When he arrived, the first thing Florian checked for was his box of rubber gloves. It was a daily ritual, but most important on the days when he had server room duty. The new hires got quite a laugh out of his odd behavior, but that’s only because they hadn’t been there on… that day.

It was a few years earlier, when Florian was himself a new hire with the company. It had started as a normal, if gloomy day. Clouds had moved in spent the week dumping rain and depression on the city. Florian was fairly certain he had forgotten what the sun looked like, not that it mattered- he had server room duty that day.

The server room was in the basement, safely secured against anything so pitiful as a photon generated by anything as pathetic as the sun. Florian settled in, and began his day. After some coffee, Florian’s biological needs got the better of him. He tromped upstairs to use the restroom.

The restrooms were chained off, with an “Out of Order” sign. “What’s the deal?” he asked one of his co-workers.

“Toilets are all backed up. You have to go to the shop across the street.”

While Florian worked up the energy to cross the street in the rain, his phone went off, along with every other cellphone in the building. SMS alerts crashed over it in a wave. First, the email server died. Then the web. And database. And… everything was crashing. The office swung into full meltdown mode, but Florian could only think of one thing: technically he was supposed to be in the server room right now. Was he going to get into trouble?

Florian dashed back downstairs, propelled by fear. As he approached the server room, he just knew something was terribly wrong. He could just smell it. Literally.

The basement had five rooms. When his employer had moved in, one of them was set aside as a kitchen, a few others for stock rooms and storage, and one had been declared the server room. The server room had the best access to utility services, like electricity and telecom connections. Unfortunately, it also had the best access to the sewage system. In fact, the racks had been placed beside the overflow valve, designed to keep sewage backups from climbing back up into the inhabited parts of the building. No one had thought about what that valve might mean to their servers.

The first thing Florian saw when he threw open the door was a thick brown glob. It drooled downward from the ceiling and then broke free, sailing just past his nose and splattering inches from his shoes. His now ruined shoes, as a wave of brown water rolled out onto the floor. An awful geyser of offal had coated the room in a spray of… substances. Globs of stuff clung to the ceiling. Liquids and other things covered the server racks.

Florian counted himself lucky. He had dodged quite a “bullet”. Professionals were called in to handle the clean-up. Armed with respirators, industrial disinfectants, and gigantic fans to air out the place, they made quick work of the mess. By the time they left, there wasn’t a molecule of the mess left. A plumber replaced the overflow valve with a manual shut-off that could prevent the next back-up (or, if no one manually shut it off, allow raw sewage to climb up into the sinks and toilets).

There was no mess, and no chance of the mess repeating itself in the server room. But Florian could never shake the paranoia. He could never forget the smell or what he had seen. The new hires could laugh about the veteran who refused to touch anything in the server room without a rubber glove, but he didn’t care.