The city was crowded, bustling with activity. All around him was the noise of people working… bartering with each other… living their lives. A small group of squealing children appeared suddenly on the path just in front of him, tumbling out from a doorway and disappearing under some hanging laundry on the other side. A few seconds later, two chickens meandered by, pecking hopefully at the floor. And through it all walked one of the king’s men, narrow-eyed and grumbling to himself over being assigned patrol duty yet again. After casting a scowl in Chess’s direction, the guy stomped down the hallway, through the door, and out into the window-lined, covered walkway that connected the buildings.
Chess blinked at the scene. Even after a couple of weeks in this chaos of hallways, he still felt like a lost newcomer. He had made no decisions about his future, and he had made few friends, unless you included the ubiquitous older ladies, who recounted endless stories of the old days in the compound, long before Razor had taken over, and seemed to enjoy Chess’s polite attentiveness to their tales.
Chess spent some of his time working: using the newer computers, he had managed to create a synergistic parallel network of sorts, which was at least faster and more powerful than any single computer there. With that equipment, he had completed some assignments that Razor had given him. And he had also started researching samiz transmission, the dissident technology that was supposedly used by Lodestar. The rest of the time, he wandered the hallways.
The old familiar voice in his head -- the one that insisted that he was a failure, that reminded him he had abandoned his family, and that laughed at his every mistake -- grew louder at such quiet, restless times. But when Chess was focused on something, whether a puzzle to solve or a danger to avoid, the voice was quieter. And so, whenever his thoughts turned toward his family and homesickness, he reached into his imagination for the old story: the one that he had been following since the night of his army graduation; the one where his lovely indigo priestess had been taken hostage by the king’s men until Chess consented to carry the magical device to the king…
The story had taken a turn, though: he had delivered the mysterious gadget, as promised, and then returned to rescue the indigo priestess… but she was no longer there. Apparently, her reputation was so formidable that the king’s terrified guards had released her without even waiting for Chess to return from his errand. And now she was gone, disappeared like a puff of smoke, leaving no trail that he could follow. So now, in this vast country of cities and villages and wilderness, he searched for her.
Through a grimy window, Chess caught a passing glimpse of the sun, which was hanging much lower in the sky than he had expected. He sighed and decided that he had better head back to work. He had just sat down in front of the computer-laden table, when Razor appeared in the doorway.
“So, how are my computers doing?” Razor asked with a grin. Not waiting for an answer, the guy stomped over, grabbed another chair and settled into it, talking the entire time. “Hey, I understand Ileana has been down here to talk to you. You know, she handles all the communications on the public forums. Yeah, I used to do all that stuff, once upon a time. In fact,” he added with a broader grin, “that’s how I met her. But she is so much better at that stuff than I am.”
Chess, inwardly groaning that Razor seemed likely to stay, nodded and tried to look interested.
“I used to try to recruit people out of civ, you know,” Razor continued. “I would tell them how we had started our own country here, a real free country. I thought that, alone, sounded pretty good,” he laughed. “But it was Ileana who taught me the whole language of revolution: that what we had created out here was a true life, and that civ was just a big lie.” He looked pleased. “Now, she has all these would-be dissidents chatting with her.”
“Have…uh, have you gotten many people to leave civ and come out here?” Chess ventured. He did not think he had met anyone who fit that description, yet, except maybe Ileana.
“Well,” Razor admitted, “not yet. But she’s working on it.” Suddenly, Razor frowned at Chess, making his heart jump in fear. “Hey, let’s go for a walk, my soldier-turned-dissident friend!”
Continued next page...
An algorithm is a fail-safe procedure guaranteed to achieve a specific goal. The word “algorithm” comes from the name of Arabian mathematician al-Khwarizmi, who wrote down an extensive collection of algorithms in the ninth century. The word “algebra,” in fact, comes from… one of his books. …It has even been suggested that the incantation “abracadabra” is a corruption of al-Khwarizmi's full name… Computer algorithms are usually expressed as programs.
-The Pattern on the Stone by Daniel Hillis
Ah, computers: the thing I least wanted to research! But I realized that I needed to gain at least a tiny amount of knowledge on this subject because my main character is somewhat of an expert on it. (Why did I make him an expert on it? Well, obviously, because my story is set in the future – and won’t we all be just virtual entities by then?) Happily, I was able to add to my baseline of knowledge enough to be able to do things like avoid writing the word “server” when I really meant “router.” And luckily, I was able to find a number of computer-related books that entertained me.
My first quandary in my story was when Chess decided to upgrade Razor’s absurd collection of outdated computers. I really wanted to have Chess put together what I called a “synergistic” computer, where the machine was so skillfully built that it ran faster than the sum of its parts (synergy). Daniel Hillis, author of The Pattern on the Stone argues that this is possible using principles of parallel computing. But since parallel computing seems to involve more program-writing than actual set-up of the hardware components… and since Hillis is an expert with the knowledge to defend his position and I am not… I decided to agree with Amdahls Law and just have Chess use the best of the old computers to build a sort of networked supercomputer that is “faster.” But I did learn something: the more I read about computers, the less adequate I feel to the task of writing about them. I also learned that clusters of computers working together are referred to as “Beowulfs!” (I still have no idea why they are called that, but I just think that’s awesome.)
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