"People call you a pwilkwo, you know," said the man to Gevene as she sorted through her case of spare parts. The case, not the spare parts, was hers, but the parts were entrusted to her. Someone had to fix the machines when they broke.
"I'm not really," she demurred. "In the old worlds pwilkwos had to attend special schools, they had teachers grading their work, they didn't do hardware much..." She found the needed part. Wincing, she picked it up between her thumbs: there were only four left. She screwed it into the casing and started reattaching everything else.
"Close enough. Hacker-poet," said the man, watching from a careful distance while she reassembled his device. His ears twitched with interest. "However you learned it. You wrote an AI from scratch - what was his name?"
"Gyan-eil. And so did Evyaia write one," Gevene said, "or I wouldn't have Dwen-lin."
"Was Dwen-lin as well programmed as Gyan-eil was, before you got hold of her and started adding things?" he asked pointedly. "Was she from scratch, or did she have a lot of standard modules built in?"
"Dwen-lin can hear you from here. Don't insult her eyemother, please," said Gevene. She screwed the last panel back on the device, turned it right side up, and turned it on. It booted up with an ascending series of chimed pitches. "There. You can install the driver for the new card off the Koeen. I think you'll be good until the fan goes - lucky we know how to make new fans, you can get that replaced anywhere."
"Lucky we crashed with a lot of spare parts," muttered the man, turning off his computer again and sliding it reverently into its case. "Thank you."
"You're welcome, of course. You can leave your payment for the part with Dwakia."
"The minister of finance? Don't you take payment for this sort of thing?"
Gevene shook her head. "It's a service of the Cezkwe as a whole. It's actually a significant chunk of our revenue. I don't need the money." She made a polite kovwi, thumbs and fingers touching their opposites under her chin, and the man lollopped out of her office with a nod of his head.
Dwen-lin rolled in, wheels whirring under her compact pink-enameled chassis. "I think Evyaia would admit that you're a better programmer than her," she said in a thin synthesized voice.
"It's not polite for a stranger to say so," said Gevene, "whatever the truth might be. What else is on my agenda today?"
"A visit to Zwiakwo," said Dwen-lin. "Ivwi expects you there in an hour or two; you have time to fly instead of taking the train. Will you bring me?"
"I'll bring your recording peripheral so you can see what went on later," Gevene said. "Leave your chassis here to hold the office together while I'm gone." Dwen-lin made the soft beep that was her equivalent of a nod, and rolled back out to the front desk.
Gevene took the peripheral, and the leather harness she used to wear it with straps around her neck and arms, off the shelf and buckled it on. Then she lollopped onto her balcony and flung herself into the air.
What would happen when they ran out of parts?
What would happen when the last computer failed?
It wasn't that most Zaee found them a practical necessity. Most Zaee didn't even have regular access to a computer any more; there were too many people to too few devices. The Zaee would be fine.
But what would happen to Dwen-lin, or Gyan-eil, or others like them, if every home that could hold them died?
Gevene could build a computer, out of parts. She knew what the parts did and where they went. But she didn't have the metallurgy or the materials engineering to build the parts themselves. No one did. People were working on it, trying to duplicate the wonders that had come with the crash, but... what if they weren't fast enough? What if the surviving technology, hard-wearing as it was, consumed the resources it had come with and expired?
And had there been no search-and-rescue ship, when they hadn't landed on the moon that was supposed to be Mevwan, when the colony hadn't been able to report back? Had the tellurics really yanked the ship that far off course, that the entire civilization of Zaee in the sky had been unable to track them down...?
Gevene flapped, motion rippling down her wings, but her mind was far from the journey. Maybe I should talk to Iriwande, if he ever has a moment free, she mused. Someone else might have computers, and be able to figure out ours, and be able to help us make new ones that are compatible. I should ask him. For my daughter, and my son.