Out of Time (5.4)

[The continuation of the Survivor Short Story “project” in the War On Boris the Bytrode series. This time, back in time, 1967, following the adventures of middle-aged mum, Letitia…

In this episode (5.4) Celebration as Letitia fixes the computer… But is it all just a bit too easy?]

A Computer Called Clarke

Part 4

In the spacious cabin, spacious for a yacht that is, which Wilhelm had dubbed the “Phone box” as it appeared larger on the inside than it seemed on the outside, the computer blinked, goading Letitia. The inane IGSF symbol menaced the screen a touch longer than it ought to. Letitia shuddered. She had never contended with a computer of this particular vintage.

When she first arrived in the Mirror Universe of 1986, she had toyed with a Commodore computer, a deceptively simple machine Frieda had given her to play games of story puzzles and space invaders; a sort of easing into the digital world. The computers on the Mother Ship had admittedly been constructed centuries ago and modified by a computer engineer named Clarke and his protégé, John, Frieda’s son. But on Mirror, by 2015, the prevailing Mirror Computer monopoly had been dismantled and thrown to the four or more existing richest multinationals to encourage competition. It had long been established that Mirrorsoft Works (as it was known on Mirror World) was a conundrum, an irony, as in most cases the system did not work. The same problems seemed to be manifesting with the IGSF programming in 1967. Had Boris hacked into the system and sabotaged it?

She fiddled around the edges of the system wishing that she could get her mind grafted into it and pretend that she had her head around the problem at hand. Meanwhile Wilhelm disappeared to the deck for the purpose of tightening ropes and fixing sails ready to sail. His parting words to her before rising to the deck were, ‘We acquired this computer six months ago, it was state of the art, it had all the bells and whistles, how could it? I can’t understand how it could break down like this.’

‘Boris, I reckon,’ she mumbled to the obnoxious piece of useless circuitry and the screen that stared back at her, blank and prehistoric. There it was, that stupid blue screen and mindless blathering of words and formulas scrawled across the window.

‘Fatal error!’ she exclaimed. ‘I haven’t seen anything so ridiculous in all my years of programming and managing Mirror’s networks. Oh, what’s this sinister box announcing that I have made a “fatal error” and that the computer must shut down immediately and all my information lost? If the threat wasn’t so ridiculous, it would be pathetic. Wilhelm, my friend, you have been ripped off. You have a lemon!’

Once more, she glared at the blue screen of death. ‘Probably is sabotage by Boris.’ She hurled her hands in the air. ‘Wipe it out and start again. That’s all I can do,’ she hissed at the screen spraying droplets over the LCD screen.

‘How are you going there?’ Wilhelm poked his head down the ladder from above.

‘Do you mind if I wipe everything out and start again?’ Letitia scoffed as she dabbed the screen with a tissue.

‘Yeah, that’s alright,’ Wilhelm replied. ‘Go ahead, if that solves the problem.’

A pale blue Cradle Mountain and cartoon caricatures of icons winked at her, daring her to programme them out of existence. She began the process. Pressed “start”, clicked “control panel” and paused to begin the road to computer condemnation.

With finger poised over the delete key, she breathed, ‘Say your prayers, Clarke!’ Then, she remembered. Always save data, files…anything. While this archaic monstrosity had some glimmer of life in it, she must endeavour to save what she could. She fished out a USB stick stored in the tin box below the screen. In the side of Clarke’s box-like body, a quartet of receptacles where these vintage sticks could be plugged. She again paused the execution process.

‘Will, have you saved all your data?’ she asked.

‘Save? Save? Do I have to save something?’ Wilhelm called from above through the floorboards.

‘Um, I’m just wondering if it isn’t a good idea – I don’t think I would have time to programme it all back in. It’s like spaghetti code,’ she said trying to sound as in control as possible. After the computer had consumed the whole morning, Letitia was ready to eat this computer like pasta.

 Wilhelm’s voice floated in from above. ‘Can those little sticky things I have in the tin box, will they be able to hold all the information?’

‘Only one way to find out.’

Letitia examined the tube. She pulled off the top and matched the probe to the plug on the box that held the menacing machine and proceeded to insert the device into the slot. ‘Do not crash! Do not crash!’ she commanded the computer as a mantra. It seemed to work. The computer obeyed and did not crash.

Several more hours dragged by. Saving. Wiping. Back to factory settings. And then finally, loading the multitudes of programmes back onto the device. She had discovered that to a certain extent she had picked up all the old IGSF computer system’s quirks and nuances. The basics of Clarke’s system were not vastly different from what she had managed on Mirror and was able to adapt to working and wrestling with this computer. Perhaps in hindsight, she should have been suspicious that she had become so adept controlling this yacht’s computer in such a short amount of time, but in the moment, it was an enemy that had to be subdued. After all, the system she had managed on Mirror, had been designed and run essentially, by Boris.

By four o’clock in the afternoon, with sweat dripping from Letitia’s forehead and soaking her back, she presented Wilhelm with a computer, baptised, cleansed from any Boris-contamination, and reborn to be fully IGSF-functional.

Wilhelm marvelled at the speedy IGSF satellite connection and lightning-fast processing.

Letitia mentioned in passing, ‘Oh, by the way, Clarke does not like the heat.’

‘You speak as if the computer is a person.’ Wilhelm remarked with mock surprise as he viewed a satellite image of Melbourne.

‘But, Wilhelm, he is,’ Letitia jested with only half her tongue in her cheek. She did not share with Wilhelm that she had put some of her mind and soul into the very core of the computer’s hard drive to stabilise it from further Boris attacks, and to cause it to run more efficiently. She wasn’t going to divulge to Wilhelm that she had ordered the computer to obey only her and Will’s command. After all, in Wilhelm’s early twentieth-century mind, computers were merely machines. She did not want to spoil for Will or anyone else in this time and place, any illusion that they were not.

***

Upon the triumph of Letitia over the computer, they spent one last night on shore celebrating. Wilhelm invited Letitia to join him for a function at the Cascade Brewery. Wilhelm was immensely popular and there was always a party in need of his presence. In that way, John, as Letitia remembered Mirror John, and Wilhelm were similar. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Letitia mused as she watched Wilhelm entertain the other guests with his exploits as head psychiatrist at the Royal Hobart Hospital. Another old adage surfaced to describe both John and Wilhelm. She smiled remembering, You can’t have a party without them. After all, John is Wilhelm’s son on this Earth as well as Mirror World.

A different story for Frieda, though. Her absence was fobbed off as “not well”, “migraine” and actually, trouble finding a babysitter for Johnny. Although Wilhelm had confided in her that Frieda had been rather tired and sick in the mornings lately…

‘Here’s to Letitia, the Legend,’ Wilhelm toasted Letitia as they stood by the nineteenth century sculptured fountain in the middle of the lush green lawn.

‘Hmm!’ Letitia raised her glass of claret. If they only knew, she thought. If this is real Earth, my Earth in 1967, if only they knew what the next fifty years have in store for them…

Over by the wall of window that spanned one side of the historic building, Wilhelm entertained the cluster of elites from the hospital. They seemed perfectly at ease, perfectly comfortable in their space, time, and important positions. It was as if the plane crash in Antarctica had never happened; as if there were no terrorists; as if there never had been nor will be any nuclear attacks. As if Boris himself was null and void.

‘If they only knew,’ Letitia repeated.

© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2021

Feature Photo (artistically enhanced): Memories of Cascade Brewery © L.M. Kling 1995

***

Want more?

More than before?

Read the mischief and mayhem Boris the over-sized alien cockroach gets up to…

Click on the link to my new novel, The Lost World of the Wends

Below…

Or discover how it all began in The Hitch-Hiker

And how it continues with Mission of the Unwilling

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