Conan the Librarian on the Information Highway
Chapter 6
Deeper into the Uselessnet Conan rode, following the FAQ's directions carefully. The sky grew dark, the paths narrow and tangled. Sometimes they looped back on themselves, causing people to run in circles posting to every group. Many he passed seemed not to have slept for days. All were too absorbed to notice him. 

He passed a purple dinosaur hanged in effigy beside the scrawled message "die.die.die". Across the way, a man in a checkered cloak and white sandals crept from group to group posting apparently identical messages with the words "make.money.fast" and a golden pyramid. Suddenly, a moose charged around the corner and chased the man away. The smell of an enchantment Conan recognized as "cancelbot" lingered in the air. All the pyramid messages had disappeared. 

Further on, Conan was stopped by the thunder of running feet and the sounds of screams. FirstSearch reared as the mob streamed past. A man with singed hair and a sooty face stumbled into FirstSearch, grabbing the saddle to steady himself. He looked up at Conan with wild eyes. "Scientologists!" he cried, before the crowd carried him on. 

When the crush passed, Conan peered cautiously along the way they had come. Through thick smoke, he saw the shadows of the combatants with their flame-throwers and heard the roar of the fire. To his horror he noticed the flames taking on a life of their own, floating at the tops of the walls, singeing all groups as they rushed down the corridors. Quickly, he rode FirstSearch back the way they had come until they found safety down a path marked "moderated". 

But detouring around the floating flame war had its own costs and soon he was completely lost. The ways were longer and more narrow. There had not been a wide space since alt.mythology. Then FirstSearch stopped, pawed the ground and snorted. Conan urged him forward but he rolled his eyes, flared his nostrils and stood his ground. The scent of smoke wafted up from the right-hand passage, but instead of accelerant it smell of charcoal. From the smoke-filled end of the corridor came the sound of hoofs and a burp. 

FirstSearch reared suddenly, throwing Conan to the ground. He found himself looking up at a monster with the face and trunk of a man, but the body of a red bull. Small black horns protruded from the curly red hair on its head. It wore a barbecue apron and seemed to have a pot belly, though Conan was not sure where the belly of such a beast would be located. It was picking its teeth lazily. 

"I wasn't expecting another sna..., uh, visitor so soon, but welcome," the monster smiled. 

"I certainly did not expect to see you," Conan replied, rising to his feet and brushing off his wounded dignity. 

The minotaur gazed at him quizzically. 

"You are different from the others who wander to this place," he said. "They mostly babble and draw sideways smiley faces on the walls." He gestured with the toothpick and Conan saw the walls were quite covered. 

"And how long have you preyed on the Net-addicted?" 

"My aren't we judgmental? I had to do something to make a living after King Minos died. Installing newsgroups has allowed me to maintain my lifestyle. Which, you understand, I cannot allow you to reveal." 

With that the minotaur took a shish kebab skewer from off the wall and charged. But Conan drew his sword faster and plunged it into the monster's heart. The smell of blood mixed with the smell of barbecue sauce. 

"Well done," said a familiar voice to Conan's left. Turning quickly with sword raised, he beheld the FAQ. 

"I do hope you will forgive me for arranging this," the FAQ continued, "but it was the only way we could rid the Net of that monster." 

"But why me?" 

"Because it is written that the minotaur can only be slain by a hero whose spirit resides not in the basement of his parents. And such heros never venture this far into the Net on their own. But allow me to show our gratitude." He gestured to the wall behind Conan. It began to shimmer, then became a mountainous vista. Conan smelled fresh air. FirstSearch whickered in his ear. Turning to thank the FAQ, he discovered the Uselessnet was gone and he stood in a green valley with a light mist falling. 

© 1996, by Hadley V. Baxendale

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