Astro Pinball

I remember this name from long ago. Some computer magazine ran a serial story, and one of
the characters played Astro Pinball. That's all I remember, but the name stuck.

Update, 2001-12-28: Thanks to Google's usenet archives, I found the following:

 From: Neurotrash Boy (
 Subject: Re: Son of Hexadecimal Kid 
 Newsgroups: alt.running.out.of.newsgroup.names
 Date: 1999/11/01 

Samson Synapse has become a secret computer freak.  He has also
discovered that he can influence living things, causing plants to grow
into computer peripherals.  Yet when he takes a fancy to drinking his
new-born sister's blood, things have clearly gone too far.


The cry of Samson's baby sister split the night.  Cleo sat up in bed.
"Samson, is that you?  What are you doing?"

Samson ran upstairs to his room and bolted the door.  He was shaking.
Shame and revulsion at what he had done swept over him.  Quickly he
pulled on his shoes.  Downstairs there was quite a commotion.  The baby
was still crying, and Cleo was trying to soothe it.  He could hear
McNull's raised voice and Cleo telling him to be quiet.  Presently,
there came the sound of footsteps on the stairs.  There was a knock.

"Samson, come out."  The door handle rattled.  Samson backed towards the

The door would not budge.  There was a pause.  Then he heard his aunt's
voice giving a command to Piltdown 2 in Esperanto.  The wooden latch
began to bend and crack.

Samson did not wait for it to break.  Clutching his precious potted
plant he leapt out of the window and plummeted into the sand beneath.
He picked himself up, shook off the dust, and tore off into the hills.
He ran until he could no longer hear the confusion of shouts behind him.

Next morning he took stock.  He was too proud to go home, and would not
be welcome there in any case.  To visit a Nullard Village, even where he
was not known, would be to court death.  Yet he had no idea how to
survive on his own in the wild.  He was a dab hand with a soldering iron
and a wizard at machine code but what he needed now was food and drink.
He was already feeling thirsty.

The more he thought about it, the more depressing it seemed.  There was
only one thing to do.  He switched on the Moonshine Micro, sat down at
its keyboard and slotted a pair of his home-grown floppies into the disc
drives.  The drives hummed and the screen filled up with a cloud of
menacing crater-pitted asteroids rushing towards him at alarming speed,
cleverly projected to give an illusion of depth.  It was his favourite -

Soon he was lost among the meteorites, oblivious to the cares of the
world.  The counter at the top corner of the screen clicked up and up as
he manoeuvred his way through the meteor swarm.  He was at the helm of a
great spacecraft which leaped and turned in response to fingertip
pressure, weaving past the onrushing planets and zapping any alien ships
foolish enough to cross his path.

Higher and higher climbed the score.  He was intoxicated.  Now he was
destroying everything in his path - comets, moons, planets even stars
with the touch of a button as he raced to the ends of the galaxy.
Suddenly a cracking twig brought him down to earth again.  The sound,
though quiet, stood out from the shrill electronic bleeps of his video
game.  He looked around.  His eyes probed the chinks in the foliage.
Was it just a rustle of leaves in the wind?

That moment of inattention had cost him the game.  His starship had
ploughed straight into a neutron star.  Now the screen was a field of
little dots of light, twinkling serenely.  On the bottom line was an
invitation for him to record his name for posterity.  Despite his lapse
of concentration he had beaten the previous top score by a substantial

As he tapped in his initials he heard another twig snap.  This time he
was sure:  he could feel someone's eyes on his back.  He sprang up and
pushed aside the overhanging branches.  For an uncomfortable second he
was eyeball-to-eyeball with a coarse face.  The brow was furrowed in a
leering frown and the eyes filled with distrust.  Then it fled.

He watched the figure, clad in ragged furs, loping down away from him.
It was one of the village lads from Happy Valley.

"But what the Hell was he doing up here?"  Samson asked the heavens out
loud.  Perhaps the intruder had been out fur-trapping and had overheard
the Astro-Pinball sound effects.  Perhaps he had been minding sheep and
one of them had strayed.  The answer did not matter.  What was certain
was that he would head back to his folks and tell them what he had seen.
A Nullard search party would be on its way before nightfall.

Meanwhile, far out in the frigid vacuum beyond the orbit of Pluto, the
space freighter Green Tangerine drifted helplessly out of control.  Her
metal sides glinted dully in the faint light from the distant pinprick
of fire that was our sun as she rolled ponderously end over end.

On the foredeck, Prestel, the ship's parrot and commanding officer, had
called the two most senior of the mutant cybernoids who crewed the ship
to him for an explanation.  He directed his questioning at the first
mate, an experienced veteran of the space lanes.

"Rom, what's the meaning of this?"

"Navigational computer sir.  That cosmic ray storm put the refresh
circuits out of action."

"Well, can't you fix them?  What about the back-up modules?"

"Same problem, sir, we've tried.  We'll have to take her to Arcturus
under manual control."

Prestel gnashed his beak in frustration.  He thought of the long haul to
the repair depot at Arcturus, limping along under manual guidance.  It
would take an eternity.

"Do you realise what we're carrying on this trip?"

Rom had no idea.  He had been surprised and annoyed by the obsessive
precautions during loading on Zargon 7.  A security guard had
machine-handled him off his own ship when he came aboard early

"Well I'll tell you.  There's no point in secrecy any more.  We have a
cargo of half-baked ideas to replenish the dwindling supply at Omega
Solaris.  It is vital we get them through before they go stale."

Rom drew in a long breath.  So that was it.  Now he understood the
reason for all the cloak-and-dagger stuff in port.  If the supply of
half-baked ideas to the Think Tank in Omega Solaris dried up, it would
throw the whole galaxy into chaos.

There was silence.  Prestel shifted from claw to claw on his perch.

"Well?" asked Prestel.

"Permission to make a suggestion sir?" chimed in Ram, the other
cybernoid, who had held his peace so far.

Prestel leaned forward. "Yes?"

"I was checking the instruments after the radiation storm to inspect for
damage when I noticed something interesting."

"Go on."

"The sensors detected evidence of intelligent life on the third planet
of the local stellar system."

"Intelligent life on Terra Firma?  It must be an instrument failure."

"With the greatest respect sir, there's only one configuration of
signals which indicates a score of more than 10 billion on
Astro-Pinball.  I'd know that pattern anywhere."

"Astro-Pinball," murmured Prestel as he chewed over this nugget of
information.  Even their shipboard computer had an Astro-Pinball rating
of less than 5 billion.  As for Rom, he wasn't in the same league.  A
pilot of that calibre, if one truly existed, could not merely get them
to their destination on time but ahead of schedule.  He, Prestel, would
be showered in glory.

He spoke to Rom and Ram. "You two are going on a little recruiting

"Understand sir," they replied in unison, and started heading towards
the exit hatches at the stern of the ship.

"Oh, and Ram - "

"Yes sir," said Ram, pausing at the door.

"You'd better be right."

"I am sir."

"Good.  Because if you're not back with your Pinball Wizard within four
temporal units we'll blast off without you."

By Richard Forsyth.  From PRACTICAL COMPUTING, May 1981.

    n/| TM
 >o-O u  ©1999

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