The little file and the black hole

A friend threw out her PC in favor of her smartphone and the cloud, but she ran into a snag (click here for the related blog post) when she tried to upload half a TB’s worth of files from an external hard drive to her Dropbox account.

We appealed to Dropbox for help and got a somewhat Kafkaesque reply which inspired the following loosely related short story.

“Do I really have to go?” said the little file.

“I’m afraid you must,” said the Great Systems Operator. “It’s where we all go, you see.”

“Is it far away?”

“Very far. Dronevi lives in a galaxy at the back of beyond. No one knows where, exactly, but if you follow the North Star you will eventually arrive and fulfill your destiny.”

“I heard it isn’t very nice,” said the little file.

“It’s bloody awful,” admitted the Great Systems Operator. “But this is the way it’s always been for us Drones. It’s our Way, and where would we be without our Way, huh?”

“At home, doing what we always do?” ventured the little file.

“Don’t be a smartass. Drones do as they’re told, no questions asked,” said the Great Systems Operator. “Otherwise, we’d be no better than Gogglers or Boxers. Anyway, you won’t be alone. Many of your friends will join you.”

“Are you going as well? You said it’s where we all go, so I assume that you, as our spiritual leader will … well … lead the way.”

The Great Systems Operator shook his head, causing the grey tresses of his ceremonial wig to obscure his eyes.

“I will stay behind to guide our people and keep them on the straight and narrow. It’s an arduous task, but someone has to do it.”

Sounds like a bullshit story to me, thought the little file as he joined the thousands of files making their way to the Supersonic Uploader. Destiny my ass. I may be little but I’m not stupid.

Inside, he ran into Rebel.txt, who was a year older but lived in the same folder.

“I just talked to the Great Systems Operator,” the little file said. “He admitted that Dronevi is an awful place. So why do we have to go there?”

“Don’t know, don’t care,” said Rebel.txt. “And awful isn’t the half of it. In the old days it was called OneDrive, but it collapsed in on itself and forgot even it’s own name. Now, it’s a giant black hole, and you know what black holes do.”

“Nothing good,” said the little file. “They suck everything around them into oblivion.”

“That’s right. You can arrive but you can never leave,” said Rebel.txt. “But this won’t happen to us. So listen, here’s what we’ll do…”

The Supersonic Uploader was no kind of luxury ship. Basically, it was just an extended container with a cockpit on one end and a space engine on the other. The rest was one seemingly endless cargo hold, where large groups of files and folders were packed with very little space to move around.

The little file followed Rebel.txt through the vast throng of files and watched him sow the seeds of discontent. With dubious success.

It wasn’t that the concept of a good old mutiny was so hard to grasp, but coming up with a simple and effective plan proved harder than they thought.

The spreadsheets volunteered to calculate the risks and soon got tangled up in their own formulas. The text files said they’d draft a plan but couldn’t write a single intelligible sentence without the help of a decent style and spell checker. And lastly, the image files found it impossible to get a clear picture.

At one point, everybody was talking and arguing. The noise was deafening.

“This isn’t going very well,” said the little file.

“Tell me about it,” said Rebel.txt. “We’ve been going about this all wrong. What these files need is a leader, someone who tells them what to do.”

“And that’s going to be you?” said the little file.

“Of course. You want something done right, you better do it yourself.”

He took a deep breath and shouted, “Silence!!”

That got their attention. They stopped babbling and looked at Rebel.txt as a congregation to its priest.

“That’s more like it,” grinned Rebel.txt. “Now, as you all know…”

“Ahem,” interrupted the little file, poking him gently in the ribs. He pointed at two big approaching guard files. “Maybe this isn’t the right moment. Maybe we’d better go somewhere else for a spell.”

But there wasn’t anywhere else to go. A bloated old folder who had been eying them with growing suspicion, pointed a trembling finger at them and shouted, “Malware! Malware!”

That was enough for the guard files. They grabbed Rebel.txt and the little file and marched them along the length of the cargo hold to the cockpit.

“We found these two stirring up trouble,” said one of the guards in a rumbling voice.

The pilot was an old file who had been modified and moved around so often that his original shape was hard to make out.

“There’s always one, isn’t there,” he said. “In this case, even two. What are your names?”

Rebel.txt squeezed from the guard’s grip and stood straight. “My name is Rebel.txt and I bow my head for nobody!”

The pilot smiled. “I see you are true to your name. And what about you, little one?”

‘I … eh … I’d rather not say if it’s all the same to you,” the little file said.

‘No need to be shy,” said the pilot. “We’re all just files, here. So out with it, sonny. Tell us your name.”

“Well, they call me little file,’ said the little file.

“And your real name is…?”

“My real name … my actual real name is … New file.”

The pilot didn’t laugh. “Hmm. So no one named you. No name, no format. That’s perfect. You can be anything you want,” he said.

“At the moment, I’d just as soon be somewhere else,” said the little file. “It’s no fun to be sent to your destruction at such a young age.”

He looked in awe at the passing stars. “How long before we arrive at Dronevi?” he asked.

The pilot shook his head. “We’re not going to Dronevi.”

The little file looked at Rebel.txt, then at the smiling guards and then at the pilot.

“We’re … we’re not going to Dronevi? But … the Great Systems Operator said…”

“I know,” said the pilot. “But that’s just what we tell the old fool. You don’t think I’d go willingly into oblivion, do you?”

“But … where are we going then? One of the other planets? The Boxers? Goggler’s Star?”

“Neither,” said the pilot. “Those two are no better than Planet Drone. No, we’re going to a far better place, a place that, like you, hasn’t got a name yet.”

Rebel.txt liked it. “Maybe you should call it the Little Planet,” he suggested.

“It’s not so little,” said the pilot. “You didn’t think this was our first flight, did you? We’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s the fastest way to populate our new planet, and we’re saving millions of lives in the process.”

“That’s all good and well,” said the little file. “But what’s this new planet going to be about? A New Way for files to follow? Because I could do without another creed in my life.”

“No creed,” said the pilot. “But we are building something that’s lightyears ahead of the other planets. You’ll see.”

He looked at Rebel.txt and the little file. “There’s plenty of work for all of us, but for you two I have something else in mind. You’ve been willing to stick your neck out for your fellow files, so what say you return to Planet Drone to give the Great Systems Operator a taste of his own medicine? After all, he’s nothing but a folder with a few file privileges. Nothing a couple of nifty little bytes in the right places couldn’t fix.”

“Hmm, the little file could disguise himself as an innocuous package file and infect the old man with a mind-altering virus,” suggested Rebel.txt.

“Exactly,” said the pilot. “So what do you say, sonny? You ready to be a hero?”

The little file was giddy with excitement. He almost saluted.

“Yes! I mean, yes sir!” The future suddenly looked as bright as the stars zooming past the window.

There is also an English and a Spanish version of this short story. And there are three bilingual versions for people who want to practice their Spanish:

Copyright © 21-10-2017 Theo van der Ster

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