"Is it a big deal? Absolutely," says Mindy Axedame, a top human resources specialist who consults for many Fortune 500 firms. "These technologies enable communication with the dead. That's huge. If a key employee drops dead from a heart attack, now you can ask him questions that would normally be lost to the grave," Axedame says.
"But it goes way beyond conference room Ouija—you can keep the dead employee on the job! Or truck in cadavers to raise for menial labor. One network tech can monitor and control up to twenty undead taking customer support calls—that's incredibly cost effective."
Axedame agrees that the technology provides staffing solutions that have yet to reach public acceptance or full legality. "Undead workers are kind of a gray area as far as the feds are concerned. And you bet your boots the unions are fighting it. But since you don't have to pay the dead minimum wage, the potential impact this could have on America's bottom line is off the charts! We're pretty sure we can get the government on board as long as the GOP stays in charge."
She is quick to point out that cybermancy isn't just about turning corpses into tireless corporate assets. "These new technologies let companies interface their computers with some exciting extradimensional resources. Just last week, one of my clients hooked their systems up to the Cloud of the Ngartoleth—it's a hive mind that exists in a dimension adjacent to ours. The influx of new stock market prognostication enabled my client to cut his technical staff by over 30%."
Axedame says she anticipates networking with supernatural resources will save companies significant amounts of money.
"Oh, the prophecy these entities are giving out is pure gold. My clients will be able to get rid of a lot of high-salary positions," she says. "Seriously, the Cloud just wants to be paid in live kittens. And kittens are a lot cheaper than full-time stock market analysts.
"Kittens are even cheaper than librarians! Who needs a company library when your computers are plugged into the minds of beings who control the darkest secrets of the universe?"
But with the blossoming of this new technological frontier, the physical and spiritual security of computer networks—and the people who work on them—has become crucial.
Professor Erwin Mandrake, head of the CIS department at Miskatonic University, is particularly concerned that companies are making rash networking decisions.
"Most people don't realize that even a simple Aetherweb LAN presents some truly dangerous challenges to IT staff," he says. "But Aetherweb with all its quirks and pitfalls is safe as a baby bunny compared to Ichornet."
Mandrake is particularly appalled over Ichornet's recent popularity. "It had 'Bad Idea' written all over it from Day One. I wish the companies who deployed it had bothered to check with experts first instead of just buying into shiny marketing."
Networking engineer Billy Winkler of Zerical, Inc., and his coworkers were looking forward to installing Ichornet.
"Hell, yeah, it seemed like a great product," he says from his hospital bed. "Deploying it's faster and simpler than setting up a wireless network, and it's light years easier than Ethernet. I mean, have you ever had to pull cable through an old building before? Pain in the ass.
"But with Ichornet," he says, "You just stick these little green eggs at key points around the building and they sprout and grow cables throughout the structure. We had our network up and running in less than six hours, with practically no effort on our part!"
Winkler says that within a week, issues with their new Ichornet arose. "Our help desk staff told us users were complaining that their computers were possessed by evil spirits. But the secretaries have always said that about our Windows machines, so we blew it off.
"But then, people started hearing scary voices . . . you know, 'Get out or we'll feast on your rotting entrails.' Stuff like that. Five or six people ended up having to take psychiatric leave because of it. The rest of us, y'know, we just turned up the volume on our iPods and kept going."
"Things really went to hell when the cables didn't stay put in the walls. And when I say 'cables,' what I really mean is 'tentacles.' They broke into the plumbing. I hear the remaining staff don't wanna use the restrooms after what happened to me."
Winkler is reluctant to go into details about his accident. "I got grabbed when I was taking a leak. Gatorade bottles are in short supply at Zerical right now, if you know what I mean."
He is, however, willing to show visitors his lacerated left leg. When he pulls aside the bed sheet, one can see a large gash teeming with small tentacles above his knee. It spasms in synch with his heartbeat.
"Yeah, it's massively gross," he says. "The local exorcist kept it from, y'know, taking over my body, but he couldn't get it healed up. The company's bringing in a Tibetan shaman; my doc seems pretty confident they can get me fixed up eventually."
He's pragmatic about the incident. "It could have been worse. At least it only grabbed my leg."
The Kronozon Corporation, maker of Ichornet, insists that its product is not at fault.
"We've logged many support calls with these humans at Zerical," says the Mouth of Kronozon from the gates outside the corporate lair. "They clearly did not read the freakish manual.
"The network requires constant tokens of tender, fresh meats, but what did these humans do? They clogged its nutritional hub with canned animal sludge. No wonder the poor network went into the plumbing—all that sodium made it thirsty! Foolish humans—no network can function properly under a load of Spam."
Lance Shriver, CEO of Zerical, regrets Winkler's accident. "We're doing all we can for him during this difficult time, and we're working to placate and secure the network in a cost-effective manner."
Shriver expresses confidence in the ability of his staff to resolve their Ichornet issues. "We have to fix it, because contractually there's no way we can replace it before next July. We're already behind on our major projects, and we have a responsibility to our shareholders to make a profit this year.
"We've given every employee holy water and a machete; past that, it's up to the individual to stay alert in their work environment."
Shriver agrees that they will switch to a less temperamental networking solution after their contract with Kronozon has expired.
"Right now, we're looking at Aetherweb," he says. "It's pretty much like regular Ethernet, but with all the cybermantic advantages we need to stay competitive."
Amanda O'Brien, a systems specialist at Monkeybrain Computing in San Francisco, is widely cited as an expert on debugging cyberspiritual LANs. She disagrees that Aetherweb is a straightforward networking solution.
"Sure, it installs just like old-fashioned Ethernet, lets you control your undead janitorial staff, and links your desktop to the All-Seeing Eye. All that and your proverbial side of fries," she says.
"But let me tell you, managing it is a major hassle. See, the unshielded cables give off this spiritual aura that's attractive to all kinds of heebie-jeebies from miles around. You have to get someone to bless the place or cast shielding wards, but there are always gaps in the coverage. Supernatural shit gets in here all the time.
"You know how when you pull the cover off your front-porch light there are all these dead bugs in it? That's what our network closets look like now. Only our 'bugs' aren't dead."
O'Brien recalls her early experiences with a shudder. "The faeries are the worst. I hate goddamned faeries."
She pulls up her shirt to reveal a rake of white scars. "A pixy did this to me. The other IT staff made fun of me at first, but then I was like, 'Okay, if you guys are such badasses, you try your mad ninja skills on the cute widdle faery. Just try.'
"They came back bleeding. Faeries will fuck you up sideways if you're not careful."
O'Brien has little fondness for any of the entities she's evicted from the network closets. "Trolls are almost as bad as faeries . . . not as dangerous, but three times as annoying. A troll gets into your network, it'll stay in there making a ruckus forever. I think the network emissions mess with their brains, because some of them just sound completely insane. There's no good way to get a troll out; you just have to wait until 6 p.m. and shut the whole damn network down until it gets bored and goes away."
Ever since the pixy incident, O'Brien has taken a practical, do-it-yourself approach to removing supernatural entities from the building.
"I don't think most of the popular warding services are a good idea from a security standpoint. I mean, does anyone really know what dimension the CEOs of these companies are from?"
O'Brien says that contingency planning is difficult because a networking tech never knows what he or she might find. However, she says that there are a few basic steps to ensure a good outcome in most situations.
"First, bug Human Resources until they agree to keep a priestess or witch on call, and keep her number handy.
"Second, always keep a heavy jacket and pants in your cube. Biker's leathers provide good protection, but so do Carhartts work clothes. And Carhartts won't suddenly become animated undead material if someone screws up the VüDü installation on a new zombloyee.
"Third, stock up on holy water, and keep a flask in your pocket. There is no such thing as too much holy water.
"Fourth, keep some fresh raw meat in the refrigerator at all times to use as daemon bait, and keep a stock of Little Debbie snack cakes for faery bait. Little Debbie is the bomb. Pixies like those angel food rolls with the cherry filling, and boggarts and gremlins like the peanut-butter-and-jelly oatmeal things. Just make sure the staff doesn't eat your stash.
"Fifth thing is you've got to keep containment devices around. Most faeries can be trapped in a coffee can—the iron immobilizes them. Just lure 'em out of the closet with a Little Debbie, slam the can over 'em, slide a steel cookie sheet under it, duct tape the sheet to the can, and take 'em away. With daemons, you need to use real silver. We've got a sterling champagne bucket for the little imps that get in here sometimes. For anything bigger than that you've got to call for outside assistance anyway."
O'Brien stresses that the sixth step is perhaps the most important: always call for expert help if you've got a daemon of any size on the premises.
"We got a minion of Ghatanothoa in here when our network protections were still pretty spotty," she says. "It would have killed everyone in the whole building—including me—if our new intern Mike hadn't thrown himself at the monster's feet.
"But you can't always count on having a suicidal virgin on staff who's willing to sacrifice himself like that. And you can't always count on a daemon being satisfied with just one virgin. So yeah. Keep a priest on speed-dial."