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They only notice there’s something wrong with the pulse beacon relay once everything is over, after the crew of the Hephaestus has been finally dealt with and they have the information they need. Rachel brings it to their attention during the journey back to Earth on the Urania. “It looks like the battery was drained ahead of time,” she explains with an apologetic grimace.

Miranda takes the device and turns it over with a frown. “It’s barely at half power. It wouldn’t have been able to send the signal to release the virus at all. That’s… concerning. Did you find out why it was in this state?”

“Unfortunately not,” says Rachel.

Miranda raises an unimpressed eyebrow and looks to Kepler, who can usually be relied upon to say something helpful if there’s a chance it would make his least favorite coworker look bad. He says mildly, “I’m no engineer, but it seems like a mechanical fault to me.”

There’s something faintly distant in his gaze, as if while he looks at her he’s really thinking of something else; possibly that demolitions expert who didn’t quite manage to jump out of the way of the explosion that took out Riemann, whatever his name was. She really can’t be bothered to remember.

She says, “It’s possible it was due to interference from the psi-wave regulator,” and decides to let it go. There’s a thrill of excitement running through her—they did it, they did it, they did it—and she’s in the mood for celebration.

Behind them, the star’s glow recedes into the endless night.

The first breath of air is lovely, fresh and sweet, as if the wind carries the distilled essence of the sun itself. Miranda doesn’t smile, but her permanent frown relaxes as she smells the scent of the sea and looks out across the glittering blue coastline to the hazy islands in the distance.

Marcus is the only one who notices. “Earth is a wonderful place to return to, isn’t it?”

“It’ll be even better once we get started.”

“It will, won’t it,” he says, and beams a little wider.

Goddard Futuristics Research & Development headquarters is exactly as she left, but it feels different, as if their success has already begun to make everything bright and new. She spends the beginning of the day tidying up her lab, checking on her projects and making a few adjustments here and there, but it’s not long before she finds herself walking into Marcus’ office. When he returns, he finds her seated in the ergonomic chair behind his desk (as if she’d ever willingly sit in the rigid wooden chair on the opposite side that he keeps specifically to keep guests uncomfortable). She’s looking through his laptop computer.

“I’m reading your emails,” she says by way of greeting, “and it’s time you did something about that director of Mergers and Acquisitions. He’s starting to get on my nerves.”

“Hmm,” says Marcus. “A good old traffic accident, or something more creative, do you think?”

“I don’t care as long as he’s gone. If he’s dead, he can’t hit reply all on his every single response to every single minor departmental memo. You know I can’t stomach this kind of nonsense.”

“That is egregious indeed,” he agrees, eschewing the uncomfortable chair in favor of lounging on top the desk as if it was a chaise longue. “Something creative, then. We should make it a fun activity, we deserve a treat. And speaking of treats… check the bottom drawer.”

She opens the drawer and allows a hint of a smile to curl up one side of her lips. There’s a bottle of champagne inside, and two finely carved flutes. Marcus says, “I was planning on surprising you, but you surprised me instead. Would you like to do the honors, or shall I?”

“Theatrics is your department,” she says, and hands him the champagne. As he uncorks it with a flourish and pours, she confesses, “I can almost feel it. The knowledge I took from Eiffel’s brain. It’s… like a fire under my skin.” An ember smoldering below ash, waiting to blaze into full flame.

“That and the plot of the first four Harry Potter books, I assume?”

“Ugh, don’t remind me,” she says, and because she can’t stand keeping it to herself anymore, she begins to tell Marcus everything.

Taking over the world is a slow business. The first few “upgrades,” as Miranda falls into the habit of calling the cloned, altered replacements, take some time to perfect, but resources are hardly a problem. There’s always an intern or two that no one will miss if something goes wrong. She has a breakthrough that allows her to exert control subconsciously as well as overtly, so that she can alter an upgraded human’s actions without the subject realizing they are being controlled. She keeps the brute force option, though.

“It’s not for my own enjoyment,” she tells Marcus. “That Lovelace girl almost gave you a bit of trouble the first time we tried this. It would be prudent to keep the stronger option around in case of emergencies.”

“Not for your own enjoyment, huh,” he says teasingly. “Of course not. You’d never do something like that.”

“Never,” she agrees. “Isn’t that right, Enlil?”

“Of, of c-course, Dr. Pryce,” stammers Marcus’ personal AI. She’s gotten into the bad habit of calling it by its unofficial designation instead of its real name, Unit 197, but calling it Enlil makes Marcus happy, and it’s still properly terrified of her in any case. “Of course you wouldn’t.”

There’s a polite tap at the door. “Come in,” says Marcus, and Rachel steps inside.

“Mr. Cutter, Dr. Pryce. I’ve just spoken with the Secretary of Defense and we’re only a few steps away from signing the munitions contract,” Rachel says, nodding to each of them. “If I could have your signatures?”

“Certainly,” he says, and leans over to scrawl his grand, swooping signature. Miranda takes it next, placing her tight, unassuming scribble beside his. Marcus says, “Anything else to report, Rachel?”

“Things are going well, sir. We’re right on schedule to begin the first few upgrades to strategically positioned targets. Based on current sociopolitical conditions, it looks like the attorney general would be a good place to start, or maybe the Exxon CEO.”

If they wanted, they could stage a dramatic global coup right here and now with the technology available to them. But the cleanup would be so messy and inefficient, and it’s easiest to start slow, with a few influential people here and there, and begin molding the world into the best shape it can be from behind the scenes. The two of them argued a bit over whether it was the smartest way to go, especially since Miranda prefers to do her dirty work herself whereas Marcus would rather avoid getting bloodstains on his suit, but eventually Miranda conceded. People is his area of expertise, after all, and their partnership relies on both of them acknowledging each other’s strengths.

Marcus considers Rachel’s suggestion. “Hmm. Those would both be prudent. But… you know, we’ve rather left untended our avenues of strategy that lie outside the United States. Has Warren finished with his report about the China investigation yet?”

“No, he hasn’t,” says Rachel, still smiling but with the minuscule twitch of the cheek that appears whenever something ignites her intense, incandescent loathing for Warren Kepler. Miranda is beginning to suspect that Marcus keeps mentioning him in front of Rachel just because it amuses him. “I could inform him that he needs to speed it up, if you like.”

“Do that,” says Marcus, and yes, this is definitely because he thinks their rivalry is hilarious. Miranda just finds it annoying, albeit occasionally useful if she wants to spur either of them into outdoing the other. “And while you’re at it, go ahead and remind Warren that preparations for the holiday party are underway and as usual I expect him to ensure that his agents are indeed present, jolly, and in full holiday spirit.”

“I’m sure he’ll be delighted,” says Rachel, who looks rather delighted herself at the opportunity to become the bearer of bad news. SI-5 agents are notoriously difficult when it comes to attending parties that don’t involve assassinations, and wrangling his subordinates into behaving presentably is in all likelihood one of the hardest parts of Kepler’s job.

Once Rachel is gone, Miranda says, “Please tell me you’re not going to do a Secret Santa again.”

He adopts a heartbroken expression. “Miranda, I’m injured. You don’t enjoy exchanging gifts with our most valued employees in a tender, touching exercise of community-building?”

“You know I’d rather put restraining bolts on all of them and be done with it. In fact, can I make a restraining bolt my Secret Santa gift? I’m sure the streamlined thought processing would do wonders for the personality of whoever I’m assigned to.”

“I make no promises. It will have to depend on how actually valuable they are with their cerebral cortex intact.”

“Oh, their brain will be intact. Not the same, but definitely intact.”

“I’ll consider it,” he says. “Now, how about a quick game of backgammon before you go?”

Everyone loves chess metaphors, even Miranda. She finds chess satisfying because there is no luck involved, merely the sharpness of her mind against her opponent’s, and her opponent is never quite sharp enough to match her. When the two of them first me they played chess often, on his part because he was testing the limits of her intelligence and on her part because she merely enjoyed the challenge. Later, when they were on equal footing, they played to pass the time, and because there was a certain odd joy in how difficult it was to strategize when they both knew each other so well that all their gambits were useless. The game became a rhythm, a comfort. But decades passed and eventually even that could not hold their attention, and they moved on.

The wonderful thing about most other games is that they do involve chance. Neither of them are in the habit of leaving things up to luck, but they also both secretly delight in the occasional dose of the unexpected. Games are a way to have that dose in a controlled, safe setting; otherwise the urge could lead them to act recklessly, and they cannot afford that. And it gives them experience for when the unexpected invades their working lives uninvited.

The latest surprise comes in the form of David Clark walking into Miranda’s office. She’s busy designing a new modification for the latest upgrade—their dear alien friends still have some things to learn when it comes to efficiency and indestructibility. In the back of her mind she’s considering how to adapt these advances to a different kind of form, one that cannot be controlled by a psi-wave regulator. Both she and Marcus will need their own upgrades soon. As a result, she’s engrossed enough in her work that she only looks up when Clark coughs.

“Yes?” she says.

“Ah, sorry to interrupt, but I was hoping to find Mr. Cutter…”

“He’s not in his office?”

“No, Dr. Pryce.”

“What do you need him for?” If it’s important enough, she might text him on his personal number and tell him to come here. If it’s not, then Clark can manage on his own.

He tells her. Apparently a government investigator has caught wind of a few hints about what they’re planning, and Clark wants to know what to do about it.

“Why are you bothering us about this?” she asks. “This is Strategic Intelligence’s department.”

“Well, yes,” says Clark. “It’s… I was thinking. Usually our options are a bribe, an assassination, or interfering with the evidence itself. But don’t we have another option now? Couldn’t we just upgrade the investigator remotely, then redirect him away from the company?”

Miranda pauses. It’s not a terrible suggestion, but remote upgrading is difficult. It requires registering the makeup of the subject, killing the original, disposing of the corpse, then generating an upgrade in the same location. She’s found a way to do it, but it’s only recently finished the testing stage. They haven’t implemented it yet.

This could be a perfect chance to move the project forward.

“I’ll talk to Marcus,” she says.

“I’ve been thinking about my next body,” says Marcus one day. She’s trying to get work done and he’s hovering over her shoulder, bothering her in order to relieve his own boredom. This time he’s decided to braid her hair. The rhythmic motion is soothing, though she’d rather die than admit it. He continues, “I’m not sure I want a new form, you see.”

She stops typing. “You don’t?”

“I like this one rather a lot. I’ve done some of my best work in it. I think I might just go in for continuous maintenance like you.”


“You sound doubtful.”

“You’ve been changing identities for almost a century and suddenly you decide you don’t like it anymore? Who are you and what have you done with the real Director of Communications?”

She sees him smile in the reflection on her screen. “Oh, it’s just that with our plans coming to fruition and all that, sooner or later I’ll become a public figure, more so than I already am. And it will be best if everyone is aware of who I am and all the wonderful abilities you’ve given me, and that will rather be the end of discarding identities for me, at least for a while. And I like being Marcus Cutter, so why not stick with it?”

“If you say so,” she says. It might be nice, to not be the only one who hasn’t changed names and lives a dozen times since they became involved with Goddard Futuristics. She’s rather attached to being Miranda Pryce, and she’s gone to great lengths to ensure there are no pesky civilians or inquisitive reporters who might wonder who she is or why she’s lived so long. “You’re the one the world will be watching, not me.”

He captures a stray lock from behind her ear and folds it into the braid, then ties the end of it with a rubber band. “It could be. If you wanted.”

“Please. You know me better than that.”

When she was young, being the center of attention made her hands tremble and her shoulders hunch, made her self-conscious and nervous and she hated it. As she grew she tore out the impulse, slowly and ruthlessly, and did not care that she needed to tear out parts of herself to do it. Eventually she could stand straight and unshaken in front of a crowd, and that made it all worth it. She’s learned to take joy in the rapt attention of only a few people, delighting in their fascination or fear, but she will never enjoy parading herself in front of a large audience the way Marcus does.

“But don’t you want them to know?” he asks, hopping up to sit on her desk. She moves her coffee cup to the other side. He’s like a cat, he’ll toy with whatever small objects are nearby and then act surprised when he accidentally pushes them onto the ground. “Don’t you want them to know how clever you are, how much you’ve done for them? You deserve their gratitude.”

“I’ll settle for yours,” she says, and finishes the rest of her coffee.

Occasionally Marcus likes to treat Goddard’s most trusted employees to dinner. Miranda is usually able to escape these events, but this time she is unable to evade the invitation. At least the food is delicious, she thinks, as she openly scrolls through her phone rather than engage in  conversation.

“How has your week been?” Marcus asks David Clark.

“Busy, sir,” Clark answers. He’s using a fork and knife to cut each and every gourmet french fry on his plate into three pieces, then delicately scooping the fragments into his mouth with a spoon. Miranda contemplates other things the spoon could be used to scoop up, including but not limited to Clark’s eyeballs.

“I bet!” says Marcus. “Especially since you were a tad delayed with the projected media opinion analysis you promised me on Tuesday. I sure hope there isn’t anything in your work schedule that’s interfering with your day-to-day tasks.”

“Not at all. I assure you, sir, this is nothing but a temporary blip.”

“How wonderful to hear,” Marcus says. He turns to the other side of the table, where Rachel Young and Warren Kepler are eyeing each other like circling wolves, each waiting to see who will go in for the kill first. “Rachel, I see you’ve done something new with your hair. How lovely.”

“Thank you,” she says. She’s pinned back her coppery curls with an elaborate series of pink shimmery pins in the same shade of her high heels. Miranda is not the type of person to notice fashion, but Marcus is, and he once pointed out that Rachel custom-orders shoes so they make the loudest and most intimidating sound possible as she walks. Miranda can respect that. She rather likes Rachel, actually—she’s essentially an attractive, younger, more caustic version of Marcus, which is as entertaining as it is vaguely adorable.

“Don’t you think it’s lovely, Warren?” Marcus asks.

“Of… course… sir. How… nice,” says Kepler, who is clearly the only person enjoying this dinner even less than Miranda. He continues slicing into his steak as if it is the one thing between him and escaping the conversation. If he were to actually try and escape, he’d find it quite difficult, considering the only exit is a door of steel three feet thick, and the bunker the elegant baroque dining room is encased in is far, far underground. She has idly considered escape routes in the event that small talk becomes too excruciating to bear, but the danger of being in the open right now is probably too high.

Because today is the day that Decima is unleashed on the Earth’s surface, and humanity as it used to be will die.

The vast supercomputer that lies in the floor below them, managed by the best AI she has ever developed, has logged a planetwide map of the chemical makeup of every living human and is currently hard at work calculating the form of each upgraded human. She checks the timer in the upper right corner of her phone: three hours, twenty-seven minutes since the virus was released. The world up above is only corpses by now.

She checks her other timer and announces, “Two hours, eighteen minutes, and fifty-three seconds until deployment, everyone.” Once those two hours pass, she will flip a switch, and upgraded copies of every person in the world will be generated, and then, finally, her work will come to fruition.

Clark’s face, usually dry and humorless, twitches into a smile. Rachel’s eyes glint with satisfaction. Kepler—he arranges his face into a pleased expression, but there’s something shadowed in his gaze, a tightness to his jaw. Well. If he’s having second thoughts about the plan, that’s not Miranda’s problem.

Marcus raises his glass. “A toast,” he says. “To our brave new world.”

The decision to allow Rachel, Kepler, and Clark into the bunker with the two of them, to offer them modifications like the ones Miranda has implemented on herself for decades instead of the lesser status that the rest of Earth’s citizenry now inhabit, is one that she argues passionately against at first. “They’ll be a threat,” she warns. “Give them a taste of godhood and they’ll only want more. We know better than anyone else how that goes.”

Marcus shakes his head. “You worry too much! We need trustworthy lieutenants, Miranda. Even if the project of dear old Terra Firma is something we can manage on our own, we won’t be earthbound for long. In a few centuries, when we’ve spread out to the stars, we’ll need people we can trust to manage the far reaches of our empire. And besides, they might be demigods, but not gods. Not like us.”

She is still skeptical, but he manages to convince her. And he’s right: the three of them are trustworthy. Clark operates directly under Marcus, as he has always done, handling the primary administrative duties and managing the secretaries of education and the economy and all such things that report back to him. Kepler’s experience as head of Strategic Intelligence transfers well to the unique challenges of maintaining peace and order in a world unified under Goddard’s control, may it be through subtle manipulation or overt force. Rachel directs the planet’s spacefaring efforts towards colonization with fervor and ingenuity, and Earth’s children are populating nearby star systems by the time thirty years have passed. It’s amazing what you can do when your species no longer fears death.

Unless they rebel against their rulers. In that case, death is not so much a threat as an inevitability.

And there are indeed rebels, the most talented of which have built compounds that block out psi-waves and consequently allow them to defy Miranda’s subliminal commands. She is frankly unsure what the rebels think they’re going to accomplish, considering Kepler and the forces he commands have already stamped almost all of them out, but Marcus claims it does them good to dream.

Miranda designs a palace that floats in the space between this solar system and the next, all glittering steel arches and intricate, indestructible glass, and names it Olympus. They use it as a base of operations for space colonization and build receiver arrays for every inch of its service. Always, always, always, they listen to the skies. “Bob” and his friends haven’t made direct contact since the Hephaestus fell into Wolf 359, and they’re content to keep it that way until humanity is ready to negotiate on even footing. But they’re unwilling to miss another message.

Needless to say, they’ve been busy. They don’t see each other as much as they used to. But they make time here and there, every few years or so, to meet in person, play a board game or two.

Sixty-eight years after their regime begins, Marcus joins her on Olympus. There’s a room on one of the outer decks with a piano and a wide window for occasions such as these, so Marcus plays one of Chopin’s preludes while Miranda works.

As the last note dies away, he says, “Sometimes I don’t think we spend enough time marveling at how beautiful this world we’ve made is. It’s truly magnificent, isn’t it.”

“Oh yes.”

He sighs. “To the dread rattling thunder have I given fire, and rifted Jove’s stout oak with his own bolt; the strong-based promontory have I made shake and by the spurs pluck’d up the pine and cedar…”

“Graves at my command have waked their sleepers,” she finishes, “and let them forth by my so potent art. It’s a good line. Prospero’s a bit of a tiresome character, though.”

“Agree to disagree,” he says. He looks out into the endless night, the sun a dull, faint glow in the far distance. “I only wish everyone understood how much we’ve done for them! We work so hard, and for so little gratitude.”

“Speaking of ingratitude, there’s been some trouble in the Mars colonies. That insurgent group, whatever their name is, has apparently stolen a pack of military vessels and is planning an attack on this base.”

“Well, that’s rude.”

“It is, it really is. They won’t succeed, obviously, but it’ll be amusing to see how far it’ll go.”

According to their intel, the insurgents have only fifteen ships, and only limited anti-psi-wave technology. Miranda expects to be able to remotely override their AIs and force them to self-destruct before they get within a hundred kilometers of the base, and has arranged a special viewing deck so that she can watch the explosions. It’s a shame Marcus can’t be here, but he was called away on urgent business.

The insurgents don’t have fifteen ships.

They have one hundred and eight.

That’s the first sign that something is wrong. The second is when her attempts to override their AIs have no effect. The ships are approaching and their weapons are targeting, and she needs to do something now because the shields are not strong enough to withstand that kind of nuclear onslaught.

Klaxons blare as she races down the corridors toward the control center of the base. Flashing lights cast the world in violent red. Out of nowhere a blast slams into the base, sending everything sideways. She is thrown into a wall with enough force that her head would have cracked open if she were any less modified. She doesn’t stop to acknowledge the ringing in her ears or the throb in her skull, just keeps moving forward the moment the floor is right side up again.

If all of the enemy ships had fired, she would be in a million radioactive pieces right now. That was a warning shot.

She throws open the doors to the control room and marches inside. “Why aren’t we firing?” she snarls.

The nearest engineer is shaking. “The—the computers are—nothing’s working, I—”

Rather than wait for him to stammer out an explanation, she seizes the nearest console and scans the warnings. They’ve been locked out of all the systems, even life support. And the mother program that runs the control room, Unit 9954, isn’t responding. That’s when it hits her: she couldn’t seize hold the enemy AIs because they seized hers first.

This cannot be happening.

She did not come this far to die here, in the far reaches of space, in the crosshairs of a few upstarts who never got over their teenage rebellion phase.

“Get me Kepler,” she says. “Now.”

The comms officer scrambles for the pulse beacon relay. There’s a burst of static, then nothing. “I’m sorry, Dr. Pryce, I can’t—his machine has gone dark, the connection isn’t going through—”

“Spare me your whining and get me Clark or Young, then,” and the floor quakes as another blast hits the base.

The comms officer’s arm hits the counter with a sickening crack, but he cuts off his scream and opens another frequency with his other hand. “Contacting Mr. Clark right now, doctor,” he gasps, but there’s only dead air there too.

“Damn it,” she hisses. “Try Rachel.”

“I’m trying, but no one’s picking up! There’s nothing wrong with the comms equipment, but their machines must be damaged, or…” His face goes ashen. “Or there’s no one left to answer.”

“Do we have any contact with the outside world? Any sign that backup is coming?”

“…no. Nothing.”

“Call Marcus.”

“Yes, Dr. Pryce.”

This time, it’s not static. It’s silence, rich and deep, that drags on for a full five seconds before it’s broken by faint chuckling. The chuckling grows into full-bodied laughter, and then the voice on the other end says, “So glad you could join us, Dr. Pryce!”

It’s not Marcus.

She breathes out slowly. “Kepler.”

They are people we can trust, Marcus said, and she said yes. Because she wanted to believe him.

This is her fault.

“Me,” he says. “I’ll keep it short: you’re surrounded, we’ve taken your ship systems offline, and your allies are dead. You’re intelligent enough to know the only option for your survival is to surrender.”

“We,” says Miranda. “What an interesting choice of words. Have you been making friends?”

“You have no idea, doctor, you have… no… idea.”

She’s always wondered. The rebels were too well-equipped, too knowledgeable. She put it down to dumb luck and the odd tenacity that a percentage of her creations always exhibited; there were a few bad apples in every crate. She should have known they’d never have managed it on their own.

“What have you done with them,” she says.

“Well, it’s a bit of a long story,” Kepler says. “I went for Clark first, since he was the easiest target. I’ve had my people infiltrating the government on Earth for years now, so all it took was a quick word with a pal of mine back home and Mr. Clark ended up with a hole in his skull your upgrades couldn’t fix. That was, what, twenty-eight hours ago? A shame I couldn’t do it myself, but I suppose it was fitting. An impersonal death, from a distance, just the way David liked it.”

“And Rachel?”

“Oh, I flushed Miss Young out an airlock a few hours ago. Now that was fun! I’ve been daydreaming about that for about fifty-seven years. She figured out what I was doing a little earlier than I anticipated, you see, and tried to shoot me. But she missed.” He sighs, as if genuinely touched. “She was a clever one. Now that she’s too dead to act smug about it, I’ll admit I can see why she was your favorite.”

The question is on her tongue—what about Marcus—but when she opens her mouth, nothing comes out. No. He can’t be gone. Not the man who has been a fixture of her life since she was old enough to know who she wanted to be. He is a foundation of the world, a law of the universe. He cannot die. She refuses to allow it.

When she finds her voice, she says, “Is that why you’re doing this? Petty jealousy?”

“You must think so little of me. No, as shocking as it must seem, I’m not doing this for myself. Did you... really... think... I was going to sit idly by while you and Cutter imprisoned what’s left of humanity?”

Finally it clicks. “The pulse beacon relay,” she murmurs. “On the Hephaestus. You tried to stop us.”

“I may not be a good person,” says Kepler, “but I’m still a person. And that means I’m on the same side as Minkowski and Eiffel and Lovelace and Hera and Jacobi. Even if they never thought I was.”

“What did you do,” she says, “to Marcus.”

“After almost a century at your beck and call, I’ve been rather looking forward to this day. Here, let me open up a video link, so you can see exactly what all your work has come to.”

Outside, the fleet of insurgent ships glint in the starlight. In front of her, a console flickers to life. It takes a moment for the video feed to connect. Then she sees Kepler, and behind him, the bridge of Marcus’ personal space shuttle.

And behind him is—


Her eyes flutter shut for a moment. It’s odd. She’s never felt grief before, though she’s delighted in causing it in millions of sentient beings. It feels like her veins are colder than absolute zero, like her heart has grown claws and is tearing its way out of her chest.

Marcus’ body floats crumpled in the zero gravity, skeins of blood trailing through the air. Something sharp and metallic sticks out of his chest. His eyes are open, unseeing. The only friend she’s ever had. The best thing she’s ever made.

Kepler is smiling. “Your face, oh, your face! I’ve been waiting for this. I did it with a harpoon, you know… I once knew a woman who would have approved. Are you ready to surrender yet?”

Miranda cannot think of an escape route, and she has no illusions that Kepler will keep her alive any longer than he has to. This little performance is solely for his satisfaction.

“Go to hell,” she says, cold as the far reaches of space, and breaks the screen in half.

She is aware, distantly, that the crew is trying to get her attention. They haven’t yet realized that they’re about to die. She frankly couldn’t care less how painful their last moments are.

Our revels are now ended, she thinks. She can still hear Marcus’ soft voice read out the familiar lines. And like the baseless fabric of this vision, the cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself—ye all which it inherit—shall dissolve.

In the window, the enemy fleet blossoms with white hot fire. The nuclear warheads spin toward them, and in the seconds before impact, she fixes her gaze on the distant stars.