PACKET RAT

The Rat plays AOLopoly

R. Fink

The Rat family had no shortage of ornaments to decorate last month's Christmas tree, thanks to the latest blitz of CD-ROMs promoting America Online Inc.'s AOL 6.0 browser. In fact, plenty of the shiny plastic circles were left over to glue into simulated Yule logs. 'AOL CDs'the fruitcake of the new millennium,' Mrs. Rat sighed as she poured eggnog for a quiet New Year's Eve celebration at home.

'If I never see an AOL disk again, it'll be too soon,' the whiskered one muttered. He opened the newspaper, only to have another CD fall out.
'Now that it looks as if the AOL-Time Warner Inc. merger is going through, I suspect you'll be seeing a whole lot more of that logo,' the missus mused.

Indeed, AOL's growing media power meant there was very little irony in the company's 'AOL Anywhere' strategy: AOL TV, Internet appliances and so on.
'Next, they'll take over the weather,' the Rat muttered. 'You've got hail!'

'Now, now,' Mrs. Rat chided. 'Steve Case can't be any worse than Bill Gates, right? I'm sure someone at the Justice Department will manage to keep him in check.'

The cyberrodent pondered that proposition. 'No worse than Bill Gates? There's a ringing endorsement if I ever heard one.'

The ratlings collapsed into sleep just short of the New Year's ball drop, so the whiskered one and his better half also turned in. But too much eggnog kept him half-awake with troubled dreams.
The furry one seemed to be in Times Square watching the ball drop'only it wasn't a ball, it was a glittering sphere of AOL CDs. He winced, then looked down to see that he was hemmed in by millions of AOL CDs with tiny feet and arms, all spinning miniature noisemakers that screamed 'Welcome!' and 'You've Got Mail!'

He turned and ran, stepping on CDs by the dozen as he zagged toward the subway entrance. Like a terabyte's worth of Pac Men, the CDs sprouted teeth and pursued him to nip at his tail and ears.
When he reached the turnstile, the wired one realized he had no token to get through. He looked over his shoulder. The disks of death were still in hot pursuit, but they were having difficulty negotiating the stairs on their stubby legs.
The Rat turned desperately to the token booth, hoping to purchase access to safety. But the attendant was Steve Case himself.

'I'm the gatekeeper to everything now!' Case cackled from behind bulletproof glass. 'That'll be $39.95 for your access fee.'

The panicky Rat dived over the turnstile and sprinted toward a policeman leaning against a column. The policeman turned to him. Again, it was Case.

'I'm sorry, sir. You've violated our terms of service. You're going to have to be TOS'd.' He grabbed the router rodent by neck and tail, hurling him back over the turnstile into the waiting mob of snapping, slavering AOL CDs '
The Rat sat bolt upright in a cold sweat. His wife was watching him with concern. 'Bad dream?' she asked.

'Yeah,' he replied, sliding his back paws into sneakers.

'Where are you going?'

'To the only person who can stop this nightmare. I'm going to Redmond, Wash.'

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@gcn.com.

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