STARFIEND by L.S. Murray
Originally published in ST NEWS Volume 1 Issue 6, launched on
November 15th 1986.
This time, we proudly publish another novelette, taken from a
computer magazine from May 1984. ©1984 by Business Press
Each time as he fired, an enemy died. His face wore an impassive
blankness as his fingers, barely moving, operated the controls of
his machine, but his eyes were filled with resolve and dedication.
He knew that the end was near but his gaze did not wander from the
screen to the protentous fuel gauge for an instant. That would
mean missing a target, wasting a round. He never wasted a round.
To shoot was to destroy.
The fuel ran out. The shrill sounds of the warning filled his
ears as the controls froze. His last missile smashed into the
target ships, blowing them into incandescent fragments. For a
while the screen was clear, then two enemy ships popped out of
hyperspace ahead of him. One flashed across his field of vision;
Starfiend's finger touches his fire button automatically and the
ship ceased to exist. Meanwhile, the other accelerated along a
wide curve, clear of his field of fire. It was going to ram him.
They wanted him that badly.
The screen blazed blue-white, and the echoes of the explosion
chased each other up and down the arcade. Starfiend gurgled in
delight and, in answer to the machine's prompt, entered his name.
It appeared, in coruscating letters, at the top of the screen
while below it the machine proceeded with the important business
of enticing the next client.
As Starfiend turned to leave, he bumped into the man who had been
watching him over his shoulder. Starfiend had not seen him arrive
but such had been his concentration that this did not surprise
him. "Sorry," he mumbled cursing his tongue, which seemed like a
roll of carpet and which made his life a misery. He knew that the
man would not understand him.
"That's alright, son," replied the man. Starfiend gasped inwardly
at his error. Normally, if strangers bothered at all they could
only understand him with persistence and repetition. The man
continued, "I've been watching you, and I'm very impressed. You
must have put in a lot of practice." He paused, inviting a reply.
Starfiend wriggled in inner conflict. Experience told him to
escape, before the innocent conversation became an embarrasing
trap for them both, but curiosity and excruciating loneliness
urged him to stay. "No," he ventured, the word rolling off his
tongue like a sticky clay ball. The stranger raised his eyebrows
in interested astonishment. Emboldened, Starfiend continue: "They
moved this machine in on Monday. That was the fifth time I've
The stranger nodded. He had understood. He scrutinised the
machine's score chart. The top five entries were Starfiend's. and
his lowest score was twice that beneath it. "They'll never grow
rich with people like you about," he quipped, then added less
gently, "Shouldn't you be at school?"
Horror and suspicion flooded Starfiend's mind. Was the stranger a
school inspector; a truant hunter? Brazenly, he responded, "Yes.
Right now, I should be attending a music lesson. The music teacher
likes choral work. Not much point me being here, is there?" The
last sentence was spoken in a bitter tone.
The stranger looked thoughtful. "You don't like school?"
"I would if it liked me."
"Have you considered a special school?"
"I have; but my parents think that I'm better off with 'normal'
"So you come here to avoid school?"
"No!" Starfiend was adamant. "School's unpleasant; and there I'm
average to poor. But here, I'm king. The arcade owner never turns
the machines off, so my name's on top of all their lists. I don't
want them to know who Starfiend is. I know, and that's all I
The stranger nodded, as if he had heard something he already
knew. "Are you going back to school now?" he asked. Starfiend
nodded. The stranger continued, "May I walk with you?"
They left the arcade and made their way down the High Street, a
canyon of corrugated iron and plywood made both colourful and
seedy by a profusion of posters advertising gigs and wrestling
matches. For a while they strolled, silent amid the noise and
fumes, then the stranger remarked, "Have you ever wondered how
those machines work, Starfiend?"
"Microprocessors," replied the boy, instantly realising that the
word was a meaningless reflex action. "No, I guess not. I asked my
physics teacher once, but all I got was a load of chat about
energy gaps and conduction bands."
"I'm surprised you remember those terms."
"Once I learn to say something, I don't forget it."
The stranger flushed. "I'm sorry."
"It's alright, I didn't mean it like that." Actually, he had, but
Starfiend felt ashamed of his petulance. New friends were not to
be treated so badly. "Tell me," he asked, "how do microprocessors
"I don't know, I'm not a scientist, I'm a soldier. No, the reason
I brought the subject up was to point out a curious anomaly. Does
it not seem strange to you that developments in electronics over
the past few years far outstrip those made in other fields?"
"Do they?" said Starfiend. As if cued, wo sports cars leapt away
from the nearby traffic lights, their exhausts bellowing and tyres
squealing. They raced neck and neck up the hill and were lost to
"Take those cars," said the stranger. "They have components made
of advanced steel alloys, and electronically controlled engines,
yet they are based on principles known to the Romans; hot gases
expand. But they are grossly inefficient. Don't you think that in
2,000 years something more elegant could have been contrived?"
"I told you, I am not a scientist. But where I come from, we have
engines as far in advance of those cars as they are in advance of
Newcomen's. That, and a thousand other wonders, such as my
"Where do you come from?" Starfiend felt cautious. He was not
afraid; if the stranger intended him harm, he could have done so
already. Perhaps he was insane. Yes, that was it.
"I will tell you in a minute. First, though, let me ask you this:
how is it, do you think, that I am able to understand you so
"I don't know."
"Perhaps this will make it clear."
For a second Starfiend wondered what he meant. Then it dawned on
him; the stranger had not moved his lips. He had not spoken the
"Telepathy," thought Starfiend aloud. His immediate reaction was
one of relief. He had been subconsciously puzzled by the ease with
which he and his friend could communicate and, above all, he knew
that he could rest his aching tongue. Suspicion came next: "How
much can you see?"
"Only what you want me to. Others I know can see more, but they
don't look without reason."
"What's it like?"
"Seeing. Hearing. Touching. But there are drawbacks. Consider
those cars we saw. If I tried to drive one through your traffic, I
would be dead before the day was out. My reactions are four time
slower than your people consider normal - 12 times slower than
Starfiend was pleased by the indirect compliment. He noticed on
reflection that the stranger's gait was rather ponderous.
The stranger continued, "So we read minds. Those who are born
without the ability can be cured. The reaction speed we can do
"Please tell me where you're from," begged Starfiend.
"Try a guess."
"I suppose the chances of a race from another planet looking
exactly like us are negligible. I doubt that a country of
telepaths could remain undiscovered. That only leaves one
"You're right. I'm from your future. Your scientists know that
time travel is possible, but they shrink from the
"Which are?" Starfiend had already discovered that interruptions
were much easier in telepathic conversation, in fact almost
"Effect without cause. Call it backwaters in time, if you like.
It's no more difficult a concept than Einsteinian relativity would
have been to a contemporary of Galileo."
"But what about all the objections? Like killing your own father
before you were conceived?"
The stranger laughed. "You might cause yourself to cease to
exist. Or not. Or you might not be able to kill your father, no
matter how hard you try. In any case, don't let it bother you.
Time travel is possible. The space-time continuum can be changed,
but it is elastic, and changes tend to smooth themselves out
Questions whirled in Starfiend's brain. The stranger answered
them. "Yes, we still have weapons, and wars to be fought with
them, although not amongst are own kind. Far, far in the future.
No, we don't use our control of time against our foes, since to do
so might provoke retaliation that could destroy everything.
Everything! Neither do we or the enemy allow artificial minds to
fight for us."
He saddened, and answered Starfiend's last question. "Yes, we are
loosing. That is why I'm here."
"Your telepathy is useless in war, and your slow reaction speed
leaves you at a disadvantage. Why don't you send computers to
fight your battles for you?"
"Because that would start an uncontrollable race which would
lead to sentient machines - sentient creatures - being created to
destroy each other. Neither us nor the enemy are that
"Then change your reactions."
"We cannot. We no longer have the necessary gene pool. I have
come to get those genes."
Starfiend knew that he should wake out of what seemed to be a
dream, or be terrified, but neither happened. Instead, he quivered
with excitement. "And the arcade games? Microelectronics?"
"Screening machines. Presents from us to you, given through the
minds of your engineers. I know you want to come, Starfiend."
"My family..." hedged the boy.
"I can make it as if you have never existed. There will have been
a minor disturbance outside your house the night you would have
been conceived. You will become a backwater in time."
"We cannot lie with our thoughts, my friend."
"Alright." Instantly, Starfiend felt a wrench within his stomach.
A car move 10 metres forward instantaneously; a piece of paper at
their feet vanished. Throughout the world, similar trivial changes
took place. Starfiend's parents had a new son who was normal in
every respect, and they were happy.
"Ready?" said the stranger. Starfiend nodded. They turned into
the vandalised doorway of a shop, where a dazzling bluey purple
ball appeared at stomach height. It delated into an ellipse as
large as a man. Through it, Starfiend saw his first glimpse of the
land where he would be a hero.
The time traveller grasped his wrist firmly but gently. "You can
still go back," he said. Starfiend shook his head vigorously.
"Mind the edges, then," said the time traveller.
They stepped trough.
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.