PACKET RAT

It's a zoo down there

R. Fink

The Rat, still plotting ways to bring the Two Steves (Ballmer and Case) to blows, took advantage of a break in the weather to drive his wife and kids to see the National Zoo's giant pandas.

Oddly enough, there seemed to be more buzz on Washington's streets about the zoo's new residents than about the presidential inauguration.

'The Chinese need to work on their timing,' observed the Rat as he navigated the family roadster down Connecticut Avenue. 'If they really wanted to influence the new administration, they should have loaned the pandas just before the Republican National Convention.'

Dodging hordes of pedestrians, school kids and camera crews, he finally found a parking place for the roadster in the lower, lower lot. As his family began the uphill trek to the panda pavilion, the ever-paranoid furry one feared that circumstances'and the crush of the panda-adoring public'would conspire against his brood.

Sure enough, there were no pandas to be seen, only a sign announcing that they were resting.

'Oh, well,' said the cyberrodent, trying for the best positive spin. 'How about we go look at the naked mole rats?'

Just as his family began voicing loud complaints, a shadowy figure in a trench coat tapped his shoulder.

'Excuse me, sir,' breathed a faintly accented, bamboo-scented voice. 'I couldn't help but observe your disappointment. Would you be interested in a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of our pandas?'

'Of course we would,' Mrs. Rat said. 'Especially if there's seating involved.'

Though somewhat suspicious, the Rat agreed. They followed the high-contrast stranger down a ramp behind Panda Central.

Just inside a cleverly concealed door, the Rat family spied the new pandas behind a Plexiglas wall. The zoo's most famous residents were reclining on a leather couch, looking haggard. One was smoking.

'Hey, something's not right here,' the Rat declared. 'That panda shouldn't be smoking'he's only three years old. It could stunt his growth.'

Turning to confront his escort, the wired one found himself face to face with a distinguished-looking giant panda, also wearing a trench coat.

'Honored sir, that is not Tian Tian,' the panda said. 'It is his stand-in, like a panda-sized Gary Coleman. 'Diff'rent Strokes,' dimensionally impaired, yes?'

'Vertically challenged, you mean,' corrected the elder ratling, who was rapidly grasping the situation. 'So obviously there's more than two of you here.'

'Very good, young ratling,' replied the bipedal panda, hanging his coat on a hook and opening another door. 'Many more.'

The door opened onto a vast control center with hundreds of terminals, all manned by pandas.

'Allow me to introduce myself,' said the pandoid, bowing to the Rat. 'I am Hsing Hsing, vice president of covert panda operations, Microsoft Corp.'

'Bill Gates has pandas working for him?' the puzzled packet rat asked.

'On the contrary,' Hsing Hsing replied. 'He works for us.'

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

R. Fink

The Rat, still plotting ways to bring the Two Steves (Ballmer and Case) to blows, took advantage of a break in the weather to drive his wife and kids to see the National Zoo's giant pandas.

Oddly enough, there seemed to be more buzz on Washington's streets about the zoo's new residents than about the presidential inauguration.

'The Chinese need to work on their timing,' observed the Rat as he navigated the family roadster down Connecticut Avenue. 'If they really wanted to influence the new administration, they should have loaned the pandas just before the Republican National Convention.'

Dodging hordes of pedestrians, school kids and camera crews, he finally found a parking place for the roadster in the lower, lower lot. As his family began the uphill trek to the panda pavilion, the ever-paranoid furry one feared that circumstances'and the crush of the panda-adoring public'would conspire against his brood.

Sure enough, there were no pandas to be seen, only a sign announcing that they were resting.

'Oh, well,' said the cyberrodent, trying for the best positive spin. 'How about we go look at the naked mole rats?'

Just as his family began voicing loud complaints, a shadowy figure in a trench coat tapped his shoulder.

'Excuse me, sir,' breathed a faintly accented, bamboo-scented voice. 'I couldn't help but observe your disappointment. Would you be interested in a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of our pandas?'

'Of course we would,' Mrs. Rat said. 'Especially if there's seating involved.'

Though somewhat suspicious, the Rat agreed. They followed the high-contrast stranger down a ramp behind Panda Central.

Just inside a cleverly concealed door, the Rat family spied the new pandas behind a Plexiglas wall. The zoo's most famous residents were reclining on a leather couch, looking haggard. One was smoking.

'Hey, something's not right here,' the Rat declared. 'That panda shouldn't be smoking'he's only three years old. It could stunt his growth.'

Turning to confront his escort, the wired one found himself face to face with a distinguished-looking giant panda, also wearing a trench coat.

'Honored sir, that is not Tian Tian,' the panda said. 'It is his stand-in, like a panda-sized Gary Coleman. 'Diff'rent Strokes,' dimensionally impaired, yes?'

'Vertically challenged, you mean,' corrected the elder ratling, who was rapidly grasping the situation. 'So obviously there's more than two of you here.'

'Very good, young ratling,' replied the bipedal panda, hanging his coat on a hook and opening another door. 'Many more.'

The door opened onto a vast control center with hundreds of terminals, all manned by pandas.

'Allow me to introduce myself,' said the pandoid, bowing to the Rat. 'I am Hsing Hsing, vice president of covert panda operations, Microsoft Corp.'

'Bill Gates has pandas working for him?' the puzzled packet rat asked.

'On the contrary,' Hsing Hsing replied. 'He works for us.'

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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