My computer has come down with a nasty case of the flu. Where it picked up the virus I really couldn't say, but it suffers frequent chills and freezes and must be rebooted. If that weren't enough, it has also developed a growing rash of error messages that range from peevish nagging to dark conspiracy.


Last week, pop-up messages began to appear informing me that the Multimedia Encyclopedia CD was not in the disk drive. This isn't news to me, since the thing has been missing for nearly two years. What's more, I've long since stopped caring about its whereabouts. The computer, I'm sorry to say, has not. It searches for that CD with disheartening regularity and is surprised every time when it comes up empty. I just wish it would learn to be content with Virtual Billiards instead. I suppose it thinks I'd be better served learning about the political situation at the time of Henry VI, or about major developments in neuroscience than in learning how to put a spin on the cue ball. To each his own, is what I say.


After that, more ominous warnings began to appear. One message tersely informed me that a certain G32AF.DLL file was missing. It offered no explanations, no apologies, and no suggestions of how to get it back. Where did it go, and why? Could this have been avoided if I'd made an effort to track down the encyclopedia?


By far the most disturbing message is one that inquires: “Lie to WINACHIF.SYS?” The first time this appeared, I struggled with the ethical dilemma my computer was forcing upon me. I couldn’t begin to guess what a WINACHIF.SYS was used for, much less whether I was prepared to lie to it. Was it proposing one of those courtesy fibs one tells to avoid hurt feelings? Perhaps the computer simply wanted to say, “No, no, WINA, you don’t look like you haven't been upgraded in over five years. Seriously, for a minute there I thought you'd just been installed!” If that’s all it is, well and good.


But what if the computer was suggesting a more sinister lie? “Hey, WINA,” it might say, “I’ll let you in on a great investment opportunity. Guaranteed 40 percent return. We gotta keep this thing quiet, though, so I wouldn’t let the USB port in on it.”


After hesitating and looking once or twice over my shoulder, I gave it the OK to lie. At any rate, I didn't have much choice. With each passing day, it has become easier to participate in this little deception. In fact, at this point there any number of heinous acts I would permit my computer to commit if that will only keep its fevered mind off the encyclopedia.


I don’t like to think what will happen when WINA finally discovers the truth, but no time to worry about that now. I've got to concentrate on getting the eight ball in the corner pocket.