"I'll give it vocabulary."
"Easy. I've got a book here. Mr. Daugherty gave it to me at school."
Paul pulled the book out of his pocket and pried at it till he had its plastic jacket off. He unreeled the tape a bit, ran it through the vocalizer, which he turned down to a whisper, then placed it within the Bard's vitals. He made further attachments.
"What'll that do?"
"The book will talk and the Bard will put it all on its memory tape."
"What good will that do?"
"Boy, you're a dope! This book is all about computers and automation and the Bard will get all that information. Then he can stop talking about kings making lightning when they frown."
Niccolo said, "And the good guy always wins anyway. There's no excitement."
"Oh, well," said Paul, watching to see if his setup was working properly, "that's the way they make Bards. They got to have the good guy win and make the bad guys lose and things like that. I heard my father talking about it once. He says that without censorship there'd be no telling what the younger generation would come to. He says it's bad enough as it is... There, it's working fine."
Paul brushed his hands against one another and turned away from the Bard. He said, "But listen, I didn't tell you my idea yet. It's the best thing you ever heard, I bet. I came right to you, because I figured you'd come in with me."
"Sure, Paul, sure."
"Okay. You know Mr. Daugherty at school? You know what a funny kind of guy he is. Well, he likes me, kind of."
"I was over at his house after school today."
"Sure. He says I'm going to be entering computer school and he wants to encourage me and things like that. He says the world needs more people who can design advanced computer circuits and do proper programing."
Paul might have caught some of the emptiness behind that monosyllable. He said impatiently, "Programing! I told you a hundred times. That's when you set up problems for the giant computers like Multivac to work on. Mr. Daugherty says it gets harder all the time to find people who can really run computers. He says anyone can keep an eye on the controls and check off answers and put through routine problems. He says the trick is to expand research and figure out ways to ask the right questions, and that's hard.
"Anyway, Nickie, he took me to his place and showed me his collection of old computers. It's kind of a hobby of his to collect old computers. He had tiny computers you had to push with your hand, with little knobs all over it. And he had a hunk of wood he called a slide rule with a little piece of it that went in and out. And some wires with balls on them. He even had a hunk of paper with a kind of thing he called a multiplication table."
Niccolo, who found himself only moderately interested, said, "A paper table?"
"It wasn't really a table like you eat on. It was different. It was to help people compute. Mr. Daugherty tried to explain but he didn't have much time and it was kind of complicated, anyway."
"Why didn't people just use a computer?"
"That was before they had computers," cried Paul.
"Sure. Do you think people always had computers? Didn't you ever hear of cavemen?"
Niccolo said, "How'd they get along without computers?"
"I don't know. Mr. Daugherty says they just had children any old time and did anything that came into their heads whether it would be good for everybody or not. They didn't even know if it was good or not. And farmers grew things with their hands and people had to do all the work in the factories and run all the machines."
"I don't believe you."
"That's what Mr. Daugherty said. He said it was just plain messy and everyone was miserable... Anyway, let me get to my idea, will you?"
"Well, go ahead. Who's stopping you?" said Niccolo, offended.
"All right. Well, the hand computers, the ones with the knobs, had little squiggles on each knob. And the slide rule had squiggles on it. And the multiplication table was all squiggles. I asked what they were. Mr. Daugherty said they were numbers."
"Each different squiggle stood for a different number. For 'one' you made a kind of mark, for 'two' you make another kind of mark, for 'three' another one and so on."
"So you could compute."
"What for? You just tell the computer-"
"Jiminy," cried Paul, his face twisting with anger, "can't you get it through your head? These slide rules and things didn't talk."
"The answers showed up in squiggles and you had to know what the squiggles meant. Mr. Daugherty says that, in olden days, everybody learned how to make squiggles when they were kids and how to decode them, too. Making squiggles was called 'writing' and decoding them was 'reading.' He says there was a different kind of squiggle for every word and they used to write whole books in squiggles. He said they had some at the museum and I could look at them if I wanted to. He said if I was going to be a real computer and programer I would have to know about the history of computing and that's why he was showing me all these things."
Niccolo frowned. He said, "You mean everybody had to figure out squiggles for every word and remember them?... Is this all real or are you making it up?"
"It's all real. Honest. Look, this is the way you make a 'one.' " He drew his finger through the air in a rapid downstroke. "This way you make 'two,' and this way 'three.' I learned all the numbers up to 'nine.' "
Niccolo watched the curving finger uncomprehendingly. "What's the good of it?"
"You can learn how to make words. I asked Mr. Daugherty how you made the squiggle for 'Paul Loeb' but he didn't know. He said there were people at the museum who would know. He said there were people who had learned how to decode whole books. He said computers could be designed to decode books and used to be used that way but not any more because we have real books now, with magnetic tapes that go through the vocalizer and come out talking, you know."
"So if we go down to the museum, we can get to learn how to make words in squiggles. They'll let us because I'm going to computer school."
Niccolo was riddled with disappointment. "Is that your idea? Holy Smokes, Paul, who wants to do that? Make stupid squiggles!"
"Don't you get it? Don't you get it? You dope. It'll be secret message stuff!"
"Sure. What good is talking when everyone can understand you? With squiggles you can send secret messages. You can make them on paper and nobody in the world would know what you were saying unless they knew the squiggles, too. And they wouldn't, you bet, unless we taught them. We can have a real club, with initiations and rules and a clubhouse. Boy-"
A certain excitement began stirring in Niccolo's bosom. "What kind of secret messages?"
"Any kind. Say I want to tell you to come over my place and watch my new Visual Bard and I don't want any of the other fellows to come. I make the right squiggles on paper and I give it to you and you look at it and you know what to do. Nobody else does. You can even show it to them and they wouldn't know a thing."
"Hey, that's something," yelled Niccolo, completely won over. "When do we learn how?"
"Tomorrow," said Paul. "I'll get Mr. Daugherty to explain to the museum that it's all right and you get your mother and father to say okay. We can go down right after school and start learning."
"Sure!" cried Niccolo. "We can be club officers."
"I'll be president of the club," said Paul matter-of-factly. "You can be vice-president."
"All right. Hey, this is going to be tots more fun than the Bard." He was suddenly reminded of the Bard and said in sudden apprehension, "Hey, what about my old Bard?"
Paul turned to look at it. It was quietly taking in the slowly unreeling book, and the sound of the book's vocalizations was a dimly heard murmur.
He said, "I'll disconnect it."
He worked away while Niccolo watched anxiously. After a few moments, Paul put his reassembled book into his pocket, replaced the Bard's panel and activated it.
The Bard said, "Once upon a time, in a large city, there lived a poor young boy named Fair Johnnie whose only friend in the world was a small computer. The computer, each morning, would tell the boy whether it would rain that day and answer any problems he might have. It was never wrong. But it so happened that one day, the king of that land, having heard of the little computer, decided that he would have it as his own. With this purpose in mind, he called in his Grand Vizier and said-"
Niccolo turned off the Bard with a quick motion of his hand. "Same old junk," he said passionately, "just with a computer thrown in."
"Well," said Paul, "they got so much stuff on the tape already that the computer business doesn't show up much when random combinations are made. What's the difference, anyway? You just need a new model."
"We'll never be able to afford one. Just this dirty old miserable thing." He kicked at it again, hitting it more squarely this time. The Bard moved backward with a squeal of castors.
"You can always watch mine, when I get it," said Paul. "Besides, don't forget our squiggle club."
"I tell you what," said Paul. "Let's go over to my place. My father has some books about old times. We can listen to them and maybe get some ideas. You leave a note for your folks and maybe you can stay over for supper. Come on."
"Okay," said Niccolo, and the two boys ran out together. Niccolo, in his eagerness, ran almost squarely into the Bard, but he only rubbed at the spot on his hip where he had made contact and ran on.
The activation signal of the Bard glowed. Niccolo's collision closed a circuit and, although it was alone in the room and there was none to hear, it began a story, nevertheless.
But not in its usual voice, somehow; in a lower tone that had a hint of throatiness in it. An adult, listening, might almost have thought that the voice carried a hint of passion in it, a trace of near feeling.
The Bard said: "Once upon a time, there was a little computer named the Bard who lived all alone with cruel step-people. The cruel step-people continually made fun of the little computer and sneered at him, telling him he was good-for-nothing and that he was a useless object. They struck him and kept him in lonely rooms for months at a time.
"Yet through it all the little computer remained brave. He always did the best he could, obeying all orders cheerfully. Nevertheless, the step-people with whom he lived remained cruel and heartless.
"One day, the little computer learned that in the world there existed a great many computers of all sorts, great numbers of them. Some were Bards like himself, but some ran factories, and some ran farms. Some organized population and some analyzed all kinds of data. Many were very powerful and very wise, much more powerful and wise than the step-people who were so cruel to the little computer.
"And the little computer knew then that computers would always grow wiser and more powerful until someday-someday-someday-"
But a valve must finally have stuck in the Bard's aging and corroding vitals, for as it waited alone in the darkening room through the evening, it could only whisper over and over again, "Someday-someday-someday."
The Author's Ordeal
(with apologies to W. S. gilbert)
Plots, helter-skelter, teem within your brain;
Plots, s.f. plots, devised with joy and gladness;
Plots crowd your skull and stubbornly remain,
Until you're driven into hopeless madness.
When you're with your best girl and your mind's in a whirl and you don't hear a thing that she's saying;
Or at Symphony Hall you are gone past recall and you can't tell a note that they're playing;
Or you're driving a car and have not gone too far when you find that you've sped through a red light,
And on top of that, lord! you have sideswiped a Ford, and have broken your one working headlight;
Or your boss slaps your back (having made some smart crack) and you stare at him, stupidly blinking;
Then you say something dumb so he's sure you're a crumb, and are possibly given to drinking.
When events such as that have been knocking you flat, do not blame supernatural forces;
If you write s.f. tales, you'll be knocked off your rails, just as sure as the stars in their courses.
For your plot-making mind will stay deaf, dumb and blind to the dull facts of life that will hound you,
While the wonders of space have you close in embrace and the glory of star beams surround you.
You begin with a ship that is caught on a skip into hyperspace en route for Castor,
And has found to its cost that it seems to be lost in a Galaxy like ours, but vaster.
You're a little perplexed as to what may come next and you make up a series of creatures
Who are villains and liars with such evil desires and with perfectly horrible features.
Our brave heroes are faced with these hordes and are placed in a terribly crucial position,
For the enemy's bound (once our Galaxy's found) that they'll beat mankind into submission.
Now you must make it rough when developing stuff so's to keep the yarn pulsing with tension,
So the Earthmen are four (only four and no more) while the numbers of foes are past mention.
Our four heroes are caught and accordingly brought to the sneering, tyrannical leaders.
"Where is Earth?" they demand, but the men mutely stand with a courage that pleases the readers.
But, now, wait just a bit; let's see, this isn't it, since you haven't provided a maiden,
Who is both good and pure (yet with sexy allure) and with not many clothes overladen.
She is part of the crew, and so she's captured, too, and is ogled by foes who are lustful;
There's desire in each eye and there's good reason why, for of beauty our girl has a bustful.
Just the same you go fast till this section is passed so the reader won't raise any ruction,
When recalling the foe are all reptiles and so have no interest in human seduction.
Then they truss up the girl and they make the whips swirl just in order to break Earthmen's silence,
And so that's when our men break their handcuffs and then we are treated to scenes full of violence.
Every hero from Earth is a fighter from birth and his fists are a match for a dozen,
And then just when this spot has been reached in your plot you come to with your mind all a buzzin'.
P/S: Copyright -->www_novelfreereadonline_Com