Truehart of the CIO
Kind Hearts & Carrot Juice
by Leo Laporte
When we last joined our hero, Jack Truehart, he was on his way to the dinner table -- as the main course.
Fleshy meat, strong and sweet, Tonight the POKEYs devour a treat!
The song was banging about inside jack's head like a string of Chinese firecrackers. This was the tightest spot he had been in since his first assignment for the CIO -- gunner duty on a Zylon Raider. Those were the days, nothing to do but play games. And now, after years of fighting alien invaders and system glitches, to end it all trussed up like a side of beef on his way to the kitchens of the POKEY people. Jack felt like a sap.
This had to be the doing of that demented dastard who was stealing clock cycles from the System. Jack wondered if they'd meet before the end.
"Hey, you, POKEY," he shouted.
"What do you want, prisoner?" the POKEY holding Truehart's left foot grimaced menacingly.
"I want to meet the Big Guy. I'm on very important business from the CIO, and I think he'll want to see me before you do anything rash."
Another POKEY to Jack's left kept hopping agitatedly from one foot to another. "Do y'hear that, boys? Important business from the CIO! We've got a real high muckamuck here."
A wave of high-pitched giggles washed over Jack's head. The POKEYs kept marching down the carbon black corridor, Jack's bundled form on their shoulders. Time for some fast lip wagging, he thought to himself.
"Really, guys, this is important. We've learned that Atari is planning to replace the POKEY chip on the Mother Board with a new chip from Commodore."
It wasn't true, of course, but Jack figured it would have an effect. And it did. The POKEYs dropped him on his head and began squealing.
"Nerts! They can't do that! We're the most important chip on the Mother Board. Who'll do their I/O? Who'll make their music?"
Jack almost felt sorry for them, but he couldn't stop now. "I hear they're going to move in SID."
Now there are some things the POKEY people hate worse than SID. Baths, for one. Brussell sprouts, for another. But there was no more potent voodoo Jack Truehart could have conjured up just at this moment, than the name of SID, the hated Commodore 64 sound chip, and POKEYs' archrival. His little fib unleashed a maelstrom. It was all he could do to roll out of the way of the stomping POKEY feet. He tried to cover his ears, but his arms were tied down too securely.
"Never, we'll melt the System down first!" the chief constable POKEY screamed, while frothing at the mouth and wildly swinging his nightstick. "No SID will ever be soldered into our slot. Never!"
So violent was their rage, they forgot all about Jack. Now to escape before the POKEYs shrieks caused permanent hearing loss.
Jack began to work his way down the corridor, moving like an inchworm, a bit at a time. He had gotten about 10 feet away when his progress was stopped by a pair of legs that definitely were not POKEY shaped. And they went all the way up. A woman!
Jack would have stood and taken his hat off, but it was all he could do, under the circumstances, to keep from tumbling over backwards.
"Hello," she said. Jack's normally cast iron heart skipped a beat.
"Hello, yourself. Jack Truehart, CIO. Get me out of these ropes, willya?"
"Well, I don't know. Did the POKEYs tie you up?" She was grinning, but Jack wasn't sure why.
"Uh, yes, but I'm here on very important business. I've got to see your chief."
"I see." And she walked off toward the still swarming mass of POKEYs.
Jack watched her go with an appreciative eye, and then began worming off again down the hall. He didn't get much farther before everything got very quiet.
"Hot solder, what now?" he thought. He could hear her speaking to the POKEYs, but he couldn't make out the words. Then he heard footsteps as the POKEYs charged down the hall after him. He tried to roll away, but he could no more escape them than a tenpin could escape 100 bowling balls. They came rumbling down all around him. And they weren't happy.
"Tell us stories, willya? Why I ought to bean 'ya with my billy club." The constable was jumping up and down on his little furry feet.
"Come on now, boys, untie Mr. Truehart." It was the lady. The POKEYs grumbled, but they began to loosen the knots on Jack's bonds.
"The old Truehart charm works every time," Jack thought.
Before you could say Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, Jack was back on his feet. He noticed once again how very nice looking the young woman was. She was Jack's height, with blonde hair like his, and green eyes. She was dressed head to toe in an opalescent pink number hot enough to scald a supernova.
"Did you really tell them that they were going to be replaced with SID?" she asked.
"Of course," Jack replied.
"Liar, liar, from Sigma Tyre!" It was one of the POKEYs and he was hopping mad. Literally. He hopped right onto one of Jack's toes.
"Ow! Get offa there!"
"Now, Twilly, be nice to Mr. Truehart. I'm sure he was indulging in a harmless joke. Weren't you, Mr. Truehart?"
"Well, confidentially, I'm here on a much more important matter. If I could just see Mr. Big, I'm sure I could explain everything."
"Mr. Big?" Linda smiled. The POKEYs giggled. "We have no Mr. Big. There's just the POKEYs and me."
"And who are you?" Jack asked.
"I am Linda Darling. And this is Twillnap, he's our security chief."
The POKEY bowed. "Twilly, this is the famous Jack Truehart of the CIO."
"Pleased to make your acquaintance, JT." The POKEY stuck out a furry hand.
"Pleased to . . . why you flea flecked fuzz ball, you were about to eat me for dinner a minute ago."
Linda tried to look stern. "Twilly, you didn't tell Mr. Truehart you were going to eat him, did you?"
The POKEY feigned a sudden interest in the buckle on his sash.
"Mr. Truehart, my apologies." She hardly could keep from laughing. "My friends have a somewhat childish sense of humor -- particularly when it comes to strangers.
"Actually, the POKEYs are strict vegetarians. They live on carrot juice and guava jelly. I promise you, agents from the CIO are not on their menu."
The POKEYs tittered.
"Humph." Jack was feeling like a sap again. "Be that as it may, I'm here on official business, and someone will have to answer my questions."
"We would be very happy to. Perhaps you would like to join us for dinner -- strictly vegetarian, of course? We could answer your questions then."
The invitation was welcome. It had been many hours since Jack's last meal. He wondered if he could get some Chinese food.
The POKEYs, his captors moments before, transformed into an honor guard to escort Jack and Linda into the heart of POKEY. As they walked, Linda told Jack about their duties inside the chip. Her remarks were punctuated by occasional high-pitched exclamations of agreement from the POKEYs.
"POKEY is one of the three original chips on the Mother Board. We were designed to relieve the CPU of some of the more mundane tasks within the System. Those giant halls you saw when you came in are the I/0 ports. In one chamber we pull in the signals from the disk drives or the keyboard or whatever else is hooked onto the System. The data comes in, we parcel it up, and send it off down the data bus for processing.
"Whenever data is to be sent outside the System, the POKEYs prepare it and pass it through the output chamber to the printer or disk drive or whatever. It's very hard work, we handle thousands of bits every second."
"You make a devilish lot of noise while you're doing it, too," Jack said.
"You noticed," Linda agreed. The POKEYs like to sing and make noise. It was built into them when the Mother Board was designed. You can see over here the choir halls where the POKEYs generate the music and sound effects for the whole System. There are four halls, one per channel, and each of them can make a different sound."
Jack was awestruck by the size of the halls and the power of the sound that came from them. He almost could see the music as it pulsed through the air around him.
In fact, he became so engrossed in the multi-colored strains of a Bach Cantata, that he nearly ran into a plate-glass window. "Oof."
His attention switched from the music to the view through the window. He saw a cavern seven-stories tall, filled with hundreds of thousands of POKEYs, bouncing against the walls, and each other, with abandon. Every so often one of the POKEYs would randomly bounce out through a hole in the cave's roof.
"Great gamma guns! What's going on in there?" Jack asked.
"This is the Random Number Generating Room. Here, we're constantly generating random numbers to be used by programs. The numbers we make here also are used by the distortion counter in the music halls. Each POKEY inside is assigned a number. Every few thousandths of a second, one of them flies out into the room above, where his number is recorded for use by the OS. The POKEY is then sent down that chute over there and back into the cavern. It's really kind of fun. You should try it."
"Uh, yeah." Jack was having a hard time taking it all in. But he managed to swallow his confusion long enough to say, "To tell you the truth, I'm more interested in the interrupt handling."
Jack and OS had guessed that whoever was using the System was taking control of the interrupts through POKEY. By issuing interrupt commands, someone with a penchant for villainy could take over the System for short periods of time, without permission from CIO or OS.
Linda looked at him strangely. "Why do you ask about the interrupts?"
Jack wondered, could he trust her? There was only one way to tell. He told her the story and closely watched her reaction. The tale had its effect. The POKEYs began to shiver and Linda's brow creased with worry.
"I had a feeling that's why you were here," she said. "I'd better tell you what I told your friend, McGinty."
So! McGinty had been here. And whatever he had learned must have led to his electrifying mishap in the halls of the data bus.
The group entered one of the vast dining halls, now empty but for a few food-prep POKEYs who were cleaning up. As Linda and Jack sat down, large plates of green jelly and carafes of orangy liquid materialized on the table. The POKEY's bellied up to the food and began eating with gusto. Jack grimaced. Didn't look like sweet and sour shrimp to him.
As the POKEYs ate, Linda told her story.
"It's been happening for several months now," she began. "Every night, just about this time, an interrupt command comes through. We are to stop everything and wait for I/O. Usually a large packet of information will go out through the serial port. Sometimes more information comes in. It goes very quickly, and after it's over, it's as if nothing had ever happened.
"At first we assumed that these were authorized System calls. But recently we have begun to think otherwise. When your man McGinty came here earlier this evening, he asked us about the I/O. He told us he was from the CIO and that he was investigating illegal accesses. That's when we began to worry. I decided to have Twilly patrol the I/O hall after hours. That's where he caught you."
Twilly wiped at his green-stained whiskers and nodded vigorously. "At first, we thought you were the intruder."
"I'd like to see this interrupt. Is there somewhere we can watch?" Jack asked.
"Well, we could watch from the catwalk on the serial port, but it's dangerous."
"Danger was my mother's maiden name. Let's go."
Jack jumped up and took Linda by the hand. It was warm to his touch, and so much friendlier than the printed circuits he was used to. Jack had no doubt he could trust her, now. She was too beautiful to be lying.
Jack and Linda left the dining hall. The POKEYs were too busy guzzling guava jelly to notice.
They turned south and began walking down a forest green hall lined with oddly-shaped green and yellow bushes. Every other bush had a snoozing POKEY underneath it.
"Shh," Linda whispered, "they're sleeping. When the interrupt request comes we'll have to be very careful. Whoever's doing it takes over all the POKEYs in the I/0 chamber. We will be terribly outnumbered."
They had come to a small gap carved into the silicon wall. Upon climbing through, Jack and Linda found themselves on a catwalk bolted to the mirror smooth walls of the serial bus. To their left stretched the output port, a dark pipeline to the outside world. To their right lay the I/O hall, carpeted with a thousand POKEYs, resting now after their hard day's labor. The overhead lights had been turned down low; the hall glowed a mellow gold.
"Be very careful, Jack, we're at the mouth of the output line. If you were to fall off here you would be sucked out into the disk drive. Every once in a while, we lose one of the POKEYs that way. When the data bits come through, press your back against the wall and they'll glide right by."
"How long will we have to wait?" Jack could hear the faint sound of snores coming from the POKEYs hundreds of feet below. The evening was cool and very calm. He was beginning to feel a bit more relaxed.
"Here it comes now!"
There was an electric buzzing in the air. The sleeping POKEYs awoke. Their brown eyes grew as big as dinner plates. From the back of the room came a whine, then a red sphere crackling with static electricity rolled into the center of the chamber.
"That's the interrupt. Now he'll take control," Linda whispered.
In the silence, Jack could feel Linda's heart pounding as she stood next to him.
A disembodied voice came from the red sphere, crackling as it spoke. It sounded a little like Rudy Vallee.
"Good evening I/O POKEYs. This is Hi-Top Harry. Prepare to receive data."
The POKEYs scrambled to position.
"Begin to receive data."
Jack leaned over the flimsy rail as the POKEYs began to pull in the blue data bits from the input port across the hall. He just could barely see from where he was standing, so he leaned a little farther out.
"Be careful, Jack," Linda whispered urgently, "you'll fall off."
Jack hardly heard her, he was too busy trying to see the data the POKEYs were onloading. He leaned farther.
Now he just could make it out. It seemed to be made tip of invoices and bills of lading for some kind of parts. He leaned farther still, and as he did, the thin metal of the rail gave way jack tried to grab it, but it was too late, his body fell, tumbling to the surface of the serial bus below.
Linda screamed. Suddenly the chamber grew very quiet, except for a crackle from the red sphere pulsing in the center of the room.
The sphere crossed the floor to where Jack lay crumpled. Its electric tentacles reached out to touch his face. He moaned.
"'He's alive!" Linda ran from the catwalk and raced down the corridor toward the floor of the I/O chamber.
The sphere spoke. "Jack Truehart, my old friend. We meet again. I should have thought that what happened to McGinty would have served as a warning to you. Ah, but then you were always the impetuous fool."
The sphere backed up and issued a command to the POKEYs.
"Prepare to send data."
The POKEYs moved into position at the head of the tunnel where Jack lay.
The POKEYs pulled at the packets of data that lay at the rear of the hall. A stream of data bits began to flow along the tunnel, gathering force as it approached Jack's body. It soon surrounded him in a rising tide of green and blue, pulling him from view down into the black hole of the serial bus.
Jack, barely conscious, opened his eyes in time to see the light of the I/0 hall fade to darkness as the data stream carried him toward a place from which no man had ever returned alive.
Episode 3: Next Issue