Many thanks to Tristan Morris for creating a beautiful illustrated hardcover print edition of the site


Aaradhya had barely passed beyond the borders of the village when she heard a high voice shouting Madam! Madam! from behind her on the road. A boy was chasing after her, waving frantically. As he skidded to a stop in the dust beside her Aaradhya recognized him as one of the BASIC students from the schoolyard. He was about seven years old, barefoot and shirtless, clad only in a loose pair of beige trousers whose pattern had long since faded. His hair was straight and as black as Aaradhya’s own, and his skin was quite as brown, but his eyes were an astonishing shade of green.

“Madam!” panted the boy. “My grandfather wishes to speak to you!” He took her hand and motioned her back down the road.

The grandfather was ambling towards them, holding the scorching midday sun at bay with a ragged parasol. His hair was white, and like the boy he was dressed in pale threadbare clothes whose colors had long ago been lost to the elements. When the two drew near he closed the shade and greeted Aaradhya with a slight bow, palms touching before his chest. Aaradhya returned the gesture.

“That teacher is no good,” said the grandfather, “and the boy must be taught properly. Otherwise he will end up like his father, a broken man trusted only to create spreadsheet macros and the occasional .BAT file.”

“It is a common fate,” acknowledged Aaradhya.

“I understand that you are a teacher of no small skill,” continued the old man. “Versed not only in BASIC, but in the enviable arts of Java and C.”

Aaradhya raised an eyebrow. “My BASIC is regrettably out of date. And while it is true that I have completed my apprenticeship in Java, I am far from being called master.”

“Still, you exceed all others in this village. Can you not remain here for a while, to school those who desire it?”

“My own master had a saying,” said Aaradhya. “The MAX_VALUE of Byte may be envied by zero, but it is far from the MAX_VALUE of Integer.” She ran a hand absently along the fringe of her outer robe. “Indeed, it is for such type-promotion that I am travelling north. The Temple of the Morning Brass Gong is holding trials for new novices this very month. That is why I dare not linger even a day, lest their few positions be filled.”

“Ah!” lamented the grandfather. “I have heard of that temple. So far away, and across the mountains too! Would it not serve you better to travel by some sort of wheeled internal combustion engine?”

Aaradhya laughed. “You may as well ask if it would serve me better to sprout wings and fly! Even if such a device could be found in these provinces, I could not afford to purchase it, nor the fuel to power it.”

“Perhaps, perhaps,” said the old man, smiling a half-toothless smile. “In Reechee there is a driver who crosses the mountains daily in such a vehicle, a marvelous conveyance that he fashioned from an abandoned train car. He calls it a bus, for it shuttles many passengers in parallel. He and I are distant cousins, and I may be able to convince him to take you on board without pay.” The grandfather opened his parasol again and began walking back toward the village. “All I ask is that you school the boy as we go.”

“Reechee is a good three days away,” said Aaradhya, flustered. “Twice that at the speed of your old legs. And it’s in the wrong direction!”

“Six days’ walk plus two days by bus, against three weeks on foot,” replied the grandfather. He drew the boy to his side. “In any language, the math is simple. It may even be done with Bytes.”

Aaradhya stopped in her tracks; the old man ignored her and continued on. The boy glanced back a few times, but each time the grandfather turned the boy’s head forward again with a firm hand.

“How can I be certain that your cousin will give me passage?” Aaradhya called out.

“You can’t!” the grandfather shouted without turning around. He raised an index finger. “Life is a probabilistic algorithm, where optimal input can still produce bad results. But every minute we argue is a minute wasted, and minutes are precious to us both.”

The two figures vanished around a bend, and Aaradhya was alone.

She stood debating within herself for another minute more, then cursed privately and ran down the road after them.