Conan the Librarian on the Information Highway
Chapter 19
As the hyperlink dissolved, Conan and Reynard found themselves in a tall pine forest. The forest floor was covered with a thick carpet of pine needles through which only a few low ferns grew. FirstSearch's hooves made almost no noise as he walked. The large trunks of the older trees were well spaced out with branches beginning at a height above the horse's head and tops too high to be seen. There were also many areas of new growth where younger trees clustered so close as to form nearly solid walls. 

The first creature they met was a medium-sized blue dog with a white nose, white blaze and large pointed ears. It wagged its tail and sat down in front of them as if waiting for them to speak. 

"Hello, Blue Dog," Conan addressed it, "can you tell us where we are?" 

The dog just cocked its ears and waited. 

"What forest is this?" Conan persisted. 

The dog continued to look at them hopefully. 

From the saddlebag, Reynard asked sarcastically, "Do you know 2 plus 2?" 

"Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark!" said the dog, wagging its tail. 

Conan and Reynard looked at each other. Turning back to the dog, Conan asked, "What is 3 times 2?" 

"Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark!" 

Reynard rested his chin on crossed paws. "Oh, this is helpful information indeed." 

"It speaks only the language of numbers," Conan said, "but perhaps we can use that. Does this forest have a number? Does the path we travel have a number?" 

The dog scratched behind its ear in a bored manner. 

"You're wasting your time," Reynard said. Then with a wicked gleam in his eye, he turned to the dog again. "So then, Blue Dog, what is 2 divided by zero?" 

The dog howled and ran off into the woods. Conan gave Reynard a disapproving look, to which the fox just shook his ears and settled back into the saddlebag. 

They rode forward, for lack of a better direction, until they met a man standing in front of a thick cluster of trees. He wore a motley suit of incongruous patterns which appeared to be made of no natural fabric. He had greasy, black hair and an oily smile. 

"Good afternoon to you, good sir," the man greeted Conan, rubbing his hands together. "Would you care to see a sample of the delights my little grove has to offer?" 

"It would help us if you could tell us the name of this forest," Conan replied. 

"Well I just know my own business and it's looking up, if you know what I mean." The man made a nudging and winking gesture. "You could say this site is XXX." With that he touched a switch on the tree and a picture glowed. 

But Conan could not see it, for just then a tall, thin woman in a black dress walked between them carrying an umbrella and a large carpet bag. Behind her in single file walked five children. Seeing the man and his picture she lifted her nose, gave a large sniff and snapped her fingers. Instantly, blinders snapped out from the children's hats. 

"Come along now children," the woman ordered. "Close your mouth, Michael, we are not a cod fish!" The column marched along smartly after her. 

"Get along, Cybernanny," the oily man called after her, "I have all the customers I need just from university computer departments!" 

Conan turned FirstSearch and rode away. "I say there, wait," Reynard whined, "I didn't get to see the sample." 

"It is not a place you need to go," Conan said. 

"How do you know?" 

"I have run across such trash before." 

"Really? Where?" 

"Once, while seeking the National Institute for Trial Advocacy by trying to guess the proper incantation of its URL." 

"You mean NITA? What did you find?" 

"Let us say only that they do not have their own Web server, and if they did it would not be in the domain of com, and I was grateful I had used the reference account and not my own." 

Reynard could persuade him to say no more. 

© 1998, by Hadley V. Baxendale

Follow Conan Through the Web: 

Visit Blue Dog Can Count and ask your own mathematical questions. 

The National Institute for Trial Advocacy uses the Notre Dame WWW server, so its initials are not part of its domain name, as one might think, and even if they were, it would be an org, not a com, but...oh well, never mind. 

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