In the Laptops of the Gods

By Maggie Patten

A Mare Inebrium Story

Mare Inebrium Universe created by Dan Hollifield

As was usual, the entrance of a customer carrying something into the Pantheon Bar preceded a noisy reaction. Woodward's customers were easily amused; it came from centuries of sitting on their divine hands. Woodward rolled his eyes as the Norse god of mischief strutted into the bar with a black object tucked under his arm. Loki. Great.

"Look! Lookie what Loki's got!"

"Lessee! Lessee!"

"Is that...Ooh! It is!"

He sighed, and turned down the page of his novel to mark his place. If past experience was anything to judge by, he was in for a long shift of running himself ragged. As he watched, Loki caught his eye and nodded. Woodward sighed again and lugged out the largest tankard the bar possessed before filling it with mead. He kept both eyes firmly fixed on Loki, relying on his bartender judgment to tell him when the tankard was almost full. When the mead began to slop his fingers, he flicked the tap off.

The god swaggered across the bar, ignored his usual table. Woodward sighed for the third time -- it seemed he was never anything but depressed when Loki was a customer. Loki's "private" table was the one closest to the bar itself. The one he had chosen today was on the other side of the room. Taking a tray from the stack behind him, Woodward placed the heavy mug on it and stepped out from the bar.

"Yep," he heard Loki boast as he walked to the table, "this is the brand new Omni-Potence 3000. The computer for tomorrow's deity." Woodward could feel the pride and superiority radiating from him.

This was a new mood for the one-eon wonder. Usually he reminisced about the good old days until every single one of his companions had left him for more uplifting diversions. Which was when he began to sob into his mead, shouting at the top of his lungs about how mankind had wronged him by turning their backs on him. At this point, Woodward put in a call to the main bar's bouncer, as Cerberus was usually too busy chasing his tail or trying to hump Aphrodite's leg to be of any use.

Woodward wasn't sure he liked this new attitude. Loki had had every mood swing divinely possible, and then some. Regardless of his emotional status, when he left the bar, Woodward had three things to deal with: a massive headache, a large unpaid tab, and lots of broken items. He doubted today would be any different.

There were times he wished he worshipped Loki just so he could tell the god to his face that he no longer believed in him.

Woodward had to push his way through the crowd of gods and goddesses crowding Loki's table. He set the tankard down beside the computer, chanced a quick look at Loki's new plaything, and was impressed despite himself.

The computer casing seemed to glow with inner light. The flat seventeen-inch screen was as dark as a black hole; no light reflected from its surface. The keyboard sparkled with rainbow mystery. The power button flashed and glittered as the mischief god flicked it into the ON position.

Woodward suddenly found himself fighting for breath as deities from three pantheons pressed closer.

"What are the specs on that thing?" Hera asked.

Loki grinned, and cracked his knuckles. "One full ego-byte of God-RAM, Windows Opportunity for Divine Beings, infinite storage capacity, and a 56k modem for Internet access."

"What kind of programs you running?" Klio wondered, whipping out her trusty Palm Pilot and digital pen. She began to take notes, probably for her next article in The Daily Infinity. Woodward knew she was a journalist for the self-proclaimed "Divine Community's News Journal of Choice!" because he'd found discarded copies of the paper everywhere after she'd gotten the job.

"The usual necessities," Loki replied. "Soul Searcher, MS Office, Prayer Answer Express for all my e-mail needs, ICQ, WinAmp. Oh yes. And Taipei."

There were impressed murmurs from everyone. "Taipei," an avatar of Buddha said, nodding in approval. "Fine game. Best program there is."

Hermes snorted in disbelief, ignoring Woodward as he tried to squeeze between him and Hades. "Who ever heard of e-mail to answer prayers? It's never going to work!"

"Oh, give over, fairy-boy," Hades snapped, pushing him aside and edging closer to the table. "The days of papyrus, parchment and personal interaction are gone. Everything's done online now. Face it, Hermes. You're obsolete."

Anansi had wandered over from the African pantheon table, and now hung upside down from a thread attached to the ceiling. "Where would one get something like that?" he asked. " I am the patron god of the Web, you know, but finding a decent computer to handle my affairs has been hell. So it's been awhile since last I checked up on it."

Woodward glanced up in disgust, noticing that already there was silken webbing covering half the ceiling. He'd have to check with front security. He distinctly remembered telling them that the spider-god was not to be admitted unless his spinerets were checked at the door. The last time he'd been in, four of the staff members had become ensnared in the threads he left everywhere.

"Ask Hephestaus. He built it for me."

"I had to think of something," Hephestaus said. "After all, swords, axes and armor _are_ a little out of fashion nowadays. Computers are the weapons of choice now. I figured, hey, if Bill Gates could do it..."

"What's it capable of?" Zeus interrupted. It was evident from the tone of his voice he was already feeling his drinks. Woodward made a mental note to cut him off. "Does it have a matchmaker program?" A sharp slap resounded. "It was just a thought dear! We _do_ have children that need to be married off!"

"Capabilities?" Loki drawled, and something in his tone made Woodward pause, the tray clenched in suddenly bloodless hands. A creeping sensation in the back of his neck told him Loki was staring right at him. "Just watch. I'll open the Ideal Idea program and enter some information...This'll take just a moment."

Woodward shrugged off the feeling and returned to the bar to pick up the tray of drinks Elvis had prepared. He laid the empty tray on the bar and nodded to the fresh one. "Where does this go?" he asked.

Elvis glanced up from Woodward's novel. "Table of Japanese gods. Just came in." He pointed to the kimono-wearing group over in the corner. "Be careful. The goddess of hell is in a bad mood tonight."

"Thanks." He picked up the tray and began walking towards the corner table. Behind him, he heard Loki's triumphant laugh. "_Now_ we see some fun!" he crowed.

That creepy sensation was back, and this time it had brought friends. The sensation of a thousand spiders scurrying through his brain made him drop the tray of sake drinks and grab his head.

An idea so alien to his nature crossed his mind then. Horrified, he tried to prevent his body from jerking around. Approaching Loki's table for the second time that night, he tried his hardest to prevent what was about to happen. He poked his tongue through his teeth and attempted to bite it off; he tried to trip himself and break his neck; he tried to swipe a belt-knife from a Valdu god to slit his wrists. Nothing worked. His body wasn't responding to his commands.

Eighteen shining, perfect, hateful faces were watching him expectantly. _No..._ he thought, trying to bring his hands up to stop the horrid words from coming out of his mouth. _I won't...I have free will! I will not..._

Completely without his consent, he said, "Name your poisons! Drinks are on the house!"

Loki leaned back in his chair and smirked broadly. "What's it capable of, you ask? It get us the one thing divine intervention could never - free drinks!"

Woodward wanted to be sick.

An hour after closing time and Athena walking off with Quezalcoatl, giggling and stumbling, the bar was finally back to a half-decent state. Woodward blew a relieved breath through his nose and popped three painkillers for his headache. Glumly, he surveyed the bar. Yep, Loki had left his mark. Bits of a shattered table lay in the far corner, and the broken hilt from the Japanese samurai-god stuck vertically up from a pool of congealing sake. The bar tab for Loki's little trick was totaling up in the three digit figures, and Woodward knew it would come out of his pay. Even the two other staff members had vanished. Cerberus had disappeared somewhere after a stray velociraptor had wandered in. Elvis had already left the building when closing time came, leaving Woodward to clean up all by himself.

He took out a rag and began to sponge the stray puddles of mead and ambrosia that liberally splashed the countertop. "Damned gods," he grumbled as he worked. "I'm glad I'm a Scientologist."

A tentative knock sounded from the entrance. Woodward didn't even bother to glance up. "Bar's closed," he said, spraying the counter with solvent and swiping a rag down it one last time.

"I know. I'm afraid I left something here a few hours ago."

Woodward jerked his head up in astonishment. Loki was here again? Was he bored with causing trouble when the bar was opened, and now came to cause trouble when it was closed?

The Norseman was pale and shaken beneath his bronzed face, and a livid purple bruise was beginning to grow on his left cheek. He smelled as if he'd drunk a witch's cauldron of coffee, and astonishingly enough, he was perfectly sober. "I believe you saw me with it computer? The Omni-Potence 3000? Did you find it after the bar closed?"

Woodward bit back a smirk. It was well known amongst the divine community that Loki's wife was a terror who ran roughshod over him every time he screwed up. Seemed that she'd gotten him good this time. That computer must have been expensive. "Sorry. Didn't find it when I straightened up. Someone must have swiped it."

"Did you see who took it?" Loki's eyes darted over every table and chair.

Woodward shook his head. "Didn't see the god-RAM thing," he said. Loki's head whipped around to stare at him in sudden suspicion. Woodward just shrugged and smiled. "Overheard you earlier, sir."

"Ah." Loki scratched his temple. "Well, if it's turned in, give me a prayer, will you?"

Woodward kept his face blank and nodded. "Sure thing, Mr. Loki. No problem." He watched until Loki had left the bar before muttering, "Sucker," under his breath.

After his shift, Woodward trotted upstairs to a room he'd had Blanche book for him on the th floor. Customarily, he went back to his tiny house - deities were notoriously stingy tippers and the bar didn't pay enough to have a decent dwelling - and curled into bed next to his wife, but tonight he had business. Business that had to be done in the building, due to the anti-theft devices installed on every floor.

A mirror hung on the far wall from the door. He deposited his jacket on the bed, and crossed the room. He peered into the silver glass, bitterly noting the fine net of wrinkles that were beginning to show around his eyes and mouth. He leaned forward, and turned his head, running a hand through his black hair. What wasn't receding was going grey. He leaned back and inspected his body. Never small, his gut was bigger than ever, in all likelihood from the beer he usually drank on his employee tab. Most of his muscles, he'd noted, had gone to fat in recent years, and he was getting old.

No matter. He smiled as he dug beneath his jacket to retrieve the slim object he'd lifted from the barroom. Loki's computer gleamed under the overhead light. He had no guilty conscience about swiping the computer after the last of the drunken gods had stumbled out of the bar. Not only had he been forced to serve the eighteen deities without charge all night, Loki had him bark like a dog, hang from the top of the bar by his knees with a martini umbrella behind his ear, and strip tease the virgin goddesses Artemis and Athena.

Grimacing, he rubbed his head again. Athena had been amused, but Artemis...there was a goddess he never again wanted to anger. He'd ended up being transformed into a deer, running from the furious huntress. The only thing that had saved him from becoming tonight's main course at the business luncheon had been a regular customer who made a pass at Artemis to, quite literally, save his hide. She'd forgotten all about him after that, and went off to find a manager to rage at.

Loki's gang had found his predicament infinitely hilarious, and had left him in that shape for hours. He'd never been so humiliated in his life, being forced to carry drink trays precariously balanced between his horns. And all at no charge, of course, which was worse again.

Woodward sat down and plugged the Omni-Potence 3000 into the outlet behind the desk and turned the computer on. He waited for the operating system to load. Bloody Windows, he thought. It's still as slow as the Second Coming. A thousand years in business, and they still can't manage a little speed.

When Windows had finished loading, he scanned the system tray. One icon labeled WishMaker 3.1 caught his eye. Intrigued, he double-clicked it. A User Agreement opened. "The usage of this program is strictly prohibited," he read aloud, scrolling through the text. "Only immortal persons of an age greater than two thousand may proceed. By clicking the Agree button, the user indicates that he has fully read this agreement and possesses all of the required...bah." He clicked "I Agree".

A text box opened, reading, "Please Enter Desired Wish Below."

Woodward sat back, his fingers stilled on the home keys. His mind raced with the possibilities. He knew what the computer was capable of - he still had the occasional urge to bark every now and again. But what to wish for? Something small at first, just to test the program's limitations.

"I wish I had a full head of pure-black hair again," he typed. The instant he'd entered the information, an itching sensation began in his scalp. When he raised his hands to scratch, he was astonished to find that his hair was as thick as it had been in his youth, some twenty-seven years ago. A startled grin spread across his face, and he bent over the computer in concentration. It was time to make some serious wishes.

After an hour or so of wish making, Woodward ran out of ideas. He rose and stretched, liking the feel of his new, custom-wished body. Besides the full head of hair, he'd wished for a billion credits, immortality, youth, muscles, a faster-than-light personal cruiser, good looks, the ability to fly, a divorce, telepathy, the ultimate hangover for Loki and his cronies, and a whole host of other nifty little things. With pride, and still a little awe, he glanced at the huge pile of money sitting on the floor beside the desk, and then decided to order the most expensive meal from the restaurant on the 100th floor.

Woodward scanned through the Program Files while he was waiting for his meal to arrive. After fifteen minutes of searching and finding nothing of interest, he chanced across a file in the Games folder. His face lit up, and he double-clicked the icon. A small green window opened on the screen, filled with colorfully numbered and pictured squares. He re-arranged himself more comfortably and settled himself to kill the hours until his next shift.

After all, what could a rich, immortal man do to pass the time but play Taipei?

Copyright 2002 by Maggie Patten

Biography: Maggie Patten says "I'm a 21-year-old homemaker, living in Newfoundland, who spends most of my free time drinking coffee and working til the wee hours of the morning working on my novel." and her e-mail address is

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