Chapter 8

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The plot thickens! An innocuous chapter on designing with block-based methods brings terrible news of a coming conflict. Will W. Web survive? (Thanks to Rob B. for the idea)

W. Web sat, listening intently as his companions bantered back and forth as if according to a script. They had been sitting at the table for some forty minutes, most of them spent discussing the day’s protest and how it had gone. This group, it turned out, was exactly who Web was sent to find – prominent representatives from the clans allied with his, sent to show support and presence at the URL protest downtown.

Wall-mounted oil lamps flickered oranges and yellows off the shadows in the basement tavern as discussions of the protest moved to of motivation, as such conversations tend to do. The occasional shouts and nasal laughter of a group of lingering URLs, their scrawny fry-like bodies in baggy homemade t-shirts, could be heard amidst the clinking of glasses from the bar across the hall.

“Flexibility,” Schema said, slapping his hand definitively down on the table and looking at Web, “So what we need is some flexibility. You have no idea what it’s like having to do the same thing all day.”

“But what else is there to do?” Rusty responded, “You create data, you update it. If you’re lucky, someone might come and read it too. And then one day, you send it to the big bit bucket in the sky.”

“That’s exactly the myopic response that gets us into this type of problem. Look at us! You, six feet tall. Me, with a mustache! People grow, things change. We don’t always know what we want to do with a thing at the time we build it.”

“But there’s a medium to be kept. The best we hope for is some grounding stability amidst the process of change. Certain structures to scope and limit our operations.”

“Look,” Matz jumped in, “I think we can all agree for the needs of both flexibility and structure, but I’m not so sure we need to characterize the solution as a tension between the two. Could we not attempt to live each through the eyes of the other?”

“Agreed,” Jen offered, “what is most important is that we take a holistic approach that incorporates all of our strengths. We can’t afford to factionize ourselves in the face of…” she trailed off, looking uncomfortable.

Faces grew somber and nods accompanied downward stares around the table. A URL laughed loudly in the background.

“In the face of what?” Web replied.

His party looked nervously among themselves, communicating with their eyes in a silent, reluctant argument to decide who would be the one to explain. Rusty leaned in towards the table, the rest of the group following.

“The compilers,” he said in a near whisper, almost mouthing the word. “They have spies, so we can’t discuss it in the open. This rally was a cover for the resistance movement. The secret negotiations have fallen through and the time has run out.”

Web wanted to disregard the statement as silly, but the solemn expressions on the faces looking at him made shivers run down his spine and out his limbs. The air felt suddenly electrified in a way that could not be denied.

“What do you mean, run out? What resistance movement?” Web said, his voice now low and intense.

“There’s a war coming, Web! And it’s too late to stop! They’re gathering by the day. We’ve been tracking them for a year now. But the final preparations have only recently begun.”

“What was the protest for then?”

“To safely gather the leaders of the resistance movement under the guise of an internal struggle,” Jen replied, “until last week, we had only met through messages, passed through unreliable transport.”

“And me? Why was I sent here?”

“Because this war is about YOU, Web” Rusty said, his voice a strained shout hidden in the whisper, “you need to start paying attention to the events around you! Stumbling around on the street like you do!”

“You were sent here so that you could be protected,” Jen said in a much softer tone. Web sat back in the bench, stunned. “Their signal to attack is the Flying Toasters screensaver.”

It was too much to process, but he could see the connections starting to form. The Flying Toasters screensaver? The screensaver! He had been processing orders for that screensaver for months! The biggest resurgence of a software product in years! And the compilers. Nothing on the web was compiled… The electric feeling of the air embedded itself into Web’s skin as Web looked at the faces of his new colleagues, realizing now, for the first time, why he was here.