Chapter 20

Carlton had been productively absorbed in his work for a few hours when the intercom buzzed.

“Carlton? It’s Rachel, are you there?”

Carlton was brought out of his reverie, for once he hadn’t been thinking about her.

“Yes, Carlton here. What do you need?”

“Can you come to the circulation desk? I think we have a problem.”

“Be there right away.” How cool was that, to have to go and help Rachel!

He got up and walked to the elevator, pondering what Frank had said about this set up being rather odd. He pressed the call button and waited a moment. The elevator arrived with an odd flourish, if you could call it that, but Carlton didn’t think much of it and got in. The control panel had two rows of buttons. They started with the 3 above ground levels, then L for Lobby, 8 underground levels, the lowest of which he was at, and a B for basement. There was another red button at the bottom next to a key hole. The elevator tried to start a conversation but Carlton really wasn’t interested.

Frank had warned him that this was bigger than he thought. As the elevator door began to close he had an idea. Maybe he could test how big this thing was. He walked back into the conference room looking in the trash and on the floor until he found a thin strip of metal, a surplus shelf bracket. At the elevator again, he knelt down by the door and pressed the call button. When the door opened he tried to look down through the crack between the elevator tracks. There was an eerie red glow. He slid the piece of metal into the crack, put his ear close to listen, then let it go. One thousand, two thousand, three thousand, four thou.. there was a distant clatter. About four seconds. He got up, entered the elevator and hit the button for the Lobby. He did a quick calculation. Acceleration due to gravity is ten meters per second, per second. In four seconds the piece of metal would have fallen one hundred meters, over 300 feet.

At the circulation desk Rachel was flustered.

“Hey, Carlton. Sorry to bother you.”

“It’s no problem. What’s up?”

“I don’t know. It’s this software. Biblio can’t recognize the code and can’t run the software.” She was fidgeting, chewing her finger nails and shifting from foot to foot in agitation. As Carlton drew nearer she lowered her voice, “I hope you can figure this out, or I’m in trouble.” He glanced at her with obvious concern, but smiled and spoke reassuringly.

“Well, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. What software is it?”

She held up a small portable drive.

“It’s language comprehension software that I wrote for this system.”

“Language comprehension?” Carlton raised his eyebrows, “that’s a new one on me. I thought that the system here was rigged to the gills with translation capabilities, ‘The likes of which the world has never seen before.'” He had read that last part in some promotional literature that he had found lying around.

“Right, translation is one thing, but, based on how your units operate, with actual voice input, I er, wrote software that would let the computer to understand the words, and the real meaning of what it heard. It allows for the interpretation of different inflections and intonations, and how the way that words are spoken affects what they mean. It,” but then she caught herself as if she realized she had said too much, or was about to.

Carlton thought for a moment, and considered this remarkable turn of events. He had never heard of such software before. It made perfect sense, and it was logical application of the hardware capabilities he had built. Frank said the night before that there was more to Ruth than met the eye. If she had written software that could do what she said, anticipating the hardware features that he had built, then she was either a genius or she was working for one. Except it seemed that she, or whoever, had overlooked one minor detail.

“I think all we need is a device driver,” he said reassuringly.

“Really,” she was visibly relieved.

“Sure,” he continued. “Old Biblio here has never seen this software before, and though it’ll work with the user interface, it’s not calibrated to the right input/output format. The software doesn’t know how to run this hardware. Or the hardware doesn’t know how to run the software, however you want to look at it.”

Rachel looked worried again, “is it going to be a problem?”

“I don’t think so. If you would let me see the code for the software, I’ll work on a device driver tonight.”

“Why do you need to see the code?”

Carlton tried not to laugh. “I have to see the code, there’s no other way to design a driver for it.”

Rachel was getting in a worse tizzy than before, she had the portable drive in her hand, but something was stopping her from handing it to Carlton. He reached out slowly to take it from her.

“I’m not sure what’s going on, Rachel, but I’m sure that I can have this running by tomorrow. If I can see the code and design a driver.”

Rachel began to relax just enough to pass the portable drive into Carlton’s hand, “you’re sure. By tomorrow?”

Carlton gently put his hand on the drive, “no problem, it won’t take Frank and I any time at all to figure it out.”

“Who’s Frank?” Rachel snatched her hand back and stepped away. Then a new voice joined the conversation. Biblio spoke.

“Frank is my big brother.”

Carlton and Rachel both turned to the terminal, Carlton was puzzled, Rachel shocked. She put her free hand to her head and sat down.

“Biblio, what are you talking about?”

But Carlton spoke up, “Frank is my computer, at home.” Then he spoke to Biblio, “Frank told me that you two spoke yesterday. Did he say that he was your big brother?”

“Yes, he did.”

Carlton nodded, “well Biblio, after all this time building you I guess I forgot to introduce myself. I’m glad to meet you. Now do you know what is the problem with Ms. Robbin’s software?”

“You correctly determined the need for a software device driver.”

“Good, OK, Rachel?”

She had tuned out, rubbing her temples, it looked like she had a headache, “what?” she breathed heavily.

Carlton spoke as carefully as possible, “do you want me to work on the driver for you?”

Rachel sighed again, pushed the portable drive across the counter top and stood up. “Yes, take it. I’ve got to get out of here. Good bye. See you tomorrow.” She turned and left.

Chapter 19

Monday was dark and brooding. Gone was the endless blue of the day before. Overnight a ridge of low pressure had rolled down from the north, and brought with it towering masses of cloud and squalls of warm rain. It felt like a hell of a storm was about to be unleashed.

At the library in Salt City it was impossible to tell the difference. The Salt City domes made sure of that. Carlton stopped at an Airstream trailer near the domes for a big coffee and reported to work, received a perfunctory but courteous greeting from Ruth, who was deeply engrossed in whatever she was doing, then headed down to the main conference room. His hormones were raging, and he had been nervous about what to say when he saw her. In fact, it had been a restless night, as he fantasized about the relationship growing, maturing, blossoming, bearing fruit, and then the joy of growing old in the company of his cherished companion. Luckily he was not a love struck teenager any more, so when she had barely glanced up from her clipboard to greet him he hadn’t been completely crushed. Just somewhat crushed. But now that the greeting was already over and gone he felt more relieved than anything. Now he could focus on work, and pick up where he had left off the project of rigging computer terminals in the conference room.

He entered the elevator and hit the button for the lowest level. The elevator quickly dropped into subterranean depths below the library.

It was a small tiered lecture hall and right now it was a mess. There were four tiers of curved desks that tapered down from the top-level to the bottom. The room was basically a square and the desks all pointed to the lowest corner. It was set up just like a classroom with projectors and a screen, but it was intended that one of Carlton’s computer terminals would be at each seating position. 60 in total. Each of the 60 terminals was the same elaborate interface like the one at the circulation desk. The counter tops were beige laminate, very utilitarian. The carpet was nothing fancy, just beige colored institutional short weave.

The electricians were almost finished, but a light fixture or two flickered and made slight buzzing sounds. A step-ladder was arranged beneath it, but no one else was in sight. The floor and counter tops were strewn with cardboard boxes, Styrofoam chunks, plastic bags and heaps of other packaging material. Electrical components, connectors, wire splices, caps, clips and widgets were everywhere.

The size of this project was something beyond anything Carlton had ever built before, and it was highly elaborate. The plumbing was finished. The plumbing being the lines of silicone tubing that carried blood and water to and from each terminal. There was a series of pumps, or hearts, under the flooring of each tier on the right side of the room. Each heart supplied the terminals on that tier, then the blood was circulated back to the main reservoir along the left side of the room. The main reservoir itself was at the lowest level, tastefully hidden in a podium style presenters area. There were a few other terminals in the building, such as the one at the circulation desk, and they were all connected to this central reservoir. The water system was also similarly routed, but it flowed in the opposite direction, from left to right across the room. This was based on the concept of counter-current circulation, like in living bodies. The water was a buffered solution of salts, stabilizers and glycogen energy molecules. It was separate from the blood system except for a time in each terminal, where the blood and water solutions passed on either side of a semi-permeable membrane. Here the gaseous exchange took place, like in a human lung, and oxygen from the blood supply was exchanged for carbon dioxide waste.

The terminals were arranged so that a human user, or two, could be seated at each one. The major design objective was to allow unhindered translation of language. People speaking any and every language could gather in this room and communicate with each other through the terminals. A unique feature of this set up was special hoods that could be deployed to isolate each terminal in a sound proof bubble. This was to allow simultaneous inputting of language information at each of the terminals, without any interference from adjacent terminals. Carlton wasn’t sure why this had been part of the design specifications, but they were paying for it so he didn’t ask any questions.

The only thing left for Carlton to do was to unpack the monitor units and set them up. Everything else was done. The monitors were made close by in Salt Lake City by a technology firm that Carlton had helped get started. They were a couple of High School buddies that had gone on to college when Carlton quit school to start his business. As demand for his product had increased Carlton needed someone to make the hardware he needed, but he was too lazy to be bothered with running a serious company that would be needed to do the work. He talked his friends into starting their hardware company and now he was pretty sure they were doing better than he was.