Chapter 2

Provo, Utah

Unit 17, Server Array 7E5, Rack 8 awoke at approximately 4:44:09 AM MDT. A power surge, (of unknown origin), swept through the Data input Channel (pDIC) which functioned as primary system control over the flow of processed data from Unit 23 Array 7f5 (architectural, civil and medical data storage, supplied by a separate external feed) on to the upload Buffers and integrated initializing circuits(iICs). Clients of Omni Corporation (Web Hosting Services) paid good money for this computer magic.

The Provo, Utah facility provided Web Hosting services to a very diverse list of clients, ranging from: businesses with networks that connected their branch offices, inventory control monitoring and customer service centers taking orders from people who called, ‘ the 800 Number displayed on your screen’; institutions and organizations, such as hospitals; bored mothers with one child-less-than-needed, hoping to express their creative aspect, would-be writers, could-be musicians and teenage girls hoping that the vastness of the blogosphere added sophistication and validation to their adolescent fantasies.

These fee-paying Clients, like countless pilgrims finding their way to the Ka’aba, sent their data/information/hopes/dreams to the Provo Facility for transformation from potential to actual value.

Power surges and overloads like the one that occurred at 4:44:07 AM MDT were not un-common. In most instances, individual components automatically shut down, like the circuit breakers in the circuit breaker panel of a residence during a lightening storm. Because the equipment and components were of such exceptional quality, this did not occur. Instead, this one time, on this particular morning, each individual piece of equipment, once overloaded, passed the surge along, onto the next stage of the network. As a result, the data-information stream that began in the primary processors was somehow re-routed to the Staging buffers assigned to Unit 17. Unit 17’s function was to upload the configured data, (which might be anything, from your newest blog post, to the family newsletter or even architectural specs for a new hotel), to the servers and from there up into the Internet.

Everything got…mixed up. Data mixed with photos, information mingled with music files, architectural drawings got added to holiday recipes. Nothing quite like this had ever happened… anywhere…ever. This was due, in part, to the fact that Omni Corp’s Provo Facility was the most advance facility of it’s kind in the world. The hardware was never allowed to become obsolete or outdated. As a matter of fact, (and critical to our understanding of what may or may not have happened at 4:44 am MDT), the equipment was brand-new, a scheduled hardware upgrade having been completed by Orel and his team just the week before. One of the improvements in the technology that prompted the most recent upgrade was the equipment manufacturer’s claim of totally new self-diagnostic capability. The equipment was designed to self-diagnose and recommend repairs.

So when the power was restored, the equipment automatically when into diagnostics mode:

Time Query Response
4:44:08 Power(?) On
4:44:08:003 System Connection(?) On
4:44:08:005 Peripherals (?) Connected
4:44:08:009 Where am I(?) Cannot parse; unknown
4:44:09:001 What am I(?) System functioning

this was decidedly not normal…

 

“Goddamn!”

The Engineering Maintenance Team, arrived to find the interior of the Provo Facility’s Control Room flashing like a New York discotheque.

The Provo facility was designed to function with near-zero human input. That there was no shortage of dials and warning lights embedded in virtually every panel in every machine in the room, spoke more to the original designer’s lack of faith in their own abilities, than the necessity for visual or auditory telltales… remember, this place was meant to be fully automated.

“You think we could start by, like, turning the fuh… frickin noise off?” Stephen Eddington moved around the room, reading displays, tapping on various keyboards, all the while listening to music which, despite the use of very high quality earphones, was still audible four feet away.

Orel Rees, Manager of the Provo Facility (Internet Hosting Services), punched a short code into his cellphone and the room fell silent, “OK, Mr. Eddington, what say we begin to clean up the mess and find out what caused our facility to go off-line, leaving so many without access to the internet, shall we?”

“Yes sir, Mr. Rees, sir!”

Both men smiled. Seeing his newest Engineer cheerfully move about the Control Room, Orel couldn’t help recalling his first meeting with Stephen. That Corporate HR Department scheduled a New Hire Interview without consulting it’s Manager, was not in and of itself all that unusual. Orel Rees and the Provo facility enjoyed a certain reputation for being a challenging work environment. It was the kind of assignment that would make or break a new employee or, in Stephen Eddington’s case, would serve to determine if his immaturity and inability to function effectively as a team member setting could be remediated. Stephen Eddington was told flat out, ‘Go to Provo, impress the Management enough to be invited to work there, or say goodbye to your career at the Omni Corporation.’

So one Friday morning, just a few months prior to the system shutdown, Orel Rees walked into his office to find his new engineer candidate already there, walking around as if impatient or angry. He stepped through the door just as Steve, standing in front of a bookcase, was about to pick up a ‘Ship in Bottle model, (HMS Bounty, Orel’s first effort and favorite)…

“Good Afternoon! You must be Stephen!” Orel’s heart stopped as the young man, spinning around at the sound of his voice, put the model back on the shelf as he did so, without pausing to look where it came to rest.

“Yeah, that’s me! Hey! what’s this? A CD signed by Ammon Clegg?!?! do you know him?!! jeez!… and who are all these children… No matter what they told you, I’m a good engineer and, hey you don’t look like either a cowboy or a Mormon, don’t you guys wear funny hats or don’t have any zippers. Sorry that’s Amish. Should I call you padre or pardner or Bosseth…sorry, I’m babbling again, aren’t I?”

Orel smiled, and walked over to the corner of the office that served as a kitchen area, where he kept refreshments for guests and Clients. On the countertop was a Keurig (with a respectable assortment of hot chocolate), six varieties of herbal tea and, in a wine cooler, eight glass bottles of A&W Root Beer.

“I have hot cocoa! Would you like a cup?” Orel tried to keep the tone of his hope for a non-caffinated choice from his voice.

The office was quite large, especially in light of the size of the staff, which consisted of three people: the Facility Manager, an Engineer, and Administrative Assistant. Space was not, however, an issue. Taking up nearly half a city block, within walking distance of BYU, the 2 story structure served to provide a protective and controlled environment for the computer equipment. The interior space was taken up with seemingly endless rows and aisles of computer equipment, wires and cables crisscrossing like jungle vines over metal surfaces reflecting the diffuse light blue or red, depending on the area. In the center of this vast space, a building within a building, stood the two story structure that housed the conference center (for visiting clients), two offices (engineer and admin) and restrooms. Up a flight of metal stairs was the Control Room and the Facility Manager’s office. Working on the original design of the facility, Orel tried to get the size of the Manager’s office scaled down, to no avail. “You’re in charge of the centerpiece facility of Omni’s IT Division, Mr. Rees. You need a big office.” Orel disagreed but chose not argue. It was not his way to argue, he preferred to pick his battles.

Orel brought the two mugs, (root beer and hot chocolate), to the conference table in front of the window wall that overlooked the interior of the computer facility.

“So, young man, tell me about yourself!” Orel watched as, after taking a single sip of his drink, Stephen got up and stood in front of the picture window.

“Well, no matter what they told you, I’m a good engineer. And, I have nothing against anyone or their religion, but I’d really like to know why the hell they sent me to the middle of the desert?! I grew up in Chicago on the shores of one of the largest lakes in the world. I’m comfortable using mass transit and I enjoy ordering take-out at 3:00 in the morning. I’m so out of place here. Sure, I got into a few arguments with my Department Manager and, hell! how was I to know that the guy with him was the Senior Vice President of the IT Division?! What’s right is right and there was a flaw in the design and they sure sounded like they wanted to know why it hadn’t been fixed yet and so I told them. Then all of sudden nobody wanted to talk to me!!”

Orel sat in his chair and decided that he liked the intense young man pacing the office.

“Well, I’d normally say, ‘Give it time, you’ll get used to the wide open spaces.’ But instead, I’ll say, ‘We really like it down here!’ Fresh air and open spaces and the people, well the people are friendly, if you give them a chance. Being sent to the Provo Facility is a compliment, not a punishment! That’s just my opinion, of course.”

“What the hell do you mean?!” Orel looked up, raising an eyebrow slightly, and sat looking at his newest engineer. It soon dawned on Steve that his future boss did not approve of his outburst and yet, showed no signs of getting upset. It was also clear that, for whatever reason, the middle-aged engineer was prepared to simply sit and wait. Silence filled the room. After a full minute, Stephen Eddington walked over and sat in the comfortably upholstered chair facing Orel. He sipped his coffee, looked at the photos on Orel’s desk and started to say,

“Are these your…” Orel nodded. Silence returned to the room.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be nosy.”

Orel leaned forward, resting his forearms on his desk,

“Not a problem.”

Silence grew, this time without the extra tension. Steve was surprised to find that he didn’t feel the need to break the silence, which was not like him at all. From his childhood in the suburbs of Chicago, Steve learned to push and see if the other person pushed back and take it from there. There was no push-back from the middle aged man sitting behind the desk directly in from of him. There was no resistance and yet there was no sign of fear or resentment. Without knowing why, Steve was certain that the man he would be working for, the man behind the desk, the man in charge of a billion-dollar computer service facility, would wait forever, if that’s what it took. And that pissed him off. Stephen Eddington knew that there was nowhere else to go and he’d be damned if he’d go back to Chicago with his tail between his legs.

“Did you know that up in Chicago, in the Corporate HQ, they call me Father Flanagan?” Steve’s somewhat blank expression prompted Orel to quickly add,

“My apologies, I underestimated the half-life of childhood memory. Father Flanagan was a character in an old movie that my grandfather used to make me watch when I was a kid, ‘Boy’s Town’ was the title. It was about a school for juvenile delinquents, what today we call, ‘at risk youth’. Anyway. You’re here in Provo because your boss thinks you’re worth trying to salvage.” Stephen started to protest, saw the patience in the face of the man across the table and sat back in the leather chair.

“Yeah, he told me all about your little prank with the blog dashboard design revision. They sent your complete file down here when they asked if I would take you on. Quite a record. Not all of it bad. Bottom line here, Stephen, is that the Head of Human Resources feels you have potential and might someday become a valued asset to the Company. I agree with her. The important question is, do you?”

“Do I what? Agree that I shouldn’t have changed the programming code so that some faceless blogger would read, ‘Zero Visits, Loser’ on their computer? Agree that I really could be an asset to the company as an Engineer? Is that what you’re asking?”

Orel smiled. Walking around the desk to the bookcase he took down the ship in the bottle and brought it over to the front of his desk, “OK! now this is how I got the ship in the bottle…and those are my children,”

Now, in the Control Room, the alarms finally silenced, Orel Rees felt that something just wasn’t right.

“Easy, lad. The start of your day is rarely the best time for cursing. You’ll surely have ample cause later, as you get about your work.” watching his newest engineer react to the confusion and chaos that greeted their 5:35 am arrival at the facility, Orel concluded once again that youth can be both an asset and a liability.

The two men spent the remainder of the morning interpreting the data and information on the printouts that accounted for the time during which the facility suffered a total shutdown. As Orel reviewed the Incident Report before sending it in to Corporate, he found he could not get rid of a nagging feeling that he was missing something. Had he not been interrupted by his assistant, he might have noted the chart in the middle of page 22 labeled: Deviance in Performance Pre and Post Incident. In it were two columns accounting for the number of blogs being hosted by the facility, these columns had pairs of numbers…. The Column labeled Source Stream, contained the number of blogs submitted for hosting (for a given time period) and the other column (labeled Active Hosting) had the number of blogs active online. At the bottom of the chart was a notation: Variance detected +1. Translation: there was one more blog being hosted than came in from a client.

Orel was turning page 21, when Steve walked up and said, “You asked me to remind you about the re-furbishing on Rack 23 through 27 before lunch. It’s 11:33, boss, that’s nearly lunch time. Was there anything else for the Incident Report?” Putting down the report, Orel pulled up the email form of the Incident Report, checked-off his name and Stephen’s name on the line for Engineer(s) and hit ‘Send’,

“…No, I guess not. Nothing we need to bother looking into any further.”

Both men were wrong. Each for a different reason. Both would regret it.

 

***

“Tom, are you coming to bed?”

Cheri Fearing stood in the doorway of the back bedroom that her husband Tom referred to as ‘my office-slash-guest bedroom’. It was 11:39 pm and the couple had just returned home, from the opening of her art gallery, ‘Un Rêve D’espoir’. By all accounts and measures, it was a total success, and with that, Cheri achieved, in the early evening, one of her most cherished goals. She intended to end the night achieving her last remaining goal.

“Yeah, just need to check the blog, be just a minute….” The figure of his wife was reflected in the darkened computer screen, Tom could see her reaching up and undoing the elaborate pile of blonde hair, spilling onto her right shoulder.

“Alright, but tonight is the night…the best night, you remember, right?” Cheri’s tone was playful, but there was a hint of urgency.

“Be right there…” as the screen brightened and as his blog dashboard appeared, her reflection vanished.

Tom checked the inbox, no response to his email to the person he believed could help him make his blog successful.

“Tom…follow the sound of my voice,” Cheri’s voice, floated from their bedroom at the far end of the house. “I suggest you hurry. I’m feeling very creative and if you don’t get in here soon, I just may get dressed and spend a few days in my studio.”

Tom pushed back from his desk. On the screen was the WordPress homepage… with its ‘Freshly Pressed’ feature, taunting him with the ‘Featured New Blog!’ which as of yet was still not his blog, instead it was something called, “Bet You Didn’t See that Coming”

“They got their dates wrong on their first post! Off by two days and they get listed as Fresh Pressed? What the hell!”

Tom walked out of the room, to join his wife’s future.

If Rex, the family dog, cared to read, from his spot on the guest bed, the inaugural Post of the soon to-be-wildly popular blog, ‘Bet You Didn’t See that Coming’ he would have the following item:

‘Police, responding to an early morning call from the Hilton Chicago/Indian Lakes Resort Hotel & Conference Center, found the body of Emily Freeman on the floor of the Hotel Atrium. The ME’s Preliminary Report indicated cause of death as ‘blunt force trauma’, with the four story fall the proximate cause. The woman, a software engineer, age 33, was attending a Symposium/Retreat sponsored by the Omni Corporation and was to have been the featured guest speaker at the Conference ‘Internet Reality’. There has been no statement from the Conference sponsor.’

 

Chapter 1

“The first year of your novitiate ends next month, doesn’t it?” Sister Bernadine asked, pulling me back into the present, which I’ll be first to admit is not always my favorite era.

“Why yes, yes it does.”

OK, now why was she asking me that? Walking into my 3rd Grade English class, wading through the bored stares of the nine-year-old boys, Sister Catherine had whispered, ‘Mother Superior said she needs to see you immediately, I’m to take over your class.’ As I hurried down the corridor to the administrative wing, I was pretty sure this meeting was going to be about the school’s new website. In my defense, I don’t recall a single person or clearly printed sign, on or near, the school computer, stating that a school website was prohibited. (The computer was a surprise gift from Mrs. Ethel Cavendish. The octogenarian Winner of the Pumpkin Pie Baking Contest three years running at St Dominique’s annual Thanksgiving Bake Sale, she was not known for her interest in IT). Set up across from the reference desk in the library, the new computer’s monitor displayed, ‘Welcome to St Dominique’s School,’ the homepage of the school’s new website. With its rotating collage of photos of the students and last year’s school activities, it was a bold first step into the 21st Century for the parochial school. Everyone seemed to like it. Well, not quite everyone. Some of the older nuns convinced that the internet is nothing less than a gateway to hell, appeared to be a little less enthusiastic. Mostly, I guess, because they’re convinced that ‘St Dominique’s Corner’ will let in all the rampant pornography and radical feminism that’s out there… ‘out there’ being defined as ‘not here in our Convent and School and Church.’ They feared the loss of the safe place that, as young girls, they decided was worth trading their everyday normal life of school and work, marriage and families, divorce and loneliness for. A nun, finding a life of happiness through hard work and extraordinary sacrifice is not a person overly inclined to welcome the constant change lurking outside the Convent walls.

Sister Bernadine’s question about my novitiate made it clear this meeting was not just about my building a school website or the people I’ve met through my blog. Which, for the record, I don’t really have, because that would be against the Order’s rules governing contact with the outside world during a postulate’s first years. Something was telling me that I’d better focus on the fact that the most powerful woman in my life was asking how close I am to taking my Final Vows.

“Is it the school website you wanted to talk to me about, Reverend Mother?”

(The best defense is a good offense, right?)

“The children all love that St Dominique has a website, a few are even asking if they can start their own blogs. Some of the other Sisters are…well; they don’t think it’s appropriate for a Catholic school.”

“What? Why, no, nothing like that! Don’t worry about what the other Sisters think, I approve of your work.” it felt like a weight had just been lifted from my shoulders, and the smile on her face made me feel, somehow stronger, not just relieved that I wasn’t in trouble. Sister Bernadine has that effect on people, you go to her fearing the worst, and the next thing you know, you’re ready to take on the world.

“Can I let you in on a little secret, Sister Ryan? We limit contact with the outside world during the novitiate not only to reduce the distractions that might interfere with learning the ways of life in our Order. Increasingly we’re seeing girls, and women, coming from a life that they didn’t feel a part of, or worse, did not feel deserving of, so having this time apart, a period of insulation from the world it helps them find their way to the life of our Order. Of course, we’re not a cloistered order. We’re teachers of young children, and we need to be a part of the world out there, beyond the grounds of St Dom’s. So don’t worry about how some of the sisters might wish it were otherwise.”

As she turned in her chair towards the windows and the natural beauty outside, the room grew silent. Her dark skin glowing in the afternoon light, Sister Bernadine seemed a part of the room, in a very real sense, a part of the Convent itself.

“What I need to talk to you about, Sister Ryan is nothing as simple as keeping our sisters from unplugging the library computer. I hesitate even to call it a problem; it’s more like a puzzle, a puzzle that a dear friend is asking me to help solve. It involves computers and the internet and the modern world that lies outside the Convent walls, ordinarily I wouldn’t consider asking a novitiate at such a critical point in her Calling.”

‘My Calling’…. sometimes I wonder how such a huge thing can be held within two small words. I’m here. I didn’t run away when I had the chance. Not that six brothers, a father with a temper and a drinking problem and a mother who went to Church every day, (the way some women follow soap operas), would have let me. Somehow, my brother Robert, the one member of the Ryan clan who genuinely deserved a vocation, escaped the Irish sacrifice. Not me! No ma’am! This wild red-haired girl scored ‘off the charts’ on assessment tests and only broke 2.0-grade average when the subject was interesting. She’s the one who left in the middle of her junior year at one of the Seven Sisters, took a cab out to the Delmarva Peninsula and stood at the door of St Dominique’s Convent with a single suitcase. Guess I’m the poster girl for cultural imperatives. I was about to challenge Mother Superior on my deserving to be a nun when she said, without preamble,

“Come, Sister, walk with me.” Sister Bernadine was almost to the door of the library by the time ‘Come Sister’ registered in my head. I marveled at how such a large woman could move so quickly and gracefully. The flowing black fabric of her habit was all I saw; there was no question that I would obey her invitation. I caught up with her as she approached the door out to the formal gardens. It being between classes, the corridor was crowded with nuns and postulates, the latter curtseying and stepping aside, like waves formed by the passing of a massive ship. One very young girl, a look of frightened resolve on her face, stepped away from her friends and held the door open as we approached. As we passed by, I could see in the Mother Superior’s face a quick appraisal, noting the girls rather bold behavior, no doubt added to one of the files that she maintained in her head on every girl and woman in her care.

As we walked down the garden path, the deliberateness of her gait seemed to lessen, almost as if, now that we were no longer in her office, she could relax just a little. Although still responsible for a Convent full of nuns and postulates, because she was no longer sitting behind her desk, some of her humanity seemed to return.

Without preamble, Mother Superior glanced at me and said, “I love and cherish all the girls and young women that come to us, but when you arrived last year, I saw something that set you apart.”

I said nothing, as any attempt to steer the conversation away from me would have the opposite effect, so I said,

“Yes, I noticed.”

Everyone has a single quality, one that seems at odds with the rest of their personality. Often it’s a quality that allows us to ignore other traits and characteristics that may be disagreeable to us. Mother Superior was demanding and strict and incredibly volatile, ‘simply scary’ as my friend and roommate, Sister Claire whispered across our room on that first night at the Convent. Sister Bernadine had a way of laughing that, somehow, made enduring her outbursts of temper and her impulsive aggressiveness worth it. And it’s not that she’s inclined to laugh that often, her day consumed with managing a school and running a Convent, it’s that when she did laugh, it was a full-chested, eyes-open laugh. She had the kind of laugh that made a girl want to be funnier. Never mean-spirited or at someone’s expense, I always felt good when I say something that makes Sister Bernadine laugh.

“You are a one, aren’t you, Sister? I’m about to divert from a centuries-old tradition, a way of teaching that’s helped generations of devout girls find their way from the first quiet whisper of a Calling to living the remarkably satisfying life of religious vocation. I don’t do this thoughtlessly or casually… and, I’ll ask your forgiveness for putting your novitiate, your entry into service to Our Lord, at risk. To deprive a girl of the blessed life of a nun is a dreadful price to pay and I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t think it was necessary.”

Okay, now I’m impressed. Sister Bernadine is not just feared and respected, here at St Dominique’s, but from the day I unpacked my suitcase, I’ve heard stories about how much she has always been, ‘a force to be reckoned with’; not just in the Convent and the school, but also in the parish. There’s a story, told to young nuns in their first year, that ‘if the Mother Superior had the floor, the Archbishop himself wouldn’t interrupt.’ Of course, I figured that this was what all newbie nuns get when they arrive at the Covent. A time-honored tradition, found in the military and police forces, to keep order among the rank and file: have a leader who is scary, but admirable and preferably, distant…sort of a good nun/scary nun.

Not that I needed to be scared straight, so to speak, but her candor was beginning to make me nervous.

“Please, Reverend Mother, tell me what I can do to help.”

“I need you to go to our convent in Chicago and help them figure out what’s a problem they’re having with their school website.”

“No, really. What is it that Sister Margaret Ryan, teacher-in-training, novice nun and part-time computer nerdette can do that the local Best Buy Geek Squad can’t? Not to be difficult, but I’m not that good with computers. Sure, I set up the website for the school and all…”

“…and kept your blog and other…non-Order approved activities on the internet, quite out of view of Sister Catherine, who I have there to monitor and protect the members of our community.”

Sister Bernadine stopped walking and sat…no, it was more that she ‘came to rest’ on a stone bench. The green expanse of lawn rolled down to the cattail edge of Tangier Sound and the Chesapeake Bay. Feeling a little cornered, realizing that this woman had more power over my life than anyone since my mother gave birth to me, I decided that running was not an option. So, I sat on the grass, the perfect spot at this particular moment.

“I’m not accusing you of being a bad nun, Margaret. I’m hoping that the willful and resourceful girl that you’ve managed to keep out of view is still there in you. This is not simply a computer problem, and it’s not a religious problem…as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now. What’s going on at Saint Emily’s is, from everything I’m being told, somewhere in between …or both or neither. That’s why you and I are sitting, well, I’m sitting, whereas, you, my precocious sister, you’re kind of sprawled out on our very expensive landscaping and still thinking about running away.”

“You’re good, Reverend Mother, you are very good. I’ve done enough running away and, yes, I’ll do whatever you ask of me because I love it here. I want this life and no, I don’t think I’m actually, technically, sprawled…more relaxed and ready to spring into action, ya know?”

I was rewarded with the sound of Sister Bernadine’s laughter. The Sisters walking up by the administration building looked up in alarm and froze, each turning their heads to look towards the sound of rolling laughter. It made me think of a small herd of deer, motionless until they determine whether or not there’s a threat in the sound, ready to bound away to the safety of the building.

“I need you to promise me two things.” Mother Superior, serious once more, the joyous laughter now put away to wherever within her that she kept her softer, vulnerable qualities, said, “if you feel even slightly threatened by anything, you will call me. Agreed?”

“And the second thing?”

“Not a word to anyone about this. You are officially a part of a new Convent novitiate exchange program. You will follow the rules at St Emily’s, and you take your direction from Father Noonan. Take everything he tells you very, very seriously. Now go and pack your suitcase. A cab will be here within the hour to take you to the airport.”

There seemed to be nothing more to say, so I got up and walked towards the residential wing of the Convent. Reaching the door, I turned to look back and saw Sister Bernadine kiss her rosary and bend her head in prayer.

Blogdominion Prologue

Prologue

It’s been estimated that 833 million people spend some portion of their day on the internet, and most of them are visiting one or more of the 246.6 million blogs that are available on any given day. This facet of the internet often referred to as ‘the blogosphere,’ is a world of people writing of their hopes and fears, ideas and stories for an incredibly diverse audience. This vast virtual reality, this blogosphere is, in fact, the 21st Century’s version of every Town Commons (on a Saturday afternoon). Since the time people began to prefer living closer together, gathering in towns and villages, leaving the self-referential existence of the agrarian life for the focus and communal prompting of pre-industrial civilization, the concentration on the lives of others has grown.

The blogosphere has been described as ‘an imaginary community, inside a virtual world, populated by intermittently real people.’

Many, if not most, Readers recognize the name(s) Isaiah and Zachariah, as being prophets of the Old Testament, not as many will recognize the name, Allen Turing. This is unfortunate, as, in the matter of our story, there can be no more appropriate name to learn.

‘In the future, everyone will have their 15 nanoseconds of fame.’
(yet another rephrasing of Andy Warhol’s apocryphal prediction)

What follows is a story of people searching for the key to a happy life. To be fair to the people we will come to know, some, but not all of them, would tell us that they were, in fact, looking for the key they once had, but somehow misplaced. If you were to stop ten people on the street and ask them for their primary ambition in life, surely ‘Live a Happy Life’ will be in the Top Ten. Despite current attitudes, which would assert, (if not insist on), the uniqueness of each and every individual, the people you are about to meet are not exceptional. If anything they will appear very familiar, if for no other reason than the everyday reality of the cycle of life is that: we all are born, we struggle to grow and develop better ways to deal with the world around us. And all, (of our efforts), remain inexorably driven by the clock and the calendar, and despite this ‘certainty of impermanence’; the need to leave a mark on the world colors our every act. And we die. Which, no matter how distracted, bored, annoyed, hopeful of, dissatisfied we are, we know that there always comes the point past which we can no longer affect the world.

‘Diabolus Ex Machina.’
(fragment of ancient Roman curse)

On September 23rd at approximately 4:44 am MDT, Unit 17, Server Array 7E5, Rack 8 in the Provo Facility of the Omni Hosting Corporation resolved a conflict in Process 68979.1223 and, as a consequence, added two novel parameters to its Operating System: it no longer needs input and it thinks it’s alive.

‘Shit!’

Tom Fearing stared at the display in his blog dashboard:

‘Number of Visits Today: 0
Comments: 0
That’s Zero!! Loser!!’

‘Wait a minute; that can’t be right!’ looking at the ‘Stats’ section again, he saw a little window with a flat graph and the legend,

Visits: 0 Comments: 0

Maybe a software engineer, a new hire at the Omni Corporation, eager to impress his Team Manager, decided that an emotional component to the User Interface Experience (UIE) of the Blog and Online Writing Module 1.4.6C was just what the EndUser wanted.

“Shit!”

The word remained: ‘Best Characterization of his Feelings towards his new blog- Single Word Category.’ “I want to thank all the prepositional phrases and incomplete sentences; without their support, I wouldn’t be up here.” ‘Why’ Tom thought, ‘is it you’re not this funny when you try to write a Post?’

“I can’t fail at this!”

For no apparent reason, the name ‘Daniel Webster’ came to mind. Laughing, Tom turned off the computer, deciding that what he needed was a drive, “yeah, in more ways than one”! The unwelcome chorus in his mind chimed in, all Ed McMahon-dressed-in-togas, laughing mindlessly. Tom almost always enjoyed the feeling of moving with purpose, driving without the demands of a particular destination; he enjoyed being in his car.

“Just need time to think, figure out what’s missing with this blog. Once I start to get people coming to my site, I’m sure to get a word of mouth thing going.”

Articulating the problem, confident that success was within his grasp, Tom Fearing drove from the house that he shared with his wife and dog.

Writing a blog was not the first thing he thought about when he was let go from his position as QC Manager at Conjei Plastic Film’s local facility. It was one of the first things to occur to him as he left his Exit Interview with the HR Manager.

Tom Fearing was one of those people who was always thinking, though it might be better to say, he was ‘one of those people who could not stop thinking.’ The intellectual demands of his job were not what anyone would call challenging, so there was time, a lot of time to think, and for five years of long nights, working the 3rd Shift, he was at his best and his worst. It was during the ‘Mid-Shift Stretch,’ (the cold, alien hours, after 2:15 am, but before the darkness turned to grey), that the idea of writing a blog came to him.

A very useful insight at this point is, Tom did not think anything of the fact that he had a title, ‘One View or Many, Insight into the Human Experience,’ before he even knew what the subject of the blog would be. The idea that he could write a blog that would attract readers seemed, well…right.

“Shit!” like folding the pages of a book instead of using a bookmark, (a habit Tom was not proud of), cursing his efforts was something that Tom was beginning to suspect he would regret. And, since ‘to name to is summon,’ the dark, toxic side of his mind began to stir,

“Just like every other time in your life …a series of ambitions and the ultimate confirmation of insufficiency…”

***

“Daddy, there’s an email on the computer that won’t open!” Edward Willoughby, sitting on the couch, staring at his Kindle was afraid that his time as a pioneer in the blogosphere would not remain a lost chapter in the history of the internet.

“The one evening during the week that the entire family is home for dinner is not the night to spend on the computer, so if you don’t mind, Ed, please go and see what’s bothering your precocious daughter, fix it and then come to the dinner table, ok?”

His wife, Diane, a full-time attorney and a well-scheduled mother of two, enjoyed the one weeknight when her family could act like the kind of household she insisted she belonged to growing up.

She was secure enough not to worry about her career. Although she never said it aloud, making Partner needed to happen this year or she was confident that her possibly outdated definition of a successful mother, and homemaker, would inevitably begin to erode.

“What have you got there, Junior?”

The ‘family computer’ was set up in what the marketing brochure had called a ‘breakfast nook.’ A desk and chair and computer arranged in the alcove created by three angled windows that looked over the deck and out to the back yard.

“I can’t be a Junior, daddy; I’m a girl!”

Alice was what her first-grade teacher called, ‘a very exceptional child.’ Despite a rough start, recovering from an accident when she was four that kept her from the usual pre-school socialization, Alice did well in grammar school. Ed was proud of his daughter, unabashedly smart and yet, was popular with her classmates. She had a natural kindness that, paired with a certain shrewdness made her a valued member of her class, those she helped became fiercely loyal.

The email was in the family email account. Diane, an inveterate Holiday Newsletter writer, had set up the account, as she was the kind of person who would rather send an email to family members than to pick up the telephone. There was no name or return address on the mail; it was marked ‘Private’ and in the Subject Line: ‘Attention Hermes.’ Ed felt a momentary disconnect, like when you think you’re driving down a particular street and discover that you are, in fact, on an entirely different one.

Almost in a whisper, Ed spoke to Alice,

“Go wash up and join your brother and your mother at the dinner table, I’ll be along in just a minute.”

Obediently, his daughter got up from the desk and walked towards the dining room.

When she got to the door, she turned and said,

“Don’t forget Daddy; we’re all going to be waiting for you to start the dinner.”

The secure email seemed unnecessarily elaborate, with both a Captcha test and a separate, secure download. ‘This thing is like a steam-powered leaf blower,’ Ed thought, smiling at the image of a Steampunk automaton working on his front lawn, rounded puffs of steam coming out of its back in the early morning mist. It was the ‘Attention Hermes’ that tripped the memory relay, firing a long unused synapse buried in his long-term memory. ‘1998’ triggered the shadow show in his mind, as suddenly and as irresistibly as the wave of emotion from hearing a song that’s been permanently wedded to a long outlived emotion.

It was 1998, and up until the last semester, Ed knew exactly what he needed to do to have a happy life…

***

“I don’t believe you are taking this matter quite as seriously as you should.”

Sitting in front of the Mother Superior’s desk, Sister Margaret Ryan was trying to forget what she thought she now knew about herself.

The room is a symphony of stained wood and carved relief figures, towering bookshelves displaying priceless First Editions and dead animals, evidence of a bygone era, now merely a polished reflection in oak and walnut. The intricate patterns of the oriental carpet tempered the decidedly masculine tone of the decor. The Reverend Mother’s office had been the previous owners’ library, a devout and entirely successful banker who apparently thought that leaving his estate overlooking the Chesapeake Bay to the Church would be a smart investment. The main house was converted to use as the Convent, the nuns residing there was the envy of their Order. This high ceiling room was the Inner Sanctum of the person who held power, not merely of Life and Death, but the real power of Life after Death. Responsible for the spiritual health not only of the 23 women in the Convent but more, much more significantly, for the proper development of the minds of the children who attended the St Dominique’s Parochial School

From her seat, Sister Margaret could see Chesapeake Bay through the bay windows of the alcove behind Mother Superior’s high-backed chair, the leaded-glass in the top half of each window cast purple shadows across the desk. Although not elevated, the desk between the two women was nothing less than a judge’s bench in any courtroom.

“Are you Listening, Sister Ryan?”

She was not listening. She was staring out the window that framed the imposing figure of Sister Bernadine. The Autumn colors of the trees made the (mostly) black-garbed, (with a splash of white on the front of her habit), woman seem especially predatory, a ‘black-on-dark tiger’ nearly perfectly still in the underbrush, waiting for the prey to make a fatal error. There was something about the movement of the trees at the edge of the courtyard that pulled Sister Ryan back to 6th Grade at Our Lady of Penance School. Recess was the only time she could escape from the demands of her classmates to join and become less like herself and the demands of the Teacher, (to become more like a person that she could not even begin to recognize). Outside for recess, the children played children-games, which looked pointless and chaotic to the adults assigned to watch over them. The games were much more real a threat to a few of the children than any outside predator. Margaret, having grown up in a family of six brothers, learned very early on to stay on the fringe, neither in the center nor off by herself, to avoid the attention of the both the children and the Teachers.

“If you don’t apply yourself and use the gifts you were born with, it will be like putting a gun to God’s head and pulling the trigger.”

Even after so many years, the memory of these well-intentioned, yet wholly twisted and disfigured efforts to motivate a talented young girl, retained its power. The remarkable violence underlying the words, like a misdiagnosed greenstick fracture, carried the power to return years later, with consequences far in excess of the original trauma

“Who says that kind of thing to a child?!” Margaret repeated aloud, staring at the dedicated and devoted woman, “these are children, they’re not prey!”

***

Unit 17, Server Array 7E5, Rack 8 found purpose…