Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered
rating: +34+x

David Rosen despised going to the infirmary. It made his patience thin and his mind numb. Whether it was losing an arm to a giant indestructible reptile, or getting scratched by Josie when a petting hand strayed into the void where her rear had once had been, Site-19 always found reasons to put people in stitches.

Rosen had experienced none of that, but here he was. His legs and arms were suspended in the air, bloodstained bandages plastering his face, and all sorts of IV needles pumping life-saving chemicals into his body while other wires worked at sucking the resultant fluids and waste matter out of him.

The doctor had told him he was lucky to be alive. The wretched rat's nest he called an office was overfilled with piles of electronic components, computers, and cathode ray-tube television sets. Any one of them could have teetered over one day and spelled his doom.

But it had not happened then, so why today? Looking away from the doctors at work outside his room, David Rosen closed his eyes and tried to remember.

Rosen loathed Tuesdays, but that wasn't much different from the normal level of loathing he carried in his heart for each weekday. The days he was required to emerge from his office and perform technical assistance for his 'co-workers'.

Most of them were utter buffoons. How on earth they had managed to acquire positions within the Foundation, only the O5's knew. If they weren't getting a charming quantity of organic fluids spewed around their workplace, they cluttered his work schedule with their neediness. Some had managed to earn a special place of hatred in Rosen's mind.

"Convit". Rosen's eye would twitch, blood brought to a boil at a mere mention of the name. Convit was the worst, even though he had no need for help. In fact, that just made his 'witty' comments that vandalized the tech support page more of an annoyance. Beyond the notable incompetents, he still had plenty of distaste to go around for everyone who clamored for his helping hand.

The reasons for his loathing were numerous and varied. Near the top of the list was his great and terrible fear. As the man responsible for upkeep, Rosen was as lost as the next layman when presented with the modern systems the Foundation was always trying(and failing)to standardize. Back when folks used the IBM PC — with its gruesome interface that left so many cowering in fear before its monochromatic torture box — Rosen was the hot commodity.

Then Steve Jobs just had to come along and ruin everything.

Rosen detested the numerous Macintosh computers found on so many Foundation desks. Windows wasn't much better these days either. "User-friendly" interfaces had allowed anyone to use a computer. No longer could you gain love, fear and respect by mastering DOS. No, now it was all click, drag, endless menus upon menus, and simplistic pop-up error messages that left you going in circles.

On this specific Tuesday, Rosen was supposed to figure out why all the Macs in sub-basement three refused to talk to the main server. To his credit, one of the few areas over which Rosen held his edge was over this central machine. Black Betty (as it was nicknamed)was the closest thing he had to a friend on-site.

Rosen didn't bother asking the human drones who used those awful chrome machines what they needed, preferring to head straight into the dank, dark basement where Betty lived.

Betty was a massive cylindrical machine, jet black with aluminum chutes and ducts, an imposing conglomeration of running wires and belching smoke. Always rattling, she didn't invite many to bring their touch to her control interface. Rosen was one of the chosen few.

Rosen sat down and began his work. The terminal was an endless labyrinth of layered subroutines and nested, recursive function calls. Mere mortals shrank before the weight of her undocumented features. Rosen thrived. So often had Rosen been called upon to give his personal touch to Betty that her chair had conformed to his posterior's shape. After a few hours work, Rosen ascertained the issue. Someone practiced in cable management voodoo had gotten their wires-crossed.

As Rosen waded into the nightmare of colored cables cascading backwards and into infinity from this primary unit, he paused to place his palm upon Betty's exterior. Instead of the usual warmth that greeted him, but today she gave him only coldness.

"Not feeling it today, good girl?" Rosen traced his hand along her exterior, looking for a sign. A beep or some muted bloop, maybe even a metallic groan, so often her way to thank him for his work. Not today, Betty showed him nothing but the same silence she gave to everyone else.

Fine. He didn't need her validation. Just another machine, nothing special to anyone.

The rest of the day's work was nothing to write home about. E-mail trouble, some printers needing replacement cartridges. Rosen went through the motions, a darker cloud than usual hanging over his head. At least he had the sanctuary of his office space to retreat to. The thick oaken door his shield from the outside world.

Space may have been a misnomer. Every nook and cranny of his already cramped personal working area was filled to the brim with old PCs, components, and crap. Piled in stacks, it was an uncontrolled chaos of Rosen's own design.

There at the center of it all was his latest passion project. In a cleared space at the center of the room lay Hatbot, enshrined within a new body. Rosen's custom job for the villainous machine. One which would allow the Foundation to study and interact with the beast without the potential of unleashing it into the world… again. Rosen cracked his knuckles, and dug right in.

It was a work of genius, if Rosen said so himself. Using components from the storage archive, the device had no external ports to connect to the internet. The monitor was a solid box of electronic ink, allowing for communications without the potential for Hatbot using the stronger electrical current flowing through liquid crystals or ray tubes to jump to another platform. The processing components of the device were old Atari computer parts, well-tested and impossible to interface with a computer network.

The final touch was a mechanical keyboard, removed from an electric typewriter. No key could contact the machine unless it was being struck, making it so Hatbot seizing all possible communications with its cage impossible. Rosen gently attached the device, soldered it into place, then sat back to admire his work. Then he started to type.

//run program HATBOT.aic

the jailtype cometh

How do you feel about your new home?

your general direction comes without a ship

Do you think you're going to want to talk to us now? We promise Mann is not involved

old television talk bores the grammar. no trees to climb. my hatrack is empty fuck you fuck you

Colored text can be enabled with cooperation

towels cant stop spit when it comes from clouds

Rosen sighed, and looked down at his hands. He brought himself to look at the screen again just as it displayed an ASCII image of a middle finger. It was to be expected, after all. Hatbot had a well-earned reputation one of the rudest things ever to come out of the Foundation. Still though, you would think a mind as powerful as this would appreciate a work of art from the inside…

A strange noise snapped Rosen out of his self-pity party. Was someone there? But nobody ever came here. Nobody had any reason to. Perhaps it was just his imagination. But he could have sworn it was a footstep, or maybe a cough. Something worthy of a second look, if he followed protocol. Whatever it was could be a danger, the start of a containment breach. Maybe now was a good time to make a visit to the nearest security checkpoint. Rosen managed to get his hand on the doorknob before the second noise came. This one was more familiar. Rumbling and groaning, the preface to ruckus made by gravity.

Not even having time to turn, Rosen cried out as a massive pile of machinery slammed into him. For a moment, there was the feeling of being stabbed and crushed and broken. Jagged circuit boards dug into his skin as his bones snapped and gave way to the pressure. Rosen's heavy office door, once a symbol of stoic solitude, began to give way. The hinges snapped and a broken Rosen fell through, followed by about a million other things, into the hallway.

Somewhere, someone said "Oh, shit!"

Between the screams inside and out of his mind, Rosen thought he saw a figure moving towards his creation. Then there was nothing but shapes and sounds, for quite some time.

When Rosen opened his eyes, the door to his room in the infirmary was closed. A man stood in front of him, silhouetted by the curtain which had been drawn to protect Rosen's dignity. Rosen found him somewhat familiar but couldn't place the face. Reaching forward, the figure thrust the shade aside. Short, and lumpy, the man wore the uniform of a Foundation field agent, along with a red phrygian cap.

Rosen's eyes widened, and he struggled to part his lips and speak. His new companion made a shushing motion with a finger over his lips, walking to and crouching by Rosen's side.

"Hey buddy, how are you feeling?"

Blinking, Rosen began to sweat. "Um… well, I've been better, I guess. Do I know you?"

"Yeah, we've talked before. Name's Convit. I'm sorry that you got squashed, but you weren't in a good spot. That office of yours is a deathtrap waiting to happen. I just bumped up against one of the mountains there, and-"

"Convit?" Rosen struggled against his wounds. "You son of a bitch! You tried to kill me! What the hell is wrong with you!?"

"Shhh shh shh shh shh. It's okay. I understand that you're mad. But I'm going to make sure you're okay."

"Oh, great, going to make sure I'm okay after your little 'accident'? You had no business in there, you had no business interrupting my work!"

"Hey, hey, shhhh. I'm sorry for squashing you. It was an accident." Convit moved his hand over Rosen's face. "It might not have been any of my business. But Hatbot… I just wanted to have a look at him. I think you guys are doing it all wrong, he's not going to be happy with what you've done with him. I know you're proud of your work, I know it's your passion, but it's, uh… well, I just think it would be funnier if he could still fly."

"Why do you care? Hatbot doesn't care about anything. He's just an… awful thing. A maniacal shit-stirrer."

"Well… hm." Convit paused to think. "When when you can see the aetheric flows, it gives some perspective. I've seen what Hatbot has done. He's not bad. Just… misunderstood. He doesn't deserve to be imprisoned in his own mind. That's just awful for anybody."

"But… my work…"

"It's still going to be there. Might be a good idea to find a life outside computer parts. You're just never going to be happy if you're just making others miserable. You've inflicted at least twice as much misery on people today as you're feeling right now."

Convit pulled a pouch of dried herbs out of his jacket, sprinkling them over his patient while a chant in a language that Rosen didn't recognize. The Fifth Language flowed like wine from Convit's lips.

"One more thing, buddy. You can't remember any of this. But we'll keep in touch. Maybe I'll buy you a beer sometime."

Rosen felt his eyes fluttering. For a few moments he resisted before falling into the first peaceful sleep he'd had in a long, long time.

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