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This story appears in my collection Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present, 2007

Baen’s Universe, August 2006
The Rake, December 2006

Podcast: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth“>Full cast radio drama, QN Podcast

French fan-translation, courtesy of Zen le Renard (Text, HTML)

Spanish tranlsation (Axxon)

Italian Translation (Fantascienze, Dec 2007)

I started writing When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth on July 6th, 2005, while teaching Clarion. The next day, the London Underground and busses were bombed, including the bus I rode to work every morning (I was in Michigan, teaching Clarion, thankfully). These kinds of coincidences can be spooky when you’re a writer. I ended up putting the story away for some months.

When I returned to it, I was fired anew with the story of Felix and Van and their vainglorious struggle to keep the servers online as the world went offline. Once created, apocalyptic anxiety can’t be destroyed — the 1980s fear of nuclear annihilation I grew up with surfaces anew with each theoretical disaster: Y2K, climate change, und so weiter. There’s something primal about a story of the Earth’s impending doom.

I was a sysadmin at an earlier stage in my career and I have infinite respect for the field: sysadmins are the secret masters of the universe, and they keep your life running.

He piloted the car into the data-center lot, badging in and peeling up a bleary eyelid to let the retinal scanner get a good look at his sleep-depped eyeball.

He stopped at the machine to get himself a guarana/modafinil power-bar and a cup of lethal robot-coffee in a spill-proof clean-room sippy-cup. He wolfed down the bar and sipped the coffee, then let the inner door read his hand-geometry and size him up for a moment. It sighed open and gusted the airlockā€™s load of positively pressurized air over him as he passed finally to the inner sanctum.

It was bedlam. The cages were designed to let two or three sysadmins maneuver around them at a time. Every other inch of cubic space was given over to humming racks of servers and routers and drives. Jammed among them were no fewer than twenty other sysadmins. It was a regular convention of black tee-shirts with inexplicable slogans, bellies overlapping belts with phones and multitools.

Normally it was practically freezing in the cage, but all those bodies were overheating the small, enclosed space. Five or six looked up and grimaced when he came through. Two greeted him by name. He threaded his belly through the press and the cages, toward the Ardent racks in the back of the room.