The Maven Once upon a weekend weary, while I pondered, beat and bleary, Over many a faintl
Once upon a weekend weary, while I pondered, beat and bleary,
Over many a faintly printed hexadecimal dump of core --
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some Source user chatting, chatting of some Mavenlore.
"Just a power glitch," I muttered, "printing out an underscore --
Just a glitch and nothing more."
Ah, distinctly I remember that old Teletype ASR,
And the paper tape dispenser left its chad upon the floor.
Eagerly I thought, "Tomorrow, maybe I will go and borrow
From my friend an Apple micro -- micro with a monitor --
So that I can chat at leisure, and then throw away my paper --
Lying all across the floor.
And the repetitious tapping which had nearly caught me napping
Woke me -- and convinced me that it could not be an underscore;
Appearances can be deceiving, so I sat there, still believing;
"My terminal must be receiving more express mail from the Source --
That's it -- my terminal's receiving new express mail from the Source;
Posted mail and nothing more."
But my curiosity grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
I stood up and crossed the room to see what waited there in store.
Sticking up from the terminal were three inches or so of paper;
Carefully my trembling hand tore off the scrap, and then I swore --
"What is this?", I cried in anger -- here I threw it to the floor;
Blankness there and nothing more.
Deep into its workings peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
What could cause the thing to stutter, dropping twenty lines or more?
But the ribbon was unbroken, and the "HERE IS" gave no token,
I thought the Teletype was broken, so I typed the number "4"!
This I typed, and then the modem echoed back the number "4" --
Merely this and nothing more.
Back then to my work returning, with my temper slowly burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping something louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is just another RESET message;
With my luck, there's probably expensive data to restore!" --
As it chattered, still I sat there, trying to complete my chore.
"'Tis the Source and nothing more."
Such a simple program, really -- just to fill 1K of memory
With the Fibonacci series, but when it reached 144,
It had failed to set the high bit -- suddenly, I thought I had it!
But, just as I found the bug, my train of thought derailed once more --
And the Teletype's loud bell rang, then it sat just like before --
Rang, and sat, and nothing more.
Suddenly, I couldn't stand it -- Just as if someone had planned it,
Now the paper, like a bandit, rolled its way across the floor!
As I put it back, I spied two words: CHAT TCX122 --
Which I knew must be the Maven, chatting from the Eastern shore.
Presently the terminal received and printed one word more --
Quoth the Maven, "#4?"
Such a message I was having difficulty understanding,
For his letters little meaning -- little relevancy bore;
Though I must admit believing that no living human being
Ever could remember seeing evidence of Mavenlore --
Tell me now, what kind of Maven of the saintly days of yore
Could have written "#4?"
But the Maven, waiting for me to reply, transmitted only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he ventured; silently the Teletype purred --
Till I scarcely more than murmured: "Stars and garters, what a bore!" --
Whereupon the terminal abruptly started with a roar;
Then it typed out, "#4?!"
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so tersely spoken
"Doubtless," said I, "what we have here could not be a line error.
Failure to communicate, perhaps -- it's late and getting later --
But I've never seen a greater unsolved mystery to explore."
Then I knew I'd never rest until I solved his semaphore ...
"Who am I, the Prisoner?"
But the Maven didn't answer; no more data did he transfer,
So I wheeled my Herman Miller office chair across the floor;
Then upon the plastic sinking, I betook myself to linking
Logic unto logic, thinking what this ominous bard of yore --
What this unknown, unseen, unsung, unrepentant bard of yore
Meant in typing "#4?!"
This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the dour and cryptic Maven now whose words I puzzled o'er;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the seat back's plastic lining that the lamp-light fluoresced o'er,
But whose flattened plastic lining with the lamp fluorescing o'er
Shall compress, ah, little more!
All at once my thoughts grew clearer -- as if looking in a mirror,
Now at last I understood where I had sent the number 4!
"Look," I typed, "I was just testing -- did you think that I was jesting?
Why was it so interesting that I typed the number 4?
Did you think that you were chatting to some foolish sophomore?"
Quoth the Maven, "... #4?"
"Maven!" said I, "Great defender! Venerable comprehender!
Whether you began this chat, or were a victim of error,
Mystified, and yet undaunted, by this quandary confronted," --
(Could my terminal be haunted?) -- "tell me truly, I implore --
Can you understand my message? -- tell me, tell me, I implore!"
Quoth the Maven, "#4!"
"Maven!" said I, "Great pretender! Ancient Jewish moneylender!
By the Source that now connects us -- by the holy Oath you swore --
Tell me in your obscure wisdom if, within your distant modem,
You receive my words unbroken by backspace or underscore --
Tell me why my Teletype prints nothing but the number 4!"
Quoth the Maven, "#4?"
"Be that word our sign of parting, bard or friend!" I typed, upstarting --
"Get back to your aimless chatter and obnoxious Mavenlore!
Leave no token of your intent -- send no messsage that you repent!
Leave my terminal quiescent! -- Quit the chat hereinbefore!
Type control-P (or escape), and quit this chat forevermore!"
Quoth the Maven, "#4..."
And the Maven, notwithstanding, still is chatting, still is chatting
Over my misunderstanding of his cryptic "#4?";
And I calmly pull the cover and remove a certain lever
From the 33ASR, which I never shall restore;
And a certain ASCII number that lies broken on the floor
Shall be printed -- nevermore!
(with no apologies whatsoever to anyone) ...the Dragon
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank