One Candle Flame In A Dark Corner #1
At the time of the New Moon, all sorts of strange things happen around here. On the other hand, it could be argued that if odd things didn't happen, that would be truly remarkable. And everyone would be going round on edge, waiting for something really spectacular to happen in the absence of a host of small things.
It's like living in an earthquake zone. As long as there are lots of small weird things going on, everyone knows that the secret powers that rule our world are not storing up a Big One, which will bring that world crashing down about our ears. If the small stuff stops, that's a sign that we should start to run and keep on running until we run out of running room.
Most of the 'events' are routine disappearances. People put things down, look away and they're gone. Most of the time, they turn up again in some unlikely place. But sometimes, they never ever come back. A lot of people believe that the authors of these disappearances are in league with the firms which manufacture these items.
The things that disappear are invariably inexpensive items. People replace them without thinking twice. But the cost of large numbers of small items soon mounts up to serious amounts of cash.
The writer knew that something was happening but he was unable to narrow the sensation down further. He lifted his head from its contemplation of his monitor screen and looked round the newsroom in search of enlightenment. He found Pierson Day almost at once.
The deputy editor was standing in the doorway of his office, looking toward the writer's work station. When eyes met eyes, the Feck-Meister stabbed a finger in the writer's direction then he turned a thumb over his shoulder, aiming it at the interior of his office.
The writer attacked his work station, finishing his sentence, then he headed for the office compartment. The shutter-blinds were closed, giving privacy in an open, glass-clad space.
"That piece you did on spontaneous human combustion," Day remarked when the writer was standing in front of his desk.
"Redo it and get it right this time?" the writer ventured.
"Leave it as it is, no matter what anyone else tells you. Okay?"
The writer put on a frown.
Pierson Day handed him a printed memo derived from an e-message; presumably from the era when the messaging system was working reliably. The gist of the message was that the relevant features editor was wondering if they should be 'indulging such pseudo-science'.
"This from the bloke who though he'd done something dead great by poaching an astrologer from a rival when he was working in London?" said the writer.
Pierson Day nodded majestically. "My sentiments entirely. So we're going to tough this one out. Okay?"
"Fine by me." The writer sensed that there was some sort of power struggle going on and that he was probably doomed whichever side he took.
"Okay, off you go."
The writer turned and headed for the door.
"And by the way, you're in the archive this afternoon. Keep your eyes open, okay?"
"Okay." The writer gave the only possible answer before he returned to his work station.
"You're not looking too chewed," remarked Sally Lee, his neighbour, as he sat down on his ergonomic swivelling chair.
"What would you do if you found yourself on the Feck's side of a power struggle?" the writer asked.
"Panic," laughed Sally. "Without delay."
"Yes, that sounds the only sensible thing to do in the circumstances," the writer acknowledged.
"I thought they'd got the messaging system switched off?" The writer clicked on the 'OK' button to find out if anyone wanted to get in touch with him. He suspected that his message senders were just copying junk to him.
Nothing happened. The writer clicked on the button again. Nothing happened again. The writer clicked again. He noticed that the graphic which made the button look like it was being depressed when clicked wasn't working. He tried to close the pop-up box. It refused to go away. He tried to drag it to the edge of the screen. It wouldn't budge.
Becoming irritated, the writer tried to gain the attention of the word processing program to regain access to his article. He could move the mouse pointer around but his work station was ignoring all attempts to communicate with it via mouse clicks and the keyboard.
"Shit!" said the writer. "My system froze up when I clicked on the message thing."
"Yes, mine's just done the same," Sally complained.
The writer switched off the power and let his work station go to sleep. Then he powered up again - and received a telling off for not closing the software down in a regulation fashion. With a sinking heart, he retrieved his article. In fact, he had lost just the last few words of his last-typed sentence.
"Bollocks!" Sally Lee complained at his side. She had suffered a greater loss.
"The Feck, I've just got a message pop-up." Trevor Mercur rotated his ergonomic swivelling chair to face his colleagues. "What did you click on that caused your system to crash?"
"The 'OK' button," said the writer.
"Me, too," Sally added.
"Oh, come on! The Feck!" burst from Trevor Mercur when he was facing his work station again.
"What did you do?" the writer asked.
"Bloody nothing," said Mercur. "I just tried to move the pop-up and everything's frozen."
"Bastard!" burst from Andras Ektors, who sat behind the writer. "I've just got a pop-up and it's crashed me, too."
The writer consulted his phone book. He dialled the number for the network supervisor, wondering if he was about 99th in a queue of calls. To his surprise, he got through right away. "This is Mpet-One," he said, giving his log-on identity, "calling from the newsroom. I've just had a new message pop-up and it keeps crashing my work station."
"The messaging system is switched off," a somewhat bored male voice told him.
"Really? Well, the messaging system has also crashed Slee-Two, Aekt-One and Tmer-One in exactly the same way," the writer pointed out. "Which is not half bad for something that's switched off."
"Hang on," said the male voice, slightly less bored. Scepticism had replaced a measure of the boredom.
"They're telling you the system's switched off?" Trevor Mercur asked indignantly.
"It's easier to call someone a liar than fix a problem." The writer neglected to cover the microphone of the telephone handset to give the bored voice an idea of the strength of feeling in the newsroom.
"What happens when you restart your work station?" said the voice on the phone.
"I get another pop-up box and the whole thing freezes again," the writer said. "And it gets shirty with me for not switching off in a regulation fashion."
"Okay, I think it's just a cluster problem. Is there anyone else near you affected? Apart from the three you mentioned?"
"Anyone else getting lock-ups when the message box comes up?" the writer called to his colleagues, who had been checking what was happening to their neighbours. "No, he said into the phone, "looks like it's just us four."
"Okay, can you shift to other work stations while we address the problem?" said the telephone voice.
"Do we have a choice?" the writer asked.
"What do you think?" said the voice on the phone.
"I think this is a hell of a way to run a railroad, that's what I think," the writer told him. "How long are you going to be?"
"Half to three-quarters of an hour, with any luck."
"Right, we'll move, then." The writer replaced his receiver and switched off his work station. Then he told his colleagues what was happening.
"Let's see if we can get as far away from here as possible," Sally Lee suggested.
"Right. The Feck's going to think we're on strike or something when he sees the four empty desks," laughed Andras Ektors.
Sometimes, what disappears is our ability to perform our normal daily tasks. Sometimes, the complex mechanisms, which we use more or less without thinking, become corrupted with evil influences and fail.
Their external appearance remains unchanged, some of the components appear to work when we operate them, but the heart is gone from the device. It is but a hollow shell, awaiting restoration by the wizards who minister to such work-aids. And we humbler mortals can only disperse to the far reaches of the realm in search of regions which have not been affected by - the evil.
Pierson Day was looking quite annoyed when he tracked the writer down to his refuge, half an hour later. The writer was lurking on the fringes of the newsroom at a point that was the most remote from all exits.
"The feck are you doing over here?" Pierson Day demanded.
"The messaging system, which is switched off, keeps crashing my work station and the ones next to it when it tries to deliver a message," the writer told him.
"You expect me to believe that load of old fanny?" scoffed Day.
"I've reported the situation to the network supervisor and it's being addressed even as we speak. Allegedly."
"Sounds like bollocks to me," scoffed Day.
"You're welcome to question the other victims of this strange event and see if their stories match mine in every detail. Or contact the network supervisor."
"Some of us have got more important things to do with our time," the Feck-Meister said importantly.
"Other than chewing me up for not using my usual work station?" The writer tried for a bantering tone.
"Yes, Mr. waste-of-space feckan science correspondent. Great Inventions of the 20th Century?" Pierson Day demanded, his tone dripping with sarcasm. "And you came up with the feckan fridge magnet?"
"If you think about it", the writer returned, unfazed, "it's a brilliant concept. Large, otherwise unused expanses of metal converted into cheap, efficient notice boards using incredibly cheap to manufacture magnets, the profit margin on which can be truly staggering for designer magnets."
"Yes, really. And they're in every home. Huge market penetration. I bet you've got some yourself. Greatness can be about simplicity and utility as well as bulk and great cost."
"Yes, well, I want something a whole lot more interesting for the next piece. If that's okay with you, Mr. feckan science correspondent?"
"How does the laser grab you? An invention without any obvious uses in the Sixties, soon to become one of the foundations of the communications industry."
"Better. By the way, when you start writing about government by Corruption, Cronyism and Control-freakery, it's quicker and shorter to talk about the Blair Years."
"I would submit that people will soon be saying 'Blair who?' But the 3 C's will be long remembered, if not cherished."
"The feck," Pierson Day said in disgust as he turned for his office, admitting the truth of the observation without saying as much.
The writer sat and frowned at the pop-up message box, baffled.
"Hey, the messaging system is working again," one of his new neighbours said in a tone of quite inappropriate delight.
The writer sat still and waited for howls of protest when people discovered that the messages were harbingers of doom, heralds of lost data. No such thing happened.
The writer reached for his mouse, moved the pointer and clicked on the OK button.
|The messaging system has been restored to all areas.|
MPet-1 and the others may resume their usual work stations.
Away from the cursed regions of our realm, there are places where reasoned arguments are accepted and even the most proud and unbending of our rulers will, occasionally, acknowledge that others may find the truth.
Alas, our places of refuge are available to us only temporarily. The evil is cast out from the cursed regions, we return to them and the evil returns in its turn. Such is our fate - to endure endless cycles of flight, hope and resumed torture.
"Fancy some spicy pasta for lunch?" Sally Lee asked the writer. "Cheer you up before you have to do your time in the dreaded archive?"
"Sounds good to me." The writer looked over at a wall clock. "Ten minutes?"
"Fine. I'll get my messages done. Hmm! Only ten of them." Sally began to screen the messages for content and value.
The writer had his mouse pointer strategically positioned. He typed on, waiting.
|You Now Have 12 Unread Messages|
The writer dabbed at his left mouse button, telling the pop-up box to go away, and carried on typing with scarcely a pause.
|You Now Have 13 Unread Messages|
The writer zapped the pop-up box again. He was not in the mood for having his life wasted on a lot of pointless messages from people who were abusing the technology.
|Your Read Later Box Is Now Full|
Feeling persecuted, the writer zapped that pop-up box, too.
|Your Local Mail Trash Bin Is Now Full|
Another pop-up box disappeared as silently as it had arrived. The writer had switched off the gadget which made appropriate cute noises for e-message related information.
|You Now Have 14 Unread Messages|
The writer pressed Ctrl-Alt-H, hoping that using the keyboard instead of the mouse would have more effect, and typed on. He was bloody well going to finish his article if it bloody well killed him. And if he ended up beating his monitor to death with his ergonomic swivelling chair, then it would not be his fault.
I am being haunted.
I am being persecuted.
There are spirits abroad which are determined to make my life a misery.
But I shall not surrender to their evil influence.
I shall find a way to strike back.
I shall be victorious.
Great will be the death and destruction in the ranks of the Evil Ones on the day of my victory.
There will be much wailing but no gnashing of teeth because I shall have knocked all the bastards out!
And on that glorious day, I shall
|You Now Have 15 Unread Messages|
The writer pressed Ctrl-Alt-H one last time and logged off without delay. "You fit?" he asked his neighbour.
"Spicy pasta, here I come," said Sally. "I think those must have been the most unnecessary messages I've ever had."
"A record which is unlikely to survive your afternoon," the writer said gloomily.