The village really was quite lovely. The small, but well-cared for cottages were nestled in and around seven hills. As Alice approached the outskirts, she realized that the houses were not at all what she first thought. From a distance they appeared tiny, but when she got close, she discovered that each really was tiny—larger than a doll house, but far too small for her even to attempt to fit through the front door. Each house was numbered, the lawns were neatly trimmed and the flowers growing around each house appeared well watered with not a weed in sight.
At first Alice thought the village was totally empty. "Hello!" she called. "Is anyone there?" But there was no answer. She walked up to one house and bent down to peer through a window. She remembered that her mother told her never to look in other people's windows, but she reasoned that her mother had never been in a town quite like this. Inside, the tiny house looked just like any other house that she knew of. "If only I had a piece of mushroom to eat to make me smaller," she said aloud, and stood up.
"OUCH!" She had hit her head on the low eaves of the house.
"Tee, hee, hee!"
All around, Alice heard the sounds of laughter. "Who's there? Where are you?" she cried, looking all around, for there was still no one in sight. The laughter abruptly stopped. "All right, who ever is there, come out right now!" she said.
Nothing happened for what seemed to Alice to be the longest time. She was about to run, or get a stick, or do something, when the bushes to her side parted and the shortest but fattest little man she had ever seen stepped out toward her. He was dressed in the brightest and most colorful clothing she had ever seen, and with a big smile on his face, did appear quite friendly.
Alice almost laughed aloud when she saw him, but she fortunately did not have a chance.
"Welcome to the eternal city of Rom!" he said proudly.
"Welcome, Welcome!" came shouts from all around Alice, and little people appeared from houses, from behind trees, from here and there until Alice was surrounded by a large group.
"Thank you!" she said. "My name is Alice. Do you all live here in, in Rom?"
"I am very glad to meet you all," said Alice, and to the first little man that came out of hiding, "Are you the mayor of this vil... er, city?"
"Shhh!" he said looking around sharply, and the laughter from all the crowd stopped. "Oh my no!" he continued, looking at Alice. "We have no mayor here. We are all equal workers."
Alice turned quite red. "I, I didn't mean to offend. I mean, you were the one who welcomed me, ah...."
"No problem! I am more used to addressing characters than some of the others. You see, I am a screen write routine!"
"I see," said Alice, but she really didn't quite understand. "This is a very lovely city."
"Thank you! It is nice for you to say that. It was built a long time ago by Uncle Remus and the Romulans."
Alice was quite surprised. These people did not act or look like the Romulans that she had heard about. "Are you Romulans, then?" she asked.
"Oh my no! They never lived here. They just built this place, and it took a long time—so I've been told. Rom wasn't built in a hundred kiloseconds, you know! Uncle Remus planned this for us, and he named us the Bios because we are referenced so much."
Alice really thought this was a silly name. Of course, she thought all the little Bios were rather silly looking people, but being a well mannered young lady, she did not tell them that. What she finally said was, looking around her, "This is all very special. And I can tell you take great pride in your city."
"Oh we do, we do!" he cried. "In all our spare time we keep Rom all fixed up. The Romulans left us a good example. They worked hard on this place and we do too. 'When in Rom do as the Romulans do.'"
Alice was afraid they might expect her to do something, but she wasn't at all certain she could help. "It really is very lovely."
The little man continued, "No telling who might drop in unexpected. You might say we are on the main thoroughfare—all roads lead to Rom!"
"You get lots of visitors then?" asked Alice.
"No, not very many. In fact, you are the first one to visit us for as long as I can remember," he said very sadly, then fell silent.
"Do you all work here?" Alice managed to ask after a few awkward moments of silence.
"Of course!" he said, brightening. "Each one of us has a different job to do. Some deal with files, some with the keyboard, some with the screen. There is even a routine that works only early each morning to wake everyone up, then he has nothing to do all day."
"Are you programs then?" Alice asked. "I have met a lot of programs lately."
"Well, you could call us programs, I guess," he replied. "Usually, we're called routines—that's because what we do is routine!"
Alice noticed that the crowd of little Bios routines around her had grown. "Is today a holiday?" she asked. "I mean, no one seems to be working."
"Oh no," he answered. "We all have to work fairly regularly—all except the wake-up routine. And I don't mind telling you the work is hard."
"Oh so hard!"
"It's really exhausting."
"Quiet!" he cried, and the chorus of voices diminished once again. "But we don't have to work every microsecond of every day. We get called only when we are needed."
"Who calls you?" asked Alice.
"Usually it is the Operating System, but occasionally a program sends an interrupt, and, of course, the lazy wake-up routine has a special red alarm that is connected to the power circuit that rings early in the morning. And I don't mind telling you that we're very important. Without us the OS couldn't get a thing done!"
"When you get called, what do you do?" Alice asked.
"Well, just as I told you, it depends upon which one of us is called. Usually, we get sent some data by registered letters. We have to take care of it."
"Just what is this, this Operating System?" asked Alice. "Does it work in a hospital?"
"No, no, the OS doesn't have anything to do with a hospital, but we don't rightly know for certain what it is. We've really never seen it. But one of the disk workers figured out it is a lizard!"
"Yes! That's right. The data we get that gets sent to the OS is sometimes addressed to the monitor. The disk worker was copying a dictionary some time back and noticed a definition for a monitor—it was a huge tropical lizard. So he thinks the OS is a lizard!"
"But we have monitors in my school," replied Alice. "In fact, just the other day I was appointed as chalk monitor, and I am not a lizard!"
"If you live in a school, are you a fish?"
"No, of course not. I am a girl!"
"You can't be a girl. You aren't wearing any ruby slippers," and he pointed to Alice's feet.
"But I am. I really am a girl!" Alice insisted.
"Hmmm!" and he stroked his chin as he thoroughly looked Alice over. Finally, he cried to the crowd, "Hey, this is a girl! She is not a lizard!" Then to Alice, he said, "We have never met a lizard or a girl that looks like you before."
"Maybe, the Operating System, er, OS, is not a lizard either," Alice ventured.
"Now that I just can't believe," he replied. "I mean, OS not a...."
"Well then, I must go see this OS," Alice interrupted with determination. "Will you show me the way?"
"Of course! The Lizard lives just beyond the interrupt vector. You can't miss it!"
"I am not certain I know where this 'interrupt vector' is. I would appreciate it if perhaps you could take me there," Alice replied, her courage beginning to lessen.
"No", he replied shaking his head. "We can only go with you to the edge of Rom, but you will find it alright," he said with a big reassuring smile. "Just follow the golden bit road!" And he pointed to a golden road. "But, are you certain you want to go? We're going to have a big prom. You must like to dance. You could be the princess of the prom!"
"You'll enjoy it!"
"We want you to stay!"
"You would be a great princess!"
"Well I would really love to," replied Alice with a smile, but then she continued a bit sadly, "I really must find the OS."
So Alice started off down the golden bit road surrounded by dozens of the little programs. As they walked, they all started to sing:
"She's off to see the Lizard,
The wonderful Lizard of OS.
You'll find he is the best of a boss,
If ever a boss there was.
If ever, oh ever a boss there was,
The Lizard of OS is one because,
Because, because, because, because, becaaauuuse,
Because of the wonderful things he does.
She's off to see the Lizard,
The wonderful Lizard of OS."
Abruptly the road changed from gold to a silvery color, and the inhabitants of Rom stopped, and Alice walked on alone.
They shouted after her and waved.