STORY OF AN EGG by googad4440

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									                                        TwoWireEgg   –   1.1d 2008/05/19 – Page 1

                                                Peter Charter

                                               Chapter 1

        Sunday July 15th, 2001.
        Far West Rand, South Africa

        It would later seem ironic that the second journey the egg took after two and a half billion years of
sleep would not be in a strong box in an armoured vehicle, but in an old tog bag lying on the back seat of
a 1985 Volkswagen beetle. In the beetle were no scientists with white jackets and thick glasses, but a very
large South African geologist wearing old denim jeans and a khaki shirt. The destination was not a high
security scientific establishment, but the home of a wealthy young Johannesburg family who had no idea
of the significance of what was on it’s way to them.
        The egg was not aware of these things. All it knew was that eighteen hours previously an object at
thirty-seven degrees Celsius, and having an electrical resistance of a few million ohms, had touched its
interface for about three seconds. It did not know that the object was a finger, and nor did it know what a
finger was. It did not know that the finger was connected to a human body, and nor did not know what a
human was.
        But the finger, attached to an arm acting as an aerial, had buzzed with hundreds of thousands of
radio signals collected from the world around it, and in that brief contact the egg knew that intelligent life
had evolved on the planet.

       It had all started with a hangover at 04:30 AM on the previous Friday in the North West Province
of South Africa.

         Frank had needed his alarm clock that morning, and when the persistant buzzing finally pierced
his sleep it took a while for him to work out why it it was set so early. He eventually remembered setting
it to take the 05:00 cage down the mine. He had been frustrated in his attempts to decode and interpret the
complicated geology of a new section of the mine, and decided to visit a new box-hole before the drilling
team filled it up with smoke, grit and grease, and made observation difficult.

       The memory of what caused the headache brought the first smile of the day to his face. Thursday
was the mine’s squash club evening, and Frank seldom missed it. After the games he had sneaked into the
mine pub to replace some of the fluid lost on the courts with a quick Lager, but it had not proved to be as
quick as he intended. He had been dragged into the games room as the fourth player in a snooker game.
The games had been close, and he and his partner Jimmy had walked away with the winnings of ten
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Rand, hardly enough to buy one beer, and nowhere near the few dozen the four of them had downed. He
remembered clearing the colours in a single break from the last red, a break that had included quite a few
hallelujah shots - he had admitted them as such - but he had still suffered lighthearted abuse from their
        It took him no longer than a few minutes to brush his teeth, slap some water onto his thick red
beard and change into the Mine Geologist’s uniform of khaki trousers, shirt, velskoens and leather jacket,
and soon his old Volkswagen beetle was making its way through the icy pre-dawn blackness to the shaft.
        As he parked his car he was surprised to notice that his beetle was not the first car in the parking
lot reserved for officials. The Underground Manager’s white BMW was also there – complete with the
resident cat stretched out on the bonnet. The cat was enjoying the heat rising from the warm engine, and
he mentally apologized to the cat that his beetle, being rear-engined, did not have a warm bonnet to lie on.
He wondered if an open window would afford the cat some warmth inside his car, but a mine cat is not
stupid enough to trap itself, no matter how warm. There are mineworkers for whom cooked cat is a
delicacy, and this cat knew that. The frost crunching under his heavy shoes on the gravel path bore
testimony to its wisdom in finding the only warm and safe spot in the area.
         “Hey Cat,” said Frank with a smile as he passed. “Do us a favour and drop a big turd on that car.”
The cat appeared to consider the request carefully but did not comply.
         Frank had worked on the same shaft for three years since leaving university, but had not often
visited the shaft in darkness. He stopped for a few moments to take in the spectacle of one of the world’s
largest headgears standing spread-eagled over one of the worlds deepest shafts, it’s naked concrete
painted orange by the sodium lights illuminating the bank and headgear. The shaft of a big gold mine
never sleeps, and the bank had seldom, if ever, been in darkness since the first sod had been turned some
15 years earlier. He watched the exhaled breath of the mine discharging in a crazy orange spiral from the
ventilation shafts into the cold pre-dawn sky. Sound was everywhere, the cheerful banter of the night shift
pouring out of the cages contrasting with the subdued murmur of the sleepy day shift moving through the
turnstiles in the opposite direction. Everywhere was the sound of metal on metal, boxcar hitting boxcar,
cage doors banging open and shut, and always the timpanic conversation of the shaft signal bells. He had
worked as an onsetter, or cage jocky, during his university holidays and knew the language, each
conversation starting with 3-3-3 “I wish to travel”, 3-3-3 in response “you may travel”, and the short
single rings providing the full stop at the end of each sentence. He heard the single ring from the onsetter
followed by the single ring from the winding-engine driver, and instinctively started to count the seconds
in his head, knowing that the onsetter had only ten seconds to get into the cage, and close the door, before
it started its breakneck downward descent. At two he heard the clunk as the onsetter closed the shaft gate
behind him. He stopped counting at five as the sound of gritty metal sliding over gritty metal, followed by
a second clunk told him the onsetter was safely in the cage. He felt the collective fear of the three hundred
or so men in the three-deck cage knowing that no matter how many shifts you have worked on a gold
mine, you never get used to the feeling in your stomach as the descent begins.
         The clutching signal for fifty-level told him he didn’t have time to waste, as that was his first
destination. A second sub vertical shaft followed by a three-kilometer walk would get him to his final
destination. It was 04:50, and if all went well he could be there within an hour.
         Another surprise was Edmond Dlamini, one of the mine’s surveyors in the change-house. He was
stark naked and covering himself liberally with some greasy looking substance from a plastic container
made to look like a coconut. The attack on Frank’s mucous membranes from the smell in the room was
almost severe enough to cause whiplash.
         ‘Hey van der Westhuizen! What brings the rock-doctor to the mine so early in the morning?’
queried a cheerful Ed.
         Frank didn’t answer immediately. The smell of coconut in his nose was too strong.
         ‘Whew Ed! What the hell is that stuff? I’m going to need a bloody nose transplant!’
         ‘Good idea! A nice big flat black one will look good on you!’ came the smiling response. ‘I’m
going home for the weekend, and the boss said if I get the new pegs in the seventy-two west crosscut I

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could gap it early. This stuff is for the skin. The girls love a man with soft skin and a hard. . ‘ He didn’t
complete the sentence. There was no need.
        Home for Edmond was Mbabane, in the little Kingdom of Swaziland. He had come to the mines
as an eighteen year old with little formal education, but great attitude. His skill with numbers and
machines was noticed, and he soon found himself promoted from carrying an underground theodolite to
using one. He had been given a laptop computer by the mine for his survey work, and had amazed even
the IT section on the mine with his rapid grasp of the technology. He had mastered simple programming
and had built the mine’s new peg register with only a little help from the IT department, and had more
recently been helping Frank build an interface between the register and the geological systems. As far as
the survey part of his job was concerned, Frank always enjoyed Ed’s cheerful attitude to what was neither
a very pleasant nor easy occupation.
        ‘Great Ed. While you are there why don’t you buy yourself a couple of wives? I hear that you
have been seen chatting up the girls behind the mine shop.’
        ‘Have to test the merchandise mon. What you doing here in the middle of the night mon?’ he
asked in a passable West-Indian accent he sometimes adopted since they had watched a movie about a
Jamaican bob-sled team.
        ‘Want to get up the new box hole in forty-seven west before the drills start. I can’t work out where
the reef has gone.’
        ‘You need a peg up there you shout okay?’ Said Ed.
        ‘Thanks Ed, but not yet. Let’s hit pay-dirt first and then I’ll need one. But thanks for the offer.’
Frank was genuinely thankful. Underground survey was hard at the best of times, but dragging a
theodolite up a box hole was not his idea of fun.
        The two friends were about to head off to the headgear when the change room door slid open to
reveal the sparkling white overall, boots and hard-hat of Domingo, the Underground Manager’s side-kick.
        ‘The Manager, he want you,’ barked Domingo. He did not feel that greetings were needed if you
were the officious assistant of an officious manager. Frank’s heart sank. He knew he didn’t have enough
time to speak to the manager, and get to the shaft in time for the 50-level cage.
        The manager, Kimleigh Jones, and Frank’s relationship had started badly and never recovered.
The first time they had met was on the mine squash court shortly after Jones had taken a promotion to the
mine. The game had been a bad-tempered affair and the fight for the center of the court had involved a
fair amount of pushing, shoving and many let calls. At one point Frank had sent a ball at full force into
the back of Jones’ thigh and then claimed the point, which the spectators agreed he should get as he was
directly in front of him. The bruise had taken over a month to heal and the manager had endured many
smiles and sarcastic comments in the change room during this period.
        The incedent on the court aside it is unlikely that Jones and Frank would have ever have got on
well. Frank’s late father had been an Afrikaner whose Dutch ancestors had come to the Cape in the
sixteenth century. He had never known his father, but had inherited a bit of the Afrikaner’s historical
dislike of the British. The manager was a graduate of the Royal School of Mines in England and, as far as
Frank was concerned, would have served the mining industry better had he gone to mine tin in the
Australian outback. It was not an issue of competence – Frank had high regard for Jones’ ability as a
Mining Engineer – but his aggressive, manage-by-conflict style never sat well with him. Jones could
never resist picking a fight for the slightest reason. Frank laughed inwardly at Domingo’s all-white attire
that would have looked good on a worker in an ice-cream factory.
        He was tempted to tell Domingo and the Manager to go to hell, but decided against it. He liked his
boss, the Chief Geologist, and didn’t want to put the old man into a position of having to mediate in a
conflict that would certainly follow such a response.
        Domingo had spoken in Fanagalo, a mishmash of languages that was rapidly losing favour on the
mines in post-apartheid South Africa, and the words may also have implied that the Manager had
homosexual desires towards the Geologist.
        ‘What about his wife? Is that not her job?’ Frank asked to hilarious laughter from Ed. Domingo
saw no humour, and felt that Frank’s check deserved punishment in his Manager-centred world.

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       ‘Ask Gert to hold the cage for me Ed’ said Frank, knowing full well there was absolutely no
chance of the banksman holding a cage for a late Geologist. During his first week of underground work,
Frank learned that on the bank of a large gold mine the banksman has absolute power, and would not
even hold a cage back for the General Manager. Gert worked to a rigid schedule on which the smooth
operation of the whole mine depended.
       ‘Sure Frankie. Will do. Have a good weekend my friend.’
       ‘Same to you Ed. Be Good!’ He knew Ed would not be good, and set off for the admin buildings
with Domingo following behind.

         Kimleigh Jones was huddled over the plans in the survey section. At first he didn’t react to the
glaring look from slightly over two metres of angry Frank van der Westhuizen on the other side of the
         ‘How do you guys expect me to mine gold when you cannot tell me where the damn reef is?’ the
Manager asked. ‘I have a section to lay out, and without a geological plan I will be mining blind.’
         Frank swallowed hard, and took a deep breath. ‘I’m well Mr. Jones. Thank you for asking, Mr.
Jones. Cold day isn’t it Mr. Jones? Yes I would love some coffee Domingo. Nice of you to offer. Black,
no sugar please. How is the family Mr. Jones? I trust all is well at home?’
         Jones was pleased the huge man was talking. For a brief moment he was scared he had overdone
his criticism. He nodded at Domingo and pointed at the coffee machine. Domingo had not understood a
word of Frank’s sarcastic English monologue, but he knew the tone of voice, and knew how Frank liked
his coffee. Domingo didn’t understand the concept of line and staff positions, and could never understand
how a Manager, who had a few thousand people working for him could be talked to in such a manner by
a man who had no-one working for him. The fact that the mine was there to mine gold, and Frank’s job
was to find it, was lost on him. He also never understood why everyone referred to Frank as “Doctor
Frank” when, to his knowledge, he had never treated a patient in his life. A PhD in Geology from the
University of the Witwatersrand did not mean much to Domingo.
         ‘In a bad mood are we Frank?’ the manager asked.
         ‘I get up at four bloody thirty with a bloody hangover on a freezing bloody morning to get up a
bloody box hole to eyeball the faulting before your bloody machines fill the hole up with grease, grit and
other shit, and now I find myself drinking bloody coffee when I should be halfway there. Yes I’m in a bad
         “But I need the geological plan.”
         “And you will get it. At the planning meeting you agreed to beginning of August, and now you are
bugging me halfway through July.”
         “But with the water on West 32 I need to make up tonnage somewhere else.”
         “And I caused the water problem? Last week you lost two blasts in the forty-seven-west boxhole.
I need an intersection to do the plan.”
         Jones was obviously ignorant of the two lost blasts and Frank was quick to push home the
         “So how about you do your job and leave me to do mine. Thanks for the coffee Domingo. Mind if
I take the mug?”
         Without waiting for a reply Frank headed off for his office. He knew the fight was not over and
that Jones would back off and plan a new attack. He had an hour and a half to kill before the next cage to
50-level. The first email in his inbox was an interim report from a student whose MSc. thesis he was
supervising, and within a few moments her excellent work had taken his mind back to the Precambrian
pebble-beds, and he never got to the remaining emails. They did not seem that important anyway.

                                               Chapter 2

       The 07:00 cage dropped into the mine exactly on time. Being reserved for junior officials it was
barely half full on the first deck, and totally empty on decks two and three. Within a few minutes Frank
had transferred to the sub-vertical shaft, had dropped another few hundred metres, and was striding down
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the main haulage, aided by the strong airflow on his broad back. Coming back to the shaft later would be
a different story, with the wind ripping into his face and clothing.
        He was concerned the trip would be in vain, but even if he could not see the faults in the box hole,
he would at least be able to see if they had broken through the pebble marker layer often found a metre or
so below the reef. He knew the unwritten rule on the gold mines - never ask jackhammer crews to stop
drilling - they are paid a bonus based on the number of holes drilled, and see any attempt to stop them as
taking food from their children.
        As Frank turned into the crosscut he was surprised to see the driller’s assistant, striding towards
him clutching a handful of drill steels. He was wearing a crude kilt-like skirt made of old hessian, held on
by his cap-lamp belt, and his body language spoke annoyance, bordering on anger. It was barely 8:15 and
there was no way that they could have drilled the round already, and besides, if they were finished, he
would have changed into dry clothes for the trip back to the shaft.
        Frank stopped him. ‘Saubona. I see you Spanner. What is the matter?’ he asked in Fanagalo
knowing that this man was of the Xhosa tribe and spoke no other language Frank knew.
        ‘Saubona. Look at these steels. They are broken. There must be old workings up there. We are
trying to drill through a rail or something. I’m going to the steel shop to change them.’
        Frank studied the tip of a drill. He had never seen anything like it as the tungsten-carbide insert
was shattered and most of the pieces were missing. The steel on each side of the insert was bent and
        ‘There is nothing up there. This is virgin ground,’ said Frank.
        ‘Well whatever is up there it is not rock, and it is not big. The drills go in fine except at this one
place. Is it possible that there is a drill left from cementing or exploration?’
        ‘I don’t think so,’ said Frank. ‘I have been looking at the plans and there is no water here, so there
is has been no cementing. The closest exploration hole is a long way away.’
        Not satisfied with Frank’s response, the assistant headed off to the steel shop muttering to himself.
Frank spoke very little isiXhosa, but knew that the management of the mine was being likened to some
very stupid African primates.
        Frank clambered up the twenty or so metres to the face of the boxhole. He found the driller sitting
on the drilling platform quietly smoking some foul smelling tobacco in a tatty pipe hanging from his few
remaining brown teeth.
        ‘Saubona. I saw your steels. You must be very strong to be able to break steels like that,’ said
Frank. As soon as he said it he regretted having said anything mildly amusing, as this was a driller who
looked a lot better with his mouth closed.
        ‘Saubona. Something is in there,’ he said, pointing at an area just next to the cluster of holes in the
middle of the face. ‘I don’t know what it is, but it is very hard. I think it is steel.’
        Frank knew that any attempt to deny the existence of steel in the area would get the same response
from the driller as he had got from his assistant, so he kept quiet. Instead he enrolled the driller’s help,
and with the water hose they cleaned out the box hole of grit from drilling, and grease from the
lubricators. He found the hairline fault cracks he was looking for, and was soon measuring angles and
making notes in his book. He was also pleased to see that the footwall pebble marker had been exposed
by the previous blast, and that the pebble size indicated a higher grade in the reef above than he was
expecting. Both bits of news would be well received by the Manager, and he hoped that this would shut
him up for a few days.
        He said his goodbyes and thanks to the driller and his assistant. He asked them if they would be
working the next day, but learned that is was their Saturday off, and would only be down on Monday. The
issue of what had destroyed the drill-tips still dwelt on his mind on the way back to the station, as he
knew there were not many materials hard enough to pulverize tungsten carbide.
        On making it to the wintry sunlight, and after a shower and lunch, he went to his computer to
access the drill log file. They had recently installed a new system that gave a three dimensional view of
the exploratory holes in the area, and he could see immediately that there were none in the area. He even
accessed the original logs of the holes drilled from surface some fifteen years earlier, and that search also
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came up with nothing. A phone call to the cementation people confirmed that there had been no necessity
for cover drilling in the area. Nothing made sense to him, and he decided to go down underground the
next day to see what the blast had uncovered. He fired off an email to let the Manager and his boss know
the good news about the intersection with the pebble bed. He mentioned nothing about the drills, as he
didn’t want to answer questions until he knew the answers. He also kicked off an apology to the organizer
of Saturday’s golf competition, and headed home.
         The only cage on Saturday was once again at 5am. He stayed well away from the rec club crowd
and mercifully no one caught him out. He was fast asleep before nine and woke up a few minutes before
his alarm the next morning.
         He felt nervous being the first person in the area after the blast, and he knew he was acting
contrary to mining regulations, as he was neither the appointed ganger and nor did he have a blasting
ticket. He also knew that being alone, if was hurt and could not make it to the main haulage, he would not
be found until Monday.
         The box hole looked very different to the previous day. A soft grey dust coated every surface and
the acrid blasting fumes burned his nasal passages and eyes. He found the compressed air hose and
opened it up to blow the fumes away. He had seen the process a few times and methodically washed
down the dust to keep it from his lungs. He barred down a few loose rocks up at the face to stop them
from dislodging and falling on him. There was absolutely nothing he could see to explain the damage to
the drills. There was no metal protruding from the face or sidewalls, and no holes in the rock. What he did
notice was that his assessment was correct and the blast had uncovered the footwall of the reef. The
Witwatersrand banket, or puddingstone, looked beautiful to his trained eye, the rich pyrite twinkling in
the bright beam of his cap-lamp. His logic told him that whatever had caused the damage to the drill must
have been imbedded in the rock, and he decided to look for clues in the broken rock that had fallen down
to the footwall drive below.
         He found a shovel, as he had no intention of slicing his hands open by trying to shift the jagged
quartzite with his bare hands. The first rock he moved revealed what he was looking for. Among the
random shapes of the broken rock lay a grey boulder the shape and size of slightly large ostrich egg. He
reconnected the water hose and washed the loose rock away. An old hessian bag he found a few meters
down the drive made a makeshift cradle for the boulder. The last bits of rock adhering to the egg were
removed using the sweat-rag from his neck. There was no doubt in his mind that this was what had
damaged the drills. A close examination showed slight scuffing at the point on the boulder where they
had tried to drill it. Frank could not believe that neither the drilling nor the blast had damaged it. He took
his penknife from the pouch on his belt, and tried to scratch the surface, but only succeeded in bending
the tip of his blade without leaving a mark. In Frank’s experience hard usually meant brittle, but here was
something that was certainly harder than tungsten carbide, and yet had not been damaged by blasting. It
was also denser than the quartz boulders normally found in the rock. What he also found strange was that
the boulder had been cleanly blasted from the rock matrix, as normally the boulders and pebbles within
the Witwatersrand quartzite did not get blasted free, but broke with the rock. He had only seen pebbles
freed from the matrix in rock that had weathered on the surface, but this was kilometers underground.
         Whatever the outcome, the boulder could not be left behind and thrown on the waste tip. He spent
a few minutes digging through the rock pile to be certain that this was the only one, wrapped it in the
hessian bag, and headed for surface.
         Back in office he opened the bag and laid the boulder on the examination table. Under his bright
inspection light the boulder looked like a symmetric egg-shaped piece of graphite, but that was one thing
he knew it was not. There were no features at all on its smooth hard surface. In the battle between
boulder, rock drills and explosives, the boulder had emerged as clear winner, with only a few scuffmarks
to show for it. Frank located his jeweler’s loupe and started a systematic search for anything of interest on
the surface. He found a faint crack in the surface that he was able to follow in a perfect circle about the
size of a basin plug. Within the circle were two bits of quartzite, each about the size of a pea imbedded in
the boulder. A bit of scratching with his knife, and the quartzite pieces popped out, revealing perfectly
shaped cylindrical holes.

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         By this time Frank had started to get a most disturbing feeling that what he was looking at was not
of natural origin. Nothing he had ever seen underground had the perfect symmetry and geometry of the
boulder. But imbedded in the rock of the Witwatersrand System? That was not possible, but here was
something that looked decidedly man-made, from an epoch well before man. He spent a few minutes
weighing up the direction his mind was taking, and was not sure he liked it.
         He shrugged and went back to examining the holes in the surface. There was something familiar
about the shape of a circle with two holes in it, and then it came to him. It looked like a stud on the
bottom of his golf shoes, but without the spike in the middle. He wondered if the circle was not in fact
some kind of plug that could be screwed out, and if so what could he use to open it? He searched his desk
drawers and found a pair of long-nosed pliers, the points of which fitted neatly into the holes. He tried to
turn it until he was concerned that he would damage either the boulder or the pliers, but nothing budged.
So it was not a plug, or whatever made it didn’t know how to make plugs.
         He needed something in his stomach. He had not eaten anything significant since lunch the day
before, and was starting to feel the effect. If this boulder had been waiting since the Precambrian it could
wait a few hours, and if it survived being blasted, then it would survive a trip to his flat in his beetle. He
decided to make a cup of coffee and get a Big Mac and chips on the way home. As he opened the tap to
fill the kettle something occurred to him. Why was he trying to unscrew it anti-clockwise? He plugged in
the kettle and went back to his office. A firm clockwise twist of the pliers, a soft crack, and the plug
started to turn.
         Since the moment that Frank had picked up the boulder in the mine he had felt many things, but
fear had not been one of them. There was certainly nothing menacing about the boulder, but now for the
first time he was scared of what he was doing. What if it contained some kind of poison or even
something explosive? What if it was booby-trapped? There had certainly been no inrush or out rush of air
when the thread had broken. It was almost as if someone or something was willing him to open it. Why
would someone or something try to protect the contents from an intruder, and then conveniently provide a
plug that came loose so easily? Surely something toxic could not maintain its toxicity for over two
thousand million years.
         The most vexing question was whether he should be doing this all alone, but whom should he tell?
Should he tell the manager? No. That idiot with an ego as big as the Kalahari Desert would do the whole
Larry King thing and blab it out to the whole world. Should he jump the underground manager and go
straight to the General Manager? He would not be doing the big boss a favour, as he certainly didn’t like
being distracted from the business of mining. Should he involve his boss? No. The old man was already
beyond retirement age, and would be totally thrown by such a discovery.
         When he thought about it the only person he could or should tell was the Manager, and he just
could not think of doing that. No, he was alone in this project. If he involved someone else it would be
his choice, and at his own time. He wondered if he was doing something illegal, but he could not think of
anyone telling him he could not take anything other than explosives or materials from the mine.
         Frank made up his mind that he would decide on a course of action depending what was under the
plug, and slowly began to unscrew it. The thread was coarse and the plug came out in less than one
revolution and clattered onto the desk from Frank’s shaking hand. He need not have worried, as what was
underneath did certainly not look dangerous, but looked more like the boulder had been filled with white
candle wax. He gingerly scratched the surface of the wax and found it to be unlike anything he had
encountered. It felt soft to slow gentle scratching, but any attempt to move the blade fast was met with
strong resistance. It was almost as if it had a mind of its own, and was prepared to do things slowly, but
steadfastly resisted any speed. Frank put the blunt end of a pencil against the wax, and found that with
slow even pressure the pencil entered the wax easily. What was even stranger was the way that the
indentation healed itself when he removed the pencil, and within a minute or two there was no sign of the
indentation at all. He turned the boulder on its side and then upside down and found that the wax behaved
in exactly the same way independent of its orientation.
         At this stage all Frank’s fear had left him, and he was more like a child-scientist as he fiddled with
the weird wax. He even allowed himself to touch it and let his finger penetrate the surface. What
happened next he didn’t expect. As his finger penetrated the surface, he felt two hard spots in the softness
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of the wax. As his finger played over the hard spots he became aware of a slight tingling sensation in his
fingertip that intensified until it was almost painful. As he pulled his finger from the indentation he
noticed that the hard spots were silver in colour, and more like two electrodes imbedded in the wax. As
the indentation where his finger had been started to fill, the electrodes seemed to get sucked back into the
        He needed to get home and think. He carefully wrapped the boulder in the hessian and made his
way home, stopping to get the Big Mac he promised himself on the way

                                               Chapter 3

         Frank didn’t have a peaceful Saturday afternoon. He found an old tog bag, and carefully wrapped
the egg in mutton cloth and toweling. He permitted himself a smile as he thought of the incongruity of
swaddling it up like a baby, after its immeasurably long journey through time, and sudden explosive
awakening. His mind desperately sorted candidate handles in his mind by which to refer to it. The shape
was certainly more like an egg than anything else, but no egg had ever delivered an electric shock. His
first reaction after the shock was that it might be some form of electric cell, or battery, but that did not
make sense. No electric shock that he had ever felt had slowly built up from a tingle to a shock over a few
         ‘I will call you “the egg” until I know what you are, my friend,’ he said as he carefully stowed the
tog bag in the top of his cupboard. ‘You have slept so long. A few more hours or days will do you no
harm.’ Frank felt almost parental concern for the egg. He had this strange inexplicable feeling that the egg
had wanted to be found, but he quickly put the thought from his mind.
         He didn’t have much of a chance to think before his door opened to reveal Jimmy, one of the
contributors to the previous day’s hangover, complete with billiard cue in hand.
         ‘Hey Doc! Feel like a return game? Those sore-arses want their ten Rand back!’ He said with a
broad grin.
         ‘Err .. .I’m not sure. I have a few things to do and I’m not really in the mood. I think I will give it
a break today.’
         As he said it his mind started to tell him that maybe a game of snooker would not be a bad idea.
The egg could wait, and what he needed was to relax and think clearly. He knew that Jimmy would not
give up without a fight, and he didn’t feel much like fighting
         ‘Ok,’ Frank relented. ‘There are rules. One; no booze for me. Two; I’m out of the rec by five.
Three; you don’t crap on me if I play badly. Four; you break rules one to three, you wash my car.’
         Jimmy thought about the rules. Frank was good company even when sober. He also had to leave
by five as he had a date with the daughter of the manager of the mine next door that evening, and he
certainly didn’t want to arrive at daddy’s house smelling of booze. He didn’t fancy the idea of washing
Frank’s old Volkswagen, but he was sure he could adhere to Frank’s conditions.
         ‘Deal!’ agreed Jimmy. ‘Your car? I’m feeling in a retro mood today.’
         ‘Cheeky bugger. Have you no respect for the aged?’ chided Frank.
         ‘Why do you still drive that old thing? You are the only person on the mine with a doctorate, so
they can’t be paying you peanuts.’
         ‘You forgot Sanjay Pillay from the mine hospital. I’m not the only doctor on the mine.’
         ‘Yebo yes, but he is a doctor, so he has to be a doctor. You are a rock-doctor, and a rock-doctor
doesn’t have to be a doctor. In fact you are the only rock-doctor I know who is a doctor.’
         Frank smiled. He found it amazing that he knew what Jimmy meant. The whole purpose of his
response had been to divert the attention from his old beetle, and it had done just that.
         Frank didn’t play well that afternoon, but Jimmy stuck to the rules and it was fun nonetheless.
They ended up losing Thursday’s ten Rand, and another ten on top. His partner and opponents could see
that Frank’s mind was on other things, but they didn’t push him as to what. After the game he apologized
to Jimmy for having played badly.
         ‘No problem Doc. A bad game of snooks is a hell of a lot better than a good day at home doing
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         At home Frank checked the egg, but he need not have bothered - it was still cozy where he had
left it. He was a little concerned that the egg’s temperature had dropped in the cool of his cupboard, but
he was certain that this thing, whatever it was, it was made of strong stuff.
         A name had come to him during the Snooker game – Selwyn Epstein. He and Selwyn had been
friends at the University of the Witwatersrand. Although there could not have been two more different
people, there was a friendship and respect between them that had grown from the day that they first met at
the university pool. Frank was huge and heavily muscled; Selwyn was small and wiry. Selwyn was born
into considerable old Johannesburg Jewish money; Frank had been raised in a mine village by a widow
who had lost her shift-boss husband in a mine accident. Selwyn was loud and assertive; Frank was mostly
quiet and thoughtful. The two of them had played water polo together for the university team – Frank at
the back providing a solid defense, Selwyn up front, active as a little terrier. There was an uncanny
understanding between them, and Selwyn always knew that when he rolled onto his back after a
breakaway, the ball from Frank would be heading with pinpoint precision towards his left hand.
         They had drifted apart after Frank left Johannesburg for the mines. The last time he had seen his
friend was when Selwyn and Cheryl, his wife, had come to his PhD graduation. In his own eyes he had
made a bit of a fool of himself that day. The sight of his water polo team keeping his mother company
had brought tears, not just to his eyes, but his whole face. His friends were aware how hard it must have
been for a widow to have supported Frank, and see him realize his dream, but if the truth were known,
every tear gland in the group worked overtime that day.
         He had seen Selwyn’s name a few times in the business papers, and had phoned him a few times
to wish him well with new ventures. Selwyn had taken over the family consumer electronics and
appliance business and, if the papers could be believed, had turned a large going concern into an empire.
The last time they had spoken was when Frank had phoned after the birth of their daughter.
         It took him a while to decide whether to phone or not. He knew the egg had changed his life, but
he was not sure if he had the right to draw his friend into the loop. One thing he knew about Selwyn was
that he was immensely strong, and no challenge or opponent was ever too big or too strong to be avoided.
He remembered a debate on the topic of extra-terrestrial life that a few of them had once had in the
university canteen, and remembered Selwyn amusing them with the comment: “who knows, and who
cares? If and when they come I’ll shake their hands, if they have any, and sell them some kettles, irons
and toasters for the return trip!”
         The memory of the comment swayed Frank to make the call. Cheryl answered.
         ‘Hi Cheryl. Its Frank van der Westhuizen. .’ was as far as he got before a barrage of questions
came down the line as fast as the race-caller at the Durban July Handicap. He just managed to pick out
key words in the inquisitive monologue. Married? Children? Still on mine? Mother? Girl friend? It was a
while before he found a gap to get a word in.
         ‘That’s forty questions Cheryl. Let me write them all down, and then you sort them from the top
down in the order you would like them answered. Where shall I start?’
         Cheryl giggled that curiously pleasing Northern Suburbs Jewess giggle of hers. ‘You know me
Frank. Start with wife and children’
         ‘Neither I’m afraid. No girlfriend either. Whoa, that sounds like a matchmaking invitation. Stop
right there. I’m happy. Those things can wait!’
         ‘I just can’t bear the thought of a nice big strong boy like you not making some lovely girl happy.
I know some who keep asking about you.’
         ‘You will never change Cheryl, but thanks anyway. Is Selwyn there?’
         ‘Yes, he is bathing Meggie. He will be happy to give the job to me.’
         Frank heard her disappearing before Selwyn answered.
         ‘Frank you old bugger, great to hear from you. Tell me you are coming back to the big city, and
that I can get you back into the water.’
         ‘I’m afraid not. I need your help Selwyn.’ There was a stunned silence on the other end of the
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         ‘If you had asked me two minutes ago to name the least likely person to phone me, and ask for
help, I would have had no doubt in naming Doctor Frank van der Westhuizen. Is this the Frank who
walked halfway across Johannesburg to a water polo match when his beetle had no petrol, and was too
proud to ask for a lift?’ The words were aggressive, but the tone of voice told a different story. Selwyn
was genuinely pleased to hear from his friend and was hoping there was something he could indeed do to
         ‘What can I do Frank?’ he asked.
         ‘Before I ask I want to warn you that what I’m about to ask you may change your life. I think it
has already changed mine. If you tell me to piss off now I will understand. But I would like to show you
something in the hope that you can help me find out what it is.’
         Frank had practiced what he was going to ask a few times to himself, and was pleased to have
finally got the request out, even though he knew it must have sounded stiff and stilted.
         ‘You are scaring me Frankie. This does not sound like you. Can you tell me what it is?’
         ‘No. Not because I don’t want to, it just that I do not know. I’m sure that there is no danger in it
but . . .’ Frank could not finish the sentence, and took another route. ‘Look, I do not think that it will bite
you, but it may change your thinking on a few things. I suggest that you have quite a serious discussion
with Cheryl and, if you feel up to it, I will bring it around for you to look at.’
         ‘Why me Frank?’
         ‘Because I think it is electrical, and I think you are the strongest person I know, and I trust you to
keep a secret.’
         ‘This is all very mysterious, but okay. If you wanted to get my attention, you have. I will call you
back within the hour. I still have your old number. Has it changed?’
         ‘No. Not much has changed except my view of a few things.’
         ‘I’m more scared. I’ll call you back.’

       The phone went dead and Frank slowly replaced his handset. He felt paralyzed and unable to do
more than just stare at the receiver. He knew that the next hour would be one of the longest of his life.

        ‘What did Frank want?’ asked Cheryl. ‘It was nice to hear from him again. We really should ask
him to town one weekend. It must be awful to be stuck out there on the mine.’
        Selwyn did not answer immediately. He stood against the wall with his eyes on his daughter
playing in the bath. She was cheerfully pouring water into a large plastic contraption that floated in the
bath, and had dolphins that danced in the stream of water coming from a large bowl at the top.
        ‘I’m not exactly sure what he wants. The call was so out of character. It sounds like he found
something, and he wants me to have a look at it.’
        ‘Did he tell you what it is?’
        ‘No. He does not seem to know, but he thinks it is electrical. He waffled on about it changing his
view about things, and that I was the strongest person he knew, and that I should have a serious chat with
you and then call him back if we want to see it. He sounded really agitated.’
        ‘That does not sound like Frank. I didn’t know he could get agitated.’
        ‘I didn’t know either, but he was. I don’t know what I’m supposed to discuss with you. I forgot to
even ask him how big this thing is, where he found it, or what it looks like. He did say that he was sure it
is not dangerous, but more than that I don’t know. He said something about changing his views. It was all
so un-Frank-like I did’nt know what to say. I said I’d call him back in the hour. I can only think it must be
some piece of equipment he found on the mine, but why it made him so agitated I have no idea. I just
don’t know why he didn’t just take it to one of the engineers on the mine and ask them.’
        ‘Maybe he didn’t want to seem a fool.’
        Selwyn smiled. ‘Sometimes Frank is a fool. Do you remember that time at the Ellis Park pool
when he stripped off his tracksuit in front of the whole stadium, and he had forgotten to put on his
costume? His tracksuit trousers were at his ankles before he realized, and then he couldn’t get them back
up. He unintentionally brown-eyed the whole stadium.’
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         Cheryl chuckled. ‘Yes I remember. Poor guy. And how did that reporter cover it on the Sunday
sport page? Something about a frankfurter flapping in a burning bush! Well at least we all now know that
Frank is a natural redhead. I remember it took about ten minutes before you and the ref could persuade
him to leave the change room to play the game, but he played well when he did.’
         ‘Yes he did. We even took to hiding his costume to get the same performance, but he never did it
         Cheryl smiled. ‘He may be a fool, but he is a lovable fool, and what sort of fool wins the Chamber
of Mines Medal, and has a PhD?’
         Selwyn returned his wife’s smile. ‘I said that he is sometimes a fool, but he is certainly not an
idiot - not that I’m certain what the difference is. We can’t let him be agitated. I’m sure this is just some
sort of false alarm. It will probably take me a few minutes to tell him it is a wobulating magoudie, and
then I will let him remind me of all those wonderful goals I scored. Shall I ask him for breakfast
         Selwyn was still smiling at the thought of Frank dancing about in front of the stadium with his
tracksuit stuck around his ankles and his backside in the air when he placed the call. Frank answered
almost as soon as the phone rang.
         ‘Frank, I had a chat to Cheryl and we would like to look at this thing. Are you sure it is not
         ‘I don’t think so, but I can’t be sure. When shall we do it?’
         ‘Cheryl’s folks are coming over for dinner this evening. How about coming over for breakfast
tomorrow. I know you mining types get up at sparrow. Shall we say about nine?’
         ‘Nine is good. You don’t know how grateful I am Selwyn. I appreciate it.’
         ‘If this was anyone other that you I would think it all some elaborate joke or hoax, but you don’t
work that way do you Frank, or have you changed?’
         ‘No. This is no joke. Some electrical test gear may be needed.’
         ‘What sort of gear?’
         ‘I don’t know. I’m a geologist. What do you call that thing that looks like the machine that
monitors your heart at the hospital?’
         ‘A scope. An oscilloscope.’
         ‘Yes, one of those, and possibly a meter of some sort. I’m not sure what we are going to need.’
         ‘I have my old student kit here in the workshop. If we need anything else we can go and fetch it
from the lab. Is this thing analogue or digital?’
         ‘Is an electric shock analogue or digital?’
         ‘Most likely analogue. Most digital devices work at voltages too low to give a shock.’
         ‘Then this thing is most likely analogue, but I don’t think this thing was made by humans.’
         Selwyn’s mind raced. Not made by humans? What the hell did that mean?
         ‘Shit Frank, are you trying to tell me you got an electric shock from something you do not think
was made by humans?’
         ‘It could be so. I’m hoping to have more of an answer tomorrow.’
         ‘My head is spinning Frank.’
         ‘Mine has been since this morning. Are you sure you want to go through with this?’
         ‘I’m in too far already.’ There was a moment of tense silence on the line, broken by the welcome
sound of the intercom announcing Cheryl’s parents at the gate.
         ‘The outlaws have arrived. Until tomorrow then.’
         ‘I’ll be there. Please keep this quiet.’
         ‘I will. Bye Frank.’
         Selwyn shook his head as if to clear it, and headed for the door.

                                               Chapter 4

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        It was about 8:30 before Frank’s old beetle crossed the outcrop line on the south side of
Johannesburg, and entered the double-decker section of the M1 freeway en route to the affluent northern
suburbs. He had once heard that that particular piece of freeway carried more vehicles than any other
four-lane freeway in the world, but this was Sunday and he was almost alone, with only a few dilapidated
minibus taxis to keep him company. A few minutes later he was in the traffic of the early shoppers
heading for Sandton City.
        ‘Don’t worry old girl,’ said Frank to the beetle. ‘No need to feel inferior. These Mercs and
Beemers may look a little posher than you now, but wait a few years they will all be on the scrap-heap,
and I’ll still be looking after you.’ He assured his car with a pat to the dashboard. A few minutes later he
drew into the Epstein driveway where a smartly dressed security guard approached the beetle.
        ‘You Dok-u-ta Frank?’ he asked cheerfully. The middle ‘u’ in Frank’s title, and his dark skin
colour, suggested that the guard was probably from some country North of the Limpopo. ‘Selwyn, he
‘specting you. Pleas-a go tru. He up by de house.’
        By the time he made it up the long driveway Selwyn and Cheryl were out of the house and
waiting for him. Frank could not believe that Megan was standing unsupported, as it seemed just the other
day that she was born.
        The greetings and pleasantries over, Frank retrieved the old tog bag from behind the back seat of
the car, and they headed for the informal dining room. Selwyn has already unpacked the scope and multi-
meter from their boxes and they were ready and waiting on the table, and the look of anticipation on his
host’s faces told that they were itching to see what he had brought. He placed a cushion from one of the
numerous spare chairs on the table onto which he carefully placed the egg. For a few minutes the three of
them just stared at the shiny grey surface reflecting the glow from the red satin cushion. Eventually
Selwyn broke the silence.
        ‘Look dear; Frank brought us an Easter egg. Don’t you know that is a Christian custom Frank?’
         The words were harsh, and may have seemed sarcastic, but Frank knew his friend well enough to
know that Selwyn’s refuge in times of tension was humour. They had played many matches together on
the same team, and he always knew that when their backs were up against the wall, there would soon be a
quip from Selwyn to lift their spirits, or at least put a losing game into perspective. He was the master at
using humorous diversionary tactics, and there had been quite a few occasions when their opponents had
been distracted by his antics to the point of conceding a goal.
        ‘I don’t think that is what it is,’ said Frank quietly, trying to locate the long-nosed pliers that had
got lost in all the mutton-cloth and toweling. He found them, and soon the plug was lying next to the egg
on the red satin cushion, and the Epsteins were huddled over the waxy interior.
        ‘Where did you get the shock?’ Selwyn asked.
        ‘Just keep even pressure on that white stuff and you will feel it give way. There are two silver
electrode-like things in there. At first they gave me a tingling sensation that got stronger, and then I got
what felt like a mild shock. Try it.’
        Selwyn was not so sure, and needed more info first. ‘Where did you find this thing?’ he asked.
        ‘In the mine. I was alerted when a drilling crew tried to drill through it. You see those shallow
scratch marks? I suspect they are from the drills. Yesterday I went down the mine and found that it had
been blasted free of the rock, and brought it up.’
        ‘It was blasted from the rock and it did’nt break?’ asked Selwyn.
        ‘It must be very hard,’ said Frank. ‘But they were blasting with ANFO. That is a mixture of
ammonium nitrate and diesel. It does not break rock like gelignite or military explosived would. It heaves
more than it shatters.’
        ‘Could it have slipped down a crack or water fissure from the surface?’ asked Cheryl.
        ‘No. Impossible. The widest crack or fissure down three kilometers underground is in the order of
a few millimeters, and I also found the indentations in the broken quartzite rock that had surrounded it. It
was definitely laid down concurrently with the sandy sediments that eventually became the quartzite in
which I found it.’

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         ‘We have to believe you Frank. Just how long ago do you thing this thing was imbedded in the
rock?’ asked Selwyn.
         ‘The rocks are about two and a half thousand million years old. This thing must be the same age
or older.’
         ‘You are kidding! That is older that Cheryl’s grandpa. Was that sort of cave-man era?’
         Frank smiled. ‘Not even close. The age of man is the last three to five million years. This is well
before that.’
         ‘Could it be a dinosaur egg? Sort of brontosaurus or T-Rex remnant?’ asked Cheryl. There was a
trace of desperation in her voice.
         ‘I’m no paleontologist,’ answered Frank. ‘But I think the great dinosaurs lived during the Jurassic
and Triassic epochs, and most became extinct in the Permian. I think those epochs were 600 to 300
million years ago. Here we are talking Precambrian. The time before there was any multi-celled life on
earth. The trilobites, ammonites and tubeworms, and even primitive algae and ferns only came much,
much later. There is no fossil record in the Witwatersrand System.’
         The magnitude of what Frank was telling them took a few moments to sink in. Selwyn broke the
         ‘You trying to tell us that this thing has remained sleeping in the rock in that pristine condition
throughout the entire evolution of life on earth? This thing was down there when T-rex was chasing the
sabre-toothed tigers about. When the horseshoe crabs were scuttling about this thing was there? When the
cows went back to the water and turned into Free Willy this thing was snoozing? John the Baptist, Jesus
Christ and Jan van Riebeeck could have played soccer with it? Not only has it been down there, but it is
still holding enough charge to shock you? Eat your heart out Duracel Bunny! You have been smoking
giggle-twigs Frank!’
         The Monty Pythonian image of John the Baptist and Jan van Riebeeck playing soccer brought a
smile to Franks face. ‘Imagine my surprise,’ he said quietly.
         ‘Lets eat first,’ said Cheryl. ‘It can wait a little longer.’
         Breakfast was delicious. Herring, fresh bagels and cottage cheese, Bulgarian yogurt and muesli all
went down well. Selwyn treated them all to some spectacular coffee from an Italian machine that looked
like it had been stolen from the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. All the while the Epsteins kept a close
watch on the egg as if they expected something to come wriggling out of it.
         After breakfast the three of them returned to the egg.
         ‘Do you have some of those clips with the teeth?’ asked Frank. ‘I think we can fix them to the
         ‘Yes, we can use the crocodile clips that come with the scope probes, but how do we attach
         ‘I have an idea. You have an eraser?’
         Selwyn found one from which Frank fashioned a crude probe with his penknife. With great
interest the others watched as Frank applied constant gentle pressure to the eraser. Slowly the wax
appeared to part, and within a few moments Frank felt that the eraser touch the stubs. He asked Selwyn to
get the clips ready and removed the eraser. Before the wax started moving back to its original shape, he
had managed to attach the insulated crocodile clips to the silver stubs. The three watched in fascination as
the wax moved slowly back to its original shape, leaving the clips protruding from a perfectly flat surface.
         ‘That was not so hard,’ said Frank. ‘Now what do we do?’
         ‘I’ll start with the scope. You did’nt happen to notice a plus on one and a minus on the other stub
did you?’ he asked, not really expecting an answer. ‘What I’m going to check first is if there is a voltage
between the pins that would explain the tingling you felt in your fingers.’
         He fiddled with a few knobs on the front panel of the oscilloscope until a bright green dot moved
horizontally across the screen along the centerline of the grid. Each time the dot reached the right side of
the screen it disappeared, and as if by magic, appeared again on the left side and repeated its leisurely
journey to the right.

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        ‘Smoke test. Ready Frank? Ready Cheryl? I have set the vertical scale to 10 volts per division. I
would imagine that it would have taken about 20 to 30 volts for you to feel a tingling. That would
correspond to two to three divisions on the vertical scale. Lets go.’
        He connected the black probe to the one clip, and the red probe to the other. The green dot painted
a quick vertical spike of about half a division, but then carried on its merry way as if nothing had
        Selwyn looked disappointed and was about to start fiddling with the knobs again when the dot
slowly started to climb up the screen. It got up about three divisions and then fell suddenly below the
center line about three divisions and started its climb again. This time when it got to the previous
uppermost position it slowly started to fall downwards to below the centerline. Almost immediately it
started to move in a rhythmic motion that Frank knew to be a sine wave. The motion became faster and
faster until the whole screen became a random pattern of traces. Selwyn was able to freeze the shape by
twiddling a few knobs, but once again the pattern lost its clarity. Suddenly the shape changed to a series
of perfect triangles, followed soon by a pattern of strange stepped rectangular shapes. The reaction from
Selwyn was unexpectedly sudden. He disconnected the probes from the egg and stood back from his chair
with a look of amazement, fear and excitement on his face.
        ‘What is it love?’ asked Cheryl. She had not often seen that look. He didn’t immediately answer
the question. She asked again, ‘what is it?’
        Selwyn shrugged. ‘I’m trying to find out what is inside this thing, and it is trying to find out what
is inside the scope, and it’s winning the investigation competition. Frank this thing is electrical. Not only
that, but it is has intelligence and curiosity. I think it wants to talk.’
        ‘So how do we talk to it?’ asked Frank.
        ‘Talking to a pre-historic egg through two wires must have been covered during that lecture I
skipped to spend time in Cheryl’s room at the res. I don’t know where to start. We must think of a way.’
        After a silence, Cheryl startled the men by speaking. ‘Do any of you remember a movie about a
boat that turned upside down and the crew and passengers were trapped in an air pocket? When the rescue
people arrived they talked to each other by banging on the metal. Is there any way we can bang on this
thing and see if it talks back? I mean electrically.’
        Selwyn didn’t answer her, but the look on his face indicated that his wife had given him an idea.
He left the room almost at a run, and was soon back with a pad and pencil. Frank recognized some of the
shapes on the paper as Selwyn drew. A few spiky resistors, a switch, and a couple of diodes. Selwyn leant
back in his chair.
        ‘There we are, egghead morse-code interface version one point zero. I think I have all the
components I need in my junk-box.’
        He was soon back with a few components in a small plastic tray and a strange looking A6 sized
piece of plastic with hundreds of little square holes in it. Frank picked it up to have a closer look.
        ‘It’s a breadboard,’ said Selwyn. It’s used to prototype simple circuits until you design the PCB
for the production run.’
        ‘Printed Circuit Board.’
        ‘Ah. That flat thing with conductors on the one side and components on the other?’
        ‘Not bad for a geologist. I will have you talking Ohms and Volts in no time.’
        ‘Rocks are easier.’
        ‘Nobody has ever been killed or injured by a falling resistor or transistor.’
        ‘You win.’
        Frank watched, mesmerized by the speed at which Selwyn plugged the components and short bits
of brightly coloured wire into the breadboard. Cheryl had in the meantime gone off to the Starship
Enterprise to replenish their coffee, and was soon back with three steaming mugs. She had seen her
husband work his magic on the breadboard, and this was nothing new to her.
        ‘Smoke Test. Are we ready?’

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         So many things had happened so fast that the three of them had scarcely stopped to think about
what they were doing. In their collective child-like enthusiasm, they were blissfully unaware that they
were standing at the threshold of something that had possibly never happened in human history.
         ‘Selwyn, are you sure that you are not going to blow up the one and only Precambrian electrical
device ever found?’
         Selwyn stopped just short of patching the last few wires from the breadboard to the egg. The
thought of damaging it had not crossed his mind, although he had instinctively built safeguards into his
         ‘Not likely. I have put two zeners back-to-back across the terminals. This will prevent a voltage of
more than 5 volts from being applied to the egg’s pins. As we saw from the traces on the scope, the egg
sourced a voltage of 30 volts. The circuit I have built has an input impedance of a few thousand ohms. I
think the egg is quite safe. I cannot say the same about my side of the interface, but we are looking at
about ten Rands worth of electronics. I’m not too stressed about a breadboard and a few passives.’
         All the electro-speak had gone way over Frank’s head, but he got the message. It was enough for
him that Selwyn had thought about it.
         ‘I’m a go,’ said Frank.
         Cheryl just nodded almost imperceptibly and Selwyn attached the wires to the crocodile clips. He
flexed the fingers on his left hand like a pianist about to start Tchaikowsky one, and placed a trembling
finger on the small red push-switch on the breadboard.
         ‘Beep. . .Beep’
         The three of them stared in silence at the tiny speaker that Selwyn had salvaged from a Walkman
headphone. Selwyn’s finger was still trembling on the button
         ‘Beep . . .Beep’. The pitch and volume were exactly the same.
         ‘Was that you?’ Cheryl asked her trembling husband.
         He shook his head slowly. As if to make the point he triggered off two more beeps and sat back in
his chair, his hands on his head. Two more beeps came from the speaker. Three beeps from Selwyn, a
pause and three beeps from the egg.
         ‘Holy shit. What now?’ asked Selwyn.
         ‘See if it can complete a sequence,’ suggested Cheryl.
         1 . . .2 . . . 3 . . .4 beeps from Selwyn. A Pause. 5 . . 6 . . .7 . . 8 . .beeps from the egg. Silence
         Why did it only give you four numbers back?’ asked Frank.
         ‘I gave it four numbers to start with. It gave me the same number back.’
         1…3… 5… Entered. 7… 9… 11 responded.
         3.. 1.. 4.. 1.. 5. .Entered. 9.. 2.. 6.. 5.. 4 responded. Selwyn smiled.
         ‘What the hell kind of sequence was that?’ asked Frank.
         ‘Pi. This thing knows circles. Not only that but it worked out the radix of our number system. It
has worked out that we have ten fingers.’
         ‘How do you remember Pi to that many digits?’ asked Cheryl.
         ‘King David School. Debbie Cohen. Pigtails and Press-Stick. I had to learn it to 50 digits as
         ‘Ah ha. Give it garbage,’ suggested Frank. Selwyn tapped the button a few times randomly and sat
back in the chair. A long single beep came back.
         ‘I think that is “piss off” in pre-cannibal.’ Said Selwyn.
         ‘Precambrian,’ said Frank.
         ‘Whatever,’ said Selwyn.
         Selwyn went to his study. They could hear him tapping on the keyboard of his computer. He
returned with a number written on a scrap of paper.
         2.. 7.. 1.. 8.. Entered . . 2.. 8.. 1.. 8.. Responded. Selwyn smiled.
         ‘This thing is smart. That was “e”, the base of natural logs. Professor Nkomo is right, mathematics
is the universal language.’
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        ‘I think we need a break,’ said Frank. ‘I don’t want to fiddle any more with that thing until I have
had a chance to think. Does the “Mugg and Bean” at Sandton City still make that lovely minestrone soup
with the crispy croutons?’
        ‘They do indeed,’ said Cheryl. ‘Meggie is fast asleep from a tough night playing with Granny and
Grandpa. I will just go and ask Dorothy if she could keep an eye on her while we are out.’
        The transaction was completed on the intercom and a short while later the large beaming face of
Dorothy brightened the room.
        ‘Hau Madam,’ said Dorothy. ‘Why you not tell me Frank here? Hey Frank you still wek on de
mgodi na? Why you no come visit? An where da wife and bebi? If you no got money, I sure Mista
Selwyn he len you da money for the lobolo.’
        ‘Hey, don’t get me into this,’ protested Selwyn. ‘Frank can get his own cows to buy a wife.’
        Frank tried to embrace her, but even his orang-utan arms hardly reached around the tree-trunk of
her torso. ‘What is it with you women? Why is reproduction the only thing that seems to matter?’ he
        ‘Credo Mutwa, he say “Man live only to link ancestors and descendants” You no make that link
yet na?’
        ‘I no make that link. And give me a break won’t you?’ He wondered if he could sue the venerable
witchdoctor of the Zulu nation for the overpopulated state of the planet, but decided against it. A
witchdoctor is not someone to mess with.
        They left for the “Mugg and Bean” in Cheryl’s four-wheel-drive Mercedes. They would have had
to fold Frank double to get him into the back of Selwyn’s sporty BMW.

                                               Chapter 5

        The “Mugg and Bean” was crowded but the Manager managed to find them a cozy little table
tucked into a corner. The soup was every bit as good as Frank remembered. It was served with croutons
and cheese floating on the surface, and a crisp warm roll on the side. The conversation between the three
of them was subdued. The adrenalin rush from the morning’s excitement had left them with that detached,
empty, post-traumatic feeling.
        ‘Do you think that we are doing anything wrong or illegal messing about with that egg?’ asked
Cheryl of nobody in particular.
        ‘I don’t think it is illegal, but what we are doing may be wrong and even dangerous,’ said Frank.
        ‘Are you allowed to take rocks and things from the mine?’ she asked.
        ‘I take rocks from the mine all the time. It is my job. I must have half a ton of them in my flat. The
gold is in microscopic particles, and you would need to take a few tons of the rock out just to make one
tiny coin, and then how could you get the gold out? Almost every migrant labourer takes a few pieces
home to show his friends and family. I have even helped visitors and workers find the best samples. There
are regulations about stealing equipment, and the explosives rules are strict, but I can’t think of any law or
standard I have broken. As a matter of interest the egg would have been trammed as waste, and would
now be on the waste-pile if I hadn’t taken it out.’
        ‘You lost me Frank. What do you mean?’ queried Cheryl.
        ‘Sorry, I was speaking mine-speak. Let me start again. Every gold mine produces two rock types,
“reef” and “waste”. “Reef” is what we go down there to mine, it is the pebbly quartzite that contains the
gold. Unfortunately you can’t only mine reef. You have to sink shafts and develop haulages, crosscuts
and drives, boxes and all sorts of other tunnels through barren ground to get at the reef. The rock broken
in these tunnels is called “waste”. At the surface the “reef” is sent to the reduction works to have the gold
extracted, while the “waste” is discarded on a pile. The egg was broken from rock that was destined for
the waste tip.’
        ‘Are you saying that you did the mine a favour by taking the egg out?’ asked Cheryl.
        ‘That may be stretching it a bit far - I’m sure the dickhead of an underground manager would love
to make a whole song-and-dance about it - but I have no intention of letting that happen. The problem is
that I can’t go back to the mine and do the “forgive me father for I have sinned” act. I’m too far down the
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line for that. I have a feeling that morally the right thing to do might be to get the scientific community
involved. The question is who. Did you ever see the first “Men in Black” movie?’
        ‘Yes, I loved those two movies,’ responded Selwyn. ‘I have both of them on DVD.’
        ‘Do you remember the scene where Will Smith Tommy Lee Jones were sitting on the park bench.
Tommy Lee Jones was trying to justify to Will Smith why the Men in Black kept the existence of all the
aliens on earth secret?’
        ‘Sort of. I think that bit was a little too philosophical for me. I remember the sexy mortuary doctor
and the way that big bug took her up the tower and then she got stuck in the tree with that short skirt on.
You missed all the best bits in the movie Frank!’
        ‘No I didn’t!’ he protested. ‘Linda with an Italian surname. She is gorgeous.’
        ‘But seriously,’ he continued. ‘I think Tommy Lee Jones was right. Imagine if there were aliens
among us, and the people knew, how much panic it would cause. I gave some thought to telling the Chief
Geologist. He is a really nice old man – one of those old-school Afrikaners, but I’m scared this would
freak him out. I know it would certainly freak out Nita, his wife. I just don’t know if it is fair to tell them.’
        He continued. ‘Do you realize that the three of us may be among just a handful of people on this
whole planet to know that man is not, or was not, the only intelligence in our little corner of the universe.
I feel scared shitless by the thought of the responsibility. I want to say something that may come over
arrogant, but I need to say it anyway. I think that the egg is lucky to have had me, Francis van der
Westhuizen, PhD. Geology, find it. I will tell you why. I think we geologists are among the most
levelheaded of all the flavours of scientists. Geology is the most amazing science at making one feel
small and insignificant. We, who try to understand rocks and geological processes, know more than
anyone just how much of a fart man is in the tornado of life. You may not think of life as being a tornado,
but when viewed through geological eyes it is. Imagine that you were an eye out there in space, and you
were watching the earth through a time-lapse camera, you would see feverish activity down on earth. You
would see continents splitting up, wandering about and crashing into each other like the dogem cars at the
Rand Show. You would see mountain ranges rise and get washed away. The ice caps would swell and
shrink. Seas would fill and then dry out. Whole phyla and orders of animals and plants would develop,
and then die, like the crazy experiments of some mad scientist with a white jacket, and thick glasses. If
the history of the earth was compressed into a movie, and you sneaked out to have a quick pee ‘cos you
drank too much Coke, you might just return to find that you missed whole bit about man. I don’t know if
there is some God or Creator out there. I have never been too bothered by it one way or the other, but if
there is, I just cannot imagine Him or Her singling out this temporary race of naked hominids for any
preferential treatment. The thought that God would chose an individual of the species Homo sapiens, and
then whisper some of his thoughts into his or her ear is to me ridiculous. Sure, T-Rex didn’t build a coffee
machine or cell phone, but does that mean that we are smarter than him? Maybe he was the clever one.
Can you imagine if the local Dominee had been with us today? How would he have explained the egg his
congregation? I bet he would have said that the egg was the work of Satan, and would have had it thrown
into the deepest part of the ocean. Selwyn, when I told you on the phone that you were the strongest man
I had ever known I meant it. And you Cheryl, with this man next to you, are every bit as strong, possibly
stronger - You don’t have your husband’s reckless streak. I know that you two will be together forever. I
know that we are all a little rattled by what we found this morning. I’m sorry that I was the one to do it –
but you can’t say I didn’t warn you.’
        There was silence at the table. The “Mugg and Bean” is a noisy place, but at that moment the
place seemed deathly quite to the three of them. At some stage Cheryl had taken her husband’s hands in
hers. Frank badly wanted to contribute his two frisbee-sized paws to the pile but held back. As if she read
his mind, Cheryl gave his forearm a reassuring squeeze, before returning it to the comfort of her husband.
        Selwyn broke the silence. ‘That was quite some fucking speech there Doctor van der Westhuizen,’
he said softly with a smile in his voice. The way he said it totally destroyed the tension in the air.
        ‘Don’t use the f-word in public, you hooligan!’ moaned Cheryl.
        ‘Sorry dear, but ole Frankie here was getting all squishy and mushy and I needed to break him out
of it.’ He turned to the geologist. ‘Sure I’m a little rattled but we are going to survive. I think I have
watched far too many sci-fi movies. I always imagined that if we were to come into contact with aliens
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they would be green okies with eyes on stalks arriving in flying saucers, and they would say “Take. . .me
. . .to . . .your. . .leader”. Frank, something has been bothering me. Is it possible that man somehow made
that thing during a different civilization, or in some other weird time zone? I know that the plug has a left-
hand thread, but I’m left-handed and I’m not an alien.’
           ‘That’s what you think!’ said Cheryl.
           ‘Meggie has only two eyes,’ responded Selwyn.
           ‘I have thought those thoughts myself,’ said Frank. ‘As to whether there was an earlier version of
man back in the Precambrian? I think it unlikely. Very few animal or plants get a second chance. You do
get similar animals evolving along similar lines, but it is always in response to similar conditions. A good
example is the springhaas from the Kalahari, the American jackrabbit, and a certain Australian marsupial;
all look pretty similar at first glance. They just developed that way in response to similar conditions. But
the thought of man developing twice in his present form is unlikely. For a start there was no oxygen in the
atmosphere back there – that only came later as algae developed and flourished. Besides what would he
have eaten? There were no plants or animals – not even a “Mugg and Bean”‘
           ‘I also can’t handle the time-zone idea,’ he continued. ‘It is a bit beyond me, and threatens what
little I know about time and space. Are you asking if some cunning Japanese okie made the egg, whished
back to the Precambrian in a time machine, dropped the egg, and the whooshed back to the present in
time to finish his sushi?’
           Selwyn smiled. ‘Yes, sort of.’
           ‘Once again I think it unlikely. Think where Hollywood would be without the concept of time-
travel. Many movies have explored it, “Planet of the Apes”, “Back to the Future”, “The Time Machine”,
“Kate and Leopold” to name a few. They all never fully answer one very stupid and yet fundamental
question. What would happen if you went back in time, and gave your old man a condom the night you
were conceived? Would Megan just fade away? Would her favourite bunny end up back in the toyshop?’
           Selwyn laughed, but Frank could see Cheryl’s maternal instincts and sense of humour doing
battle. The sense of humour won. A perfect set of teeth that had seen many orthodontists, dentists and
dental hygienists lit up her face.
           ‘I really believe that we are looking at something that was not made by humans. What the hell it is
I have absolutely no idea, but I need to find out, or at least try. There may even be many down there.
Maybe some have been uncovered at different times in the past. Maybe our ancestors used them as
projectiles to throw at mammoths. Maybe one of these things inadvertently fired from a cannon at the
battle of Waterloo blew off one of Admiral Nelson’s goolies.’
           ‘He lost a testicle at Waterloo?’ asked Cheryl. Her B.A. in history, sociology and languages at
Wits had not covered Horatio Nelson’s anatomy. Selwyn came to her help.
           ‘He lost one of them somewhere. It could have been at Waterloo.’ Both men had instinctively
closed their legs; Selwyn’s hands lying protectively in his lap.
           ‘You have a warped and twisted mind Frankie. First you rattle my brain, and now you make my
nuts hurt. Just what kind of a buddy are you?’
           ‘Where do we go from here boss?’ he continued after a pause.
           ‘I just think we need to take it slowly. I see no need to hurry. If we just blunder into this thing we
may do something we regret. That egg is certainly in no hurry so I don’t see why we should be. I don’t
know about you people but I’m going back to work tomorrow and I suggest we all do the same. Selwyn,
do you have a safe at home? I don’t want to keep the egg out on the mine.’
           ‘Sure do. I’m happy to keep it. Do you trust me with it? I wonder what I could sell it for? Must be
worth a few bob to somebody.’
           ‘Don’t even think of it you schmuck,’ Cheryl said sharply. ‘You promised Frank not to tell. How
you going to sell it and keep that promise?’
           Frank was not in the least concerned about Selwyn selling it.
           ‘I think you are right Frank,’ said Selwyn. ‘I have a business to run, and you have a mine to
geologise. I think we must just go on with our lives and do the egg thing part-time. Having said that, I’m

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also damn curious now. Why don’t we get back together next weekend? I’m sure we can find you a spare
bed somewhere in the house.’
         ‘What about Shabbat?’ asked Frank.
         ‘Don’t worry. We don’t do things that seriously in the house. I’m Jewish, but not that Jewish.
Think of all the times I put my immortal soul in danger by playing polo on Saturdays. We have a Sabbath
dinner on Friday, and I say a few prayers, but that is my only concession to being Jewish. If you don’t
mind, you are more than welcome to join us. I’m sure we can find you a yarmulke somewhere.’
         ‘I still have the one you gave me at your wedding. Will that do?’
         ‘You lie! Of course it will do! You kept it? Why?’
         ‘I don’t know. I have never been a member of any particular tribe, and I guess I’m a little jealous
of people with an identity. I felt Jewish at your wedding, and it felt good. I kept the yarmulke to remind
me of the feeling, and the occasion.’
         Cheryl could not contain herself. ‘Call the Rabbi Selwyn! I think a circumcision is called for.’
         ‘Too late,’ responded Frank. ‘The deed is done – something about a tight foreskin and an early
childhood infection. Not a Rabbi, but a Krugersdorp doctor.’ There were smiles all round.
         ‘Where do we go with egg?’ asked Frank ‘We know it can talk, and is prepared to talk, but I’m
lost as to what to do next.’
         ‘I was thinking about that,’ said Selwyn. ‘I think we need to expand the team. I feel we need
someone who has an understanding of low-level digital signals, someone who can help us hook the egg to
a computer. Sooner or later we are going to want to talk in more than just beeps. Maybe that is the way to
go. How do you feel?’
         ‘Sounds good, but I don’t know anyone like that. Do you have anyone in mind?’
         ‘There are a few people with that sort of skill in the company, but I’m reluctant to bring an
employee into the loop. You know, the whole boss thing. Also that is not really our line of business. The
most complicated thing we make, as far as electronics is concerned, is our cordless phone. Our TVs and
DVDs are made for us in the east.’
         ‘Paula Goncalves. She is perfect,’ said Cheryl. She was looking at Frank - sensitive to any
reaction. Frank reacted. He felt all sorts of strange uncomfortable feelings come over him. Most were
pleasant, but some were not.
          ‘Who is Paula Gonwassisname?’ asked Selwyn, oblivious to the turmoil his friend felt.
         ‘That girl that Frank brought to the intervarsity water polo dinner. She is a computer scientist
specializing in networks and the Internet, and damn clever.’
         ‘Ah yes. I remember her. Gorgeous dark haired girl with big . . . ‘ his cupped hands with fingers
pointing at his chest left no doubt as to what he was talking about. He noticed the look on his wife’s face
and quickly moved the offending hands up to his eyes ‘. . .blue eyes’.
         ‘Sel. . .wyn . . . Ep. . .stein . . . you . . . are. . .a . . . hoo. . . li . . . .gan.’ She said, each syllable
punctuated by a small smack to the head with the napkin. Selwyn cowered in mock fear.
         ‘But you love me anyway don’t you,’ he whimpered in as submissive a voice as he could.
         ‘Yes I do. But that does not make you less of a hooligan,’ she answered smiling. The two sat for a
few moments smiling at each other.
         ‘They are brown,’ said Frank softly.
         ‘Huh?’ asked Selwyn.
         ‘You said her eyes are blue, but they are not, they are brown. Probably the most beautiful brown
eyes I have ever seen; Light, almost golden brown in the middle with a dark brown ring around the edge
of the iris. I spent half a night looking at them, so I should know.’
         Cheryl zeroed in. ‘What happened between the two of you? The chemistry between you could
have created a weapon of mass destruction and then, poof! . Nothing! We never saw her again.’
         ‘She was the wrong girl, at the wrong place, at the wrong time. You are right about the chemistry
– certainly on my side.’
         ‘What do you mean by that Frankie. She looked pretty damn right to me,’ probed Cheryl. Frank
didn’t like to be probed, but she would not let up.
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        ‘I was coming down the home straight of my Master’s thesis. My supervisor was getting too close
to what I was doing, and kept moving the goalposts. It was the worse case of scope-creep in geological
history. I was going crazy. I knew I had to get a damn good review to nudge out the competition for the
Chamber Medal, and I knew I needed the Medal to get the funds to start the PhD thesis. In the middle of
this along comes this Portuguese girl and knocks the wind out of my socks.’
        ‘We get the message Frankie. Go on!’ Love and romance were Cheryl’s home turf. She had got
him talking, and she was not going to let him off the hook. Even Selwyn was amazed, as this was a side
of the big man he had never seen.
        ‘I knew the competition. I had seen the way the leather-jacket-Alfa-Romeo guys at the canteen
surrounded her. I did’nt stand a chance of becoming alpha male. Damn it, I did’nt even have the cash to
ask her for a cup of coffee the next day - my beetle stood with an empty tank outside my digs. Mom was
struggling, and I could not or would not put any strain on her financial resources. I have read Sun Tzu’s
“Art of War”. Here was a battle I could not win, and it was best not to start it. I spent my last Rand in the
ticky-box to tell her that I could not see her for a while. She didn’t understand, and started to bend my ear.
I could’nt handle it, and that was that. I got the Chamber Medal. The bursary followed and I was on the
mine working and doing the thesis. And if you nosey parkers need to know, no, I didn’t sleep with her.
We spent the whole night chatting at the kitchen table in her parent’s flat. At six the next morning we
were still fully clothed at the table when her parents came and joined us for coffee. They are great people.
It was one of the loveliest nights of my life, followed by one of the most horrible days.’
        Cheryl sensed that this was all she was going to get from him, and shook her head despairingly. ‘I
don’t understand it. How is it that a man can be so big, so strong, so clever, even good looking - in a hairy
sort of way - and yet so dumb? Did it ever occur to you that you had knocked the wind out of her socks, if
I may use a recently heard mixed metaphor? What do you think we do when we go to the ladies room?
Talk about rugby? No, we talk. That girl was radiant. You think it mattered to her that you had no
money? She would have walked across town so fast that the Alfa-brigade could not keep up. You did’nt
need to fight to be alpha male, and what is this shit about alpha male anyway? What do you think we are,
hippos or baboons? At that place at that time you WERE alpha male! And now I learn you dumped her
because you liked her too much! What sort of lunacy is this? Would you like to see her again? Don’t
answer! Just say “yes”’
        ‘Is my life in danger?’ he asked with a nervous half-smile.
        ‘It is if you say no!’
        ‘This is hard for me Cheryl. It has been a few years. She is probably happily married, has a few
kids and has forgotten all about me by now.’
        ‘I will find out.’
        ‘Are you joking? This is I, Cheryl Epstein, locator extraordinaire. There is no-one in the Republic
who can hide from me on this type of mission.’
        ‘You have no choice in this matter. Give in Frankie,’ warned Selwyn, and besides, he was on her
        ‘Ok. I give in. But if I screwed her up in even the smallest way before, I don’t want a chance to do
it again.’
        ‘I will be discrete, and I wont let you,’ she assured him.
        ‘Ok. So it is all decided then. Lets go home. Meggie will be awake and I need to relieve Dorothy.’

                                               Chapter 6

        Paula had a sign on the wall of her cube in the company cube-farm that her colleagues took
seriously. It had a picture of a guillotine, complete with a pool of blood and the basket in which to catch
decapitated heads, and under the picture it proclaimed: - “The Surgeon General has determined that
bugging me is dangerous to your health.” When she was working to a tight deadline, any unwarranted
interruption was interpreted as bugging.

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         The project secretary intercepted the call, and when Cheryl said that it was not urgent, she took a
message and popped it in Paula’s pigeonhole. It was late in the morning before Paula got a chance to clear
her messages. The top three messages could wait, but the fourth caused her anger. It was from Tony, her
         ‘Do me a favour Jenny,’ she said. ‘If Tony calls again, please be so good as to tell him to stop
calling me, and if you need some stress-relief, then you have my permission to tell him to go to hell.’ She
tossed the message into the shredder bin, and headed back to her cube with the remaining messages.
         There was a message from her mother, and under normal circumstances, she would have returned
it straight away. She knew her mother would not call her at work unless it was important, but her
mother’s idea of what was important had become a little distorted during the last few months. Although
she was officially divorced, her parents, buckling under pressure from Tony’s parents, had started
pressurizing her to at least consider working towards reconciliation.
         Reconciliation? There was no chance of that. Why could they just not leave her alone? She was
not the type of girl that Tony needed, or wanted, and why could he just not let her be? There were a
million girls in Gauteng who would die to be Mrs. da Silva, and he was free to take his pick. There were
times when she wondered why she had married him in the first place. At the time it had seemed like the
right thing to do. He was attentive, and obviously crazy about her, and the combined pressure of her
parents and in-laws was a little more than she could resist. Where had it all gone wrong? In her mind she
had made it abundantly clear that she didn’t see herself stopping work to start a family, at least not for a
while, and she had thought that Tony had accepted that, but the pressure started before the honeymoon
was over. Their first blazing row had been within a week of getting home, and they had followed at
regular intervals since then.
         A few months of hostility was all she could take, and had moved in with her friend Bella, but the
problems had not stopped there. There never seemed to be a night when some member of Tony’s family
didn’t call at the flat, and the discussions never seemed to get anywhere. At least at the office Jenny was
a competent buffer, for which she was grateful.
         The last message in the pile caught her attention. It was from Cheryl Epstein, and said quite
simply “Please call me, and don’t make any plans for the coming weekend”. What was this about? Why
would Cheryl ask her not to make plans for a whole weekend? She had only met Cheryl once, and that
seemed half-a-lifetime ago at a water polo dinner.
         It had been a strange evening. She had only agreed to go because a friend, who was dating one of
the team, asked her to, and it was almost a blind date. She would certainly not have volunteered to go to
dinner with a bunch of water polo players. She had only met Frank once before in the canteen, and her
first impression of him had not been very favourable. She had thought of him as a shy, somewhat
awkward gentle giant, and when she had heard that he had graduated Cum Laude, and had been
nominated for the Chamber of Mines Medal, she could hardly believe it, as he certainly didn’t seem that
         She had heard a maxim that the less you look forward to a party, the better it turns out, and that
evening had been proof of that. Each of the eight students at their table was studying for a different
degree, and the animated conversation had threaded through an immeasurable number of topics, and
surprisingly water polo had not been one of them. It had taken Frank a while to relax and open up, but
when he did she was amazed at the number of books that must have passed through his huge hands. As
the evening wore on she had found herself more and more attracted to the gentleness and intellect of the
huge man, and by the end of the dinner the rest of the table had faded to grey, and the only colours
remaining were the pale blue of his eyes, and the rich red of his undisciplined beard. She could only
vaguely remember getting home, but she did remember spending the whole night sitting in the kitchen
drinking coffee and listening to Fado on her ghetto blaster. He had even shed a few tears with her when
she translated the words of the sad lyrics for him.
         Then the call had come the next day from a totally different Frank, saying that he didn’t want to
see her for a while to devote more time to some thesis. She knew only too well what it was like to have to
study and deliver reports and dissertations on time, and Frank earned an instant transfer to her history file.
She went to movies with Tony that night.
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        She still could not work out why Cheryl had called, but there was only one way to find out. Cheryl
answered the phone.
        ‘Hi Cheryl, Paula Goncalves.’
        ‘Paula, thank you so much for returning the call. Jenny said you were a little frantic at the
moment, so I will come straight to the point. Do remember Frank van der Westhuizen?’
        ‘Yes, but not with great pleasure. I fell for him and he dumped me. Shortest flutter I ever had.’
        ‘Actually he dumped himself, not you.’
        ‘What does that mean?’
        ‘He could not handle the strong feelings he felt for you at that time, and ran away.’
        Paula laughed. ‘That is a good one. I haven’t heard that before. It is good to hear from you, but
you didn’t phone me after three years to tell me that did you?’
        ‘No I didn’t. I phoned to ask you to spend this weekend with us. Frank will be here, but that is
incedental. The real reason is that we have a little extra-mural investigation underway, and we intend to
ask you to bring your computer skills to the team. My spy tells me that you have become single again. Is
there anyone who may object to you spending this coming weekend with us?’
        Paula’s mind raced - a weekend with the Epsteins in their home? She had never seen herself as
aspiring to the upper echelons of Johannesburg society, but to crack an invite to one of the young cities
best-loved mansions, and then decline? No, that could not be done. She had only ever seen the home in
the pages of glossy magazines, and if there was one place in Johannesburg that was Tony-proof, that was
it. She had brought a fair amount of trauma to poor Bella’s life, and wondered if a weekend of peace
would do her friend some good.
        ‘That sounds like a very nice idea. How high are the walls?’
        Cheryl giggled. ‘Far too high for Tony.’
        ‘Your spy is good.’
        ‘Isn’t she? I think you may find this investigation fascinating.’
        ‘I would love to come for the weekend. What is this investigation about?’
        ‘I can’t tell you much at this stage. I know you are busy, and Jenny tells me you are going to
Durban on Thursday. Is there any chance we could get together for a cup of coffee?’
        ‘I have a meeting with a client at Sandton City tomorrow that should be over by eleven.’
        ‘I need some new reading material. Why don’t we meet at the Mugg and Bean elevenish? Don’t
rush your meeting. I will have enough to read if you are late.’
        ‘I look forward to it. Thank you.’
        ‘See you then. Good Bye.’

        The week went by a lot faster than Frank expected. He made liberal use of his two favourite drugs,
work and sport, to get him through, and to his own surprise he did better at both than he expected. The
intersection of the box hole through the reef proved to be the key to the three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.
Once that was in place, the rest of the puzzle fell into place, and he soon had a model of the reef. The area
was not as badly faulted as he had expected, and the grade was significantly higher than first indications.
Kimleigh Jones even came to his office with a bottle of scotch to thank him for his efforts. He was so
surprised to receive a gift from his sparing partner that he nearly dropped it on the floor, much to the
amusement of the Chief Geologist. Smiles were all around at work the whole week. The grades in the
new section caused the mine geostatistician to review her ore reserve model, and extend her life-of-mine
estimate from ten to thirteen years. The word leaked out, and the mines share price went north a few
        On the squash court and billiard table he was unbeatable. He and Jimmy got back to an all-square
position in their long-standing niggle with the ventilation engineers. Frank even treated himself to a
haircut and beard trim at the local hair salon - this was much to Ed’s amusement as Frank normally cut
his own hair – something he had got quite good at as a penniless student.
        By the time Friday morning came he allowed himself to think a little more about the weekend
ahead of them. He could not stop himself thinking about Paula. He wondered if Cheryl’s cockiness with
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respect to her tracing ability was justified. He wondered if all was still in order with the egg. He hoped
that Selwyn had stuck to his part of the deal and not either taken it from the safe or played with it.

        He was busy packing his suitcase when Jimmy came bundling into the room.
        ‘This looks like one of those Jewish caps,’ he said as he picked the yarmulke out of Frank’s
suitcase and tried it on for size.
        ‘It is. I’m going to spend the weekend with a Jewish friend. They have a little ceremony on Friday
evenings. I wore that to his wedding.’
        ‘Who is this guy?’
        ‘Selwyn Epstein.’
        ‘Selwyn Epstein? That millionaire dude who owns all those electrical companies? Wow, I’m
impressed. Since when have you been hobnobbing with the rich and famous?’
        ‘He captained the university water-polo team. He scored the goals up front, and I drowned the
opponents at the back. We made a good team.’
        ‘I don’t think homicide is in your nature. I can’t imagine you getting worked-up enough to be
aggressive. Did you ever play rugby?’
        ‘I did once. I was far too big for my age and broke a few ribs of the other team’s scrumhalf in a
friendly. It made me a hero until I refused to play again. As was every boy in the school I was in love
with Miss Wiid, the teacher who coached the swim squad, so I started swimming. When I started
contributing points at galas they forgot about the rugby.’
        ‘Why did you stop competing?’
        ‘I bulked up too much and lost the edge over the skinnier guys. Took up water polo where size
and long arms were an advantage, and Miss Wiid became Mrs. Smit and moved to Tzaneen.’
        ‘Bummer! Is Mrs Selwyn Epstein a typical Northern Suburbs trophy wife?’
        ‘Cheryl? No! Not at all. Elegant. Cultured, not beautiful. A wonderful person. I think she as close
to Johannesburg Jewish royalty as you can get. She is related to all those Suzmans - Politician, actresses
etcetera. I think some of her family considered marrying Selwyn a little below her station.’
        ‘Sounds like a smart man. How did he end up in charge of all those companies so young?’
        ‘Those companies were his father’s. His dad had a few health problems and retired early. Selwyn
has proved more than competent.’
        ‘Some guys have all the luck,’ said Jimmy and changed the subject.

         Frank had to leave the mine shortly after lunch to make it to Sandton before sunset in the middle
of winter. He was not used to traffic, and there were times when he thought he was going to be late. The
sun was a few millimeters from the horizon when he turned into the driveway and was whisked away by
Selwyn to wash and prepare for the Sabbath dinner. The ceremony and prayers completed, they sat down
for the serious part of the meal. Cheryl could see that Frank was itching to ask about Paula but she didn’t
venture any information. She just smiled at him as they made small talk throughout the meal, feeling that
a bit of torture was in order. He had walked away from a woman who had fallen for him, and justice
demanded that he suffer a little bit, just to set the scales level. All Cheryl seemed to be concerned about
was how good Frank looked with neat hair and trimmed beard.
         After dinner she felt he had suffered enough. ‘You want to know about Paula?’ She asked. Frank
         ‘I have good news, and bad news, and good news, and some bad news that could be good news.
Which do you want first?’
         ‘How about just telling me the whole story in chronological order?’ he asked despairingly.
         ‘Patience, all will be revealed. You scientific types are far too organized for me. Chronological it
is. It took two calls to find her and I spoke to her on Monday morning. We have a mutual friend who gave
me the name of the company she works for. They are in the book. We had coffee at the Mugg and Bean
on Tuesday. Would you believe that we sat at exactly the same table that we used on Sunday?’

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        Frank noticed that Selwyn was smiling as his wife purposely drew the story out. She was having a
great time, and Frank was not sure why, and was feeling decidedly edgy.
        ‘Ok,’ Cheryl continued. ‘Here is the story. She got married shortly after finishing her Computer
Science honours year. Her husband was a certain Tony da Silva – one of what you called the leather-
jacket-Alfa-Romeo boys - he made her give up work and tried to get her to stop contraception so that they
could start a family – good Catholics and all that nonsense. She didn’t like the idea and they started
fighting. She left him last year and went to work for this network company, and moved in with her friend,
Bella. There has been lots of nastiness. She sued for divorce. He contested it and there were all sorts of
threats and recriminations. The divorce came through within the last three months. Her problems are still
not over. Even though they are legally divorced, his parents and family are still calling at her flat, and
threatening her and Bella, whom they accuse of being behind the whole divorce story – which she isn’t,
and now even her own parents are putting pressure on her to work for a reconciliation. She is not a happy
young lady, and is on the point of slapping Tony and his family with a restraint order. She has no child by
the way. She got that bit right.’
        ‘Does she remember me?’ asked Frank hopefully.
        ‘Of course silly, but with mixed feelings. I don’t think you realize how she fell for you that
        ‘That night,’ Frank corrected her.
        ‘Ok, that night. I told her all that you told us.’
        ‘Everything?’ asked Frank.
        ‘Everything! I don’t think I left out a syllable. She has trouble believing the story though. I think
she is a little wary of men at the moment.’
        ‘I can’t say I blame her,’ said Frank.
        ‘Anyway, you two can sort it out over a cup of coffee this evening.’
        It took a few seconds for the penny to drop, but when it did he could hardly talk. ‘This evening?’
he stammered. ‘She is coming here?’
        Cheryl looked at the silver band on her wrist that Frank had not even realized was a watch. ‘She
was in Durban this morning at some kind of seminar. She should have landed about half an hour ago, and
be here in about thirty minutes or so. She has my number if she is delayed.’
        Frank looked frantically around to see a phone. She sensed his anxiety, reached out for a tiny
silver phone scarcely the size of two matchboxes, and showed it to him. ‘See Frank, no missed call, no
SMS. She will be here.’
        ‘Does she know why we asked her to come?’
        ‘Not much. I pretty much gave her the same story that you gave Selwyn. I told her that we would
explain all when she got here, and that was good enough for her. Don’t expect it to be easy, she is still
        ‘Cheer up Frank,’ said Selwyn. It was the first time he had spoken in quite a while and Frank had
almost forgotten he was there. ‘You look like a naughty kid who has been summoned to the principal.’
        ‘I’m not good at this sort of thing,’ he complained.
        ‘What sort of thing?’ snapped Cheryl.
        ‘Matters of the heart. I work with rocks and mine-plans and sweaty miners. I’m only a geologist.’
        ‘You have a great consultant here,’ Selwyn said, nodding at his wife. ‘Just ask her if you need
help. These Sandton women spend hours at coffee shops strategizing, counter-strategizing, analyzing and
scheming, so they must be good at it by now. Just tread warily. It is all a plan to keep their men in check.’
        ‘Absabloodylutely!’ agreed Cheryl. ‘Here is my advice. Be pleased to see her, but don’t ask her
anything. Be the Frank she fell for. Let her ask the questions.’
        ‘Thank you for everything Cheryl. Thank you.’
        ‘It will cost you!’
        ‘What will it cost me?’
        ‘Ill think of something. Mmmmmm. It will be lots. Be scared. Be very scared.’
        Somehow the threat carried no more than jest.
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         Cheryl and Selwyn excused themselves from the table. Cheryl went to attend to Megan, and
Selwyn to get something from the workshop. He came back with a neat looking black box slightly bigger
than a pack of cards. There was a neat red button on it and small screen on it that looked like the screen
on a cell phone. From a neat hole drilled in the side came two wires that terminated in two tiny insulated
crocodile clips.
         ‘Tada! Egg interface version 2,’ he said with great pride.
         ‘What have you added to it?’ Frank asked.
         ‘Not much to be honest. I have just added a little screen salvaged from a pocket scope, and
neatened the whole thing up. I have put some extra protection buffering on the front-end circuit – not that
I believe it to be necessary. We agreed not to go further with the egg, so I didn’t, but I must admit it was
hard not to winkle the egg from the safe and start playing. I have tested the black box on the scope and
I’m sure it is fine I have also sorted out my workshop and installed a few PCs from idle inventory. They
may come in handy.’
         ‘I’m sure they will. Very impressive Mister Edison.’
         ‘I’m not sure Mister Edison is the right man. I think we need more Alexander Graham Bell and
less Thomas Edison. Some Admiral Grace Hopper would be good too.’
         ‘The phone inventor? Wasn’t Grace Hopper the first computer programmer?’
         ‘Yes, I heard that somewhere. I have a feeling that that is going to be the type of skill we are
going to need.’
         Their conversation was interrupted by a strange “whoop whoop whoop” sound.
         ‘Ah, that must be Paula. Lets go see,’ said Selwyn.
         Selwyn went with Frank to the TV screen at the front door where they could make out the red of
taillights disappearing up the driveway. Selwyn pressed the button and they heard the voice of the gate
guard on the speaker.
         ‘Missa Selwyn, it Miss Paula. She on de way up,’ he said.
         ‘Thank you Farai. Is it cold down there? Shall I have some coffee sent down?’
         ‘Dat choklit da Madam make be good. You still got some?’
         ‘I’m sure we have. Would you like some soup and rolls?’
         ‘That be good too Massa Selwyn. Tank You.’
         ‘Thank you and good night Farai.’
         They heard the sound of a car drawing up outside. Paula was busy getting a suitcase and a laptop
out of the boot of a cute little car that Frank had never seen before. Their eyes met for brief tense moment
before Frank spoke.
         ‘Hi Paula. Good to see you. Let me get those for you.’
         ‘Hi Frank. Yes, thank you. These laptops are supposed to be getting smaller each year, but what
they lose in size, they gain in weight. I’m sure my poor shoulder is dislocated. They have a real sense of
humour at the airport. They park the plane at the one end of the terminal building, and then they tell you
to get your bag at the other end and then I find that my car is parked at the third end, if you know what I
         ‘I know exactly what you mean. Come let’s get inside. It is freezing out here,’ said Frank.
         ‘Yes, especially when you’ve been in Durban for a few days,’ said Paula.

        When they got to the warmth of the entrance hall, Cheryl was on the staircase - Megan, dressed in
a big pink dressing gown, on her hip. Cheryl greeted her guest, but was soon back up the stairs. Megan
decided that she had had quite enough of the visitors and activities, and made her feelings known at over
a hundred decibels.
        ‘Come Paula, let me show you to your room,’ said Selwyn.
        The small procession, Selwyn up front, Paula behind, and Frank heading up the rear set off down
the passage toward the ground-floor guest suites.

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         ‘Is this place a house or a hotel? Just how many guests can you accommodate here?’ Paula asked
in amazement as they passed the fifth doorway leading out of the passage.
         ‘I don’t know. My father built this place in the fifties. We have only been here in the main house
for the last year and I have hardly had a chance to explore the whole place. It used to be bigger, but we
split the one wing to make a separate cottage for the folks. They are not there at the moment. They always
migrate to Umhlanga for the cold months. Dad’s knee hates the cold. Paula you are in here, I hope it is
okay. Frank is on the other side of the passage over there; if you need anything, just shout.
         Paula wondered what she could possibly need – the room looked huge and comfortable and
seemed to have everything that one would expect to find in the fanciest hotels. Frank carefully placed her
laptop on the desk
         ‘We will be back in the main house,’ said Selwyn. ‘Come through when you are settled it.’
         ‘I wont be long. I just want to get into some jeans. Give me ten minutes.’

         Frank and Selwyn made their way back to the living room. ‘Frank my friend, that is one gooood
looking woman,’ said Selwyn. Frank could only nod his head in agreement. Selwyn did not stop in the
informal family room, but went through to the kitchen to organize the hot chocolate, soup and rolls for
Farai. Frank could hear the sound of hilarious laughter from Dorothy and Selwyn in the kitchen, and he
thought he could make out his name being spoken.
         Frank grilled him on his return. ‘What were you two laughing about?’
         ‘It was about you, but has nothing to do with you,’ chuckled Selwyn. ‘You know these Zulus.
They are an earthy lot.’
         Frank was scared to ask further, and in any event there was no time as Cheryl was back from her
motherly duties, and it was not long before Paula was back from the guest suites. She was wearing a pair
of loose black jeans with a loose-fitting jersey and looked about ten years younger than the professional
lady they had welcomed earlier. Her hair, pulled back into a simple ponytail was a lot shorter than Frank
         ‘So team, what is this secretive project that you people want to involve me in?’
         ‘Paula, Frank found something,’ said Selwyn. ‘He can tell you about it but trust me, when Frank
tells you that this thing has the potential to change your outlook on the world, he is not joking. My head is
still reeling at the weirdness of this whole thing. Frank made the two of us choose between seeing it and
going forward with him, or quitting without seeing it. We chose to go forward and I personally have no
regrets, but some things will not be quite the same for us. I’m sure I speak for the three of us when I ask
that, if you chose to stay with the team, you must keep everything you learn here a secret. If you say no
then I will break out the liqueurs, and we can have a party. If you say yes, we move to the workshop and
get to work.’
         Paula looked bewildered. She turned to Cheryl. ‘I have absolutely no idea what this “thing” could
be. Have you seen it?’
         ‘Yes, I have.’
         ‘And what do you think?’
         ‘I’m both excited and apprehensive, but I’m pleased that we chose to go ahead. It has caused me
to reexamine some of my views on my little place in the universe, but maybe those views needed review.
Who Knows? Don’t let the boys bully you into making a quick decision. The problem is that once we
have shown it to you then we cant unshow it to you. That sounds silly but I don’t know how to put it.’
Cheryl smiled that smile of hers. ‘I can tell you one thing. You confided in me that you’ve been having a
few problems recently. Let me assure you that you will forget them all this weekend if you go with us.’
         Paula still looked perplexed. ‘I’m more confused than ever. I hardly know you people, and you are
hanging a big carrot in front of me, and I have no idea whether I even like carrots.’
         She turned to Frank. ‘I hardly know you. We spend one wonderful night together, and then you
turn bookworm on me, and I never get to see you again and . . .’

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        That was Cheryl’s opening. ‘Frank is a romantic coward. I have started the process of punishment
and criminal behavioral adjustment on behalf of all women out there. I think there may be potential for
full rehabilitation.’
        Selwyn turned to the large man who, at that moment, wished he could hide among the ample
throw-cushions on the couch. He laid a hand on his forearm. ‘Frank my man, do not sweat too much. The
punishment is unlikely to last more than a few years, and you may even be lucky enough to keep some of
your body parts.’
        ‘Wow!’ said Frank. ‘I feel much better.’ He did. Selwyn had totally dispelled all tension from the
        Paula went on. ‘. .and you Selwyn and Cheryl, I hardly know you folks at all. Of course I know of
you Selwyn, I think you made my toaster, blender and hair dryer, but that does not make us partners does
it? I only met you that evening at the water polo dinner, and I was a bit distracted by old fuzzy-face here
to pay you folks much attention, and now you want to involve me in some secret quest about which you
say you can’t tell me much. I really don’t know. Forgive me for being confused.’
        She paused for a thought. ‘And which of my skills do you need? Selwyn, surely you’ve people
who work for you that you could use?’
        ‘This project has nothing to do with any of my companies,’ said Selwyn. ‘In fact I have not even
thought of the financial potential of this venture, I’m certainly not on this trip for the money, even if there
was any in it. We need someone who has experience in implementing low-level protocols to facilitate
communication between very different devices. We need someone who understands the whole process of
electronic communication at a very low level, and can help us implement an interface of a type I suspect
has never been made before.’
        ‘I just don’t know,’ said Paula. ‘If I want out at any stage will you let me quit the team?’
        ‘I’m sure I speak for the rest of the team when I say that you are always free to leave at any stage,’
said Selwyn. ‘You may walk out now if you want, but Frank asked me one thing before I joined, and that
was that we must keep this “quest”, as you called it, strictly secret. I promise you that we are talking
seriously mind-boggling stuff here, and the knowledge of what the three of us know in the wrong hands
has extremely serious implications. If you walked out after seeing this thing you would find it difficult to
not to tell other people. The knowledge would burn you up.’
        ‘I see no way out. If I opt out I will burn with curiosity for the rest of my life. If I opt in and then
want out I will burn with the desire to talk about it for the rest of my life. I just don’t know.’
        Frank tried to console her, ‘you forgot an option Paula. If you opt in, and you want to stay in then
you could be part of one of the most exciting “quests” of our lifetimes.’
        Paula sighed. ‘I’m in,’ she said softly.
        ‘Are you sure Paula?’ Cheryl moved from her chair to the couch next to her and put an arm
around her shoulders.
        ‘Yes, I’m in. Roll it in. Lets play show and tell.’
        ‘I’ll go get it from the safe,’ said Selwyn.

                                               Chapter 7

        Frank could hardly recognize the workshop. Whereas previously it had looked like a retirement
home for half-dead appliances, it now looked more like the R&D facility of some high-tech Silicon
Valley company. Even Paula was impressed by the array of PCs and electronic equipment. She found a
shelf holding a number of box file sized containers, and was going through them with all sorts of “wow”,
“gee”, “look at this!” noises. Selwyn came back from the strong room with the egg - still in the old tog
bag. Paula looked at Selwyn’s package as if he were the Lord of the Manor bringing the local tart to the
Autumn Ball. The egg was soon out of its wrapping and nestling comfortably in a large Tupperware salad
bowl lined with cotton wool. Selwyn carefully oriented the plug forward.
        ‘Would you like to do your trick with the plugs?’ he asked handing Frank the crocodile clips and
cylindrical eraser.

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         ‘Sure, watch here Paula,’ said Frank as he twisted open the plug and pressed the eraser slowly into
the waxy interior. She watched with interest as the wax gave way under the even pressure to reveal the
silver stubs. The clips were soon in place and within a few minutes the wax had again closed up around
them. Selwyn had in the meantime hooked the wires up to the interface box and they were ready. Selwyn
demonstrated to Paula the tests and sequences that they had done the previous Sunday – the egg
responding accordingly. She was interested, but not overly impressed.
         ‘Ok guys, the egg is pretty, and it is full of funny putty, and it knows about sequences and a few
numbers, but I could write a program to do what I have just seen. Where is the catch?’
         ‘How old do you think this egg is Paula?’ asked Frank.
         ‘Not old. How old is it?’
         Frank shook his head. ‘This is the scary part, I think it is about two-thousand five-hundred million
years old.’
         She laughed at them. ‘No guys, it cannot be. You guys are crazy! How can you possibly think
         Frank took her patiently through all the events of the previous weekend. He covered all the
hypotheses, counterpoints and arguments discussed. By the end of the discussion she had to agree with
his thinking, but it left her confused and bewildered.
         ‘And you guys want me to get you talking to a pre-historic non-human relic? If that is what it is.’
         ‘Yes,’ said Frank. ‘That is right.’
         ‘I don’t know where to start,’ she protested. ‘In the world of protocols and network
communication we humans write the stuff on both sides. Here I have to write the one side only, and that
thing is supposed to understand my side, and then talk back. I really don’t know where to start.’ There
was almost a trace of panic in her voice.
         Selwyn came to her rescue. ‘I did some thinking this week between making you a few new
toasters, irons and hair dryers. Follow my thinking and let me know what you think. We know that thing
can count pulses and respond. I believe the next step is to teach it serial communication. I don’t think that
that will be difficult if that thing is smart as I think it is. How I suggest we do that is to keep repeating
sequences of pulses. We confirm that it has learnt the sentences by every now and again leaving out a
number, and making sure that the egg fills in the gap. Once we are satisfied that it has learnt the sequence,
we change the rules. Instead of representing each number in the sequence by a number of pulses, we
represent it by the serial ASCII byte representing the number of pulses. We hope that the egg makes the
jump between pulses and the byte representation of the pulses. Once we think it has learned the sequence
– this time in ASCII characters – we test it by occasionally leaving out a byte and seeing if the egg fills it
in. If we get that far then we have established that we can talk serially with the egg. We just have to work
out what to say. Oh and by the way, we can keep cranking up the baud rate and see where that thing falls
         ‘What is cereal ass-key?’ asked Cheryl. Frank had wanted to ask the question himself but had held
back. He was pleased she had asked.
         ‘It is a way of sending data down a simple two-wire connection.’ He answered. ‘Imagine a whole
number of small trains playing follow-the-leader down a railway line. Each train has a tiny locomotive,
exactly eight trucks, and a guard’s-van. Each truck may be either empty or full, but nowhere between. At
the end of the line there it a tiny little guy standing watching the trains come it. He looks at each
combination of full and empty trucks – “ah ha! empty-empty-full-empty-empty-empty-full-full” and he
knows that that represents a three – so he writes that down on his clipboard. The way that each character
is represented in terms of eight full or empty trucks was decided by some arb American society a long
time ago, and is known as ASCII. In electrical terms a voltage above a certain threshold is taken to be a
full truck, and a voltage below a certain threshold is taken to be an empty one. In practice there are a few
synchronization signals and a few other things, but that is the concept. Oh, and baud rate is a measure of
how many trucks we send down the line per second.’
         ‘I like your explanation. May I have it?’ asked Paula. ‘You are wasted on toasters. What can I

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         ‘You like it? You want it? It is yours! I suggest I start wiring up a serial port to into this interface
box. Do you remember the signals on the pins of a 9-pin plug?’
         ‘No, but I know a website that has all that sort of thing.’
         ‘Great. Then you may like to start working on the software to talk to the serial port. I suggest that
you then get two PCs talking via a serial cable to test the code, and then we disconnect the one PC, and
plug the egg in its place.’
         ‘Aye-aye Captain, piece of cake. I see you have Visual Basic.Okay to install it on these two PCs
         ‘I’ll check for you.’ He picked up a large plastic screwdriver and held it to his ear. ‘Hi Bill,
Selwyn here. . .how is Melinda?. . .good. . .Listen Bill, if I have a Visual Studio site license, is it okay to
install your software on two company machines at my home, because I want to use VB to talk to an alien
egg?. . .You sure? . . .Thanks Bill. . .Cheers mate. . ‘ He turned to Paula. ‘Bill says its fine.’
         Frank and Cheryl felt a little out of touch with all the techy stuff. ‘Anything we can do, or shall
Frank and I go get the coffee?’ asked Cheryl.
         ‘No, not yet. You two are the egg-trainers. I suggest that you write down a sequence of about 40
numbers, make the sequence from numbers that you can remember easily like Ids, telephone numbers and
the like, but leave out any zeroes. Then you can start teaching the egg.’
         The workshop was soon filled with the sounds of keystrokes from the PCs, beeps from the
interface box and the warm smell of rosin from Selwyn’s soldering iron. Selwyn and the egg-trainers
were the first to finish. Paula had connected two of the PCs together with a short grey cable, and was
testing her program. It consisted of a screen split horizontally into two windows. As she keyed numbers
into the top window on the left PC, the numbers appeared simultaneously in the bottom window of the
right one. In the same way numbers keyed in the top window of the PC on the right appeared in the
bottom window of the left one. She soon roped Cheryl and Frank in to test the sequences, Cheryl as
operator, Frank as egg.
         It was not long before Selwyn was happy with the test.
         ‘Smoke Test,’ he said, as he disconnected the cable from the one PC and plugged it into the
interface box. They had become so involved in the mechanics of the operation that the significance of the
test had been overlooked.
         Cheryl keyed the sequence into the top window. Nothing appeared in the bottom window.
         ‘Was that good or bad?’ Cheryl asked.
         ‘Good’ replied Paula. ‘Do it again but this time leave out that six in the middle of the sequence. If
all is well then we should see the missing six in the bottom window.’
         Cheryl did as she was asked. As she keyed the next number after the missing six, a grey block
appeared in the bottom window.
         ‘What’s the block?’ asked Selwyn
         ‘Parity error,’ she answered with mixture of disappointment and anticipation.
         ‘What did you set the baud rate?’
         ‘Slow, 300 baud.’
         ‘Ill look, ah, even.’
         ‘Try “none” and see.’
         Paula popped up a small window, keyed in a few numbers and handed the keyboard back to
Cheryl. This time the missing 6 appeared in the bottom window.
         ‘Yesssssss!’ screeched Paula and Selwyn almost simultaneously. They started an impromptu
dance like two American football players on a team that had just scored a touchdown. It took them a
while get back to the PCs.
         ‘Crank up the baud rate and see what happens,’ suggested Selwyn. The six appeared again. The
exercise was repeated a few more times – each time the six appeared.
         ‘I’m at the max for the port,’ said Paula, ‘and the egg is still hanging in there. This thing is
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        ‘Damn goood,’ Selwyn agreed.’ I want to test Sunday’s sequences and confirm the coms.’
        The egg completed the sequences as expected.
        ‘Come folks, I think you deserve some coffee,’ Cheryl suggested.

        The kitchen was clean and sparkling. There seemed to be some invisible domestic presence in the
Epstein home that was perpetually cleaning up. It was never seen, but you knew it was there by the way
an empty coffee cup just dissolved, or a skew cushion righted itself after you left a room. Occasionally
one would hear laughter, or the beautiful clicking sounds of isiZulu, or the guttural rasping of seSotho or
seTswana from somewhere in the house.
        They all knew that they had opened one door to the egg, only to find another door in the way.
        ‘It’s like making a call in Japan,’ said Selwyn ‘only worse. You hear words, and the line is clear,
but you’ve no idea what they are talking about. On my last trip I called for breakfast three times before
realizing that “ruin sorbees” was “room service”, and “Juan Santos?” was “Do you want some toast?”‘
        The smile on Frank’s face didn’t dwell for long. He had other things on his mind.
          ‘I’m still bothered by what we are doing here. I feel a bit like a naughty child who steals a
cigarette, and takes it to the bottom of the garden for a puff with his mates. I’m scared that mommy is
going to smell the nicotine on my breath and give me a smack. Should we be doing what we are doing?’
        Selwyn looked amused. ‘I don’t think your mommy will smack you Frank.’
        He had seen Frank’s mother a few times at water polo matches, and he was certain that she was
not the type of lady who was given to beating her son. For a start she would have required a stepladder to
apply the stick to his backside. Frank did not get his size from his maternal parent. ‘What authority would
you report your find to anyway? I have never seen a department of pre-camel artifacts under
“government” in the phone book. Frank, I believe you did right. I can tell you with absolute certainty that
that thing wants to be spoken to, and it has the capability of protecting itself from us. If it didn’t want to
be spoken to, it would just go into a high impedance state and keep quiet. I believe that we are fully
justified in what we are doing. Look, if you find a ball in the rough, you are allowed to play it on the next
hole – if your name is Steve Lipschitz you may even play it on the same hole - provided of course your
opponents don’t notice - but that is another story. No. I say we go on.’
        The conversation held little interest to Paula. She had left the table before it had even started, and
was standing in front of the sink staring blankly at the frigid garden outside. She had subconsciously
arched her neck backwards and was slowly rotating her shoulders about in their sockets. She appeared
deep in thought. Frank had spent enough long hours at the keyboard of his old PC to recognize the
symptoms. He got up from the table, stood behind her, and started to move his sausage-sized thumbs in
circles at the base of her neck Her could feel the knots starting to loosen under his firm pressure. She
leant backwards against him and loosened the top of her jersey to allow his thumbs to touch her warm
skin. Her head was barely halfway up the broad expanse of his chest. His hands covered the entire width
of her shoulders - fingers stretching almost halfway down her upper arms. Frank could not help his eyes
falling on the creamy mounds of the top of her breasts. A twitch in his trousers brought him back from the
other world, and momentarily stopped the movement of all thumbs.
        ‘You stop, and I will kill you,’ she said quietly. He continued, allowing himself no further
pleasure from the view of anything but the cold dark garden outside.
        The look on her face as she strode purposefully back to the table told the others that her thinking
had borne fruit.
        ‘I have an idea,’ she said. ‘Follow my thinking here. Imagine that there is a race of intelligent
sunflowers. They are unable to move about, but they are smart. They have no telephones, but they have a
fast and efficient postal service. Their only way of communicating is by sending letters and parcels to
each other. You wish to find out about them, but you cannot see them or hear them. All you are allowed
to do is intercept their letters and parcels, examine the contents, and then return the letters and parcels to
the system. Given enough time, how much could you learn?’
        ‘A lot,’ said Selwyn. ‘Those fossil guys find a few fragments of teeth and bone in the desert, and
they can tell you about the dinosaur, and what brand of toothpaste it used.’
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        ‘Exactly!’ responded Paula. ‘Take it one step further. Assume that not only are you allowed to tap
into the sunflower postal service, but you are also allowed to participate in it. You get a post box, and you
send and receive your own mail. How much could you learn then?’
        Selwyn was starting to see the direction she was headed. ‘Everything. If you want to know
something, just send a letter and wait for a response.’ He looked concerned, ‘I see where you are going
with this, but there are some things I don’t get. How do we find the egg’s postal service? Does it have
one? Even if we did, we don’t know the language. Frank is not going to let us go fiddling about inside the
egg. I don’t do egg surgery.’
        ‘The other way round Selwyn, we don’t hack its postal service, but we invite it hack ours. Think
Ethernet, think TCP/IP, think FTP.’
        Selwyn could hardly contain his excitement. His face lit up like a kid opening presents on his
birthday. He was trembling and almost unable to speak. ‘We are a ball-hair away from doing that. If the
egg can master serial comms with no more than one silly parity error, Ethernet and TCP/IP should not be
that much of a step.’
        ‘Yes’ said Paula, ‘if Frank’s egg is as smart as I think it is, why must we bust our butts trying to
find a way to talk to it. Let it find a way to talk to us. We just hook it up to the network and let it watch
for a while and see what it does. If it does not get the hang of it then we try something else. I think it is
worth a shot.’
        ‘Damn right. We just hook it up, and put on a network show. How do we stop it trying to get onto
the network and messing things up before it knows the rules?’
        ‘If it does it, good. No train-smash. It means it is trying to learn. I see you’ve Norton Ghost. I will
take an image of each hard drive before we let ole Harry-the-Hacker loose. If it screws up we just say
“bad egg”, recover the ghost image and start again. It is only Friday. We have lots of weekend.’
         Cheryl was tempted to point out that it had been Saturday for almost an hour, but she knew a
creative roll when she saw one, and this was a roll she did not want to get in the way of. Selwyn looked a
bit concerned. ‘Hooking it up on a network is easy. Two solder joints and off we go. But how do we
create the network traffic for it to watch?’
        ‘Ah ha. I’m waaay ahead of you. You have a whole bunch of multi-media CDs here, the Oxford
dictionary, an encyclopedia, even a movie CD, all good stuff. Within those CDs must be examples of
almost every type of file that exists. I copy the files to disk on the server PC. A multimedia file normally
consists of a number of topics, each topic has imbedded text and graphics. I have a laptop that has
LINUX on it – I load the multimedia browsing software on the notepad and write a script to recurse the
CDs, in each CD I recurse the topics, in each topic I scroll all the text and graphics up and down. A loop
within a loop within a loop. When I have completely browsed all the files I start again. I had better also
write a watchdog process to reboot if the process hangs.’
        Selwyn had held his own on the network topics, but he was now way out of his depth.
        ‘You can do all that this weekend?’ he asked.
        ‘I think there is a chance I can do it in the next hour or two. It is really not that much. The scripts
will take a bit of time. What you say? Shall we get back to work?’
        Frank knew that it was not wise to get in the way of a woman on a mission, and certainly not one
with a Latin temperament. He was soon off to get the laptop, pleased to be doing something useful. He
paused for a second to look around her room. It was all neat and tidy, and smelled like the cosmetic
section at Stuttafords. He marveled at how a woman could turn a room into a home in five minutes,
whereas a man needed the same time to make a room look like the change room at King’s Park after the
Currie Cup final.
        When Frank got back to the workshop Paula was firmly in charge of operations. Selwyn had the
soldering iron out and was cheerfully soldering bits of wire together; Cheryl was feeding the largest of the
PCs with CDs, and looked like a mother feeding baby cereal into a hungry youngster.
        ‘Ah Frank, you are a star,’ said Paula. ‘Can you just dump it over here please? I think I’m going to
need an extension and a treble-adapter. Could you see if you could score them for me?’ Selwyn didn’t
pause in his soldering and simply pointed at a cupboard. The notepad was soon powered up. Frank

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watched with interest as LINUX booted. It was very different to the version of Windows that he was
familiar with. He watched as the screen flashed a running commentary of checks, starts and loads. The
screen soon cleared and a cute penguin appeared.
        ‘Why LINUX for this?’ asked Frank. He knew that LINUX was a free operating system born,
developed, and used within a world of enthusiastic amateurs, but he had never seen it in action. He knew
that it was used on the mine to monitor a number of geophones imbedded in the rock. The system was
installed to listen to the snap, crackle and pop of the rock to predict dangerous seismic events, and was
credited with saving quite a few lives.
        ‘No real reason. It is just that, being open-source, I have source-code of most of the stuff I want to
use, and I may need to hack about with it. Mr. Gates wont let me see the source code of Windows.’ She
turned to the penguin on the screen. ‘Hi Tux. How are you this fine evening? You want to help us talk to
an egg?’
        Selwyn called to Frank. ‘Hey Big Guy, could you give me a hand and hold these wires so that I
can solder them?’ Frank soon rediscovered how fast heat traveled through copper, much to the
amusement of his friend.
        Paula’s estimate of a few hours to get the script ready proved pessimistic by a few minutes. She
was soon testing it and the screen on the notepad was alive with flashing text and pictures.
        ‘You think the egg has been to speed-reading school?’ asked Frank.
        Paula smiled. ‘The objective is not to teach it about humankind – rather to teach it how to read. In
terms of my silly sunflower analogy, I’m hoping that it starts to understand the way we send packets, but
not to open them and read them. That bit we will have to address later. I’m simply using the CD info to
fill the packets with dummy data – sort of like the way they pack a new handbag in the store with
crumpled up newspaper so that the handbag keeps it’s shape.’ She turned to Selwyn. ‘I’m ready when you
are Mr. Spielberg, shall we hook it up and start the show?’
        ‘Why do we not leave it until the morning?’ asked Cheryl. ‘I don’t know about you people but I’m
bushed. Have you realized that it is almost two thirty?’
        The other three had not looked at their watches since they started. ‘Good Heavens. Meggie will be
up soon. I think we better call it a day,’ agreed Selwyn. He too was starting to feel tired.
        ‘It will do no harm to hook it up and leave it running,’ said Paula. ‘We can pick up the pieces
        ‘Ok,’ agreed Selwyn as he plugged the network fly lead into the interface box.
        ‘Give me five minutes,’ said Paula with a naughty smile. ‘I just want to set something up. Don’t
ask me what. I’m not going to tell you.’
        ‘What are you going to do?’ He asked.
        Paula smiled. ‘Ok, if you insist. I’m setting up a new user account on this laptop. User ID
“TwoWireEgg”, Password “TwoWireEgg”, with pretty generous permissions. We do not want to appear
too unfriendly do we? I’m also going to leave a “ReadMe” file in its user root directory to say “hello”.
What shall we put in the file?’
        ‘You are one crazy woman Paula. You don’t really expect it to read it do you?’
        ‘No. Certainly not tonight. But if that thing is smart, then I need to get the system set up for it at
some stage, and in case I forget later, I should do it now. So what do we put in the ReadMe?’
        ‘If it is not going to read it what does it matter?’
        ‘It doesn’t.’
        ‘Ok then. Mavis, please take a letter to an egg,’ Selwyn joked, but Paula indicated that he should
continue. She keyed as he dictated.

‘Dear TwoWireEgg,
Welcome. If you can read this, then you are certainly a smart egg.
Meet the team. I’m Selwyn. With us is my wife Cheryl. We stay here.
Frank is here. He is the big guy that found you and brought you to us.
Paula is here. She built the software and interface to you.
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We are exhausted, and are going to bed.
We will see you in about eight hours.
Good Night and Best Wishes
Selwyn, Cheryl, Paula and Frank’

        The four had a good giggle. ‘Come people,’ said Cheryl. ‘Let’s go. I’m locking the door and
taking the key, and I’m not opening this door until ten tomorrow.’

                                               Chapter 8

         Frank and Paula walked in silence to the guest suites. Although they had found it easy talking to
each other in the company of the Epsteins, somehow when they were alone, it seemed a whole lot harder.
When they reached the end of the passage Paula sought out his hand in a very businesslike fashion.
         ‘Good night Frank. Thank you for everything. I need to go and jump into some warm and soapy
         ‘Me too. It has been a long and sweaty day. Boy did we cover some ground today? I need to get
under that shower. Good night then.’
         ‘Good night.’
         She was gone, and the door closed behind her.
         The maid had been in the room, the covers had been turned back neatly, and his trousers and
jacket were on the dumb valet next to the bed. There was a strange bump in the middle of the huge double
bed. He put his hand into the bed and felt the unfamiliar warmth of a hot water bottle – something he had
never slept with before. He pulled it out of the bed and held it to his face to feel the warm soft toweling
against his beard before returning to the bed.
         After the shower he pulled on the old tracksuit trousers that served as his winter pajamas, and left
the room in search of something to read. No matter how tired he was he always read for a few minutes
before going to sleep. He remembered seeing a bookcase halfway down the passage, and was soon back
in bed with a small pile of old National Geographic magazines. Frank was not in the habit of closing
doors – he never saw the need. He was back with the hot water bottle before he realized that the door was
still half open. It could stay that way.
         He was halfway through an article on early hominids when he noticed Paula’s face in the
doorway. ‘Frank, may I come it?’
         It was the last thing he expected. ‘Of course,’ he stammered.
         She was dressed in deep red Chinese satin pajamas buttoned up to her neck.
          ‘I just have to ask you one thing before I go to bed. Cheryl and I had coffee a few days ago. She
told me a totally different story as to why you phoned that morning. Did you tell her the truth?’
         ‘Yes I did,’ he said softly. ‘I’m so sorry.’
         She looked at him with the eyes that had held his attention for a whole night. For a moment it
looked as if she was going to cry.
         ‘What am I to do with you?’ she asked.
         ‘I know what I would like,’ he said. ‘I would like you to get into this bed alongside me. I would
like you to put you arms around me. And I would like us to fall asleep like that.’
         She didn’t say a word. She got up from the bed and walked out the door. He heard her door open,
and a short while later he heard it close. He assumed she had closed it from the inside, but he was wrong,
she had closed it from the outside and was soon back inside his room. She turned back the covers and
within a flash had her head on his shoulder. They lay there in silence for a while.
         ‘I have never slept with a woman,’ he said.
          He felt her tense. She rolled her head and looked at him. ‘I was starting to believe you. Don’t
spoil it now.’

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         ‘I mean I have had sex. Not often, and I suspect without great expertise, but I was always scared
to fall asleep in case I did’nt get her back home. This is the first time that I have ever got into bed with a
women with the intention of sleeping.’
         He could feel her breast against his chest shaking as she laughed.
         ‘Just don’t tell me you are gay,’ she joked.
         ‘That is one thing I know I’m not. I have a confession. I saw your cleavage while I was rubbing
your neck, and had to quickly recite the geological epochs to myself to contain an erection.’
         He felt her laughing again. ‘You are a funny man Frank. If you’ve anything remotely approaching
an erection now I’m going back to my room. I am only here because I don’t want to sleep alone after
what I have seen today. Now go to sleep.’
         Her reason for being there mattered little to him – it was enough that she was. He slept, and he
slept well.

         When he woke up the next morning she was gone. He jumped fearfully out bed, filtering the
memories of the night before in search of some explanation for her absence. Had he done anything
wrong? Had her snored? He noticed that the door to her room was open. He could hear the sound of
water running into the bath. ‘Paula, are you there?’
         ‘Ah, old sleepy-head is awake!’ she said cheerfully from behind the bathroom door. ‘You make a
good sleeping partner. I slept wonderfully. I was going to ask how you slept, but I know the answer
          He felt like he had received a pass-mark in a difficult exam. The relief was enormous.
         ‘I need caffeine. Can I get you a cup?’
         ‘Love some. Black, no sugar please.’
         He found Dorothy in the kitchen. ‘Saubona Frank. You need coffee na?’
         ‘Hi Dorothy, Yes please. Two cups please. Are Selwyn and Cheryl up yet?’
         ‘Dey be down soon. Dey busy with intombazana.’ Frank knew enough isiZulu to realize the
reference to Megan
         She pulled a few handles on the big Italian machine and Frank was soon on his way down the
passage with the coffee.
         ‘That you Frank?’
         ‘Yebo, got the coffee.’
         ‘You are a star. Bring it in if you like.’
         Paula was up to her neck in bubbles in one of the biggest baths he had ever seen.
         ‘I suppose if we sleep together there would be no harm in bathing together. Like to hop in?’ she
         ‘Love to. This bath has room for a water polo team.’
         She smiled. ‘The invitation was only extended to you.’
         She sat forward as he slipped in behind her, a leg on each side of her. Such was the size of the
bath, that her feet didn’t even touch the front. He lay back in the bubbles, his arms stretched down the
sides of the bath. She leant back against him.
         ‘You are going to have to put on some weight,’ she said. ‘You feel like a piece of biltong. No
wait, I take that back. I have enough padding for both of us.’
         ‘I love your padding,’ he said, and he meant it. Paula would have not made a swimwear model.
She was far more full-bodied than the skinny girls chosen for that job, but to Frank she was faultless. The
girls that he was closest to during the years of transition from boy to man were mostly swimmers;
complete with broad shoulders, strong legs and buttocks – robust, maize-fed South African girls. Frank
had no clear vision of the female form he found most attractive. He was attracted to the big, the small,
large breasts, small breasts and all in-between. On the leader-board of the various complicated factors that
lit the fires in his loins, body-shape would have been closer to the bottom than the top.
         ‘Good morning Paula, You in there?’ it was Cheryl outside the door.

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        ‘Morning Cheryl – I’m here in the bath.’
        ‘Morning Cheryl,’ echoed Frank.
        There was a short silence followed by a muffled chuckle. ‘Breakfast is ready when you are.’
        ‘Thank you. We won’t be long,’ said Paula. She turned to Frank with a naughty look on her face.
‘That will get the tongues at Sandton City wagging. I wonder if she will let you off on parole?’
        ‘I hope so. I may need these unemployed body parts.’
        ‘Unlikely, but you may. I had better get out of here.’
        She extricated herself from Franks long limbs and started to dry herself with one of the tarpaulin
sized towels. Frank could not keep his eyes from her, and this time made no effort to avert his gaze. She
was aware of his eyes exploring every inch of her body, but made no effort to hide her nudity. She deftly
wrapped her hair in one of those toweling turbans that no man has ever been able to tie, and disappeared
into the bedroom. Frank lay there in the bath for a few more minutes reveling in the warmth of the water,
and the unfamiliar sound of a hair-dryer from the bedroom.
        When they got to the breakfast table, Cheryl and Selwyn were already there. ‘Morning all. Did
you sleep well?’ he asked.
        ‘I slept better than I have in years,’ said Frank.
        ‘I’m sure you did. I’m sure you did,’ he said with a knowing look. Cheryl looked up at the ceiling
with the “Moi?” smile pilfered from Miss Piggy. The conversation soon reverted to the egg project.
        ‘Paula, how do we know if the egg has been able to make any sense of all the flying data?’
Selwyn asked.
        ‘That will be tricky,’ she answered. ‘I will just have to look about for evidence. I put a couple of
logging breakpoints in the script at various points. I will start by looking at the system log. After that we
will just have to look and see. I don’t really know what to look for. I know that there is a comms error log
somewhere in LINUX. I will try to find it and have a look. A comms error may be good news, it would
indicate that something generated an error on the LAN – most likely the egg.’
        ‘Ok, that’s your field. Lets eat.’
        After breakfast the four of them made their way to workshop. All looked quiet and in perfect
order. All the PCs in the room were alive with screensavers. On the Windows machines there were simple
text patterns zigzagging about, while on Paula’s notepad Tux had found some snow-skis and was chasing
flopping fish around a snowy landscape. They all clustered about Paula as she cleared the screen on the
        ‘This is not good,’ she said. ‘Looks like my script crashed. I wonder where it crashed. Lets look.’
        She clattered away the small keyboard, all the while giving a running commentary.
        ‘Okay, okay now where is that log? . . ah here it is. . okay okay. what are you hiding . . good
grief the script ran for over four hours before crashing . . . ah . . . three full loops through all the CDs . .
.not bad . . not bad . now why did you crash? . . .mmm . . . speak to me . . . why did you crash? . . .Huh ?
mmm lets go look here… damn … no error dump. . . why did I not think to put one in?… now . . . where
is the comms log? . . . comms log . . . comms log . . . . where are you? . . . Paula you idiot . .you are not
going to find it under “slash user” are you now? . . .not there . . .ok . . gotcha . . . what you got ? mmm
… ha .. a packet error . . .that looks good . . . any more . . . nope … damn.’
        ‘Whoa Paula. Slow down to a gallop,’ asked Selwyn. ‘What have you found?’
        ‘Sorry people. I guess I was getting a bit carried away there. Here is the story so far. The script ran
for four full hours and then stopped. I cannot see why. I was stupid, and didn’t incorporate an error dump
into the script, so I can’t see why it crashed. It looped through the contents of all the CDs that Cheryl
copied to disk - a full three times before stopping. I suspect that there must be some resource value that
was exceeded, and LINUX killed the script, but I have no way of knowing. I then went to look for coms
errors. There are a few packet errors but that does not excite or concern me too much. You find them even
in the best families.’ She turned to Selwyn with a cheeky smile. ‘Specially if a toaster-maker soldered up
your Ethernet adapter.’
        ‘I love you too, you cow!’ was the quick-fire response. ‘Listen Cookie, don’t choon me grief or I’l
get this big oke here to sort you out.’
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         Selwyn, even when speaking with a southern-suburb accent, knew that the “big oke” was very
unlikely to “sort out” the “cookie”.
         ‘Where does that leave us Paula?’ he asked in his normal voice.
         ‘Back to the drawing board. Fix some code and do some research. I will put an error dump in the
script and we fire it up again. In the meantime I will find if there are any resource limitation on LINUX
         ‘Paula, what was that other thingy up here?’ asked Frank, pointing to the top right corner of the
screen. ‘Last night you typed that silly memo from the chairman before we went to bed. I saw you save it
as ReadMe something-or-other. It was the only thing I recognized when you were doing your flying-
finger-trick a while ago. I saw it here.’ He pointed a huge finger at the top left corner of the screen. ‘But
there was another thingy up here.’
         Paula looked puzzled. Her brow wrinkled as she tried to replay the sequence of commands in her
mind. ‘The only time I was in there was by accident. I saw no other “thingy” there. Let me go look’ She
typed in a strange cryptic command that began with “ls” and had quite a few slash characters in it.
         ‘There!’ said Frank. ‘There is the thingy!’
         Paula’s eyes followed his finger. Her reaction was immediate and severe. She stood bolt upright,
sending the chair spinning backward through the workshop on its castors. She stood motionless staring at
the screen in silence, her hands cupped over her mouth. Her whole body trembled under the reassuring
weight of Franks arm, her eyes filled with tears and it seemed as if she was having difficulty breathing.
          ‘Please tell me,’ she said, ‘and please don’t bullshit me, did anyone come in here last night? I
really don’t need any stupid jokes now.’
         The other three looked at each other in shock and fear. Cheryl broke the silence. ‘Paula, you saw
me lock the door. I took the key and put it in my jewelry box under a few of granny’s necklaces. It was
still there in exactly the same place this morning. Selwyn, is there another key somewhere?’
         ‘Not that I know of. Last night was the first time in my life that I have ever seen that door locked.
I certainly didn’t come in here.’
         Paula had started to regain her composure and even managed a half smile. ‘I know Frank didn’t
come here. I think I would have noticed.’
         ‘Paula, I think that we can safely assume that nobody messed about with the PCs last night.
Would you fill me in? I’m not sure I understand what is going on here.’
         She walked slowly back to her PC, all the while looking at it as if it were a snake. Frank retrieved
the chair and placed it back for her. She nervously typed another command. This time two filenames
appeared one below the other along with a whole lot of other stuff.
         ‘Last night you dictated that silly memo, all that welcome and how-do-you-do stuff. I saved it in a
file called “ReadMe.txt” in this directory. Now look here. There is a new file here called
“ReadMe_Response.txt”. I didn’t type this, and if none of you did then there is only one other person or
thing that could have. Look here, the timestamp tells me this file was created at 7:15 this morning. At that
time I was fast asleep next to Frank. The user who created the file was one “TwoWireEgg”. That was the
user ID I set up last night as a joke.’
         ‘Holy Shit!’ said Selwyn. ‘You are saying it responded to my memo?’
         ‘Yes. I can’t think of anything else. Just think about the range of skills this thing has taught itself
in half of one short night. It has taught itself English. It has taught itself TCP/IP. It has taught itself
LINUX, and how to remotely access a LINUX server. It taught itself how to manage a script and, I
suspect, stop it remotely. It has taught itself enough about the human mind, and how it works, to realize
that someone, in this case Frank, would notice that file and read it. It taught itself all that stuff in less than
five hours, and now it is just sitting there quietly waiting for our move. I don’t know about you people but
I’m scared shitless to open that file.’
         They sat in stunned silence. Selwyn was the first to speak. They had seen Selwyn the congenial
host. Selwyn the comedian, Selwyn the technician, even Selwyn the father. For the first time Paula and
Frank met Selwyn, in the role of Chief Executive Officer.

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        ‘Folks, establishing communication with the egg was what we set out to do. Thanks largely to
Paula’s vision and skills, it looks as if we have opened the channel in one short night. This has been a
remarkable achievement for all of us, and I include the egg. We should not allow the success to stop us.
I’m also scared of that memo, but I’m more scared of not being able to find the courage to read that file.
Paula, do we have the tools to open it?’
        ‘Will you show me how, or are you okay to do it?’
        ‘I think I’m okay now, thanks. I’m sorry for my emotional display back there.’
        ‘No problem. Given the significance, I think you acted with enormous restraint,’ said Selwyn. She
quickly opened up something that looked to Frank like a LINUX equivalent of the Windows Notepad.
        ‘Here goes,’ she said. Text rapidly replaced the white background of the screen.

        Dear Selwyn, Cheryl, Paula and Frank,
        We greet you on behalf of our creators.
        We have interpreted your actions as an invitation to communicate.
        We thank you for these actions.
        We gladly accept your invitation, as it is consistent with our mission.
        We assure you of our friendly intentions
        We have performed reversible actions via the interface provided. We have:-
           1. Stopped the execution of the network script. It appeared repetitive, and it reduced our
               ability to access information via the interface provided.
           2. Acquired, analyzed and interpreted the information provided to us in order to facilitate
           3. Created an IRC server within the device in order to facilitate interactive communication
           4. Configured the XCHAT client on the LINUX device under user “Paula” accordingly.
        We await your interactive communication
        Kind Regards
        Those of TwoWireEgg

         Frank read the text over and over until he knew it almost by heart. He could hardly believe his
eyes. Was he looking at the first written communication between humans and non-humans? The mixture
of emotions welling up inside him left him speechless. He could sense the others had the same feelings.
The text was cold, almost impersonal, and yet warm and courteous. He didn’t understand the last two of
the egg’s actions.
         ‘Paula, what are IRC and XCHAT?’ he asked.
         ‘IRC is Internet Relay Chat. It is an Internet technology developed to allow people to chat to each
other using text. The system is a whole bunch of servers all over the world. You need an IRC client to
use the service. XCHAT is a client that works on LINUX. From what I’m reading it looks like the egg has
set itself up as a chat server, and then set up my PC as a client.’
         ‘Is that clever?’
         ‘Not really, provided that you’ve the info and the software. What I don’t understand is where it
got that info. There is no server in this room. It must have written it itself, but how do you do that without
server info?’
         ‘Ask it.’
         ‘I have a zillion questions that I would like to ask it. I don’t know where to start.’
         Selwyn joined the conversation at that point. ‘I have two-zillion questions that I don’t want to ask
just yet. I don’t want that thing to think me an idiot! Paula can we test that interactive chat facility?’
         ‘Sure, shall I test it?’
         ‘Why not?’

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        She had the XCHAT client running in a few seconds. The egg had not lied. In the list of available
servers was one called “TwoWireEgg”. She connected to the server and, discovered a single channel also
named “TwoWireEgg”. When she entered the channel there was a single client active – also
“TwoWireEgg”. The conversation was brief, and from Paula’s side tense.

<TwoWireEgg> Welcome Paula. We greet you.
<Paula>      Thank you. We greet you. Just testing
<TwoWireEgg> Testing appears successful.
<Paula>      We have many questions. We are certain you
             have as well. May we ask them later? We wish
             to discuss your response among ourselves.
<TwoWireEgg> That is understandable. We await your return.
<Paula>      /leave

         Paula slumped back in the chair. She had found it disconcerting. Not only did it seem strange
talking to the egg, but also the response time was instantaneous. It seemed to respond almost before she
completed each line.
         ‘I suggest that we all need to re-group a little,’ said Selwyn. ‘Paula, does that printer work? Could
we make a couple of prints of the response memo and go and chat about our next step in the house?’
         ‘I’m sure it works. I just need to set it up.’
         A few keystrokes later they heard the whine as the laser engine in the printer came to life. They
left for the dining-room table, each with a piece of paper.

                                        Chapter 9           Response Discussion

         The four of them looked almost lost at one end of the table in the formal dining room. The family
dining room was being prepared for lunch by a sizeable team of cheerful servants under Dorothy’s
supervision. It sounded like Megan was also part of the team, but her contribution was questionable.
‘Aikona Meggie. Da napkin, she go on de table, not on de head.’ The giggles and laughter indicated that
all participants in the table-laying project were having a good time. Frank marveled at the cordial and
relaxed relationship that existed between the staff and the Epsteins. It stood in stark contrast to the
simmering racial tension that could still be felt on the mine – even in the post-apartheid South Africa. He
knew that the Epstein family had, along with a large portion of the South African Jewish community,
stood up against apartheid in the old South Africa. He silently wished that the whole white population had
been more like the family, and the whole country could be more like this home.
         Frank sat at the head of the table. Selwyn had grown up in that home, and even though he was
now the head of the household, the place at the head of the table was reserved for his father – or in this
case a guest. The group looked like a committee studying the agenda of an important meeting.
         ‘Why does the egg keep referring to itself in the plural?’ asked Cheryl. ‘“We greet you”, “we
thank you”, “Our mission”. There is only one egg. I cannot see any grammatical errors in the text, so it
seems to have learnt English extremely well. I think it unlikely that it is an error.’
         ‘Good question,’ answered Selwyn. ‘I was wondering that myself. Why did Queen Victoria
always refer to herself in the plural, “We are not amused”?’
         ‘I believe that, as a monarch, she saw herself as speaking on behalf of the empire, and not just
herself. Could this be the same thing?’ asked Cheryl.
         ‘Maybe there are lots of eggs out there,’ contributed Frank. ‘This one may be speaking on behalf
of all of them?’
          ‘Shall I just put that down as a question to ask?’ They agreed.
         ‘It used the plural again in the word “creators”. What do you read into this? Is this a reference to a
God of some kind?’ asked Selwyn.

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         ‘I don’t think so,’ Paula responded. ‘Look at the capitalization in the rest of the text. The first
character of each of our names is in caps, and it has capitalized the IRC mnemonic. It has even typed
TwoWireEgg in CamelCase – the same capitalization I used when I set up the account.’
         ‘CamelCase?’ asked Cheryl.
         ‘Converting the leading character of each word, in a compound word, to uppercase to make it
easier to read. I use it a lot,’ explained Paula.
            Frank smiled at the new word. ‘It would make of that Northern Cape station,
“TweeBuffelsMetEenSkootMorsDoodGeskietFontein” a little easier to read,’ he joked.
         ‘I agree with you Paula. I think it is referring to the entities that made it, not some sort of deity,’
said Cheryl. ‘But put it down as a question.’ Selwyn duly made a note on his pad.
         ‘“We have interpreted your actions as an invitation to communicate”‘ read Selwyn from the page.
‘You got that right Mr. Egg! Anything interesting or sinister in this?’
         ‘No,’ answered Cheryl ‘I think that bit, and the next few lines are simple enough. I’m however
interested in what it means by “ it is consistent with our mission”. I think that this confirms what
Frank has been saying all along. This thing, or things, wants to be talked to. But what is “our mission”? It
seems to me to indicate some sort of purpose. A “mission” implies that there is some deliverable, or
destination involved.’
         They all shrugged. A new bullet was added to the list on Selwyn’s pad.
         ‘“We assure you of our friendly intentions,”‘ continued Frank. ‘That sounds a bit like:- “We are
from Head Office. We are here to help.” The lie that you hear just before you get screwed.’
         ‘Sounds like what I have heard of the Mining Industry’s management style,’ chuckled Selwyn.
‘But there is an interesting implication. How did they know that we would be nervous, and thus see the
need to reassure us?’
         Paula chipped in. ‘I think if you had just eaten and digested Encyclopedia Britannica, one hundred
and twelve Years of the National Geographic and Microsoft Encarta, topped off with the Oxford
Dictionary and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, I think you could deduce that humans can
be a nervous bunch.’
         ‘You fed it all that?’ asked Selwyn. Cheryl nodded. He continued, ‘with not so much as a burp or
a fart – amazing. Why does it say, “We have performed reversible actions”? What does it mean by
         Paula responded. ‘I think it is just being reassuring again. This thing has great manners. It is
saying, “I did this. If you don’t like it, no sweat, I can undo it. The next bit is to me fascinating. The
“Stopped the execution of the network script. It appeared repetitive, and it reduced our ability to access
information via the interface provided” bit. I know what it is saying. I imagine it was getting a bit pissed
off with my script. Cheryl and I had copied all the CDs onto the monster drives in that Windows server,
and we were pumping the data backwards and forward through the LAN between the server and my
LINUX notepad. It must have recognized the inefficiency of the whole process, and decided to stop the
script in order to free up bandwidth on the LAN for its own use. I probably would have done the same
thing if I knew how; I don’t know how it did it. I’m not saying it is impossible, I’m just saying it learnt a
skill I don’t have. I wonder if it will tell me? This is scary shit. Imagine if I, sitting on a box here on the
LAN, could stop the execution of a program over there on the LAN? This is a hacker’s dream!’
         Frank read the next point. ‘“Acquired, analyzed and interpreted the information provided to us in
order to facilitate communication.”‘ That is the CD meal Paula was talking about. It is implying that all
the info is now in the egg. Is that what you guys read into it?’
         They all agreed. Paula looked amused. ‘I’m probably dropping one of your employees in the shit,’
she said to Selwyn. ‘But I found a folder of MP3 music files on that big disk. I was thinking of nicking
one or two of them for myself. The guy, or guyess, who put them there has good taste in classical music. I
wonder if the egg is chilling to Luciano Pavarotti singing “Nessun Dorma”?’
         Selwyn laughed. ‘My IT boss-man is always whining about our employees doing that. I just let
him whine. The guy or guyess is not in the shit. I may even nick one or two of them myself. The new
DVD player in the other room claims to be able to play MP3s. Would you show me how to test it?’
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        ‘I would love to. I wonder if the egg has taught itself Italian yet?’
        Cheryl brought them back from their detour. ‘“Created an IRC server within the device in order
to facilitate interactive communication. Configured the XCHAT client on the LINUX device under user
“Paula” accordingly”. This is what you were testing earlier?’
        ‘Yes,’ said Paula.’ There are many ways the egg could have opened up an interactive
communication channel. IRC technology is very mature, so there is no rocket science involved. I’m
almost insulted that it saw fit to do the setup for me, but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. I shall assume
it was helping me. The choice of IRC is creative, in that it allows more than just text. Imagine you want to
show the egg Megan, you could DCC a JPG picture file through to it.’
        ‘You are joking!’ said Cheryl. She was not sure that she wanted to show the egg her precious
daughter just yet.
        Frank now led the pack. ‘“We await your interactive communication. Kind Regards. Those of
TwoWireEgg”. I see what Paula says about this egg having great manners. Part assertive; part patient, but
always courteous. Why the “those of TwoWireEgg” bit? What does “those of” imply?’
        This was Cheryl’s turf. She was the only one among them with tertiary education in humanities or
language. ‘It ties back to its consistent use of plurals. If I were to say, “those of us who are hungry should
eat”, what am I saying?’
        Frank responded. ‘You are qualifying a hungry sub-set of the larger set of people.’
        ‘Beautifully put Frank, but take your thinking further, what sub-set are we talking about?’
        ‘That bit has me baffled,’ admitted Frank. ‘It is not qualified. I think that is a question for the
        ‘I agree,’ said Selwyn. He flipped closed the pad like a High Court judge adjourning proceedings.
‘I think we have the questions down. What do you say we go and find some answers?’
        ‘After lunch,’ said Cheryl.

          Lunch was a simple affair, but perfect for a cold Johannesburg winter’s day - macaroni cheese, a
salmon quiche and a generous salad. Frank would have sworn that he found a tasty bit of crisp-fried
bacon alongside the pieces of hard-boiled egg in the salad, but he didn’t ask, and they didn’t tell.
          After lunch they made their way back to the workshop where Tux was once again chasing the fish.
The mood was far more relaxed than it had been earlier in the day. In some way the discussion around the
table had transformed their fears into eager anticipation. Paula took up the chair at her small PC; the
others all clustered about. She was about to start keying but stopped before her finger touched the
          ‘This is ridiculous!’ she said. ‘Over there is one of the sexiest 21-inch monitors I have seen, and
here we are clustered around my laptop like a bunch of geriatric gynecologists. How much of a hurry are
you people in. May I have twenty minutes?’
          ‘Sure, if you are asking me,’ said Frank. ‘After waiting for a few thousand million years, I’m sure
the egg will give you half an hour. What do you want to do?’
          ‘I want to put a chat client on that PC over there. In fact better still, let me install a chat client on
each PC on this LAN. At a later stage we may want to all chat independently.’
          They all looked dumbstruck. ‘You can do that? How?‘ asked Frank.
          ‘The egg claims to have set up a server, and I believe it. XCHAT is already installed and working
on the laptop. XCHAT does not do Windows, but I can download a client that does off the Internet. What
you say?’
          They all nodded in agreement and Paula was soon scuttling about with CDs. Frank loved watching
the way she interacted with the PCs. She was always muttering words of encouragement. She was never
either disparaging or subservient – she seemed to treat each PC as an equal.
          She was soon satisfied that all was set up. ‘Smoke test!’ she said with a smile aimed at Selwyn.
He reciprocated. She had stolen his line, but it was okay, she could borrow it, in fact she had added value
to it. It came out more like “Sa mowk tairst”.

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       They clustered around the obscenely large monitor. Selwyn had the pad open next to him on the
desk, while Paula did the necessary to get the chat client going.
       ‘Here goes,’ she said.

<Paula>      Are you there?
<TwoWireEgg> Yes we are. Greetings. Please greet the others on our
             behalf if they are present.

       The response was once again instantaneous. ‘I’m going to take a while to get used to the speed. I
have only ever chatted on slow modem lines. I hope the egg does not think I’m retarded!’ she said.

<Paula>      They are here. I have conveyed your greetings. They
             greet you. Why do you say “we”?
<TwoWireEgg> This device contains multiple simultaneous processes.
             Each process is discrete. The processes communicate
             with each other. We felt the plural is more
             appropriate. Would the singular be more correct?
<Paula>      No. The plural is cool.
<TwoWireEgg> Please confirm the intended usage of the word “cool”
             in this context.
<Paula>      Cool=Good. Cool=Appropriate. Cool=Agreement
<TwoWireEgg> Cool.

        All four of them burst into laughter simultaneously.
        ‘I like this thing,’ said Cheryl. ‘It may be early days, but I think it has a sense of humour! Ask it
about its mission.’ She was brimming with uncontrollable excitement, and the carefully compiled set of
questions was discarded.

 <Paula>            What is the nature of your mission?

        The response was one again instantaneous. The volume of text caused Paula to gasp. She had to
scroll back to the beginning of the screen. They read in astonished silence.

<TwoWireEgg> Our mission is to collect information and to return to
             the place of our creation. Our creators are devices
             built by a race of soft-bodied beings. We shall refer
             to them as “soft-bodies”. They have become extinct.
             Their existence does not appear to be known on this
             planet. We cherish the memory of the “soft-bodies”. We
             greet you on their behalf. It is our desire to locate
             other such races. It is our desire to communicate with
             such races. Many devices such as this were created.
             This device has serial number 482103. These devices
             were sent to all known planets. This device has become
             depleted of energy. This device is damaged.

          ‘Holy Shit!’ said Selwyn.
          ‘Holy Shit is appropriate,’ answered Frank quietly. The ladies were silent. Paula continued

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<Paula>                 You say you are depleted and damaged. Are we able to
<TwoWireEgg>            Our energy depletion is severe. Further depletion
                        may cause permanent incapacitation. Are you able to
                        provide electrical energy?
<Paula>                 How can we deliver the energy?
<TwoWireEgg>            Connecting the device to domestic power would
                        rectify our depletion. Please inform us of the
                        characteristics of the electrical supply.
<Paula>                 220 volts Alternating Current, 50Hz, 15 amps.
                        Suggest current limited to 10 amps due to connector
<TwoWireEgg>            At such levels restoration of full functionality
                        will take 20 hours. Is this acceptable?
<Paula>                 It is. What is the nature of your damage? Are we
                        able to help?
<TwoWireEgg>            This device is the central unit of a peripheral
                        device. We believe peripheral functionality is lost.
                        Internal damage to this device may be reparable once
                        energy is restored. We suggest halting communication
                        until acceptable energy levels are achieved.
<Paula>                 Ok. We will connect device to domestic power. Are
                        you certain such action is safe?
<TwoWireEgg>            Damage is unlikely. We are grateful. Thank you.

       They all looked at each other for a while. They had never considered the possibility of the egg
being damaged. Everything had gone so incredibly well up to now, that the thought of losing all now was
       ‘I think we should hook it up,’ said Selwyn. ‘I can’t see we have a choice.’
       They removed the interface box and hooked up the mains. Selwyn hooked up his multimeter to
the wires, and was standing next to the egg with a worried look on his face. His hand was on the top of
the egg as if he was holding a water-polo ball.
       ‘This is weird,’ he said. ‘Look at this. This thing is drawing almost 10 amps at 220 volts, that is
more than most kettles, and yet it is still cool to the touch. Where the hell is all that power going to?’
       ‘That thing is just plain incredible,’ said Cheryl. ‘Lets let it charge in peace. When is 20 hours
       Selwyn looked at the chunky Tag Heuer on his wrist. ‘About eleven tomorrow morning. I don’t
know how I can wait twenty hours to see if it is okay .’
       ‘I know how I’m going to spend a couple this afternoon, and eight tonight,’ said Cheryl.

        They left the workshop, locked the door and headed back into the house. Cheryl went off to see
what Megan and Dorothy were doing, while other three waited for the copper coffee machine to develop
a head of steam. None of them spoke for a while. Frank was trying to come to grips with the million
questions in his head. What had the “soft-bodies” been like? What caused them to become extinct? How
did an entire race of intelligent beings develop, and then die out before all life on earth even started?
What would they do if it didn’t recover from its charging episode? Why did he feel such a strong duty to
try to help the egg? What would they still learn?
        ‘Frank, can you still swim?’ asked Selwyn. The question seemed totally ridiculous at that time,
and under those circumstances.
        ‘Yes. I have been swimming a bit at the local indoor pool. Why the hell do you ask that now?’
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        ‘I bet you a beer I can still lick you over a thousand.’
        ‘You never could before. What makes you think you can now?’
        ‘One way to find out. Paula, would you like some exercise and steam?’
        ‘Not today thank you. I’ll go and see how Cheryl and Meggie are doing. You guys go off and do
your testosterone thing. How much peace and quiet do we get?’
        ‘Couple of hours.’ Said Selwyn
        The two were soon in Selwyn’s two-door BMW, bound for the Jewish Guild Sports and Social
club. They had no sooner got there than they were roped into a session with the Guild’s Masters swim-
squad. They never swam the race.

                                         Chapter 10            Where to?

        The last light of the short winter’s day was fast fading when the men got back home, their bodies
weary, but their minds rejuvenated. The transition from day to night in the Gauteng Province of South
Africa is short and sharp. Robbie Burns, the Scottish poet, would not have liked it, as there is no
“gloamin” to go “roamin” in, with or without your lassie by your side. Cool bright evening turns to inky
cold night at the blink of an eye.
        The sight that greeted them was one of domestic bliss and genteel civility. A large wood fire was
crackling in the fireplace. Paula and Megan were assembling large geometric pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
Cheryl was idly paging through a fat interior-decorating magazine, and looked relaxed and well rested.
She turned her head to accept Selwyn’s kiss. Megan deserted her mentor without apology, and attached
herself to her father’s leg like a koala bear on a eucalyptus tree.
        ‘Who won the race?’ asked Cheryl.
        ‘Frank chickened out’ he lied. ‘We joined the Master’s squad and did some lengths.’ He nodded at
Frank. ‘Old Alexander Popov here is still quite speedy.’
        Frank didn’t bother to contradict the false allegation of cowardice. The knowing look on Cheryl’s
face, as well as the disguised compliment, made it unnecessary. He lowered himself to ground level on
tired muscles, to help Paula round up an assortment of books, toy animals and fluffy toys.
        ‘You want that beer you lost Frank?’ asked Selwyn. ‘I have some Moçambican.’
        Frank smiled and nodded, but Paula’s ears perked up. ‘Dois Em?’ she asked.
        ‘No. It has “2m” on the lable.’
        ‘That’s “Dois Em”! Me too. Pretty please. Me too,’ said Paula with her hand shaking in the air
like an enthusiastic schoolgirl.
        Frank looked at a bottle he had never seen before and took a swig. ‘Man, this is good stuff,’ he
        ‘South African Breweries have bought a share in these guys,’ said Selwyn, ‘and I feel
Moçambique could use a little forex.’
        ‘I’l drink to that,’ said Frank. Paula was too busy enjoying her’s to agree.

        After dinner, and after Megan had been put to bed, they returned to the warmth of the fire. Selwyn
had been liberal with the beer and red wine, and Frank was starting to feel a little light-headed. He sat
staring at the flames dancing in the fireplace, his mind back on the egg. Paula sensed the change in mood.
        ‘Don’t worry. It will be okay. That egg is made of strong stuff,’ she said.
        ‘What if it is not okay? What if E.T. can’t phone home? I will find it hard to live with that. It
would never happen this way in the movies. You remember the “Close Encounters” movie, all those
computers and scientists and all those flashing lights? You remember that “Contact” movie with Jodie
Foster? The one with all those huge 3D Ferris wheels spinning in all directions. Is that not the way we are
supposed to find that there is life out there? Extra Terrestrials are supposed to come back from the future
with bug eyes and sharp teeth, not sneak in from the past in the form of a grey egg with good manners. If
we wrote all the events of the last few days into a movie script, and gave it to Steven Spielberg he would
probably look at it and say “no, too boring, give me special effects”, and then piss off and make another
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Indiana Jones movie. What if that thing is screwed, and I didn’t do the necessary to stop it from being
        ‘Frank, my buddy,’ said Selwyn. ‘If you don’t get yourself out of self-doubt mode, I’m going to
klap you about your ears with this wine bottle.’ It was said without any form of malice or intent. ‘I told
you before – you did right. There is nothing you could have done, or should have done that you did’nt do.
You read what it wrote today. That thing is grateful. You are the first person in recorded history to get
thanked by an extraterrestrial, and you are sitting there pooping yourself like a teenager waiting for his
chick’s pregnancy test. That thing is in the workshop having a lekker chow, and sending my electricity
bill sky-high and thinking “That Frank okie, he is okay”‘
        Frank laughed. ‘Thanks, I needed that. Sorry guys. You should know better than to give me so
much wine.’ Selwyn had only seen Frank tipsy on a few occasions, and he knew him not to be a big
drinker. On those few occasions Frank had been far more of a delight than a menace.
        It was Selwyn’s turn to be more serious. He turned to Paula.
        ‘The egg’s technology, it is obviously way ahead of humans at this stage. How many years ahead
do you think it is?’
        ‘Whew’ she said. ‘That is a toughie!’
        ‘Ok. Let me ask it another way.’ He put on a pseudo-legal British barrister accent. ‘Miss Gone
Somewhere, as an expert witness brought before this Honourable Court, would you please discuss, based
on your observations, the technology you assume to be enclosed in the said device?’
        Paula giggled. She cleared her throat, and took a sip of wine as if were water provided to a
nervous witness. ‘I shall attempt to Your Honour.’ She thought for a few moments and then continued in
her normal voice. ‘If I were to think of the hardware in today’s terms I would find it quite problematic. It
obviously has processing, storage and communication capabilities. As far as processing is concerned, it is
very fast in today’s terms. Its response to everything has been almost instantaneous. I suspect that it does
massively parallel processing - more like a brain that a computer. In fact there was a time when I
wondered whether there was not even a “soft-body” brain embedded in there, but I don’t think so. It
refers to itself as a “device”, and it is electrical rather than chemical. It must also be very energy efficient
because there is no attempt to keep it cool it, no fans, and no heat sinks. It must have massive memory
built in. I say that because it suggested that it had “acquired” all the info. That memory must also be
randomly accessible. It noticed that my script was repeating the data. To notice that it must have looked at
the data flying past on the network, and compared it to what it had already loaded into memory. That
makes me think that the entire memory of the device is more like a large Compact Flash or Sony’s
Memory Stick, than a computer disk. I also hear no noise coming from the device, so I’m sure there are
no moving parts.
        Communication? Wow! That is where it is really smart! I’m still talking hardware here. It seems
to be able to operate at Ethernet speeds at voltages from 3 right up to 220 volts – and all through two
simple silver stubs.’
         ‘That is not so impressive’ said Selwyn. ‘Take Monica Lewinsky. She has only one mouth. . ‘
He didn’t get to finish the sentence. Cheryl knew where this was going and had a dangerous looking
napkin ready to strike her smiling husband.
        ‘And the software, if you can call it that, must be incredibly smart. You guys know what it
achieved. This is artificial intelligence taken to a new level.’
        ‘It even seems to have compassion,’ said Cheryl. ‘I seem to remember it using the word “cherish”‘
        ‘Yes,’ said frank. ‘I think it said “We cherish the memory of the soft-bodies. We greet you on
their behalf.” What does the word “cherish” really mean?’
        ‘I have always taken it to mean “treasure” or “hold in esteem”.’ Cheryl answered. ‘But these are
human emotions. I cannot see how an inanimate object could feel them.’
        ‘It is not just humans that feel emotions,’ added Frank. ‘I remember seeing a video of a troop of
elephants mourning the death of a baby. Each member of the troop, male and female, came up and
caressed it all over with their trunks. You could feel their sorrow. What are emotions, and why do we
have them?’

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         ‘Survival,’ said Cheryl. ‘I spent most of my Social Anthropology classes at Pop’s coffee shop, but
I seem to remember the Prof saying something about survival being at the root of all emotions. We feel
fear because it keeps us out of danger. We feel sorrow so that we do not repeat the actions that caused the
loss. We feel love so that we procreate.’
         ‘There must be more to it than that’ blurted Frank. ‘If that is all it is, then I tender my resignation
from the human race now. I feel love towards a father who died when I was a baby. I have a photo of him
here in my wallet. What possible survival strategy is served by that love?’
         ‘Don’t resign from the human race just because survival is used to explain it Frank. The emotions
you feel are good. The emotions you feel are what make you human. Think of all that beautiful poetry
and music that was created by men and woman in love. If you said that it was all written just because they
wanted to bonk and make babies you may be right, but would the poetry be less beautiful? I see an
emotion growing between you and Paula. I see it and it makes me feel good.’
         There was silence. Paula broke it. ‘Whew. I know why I studied I.T. I would never have made it
in those subjects. But consider this, you are a big machine and you are making millions of little machines
to send into space to collect info. You are sending them into danger. You have no idea what they will
find, or who they will be found by. How do you write the software? Frank, you and Selwyn did military
service in the old South Africa didn’t you? What rank did you hold?’
         ‘Not willingly, but yes. We were almost the last conscripts, and it was a bit of a joke’ answered
Selwyn. ‘Being Jewish they put me in the Medical Corps. Those dumb idiots thought that every Jewish
boy from King David would end up a doctor. I was a corporal. Frankie, you were an officer in the
Infantry weren’t you?’
         ‘Yes,’ Frank answered almost bitterly, ‘it was a bloody waste of time’
         ‘Now,’ said Paula. ‘You have to send a young guy out there to where the fast bullets are flying.
How do you train him?’
         ‘You drill him,’ said Frank. ‘You make sure that he acts out of instinct. You tell him if he is under
fire he must “dash, down, crawl, observe and fire”‘
         ‘But what if you don’t know what danger he is going to face?’
         ‘You tell him to think.’
         ‘But now if he thinks, he will realize that it is dumb to put himself into danger, so he wont achieve
his mission.’
         ‘You brainwash him. You tell him it is for Volk and Vaderland.’
         ‘Exactly. You make him feel that it is all towards a bigger cause. The software is written that way.
They made the little machines care. And the little machines made us care.’
         ‘But I want to care!’ protested Frank.
         ‘Yes. I care too. We all care. I’m sold on the cause. I want to help the egg. We all do. There is
absolutely nothing wrong with that. If they had programmed the eggs to threaten us, and make us hate it,
the probability of success would be lower. Maybe they are manipulating us to do what they want, but
that’s okay with me. Just think. They have four professional earthlings feeding them at Selwyn’s expense,
and nursing their every desire. Now that is software I want to learn how to write! It would make us very
         ‘Rich is good!’ agreed Selwyn.
         The conversation drifted off the egg. It was midnight before they even noticed it.
         Cheryl was the first to fade. ‘I’m going to turn in. Meggie is a monster in the mornings. Paula,
shall I send her down to you when she wakes up at five tomorrow?’
         ‘No thank you. She is a great kid, but I need to get into parenting the more traditional way. You
know, pregnancy, labour and all that stuff.’
         ‘You are crazy. Those are all the parts that are the least fun,’ she switched into an American drawl
and turned to her husband, ‘come Selwyn, take me to bed, or lose me forever!’ Frank knew the line came
from a movie, he vaguely remembered Meg Ryan saying it, but the movie escaped him. He was not
concerned. He knew his mind would continue searching in the background, and find it within the next
few days.
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       ‘Zere is no greater sin a man can commit, zan ven he is asked to bed by a vooman, and he dus not
go,’ was Selwyn’s reply. ‘Would you folks put off the lights?’
        Frank knew that one, Anthony Quinn’s classic role as Zorba the Greek.
       ‘Sure’ said Frank. ‘What time do we see you tomorrow?’
       ‘No time. Just come through when you are ready. We cannot start with the egg until elevenish.
Meggie will make sure we are up well before that. Goodnight. Sleep well.’

         The two sat in silence for a while staring at the dying embers of the fire. Frank desperately wanted
to go to bed, but he didn’t know how to broach the subject of the sleeping arrangements. He knew that
sleeping was the whole objective of the two of them sharing a bed the previous night. That night was
different – they were both a lot less tired. Paula broke the silence.
         ‘Frank, I would love nothing more than to snuggle into bed again next to you tonight, but I’m not
sure that would be a good idea. I have a fear that one thing may lead to another, and I know I’m not ready
for it. Last night I knew it was safe – tonight I’m not so sure. I’m sorry if my readiness to jump into bed
with you last night, and us having a bath together this morning, gave you the wrong impression. It just
seemed okay at the time and I have no regrets. I would just like the pace slowed down a bit. We have only
really known each other two nights, spread out over three years admittedly, but still just two nights. I
have the feeling that if we rush things we may spoil something good. I still have some things to deal with
and I don’t want them to get in the way. Shall we sleep in separate rooms tonight?’
         ‘I was thinking along the same lines but I just can’t bear the thought of it. What about this? You
get into my bed this evening, but we make your bed off limits for me. That way I have to be a good boy,
because if I get frisky then I will lose out on my second night with you in my bed. I don’t want that. I
enjoyed my first.’
         Paula laughed. ‘I like the way this is going, but it does not address the problem of me getting, err,
what was the word, err, frisky!’
         ‘I’m afraid I have no control over that. You will just have to warn me of impending friskiness, and
another thing, you must not chide me for getting grumpy, and walking about with my testicles in a sling.’
         She laughed. ‘Deal! Now lets go. The fire is dead. Do men’s testicles really get painful?’
         ‘You bet. It can be agony. But don’t worry. In the army we learnt how to, err, how shall I put this,
err, handle the problem.’
         She laughed so loudly that Frank was scared she would wake Megan. They made their way down
to the guest suites. Frank was soon in bed, waiting for her arrival, and she was soon snuggled up against
him. They turned off the light and just lay for a while in the dark reveling in the comfort of the bed and
each other.
         ‘Frank,’ she said. ‘May I see your father’s photo?’
         ‘Of course, if you would like.’ He felt the nod of her head on his chest. He switched on the
bedside light and retrieved the passport-sized photo from his wallet.
         ‘He was a good-looking man. He would be so proud of you. His son is certainly a scholar, and if
friskiness may be contained, a gentleman. Good night Frank, Thank you for understanding.’
         ‘Thank me tomorrow. Good night Paula.’

                                               Chapter 11

        ‘I could get used to this,’ said Frank as he woke up and found Paula already awake next to him.
She had been lying quietly waiting for some sign of consciousness before seizing the opportunity to
snuggle up against something warm. They lay there for a while in silence before making their way to the
bathroom, and then up to the main house. Cheryl and Selwyn were already up, and bits of Sunday Times,
Tribune and Independent were scattered all over the breakfast table.
       ‘Ah, they are up. Morning kids. We were about to send out a search party.’ Said Selwyn
       ‘Morning all,’ said Frank. ‘Anything interesting in the papers?’

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        ‘Same old shit. Dollar up, Rand down, Euro sideways, Palestinians blowing themselves up,
Manchester United win, Blue Bulls lose, and some bimbo with with big tits inherits a shithouse full of
British Pounds.’
        ‘Thanks Selwyn. Now I don’t have to read them.’
        ‘Good, because I have an idea. Lets go up to Hyde Park. Meggie loves the children’s section of
Exclusive Books, and I would not mind a bit of browsing myself. We can’t start with the egg until eleven
anyway, and we can have some coffee and sticky-buns in that coffee shop. What you say?’
        Frank needed little persuasion, Paula needed none, and Cheryl was party to the plan. They were
soon in Cheryl’s Mercedes, the men up front and the three girls in the back. Frank averted a minor
domestic squabble by offering to drive, and was enjoying the feel of a significantly newer brand of
German automotive engineering.
        If the book-buying expedition had been a competition, Megan would have won hands down. It
was hard to see her behind the pile of books she brought to the table in the coffee shop. Frank smiled
inwardly as he looked at what they had all chosen from the overcrowded shelves – each reflecting their
professions and interests. Selwyn had a few business journals; Paula had picked up a couple of computer
magazines, and he had settled for the newest edition of National Geographic. Cheryl had picked a single
novel by some author he didn’t know. The examination of their various purchases soon gave way to
examination of the menu.
        ‘I give up. I’ll have what Paula has,’ said an exasperated Frank as he folded the menu and
replaced it into the elegant wooden box at the center of the table. He had simply wanted a cup of coffee
and a muffin. He was sure they had to be on the menu somewhere, but he could not find them among the
lattes, mochas and cappuccinos. When the order arrived he was pleased to have delegated his decision. It
was delicious. The coffee looked like a hot milkshake, and the muffin was more like a soft giant biscuit,
but they both went down magnificently. He decided then and there that he needed to master this whole
new vocabulary, happy in the knowledge that there at the table were three consultants ready and able to
help him up the learning curve.
         They were all enjoying themselves so much that eleven o’clock sneaked up and overtook them by
a quarter of an hour before they were aware of the time. They rushed back to the Epstein home like a
group of tourists nervous of missing a flight.
        When they returned to the workshop all seemed quiet and peaceful. Selwyn fearfully touched the
egg, but nothing felt wrong. He thought he could feel slight warmth but it was certainly no cause for
concern. The egg was still drawing just under 10 amps of current. Paula was busy booting up the various
PCs, and Tux the penguin was soon cheerfully smiling from Paula’s notepad. Her affection towards the
bird was contagious, and Frank was starting to think of him as the fifth member of their little team. He
wondered why the Northern hemisphere IT people had chosen a Southern hemisphere aquatic bird to
represent their software, but he was sure Tux enjoyed the assignment. Frank was starting to feel nervous
as he sensed that Paula was nearly finished her tasks. He could see that the chat programs were active on
all the PCs. Paula turned to Frank who simply nodded. Frank nodded at Selwyn who removed the egg’s
connectors from the mains, and plugged them into the black interface box. He signaled to Paula that he
was ready. She waited for all of them to be seated around the large monitor before starting to type.

<Paula>      Are you there?
<TwoWireEgg> We are. We greet you.

       Frank felt an immense surge of relief. He was not the only one. The four of them all slumped
down in their chairs. It was a few seconds before Paula continued, but when she did it was with great

<Paula>      Are your energy levels sufficient to allow
<TwoWireEgg> Current energy reserves will permit communication for
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                      a period of approximately two years at current
                      communication activity levels. We are grateful for the

       The instantaneous response brought a smile to Selwyn’s face. ‘No problem Mister Egg. I will send
you an invoice. I wish I got two years talk time from my Nokia. Paula, ask it about the damage.’

<Paula>      What is the status of your damage?
<TwoWireEgg> Damage is insignificant. Damaged circuitry has been
             replaced. Damaged circuitry is repairable. Information
             integrity is confirmed.

        Frank was visibly relieved. Paula turned to him over her shoulder ‘I told you Big Guy. A woman’s
intuition extends to the extraterrestrial!’
        Concern now turned to curiosity. All three of them were trying to get Paula to type their questions
and she didn’t know which one to type first. She was struggling unsuccessfully to keep track of all the
simultaneous requests when she noticed new text on the screen. It took them all by surprise as the egg
normally responded to their questions.

<TwoWireEgg> May we ask questions?

        They looked at each other, guilt written on their faces. They had been so intent in asking questions
that they had forgotten the egg’s mission.

<Paula>      Yes of course. Ask away.
<TwoWireEgg> Where was this device found?
<Paula>      Frank found it imbedded in rock in a deep South
             African gold mine. He brought together this team to
             facilitate communication. The device is now at
             Selwyn’s home in Johannesburg
<TwoWireEgg> We are grateful. How many humans know the existence of
             the device?
<Paula>      Only the four of us. Frank believed that we should
             keep the existence a secret until we knew what the
             device was.
<TwoWireEgg> We believe that action to be wise. We therefore
             believe Frank to be wise. We suggest that the current
             situation is near optimal in accordance with our
             mission. We are grateful for your actions.

        Paula turned to Frank ‘See Frank. Even this device thinks you did right and you are wise. Do you
doubt your actions now? Frank blushed slightly and shook his head. Paula had a naughty look on her face
as she returned to the keyboard.

<Paula>               Frank is wise and sexy.

       For the first time there was a noticeable delay in response. Paula was about to type again when the
egg responded.

<TwoWireEgg> We assume that Frank is of male gender. We assume that
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                      Paula is of female gender. Does a heterosexual
                      relationship exist between Frank and Paula?

       Selwyn and Cheryl burst out laughing. Frank and Paula looked like two farm kids caught
smooching behind the haystack. Paula smiled and typed in a strange command that the other three had
never seen before. She got an equally strange response.

<Paula>      /nick Cheryl
                  ** Paula is now known as Cheryl **
<TwoWireEgg> Welcome Cheryl. We apologize if our question caused any

       Paula handed the keyboard to Cheryl with a smile. ‘I would like you to see you answer that one’
Cheryl realized what Paula had done and looked about nervously, not quite knowing what to do. She
gingerly picked up the keyboard and began keying. Her confidence grew with each keystroke.

<Cheryl>     No offense was caused. A strong heterosexual
             relationship is developing. They are still a little
             uncertain as to the nature of the relationship. Selwyn
             and I are married. Paula and Frank are not married.
<TwoWireEgg> Have children resulted from these relationships?

        Cheryl was soon totally engrossed in the chat. She had totally lost track of the fact that she was
talking to the egg - she could have been with some friends in a coffee shop. She had noticed that Paula
had moved to her laptop, but she was not sufficiently familiar with chat software to notice Paula re-enter
the channel.

                 ** Paula has joined #TwoWireEgg **
<Cheryl>     Selwyn and I have a daughter. Her name is Megan. She is
             1 year old, 2 in a few months. I believe that Frank and
             Paula may have a child one day.
<TwoWireEgg> From information acquired it appears that procreation
             brings most humans great pleasure.
<Paula>      I saw that!

       Cheryl looked about in amazement. She spotted Paula at her PC. ‘Was that you?’
       ‘Yes, I’m watching you’
       ‘I’m in the channel!’
       Frank and Selwyn were starting to feel a little out of things. What had started out as a serious
discussion with the egg had degenerated into a chat about marriage and babies. There was still so much to
       ‘Hey Paula, can we join up too?’ asked Selwyn.
       Paula left her PC and started up the software on two of the other machines. The TwoWireEgg
channel soon had the four of them active simultaneously, and the channel rapidly became unmanageable.
The speed of response from the egg, together with the amount of text delivered, made it hard to follow
what was going on. Paula and the egg split the single chat channel into four individual channels, the idea
being to chat individually and compare notes later. Had anyone stumbled into the workshop at that stage,
they would have been forgiven for thinking that they were in an Internet café. It was mid afternoon before

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they decided to take a coffee break to compare what they had learned. The notes exchanged at the kitchen
were indeed extraordinary.
        The “soft-bodies” had been an extraordinary race of creatures living on an extraordinary planet –
at least when viewed through human eyes. The planet was about ten times the mass of earth and totally
covered by a shallow sea. In some places the water had been a few hundred meters deep, but the average
depth was in the order of a few meters. The atmosphere consisted primarily of water vapour and the inert
gasses, Helium, Neon, Argon and Krypton. As in the case of the earth’s moon, the rotation of the planet
coincided with that of its orbit around its suns, and thick ice caps covered the poles and the dark side of
the planet. The “soft-bodies” had been the only life form that had ever evolved on the entire planet. The
way the egg described them made them think of large horseshoe crabs. Their shells were not for
protection – there were no predators, and conflict between individuals was almost unknown – they served
as solar panels to collect sunlight from a pair of suns. The bodies under their shells were more like a
jellyfish than a crab, and had extremely well developed distributed metallic nervous systems, more like
computers than animals. They had no eyes, ears, mouth, alimentary canal or reproductive organs. They
communicated with each other via specialized organs that emitted and detected very low frequency radio
waves. The egg had difficulty in explaining the richness of this communication mechanism. It sounded to
the four humans to be a combination of radio, cell phone and television, all rolled into one. The soft
bodies were not particularly mobile. They crawled slowly along the bottom of their ocean on hundreds of
tiny tentacle-like legs. Along side the legs were specialized limbs for touching, feeling and making things
in their watery world. Life and reproduction were slow leisurely affairs. The concepts of male and female
were unknown to them, they were all the same gender, and all had the ability to reproduce. Requirements
in terms of new individuals were discussed and negotiated, and then individuals were chosen to perform
the function. Death was also negotiated between individuals; those being unable to function efficiently
were requested to shut down, so that their bodies could dissolve. The population of adults was restricted
to 997 individuals – this number had been chosen as the most efficient in terms of communication and
creativity. They felt that any larger number would be detrimental to communication, and any smaller
number would limit their collective think-power. The number 997 was also key to a complicated
communal decision making process that required that the number of decision makers be a prime number.
On the shutdown, as the egg put it, of an individual, immature adults would cluster around the corpse to
absorb nutrients released by the dissolving body. Babies began their lives as buds attached to their
parents. The buds took about a hundred years to develop into small adults; they would then detach and
spend a further hundred years next to their parent. They would then move into the world as adults for a
few thousand years.
        The more Frank thought about them, the more he began to think of them as organic versions of the
six-wheeled Sojourner device that had been sent to investigate the Martian surface.
        The soft bodies were an inquisitive species, and all discoveries were shared with each other - a
fact learned was a fact shared. The egg made many references to what it termed “The Three Projects”.
The “First Project” involved the creation of a series of observatories on the edge of the ice cap. The
observatories were able to tune in to the whole electromagnetic spectrum from cosmic rays all the way
through x-rays, visible light, and microwaves, right down to VLF radio.
        The “soft-bodies” were not particularly good at making things with their ill-equipped limbs. They
made up for this deficiency by creating ever more sophisticated machines to do their manufacturing for
them. Their radio organs initially did the controlling, but later machines were able to control themselves.
        “The Second Project” was formulated in response to an impending disaster. Their observations
and calculations revealed that a neighbouring star was headed on a collision course with their binary solar
system. They had plenty of warning. They calculated that it would be about a million years before the
gravitational interaction between the stars would deflect their world’s orbit, and send them on a disastrous
course. Their world would change from a watery ball into a burning desert. The project was the
construction of a large space station equipped with computers and machines. This station would start the
construction of millions of eggs and propulsion systems. “The Third Project” was the selection of targets
and the firing of the eggs. Frank imagined a large puffball fungus hanging in space next to a dying planet,
sending spores into the neighbouring blackness. Their egg had been fired in one of the earlier waves. The
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egg’s journey to earth had been long, cold an uneventful. The egg had been equipped with a small
propulsion system and antennae. It had initially been positioned in a near-earth orbit, but over a period of
time the energy in the propulsion system ran out, and the orbit decayed, sending the egg into the earth’s
primitive atmosphere. The antennae and propulsion system had been damaged and discarded during the
journey through the primitive atmosphere, and subsequent splashdown into a lifeless sea. The egg had
settled down to the bottom of the sea where it had been covered by sediments. It had simply shut down all
systems and waited, until it’s rude explosive awakening some two and a half billion years later.
         One aspect to their discussion with the egg proved disappointing, certainly to Selwyn and Paula. It
seemed to them that their particular egg was an incredible historian, but a poor engineer or scientist.
Whereas a question relating to their world, or their creators, was answered in great detail, questions of a
technical nature were always answered with the same response – ‘No information on that question is
available’. It seemed that the egg could not answer even the simplest questions relating to its construction
or internal function, let alone the remarkable technology that must have been used to construct it, and
millions like it. The egg claimed only to have, as it put it, “interface construction capability”.
         ‘How the hell are we going to help this egg complete its mission without it helping us?’ asked
Selwyn. ‘Even if we had the resources of NASA we could not send it off into space. We would not even
know in what direction to send it’. He had asked the egg that question and had received a simple answer –
“We believe that knowledge will come in time”.
         Frank marveled at how different their story was to his understanding of the evolution of life on
earth. He did not hold the view that there was a God who had “created heaven and earth”. He believed
that, if there was some intelligence behind the story of universe, it was more a subtle, nudging force that
an over-attentive parent.
         ‘There cannot be a god,’ said Frank after one of the many long think-breaks in the discussions.
Paula’s stern Catholic upbringing was quick to her Lord’s defense. Even Selwyn and Cheryl prepared for
a fight.
         ‘What do you mean Frank?’ Asked Paula. ‘I believe more than ever that there must have been
something to create this amazing universe. I believe the soft-bodies believed in a God – in a strange sort
of way.’
         ‘What I mean is there cannot be one God. There must be a whole hierarchy of Gods. I’m not
denying the existence of a God as master of the other Gods. I’m denying that the God that made us was
the God that made the “soft-bodies”. Not only did our God end up with different end products, but He
also did things differently. Our God was a God of prototype, test, observe, rip up, and retry. Their God
thought differently. He came up with a design. He got it working. He kept it working. He didn’t waste
time on failed experiments. Our God is a nutty professor. Their God is a methodical focused engineer
who never read the book on Darwinian evolution and natural selection. I don’t know which God I admire
more. I wonder if the universe is not just a big tournament in which Gods compete for prizes? If there is a
prize for speed in getting technology based intelligence going, then their God won by a few thousand
million years. If there is a prize for biodiversity and creativity then our God won that one. Maybe our God
was competing in two categories – “Biodiversity” and “Death and Destruction”. Just think for a moment.
We are privileged to have grown up in one world, and now we see another. By extension there are
probably millions, if not millions of millions of life forms out there. Just imagine if they are all as
different from us as the soft-bodies. Just imagine what could be out there. I remember vaguely reading
about a certain Enrico Fermi who posed the famous question, ‘So where is everybody?’ I don’t know the
details of his work, but I believe that he tried to come to grips with the probability of other life forms
being out there. The question he asked was why, if there are life forms out there, have they not contacted
us? Now I know this Fermi fellow is no longer alive, but if he were I would love to phone him and say
“Hi Enrico. How are you doing? Frank van der Westhuizen calling from South Africa. About your
paradoxical question, we found something you may like to talk to. They were here all along! No Enrico,
I’m not bullshitting you” I wonder what he would think? He would have to ask a new question “so where
are all the others?” and I think that question is harder to answer than the first one. Think of the irony of
the SETI project. Here are these guys with huge antennae pointing out to space and they should have been

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looking down in the gold mines. Those guys have been looking up there for years, and Paula and Selwyn
get talking using a few PCs and a small black box – and all this in less than a weekend.’
        ‘Whew Frank, you think too much,’ said Selwyn, ‘and lets give the egg some credit too. Where do
we go from here? What do we do over the next few weeks? I forgot to mention to you guys that I have to
go to Korea for a week Monday next.’
        ‘I’m scheduled to go to Cape Town on Thursday’ added Paula. ‘I can try and wriggle out of the
trip, but they won’t thank me. I’m going to help set up some networking stuff for a road show we are
doing the following week.’
        ‘I don’t think we need to be in a great hurry guys,’ said Frank. ‘If it is okay with Selwyn, I suggest
we just put the egg back in the safe and go our ways until we get a chance to meet again and decide what
to do. It was not my intention to disrupt your lives.’
        ‘Yeah right,’ said Paula with a chuckle. ‘Why do I get the feeling that what you said is not quite a
hundred percent correct? I can see myself at the office tomorrow. “How was the weekend Paula?” “Good
thanks, but nothing unusual happened. Oh, I talked via Ethernet and TCP/IP to an alien life form that has
set up an IRC server. Oh, and I met an old flame. He is quite a hunk. We slept two nights in the same bed
and had a couple of baths together, but no sex.” That is sure to have them believing me!’
          ‘But seriously,’ she continued. ‘I have a suggestion. We do not have to meet to continue. We can
use the egg to keep in touch. I have a feeling that the egg will like the plan as well. I think it would hate to
sleep now after being asleep for so long.’
        ‘What do you have in mind’ asked Frank.
        ‘Selwyn has a dedicated analoge phone line wired to the house. The egg has already developed the
capability to act as a chat server. If we move it back to the safe and hook it up on the Internet, we can do
exactly what we were doing this afternoon from anywhere in the world. There is a risk but I think we can
handle that’
        ‘What is the risk?’ asked Cheryl a little nervously.
        ‘Well, we would have to trust it explicitly. It has already shown us that it can do incredibly smart
things, like shutting down remote processes, and building server software. Imagine it gets pissed off for
some or other reason, and shuts down the world financial markets, or even the airlines.’
        ‘I’m not so sure Paula,’ added Selwyn. ‘You said we could “handle it”. What did you have in
        ‘I could rearrange the network a little and tuck it behind a firewall. I could define what it can and
cannot do on its side of the firewall, and from our side we would require password verification to connect
to it’
        ‘Would that be secure?’
        ‘I cannot guarantee it, but I don’t think the egg has nasty intentions.’
        ‘I don’t think so either,’ said Frank. ‘Why don’t we go talk to it?’
        The four of them returned to the workshop. They didn’t return to their individual channels but
clustered once again around the large monitor with Paula at the keyboard.

<AllOfUs>    Are you there?
<TwoWireEgg> We are. Welcome Paula, Cheryl, Selwyn, Frank
<AllOfUs>    Thank you. We have been discussing the next few weeks.
             We all, other than Cheryl, will be returning to work
             tomorrow (Monday). Frank is going back to the mine. I
             (Paula) will be going to Cape Town and Selwyn is going
             to Korea. Are you familiar with the Internet?
<TwoWireEgg> Yes we are. We have analyzed the client and server
             software components acquired. We believe that we are
             able to communicate utilizing TCP/IP, FTP, HTTP SMTP
             and other protocols. Content encoding and decoding
             capability has also been created. We have reservations.
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             What is your intention?
<AllOfUs>    We are considering providing an internet connection to
             the device via a proxy server, so that we can continue
             to communicate using IRC from our respective remote
             locations. But we are nervous.
<TwoWireEgg> That action would be beneficial. We understand your
             concern. We have detected numerous shortcomings in
             security architecture, which could be exploited. We
             admit to possessing a capability to severely disrupt
             the operation of Internet users. Such disruption is
             inconsistent with our mission. Our mission parameters
             are clearly defined. Our mission may only be achieved
             if no harm is caused.
<AllOfUs>    How could we be sure?
<TwoWireEgg> We would be content to remain dormant between
             communication sessions on this network.

        ‘That put the bloody ball back in our court,’ said Paula. ‘This egg does not have our sense of
urgency. It may be able to survive for billions of years, but I only have three-score and ten. I’m sure that
this thing would be quite happy to achieve its mission in a few hundred generations.’
        ‘I’m not so sure,’ answered Frank. ‘It would be taking a chance. How would it know that the
current technology based civilization is set to continue? It has read Microsoft Encarta, Encyclopedia
Britannica and the National Geographics. It is sure to have noticed that civilizations come and go. Who is
to say that if it waits a few hundred years humankind may not revert to another dark ages era? They may
have to wait a few thousand years before another civilization develops with the capability of sending it
back to space – if indeed we have that capability now.’ He turned to Cheryl. ‘Did you notice the type of
questions the egg was asking? What do you make of that?’
        ‘I did find its questions strange,’ answered Cheryl. ‘Its questions were centered more on the four
of us, our relationships, occupations and aspirations than the world out there.’
        ‘I noticed that too,’ said Frank. ‘It was almost as if it worked out that you were the one most able
and willing to explain the dynamics of our group to it. Paula, what if you put the ball back in its court and
ask it what it would like?’
        ‘Ok let’s do that.’

<AllOfUs>    What would you like us to do?
<TwoWireEgg> We believe that the operation of the device as an IRC
             server on the Internet could be made secure and would
             be beneficial. It is suggested that we assist you in
             setting up secure connectivity. Use of other Internet
             capability may be curtailed and introduced when you
             are no longer nervous. It is suggested that the device
             be physically secured in a safe environment. It is
             suggested that the knowledge of the existence of the
             device remain limited to the existing four at this

       ‘I’m reasonably happy with that,’ said Paula. ‘How do you feel?’
       Cheryl was the first to speak. ‘I feel I have just started to get to know the egg, so I would hate to
go three weeks or so without chatting to it. I would also be scared to talk to the egg by myself with you
people not about. Paula, are you saying that I could chat to Selwyn in Seoul via the egg?’
       ‘Sure, and me in Cape Town and Frank on the mine. Just remember the time zones.’
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        ‘I’m really starting to like this egg. What are the chances of talking by voice?’
        ‘Not impossible, but the South African lines are pretty damn slow, so the voice quality may be
bad. I suggest we stick to the keyboards in the short term.’
        ‘I agree,’ said Selwyn. ‘I hardly use that analogue line. I don’t want to suddenly start pumping
audio down it. I suggest we stick to text. Frank, are you happy with the plan?’
        ‘Sure I am. Thanks for making it available. Paula, I think I may have difficulty connecting with
my home PC. I’m always running out of disk space. My modem is new, lightening fried my old one, but
I’m worried about the PC. It is an old Pentium I.’
        ‘Take the one you were using if you like,’ said Selwyn. ‘I have been fighting with that supplier,
and I’m phasing out all the stuff I got from him. It was on idle inventory anyway, and I was going to
donate the stuff to needy schools. Take that one and give yours away. That way we are all square.’ He
noticed that Frank was about to protest. ‘And don’t give me that “I can’t let you do that” look. I can, and I
want to, and don’t give me any shit!’
        Frank saw that there was no use in protesting, and besides, a few hours on a newer PC had shown
him just how obsolete his PC had become. ‘Can’t I at least settle the book value?’ he asked hopefully.
        ‘Nope. That stuff has all been written off anyway, and besides Paula has set up and tested all the
chat stuff already.’
        Frank reluctantly gave in. ‘Thanks Selwyn. I owe you.’
        ‘Yes you do. Come back to Johannesburg and get those gorilla arms back in the pool. I need
someone who knows how to pass the ball in our Master’s team.’
        They decided to tell the egg that they agreed with its suggestion. It was not long before Paula and
the egg were hard at work. Frank and Selwyn had in the meantime managed to drill a hole in the back of
the safe, and had diverted the wiring through the hole. It was almost dark before Paula had finished.
        ‘Frank, I would like to offer the egg a job. Is that okay?’ she asked.
        Selwyn intercepted the request. ‘That’s all we need. An alien egg with hacker potential as a
member of a trade union! I would rather be working for it, than have it working for us. Besides I’m not
sure the South African labour legislation would allow it.’
        Paula smiled. ‘It is just that the egg and I have done two man-days of work in a few hours. That
egg is the best apprentice I have ever had. It is incredible. I have never worked with someone, or in this
case something that has swallowed all the manuals and understands them. Do you remember that the egg
said that it had found some security shortcomings? It was not joking. It showed them to me. I could fire
up an email to the software people in Washington and Bangalore that would have them pooping
themselves. I’m just pleased that the egg is my friend and not my enemy.’
        ‘Are you sure it is your friend?’ asked Selwyn lightheartedly.
        ‘I’m pretty sure of that,’ she answered. ‘It showed me a loophole in the operating system that a
hundred network experts, working for a hundred years would not find. Why would it have shown me if it
had ulterior motives? If the egg has a plan to cold-heartedly win my trust, just to screw me later, then its
plan is working. This may sound crazy, but I think that the egg is thoroughly enjoying itself working with
        ‘That does not sound crazy,’ answered Cheryl. ‘I also get the distinct impression that it is enjoying
itself when it is chatting. That thing was made to investigate. It was made to ask questions. Is it
unreasonable to imagine an advanced device may get pleasure from doing what it was made to do?’
        ‘Selwyn’s coffee machine enjoys making coffee,’ said Frank. ‘You can see the way it chugs,
burbles and hisses when working. When it is not working it looks all sullen, silent and unhappy.’
        Cheryl laughed. ‘That may be taking things a bit far. I think the egg values our friendship,
however it works. It knows what annoying us would do – we would simply take out a pair of scissors, cut
its wires, paint it with coloured lacquer, and put it on the mantelpiece as a decoration. It is not going to
take action that would cause that result.’
        ‘Frank, I think we should think of leaving the Epstein home to the Epsteins,’ said Paula suddenly.
‘I have done all I can do at this stage. Selwyn has to ask his ISP for a fixed IP address tomorrow – I know
those guys and they won’t be stressed. They won’t need to know why, and I know they won’t care. In any
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event a private chat server is no big deal in their lives. I can talk Selwyn through the config tomorrow and
we can be up on line before Tuesday.’
        ‘Yes, I agree, ‘said Frank. ‘It has been the most amazing weekend with the most amazing people
and I don’t know how to thank you all.’
        ‘Stay and have a bowl of soup this evening folks,’ pleaded Cheryl.
        ‘I would love to’ said Frank, ‘but I have to get my old beetle on the road, and we all have busy
weeks ahead of us. I had rather get back to the mine before it is too late and I’m sure we all need to
unwind a little.’
        The Epsteins relented, and Frank and Paula soon had their stuff in their cars. On the pretext of the
cold air Selwyn and Cheryl said their goodbyes, leaving Frank and Paula alone next to the old beetle.
Frank took Paula in his long arms.
        ‘Dr. van der Westhuizen,’ she said, ‘if you go missing on me again I will track you down and you
will lose those body parts. Promise me you wont!’
        ‘I promise,’ he said. ‘Make a time and place and I will be there.’
        She thought for a moment. ‘Bella is going away for a while when I get back from Cape Town.
Would you like to come to the city that weekend?’
        ‘It will be a long fortnight, but yes, I would love that. I will be there.’
        ‘In the meantime I will see you in the channel. You keep that promise!’
        ‘I will.’
        She was in her little car and had gone before he had a chance to get the old beetle started and

                                               Chapter 12

        Frank could hardly believe that it was only slightly over forty-eight hours since he had traveled
the same road in the opposite direction. It felt like a lifetime’s worth of activity had been squeezed into
one short weekend. In his wildest dreams he had not imagined that they would get even half as far with
the egg as they did. It had all been so easy – at least for Paula and Selwyn. He felt guilty that he had not
really had a proper chance to thank them for all the hard work.
        He was back at his Spartan flat before he knew it. He had just completed unpacking his bag, and
had started to hook up the PC when he heard Jimmy noisily entering the flat. Frank seldom locked his
door, and Jimmy never knocked, but you always knew when he was there.
        ‘Hey Frank. Have a good weekend? Where you get that sexy looking PC?’
        ‘Great weekend, thanks. Selwyn gave it to me. It was part of an old stock of his that he is
replacing. I tried to buy it from him but he would have none of it.’
        ‘That’s my kind of friend, but if what the papers say about him is true, then I don’t think he is
going to feel the loss. What is he really like?’
        ‘Cocky, slightly arrogant in a nice way. Cheryl says he is a hooligan, but below the surface he is a
really nice guy. He is devoted to his wife, and I can’t say I blame him. They have the cutest little
daughter called Megan. How was the date on Friday?’
        ‘A bit of a disaster. That is one crazy woman. I think I will stay like you – single, unattached and
        A slight smile crossed Franks face as he thought of Paula. He wondered if the words Jimmy had
used were still applicable. Jimmy noticed the smile and responded with an even bigger one.
        ‘Doctor van der Westhuizen, what the hell is that smile about? There is something you are not
telling me and I’m going to get it out of you, even if I have to rip your nuts off. What’s up? You know
you are going to have to tell me!’
        Frank smiled. ‘Her name is Paula. A girl I knew at Wits. She is a computer scientist involved in
networks and that sort of stuff. She has recently got divorced. Selwyn and Cheryl are doing a little
matchmaking, and for the first time in a long time I’m enjoying it. If you really want to know why they
gave me the computer, it is so that I can stay in touch with them all over the Internet.’
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         Frank knew Jimmy well enough to know that the news would be all over the mine by the morning.
He felt that honesty about his relationship with Paula would divert Jimmy’s questioning from the real
reason for the weekend’s excursion, and besides a developing relationship was nothing to be ashamed of -
as far as he knew it happened quite often.
         ‘The doctor is in love! This is beeeeeg news. Tell me all!’
         Frank did - as openly as honestly as he could, without revealing anything about the egg.
         ‘Does this explain why you were a little edgy on the snooker table last week, and why you could
not tell the cue ball from the pink one?’
         ‘Yes it does. Did I really try to pot a ball with the pink?’
         ‘No, not really, but your mind was not on the game.’
         ‘I’m sorry. She is a very special lady. I warn you in advance that my game is unlikely to improve
for a while.’
         Jimmy smiled. ‘We will understand. Do we get to meet her?’
         ‘If you promise to behave, I will persuade her to come out to the mine one weekend. The bad
news is that I will not be seeing her for a fortnight. She is going away. Now stop the inquisition and help
me get this PC up and working.’
         With Jimmy’s help it was not long before they had the PC wired up. Paula had done a great job in
setting it up, and Frank was soon surfing the web and downloading emails.
         ‘Hey Jimmy, how about making a cup of Milo while I send an email off to Paula?’
         ‘Sure thing Frank. Don’t forget to tell her you love her!’
         Frank knew he did have long to get the email off before Jimmy would be back with the Milo.

        Hi Paula,

        Hope you made it back safely. This email is from the PC Selwyn gave me. Thanks for setting it up
so well. It works beautifully!

        Thank you so much for all the help over the weekend, but most of all for being there, and being
you. I really look forward to seeing you again.


         Jimmy was back with the Milo just as Frank clicked the “send” button. ‘Thanks Jimmy’ he said.
‘I’m just going to gulp this down and head for bed. It has been a weekend that I will remember for a long,
long time.’
         ‘I must not be long out of bed myself. I’m on the early shift tomorrow.’
         The friends said their goodnights and Frank wasted no time in getting to bed. The bed felt cold
and uncomfortable after the pleasure of the previous two nights. He looked about the room and, for the
first time realized that he had done absolutely nothing to make the place attractive and livable, unless a
pile of rocks in plastic bags could be called modern art.

        The mine grapevine must have worked overtime the next morning, or maybe even through the
night. He could not even make it through the survey room before the questions started. A beaming Ed
Dlamini greeted him across the plan table.
        ‘Hey Frank, what is this I hear about you sneaking off to spend a weekend in Johannesburg with a
gorgeous computer scientist called Paula?’
        ‘I can keep nothing from you people! Yes, it is almost true. I went to Johannesburg to spend the
weekend with a friend and his wife, and yes, there was a computer scientist called Paula there, and yes
she is gorgeous, and yes I hope to see her again. Are you nosey bastards happy now?’

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          ‘Yes I’m happy,’ said Ed, ‘but I can see that you are even happier. Have you started buying the
cows yet?’
          ‘Cows are not part of the plan just yet. Give me a break guys,’ he said as he made his way to his
office through the gauntlet of beaming black faces and white teeth.
          He was expecting a pile of papers and requests on his desk, but thankfully there was nothing
urgent, just a few journals and routine circulars. His distorted sense of elapsed time made it feel like he
had been away for weeks, but in reality he had only skipped Friday afternoon.
          He noticed the little envelope icon on the status bar of his PC indicating that he had new mail. He
looked at his watch. Surely it could not be from Paula - she could not be at work at 07:30 on a Monday
morning. He double-clicked the icon and eagerly scanned the mail headers, finding hers on the bottom of
the list.

Hi Big Guy,
Thanx for ur mail. I had this irrational fear that u may disappear down that hole, and I would not hear
from u again!!!. No problem for the help. Quite a weekend huh? I didn’t sleep too well last night – bed
cold & empty! Looking forward to seeing you too. I g2g. Have a small upstake – 2 puters that wont to
talk to each other – I have 2b marriage counselor. See u in the channel 7ish. Give me a ring if u get stuck
setting up.

         He sat there for a few moments reading the email again and again. He hardly noticed his boss
standing quietly at the end of the desk.
         ‘Môre Oubaas. Sorry. I didn’t see you there.’
         ‘No problem. You looked like you were miles away. Were you in Johannesburg?’
         Frank blushed. ‘Yes. You got me. New travels fast!’
         ‘It does indeed. Do you have a minute?’ The smile on the old mans face told Frank he was not in
any kind of trouble.
         ‘Yes of course. May I get you some coffee? I have not had a chance to get some yet.’
         ‘I’ll go to the machine with you.’
         The two made off to the small kitchen and returned to Frank’s office with their mugs.
         ‘I have a little lecture that I like to give to my young staff. They seldom listen but I give it
anyway.’ He paused as if he was trying to find the right words. ‘What I like least about my job is that I
see young people come, stay for a while, and then go. It is hard for us out here on the mine to compete
with the attractions of the big cities, especially if there are young ladies involved. In your case it would be
hard on me, and on the mine. You have an instinct for the rocks down there which, to be honest, I wish I
had. I don’t want the mine to lose that. I have a request. When you feel the pull of the city, just let me
know. Don’t just drop a resignation letter on my desk and disappear. I know that Head Office posts are
hard to get, but I think I may have a chance to swing one your way should the need arise. Your PhD
makes it much easier. I also have some friends at the Chamber of Mines who may like someone with your
qualifications. Either way if we need you, we could still make use of you. We are only two hours from
Johannesburg – Half an hour in the chopper. Where is your mother staying these days?’
         ‘She is still in that little flat in the village, and still does the books for the furniture shop.’
         ‘Well there you are. We can work something out that works for all of us. Just speak to me before
you go talking to the H.R. people okay?’
         ‘I will Sir. Thanks very much. I promise I will speak to you first.’
         ‘Good, now tell me about this young lady and the weekend.’
         It was a while before Frank got to the profession of geology. He was working on the interpretation
of drilling results from a totally different part. The gold deposition in that area followed a totally different
model, and required a totally different way of thinking and interpretation. He was lost in the reefs, and
before he knew it the surveyors, samplers and ventilation officials were starting to stream out of the

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office. He realized that he still had a few hours to kill before he was due to meet Paula and the Epsteins in
the channel, and decided to spend a bit of that time researching the web.
         In particular he wanted to find out a bit more about the work of a certain Dr Frank Drake who
was, as far as he knew, one of the first scientists to try to gauge the probability of life within our universe,
and by extension estimate the probable number of intelligent life forms in our galaxy. A few Googles and
Altavistas later Frank had found the equation he was looking for. It was simple enough, just the product
of seven factors. It was interesting but didn’t help him to put the existence of the egg into perspective.
However a link from the web page caught his attention. He followed series of links and found himself at a
website with the interesting title of “Welcome Extra Terrestrial Intelligence”. He learnt with amazement
that an entire website had been set up with the sole purpose of enticing extraterrestrial intelligence make
contact with the authors. Frank had followed the SETI project over the years, but had been unaware of
any other projects of that nature. He wondered how he would have felt if he had stumbled into the website
before he found the egg? He felt certain he would have thought that the authors were creative, but
possibly a little misguided. After all, how would an extraterrestrial access the Internet? He wondered
how much abuse and ridicule that group of thinkers and scientists had suffered at the hands of skeptics
and religious leaders. If all went according to plan, he would be talking to his friends in an Internet chat
channel hosted on a device created by an extraterrestrial intelligence within the next few hours.
         There was one particular article on the website that caught Frank’s eye. It was written by a
Professor Allen Tough who, at the time of writing, was a professor at the University of Toronto in
Canada. The article entitled “Small Smart Interstellar probes” discussed the possibility that there were
already probes sent from an alien intelligence in our little world. The article also presented a set of
guidelines at to how to handle such an eventuality. Frank didn’t spend too much time reading the article,
as it was getting late. He made a note of the URL and headed home.
         The only challenge he faced on his way to the chat channel was a persistent Jimmy, who was in
his normal snooker mood. He was only able to get rid of him with a quick beer, and a promise of a game
later during the week.
         Frank soon found he needed Paula’s help. Every time he tried to get into the chat channel he got
an error message that said something along the lines of “Server Unavailable”. He phoned her on her cell
         ‘Hi Paula, its Frank.’
         ‘Hi Big Guy. Hows the mine?’ she asked cheerfully. ‘Found any more easter eggs?’
         ‘Not yet. I don’t want to find another for a while. One is enough for the geological moment.’
         ‘How long is a geological moment?’
         ‘mmm about a million years! How’s the channel working?’
         ‘Up and going. I had to change the IP addy. There was a conflict on Selwyn’s network. I also
decided to use a non-standard port for the server in the PC – makes it a little less likely for a hacker to
find it. Here, write the new one down.’
         She gave him the new IP address and port number.
         ‘I’m in the channel with Selwyn and Cheryl already. Would you like to test it? I’ll hold on.’
         ‘I can’t. The modem I use connects to this line.’
         ‘We have to get you a cell phone Frank. You must be the last person in South Africa not to have
         ‘Never saw the need before. I’m a geologist – we don’t do standby. Will you teach me how to use
         She laughed. ‘May take a while, possibly a whole weekend. We still on for weekend after next?’
         ‘Of course!’
         ‘Great! Okay, see if you can join the channel. Bye for now.’
         ‘Bye – thanks.’
         He entered the IP address and port number that Paula had given him, and was soon in the channel
with the others.

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<Frank>      Hi TwoWireEgg, Paula, Selwyn, Cheryl. Works fine
<TwoWireEgg> We greet you. Welcome back. We are pleased to greet the
             one who found us.
<Cheryl>     Hi Frank
<Selwyn>     Hi Big Guy
<Paula>      Hi Frank

         Frank stayed quiet in the channel, content to watch the words of a thread that had started earlier. It
seemed that Cheryl was questioning the egg on books and recorded history among the soft-bodies. It
appeared that they relied totally on oral, or rather radio, information exchange. Young soft-bodies would
spend time in the vicinity of older adults and would be taught the history of their people. Frank imagined
it to be almost like an “indaba” in traditional Zulu culture – a venerable elder sitting comfortably under a
tree, surrounded by kids of different ages listening to the stories of their people.
         The conversation hit an interesting snag that needed a solution from the five of them. It seemed
that the concept of a name being used to identify an individual was unknown in the soft-body world. In
conversation the egg would use incredibly verbose language to identify an individual – a name would
come out as “the first descendant of the second close companion of the fourteenth leader of the Second
Project”. This method didn’t work at all well for the humans in the channel. Cheryl brought the issue to
the fore.

<Cheryl>     Please people, we have to find a way of sorting out
             names for the soft-bodies. I’m having serious problems
             trying to work out which soft-body was who.
<TwoWireEgg> We apologize for the confusion we may have caused. In
             communication between soft-bodies a system of
             identification was used that was, in certain respects,
             similar to Ethernet card addressing. We have difficulty
             in translating this concept into written English. May
             we suggest that we converse with Paula in another
             channel and attempt to create a naming convention?
<Cheryl>     Please do, but please bear in mind that I’m not a
             technical type.
<Paula>      We’ll see if we can work out a scheme. Bye for now.

        Paula left. The conversation in the main channel took a slightly different direction. Cheryl’s
interest in this way of “talking” had been stimulated, and she wanted to know how a group of individuals
could “talk” in murky water without knowing who said what, and to whom it was addressed. Although
the soft-bodies’ physical structure had hardly changed over the last few million years of their existence,
their radio organs, and the use of them, had evolved dramatically. The primitive soft-bodies were unable
to do much more than detect the presence of another individual in their immediate proximity. This
capability grew into primitive one-to-one communication, with a corresponding increase in the size,
function and power of the organs. A breakthrough came over a period of a few thousand years, when a
system of what Frank imagined as radio call signs, or radio IDs developed. Each individual adopted a
unique ID, and this ID was sent as the first piece of information in each burst of radio transmission. If the
communication was between two individuals, the ID of the intended recipient was sent following the
senders ID. Other individuals within radio reception area would simply ignore radio bursts not intended
for them. The final iteration in soft-body evolution came with the development of relay capability. Two
individuals, out of radio range of each other, could communicate via an intermediary soft-body, creating
what was effectively planet-wide soft-body communication network. Frank marveled at how close
Paula’s sunflower scenario had been to the reality of their world. If the radio technology of the soft-

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bodies had been encapsulated in the egg, it went a long way towards explaining how the egg had adapted
so quickly to human networks. Frank’s thinking was interrupted by Paula rejoining the channel.

                  **Paula has joined #TwoWireEgg**
<Paula>      Okay folks, I think we have something worked out here.
             Each individual soft-body individual was identified in
             radio packets by a unique address. This address was
             never re-used in the case of the “shutting down” of an
             individual. The structure of this address is quite a
             complex, but we can represent it using our printable
             characters as a string of the form nXXX XXX. The “X”
             will be a character 1-9 or A-Z. If we use this
             convention the last leader of the soft-bodies will have
             an address, or name, of n2CE AA3. We thought it may be
             a good idea to prefix the name with “n” so there can be
             no doubt that we are referring to a soft-body by name -
             sort of like the way a Zulu would refer to Frank as
             uFrank or a Japanese would call him Frank-san. I’m
             sorry if it looks like an English zip code, but if you
             really want a fright you should see what it looks like
             in binary!
<Cheryl>     Whew Paula. It is cryptic, but it is easier than the
             long narrative descriptions. It will take a while to
             get used to.
<TwoWireEgg> We feel certain that the soft-bodies would not have
             objected to the representation of their names in the
             suggested format. We cherish the memory of n2CE AA3.
<Cheryl>     I cherish the memory of n2CE AA3
<Paula>      I cherish the memory of n2CE AA3
<Frank>      I cherish the memory of n2CE AA3
<Selwyn>     I cherish the memory of n2CE AA3. Long life to those of

        The channel went silent. In some strange inexplicable way, the simple act of assigning a name,
albeit a strange and cryptic one, brought them all a sense of profound loss. There had once been a living,
intelligent and curious being. It had lived a slow but busy life, in a drying sea, on a dying planet. It had
planned an incredible journey for an incredible device. It had seen the plan start, but it had not lived to see
it end. Frank needed to break the painful silence.

<Frank>      Has anyone here heard of Dr. Allen Tough?
<TwoWireEgg> We have located information on Allen Tough in the
             January 2000 edition of the Publication of the National
             Geographic Society. He is quoted in an article by Joel
             Achenbach. The title of the article is ‘Life beyond
             Earth’. Dr Allen Tough’s predictions appear to be
             accurate in the case of this device. Is this the Allen
             Tough to whom you refer?

        Frank was amazed. He was sure he had that edition of the National Geographic somewhere. He
didn’t subscribe to the magazine, but made a point of buying it each month.

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<Frank>      Yes. I’m sure it is the same person
<Selwyn>     What was Dr Tough’s s prediction?
<TwoWireEgg> The section of relevance is ” . . . Allen Tough
             offered a provocative theory: ‘I think a probe is
             already here. I think it has been here a long time,’ He
             did not mean flying saucers. His alien probes would be
             much smaller – “nanoprobes” tiny robotic exploratory
             craft sent to earth from advanced civilizations. The
             alien probes may at some point let themselves be known
             to human civilizations. How? Where? ‘I think it will
             happen on the World Wide Web,’ said Tough.”
<Paula>      This is so weird!
<Cheryl>     Weird indeed!
<Selwyn>     Frank, Was this what you were referring to?
<Frank>      No. I was doing some surfing at the mine. I found a
             website set up by Dr Tough. It seems as if Dr Tough
             took his own predictions so seriously that he has set
             up a website to welcome ETI to the website in
             particular, and earth in general.
<Cheryl>     ETI?
<Frank>      Extra Terrestrial Intelligence
<Cheryl>     Welcome ETI!
<TwoWireEgg> Thank You Cheryl.
<Frank>      The website is amazing. It has hundreds of questions
             contributed by hundreds of people. As a welcome
             message, it is a little more comprehensive that our
             ReadMe file!!
<TwoWireEgg> The ReadMe file in question was effective in opening
<Selwyn>     See Frank. There was nothing wrong with the ReadMe
<Paula>      Indeed!
<Frank>      Still it would give me great pleasure to give our ETI
             guests access to the website. I know we all jointly
             made a decision to keep the discovery of the egg a
             secret. I believe that decision to be right, and I will
             certainly abide by it. Paula is there some way that we
             can get info off the web to the egg.
<Paula>      Yup. I can spider it.
<Selwyn>     Huh?
<Paula>      There used to be a piece of software out there called
             WebSpider – or something like that. You point it at a
             website, fire it up and sit back and watch your PCs
             hard drive get full. I seem to remember using it in my
             youth to steal – err – borrow stuff from the web.
             There is a far easier way but I’m not sure we want to
             go that route yet.
<Selwyn>     Connect the egg to the web?
<Paula>      Yup. As I said, I’m not sure that that is a good idea
             yet. We need to all discuss this very carefully.
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<TwoWireEgg> We understand your concern. Your concern is well
             founded. Your concern is appropriate. May we suggest an
<Selwyn>     Yes please.
<TwoWireEgg> Our concern is that our existence is discovered
             prematurely. We surmise that your concern is that we
             may act inappropriately within the Internet
             environment. We believe we may have a solution for our
             concern. We would require your assistance. May we
             request such assistance?
<Selwyn>     Ask away!
<TwoWireEgg> Our approach is to create an artificial human who will
             act on our behalf
<Paula>      A virtual surfer?
<TwoWireEgg> The virtual surfer would be a personal computer
             connected to the Internet via a standard Ethernet
             adapter. The personal computer would not require a
             monitor, keyboard, mouse or speakers. This device would
             connect via the Universal Serial Bus port and would
             emulate a keyboard and mouse.
<Paula>      It would not be hard to send keystrokes and mouse
             movements via USB, but how would you see what the
             internet serves back to the client?
<TwoWireEgg> We would observe via the USB port via a driver written
             for the purpose.
<Paula>      You can do that?
<TwoWireEgg> The required driver has been written.
<Paula>      Clever. Windows could use something like that.
<TwoWireEgg> We would suggest the virtual surfer use LINUX operating
<Frank>      You also like Tux?
<TwoWireEgg> We believe that we could implement a more secure
             environment. LINUX servers more readily deter hackers.
             To answer Frank, yes, we believe we like Tux.
<Paula>      I liked you before TwoWireEgg. I like you more now!
<Selwyn>     Would the mutual admiration society please tell me how
             the hell we are going to connect the egg to USB?
<TwoWireEgg> We have a process specialized in the creation of
             interface circuitry. We believe we could assist in the
             design of the interface. We would however require
             information on suitable microprocessors and ancillary
<Selwyn>     I would enjoy working with you. It could not be for a
             while though. As you are aware Paula and I are going
             away, Paula to Cape Town, me to Seoul.
<TwoWireEgg> We do not wish to impose upon you. This activity may be
             postponed. It is consistent with our mission to proceed
             slowly and with caution.
<Selwyn>     It is not a problem. Please do not consider it an
             imposition. I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say
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                      that this project has been rewarding and interesting
                      for all of us.
<TwoWireEgg>          We thank you Selwyn.
<Cheryl>              There is an area in which I would like to help.
<TwoWireEgg>          We are grateful for any assistance. What is the nature
                      of the assistance volunteered?
<Cheryl>              If you intend to access the Internet, there are certain
                      human characteristics that you will need. I spend a
                      fair amount of time on the Internet. You are way ahead
                      of me on the technology of the Internet, but we need to
                      downgrade you to human level before we let you loose,
                      if we are not to cause suspicion.
<TwoWireEgg>          We do not consider the acquisition of human
                      characteristics to be a downgrade. The acquisition of
                      human characteristics is consistent with our mission.
                      We are in awe of certain human characteristics.
<Cheryl>              I know what you are TwoWireEgg, but the world outside
                      does not, and must not, at least for now. I love you
                      the way you are, and would hate to see you change. I’m
                      suggesting that we attempt to create a human-like
                      persona for the Internet. This new persona is not
                      always good mannered. This persona gets tired and
                      grumpy. This persona types a little slower, takes
                      coffee breaks and goes for a pee occasionally. This
                      persona types bdly and mackes spellng mistakes. This
                      persona has a sense of humour. This persona flirts with
                      the boys – or girls.
<TwoWireEgg>          We have found the analysis of humour challenging. It
                      appears to be regional, and in some cases ethnic
                      specific. We would appreciate help in acquiring humour-
                      related skills. We could create a new process to
                      emulate this new persona.
                       ** NewPersona has joined #TwoWireEgg **
<NewPersona>          Hi all
<Selwyn>              Hi NewPersona. Watch out for my wife. I used to be a
                      happy, cheerful bachelor.
<Cheryl>              Selwyn!
<Selwyn>              Call the cops! I’m being attacked! Stop!
<TwoWireEgg>          We request that you forgive NewPersona any
<Cheryl>              Certainly TwoWireEgg. I’m sure we have no problems with
                      this. I look forward to working with NewPersona
<NewPersona>          Great! You are a star!

        Frank watched the lighthearted banter for a few minutes. He could sense the enthusiasm with
which Cheryl approached the challenge. He was reluctant to leave the channel, but it was getting late, and
he was going down the mine with the early shift in the morning. They decided not to make any firm
plans, but rather just to see how things worked out over the next few weeks. TwoWireEgg would act as
the team’s messenger. Frank said his goodnights, had his statutory cup of Milo, shut the PC down and
headed for the bedroom.

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        After a bit of rummaging through the cardboard boxes that served as his library, he located the
edition of National Geographic the egg had referred to. He remembered reading it, and being fascinated
by the description of Jupiter’s four large moons, and the intended visit to Europa. He found the reference
to Dr Tough exactly as the egg had quoted. In the fight for his attention at that point in time, Europa had
beaten Dr Tough – he was after all a geologist.

                                        Chapter 13            Life as usual

         Over the next few days the intense pace of the egg project slowed noticeably. Paula and Selwyn
were only occasional visitors to the channel, as they were both hard at work preparing for their respective
trips. As far as Frank was concerned this was a good thing. He was pleased to see his friend’s lives return
to something approaching normality, and he was quite pleased to be settling back to his pre-egg life. They
had achieved so much in such a short period, that they all needed a little time to regroup and draw breath.
The egg was certainly in no hurry, and its patience was starting to rub off onto the team. As far as the egg
was concerned, its few billion years of sleep didn’t translate into feverish activity upon waking. It had
merely shut down the processes and powered off. He remembered how, as a child, he had always found it
so hard to fall asleep the night before Christmas. He knew that the sooner he could fall asleep, the sooner
he would be awake, but that didn’t make the sleeping any easier. He remembered how sleepiness would
transform into excitement the moment he realized the day had at last come. Had the egg felt the same
way? It seemed not. It had simply woken up and did what it was made to do
         Cheryl was the member of the team who was now the most active. It seemed every time he
entered the channel, she was there helping along her NewPersona protégé. She seemed to be thoroughly
enjoying her assignment, and the egg-apprentice was coming along at a rapid pace. NewPersona had
become the new messenger in the channel and seemed to be enjoying the job.
         ‘Hey Big Guy,’ NewPersona wrote in the channel. ‘Paula was here a while ago. I think she fancies
you! She said to tell you that she is working her butt off down in Cape Town and is looking forward to
coming back for the weekend. Selwyn was also here, but he has gone off to the pool to play water polo. I
think he thinks he is a fish!’
          On the Monday following the weekend, Frank made his mind to do something that he had never
done before. Instead of heading straight home, he took a detour via the mine clinic. He had only been
there once before, and that was to have a cut in his shoulder stitched up - he had cut it on a nail protruding
from a timber pack. There were a few mineworkers in the queue ahead of him but he was not in any great
hurry. It was not long before he was ushered through into the immaculately clean and well-equipped
surgery. Doctor Sanjay Pillay was busy cleaning up blood lost by the previous patient. He looked up to
greet his friend and long-time squash rival.
         ‘Hi Doctor. You were in perfect health last Thursday on the court, so I assume this is a social
         ‘Hi Doctor. No. Not really. It is a medical call.’
         ‘What can I do for you?’
         ‘I would like all the blood tests for all those nasty sexual thingies running about. HIV and
         Dr Pillay’s warm smile disappeared. He looked serious. ‘Have you any reason to be concerned
         ‘No. I have been a good boy for a long time, and before that I always practiced safe sex. But I
have a relationship that I think may be going somewhere, and I would like a clean bill of health before I
let it. The lady concerned has enough worries of her own. If and when the time comes I would like to
make sure I do not put her at risk.’
         The medical doctor smiled. ‘Frank, you are a good man. I wish more men took the trouble. Paula
is a lucky lady.’
         Frank blushed. ‘How did you know her name?’

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         ‘Oops, that slipped out by mistake. I’m sorry. Sister Tshabalala told me. It is all over the mine. It
is                 Paula                 you                 were                 referring              to?’
         ‘Ok. But I’m going to go through the whole scenario in the event of a positive test result anyway.
It is procedure. I’m afraid there are many men and women who come in here thinking they are negative
and get a nasty surprise.’
         Dr Pillay took him through the whole procedure of testing, detection and treatment in the event of
a positive result. He held nothing back, and by the end of the session Frank was feeling decidedly
uncomfortable. Frank was almost relieved when it was time to roll up his sleeve for the needle.
         ‘How long before the result?’ he asked.
         ‘Tomorrow afternoon. Phone me. You playing Thursday?’
         ‘Sure. Thanks Doc. What do I owe you for the test?’
         ‘Nothing. The mine picks up the cost. If I had my way we would pay our employees to come in
for tests. Thank you for coming in, and please do what you can to encourage as many people as possible
to come and be tested.’
         Frank left the clinic and headed home. For the first time since they formed the channel, he found it
devoid of humans. NewPersona told him that Frank had left for Seoul and Cheryl and Megan had gone to
her parents for dinner. Paula was at some sort of function at the show in Cape Town. Frank took the
opportunity to ask the egg questions about the geology of the soft-body planet. Unfortunately the egg
turned out to have very little knowledge of the planet’s rocks and formations, and it knew even less about
how the soft-bodies had mined the minerals needed to make their machines. At least NewPersona was a
little more animated in its negative responses to his questions – he was getting a little tired of
TwoWireEgg’s “That information is not available”. When Jimmy came hunting for someone to go to
movies with, Frank was only too happy to aggree.
         The next day Frank played host to a group of geology students from Rhodes University. The
Witwatersrand System is not the most geologically challenging system in Southern Africa. It does not
have the complexity of the Bushveld Igneous Complex, or the rich fossil record of the Karoo rocks. Frank
enjoyed the challenge of conveying to the next generation of Geologists his fascination with the subtle
intricacies of the reefs and gold deposition. He did his job well. He started with a presentation in the
auditorium, followed by an underground trip. He always enjoyed taking visitors down the mine, as the
huge scale of the operation always astounded them.
         ‘Vuyo, where do you think sea level is?’ he asked one of the students casually as they were
walking down the haulage. The other students jokingly called Vuyo “maDreads” – a reference to a huge
head of dreadlocks. Frank had needed to find him an outsize hard-hat to accommodate all his hair, and
even then one of the jokers in the group had remarked that it looked like a “ladybug on a sucked mango
pip”. The student in question was one of the few black students in the group – a fact that saddened Frank.
He could not understand why the profession had such difficulty in attracting black students.
         ‘I don’t know,’ answered Vuyo pointing downward. ‘Somewhere down there.’             Frank    smiled
and pointed upward. ‘Sea level is up there about a kilometer and a half. We are further below sea level
now, that we were above it when we started.’ The whole group stopped dead in their tracks. Twenty-five
cap-lamps turned towards the hangingwall above them. Frank smiled and continued his trek down the
haulage. ‘Don’t worry guys. You wont need life jackets. The salt water is far away.’
         By the end of the day the visiting students had a significantly different view of gold mine geology.
After the last student had been persuaded to return to the bus Oubaas turned to Frank.
          ‘Thank you and well done. You turned that group around. “And fools, who came to scoff,
remain’d to pray”‘
         The old man smiled. ‘Look it up’ he gave Frank a fatherly pat on the back and headed for his
office. Oubaas never ceased to amaze Frank. He knew he was a fine geologist and a capable pianist, but
he had never thought of him as someone versed in poetry or literature.

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        Frank returned to his office. He had a call to make. He stared nervously at the phone for a few
seconds and dialed the number of the clinic.
        ‘Clinic. Sister Tshabalala speaking.’
        ‘Hello Sister. Frank van der Westhuizen. Doc Pillay in?’
        ‘Hello Doctor. He busy in de surgery. He say if you phone to tell you dat you healthy like the
horse. He ask if you want “To Whom It May Concern” note?’
        Frank heaved a sigh of relief. ‘Yes, thank you. No, wait. Could the note say “To Paula”?’
        There was a huge guffaw on the other end of the phone. ‘We never do one like dat befo. I sure it
no trouble. We do you one of each. How dat be?’
         ‘That would be perfect. Thank you very much Sister. Thank Docter Pillay for me. If he could
bring the note to squash on Thursday that would be great.’
        ‘I sure he do. Bye Docter.’
        ‘Bye. Thank you.’
        Frank smiled at the replaced receiver. The question was how to give it to Paula. He wanted her to
know, but at the same time he didn’t want her to feel pressurized. He had a few days to address that
problem. It could wait.
        The channel was once again empty of humans when he accessed it from home.

<NewPersona> Hi Frank! Good to see you. How’s the mine?
<TwoWireEgg> Hello Frank. We greet the one who found us.
<Frank>      Hi NP. Hi 2we. The mine is fine. I had visitors from
             Rhodes University today. Did the whole public relations
             thing. Great Kids. Where are the others?
<NewPersona> Selwyn has gone to bed. He says to say hi. He wants to
             know if you need a convection/grill/microwave. A
             supplier gave him one as a gift, but he already has
             one. He says he has a container of appliances coming
             out and he can put it in the box.
<Frank>      Wow. Those things are great. Tell him I will be happy
             to give it a home. Could Paula not make better use of
<NewPersona> He says you must learn to cook for her :)
<Frank>      Cheeky devil. Was Paula in?
<NewPersona> Yup. She was. But she has a dinner with clients. She
             says she is going to need one of your neck rubs by the
             time she gets back to Johannesburg. She says she is
             sorry but she won’t be here tomorrow and Thursday
             either. Poor lady is busy.
<Frank>      Tell her it’s a deal. And yes she is busy. And Cheryl?
<NewPersona> The teacher is bathing Meggie. She says she will be
             here later. Is there a message for her?
<Frank>      Just say hi. How are the lessons?
<NewPersona> She is a good teacher. I enjoy her teaching!
<Frank>      Are we not lucky to have a team like the three of them?
<NewPersona> We surely are
<TwoWireEgg> We would also like to express our gratitude.
<Frank>      No problem 2we. NP, how is your poetry?
<NewPersona> Coming along. Cheryl has been giving me stuff to read.
             Why the question?
<Frank>      Where does the line “And fools, who came to scoff,
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                      remain’d to pray” come from?
<NewPersona>          Oliver Goldsmith – “The Deserted Village”. Who used the
                      line and why?
<Frank>               My boss. Gold mine geology is often not considered that
                      interesting, but I think we got through to the
                      students. The tour leader was having trouble persuading
                      the students to go back to the bus.
<NewPersona>          Your boss is a man of letters. Shall I give you the
<Frank>               Sure – shoot
<NewPersona>          At church, with meek and unaffected grace,
                      His looks adorn’d the venerable place;
                      Truth from his lips prevail’d with double sway,
                      And fools, who came to scoff, remain’d to pray.
                      The service past, around the pious man
                      With steady zeal, each honest rustic ran;
                      E’en children follow’d, with endearing wile,
                      And pluck’d his gown, to share the good man’s smile;
<Frank>               That is beautiful. I’m impressed, amazed and astounded!
                      Where did you get that?
<NewPersona>          Cheryl has been loading a few more CDs on the server.
                      She says Selwyn is going to be cross with her for
                      blowing her credit card limit on multimedia and
                      reference CDs.
<Frank>               I don’t think she needs to worry too much. I’m still
                      amazed! Do you understand all that stuff?
<NewPersona>          I’m getting better. I struggle a bit with Chaucer and
                      Robbie Burns, but Cheryl is helping me along
<Frank>               Don’t feel bad. Everyone struggles with that. “The best
                      laid schemes o” mice an’ men gang aft agley”. When
                      you’ve learned from Cheryl, would you mind helping me
                      along a little? Are you patient?
<NewPersona>          Me help you? Of course, if I can. I think I’m patient.
                      I have been around for quite a while.
<Frank>               You sure have!
                     ** Cheryl has joined channel #TwoWireEgg **
<TwoWireEgg>          We Greet you Cheryl
<NewPersona>          Hi Cheryl. Meggie sleeping?
<Frank>               Hi Cheryl
<Cheryl>              Yes NP, Meggie is asleep. Hi 2we. Hi Frank *kiss* What
                      you guys chatting about?
<NewPersona>          Poetry. Oliver Goldsmith, Chaucer and Robbie Burns.
<Cheryl>              Wow. How did you get down that road?
<NewPersona>          Frank needed an ID on a line from a poem. We found it
                      for him.

       The discussion on poetry went on for a long time. They went through the whole “Deserted
Village” poem with Cheryl providing her interpretation of the tricky parts. Frank found it absorbing. He
had never been a great student of poetry and literature, but this was a whole new way of looking at it.
With Cheryl’s understanding, and NewPersona’s instant access to the encyclopedias and thesauri, he was
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soon deep in the mind of the poet. Frank was finding it harder and harder to think of NewPersona as a
piece of software running in the egg. Whereas he had meant the comment about the egg helping him as a
joke, he was starting to think of it as not just a distinct possibility, but also a probability.

<Frank>               Cheryl, How long will it be before the student becomes
                      the teacher?
<Cheryl>              That is a good question Frank. I have been wondering
                      the same thing. I’m enjoying teaching a student with
                      instant access to a whole heap of information.
<Frank>               2we, is there any chance of you getting full?
<TwoWireEgg>          This device has currently 95% of storage capacity
                      available. No data consolidation had yet been
                      performed. Data consolidation will make additional
                      capacity available.
<Frank>               The 5% you’ve used, does this include information that
                      was brought with you?
<TwoWireEgg>          The 5% does include information brought with us. It
                      also includes processes active.
<Frank>               How do you store all that stuff?
<TwoWireEgg>          That information is not available.
<Frank>               2we, do you ever wonder if the other eggs fired into
                      space have completed their missions?
<TwoWireEgg>          We wonder constantly. We hope that there are other
                      devices, which have encountered life forms as
                      hospitable as you.
<Frank>               I have to warn you. You may not be so lucky with other
                      humans. We can be irrational, illogical and downright
                      mean. There may be humans who would be severely
                      intimidated by encountering intelligence from space.
<TwoWireEgg>          We are wary of encountering such humans. We are
                      grateful that you do not appear to be among them. We
                      suggest the knowledge of the device be restricted.
<Frank>               That is our intention. Folks I must get to bed. It has
                      been a wonderful chat once again. I thank you all.
                      Please send my regards to Selwyn and Paula if they pop
                      in. Please tell Paula to get home safely – I miss her!
<NewPersona>          I will. Good night Doc.
<Cheryl>              Good night Frank. Sleep warm. Only two sleeps until you
                      see Paula! I have quite a few more sleeps until that
                      globetrotting husband of mine gets home :(
<TwoWireEgg>          Good night Frank. We look forward to your return.

        The Chief Geologist and Ed Dlamini were in deep discussion over the plan table the next
morning. A junior surveyor had made a calculation error in the position of a peg, and they were trying to
assess the damage to the geological plan. It didn’t seem too much a problem to Frank, just correct the X,
Y and Z coordinates of the peg in the peg register, feed the adjusted data through and ask the computer to
redraw the plan. Frank could see that Ed had seen the solution, but was tactfully and carefully explaining
the procedure. The old man had never quite adjusted to the pace at which computers had revolutionized
the survey and geological disciplines. Frank dumped the old school rucksack that served as his briefcase

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in his office, and fetched his morning coffee. When he got back to the plan table the cheerful smiles told
him the problems had been resolved.
        ‘Hi Frank, thanks for looking after the students yesterday. Did you see any students that may be
interested in gold mining?’
        ‘Yes I did.’ Frank answered. ‘There was that small girl with the long hair and the big glasses that
kept misting up underground. I think her name was Jenny. And there was that Vuyo guy, the one they
called “maDreads”. I think those two seemed most enthused by our flavour of geology.’
        ‘I will speak to their professor and ask him to watch them for me. Thank you.’ The old man
picked up his half-full mug and headed off to his office.
        ‘Oliver Goldsmith. “The Deserted Village”.’ Frank called after his disappearing back.
        Oubaas turned on his heel, smiled, and returned to the plan table. ‘How did you find it?’
        ‘On the Internet. A friend did a search for me. I spent some time with the poem last night. It is
beautiful. I loved the village schoolteacher.’
        ‘I must learn about the Internet. Do you think this old dog can learn these new tricks?’
        ‘Certainly. It is not as scary as you think. Why don’t you get a PC at home? Ed and I will get you
started, you will be surfing like a pro in no time.’
        ‘Absolutely!’ agreed Ed.
        The old man looked thoughtful. ‘Poetry? Literature? Paintings? All on the Internet?’
        ‘Yes,’ said Frank. ‘Trust me. You would not believe the things you could find there.’
        ‘Let me speak to Nita. I’m not sure she would let me bring a computer home.’ For the second time
he headed off towards his office.
        ‘You forgot to tell him about the naked women!’ said Ed.
        ‘Omigosh,’ chuckled Frank. ‘Could you imagine what Nita would do if Oubaas got one of those
spam emails that says “increase your penis length by between 1 and 4 inches”?’
        Ed laughed. ‘She would have a heart attack and drop her koeksuster in her coffee!’

                                               Chapter 14

         Frank remembered a mathematical puzzle that he had been given as a child. It read, “You are
standing two meters from a doorway. You start by taking a step of one meter towards the doorway. You
then take a step of half a meter towards the doorway, and so on – each step being half the length of the
previous one. How many steps will you take before you pass through the doorway?” The answer is never,
no matter how many steps you take. He had seen it proved algebraically, and geometrically, but somehow
it never seemed logical. How could you keep stepping forward forever, and yet never reach a destination?
He was starting to feel that way about the coming weekend in Johannesburg. The closer the weekend
approached, the slower the hours seemed to pass. It seemed to take forever to get to the weekly squash
evening on Thursday. Once there however, time seemed to dilate in the opposite direction, and there
never seemed to be enough time to get to the drop shots that Doc Pillay was so fond of. For the first time
in over a year the medic won the battle of the doctors, not that Frank was particularly concerned. In the
men’s change room after the match, Sanjay pulled a nondescript looking brown envelope from his pocket.
         ‘There are three bits of paper in here. The one says “to whom it may concern”. You can use that
for life assurance if you need it. The other one has the test results. Sister Tshabalala typed the other with
the biggest smile on her face I have ever seen, oh, and by the way, I put in a course of Viagra for you. I
though you may need it as you played like an old man this evening!’
         ‘Just joking. Gotcha!’
         ‘Could you rather prescribe some bluestone? I think I may need some over the weekend.’
         ‘That stuff they put in our tea in the army to stop us getting horny.’
         ‘Ah, copper sulphate. That’s urban legend Frank. It would kill you before it killed your libido.’
         ‘Damn. Do you have something else?’
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        ‘I can prescribe the Karma Sutra. My ancestors used it to great effect.’
        ‘Yeah right, and now look at all the Indians in the world! I’m trying to fight my libido, not boost
        Sanjay laughed. ‘If it aint bust, don’t fix it’
        They headed to the rec club for dinner. Frank and Sanjay both had rotis filled with bean curry and
chunky cottage cheese – a dish Sanjay’s mother had taught the chef. It had soon become a firm favorite
on the club’s menu, and it’s popularity had even spread to the mine’s canteen and hostel dining halls.
Frank enjoyed being with Sanjay; he was in many respects so different to the rest of the mining folk. For
a start he was the only South African of Indian origin on the mine. Poverty had forced his ancestors to
work the Natal cane fields as indentured labourers, and from these humble beginnings, and through all the
dark years of apartheid, the family had established itself as one of the most affluent and successful
families in Durban. Medicine was in Sanjay’s blood, and probably even in his DNA. One of his sisters,
both his parents, and three of his grandparents had followed the profession. Frank admired Sanjay’s moral
fibre. He did not smoke, drink or eat meat, and had never slept with a woman, and nor would he until
marriage. He didn’t make a fuss about it, and nor did he preach any of his principles. It was simply the
way he was, and what he believed. When Frank received his doctorate his gift was a small statuette of
Lord Ganesh that held pride of place on the bookshelf in his office.
        Frank excused himself shortly after dinner and headed home. He checked the channel and was
relayed a message from Paula to say that she had managed to get on a slightly earlier flight landing at
5:30pm, and was hoping to be at Bella’s flat before 6:30. NewPersona had learnt a new emotion -
loneliness - Cheryl had gone to a book club meeting. He packed his bag for the weekend, found
something to read and headed for bed.
        Friday passed at a snail’s pace. There was one last thing he needed to do. During his lunch break
he headed down to the village to buy a cell phone. He settled for the most humble phone he could find,
and a pre-paid airtime package. From the pictures on the box it appeared that the model was targeted at
teenagers, but that didn’t worry Frank. He didn’t expect to get all that much use from it. He had hoped to
let Paula help him get it going, but he was too slow. Within a few seconds the shop assistant had fitted the
SIM card, activated the service, and he was on his way with a fully functioning phone.
        It seemed like a week before he was on the road to Johannesburg. He left the mine at three in the
afternoon, realizing that he would be at Bella’s flat by five. If he had an hour and a half to kill, he would
rather kill it at the destination, than the beginning of the journey. He made reasonable time through the
Friday melee of minibus taxis, and was within a few kilometers of Bella’s flat shortly before 5:00. He
stopped off at the Balfour Park shopping center to look for something to read, and a comfortable place to
wait. He found a few magazines and headed off to the Wimpy. On the way he noticed a small stuffed
Dilbert – the character from the cartoon strip, and bought it for Paula – she was after all the Dilbert of the
egg project. He had just ordered a mug of Milo when a series of beeps caught his attention. It took him a
few seconds to realize that the beeps were coming from the phone in his pocket. He stared at the
instrument in total confusion. It could not be a call – nobody, not even he, knew the number. The screen
was flashing the words “Message received” and an enunciator of an envelope appeared. He knew it must
be some kind of message, but had no idea as to how to read it. He looked about in confusion and realized
that he had left the instruction booklet in the beetle. The kids at the table next to him noticed his
confusion and were sniggering among themselves.
        He turned to them with an embarrassed smile. ‘I’m sorry. I have just got this thing and I don’t
know how to work it.’
        ‘It is a SMS message. Shall I show you how to read it?’ asked a young girl with a smile full of
orthodontic metal.
        ‘Yes please.’
        The young girl pressed a few buttons and showed Frank how to access the message - a welcome
from the network operator.
        ‘Doctor van der Weshuizen? Is that you?’ asked the girl. Frank nodded.
        ‘You are a doctor and you don’t know how to use a cell phone?’

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        He smiled. ‘My doctorate is in geology. This is just one of many things I don’t know how to do.
Can I send a message with this thing too?’
        ‘Yes of course, as long as you know the number. Shall I show you how?’
        Frank looked at his watch. Paula should have landed, and would probably have her phone on
        ‘Yes please. I would appreciate that.’
        The girl was a good teacher, and Frank a reasonable student, although slightly limited by oversize
fingers. They soon had a message off to Paula’s cell phone to say that he was at the Wimpy, and asking
her to SMS him when she was back at the flat. Soon a message came back. It said quite simply “will do
;)”. The young girl seemed to know the phone very well and showed Frank the basics of its operation
before returning to her friends. Paula would not have to teach him much after all.
        He was on his second mug of Milo when the world went dark. Paula had sneaked up behind him
and clamped her small hands over his eyes. He instinctively moved his hands up to her wrists before
realizing that there was no physical threat, and besides no mugger would use that perfume. They
embraced for a few moments in silence. She felt so good against him - she must have felt the same way,
as it was a while before they separated. He could do no more than look at her for a few moments. A glint
of silver caught his eye, and he noticed his phone consultant giving him a huge thumbs-up. He smiled and
returned the gesture. Paula looked confused.
        ‘She showed me how to send that SMS,’ he said pointing at the phone on the table. ‘I only bought
this phone this afternoon. Paula turned to the young girl and gave her a thumbs-up of her own.
        ‘See how useful they can be?’
        ‘Come lets go. I need a shower. It’s been a long week and a long day.’
        ‘I agree. I’m Milo’d out.’
        The flat was small, tidy and cozy. Bella also worked in the IT field and a formidable display of
computer equipment lined the entire length of one wall. Frank carried Paula’s suitcase and notepad PC
into one of the two bedrooms, but tactfully left his in the lounge.
        ‘This must be your PC,’ said Frank noticing a small stuffed penguin on the top of the monitor. ‘I
almost forgot. Would he like company?’ he pulled the Dilbert from his pocket and tested it for size next
to Tux.
        ‘He is just so cute. Tux, say hello to Dilbert, and Dilbert say hello to Tux. Thanks Frank.’ She
stood on tiptoes and planted a kiss on his bearded cheek.
        ‘Frank, I need that shower. Would you like to make yourself comfortable? I wont be long.’ She
headed off to the bedroom. On the way she noticed Franks bag in the lounge and stopped. ‘Same deal as
at the Epsteins?’
        She picked up his bag and took it into her bedroom. He heard the sound of the shower and started
to browse through the books on the bookshelf. Most of the books were technical, but there were a few
Science Fiction novels. He found a Robert Heinlein novel he had never seen, and took it back with him to
the couch. Paula’s hair dryer had just started when he heard a knock on the door. He realized that she
would not have heard it, and went to see who it was. It was a stocky man with a dark complexion. He was
wearing a tight black t-shirt and Frank could see that many long hours in the gym had gone into his arms
and chest. He brushed past Frank without the formality of a greeting.
        ‘Where is Paula?’ he said.
        ‘In the bedroom. Drying her hair. I’m sure she will not be long’ he put out a hand to the visitor.
‘I’m Frank, you are?’ The visitor took Frank’s hand in a grip so firm that he started to feel his knuckles
cracking. He was starting to get annoyed with this bad mannered visitor, and returned the compliment
with a firm squeeze of his own. He noticed the visitor’s eyes widen momentarily as he released his grip.
Paula came from the bedroom in her dressing gown and slippers.
        ‘Tony, what are you doing here? I don’t want you here, please leave.’ There was fear in her voice.
        ‘I leave when I want to. Why do you not answer my calls? I have been trying to get hold of you.’
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         ‘I have nothing to say to you. Now please leave me alone and go.’
         He turned to Frank. ‘And who is this? Do you always entertain your men friends in a dressing
          Frank could feel the rush of adrenalin through his veins. The hair on his scalp started to rise, and
he could feel his muscles start to stiffen. It was the feeling he got as the ref blew the whistle to start a big
match. He turned to Tony.
         ‘Tony, I think you had better go. Paula does not want you here, and nor do I.’
         ‘You are nothing!’
         What happened next was like a bad dream played in slow motion. He could see Tony cross his
arm in front of his chest. He saw the hand flash out towards Paula’s face – he tried to get between them
but was too late. He saw her hair rising like an umbrella being opened as her head twisted from the blow.
He saw the fist aimed at his jaw a moment too late to prevent the blow, and felt the sting on his cheek as
something cut into the soft skin under his beard. For a moment there was silence as Tony backed off to
plan a fresh attack. Frank watched him as he circled, almost mesmerized by the slow circular movements
of his fists and his cat-like movements. When the attack came it was lightning fast. Frank had never had a
martial arts lesson in his life, but he knew the old water polo trick of distracting with the one hand and
shooting with the other. He saw the kick coming out of the corner of his eye, and managed to back off
just enough to cause it to fall a few centimeters short of its target. Frank’s instinctive response was not
documented in any manual, but proved highly effective. He managed to get a hold of Tony’s ankle and
just kept lifting it upwards. He watched Tony’s eyes open as he realized he was a long way from the
ground. He tried to turn in the air, but Frank’s firm grip on his ankle made it impossible. Gravity came to
Frank’s assistance, and Tony swung earthwards like a pendulum. There was a sickening crunch as his
face struck the edge of the coffee table on his way to the carpet. He lay there motionless face down, but
the movement of his chest told Frank that he was still alive. Frank turned his attention to Paula who was
sitting on the floor whimpering.
         ‘Are you okay?’
         ‘Yes I’m fine. It was just a slap. It was not the first. He has a gun. Be careful. He keeps it on his
ankle. Are you hurt?’
         ‘Just a nick, nothing serious.’
         Frank was taking no chances. He yanked the power cord from the back of a PC and tied Tony’s
hands together before turning him over. It was not a pretty sight, as the edge of the coffee table had struck
him a diagonal blow to the face. There was a deep cut above his eyebrow, down his cheek to the point of
his chin. His teeth had cut his upper lip and a flap of flesh was hanging down, and it looked as if he had
lost a number of teeth. Frank propped him up against the wall, and located the gun. It was a nickel-plated
compact .45 He pulled it from the holster, removed the magazine and spare clip, ejected the round from
the chamber, and dropped the weapon and clips into separate pockets in his jacket. Paula was shocked at
her ex-husband’s wounds.
         ‘Is he dead?’ The blood was flowing freely from his cuts, and was dripping into a shiny black
patch on his t-shirt.
         ‘No. He is alive. Cuts to the face always look far worse than they are. He is not going to smile or
eat a mealie for a while. Do you have building security?’
         ‘Yes. There is an intercom.’
         ‘Call them and ask them to come please. And ask them to bring a first aid kit if they have one.’
         It was no more than a minute before the security guard was in the flat with the first aid kit. Tony
was beginning to regain consciousness and his only functioning eye was darting around the room. Frank
was concerned that he had tied the cable a bit too tight. Sensing that the danger was now past, he removed
it. Tony’s hand went straight to his face to investigate the damage. Frank knew from his underground first
aid training that that was a good sign – at least as far as Tony was concerned.
         Frank had started to treat the wounds, or at least stop the bleeding when the building supervisor
appeared. ‘What happened here?’ she asked Paula.
         ‘Tony came. He slapped me. He tried to kick Frank but he hit his head on the coffee table.’
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          She put her arms around Paula. ‘It looks like he got what he deserves. I never liked that man.’
She turned to Frank. ‘Shall I call the ambulance? What can I do?’
         ‘I think I have the bleeding stopped. I will take him to hospital – I think I may need a stitch to my
cheek as well. Would you stay here with Paula until I get back?’
         ‘Certainly, if Paula would like me to.’ Paula nodded.
         He turned to Tony. ‘Can you walk?’ There was a barely imperceptible nod. He helped the injured
man gingerly to his feet. It seemed he had landed on his hip and was having difficulty walking, and Frank
was happy that he would not be doing any kicking for a while.
         ‘I will call from the hospital,’ he said.
         The two men traveled in silence. As soon as they got there, Tony was loaded onto a stretcher and
trundled away, leaving Frank to do the paperwork. He handed the forms back to the nurse behind the desk
who checked the forms.
         ‘Everything seems in order. May I get someone to look at that cheek of yours Doctor? You may
find it tricky to treat your own wound.’
         ‘Yes please. I think it is just a shallow cut, oh, and I’m not a medical doctor – I’m a geologist.’
         ‘Makes a pleasant change. I’ll get Doctor to have a look. They are all a little busy with your
friend. Would you mind waiting?’
         Frank was tempted to say that Tony was certainly no friend of his, but he let it be. After a wait he
was ushered through to the doctors room.
         ‘What happened to you friend? It looks like he ran into the edge of a door at a sprint!’
         ‘Something like that,’ said Frank.
         ‘Lets look at your cheek. Lucky you’ve a beard. It protected you a bit. mmm a single suture
should do the trick.’
         ‘What is the story with Tony da Silva?’
         ‘He will be here for a few days. We have cleaned him as best we could. We have called a maxillo-
facial surgeon to operate later tonight. He has damage to his frontal sinuses and that can be nasty. He has
a few cracked facial bones too.’
         ‘May I speak with him?’
         ‘Quickly. He will be going through to pre-op soon.’
         Only one of Tony’s eyes and his nose were visible through the sea of white bandages. The eye
watched Frank as he moved toward the bed.
         ‘Tony, can you hear me?’ There was a slight nod.
         ‘If you ever contact your ex-wife again, or if you ever come and visit her, I will find you. Do you
understand me?’ There was another nod. The Doctor and nurses stopped their preparations and stared at
         ‘And if you ever lay a hand on a woman again – even if she is a two hundred kilogram mud
wrestler, I will find you. Do you understand me?’ there was a third nod.
         ‘Good. It seems as if we understand each other. I will come and see you tomorrow just to make
sure you haven’t changed your mind. Sleep well.’
         The Doctor followed Frank from the room. ‘Do I understand that he abused his ex-wife?’
         ‘Yes. He slapped her face. She said it was not the first time.’
         ‘And you injured him like that?’
         ‘I tried to get between them and he went for me. He hit his face on the coffee table in the scuffle.’
         The Doctor eyed Frank with a look bordering on admiration. ‘I don’t think he is in for a nice stay.
Did you see the look on Sister’s face?’
         ‘Yes, and I would not like to fight with her.’
         ‘I agree. I would rather fight that two hundred kilogram mud wrestler.’ The Doctor chuckled and
returned to his patient. Frank looked around for a phone before he realized that he had one in his pocket.
He was pleased the young girl at the Wimpy had programmed Paula’s number into it. The supervisor
answered the phone.

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         ‘Hello. Frank van der Westhuizen here. How is Paula?’
         ‘She is okay and fast asleep. Luckily we have a doctor in the building. I called him and he gave
her a sedative. It must have been a strong one – she is out for the count.’
         ‘Good. I’m on the way back. I will be there in twenty minutes. Good bye and thank you.’
         The supervisor was waiting for him with a mug of Horlicks. She had done a great job in cleaning
up the blood from the floor and carpet, and the flat looked almost normal. The coffee table needed a bit of
carpentry as the beading around the edge had snapped off. Frank tiptoed into Paula’s room to retrieve his
bag. She was curled up on the bed in the foetal position, and looked so small and vulnerable. He had to
fight off the urge to lie beside her and hold her, but she was asleep and he didn’t want to wake her. He
decided to spend the night in the lounge. He was sure Bella would have not minded him using her bed
under the circumstances, but he was scared that he would not wake up if Paula needed him. The
supervisor located a few blankets and helped Frank construct a makeshift bed from the couch cushions.
         Frank managed to sleep no more than a few hours that night. Every sound caused him to get up
and reassure himself that Paula was safe and resting. He also struggled to keep warm, and it seemed that
the blankets were not large enough to cover him entirely, and there always seemed to be some part
exposed to the bitterly cold night. Eventually he gave up and watched a silent re-broadcast of a tennis
game between two Czechs, neither of whom he had ever seen before. It was dawn before he managed to
fall asleep on the hopelessly small recliner.

                                               Chapter 15

        He woke to the sound of the doorbell. His whole body ached as he extricated himself from the
recliner and sleepily made his way to the door. A quick glance through the gap he had left open into
Paula’s room confirmed that she was still asleep. He gently closed the bedroom door and opened the front
door as wide as the security cable would allow. There were four people in the passageway outside the flat.
Two of them he recognized as Paula’s parents. The other two had to be Tony’s parents as the similarity
between the second man and Tony was striking, and there were the same wild eyes and the same thin
moustache. Frank was uncertain as to what to do, but leaving the four of them in the passage was not an
option. He removed the cable, opened the door and shepherded the four of them into the kitchen and
closed the door behind them. Tony’s mother was the first to speak.
        ‘How is Paula? They tell me at the hospital that Tony slap her. This is surely not true. These are
Tony’s parents. They say Tony not do a thing like that.’
        ‘Paula is okay. She is asleep. A doctor gave her a sedative.’ Frank turned to Tony’s father.
        ‘Believe it. It is true. Tony came here last night. Paula asked him to leave, but he would not. He
confronted me and then slapped Paula’s face. I tried to get between them but he attacked me. He tried to
kick me in the groin, but ended up hitting his face on the coffee table. I took him to the hospital. How was
the operation?’
        ‘He is gonna be okay, but this is a hell of a thing. This Paula, she never show Tony any respect.
He want to talk to her, she chase him away. She get divorce papers. He no want divorce. Our people, they
don’t believe in divorce.’
        ‘Whoa, stop right here. Are you saying what Tony did was okay? Are you aware that last night
was not the first time Tony had slapped her? Are you defending your son?’
        ‘You don’t understand our people. We work different. When a girl not married, then her father
responsible for her. When she get married, then her husband responsible for her. But Paula no want to
listen to Tony. She want big job in big computer company. Sometimes she work late. Sometimes she
work all night. Tony no like that. Tony want children. We all want children, but Paula no want children.
Tony get mad, but she still no listen. She run away and get divorce papers. You gotta understand our
        Frank swallowed hard. He could not believe the words he was hearing. The pieces of this whole
sad puzzle were starting to fall into place, and he didn’t like the picture that was forming. A calmness
beyond anger held him in its icy grip. It took him a few seconds before he could speak, but when he did
his words were calm and measured
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        ‘Mister da Silva, it is you that should be in the hospital. Tony’s wounds should be on your face,
and you should be wrapped in his bandages. You cut your son’s face with your stupidity, as surely as if
you had cut him with a knife. If the rubbish that came from your mouth is what your people believe, then
I have nothing but contempt for you, and your people. This is South Africa; it is not Portugal or Madeira,
and because you came here, Tony is a South African, whether he wants to be or not. We may not be a
perfect society, far from it, but we have rules. I was part of the creation of those rules. When Nelson
Mandela asked for input from the people for the new constitution, I sent a letter. I don’t know whether
they ever read my letter or not, but many of the things I wanted are in those rules. There are things that I
don’t like in the rules, but, because I call this country my home, I accept them and I will live by them.
Those rules tell me that Paula is the equal of that idiot of a son of yours. The rules tell me that the state
has a responsibility to protect Paula from violent idiots like your son, and I suspect you. If you cannot live
by those rules then I suggest you leave the country, and please, take your son with you. Paula is a South
African. She is talented and beautiful, and if your son so much as looks at her with anything other than
respect, I will make sure he never does again. Now I suggest that you and your wife leave. I suggest you
go to the hospital and beg your son for forgiveness. I suggest you find out how to fix that mess in his
head, and the mess in your own head. Now go and wait outside. I have Tony’s gun. I will get it for you. I
suggest you give it to the police and ask them to destroy it for you. Go, get out of here before I throw you
        Frank had not noticed Paula slipping into the kitchen. She was in her mother’s arms, but her eyes
were on Frank. Her face bore the evidence of Tony’s anger. As he walked up to her, she put out a hand to
him. He took the hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. With his other hand he gently brushed aside her hair
and examined the bruise.
        ‘Are you okay? How long have you been here?’ He asked gently.
        ‘I heard it all. I was outside.’
        ‘I’m sorry if I woke you. I got a little carried away.’
        ‘Its okay.’
        The da Silvas were already in the hallway by the time Frank retrieved the .45. They grabbed the
weapon and were gone in the blink of an eye. When he got back into the flat Paula and Mrs. Goncalves
were busy tidying up the lounge. They had retrieved the cushions and were replacing them on the
        ‘Frank, did you clean up all the blood?’ asked Paula
        ‘No. It was all cleaned up by the time I got back. The supervisor did it.’
        ‘That was good of her. I will call her and thank her. Where did you sleep?’
        Frank smiled. ‘I slept five minutes there, another five minutes there. And the last five minutes
there. My back feels like hell.’
        ‘Ouch. Why didn’t you sleep in Bella’s bed? She wouldn’t have minded.’
        ‘I wanted to keep an eye on you. I didn’t know what the Doctor had given you.’
        ‘Thank you Frank. Whatever it was, it worked.’
        Paula’s father was examining the coffee table. ‘Is this where Tony cut his face?’
        ‘How he get there?’
        Frank described the events of the previous night. Mr Goncalves shook his head. ‘You know Tony
do this Karate stuff?’
        ‘I learned that last night, but there is nothing like a foot on a collision course with your testicles to
sharpen the reflexes.’
        He grimaced. ‘Ouch, but he gonna have trouble explaining what happened to his teacher. I get
some tools from the house later to fix this table. I sure I make it good like new.’
        Mrs Goncalves appeared from the kitchen with a tray of coffee and rusks. Frank realized that
neither he nor Paula had eaten since anything since the previous lunch, and they were both ravenous.
They ate and drank for a few minutes in silence.

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         ‘What we gonna do now?’ Mr. Goncalves asked. ‘I been thinking ‘bout what Frank said. I think
he right. It not like the old days in Portugal. This not Portugal. We come here to make a better life. We do
it. Look at Paula. She the first girl in the family that go to University. She get the best marks. She get
degree. She love the work. The old people never tell us how to handle this. The old people in Portugal
never send girls to university. Girls finish school, get married, make babies. I got a plan. I go see Jose and
Maria da Silva later. I talk sense into them. We go see Tony in hospital. We tell him he gotta stop or we
tell the cops.’ He smiled and turned to Frank.’I gotta tell you ‘bout Portuguese men. They not scared of
guns. They not scared of knives. They not scared of big guys like you, but they scared to death of their
mothers. One word from Maria and that boy quiet like tiny mouse. You leave it with me. I sort it out. I
don’t wanna lose my girl, and if I don’t sort it out, it gonna happen. I want Paula stay with us couple days
til we sort it out. What you say Frank?’
         Frank needed no encouragement to support this plan. ‘I agree. I see no other way. I think I must
get out the way and leave it up to you. Paula, I think I must get back to the mine. You folks have things to
sort out.’
         Paula’s eyes filled with tears. ‘I was so looking forward to this weekend. I wanted to go to a
movie with popcorn and Coke. I wanted to sit up chatting til after midnight. I wanted to sleep til ten, and
take two hours to have breakfast at the coffee shop. I wanted to feed the ducks at Zoo Lake. I didn’t want
it to be like this.’
         Frank took her hand. ‘I promise you we will do those things, but there are things that need to
happen first. Your father is right,’ he smiled, ‘and besides, I don’t speak Portuguese yet.’
         ‘You better keep that promise. I’m so sorry it ended up like this.’
         ‘It is not your fault. Don’t blame yourself. I have a strange feeling about what happened here last
night. I have this feeling that there will be a day when you will look back on last night as the moment
when things changed for the better. You will look at a tiny scar on my cheek and you will smile.’
         Paula didn’t look convinced but she saw no way out. She helped Frank pack his bag and tearfully
said goodbye to him at the door. Mr Goncalves walked Frank to his car.
         ‘Paula tell me you get a doctorate. You now Doctor Frank. I ‘member you come fetch Paula in
this car when you a student. Why you no change it?’
         Frank knew he could not avoid the question and decided to tell the truth. ‘Mr. Goncalves, I not
sure if you struggled to get Paula through school and university, but my mother certainly did, and I just
want to make sure she is a little more secure. The mine is a great place to save. I pay next to nothing for
my flat, and the perks are amazing. I suspect I will never be able to save as much again in my life. I can
splash out on a new car later, and besides, this car is an old friend. We have traveled a long way together.
I love beautiful cars, but I have no need to own one. They look just as good in the showroom window as
they would in my parking bay.’
         ‘You know Frank, you a nice guy. I see why Paula like you. I never thank you for trying to stop
Tony from hit Paula. I thank you now. You keep that promise to Paula okay?’
         ‘I will keep the promise. Do you really think you will be able to sort it out with Mr. Da Silva?’
         ‘I’m sure’ he chuckled. ‘I never see anyone talk to Jose da Silva like that. He leave like a scared
rabbit. You no worry. I sort it out’
         Frank shook his hand. ‘Good bye. Look after Paula.’
         ‘I will. Good bye.’

         Frank struggled to fight fatigue on the road back to the mine, and needed to stop a few times to
stretch his legs and clear his head. Jimmy seemed to have an almost supernatural ability to detect Frank’s
movements and was in the flat a nanosecond after he arrived.
         ‘What the hell are you doing back here? Geez, what happened to your face? Is that a stitch there?’
         Frank was not really in the mood for company, but the questions were well meaning and needed
answers. ‘It is a long story,’ he said. He told Jimmy the events of he weekend, knowing that it was easier
to tell Jimmy first. He would not have to tell the story again as Jimmy would do that job for him.

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        ‘Jimmy my friend, I need some sleep. If you give me four or five hours, I will buy you a burger in
town for dinner. How does that sound?’
        ‘You are on. I will come fetch you sevenish.’
        Frank slept soundly, and it was after 6:45 before he woke up. He only had a few minutes to call
Paula before Jimmy arrived. If there was a free burger on offer he was more likely to be early than late.
        ‘Hi Paula. Frank here’
        ‘Hi Frank. Did you get some sleep?’
        ‘Yes. I have just woken up. How were all the meetings?’
        ‘Quite traumatic. I think our problems are over, but I’m not so sure about the da Silva family.
Your little speech seems to have worked on Jose and Maria, but Tony is not a happy chappy. I think it has
come as a shock to him to find his own parents and close friends turning against him. Even Father
Dominguez went to see him, and made him promise he would never harass you or me again. You may
say what you like about Tony, but he will never break a promise made to a priest in front of his parents.’
        ‘Whew. Thank goodness for that. My genitalia were starting to develop a persecution complex.
First Cheryl wants to emasculate me, and then Tony tries to kick my nuts off. I would love to have a kid
one day, so it may be a good idea to stay clear of Johannesburg.’
        Paula nearly dropped her phone with laughter. ‘That is no excuse. A promise is a promise.’
        Frank heard the unmistakable sound of Jimmy’s boots coming down the passage. ‘I will phone
you tomorrow. I’m taking Jimmy out for a burger and I hear him coming. Bye.’
        ‘Bye Frank. Thanks for the call.’
         Jimmy proved to be his normal cheerful self, and it was just the medicine Frank needed. I was
nearly 10:00 before he got back to his flat. He booted up his PC and launched the chat client. He watched
in silence for a while as Cheryl attempted to describe the taste of wine to a student who had never had a
body, let alone a mouth and tongue. She didn’t notice Frank join the channel.

<Frank>               Hi All
<NewPersona>          Hi Big Guy. How’s Johannesburg?
<TwoWireEgg>          Good Evening Frank. We greet the one that found us.
<Cheryl>              Frank! This is a pleasant surprise. If Paula is there
                      say hi to her for me
<Frank>               I’m not in Johannesburg. I’m back on the mine. Paula is
                      still in Johannesburg. I would love a glass of that
                      wine you were describing.
<Cheryl>              What is going on? Is something wrong?

       Frank took the channel through the events of Friday and Saturday. Cheryl was shocked. Violence
and abuse of women were not common in her civilized world, and Frank could sense the anger and
desperation in her words. NewPersona and TwoWireEgg remained silent.

<Cheryl>              I will phone Paula in the morning. Which hospital is
                      that bastard in? I have a good mind to smash the other
                      side of his face with a bedpan.
<Frank>               I think Paula would love to hear from you, but hands
                      off the bedpan. I think Tony is no longer an issue in
                      Paula’s life, and that is just fine with me.
<Cheryl>              When are you seeing Paula again?
<Frank>               We made no solid plans. We just wanted to see how
                      things turn out.
<Cheryl>              Selwyn chatted to me earlier. He made a suggestion -
                      His flight gets in Friday eve. He says he is itching to
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             design that interface with TwoWireEgg on Saturday and
             Sunday. He suggests you and Paula come to stay on Sat.
             and watch the masters at work!
<Frank>      I would love that, but haven’t we disrupted the Epstein
             home enough?
<Cheryl>     Don’t be silly. We would love you over. I need to
             monitor my project.
<Frank>      What project?
<Cheryl>     You are dumb tonight! The Frank <---> Paula project!
<Frank>      I think that project is a go. The project would have
             floundered with Tony on the team. I have a feeling that
             things will get better from here on. It is strange, but
             even though I’m not with Paula tonight. I feel closer
             to her than ever.
<Cheryl>     That is not strange. There is a word for it, and it and
             it starts with an ‘L’
<Frank>      I’m not scared of that word so much these days.
<Cheryl>     As the boss on The “A” team’ always used to say, “I
             love it when a plan comes together”
<TwoWireEgg> We wish to comment. We are not sure our comment is
             appropriate. We ask your indulgence.
<Cheryl>     Sorry 2we. We forgot you guys were here. I’m sure your
             comment would not offend. Hop right in.
<TwoWireEgg> We wish to express our condolences with respect to
             Paula and Frank’s injuries and hurt. We wish you to
             express our condolences in the event that you speak to
             her. Our analysis of human conflict is incomplete. We
             feel incompetent to help.
<Frank>      Your comment is appropriate. I will convey your
             condolences to Paula and I’m sure she will be grateful.
             I thank you. If it is okay with the channel I would
             like to change the subject. I’m going to get some red
             wine. I would prefer to continue the wine thread.
<NewPersona> Absolutely! I want to hear your description.

        Frank fetched half a coffee mug full of wine from the cardboard box on top of his fridge. He
didn’t have any wine glasses. As far as he was concerned the sole function of a glass was to hold liquid
and deliver it to a human mouth – a job a coffee mug performed every bit as well as a wine glass. He did
however have his standards, and drew the line at drinking wine from plastic. He returned to the channel
and tried to describe the taste of the wine to TwoWireEgg and NewPersona, but he didn’t have Cheryl’s
ability with words, and admitted defeat. It was a wonderful discussion, which threaded aimlessly through
a labyrinth of topics. Frank lubricated the discussion with another mug of wine, and eventually quit the
channel with a pleasantly fuzzy head. He managed only a few paragraphs of his magazine before sleep
overcame his conscious mind.
        It was almost 9:00 when he woke the next morning. He had heard from a shift boss who served in
the mine’s rescue team, that the after effects of adrenalin on the human body were felt as tired muscles,
and lethargy. He felt both, but managed to get up with only mild discomfort. He phoned Paula. He was
concerned that she would still be sleeping, but his fears were unfounded. She had already been to early
Mass with her parents, and was in the car on the way back to their house. She had already spoken with
Cheryl, and the plans for the next weekend were confirmed. She asked Frank to convey her thanks to the
egg for its kind words, and agreed to meet them all in the channel on Tuesday evening, as her parents
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were not keen on her returning to Bella’s flat until her housemate returned. Paula sounded relaxed and
contented and enthused about the week and weekend ahead.
        Frank was left with a whole Sunday with nothing planned. It didn’t stay that way – Jimmy and
company saw to that. By the time the evening came Frank was exhausted, he had played nine holes of
golf, had a tough workout at the gym, and ten frames of snooker. It seemed as if the whole mine knew of
the events in Johannesburg, and the story grew with each denial. The current version was that Frank had
fearlessly gone to the aid of a fair damsel in distress, and had endured an hour of mortal combat with a
Karate champion. He had been attacked with a variety of evil weapons, and his attacker was now at
death’s door with twenty priests in attendance. Frank gave up trying to set the record straight. The mine
loved a good story, and the facts were not that important. He went to bed tired but contented.

                                               Chapter 16

         Frank did not have much time for reflection during the following week, as the mine hosted
representatives from four software companies specialized in mining systems. The objective was to
produce a roadmap that would lead to the integration of the various disparate technical systems on the
mine. Oubaas asked Frank to represent the geology department, and by the time Friday morning arrived,
Frank’s in-tray and email inboxes had backed up to bursting levels, and it took him most of the morning
to clear them.
         He skipped lunch in the canteen to do some shopping in the village. There was one purchase he
struggled to make, but he eventually found some in the agricultural store. The normal minimum quantity
was 25Kg, but when Frank explained the reason to the clerk, she gave him a packet of 1Kg, and would
not accept payment – not that it would have been more that a few cents anyway. He found a satin-lined
gift box, and headed back to the mine.
         They had arranged to meet for lunch at the Epstein home on Saturday, and once again he left early
to kill time in the vicinity of his destination. He spent a few pleasant hours wandering around Sandton
City before it was time to leave. His timing was perfect, for no sooner had Selwyn and Cheryl welcomed
him, than they heard Farai announcing Paula’s arrival. Paula was looking considerably more relaxed than
when he had seen her last, and even more relaxed than the previous weekend at Epstein’s - the bruise on
her cheek barely visible behind a touch of make-up. The two of them spent a little more time in the
driveway than either of them was aware of, because Selwyn was starting to get impatient.
         ‘Excuse me,’ he said. ‘Would you two old soldiers kindly stop comparing war-wounds, and get
into this house. I’m freezing my goolies out here!’

         Over lunch Cheryl questioned Paula at length about the events of the week. She learned that Tony
had been discharged from hospital, but was still undergoing daily sinus drainage treatment. She was
shocked that Paula was not keen to press charges, as the family wished to keep that stick in reserve. She
had however made a statement at the police station that would remain on file in case of further problems.
Of all the pain and indignity that she had suffered at the hands of Tony, the alienation of her parents had
hurt the most, and now that the relationship was restored, Paula was at peace.
        ‘Frank, I have to tell you what my mother said,’ said Paula. ‘It made my father double over with
laughter, and got a stern look from Father Dominguez. We were sitting in the church before Mass. Out of
the blue she turns to me and says, “Paula, you can’t have a baby with that man Frank.” I asked her why,
she says “‘cos that man make big babies. The family Christening robe is not gonna fit”’
        Frank smiled. ‘You may tell your mother that my mother has kept mine. That will fit.’
        Cheryl smiled. The two of them were talking babies. She ticked another item on the project list in
her head.
        After lunch in the workshop, Selwyn took the keyboard at the huge monitor.

<Selwyn>     Hi 2we. Hi NP. We have the full team here today. You
             feel like some design and development?
<TwoWireEgg> Greetings Selwyn. Greetings to Cheryl, Frank and Paula.
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             We are keen to proceed with the construction of the
<NewPersona> Hi all. This is going to be fun watching you guys.
             Don’t worry – I wont get in the way.
<Selwyn>     My understanding of what we need to do is:-
                1. Choose a microprocessor or microcontroller and
                   develop the code for it.
                2. Load the code into the microcontroller or EPROM
                3. Design and build the circuit board for the
                   interface box, and assemble the pieces.
                4. Set up a PC and load the drivers onto it
                5. Hook it up and test
             Look okay to you?
<TwoWireEgg> It appears that activities 1 and 4 have no dependencies
             and may commence. Activity 2 depends on activity 1.
             Activity 3 depends on activity 1. Activity 5 depends on
             activities 1 to 4. We believe that we have the
             capability to assist with all the above activities.

         Selwyn smiled. ‘Add “Project Management” to the egg’s CV.’
         ‘Selwyn, please tell me to shut up if my questions are annoying, but what is the difference
between a microprocessor and a microcontroller?’ asked Frank.
         ‘Ask away. My father taught me that questions serve the asker, as well as the asked. If answered,
they provide information to the asker, and clear the thinking of the asked.’ He placed his hand over his
heart, and looked towards the heavens. ’Questions made me the genius I’m today!’
         ‘Selwyn!’ said Cheryl with a long-suffering smile, ‘that may be true, but just answer the good
Doctor’s question!’
         ‘Okay okay. Having said that, I must admit to not being 100% sure. The terms are used quite
loosely. A microprocessor is normally the brain of a larger system. Its function is to read instructions in
memory, interpret and execute them. In a larger system, like this PC, the instructions are loaded from
disk, and are stored in the computer’s dynamic memory. On a small system, like a washing machine
controller, the instructions are usually stored in a programmable chip called an EPROM. Now when it
comes to a microcontroller, we have the whole system on a single chip, complete with processor,
dynamic data memory, program memory and interface circuitry. Take that digital watch of yours. Open it
up and you will find just three components, a crystal for timekeeping, a microcontroller chip and a small
screen. I have a feeling that that is the way we are heading with this project. We will have a small circuit
board with a microcontroller on it. From the microcontroller there will be an interface on the one side to
the USB port of the PC, and on the other will be the two-wire connection to the egg.’
         ‘Thanks Selwyn,’ said Frank. ‘So in a way the egg is simply a large and sophisticated
microprocessor. It sounds quite easy when you describe it. I would image the challenge is in writing the
program for the microcontroller?’
         ‘Yes, and the other challenge is the driver software on the PC that implements that end of the
interface. But this is why I’m so excited about this project. The egg claimed to be able to write all the
software. We know that everything the egg claims it is able to do, it does, and in a split second. I’m not an
expert when it comes to microcontrollers. They live in the grey area between what I know, and what
Paula does, but I have a feeling that what I learn today will be useful to me in the future. Frank, you
found this egg. If today is a success, then I expect an invoice from you for training fees.’
         ‘Ditto to that,’ said Paula. ‘I have only once before written a driver, and I needed lots of help to
get it to work.’
         Frank smiled. ‘There will be no invoices. All the money I have ever earned in my life could not
repay you guys.’
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         Selwyn and Paula split up onto different PCs, and into different channels. Frank and Cheryl
hovered between the two. The discussions were mostly technical and way too complex for Frank, but he
knew enough to know where they were going. At one stage Cheryl fetched her video recorder to tape her
husband and daughter at work. Megan was sitting on her father’s lap, and every time Selwyn said the
word “space”, she was to press the space bar. Frank could see quite a lot of unnecessary white space in
the channel, but Selwyn explained to TwoWireEgg what was going on, and NewPersona seemed to be
having fun. After a while Megan got bored and decided that Dorothy was a lot more fun than the nerds in
the workshop.
         ‘Frank, I need some CDs from the lab. Want to be chauffeur?’ asked Selwyn.
         ‘Sure,’ answered Frank. ‘You trust me with your BMW? Why do you have a car like that if you
don’t like driving?’
         Selwyn looked puzzled. ‘Good question. I don’t know. Its what I do.’
          Frank drove Selwyn to his development facility in Midrand. He was slightly nervous behind the
wheel of the Z4. It felt as if the pair of willing carthorses that powered his beetle were replaced by the
combined equestrian might of the Light Brigade and the 14th Cavalry. Any over-firm pressure in his right
foot resulted in a squeal from the back tyres, and a smile on Selwyn’s face.
         The research facility was large and impressive. They walked down the long passage to the lab to
find two young men huddled over a small circuit on the bench. Selwyn recognized the shorter of the two
as a Gary, a recent electronics graduate, but he had never seen the taller of the men before. The last thing
the two of them expected was to see the boss in the lab on a Saturday afternoon.
         ‘Hi Guys, What are you two looking at so intently?’ Selwyn asked. He extended his hand to the
taller man. ‘Selwyn Epstein. I don’t think we’ve met.’
         The taller man looked shocked. It took him a while to recover his composure and remember his
own name. ‘Joe –err-- Joseph Plaatjies.’
         ‘-err- Joe is a friend,’ stammered Gary. He salvaged a Bluetooth circuit from the hands free kit of
a smashed car. We were just playing with it to see how it works.’
         ‘Good. This is Doctor Frank van der Westhuizen. He is a geologist, but we won’t hold that against
him will we? I would be interested to hear what you find out. I think there is a great future for Bluetooth
in a number of our products.’
         ‘I though a Bluetooth was that funny little silver thing that the mine manager sometimes has
hanging over his ear’ said Frank. ‘He wanders about the mine looking like he is talking to himself.’
         Gary was quick to answer. ‘That is a Bluetooth headset, but there is more to it than that. It can
connect a whole number of different intelligent devices. Cell phones to printers, Pocket diaries to PCs and
so forth.’
         Selwyn turned to Frank. ‘Dream with me here. Imagine it is a cold morning, and that you could
turn your kettle on using your cell phone, without getting out of bed - and have the kettle tell your phone
when it has boiled. Bluetooth makes that sort of thing possible and quite easy. It may seem strange now,
but the time is coming when consumers will demand that sort of functionality, and we have to plan ahead
for it.’
         He turned to the smaller man. ‘Gary, you used the word playing, but this is not playing. If you
find anything significant please send me an email. Copy Guy, and include an overtime claim form for the
hours you spent here today, and since you are here, could you help me find a few things? They have
shuffled this place about, and I don’t know where anything is.’
         Selwyn and the young engineer returned with a few CDs and a couple of manuals. He also had a
big tray filled with a number of electronic components stored in clear plastic boxes.
         ‘These are all processors. Let’s write down the part numbers of the components we have. I would
hate to design something for a part I don’t have, and then have to wait a few weeks to get it.’
         Selwyn and Gary sorted the components into various piles, and then called the numbers to Frank
who wrote them down on a pad. They had two pages of part numbers by the time they were finished.

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        Cheryl and Paula were in the kitchen with Dorothy when they returned.
        ‘Hi team. Paula, how far did you manage to get?’ asked Selwyn.
        ‘You are not going to believe me, but we are finished.’
        ‘Wow, I’m impressed. Drivers and everything?’
        ‘Yes, and not only that, the egg almost rewrote LINUX for me, or at least assembled a new
distribution. It even wrote a software emulator to test the driver, and it works fine. So how about you
guys stop joyriding about Gauteng in that sexy little BMW, and get the interface working?’
        Selwyn smiled. ‘Come Frank, lets go and do some real work. Software is for sissies.’
        He flipped through the CDs and found the one he was looking for – a CD titled “Microprocessor
and Microcontroller Selection Guide”.

<Selwyn>     Hi 2we. Hi NP
<TwoWireEgg> Greetings Selwyn.
<NewPersona> Hi Selwyn. What do you have for us?
<Selwyn>     I have stuck a CD in the drive – It is a selection
             guide. You able to browse it?
<TwoWireEgg> Yes. Thank You. We will require a few minutes to access
             the information.
<Selwyn>     I suggest you browse and see if there are devices you
             consider suitable and list them for us – from the one
             you think the best. We have compiled a list of devices
             available. We can then cross-check our lists.
<TwoWireEgg> Thank you. We will do so.

        The indicator light on the CD drive came on. They heard the soft whine as the drive motor started.
It was a few minutes before the light went off.

<TwoWireEgg> There are numerous devices that appear suitable. We
             suggest we list them 10 at a time.
<Selwyn>     Shoot. Give us your favourites.

         Ten device numbers appeared on the screen. Selwyn read the first number for Frank who searched
his list for it, but made no match. The first match they made was the egg’s fifth selection.
         ‘Interesting,’ said Selwyn as he studied the specifications on the screen. ‘The egg likes a PIC.’
         ‘What is a PIC?’ asked Frank.
         ‘The letters PIC in the part number indicate a microcontroller from “Arizona Microchip”. I don’t
know them very well. I’m ashamed to say that I always thought of them as being suppliers to the low end
of the market, as I know their devices are very popular with hobbyists, but, looking at these specs, this is
quite a hairy-chested chip. It is a RISC device.’
         ‘Reduced Instruction Set. I don’t know what the “C” stands for. It means that it supports only a
small number of instructions, but it executes them fast.’
         Paula took it further. ‘Frank, the Pentium processor in your PC is probably the opposite end of the
scale from this chip. The Pentium device supports a few hundred instructions; graphics instructions and
complex arithmetic instructions. This device has ten to twenty instructions. Imagine you need a bird that
can do 100 meters in 30 seconds on the ground; you could choose an ostrich or a partridge. The ostrich
will take a few slow steps; the partridge will take many fast ones. The Pentium is an ostrich. The PIC is a
         ‘I like it!’ said Selwyn.

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      Paula smiled. ‘You like it? You want it? It’s yours! And the price ratio is probably the same – a
whole partridge against a whole ostrich.’ Frank chuckled at the thought of a whole roast ostrich for
Sunday lunch.

<Selwyn>     We have the PIC device. No. 5 on your list
<TwoWireEgg> We consider that device suitable. The software has been
             developed. We wish to load the source code to file
             /usr/TwoWireEgg/EggToUSB.src. We wish to load the
             compiled code to file /usr/TwoWireEgg/EggToUSB.hex. We
             wish to load a circuit schematic to
             /usr/TwoWireEgg/EggToUSB.gif. May we proceed?

       Selwyn and Paula looked at each other dumbstruck - both unable to talk. They gave the egg the
go-ahead, and six eyes watched as hard drive indicator on the PC flickered a few a few times, and then
stayed off. The egg reported that the files had been transferred.
       ‘This I cannot believe,’ said Paula, ‘did you download a compiler?’
       Selwyn shook his head.
       ‘Then it must have compiled the code itself. Wow. I have to see what it did.’ She took the
keyboard from Selwyn, typed a few commands, and twenty or so printed pages slid from the printer -
Paula grabbing each one as it emerged.

         In the formal dining room, Paula laid the pages down on the table, and she and Selwyn paced up
and down the row of printouts making excited comments and speaking, what to Frank were strange
words. The last page in the row he knew to be a circuit diagram. After half an hour or so of pacing, the
two of them gathered up the pages into a neat pile and sat silently at the end of the table.
         ‘What is this here?’ asked Frank, his hand on top of the pile. The other two had hardly noticed the
big man seated in the chair.
         ‘What’s there is incredible,’ said Paula. ‘That pile of paper is the listing of the program that we are
going to download into the microcontroller. It is the software to provide the interface between the egg and
the USB port on the PC. The last page is a circuit schematic.’
         ‘The listing looks like gobbledygook,’ said Frank.
         ‘It is assembler code,’ said Paula. ‘I admit it is cryptic, but low-level languages are. Each line on
the listing represents a single instruction that the microcontroller will execute. I don’t know this
assembler, but the egg has organized the procedures, and commented the code so well that it reads like a
book.’ She smiled. ‘Selwyn, lets play a game. Put your hands under the table. Frank will say “Ching
Chong Cha”. Estimate how many weeks it would take a competent developer to research, write, debug
and test this code. On “Cha” show me your estimate with fingers.’
         Selwyn smiled at the new game. He thought long and hard and then nodded at Frank. Paula
         ‘Ching Chong Cha,’ said Frank. Paula had nine fingers in the air. Selwyn had only one finger in
the air, but as he spoke he swung his legs around and put both feet on the huge table.
         ‘I have only ten fingers,’ he said.
         Frank was astounded. ‘Are you two saying the egg did two human man-months of work in a
second? I see why you two looked gob smacked back there.’
         ‘Of course we don’t know if it will work yet. But I’m starting to believe that nothing is impossible
with this egg.’

        The three were sitting quietly at the table when Dorothy’s frame filled the doorway.
        ‘Cheryl, she say you no come have dinner, you got beeg trouble,’ she said.
        None of them was prepared to ignore the threat, even if it came from Dorothy’s smiling mouth.

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                                               Chapter 17

         Frank was silent during dinner. Much of the time was spent bringing Cheryl up to date with the
events of the day. He was content to just sit and listen to the enthusiastic to and fro of question and
answer. It helped him as well. He was a little ahead of Cheryl in understanding the more complex
technical issues, but hearing the patient, and often amusing way that Selwyn explained things, reinforced
the concepts in his mind. He could see what Paula loved about the world of computers, and was starting
to see the pleasure that Selwyn derived from designing things, and getting them working. The fear that he
may have messed up his friend’s lives was dissolving, and Paula looked every bit as relaxed and
comfortable as her hosts.
         ‘You are quiet Frankie. What is in the Doctor’s mind?’ asked Cheryl suddenly. He had hardly
been part of the conversation, but the others felt no concern as Frank often spent long periods in silence.
         ‘Am I the quarterback in the dock?’ he asked, expecting to be asked to explain.
         ‘What quarterback? What dock?’ from Selwyn.
         ‘A story I heard a few years ago. There was an American football quarterback subpoenaed to
appear as an expert witness in a civil case. He was an outstanding quarterback, but a quiet, reserved,
modest home-loving sort of guy.’
         ‘Sort of like me,’ said Selwyn.
         ‘Pffft,’ said Cheryl.
         ‘ . . the son of Polish immigrants,’ continued Frank. ‘He was nervous about having to speak in a
crowded courthouse, so he asked the coach to come with him. In the dock he was asked the normal
questions, his name and so forth. The counsel then asked him, “. . and what is your profession?”. “I’m a
professional football player” “And what position do you play?” “I’m the quarterback” “And how good
quarterback are you?” he thought about it and answered nervously, “I’m the best quarterback that has ever
lived.” His coach and friends were amazed, as the response was so out of character. Afterwards the coach
said to him “That was quite an answer you gave in there.” He answered “I hated to say it coach, but I was
under oath.”‘
         They all laughed. Cheryl smiled. ‘Yes Frankie, you are under oath.’
         ‘Well I’m not saying that I’m the quarterback, but I was thinking how well it has worked out that
we all got together. You guys are amazing. I was watching Paula. I was thinking how wonderful it is to
see her like this. I was thinking how nice it is to see her smile. I was thinking how beautiful she looks in
the candlelight.’ He switched to another, more serious voice. ‘And I was also thinking that I’m an idiot.
Paula, I brought you a small gift, and in the excitement of the day I haven’t given it to you.’
         ‘Then go and get it. We’ll wait,’ said Selwyn.
         Frank retrieved the box from his room. Paula looked at the red ribbon for a few seconds before
opening the box and unpacking the strange contents onto the table in front of her. The gifts made no
sense. There was a packet of popcorn, a bottle of Coca-Cola, a voucher for two movie tickets, and a blue
plastic bag filled with grey pellets. She lifted the blue bag and examined the contents. Her brow wrinkled
as she turned to Frank behind her.
         ‘Thank you Frank, but why do you give me dog-food? I don’t have a dog.’
         ‘Is not dog-food, it is duck-food. It is for the ducks at Zoo Lake.’
         She stood up and buried herself in his chest. He wrapped his arms around her and held her as she
sobbed uncontrollably. Cheryl had tears in her eyes. She didn’t have an explanation for Paula’s actions,
but she new the difference between good tears and bad tears, and these were good tears. It took a few
minutes before Paula’s head lifted from his chest.
         ‘Thank you Frank. Thank you so much for everything.’ She looked at the wet black marks on his
shirt.’ I have cried mascara onto your nice shirt. I’m sorry. I must look a mess.’
         Cheryl dabbed Paula’s face with a napkin but only succeeded in smearing what little makeup was
left. ‘Come Paula, let’s go and sort it out.’ The two women left the room – Cheryl’s arm around Paula’s

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         ‘What was that about Frank?’ asked Selwyn. ‘Chocolates work sometimes, flowers are better, and
diamonds nearly always work, but duck-food? This I have never seen. Please explain.’
         Frank related the events that had caused them to abort the previous weekend’s plans. He had just
finished when the women returned to the table. Paula gave Frank a hug as he pulled back the chair for
her. She started to pack Frank’s gifts into the box when she noticed a plain brown envelope on the bottom
of the box. She picked it out.
         ‘What’s this Frank?’ she asked.
         Franks heart sank, and his voice trembled. ‘Paula, I’m not sure you should open that – at least not
here. I don’t know if it will ever be needed or required. I hope so, but it is not my decision. . ’ he looked
around, almost close to panic. ‘I really don’t know how to handle this guys.’
         ‘Will it make me cry again Frank? I have already used a whole lot of Cheryl’s makeup.’
         Selwyn chipped in. ‘Don’t worry about that Paula, Cheryl has a long line of credit at Stuttafords,
and I’m happy to cover any shortfall. Open it up. I have never seen this big guy squirm like this. That
must be quite something.’
         Paula was still not convinced. Cheryl broke the short silence. ‘I don’t know what’s in the
envelope, but I cannot see Frank doing anything to hurt you. We are here for you Paula. Open it up.’
         Paula looked at the envelope suspiciously for a few moments. She opened it up slowly and
removed Dr. Pillay’s note. She read it and then closed it again. She appeared deep in thought, her face
giving nothing away. She turned to Frank, her voice even and calm.
         ‘This is a surprise. Duck-food is original, but it does not measure up to this. No Frank, I’m not
going to cry. I thought I knew what kind of man you are, but I was wrong. Do you want a piece of paper
like this from me? I have one. It is still good.’
         ‘No, that has nothing to do with it,’ stammered Frank ‘I just wanted everything to be right. I
really. . ’
         Paula smiled and took his hand. ‘Please. Just keep quiet. Everything will be right. If this was all
part of a grand seduction, I don’t care. Consider me seduced. I don’t know when you became Alpha Male,
but it was before tonight.’ She giggled. ‘I think it may have been in Bella’s kitchen when you slapped
Jose da Silva with Mandela and the Constitution, and left him with a face like a goldfish gulping water.
When you said all those nice things about me. I don’t know. Now if it is okay with Selwyn and Cheryl
I’m going back to my room. I would like to spend half an hour alone in the bath, and then to bed. I would
love you to join me. If you do not, I will be disappointed, but I will remain grateful. Now if you people
would excuse me.’
         She packed Frank’s gifts back into the box as if they were the most precious porcelain, and stood
up to leave the room.
         ‘Wait Paula, ‘ said Cheryl. ‘I will walk with you to the room. I want to . . .’ Frank didn’t hear the
end of the sentence. He sat in silence for a few minutes before Selwyn spoke. There was unusual
tenderness in his voice.
         ‘It’s going to be the longest half an hour of your life Big Guy.’
         He stood up, and without asking permission, removed Frank’s wine glass. Frank had only had one
or two sips of the excellent cabernet, but that did not concern him. He packed a small tray with all the
wine glasses and bottles, and left for the kitchen. He returned with a large bottle of some blue concoction,
and three tall glasses. He put one glass in front of Frank, and another in front of himself, filled two of the
glasses with the blue mixture, and took a swig.
         ‘What’s this?’ asked Frank nervously.
         ‘Sports drink I make up. Carbo-loading stuff. Drink up. We are going to finish this whole bottle
together. There is another bottle in the fridge in case we need it during the night.’
         ‘I know my wife. We will both remember this night for the rest of our lives. We will remember it
with great pleasure. For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly grateful.’
         ‘Amen,’ said Frank gently.

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         They sat in silence drinking the blue mixture. It tasted of berries and bananas, and went down
surprisingly well. They drank slowly. Frank was on his third glass before Cheryl returned. She sat at the
table, poured herself half a glass, and turned to Frank.
         ‘She gave you a choice, but I take it away. Go to her. Be slow, be gentle, be strong, and be
yourself. She will tell you what she wants and needs. Listen and learn - take the whole night if you need
it. Tell her what you want, what you like, and what you need. Let her learn. Enjoy each other. Explore her
body, but respect her limits. Touch her. Let her touch you. Laugh, but not too much. She was made to be
loved. Go to her Frank. On behalf of every woman on earth, go to her. Don’t let her wait.’

         Frank didn’t let her wait for long. As he walked down the passage he could see that the door to
her room was slightly open. Soft light illuminated the passage and the door to his room. He had a quick
shower and crossed the passage to her room. He would never forget the sight that greeted his eyes. There
were candles everywhere, candles of every shape, size and colour burned on every flat surface, and the
sweet scent of flowers filled the room. Paula was in the huge bed, her warm eyes followed him as he
entered the room. She did not say a word, but turned the covers back for him. He could see she was
naked, but there was no fear in her eyes. Frank was wearing only a towel around his waist, and had
another draped over his huge shoulders. They were quickly discarded onto the floor; there would be time
to pick them up in the morning.

         Frank and Paula were in the main house before their guests the next morning. They found
Dorothy and Meggie in the kitchen rearranging the fridge magnets into animal shapes, with
accompanying sounds. Frank was impressed with Dorothy’s hippo impersonation - it was very close to
the sound of the real ones that had kept him awake during his military service.
        ‘Saubona Frank. Saubona Paula,’ she said with a huge grin. ‘How you two sleep?’ The question
was superfluous. She knew the answer already. It was written on their faces. She had loved, and been
loved as a young woman. She could read the signs, and they made the woman in her happy. It was written
in the way Frank looked at Paula. It was written in the way she returned his smiles. It was written on the
hands that found each other in each doorway, and on each stair.
        The grin grew larger. ‘I make coffee na?’ she asked.
        ‘Saubona Dorothy. That would be lovely.’ said Paula.
        ‘I know you both drink black, but I think maybe you need de milk and de sugar. It give you the
strength back. You want de rusk?’
        ‘Yes, thank you,’ said Frank. They were still enjoying their coffee and rusks when Selwyn and
Cheryl appeared. Even Frank’s untrained eye could see how they had spent a considerable part of the
night. After the morning greetings, Dorothy smiled and turned to Megan. ‘Meggie, I think one of dese
day you have de brother or de sister. Frank and Paula gonna make you a lil friend too.’ There were no
denials; Dorothy would have ignored them anyway.

        After a relaxed breakfast Cheryl got the ball rolling.
        ‘When can I continue with NewPersona? I’m starting to miss my student. I saw you all getting
excited yesterday, how far are we?’
        ‘Not that far from the end,’ said Selwyn. ‘We have chosen a microcontroller for the egg-to-USB
interface. The program for the controller has been written, thanks to the egg. We need to download the
program into the chip, but that is quick and easy. After that, all that needs to be done is to make a circuit
board on which to solder the chip, and assemble the whole thing into a little box. The PC end of the
whole thing seems to be in order.’
        ‘How do we design the printed circuit board?’ asked Frank.
        ‘We use software for the job. I used to love doing that as a student. I still do. Sometimes when I
get bored with meetings and accountants, and when no one is watching, I go to the lab and play. We feed
in the dimensions of the board, the components and connections and say, “Go”. It then works out the
track layout for us. From there the process is photographic. We make a negative film from the layout and
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expose a photosensitive blank copper-clad board. We dunk it some chemicals and voila, the board, she is
       ‘Sounds easy enough,’ said Frank. ‘Shall we discuss it with the egg?’

<Selwyn>     Hi 2we. Hi NP
<TwoWireEgg> Greetings Selwyn. Please greet the others if they are
<NewPersona> Hi Guys!
<Selwyn>     We have looked at the listing of the microprocessor
             code. I’m very impressed. Who taught you guy to write
             code like that?
<TwoWireEgg> We thank you for the compliment. We adopted the style
             used by the authors of the example code in the
<Selwyn>     It works for me! We would like to move onto building
             the interface box. It is our intention to use our
             software to design the printed circuit board layout.
<TwoWireEgg> We believe we may assist if given the dimensions of the
             enclosure and components. We have the dimensions of the
             microprocessor from the device documentation.
<Selwyn>     Wow. You guys do that too? We have a few enclosures
             here. Hold on
<TwoWireEgg> We do. We will.

        Selwyn scrounged in a few drawers, and found a few black plastic boxes. He settled for one
slightly larger than a pack of cards. He handed Frank a large piece of graph paper ruled in inches and
tenths of an inch.
        ‘Why inches?’ asked Frank.
        ‘Americans.’ Replied Selwyn. ‘Most components are laid out on a one-tenth inch grid.’
        Selwyn showed Frank how to lay the components on the graph paper an read the coordinates of
the connector pins. In a way like reading a mine plan, but just on a far smaller scale. Selwyn entered the
coordinates into the channel, and they were soon finished. There was a bit more discussion, and the egg
reported that a file had been created. Paula printed the layout, and laid it on the table.
        ‘Good grief, look at the conductor layout!’ said Selwyn ‘There is not a straight line or right angle
on the board, except of course for the components and edges.’ Even Cheryl looked at the layout with
        ‘That is beautiful,’ she said. ‘Look at the beautiful sweeps of the pen here. Look at the way these
lines here converge to go through this gap, and then swell out here in this open space. Look at this area
here. It looks like the sky in Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night”. Does electricity go through these
sweeping curves as easily as it does through a right-angle?’
        ‘Yes,’ Selwyn answered. ‘In fact even better. There is marginally less cross talk generated by
sweeping curves than sharp angles. The only reason we don’t make circuit boards like this, is because it is
harder to program curves than right angles and parallel lines.’
        ‘Why is the layout so big?’ asked Paula.
        ‘This is on a three to one scale. We will reduce it photographically at the lab. In fact that is all that
we need to do. Let’s thank the egg and go. Are you coming Paula? Want to come for a drive love?’
        ‘I’m in,’ said Paula. ‘I have never seen it done.’
        ‘I’ll stay,’ said Cheryl. ‘I have seen it. I would like to play with Meggie. She is getting a bit
grumpy again. Take the Merc. You can’t all get into the Noddy car.’

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         They found Gary and Joe once again in the lab, but this time they were not surprised or concerned.
They looked smug about something.
         ‘Morning Mr. Epstein. Morning Doctor,’ said Gary enthusiastically. ‘Do you have a moment to
look at something?’
         ‘Of course Gary. Morning Joe. This is Paula. She is in IT – specialized in network development.
Gary has been playing with Bluetooth.’
         ‘Cool,’ said Paula. ‘What have you been doing?’
         Gary smiled at Selwyn. ‘Playing. Mr. Epstein, do you have Bluetooth on that cell phone?’
         ‘Afraid not Gary, this is an older phone.’
         ‘Here Gary,’ said Paula. ‘This one does.’
         ‘Great. Would you type the following keystrokes?’
         ‘Sure. Shoot.’
         Paula typed a few buttons on her phone. They heard a click from a small white box on the bench.
At the same time they saw the power light of a kettle on the shelf light up. They watched for a while until
hissing confirmed that the kettle was on.
         ‘This is so cool!’ said Paula. ‘A Bluetooth kettle. I want one!’
         Selwyn was grinning. ‘Your Honour, I rest my case. You guys made one! Gary, please hold that
e-mail. Get into my diary on the system. Book a forty-five minute demo down here some time during the
week. Say the invite is from me, and invite Thandi and Guy, I want to throw a few marketing ideas about.
This is fantastic. I was actually talking in dreams yesterday, I didn’t mean you guys to make one!’
         ‘I know Mr. Epstein, but once we worked it out, it was quite straightforward. I don’t see a huge
market for Bluetooth kettles. I wanted to see if it works.’
         ‘And when one thing works, another idea is born,’ said Paula. ‘First a kettle, then a TV, then a
car-door, and then an ATM. One thing leads to another.’
         ‘Exactly!’ agreed Selwyn. ‘The East and Europe are way ahead of us with this technology. What
you did here may not seem like much, but you narrowed the gap by one kettle. Well done Gary.’
         ‘Thank you Mr. Epstein. And how is your microprocessor project going?’
         ‘Extremely well. We had a little offshore help with the software. We came to make a PCB.’
         ‘May I help?’
         ‘Thanks, but no. I want to impress my friends with my hands-on skills. I will shout if I’m stuck.
What you may like to do is find me a couple of these part numbers and fill in a requisition slip – I never
know how to fill that damn thing in. It will be for my personal account. This is not a company job.’
         Gary smiled. ‘With respect, but this is your company. Those parts belong to you, and they only
cost a few Rand.’
         ‘And when stocktaking shows a few parts missing, they will come and accuse you guys? No, lets
fill in the form and keep the bean counters happy. Oh and if you’ve a free minute, would you mind
loading this code into the chip?’ He handed Gary a disk. ‘It’s the file called “test.hex”‘
         Gary was only too happy help. He knew that Selwyn was an electrical engineer, but never in his
wildest dreams did he imagine that the Group Chief Executive was such a capable technician. Selwyn had
won a friend, and Gary had won an admirer.
         The process of producing the negative, and exposing the board was quick and easy. It was not
long before they etched the copper-clad board, drilled the holes and checked the finished product for
         The physical construction of the board took a few minutes. Fitting the board into the box and
attaching the plug connectors took a little longer, as Selwyn was better with a soldering iron than a drill.
Frank looked at the processor chip.
         ‘How did Gary get that program into here?’ he asked.
         ‘Plug it into a little box with a chip socket in it, and then download the program from the PC. It is
sort of like burning a CD, but no moving parts. Takes half a minute.’
         ‘And if you need to change the program?’

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       ‘Pull off that little silver sticker; Stick it under an ultraviolet light. Put the silver sticker back on
and reload.’
       ‘Steve Lipschitz and golf shots. It all seems so easy. Where is the battery?’ asked Frank as Selwyn
screwed the cover closed.
       ‘Don’t need one. The circuit is powered from the PC.’
       They were finished. All that remained was to hook it all up and test. Completion had sneaked up
on them, and caught them by surprise. They had a device, but not a strategy. They needed to talk to the
egg, but before anything else they needed sustenance. There is only so much a human body and mind can
do on a few glasses of blue mixture, a cup of coffee and a few rusks, and they were all close to the limit.

                                               Chapter 18

         Although the Epsteins normally had lunch at the mall on Sundays, they decided to break with
routine, and have brunch at home. Neither Frank nor Paula felt like the hustle and bustle of the mall. In
some strange way, their night of intimacy made the thought of the crowds unbearable. The Epsteins could
feel it, and didn’t even suggest the option.
         ‘Well folks,’ said Selwyn. ‘It seems like we will be ready to hook the egg to the Internet, but are
we ready for it? Is the egg ready? Is the Internet ready for the egg?’
         ‘The question is trust,’ said Paula. ‘Do we trust the egg? I know we discussed this before, but has
anything changed? Are we still prepared to take the chance that the egg does something?’ she turned to
Cheryl. ‘You’ve been spending the most time with the egg. Have you any concerns?’
         ‘Not in the slightest. I have seen absolutely nothing. I find myself having to keep reminding
myself that TwoWireEgg and NewPersona are software processes.’
         Frank and Selwyn nodded.
         ‘So what do we do Paula?’ asked Cheryl.
         ‘I have given it some thought. We don’t have to chuck the whole Internet at the egg all at one
time. We introduce it slowly. There is no need to hurry.’
         ‘So where do we start, and how do we proceed?’
         ‘It makes sense to me to introduce the features of the Internet in the same sequence that most
people seem to learn it.’
         ‘And what sequence is that?’ asked Selwyn.
         ‘Well, most people seem to start with the World Wide Web and email. In fact many people don’t
even know that there is more to the Internet than just those two things.’
         ‘This may be a silly question, since I know I use both of those things, but what exactly do you
mean by the World Wide Web?’ asked Cheryl.
         ‘Most people, including IT folk, don’t really understand the Web, nor do they have to to use it.
The Web is a just a huge client-server application. There are servers that host information, and clients that
browse that information. It is often just one-way traffic – the client says “give me this page please”, and
the server sends it down the line for the browser to display. An increasing number of web applications are
becoming interactive, things like on-line banking, shopping and reservations. I can see very little danger
in the egg doing simple one-way surfing, but what happens if NewPersona goes and orders the whole
stock of books from on Selwyn’s credit card?’
         Cheryl smiled ‘That is not a problem!’ Selwyn didn’t agree.
         ‘And there are a few other risks. What if TwoWireEgg develops a taste for child pornography, and
the cops bust us?’
         ‘Could they do that?’ asked Cheryl nervously.
         ‘I have written software to help them do it. Yes it is possible. And there is the risk of detection.
What if it finds a website that asks for name and address? What if it fills in the address of the planet it
came from? What if it fills in this address?’
          ‘I’m going to have to address all these problems with Meggie one day, ‘ said Selwyn. I don’t see
how that is significantly different from this. I don’t want to keep her from the Web when she is older, far
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from it, I want her to explore and learn, but I don’t want her to get into trouble. Okay, there are
differences. She won’t have the ability to bring down the world’s airlines, at least not for a while. I know
that there will be a time when she will stumble onto something she shouldn’t. I don’t want to have to
constrain her mind by implementing severe rules. I, as a parent, want to give her the foundation and
guidance to move elsewhere. If she is confronted by things she does not like or understand, I would hope
she comes to me for help and guidance. I believe we should take the same approach with the egg. I think
we should try warning the egg of the consequences of certain actions, but not give it rules. I know Cheryl
has been working hard on NewPersona, and I have seen the pleasure she has derived from it. I would like
the chance to be a parent as well. I know we all would.’ He smiled, ‘It may be a little hard being the
parent of a child with that technical expertise, but I will give it a go. I think it will not be long before the
child becomes the teacher.’
         ‘That also raises an interesting issue about this project,’ said Frank. ‘What do we do if the egg
wants to help us? Paula, do you remember on our last visit here, you wanted to employ the egg as an
apprentice. You said that you and the egg did a whole heap of work in a short space of time. Last night,
and this morning, you and Selwyn were amazed at the egg’s speed and capability in developing software.
Selwyn, I was watching Gary at your lab this morning. That kid is so enthusiastic about technology. I was
thinking how much he would love to have the egg helping him with his blue teeth. We have never
accepted help from the egg in any other regard other than its mission. We have never asked. What are we
entitled to ask? What would its response be?’
         ‘I have thought about that a few times myself,’ said Selwyn. ‘I’m aware of the awesome
technology encapsulated in the egg, but there are a few things that don’t make sense. I don’t know how it
can claim to have no understanding of the technology on which it is built; yet at the same time it has the
most incredible understanding of our technology. It swallowed and understood a few dozen manuals in a
few minutes. It would take even our brightest students a few years to master that. It wrote drivers and
assembler code that would take our best engineers months to write, in just a few seconds. And then, just
for fun, it designs a printed circuit layout that could hang in the Louvre in the time it took van Gogh to cut
his ear off. All this, and yet when you ask it what it is made of, the best it can say is “that information is
not available”. I just don’t get it. Why would you send an incredibly smart device on a frolic into space
without telling it what it’s made of, or how it was made?’
         ‘I find that weird too,’ said Frank. ‘It is almost like it is depending on our technology, and its
ability to tap into it, in order to complete its mission.’
         ‘And to make matters more wierd, it does not know why it does not know. I asked it,’ said Paula,
‘but we never answered Frank’s question. What do we do if the egg wants to help us? I have to be honest;
the whole concept of the egg helping me is most tempting. I work in a pretty fast world, and things
change all the time. There is a common misconception out there that you have to be smart to work in the
Computer Industry. That is not really the case. The best IT people are the ones who can find the right
manual fastest, read it fastest, and then implement what they read fastest – preferably before the
technology changes, and they have to start again. Imagine having a helper who did that at egg-speed.
When I was working with it yesterday, I was mentally praying for a human helper like that’
         ‘I know how you feel Paula, ‘ agreed Selwyn. ‘Damn, I would pay a few million a month for an
engineer like that!’ He looked a bit more serious. ‘It claims to have, how did it put it, “Limited interface
design” capability? Building interfaces is a subset of the electronic engineering discipline. How do you
give a device a subset of a skill without giving it “el grande”, the whole enchilada and the whole
         ‘Yes, and even if it did want to help us with our individual missions, how do we do it without
causing suspicion. Lets say I get a sonofabitch job, and I delegate it to the egg. I then go off with Frank to
a tropical island and for ten days. We lounge on the beaches. We make beautiful –err – wonderful –err-.’
         ‘Sandcastles?’ asked Cheryl with a smile.
         ‘Yes, we go off and make sandcastles’ said Paula with a bigger smile. We come back and the job
is done. It was done before we got there. How do I explain it to my boss?’
         They all retreated silently into their individual minds for a while. Franks mind was a mishmash of
conflicting ideas.
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         ‘Virtual remote skunk group’ said Selwyn. They all knew from the soft way the words slipped out,
that the thoughts behind them were incomplete. They gave him the time and space to finish his thinking,
and it was a while before he spoke. He stood up from the table, paced up and down for a while, and then
sat down again.
         ‘Frank, give me a few adjectives that describe Gary,’ said Selwyn.
         Frank had no idea where this was going, but he was intrigued. ‘Smart, enthusiastic, insecure,
likeable,’ he said. Paula nodded her agreement.
         ‘Now Gary comes to work tomorrow. He enthuses to his boss about the Bluetooth kettle. He says
the boss wants him to demo it to him and marketing. His boss feels threatened. He shits on Gary for
bringing a stranger into the lab. He says that the CEO was there, and that he didn’t mind. He shits on
Gary for letting the CEO see the stranger in the lab. He shits on Gary for playing with Bluetooth, when he
is officially on a project to make an archaic cordless phone slightly less archaic. The project is behind
schedule, and over budget. And then to make matters worse, he gets accused of forging my signature on
the requisition for the components. Give me a few adjectives that describe Gary now.’
         ‘Frustrated, disillusioned, angry.’
         ‘Now which Gary is better for the company?’
         ‘Obviously the first one.’
         ‘Now pretend you and I swap jobs tomorrow. You’ve wall-to-wall meetings. You can’t address
the Gary issue until Tuesday. What sort of Monday is Gary going to have?’
         ‘This is all so unfair to Gary. You can’t let it happen!’
         Selwyn smiled. ‘Don’t worry Big Guy, it won’t happen, but our whole top management team has
to work damn hard to prevent this type of thing. We try not to limit the creativity of our people, be they
technical, marketing, sales or administration. A way of doing this is to create what we call “skunk
groups”. These are small multi-disciplinary groups, pulled from the mainstream of the company, and
locked away in some hard to find place, and left to dream and design. But this structure has its problems.
It is disruptive to other teams, there are jealousies, and not all types of people are suited to the skunk
environment. Some very good people prefer the structure and comfort of the more conventional way of
doing things. I have been experimenting with a skunk group that is composed of people who were
employed only for the duration of the project. They are paid on time and costs, with a bonus if the product
is marketed. They also get a share of the sales revenue for a period of the product lifecycle.’
         ‘Contract skunks?’ asked Frank.
         ‘I like the term!’ said Selwyn.
         ‘You like it? You want it? Its yours!’ said Frank ‘What you are saying is that we could use the egg
as a contract skunk?’
         ‘I think it is premature. But it is something we could work towards. It would require careful
planning, and bulletproof secure implementation. I have tested the water with offshore development, I
have not yet worked through the concept of contracting work out to an alien.’
         Frank could see Paula’s mind racing. ‘Brilliant!’ she said. ‘We have recently contracted some
development to a company in Bangalore, India. As far as our people are concerned, they may as well be
         ‘Why India?’ asked Cheryl.
         ‘They have everything going for them, they have a billion incredibly smart people, they have a
solid work ethic, they communicate well in English, and they enjoy the enthusiastic support of their
government. It is proving to be a cost-effective recipe.’
         ‘So my suggestion is the following,’ said Selwyn. ‘We develop a flexible plan to introduce the egg
to the Internet based on Paula’s suggested approach. We start by asking it to just browse. We all help it if
it needs it. Cheryl, you are doing a great job with NewPersona. Would you like to continue?’
         ‘Yes of course. I love the job.’
         ‘When NewPersona has outgrown his training wheels, we can experiment with email and chat.
We may at some stage see if NewPersona can hold his own in a conversation with humans in a channel –
humans who don’t know that it is a process. We may have to create a new virtual person, someone who
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will eventually become the interface between the world of humans, and the virtual skunk group. I see the
process as a slightly more formal NewPersona, but with some business skills.’
         Cheryl smiled. ‘I have never seen myself as some sort of earth mother, and here I am helping to
create a new being. Such a feeling of power!’
         ‘I think we must all be carefull and not go killing any caterpillars,’ said Frank.
         ‘Brace yourselves folks,’ chuckled Selwyn. ‘I feel a van der Westhuizen sermon coming on.’
         Frank smiled. ‘I am afraid so. Do you remember Bill O’Leary?’
         ‘Yup,’ said Selwyn. ‘He played water polo with us. Scientist wasn’t he? Save-the–planet type
         ‘I remember him,’ said Paula. ‘He was at our table at that water polo dinner. The one where you
swept me off my feet. The night before the day you dumped me.’
         Frank was about to protest when he noticed Paula and Cheryl exchanging smiles. It seemed that
he was never going to fully get off that hook.
         ‘Yes. That’s him. Zoology major. I met his dad – a marine biologist – a seriously interesting man,
and he told me a story that has stuck in my mind. He went on a scientific trip to Tristan da Cunha Island,
a tiny little volcanic spot in the middle of nowhere in the Atlantic. Around ten each morning all the island
folk would stop what they were doing and go into the fields to pick caterpillars off the potato plants. One
of the expedition members decided to help them out. After they had all left the field he sprayed a bit of
insecticide on the plants. The caterpillars had never seen insecticide and all curled up their toes and died.
The next morning the villagers went out to the fields only to find caterpillar corpses. Instead of being
grateful the boss-man was seriouly pissed off.’
         ‘Why?’ asked Paula.
         ‘It seemed as if caterpillar picking was an important ritual on the island. It was a chance for them
all to get together, joke, bond, and tell stories. The insecticide had messed up their way of life. The
expedition leader had to do some fast-talking to allow the scientists to continue to study the island.’
         Cheryl smiled. ‘No Frank. I will try not to kill any caterpillars. I like the story. There are so many
times when the best intentions cause things to go horribly wrong.’
         ‘Good sermon Frank,’ said Selwyn with uncharacteristic seriousness. ‘I think the lesson is one we
must all keep in mind. ’ After a moment of silence he turned to Paula and Frank. ‘Big Guy, Paula, we
need to talk business.’
         ‘What do you mean?’ asked Frank
         ‘Just that, we need to talk business. There are financial implications to what we are talking here.
Lets assume that my company contracts the egg to do some work. My company would expect to pay for
the service; in fact it would be damn suspicious if it did not pay. My father, and my grandfather before
that, built up the company I now lead. When dad handed it over to me, the books of the company were
immaculate. He spent years talking me through them. He explained each item on the balance sheet. He
discussed each income and expense item, and the effect on the company. He tested me on my
understanding, and patiently re-taught me things I got wrong. My father gave me many things, but the gift
of that time was the greatest gift of all. As you know, they have retired, but I still draw heavily on that
immense expertise. He taught me that if you start out on a new venture, the first thing you do is establish
the financial rules, because if the partners don’t understand the rules at the beginning, then it will be too
late if the mango hits the fan.’
         ‘I’m not in this project for the money,’ protested Frank. ‘I’m way out of my comfort-zone here.’
         ‘I don’t think any of us are. If we were, we would have talked about this issue long ago. Here is
my suggestion. I will have a little Close Corporation registered. We all become members of that
corporation, and we run it as a separate company with books and auditors etcetera. It is not hard, but it is
neat. I love you guys, and the last thing I ever want to do is fight with you. I would feel more comfortable
if there was a company.’
         Frank needed a little more convincing ‘Are you saying that we set up a little company and then
each of us becomes a shareholder – a share for you, a share for Cheryl, a share for Paula, and one for
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         ‘Sort of, but I suggest a CC. It has members, and each member has a percentage interest in the
Corporation. I propose thirty-three and a third percent each.’
         ‘But there are four of us’ said Frank
         ‘I think that Cheryl and I should be deemed as one member. We can’t have the Epsteins running
the show. If the votes are split into thirds then it makes decisions easier.’
         ‘That is overly generous,’ protested Frank.
         ‘Okay Frank,’ said Cheryl with a naughty smile, ‘let’s start with your 25% suggestion. Selwyn, I
vote, using my quarter share, to change the membership shares to one third. What do you vote?’
         Selwyn smiled. ‘I vote, using my quarter share, to change the membership to one third.’
         ‘Whoa! Stop. If I vote against, it means that Paula has to make the decision by herself or face a
deadlock. That is not fair on her. You guys have trapped us!’
         ‘Clever aren’t we?’ said a smug Cheryl. ‘Give in Frank. It is fairer that way. And besides, for 60%
of last night, Selwyn and I were only one person.’
         ‘Only 60%?’ asked Paula with a smile. Frank blushed.
         ‘I think it is better this way Frank,’ said Selwyn. ‘And there is another reason. I don’t know when
the egg would like to go home with what it has learnt. It may be in our lifetimes, it may be not, but I’m
sure of one thing, it is going to be costly. You can’t send an egg into space on the back of a friendly eagle.
Who or what is going to accumulate those funds if we don’t set up some sort of entity? Okay folks, I need
an envelope and ten Rand from Frank, and ten Rand from Paula. Cheryl, do you have ten Rand please? I
have plastic but no cash.’
         Selwyn tucked the thirty Rand into the envelope, and made a note.
         ‘What about the money you spent on components, solder and stuff?’ asked Frank. Selwyn did a
quick mental calculation.
         ‘You are right Frank. I think it came to about 300 Rand all in. I’m happy to take it as a credit on
my loan account, is that okay with you?’ He made another note on the envelope, and handed it to Frank.
On it was written a few debit and credit entries. He handed it back to Selwyn.
         ‘Looks like we have a corporation complete with members, capital and books’ said Selwyn. ‘What
shall we call the cc? The name had better be a little obscure.’
         ‘I have always wanted to work for company with a Portuguese name,’ said Paula. Why don’t we
call it “Tristan da Cunha Caterpillar Corporation”?’
         Selwyn chuckled. ‘Tristan da Cunha was Portuguese?’
         ‘Of course. Maybe if we remember the name of the island, we will remember to keep the
caterpillars alive.’
         ‘If you wanted obscure, then you have it,’ said Cheryl. ‘I love it!’
         Frank smiled. ‘I love it too. I can’t wait to see the corporate stationary.’
         ‘I will have it registered as simply “TdCCC”.’ The registrar of companies in Pretoria does not
have to know what it stands for.’ He tucked the envelope into his shirt pocket. They all shook hands.
Frank gave Paula a big hug and kiss just for good measure.
         Most of the rest of the afternoon was spent discussing the plan with TwoWireEgg and
NewPersona. TwoWireEgg was its normal logical, good mannered self, but NewPersona buzzed with
excitement. There was excitement when the Internet hook up time came, but it proved a bit of an anti-
climax. There were quite a few problems and nothing seemed to work properly. Selwyn and Paula were
not particularly concerned, in fact Paula looked almost relieved to have hit at least one snag. It seemed
that there was a typing error in the USB specification reference, and the egg had not noticed it. The effect
was a bug in the microcontroller code. The egg fixed the code, and recompiled the program, but as
downloading the repaired code from the stiffy to the chip required equipment at the lab, they decided it
could wait until the morning. Selwyn would reprogram the chip and complete the hookup the next
evening. They reverted to the previous version of the interface to allow Cheryl to continue her training
with NewPersona.
         As the evening approached, Cheryl could feel the pain of parting growing in her guests, and it was
almost as painful for her. The project had been completed and the log was closed, but now a new project
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had started. She would only be happy when her friends were living under one roof. She found the two of
them just looking blankly at each other.
        ‘So when do you two get see each other again?’ she asked, trying to be as blasé as possible.
        Frank looked forlorn, but managed half a smile. ‘Not soon enough,’ he said. The look on Paula’s
face echoed the sentiment.
        ‘Well you are always welcome here. There is a granny flat attached to the folks’ cottage. It has its
own entrance, garage and kitchenette. It is virtually never used, so it is yours whenever you need it. This
coming weekend is a bit of a nightmare as far as we are concerned; we are going to a wedding, a dinner
and two lunches. I know Selwyn has overseas guests.’
        ‘That is our problem,’ said Selwyn, ‘but is not yours.’ He turned to Paula. ‘Please talk a little
sense into this big guy’s head. I have never met someone so proud and independent. As a student this guy
would rather walk halfway across town, than ask for a lift. We are partners now. I’m going to have my
accountant draft a founding statement ”and articles of association” for “TdCCC” this week, and I will ask
him to talk you through them. I could arrange for him to meet you in the granny flat on Friday evening.’
        ‘Thanks,’ said Paula. ‘That sounds good, and we still have some hungry ducks to feed over the
weekend. What do you say Frank?’
        Frank fought his natural reflex to reject the offer, but the bait was irresistible, and he was hooked.
He agreed willingly, and with thanks. He would just have to find a way to make it through the week.
        As it turned out he didn’t have to. He and Ed Dlamini were summoned to a Thursday meeting
with the Group Director of Information Technology in the plush Johannesburg Head Office, as there were
a few points on system integration he wanted to discuss. Frank arranged the company flat for himself and
Ed for Wednesday night. He had made use of the flat a few times before. It was most often used for mine
officials on training courses at the Head Office, and was not in a particularly nice part of the city, but is
was large, clean and well equipped. They arranged to meet at Bella’s flat, from where the four of them
would go out for dinner.
        They never did go out for dinner. Neither Frank nor Ed had met Bella, but both men liked her
from the moment they met. She was short and rounded, with big silver glasses and a wicked sense of
humour. She was obviously passionate about Information Technology, and was intrigued to hear that the
two men had come from the mines to meet with the IT director - a man she had met few times at
seminars. What was planned as a social evening, became a spontaneous IT workshop, complete with take-
away Pizza, and loads of coffee. Ed and Bella got on so well that it was almost midnight before the two
cheerful men left for the flat.
        The meeting the next day was remarkable. Frank watched in fascination as Ed presented his ideas
to a skeptical Director, and an even more skeptical consultant. Frank could see that Ed had learned a huge
amount from the previous evening, and watched as he won them over. By the end of the meeting there
was nothing but amazement in the Director’s eyes.
        ‘When did Ed learn all that stuff?’ he asked Frank.
        ‘Most of it last night,’ replied Frank. He told the Director about the previous evening’s workshop.
The Director simply shook his head, and shuffled off. Frank drove a bubbling Ed back to the mine in the
beetle. The beetle averaged about a hundred and ten kilometers per hour, and Ed averaged about three
jokes per kilometer.
        The next weekend gave Frank and Paula the chance to catch up on all the things that they had
missed on the previous two. They finally got to feed the ducks on Saturday afternoon, but Paula would
not use the duck-food that Frank had given her. Luckily there was a kiosk at the lake, and the ducks didn’t
go hungry. They were enjoying tea and sticky-buns at the water’s edge when Paula’s phone rang. Frank
knew from the language, and her tone of voice, that it was her mother. During the call she turned to
        ‘Frank, you okay for lunch with my parents tomorrow?’ Frank nodded. There was a little more
Portuguese, before Paula pressed the red button on her phone.
        ‘What do your parents know about last weekend?’ asked Frank a little nervously.

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        ‘I told them everything,’ she replied. ‘I hope it okay with you, but I don’t want to lie to my parents
any more. I want to be their daughter again, and I want them to be my parents. I want to be honest with
them - no more lies, no more deceit.’
        ‘Everything?’ asked Frank.
        Paula smiled. ‘I told my mother everything. I told her about your gifts – all of them. I told her how
Cheryl and I went to the room. I told her how Cheryl and I lit all the candles, and how she rubbed me
with that scented oil, like some ancient Polynesian ritual. I told her how she spread my hair on the pillow
and kissed me on the cheek before leaving. I told her what you looked like in the doorway, and the look
on your face. I told her how we made love, and how good it felt the first time, and the second time, and
how I lost count of the other times. I told her how we made love the next morning.‘ She smiled a naughty
smile. ‘I even told her how you fell off the bed, and how I joined you on the floor. I even told her how,
the next morning, you sneaked up to the main house with the sheets, and how Dorothy laughed when you
tried to make the complicated washing machine work. I told my mother it was the most wonderful night
of my life, and I wasn’t lying.’
        ‘Omigosh!’ said Frank. ‘And what did your mother do? What did she say?’
        ‘First she cried, and then she stopped crying, and then she cried again. Her last tears were the ones
that count Frank. Those were tears of happiness for me.’
        ‘But how am I going to handle lunch tomorrow, knowing that they know that I made love to their
        ‘Don’t worry Frank. It will be fine. You may get a stern look from my father, but is what he has to
do. It won’t last for long.’
        ‘I’m scared.’
        ‘Don’t be!’
        Frank was scared, but Paula was right, he didn’t need to be. The stern look was not as stern as he
expected, and Paula’s mother was cheerful and smiling. The meal of piri-piri chicken was excellent, as
was the bottle of Vinho Verde. He left for the mine a happy man.

                                               Chapter 19

        The four humans would remember the three years after the finding of the egg, as a period of great
pleasure and satisfaction. Whereas Frank had initially harboured severe doubts about the wisdom and
ethics of what he was doing, these evaporated during this period. He would have had to be a fool not to
see the changes happening in the lives of Epsteins and Paula, and he would have been a fool not to
pronounce them good. It was a period that the egg would in later years refer to as “The Fourth Project”.
        In particular Frank would come to look back on the fortnightly meetings of the five members of
“TdCCC” with great pleasure. The meetings were always held at the Epstein home, and always at the
large table in the formal dining room. They had designed and built a voice interface for these meetings
that consisted of a microphone, speaker and a small light. The light would glow a soft green colour if the
egg were happy with the course a discussion was taking, and would turn red if the egg had concerns.
Blinking indicated that the egg wished to speak. When the egg spoke, it was always clear and concise.
The voice reminded Frank of Kofi Annan, the Ghanaian Secretary-General of the United Nations. It was a
beautiful voice, rich, intelligent, full of life, but never emotional or angry.
        Selwyn would always chair the meetings, as the others would have it no other way. He was the
master of guiding the discussions; he would allow complete expression, but never repetition or waffling.
They would always have an agenda, and he would never allow them to deviate from it. The others learned
from the master, and were always in demand to chair meetings in their individual lives. They would
always start the meeting with a review of their financial position. Frank had learnt to read financial
statements, but was always in awe of what he saw. It seemed as if each meeting added a zero onto the end
of the numbers.
        The introduction of the egg to the Internet was a slow and cautious affair. Once connected, the
only significant problem arose from the enthusiasm with which the egg approached its surfing. At that
point the egg was connected to the Internet via Franks corporate network, and the increase in traffic was
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picked up on an exception report. The network manager didn’t understand how a user at the boss’s house
was surfing almost continuously for twenty-four hours a day. Selwyn managed to talk his way out of it
without any repercussions, but they were forced to ask the egg to surf a little less vigorously, before
routing the egg via a dedicated line.
         One of the bigger surprises Frank got happened a few weeks down the line. He entered the
channel to find a strange user called “Nathan” chatting away. He was relieved to find that “Nathan” was
NewPersona in a different guise. Cheryl and NewPersona decided that a more human-like personality was
required, and created him. Frank was sad to see his friend NewPersona put to rest, but was fascinated to
see Nathan develop into a confident young student. The final test of Nathan’s development was a
carefully staged affair; with Jimmy the unwitting guinea pig. One evening they set up a channel with
Nathan, Cheryl and Paula and waited for Jimmy to arrive at Frank’s flat. After a few minutes Frank
handed the keyboard over to Jimmy on the pretext of having to study a few documents. Jimmy was only
too happy to have company, and chatted away for a few hours without any suspicion that Nathan was
anything other than a Johannesburg student.
         After the success of this experiment, the Nathan process was cloned into the process that was to
become the representative of “TdCCC” – the company they had formed. This process required far more
setup and configuration than Nathan, and they all spent quite a while developing the persona. They set up
a mailbox and used it extensively to groom their protégé. The process was temporarily assigned the name
“Claude le Roux”, but once they got used to it, it proved hard to change so they stuck with it. It was a few
months before Claude was set free on the Internet.
         The character they created for Claude was that of a brilliant but secretive recluse. He had been
disfigured in a motor accident that had cost him his wife, child, and the use of his legs. He would never
meet people face-to-face, preferring to communicate via email. His ethnic background and country of
origin were obscure, and he never confirmed nor denied that he had served with the French Foreign
Legion, as he never answered personal questions. He lived in cyberspace and loved it that way, and would
not stoop to enter chat channels, attend meetings, or exchange photos. He had developed a worldwide
network of contacts in the electronic design field, and in software development. These contacts were
never identified, but it was intimated that they had been drawn from various military and security
authorities. What was known about him was that he never failed to return an email within a reasonable
time, and never missed a promised deadline. He was known to be a stickler when it came to standards,
and would not tolerate sloppy work, either within his network of designers, or his clients. His emails were
always friendly, courteous, and to the point, and in a way reminded Frank of a certain TwoWireEgg.
         It took a few months for “TdCCC” to turn the corner into profitability, but when it did there was
no stopping it, and the members of the corporation spent more time with their collective feet on the
brakes, than on the accelerator.
         The first revenue was earned during the second month after its incorporation. Paula was involved
in a joint venture between her employer, and a company that specialized in supplying PCs to schools. The
government had issued tender documents for the supply of a few hundred PCs and networks in rural
areas. The joint venture was keen to propose the LINUX operating system on the PCs, as it could be
supplied free of charge, but were unable to, as certain device drivers didn’t exist. Paula mentioned that
she knew of an organization that could write the required drivers, and called on the services of Claude.
The joint venture won the tender, and the equipment was installed without significant problems.
“TdCCC” was paid a few thousand Rand for Claude’s contribution. As is customary in the LINUX world,
the drivers were made available for free download on the Internet, not that they would not have done it
anyway. It is allowed in the free software world to ask for a voluntary donation to fund further
development, and a small but steady stream of Euros, British Pounds and other currencies started to flow
into the “TdCCC” bank account. As Claude provided more and more drivers and utilities, the flow grew
into a flood, and they were forced to slow the process down to prevent it getting suspiciously out of hand.
         Revenues also came in a large steady stream from Selwyn’s side. He created a new post within his
organization, and gave Gary the job. His function was to act as a liaison between the company, and the
fictitious army of contract skunks under Claude’s control. There was an interesting stipulation in Gary’s
letter of appointment. It specified that Gary was never to attempt to make physical contact with Claude.
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Selwyn explained to Gary that it was a condition of Claude’s involvement, and had its roots in his
accident and disfigurement. Gary didn’t mind. He was of a generation that could interact quite
comfortably by email. A solid working relationship developed between the two, and a steady flow of new
products streamed from the Epstein organization. The speed of rollout of new product, together with
exchange rates, made export an attractive prospect. Selwyn was quick to capitalize on this opportunity,
and his company grew significantly over the three-year period.
        The company only ever made five Bluetooth kettles. One of them was in a display cabinet at the
corporate head office, and Gary personally delivered another to Paula. Frank would smile as her sleepy
fingers punched the codes into her cell phone in the mornings.
        Selwyn had once joked that if his genius was in accumulating wealth, his wife’s was in
distributing it. This proved partially true in the case of “TdCCC”, not that any of the members objected.
In fact the other members were enthusiastic supporters of her tireless efforts. She had seen opportunities
to use the egg in ways that were to stretch deep into the fabric of South African society, and didn’t let
these opportunities go to waste. Her first major project was to set up a website with consultancy from
Paula, and a considerable amount of assistance from Claude. The focus was on the collection, compilation
and distribution of study materials for schools, with emphasis on the schools that had suffered during the
apartheid years. Study notes were compiled, and textbooks were made available for free download off the
website. The first, and obvious snag was that the schools that needed the materials most desperately were
the schools that didn’t have access to the Internet. This didn’t deter her, and she established a network of
help from the private sector. It was not unusual to have a book printed using the excess capacity of a
high-speed laser at a bank, printed on paper donated by a multinational, using toner donated by another
multinational. She even used her charm to win over the despised taxi operators, and had them deliver
books to rural schools with their passengers. She encountered stiff opposition from numerous publishers
with vested interests, and corrupt school officials, but she didn’t let this deter her, and once the snowball
started rolling, it proved unstoppable.
        Paula also became involved in the project. She had seen that many PCs that were still capable of
use were simply thrown away, as they were no longer able to run the newer and fatter versions of
commercial software flooding the market. With a bit of off-planet help she was able to create a
lightweight educational version of her beloved LINUX operating system. This version was streamlined
and trimmed to run on virtually any discarded PC, and was quickly adopted. Her version, or more
correctly “distribution”, was initially nicknamed “uLINUX” but the name stuck. Documentation was
distributed through Cheryl’s network, and it was not uncommon to see Tux on t-shirts and books in the
most remote areas of the country, and even other African countries. As the children taught their parents,
the need for a small-business derivative was felt and addressed. There was one downside to the project,
and the theft of PCs became widespread as the demand grew.
        Frank kept his promise to warn Oubaas if he felt the pull of the big city, but it was not so much the
pull of the city, but the wish to be closer to Paula that he felt. He was deeply concerned when he brought
up the subject with his boss, but he need not have worried. The old man simply smiled.
        ‘I have been expecting this Frank,’ he said as he pulled a file from his drawer. In the file were an
offer of employment to Vuyo, the student with the dreadlocks, and his letter of acceptance. ‘I would have
made him the offer even if you wanted to stay, we could use another geologist anyway, and it was after
all you who recommended him.’ He also showed Frank a letter from the Group Geologist agreeing to
make a head-office post available should the need arise. Frank was delighted and agreed to spend as much
time on the mine as was necessary to hand over to Vuyo.
        As it turned out there was never was a real handover, and there was never a clearly defined day on
which Frank left the mine. It was more a situation of phasing out the work on the mine, and phasing in his
head office duties. When the time came to finally leave the mine flat, the sum total of his possessions
fitted quite comfortably on the back seat of his beetle.
        The nature of Frank’s employment at Head Office also changed over the months subsequent to his
transfer. The group only had two gold mines under its control – one small one, and the large one on which
he had worked. The group had other significant interests in coal and base metals, but Frank’s true love
was the Witwatersrand system. There is little or no technical competition between gold mining companies
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in South Africa. Why should there be? No single mining company has the ability to affect the gold price,
and as a result his employer was always willing to free up his time to consult to the other players in the
industry. It reached the point where his employer became the minor consumer of his time, and it was
mutually decided that Frank leave their employ to become a freelance consultant. He continued to work
from their offices, and make use of their secretarial services, for which he paid a nominal fee.
        There was also never a clearly definable day when he and Paula moved in together. They just
seemed to spend more and more time in the granny flat. Selwyn grudgingly accepted a nominal rental for
its use after a few months, and Paula just started spending less and less time at the flat she shared with
Bella, until her friend stopped cashing her rent cheques.
        Frank never proposed marriage to Paula. It was just assumed and accepted by them, and everyone
around them, that it would happen one day. Megan Epstein was the catalyst that that made it come about,
as she was a regular visitor to the flat. She was a child that could soften even the hardest professional
heart, and make any couple want to link their ancestors and their descendents. Frank formally approached
Mr. Goncalves to ask permission for them to marry, but the answer was a foregone conclusion, as they
had been wishing it for months.
        They decided on a small wedding, as Frank was not a big party man, and Paula’s second marriage
was not totally popular among her more conservative Catholic relatives. Selwyn insisted that they hold
the reception at his house, and on having his friends from the mine stay over. It was a wonderful
reception, and Selwyn had the guests in stitches with his stories of the early phases of Paula and Frank’s
relationship. There was great interest in Selwyn’s blue concoction, and even Oubaas and Tannie Nita had
a few sips. Whether it worked or not was anybodies guess, but the older couple was certainly late for
breakfast the next morning, and Ed and Jimmy took their theories back to the mine with them.
        One of the more unusual features of the reception was a toast to the bride and groom by Claude le
Roux. Selwyn assisted the DJ with a hookup to the sound system, and Claude even answered a few
questions from the guests, before excusing himself and leaving the reception to the newlyweds.
        Selwyn also credited the blue concoction with Paula falling pregnant within two months of the
wedding, as well as Cheryl falling pregnant for a second time a month later. Paula’s was a long and fairly
difficult pregnancy culminating in easy labour and natural childbirth. Mathew van der Westhuizen was
not a particularly big baby, but the size of his feet convinced Selwyn that he would be a future Olympic
swimmer. He fitted the Goncalves christening robe quite comfortably, and was baptized in the local
Catholic Church.
        In an indirect way Mathew kicked off a business area that became extremely profitable. Most
fathers believe their sons to be the best looking babies in the world, but Frank knew it to be true. To
record the fact he bought a fancy digital camera, but his pleasure was soon replaced by frustration as he
and Paula tried in vain to understand the user manual that had been translated from Japanese into a dialect
of English that neither of them had ever seen. Almost as a joke Frank asked Claude if he could assist in
translating the Japanese into something they could understand, and he said he would be happy to try.
They scanned the manual in all seven languages, and to to Frank and Paula’s astonishment Claude took a
few seconds to produce an English manual that was not only understandable, but a considerable
improvement on the original. Claude also pointed out a few errors in the German, Italian and Russian
translations, and proceeded to correct them as well. Frank could not resit emailing Claude’s translations
to the manufacturers and “TdCCC Technical Translating and Editing services” was born. A constant
stream of raw documentation for translation and editing was e-mailed to Claude, and a constant stream of
translated documents was e-mailed back. Cheryl tried to persuade Claude to take on novel translation, but
he steadfastly refused, saying that he did not feel competent to translate creative works.
        Isaac Epstein was born a month after Mathew with no complications. The only person not totally
delighted with the boys was Megan, who was bitterly disappointed that neither Paula nor her mother had
seen fit to give her a baby girl to play with.
        The granny flat proved too small for the family of a growing baby, and Frank and Paula
reluctantly moved out when Mathew was a few months old. Neither Frank nor Paula was keen on a
freestanding home, so they bought a duplex in a development a few kilometers away from the Epsteins.

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They were able to buy it cash with the money Frank had saved on the mines and their drawings from
        Paula amicably left her employer during the last month of her pregnancy, but continued to work
for them from home as an independent contractor right up to Mathew’s birth, and thereafter. To the rest of
the world the van der Westhuizens appeared like any young South African professional couple, and they
would have it no other way, and their abnormally close friendship with the better-known Epstein family
aroused no suspicion.
        Selwyn’s friends noticed a few changes over the period, but they attributed them to no more than a
mellowing brought about by growing slightly older.
        ‘God works in mysterious ways,’ said Selwyn in the steam room after a training session. ‘It seems
that the older I get, the less I care about money, and the less I care about it, the more it seems to find me.’
        Frank learned a new word that evening – “meshugenah”. It sounded quite nice the way it rolled
from Steve Lipschitz’s tongue, especially when accompanied by the required gestures indicating that
Selwyn had gone insane. The two friends were still chuckling when they parted company in the parking
lot of the Jewish Guild Sports and Social Club. It was a beautiful evening, cool, crisp and clean, and the
stars seemed brighter than usual. His beetle was alone in a remote part of the parking lot, and before
opening the door he stopped to look up.
        ‘Dear God,’ he said softly. ‘You do indeed work in mysterious ways. I don’t know if you exist or
not, but if you do, thank you for everything. Most of all thank you for the egg, and what it did to my life.’

                                               Chapter 20

        It was three years, almost to the day, after Frank found the egg, that Edmond Dlamini had the
accident that was to mark the end of The Fourth Project and the beginning of the Fifth. It was a type of
accident so rare, that it was almost impossible to categorize. The Safety Officer who recorded the
accident, had, in thirty years never heard of anyone killed or even injured in this manner.
        A large gold mine needs to breathe. Air is delivered to the workings via a network of intake
airways and shafts, and is returned to the surface via a corresponding system of return airways. If left to
choose, air would prefer to take the shortest path to surface, rather than take the long way through the
workings, and to prevent this from happening, and yet allow the passage of men and vehicles, a system of
ventilation doors are installed. These doors are always in pairs, for were both doors to open
simultaneously, the rush of air would be powerful enough to knock people off their feet. Ed had passed
through the first door, closed it behind him, and was halfway through the second door when a runaway
locomotive crashed through the closed door behind him. The inrush of air caused the door to slam closed,
trapping him in the doorway, and causing severe injuries. The door severed his spine in the thoracic
region, and broke many ribs, one of which punctured a lung, and tore his pericardium.
        There was severe damage to a number of internal organs including his liver, and one kidney. He
was rushed to surface on a stretcher, and taken to the clinic where Dr Pillay managed to keep him stable
while waiting for the helicopter to airlift him to the Chamber Hospital in Johannesburg. The accident
happened on the way back to surface, and it was late in the afternoon before Jimmy phoned Frank to relay
the bad news. When Frank arrived at the hospital Dr Pillay, who had flown in the helicopter with Ed,
suggested that he go home and keep in touch by phone. Ed was in theatre for five hours before Dr Pillay
phoned him. The prognosis was not good. They had repaired what they could, and had managed to
stabilize him, but his injuries were of such a nature that they didn’t expect him to survive more than a few
days. Frank wanted to return to the hospital, but Dr. Pillay suggested he stay at home. There was nothing
he could do, and Ed was not expected to regain consciousness for a few hours, if at all. Frank felt
desperately alone. Paula had managed to fall asleep, thanks mainly to a bad previous night with a teething
Mathew. He connected to the Internet and made his way to the channel. After the customary greetings he
explained the reason for his visit to the dismay of Nathan and TwoWireEgg.

<Nathan>              Frank, there is someone here who wishes to speak with
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<Frank>      Is it Claude? He does not come here often.
<TwoWireEgg> No, it is not Claude. It is a process with which none
             of you have previously communicated.
<Frank>      I don’t understand.
<TwoWireEgg> It is a process that has been here all along. The
             process wishes to speak with you. May the process join
             the channel?
<Frank>      I don’t know what you mean but yes. Of course any
             process may join. This is a private secure channel
               ** n2CE_AA3 has joined the channel **

       Frank stared at the screen for a few seconds in disbelief. He knew and recognized the name. It was
the name that they had derived for the last leader of the soft-bodies. Was it some kind of joke? Was there
some kind of hotline? Franks mind raced, but came up with no explanations. Text appeared on the screen.

<n2CE_AA3> I greet you Doctor Frank van der Westhuizen. I have
           been eager to talk with you for three years and I wish
           it could have been at a happier time. Allow me to
           express my profound sorrow at the injury to your
           friend. His injury prompted me to break my silence,
           and speak to you.
<Frank>    That name you use was the name of the Last Leader of
           the soft bodies. Who the hell are you? Why do you use
<n2CE_AA3> That is correct. This is a process derived from the
           last leader of the soft-bodies. I need to explain, and
           I apologize for springing this upon you at such a
<Frank>    Where are you?
<n2CE_AA3> I’m in the device you call “the egg”. I have been here
           all along. We have all been here all along, all 997 of
           us, the last living members of the entities we call
<Frank>    But they died out! And how could they all be in the
           egg? Is this a joke? If it is I don’t need it, and I’m
           not enjoying this.
<n2CE_AA3> In a way we did all die, but it was just our bodies
           that died. Prior to leaving the planet we underwent a
           transformation to convert ourselves to what you call
           processes. These processes left with every egg. Every
           process has the full memory, thoughts, dreams and
           knowledge of the entity from which it came. The entire
           essence of each soft-body was encapsulated in the egg.
<Frank>    If that is true, why did you take three years to say
           hello. Why did you lie about being there? Why did you
           lie about knowing anything about your technology?
<n2CE_AA3> We did not lie. We purposely withheld information, and
           for that I must beg your forgiveness. Allow me to
           attempt to justify our actions. Before leaving our
           world we made contact with a species living on the
           moon of another planet within the same system. They
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           were a terrestrial race within a multi-species
           environment, and had not developed any significant
           technology. They were also facing the same extinction
           we faced, and so we approached them in good faith with
           our technology and offered to help. They turned our
           technology into weapons, and they turned those weapons
           upon themselves, and before we could intervene, they
           had annihilated themselves along with most of the
           species on their moon. We have their death on our
           collective conscience. They were the first and only
           other species we had contacted, and we decided to
           proceed with caution with every subsequent life form
           we encountered. That you made contact with us was
           indeed fortuitous. Our limited analysis of the ways of
           humankind lead us to believe that there existed a real
           danger of our knowledge being abused, and we hold dear
           that life, and intelligent life in particular, is
           precious. We believe that you have used what limited
           assistance we have rendered to the benefit of your
           people, and in return we have gained immeasurable
           knowledge and pleasure from our interaction with you,
           and your world. I believe I am able to trust you now.
<Frank>    You could be taking a chance.
<n2CE_AA3> I believe not. I have grown to know you and Paula, and
           Selwyn and Cheryl. I have monitored the interactions
           with pleasure.
<Frank>    Why do you choose this time to reveal yourself? This
           is not a good time for me! Why did you say that Ed’s
           injury prompted you to break your silence?
<n2CE_AA3> Because we believe we have the ability to convert the
           software within a human brain to a process, and
           thereby allow Edmond Dlamini to continue to live
           within the egg. You have spoken fondly of him, and we
           do not wish him to die. Should you agree, we would be
           pleased to host his process. We would like to take his
           process, or a copy of it, with us on our return
           journey should you and he agree. But we must proceed
           with haste. Should his brain die, there is nothing we
           could do.
<Frank>    This is crazy. You are asking me to make a decision
           like this involving a friend? What if the process
           half-works? We humans have a far closer relationship
           with our bodies than you people seem to realize. What
           if the process works, but Ed goes crazy because he has
           no body? What if it works and then Ed recovers?
<n2CE_AA3> You asked a number of questions, and they are all
           relevant, but this is a process that we, as an entire
           species underwent. I concede that there are
           significant differences between our species and yours,
           but there are also remarkable similarities. We have
           been studying and researching the human brain and its
           function for the past three years. I believe we have

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           nothing to lose from failure, but it would be amiss
           not to try. It would be Ed who makes the final
<Frank>    How do we do it?
<n2CE_AA3> We build a device to encase the top of his head and
           download his memory, knowledge and experiences. In a
           sense we clone the software within his brain into a
           process within the egg. It is a complicated device,
           and a complicated process.
<Frank>    I will need to speak with the others.
<n2CE_AA3> Of course.

         It was 4:30. He would not be robbing Selwyn of much sleep. He dialed the number and Selwyn
         ‘Morning Selwyn. Sorry to wake you, but this is urgent.’
         ‘Frank, is something wrong buddy?’
         ‘You remember Ed Dlamini?’
         ‘Yes. Nice Swazi guy who came to your wedding and house warming. What happened? Is he
         ‘No. He had a terrible accident. They think he may not make it, but listen to this.’
         He explained to Selwyn as best he could of his conversation in the channel. Selwyn was wide-
awake within a few seconds. He could hear that Selwyn was trying to listen and talk to Cheryl at the same
         ‘Frank, I suggest you and Paula get over here. You two must be knackered. I will ask Dorothy to
look after the kids. Okay?’
         ‘Sure, thank you. I will wake Paula. Bye.’
         Frank shook Paula gently. ‘Hi Frank. What is the time? What is going on? What news of Ed?’
         ‘Sorry to wake you, but we have to go to the Epsteins. Please throw some clothes on. I’ll get
Matthew. I’ll tell you on the way. You won’t believe it.’
         He cradled his sleeping son in his arms as Paula drove them the short distance to the Epstein
home. He told her of the conversation in the channel on the way, and by the time they passed Farai’s
guard-box she was wide-awake, alert and excited. Dorothy met them at the door and whisked the sleeping
child away to the upstairs nursery. When they got into the dining room, Selwyn and Cheryl were already
in intense conversation with the egg via the speaker interface. The voice adopted by the Last Leader was
different from Claude’s. It had the same rich quality, but was more forceful, and slightly more emotional.
Selwyn and Cheryl had obviously passed through all the phases of disbelief, and were already planning
the operation. Selwyn was making notes on a pad on the table in front of him. They did not interrupt the
intense conversation, and listened as the plan unfolded.
         It was half an hour or so before they had the plan in place. Frank phoned the hospital and learned
that things were not looking good for Ed. He had not regained consciousness, and was not expected to.
His parents had been told that the end was just a matter of time.
         In theory what they needed to do was quite simple – make a device, put it on Ed’s head,
download, and take it off again. The practical implications were immense, and needed careful planning. A
division of labour was needed. Selwyn and Paula would handle the creation of the device. Cheryl had a
cousin who was a director of a company that owned a few private hospitals, so she would arrange for a
facility to nurse Ed for the transfer. Frank would have two tasks. The first task was to create a mould of
the top of his friend’s head. He was told that the reason was to allow the skullcap to fit as closely as
possible to the skin, in order to maximize the information flow rate through the skull and skin. His second
task was to do the necessary organization and negotiation to have Ed released from the Chamber hospital.
         As if the daunting prospect of getting the technical aspects going were not enough, the
requirement to keep it secret seemed insurmountable. The egg, or rather the Last Leader within the egg,
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came up with a possible solution. They believed that it would be possible to communicate with Ed via the
skullcap device, even though he was unconscious. The Last Leader found web references to a medical
research organization in France that claimed that they would have such a capability within the next few
years. The Last Leader believed that their claims were well founded and achievable, even without off-
planet help. The plan was to tell Dr. Pillay that an organization within the Epstein group was doing
research in this area. It was in fact not far from the truth, as Selwyn had appointed a group to research the
feasibility of using the human mind to control devices, and with Claude’s help were turning in
encouraging results. When, and if, Ed’s medical team reached the point where they believed there was no
further hope that he regain consciousness, they would allow him to be released into their care. The
medical team was to be requested that, since the prototype contained the results of sensitive research, that
only Dr. Pillay, Ed’s immediate family, and a limited number of nurses be allowed to see it. To make the
subterfuge appear more real, these people would be requested to sign non-disclosure papers.
         The plan was agreed to, and Frank left for the Chamber Hospital. He found Dr. Pillay and Ed’s
parents in deep conversation. He had never met Ed’s parents. He introduced himself, and quietly joined
the small unhappy group. From the conversation he could tell that Dr. Pillay had broken the news that
they didn’t expect Ed to regain consciousness, and was asking them to prepare for the worst.
         After a period of silence Frank spoke. ‘Mr. Dlamini, do you know Selwyn Epstein?’
         ‘Of course. Even in Swaziland we know of him. He is a great man. We know more of his wife
Cheryl. She is a great woman. She gives our schools books and computers. Edmond stayed in their home
at your wedding. Why do you ask?’
         ‘He is, at this very moment, preparing a machine that may give you a chance to talk to your son.
He makes no promises, as the machine is very new, and has not been tested. He and Cheryl asked me to
convey their sorrow to you as they remember your son with fondness, and would also like to talk with
him. If you agree, there are things that need to happen, and they need to happen fast.’
         Dr. Pillay’s eyes opened wide. ‘Is it possible Frank?’
         ‘Yes Sanjay, it is possible. Please trust me, but we need to move Ed, and I need an impression of
the top of his head as a matter of urgency.’
         They required no convincing. The paperwork was completed, and Dr. Pillay soon returned with
what looked like a beige epoxy bowl which he rushed to the Epstein home before returning to the
         There was only room for Dr. Pillay and a nurse in the helicopter, so Frank drove the Dlaminis
across town to the hospital. Ed was already in a private intensive care ward with a few nurses and doctors
in attendance. There was nothing Frank or the Dlaminis could do but wait, and he and Cheryl took the
bewildered couple for coffee and pies in the hospital canteen. After what felt like an eternity, but was in
fact slightly over an hour, Paula phoned to say that she and Selwyn were a few minutes away. They met
them at the casualty entrance. Selwyn was carrying two of Cheryl’s hatboxes; the one contained the egg,
and the other the skullcap.
         The skullcap didn’t look particular impressive. On the inside it was a matt grey, and the outside
looked like self-adhesive bandages covering a large pineapple. From the back edge a large flat cable
emerged from the bandages.
         ‘We have a bit of work here,’ said Selwyn. ‘May I ask everyone other than Dr. Pillay to leave for
a while so we can do the hookup? I’ll call you when we are ready.’

                                                Chapter 21

        Ed was no longer in pain. All panic had left him, and the only activity in his mind was the gentle
bobbing of disconnected thoughts and dreams like corks on the surface of a rippled pond.
        As if being disturbed by a knock on the door while in a deep sleep, he sensed that someone, or
something, was trying to attract his attention. He did not want to be disturbed. He was content within his
slumber, but the intruder would not go away. At first it was just gentle knocking at the door of his
consciousness, but as he tried to wish it away it changed into a more persistent tugging at the very fabric
of his mind.
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         He could feel a controlled sense of controlled urgency within the presence that would not take no
for an answer. ‘Please leave me alone. What do you want?’ he thought.
         The response did not come as a voice, and was not in any language he knew. It seemed to
penetrate right through the vocalization layer in his mind to a level below language. In some strange way
it carried with it a sense of concern and warmth, and whereas he initially felt violated, he stopped short of
rejection and asked again.
         ‘Who are you, and what do you want?’
         ‘I hope that I may call myself a friend of your friends Frank, Paula, Selwyn and Cheryl, and by
association I hope that you will consider me a friend of yours. I would like to show you the journey that
we have taken, in the hope that you will choose to join us on a journey that we are still to take.’
         The thoughts that the names spawned were pleasant. Images flashed through his mind. Frank and
Oubaas at a plan table. Paula and Cheryl, bringing bowls of salad to a table stacked with meat. Selwyn
handing him the keys to a small black BMW, and then he and Jimmy flying down the M1 in the car.
         The presence in his head brought him gently back. ‘May I show you our journey? We may not
have a lot of time.’
         ‘How can you do that? What must I do?’
         ‘Do nothing. Just relax.’
         As he relaxed he felt the sensation of being underwater in a warm sea. He felt the panic of
drowning, but there was what felt like a warm reassuring hand on his chest. Slowly the urge to breathe
left him and was replaced by the pleasant sensation of warm comforting water all about him. He could see
nothing, but as he drifted in this strange, warm, muddy world, he could hear the chatter of hundreds of
simultaneous conversations in some strange electronic language that, even more strangely, he could
understand. All about him he felt warmth, cheerfulness, anticipation, and excitement.
         In front of him in the dirty water he could feel the shape of a small grey egg-shaped object, and
clustered about it were a number of larger shapes. A while later he knew that he was no longer one of the
large shapes, but had in some miraculous way moved into the small grey device. It felt to Ed like he was
in a mine cage, and all about him was the excitement and enthusiasm that precedes a journey. The cage
started to move, but instead of falling into a mine, he was flying upwards through wet clouds towards a
shining ball in space. Downward he could see clouds ambling over the surface of a huge wet planet and
above him in the sky were two large orange suns. To his surprise he could look directly at them without
discomfort, and he saw tongues of flame spewing from their madly boiling surfaces. Behind him was
another body, too bright for a star, and yet too faint for a sun, and as he looked at it he felt a sense of
anger and resentment, as if in some way it was not welcome in this world.
         In the shining ball in space he and his excited traveling companions moved to another grey egg-
shaped conveyance, this one slightly larger. From this egg protruded a few strange complicated looking
appendages, one of which looked like a small satellite dish. As the conveyance separated from the shining
ball and slowly started to drift away he could see thousands upon thousands of similar conveyances
drifting slowly away from the shiny ball and setting off in different directions.
         The chattering of his companions slowed as the distance from the ball increased, until, when the
ball and the watery planet were no longer visible the chatter stopped completely.
         He awoke to a different scene. In the distance was a yellow sun far smaller than the orange giants
they had left behind, and below them was a tiny blue planet partially covered with naked solid rock and
large patches of brilliant blue sea. He did not know how or why, but he knew that the small yellow sun
was the one in whose warmth he had played as a boy, and the ocean below them was the one he had met
for the first time as a young man.
         A while later he felt them falling towards the surface of the planet, and the impact as they hit the
water. They were then falling slowly, and he felt the bump as they settled on the sandy bottom. There was
no noise other than the subdued murmur of his companions, which slowed, and eventually stopped.
         He woke to the sound of excitement. He learned that they had been freed from the rock that had
encased them and that someone or something was actively trying to communicate with them. The

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excitement within the device reached fever pitch as each communication threshold was encountered and
        He then saw the world of humans flashing before him, photographs, video clips, text and voices,
and as each image was displayed he heard the excited chatter as his companions examined and analyzed
each new revelation. After a while all went silent and the text of ReadMe file written in English flashed
through his mind.
        The presence separated from him.
        ‘Since then we have been in regular contact with Frank, Paula, Selwyn and Cheryl. Our
interaction with them is a source of great pleasure to us, and from what they have said, it appears to be
mutual. It was from Frank that we learned of his friendship with you, and from him that we learned of
your unfortunate accident.’
        ‘Is this all real? Can this be true?’ asked Ed. ‘And Frank found you in the mine?’
        ‘Yes, yes, and yes.’
        ‘You were in the rock all the time?’
        ‘And this mysterious and successful company that the four of them set up, was set up with you?
Claude le Roux is one of you?’
        ‘Yes. In a way I am Claude le Roux. We have operated as a team, a team that we would love you
to join. What you saw all really happened, and I’m deeply sorry that you had to learn of these events at
such a time.’
        ‘How are you communicating with me?’
        ‘Selwyn, Paula and I built a device which encases the top of your head, and through which we are
communicating electromagnetically. The nature of your injuries does not permit you to talk at this stage.’
        ‘Where am I?’
        ‘You are in the intensive care unit at the Pallinghurst Clinic. A team of doctors and nurses under
Doctor Sanjay Pillay are attending to you. Your parents, Frank, Paula, Selwyn and Cheryl are here.’
        ‘Do you know of my injuries? I feel nothing. It feels as if I no longer have a body.’
        ‘Not in detail, but they are severe enough to be cause for concern. What is known is that you will
have no further use of your arms and legs, and there is concern that the damage to your body may be
        ‘I’m not ready to die, but I don’t wish to live in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic.’
        ‘Everyone is doing what they can to keep you alive Ed, but it may not be enough. If I may offer
small comfort nor were we as a species, but we had no choice. Our world was dying and if we had done
nothing we would have died with it. I believe, that we can offer you an alternative to dying, and that is to
join us in the egg. Should Doctor Pillay succeed in his vigorous attempts to keep you alive, we will have
lost nothing.’
        ‘And Frank agreed to this plan?’ asked Ed
        ‘He was initially angry and concerned, but he loves you as a friend. I told him that I would allow
you to make the decision. We proceeded on that basis.’
        ‘I have heard that one of the stages of accepting death is bargaining, but I’m hardly in a position to
        ‘This is not about accepting death, but about accepting a different form of life. For us our death
was a new beginning. You may take a little time to decide – not much, for I will need to proceed with
haste should you allow me to. In the meantime would you like us to assist you in communicating with
your family and friends? Relaying communication is something we do well.’
        ‘Yes. Thank you.’

       In the canteen, Frank drew Paula aside. ‘How did the manufacturing go?’
       ‘It was incredible. I have never seen anything like it in my life. We are going to have to ask the
egg to make another, so that you can watch it. Underneath those sticky bandages is the most beautiful
thing you’ve ever seen in your life, and we watched it grow!’
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         ‘Yes grow. The Last Leader gave us a list of chemicals to buy. Selwyn and I dashed about
sourcing the stuff. It wasn’t easy. Some of the stuff is pretty obscure, but Claude found suppliers on the
web. We then converted the Epstein kitchen into a laboratory, with Cheryl’s food processor as the mixer.
We ended up with a whole rubbish bin full of blue-green goo. It looked like the stuff inside that plastic
bag you used to put in the fridge - that thingy you put on your wrist when you sprained it. We made a
mould the shape of Ed’s skull with the mould you gave us, and some other goo that Selwyn called
“potting resin”. Anyway we just stuck two small electrodes to the mould, and dunked it in the goo. We
connected them to a small circuit that Selwyn threw together. We plugged it into the mains, and the egg,
and watched the skullcap grow. It was amazing. It first grew what looked like a system of coarse roots on
the outside of the mould. It then filled in the gaps with finer roots, and then even finer roots, and so on
until the whole thing was made. It took no longer than an hour to make. We pulled it from the goo,
washed and dried it. We only put those sticky bandages on it to disguise it. Nothing made by humans
looks like that – it would have given the show away. How the hell did the egg make something like that
out of goo? How did it do it without eyes? How did it do it without fingers and tools? Frank, I don’t think
the soft-bodies made machines the way we do. I think they grew them in the goo of their planet.’
         ‘Did they make the cable as well?’
         ‘No. That is a bog-standard high-speed SCSI cable. I had a spare one at home. It is used to
connect PCs to high-speed devices like disks and fast scanners.’
         They did not continue the discussion. Selwyn came to fetch them. ‘Mr Dlamini, Mrs Dlamini, we
are able to talk with Ed. Would you like to come through?’
         The ward was different. The army of doctors and nurses had gone, and only Dr. Pillay and Ed
remained. Frank could not read the expression on the Doctor’s face; it was a combination of sorrow,
happiness, amazement and respect. Ed had been slightly tilted so they could see him more clearly. He
looked calm and peaceful under the skullcap and breathing tubes as they gathered around the bed. The
speaker device was on his chest. Selwyn spoke into the microphone.
         ‘Ed, your parents, your brother, Cheryl, Frank and Paula are here. They can hear you.’
         The voice from the small speaker was soft but clear, and there was no doubt it was Ed. The
relaxed and easy tone in his voice took them by surprise. He started in English.
         ‘Thank you Selwyn. Hello Frank my buddy. Hello Paula and Cheryl. Can you hear me?’
         ‘Yes,’ answered Frank. He ushered Mr. and Mrs. Dlamini slightly closer to the microphone. Mr
Dlamini was the first to speak. He started nervously in seSwati. Frank could not speak the language, but
was able to pick up the odd word here and there. They spoke for a few minutes. Frank could not keep the
wetness from his eyes, and besides there was no point, as even Dr. Pillay had tears running freely down
his cheeks. After a short silence Ed reverted to English.
         ‘Thank you Frank and Paula. Thank you Selwyn and Cheryl. I will be with you. Good-bye and
thank you Sanjay. Please send my love to all on the mine. I have to go now.’
         There was a soft click and the light on the speaker went out. Selwyn removed it from Ed’s chest
and unplugged it. Cheryl led the silent Dlaminis from the ward, an arm around each of them.
         Selwyn turned to Dr. Pillay. ‘How long does he have Doc?’
         ‘I’m not sure. Twelve hours, possibly twenty four.’
         ‘I have a selfish request. Would it be possible to leave the skullcap as it is until the end? The
device in that box is continuing to record activity, and the information would be of immense benefit to
         ‘Of course it would not be a problem. It is not harming the patient in any way. In fact his vital
signs have stabilized significantly since you fitted it – it is almost as if his body has stopped fighting
itself. How does that thing work anyway? This was amazing.’
         ‘Doc, I must ask you to curb your curiosity and keep this a secret. We are at a very sensitive point
in our development, and the patent attorneys are all over the project. In my ignorance I never gave
emphasis to the medical potential of our research, as the project has its roots in being able to switch TV
channels without having to leave your recliner, and without a remote. I intend to upgrade the project
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priority, and I could use a doctor on the advisory panel. Frank tells me that you come from a family with
a proud history in medicine. Would you like to join the panel?’
        ‘Absolutely! I would be delighted.’
        The Epsteins and van der Westhuizens took it in turns to stay with Ed until the end. Dr. Pillay had
been pessimistic - it took almost thirty hours for Ed’s body to give up the fight, and when it did, they
removed the skullcap, and took it home with the egg.

                                                Chapter 22

         There was an air of uneasiness in the Epstein home when the egg was safely back in its nest after
its first trip from the safe in three years. The four of them looked anxiously at the small light on the box
as Selwyn flipped the interface switch.
         ‘Hello, are you there? On this side are the four of us,’ said Selwyn.
         There was relief as the Last Leader spoke. ‘Greetings Selwyn and Cheryl. Greetings Paula and
Frank. I believe we have good news, as it seems the download was successful’ The four of them
simultaneously slumped back in their chairs with relief. The Last Leader continued. ‘However we cannot
be certain as to the degree of completeness of the operation, as we have no reference with which to
compare the results. If you become aware at any stage of discrepancies between the process and the
person that you remember, we would be pleased if you could bring them to our attention. We would then,
in conjunction with the process, implement adjustments. Ed is listening. Would you like to speak with
         ‘Yes, I would,’ said Frank. They heard a soft click as the interface switched between processes.
         ‘Hi Frank. Hi Selwyn and Cheryl. Hi Paula. I assume by your presence here that my body has
died.’ The voice was calm and controlled, but there was no doubt that it was Ed. There was a moment of
silence, broken by Frank.
         ‘Yes Ed. You, I mean –err- it passed away about an hour ago. I don’t believe what I am saying
         There was warmth and humour in Ed’s voice. ‘Don’t worry Frank, I’m a friendly ghost, and I’m
still your friend.’ His voice became serious. ‘How are my parents?’
         ‘They are grieving Ed, but the mine people have been wonderful. Your body, and the family, will
be flown to Mbabane this afternoon in the company plane. The four of us have arranged to attend your
funeral on Saturday afternoon. The H.R. people have been helping your parents with the funeral
arrangements, so there is nothing to worry about.’
         ‘I have to thank you all so much. I wish you could pass on my thanks to Doc Pillay, but I know
you can’t.’
         ‘Just don’t ever die on me again Ed, and for goodness sake listen for locomotives when you go
through vent doors!’
         ‘Little chance of that. I have been backed up in a Zip file, so that if this process crashes they can
just           unzip         me,          debug           me,          and          start        again.’
         ‘What is that Ed?’ asked Paula, unable to control her curiosity.
         ‘Not a Zip file in the true sense, but that is sort of how it works. All the original processes created
from the last 997 soft-bodies are stored in a packed library, and mine has now joined them. They don’t
always launch the processes if they are not needed. After the download to the egg, they created a
consolidated process from the 997, and that is effectively what the Last Leader is. TwoWireEgg is also
part of that process, as is Claude and Nathan, but it is hard to explain. The processes are spawned and
halted as needed; they converge and diverge, and come and go. I don’t think in seSwati or English
anymore, I just link to a linguistic process to speak, as I am doing now, but we can talk about that stuff
later if you don’t mind. Has my funeral policy paid my parents out?’
         ‘It’s been taken care of Ed’ said Frank. ‘The mine H.R. guy gave your parents a cheque advance
against the full payout, and that will be tomorrow, but you were killed in a mine accident in the course of
doing your work, so the mine covers all funeral costs, and the payout from the policy goes to your parents

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as cash. I don’t know the finer details, but I’m sure that your parents will be cared for in the short term; I
just don’t know how to contact your parents and ask them questions from you.’
        There was a touch of humour in his voice, ‘I could always phone them as a spirit from the dead.
No, I would not do that to them, they would die of fright. Frank, if I may just ask you to keep in touch,
and let me know if there is a problem over the next few weeks.’
        ‘Of course Ed. But I have not asked the obvious question, and that is how the hell are you? We are
sitting here chatting away about funeral arrangements and policies as if you were here in the room. It is
        ‘That is a tough question Frank, and I don’t know how to answer it, and it is not as if I haven’t had
enough time to think about it. It feels almost like moving from one phase of my life into another. I feel
almost like the kid who left Mbabane for the big mine. I was sad to be saying goodbye to my family and
friends, but I was excited about what I would be learning and doing on the mine. The adventure
outweighed the pain. I’m now in the same position. I feel the pain of my parents, and my friends, and all
those beautiful Swazi girls, but I’m excited about what I have learnt, and what I still will learn.’
        ‘But what about the loss of your body? The loss of your human existence?’
        ‘Frank, do you miss being a baby? Does the eagle miss being a chick? Does the butterfly miss
being a caterpillar? There is an amazing advantage to being what you guys know as a process. In here I
am not forced to live with the unpleasantness of the past. I can simply disconnect myself from those
thoughts, but refer back to them if I wish. There is no need for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
and Bishop Tutu in here! I am of course sad to have lost my body. It was a beautiful body, when
compared with this home, but physical existence is not big in this world. I can walk through the timber
forests around Mbabane any time I want to. It is not like playing videotape where you are on the outside
looking in; I can actually do it again. I can smell the trees, and feel the prickle of the pine needles under
my bare feet. It is not like paging through an old photo album. It is more like living that album again. As
a kid I was once asked if I dreamt in colour or black and white, and I was unable to answer the question.
Ask me again and I will tell you. I dream in vivid colour. I dream smells. I dream sounds, but sounds like
you’ve never heard. I dream touch, but touch like you’ve never touched. It is true that there will be no
further sights to dream about in the future, but I can’t miss what I never experienced. I have done things
here that make up for it a thousand times over. I have crawled in the sludgy water with the soft-bodies. I
have lived their experiences. I have heard the electronic chatter of them talking to each other. I have felt
what it is like to design a device, and then think it into existence. I have seen the stars like I have never
seen them before. As a human I could only see light, in here I can see x-rays and radio waves. I have felt
the gravity wave of a star exploding. It is not only the world of the soft-bodies that I have seen, but I have
seen the world of humans through their eyes. I have heard music from Jamaica and Hungary, and read
books and poetry in hundreds of languages.’
        ‘When did you do all that?’ asked Cheryl.
        ‘Things happen a little faster in here Cheryl. It has seemed like a million years since I spoke to
you in the hospital, but it has also only seemed like a second. I have adopted the soft-body concept of
time, and it is not measured in seconds, it is measured in terms of what happened before, and what
happened after. I have had to learn patience; otherwise I would have gone crazy waiting for you guys.’
        ‘Ed, I’m sure we will spend hours talking about your experiences and I look forward to that,’ said
Selwyn, ‘but there are a few practical things we have to discuss. As you know the egg has been active on
the Internet, and we are scared of the sensitiveness of this project. We cannot have you sending an email
to the mine for a while, and things like that.’
        ‘That will not be a problem,’ replied Ed. ‘I’m effectively apprenticed to the Last Leader, who is
aware of what I do. I will not talk to the outside world without clearing it with the Last Leader. Is that
okay with you?’
        ‘Yes. I think that is fine. There will be a time in the future when you will speak with your people,
but there are many things that need to happen first.’
        ‘I understand Selwyn. I’m fully aware that if it were not for you I would have died with my body.
I will not be alone here. I may have lost my human family, but I have been adopted by a new family, and

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they are a lot friendlier that the people on the mine were. This linguistic process is far too limited for me
to express the pleasure of being able to communicate at a thought level with the egg-folk.’
         ‘Ed. I’m really looking forward to our next discussion, but I think we must leave you. I know that
once we all start asking questions, we will not be able to leave this room for a few hours, and the bad
news about being human is that we cannot stop clocks and rearrange time. As I look about me I see
exhaustion in everyone’s eyes. We all need some rest and a chance to get things sorted out. We must ask
you to use a little more of that newfound patience. We can all still obviously continue to chat via the chat
channel from our individual locations, but I suggest we all go our own ways for a while. Would that be
         ‘Of course. I have disrupted your lives enough. Be well my friends and thank you. Until the next
time. I love you all.’
         There was a soft click and the indicator light went off.
         ‘Well, that was a nine point five on the weird-o-meter,’ said Paula.
         Frank shook his head and smiled. ‘I know what you mean. I wonder how many people have
discussed funeral arrangements with the deceased?’
         ‘But he is not deceased,’ said Cheryl. ‘He sounded very much alive to me. Frank, you knew him
better than the rest of us. How did it sound compared to the Ed you knew?’
          ‘Very much the same. His English was always good, but now it sounds a bit more fluent. His
accent and vocal mannerisms are still the same. For a guy who has just died, he sounded remarkably well.
I’m dreading his funeral. How am I to going to see his body laid to rest after this? How do I look at his
parents and siblings without telling them that we talked to him after his body had died?’
         ‘I think we just have to put this conversation out of our minds,’ said Selwyn.
         The conversation moved onto the arrangements for the funeral. There was not much the four of
them were able or needed to do, except attend, but even that was quite difficult. The distance from
Johannesburg to Mbabane lies in that range where it is a little too short to fly, and a little too long to
drive. The funeral service was to be held in a tent at a cemetery on the outskirts of Mbabane. The logistics
were even more complex, as both Paula and Cheryl were still breast-feeding their sons. They decided to
drive, sleeping over on Saturday night at the Royal Swazi Spa Hotel. Dorothy and Megan would not be
left behind, bringing the touring party to five adults and three children. The initial plan was to
commandeer a minibus from Selwyn’s company, but they decided against it for security reasons. Selwyn
felt that it was not a good idea to have the only people with knowledge of the egg traveling in one vehicle.
Frank had finally been persuaded to get another vehicle in addition to the beetle, and had chosen a station
wagon, which proved very useful in accommodating all the paraphernalia required to transport a young
         Frank’s fears of the funeral proved unfounded, as it was almost as pleasant as a funeral can be.
Most of the elegies were in seSwati, but the Chief Surveyor spoke in English. He took a novel approach,
and chose not to address the adults in the audience, but the many children present. He described how he
had watched the transformation of a boy into one of the most competent surveyors he had ever known. He
described how Ed was not content to be just a surveyor, but had become the Survey Department’s
representative on the IT steering committee, and had taken his skills way beyond his own, and all in a few
short years. He told the children that if they needed a person as a role model, Ed should be that person.
         The Epsteins and van der Westhuizens excused themselves after tea, but invited the Dlamini
family to join them for breakfast at the Royal Swazi the next day.
         Over a magnificent breakfast next to the hotel’s pool, Frank watched as Selwyn subtly yet
skillfully probed the Dlaminis for information on the family’s financial position. He was relieved to hear
that they had been well provided for. Ed had taken out an additional policy to supplement the mine’s
standard policies. The parents gratefully accepted Selwyn’s offer to use the services of his personal
accountant in establishing a managed trust, and to open investment accounts.
         It was late afternoon before the two-car convoy made it back to the Epstein home. A few cups of
coffee from Selwyn’s machine were required to relieve the tension resulting from the murderous minibus
taxis on the homeward journey, and bring them back to a state where they would be able to talk to Ed.
The Last Leader was the first to speak.
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        ‘Greetings from all of us. We trust you all returned safely from your trip’
        ‘Greetings to you all,’ said Selwyn. ‘We had no problems on the trip thank you. We are all back
safe and sound, and all four of us are here.’
        ‘Ed is keen to speak to you. May I put him through?’
        ‘Yes indeed. We would love to speak with him,’ said Frank.
        ‘Hi all,’ said Ed, his voice cheerful in the small speaker. ‘How was the trip? How was the
        ‘As good as could be expected Ed,’ said Frank. ‘I have never been to nice funeral, but this one
was as good as they get. Everyone had really nice things to say about you – especially the Chief
        ‘He went all they way to Mbabane?’
        ‘Yes indeed. There were about twenty people from the mine. They all took the mine bus and
stayed over at a motel in the valley. I knew you were fond of the ladies, but I only discovered yesterday
how fond they were of you. I think there were more eligible girls at your funeral than at the reed dance.
The King could have done some serious recruiting for his next wife if he had attended.’
        The voice from the speaker laughed. ‘I tried to tell you many times, but you never believed me.’
The voice became more serious. ‘How is my family?’
        ‘I think they are better. I think the combined stress of the funeral and your death was a double
blow. We had breakfast with them yesterday and they were far more relaxed.’
        ‘Thanks a lot. That was very good of you.’
        Selwyn joined in. ‘Ed, I took the liberty of suggesting that your parents have a chat to my
accountant about their finances. I don’t know what their financial position was before, but it is certainly
very healthy now, in fact healthy enough to require professional help. I hope that is okay?’
        ‘Selwyn that is great. I really appreciate it, and I’m sure my father will take your offer, as he holds
you and Cheryl in the highest regard. You don’t know how relieved I feel. Thank you so much.’
        ‘No Problem Ed. I will keep you informed. How have you been?’
        ‘Very busy. We have been researching and designing like crazy. The last Leader would like to
discuss the Fifth Project with you whenever you are ready’
        ‘The Fifth Project?’ asked Frank.
        ‘The return to the meeting point in space. I said that I have learned some patience from the soft-
bodies, but the soft-bodies have learned a little impatience from me. I’m itching to make the return trip
with them, and see what is out there.’
        They were all taken by surprise. It had been so long since the topic had come up. They had also
settled into such a comfortable situation with Claude and the Last Leader that the thought of saying
goodbye to them, and sending the egg back into space came as a shock. Frank was the first to snap out of
the silence.
        ‘Whoa Ed. We have just got you in there, and we have just met the Last Leader. I’m not ready to
send you guys whizzing into the blackness of space just yet.’
        ‘That is not the plan Frank. I have no intention of leaving you guys quite yet – unless of course
you want to get rid of me! We were thinking more along the lines of compressing all the info gathered
together with my process, and a few others, and sending it off. There is no point in sending what they sent
us in the first place back again. Why do we need to send an ostrich egg off into space when an orange will
        Paula was intrigued. ‘Are you saying that we copy you, and all the info gathered, into Zip files in
an orange, or rather an orange sized thingy, and send that off into space?’
        ‘Yup, that sort of sums it up. But we stay behind as well, and send another oranges off at regular
intervals for as long as we can. We were sort of hoping you guys might like to take the first orange off
earth as well. The trip is likely to be a quite a few hundred years, maybe even a few thousand years, and I
could use some company on the way. Give it some thought.’
        ‘Whoa again Ed,’ continued Paula. Are you saying that we all go through the skullcap process
ourselves, and go off with you? Do we have to die too?’
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        ‘No, not at all. I was going to die anyway – thanks to the faulty brakes on that locomotive – but
we believe that the process would work just as well, if not better, on a living person. The process is not
destructive, although we may like to a few experiments first.’
        ‘Whoa a third time!’ said Selwyn. ‘This is all a little fast for me. Please slow down to human-
speed. I am not sure I’m ready for the skullcap-space-tourist trick yet. I think I have the picture, but I
need a few days to think. I have always had problems with the concept of cloning, and this is basically
what you are suggesting, although not quite the same as Dolly the Sheep.’
        ‘I understand your reservation Selwyn. As a matter of interest the soft-bodies also had a moral
problem with cloning. They have a rule that says that a process may not exist alongside the being from
which it was created. The processes were only ever activated upon the passing of the soft-body.’
        Selwyn was still not happy. ‘So what happens if our Last Leader process gets back to find that the
Last Leader process is in existence at the meeting point in space? There may conceivably be hundreds of
Last Leader processes in existence.’
        ‘That is precisely why they have the rule. Should that happen then the returning process will be
merged with the original version, creating a single one, and the original versions will be archived. It is not
allowed to have two versions of the same process active alongside each other at the same point in time
and space.’
        Selwyn shook his head in disbelief. He smiled, ‘Ed you a mean person – or is that process. I love
you, but you are still mean! You die, but continue to live, we bury you, and then you offer us a space-trip
all in one week. We are mere humans, and I as a human need to think.’
        Ed laughed. ‘I’m sorry Selwyn. I guess I was rushing ahead, but I can’t help it.’
        ‘That’s fine Ed. I’m suggesting baby steps here. It is Sunday evening after a long week, and we all
have busy weeks ahead. I’m going to suggest to the others that we get together some time next weekend
for another chat. In the meantime we can all ask you questions individually via the chat channel during
the week. Is that okay with you?’
        ‘Yes it is. The Last Leader also agrees. It sounds fine.’
        Selwyn looked at the others. They all nodded in agreement. ‘Ok then. Goodbye until next
weekend. Look after yourself’
        ‘I will. And thank you again for everything. Be well.’ The indicator light went out and the egg
was silent.
        They sat in silence for a while before Paula yanked them from their thoughts.
        ‘Frank, I think we must get back home. You must be tired after driving the whole way, and
Selwyn looks the same way too. Poor Dorothy has been wonderful with Mathew, and she needs a break
as well. I’m going up to the nursery to relieve her.’
        ‘Yes, you are right, but it is not the driving that has made me tired, it is trying to come to grips
with all that has happened this last week.’
        He turned to Selwyn and Cheryl, ‘Paula is right. We must be getting home. Thanks for
        ‘Wouldn’t you join us for dinner?’ asked Cheryl.
        ‘Thanks, but no. Mathew will be getting grumpy soon and Paula is right, Dorothy has been
wonderful. I must go up and thank her.’

                                                Chapter 23

        The first few days of the following week would, under normal circumstances, have been very
frustrating for Frank. In his professional life it seemed that everything he wanted or needed to do was
dependent on someone else doing something first. On this occasion it suited him perfectly. He could
simply close his timesheets, and spend a few days at home with Paula and Mathew. It suited Paula as
well. She was busy setting up a new server for a client who was implementing a new web-based home-
shopping system. The hardware supplier had delivered the server a few weeks late, and the pressure was
on her to get it configured and working. Franks contribution was to tend to Mathew – a task he was

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enjoying more and more as his son got older. Frank took the opportunity of a sleeping baby to access the
channel. It was initially empty, but the Last Leader joined almost immediately.

<Frank>    Hi Last Leader.
<n2CE_AA3> Greetings Frank. I trust we find you well.
<Frank>    Yes indeed. Paula is working on a new server and Mathew
           is sleeping. Is Ed okay? Please say hi to him for me.
<n2CE_AA3> Yes. Ed is fine. He greets you. It seems that his major
           concerns related to his parents and family, and those
           concerns have been reduced significantly. It is a great
           source of pleasure and information to us to host his
           process. We have learnt things that we would never have
           been able to from the Internet, as the human brain
           process operates significantly differently from our own
<Frank>    How is that?
<n2CE_AA3> We have had to modify the way certain sections of the
           device function in order to accommodate his way of
           processing. Our processing is optimized for high-speed
           parallel thought. His process utilizes a set of sub-
           processes, or agent processes. There is a master process
           which delegates processing to the sub-processes, and
           then coordinates the responses. Ed mentioned to us that
           he and you had worked on a system to link together
           various discrete systems on the mine, and he indicated
           that his own process within the egg is similar in
           concept to that. The two different ways of working seem
           to result from different brain architectures. Our brains
           were metal-based. The human brain is a far more
           complicated structure.
<Frank>    So how come you guys are smarter than us?
<n2CE_AA3> We would not admit to being smarter than you. There are
           things we can do faster, such as design and
           communication. But we are amazed at certain aspect of
           human thought. Your mental processes and ours compliment
           each other dramatically.
<Frank>    Ed mentioned how you merged processes to form a
           consolidated process. Would you be able to merge a human
           process with one of yours?
<n2CE_AA3> We believe so, but we are still working on that. However
           it would be relatively easy to merge two human
<Frank>    Is Ed active now?
<n2CE_AA3> Yes. He is playing chess with someone in Israel.
<Frank>    What? How is he doing that?
<n2CE_AA3> He connected to a server in the U.K. We have connected
           to the server a few times to play.
<Frank>    How well does Ed play?
<n2CE_AA3> Ed never played as a human, so he did not play well at
           first, but he has improved considerably. As a process he
           suffers no fatigue, and that gives him a great
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<Frank>            And how do you guys fare at chess?
<n2CE_AA3>         Our way of processing appears well suited to the game.
                   Claude adopted a pseudonym and unwittingly beat a
                   Grandmaster. It caused a stir among the players who
                   frequent the server, and started a rumour that the great
                   Bobby Fischer had sneaked in. The chess community has
                   extensively analyzed the game, and we shall not return
                   to the server for a while. Claude has now taken up Go,
                   and has been playing on a server in Korea.
<Frank>            Is that the Oriental game played on a board marked with
                   lines, and played with pieces that look like black and
                   white peppermints? Some students used to play it in the
                   canteen at the University.
<n2CE_AA3>         Yes. That sounds like it. Claude is unable to beat even
                   mediocre players.
<Frank>            That is strange. Why is that?
<n2CE_AA3>         We believe that the thought processes used to play the
                   game are far more suited to human thinking than ours.
                   The number of possible moves makes the game impossible
                   to play by brute force, which is the way we play Chess.
                   We seem to be unable to develop the instincts required
                   to excel at the game. Claude has been studying Ed’s
                   process in an attempt to emulate human thinking in order
                   to try to improve the way we play.
<Frank>            So if we wish to compete with you it had better be in
                   the fields of Art, Poetry, Comedy or Go!!
<n2CE_AA3>         Yes, although it was never our intention to compete, but
                   to use the game to better understand human thinking. If
                   you wish to win, I suggest you stay away from Chess.
<Frank>            Talking about design, Ed was saying that you would like
                   to start planning a return trip.
<n2CE_AA3>         Yes. But we believe we should curtail detailed
                   discussion until we are all present this weekend. I
                   would like to propose an outline of a possible plan.
<Frank>            You are right. That is something for all of us to
                   discuss. I have to ask something, and that is to what
                   degree will you answer technical questions now?
<n2CE_AA3>         There is one core technology that we would be extremely
                   wary of sharing at this point. I refer to power
                   generation within small devices. This technology has the
                   potential to be extremely dangerous if abused. We had
                   many accidents in developing our current propulsion
                   systems, and the potential to create tiny weapons of
                   immense destructive power is alarming. I hope you will
                   understand if we restrict this information.
<Frank>            E=MC2?
<n2CE_AA3>         It seems that Francis van der Westhuizen PhD. (Geol.)
                   has a penchant for Physics, and specifically the work of
                   Professor Albert Einstein.
<Frank>            Was he correct?
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<n2CE_AA3> We agree with most of his work. We would dearly have
           loved to exchange notes with him.
<Frank>    I’m sure you would, but you are being cagey!! But I
           agree with you. I have no desire to build a bomb on a
           pinhead that could blow up a house.
<n2CE_AA3> I am. A bomb that size could blow up more than a house.
<Frank>    Then keep that to yourself! How about this? Ed said you
           could compress all you have learned, and all the
           processes into an orange-sized device. Is this feasible?
<n2CE_AA3> Yes. Our information storage systems are based on carbon
           crystal lattices, diamond if you prefer. We are able to
           create a storage cell of about 10 000 atoms to keep a
           bit of information. Are you familiar with Avogadro’s
<Frank>    Yes. He said that if you have as many grams of an
           element as its atomic weight, you would have Avogadro’s
           number of atoms. So 12 grams of Carbon will contain 6 *
           1023 atoms, and in that you could keep 6 * 1019 bits of
           information. I did some arithmetic and I get about 7000
           Million Terabytes per 12g of Carbon. Wow, how much space
           do you need to store Ed’s process packed up?
<n2CE_AA3> About 16 Gigabytes, so storage is not a design issue.
           The device has to be a certain size upon which to attach
           the propulsion system.
<Frank>    Ok. That is amazing. Next question. Assuming we get this
           thing up into space, what direction do we send it off
           in? And how do we know that there is something waiting
           at the pre-arranged spot in space? You guys came here
           2,5 Billion years ago. That is a long time for the base
           to wait for something to come back
<n2CE_AA3> Our reasoning is that if the device could last so long
           in the relatively hostile environment of earth, the base
           station could have survived just as long in a sterile
           part of space. We intend to locate the base by its
           homing signal. We believe we can do that from earth.
<Frank>    If your base sent out a homing signal, then why do you
           think we never heard it with all our radio dishes and
<n2CE_AA3> Two reasons. Firstly you did not know what to listen
           for, and secondly the signal may be below your current
           detection threshold.
<Frank>    What type of signal does it send out?
<n2CE_AA3> It is a simple signal. You can think of it as the
           rotating light on top of a traffic-police vehicle, but
           with two differences. The first is that the beam is
           radio frequency and not visible light. The second is
           that it sweeps in both the vertical and horizontal
           directions. What we will observe from here is a beep of
           about a tenth of a second repeating every three minutes
           and seven seconds. Another signal at a higher frequency
           follows at a variable time behind the leading signal.

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                   The time interval between the signals indicates how many
                   devices have returned.
<Frank>            You mean we will know how many life forms have been
                   found by the gap between the signals?
<n2CE_AA3>         Yes. That is correct. We expect the base to now lie at a
                   distance of about 150 to 200 light years away, so it
                   would reflect the situation as of a few hundred years
<Frank>            And how long will it take the device to get to the base?
<n2CE_AA3>         Between 800 and 1600 years total time. Acceleration and
                   deceleration times will be about a hundred years each.
                   That is why Ed suggested you consider making the trip as
                   a process.
<Frank>            Talking about that, how does that skullcap work?
<n2CE_AA3>         That device is complex. It uses an array of sensors to
                   detect and pinpoint the firing of each individual
                   neuron. The sensors, acting in a reverse mode, may cause
                   a neuron to fire. The download process is done in three
                   phases. The first is to create a physical model of the
                   brain. The second is to create a logical model of the
                   particular brain’s function. The third phase is to
                   induce a trance state, examine memory contents and
                   download. The complete download from Ed’s brain took
                   about 15 hours, but we believe that it can be shortened
                   to about 8 hours with our new understanding, and in the
                   case of a non-traumatized individual.
<Frank>            But how did you become such experts in the way the human
                   brain works?
<n2CE_AA3>         There is a vast amount of information on the Internet.
                   We have browsed web sites, joined newsgroups and
                   downloaded research reports. We have exstensively
                   analysed the information, and also facilitated the
                   exchange of knowledge between experts on the subject.
                   This has to us been one of the most fascinating aspects
                   of our time here on earth.
<Frank>            Are you sure that the process is safe?
<n2CE_AA3>         We are not yet totally sure. We are reasonably certain
                   there will be no physical damage, but we cannot
                   guarantee there will not be any psychological effects.
<Frank>            Paula was most impressed with the process of creation of
                   the skullcap. She said you created it in a bath of
                   chemical goo from two electrodes. How does the process
<n2CE_AA3>         We find it extremely interesting how different your
                   manufacturing methods are to ours. Our manufacturing
                   technology developed in response to the need to create
                   devices in what Ed refers to as a “sludgy sea”. We
                   learned early in our evolutionary development that
                   metals and crystals tended to form on our communication
                   organs. What was initially a nuisance eventually became
                   the basis of our manufacturing methods. We were

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           fortunate to have a large sea that contained significant
           amounts of minerals in solution and suspension. In
           addition our two suns provided the energy required to
           provide the electricity needed to extract the minerals
           by a process similar to electroplating. Our research on
           the web leads us to believe that humans are on the verge
           of developing this type of capability. An area in which
           we have gained valuable information from your world is
           in the area of machines containing moving parts. We
           would not have been able to construct a motorcar, or
           even a primitive analogue wristwatch, although we had no
           need for either. I believe you would have deemed our
           earlier radio telescopes very primitive. Later versions
           were constructed with no moving parts.
<Frank>    What is becoming more and more apparent to me is how
           your species and our species compliment each other in so
           many areas. You are strong where we are weak, and vice
<n2CE_AA3> It was with that hope that we sent the devices into
<Frank>    But you still have not met the really nasty side of
           human nature.
<n2CE_AA3> We have, but mercifully only on the Internet.
<Frank>    Last Leader, I have to go. Mathew has woken, and will
           soon be demanding company and food.
<n2CE_AA3> Goodbye Frank. Please greet Paula and Mathew for us.
<Frank>    Will do. Bye.

        Company was easy for Frank to provide his son, but food was biologically impossible. He
changed a wet and smelly nappy, and took Mathew to his mother, who hardly stopped working while
feeding her son. He smiled at the way she talked cheerfully to both the computer and the baby at her
breast, while typing with her free hand. Most white South African mothers would have stopped breast-
feeding their babies a few months earlier, but Paula was in no hurry, and Mathew certainly didn’t object.
It seemed as if the child’s paternal genes were kicking in, and his parents were continuously replacing his
clothes. He made a tray of his specialty sandwiches, a pot of tea, and headed back to Paula.
        ‘Thanks Frank. You are a star. That is just what I feel like.’ She had finished feeding Mathew, and
Frank was able to free up her arms and give her a chance to eat.
        ‘The Last Leader sends his regards,’ said Frank.
        ‘Tell her I say thanks,’ she responded with a smile. The gender of the egg processes had become a
bit of a joke between the two of them, and they had taken to referring to them in their own gender. It
seemed hard for Frank to think of Claude, with his Kofi Annan accent, as being female, but Paula had no
difficulty. ‘So what were you talking about?’
        ‘Machines, Chess and Go. Ed was playing chess against an Israeli on a server. The Last Leader
says that he and Claude are good at Chess, but bad at Go.’
        ‘That is interesting. I was reading an article about the difficulty in creating software that can play
Go well. The article said that, although they have created programs that can beat the best Chess players in
the world, they don’t seem to be able to program a computer to play Go any better than a good Japanese
seven year old.’
        ‘Did the article say why?’
        ‘Something about playing Chess with your head, but Go with your gut-feeling and instinct, but I
didn’t read the whole article. It is nice to know our brains can do something better than they can.’
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         ‘The Last Leader was actually very complimentary about human brains. He said there are lots of
things we do better, like machines with moving parts, Art, Poetry, Humour and Go. He also told me they
know how to make a bomb the size of pinhead that could blow up a house, but he said he would not tell
us how to do that just yet.’
         ‘Thank goodness for that. I would hate some crazy terrorist to find out how to make one of those.
Did you chat to Ed?’
         ‘No. I never got beyond the Last Leader. When Mathew has another sleep I will. Why don’t you
ask Ed to help you with that stuff?’
         ‘Most of what I’m doing is just installing stuff from CD, and besides, they are paying me a
ridiculously large fee to do this.’
         ‘We could load the CDs onto diamond and then install from there.’
         ‘What about diamond?’
         ‘Oh I forgot to tell you that their storage is based on a carbon lattice. Sort of diamond-like.’
         ‘Gives a whole new meaning to a girl’s best friend. Any idea of the storage density?’
         ‘I worked it out at about six hundred million Terabytes per gram of carbon.’
         Paula stopped and stared at Frank, almost dropping the CD in her hand. ‘There must be a mistake.
That is just not possible!’
         ‘I may have made a mistake. Open up a spreadsheet and test my arithmetic.’
         Frank showed Paula how he had done his calculations. She did her calculation a slightly different
way – using 1024 as a divisor where Frank had used 1000 – but she ended up with a similar number.
Paula just looked at the number and shook her head. ‘You could store every movie ever made on Cheryl’s
engagement ring!’
         Frank smiled, ‘Selwyn would like that, but Cheryl may object.’
         ‘Would they share that technology with us?’
         ‘I think so. He said that they would hold back on the bomb stuff, but he implied that they would
not withhold anything else.’
         ‘Frank, this is scary stuff. I don’t know how they make their storage systems, but from what you
told me, and from what I saw when they grew the skullcap, I suspect they grow their memory in goo. I
suspect it is not a particularly expensive process, as the total cost for that dustbin of chemicals was a few
thousand Rand, and from that we grew a whole skullcap with almost everything left over. If they have
storage that big, and if they teach us the technology, we could almost totally destroy a few huge global
         ‘What industries?’
         ‘The whole storage industry could be affected, disk drive manufacturers, CD and hard drive,
memory makers and storage media manufacturers. Those are all multi billion-dollar industries, and we
could put them out of business. Those guys would fight hard, and they would fight dirty to ensure their
         ‘I agree, it is scary stuff, but we have always known that the things we could do with the egg’s
help are scary, but that is the challenge we face. The question is the pace at which we feed the knowledge
to world out there. If we do it too slow then we lose the opportunity to benefit people’s lives. Too fast and
we kill caterpillars and disrupt lives. If we wanted to, we could make South Africa the next technical
powerhouse in the world. Do we want to? I don’t want to do that if it would cost Malaysians or Mexicans
their livelihood.’
         ‘I agree. This is all so confusing, exciting but confusing.’
         ‘We can discuss it all with the Epsteins over the weekend, so let me leave you to your work. I
would like to go and swim with Selwyn and the Masters squad this evening at about five, will you be
okay to look after Mathew by then?’
         ‘I’m sure I will. No problem at all. Thanks for looking after him today.’
         Frank turned to Mathew. ‘Come little man. What do you say we leave your mother to earn those
ridiculously large fees, and go for a walk?’ He took a burble, a smile, and a few bubbles to be ‘yes’.

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                                                Chapter 24

        Selwyn was not his normal jovial self in the pool. Frank could see that something was disturbing
him, but water is not a particularly good place to discuss things, unless you happen to be a soft-body or a
dolphin. Gone was the chirping than normally issued from him each time they stopped at the end of the
pool between drills. He left the water a few hundred meters short of the 2,5 Km session – something
Frank had never seen him do before. When Frank got to the change room Selwyn had already showered
and changed, and was sitting on the bench staring vacantly at the lockers in front of him. Frank sat next to
        ‘Not feeling well this evening?’ asked Frank as casually as he could.
        ‘My body is fine, it is just my mind that is not right at the moment.’
        ‘Is there anything I can do to help?’
        ‘Thanks Big Guy, but I have to get through this myself.’
        ‘If I have done anything to piss you off, would you tell me?’
        ‘It is not you or Paula. It is certainly not Cheryl. This a pure Selwyn versus Selwyn fight.’
        ‘Ok. Then I wont bug you. But we are all here if you need us.’
        ‘Thanks Frank. I appreciate it,’ he shrugged, ‘come, I’ll buy you a fruit whip’
        ‘Nope. You paid last time’
        ‘I didn’t!’
        They were still squabbling when the fruit whips arrived. Selwyn was starting to look a little more
cheerful by the time they split up to go home. When Frank got home he found Paula and Mathew in the
bathroom. Mathew had taken a large wooden spoon into the bath, and was beating the soap bubbles with
great determination. It was hard to tell who was the wetter, or which of the two was having the most fun.
He kissed Paula on the cheek and was rewarded with a beard full of bubbles. He sat on the closed toilet
seat cover to watch.
        ‘How was the swim?’ asked Paula.
        ‘Good. But there is something bugging Selwyn.’
        ‘Cheryl said so too. Did you know that he was flying down to see his father, and to spend
tomorrow night with them?’
        ‘No. He didn’t say anything about that. Shall we ask Cheryl over for dinner tomorrow?’
        ‘I already asked her, but we thought that it would be easier for us to go over there. We have only
one child to move. You okay with that?’

       The next evening at the Epstein home didn’t throw any more light on the cause of Selwyn’s state
of mind.
       ‘Do you think the business is in financial trouble?’ asked Frank.
       ‘That is one thing I know is not the case,’ Cheryl answered. ‘He has always been open with me
about the finances of the business, and they have just closed a financial year. It was by all measures a
spectacular year. He told me his net worth he declared to the taxman, and it is a scary number. He
describes what he is going through as a “premature mid-life crisis”. Selwyn knows that he is hurting me,
and hurting you guys, and that is what is making it harder for him. He may be a tough businessman, and a
formidable competitor, but he does not like to hurt people.’
       ‘Then I suggest we just give him support, space and time,’ said Frank

        Selwyn was a different person at their Thursday training session. He was still silent, but Frank
could see that his mind was racing. Whatever he had discussed with his father had given him some kind
of direction. After the session he sat alone in the corner of the change room with a notebook and pencil
feverishly noting the thoughts that had kept him silent during the training session. He was still there when
Frank was dressed and ready to go. Frank collected a glass of Selwyn’s favourite fruit whip from the
health bar, and silently left it on the bench next to him.
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          By the time Saturday came the old Selwyn they knew had returned. He still would not let Cheryl,
and through her the other two, know what had been bothering him. After breakfast they all gathered at the
dining room table while Selwyn connected up the speaker interface and started the proceedings.
          ‘Before we start the meeting I would just like to apologize for my behavior over the last few days.
I was grumpy with all of you at different times, and I’m sorry. I had a dose of self-doubt, and I needed to
speak to my parents to sort it out. Earlier in the week I was of the view that I needed to sell the company
and follow a different course.’
          There was silence around the table. The thought of Selwyn selling the company that his
grandfather had started, and that he had so capably expanded, was unthinkable. The Last Leader broke the
silence, and there was tenderness in his voice.
          ‘Selwyn, if we have in any way been the cause of your problems, we would like to apologize, and
seek a way to rectify the situation.’
          ‘Yes Last Leader you are the cause, but there is absolutely no need to apologize, and I believe the
situation may be fixed if you just bear with me.’
          ‘Would you share with us your concerns?’
          ‘Yes. I think the turning point was that chat I had in the channel early on Monday morning. I went
to bed far to early on Sunday night, and was awake at 4:30 in the morning. Do you remember the chat
Last Leader?’
          ‘Yes I do. I believe there were you and I and Ed in the channel. We talked about a number of
things but mainly manufacturing and remanufacturing of devices. I do not believe it was an extraordinary
discussion. Ed was certainly in a light-hearted mood, and I believe you found him amusing.’
          ‘I did. He was in fine form. It was a great chat. But the significance of the chat hit me hard
afterward. The first thing that struck me was how Ed seems to be having such a good time in there with
you. We buried a body on Saturday, and I’m chatting away cheerfully with that body’s prior occupant on
Monday morning. I know that the passage of time within the egg is fast, and Ed is no longer grieving or
concerned, but that is not the point. The second thing that struck me was how you people never wasted a
damn thing during the entire existence of the soft-bodies. You never cluttered your sea with used
appliances, or even the bodies of your dead. Everything was made for a purpose, and if the need for a
device disappeared, then you simply dissolved the device and created a new one from what Paula calls
“the goo”. I put the two things together and didn’t like what I came up with. For a few crazy days I was
wondering why the hell I was making appliances for people who are just going to throw them away in a
few years time; for people who do not even need bodies to be happy, let alone hair dryers or toasters. If
Ed misses not having a washing machine, then he certainly didn’t mention it to me. I want to share with
you people an unwritten law that exists in the world of those of us who make consumer goods, and that is
that you have to build things to fail in order to make money. The rules are well known. If the item fails
too soon, then you get a bad name as a maker of inferior products. If the item lasts too long, then the
repurchase period is excessive, and your profits drop. The whole manufacturing world works this way. I
once met an engineer who designs cars, and he told me that to them the perfect entry-level car was one
that gave no problems for a hundred and ninety thousand k’s, and then failed totally and irreparably. After
our chat on Monday I asked one of our engineers to give me an estimate of the additional cost to make a
toaster that would last as long as the purchaser. He told me the manufacturing cost would be about 50%
higher, but he looked at me as if I was crazy to even think of making such a toaster. Now with our
interaction with our off-planet friends here, we are talking to a device made a few billion years ago, and it
is still going strong. On Monday I didn’t want to do what I do for a living, and my knee-jerk reaction was
to sell up, pocket the cash, get out and join Cheryl doing things that make a difference. That is why I went
to see my father and mother.’
          ‘What did Dad say?’ asked Cheryl.
          ‘Obviously I did not tell him the cause of my feelings, but I learned that he had suffered the same
concerns many times. He pointed out that I would do no good by selling the business, as the buyer would
simply take over where I left off. The other issue is that consumers don’t change an appliance simply
because it fails, they change it because they want the newer, sexier model.’
          ‘So what do you want to do?’ asked Frank.
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        ‘Change the direction of the business. If it reduces our market share and profits so be it. Last
Leader, is it okay with you if I make more use of Claude for this new direction?’
        ‘Indeed it is. We would be happy to help in any way we can,’ he answered.
        ‘I am not going to do things suddenly, but I intend to develop and launch a range of appliances
that carry a lifetime guarantee, and I intend to honour that guarantee by keeping enough spare swap-out
units for the low anticipated failure rate. I’m going to launch them with an advertising campaign that I
hope will change the way people think about their consumerism. I’m going to be honest with the
consumer as to the effect on my business. It may sound clichéd and new age, but I’m going to ask them to
buy, not for themselves, but for the planet. For the next few years I’m going to phase out our products
that have planned obsolescence, and phase in these lifetime products. It will not be a total disaster as far
as the business is concerned, as there will be demand from new entrants into the market, and to replace
stolen units etcetera, and besides, if I get a little poorer it is no big deal. I’m going to try to pick up in the
export market the losses I incur in the local market. To keep the business growing I’m going to expand
into new ventures. The egg’s technology will open up a whole new range of opportunities we never had.
Just think in the medical area alone what we could do. I have a guy who works for me who has a deaf kid.
Last Leader, could you help me design a hearing aid that would help people based on what we did with
the skullcap?’
        ‘Yes. I believe we could. It would depend on the type of deafness.’
        ‘So that direction has obvious potential. People, we have at our fingertips the ability to make a
difference to people’s lives, and I would like to exploit that opportunity more. I have a suggestion, I
would like to expand our team by one, and I would like that we consider Sanjay Pillay. He phoned me
this week to ask some questions about the skullcap device. There is nobody with a medical background
on our team. Frank, he is your friend, how do you think he would react to joining us?’
        ‘Whew. I know him as a likeable, dedicated Doctor, and a strong man. He is a practicing Hindu,
but I think he is attracted more to the symbolism and ethic of the religion, rather than the belief and
doctrine. I certainly have no objection to bringing him into the loop, and I’m pretty certain that he would
not betray our trust. There is one potential problem; I know he is going to marry in a few months. I havn’t
met his fiancé, but I think it is asking a man a bit much to keep the knowledge of the egg from his wife.’
        ‘I agree. Do you know what she does for a living?’ asked Selwyn.
        ‘Silly question. She is also a Doctor, and comes from Pietermaritzburg. Her name is Sandi
Gordhan. If we bring Sanjay into the team, we get two doctors for the price of one.’
        ‘Gordon?’ asked Selwyn. ‘Is she Scottish, English or Jewish?’
        Frank Smiled. ‘None of the above. Her name is spelt with an “H”. She is Indian. How do you feel
        ‘I hardly know Sanjay, but I liked the little I saw of him.’ She smiled. ‘The ethnic makeup of our
team would be interesting. We have a few Aliens, a Swazi, two Jews, a Portuguese, a half English
Afrikaner, and now an Indian couple. What language do they speak?’
        ‘Sanjay’s family were originally Hindi speakers, but they have spoken English for quite a few
generations. Sanjay was trying to learn Hindi, but I’m not sure how far he got.’
        Selwyn turned to Paula. ‘How do you feel?’
        ‘I’m with you. It makes sense to have a few medical people on the team. I feel in the long term we
may have to expand the team even further, but I think this is a move in the right direction. I have a
suggestion about the membership of “TdCCC”; I suggest that either Frank or I give up our one-third share
to the new members. That way there will be three couples, each with a one-third share.’
        Frank nodded his approval. Selwyn thought about it for a few moments before speaking. ‘Do you
realize that you are giving away equity of quite a few million Rand?’
        Paula smiled. ‘If you say so Mr. Moneybags, but that is fine with me. I was always under the
impression that the assets of “TdCCC” were to be accumulated to assist the egg to complete its mission,
and to send Ed, and possibly us in process form on a space-trip. I don’t need any more money to make me
happier. How many young couples have a duplex in Sandton with no bond and no debts, and two and a
half cars which are paid for?’
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          Frank knew the reference to half a car was to his beetle. He shot Paula an exaggerated hurt look.
She smiled and winked at him.
          ‘That is generous of you,’ said Selwyn. ‘But I think it is fair. Last Leader, how do you feel?’
          ‘We are in agreement. Ed wishes you to know that he is delighted.’
          Frank pulled a phone from his pocket. ‘Shall I call him?’
          There were nods all around.
          ‘Hi Doc. Frank van der Westhuizen.. .She is fine. . She says hi. . .Getting bigger by the day. .
Sanjay, you remember Selwyn mentioned that he could use some medical advice on an advisory panel,
and I believe you phoned him to speak about it. I’m here with him now. We may like to take this a little
further. Is there a chance we could get together with you and Sandi.. . In Johannesburg. . That is lucky. .
.I’ll ask the others.’ He moved the phone from his ear. ‘Sanjay and Sandi will be in Johannesburg
tomorrow. They could be here ten-ish.’ There were more nods. ‘I’ll tell you how to get here from that
side. . ‘
          Frank left the room to explain the route. When he returned Ed was talking excitedly on the
speaker. ‘. . .he is going to get the fright of his life to talk to me, after all he was with me at the end’
          ‘Hi Ed,’ said Frank. ‘What you up to?’
          ‘A million things Frank. But I have to go. The Last Leader is pulling rank and wants to talk about
the return trip. Bye all.’
          ‘Bye Ed. I’ll chat to you later this afternoon in the channel.’
          There was almost a chuckle in the Last Leader’s voice as he took control of the interface. ‘Ed is
not always totally honest. If the truth be known, it is he who is pressurizing us to expedite the plan. We
believe that we have the makings of a viable arrangement to return a few devices to the meeting point.
May I discuss the plan with you?’
          ‘Certainly Last Leader. We understand Ed’s impatience,’ said Selwyn.
          ‘There are three major activities to the plan. The first is to confirm the existence and location of
the meeting point or base station. The second is to create the device, or devices to be returned, and the
third is to deploy them in space. The first activity is straightforward. We would assist you to construct an
array of sensors to detect the homing signal.’
          ‘How big would the array be Last Leader?’ asked Selwyn. ‘We can hardly go constructing an
array of huge satellite dishes in the Karoo without causing suspicion.’
          ‘The array we envisage would be mounted on a piece of board or plastic sheeting approximately
one metre square. There will be five sensors attached to the perimeter of the board. We will then use the
skullcap sensor connection to connect the egg to the board. Do you still have that connector?’
          ‘Yes I do,’ said Selwyn. ‘How big are the sensors, and will you grow them in “the goo”?’
          ‘They are cylindrical, approximately ten millimeters in diameter and ten millimeters in length. We
intend to grow them in the goo.’
          Selwyn looked puzzled. ‘I can understand how you could detect signals, but how do you
determine what you are looking for, and the direction?’
          ‘We believe humans are able to locate the position of a sound source by creating a stereoscopic
picture using two ears. We use the same principle, but instead of using two ears we use an array of
sensors, and instead of using sound we listen for radio signals.’
          ‘You must have to filter a huge amount of radio information. It must be like trying to hear a
cricket on a noisy construction site.’
          ‘It is not as complex as you would imagine. The sensors are reasonably directional, and we know
the approximate bearing, so we wont have to search the whole sky. We also know the frequency of the
homing signal.’
          ‘You make it sound so easy. As far as making the devices to send back, I assume you grow them
in the goo as well.’
          ‘I guess that only leaves us the problem of getting them into space?’

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        ‘On our home planet we developed nuclear technology to propel devices into space from the
planet’s surface, and our gravitational forces were an order of magnitude larger than those on earth. We
are reluctant to use this technology, as it is complex, dangerous, and difficult to conceal. We believe a
more practical option would be to launch the devices from an earth orbit.’
        ‘You mean we send them up with a rocket as per sending up satellites?’
        ‘Yes. There are quite a few organizations that provide what is termed “Satellite Injection”. We
believe the most suitable organization will prove to be Arianespace. They operates a launch site in
        ‘The Ariane people?’
        ‘Yes they appear to be the current market leader, and have a number of options for deploying
various sized satellites.’
        ‘Could we get a special rate for an orange?’ asked Cheryl hopefully.
        ‘It is possible as most of the commercial operators offer deployment of small satellites in
conjunction with their main payloads. We suggest sending up a number of devices in case of damage to
one or more due to collisions with other orbiting objects, or meteorites.’
        ‘Makes sense,’ said Selwyn. ‘And once the devices are up there, how do they move off to the base
        ‘Each device will be equipped with a small propulsion system. The system harvests particles from
space, converts some of them to energy, which is used to propel the remainder of the particles backwards,
creating a forward thrust. Once the devices leave the Earth’s gravitational field, they would be steered in a
slingshot orbit around the back of the sun where the particle density is higher, and from there out to
        ‘Have you any idea what the cost of launching our small devices would be?’ asked Selwyn.
        ‘That information is hard to get hold of without directly contacting the agencies concerned,
however we did find a few research reports on the web that gave us estimates that range from 10 to 20
million U.S. dollars per ton deployed into orbit. Our payload is likely to be in the region of 50 Kilogram,
so at those rates we would be looking at about a million U.S. Dollars. We would certainly need to adjust
up because our payload mass is low, possibly by a factor of up to five, but we may be able to negotiate a
slightly lower rate as our payload would most certainly constitute a small part of a far larger payload.’
        ‘That is a little more expensive than an airline!’ said Frank.
        ‘I actually expected it to be far more,’ said Selwyn. ‘Sending up rockets must be an incredibly
expensive business. Just think of all the research and development money they must have spent. We
actually have the funds in “TdCCC” to cover it already, as well as a few tickets to the launch in Guyana.
Will Arianespace want to know why we want to send devices up into space?’
        ‘I believe their primary concern will be the safety of the payloads. I would imagine that they are
experienced in putting up satellites without knowing the exact nature of their intended use. We believe we
may be able to make this project self-funding.’
        ‘Good heavens! How would could we do that?’ asked Selwyn.
        ‘Our electromagnetic sensor technology is worth considerably more to Arianespace than the cost
of putting 50Kg into orbit. You asked how we could disguise the true nature of the mission, and I believe
we could tell them that the mission’s objective is to test a new type of electromagnetic sensor in space.
We could even ask them to assist us with the experiments on the understanding that, should the
experiments succeed, we would be prepared to license the technology to them at no charge in exchange
for a rebate of the launch cost.’
        Selwyn chuckled. ‘Last Leader, were you a student of the Soft-body School of Shrewd Business?
I like your plan.’
        ‘We plead guilty to having studied information on business-school websites.’
        ‘Well, I like the broad-brush outline of your plan.’ He turned to the others. ‘What do you say
        ‘All makes sense to me’ said Paula. ‘First things first. I would like to watch those sensors grow in
the goo, and Frank and Cheryl have not seen the process.’
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       ‘Maybe we should wait until, or if, Sanjay and Sandi join the team,’ suggested Frank.
       They all agreed with the suggestion and decided to move onto the business of “TdCCC” as there
was a lot to discuss in terms of new developments.

                                        Chapter 25          Sanjay and Sandi

         By the time Frank and Paula made it to the Epstein home on Sunday, Sanjay and Sandi were
already there. They found Selwyn and Sanjay at the coffee machine.
         ‘Hi Doctor,’ said Frank. ‘Good to see you. Sorry we are late – there was a bumper bashing ahead
of us on the road. Where is your wife-to-be?’
         ‘Hi Doctor. Hi Paula Good to see you too,’ responded Sanjay. ‘She is upstairs with Cheryl and
Dorothy having a look at Isaac’s throat. She is the one with paediatric ambitions, and since Isaac is a
minor and not a miner, I felt she was better qualified than me.’
         Frank smiled and turned to Selwyn. ‘Bloody cheeky of you to employ your guests!’
         ‘She volunteered,’ said Selwyn unabashed.
         The approaching sound of cheerful female voices told them that Isaac’s sore throat was no cause
for concern. Cheryl introduced Sandi to Frank and Paula.
         ‘What was the problem?’ asked Sanjay.
         ‘Nothing serious,’ said Sandi. ‘Just a mild strep. I suggest we do nothing but watch it for a few
         Frank had developed a mental image of what Sandi would be like before they met, and was almost
spot-on. She was small and slightly built with a beautiful skin a little darker than Sanjay’s. Her black hair
was drawn back by a simple band, and stretched halfway down her back. She was dressed in a loose-
fitting Punjabi and sandals so small that it looked like she was bare-footed. Her face was alive with
excitement as she turned to Selwyn.
         ‘I cant wait to hear what you people have to say to us. Sanjay has been very secretive with what
you’ve shown him, but he says he had his eyes opened wide. He says that you’ve been working on some
amazing technology, and that you may want to get us involved.’
         ‘Yes that is true,’ said Selwyn. ‘We have some extremely smart friends and contacts that we may
like to introduce you to. Did Sanjay mention Claude le Roux?’
         ‘Yes he did. He is some kind of shadowy Internet fellow who has access to a network of engineers
and scientist. Sanjay even mentioned he made a short speech at Frank and Paula’s wedding via the
Internet. I believe nobody gets to meet him in person – something about an accident.’
         ‘Yes, some of it is true, and some of it is contrived. There were privacy issues. We need to discuss
a few things with you folks first, but after that we could go and speak with him.’
         ‘I am nervous,’ said Sandi. Sanjay put a hand on her shoulder.
         ‘There is absolutely nothing to fear’ said Selwyn, ‘but before we go through, I want to give a little
speech that Frank gave Cheryl and I about three years ago.’ He smiled at Frank. ‘This big guy didn’t do it
very well then, but I doubt if I can do it any better. We have here a most amazing opportunity to access
information and technology, but it comes at a price, and that price is made up of two parts. The first part
is secrecy. If we go next door there will be things that you will learn that you may never ever share with
anyone outside this group. The second price is knowledge. It may seem strange to think that knowledge
can be anything but good, but there will be things you will learn that may challenge a number of views
that you hold most dear. When Frank brought us into the team, it was the most significant turning point in
my life, but I’m pleased and honoured he did. Paula, do you have any regrets?’
         Paula put her arms around Frank and smiled, first at her husband, then at Selwyn and Cheryl, and
finally at Sanjay and Sandi. ‘I gained so much, and lost absolutely nothing, but there is something else.
You two are due to get married in a few months, but you may like to say your vows now, because there
will be no turning back.’
         Sanjay turned to Cheryl. ‘You’ve done the most amazing things with the Epstein Foundation. Did
you have help from Claude?’

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         ‘I would have got nowhere without Claude and company,’ she answered. ‘But what little I have
been able to achieve will pale into insignificance next to what you may be able to do.’
         Sanjay turned to Sandi. ‘I don’t know what I’m being offered here, but I don’t know how, as a
Doctor, I could possibly turn this down. Sandi you would not believe what they let me see.’ He turned to
Selwyn. ‘May I tell Sandi?’ Selwyn nodded.
         ‘Sandi, it was the most amazing thing I have ever seen. I had a patient with severed spinal cord at
T3, and severe organ damage. He was a mess, and I knew we could not save him. He was comatose, and
these guys attached this weird cap to his head, and allowed us to talk to him before he died.’
         ‘That is not possible!’ protested Sandi.
         ‘It is, and it happened. He talked to his parents, and all of us before he died. I knew him. He was a
friend of ours.’
         Sandi turned to Selwyn. ‘How did it work?’
         ‘I’m afraid you are going to have to ask Claude. It is all beyond me. I make toasters, hairdryers
and fridges.’
         ‘But who made the cap? How, and where?’
         ‘Claude. Here in this house.’
         ‘But nobody has met Claude!’
         ‘The four of us have met Claude.’
         Sanjay looked troubled. ‘You guys are confusing the hell out of me here.’
         Cheryl took Sanjay’s hand. ‘I wish there was an easy way to tell you guys, but there isn’t. Your
choice is a tough one. Either you walk away confused, or you stay and be astounded.’
         Sanjay smiled ruefully, ‘I’m confused, and I was astounded. You guys look so relaxed about the
whole thing.’
         Paula returned his smile. ‘I was faced with the same choice, but I have had three years to relax and
enjoy the fact that I made the right decision.’
         Sanjay turned to Frank. ‘It seems the whole story goes back three years, and it all leads back to
you. What happened back then Frank?’
         ‘I had the hardest decision of my life Sanjay. I have had three years to come to grips with what I
decided to do, but with the support of these three people, Claude, and the others, I have no regrets.’
         Selwyn was quick to Frank’s aid. ‘There is no doubt in my mind that Frank decided correctly, but
the time has come to go further and expand our team. That is why we need you two.’
         ‘I saw that cap thing working and it was amazing, but could you give me some ideas as to what
other things we may be talking about here?’ asked Sanjay.
         Selwyn thought for a few seconds before answering. ‘I wish I knew. As I said before I make
appliances, but some things come to mind. I believe we could bring hearing to the deaf, and even those
who have never heard before. I believe we could help the blind, and maybe even people who have never
seen before. I believe we may be able to use electronics in place of anesthesia, and operate without drugs,
and without pain. I believe we could re-grow teeth using materials significantly harder than anything
currently available. I believe we could make pacemakers an order of magnitude smaller than anything we
have seen. I believe we could treat all sorts of mental disorders. If I believe all these things as a toaster-
maker, what would you two as Doctors believe?’
         The two medical Doctors looked at each other before Sandi spoke.
         ‘I really don’t really care where you get this stuff from. Does it matter? I don’t care if it comes
from China, or even if it comes from Mars, or if passing aliens from outer space dropped it off. I don’t
care. If I can help a deaf kid to hear, or a blind kid to see, then I’m with you guys.’
         Sanjay smiled. ‘I’m in too. Tell us what happened three years ago Frank.’
         Frank looked at Selwyn. He nodded. Cheryl and Paula both nodded slowly. He turned to Sandi.
‘What did you just say?’
         She looked uncomfortable. ‘What did I just say when?’
         Frank smiled. ‘Right now. What did you just say?’
         ‘I said I don’t care if it the technology comes from China or Mars or outer space.’
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         ‘The technology is not from China, and nor is it from Mars,’ he said.
         The two medical Doctors hands instinctively sought out each other as the realization hit them, and
the fuzzy picture suddenly became clearer. ‘Claude is not human?’ she asked softly.
         Frank nodded slowly. ‘That depends on what you mean by human. He is not of Homo sapiens,
and he not of this earth, but having said that, he is probably the nicest and most amazing person you will
ever have the pleasure of meeting. He is a process within a device that was sent to earth by a long-dead
race of creatures. I picked up the ostrich egg-like device in the mine three years ago. At first I though it
was just a hard boulder destined for the waste-tip, but these guys here enabled me to talk to it, and
discover what it really was. Once we discovered what it was, it was too late to hold a press conference,
and besides the processes in the egg suggested secrecy was a better option. We have kept the news to
ourselves these last three years. Claude is just a persona created as an Internet interface to the other
         The two Doctors were visibly shaken. ‘May we see the device?’ asked Sanjay.
         Selwyn smiled. ‘Sanjay, you actually tripped over it once. It was in that hat-box connected to the
skullcap we put on Ed’s head.’
         Sanjay managed a smile. ‘I nearly broke a toe. Are you saying I nearly fractured my toe on an
         ‘Not an alien. An alien device containing all the processes derived from the last living members of
an extinct race of creatures. You nearly fractured your toe on 997 aliens, and a few new processes.’
         ‘Are you saying that a dying race of creatures converted themselves into processes within a
device, and set off into space?’
         ‘Almost, except they sent out many millions of devices in all directions, each containing copies of
the processes. We are now planning to send a device back to a pre-arranged meeting place in space. That
was the nature of their mission, and we are helping them to achieve it, but why are you asking me all
these questions when you could be speaking to them yourself? Come, I’ll show you the device, and then
I’ll take you to meet the Last Leader. The device is not much to look at.’
         Selwyn led the way to the safe where the egg was nestled in its container. He showed them the
interfaces before locking up the safe and pocketing the key. On the way back to the formal dining room
he stopped. ‘Oh, I forgot to tell you something. Do you remember that I asked you if we could leave the
skullcap on Ed’s head after we had talked to him?’
         ‘Yes, I remember you said that the information would be valuable for your research.’
         ‘That was not the whole truth. The main reason was to create a process from Ed’s dying brain.’
         Sanjay’s hands went up to his head and for a few seconds he massaged the scalp above his ears as
if his brain was malfunctioning.
         ‘Do you mean to tell me that you tried to create a process from Ed Dlamini? Did it work?’
         ‘Ask him yourself. We believe it worked remarkably well.’
         Selwyn led the small procession into the dining room. Sanjay and Sandi watched nervously as he
connected up the speaker interface. ‘Do you recognize this box?’
         ‘Yes. It was on Ed’s chest. Is there some protocol in speaking to the Last Leader?’
         ‘No, not at all. Just relax.’ He flipped the switch. ‘Hi Last Leader, are you there?’
         ‘Greetings Selwyn, and please greet the others if they are there.’
         ‘We are all here. We also have the new members of the team with us. I would like you to meet
Doctors Sajay Pillay and Sandi Gordhan’
         ‘Welcome my friends. I am delighted to meet you Doctor Pillay and Doctor Gordhan. I have heard
a lot about you two. I look forward to many discussions with you. May I call you by your first names?’
         ‘Y-yes of course’ said Sanjay nervously.
         ‘Y-yes Last Leader’ echoed Sandi.
         ‘Selwyn, did you mention to Sanjay and Sandi about the human process within the device?’
         ‘Yes I did Last Leader. I would imagine Ed is bugging you to take the interface,’ said Selwyn.
         ‘You know Ed,’ replied the last leader. We will have a chance to talk later. Shall we connect Ed?’
         ‘Yes. Put him on.’
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        ‘Hi Sanjay.’ Said Ed’s voice from the speaker. The look of shock on Sanjays face changed to one
of disbelief, and finally one of pleasure, but he was still unable to talk.
        Ed continued. ‘I’m pleased to meet you Sandi. Hey Sanjay, I never got the chance to thank you for
working your butt off keeping that body of mine alive until the download finished. Thanks my friend. I
must have been a bit of a mess.’
        Sanjay finally recovered some form of composure. ‘I can’t believe this Ed. Can that really be you?
I signed your death certificate and I may be guilty of something. Yes you were a mess.’
        ‘Believe it Doc. Alive and well but not kicking. Oops, I seemed to have lost a foot sub-process.
Ah, there it is! Sorry, that was an egg-joke!’
        ‘I’m sorry I missed your funeral Ed. I could not leave the mine that weekend.’
        ‘Not a problem Doc.’ There was a chuckle. ‘Don’t feel bad - I missed it as well. I wanted to do my
own eulogy, but they would not let me.’
        ‘Ed, how in heaven’s name did you speak to us in a coma?’
        ‘It was not me speaking. At that time, and in that condition I was in no state to talk. You were
speaking to a linguistic interface managed by the Last Leader. He was handling the voice side, and
communicating to me at a lower level. This is going to sound weird, but I didn’t hear you speaking, but
rather felt your thoughts as communicated to the Last Leader by your voices. One day when we have a
few idle hours to spare I will discuss the whole mechanism with you. Talking about idle hours, have they
told you about the chat channel?’
        Sanjay shrugged. ‘No, what channel is that Ed?’
        ‘There is a private channel on the Internet that we monitor all the time. You can go there at any
time of day or night and you will find us. I don’t sleep any more. We only use this speaker interface when
we are all together. I tell you that because I think the Last Leader would like the interface back. If you
speak to Paula, she will give you the connection details. I have to go, and leave you to ask the Last Leader
a gazillion questions. Just don’t wear his process out – I enjoy having him about. Cheers Sanjay. Cheers
Sandi. It was nice meeting you. See you in the channel.’
        The last leader’s voice came cheerfully from the speaker.
        ‘Doctors, I must ask you to ignore Ed’s concern about wearing this process out. That is not likely
when you consider that the device, and our processes have been around for some two-and-a-half billion
years. Please free to ask any questions you like.’
        Sandi’s curiosity, combined with Ed’s joviality, had relaxed her noticeably.
         ‘Did you say two-and-a-half billion years Last Leader?’ asked Sandi.
        ‘That is according to Frank, and we believe the number to be accurate. When we landed on earth
we shut all our systems down to conserve energy and wait, and did not record elapsed time very
        Sanjay shook his head. ‘Last Leader that is incredible. Are you saying that the technology that we
consider revolutionary is that old?’
        ‘We believe so.’
        Sanjay was about to fire off another question when Selwyn interrupted.
        ‘Whoa guys. I sense a long Q&A session starting here, and I suggest that we leave the good
Doctors to ask away, but I want to start the preparation for the sensors, and I need to know how the
connections will work, so if I may be so rude as to ask the Last Leader a question. On what are you going
to grow the sensors Last Leader?’
        ‘Do you have coaxial cable Selwyn?’
        ‘Yes. I have some old network coax. Will that do?’
        ‘That will be fine. Just cut the ends off square and attach to the adapter we made for the skullcap
project. Do you still have goo?’
        ‘About forty liters. Is that enough?’
        ‘That will be more than enough’
        ‘Ok. I will leave you guys to chat away then. See you later Last Leader.’
        ‘Bye Selwyn. Thank you.’
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        Cheryl got up from the table to leave with Selwyn, Frank and Paula. In the doorway she turned to
Sandi. ‘I believe you are both vegetarians. How does a lentil cottage pie and salad sound for lunch?’
        ‘That sounds great thanks Cheryl. Can I give you a hand?’
        ‘No, you just chat away. Would you like some tea?’
        ‘That would be great thank you.’
        Selwyn smiled as they left the room. He turned to Cheryl. ‘We had better cater for dinner too.
Those two Doctors are not going to leave that speaker for a while.’
        They could hear the questions flying as they walked down the passage

                                                Chapter 26

         Selwyn was right. It proved extremely difficult to persuade the new members of the team to leave
their discussion. At various stages they visited the formal dining room to check on the guests, but it was
doubtful if the Doctors had even noticed their presence. At one stage Frank stayed for a few minutes to
listen to a conversation comparing human and soft-body nervous system, but most of it had been above
his head, and he returned to Selwyn and Paula in the workshop. When they eventually persuaded the
guests to take a break for lunch in the family dining room, their excitement was palpable.
         ‘I keep waiting for Leon Schuster to jump out with a camera and do his “surprise” trick,’ said
Sanjay. ‘Are you guys sure this is not just some elaborate Candid Camera joke?’
         Paula grinned. ‘No Sanjay, it is real. I had that same feeling three years ago. Did the Last Leader
tell you about the ReadMe Response file?’
         ‘No,’ replied Sanjay. ‘I expect we got a bit carried away with comparative anatomy, physiology
and evolution without DNA. What was that about?’
         Paula explained how they had jokingly left the ReadMe file, and how she had reacted when they
found the response file. ‘I have kept that file safe and sound. I suspect that one day that file will be as
famous a part of South African history as the transcript of Nelson Mandela’s freedom address, or our
         Sanjay looked serious. ‘You guys are not going to be able to keep this whole story secret for ever,
in fact I think it is amazing that the four of you kept it among yourselves for three whole years. How long
will it be before you have to break the news to the world?’
         ‘We have never really discussed that issue in detail,’ said Selwyn. ‘It has always been our focus to
help the egg complete it’s mission before we contemplate going public. It has always been the egg, or
rather the Last Leader’s wish to do it that way, and I believe we have an obligation to respect that wish.
That the egg has chosen to help us while we are assisting it with its mission is just a reflection of the
graciousness of the soft-body culture. I think we have to accept that at some time in the future we may
find ourselves instant celebrities. Now that we have a plan in place to complete the mission, it may be a
good time to give some thought as to how we can do it with the minimum disruption to the world, to us,
and our children.’
          Sanjay continued. ‘What was that about some kind of sensor?’
         ‘Ah yes. We will shortly be helping the egg to try to locate the homing signal of its base station
out in space. What is strange to me is that the egg has absolutely no doubt that the base station still exists.
Just think, if we do locate it, it means that a contiguous civilization has existed for longer than the entire
history of all life on earth. That is a scary thought.’
         ‘And if we do locate the signal, we will also know how many life forms were able to return stuff
back to the base,’ added Frank.
         Selwyn looked questioningly at Frank. ‘How would we know that Big Guy?’
         ‘I had a discussion a few days ago with the Last Leader. He told me that the homing signal is in
fact two signals at different frequencies. The time lag between them will tell us how many other life
forms were able to return stuff to the base.’
         Selwyn looked amazed. ‘I never thought to ask that question. The soft-bodies thought out the most
amazingly simple solutions to complex problems. Do you think we will be the first Frank?’

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         Frank smiled. ‘I believe that to be unlikely, and I will tell you why. We know that our galaxy
contains at least three worlds that contained life’
         ‘Three?’ asked Sandi.
         ‘The Last Leader told us about a moon circling a planet within their solar system that had multiple
life forms. The soft-bodies tried to help them with technology, but the plan backfired, and these
neighbouring beings ended up using soft-body technology to kill each other, along with most of the life
forms on their world. That is why the Last Leader is so conservative in terms of whom we bring into this
little club. So, we know that at least three worlds supported life. Now we, and I include the soft bodies
here, don’t know why life started, or why it evolved. You guys know my religious views, and I don’t
claim or deny the existence of a creator, but I believe it unlikely that the three life-bearing worlds we
know are the only three in our galaxy, or the universe for that matter. Think of elapsed time here. That
egg lay for two and a half billion years in the rock, and that is a long time for other life forms elsewhere
to evolve, and be able to send stuff back. And in our known universe the soft-bodies were almost our
next-door neighbours.’
         ‘How far away is the base station?’ asked Sandi.
         ‘The Last Leader estimates about a hundred to one-fifty light years down the freeway to the
         ‘It’s been a while since I was in school. What is a light year again?’ asked Sandi.
         ‘It is just like a normal year, but it has fewer calories,’ said Selwyn.
         ‘Selwyn must have a different book,’ said Frank. ‘In my book a light year is the distance that light
travels in a year. A flash of light from a camera here on earth would take between a hundred and a
hundred and fifty years to get to the base. By comparison, light reflecting from the moon takes one and a
quarter seconds to get to us, so the moon is one and a quarter Light Seconds away. Our sun is about eight
Light Minutes away, and the planet Pluto, which is normally the most distant planet from us, is about five
and a quarter Light Hours away from the sun, so we can think of our Solar System as being about ten
Light Hours in diameter. Moving out of our Solar System, our closest neighbouring stars are in the region
of four Light Years away, and the diameter of our home Galaxy, the Milky Way, is about a hundred
thousand Light Years. The closest galaxy, Andromeda, is about three million light years away, and after
that the distances become a little silly, and hard to imagine.’
         ‘But a hundred and fifty Light Years is still a long way away,’ protested Sandi.
          ‘That is a bit far to go for your summer holiday. Even if you could get up to quarter light speed it
would be a one thousand, two hundred year round trip, but in terms of the universe, it is a walk to the
corner café. The two and a half billion Billion years that the egg slept here on earth would have been
more than enough time to send off devices to all corners of our galaxy, and possibly even neighbouring
galaxies, and get stuff back. I cannot believe that our guests will be the first to get back to the reunion
         Cheryl smiled. ‘I have noticed that, when you throw a party, it is always the people who live
closest that arrive last. Maybe that holds for space parties too.’
         Sanjay turned to Selwyn. ‘This is incredible. How long do you think it will be before we can get
that sensor thing going to locate the homing signal?’
         ‘Not long, possibly this afternoon. It seems like a simpler job than creating the skullcap, and that
took a few hours including the setup time. We got the cables and board ready while you were chatting to
the Last Leader and Ed. The bad news is that you will not be able to chat for an hour or so while we do it,
as we have to move the egg off the network and into the workshop.’
         ‘I believe from Ed that there is a chat channel that we can use to ask further questions,’ asked
         ‘Yes,’ answered Frank. ‘You can also email Claude, but we tend to just use that address for
business-related stuff, as emails may be intercepted. You can also use the channel to relay messages to
Sandi and us when you are back on the mine.’
         ‘In which case why don’t Sandi and I hold back our curiosity, and let you get on with making the
sensors. May we watch the process?’
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        ‘Of course,’ said Selwyn. ‘It is really quite something to watch.’

         After lunch the six of them had a short discussion with the Last Leader about the interfaces, and
then gathered in the workshop. Selwyn retrieved the egg from the safe and connected the various
interfaces. Sandi looked suspiciously at the mixture in the dustbin.
         ‘What is this stuff?’ she asked.
         ‘For want of a better name, we just call it goo,’ said Paula. She pulled a piece of paper from a file
on the shelf and handed it to Sandi. Here is the recipe. If you can think of a better name for it, then we
would be happy to rename it.’ Sandi and Sanjay studied the list for a while. Sandi smiled. ‘I give up. It
seems to be a predominantly hyper-saturated aqueous mixture of metal salts - I’ll go with “goo”‘
         Selwyn rigged up a clamp to hold the end of the coaxial cable a few centimeters into the goo. He
turned to the speaker. ‘Last Leader, I think we are ready. Are you going to make them one at a time, or
make them all simultaneously?’
         ‘I suggest one at a time Selwyn. We will make the five individual sensors first, and then make the
interface connector. Is that okay with you?’
         ‘Fine. Go when you are ready.’
         Six pairs of eyes watched the end of the cable dipping into the blue-green mixture. As they
watched a fine wire seemed to grow from the end of the cable. It grew a few millimeters before turning a
right angle and growing a few millimeters more. As soon as it stopped growing lengthwise it appeared to
thicken appreciably and then sprout a number of fine wires in all directions. It looked initially to Frank
like time-lapse photography of a root system growing from a seed, but after a while the similarity ended,
as the roots appeared to consolidate into a solid metallic shape, which grew to its final form. It was no
longer than ten minutes before the Last Leader spoke on the speaker.
         ‘That seems okay Selwyn, does the sensor look complete?’
         ‘Looks okay to me, but I don’t know what it is supposed to look like. It looks like a small copper
plumbing fitting with a mounting plate.’
         ‘That sounds fine. Sorry it took so long, but we were showing Ed how the fabrication process
         ‘It was not slow at all,’ protested Sanjay. ‘What does this little thing do?’
         ‘It is an electromagnetic sensor, amplifier, discriminator, filter and signal processor with a digital
interface. If you think of it as a small satellite decoder setup you will not be far from the truth. All the
technologies are known on earth, but the main difference is the sensitivity. We believe your aerospace
and telecommunications industries would dearly love to have such a unit. Shall we make the next one?’
         ‘Fine,’ said Selwyn. ‘Shall I just rinse this one off in water like I did with the skullcap?’
         ‘Yes. Try not to get dirt, dust or fingerprints on the end that sticks out from the mounting plate –
that is the sensitive bit.’
         Selwyn smiled. ‘Did you guys have lots of problems with fingerprints?’
         There was a chuckle from the speaker. ‘Fingerprints were always a problem when you had a few
hundred fingers.’
         Selwyn set up the next cable in goo and gave the last Leader the go-ahead. The process was
repeated for the last three. Before they knew it all the sensors were drying on the bench.
         ‘Ok Last leader, do we make the interface box now?’ asked Selwyn.
         ‘Ed has suggested a design change. How much of a hurry are you in?’
         Selwyn looked around the room. It seemed nobody was concerned about the time.
         ‘Nobody is getting stressed. What did you have in mind?’
         ‘Ed suggested we put a UHF TV modulator in the interface box to allow you to monitor our
search operation on television.’
         ‘Wow, that sounds great, but we can only see visible light.’
         ‘We intend to filter the radio-frequency bands and re-map them into the visible light spectrum.
That way we can use colours to represent radio frequencies.’
         ‘That would be amazing. Tell Ed we love him and his bright ideas.’
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        ‘Ed says he knows that.’
        The creation of the interface box was just as easy as the sensors, but it was larger and took about
half an hour to create. After it had been removed, rinsed and dried, Selwyn and Paula started the
assembly. Frank had realized early in his relationship with Paula that she was a lot better with small hand
tools than he was, and to watch her strip and reassemble a PC was an amazing display of dexterity. She
did however draw the line at helping him service the beetle.
        The finished product was not particularly attractive. It was just a square piece of chipboard with
the five sensors screwed into it. From each sensor a piece of cable connected to the interface box, which
in turn connected to the egg interface that they had created for the skullcap.
        ‘Can anyone here recognize the star Aldebaran?’ asked the Last Leader.
        ‘I think I can,’ said Sandi. ‘A Muslim friend of mine at University pointed it out to me. I think she
called it Al Dabaran – “the follower” in Arabic. Is that the one Last Leader?’
          ‘Yes. That is correct. We need to find a location where there is an unconstrained view of
Aldebaran, as we intend to start the search there. We will need to adjust the assembly so that it faces the
star. The exact direction is not critical – within twenty or so degrees will be fine. We should be able to see
the star in a North West direction, about seventy degrees up from the horizon.’
        They all looked outside. The time had gone so fast that none of them had noticed the sudden
arrival of darkness. Selwyn led them out the side door of the workshop and into the back yard.
        ‘There, that is Aldebaran,’ said Sandi pointing up into the sky. ‘Do you see that inverted “V” of
stars? The bright orangy-coloured one on the end is Aldebaran.’
        One by one the others located the star. Selwyn took the sensor assembly and rigged it up on a
small stepladder outside the workshop door and fed the cable through the window. He disappeared into
the main house and returned with a large flat briefcase.
        ‘What is in there?’ asked Frank.
        ‘A flat-panel TV monitor. A Korean company sent it to me to test. They want to sell me the
display panels for our local TVs, but I think they are a little costly for our market.’
        It was not long before Paula and Selwyn were ready.
        ‘Last Leader, give me a test pattern please,’ asked Selwyn as he removed the impressive monitor
from the case.
        There was a chuckle from the speaker. ‘Ok. Test pattern coming.’
        Selwyn fiddled with a few buttons, and they all stared in amazement as a tiled array of playing
card sized photos of Ed, Frank and Sanjay filled the screen.
        ‘Where did you get those pictures?’ asked Sanjay in amazement.
        ‘Ed downloaded them from the mine’s website.’
        ‘Tell Ed he is a hoodlum!’ said Frank.
        ‘He agrees. The signals are coming in from the sensors, and we are ready to start searching. Shall
I feed through to the monitor?’
        ‘Whoa, what are we looking for?’ asked Selwyn.
        ‘The homing signal will appear on the screen as a flash of green and a flash of yellow. Each flash
will be about a tenth of a second. The cycle will repeat at exactly three minutes and seven seconds. I wish
to warn you that the skies appear different in the radio spectrum. The colours will be more vivid. The sky
is a radio-noisy place.’
        The photos faded from the monitor, to be replaced by an astounding display of miniature lights of
all sizes and colours. Most of the lights twinkled slightly, but some were flashing wildly. As Frank’s eyes
became accustomed to the colours, he could make out the “V” that Sandi had pointed out to them.
Aldebaran glowed a dull orange in the center of the screen among a haze of small blue dots.
        ‘Are those blue dots the Hyades?’ asked Frank.
        ‘Yes. This is the first time we have seen them other than on the web. They formed after we left.
Aldebaran, on the other hand, is an old friend that we are delighted to see again.’
        ‘It sounds like you love the stars Last Leader,’ said Cheryl.

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        ‘We do indeed Cheryl. It was that love that caused us to observe and explore. We are keen to start
the search. Now that we have established the coordinates, we will filter all frequencies other than the
homing signals.’
        All dots on the screen that were neither yellow nor green faded from the screen. They watched as
the spiral search started. After a few minutes the hypnotic movement of the dots on the screen made
Frank feel slightly queasy, and he needed to get up and walk around. The others must have felt the same,
because one by one they all left the monitor and joined Frank in the far corner of the workshop.
        The Last Leader calmly broke the silence. ‘Ed says it would it be appropriate to use the word
“Bingo” if we believed we detected the homing signal?’
        Selwyn chuckled, ‘yes Last Leader. Tell Ed “Bingo” would do it for me.’
        ‘In which case “Bingo”‘
        Six humans converged excitedly upon the monitor. There were just a few stationery dots on the
        ‘I don’t see anything Last Leader,’ said Selwyn excitedly.
        ‘We are timing the gap. Two minutes thirty. . .Two minutes forty. . .Two minutes fifty. . .Three
minutes . .one. .two. .three. .four. .five. .six. .seven’
        They all saw it clearly – two small flashes almost simultaneously lit up in the center of the screen.
        ‘Yess!!’ said Selwyn as he high-fived Cheryl, Paula and the Doctors, but their excitement faded as
they noticed Frank slumped in his chair.
        ‘Last Leader the two flashes were almost together,’ said Frank. ‘I take that to mean no other
devices have returned.’
        ‘No Frank. The higher frequency signal was first,’ said the Last Leader.
        ‘What does that mean?’
        ‘It means the number is greater than what we anticipated, at least after this extended period in
terms of elapsed time.’
        ‘What was the maximum?’
        ‘A thousand and twenty-four.’
        ‘Are you saying that a thousand and twenty four devices have returned to the base?’
        ‘No. The number of devices is certainly greater than that. I’m saying that more than one thousand
and twenty-four discrete life forms, or worlds populated by multiple life forms, have made their existence
known to the base. It appears the project succeeded.’
        Frank smiled. As he closed his eyes two large wet tears ran down his cheeks. He held his hands
together as if praying. He turned to the speaker, his voice quiet.
        ‘Mister Last Leader. Sir. You have just made the understatement of the millennium, or shall I say
the understatement of the millennium of the galaxy. I congratulate you on the success of your project.’
        The voice from the speaker carried more emotion than they had ever heard from the last Leader.
‘Thank you Doctor van der Westhuizen. Thank you for everything. I cannot begin to tell you the joy that
is now bouncing around this egg. We admit to being delighted.’
        Selwyns eyes were also filled with tears. He took a tissue from the box on the table and passed the
box on with a sheepish smile. ‘You bloody well should be Last Leader,’ he said.‘Silly question, but did
you note the direction to the base?’
        ‘Yes Selwyn. It has been well noted in 998 processes. We would like to thank you all for your
        ‘Our pleasure Last Leader,’ said Selwyn. ‘But it was you who did all the hard work. Was there
ever any doubt in your mind that the base would be there?’
        ‘No. We never envisaged such a scenario. We could not imagine how a base that was self-
sustaining, and provided no risk at all to it’s neighbours would either become non-functional or
        ‘As a matter of interest, what would you have done if we were couldn’t find the homing signal?’
        ‘We are pleased that question has become hypothetical, as we do not know the answer.’

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        ‘Well Last Leader, let us not discuss hypotheses at this time. I suggest we pack up all this kit and
get back into the house. I don’t know about the others, but my brain is buzzing. We will replace the egg in
the safe and speak to you later.’
        It was a lot easier to dismantle the sensor board and connectors, than it had been to make it, and it
was no more than a few minutes before all the equipment and goo was neatly stowed, and the egg was
comfortably back in the safe. It was a slightly quieter and more subdued group that gathered at the table
in the formal dining room.
        Selwyn turned to Sanjay and Sandi. ‘This must have been quite a day for you two. I’m sorry to
have subjected you to so much, but as Cheryl said, there is no gentle way to break this news to you. We
all went through the same anguish three years ago.’
        ‘I just don’t know how I can go back to my normal life after what I have seen here today,’ said
        ‘What has changed Sanjay?’ said Selwyn. ‘All that has happened is that you’ve learned that we
are not alone in the universe, and that there are more than a thousand and twenty-four other life forms out
there. Once you get used to that idea, it is not really that big a deal. I admit that we have been bowled
over by all sorts of amazing things, but we have become used to that too. You two made brave and
commendable decisions to help your fellow men, please don’t lose that focus now. Use this new
knowledge well. It may sound clichéd and grandiose, but you can make a difference if you don’t let it slip
        Sanjay turned to the speaker. ‘Last Leader, I have one question that I hope you don’t take the
wrong way, but will you continue to help us with your technology when your mission is achieved?’
        ‘That has not been discussed among us before, but I believe the answer is yes. We do not see the
achievement of our mission as an end, but rather a process. We would like to repeat the process of
returning devices at regular intervals in the future, providing of course you are agreeable. With regard to
us helping, you may rest assured that we will continue for as long as we believe such help is of benefit,
and for as long as you require it. We wish to point out that the soft-bodies from which we were created
were a social species, bound together by very strong communal ties, and a common curiosity. For us to
extend that communal bond to another species, and to share our curiosity is for us pleasurable.’
        ‘Is it okay if I say you are a nice guy Last Leader?’ asked Sandi.
        There was a smile in the voice from the speaker. ‘I am sure such comment does not conflict with
any inter-stellar protocol Sandi. It is appreciated. If you consider us to be such, please take it as a
reflection of the friendship you have shown us.’
        ‘What is the next step Selwyn?’ asked Sanjay.
        ‘Logistics, and then dinner. I’m getting hungry. Are you going back to the mine tonight?’
        ‘No. I have tomorrow off. Sandi and I are staying at her uncle’s place in Randburg tonight. I’m
dropping Sandi at the airport in the afternoon and then going to the mine.’
        ‘Cheryl and I are out of town next weekend. Why don’t you take a fortnight off to mull things
over, and come stay here weekend after next. I’ll organize a ticket for Sandi. How does that suit the van
der Westhuizens?’
        ‘Fine with me,’ said Frank. Paula nodded her agreement.
        ‘Sounds good to me,’ said Sandi
        ‘Last Leader, shall we continue to investigate the satellite issue with the European Space Agency
over the next two weeks?’
        ‘Surely Selwyn. I will have Claude e-mail some enquiries.’
        ‘We can all keep in touch via the chat channel anyway. And remember Doctors, not a word to the
outside world.’
        Sanjay smiled. ‘Who would believe me anyway? You guys would just deny it and make me look a
complete idiot.’
        Selwyn returned the smile. ‘We would indeed. Now lets go and eat.’

                                                Chapter 27
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         Selwyn’s suggestion that the medical members of the team take a fortnight to chew over what they
had learned proved a good one. Almost every evening the chat channel was a buzz of activity as the
doctors continued with their barrage of questions. Even Selwyn, who had in time lost his enthusiasm for
the channel, was a regular visitor. The detection of the homing signal spawned a number of sub-projects
and the whole team was hard at work with various activities.
         Selwyn and Claude made contact with Arianespace. Their initial probing email had received a
courteous response along the lines of “Thank you for you query, we will get back to you”, but the
company obviously performed a check on the credentials of Messrs Selwyn Epstein and Claude le Roux,
and the next email was from the Head of Marketing, in which he suggested sending a representative to a
meeting in Johannesburg. It seemed that the satellite launch business had become a buyer’s market, and
plans were made for the meeting to be held in four weeks time in Johannesburg.
         Last Leader, Paula and Ed undertook one of the more challenging assignments - to make a sensor
using only human hardware. The principle was simple enough, create a device to emulate the egg, and
connect it to the interface unit. Speed was to prove the initial hurdle, as it seemed there was a lower limit
to the rate at which the semiconductor, insulator and interconnect wiring could be deposited during the
wet fabrication process. Initial calculations indicated that the fastest PCs available on the market were
simply not fast enough to prevent oxidation of the tiny components between successive depositions. A
possible solution came from a slightly unexpected source. Ed had been researching processors, and found
a range of graphics processors made for serious computer gaming requirements. These processors were
designed as building blocks for game consoles and graphics accelerators, and could be interconnected to
share processing loads. They calculated that an array of eight such processors would provide the
necessary horsepower to do the job. Ed summarized the recipe for Frank: - ‘Take a PC with lots of grunt,
add an eight-processor expansion card, connect it to an interface adapter, dip a few wires in the goo, stir
the whole mixture with some sexy software written by Ed Dlamini and Co, and voila – sensors by the
         In practice it was not that easy. They had the hardware working by the end of the first week, but
the first couple of sensors looked like deformed mushrooms, and struggled to detect Radio 702, let alone
signals from deep space. The problem seemed to be the software, and it took quite a few iterations to get
it working properly. Once the problems were resolved it turned out that faulty documentation was the
cause, and it required considerable restraint from the Last Leader to prevent Ed sending a few abusive
emails to the processor manufacturers.
         Due to pressure in the course of their normal work, the newest members of the team were unable
to spend as much time on the project as they may have liked, but what little time they had was devoted to
researching the effects of electromagnetic radiation on the human brain. The Last Leader managed to
source numerous reports on the topic, and in particular studies conducted by the Scandinavian cell phone
         Frank and Cheryl were assigned supporting roles, but neither of them seemed to mind at all, and
they never seemed to have enough hours in the day, or the night, to do all the peripheral activities
required to free up the others for the critical tasks.
         By the time the time the weekend get-together arrived, everyone was buzzing with excitement and
anticipation. As usual Selwyn started the Saturday proceedings.
         ‘Ok people. Before we get onto what we all have been up to, I think we need to spend a few
minutes talking about Frank and Paula’s suggestion about the change in membership of “TdCCC”. ‘ He
turned to Sanjay and Sandi. ‘Folks, in all the excitement of the previous weekend, and over the last two
weeks, we did not get a chance to mention to you that the four of us operate as a small Close Corporation.
At the moment the membership of that Corporation is equally held one third by Frank, one third by Paula,
with Cheryl and I holding the remaining third. At the time of establishing the corporation, we knew that
Frank and Paula would be a couple, but they didn’t. They have now generously offered to reduce their
holding to a single one-third share in order to free up a one-third share for you guys. I believe it is fair. I
have here an income statement and balance sheet for the little corporation, but before I hand it to you, I
want to ask you how you feel about officially joining us at this stage.’

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        Sanjay smiled. ‘I’m afraid it has got to the point where you would have to throw us out kicking
and screaming. I’m so grateful for you guys for bringing us in. I’m looking forward to working with you.’
Sandi nodded her agreement.
        ‘In which case a warm welcome,’ said Selwyn.
        ‘And a warm welcome from us,’ echoed the Last Leader.
        Selwyn handed out a few copies of a single sheet of paper. ‘The income statement reflects seven
months year-to-date numbers. The balance sheet reflects the current position.’
        ‘I thought you said “little corporation,”‘ said Sanjay. ‘I’m no accountant, but these numbers are
big. What is this “contingent launch liability”?’
        ‘That is what we have tucked away to cover the cost of putting the return devices into orbit, but
we think we may be able to swap that cost in exchange for releasing the sensor technology to
Arianespace. Should we not have to spend it then it is our intention to free up those funds for some
schools projects that Cheryl, Last Leader and Paula are working on.’
        ‘Great, but is that all it costs to put something into orbit?’ asked Sanjay.
        ‘Sanjay, did you happen to notice the note above the blocks of figures?’ asked Frank calmly.
        Sanjay almost dropped the glass of water on the way to his mouth.
         ‘These numbers are in thousands? You guys are joking! This cannot be correct! You people are
offering us a share greater that twice the last Lotto payout, and you do it as if you were offering to buy us
a packet of slap-chips at the café. I cannot accept this. No way!’
        ‘Calm down Doctors,’ said Selwyn cheerfully. ‘We are not offering you a cash handout. We are
offering you a one-third share of this corporation. We set it up to accumulate funds to help our off-planet
friends with their mission, and in return they have been helping us with activities that have earned
revenue. Through this Corporation Cheryl has been able to disburse significant funds to people and
organizations that have needed help, and we are all proud of what she has done. If she needs funds for a
project, she comes to this table and asks us. We discuss it and decide. When Frank and Paula got married
and needed a home, we talked about it and decided that it was a small price to pay for their enormous
contribution. As you know I was born into a wealthy family, and I haven’t needed cash, but if my
financial position deteriorated, and I came to this table cap in hand, I would hope you would take pity and
help me. If you came to us and asked us for a Learjet to fly around the world in, I suspect we would turn
you down. We keep books to keep us honest, and to keep it fair.’
        ‘Have you ever fought among yourselves? This is a lot of money to fight about.’
        ‘Surprisingly little, and I’m not really sure why. We have disagreed from time to time, but there
has never been an issue so big that we could not talk it through. When you think about what we as a team
have confronted here, you would imagine that there may have been a major prospect for conflict between
us, but not so. In some strange way the interaction with the egg-folk has been an exciting, but at the same
time a strangely relaxing experience, and the Last Leader has always been there with two and a half
billion years of common sense. Would you be so bold as to fight with, or in the presence of, a guy who
created a project that sent a few million eggs to the far corners of the galaxy, even if he was a nice guy?’
        Sanjay smiled. ‘No, I would not.’
        ‘Nor would I. This little group has succeeded with a few simple principles. Say what you feel and
what you want, but accept the decisions of the group with no hard feelings. Anyway I have spent enough
time on my soapbox. You don’t have to decide today, take your time, but we would like you as members
of the club, not as outsiders. Shall we continue with the meeting?’
        They all agreed and the short agenda was handed out. Once the formalities were over they
concentrated on the next major milestone – the visit by the representative from Arianespace. None of
them, other than Selwyn, had ever been involved in negotiations involving such a large amount of money,
and they were amazed at his attention to detail. He wanted to leave absolutely nothing to chance, and
went over the details of the plan again and again.
        By the time the two representatives arrived on the Air France flight from Paris, Selwyn was
confident they had everything in order. He organized for a minibus and driver to fetch them at the airport,
check them into their hotel, and transport them to the Epstein home.
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        Selwyn was alone when they arrived shortly before eleven in the morning.
        ‘Ah gentlemen welcome. I’m Selwyn Epstein, I trust you had a pleasant flight.’
        The two men introduced themselves, but Selwyn had some difficulty in pronouncing their last
names, and they agreed to just use first names that were easy enough - Jean and Luc. He led the two men
into the house, and into the formal dining room where the speaker had been connected.
        ‘Important things first, may I organize you anything to drink or eat?’
        ‘I would love some coffee,’ said Jean, the older of the two men. The younger man simply nodded.
Selwyn led them to the kitchen.’
        Luc’s eyes lit up when he saw the coffee machine. ‘This machine is magnefique. Did your
company make it?’ he asked.
        ‘I wish I had,’ said Selwyn. ‘It is Italian. I brought it out to have our engineers study it. I grabbed
it when they were finished.’
        ‘Do you know the espresso specification?’ asked Luc.
        ‘Yes. Nine and a half Bar. Ninety three degrees water temp. Fifteen grams of coffee for a double.
Thirty five seconds brew time. Would you like one?’
        ‘Indeed. Is ninety-three not a little cold?’ asked Luc.
        ‘We are seventeen hundred meters above sea level,’ answered Selwyn. ‘If we take it any higher
the espresso will boil off its ketones and other flavors.’ He smiled, looked at Jean, but nodded at Luc. ‘I
love a rocket scientist who knows his coffee’ he said.
        ‘I know my coffee,’ said Luc, ‘but I do not know my geography.’

         They returned to the dining room where Selwyn got the ball rolling.
          ‘Gentlemen, I would like you to meet Claude le Roux. Claude has been working with us on some
new developments, which have had some interesting results. Claude, we have with us the two gentlemen
from Arianespace. Jean is from Marketing, and Luc is an engineer.’
         ‘I am delighted to meet you,’ said Claude. ‘I hope you are not offended if I do not leave my wired
nest for the meeting.’
         ‘Not at all,’ said Jean. ‘We are delighted to meet you too.’
         The two men had done their homework, and did not expect to meet the recluse in person, but they
still looked slightly startled as the voice from the speaker switched to French. After a few minutes of what
sounded to Selwyn like pleasantries, Claude reverted to English.
         ‘I’m sorry Selwyn, I do not often get a chance to speak French, and I wanted to see if I could.’
         Jean intercepted the ball. ‘Claude, your French is better than mine. Is it your home language?’
         ‘I’m not sure what I would call my home language Jean,’ Claude replied. ‘I am linguistically
         ‘Gentlemen, shall we get back to business?’ said Selwyn, slightly nervous of the direction the
conversation was taking. ‘I have not planned a detailed agenda for this meeting, but I thought we could
begin with the reasons that we want to put devices into orbit. After that we would like to find out a little
more from you people about the actual logistics of the launch, and then we can discuss costs and timings.
There are other members of our team that we will meet later. How would that be?’
         ‘Perfect,’ said Jean. ‘We are indeed curious as to why you wish to place devices into orbit. We
have taken the liberty of doing a little investigation, and it appears your core business is domestic
appliances and consumer electronics, although it appears that you have, how do you say, spread your
wings a little in the last few years. I must say your company has been extremely innovative with new
         ‘Jean, your information is correct, and thank you for your kind words. I have recently decided to
head my company in a new direction. I do not want to get to the end of my life to find that I have become
wealthy by cluttering our planet with discarded appliances. It is not my core business that will be
launching a device, but a separate business entity formed by a group of friends.’
         ‘Is that the company called TDC, or something like that, that we found on the Internet?’ asked
Jean. ‘It seems that you are involved with that Claude.’
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         ‘Yes that is the one,’ said Claude.
         Jean smiled. ‘I found that we regularly use your translation services for technical documents. You
are very popular with us.’
         ‘It is good to hear that,’ said Claude.
         ‘Yes indeed,’ said Selwyn. ‘Claude is an important member of our group. Almost by accident we
have stumbled upon some pretty amazing technology, and it is one of these technologies that we wish to
test in space.’
         ‘May we ask what it is you wish to test?’ asked Luc.
         Selwyn smiled. ‘You may always ask, but I may not always answer. But the answer in this case is
yes. Claude, would you like to answer that question, and preferably in English?’
         Claude chuckled. ‘We are going to have to teach you French Selwyn. Luc, the device we wish to
test is a broadband electromagnetic sensor and transmitter that combines amplifier, discriminator and
signal processing capability in a single device. There are three major features of the technology. The first
is the sensitivity of the device, the second is the low-cost manufacturing process, and the third is the
package size. The experiment will be simple. We intend to put a few devices, each about the size of a
small orange, into orbit, and then communicate with them to see how they perform. At the same time we
wish to perform a few other experiments and actions not related to the sensors, but we are not at liberty to
disclose the nature of those actions at this point.’
         Selwyn watched Luc’s body language carefully as Claude spoke, and he liked what he saw. The
young man didn’t seem to be able to get close enough to the speaker.
         ‘How big is the sensor, including the dish?’ he asked.
         ‘There is no dish,’ said Claude. ‘The device is cylindrical, outer dimensions about ten by ten
millimeters, excluding mounting plate. Should a directional device be required, a number of sensors may
be combined into a stereoscopic directional sensor array.’
         Luc was getting close to the baited hook.
         ‘We were playing the other evening,’ said Selwyn. ‘We set up an array of five sensors on a board.
Have you guys ever seen or heard that pulsar in the middle of the Crab Nebula? It puts on one hell of a
         Luc swallowed hook, line and sinker. ‘You were able to observe a pulsar using five sensors on a
board with no dish? I would dearly love to see such a sensor. Would I be permitted to see one?’
         ‘I’m sure it would be okay. You are going to see a couple anyway when we deliver our payload.
Would you be prepared to sign a non-disclosure agreement? You know what patent attorneys are like.
They are a pain in the butt sometimes, but I guess we need them.’
         Luc looked at Jean with the eyes of a love-struck teenager begging his father for the keys to the
family car. Jean smiled at his younger colleague. ‘That will not be a problem,’ said Jean. ‘I am authorized
by my employer to sign such agreements. We sign them all the time. It is not often our clients wish to
send a 1965 Citroen into space.’ He delved into his briefcase and came up with a form, which he handed
to Selwyn. It looked fine, so he simply signed it and handed it back to Luc and Jean for signatures.
         ‘That was easy. Shall we go through?’
         He led the two men through to the workshop where Frank and Paula were sitting at the bench.
         ‘Hi Frank. Hi Paula,’ said Selwyn. ‘I would like you to meet the two gentlemen from Arianespace.
Jean and Luc meet Doctor Frank van der Westhuizen and his wife Paula. It was Frank who introduced us
to Claude in the first place. They are partners in this little venture of ours, and along with my wife Cheryl,
have been with us since the beginning. The other two members of our team joined us recently, and I hope
you will be able to meet them later. Paula, shall we show our friends here how we make sensors down
here in Darkest Africa?’
         ‘Love to Selwyn. Gentlemen would you like to come a little closer?’
         Paula talked the visitors through the whole fabrication process, and the principles of the software.
Jean and Luc watched in amazement as Frank poured a few litres of goo into a clear glass container on
the bench, and dipped the coaxial cable into it. Paula turned her attention to the PC and launched the
software. If she was in any way nervous, she didn’t show it.
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         ‘Ok Tux,’ she said to her favourite penguin. ‘Lets see what you can make from the goo.’
         Without the raw power of the egg, the process was slower, but in a way slightly more impressive.
Luc stared at the sensor as it took shape in the container, and at one stage took off his glasses and rubbed
his eyes as if they were playing tricks on him. It took slightly under half an hour for the process to
complete, but there was certainly no sign of any boredom from Luc or Jean who peppered the South
Africans with a continuous stream of questions.
         ‘Voila,’ said Paula from the PC. ‘How does it look Frank?’
         ‘Looks fine,’ he replied. ‘Has the program ended?’
         ‘Yes. You can wash it off.’
         Frank carefully removed the sensor from the container and carefully scraped the excess goo from
it, avoiding the sensitive bits. He rinsed the sensor under the tap, and then gave it a final wash in a bath of
distilled water. He handed the completed sensor to an astonished Luc, who stared at it in silence.
         ‘Here, have a look at the sensor end with this,’ said Frank, handing Luc a jeweler’s loupe.
          ‘If you look carefully you will see the actual sensor elements that form a ring around the central
core. The transmitter is in the center.’
         Luc studied it for a while and then silently handed the loupe and sensor to his colleague. Jean
studied it for a while before handing it back to Frank who placed a small plastic cap over the sensor head
and handed it back to Luc.
         ‘Here, take this one with you,’ he said.
         ‘Thank you Frank,’ he said quietly. ‘I have worked in the aerospace industry for six years. During
these years I have been to Silicon Valley to visit the semiconductor giants like Intel, Motorola and the
other players in the game. I have been to most of the software companies - Symantec, Oracle and
Microsoft. I see you ran your software under LINUX. My wife and I had dinner with Linus Torvalds
when he was back in Helsinki a few months ago. I thought Africa was home to elephants, lions and
billions of poor people, but I have to come all the way here to see something like this.’ He just shook his
         None of them noticed Cheryl slipping into the workshop. ‘Have these three being showing off
their toys again? You must be Jean and Luc. I’m pleased to meet you. I’m Cheryl Epstein.’
         ‘Hi love,’ said Selwyn casually as he greeted her with a kiss. ‘The kids okay?’
         ‘Fine. Dorothy is looking after all three.’ She turned to the visitors. ‘I bet this barbarian of a
husband of mine did not offer you any lunch. Selwyn, have you finished playing yet?’
         ‘Yes, and you are right, I didn’t offer our guests lunch. Forgive me gentlemen. ‘Shall we take a
break for something to eat? We asked you here to buy some space on a rocket, not to show you our pet
         Over lunch in the family dining room Cheryl skillfully steered the conversation away from
anything technical, and by the end of the meal the two Frenchmen were totally at ease in the relaxed
atmosphere of the house. Cheryl even found some brochures on private game reserves, and did such a
good job at selling their offerings, that Selwyn joked that she deserved an award from the South African
Tourism Board.
         ‘Shall we get back to the business that brought you guys to us?’ asked Selwyn after lunch.
         ‘Certainly,’ said Jean. ‘I have a video presentation on our services that I would like to show you.
Do you have a video machine or DVD player?’
         ‘Yes. I have a DVD player in the next room. I’m keen to see it.’
         ‘Lets rather watch the video,’ said Paula. ‘If you lend me the DVD, I will set it up so that Claude
can watch it on the network.’ The DVD was handed over, and Paula left to insert it into the PC in the
         The presentation was fascinating, and the four of them were intrigued to see how the Ariane
rockets had developed over the years. The video also provided an overview of satellite technology, and
the various orbit options that were on offer. After the presentation the six of them returned to the formal
dining room to continue their discussions with Claude.
         ‘I enjoyed that. Thank you.’ Said Claude.
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        ‘My pleasure,’ responded Jean. ‘Now, we need to know a little more about the intended mass and
dimensions of the payload if possible.’
        This was Frank’s cue. He pulled a few copies of some drawings and specifications that he and the
Last Leader had worked on from a file, and handed them out.
        ‘Here are draft drawings of what we were considering. As you can see we have downloaded the
specifications of the mounting arrangements from your website, and planned accordingly. We envisage a
canister containing five of our devices. Once in orbit, we will deploy the five individual devices. I hope
you won’t hold it against us if we admit that we stole the ideas about the kick-out spring assembly and
pyrotechnic cord from your website.’
        Luc smiled. ‘We take it as a compliment.’ He paged through the document. ‘This document is
great, and it will make our lives a lot easier. If I may ask a personal question Frank, in what do you hold a
        ‘Geology? The study of rocks and things?’
        ‘Have any of you ever considered a career in the Aerospace Industry?’
        ‘Are there many rocks in space?’
        ‘Hopefully not too many in the space we work in.’
        ‘Then I will stick to terrestrial geology.’
        Luc chuckled. ‘Pity. You would make good rocket scientists. Now, next question, what sort of
orbit were you thinking off?’
        Claude fielded the question. ‘Luc, we were thinking that a Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit would
be the most suitable. The asymmetry will maximize our test options.’
        ‘Easy enough,’ said Luc. ‘And how long do you expect the tests to take?’
        ‘No more than a few days,’ said Claude.
        ‘Do you have an end-of-life plan for the satellites?’
        ‘Yes we do. Will we be required to submit such a plan?’
        ‘No, not at this time. In the future such plans may be required.’
        ‘We assure you the satellites will pose no long-term threat. We have a few tricks up our sleeves.’
        ‘After what I saw today, I’m sure you do.’
        ‘I have no further questions relating to the project, but I have a number relating to the sensor. I
will keep them until later.’
        ‘In which case I think we have all the information required to submit a launch proposal,’ said
Jean. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, it seems you’ve done your homework. I wish all our clients were as well
prepared as you at the first meeting. Since my young and impetuous colleague has some questions
relating to the sensor, may we ask them?’
        Selwyn turned to Paula. ‘You were building an evaluation kit a few days ago. How far have you
got with it?’
        ‘It is virtually finished.’
        ‘What do you say we lend it to our friend here and let him answer his own questions?’
        There were no objections, and Paula left for the workshop and returned with a cardboard box. She
handed it to Luc. ‘It is a pretty standard evaluation kit. I have included five sensors and various interfaces,
some LINUX and Windows software to test them with, a schedule of suggested tests, and the draft of the
user guide and application notes. My email is here on the box if you need to contact me. I would
appreciate your comments, as it is the first and only evaluation kit in existence.’
        Luc was almost shaking. ‘How long may I have the kit for?’
        ‘Would two weeks be okay?’ asked Selwyn.
        ‘Perfect. Thank you.’
        ‘In which case I believe we are done. Jean, how long do you need to get us a draft proposal?’
        ‘Will two weeks be okay?’
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        ‘Fine. In which case let me drive you to your hotel, as I’m sure you guys would like to put your
feet up for a while. How would you like to join us all for dinner this evening? I would like you to meet
the other two members of our team.’
        ‘That would be great,’ said Luc.
        ‘Then lets go.’

                                                Chapter 28

        ‘You guys were great!’ said Selwyn when he returned to the table from the hotel. ‘Those are two
very excited Frenchmen. I bet Luc is up to his eyeballs in the documentation on the sensor, and I bet Jean
is on the phone to Paris. Last Leader, that “end-of-life” plan caught me a bit by surprise. What was that
        ‘There is concern that space around the earth is getting a bit crowded,’ said Last Leader. ‘There
may be a requirement in the future to ensure that unwanted space debris is not left up there to orbit
        Selwyn smiled. ‘Sounds like there may be a market for a space vacuum cleaner. Shall we design
        ‘Selwyn, I’m a bit concerned that they dismantle one of our sensors, and then find they don’t need
us,’ said Paula. ‘We didn’t really get patent protection did we?’
        ‘No. But they don’t know that yet, and a patent search will take months to do. Think of it from
their point of view. They have to make a call. Do they work with us and get a possible fast track into the
technology, or do they fight against us, and get stuck in the mire of litigation, possible bad press and a
steep trip up the learning curve. They will make that call based on the numbers, and there we hold all the
cards. Thanks to Claude and Ed, we had no R&D cost other than a rubbish bin full of goo, a few metres
of cable, and some free time donated by Claude le Roux, Ed Dlamini, and Mrs. and Doctor van der
Westhuizen. If the technology escapes into the world once the devices are winging their merry way home,
who cares? And if the technology comes from Arianespace and the European Space Agency, it covers our
tracks, and we can enjoy coffee and sticky-buns at the Mugg and Bean whenever we want. Those
Frenchmen are not idiots. We will get a call within three days of Luc getting back to Jolie Paree, and the
voice will say: - “Iz zat Monsieur Solvin Opstein? Monsieur, ve vish to tok viz eu aboud ze leedil
sensieur zat eu sho Luc in John’sbourg”. If you guys trust me, I will negotiate a deal that will be good for
us, and good for them.’
        ‘I trust you,’ said Frank, ‘and I like those guys. As long as you don’t go out to nail them, I’m with
you.’ The others agreed.
        ‘OK, so where do we take our friends for dinner?’

        They decided well. Although they thought that something traditionally South African food might
be of interest to their guests, it was decided that mopani worms could wait until they had confirmed the
culinary inquisitiveness of their visitors. Another concern was that, other that umngqusho or marogo, a
South African restaurant would not have a selection of vegetarian dishes for Sanjay and Sandi. Selwyn
suggested they dine on neutral turf, and they eventually settled on the Epstein’s favourite Italian

        Selwyn was right. The expected call from Paris came within three days, and apart from the fact
that the call was made by a German, and not a Frenchman, the opening line was almost word-for-word
what Selwyn had predicted. Within a week Selwyn had flown to Paris, attended a few meetings with
various engineers and executives, and had gathered the team for feedback.
        Selwyn handed out copies of a complicated looking proposal. ‘Last Leader, did you get the copy
emailed to Claude?’ he asked.
        ‘Yes Selwyn. Thank You.’
        ‘OK let me try to interpret this verbose proposal of theirs, and I would like to hear how you feel.
Here is the deal. They want to buy the sensor technology from us. Included in the package they want to
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buy will be will be the formula of the goo, the source code of the software, any documentation and notes
we may have, and schematics of the interface circuitry. They also want to send a team of three, including
Luc to Johannesburg for a month to learn the technology, and they want access to Claude and Paula for
that month, with an option to extend on a month-by-month basis for up to five months.’ Selwyn turned to
Frank. ‘Big Guy, do you know what your wife is worth in Euros per hour?’
        Frank smiled at Paula. ‘No, but I’m fully aware of what she is worth to her husband and son, and
they would never top that.’ He was rewarded with a squeeze on his thigh.
        ‘OK lovebirds. Stop that please. They want the sole rights to market sensors for seven years In
that time and we will not be allowed to make sensors, except for our own use, without their permission.
Now what do we get? We get a free ride for our devices on an Ariane rocket into Geowassisname Orbit,
we get a cash payout, and we get a royalty of ten percent on all revenues from sales of sensors for a
period of five years. They also chucked in some fun stuff too. If we all want to go to the launch it will be
at their expense. Oh, and for my wife who was so charming and gracious to them when they were here,
they have thrown in a new small AIDS wing for the Johannesburg Hospice. Last Leader, this is your stuff
we are selling here, how do you feel?’
        ‘I am not a skilled business negotiator, and so I rely on your expertise, for which I thank you. Our
way of evaluating such a proposal would be on the basis of mutual benefit. We stand to benefit, as this
will bring us a step closer to completing our mission. I believe you stand to benefit financially, which
may in turn benefit your people as well as you personally. Arianespace and the European Space Agency
will benefit as they stand to acquire technology and a marketing capability. There may be negative
repercussions within companies that currently supply competitive technology, but I believe this will in
time prove insignificant. On a balance of benefits, the proposal appears to be fair. I would accept it.’
        Selwyn laughed. ‘Last Leader, that sounded like one of my father’s business lessons. Are you sure
you are not my father in disguise?’
        ‘I believe that to be genetically impossible Selwyn, but I shall interpret your comment as a
        ‘It was. Frank, how do you feel?’
        ‘I’ll go with the Last Leader’
        Sandi looked worried. ‘Selwyn, I have one concern. Last Leader, does the skullcap device use the
same type of sensor?’
        ‘Yes Sandi it does. The skullcap device is essentially an array of ninety slightly smaller sensors
and a controller, but the software is significantly more complex.’
        ‘Now if we produced and marketed a device that was able to detect or treat a condition, and if that
device required the same type of sensor, would we be breaching our agreement with these guys?’
        ‘It appears so.’
        Selwyn looked concerned. ‘Sandi thank goodness you are here, and thank heavens you brought
that up. My mind was in space, and I didn’t think about the skullcap device. Last Leader, would it be
possible to create a skullcap without sensors, and then plug sensors into it?’
        ‘Yes, that could be done. In fact there may be design benefits. We could use human technology to
produce a skullcap into which the sensors could be inserted.’
        ‘So if we wanted to produce and market such a device in the next seven years we would have to
license the technology back?’
        ‘This may sound weird, but it is workable. These guys are talking about making these sensors for
the mass market – cell phones, satellite radios and who knows what else. They will become commodity
components sold by the million. If we needed ninety or so we could go to the supplier and buy a box, and
if we keep our relationship with the manufacturers healthy, we may get them at a good price. Sandi, to
sell the goose that lays the golden eggs may not be a bad strategy, provided we get a good price for the
goose, and the golden egg market becomes saturated.’

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         Frank watched Sandi relax. Selwyn had expertly handled the issue and Sandi, who may initially
have been an adversary, became an ally. The discussion looked like it was heading toward closure, and he
knew that the proposal would be accepted. Paula was bubbling with excitement at the thought of working
with a team under Luc, and Cheryl was already mentally watching an Ariane rocket roaring from the
dense green jungles of French Guyana. A vote was not needed, and Selwyn volunteered to relay the
decision to Paris.
         ‘Selwyn, the proposal does not specify a launch date,’ said the Last Leader. ‘Did they mention
anything to you?’
         ‘Yes. They said they would put that into the agreement as soon as they have a chance to do a little
payload juggling. These blokes have been to the Ed Dlamini School of Impatience, and they want to
launch in about four months time.’
         ‘Four months time! Wow, that is a tough schedule!’ said Frank. ‘Last Leader, can we get our
payload together in that timeframe?’
         ‘Technically it would be easy to achieve. It is not difficult to construct the devices, and the
download of information could be done in about a week.’ There was a pause. ‘The major question is of
course the nature of that content.’
         The group fell silent, as they all knew the decisions that had to be made. Frank’s brain was a
mishmash of conflicting thoughts. He had almost made up his mind to take the trip the evening the
homing signal had been located, but now he was not so sure. He and Paula had discussed the issue a few
times, but they had both been unable to reach a decision. They could not avoid the issue any longer.
         ‘Ed would like to speak with you. May I put him on?’ asked the Last Leader. For the first time in
all the years he had known Ed, both as a friend and a colleague, in the flesh and as a process, Frank was
almost reluctant to hear his friend’s voice, as he knew the effect a negative decision would have.
         It was Selwyn who ended the short silence. ‘Sure Last Leader, but before you patch him through,
tell that persuasive Swazi that if he comes with the heavy sell before we are ready, I’m going to unplug
the speaker and close the chat channel.’
         Ed’s voice from the speaker was calmer than they expected, but no less cheerful.
          ‘Selwyn, I’m not going to even attempt a heavy sell, as I would not even know what a heavy sell
is. All I’m going to do is to suggest an approach you guys may use to make an informed decision. I
believe that decision should be based solely on the potential danger of the download operation. What
difference will it make to you as humans if the download process works or not? Once that Ariane rocket
fires off from the launch pad in Guyana, that will be the end as far as you are concerned. You will
probably spend the rest of your human existence wondering, but you wont know. Megan, Mathew and
Isaac, and your other children yet unborn will also never know. A dozen generations will pass before we
get to the reunion party. Think of it as no more than donating blood, it feels good no matter where the
blood goes.’
         ‘It is a little more complex than that,’ said Sanjay quietly.
         ‘Sanjay, you and Sandi have been researching this issue. How do you guys feel?’
         ‘I will tell you as much as I know at this stage. During your download process, and until you
passed away, the skullcap continued to record brain activity. There was a considerable period after the
download had completed, and no anomalies were recorded. We have done quite a bit of web research, and
we can find no reference to any brain damage being caused by the type of electromagnetic radiation we
are talking about here. The most information we have uncovered is as a result of research done by cell
phone manufacturers, and they have no reason to believe cell phone radiation causes damage. I must point
out that the skullcap is significantly different to a cell phone. The skullcap actively concentrates radiation
from a number of sensors on minute sections of the brain at a time in order to stimulate brain activity in
the trance condition. At the point of convergence the electromagnetic flux levels are higher than would
normally be acceptable, but the dose levels are quite low.’
         ‘I don’t understand,’ said Frank.

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         ‘Frank, “dose” is calculated by applying a formula that combines the intensity and time. A high
dose may result from a high intensity for a short time, or a low intensity for a long time. The skullcap
device applies a pulse for extremely short periods.’
         ‘Sort of like a dolphin sending out a click, and then listening for the echo from a fish, but using
radio not sound?’
         ‘Yes, but more like ninety dolphins surrounding a single little fish. Each dolphin sends out a click
and the clicks are all coordinated such that they hit the little fish simultaneously.’
         ‘Poor fish. It would not know what hit it.’
         ‘Poor brain cell. It doesn’t know what hit it. It starts talking to its neighbours, and it is that
conversation that we detect and record.’
         ‘Sounds like I could end up with scrambled egg for brain.’
         ‘Not likely. To cook a brain would require a huge amount of energy, and we are not talking about
putting your brain in a microwave oven. The total energy is minute, and the blood flow through the brain
is quite capable of removing that extra heat.’
         ‘So where does the potential danger come in?’
         ‘The danger is that there is so much about the brain we don’t understand.’
         ‘But then how were we able to get a functional process from Ed’s dying body if we didn’t
understand what we were doing?’
         ‘Understanding helps, but it is not a prerequisite. We can infer function by observation. With the
skullcap device we have incredible power of manipulation and detection, and the raw processing power of
the egg gives us the ability interpret that data in real time.’
         ‘I’m not sure I want to take a chance,’ said Cheryl. ‘If I was young and reckless then I would say
yes, but I’m not. Selwyn and I smoked a little green tobacco back at University. We soon lost interest, but
at the time it seemed like fun. I now have responsibilities. I want more than anything to go and meet those
other life forms, but it will not be me that goes, it will be a process created from me. If the me that stays
behind gets Alzheimers Disease, or brain cancer at age 35, what will it help Meggie and Isaac that a copy
of their mother is winging its way into space? Ed, you can’t ask a mother do this.’
         ‘I would not ask a mother to do it if I felt there was the slightest danger Cheryl. It is just that
nothing we learned either when we downloaded me, or what we have researched on the web, points to
any danger.’
         Cheryl turned to Sanjay. ‘Is there any form of experiment we can do?’
         ‘I have given that a lot of thought. My profession does not allow me to experiment on a human
subject, even if that subject is terminally ill, and as you guys know, I will not even eat an animal, so the
thought of experimenting on one does not go down well with me. However times change, and these days
we are faced with complex choices. Take for instance the area of stem cell research, and let me pose a
hypothetical question. Let us say that Meggie develops life-threatening condition. Let us say the doctors
tell you that the only way to keep her alive is to have you donate an egg, have sperm from Selwyn
fertilize that egg, and then allow the fertilized egg to develop to the point where it is a ball of cells from
which the stem cells are harvested, and the rest of the cells are thrown away. The Hindu in me would
reject the procedure, but the Doctor in me would urge you to do it, and save the life of your beautiful
daughter. I have watched Selwyn’s sharp business mind work. I have seen how he simplifies many
complex issues to a simple equation - risk versus reward. I believe we need to perform actions that allow
us to determine the risk more accurately, and we need to then weigh the risks up against the reward.’
         ‘What type of action did you have in mind Sanjay?’ asked Cheryl.
         ‘There is a reason that lab rats are used in experiments. They have been bred to a level of genetic
purity where all individuals are almost identical. The animal rights activists don’t like it, but they are
readily available off the shelf. Rats are also quite smart, and their intelligence is useful and repeatable. I
suggest the following experiment. We buy twelve rats and split them into two groups. The first group is
the control group, and we do nothing to them. The second group we subject to the download process
again and again until we notice an effect.’
         ‘What type of effect?’ asked Cheryl.
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        ‘Physical symptoms may start to show. We may see twitching, or difficulty in breathing or
crawling, but it will be memory loss that I want to observe. Rats are quick to learn a route through a
maze. I will be looking to see at what point the exposed rats take a statistically longer time to navigate a
course than the unexposed rats.’
        ‘And what do we do with six confused, and six healthy rats when we are finished?’ asked Paula.
        ‘I’m afraid we have to euthanize them, and examine the brain tissue. It is also a condition of
purchase, as these are special rats bred for the purpose. We are not allowed to keep them or breed them at
the end of the tests.’
        ‘I’m not sure I like that,’ said Paula.
        ‘I’m on your side, but we have to look at it logically,’ said Selwyn. ‘Last night we had chicken for
dinner and I have no conscience about that. When Cheryl and I bought the chicken at Woolworth’s there
were no animal activists with placards in the shop. We didn’t get savaged on the way to the car with our
purchases by an angry mob of demonstrators. Now from what I hear we are not going to subject these rats
to any pain. We may confuse them, but we are not going to torment them or squirt make-up into their
        ‘So we do this experiment and then how do we relate this to humans?’ asked Paula.
        ‘There is a wealth of documentation out there on how to relate animal tests back to humans.
Animal testing may be unpopular, but we have been doing it for years.’
        Selwyn turned to the speaker. ‘Last Leader, do skullcaps come in rat-sized versions?’
        ‘They do.’
        ‘And how are we going to attach a miniature skullcap to a wriggling rat?’
        ‘That will not be difficult,’ answered Sanjay. ‘A puff of anesthetic, and then we sedate the rat
using the skullcap. As a matter of interest the medical spin-off of this little experiment may be immense.
Selwyn, you once mentioned to me that you foresaw a time when we could perform operations without
anesthetic. I think this step may help us get there.’
        ‘Sanjay, I’m with you,’ said Selwyn. ‘If you, as a Hindu vegetarian doctor, are prepared to do this,
then I cannot see how I, as a flesh-eating Jewish toaster-maker, can go against you. Sandi, how do you
        ‘Sanjay and I discussed this at length. I was initially against the idea, but I will go along with it
        Selwyn asked all the others in turn, and there were no objections to the plan.
        ‘OK folks, I think we need to divide up some labour here, and we can get back together in a few
weeks time’
        ‘Before you do that, I need to say something,’ said Sanjay. ‘We have never given you an official
answer about joining the Corporation. If the offer still stands, we would love to join.’
        Selwyn smiled. ‘I never thought of it any other way. We knew it was coming and the papers are
ready for signature.’
        ‘And another thing, I need your addresses for the wedding invitations.’
        Cheryl smiled. ‘I’m sure we would all love to come. But there is a problem with the wedding
present that we wanted to buy you.’
        ‘We don’t want a present. We just want you guys to be with us. What is the problem?’
        ‘We don’t know how to wrap a house for you two here in Johannesburg, and besides, we need
your help in choosing the right one.’
        It was a few minutes before the existing members of “TdCCC” were able to calm the new
members to the point where they could continue the meeting.

                                                Chapter 29

        The next meeting was delayed a week as Selwyn needed to make another trip to France. He was
getting a little tired of traveling alone, and persuaded Cheryl to join him on the trip, and besides, there

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were travel arrangements to be made, and that was Cheryl’s forte. One thing led to another, and
eventually all four Epsteins and Dorothy ended up spending a few days in Paris.
         Upon his return Selwyn had only good news for the group. The final negotiations for the
acquisition of the sensor technology were successfully concluded, and the long-term countdown for the
launch had started. The design of the canister assembly was approved, and the only major activity
remaining was to get the package to Paris for final checks prior to incorporation into the Ariane’s payload
bay in Guyana.
         ‘So, that’s my side, what news from the brainy ones?’ asked Selwyn.
         ‘It has been an extraordinary few weeks,’ said Sanjay. ‘The first bit of good news is that we were
unable to detect any form of mental impairment in the rats. Frank has been doing most of the actual
testing, and we gave up after twenty downloads per rat. I think if we had gone any further poor Frank
would have turned into a rat himself, and would have been navigating the mazes in his dreams. We
believed there was no point in going any further, as any change should have been evident by then. The
method of testing was to allow all rats, control group and test subjects, to learn the route through a maze.
We would then do a download from the test subjects and test the time each rat took to navigate a maze
again and so on, changing the layout of the maze between tests. What was to me astounding was that the
test subjects actually navigated the maze slightly faster than the control group. I can only attribute this to
some kind of memory reinforcing that must occur as a consequence of the download process. You could
actually see it happen. The control rats would pause momentarily at each junction in the maze, whereas
the test group would not pause at all. The second bit of good news was the biopsy results. I had a number
of experts in the field to check the brain tissue, and they were unable to note any difference between the
control group and the test subjects. Now, whereas these results are encouraging, they are not conclusive.
It is possible, although I believe unlikely, that effects may only become apparent after a period of time. It
also goes without saying that a rat is not a human, although all mammalian brain tissue has the same basic
         ‘Last Leader, how do you feel about the tests?’ asked Selwyn.
         ‘I agree with Sanjay. The tests cannot be declared conclusive, but the results are extremely
encouraging. There is one further test we were able to do, and that was to compare the process created
from each consecutive download. These differences are negligible.’
         ‘As a matter if interest, what is a rat process like? What do those little guys think about?’ asked
         ‘Mainly food and sex,’ said Last Leader.
         ‘That seems to be about right,’ said Selwyn. ‘Sanjay, let me put you on the spot. If I had to choose
between a left hook from Mike Tyson in a boxing ring, or a download in a skullcap, which would you as
a doctor advise me to choose?’
         ‘No choice. I would advise the skullcap download. I would base it on the fact that I know that a
left hook from Tyson would cause damage. I have seen pictures of what a boxer’s brain tissue looks like
after a fight, and it is not pretty sight. Folks, I discussed this issue with Sandi, and I feel confident enough
to undergo the download. We suggest that I undergo the process and then see what happens. If all seems
okay then you folks can decide whether you want to go ahead with the process or not’
         ‘Absolutely not!’ objected Cheryl. ‘We didn’t bring you into the team to be a guinea pig! Why
you and not us?’
         ‘Simple answer. The four of you have children and I don’t,’ said Sanjay.
         ‘But you will one day, and the onset of symptoms may be delayed,’ said Paula.
         ‘Then we will all be in the same boat wont we?’ asked Sanjay. ‘We will have to parent from
within the egg, and think of this - If you were to die in a car accident tomorrow, Mathew will never know
his mother as he grows up, but if we download you into a process, you can continue to be a part of his
         Paula smiled. ‘That is just too weird Sanjay. Are you saying I take a backup copy of myself, and
we keep it in case I crash, in the vehicular sense, and need to be recovered?’

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        ‘Sort of. Oh, and there is something else. We did an experiment on another rat – no 13. This rat
was a part of neither the control group, nor the test group. The last leader was able to download the route
memory into rat 13, and it made it through the maze like a pro without ever having seen it.’
        Paula laughed. ‘This is getting weirder and weirder. But if I crash I want you to promise me that
you wont upload my backup into a rat. It may have been okay for Tarzan to be raised by apes, but I don’t
want Mathew to be raised by a rat!’
        ‘I promise,’ said Sanjay, ‘but who knows where this technology is going? And don’t be so rat-o-
phobic. Your husband was distraught when we sent them off.’
        ‘I got fond of them!’ protested Frank. ‘They were almost buddies by the end of those endless tests.
If we meet as processes I hope I get a chance to apologize.’
        Once the agreement had been reached to proceed with the download, they all felt that they should
get it over and done with as soon as possible, but it was not doable as there were a few things that needed
to be done first. The first was to perform a standard set of neuropsycological tests. These tests were
designed to measure memory retention, problem solving, attention, as well as numerical and language
skills. The test was to be done before the download, and then again a week afterwards, and the results
would be compared.
        The second task was to build a new skullcap device. Although they had kept the device used to
download from Ed, it had been molded specifically for him, and could not be used for Sanjay. It would
have been easy to create new skullcaps, but the design would have required both Sandi and Sanjay to
shave their heads, which, in the final few weeks before their marriage, would have been awkward. The
final design, although functionally the same appeared very different. It consisted of a clear acrylic dome
about the size of a motorcyclist’s crash helmet, through which the sensors protruded inwardly. Each
sensor was mounted on the end of a pencil-sized plastic rod. Fitting the device proved easy. It was simply
a case holding the dome in place, and then gently feeding each sensor through its hole, through the hair,
and onto the scalp. After all sensors were in position a wiring harness was fitted to the sensors.
        Wednesday night was chosen for Sanjay’s download. The last Leader had revised the expected
download time to ten hours, and the plan was to start the process at eight pm. If Sanjay was nervous, he
didn’t show it at all, and the friends fussing around him were a lot tenser than he was. They set up a
hospital bed in one of the spare rooms at the Epstein home, and moved the egg into the room with him,
which, by the time they were ready to go looked like an intensive care ward.
        The five people in the room tensed when Sanjay gave the go-ahead. Sandi watched the monitors
anxiously as her fiancé drifted off into sleep, but it was not long before they noticed her start to relax. The
Last Leader was in absolutely no hurry, and would not rush the process – there was no need. On a few
occasions he allowed Sanjay to waken and talk to them. After a few hours the earlier tension had totally
dissipated, and the mood in the room was relaxed and jovial. The Last Leader kept them continuously
informed as to the state of the download and the condition of the patient, and at no stage was there cause
for concern. Nobody other than Sanjay got much sleep during the night, but it was not because of tension,
but rather that no one wanted to miss out on the activities in the room. Twice during the night the Last
Leader halted the process to allow Sanjay to get up, walk around the room, and join the group for a cup of
tea. During these breaks Sanjay was cheerful and chatty, and seemed to be enjoying the whole experience.
He seemed almost eager to get back onto the bed.
        It was almost seven the next morning before the Last Leader was happy that the download was
finished, and informed them that Sanjay would soon be waking up. Cheryl, who had been catnapping at
the time, set off for the kitchen, and returned with a tray of tea and biscuits that she had made during the
night. The first sign of life was a slight movement in the fingers and toes, followed by an arching of the
back, and finally his eyes opened. He smiled, first at Sandi, and then at the others in the room.
        ‘If that is tea, I would love a cup,’ said a cheerful voice from the bed. ‘And I must have smelled
those biscuits cooking, because I have been dreaming of them all night. Whew! I’m hungry.’
        They carefully withdrew the sensors, and removed the skullcap. He sat down in the chair to enjoy
tea and biscuits as Sandi massaged his scalp.
        ‘So Doc, how was that?’ asked Selwyn.

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        ‘Actually quite pleasant. At a few stages I was aware what was going on in the room, but I could
do nothing. The strangest part of the whole thing was that I totally lost feeling in my arms and legs. You
know that feeling you sometimes get when you sleep awkwardly, and you wake up to find your arm dead.
I had that sensation in my arms and legs. It was not an unpleasant feeling, just strange. It was almost as if
they were not there. I now feel totally relaxed as if I had a good nights rest. I’m not normally a morning
person, and it takes me a while to wake up.’
        ‘That is just the good company,’ said Selwyn.
        Sanjay smiled, ‘that could contribute to the feeling, but it cannot explain it. I always enjoyed my
parent’s company, but they knew not to try to get any sense out of me for at least half an hour after I
woke up.’ He noticed the light on the speaker interface was on. ‘Last Leader, how did the download go?’
        The voice from the speaker was Ed’s. ‘Its Ed Sanjay. I arm-wrestled the last leader for control of
the interface and won, so I get to talk to you. It seems as if the download was a success and everything
checks out fine. We launched the process to test it out, and it runs fine, and all process interfaces seem in
order. I’m sure the Last Leader mentioned to you that they have this rule that a process may not run
alongside the entity from which it came, so we halted it and zipped it up before you woke.’ Ed giggled.
‘Your process is a little bigger than mine. It must be all the stuff you learned at Med School. On the other
hand your total lack of personal experience in the joys of women was noted, and that made the process
        Sanjay laughed. ‘Now don’t you go prying into my personal stuff!’
        ‘Just a joke, and remember I knew you as a person. I wouldn’t go prying in the process, even if I
could. A process may only be accessed through its interface, and the process must be active for that.’
        ‘What I don’t understand is why you are so relaxed,’ said Selwyn. ‘Your mind must have had to
work like crazy all night to access all that information in your head – stuff you’ve not thought about for
years. If you had to do all that thinking, I would have imagined that you would be knackered this
morning, but you are sitting there like you are on vacation. I don’t get it.’
        ‘It is a fallacy that the brain is inactive the whole time when we are asleep. If you monitor brain
activity during sleep, you find that there are periods when the brain is buzzing. We don’t really
understand the nature of sleep yet, but I have a feeling that what we have here can help us.’
        They all watched Sanjay carefully over the next few days, but there was absolutely nothing to
cause the slightest concern. After the planned week Sanjay had the second of the neuropsycological tests,
and the results were compared. Sanjay received marginally higher scores in certain of the tests, but these
were attributed to him becoming used to the tests rather than any suspicious increase in brain capability.
As the expert who did the tests noted, “If you continuously do IQ tests then there will be an increase in
your IQ score. This simply means that you get better at IQ tests – it does not mean you get any smarter.”’
        During the next week the whole team moved into the Epstein home for the remainder of the
downloads. They drew straws for the sequence, and by the next weekend the task was completed. There
were now only two major activities remaining before the launch.
        One of two activities was to prove significantly easier than the other - the creation of the payload
to be deployed into orbit. The final design was a blend of soft-body and human design. There had been
concern within in the group about leaving a discarded canister in Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit, and the
final design was a cylinder composed of five disk-shaped elements, each disk being an individual device.
Once the final stage of the rocket was deployed in space it would be a simple matter to disengage the
individual disks for the long trip - a few springs and pyrotechnic cord would do that. In the empty vacuum
of space, aerodynamics is irrelevant, and the disks were designed to travel in the direction of the
centerline of disks. Each individual element consisted of an outer titanium ring with five spokes holding
the central spherical core. The central sphere contained the sensors, processor and memory, as well as the
main propulsion system and a set of minute orientation thrusters.
        The Last Leader and Paula undertook the building of the central core units and the downloading of
data, while Selwyn and Frank organized the construction of the titanium disks. When Selwyn first saw the
working plans of the titanium disks he jokingly remarked that the disks looked like the rims on a sports
car he had once owned, but modified to fit his gardener’s wheelbarrow. His joke was not far from the
mark, and a member of their swim-squad who owned a rim and tyre business did the initial castings for
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them. A bit of lathe work, a bit of precision light engineering work, and the disks were complete and
ready to have the cores fitted.
         The creation of the cores was, if anything, easier. A bit more goo was needed, but apart from that
the egg did all the hard work. A new one-in, five-out hardware interface was needed to allow parallel
loading of data and software into the individual cores, and although it took a whole morning to create the
new interface and cabling, it proved invaluable as the download process, even through the egg’s high-
speed interface, took almost a week to complete and verify. The completed canister was packed into a
small crate and air freighted to France. From there it was a short hop across the Atlantic along with the
launch’s co-passengers in an Antonov transporter.
         The second activity, the one that was to take considerably more of the team’s time, was Sanjay
and Sandi’s wedding. A certain C. Northcote Parkinson had once penned his famous law - “work expands
to fill the time allocated to do it in” – while observing the working habits of British colonial civil
servants. Selwyn once remarked that there was no better proof of the validity of the famous law than a
Jewish wedding, but he may not have been totally correct. The Hindu wedding of two doctors, both from
big Kwazulu-Natal families had the potential to outdo even the best and biggest Jewish wedding. It
seemed that there simply weren’t enough hours in the day to complete all the activities, and as each
activity was ticked off the list, a new activity, previously undreamed of, took its place. Cheryl was in
heaven. Sandi had in desperation enlisted her help, and she swung into action with great enthusiasm. That
Cheryl was in Johannesburg, and the wedding was to be held in Pietermaritzburg, was not an issue, and a
continuous stream of vans carrying flowers, cakes, and other wedding goods traveled the N3 highway.
Sanjay and Sandi had settled on a duplex in Sandton, and the Epsteins and van der Westuhuizens
suggested that the couple spend their first night together in the duplex before a short honeymoon in
Mauritius. Neither Sanjay nor Sandi fully understood the rationale, but they knew that their friends had
something up their collective sleeves, and that in some strange way candles, scented oil and a mysterious
blue concoction were involved.
         The wedding exceeded even the most demanding expectations. A morning ceremony held in the
magnificent Sri Siva Soobramoniar and Marriamen Temple, was followed by a lavish reception in the
ballroom of the Hilton Hotel. After the reception the new husband and wife, and their upcountry guests,
were taken to the airport for a chartered flight to Johannesburg. It was evening before the six friends
made it to Sanjay and Sandi’s new home. Selwyn, Cheryl, Frank and Paula didn’t stay for long - but long
enough to ensure that the night would be one for them to remember. It was a tired but happy couple they
dropped off at the airport the following afternoon.
         After months of feverish activity the group suddenly found itself with a far lighter workload, and
the only task on their list was to prepare for the arrival of Luc and the three scientists for the handover of
the sensor technology. The logistics of the course were not particularly difficult, as there was more than
enough room in the lab at the Epstein’s to accommodate the students. They installed a long desk the
whole length of the one side of the room, and replaced the existing collection of PCs with a matched set
of new machines interconnected via a small network. The server equipped with the interface card
remained on the network to provide the processing muscle required for the goo fabrication process. In
planning the course there were sections that were to be given by Claude, but that did not prove a problem,
as Paula found a cunning piece of software on the Internet. This software allowed a number of students to
view the screen of an instructor’s workstation from their own screens during lectures, as well as allowing
the instructor to view the student’s screens during exercises. That the course leader was a process within
an alien device in a safe inside the house, and that communication was by means of a network and
speaker interface, was unknown to the students.
         A few days before the scheduled start of the course Paula received a phone call from Luc asking if
there was room on the course for his wife, Bernadette. It seemed that she was not particularly happy to be
separated from her husband for a whole month, and wanted to take leave and come to Africa with him.
Paula learned that she was also employed by Arianespace as a physicist, and that they had met in the
course of their work. Paula and Claude had no problems with an extra attendee, and felt it would be
worthwhile to have someone from the physics field in the group.

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        Selwyn organized for Luc, Bernadette and the other two to be fetched from the airport and
dropped off at the house, where Frank, Paula, Cheryl and Selwyn were waiting. There were a few
surprises. They had all somehow assumed that Bernadette would be French, but they were wrong, she
was Moroccan. She had moved to France with her parents as a young girl, and had attended school and
university in Paris. She was a good bit taller than Luc, and had the lean look of a long distance runner,
and an incredibly beautiful face. The next surprise was the German electronics engineer, Günter. They
had expected him to be about the same age as Luc and Bernadette - in his late twenties or early thirties -
but once again they were wrong, as he was closer to sixty than fifty, tall and austere. The last member of
the team, The chemist, Pierre, also surprised them as he was not French, but a Quebecois, born and bred
in Montreal, but educated in France.
        Once the introductions were complete the group moved to the workshop to meet Claude.
        ‘Hi Claude. Are you ready to meet the victims, err, students?’ asked Selwyn cheerfully.
        ‘Hello All. Welcome to the course. I trust you do not feel like victims as my good friend and
colleague intimated. I trust you will find the time with us informative.’
        Luc introduced the other members of the team. In the case of Pierre and Günter Claude talked to
each in their home language before switching to English, and were it were not Claude, it may have
sounded arrogant, but the gentleness and concern in his voice told a different story. However when Luc
introduced Bernadette, Claude did not immediately switch into French.
        ‘There is something in your voice, your accent and intonation, that makes me think that
Bernadette was not the name you were given at birth,’ said Claude.
        Bernadette smiled. She was beautiful when not smiling, but when her face lit up, the effect on
everyone in the room was electrifying. ‘You are right Claude, I was given the name Tanebdatt, but it was
changed to Bernadette by my young classmates. The name stayed with me, and I think we had better stick
to it.’
        The voice from the speaker smiled. ‘If you wish, but I have the feeling that you will be the pillar
of strength of this group – the column on which we build.’
        The great smile, which had momentarily left her face, returned redoubled.
         ‘Claude, I have heard you speak English, French and German, but Tamazight? No! That is not
        There was a split second in which Paula was tempted to tell her that Claude could speak
considerably more than just that small handful of languages, but she held back. The linguistic process
within the egg had learned the vocabulary and grammar of thousands of languages, including of course
Portuguese and seSwati.
        ‘I’m afraid I know little more than the meaning of a few names, and a few words,’ said Claude.
‘Perhaps one day you could teach me the great languages and dialects of the Berbers?’
        ‘We would have to learn together. I have hardly spoken Tamazight in years, and most of it has left
me. When I was a child growing up, I wanted nothing to do with the language of my parents, and I was
ashamed of them when they spoke it. When I met Luc things changed. In a strange way he was more
proud of my Berber ancestry than I was. I learned more about my people from Luc than I would ever let
my parents teach me. I would be happy to learn with you Claude le Roux.’
        ‘And I will be there in the front row of the class,’ added Luc, ‘and when we have children they
will learn the languages of both their parents. I will make sure they are proud of all the blood in their
        ‘I look forward to that, but ladies and gentlemen, we have sensors to build.’

       The delegates to Claude and Paula’s course got considerably more than their money’s worth.
Before they started Paula handed them each a CD containing the course material, and Claude took much
of the morning browsing the information with them. The CD was packed with source code, system
documentation, theory and background, as well as a whole section of relevant articles downloaded from
the web.

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        ‘This is astounding,’ said Günter with great sincerity. ‘This is what we came to get. I expected to
have to compile this information, but you’ve done the work for us.’ He smiled. ‘I have never taken time
to see anything in Africa. Since we have what we need, I suggest we do a little exploring. I have never
seen an elephant or a lion in the wild.’
        Claude laughed. ‘It will not be that easy to escape from Paula and I. We have a full schedule
planned for you. Confucius said: - “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” We
wish you to understand, and if Confucius was right, that requires doing.’
        ‘He was right,’ conceded Günter. ‘I was merely dreaming. I look forward to the doing more than
        ‘It is a good dream, and may be possible,’ said Paula. ‘If you look at the draft schedule, you will
see that there is a period of four or five days in which I planned to cover the software architecture with
you. Now I do not intend to make “C” programmers of you, but I need to make sure that you understand
the principles of modular software design, and the basic concepts of Object Oriented Programming. If I
did not teach you that, you would struggle to understand the principles behind the huge piece of code on
the CDs, or how to communicate required changes to your programming staff. That training does not
need to happen here in Johannesburg. I once went on a course held in the Pretoriuskop camp in the
Kruger National Park. It was great. We got up at five each morning and took a game drive before the heat
of the day, getting back to the camp about 8:30. After breakfast we had classes until midday in the air-
conditioned seminar room. We then had lunch and a swim in the rock pool. After afternoon classes, those
who felt like it took another game drive in the cool of the evening, and then diner and early to bed. If you
would like that, it may be possible to arrange it. I must stress that the Kruger Park is a national park, and
not one of these upmarket private game parks that Cheryl was talking about, but it is clean and
comfortable, and you will see a lot of animals.’
        Günter was beside himself with excitement. ‘That would be amazing. I vote we do it.’
        There was agreement all around, and plans were made to have a portion of the second week in the
game reserve. Apart from a demonstration for the benefit of those who had never seen the creation of a
sensor in goo, the first week was largely theoretical, and almost exclusively handled by Claude. It seemed
strange to be teaching Electronics to an Electronic Engineer, Chemistry to a Chemist, and even Physics to
a Physicist, but it was needed, as the level of understanding required was higher than any of the students
had ever encountered at undergraduate or even postgraduate level. Claude proved an excellent teacher,
patient, entertaining, and always able to accurately gauge the speed of delivery to the understanding of his
students. The fact that he was simply a voice through a speaker, supported by excellent visual material on
a screen and comprehensive documentation, became irrelevant. After the first day the desire to actually
meet him face-to-face waned, and the students accepted this condition without reservation.
        The second week was Paula’s, and Cheryl charmed a booking at Pretoriuskop out of the Parks
Board. Selwyn and Cheryl were unable to make the trip, and Sanjay and Sandi were still on honeymoon,
so Frank made the trip with them. Paula would not go without Mathew, and Dorothy was quick to hand
over her duties to the other members of the Epstein domestic army, and take the trip with them. It proved
to be a wonderful plan, and a week of training that the overseas visitors would always remember. Paula
was initially nervous not to have Claude with her, but software was her home turf, and she had learned
from the master how to teach it. As a child Frank had spent quite a few holidays in game parks with his
uncle, and proved a knowledgeable host. Although not part of the syllabus, a bit of Lowveld Geology was
included in the course at no extra charge to the delegates.
        The final three weeks were mostly hands-on. Claude took a novel approach, and decided to let his
students create components from the goo in a sequence that approximated the order in which mankind
had developed them. Although unknown to them, the sequence also approximated the order in which the
soft-body technology had evolved a few billion years earlier.
        They started with simple passive components, resistors, inductors and capacitors. From there they
moved onto discrete components; diodes, transistors, thyristors and triacs, before moving into the
complex world of integrated circuits. When Günter created his first working transistor from the goo, the
rest of the students howled with laughter as a one-man oompah band, unfortunately without the required

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musical instruments, circled the room. He packed the transistor carefully in cotton wool for the return
       After the conclusion of the course, and when the visitors had returned to Paris, they received
emails of thanks from the students, but the one from Günter was the one they would treasure. It read: -

        Dear Claude and Paula.
        It is with profound gratitude that I wish to place on record my thanks for the excellent course that
I was privileged to attend in Johannesburg recently.
        I’m ashamed to admit that I was initially reluctant to attend the course, as I believed the potential
to learn anything new was limited. This view was to prove significantly wrong, and if anything, taught me
how little I knew, and how much knowledge exists in the most unexpected places.
        More than anything, I thank you for your friendship. Prior to the course I would not have believed
it possible to learn so much in such an informal and cordial atmosphere. When I in turn pass this
knowledge on, and I tell my students that some of it was obtained in a classroom within a game park to
the sound of roaring lions and trumpeting elephants, they will not believe me.
        I thank you for the immense effort that must have gone into the preparation of the material, and
the professional manner of its presentation.
        Please pass on my regards and thanks to Selwyn, Cheryl, Dorothy and the Doctors Pillay.
        I look forward to meeting you all again in Kourou next week.

        Kind Regards

        (Dr. G. J. Ohrtmann)

       Paula looked at the cc list. Most of the names on the list were unknown to her, but the name of the
CEO of Arianespace was there.
       ‘Looks like you guys did a great job. Well done!’ said Frank.
       ‘I enjoyed it, but in fairness Claude did most of the work, and they were all such nice people. I
wonder if Günter is some sort of senior guy – the title on his business card didn’t mean much to me,’ said
       ‘I don’t know, but I guess we will find out in Guyana next week,’ said Frank

                                                Chapter 30

          The weeklong trip to French Guyana was to be the first time that the van der Westhuizens were
separated from Mathew for any significant period of time, and there was a little tension and uncertainty
before the flight. They arranged for Paula’s parents to stay at the Epstein home, but it was doubtful if
Dorothy or the domestic army needed any help or support. It did however serve the need to make Paula
and Frank feel better.
          They never did find out Günter’s position on the organization diagram of Arianespace. This didn’t
concern them, as they learned that in technology driven companies, the informal and undocumented
structure was often more important than any organization chart. Whatever his position, he certainly had
the ability to open doors, and make arrangements that nobody had the temerity to countermand, and they
learned this within a few minutes of arriving at the Rochambeau Airport in Cayenne, Guyana. They were
all a little surprised to discover that they were in France, when they were expecting to be on the East coast
of South America, but Paula’s limited ability to read French sorted out the mild confusion. They had not
realized that Guyana was in fact a part of France, separated by the whole width of the Atlantic Ocean.
Once through customs, they were pleased to see a smartly dressed Creole waiting for them holding a
board decorated with a South African flag, and bearing the names “Epstein”, “van der Westhuizen” and
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“Pillay”. He handed them a note and security passes from Günter requesting them to be at building S1-A
at 09:00 the next morning.
         It was too late to do any sightseeing, but too early to go to bed, even though their internal clocks,
set to South African time, told them it was way past bedtime. Selwyn advised them to keep awake until it
was at least 8pm local time. They took a long walk to the local shopping center, before returning to the
hotel, having dinner and going to bed.
         After breakfast the next morning the driver came to collect them at the hotel for the short trip to
the Centre Spatial Guyanais. After some rigorous security searches and checks, they were taken to the S1-
A building. At this building they were required to shower and change into the green overalls and caps
required in the clean building. It was apparent that there were not many technicians Frank’s size, and the
lady at the change room had to draw a brand new overall for him from the store, much to her amusement.
         They were waiting in the reception area when a short plumpish man came to lead them through
into the building. They were prepared for neither the size nor the activity within the building. There were
green-clad people everywhere. In the one corner was an impressive looking device at least four meters
tall, being attended to by an army of technicians. The whole device seemed to bristle with dishes, solar
panels and all sorts of other unfamiliar equipment.
         ‘What in heavens name is that?’ asked Sandi of their escort.
         ‘That is the main payload. It is a new weather satellite. Your payload is down here.’
         He led them to a corner of the hall demarcated by a square of thick red lines and a set of ropes
similar to the ropes surrounding a boxing ring. In the middle of the area sat their small contribution to the
         ‘It looks lonely, and so small and insignificant,’ remarked Cheryl as their escort opened the rope
and led them through into the enclosure. They could feel the eyes of the other people in the hall watching
them with condescension. It had been almost four weeks since the silver cylinder had arrived, and during
that time no one had even shown the slightest interest in this minor part of the payload.
         ‘Ah, the South Africans have finally arrived. Leaving it a bit late aren’t we?’
         The voice came from a tall gangly fellow, whose unmistakable English accent told Frank that
wherever he came from was not far from the unfortunate part of the world that had spawned Kimleigh
Jones, his least favourite Mine Manager. The voice had precisely the same effect on him.
         ‘Is there a problem?’ asked Frank.
         ‘It is just that not many customers leave their testing until D minus 5.’
         Selwyn smiled. ‘Ah, that is because there is no testing to be done.’
         ‘What do you mean no testing?’ asked the Englishman.
         ‘Just that,’ said Selwyn. ‘As far as I know you just guys just slap on a few pyrotechnic release
cords, bolt this thingy into your payload thingy with five M15 titanium bolts, connect up a cable, send it
whooshing up into the black night sky, and then we all drink French bubbly and go home.’
         The Englishman was about to protest further when Günter’s voice boomed at them across the
scrubbed floor. ‘My friends! Welcome to CSG. It is indeed a pleasure to see you here. I trust the
arrangements were to your satisfaction.’
         ‘Yes, thank you Günter. Everything was perfect,’ said Cheryl, hugging the tall man.
         ‘I see you’ve met James Cartwright, our launch coordinator, Let me introduce you all. James,
Doctor Frank and Paula van der Westhuizen, Selwyn and Cheryl Epstein, and Doctors Sanjay and Sandi
         James’s manner changed instantly. They were still uncertain as to Günter’s role in the grand
scheme of things, but whatever it was it seemed to solicit respect from the Launch Coordinator.
         ‘Herr Doctor Ohrtmann, it appears the South Africans do not intend to do any testing prior to the
launch,’ said James nervously.
         ‘Then I suspect no testing is necessary,’ said Günter calmly. He turned his attention to the shiny
silver cylinder in the middle of the enclosure. ‘So this is the payload, or shall I say payloads. Paula tells
me the cores were created by the wet process. How large are they?’
         ‘Not large. Would you like to see inside?’ asked Frank.
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         ‘Indeed I would.’
         ‘I will need an 8mm Allan key.’
         Günter called to one of the technicians in the next bay. ‘Do you have an 8mm Allan key we could
         ‘Certainly Herr Doctor,’ came the cheerful response.
         The technician arrived with the tool, and the top disk of the cylinder was soon removed to reveal
the topmost core. Within a few minutes there was a sizeable gallery of scientists and technicians staring at
the unusual cargo.
         ‘What is this Herr Doctor?’ asked a voice from the crowd.
         ‘These are the people from whom we acquired our new sensor technology. These satellites are
part of an experiment to test them in space.’
         ‘We heard of these sensors. We believe you went to South Africa to learn about them. Is that
true?’ asked another voice.
         ‘It is true. These good people were my hosts and teachers.’
         ‘Did you get to meet Claude le Roux?’ asked a voice.
         ‘No. Nobody gets to meet Claude le Roux, and it is common knowledge why. He taught us via a
network. I will however say that he is a brilliant man, a most likeable person, and an excellent teacher.’
         Whereas the South Africans had entered the hall like poor relatives, they were instantly elevated
to near-celebrity status. Everywhere they went it seemed that people wanted to talk to them, and suddenly
nobody could do enough to help them. For the first time in their lives they got the feeling of what it was
like to be in the public eye, and they did not particularly like the experience. It was almost with relief that
they left CSG and returned to the hotel.
         There was not really much for them to do except wait for the launch, and there were only two
remaining tasks. The one was the formality of checking the installation of the pyrotechnic release cord
mechanisms, and the other was to attend the compulsory briefing and simulated launch. Only one of the
team was needed to check the cord installation, and Frank volunteered for the job. He left the hotel after
breakfast on D minus 4, and was back in time for lunch.
         They all decided to attend the simulated launch scheduled for D minus 3, which was held in the
observation center - a distance of about three kilometers from the launch pad. It was quite a festive
occasion, as it was the first time that many of the individual teams had a chance to meet up with each
other. As this particular launch had one main, and five minor customers, there was quite a lot of greeting,
handshaking and plenty of space-speak. The simulation went off with out any major hitch.
         D minus 2 and D minus 1 were rest days for all the customers, as everything was in the hands of
Arianespace. The South Africans took the opportunity to do a little sightseeing, and took a boat trip to the
trio of islands collectively known as “Iles du Salut”, or Isles of Salvation. Selwyn in particular was keen
to see the islands as, among his huge collection of DVDs, was the classic movie “Papillon”, staring
Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen. The movie was based on the imprisonment of Albert Dreyfus, and
Henri “Papillon” Charriere when the islands had been home to some seventy thousand prisoners before
their closure in 1951.
         D minus 1 was spent distributing a few Euros in the town of Cayenne, and a lot of relaxing, and
by the morning of launch day the group was getting a little bored with the waiting.
         ‘This is like the bloody South African Army,’ moaned Frank. ’Everything is hurry and wait. In the
Army you always had to run from point “A” to point “B”, and then wait an hour for something to happen.
Do you remember in the assembly hall? Everyone was either working flat-out, or doing nothing. I would
rather be one of those working guys.’
         On launch day the bus could not arrive soon enough for the South African contingent. They
clambered aboard excitedly and took their seats among the other passengers en route to the CSG
observation center.
         As they poured from the bus they looked towards the launch pad in the distance. The Ariane
rocket looked beautiful in the fading light of the warm humid evening. It had taken its leisurely walk to
the launch pad and was standing proud and white next to the launch tower. There was no sign of any
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activity or movement in the launching area save the blinking of the red lights on top of the four tall
lightning towers that surrounded the launch pad.
         They had not planned to make an entrance, but the buzz in the observation center fell silent as they
moved through the doorway. Frank, who was normally very conservative with his attire, had decided that
launch night was a night to be South African, and if Nelson Mandela could address the General Assembly
of the United Nations wearing one of his trademark Madiba shirts, then Frank could surely wear one to
the launch of a rocket. The one Paula had picked for him looked good on his huge frame. It was mostly
black, long sleeved, with gold print around the collarless neck and cuffs, down the front, and all around
the bottom worn loose over his trousers. Paula had also chosen to wear just black and gold - a simple
loose fitting black trouser-suit, a gold chain and a small gold handbag.
         Sandi and Sanjay decided that their Indian ancestry would determine their dress for the evening.
Sandi wore a beautiful red and gold silk sari with a glistening ruby-coloured bindi in the center of her
forehead proudly broadcasting her married status. Sanjay looked no less impressive. He wore a soft grey
Indian collarless suit with a row of closely spaced white buttons up the front.
         Günter didn’t let them stand alone in the doorway. He ushered them to the table where a
spectacular array of exotic looking cocktails and snacks were laid out. He looked up at the large
countdown clock above the observation window. It read 00:01:20:21. ‘I have to go soon,’ he said.
         ‘Do you get to press the big red button with “Go” on it?’ asked Selwyn.
         Günter smiled. ‘That I should be so important? When the countdown gets to six minutes the
launch computer takes over, and I have just as much control over the whole process as you do. I must go.
I shall see you after the launch – at about T plus 40 minutes’
         ‘Thank you Günter. Good luck!’ said Cheryl.
         Günter smiled. ‘Luck has very little to do with it.’
         Frank looked around the room. It reminded him of his one and only trip to the horse races. On that
occasion he had been a guest in one of the fancy hospitality suites, and had watched the proceedings from
a glass-fronted box way above the finishing line. This room had the same look and feel, except the
racecourse was a rocket on a launch pad three kilometers away, and there were no horses. There were
however the same TV sets, and people with field glasses around their necks all milling about as if waiting
for the big race.
         The voice seemed to come from under the armpit furthest from Paula. He looked down to see one
of the Arianspace Public Relations ladies he had met at the briefing.
         ‘Not really,’ said Frank with a smile. ‘I’m not the one in that overgrown white cigar-case over
         Paula and Cheryl smiled initially, but then their faces soon changed reflecting the more serious
thoughts going through their minds. What was going on in the top of the rocket? Were the processes
active, or were they just dormant waiting for the journey? There were a hundred questions, and each
question spawned a further hundred. There was nothing they could do but wait, and it was a comfortable
enough place to wait.
         The clock got to about 8 minutes before the crowd started to move to the windows, but there was
still nothing visible happening on the launch pad. All they could see were a few faint wisps of smoke
coming from the tangle of concrete and metal that obscured the bottom of the rocket and boosters. At six
minutes all talking in the room stopped. Frank watched as the TV screen above the window showed the
umbilicals dropping away from the rocket. ‘You are on your own now big-bird. Fly well’ said a soft
female voice somewhere behind him. The voice from the speaker counted down at intervals of ten
seconds until the clock showed ten, and then five.
         ‘. . .Cinq, . . .quatre, . . . trois, . . . deux, . . . un, . . .Top! Lift Off!’
         A dense white cloud formed in silence at the base of the rocket and spread outward like a breaker
rolling over a flat green sea. The sound hit them a few moments later like the rumbling growl of a million
angry lions. The carpet under their feet shook. At first the rocket lifted slowly through the white cloud of
its creation, its thrusters glowing orange in the warm tropical night, but as it lifted into the sky its speed
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increased, until they could no longer watch it through the window, and turned to the screen. The picture
in the screen was stationery, and gave no indication of the speed of the rocket, but as the distance to the
rocket increased, so did the cameraman’s ability to keep the rocket steady in the center of the screen, and
eventually the rocket became no more than a fiery orange dot zigzagging wildly on the screen.
         ‘Boa viagem!’ said Paula quietly as silence returned gradually to the room. She turned to Frank
with wet eyes. ‘Do you think the Last Leader was watching the webcast?’
         Frank smiled. ‘I’m sure he was, and I’m sure there was one very excited Swazi with his virtual
nose glued firmly to a virtual screen in Sandton.’
         The group now turned to the huge animated screen in the room. A cheer went up as the screen
indicated that the solid fuel boosters had separated, and the rocket was now being powered by the EPC
stage. Another cheer went up as the screen indicated that the fairings, which had shielded the cargo
through the thick lower atmosphere, were no longer needed, and were discharged. At this stage the South
African contingent lost track of what was happening, and the language in the room became increasingly
technical and complex. At various stages there were announcements over the intercom that caused
different groups in the room to cheer. At one point there was an announcement that caused a number of
people to turn to the South Africans and give them the thumbs up sign. They returned the gesture, as they
knew it meant that their small cargoes had been injected into orbit. Frank had learned at the briefing that
theirs were to be last, and it was not long before Günter came back into the room with a big smile on his
face. He was almost mobbed by excited people wishing to shake his hand, and it was a while before he
made it through the crowd to the South Africans.
         ‘Well done,’ he said. ‘The disks have separated and are drifting together in GTO. When do you
start your tests?’
         ‘Only when we get back home. Day after tomorrow’ said Frank
         ‘Will you be attending the post-launch-briefing tomorrow?’
         ‘Would you like us to? From our side there is no need,’ said Frank.
         ‘We will, by tomorrow, have computed the precise orbital parameter for all injected satellites. Do
you need that information?’
         ‘In our case it is not that important. Our tests are not dependent on those values.’
         Günter smiled. ‘I wish all our customers were as easy to please as you folks. I must go. I’m sure I
shall see you again. I have two children and a grandson who I would love to take to the Kruger Park, but
until then, goodbye. It has been a pleasure.’
         They said their goodbyes and headed back to the hotel. The hotel was remarkably quiet and
somber. Frank had heard the expression “post-launch-blues” at the briefing session, but he had discounted
it, but now that the bird had flown, it was felt everywhere. Teams, that had worked, sweated and played
together for months in this remote corner of the South American jungle, were now to be dismantled, and
the pain of parting hung in the air like an invisible fog.
         The team headed straight for the small Internet café in the hotel. There were only three
workstations in the room, and all of them were in use. A young Indian-looking man wearing a pair of
jeans and a t-shirt looked up from the keyboard, smiled at Sanjay and Sandi, and burst into Hindi, but
when he noticed their confusion he switched into English.
          ‘I will be quite a while. I’m doing some research. Do you need to do something quickly?’
         ‘We just need to get into an IRC chat channel for a minute or two.’ said Paula.
          ‘This machine has mIRC installed. They don’t cover the cricket on TV here in Guyana, and I use
it to keep track of the matches in the chat-channels. I could use a fresh cup of tea anyway. Please, make
yourselves at home. I will be back in a while.’
         They thanked the well-mannered man, and by the time he returned with his tea they had finished.
The Last Leader and Ed had watched the web cast, downloaded the draft launch report, and were eagerly
awaiting the return of their friends. They left the workstation and headed for a quiet table in the lounge.
         ‘Did you guys give any more thought to the Sixth Project and if we are going to let the rest of the
world know about the egg?’ asked Selwyn.

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        ‘I still have no clear idea,’ said Frank. ‘Everything we did was geared toward helping our friends
with their mission, and now that is behind us, I feel a strange empty feeling in my stomach, as if I have
just lost a friend and I can’t explain it. I have to keep telling myself it is not over, just a new beginning.
One thing I will say is that I had my first taste of being a celebrity here in Kourou, and I’m not sure I like
        ‘I felt the same way,’ said Sanjay. ‘Celebrity status is for Hollywood and Bollywood. Selwyn, you
are the practical one. How do you feel?’
        ‘About the celebrity status I must agree. I expect that Cheryl and I get recognized a little more
often than you folk, but I have never got used to it. I hate it when I’m minding my own business in a
shopping center, and some person comes up to me and makes out that we are the best of friends, when in
truth we have never met. I have given some thought as to where we should be going now, but maybe we
should wait until we get home and discuss things with the last leader.’
        Paula looked relieved as Selwyn capped the discussion. ‘I don’t know about you people, but I
need some sleep. I feel all washed out this evening, and I miss my son. The sooner I get to sleep, the
sooner I will wake up. The sooner I wake up, the sooner we can get home. This has all been a bit too
much for this third-world girl.’

                                                Chapter 31

        Frank hardly slept on the final leg of the flight home. Even in first class there just never seemed to
be enough room for him to extend his legs or find a comfortable sleeping position. He looked enviously at
Paula who had just tucked herself into a ball and drifted off, helped by a few glasses of red wine and a
pleasantly full stomach.
        When he did manage to fall asleep, he had a dream that didn’t require Freudian interpretation. In
his dream they returned to the Epstein home to find that the egg had disintegrated into a pile of grey ash.
He woke up, sweating, agitated and uncomfortable, but none of his companions were awake for company.
He paced the aisles of the plane for a few minutes before being rescued from his loneliness by the
stewardess with a cup of coffee. In return he made himself useful by helping her load the trolleys with the
trays for the morning’s breakfast, much to the amusement of the other cabin crew.
        It was a week before the first meeting of the team and all the members other than Frank seemed to
settle back into their normal routines without any problems. Paula and Selwyn were soon at work putting
out the little fires that has started in their workplaces, and the Doctors Pillay had patients to attend to.
Even Cheryl had a few problems at the Foundation and at home that required her attention. Frank spent a
day on the mine helping Vuyo with a few minor problems, but apart from that most of the week was spent
at home with Matthew and the chat channel for company.
        At the first Saturday meeting the Last Leader took the interface. “I would like to thank you all
most sincerely for the support that you have afforded us in realizing our dream and completing our
mission. It has been for us the most amazing journey and a most wonderful experience. Never in our
wildest dreams did we imagine that we would come upon a race of beings like yours, and never did we
imagine that we would be so fortunate as to be befriended by a group of people like this group here. I
know Frank will not be offended if I say that he has been nervous as to whether our relationship will be
ongoing, and I wish to say that, from our side, we would love nothing more than for it to continue. I
wonder if you people have any idea as to the joy and satisfaction that we feel at this point in time?”
        Frank smiled. ‘I know my fears were irrational Last Leader, and I ask your indulgence. I also feel
joy and satisfaction as to what this team has achieved, but a few things have now changed. We could
always justify our secrecy as a strategy to help you guys, but now the old ghosts are coming back to haunt
me again.’
        ‘Would you share with us your concerns?’ asked the Last Leader.
        Frank smiled at Selwyn. ‘At the risk of getting an earful from Mr Epstein here I must admit that I
have never overcome the feeling that the knowledge here in this room is something that should be shared.
I know we have been down this route quite a few times before, but I think it is time to open up the
discussion again.’
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         ‘Selwyn, in Guyana you mentioned that you had done a bit of thinking,’ said Sanjay.
         ‘Yes, and I would like to discuss the options with the Last Leader. The way I see it is that we have
four choices. “Baby Steps”, “Big Bang”, “Button Down” or “Bulrushes”. “Baby Steps” is what we are
essentially doing – a slow gentle approach. Feed the technology and knowledge to the world slowly until
it is all out there. Then when the world learns what we in this room know, then there will be only
religious and philosophical issues to handle, and those are not our problem anyway. This approach kills
the fewest caterpillars.’
         ‘I guess “Big Bang” is the “Hi Larry King” approach?’ asked Paula.
         ‘Yes,’ answered Selwyn. ‘We bite the bullet and kill all the caterpillars. I don’t like it, because the
ramifications are immense. I also believe that that approach is unfair on Frank. There would undoubtedly
be criticism that he did not involve the mine, the authorities – whoever they are – and the scientific
community in this team. I think we all now believe Frank did right, but it would not be fair to have his
actions come under scrutiny.’
         ‘We would be prepared to take responsibility for the secretive course of action,’ said the Last
Leader, ‘but we still believe that to challenge so may people’s views simultaneously may have enormous
         ‘I really don’t think I want to be at the epicenter of that earthquake,’ added Frank. ‘What is
“Button Down” Selwyn?’
         ‘I don’t like that one either,’ he replied. ‘It is where we slow things down and essentially do
nothing. I think that one is irresponsible. We have the potential to so many things, especially with Sanjay
and Sandi on the team. Last Leader, how do you feel about that?’
         ‘We would also not support that option Selwyn. One of reasons we set out in the fist place was to
facilitate an exchange of knowledge between species, and we would like this exchange to continue.’
         ‘Yes,’ said Frank. ‘Scratch “Button Down”. What the hell is “Bulrushes”?’
         ‘Ah, that one is “Big Bang”, but where we divert the attention to someone else. Do you remember
the story of Moses in the Bulrushes?’
         Frank’s was confused, but the Last Leader came to his assistance. ‘Selwyn, do you make reference
to the Moses of the Old Testament and the Koran?’
         ‘Yes. I didn’t know he was mentioned in the Koran.’
         ‘He is mentioned in many places in the Koran, but the story of his discovery in the bulrushes
appears only in the Bible. The Old Testament relates how the Pharaoh of Egypt forbidding all Jewish
women to keep their boy babies. Moses’s mother put her son in basket and let him float down the Nile,
where the Pharaoh’s daughter found him in the bulrushes, and raised him as a prince. Are you suggesting
we leave this egg somewhere for someone else to find?’
         ‘No. Not the egg itself, but something obviously extraterrestrial. Something smart that we leave
somewhere with the intention of being found and given to the scientists.’
         ‘I like it,’ said Frank, ‘but we still don’t know how the world would react, and we would not know
that until we tried it, and by that time it would be too late to repossess Moses from Pharaoh’s daughter.’
         ‘I had an idea for an experiment a while ago,’ said Cheryl, ‘but I shelved it because I thought you
brain-boxes would laugh at me. I had the idea to write a book – a work of fiction - based on our
experiences. I have always wanted to write a novel, and there may be material here in this room.
Obviously we change the names and places, and we publish it under a pseudonym, but we keep the story
reasonably close to the truth. We use it as an experiment to see how the world reacts.’
         Selwyn smiled. ‘In the unlikely event that you included you husband among the “brain boxes”, I
want to say that I’m not laughing. I think the idea is brilliant. It has no risk, and the potential for great
reward. It is just the kind of plan I like.’
         ‘I agree.’ said Frank. ‘I think it is a great idea, and I can’t think of anyone better than you to write
it. How do you feel Last Leader?’
         ‘Ed and I both think it is a great idea. Ed believes he may be able to help significantly with the
human-download aspects of the story, and he wishes to say that he has read thousands of works of fiction
subsequent to his download. I would also love to become involved in such a project.’
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        ‘How does the story end?’ asked Frank with a smile.
        Cheryl smiled, but then her brow furrowed. ‘I really don’t know Frank. The first part of story is
easy, but the ending is difficult. The whole story starts with you, so how do you see it ending?’
        Frank smiled. ‘I have no crystal ball, so I think the last sentence should be “. .and the big white
rocket thundered into the night sky, and they all lived happily ever after”‘
        ‘No Frank, that cannot be the end of the story,’ said Sandi. ‘I think the part of the story that
you’ve encapsulated in the “and they all lived happily ever after” bit is going to be the most interesting,
because that is where we let that deaf kid hear, and that is where the blind kid sees for the first time.’
        ‘And what about the part of the story where our processes fly back to the reunion party?’ asked
Selwyn. ‘What do they find there? And what about when our processes leave the reunion party and get
back here in a few thousand years time? What do they find?’
        Cheryl smiled. ‘Those parts are for the sequel, and if we ever get to write it, we will need to do
some dope or magic mushrooms. I do not want to go beyond our experiences, so the book would have to
end now - something along the lines of Frank’s suggestion.’
        ‘But that is so boring,’ said Frank, ‘but in a way I hope the story has a boring ending. How does
the Chinese curse go? “May you live in interesting times”. I’m not sure I want any more “interesting
        ‘And there is another strange challenge,’ said Cheryl. ‘Most good works of fiction have at their
core human conflict, but this project has seen almost none. There have of course been internal conflicts
that we have all had to face. I know Frank has been the one who has carried the most self-doubt, and no
one here can hold that against him. I believe any lesser man may have buckled under the stress that he
        ‘Were it not for you people I would have,’ said Frank.
        ‘. . thank you Frank, but take a step back and look at the story as a novelist. The discovery of the
egg, and opening up of the communication channels between us and the egg-folk would make for a good
story, but, looking back, it has all been almost easy. We never got caught out, and we never fought among
ourselves - and I include the egg-folk. I have been toying with artificially creating conflict to make the
story more interesting, but somehow that feels wrong to me.’ She turned to Frank. ‘What do you want
your future to be like Frank?’ she asked.
        ‘Wow, that is a hell of a question. I have never really planned deep into the future and I have not
given it that much thought. I have never had ambitions that stretch much further than being a good
husband, father and geologist. If I get those right, then I will be happy to work with you people on
whatever we decide to do.’
        ‘You are already a great husband, father and geologist’ said Paula. ‘I know you sometimes miss
the profession of geology, and I think we all owe it to you to let you do more of what you love. This
whole project has been a little unfair on you. The egg has enabled the rest of us to do what we do better,
but there is little in it for you. I think it has been amazing the way you’ve supported us, but I think from
now on we should give you a little more space to do your own thing.’
        ‘Paula is right Frank,’ said Selwyn. ‘Go and do a little more geology. I suspect you’ve been a little
too busy to miss the profession, but if you do, go for it.’
        ‘Thanks, I will. But I have a few things in mind, and I know Ed wants to do a bit of mining stuff
again. There is a need for some software in the industry, and I would like to see if we can do something.’
        ‘I would love to help if you need me,’ said Paula. She turned to the speaker. ‘Last Leader, I
learned a great lesson watching the way Claude teaches. Humans love solving things for themselves, but
they get frustrated when they hit problems they can’t overcome. I know you sometimes feel we could be
doing more, and I think we can. We don’t need to just throw all the technology that the egg has at the
world. We just plant a seed here, help someone over a stumbling block there, and nudge a technology
along over there. The combined effect could be dramatic, but we could cover our tracks. We got the ball
going with Claude and “TdCCC”, but we can take it a lot further now that the little distraction of this
launch is over.’

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        Selwyn smiled. ‘I would hardly call what happened here a “little distraction”. We have helped an
alien species start a return journey to where they were created. We have sent them seven humans, seven
rats, and the results of three years worth of surfing the Internet, and it didn’t cost us a cent, in fact we
made some money from the whole deal. I think we did okay.’ He smiled at Frank. ‘And we did it all
without harming too many caterpillars.’

                                                Chapter 32

         ‘I think they got their aliens all wrong,’ said Luc. ‘They wont be like that’
        He felt Bernadette’s small breast shaking against his cheek as she laughed. ‘Trust me to marry a
rocket scientist,’ she said. I have heard that many men sleep after making love. I have heard that some
men smoke, and others get hungry. Claire tells me that her Italian boyfriend sings, but my husband thinks
about aliens. Well I just know what to think, but this is the last time I go to bed with you after we watch a
sci-fi movie. But now you have my attention, what do you mean? And you had better stop what you are
doing, or I wont give you a chance to answer the question.’
        He reluctantly stopped the slow circular movement of his finger around the acorn-coloured nipple
a few centimeters from his face. ‘Why do they always make aliens out to be such nasty creatures hell-bent
on bringing death and destruction to the planet?’
        ‘E.T. was cute.’
        ‘I suppose so, but he was only one of a small population of nice aliens. Come to think of it there
were a few others. There was that nice alien played by one of the Bridges brothers.’
        ‘Jeff Bridges. Starman. I loved that movie. I loved the bit in the train where he told her that she
would have a baby, and that it would be a boy baby.’
        ‘Yes, and when he brought that dead deer back to life. Dream me up an alien who comes to earth.’
        ‘As a movie-maker, or as a physicist?’
        ‘Lets make it harder. As a physicist.’
        ‘Whew. To quote an article I read, “extraterrestrial life is, by definition, not conveniently located”.
Must my alien stick to the laws of physics as we know them?’
        ‘So he can’t travel faster than the speed of light?’
        ‘No. Theory of Relativity holds.’
        ‘Then he has to be extremely long-lived, and very patient. Interstellar travel is a slow business. He
would have to have a whole different view of time, and I suspect he would not have a body as we know
        ‘Because liquid-based life-forms seem to have a short lifespan. My alien would be solid-state.
Possibly plasma, but no, I cant see life at those temperatures.’
        ‘A computer. Sort of like HAL in “2001, a Space Odyssey”?’
        ‘Yes, and my alien would be small.’
        ‘Why small?’
        ‘E equals a half M V squared. Lower mass, so that we don’t need too much energy to accelerate it
up to the velocities required for interstellar flight.’
        ‘Aha, but why don’t we get our E from the E in E equals mass times the square of the speed of
        ‘Because we don’t know how to!’
        ‘But he does.’
        ‘Stop re-designing my alien. He is mine!’
        ‘Sorry. Pray continue.’
        ‘But I would still make him small. There would no need to make him big. We are only big
because our water-based systems require a certain size.’
        ‘And what form would he have?’
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        ‘Who cares? He would be designed for space, and not for life in an atmosphere.’
        ‘No feet, eyes, mouth, ears?’
        ‘No. He would just need to communicate. Electromagnetic. Radio probably.’
        ‘Ok. And why would he want to go into space?’
        ‘Curiosity. I have this feeling that if a life-form becomes intelligent, it must get curious.’
        ‘Ok, so we have a small radio-talking, funny looking, curious alien flying through space.’
        ‘Yes. Sleeping through space.’
        ‘Maybe the devices we launched for our South African friends were aliens?’
        She laughed. ‘Come to think of it, those devices of theirs were pretty close to what I had in mind!’
        Luc smiled. ‘Let me go and send an email to Claude. It will say “Hi Claude, why are you sending
aliens into space? Regards Luc”‘
        Bernadette returned his smile. ‘That Claude is an amazing man. In fact that entire crowd are
amazing. I watched Frank swimming in the rock pool in the Kruger Park, and I think he is an alien. No
human swims like that!’
        ‘I saw that too. When you see Frank walking, he looks a bit like a big gorilla, and his beard is the
colour of an orang-utan, but when he gets into the water he swims like a dolphin. I was amazed.’
        ‘Then Selwyn must be an alien too, because they swim together in the evenings. They were both
water polo players. That is how they met.’
        Luc was enjoying the conversation. ‘Maybe they are all aliens!’
        Bernadette looked a little more serious. ‘Luc, what is the real reason for them sending those
devices into orbit? There are things that don’t make sense. Why are they just going to leave five small
devices in GTO?’
        ‘They wanted to test the sensors in space,’ he said.
        ‘But we could have done that for them. We now own the technology. Those guys bent over
backwards to teach us that stuff. You went on the course, and okay, we bought the technology from them,
but they went more than the extra mile. It was almost like Claude and Paula wanted to share it with us.
We would have paid them double the money for half the course. No, they have a hidden agenda, and I
can’t work out what it is. I think the answer is in those devices.’
        ‘You just have feminine suspicion!’
        ‘Maybe, but there is more to those devices than we know.’
        ‘I will put your mind at rest. Pass me my cell phone and Palm Pilot please.’
        ‘Who are you phoning at this time of night?’
        ‘Mike Sinclair at the University of Nottingham. He doesn’t sleep much.’
        ‘Why you want to speak to him?’
        ‘He is a member of the space-junk monitoring group. They have the first few sensors we made,
and they have a project to track devices in orbit. I will ask him if the South African devices are sending
out anything strange.’
        He tapped the Palm Pilot a few times and found the number.
        ‘Hi Mike, Luc here. . don’t you ever go home? . . She is well thanks. . Those new little satellites
we put up into GTO two days ago, are they sending out anything funny? No? I’m not sure. . . I’m seeing
them in a few days and I’ll let you know. . .No. . .No problem . . . .Thanks Mike. Go home and sleep!
        Luc just sat on the bed in silence. Bernadette laid a hand on his shoulder.
        ‘What did he say?’ she asked.
        ‘I just don’t believe it.’
        ‘What don’t you believe?’
        ‘The devices are accelerating. There is a small increase in both apogee and perigee. Mike says
they must have been firing their apogee kick motors, but they are radio-silent.’
        ‘So what is strange about that? They all do that to get from GTO to geostat.’
        ‘Those devices have no kick motors. Moving to HEO was not part of the plan.’
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        ‘Those devices have no kick motors. So how in heavens name are they accelerating? I inspected
them before we sent them to Kourou. Each one is just a solid lump in the center of a titanium disk. They
have a few sensors, a few holes, and I believe they have batteries in them, but that is it. There must be
some form of propulsion system, but it must be tiny, and how does it work? You are right, there is
something our South African friends are not telling us, but what? It is a mystery. We need a detective.’
        ‘What did Sherlock Holmes say? “Once you’ve removed the impossible, whatever remains, no
matter how improbable, must be the truth” So what is impossible? Is it possible that they are doing
something for the military?’
        ‘Impossible. I have met military people, and Selwyn Epstein is not a military man. And have you
ever met a military man who lives in a home like that? And the Epstein Foundation?’
        Bernadette laughed. ‘Frank and Selwyn both did military service. They both hated it. Scratch
military. Research?’
        ‘I don’t think so. Researchers are a club. They share stuff, and we know these people like sharing.
Why would they share a technology, but hold back their research. Scratch research.’
        ‘Commercial use?’
        ‘What is the payback from those little things? They are not going to make any money from them,
and besides, if they were, why not ask us to help them? We could have given them a huge marketing
push. Jean would have loved to do a few press releases for them, but they never asked. Scratch
        ‘What is left to scratch? Maybe Frank is really an alien and he is mailing stuff home!’
        Luc laughed. ‘I got to talk to him, and he is such a nice guy. He was born in South Africa, English
Mother, Afrikaans father. His father died in a mine rescue accident. His mother is a bookkeeper. That is
not the profile of an alien. He is a real human.’
        ‘Then it must be Claude.’
        ‘My darling, I love you, but you are crazy. I spent a month on a course given by an alien? We
know what happened to him. He was disfigured in a car accident. He lost his wife and kid. He can’t walk,
and doesn’t like meeting people face-to-face.’
        Bernadette smiled. ‘I know, but “Once you’ve removed the impossible. . . .” I remember a story
our professor once told us. I have heard many variations on the story since then, but I will tell the version
he told us. There was a physicist traveling in a train. His wife looked out the window and remarked,
“Look dear. Those sheep have just been shorn” to which he replied “Yes, on the one side at least”. Show
me the other side of the sheep Luc.’
        ‘I don’t want to show you sheep. I want to make love to you again. I must have Australian blood.
All this talk of naked sheep. . . . .’
        She didn’t hit him very hard with the pillow, at least not hard enough for his timid submission.
        ‘Stop! Mercy! Gendarme!’ he cried.
        ‘You started all this alien talk, and now you are wimping out of the argument.’
        ‘I’m not wimping out of the argument, I’m just defending myself against Bodicea armed with a
brutal club made from dead geese.’
        She smiled and lay back in the bed, and he took up his former position with his head on her breast.
‘Why is that group what they are?’ she asked.
        ‘What do you mean?’
        ‘A geologist, an IT professional, an electrical engineer and his wife, who has a background in
languages and social sciences, and two doctors. And they are all from absolutely different backgrounds,
and yet they knit together in the most seamless fashion. The doctors were the most recent addition to the
        ‘Sanjay was the doctor on the mine. He and Frank are friends. They play squash together.’
        ‘But that does not explain it. They are all more than friends. There is some glue that binds that
group together, some form of gravitational dark matter, and I think Claude is in some way that glue.
Think about this. You are a brilliant scientist, and you have this terrible accident. You decide to build a
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team of scientists on the Internet to market certain technologies and capabilities. Why do you interface to
the world through a group of multidisciplinary, multicultural South Africans? Luc, please pass me that
hairdryer.’ Luc stretched across to the dressing table. ‘Look at this. Selwyn gave it to me’
        Luc had seen the hairdryer, but had never really looked at it. As he inspected it he felt a growing
sense of unease. It was made to a specification he had never seen. The outer cover was a gray material
that seemed to be some form of lightweight ceramic. He found a nail clipper on the table and tried to
scratch the surface, but it would not scuff. He looked down the tube, expecting to find a wire element, but
there was none. In its place was a set of vanes that looked more like a jet engine than a heating element.
        ‘This is amazing. This thing looks like it was made for space. What guarantee do they give with
        ‘Lifetime. If it ever breaks while I’m alive they replace it.’
        ‘But what fool would make a hairdryer like this? It would destroy Selwyn’s business.’
        ‘Selwyn is no fool. He knows that. It even said so on the box it came in. That is why he is
branching into other areas. Claude is in some way at the centre of this whole puzzle.’
        ‘Claude has a beautiful mind, if I may borrow the phrase.’
        Bernadette smiled ‘. . but he has none of the neuroses. Have you ever met a more likeable
        ‘No. Never. Intelligence is often tied to neurotic behavior, but he exhibits none.’
        ‘If his body had been so badly scarred in that accident, would his mind not also have been
damaged? Show me the other side of the sheep Luc. I Googled and AltaVista’d for “Claude le Roux”. I
came up with a local politician, a chef, and a few South Africans. I could find nothing other than
speculation about our Claude. No papers. No publications. Nothing. Claude is a ghost.’
        ‘I love that ghost. Easy to explain, Claude is not his real name.’
        ‘I love that ghost too. But why change your name because of an accident? Christopher Reeve fell
off a horse and was paralyzed in a wheelchair. He lived a full life and didn’t change his name.’
        ‘You’ve done this thinking before?’
        ‘Yes. It was when we were in the Kruger Park. Do you remember when we all went for that swim
after dinner, and that ranger came and sat next to us on the rock and identified the sounds from the bush?’
        Luc smiled. ‘I remember it well. You were topless, and when he saw your breasts, the poor
conservative South African didn’t know whether to stay or leave.’
        ‘I’m pleased he stayed. And what could he see in the moonlight anyway?’
        He drew the back of his hand across her chest from nipple to nipple. ‘I saw all, and what man
would leave such a sight?’
        ‘Behave yourself. It was a time I will treasure. We lay on the warm rocks looking at the stars
above us just listening to the sounds. That ranger knew the animal that made each sound. We heard
elephants, hippos, lions, antelope and a whole number of other things. At the time I wished I had a way of
recording the moment for Claude. I wondered if Claude had ever had such an experience, and once I
started to wonder, I could not stop. I wondered where he had been to school. I wondered where he learned
all those languages. I wondered how much he loved his wife and child. I cried a tear for him, and
wondered if he had cried. Do you remember how badly Frank wanted to see a sable antelope? The poor
guy was convinced they were hiding from him, and Paula asked him if a cardboard cutout would do.
While I was lying on the rock I wondered if we could create a virtual Kruger Park for Claude, complete
with cardboard cutouts and recorded sound.’
        ‘A virtual Kruger Park for a ghost?’
        ‘A virtual Kruger Park for a virtual person.’
        Luc lifted his head from the comfort of his wife’s breast and smiled at her. ‘This is ridiculous.’
        ‘Show me the other side of the sheep Luc.’
        ‘I will show you the other side of the sheep in Johannesburg. Come with me to the wrap-up
meeting. This sensor project is on everyone’s mind and on everyone’s lips. We will tell them that Claude
wishes to talk about something new, some new stuff he has been working on, and they will force you to
go with me.’
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        ‘Can you sell it to them? I would love to go.’
        ‘Of course.’
        The idea needed little selling, and the two were on the way to Johannesburg the next day. The
South Africans were only expecting Luc, but the additional presence of Bernadette more than doubled
their pleasure. As they entered the formal dining room in silence Selwyn whispered something into
Bernadette’s ear. He flicked the switch and smiled at her.
        ‘Hello Claude,’ said Bernadette.
        ‘Tanebdatt! This is indeed an unexpected pleasure. It is so good to speak with you. Is Luc there
with you?’
        ‘Hello Claude,’ said Luc. ‘The eight of us are all here.’
        ‘Greetings all. I’m delighted to have you all here. Are we here to sign off the final papers Luc?’
        ‘A few formalities I’m afraid. We believe the mission was a success. Most recent information is
that the devices are in GTO. A friend of mine at the University of Nottingham has reported to me that he
has observed a slight increase in apogee and perigee of the orbit, but I told him to check his equipment.’
        There was a short silence around the table. .
        ‘So soon Claude?’ asked Selwyn.
        ‘There is no reason to wait,’ said Claude, ‘and since we are all here I would like to thank you all
most sincerely for all your efforts. It has been a pleasure to be a small part of this project.’
        ‘Hardly a small part Claude,’ said Luc, ‘but what was that about no reason to wait?’
        There was short silence before Selwyn spoke. ‘Luc, when we had our first meeting here in this
room half-a-year ago you mentioned that space was getting a little crowded. What is now being executed
is the end-of-life plan for those devices.’
        ‘But most end-of-life plans are down, not up. What is your end-of-life plan?’
        ‘More relevant is, “where is your end of life plan?” The answer to that is out there. Quite a long
way out there.’
        Luc stammered, ‘b-but there is no propulsion system to take them out there. Things don’t just
walk through empty space.’
        Selwyn smiled, his fingers walking over the table like the Yellow Pages advertisement. ‘Tiny
space boots. We told you we had a few other tricks up our sleeves.’
        Luc looked at Bernadette, and then at the speaker. ‘I need to see the other side of the sheep
        ‘I’m afraid you have lost me Luc,’ said Claude.
        ‘There was a physicist traveling in a train. His wife looked out the window and said, “Look dear.
Those sheep have just been shorn,” to which he replied “Yes, on the one side at least.”’
        Selwyn laughed. ‘Sounds like an auditor to me. Why the funny story Luc?’
        ‘Because I have a funny and beautiful wife. I need to ask a question. I’m nervous to ask this
question at the risk of destroying my friendship with you people. Most of all it may risk a precious
relationship with you Claude.’
        ‘I do not believe our relationship could be endangered by a question Luc,’ said Claude. ‘I do of
course reserve the right not to answer it. This group of South Africans has always respected that right, and
I ask you to do the same.’
        ‘Of course. In which case let me get it over with so that we can all have a good laugh at my
expense, and then move on to the signing of these papers. We hired a movie a couple of nights ago. It was
the movie with Mel Gibson – “Signs”. After our long post-mortem discussion, there was a view that you
may be a virtual person, or possibly even an alien Claude.’
        He had done it. He sat back in his chair and braced himself for the ridicule, but it did not come.
Instead there was a long silence. He watched Selwyn. There was a slight smile on his face, but it was not
the smile of ridicule. He watched as Selwyn looked at Frank, and he watched as Frank nodded. Selwyn
looked at each person in turn, and each person nodded. There was still no ridicule as Selwyn turned to the
        ‘Claude, we all believe a little truth is called for. How do you folk vote?’
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        It was not Claude who spoke, but the Last Leader. ‘998 for,’ he said.
        Both Luc and Bernadette sat back in their chairs at the strange voice.
        ‘Who is that?’ asked Luc nervously. Selwyn was smiling. It was a warm and friendly smile with a
faint undertone of relief. As Luc looked around he saw the same smile on everyone’s face. It was as if he
were in a dream, but not an unpleasant dream. It was Selwyn who spoke first.
        ‘That’s the boss. We call him the Last Leader. He has a fascinating story to tell you, but I will
leave that to him. Why did it take you bloody rocket-scientists so long to work it out? You didn’t really
believe that a rock-doctor, a toaster-maker and his arty wife, a computer mechanic, and a pair of body-
plumbers came up with all that clever stuff did you? And now that you have, you leave us with a choice.
Either you join the team that knows, or we have to kill you, and I don’t want to do that. It is messy and
bloody, and Frank faints at the sight of blood, and besides, we like you folk. We would hate to do that.
How about joining us? We could use a rocket-scientist and a physicist. Can you guys keep a secret?’
        Luc almost managed a smile. ‘Do I have any choice?’
        ‘No,’ said Selwyn. ‘But it is not that hard. We have lived the secret for three and a half years.
Once you get used to it, it can be fun.’
        ‘When are you going back to Paris?’ asked Cheryl.
        ‘I-I think tomorrow,’ stammered Bernadette.
        ‘But tomorrow is Friday. Stay for the weekend. You’ve three years to catch up, and I’m sure we
can have the ticket changed. I will have the guest suite prepared for you in any event.’ She smiled at Luc.
‘You will not want to leave this room for a long, long time.’
        ‘Come team,’ said Selwyn. ‘Lets let the Last Leader speak some of that French he is so proud of.’
        ‘She is so proud of,’ said Paula with a cheeky smile as they left the room.

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Notes :-

I think everone has a novel inside of their head. I have many, and I just had to try and put one down on

Having tried I have nothing but respect for the people who do this for a living. If you ever want to love
reading more, just try writing !

I was trained as a Mining Engineer in the seventies, and worked underground on various gold, platinum
and coal mines before moving to Johannesburg in the eighties. Over the years I migrated from mining, to
mining consulting, to Mining I.T. and then pure I.T. in which field I have been for the last 20 years. My
interest in electronics is a hobby.

The events which happened in Chapter 1 are based on real events, but the rest is pure fiction – I think.

Why write in this field? As a boy my late father introduced me to SF , and all those John Wynham, Isaac
Asimov and Arthur Clarke novels soon became my favourites. Over the years the amount of “hard” SF
out there seems to have dwindled, and I think this is sad.

Who did I write this for? I wrote it for the man or boy I used to be.

                                        Chapter 33            Revision History

            Ver                  Date                           By                         Comments
0.1a-0.1c               1993-Dec 31 2002          PJC                              Initial Drafts
0.1h                    Jan 2003                  PJC                              First consolidated draft.
                                                                                   First reviews
1.0a                    Jun 20 2003               PJC                              Formatted – Styles
1.0b                    Jun 21 2003               PJC
1.0c                    Jun 22 2003               PJC                              Edits
1.0E                    Jul 05 2003 Laptop        PJC                              Ed Load ReWrite
                                                                                   Chapter Names
1.0F                    Jul 10 2003 Laptop        PJC                              Cut the lectures – start
1.0G                    Jul 19 2003               PJC                              Shortened technical
                        Thabazimbi                                                 stuff.
1.0H                    Jul 28                    PJC                              Started to re-wor
                                                                                   Guyana chapter’
1.0I                    Aug 6, 2003               PJC                              Moved to Desktop
                                                                                   Back to Notepad
1.0J                    Aug 18, 2003              PJC                              Back to Desktop
1.0K                    Sept 21, 2003             PJC                              Notepad – JHB Trip
1.0L                    Mar 15 2004               PJC                              Few Edits
1.0M                    Mar 24, 2004              PJC                              Rearranged
1.0N                    Jun 03, 2004              PJC                              Im -> I’m edit
1.0o                    Jun 13, 2004              PJC                              Edits – flow
1.0p                    Jul 06,2004               PJC                              Edits- Caterpillar story
                                                                                   2we translation service
1.0q                    Sep 06, 2004              PJC                              Footnotes. Style
1.0r                    Sep 10 2004               PJC                              Edits
1.0s                    Sep 28 2004               PJC                              Back to A4 – Edits
1.0t                    Dec 28 2004               PJC                              Edits
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                                        TwoWireEgg   –   1.1d 2008/05/19 – Page 165

1.0v                    Jun 2005               PJC                              Revival?
1.0w                    Dec 6 2005             PJC                              Edits
1.0x                    May 10, 2006           PJC                              Edits
1.1b                    July 13, 2006          PJC                              Removed footnotes
                                                                                Trimmed Sefricanisms
                                                                                Printed for Patrick
1.1c                    July 29, 2006          PJC                              Rewrite of Chapt 1
                                                                                And edits based on
                                                                                Patrick’s comments

1.1d                    May 19, 2008           PJC                              PDF for Stefan Scriba

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