THE GLEE MACHINE

CHAPTER 1

There was a jubilant laugh, followed by a blinding flash and deafening explosion. Fortunately none of the spaceship's bulkheads were fractured. The ventilation system quickly sucked away the dust making the rodents nesting inside it sneeze.
A torrent of rats streamed over Bosey, followed by several plump guinea pigs. Once again she wondered why she was trying to find out the reason for the mad doctor’s urge to blow things up. The thirteen-year-old must have been very bored at the time.
By the time she had pulled herself from her bolthole, Dr Mistram had gone. Bosey was relieved. She wouldn't have known how to arrest the mad woman and the service robots would soon repair the damage to the sewer system. Hopefully the Doctor would never become mad enough to blow a hole in the Boson's hull.


CHAPTER 2

The wind turned into a gale. It snapped branches and filled the sky with leaves and plastic bags.
A Sainsbury's carrier sailed high above Jeff and wrapped itself around the television aerial of The Horse's Head, where it flapped like a furious giant bee. Jeff was slightly built and, not wanting to end up with the carrier bag, kept close to the park wall.
As he reached the railings, a sudden gust of wind hurled part of a sign into the bushes on the other side of them. Through the tangled branches, large bright letters spelt out ‘Merry-Go-Rou’.
‘Merry-Go-Round?’ Jeff didn't know that a fair had arrived. He looked through the railings. There was a distant glow against the leaden sky.
Braving the full blast of the gale, he entered the gates, retrieved the sign, and took the path that led to the tea pavilion.
The park was deserted. Jeff was the only one desperate enough to play truant on a day like this. He preferred to be battered by the wind sooner than William Harris in the boxing ring. Having managed to reach his thirteenth birthday, Jeff had plans that involved not becoming brain damaged by the age of sixteen. It was even worth going a day without the computer to avoid being flattened by a dozen burly fourth formers in a rugby scrum. He had been given the option of taking parenting classes instead, but was the only boy in the class and kept dropping the plastic baby on its head.
The wind eased and Jeff was able to catch his breath.
Something was wrong.
On the far side of the lake the pavilion was haloed in a dome of light. Its shabby tearoom was usually only open at the weekends and never lit by anything more powerful than flickering fluorescent lights. Now it sat like a huge illuminated blister on the featureless lawn.
Jeff was reluctant to go on, even though the way back led to a stern lecture from the formidable Mr Hardman and several laps of a muddy playing field. Despite its sinister transformation, Jeff persuaded himself that the tearoom was more inviting. If he wasn’t imagining things, he had enough money in his pocket for a cup of tea.
Holding the sign before him in case he had to ward off a troll, Jeff crossed the rickety bridge to the pavilion. He stopped and stared at the building's transformation. These were not the crumbling steps he had spent hours as an infant dashing up and down, pretending to be Superman. The town council often made worthy attempts to upgrade local landmarks. This park's amenities had always been at the bottom of their list. The last time Jeff saw the pavilion, paint was peeling from the veranda, and weeds were growing from the concrete steps. Now it had a façade brighter than a bingo hall with Corinthian pillars flanking doors high enough to accommodate a giraffe. The veranda was filled with a battery of screens parading images from an idealised history. Above them was a large illuminated sign, THE GLEE MACHINE.
Jeff walked up the gleaming steps and broke a security beam. He felt a strange tingling as though the Glee Machine had recognised him. The teenager wanted to step back. His legs propelled him forward instead.
On one of the screens was a Victorian funfair with swing boats, a helter-skelter - and merry-go-round with a broken sign. With no idea why he did it, Jeff darted through the open doors and into the Glee Machine.


CHAPTER 3

Despite being nine, Beal's manner had enough gravity to bend light. "Well, you have to do something. Dr Mistram's explosions will puncture the hull of the Boson if she carries on like this."
"Well you go and reason with her!" Bosey snapped. "Whenever I try, she goes on about creatures invading the ship and that we’re all due a medical check-up."
“I prefer to take my chances with the mediscan,” sneered Beal, “At least that’s not likely to dynamite your intestines.”
Bosey ripped the cover off her meal and gulped it down too quickly.
Having carefully picked through her food like a bird, Della dropped her plate into the steriliser. "What if Dr Miftram if right?" she lisped.
Bosey belched. "Does she have to be right because she's the only surviving adult?"
A marmot, who had been listening, sat up on its haunches and gave a toothy grin. "Boy, have you kids got problems."
The young people turned and glowered at the eavesdropper.
A century ago some adult had been so curious to find out what rodents thought, they had given them voices. Having another species able to communicate on board was supposed to help the crew keep things in perspective. The only perspective the rodents usually had was on the food stored down some hole or other. All they did was gorge the farm produce that the adult crew would have been eating if they hadn't been suspended in the deep freeze.
The marmot was unnerved by Bosey's icy glare. "But then, what do I know." The rodent tactfully returned to its nest.
Life hadn't been any easier when the adults started to fall ill. Their mental capacity had gradually been reduced until there was nothing left, even a basic grasp of the alphabet. They never suffered. Now, in cold storage, one thought was very much like another.
Bosey clicked the communication link on her collar. "Computer, did J Section get their supplies?"
The computer was able pick up a voice anywhere on the spaceship. Because it missed the crew of fifty, it had started to answer every question, whether directed at it or not. The communication links were to let it know when it was being spoken to.
A clipped voice echoed about the room like a ball bearing in a tin can. "Yes. Order despatched-one-hour-twenty-seconds-ago. Provisions arrived-forty-five-minutes-six-seconds-ago."
Della covered her ears. "Ufe Della D'fs voice, pleafe!" she lisped.
Her mother's warm tones flowed from the speaker. "J Section reported trouble with their water supply, so I have adjusted its filtration."
Bosey gave a wry smile. "Well, at least we know that the computer will never try to poison us."
Beal sneered. "You didn't taste its recipe for parsnip paté."
"You know, if I have to live with you until you're ten, I think my brain will explode."
"At least my parents never named me after a spaceship."
"No, they named you after the man who invented the self tightening space bolt."
Della stamped crossly. "Pleafe stop it! We muftn't argue! Not now!"
Bosey was embarrassed at being scolded by an eleven-year-old. Della was right. With the six of them stranded on a ship one kilometre long on the way to nowhere, arguing was totally pointless.
Being the oldest member of the group, Bosey was in charge. She tried not to think about it too often because it gave her indigestion, especially when the boredom made them think up dangerous pranks. Dr Mistram was enough to cope with.
"Have you two tidied up your quarters yet?"
"My servife robot if still doing the laundry," Della replied resentfully.
"And mine had to recharge itself," Beal declared defiantly.
Bosey knew she couldn't win. "Well make sure all the drawers and cupboards are shut. We don't want any more guinea pigs nesting in the duvets."
Della giggled. "I don't mind the guinea pigfs."
"Well their conversation is on your level," Beal said.
Bosey picked up her satchel. It was either that or throttle the snide nine-year-old. "Computer, keep me informed of Dr Mistram's whereabouts. I'll have to try and get some sense out of her again."
"Dr Mistram is by the stasis unit in the hold."
Bosey wished the computer wouldn't take her so literally. Now, to keep face, she would have to confront the madwoman. "What's she doing?"
"Just sitting."
At least it was unlikely the doctor would blow up her deep frozen colleagues.
Bosey left Q Section and strolled out onto the main walkway. She passed over the farm still growing crops for a crew of fifty. The blue lake glittered invitingly. There was the thrum of the generators powering the artificial sun and the leisurely munching of rodents. The perfume of the herbs made Bosey wonder why the computer had never quite got the hang of using them. Its parsnip paté wasn't the only thing that upset their stomachs.
On 23rd century Earth it would have been a beautiful day. But this was a spaceship light years away which did its best to mirror a climate the children would never experience. The agro system had decided not to rain or whip up a wind to strengthen the plant stems, and the sun beamed down like a kindly cosmic aunt.
Bosey, like the others, had been born on the Boson and could not imagine a sky any higher than the observation dome over the farm and small wood. Outside that were the stars and infinity.


CHAPTER 4

Jeff entered the pavilion. A doorkeeper in a splendid uniform towered over him.
Words failed the schoolboy. He pointed to the Merry-Go-Rou sign, hoping it would be taken from him so he could flee. Entry into the brilliantly illuminated lobby ahead probably required some sort of payment. Jeff preferred to use what money he had for a cup of tea. In fact, he had never felt so much like a cup of tea in his life.
The doorman gave the truant a computer-animated smile. Extending a gold braided sleeve, he pointed to an entrance. Then the rest of him shimmered and melted away leaving the hand and sleeve to ensure that Jeff went the right way.
Jeff was so alarmed he darted through the entrance, expecting a siren to wail or voice demand payment. Instead, he found himself in the centre of an octagonal orange floor surrounded by doors. A large label gleamed on each one. Some of them were gibberish. He managed to identify odd words like Volcano, Space Lift and… Victorian Fairground! At last! Jeff tightened his grip on the sign and dashed forward. The Victorian Fairground door dissolved before he reached it.
Suddenly he was standing on a lawn so green it would have hurt the eyes of any sheep trying to graze it. He was in a Victorian fairground, accurate in every detail, apart from the mud and squalor. There wasn’t any. Even a computer geek like Jeff knew that where there were donkeys, there was also dung.
There was no signpost pointing the way, so he wended his way through the crinolines, coconut shies and candyfloss sellers.
Suddenly everything blinked. Jeff felt all sensation slip away as though he had been switched off. He snapped back with a jolt, then shuddered. If this was virtual reality, the player shouldn't go out with the program.
The colours of the fairground became even more garish.
Jeff renewed his search, relieved that the odd bull mastiff and fairground barker showed no interest in his presence.
At last, on the other side of the helter-skelter, Jeff found the merry-go-round. A man wearing a blissfully empty smile was turning its huge handle. Small passengers with the same fixed expressions looked ecstatic at the experience. Jeff had the sinking feeling that this had been his infant reaction, mixed with a little terror, to his first ride in an outsize teacup.
He held out the Merry-Go-Rou sign. The man winding the wheel didn't even glance in his direction.
Jeff felt he had done enough and was desperate to get back to his own reality, however stressful it might have been. He propped the sign against the merry-go-round's fence and dashed back through the crowds. He had to find the exit before the fairground blinked again and he disappeared with it. There was no door where he came in, just a grinning clockwork clown in a large case.
Jeff had an idea. Two pence was about the same size as an old penny. He dropped a coin into the slot. The clown rotated and gave a peel of penetrating laughter.
Everything disappeared.
The brash colours of the fairground were replaced by a warm glow punctuated by banks of twinkling lights.
It was too much to hope that this was Christmas.
Jeff warily looked about. A man in a silver suit stood just above him. The top of his head was bald; the rest of it had a magnificent mass of frizzy hair and side-whiskers like the clown in the booth.
"Now, what do you want?" he asked.
“Who are you?”
“The Controller, of course.”
Jeff was relieved that at last someone had noticed him, even a fantastically dressed adult with permanently arched eyebrows.
"Any chance of a cup of tea?"

 

CHAPTER 5

Rodents lolled on the beach by the lake of recycled water and scratched, stretched or ruminated. Occasionally the nose of a capybara broke the surface.
Bosey wondered why the original crew didn’t bring along a few crocodiles as well. However friendly and cute the Boson's rodents might have been, having them answer back every time she opened her mouth got on her nerves. But then, she had never encountered a crocodile and probably wouldn't have believed it was real unless it had whiskers.
Bosey had the urge to go for a swim. That would have only invited more conversation. She also needed to reach Dr Mistram before she decided to blow up something else. With a bit of luck, the cold temperature in the ship's hold was slowing down the mad doctor's circulation.
She told her collar link, "Track me. I'm going into the fridge."
"I will alert the service robots." The computer’s tone sounded weary.
Bosey hoped she wouldn't need the robots to dispose of any bombs and descended a service ladder to the farm.
Bees and butterflies busily pollinated flowers and the sound of munching filled the overgrown thickets of vegetables. The artificial sun was at its height. Overweight marmots with enough fur to protect them from an Arctic winter bathed in its glow. All the ship's rodents were unable to over breed, however much they ate, otherwise they might have evolved into a new crew. Without them, the automatic gardeners would have been unable to keep the plants in check.
Bosey stepped over a marmot thoughtfully scratching its stomach.
"Hi," it said.
She gave the animal a stern glare. It was a waste of time trying to daunt anything so overfed and contented.
"A crew of fifty adults - all brought down by some alien parasite," Bosey thought angrily to herself, "and not so much as a guinea pig sneezes. Why? Why? Why?"
There was a polite voice near her kneecap. "Excuse me, do you mind if I go along with you?"
It was another marmot. This one seemed quite intelligent.
"All right, as long as you don't ask questions or keep stating the obvious."
"Thank you." The plump marmot waddled after her.
They went under arches of beans climbing the stems of giant blue artichoke flowers, then skirted the lake to reach a hatch in the artificial rock face. There were some steep metal steps descending to the lower decks.
The plump marmot almost tumbled down them after Bosey. "Why not use the lifts?"
"I don't want her to know we're coming."
"Oh." It knew it shouldn't, but had to ask, "Who?"
"Dr Mistram."
"Oh."
They plodded along the walkway in silence.
At the centre of the Boson, were the great engines rotating the spaceship's hull. Without them there would be no gravity and endless problems with floating furry bodies. Bosey glanced down into the massive machinery to make sure that the maintenance robots were still there. It was absurd. If they did stop for a tea break she would know as soon as her feet left the floor.
The pattering of the marmot's feet on the metal ramp to the basement storage area sounded like one of the farm's showers drumming on the central walkway. Bosey was wearing standard issue non-sparking boots. She looked back. If the rodent's claws could have ignited the oxygen rich atmosphere it would have happened by now.
The marmot stopped guiltily, wondering what it had done.
Bosey told herself to be sensible and find Dr Mistram before the woman blew up something else.
The marmot was unable to keep quiet any longer. "You're right not to use the lift, of course. I've seen some of the little monsters trying to get into the shaft."
Bosey stopped. "What?"
The marmot flinched. "The monsters? The ones that Dr Mistram lays traps for? She's getting very good. Wiped out a whole nest the last time."
The teenager stopped, panic in the pit of her stomach. This was only a rodent speaking. They lived in their own little worlds where they compensated for the lack of predators by making up horror stories.
A robot saw her hesitate and thought she needed help. It clanked from its storage niche.
"Not needed," Bosey told her computer link. "Just get a service unit to scan the site of Dr Mistram's last explosion."
"What elements are you looking for?"
"Anything biological - except where I wet myself."
When she reached the hold, Bosey held her breath then pushed the entrance control. The shutter reeled itself away like metal origami.
She looked down at the fifty adult crew members refrigerated alongside the excess farm produce. Storage containers towered to the ceiling in icy canyons, automatic fork lifts leisurely pulled out bio components requested by the maintenance system and lowered them into a transit pods for delivery to the service robots.
Dr Mistram was lounging on some containers of medical supplies and gazing up at the crew's bodies. She was either deep in thought or frozen stiff.
"Keep away from me, Bosey," she called without turning. "Or they'll track you down as well." The sixty-year-old sounded quite sane.
"Who will track me down?"
"The parasites."
"Parasites?"
"You'll soon have an adult's brain. Then you will never escape them."
Bosey was baffled. "So why haven't they attacked you?"
Dr Mistram looked up at the teenager. An explosion of white hair laced with hoarfrost framed her face. "Because I'm mad, quite mad."


CHAPTER 6

Jeff sat sipping a strange, sweet brown liquid through a straw. He kept his elbows tucked in for fear of hitting one of the buttons on the circular console filled with flashing lights. It was difficult not to stare at the Controller's bald pate surrounded by thick, frizzy hair and his silver suit which flashed unnecessarily with every move he made.
"Of course, if you had left the sign where it was, I could have transmitted it back and you would have been none the wiser."
Jeff gave up trying to drink the sickly fluid. "I still don't understand how it brought me here? If this is virtual reality, why is everything so solid?"
There was an 'Oh, these primitive people - why do I have to deal with them?' expression on the Controller's face. "I have no idea why the Glee Machine brought you here. It might have liked your…" The Controller fluttered a critical hand at Jeff’s bottle green blazer, "garments."
He made some adjustments to a battery of dials. "The fairground has been giving trouble for some time. It was one of the first programs to be affected. Every now and then it drops bits of itself into history. When you touched that sign, the time coil decided to make you part of the fairground's program."
"No computer can create effects like that?"
"Not in your time. By the 23rd century things had moved on a little."
Jeff spilt his drink. "23rd century! That's not possible! We would be speaking a different language if it was."
"I am the system's Controller. I understand everything."
"Except why I'm here and how to make a decent cup of tea."
The silver suited man raised his arched eyebrows. They looked like two brackets.
The schoolboy began to wonder if he would be better off under some rugby scrum after all. "So how do I get back?"
The Controller stopped fiddling with the controls on the console. "Ah, now that's the problem."
“Problem?”
“You are stuck here.” The Controller had obviously never needed to humour a neurotic hamster from under the settee. "I was about to isolate each suspect program and track down the parasite. Unfortunately, you are now part of the Glee Machine's memory."
Jeff slapped himself all over to make sure. "I seem quite solid? The computing power needed to digitise matter would be phenomenal."
"Not with DNA computers."
"DNA?"
"You must know what DNA is, even in the 21st century?"
"Of course I do. It's what all our bits are made of." There was a better way of describing it, but the Controller's manner could have tongue-tied a politician.
"The system evolved from early quantum computers."
"Whose DNA did the inventor use then?"
The man looked at the schoolboy as though he was an amoeba in a blazer. "His own I suppose."
Jeff was only familiar with binary computers. "Cool."
"A single circuit from the Glee Machine has the capacity to run a small country."
Until then, Jeff had thought himself pretty advanced in computer studies. Now his PC was an ancient antique. "What is going to happen then?"
"Have you ever been to a theme park?" the Controller asked.
"Only to one about Vikings."
"The Glee Machine has a program to cover every age and place of interest during the last 25,000 years."
"Not even the pyramids go back that far?"
"The Sphinx does."
Jeff’s jaw dropped.
"Don't worry about it,” the Controller went on, “It will be some decades before your archaeologists unearth the early African civilisations."
Jeff felt like a performing dog trying to balance a ball on its nose. The teenager was three centuries adrift without even a link to Google. His brain would explode before he reached 2030.
"Can you get me out of here?"
The Controller gave a tight smile. "When I've purged the Glee Machine of this parasite."
"What a stupid name for an entertainment system this sophisticated."
The Controller was baffled. "What makes you say that?"
"The ‘Glee’ Machine? Don't you think so then?"
"The originators spent several years deciding what to call it."
"Doesn't seem right to call something this dangerous the ‘Glee’ Machine."
"Dangerous? When used properly it can give people hours of harmless educational fun."
"How? By being chased by Vikings or some Panzer division - assuming this parasite hasn't eaten them of course?"
"The parasite does not live off the characters in the programs."
"What does it feed on then?"
The Controller hesitated. "The mental energy of the people using them."

 

CHAPTER 7

Bosey joined Dr Mistram under the storage cells containing the Boson’s frozen crew.
"I don't care if you are mad. We have to talk to you. That last explosion wrecked a sewage processor."
Dr Mistram chuckled. "Stupid girl. You've got twenty more. How many times do six children need to go to the toilet?"
"That's not the point." The coldness suddenly hit Bosey. "What are you doing down here anyway?"
"The chill air slows my thoughts. They're only interested when your mind’s working at full pelt."
The teenager sat on a storage cabinet a safe distance from the Doctor. "Why are you causing these explosions?"
Dr Mistram pulled a phial from her large bag. "This is the only thing that can stop the parasites; it contains a protein that dissolves them."
"What are they?"
"No idea. They appear out of thin air, make a snack of someone's mind, then vanish."
"Then how did you discover the protein?"
"Trial and error. I have to use explosive to propel it over an effective area." She sounded quite rational.
Bosey was afraid of believing her. "Am I in danger from these creatures?"
The Doctor dropped the phial back into her bag. "Only when you start to see them."
The marmot had fluffed out its fur and looked like a ball of candyfloss. "I can see them. Why don't they attack me?"
"Because your tiny mind gives off less energy than an electric nail clipper."
"I thought having speech was supposed to enlarge the brain?"
Bosey and Dr Mistram gave the creature a wary glance. Testing that hypothesis had been part of the rodent experiment. Unfortunately, the scientists who had given them the ability to talk were either light years away on Earth or frozen in the cubicles just above them.
Bosey was unable to cope with the cold any longer. She picked up her satchel. "Don't tell the others about this will you?"
"They won't come near me. They believe I'm mad. You would do better to tell the wildlife to keep quiet about it."
As Bosey turned to leave, something occurred to her. "Just where was this spaceship supposed to be going?"
"No idea."
"We're drifting, aren't we?"
"Don't look at me. I'm locked out of the flight deck. I'm just here to slap on the odd sticking plaster."
Bosey knew Dr Mistram was lying, but left before she turned into an icicle.
The marmot had enough fur to withstand a gale on an ice floe, so stayed behind. "There is still a cluster near J Section's disposal unit."
"What are these gargoyles living on for pity's sake?” Dr Mistram mused. “All the adult brains have been shut down, the children aren't giving off enough mental energy, and the combined intellect of you rodents wouldn't even make a light snack."
"Gargoyle? What's a gargoyle?"
"A grotesque stone effigy with bats wings. Used as water spouts on ancient churches and cathedrals."
"Bats? Are they rodents?"
"Placental mammals."
The fat marmot rattled its teeth thoughtfully. All it could summon up from the depths of its memory were images of food. No rodent would have sucked the energy from a human brain, however much it needed the extra intelligence.
"When you die, won’t the gargoyles drain the children's brains as soon as they're old enough?"
"So you’d better learn how to fly a spaceship."
The marmot started to clean the ice crystals from its fur. "We see quite a few parasites near the entertainment centre."
Dr Mistram realised. “Of course - The Glee Machine!”
"Why would the gargoyles be near the Glee Machine?"
"It's the only place they could have come from. I've never heard of a spaceship needing water spouts." The layer of frost encrusting Dr Mistram's thermal suit cracked as she quickly rose. "I need some rats."
"That last explosion really worried them. Their queen took her pack deep into the ventilation system."
"Well find her. Tell her that the computer will make one of those chocolate cakes they like." The marmot clicked its teeth expectantly. "And the marmots can have some biscuits - as long as they keep out of the way."
"All right." The rodent shook the remaining ice from its fur and pattered off.


CHAPTER 8

Jeff looked out over a landscape dotted with small step pyramids, villages, and fields of lush crops. In the blue sky were powder puff clouds and steam rose from the earth as the sun dried a recent shower. This was too green to be Egypt. Beyond the Nile margin there should have been desert.
"Are these the early settlements your archaeologists found?"
His silver suited guide looked up from his hand held monitor. "Yes. The land was quite temperate then. In fact, it was the repeated floods which washed away the first civilisations."
"Wow. There must be a lot of wildlife about?"
"All the animals have been attack inhibited, though we recommend you do not provoke any hippos or lions. It could damage their program." The Controller returned to his monitor.
Teasing hippos and lions was the last thing on Jeff's mind.
He looked down. "Hey! What are we standing on?"
It was apparently fresh air.
"Sorry." The Controller tapped the keys on his monitor.
They were lowered to the steps of a temple.
"That felt weird."
"I prefer to see what is going on when I enter a program. It saves time."
"Don't you ever join in?"
"Join in?" Jeff's guide gave him a scornful glance. "Why would I want to join in one of the Glee Machine's programs?"
Jeff would have been suspicious about him then if he had not been so daunted by the man. He dutifully trotted after the Controller, up to the temple where offerings were being made to ram horned gods.
Children and their pets meandered about the priestesses and priests as though at playschool. Huge effigies that resembled the Biblical golden calf of Baal were being garlanded. The congregation looked too content in their pagan worship to deserve the thunderbolt of a jealous God.
The worshippers ignored the silver suit striding through their ceremony. Jeff had seen enactments of ancient rituals on a tutorial CD-ROM. He didn't care how innocent things looked and kept a safe distance just in case they decided to sacrifice something livelier than flowers and honey.
At the altar, the Controller pressed several keys on his monitor. A shaft of light shot up from it.
Jeff leapt back. "What is that?"
"Fantasy mode. Even the 23rd century has its over active imaginations."
In the column of energy bizarre entities appeared; animal headed humans, human headed animals and creatures that looked as though they had been tossed from an alien spaceship.
Jeff gingerly drew closer. "What are they?"
"Some people still believe that humans originated on Mars and only came to Earth when the planet started to die."
"That's ridiculous! If this is the 23rd century you should know better."
"Don't tell me. Writing the programs is not my function." The Controller shut the beam off. "Nothing wrong here."
"Where to now then?"
The Controller tapped a key on his monitor. They were back at his console of flashing lights.
He adjusted some switches. "The last death was in the shop of a candle maker at the court of an Italian prince."
"Death! You mean someone was killed?"
Jeff could tell that the Controller was thinking, “Oh dear, the boy has an emotion circuit.”
Jeff was too outraged to bother. "You’re still letting people use the Glee Machine?"
"You are quite safe while you are part of the program."
"If I wasn't here, could you shut the system down?"
"Not all at once."
"Why not?"
"It is linked."
"Linked?"
"To all the Glee Machines throughout the local planets, and to spaceships light years away."
"No signal can travel faster than light."
"Not in the 21st century perhaps."
Jeff felt an excited tingle. "Wow! You mean you can talk to Alpha Centauri?"
The Controller gave a small sigh of tedium. "Why would I want to talk to Alpha Centauri?"
"You know what I mean."
"The DNA computers controlling all the Glee Machines use a tachyon language which does not work with electromagnetic signals."
Jeff felt under whelmed by the scientific jargon. "No chance of reaching Betelgeuse on my skateboard then?"
"Not unless you launch yourself from a rotating black hole."
Now Jeff was worried. "You don't have a program for one of those - do you?"

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