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Digital Enhancement

Crossing the main floor and entering the break room, I briefly scan the occupants. Not finding what I’m looking for, I slide in next to Jeremy and simultaneously begin making coffee and ask “Has Aurelia surfaced yet?”

“Haven’t seen her.”

I sigh and get out another mug. Ever since Hummingbird came out with their machine, she’s been burning both ends of the candle, the reason hanging from the notice board in the break room:

National Digital Enhancement Project

The executive committee is to launch a major project in the field of computer literacy early next year. The aim of the project is to encourage research and adoption of computing systems both at the individual and organisational level. To further this goal, platform proposals are requested for review, to be submitted no later than the end of the year.

Platform requirements:

  • 1 MIPS processor
  • 16K random-access memory
  • 40x25 text display
  • Persistent data storage device
  • Provisions for network support

To further this goal, individuals and organisations seeking to purchase the selected machine will receive a 50% subsidy.

The original plan was to build a cut-down single-chip version of the custom minicomputers we’re using for running the TV manufacturing machines, but given our competition has beaten us to market, the director has decided to skip the cut-down version, and instead build an extended version. We’ve gone from a relatively weak 8-bit processor optimised for cost to a 16-bit stack machine that’s pushing the envelope of our manufacturing process.

I consider my part of the project as I gingerly carry both coffees down the hall. Aurelia may be doing all the complicated processor design, but I have to extend all the glue around the processor to cope with the significantly extended capabilities. There’s a bank-switching MMU now! And the director wants it all done in two months, tops.

Elbowing the door open, I’m greeted to a floor covered in graphing paper, the sheets of mycelium paper stapled together to form a giant collage of logic gates. Sitting cross-legged on a slowly rotating chair in the middle is Aurelia, who hasn’t even noticed my entrance, too deeply immersed in a world of her own making.

The situation hasn’t changed by the time I get to the desk on one side of the room, so I sit on the desk and quietly watch. I know better than to interrupt someone with that much state in their head. After a few minutes, Aurelia’s trance ends and she notices me, rotating on her chair until the mid-afternoon sun illuminates her frizzy hair.

“I made coffee, but I think you could use lunch.”

After a few moments of pained-looking consideration, she agrees. “That’s … probably a good idea.”

As I shepherd my abstracted colleague outside and down the road, she tries to tell me about the extensions to the processor. I got in front of her and put my index finger to her lips.

“Save shop talk for work, hey?”

Mildly muffled, “you’re hardly one to talk.”

I couldn’t come up with a real response to that. I’d built the workshop in the garage at home originally, working on projects for work rather than enjoying the peace and quiet. Unwilling to concede, I frown and change the topic.

“Do you want Mexican? Or there’s that new Indian place under building 5.”

Aurelia pouts, evidently not a fan of me shutting down that line of conversation. “Mexican.”

During the walk I imagine she’s either back to solving problems in her head, or stewing over my mild hypocrisy, but we end up walking side-by-side anyway. I leave her to it and take in the festival preparations happening to the town. An eclipse only happens every nine months, so all the painted stars and crescents are being hung up again, lending the whole town the air of a forest of celestial objects.

As we reach the door to the Mexican place, I ruffle Aurelia’s hair, to interrupt her train of thought.

“Hey! That requires a heap of work to get under control, you know?!”

“I’ll help you get it back under control when we get home.”

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