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Shifts, Chapter 8: Thoroughly Modern Mr. Lewis, part 2 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Shifts, Chapter 8: Thoroughly Modern Mr. Lewis, part 2
Well, after the conversation about computers with Sreya in the comments on the last Shifts post, I got a little distracted. I've been looking at my old comments on Usenet from 1995. (I was looking for current issues and computer stuff, like which version of Word was out and so on--precious comment, "Microsoft Excel too buggy for serious use.") Alas, I couldn't find anything from September 10 (the story date). But here's one from Sept 7 1995--the closest I could find--when an argument was going on about some irreconcilable dates in Al Calavicci's history at Quantum Leap.

In a previous article, address (name) says:

>to all-
>i was wondering something here. i rememeber a line that was mentioned in the
>chimp episode where al says he was an astronaut and that he was on
>apallo 11. i was wondering is this true and if so this is not right
>becasue he was in veitnam at the time as a pow.
>please respond via email to me or the group

This is another famous screwup in Al's back story. Some people say
that because of this, he can't have been both an astronaut and a POW,
so Sam must have changed his history, but I don't buy that at all.
Both events are absolutely necessary to the construction of hte character.
And, since he didn't *say* Apollo 11 (just described a mission that
sounded like it), we can assume a fictional Apollo mission at a date
after he returned from 'Nam. I prefer this option for another reason
as well -- the real astronauts of hte program were genuine heroes, and
I think it takes away from them to send a fictional character on one
of their missions. I wrote longer comments about this in the
timeline at [totally obsolete URL from my very first website], towards
the end in the section of "We only have vague hints about hte time
on this."

[My Name_____] | "I pass the test. I will
[myoldaddress] | diminish, and go into the
[firstwebsite] | West, and remain Galadriel."
[____________] | -- Tolkien, LOTR I

That was an amusing trip down memory lane.

Anyway, on to the story. (After another day of getting distracted by other things, like Daniel Morse, who keeps coming back but who really can't be shoehorned into the story and therefore must be shooed offstage.)

Table of Contents and Summary So Far

Remus's fourth form class got a bit heated arguing about Colonialism, but other than that rather minor incident (which Remus couldn't say he minded), the morning went by peaceably. Dudley showed up of his own accord to ask where he was expected to come and do nothing when he should be at boxing practice tonight, and Remus told him to come to the office instead of the classroom. Dudley lumbered away sullenly.

Daniel Morse came during his free hour, now burdened with books on the late Middle Ages (he'd chosen to do his first paper on the transition to the Renaissance, so he could make use of it all). One of them, which took Remus by surprise, was titled European Witch Trials: Their Foundations in Popular and Learned Culture, 1300-1500. Daniel went on about it for some time, astounded that people had ever believed in such a thing. Alan Garvey--who had come in to get his lunch--said that he thought in five hundred years, people would be equally astounded at things believed now. He and Daniel got into a rather spirited discussion about what Alan called "urban legends," with Daniel insisting on the truth of one involving spiders exploding from a plant of some sort, and Alan rolling his eyes at it. Remus, who thought it sounded suspiciously like a Spitting Arachnochae--an illegal blend of plant and animal designed as a weapon in Germany during Grindelwald's reign--kept his mouth shut.

After Daniel left, Remus told Alan of his plan to have Dudley tutor him on the computer.

Alan gave him a suspicious look. "Are you sure that's wise?"

"Joe wanted to make sure that Dudley didn't slip through the cracks."

"It's hard to imagine Mr. Dursley quietly slipping through any crack."

Remus raised his eyebrows. "Don't you think that's exactly what was happening? The weight, the bullying, no one stopping it?"

"That's what Joe said." Alan shrugged. "I think the Dursley boy is a lost cause. I don't say that about many of the boys--I complain, I suppose, but I like most of them. But Dursley doesn't think there's anything wrong with him, and he has no reason to want to change. You and Joe are fighting a losing battle with that one."

"It's possible."

"Well, let me help you set up your password. You don't want Dudley to see you fumbling with that. He'd have access to your computer whenever he wanted to."

Joe turned on the computer and guided Remus through the process of changing his password from the random string of characters assigned to him by the office to something he would remember ("But not something anyone would guess--if you use 'Dora,' I'll personally ransack your files"). After some thought, Remus chose alohamora. Any witch who wanted to could probably break in if he realized a wizard had chosen it, but Remus had no intention of putting Order-related information on the machine and didn't care if a dark witch or wizard happened to see his class schedule.

His A-level classes in the afternoon turned out to be interesting, and a seventeen-year-old boy named Keith Tavist drew his classmates into a fascinating conversation about the ethics of the Cold War and its various flare-ups. It spilled a bit beyond the end of class, so by the time Remus got back to his office, Dudley was already waiting there, looking at his watch in a scornful manner.

"I'm not staying longer than an hour," he said when Remus reached the door. "And I've already been here for ten minutes."

"I'm sorry I'm late," Remus said, without an excuse. "Please come in." He opened the office door and gestured to the chair across from his desk. "Sit down."

Dudley took a seat, his arms crossed over his chest, his small, watery eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What's it to be today?"

"I thought I'd give you a choice."

"What sort of choice?"

"Well, I could have you do another essay. Last night's was not especially inspired."

Dudley looked at him dully. "Or?"

"Well, it seems that I'm supposed to learn to use these things"--he gestured at the computer--"and if you'd prefer it to the essay, I would appreciate it if you could show me how."

"You want me to teach you how to do your job?"

"The computer is part of my job, Dudley, but it is not my job. My job is teaching."

"And mine's supposed to be learning."

Remus nodded. "Fair enough. You may sit at my desk to write your essay. Five hundred words on the Reichstag fire we talked about in class."

He switched to a lower chair beside the computer, and Dudley came around the desk to sit more comfortably while he worked.

With some trepidation, Remus reached behind the computer, flicked the switch, and turned it on. It beeped and hummed, then the letter C appeared, followed by a colon and an angular brace.

Remus took a deep breath, reminding himself of how Alan had got in this afternoon. "Win," he muttered under his breath, then glared down at the mad keyboard and found the three letters, no where near where any of them should be. He typed w-i-n. Nothing happened.



"Enter," Dudley said through clenched teeth. "You have to hit the enter key. The big one off on the right."

"Oh," Remus said, embarrassed. "Right." He hit it. The screen went totally blank.

His first thought was that Dudley had misled him, but Dudley wasn't laughing (or paying attention). Then his thoughts started circling around the mix of magic and electronics, and he thought, I'm using my appearance Charms. I've broken it. I--

The screen went white, then an abstract picture appeared, with four colorful squares that appeared to be a waving flag. The picture identified itself as "Microsoft Windows, Version 3.1."

Right. This had happened earlier. He just hadn't noticed how long it had taken, because he'd been thinking of what password to choose. The prompt to type it in came up, and he entered it. The screen changed, and several small pictures came up, each with a description beneath it. One showed a boxy little computer and was labeled "Xterm." Another had what looked like a pen and said "Word 6.0." Another, with an incomprehensible picture, said "Excel." There were a few more, including one that looked like a king in a deck of cards, labeled "Solitaire."

While he strongly suspected that the last wasn't going to be helpful in keeping track of his classes, he wasn't at all sure what the others would do. There was a dotted line around "Xterm." He pressed "enter" experimentally and a white box appeared on the screen, with "Smeltings" written out large, the letters formed by diagonal slash-marks. At the bottom of the screen, the word "Username:" appeared.

Remus licked his lips. Alan had said the system was set up so that he would have the same username and password for everything, unless he changed it. He typed "rlewis," and another line appeared, asking for his password.

It didn't work.

"Oh, come on," he said.

Dudley made a noise.

Remus ignored him and tried typing "Alohamora" again, thinking that he had hit the wrong key.

"Did you change your Windows password?"


"The one that got you in."


"You have to change it in your mail as well. They start you off with the same name and password for everything, but you have to change them all when you go in."

"Oh. Thank you." He took the line of gibberish and typed it in, checking over his shoulder to make sure Dudley wasn't looking. The screen scrolled by very quickly, then there was a list of numbered items (PINE mail, News, Bulletin boards, Lynx, Exit), with a prompt to choose one of them. Remus had no idea what he wanted to do, so he chose "Exit." The box disappeared entirely.

Dudley made another sound.

Remus smiled to himself. He thought he could probably figure this out on his own--now that he was in and looking at it, it seemed needlessly complex, but not entirely incomprehensible--but learning to use the computer was only a secondary goal.

He frowned as deeply as he could and leaned forward. "Word," he muttered. "What the devil..." He poked at the keyboard a bit, hitting the arrow keys mainly (they moved the dotted lines around, making different pictures active).

After about five minutes of this (Remus was about to give up in boredom and just try something), Dudley finally slammed down his pen and said, "Oh, bloody brilliant!" He turned the desk chair around roughly and leaned forward. "Use the mouse."

"The what?"

"The mouse. The plastic bit with the tail there." He pointed at the input device with the roller ball. With quite a lot of imagination, Remus supposed it looked like a mouse.

Remus rolled it experimentally. An arrow on the screen moved in a jerky fashion.

"Put the arrow on top of whatever you want to open."

This was a harder thing than it sounded. The arrow didn't especially want to go where Remus wanted to put it. He kept over shooting, or stalling midway.

Dudley frowned. "Give it here," he said.

Remus did, watching him curiously.

Dudley turned the mouse over in his large hand, twisted something on the bottom of it, and dumped the roller ball out of it. He handed it to Remus.

Dudley put his smallest finger into the hole where the ball had been and started picking at something. "There's a bit of something on the rollers," he said, his voice less combative than usual. "I told Mr. Levinson he shouldn't eat here, but I think he did. Bits of sticky stuff, you know."


"You're not supposed to do this. There are special things to clean it out. But you can usually clean it like this."

"May I see?"

Dudley held the open mouse out. There were two small roller bars off to the sides, and each had a sort of wrapping of gray dust. Remus reached his own small finger in, but before he could touch it, something seemed to sting him. He pulled his hand back.

Dudley was looking at him dully again, then went back to cleaning out the mouse. "Give me the mouse ball," he said after he'd pulled out three or four curls of hardened dust.

Remus handed it to him.

Dudley gave it a dubious look, then put it in, and snapped the little plastic ring back. "Try it."

Remus took the mouse. The arrow moved easily now. "Thank you."

"I think it's better if you don't open anything up," Dudley said. "You lot short this sort of thing out, don't you?"

Remus didn't answer.

"What do you know? You can fly on broomsticks, but you can't clean a mouse ball."

"Dudley, where are you getting this from?"

He didn't answer right away, and just looked at Remus with distaste. After awhile, he said, again, "You don't belong here." This time, though, it was simply a statement of fact, not the accusation it had been last time.

"Why do you say that?"

"You can't even type. Even the old teachers can type. But you lot use quills, don't you?" He didn't wait for Remus not to answer this time. "And you wander about looking like you're on holiday taking a tour of some foreign country. You look down on us."

"No, I don't."

"Yes, you do. Do you think I don't know it?"

"Dudley, in case you haven't noticed, I'm a bit lost here. I'm not looking down on anyone."


Remus sighed. "So what do these things do?"

"Xterm gets you to your e-mail and suchlike. And some of the Usenet groups."

"What's a Usenet group?"

"People who are interested in something who go to talk about it. I go to r-s-b."


"Rec-sports-boxing. Rec-DOT-sports-DOT-boxing. We talk about boxing. Which is what I should be doing instead of giving my teacher lessons."

"Well, I don't imagine I'll be participating in that."

"Yeah, I doubt they have alt-freak-wizard."

"I'm really running out of patience with you, Mr. Dursley."

"So are you going to pull your you-know-what on me, too?"

"Well, this sounds like an interesting conversation."

Remus turned.

Dora was leaning against the doorframe, smiling. "Thought I'd drive you home today," she said. "It's about that time."

Remus checked his watch. Dudley's detention had, in fact, melted away while they wrangled over the computer. "You're free to go Mr. Dursley. I'll see you tomorrow."

Dudley stood up and went to the door. Dora stuck her hand out. "I'm his wife," she said. "And you're--?"

"A student," Remus told her.

Dudley glared at her and said, "You know who I am," then stormed out.
14 comments or Leave a comment
purplerebecca From: purplerebecca Date: August 6th, 2004 12:13 am (UTC) (Link)
1995 computer programs! Huzzah!
Ah, the memories. :)
katinka31 From: katinka31 Date: August 6th, 2004 05:31 am (UTC) (Link)
Hmmm...and interesting turn of events with Dudley!
leelastarsky From: leelastarsky Date: August 6th, 2004 08:11 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, that was funny! Very enjoyable. :~) These installments always end too soon!
kizmet_42 From: kizmet_42 Date: August 6th, 2004 08:25 am (UTC) (Link)

Oh, Dudley

He's on to them, isn't he?

"You have to change it in your mail as well. They start you off with the same name and password for everything, but you have to change them all when you go in."

Now, how did Dudley know that?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 6th, 2004 08:34 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Oh, Dudley

You know, I was just thinking it was because he'd have a student account that operated the same way, but now I wonder... maybe it's worthwhile to pursue the question of how he knows what teachers are given when they come in.
thewhiteowl From: thewhiteowl Date: August 14th, 2004 06:37 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Oh, Dudley

I'm not sure Dudley would have a student account in 1995, no matter home posh the school. My (grammar, incidentally) school didn't give us accounts till 1998 or 1999.
sophonax From: sophonax Date: August 6th, 2004 08:53 am (UTC) (Link)
I love the way you write Dudley...intuitively acute enough to pick up on Remus' secret with very little evidence, but still not bright enough to realize that his method of getting Remus to reveal anything himself isn't getting anywhere. Alan's comment about Dudley is heartbreaking, because I *like* Alan, but it rings true, because I know that a lot of intellectual geek-types really do feel that way about those who show no inclinations that way whatsoever, and don't seem to care that they don't. It's one of the things that makes Remus such an appealing character: he *doesn't* have even a little bit of that sort of elitism, which I gather would have made him a little closer to Peter than Sirius&James were in the MWPP years....*that* would b

One quibble: I don't think "active" would be a word that would naturally come to Remus' mind when considering selected windows or icons--it's a word very much limited to those who think naturally about computers. Could you use a more tech-neutral word?

Even more minor quibble: it's spelled "alohomora."
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 6th, 2004 09:06 am (UTC) (Link)
One quibble: I don't think "active" would be a word that would naturally come to Remus' mind when considering selected windows or icons--it's a word very much limited to those who think naturally about computers. Could you use a more tech-neutral word?

Getting him to not "click on" things was a challenge; I missed "active" altogether. I'll try to figure that out. I wanted to avoid him sounding like a nincompoop with "let's wiggle the thingmajig and see if the watchamacallit will turn on," but it's hard to find the space between.

Even more minor quibble: it's spelled "alohomora."
Oops, thanks.
thunderemerald From: thunderemerald Date: August 7th, 2004 11:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've been taking the time to catch up on this story (I'd fallen behind! yikes!), and there are STILL no words to describe how brilliant I think it is. Absolutely lovely work, but I'd expect nothing less.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 8th, 2004 05:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
So great. I really enjoyed the trip down computer memory lane also (I laughed to see PINE make it in there--my tech powerhouse alma mater Cornell only just phased out PINE mail a year ago this fall...we mourned its passing, truly).

I also enjoy how you've written a Dudley who is no dummy. He's clearly got Remus pegged, using several different lines of evidence. No way is Remus going to get him to change his mind at this point. Very interesting; I'm curious to see how their relationship, such as it is, will unfold.

Same goes for Remus & Tonks, of course. ;) I hope no one but she heard that 'pull your you-know-what on me' question!

thewhiteowl From: thewhiteowl Date: August 14th, 2004 06:41 am (UTC) (Link)
Another point: I'm not sure that someone as young as Daniel Morse would be writing a 'paper'; we didn't until 15 at the earliest, and we didn't get to choose our subject until uni. Maybe say that Remus had given him a choice of 'homeworks'.
summoner_lenne9 From: summoner_lenne9 Date: October 14th, 2007 11:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
So I'm only half way through this chapter, and I know this fic is three year's old, but I just found this line.

The picture identified itself as "Microsoft Windows, Version 3.1."

EWWWWW! *TWITCHES* I-HATE-3.1! EWWW! *Had to use it for like, 6 years. It was TERRIBLE*

Of course it's completly in contect for the time period.

But it's 3.1. And, just ugh. Ughhhh.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 14th, 2007 11:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hee, yes. I was stuck with 3.1 for a long time, too.

The cleaned-up version of Shifts (with all the little typos and inconsistencies removed) is at <ahref="http://www.sugarquill.net/read.php?storyid=2339&chapno=1">SQ</a>.
summoner_lenne9 From: summoner_lenne9 Date: October 16th, 2007 12:50 am (UTC) (Link)
Ohh, kk :). Thanks for that. I suppose I just liked the author notes :).
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