By Gary McGath
Copyright 2008 by Gary McGath. All rights reserved.
This is a work of fan fiction. All trademarks, references to published works of fiction, and allusions to familiar characters are for purposes of entertainment or satire only. This is not a commercial work and is not offered for sale.
Things settled into a routine for Hugh. Magnetus Tape was as highly biased against him as ever, but the other classes were better. There was a new teacher of Defense Against Dark Code, Professor Lockfile. For all that had gone wrong, he had to admit it was much better than living with Mundanes. In a couple of weeks, he no longer needed the sling, and he rejoined his intramural Quadratich team, the Linuxes. Draco Malware was now playing for the Windows.
There was a new fad going around, a game called "Droll Time Plot" which everyone seemed to be playing. It was a kind of adventure story in which you went into the past and fixed historical mistakes. You could prevent the assassination of Abraham Lincoln or get authentication built into the original SMTP standard, if you could overcome all the obstacles. The most interesting feature was an interactive advisor, a George Pal-style time machine that you could ask questions in unrestricted English; it was some of the most advanced AI he had run into.
He only played it once, though. Something seemed wrong about it, and he, Hermioport, and Rom talked with Grid, who agreed. "It's too weird," said Grid. "The game's just been copied from one computer to another, and no one admits to being the first one who had it. As the gamekeeper of Bugwarts, it's my job to know about every game that's out there, and I've never heard of this one before."
"But the Eye of Tripoli hasn't banned it," said Rom. "And it's been stopping all kinds of suspicious software."
"Like that prank your twin brothers tried to pull," said Grid with a chuckle. "True, but I still don't like it. I've instructed the Eye not to let anyone put it onto the Internet."
Hermioport said in her characteristic monotone, "I have no need of games. I have no need of sleep. I study day and night."
Rom said, "All you want to do is feed your brain. Get a life, Hermioport."
"I used to have one. It got in the way."
Rom's sister Genie was especially obsessed with the game, to the point of neglecting her classes. When the other girls were ready to drop off to sleep, she'd keep playing, using a headset at their insistence. Hermioport would look up from her books and say, "Genie, you are not like me. You need to sleep."
"No," Genie would say. "I almost prevented the Browser Wars this time! Let's do the Time Plot again!"
But nothing too bad happened -- until late November. A first-year student, Semicolon Creevey, had been found collapsed in front of his laptop computer. He remained in a coma in spite of all the treatment he was given. The diagnosis was uncertain; there were no symptoms except that he wouldn't wake up.
Then in December the students were called into the main hall for an emergency assembly. There were murmurs throughout the hall as they speculated on what was going on. Professor Dublincore stood at the podium and said, "I regret to tell you that a serious theft has happened here at Bugwarts. The Eye of Tripoli has been stolen.
"If one of you did this as a joke or on a dare, you've made a serious mistake. If whoever did it will come to me immediately after this meeting, your punishment will be mild. But if we find later on that a student did it, the penalty will be expulsion."
"How could anyone have stolen it? -- What kind of idiot would do that? -- Where could it be now?" Reactions flew around the hall.
Hugh turned to Rom. "Linus and Unix couldn't have done it as a hack, could they?"
"I certainly hope not," said Rom.
No one admitted to the theft, and no clue turned up. On a slow January day, Hugh, Rom, and Hermioport got to talking. "Could the Eye have been hidden on the thirteenth floor?" asked Rom.
"They know about the thirteenth floor now," Hermioport responded. "They would have looked."
"But there must be other secret passages," said Hugh. "There's the old story about the Chamber of Encryption. Nobody's ever found that, even by walking upside-down on the ceiling."
"So how are we supposed to find it?" asked Rom.
"I'm a Lovecraft," said Hugh, "and you're a zombie, Hermioport. Between us we should be able to find any crypt or hidden chamber."
"The last time we tried something like this," said Hermioport, "I said I would live to regret it."
"But you were wrong," said Rom.
"All right. What more do I have to lose?"