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Best Practice Makes Perfect

A collaboration with Domino developers about how to do it and how to get it right in Domino

At last! Finally done with working overtime on SPRs, I've found the time to write the next installment in the thrilling serial, Web of Deception. To read from the beginning, start with Chapter 1.


Mike paced for a few minutes, confused. What the hell had happened? He'd have thought the whole thing was a weird dream -- except there was the evidence of its reality, lying on the table wrapped in a bath towel, cooing and chewing on her toes.

His only real hope for any answers lay in Callie's note. He hadn't been exactly at the top of his class in Cryptography -- or anything else, for that matter. But Mike retained enough of his training from the Intelligence Academy to make short work of the cipher. The URL told him nothing, however, because of his lack of a computer and internet connection.

The internet cafe in town had two systems for rental. The two other patrons glared over their notebooks and muttered into their prissy lattes because he'd brought a restless baby into the place, but Mike ignored them, and ignored the cranked-up punk soundtrack favored by the dreadlocked, multiply pierced, bored employee. He drank his coffee -- honest coffee, black, no sugar --  and shelled out eight dollars an hour to read, and think, and read some more, while the shadow of the Mini-Mart across the street crept up the wall beside him, and streetlights came on outside.

Then, after the other customers had left and Topology Lad started clearing his throat and looking meaningfully at the clock, Mike turned off the computer, stood -- and suddenly realized that neither he nor the baby had eaten. He was starving, and while the baby had apparently not yet learned English (given recent events that would hardly have counted as remarkable), she did seem cross, and there was a reproachful look on her curlicued face.

Mike went to the counter and looked into the refrigerator case. What did babies eat, anyway? Caesar chicken spinach wrap might do for him, but not for -- what would he call her, anyway? If she was really Loki's and his child -- his skin crawled at the notion -- and not Callie's, it was probably up to him to name her. He didn't really feel like letting Loki have a say in the matter. He'd had it in his mind to name his and Callie's first daughter after their mother, Eunice, but he didn't think that Mom, wherever she was now, would be honored by his bestowing her name on the bastard offspring of an evil zombie trickster god.

Besides. He still loved his new daughter like the dickens, of course -- would've given his right arm for her without a moment's hesitation. His bowling arm, for gosh sake. But somehow an ordinary name just didn't seem appropriate. Here was a child of a god, a pawn of dark powers, a power in her own right, eventually. She should have a name that....

"Were you going to buy something," said the kid who should stay away from magnets, "or did you want to just stand here all night?"

Mike gave a false smile and thought wistfully of his shotgun, which he'd left on the seat of the pickup. He decided the wrap was looking a little too aged for his taste, and shook his head. "Is there someplace around here I can buy baby formula?"

The boy looked pointedly at the clock. "The SuperValu closed twenty-seven minutes ago," he said, "but they might have something across the street."

The Mini-Mart had nothing suitable for the under-12-month set, but Mike bought a Slim Jim to stave off starvation until he could get a proper dinner. Whatever had possessed him to think country life would be idyllic, he wondered. Once all this was over, he and Callie were going right back to the city, where you could buy a damn diaper and some baby formula after 6:30 PM if you needed to, and where if there were any zombies, they kept to themselves and didn't try to eat people.  He wandered out into the parking lot, savoring the greasy texture of the advanced sausage substitute, and looked around hopelessly at the dark storefronts and empty streets.

Or not quite empty. Fifty feet away, in a pool of light cast by the streetlight, a short, hunched figure stood. Its face was shadowed by a broad-brimmed hat, and its hands were shoved into the pockets of a shiny black raincoat. "Mike Hodges?" it said. "We need to talk."

"I know you," Mike said. "You're that smarmy little peeping-Tom of a dwarf."

"I'm more than you know," the little man said, "and I know more that you need to know. I've seen you in there, reading that website the last few hours. But there's more to the story, that your wife doesn't know. Buy me dinner, and I'll fill you in."

"Buy you dinner where?" Mike said, frustrated. "They practically roll up the streets at dusk in this place. And who are you, exactly? Are you with the Vanir or the Aesir?"

"The KFC on Route 30 is still open. And I'm on neither side." The dwarf limped forward and held out a gnarled hand. "You might have heard of me; the name is Hephaestus."

Mike shook hands, puzzled. "Half-assed...?"

The dwarf sighed. "Just call me Vulcan. Come on, you'll have to drive."


Given his generally low level of personal hygiene, Vulcan was a surprisingly tidy eater. He didn't touch the food with his hands, but neatly broke off bits of chicken with his runcible spoon, savoring each bite as if it were a gourmet delight. You'd think he'd been eating rats and grubs for years. "I heard you thinking," he said, "about what to name the child." He gazed fondly at the baby, who was now contentedly sucking on a bottle the little man had magically produced from a pocket of his raincoat.

"You heard me thinking?" Mike said, but Vulcan went on as if he hadn't spoken.

"You should know," Vulcan said, pointing with the white plastic spoon, "her name is already written. Eisa she is, a name of power and long heritage. A demi-god, or she will be in a few years, and with the magical protection I've arranged, she may just survive until then, if you're careful. Raise her well, for if you spoil her, she may spoil the world."

"Wait, wait. You arranged this?" Mike waved one hand over his arm to indicate the designs etched into his flesh. "I thought it was part of the Vanir's plan."

"So they thought, too. This last century, almost, I've been working behind the scenes to get the players into position. Working undercover among the gods is harder than you can imagine; I've had to hide even from myself, lest my thoughts betray me. My task is almost over, thank Jove, but yours is just begun. And the final struggle of this game has yet to play out."

Mike said, "I still don't understand whose side you're on."

"You mortals have a tendency to think there are only two sides to any question. Fight this tendency."

"What do you mean, us mortals? Who are you?"

"Good gods, boy, didn't you pay any attention in school? I'm the last of the Greco-Roman gods. Vulcan, the smith. The original geek, from back when iron was the coolest new technology."

"What do you mean you're the last? I thought gods were immortal."

"We are, mostly. Oh, most of the others are still around, but they're retired. Zeus is off in Spain or something, chasing tail, as usual, last I heard. Hera's running a Planned Parenthood clinic somewhere. Hermes works for some damn florist. Aphrodite -- well, there's always a beauty pageant going on somewhere. We were like that once, her and me." He held up two fingers together, and sighed. "I'm the only one left who cares, who believes in the danger that stone represents."

"It would be bad if the Aesir got it, but you don't believe the Vanir plan to use it to end death, like it said on the website?"

"That's what Callie believes, no doubt, and her mother and her mother going all the way back to Freya. That's what they want their followers to believe. They might even believe it themselves. But before they can do that, they have to finally defeat the Aesir. They have to break the balance of power that's held all these centuries, and bring about Ragnarok. Each of them thinks if they control the stone, they'll win. That's probably true; it's a great power. But whoever wins, they'll wreck the world doing it. And I like the world." Vulcan spread his arms. "It's where I keep all my stuff! It's where all the chocolate is! Chocolate! When I think of all the years we wasted telling our people to go invade the next island or take over Egypt -- we should've had them go straight to the New World!"

"But ending death? Doesn't that sound like a good idea? Now that I understand that's what Callie wants...."

"Don't be a dolt."

Mike stiffened. "Well, you sure don't have godly powers of tact."

"Didn't I tell you I was the original geek? Look, Callie's an idealist. Idealists are not a problem provided they don't have the power to bring their ideals about. But then they're the most dangerous people around. Because, you see, they haven't thought through the consequences. Me, now, I'm a pragmatist, and I think you are too. Think, for a change! Even if we ignore the billions of people they'd kill in their big war. What if you end death -- but you don't end old age? You don't end suffering or starvation? Can you imagine what it would be like to starve and starve and be unable to die?"

"Well, when you put it that way..."

"Trust me -- I'm the god for technology. You folks will figure out how to end death in fifty or a hundred or two hundred years. But you've got other problems to deal with first. And meanwhile, we need to make sure that nobody gets that stone, ever."

"But where is it?"

"There." Vulcan pointed again, at Eisa's stomach.

"No, you missed part of the action. She spat it up."

"Time is out of joint. Loki may be dead -- well, mostly dead -- but he's still a god. You can't expect to overcome him by throwing a rock. He panicked, all right? To avoid touching the stone, he rolled back time. Same as the glass cuts you had on your arm are gone now, undone, the stone is back inside her, due to come out again in three days, and he'll have to come after it again. This time, we'll be ready for him."

"I thought you had a big elaborate plan already! Why weren't you ready for him last time? He would've had it then, if not for chance."

"He had to have his shot one time, so that we'd have the stone to get rid of. Can't afford to have it floating around with all those idiots trying for it. I just made sure the situation got out of his control so that chance could enter into it. See, chance isn't entirely random when you play with the gods. We had a little help from the Fates. In fact, I have to call them when we get back to your house. They're on the West coast, so it shouldn't be too late for them. They can't help too much on details, but they're useful in the big picture. The details are up to you and me."

"Wait a minute!" Mike said. "I just thought of something. If time backed up three days, how can, what's her name, Eisa even exist? She wasn't born yet three days ago."

"She's four days old now. Look, Loki is powerful, but even he can't produce a child in just a few days. He had to loop time to do it, so when he reset her personal time back three days, she still exists."

"That still sounds fishy to me..."

"Look, it's technical, okay? Just take my word for it." Vulcan grabbed a napkin and took a mechanical pencil from his pocket protector, clicking it enthusiastically. "Anyway, here's the plan...."

Andre Guirard | 25 October 2008 11:26:45 PM ET | | Comments (3)

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