MOBY-DEC: OR, THE DINOSAUR

by Carl Dyke

By special request, a Chuck Dyke classic.

Geeklit #12

Call me E-mail.  A few weeks ago — how many I can’t remember — finding myself victim of the reorganization of an edutainment software producer, and with nothing particular to interest me in the Valley, I thought I would wend my way to the Sound.  With little in my purse to show for the Daedalian years, and with evening drifting near with the rain, I passed by Marriot and Hilton to find myself at the door of  “The Mainframe,” and with heart empty as pocket entered.  Was there room for my weary head? No.  It was a busy night.  But wait.  Would I share a bed with a fellow hacker (for my pocket protector had given away my trade)? The nod of my head gave the lie to the “No” in my throat, and I accepted the key.  “But mind now! He’s something of a strange fellow” filled out the ranks of my forebodings as I ascended the three flights.

The one bed promised little to a sharer.  I stripped off as much clothing as decency allowed and comfort required, spread myself out as far as I considered to be fair to the first-comer, and turned out the light.  Thus began the lying vigil of half sleep, with its demons and its hags, all Satan sent to share my rest.  The truth, when it arrived, was no less frightening: a brownish face, dark glistening eyes, attached to a body lithe as a snake and as apt to writhe in apparent harmony to an air that I, at least, could not hear.  But the sharer of my room belied the serpentine by creating the most God awful scratching and banging as he, apparently, unpacked.  The darkness of the room allowed no other judgment as to his nature.  Whatever toilet he required was evidently soon completed, for his presence inches from me was quickly and lightly accomplished; and I breathed, for I scarce had done so since his arrival.

I thought us both composed for sleep, but of a sudden a click gave rise to an eery glow beside me, and I feared in the bowels that Satan had resumed his play.  By the blue glow of Netscape I saw that not Satan but Okidata was the author of the eery light.  Fear turned to the relief of familiarity.  The sound of the surf lulled me to sleep.

His name was Keyqueg, and he was a Jamaican, smiling and welcoming in the morning light.  He had come to the Sound on a rumor as I had come on chance.  Someone was hiring on a crew, and there could be room for us both.  “Come along, mon.”  So presently I found myself the sequel to a spectacle as I followed the Jamaican, dancing once again to his Walkman, through the streets; first the city then along a new avenue to the industrial park with its dignified landscape of wonderously instant-achieved age.  

We entered.  The chairs creaked and groaned with the restless squirming of those not wanting, but needing to be added to the growing crew: oldtimers who had been there since the beginnings of the game of life; children of the wolf and the ram, spun off into the heavens and now trying to touch earth once more; scornful and aloof beside children of the Sega, pink cheeked and untried, but sure that their share awaited them.  

One by one they — we — approached the table, where sat a suit, sober and staid, ready to reject, reluctant to enroll.  Dozens were turned away while we sat, I beside Keyqueg, he working his Mojo.  Does my lot, I pondered, hang on that heathen charm? And yet mayhap it did; for we were called and, tested, passed on inside, inscribed.  My theological doubts were not laid to rest, but quieted for the time.  Had I known then what I now know, no quiet would have succeeded against the urgings of my Bahai beginnings.

We were on board.  Those who had passed the scrutiny of the suit were of no less ethnic and geographic dispersal than those from whom they were culled.  Who was it that required this Noah’s ark of the races? And why? We were not immediately to know, for our first contact was not with those who would limn our fate, but with those who would share it: the supervisors.

Billy was the improbable chief supervisor, a Micronesian who never spoke above a whisper, but whose leadership was justly legendary.  He stared at us from the front of the room with an insipid smile tucked behind equally insipid glasses.  No one could have dreamed that such a face could have been placed amongst us to command, yet command it did, as we, as legions before us, would soon be rendered witness.  If eyes are windows of the soul, Billy’s soul was a mystery, and one could feel the mystery drawing one in, opaquely yet with promise of kaleidoscopic lucidity.

Mac was the assistant supervisor.  He was of surly mien, yet stories were told of his youthful idealism and optimism: gone now, one suspects, a victim of the years spent with Billy standing in his every possible aperture of advancement.  So that by now the trust he had once inspired had evaporated to the point that  even his successes were gnawed to the skeptical bone by the rumor of his selling out.

We would be divided into three teams: one with Billy, one with Mac, and one with Java, a young Indonesian reputed to be a genious and to have been everywhere in the world during his few young years.  The older of us knew little of him; the younger secretly hoped that their fate and his would be in the same boat.  Keyqueg was chosen quickly by Billy, and I, in wonder how my Jamaican friend and talisman accomplished it, discovered that I too would share their time on DEC.

DEC.  Here I must detour, for misconceptions and myths abound in idle talk about the beasts whose vitals consume our quests; the supers, the parallels, the minis, the micros, and the dark misbegotten hybrids and avatars between.  Each generation inherits and surpasses the one before, variation amplifying variation in a generic and specific oedipism of electronic lineage.

The Crays. Great giants within which only just less great giants lock in computational coition; screaming frenzies of digits.

The Parallels. Ants nests of cooperative mediocrity with canny pheremonal pathways guiding an exquisite division of labor into exquisitely meaningless parts, then reassembling these parts to meaning once again.

The Mainframes.  A variegated clade of Abacus digitalis; the muscle flexors, tendon tensors, spermacetes of and and not.

The Minis.  All business; the CPA’s and actuaries of all the estuaries of international business; or servers, bustling messages of some or little moment into space and back again to soothe the solipsistic millions into complacent confidence that yes indeed someone is there.  “My numbers are their numbers; it is, by god, a cosmos.”

The Micros.  One on every desk; in every briefcase yet another: formats, spreadsheets, documents; electronic superhighways, inventorial byways, 8000 Dow and thirty billion games of solitaire.

And where in all of this the DEC? They are an early sport from ancient times when the eastern shores of the United States spawned the beast: before the breeding grounds encircled the other great ocean of the world.  Too small to be big, too big to be small their niche space is now modest as is their power.  Not every hopeful monster sends on its progeny to fulfill the hope.  And now we return.

We waited still.  The CEO was reported in the roadstead, but to us the prospects of his arrival dimmed in our impatience.  Presently his second in command, Starbuck, rolled in an urn of coffee, one supposes, to fill our time.  And so it did for the moment, but then the edge produced increased our tension and unease.  Who was this impending fellow, what was his will, what was our fate in his hands.  Were we to be driven mad on his purpose to fulfill some lunatic task of his device?

And then he appeared, and was introduced; not a mystery, but Scarhabov, a Russian whose genius was legend among us.  What was his business here with us?! A suspicion vague as the sea yet real as the sun crept through us, and yea that suspicion was to be confirmed.  His turn towards us showed a face still youthful and vital, but with a horrid livid scar newly etched so deep it seemed to reach down into his soul.  He lost no time.  “We set ourselves to conquer Big Blue!” he roared, thus confirming us.  “We shall not rest until he lies beaten at our feet.”

On the DEC? We thought as one.  There is the madness to which we are brought.  But he had anticipated this very thought and knew how to flatter and cajole.  He knew our egos and our fantasies.  He knew that we would undertake the task.  Before he ever ceased to speak we all were his.

And so we set out.  Day after day we hacked at the unwilling flesh of the DEC, shift after shift.  Billy’s crew gave way to Mac’s and then to Java’s and then we were back again.  Weeks into the odyssey we still were far from sight of Big Blue.  Scarhabov prowled the DEC, not knowing, we conjectured ‘mongst ourselves, what he saw or what he looked for.  One day he took to his tiny office and closed the door.  For days it remained in this impassive state, ’til finally Starbuck, carrying coffee, braved the portal, opened it, and went inside.  The rest of us could only gossip what went on between them, but Starbuck’s ministrations seemed to have a sobering effect.  He opened the door and called for Danish and more coffee.  Several hours later Scarhabov again circled the DEC.

The DEC had changed.  A maze of cable now connected it to a roomful of boards and drives; flotillas of micros tied up alongside dedicated to microtasks; tapes and discs and data bases spliced into macrotasks.  Where the DEC had once hummed with activity it now whined with hyperactivity.  The changing of the shifts were occasion for the most ungodly strife.  Mac had never really been compatible with Billy, and now at each change of crew they stood irreconcilable on their own platforms and screamed at changes, real or imagined, that one had made as if to confound the other.  Only Keyqueg, rocking to his silent melody rode placid o’er the storm.  

Those of us entrusted with minor tasks kept watch for signs that Big Blue was in reach, but only a navigator trained in Hell could have charted a straight course to the fate we sought.  Instead we coiled,  patched, and cannibalized until what once had been the DEC resembled nothing more or less than the labyrinths of my former trade.  To cool the electronic frenzy great snakes of air conditioning ducts panted and gasped, adding a drone pipe to the squirl of computation.  Was such a thing to walk in Fisher’s shoes? Or would our attempts at digital blasphemies damn us?

One gloomy morning over coffee, Starbuck remonstrated with Scarhabov, whose wound was purple now in the light of the monitors.  It was our shift.  Billies shift.  But Scarhabov was soul in charge. We all could feel it.  A test the day before had shown not the glimpse of Big Blue we had peeled our eyes for, but a possible sealane to its lair.  With all other paths, we knew in our  hearts, denied us, we were suddenly afforded the temptation of a demonic possibility stumbled upon by chance.  By a fluke we had discovered how we might hack our way into Big Blue itself.  We needed only the courage and faith to try.

We settled into place. Keyqueg readied himself to launch the attempt.  Starbuck cleared the cups and spoons.  Scarhabov glowed in anticipation.  Billy remained enigmatically insipid, but even he could not suppress the oozing signs of his excitement.  We pawns stood in readiness to do their bidding.  Zoltan the Rom hummed softly to himself.

Then for the first time in weeks the room was in a deathly hush.  We waited as Keyqueg sat poised, listening to the depths.  A purgatorial eternity went by.  Then his hands flashed over the keyboard.  The Dec began to whine again then scream.  The tapes and CD’s whirled and squirled anew.  The room began to pulse.  “We’ve got in,” Keyqueg roared and we could feel the very moment when the DEC was no longer in control but was, in truth, possessed by a power far greater than it had ever been created for.  It could not withstand the awful power/knowledge onslaught.  The smoke began to pour from every seam.  The frequency of its once intolerable screaming increased.  Without pause it cast us back against the walls, and back and back again.  Save Scarhabov, who now so close was not to be pushed aside.  He lept upon the smoking Dec, now so hot that his livid scars were new seared. He tried to get away, but caught in the airconditioning coils his every effort only bound him tighter.  “Thar she blows!!” The noise!  I could not stand the fathomless pain of noise!.  My thrashing hand encountered a now familiar object, Keyqueg’s Walkman.  I clapped the earphones over my ears, and on the waves of music swooned away.

The nightmare is over now.  Only I, saved by  chance, survive in sanity.  The others think their private thoughts and stare at things that I, at least, cannot discern.

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