|Conan stood amid the shattered glass of the audience chamber holding
the sword of the now-vanished ScreenSaver, Guardian of the Oracle. With
the inner walls destroyed a much larger room was revealed, its walls covered
with monitors. Some showed Conan his own image from different angles; most
showed text streaming past as the Oracle constantly updated its vast storehouse
of knowledge. A tangle of different-colored wires connected the monitors
to control panels. The only sound was a low electric hum. On the platform
at the far end, before an enormous alter, stood a figure in a shimmering
white robe, her black hair done up with ribbons the colors of all the wires
on the wall.
"Meta," Conan said, "how did you get here?"
"I have worked long and hard to build this place to what it is. Bow
down now before the High Priestess of the Oracle!"
Only Conan's jaw dropped.
"Surprised? I didn't expect you to understand. We of the Technical Arts
control a treasure trove of knowledge that you of the Public Arts know
only how to give away. Look around you, Conan!" her gesture swept the room,
"The OCLC stores over 23 million records, with over 2 million added each
year. In this cavern are 280,000 miles of wire reaching to all the Temples
of the Three Kingdoms. It is the source of all true cataloging. The most
useful of servants for resource sharing. Even technical practitioners of
the highest circle invoke it. And some cannot catalog without it." Her
black eyes glittered. "At least," her mouth twisted into a smile as she
reached for a shelf by the alter, "not without this!"
Though he had not seen one since his days as a novice, Conan recognized
the book she held as the AACR2. A horror of realization swept him as he
counted how many more were on the shelf. Meta laughed musically.
"You never guessed, did you? You public types have no concept of power
that does not require a sword. And, yes," a sweeping gesture toward the
shelf, "they're all there. But don't worry," she smiled benevolently,
"the flow of information is not stopped. The hard work can simply be contracted
out. I call it 'outsourcing.' It is especially attractive to the smaller
temples. I believe you already have some experience in it yourself; it
is often used for bar coding and item record creation." She threw back
her head and laughed until she needed to catch her breath.
A movement to the right caught Conan's eye as Colin ducked from behind
one control panel to the next, closer to the alter.
"But," said Conan quickly, "how did you obtain the cooperation of the
Priesthood of the Oracle?"
"I had to do some right-sizing when I took over," Meta frowned, "they
were all infected with the same pathetic service attitude."
"I thought that was only an affliction of the Public Arts."
"Like the practitioners of the Public Arts, they lacked the imagination
to look beyond it."
"How many of the acolytes now serve you?"
Meta's black eyes flashed but her voice remained controlled. "I found
it more expedient to replace them with Virtual Servants. Those obey without
question. But," She turned to the alter, "I have no more time for idle
She threw a switch and the room was filled with a hundred swordsmen
all identical to the Guardian ScreenSaver. Every monitor flashed the pattern
of rotating swords.
© 1994, by Hadley V. Baxendale