STY-X SOFTWARE by Jean Miles
This time we again feature a nice novelette, rewritten from a
computer magazine from September 1984. ©1984 by Business Press
Listen, you've got to believe me... Oh, I know, you think I'm
crazy. I can see already you want to get away from me. Look, I'm
not begging for money. This suit I'm wearing, it came from
Saville Row. You can tell, can't you? That's my Aston Martin
out there in front of the pub. I've got all the money in the
world. I'll buy you a drink, any drink you want, I'll give you
money, just say what you want, but you've got to listen to me,
you've got to believe me...
Two years ago, I was a teacher. Nottingham. No Saville Row suits
and no Aston Martins up there, I can tell you. I used to teach
Latin, that wasn't so bad. Then the school went comprehensive,
they made me teach classical studies, history, all sorts of
stuff. I couldn't keep order anymore. The kids were bored, they
gave me hell, it was hell.
One consolation, though. We had a good computer department, and
I got interested early on. I used to stay after school a lot,
working on programs. The caretaker let me stay late whenever I
That's how it started. I was working late one evening. It was
getting dark but I was too busy to get up and switch on the
light. I just went on by the light from the screen. You know how
it is? And suddenly, there was this guy. I hadn't heard him come
in, but there he was.
"Foster?" he said.
"That's me. What can I do for you? I'm afraid the office will be
closed by now."
"Quite all right, Mr Foster. It's you I've come to see. Your
work here has come to our attention." And he handed me his
"Luke Ferry. STY-X SOFTWARE" it read. Good quality card. I was
surprised. I'd done a few little things, programs to teach the
principal parts of Latin verbs. I'd tried them on children.
Little wrenches were too stupid to understand anything but Space
Invaders, but maybe one of them had been talking about my
programs at home. Perhaps that's how Mr Ferry had heard of me. I
got up and switched on the light.
"How can I help you? I am afraid it isn't very comfortable here.
"This is fine," Mr Ferry said. "I like being around computers.
Yes, we admire your work. I hope I can persuade you to sign a
contract with us."
"A contract? Well..."
"It needn't interfere with your work here," he said. "If you
want to go on teaching, that's all right with us. We'll give you
£10,000 a year and I think we can arrange that the tax man won't
hear about it. You'll want some computing equipment at home. An
IBM PC perhaps? You name it. All we require is your signature
here. Exlcusive rights to your..."
I took that paper out of his hand so fast he didn't get a chance
to finish talking. I took a look at the top page and there it all
was, just as he said: £10,000 a year, computing equipment,
exclusive rights to any software I wrote, royalties for me of 85
per cent on the purchase price of all sales. There were a couple
of lines of small print but I didn't bother. For terms like that,
I'd sign everything. I'd probably sign my soul away.
So I signed, and he folded up the paper and slipped it in his
"Have you ever thought of trying to do a program that would work
out the school timetable?" he asked. "It's an idea I've been
amusing myself with."
"It's not possible," I said. "No one's been able to come up with
a timetable program that will fit into a micro."
He took up my pencil and sketched a flow chart. "The user has to
type in all the school requirements. We'd use prompts, like
this...It would take an hour or so the first time. Much quicker
after that. Then the computer would work out the whole timetable.
I've done some of the code."
Well, I don't need to go on telling you about that conversation.
If you're not in education yourself maybe you've never heard of
Timetable. It was a great success. Every school in the country
must have bought one. And Mr Ferry said I deserved all the
credits, so I got the royalties.
I gave up my job at that school PDQ. Left them in the middle of
term, in fact. Damned if I was going to spend another minute in a
classroom with those kids if I didn't have to. The school wasn't
very nice about it. Was I glad to get out of that place!
So I worked from home after that. I never seemed to get any
ideas, though. My wife was always wanting me to do this and do
that, and the children would have been underfoot all the time if
I hadn't clouted them pretty solidly. One afternoon Mr Ferry
turned up again.
"I'm sorry I haven't sent you anything lately, sir," I said.
"I've been working on something, but..."
"Don't you worry," he said. "We're very pleased with you, very
pleased indeed. I've just dropped round for a chat. I always like
to talk about computers with a real expert."
I felt really nervous. All that money and I hadn't really done
anything yet: was this leading up to some bad news?
He started poking at the computer keyboard. "Here's an idea I've
been pushing around a bit," he said. "For a game. Look - you set
up some little red things like this, and then you..."
It didn't take much looking to see it was a really good idea,
something absolutely new. I mean, you may not have heard of
Timetable, but you must have heard of Dante. everybody in the
whole world has been playing it for the last year. They did a
version for the big arcade machines, but it really runs better on
a home micro. It was Luke Ferry's idea, as I just told you, but
he said I'd done all the work and that I had to have all the
royalties and that meant I was really rich.
So I left Nottingham and came down here to London. The wife
wasn't pleased. Kept whining about taking the kids away from a
school they liked, and she didn't want to leave her garden, one
thing after another. We bough a nice flat not far from here, no
bloody garden, best part of Kensington. If she wants flowers she
can walk in the lousy park. Sent the children to the best
boarding schools in the book to get some peace and quietness for
I was at the computer all day, not feeling too well, put on a
bit of weight, still couldn't come up with anything. A few months
ago Ferry turned up again. Well, I knew the form by then. I knew
I didn't have anything to worry about. But I wasn't too glad to
see him, all the same. Something about him made me uncomfortable.
He was pleased with himself that day.
And well he might be. That time, the little trick he had up his
sleeve was a real world-beater. Literally. A voice-recognition
and translation program. The very thing all those artificial
intelligence boffins had been working on for years. They didn't
get there - Luke Ferry did. Gave me the credit again, but I
didn't deserve it. It was all him. Wonderfully simple idea once
you saw it. Interpreter, we called the program.
I know you've heard of it. Everybody has. And I know what you're
thinking: If I wrote Interpreter, I must be George Foster. Sir
George Foster to you, since the last Honours List. That's right.
That's who I am. I live alone now, just around the corner from
here. Left the wife a couple of weeks ago, couldn't take the
whining anymore. Lady Foster, for Christ's sake.
So that's my story, up until yesterday. Not quite what you were
expecting, is it? Not exactly a hard luck story. I haven't asked
you for anything, have I? Want another drink, before I tell you
the end? Anything you say. Have another of these cigars.
It's hard to say it. I'm a rational man. I'm sure you are too. I
mean, people used to believe these things, but it's all rubbish,
isn't it? I've been working too hard. I just imagined it all. I
just imagined that Luke Ferry came back last night and it wasn't
pleasant at all. I kept smelling fire and his teeth were pointed
like something out of a goddamned horror movie and he said I had
sold him my soul and he was here to collect. I could have 24
hours, he said. Find someone. Tell them my story. If I can find
someone to believe me, he'd let me off.
Don't go away. I know what you're thinking, but it's true, every
word I said is true. Don't go away. It's getting dark. Don't go
Nobody will ever know what happend to Sir George Foster. Will
people like Luke Ferry pop up again at any place? I don't know.
Next time in ST NEWS, you'll be able to read a novelette called
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.