The Petrollica Affair (v)

2 Apr

The Network

“Well, my son,” grinned Hoover, “wod’ya fink?”

“It’s very, very strange.”

“All it’s missin’ Bleepy Boy is a name,” said Hoover, to a look of contempt from his henchmen.  “We’re still arm wrestling over that.”

“Where did it come from?” asked Bleep, dismayed.

“Secrets is secrets,” said Aristotle, stuffing a pony in Bleep’s pocket.

“Gypsies,” said Einstein, removing the pony.  “I know these Gypsies who run a rubbish tip out of town.  They flogged us a mile of TV cable they found.”

“Found?”

“More discovered,” said Aristotle, reinserting the pony.

“In all honesty,” said Bleep, “it’s very, very scary.  In fact, it frightens the living bejesus out of me.”

“Whatever do you mean?” asked Einstein.  “I hope you’re not deriding our masterpiece.”

“Our baby,” added Aristotle, patting the thing.

In front of my friend, stretched out lengthways on a well worn wooden bench lay a contorted monster, the mother of all cabling nightmares, nestling in a pool of its own putrid slime.  In construction, the creature was comprised of a huge life affirming double helix, wrapped loosely about itself, forming a central core off which two hundred and ten satin black arms hung limply, each terminating in a shiny silver connector which to the uninitiated could easily be mistaken for an eye.  The graft-point where arm and helix met was bound tightly with gaffer tape, creating a series of compact nodules, reminiscent of eggs sacs – which provided a clue as to the creature’s reproductive habits.  There was no way it could be trustfully left alone with your children, your pets or the contents of your larder, not if you ever wanted to see them again.  All the mother of cabling nightmares required to bring it into being was a jolt of electricity from a lightning storm.  Come the aftermath, the all-seeing bald behemoth would undoubtedly be last glimpsed slithering away into the drains, chased by dozens of villagers armed with burning brands and pitchforks.

“It looks like twenty one point two five octopuses engaged in some bizarre mating ritual,” said Bleep.

“Excuse me?” said Einstein, threateningly.

“Octopuses have eight arms,” coughed Bleep.  “Do the maths.”

“My partner is not questioning your skills at division, but your use of the English language,” said Aristotle.

“Twenty one and a quarter then.”

“Twenty one and a quarter what?” asked Einstein.  “And the answer better be octopi.”

Bleep paused for a second, to take a swig of gin.  “The network just sat there glistening, covered in a layer of Vaseline, staring at you malevolently through hundreds of tiny eyes, like it was waiting for something to happen.”

I began to snigger.  “Perhaps it was waiting for Professor Quatermass to come along and give it a proper fight.”

Bleep gave me a look of thunder.  “IT was anything but funny, mate.”

After the boys had finished melding the mother of all nightmares together on the bench, they found they couldn’t shift it out of Reg’s garage, it was just too weird and heavy.  Hoover was forced to drape a tarp over it, so as not to scare any more passers by.  Then, on Saturday morning he got one of his mates with a forklift truck to move it into Aristotle and Einstein’s Bedford so they could deliver it to Petrollica in one piece.

“Bleep,” said Babyface, stepping from the pavement into the road.  “I have no idea what you’re playing at, dragging me halfway across town to Petrollica’s offices in my lunch break.  This better be good.”

“Oh, it’s good,” said Bleep, displaying all the skills of a regular traffic cop as he directed the traffic around a parked-up off-white Bedford van with an obscene drawing of an erect penis etched in the filth of the back doors, its three hazard warning lights flashing merrily away.

Babyface took a step back, and in that diligent way of his began to survey the scene, quickly directing his attention to two oddball workmen dressed in badly fitting faded blue overalls, tugging desperately on a length of thick rope.

A head popped out of a sash window some five storeys above the street.  “Pull, one two free,” it shouted at the workers, in a gruff gravely tone.

Babyface’s eyes followed the rope, all the way up to a makeshift pulley, erected against the superstructure of the building and then back down again to a cradle suspended in mid-air.  The angles were confusing, which prevented the baby faced one from making out the contents.  As he contemplated what was occurring, the rope snagged, causing the cradle to come to a jarring halt.  A single menacing tentacle fell out, its silvery eye staring blankly downwards, its pupil filled with malice.

“What… is that?”

“Shush,” said Bleep.  “It might hear you.”

“What might hear me?” said Babyface quizzically.  “Have you been drinking?”

“Have you?”

“You first.”

“We had a jar or two on the way,” interrupted Aristotle, “it ain’t half thirsty work, this networking.”

“And you are?”

“Aristotle, Intellectual Networks.  The one with the rope around his middle – that’s Einstein, my partner.”

“Afternoon,” waved Einstein.

“They call me Babyface,” said the baby faced one.  “I’m the code-head responsible for making all the communications software work.  I have to ask: what is that thing suspended in the air?”

“That thing,” said Aristotle emphatically, “is the network.  In Latin it’s the ‘Networkus Primus’.”

“That’s a network?”

“It’s not a network, it’s the network.  Networkus Primus.  Now stop gawping mate and get stuck in, give us a hand to pull it up there, while Bleepy Boy does his best to make sure we’re not all turned into a massive spread of strawberry street jam.”

It took an hour of pushing and pulling to get the network through the window in one piece.  By the time the gang had finished their work, there was a sizeable crowd of curious onlookers gathered below, all watching in wonder, trying to figure out what the crap was going on.  Thankfully, Petrollica’s Chief of Operations was on hand in a pastel purple suit to keep things calm and fend off the police with tales of epic endeavour against the odds, from his time in Nicaragua, while Hoover and his pals from Intellectual Networks got on with the installation.

“And how do you intend to fit this thing?” asked Babyface, now completely absorbed in the drama.

“It’s goin’ under the floor,” replied Hoover, pleased with his planning.  “We cleared it wiv Reg, he’s had all the paperwork, he’s sweet.”

Aristotle and Einstein nodded at each other.  “Under the floor it goes.  Let’s get them boards up and get cracking, networks don’t install themselves.”

“It’s for the best,” said Bleep, taking Babyface to one side.  “They CAN’T leave it exposed, it’s evil!  I’m scared of it and I know what it is.”

“What it is,” said Babyface screwing up his face in contemplation, “is a hybrid between every single networking topology known to man, and a few more that are still to be invented.  They haven’t used one idea, they’ve used every idea.  You know there’s not a cat in hell’s chance of this thing ever working.”

“I know I’m not touching it, whether it works or not.  I’m from the Valleys, remember.  When my forefathers dug up anything like that down the mines, they belted it with shovels and set fire to what was left.  I know the stories, my Gran warned me about things like that.”

“Relax,” said Babyface, “it’s inert.  It wouldn’t harm a fly.”

“Only because a fly has no nutritional value and dead-end DNA.”

“I’ll show you,” said Babyface, reaching out to pick up a tentacle and recoiling in horror as soon as he touched it.  “Urgh!  That’s not right.”

“I told you!” squealed Bleep.

“It feels sort of alive, as in the dead sort of alive that nothing has the right to be.”

“It’s an abomination, that’s what it is.  An affront to God’s creation.”

While Babyface and Bleep discussed the merits or otherwise of the network, Aristotle and Einstein set to, pulling and pushing at the beast, ramming it under the floor, placating it with rubber mallets and crowbars where necessary to ensure it didn’t resist.  Under instruction from Hoover, who grasped the master floor plan like it was a map to hidden pirate treasure, they pulled the connectors out in pairs at what looked like appropriate points, intending that each set be connected to a ‘puta.

“We’re all done nah,” said Hoover.  “I’ve got me some lads comin’ in Sunday to finish orf the ‘putas, so you can go ‘ome.  Or dahn the pub.  You’re bohf as white as sheets, you look like you need a large stiff one.”

“And you have every confidence that this thing will function as designed?” asked Babyface incredulously.

“Are you questioning the operational capabilities of Aristotlestein?” asked Aristotle.

“Hooverstein!” insisted Hoover.

“I still like Einsteinstein,” said Einstein, to a look of derision from his two colleagues, who both agreed it was the least sensible suggestion of the three.

“There’s a pair of ‘putas in the van,” said Hoover.  “While we argue the toss, why don’t you go get ‘em like a pair of good girl guides and I’ll proof to you it works.”

“And?” I asked, suppressing a snigger.

“By the time we got back, they’d reached a ‘rock, paper, scissors’ agreement.  Hooverstein it was.”

“I mean did it work?”

“Babyface and I were both extremely sceptical, until Hoover powered those ‘putas up, plugged them into his monster and everything burst into life.  Don’t ask me how, I really, truly don’t have a clue.  I’ve worked with hardware for most of my life and by all the laws of physics it had no right to be anything other than an inert lump of copper and plastic.”

“Once you bring a monster to life, it’s powered by the supernatural,” I quipped.  “Everyone knows that.”

“Stop taking the piss.”  Bleep looked around furtively.  “IT might hear you.”

“I do believe you’re serious.”

“Of course I am!  I’ve just told you something I’ve never told another living soul.  Babyface and I made a pact there and then, on that day in the pub, never to mention the network ever again.  And under no circumstances were either of us to lift any floorboards and take a look.  Ever.”

“What about Ronnie and Reg?”

“Ronnie wouldn’t go near something he couldn’t frighten and Reg was totally oblivious, he had no idea his new network was a malevolent grotesque.  Babyface and me, we figured our mission was to install the server software and some telex boxes, no questions asked.  So we went back on the Sunday afternoon, did what we were paid to do and left pronto, intending from that point onwards to hand over to the trainers and the support engineers and never set foot inside Petrollica again.”

“But you did.”

“Obviously we did, that’s how these things work.  Now, get the ciders in while I go for a slash, then I’ll tell you what happened next.”

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