By The Prophet
Dave worked for the world's most successful specialist software programming company; he knew this because he had been told it at his induction. Lunatec Ltd was a very small company, by industry standards, based entirely out of a large Tudor manor house in rural Berkshire. There were no cubicles at Lunatec: Each of their employees had their own office, even the lowliest of the coders - such as Dave. Dave had graduated in Computer Science at the top of his year, with plans to go on directly to a Masters and a doctorate. On the day after his graduation however, Lunatec had contacted Dave and offered him a job, with a colossal salary and a subsidy to part-time, postgraduate study after his first year with the company. Naturally, Dave had leaped at such an incredible opportunity.
Lunatec's success - so the induction explained - was due to their highly targeted and successful policy of hiring only the very best programmers. When he first arrived at Lunatec, two weeks ago, Dave had felt that his inclusion in such a group was flattering, but also entirely justified; now he just felt outclassed. Dave had been proud of his abilities as a programmer, but since coming to Lunatec, he felt like a failure. His colleagues were as friendly as could be, and even his bosses were pleasant and understanding, but Dave could not fail to notice that his skills were as nothing compared to those of his co-workers.
It was a hard pill to swallow.
"Coming for a drink, Dave?" Libby called from the doorway. Libby was a senior coder, and had been given the task of looking after the new boy. She was only twenty-seven herself, but had an air that made her seem like everyone's big sister. She had been nothing but kind and helpful to Dave, always making time for his questions and worries. Despite the amount of time she devoted to him however, Dave knew that Libby's productivity was far higher than his, and that of the other coders higher still.
"Not this evening," Dave replied, as he did every day.
"You sure? Jenny's going to be along." Jenny was one of the juniors in the accounts department. She and Dave had hit it off straight away on his first day, but with his work falling further and further behind schedule, he had barely seen her since. "A little bird told me she's hoping you'll come," Libby coaxed in her teasing, sisterly manner.
"I can't!" Dave snapped, immediately feeling bad for shouting at Libby. She smiled patiently. "I'd love to, really, but I'm so far behind."
"It's not that bad," she assured him. "You just need to get into the swing of things."
"No. It is that bad," Dave protested. "I just can't code the way you guys do. You seem to write the code bug-free first time out; it's incredible." Libby shrugged the compliment off, but her eyes sparkled expectantly. "What?" Dave asked.
"Nothing," she replied, sounding a little disappointed.
"I just wish I knew how you do it?" The expectant look returned. "What's the secret, Libby?" Libby beamed at him.
"Wait here," she told him, and disappeared from the doorway. Dave sat, bemused, until she returned, a few minutes later,carrying a box.
"What's that?" He asked.
"The secret," Libby replied, handing the box to Dave. He looked inside, perplexed, and saw a small, copper plate and saucer, a pint-bottle of milk, and a packet of Hobnob biscuits. "Sorry to have kept you waiting so long," she added, as he looked at her in confusion. "But you had to ask, you see. It's one of the rules."
"I don't get it," Dave said. Was this some kind of office gag?
"Put them on the desk," Libby instructed. "Milk in the saucer, biscuits on the plate. Always open a new bottle and a new packet every evening, by the way, and when you wash the plate and saucer in the morning, no soap. And always leave your machine on over night," she added. Dave did as he was told, wondering what the joke was.
"I still don't get it," he admitted.
"It's elves," she told him.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Elves," Libby repeated. "Or goblins, or gnomes, or whatever they're really called." Dave stared, blankly. "Trust me," she said. "We all do it, every night, and in the morning, all our code has been debugged." She took him by the arm, and led him out of the office, closing the door behind them. "Once they get to know you, you can even leave things to be mended, but don't push it too early, and always leave them an offering."
"Has anyone ever seen these elves?" Dave asked, looking back towards his office door.
"Colin tried once," Libby replied. Dave had heard Colin's name mentioned before, but always in hushed tones. "They beat him with very small sticks, mangled his code, and installed AOL all over his machine," Libby confided, in a cautionary whisper. Dave shivered.
"It's extraordinary," Dave said. Libby nodded.
"But the way it's always been. Every time we all get itchy waiting for them to ask. Having been through the same thing, it's tough to watch you struggle." Dave nodded, vaguely. "Come on now. Jenny will be waiting."
And they went; leaving the elves to their work.