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Stories from the Verse
Versers Versus Versers
Chapter 50: Brown 188
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Previous chapter: Chapter 49: Takano 8
Derek abruptly sat up on the bed. “This,” he said, “is why you shouldn’t rush things.” He went to the computer.
“What?” Vashti asked.
“Well, I was thinking that I might close the door, and wondering what they would do, but one of my concerns is that when they opened the door--or when we opened it, which we would inevitably have to do since we’re not carrying much food--they might remove us from here and separate us from our gear. Without my computer, I can’t talk to their computer--and that’s just silly. Their computer is big, and while mine is smarter and faster, it wouldn’t take much to add a few subroutines to theirs. If I present it as a software upgrade, their computer should simply pull it in and install it exactly as needed. Let me take a look at the software upgrade process--there has to be one.”
He spent the next hour poking around on the computer, looking into directories, upgrade history, everything he could find. It had been a very long time since the system had received a standard update, but eventually he found a couple old ones and managed to work out the necessary code for them.
The next trick, which took him a bit less time, was to design a software upgrade package that would install itself as if it were an expansion of the existing software. The fact that his computer was now intimately familiar with the languages of the target computer made that much easier than it might have been, and before an hour had elapsed he had a package that he thought should do the trick. Still, realizing the enormity of the danger of a botch, he went over it again bit by byte. Then, satisfied, he uploaded it.
“There,” he said.
“What?” she answered, and he realized that she might have said ‘where’ for all the information he had given her.
“The ship’s computer is programmed to take plain language commands in whatever language these people’s ancestors spoke; I’m guessing to them it sounds like magic mumbo-jumbo on those rare times when they use it. It works through their keyboards and at select terminals through voice command. I’ve uploaded a linguistic subroutine that will cause it to offer choice of language, the original language, English, or Arabic, so that you and I can type or speak commands directly into the console in our own languages and have it translate them into something it understands. I’ll still have to use the computer for complicated command routines, but for simple things like opening and closing doors it should respond to us.”
He watched the panel by the door until abruptly in the bottom left corner a new image appeared, an icon with the letter ‘L’. “There,” he said, pointing to it. “If you touch that, it should clear the screen and offer you a choice of three languages. I guess we should try it.”
“What, just touch the bent line?”
“Yes. It’s an English capital letter ‘L’, which was the quickest and simplest icon I could think to use.”
“And all I have to do is touch that?”
“Yes, and you might as well learn now.”
“It won’t hurt?”
Derek laughed. “Sorry. No one has ever asked me that before. No, it should be like touching a glass.”
She touched it. The screen blanked, and in a moment returned three choices in three distinct scripts.
“Pick one,” he said. She picked Arabic. It blanked and paused again, then returned another screen with options, in Arabic, for holding the door open, opening the door (this one dimmed), closing the door, and holding the door closed.
“May I close it?”
Derek thought a moment. “All right,” he said. “But open it again immediately. We don’t want them panicking.”
She touched the word for closing the door, and it slid closed. The screen changed, the close door instruction dimming and the open door instruction brightening. Vashti startled, pulling her hand back.
“Are you all right?” Derek asked.
“Yes,” she said. “I just didn’t expect that.”
“Well, the guard outside probably didn’t expect the door to close, so we’d better open it before his startle turns to panic.”
She opened the door. The guard was standing, his hand outstretched as if he had been touching the closed door a moment before.
“Good,” he said. “Now I want to think about my next trick.”
“You’ll see. Let me sleep on it a bit more.” And he stretched out on the bed again.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #338: Verser Missteps. 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: