men! Can't live with'um, can't live without'um!

 

Suddenly in South Sudan

 

We will be back in class this evening.

--Bob

It was a terse announcement, but I felt a huge wave of relief. The news coming from South Sudan had been ugly all week. The new government had not brought quick relief from the unrest that had cast the old government out. Apparently the new government represented only one of many competing interests, and in that part of the world political competition still included street violence, kidnappings and death squads. For that matter it still included casting voodoo spells, according to some of the human interest reports.

In class Bob and Janet told us about their adventure.

Bob started, "We were there with the Good Food To All NGO. They are working with farmers in the region helping them get hooked up with more advanced agri-creations in the developed countries.

"It was helping a lot," then he frowned, "But we found ourselves running afoul of some localist sentiment. 'You can't use these foreign ways here in South Sudan!' said these... localist enthusiasts, I shall call them."

Janet continued, "It's not the first time we've heard this complaint. But given all the other unsettling things happening there, this time it was a lot more threatening. Our local friends advised us that they were getting worried, too. This new government was not helping things. The new government people that came to our area got people all excited about the new ways things were going to be done... genuine South Sudan Ways, they said, that would bring food and freedom to all. But they were sketchy on hard details.

"We didn't have anything to fear from our neighbors, our friends assured us, but these outsiders were an unknown quantity, and they were feeding both the anger and the optimism the young men in our area were feeling. It was heady stuff... and worrisome."

Bob added, "That part of Sudan still has a lot of young people. Because of the impoverished conditions there, the baby boom has never stopped. The social mix there is quite unlike anything you experience here in New York, or in any other metro area. So many young people! So much raw enthusiasm! Such adventuresome spirit! That's why we like it."

Janet didn't look so happy when she said, "But a week ago three women who worked at our clinic were dragged out of their homes in the middle of the night. We're not sure where they are now, but the next morning we heard that they were accused of being witches."

She looked at Bob, there was pain in her look, "That afternoon we started our journey back."

Bob gave her a little hug and concluded, "We are happy to report that went comparatively smoothly."

"Comparatively," added Janet, "We did get arrested in the capital for being spies, and had to spend a night in jail and pay a fine before we could leave the country. But that's just a usual sort of shakedown that happens in that part of the world in times like these."

"... Wow!" I thought, and I could think of nothing to say.

Jaden popped up the first question, "Did I see on the news just before I came over that they were burning clinics? Calling them works of the foreign devils?"

"What!" I said to that, along with several other students.

Bob looked grim when he answered, "Yes. I just received word that one of them was ours." Janet looked at him sharply, I guess he hadn't had a chance to tell her.

"Couldn't the creations protect you? Why would they let this kind of violence happen?" Jaina asked.

"The creations there are South Sudanese creations... at least in their imprinting. They are imprinted to support their people just as much as ours are imprinted to support Americans and their ideals. If the South Sudanese humans think we and our works are foreign devils, their creations will feel the same."

There was a long silence before Annette asked, "What will you do now?"

Bob said, "Well... that burning means it will be a while before we can go back. It's getting pretty out of hand there. So... we'll have to do something else." he gave Janet a quick kiss and a hug and looked at Miranda, "The baby-making moves to top of our schedule for now." Janet brightened and so did Miranda.

 

Andy Asks a Favor

 

Dahl, need a favor.

--A

It was a text from Andy.

We were just friends now, the pills had done their work weeks ago and I was long off them, so I took his message with no pangs. I remembered, but it felt like long-ago puppy love.

What's up?

-- D

Meet for lunch?

-- A

With that came a scheduling proposal to my planner. I accepted and our planners worked out with the restaurant schedulers to meet at Salucci's, a nice but no-nonsense place. We both got there on time and did some catching up. Then came the pitch.

"Dahl, I'm about to take a trip to central Borneo."

"In person? In human person? Back-to-nature vacation?"

"No, work. Borneo has some of the last primitive tribes that are not part of the Neolithic Park system. An opportunity to do some development there has come up and both the local authorities and the developing company want a careful assessment of the regional social system they are impacting. This development is going to bring change to the these people, and they want to make sure the change is good."

"Sounds fascinating, and a bit scary."

"More than a bit!" Andy laughed, "Right now the infrastructure out there is too primitive to support avatars. That's why I'm going in person. I'm going to be part of a party of traders, assessors and negotiators. And we're all going in person."

He grinned as he said, "This means lions and tigers and bears, Oh My! plus disease and insects, and all sorts of real life natural unknowns. Plus these people routinely bash heads of their local neighbors if they feel they've been crossed, and steal women if they're just feeling frisky."

"...You want to be going there?"

Andy grinned, "And I want to go bearing gifts, DeMuzzy fashion gifts to be exact."

"...OK. ...Strange. ...I'll bite, tell me more."

"These are near Stone Age people, and guess what they like best from us civilized outsiders?"

"That's easy: Guns and firewater."

"That's what I thought, too. But according to the local trader it's T-Shirts."

I laughed at that, "T-Shirts, you're pulling my leg!"

He grinned back, "So the world does have some surprises for m'lady.

"I'm serious. What they like are the gaudy ones, ones with colorful graphics. They have no idea what they mean, but they get real friendly and cooperative when they can get them.

"I want to bring these chiefs some that are really special: some DeMuzzy-designed T-Shirts." and he was serious as he said this.

"...Some cheap ones. I'm on a budget." now he grinned.

"Well, I admit, you have surprised me again, Andy." I reached up to touch his cheek, "That's one thing I've always liked about you."

Then thinking about his assignment, "OK... Sounds like you want something designed for kid-level delight. That shouldn't be hard to work up. Do you want something popular themed, something we pay copyrights for?"

He thought a bit, "These people do make journeys to the big city occasionally, so they are aware of popular entertainment themes. And there's a lot of schlock knock-off and pirate stuff in those remote semi-civilized urban areas nearby. ...Here's a thought: how about some public domain classics. Can you do some of those well?"

"Sure. Good idea. I think we can do some 1930's and 40's Fleischer and Lantz stuff -- some Betty Boop and Woody Woodpecker and the like. Or we can update some of those old velvet picture classics. You want just T-Shirts?"

"Hmm... let me ask on that and get back to you. How long to get these produced?"

"Oh, I guess about a week for drawings and a week for production. What quantities?"

"I'm thinking five of each, 100 total."

"OK quantity is not an issue, I'll get you a quote when I get back to the office."

"Sounds great."

I smiled at him, "Borneo. You certainly are full of surprises! Good luck."

He smiled back, we got up and gave each other a familiar kiss and hug, and he headed off. I stayed to finish my lunch... and enjoy the glow of our touch. Pills or no, he was still a really nice guy.

 

Jaina Nightclubbing

 

Jaina dragged herself into class. It looked like she could hardly stay awake.

I could have smiled and let that pass as youthful excess, as I had in previous weeks, except that her on-line testing and homework assignments were both mediocre and late... except when her cyber was covering for her, and it wasn't hard to spot when that was happening because her cyber was really sharp.

I pressed her a little in class, and she quickly started whining. Yup, she was as tired as she looked. I backed off, but when class ended I asked her to stay for a minute. When the room emptied I opened with,

"What's up, kiddo?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing describes your class, testing and homework performance. You're way behind. What's up?"

She thought a moment, "I guess I've been clubbing pretty heavy." she admitted.

"Boyfriend?" I asked.

"No! ...not yet, anyway. It's my girlfriends. We've been going on one of those new World-tour Virtuals. We signed up for ninety concerts in ninety cities in ninety days. And..." she said proudly, "we've been seeing how many post-concert parties we can crash. We've been pretty clever at that and we've met a whole lot of really important people! ...and a lot of phonies like us, too."

Inwardly I cringed. The World Tour Virtuals were the latest buzz. This year they were popular and heavily marketed. DeMuzzy did product placements in several. "How far along are you?"

"We did number twenty two last night," she brightened a little, "We saw Lui E./Lui I. in Shanghai. Wow! The effects they put up there are mind-blowing!"

Being Ms. Wet Blanket is not a favorite task of mine, but... "You know your course work is suffering..."

"It shouldn't be. I've been taking the latest pills."

"If you have, they aren't working. Look at you now."

First she just stared at me like I was being a total loon. I simply waited, and it wasn't long before she rubbed her eyes a little.

"Yeah," she said, "I think I'm going to have to change my prescription."

"You're enhanced," I said, "A whole lot more than I was at your age. That part is neat! Compared to what I could do when I was your age, you're Super Woman!

"But you still have limits. And just like all us older fogies had to do, and your kids and grandkids will have to do, you still need to learn to set priorities. Sadly, that hasn't changed, and won't change. You still have some learning, and practicing, to do."

She thought about it and nodded, then said, "Anything else?"

"That's all." I said.

She turned and started to walk out. Then she got a bright idea, turned to me and said, "Hmm... maybe I can send my cyber to the concert part instead of me?"

She smiled at that, headed for the door, and within two steps she was a phone zombie.

Inwardly I sighed, "Still some lesson learning to be accomplished there." I hoped it would happen soon, but I wasn't making any bets.

 

The Best Location in the Nation... Again

 

As I flew into Cleveland to visit grandma Altair, I saw some new quite noticeable buildings – large domes – in the heart of the city down by the Cuyahoga River – the area known as The Flats.  I checked my PDA and found out they were, of all things, steel mills!

Steel mills! Yes, in the 1920’s The Flats grew into a steel-making center of the world, but Cleveland’s steel mills had died a rusty death in the 1970’s as 20th century America’s Steel Belt had transformed into the Rust Belt.  Now they were back, but in a whole new way. This could be interesting.

As I was driving to grandma’s I scheduled myself to take a tour before I went home. When I told the family, all got interested, including grandma.

“My Goodness!” she said, “I haven’t been downtown for... ten years? The last time was to see that Rock and Roll museum when they inducted... now I don’t even remember!  ...I remember that was the last one, though, when they finished, they moved the whole kit-and-kaboodle out to New York City – said there wasn’t enough interest here.” She laughed, and she was happy to come see what had changed since then, so we made it a family outing.

There was lots of traffic as we made our way to The Flats, and the roads were in good shape, but there were few cars – cars meaning those things that carry humans in them.  The traffic was almost all trucks of many kinds with a few creation shuttles mixed in.

“How interesting.” grandma said as we pulled into the parking lot, “This is the Rock and Roll museum building.”  It was a beautiful location, right next to the lake with a wonderful view of both the lake and the Cleveland skyline.

The tour guide was a creation designed specifically for PR with humans, but different than the usual PR-creation type.  Rather than an attractive human-style android look, it had a robot-looking exterior inspired by Robbie the Robot of 1950’s movie fame -- to symbolize steel making, I guess -- but unlike that movie robot the voice was quick and pleasant to listen to.

“This building is now the visitor center for the New Flats Steel Complex.” the PR bot explained, “Cleveland is still, geographically, one of the best locations in the nation for producing steel.  This plan has been a long time in the making, and five years ago we negotiated with the last humans living near The Flats to help them relocate elsewhere.  A few chose the suburbs of Cleveland; most chose one of the more major human metro areas.  Whichever they chose, we helped them get very nice accommodations, and when they left, we began redeveloping The Flat’s steel-making potential.”

“There are no humans left in Cleveland?” said grandma incredulously.

“Oh, there are still ten thousand left.” the bot assured my grandma, “but they are now all far from The Flats in places such as University Circle and Kamm’s Corners.”

“...Just ten thousand now.” grandma said wistfully, “There were a hundred thousand when I married your grandfather, and half a million at its peak in the 1950’s. It was the sixth largest city in the nation then, you know, just behind Detroit. How times have changed.”

“And changed for the better.” said the bot brightly, “As our construction finishes here The Flats will produce five times the steel it did in its 20th century heyday, but this time with only a tenth of the pollution.  We have come a long way.”

“You don’t need any people to make steel?” I asked.

“Not any more.  The process is well understood, and the work to do so is still difficult, dangerous and dirty, so it is now entirely automated and entirely in the hands of industrial creations.  This is why The Flats is now so attractive once again – the geography has always been good, and now that we don’t have the cost disadvantage of supporting human peculiarities such as zoning laws and pensions, we can once again take advantage of this wonderful geography.”

“Why do you have domes this time?” I continued.

“That’s a good question, but it’s well covered in our VR tour.  May I recommend that you all experience that?  Then I’ll be happy to answer more questions.”

We took the tour, and we all learned a lot.  It was impressively interactive.  My tour was mostly of pictures of things happening in the domes, and it was impressive to watch all the machines moving around, and the red hot pots of pig iron and the gleaming bands of steel coming out as finished product.  Jeremy, my younger brother, who’s planning to go to MIT, got a tour that covered a lot about the chemical processes in steel making.  He saw lots of graphs and charts. Grandma’s tour focused on nostalgia – it was a history of steel making on The Flats, with old black and white photos and lots about the old steel barons of last century.  It took an hour, and we all got interesting tours.

At the end, Jeremy and I had some questions.  I asked, “Why are the mills in domes this time?”

The bot answered smoothly, “Since people don’t have to be near the process, we don’t cool the environment around the furnaces as much. The domes are hellish hot inside, and even warm to the touch on the outside.  The domes protect the environment from the heat and toxic wastes that are produced along with the steel. Those wastes are then gathered and sequestered in the old salt mines under the city.”

“I remember hearing about those.” chirped up grandma.

“They have been put to good use again, just like The Flats have.” chimed in the bot.

Jeremy said, “I notice that this modern process takes only a fifth as much coal as the 1930’s processes, but just as much limestone.  Why is that?”

The bot answered smoothly, “Much of the coal used in the 1930’s process was providing heat.  We are now using alternative energy to do that.”

“You mean like windmills and solar power?”

The bot was a little slow answering this time, “...Alternative.  We get our power from many sources.”

Jeremy pressed, “Wind and solar these days are optimized for electrical generation. If you use electricity to heat the raw materials, you lose all that efficiency you were just telling us about.”

The bot was cornered, and knew it, and relented, “The alternate energy we use the most of is nuclear.  Each of those domes contains a large nuclear reactor as part of its steel making process. This is how we keep both the energy and environmental costs down, and this is why they are dome-shaped.”

“This is why this Flats Revitalization has been so long planned and only been implemented starting two years ago. Now that there are no people living within two miles of The Flats, we have permission to employ nuclear power, and this is why our production costs are now globally competitive again.”

We were all stunned.  I said, “So radiation is part of the toxic wastes that are sequestered under the city?”

“A vanishingly small part.  The vast majority of what goes down there is carbon dioxide.”

There was no more to say at the time, so we left.  But we were all very impressed with what the creations were doing... some of us were amazed, and some were scared.

 

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