Philip gazed at the abacus. The lines of green beads danced before his eyes. –
Sweat trick/ed down his brow. His heart was hammering. Calm down, he told 23,
himself fierce/y. You’ve used an abacus before. He looked again at the batteredoid
calculator on the table. What was it Cleon had always told his pupils? ’The abacusff
can never lie.’
Lalda sat at the console Of CMf-ZZ, probably the most powerful and reliable i.
computer in the known universe. it was soothing to see the lines of green lights
across the top of the instrument panel. All functions were in working order. The
ship was on course.
Moving a hand to the instrument panel, she pressed for auto-check-vocal mode.
‘Autopilot-check!’ The tinny voice rang out through the cabin. Navigation
drive-check! Scanning systems-check!’
Lalda breathed out a sigh. Even though Briel had died and she was now on her own,
it was going to be all right
Philip shifted on the stool and looked towards the site. A gang of slaves was digging
Suddenly, he saw the foreman coming back with Cimon, the architect. The men
were talking earnest/y as they walked, and once or twice Cimon consulted a scroll
he was carrying.
Philip leapt to his feet, but the architect and foreman took no notice of him. They
gazed towards the site and carried on their conversation.
oh, it be superb!’ Cimon burst out sudden/y. ’
it will be a temple worthy of Apollo|
‘May he shine forever, ’ murmured the foreman, dutifully.
Cimon Went on in a thoughtful tone, ’You knoW, there ‘s a man in Athens
e says the sun is a mass of flaming material, and the moon ’s light is just a reflection
Of the sun!
The foreman shook his head at the very thought of such weird ideas.
A tear ran down Lalda’s face. It was tvventy-eig days now since Brie di , had she seemed to miss her more every day. OK, she had been a bit bossy, not the of person you’d have chosen to train you on your first long haul flight—but someone. Lalda missed the sound of the human volce. Wearily, Lalda pulled out the bunk in the side of the controlroom and started cttrr on to it—and suddenly stopped. The checks—she must do the checks. She groaned There was no point checks. The CMf-22 was on autopilot, so she dArfl have to do the checks Briel would have been horrified, but she wasn’t here, was she? For a few seconds, Laida stayed motionless. And then her seven years of trannq Space College won out She got down off the bunk again and turned on the sir screens. There were six curved screens, relating to six scanners round the qi,1″.*-‘ studded black Star-studded black but the “h ,canner had a øow The sun … Lalda stared at the star tut a iecOridS. Then she reached over to the far right o7 one console and took surrounding temperature-2„61, She climbed on to her bunk and tried to steep,
‘So you’re the young man asking for work?’ said Cimon. Philip nodded. ‘Yes, sir’ ‘Know anything about architecture? Building works?’ Philip lowered his eyes. ‘Nothing, sir.’ Cimon put his scroll on the table and sat down on a stool. ‘Welt I could certainly do with a bright boy.’ Cimon narrowed his eyes. ‘But why should I choose you?’ Philip drew a deep breath. Because if I don’t earn any money soon, my mother and sisters and will starve. No, don’t say that. It may be true—but don’t say it. ‘Because … I learn quick!’ Philip stammered out. ‘And … and you won’t be sorry you take me on really you won’t!’
‘Hmmm.’ Cimon gazed at him. ‘Well, I should be able to give you a trial.’ He reached over and picked up the abacus from the table.
Lalda wheeled her seat along to the main console to do the checks. Everything, of course, was fine. After all, you don’t expect a twenty-second generation computer to get things wrong, do you? She lit up the scanner screens. Hmmm, she thought. The glow from the sun seemed … brighter, reaching further …
Cimon spun a bead on the abacus. ‘I do need someone with a head for figures. It’s helpful when my clerk’s away’ philip sat on the stool, trying to look like someone with a head for figures. Cimon looked straight at Philip. ‘Can you manage basic calculations?’ ‘Y-yes!’ said Philip. Cimon put the abacus in his hands. `OK. Let’s see what you can do.’ He unrolled his scroll again and surveyed it. Philip held the abacus on his lap and tried to stop the shaking of his hands. Stay calm, he told himself. You can use an abacus. You were old °eon’s best pupil before you had to stop school. You can’t have forgotten. Cimon’s voice broke in. ‘Add three hundred and fifty and seventy-five.’
Lalda poured herself some juice and then started towards the control room, carrying the cup. Suddenly she stopped. What was she doing? No loose liquids in the control room—that was the rule. It was almost the first thing she had learnt in Flight Training. She threw the drink down the chute. Back in the control room, she started her checks. ‘Autopilot—check!’ pinged CMf-22. ‘Coordinates log—check! Navigation drive—check!’ Good old CMf-22, thought Lalda. She felt safe. She didn’t really have to do a thing until re-entry and landing time, and even then the people on Earth Base would be overseeing operations. They wouldn’t be taking any chances— not with her cargo of 500,000 precious pactiles of lithinium.
She started turning on the scanners. Star-studded black. Star-studded black—oh! The glow of the sun was stronger than ever on the fifth screen. Lalda frowned. The sun. Surely it was … bigger.
Philip gave a little shake to get all the beads down to the side of the abacus. Then he took a deep breath and set up the 350. None on the first—units—row. Five beads on the second—the tens—row. Three beads on the third—the hundreds—row Well, that was easy enough. Now to add on the seventy-five. Philip moved five beads over on the units row—that was fine. Then he looked at the tens row. He couldn’t move seven—there weren’ Don’t panic—you know what to do, he told himself. He moved one bead over from the hundreds row, then three back from And read his answer off. ‘Four hundred and twenty-five.’ Cimon nodded matter-of-factly ‘That’s it. A subtraction now I think.
Hands shaking, Lalda moved over to get a reading on the ship’s surrounding temperaturel: was 2.84. And it had been 2.61! She sat back in her chair, heart thumping. Surely that the ship was moving towards the sun. She couldn’t believe it. She lifted her eyes to the row of lights at the top of the instrument panel. Every single ortet them green! What had gone wrong? Suddenly, with a furious movement, her fingers flew on buttons, switches, dials, keyboam The answers were still the same. As far as CMf-22 was concerned, the ship was on course She gritted her teeth. Right. Self-checks on all functions! For an hour or more Lalda worked at the console. But she found no signs of matfunctton The ship was on course and would be docking on Earth in nineteen days. She had pano unnecessarily. Or had she…
The sun was high in the sky now The slaves had stopped for a break. Philip’s whole was tensed, waiting. Subtraction. He prayed that he would be able to do it. He thou of what his teacher Oeon had told him: ‘The abacus is always right! If there is a mist it iS … YOU!’ The architect nodded and glanced towards the site. ‘Last one now. Five thousan away five.’
Philip got to work. The hundreds line would need nine beads in it. He counted them one by one as he pushed them over. Soon he had finished. He looked at the result: 4,895. He was just about to say it, when something stopped him. But how could it be wrong? He was quite sure he had moved all the beads correctly And an abacus couldn’t be wrong. Could it? Could he trust his own judgement against the calculator? Cimon was waiting for his answer. Philip’s head was buzzing.
what was she to do? All CMf-22’s self-check programs were telling her everything was OK. But Lalda knew it wasn’t. And the longer she left it, the worse it would get. The sun was still millions of miles away, but at some stage its radiation would start to affect the spaceship’s functions. Should she override the autopilot and navigate the ship herself? On the one hand was CMf-22, probably the most powerful and reliable computer in the known universe. On the other hand was—what? The instincts of an inexperienced space pilot. Should she really trust her own judgement? Turning her seat sideways, she pressed a button. A curved shutter slid away disclosing a panel of pilot control instruments. She stared at the start-up button.
Philip looked down, so as not to meet Cimon’s eyes. And then he stared. For there, by his bare feet, were two bits of green pottery—two halves of the sort of bead you would find on an abacus … His heart leapt. He looked up at Cimon the architect at his new employer.
The autopilot was put on hold. Lalda was nudging the ship round in an arc. She was beginning to feel happy, confident. Maybe she really could navigate the ship to Earth. There was a beeping noise. She glanced up at the row of lights on the instrument panel. The second light from the end wasn’t green any more. It was red. And lit up on its surface were the words, ‘Auto-Pilot Functions Failure.’ Her heart leapt. She looked back at the screens—at the world of space that was hers.