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Stories from the Verse
In Verse Proportion
Chapter 141: Brown 243
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Previous chapter: Kondor 220
That evening Derek taught Vashti how to connect to someone’s speech center, and had her practice it by conversing with her in several of the languages he had learned in spy training. He commented that it was appropriate for her to learn that skill in this world, because this was the world in which Lauren had originally invented it. She was going to need it to be able to talk with the birds, at least until they learned some of the bird language.
They breakfasted with the Slades and Joe and Zeke at the cafeteria, where they were introduced to the several professors with whom the others had been working. There was a comment about telling the Dean, but the consensus seemed to be that immediately after eating they would have a meeting in engineering to discuss what Derek had brought and what he could teach them.
Derek was a bit uncertain. For one thing, he was not really a spaceship engineer. He would be lucky if he could figure out how to fix the thing, and was quite frank and upfront about it. There was talk about how to find and repair the leak, and Joe and Bob said that they had spaceship experience and could probably figure out some of the problems and how to address them. No one knew how it was powered, but it seemed likely that the power plant had survived, or at least that any damage it had sustained would be readily identified and repaired.
Derek was reluctant to permit anyone to disassemble the robot. After all, it was unlikely that anyone present could fix it if they broke it, and they certainly weren’t going to have parts for it. Besides, he figured the robot was still useful for him.
Finally it came around to discussing computers, and here he was in his element.
“You’ve got vacuum tubes, right?”
“Yes,” Joe answered. “We don’t have a lot of variation, but we use them for the radios.”
“Then we should be able to construct a,” and at this point the parakeet language failed him.
“A what?” Slade asked.
“Of course,” Derek said. “If the thing doesn’t exist in this world, they don’t have a word for it. We called it,” and he switched to English, “a Babbage machine.”
“What is,” the engineering professor whistled, then mimicked, “a Babbage machine?”
“Well, the name isn’t very descriptive. It’s a machine named for the person who invented it. But it’s one of the earliest computers.”
“We can go beyond that, though,” Joe said, “because we’ve started making transistors. We’re a long way from making something small enough for a desktop, but I’d bet we could put together an electronic calculator. It might have to stand against the wall, but I think it would work.”
“The one problem,” Slade said, “is the numbers.”
“The numbers?” Derek asked.
“Yeah, our calculators use our numbers, but the parakeets have a different way of writing numbers. In order for them to use the thing, it would have to be done to their number system.”
Derek shrugged. “I guess I’ll have to learn it. How hard can it be? The last world I was in I had to work in base eight. We’ll figure it out.”
“So,” the engineer said, “how do we help?”
Derek looked at Vashti. “Good question,” he said. “I’m going to have to think about how to do it, and get Joe to brief me on what’s available. Let me think about it for a day or two.”
On that note, the meeting dissolved. Derek and Vashti strolled slowly back to the Slade’s house.
“Lunch?” Vashti asked as she headed for the kitchen.
“I don’t guess they have bologna sandwiches,” he answered.
“No, but it looks like Shella has made some kind of egg salad, and something that looks like tuna. There’s also some cold poultry of some sort from last night.”
It occurred to him that he couldn’t microwave that. It then occurred to him that the Slade’s gas stove was a more advanced piece of cooking technology than anything else in the entire world, unless you counted his robot.
“I’ll try the egg.”
He settled on the couch and closed his eyes, trying to think of how to make this computer work. He still had not resolved much of it when Vashti entered with two egg salad sandwiches on rolls, with a couple glasses of some kind of fruit juice. They agreed that Shella made good salad, and a moment later she entered.
“We were just saying,” Vashti said to her, “that you make a good egg salad.”
“Well, I’ve had some practice since we’ve been here,” Shella replied. “But thank you. Figuring out what they have that tastes familiar has been a challenge, but the cafeteria staff has been open about what they use when they cook, so I’ve been able to learn from them.”
“Maybe you can teach our robot,” Derek said. “He does most of our cooking, but I expect he’ll be completely baffled by your supplies. They’re not going to be anything like what he used shipboard.”
“No,” Shella agreed, “I would bet not.” She headed into the kitchen, and Derek and Vashti continued eating in silence.
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 #456: Versers Prepare. 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: