1980s Vintage Computers
Son of Hexadecimal Kid
A parable in eight virtual pages by Richard Forsyth
Page 2 - virtual paging
From PRACTICAL COMPUTING, November 1980
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 brain.
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 re-submission".
"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 off.
"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 destroyed completely"?
"I figured it wasn't just an ordinary crash. Do you know what caused it"?
"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 wondered if this was the moment to break that piece of news to Lambda.
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 me".
"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 will".
"All right", agreed Cleo. "When he has recovered, we'll send him packing".
"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 ballast.
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 his lens.
Is the Green Tangerine a red herring?
Why are disposable nappies prized so highly in the region of Omega Solaris?
Find out more in our next, incredibly colourful, episode.
This page was last revised on: 24/11/10