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The Telstar

The Telstar

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The Telstar

281 pages
3 heures
Nov 23, 2011


In 1957, Samson Tipperty discovers his unreliable father without a head. Samson flees, clutching his father's unreliable pistol. And then the inevitable happens: he is beamed up in to space and held captive by the Russians aboard their spacecraft called The Sputnik.

This is what Samson Tipperty believes, but most of his beliefs are false.

Samson Tipperty has not been captured by Russians, and he is not on board the Sputnik. All he has inside the sealed chamber which is not called the Sputnik is a robot from 2013 for company and a Commodore 64 from 1985 with which to discover the solution.

But how can anyone find a solution, when no-one knows what the problem is?

Nov 23, 2011

À propos de l'auteur

Samuel J Addison (1981 - the ever changing present) was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, to his parents. He learned to write fiction and program computers on the Commodore 64 and the Amiga 500, before wasting a lot of time drinking, not really having a job, and pretending to be a philosopher. He now has two children, an infinitely enduring partner, and a job / jobs developing websites. His debut novel, The Telstar, is one of his favourite books, actually. He hopes to one day visit space.

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The Telstar - Samuel Addison












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Chapter 1

Samson - 08.37 October 5th, 1957.

I ain't sure if Pa would have been proud, but I suppose it don’t matter, seeing as he blew his own and only head off with a pistol. That’s the pistol I happen to be holding.

If I were a gambling or a hoping type of individual, I might incline to think that he’d be behind me, guiding me, rooting for me, or whatever a father is best to do. Seeing, however, as we had a difference of opinion, the sort of difference that leads me to standing out here in these woods, clutching a pistol, and him slumped at home having blown his own and only head off with that self-same pistol, he might happen to take a real disapproving attitude. I ain’t too Davy Crockett about my Pa disapproving of a decision I make and such, but like I said, he did blow his own and only head off with a pistol, so this little back-and-forth in my noggin don’t weigh a whole lot on the current grand scheme of the present.

What does most definitely matter is the Russian threat, except they ain’t so much a threat now as a promise since they managed to send their Sputnik into space. As everybody knows – none more so than Pa, till he blew his own and only head off with this pistol that I’m clutching – the Russians have been striving for their own power and waiting for others’ weakness. So absolutely, we thought we were preparing ourselves against the threat. Pa, if he were to be inclined to be gambling and hoping, would have put the final outcome to have been failure for the communists, and vindication for right-thinking people like me and Pa. What we were concerned with was how to deal with the battles, never truly believing that the war could ever be lost. But now they’ve laid claim to space before anyone else could take a sniff. Pa couldn’t see any way how such a state of affairs would represent anything but the end.

I don’t have any kind of difference of opinion with Pa on that score. Now the Soviets have got the Sputnik installation in space, not one single one of us in the right-thinking world is safe or free to go wherever we choose. Seeing as we’re just about the only right-thinkers around, me and Pa are done for. Once you’ve got the whole of space looking down on the Earth as your kingdom, you can lay H-bombs and shoot death-rays over whichever animal, vegetable or mineral don’t conform to your view on how things ought to be done. The folks up in that Sputnik must feel like they got themselves all the power in the world. Happen they have robots up there, and all.

So with that kind of power, it looks like they’ve got themselves the world. Sure enough, there’s not a whole lot I can fix about that, holding just a pistol, on my own out here in the woods. Pa thought he had a role to play in protecting the world, and that’s what must have done it for him. Russian rule is inevitable, and Pa always said that the inevitable is something you can’t escape. I guess that he did escape it, though, but only through death which is of course the final inevitable that all of us face. So I suppose his rule still stands, not that this is any time to go counting angels on a pin.

Anyway, though I understand his logic, I did not and do not agree that his way was the best way. Maybe seeing as I ain’t seen so many years as him, I can hold a more flexible view, and probably a more selfish take on things as is befitting my age. I’m going to let the world go to hell, and just dig out one little piece for myself to defend. Everyone else can figure out whatever’s best for them, but I know I can do this.

Hell, maybe what Pa did to his own and only head was best for his old self. Happen what with all the sleeping he does every night with no negotiation – a number of hours needing more than one hand to count – means that time spent surviving would be nasty and short. As for myself with my less wearied age and more flexible mindset, I can dispense with such patterns more befitting of an ole-timer. Right now, standing here with a mind clear and calm as the forest air, I have denied myself slumber for two nights and two days running, and I ain’t experienced no symptoms of withdrawal. Pa also had a difference of opinion with me regarding the matter of pills, but what with my medicine bottle I can intend to remain in a wakeful state much longer should it be required in order to establish myself in the new quarters.

The quarters are near. Out here, in these woods, near the stream where we’d go fishing together in more amenable times, we took ourselves a little dug-out cave and stocked it to the hilt with all manner of canned foodstuffs to see us going while any battles took place. Course it’s all over before it’s even begun and there won’t be no battles, so those cans are gonna have to do me until I can work out how and when to hunt. Since we stocked for two, and now there’s only one of us, I won’t have to be in any great hurry to live off the land.

I figure the more time I can spend in a cave the better. The foliage cover around here should be good, but I might still get spied, if they look real hard. You can’t see inside a cave though, not even from space. This little cave is so well camouflaged you’d have a tough job finding it even if you were stood right outside. I can keep warm in there, especially as we left a swell fur coat and such, should the Reds use the atom bomb and cause a nuclear winter.

It’s near enough to the stream so that I’ll be able to creep out in darkness and fill some kind of glugger with water, and maybe even give myself a clean once in a while. Pa always said to me that you can never step into the same stream twice. I ain’t just exactly sure what he was trying to get at, partly because I’m not exactly sure he was either, but anyhow I’ll be able to test that out, seeing as I’ll be living by a stream with time standing still, more or less.

I can see the spot right now, as I’m looking down from the top of the slope that overlooks the stream. The Sun is slowly lifting itself from its slumber, pouring some golden light through the leaves and sprinkling off the water. Strange to think that where I am can seem so calm and beautiful when the worst fate which could possibly befall the world is about to transpire. If I were to suddenly take to gambling and hoping, I might take it as a sign that where I’m headed is like some kind of sanctuary, a Garden of Eden that is safe from the invaders. Happen with Pa’s ole pistol I can keep it that way, at least for long enough to enjoy it.

Standing here with a pleased little smile on my face, it occurs to me that I forgot to bring a can opener. Pa might feel vindicated after all, but then that just seems like a foolish thought. What sense is there in killing yourself for want of a can-opener? No, it’s too late to be fretting over burnt shrimp, no matter how significant it might seem. The only thing that's worth half a plate of fried chicken is the situation with the Russians and my own survival. Happen I'll just trust in fate to deliver some means for opening my cans. That might seem like a bit of gambling and hoping, but what the hell.

My pause at the top of the hill don’t last long. There’s someone up over to the side of me, tracking me. I’m sure of it; I can hear the noise of footsteps on the leaves. They’ve found me. I don’t know how they did it, but they’ve found me. They know what I’m trying to do, and they’re trying to stop me. Of course, that’s what the pistol is for; folks don’t carry a gun with them unless they’re prepared to use it, and I don’t plan to be any exception.

It’s hard to see with the harsh morning light and the trees all around me, but I’m sure I see what looks like a figure. Sure, it’s just a shadow, but I’ve been out here enough times to know when something’s up. Given everything that’s going on - that the Russians got their Sputnik and they’ll be gunning for folks like me - there’s only one way this situation can play out. Either I get killed, or I do some killing.

I raise my pistol, and point it towards where the noise is coming from. I don’t hear no noise right now, but I know somebody’s there. I can see a shape and a shadow. There’s no gambling or hoping to do here; that there represents a Russian. He’s behind a tree, but I can see his big fat Russian belly poking out the side. I line the sights up and I go for it. I pull the trigger. The shot fires.

I don’t just exactly know what’s happened. I don’t like it. I can’t tell if I got him, or even if there really was someone there. Should I go over? I shouldn’t go over. There could be more. I spin around, and bust out a cat-call. That should scare them long enough to get me a head-start. With a bit of grit and gumption, I can double-cross them and make it to my cave and to safety. If I don’t have the gumption for that, then I don’t have the gumption to survive long-term and I’ll be better off dead anyway. This is a test of gumption, because gumption’s what I’ve got to have.

I start to run down the hill and through the trees, towards the stream. I hear a noise behind me, like a wounded animal, but definitely human. I hear sounds like a human or, heck, a humanoid could make. I turn my head to look over my shoulder as I gallop.

I see a blur of trees, and then they rotate and get pushed out by the sky as I trip over a branch. I try to grab on to something but the loose dirt is against me, and with no kind of nothing to anchor on to, my body tumbles down to where the slope has collapsed. I’m pulled and dragged by my own dead weight into the shallow rocky stream, and a burning flash shines through my skull and into my head.

For the brief moment of pure and intense clarity before a blackout, my eyes are wide open and I stare up at the sharp relief of the treetops against the morning sky. I taste dirt, and fresh water.

Chapter 2

Al - 5th October 1985

I shouldn't be here.

I should be back home, sat on my arse on a bean-bag in a bedsit, a jug of coffee to my left, a bowl of pickled onion Space Raiders to my right, a Commodore 64 on my lap plugged into a telly at my face. I should be working on MELIZA all the time. If I were home, I'd have finished her by now.

I should be the creator - and master - of my own universe. I should set the boundaries of reality. I should be deciding what I am, what is important and what is not. I should not be a cog - less than a cog - in a lumbering, relentless and unbendable machine. I should have the power to choose: to choose everything. Not suffer a fate.

So thank god for the free Western world, where we are blessed with unlimited choice. You suffer a fate in a place like the Soviet Union. Then again, although I’m not in Russia, I’m not back home in Scotland doing what I might have wanted to do either. I’m in Hicksville USA, the home of free market capitalism, not doing what I dream of doing. I'm mostly doing things I hate, in a place that might as well be in the USSR.

I came to the States to work for a monolithic yet also labyrinthine organisation called the Fairley Institute, to assist in a research programme involving the use of computers in theoretical and applied physics. So I have been told. The plan was that I would start off at an entry level, which happened. Then my advanced COBOL and PASCAL coding skills would shine through and propel me into a rapid career progression, which didn't happen.

So rather than put my intelligence and creativity to purposeful use, I go to a basement office every day to slump at a terminal and type in numbers from a hand-written data sheet. Once I’ve typed in enough numbers, I then transfer the data from the computer’s memory banks on to a reel of storage tape. I then take that tape, seal it in a box, and place it in the archive room. Since starting here, not one of those tapes has ever been used.

The fun doesn’t stop there, though. Once I’ve got that data archived, I then create printouts of the data from the computer to the dot-matrix, and then sort these printouts according to their code headings. Then these printouts get sent through internal mail to the relevant individuals in the organisation. Except, however, for Dr. Lugestein, who prefers me just to forward him the original hand-written log-sheets. It might be sensible not to print out Dr. Lugestein’s data, but the system doesn’t let me do that. It might be sensible to bin Dr. Lugestein’s printouts or even not enter his numbers in the first place, but the Data Management Manager won’t let me do that. So I have to keep Dr. Lugestein’s print-outs in a pile in my basement office. I don’t know what else to do with them.

Dr. Lugestein distrusts technology, and thinks things are simpler done the way they’ve worked before.

I sometimes think that although I’m working in the free Western world, I might have been better off under a communist regime, given the way things have ended up. I’m led to believe - and did believe - that, in a free-market society, every individual has the right to strike out on their own on a whim and at a risk: to be the author of one’s own destiny, to sculpt fate. But at least under some kind of state-ordered system, I could approach someone and say something like, Listen mate (or mateski), I’m wasted in this totally pointless task. How’s about something more productive for me to do? If I was to do that here, and someone actually paid any notice, it’d be decided that I was a waste of money and I’d get the sack. I might be bored here, but at least that’s better than being penniless on the streets.

I sometimes tell myself that there is more to my job than there really is. I think the Data Management Manager tells himself that, too, but more often, and for different reasons. I did mention to him that I could do more. I didn’t tell him that what I did was demonstrably pointless. That much should be clear to any level of intelligence from that of a dim-witted child and upwards, so I certainly didn’t want risk him discovering the truth. No, I just mentioned that if there were any other challenges available, I would relish the opportunity to tackle them head-on. So he gave me the task of translating some numbers from standard base 10 into base 16, or hexadecimal. Manually. I tried to explain that a simple program could perform this task, and indeed I could write it myself if I had access to the mainframe, but no, apparently job allocations and security procedures would prevent this.

I consider the use my brain to perform the sort of processing task computers were designed to do, on numbers already in a computer’s data bank, to be pointless even without considering that the outcome of the task has no purpose. So rather than waste my brain cells, I just make up a bunch of digits as I enter them. I file them away, knowing that no-one will ever look at them, let alone rely on them.

Any spare brain capacity – and there is plenty – gets used on my own last-ditch attempt at doing what I'd have already done if I'd never come here. Which is, of course, to write a program that will pass the Turing test and spread artificial intelligence across the world like a rash. MELIZA is that program.

Okay, writing a program that is capable of carrying out a truly convincing conversation with a human being is maybe a little ambitious. 64Kb of RAM is a lot, but hardly enough to contain a full human vocabulary alongside the complex code required to use it intelligibly. Still, with a few tricks and workarounds, I’m certain it’s possible to get the C64 to hold its own in a wee chat. MELIZA might not be quite up to discussing metaphysics just yet, but I’m getting close to something like a chat with a foreigner about the weather.

Fate or fortune hasn’t exactly smiled on me, but it has at least given a passing smirk. Although I suffer a miserable existence, at least I’ve been able to smuggle my Commodore 64 into the basement office, passing it off as just another piece of office equipment to anyone

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