Home - Writing - Scribbles Mail Hal C F Astell - Site Map

Old Stories

A Day in the Job of...

During 1991 I edited and published five issues of a small magazine that I circulated free of charge to everyone within the villages of Barkisland and Deanhead in Yorkshire. The magazine itself, somewhat dubiously titled 'The Village Voice', was a wild success. People wrote to me with compliments, queries and submissions and once I was even provided with an insert to include. Readers sent copies well beyond Barkisland's dry stone walls to five or six different countries. I was read as far away as Israel and Australia. All heady stuff for a kid of twenty years of age.

It didn't last, of course, as while I had obviously worked from solid concepts to tap into a receptive and creative audience, I had no clue whatsoever as to how to run a magazine, let alone fund one. Printing was kindly provided at cost by a Barkisland local who ran a printing firm, but it still cost money and I could only recoup a little with advertising. I was earning well below what would eventually be classed as minimum wage at the time but I managed to finance five issues before giving up for financial reasons.

It soon became clear that Barkisland was home to a wonderfully creative set of people. I became the first person to publish fiction by Dr Robert Lomas, soon to become a global bestseller with a string of non fiction works such as 'The Hiram Key' and 'The Second Messiah' in collaboration with another local, Chris Knight. Dr Bob produced two stories for 'The Village Voice' under the pseudonym Dylan Woodcock. Many other people offered poems and the Poet's Corner became a popular feature.

For my part, I wrote the following science fiction story for the second issue and published it under the pseudonym of 'The Fanatic'.

I'm not too sure about this, but apparently this is a true story written in the year 2476 that fell through a time loop...

I don't know if anyone's actually watching this - I wouldn't have thought my lifestyle would appeal to the readership of Interstellar Vogue magazine, but apparently the editors want to show you what it's like to do some of the more unusual jobs in the galaxy and for some reason they've started with me. So here goes...

You definitely won't recognise my face, so I'll start from scratch. My name's 78341/BOWIE/29 - my friends call me 29 - and I'm a Preliminary Civilisation statistician for the Council of Progress on Old Earth. I know that sounds pompous but they're like that.

What it actually means is that I visit newly discovered planets which have a high probability of containing local lifeforms advanced enough for us to communicate with, stay for a couple of months incognito and work out exactly how far their civilisation has actually developed.

I'm going to be dictating this like a diary as I take on my next assignment and I've just interrupted the prepatory paperwork for the trip to do this introduction, because the computer's crashed again.

That's the biggest problem I have with my work - I have all this top-notch, bang-up-to-date equipment to do just about anything I need to do and more, but it's always breaking down. I think it's all just to keep the unions busy. I can mend some of it, but most is highly specialist, so I'll cause more harm than good in trying.


Excuse me if this next bit sounds a bit garbled, but the computer's only just woken me up from cold sleep and I'm still a bit groggy. Soon as I find where I left the pep pills, I'll be back to normal again, or thereabouts anyway - I'm always apprehensive when I get into the cold sleep chamber about whether the life support computer will break down like everything else and I'll be floating in space for some sort of eternity until someone or something finds me, so when I actually do wake up I don't actually if I am awake or whether I'm just dreaming that I woke up - oh! I don't know!

Found them - I think I'm myself again. How long was that last sentence? I'm not sure if it even made sense, but the rewind button's broken so I can't check. Forgive me if I got a little non-literary for a while. I should be okay from now on.

Anyway, I'm now in orbit around my destination - I can't tell you where because that's an official secret, but it's a small Old Earth-type planet revolving around an Old Earth-type star - this one looks promising. I've got equipment monitoring the audio and video wavelengths to try and catch some speech, then I can run it through the computer to find patterns and program some sort of auto-translation device. This usually takes a day or so, so I'll catch some sleep - cold sleep is supposed to refresh you, but it always makes me drowsy. Oh, and just in case this planet is advanced enough to have detecting equipment, they can't see me, because I've got the ship cloaked - that's standard procedure.


More problems - I can't do any sort of scan for lifeforms or activity because there's some kind of interference blocking anything I try.

I don't know if my video receiving gear has had it, because all I'm getting through that is static, but the audio is showing promise. This is about all that's coming through the interference. It seems these beings talk in some sort of clicking language, and when they do talk, they don't talk much. I can't find any organised communication - no vidphone system or holovid, not even any primitive stuff like television or an audio phone network.

The computer's trying to find patterns in the speech, but no luck yet.


We've got somewhere - the clicking isn't a language at all, it's communication between two computers. They seem to be some considerable distance apart, and the people who work them must be mute, because they're not talking at all.

To explain, the monitoring gear on this ship could pick up a casual conversation on a city street, but here I'm getting nothing at all and the interference shouldn't be blocking that. Maybe it's one of those planets where the people have died out, and all that's left is computer intelligence. They're not very common, but they do exist. If that's the case, extinction could have taken place anything up to a century ago, as there's only two computers talking. The others must have become inoperative - they can't be repaired because there's nobody around to do the repairing.

If nothing new has come through by tomorrow, I'll have to go down blind. I'm licensed to use an invisibility shield - that's why there's only one of me doing this job - so I should be okay, but it always helps to know at least something about the people I'll be running into.


The computer's still found no trace of speech on the planet. I ran some last-ditch checks on things like bodyheat patterns and mass movement on the surface, but they didn't help - nothing's coming through the interference but audio.

This is my fifth day here, so I can safely assume that the computer's not going to come up with anything else. What that means is that it's time to go down to the surface and see what I can see.


I spent the night in a barn. I've seen nobody about, no animal life at all, during the hours I've been here, but there's plenty of evidence that there was a civilisation here at some time, and the people bore some physical and cultural resemblance to humans.

I've switched my invisibility shield off - there's no point in wasting the energy reserves when there's nobody about.

There is a road system and I've just started down what seems to be a main road. If the people here had developed the techniques of flight, they certainly hadn't applied it to general traffic. They did have a written language, however, as there are road signs along the side of the road.

34/13/341 (later)

I've reached what seems large enough to be a city. My invisibility shield is back on as there are indeed people about - they are humanoid, almost identical to our human shape, the only difference being that the arms and legs are considerably longer. The audio problem is solved - they have mouths and larynxes, but they don't speak. Why, though, I can't think - this is confusing.

Also they all look the same. I can't distinguish between one and another of these beings. If there weren't so many, I'd say that they were clones, but surely there can't be a city containing thousands of clones of one person, with nobody else at all.

I've entered the city and am walking down a wide street. There are no examples of transport - the roads are just full of people walking. There are no vehicles parked. Why should a civilisation build roads of this width and this quality when all they do is walk on them?


I've now travelled all through the city and all the buildings I've seen seem to be accommodation, houses of some description, or vast halls that contain nothing but air. There are no shops, no factories, no places of entertainment and no obvious places of work.

Also there seem to be no people doing anything except walking, walking on the road or into buildings, but just walking.

I'm going back into the centre where the halls seemed most common to try and work out what they are used for.

35/13/241 (later)

I'm now in one of the halls in the centre of the city. There are no people inside, in fact there is nothing of any description at all - no light or heat fittings, no furniture or decoration of any description. I can find no hidden doors or passages either - the building seems to be simply four walls and a main door. I can find no reason for its existence at all.

There are people coming now, so I'll have to shut up for a while.

01/14/241 (I think - my watch got broken)

I'm not sure how long I've been out. I'm not even sure what day it is. All I know is that I'm inside another empty room, much smaller than the hall - but I'm getting ahead of myself - as far as I can work out, what happened is this:

I got trapped in the hall. Nobody could see me and I had just enough room to move without bumping into anybody, but I certainly couldn't get over to the door - they packed themselves in like sardines - so I made do with watching and trying to work out what everyone was doing.

They all stood facing the wall opposite the door and tilted their heads upwards. There was nothing on the ceiling - no light, no skylight, no decoration. But every person in the room was looking at it.

I didn't think about this for long because about twelve of these people suddenly dropped thir heads and turned towards me. I couldn't believe it - my invisibility shield had run out of juice. Now this is typical timing and I swore fluently at the people who designed it.

I doubt you've seen one so I'll describe it. When you wear an invisibility shield you can see yourself, it's just everybody else that can't. The only way you can tell if it's running out of energy is by looking at the gauge on your wrist. Needless to say, when you're busy letting your imagination run riot working out why about six thousand identical people would want to stare at a blank ceiling together, you don't tend to look at your wrist too often.

Anyway I had to work out some way of avoiding a dozen people when there was nowhere for me to run to. I wasn't too worried - even with their long legs and arms making them about seven feet tall, they had to come at me one at a time because I was in a corner. Apart from these twelve, everybody was still staring at the ceiling, and I am a martial arts expert. I had a pretty good chance.

The only thing I didn't know was that when these guys decide to move, they really do move - I think the one nearest to me dived in, clonked me on the head with his fist and dived out again to stand in virtually the same place as before he moved. The whole manoevre took about half a second.

Next thing I know is I wake up here. Hold on, can't talk now - there's someone coming.

01/14/241 (I know now - I've been told)

Sorry I shut up there - the door opened and one of the creatures came in, picked me up and carted me outside, so I stopped recording.

We travelled down one of the roads into a large domed building. I was still in the city but this was a building I hadn't seen before - all the buildings I'd seen were box shaped, this one stood out with its dome.

Anyway we went in and travelled down a corridor into another large room like that of the hall, but this one was definitely not empty. It was crammed full of machinery - wiring systems flowed here and there and gave the room a used feel unlike anything else I'd seen on this planet. The creature dropped me, literally, turned round and exited the room shutting the door after it. I got to my feet, and started towards the computer to examine it. It seemed inoperative - there was dust everywhere and no red lights lit anywhere that seem typical of all our computers.

Then it spoke to me. At least I presumed it did - I didn't understand it. It seemed to realise this, as it paused and then started again with different sounds. It tried this a few times, but none of it even approached words - it was just different combinations of noises.

I decided to speak to it - maybe it could work something out from that. I sdtarted with the usual - 'Me 29, who you' sort of thing, then pointed to mechanisms littered about the place and gave words to them, wire, computer, button, wall, door - I couldn't go on for long beceause there wasn't much to describe. So I started telling it stories, anything as long as I kept talking.

It didn't take long - our top computers would take a day at the least, but this thing worked out most of our language structure in about four hours. It didn't look much but it certainly worked! Which was lucky for me as I was losing my voice!

Once it had worked out the basics of Standard, we started to communicate. It began by trying to recruit me to fight a war. Now I'm used to surprises in this job, but this took the biscuit. It wasn't hanging about either - it began to tell me the history of the planet.

It turns out that the two continents contained separate races which didn't get on. Inevitably this led to war, and the war lasted for about three hundred years. It did finally end, when nobody could remember why they were having a war in the first place. So for a while everybody was at peace, at least until one eminent scientist of one race decided to program a massive computer with the idea that it should kill everybody that was of the other race.

I should mention at this point that the people on this planet were not as advanced as us in most areas, but they had got a lot further than we have yet in the field of mental science. They had mastered telekinesis and this scientist had programmed the computer with the ability to destroy things with the power of the mind. One of the scientists of the other race found out and build exactly the same thing for his side.

It all ended up in a stalemate, as each computer systematically destroyed the other's race. Neither computer could destroy the other, as they were too exactly matched, so they turned to other means. The two races had been almost completely exterminated and the most healthy and powerful person on either side was cloned in bulk so that they could combine their mind power with that of their computer to have more of a chance of destroying their enemy.

What this all means is that there are no humans left on the planet. What is left of the civilisation that did exist are two computers whose sole aim is to destroy each other, and thousands of clones of two people, one of either side. These are 'born' as adults, immediately enter a hall to concentrate their mental power until they are almost drained, then walk about for a while to replenish that power and then enter another hall to repeat the cycle. All the while these clones are being evaporated by the opposing computer, and more are being created.

The computer I had talked to is slightly less powerful than its opponent, as the person that it had cloned was not quite as powerful as the person cloned by its opponent, and thus was fighting a losing battle.

I cannot be killed by either computer - they have become so specialised that they can only kill their enemy clones. To know how to kill anything else is wasteful as there is nothing else to kill, therefore they don't know how to do it. This means that I can travel to either of the computers and destroy it and thus win the war for whichever side I choose.

I had no problem deciding which to destroy.

I couldn't choose both as destroying one first would win the war for the other, so I chose neither. I pretended to accept the offer made to me by the computer that I had met, to destroy the other one, and then promptly left. These computers may be advanced in telekinesis but they have no concept of human treachery.

I'm now back on my ship and the planet is designated for destruction. Thanks for listening and please complain to your local Council delegate about my equipment - it might help towards sending me some that works!

78341/BOWIE/29, Council of Progress Preliminary Civilisation Statistician No 5412 signing off.

Home - Writing - Scribbles Mail Hal C F Astell - Site Map