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Who wrote Linux? King Tux, Elvis & Batman are finalists, part two

Here's a tale of ancient Egypt, of tomb-robbers, curses and -- of course -- a penguin.

The judges for the "I wrote Linux" contest narrowed the field from 150-plus to three. Here is the third finalist's story.

According to Colin Barnhorst:

I, being aged and on my deathbed, can now finally reveal the secret which I have held so closely all these decades. It was I who deciphered the secret language, now called Linux, and released it to the world. You hold in your hands the ancient, as yet untranslated texts, and my strange history.

[Long Ago]

It all began in a cafÉ in Cairo. The heat and the flies were oppressive. A single ceiling fan spun lazily, making absolutely no impression on the stifling air. I sipped my tea and waited for the stranger who left the cryptic note at my hotel and told me to meet him here at noon. Then I saw him. A nondescript and gaunt figure, remarkable only for the fedora pulled down hard over his head. He spotted me and came to the table. I spent the next hour listening to his incredible tale.

He claimed he was the sole survivor of an expedition to the Gnubian Desert in search of King Tux's tomb. Much of what he told me was fragmented and confused. Nevertheless, an image of riches and fame soon formed in my mind and I pressed him for more and more details. I was sure, based on what he had already told me, that I could find this tomb. Already I could see myself at the head of a caravan laden with gold and jewels, returning from the Gnubian lands.

He told me little about himself except that his name was Linus, and he was Finnish. At the end, I could barely make out his garbled speech, and he seemed to be trying to warn me of some fearsome creature. "Beware, beware, beware," he kept saying, but I never could make out just what it was I was to beware of.Whatever it was, riches are not to be denied, and I determined to exploit my unexpected good luck. I never saw him after that day and I have no idea of his fate. Only the image of his crumpled fedora has stuck with me, and, of course, that incredible tale of ancient wealth still waiting for the person strong enough and clever enough to seize it. (Me.)

[Later. Years later.]

It took me much longer than I ever thought it would to raise the funds for an expedition. First I had to find a patron willing to risk the wrath of the Egyptian government should the plan fail and we be caught smuggling artifacts out of the kingdom. Then, I had to find guides and workers who would risk the desert without knowing the real purpose of the effort. My greatest worry was that the secret would somehow get out. King Tux's tomb was fabled far and wide and I did not want the revelation of its location to become an open source for competitors.

Forty of us, and twice as many camels, set out from Cairo and headed south and west into the driest place I have ever seen on earth. The sun was merciless, and the days and nights have long since jumbled together in my memory. Most of the workers turned back at El Xandros. We rested as best we could at the oasis and replenished our supplies from the natives at, of course, exorbitant prices. It was there that I spotted an ancient bit of pottery in the market. It was a cracked bowl with what looked like highly stylized penguins marching endlessly to the left around its body. I bought it on the spot and studied it night after night. At El Xandros, most of our workers deserted us without warning.

One night Mandrake, my guide and best friend on this strange journey burst into my tent. "We must leave," he cried. "The natives are plotting to rob us and leave us in the desert to die."

We left within the hour, setting out for By Nary, a day to the west. The inhabitants of By Nary spoke a dialect I had not heard before, filled with guttural 'ks' sounds, interspersed with shrugs. None of our party spoke this strange language. When they showed remarkable interest in my bowl, I began to fear for my life. By gestures and drawings, we asked about ruins in the region. We left the next morning heading in the one direction they never indicated: south. Our ranks were down to a handful of workers and camels.

Two days later, we began finding pottery shards with the same strange birds glazed onto the clay, just like the ones on my bowl. We searched the area for four more days before we found a doorway almost buried in the sand. When the remaining workers spotted the great birds etched into the door posts, they fled in terror. We never saw them again. Now it was only Mandrake and me and four camels. Mandrake would have left too had I not revealed to him the real purpose of our quest.

We shoveled the sand away from the doorway and, not caring at all for what damage we did, dynamited the great stone that blocked our way. When the dust had settled we explored the passageway and the chamber beyond. We found no gold and scarcely any jewelry. Someone had robbed the tomb centuries before. Mandrake and I crafted some torches and we explored further. The only remarkable thing we found was the inscriptions. The walls were covered with paintings of the great black and white bird, interspersed with strange writing filled with 'x's' and smaller pictures of hundreds of other animals. The water buffalo were depicted in great numbers.

I became obsessed with these writings and spent the next days and nights furiously copying what I saw into my notebooks. I was deep into my copying when they came. Mandrake heard them first. They came in their hundreds, perhaps thousands, with their gimpy walk and flipper-like wings outstretched towards us, their red eyes fixed upon us. They came from every direction.

At last it came to me! Linus was trying to tell me, "Beware of the penguins!"

The horror! It was every man and camel for himself as we fled for our lives. The nightmare still comes back to me and I can still hear Mandrake's scream from behind me, far across the sands.


How I made it back to Cairo I don't know. I used the last of my money to rent this room and spent the next year trying to work out the strange language. Now as I lie close to death, Dear Reader, I leave my secret with you. Perhaps someone somewhere can figure out the strange texts. But whatever you do, Dear Reader, beware of the penguins!

To vote for this story, send an e-mail to the editors. Please include your name, and a few words about why you chose this story.

p> Click here to read the other two finalists' stories.

For more information:

Who wrote Linux? The spy who loved Linux

Who wrote Linux? I did! No, Harry did! Or, was it the monkey?

Dig Deeper on Linux servers

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