When I wrote this parody in 1994, the Internet was just beginning to dawn on the consciousness of most personal computer users, and was still strongly associated with Linux. IS departments hated employees who had their own ideas of how to run a computer (well, some things don’t change).
I wanted an assignment, and for my sins they gave me one. An assignment that would snake across the company like a network cable–plugging me straight into Kurtz. There is no way to tell his story without telling my own; and if his story is an algorithm, then so is mine.
I was brought into the MIS office, where the big guy was waiting with a couple of lackeys. One of the lackeys spoke first. “Willard, on November 13th, you installed a bootleg copy of PKZip on your computer, did you not?”
I answered the only way I could. “I know nothing about that operation. And if I did, I would not be predisposed to discuss it at this time.”
This seemed to satisfy him. “Have you ever heard of Mr. Kurtz? He’s in Accounting; kind of a department guru.”
The big guy interrupted him. “He’s been doing some object-oriented programming, and his methods have become…unsound.”
The other lackey stepped forward with a tape recorder. “This has been verified as Mr. Kurtz’s voice mail.” He pressed Play.
A eerie voice emerged from the tinny speaker. “I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a floppy disk. That is my dream and my nightmare–to leave slime upon my data.”
The big guy looked at me. “He’s out there, writing his own code, making macros for his co-workers, using software we haven’t approved, operating without any shred of corporate propriety.
“Your mission,” he continued, “is to journey up to Accounting and terminate Mr. Kurtz’s networking privileges.” He leaned over his desk and said with emphasis: “Terminate, with a full reboot.”
Accounting. In the Quan Trang Building. Shucks. That meant I had to cross the street. The guys in IS never think about the details. It also meant I’d have to deal with Kilgore, who ran that building’s Office Services Department.
I found him backing up his system. “I love the sound of tape drives in the morning. It sounds like…security.”
“I’ve got orders taking me into Accounting,” I said. “Can you get me past the reception desk?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “The receptionist is pretty hairy.”
“Accounting?” said one of Kilgore’s loyal workers. “Do you know Charlie in Accounting? He has a new Sun Workstation with TCP/IP support.”
This got Kilgore excited. “TCP/IP support? C’mon, let’s go try it out.”
“You can’t do that,” someone objected. “That workstation belongs to Charlie.”
“Hey,” cried Kilgore, “Charlie don’t surf the ‘net.”
We burst by the receptionist humming “Ride of the Valkyries,” and went straight to Charlie’s cubicle. Kilgore threw Charlie out of his chair, stripped to the waist, and logged onto the Internet. With people like Kilgore around, what did they have against Kurtz?
I left Charlie’s cube and continued my journey. The entire floor smelled of bad ventilation and burning chips. I stuck my head into another cube to ask directions. “Hey, can you direct me to Kurtz?”
The man inside looked at me with frightened eyes. “Never get out of the loop.”
Never get out of the loop. He was right. Kurtz had got out of the loop.
The Heart of Access
He was close. He was real close. I could sense it. He was really, really close.
Boy, was he close.
And then, there they were. Hundreds of accountants, painted yellow with highlighters, threatening me with sharpened pencils. From their midst came a jittery man with longish hair and a beard. “Hey, man, don’t go in there, man. Like, he’s expecting you, but don’t go in there, man. I drink eighteen cups of coffee a day, man. He’s like an operating system, man. You know what he said to me, man? Just the other day, like, he said I was a virus in his boot sector, but then he just…he just grabbed me and kicked me in the groin, man. He’s amazing, man.”
I pushed passed him, and found myself staring at the severed heads of untold hard disk drives. Then I entered Kurtz’s private office.
It smelled like a slow disk in there. This was the end of the network.
It was dark, but I could see Kurtz’s round, hairless face illuminated by one carefully-placed spotlight. Outside, Kurtz’s accountants began to slowly, rhythmically perform an Israeli folk dance.
“Are you from Personnel?” he asked.
“I’m a system administrator.”
He looked at me with contempt. “You are an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill.”
I responded the only way I could. “What?”
“I was once like you,” he said, sucking a lemon. “But then I saw OS/2, and NT, and I realized, as if I’d been hit on the head with a diamond anvil, that I needed more RAM.”
He wanted me to do it. More than anything, he wanted me to do it. Outside, the dancing was picking up speed. Hands were clapping and joyous whoops were heard.
So I did it. I went to the back of his computer and severed the network cable.
I was wrong. He hadn’t wanted me to do it. He got out of his chair and angrily went for me. But he slipped on a slimy floppy disk and fell on his back.
Lying there, he looked out at his accountants, holding hands while they danced in a circle. Then he looked at me.
“The hora,” he sighed. “The hora.”