Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2007

From the rare archives of the fabled and legendary prozine of the mid-fifties, Insufferable Science-Fiction, there comes this lost masterpiece of scientific prognostication, "The Cyber-Punks", by the little-known master William Hoot.

Insufferable Science-Fiction was one of those magazines killed in the collapse of the American News Company. In fact, its issue was one of those that vanished into the maw of the pulping machines, failing distribution as the takeover artists converted the company to useful land and got rid of those other activities. Now, in the pages of Challenger, there appears the fabled classic of this lost era, "The Cyber-Punks"...

They thought the electronic mind would be their servant.
They didn't know how well it could be a master!



by William Hoot

It was a typical gray November afternoon at the giant headquarters of Amalgamated Conglomerated Megacorporation, Inc. It was closing time, and the Men in their Gray Flannel Suits streamed down the steps of the building to get into their giant-finned cars, to drive home to ticky tacky boxes where their wives, having finished the day's cleaning and cooking, would have their martinis ready for them.

As the stream of automobiles poured out of the parking lot, a different vehicle came the other way; a chopped, channeled, low-riding, flame-painted, double-carburetored 1987 Kaiser-Fraser hot rod. It carried the two Computer Technicians, Biff and Rocky.

Amalgamated Conglomerated Megacorporation, Inc., had greatly expanded its operations ever since its formation in 1991. The company had grown so big that the directors had taken a daring step and had a Computer installed in their giant headquarters building. "A Computer!" one director had said. "How shall we ever be able to afford it? Much less justify having all that mighty brain power? They say those machines can make a thousand calculations a second, and store as much on one great foot-wide reel of tape as might be in a hundred books! We shall never need so much!"

But he was overruled, and the Computer was bought from the giant UniVac Corporation, and installed in the basement of the giant headquarters of Amalgamated Conglomerated Megacorporation, Inc. It took up the entire basement, and required a vast amount of power to run its mighty electronic brain, and the vast support systems that kept it functioning. Often, even the lights in the private restroom of the Vice-President for Operations dimmed, as the great electronic thinking machine demanded more power for its efforts. Two young men, who had worked on the installation, were transferred to the payroll of Amalgamated Consolidated Megacorporation, Inc. to run this powerful electronic mind.

Biff and Rocky parked their hot rod at the rear entrance of the building, next to the door where the maintenance men carried out the day's trash. They entered the building, and took the stairs down to the Computer Room.

Inside the Computer Room, they drew their leather jackets tighter, for the giant air conditioners needed to keep the electronic brain functioning made the room very cold. Great reels of tape jerked back and forth as the giant electronic brain calculated all the financial efforts of the mighty industrial giant. Biff and Rocky consulted paper tapes that spewed from Teletype machines to determine the running of the giant electronic brain.

But, they were harboring a secret plan of their own. In the few minutes when the great electronic brain was not needing some adjustment, some changing of a tape, or loading of some set of commands, the two young men furtively proceeded to the card punching machine in one corner of the Computer Room, where they carefully punched holes into the command cards that were used to transmit orders to the electronic thinking machine.

This had been their project for the past three months, done in stolen time from their official work. They were determined to analyze the great financial transactions of the giant citadel of industry, to learn the nefarious deeds that were hidden amid the great rows of figures that were churned out by the electronic mind.

The great company had increased its advertising budget to over a million dollars. With their access to the internal figures of the company, Biff and Rocky had determined that the quality of the company's many products had seriously declined. This increased spending on advertising was clearly intended to induce the witless public into buying shoddier and shoddier goods. The extra profit was going somewhere, and this project was intended to uncover that somewhere.

Tonight they were done with the first step of their process. Slapping each other on the back, they took the stack of command cards and put it in the hopper of the card reader. It consumed the stack with a roar, converting the holes in the cards into the commands that would make the Computer manipulate the magnetic tapes and unearth the hidden figures.

This Computer Program would take many hours to run, not reaching a conclusion until well after midnight. Thus, Biff came to a conclusion. "How about we go to the malt shop?"

Rocky shrugged. "Sure. They hired two new carhops last week."

With that conclusion they turned their backs on the giant machine, with its panels of flickering lights, its giant tapes jerking back and forth, and its chilly smell of ozone. Leaving the Computer Room, they locked the door, and went up the stairs, doffing their leather jackets as they did. Their immediate destination was the men's room, where Biff renewed the structure of his hair with liberal applications of Brylcreem, while Rocky combed out his ducktail. When they had finished their work there, they left the building, locking the door behind them.

Once outside, Biff reached into the pack he carried in the rolled-up sleeve of his T-shirt and extracted two unfiltered Kools. He handed one to Rocky, who said, "My doc says that smoking cigs calms the nerves. He recommends it."

"Smart guy."

They lit their cigarettes as they got into the hot rod. Rocky hit the starter, then as the engine ground into life turned on the radio. It warmed up as the motor idled, then when Rocky hit the clutch and put the hot rod into first gear, the radio burst into sound.

Wolfman Jack, the famous disk jockey, could be heard announcing the new record by Elvis, the King of Rock 'n' Roll. Biff said over the disk jockey's shouts, "Who cares about Elvis? I say Buddy Holly is still the better singer ..."


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