Back to IndexWritten August, 1998


"This hearing is now in session." The voice boomed around the room, resonating off the pillars and causing a small portion of cirrus to come lose and start floating around the room. The man tugged thoughtfully at his white beard and absentmindedly moulded the errant cloud onto another pillar.
The hearing room itself was not really a room. Its roof was open to the bright blue sky above and the outline of the area was only defined by a square of stone, set on top of the great pillars which marked the corners. At the front of the room there was a desk with three chairs, further back there was a desk with a single chair facing the front desk and beyond that was the seating for the audience and witnesses yet to be called.
The audience seating was packed to the extent that it was doubtful whether the real witnesses would be able to get out. There was a general scuffle of noise as wings got in the way of arms, legs and other wings and as halos clashed in bursts of static. The chair for the current witness was currently unoccupied and in fact was dripping with morning dew.
The chairs for the judges were not. At the centre sat the man who had first addressed the crowd, a tall old man with a head of white hair and a long, flowing beard. To his left sat a younger man, with dark black hair and a beard to match. To his right was a completely different type of character. The fellow occupying that seat was an insubstantial wispy type of person who at points was partially transparent - regardless of this it was still regarded as impolite to look straight through him.
The man at the centre frowned, an expression which did not become his face which looked like it was far better at giving the kindly uncle expression, and hit the desk several times with his hammer. "There will be order!"
Gradually the general noises of moving humanity diminished and the man's expression returned to an impassive one. "Bring in the first witness."
A man was led towards the witness table, escorted on each side by small seraphs who simply had nothing to do with themselves at the moment and thus were providing an escort for a person who clearly wouldn't hurt a fly.
The man was motioned to sit and did so. It is then that we realize that he is quite short and in fact does not sport the waving beards so popular with the audience. Instead his face is clean shaven, except for the tiniest wisp of a moustache which is barely visible.
"Thank you for coming." Said the man at the centre of the judge's table, his voice no longer booming to quite an extent.
"It's a pleasure and an honour, as always." The man replied after a moments consideration.
"Well," began the judge, "we are here to investigate the circumstances preceding and following the discovery of a general protection fault in ADMITTANCE.EXE. Could you please begin with giving us some background on the system as it stood then?"
The man sitting at the witness table, who was now identified by a name plate which had just appeared as a Doctor Hobson, began. "As you are aware the system is currently running on outdated Pentium 133 computers. Quite simply these computers are not capable of handling properly the hundreds of thousands of deaths a day which must be processed here. I have repeatedly put in requests to be updated to the latest Pentium II computers, but the requests have been denied."
At this point the pale, wispy like person cut in. "Doctor, your credibility in this area was somewhat undermined when you originally encouraged early adoption of the Pentium system, leading to massive problems when it emerged that all the chips would have to be replaced. As I am sure you are aware, Intel's offer to replace the chips free of charge did not apply to people in, ah, our line of business."
"You are correct, to some extent." The doctor agreed amiably. "But in this case the circumstances are growing out of our control. If the world population continues to grow at a faster rate than we increase our computer power then these problems will simply occur more and more often."
There were some general murmurs of consensus from around the floor so he continued. "For example, the mass graves in Bosnia caused a three hour tailback of souls that wasn't cleared for weeks."
He tapped on the desk and a screen appeared to his side containing a graph with one steep and one shallower line. He was about to make his point again with the aid of the graph when a question interrupted him. "What exactly did happen?"
The doctor frowned for a moment as if annoyed that he would not have a chance to use his graph.
You have no idea how long it took me to do that in Excel. He thought. He said something different. "Of course. At 13:24 a general protection fault occurred in ADMITTANCE.EXE. Several seconds passed while we tried to reboot the computer concerned however by this point SALVATION.EXE had encountered a page fault. We believe that the crash of ADMITTANCE.EXE was responsible for the page fault. At this point processing stopped, however before it could be prevented 12 souls were misdirected here."
There were murmurs of malcontent at that news. "Don't worry." The doctor said hurriedly. "We managed to round them up fairly quickly and send them down a level. I co-ordinated with Lucifer's IT manager and we managed to get the systems back up within an hour."
"Have our hardware people looked at the system?" Asked the wispy one.
"Yes. Hardware engineers tend to work slavishly to make things work and so we have a lot of them. They concur with me that a hardware upgrade is imperative but they also believe that we should look at the software we are using."
"So, do so."
"I'm afraid that's not possible." Replied the doctor simply. "We have a large number of experienced computer users here but they don't understand the software any more than we do. We have a lot of them because they were led to suicide through using the computers."
"So what about asking some computer programmers to look at it?"
Hobson coughed with embarrassment. "Several reasons. One, software programmers are mostly very young and thus none have died of natural causes yet. The few that have don't have any up-to-date knowledge anyway. Two, computer software programmers seem to take a malicious pleasure out of making their software hard to use and enjoy it so much that none have committed suicide." He trailed off.
"Why doesn't Lucifer's computer system ever crash?" Asked the younger judge.
"Erm, yes." Replied Hobson. "Well, for a start, the lower level is running on Cyrix processors."
"And..." Prompted the wispy judge.
Hobson took a deep breath. "And also, Lucifer has all the software engineers." He paused and shrugged his shoulders. "Go figure."


Any software engineers who find this offensive should consider it next time that they write a piece of software where the function you want is buried under eight levels of cascading menus and can only be accessed on the third tuesday of every month. You know who you are.

Oliver Pell