Title: Computer Privileges Revoked

Date Written: April 6, 1994

Date Modified for Website: Feb. 15, 2019

Written by: Joel T. Kant

Copyright (c) 2019


Wandering through a warehouse containing office furniture, computers, printers, books, and many odds and ends, Will pauses and glances out at the bustling crowd. Will says to his companion, "This sure beats another dull day of coding computer programs at G.Z.K."

"This place is disordered and loud," complains Warren.

"You need to get out into the real world more often. This's what it's like."

"Very funny," snaps Warren, "I can handle the real world. I just don't like it to be this crowded."

"I grew up on a farm and yet I like crowds. They're dynamic and exciting. Didn't you grow up in this city?"

Warren says, "Yes, I did. That doesn't mean I have to like crowds! I feel like everybody is watching me."

Will counters, "It's only in a crowd that I don't feel watched. It's not like work where my every fingerpunch is counted, my every holophone call screened, and my visits to the restroom timed to the millisecond."

Changing the subject from that dangerous topic, Warren asks,

"I wonder why Scientific Enterprises is bothering with a live auction.

Couldn't they just sell all this through fiber-network-ads?"

Will smiles and looks out at the bustling crowd, "You don't understand. This is a social event. While living back on the farm with my parents, we used to love going to auctions."

"Farmers, ha! What can you expect from hicks from the sticks?

You'd make more credits with advertising over the fiber-network! The higher prices you'd get would more than make up for the shipping costs to send stuff all over the world."

"You misjudge farming. It's a highly technical field."

"If you say so. I wouldn't want to do it. I'd be so bored

I'd spend all my time in Virtual-Land, trying to forget where I really was."

"My parents never go to Virtual-Land!"

"Really? That's so...conservative."

"Well, that's my parents."

"No wonder they'd find an auction exciting. But, really, why do you think this one is being held?"

Will scratches his head, "I think one thing is that the bank wants its credits fast and is more interested in speed than amount.

Another thing might be that nobody wants to bother snapping holopicts of each item for fiber-network-ads."

Warren points at a table full of cardboard and plastic boxes with tags fastened on, "Look, there's some stuff with prices on it.

Even a couple printers."

"Must be stuff too inexpensive to bid on. Let's check it out."

A woman behind the table explains, "This is some forgotten material taken from a Scientific Enterprise's warehouse. Most of this had been warehoused and then forgotten about."

Warren asks to see two old-style printers. Warren opens looks at them approvingly. Warren pulls out his I.D. and says, "I'll take both, please."

"You know, Warren, just because the auctioneer isn't announcing these, you could still dicker!"

"The price is reasonable, and I hate dickering."

The woman sets her memopad flat on a box. A hologram of letters and symbols appears above it. "Sir, do you want to take these with you, or do you want them shipped someplace?"

"Oh, shipped. I don't want to lug them around."

She jabs fingers into the hologram. "Do you want them sent to Lakeview Apartments, apartment three hundred and fifty-two bee?"


"Fine. They will be there within two days."

While Warren is commencing his deal, Will peers into some boxes. As Warren approaches, "Check it out, an old keyboard and some other stuff are in this box."

Glancing in, Warren says, "Hmm. So that's what a keyboard looks like. Just like the pictures in the approved history books.

Looks terribly cumbersome. And dirty."

Will reads the tag, "Hey, it's only one credit! Ma'am,

I'll take this."

Unlike Warren, Will chooses to carry his purchase with him to save the shipping charge, which would be many times the purchase price.

"Warren, what are you going to do with printers? Can't you just read the holodisplay?"

"I'll lend them to people in exchange favors. I know some retired old-timers in my building who prefer reading on paper or

plastipaper to a holodisplay."

Will looks at Warren, surprised.

"What're you staring at me for?"

"I wouldn't have expected you to be one to barter. You just said you don't like to dicker. What do you barter for?"

"Oh, food! Some of the retired folks--who are the ones who still like printouts--cook by hand! It sure beats the food at cafeterias and restaurants, especially that terrible place you keep taking Mae too."

"Hmm. Maybe you could arrange to invite us someday."

"Too bad you didn't ask earlier. Last week, this ancient woman who lived across the hall had her birthday. She had reached the mandatory nursing home age, and has been shipped out. She was the best cook of them all, but I don't even know which home they took her to."

Will indignantly says, "That's horrible and unfair."

Warren shrugs, "Who said life was fair? You can't fight the system, though, it'll roll right over you. An old former chef lives three floors up. He's almost as good a cook as the woman. I'll loan him a printer in exchange for some meals. By the way, at least I have use for my purchase. What're you going to do with that box of junk?"

Will winks, "I'll either sell or trade it to Bob Johnson."

"The bagger at Mae's store who collects antiques?"

"That's him. He's got some nice stuff."

"Let me know what you get for it. Does he like old-fashion printouts?"

Will says, "I don't know. Come to think of it, I've never seen him use a computer terminal. Anyway, he has great contacts for getting antiques. If he wanted a printer, he'd get one."

"Too bad."

Will changes the subject, "Now that you switched departments, how do you like working for Pierre?"

"Oh, he's great. Brilliant programmer. Good manager, too.

I like him much better than that dead-beat Vincent..."

Will holds out a palm and says, "Shh."

Warren turns around to see Vincent and Pierre approaching.

Oblivious to the comment Warren had been making, Vincent smiles broadly, "There you two are! It's almost show-time!"

Pierre explains, "It's almost time for the human auctioneer to sell the expensive items. Let's head to the front. I want to try and get a bargain on one of these computers."

Will enjoys the banter and action of the auctioneer. Will's surprised to see how strenuously Pierre is bidding for the first computer, an expensive and powerful superframe machine. The computer casing is green, so this obviously isn't a G.Z.K. machine.

Pierre casts the highest bid and wins.

Warren says, "You're going ahead with your plan?"

"Yes. I spent a little less than I had feared I might for that machine. Full steam ahead."

Warren asks, "What's steam got to do with anything?"

"I don't know. My grandfather used to say that, back when he was alive. He never explained it."

Will quietly mutters to Warren, "Only highly skilled programmers can use the esoteric language of a superframe! Using a mainframe is hard enough!"

Warren replies back to Will, "I'd like to learn it. It'd be a good career move."

Vincent asks Pierre, "What are you going to do with such a powerful machine?"

Pierre explains, "I hope to start a small company to do scientific market analyses, maybe snapping up some of the market that the defunct Scientific Enterprises used to have. President

Jansen of G.Z.K., and she's also head of the local Programmers' Union, has given me a green light, as long as I rent the modeling subroutines from G.Z.K. I'll still be at G.Z.K. part-time while I see if this venture takes off."

Warren says, "Let me know if you need some programming done during the evening."

Although not really enthusiastic about learning the superframe language, Will adds, "Me, too."

The other two superframes are sold to other small businesses, and then the mainframes are bid on.

Vincent buys one of the more moderately-priced mainframes.

This machine, about the size of a family refrigerator, is cube-shaped and painted with the distinctive white-and-black diagonal stripping of a G.Z.K. machine. G.Z.K., where all four men work, stands for Giant Zebra Komputer.

"Sticking to our employer's machines, eh?" Pierre says.

"Company loyalty. At least my machines not green. Maybe you can get some white and black paint and then make-believe you have a Zebra machine."

Pierre laughs, "The union bullies haven't busted up anybody's place for not using a Zebra machine in almost a decade! It's not a crime, you know. And with President Jansen happy, I don't expect any problems."

"Are you planning on starting a business, too?" Will asks his boss, Vincent.

"No. I want to try doing some off-line processing to save money while visiting Virtual-Land."

Warren whistles, "Boy, you must visit a lot to be able to save money by getting a mainframe!"

Pierre looks concerned, "Really, Vincent? That's why you bought this machine?"

"Yes, as though it's any of your business!"

Pierre warns, "Vincent, don't you think you are spending a little too much time in Virtual-Land?"

"Hell, no! I wish I was there right now, rather than having this stupid conversation."

Warren nudges Will and whispers, "Your boss is a virteedict!"

"I heard that! I'll have you know that if I didn't have to deal with jerks like you, I wouldn't spend so much time there."

Vincent bumps against Will's cardboard box, stumbles, catches his balance, and storms off to see to the shipping of his new machine.

Pierre comes over to Will and puts a hand on his shoulder. "Will, it might be a good idea to try to switch departments. Virtual-Land addicts--virteedicts--can suddenly stop taking care of their responsibilities in the real-world."

Will protests, "Vincent is not a virteedict!"

Pierre removes his hand.

Warren says, "Pierre's only trying to help."

"I suppose. Look, Pierre, maybe I could help you with some of your modeling routines on your new superframe. I've had done some of that on mainframes at G.Z.K. Experience on a superframe will help if

I do decide to switch departments."

Pierre smiles reassuringly, "I'll give you a call in a few weeks when I have the superframe going and have a better idea what contracts I can get."

Warren ponders aloud, "Visiting Virtual-Land through the fiber-network isn't that expensive and the fiber's bandwidth is large enough to get a good illusion. Vincent must spend practically every minute away from work there to need that mainframe."

"Having some of the processing off-line can also allow him to put in more features which will improve the illusion so it is absolutely excellent," explains Will, the impact of what he just said making him hope that Pierre does indeed offer him a job.

After the auction, Warren and the somewhat calmed down Vincent get a ride in Pierre's aircar back to G.Z.K. Will, still carrying his cardboard box, declines a ride. Will says, "It's early yet. I'm taking the airbus out to the lake."

"That place is boring," says Vincent.

"I prefer to call it peaceful."

"See you tomorrow, Will," calls out Warren.

The aircar surges off the ground and shoots quickly into the air.

The airbus ride is uneventful; the bus uncrowded. At the lake, Will puts down his cardboard box of new toys beside a park bench which he sits upon. He looks out at the lake and watches the ducks. He wonders how Vincent can prefer the garishly-colored, hyperactive computer-generated Virtual-Land to this. From his purse, Will pulls out his portable entertainment center, but rather than putting in a recorded holoshow, he leaves the video off and plays softly some orchestra music from an optical disk he picked up a few days ago at Music Lover's World. Will shuts his eyes and concentrates, listening to the music and smelling the wildness of the lake and trees. The gentle lapping of the waves can be heard, mixing in with the music as though it belonged there.

Will removes his wide-brimmed hat. The late afternoon sun is warm on his face.

A guard pedals a bicycle along the path beside the lake. He stops in front of Will. "Excuse me, sir!"

Will opens his eyes and shudders when he sees it's a guard.

The guard's eyes and nose are indistinguishable behind the silvered visor of his helmet.

"Let me see your I.D., please."

Will gets it out of his purse and hands it over.

The Guard pops it into a small green box attached to the bicycles handlebars. The box whirs. A holographic display appears above it. After reading it, the Guard stated, "It is still working hours, Third-Class Programmer Will Lawter. I am going to fine you for being here."

Will sighs, "I have a pass."

"Let's see it, sir."

Will digs into his purse. He hands over the yellow plastic card.

The guard also pops this into the green box. More figures appear in the hologram. The Guard pokes fingers into the hologram.

"This is a pass to go to an auction, not a park!"

Will points to the box at his feet. "I was at the auction.

I bought that."

The Guard looks down into the cardboard box for a moment.

Then, he sticks a finger into the hologram. The hologram disappears and both Will's I.D. and pass pop out of slots.

As the Guard hands the cards back, he says, "You should put your hat back on, sir."

"There isn't a law about that, too, is there?"

"No. It's just that sunlight is dangerous. It is electromagnetic radiation, after all."

Annoyed, Will reaches for his hat and jams it on.

The Guard intones happily, "Have a pleasant day, sir."

Will puts the two cards back in his purse as the Guard peddles off.

Will closes his eyes again. It takes many minutes after the distraction to settle back into the rhythm of the music.

With a start, Will jerks awake. The orangish-red sky from the setting sun gives the now mirror-smooth lake a mysterious reddish color. The color of hell, but eerily beautiful.

Will smiles. No computer-generated Virtual-Land could match this. He wishes he could come here more often, but he knows the guards would fine him. He thinks, "If there weren't so many guards,

Virtual-Land might be a little less popular since people could see that the real-world isn't so bad."

Will catches another airbus. He heads to to Music Lover's

World, a popular optical-disk store. He usually picks up his girlfriend Mae after it closes. He still has his box of goodies, since he hasn't had a chance to get back to his apartment yet.

Will kisses her hello.

"Has Bob left yet?" he asks her.

"Yes, about twenty minutes ago. You're late, by the way."

"I fell asleep on a parkbench."

The two of them go to a quiet restaurant. After a bland dinner, Mae looks at his purchase. She thinks for a bit. She says, "It reminds me of something Great-Grandfather once told me about.

Many, many decades ago, there were devices called videogames that hooked to a tee-vee. They played simple games, even though they weren't even hooked to the fiber-network."

"How could a game work if it wasn't hooked to the fiber-network?"

"Well, I'm sure I don't know. Great-Grandfather used to swear that he played terrific games on one when he was a kid. Say, you're the bright computer programmer. Why don't you tell me how it worked?"

"I don't know. I never heard of such a thing. I thought this was just an old terminal or just a keyboard. I figured I'd pick up the antique and offer it to Bob Johnson. He collects antiques. Maybe he'll offer me more than I paid for it. It was only one credit."

Mae grins knowingly, "Bob sure fills up his apartment with lots of old junk."

"Speaking of antiques, you mentioned something called a tee-vee. What's that?"

"It's like holovision, only in two-dimensions. Before the invention of holovision and the formation of the World-Fiber-Network-Association, Great-Grandfather said he used to watch tee-vee."

"He must have told you some fascinating ancient history! I can't imagine life before the W.F.N.A."

"He liked to fib, though. He told me the pictures for the tee-vee came through the air."

"Through the air? Not the fiber-network?"

"That's what he said. Ridiculous, isn't it? He said some of the neighbor families had cable, but it was a metal cable, not optic. Since his parents wouldn't pay for cable, he could only watch shows that came through the air."

"I wonder. In my sanctioned history class, I learned about radio. It used electromagnetic radiation to send music through the air."

Mae shuddered, "Electromagnetic radiation? That stuff's dangerous!"

"Yes, I know. But according to my teacher, back then they didn't believe that electromagnetic radiation was carcinogenic!"

"Impossible! Nobody could be that stupid."

"The teacher even brought a radio to class. Of course, she didn't operate it since all the stations have been off the air for decades. I thought the radio was romantic."

"Romantic!" Mae protested, "How can a cancer-inducing machine be romantic?"

"Think about it. In these modern-times, we access music, holoprograms, and college class-shows through the fiber-network. If you want portability, such as for an air-car or a bicycle, you buy optical disks."

"Uh-huh. What of it?"

"You have to pay for all of those. Either you are paying to buy the disk, or else you are paying the W.F.N.A. network access charges. Imagine having one of those radios. You paid for the radio, but that's all. You didn't pay anything else! Isn't that romantic? Access to free music!"

"I don't think so. Because a few people wanted to get out of paying for fiber-network access, people sent out lethal electromagnetic radiation! It sounds more like murder to me than anything romantic."

Will moved aside his plate. He tapped on the table. A holographic display of letters and symbols appeared above where the plate had been.

"What are you doing?"

"A simple calculation. If a high clearance wasn't needed to access non-sanctioned history books, I'd simply look up the tee-vee in them. Since I can't do that, I want to do a simple calculation."

Mae sighs, puts her head in her hands, and tries to look as bored as she feels.

Will adds, "You said that the tee-vee was only two-dimensional, not three?"

Mae looks away, but replies, "That's what Great-Grandfather told me."

After a couple minutes, Will stops flashing his fingers into the hologram. Will leans back and pronounces, "I believe your Great-Grandfather told you the truth."

Curious in spite of her show of being bored, Mae took notice, "Really?"

"Yup. Although using electromagnetic radiation for holovision would only allow a few channels to be broadcast, for two-dimensional images, a hundred or so channels should fit."

"I just thought of something. I think Bob once said he got a tee-vee from an antique store."

Will whispers even though he knew that listening devices could easily compensate for that, "Aren't they illegal?"

Mae replies, "That'd never stop Bob!"

"Let's go visit him!"

After a pleasant walk, but a crowded lift ride, they reach Bob's apartment.

Bob answers the door and welcomes them in. They snake their way through shelves and boxes and strange-looking equipment.

Will explains about his purchase and asks about the tee-vee.

"Oh, sure. I have a few of them. They aren't really that rare if you have the right contacts. They aren't useful, though, since there are no signals to pick up."

Bob wanders behind a shelf and comes out with a 12-inch diagonal measure black-and-white television.

"I'll see you this one cheap if you want it."

Bob plugs it in and turns it on. The screen displays snow and the speaker static.

Will explains about his purchase.

"Let's see what's in your box."

As Will pulls out components, Mae says, "I think it is an antique videogame, like the one I was telling Will about earlier. There is more than a keyboard in there."

Bob looks closer. He says, "Sure enough, this is a videoconnection. I have a cable around here. Just a second."

Mae peers at the connection. "That doesn't look like an optical fiber connection to me."

Bob calls back, "It's not. It's a wire type of cable called coax, for co-axial. Ah, here's one."

Mae peers at it, "It really is a metal wire!"

Bob hooks up the cable to the black and white tee vee.

As Will blows dust off of the keys, Mae reaches into the cardboard box and pulls out some cassette tapes.

"What are these?"

"That," Bob says, "is a cassette tape. They were used to store music. There used to be bigger ones, too, that held video. Unfortunately, videotapes and videorecorders, which are the devices that used them, were made highly illegal about eighty years ago. I'd get fined if the guards found out about my tee-vees, but I'd go to prison for a long time for a videorecorder."

Will takes one of the cassette tapes and looks it over.

Bob smiles slyly, "I almost got my hands on a videorecorder once. Somebody I know has one that was missed during the Great Round-Up of Perversion Devices!"

Mae says, "You just said you could go to prison for having one of those!"

Bob shrugs. He adds, "If I had one of those videorecorders and a prerecorded videotape, I could show you what that tee-vee does."

Mae says, "Aren't videogames illegal too?"

"Yup. Anything fun is."

Will looks furtively around, "I didn't realize that!"

"Hell, Will, even a walk in the park is illegal! Or being out after curfew! Lord, I hate all these stupid laws!"

Mae gasps and says, "You shouldn't mention him!"

Confused, Will wonders, "Mention who?"

Red-faced, Mae says, "You know, Him!"

Will asks, "Lord?"

"Now Bob's got you swearing, too! A guard could fine you for that."

Rolling his eyes, Will says, "Back on the farm, my parents talk about God all the time. Just saying his name is not swearing. You should visit a farmer. You'd hear what real swearing is!"

"People are more cultured in the city. His name is not used among polite company!"

Will glances at the ashen-faced girl who manages to look scared and thrilled simultaneously. He gets up, and shuts the window. "Calm down, Bob! Why don't you pop into Virtual-Land for a bit and pretend reality doesn't exist?"

Bob's face turns livid. Making a visible effort, he takes some deep breaths and says, "I can't."

Will says helpfully, "If you can't pay your connect charges, I'll buy you an hour. My treat! I'll even join you."

Mae says, "Me, too. I heard that a recreation of ancient Greece is running that's really terrific! Imagine seeing what the Parthenon looked like in all its glory!"

Bob sighs, "You two don't understand. I must not visit

Virtual-Land. It's not a matter of money."

"You're a virteedict?" comprehends Will.

Looking deeply ashamed, Bob nods his head.

"I'm sorry. I didn't know."

"Me, neither."

"It's all right. Really. It's not your fault. I even had to have my fiber-network connection removed to keep temptation away. Without that connection, I don't even have a holophone. I have to use the public phone in the lobby."

Mae says, "That's so sad!"

Will gently asks, "Will it bother you to look at my videogame?"

"I thought you wanted to suddenly get rid of it."

"What the hell, I'll live dangerously for once."

"Watch your tongue. You used the h-word," giggles Mae.

Ignoring her, Bob says, "Even if we get this going, it won't be like Virtual-Land. This is just a flat picture. It isn't seductive like an artificial reality. An old videogame like this couldn't possibly be addictive; the illusion is not good enough!"

Mae said, "Will, I've never seen you like this. First, Bob was using His name, and now you mention that dreaded fictitious h-place. And now, you are talking seriously about using an illegal videogame."

"The lake looked as red as hell this evening. It was quite pleasant."

Bob jokes too, "I plan on going to hell. That's where all my friends will be. Heaven'd be too lonely!"

"I can't believe you two talk like this. It's illegal to talk about any of those things. Um...it is kind of exciting, though!"

Will held up the tape, "How can this store music? It's not like any disk or card I've ever seen."

"It's magnetic, not optical!"

Will glances at the dark ribbon within the plastic shell. "Magnetic? Who would have thought of that?"

Bob adds, "Not only that, you could RECORD music with one."

Mae says, "Only members of the Musicians' Union are supposed to be able to record audio information."

Bob breaths out heavily. "I have a stash of tape recorders. The ones that didn't include a radio weren't collected during the Round-Up, unlike the radios, tee-vees, personal-computers, video-cameras, and all that other stuff. Instead, the Musician's Union caused laws to be passed that made it illegal to manufacture tape recorders. Over the years, most tape recorders still in existence have broke. However, often it is only a little rubber belt that has given way with age which is easy to replace."

Bob offers to sell a tape recorder for a mildly outrageous price.

Will agrees. Will reads the paper glued to the cassette. "It says Space Attack."

Bob says, "Never heard of it."

"Me either," adds Mae.

"Let's listen to it," says Bob.

Bob plugs in the AC-adapter for the recorder, which he also sells to Will. Bob shows Will how to play the tape.


Mae says distastefully, "That music is terrible!"

"Maybe the tape recorder is broken," suggests Will.

"The tape recorder is fine. Watch this."

Bob pulls a cassette tape out of a drawer. He puts it in, and then pushes record.

Bob says, "Say something."

"Hello," says Mae.

"Go on," prods Bob.

"Uh...I hope this works," adds Will.

After Bob rewinds the tape, he pushes play. The speaker repeats, "Say something...Hello...Go on...Uh...I hope this works."

"Fascinating," says Will.

Mae looks awestruck. "That device would be so useful. It's a shame there aren't any new ones being made (giggle)...and they'd be illegal to use."

Bob asks Will, "Are you feeling really daring?"

"Yes," says Will uncertainly.

"Definitely," adds Mae.

"Then let's turn on your game!"

"All right."

Will flips the switch marked "On/Off".

The three look expectantly at the tee-vee. Nothing happens. Will is disappointed. Bob checks the connections and reads on the back of the metal box, "Use channel three or four."

Bob flips to channel three, and words appear on the screen.

This time, all three gaze at the screen in awe.

After a few minutes, Mae glances at a wallclock and sadly says, "I've got to get home!"

Looking at her necklace clock to confirm the time, Mae says, "I must hurry. I can just make curfew."

"I'll walk you home," says Will.

"Are you coming back, Will? I want to try getting the tape recorder hooked to this thing. I think this machine might listen to that awful beeping noise!"

"Absolutely! I'm too excited to sleep."

Bob warns, "Watch out for the guards. Sometimes they'll grab you and not let go if it's close to curfew. They just hang on and wait for curfew so they can bust you. Guards are like that."

Will says, "I'll be careful."

After bringing Mae home and a goodnight kiss at the door, Will hurries back to Bob's place. Keeping his eyes out for any guards and hiding behind corners, Will makes it back unnoticed.

The next evening, Will arrives at Music Lover's World to get Mae, "Let's go to Bob's!"

"What? He called in sick today."

"He's not really sick. Come on, I picked up some carry-out food. Let's skip the restaurant."

"It's unethical to pretend to be sick! And look at you, your eyes are awfully bloodshot! What's going on?"

"Mae, the device is not just a videogame, it's a very early version of a primitive personal computer!"

"What kind of computer?"

"Personal computer."

Will peers up and down the walkway. "I'll tell you more at Bob's."

Sometime later, at Bob's, Will explains to Mae, "Bob and I figured out that this is an extremely simple, early personal computer. This is a small, self-contained computer that works without fiber-network access!"

Mae snorts, "You can't have a computer that works without a fiber-network connection!"

Bobs asks, "Have ever seen a calculator?"

Mae rubs her ear, "When I was a little girl, my father used to have a calculator. He says that he still had it from when he was a boy, back when the laws hadn't mandated that all buildings had to have plentiful computer terminals. He voluntarily turned it in to the government, though, after he found out I had mentioned it to my friend."

Bob says angrily, "You told a friend your dad had an illegal device! Who've you told about me?"

"Nobody! I was seven years old! I didn't know any better!"

"Mae, I'm sorry I shouted at you. The government was a lot stricter on devices like that back then. These things come and go in cycles of about fifteen-to-twenty years. Today, someone who had a calculator would get fined less than someone who said God!"


"Yes," confirms Bob.

Will says, "Back then, couldn't you be sent to reeducation clinic for owning just a calculator, much less a personal computer or videorecorder?"

"They got my sister for that," explains Bob, "That's when I started hanging out in Virtual-Land. Thank God that the judges made mind-wipes illegal seven years ago. Sis has never been the same after her wipe."

Mae, unable to help herself, cringes yet again at the mention of God. Or maybe it was the mention of mind-wipes.

Will states, "Only good thing the new judges have done, in my opinion. I take it you support decriminalization."

Bob says, "Only for calculators, tape recorders, and personal computers. Radios and tee-vees should still be illegal."

Mae contradicts, "But you own several tee-vees."

"Well, I wouldn't want to be totally law-abiding, would I? Besides,

I never turn on the tee-vees since nothing is broadcast anymore. It's the electromagnetic radiation that scares me!"

"I can understand that!" agrees Mae.

Will looks at his primitive personal computer and tee-vee,

"Does this emit some radiation?"

"You know, I really don't know. I always thought it was the transmitting station that did that. But then, I heard that a tee-vee or radio might transmit a little on its own."

Seeing Mae's nervous face, Will says, "Are you sure this puts out radiation?"

"Eh, it probably doesn't. I think that was just a rumor the government spread to make it easier to get people to turn in their tee-vee sets and replace them with holovisions with fiber-network connections."

"Oh," says Mae, visibly relaxing, "I try to be very careful.

Since even sunlight is electromagnetic, I never go out without sunblock or a hat. I also stay well away from the fusion power plant. I heard their generator puts out lots."

Bob counters, "The fusion plant is well-shielded."

"It's better to be safe than sorry."

Looking back at the small computer, Mae asks, "Is this like a calculator?"

Will says encouragingly, "Yes. You're getting the idea. But, you can program this, not just add up numbers!"

Mae responds, "I couldn't program! Only licensed members of the Programmers' Union are allowed to do that! And you once told me that you programmers don't even use the same arithmetic as the rest of us."

"That system is called hexadecimal. It is a base 16 number system."

Bob wonders, "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It's like a child with six extra fingers doing math on his hands."

Bob comments, "You programmers are a weird bunch."

"Skip it. Let me show you something which won't require you to know hexadecimal."

Will inserts a tape. The tape player whirs. Meanwhile, Bob takes the take-out food that the Will brought and brings it to the kitchen. He gets some plates and starts dishing it out.

Mae looks at the screen. "Why does it say basic?

A basic display, a basic computer, or what? Your device does seem rather unadorned."

"It is the BASIC computer language. Let me show you how to type a small program."

Will has her type in:


150 INPUT A$



"It's repeating my question!" Mae puzzles.

"Go ahead. Answer it."

After a few keystrokes, Will has her press the return key.


"Look at that! Amazing. Hey, Bob, look at this!"

As Bob comes over carrying some of the take-out food, Will commands, "Don't get food close to my computer!"

Bob puts the food back in the kitchen and then returns.

Mae reruns the program, and Bob types in the responses.

Bob scratches his head, "Isn't that something?"

Mae proudly states, "I put in the program!"

"No way! Only real programmers can do that. Will must have done it."

Mae replies, "Watch this! Don't say anything, Will. Let me do this one myself."

She types on the keyboard for a while. After this, she types RUN. She instructs, "Now, watch the screen and answer the questions."


Bob types in his name.


Bob types in, "MAE"


Bob's jaw drops!

"You learn fast, Mae!" says Will, smiling from ear-to-ear.

The three work late into the night, taking turns on the intriguing machine. Will points out, "Tomorrow's not a workday. Let's not quit."

Both Bob and Mae, having caught Will's contagious enthusiasm for the antique, agree. Bob says, "You can stay here overnight.

I don't want either of you caught for violating curfew."

Late the next morning while sunlight streams through the curtains of the window, Bob comes out of the bedroom. Mae is sleeping on the couch, but Will is still hunched over the personal computer. Will punches keys rapidly.

"Morning, Will!"

Will pauses, "Good morning, Bob."

"I'm going out for donuts. What kind would you like?"

"Chocolate, please."

"Sounds good. I'll be back in about fifteen minutes."

After Bob leaves, Will resumes typing.

Mae gets up. She walks over and massages Will's shoulders.

She runs a hand through his hair and says, "Why don't you stop that for a while."

Will freezes for a second, then says, "Sure. Hand me that cassette tape on the table and I'll save this program."

As she retrieves it, the door signaler chimes.

"I'll get it," she says.

She opens the door. Vincent and Warren are standing there.

Warren says, "Good morning, Mae. Is Will here?"

Still half-asleep and not thinking, Mae steps aside and the two men enter.

Warren says, "There you are, Will. Vincent holophoned me. He said he urgently needed to find you. One of the modeling subroutines crashed and you're needed at G.Z.K. immediately. We holophoned everywhere else and couldn't find you. Then, I remembered you mentioned Bob at the auction, so I tried to holocall here as a long shot, but Bob's fiber-network access is disconnected. Vincent was desperate enough to pick me up in his air-car and drive us over."

Will stands up and approaches them, "Okay, let's go!"

Warren turns to leave, but not Vincent.

"Wait a minute! That thing back there is what you had in that cardboard box at the auction! And is that a tee-vee next to it?"

Warren looks back at the machine and says nervously, "Vincent, we're expected at G.Z.K. Let's get moving."

Vincent shoves past both Will and Warren. He gets a good look. He shouts, "Unbelievable! Is that a personal computer?"

"What do you think it is?" asks Will warily.

With a cold look in his eye, Vincent announces formally, "In my position as a member of the Programmers' Union and employee of

G.Z.K., I'm placing you under immediate arrest, Will Lawter! Warren, find a computer terminal that's connected and get some guards to escort us back to G.Z.K."

Warren waffles, "I don't think that's really necessary.

Why don't we just forget this and go back and fix the subroutine?"

In a dangerous tone, Vincent says, "Warren, if you don't cooperate, I'll get you thrown out of the union."

Warren looks over to Will, "I'm sorry about this, Will. I honestly had no idea why you were here or what was in your box."

"I understand. I'm not happy about it, but I understand."

Vincent orders, "Get moving, Warren!"

Warren moves.

It isn't long until Warren returns with several guards.

Vincent asks Mae, "What has Will been doing with this device?"

Mae says belligerently, "He's been showing me how to write computer programs in BASIC."

Vincent says in a tolerant tone, "Did you know that BASIC is not a computer language you can program in?"

"But I wrote a small program!"

"No, you only played a computer game. BASIC is a game that allows nonprogrammers to pretend to write a computer program. It's not a popular game anymore."

Fighting back tears, Mae asks, "It's only a game?"

"Yes. I'm sorry if this criminal tried to con you into thinking otherwise."

Neither Will nor Warren comment on Vincent's assertion. The guards also remain silent, but that is part of their normal duty.

One of the guards makes a recording of Mae's I.D. card.

After this, she is released. After an hour wait, Bob doesn't reappear.

Vincent says, "Let's get back to G.Z.K. Leave a guard here in case the apartment's owner appears. He too shall be arrested."

One of the guards remains behind as the others head to the parking area. Once there, Will is shoved into a cruiser. Vincent and Warren follow behind the cruiser in Vincent's air-car. The vehicles travel directly to G.Z.K. Once again parked, Vincent walks over to the cruiser and request that the guards apply handcuffs to Will.

The guards comply without question.

Will is in shock.

Vincent leads Will into a large conference room. Many of the chairs around the table are occupied. Will is seated at a chair at one head of the table.

Guards place the personal computer, tee-vee, and tape recorder on the floor near the door.

Division President Jansen appears. She takes the seat at the other end of the table.

President Jansen bangs her gavel and thanks all the union members that answered the call and came in even though it isn't a workday.

Pierre raises his hand.

"Yes, Pierre."

"I have things to do today and don't appreciate having to rush in to work on my day off. Why is this meeting so important that this couldn't be handled through a holoconference over the fiber-network?"

"It is a long standing tradition that trials be held in person."

Pierre glances over toward Will, "A trial? Whatever for?"

President Jansen gestures to Vincent, "Will you please state your charges against Will Lawter?"

Vincent points to the personal computer on the floor. He explains what it is.

Gasps are heard around the room.

"Personal computers are completely illegal and unethical!" declares President Jansen.

Will protests, "It's a very primitive, practically useless device! Why is it illegal?"

"Because only programmers are allowed to program computers, even a brain-dead piece of junk like that!" shouts Vincent, shaking his fists in the air. "Next, you'll be trying to repair your own plumbing!"

Various people chuckle at the idea of trying to fix their own clogged and leaking plumbing. Preposterous. The Plumbers' Union would never stand for it.

President Jansen bangs a gavel. Silence pervades for a moment.

"Take a holopict of that to save as evidence," demands

President Jansen.

A guard pulls out a small cube which he waves around the pile of equipment.

"Fine. Now use your blaster to destroy that equipment!"

Jansen orders the guard.

Obediently and without asking questions, the guard replaces the small cube in his belt and pulls out a large wicked-looking black

L-shaped device from his belt. Greenish-orange flame shoots out from the device into the piled containing the computer, tape recorder, and tee-vee. The equipment smokes and burns, turning into slag. The floor is also charred, but the guard continues firing until the

President says, "Enough."

Vincent indignantly says to Pierre, "I didn't think any more tape recorders existed, much less a personal computer. I'd never seen either one before in my life. I'm glad I was able to recognize it!"

Pierre puts a hand over his mouth. Will realizes that

Pierre is trying not to vomit. Strange.

President Jansen brushes back her white hair and says, "I'm glad that the Programmers' Union has been successful enough that personal computers are so rare that this is highly unusual occurrence."

Will belligerently asks, "Successful? Successful at what?"

The President glares at Will. "Successful at taking back control of the computers."

Knowing his goose is cooked anyway, Will argues, "I see nothing wrong with letting non-union-members write some simple computer programs!"

"No!" gasps Vincent.

"I can't believe he said that," mutters Warren.

"Now I understand. With an attitude like that, no wonder you committed such a crime! Revoke his account, immediately!" orders the


Vincent reaches out to the table. A hologram appears above it. He pokes at it with his fingers, stops and asks, "Shall I just cancel his programmer privileges and leave him as a user?"

"I don't even want him to be a game-player! Revoke all privileges!" snarls the President.

A look of shock passes through the room.

As dutifully as if he were a guard, Vincent types in the commands. After he finishes, he states, "I have cancelled all programmer, user, and game-player privileges for former third-class Programmer Will Lawter. With G.Z.K.'s contract with the W.F.N.A., these privileges will be revoked on all computers in the entire world, Madam President."

"Good. Remember Will Lawter, using computers is a privilege, not a right."

Will pleads, "How am I supposed to shop or do anything? This whole world is run by computers connected through the fiber-network!"

President Jansen smiles widely. "You won't have to worry about that for a while. Vincent, I want you to enter in orders to have

Will Lawter sent to prison for a year."

"Madam President, isn't a year of prison, without even limited

game-player privileges, a little harsh?" sheepishly asks Vincent.

"Mr. Lawter committed a rebellious crime intended to try and undermine our job security! He deserves a much longer sentence, but a one-year sentence is the maximum I can give without getting him a government trial. I don't want the publicity involved in doing that to a former G.Z.K. employee.

Will can hardly believe how serious the others are treating something he still doesn't regard as a crime.

President Jansen asks, "Who else knows about this device?"

Vincent says, "I don't know their names, Madam President.

Warren does, though."

All eyes turn to Warren, who sits unmoving and quiet.

The President says, "I'm ordering you to answer that question, or face penalties, possibly being kicked out of the union."

Warren lowers his head and says, "The guards already have this information. The threats aren't necessary. Mae Wilson and

Bob Johnson. She is a check-out clerk at Music Lover's World and he's a bagger at the same place."

Raising his head, Warren puts in, "Madam President, Vincent told a good cover story to Mae Wilson. I believe he convinced her that this was an out-dated video game to let a person pretend to be a real programmer."

"Do you really think she believed him?"

"Yes, Madam President, I do. I must say, Vincent lied most excellently!"

The President smiled, "That is a most useful skill."

"The device was so blasted primitive that Vincent effectively told the God-damned truth!" blurts out Will.

The gavel slams down! "I won't have you using language like that in here, young man!"

"Well, too bad! What else are you going to do? You've already revoked all possible computer privileges and given me the maximum prison time permitted without a real government trial!"

Pierre pleads, "Will, please calm down! You may think things can't get worse, but you're wrong."

"Hell, Pierre, I'd rather face a government trial than this mockery of justice!"

The gavel struck: Bang! Bang!

Looking down sternly, President Jansen explains, "If you wish to get a government trial, I can arrange that. I really don't want that publicity. However, I don't want to be thought unfair either.

Remember, Will, that any citizen accused of a crime who asks for a government trial will automatically go to prison for three months for being a nuisance to society whether later found guilty or innocent.

Besides that, if found guilty...and I think you would be...your sentence could be much longer than one year!"

Pierre remains silent.

Vincent, however, calls out, "Don't do it, Will!"

President Jansen asks, "Do you really want a government trial?"

Feeling defeated, Will says, "In a better world, I'd appeal to the government trial. But not here. Not now."

"Will Lawter, you have been found guilty by the Programmers'

Union along with the management of Giant Zebra Komputer of knowingly owning a computer and of knowingly trying to teach a non-union member to program. You are sentenced to one year of prison."


As a guard comes and grabs Will's arm, President Jansen says,

"I want some guards to arrest the check-out girl Mae Wilson and that bagger...what's his name?"

"Bob Johnson," replies Vincent

As the guard leads Will to the door, Will hears President

Jansen proclaim, "I want Bob Johnson charged with owning and selling tee-vees and tape recorders. We'll make sure he really does get a genuine government trial! Unlike the questions that might be raised about Will, the publicity for arresting a purveyor of perversion devices like that will be good for G.Z.K."

Will shakes his head, but says nothing to defend Bob. Will feels his fight is over.

Like a bad Virtual-Land actor, Vincent stands and proclaims loudly, "Too bad the reeducat..."

Vincent's voice is cut off by the slamming door as the guard leads Will from the room. To Will, that slam feels like the ending of his life.

Will says to the guard, "I wish I could race to a computer terminal and jump into Virtual-Land and never come out."

The guard, breaking protocol, replies, "Virtual-Land would make your prison time pass more quickly, sir. I believe prisoners are allowed up to two hours a day on a terminal, but with no more than game-player privileges."

"I won't even be permitted that!"

"I guess you'll have lots of time to think about your crime, then, sir. Please step into the cruiser."

Will gets in. The handcuffs make sitting uncomfortable.

As the cruiser lifts off, Will stares through the transparent door. Soon, the cruiser flies over the lake where Will had watched the ducks. From this height, Will can't tell if the ducks are present today.

A few days later, Will lies on his bunk and stares at the off-white walls of his cell. His gray prison suit feels scratchy. He already feels stir-crazy, although most of the symptoms of computer withdrawal were over after the second day.

The wood door opens. A guard dressed in white and without headgear says, "You have a visitor, sir."

"Is it a medium-height young woman with black hair?"

"No, sir. If you would be so kind as to follow me."

Will follows the man to the visitor's area, which is the cafeteria during meal hours. Seated at a table is Pierre.

Will comes and sits across from him.

"You look disappointed, Will."

"Sorry, sir. Nothing personal, I was just hoping that Mae was here. Has she been arrested too?"

"No. President Jansen decided there wasn't enough evidence against her."

"Whew. You don't know how happy it makes me to hear that!"

"Unfortunately, Bob's been caught. He's been charged with about thirty crimes."

"Damn! He doesn't deserve to be charged with anything other than liking antiques!"

"Neither do you, Will. Neither do you."

Will forces a smile. "Thanks, Pierre. I'm glad you came, even though I had hoped you were Mae."

"Um...about Mae, Will. I talked with her on the holophone."

Will tenses up, "Yes?"

"She told me that she doesn't want to see or hear from you.

She then said, 'Being with Will was a great thrill as he disregarded the law, but it's not healthy for me to associate with a criminal like him.'"

Will slams a fist against the table, "I don't believe it!"

The guard rushes over from where he had been standing quietly by the wall, "Sir, you shall accompany me back to your cell. Physical displays are not allowed."

Pierre speaks up, "Please. It was my fault. I just told him some bad news which I'm afraid I didn't break very well. It won't happen again."

Will looks up, swallows his anger, and says, "Sorry about the disturbance, sir. Please stop by again, Pierre."

As Will stands, the white-suited man glances around and says, "You may sit back down, sir. I will pretend I didn't see this."

Will nods his head, "Thank you."

"You're welcome."

As the interloper backs away, silence reigns. Will shifts in his seat and it makes a creaking sound.

Pierre hands Will a small stack of plasti-paper. "Warren asked me to give you this. He'd have come, but couldn't get a pass."

Will flips through the pages.

Pierre explains, "These are news stories about Bob's arrest and a small mention about you, too. Warren used one of those printers he got at the auction to make that for you. Oh, before I forget, after I offered to pay for paper or plasti-paper and ribbons, Warren has agreed to make as printouts of whatever you want. Just let him know what you want to read."

Will wipes away a tear. "Thanks! You don't know how bad it is not having any computer privileges anymore."

After Will regains his composure, Pierre waves his hand slowly over the table, "No transparent barrier. That's nice."

"What's nice about it?"

"Both my grandparents went to prison for three years. They hadn't turned in their videocamera or videorecorder during the Round-Up. Grandmother had taken videos of all her kids while they had been growing up. They weren't about to give them up."

"That must have been decades ago."

"Yes, it was, although they kept the devices hidden for over thirty years. Anyway, at that prison, the prisoners and visitors were separated by a transparent wall. Grandmother suffered a heart attack and died in that awful place. This prison is much better."

"I guess I'm not that dangerous. I was told this is a minimum security prison. You know what?"

"No, what?"

"Whatever kind of prison, I still don't feel I did the slightest thing wrong. The whole damn world feels like it's the prison, filled with mostly innocent people. For me, this place just makes it a little more formal."

"Both my grandparents said the about the same type of thing."

After an awkward pause, Will asks, "Why didn't your grandparents just have the videotapes converted to holovision and put on an optical disk?"

"Partly, it was because at that time it wasn't well known that you could do that. Also, they were just plain stubborn."

Will grins, "They sound like good people."

"Oh, they were. The best. I have something I'd like to give you that used to belong to my grandfather. I asked the administrator if it was okay. She says that since this is a minimum security establishment, it would be okay as long as you promise not to sharpen the metal edges. If you do, you'll be transferred to a higher security prison."

"Metal edges? Is it something electronic?"

"No, not at all. That wouldn't be allowed. It's just a chunk of aluminum."

Pierre motions to the guard, who picks up and brings over a white plastic bag. Pierre gives the bag to Will.

"Go ahead. Open it."

Will does. He pulls out a thin aluminum metal plate about a foot wide and half a foot tall. On one side it is shiny, and the other side is painted.

"M S Y dash nine-hundred seventy-five? What's that supposed to mean?"

"That code means nothing anymore. This is a license plate.

They used to use them to keep track of the owners of ground cars.

Grandfather kept it even after he traded in his ground car for an air car. Uh, that was many years before he and his wife's three year prison term for possessing the video equipment."

"They weren't mind-wiped?"

"Thank God, no! Mind-wipes were introduced the year after

Grandfather was released and Grandmother died, as a way of clearing out the prisons. I'm glad mind-wipes are illegal again. Maybe some things do change for the better."

Will taps the plate with a finger. "What an awkward form of identification. Not even a bar-code! How primitive."

"Those were different times, Will."

"Why does it say, 'New Hampshire'?"

"That was a state."

"You mean from back when this country was called the United



"Where was New Hampshire?"

"Most of it is now part of the megacity of Boston."

Will looks back at the license plate and smiles, "I like the slogan!"

"I thought you might."

"I don't think the people that had this bolted to their ground cars would have liked our world!"

"Me either."

"I'll hang this like a painting so I can see this slogan. I love it. 'Live Free or Die!'"


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