Bryce slammed the computer down on the workbench, far too roughly. It may have come straight from the junkyard, but we were still hoping to make it work, after all. It was in pretty bad shape, not to mention being thirty-some years old, and of unknown make and model. This was probably a fool’s errand in the first place.
There were six screws in the bottom of the casing and three on the back. Some were rusted pretty tight. My wrists were hurting by the time I got it open. I unrolled a big sheet of newsprint and drew quick pictures of the bottom and back, and taped the screws in the spots I had removed them from. Bryce thought that was ridiculous, but I insisted that we didn’t know how complicated it was going to get on the inside. Reassembling it may not be as easy as just picking screws up out of a pile and putting them back in.
“You said you needed a project,” I said. “This is how projects work.”
The computer wasn’t quite rectangular. Its front surface slanted backward toward the top, but some kind of removable storage device stuck out from the right side. We would find out if it had a hard drive once we got it open. Much as Bryce had scrubbed it before we got started, with rubbing alcohol and soapy water, he hadn’t gotten quite all the residue off it, and I had to pry the seam between the top and bottom shells apart with a box cutter. Finally, we were able to slide the upper shell out away from the storage device and lift it off to set it aside.
The inside was cleaner than I would have expected. Other times I had tinkered with old, derelict devices like this one, there was usually corrosion of all kinds, often dead bugs. Sometimes mildew. The RF shield that covered the electronic innards here was by no means pristine, could not at all be mistaken for brand new, but it was clean and still gave off a fuzzy reflection of Bryce’s and my faces. It was stamped with an alphabetical code in dark red ink that had probably been brighter originally.
“What does that mean?” Bryce asked.
“I don’t think it’s meant anything in years.”
There were more screws. I drew the shield on the newsprint and taped each screw in its spot as before. They were different from the outside screws. I gestured to Bryce, “See?” He wasn’t impressed yet.
The RF shield came away with a little push-and-pull, revealing the real guts of the machine. We both looked those over for a long time. Neither of us were sure what we were looking at.
On the left side it was pretty normal. The motherboard lay at the bottom, had about fifteen individual chips on it. I could identify the processor, graphics and audio handlers, a bank of eight RAM chips that I would have guessed added to less than 640k given the computer’s age. A second board plugged in perpendicularly by a simple edge connector on the left side, adding a couple more chips, a flyback diode, a whole mess of electrolytic capacitors that were almost definitely expired, and some more various transistors, resistors, and so on. That was all fine and good.
On the right side, there was a hand.
It was grayish and spindly, and it had six fingers. It lay limp, palm down, held up by a padded post. The wrist was enclosed in a brass device, from which ran a ribbon cable to a third circuit board underneath.
Bryce reached in to touch it, but I stopped him.
I thought for awhile. The hand was behind the removable storage bay. I went to a drawer in the back of my workshop and sifted through the assorted junk in it, and found a device I had found in the same junkyard a year or so ago, that hadn’t seemed to have any purpose. It was roughly the size of a modern three-point-five-inch hard drive, maybe a little thicker. No metal contacts like I would have expected for removable media, but five narrow indentations lined its top surface, one toward the side of its bottom. I compared it to the bay in front of the hand: a perfect fit.
“What the hell,” Bryce said. He was rubbing his hands together vigorously. He had probably touched the one in the computer while I was looking away.
I plugged the computer in. It had an internal transformer and required only a standard IEC 320 cable, which, at this point, surprised me. Looking to Bryce for a sign to stop, which he didn’t give, I hit the switch on the side.
The band around the strange, truncated wrist hummed, and gave off a bluish light that shone on the back wall of the lower shell. The fingers twitched.
I inserted the strange cartridge. The fingers opened to accept it, and closed on it, one in each indentation.
I pressed a hand to my forehead and looked to Bryce. He looked back.
“I think I’m done,” he said.
He left at a jog. I supposed I needed a monitor now.