A quiet day today. Not much happened at all. It's too quiet, perhaps, with no metaphorical fires to put out or people running around and screaming in panic. An ominous sign. I should've known. I watch the clock anxiously, waiting for the 8 to 5 grind to end. It's coming closer. Closer.
The bulk of my boss comes around the frame of the door. He stares at me. He stares at my perpetually-spotless desk, with its neat little stack of papers and a small post-it note pad with careful, exact writing on it. He seems to be contemplating the idea of going away. Of not disturbing me. I sit there serenely, waiting for the big hand on the clock to swing around. Maybe he'll leave.
"There's trouble on the front," he says. Bastard. I know he can see me slump. He knew I would. Trouble on the front. A colloquial phrase amongst our three-person team. Something's wrong with one of the mainframes, the collective heart of our company. Trouble on the front is never resolved quickly. I can see the idea of my going home after an eight-hour day floating away in the breeze from the air-conditioning. "Alright," is all I can mumble. It's not like I can refuse. This is my job.
We trudge, grimly, like prisoners being led to execution, out of the office and towards the gates of hell. They're clearly marked System Operations in flat, block letters. Unlike most souls, we enter a keycode to open these deadly gates. Through the hallway of purgatory, a security checkpoint. Another coded gate bars our way. Do we turn back? We still have a chance, the first door hasn't closed yet... Like soldiers, we choose to press forward. Into the pit itself we enter. The two Operators on duty turn to gaze at us as we arrive. They smile, wave. They have no idea. We give them curt nods, grim faces. Into the back of the large room, we move. Just the two of us, my boss and me. We reach our final destination. "Machine Room" says the door. A third code of entry, and we open it. We step through into Dante's Inferno.
The noise. The noise hits us like a physical force, followed by the blast of highly-cooled air. All these machines. These industrial air conditioners. These tools and energy sucking demons. All of them whisper. They scream. They cry out to us, taunt us. They know why we're here...
And there, in the center of it all, The Beasts lay, waiting for us. I approach one slowly, cautiously. It stares me down, impassive. It's taller than I am. It is older than I am. It was born during the drug-induced stupor of the 70s. It is solid, hulking. It could kick my ass. Yet I am here to beat it back into submission, to make it obey our whims and perform its sacred duties. We rely on it, it knows this. It will give us a good fight, but we must bring it back to life. The spice must flow.
"What's wrong?" I ask my boss, examining the thing, its displays, its small, gleaming nuggets of information that it chooses to offer to us. That's when I see it. The Problem. So tiny that the untrained eye might never spot it, but it's there. The tiny digital clock readout on the interface console reads 16:04:24. Five seconds later, it reads 16:04:24. The reality of the situation, the idea that time has ceased to be, falls on me like bricks; one at a time. The mainframe is frozen.
This is no small problem. A failure of this type usually means that something within the CPU or the central memory I/O has died. To test and/or replace these, the machine must be physically powered off. The mainframes are like UNIX systems; they are designed to not be rebooted. However, unlike today's computers, they are also designed not to be turned off. For this, we must enter the heart of the beast. Doors open. Panels slide off. I stare sullenly at the bank of industrial circuit breakers that represent 'the power switch' of this venerable device. My eyes are drawn to the large, angry red stickers above them. "Danger: Unswitched Voltage" "Spark Hazard" "Danger: High Voltage" and "Warning: Three-Phase Current".
My boss retreats several feet as I reach for the bank, first making sure that only my thick, rubber-soled shoes have contact with anything. *pop!* The sound of battery packs somewhere in the core of the machine releasing as the first bank is turned off. *pop!* The heavy air-blower near the top of the cabinet begins to spin down. *pop!* The beast falls totally still as the third bank is opened. Dead. It is probably deathly quiet as well, but I can't know this for sure, as the rest of the deafening room drones on. New sounds are added to this. Devices begin to realize the untimely end of their mother host. Beep. Beep beep beep. They all begin. They all clatter on, desperate for their mother. "Stop that damned beeping!" I cry at my boss, as the sounds drill into my head from every direction. Hundreds of pieces of equipment. He looks at me helplessly. He knows they won't stop until the Machine is back online. I know this too, but I don't want to remember it. I want the noise to stop.
We do our thing. We run our tests on the downed system, with our mystical equipment. An hour or so passes. We find that the CPU itself was the culprit. I stare at an innocuous black panel inside the beast. "CPU 0" it says. If only it were that simple. Behind the panel: 24 boards, each roughly the size of an AT motherboard. These are "the CPU". More tests, more black magic, another hour and a half. Board 7. We pull it and replace it. We seal the panel once more, hiding it away. The beeping is still going. I'm ready to cry, if that will make it stop. My ears burn. The noise. In a rush, we close the beast's internals back up. My boss once more dances far away, so that I may flip "the switch". I'm lower on the totem pole, so of course I get to do it. By now I don't care, I only want the beeping to stop. Desperately, quickly, perhaps almost carelessly, I begin. *snap!* The first breaker is almost sucked into the closed position by the electricity. The battery packs come to life. *snap!* The air blower spins up, a jet engine preparing for flight. *snap!* A brief spark catches my hand, a spiteful bite as the beast returns to life. Cranky old bitch.
I look around, anxiously. Wontonly. A crazed look glints in my eye as I wave my head around, staring down equipment. My boss stays away from me, afraid. He looks relieved as, one by one, the beepings begin to stop. Quieting. He's relieved because I'm less likely to kill him in a fit of insane rage now. As the mainframe completes its self-tests and begins to boot up proper, the beeps all finish and cease. In the clamouring decibels of three industrial air-conditioners, it feels remarkably quiet. Serene. The beeping has stopped.
I watch the machine bring itself back up. Its tests say it is alive and well again. It will go about its business. It has been satiated for the time being. I glare at it, hatefully, wishing I could feel the satisfying jolts of a baseball bat as I bash the machine to pieces. It stares me down again, tall, impassive, impervious. You need me it says. I merely glare harder, as I slowly walk out of the noise and breeze of the room. The small digital clock reads 20:37:34. This will not be the last time I visit the thing before its life is over. It will haunt me again sometime soon. I know it will.
After all, it's only Monday.