Dr Pheidippides and the Case of the Broken WiFi

Dr Pheidippides was having a bad day. The most obvious symptom (which means a small problem you can see) was the three rather sorry looking grapes in his food dish. A related but more distressing issue was that he had not really seen much of his family for three days. True, they had fed him. At least if you count grapes as food; which he didn't.  But there hadn't been many hugs. No walks in the garden. No climbing all over people. He hadn't had a chance to poo on anyone in three days! The biggest problem of all, however, was only manifest (which means able to be seen) if you poked your head inside his shell; which, of course, you couldn't.

Pheidippides, of course, could poke his head inside his shell and that is what he now did. He grinned to himself as he always did. It amazed him that no human had ever thought to ask himself why an animal strong enough to carry around its' own house would ever feel the need to hide inside one. The answer is that tortoises do not have a shell for protection; they have it to store and hide all of the equipment needed to operate a successful world-wide secret-agent network. Indeed there are many animals that claim that the only reason that the higher ranks of the Agency are dominated by tortoises is because of the machinery they are able to store and use.

Pheidippides now surveyed (which means to look across all of) his equipment and most of it was in perfect working order. The lights in the back corner showed that all of the solar cells arranged across his back were successfully collecting light to convert to electricity. The dials beside the lights showed that his batteries were fully charged. The rotating beam on the central display showed that the radar was clear. The internal systems monitor indicated that all weapons systems were primed and operational. Then came the flashing red light attached to the communications console. That was a problem. Years ago the tortoises had had to communicate using fast footed messengers: rabbits had always been a favorite. Then in more recent times the humans had used phones and the tortoises had found a way to communicate using the same phone lines. In the modern technological age there was a World Wide Web and the enterprising (which means 'being active to find a way to do things') tortoises had found a way to use that.

Pheidippides was part of a large family of humans many of whom used the computer. They were all connected to the World Wide Web using something called a 'router' which was a box which allowed a lot of people to share a single link to the Web. Some of the humans had wires from their computers to the router along which a signal (like a computer voice) could travel. Others sat further away and they had little transmitters that allowed their computers to talk to the router through the air. This had allowed Pheidippides to build his own little transmitter so that he could share the router along with the rest of the family. Naturally, the family did not know their tortoise was using their router; although occasionally when he was receiving a large message he would hear them scream: "LAG" as he took their share of the Web link for a short while.

Pheidippides grinned when he thought of his humans squealing when he received a large message and then immediately frowned when he remembered that his system had not been able to receive messages in three days. Hence the red light. The occasional short delay was not uncommon; when you are sharing a link you sometimes have to wait your turn. But a three day outage was completely unprecedented (which means it hadn't happened before). Something had to be done. The tortoise decided it was times to reach for the Big Red Button. This would summon his team to help him fix the broken computer link and hopefully as his humans ran past to get the ladder to fix the smoke detector they would notice the three elderly grapes. Pheidippides pressed the button that set off the smoke detector alert in the neighborhood houses.

Pheidippides was surprised and disappointed to notice that his humans did not come through to get the ladder. At least his team assembled themselves; and they all seemed to be very happy. "What are you so happy about?" Pheidippides asked Snappy the turtle, who could usually be relied upon to be in a bad mood. Snappy smiled happily. "Last night a four-foot long alligator found its way into my lake" he grinned, "now there is a three and a half foot long alligator trying to find its way out." Snappy smiled again and cracked his knuckles: "nothing quite like a bit of exercise to put me in a good mood!"

"Good!" said Pheidippides,"because before the end of the day you will have had quite a lot of exercise. Now listen all of you: I have a problem and I need your help to solve it." The three team members all inched forward. This was their first mission since they had had to get rid of Sylvester and they were keen to show that they were still effective. "My Web link to Headquarters has been broken for three days." The three team members all gasped. "Yes, exactly." said the tortoise gruffly "I am well aware of how serious a problem this is. Now my link to HQ consists of three different stages and we first need to find out which stage is broken."

"Chamy" said the tortoise addressing the Chameleon, the disguise specialist, "I need you to sneak into the house and observe the humans. The first step in the link is the router - watch the humans - if some of them are sitting at their computers playing then we know the router is working. If they are all walking around, pacing up and down and looking lost, then the router is probably broken." "Heading to it, Sir" said the Chameleon. He actually did salute but of course no-one knew because they couldn't see him.

"Winston" said the tortoise addressing the toy Yorkshire Terrier: "stretching from the router to the web itself is a long underground cable. It is possible that the cable has been snapped or damaged by children playing; I need you to run along the cable route and check that nothing is wrong." Winston did not actually say: "yes, Sir" but the blast of air, rattling noise from the garage door and scream of protest as the next door neighbor was knocked by an unseen force into his swimming pool told Pheidippides that his "evasive maneuvers" expert was already maneuvering at speed.

"And you" said the tortoise to the turtle "I need to go a visit the World Wide Web itself." The smile instantly disappeared from Snappy's face. "You don't mean ..." said the turtle. "Yes, I'm afraid I do" said Pheidippides "you need to go and visit Charlotte at the center of the Web." It was a very miserable turtle that slowly dragged himself down the yard and slid into the pond. The fact that he was going to have to swim almost a thousand miles didn't worry him. The fact that almost two thirds of the journey would be through an alligator infested swamp actually brightened his day a little. But the dirty great black cloud he was going to have to face was that he was going to have to meet Colossus.

To most people Colossus was just an elderly 500lb giant tortoise. Some even suggested he was a little too old and questioned whether or not he was the right choice to guard the Web; one of the Agency's most precious possessions. But to anyone that had gone through a training camp run by General Colossus, and Snappy had, or to anyone that had annoyed General Colossus, which again Snappy had on three separate occasions, or to anyone that had had one of those giant feet kicked up their rear end ...

As Snappy approached the web entrance he was sure he could feel his tailbone still aching from the kick he had received years ago. He was equally sure that Colossus was just a little bigger and much grumpier looking than he had been then. Snappy gulped and approached the giant tortoise that was in the process of swallowing a water-melon whole. He was trying to think of a suitable introduction when a deep voice rumbled: "Poseidon - possibly the naughtiest little turtle this side of the Mississippi - what mischief are you up to today?" Snappy wanted to run and hide, but he was too rigid with fear: "Please sir; Dr Pheidippides sent me to see Charlotte sir; his web-link is broken sir" stuttered Snappy. Colossus frowned: "The Dr Pheidippides? The top graduate from three different training academies and youngest ever Tortoise to rise to the rank of Colonel? You are working for him now?"  "Yes sir, sorry sir." stuttered Snappy. "Hmmm ... very well ... go in." said Colossus raising one foot high enough for the turtle to scuttle under and into the cave that housed the web.

Once inside Snappy gasped. In front of him stretching in every direction were thousands and thousands of black cords. Some of them very thick, some thin. Most of them were dull black and lifeless apart from the occasional small dark spider wandering along checking for problems. One of the thicker ones of them however was glowing bright orange and had hundreds of larger spiders circling it spinning webs as quickly as they could making it fractionally thicker even has Snappy looked. In the center of the web was Charlotte; the mother spider - the one responsible for keeping everything working. Snappy approached (which means 'went up to') her carefully.

"Excuse me ma'am" said Snappy "Dr Pheidippides sent me; he wants to know if his internet link is working properly." Charlotte glanced up and pointed to a medium sized thread running from the web in a south-easterly direction. "Looks ok to me" said Charlotte "and it is quite warm which suggests traffic is going up and down it perfectly." "Ok, thanks" said Snappy. "By the way..." he said "what is that orange cord for?" "Hmpf" said Charlotte crossly. "That is the link into 'Family Wars' head office, they released Version 2 of their new computer game three days ago without warning us. The girls have been trying to increase their band-width ever since," Charlotte said whilst gesturing to the spiders frantically weaving their web.

Snappy was relieved to get back home even though Winston and Cham had both beaten him. "So team; what do you have to report?" asked the Tortoise. "No problems" said the Chameleon; "they were all seated at the computers and looked happy." "No problems" said Winston "none of the cable holes had been disturbed; in fact almost no-one was about!" "This is weird!" said Snappy "because I didn't find any problems either!" and he relayed (which means 'tell what someone told you') what Charlotte had said. "Hmmm" said Dr Pheidippides. He closed his eyes and concentrated allowing his vast mind to contemplate (which means think about) what he had been told. Suddenly his eyes opened: "I know what the problem is!" said Pheidippides "and how to solve it!"

So - what was the problem and how did Pheidippides solve it?

As Snappy approached Colossus again he was feeling a little more confident. Pheidippides had said Colossus would be pleased; and Pheidippides was usually right. Snappy handed the note to the ancient tortoise who grinned happily. He marched in to the web-cave, took the large orange cable into his mouth and bit down hard.

Dr Pheidippides was inside his shell when the red light turned green and three days of messages came flooding into his computer. A few seconds later he heard a cry of "Server's are down!" from his family. He grinned. As he had predicted, his family had all been playing "Family Wars" and because they had all been using the router his messages had not gotten through. A few minutes later he felt himself flying through the air. He popped his head out of his shell. His whole human family was there and they were carrying strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and even some flowers. He was placed down on the smallest family member. Pheidippides smiled and did a huge poo. Today was going to be a good day after all.


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