This short story, of 628 words, was written in response to Kreative Kue 3, issued on this site a couple of days ago.
“We must be getting quite close now, Dan,” I said to my companion.
“Dan?” I shouted.
Then I heard a muffled “Over here!”
I ran toward the sound. There, in the middle of a clearing, Dan stood beside a sign that said ‘Lake Nyasa, altitude 478’. Close to it was another sign bearing the single word ‘Itungiport’.
Dan removed the briar pipe from between his lips. “There’s no mention of Itungiport on the map,” he said, “but I’m pretty sure Lake Nyasa is the old name for Lake Malawi. By my reckoning, we are quite close to its northern shore.”
I noted in my journal where we were, and did a couple of sketches, one showing Dan standing by the sign.
“How much farther?” I asked.
“About an hour’s walk; maybe a bit more,” Dan replied.
Until the moment the Great Solar Storm began its seven-day reign of terror, seventy years ago, no-one could have imagined life without the computers that controlled every aspect of human activity. The storm rendered useless every electrical and electronic item on and above the planet. The fires, riots and looting started almost straight away and continued, on and off, for about forty years. Long-buried differences surfaced, and it seemed the whole world was engaged in a series of local wars. OGRES (Operation Global Re-start) is now well underway, but as few people now alive were more than in their mid-teens when the storm struck, everything has had to be re-learnt, re-discovered or re-invented. No computer records remained after the storm, and a large proportion of the world’s books didn’t survive the period that is now optimistically referred to as ‘The Last War’.
As our small contribution to OGRES, Dan and I had joined an international effort to update the libraries of knowledge being built in major centres around the globe. A large number of teams had been exploring the REA (Republic of East Africa) for some months. Dan and I were tasked with surveying the entire lake shore for remnant human settlements and reporting on their condition, and the health and state of development of their occupants.
The first group we came across seemed to be thriving and comfortable with their lives. They told us that there was nothing in their tradition that spoke about the Great Solar Storm, beyond vague stories of lights in the sky that went on for several days. It had clearly had no impact on their life as a community.
“Of course,” Dan said, “electricity never reached this far into the country. If you live off the land and the lake, cook and heat using wood in an open fire and have no concept of artificial light, what use have you for electricity? With no access to information from farther away than a man can walk in a day, they would have known nothing of The Last War, and would have long ceased to notice the absence of vapour trails in the skies and powered boats on the lake. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learnt here: you never miss what you never had.”
“But they haven’t made any progress,” I objected, “their lifestyle today is the same as it was centuries ago.”
Dan tapped out his pipe, refilled and lit it. Puffing on it to establish a burn, he said, “That’s material thinking. Things don’t bring happiness. An abundance of things brings only the desire for more things. My old maiden aunt had a favourite saying,” he removed the pipe from his mouth and pointed the stem at me for emphasis, ” ‘Contentment,’ she said, ‘lies not in having what you want, it lies in wanting what you have.’ Perhaps these people are living proof of the veracity of that.”