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Stories from the Verse
In Verse Proportion
Chapter 28: Slade 177
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Kondor 181
Slade found his way to the engineering building, Shella accompanying him, and with a bit more difficulty found the professor. He began with a few pleasantries which he had managed to if not master at least manage, then picked up a link to one of the lab assistants so he could speak and understand more.
“This gadget we want to create,” he said, “is kind of a next step up from the--” and he froze. It was a few seconds before he continued. “You have no word for that.” He pondered this for a moment. “That must mean you haven’t invented that yet.”
So they didn’t have the telegraph. Well, it was a simple machine, really, and one which would work over longer distances than their primitive telephone. The complication--well, they would deal with the complication.
“I think maybe we should start there. Let me explain what it is and what it does, and then we can build one, and go from there. Mind if I sit on one of these tables?”
He didn’t really wait for an answer before doing so.
“O.K., you have switches, and you have batteries, and you have wire, and you have magnets and electric magnets. That’s all we need; and we don’t even need a regular magnet. We will need a spring-rigged normally open pushbutton switch, easy enough to build if necessary, and we’ll have to set up a--a thing, a piece of metal on a hinge attached to wood with an electric magnet above it. So we create a circuit with a battery, the switch, and the magnet, and when you push the button the magnet lifts the piece of metal, and when you let go, the piece of metal falls.
“Now, here’s the trick: when the metal falls, it’s going to make a noise hitting the board it’s attached to. We’re going to put something above it that it will hit when it’s pulled up, and it’s going to make a different noise when it hits that. So when you push the button it makes one click, and when you release it it makes a different one, like a clack.” Finding words for click and clack had taken him a moment, but now that he had them it was working. “So now one person pushes and releases the button, and another person listens to the clicks and clacks, and from that knows how long the button was held. We can have short and long bursts of electricity hitting the magnet, and so we have either click clack, or click, clack. We have words for that in our language, but for now short and long will have to do.”
“I see. But what does that get for us?”
“Well, the guy who invented it also invented a code that has his name, connected to our letters. So one short would be a certain letter, and one long would be a different letter, and you would have combinations of short and long, so that short-long-short-long would be a letter and short-short-long-short would be another letter. And so the guy who is pressing the button is sending these short and long combinations, with brief pauses between them, and the guy listening to the clicks and clacks can write down the longs and shorts and so work out what letters were sent, and that would spell words.”
Slade wasn’t yet accustomed to parakeet expressions, but he was certain that the professor’s face changed.
“It seems like a very elaborate and time-consuming way to tell you something. Why do I not just say it?”
“Well, when we make the next invention you would be able to do that, but the thing with this is you can run the wire between the switch and the magnet for as long as you can stretch the wire and put enough electricity through it to do the job. You could send a message to another city, or even another country.” It occurred to him that they must have countries, because they had a word for it, although it then occurred to him that it might not mean the same thing, since country had more than one meaning. “You can also use the same wire to go both directions, if you have a second switch at the other end and a second clicker at the one end. So you could send news to places far away in seconds. The government would love to have such a thing, since they wouldn’t have to send written messages by transportation and wait days for them to arrive. People would probably also pay to use it to send messages to their distant friends and relatives--if your mother is in another city and you just had a chick, would you rather send her a letter that might take a week to find her, or send a message that would be in the hands of someone in her city in minutes, and would only have to be carried across town to her nest?”
The professor nodded. “Yes, I see. So, what about the code?”
“Yeah, well, that’s kind of a complication. First, I don’t know the code--I never learned it. But second, the code that was used in my world was connected to our letters, which not only are going to be different from your letters but don’t even represent the same sounds as your letters, because our languages aren’t like yours. But on top of that, I don’t know your letters at all. I can’t read your language, at least, not yet. So I don’t know even how many letters you have, and I couldn’t even begin to create a code for you. But I’m sure there’s someone here at the university who could come up with something that makes sense, and then birds just have to learn it if they want to be operators of the new gadget.
“So, do you need anything else from me? Or should we go get an early lunch and let you work on it?”
“Switch, battery, wire, magnet, clicker--I think we can work on it. Come tomorrow, and we’ll see how far we got.”
“I look forward to it,” Slade said. “Come, Shella, let’s go see what’s cooking for lunch.”
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twenty other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #437: Characters Relate. 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: