But before she could scrape the mud from her army boots, Sibyl walked in with a sheaf of papers under her arm, and trailed by Cassie holding a notebook and a pencil behind her ear. Pythia took her feet off the desk and sat up a little straighter. "Hi, Sibyl! Hey, Cass! What's up?"
"Thanks, I'll look through them." nodded Pythia, ignoring Cassie trying to find her pencil. Sibyl was looking at the last document in the sheaf, and paused. "Sibyl? Is there a problem?"
"Oh, this one last file - I'd almost forgotten it. It's the, uh.." - she squinted at the title - "Lone Ranger file", she read, flicking her eyes up and staring icily at Pythia.
"I got to the bottom of that quick-smart, I did - as the customer wanted, and he's paid up, too." breezed Pythia, trying to ignore Sibyl's gaze. "I didn't even break much - If I say so, I did a fine job."
"Oh, most certainly you *did*, Pythia, nobody would dispute that."
"He wanted the truth, I just gave it to him. Isn't that my job?"
"Quite so, of course."
Pythia was running out of things to pre-emptively defy, but Sibyl still stood, a look of slight worry on her face.
"Then what's the problem? What's wrong?"
"I had wondered if you had considered the effects your revelations might have on.. the computer industry?", tried Sibyl, carefully.
Pythia lost her defensiveness in astonishment. "The computer industry? A bunch of lonely, desperate geeks? But why?"
"Well, you see, many years ago, the Lone Ranger and his aide Tonto were most popular among the general populace. They were beloved and looked up to by millions, imparting values of loyalty and justice to a generation. That generation then grew up and became parents themselves, and imparted these same values to their children."
"So this is news how? Life goes on, what's the point?"
"If I may continue, Pythia," Sibyl gently nodded, "these children grew up to be the technical experts of today, captains of industry, engineers bringing you a better life through electronics."
"So you're telling me that somehow dissing the guy with the mask is going to break their feeble minds or something?"
Cassie took the opportunity to leap from the background. "With all due respect, Pyth, I think you'll find they don't have feeble minds. I was reading the other day that the average technical employee has one and a quarter university level degrees, and an IQ eight points above the national..."
"Thank you, Cassidy." Sibyl spoke sternly. "As I was saying," she turned to Pythia and her demeanour softened, "the typical software engineer or technology consultant, working daily in an artificially lit office, finds much solace and identifies greatly with the legend of the Masked Lawman in the Wild West. They see him as --"
"Spare me the psychology lecture, Sibyl, how does this affect me?"
"Very well, then. The archetypal information technologist, as I was saying, derives much pleasure from online social communication, and as these individuals are, as a rule, insatiably curious, they often email each other large numbers of puzzling questions. This very agency derives much of its income from answering questions from representatives of the industry."
Light was, if not dawning, glimmering in Pythia's mind. "So if the Lone Ranger gets shown up, then something bad happens to the geeks..."
"Well, of course we all hope it would never go to such extremes, but.."
"But what? But what?"
"Again, the prototypical technical, "guru" as they like to be called, tends to be an individual strongly, well, individualistic. At the revocation of such a historic icon as the Lone Ranger, it seems most likely they would spare no time in instituting societies, associations, and clubs for the finding of new sources of moral inspiration, turning this way and that in search of direction. This all-consuming passion would possibly force them to leave their jobs, and might cause the total downfall of the economy. Certainly they'd have no time for curiosity and asking us questions."
Sibyl slowed, and her voice became tinged with regret. "If the agency were to lose that amount of income... well, I suppose you could carry on. I'm near enough to retirement anyhow, but poor Cassie, well... I'm sure she'd find *something* to do..."
"Well, I don't see what you expect me to do about it now. It's not like I can change the past."
"Of course not, Pythia, I'm sure you did what you thought was best at the time." Sibyl looked suitably grave and sympathetic. "As you say, what's done is done. As Omar Khayyam wrote, 'The moving finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all your piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.'" Sibyl paused again. "Unless, of course..."
"No, I'm sure we can make the best of it as it is."
"Go on, Sibyl! Tell me!"
"Well, it *did* occur to me that perhaps if you were to, say, obscure some of your findings -"
"What? Lie? Dammit, Syb, we're *oracles*. We tell people the *truth*! An oracle that lied would be like ... like a fashion designer telling people to wear baggy tracksuits!"
"Actually, Pyth," interjected Cassie, "there's no hard and fast rules about what sort of designs any particular designer must come up with - that's what makes the fashion world so very exciting - you never know what's going to happen next. See, back in 1967, they were predicting a resurgence in the baggy look, tracksuits a specialty, but it was the radical French designer Poutain dé Tousiveé that invented the bell-bottomed bikini that revolutionised the world. Furthermore -"
"Shut *up*, Cassie!" exploded Pythia. "Now look, I've discovered what I found out, and there's nothing that's gonna change that."
"Of course not, dear Pythia, the full transcript of your accomplishments would naturally be detailed in the regular company records, and you would of course be remunerated in full regard, but I was wondering if perhaps you might choose to publish a slightly lesser percentage of the tale, at least initially.." Sibyl smiled encouragingly.
"Well, I'm not really sure -"
"And I assure you that it is all for the best possible ends - think of all those happy technical employees. Think of dear Cassie."
"Well, maybe - but what would I possibly tell people?"
"It just so happens I have here a slightly revised edition of the draft report you submitted before - if you'd care to sign at the bottom of page 1, then initial the boxes on pages twelve, twenty-six, and seventy-three, then sign your name again on the bottom of page three-hundred-and-six, yes, just there, I think everything will be in order." Sibyl beamed energetically once more.
Pythia sighed, "I.. I guess so.. Er - thanks for looking out for me and all - I didn't think... you know.."
Sibyl smiled broadly and magnanimously gestured with her hands. "Yes, Pythia."