The Brass had good luck with smaller computers, so they were strong for EPICAC when he was in the blueprint stage. Any ordnace or supply officer above field grade will tell you that the mathematics of modern war is far beyond the fumbling minds of mere human beings. The bigger the war, the bigger the computing machines needed. EPICAC was, as far as anyone in this country knows, the biggest computer in the world. Too big, in fact, for even Von Kleigstadt to understand much about.
I won’t go into the details about how EPICAC worked (reasoned), except to say that you would set up your problem on paper, turn dials and switches that would get him ready to solve that kind of problem, then feed numbers into him with a keyboard that looked something like a typewriter. The answers came out typed on a paper ribbon fed from a big spool. It took EPICAC a split second to solve problems fifty Einsteins couldn’t handle in a lifetime. And EPICAC never forgot any piece of information
that was given to him. Clickety-click, out came some ribbon, and there you were.
There were a lot of problems the Brass wanted solved in a hurry, so, the minute EPICAC’s last tube was in place, he was put to work sixteen hours a day with two eight-hour shifts of operators. Well, it didn’t take long to find out he was a good bit below his specifications. He did a more complete and faster job than any other computer all right, but nothing like what his size and special features seemed to promise. He was sluggish, and the clicks of his answers had a funny irregularity, sort of a stammer. We cleaned his contacts a dozen times, checked and double-checked his circuits, replaced every one of his tubes, but nothing helped. Von Kleigstadt was in one hell of a state.
Well, as I said, we went ahead and used EPICAC anyway. My wife, the former Pat Kilgallen, and I worked with him on the night shift, from five in the afternoon until two in the morning. Pat wasn’t my wife then. Far from it.
That’s how I came to talk with EPICAC in the first place. I loved Pat Kilgallen. She is a brown-eyed strawberry blond who looked very warm and soft to me, and later proved to be exactly that. She was – still is – a crackerjack mathematician, and she kept our relationship strictly professional. I’m a mathematician, too, and that, according to Pat, was why we could never be happily married.
I’m not shy. That wasn’t the trouble. I knew what I wanted, and was willing to ask for it, and did so several times a month. “Pat, loosen up and marry me.”
One night, she didn’t even look up from her work when I said it. “So romantic, so poetic,” she murmured, more to her control panel than to me. “That’s the way with mathematicians – all hearts and flowers.” She closed a switch. “I could get more warmth out of a sack of CO2.”
“Well, how should I say it?” I said, a little sore. Frozen CO2, in case you didn’t know, is dry ice. I’m as romantic as the next guy, I think. It’s a question of singing so sweet and having it come out so sour. I never seem to pick the right words.
“Try and say it sweetly,” she said sarcastically. “Sweep me off my feet. Go ahead”
“Darling, angel, beloved, will you _please_ marry me?” It was no go – hopeless, ridiculous. “Dammit, Pat, please marry me!”
She continued to twiddle her dials placidly. “You’re sweet, but you won’t do.”
Pat quit early that night, leaving me alone with my troubles and EPICAC. I’m afraid I didn’t get much done for the Government people.