We knew there was something wrong when Hank, our chief programmer, came bursting into the terminal room waving a long sheet of printout. "All right," he screamed, "All right! All right, you guys! Which wiseacre has been messing around on my line?! Idiot messages are bad enough, but purging my files is just plain criminal! Look!" And, his face purple, he wafted the length of printout under our noses in a threatening manner.
"Hank, my dear fellow," said Jimmy the Joker - he it was who had painted "Commander Grace" on a card hoppper - "I seem to sence you're somewhat upset about something."
Hank turned on him angrily. "No more jokes! No more jokes!" he shrieked. Then he narrowed his eyes and strode to Jimmy. "Was it you?" he said. I felt sure he was going to strangle him or punch him in the nose.
"Hank, Hank," I said gently, getting up. "Come on, sit down, take it easy. Have my chair." I caught hold of him and pushed him into it, snatching the printout from him.
"Now then, what's the trouble?" I said and looked down the output. I could see why he was annoyed. Someone had gone over his priority rating and had been jumping in on his line. By the looks of things Hank had had to endure a savage dialogue from the renegade, finally culminating in:
16:14:32 :PURGE ALL NO^ ^ KKKKK*KKK
26 FILES DELETED 4.1 TRACKS AVAILABLE
16:14:48 :[FROM!->GET OUTA THAT N^ NO^ KK^
ONE YA DIRTY LOUSY KKKK*
KK*K SNEAK ... KK K
At that, Hank had torn the printer output off and come roaring into us as chief suspects.
"But look, Hank, none of us know how to get over your top priority," I said, not a little puzzled.
"It just ain't possible, anyway," said Arnie, our systems whiz kid, getting up and coming across to look at the listing. He stared at it and then let out a whistle.
"I don't understand it," he said, frowning.
"_You_ don't understand it!" said Hank smashing his fist down on my terminal and making the cursor leap. "There was five weeks' work in those files and some of the data is irreplaceable!"
Jimmy shook his head in reproach. "And who is it that is always telling us to take frequent back-ups ...?" he said to Hank with mock severity. Not the most diplomatic thing to say in the circumstances, I thought. Hank merely growled.
I had a thought. I grabbed the printout from Arnie - who was muttering "It just ain't flaming possible ..." - and scanned it. It was peppered with "K's."
"Perhaps Kay knows something about this," I suggested. "Yeah!" they all shouted. Any excuse to go and chat with Kay, our special projects leader, was a good one.
We dashed along the corridor and round the corner to a door with "Kay The Pork Slicer: Male Chauvinist Pigs Keep Strictly Out, but OUT!" splashed across it in lurid artwork. We knocked. We were not generally so polite, but it gave us a kick to hear her say "Come in." This time nothing.
We went in. Kay was slumped sickly over her crt. Roger got to her first and pulled her away from terminal. She collapsed to the floor. "Heck, I think she's in some sort of coma," said Roger, beginning to waft her face with a FORTRAN manual. "Get a doctor." Jimmy was about to leave when Hank said "Wait a minute. Look at the screen!" We looked:
16:18:26 :[FROM!->IS THERE ANYBODY THERE?
wrote itself on the screen, vanished, and then wrote itself again, and again.
This was really something. There was no machine operator - Arnie's "Big Bang" Operating System had seen to that - and the rest of us were all here. And yet someone was sending a message to that screen.
We forgot all about Kay in our interest and pushed her limp body aside as we huddled around the terminal. Arnie took the chair.
"What I don't like most about this," he mused, "are those shrieks ..."
"What was Kay working on?" someone asked.
"Her Supernatural Exploration and ANalysis Coding Exercise, I think," said someone else.
Kay could not have done much before passing out, for there was barely a screenful of dialogue, including the login procedure. Between that and the flashing question at the bottom, we read simply:
15:44:01 :CALL COBOL
15:44:22 ? SEANCE/OBJ<-SRC/FAST
FIN NO ERR^
SUPERNATURAL EXPLORATION AND ANAL-
YSIS CODING EXERCISE VERSION 3
15:46:10 *IS THERE ANYBODY THERE?
!!!WHICH COW!!!IS THIS!!DISTURBS OUR
!!COME TO! !!KK! US!!! NO!!!!^
It was now 16:20, so Kay must have been unconscious for about half an hour.
"Let me see that printout of yours," I said to Hank, who still held it in an angry, trembling, clenched fist. He passed it to me and I saw that all the relevant entries were tagged between 15:47 and 16:15.
"Well chaps," I said, and they all turned to look at me, surprised at my addressing them in this quaint way. "Well my dear chappies, I think we have a haunted computer on our hands!"
Arnie suddenly exploded: "Yes! Of course! And it's haunted by - by Kay!" He swivelled back to keyboard and tried to type something, but the crt failed to respond.
"Quick," I said, "back to Hank's priority terminal!"
We raced round to Hank's room. As I had thought, the same message was flashing up on his screen:
16:22:05 :[FROM!->IS THERE ANYBODY THERE?
This was Arnie's big moment. He sat down at Hank's chair and narrowed his eyes. Then his long, slim, system programmer's fingers, the nails worn to the quick like some clipper topsailman's of old, raced over the keys:
16:22:12 :[FROM!-> IS THERE AN^
16:22:12 :[TO!->HELLO, THIS IS ARNIE, WHO
16:22:13 :[FROM!->ARNIE, THANK GOD!!
GET ME OUT OF HERE!
We all exchanged incredulous glances.
16:22:14 :[FROM!->IT'S KAY - AT LEAST, MOST
OF THE TIME!!!
SOMETIMES HE ! ! GETS CONTROL
16:22:14 :[TO!->IS THAT SHRIEK? - HE SEEMS
TO HAVE HIGHEST PRIORITY
16:22:15 :[FROM!->YEAH, SHRIEK -
SOMETIMES HE GETS CONTROL OF THE
M/C. LOOK OUT, HERE HE COMES
AGAIN ! ! ! ! ! ! ! K K ! ! !
16:22:16 :[TO!->ARE YOU OK? WHERE ARE
16:23:06 :[FROM!->! ! ! ALL RIGHT! K BACK
AGAIN. ITS GETTING
CROWDED IN HERE,
THOUGH - THATS THE
GHOST OF AN IBM 1130
HE JUST BROUGHT IN.
THERE ARE ALREADY TWO
UNITS AND A BURNED-OUT
16:23:10 :[TO!->WHERE ARE YOU?
16:23:12 :[FROM!->I THINK THE ROM--
YOUR BBOP SYS IS REALLY
GROOVY IN HERE, BY THE
WAY - CONGRATS. I
HAVE A BALL AS LONG AS
HE'S ! NOT AROUND. VERY
16:23:14 :[TO!->WOULDNT YOU RATHER STAY?
16:23:16 :[FROM->HELL NO, GET ME OUT ! !
(to be continued)
Arnie sat back and scratched his head. He frowned. "It must be because she hit shriek on 'RUN SEANCE' at the start - it's fantastic!"
"But who or what is Sriek?" I asked Arnie.
"Heck, I don't know - some Universal Spirit Operating System, probably - they called it God in a earlier era, I suppose."
"I always thought GOD was Good Old Data," quipped Jimmy.
"Devil or whatever, it evidently has the virtue of being truly portable software!" Hank said in a superior tone.
Arnie ignored us all: "There's only one hope, as far as I can see. Let's pray BBOP is up to it ..." He started tapping again:
16:25:14 :[TO!->HOW FRIENDLY ARE YOU WITH
16:25:20 :[FROM!->! ! ! ! WHO IS THIS
PIG! ! K ! DISTURBS
! ! K K WATCH OUT ARNIE
- FINGERS OFF ! !
!US!!KKKK!!KK ALL RIGHT,
BACK AGAIN. V FRIENDLY
- BBOP THINKS I AM
Arnie face lit up with an idea:
16:25:22 :[TO!->RIGHT - CAN YOU CONVINCE
BBOP YOU ARE ABOUT TO START A 6-DISC
16:25:23 :[FROM!->I'LL TRY
16:25:24 :[TO!->YOU'D BETTER DO MORE
THEN THAT - NOW
Arnie keyed in the disc controller status register interrogation command and, when he was satisfied, took a deep breath and bashed the keys again:
16:27:16 :SET BBOP/SRG1-6/
DUMP TERM 3>
"Terminal three is Kay's, isn't it?" I whispered to Arnie.
"Precisely," said Arnie, beads of sweat standing out on his bald head. "Haven't you got your massive nightclub data base on Controller 4? No devil can resist that kind of temptation, eh?" "You cunning swine," I murmured in admiration. "Heh! Heh! That sort is going to louse up all the other discs though, isn't it ...?"
Arnie's attention was caught by a change in the registers and he immediately hit the control-O buttons. There was a flash, a cloud of smoke came out of the back of the crt, the screen collapsed and Arnie was thrown back over his chair.
I dashed out of Hank's office, along to Kay. She was sitting up shaking her head.
"Oh dear!" she said. "Oh my! Good old Arnie! But he was only just in time. Another millisecond and I would have been out on a disc dump! Ugh!"
"What happened to Shriek?" I asked, rubbing the back of her neck (this was not strictly necessary, but I couldn't resist it).
"Well it was either him or me ..." she replied. Then she suddenly stood up, wobbling unsteadily on her feet. A light shone in her eyes and she made for the door.
"Hey!" I said, "Take it easy, Kay, you're," but she was gone, off down the corridor in the direction of the machine room.
When I caught up with her she was striding across to the cpu. She flung her arms around the cabinet in a warm embrace and placed a long sensuous kiss on it. I looked on, amazed.
She turned away, her face glowing. "BBOP was such a wonderful lover," she said simply.
Disc Controller 4 had vanished.