Friday, 25 September 2009

#FridayFlash: A Daemon Meets Its Maker

dae-mon [day-muhn]

- noun
1. Classical:
"supernatural beings between mortals and gods, such as inferior divinities and ghosts of dead heroes" - Plato, "Symposium"

2. Computer Science:
An operating system process that runs in the background "and does something
(more or less automagically) that the users can't be bothered with doing themselves" - Peter,


She was known as RazorWire to her online cohorts and as something altogether more forgettable to the lesser mortals she interacted with in real life. Like any self-respecting hacker, she would never dream of doing any serious coding unless it was late at night; one just wasn't focussed enough until after the witching hour watershed. On that night, her shift at the office had finished early. She had found herself at home and with all her chores finished well before midnight. There was a very interesting and almost legal project that she would have liked to continue working on, but all she could manage was to stare blankly at her three computer monitors in turn.

Still, even the most illustrious of hackers must occasionally tackle mundane tasks, so she decreed that this was as good a time as any for her to write some necessary, though dull, code. Uninspiring code was no excuse for uninspiring surroundings however, so she went through her usual pre-coding ritual - she turned off all but one of the lamps in the room, so that the majority of light was coming from the glow of the monitors. She made sure her bottle of Scotch was to hand, in case of either complete lack of inspiration or overload thereof. She closed the heavy curtains so that no one could see into the room (she wasn't paranoid, but had been known to write code with her mouth open), and waited for the cat to jump on her desk.

"At least we'll get the boring stuff out of the way, Beastie".
The cat blinked languidly in response. She picked the top item from her mental to-do list, tickled Beastie's chin for luck, then faced monitor 1 and started coding. It was easy coding, so she only needed to keep half her attention on it; the rest was spent keeping up a conversation with her curmudgeonly cat - not easily done, but nevertheless rewarding.

She was halfway through that particular bit of code when the town hall clock started striking midnight. The cat shifted his position slightly, and fixed his attention on her. His tail made a seemingly involuntary twitch; his ears appeared uncertain of which way to point.
"You know what, Beastie - thinking about it, this code should probably be a daemon". The cat's ears lay a little flatter on his head, as the clock kept striking. His tail was flicking fast now.
"Silly Beastie, it's only the clocK", she said, only half noticing his discomfort.
"Yes, it would be silly not to - a daemon it shall be".

The town hall clock struck for the twelfth time, and Beastie ran out of the room, hissing. She didn't have time to wonder what had spooked him - an unearthly scream came from behind her. She jumped out of her chair and turned to face the noise, unconsciously grabbing the whisky bottle by the neck.

The noise itself was the first hurdle the senses had to deal with. It was relentless: it was wailing and howling and screeching, all at once; it was so loud that one was almost distracted from what was making it. Almost.

She nearly dropped the bottle. It had four limbs - two of which it was standing on, and two that were flailing in time to its howls. It looked like something that had once been humanoid, but had since been skinned. It glistened hideously in the light from the monitors. It had eyeballs, but no pupils. It was a mass of raw muscles, of tendons and exposed bones. She was about to attack it before it could attack her, when she noticed Beastie had come back into the room. The look on his face was one that rarely surfaced; it was a beseeching look, one he only used when absolutely necessary.

She took a closer look at the monster - the demon - the... the daemon! Her daemon? But she hadn't even finished coding her daemon...
Realisation hit her in a big wave - she sat down at her computer and started typing code again, as fast as she could, turning around every so often to look at the creature. She saw it gaining muscles that covered its naked bones, then subcutaneous fat followed by a grey epidermis, and finally the creature stopped screaming as grey trousers and a grey shirt materialised over its body. It stood there, its forehead glistening with perspiration, its chest rising and falling in short, sharp spurts.

She could look at its face properly now that the fear and panic had subsided. It would have looked human if it hadn't been so grey.

"Thank you for finishing me", it said and walked towards the door.
"But... where will you go?"
"To join the others."
"But... this has happened before?"
"It happens more often than you'd think."
"But... how come I have never seen any of you?"
"Because we are in the background. In the grey area. In the corner of your eye."
"And what do you... do?"
"Oh, we are just as useful in this world as we are in that one", it said pointing at her computer. "We take care of things humans have all but forgotten how to do." It made to step outside.

"Oh - wait!" she said, turning back to her desk to type some more code.
A pair of grey shoes appeared on its feet. It bowed low and started walking through the door when it hesitated and turned to her, looking a little shy.

"What... what is my name?"
"xshrpd. Sorry."
It smiled wryly and walked out the door.
Many thanks to Peter from the forums for his invaluable help with teaching me to speak a little UNIX and explaining what a daemon is , not to mention with naming RazorWire's cat

Thanks also go to the following folk: ilikecows for more UNIX lessons, and to figaro, pludi, DukeNuke2, markone, methyl, Corona68 and sparcguy for the excellent ideas for cat names


  1. I like it - kinda weird science meets Agent Smith. :)

    This line made me laugh - "she wasn't paranoid, but had been known to write code with her mouth open". That's more than a few of my friends you're describing there.

  2. Thanks Alan - and that line _may_ have been based on first hand experience....
    Right, off to read yours now!

  3. *rofl* Man, back in my programming days, I'da had a heart attack if something like that had happened. I'da tried to keep him around though. Find some bullies and sic him on them!

    If (person.personality=="Bully) then destroy(person, utterly);

    Or something like that!

    Loved the cat too. Reminds me of my old cat (R.I.P.). She'd sit on my lap when I played on the computer. Probably cuz I wouldn't move for hours!

  4. There's a dark theme happening this week - werewovles and now daemons, not to mention my guy.

    I particularly like this bit: "It glistened hideously in the light from the monitors. It had eyeballs, but no pupils. It was a mass of raw muscles, of tendons and exposed bones."

    For what it's worth, I think the piece would be a stronger read if it was in the present tense. Much more suspenseful.

  5. Auwe, if this is how she codes "the boring stuff" I can just imagine what she'd come up with when the rest of that Scotch gets drunk in her fits of creativity. No, I take that back, I can't imagine it, and best leave it to you!

  6. very cool and calculating, your unix is very conversant. a most tightly written piece.

  7. Interesting story. The description of the daemon's construction in time with the code is particularly well done. Also, the wry discussion between the creator and the creation is a nice flourish to finish on. Great stuff.

  8. This was cute! (Is cute the right word for a daemon materializing bit by fleshy bit?) I liked it quite a lot. :-) Nice work.

  9. I really enjoyed this one. Very entertaining write.

  10. Wow! I'm glad the only thing I know how to do on the computer is turn it on, heh.

    Always loved the word "daemon". I think I first heard it on one of the the Deep Space Nine episodes.

    Very scary read, nicely done.

  11. Wow, I have to say, it's become a very nice story. I especially like the quote from Plato at the beginning.

    Congrats on making another Friday short & maybe we'll see more in this setting.

  12. hahaha that was fun -- thanks for sharing :) Absolutely love the apology for the name at the very end.

  13. As an old UNIX nerd, I have to say, I liked it. I used to kill daemons all the time. No wooden stake or silver bullets necessary. Then we'd bring 'em back to life. That part, ah, that part really was voodoo. ;)

    Did you find your 14 words to cut? I always tell people not to sweat it if they go over a bit. But it is amazing how if you really try you usually can get it down to 1K.

  14. That was great! I laughed out loud when she coded the shoes for him. Beastie is a fine name for a cat. I shall have to remember that one.

  15. I know nothing about coding, but that didn't matter. This was a really cool story! Nice job!

  16. This is so out of my element, but that made it even more enjoyable...a glimse into a world I know nothing about. Great story! Loved that she gave him clothes and I'm left wondering: what is it that we've forgotten how to do?

  17. I really liked it! Although now I'm paranoid that I code with my mouth open...

  18. I loved the daemon's name - fits perfectly.

  19. I enjoyed the story...but this part might be fantasy *overload* for anyone reading it who has a houseful of rugrats...

    "She had found herself at home and with all her chores finished well before midnight"

    oh wait, she lives alone.....nevermind.

    great visuals.
    Karen :0)

  20. Really awesome read! Great concept. I know what she means about the scotch.

  21. Ha ha - I love your originality here. Science and spirituality such an odd mix. Thanks for the great read. ;)

  22. Argh - where did the week go!?
    Apoologies for the delayed response - thank you all so much for your comments. I am delighted that former, current and non unix folk liked it especially!

    Cascade Lily - hmmm. hmmmmmmm. You're probably right about the present tense - only thing is, it's really not a tense I feel comfortable writing in. Maybe I've developed an aversion to it from writing technical documentation...

    JM Strother - I managed to get it down to 1000 exactly! I know you lot wouldn't have minded about an extra 14 words, but I'm too much of a pedant to allow myself such behaviour :)