Current Chapter: n/a
Warning: The following information is crucial to the success of your mission. Read it carefully. It may save your life.
As a certified member of ACT (the Adventure Connection Team) your job, as always, is to defend the cause of good against evil. It won’t be easy, because BRUTE (the Bureau of Random Unlawful Terror and Evil - an international organization bent on wreaking havoc throughout the world) will be fighting you every step of the way. Your computer expertise will be vital to this mission. So turn on your home system. Throughout this adventure you’ll be called upon to program it to get the ACT team out of some really tough spots.
Good luck. This message will be erased from memory in 30 seconds.
This is not a drill. This is for real. Stand by for urgent communication from ACT Central. Drop whatever you’re doing and go immediately to your computer terminal.
The urgent message on your micro snaps you to attention! By the time you get there, the printer has already spewed out an eight-line message.
It looks like gibberish. But you know better.
Unlocking the desk drawer, you bring out ACT’s latest code book - the most recent issue of X-Men Comics. To the untrained eye it looks quite ordinary. But once the special transparency has been slipped over the next to the last page, the lines of a BASIC program leap into view.
Type the program below into the emulator on the right. This will let you decode ACT's message. To run the program, type RUN.
10 INPUT "TYPE IN MESSAGE";M$
30 FOR N=1 TO L
50 PRINT CHR$(A);
60 NEXT N
80 PRINT "IS THERE ANOTHER MESSAGE TO DECODE?"
90 INPUT "ANSWER YES OR NO";B$
100 IF B$="YES" THEN GOTO 10
"Holy space shot!" you gasp. "In less than 12 hours I’ll be on my way to a secret U.S. space station orbiting the earth. The installation is in deep trouble, and only ACT has a chance to save it." As always, you’ll be the team’s computer expert. But who else will be along on the mission? And will you be in time?
You power down your home terminal and switch on the special portable unit that ACT has provided for field assignments. It’s state-of-the art hardware packed into a machine the size of a pocket radio.
If you know ACT, and you definitely do, a chauffeured vehicle - anything from a Maserati to a milk truck - will be arriving at once. As you step outside, a newspaper delivery van pulls up to your door. The driver’s massive shoulders are hunched over the wheel, and he’s wearing a cap with a visor pulled down over his eyes.
"Code name?" he rasps as you pull open the van door.
You see him slip a nasty-looking pistol back into its holster. "Just making sure, you know. Hop in," he continues in a more friendly voice. “Hope you don’t mind sitting on a pile of papers.”
With a lurch forward, the van is on its way. But not for long. In a few blocks it comes to a screeching halt in front of a newsstand. “We’ve got to make this look authentic. Open the door arid toss out one of those bundles of paper.”
The bundles are heavier than you expected, but you manage to heave one onto the sidewalk. Three paper drops later, you see the driver glancing nervously into-the rearview mirror. What could scare a tough-looking guy like him? It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out. A long black hearse has just pulled up where you dropped off your last bundle of papers. As you watch, a man in a black leather jacket hops out, snatches up your papers, and throws them inside. Somehow he doesn’t look as if he’s from the Eternal Peace Funeral Parlor. And you can’t figure out what he wants with a bunch of newspapers.
"Hang on,your driver shouts. "The heck with our cover. I’m going to make a run for it.The van shoots forward like a speedboat.
You grab frantically for a handhold.
“That guy looked more like a BRUTE agent than a mortician,you comment, and then gasp as you realize what you’ve just said. "Are they involved in this mission?"
"Unfortunately, they’re interested in every thing we do,"the driver says as he shifts into sixth gear and the van roars away from your pursuers, You glance in the rearview mirror and see the hearse is still behind you.
They must have sixth gear, too. And they have something else - machine guns! You hear the bullets pinging off the van’s armor plate.
"Do we have a chance?"you ask nervously. Will this mission end before it even starts?
“If we can make it to Tuttle Air Force Base before they hit our tires . . .
Just then there is an explosion beneath you and a loud whoosh of air. At the same time the van swerves to the right, and the driver struggles to maintain control.
You’d like to close your eyes and think that this is all a bad dream. But you just can’t. You stare at the windshield in front of you - it’s almost like watching a movie. But this is a lot worse than 3D!
You look away for an instant ... and when you look back you scream in horror, "Oh, no, they’ve got us!” Because there, directly in front of you, is a solid brick wall!
You can hardly believe your eyes, but instead of putting on the brakes, the driver is heading straight at the brick wall! "Here we go!"he yells.
You throw your arms up over your head and tense yourself for the impact. But just as you ’re about to smash into the wall, a section of it slides up and you zip underneath. Unfortunately, so does the hearse!
Ahead you can see a huge cargo plane waiting for you with its front open like the jaws of a gigantic shark.. To your amazement, the newspaper van speeds right inside. And this time, the jaws snap closed before your pursuers can follow. The van has barely stopped before you feel the plane speeding down the runway and rising into the air.
The driver, turns to you and says nonchalantly, "Right on schedule." "Yeah,"you agree, trying to sound as calm as he does.
"Go ahead and get some sleep,"he advises. "You’re probably going to need it before all this is over."
You start to close your eyes but they snap open again. "By the way, what’s your name?" you ask the driver as he starts to climb out of the van.
"Just call me Hot Wheels."
That figures, you think as you drift off to sleep.
Mission Day 01 Time 0815
The sound of your code name wakes you. "Get Orion to the launchpad immediately," someone shouts. "We only have a 30-minute window for this shot. Otherwise it’s 24 hours before the space station comes around again."
You’re fully awake now! The plane has landed at Cape Canaveral, and you ’re being dragged off the plane and hustled to the launch site. "Hey, wait a minute - what about the mission briefing?" you ask.
"You’ll get it in space."
An Air Force sergeant stands you up and tells you to take off your clothes-right down to your underwear. Another sergeant hands you a silver-colored space suit that fits as if it was made especially for you. And it probably was. Over the zippered pocket is a red ACT emblem. At least you’ll be able to tell the good guys from the bad.
"Where’s the rest of the team?" you want to know.
"Already aboard. "
In an instant, so are you. First you take the long elevator up the gigantic rocket gantry. Then it’s through the hatch and into the ship.
You know this is a life-or-death mission you’re on, but walking into the control room is the biggest thrill of your life. "Beam me up, Scotty," is on the tip of your tongue, but you control yourself. You get a quick look at the other silver-suited bodies as someone straps you into a padded recliner.
"Stand by for countdown sequence," the pilot’s voice echoes through your earphones.
You wait tensely for the old familiar count down that you’ve seen so many times on TV newscasts. But this time, something is wrong - really wrong.
"Oh great," the pilot mutters. "Mission Control, we’ve got a problem. The countdown program’s gone haywire. If someone doesn’t stop it, we’re liable to fry right here on the launchpad." In a millisecond you size up the situation:
It’s probably a bug in the software, and you’re the only one aboard who could isolate it fast enough to do any good. "I’m a computer ex pert," you volunteer. "Let me have a go at it."
In the back of your mind you’re wondering just how this could have happened. Is it sabotage? But you’ve got more important things to think right now - like saving everybody’s hide.
"Great! See what you can do with this pro gram," the pilot exclaims, nearly ripping you off your couch and slamming you into the empty copilot ’s seat.
"Is this the panel that controls the on-board computer?" you ask, pointing to a keyboard and monitor.
You check the status of the system. It’s running the countdown program. But there’s definitely something screwy going on.
"What is it?" the pilot questions tensely. "I don’t know yet," you answer, wishing you had a few hours rather than a few minutes to isolate the problem.
"Do you think you can fix it?" the pilot presses, leaning nervously on your shoulder.
You don’t answer. You’re already punching in the command to get a listing of the program.
Type the following program in your computer and run it. Line 30 must be typed as one line on your computer. The same is true for lines 110 and 120. Then it’s up to you to find the bug that keeps the rocket from getting off the ground.
10 N = 10
20 IF N < = 0 THEN GOTO 90
30 PRINT "T MINUS ";N;" AND COUNTING"
40 N = N + 1
50 IF N >= 100 THEN GOTO 110
60 FOR I = 1 TO 300
70 NEXT I
80 GOTO 20
90 PRINT "BLAST-OFF"
110 PRINT "ROCKET HAS OVERHEATED ON THE LAUNCH PAD"
120 PRINT "THIS HAS BEEN YOUR FIRST AND FINAL ACT"
"I think I’ve got it," you say tentatively. Then, gritting your teeth, you type in your corrections and let the program run.
As the countdown goes 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 ..., you hear six simultaneous sighs of relief.
"Quick, strap yourself in!" the pilot shouts. "This mission is go."
The rest of the passengers cheer.
... 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, IGNITION, BLAST OFF! The roar of the rocket engines is deafening. And the G force presses you back against the couch, making you feel like a bug being squashed under a giant’s heel. Fortunately, it’s over pretty quickly.
While you ’re still recovering, one of the passengers unstraps the safety harness and sits up. Through his faceplate you catch a glimpse of his features. He looks like a giant bulldog. Gee, I’m glad that guy’s on our side; you think, noting that his physique would make the Dallas Cowboys’ front line nervous. But this character doesn’t play for the NFL. Instead of your ACT insignia, you see a colonel’s oak-leaf cluster.
"All right, I’m Colonel Helen Grace," she barks, removing her helmet, "military liaison for this mission. And I’ll have you ACT recruits in shape before you know it. "
"Colonel?" someone behind you asks tentatively.
"You bet your sweet K rations," she shoots back. "Ballistics are my field. I designed the weaponry on that hummer we’re headed for. That’s why I’m here," She pauses and favors you with what almost looks like a motherly smile. "And Orion here is our computer expert - and not half bad at that."
You nod self-consciously, but you can’t help feeling pleased.
"Why don’t the rest of you introduce your selves so we can start getting acquainted?" the colonel continues, all business again.
In a thin but very precise voice he introduces himself to the group. "I don’t know how ACT snatched me off the subway between 157th and 158th Streets, but I think I’m glad to be here, even though I didn’t eat lunch - or did I?"
Everyone is shooting him puzzled looks. Is this guy for real? they seem to be saying. You’d be wondering, too, except that you’ve seen "this guy" in action. He knows 128 natural languages and can translate from any one to any other at 40 words per minute. So what if he doesn’t re member whether he had lunch or not.
Just then you see that someone else has not only taken off his helmet but unfastened his seat belt.
"No, wait, don’t. We’re in freefall," warns a young woman with curly red hair and intense green eyes.
But it’s too late. The guy is already out of his seat and floating around the cabin like a gold fish in a tank of water. "Whee!" he exclaims just before Colonel Grace’s huge ham-like hand whips out and nabs him by the heel.
She turns to the young woman who shouted the warning. "Thank you, Professor Lowell. Your code name’s certainly appropriate. For those of you who don’t know, Lowell was a famous astronomer in the early part of this century. Our Professor Lowell is also an astronomer - and you," the colonel says as she snaps the wayward floater back into his seat, "you must be Tinker. Why ACT sent someone from Astro Toys is be yond me. This ship is not a toy. And we’re not here to play!"
But her attempt at discipline doesn’t work. Dr. Macron has inadvertently unsnapped his buckle, too. You watch as he starts floating slowly upward:
"Hang on, I’ll be right there," you tell him, reaching for your own release latch. All too soon you’ve joined him.
"Hey, this is neat!" you say, echoing Tinker’s sentiments. The only problem is that you can’t control where you’re going. After knocking your elbow on a bulkhead, you’re a little relieved when Colonel Grace snags you back to your seat. "All right, everybody!" she snaps. "Enough foolishness. We only have 63 minutes and 32 seconds before we dock at Rodeo I. Let’s get down to business."
You’d almost forgotten why you’re here. But Colonel Grace has brought the team down to earth, so to speak.
"What’s Rodeo I?" Tinker asks. "I’ve never heard of it."
"Of course you haven’t," the colonel shoots back. "It’s secret. In fact, it’s the U.S.-staffed. eye-in-the-sky station. And it’s so hush-hush that most of the military doesn’t even know it exists."
"And it’s in some sort of grave danger," Professor Lowell adds.
Colonel Grace nods. "The situation is Code Red. We’re getting some desperate messages from the station, but they keep asking us to retransmit because everything they’re getting back from us is garbled. As far as we can tell, some sort of alien force has the station under partial control. And they’ve deactivated the weaponry;""
Suddenly the fun and games are over.
"Is that the worst of it?" Tinker asks tensely.
"Not exactly," the colonel admits, drumming her fingers against the bulkhead. "Unfortunately, when the big guns are out, the station goes into a self-destruct mode. It’s going to blow itself up in 36 hours."
"- and we’re going to be on it when it does," Professor Lowell finishes for her.
This time there’s a unanimous gasp from the ACT team. You can feel your chest tighten and your heart begin to pound. You were prepared for. danger and adventure when you joined up, but not for certain death.
Colonel Grace seems to read your thoughts. "Listen, it can’t be hopeless. ACT wouldn’t send a crack team_ on a suicide mission. We’ll get.to work on the problem the minute we dock. But meanwhile, let’s not panic. I’ve been in spots that were just as tight as this - and I’m still here to tell the tales."
To your amazement, the colonel launches into a story about the time she was lowered by crane and tackle into an ICBM missile silo to disarm the warhead. She pulled it off with seconds to spare.
The story breaks the ice and everybody - even the pilot - jumps in with recollections of close calls. The whole team is talking at once, and nobody is really listening to anybody else. Everyone has a story of danger and intrigue to tell, except for Dr. Macron. He keeps repeating "I remember the time when…" But he’s never quite able to remember what it was he wanted to remember.
Funny how time flies when you’re having fun, you think ironically. It seems like only a few moments later when you hear Professor Lowell exclaim, "Look!" as she points toward a starboard bulkhead. Suddenly, what used to be a curving blank wall bas become a porthole.
"I thought you’d like to see the docking operation," the pilot explains.
All eyes turn toward the opening. Looming up ahead is the space station. It looks like an immense metallic 10-gallon hat. So that’s why they call it Rodeo I.
"I didn’t know we had anything this large in space," Professor Lowell admits. "How big is that thing?"
"About the size of a football stadium," the pilot answers. He pauses and shakes his head.
"... But remember, this is highly classified information. No one can know of the existence of this station after the mission - that is, if the station exists after the mission."
His warning is a chilling reminder of exactly why you’re here. But you can’t help watching in fascination as your craft fires its retrorockets and maneuvers under the wide brim. There you see several slots that must be moorings for space craft.
"There’s a problem with the automated locking system. I’m going to have to handle this manually," the captain reports calmly. But when the ship overshoots the port, you can hear him mumbling under his breath, "I’ll dock this sucker if it’s the last thing I do."
Your eyes widen. You cross your fingers and watch.
Luckily, on the next pass, the pilot edges up to an empty berth, and your ship comes to rest with only a slight clank.
"Whew!" the pilot exclaims. And then he turns to the ACT team. "Well, it’s been nice knowing you," he says.
"What do you mean? Aren’t you going to stay to take us back?" Professor Lowell questions.
"No. I’m not being paid for hazardous duty. Besides, I have to take the station’s nonessential personnel back to Earth. If everything tums out okay, I’ll be back to pick you up. If not... "
No one wants to think about the "if not" as you walk through the air lock into the space ship. The gravity is less than Earth normal, you note, surprised at the springiness of your steps. If this weren’t so dangerous, it could be fun.
But things get deadly serious again when everybody has assembled in the Operations Center and you take a look at the haggard crew. They look beaten - slumped shoulders, bloodshot eyes, tired and grim expressions on their faces. This is a life-or-death situation. And they know it. A tall, uniformed man with a three-day growth of beard and deep circles under his eyes makes an effort to square his shoulders before shaking hands with Colonel Grace. "Thank goodness you’re here, ma’am. I’m Captain Garrety. We didn’t know whether anyone had received our distress call."
At that moment, two ensigns hurry in carrying a stretcher. The rest of the crew looked bad enough. But at least they were on their feet.
"Peterson, our communications officer," the captain explains sadly. "He’s been on watch for 64 continuous hours trying to decode the Earthside messages. But the last thing he gasped before he collapsed was that he wanted to be there if help arrived."
Garrety leans down and takes Peterson’s slack jaw in his hand. "It’s all right, man. Your messages got through. Help has arrived. Can you understand me?"
With that, Peterson’s eyes snap open. And in the next second, he’s pushed the captain out of the way and is sitting bolt upright.
"Hilieee ya!" he screams, slicing the side of the stretcher with his hand. It breaks in two, and he falls to the floor.
The two ensigns try to restrain him, but he jumps up on the operations console. "Please transmit! Please transmit!" he shouts.
"His mind must have snapped from the pressure," says a lieutenant. "Get a strait jacket."
"You’ll never get it on him," someone warns. "Peterson’s got his black belt in karate. He can turn you to mashed fruit with those hands."
You stare wide-eyed at the scene. If Peterson is one of the good guys – boy. is ACT in trouble. But before Garrety can call for reinforcements, the demented COMMS operator slumps over on the console.
"Grab him," the captain orders. As they carry him out, Garrety turns to the ACT team. "Sorry," he apologizes, turning to Colonel Grace. "We’ve all been under a lot of pressure, but it’s been particularly hard on Peterson."
The colonel nods. "I suggest you keep him sedated until we can get to the bottom of what’s going on up here. Now, let’s get down to business. Give us a recap of your situation, Captain."
"Two out in the bottom of the ninth," a female lieutenant quips. "We’re losing 12 to zip and you’re up." Her words are an attempt at humor; but there’s desperation in her voice.
Colonel Grace shoots her a disapproving look. "I hardly think that’s an accurate assessment of the situation."
"Oh, if anything, Lieutenant Baker is being optimistic," the captain assures her. "All our communications from Earth are still garbled. The alien signals we’re intercepting are getting stronger, which undoubtedly means they’re get ting closer. Our weaponry is still out." He stops and looks at his watch. "And now we only have 30 hours before the station self-destructs."
"Is that all?" Tinker asks, with a childlike grin.
"Not quite. We’ve been out of toilet paper for the past week."
"Well, at least one of your problems is easy to solve. A gross of toilet paper was included in the requisitions we brought," Colonel Grace notes. "But let’s go back to your original list." She pauses and looks around at the ACT team members. "We don’t know whether the communications malfunction is a hardware or software problem. So why doesn’t Orion get busy testing the programs while Tinker checks out the equipment?" Her words are phrased like a question, but they’re definitely an order.
"Let me show you to the COMMS Center," Lieutenant Baker offers.
You and Tinker follow the lieutenant down a metal ladder that leads to a long, tube-like corridor. It looks just like the inside of a vacuum cleaner hose. Reaching up, you stop and push at one of the accordion pleats. But to your surprise, it’s rigid.
The lieutenant laughs. "Everybody does that the first time. It looks like a vacuum cleaner hose, but of course the sides have to be rigid!", she adds.
"Lowest bid?" Tinker asks as he takes a closer look.
"How did you guess?"
"This material was developed for one of our combat action toys. It had to withstand 20 tons of pressure or two hours with a seven-yearold - whichever provided the most stress. And all for fifty cents a square foot."
You and Baker are a few paces down the corridor when you realize Tinker isn’t with you. Turning, you see him rubbing his fingers on the accordion pleat above his head.
"What’s wrong?" you ask. "Come here and look at this."
The two of you study the area of the ceiling he’s pointing to. There’s a hairline crack in the plastic material.
"I guess this stuff isn’t as tough as you thought," you observe.
Tinker shakes his head. "This isn’t a stress related fault. It must have been slit and seamed back together. Look at where the glue has leaked."
The lieutenant stares at Tinker with new respect. "You know, I’ve walked this corridor hundreds of times and never seen that," she says.
"I guess it’s my eye for details," he remarks offhandedly. "What’s up there, anyway?"
"Well, maybe someone was repairing them," you suggest.
"That’s probably it," Baker agrees, but there’s still a note of uncertainty in her voice.
"Anyway," she adds, "we don’t have time to do anything about it right now. I have to get you to the COMMS Center ASAP."
Mission Day 01 Time 1500
The Communications Center is small, but designed for maximum efficiency. You enter by a ladder in the ceiling. And as you climb down, you feel as though you ’re descending into a two person diving bell. There’s instrumentation over every square inch of the curved interior surface. In the center are two empty chairs, each facing identical semicircles of communications equipment.
"’I didn’t realize you had two identical sets of hardware," you call to Baker.
"It’s supposed to be a dual fail-safe system," she explains. "But we’re experiencing a double critical fault."
"In plain English, you mean neither of them is working?" Tinker prompts.
"You got it."
You tum to Tinker and see that he’s whipped a screwdriver out of a pocket in his suit. You can see his eyes light up as though he’s itching to dismantle the works.
"Stay on your side of the system," you warn. "If you tinker with mine, I’ll never be able to get a listing."
A mischievous grin plays around his lips, and you realize the pun you’ve just made.
"Check," he says, getting to work enthusiastically.
Unlike Tinker, you’re not really sure wherc to start. Then a message starts coming across over the Earth-station link. As you tear off the printout, you see that it is indeed garbled. In fact, it looks as if it could have been typed by a chicken pecking for corn on the keys. Sitting back in your chair, you scratch your head and study the unreadable text for a moment.
You’d like to think about this objectively in a logical fashion - just the way you’d tackle any other routine problem. But it’s almost impossible to concentrate. As you stare at the bits of the message, you keep seeing something else - a picture of the space station being blown to bits, and you along with it.
Listen here, dummy! you scold yourself. If you don’t solve this problem, your nightmares are going to be reality. Resolutely you force yourself to look at the garbled characters once more. And then, suddenly, that old light bulb goes off in your head.
Come to think of it, the format of this stuff looks a lot like the coded messages ACT sends to you. Could the station be using the same decoder program? And more to the point, could it be that someone’s disabled the automatic decryption software? There’s only one way to know for sure.
The first thing to do is get a listing of the routines in question. Studying the screen, you see the following program:
10 INPUT "TYPE IN MESSAGE";M$
20 L = LEN(M$)
30 FOR N = 1 TO L
40 A = ASC(MID$(M$,N,1)) + 1
50 PRINT CHR$(A);
60 NEXT N
80 PRINT "IS THERE ANOTHER MESSAGE TO DECODE?"
90 INPUT "ANSWER YES OR NO";B$
100 IF B$ = "YES" THEN GOTO 10
Type the above program into your system and list it. Line 80 must be typed as one line.
"Hey up there!" you shout to Baker. "Where do you keep your manual copy of the code book?" "I think it’s in the bottom left-hand drawer of the operator’s console."
Sure enough, it’s there - the same issueI of X-Men Comics where you used to read ACT’s original communique.
Compare the program on page 27 to the BASIC program on page 3, and see if you can change the COMMS Center’s software to make it run correctly.
After carefully comparing the two pro grams, you spot the problem.
"Wow, I think I’ve got it," you call over your shoulder to Tinker.
"That’s great, because I’ve checked this baby over and there’s nothing wrong."
The words are hardly out of his mouth before your efforts are put to the acid test. Beep. Beep. Beep. The I/O channel signals an incoming communique.
Type in the garbled message below and see if you’ve finally got the decoder on the right track.
"Hey, how come they’re sending nursery rhymes?" Tinker laughs.
"I guess because they got tired of trans mitting real dispatches that weren’t being received. We’d better let them know that we read them loud and clear."
The little dog laughed to see such sport and the dish ran away with the spoon. You type the next part of the rhyme into the system.
"What’s all the commotion down there?" Baker asks.
"We did it," Tinker bubbles and then looks at you. "Or rather, Orion did it. But if it had been a hardware problem, I would have fixed it," he adds under his breath.
Baker is too relieved to quibble over credit. She pulls out her communicator and calls the captain. "Sir, good news from the COMMS Center. The ACT team members have restored communications with Earth."
"Good work!" Captain Garrety booms. "Baker, you start decoding that stack of back logged messages. Orion and Tinker, report to the wardroom immediately."
Mission Day 01 1800 hours
Luckily, Baker is good at giving directions. After getting lost only twice, you and Tinker arrive just as Colonel Grace is making assignments.
"Dr. Lowell, I’d like you to check out the station’s observatory. You may be able to pick up some leads on the alien presence up there." The astronomer looks excited at the prospect. "I never dreamed I’d be this close to the stars," she confesses excitedly. "I wish I had a month up here and not just...?"
"24 hours," Tinker finishes helpfully.
Dr. Lowell pales. "Yes, well, I’d better make - the most of the time I have." She’s out the door before she finishes the sentence.
The colonel turns to Dr. Macron. "We’re all counting on you to translate these alien messages."
"How about the Media Center?" Captain Garrety asks.
The captain takes him aside and begins ex plaining how to get there.
Colonel Grace goes on with the assignments, noting that she and Tinker will be going on a space walk outside the station to inspect the weaponry firsthand. Tinker looks a little green around the gills at the prospect.
However, it’s the captain’s directions to Dr. Macron that make you a little queasy. "I know you can’t miss the Media Center," you hear him conclude.
Uh-oh, you think as you see Macron toddling out the door with a big stack of messages under each arm. He may be a crackerjack linguist, but you remember the time he went across the street for a pastrami sandwich and didn’t reappear till three days later.
"Do you have an assignment for me?" you ask Colonel Grace quickly.
"Not right now. Just be on alert in case there’s trouble."
"I think there’s trouble now," you mumble under your breath as you start off after Dr. Macron. Luckily, you passed the Media Center on your way back from the COMMS Center. So you should be able to find it again.
For an old guy, Macron is surprisingly spry. By the time you get out in the corridor, he’s already 100 meters away and, just as you suspected, heading in the wrong direction.
"Hey, Dr. Macron, wait up!" you shout. But he’s already turned the corner and can’t hear you. Speeding up, you round the bend and then stop. You see him talking to a crew member and assume the guy is going to set him straight. But just as you’re about to turn back to the wardroom, Macron slumps to the floor. The crew member has hit him with some kind of club!
You try to come to his rescue. But somehow your feet are glued to the corrugated metal floor.
"Stop!" you manage to yell.
The assailant swivels around, and you get a quick glimpse of his rather ordinary-looking features. Somehow that puts your muscles in motion, and you run forward. You hear the attacker growl deep in his throat. With lightning speed he pulls open a heavy door, shoves Dr. Macron inside, and slams it shut. Everything is happening so fast now that you don’t have time to panic. You reach the guy’s side just as the door clangs shut. Desperately, you ram him in the stomach with your head. But, without comment, he pushes you aside and holds you out of the way with a long arm. He seems to be holding you impossibly far away from his body. All you can do is keep flailing at him while he fiddles with a key pad next to the door. Finished, he drops you on the floor and runs off.
It takes a minute for you to climb to your feet and get your breath back. You try the door handle, but it’s locked tight. And through the glass plate in the door you can see Dr. Macron slumped in the corner of a small room. A red light above his head is flashing: Warning. Six seconds till automatic air lock evacuation.
The horror of what’s just happened and what’s going to happen hits you at once: In 60 seconds all the air is going to be pumped out of that room. And you can’t do anything about it.
There’s got to be some way to save Dr. Macron! The door is protected by a computer combination. Maybe you can figure out how to get it open. You look at the key pad the crew member programmed and see a button marked PAUSE. That’s worth a try, you think.
You push it, activating the speaker. "Your last command has been delayed for three minutes," a mechanical voice announces. "Enter cancel code or command will be executed in two minutes 50 seconds."
Well, that bought you some time, you think, but not much. However, you have broken pass word schemes before. With a little luck, maybe you can get into this one.
"Two minutes 45 seconds," the dispassionate voice reminds you.
What kind of code are they using? You study the numeric pad, which looks like a calculator. The cancel sequence or the door combination could be anything from the captain’s birthday to a telephone number.
Just to see how the system reacts, you type in today’s date.
Buzz. The harsh sound makes you jump backward.
Thank goodness the connection works and you’re into the system. Obviously you don’t have time to reprogram the door. The best you can hope for is to look at the control program and find out what code it’s looking for. You call for a listing, knowing that if you make a wrong move, you’re dead, and so is Dr. Macron.
Type in this program and list it. Line 10 must be typed as a sin e line on your computer. The same is true for lines 40, 60, 80, and 130.
Find the three-number combination buried in the software. Then run the program on your computer and enter the appropriate combination to unlock the door. Keep this program handy. You may need it again soon. If you need help, see page 109 of the Reference Manual.
I’m sorry, you have entered an illegal code," the computer voice informs you. "Due to security alert, phase two protection has been installed."
You feel a bead of sweat form at your hairline and slowly trickle down your face. Wiping it away with the back of your hand, you look at the phase two operating instructions posted beside the door. The small print explains that you’re going to get zapped if you enter another illegal code.
"One minute 50 seconds."
Perspiration begins to run down your face. And suddenly your fingers feel cramped. As you flex them, you notice an outlet next to the key pad. It looks like a serial port. Luckily, you have a serial interface cable that just might let you tap into this microprocessor. Pulling out your portable computer, you quickly make the connections and wait.
"1 minute 20 seconds."
10 INPUT "ENTER FIRST NUMBER OF COMBINATION";N
20 IF N = 99 THEN GOTO 130
30 IF N <> 32 THEN GOTO 100
40 INPUT "ENTER SECOND NUMBER OF COMBINATION";N
50 IF N <> 48 THEN GOTO 100
60 INPUT "ENTER THIRD NUMBER OF COMBINATION";N
70 IF N <> 61 THEN GOTO 100
80 PRINT "AIR LOCK IS OPEN. YOU MAY PROCEED."
100 PRINT "SECURITY VIOLATION!"
110 PRINT "INTRUDER IS TERMINATED"
130 PRINT "S.O.S. SENT TO CONTROL CENTER"
The red light inside. the air lock chamber stops flashing and the door clicks. It worked!
Rushing inside, you grab Dr. Macron by the shoulders and drag him into the corridor. In the back of your mind you realize that moving him might be taking a chance. But so would staying inside that air lock.
You can see the linguist is in really bad shape. He’s breathing, but just barely. There’s a bright red gash on the top of his head. And his face is as white as his beard. What are you going to do? You can’t leave him here alone, but you need to get help. If only there were a way to signal for aid. Maybe there is.
Now that you have the listing of the door controller program you see that there’s one function that will turn on the alarm in the control room.
Run the program again and enter the alarm key.
In less than a minute, the corridor is full of armed reinforcements, led by Captain Garrety himself. Suddenly, a dozen lethal-looking laser guns are pointed in your direction.
"Don’t shoot - it’s me, Orion!" you cry out. "I set off the alarm to get help."
"Hold your fire," the captain orders. "Orion is a member of the ACT team. What happened here?" he asks.
"Sir, there’s a traitor aboard this station. He ambushed Dr. Macron and stuffed him in the air lock."
The captain sucks in his breath. "What do you mean, a traitor! We’ll discuss the details in my quarters. But first, let’s get Macron to sick bay."
Two medics arrive and take the unconscious old man away. It makes your chest tighten to see how small and frail he looks. You want to go along to make sure he’s all right. But the captain puts a restraining hand on your shoulder.
"I need a full report from you right away."
Mission Day 01 2100 hours
You sink into a chair in the captain’s quarters and wait while he calls the rest of the ACT team together.
"Sorry we don’t have more room. But this may be the only place we can talk freely."
You look around the tiny room. Colonel Grace and Tinker, who have been practicing for their space walk, are in bulky space suits. They look like miniature versions of the Goodyear blimp. Barely able to bend at the waist, they perch on the edge of the captain’s bunk while he and Professor Lowell sit on the desk. You’ve got the only chair.
"Exactly what happened?" Colonel Grace prompts. You wouldn’t think a blimp could look businesslike, but she manages.
You’re about to answer when Captain Garrety holds up his hand. "Much as I want to get on with the problem at hand, I think we’d better take a lunch break first. Do you realize you’ve been aboard the station for 15 hours now and you haven’t had anything to eat?"
You’d been too caught up in the action up here to think about food. But the captain’s words make your stomach growl.
"So what’s for lunch?" Tinker asks. "I could go for a chili dog."
Captain Garrety grins and presses a panel in the wall near his desk. It slides up to reveal a computer key pad. "I can order anythink from a steak and baked potato to bean soup right here - in my quarters," he explains.
"Steak and baked potato! That sounds great - cancel the chili dog," Tinker exclaims. "Sorry, you don’t have time for anything quite so elaborate," Garrety points out.
He punches in an order, and a few seconds later a small, covered bowl appears in the slot under the keyboard.
You’re suddenly starving! Maybe it’s cheeseburgers. Or ice cream. That would be good, too. But when he takes the cover off with a flourish, the eager look vanishes from your face. There in the bowl is a bunch of pills
"That’s lunch?" Tinker wails, echoing your disappointment.
"What did yon expect?" Colonel Grace asks. "We’ve only got time for emergency rations. But I assure you they’re quite satisfying. We tested them at Camp Roberts in a NASA exchange program."
Professor Lowell reaches out and takes a small yellow sphere. Holding it up, she looks at it for a moment and then pops it into her mouth and starts to chew.
Professor Lowell reaches out and takes a small yellow sphere. Holding it up, she looks at it for a moment and then pops it into her mouth and starts to chew.
"Not bad," she concedes. "It’s lemon- flavored."
You select a red one it tastes a little like a plum.
"These won’t do for long periods of time," Captain Garrety points out. "Not enough bulk. But in the short run, they provide plenty of energy along with essential vitamins and minerals."
The lunch break is over almost before it starts. As she chews her last pill, Colonel Grace says, "All right, why don’t you tell us what happened to Dr. Macron?"
Quickly you fill in the members of the ACT team.
When you finish, Garrety shakes his head sadly. "I can’t believe it was a member of my crew. The personnel for Rodeo I were hand-picked. But there’s no other explanation."
"Right," Colonel Grace agrees. "Orion, do you think you can identify the assailant?"
"I got only a quick look at his face." You pause for a moment trying to remember some distinguishing mark, like a scar or a wart. But nothing comes to mind. Finally, you shake your head. "He looked pretty ordinary. But maybe if I saw him again, I could identify him."
"Let me call up our personnel records," the captain suggests. "I’ll put it on the big screen so everyone can see."
Above your head, a star map of the galaxy slides aside; revealing a large TV screen. In seconds, a profile and front view of Sergeant James Able fills the screen.
You shake your head. "It’s not him. Go on."
It takes only a few minutes for you to review digitized photographs of every person on the station all the way down to Stephen Zakar. None of the faces looks familiar.
"Sorry," you mumble. "I don’t understand it. That guy’s just not here."
The captain sighs, "It’s not your fault, Orion. I guess the intruder isn’t a member of the crew. But how could there be anyone else aboard this station without our knowing about it?"
There’s an eerie silence as the implications of his words sink in. "Do you think there’s an alien aboard disguised as a crew member?" says Professor Lowell.
Garrety turns in her direction. "I suppose it’s possible. I’m going to put phase three of our security protection into action, just in case."
"What does that mean?" Tinker inquires. "Everyone is going to have to wear a special identification badge. It will automatically be scanned whenever anyone passes a security station. That way, at least we’ll know if anyone’s moving around in unauthorized areas."
At that moment, a red light flashes above the screen.
"Yes?" the captain asks, pushing a button on his deck.
The face of a medic appears on the screen. "Sir, Dr. Macron has regained consciousness and is asking for Orion."
The news perks up everyone’s spirits.
Colonel Grace looks at you. "Don’t just stand there with a grin on your face. Get to sick bay."
"Yes, sir!" You’re halfway out the door when you realize you don’t have any idea how to get there. "Say, Captain, you wouldn’t happen to have a map I could - "
Before you can complete the sentence, he hands you a clear plastic disk about the size of a coaster. "I should have thought of this before," he admits. "But everybody on board knows the station so well that we haven’t used them since orientation."
"What are they, anyway?" Tinker asks, practically snatching the disk out of your hand. "A map of the station." As the captain speaks he distributes disks to everyone on the ACT team.
"I don’t want to sound dumb," Professor Lowell admits, "but how do you use it?"
"Were you all issued space watches?" Garrety continues.
"Well, if you push the function key with the # sign, that will activate the disk. It will then evaluate your position and display a lighted point where you are. Notice that the names of the major rooms are around the edge in alphabetical order. Press the one you want, and a lighted line will lead you to its location..."
"Hey, neat," Tinker exclaims. "What’s the chance of Astro Toys marketing this baby?" "Less than zero," the captain answers.
Disk in hand, you hurry down the corridor toward sick bay. With the help of this super map, you make it on the first try.
Inside the sterile white room, Dr. Macron is stretched out on a high, narrow bed. He has a big bandage on his head and he looks very pale. He moves slightly. And to your amazement, the mattress gurgles.
"Water bed," the medic explains. "It’s the best way to keep him comfortable. And it’s easy to keep it at body temperature."
"Is that you, Orion?" the old man asks, his eyelids fluttering open.
You move closer to the bed. "I’m right here."
"Thank you for saving my life.".
You don’t know what to say. All those stock phrases like My pleasure or Think nothing of it. just don’t seem appropriate. So you finally settle on "Umm."
But Dr. Macron is too weak to notice your discomfort. "There’s something else you must do," he whispers.
You have to lean close to his ear to hear what he’s saying. "The alien messages..." "What about the messages?"
"You’re going to have to try and translate them..."
Your eyes widen in shock. I couldn’t even pass beginning Spanish. How do you expect me to tackle something like that?"
The old man sighs and closes his eyes for a moment, trying to gather strength to continue.
"Run a frequency analysis..." Even as he speaks, he’s drifting off to sleep again. You reach out to shake his shoulder gently. But the medic stops you.
"He’s had enough for now. You’ve got to let him rest."
"But I can’t do this by myself," you plead. "You’re going to have to. I’ve already let you push Dr. Macron to his limit. If you don’t let him rest now, he might not make it."
You nod slowly, knowing he’s right. And you know that if you can’t translate those messages, the whole space station might not make it.
As you stand there in the sick bay, you feel as though you’re about to take a final exam for a course you never took. Dr. Macron may think that you can get somewhere with those alien messages, but you’re not so sure.
"Are you okay?" the medic asks. He reaches in a cabinet and brings out a foot-high stack of papers. "These were brought in with Dr. Macron."
You look at the huge stack of papers, and you realize there’s no way you can do this by yourself.
"Can I use your intercom?" you ask.
Quickly you call the captain and explain the situation.
"The only ACT member available is professor Lowell," he responds. "Would she be any help to you?"
"Send her down." At this point if they’d offered you the Wicked Witch of the West, you would have taken her on - broomstick and all. "I’m also sending along an armed guard for your protection," Garrety continues. "Is that necessary?"
"Yes. The last person who tried to work on those messages was nearly killed."
You look over at the injured linguist, and a shiver runs down your spine. When you rescued him, it was like a reflex reaction. And you hardly had time to think about the danger to yourself. You realize the captain is right.
"There must be an important clue in those messages," Garrety continues. "And you and Lowell are our only hope for finding it now."
You’re saved from answering by the opening of the door. It’s the astronomer - looking as grim as you feel. With her is an armed MP.
You hand Professor Lowell half the stack of output and the two of you head off for the Media Center, followed by the guard.
"What do you want me to do?" she asks, setting down her share of the papers on a table. You wish you had a good answer. "Dr. Macron suggested a frequency analysis."
"You mean we’re going to try and find which symbols are used most often so we can get some kind of pattern to the intercept?"
That sounds good to you. "Right. Have you done anything like this before?" you ask hopefully.
"Well, I did have statistics in college. But I’m a little rusty."
"Not as rusty as I am," you mutter under your breath, suddenly very glad that at least one of you has some idea how to proceed.
The astronomer spends 10 minutes describing how this routine ought to work. "But I don’t have the foggiest idea how to get it working on the computer," she admits.
"Just leave that to me," you say. "You pick out a section of the intercept."
"I think these will be suitable," she says, showing you the following list.
You wish you were in charge of selecting the data and she was writing this program. But since she has zero computer experience. you know that’s only wishful thinking.
Sighing, you get back to work. A half hour later, you’ve finally gotten a version of the thing that you hope is going to do the trick. But there’s only one way to find out for sure.
Line 30 of the program must be typed as one line.
With the help of this program you’ll find out which two digit numbers appear most often in the "alien" intercept. Unfortunately, Orion was in such a hurry, he left a bug in the program. If you run the program before fixing the bug, you don’t really need to type in all the sample data to discover what the program is doing wrong - three or four lines of intercept (each line is five numbers separated by commas) followed by a line of 0,0,0,0,0 will do fine.
10 DIM F(99), Q(5)
20 PRINT "TYPE IN LINE OF INTERCEPT"
30 PRINT "EXACTLY AS SHOWN WITH COMMAS"
40 PRINT "ENTER 0,0,0,0,0 TO STOP"
50 INPUT Q(1), Q(2), Q(3), Q(4), Q(5)
60 IF Q(1) = 0 THEN GOTO 110
70 FOR I = 1 TO 5
80 F(Q(I)) = F(Q(I))+1
90 NEXT I
100 GOTO 20
110 FOR K = 1 TO 99
120 J = J + 1
130 IF J < 18 THEN GOTO 160
140 INPUT "HIT ANY LETTER TO CONT";L$
150 J = 0
160 PRINT "#";K,"APPEARS";F(1);"TIMES"
170 NEXT K
You stare at the readout from the program. How come all the readouts are zero? That can’t be right, not after you typed in all that data.
"What’s wrong?" the professor asks.
You shake your head. "There must be bug in this program somewhere. I need to check it out a little more."
Carefully, you go over the program. And sure enough, there it is.
Correct the bug in the program. And re-run it with the complete data sample. If you can’t figure out what’s wrong with the program, check page 111 of the Reference Manual.
Whew... you’ve finally got it working. Bu tthat’s only the first step. Now the two of you have got to make sense out of the results and that’s not going to be easy.
"Why do you suppose Dr. Macron suggested a frequency analysis on an alien language?" you ask Professor Lowell.
She shakes her head. "I guess he’s wanting us to look for some pattern."
The two of you spread the output sheets on a large table and begin sorting through the results. At first you feel as though you’re looking for one typo in a 10,000-line program. But gradually you do begin to see at least one pattern. The numbers 66,82,85,84, and 69 are the most frequently used. And you find as you look at the messages that they’re used in sequence over and over again.
"They must represent an important word," Professor Lowell observes.
You nod, thinking about the numbers. There’s something familiar about all this. But you can’t quite figure out what it is. You ’re so deep in thought that you don’t notice your arm hitting the loose-leaf, bound computer reference manual on the table. It falls to the floor with a thunk and the spring closure pops open. Suddenly reference pages are strewn around the floor. Muttering under your breath, you stoop down to start gathering them up. You’re scooping up pages like a six-armed robot when all of a sudden your eyes take in the page in your hand. Your mouth drops open. "Holy cow!" you shout.
What is it?’ Professor Lowell urges.
"ASCII!" you shout, waving a table from the book in the air. "It’s the ASCII codes."
"Who’s Askey?" she asks.
"ASCII is not a person. It’s a code. ASCII codes are the numbers that are used for representing all the characters inside a computer."
The young woman’s green eyes sparkle as she takes in your meaning.
"I’ll bet if we assign the ASCII equivalent letters to these numbers, we’ll be able to read the messages."
"That sounds like the best lead we’ve had so far. Let’s try that repeated number combination."
"The first number is 66. That would be B. The next is 82."*
"That’s an R," the professor supplies.
You don’t know whether to be excited or sick as the rest of the word emerges.
"Oh no," the professor voices your dismay. "It spells BRUTE."
*An ASCII code equivalency chart which you can use to decode this combination appears on the right.
You and Professor Lowell are horrified. All along you had assumed you were dealing with aliens ... and for all you know, they might still be up there. But if they are, they’ve already made friends with BRUTE. And that kind of alliance could spell curtains for ACT.
"We’d better tell the captain," you sigh.
Lowell presses the button on her communicator and you’re put through to him.
"Have you made any progress?" Garretyasks.
"Yes, we’ve got good news and bad news," you tell him.
"Let’s hear the good news first," he prompts.
"We’ve found the key to translating the alien intercept."
"Good work," he congratulates you. In the background you can hear crew members cheering. "Hold the applause," you caution.
"The bad news is that they’re working with BRUTE."
You hear the captain groan. "BRUTE?" he echoes. "What do they have to do with all this?"
"We don’t know for sure," you admit. "The only thing we do know is that the word BRUTE appears four times in the small message sample we used for analysis. Our next step is to run the entire intercept through a conversion program."
"How long will that take?" the captain asks.
"It’s a very simple program. We’ll have the results shortly."
"Then get to it. And report to the bridge as soon as you finish," Garrety orders. "Nobody up here is going to breathe until we know what’s really going on."
Quickly you write a program that will read in the numeric values and print out the ASCII equivalents.
Write a simple program to do this. Hint: Use the ASC function in BASIC to do the conversion.
If you have trouble, consult this hint. Try the program in the mission on page 47 to see if it works.
An hour later you’ve run through enough of the messages to know that BRUTE is up to something big.
Quickly you and Professor Lowell gather up your output and throw open the door of the Media Center. The armed guard outside snaps to attention. You’d forgotten all about him. But now that you know what you ‘re up against, you’re sure glad he’s around.
When the three of you hit the bridge, all eyes turn anxiously in your direction.
"Well, spit it out," the captain demands. "We can take it."
"Sir," you begin. "There’s more good news and more bad news."
"The good news is that there are no aliens."
Everybody stands up, clapping their hands.But you hold your hand up for silence.
"But the messages were real," a communications officer protests. "If it’s not aliens, who’s up here in space with us?"
"That brings me to the bad news," you continue. "Unfortunately, as we suspected, it’s BRUTE."
"And they’re not up there star-gazing," Professor Lowell interjects. "They’re planning to take over the space station."
"I wish I thought you were joking." Garrety sighs. "You’re not, are you?" he asks.
You shake your head. "Sorry. If you look at the plain text of these intercepts, you’ll see what’s going on."
Garrety take s the output and begins reading out loud to the crew. "...they’ve been up here for three weeks. They’ve got several heavily armored space vehicles... they’re responsible for disabling our weaponry... and all their plans are coming to a head in the next 15 hours."
It sounds pretty grim, all right.
"Do you think... ?" you start to ask the captain. But he shakes his head.
"I think we should retire to my quarters." There’s a long pause before he says, "I don’t know what we’re going to do. With the weaponry disabled, perhaps this time BRUTE really is un stoppable."
You begin to protest that there’s always hope, when you feel the captain’s fingers pinching your shoulder. His fierce expression warns you to hold your observations until later.
You and Professor Lowell follow him off the bridge and down the corridor.
Mission Day 02 Time 0215
"Why didn’t you want me to say any thing?" you ask the captain, as soon as he’s closed the door to his quarters.
"Because now I’m definitely convinced there’s a BRUTE spy aboard. And I want him to think that we have already given up. That might give us some kind of an edge; you never know."
"Well, Captain, what do you suggest we do now?" asks Professor Lowell.
"We really need to get a reading on the position and number of the BRUTE ships. It’s crucial that we know just how many of them are up there. Do you think you could find that information with the equipment in the observatory?"
"But surely your instruments on the bridge would be quicker and more accurate," Professor Lowell points out.
Garrety nods. "You’re right, but I’d rather not let our BRUTE intruder know what’s going on by having the calculations performed from the bridge."
"I see. Well, I’ll try, but it may take a little time. I’m used to looking at things that are light years away, not right in my own backyard, so to speak." She’s reaching for the panel that releases the door, when it suddenly slides open and she jumps back in shock.
"What is it?" you ask:
But she doesn’t have to answer. Colonel Grace, still wearing her bulky space walk ensemble, rolls into the room, followed closely by Tinker. Even though you’ve seen the dynamic duo in their space walk getup before, it’s still a shock.
"Well," the toy maker announces, "I think I’ve got the hang of waddling around in this thing. All you do is pretend you’re a giant-size version of the Pillsbury Dough Boy."
Colonel Grace laughs. "I haven’t had so much fun since the quicksand survival course at Fort Ord."
"Have I missed anything good?" Tinker asks, propping himself against the captain’s bunk again.
"It depends on what you mean by good," Professor Lowell shoots back. In terse words she sums up what’s been going on. Colonel Grace shows no sign of alarm at the news of BRUTE’s involvement. "Let’s go," she orders, "there’s work to be done." But, despite the urgency of the situation, even she can’t stifle a yawn.
Captain Garrety holds up his hand. "Wait a minute," he says. "I hate to delay your space walk any longer than necessary. But the ACT team hasn’t gotten any sleep in over 24 hours. Taking a space walk in that condition would be risking your lives."
Since there’s no night and day on the space station, the urgency of the mission has made you forget all about sleeping. Up until now, your adrenaline has been keeping you going. But suddenly you realize how tired you really are.
Of course, Colonel Grace isn’t willing to surrender to this basic human need without a fight. "How can we just let things slide while we take a nap?" she argues. "You say the space walk would be dangerous now. But wouldn’t delaying it be even more dangerous?"
The captain shakes his head. "You could be right. But as long as I’m the commander of this station, I make the decisions. And right now I’m ordering the ACT team to get some rest. And besides, getting the equivalent of a night’s sleep won’t take as long as you think... the captain explains.
"What do you mean?" Colonel Grace challenges him.
"We have several accelerated sleep chambers on board... After an hour in one of them, you’ll feel as though you’ve had a full night’s rest. They’re not for long-term use. But for emergencies, they work better than the reruns on the late-night movie."
You nod, remembering how those late-night dogs always put you to sleep before the first commercial.
"Well, I’m certainly willing to give it a try," Professor Lowell concedes. "Now that you mention it, I can hardly keep my eyes open."
"All right, you can tuck us in," Colonel Grace adds. "But only for an hour."
The four of you follow Captain Garrety down the hall toward a part of the station you’ve never seen. This time you’re accompanied by a different armed guard. He’s a freckle-faced man with a pug nose. Somehow, he looks out of character carrying a gun.
"The sleep chambers are this way." The captain is pointing down a short hall with rounded doors on either side. They look like watertight portholes on a submarine.
He stops at the first one and pushes a button. Peering inside you see that the room itself is rounded, with a cushioned mattress sunk into the middle of the floor. As you glance around the curved white walls, you feel as though you’re inside an egg.
"How will we know when to get up?" Professor Lowell questions.
"We’ll program these chambers for an hour’s sleep," Garrety replies. "All you have to do is lie down, and the computer will take care of the rest. Why don’t you be the first to try it out?" he urges.
"All right," Professor Lowell agrees.
Everyone watches as the astronomer steps inside the egg and lies down gingerly on the mattress.
"My, this is really comfortable."
"You’ll be sound asleep almost as soon as I close the door," the captain promises. After securing the porthole, he keys in a few commands. "Now let me get the rest of you settled," he offers.
One by-one, the members of the ACT team disappear into the chambers. And then it’s your turn. As you step through the door, a little shiver of fear hits you - you don’t know why.
"Something wrong?" the captain asks, taking in your sudden pallor.
"I don’t know," you admit. "I just have this funny feeling, that’s all."
"It’s probably just lack of sleep," Garrety says. "An hour from now you’ll feel like a new person."
"Yeah," you agree, trying to sound convinced. But it’s no good. Your intuition is screaming that you’d better stay on your guard.
Staying on guard is impossible. The minute your body touches that low white mattress, your eye lids flutter closed. Within minutes, you’re off to dreamland.
At first the dreams are great. In fact; they’re like one of those laser shows where the music is coordinated to swirling lights and rainbow bursts of color. Somehow, even though you’re asleep, you know the whole thing is being generated by the sleep chamber not by your own mind. You drift with the cascading colors and the rising and falling musical notes . . . until something odd happens.
Suddenly you can see a figure in the dream. He seems to be dancing with the colored lights, letting them wrap around his silver space suit so that the outline of his body is always partially hidden. At times he seems out of place in this make-believe world. And his form is oddly distorted. Sometimes his arms seem twice as long as they should be. Sometimes they undulate like spaghetti in a pot of boiling water. You catch glimpses of his limbs and body – his face is always in shadow. Straining your eyes, you lean forward, trying desperately to see his features. Somehow you feel it’s terribly important to get a look at them. But you don’t know why.
And then you get your chance. For a brief, unguarded second, he turns in your direction, and you hear yourself gasp even though you’re really not surprised at who it is. It’s the man who attacked Dr. Macron!
Now you understand what’s happening. He’s after you. And not just in your dream. Even though you’re asleep, you know this is for real.
Desperately, you try to struggle toward consciousness. But it’s no good. Instead, you feel yourself slipping deep into sleep. The bright lights that have been with you all through this dream start to blur and fade like a watercolor painting left in a rainstorm. Then the music dims.
You feel your sleep growing deeper and deeper, covering you like layers of blankets. It feels so nice and peaceful. You snuggle down under the warm coverings. You don’t want to wake up. You never want to wake up. In fact, you couldn’t wake up if your life depended on it.
You can feel your ties with your body slipping away. All the colors around you have faded into one blinding white light. And you feel it sucking you forward.
Suddenly there’s a hand on your shoulder, trying to shake you awake.
"Go away. Want to sleep," you mumble, trying to turn over and pull the covers over your head.
"Orion," a voice urges. "Orion, wake up."
Whoever it is just won’t leave you alone. So you might as well open your eyes. "What do you want?" you ask. It takes a moment to realize you’re staring into Lieutenant Baker’s worried face.
"Captain," she calls. "Orion’s awake."
The words bring Garrety rushing into the room.
"Thank goodness," he exclaims. "I thought we’d lost you."
"Lost me?" you question weakly. "Someone tampered with the programming codes and reset the thing in fast forward."
You try to sit up. But Baker puts a restraining hand on your shoulder. "Take it easy until you get your strength back," she urges.
You’re so weak that there’s really nothing else you can do. "What happened?"
Garrety shakes his head. "I wish I could tell you for sure. The only thing I do know is that the man who was supposed to be guarding the door to the laboratory area came inside - and reset the controls on all the sleep chambers."
He waits while this information sinks in and then continues. "Luckily, Baker did a status check on the computer that was controlling the sleep chamber. The danger-zone reading made her hit the panic button. It set off the alarm down here. And when she did a visual scan of the area, she saw someone who looked like Parker, the man we thought we sent to guard this place, running out of the area."
"Well," you tell Garrety, "at least you know who the traitor is."
Garrety shakes his head. "I wish we did."
You look confused. "But you said it was the guard who came down here with us - the guy with the pug nose and freckles. Parker, right?" Garrety shakes his head. "The guy who came down here looked like Parker, all right. But while he was fiddling with the controls on the sleep chambers, the real Parker was in the wardroom having a cup of coffee. Half a dozen officers were with him at the time."
"But that’s impossible!" you gasp. "He couldn’t be two places at the same time."
"I know," the captain agrees. "But we’ve already compared the retina patterns of the man who was in the wardroom with the records in sick bay. They check out. He’s definitely Wood row Wilson Parker."
"So the man who was guarding you is an imposter," Baker finishes. "I don’t know how that’s possible, but there’s just no other explanation."
You nod, suddenly remembering the face of the man in your dream - the same man who hit Dr. Macron. You don’t know what’s going on. But you do know one thing. That man didn’t look anything like the guard who came down to the sleep chamber with the ACT team.
Although you’d like to rest for a few more minutes, Captain Garrety insists that you get to your feet, and he leads you down the hall to the space station’s gym. The other ACT members are already busy pedaling stationary bikes, pushing leg weights, and jumping rope.
You look around in confusion. The last thing you feel like doing is exercising. But before you know it, Baker is helping you onto an automatic rowing machine. "Exercise is the only way to counteract the effects of sleep chamber over acceleration," she explains.
Ten minutes of frantic rowing later, you feel almost as tired as when you. entered the sleep chamber. But you force yourself to keep going. And luckily, Baker is right. Soon you can almost feelthe blood coursing through your veins.
A few minutes later Garrety comes back with a tray of steaming mugs. "All right, every body. That’s5nough," he calls. "Come over and have some of our Med Center’s famous elixir."
You obey and take a swallow of the steaming green liquid. "Gee - this tastes like chicken soup!" you exclaim.
The captain beams. "Yes, it’s amazing what modern technology can do with specially pro cessed beetgreens and afew nutrients and spices."
You almost gag,wishing Garrety had kept his explanations to himself. But he doesn’t no tice, since Tinker is already inquiring about the merchandising rights to the formula.
While the team members drain their mugs, Captain Garrety gets back to business. "A room by-room search of the station has already been in progress for more than an hour. If the man impersonating Parker is anywhere aboard this vessel, we’11 find him."
As if responding to the captain’s words, an excited crew member bursts into the gym.
"Did you find the impostor?" the captain asks.
The crewman shakes his head. "All we found was this - stuffed into an air duct. " He hands his superior officer a .discarded silver uniform. Obviously, it was removed fast, since the whole front is ripped. :’And we found this, too," he adds, holding up what looks like the electronic identification badges that were issued to every body.
"That picture on the front sure looks like the guard who escorted us down here," Professor Lowell observes.
Garrety nods. "You’re right, but the badgeis a phony. Look, there’s no transponrler on the baclc, just a black circle."
"Let me see that," Professor Lowell says. "You know,"she muses, "if you hold this up to the light, you can see a zodiac sign in the circle."
"A zodiac sign?" you ask.
"Yes, it’s Scorpio." She po1nts to the out- line. "See it?"
"You mean this outline of a scorpion?"
"What do you think it means?" Tinker asks.
Professor Lowell shrugs. "I don’t know. But maybe it’s a clue."
"It just doesn’t make sense," Colonel Grace says. "Where is the intruder? There are only so many places on a closed installation like this where . a man could hide. It’s not as if he could take a walk around the block, you know. "
Captain Garrety shakes his head. "Maybe when we find him, we can ask where he’s been - and whether he’s a Scorpio."
"That gets a laugh from all assembled - but not a very merry one.
"Sir’ we do have one source of information," you volunteer.
"Go-on," Garrety urges.
"The messages being sent back and forth between the two BRUTE ships. Professor Lowell and I only had time to decode a few of the early intercepts. But since they don’t-know we’ve bro ken their ode, they ’re still talking to each other."
"You know, you’re right," Colonel Grace agrees. "Since those BRUTEs don’t know we’re listening in, tlieir communications may provide the clue we need to catch the intruder."
Before the colo.nel ha.s finished talking, Garrety has opened a channel to the COMMS Center. "Get busy on those BRUTE messages," he or ders. "And bring me anything that mentions the intruder aboard this station."
Professor Lowell leans over and pats you on the back. "Good thinking."
"Yes," Colonel Grace agrees. "We may be on the way to solving one of our problems. But we’re not out of the woods yet. There’s still the weaponry, you know. I think it’s time for that little space walk Tinker and I have been practicing.
The weaponry! With all the stir created by the intruder, you’d forgotten all about it. But suddenly everybody in the room is looking at the clock and making the same calculations you are. If those laser guns aren’t put back in working order, the whole station’s going to blow in less than eight hours.
Tinker clears bis throat nervously and looks at Colonel Grace. "So what are we waiting for?" he asks mth as much bravado as he can muster. "Nothing," the colonel assures him. "Let’s get going."
"Right," Tinker agrees.
"I feel like a sausage," says Tinker as two technicians help him into bis bulky space suit.
"Think of it as a challenge," Colonel Grace tells him.
Just then, one of the technicians calls Colo nel .Grace back. "Would you mind waiting a second, ma’am?" he says. "I want to check your oxygen tanks."
The colonel waits while he takes a pressure reading - and then a second one. Finally he shakes his head, a puzzled expression on bis face. "I don’t understand it. This tank is only one quarter full . And I know they were fully charged when they were issued."
"Let me see that," the captain orders, and checks the gauge himself. "You’re right," he exclaims. "We’d better make sure that all the tanks are full - and in working order."
Tinker and Colonel Grace wait nervously for a new tank to be brought up. No one wants to think about what happened to the defective one, although everybody has a pretty good idea. Those tanks were left in the hall outside the sleep chambers in the sleep lab. When the intruder reset the door controls, he must have let some oxygen out of the tanks, too - just in case.
It seems like forever before the new equipment appears. But finally you’re watching as the technicians fit the space walkers’ helmets in place.
Mission Day 02 Time 0600 hours
"Well, let’s get it over with," Colonel Grace barks. "The sooner we get out there, the sooner we’11 be able to. fix those guns - but why the dumb so-and-so who designed them put the di agnostic panels outside, never know," shemutters. You and everyone else know that she’s the one who designed those panels, but it’s hard to laugh at her joke.
"Um, after you," Tinker says.
Colonel Grace saunters up to the air lock as though she’s stepping up to the window to get a movie ticket. She seems quite casual as the captain programs the door opening sequence.
The heavy metal door slides open with a whoosh. Quickly Colonel Grace steps inside, followed closely by Tinker.
"Good luck," you whisper just before the door slides closed behind them.
Tinker gives you a thumbs up sign and then turns his back so he can watch the other door - the one that leads to the exterior of the station. You see the red light go on, and you clench your fist. You remember the last time you saw that light go on - when Dr. Macron was trapped in that air lock... Everything’s going to be okay, you tell yourself, hoping desperately that it’s really true.
It takes about 60 seconds for all the air to be pumped out of the little room. As you watch,the door in the opposite wall slides open. And suddenly you’re staring out into the blackness of space.
Colonel Grace steps up to the opening. You see her take a cord at her waist and attach it to a metal ring just outside the opening. Then she pushes herself outside and disappears.
Tinker hesitates for a moment and then jumps. Before you know it, he too has disappeared.
"Come over to the observation window," Captain Garrety suggests. "We should be able to see the action from there."
You and Professor Lowell follow him over to a large porthole that looks out over the weapons bays. As you watch, Colonel Grace and Tinker glide into view.
Funny, inside the station they looked clumsy in those bulky suits. But out in space, they’re really quite graceful. They look a little like underwater divers as they use their arms and legs to maneuver into position. It looks like fun. And all at once you can’t help wishing you were out there with them.
The captain adjusts a speaker by the porthole.
"Grace and Tinker, do you read me?" he asks.
"Loud and clear," they both answer at once.
"Hey, you were right," Tinker adds. "This is fun." As he speaks, he pushes off from the side of the station and then catches himself on a piece of machinery protruding from the metal wall.
"Watch it!" Colonel Grace reprimands him. "We’re not out here to play. Let’s get to work. You check the wiring on the laser cannons. I’ll run that hardware diagnostic."
You see Tinker open a panel between what looks like two jet engines. Carefully he sets it down on the top of one of the barrels. But instead of staying put, it floats up like a helium balloon tethered to the gun by its mass of twisted wires.
Colonel Grace is busy, too. You see her head disappear inside one of the laser barrels, and then her shoulders and torso, Finally, all that’s sticking out are heavily padded legs and space boots.
"Are you all right in there?" Captain Garrety asks into the microphone.
"Roger," the colonel responds. "Just running the tests now."
You can’t see Colonel Grace, but you can hear her crooning to the ballistic equipment, like a mother trying to comfort a sick child. "Come on, baby. Tell mama what’s wrong," she urges. "I’m going to make it all better."
You and Professor Lowell glance at each other and then look quickly away. You’d always thought that Colonel Grace was tough as rawhide. And now that she’s revealing the softer side of her nature, it’s almost embarrassing.
"I think I’ve found something," Tinker calls out excitedly over the intercom system. "There’s a loose connection in the controller."
"Can you fix it?" the captain asks anxiously.
"Yes," Tinker acknowledges, pulling a special wrench out of his belt and attacking the control panel.
He’s so intent on what he’s doing that he seems oblivious to the sounds that are coming in over the speaker. But you and the rest of the group gathered around the porthole aren’t. Colonel Grace has progressed past the mildly maternal phase.
"All right, you *#%&@! machinery," she says. And then she makes a strange sound - a cross between a witch’s cackle and a howl.
You and Professor Lowell exchange glances. Colonel Grace is a little nuts? So what else is new? You don’t know how you’d act out there, either. Maybe she’s only a little overstimulated.
Just then, a report from the Med Center flashes on the screen above the porthole. "Captain Garrety, acknowledge at once."
"Our vital sign monitors are picking up an abnormally low level of oxygen in Colonel Grace’s blood."
"But we checked their tanks just before they went out there," one of the technicians protests. "They were full."
"Nevertheless, her level is continuing to fall," the Med Center insists.
The report is interrupted by a burst of laughter from Colonel Grace. "This station isn’t big enough for the both of us," she chortles. "So I’m getting out of here."
You see her feet begin to wiggle. Soon her torso emerges and then her shoulders. As you watch, her head finally pops out of the laser gun barrel. For a moment she floats there, facing the station. And then she starts to fumble with her lifeline.
"Oh no, it must be lack of oxygen!" Professor Lowell shouts. "She’s trying to detach herself. If she does that, we’ll never get her back."
"Tinker, do something fast," the captain orders.
For a heart-stopping moment, the toy maker looks confused.
"It’s Colonel Grace. She’s out of oxygen, and she’s gone berserk!" you shout.
Wildly, Tinker looks around and locates the colonel. But by that time she’s managed to disconnect her lifeline. As you all watch in horror, she starts to float away from the space station - singing, "Off I go, into the wild black yonder..."
As she drifts past Tinker, he reaches out and grabs one of her legs.
"What are you doing?" she screeches. "Let me go, you worm!"
But Tinker hangs on. Colonel Grace brings up her arms and slugs him in slow motion.
"Ooo, that hurt!" Tinker cries out. "Come on, you old bird - calm down so I can help you.
But Colonel Grace is too far gone. She’s reciting, "One, two, buckle my shoe," and struggling to get away from Tinker.
"Can’t we help them?" you plead.
"I’ve already signaled our emergency res cue team to gear up, but unfortunately it will take another two minutes before they’ll reach them."
You feel so helpless! You can see things are getting worse. Colonel Grace is now up to "Five, six, pickup sticks," and has the toy maker’s head tucked under her arm like a football. And with her other hand she’s fumbling with the release catch on his lifeline!
His line is the only thing that’s keeping both ACT members from floating off into deep space. If Colonel Grace undoes it, she and Tinker are both as good as gone.
Tinker is valiantly trying to wrench himself away from her stranglehold. With an enormous effort he swings his legs up toward the back of her head. You see them connect, but without much force. Then the impossible happens. Colonel Grace stops struggling. Her body goes limp.
"Quick, push her into the air lock!" the captain shouts into his intercom. "She must have finally run out of oxygen."
Tinker brings her back toward the ship and stuffs her inside the chamber. A moment later, he’s climbed inside, too. Everybody in the hallway rushes to the door. By the time you get there, the rescue squad has also arrived. And when the door opens, they strip off Colonel Grace’s helmet in a split second.
"Start the oxygen!" somebody shouts. In a moment you hear her cough and sputter. "What’s all the commotion about?" she asks weakly.
"We’re not sure yet. But someone wanted to make your space walk permanent," Captain Garrety says gravely. "Tinker saved your life," he adds.
Tinker grins. "Gee, if I’d realized I was risking my life."
Before he can finish, one of the technicians approaches the captain; "Look what we found, sir!" he exclaims, pointing at one of Colonel Grace’s air tanks.
"What is it, man?"
"There’s a false gauge on it - set to show more oxygen than was really inside. Actually, the tank was just about empty."
"How could somebody do that? We were all right here when the equipment was being checked," Professor Lowell points out.
"Don’t you remember - this is a replacement tank," you remind them.
Professor Lowell’s eyes widen. "Then the new tanks that were brought up must have been tampered with before they got here."
The captain shakes his head. "This must be more of the intruder’s dirty work. If only this hadn’t happened, maybe the weapons would be operational now."
At those words, Tinker slaps his forehead and says, "Captain, in all the excitement, I forgot to mention that I think I found the problem with the laser cannons. There was a wire disconnected in the controller."
"Did you fix it before Colonel Grace went berserk?" the captain asks and then, realizing what he’s said, looks apologetically at the out of-commission officer on the floor.
"What do you mean, berserk?" she demands, struggling to sit up.
The captain clears his throat. "Well, ummum, there wasn’t much oxygen in your tank..." he trails off.
"Are you telling me that I went into low oxygen hysteria?" she presses.
"Yes," Professor Lowell interjects. "But, of course, you couldn’t help it."
Colonel Grace nods. "Some of it’s coming back to me now - and it’s not a pretty picture." Pausing, she looks up at Tinker. "Guess I was quite a handful." She grins at him weakly.
"Yeah, it certainly would have been easier if I hadn’t been trying to subdue one of the toughest officers around."
"I hate to break into this tender scene," the captain breaks in, "but Tinker still hasn’t told us whether he fixed the controller or not."
"I reconnected the wire," he confirms. "But I can’t guarantee anything."
"Well, there’s only one way to find out," the captain announces. "Let’s go up to the bridge and try it out."
Everyone starts filing out the door; even Colonel Grace is moving slowly to her feet. "Don’t strain yourself, Colonel," Garrety cautions. "I’ll order a stretcher."
"Stretcher!" Colonel Grace harumphs. "I’ve never been carried out of action yet. And I don’t intend to start now."
This time it’s the colonel who wins the standoff.
Mission Day 02 Time 0900
On the bridge, you can feel the tension crackling in the air like static electricity.
"Power up the weapons subsystem and see if it responds," the captain orders.
"Aye aye, sir," the operator, Lieutenant Winchester, affirms. "But it’s going to take a few minutes to warm it up."
Garrety turns to the ACT team. "While we wait, let’s get a quick status report from the COMMS Center." He throws a switch in the command console, and a picture of Baker flashes up on the large screen opposite his chair. She’s surrounded by piles of yellow paper.
"Anything interesting in those messages?" Garrety inquires.
"We’ve translated up to a week ago Tuesday. Most of it’s routine chatter. But we did discover who wiped out that missing shipment of toilet paper. BRUTE diverted it as a practice exercise. And one other thing. They seem to be talking a lot about something called the diordna, but we don’t know what that is."
"Diordna," Garrety repeats. "That doesn’t mean anything to me." He looks around the bridge. "Sound familiar to any of you?"
No one has any good ideas.
"Can’t help you on that one," the captain informs Baker. "But we really need some hard information about that intruder. If you’re not getting much from the early messages, why don’t you start from the other end and do the last ones first."
The captain and everybody else turns their attention back to the weapons operator. But while you watch the start-up procedures scroll off the screen, you’re turning that strange word around in your head. Diordna... diordna. Could it be some sort of code?
But before you can give it any more thought, a message from the weapons system flashes on the screen:
Weapons System Activated
Ready for Firing Instructions
"Does that mean that the self-destruct mechanism has been shut down?" someone dares to ask.
"Affirmative," the operator confirms. The next thing you hear is a loud cheer, followed by an urgent communique from the COMMS Center.
"Captain," Baker warns, "don’t activate the weapons system."
"We already have. What’s the problem?" "Captain, I followed your orders and translated the last message exchanged between the BRUTE ships." She pauses, and then begins again in a trembly voice. "Their sensor can detect the reactivation of our weapons system. Before it’s fully operational, they’re going to attack us."
"But it’s fully operational now," Garrety begins. "And nothing’s happened - "
The words are knocked out of his mouth by the impact of a laser bolt hitting the station. "Battle stations, battle stations!" the captain shouts into his communicator. "Red Alert. The station is under attack."
"Lock in on the coordinates, Lieutenant Winchester, and fire," the captain orders.
Winchester follows orders. But, a moment later, another bolt scores a direct hit on the station, and you’re knocked off your feet.
"Winchester, fire! Now!" Garrety shouts.
"I did, sir, but the guidance system isn’t working correctly."
"Has it been down so long you’ve forgotten how to work it?" Garrety questions. Before Winchester can answer, the captain has pushed him out of the way and taken over the weapons console himself. But when he aims and fires, he gets exactly the same results. His shot misfires, and an enemy bolt hits the station!
"The shields can’t take much more of this," Garrety warns. "What do you think is wrong?"
"I don’t know," Winchester practically shrieks. "It just won’t respond to my commands. And without control of the weapons, we’re defenseless."
You look at the captain’s grim expression and know what he’s thinking. We’ve conquered one problem after another. But it’s all been for nothing. Then an idea begins to form in your mind. "Listen," you hear yourself saying, "it might be a problem in the weapons guidance software."
Suddenly you can feel every eye on the bridge turn in your direction. Now that you’ve opened your mouth, you’d better follow through. "Let me have a look," you offer, wondering if there’s any chance of fixing the system before BRUTE blows you to bits.
Quickly Winchester tells you how to call for a listing of the guidance program.
Enter the following program into your computer and list it.
10 P=10 : U=0 : B=0
20 A=INT(RND * 4) + 1
40 ON A GOSUB 180,210,290,240
50 INPUT "COMMAND"; C
60 C = 5
70 IF A <> C THEN GOTO 150
80 U = U + 1 : P = P - 1
90 ON C GOSUB 210,180,290,240
100 PRINT " DIRECT HIT!!!"
110 FOR I = 1 TO 300 : NEXT I
120 IF P > 0 THEN GOTO 20
130 PRINT "ACT"; U, "BRUTE"; B
150 PRINT "OOPS! YOU MISSED!"
160 B = B + 1: P = P - 1
170 GOTO 110
180 FOR I = 1 TO 10: PRINT: NEXT I
190 PRINT "**********>"
210 FOR I = 1 TO 10 : PRINT : NEXT I
220 PRINT TAB(10) "<**********"
240 FOR I = 1 TO 10: PRINT TAB(10) "*"
250 NEXT I
260 PRINT TAB(9) "***"
270 PRINT TAB(10) "*"
290 FOR I = 1 TO 10 : PRINT : NEXT I
300 PRINT TAB(10) "*"
310 PRINT TAB(9) "***"
320 FOR 1 = 1 TO 10 : PRINT TAB(10) "*"
330 NEXT I
"Our shields may go any minute," Garrety whispers in your ear. "But take your time," he adds. "You don’t want to make a mistake."
Your teeth clenched, you examine the listing. This is another first - your first chance to debug a program in real time while under live attack.
The guidance system works something like a computer game. Run it as is. It keeps track of your hits and misses and after 10 shots it gives you your score. When BRUTE fires, an arrow of asterisks will show what direction their missile is coming from. You need to fire back a shot that will disable the missile before it hits the station. Here are your fire commands: 1-fire left, 2-fire right, 3-fire up, and 4-fire down. With the bug in the system, BRUTE always wins. Correct the bug and get the guidance system working. Now take over the controls yourself; try another 10 shots, and see how well you score against a BRUTE attack.
"Try it now," the captain instructs you. "Hurry, BRUTE has just launched a barrage of 10 shots and our shields will never hold out against them." Saying a silent prayer, you give it your best shot.
You lock in on target and fire. This time you can feel the vibrations of each direct hit... "It worked," someone shouts. "You got them!"
Pleased with your performance, you turn the console back to Lieutenant Winchester. But the captain is less optimistic. "We don’t have enough power left to wage a full-scale attack against two vessels. We can only hope they don’t know that and back off." Turning to Lieutenant Winchester, he orders, "Fire an offensive shot."
"But Captain, you just said," the junior officer starts to protest.
"It’s the only way to convince them that we’re fully capable of surviving an attack."
Without another word, Winchester follows orders. And the captain’s strategy seems to work. You brace yourself for another enemy bolt, but it doesn’t come.
There’s an eerie silence on the bridge. Everyone’s still afraid to take a deep breath, for fear it might be their last.
Do you think they’ve fallen for your bluff? you ask Garrety.
But before he can answer, the communications watch officer breaks in. "Captain! Captain! We’re getting a direct audio and visual communique from the BRUTE vessel."
"Put it on the big screen," Garrety commands.
All eyes widen as a picture comes into focus on the white surface at the front of the bridge.
"Is that guy for real?" you whisper to Tinker, as everyone stares in disbelief at the weird figure whose head and shoulders fill the picture. He looks like a refugee from a Halloween party. His face peeks out from beneath a purple hood. And his eyes are covered by a purple Lone Ranger mask. But somehow the cruel line of his mouth tells you he’s not here to dunk for apples.
When he begins to speak, the powerful threat in his voice makes you shiver. "Ah, Captain Garrety and members of the ACT team, thank you for your undivided attention," he rasps.
"I’m afraid you have us at a disadvantage," the captain shoots back.
His hand gestures toward his concealing costume. "If you’re referring to this little dis guise, it’s just a precaution. We in the upper echelons of BRUTE never disclose our identities. However, if you’re referring to the fact that I have your station at my mercy yes, well, that’s as it might be."
"If you’re referring to the current status of our weapons system, I assure you we have the capacity to blast you out of the sky," Garrety bluffs.
The purple BRUTE permits himself a sardonic chuckle. "Now, Captain, didn’t your mother teach you not to tell lies? The android we planted aboard your station has kept us fully informed as to the status of your weapons."
Android, you think with a sick feeling. Android Diordna. Of course, now you remember that strange word that Baker found over and over again in the BRUTE intercepts. They were talking about their android. Only they were spelling it backwards in their communications, Why didn’t you think of that?
Just then, a flutter of motion at the periphery of your vision makes your head snap to the right. A crew member has emerged from the shadows at the edge of the bridge and walked boldly to the center of the room. With heart-stopping dread, you recognize his face. It’s the same man who tried to do in Dr. Macron.
As all of you watch in horror, he reaches up with mechanical precision and peels a thin layer of synthetic skin off his face. With it come all the features that made him look human.
Everyone gasps and takes an involuntary step backwards. Gleaming metal has replaced flesh and blood. In place of his mouth is a voice generator. And where one eye used to be, there’s a camera lens that pans back and forth across the control room.
"So that’s how BRUTE is getting a picture of us," someone says.
The big BRUTE looks in his direction. "A plus in observation. In fact, let me introduce your most loyal crew member - or at least loyal to me," the purple BRUTE intones.
Your eyes never waver from the gruesomely faceless figure at the center of the bridge.
"He’s the state-of-the-art model of our Diordna series of androids," the big BRUTE continues proudly. "He’s able to mimic human action so realistically that you can’t tell he’s a machine."
"You won’t get away with this!" Colonel Grace challenges, shaking her fist angrily at the screen.
"Oh, I beg to differ, Colonel," the BRUTE commander contradicts. "We already have. We intercepted one of your drone supply ships, removed some nonessential paper products, and replaced them with the Diordna. Since our machine didn’t have to breathe, it could hide in the airless cargo hold and slip away quite easily." Nonessential paper products, you think, shaking your head. So that explains the missing toilet paper!
"But to get to the point," the big BRUTE continues, "we want your space station. Surrender immediately or die."
"We will never surrender," Captain Garrety vows. "If you try to board, we’ll fight you hand to hand in the corridors."
"Oh, I think not," the big BRUTE disagrees. "Our Diordna has planted a canister of highly lethal nerve gas in your ventilation system. Unless we have your surrender in" - he pauses and looks down at his watch - "shall we say 15 minutes, he’s programmed to detonate the release mechanism."
Suddenly, you’re too scared to be scared. All you can think about is, Where is that canister? Where is that canister? Then an image pops into your head. It’s an image from the very beginning of the mission. You can see Baker leading you and Tinker to the COMMS Center. Tinker stops to study a hairline crack in the ceiling.
"Tinker," you whisper urgently... "Remember that seam on the way to the COMMS Center? Didn’t it lead to the ventilation system?" The toy maker’s eyes light up, and you realize he knows what you’re talking about. But as he looks toward you, the android’s head also swivels in your direction. As the synthetic man takes several steps backward and blocks the exit from the bridge, you realize he knows what you’re talking about, too.
"That must be it. That must be where the canister is hidden," Tinker hisses.
"Yes, but we’ll never get by the android. He’s stronger than Superman. Remember, I’ve tangled with him before."
"Just get him to turn in your direction and keep him occupied for 30 seconds," Tinker instructs. "I’ll do the rest."
Easy for him to say, you think, taking a step forward. You don’t know what he has in mind, but you’ve got to help him. It may be your only chance.
However, keeping the android busy, even for 30 seconds, isn’t going to be easy.
As you inch closer, the android’s arm lengthens, and you remember how he held you off outside the air lock.
Ducking down, you go for his legs. The android bends over to swat you way, and in a blur of motion you see Tinker lunge for his back. The android’s strong fingers close around your shoulder and a wave of pain shoots down your arm. You feel like a metal can caught in a trash compactor.
"Help..." you gasp. And then, as the terrible pressure pushes you toward the floor, heavy steps echo behind you. Suddenly, you hear a hissing sound from behind the android. And then, to your relief and amazement, the metal hand on your shoulder slowly disengages.
A high-pitched squeal issues from the speaker in the android’s head. Colonel Grace pulls you to safety just seconds before its mechanical body collapses on the deck.
"Good work, man. But what in the name of all that’s holy did you do to it?" Captain Garrety asks Tinker. "Got it with a shot of liquid screwdriver.
I always keep a can in my back pocket just in case. It loosened up his access panel enough so that I could reach in and disable one of his primary circuits."
"Boy, what luck that you grabbed the right thing," someone crows.
"Luck had nothing to do with it," Tinker retorts. "BRUTE must have stolen the design for this from our Astro Development Labs. I know this baby inside out."
"You mean the canister’s not going to go off?" Professor Lowell asks hopefully.
"I wish it were as simple as that," Tinker says. "But, unfortunately, we’re not out of the woods yet. I know how this model works. We’ve got to feed in the password to turn off the sequence."
"But we don’t know the password," someone wails.
The command "password" seems to bring the android back to life - at least partially. "Enter zodiac code. Enter zodiac code," it begins to repeat in a grinding metallic voice.
Zodiac code! This could be a break!
"Do you think it could be that Scorpio sign on the back of the fake badge?" you ask.
Tinker breaks into the conversation. "You mean the one Professor Lowell spotted? Oh boy, that’s got to be it!"
Colonel Grace, who has absorbed every word of the exchange, looks directly up at the big BRUTE on the screen. "So we’ve got you beat after all," she taunts.
"Don’t count on it." His voice booms over the speaker and reverberates around the room. Looking up, you see a self-satisfied, evil smirk on the big BRUTE’s lips. "When the system is disabled, it won’t accept the Scorpio password anymore. Only my super-user executive code will work now. And there’s no way you could know that - unless you’ve seen the tattoo on my chest."
"Do you think he’s telling the truth?" you whisper to Tinker.
"About the tattoo or the super-user pass word?" he asks.
"I’m afraid so - at least the password part," Tinker admits. "That’s how it’s designed. But I do have one ace up my sleeve. If we can get at the programmable read-only memory, maybe we can trick the system into thinking it’s still functioning - so it will accept the Scorpio password, after all."
You nod, knowing it’s a real long shot. But what do you have to lose when the only alternative is getting zapped by a canister of poison gas?
You see Colonel Grace glance quickly in your direction. Her determined expression makes you wonder if she’s going to try to "hold ‘em off at the pass." The suspicion is confirmed when she moves so that she’s blocking the android’s camera.
"I guess you do have us over a barrel, so to speak," she says, playing directly to the big BRUTE’s ego.
"So you’re finally acknowledging that fact," he shoots back. "Start saying your goodbyes. You’ve only got three minutes left."
You and Tinker exchange glances. Things are pretty grim. But Colonel Grace must know that you do have a slim chance - if she can keep the big BRUTE busy so he doesn’t have time to reprogram the android before you do.
Hooking your portable computer into a plug in the android’s back, you call for a listing of the control program.
Input the program and list it.
10 INPUT "ENTER PASSWORD";C$
20 S$ = "DISABLED"
30 IF S$ = "DISABLED" THEN GOTO 170
40 IF C$ <> "SCORPIO" THEN GOTO 170
50 FOR I = 1 TO 5
60 PRINT "CIRCUIT #"; I;" DEACTIVATED"
70 FOR K = 220 TO 880 STEP 5
80 SOUND K, 0.5
90 NEXT K
100 NEXT I
110 FOR K=880 TO 220 STEP -5
120 SOUND K, 0.5
120 NEXT K
140 PRINT "ALL CIRCUITS SHUT DOWN"
150 PRINT "YOU REALLY TURN ME OFF"
170 PRINT "GET READY TO BE GASSED"
180 PRINT "PSSSSSSSSSSSSS"
190 FOR J = 1 TO 5
200 SOUND 220, 2: SOUND 146, 2
210 NEXT J
220 PRINT "BY THE TIME YOU SEE THIS"
230 PRINT "IT WILL BE TOO LATE FOR ACT"
Sound effects are different for each system. See pages 118-120 of the Reference Manual for changes.
Find out why the program won’t accept the Scorpio password. Fix it so that the password will work. And run it. If you need help see page l18 of the Reference Manual.
"All circuits shut down," the android grinds out.
"What?" the big BRUTE shrieks. "While Colonel Grace was keeping you busy, we reprogrammed the android’s PROM,"Tinker explains.
"And we’ve also just gotten word that there’s a contingent of fighter missiles headed in your direction and toward your companion ship... Captain Garrety informs him. "Too bad for you; it’s all over," he adds.
You see the big BRUTE’s face turn as purple as his hood. "All right, so ACT has foiled us this time. But we’ll be back when you least expect it."
Almost before the words are out of his mouth, you hear an engine revving up in the background. You glance over at the radar screen in time to see both BRUTE ships disappear so fast that they might never have been there.
"Where did they go?" Professor Lowell asks.
Colonel Grace shakes her head. "All I can say is that BRUTE knows when it’s time to retreat."
"Then the station’s saved, and we’re out of danger," someone says.
"Right," you agree. Finally, the reality of what’s just happened sinks in. "Hey, we did it! We really did it!" you shout.
Suddenly you and Tinker and Colonel Grace and Professor Lowell and Captain Garrety and everybody else in the Command Center are jumping up and down and slapping each other on the back. In the midst of the celebration, something makes you take a good look at Colonel Grace. You can hardly believe it,but there are tears in her eyes.
"Hey, what’s the matter?" you whisper.
"I’m just so proud of the ACT team, "shemurmurs. "Two days ago you were a bunch of raw space recruits. And look what you’ve accomplished. "
"But we couldn’t have done it without you," Tinker says with a grin.
Colonel Grace nods. "It’s all teamwork.
That’s what this was all about. We never would have won this round with BRUTE without a 200 percent effort from every member of the ACT team."
"Do you think they’re gone for good?" the weapons officer asks.
"Oh, it’s safe to predict that they won’t make another attempt to take over this installation," Colonel Grace assures him. "But they’re never gone for long."
You and the other ACT members nod in agreement. Colonel Grace is probably right. BRUTE never makes the same mistake twice. But you know as sure as the stars come out at night that they’ll be up to their old tricks again somewhere else soon. And it will be up to you and ACT members the world over to stop them.
Micro Adventure Book 1: Space Adventure
Computer experts have a special “language” they use when talking about programs. Here are some common terms that you should know as a programmer.
Arrays are groups of two or more logically related data elements in a program that have the same name. However, so that the individual elements in the array can be used, each is also identified by its own address (called an index by programmers). You can think of an array as an apartment building. One hundred people might live at the Northwest Apartments (or 100 pieces of information might be stored in the NW Array). But each unit within the building has a number (like Apt 14), so that it can be located and receive mail. In the NW Array, 14 could be the index to find a particular piece of information, and would be written NW (14). If you put the 26 letters of the alphabet into an array called Alpha$, then Alpha$(2) would equal “B” because “B” is the second letter of the alphabet.
ASCII (pronounced asskee) is the standard code used by most microcomputers to represent characters such as letters, numbers, and punctuation.
ASC is a function in BASIC that will supply a character's ASCII code. For example ASC(“A”) will give you the number 65.
Short for Beginner's All Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code. A programming language. BASIC was one of the first approachable programming languages, and shipped in the ROM Of the early Apple II, Commodore and other early personal computers. Most operating systems came with a version of the language so enthusiasts could quickly write their own programs. Many flavors of BASIC have been created, including Applesoft BASIC - included on Apple IIs, Integer BASIC - created by Steve Wozniak, IBM Advanced BASIC - used here, GW-BASIC, Visual BASIC, and many others. While simple, BASIC is incredibly powerful, limited only by the imagination of the programmer and the hardware it runs on.
Bugs are errors or mistakes in a program that keep it from doing what it's supposed to do. Some of the programming activities in this book will ask you to find and fix a bug so that the program will work correctly.
Functions are ready-made routines that perform standard calculations in a program. It's sort of like having a key on a calculator that computes a square root or percentage of a number. The programming language BASIC comes with a number of standard functions to perform certain tasks. For example, the function SQR (x) will find the square root of any number when x is replaced by that number. You might want to check the BASIC manual that came with your computer to see which functions are available on your system.
INT is a function that changes any number that you supply into a whole number or integer. For example INT(4.5) will return the value 4. For numbers greater than 0, INT just throws away any fractions and supplies you with the whole number.
LEN is a function that tells you the number of characters in a string of letters, number, or other symbols. For example, if a variable string called A$ contained “STOP” then LEN(A$) = 4.
Loops are sections of programs that may be performed a specified number of times, or until certain conditions are met. For example, if you. wanted to write a program that would count from 1 to 100, a loop could be used to keep adding 1 to a counter variable until the number 100 was reached. Loops are most commonly formed with FOR/NEXT statements or GOTO commands. You'll find many examples. of these in the programs in this book.
Random Number Generator (a.k.a. RNG)
Random Number Generators, which are functions, which is called RND in BASIC, lets you generate numbers at “random” just as though you were throwing a set of dice and didn't know which number was going to come up next. In most home computers, the RND function returns a fraction between 0 and 1. To get numbers in a larger range, the program must multiply the fraction by a larger number. For example, RND * 10 will produce numbers between 0 and 10.
REM (a.k.a. Comment)
REM is used to tell the computer that whatever is on a particular line is just a comment
and should not be executed. An example might look like this:
10 REM THIS PROGRAM DOES A COUNTDOWN.
Strings are groups of one or more letters, number, or other symbols that are treated as a unit. IN the English language, a collection of letters that make up a word can be thought of as a string. In a program, the information in a string is of often enclosed in quotation marks to let the computer know that the symbols are to be treated as characters. In the string “123” the program is dealing with the characters 1, 2, and 3, not the larger number 123. The computer is storing these as the ASCII values for 1, 2 , and 3 which are 49, 50, and 51. A string that is empty and has no characters in it is called a null string and is represented as "".
Subroutines are parts of a program or a sequence of instructions called by a program to perform a general of frequently used task. In some of the program in this book, subroutines are used to position the cursor or get input from the screen.
Variables are names used to represent values that will change during the course of a program. For example, a variable named D$ might represent any day of the week. It may help you to think of a variable as a storage box, waiting to receive whatever information you want to put in. Variables that deal with strings of symbols are always followed by a dollar sign. Variables that end in a percent sign always hold integers (whole numbers like 1, 2, 3, 500). Variables with a pound sign or no special character at the end hold numbers that may contain fractions. The number of characters allowed in a variable name vanes from computer to computer.
|0-32||Special System Control Characters|
|32||Space (will look blank)|
|126-255||Alternate character set|
To write programs, you use the PC in the emulator tab. This is a full PC from 1984 running IBM's Advanced BASIC interpreter. That's your "development environment".
To enter a BASIC program, simply type it in exactly as shown. Line numbers matter. The computer will run the program in line number order.
If you make a mistake, don't worry. You can replace a line of code simply by typing it again with the same line number. That will automatically replace the old line number.
BASIC will tell you if an error has occurred, and on which line number. Figuring out problems like this is normal, and is called debugging.
It will be useful to keep Caps Lock enabled when typing programs into the emulator.
The emulator is a complete IBM PC from 1984. When it starts up, which can take up to a minute, it will load IBM Advanced BASIC. You're ready to code!
BASIC, short for Beginner's All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, is the programming language you will use.
To create a new program, simply start entering it.
To run a program, type RUN and hit the Enter key.
Here's a sample program you can try:
10 PRINT "HELLO WORLD!"
The program above simply prints Hello World! on the screen. BASIC is very powerful and can do much more than that, as you'll see when reading the book!
To clear the old program from memory and create a new one, type the command NEW.
To see your program, type the command LIST.
To clear the screen, but not your program, type the command CLS.
To save the machine so you can come back to it later, use the Save button at the bottom of the screen. This will give you a "disk image" you can load again later. This is useful when multiple people are using the same computer. IMPORTANT! This does not save your files. You must save files to the disk first, using the SAVE command below, and then you can save your disk for later.
To load the machine with your saved disk, click Mount, select your saved disk, and then click Load. Then, press Reset and your disk will be loaded.
To save a program, type SAVE "FILENAME.BAS, where FILENAME is up to 8 characters. I recommend you name them PROGRAM1.BAS, PROGRAM2.BAS, and so forth. IMPORTANT! You must first select a disk at the bottom to save onto!
To load a program, type LOAD "FILENAME.BAS, where FILENAME is up to 8 characters.
As you look through the programs, you may see some commands and statements that look foreign. The Common Terms tab will help you there.
When you see INPUT I, that inputs a number into a variable named I.
When you see INPUT A$, that inputs a string, which is zero or more characters, into a variable named A. The $ denotes the variable holds a string of characters.
These two ways of storing information in variables is called variable types. One is a number, and the other is a string.
When you see a semicolon (;) after a string, that adds some spacing after the string.
> means "greater than". >= means "greater than or equal to". This is a logical comparison operation.
< means "less than". <= means "less than or equal to".
<> means "not equal to".
= means "equal to" when comparing values, and means "assigned the value of" when assigning values to variables.