We return with the penultimate installment of the tale of Mercy, the Mercenary Developer. Last time, she implemented a countdown clock- but nobody told her what it was counting down to, because nobody knew.

It was standing-room only at Rockwood for Governor campaign headquarters. All the tables had been pushed to the walls or folded and stowed away; most of the chairs were stacked. Volunteers milled about, eating delivery pizza, wings, and (probably spiked) soda.

Mercy and Sullivan, two of the few people who got chairs, sat close to the widescreen TV set up near the phone banks. It was tuned to a local network, broadcasting a feed from USF, a couple hours down I–4 from headquarters.

The first Florida gubernatorial debate had started merely five minutes ago, and already things were testy.

someone using an app on their smartphone

“This is a question from Facebook,” said Carson Cooper, the moderator. “It says: ‘I am concerned that Florida will keep municipal broadband and Google Fiber from taking root in the state, while big cable interests operate without competition. How would you address the need for better practices in the cable industry?’ Packard, we’ll start with you.”

Packard gave his response. “I think we ought to protect the interests of American companies, Carson. And that means standing behind our friends in the telecom industry, and keeping government out of the internet business!”

“Rockwood, your response?”

“We briefed him on this,” Sullivan whispered to Mercy. “He just has to say his lines.”

Their candidate gave his most confident smile. “I don’t know if Packard has ever had to look at a cable bill in his life.” Laughter from the volunteers. “My real-estate clients have all told me how expensive it is to get cable, to get internet. The gigs are too much, Carson, too much.”

“Oh, no,” Sullivan whispered. “It was ‘the fees,’ not the ‘gigs.’ He sounds like a roadie.”

Mercy cringed. “He should have just said cable internet is too expensive.”

The democrat, Hewlett, waffled through a non-response. After he finished, Packard focused his attention on Rockwood. “For a real estate developer who’s made his living flipping houses, you suddenly know a whole lot about how the telecom industry works.” The TV audience laughed, but the boos from the volunteers drowned it out. “Tell me one thing, Mr. Rockwood. What is one forward-looking innovation that you, your company, or your campaign has launched? Because I can name at least a dozen at the pharmaceutical firm I founded.”

“I agree,” said Hewlett, hoping to get any kind of airtime between Rockwood and Packard.

Rockwood got that glassy look in his eye again, which Mercy had noticed more often since the “countdown clock” incident a few weeks ago. There was something off about Rockwood whenever he got that look. It lasted three whole seconds; next to her, Sullivan had balled her hands into fists.

“Rockwood, your response?” Carson Cooper said.

Rockwood snapped out of it. “I’ll tell you something, Packard. Now I’m sure you’ve made some big improvements to whatever diet pills you manufacture in big pharma, but here’s something that will affect all Floridians. You know how hard it is to understand tax code? I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a return in your life, I mean with your own eyes. Well, our campaign has laid out a revised tax code for Floridians. Lower sales taxes for everyday goods. Fair and proportional property taxes. And a non-income profit tax that only affects the wealthiest Floridians … which includes you, I’m not sorry to say. Tomorrow, we’re launching a new mobile application that tells you exactly how much more you’ll owe. And for most Floridians, that number will be zero.”

The volunteers applauded, drowning out Carson Cooper’s voice. Meanwhile, Mercy’s stomach did a somersault. “A tax code app? Tomorrow?”

“I do believe that’s the first time he’s mentioned it,” Sullivan replied.

“Did he just make that up on the spot?”

“Well, it can’t be that hard, can it? Just like building a website.” Sullivan faked a gracious smile.

“You have no idea.”

Built != Launched

“This is how hard it is to launch a new mobile app in a day,” Mercy said. She, Ellis, and Sullivan had gathered after the debate in the conference room. Rockwood was off to St. Petersburg and Tampa for some barnstorming after his performance, which the media had characterized as “fresh” and “unpredictable,” not terms they used in a complimentary fashion. “I could do it in a week. I can’t do it in 24 hours.”

“We don’t have a week,” Ellis said. “John said we’d have it up in 24 hours. That’s what we have to do.”

“You know what, Ellis,“ Sullivan snapped, ”Maybe you should let the one who’s actually going to build the mobile app tell us how it can be done.”

“Well, I’ll go get Rockwood as soon as his stump speech is done and I’ll tell him. You’ll see how he likes that kind of news.”

“Look,” Mercy held up her hands, “do you want to hear what I have to say or not?”

Ellis and Sullivan quit squabbling.

“Here’s what has to happen. I need to build it first. I can use PhoneGap — it’s a framework that uses HTML, so it’s like a web page inside an application. I’ll need the campaign’s tax reform policy written up.”

“Uh, we don’t have that yet,” Ellis said.

“Do you need it?” Sullivan asked. “Could you just build the application and put it in later?”

“It’s a tax policy application,” Mercy said, her voice cracking. “There’s no application without knowing how the new taxes will work. That’s the whole point.”

“I’ll get something tomorrow morning,” Ellis conceded.

“I can build most of it out tonight,” Mercy said. She reminded herself to buy some energy drinks on the way back to her apartment. “Tomorrow I’ll make changes to the algorithm based on our new tax policy. We won’t have much time for testing, so I’ll get some volunteers to help.”

“Great, we can get it built by tomorrow afternoon,” Ellis said. “It’ll be done in 24 hours.”

“No, it’ll be built in 24 hours,” Mercy said. “It won’t be live in 24 hours. It still has to get on the Apple store and Google Play.”

“So, can’t we just make an account and put it up?” Sullivan asked.

“Apple takes at least a week to approve an app. If you’re lucky, and we’ll be a new publisher with no prior releases. They’ll drag their feet.”

“Okay, so we make some phone calls,” Ellis said. “Can’t be that hard.”

“Have you ever tried to call Apple? I mean, not just tech support.”

“Look.” Ellis steepled his hands on the table. “It’s going to happen. You’re going to find a way to do it. End of story.” Without even a dismissal, Ellis left the room.

“What’s his deal? Was it the debate?” Mercy cracked her knuckles. Her wrists already hurt from the arduous typing they’d endure tonight.

“I can’t talk about that, honey,” Sullivan said, leaving the conference room.

Tax Code

By 4AM she had a working prototype of the application. It took a user’s gross income, property values, etc., and spit out a dollar amount, based on what she knew about Florida tax law. Mercy figured the campaign’s tax policy wouldn’t be very complicated, either adjusting individual percentages on specific values, fiddling with the base percentage, or some combination thereof. She headed back to the office to be ready for when Ellis could get her their tax policy platform language. She took a nap, sitting next to the web server hamilton.

Around 8AM, a hand shook her shoulder. It was Ellis. He shoved a piece of paper in front of her. “Here’s what we came up with a few weeks ago.”

It was a 17-circle Venn diagram. Arrows were drawn from circle to circle around the circumference, making it look like a giant recycling symbol. Houses, boats, and other property icons dotted the diagram. There were no numbers anywhere on it.

Mercy said as much to Ellis.

“Look,” Ellis said, “The actual property rates and percentages won’t actually change. Just the way they’re calculated. Just make it look like it’s saving our constituents money. The actual tax laws will get worked out in the legislature after Rockwood’s elected.”

Mercy rubbed her eyes. She started redrawing the Venn chain link into an algorithm flow chart, then crumpled that up, adjusted a few values in her own algorithm, and prepped for QA.

Failure to Launch

Mercy was struggling to keep awake as two volunteers, a brother and sister attending UCF, tested on an iPhone and an Android tablet respectively.

“Whoa, hey, those boxes showed up again,” the brother said. He handed Mercy his iPhone.

“It’s the stupid glyphicon font. I must have moved the files by mistake.” Mercy dug through her codebase, double-checked the font locations and her font-face CSS declarations, and recompiled. She pushed the new package to cato, the intranet server for the campaign, and brother and sister re-installed their apps respectively.

“Looks good on mine,” the sister said. The brother nodded in agreement.

“Okay, thanks.” Mercy yawned. The app was mostly bug-free — or as bug-free as she could make it in just over 12 hours — and ready to ship. While she had been finishing the app, Sullivan had set up accounts on Google Play and the Apple Store. Mercy logged into the Google Play account, uploaded the Android installer, and hit “Publish.” That would be the easy part.

But getting Apple to play along would be harder.

She put the iOS installer into the campaign account, then tagged it for review. An email came back, with just what she expected: it would take nearly a week for Apple to respond.

Meanwhile, Rockwood was coming back from his barnstorming in Tampa and St. Petersburg, and would want to see the app in action when he arrived around 6PM. Six hours left.

Against her better nature, Mercy scoured her LinkedIn connections. She had made numerous contacts at local conferences. Surely someone worked at Apple, someone who could pull a few strings in the review process. As she searched, her eyes began to close. She felt as though she were falling out of her chair, and she jolted awake.

There wouldn’t be anyone she knew, and besides, she didn’t have the money to bribe anyone to speed up the process. She headed for the conference room. “Wake me in a couple hours,” she told Sullivan. Inside, she rolled up a sweater for a pillow, locked the door, shut off the light, and went to sleep.

Beta Release

Sullivan’s knocking woke Mercy. She checked her phone. It was 5PM.

“When’s he getting here?” she said, her voice muffled.

“He’s on his way from the airport,” she replied. “Ellis has already called and said you couldn’t get the app finished.”

Mercy groaned. “It’s done, it’s just not on the Apple Store—“

Mercy realized it didn’t need to be. A few iPhone and iPad owners unlocked their devices, allowing third-party apps to run on them. She could just put a “beta” of the application for download on their site. Only jailbroken devices could run it, but she could say she released the app in the 24-hour window Rockwood wanted.

She dragged herself out of the conference room, head pounding from an enormous caffeine withdrawal. She slumped in front of hamilton, logged onto the campaign blog, and wrote a post. “Download Rockwood’s Tax Code App Here!” the post said. At the bottom was a link to the iOS installer, which she had copied to the public servers. She made it clear it was a beta release, and that as soon as it hit the iOS store it would no longer be available. But it was published, and just in time.

Sullivan met Rockwood as he came in the door, before Ellis could get a chance to talk to him. “The tax app is up on the web!” she said. “We got it done.”

“Taxes? I released my tax returns months ago,” he said, chuckling.

Ellis sandwiched himself between Sullivan and Rockwood. “Let’s get you situated,” he said, ushering the candidate through a few loitering volunteers. Rockwood put on his best smile, but seemed like he didn’t know where he was.

“I’m gonna sleep for three days,” Mercy said to Sullivan, as she left headquarters. But Sullivan followed her out to the parking lot.

Sullivan began, “I should really tell you–“

Mercy said, her voice short, “I don’t have time–“

“–John has non-Alzheimer’s dementia.” Sullivan’s usual southern tea-sweet tone was gone. “He was diagnosed just after he announced his campaign. I first noticed the symptoms a couple years ago. He’s lucid most of the time, but he’s having a lot more episodes recently. Ellis and I are basically running things until John gets better. You’re the third person to find out.”

“After you and Ellis?”

Sullivan nodded. “Please keep this to yourself. It’ll kill his chances if—“

“I can’t deal with this right now,” Mercy said. “I’m taking the next few days off.” She got in her old Honda and drove home. When she got there, she turned off her phone, covered herself in three blankets, curled up, and slept.

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