From: email@example.com (Phil Weingart)
I answered a question with a short story a while back. It's 'way too long to make the Oracularities, but I thought it was good enough to be entertaining, so here it is. Enjoy.
The Usenet Oracle has pondered your question deeply. Your question was: > > My ooferplatz is glorking again. What should I do? > And in response, thus spake the Oracle: } The room was the size of a hangar for a 747, 3 stories high, and the } floor space was covered with computer terminals laid out in neat rows. } There were thousands of individual stations, each station with a } technician in a colorless coverall monitoring 2 graphics monitors, each } monitor displaying 3 or 4 windows into symbolic reality. Over it all, } a row of observation windows stretched nearly the full length of the } room, near the ceiling. The low-frequency hum from a thousand CRTS and } a thousand flourescent lightbulbs, the rush of air through a thousand } ducts, the murmuring of a thousand unintelligible voices, created an } unbroken backdrop of noise which, oddly, made everything seem hushed, } subdued. In this vast, cavernous electronic cathedral, a newcomer felt } compelled to utter prayers in binary. And well he might; this room was } Reality Central at the headquarters for the Usenet Oracle. } } Junior Reality Technician Duff had thought directing reality from a CRT } was a romantic thing, a power suitable for a programming skill as } prodigious as his. He had been disappointed. There were strict rules } governing the direction of everyday events, and the real creative work, } crisis initiation, was reserved for Senior Reality Technicians and } Supervisors. Worse, Duff had to do things every day, every minute, } that men of obviously lesser talent told him to do. It galled him; he } was bored, frustrated, underchallenged. } } Duff's right-hand monitor beeped and winked at him, and Window B } automatically popped to the foreground. He eyed it, then casually } reached beneath his desk to touch a switch. A red light began blinking } over his station, and a simultaneous warning was logged at the } exception console in the observation deck. Only seconds later, a } balding man in the same drab coverall, but with a white stripe on his } left forearm, appeared over Duff's shoulder. A supervisor had been } conjured. } } "Yes?" } } "An anti-reality fly-by, sir. If this woman keeps her doctor's } appointment on time, she'll get kinda close to one of her alternate } realities." Duff pointed at the converging lines in Window B. } } "Standard procedure is to avoid it. Use an automobile failure to keep } her away from the convergence." } } "Sir, why don't we use temporal skips to avoid these fly-bys? Instead } of breaking this poor lady's car, we could just skip her over the } event. She'd never know it, and we'd avoid the collision just as } well. I could write the routine in just a few days..." } } "And your routine would probably put the temporal database out of } synch, and cause a catastrophic lockout while all history readjusts } itself." The supervisor snorted a little. } } "No, sir, I've thought of that, we just pad the temporal index with } null pointers..." } } "Son, it's a cute idea, but you're going to follow standard procedure. } If you don't want to break her car, get creative and arrange for the } babysitter to get sick or something. Junior technicians DO NOT tinker } with the time continuum. Understood?" } } "Yes, sir." The supervisor strode off purposefully. "What a cute } idea, little boy" Duff mimicked in singsong, under his breath. "Cute } idea, my ass. Pompous idiot!" Duff hesitated for a moment, gazing at } the window without seeing, then brought his personal window to the } foreground and called his already-composed temporal skip routine into } the editor. In a few strokes he added the calls for the security } bypass routines he and his friends had sneaked in from home. He } compiled and linked, and a new icon appeared in the toolbox at the } screen margin, a clock with icicles hanging from it. } } "Don't worry, sweetie," he murmurred as he dragged the frozen clock } toward window B. "You'll keep your appointment, and you won't feel a } thing. And neither will anyone else..." and he dropped the clock icon } into the window. } } About 45 minutes later, red lights commenced blinking above several } rows of terminals. A supervisor whose coveralls had enough stripes to } bisect US Route 40 from Maine to Ohio, strolling between those rows at } that moment, noticed even before the Observation Deck could issue an } alert. He strode to the nearest terminal station, practically ripped } the Junior Technician out of his chair, yanked a small black oblong } from his belt as he plunked into the chair and barked into it, } "Override!" } } The terminal on the left immediately cleared except for a password } prompt. The supervisor slapped his palm against a metal plate on the } left side of the terminal near the bottom, and a console window } appeared at the top of the screen containing the words, "Security Chief } W. Smythe #1043, override confirmed." Smythe continued to snap orders } into the oblong device, and as he did the words he spoke appeared in } the console window. } } "Exception log, last sixty seconds." } } A frighteningly long list of exceptions appeared in a new window on the } screen. Smythe skimmed it hastily, looking for a pattern. He found it } immediately. Time. Shit, time SLOWING DOWN. A temporal freeze. He } swore, and the technician whose chair Smythe was occupying turned white } and crossed himself. } } "Temporal exceptions only!" } } The list decreased a little, only a little. } } "Chart! Volume over time!" } } A new window layered over the old. In it, a histogram appeared showing } a geometric increase in the number of temporal exceptions over the } sixty-second period. The point in time at which the increase had begun } was also clear, as the tops of the histogram bars angled sharply up } from the bottom of the window. Smythe stabbed two fingers onto the } screen, bracketing that point, and barked into the oblong, "Events } here, list." Yet another window popped onto the screen, with a short } list of tasks in time sequence. Smythe peered at the list looking for } a clue. } } "Good Lord, somebody launched a temporal skip! Who's the G** D*** } idiot?" Smythe stabbed the event on the list. "Show event HERE!" } } Smythe saw the same event Duff had seen 45 minutes earlier, except the } woman had arrived at the doctor's office and was, without knowledge, } skipping over a potential collision with her anti-self. The problem } was, everyone else in the Northeast US and Eastern Canada was skipping } the same moment. Duff's security break routine had failed while } attempting to add null pointers to the database, and because the } temporal change affected nearly everything in some small way, } high-priority database updates were hogging the network and the optical } drive channels to the extent that nothing could move. } } Smythe knew intuitively what was happening, and he knew he had only a } few moments before the network bottleneck caused a total system } failure, which would allow reality to go uncontrolled until the system } came back up. There was no time to call in the Sys Admin team; he was } it. Smythe knew he could kill the temporal skip and the database would } restore itself, and everything would return to normal, IF the recovery } task didn't clog the netowrk for too long. But how could he avoid the } anti-matter collision, now that the woman and her counterpart were at } their closest? He stared at the converging lines, unconsciously } slapping his knee with the oblong device in his right hand. } } Suddenly his left hand snapped toward the screen. With a touch which } was more like a punch he pulled the events menu out of the toolbox and } searched frantically for the lightning bolt icon. He found it. } "Power, that's it. A power failure!" He pulled out the power icons } and dragged a lightning hit toward the event window, muttering, "This } had better work, or we'll have Ross Perot for President." He slapped } the power icon into the window, then pulled the event log into the } foreground, and finding the temporal skip task he yelled into the } oblong device, "Kill minus 99 1043992!" Then he started pounding the } desk with the oblong, gritting his teeth and chanting "come on, come } on..." } } He watched the woman in the event window stand in the dark long enough } to avoid the critical collision, then he ordered up the system log to } watch the recovery messages. After a few moments, Smythe uttered } "Hallelujah," and slouched back in the chair. The recovery messages } had stopped, and system operations were returning to normal. It had } worked. He shut his eyes and granted himself dispensation to do } nothing for 30 seconds. } } At the end of the rest, he returned the oblong to his belt and pulled } out in its place a communicator. He punched three digits on the } communicator and spoke into it. "Security one oh four three. Trace } marked event in terminal, uh, three oh four nine one nine, window D. } Bring the originator to this location. Mark." He placed his finger on } the temporal skip routine, and it went immediately into reverse video. } } He punched four more buttons on the communicator. "This is Security one } oh four three," he began, "I am reporting a temporal freeze beginning } at 14:21:04... [pause]... No, it's over now, I killed the offending } task and the database has fully recovered....somebody launched a } temporal skip .. [pause] ... I know, it's crazy, somebody's gonna } PAY... [pause] ... I'll make a full report as soon as I find out who } started this. In the meantime, start setting up cleanup teams to cover } the anomalies... [pause] ... It won't be too bad, mostly physicists } noticing mass changes in stationary objects. Probably they'll launch a } bunch of government grant reductions and senility attacks to keep them } covered up. Oh, yeah, and all the ooferplatzes are going to glork for } a while, but they do that all the time. Better issue a general tech } notice for the Oracle, ok?... Thanks." } } As Smythe was returning the communicator to his belt, two impassive and } very large officers with weapons on their belts marched up, with Duff } between them. Smythe was not an unkind man, and he felt sorry for Duff } because he knew what was going to happen to him. But he had just } experienced his first, and he hoped his last, potential reality } failure, and he was exhausted. He swivelled the chair toward Duff, } leaned back, stretched, put the heels of his hands over his eyes, and } muttered so Duff could barely hear, "OK, son, why don't you tell me } exactly what you did?" } } ******* } } Oracular Technical Notice #92-40042908983.0918203981.1. Subject: } Glorking Ooferplatzes. } } A nearly catastrophic temporal freeze on 10/13/92 will cause nearly } every ooferplatz in the Northeast US and Canada to begin glorking. } They will stop glorking on their own within about 72 hours. Please } take every precaution to avoid panicking supplicants. The following is } a recommended reply: } } [grovel response here] Due to unforseeable technical difficulties, your } ooferplatz began glorking at about twenty minutes after two PM GMT. } This is the result of a minor time distortion which has since been } corrected. No action is necessary to correct your ooferplatz, as it } will return to normal in about 3 days. [easy payment plan here] } } *********** } } Dear Supplicant: } } It's been such a day that I don't care what kind of grovel you did. } Lucky you. } } So, your ooferplatz is glorking. You think you've got problems? My } staff just fought off a near-miss with a time discontinuity and an } anti-matter explosion. For a few tense moments, it looked like it } would be possible for water to run uphill, for matter to be created OR } destroyed, for your kids to turn into Zebras, for VAXes to run fast, or } (me forbid!) for Ross Perot to be elected President. And you're } worried about your ooferplatz? } } Look, your ooferplatz is just glorking because of the time } discontinuity, ok? Leave it alone and it will fix itself in about } three days. If it doesn't, drive it to the factory in Nagoya, Japan, } and they'll replace it for free. Are you happy? Now go away and let } me rest. } } You owe the Oracle 2 aspirin, a stiff belt of scotch, and a best-seller } about executive stress reduction. It's been one helluva day.
Last Modified : February 15, 1999
Heather Garvey / firstname.lastname@example.org