By Gary McGath
Copyright 2008 by Gary McGath. All rights reserved.
This is a work of fan fiction. All trademarks, references to published works of fiction, and allusions to familiar characters are for purposes of entertainment or satire only. This is not a commercial work and is not offered for sale.
Word got around about the break-in, and although no fingerprints were found, everyone was sure Lord Petitmol had something to do with it. Security cameras and alarms were installed in the server room. A new night watchman, Argo Filk, was hired.
But life went on. Winter gave way to spring. The Linuxes won the Parabola Cup, thanks to Hugh's expert flying of his robot. Between games, he spent almost every spare moment on his driver for the Programmer's Printer. But Rom still hadn't figured out the mysterious stairway that went up.
In May, Hugh got an e-mail from Professor Dublincore asking him to come to his office. He arrived, terrified that his conspiracy had been discovered and he'd be kicked out. But when he arrived, Dublincore said gently, "Hugh, there's something I need to tell you about yourself and your parents. You know, of course, that Lord Petitmol killed them, and you were brought to the Luddleys and raised there. But there's something you've never learned that's very important."
He told him. Hugh was shaken to the core by the revelation. "So you see, Hugh, there is a very special destiny ahead of you. It may be for good or for bad. That's up to you."
He thought about it afterwards for a long time, and told no one. But he decided firmly that he would embrace his destiny, wherever it led him.
A few days later, Rom and Hugh were talking in their room about the mysterious directions, while Neville was away in the lab. "Let's look at the map again," suggested Hugh.
"I've looked at it a dozen times," protested Rom as he took it out.
"I know, but there's got to be something." Rom stared at it, tracing his finger along the trans-dimensional corridor, running further along it -- his eyes lit up. "Of course! I've been blind!"
"What? I don't get it?" Then he looked where Rom's finger was pointing. He'd traced along the Möbius strip with his finger, coming back, and was now under the stairway that led down.
"You've got it!" said Hugh. "What's up on one side of a Möbius strip is down on the other! But it -- it looks good on paper, but how do we really do that? We'd be standing on the ceiling!"
"I've got a good guess. Let's find out, late tonight, and we might find the Programmer's Printer. How's that driver coming?"
"Well, it's written and it works with the simulator, but ... I don't know if it'll really work. There are some configuration values that have to be set, and the spec doesn't say anything about what they should be. It'll all be guesswork."
"You'll get it working," said Rom. "You're what they call a Parsermouth -- you can talk to hardware like nobody else. Bring it along on a memory stick and we'll see it printing!"
It was past curfew when Rom and Hugh sneaked out of their room, careful not to wake Neville. They went stealthily over to the corridor which connected the fourth and seventh floors. Hearing a step behind them, they ducked into an alcove.
"It's just me," whispered Hermioport. "But you should be more careful. If Argo Filk catches us, we'll be banned from Bugwarts!"
"Right," said Rom. "But what are you doing here?"
"You two are about as stealthy as an Apple product announcement. I wasn't going to let you go off without someone sensible. Besides -- " she held out an old, musty-smelling book -- "I just got hold of this book. It might be important!"
Hugh looked at the cover. It read:
On Being Connected with Everything
By Nicholas Flamebait
He opened it, handling the fragile pages carefully. On the first page he read:
"Here are presented the most secret Protocols of the Interface of the Hardware. These Secrets should be divulged only to those of true Wisdom who have passed through the Gateway of Righteousness, lest those who worship false Icons should use them for evil Devices. Let not a single Bit of falsehood be added hereunto, nor any Word of Truth be taken away, and Cast not thy Perls before Swine."
"Well, that's tedious," he said, turning the page. "But hang on! Here it talks about the Programmer's Printer and its configuration parameters! This looks like just what I need to install the driver! It's a good thing you came along!"
They listened carefully to make sure no one was around, then headed down the corridor. As they came to a corner, Rom said, "If I believe the map, if we keep going straight, we'll come out going the other way."
Hugh tapped the wall. "It seems solid. We aren't going to just walk through it, are we?"
"I'll try it first. Worst I can get is a bumped nose." Rom stepped forward at a steady pace, right into the wall -- and disappeared.
"Where are you, Rom?" Hermioport whispered.
"Up here!" They heard his voice over their heads and looked up. There he was on the ceiling, upside-down to them.
"OK, I'll try it," said Hermioport doubtfully. She walked into the wall, vanished, and was on the ceiling. Hugh quickly followed.
"Now what?" asked Hugh.
"Now we go to the stairs," said Rom. They walked along, seeing the light fixtures hanging upward, yet feeling gravity firmly under their feet. They soon came to the stairs which, at least normally, went down to the second floor. By some trick of perspective, the stairs weren't over their heads, but started right at their level. They went up the stairs -- at least, it was going up as far as they could tell. And at the top they came to a door that was right-side up and definitely wasn't the usual entry to the second floor.
It was an unlit corridor, which they could just see from the light below. It led to a door where brighter light was visible from the gap at its base. They stepped forward cautiously, and Rom opened the door.
They saw a room with a gigantic device that had a stack of folding paper with sprocket holes feeding into it. They'd only seen machines like that in old books. And standing next to it, smiling grimly at them, was a man. It wasn't Lord Petitmol, and it wasn't Tape.
It was Squirrel.