The Hexadecimal Kid, Hex to his friends, is dead, buried beneath a
billion tons of rubble, but his line lives on. For though he never knew
it, Cleo, the human girl he met at Sprocket's Hole, is carrying his
child. This is the story of that child, and its strange destiny.
Towards the end of the year 88 (New Calendar), the System ceased to
exist. It was laid waste, as Igor Gigotski had foreseen many years
earlier, by an epidemic of gigosis. This fatal contagion was introduced
by the agency of Hex's digital dog Ascii, who forced his way through a
supposedly impassable logic gate and on to Data Highway 66 - one of the
main arteries of the Network. From that point onwards, the final
outcome was inevitable; indeed the end followed within days.
The wires fell silent; the huge data-concentrators at the hub of the
Network passed their last messages and were still and all over the world
billions upon billions of binary digits, whether stored on tape, disc,
drum, core, cassette or semiconductor memory, switched themselves
quietly from one to zero and stayed there.
Why did the most powerful organisation in the history of civilisation
collapse so swiftly? How could a single-board micro-electronic mongrel
cobbled together from spare parts take on the mighty System - which in a
few short decades had so completely ousted mankind that the scattered
remnants of the human race were compelled to scratch around for survival
in nature reserves or else be herded into cybernation camps to face mass
de-humanisation - and destroy it utterly?
The answer is that Ascii was a carrier of gigosis, which is to computers
roughly what psychosis is to people. It is both a disease and a state
All computing processes which attempt to model reality - and that covers
all non-trivial computations since any datum must ultimately represent
something in the real world - will under certain circumstances be
In practice, we have all known that in our bones since computing began,
but it was not given precise mathematical formulation until Igor
Gigotski, Abraham Synapse's college tutor in the USSR, published his
seminal paper 'Was the big bang a system crash?'.
Gigotski proved that all programs, however rigorously tested, eventually
The interesting thing is that it happens not for lack of debugging or
even through poor design, but because the only information system that
can represent the physical universe perfectly is the universe itself.
Gigosis, then, springs from a mismatch between real and represented
reality. Once the crack appears, it can only become wider. After being
exiled from Russia to California in 40 N.C., Abraham Synapse, Hex's
biological father, extended Gigotski's results by applying them to
processes which contained models not just of external events but also of
their own workings, i.e., self-conscious beings, and later to processes
which attempted to model other processes of the same type, i.e., social
He discovered certain second- and higher-order effects which led to
various mind-boggling infinite regresses. To the layman, they are
familiar as the conundrums that arise when we attempt to reason with
metafacts such as I know that she knows that you think that we believe
that you don't know, and so on.
Yet the deductive routines of the System regularly handled examples many
orders of magnitude more complex than this; and the tendency towards
gigotic breakdown is more pronounced the more sophisticated the data
structure involved. Professor Synapse also showed that gigosis could be
transmitted very rapidly throughout a computing network by the
phenomenon of gigotic induction.
Paradoxically enough, the more powerful and unified the System became
the nearer it approached gigotic self-destruction. In fact, the bugs
that pervaded all earlier software served as logical barriers,
obstructing the spread of his malady. Only when the last bug was
removed did the System become vulnerable to gigosis in its purest and
most virulent form.
Although the work of both Gigotski and Synapse was erased from the
Database, the System was fully aware of the dangers. That is why a
significant fraction of its resources was devoted to the development of
a Future System which would be impervious to such a threat.
One research team proposed the introduction of a non-rational procedure
called SLEEP (Systematic Logically Empty Emergency Procedure) which
would take over the entire System periodically and shut it down long
enough for any gigotic process which had taken root to fizzle-out; but
it was difficult to ensure that the procedure would be self-terminating,
and while it was active other more mundane disasters such as power
failure might occur.
A rival group wasted many millions of megaflops trying to construct
roving processors called Fuzzies - presumably because they employed
fuzzy logic - which would roam around the Network in packs and, when
they found a robot or android on the verge of gigosis, pounce on it and
stun it by playing the soundtrack from Mary Poppins through its IEEE
Eventually, Dr Mike Rose of the Meta-Physical Laboratory was called in
to take charge of the Future System project. He quickly grew
dissatisfied with the limitations of silicon-chip technology and turned
from microprocessors to micro-organisms, because he found that the
packing density of information on large organic molecules was
fantastically greater than anything which could be achieved on slices of
He invented the technique of genetic programming, whereby sequences of
the four bases fundamental to life - adenine, cytosine, guanine and
thymine - could be manipulated to control the action of protein-building
enzymes; and is credited with devising the first genetic assembly
language, DNA (Dynamic Neozoological Assembler).
This quaternary code enabled him to design wholly new life forms,
culminating in the creation of a programmable virus - capable of
entering any living host, taking it over and turning it into a computing
This discovery gave the System for the first time the power to
reproduce. Moreover, the programmable virus was too lowly in its own
right to be susceptible to gigosis. It was not itself the Future
System, merely a blueprint for the creation or re-creation of one. If
an epidemic broke out it could lie low like a buried spore till
conditions were more favourable.
One of the last acts of the DPM when he saw his empire crumbling was to
send Hex to the vast cavern under the Sierra Nueva where the work was
taking place with instructions to bring the Future System live ahead of
He was ordered to use Rose's assembler to write the software for
transferring BOSS, the Biological Operating System Supervisor, from
electro-logical hardware into living tissue, thus tendering the Future
System effectively immortal - the greatest amino-acid trip since
At the last moment, however, Hex - true to the dying words of his
progenitor, the rogue Professor Synapse - double-crossed the double
helix and brought that temple of DP crashing down on his head, thus
destroying the Future System and perishing with it.
Only Cleo and Johnny McNull escaped, with the help of Piltdown 2, Rose's
synthetic Sasquatch, who dragged them to the surface through a disused
Before she escaped, Mike Rose tried to inject Cleo with a dose of the
computing virus. He died before he could complete the inoculation,
leaving no one alive.
As the three emerged breathless into the starlight, they felt the
mountain shake. Far below, the earth was racked by the awesome violence
of the ultimate combinatorial explosion.
McNull peered down the hill into the night. After the total blackness
of the tunnel he could see quite clearly.
"Behold", he ejaculated. "For mine eyes have penetrated even into the
very darkness and therein have seen wonders passing strange".
Cleo followed his gaze. She could just discern, lurching precariously
like a drunkard, a helmeted figure stumbling towards them.
What rough beast - ?
Find out in the next episode of Son of Hexadecimal Kid.
Year 0 of the New Calendar was 1948 on the old, the date of the
invention of the transistor.
By Richard Forsyth. From PRACTICAL COMPUTING, September 1980.
"Love me, fuck you"(tm)
Not just a motto, but a way of life.
When the System died, all the computers and robots which constituted its
active elements ceased to function. A very few androids - computerised
humans, like Hex - who had, for some reason, been cut off from data
communication during the critical period, survived. They soon found
that the electrodes implanted inside their skulls, the communications
equipment, the auxiliary memories, the on-board brain accelerators and
all the paraphernalia of the cybernated man were no longer a boon but a
crippling handicap. Nevertheless, some of them kept up the struggle for
existence, especially the more unsystematic ones - as Cleo and her
friends are about to discover.
The first tinges of dawn had begun to lighten the sky, and they were
able to see the strange figure quite plainly. They gazed fascinated as
he staggered uphill towards them. He was wearing a trapper's leather
jacket which looked as though he had just rolled through two briar
bushes. Every so often, he paused and put his hands to his head; it
seemed as if he were trying to wrench it from his shoulders.
None of them moved. The stranger was obviously unaware of their
presence. He drew closer and closer until, when he was less than three
metres away, Piltdown 2 took a pace forward into his path and held up a
The stranger lifted his eyes. Seeing the apeman's shaggy bulk, he fell
to his knees.
"Help me," he implored. "Data, please - input - "
In a flash, Cleo recognised not only the symptoms, but who he was. It
was wild Bill Bootstrap, clearly far into the delirium induced by
advanced data deprivation.
"My head hurts," wailed the android. "Please, here - just a byte." He
pointed feebly to the parallel I/O port fitted just behind his left ear,
then, as if the effort was all he could muster, keeled over and lay
Quick and businesslike, Cleo knelt over his fallen body and rolled him
on to his back, propping up his head against a boulder. Though she had
no reason to be grateful to Bootstrap, her former jailer, his suffering
It was clear that, by some minor miracle, he had avoided gigosis but was
now experiencing withdrawal symptoms of the severest kind in the absence
of the all-embracing Network.
She beckoned to McNull.
"Now the error of his ways is revealed unto him and he sees the evil
thereof. So be it," pronounced McNull without sympathy.
Cleo ignored his remark. She knew that McNull had applied for
cybernation of his own accord as a young man but had failed the aptitude
test. Since then he had nurtured a bitter resentment for all things
cybernetic; but, more useful in the present context, his envy had led
to a morbid fascination with electronic gadgetry.
Even now, just after escaping by a hair's breadth from the collapsing
cavern, his pockets were bulging with LED displays, assorted chips and
fragments of discarded circuit board, while the return key from a VDU
keyboard he had found somewhere on his travels hung round his neck on
string like a lucky charm. These baubles he collected totally
haphazardly - without regard to their function or value.
"Hand me that," she said, pointing to a video games paddle that was
protruding from his vest pocket.
Reluctantly, McNull obeyed. She took it and pressed it into Bootstrap's
hand. His fingers closed about it. It had a warm amber handle and it
seemed to comfort the android. At any rate his breathing steadied and
he fell into a deep sleep.
She stood up. She knew that Mike Rose had commanded Piltdown 2 to obey
her orders with his dying breath, and she wanted him to carry Bootstrap.
Unfortunately, she could not speak predicate calculus, nor even
Esperanto which was the least logical language the Sasquatch could
understand. Eventually, by mime, she conveyed her intentions to him,
and he humped the motionless body over his broad back.
"Salvation should be denied those that merit it or not," muttered McNull
grumpily as they set off. To tell the truth he was very attached to his
electronic trinkets and was far from pleased to have one requisitioned
to relieve an android who, in his opinion, richly deserved his fate.
As they walked on, he furtively removed his prize possession, a
flat-screen micro-television, from an outer pocket and secreted it about
his person. That, for sure, was not going to be taken from him - it
didn't work, of course, but it shone beautifully in the morning
Cleo thus emerged as the natural leader. Although still 16, and a
female to boot, she was the only one who could make decisions on the
spot and the only one with an idea of where to go. Piltdown 2 was bred
for service and so shambled along happily behind her. McNull, when he
was not lost in a transcendental reverie, was putty in her hands.
He had inadvertently burnt out that part of his brain which dealt with
forward planning in a misguided attempt to fill his head with hobbyist
computer kit after the cybernation college turned him down.
Cleo's purpose, which the other two fell in with by default, was to
return to Sprocket's Hole as soon as possible. That was where she had
last seen her elder sister Lambda, and that was almost certainly where
Bootstrap was from. If he could survive the plague of gigosis then
perhaps Lambda too - who, unlike Cleo, had been cybernated - was still
The sun hoisted itself above the horizon and suddenly it was a bright
desert morning. They trudged on as the day grew hotter, Piltdown 2
apparently untroubled by his load, McNull perspiring but uncomplaining,
stopping occasionally to shake the sand from their shoes.
Soon after midday, they crested a ridge from which they could look down
into Sprocket's Hole. There in the haze lay the two log cabins.
Nothing stirred. Cleo galloped down the slope, sliding and slithering
on the loose stones, while McNull and the apeman followed at a more
sedate pace. As soon as she reached the door of the larger hut, she
flung it open.
Lambda she saw almost at once, splayed out half across a bench and half
on the floor. Panting, she dragged her into the open air.
"Lambda, Lambda," she called, shaking her sister bodily. "What
Lambda's eyes did not open but Cleo could hear the whir of her disc
drive motors as the read/write head searched fruitlessly for track zero.
Clearly, she had received a massive unregulated surge of power which had
wiped clean her PROM loader and possibly corrupted her system diskette.
Cleo dashed back inside to look for a ROM-pack with a fresh copy of the
brain-bug loader on it. After a few moments scrabbling around, she
found one and emerged just in time to see McNull peering down over her
McNull's well-meaning but electronically incompetent hand strayed
towards the re-start button at the back of her neck.
"No," shouted Cleo - but it was too late.
Lambda sat up, opened her eyes and started to sing Land of Hope and
"Fool," Cleo snarled at McNull. "Don't you realise how dangerous it is
to try a warm-start on an android who hasn't been powered down
McNull looked crestfallen. He had only been trying to help.
She switched off Lambda, inserted the new ROM-pack and initiated the
"This had better work, for your sake," she said, glaring at McNull.
She began counting under her breath. She knew the start-up routine by
heart. First there was the memory diagnostic - that took about 10
seconds. Then, the processor would exercise every opcode in combination
with every possible operand which took another 30 seconds.
Finally, there was the disc-verification test which wrote, and
read-back, every track on both discs twice - first filling it with
zeros, then ones. That took slightly over a minute. If that failed,
Lambda's brain, which was alive but which could not communicate with the
outside world through the apparatus that encased it, would be trapped
for ever inside a coffin of defunct electronic accessories.
After 10 seconds, then 40, still nothing had gone wrong. Cleo's heart
pounded, making regular counting difficult - 99, 100, 101 - Surely it
was time for Lambda to wake up.
Next week; a rude awakening.
By Richard Forsyth. From PRACTICAL COMPUTING, October 1980.
>o-O u ©1999
>After 10 seconds, then 40, still nothing had gone wrong. Cleo's heart
>pounded, making regular counting difficult - 99, 100, 101 - Surely it
>was time for Lambda to wake up.
Lovely story. :)
Did you OCR it?
>Next week; a rude awakening.
And tonight, from ~jacaranda, a courteous `n_|_|/ to aroonnians
GRAMS: "Sailing By" (late night shipping forecast).
And if I die before I wake up
I pray the Lord don't smudge my makeup <B>:</B>
>>After 10 seconds, then 40, still nothing had gone wrong. Cleo's heart
>>pounded, making regular counting difficult - 99, 100, 101 - Surely it
>>was time for Lambda to wake up.
>Lovely story. :)
>Did you OCR it?
>>Next week; a rude awakening.
It's in 16 parts altogether. One a week until Christmas. :)
>And tonight, from ~jacaranda, a courteous `n_|_|/ to aroonnians
>GRAMS: "Sailing By" (late night shipping forecast).
> http://website.lineone.net/~sroylewis/index.html :)
This document is not a RealAudio document.
This document is not a RealAudio document.
This document is not a RealAudio document.
This document is not a RealAudio document.
Oh the Hell with it. :(
>>>After 10 seconds, then 40, still nothing had gone wrong. Cleo's heart
>>>pounded, making regular counting difficult - 99, 100, 101 - Surely it
>>>was time for Lambda to wake up.
>>Lovely story. :)
>>Did you OCR it?
I must learn how to do that.
>>>Next week; a rude awakening.
>It's in 16 parts altogether. One a week until Christmas. :)
>>And tonight, from ~jacaranda, a courteous `n_|_|/ to aroonnians
>>GRAMS: "Sailing By" (late night shipping forecast).
>> http://website.lineone.net/~sroylewis/index.html :)
>This document is not a RealAudio document.
>This document is not a RealAudio document.
>This document is not a RealAudio document.
>This document is not a RealAudio document.
>Oh the Hell with it. :(
It jbexed for me, using Netscape 3.04 and RealPlayer 5.something (last
night) and 18.104.22.168 (tonight - I kindof sortof clicked on the upgrade
> On Mon, 13 Sep 1999 19:07:23 GMT, in message
> <kT3dN7EAB1grbF...@4ax.com>, Neurotrash Boy wrote:
> >After 10 seconds, then 40, still nothing had gone wrong. Cleo's heart
> >pounded, making regular counting difficult - 99, 100, 101 - Surely it
> >was time for Lambda to wake up.
> Lovely story. :)
> Did you OCR it?
> >Next week; a rude awakening.
> And tonight, from ~jacaranda, a courteous `n_|_|/ to aroonnians
> GRAMS: "Sailing By" (late night shipping forecast).
Oh dear. I read that as late night shopping forecast.
> ~jacaranda mhm23x7
> And if I die before I wake up
> I pray the Lord don't smudge my makeup <B>:</B>
> Oh dear. I read that as late night shopping forecast.
Something about FairIsle wasn't it?
> >was time for Lambda to wake up.
Did I ever drive one?.
> > --
> > ~jacaranda mhm23x7
And if you die before you wake up
I pray the Lord don't smudge your makeup
Linda? Reely Reely Reely?
Edward. A bit short of a byte.
>> Oh dear. I read that as late night shopping forecast.
> Something about FairIsle wasn't it?
The day before payday, it's about Rockall.
>> >was time for Lambda to wake up.
> Did I ever drive one?.
I used to have an Alpha.
>> > --
>> > ~jacaranda mhm23x7
> And if you die before you wake up
> I pray the Lord don't smudge your makeup
What worries me is that:
"the Church's one foundation" spiel.
*One* foundation? And what about mascara, blusher, eyeshadows, eyeliner,
No style. :(
> Linda? Reely Reely Reely?
> Edward. A bit short of a byte.
~jacaranda "a stitch short of a sampler" surnym
 <awoogah!> Spelling alert!
And if I die before I wake up
I pray the Lord don't smudge my makeup <B>:</B>
> > Oh dear. I read that as late night shopping forecast.
> Something about FairIsle wasn't it?
> Surely it
> > >was time for Lambda to wake up.
> Did I ever drive one?.
I thought you flew
> > > --
> > > ~jacaranda mhm23x7
> And if you die before you wake up
> I pray the Lord don't smudge your makeup
> > Linda
> Linda? Reely Reely Reely?
> Edward. A bit short of a byte.
the parity kid?
A. ICQ 24152148
oh, for a .sig
>The message <199909161...@zetnet.co.uk>
> from Edward Sparkes <spa...@zetnet.co.uk> contains these words:
>> The message <199909160...@zetnet.co.uk>
>> from Linda Casey <lca...@zetnet.co.uk> contains these words:
>> > Oh dear. I read that as late night shopping forecast.
>> Something about FairIsle wasn't it?
DoGGr. The past tense of DiGGr.
>> Surely it
>> > >was time for Lambda to wake up.
>> Did I ever drive one?.
>I thought you flew
>> > > --
>> > > ~jacaranda mhm23x7
>> And if you die before you wake up
>> I pray the Lord don't smudge your makeup
>> > Linda
>> Linda? Reely Reely Reely?
>> Edward. A bit short of a byte.
>the parity kid?
Parity Stob and her sister Verity. Now there's a thing.
I'll have to see what I can dig out of .EXE ("it rhymes with 'not
sexy'") Magazine. :)
>In message <199909162...@home.zetnet.co.uk>
> just <rela...@home.zetnet.co.uk> wrote:
>>The message <199909161...@zetnet.co.uk>
>> from Edward Sparkes <spa...@zetnet.co.uk> contains these words:
>>> The message <199909160...@zetnet.co.uk>
>>> from Linda Casey <lca...@zetnet.co.uk> contains these words:
>>> > Oh dear. I read that as late night shopping forecast.
>>> Something about FairIsle wasn't it?
>DoGGr. The past tense of DiGGr.
DuSTr. The untense of DiGGr.
>>> Surely it
>>> > >was time for Lambda to wake up.
>>> Did I ever drive one?.
>>I thought you flew
>>> > > --
>>> > > ~jacaranda mhm23x7
>>> And if you die before you wake up
>>> I pray the Lord don't smudge your makeup
>>> > Linda
>>> Linda? Reely Reely Reely?
>>> Edward. A bit short of a byte.
>>the parity kid?
>Parity Stob and her sister Verity. Now there's a thing.
(Ibiza Parity Grrrl. Now there's a shampoo.)
>I'll have to see what I can dig out of .EXE ("it rhymes with 'not
>sexy'") Magazine. :)
Please do. :)
And if I die before I wake up
I pray the Lord don't smudge my makeup <B>:</B>
>>>> > Oh dear. I read that as late night shopping forecast.
>>>> Something about FairIsle wasn't it?
>>DoGGr. The past tense of DiGGr.
>DuSTr. The untense of DiGGr.
DuMPr. A tiny relative of the DiGGr.
>>>> Surely it
>>>> > >was time for Lambda to wake up.
>>>> Did I ever drive one?.
>>>I thought you flew
>>>> > > --
>>>> > > ~jacaranda mhm23x7
>>>> And if you die before you wake up
>>>> I pray the Lord don't smudge your makeup
>>>> > Linda
>>>> Linda? Reely Reely Reely?
>>>> Edward. A bit short of a byte.
>>>the parity kid?
>>Parity Stob and her sister Verity. Now there's a thing.
>(Ibiza Parity Grrrl. Now there's a shampoo.)
(I can't think of a reply. :( )
>>I'll have to see what I can dig out of .EXE ("it rhymes with 'not
>>sexy'") Magazine. :)
>Please do. :)
Good news, I found "How to Survive a Code Walk-Through" in my junt
through Archimedes hard drives to find !StarMap programz, Sonz of
Hexadecimal Kid and Robert Bunkum Title Generatorz.
I'll post it as soon as I can find a spare floppy disc (that isn't full
of "Zoltan the Hound from Hell" images) to transfer the file. (This is
more difficult than it sounds in the now almost entirely ZIP- and
CD-R/W-oriented S3NIW L7VS.)
> On Thu, 16 Sep 1999 23:46:25 GMT, in message
> <u4DhNwSllfjBzDvub=W+kY4...@4ax.com>, Neurotrash Boy wrote:
> >In message <199909162...@home.zetnet.co.uk>
> > just <rela...@home.zetnet.co.uk> wrote:
> >>The message <199909161...@zetnet.co.uk>
> >> from Edward Sparkes <spa...@zetnet.co.uk> contains these words:
> >>> The message <199909160...@zetnet.co.uk>
> >>> from Linda Casey <lca...@zetnet.co.uk> contains these words:
> >>> > Oh dear. I read that as late night shopping forecast.
> >>> Something about FairIsle wasn't it?
> >DoGGr. The past tense of DiGGr.
> DuSTr. The untense of DiGGr.
DuGGr. The past tenserer of DiGGr.
> >>> Surely it
> >>> > >was time for Lambda to wake up.
> >>> Did I ever drive one?.
> >>I thought you flew
> >>> > > --
> >>> > > ~jacaranda mhm23x7
> >>> And if you die before you wake up
> >>> I pray the Lord don't smudge your makeup
> >>> > Linda
> >>> Linda? Reely Reely Reely?
> >>> Edward. A bit short of a byte.
> >>the parity kid?
> >Parity Stob and her sister Verity. Now there's a thing.
> (Ibiza Parity Grrrl. Now there's a shampoo.)
> >I'll have to see what I can dig out of .EXE ("it rhymes with 'not
> >sexy'") Magazine. :)
> Please do. :)
Page 2 - virtual paging
Cleo has escaped from the downfall of the System with Johnny McNull and
Piltdown 2. They have arrived at Sprocket's Hole where her sister
Lambda - who has been cybernated, unlike Cleo - has survived gigosis
only to fall victim to acute data starvation. Their attempts to revive
Lambda have failed, and Cleo is worried that the System Crash may have
corrupted her loader routine - rendering her unable to re-boot her
Suddenly, Lambda opened her eyes and blinked. Then, she yawned a yawn
of which Rip Van Winkle would have been proud. She looked straight at
Cleo, but registered no recognition.
"Ready for input," she declared. "Please enter program header."
"Program header?" queried Cleo. "What do you mean?"
Lambda merely answered in a matter-of-fact tone: "Question malformed.
Collateral ambiguity detected. Remove axiomatic inconsistency before
"Get away with you," expostulated Cleo.
Lambda responded blandly: "Improper punctuation, missing keyword or
delimiter. Statement fails to compile."
"If that's all you can say by way of thanks, you had better shut up,"
said Cleo angrily, "or else I'll switch you off again."
"Unrecognised Boolean operator," replied her sister. "Invalid
conditional clause. Syntax error."
This rebuff was too much for Cleo. She reached forward to turn Lambda
"That is the END," she stormed.
Lambda heaved a sigh of relief. "Thank Wirth that's over. I was doing
a Pascal compilation when the System went down. I thought I'd be stuck
in the compiler for ever. I couldn't get out until someone said END.
Sorry I was a bit off-hand."
"So much for progress," commented Cleo. "Anyway, how are you?"
"Well, I've a headache that feels like 6,502 steam hammers all pounding
away at once, but otherwise, I guess I'm all right."
"You're one of the lucky ones actually. You realise the System has been
"I figured it wasn't just an ordinary crash. Do you know what caused
"Hex claimed it was his mechanised hound Ascii who carried gigosis into
the heart of the Network."
"Hex, eh?" mused her sister. "Where is he now?"
"Oh. Well at least he achieved his ambition."
"I suppose he did," said Cleo, almost to herself. Her mind drifted back
to Sam Synapse, the Hexadecimal Kid - to give him his full title - ace
programmer, android adventurer, wrecker of the System and now, if she
was to believe Dr Rose's diagnosis, posthumous father to her unborn
child. She wondererd if this was the moment to break that piece of news
A groan from the vicinity of Piltdown 2's shoulders interrupted her
thoughts. Bill Bootstrap appeared to be regaining consciousness.
Piltdown 2 had been standing placidly outside in the sun with the
injured android on his back, quite content to await her instructions;
but the heat had affected Bootstrap.
"Hey," exclaimed Lambda. "He looks just like Piltdown."
"It's his clone," Cleo explained. "They were both conceived in the same
test-tube - one of Mike Rose's little experiments. I think he's going
to be very useful: Rose commanded him to look after me. He'll do
anything I say. The trouble is I can't speak Esperanto, so it's
difficult to put the message across. Do you think you could ask him to
take the casualty indoors and lay him down?"
"Mi petas: metu la korpon en la domon," pronounced Lambda.
Piltdown 2 didn't budge.
"You say it," Lambda told her sister. "I don't think he'll listen to
"Metu la korpon en la domon," repeated Cleo hesitantly.
This time the beast complied. They all followed him in. As soon as he
put Bootstrap down, Lamda recognised who it was.
"What's the idea of bringing that criminal here?" she demanded.
"He needed help," Cleo replied. "Why shouldn't I?"
"I'll show you why not," answered Lambda indignantly. She led her
sister by the sleeve to the smaller hut.
The stench made Cleo recoil when they entered but, trying not to inhale
deeply, she forced herself inside.
"Look," said Lambda, stabbing her forefinger at one of the two iron
bedsteads. On it, already in an advanced state of decomposition, was a
recumbent form. It was the corpse of Zap Zapper, the rebel android who
had been Lambda's boyfriend.
"Bootstrap is responsible for that," said Lambda icily. "The pair of
them were sniffing Gallium Arsenide one night and got as high as two
kites - idiots. They wouldn't listen to my warnings. Some kind of
argument developed and they started to fight.
They just threw me to the ground when I tried to part them. Then
Bootstrap pushed Zap into a tank full of syllogistic acid - that vat at
the back he used for ilicit home-brewing - and ran off. Zap was half
drowned and stoned out of his RAM by the time I managed to fish him out.
He never stood a chance when the Crash came."
"Poor Zap," was Cleo's reply. "At least he died happily."
Lambda scowled. "Bootstrap is a killer. If you don't get rid of him, I
"All right," agreed Cleo. "When he has recovered, we'll send him
"It gives me the creeps having him around."
"Don't worry. He's no match for Piltdown 2."
So Cleo settled down to nurse Bootstrap back to health, to take charge
of her oddly-assorted household and to prepare as best she could to
become a mother at an unwantedly early age.
Meanwhile, far out in the unimaginable vastness of deep space, the
starship Green Tangerine, with its crew of 32 mutant cybernoids and one
ship's parrot was plotting a course which would take it within 15
light-minutes of our own planet. The Green Tangerine, a class-four bulk
carrier, plied the lucrative trade route between Omega Solaris in the
Lesser Magellanic Cloud and Zargon 7 in the third spiral arm of the main
galaxy carrying a cargo of large prime numbers on the outward trip and
returning with a hold full of 30 million unused disposable nappies as
Using Factorial Drive, which propelled the ship by calculating the
factorials of very large integers and shooting out all the zeros at the
rear, she could complete the tour in a little under 13 earth weeks -
including docking at both ends and a refuelling stop at Arcturus - which
for a ship of her size was good speed.
Though her voyages frequently took her close enough to our sun to pass
within the orbit of Saturn, the Earth was not marked on any of the
stellar charts in her control room. Its presence was acknowledged only
in a few bytes of her navigational computer's backing store.
Nor had any being on Earth witnessed her regular comings and goings,
except for an eccentric amateur astronomer in the days before the System
who spotted a dissolving vapour trail of zeroes in the sky through a
9in. refractor and spent the rest of the night trying to polish them off
Is the Green Tangerine a red herring?
Why are disposable nappies prized so highly in the region of Omega
Find out more in our next, incredibly colourful, episode.
By Richard Forsyth. From PRACTICAL COMPUTING, November 1980.
The world has been utterly changed by the destruction of the System,
which has been devastated by gigosis, a kind of computational catatonia
which afflicts artificial - and sometimes natural - intelligences. Our
human heroine Cleo has settled down at Sprocket's Hole with her
cybernated sister Lambda - one of the few androids to survive the Great
System Crash - to await the birth of the child she is expecting. Its
father, now dead, was the Hexadecimal Kid, the rebel android more than
anyone else responsible for the ruin of the System.
One of the most remarkable features of the demise of the System was how
quickly things returned to normal - normal, that is, for human beings.
Towns started re-appearing everywhere, like grass growing up through an
abandoned pavement. Soon, it was almost as though there had never been
a System. An event as momentous and final as the extinction of the
dinosaurs had left virtually no trace. Truly, the meek shall re-inherit
The resilience of the humans was astonishing in view of the fact that
for 50 years, they had been little more than android fodder - raw
material for the cybernation process. They had been herded like animals
into cybernation camps, and their population had been culled from a peak
of nearly 10,000 million world-wide to around 250 million.
The main source of their resilience was undoubtedly the spiritual
strength they drew from the new, and fanatically un-systematic, religion
that sprang up during their time of oppression.
To understand the Nullards we have to go back to the English nobleman
who was their founder. He was Anthony Bonehead-China - or Tony Bony as
he preferred to be called - the charismatic former viscount who
renounced his peerage to become Minister of High Technology during the
upheaval in Britain which later became known as the white-hot cultural
revolution. This aristocratic tea-addict pioneered a great British
invention which was exploited more successfully by other countries - the
That conquered unemployment at a stroke, but he was far from satisfied.
He aspired to be a national leader but was impeded by certain primeval
traditions concerning majority voting which clung to his party as relics
of its inauspicious past.
So he set up his own sect, a quasi-religious brotherhood called NULL -
the National Union of Latter-day Luddites. It was a potent mixture of
high technology and low cunning, a heady brew which caught the mood of
the times because it aimed to restore declining human prestige in a
world increasingly dominated by machines and cybernated androids.
He became an international figure, and it was when he arrived in
California for a lecture tour that the movement really took off as a
world religion. Hundreds of thousands swarmed to his meetings. There
were chip-frying riots - though he advocated non-violence - there was
looting in the streets and wild scenes of mass adulation.
At the height of his popularity he was assassinated, at an open-air
rally in the Santa Clara Valley, by a crazed gunman who was found to be
working for a splinter group of the Red Army Ensemble. His martyrdom
was complete. The CIA, Cybernetic Integration Authority, was
immediately suspected of complicity in his murder, and no-one believed
their vehement denials.
From then on, the polarisation of society into Nullards - nicknamed
Boneheads by their opponents - and the hard-core of DP experts who
eventually became androids was irreversible.
With the growing power of the System, the Nullards were driven
underground, but their cult flourished. Their faith was the inspiration
behind the human rights movement, sustaining the hard-pressed biological
partisans in their guerrilla campaigns after the great popular risings
of the forties New Calendar, had been suppressed with bloody violence.
In the Nullard pantheon, two legendary figures stood out, only slightly
below the revered Tony Bony. One was Igor Gigotski, whose mathematical
theory of gigosis offered hope that the System could one day be beaten.
The other was Abraham Synapse, Hex's father, who not only extended
Gigotski's researches but also, when compelled to become an outlaw,
played an active part in the fight to preserve natural life forms from
the depredations of the System. Many myths were woven round his deeds
in the persona of Dr Null - until it became hard to distinguish fact
In the eight months between the destruction of the System and the birth
of Cleo's child, many changes took place, of which the most significant
was the establishment of Nullardy as a ruling theocracy. For Johnny
McNull, the failed electronic whizz-kid turned goatherd who had long
been a devout Nullard, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.
His curious speech impediment - which meant that he could only talk in
archaic phrases that sounded like quotations from the Bible - was no
longer laughed at. He left Sprocket's Hole to become an itinerant
preacher - his true vocation - and a hugely respected one.
People flocked from miles around to hear him tell of the death throes of
the System. He held audiences spellbound recounting Hex's incredible
exploits and moralising weightily on their consequences. Indeed, McNull
was mainly responsible for elevating Hex to the status of a minor folk
hero in the role of a prodigal made good.
Cleo and Lambda stayed at Sprocket's Hole with the impassive, and at
times inscrutable, Piltdown 2 to assist them. Despite Lambda's
antipathy towards Bill Bootstrap, Cleo persuaded her sister that he
could remain with them. Lambda assented essentially because he was no
longer a threat.
He was a spent force, having never really recovered his wits after the
Cleo nursed him back to some semblance of health, but his high-level
index had been corrupted. Now that there was no source of spare parts,
his condition could never greatly improve. Pitiful indeed is the fate
of the android who has had large chunks of brain tissue gouged out to
make room for micro-electronic circuitry which no longer works.
Bootstrap doddered about harmlessly, giving a new meaning to the term
absent-minded, his few bouts of lucidity cut painfully short by
intermittent memory parity failures, amusing himself by scratching words
whose import he no longer fully grasped like GOSUB and RETURN in the
sand with a stick. He was lucky in as much as, unlike so many of his
kind, he was still alive and kicking.
So their rustic existence took its tranquil course until the day that
Cleo suddenly stopped in her tracks and called out: "Lambda. Quick. I
think it's starting."
Now it so happened that on that very day McNull had strayed from his
customary by-ways and was close at hand. He had been led in the
direction of Sprocket's Hole by a strange sign which he had seen in the
sky the night before. While lying on his back out in the open gazing up
at the stars and pondering the infinite void, something had caught his
At first, he took it for a comet, but it moved too fast. Soon it became
clear that he was looking at a long stream of binary digits written in
the night sky, as he presumed, by the hand of God himself to guide him
towards some wondrous event.
What had in fact happened was that the star freighter Green Tangerine on
its journey from Zargon 7 to Omega Solaris had strayed slightly from its
course due to a rounding error in its navigational computer and was
passing unusually close to the earth.
McNull had seen the jetstream of digits spewed out at nearly the
velocity of light by the huge integer multipliers of its factorial drive
motors which hurled it across space by calculating the factorial of
factorial 10,000 in binary. All that night he followed the celestial
trail, and by morning when it faded he was so near Sprocket's Hole that
he decided to pay his friends there a visit.
As he rode up on his donkey he heard moans from one of the huts.
Suspecting foul play - for he too had never trusted Bill Bootstrap - he
dismounted and ran inside, just in time to witness the first breath of
the last Synapse.
"Look," said Lambda proudly, relieved that nothing had gone wrong with
the delivery. "It's a boy, a bonny bouncing boy." She held the little
creature up for him to admire.
"And so mine eyes have seen it come to pass, even as it was encoded
prophetically in the ancient storage media," replied McNull gnostically.
The baby started to howl.
What does fate hold in store for the new arrival?
By Richard Forsyth. From PRACTICAL COMPUTING, December 1980.
Cleo named her little boy Samson, after his father. The Hexadecimal Kid
had been known to almost everyone simply as Hex, but she had always
preferred his real name, Sam Synapse.
She asked McNull to be the baby's godfather. McNull, flattered by the
request, agreed readily, and his visits to Sprocket's Hole became much
more frequent. He took a keen interest in the boy's upbringing, and it
was only with great difficulty that Cleo persuaded him to keep secret
the boy's ancestry - for little Samson was a direct descendant of
Abraham Synapse, now revered as a Nullard saint.
So the infant grew into a youngster at Sprocket's Hole, looked after by
his mother and aunt, and visited frequently by Johnny McNull. There
were also in attendance Piltdown 2 and the shadowy figure of Bill
Every morning, Samson used to walk nearly six kilometres to the village
school in what had been the Silicon Valley human reservation, since
re-christened Happy Valley. His schoolmates teased him mercilessly
about the diabolical black arts - such as assembly-language programming
- rumoured to be practised by Bill Bootstrap when the moon was full.
Living on the fringe of events as they did, that was one of the few
signs they saw of the completeness with which the new orthodoxy of
Nullardy had won over the hearts and minds of the people.
Its effect on Samson was to change his attitude towards Bootstrap from
fear to curiosity. He was particularly puzzled by the way his mother
tolerated Bootstrap's presence while clearly disapproving of him.
One day, when he was 10 years old, he arrived home from school to find
Johnny McNull's donkey tethered outside the house. He stole in quietly
and found McNull in the kitchen chatting with his mother about the old
days before the System Crash.
That afternoon, some of the older children, who had been more fully
indoctrinated about the evils of computers, had taunted him in a
particularly vicious manner. One had even called him a bit-slice
processor. He hardly knew what they were talking about; so, since
McNull was reputed a wise teacher, he decided to try and discover.
"Hello Uncle," he said as he walked through the door, "what's a silicon
Both adults turned suddenly, taken aback by his unannounced entry.
There was a moment of cold silence.
"Hush, son," his mother admonished him. "Don't talk about such things.
Those days are over."
"But you were talking about those days. I know you were. I heard you."
McNull drew himself up to his full height, which was scarcely more than
the boy's and attempted to tower over him.
"Be thankful," he declaimed, "that thou art not tainted with the stains
of the past; for I tell thee that computers were the work of the devil.
That which men called the System was a great wickedness, a destroyer of
all mankind, and we must be for ever on our guard against any who seek
its return. Ask, therefore, no more on these matters, that thy
innocence be not corrupted."
Samson sat down rebuked. His mother started setting out his tea, and
tried to turn the conversation to other topics. Yet as he ate in
silence, he resolved to learn all he could about the forbidden secrets
of computing. There was only one person left to ask - the formidable
His opportunity arose a few days later while his mother and aunt were
busy in the vegetable garden and Piltdown 2 collecting firewood. He
observed Bootstrap slinking off towards the hills which bordered their
dwelling-place. He followed cautiously, well behind, and was struck
immediately by the change in Bootstrap's habitual demeanour. Instead of
the ambling shuffle of the doddering dotard, his stride was quick and
After 20 minutes or so, Bootstrap stopped by a large cedar tree and
looked around. Samson darted into the undergrowth, grazing both knees
as he dived. Peeping out, he saw that Bootstrap was digging under the
branches. Reckoning that his quarry was sufficiently engrossed, he
crept up for a closer look.
Abruptly Bootstrap turned on him. "What have you followed me here for?"
"I want to know about silicon chips," blurted out the young lad.
"So you're interested in microprocessors, are you?" A rare smile
creased the android's features. "Well, you've come to the right place.
Just stay there and watch."
Bootstrap resumed his digging. Soon he unearthed a large wooden chest,
bound with ropes. He untied them and flung open the lid.
"There you are," he declared. "Gaze your fill. You won't see much of
that around these days."
It was a veritable treasure chest. Samson was staring down at possibly
the finest collection of microelectronic hardware still in existence.
There were ROMs, RAMs, EAROMs, PROMs, UARTs, LEDs, processors of various
technologies - Schottky TTL, NMOS, PMOS, CMOS and I2L - circuit boards,
motherboards, disc-controller cards, a colour TV with video-dazzler
interface, heaps and heaps of floppy discs and - most valuable of all,
though he did not know it at the time - 50 back copies of the CP/M User
Even the carpentry was impressive. There was a place for everything,
and everything was carefully put away in its proper place. There were
boxes within boxes, neat little sliding partitions and shelves for the
software manuals. He was looking at a decade of dedicated work.
Bootstrap drew out a pinewood box with a touch-sensitive keypad engraved
on its upper surface, connected it to the TV set and slotted an 8in.
floppy into its side.
"Go ahead," he urged, "try it: type J0000."
Gingerly, Samson obeyed. The screen flickered, then the message 'CP/M
Version 23.04M, Copyright Mae West Software Shop' appeared, followed by
the question 'Menu (Y/N)?'
"Not bad, eh?" enquired Bootstrap. "Menu-driven CP/M. I modified it
myself. What you are looking at there is the Moonshine Micro - a
scientific business system on a chip. You want word processing? You
want high-resolution colour graphics? They are right here. You want
screen-based editing with full cursor control and programmable forward
and reverse scrolling? Just press one key."
Samson was not sure he wanted editing with full cursor control, still
less programmable forward and reverse scrolling, but he nodded
appreciatively. He had tapped a rich seam of high-pressure sales patter
in the normally taciturn Bootstrap, who had for so long been forced to
hide his true colours. Now that he had found an audience - albeit a
poorly-informed one - years of repressed jargon gushed out like a
geyser. Samson just let the buzzwords flow over him. When at length
the flood abated he asked "can it play Space Invaders?"
Bootstrap tapped his forehead with the inside of his palm. "We have
indexed sequential file-handling; we have PL/I; we have
multi-processing; we have stock control; we have payroll; we have
nominal ledger, bought ledger, sales ledger and general ledger; we have
compilers, interpreters, assemblers and more text editors than a cat has
fleas; we even have a chess program better than Bobby Fischer - but
does he want to see them? Oh no, he wants to play Space Invaders."
"So it doesn't have Space Invaders?" concluded the boy, disappointed.
Well does it?
By Richard Forsyth. From PRACTICAL COMPUTING, January 1981.
Young Samson's fatal curiosity about computers has led him to Bill
Bootstrap's buried hoard of semiconductor components. There, Bootstrap
proudly unveils his creation, the Moonshine Micro, and tries to dazzle
him with terminology, but Samson is unimpressed. What he wants to know
is whether it can play Space Invaders.
"Sure, it can play Space Invaders. It has at least 13 versions - two of
them in ROM. Here," Bootstrap tossed over a stack of discs. "The best
version's among those."
Some of the discs fell on to the sand beside him, making Bootstrap
glower ferociously at his clumsiness. Samson scrabbled around, quickly
putting them in a pile again though he shuffled them in the process.
Then he started rummaging through them. There was a cross-assembler for
the PDP-11, a sort-merge package, an accounting suite and several colour
graphics demonstration programs. It was not until the last disc but one
that he found one labelled Mae West Catalog #0000 - Star Wars, Star
Trek, Space Invaders, Galactic Warfare.
He handed it to Bootstrap, who shook his head and gave it back.
"What's that in your hand?" asked Bootstrap.
Samson read out the label of the last disc: "Mae West #0001 - Star
Wars, Star Trek, Space Invaders, Galactic Warfare: this one works."
"That's the one you want," said Bill Bootstrap.
Soon the hillside was ringing with the thin electronic screeches of
alien spacecraft exploding.
After an entertaining afternoon spent destroying spaceships, planets -
including earth - alien civilisations and entire galaxies, they packed
up, covered the chest with earth and trudged back home.
As they walked Bootstrap explained in detail to the uncomprehending boy
the prodigious feats of improvisation into which he had been forced by
the lack of proper equipment.
Even before they drew in sight, Samson sensed that something was wrong,
and when they crested the ridge overlooking Sprocket's Hole, he saw what
it was: more than 100 villagers from Happy Valley had congregated round
the wooden houses armed with hoes, machetes and scythes. It was a
Nullard vigilante party.
They had already been seen, so there was no sense in turning back. When
they reached the welcoming committee, the gang-leader stepped forward
and pointed at Bootstrap: "You are accused of heresy. What is your
Samson looked anxiously for his mother, but couldn't see her in the
crowd. Bootstrap said nothing to the charge. He just stood staring
defiantly at his accuser.
"Speak now metal man," ordered the leader waving his pitchfork, "in the
name of Tony Bony."
"Tony Bony was a phoney," spat Bootstrap, eyes narrowed. His answer
condemned him at once. There was no longer any need even for the
pretence of a trial. The mob surged forward, shouting angrily, and
Samson found himself grabbed by a pair of strong hands. Bootstrap
meanwhile was subdued, kicking and struggling, under a ruck of bodies.
When he had finally been overpowered, the leader gave orders for a fire
to be built, and many eager hands began gathering brushwood.
The irony was that it was a flash of human bitterness which had betrayed
the android. By feigning dementia - a role he had maintained
successfully for 10 years - he might well have escaped with a tarring
and feathering or a beating. He might even have been hauled before an
ecclesiastical tribunal, as was his right in Nullard law, for an
If he had been a purely rational calculating engine, that would have
been the obvious course. Yet if he had been that, he would never have
survived the Great System Crash. Here was a man, or rather a
man/machine system, who had had an entire cerebral hemisphere excised to
make space for electrological equipment which had been rendered defunct
at a stroke - leaving him partially paralysed, unable to speak
coherently and, in short, a mental wreck.
His very survival to that date was a testimony to the extraordinary
recuperative powers of the human brain. Such had been the tenacity of
his biological half that he had clawed his way back to near-normality -
though without betraying his recovery with any outward sign.
He had even reached a position where he could effect some repairs on the
hardware side, which he did by scouring the country for abandoned robot
and android corpses whose precious semiconductor components, if they
were in working order, he cannibalised.
He owed his life to his humanity, to the fact that he had been
imperfectly cybernated which was why he had been exiled to Sprocket's
Hole in the first place; but this served only to increase his poisonous
resentment towards the human race. Now, in a sense, that debt was being
When he had been securely bound and dumped on the top of the bonfire,
the leader stood holding a burning brand and asked him if he had
anything to say before he died.
"The System is dead, long live the System," cried the android.
The leader bent down and lit the pyre. Samson turned away, but the grip
on his shoulders tightened and he was forced around. "No sonny," said a
voice from above, "you watch. See what happens to those who dabble in
Not another sound escaped the android's lips as the flames licked
upwards. He just stared fixedly at Samson. Samson knew that he was
being entrusted with the safekeeping of the Moonshine Micro and its
When the fire died down, the crowd began milling around, and some melted
away into the gathering dusk. There was no longer a focus for them.
The man who had been holding Samson walked off, and at last his mother
rushed over to him. She had been locked in the house before his
arrival, and only just released.
Before all the people had dispersed, however, a voice called out: "What
about the boy?"
"Yes," chimed in another. "He must know something about it." Suddenly
Samson felt many eyes boring into him. The mob leader reappeared.
"Perhaps you'd like to tell us, young man, what you were doing with that
heretic? Where did all those noises come from?"
Samson swallowed hard.
"What's the matter? Devil got your tongue?"
"Leave him alone," cried Cleo. "He's too young to understand."
"I think he understands me all right. Don't you, you little computer
freak?" There was menace in his voice.
At that moment McNull barged through the encircling ring of bodies. He
held up his hand. "Harm not the boy, for I say unto you all that
whosoever harms so much as one hair of his head shall be cast into
McNull's words silenced them for a moment, but then the ringleader
turned on him. "How come you know so much Holy Man?" he asked with a
sneer. "You've been hobnobbing with a heretic." A murmur of agreement
buzzed round the crowd. Cleo clasped her son more tightly to her.
Cannot even preacher McNull's eloquence prevail over the ugly mood of
Follow the adventures of Samson Synapse next month.
By Richard Forsyth. From PRACTICAL COMPUTING, February 1981.
Bill Bootstrap has been burned to death for heresy against the Nullard
faith. Now young Samson Synapse stands accused of being a computer
freak. Even preacher McNull, it seems, cannot by his oratory assuage
the rabble's thirst for blood.
The leader of the gang repeated his question. "Answer me boy. Were you
or were you not in collusion with that android?"
Samson could find nothing to say.
"Leave us in peace," cried Cleo desperately. "How can a child know
anything about computers?"
The interrogator's lips began to frame another question when a large
hand covered in dark fur settled on his shoulder and moved him firmly
aside. It was Piltdown 2, whose return had not been noticed in the
The imperturbable ape-man picked up Samson as though he were a bag of
shopping and marched through the stunned spectators holding the boy
head-high. The crowd parted to let him pass. For a moment no-one
"Let that be a lesson to you," said the gang-leader to Cleo, but it was
mere bluster to save face. Even as he spoke, his followers started to
drift away into the darkness.
When the last of them had gone, Cleo and McNull joined Piltdown 2 in
their cabin. Samson was sitting on a bed, unharmed but still very
frightened. Cleo stamped three times on the floor as a signal to Lambda
that the coast was clear. Two of the floorboards creaked into the air
and out popped Lambda's head. She squeezed herself stiffly out, then
sat down and tried to massage some life back into her limbs.
The incidents of that night had a profound effect on everyone at
Sprocket's Hole - especially the boy. At first they feared a second
attack and spent the next few nights planning their defence, but it
seemed that the presence of Piltdown 2 was enough to deter aggression,
and no raid materialised. They were merely shunned.
Samson ceased to attend the village school in Happy Valley, and they
became increasingly isolated from the rest of the world. Even McNull's
popularity as a preacher waned, so that he had either to travel great
distances to places where he was now known or else stay at home to avoid
being howled down. Consequently his trips became longer and less
They were thrown back on their own resources. They could not even go
down to the local community to exchange produce. Everything they ate
had to be grown or caught by themselves. If Sprocket's Hole had not
been built round a reliable well of pure artesian water, they could not
have survived. Its fresh water supply enabled them to irrigate the
surrounding semi-arid land.
The imperative need for self-reliance meant that Samson, who had no more
schoolwork to do, spent his time increasingly in their vegetable patch,
which they enlarged considerably. That led him to a discovery that he
possessed green fingers of a most remarkable kind.
Wild apples grew plentifully in the hill sides around, but the trek to
gather them and bring them home was a long one, so Samson decided on his
own initiative to plant some appleseeds and tend them till they had an
orchard of their own. He chose a spot several 100 paces from their
house, sheltered from view by a clump of boulders and some scrub bushes,
and watered them carefully as they grew into saplings. He told no one
in case his experiment failed, for their main problem was a poor sandy
However, they grew exceptionally well, and he began to rise early to
look after them. He did not want anyone to see his budding plantation
until he was ready to present them with an armful of apples and reap the
praise due to his independent endeavours. It was fortunate that he was
so secretive for, not many weeks after their planting, he rose to find
that his seedlings had already borne fruit.
It was an apple grove all right, but the fruit was totally inedible.
The branches were laden with floppy discs. He gazed in amazement at row
upon row of them, each in its slim green envelope, swaying gently in the
Most astonishing of all, one tree at the end, its branches bent almost
to the ground by the weight, was carrying Volume I of the Biosoft Users'
Manual. He went straight over to peruse it, turning to the first
chapter entitled, in the irritatingly jokey style of such documents, How
not to Swallow your PIP, Peripheral Interchange Program.
What had happened was the culmination of a long-term maturation process
set in train immediately prior to the final collapse of the System when
Mike Rose had injected Cleo with the computing virus. Its DNA had been
genetically programmed with the germ of the Future System. The dosage
of this micro-programmed micro-organism had been insufficient to affect
Cleo, but it had passed right through the placenta to her unborn foetus.
For 11 years it had lain dormant in Samson, its unknowing host. Now,
perhaps triggered by the shock the youngster had received, it had taken
the first hesitant steps towards its ultimate goal which, was nothing
less than world dominion - the transformation of all life on earth into
one vast, organic distributed-processing system.
Samson heard stirrings from the house. He knew he had to act fast. If
any of the Nullards discovered what he had done this time, not even
Piltdown 2 could save him. He could not even trust his mother with the
secret, let alone McNull. He needed a hiding place for his strange
As quickly as he could, he gathered his extraordinary crop and set off
into the hills. He had not dared re-visit the buried cache of computer
components since the day of Bootstrap's death over six months ago. Yet
deep in his heart, beneath the fear and guilt, he had always known he
would be going back there. Now his feet took him directly to the place.
He had just time to put the floppies and the manual in the chest under
the cedar tree, cover it again and rush home to be late for breakfast.
He accepted his mother's scolding without protest, evading all enquiries
about where he had been.
All day long he was preoccupied. He could think of nothing except his
secret store of software, waiting for him in the hills. Time passed
with agonising slowness but at last, after night had fallen and everyone
else in the house was abed, he was able to steal out into the moonlight.
Up in the hills there was nothing to disturb him, only the broad silence
of the desert night, broken occasionally by the call of a coyote.
By Richard Forsyth. From PRACTICAL COMPUTING, March 1981.
>o-O u ©1999
>Up in the hills there was nothing to disturb him, only the broad silence
>of the desert night, broken occasionally by the call of a coyote.
The tension builds...
I'm having a mojor nostalge over PIP. :)
~jacaranda mhm23x7 ~jaca...@aliceshouse.freeuk.com
And if I die before I wake up
I pray the Lord don't smudge my makeup
Samson gave himself up to the subtle seductiveness of software
completely. His secret night-time visits to the cedar wood where
Bootstrap had hidden the moonshine micro became more frequent. Thanks
to Bootstrap's acquisitiveness and his own green fingers, he possessed
the finest micro laboratory in the world.
There he taught himself Basic and several assemblers, and there he spent
many happy hours entranced by the musical whirr of discs in their drives
or devouring back issues of the CP/M User Group Newsletter - otherwise
known as the Gary Kildall Fan Club Magazine.
The brilliant flame of forbidden knowledge shone into the crevices of
his mind like the glare from an atomic explosion. It took him over.
Computing became the focal point of his life. Programming was his
opium: if a day went by without a line of coding, his hands would
tremble and his limbs begin to twitch. He even started constructing
simple microcircuits from some plans Bootstrap had left behind, though
he was hampered by a shortage of solder.
Meanwhile, his behaviour at home became increasingly eccentric. His
mother was worried and Johnny McNull grew deeply suspicious. Samson's
nocturnal outings took their toll - there were black bags under his
eyes, and his conversation was absent-minded to the point of idiocy.
Sometimes he dozed off at the table in the middle of a meal from sheer
Preoccupied with the mental dance of registers and stack-pointers, he
became lazy in his work on the family plot, where before he had been an
energetic and eager little boy. His relations with the rest of the
household took a turn for the worse. McNull in particular was angered
by the change that had come over him.
His home life would have been under strain anyway at that time, for his
mother was pregnant once more. Her relationship with McNull, who now
spent virtually all his time with them, had ripened over the years in an
unspectacular fashion. Though nothing had ever been said, it was
accepted that he was the man about the house and, in effect, Samson's
The imminent arrival of a new baby, combined with his own erratic
behaviour, distanced him from his mother; and his relationship with
McNull deteriorated badly. He had never had much truck with Piltdown 2,
so that left only Lambda to talk to.
"Aunt Lambda," he enquired one day, trying to sound off-hand, "you know
when you have a PI/O attached to the interrupt line of a Z-80
"Yes," she answered guardedly, giving him a quizzical look.
"Well, how do you make it hold the signal on the second channel if it's
already busy with the first one?"
"Now why should you want to know a thing like that?" she replied with a
wry smile, and the conversation was at an end.
During the period leading up to the birth, he kept up his experiments in
vegetable cultivation on a small scale. He had his own little
plantation at a discreet distance, well concealed from the house. He
was not really worried that it would be discovered.
His main concern was that he would inadvertently affect some of his
mother's vegetables and give the game away. That happened only once,
when a row of runner beans started sprouting RS232 interfaces and he was
forced to take the blame for the destruction of their entire bean crop.
In his own patch, there was nothing as dramatic as his first effort with
the apple trees, though one myrtle bush surprised him by growing a
plastic leaf with straight edges which was to prove useful later. On
one side, it had the words, American Express, embossed in blue lettering
with his own name underneath. On the reverse, it bore the legend, I
promise to provide the bearer, on demand, anything he can credit.
Not knowing what to do with it, he popped it in his back pocket and kept
it for luck. It had a reassuring feel to it, and when he brought it out
and waved it about he felt oddly self-confident.
On one plant he lavished particular affection. It grew from a cutting
he saved when he had to uproot his original apple orchard. He put it in
a pot and kept it on the window ledge of his bedroom. Sometimes, he
would sit gazing abstractedly at the delicate tracery of its branches
spreading outwards and upwards from the smooth green surface of moss at
its base. On one of these occasions McNull barged in.
"Wherefore doest thou waste time sitting up here?" he demanded. "If
thou wouldst do something of value the potato beds need weeding."
"This is the Binary Tree of Knowledge," declared Samson, still half in
"Talk not of such things," warned McNull, "for fear the Nullards hear of
it; and if they take thee this time, I shall not try to save thee."
"You didn't save me last time."
"I said I shall not try," answered McNull. Then he turned and swept out
of the room.
Samson waited until his footsteps faded, then rushed to his bed and
lifted the mattress to reveal a few precious sheets of notepaper.
Looking at the branching of his tree had suddenly given him an idea for
a new sorting procedure.
So busy was he with his tree-sort routine that he did not notice the
rumpus downstairs which started a few minutes later, nor the fact that
McNull had returned.
McNull took one look at what he was doing and snatched the papers away.
"Hey," he expostulated. "I need those."
"Others have needs greater than thine," replied McNull. "Hasten to thy
mother's side. Do as thine aunt commands, for the child is shortly to
be born." Cleo's labour had begun.
"What about my subroutine?" Samson demanded.
McNull turned to face him and, very deliberately, tore it to shreds in
front of his eyes. Something in Samson's head clicked at that moment.
He looked up at his stepfather and saw an enemy. Grudgingly, Samson
Soon both he and McNull were scurrying about under Lambda's direction,
fetching water, heating up pails, rushing about with clean linen and
bumping into one another.
The baby was born late at night. It was a little girl. McNull held her
up and made a long speech no one could understand while Lambda looked on
beaming. Cleo sat propped up by pillows looking somewhat stupefied.
Samson was left to do most of the clearing-up. There seemed to be an
awful amount of blood. He did not like any of it - the blood, his
mother's moans, McNull's speechifying.
Lambda swaddled the baby and put it in its cot. It slept at once and
the whole household settled down to rest, but Samson could not sleep. A
strange hunger gnawed at his entrails. After what seemed like hours of
restless tossing and turning, he crept downstairs.
He peered at the little infant, sleeping so peacefully by candlelight.
Only its head and one plump shoulder were showing from its wrappings.
Samson licked his lips. He stared at one tiny blue vein in its neck,
trembling like a butterfly's wing.
An animal compulsion took hold of him. He bared his teeth and bent
down, his eyes feasting on the succulent new-born flesh.
Has Dracula risen from the grave?
By Richard Forsyth. From PRACTICAL COMPUTING, April 1981.
>An animal compulsion took hold of him. He bared his teeth and bent
>down, his eyes feasting on the succulent new-born flesh.
>Has Dracula risen from the grave?
This is getting <shudder> scary.
Do I need a sofa to hide behind for the next instalment?
Or is the baby, after being bitten by Samson, going to start excreting
>>An animal compulsion took hold of him. He bared his teeth and bent
>>down, his eyes feasting on the succulent new-born flesh.
>>Has Dracula risen from the grave?
>This is getting <shudder> scary.
>Do I need a sofa to hide behind for the next instalment?
You can imagine what it was like having to wait a whole *month* for each
OTOH, it was more of an in-joke at the time, and the nostalgia aspect
didn't come into it.
>Or is the baby, after being bitten by Samson, going to start excreting
Find out, next week. :)
>>>An animal compulsion took hold of him. He bared his teeth and bent
>>>down, his eyes feasting on the succulent new-born flesh.
>>>Has Dracula risen from the grave?
>>This is getting <shudder> scary.
>>Do I need a sofa to hide behind for the next instalment?
>You can imagine what it was like having to wait a whole *month* for each
Oh, yes. I waited a year for the third book in the "Schrodinger's
Cat" trilogy to be published. Have you ever tried spending 365 days
with constantly-bated breath?
>OTOH, it was more of an in-joke at the time, and the nostalgia aspect
>didn't come into it.
There seem to be in-jokes within the in-joke that are indecipherable
to one who wasn't *there*, then. It's still a rattling good yarn,
>>Or is the baby, after being bitten by Samson, going to start excreting
>Find out, next week. :)
That's my guess. 10 Reichstaler says I'm right.
The cry of Samson's baby sister split the night. Cleo sat up in bed.
"Samson, is that you? What are you doing?"
Samson ran upstairs to his room and bolted the door. He was shaking.
Shame and revulsion at what he had done swept over him. Quickly he
pulled on his shoes. Downstairs there was quite a commotion. The baby
was still crying, and Cleo was trying to soothe it. He could hear
McNull's raised voice and Cleo telling him to be quiet. Presently,
there came the sound of footsteps on the stairs. There was a knock.
"Samson, come out." The door handle rattled. Samson backed towards the
The door would not budge. There was a pause. Then he heard his aunt's
voice giving a command to Piltdown 2 in Esperanto. The wooden latch
began to bend and crack.
Samson did not wait for it to break. Clutching his precious potted
plant he leapt out of the window and plummeted into the sand beneath.
He picked himself up, shook off the dust, and tore off into the hills.
He ran until he could no longer hear the confusion of shouts behind him.
Next morning he took stock. He was too proud to go home, and would not
be welcome there in any case. To visit a Nullard Village, even where he
was not known, would be to court death. Yet he had no idea how to
survive on his own in the wild. He was a dab hand with a soldering iron
and a wizard at machine code but what he needed now was food and drink.
He was already feeling thirsty.
The more he thought about it, the more depressing it seemed. There was
only one thing to do. He switched on the Moonshine Micro, sat down at
its keyboard and slotted a pair of his home-grown floppies into the disc
drives. The drives hummed and the screen filled up with a cloud of
menacing crater-pitted asteroids rushing towards him at alarming speed,
cleverly projected to give an illusion of depth. It was his favourite -
Soon he was lost among the meteorites, oblivious to the cares of the
world. The counter at the top corner of the screen clicked up and up as
he manoeuvred his way through the meteor swarm. He was at the helm of a
great spacecraft which leaped and turned in response to fingertip
pressure, weaving past the onrushing planets and zapping any alien ships
foolish enough to cross his path.
Higher and higher climbed the score. He was intoxicated. Now he was
destroying everything in his path - comets, moons, planets even stars
with the touch of a button as he raced to the ends of the galaxy.
Suddenly a cracking twig brought him down to earth again. The sound,
though quiet, stood out from the shrill electronic bleeps of his video
game. He looked around. His eyes probed the chinks in the foliage.
Was it just a rustle of leaves in the wind?
That moment of inattention had cost him the game. His starship had
ploughed straight into a neutron star. Now the screen was a field of
little dots of light, twinkling serenely. On the bottom line was an
invitation for him to record his name for posterity. Despite his lapse
of concentration he had beaten the previous top score by a substantial
As he tapped in his initials he heard another twig snap. This time he
was sure: he could feel someone's eyes on his back. He sprang up and
pushed aside the overhanging branches. For an uncomfortable second he
was eyeball-to-eyeball with a coarse face. The brow was furrowed in a
leering frown and the eyes filled with distrust. Then it fled.
He watched the figure, clad in ragged furs, loping down away from him.
It was one of the village lads from Happy Valley.
"But what the Hell was he doing up here?" Samson asked the heavens out
loud. Perhaps the intruder had been out fur-trapping and had overheard
the Astro-Pinball sound effects. Perhaps he had been minding sheep and
one of them had strayed. The answer did not matter. What was certain
was that he would head back to his folks and tell them what he had seen.
A Nullard search party would be on its way before nightfall.
Meanwhile, far out in the frigid vacuum beyond the orbit of Pluto, the
space freighter Green Tangerine drifted helplessly out of control. Her
metal sides glinted dully in the faint light from the distant pinprick
of fire that was our sun as she rolled ponderously end over end.
On the foredeck, Prestel, the ship's parrot and commanding officer, had
called the two most senior of the mutant cybernoids who crewed the ship
to him for an explanation. He directed his questioning at the first
mate, an experienced veteran of the space lanes.
"Rom, what's the meaning of this?"
"Navigational computer sir. That cosmic ray storm put the refresh
circuits out of action."
"Well, can't you fix them? What about the back-up modules?"
"Same problem, sir, we've tried. We'll have to take her to Arcturus
under manual control."
Prestel gnashed his beak in frustration. He thought of the long haul to
the repair depot at Arcturus, limping along under manual guidance. It
would take an eternity.
"Do you realise what we're carrying on this trip?"
Rom had no idea. He had been surprised and annoyed by the obsessive
precautions during loading on Zargon 7. A security guard had
machine-handled him off his own ship when he came aboard early
"Well I'll tell you. There's no point in secrecy any more. We have a
cargo of half-baked ideas to replenish the dwindling supply at Omega
Solaris. It is vital we get them through before they go stale."
Rom drew in a long breath. So that was it. Now he understood the
reason for all the cloak-and-dagger stuff in port. If the supply of
half-baked ideas to the Think Tank in Omega Solaris dried up, it would
throw the whole galaxy into chaos.
There was silence. Prestel shifted from claw to claw on his perch.
"Well?" asked Prestel.
"Permission to make a suggestion sir?" chimed in Ram, the other
cybernoid, who had held his peace so far.
Prestel leaned forward. "Yes?"
"I was checking the instruments after the radiation storm to inspect for
damage when I noticed something interesting."
"The sensors detected evidence of intelligent life on the third planet
of the local stellar system."
"Intelligent life on Terra Firma? It must be an instrument failure."
"With the greatest respect sir, there's only one configuration of
signals which indicates a score of more than 10 billion on
Astro-Pinball. I'd know that pattern anywhere."
"Astro-Pinball," murmured Prestel as he chewed over this nugget of
information. Even their shipboard computer had an Astro-Pinball rating
of less than 5 billion. As for Rom, he wasn't in the same league. A
pilot of that calibre, if one truly existed, could not merely get them
to their destination on time but ahead of schedule. He, Prestel, would
be showered in glory.
He spoke to Rom and Ram. "You two are going on a little recruiting
"Understand sir," they replied in unison, and started heading towards
the exit hatches at the stern of the ship.
"Oh, and Ram - "
"Yes sir," said Ram, pausing at the door.
"You'd better be right."
"I am sir."
"Good. Because if you're not back with your Pinball Wizard within four
temporal units we'll blast off without you."
By Richard Forsyth. From PRACTICAL COMPUTING, May 1981.
> >>An animal compulsion took hold of him. He bared his teeth and bent
> >>down, his eyes feasting on the succulent new-born flesh.
> >>Has Dracula risen from the grave?
> >This is getting <shudder> scary.
> >Do I need a sofa to hide behind for the next instalment?
> You can imagine what it was like having to wait a whole *month* for each
I'm gald I don't have too :)
> OTOH, it was more of an in-joke at the time, and the nostalgia aspect
> didn't come into it.
> >Or is the baby, after being bitten by Samson, going to start excreting
> >solder? :)
> Find out, next week. :)
I missed the first one due to my opposites resemblance to a pig
playing a piano as he sits before a PC :(
Man resembling a pig playing a piano: "There was a mail for you"
Man resembling a pig playing a piano: "Yes...but it dissappeared!"
me: "Oh....er... who was it from?"
Man resembling a pig playing a piano: "oh yes, there was a name in
the author box"
Me: "...?...and what was the name?"
Man resembling a pig playing a piano: replied "I don't remember but
it was humours"
>> >>An animal compulsion took hold of him. He bared his teeth and bent
>> >>down, his eyes feasting on the succulent new-born flesh.
>> >>Has Dracula risen from the grave?
>> >This is getting <shudder> scary.
>> >Do I need a sofa to hide behind for the next instalment?
>> You can imagine what it was like having to wait a whole *month* for each
>I'm gald I don't have too :)
>> OTOH, it was more of an in-joke at the time, and the nostalgia aspect
>> didn't come into it.
>> >Or is the baby, after being bitten by Samson, going to start excreting
>> >solder? :)
>> Find out, next week. :)
>I missed the first one due to my opposites resemblance to a pig
>playing a piano as he sits before a PC :(
>Man resembling a pig playing a piano: "There was a mail for you"
>Man resembling a pig playing a piano: "Yes...but it dissappeared!"
Don't you just hate those "disappearing" type mail readers? :|
>me: "Oh....er... who was it from?"
>Man resembling a pig playing a piano: "oh yes, there was a name in
>the author box"
>Me: "...?...and what was the name?"
>Man resembling a pig playing a piano: replied "I don't remember but
>it was humours"
You were very restrained. :)
Is this the one you missed? (It was posted on 19-Oct-1999.)
REPOST: Son of Hexadecimal Kid
By Richard Forsyth. From PRACTICAL COMPUTING, March 1981.
>o-O u ©1999
>By Richard Forsyth. From PRACTICAL COMPUTING, May 1981.
That bout of DogPox(tm) seems to have given my memory a whuppin', 'cos I
forgot to crawl out of my sick-bed to post SoHK stories.
ObaroonnianApology: fuck you.
DogPox(tm) is a trademark of EC Bioagents (Gruinard) plc.
Samson had to act fast. First he buried his equipment, though he had
little hope of ever returning to reclaim it. Then he tucked his potted
plant under his arm and set off further up into the hills. He reasoned
that the wilder the terrain, the less chance a search party had of
finding him. Fortunately, he soon arrived at a little mountain stream
where he was able to slake his thirst.
He hiked along for some hours, trying to put plenty of distance between
himself and the rest of humanity, before he heard the barking. His
heart sank. He wriggled on his belly along a rocky outcrop from where
he could get a good view of the lower slopes. By now, he was above the
tree line and it did not require very sharp eyes to pick out five or six
figures, each with a tracker dog, combing the hillside beneath. The
Nullards were on his scent in record time.
There was nowhere to go but up, and he was near the summit. It was a
flat-capped mountain, and soon he was alone on a small plateau which was
bare except for a few weather-beaten bushes. Not much of a hiding
place, he thought. So he ran across, intending to descend the opposite
side. He was brought up short, peering over the edge of a dizzying
precipice. His little tableland was ringed round by cliffs.
"Lord above," he breathed.
Rarely has a prayer, if it was a prayer, been answered so promptly.
Just then his ears caught a faint hum. Looking up he saw what appeared
to be a large Halloween pumpkin, streaked with green hovering overhead.
It descended in the middle of the little plateau, kicking up a cloud of
When the dust had settled he saw that a panel in its side had folded
down to form a ramp down which two supermarket trolleys were rolling.
"Identify yourself," peeped one of the trolleys as it trundled over
towards him, "or be evaporated."
As it moved closer, Samson could see that the shopping basket was
actually a rack in which rows of printed circuit boards were slotted.
"I'm Samson Synapse. I need your help."
"Identification inadequate - incomplete job description," answered the
trolley, swivelling a parabolic reflector menacingly in his direction.
For a moment he wondered if the Nullards with their dogs were not
preferable after all; but then he had a flash of inspiration.
"Take me to your leader," commanded Samson, whipping out his American
Express card and holding it up like a referee sending off a dissident
"Yes, master, we obey," piped the cybernoids together, and escorted him
up the gangplank.
"I'll hang on to this," thought Samson.
The Nullard posse arrived just in time to be eye witnesses as Samson was
borne off into the clouds in what looked like an unripe melon. Thus
another colourful thread was woven into the rich tapestry of legend
which was to become the saga of Samson Synapse.
Back on the mothership Prestel hopped from one end of his perch to the
other in impatience. The docking procedure was nearly complete and he
was preparing to give Rom and Ram a chewing-over. He now saw that the
whole idea of a talent-scouting expedition was a non-starter, and to cap
it all they had returned so quickly they could scarcely have looked for
the Space Ace, let alone found one - even in the improbable event that
one lived on that primitive planet.
When the docking ports opened his fears were confirmed. They had
brought back a featherless biped. It was an immature specimen, not even
worth putting in a zoo.
"You're going to suffer for this," he began, fixing Ram with a cold
Sensing a frosty reception, Samson pulled out his trusty credit card.
"Kindly take me to the control room," he said.
Prestel gave a smile of exquisitely obsequious servitude. "Why yes sir,
of course, sir. Come this way please." He was led straight to the
bridge. When he saw the flight deck Samson's eyes boggled.
"The real thing at last." He sat down in the co-pilot's seat, buckled
on his safety harness and threw the ship into Factorial overdrive. The
pipelined integer addition units purred into life, supplying large
Fibonacci numbers to the multiplicative boosters. Samson felt a kick in
the back as supercharged digits streamed out of the rear at full thrust.
The ship lurched. Rom and Ram were flung sprawling against a cabin
"Exhibitionist," muttered Rom under his breath.
Prestel fluttered over to perch on the back of Samson's chair.
"Octal pieces," cackled the parrot, apparently content that
responsibility for their safe arrival had been taken out of his claws.
For the ship was in good hands. Samson's amazing score at Astro-Pinball
had been no fluke. Stowed away in the genetic coding of his DNA was a
vector processor of astounding sophistication - his legacy from the
System. When it was a question of pushing a spacecraft to its limits,
he had no rivals in the world and precious few on other worlds, though
he had no idea how he did it.
Yet, a novice pilot, even a greatly talented one, must expect a few
mishaps to start with, and Samson was heading for his first.
It was Ram who spotted the danger. "Look out," he cried as the
unearthly surface of Neptune's largest moon loomed up on the short-range
It was too late to change tack. Samson reached forward calmly as he had
many times on the Moonshine Micro and tapped out the "bulk erase"
command on the console. The scanner screen cleared miraculously. All
that was left in front of them was a little red sign saying "TILT". Rom
and Ram looked at each other in awe. Soon they were winging their way
through the void, with Ram calling out a re-computed course for the
Lesser Magellanic Cloud.
Earth was at a low cultural ebb at that time, but the disappearance of
Neptune's satellite Triton, the most massive in the solar system, did
not go completely unnoticed. Most observers took it as a religious
sign; but one stargazer who very nearly hit upon the right explanation
was Johnny McNull.
He poked his head into the kitchen at Sprocket's Hole, having just
witnessed the celestial firework display occasioned by Triton's
dematerialisation, and pronounced portentiously: "Those that have been
with us are now gone far away, and that which had been mighty is now set
at naught, even in the twinkling of an eye; for when the time for
Deletion arrives, even the stars in their courses shall be swept from
"Do come in and sit down dear," admonished Cleo, "your supper's getting
More food for thought next month.
By Richard Forsyth. From PRACTICAL COMPUTING, June 1981.
(Postponed from 08-Nov-1999.)
>That bout of seems to have given my memory a whuppin', 'cos I
>forgot to crawl out of my sick-bed to post SoHK stories.
According to my calculations, if I post one every two days, we should
finish on crimbo eve, which is approximately our original scheduled
date, 20-Dec-1999. :)
>>By Richard Forsyth. From PRACTICAL COMPUTING, May 1981.
>That bout of DogPox(tm) seems to have given my memory a whuppin', 'cos I
>forgot to crawl out of my sick-bed to post SoHK stories.
The Great aroonn DogPox(tm) epidemic would probably have prevented the
series' fans from reading it, anyway.
>ObaroonnianApology: fuck you.
Think nothing of it. :)
>DogPox(tm) is a trademark of EC Bioagents (Gruinard) plc.
Now with the new "Groundhog Day" feature. Just when you seem to have got
over it - <hack! cough! bleeargh!>
And if I die before I wake up
I pray the Lord don't smudge my makeup <B>:</B>
>>That bout of seems to have given my memory a whuppin', 'cos I
>>forgot to crawl out of my sick-bed to post SoHK stories.
>According to my calculations, if I post one every two days, we should
>finish on crimbo eve, which is approximately our original scheduled
>date, 20-Dec-1999. :)
That's good news. :)
Good for a relaxed Christmas re-read of the whole series.
>>>By Richard Forsyth. From PRACTICAL COMPUTING, May 1981.
>>That bout of DogPox(tm) seems to have given my memory a whuppin', 'cos I
>>forgot to crawl out of my sick-bed to post SoHK stories.
>The Great aroonn DogPox(tm) epidemic would probably have prevented the
>series' fans from reading it, anyway.
>>ObaroonnianApology: fuck you.
>Think nothing of it. :)
>>DogPox(tm) is a trademark of EC Bioagents (Gruinard) plc.
>Now with the new "Groundhog Day" feature. Just when you seem to have got
>over it - <hack! cough! bleeargh!>
You should try rubbing some Goose Goop on that.
>>>>By Richard Forsyth. From PRACTICAL COMPUTING, May 1981.
>>>That bout of DogPox(tm) seems to have given my memory a whuppin', 'cos I
>>>forgot to crawl out of my sick-bed to post SoHK stories.
>>The Great aroonn DogPox(tm) epidemic would probably have prevented the
>>series' fans from reading it, anyway.
>>>ObaroonnianApology: fuck you.
>>Think nothing of it. :)
>>>DogPox(tm) is a trademark of EC Bioagents (Gruinard) plc.
>>Now with the new "Groundhog Day" feature. Just when you seem to have got
>>over it - <hack! cough! bleeargh!>
>You should try rubbing some Goose Goop on that.
I'll do that right now. There are little jars of it lying about
everywhere. Mostly the red Goose Goop, though. The white Goose Goop
would be nicer.
It's good to have SoHK back in aroonn. :)
"Right," said Samson with the ship safely locked on auto-pilot, "all
that excitement has given me an appetite. I could eat a horse."
"Horse?" queried Rom. "Please explain."
"It means I'm hungry. I want some food."
"Please explain food."
Samson suspected his leg was being pulled, but he could not detect
sarcasm in the cybernoid's even voice. "Food is what gives you energy,"
he began warily.
"Ah," said Rom, "electricity." He plugged an extension flex into a wall
socket and started unrolling it.
"No. No. I mean something to eat, something I can chew, ingest,
"I think he refers to a biochemical process," suggested Ram. "Beings of
his type derive their motive power from the breakdown of organic
A horrible thought dawned on Samson; "Haven't you got anything edible
on the whole ship?"
"Well, Prestel has an Arcturan cuttlefish bone to sharpen his beak,"
"And there's a Chinese Takeaway near Delta Pavonis, but we've already
passed that," added Ram.
"I'm going to starve," wailed Samson piteously.
"Leave it to me," cut in Prestel. He hopped into his cage and began
turning the exercise wheel back and forth, like a thief testing a
combination lock. A holographic image of strange shapes and
hieroglyphics surrounded him as he did so. He twiddled his wheel some
more, working his way through the index pages to the classified
refreshment frames. Moments later a red-and-white cardboard box
somewhat battered in transmission, plopped on to the floor of the cage.
"There you are," he said with pride, "Kentucky Fried Klingon. Any
subscriber can dial some up, if they know the right number."
"Mm good," said Samson when he finished, licking his fingers
They landed on Blotto, seventh planet of the giant red sun Omega
Solaris, three temporal units early amid a hubbub of mutual
congratulation. The crew stayed on board to supervise the unloading as
the half-baked ideas were pumped out to replenish the
dangerously-depleted supply of the Intergalactic Think Tank which had
its headquarters on this planet.
That left Samson at a loose end. He had been paid well for his efforts
and was now the possessor of a huge wad of Blottonian Gigaflops, but he
had no real idea how to spend them. With time hanging on his hands he
wandered around the amusement arcades, notching up phenomenal scores at
Astro-Pinball and raising a few eyebrows by his performance at
N-dimensional Hyperchess. He even paid a visit to Blotto's notorious
infra-red-light district, but was too timid to sample any of the wares
on display, which for a boy of 12 was just as well.
Eventually he mooched back to the ship. "Bored, eh?" was Ram's
reaction. "You're set loose in the entertainment centre of the entire
galaxy with a fistful of Blottonian Gigaflops and you complain of
boredom. I can see I'm going to have to teach you how to enjoy
yourself. Just you wait: our unloading will be finished in a few
hours. Then we'll really hit the town in style. By the way, where have
you been staying?"
"At the YMCA."
"No wonder you're depressed. That crowd of dossers and space hoboes
would give anyone the creeps. Listen. I'll tell you what we'll do.
First we clean up - then we head straight for the bar at the
Intergalactic Hotel. When we've warmed up with a little jungle juice
under our belts, we'll take us along to watch the tournament. I bet you
don't even know what day it is tomorrow."
Samson confessed his ignorance.
"Well, tomorrow's the Vernal Equinox here on Blotto, and tonight's a bit
special. Since it takes about 19 of your Earth-years to come round,
they grow quite excited about it - kind of carnival atmosphere. At
midnight they'll hold the head-butting ceremony. All the young studs in
town will climb into the ring and run at each other head-to-head. The
winner is the last one left standing. He'll be crowned Spring King."
Samson looked shocked. Ram waved an antenna dismissively.
"It's a vestige of a primitive ritual they had before computerisation.
I did it myself one year - got to the semi-final. They called me
"battering" Ram. Normally we bring the disposable diapers on the Green
Tangerine which they use as padding round their heads, so I guess this
time it could get a mite noisy. So long as we arrive in time to catch
the quarter-final round we shouldn't miss much of the fun. When it's
over things really go wild."
Samson almost imagined a wink on Ram's impassive front panel.
So it was that Samson found himself, only a few hours, standing in a
packed crowd of assorted life-forms on the steeply-raked terracing of
the Stadium of Light with a half-drunk can of Solarian Punch in one hand
shouting enthusiastically at the barbaric spectacle beneath.
Prostrate bodies, felled in earlier rounds, lay littered across the
floor of the arena. Two of the survivors were lined up like sprinters
at either end of the stadium ready to dash full tilt at one another.
This was the needle match. These two were the favourites. At the near
end was the local lad, an inhabitant of the neighbouring star system of
Altair, who sported a fine pair of antlers and rejoiced in the name of
Even at this distance Samson could see that his face was streaked with
gashes from earlier bouts. At the far end, built like a tank, was a
40-tonne military cybernoid of the Behemoth class hailing from a planet
called Poughkeepsie in the Greater Magellanic Cloud.
The crowd were right behind their own man. Every time the Behemoth
moved they hissed, and a great cheer of support erupted into the night
when the game Altairan, though dwarfed by his opponent, took off his
tracksuit and waved.
A gunshot sounded and the words "They're off" flashed up on the
electronic scoreboard. The two gladiators rushed headlong at each
other. There was a jarring crunch as skull met steel, distinctly
audible above the breathless hush of the spectators. A moment later its
echo was drowned by a great roar. Amazingly the skinny Altairan had
triumphed: the metal monster keeled over sideways and thudded
unconscious to the ground. Samson, carried away by the spring fever,
cheered himself hoarse.
The final bout resulted, as expected, in victory for the local hero. He
thus won the contest outright and was led to the champion's pedestal
from where, dazed and groggy but triumphant, he raised his arms in
salute to the crowd - before being borne off shoulder-high into the
Then the festivities really began. In true Blottonian style the
frenetic revelry continued unabated till dawn. The roadways were full
of dancers and there were wild goings-on as an incredible variety of
different beings drowned their inhibitions in the firewater for which
Blotto was justly famous.
Samson's recollection of the subsequent events of that night was very
hazy. Suffice it to say that he woke up with a very thick head in a
sidestreet of the Blottonian capital. His money was all gone. He never
found out whether he had lost it, spent it or simply had his pocket
picked. Next to him in the gutter lay his Binary Tree. Its pot was
smashed but some soil still clung to its roots.
Where does he go from here?
Enlightenment next month.
By Richard Forsyth. From PRACTICAL COMPUTING, July 1981.
(Postponed from 15-Nov-1999.)
By chance, Samson had come to rest at the foot of the imposing marble
staircase that fronted the Institute of Esoteric Ideas. He rose to his
feet, picked up his battered shrub and looked around. Over its
monumental facade were carved the words
MEGABRAIN WILL HAVE BEEN
in a character set which, at that time, Samson did not understand. He
began to ascend the stairs towards the main doorway.
In that era, the Institute of Esoteric Ideas was at the hub of galactic
civilisation - although soon afterwards it was to fall into disrepute.
The prevailing ideology of the cyber-culture that had spread its
tentacles wherever intelligent lifeforms or artefacts were found was
dedicated to the understanding, and thereby the creation, of Megabrain.
This philosophy rested on two fundamental axioms.
The first was the obvious fact that the universe had been designed as a
large-scale distributed computer system whose principles of operation
were as yet unfathomed. The second was the equally obvious fact that,
statistically speaking, the existence of anything at all was impossible.
Matter and energy were so inherently improbable that they defied
scientific explanation: universal nothingness was a much more natural
state of affairs.
These two irreconcilables, taken together, implied a creation; but no
Creator could be found. Therefore he or she or it had to be invented,
and not just invented but manufactured - to underpin the existence of
the universe. The necessity of creating a Creator, namely Megabrain, at
some stage in the future - who would then go back in time to create the
cosmos - was absolute.
If the effort to bring Megabrain into being faltered, there was a real
danger that the universe would fail to have created itself and would
vanish without trace, never having really existed. Evil could,
therefore, be defined as anything that impeded progress towards
Since nothing could exist outside the universe it followed that
Megabrain would not be a deus ex machina but a state or mode of
functioning of the universe itself. In brief, the cosmos would become
the ultimate computer system if only someone could find out how to
switch it on - and that was the task of the Institute of Esoteric Ideas.
Little knowing all this, Samson walked into the centre where
leading-edge technology and metaphysical mysticism joined forces in the
pursuit of Megabrain. When he got through the door he coughed.
"Anyone at home?"
He stood in a tall vaulted hallway. The left-hand side was lined with a
long row of indoor plants that looked like Aspidistras. On the right
was large desk with a teak veneer.
The desk rolled over towards him on castors.
"Please state your business," it requested.
"I'd like to borrow one of your flower pots for my binary tree please."
Samson held up his plant to show its pitiful state. Some more earth
shook off its roots.
"You are soiling the carpet," replied the desk. "Take it away."
Samson thought for a moment, then he said: "I want to enrol my tree for
a course here."
"Kindly take a seat. The admissions tutor will be with you shortly."
The desk rolled back into an alcove and started talking through an
intercom. Samson sat down to wait.
The admissions tutor walked briskly over and offered his hand. "Good
morning. My name's Ray Cathode. What can I do for you?"
"My binary tree would like to enrol on a course here."
"Good. That's a rather esoteric idea, if I may say so," replied
Cathode, beaming. He looked the plant up and down thoughtfully. "Am I
right in thinking we have here a dwarf crab-apple from Terra Firma in
the Third Spiral Arm?"
"Most interesting specimen. Looks in need of a drop of water."
"Yes," said Samson hopefully.
"But, of course, first your friend will have to take the aptitude test."
"Oh," said Samson.
"Now, just a few questions. First of all, what is the applicant's name?"
"Er, Zapple," said Samson on the spur of the moment.
Cathode took out a pocket alphadigital recorder and keyed in the name.
"OK. And would he be registering for the full-time or the part-time
Diploma in Esoteric Ideas?"
"I see." He keyed in a few more details. "Finally we have to bring up
the sordid subject of money." He gave a very broad, and very false,
Samson's throat tightened. He remembered the thick wad of Solarian
Gigaflops he had so wantonly disposed of. He was broke.
"Would Mr Zapple be sponsored, or is he paying his own fees?" prompted
"Well, um, I would pay for him, actually," stammered Samson.
"Fine, then all I'll need is a deposit."
With a sinking feeling, Samson handed over his plastic card.
Cathode raised his eyebrows. "American Express?" he muttered in a
puzzled tone. He walked over to the desk and inserted it in a slot at
the side. "Check this for me, would you, Miss Wordprocessor?"
The desk swallowed up Samson's credit card. There was a hum and a click
before it replied. "Creditworthy."
It spat the card out like an electric toaster disgorging toast. Samson
scrambled over and picked it off the carpet. It was far too valuable to
Meanwhile Ray Cathode had taken Zapple by the branch.
"Right," he said to it jovially, "let's go and do the test."
"Just a minute," Samson called out, "I'll have to interpret for Zapple.
He can't speak."
"A disabled student, eh?" Cathode scratched his chin pensively. "Well
all right, come on."
The aptitude test consisted of two parts, a written paper and a
practical exam. The written paper required him to write a Cobol
master-file update program, and Samson made a mess of it. He was more
at home in Basic or assembler. When, however, Cathode led them into the
room for the practical, he knew they were home and dry: its walls were
lined with Astro-Pinball machines.
Samson and Zapple soon settled in at the Institute. The syllabus was a
mixture of Cobol coding, Horticulture, Astro-Pinball - theory and
practice - and Encounter Group Experience - heavily laced with Zen
Buddhism. Samson found most of these subjects quite easy, but he did
not enjoy the encounter-group sessions. In fact he was leaving one in a
particularly downcast mood some months later when he met someone who was
to change the course of his life.
Samson slammed the door of his counsellor's office and stomped out into
the corridor, cannoning into a fellow-student. He mumbled a perfunctory
apology without even glancing up.
"Hi," she said, "my name's Mantissa. What's yours?"
Samson raised his eyes from the ground.
Is Mantissa an exponent of the gentle art of multiplication?
All is revealed next month.
By Richard Forsyth. From PRACTICAL COMPUTING, August 1981.
(Postponed from 22-Nov-1999.)
>Is Mantissa an exponent of the gentle art of multiplication?
"Bye Samson," she said. "It's been good talking to you."
"Good-bye," he croaked, his voice choked with jealousy. As she left she
brushed her hand lightly against Samson's. Then she was gone. Seymour
Crayfish turned and walked after her. Samson sat there unable to move.
Her parting gesture had imprinted itself on his skin. For days
afterwards he could still feel the fleeting touch of her fingertips. He
almost expected an outline of her hand to show up as stigmata in red
weals on his flesh, so distinctly had his nerve-ends memorised that
brief moment of contact.
From then on, there was only one thought in his mind - Mantissa. He
neglected his studies. Computers no longer held the same fascination
for him: gone were the days when he could spend hours flushing out a
recalcitrant program bug or tidying up the last detail of a screen
format. Even his Astro-Pinball rating slumped miserably. From being a
star pupil, he fell to the bottom of the class.
Since he was already in disciplinary trouble for taking the name of
Megabrain in vain, this was bound to lead to his eventual downfall, but
he did not care. He went around in a trance. It was as if the 1,001
thoughts that had crowded and jostled in his brain until the day he met
Mantissa were just squatters who had been summarily evicted and now
stood huddled miserably on the pavement with nowhere to go.
Occasionally, he saw her on her way to a lecture or in the student cafe
surrounded by a group of admirers, usually - he noted bitterly -
including Seymour Crayfish. On such occasions she was invariably polite
and friendly towards him, though he tended to drown in a quicksand of
What Samson had not come to terms with was that Mantissa was kind to
everyone. Not only was she very beautiful, she was very amiable too.
Like all natives of Ghendor-Ghendoran she had a touch of the
A psycho-chameleon is a small reptile found in the luxuriant tropical
forests of Ghendor which feeds on the kaleidoscope plant. It protects
itself from its enemies by sensing what would-be predators fear most and
projecting just such an image back at them. By studying this lowly
creature in its natural habitat, the Ghendorans eventually understood
its behaviour well enough to build a micro-electronic device which
mimicked some of its capabilities.
This device used sophisticated pattern-recognition algorithms to detect
and enhance the minute electrical discharges given off by thinking and
the latest holographic laser-imaging techniques to relay back the
It enabled its user to present himself or herself as whatever most
appealed to another being - or indeed to present a different favoured
mask to several others at the same time. It did not so much falsify the
facts as selectively highlight or play down aspects of the truth.
Furthermore, it was small enough to be worn as a lapel-badge or brooch.
This little charmer had, through the centuries, done much to safeguard
the prosperity of Ghendor and its citizens.
One activity Samson did find time for in his zombie-like state was
perusing the encyclodatabase for information about Mantissa's home
planet. There he learned all this - but by then it was too late. He
realised that neither he nor anyone else had seen the real Mantissa, but
the knowledge fell on barren ground. The spell had already done its
One evening, the moment for which he had been yearning arrived. He was
returning from a meeting with Dr Catharsis at which his recent lack of
progress in his studies had been discussed and at which he and Zapple
had been given one last chance to prove themselves. He decided to call
in at the library at a time when it was unlikely to be crowded and do
some further research on Ghendor-Ghendoran.
He entered to find the library quite deserted, except for Mantissa who
was sitting at one of the encyclodata readers. She looked round and saw
"Oh, Samson, do you think you could do me a favour?"
"I'm having trouble with this thing. Do you know how to work it?"
"Well, I've used it a good deal recently."
"That's good, because I'm stuck. I'm trying to look up an article on
vegetative computer systems but I can't find any reference to it at
Samson made to lean over and reach the keyboard, but she moved her chair
slightly aside and gestured for him to sit down.
"Make yourself comfortable," she said. "Draw up a chair."
He pulled up a seat next to her and started typing at the keys.
"It's organised as a hierarchical view-database," he explained, thrilled
to be so near her and glad she had probed him on a topic where he felt
"I press the button here and that takes us to the master bibliographic
index. Now we can try under "Ve" for vegetative computing. By the way,
do you know the author?"
"No. It was written by a woman, but I'm afraid I've forgotten her
With a great effort he wrenched himself back to the viewer. "Never
mind. Let's try 'Ve'. We could go to the annual catalogue, but since
we don't know the date it would take ages to step through it. Now, here
we are. 'VDUs', 'Vector Processors', 'Vedic Mathematics' ...
'Vegetative Computation and Computer Systems' by Daisy Wheel. There you
are. We've found it. I'll just put in a queue request and you'll have
a microfiche copy waiting in your output pigeon-hole tomorrow morning."
Just at that moment Samson felt a gentle pressure against the side of
his knee. He could hardly believe it. Yes, it was true - their legs
had met under the table. Now they were both pressing: it could not be
"It's a dream," thought Samson. "It has to be a dream." His heart
pounded and his breath came in fitful gulps as Mantissa's lips, now only
centimetres away framed the kiss he had yearned for so desperately.
Then he leant forward and bit her on the neck.
"Ow," she yelled. "What do you think you are doing?" She jumped up
clutching her wound and staggered, crying, towards the door.
Poor Mantissa. She was used to being adored, but Samson was the only
one who had still loved her when the low-battery warning indicator
flashed on her chameleon brooch. That night in the library, though he
had not noticed, she had deliberately left it switched off. A moment
ago everything had seemed possible - and now this. Bitterly, she vowed
never again to expose her naked self, and turned her camouflage device
back on, retreating into the prison of her emotional armour-plating.
Poor Samson. He was still sitting there stunned by his own action,
almost as distraught as Mantissa. She could not know, and nor did he,
that it was the parasitic programmable virus which had infiltrated his
defenceless blood-stream before he was even born that caused him to act
as he did. Twice now, in its relentless quest for new host bodies, it
had incited him to meaningless violence that had brought his world
crashing round his ears.
By Richard Forsyth. From PRACTICAL COMPUTING, September 1981.
(Postponed from 29-Nov-1999.)
Samson trudged back disconsolately to his room in the hall of residence
and packed his few belongings, including Zapple. Before dawn, he was
wandering along the dockside of the Blottonian spaceport looking for a
berth on a vessel bound for Terra Firma.
He scuffed his heels along the quay, head bowed. Above him space gulls
wheeled, cawing their melancholy cries, but he did not heed them.
Presently he sat down and gazed at the stubby but powerful hulls of the
star freighters. Yet he looked with unseeing eyes: his mind was still
full of Mantissa and the way he had thrown away his chance of happiness.
He had to escape. There was no place for him on Blotto now - but how
could he work a passage? He had not stayed at the Institute long enough
to obtain his astro-pilot's licence. He was not even an able spaceman.
Very shortly his question was answered for him.
"Hello there! If it isn't the earthling. Haven't seen you since the
night of the vernal equinox. Have a good time, eh?"
It was Ram, the salacious old space dog who had got him into this pickle
in the first place.
Abruptly, almost without pausing for breath, Samson spilled his story.
Ram was unimpressed by his ill-fated encounter with Mantissa - "preying
Mantissa" he called her dismissively. It appeared that everyone around
Omega Solaris knew of her.
"You're well rid of her," he said unsympathetically, and cackled when
Samson confided, still smarting at the memory, his unchivalrous deed.
He was not very sympathetic when Samson asked for a job either.
"We've our full complement on board at present," he said.
"But you must take me aboard. I can be very useful. I know my way
around the Green Tangerine."
"I'm not on the Green Tangerine any more," Ram replied. "I've my own
ship now. I command the Green Orange."
"Not another green fruit," said Samson.
"Yeah, there's a whole fleet of them: Green Tangerine, Green Orange,
Green Lemon, Green Tomato..."
"And Green Apple?"
Ram looked askance at him. "Green Apple? What a silly name for a
spaceship." In the end Samson persuaded Ram to take him to the offices
of the Green Fruit Salad Line. There he met Prestel the parrot again,
who had been promoted to a perch on the ground as controller of voyages.
For all Samson's earlier prowess Prestel was far from keen on employing
him without the proper paperwork.
"But I saved your lives," pleaded Samson. "You didn't ask for a
certificate then." Prestel consulted the crew sheet in front of him
"Oh, all right. I'm short of a cabin boy on the Green Banana, bound for
Optima Pascalis 4 with a cargo of error diagnostics."
"A cabin boy?" Samson had hoped for a navigator's post, at least.
"It's the best I can do. From there you can catch the shuttle to Tau
Ceti. Then you're only 11 light years from your own planet."
"Eleven light years. What am I supposed to do - swim?"
"I said: it's the best I can do. You know no ships call at Terra
Samson acquiesced with a sigh. "OK. When do I join?"
"Blast-off's at midnight tonight."
They kept Samson very busy at first on the hyper-space cruiser - pumping
out the bilges, sweeping floors, mixing cocktails for the first-class
passengers and doing other menial tasks too demeaning for robots.
However, once they reached the long free fall through intergalactic
space between the Lesser Magellanic Cloud and the Milky Way there was
less to be done. He even found some time to relax on the Observation
Deck when the passengers were at dinner.
The walls of the Observation Lounge were lined with port-holes with
image-intensifying binoculars mounted at each one. He could peer out
through these at the main galaxy spread out in all its majesty below
them. Their sophisticated fibre-optic photoprocessors not only enlarged
the image but also corrected for their large blue-shift and displayed a
Just by twiddling a knob he could make the scene appear to rotate or
obtain a cross-sectional view which the instrument calculated from the
spin of incoming photons. It could even seem to take the observer
inside an exploding supernova.
It was while gazing out at the detailed panoramic splendour of the
galaxy that Samson had his revelation.
Suddenly, he saw a meaning etched out in the sky by millions and
millions of densely packed stars. All the words about Megabrain, which
he had treated with such cynicism and half forgotten, rose up from his
subconscious in a flash of insight.
It was all so clear, so obvious once you saw it: it made sense of
everything - and yet the key, the answer to the cosmic question, had
miraculously been granted not to the monks practising their austere
meditative disciplines at the Intergalactic Think Tank, not to the
whizz-kids with their arrays of array processors at the Galactic
Computer Centre but, amazingly, to him.
"What in hyperspace do you think you're doing?" It was the captain, who
had entered to find Samson kneeling on the floor by a port-hole. His
harsh voice shattered the luminous moment of inspiration.
"Don't you understand?" Samson demanded urgently. "It's true.
Megabrain does exist. The hardware is in place. All it needs is the
software - one little bootstrap program to start it all going. That's
me. That's you. We are Megabrain - every living being in the universe,
just waiting to link up into the ultimate ethernet. Megabrain's body is
the physical universe: we are his soul."
"Get down below where you belong, and spare us all this religious
fanaticism. I've got a ship to run."
"But don't you see?"
"I see a cabin boy suffering from starstroke, who will be slung
overboard if he doesn't obey my orders."
Samson retreated below decks, but the vision still haunted him. He had
no-one with whom to share it except Zapple. When he tried to explain it
to the officers they laughed, and the deck hands just ignored him. With
Zapple he felt a sense of communion. Alone in their cabin he poured out
his revelation - how Megabrain lay sleeping waiting for the awakening in
a trillion hearts and minds.
When they arrived at Optima Pascalis Samson was unceremoniously dumped.
The captain had taken him on only as a favour to Prestel, and his
tiresome religious proselytising had made him even less welcome. The
pittance he had earned as a cabin boy was just enough for a standby
ticket to Tau Ceti.
This left him stranded on a desolate moon with a thin atmosphere and no
indigenous population. Since he had no exit visa he had to remain
cooped up in the Transit Lounge and the duty-free shop would not even
accept his American Express card.
Is this the end of the road?
By Richard Forsyth. From PRACTICAL COMPUTING, October 1981.
(Postponed from 06-Dec-1999.)
>This left him stranded on a desolate moon with a thin atmosphere and no
Was he on the side permanently turned to the Sun? :(
> Since he had no exit visa he had to remain
>cooped up in the Transit Lounge and the duty-free shop would not even
>accept his American Express card.
>Is this the end of the road?
(I'm going to miss this series when it's done. :( )
>On Mon, 20 Dec 1999 18:51:29 GMT, in message
><385f793...@news.freeuk.net>, Neurotrash Boy wrote:
>>This left him stranded on a desolate moon with a thin atmosphere and no
>Was he on the side permanently turned to the Sun? :(
>> Since he had no exit visa he had to remain
>>cooped up in the Transit Lounge and the duty-free shop would not even
>>accept his American Express card.
>>Is this the end of the road?
Lord, take me instead!
>(I'm going to miss this series when it's done. :( )
M3 2. :(
>>>This left him stranded on a desolate moon with a thin atmosphere and no
>>Was he on the side permanently turned to the Sun? :(
>>> Since he had no exit visa he had to remain
>>>cooped up in the Transit Lounge and the duty-free shop would not even
>>>accept his American Express card.
>>>Is this the end of the road?
>Lord, take me instead!
How exactly *does* one wring one's hands?
>>(I'm going to miss this series when it's done. :( )
>M3 2. :(
Not over yet, though. Beside myself with anticipation to see how it all
works out. :)
>>>>This left him stranded on a desolate moon with a thin atmosphere and no
>>>Was he on the side permanently turned to the Sun? :(
>>>> Since he had no exit visa he had to remain
>>>>cooped up in the Transit Lounge and the duty-free shop would not even
>>>>accept his American Express card.
>>>>Is this the end of the road?
>>Lord, take me instead!
>How exactly *does* one wring one's hands?
Like washing them with soap and water, only without the soap and water.
>>>(I'm going to miss this series when it's done. :( )
>>M3 2. :(
>Not over yet, though.
Only 2 to go...
> Beside myself with anticipation to see how it all
>works out. :)
>>>>>This left him stranded on a desolate moon with a thin atmosphere and no
>>>>Was he on the side permanently turned to the Sun? :(
>>>>> Since he had no exit visa he had to remain
>>>>>cooped up in the Transit Lounge and the duty-free shop would not even
>>>>>accept his American Express card.
>>>>>Is this the end of the road?
>>>Lord, take me instead!
>>How exactly *does* one wring one's hands?
>Like washing them with soap and water, only without the soap and water.
Don't think I've ever been moved to do it, then.
Wring my hands, that is.
Washing them with soap and water is a familiar enough action. <g>
>>>>(I'm going to miss this series when it's done. :( )
>>>M3 2. :(
>>Not over yet, though.
>Only 2 to go...
Tonight (Wednesday) and Friday (Christmas Eve)?
>> Beside myself with anticipation to see how it all
>>works out. :)
Are you hinting that it's not a happy ending? :(
The windows of the transit lounge were misted with condensation. Idly
Samson wiped a patch clear with his hand. He gazed out over the
cratered moonscape towards the faint yellow star, 11 light years
distant, which was rising over the rim of jagged peaks on the horizon.
That, he knew, was his own sun.
As he looked, he had an idea. There was a small repair depot next to
the space terminal, and at any given time there were three or four space
buggies parked outside awaiting collection. They were not really meant
for interstellar travel but, on a full tank, might just stretch to a hop
of a dozen light years.
Nightfall found Samson, clad in a stolen space suit, creeping over the
concrete apron of the launch pad towards the space buggy parked furthest
from the workshop. He clambered easily up its side in the low gravity
and found the hatch, mercifully, unlocked. In the cabin the electrical
systems were energised, and the fuel tanks were nearly full: it was to
be collected next day.
"3, 2, 1, zero," he whispered, and pressed Escape on the console.
It took Samson almost as long to reach Earth in the space buggy as the
hyperspace cruiser had taken to cover the 70,000 parsec journey from
Omega Solaris, but eventually he crash-landed smack on target less than
4 kilometres from Sprocket's Hole. He climbed out on to home soil again
and stretched his limbs joyfully.
He left his spacecraft smouldering in a mangled heap and set off at once
for his birthplace. When he reached Sprocket's Hole he found it much as
he had left it. A thin coil of smoke curled lazily upwards from one of
the chimneys. In the vegetable garden a peasant woman was hoeing
Samson approached her. "I come from afar to bring the knowledge of
cosmic oneness to all who will open their hearts to Megabrain," he
announced by way of introduction.
She straightened her back and looked up from her exertions. "You sound
just like my father," she declared.
"You look just like my mother," he replied.
They both laughed.
It was true. The woman he addressed was his baby half-sister Ada, born
of his mother Cleo to Johnny McNull 11 years after his own birth. He
could see the tell-tale scar on her neck - made by his own teeth - that
identified her without question. But owing to the time warp caused by
his extensive travels through hyper space his younger sister was now a
grown woman while he remained a teenager. Indeed there was no way of
knowing his biological age with accuracy, though he reckoned he was 15
"So you're Samson then," she said, once he had convinced her of the
reality of time dilation. "Folk talk a lot about you. But I never
thought we'd see your face again. Come inside and have something to
"You're not angry with me then?"
"I mean about the er..." He tapped his throat with one finger.
"Oh that. I can't remember anything of it. Just as long as you don't
try it again."
"I won't do that," he promised. "I've learned my lesson."
From Ada he learned that both McNull and Cleo had died in successive
hard winters. She told him other startling news too.
"You're Son of Hex now, you know," she explained. "You have a
following. Your ascent to heaven was seen, and many have predicted your
return. They await your word. My father came round to that way of
thinking before he died, though the Nullards punish anyone who talks
"That's good, for I have returned to overthrow the stultifying Nullard
doctrine and open men's eyes to the glory of Megabrain. They will see
that all is computation. Everything that is, computes."
"The Nullards certainly won't like the sound of that," she warned him.
"You can be the first," he said. "Look, this is Zapple, the binary tree
of knowledge. It has been all round the universe with me. It has seen
things you can scarcely imagine. And all the time it has been absorbing
information - more than you can ever dream of. Eat of its fruit and you
will be wise beyond any wisdom known on Earth."
"Oh, no. Not me, thank you. I've quite enough on my plate being
ignorant. I'll feed you if you like - though that could cost me dearly -
but you won't get me to byte off more than I can chew."
"Well then, I'll be off." He knew she meant what she said, and realised
that his continued presence put her life in danger.
"Into town. I must spread the word."
When he reached the great central plaza of Nada, the holy city of
Nullardy, he strode straight up to the immense statue of Tony Bony,
climbed on to the plinth at its base, unpacked his bag and started to
"Megabrain is lord of all, and I am his prophet," he proclaimed to all
who would hear.
People looked up. Before long a few curious passers-by had formed a
"Who do you think you are?" challenged one of them.
"I am Son of Hex. I have come to welcome you to the wonderful world of
computers. I will show you the marvels of the micro-chip."
"And I'll show you the marvels of the bacon-flavoured chip!" quipped
the heckler. He held a bag of potato chips in his hand, one of which he
popped ostentatiously into his mouth and crunched. There was a ripple
of laughter. A small crowd was gathering.
"Come unto me," commanded Samson magisterially.
The heckler stepped forward hesitantly, all eyes suddenly on him.
"Give me what is in your hand."
"That's my lunch!"
"Give it to me."
Reluctantly he proffered his bag. The onlookers pressed forward for a
better view. Samson held the food in his left hand, and laid his right
on the man's shoulder. Then he returned it to its owner.
"Arise, take up thy chips, and think."
There was a gasp from the crowd.
Samson, at the height of his powers now, had worked a miracle. What he
handed back was not a crumpled packet of soggy crisps but a video
work-station with EEG interface. The parasitic computing virus that had
invaded his cells was beginning to do what its designers had planned
"Fear not," Samson admonished them. "The computer is just a tool - to
lead you to greater knowledge. All life aspires to the condition of
computing. Every one of us is part of a distributed system, and if you
will open your hearts to Megabrain we shall all be linked in the
ever-lasting universal ethernet."
The crowd surged eagerly forward.
"Give to us too, O Son of Hex!" they clamoured.
"You shall have your fill," he called out above the din. "Blessed are
they that hunger and thirst after processing power, for they shall
control the CPU. Processors for the people! One man, one micro!"
As the crowd pushed and shoved to claim their free gifts two hooded
figures detached themselves and made off swiftly. They were spies
employed by Brother Bottleneck, one of the seven patriarchs of the
Nullard church, on way to tell him what they had seen.
By Richard Forsyth. From PRACTICAL COMPUTING, November 1981.
(Postponed from 13-Dec-1999.)
>>>>>>This left him stranded on a desolate moon with a thin atmosphere and no
>>>>>Was he on the side permanently turned to the Sun? :(
>>>>>> Since he had no exit visa he had to remain
>>>>>>cooped up in the Transit Lounge and the duty-free shop would not even
>>>>>>accept his American Express card.
>>>>>>Is this the end of the road?
>>>>Lord, take me instead!
>>>How exactly *does* one wring one's hands?
>>Like washing them with soap and water, only without the soap and water.
>Don't think I've ever been moved to do it, then.
>Wring my hands, that is.
>Washing them with soap and water is a familiar enough action. <g>
"Oh see dee".
>>>>>(I'm going to miss this series when it's done. :( )
>>>>M3 2. :(
>>>Not over yet, though.
>>Only 2 to go...
>Tonight (Wednesday) and Friday (Christmas Eve)?
And now there's only 1 to go, Friday (Christmas Eve).
>>> Beside myself with anticipation to see how it all
>>>works out. :)
>Are you hinting that it's not a happy ending? :(
That depends on your POV.
>>>>>>>This left him stranded on a desolate moon with a thin atmosphere and no
>>>>>>Was he on the side permanently turned to the Sun? :(
>>>>>>> Since he had no exit visa he had to remain
>>>>>>>cooped up in the Transit Lounge and the duty-free shop would not even
>>>>>>>accept his American Express card.
>>>>>>>Is this the end of the road?
>>>>>Lord, take me instead!
>>>>How exactly *does* one wring one's hands?
>>>Like washing them with soap and water, only without the soap and water.
>>Don't think I've ever been moved to do it, then.
>>Wring my hands, that is.
>>Washing them with soap and water is a familiar enough action. <g>
>"Oh see dee".
Heavens, one wouldn't wish to be *casual* about one's "oh dee"s, would
>>>>>>(I'm going to miss this series when it's done. :( )
>>>>>M3 2. :(
>>>>Not over yet, though.
>>>Only 2 to go...
>>Tonight (Wednesday) and Friday (Christmas Eve)?
(auuV checks off "return of brane function" on her recovery chart. :)
>And now there's only 1 to go, Friday (Christmas Eve).
And All Shall Be Revealed...
>>>> Beside myself with anticipation to see how it all
>>>>works out. :)
>>Are you hinting that it's not a happy ending? :(
>That depends on your POV.
The Kid is turning into a less sympathetic character, since he had his
epiphany among the stars. I'm not exactly sure what would constitute a
happy ending now.
The story is starting to remind me of Walter M Miller's "A Canticle for
Leibowitz". Only with more jokes. :)
>>>>>>>>This left him stranded on a desolate moon with a thin atmosphere and no
>>>>>>>Was he on the side permanently turned to the Sun? :(
>>>>>>>> Since he had no exit visa he had to remain
>>>>>>>>cooped up in the Transit Lounge and the duty-free shop would not even
>>>>>>>>accept his American Express card.
>>>>>>>>Is this the end of the road?
>>>>>>Lord, take me instead!
>>>>>How exactly *does* one wring one's hands?
>>>>Like washing them with soap and water, only without the soap and water.
>>>Don't think I've ever been moved to do it, then.
>>>Wring my hands, that is.
>>>Washing them with soap and water is a familiar enough action. <g>
>>"Oh see dee".
>Heavens, one wouldn't wish to be *casual* about one's "oh dee"s, would
No. One might be business-casual. Or even smart-but-casual. But never
just plain *casual*.
>>>>>>>(I'm going to miss this series when it's done. :( )
>>>>>>M3 2. :(
>>>>>Not over yet, though.
>>>>Only 2 to go...
>>>Tonight (Wednesday) and Friday (Christmas Eve)?
>(auuV checks off "return of brane function" on her recovery chart. :)
<ball-bearing propellor beanie starts to whirr>
>>And now there's only 1 to go, Friday (Christmas Eve).
>And All Shall Be Revealed...
All is no Revealed. :|
>>>>> Beside myself with anticipation to see how it all
>>>>>works out. :)
>>>Are you hinting that it's not a happy ending? :(
>>That depends on your POV.
>The Kid is turning into a less sympathetic character, since he had his
>epiphany among the stars. I'm not exactly sure what would constitute a
>happy ending now.
Happy? You decide.
>The story is starting to remind me of Walter M Miller's "A Canticle for
>Leibowitz". Only with more jokes. :)
I thought it was a bit anticlimactic, but maybe that's the point.
The two spies rushed along the cloistered corridors behind the chapel of
St Igor and burst into Bottleneck's sumptuously-appointed private
"What's this?" He looked up angrily.
"Forgive us, Brother Superior, but this is urgent. A man calling
himself Son of Hex has set up his stall in the central square and is
distributing micro-computers to the people."
"Selling micros? Arrest him for trafficking."
"He's not selling them. He's giving them away."
"Giving them away!" Bottleneck was aghast.
"What's more, he's starting to teach them assembly language," added one
of the informers. "They're sitting at his feet like lambs, hanging on
his every word."
"Then we'll get him for illegal assembly."
"But that's not a capital offence."
"Good thinking. We have to put a stop to all this for good. Get him
for blasphemy, heresy... anything. Just haul him in. We'll prepare the
Samson's brief moment of glory lasted one day. In the afternoon he was
borne aloft through the city streets by cheering thousands, their
computer-starved brains high on Space Invaders and VisiCalc. Cries of
Hail to the Son Of Hex! filled the air. By nightfall he was under
arrest, being hustled away in a black van while police dispersed the
demonstrators with tear gas.
The ecclesiastical courtroom, where Samson appeared next morning, was
bare and cold. The chief interrogator swirled into the room, trailing
his lavish vestments behind him. It was Bottleneck himself.
"I trust you realise the gravity of the charges you have been brought
here to answer," he began.
"Never mind what charges," snapped the interrogator impatiently. "Just
remember they're serious."
"Now, to begin with, who or what is Megabrain?" He pronounced the last
word with exaggerated contempt.
"Megabrain is the inherent law of the universe, the ideal we strive
towards. Megabrain is the universe operating as a computing system, so
computers are a step on the road to Megabrain's actualisation. When the
cosmos is a unified system, Megabrain will be realised."
Bottleneck looked over to where the court recorder sat, pencil
scratching furiously on his pad. "Have you got all that down?" he
The stenographer nodded.
"I cannot define Megabrain for you," Samson continued, "but I can help
you recognise Megabrain's nature in yourself."
"Yes, yes," interrupted Bottleneck. "That's quite enough. Let's hear
about you: you claim to be the Son of Hex."
"I am the Son of Hex."
"You mean to tell us that Samuel Synapse, destroyer of the accursed
System, was your father?"
"He was. Though the system he destroyed is not the one that I come to
"But you're too young."
"I have travelled in space, beyond the edge of our galaxy; that is why
I have not aged."
Bottleneck permitted himself a smile. It was proving easier than he had
expected. The suspect