When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth

When Felix’s special phone rang at 2:00 in the morning, Kelly rolled over and punched him in the shoulder and hissed, “Why didn’t you turn that fucking thing off before bed?”

“Because I’m on call,” he said.

“You’re not a fucking doctor,” she said, kicking him as he sat on the bed’s edge, pulling on the pants he’d left on the floor before turning in. “You’re a goddamned systems administrator.”

“It’s my job,” he said.

“They work you like a government mule,” she said. “You know I’m right. For Christ’s sake, you’re a father now, you can’t go running off in the middle of the night every time someone’s porn supply goes down. Don’t answer that phone.”

He knew she was right. He answered the phone.

“Main routers not responding. BGP not responding.” The mechanical voice of the systems monitor didn’t care if he cursed at it, so he did, and it made him feel a little better.

“Maybe I can fix it from here,” he said. He could log in to the UPS for the cage and reboot the routers. The UPS was in a different netblock, with its own independent routers on their own uninterruptible power supplies.


Kelly was sitting up in bed now, an indistinct shape against the headboard. “In five years of marriage, you have never once been able to fix anything from here.” This time she was wrong—he fixed stuff from home all the time, but he did it discreetly and didn’t make a fuss, so she didn’t remember it. And she was right, too—he had logs that showed that after 1:00 a.m., nothing could ever be fixed without driving out to the cage. Law of Infinite Universal Perversity—aka Felix’s Law.
Five minutes later, Felix was behind the wheel. He hadn’t been able to fix it from home. The independent router’s netblock was offline, too. The last time that had happened, some dumbfuck construction worker had driven a Ditchwitch through the main conduit into the data center and Felix had joined a cadre of fifty enraged sysadmins who’d stood atop the resulting pit for a week, screaming abuse at the poor bastards who labored twenty-four/seven to splice ten thousand wires back together.

His phone went off twice more in the car; he let it override the stereo and play the mechanical status reports through the big, bassy speakers of more critical network infrastructure offline. Then Kelly called.

“Hi,” he said.

“Don’t cringe, I can hear the cringe in your voice.”

He smiled involuntarily. “Check, no cringing.”

“I love you, Felix,” she said.

“I’m totally bonkers for you, Kelly. Go back to bed.”

“2.0’s awake,” she said. The baby had been Beta Test when he was in her womb, and when her water broke, he got the call and dashed out of the office, shouting, The Gold Master just shipped! They’d started calling him 2.0 before he’d finished his first cry. “This little bastard was born to suck tit.” 

“I’m sorry I woke you,” he said. He was almost at the data center. No traffic at 2:00 a.m. He slowed down and pulled over before the entrance to the garage. He didn’t want to lose Kelly’s call underground.
“It’s not waking me,” she said. “You’ve been there for seven years. You have three juniors reporting to you. Give them the phone. You’ve paid your dues.”
“I don’t like asking my reports to do anything I wouldn’t do,” he said.

“You’ve done it,” she said. “Please? I hate waking up alone in the night. I miss you most at night.”


“I’m over being angry. I just miss you is all. You give me sweet dreams.”
“OK,” he said.

“Simple as that?”

“Exactly. Simple as that. Can’t have you having bad dreams, and I’ve paid my dues. From now on, I’m only going on night call to cover holidays.”

She laughed. “Sysadmins don’t take holidays.”

“This one will,” he said. “Promise.”

“You’re wonderful,” she said. “Oh, gross. 2.0 just dumped core all over my bathrobe.”

“That’s my boy,” he said.

“Oh that he is,” she said. She hung up, and he piloted the car into the data–center’s lot, badging in and peeling up a bleary eyelid to let the retinal scanner get a good look at one of his sleep-depped eyeballs.
He stopped at the machine to get himself a guarana/medafonil power bar and a cup of lethal robot-coffee in a spill-proof clean-room sippy-cup. He wolfed down the bar and sipped the coffee, then let the inner door read his hand geometry and size him up for a moment. It sighed open and gusted the airlock’s load of positively pressurized air over him as he passed finally to the inner sanctum.

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