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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 135: Brown 46
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In his first month on the job, Derek had been able to master the essentials of trinary systems. The concepts were very much the same; it only required working in a different number base when coding and understanding the three-position switching of positive-no charge-negative in the circuits. Most of the computers throughout the station used these systems and protocols, although there were still echoes of the time when binary systems dominated, mostly in compatibility circuits.
Once he understood this, he thought he now knew all there was to learn about their computers–not that he couldn't get better at it, but that he understood the basics. Then somewhere around the fifth week on the job Raeph told him to get his tools and follow him. There was something wrong with one of the advanced systems on the command deck, and he was going to need some help–an extra pair of hands at least. Derek grabbed his gear and followed, and several elevators later they reached a complex of several rooms filled with more consoles than Derek had seen in his entire time in the previous world.
Raeph led to a relatively small console, and pulled the cover. "What's this do?" Derek asked.
"It's a faults analyzer, but I think it's got a fault itself."
As the cover came off, it revealed something very different from the circuits Derek had seen. "It looks like there's something growing in it," he said.
"Yeah, it does look like that, doesn't it? I thought you'd like to see it. This is the next step beyond trinary. These are biocomputers."
"Biocomputers? You mean, like, human brains?"
"Well, not human, certainly, but operating very like that. This system uses molecular memory storage very like the RNA that stores your own memories, individual molecules representing the coded values, read by chemical strings which in turn drive electrical impulses which are very nearly neural in their operation. Because everything is done on the molecular level, the speed is phenomenal. Unfortunately, it's not always stable–sometimes the ROM mutates, and then the system gets buggy. Tracking down the mutation and putting it right can be a nightmare. But really, it's just like a computer, only at the next stage of microminiaturization. A hundred years ago, nothing could have done this job. Every second this computer checks every other computer operating system on board to determine whether it's working properly, then compares its results against those of two other similar computers. If all three agree that there's a problem, the problem is reported to us, and of course to the operators of the station so they can compensate. But if two agree against the third, we know we've got a problem in one of the biocomputers, and that's a priority–it has to be fixed, because with only two functioning if there's a problem with one, we can't tell which is right."
Raeph found the problem easily enough. One of the photoreceptors which received information through the fiberoptic lines from the other computers had died. He had another in a culture jar, and as Derek extracted the module in which it was housed, Raeph removed and replaced the tiny sensor.
"Where can I learn more about these?" Derek asked as they packed up and closed the panel.
"Well, you can start in the computer archives under biocomputer, but I suspect you'll want to take a class in them–there aren't too many people who understand these systems at all, and some of the archived information is really not up to date. But I think we can arrange it."
"I'd like that."
"I guessed you would."
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eight other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #128: Character Gatherings. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: