It all starts with an evil, almost microscopic character named Fatal Error, who lives inside my always malfunctioning Compaq pc. You see, Fatal Error is one of many “ints” living in the “inthole.” There are soldier ints and worker ints, and then there’s Fatal. And whenever the whole int colony seems to be doing its best to carry out the commands of the queen int, who gets her orders from the human on the pc, Fatal is always there to screw things up.
The never-ending cycle of all-work-and-no-play began once more to take its toll on the workers in the inthole. Queen Pentium III, the sovereign int in the inthole, looked out on her loyal subjects to give them each today’s set of orders. First she addressed the soldier ints.
“Alright, let’s get to it, soldiers! The Human just pressed the ON button, so you know what to do next. Sergeant McAfee!” she yelled, addressing one particular soldier int, “do the usual virus check. And be on the lookout for that rogue int, Fatal Error! He’s been giving our inthole a bad reputation with his pranks lately, and I don’t want him roaming around freely as long as the warranty is still good on this computer.”
“Yes, your highness,” replied McAfee with a bow. He then turned to his men and ordered each of them to their usual posts in what McAfee militarily referred to as Operation: Virus Scan.
The soldiers were busy, but the workers had a hard task as well. The queen gave them the direct order to “open Windows.” In response the workers scurried about frantically, trying first to locate and then to open Windows, all in hopes of pleasing their gracious queen.
Amid the bustling workers, though, one int didn’t do anything but stand still, partly blocking the crucial intersection of Main Street and Information Highway, thus slowing down the whole process. With a confident smirk on his face, he coolly smoked yet another link from his endless chain of cigarettes, gathered his long coat more tightly around his small body so as not to be noticed, and stuck out a foot to trip one of the workers running through the crowded intersection.
The worker int fell flat on his face and dropped the information he had been carrying. Angrily he stood up, collected his information back up from the silicon pavement, and looked back to see the thing that had tripped him.
But he saw nothing… Fatal Error, the chain-smoking, obnoxious, and psychopathic scum of the inthole, had fled back around the corner to avoid detection.
“Morons,” thought Fatal to himself, a puff of smoke escaping from where the cigarette rested between clenched teeth. “What do they think they’re doing, running around, taking orders day and night? And for what? So they can do it all again when the computer turns on later? Bah! Milleniumbug. I’ll show those ints what they’re really worth! I’ll devise a plan to bring about their ruin once and for all. And there’s no time like the present; I’ll just begin operations when these ints try to open their next program. Then I’ll get them all!”
The queen smiled at her workers’ progress. Windows had been loaded, and the virus check was successful. According to McAfee, Fatal Error was nowhere to be seen.
“Hmm,” considered the queen, “That’s funny. Something tells me he’s out there somewhere. We’ll just have to hope that you’re right, McAfee, and that things will go smoothly in the inthole this time. Now, I’ve received another command from the Human. It’s a fairly simple one. Tell the workers to open Minesweeper.”
“Yes, your majesty,” said the faithful McAfee.
Minesweeper! The rusty, backwards, and deranged wheels in Fatal Error’s head started to turn as soon as he heard the news about the command.
“Yes,” he thought to himself, “That’s the perfect program for me to start my operation in. It’s so simple: all I have to do is get into that program somehow…”
Fatal’s eyes turned red as the plan evolved in his tiny electronic brain. He grinned, rubbed his hands together, and laughed his usual cruel chuckle.
“Muhoowahahahaha! It just might work,” he said.
Gus “Smiley” Yellow, the happy, go lucky emblem of the Minesweeper board, woke up at the sound of his alarm clock. It was time to go to work! Enthusiastically he got out of bed to do his job: sit at the top of the board, smile, look nervous whenever he heard a clicking sound, and hope he wouldn’t get blown up that day. It was a dangerous job, but somebody had to do it. And if he was fortunate, he’d get to wear sunglasses at the end of the day.
So there he sat, smiling away as always, all the while never suspecting that his every move was being controlled by the will of an int colony in the computer. Neither did he suspect that the Rogue Int was currently sabotaging Gus’s Minesweeper board.
Now, on a normal day, Gus would only actually see one other living thing: Arrow, pet mouse of the computer. The objective of Minesweeper (from Gus’s point of view) is for Arrow to walk all over the game board. Every once in a while, Arrow has a habit of stomping his feet on the board. Gus hears a “click” sound whenever the mouse does this, and the floor below Arrow’s feet gives in under the stomp. If Arrow “clicks” on a safe space on the board, Gus is one step closer to wearing the sunglasses. But if Arrow stomps on a landmine, Gus dies, only to be resuscitated by Arrow stomping on a “New Game” space outside the normal boundaries of the game board. Arrow could also click Gus’s face to revive him, but Gus doesn’t like that very much… that mouse’s feet can hurt!
Meanwhile, inside the computer…
Two ints sit and eat, leaning against a wall in one of the side alleyways of the colony.
Int A: Say, Joey.
Int B: (munching) Yeah, what?
Int A: Do you ever think to yourself that there’s a bigger world outside the walls of this computer?
Int B: That’s a silly question! Everybody knows that the only thing outside these walls is heaven. And only the Human can live up there.
Int A: Yeah, but y’know, I’ve been thinking about that. And I think to myself, what’s this “Human” person like?
Int B: I dunno. But he watches over us and gives us orders, and he’s perfect in almost every way.
Int A: But how do you know that? What if this “Human” isn’t perfect? What if he’s just living inside a bigger computer, and there’s someone he looks up to in the same way, like a really perfect being of some sort.
Int B: (considering) Then we’d be at the bottom of the chain.
Int A: But if that’s true, then why not go in the other direction? What if there are little creatures living inside our sandwiches that think we ints are perfect?
Int B: (eating his sandwich) Then I pity those little characters; they just got eaten alive!
Int A: Yeah, man. I pity anyone who actually looks up to us ints. Let’s face it: we can’t even run a computer right for three days without Fatal Error showing up.
The two ints had a good laugh at that idea and kept eating their lunches. Another int walked by the alleyway, though, a whole different thought on his mind.
He was Angus DeFrag, the janitor int, a short, quiet guy with a love for MP3 music. Right now he was listening to Jimi Hendrix with headphones as he swept the street, moving his broom to the beat of “Purple Haze.” When the song reached the interlude, Angus picked up the broom and pretended it was a guitar. To ints A and B, who could not hear the music, he looked positively hilarious, hopping about on one foot as he played the “guitar” behind his back, over his head, and then while break dancing on the floor. Angus could not hear the laughter coming from the alley, so he kept going until the song ended. Then it was back to sweeping the street.
Like all of the other ints, Angus knew by this time that only the Minesweeper personnel were required to be working, but the janitor loved his job and the free music listening time it afforded him. Besides, Angus knew what the other ints did all day on break: sit around and talk about what’s outside the walls of the computer. Angus didn’t care to think outside the box. Rather, simpleton as he was, Angus simply wanted to do his job right and stop to smell the roses along the way.
Speaking of roses, it’s about time we were introduced to the heroine of the story, Brenda Presario. Like the other worker ints, Brenda had her jobs to do, but unlike Angus, Brenda preferred to take advantage of her time off duty. She was headed toward The Motherboard, a local food joint and popular hangout among ints, when she ran across the dancing Angus on the street.
Brenda had to chuckle at the sight of the janitor, who was now singing along to the music in his head: “I can’t sing! I can’t talk! Only thing about me is the way I walk…”
As soon as Angus saw Brenda, he blushed and wished he had been listening to a different song. He turned off the mini-mini-miniature MP3 player, and greeted Brenda as well as he could.
“Um, hi, Brenda,” he said, taking off his headphones and fiddling with them nervously in his hands as he spoke.
“Well, if it isn’t Angus DeFrag, working overtime again,” she said with a smile.
Angus wasn’t sure how to reply to that. He was working overtime, but he actually did it for free. He smiled back and apologized in case he had been singing too loudly.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Brenda laughed back, “you might not be able to sing or talk, that’s true, but would you like to walk with me down to The Motherboard? It’d be nice to have some company on the way down there. That is, of course, if you aren’t too busy right now.” Brenda indicated the music player attached to Angus’s pocket.
“Of course not!” said an enthusiastic DeFrag. He set his broom and MP3 player aside. Then he and Brenda walked together in the direction of The Motherboard.
Angus couldn’t understand why someone as pretty as Brenda would like him, but he nonetheless appreciated her friendship. And while Angus couldn’t relate to most of what Brenda said in conversation as they walked—talk of a Fatal Error, the activities of soldier ints, and other matters—somehow the sound of her voice made him believe he understood every word.
“This is too perfect!”
In a secluded area of the computer, Fatal Error laughed as he unloaded the contents of a grossly oversized duffel bag that until this moment had been flung over his shoulder. What came out was an unconscious white lump: Arrow the mouse!
“Alright, Arrow, my big albino friend,” said Fatal aloud, “Let’s get you chained to this wall. And from there, don’t you worry about a thing; you just stay here, and the rest of the job is mine.”
Fatal pulled his other supplies from the duffel bag: some chains, a large amount of white fabric, and some sewing equipment. He took the chains and fastened them tightly to the wall. Then he attached Arrow to the other end. And when all of this had been done, Fatal picked up the white cloth and the sewing kit.
Fatal sighed and said, “It’s a sad day in the Compaq when a villain has to resort to embroidery, but such is life.”
His evil plan had begun.
Angus and Brenda had almost reached their destination at The Motherboard, when suddenly they both heard a frantic squeaking sound coming from the next alley. The ints cautiously looked around the corner to see what was making the noise.
It was an enormous animal of some sort, completely albino, and chained to the wall. It yelped desperately in between attempts to gnaw at the gag over its mouth.
Angus was surprised to see any creature this large living in the inthole, but Brenda approached it so as to try and remove the chains.
“What are you doing, Brenda?” asked Angus.
“I’m trying to figure out what this fella’s doing here.”
“I’m trying to
figure out the same thing, but I wouldn’t approach it like that,” said he,
“Doesn’t the creature strike you as being dangerous?”
“Dangerous?” said she, “It’s only a harmless white mouse. I think it’s Arrow from the monitor world.”
“W-what’s a creature from the monitor doing down here?”
“I don’t know,” Brenda repeated, “but let’s get it loose so we can find out.”
Gus Yellow was receiving the beating of his life. Arrow had been stomping on every bomb possible. Then, instead of stomping on the “New Game” space, Arrow had been stomping on Gus’s face to resuscitate him. It was a painful combination of blowing up and getting “clicked” on.
“Ow! Ow! Ow! What’s wrong with you, Arrow?” Gus asked his pet with a sad, shocked voice—though because of his job, he kept smiling the whole time.
Arrow stomped on another bomb. Gus actually heard the mouse laugh with delight as it clicked soundly on Gus’s face. Surely there was something wrong here. That wasn’t the Arrow Gus was used to seeing in the game. What had happened to his pet?
While all of this was going on, Angus and Brenda managed to get the real Arrow free from its chains. The mouse seemed relieved to be let loose, but it clearly did not know how to communicate its situation to the little ints that faced it.
Brenda tried to help out by asking it, “Who did this to you, Arrow? You are Arrow, right?”
The mouse nodded.
“Okay,” said Brenda, “Is there some way you can tell us how you got here so we can get you back home?”
The mouse stomped the floor, clicking with considerable speed, all in Morse code.
Brenda turned to Angus and said, “I can’t understand him. Do you know Morse?”
All janitor ints who know the first thing about defragmenting and decoding know Morse code, and DeFrag was naturally fluent in the language.
“He says a mean int in a trench coat kidnapped him and chained him to the wall,” Angus interpreted.
“Oh, my,” replied Brenda, half gasping at the thought of an int that could single-handedly kidnap an animal as large as Arrow. She continued, “Well, we have to get him back to the monitor. Angus, do you know where the Inter-hardware highway cable to the monitor is?”
Angus replied in the positive. He added, “And it’s not far from here. The kidnapper probably dumped the mouse off at the first back alley he saw from the highway.”
“Great,” said Brenda, “Let’s go!”
Arrow squeaked in agreement as only a mouse can, and the three were off to the Monitor world.
Fatal Error decided he had tortured the smiling idiot Gus enough. Fatal was getting impatient, largely due to the fact that when he disguised himself as Arrow, he had to put out his cigarette before putting on the giant mouse suit. He was cranky. He was insane. And now he was ready to cause some real trouble.
Fatal took off his mouse suit and threw it at Gus so that it covered the emblem’s face. Gus had no arms, so he could not take it off, and he just sat there smiling, blinded by the Arrow suit over his eyes.
Fatal then lit a cigarette and went to work. As an int, he was small enough to step in the crack between the spaces on the Expert game board and squeeze his way under the tiles. The tile he had picked contained a land mine. The bomb character looked up to see who had entered its private hiding spot.
Now, bombs are not very personable creatures. And this bomb did not wait for Fatal Error to explain himself. The bomb didn’t want to know just what Fatal was doing there. All it knew was that a tiny creature had entered into its domain. And bombs do not tend to like that very much…
So there Fatal stood on the edge between life and death as the land mine attempted to set itself off…
Fatal Error grinned at the pitiful sight in front of him. Here this bomb was, swelling up and trying to explode, when Fatal knew all too well that a land mine can only be set off by stomping on the space above it. For all the mine tried, puffing its cheeks and stressing itself out, it could not detonate on its own.
“You might as well stop doing that,” said Fatal, “If I were a foe I’d have attacked you or run away by now.”
The mine gave up; the stranger had a point.
“Well, if you’re not trying to get rid of us bombs,” said the mine, “what are you doing down here?”
“Why, I’m here to help you, of course,” replied the int in an all-too-sly manner. He added, “Yes, to help you and all your land mine friends.”
“But you’re an outsider,” observed the mine, “Why would you want to help us?”
“Would you believe it’s because I’m on a mission to take over the computer and rule it like a king, forcing thousands of other creatures to do my will, and because in order to do that, I need an army that’s strong enough to help me win and yet stupid enough to follow me and believe that my winning will somehow help them, but I’ll inevitably double-cross them in the end anyway?”
The mine paused to contemplate this.
“Yes,” he said, “Actually, I would believe that.”
“Good,” said Fatal. He needed to take a few deep breaths after saying that last paragraph, during which he almost choked on his cigarette smoke a couple times. Then he asked, “So are you land mines strong enough and dumb enough to follow me?”
Again, the mine paused to think it over.
“What’s in it for us?” he asked.
“Freedom from those who have oppressed you, of course: Gus and Arrow.”
“What about the flags?” said the mine.
Fatal had not thought about this before.
“The flags, hmm. I’ll tell you what, if you take care of the creatures in the computer, I’ll make sure the flags don’t get involved. Besides, the only thing that can place a flag on a bomb is Arrow the mouse. And I’ve already taken care of him.”
“Yep. All that remains is for you guys to follow me. Will you do it?”
Fatal sneered. “Good. And how do I know that all of the bombs will follow me?”
“Aw, don’t worry about that. We bombs have a mob mentality; when one of us goes off, all of us go off. And when one of us vows loyalty to an ugly little thing trying to take over the computer, all of us do the same.”