It was a cold and damp evening following a sunny autumns' day. As blood red sun fell behind tall mountaintops, darkness rose out of the valley, roots of the trees and within minutes were reaching the steps leading to the entrance of the Ashram of the Little Creek. Wind bells chimed softly and the sound of footsteps slowly approaching could be heard. These were the patient steps of old man, someone who didn't have anyplace to hurry to, perhaps finally free to simply be in his last years. It was Master Yeshe who on that clear and cold evening went for a stroll on a path that led to Master Bodhisattva's door.
"Dear friend!" - exclaimed Bodhisattva with some surprise - "Come in, let's drink tea"
"Thank you, friend," - Master Yeshe replied, - "but I'd rather sit here on the stone steps and watch the sun go down. I am old, there's a chill both in my soul and in my bones, and I have seen countless sunsets in my life; Yet I can not resist the beauty of suns' last rays illuminating the mountaintops before the world yet again plunges into the darkness that every evening comes from the east and can not but ponder whether I will see the light that forces the dark to retreat westwards the next morning"
He lit his pipe but did not smoke. Master Bodhisattva supposed he simply enjoyed the smell the thin thread of smoke brought to his nostrils.
"It was not like this always" - Master Yeshe talked as the sun hid beyond the jagged horizon - "I used to be young and foolish. I dreamed of fame, fortune and women. Then I got older, but remained foolish still: I yearned for perfection"
He fell silent and stars up in the sky lit up one by one, just like small bright perforations of dark azure cover of dusk. Master Yeshe's pipe went out and the stone steps were quickly getting uncomfortably cold. Bodhisattva said nothing; somewhere something howled.
"Yes, what a fool I was and what a fool, I wonder, I still am?" - Yeshe continued - "To strive for perfection, that's the most hollow wish one could have. To never make mistakes, to be infallible, what was it supposed to fill? A hole where mothers' adoration should have been? A place left for fathers' pride? Nevermind it now, the reason's forgotten, consumed by time."
He sighed heavily.
"You know, if you look for something, you're bound to find it. So did I. It was a small mountain retreat built upon ruins of once-great monastery. They worked with Windows, I recall, maybe a bit of Java. There weren't that many of them, perhaps a few dozen, and despite the reputation of being impeccable they never grew in number and in volume. And what a reputation they had! Their design was perfect, their code ideal, tests fast and precise, and the resulting system never had a single bug." - Master Yeshe paused briefly to religt the pipe, - "And I just had to know how. You see, I was not young, but I still somewhat innocently naive."
He shuddered ever so slightly; Master Bodhisattva only caught a glimpse. Old man's cold, he thought, I should offer him a coat. But Bodhisattva also didn't want to leave the old Master alone in the night, so he stayed together as the stars overhead twinkled in the infinitely cold and indifferent cosmos.
"And so I went to them, disguised as a mere code monkey, a junior developer at best, expecting to do menial tasks, redesign things after scathing code review, again and again, do countless unit test katas, what have you, until I am learned like they were, worthy of a title of Master - my mind and my code in unison, perfect in every conceivable way" - Master Yeshe's voice trembled slightly, and Master Bodhisattva began suspecting that it was neither his senility, nor the cold at fault - "But I was not ready for the reality of the place. In old stained office chairs they sat, in front of their badly magnetized 17-inch CRT monitors, their Windows machines connected to a workgroup instead of domain, unpatched, unmaintained, teethering with malware maggots just beneath the surface; rats ran around their feet, gnawing away at a mess of 10BASE2 coaxial cables, through which, via SMB shares, badly cracked Visual Studio version 7 was shared."
Yeshe drew a breath and continued.
"And then I saw the code. O, Buddha! If statements nested hundreds of layers deep. Variables with numeric suffixes and obvious mistypes. Nested arrays within nested arrays passed on as function parameters in the global scope, all in files outside version control system; some of them were even suffixed with _0612_still_works. I was struck by disbelief - how in the world was it possible for a product that indeed was no less than perfect to originate from a place like this?" - Master Yeshe sounded agitated - "and when I came there, they were scrambling around like a bunch of cockroaches splashed with boiling water: all because they could not find a bug and the deliverable deadline was looming dangerously near."
Master Bodhisattva squirmed. The story had started to unsettle him.
"So their Master told everyone to get ready, as he was going to consult the Infallible One. We all went down the steps of old monastery ruins, step after step - a thousand or a thousand and a half steps deep underground, I think - damp walls glistening in torchfire light, until we came to a large hall, perhaps a natural cavern, decorated in bas reliefs of some old forgotten gods branding swords in their numerous hands, and stopped in front of a humongous vault door. We knelt, my friend, and the Master released the locks of the ancient gate." - Yeshe closed his eyes and went silent. It seemed that he even stopped breathing. When he continued, his voice was completely calm and flat. - "As soon as it opened, mist rolled in. It had some luminous quality about it and even though it had extinguished our torchlights, I could see very clearly the tenticles writhing within the doorway and the human figure floating out of them with a single finger outstretched, pointing at someone in the gathering. It was you, a disembodied voice boomed, line 924, column 4. You, the figure pointed to another one, line 82, column 1. You, the figure pointed to my neighbour, who has previously in confidence admitted to me that he hadn't written a single line of code, line 36, column 64. You, you, you, the voice continued, line 27, 368, 412, column 1, 5, 7. Then it was silent for a moment. The figure hung still in the air, it's finger still outstretched, as if waiting for something. Then there was a murmur, and I myself found myself whispering alongside others - "We accept. We accept. We accept." It went dark for a while, and when the torches relit themselves, we found the vault door sealed again and our numbers lesser than before."
Master Yeshe was pale. Or was it the moonlight? Master Bodhisattva couldn't tell.
"When we returned topside, the office chairs were clean again, the monitors degaussed, Windows machines updated and patched, there was not a single adware left and all the rats were mysteriously gone even from the kitchen. On the SMB server previously hosting the pirated copy of Visual Studio there was only one file, a self extracting rar, named project.exe, and it did contain the cleanest, most elegant code I have seen ever since." - Yeshe paused again - "yet that day, when I tried to remember the faces and the names of those who were gone for the sake of the code, I could not, no matter how hard I tried. Only ghostly silhouettes remained in my memory, and I started doubting they ever existed and began suspecting that everything before that was just a bad dream. I found myself elated, a step closer to perfection and willing to remain there forever."
A dark cloud covered the moon, casting the steps of the ashram into darkness. Behind the two masters, monks began extinguishing the lights. It was very late.
"Only when I returned to my chambers, I found a small package resting on my pillow. I unpacked it to find an old Pentium-S CPU with a hole drilled in one corner; there was a note, too, saying - I recall this very clearly - "Let this relic guard you as it had guarded me - Nyima". Nyima was his name, my roommate, his body, memory and name taken for the sake of another perfect project" - Yeshe took out something from his pocket. It was an old Pentium-S CPU with a hole drilled in one corner. - "So late that night, when everyone was asleep, I sneaked out the dormitory, went down to the abandoned monastery, set it on fire and ran. As the fire took, I heard screams from the retreat - I think they were trying to put it out - and countless - thousands upon thousands - rats came running down the mountain. The retreat was never heard from again."
They sat in silence and darkness for a moment. Then Master Yeshe stood up, bowed to Master Bodhisattva, and disappeared into the dark forest path below. Bodhisattva turned around to return to his ashram and frowned: a single fat rat ran across the stairs.