Verity Stob

V. R. R. Stob's magnificent saga A Game Of Dog-and-Bones

GUARANTEED no elves and hardly any violence. Or incest

By Verity Stob


Stob Laud Satya Nadella stood at the leaded casement of his garret, contemplating the ominous, brooding sky to the south. The flag over the Maeiouster's Hub Complex barely stirred in the still air, so that he could not only see the sigil of his once-proud house - gules and vert oblongs accroupis sur a respectant brace, azure dexter and jaune sinister, of quatrocons, conjoined to the Mark of Registered Trade - but also make out the motto VENIT FENESTRAE (which, as everybody knows, is Old Visbasian for "Windows is coming") proudly emblazoned in the finest, most delicate Comic Sans that the T-shirt weavers of Old Redmond could fashion.

Behind him, on his desk, his laptop was making a curious skirling, like an unconvincing communicator prop from a defunct 1980s sci-fi franchise. Nadella sighed, left the window and touched the machine's screen, and, in just that 15 mysterious seconds it sometimes takes Explorer to relinquish enough processor time for anything else to get a look-in, he was skyping with his castellan, who was sat in the room next door.

"Yes, what is it?"

"It is the maeistor, m'laud. He says you sent for him."

"Ah yes, that's right, have him come in."

"At once, m'laud. And shall I also send the cottar of the PowerPoint to jumpstart your creative process?"

Nadella's belly roiled. "No thank you, castellan; I'll do this one the analogue way."

"I'm not the castellan," said the castellan. "Excusing me, m'laud, but it's Thursday, job rotation day. I'm the seneschal, Thursdays. Kevan-the-cordwainer's the castellan today. Do you want me to put Kevan on?"

"No, no need for that, caste... that is, seneschal. Just send the maeistor up."

"Very good, I'll ask Kevan to tell the maeistor, m'laud," said the castellan, his voice filled with reproach.

The longer-than-necessary time interval implied by this palaver was followed by a timid knock.


A small, balding man entered the room, smiling thinly and nervously. He said: "Sit you securely on some sumptuously saddled sorrel stallion, sire?"

Nadella groaned inwardly. Before the change in regime, Maeistor Allyne-the-Alliterator had spent some time - or "many mad months" as he would have put it - working on a top secret Touch-Word for Surface 3 extension intended to introduce the potent productive power of poetry (Allyne again) to all your everyday business communications. The project, like so many, had perished with the old regime, but too late, Nadella suspected, to save the maeistor's reason.

"Ha ha, very good, well done. But I called you here on serious business. Have a chair, maeistor."

"No thank you, my laud, I don't."

Nadella thought: the old regime may have perished, but it still casts a long shadow.

"A sitting chair, maeistor, not a throwing chair."

"Oh, I see, my laud. Thank you, my laud."

The maeistor sat. Nadella remained standing, moving round the room behind him, touching objects, in accordance with the practices urged in the best seller Eight habits of pointlessly intimidating management.

Of warrioreens and tree-potatoes

Nadella said: "So, maeistor, how fares the great revival campaign?"

"Our forces are holding South Cloudland against the mono-mammaliad bookmongering warrioreens of Seattle, my laud, and ..."

Nadella clicked his fingers impatiently.

"Don't trifle with me, maeistor. You know whereof I would speak."

Allyne began: "The sigil of the Black Beret has once again been squished by our superior ..." but then caught sight of the expression on his laud's face, and chose to start again from a place less distant from the point.

"According to IDC, our Q3 year-on-year market share as measured by unit shipments has dropped from an amazing 3.6 per cent to a still-very-good-considering-the-circumstances 2.9 per cent. Whereas the Maliciæ of Coupétino (sigil: a delicately-stylised, aesthetically-pleasing tree-potato; motto: 'Malus aforethought') have dropped a whole 1.1 per cent year-on-year to a measly 11.7 per cent, and the Oglers of Mount Doom View (sigil: a giant, red, all-seeing, definitely non-evil eye; motto: 'What have you been up to today?') have struggled to a mere 84.4 per cent market share, woefully short of their rumoured 87 per cent target."

The maeistor paused. Dimly aware that his alliterations had been pointlessly plummeting onto gravelly ground, and having heard that Laud Nadella was fond of cricket, he had recently enkindled an old David Gower ghostography with a view to accumulating some clicky jargon for later ingratiation of his boss. Unfortunately, the only phrase that had stuck in his head was "wafting the bat outside my off-stump", and, since he wasn't really sure what this meant, he was struggling to steer his discourse so he could safely slip in this baffling expression.

Nadella misinterpreted Maeistor Allyne's silence. He sighed sympathetically. "I know. We really are up the SecurityToken without a DACL, are we not?"

"Oh no, my laud. It is not nearly as bad as you think. The Research and Development team has been working like a service task. Already it has created a pair of spectacles that nearly runs SharePoint. And the marketing department really cracked it - has it not? - by going straight from Windows version 8 to version 10. They have literally jumped the shark of Windows 9. We are absolutely wafting our bat outside the off-stump on this one."

Nasty, 'nixy, dirty digit-dabs

"Yes, very good," said Nadella, who didn't seem to be listening. "Allyne, how would you like to earn yourself some new vowels?"

Maeistor Allyne's ears pricked up. M*stors' seniority was denoted by the length of their vowels. Novices started out with a single, lowly 'a': "Mastors". The road to promotion was repeatedly obstructed by the rigorous, demanding and occasionally fatal blood-ritual known as Emseepee. Allyne was not about to sniff at a chance to gain a Maeiostorship, or maybe even a Maeioustorhood, without the ordeal of a multiple choice on SQL Server 2014 SMO object model.

"Are you familiar with the once-mighty Python, maeistor? The open sauce programming language, formerly dominant for elegant, cross-platform programs that didn't run too fast?"

"Indeed, my laud."

"But then, many years ago, they came out with proud-to-be-backwards-incompatible Python version 3. Since which time, it has writhed helplessly like a bisected worm on the forest floor of scripted programming languages."

"Very poetic, my laud. But what of it?"

"We cannot defeat the Oglers in direct combat, maeistor, but maybe we can attack the monster through an effect that it is producing, as Jon Pertwee once did at Devil's End."

"How will we achieve that, my laud?"

"First, we will confuse them by open saucing dotNET. Second..."

"What, give the smallfolk the jewels to the C# crown on a ceramic, concave container?" cried Allyne, his hackles, dander and alliterative tendency rising in trandem. "Let them get their nasty, 'nixy, dirty digit-dabs on LINQ? Pollute the precise, perfected dotNET namespaces with their loathsome, lower case abbreviations? I mislike this idea, my laud; I mislike it very much."

"And in the second place," continued Laud Nadella, ignoring the interruption, "there is an open sauce web tool that the Oglers are backing, thing called Angular.js. It is just about to be upgraded to a new version. Now, suppose that new version were to be completely backwardly incompatible, and based on our very own TypeScript..."

To the land of the Oglers

"Very shrewd, my laud, but how could such a thing be accomplished? The Oglery are not fools. They would never permit it."

"I have some ideas in that direction," said Laud Nadella. "Come walk outside with me a little, and I shall explain them." He picked up the jacket from the back of his chair and swung it over his shoulder, then paused.

"Oh, and maeistor. A word in your cockle-like. I put up with your alliterations and silly spellings such as 'ser' for 'sir' and 'laud' for 'lord'; but 'mislike' really is a bogus medievalism too far. Please stop it."

"Very well, my laud," said Allyne, in a hurt voice, as he rose to follow his boss. "But I do think you disunderstand its application. You really are being a mite mismissive."

* * *

The Ogle officer peered at Allyne over his horn-rimmed Glass, pursed his thin lips and steepled his fingers. "So tell me again: why precisely do you want to join us?"

Allyne laboured to control the quavering in his voice. "Well, earlier this year I had a bit of a crisis at work, so I took some time off, a couple of weeks..."

"Eight days," corrected the Ogler, in a bored voice.

"I took some time off, and asked myself: do I really want to spend the rest of my career, the next 20 years..."

"17 years five months."

"...making a measly 70k..."


"...albeit for one of the great corporations of America..."

The Ogler sighed, and delicately touched a button on his horn rims. "I'm sorry, but I really can't go on listening to this tissue of lies." After a moment, a very large man, dressed in the polo-necked black chainmail with the non-evil eye sigil done in red piping on his chest, appeared.

"Take him away and disemvowel him."

"No, not that. Anything but that! I'll tell you everything!"

The Ogle officer permitted himself a thin smile.

"At last, a truly correct statement maiestor, or, rather... 'mstr'!" He watched as the struggling Allyne was swept from the room.

Then he stands up and unsheaths his most dreaded weapon from its scabbard: the deadly historic present tense. And he smiles as Allyne's screams fade into the distance, and he says:

"So perish the unfortunates..."

and now he is using it to rip a hole in the fourth wall ...

"...who play and lose..."

... and now he stares out through the hole, and he is looking directly at YOU

" this Game of Phones." ®

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