The Return of Conan the Librarian
Chapter 16
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 conversation."

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

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