PowerMac G4

1/28/2018

I’m writing this on a PowerMac “Mirrored Drive Door” G4, running Classilla browser on MacOS 9.2.2.

It was built in or around 2002, and lived at a printing company until they closed at the end of last year.

I sought out a MDD G4 specifically, as it is the last G4 that can boot MacOS 9. From what I’ve read, Apple produced it, grudgingly, to appease designers and musicians who didn’t want to migrate thousands of dollars’ worth of software and hardware to OS X.

This thing really, really didn’t want to boot Classic.

For starters, it was running OS X 10.5 Leopard. Leopard appears to not be able to create volumes that MacOS 9 could use. For that, I’d need Tiger, which I didn’t have.

After some digging, I found a version of MacOS 9 that appears to have been modified in 2013 to better support the ‘unsupported’ G4s. (If you’re looking for it, click here ). I extracted the zip, then burned the .iso to a blank CD ROM.

Physical media. Like a cave man.

During the boot and reboot process, the MDD would get confused about its startup volume, so I’d have to manually tell it what to do. This involved holding the “option” key, from just after the boot chime until the startup volume selector screen appeared.

When the MDD was booted off the new CD, I used its included disk utilities to partition one of the internal drives to be less than 128GB — MacOS 9 can’t handle more than that. Following the included README doc, I ran the “Apple Software Restore”, which transferred a live MacOS 9 image to my new volume.

After a reboot, the MDD appeared to boot up ok, until it crashed at the desktop. I spent the next half hour tediously holding shift on boot to disable all extensions, disabling
individual extensions in the Extension Manager, and rebooting to test. Eventually I narrowed it down to buggy ATI display drivers.

For the uninitiated: MacOS 9 is really weird.

Some have said MacOS Classic is barely an operating system at all; instead being a file manager with some user-experience control panels glued on top. It definitely feels faster: app launches, file opens, window movements all appear to snap faster than on OS X (or Windows or Linux).

The way it handles multitasking is also radically different than modern OSes. Whatever app you’re using has the resources. The entire time I’ve been writing this post, nothing has dinged or honked or buzzed at me. The other apps are just hanging out, waiting for focus.

I had no issues getting the MDD onto my local intranet. It had a DHCP-provided IP address without any intervention on my part. I was easily able to see another G3 PowerMac’s shared files, and copy them over, although the G3 did crash while copying the “large” 3GB worth of files.

Internet browsing on MacOS 9 is painful at best. The current best browser, Classilla, has SSL cert issues with most sites. Facebook works, because Classilla pretends to be a ‘mobile browser’. Some sites won’t load at all.

After all this, no regrets. I can play SimCity 2000 natively.


Working on a $5 Raspberry Pi

1/15/2018

I’ve held off from buying a Raspberry Pi Zero for a while, in favor of Teensy or Pro Micro controllers, because what can a $5 controller really do?

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the Zero so far. $5 got me a computer that’s half the size of a credit card, with HDMI video out, two USB ports, a GPIO header, and WIFI. Frickin’ WIFI!

Performance-wise, well, it’s pretty slow. But it’s fast enough for prototyping and running LEDs, which is great for my current project.


Jobs

1/7/2018

How can I answer my kid when he asks what he should be when he grows up, when the job I have wasn’t invented when I was a kid?

Furthermore, who wants to work at a job that has been around for more than twenty years?


Retro gaming

1/2/2018

Rachel found a 13″ Sony Trinitron CRT (KV-13FM13) at Goodwill today, and snagged it for me for $8.

The kids are playing Super Smash Bros Melee, as is their birthright.


New Year’s resolution

1/1/2018

My New Year’s resolution is to stop using Facebook as a blogging platform.


The Wegner

3/30/2017

There’s decent money to be made in storage auctions. At least, there used to be, before the reality TV shows made everyone think they could get rich quick. The unit was crammed with old boxes and some furniture. The furniture caught my eye — a refinished vintage desk from the fifties or sixties could sell for quite a bit. The crowd was sparse, and I won the auction for a steal. After the auction, I drove the box truck back to my warehouse, and began unloading it. My warehouse was a small prefab metal building with a roll-up garage door that my father had used, when he was alive, to store junk in, and to dream about building race cars. To my knowledge, no car had ever graced the concrete floor of that building.

I lived with my roommate Randall. When we met in eighth grade, I hated his guts. He was fat, shy, weird, and worst of all, he was really smart. I soon came to appreciate Randall’s intelligence when that mean old bitch Mrs. Catlett assigned me to be his lab partner. I got an A for the first time in years. My parents were killed by a drunk driver midway through my freshman year at the local community college. They left me their big old sprawling farmhouse, money to bury them, and not much else. Randall suggested I rent out some of the rooms, specifically to him. I understood that he meant it as a favor to me, and at the time, I needed both the money and the company.

At fifteen, Randall started making money building websites. He told me once, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog — or that you’re fifteen.” I learned a lot from him by pure osmosis, particularly in research. Being able to track down both prior sales and potential buyers is a valuable skill in my line of work. Randall, however, moved on from building simple websites to programming full web-based applications. By the time he moved in, he was earning enough that he could pay all of his bills, and have plenty of money left over for his many hobbies.

When I first visited Randall’s house, in eighth grade, I was astonished by his baseball card collection. He had thousands, meticulously arranged and cataloged, and it seemed that he had every stat memorized. As the years passed, he moved from collection to collection. About a year after he moved in, Randall stumbled across what was soon to be his new obsession: mechanical keyboards. He bought us both Corsair gaming boards, then promptly threw them in the trash and replaced them with boards from a Taiwanese outfit named Ducky, complete with fancy LED lighting patterns. I was happy with my Ducky Shine board; the keys felt great, though the clicks were a little annoying. When Randall wasn’t coding, he was shopping for increasingly rare keyboards. He had taken over the dining room as his work area. He set up tall shelves that he filled with boards, each labeled and cleaned, and, in some cases, meticulously wrapped in protective plastic. Randall claimed that he had purchased his “endgame” board, a strangely shaped aluminum beast he purchased from someone in Korea, after a month of tedious and sometimes heated negotiation. When it arrived, I was astonished to see it wasn’t even finished.

“You spent how much on that?” I asked.

“Eight hundred,” he replied.

“Eight hundred, for some metal plates and a bunch of parts.”

“Yea, plus I had to buy the keycaps. So, maybe a grand total.”

“Two hundred for some plastic keycaps? I’m definitely not charging you enough for rent.”

When I loaded the box truck at the storage auction, I knew I had hit paydirt with the furniture. The unit had contained a beautiful oak desk, a padded oak and leather rolling office chair, and some desk lamps. There were also quite a few cardboard boxes of papers, books, and various other junk. In the back corner of the unit, covered in cloth, was a heavy wooden crate, its lid nailed shut. The crate was what interested me most; the file cabinets had papers and files, but I couldn’t open the crate without a crowbar. The furniture alone would double my investment in the unit, but sealed wooden crates typically meant something important. Something of value.

Lifting with my legs, and not with my back, with liberal use of my hand truck, I leveraged the boxes and the furniture out of the truck and into my warehouse. Randall had spray-painted that hand truck hot pink one weekend. “I thought your dolly needed a new dress,” he said, and laughed until his glasses fogged up. The jerk. Finally, I was alone with my prize. I carefully slotted the crowbar, and pried the lid off the wooden crate. Inside lay a large chunk of foam packing material, around a dark piece of equipment. I removed packing material, carefully pulled the device from its crate, and placed it on the desk. The device appeared to be quite possibly the world’s ugliest computer. Its case was a dark reddish brown, with thick angles of metal bent over and around a tiny glass tube screen. The screen shared the front of the case with a floppy bay, along with several other odd ports. Just below the monitor was a label, white letters stark against black Dymo embossing tape: WEGNER-1. The keyboard, packed in its own wrapping of foam, was also red-brown, in a tall case nearly three inches thick. It felt as if it might be made of steel, and had a heft like a murder weapon.

I texted Randall that I had found an old computer, and he came to the warehouse at a run. His jaw dropped when he saw the ugly old thing, and he spent the next ten minutes caressing it and cooing at it like I’d brought him a kitten.

“Gonna turn it on?” I asked. Randall looked at me in horror.

“Are you nuts? The capacitors in this thing have to be over thirty years old! I’ll have to test every single one with a meter, and even then I don’t know if I’d dare trying it. The keyboard, though, has an RJ-11 connector. I have a USB adapter for that,” he said, and got the faraway look in his eye that nerds get when they’re solving nerd problems.

“I’ll leave you alone with your new girlfriend,” I said. “I’m starved, and I have dust all up my sinuses.”

While I showered, Randall carted the Wegner, as he started calling it, into the house, and set it up on the dining room table. Realizing we had no food in the house, and we were critically low on beer, I went to a market to pick up deli sandwiches and beverages. It was late when I got back. Randall was still at the table, looking at the Wegner keyboard through magnifying lenses strapped to his forehead. He looked up at me and sighed. “I can’t figure out how these switches work, man. I thought they might be Hall Effect at first, but they’ve got this weird chip next to each of them. They feel great, though. Like a Topre board with tight buckling springs.” He began reassembling the board. “I got it to work with that USB adapter too. Wanna try it?” Randall flipped the board back onto its base, and connected it to his PC. I leaned over the board, the angle awkward, and started touched the keys.

“Ow!” I said, as a short static shock jolted my fingers. I recoiled, and looked at Randall. “The damn thing has a short.”

“Yeah, it did that to me once too. No idea why. Should be grounded over USB. Come on, don’t be a sissy, try it out,” Randall said. I lay my fingers on the board again. The Wegner’s keys were weirdly slick, and the caps felt slightly oily to my touch.

“Is this thing buzzing when I hit a key?” I asked.

“That’s what I can’t figure out, dude! I looked all over the top of the board and there’s nothing that might make it buzz like that. The case is welded together at the bottom, so I can’t get to the underside of the board, without breaking it. I kinda like it, though,” Randall said. “It’s like a mini-massage for my fingers.”

I settled down at my own computer, cracked a beer and started hunting down the provenance for our ugly new friend. I sent a few emails to some friends in the business, and posted some questions on some “vintage computing” message boards. My first search results for Wegner returned Wikipedia articles about Dr. Meinrad Wegner. He was a German rocket scientist who came to America, perhaps unwillingly, at the end of WWII. A footnote led me to his son, a polymath who graduated from MIT with four degrees at twenty years old, then disappeared from the public eye for a decade. In 1982, at COMDEX in Atlantic City, Wegner unveiled the Wegner-1, a PC clone that he claimed would “change the world”. Wegner’s announcement was met with some skepticism, but mostly apathy. After COMDEX, the trail went cold, with no other articles about Wegner, or his computer.

The next day, I sorted through the furniture and boxes that came from Wegner’s office. The drawers in the oak desk were locked, but the lock didn’t stand up to a screwdriver and a hammer. The first drawer shrieked horribly when I pulled it open. Inside lay an assortment of decades-old office supplies. With the first drawer opened, I could then pull out the larger bottom drawer. “Bingo,” I said to myself. A dozen black paperback notebooks lay inside, each dated and labeled “E. Wegner, Laboratory Notes.” I pulled out the notebooks, and started flipping through them.

At first, it was hard to read Wegner’s spidery, cramped handwriting. In the first notebook, which appeared to be the earliest, dated “1968,” was filled with terse, almost grudging notes about Wegner’s daily work. He had been recruited straight out of college to work at a small, independent laboratory in the outskirts of Massachusetts. At first, he was given menial fact-checking assignments, long and tedious mathematical calculations performed by hand and slide-rule. Wegner’s frustration with these assignments were apparent in his notes. In the margins, though, he had drawn several sketches of electrical circuits. Wegner appeared to have a breakthrough midway through 1969. His cramped handwriting became more expansive, and his ideas more fluid as written on the page. He began to receive greater access to the projects upon which he had been working, and by the end of the notebook, so did I. The small, independent laboratory was in truth a government operation, requiring both Top Secret and an extremely prejudiced “need to know” clearance, operating at arm’s length to provide plausible deniability.

The height of Cold War paranoia had combined with the heady days of the Summer of Love to produce strange fruit, indeed. By 1970, Wegner was involved in dozens of projects, each more bizarre than the last. Remote sensing, life extension, astral projection. Wegner devoured every subject before him, and combined them in ways that were the true manifestation of his genius. Tantric meditation based upon quantum physics, mathematical formulae derived during deeply ritualized seances while megadosing on lysergic acid derivatives he developed during sensory deprivation. In one of these fugue states, he wrote, he became convinced of the possibility of “imprinting” — copying thoughts from one person to another. The military, of course, latched onto the idea as a perfect interrogation method: what better way to question an enemy combatant than to read that enemy’s thoughts?

By this point, I was hooked. I had settled on a creaking wooden office chair, likely Wegner’s, with a beer, two ham sandwiches, and a stack of notebooks. I went to the kitchen for more beer, and a bag of chips. Randall was banging away at his weird old keyboard, headphones on, monitor glare whiting out his glasses. As I passed, I asked if he wanted a beer. He said nothing, lost in whatever code he was working on. I shrugged, and went back to the notebooks.

Somewhere between 1974 and 1978, Wegner had made a major breakthrough. He was still devouring wildly disparate fields of both science and mythology with equal gusto, incorporating Voudon ceremonies with computer science. He wrote that he felt all knowledge in the universe was already known to the universe, and so could be divined, or teased out of the Mind of God. He theorized that ritual and supplication to higher powers were equally valid to proper scientific experimentation, and by 1975 had formalized divination rituals designed to find specific answers to extremely difficult logical calculations. Wegner became convinced that he was contacting entities that existed outside the universe, and these hyperdimensional entities had access to all knowledge, both past and future. Whether Wegner was actually contacting the spirit world, or was simply insane, was irrelevant: his efforts paid off. Double-blind trials proved imprinting worked for moods in 1980, and by the following year, he had a functional device that could reliably transfer clear thoughts from one person to another — if both were concentrating very hard.

The notebook for 1982 was the last, and started with great success: Wegner’s lab assistant, Anne Bowdon, successfully received an “imprint” from a test subject. She was able to document details about the test subject’s life and personal history that the test subject had revealed to no one else, including recent memories that the test subject had attempted to suppress while being “recorded”. Anne, who Wegner had not mentioned in his journals before, soon became prominent in his journals. Wegner noted that after imprinting, Anne seemed more intelligent, often solving difficult problems that had previously been far beyond her skills very quickly. Wegner thought that, perhaps, imprinting added the “recorded” subject’s intellect to the “imprinted” subject. It was Anne who persuaded Wegner to leave the lab, and to take his invention to the public. Anne told him that imprinting technology would “remake the world.”

Wegner wrote that Anne developed the WEGNER-1 PC almost entirely on her own, hand-assembling the case and keyboard in a locked room by herself over a weekend. In an entry dated June of 1982, Wegner wrote that Anne had been trying to convince him that they should leave the laboratory, that the WEGNER-1 would “change the world”. He worried that the government would object — strongly — to their breach of security. Anne suggested they demonstrate the WEGNER-1 at COMDEX, an upcoming trade show in Atlantic City. The government wouldn’t be able to keep their project secret, then. On June 27, 1982, Wegner wrote that he planned to propose marriage to Anne. “This will be the happiest day of my life!”

The notebook was blank after that entry, or so I thought. I flipped through the remaining pages, and saw something written on the back of the notebook. “Anne is not Anne. Something else came through. I have to stop them.” I should have been worried then. I should have felt the cold tendrils of panic crawling up the base of my neck. Instead, I chuckled at Wegner’s madness, and went back to the house.

I am so sorry. For all of you.

When I returned to the house, Randall was still working. He didn’t acknowledge me as I walked past, the loud, clacking keystrokes echoing off the ceilings and floorboards of the old farm house. The original WEGNER-1 now sat on the table, amidst a tangle of network cables. “Decided to hook it anyway?” I said, walking past. No response. I stopped, and nudged Randall’s chair with my foot. “I’m running out for some dinner. Want anything?” Randall’s fingers scrabbled across the board, clicking and tapping, illuminated by the blue glow of the screens like pale spiders. I grabbed him by the shoulder, and gently shook. “Wake up, man. Dinner?” The clicking stopped, and his hand shot up to grasp mine at the wrist. For an instant, I felt overwhelming, disorienting revulsion. I recoiled slightly, pulling my hand away from his shoulder. He released his grip on my arm. His head slowly swiveled towards me, eyes hidden behind twin reflecting lenses.

“No,” he said, voice clicking in his throat. He turned back to the screens, hands again a flurry of motion.

“Jesus, dude, whatever,” I said, rubbing my wrist. He had really squeezed hard. Randall could be single-minded when he was deep in code, but I had never seen him like that. I shook my head, still rubbing my arm, and left. I checked emails while waiting for my food, and saw my message board posts had received quite a bit of attention. The busy geeks on the vintage computing forum had found more information about Ernst Wegner.

“Wegner didn’t just have a nervous breakdown,” the commenter wrote. “He went absolutely bonkers crazy. It was all over the local news. The neighbors heard shouting and called the cops. When the cops broke down the door, they found his girlfriend dead on the floor. He’d stabbed her a dozen times with a butcher knife, doused her in kerosene, then bashed her head in with the jug. In the police report, one of the cops stated Wegner was trying to do some ‘Satanic’ ritual with her body. He had her inside some circle he’d painted in blood, with markings all around it, and just before the cops tackled him, threw a match. Took firefighters hours to put out the blaze. Wegner was only in his cell for a few hours. A bunch of spooks showed up in black panel vans at the county jail. They shoved papers — and guns — in the cops’ faces and had Wegner bundled up and gone before anyone could say no.” Other commenters went on to claim this was proof of a government coverup, then the thread devolved into name-calling and political rants.

The rapid-fire clacking was audible from outside the house, old movie-monster skeletons rattling their bones as I walked into the front door. There was a smell in the house then, an acrid scent of ozone and burned hair. The WEGNER-1 buzzed angrily on the table, deep orange light flickering from inside its case. Randall was a darker shape in the dim dining room, face a smear with twin sparks for eyes. That was the first time I felt the fear that I have become so familiar with. My hand trembled slightly as I fumbled the light switch on. Randall had always been a little overweight, even though he was tall, topping out at two hundred and sixty pounds. The thing at the keyboard, still hammering away at the keys, could not have weighed more than one hundred pounds. Even from the doorway, I could feel an awful, burning heat radiating from him. Skin hung in folds from scrawny, emaciated arms sticking out of a shirt a half-dozen sizes too large. And his hands, his fingers were black and red, shot through with white that I realized might have been bone.

Without thinking, I ran forward to push him away from the keyboard. “Randall!” I shouted. As I grabbed his shoulder, I could feel the bones churning beneath my grip, and some dim part of my mind noted that long drifts of his hair had fallen all around him. The typing stopped. Randall’s head turned to me, mouth working as if it had forgotten how to shape words.

“Do… Not. Interfere,” he said. Those awful hands came up, so fast, I had never seen Randall move that fast, their heat burning my skin through my shirt. Randall was standing somehow, and I was lifted up, and for a moment I could only think how his hands smelled like the meat department at the grocery store. Then he shoved, and I flew across the room to slam into the display case. Pain exploded through my shoulder and arm, and the world blurred for a moment.

Randall was standing over me. I could smell the stink of him, and hear his fingers clicking together, even without a keyboard. “The path is now open,” he said. “We arrive. Rejoice.”

The box truck was gone when I woke. Randall was gone. The Wegner was gone, save for a charred spot on the table, and some melted ethernet cables. The rest of the computers in the house, all gone. Wegner’s notebooks and filing cabinets were missing. My phone was broken, crushed against the corner of the display case. When I returned from the hospital, arm in a sling, I borrowed a friend’s laptop, and checked my email. All of the message board emails were missing. I checked the boards, and my posts were also missing. I checked Wikipedia, only to find entries for both Wegners, junior and senior, missing. Two weeks later, I received a letter from my cable internet provider. My account had been suspended for sending large amounts of ‘suspicious’ data to millions of hosts on the Internet.


The Battery Room

10/30/2014

“Lowest man on the totem pole.” That’s how my boss described it. That’s how I got stuck on night shift. That made me “The New Guy”. Or “TFNG”, as my coworkers said during the two weeks of day shift training I got at the start of the job. I’m a junior network administrator, right out of college, riding on a friend of a friend’s recommendation. I was responsible for making sure everything stayed the same over night — all the little red lights stayed red, and the green lights stayed green. I had very little idea what I was doing, but in government work, the one thing you can count on is that the task is documented somewhere. Usually on paper, in a binder. I’d done PC tech support for a few years during college, but had never worked with network gear before. If my résumé isn’t outright false, it definitely stinks of cheese.

The office is thirty miles inside the gates of a military base. The speed limit is thirty miles per hour, and the MPs will write tickets for one mile over. It’s a straight road, no hills or curves, only scrub pine for thirty miles. The gates are only five minutes from my apartment, which makes the hour-and-five drive even more infuriating. The building itself is bland in a way only 1970s-era government buildings can be: a long, low building, brick walls pierced by narrow, energy-efficient windows.

My shift is Sunday through Wednesday, 1800 until 0800 Sundays and Mondays, 2000 until 0800 Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Mandatory overtime. I only work four days a week, but when you work nights, or long shifts, you’re wrecked the next day. I have no social life to speak of, excluding League of Legends. My roommates all work day shift, and are usually gone to work when I get home, and out partying when I wake up.

Did I mention I worked completely alone? That’s not entirely true; my shift overlaps with a co-worker’s for an hour. In the short time Dan and I see each other, we spend the time going over activity logs and any issues he thought might crop up overnight. Other than work, Dan and I had nothing in common. He was in his fifties, with a bushy beard, thick glasses, and a penchant for plaid shirts and overalls. He’d worked in the Network Operations Center since he was eighteen, and would likely work there until he retired.

Sunday nights are the hardest. After the long drive in, I badge through four sets of security doors into the dark cave of the NOC. Drag up a chair next to Dan. Half pay attention while he mumbles over a few things, since he had been there for twelve hours and wants to leave as much as I do. Just like that, he’s gone.

I couldn’t blame Dan for not wanting to be there. The NOC is lit only by its screens — three large projector displays and dozens of monitors. The room is in the middle of the building, with no windows. Three rows of low, carpeted cubicles fill the room, with a bank of monitors just below the projector displays. The rest of the building is on low power overnight, which means only one out of every four banks of lights were on, the rest off, or sometimes flickering and buzzing. The MPs patrol the building once a night, around 0200. They can’t get into my area, or at least they don’t. I learned their schedule the hard way when they went into the restroom I was using one night. They laughed when I screamed, so I stayed in the stall until they left. The restrooms were, of course, at the other end of a very long hallway, past dozens of dark, open doors. I have considered peeing in a soda bottle instead of making that walk.

The day shift people have decorated the halls with all manner of pumpkins and scarecrows and zombie heads. Earlier this week I made my way to the restroom. Only every fourth light was on in the hallway, the dim fluorescents revealing a stale, institutional green. I walked past all those dark doorways, steps echoing off the hard tiles. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a life-sized glowing green skeleton. Its eyes lit up, and it shouted “TRICK OR TREAT” at me. I hate this place during Halloween.

The base is located in an area that is prone to get massive thunderstorms, including tornadoes, nearly every week during autumn. A big storm hit a few nights ago. I had the Weather Channel pulled up on one of the overhead projectors. With the sound off, I watched the weather alerts crawl by. In the NOC, the storm was a slight increase in the ambient noise — something new, apart from the whirring of the ventilation system and the hum of computers. Then, at 0245, an alarm went off.

“Well, shit,” I said. The alarm was old, an actual light on the wall, with a buzzer, not part of our automated systems. I grabbed my white Protocol Binder. Found nothing. Went to my manager’s desk, and looked through his stack of PBs. Nothing.

“The UPS has a fault,” my boss, Mike, said, when I called him. “Go down to the battery room and check the board. It probably caught a surge from this storm. There’s a reset button on the board. Mash it, and it’ll turn the alarm off.” Mike was another lifer, a short man with short cropped red hair who flew a Dixie flag on his leather jacket when he rode his Harley into work.

“Ok,” I said.

“And kid, don’t touch anything. I mean it. All that shit’s on DC power. If you get zapped, you’ll fry to jerky before anyone gets to you. Just reset it and call me when you’re done.”

The battery room is about the size of the first floor of suburban house, filled with row upon row of what are essentially car batteries. Each battery was open on top, and the cases were clear so as to show the level of the acid in them. The room stank of ozone, and aside from a few dim lights down the central corridor, pitch black. The huge copper bars connecting the rows of batteries hummed in the darkness. At intervals, long wooden poles were hung from hooks on support beams. Wood is a poor conductor: the poles are used to pry off anyone unlucky enough to touch one of those copper bars.

The control board was at the other end of the battery room. I walked past racks of humming batteries, my skin prickling from ambient currents in the room. “Great,” I said. “Let’s walk through a billion volts of electricity in the middle of a crazy thunderstorm.” I had been talking to myself within weeks of starting night shift. They say that talking to oneself is an early indicator of insanity. If so, at least I’ll have myself for company.

Like most equipment in the building, I had never seen the UPS control board. As my coworker told me once during one of our overlaps, “We’re mushrooms. They keep us in the dark and feed us shit.” Amongst multiple dials and gauges, I spotted a red RESET button and pushed it. A red light on the board went out. I exhaled a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding.

I turned to leave. There was a WHAM! CLANG! from next door. Then a slowly building roar, which meant we were on generator power. I picked up the phone near the control board and called my boss. “I reset the alarm but we just switched over to generator power.”

“Yeah, the wind outside’s a real bitch. We lost power about a minute ago here,” Mike said. “You should have plenty of fuel, enough for five days.” He laughed. “Don’t worry; we’re essential services, so they’ll get our power on sooner than that. Four hours, tops. We We still gotta follow procedures though, so I need you to go check the generator. None of that shit is automated, so go look at all the lights and check the fuel. Go in the door, turn right and go straight back. And wear some damn ear muffs!”

I hung up the phone, and sighed. Even with ear protection, when the generator was running, it was like standing next to a jet engine. I grabbed the ear muffs off the hook next to the door to the generator room. “This sucks. I need a new job,” I told myself, for the hundredth time that night.

The generator room was lit only with dim red lights. The generators were two tractor trailer-sized diesel engines crammed into the room, leaving only narrow maintenance aisles on either side. The room stank of grease and poorly-exhausted diesel smoke, and was very hot. Sweat beaded around my hairline as I walked down the aisle. The sound covered me like lead blanket, hammering against my chest and back, vibrating my eyeballs in their sockets. I made my way through the thickened air to the control panel at the of the room. “Fuel gauge looks good. All lights green,” I said, as I scribbled the readings in my notebook.

Something touched my neck.

I may have screamed, but it was impossible to tell in that room.

I’ll confess: I’m scared of spiders. Well, not so much scared of as utterly revolted by. When I felt the first touch, I instantly visualized a huge black spider crawling on my neck. I flipped. Did the Spider Dance — brushed the back of my neck a dozen times, shook my clothes, spun around in circles. Nearly knocked my ear muffs loose. Said a lot of bad words. After a few seconds of this, I realized there was no spider. “Shit!” I said, and bent to pick up my notebook. Something pushed me. I stumbled forward, away from the control panel. I spun around. There was nothing. “What the fuck?” I frantically looked around me. I was alone. Still trying to see both in front and behind me, I stooped and grabbed my notebook.

I decided there that no matter what, I wasn’t going to run. This was a prank, and my coworkers were watching it on video. It would probably get a million hits on Youtube. “It’s great to be the new guy, you assholes!” I shouted, even though I couldn’t hear myself over the din of the generator, and I knew nobody else could either. I walked down the tight corridor beside the generator, toward the door. The whole way, I felt little pluckings at my clothes, like something pinching and pulling but only for a second at a time. I yanked the door open, stepped through, and slammed it shut. I pulled the ear muffs off and threw them on the floor next to the control board. I was covered in sweat, and my ears were ringing, despite the ear protection.

I wiped my face with my sleeve, and started walking past racks of batteries. Then stopped. Something moved down one of the side aisle. I squinted into the murk. Batteries hummed around me. My scalp prickled and itched. At the end of the aisle, a slumped, dark shape rearranged itself, and slouched towards me. I staggered back, then recoiled as my arm brushed against one of the battery racks. I stood still in the center of the main corridor, and the shape edged closer to me. My nose filled with the sickly-sweet stench of burned pork. It reached the edge of the aisle, I could see its shape. It was a man, staggering towards me, flesh charred dark. Cables writhed across his body, and trailed back into the dark. I heard the coils scrub and squeak against each other. The man had no eyes. They had burst and cooked onto his cheeks. He shuffled closer. A cable wormed out of one socked, crossed the ruined bridge of his nose, and pushed itself into the other socket. For a moment, I realized I could read the print on the cable. His withered mouth gaped open, revealing teeth that had cracked and burst from heat. He stretched a sticklike, charred arm out to me, and the cables twisted upon it. I glanced down, and saw cables on the floor, snaking closer to me.

I ran.

I don’t recall badging out of the battery room, or badging through the multiple security doors to get into the NOC. I remember sitting in one position for long enough that my leg went to sleep. I remember watching the doors, and listening to the quiet noise of the NOC, listening for any change, or perhaps for a muffled, choked scream. I heard nothing, but I sat very still.

Mike came in early that morning. “Good job last night,” he said. “I double-checked everything this morning. Looks good.” He handed me my notebook. “You dropped this in the battery room.”

“Thanks.”

He looked at me, eyebrows furrowed. “You didn’t … see anything in there last night, did you?”

I looked at him, at his orange flat-top shot through with white, at the tobacco stain around the corner of his mouth, burst veins in his nose, at his eyes, pale blue and watery.

“Nope.”