Thursday, May 11, 2006

 

The Burroughs From the Trees

Hey, I've mentioned Nels' computer, haven't I? This thing is massive, I had no idea. We're just at Checkpoint L, relay 77, and I'm logged into a little screen that's plugged in down here.

Fleur and I have paced out eighty kilometers and we haven't even hit the spires yet. It's a decommissioned military supercomputer which used to fit vertically inside the very tall control tower in Seabirth, with a large percentage added underground during its second run. I think Nels said that the machine has only been powered down twice in its career. The last shutdown, back in 1986, was thought to be the last, when the Burroughs Corporation replaced it with a bunch of smaller computers that worked together on train cars, attached and stuff.

Nels was trying to mind his business as a minor technician on the faxmodem couplings, but news trickled down of management's plans to sail the machine off on a desolate iceberg. Finding himself very attached to machine -- due in part to a ten-year-long affection, but also incident to an elastic umbilicle fiber which kept the computer advised about the possible fluids and visceral resources available from its caretakers -- Nels marched up in a glorious fit (and one can just taste the sousaphone soundtrack) and offered the vast woods astride his apartment building as a crashpoint. Let the V-A 1200 Supercomputer give a heave of relief and settle its adequate trunk and spread out beneath the canopy. A few cords, of course, trailing up into the windows of my dear brother-in-law. And I do remember his perky whistling that day, skippety can do. We applauded, we barbecued, we nearly carried him on our shoulders, we certainly pounded the barrels. His depression granted him one day's immunity.

So, from the looks of it, I can't say that any kind of life has been back into Checkpoint L. It's like a world of magnetic crates and cylinders. A very large black unit is trying to detach itself from a very large dark dark black unit. None among the array of dark, house-sized diamonds and ellipses seems to care. It is rising so slowly. Fleur stood next to it and it was shoulder-height off the ground. She ran around it once and came back several minutes later. Stood near it and it was up to her chin. She whacked it with the tip of her blowtorch and it didn't do a thing. She fired up the torch and burned off a few cords and Nels got on the speaker.

He's back at the flat. He said he knew we were up to no good. An elephant character on his screen (probably off in the background of Bloodfoot Palisades) had jiggled. Overall rendering had suffered. One of his chat windows skipped a line. An online woman, a housewife, was revealing the location of a secret donkey. We had erased the 9-digit access code to the drawbridge.

"You should come down here sometime, Nels! Your computer looks like it's breaking!" I yelled.

"Then, it's probably working exactly right," his compressed voice bellowed. "Appearances mean nothing in the computer world. It's the design." He smacked his lips. He was probably eating a cinnamon bun.

"We're pretty deep," I said, in case he cared.

There was a silence and we walked on. We shared some dried fruit and stopped behind an upright circuit board, printed: Relay 77. Fleur has the schematics. She's really great at this stuff. I think she's paying alot more attention since her sandals got melted off when we crossed over that chrome conduit.