Screwtape 2.0 – Or, the story of how Twitter came to be.
City of Dis, Hell – District 7 – Baal Administration Building – Department of Evil Mischief, Mayhem, and General Suffering – Executive Office Suite 9B – July 10th, 2006 – 8:45 AM
Steve Screwtape stood in front of the large picture window in his new office. He took a large gulp of air, breathing in deeply as a fresh stream of green toxic burning Sulphur seeped in through the heating vents. It was wonderful — so much better than the old system. At his old offices, they never did get the HVAC system set up right. The temperature was never above 750 degrees and he was always chilly. This was quite an upgrade.
He smiled as he carefully studied his new, and he had to admit, spectacular view. It had been twenty years, but he finally got that corner office he always wanted. And best of all, this one came with a big window. Those boys back at the old Leviathan Memorial Offices must be green with envy. How fitting.
Here from his office on the 9th floor he could look out over the whole vast fiery cavern of Hades at once, and it never looked lovelier. To his left, he had a clear view of the great, black drainpipe of souls, endlessly dribbling the never-ending supply of the damned from earth to their doom. He squinted his eyes to focus, but from this distance from the ceiling of Hell, he could not make out individual faces. He could see a blur, though, and it was a glorious squirming mass of infernally bound spirits grasping to the sides of the pipe as they kicked and bit and scratched one another to stay in the pipe. It was their last stop before the Abyss, and even then the damned struggle. It was hopeless of course, and their ear-piercing shrieks were quite loud when they eventually plunged into the bubbling red lake of fire below, but Steve always smiled with every deposit. No…., Please…., Aieeee……., splash! He flicked the pane of glass on his window with a loud thud. Even 4 inches of pure clear safety glass could not muffle the endless screeching. Perfection!
“Nice, eh?” came a soft voice from behind.
“What? Oh, yeah, it is,” Steve said as he turned to the voice behind him. It was Donna DeSimone, his assistant of many years. Steve may be in charge of mayhem and malice, but it was really Donna who got things done.
“Well, at least up here the Wi-Fi here works, and you should see the new copier I got. I just love these new offices. Such a big improvement,” Donna said. “Infernal Mackerel, I can’t believe that old piece of crap I used to have to use for a copier. It is amazing we ever got anything done.”
“It appears our department is on the upswing,” Steve said.
“It’s about damn time,” she said. “We do the great Dark Lord’s infernal work here, you know. It is about time it is recognized.”
“Your commitment truly is inspiring.” Steve nodded. He paused and sniffed the air. “Wait a minute, did…, did you bring…?”
“I did,” Donna said as she smirked. “I know it is your favorite, and with it being a special occasion and all, I thought it was worth the splurge. Now, wait right here.” She went out the side door into her connecting office and returned pushing a cart. On the cart were several trays of desserts and two large pots of coffee. “I know how much you enjoy those pastries I brought in last month and being that it is the first Quarterly review in our new—,”
“—Oh, dammit! The quarterly review! I totally forgot. With the move, and all, I totally blanked that was today.”
“It is,” Donna said as she shook her head. “You really should look at your calendar more often.”
“But, I…, I don’t have any of the…” Steve sputtered.
“Calm down, Bossman,” Donna said as she pulled out a black and red leather file folder. “I got everything ready.”
Steve smiled and said, “Donna, you are the greatest, you know that.” He reached over to the cart and popped a large, golden plump donut into his mouth. He closed his eyes and sighed.
“Great diabolical horns of Astaroth! These are great!”
Donna’s face beamed with pride as she lifted up a pot of coffee in her hand and poured Steve a cup. It was in his favorite mug, just unpacked; a stark lifeless skull, with a handle carved from human femurs. On it, emblazoned in blood were the words ‘World’s Greatest Boss’. She passed him his cup and said, “If you think the donut is good, well, try the coffee.”
Steve took a long swig, his pursed lips curling into a smile as the hot liquid rushed down his throat. “Delicious! What…, what is different?”
“Well..., I used the tears of motherless children to brew the coffee,” Donna said.
“It does make it extra bitter and full of woe. I love it,” Steve said. Smacking his lips, he added, “But, even better than the coffee are these pastries. I think I will have to have an—” He reached over for another before his hand was playfully smacked away by Donna.
“Now, save those for everyone,” Donna said. “We have the whole management team coming it, and I want to make sure we have enough.”
“Yeah…, but, it is just the same old guys as every month. They won’t miss me having an extra.” He licked his lips and added, “they really are extra sweet. So much better than those old stale dunkin donuts we usually get.”
“It’s all in the creme. Filled to the brim with the Pureed souls of unbaptized children.”
“I thought it was extra delicious. Now it all makes sense,” Steve said as he grinned. “Those unbaptized Children souls really are yummy. Just like Momma used to bake.”
“They are. But, don’t get used to it. It was a splurge.”
“I bet it was,” Steve said.
“And, I hope Tim won’t mind.”
“Yeah,” Donna said. “I got an email from HQ. They want Tim from Finance to sit in this month.”
“Oh no, not that Tim!” Steve said as he raised his eyebrow. “I guess all the upgrades to the facilities bit into the budget and they are clamping down. And now I will have to contend with having a bean counter riding me.” He frowned, and added, “nothing good ever comes without a price.”
“Sadly, yes,” Donna said.
Steve looked down at his watch. It was nearly 9. “Is everyone else coming? I assume you sent out a reminder. I would have expected them to be here by now.”
“They may have a problem with traffic. I know, I almost did. There was a big pileup on Whore of Babylon drive, and cars are backed up all the way to Red Dragon Boulevard.”
“Well, they will get here when they get here, I guess,” Steve said as he glanced back at his watch again. “I assume everyone has our new address.”
“Yes. I emailed it out last week and everyone responded to my email but Don. I got an out of office message. Apparently, he is out of town.”
“Out of town? Don Death is out of town? He knows this meeting was on the schedule. Now how are we going to have a quarterly review without the Death report.”
“Don’t worry, Steve. It is all taken care of,” Donna said as she smirked. “I called his secretary and it appears he took the wife and kids to the lake for a long weekend.”
Donna smiled and said, “Well, she reminded me that you approved his request for vacation last week.”
Steve smirked and said, “It appears he doesn’t look at his calendar either.”
Two hours later the Quarterly review was in full force, and it was not going well. In attendance was Phil Pestilence, dressed in his trademark pale green suit, and looking sickly as always. He was sweating profusely. Beside him, and looking equally nonplussed, was the always nattily dressed Walter War. His scarlet tie was askew as he had taken quite the drubbing from Steve all morning. On the opposite side of the table, and wearing a threadbare black turtleneck with several gaping holes showing his emaciated ribcage, was Frank Famine. Ironically, Frank was just finishing off his third pastry.
Tim from finance watched Frank eat the pastry, took out his little notebook from his breast pocket and wrote something down. “I do hope you keep all your meetings within your food and beverage budget this quarter, Mr. Screwtape.”
“I will, Tim,” Steve said as he glanced over at Donna and scowled. She shrugged. The meeting was really not going well.
“Now, if I can direct everyone to last month’s figures again,” Steve said as he pointed to the screen behind him. On it were various stats: infant mortality, deaths by violence, disease, famine, etc… All were going down, and had been for quite some time. He took out his laser pointer and swept down across the screen. “I don’t mind telling everyone that this is unacceptable. The Boss is furious about the trajectory of these key metrics. We are losing on all fronts.”
“Hey, it has just been a bit of an off season,” Walter said. “I got things brewing. You’ll see.”
“Oh, Walter?” Steve snapped. “Like what? You haven’t had a good run in 70 years.”
“Look, I thought things would work out differently,” Walter said as he put his head down. “Don’t worry, though. I predict big things coming, I just know it.”
“Yeah…, well, so far, your forecasting skills suck. You promised me that once we gave nuclear bombs to humans after World War II they would be killing each other by the bushel within a decade. Well…., how has that worked out, eh?”
“But you have to admit,” Walter said, “World War II was pretty spectacular.”
“It was, Walter, but…, that was a while ago. You have just been coasting lately. You can’t just phone it in, you know.”
“There is no need to be rude, Steve,” Phil interrupted. “We are all trying. We are doing our best.”
“Well, your best isn’t getting it done,” Steve snapped. “Lucifer is really clamping down right now. Looking for good MROI and none of you are performing.”
“MROI?” Frank whispered to Donna.
“Misery Return on Investment,” Tim said as he overheard and turned to glare at Steve. “Didn’t you inform your team of the new corporate policies, Mr. Screwtape?” He shook his head, took out his little notebook and wrote something else down and returned it to his pocket.
Steve sighed, but said nothing.
“But Steve,” Phil said, “I know we have been going through a slow patch. I mean, those damn antibiotics have put a real cramp in my old plans, but, I have a surefire killer idea for this quarter. Guaranteed to work. You will have so much sickness and misery around, you won’t know what to do with yourself.”
“Oh?” Steve said. “Well, go on. I am all ears.”
“Boils!” Phil said. “A great big beautiful plague of weeping, oozing, open sored boils,” He glanced around the room, desperate to gage a reaction, and added, “Am I right, guys? Can you see it? How great will THAT be? Huh? Am I right? Boils! I am telling you, they are going to be the next big—”
“—Boils?” Steve said with a defeated sigh. “This is your big idea? Wow. Quite a long fall from the old Black Death days, eh Phil.”
“Now you are just being mean, Steve,” Phil said as he sat down and quickly crossed his arms in front of his chest.
“We need to think outside the box here, people! The old tried and true just ain’t getting it done! We need something bold, and —”
“—Excuse me, sir,” came a voice from the other end of the table. It was Ted, and for the last few hours he had said nothing. He, unlike the others, was dressed quite casually. Painfully overweight and wearing a “Got Milk” T-shirt, his goatee and man-bun was a sharp contrast to the others in the room.
“Yes? You have something to add?” Steve said, his tone clipped and irritated.
“I might,” Ted said.
“Well…, go on then,” Steve said. “I know you are one of the newest members of the team, but, hey…, if you have an idea to pitch, please do. It appears we are scraping the bottom of the barrel right now.”
Ted cleared his throat and said, “I have been following a couple of programmers in New York who I think may just be on to something. It could be big, Steve. Real big.”
“Another program?” Frank said as he put his donut down and glared over at Ted. “Haven’t we had enough of that?”
“Yeah, Ted,” Walter said. “Look, we all respect the work you have done with online Porn, Ted.” He glanced over at Steve and added, “I mean, really. It has been stunning beyond belief. Some of the whacked out perv-a-thon raging upstairs on Earth has even old Asmodeus blushing, but…, technology has a limit, you know.”
“Yes, Ted,” Phil added. “We are all impressed with your prior work, but…,” Pointing to Walter, he added, “you can’t say that some pixelated T&A is going to have the same destructive impact as a full out war will, can you?” Pointing to Frank, he added, “or a long, luxurious famine, or, in my case, a great raging disease. Your internet work is great, but it is all a bit…, well…., small time, don’t you think?”
“Small time?” Ted said as he smirked. “Hey, I don’t want to talk out of turn here, but, none of you guys have had a hit in years.” He pointed to the charts on the monitor and added, “We are in the longest era of peace in history. Modern medicine has beaten back most of the horrific plagues of the past and…,” glaring over at Frank he said, “we now have more fat people than any time in history. So obviously your plans are working out!”
“Now look here you little—,” Frank shouted as he jumped to his feet.
“Sit down, Frank,” Steve said. “Let’s hear the boy out.”
“As I was saying,” Ted said as he cleared his throat. “These guys have an idea for a program that will allow any individual the ability, at the punch of a few keystrokes, to broadcast whatever crazy ID fueled rage thought imaginable to the whole earth at once. Now…, as we all know, humans do not, as a group, have very good self-control. So, someone will broadcast something heinous, and then others will repost it, adding on more terrible comments and then the next thing you know…, total mayhem.”
“But, this will just be for…, you know, the low sort, right?” Steve said. “I like the concept, but, it will be limited don’t you think.”
“I don’t know,” Ted said. “You never know how these things work out, but, if it goes well, you might actually end up with some truly deranged individual with millions of followers and…, who knows what will happen.”
“Hmmm, it’s an idea,” Steve said.
“Best of all, like Porn, it is self-replicating. All we have to do is get it going and it will self-replicate.” Glancing over at Phil, Ted said, “Unlike these very expensive, and sadly, increasingly ineffective plagues. This one will cost very little to start and nothing to maintain.” He grinned widely and added, “And thus, provide a very good MROI.”
“I like the sound of that!” Tim said.
“What will this thing be called?” Steve asked.
“The programmers are toying with different names, but, it seems like they are leaning towards calling it Twitter.”
“Twitter? Like the birds?”
“Yeah,” Ted said.
“Well, that is what I think of this idea,” Walter said. “It is for the birds.” He turned towards Steve and said, “You aren’t going to go for this idea, are you?”
“It is very budget friendly,” Tim said as he took his notebook out of his pocket. “You have to take the costs into account. Look at the whole picture. Cost benefit, etc. etc. etc.”
Steve paused for a while, the tension growing as his brow furrowed and he was deep in thought. After a good five minutes of silence, he said, “Alright, I am convinced. Let’s give it a whirl. See what comes of it.”
Ted beamed. “You won’t regret it, Steve. And hey, you never know. If it works well, it might drag the whole culture into the toilet well beyond the perviest porn available. And if we are really lucky, it might even catch on at the highest levels of power.”
“You mean like a President or something?” Walter scoffed. “Now you are talking out of you’re a—”
“—Stranger things, Walter. Stranger things,” Ted said.
“You guys are crazy to consider this!” Phil said. “I am telling you, don’t go down this path. Boils. That is the solution to our situation. We need more boils.”
Steve frowned and shook his head. “Nope. My mind is made up. I am going to approve this Twitter thing.” He turned to Donna, and said, “Give Ted’s project the green light. Let’s see what happens.”
“Will do, Boss. Will do.”