How to Exercise a Ghost

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Bert was an unhappy soul.
In fact, Bert was unhappy because he was a soul;
he was nothing else.

Bert lived, or more accurately, did not live on The Darkness, though
neither was out of choice. The Darkness is a well-known spaceship, lumbering
around the Pergal System transporting its passengers, plus a small
amount of cargo, between the three inhabited planets of the system.

The ancient craft had once hauled only cargo, but it's captain, as
a result of losing a bet with his second officer, had part of it
converted for passengers, and once he discovered how lucrative hauling
passengers was, converted most of the rest of it too, leaving only a small area
for proper cargo, partly as a lament for times gone by. Bert should have known
that a name like The Darkness would not bode well for what was supposed to be a
pleasurable excursion. Pleasure, however is something foreign to The Darkness,
and its name did not bode well for him.


Bert strode purposefully onto the casino deck - and his purpose was to have a
good time. The casino deck had been added to the centre of The Darkness, long
after everything else had been installed. The captain decided it should have
one, took it to Crazy Meg and told him to install one. Crazy Meg had cut the
ship in half, hacked the casino deck from an existing, smaller ship, sandwiched
it between the two halves and welded it back together again. As a result, The
Darkness was indented around the middle, much like someone who had done up his
belt far too tightly, and ended up looking like a huge advert for a hamburger.

Bert walked into the casino. Being as it was, hacked from an old ship, it was
decorated in the old fashioned way, in stark contrast to any other part of the
ship. It had not been re-decorated (to save on costs), so all the dusty
chandeliers, ancient paintings whose contents were now a mystery after centuries
of oil, dirt and grime had accumulated, lush red carpet which was slightly worn,
especially along the broad, swerving staircase which served as an entrance, and
grotesque brass statues dotted about on plinths were all kept in place, despite
the fact that it should have made it look like a closed museum.

It was obviously not a closed museum, however, as it also contained the most
high-tech methods of losing large wads of cash available in the universe: Super
Spin machines, CredCoin Conundrums, Mega-Win-O-Matics, Blackjack: all were being
played with fervent devotion.

Bert strode off towards the largest collection of gambling machines in the
system. He played Zoo-Zoo XTra Cash - and lost, Galactic HyperBall - and lost,
Stravernian Pong - and lost, Diamatic Winno - and lost, Blackjack - and won.

Not only had he won against staggering odds, but he had won staggeringly
well: he had won a small fortune. In fact, it wasn't really that small, and can
safely be called a medium-sized fortune: enough to pay for a bottle of the most
expensive and alcoholic substance on the ship. This was worth celebrating, and
celebrate he did.

Unfortunately, he died of alcohol poisoning some time later.

*       *       *

Bert was dead. Not spectacularly dead, but dead all the same.

How stupid he was, thought Bert, to have got into this situation, especially
when things were looking so good. Everything had looked twice as good before he
realised he had been seeing double.

Bert was making his way to the library. This was to find out anything about
being a ghost. Bert had just assumed that ghosts just knew what to do. He
didn't: he needed help.

After a bit of trouble trying to open the door by the handle, instead of
walking through the door as one would expect, he searched the library for any
book on ghosts. The main part of the library was new, and had no information
other that this definition of being a ghost:

Ghost: n. The supernatural presence of a person or thing which is
dead. Often depicted as being white or having a whitish glow about them. Found
esp. in deserted spaceliners, haunted office blocks and fairgrounds.
Behind a door which was closed, locked and totally un-ghost-proof,
was the library part not open to the public. It had the captain's collection of
books, which were ancient. They were displayed in a large bookcase which was
merely very old, and made of red transparent plastic. Bert picked up a book. The
spine of the book was missing and dust obscured most of its remaining red cover.
Wiping away at the dust, Bert could just make out the words "How to Exercise a
Ghost" embossed in faded gold. Inside it said:
Exercising ghosts is not as easy as you may first think. For
example, you may think that you could just buy it a lead and running machine,
and the task would be complete, but, alas, this would not be an appropriate or
practical solution for two, not entirely unconnected reasons.
  1. You would not be able to put the lead on a ghost
  2. The ghost would most probably walk straight through the machine.
Though it could be argued that the second point was technically
exercise, it is worth considering that it is unlikely to be in any way
interesting for the ghost in question, being as it is proficient at walking
through walls, closed doors, combine harvesters, etc., and furthermore, it is
even less likely to make the ghost in the remotest way healthier or fit. This,
you may declare is not the point, it is only the point that the ghost is
exercised, and the fact that it will most likely have as much impact as a
small grain of sand on the Ravenous Bug Blatter beast of Traal, in terms of
fitness, is of no overall consequence. To examine this view more thoroughly,
we will first have to uncover the motives behind this daring and audacious
feat, in the vain and misheld belief that it will make some part of this
written text become clearer than it does now, which is to say not at all.

Motivation for this incredible achievement is not...
flicked through the book
it said, then
This is not normal for a book, so Bert replaced it
before it got too excited.

*       *       *

Bert sneaked around at night, taking a circuitous route to the
captain's office.

Bert had taken up sneaking around at night (or when it was deemed to be night
on the ship), away from the busy routes. This was due to several factors -
partly that he couldn't stand seeing all those people having a wonderful time
being alive, but mostly because he didn't like it when people screamed "Arghhhh!
There's a ghost!" and ran off in the opposite direction. The first time this
happened, he ran away in the opposite direction and hid, but now that he was
half-used to it, and would continue to where he was going, only slightly shaken.

In fact, the first time he realised he was a ghost, he had jumped backwards
in surprise, realised he had jumped half-way through a wall, and tried to jump
away from that, too, but didn't quite know which way to jump. He had then
stopped and wondered what he was supposed to do, being as he was, a ghost. He
decided at that moment to make his way to the most haunted place in the universe
- Urtiquel - where at least he woulldn't be alone in being dead.

Bert arrived at the door to the captain's office. It was closed and locked,
requiring passwords, biometric confirmation, smart cards, a mini IQ test and a
DNA scan before entry was considered. Bert walked through it.

Inside was the captain - a small, balding man with a twinkle in his eye,
despite the mound of paperwork he had to do. He loved running a spaceship,
especially one as profitable as this. His clothes were those of a captain: smart
and embroidered with enough piping, badges and medallions to see instantly who
is in charge; yet they seemed not entirely to fit. He was busy, at that moment,
deep in thought about how nice it would be for all the paperwork he was doing
would go away, how much of it there was and wondering why it was taking so long
to get through it. He decided to get himself a hot drink and just as he got up,
Bert walked through the door.
"Arghhh!!!" said the Captain in surprise.

"Arghhh!!!" said Bert, surprised that the captain was still here. He should
have been asleep hours ago.
"Arghhh!!!" said the Captain again, surprised
that a ghost could go "Arghhh!!!".
Bert floated back through the door. He
was a little shaken by this brief exchange, but stood outside the door for a
moment, collecting his thoughts and deciding what to do next.

The captain sat down again, shocked by what he had seen. He had been
overworking or something, he thought to himself. He would just go to sleep, and
everything would be right in the morning. He got up and walked to the door, and
managed to walk through it and the ghost before realising what he had done,
turning round to make sure, before running away, screaming.

Bert walked into the small, cramped office. In it was the item he was looking
for, the Ship-Ultra-Control-a-Tron, which he had already put in his pocket
before realising he was a ghost and didn't have any pockets and getting
thoroughly confused.

Before he could think on this matter for longer, Bert noticed that in the
corner there was a robot. It was small, square with a domed bit on its head
which was obviously trying to look like a head but failing miserably. It was
sitting, trying to work out the answer to

| 168     (cos x)(16) dx |
before realising it was, in fact,
"Hello," said Bert who had nothing better to do.
"Did you know... To
turn off the underlines in Web page links, click the Tools menu, click Internet
Options, and then click the Advanced tab?" asked the robot.
"Er, no,"
answered Bert, honestly but slightly confused as to the relevance of that
"Or... To gain space on your hard disk by deleting temporary files,
click the Tools menu, click Internet Options, and then click Delete Files?"
requested the robot.
"Er, Goodbye, robot," replied Bert, backing
"Or... Press Ctrl-W to close..."

*       *       *

Bert wondered if it was possible for a ghost to eat anything. He wasn't
hungry, but felt it would at least pass the time. He would have no use for the
Ship-Ultra-Control-a-Tron until the next ship docked, and the next scheduled
ship was not due until a week-Thursday. Bert went up to the meal synthesiser.
"Can I have some food please?" he asked the machine.
"No," it replied in a
dull mechanical voice. Its manufacturer's had given the machine a small-ish
level of intelligence before running out of money for putting in a nicer voice
due to cutbacks in the company.
"What!?!" exclaimed Bert with an Oomph which
is unusual for a ghost.
"No," it said again flatly.
Bert hit the
machine. This is difficult for a ghost to do, but Bert was so angry that he
forgot he was a ghost.
"Get lost," said the machine, "Go on, clear off, you
worthless nobody. That's right, no-body. Come on, you want to make something of
Just as Bert was about to pulverise the machine (or, more accurately,
the machine was about to pulverise him, as, unbeknownst to him and everyone else
on the ship, the food machine was actually possessed by Rik Stargogh, who was
well known for hosting the universe's leading quiz-show, and who was also a
hardened criminal to pay for the prizes, before he was killed tragically by an
inflatable elephant used in a publicity stunt), several things happened

  1. The ship lurched sickeningly while Bert stayed still, so he ended up with
    one leg through the floor. Bert looked upon this development with disgust.
  2. Alarms started to blare throughout the ship. It was clear that the ship
    was under attack.

Bert feared for his life, realised he didn't have one and relaxed. He also
realised that this was his opportunity to escape, to get away from here. He
wasn't quite sure how: he didn't like the idea of trying to cross the vacuum of
space to the other ship. He'd died once already and didn't want to repeat the
experience. Bert was convinced that there was a flaw in this logic, but it was
the best he could manage.

Just at that moment, the firing stopped. Freeing his leg, he attempted to
stride pupousefully to the airlock, but ended up just wafting along as usual.

As he neared the airlock, however, he realised he wasn't alone. Cautiously putting his head round (and partly through) the corner of the corridor
wall, he realised the ship was being boarded. This was obvious from the 5 people
corridor into the corridor waving Super Killy Hurty Zappy Blaster Gun Thingy™s,
wearing dull silver and blue striped clothes which looked like they were made of
some futuristic material (which, of course, they were). The other distinguishing
feature about them was their eye-patches, wooden legs, low-tech hooks in place
of their non-Super Killy Hurty Zappy Blaster Gun Thingy™-firing hand, holstered
sword and drunken swagger. It was obvious who they were: pirates.

"Aharr! Short Jan Copper's the name," asserted one, "now hand over the loot."

"C'mon all we want is the valuables," clarified another. Startled crew ran
in all directions, but as none of them seemed to running to get them some loot,
they decided to gain everyone's attention.

Jan fired at the wall repeatedly: not where anyone was standing, of course,
but some strayed near to where Bert was hiding. Bert retreated slightly.

"You," said Jan, fishing up an infinitely-killable ensign, "get me the loot!"
The ensign agreed, and ran away into hiding. In fact, it was probably an
exaggeration to call him infinitely-killable, as this implies that he can
be killed an infinite number of times. This is, of course, almost impossible,
and has never happened.

Except once, as Bert, during his studies found out (not personally, just from
a book). There was a spaceship. The object was to bring the ship back in time a
few seconds to test the wonderful new time travel device, manufactured by
TimeTech. Unfortunately, it was destroyed just as it was entering the very first
time-travel wormhole. The problem is, just as it is destroyed (entering the
wormhole), it reappears a few seconds earlier and gets sucked back into the
hole, where it gets destroyed again.

Hence, as the secrets of time travel were lost with the spaceship and no-one
else can travel in time and no-one wants to even try, the dream of time travel
was lost forever.

Meanwhile, it was time for action, but what could Bert do against heavily
armed pirates? Bert, in an unusual moment of clam, reflective, sensible thought
decided that the only logical thing to do was to plan, and the best place to
start was from what he knew.

What did Bert know about pirates? Well, they go "Aharr!!" a lot, swagger
drunkenly (and with good reason), stereotypically wear hooks and eye-patches,
have a strong dislike of crocodiles, never wear watches, are superstitious and
like valuable items (ie: loot).

Bert decided that only the last two items in that list were of any use to

Bert called out "I have lots of valuable items over here!" This had no effect
on the manic crew, but the effect on the pirates was immediate. They ran to the
spot where Bert was hiding, looked at him, and ran away to their ship.

Bert suddenly realised that this wasn't such a good plan as he wanted to get
off this ship. He ran (or rather floated more quickly than normal) towards their
ship, and just made it on board as it pulled away. He was on his way. And also,
he had worked out exactly where they would go.

They would go to Java the Hutt, a coffee bar just inside the
Owdam Eet system. He was able to work this out, because this was the only coffee
bar for 100 light years which Pirates liked to visit, and they were running low
on coffee as a result of a freak accident on the ship such that all the coffee
tanks were simultainiously emptied. This kind of fault is virtually unheard of
because it required a ghost to press the right buttons. Bert, meanwhile was
convinced he could make his way successfully to Urtiquel from that coffee bar.

Compu-Nach Online

You can read the rest of this story on Compu-Nach Online at

It's there and not here for several reasons, not least because I want people to visit my site.

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