Mercy Francis sat inside a drab, storefront office. The walls were covered in posters, captioned the words Rockwood for Governor, for a Righteous Florida! To her right was a map of Florida covered in multi-colored thumbtacks. Below the map sat an aging desktop machine. On its case was slapped a piece of masking tape marked Rover.

Across from her sat Barbie Sullivan. She appeared to be in her fifties, just over five feet high, with a greying bob cut. She had introduced herself as the campaign manager.

“For governor?” Mercy asked. “I thought primary season was over.”

RCA VHS shoulder-mount Camcorder

“Oh sure, but John Rockwood’s not affiliated with any party. He’s running as an independent.”

“So the ad said you need someone to manage your online presence.”

“Why yes,” Sullivan replied. “Most people who responded to our classified wanted $200 an hour just for consulting. Consultants don’t actually do work, and we really need someone who can get their hands dirty.”

The consultants Mercy knew certainly did get their hands dirty, as Sullivan had put it, and $200 per hour was not unreasonable for their services. “I can do it for $50,” she said. “You can contact me 24 hours a day, and you’ll be my top priority above any other work I have.” Of course, she didn’t have any other work.

Mercy showed her portfolio to Sullivan on her tablet. She had done SEO for several companies in Orlando, developed and designed web sites many others, but her portfolio site really showed off her design skills.

“Oh wow, this is impressive,” Sullivan said. “I’ll bookmark this for later.” The campaign manager fired up her aging laptop, opened some ancient version of Internet Explorer, and laboriously typed in Mercy’s portfolio URL into the browser. Mercy gritted her teeth; her site downgraded gracefully through several versions of Internet Explorer, but anything below IE 11 made her subtle gradients and background images look like a magazine collage.

“This is very impressive,” Sullivan continued, “but the boss really needs to sign off on this. I’ll talk to him after the event tonight and we’ll call you sometime Monday.”

Mercy handed Sullivan her business card. Printed on one side was her email address and cell phone, and on the other were the words Mercy “The Mercenary Developer” Francis.

As Mercy headed for the door, she heard Sullivan muttered something. “Why isn’t that live stream working?” Sullivan kept refreshing her browser window, staring at a black video player with an error message displayed in its center.

Having freelanced since college, Mercy had developed a knack for knowing an opening when she saw one. “Anything I can help you with?” she asked the frustrated Sullivan.

“Ellis was supposed to have this on an hour ago,” she said. “Harry Ellis, our media manager. He’s been bosom buddies with Rockwood almost as long as I have.” She eyed Mercy. “Do you know anything about ustream?”

“Sure.”

Sullivan offered Mercy her laptop. This version of Internet Explorer lacked a DOM inspector, so Mercy viewed the source instead. The ustream code was formed correctly, as far as Mercy could tell.

“It’s not the code,” she said. “It looks like there’s no video data. I’ll make you a deal. I’ll go to this town hall or whatever and see if I can get that stream working. If I do, you pay me $30, otherwise I walk away with nothing.”

“Oh, I’m sure Ellis will get it working before the boss is on,” Sullivan said. “In half an hour,” she muttered. “But why don’t you go lend a hand? If we offer you the position you’ll be working side-by-side with him. We’ll see about your $30 later.”

Ellis Insists

Mercy sped in her 10-year-old Honda to Stoneford High School, northwest of Orlando, where Rockwood was holding his town hall meeting. Sullivan had told her she’d find Harry Ellis, the campaign’s media manager, in the gym.

The “town hall” held far short of a whole town, with maybe a few dozen people in attendance. The average age of the audience was around 50 or so. Most wore apparel blazoned with the flag.

In the front row, staring into a laptop screen, was a man with a greying comb-over and a prominent chin. Beside him was some television station’s 80’s era camcorder on a tripod. Mercy made her way to him and introduced herself. “Sullivan sent me over to help with the live feed.”

Ellis didn’t look up from his laptop screen. “You can help if you just shut up and let me do my job,” he said.

Mercy would have left then and there, but she remembered how much beans and rice $30 could buy. Instead, she sat next to Ellis. He pulled his laptop screen close to his chest, squirming away from her.

Around them came a smattering of applause. A tall man in his late 60s strode onto the platform that had been erected in the middle of the gym. Ellis started shaking his head, holding up a hand for the man to stop whatever he was about to do. Ignoring Ellis, the man turned on his microphone, waving down the elderly applause in the gym.

“Ellis here says we’re not live, but I know you’ve been waiting a long time to see me, so let’s get this started.”

Ellis closed his laptop. “So much for that.”

Mercy yanked the laptop away from him before he had a chance to put it away. On the screen was a ustream profile page; in the corner, she could see he was logged in as JohnRockwoodCamp.

“I’m so glad to be here, Stoneford,” Rockwood said. As Rockwood stumped in the gym, Mercy checked the stream settings while Ellis muttered next to her. Everything was set up correctly, as far as she could tell. It was set to record from a video feed coming through USB. Nothing wrong with ustream, then. Barring some issue with the laptop, the problem must be whatever camera he was using. It clearly wasn’t using the laptop’s webcam, so it had to be in the gym somewhere.

She turned to hand the laptop back to Ellis, but he had left. She set the laptop on his empty seat.

Mercy found a usb cable connected to the laptop. Unless Ellis was stupid enough to run usb halfway around the gym, the camera itself shouldn’t be more than a few yards away. She followed the cord.

It led to the ancient camcorder on the tripod next to her.

Out the corner of her eye, she spotted Ellis chatting with what looked like a police officer in the doorway.

Meanwhile, Rockwood continued his speech, extolling the virtues of the native Floridian on stage.

She examined the side of the camcorder, wondering how Ellis managed to connect a USB cable to something from the Reagan administration. Ellis had connected several dongles: USB to DVI, then to S-Video, then to the camcorder. The camcorder was on, the low-resolution video visible in the viewfinder. But the DVI-to-S-Video was paired incorrectly: the dongle down-converted from SVI to S-Video, not up-converted. Regardless, DVI was designed not to work with analog input. It would never have worked, regardless of what series of dongles Ellis had used to hook it up.

The police office approached her, followed by Ellis.

Mercy remembered that her smartphone had a ustream app, and she still had the charger in her purse. She lifted the heavy camcorder off the tripod, setting it gently in the seat nearby. She unplugged all the dongles, then plugged the end of the USB cable into her own, which went into her phone. She set the phone’s camera on record. There was no way to keep the phone on the tripod, though. So she took out her duct tape.

“Time to go, miss,” the officer said.

“I’m fixing your feed,” Mercy said to Ellis, ignoring the cop. She tore off a bit of duct tape, rolled it into a loop, and used it to stick her phone to one of the legs. “Why don’t you go check?” she said to Ellis.

Ellis, fuming, went to his seat and opened his laptop. The ustream page showed Mercy’s phone camera footage in the player.

Rockwood continued his speech. His eyes glanced back at the three of them around the tripod. After he finished his thoughts on the IRS and tax codes, he paused for nearly ten seconds, his eyes glazing over, trance-like. Then, he spoke. “You know, I just want to thank our volunteers for all they’re doing. I think they finally got us live. Could you give them a round of applause?”

The audience did so. Ellis, caught in the act of throwing out the one person who was making Rockwood happy, faking a toothy, shark-like smile, and returned to his seat. The officer returned to the door, leaving Mercy with her duct-taped phone. She waved.

“We have to make our state of Florida a better place for these young people. That’s why I have a proposal, one that none of my fellow candidates for the republican nomination would ever make. When I become the next governor of Florida, going to college at a state institution will be free. Not subsidized, not loaned out at high interest, free. Room, board, and everything else.”

Before Ellis had another chance to toss her out of the gym, Mercy headed back to her apartment.

Quite an Impression

Mercy drove to Rockwood campaign headquarters on Monday to pick up her check for $30. The storefront office was filled with volunteers, wearing “Righteous Rockwood” t-shirts. They were applauding as she entered.

John Rockwood was making an impromptu speech in the back. “You young people are the reason why this campaign is going to change Florida,” he said. “The Democrats don’t own you, the Republicans don’t own you. You know Harold Packard, the Republican who’s foolish enough to run against me? He says you’re all a bunch of freeloaders. What he really means is that he’s scared of you. Well, I’m not scared!” More applause.

The candidate finished his speech, and his volunteers dispersed. Meanwhile, Sullivan grabbed Mercy’s arm and led her to Rockwood himself. “You’re the one who helped Ellis get that video going,” the candidate said, shaking her hand. “What’s your name?”

“Mercy Francis,” she said, wincing at his handshake.

“Lord have Mercy,” he said, chuckling. “You know, I have never once used email, or used one of those smart-eye-phones, so I’m glad I have people like you and Ellis and Barbie over here to help me out.”

As she spoke to Rockwood, Ellis spotted her and moved to intervene. Before he reached them, Sullivan moved between them with a graceful smile. “Ellis, this is Mercy Francis, our new online presence manager,” she said. “She’ll be working with you to get our online presence up to snuff.”

“I don’t need her help,” Ellis said, pointing at Mercy.

Barbie showed a sugary sweet smile. “Oh, yes we do. In fact, Rockwood asked for her personally, after she showed what an asset she was on Friday.”

Ellis, fists clenched, spun on his heels and went back to his laptop.

“That was quite an impression you left,” she said. “We’ll write a check, as we agreed. But I have a proposal.” She led Mercy to a windowless conference room in the back of the storefront. “Forget $30,” Sullivan said. “How does $3000 a month sound? Our donations have gone through the roof since his speech, and we have you to thank for that getting out there.”

“Done,” Mercy said, shaking hands.

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