For your amusement:
Senator Talvin had finished three quarters of the
day's legislation agenda when he suddenly went dead.
Since the mainframe computer at Federal Legislative
Online Systems had rarely observed one of the users
completing their batch in one sitting, it made no
effort to send a trouble note to the human system
operators. Instead, with the ponderous indifference
that only a major mainframe is able to affect, and a
sweep of the newly vacated buffer, it turned to the
tasks requested by those users still on line.
Although frequently ponderous himself, Senator
Talvin was anything but indifferent to his terminal's
sudden demise. Following half a dozen failed logon
attempts, forty or fifty rapid fire stabs at the most
significant keys, and the obligatory whacks of his hand
to the terminal's case, he reached around to the back
of the machine and hit the diagnostics switch. The
screen jiggled, rolled, blinked twice, and showed;
STATUS : OFFLINE
VOLUME : FEDONSYS - USER T1437
SYSTEM : FATAL ERROR
DIAGONSTICS : MEMOR}}}_~rxD# /w@_~}}5!
which of course told him it was broke. Which he
already knew. Amazing.
Almost finished. He could have been done and out
the door in an hour, two tops. Now this. He'd
probably have to cancel the fishing trip. Er, junket.
Running a gnarled hand through his white shock of
unruly hair, he struggled to recall the reasons why he
and his constituents had voted nearly unanimously
several years ago to purchase the Federal Legislative
computer from Dobbsco.
There was no denying that the system had allowed
lawmaking to become a science, and to progress at the
breakneck pace required to keep up with this advanced
technological society. Sometimes, immediacy was called
for, and with all of the nation's laws stored in their
data banks, he could summon a law into being, with only
a request to the computer showing the need and the
precedent. The system was trusted with the more
mundane details, and also with the ability to turn down
a request and forward it to the users for a vote.
He also frequently appreciated the fact that he
could now tend to his business back home and remain in
touch with the voters, who still preferred physical
presence to cathode ray tubes. He no longer had to
live most of the year in that metropolitan nightmare
around Washington, wasting his days either commuting or
languishing in meetings while carrying on the regal but
threadbare traditions of lawmaking in person.
Not only had the present lawmaking been
simplified, but the horrendous backlog of laws passed
and unpassed, contradictory and outdated, had been
incorporated into the system, and more than half of
that legislative morass had been eliminated. He
predicted that before his term was up, the astounding
abilities of the Federal Online to collect, catalog,
collate and cross-reference the nation's legal
matters, and the lightening speed with which it, and
therefore all of its users could act, would have
completely eliminated the backlog. He and his fellow
congress people could then enjoy a more human level of
existence. Possibly even cut their work week down to
near the national average of twenty hours a week. This
thirty five to forty was killing him.
The system had been everything that the salesman
had promised. At least as far as he could recall. He had
a hard time remembering just what the salesman had
promised, but he remembered it sounded good at the time.
Really all he seemed to remember about the interviews and
committee meetings was the guy's smile. And his pipe.
Having regained a semblance of composure and
rationality, he let out a slow breath. Then he
punctuated it with a final bang on the box and slammed
his fist down on his office radio intercom.
"Ms. Matthews! My terminal has gone south. Get
Sitting at the work station in her den, Eleanor
Matthews winced at the voice. The old fart hadn't
snuck out as usual. Reluctantly, she logged off of the
international single's conference where she had been
teleconferencing with a wonderful gentleman in Italy.
She could tell by the slow and precise replies he
typed, that he was taking extreme care to not send any
typos. It was rare to meet a man so considerate
"Ms. Matthews, you're on the peoples' time. What
are you doing?"
"Sorry, sir. I was away from my machine."
"Which is as much use to me as my sitting here at
MY machine, which does not work. Get me maintenance!"
"Yes sir, right away."
She broke the connection, called up her work
station database, and had it dial out to Federal
Online's maintenance department. When the contact was
made, she switched on the audio system.
"This is Senator Talvin's office. His F.L.O.
terminal is inoperative."
"Please key in the installation data."
She typed the sequence that sent the information
on the Senator's terminal to the man.
Five seconds later, the voice came back, "System
control shows him as standard offline. Must be
communications problems. I'll head right over."
"Forty five minutes, traffic permitting."
She chewed on a strand of hair after the line went
dead, contemplating relogging on the single's
conference. No, better not. The Senator will be
screeching on the intercom every five minutes until
the repairman gets there. She took a breath,
straightened in her seat, and reached to call the
Bob Burroughs leaned back in his seat and regarded
the blank screen before him. He carefully removed the
eyeglasses which were his personal trademark. In these
days when everyone had implants or surgery to correct
their sight, he maintained his old fashioned glasses.
They made him feel more obviously connected the
technology that he so loved all his life. He pulled
out a gray work uniform shirt tail from under his
immense belly, and slowly polished the lenses.
Bob had done well for someone with no formal
training, starting out in his teenage years with the
tiny machines they called personal computers. He had
been what was known as a hacker, delighting in the
tweaking and tuning of the hardware and software to get
the absolute maximum efficiency. Although never
finishing more than a few college courses, he had
gathered an impressive knowledge of the machines in his
mind. But what really fueled his interest was the fact
that he related to the machines. Not that he ever
confused his life with theirs, but he always
had the feeling of superiority when his mind joined
forces with that of the machine. No intelligence,
organic or not, could compare with the two of them in
Even his body showed the nature of his background.
All the months and years hunched and slumped at a
keyboard had allowed his stomach muscles to atrophy.
The result, which he proudly called his "terminal
belly", now owned one third of his mass.
The other guys at work, most of them college
trained technicians, recognized and respected his
experience. While they did most of the road work, he
stayed back at the shop and did troubleshooting on the
really tough cases. They would get the advances, they
would get the supervisor slots, which was fine with
him. He wanted to keep in touch with the machines.
He never really knew how the personnel people had
got his name -- he'd never applied. But he was grateful
that they'd sought him out and offered him the job. He
frequently remembered the interview with Mr. Dobbs.
Nothing was ever mentioned about his capabilities. All
Mr. Dobbs seemed to be interested in at the time was
whether he'd ever been to Tibet.
He pulled his glasses back on over his ears, and
made an attempt to tuck his shirt tail back in over his
great stomach. Quickly, he typed a few commands which
would call into his home system, set his video machine
to record the news, and update his digital answering
machine to give his return time as seven o'clock.
He'd have to make the trip himself, having told
his co-workers that they might as well take off early,
all the day's work being finished early in the
afternoon. He had no problem with making a road trip
-- it got him out to see some of the installations he'd
helped design, and keeping in touch with the machines
was the important thing to him. They were like family
to him. They were the only family he needed, all that
He pushed his bulk up out of the chair, and
shuffled around the shop collecting tools, replacement
parts, hat and jacket. Carrying it all out the back
door to the company's electric hatchback, he laid the
tools and parts carefully in the back end, and threw
his jacket and hat over the headrest and into the
passenger seat. He slammed the hatch shut, went back
to lock the shop door, and then squeezed in behind the
steering wheel. With a flick of the power switch, the
motor emitted a muffled whine as it came up to speed.
When it had stabilized, he shut the car door, released
the brake, and eased out of the alley. No hurry, no
sweat, three hour job, tops.
Halfway across town, the motor's whine rose to a
wail, then to a screech. He quickly shut the motor
off, and coasted along the shoulder of the highway. As
the car came to rest, Bob glanced at the display.
There was still power, so he'd be able to use the
cellular to call for help. Too bad the car wasn't all
digital equipment. He'd have it fixed better than new
in no time. No, these mechanical beasts were beyond
him. He needed a mechanic.
At least the company had the sense to install
phones. It was six miles to the nearest exit ramp. He
took the handset from its cradle and fingered the
sequence listed on the dashboard sticker. A digitized
voice came on the line and assured him that the
contracted garage was being notified. It further
advised him not to run the heater, lights or radio lest
his batteries run down and prevent subsequent
communication. This is the suggestion of the
Federal Online company transportation department.
Thank you. Click.
Bob sighed and settled in to wait. There was no
radio in any of the company cars, so he picked up the
morning paper up off the floor, and started in where he
left off at lunch.
Gab Breckhurst was under the hood of his tow truck
when the call came in. The answering machine took the
call, and relayed it to him over the loudspeaker. He
backed down off the engine and took a swipe with his
sleeve at the sweat on his brow. That action had the
effect of transferring old grease from his sleeve to
his bony, hawkish face. If he noticed, he gave no
sign. He was used to being greasy. He lived in grease
While the rest of the world went computer crazy,
he had listened to his father and grandfather, and gone
into mechanics. Both had since passed on, leaving him
as sole owner of the garage. Rather than try to deal
with all of their old customers, he had closed the
garage and contracted with the government to maintain
Gab was the name given him in high school. Most
names so acquired reveal either a characteristic or
lack of it. In Gab's case, it was the latter. He had
no use for idle chatter and small talk, and
approximately the same opinion of all other kinds of
talk. He grudgingly handed out syllables as if he was
perilously close to running out of them. He preferred
to stay under the hood of the vehicles he maintained,
with his hands on those things he could understand and
He squinted at the loudspeaker as if daring it to
continue, but it remained silent. With a solid slam of
the hood, he walked around to the back of the tow truck
to gather his tool boxes. From the vehicle type, he
figured it to be a burnt brush. He could slap in a
temporary replacement in half an hour right on the
highway. No need for the tow truck. He much preferred
to do what he could on his own, saving the wear and
tear on his favorite vehicle. Besides, since he'd had
the auto-driver installed, he didn't need to drive it,
just could call it on the radio, and it would make its
way on its own, leaving him free to go on to another
repair, to the diner for lunch, or home for the day.
Precious little good he saw in most of those computer
gadgets, but that CD-ROM map and auto-driver system
saved him a lot of time and headaches. And he'd been
able to swing it as part of the contract with the
government, and the computer company that built the big computer for the
congresscritters. It cost him nothing, and enabled him to keep from hiring a helper who would probably run his
He threw his stuff in the back of his ancient pick
up truck along with a spare motor. With a roar and
stench of diesel, he gunned off to find the repair job.
Gab found the car right where the dispatch call
had said. He parked behind it and saw there was
someone still in it. He hadn't expected someone to be
there. He liked working for the government because
when he went out to fix their vehicles, they had
usually been picked up by someone sent after them, all
of them being so important that they didn't have time
to wait around. That suited him. No one to pester
him. But no, this time there was someone there,
probably going to complain constantly or else try to
make pleasant conversation. Now there was one of
those, whatever they called them words, the ones that
contradict each other. Pleasant conversation. What a
He climbed out of the pick up, grabbed his tools
and marched towards the car. He would make sure that
this little episode would go his way, no endless
yapping. As he neared the car, they guy rolled the
window down and started to say something.
"Pop the hood" Gab called to him without turning
his head, and stalked on in front of the car. The fat
guy inside did so, and Gab lifted the lid and proceeded
to lean into the motor compartment, poking and prying.
Bob sat inside and watched the man's hands through
the crack between the hood and windshield. He was glad
the guy didn't stop to ask him what the problem was.
He was content to wait it out, as long as he didn't
have to try to give some answers about something he
knew next to nothing about.
Fifteen minutes later, Gab came around to the
drivers door window and knocked on it. Bob rolled it
down and looked up at him.
"Ain't the motor. Transmission bearing. Haveta
Bob blinked at him, his mouth slack.
"I'll call the truck. Be here in half an hour."
Bob just nodded and rolled up the window. He
hoped the Senator didn't call the shop again. With
nobody there to answer it, the call would get forwarded
to the department office, and they'd wonder why
everybody was gone. He shouldn't have let the guys go
home early. Oh, well. Can't call for a ride either,
same problem. Just have to wait.
Back in the cab of his truck, Gab punched the
buttons on his radio to call his tow truck. After
getting the system to answer and start the truck, he
gave the coordinates. Now, it was just a matter of
time until the truck showed. Just in case the fat guy
got any ideas, he crossed his arms, closed his eyes,
and did his best nap imitation.
He must have done an exceptional job, because the
next he knew, the fat guy was knocking on his truck
door, and the traffic had thickened to rush hour
density. He checked his watch. An hour and a half!
Where was the truck? He ignored the fat guy and
grabbed his radio keypad. A few quick key punches told
him that his truck was fourteen miles away in the
suburbs, heading farther away, fully convinced it was
on its way to the break down site. He reentered the
coordinates, and got confirmation that the truck was
already enroute. Damn stupid computer. Can't turn
left without choking up. Damn, damn.
Gab climbed out and faced the fat guy, steeling
himself for what would probably turn out to be a long
drawn out bother.
"What's happened? Where's the tow truck?"
"Busted. Thinks it's coming, but it's going.
Computer's fouled up."
Bob brightened and looked in the window. "Oh,
really? Let's see it. I can fix it."
"It's on the tow truck."
Mrs. Markham looked out her kitchen window just
in time to see her roses murdered by a truck. It
pulled straight into her back yard from the alley,
crossed over her rose bushes, and came to a stop a few
feet from her house. The engine roared, and it started
to back out of her yard, catching any roses it might
have missed before.
She started to yell through the window screen, but
realized that there was nobody in the truck to yell at.
No sense yelling if there's nobody there to yell at.
While a part of her mind struggled with trying to find
what was wrong with that decision, she watched, her
hand still resting on the window sill, as the truck
headed off down the alley. Finally she decided that
person or no person, that truck killed her roses. She
called the police.
Patrolman Stafford appreciated the change from the
downtown cruise he usually pulled. Any action downtown
that involved vehicles was either another traffic jam,
or a nerve wracking comedy of low speed pursuit. He
longed for the excitement of the chase. He'd hoped to
find it in this job, but usually suffered intense
boredom instead. To occupy his time, he turned to his
Louie L'Amour collection, and the other westerns, which
provided him with all the thrill he could ever want.
To ride the range, to hunt down and round up the bad
guys, that was living!
Highway patrol was far from the range, but it was
closer than downtown duty. You never could tell when
one of the commuters, driving the old fashioned manual
way, would lose it at the gridlock and start
sideswiping the other vehicles. Probably not today; it
wasn't hot out yet. That's when they really lose it.
They should make a law that nobody is allowed to drive
manual on the highway anymore, especially at rush hour.
But he wouldn't mention the idea. It was one of the few
truly exciting episodes on this job, chasing down a
psyched out motorist.
Suddenly, the car radio crackled, "Car Bravo
Sierra five nine, report of 854, dangerous vehicle, and
501, vandalism. Vehicle is a black GM tow truck,
license Alpha X-ray five one five one, registered to
Gab Breckhurst Garage. Intercept and hold. There is
"Roger, central, Bravo Sierra five nine enroute.
Hot damn, a loose vehicle, running wild. Have to
head that bad boy off. Run 'im down, Stafford. He hit
the siren, and sped down the next exit ramp. It
started to dawn on him that he had no idea how to pull
over an unmanned vehicle.
"What do you mean you can't call it back?", Bob
roared over the sound of the rush hour traffic.
"It don't answer, is all."
"Well, call somebody else. Call another truck."
"Don't have one."
"Then call somebody else's truck."
"Can't. Radio don't work for nobody else. I set
it up that way."
"Why'd you do that?"
"Don't wanna talk to nobody."
Bob turned and walked off the shoulder on to the
grass off the side of the road. Everyone at the
department had gone home by now. No worry about
getting in trouble. He could cover his tracks, no
problem. But it was getting late. He had to take a
leak, but he was darned if he was going to do it right
here by the road with a hundred cars a minute driving
by. Oh, why can't people just build things right the
Patrolman Stafford caught up with the errant
vehicle when it crossed a side street, going from one
alley to the next. He floored the patrol car, and shot
around to the other end of the block. He had this baby
figured out. The collision detectors built into the
auto-driver would make the truck respond to his
vehicle's approach, just like a dogey on a cattle
drive. He was going to herd it into a box canyon, or
at least the local equivalent. He might have to herd
it for a while, but as soon as he found a dead end
street, he had it whipped.
The truck came out of the alley, and he charged in
front of it. The collision detectors took over, and
the truck turned onto the street. He drove alongside
of it until the next corner, then he swerved towards
it. It squealed around the corner avoiding him, and he
skidded after it. Hot pursuit! Ride, Stafford! Here's
your chance. All those years, all those books, you
better know your stuff by now. Show 'em all you got
He pulled away from the truck, crossed in front of
it, and slowed down along the other side. Next corner,
swerve. Turn and follow. Got it! Keep 'em riding
Stafford, you'll rope this dogey yet. Now, where's a
"Where IS he, Ms. Matthews?", the intercom
"I'm sure I don't know, Senator. They've assured
me that he's on his way." Cool. Keep cool. Show the
old fart you got more cool than he does. Why? Who
cares? Just be cool.
"It's been three hours. I want him here now!"
"If you like, I can call again. But I'm certain
that they'll give me the same answer they gave ten
"Oh, never mind. Call me if there's any word."
You old fart.
Hot damn, there's one, a dead end! Left, bear
left! That's it, ease over.... NOW! Got 'im!
Brake. Back out, block the exit. There! Caught.
The truck skidded to a halt inches from the wall
at the end of the road. It sat for a second, then
revved its engine up and began to back out, straight at
the patrol car. Patrolman Stafford jumped out, and
finding himself directly in between his car and the
oncoming truck, dove for the protection of the building
on the corner, just as the collision detectors kicked
in and stopped the truck again.
He watched for a few minutes while the truck ran
itself back and forth. When he was sure it wasn't
going to hit his car, he went over and reached inside
for his mike. He switched it to loudspeaker, and
summoned his authoritative voice.
"You have the right to....". He released the
transmit button, and slowly lowered the mike.
"No you don't. You're a truck."
"Senator, I have an emergency call for you."
Her voice startled him. He'd been dreaming of his
boat, and fishing. He'd just caught all the fish in
the lake, and ordered them into the refrigerator in the
cabin, but there were too many of them and the boat
"What is it? Is he here?"
"This is an emergency call from Police Central
"Very well, put them on."
"Senator Talvin, this is Captain Harrison at
"Yes, Captain, what can I do for you?"
"Senator, we have a bit of a situation. One of
our officers has chased down and captured a vehicle on
auto-driver. He needs to disconnect the auto-drive,
but he can't."
"Really, Captain, if this is a matter of
"No, Senator, that's not it. His patrol car
contains the necessary equipment to override the auto-
driver. All of our highway cars have that now. But
the law clearly states that they can use it to take
control of a vehicle whose driver is incapacitated or
dangerous. This vehicle has no driver.
"Since the situation hasn't come up before, we
have no statute which allows us to take control of a
fully automated vehicle on the road. Air Traffic has a
law that allows them to take control of an aircraft
under circumstances such as these. I thought that
perhaps since there was a parallel law, and no
precedence, you could consult your Federal Legislative
system, and have it authorize a law for us. We'd like
to resolve this without danger to citizens or to the
vehicle. The government could be held liable in such a
"Yes, Captain, I think that could be very easily
done. Please hold the line, it shouldn't take more
than a couple of minutes."
"Thank you, sir. I'm very glad we've got you and
your system to help us with these things."
"It's not a problem, Captain. Just a second while
The Senator closed his mouth, and it became a
hard, thin line across his face. While he stared at
his terminal, his temper seethed, then broke loose from
its moorings. He banged on the terminal's top until it
dented. Then he sat down hard, fuming. His blood ran
so hot that it rang in his ears. And somewhere, far
back in his mind, the Senator wondered why the sound in
his ears sounded like the grinding gears of a machine
(@ @)\DynaSoar\___, Yetii Genetii Research InstiToot
ll ll SubGenius Church of Scienfictiontology
Clench of The One True Pipe Dream, Terran Occupation Forces
DynaSoar, Tibetian Rantarian, Chaplain : firstname.lastname@example.org
'Praise "0100 0010 0110 1111 0110 0010"' -- MWOWM
Doktor DynaSoar Iridium -- email@example.com -- Punctuator of Evolution
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