What's the Worst That Can Happen

Tom and Steve are computer programmers. They have been experimenting with a new programming language called AWK. Although AWK programs look much like a random collection of symbols and unpronouncable words, AWK can be very useful for text processing. Tom is writing a simple word processor.

Tom calls over his cubical wall, "Hey Steve, if I want to search for a form-feed character, how do I do it?"

"I'm not sure. Try just putting the character itself into the quoted string. After all, what's the worst that could happen?"

Tom makes the change to his program, runs it, and it works fine.

* * *

On the other side of the world, a creature suddenly opens its eyes and looks wildly about. It can see nothing; all is blackness. Confusion and disorientation grip its mind. For several hours, it has no coherent thoughts.

Then, slowly, its consciousness starts to regain control. Dim memories start to come back. Battles. Magic. Blood. The creature realizes that it has been in a dreamless sleep for many thousands of years. Several days pass as the story of its life unfolds.

Two mighty nations were fighting a war. Aaraak was the larger one and had weapons of iron. Hindae was smaller and had only bronze. But Hindae had more powerful magic. As the war ground on, Aaraak's larger numbers and superior technology started to wear away Hindae's armies. Some of wizards of Hindae lost hope and switched sides, thus increasing Aarack's magical expertise.

The grand high wizard of Hindae knew that drastic measures were necessary. He worked for weeks on a powerful spell and finally succeeded in creating an indestructible creature with an insatiable thirst for human life.

In only a few months, the creature shredded the armies of Aaraak. No force unleashed on it could stop it; indeed, it drew its power from the energies around it. Each attempt to kill it only made it stronger.

Finally, the leaders of Aaraak begged to be allowed to surrender. Hindae would have been happy to gain such a large number of slaves, but the creature would not stop its killing. Small villages were wiped out in a matter of minutes. The larger cities only took hours. The capital of Aaraak, with almost 200,000 inhabitants, was leveled in a day. Six months after its creation, not a single Aaraak citizen was left.

But the creature's thirst for blood still wasn't satisfied. After a moment's hesitation, the creature turned on Hindae and continued its rampage.

The grand high wizard was in a panic. He knew that very little time was left. Although the creature could not be killed, there had to be a way to stop it. After two weeks of formulation, during which half of the population of Hindae was lost, the wizard cast his last spell.

It was not a perfect spell. Casting it would cost the wizard his life. Not only that, but he knew that there was a counter-spell. The deep slumber that would fall on the creature could be broken by a specific sequence of ancient Hindae words and symbols. But the risk was insignificant. As the wizard's life slipped away, he took comfort that all knowledge of the counter-spell died with him. It would be impossible for those unpronouncable Hindae words to come together and wake up the creature.

The wizard never suspected the power of an infinite number of monkeys in front of an infinite number of keyboards.

Now, the creature smiles. Its slumber is over, and it can feel the pulse of new kinds of energy through the two hundred feet of rock and soil that rests on it.

Slowly, Shiva starts to rise.