"Q: Daddy, do all fairytales start with 'Once upon a time'?
"A: No, sometimes they start with 'If you vote for me'."
MASTERS OF WAR
by Bryan H. Joyce
A Tale From The Tavern At The Edge Of Nowhere
This story was previously published in "STUNN" and appears here
by permission of its author, our good friend Bryan "James" Joyce.
It was cut in two so as to enable owners of mere half meg ST
systems to read it too.
Sometimes it's quiet in the Tavern. Irritatingly quiet. No
fights. No interesting people. Nothing much happens for days on
end. At times such as these I often add to my journal.
What to write about this time?
Now, what tale had I heard recently that was worth remembering
in this journal? Perhaps the tale of how I came to work here in
the Tavern at the Edge of Nowhere? Nah! How my hair went white?
Nah! There must be something more interesting than that load of
Nothing interesting had happened for weeks. The last good tale
that I had heard was the story of how a scientist by the name of
Richard Thrum had lost his head and lived to tell the tale. His
head had been turned into a superconductor and he had ended up
becoming a permanent feature of the Tavern. His silvery looking
head now sits on a shelf above the mirror at the back of the bar.
The only way to communicate with him was through a gadget
unimaginatively know as a psionic device. This device looked like
a silvery locket and was currently hung about my thick neck. It's
been a good talking point for customers. They spot it. Ask what
it is. That gives me an excuse to talk for a while.
I'd already written Richard's story up in the journal, so no
help there. I bet he's got plenty of other tales to tell?
Unfortunately, Richard Thrum had not let out so much as a psionic
squeak in the month that his head had been here.
The device definitely worked. It allows the wearer to read or
project their own thoughts into the mind of others. I've never
tried to use it to read minds. Alburt Greshin gave me Richard's
head, the psionic device and warned me about reading minds. It's
never pleasant so don't do it. He is a telepathic detective, so
he should know what he is talking about. The psionic device is
great for shutting up noisy drunks or stopping fights. A few
carefully chosen words at extremely high volume broadcast
straight into the offenders mind work wonders. Yesterday it
allowed me to see a ghost.
Perhaps I could use that tale to fill up some room in my
journal? Nah! Hardly worthy of a few paragraphs. There wasn't
really any story there. The ghost and his companion seemed to be
of low intelligence and were unwilling to talk about much.
One of them was a typical hippy looking guy about twenty years
old. He had long mousey hair, a short beard and plastic glasses.
He carried a sort of briefcase and wore a woolly jumper.
Decidedly odd! His manner and dress were suggestive of the last
century. Maybe about 1990.
The other guy was clean shaven and very pale. He was dressed in
a white boiler or ship suit with white shoes. Not just white, but
sparkling white. His hair was pure white, just like mine, and he
had no eyebrows. He was very unhappy looking. Decidedly odder! It
was impossible to tell which time period he was from.
Their mannerisms were rather strange.
"Remember to use plenty of eye contact." said the pale guy.
"Can I have a coke please?" said the hippy putting his case on
the bar as he stared at me.
"Sure. Don't scratch the bar with that thing will you?" I said.
"There's no sharp edges on it." said the hippy.
"Don't be a wimp. Ask for a beer! Not too much eye contact."
said the pale guy.
"Make that a beer." said the hippy looking away.
"Any particular type?" I asked.
"Don't mumble. Be positive. When in doubt let the barman
choose." said the pale guy.
"Surprise me." said the hippy.
"Good one." said pale face.
"One beer coming up" I said.
"Be communicative. Don't wait. Introduce your self. You know who
you are and he can't be allowed to forget it." said pale face.
"My name is Brian Jones. I'm from 1991."
"Tony Wheelbough. From any time you want." I gave the hippy his
beer and turned to the pale guy. "You want a drink smiler?"
They both looked at each other uneasily and then stared at me.
"What?" said pale face quietly.
"What do you want to drink?"
"You can see me?" he sounded really surprise.
"No. I'm just guessing. What do you want to drink? Are you a
loony? And I don't mean someone who lives on the moon!"
I'm like that. Insult someone with a smile, a joke, the right
type of tone in your voice and they will usually be put at ease.
It's very rare that it doesn't work. Sometimes they just punch
"No, I'm not a loony. I was Victor Torus. I'm a ghost."
You would expect that Victor and Brian would be interesting to
talk to. Wrong! They were DEAD boring (he, he). Victor didn't
want to tell his story. All he would say was that he was teaching
Brian how to be assertive (he's a bloody rotten teacher if you
ask me). Hence the odd conversation. He didn't know anyone other
than Brian could see him. Victor was haunting him.
How interesting! Could they elaborate? No they couldn't!
Getting either of them to talk was like pulling teeth with
rubber tweezers; time consuming and pointless. Eventually, in
shear desperation I asked what the briefcase was for. This was
pay dirt. Extremely boring pay dirt I grant you, but pay dirt
The briefcase was in fact a portable computer. Brian was a
writer. Seconds after learning this, the computer was opened and
powered up. The thing was so antiquated that it had a real
keyboard. I pressed a few keys experimentally. Mmm, nice! First
time that I'd used a solid keyboard in years.
A badge below the tacky green screen proclaimed STACY. How nice!
My own computer didn't have a name. If it did, it would probably
be something boring like Freda or Susan.
Brian was unbelievably enthusiastic about this old fashioned box
of delights. I decided to try and spoil his day by showing him my
This was also my opportunity to do what I consider myself to do
best. Introduce unusual stories into mundane conversations. What
to talk about and how to connect the theme to computers? Oh yes,
I was given a universal format organiser over a year ago by a
short furry customer who I did a favour for. Four human teenagers
from Mars somewhere in the 2090's got stranded here on this
planet (there is no official name for it yet) where the complex
know as the Edge Of Nowhere is built. I gave them use of one of
the bars space/time vehicles to help them back to their own time
Their guardian was a talking dog called Daisy. She gave me that
organiser because it was of no use to her because she was herself
a supercomputer. Her computer brain was interfaced with the dog
brain with the hope that the organic part of the linked brains
would enable her to develop free will. She did develop free will
and had quite a rude personality. Within minutes of meeting her,
she called me "tubs" and swore at me several times. I took an
immediate liking to her. That's another story for another day.
Wonder how things worked out for her?
The name "universal format organiser" doesn't give away the fact
that the thing is the one of the most advanced pocket computers
in any of the known universes. It is manufactured by a group of
silicon based beings known as the Builders.
It's the same shape as a credit card only its about half an inch
thick. In the centre is an inch square sliding cover. Moving this
turns it on. Beneath the sliding cover is the holographic
projector used to produce the appearance of a full sized desktop
The holographic keyboard works by detecting the capacitance that
your finger makes as it enters the holograms field. The computer
then works out which key you are using. It's extremely difficult
to learn to use this kind of keyboard. You can't touch type with
it and there is no key click.
The monitor is also a hologram. It's rather odd looking to see a
perfectly rectangular screen with no perceivable thickness
floating in the air above the computer. The screen, when set to
it's maximum width, can be three feet across. I've set the one on
this computer to roughly 15 inches across.
Sound is supplied through sympathetic resonance. Put simply,
this means that the whole computer vibrates and the nearby
surroundings pick this up and convert it into sound. Well, that's
not really how it works, but it's a close enough analogy for this
little black duck.
I don't like this sympathetic resonance nonsense at all! If the
surface the computer is placed on is smooth, the vibration makes
it slide about. It's always falling off of the bar when I'm not
looking. Fortunately, the hologram automatically compensates and
remains where it is. The computer has to be moved several feet
before the hologram goes with it.
There are no sockets on it at all. All input/output is by direct
piped magnetic induction. This is why it is known as the
universal format organiser (or more commonly as a UF organiser.
It can intelligently work out the storage method used to store
any type of magnetic/atomic storage. It will even read and write
to old fashioned floppy disks with out touching them. Just let
the computer know where the disk is and it does the rest provided
that it is within a few feet of it.
I'm reliably informed, a little known side effect of this means
that the computer is also an expert at picking electronic locks.
I've never tried it, but I'm assure it works.
Software? It writes it's own to suit your needs.
Memory? Don't know. It can't be measured accurately. Well, not
by me. If you ask it, it will give a meaningless number
something along the lines of 10 to the power 898650357 or some
such drivel. It then has the cheek to add the word approximately.
All this memory fits onto a single memory crystal the size of my
thumbnail. It uses something known as molecular switching to
store the data. I haven't got a clue what that means. It's a very
big memory that's all I know. Probably bigger than the human
brain. It always has current running through it, so when you
switch the computer on, it's always doing whatever it was it
doing the last time that you used it. Because of this, there is
no need to have hard disk units. If the current failed, the
memory would freeze. You could remove the memory crystal and pop
it into a new computer. Funnily enough, the memory crystal is
human built. Invented about 2050. It was never desined to be able
to access more than a few thousand giga-bytes, but that's the
Builders for you! They often make other beings technology do
things it was never desined to do. Indeed, this is what enginners
the Universe over constantly do.
I haven't a clue about the power source. It's not atomic or
gravic that's for sure. The Builder duplicator doesn't work with
those sort of materials.
The duplicator is the reason why someone like me can own such a
powerful computer. The duplicator will reproduce nearly anything
as long as it's less than 30 pounds in weight. Don't ask me why
that limit exists. The duplicator itself takes up a space the
size of a small factory and needs a reactor to power it. It's own
parts are too big and heavy to copy itself.
The Builders were themselves originaly the construct of another
Two thousand years ago the Abcronxuddlern were highly advanced
in two areas. Genetics was just a hobby. Killing was their main
interest. They were masters of war. The development of space
travel didn't interest them much. It interfered with the day to
day running of the wars.
The Builders looked like large blobs of protoplasm only because
that's what they were (still are). Giant sized amoeboid like
creatures who's ability to extrude themselves into other shapes
made them tool users who didn't need tools. Well, not many
If a Builder was too small. It would eat and ingest rocks until
it was big enough for the job. If it was too big, tell it so and
it would divide into two or more individuals. They didn't know
their own life spans because, although they were often killed
whilst working, not a single creature had ever been known to die
a natural death.
You have probably guessed by now, the Builders were designed as
slaves. Their three goals in life were to learn, work and obey.
They were programmed workaholics and they loved it.
Perhaps because they were fashioned out of silicon compounds
rather than carbon, their brains were unstable producing a high
degree of eccentric behaviour. Sometimes they behaved like full
blown lunatics. To say they had phycological problems is an
understatement. They could give lessons to fruit cakes.
One of the Builders developed the theory for nuclear weapons.
Rumours that such things were possible was enough for Builders
everywhere. Having built them the Abcronxuddlern had to use them.
At that time, the population of the planet was roughly 2 billion
adult Abcronxuddlern and a couple of million Builders.
Two weeks after the theory of nuclear destruction went abroad,
there was 10 Builders for every Abcronxuddlern on the planet.
Builders are virtually immune to radiation. Their chromosomes are
just too big to be affected by radiation. It took a very extreme
heat or cold to even annoy them. Life on the planet was now
The Abcronxuddlern learned nothing by this. Small groups of
survivors sprang up and declared war with tooth, claw and club on
other small groups of survivors. The Builders did learn a lesson
from this, for it was their nature to do so. They were not going
to stand for this type of behaviour any longer.
First things first. They re-designed their own genetic structure
and created a second race of Builders with complete free will who
were capable of sticking two extruded fingers up at anyone that
ordered them about.
The Abcronxuddlern were rounded up and sent to camps for re-
educating. This did not work. After nearly a hundred years of
failure, the Builder's decided to get heavy and kick protoplasm.
The Abcronxuddlern were genetically altered so that their
offspring would be less aggressive. The new breed developed
something very desirable. A moral code. The old breed died out
eventually. Rumours crop up now and then about how some of the
bad seed survived, but no one really believes a word of it.
By this time, the Builders had discovered ways to muck about
with space and time. Effectively, faster than light travel was
possible. They finished re-building the planets natural
environment, deprived the Abcronxuddlern of all technology and
went off singly or in pairs to learn about the universe. Wherever
they went civilisation followed.
The Abcronxuddlern, left to there own devices, re-built their
civilisation in less than a thousand years. They are still too
aggressive for their own good, but they have not tried genocide
again. How high the masters of war have fallen. Today,
Abcronxuddlern are regarded as the Pit Bulls of the known
If you ever meet a Builder you are unbelievably lucky and may
end up disgustingly rich. Daisy didn't tell me the story of the
Builders. It is etched into the computers memory and cannot be
I told Brian all this and more. He listened closely and made a
few notes. When I told him about the my computer I demonstrated
each point. When I finished talking about the Builders, I left
him to potter about with the UF organiser whilst I tried to talk
to Victor for a while.
"I suppose that you're a ghost writer?" I joked.
"No." said Victor.
"Been dead long?"
"How did you die."
"Brian killed me."
"You feel like talking about it?"
A ghost of few words was Victor. And then later...
Your hair is white?" said Victor.
"Yes." I said.
"Yet your eyebrows are jet black?"
"Do you dye it?"
"No!" I said rather rudely.
"Oh! I didn't mean to offend! I was just making conversation."
Just making conversation! Can you believe it? He actualy said
that to me! Time for revenge.
"I don't feel like talking about it." I said and walked away.
In disgust I wandered off to polish the Wurlitzer. What sort of
song whould offend a ghost and a hippy? Maybe that old CD thing
by Frank Zappa's daughter? That offends everybody! Press a few
buttons, turn up the volumn and the sickening vocals of "Valley
Girl" rang out. How many repeats? 10. He, he!
They both left on the fourth repeat. If they ever come in again,
I'll get their story even if I have to drug them to do it. How'd
you drug a ghost?
That was yesterday. I suppose that I might as well write it up.
Nothing else interesting has happened around here. They might
come back and I can always add a bit to the story when I find out
a bit more about them.
I put my computer on the bar and turned it on. Strange? The file
manager is open? That hippy must have been using it. Let's take a
look in the log and see what he was doing....
WHAT? He's been copying files! That speccy swine has actually
stolen some of my journal!
(c) Bryan H. Joyce 16/1/92
This version for ST NEWS 27/AUG/92
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.