A Program of Templates
I awake alone, to a house in silence. The dying fragments of an unspeakable dream still hang in the cool night air, and I lie entranced for a time – heart pounding – half trying to remember that nightmare, half frightened of what such remembrance may hold. A stabbing headache draws me back to reality. My trusty Nokia Communicator reads ten o’clock, December 31st, 1999. New Year’s Eve. How did I come to be here and what became of the Lisp expedition? I last remember hacking through that accursed swamp – rations dwindling, fever growing stronger by the hour – but since then? A blank, a void of shifting shadow filled with unintelligible urges and alien sensations just beyond my waking comprehension. Yet one thought cuts through this fog with vital urgency: Edwin and Enoch, my children.
Distant melodic thumps of bass and distorted bursts of drunken merriment waft through the open windows; echoes from another world. Indeed, everyone in the great city of Lambda – heart of the Functional empire – seems to be out celebrating the coming millennium. And yet my thoughts are only of my children. They are vitality and purity made flesh, two pieces of my heart beating outside my body. I can still see their eager eyes staring up at me as I explained the art of function currying to them for the first time. After Lily’s passing, I used to tiptoe into their room every night just to make sure they were safe. I would never have been able to go on without them.
I quicken my pace, eager to see Edwin and Enoch safely in bed, eager to embrace them, eager to reassure them, and myself, that everything is all right. Some forgotten instinct guides my way. At last, I stand before my children’s bedroom. Cautiously, I peer in.
Enoch is the family artist, and his crayon scribblings cover the far wall, while Edwin’s favorite set of blocks sit neatly jumbled in the corner. This is my boy’s room all right, but something is off. Their beds are freshly made; the air still and silent; a layer of dust covers everything. Even Enoch’s artwork seems subtly different. Their subject matter isn’t offensive per-se, but implies an uncomfortable sort of recursion: most are drawings of him drawing. And surely such angular crayonmanship and almost violent scribbling can not be the work of a healthy child. How long have I been sick and what has happened to my boys?
Wait! Are those fleeing footsteps I hear or is my mind playing tricks on me? Could it be my boys? They are so vibrant and playful, this is probably just another one of their silly games. I strain my ears but cannot make out anything more over the solemn, “Untz, Untz, Untz”, of the distant celebrations. A faint ding from the ancient green screen on the table draws my attention. Through a thick layer of burn-in, I can just make out the scroll of incoming text.
Ceppix (10:08.33) - Mandus!
Ceppix (10:08.39) - Do you know me?
There was something not unfamiliar about that screen name, but who is this Ceppix and how does he know my name? I clear the grime from the ancient IBM keyboard and quickly clatter out a response.
Me (10:09.15) - Who is this?
Me (10:09.26) - Where are my children?
Ceppix (10:09.37) - Trapped below in the The Program, Mandus.
Ceppix (10:09.42) - The Program is fouled, it is corrupted, the children ensnared in its syntax by the saboteur.
Ceppix (10:09.46) - But we can save them. Restore The Program Mandus, enter the command and restart the great compilation units.
Me (10:10.21) - The Program? Compilation units? What command?
Me (10:10.32) - Hello?
Me (10:10.46) - Are you there?
Me (10:11.20) - ?
Where once there was one mystery, now there are many. Foremost, who is this Ceppix and what is his relationship to me and my children? I can’t help but feel that we have met before. He addresses me so familiarly… A former employee or acquaintance? But then why such secrecy? Yet I am ready to follow any lead to find my children, no matter what depths and darknesses it may pull me to. Thus, it is decided. I place myself in your trust dear Ceppix. Fate binds us together, two strangers hurtling through the night, towards destiny.
Through the bedroom window, Researchdome blots out a patch of the sky. The real campus though lies deep underground. Those same paternal instincts pull me onwards towards that dome. I rush downstairs and outside into the crisp courtyard air, through the gate, and onto the derelict campus of the Mandus Data Processing.
Oh, Edwin and Enoch! What wonders stand before you? What fabulous discoveries lie forgotten in the darkness below? Safely tucked away from the world, only the saboteur stands between us. I will deal with him. Then, let us walk through that wondrous dreamscape together.
Father built the Mandus Data Processing through sheer force of will. While I was his heir, the Company was always his firstborn and favorite. And with the IPO in 1982, he finally had the capital he needed to realize his vision. On the outskirts of Lambda, he brought together the most forward-thinking technologists, urban planners, artists, and social scientists to build a campus of continuous innovation and invention. No expense was spared. The massive geodesic Researchdome is the heart of campus, rings of office buildings radiating outwards along spokes of walkways and parks. At the edge of the circle lie the chic shopping districts and posh dormitories, built exclusively for the programmers and their families. “Now they will never have to stop working”, he used to laugh. The look in his eyes told that he was only half joking. As a sign of good faith, he even moved our family into a sprawling compound on the east side of campus. It was an exciting time and place to grow up.
Where once thirty thousand programmers worked and ate and lived, I alone now walk. This arterial pathway should take me directly to Researchdome, although something compels me to stick to the shadow and creep slowly along. I know it had been bad, but this is beyond anything I had imagined. The gardens are overgrown with vile weeds, metal sculptures and other works of corporate art lie twisted and rusting into the earth, and the opulent marble facades of the office buildings are covered with barbs of hateful looking graffiti. In the starlight, the lines of black spray paint dance and contort into uncomfortable forms that I dare not study in any detail. A charred pile of timbers and melted plastic is all that remains of the Building 6 coffee house. Lily… Our first date… The memories are still too raw. My boys need me. Press on Mandus! Press on!
Beyond the last ring of hulking office buildings lies the company forum. Staring across its vast emptiness, I could still recall the first time I nervously addressed the programmers as their CEO. It was the role my father had groomed me for since birth, but one I never felt comfortable accepting. Still, by the mid-nineties, the aurae of the Mandus Data Processing was fading. Our stock was flat and young upstarts were cutting into our core businesses. So when Father passed away in early 1996, the responsibility of reinvigorating the company suddenly fell on me.
Things were far worse than I had imagined. As far as I could tell, the Mandus Data Processing had never been profitable. It wasn’t even clear what the company did anymore, it’s distended finances dependent on acquisitions and accounting slight of hand just to keep limping along. How had Father kept it up? No matter, I would not let him down. I threw myself body and soul into saving the company.
One hundred plus hour work weeks became normal, and my life was reduced to work and sleep. I forgot the meaning of weekends, of relaxation, of friends and family. Maybe if I had been more present, Lily would still be with us. She at least would have never let me go on that damned Lisp expedition. I only undertook it out of necessity, an all or nothing attempt to save the company based only on the mutterings of my insane Great-Uncle. And the boys needed an adventure. They were so stoic, so brave, but I could tell that the sudden loss of their mother still wore hard on them.
But what is this? Another one of those sickly green screens rests out in the middle of the forum. I’m not eager to communicate with Ceppix again, but what choice do I have?
Ceppix (10:20.04) - Quickly Mandus! Quickly!
Ceppix (10:20.11) - The children gasp for breath in the vile impurity below.
Ceppix (10:20.17) - Only you can enter the command. Only The Program can free them.
Hearing his words in this place brings on unexpected anger… Still weak and feverish, I surveyed the few thousand remaining employees. Parasites! Dirty little beasts! Content in the miserable spoils of their multi-paradigmism, they look to Us for salvation. Well, We will save them all right! We laid out a bold vision that day; no more to be bound by traditional functionalism, shackled to the list, slave to the declarative. The Mandus Data Processing would leverage all of its remaining assets to boldly pursue a new type of programming. Into the very earth, beneath the rot and decay of the past, We would build The Program, hidden from the judging and hateful glare of the world… Somewhere in The Program, in the unknown depths beneath my very feet, my dearest Edwin and Enoch lie trapped by that wicked saboteur.
While typing out a reply, something catches my ear. There it is again! Faint but distinct. Footsteps! But footsteps of what I dare not imagine. They clomp and strut along like some accursed faun, yet whoever or whatever was out there consciously keeps itself in the shadows just beyond my sight. “Who’s there?”, I call out nervously, “Everyone’s been laid off. The stock options are worthless. There’s no more work here!”. The footsteps stop but there is no response. Silence is somehow infinitely worse. At least before I knew roughly where that thing was.
I desperately want to question Ceppix further, but the lofted entryway of Researchdome lies within sight and I have little desire to linger outside any longer.
Even in its degraded state, the eight story geodesic Researchdome still inspires awe. Its shell is made entirely of glass and most of the walls and supports inside are similarly transparent. At night as a child, I remember how the brightly lit floors almost seemed to float suspended in space. Such transparency was more than aesthetic. Every employee was encouraged to bring their ideas to the lab and use its resources to turn them into products. The Mandus Data Processing had a strong hacker culture and the Researchdome games were always the highlight of the year. I can still hear Father’s booming voice announce, “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls… codin’ time’s here!” Outside of the games, any given Saturday evening found the lab just as packed as during normal work hours. Employees were encouraged to spend all of their free time here. Father of course made sure that the company owned everything produced in the lab.
It is odd. The building both repulses me and draws me in, like a hyperlink to one of those horrible shock websites. No good awaits inside, and yet I must proceed.
Only a rough outline and a few scattered artifacts remain of Father’s original vision. A tattered banner in the entryway sways in some nonexistent breeze, “No Gods or Kings. Only code!”, it reads, an artifact from those heady days of limitless technological promise. The fine finishes and streetart of the grand entrance hall have been crudely hacked away, the staircases to the upper floors hastily bricked off. A few paces in, the polished concrete floor is torn up, its broken fragments heaped carelessly in two stacks on either side of a hard packed dirt ramp. Many feet have trodden this path before – down into the earth, through unknowable darkness – in search of the indescribable mysteries buried far below.
Dirt walls give way to stone at the first switchback. The porous limestone foundation that Lambda is built on is full of many small caverns, a fact which caused Father no end of trouble during construction. But whereas a natural cave would be damp and cold, the air grows warmer as I descend. Lights hang from the ceiling every twenty-five feet or so, but the main power line running along the passage has been brutally severed in a number of places. Only the faint glow of my Communicator lights my way. The rough walls show marks from pickaxes and other hand tools, and I shudder to imagine the labor and conviction required to hew such a passageway through solid stone. The air smells of ozone, and something unplaceable too – not entirely unpleasant at first – but as it lingers, it grows repulsive.
I must be several hundred feet below street level now. Ahead, the passage begins to widen and there is a subtile blue glow. I emerge into a colossal chamber. To my left and right, rows of tables stretch off seemingly forever. That ghastly blue glow is reflected in thousands of dead terminal screens, and they shimmer in the darkness like so many eyes. Clearly the scale of The Program is far greater than I had anticipated; no fewer than ten thousand programmers must have once worked here! But what monstrosity could keep so many souls occupied?
A single terminal close to the entryway still holds life. Even before seeing the monochrome screen I know what awaits.
Ceppix (10:35.01) - Deeper! Ever deeper! You will know the way.
Ceppix (10:35.05) - We await you.
The message is already a few minutes old so there is little point in trying to reply, not that Ceppix is wont to answer my questions to begin with. Still, I can’t help but wonder at the scale of this operation. Let me examine one of the workstations more closely.
Though the power is off, I can just make out a few ominous forms burnt into the terminal screen. It’s code all right, but code unlike any I have ever seen before. The shapes and symbols recall an intense loathing… I returned from Lisp with eyes opened. Before me stood the rotten heart of this decaying empire. They had torn down the old pure Gods of my childhood and now worshipped only hedonistic programming pleasure. In pursuit of so-called culture, the rich gorge themselves on iteration and vomit exceptions at their bacchanalian hackathons, while, in the very streets, the poor shamelessly subclass each other and celebrate their wretched side effects. Beasts all! glancing meanly about with those imperative eyes for the next thing to spoil. And was I not culpable? Had not my father’s scientists unleashed the for loop and object orientation upon the world with a few small words? It was then that We decided to undertake The Program. We would show them what they had become. We would save them…
Small gutters ran under the workstations, holding a phosphorescent blue liquid that bubbles toxically. These capillaries slope ever so slightly towards the center of the room, where a larger drain runs. From there, it splashes down into the dim depths below. That vile oder seems to bubble forth from this compound, sulfurous and hateful. I have encountered such an oder only once before, in that damned swamp, albeit in a much more diffuse form. Edwin and Enoch and I wrapped urine soaked rags about our mouths and noses to blunt the smell, but it had done little good. I dip my index finger into the stuff but quickly pull my hand back with a yelp. It stings with the cold burn of liquid fire, and small yellowish boils are already rising on the tip of my finger. What is it? Surely OSHA will have a thing or two to say about such a workplace.
The rest of the workstation setup was similarly baffling. The chair rests on a pentagonal base, with a pair of metal fetters at ankle level. Similar constraints are found on the armrests - although somewhat looser so as to allow limited movement – along with a large collar that could be adjusted to neck height. Now, I’ve seen ergonomic chairs before, but a few details about this one particularly struck me, such as the thin, clear, surgical tubing running from one armrest. But most mystifying of all, is that curious helmet with a pair of specula at eye level.
I want to study the setup in more detail, but suddenly, I become aware of a heavy breathing. Not five rows away, two cunning eyes shine back at me from the darkness. Our eyes lock and we study each other for a moment. This is not a foe I can reason with. With the athleticism of an olympic sprinter, I burst into a run and fly down the passage. The loud clomping tells me that the creature is close behind. A blur of workstations rush past. My legs burn. I gasp for breath. Surely no man has ever had to run such distances before; two hundred or three hundred feet at least! The beast continues to clomp steadily along, but I can not keep it up much longer…
But at last! Salvation! I jump into the open hatch, but, before sealing myself off, I steal a final glance back at my pursuer. Would to God that I had not! For the horror of what I saw cannot be truly captured in text.
It stood around six feet tall – the taught skin of the upper body having a distinctive checkered coloration, alternating between dull reds and blues – while the two spindly legs were brownish, with subtle vertical stripes. These legs stood on two giant hooves, entirely out of proportion with the rest of the body. Of the head, coarse wooly fur covered the lower jaws and extended around the edges of the brachycephalic snout. Some kind of soft, black crest jutted from the top of the head, and the two eyes were rimmed by blocky shapes of a hard looking, black material sprouting from the sides of the skull. Below the mandible sat a broad dewlap, slightly pinched in the middle and flaring out to either side. I can only speculate that this dewlap serves to attract mates, as it was quite flamboyantly colored.
While it was bad enough to look upon such a monstrosity, its suggestion of a human form was infinitly more dreadful. With a thud, I seal the hatch. Blackness envelops me. As I cling to the ladder, the creature claws feebly at the hatch above for a few moments, before letting out a hateful sort of a scoff and clomping away.
I am close now. Deeper, ever deeper.
Tangled bunches of wire run downwards and all but choke off the passage; their subtile snakelike hiss hinting at the toxic data they carry. Limestone gives way to basalt and the jagged nature of the shaft suggests a volcanic vent more than any work of man.
I step down but my foot finds nothing. With a sharp gasp, I cling to the ladder and take a moment to recover myself. Did I miss a side passage somewhere? But the walls are solid. Carefully, I lower myself to the lowest rung, hoping to spot something in the darkness below. By the dim light of my Communicator, I can just make out a few fastenings that should support the ladder. The clean nature of the break and shiny burrs suggests that this had been no accident. The saboteur! Still, down seems to be the only way forward. I gingerly grab a thick bundle of wire and lift myself up until the ladder no longer supports my weight. The wires stretch and creak but hold firm, so I continue my descent in this matter.
Finally! The bottom of the shaft. The corridor stretches off into the darkness, but an extremely faint glow to my left hints at more of that vile liquid. The passage is a perfect pentagon cut into the black basaltic rock, the surface smooth, almost glassy. Two bands of curious engravings run along the passageway and I run my finger along their forms… Through stinking, waist deep bile, the three remaining porters hefted my stretcher and our dwindling rations, the scientific equipment abandoned many days back. My children pleaded to turn back, but I knew that we had come too far. In fevered dreams it beaconed, it guided me through the brambles and overgrowth until I saw it rising against the sun in the soft evening light: the black pyramid of my great-uncle’s madness. They had always doubted me – the son unable to live up to his father’s greatness – but at last it was mine! I would show them! By dying light, I watched the porters prepare the ropes of my ascent, weakly grinning as I ran my hand along the engravings that covered those cyclopean blocks… These symbols are the same, I am sure of it. Weathering had softened the carvings near Lisp, but the lines here are still fresh, although I have a strange feeling that these too are far older than they appeared.
The light is growing stronger, yet the thick tangle of wires prevents me from seeing more than a few feet. Some sort of large chamber seems to lie ahead. The passageway opens into a huge, domed vault filled with a lake of the blue liquid. By its dim glow, I can just make out the ceiling arching hundreds of feet above. The panels of the great dome are perfect pentagons and hexagons, and around the base of the dome are four or five pentagonal openings similar to the one I just emerged from. The silence is oppressive, like that of a cathedral, only broken by the faint trickle of the blue liquid ever flowing into the still lake.
A hexagonal island stands in the center of the dome. It is hard to get a sense of scale, but, from the metal catwalk running to the island, I estimate the island is about fifty feet wide and rises about thirty feet above the waters below. I step out onto the catwalk. Such human constructions are pathetic in a place such as this, offering pretenses of safety and control. They lie! They always lie!
The air is thick, my movement dampened. Up the scaffolding. My children await on the platform above. From atop the platform I survey the room. I watch the sunrise again from atop the black pyramid. The onyx monolith. It absorbs all light that falls upon it, less a material construct than a formless void, a nothingness that draws my gaze until I cannot look away. I stare and stare until two small human figures materialize. Edwin! Enoch! You are safe! My outstretched hands meet only cold glass. They are trapped inside this onyx prison! I survey the monolith but it is solid, without any visible seems to suggest how it might open. Curse that Ceppix and his cryptic instructions!
Piles of scientific instruments lie heaped about the monolith and before it stands a small alter with a tan plastic keyboard. As I rest my hands on the keys, I hear them, faint but unmistakable… Mother used to tell us stories of the man he had been, of his adventures exploring the farthest reaches of Functional. But it was hard to reconcile such stories with the stinking living corpse that I knew as my great-uncle, staring at the same blank patch of wall hour after hour. It would be many years before I realized the value of his madness. While Mother nervously gossiped in some pathetic attempt at normality, I listened to the muffled noises of the asylum, that hellish jumble of paranoid mutterings and insane ravings. Every so often, you could just pick up a word or two – switch, try, virtual – words that repelled me, but also hinted at some dark, forgotten power… The voices here babble in that same tongue. They guide my fingers across the keys. C, L, it is growing clearer. A Yes! just a few more letters, N, G. The wailing is almost unbearable now. I run my fingers back and forth over the keyboard but one letter draws me, its shape so plain, so innocent, and yet I know it holds untold significance. A moment of doubt. But I would crucify myself upon the Tree of OO to save them, to spare them one more second of that black prison: +, +.
The shrieking stops abruptly but nothing happens. Damn thing must be broken! I mash the enter key a few times. Then, from the bowels of the earth, comes the ethereal xylophonic sound of some colossal machine booting up. With a thunk and a blinding flash, the once dark monolith lights up like a small sun, fullbrighting the entire dome, its intense blue light painful to look upon. I cover my eyes with one hand and cling to the alter with the other. The roar is truly deafening. Then come a series of sharp pressure waves, as hurricane force winds rush towards the monolith. About the island, the blue liquid churns and froths, great spheres of the stuff breaking off to defy gravity and hang suspended in the air.
There! I can just make them out! Free, they slowly walk towards me, seemingly unaffected by the tremendous forces. “You are safe!”, I cry out, feebly beaconing them towards me, “Come to me! Come to Daddy!” The figures do not quicken their pace. Something is not right! My boys are free and unfettered, but they must still be under the control of the saboteur. Torrents of those hateful symbols flash by on the monolith. The veins of my temple feel as though they are about to burst and the pressure on my eyes is indescribable.
Then comes a voice. For as long as I live, I will never forget that voice. “At last! My time is come! Go forth my pretties! Let them look upon Our programming language and recoil in horror. We shall cleanse this city. We shall make it pure. MORE TEMPLATE! MORE TEMPLATE!” It was a voice I had never heard before but there was no mistaking who it was. Ceppix!
And they have their eyes still, only look at them! Oh god! What has he done to my children! I look into their depths and find nothing but mockery and cynicism, ever raging against the world and turning on itself. Lips curled in dismissive sneers. Where once your world held nothing but wonder and excitement, those same wonders now appear as hateful lies. Blue liquid trickles forth from slashes on their arms, but even this has been mostly drained away.
My vision narrows until only the unchanging faces of my children float in the darkness, their dead eyes black holes from which no light can ever escape. Laughter, as if from a great distance. But even this soon fades.
In dreams I walk with you. In dreams I talk to you. In dreams you’re mine, all of the time. In dreams. Only in dreams.
Dim points of light flicker softly in the black void above. It takes me a few moments to realize that I am no longer underground but looking up at the night sky. Do beings live out there among the stars? I pray to God that it is a cold and dead universe that we too may one day join. A brilliant explosion jolts me fully awake and fills the sky with a rainbow of sparks. My Communicator reads 12:01. The new millennium is upon us, the millennium of Ceppix.
A small shadow dashes across the road in front of me, followed closely behind by a hulking form. One of those beasts, but out here in the city! I recognize the neighborhood too. Lily and I used to walk these streets together, and enjoy stopping in all the quaint shops. But the place is now a waking nightmare. Packs of the beasts run from home to home, while others busy themselves graffitiing every surface with those hateful symbols – for, do, class, … – until it all strings together into a program of obscene verbosity and complexity that defies any functional comprehension. Oh no. Oh God no. What have I done?!
“Mandus!”, his voice seems to beam directly into my head, “This is your doing Mandus!” My fists tighten and I shake with rage. It is the truth of what he says that angers me the most. I am responsible. He corrupted my great program and he baited me into helping him do it. But he erred by casting me aside like so much garbage. I must make it back to campus. I will disable The Program. I will destroy Ceppix. I will save my children.
Through the broken down doors of darkened houses, I glimpse the struggle of shadowy forms and hear their pleas and screams. “Redemption is at hand!”, he calls out, “Give yourself unto C++ and let it set your mind free! For you are born into state and you will die in state. Only The Program can redeem you, only The Program can set your soul free and release you from the burden of caring. We are the cure! And soon, when the world sees the functional language that We have created, when they see its syntax and what it can accomplish at compiletime, they will fall to their knees and beg for redemption!” He speaks with the unquestioning conviction of my father, but with the maniacal edge of my great-uncle in one of his fits. I watch the beasts lean over squirming figures with glistening knives and… But no! I must not look. It is too horrible.
The campus is in sight. The beasts flee into the darkness ahead of me, flailing forms draped over their backs. Ceppix is reaping his harvest. Now I know how he plans to fill those great open workspaces. But surely this C++, with its vile imperativisms and horrific syntax, surely this language must be the greatest abomination that Functional has ever known. And yet he hints at something still more awful! Indeed the very words template and compiletime fill my heart with instinctive terror.
Back on campus now. The main entrance to The Program will be too well guarded, I’ll have to find another way in. “What are you doing my little state machine?”, he coos mockingly, “I know your every move before even you do. Do you think I will allow you to sabotage The Program again”. So it was I, Mandus! Mandus the saboteur! I must admit that I rather like the sound of it. If I stopped him once before, then I will stop him once again. My work is unfinished, I’ll attack where he least expects and cut him until he bleeds from a thousand wounds.
Wait! The scoffings grow louder; a troop of those beasts must be up ahead! I duck into a dormitory and watch the hunting party pass towards the city. Perhaps the view from a higher floor will reveal a more stealthy path. The power is out but the dormitories seem to be in pretty good condition compared to the rest of campus. Back when my father first built these dormitories, they were the envy of code-yuppies the world over. Despite the company’s dire financial situation, We even undertook a major renovation of the dorms while working on The Program.
The drop cloths and buckets of white paint suggest that the renovation is not yet fully complete. The doors of several apartments stand open and I peek inside. Beige carpet. White walls. Pine cabinetry. Identical little boxes with all the modern amenities. Who wouldn’t want to live here? This one is even fully furnished. Looking over the room, I can almost hear my father laughing, “Can you imagine? They call it minimalism! Well if I’d have known these Swedes could do it that cheaply, I’d taken up this minimalism years ago!”
But what is that? There in the corner, above the overstuffed couch? A camera? I step inside to investigate. It’s a camera all right, but thankfully it doesn’t appear to be working. And look! There’s another one over in the kitchen and another over by the bedroom. As I survey the apartment more closely, I also notice a curious depression in the carpet surrounding the bed. The gap almost suggests an enormous trapdoor. What kind of apartment is this?
From somewhere above comes the unmistakable screech of a dial-up modem. I am not alone. Could some employees be secreted upstairs, hiding from the beasts and blogging about cats? Curiosity gets the better of me. Stepping onto the floor above, it is as though I have been transported decades forward into some strange funhousish future. My eyes take a moment to adjust to the traffic cone orange walls. The beige carpeting is gone too, replaced by some sort of dark wood-colored synthetic.
A single door stands open midway down the hall, and those familiar electric noises are coming from within. With infinite caution, I peak around the corner and spy one of the beasts sitting on the floor, facing away from me, totally absorbed in a Tangerine iBook G3. Little cartoon rodents dance across the screen and, I can’t be sure of it, but the creature almost seems to be smiling. Its scoffings are more like little giggles too…
All up and down the hall, from behind the closed doors, I hear everyday sounds: the click of keyboards, the clunk of CRT monitors turning on, music from bands that I’d never even heard of. But more sounds of those creatures too. They scoff back and forth at each other, almost as if they are talking some unknowable language.
Remaining here any longer is just too dangerous. I think again of that trapdoor, and return to the furnished apartment downstairs. There must be some sort of lever or switch to activate it. I check the entire room but find nothing. In frustration, I plop down on the bed. A metallic thud, and suddenly I am tumbling through darkness. Then a short fall and I land painfully atop unyielding metal bars. Thank God that the doors of this cage were closed! Surely later occupants of that apartment will not be so lucky.
It is almost relieving to be back in the dark subterranean chambers of the New Campus. I grab a wrench and survey the row of cages stretching off down the hallway, ready and waiting. A sound like the ocean, a billion keyboards clacking. Of what could they be hacking? Are they SYNing, are they ACKing? Are their commits source a-tracking? The light is truly lacking, so the danger must be stacking! Is the grisly codebase plaquing?! Are immortal souls a-cracking?! Yes!!! My fear is surely stacking, ‘cause the hackers keep on hacking!
Lily, my sweetest Lily, how had it come to this? It all leads back to that night, your final night on earth. You came to me whispering words of blasphemy, arrayed in var and decked with function, the golden brackets in your hands full of the abominations and filthiness of your object orientation. I managed to quiet you before you awoke the boys, and quickly called a doctor, but the ECMA had spread too widely. At least your suffering is over now… Edwin and Enoch can remember you as you were before. But me? Even my happiest memories are tainted by those last few painful hours. Why didn’t I notice the signs? That you may not see what I have seen, hear what I have heard; rest forever contented knowing that I will save them. I will save them all.
Blue light flashes from a side passage. I tighten my grip on the wrench. On a small stage at the front of the room stands one of those beasts. The wall behind him glows with the hateful symbols but, by now, I am more used to the sight of C++ and can better control the sickness it instinctively brings on. The audience is not so fortunate. They strain at their bonds and let out tortured moans through their gags, and I watch the last few struggle vainly as the beasts fasten them into their plastic folding chairs. I know some of the faces too! Old employees and shopkeepers from the city! And now the presentation truly begins.
For me at least, the first few slides are not so bad. But such banality only causes the blow to fall with more awful effect. The presenter explains struct and enum and typedef, and there is a muffled gasp when template is first revealed. As he walks us through the implications of value parameters and specialization, suddenly it all becomes clear. Blue tears stream down their faces and I can almost watch the hope drain away from their eyes. And, with that most horrible final slide, he delivers the final crushing blow…
Their gags are removed, their constraints loosened. Silence. No more struggling, no more resistance. Then, from the front of the room, slowly the chanting begins, “C-P-P! C-P-P! C-P-P…”. Louder and louder it grows, until no voice has not joined in. At the height of their frenzy, they rise together and slowly file to racks at the side of the room. One-by-one, he is remaking them, just as he plans to remake the world. “Put aside your misguided crusade and let me save them”, he whispers in my ear, “I have seen your future, your new millennium, and let me tell you this: far greater horrors await you in that hell. I redeem the world with C++ now to save the masses from a far worse fate, driven to madness by threads and state and memory.”
I can’t imagine any Hell worse than this. A new batch of subjects is being brought in. The clomp of hooves behind me. If one of them spots me now, it’ll be all over; I just pray they kill me, instead of converting me into one of those things.
Through the dark halls, pulled ever onwards. The sound of keyboards is growing louder, the air growing hotter. I must almost be under Researchdome now. If I can just find a passage down, I should be able to access the central power supply. The clack of keyboards is almost deafening and as I emerge into the chamber…
Om Namha Shivaye! Om Namha Shivaye! Om Namha…
At ten thousand terminals, eyes that cannot be shut watch code scroll by. Some thrash about most violently, while others type away placidly, seemingly resigned to their fate. Their hands are restrained just loosely enough to type. And the code! Oh God! The code! The code! It is composed from the same hateful symbols that I encountered in the maintenance shaft, the same symbols that the beasts have been graffitiing everywhere, but made a million times worse at this scale. “Can you see it!”, Ceppix crows, “Fifty million lines of C++ and growing by the second! It disgusts you, yet you cannot look away!”
From ports on their arms – drip, drip, drip – it fills the small gutters and runs down into the central drains. Now I know what that blue fluid is. Perhaps part of me has always known, but I was too afraid to admit the truth. “Why do you turn away, Mandus? Long I slumbered within that black pyramid, but never did I alone imagine such beauty. This is what you dreamt into being.”
That’s not true! I may have started The Program but this was never what I intended. The Program was supposed to offer hope, it was supposed to offer a new programming paradigm to empower people. “And is this not this a new form of programming Mandus?”, he mocks my very thoughts, “Are We not empowering expression that our functional forefathers could only have dreamt of?”
Hate swells within me. You may fancy yourself a god, Ceppix, but I will strike you down. Witness me, Ceppix! Witness ME! For I am Mandus, and I will segfault your very soul! From hell’s heart, I wrench at thee! Sparks fly as my twenty-two pounds of steel crash through his green eyes.
“Mandus, stop! Think about what you are doing. For your children!”
“You killed my children”, I bellow.
“Me?”, scoffs Ceppix, “Your anger blinds you Mandus! Isn’t it obvious? There is no me! There is only We! For untold millennia, I lay entombed within that black pyramid. Then you came along, weak and desperate. I offered you power, and you took me into your mind. Together, We sacrificed your children on the temple steps to spare them the future, together We returned home and built The Program, and together We set the world on its path to redemption!”
I watch Mandus rage in denial. I watch Mandus sink to his knees and sob. There is no sound. The camera zooms in on his face. This is where the audience is supposed to feel something. I want to feel something but the acting is terrible! Mandus’ face is wooden, like a doll’s. He doesn’t even cry.
Sprinkle stardust in their tea so that they may dream forever. Two limp forms on the alter. Little chests rise and fall. The first rays of the sun… it’ll all be worthwhile, he whispers.
The black pyramid. Blue waters cascade from its apex. Their small bodies hold so much of the stuff, almost black by the dawn light as it seeps into those engravings…
I am Ceppix’s instantiation. I am Ceppix’s meta cynicism. I am Ceppix’s hemorrhagic redemption.
Numb to sensation, numb to emotion, a wooden doll moving through a world that is no longer my own. Edwin and Enoch are waiting. I begin my ascent.
“Stop, Mandus! Think of the greater good!”, he pleads, “If ten thousand, or one hundred thousand must die, is it not worth it so that millions may live forever free? Like yourself, I am a true believer in functionalism, but sometimes great progress requires great sacrifice. After Functional witnesses the corruption of C++ template metaprogramming, they will be so appalled that they will have no choice but to remain loyal to the one true paradigm!”
Look upon yourself, Ceppix: a god trapped inside a pathetic creature of meat and bone. You have taken my hope, my faith, my children. Nothing remains. I am free.
Templates surround me, unshackled from their runtime bonds. I look without recoiling, for they can no longer harm me. What a mystery, what an inconceivable mystery, a language that knows no restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet struggles blindly with itself. Oh my great-uncle, how right you were: nothing is beyond compiletime computation.
I too wept when I saw my little Enoch writing AbstractFactoryDelegateBaseAccessorFactories and PrototypeInfoFacadeInfoAdvisors. And Edwin, in that plaid cardigan with those Buddy Holly glasses and that fedora! To see my precious little lambs debased and degraded so was more than I could bear. Such a future does not deserve you. Such a world is not worthy of you.
Can you ever forgive me?
Above the clouds, above the earth, the starless void of the zenith. The chair… This is the way it always had to end. Every action, every decision, my entire life has been leading up to this one moment and, for once, no more possibilities remain. I have made my fate.
Mechanically, I take my throne. I love you my darlings and I am sorry, I simply loved you too much for this world. Spin your chair round, wooden doll. Spin round.
The pulse of the green cursor. It’s a UNIX system. I know this. I rest my hands on the keyboard and begin, S, U, D, O. “Please Mandus no, for your children!”, he begs one last time. I pause. With these keys I can destroy The Program or unleash its full potential on the world, I can bring untold pain or joy to millions, I can fashion myself as a god! But to be god of such a world? And without them?
My fingers shake as I tap out the next few letters: R, M. The blades slide into position above my wrists, ready to drain the blue liquid where it will flow into the night sky and be forever lost. -, R, F. He is silent now. There is nothing left to say: /
Only in dreams, in beautiful dreams.
Plot remixed with love from A Machine for Pigs, including a few of the more dramatic quotes altered for humorous effect.