"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, Unix.com
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?"
It smiled wryly and walked out the door.
--------------------------------Many thanks to Peter from the Unix.com 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 Unix.com folk: ilikecows for more UNIX lessons, and to figaro, pludi, DukeNuke2, markone, methyl, Corona68 and sparcguy for the excellent ideas for cat names