Children of the Last God
(Book IV of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2001 BY

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"Here it is, Weaver," Smith called, stepping into the darkened library. Beneath his arm, he had a long box with a small handle on one side. It rattled slightly as Smith closed the door behind him to keep out the cool night air.

"One moment - let me light another candle, here," Weaver called back, holding a candle in his paw up to one already lit and on the table before him. Once it was aflame, Weaver slipped the second candle into a candlestick before him, then looked at the box Smith carefully laid on the table. "Hrmph. It looks like a mustie-toy."

And, indeed, the box did look like a toy made by the musties. Forty-eight brass tubes adorned the top, each with a gaily colored little marble inside. The cherry-wood box itself was covered with intricate and detailed carvings of happy scenes of musties playing, hunting, and dancing. Smith nodded to Weaver. "Looks can be deceiving, though. It's far more than that."

"Oh?" Weaver studied the box again, his curiosity piqued.

Smith nodded again. "Here, I'll show you. What's six hundred and two plus ninety-three?"

Weaver blinked. "Pardon?"

"Addition, Weaver. What's six hundred and two plus ninety-three?" Smith asked again, pressing down on some of the little marbles in the first and second rows on top of the box. He then turned the little crank on the side, and the marbles fluttered up and down to a brassy clicking from within the box for a moment, then the box let out a quiet ding and the little marbles stopped, the first and second rows all protruding, and the marbles in the third row being somewhat scrambled.

"Umm... Six hundred and ninety-five."

"And what's that in binary?" Smith asked again, crossing his arms.

"Umm... One-zero-one-zero-one-one-zero-one-one-one, I think," Weaver replied after a long pause. Mathematics was no stranger to any mouse of Smith's Village. Just as the Old Law had once required all mice to master mathematics through calculus by the time they were adults, the New Law they had devised for their people did the same.

Smith pointed to the third row of marbles on top of the box, where some were down, and some were up at the top of their little brass tubes. "One-zero-one-zero-one-one-zero-one-one-one," he replied, his little clawed finger running by each one slowly. "Or, as the musties say it, 'summo-hextet and none and octo-hextet and none and duo-hextet and hextet and none and quartet and pair and single.'"

Weaver blinked, then stared at the box in silence, his little black eyes widening, and his tail flicking back and forth.

Smith flicked one of the little levers along the top. The marbles bounced in their little tubes, the pattern in the top row shifting down to the next, and the top row of marbles all popping to the top of their tubes again. "This moves the sum down to the first summand position, and if you move this lever here, it becomes a subtraction equation. It doesn't show negative numbers, however - it stops at zero. Mustie practicality, most likely."

"Spirits, Smith! Do you know what this is?!" Weaver squeaked suddenly

"The musties call it a calculator. We would call it a Differential Engine," Smith replied, nodding. "Our greatest thinkers tried to build one, fifty years before the Night of the Long Knives, and failed."

"They failed because it's impossible!" Weaver squeaked.

"I would say," Smith replied, tapping a tiny claw on the top of the box, "that it is hardly impossible, Weaver."

Weaver sputtered for a moment, then finally paused to get a grip on himself. "Sorry - but you know what I meant."

"Yes - and I know why we failed, nearly nine centuries ago. We failed because we were trying to build a Differential Engine that operated in decimal. And that is simply too difficult - it would have taken a far greater machining technology than we had back then to be able to manage the precision required for the gears. The musties are familiar with decimal, and use it when dealing with us or the mus, but they prefer their own numbers - binary. Here - let me show you how it works," Smith said. Reaching into a pocket, he slipped out his small pocketknife, opened the blade, and pried the lid of the box open. "There - see? It's a series of toggles, rather than gears."

Weaver nodded, his expression one of awe. "Incredible! But who thought of it?"

"Our Liege-Lady, Merle Mousefinder," Smith replied, then examined the box. "Hmm... I'll have to fix this before I give it back to Nito, or he'll be quite disappointed I've marred his work. They glued it shut, to prevent dirt and dust from getting inside."

"Merle Mousefinder thought of this? Incredible!"

"Not really - you've read the book of her story I wrote last year. She invented a ceramic steam-engine just from looking at the one in my old house and asking a few questions I thought were nothing at the time. About a year before I wrote that story down, she discovered the principles of buoyancy entirely by herself, just from playing in the bathtub. She's a genius, Weaver. All of the musties are highly intelligent, in general, but she, Byarl and a pawful of others are true geniuses. They may not have the eidetic memory we mice do, but they're no less intelligent for the lack of it."

Weaver sat silently, his little whiskers twitching. Finally, he sighed. "Our ancestors were fools to enslave them to their technology."

Smith simply nodded, closing the little box carefully. That was a discussion Smith, Weaver, and indeed all the mice of the village had many, many times since their separation from the mice of the Wild Wood. Yet, the past was the past, and could not be changed. Only the future could be changed - and the mice vowed that the future would be far, far different than the past, and they would live with the mus and the musties and the horses as friends.

Weaver gazed at the little box, his eyes lighting up again. "Smith... Can you see where this will lead?"

Smith nodded again. "Easily. We were beginning to experiment with voltaic piles and electromagnetism when the Night of the Long Knives came upon us. If we combine what we know and what we've learned since then with the knowledge of the mus and the inventiveness of the musties, in a century, perhaps two, our combined technology will exceed even the wildest dreams of our ancient thinkers. Even the horses have knowledge to offer the Eastern Alliance."

"They do? But they're stone age, Smith. What do they have to offer?"

"Their healing arts are merely the leaves of the turnip, Weaver. The bulk of the root remains buried. Yes, technologically, they're simple stone-age primitives. Yet, they can manipulate things without fingers, only using the power of their minds. Can you explain how that works?"

Weaver shook his head. "No, I can't. We've theorized about telepathy, telekinesis and other psi abilities for years, but never proven their existence in our own people, or determined how they might function."

"But in them, they do work. And through study of the phenomenon, we could come to a completely new understanding of the universe - perhaps even a universal field theory."

"The Theory of Everything!" Weaver squeaked excitedly - to the mice, that was the Holy Grail of all their knowledge, and something that had eluded even their finest thinkers for generations.

"Exactly," Smith said, and grinned. "But, for now, our dreams will have to wait. Aside from the fact that we are still building the library from living memory and that project will still take us another eight years or so to complete, we also have a new task Lady Merle has given us."

"Oh? What?"

"The marbles the musties are using. They need quality control - all the marbles have to be the same size for the Differential Engine to operate without jamming, and the musties can't manage it. Only about one in ten of the marbles they produce is perfectly round and the proper diameter. The rest are just handed out around their village to use as toys and slingstones, or melted down so they can try again."

Weaver scratched his head. "Why don't they just use poured brass bearings, instead?"

Smith grinned broadly. "That's what the original design our Liege-Lady contrived had, Weaver. The musties decided to use marbles, instead, because they're prettier."

Weaver snorted. "You're kidding!"

"Not one bit," Smith replied, and the two mice shared a quiet chuckle.

"Well, you can manufacture a roller for them so they can get the marbles all the same size, can't we?"

"Easily - but I'll need Potter's help for the ceramic parts, and I'll need your help for the frame. They need all this by the end of the week, and Lady Merle has asked that we work swiftly. They intend to sell these Differential Engines to the other mus, and help fill our lord's treasury with the profits. Lady Merle says our lord's treasury is quite low - too low, in fact, to meet the needs of his fief. We cannot allow our lord to be embarrassed by running out of money, Weaver," Smith said seriously.

Weaver nodded. "No, we can't. Let's get started tonight. I'll help you at the forge, then you can help me cut the wood once it gets light again."

"Get some blackroot, first," Smith said, mentioning the root that the mice often chewed to stay awake for long periods, "while I fix this Differential Engine from my prying it open. I don't want Nito to be annoyed with me."

"I will. I do believe we'll both need it," Weaver replied, rising from his seat and heading to the door. "I'll meet you at the forge, Smith!"

"Meet you there!" Smith called back, then returned his attention to the box. The happy carvings and gaily-colored marbles made him smile briefly. What to a mustie was a happy, fun toy was, to a mouse, a vast and grand dream realized - and the promise of even greater things that may, one day, yet come.

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