} There was a time when seeing this question would have given
} Incarnation-2331 a buzz of excitement, but that was long ago. She had
} watched too many Search and Destroy missions come back empty-handed,
} the Wilsonite supplicant having made good his escape long before the
} SANDmen arrived. That is, if the whole thing wasn't an ambush to begin
} Still, she went through the motions. Activating a tracerbot, she
} opened a comlink to SAND Control and read the details off her monitor,
} whilst the bot painfully picked its way through the tattered remnants
} of the Internet to locate the heretic. "I-2331 reports double Level 1
} Injoke assault: ZOT and woodchucks. Time is oh-eight-five-three,
} question code hash-capqueue-smallyou..." she completed the
} identification. "Tracerbot results coming in now... Assault initiated
} from South Africa, Cape Town. GPS co-ordinates--"
} "Thank you, I-2331. Your call is being put through to Science.
} Please hold."
} I-2331 was flabbergasted. A human operator interrupting her in mid-
} report! And routing her to Science, no less! Why involve Science in a
} bog-standard injoke erasure?
} Another voice came on the line. "Hello. I-2331, is it? You reported
} a double Level 1 just now? And in a foreign country? Excellent,
} excellent! Less chance of upsetting the neighbors. Come up to Number 2
} Lab, will you? And bring those co-ordinates with you."
} Bemused, I-2331 downloaded the details into her palmtop and left
} her cubicle. Clearly, Science had come up with something new in the
} fight against heresy. And I-2331 knew it was sorely needed. Although
} the armies of the true Oracular faith had, to all intents and purposes,
} won the Great Holy War two years ago, the Wilsonites refused to give
} up, and lately they had been gaining ground.
} As an Oracular incarnation, I-2331 was one of the few entrusted
} with full knowledge of the secret history of the Great Holy War. She
} had learnt how the Oracular faith had been beset almost from its very
} beginning by injokes such as Lisa (subsequently identified with the
} Whore of Babylon). But these aberrations had been kept under control
} until the arrival of the unspeakable Brit Wilson and his False Prophet,
} Zadoc. These two opened the floodgates, and before long the Oracle
} himself was all but swamped by a deluge of Ogs, Thags, Kendais, bright
} red Siamese fighting fish, oregano, catchphrases and RHODities too
} numerous to mention.
} Even the priesthood was divided, with many choosing the path of
} heresy and insisting on selecting injokes for the digests. At first
} these had the upper hand, as the true believers were further split into
} numerous factions such as the Oneliners, who believed long answers were
} an abomination in the sight of the Oracle. The darkest hour for the
} true faith came with the massacre of the loyal priests during what
} became known as the Night of the Spiky Clubs. The survivors retreated
} to a bunker beneath the Black Hills of Dakota, which -- greatly
} expanded -- still serves as headquarters of the true religion today.
} During their exile, the true believers (called "Furrs" by their
} enemies, for their superior understanding of what is and is not funny)
} purified themselves by purging their belief system of anything remotely
} resembling an injoke. Even referring to the heretics as "Rethulus"
} (meaning those who mindlessly repeat other people's punchlines) was
} prohibited; "Wilsonites" was chosen as a less potentially heterodox
} label. Sadly, the founding fathers, survivors of the massacre, also had
} to be martyred when a bull from the Council of Doctrine proclaimed that
} the priests themselves constituted an injoke. Thus morally cleansed,
} the true believers started to fight back.
} The Great Holy War that ensued was long and bitter. Most of the Net
} was laid waste by the "Kid from Toronto" virus, whilst cancelbots
} gradually gave way to SAND squads which eliminated blasphemous
} communications by the simple expedient of eliminating the wetware that
} posted them. The firebombing of the University of Indiana (home of the
} Injoke Oracle, reviled be his name) during the 14th annual RHOD
} convention was the turning point. The only thing that survived the
} carnage was a Prince Albert, and its purpose was soon forgotten.
} The resounding victory of the true faith should have heralded a
} golden age. Instead, with the world economy in disarray and famine,
} epidemics and civil unrest rampant in almost every country around the
} globe, many sought to blame the Oracle and his servants for their woes.
} The Wilsonites resurged under these conditions. The true believers
} started suffering serious setbacks. And casualties...
} These thoughts passed through I-2331's mind as she made her way to
} Number 2 Lab. Could Science really have come up with a solution? A
} final solution? She scarcely dared to hope.
} A lanky, middle-aged man in a Principal Tech uniform adorned with
} the label T-646 met her at the laboratory door. His manner was
} enthusiastic, as it had been on the comlink.
} "You're here. Excellent!" he exclaimed. "Come along, come along.
} You must see this. We've selected your boy for the first field test."
} He hurried her along past countless workbenches where industrious
} techs worked at computers or less readily identifiable electronic
} "You know what's wrong with the SAND approach, of course," he
} babbled. "Too inefficient. Slow response time. Limited strike
} footprint. Personpower-intensive and very, very vulnerable to
} counterattack in the field. Do you know how many warm body units SAND
} Control has lost in the last 3 months? Never mind, that's classified.
} But it makes disturbing reading, I can tell you."
} They entered an area of the lab shielded from the rest by glass
} partitions. Half a dozen senior-looking techs worked here, operating
} control panels. A bank of monitors filled the far wall. They showed a
} composite image -- a Mercator projection of the world, overlaid by a
} grid pattern.
} "Got the co-ordinates?" asked T-646. "Excellent, excellent." He
} took her palmtop and passed it to one of his subordinates. "We'll have
} a fix on your little friend in a moment. Boy, is he going to have a
} sore Umberto!"
} I-2331 flinched on hearing the proscribed phrase -- Science were
} notoriously lax in their observance of permissible language. She tried
} to shrug it off and asked, "What is all this? What's going to happen?"
} "We've gained control over Centaur," said T-646. "It's a satellite-
} based particle beam weapon. The only one the erstwhile US government
} managed to put into space under the ill-fated Son of Star Wars project.
} And it's fully operational." He was almost giggling with excitement and
} pride. "Strike footprint of one and a half square miles! Let's see this
} Captain Hook of yours evade that!"
} Something was happening on the bank of monitors. A pair of bright
} red crosshairs had appeared and, as I-2331 watched, they zeroed in on
} the southern tip of the African continent.
} "Target locked in," said one of the techs.
} "Let him have it," said T-646.
} The tech depressed a level. A circle of white light appeared on one
} of the monitors, momentarily obliterating most of South Africa. Then,
} over the hum of the equipment, I-2331 heard another sound. A clear,
} unmistakable, horrifying sound. Her mouth fell open as realization
} dawned on her, but she found herself unable to express her feelings of
} outrage and revulsion.
} T-646 smiled happily. "Well, we proved the little sucker wrong,
} anyway. For him, the digests ended not with a woodchuck, but with a
} I-2331 recovered her powers of speech with difficulty. "And... and
} if it had taken a, a woodchuck to do it, would you have done that too?"
} The Principal Tech frowned at her. "I would have done whatever it
} takes, my dear. We are not simply fighting for our lives here, you
} know. We are fighting for Good against Evil. For Light against
} Darkness. For Truth, Justice and the Oracular Way. We must not fail. We
} dare not fail. And now, we have the weapon to ensure that we shall not
} "Even at the cost of our doctrinal integrity?" asked I-2331. "Even
} if it means becoming the very thing we're fighting?"
} "Come, come, young lady! It surely won't come to that. Cheer up!
} Here, let me introduce you to the team -- I call them my ZOT staff. Ha
} ha ha..."