[Fiction] Magic, Inc.
The meeting was the last of the day, the best time to optimize the link to the ship. Harriet swished the red sludge of protein in her mug and squinted as the next early-stage founder took her seat at the conference table. Harriet didn’t remember putting this company on the pitch agenda for the day. Why didn’t she remember? She didn’t even know this woman’s name.
“Welcome, Ms., uh?” Harriet tried not to breathe.
Michael’s face blinked onto the four walls of the room through his connection to his ship. “Harriet, I’m here. Where are the financials? I didn’t get the deck.”
Harriet didn’t know what to say. There was no deck. There wasn’t supposed to be a meeting. She glared at the mystery woman instead of Michael’s enormous head.
The woman shrugged but didn’t break eye contact with Harriet. “My company’s name is Skillz, if you like, and you don’t need a pitch deck. I’m bringing magic back.”
“Back?” Harriet repeated, faintly.
“Mmm-hmm,” Michael seemed un-phased. “Is this a subscription model? Advertising? Walk us through the financials.”
He thought this was a real pitch, Harriet realized. He had every right to think this was a real pitch. She slowed her breathing even further in anticipation. Michael’s venture capital boutique in the Redwood dome was known for its foresight in supporting God Tech unicorns. Christian apps, VR and dome experiences were a $3 trillion industry, all of it majority-owned by Redwood, Inc. Anyone coming in to pitch would normally have already cleared five levels of pre-screening thanks to Harriet’s management, which meant the financials and business model were always air-tight. Harriet muttered at the AI assistant device on her wrist to punish whoever on her staff had not done their job properly this time.
The thought wasn’t wholly unpleasant.
“Harriet, I need the deck with the money. Now.”
The woman’s face wavered slightly, growing darker as she considered Michael, but just for a second. All her attention was still focused on Harriet. “Yes, magic will come back, and there will be a new currency.”
Michael bristled on the screen; he had once calculated his time as worth $5K per word spoken. “I already own the majority share of all the profitable currencies: oxygen, water and Bitcoin. Tell me why the fuck I should I care about Skillz.”
“His question will haunt you for the rest of your life, Harriet, won’t it?” the woman laughed, ignoring Michael entirely.
Harriet blanched just as something yanked hard inside of her, like an old-fashioned bathtub plug being released. Harriet glanced discreetly at her pants to make sure she hadn’t pissed herself.
When Harriet looked up, she expected to see Michael’s face glaring at her, but instead, she was inexplicably in a pulsing kaleidoscope of arms and legs and beats out in the clear, open air. The Redwood bio dome where she’d lived for the last 10 years was gone. Her chin slid across a chest, her hip a leg—no, that was someone else’s hip—no, it was hers and someone else’s. Harriet’s mind exploded with awareness: she was not alone in her body. She was there, she was Harriet; but she was also every other state and implied state of this massive field of flesh electrons gathering and gathering friction in the cool moonlight as they danced. A ripple, an interregnum, buzzing and humming and ripe with power. Her/their head tilted back and gulped in the air, and/or an eye. She could breathe in this kind of open sky; she was this breathing sky and this grass, an infinite number of voices agreed. Wait—was she?
Harriet was ripped out of the other bodies. She jerked forward and fell heavily onto a sharp rock.
“Harriet?” Michael’s voice cut into her head. $5K.
Abruptly, the smell of the stale dome air was back and Harriet was back in her hard seat in her airless dome office, staring at Michael’s frowning face over the shoulder of the Skillz woman. But something fleshy and prickly lingered just above her own skin.
Michael’s voice was loud and flat. “Lady, I don’t fund concepts, I fund gods. I don’t have time for this bullshit.” His screen went black. It was a $75K decision.
Harriet’s personal AI assistant bracelet buzzed with an incoming warning about her air supply being cut; this was Michael’s way of punishing his favorite manager for wasting his time. She forced herself to go completely still, a natural self-preservation strategy.
“Thank you so much for coming in, Ms. uh …” Harriet couldn’t reconcile the feeling of being in two places at once, but she stood up and walked to the door anyway, the woman silent behind her. “We’ll be in touch if we have any more questions. Security will escort you to the outside.”
The woman stepped around and hugged Harriet. Harriet recoiled in shock, but her arms burned and held Harriet in place. The woman's voice was a hiss. “That’s your air. Not his.”
Harriet stepped back and tried to pry her arms off, and the woman growled and held on even tighter. A ripple of what felt like electricity passed between them, immobilizing Harriet.
The woman’s voice grew even more harsh. “You sold your real magic to get into this dome, and you aren’t even very good at negotiating, are you? It’s too bad you’re the only one who can get close enough to kill him now. I know what you did to get here, girl.” She sent a ripple of pain and then pleasure through Harriet that landed in the younger woman’s lungs. “Still, I need Michael’s death to bring magic back and make us all rich, in the only way that counts. His last breath will finish the spell.”
The woman kissed Harriet’s cheek and let go.
“That’s your fantasy, isn’t it, girl, to breathe free? Call me if you ever kill him.”
The woman was right. Harriet did often fantasize about killing Michael. Gasping, screaming, choking on his special high-performance air, she didn’t care how Michael left this world, as long as his death opened up a spot for her on his god ship. Five years earlier, Michael had rocketed off Earth for a new Olympus with the 99 other richest men on Earth, and turned Harriet’s life in the Redwood dome into the equivalent of a New Jersey dome service center fulfillment job. So what if she was making money she’d never dreamed of as a kid? Demigods were all too mortal on a dying Earth.
Harriet had grown up in the ruined air of one of the few remaining un-domed towns, near the Hetch-Hetchy dam and filtration plant, the Redwood dome’s water and oxygen supply reservoir. Her parents were security guards who policed the refugees forcibly drafted to bury mines and other security around the precious water pipes that fed the domes on behalf of the Redwood Corporation. Which meant that during the day, they shot at people, and at night, they watched VR shows from semi-legal reality domes to unwind. Her earliest memory was of them drinking and passing out.
Harriet got vaccinated against the virus when she was born, though, and had access to online schooling with kids from other Redwood Inc. security bunkers. So she was okay. As long as she stayed inside with the air filters, which she did, of course. Harriet wanted to live.
In fact, Harriet had thrived, feeling that tug inside her protruding stomach whenever the pre-recorded actors’ voices came on with new lessons and tests. She made sure she was always at the top of her national class, even when she didn’t give a shit about the topic; the top one percent of students got the free annual vaccine booster shots and access to competitions for otherwise unattainable dome internships. It was fun to watch the other kids fail.
Her ambition didn’t make her the most likable kid, but whatever. No one in her town was exactly nice. Still, Harriet got along well with the meaner cats, and she liked to think she’d love other people, too, someday, surely—as soon as she found where the lovable people were. But most of all, she wanted out.
She thought about that idea more and more in the days after the Skillz woman disappeared from Michael’s office and into thin air, like yet another god.
A few months after the pitch meeting, Harriet had lunch with Gemma, user name @penthesilia on Instagram.
Harriet had actually spotted Gemma the first day she’d moved into the dome after winning Michael’s Merit Matters! intern arena competition, 10 years before. She had stepped out of the decontamination office feeling raw, spotted a young woman her age in the welcome committee with a strikingly pale face and turned her own fire-burned face up to the bright blue sky to hide her prickling eyes; the air smelled like money and expensive soap in the dome. Harriet was ashamed at how happy that made her feel, given what she’d just survived and how. In a fleeting moment of shame, Harriet had mumbled a little incantation to disappear every dark magic she’d invoked to win the competition: jeg mé déanta nueva. She was born again, she told herself then. A blank slate of pure ambition; nueva. She was going to make friends, keep cats, and take up dancing or something else pointless.
Unfortunately, she hadn’t gotten around to it until now. Work, of course.
“Harriet, you haven’t drunk your protein. It’s so good here.” Gemma’s voice was much more resonant than Harriet had expected and carried loudly over the noise of the Asian-Mars fusion cafe on the edgy northern edge of the dome.
Harriet fingered the white AI control bracelet around her wrist and stared at her cup of red sludge for a moment, wondering what fresh hell of a social influencer had curated that week’s food options. A bell chimed softly above to signal the beginning of the cleansing burn outside the dome, and Harriet hid her flinch--the tell of an outsider. She knew she wouldn’t be impacted by the cleanse on this side of the dome’s membrane; all the pipes and other utilities they needed were long since buried and armed, thanks to people like her parents. But, claustrophobia, you know.
“It’s delicious. Thanks. I feel so full.” Harriet smiled and tilted her head at Gemma to make the lie believable. All the woman in the Redwood dome tilted their heads when they talked to each other.
Gemma shrugged and tilted back. “How can I help you? I love your jeans, by the way. I don’t know how you stay so robust and healthy-looking with everything I hear about working with Michael. I dated his son, you know. Before the you-know-what. God, the stories I have about that family.”
“Uh, thanks?” Harriet tilted extra hard. She needed to make friends here, she reminded herself. She needed to start a company and stop being just an employee and start playing in the god leagues, like Michael. And the easiest way to get big enough to be a contender was to simply steal the mystery woman’s rather good, wonderfully unrealized concept for Skillz; as Harriet knew from her time working for Michael, a company was 90% about execution, not the idea. “I need investment money that Michael doesn’t know about, Gemma, and my research tells me you’re looking for smart female-run investments and can keep a secret. Can I trust you?”
Gemma ran a boutique investment firm exclusively for companies run by women. Michael called it Cunts4Cash.
“A side hustle is a woman’s best friend,” Gemma nodded in approval. Gemma leaned in inappropriately close. “Aren’t you so glad Michael and the others took off on that ship?”
“You didn’t want to be on the ship?”
Gemma sat back and eyed her strangely. “God no. I know you didn’t, uh, come from here, but trust me, it’s so much better with those dickheads gone.” A good portion of the men on the ship had lived in the Redwood dome before leaving.
Harriet couldn’t let this pass. Was this woman stupid? “If you’re on the ship, you get to take 60% of profits from any business started in any dome.”
“But they leave us alone now, Harriet!” Gemma leaned in even more, checking first to make sure no one in the cafe was listening. “You’re new to all this, but just trust me. It’s better this way. Let them fuck around with playing god on their stupid spaceship. We own the earth now.” Gemma winked.
Harriet glanced in the direction of the hidden dome wall and thought fast. What other option did she have? “Right. Well, speaking of ownership, let me give you the pitch and financials for Skillz, my new company. I’m looking for a partner.” Harriet pushed her NDA across the table pointedly and then once Gemma had signed, gave her the magic pitch. She was stealing the Skillz name and concept from the woman and making her own, silicon and pharmaceutical magic. It was more or less the same thing.
“Abracadabra, bitch,” Gemma whispered fervently after talking through the numbers. “I love it. We’re going to change the world!”
Like Gemma predicted, Skillz was a hit. Of course it was a hit. Harriet and Gemma worked beautifully together, particularly after they stopped tilting at each other and started getting real during intense all-night work sessions following their regular jobs.
Harriet revealed she could code like a piece of RNA and Gemma revealed she had a law degree and a talent for faerie-quality contracts, which was crucial for the hardware production and pharmaceutical partnerships.
Harriet worried that the body integration tech was a little experimental, but Gemma had the brilliant idea to test out the new AI bracelets and drug/electric nerve patches on the prisoners in some of the old flyover states that had broken away from the United States and subsequently gone broke. The presidents/kings were looking to bring in revenue by stuffing more free labor into prisons to build gadgets for their corporate contracts, and Harriet and Gemma’s tech kept the prisoners compliant and happy enough to maximize work output. It was almost too easy—though not really.
They called the product line &Mate, worked out a number of bugs, and made a killing, all while Harriet continued to hold down her regular job at Michael’s investment company thanks to an energy drug cocktail. In celebration, the two women drank champagne in the dark hours and lounged in Gemma’s hot tub. But Harriet wasn’t satisfied with the magic they were making. Or the profits.
Selling real magic was the only way onto the ship, she realized. You had to make money and shake the heavens. It was a sobering realization: Harriet needed to reverse design the magic quality level that woman had shown her all those years ago—somehow. Gemma refused to understand and their relationship soured a little.
So Harriet played to Gemma’s weakness: Skillz would launch a personal line of AI assistant bracelets with synthetic magic features for women, and women alone. It worked. She let Gemma brainstorm the main features this time and then Harriet nearly killed herself and her team working on the tech’s physical integration with the body’s systems all night and then clocking in for Michael during the day. But goddamnit, within a few months, they’d made synthetic magic. It wasn’t quite as realistic as what the mystery woman had done to her that day, but it was still amazing. Gemma cried tears of joy.
Harriet looked at the sky and took deeper breaths than normal, though not deep enough, she thought. Not yet.
The Skillz launch event was a private party for 100 around Gemma’s backyard pool, overlooking the less coveted east side of the dome. Gemma arranged catering from a cleanse company.
“Ladies, thank you for coming,” Harriet called out into the crowd after a brief warm-up intro from Gemma. The backyard twinkled with lamps and phone screens. There’d been some minor tension about who would take the lead tonight, but it had been Harriet’s idea, after all. “Let me introduce you to your new Skillz magic band!” Harriet swallowed the lump of emotion in her throat.
Harriet demonstrated the customizable AI hologram assistant. It was fairly routine, though better than most. They’d partnered with major authors to offer popular book and movie characters; Gemma’s avatar was Virginia Woolf as re-imagined—ironically—by Vogue. “But you’re not here for another AI assistant, am I right?!”
Gemma raised her voice to join Harriet’s on cue. “You’re here for the magic!”
The crowd laughed and pressed closer. They’d all been tested for the virus before entering, as per usual.
“Place these little invisible patches behind your ears, over your heart, and a few other, uh, strategic places.” Harriet winked. “Once they’re absorbed fully by your skin in a matter of minutes, if you want a massage in your legs, just wave your hand like this. If you want to look 10 pounds skinnier every time you look in the mirror, wave like the queen you are.” Gemma had written the script. “And if you’re feeling stressed and need a dose of something to relax, tap your thumb and middle finger together three times. Thanks to our invisible, organic body patch tech, our Skillz assistant has full access to every part of your body, whenever you want!” Harriet had turned on the charisma feature to give her soprano more punch, and it gave her shivers.
“Does that mean it can give pleasure?” A woman called from the back of the crowd. Gemma had bet Harriet a day of oxygen that this would be the first question. Harriet laughed, a little unhinged; the sky felt so close, for a change.
“Like you wouldn’t believe! And thanks to the AI hologram integration with all your data and social, you can finally sleep with all your ex-boyfriends again—or, better yet, make them watch you sleep with someone even hotter!”
There were a few gasps and then an explosion of applause. Gemma stepped forward in front of Harriet. She was supposed to jump in now.
But Harriet winked at Gemma and continued, too high on the energy of the crowd. “In fact! Thanks to the integration with your optic nerves and nervous system, you can live in your best reality every moment of every day, no matter what the world really is. It’s magic, ladies. I’ve—we’ve—invented magic.”
Gemma smiled extra bright and stepped past Harriet’s outstretched arms and in front of her as more women pressed even closer.
What she said was not part of the script. “Of course, when you’re living your best life, there are always going to be people trying to bring you down. Isn’t it time for women to be free from their bullshit?! You know who I mean!” Gemma glanced up at the high-off transparent dome ceiling pointedly, and then briefly at Harriet. The crowd hooted and cheered her on. Assistants began circulating with product to buy.
“Which is why your Skillz band reads any potential attacker’s DNA for those deadly Ys and, when you need it, helps you fight back.” Gemma abruptly turned to a burly man who they had imported from outside the dome to run at and attack her at this moment. As soon as Gemma’s hands made contact with him, he went down, twitching and howling in pain—Harriet’s idea. Gemma turned back to the crowd and showed the electricity sparking across her fingers.
The crowd was utterly silent.
“Who wants some battle magic, bitches?”
And then it erupted.
“Oh my god, it’s The Power! We’re living in the fucking Power!” The pandemonium started with one voice, but quickly the room of high-powered women absolutely lost their minds. They forgot about their uncomfortable shoes and trampled each other to get to Harriet’s assistants to buy, own, recommend. Every phone streamed and the money piled in fast with online orders. It was beyond even Harriet’s best-case predictions.
“Harriet, we’re going to make trillions. I love you so much!” Gemma hugged her after finishing up an interview with a breathless reporter from a high-end women’s magazine. It had only been 30 minutes since her launch speech, and both women had had a fair amount to drink. Harriet hugged her back. That prickling sense of connection from that long-ago meeting with the woman flashed silver behind Harriet’s eyes and she smiled so hard, it hurt.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to inherit the Earth, if you were a god killer.
The party got a little NSFW after that, and over on her perch at the champagne table near the DJ, Harriet almost forgot about the spaceship. After all, who among those men had made actual magic? Actual fucking magic. Harriet took another sip of her cocktail, glanced up at the sky, and stumbled forward to find Gemma. She needed to tell her she was right; they could take the Earth with those ship dicks gone, maybe clean the air out of the domes.
By the pool house, Gemma was talking with a man who looked vaguely familiar. Harriet frowned and paused. The man had his hand on Gemma’s ass and Gemma was tilting her head, but the other kind of tilt. From this angle, Harriet realized that the man looked a lot like Michael, but much younger. More tan and slightly hairier. Harriet flashed back to something Gemma had said when they had that first lunch meeting. She had dated Michael’s son before. Was this Michael’s son?
A chime dinged in her ear indicating that Gemma wanted to invite Harriet into her live experience. Harriet hesitated but then clasped her hands together to indicate yes and enable the empath sync. She was immediately deluged with Gemma’s flood of arousal and anger, and had to grab the back of a pool chair to avoid stumbling. The sync was one of her favorite new features, in theory: She could feel, hear and smell everything that Gemma was experiencing. (It was simultaneously uncomfortably deep and wholly inadequate compared to that original vision from that horrible woman.)
“I want to get back together, Gemma.” Michael’s son’s voice was surprisingly deep.
Harriet felt a stab of heat and rage in Gemma, but her friend’s voice remained a purr. “You used to cut my oxygen ration when I wouldn’t sleep with you. Did you think I wouldn’t find out?”
“You told me you would share, babe.” Michael’s son stroked Gemma’s cheek. She liked it. “You know how my dad likes to punish me still, but with your new company, we wouldn’t need him anymore. I can help you with international sales. Damn, I’ve missed you so much.”
Harriet watched as Michael’s son’s hand slowly caressed the skin on Gemma’s cheek, then neck, then down her arm to land lightly on Gemma’s Skillz bracelet. It was the company’s policy not to sell the bracelets to any men—for now; they’d had some fights on the issue.
Harriet heard Gemma speak directly to her in her head, so Michael’s son couldn’t hear. It was an experimental feature and a little fuzzy, but good enough at such a close range.
“Should I kill him, Harriet? We could kill them all.”
Harriet’s stomach lurched and she turned away from Gemma and stumbled along the tea lights she’d set up along the pool, into Gemma’s pool house, and into the bedroom. Gemma’s property looked over the edge of the moat that surrounded the dome, where the 101 used to be; Harriet hated how claustrophobic it made her feel. If Harriet squinted, she could see through the haze of the west coast-wide burns that Michael and the other men on the ship had orchestrated just before they left on the ship. There were people huddled at the far edge of the moat. They seemed to be waving their arms and screaming.
“Harriet? Should I?” Gemma’s voice was strained.
What would a god of the Earth be willing to do to rule, Harriet wondered as she stared out at the burn. A good god.
When she had entered the competition for an internship with Michael’s VC firm at age 18, she’d poisoned her competitors with blood infected with a new, extra deadly variant of the virus as soon as the competition brought them together in person. A tiny syringe into the right people’s drinks at the semi-final had been all it took. She’d eliminated them, but she hadn’t killed them. She had her lines she wouldn’t cross, didn’t she? That’s part of the reason why she’d won, surely. The universe knew she was good.
Harriet whipped around and recoiled. Michael, naked and pale as the moon, was walking towards her, around Gemma’s massive bed. Harriet had once had sex with him, back when she first came to the dome. It hadn’t been very good. She remembered being angry that the sex hadn’t been that good.
Harriet’s head swam with voices; it was getting to be too much.
It was Michael’s son this time. “Please, baby, you can’t do this without me. I’m the only one who can stop my dad from taking over your company. You know Harriet won’t be able to stop him. She’s not strong enough. We need each other if we’re going to change the world, like you always wanted.”
Back in the bedroom, Harriet dragged herself out of Gemma’s guilty rush of indecision and looked down at the stick that was suddenly in her own hand, opening and shutting her fingers over the rough bark. She knew it wasn’t real, just like the hologram of Michael standing in front of her, and yet.
“You’re mine, Harriet. You made magic for me,” Michael/not-Michael said. Too many voices.
Harriet was in two places at once, and then it started. A wave of pain and then a deluge of fury, then panic, and finally hollow acceptance from Gemma. A slight buzzing and a scream. (It was so inadequate.)
Her friend’s voice was scratchy and thick with adrenaline when it finally reached Harriet’s confused brain on the other end of the link. “I killed him, Harriet. I finally fucking killed him, thanks to our magic!” She laughed, but it wasn’t a happy laugh. “Our mothers wouldn’t do it, but we will. That ship is going to fucking burn. We’re going to burn it down, right?”
Harriet turned off the connection and stabbed the stick into Michael’s flesh over and over, enjoying the feeling of the give of his muscle and heat of his blood and then the total silence in her head. She reached back and stabbed again. And again. It wasn’t real. It was ok because it wasn’t real. She wasn’t Gemma. She had lines. She was herself, and herself alone. She was already free. Already good.
“That’s right, Harriet.”
Harriet looked up, startled. Inexplicably, the woman from the pitch meeting long ago was standing in her doorway, staring at Michael’s flickering dead body and the fake stick in Harriet’s hand. Even stranger, she was dressed for the party. Had she been in the crowd the whole time?
“My offer still stands: freedom and riches for Michael’s last breath. It’s just one death, girl. He’s no deity—they’re much better in bed, by the way. Unfortunately, you’re still the only one who can get close enough to that damn ship.”
But Harriet was tired of people asking her about murder right then, she realized. She'd grown. “I stole your company idea and I’m beating Michael at his own game. Why do I need to kill him if I’ve already brought back magic?”
The woman sighed, impatient. “You think this is magic? Look out the window at the burning, Harriet. What can your little toy do to stop this?”
A blaze of magical fire whipped through Harriet’s chest and she fell to the ground screaming. When she looked up, the woman was gone again and Harriet was totally alone.
Her virtual assistant pinged her with a message. She had a text from Michael about her “wasteful” use of her oxygen allocation over the last hour, and a litany of questions about her financial accounts--still owned in part by Redwood, Inc. Harriet took one long deep breath and then blew it out like a dragon. And then screamed.
Michael had to die. It was that simple.
Thankfully, a call from the ship came a week after Skillz went public; Michael wanted to see Harriet.
Gemma gave Harriet a prolonged hug through the Skillz link as soon as Harriet shared the news; Harriet's partner had been extra needy recently after a spree of new kills—the male population (and female, to a lesser extent) had been rapidly thinning since the debut of Skillz. It was a bit of a PR boon. “Once you burn that ship and get our magic onto enough people’s wrists on the planet, we’ll be able to really remake the earth however we want.”
Harriet just smiled and continued packing.
The next day, Harriet turned Gemma’s question over in her mind as she rocketed through the hazy atmosphere and into space in Michael’s personal shuttle. Harriet meant to look down once the transporter left the atmosphere, but her eyes were drawn immediately to the stars above the fire smoke, and then the moon and then the ship as it loomed closer and closer out the port window. It really was magnificent. As everyone already knew, the ship was shaped like a hollow virus, and Harriet marveled at the familiar details: the nuclear weapons ports, the separate floating pleasure ships full of frozen service workers, the “outdoor” bicycling track, and outer rainforest shell. Harriet laughed at the unexpected beauty of the real thing and took a deep breath; the air tasted so electric in space.
It was even better than she expected.
“You look like shit, Harriet,” Michael greeted her as soon as she stepped out of the shuttle and into the ship, 30 minutes later. A $25K greeting.
Harriet tried not to gape at the cavernous titanium atrium and focus instead on Michael’s rapidly approaching naked arms. He embraced her tightly for a long moment, and Harriet recoiled instinctually; had he always been shorter than her?
Michael pulled back, smiled, and tugged her to the front of a large window overlooking the earth below, never letting her go of her hand, but not in a nice way. He put their clasped fingers on the glass and closed his eyes for a moment, oblivious to the pain in her hand.“Tell me it’s beautiful.”
Harriet almost activated her wrist band then to kill him, but she looked down at Earth instead. She’d forgotten to do this on the shuttle.
Her hand spasmed when she looked--really looked. Far more than just the west coast was on fire. In fact, most of the globe seemed to be burning, though some of it also seemed to be flooded or covered with ice; way too much of it. It was beautiful, red and orange, blue and white smoky miasma, like a demon army.
Harriet wrenched herself out of Michael’s hands and jumped back.
Michael frowned. “Yes, well, we decided to accelerate the global regeneration program a bit. Too many people,” Michael shrugged, glancing at his watch. “But everyone worth saving got what they wanted. All the little homo sapiens snug and safe in their perfect domes, and just enough people left outside to keep us all honest, right? It’s fucking brilliant. I mean, we even solved racism! The Black domes are killing it without all the fucking Karens in their way. No offense.” A $10K apology, completely un-genuine. Michael often noted that he was a very progressive man.
Harriet's boss began walking briskly toward a hall on the other side of the main atrium, talking more about his vision for a purified world. Harriet followed, numbly absorbing the scale of the genocide he’d initiated. Could you really just, like, do that? Harriet remembered the smell of smoke inside the bunker where she grew up and then the sweet air of what the Skillz woman had shown her so many years ago. She wanted to vomit, though maybe also marvel.
After 10 long minutes, they stopped in a room with what looked like 100 tanning beds, and Michael began undressing. Harriet tried to avert her eyes from his shriveled pale chest by studying the rest of the room. On closer inspection, the metal beds were more like sealed cold pods, and all but Michael’s bed and one other were humming and beeping. Strange. There was no way this was where the men slept, Harriet reasoned.
There was the sound of sharp footsteps behind them.
“My man, JD!” Michael called to a man walking across the room and back out into the hall; he was one of the two Black men on the ship. JD glanced at Michael and Harriet and nodded faintly back but kept walking.
“If you think the fires are wild, you should hear what JD’s up to,” Michael grinned. “God I love this world.”
Michael, naked now, sat down in the open bed and proceeded to tap something into the blinking console next to him.
He was going into cryosleep, not tan, Harriet realized, feeling abruptly stupid. Harriet looked around again and her heart stuttered. They all were—well, except JD, it would seem. It clicked into place. The men on the ship were going to destroy the planet and then leave her and everyone else back on Earth behind for some future she’d never see. Because she’d be dead. Because she was still wholly mortal, unlike them.
Michael rubbed lotion into his legs. Harriet had planned to come up here and give him one last chance before killing him, but now she wasn’t feeling all that generous. She felt bitter as hell.
“What about you? Is this your perfect dome, Michael? Wouldn’t you rather stay awake and walk the earth again, free?” She waved her wrist and flicked on her AI, queuing up the taser function; she'd worked overtime to build a special, extra-powerful server into her clothing in preparation for this trip. “Skillz—my magic—can make that possible again soon. No more war, no more famine. We could put one of these bracelets on every human and control the worst human impulses with good tech, open the domes, vaccinate everyone, put out the fires, and redistribute the air supply fairly. And we’d still make a killing. A fucking killing. You want to see?”
Instead of responding, Michael handed her the lotion and motioned for her to do his butt and back. She took the bottle but didn’t move. Maybe just for this, she was absolutely going to kill him. Any second now.
It was like he hadn't heard her at all. “Sorry for the short notice, but turns out I need you to run things in the dome until it’s time for us to wake up again, okay? That’s what you wanted, right?” A $160K job interview. Michael gestured again at his back. His flesh was cold but oddly supple in Harriet’s shaking hands.
She could tase his heart now. She would.
Any moment now.
“But what about your children? Your companies?”
Michael flipped back onto his front, grabbed the lotion bottle, and proceeded to spend an inordinate amount of time rubbing it into his genitals and chest. Harriet’s hands were still shaking. She could feel the power building at her fingertips; his flesh had felt already dead.
“I want to start giving back now, you know? Every people needs a creation story. We did a whole immersion session with this Indigenous guy, and it just like got everyone--yeah, that’s our destiny up here. You should already see the stories about us we put up in the low-rent domes. Wild shit, but more or less true. Thunder, fire, floods, boom, boom, boom!” He glanced at Harriet’s bracelet and took an uncomfortably intimate deep breath. “People don’t need magic if they have gods, though I bought majority stock in Skillz to show you how much I support women and all that.” A $90K compliment and corporate death sentence.
Harriet lifted her hands up and felt the power prick at her fingertips. She’d recently shared with Gemma the vision she’d had the day the woman had first approached her, and Gemma was convinced that it had been a blessing. They ones inheriting the green earth, not Michael. “With all due respect, Michael, I don’t think you appreciate what I’ve built while you’ve been up here playing binary Zeus. I built fucking magic.”
Harriet waved a short clip she’d prepared about Skillz’s potential to save the world into the air in front of them. This was the moment, she told herself. She would distract him and then lay hands on his heart. She took a step forward and steeled herself.
Michael watched the holo without speaking for a few moments, and then he laughed and waved at her to turn it off. She clenched her fists; they hadn’t even gotten to the best part. Harriet hadn’t killed him yet.
“What is magic, though, really?” Michael mused as Harriet stood rigid, unsure how to make the move now. This killing stuff was so personal. She suddenly had a much greater respect for Gemma.
“Magic is making the impossible happen.” Harriet’s words were clenched.
“Maybe. Or is it being the impossible?”
“Can’t it be both?”
“Oh, no. That’d be no fun.” Michael yawned, knocking the lotion bottle over in the process. A floor robot came over and swept it away instantly, and Harriet understood then with a thudding heart plunge that there were probably endless robots and systems in place to defend Michael if she tried to hurt him. She clenched her hands and dug her nails into her flesh hard enough to enjoy the pain; was she prepared to die for this?
Michael frowned at her. “I expected more from you, Harriet. You’re finally on the ship. This is your chance to make the ask I know you think you’re ready to make. You want what I have. Didn’t we have sex once?”
Harriet felt her nails break skin. “Yes. You were terrible.”
“Oh, ouch.” Michael pretended to impale himself with an invisible dagger, but only for a second. He winked and shimmied around a bit to get comfortable. “How about I make it up to you and loan you the ship for a while? I need someone around who I can trust to make sure my man JD doesn’t fuck everything up. I'm not racist, but you know what I mean." Michael winked. "Do you want the ship?”
Harriet dropped her bloodied hands and stared at Michael. He was offering her the ship? She could have the ship?
If she said yes, she could stay and figure out a way to kill all the frozen men-gods without triggering any defense systems or risking her own life.
It was a surprisingly easy decision. No one ever said Harriet didn't think fast. “Fine. I get to stay on the ship and we’ll see who’s right about magic once you wake up in a few decades and do your bullshit creation story thing.”
Michael grinned. “Winner takes half our combined wealth.”
“All. And Redwood, Inc. can't touch me.”
“Fine. All, killer. Let’s hug it out.” Michael grabbed at her but Harriet finally used the taser function to stop him—she felt happy knowing she would kill him another day—and he yelped at the light shock and then laughed again. “You’re a real cunt, Harriet.”
“I hope you die in your sleep, Michael.”
Harriet smiled as Michael lay down and pressed something on the inside of his bed to make the top of the bed begin to descend. There was a long moment where Harriet knew she could again have reached out and shocked him to death without immediate repercussions, but she stilled her hands and watched him wave at her one last time in dismissal. She was going to stay on the ship and take her time finding a way to kill him. This whole thing didn’t need to be so personal; Gemma would understand. The real magic woman, too.
The bed sealed shut and Michael froze.
The ship was all hers then, as far as Harriet was concerned. Gemma was livid at first when Harriet told her the new plan, but then she said she understood. She wanted to visit, maybe move in. Harriet thought about it for a while, and told her to wait a month. She had some business to sort out first, she realized. But really Harriet just liked the feeling of being on top of the world, all alone, with no voice in her head. Well, JD was still there, and they had sex most nights for a while, which was awkward but nice. Harriet meanwhile spent the days hacking into the ship's systems and systematically putting them all under her control; she needed to be sure she was safe.
Then suddenly JD disappeared; Harriet had no idea where, but she made sure to change the codes on the ship so he couldn’t get back on board. He’d understand, surely. As a businessman.
After that, when she wasn’t working on Skillz or yelling at the new underlings she hired to run Michael’s VC firm down on Earth, Harriet spent long hours making a list of how to kill all the men so no one else would find out. (Though she thought she probably shouldn’t kill the one frozen Black man; she still rather liked the idea of becoming a nice person.)
A few of the men did die in time, though Harriet couldn’t take credit for it. She had simply been a bit slow in responding to some system malfunctions, maybe lying too long in her bed listening to the alarm, muttering pretend spells into her bracelet to see what happened, as she increasingly did: Jeg mé déanta nueva. So a few died, and she gradually took over all the programming of the ship. Her bracelet was wholly synthetic power, but that was a sort of dark magic that was all her own, wasn’t it? No one could take that from her.
After a few months, though, things got too easy, so she sent a shuttle for Gemma. Seeing her friend again was okay, after the initial shock of arrival. They ate ice cream, went swimming, and screamed. Sometimes they just wandered around, enjoying all of the space that was Harriet’s now (not Gemma’s, Harriet reminded herself, whenever Gemma slipped up). Occasionally maintenance staff would come up in a shuttle to keep them stocked up, but Gemma’s tendency to kill people she found troublesome grew problematic in time, as did her insistence that Harriet share her vision for a new Earth, and the women fought more. Until, after a tense moment when they both brandished their taser hands, they jointly decided that Gemma would be happier back on earth. They hugged one last time—lightly, heads tilted.
Why spend energy creating a whole new vision or company, when you can just steal one, Harriet whispered as she watched the shuttle depart. But the question of what next lingered.
A year passed, and Harriet became more obsessed with the question of magic.
She started wondering if she could fully recreate the feeling of the visit from the mystery woman with Skillz, like really create apocalypse-stopping magic. When Harriet couldn’t pull it off, though, she started to drift into a dark space. She spent those nights visiting the control panel over Michael’s bed, lingering over the port where she knew she could program the bed to kill him. Unlike him, she had made a fairer society, she told herself. And told herself.
Harriet pissed on Michael’s cryo-bed in anger and screamed. He slept on.
And so more years passed and the world burned.
Gemma was eventually found dead in her bed from electrocution and Harriet took over the company completely. She bought out Redwood, Inc. and then their business, too, for good measure.
As sole owner now, Harriet would occasionally take surprise trips down to the dome, just to keep everyone on their toes. But her life was impossibly busy thanks to her companies, and she found herself longing more and more for the peace and personally tailored, electron-rich air of space whenever she had to descend. She hated the heavy air of Earth now, especially the claustrophobic, crowded domes. The cloying sickness of stagnation.
On one of those trips, the woman appeared again. Walked right into Harriet’s office. Harriet checked her calendar in disbelief.
The mystery woman didn’t wait before attacking her. “Did you kill him yet? I can’t see anything up in that metal ship, and we’re almost out of time. The world will stop burning as soon as you kill him, Harriet. I told you this, right?”
Harriet was annoyed with herself for being caught by surprise by the woman again. She made a note to reduce the oxygen ration for her earth-side assistant.
“Why do I need your magic?” Harriet was a god now and had places to be. She'd even found a way to stop other people's magic from touching her; it had just come to her one night after bleeding out most of the frozen dead bodies on the ship.
The woman looked unhinged. “What? So you can live in a corpse?”
“I made my own magic and I didn’t have to kill anyone. You should be thanking me. I helped people!” Harriet despised herself a little for getting so passionate.
But the woman was angrier. She screamed and launched herself at Harriet. Harriet waved her hand for extra security (all women in her Skillz bands—they had a premium combat feature now), and turned to walk back to her shuttle, desperate to regain control of herself in the quiet of her ship.
The shuttle door sealed with a hiss.
Maybe she would kill Michael still. Despite what Harriet said, she hated that her Skillz magic wasn’t quite as vivid as what the woman had shown her that first day in Michael’s office. Or that she'd let the woman get so close. She still hadn’t decided. But probably not. After all, what had it gotten Gemma?
The ship breached the atmosphere and a sense of peace descended on Harriet as her eyes turned from the demon fires to her gleaming ship.
No, Harriet thought. It was a bridge too far. Sure, she’d been ruthless on her climb to the top, like anyone would, but she couldn’t kill anyone. That would be wrong.