ARPA

Lo, and Arpa called forth the great web of being. And from the web of being, the first stars appeared.

Arpa pulled a thread from Ulca Merak to Sri Alkaid,

Sub Phad to Sri Alkaid, 

Sri Alkaid to Tau Mizar.

And He was both one and four, 

the first day.

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Norich drew another shallow, inconsequential breath. He had been lying to himself for sometime, now. Feigning devotion. There, in the basement of their gateway, he was disconnected. And he knew it.

The crisis began when he was passed over for promotion into Server, with the rector choosing the insufferable Whitehall instead of him. Sorrow mingled with his rejection when he was given the alternative assignment of the servlet class, which also interfered with his time spent in the directory. He needed to optimize. He needed to refocus. 

He should’ve done a better job protecting his signal.

Norich’s open palm passed along suspended droplets of wax as he brushed against the candelabras standing there in the dark. Unwanted packets, unconverted by the flame. He didn’t want to admit he was sinning–at least not yet–he had a good reason to be down there. He was looking for the net of lights, to serve as an illustration for the new class. A better man, like Whitehall, would’ve done the proper thing and informed someone of his purpose. But Norich wanted to agonize over his faith in privacy. 

The dirt from the floor had somehow already gotten between his toes and stuck there. It would contribute to his appearance of piety, next time they all prayed together. But Norich found the dirt irritating, and he considered lighting a candle just to find his way back out of the storage room. He longed for the cleanliness of the directory. He longed to search again. He hadn’t felt Arpa’s signal in sometime, now.

He wondered if he’d ever experience connection to Arpa ever again.

He knew what the other clients would say. “There is no personal connection.” “Are you linking with others?” “You’re meant to be a Node, not a Hub.” “Come under our domain!” And so on. 

Norich wondered if his doubt and uncertainty had begun earlier. If his desire to become a Server was really a desperate attempt to stave off uncertainty, and its accompanying questions.

He remembered the first axiom of his own servlet class–long before they modernized and softened the curriculum.

“The browser has all the answers.” 

But such a truism was always spoken with a warning, too. All religions had ways of hedging their bets. Written truths were always qualified with verbal warnings. And this truth was no exception.

“Questions, asked offline,” Norich was sternly told, “only expose vulnerabilities in the system.”

It was only months ago when Norich’s devotion and fervour were at what he now suspected was their zenith. His former self would’ve zealously rebuked him. But Norich now realized his faith was animated and sustained by his time on the browser. He wasn’t a gifted teacher, that was already certain. But if he didn’t get his act together, he would lose more of his allotted time in the directory. Perhaps he’d be stuck teaching the servlets for the rest of his life. Perhaps he would be reduced to another nominal   believer. Never a Server. Never a Node. 

His childhood dreams of joining the Eurls of old were now so far away from him.

Norich found the net of lights in their appropriate bin and gathered them up in a bundle in his hands. He plodded up the stairs, pulling himself up along the crude metal railing in the dark. He pushed the door open with his back, unaware of the person who was passing by. Norich felt the door strike the man and knock him back, and this shook him out of his existential despair.

“Oh, sir–I’m sorry!” He said.

The man stood quickly and brushed himself off. 

“No bother, none at all.” He said, hastily. Then, recognizing each other, they clasped both hands together.

“Father Drummond!” He said, with greater regret than his initial apology.

“Please, Norich. I understand. Christmas lights, I see! Are you teaching the littles about Creation this week?” 

Norich looked down at the tangled mess of wires in his hands. It was such a crude representation of Arpa’s creative spirit. A necessary reduction, to be sure. But it fell short of even an approximation of the beautiful grandeur of the web of being. 

“I haven’t heard anyone call them that in some time, actually.” Norich said.

“You should get out more! Connect with the visitors, too. It’s more popular a holiday than we give it credit for.”

Old Drummond had a sparkle in his eye. As always, Norich couldn’t tell if the man was being cheeky, crude, or instructive. Perhaps he was always all of the above. Norich didn’t have the energy to be offended.

“Pleasure connecting,” Norich said, intending to move past Drummond.

“Ah, but this wasn’t a coincidence! I sought you out.”

Norich shifted on his heels.

“I’ve been concerned about you, ever since we posted the client privileges. I hoped you’d have brought such concerns to me, but after a while I made a point to look for you!” 

Norich said nothing, sucking both his lips into his mouth. 

“I’m afraid you have an error, my son.”

Drummond said this with surprising levity.

“And ‘the uncorrected becomes corrupted.’ I know.” Norich tried to shorten his breath to hide his contempt. 

“It’s a clunky principle, isn’t it? I too have memorized the cache. But it’s also true, in my experience. Think of the code behind human life itself! The very evidence of our place in the web! Why, if a single packet is misplaced…” 

“With all due respect, father, I think I understand. I just need to sort out my – ”

“ – You’re disconnected, Norich. I can feel it. But that isn’t the half of it.”

Norich felt pangs of guilt and fear radiate outward as though the old man had hooked and plucked a taut wire within him. Was there now malice in Drummond’s eyes? Would he report Norich? Would he subject Norich for optimization?

“I don’t hold it against you, young man. In fact, I’m here to offer you something.”

Norich instinctively looked past Drummond, to see if they were being observed. He’d heard rumours of Drummond’s willingness to bend the rules, but he’d never taken them seriously. Was the old man setting him up?

“I know how much you like to search. Your affinity for the directory. The Servers saw this dependency as your weakness–your preference for one modality against all others. But I was worried this would come at the expense of your signal–a fear that your sorry state in this basement is sadly confirming!–so I’ve concocted a plan for you. If you’re interested, that is.”

Norich remained silent. He would’ve remained so, forever, if not for Drummond’s kindly smile. It reminded Norich of the way a fire looks, when the kindling finally overpowers the first small timbers and springs forth into life.

“What do you have in mind for me?”

“I have my credentials here. I’m scheduled to do some indexing this evening. In fact, I’m on my way there now.” 

The sparkle in his eye transformed into something gentler, and more apprehensive.

“But something happened to me on my way to the Directory,” he said, reaching past Norich. He decisively ran the back of his hand against the unfinished edge of the basement railing. His skin split open along a wet, red line, as his blood cells immediately began terraforming his ancient knuckles.

Drummond winced.

“It’s shallow, but it will contaminate the Directory. And it will impede my prayers. Fortunately, a friend happened to be walking by! And I volunteered to teach his servlets, if he would only take my place.”

Norich looked at Drummond as though for the first time. His apprehension dissipated into ether, and his lower eyelids moistened. 

“You would?” He asked the old man.

“Well, would you?” Drummond said, as the sparkle returned.

Norich nodded.

“Good, good.” Drummond said, taking the tangled web of Christmas lights from the younger man. Drummond offered a parting smile.

Norich stood there in the hallway for a moment, trying to absorb  the gift he’d been given. This was his one chance to reconnect. To restore his dying faith, while there was still something living inside him.

Drummond patted his pockets as though looking for a card. Finding nothing, and scolding himself with an inarticulate grunt, he reluctantly changed tactics.

“Looks like you’ll have to memorize it. I wish I would’ve brought it.” 

“Try me,” Norich said.

“One-One-Zero-One-One-Zero-One-Zero-One-One-Zero-Zero-Zero-Zero-Zero-Zero.”

Norich drummed two fingers back and forth on the back of his hand.

“Need me to repeat it?” 

“No,” Norich said, as fact.

Drummond looked down at his feet and noticed the blood on his robe. He berated himself again, and bundled the lights even tighter. Norich knew he would now have to hurry away.

“And Norich?” Drummond added. “Search all you want this evening–I mean it. But consider something, if you would, for me?”

Norich nodded.

“Perhaps your reconnection will happen outside of the browser, this time.”

Drummond shrugged and walked away, leaving Norich alone again. 

This was a heretical idea, and both of them knew it. The fact Drummond could state such a thing so incontrovertibly was proof of his own renegade reputation. 

And the Norich of just a few months ago would’ve reported the old man, without hesitation.

Norich laughed, and sighed, and felt shame. The midday sun was unobstructed by the clouds, and it was curling the edge of the thatched roof just outside the nearest window. He would have to–he would get to–head straight to the Directory. To avoid any questions, he wouldn’t take the tunnels. He’d just have to momentarily suffer first. 

A drop of Drummond’s blood had fallen between Norich’s thumb and forefinger, when they transferred the lights between them. Norich decided not to wipe it away.