Into The Lair of the Beast
A true story from a previous life.
I originally wrote this article in 2017 for the NCR Edinburgh blog, it is reproduced here in edited form with their kind permission.
Everything that follows really happened. One or two minor details have been changed in the name of artistic licence.
Many moons ago, in more fearful times, I served the beast we called “The Business”. It held all in its thrall. Our waking hours were spent tending to its needs, feeding the beast so that it might grow and consume more worlds.
One day, the Great Waterfall delivered my weary band a mighty tome — “The Business Requirements Document”.
It had been prepared by the cleric class who consorted with the beast and interpreted its whims and desires. The Great Waterfall had delivered many such tomes before. After each delivery my band would enter upon a quest to fulfill the Beast’s desires.
As always the tome was cryptic and strange. The pages held many words, but little meaning. Only one thing was clear from the clerics’ writings: if the quest were not complete by the setting of the third moon, everyone would die.
I wondered, as I had many times before, why must all die by the third moon? Could the beast not show mercy?
But I was just a lowly warrior. It was not my place to question the Beast. Only a cleric might approach it. Only a cleric could hope to interpret the Beast’s whims and translate it to the language of mortal man.
Our leader began to plan. The quest was long and the third moon near. We would hire mercenaries so that we could go faster.
Again, we would take the dangerous short cut through the forest of Hack. I did not like this plan, but our leader was deaf to my pleas.
The mercenaries more often dropped their axes on our feet than slayed the enemy. The swamp of technical debt that lay between the forest of Hack and our goals seemed deeper and more treacherous with each passing year.
Perhaps if we stopped and built a bridge over the Chasm of Known Issues we might complete the quest faster and with fewer dead?
But no. The beast must be fed and the clerics approved of the plan. We would proceed as before.
I was despondent, but a plan began to form in my head. A desperate plan. A suicidal plan. A plan that was to end in both enlightenment and great sadness.
I would speak to the Beast.
Abandoning my band, and ignoring the commands of my leader, I sneaked into the Beast’s lair. The Beast was surprised at my approach, but did not show anger that it was addressed by a lowly warrior.
I asked it, “Why must all drop dead if the quest is not complete by the rising of the third moon?”
And the Beast explained to me the terrible truth.
“By the third moon,” The Beast explained “my supply of stationery will run low.
“When the quest is complete, paragraphs 3 and 4b of the standard disclaimer must be updated.”
“It would be a great waste to print copies of the old version again just before the quest was complete. So the quest must be completed just before the next print run.”
Knowing now the truth I returned to my band and told them what I had discovered.
There was no need for us to hire mercenaries. No need to enter the forest of Hack. No need to cross the swamp of technical debt.
No need for us to die.
For less than it would cost to hire a mercenary for one day we could print the Beast all the stationary it could desire.
But of course I was young and foolish and did not understand the way of the world.
The clerics were angry - I should not have spoken to the Beast, and could not possibly have comprehended what it said. They had faithfully transcribed all its utterings. Could I not read what the Great Waterfall had delivered?
The quest must be complete by the third moon for that was what the requirements said. We continued to the forest of Hack more weary than before knowing that we must die to save three bronze coins.
tl;dr all of our project timelines and drop dead dates were planned to minimise wastage of pre-printed legal documents, at thousands of times the cost of any savings.