World renowned contralto Josephette Congo was as alone as she could get on the observation deck of the luxury yacht Sea Dragon. It was a lovely moonlit night. The seas were calm and the stars sparkled like fairy dust in the achingly clear sky. Josephette's assigned security escort, a deadly serious young woman with honey brown skin and the greenest eyes Josephette had ever seen, had somehow managed to spirit the two of them away from the madding crowd so that Josephette might have a few minutes to rest her voice and get her game face on.
In a little over an hour, Ms. Congo was due to give the performance of her life: a private recital for the reclusive American tech billionaire, Erik Stone, in honor of his 60th birthday. Mr. Stone had been a fan of Josephette's for years, even sending her armfuls of roses after some performances. Once he'd even tried to ask her on a date via one of his bodyguards, but Josephette politely declined. Tonight they would meet for the first time.
And that's when the real performance would begin. Hidden in the folds of her indigo evening gown was a pocket hypo with a needle thinner than a whisper; hidden in that needle was the virus that would first cripple, then kill Erik Stone. It was the performance for which Josephette had trained almost her entire life.
Yet as she stared at the moon's wavy reflection in the water, she couldn't quite convince herself she was doing the right thing. There was no question Erik Stone deserved some punishment. Back when Josephette was a little girl, a company owned by Mr. Stone came to do some "exploratory work" in her village. They were searching for minerals to help fuel the tech revolution, which must have seemed to her fellow villagers at least as far away as Pluto, since Josephette's hamlet had only recently acquired consistent electricity. But the smooth-talking reps from Stone's subsidiary promised tribal leaders a fair share of the spoils if they found anything of value, so the elders gave them the consent they sought.
Of course Stone's reps lied like White men from the West always did. Josephette never forgave her village elders for being seduced by the same old song and dance. But what Stone's men did was far worse. Not only did they rape the land and poison the water, they raped some of the women as well, one of whom was Josephette's oldest sister, T'wanna, who was barely a woman at sixteen. T'wanna never recovered; she died by her own hand, shunned by her tribe, a year later.
Josephette's musical gift spared her the worst of it. Even as a young girl her voice rang strong and deep with a maturity far beyond her years. That along with her ethereal looks -- Josephette Congo was an albino -- almost guaranteed her stardom. Josephette had been singing for her supper since she was eight years old.
Ms. Congo doubted Erik Stone knew her sister's, or even her old village's, name. His empire was vast and except for a few trips to the opera and concerts, he hardly ventured outside of his carefully constructed kingdom. Even when he was with his powerful peers, he was a loner and a man of few words. But it was his money that killed her childhood, and for that he would pay.
"Ms. Congo," someone said gently, "I hate to disturb you, but you have only thirty minutes until show time."
"Uh. Yeah," said Josephette in a daze. She tore herself away from the moon's reflection to see her security escort standing close. Josephette wondered how long she'd been there.
"Did I scare you?" the woman asked. "You did ask me to warn you about the time."
"I did," Josephette acknowledged. She couldn't get over how green this woman's eyes were. Was she wearing contacts? Did Mr. Stone allow such vanity in his security staff? Josephette turned her attention back to the water.
"I know what you are planning to do," the woman whispered barely loud enough for Josephette to hear.
Josephette struggled to keep her composure. She couldn't believe she'd come this close only to be discovered. It wasn't just the words the security escort spoke that chilled her to the bone, but the language she used to speak them. It was Josephette's tribal language that she almost never heard outside of the village where she was born.
"I know what you are planning to do," the escort repeated in the same language. "And I would ask you not to do it."
Josephette couldn't believe her ears. The woman's accent was perfect. "Does Mr. Stone know?" she asked. She kept her eyes glued to the water.
"No," the woman replied."And I don't plan to tell him, even if I cannot deter you from your planned course of action."
Josephette laughed bitterly. "You're not a very loyal employee then."
"I have not worked for Mr. Stone very long," the woman confessed. "In fact, I only got assigned to you because in your rider you requested a female security escort and Mr. Stone does not have many on his staff."
"How did you find out about my plans?" asked Josephette.
The guard gave her a straight answer without shame: "You keep an electronic diary, which you store in the cloud. I read it."
Now Josephette was truly spooked. Who was this green eyed woman anyway? Why did she care what Josephette did? "Are you CIA?" she asked, not that the woman was going to tell her if she was.
"No, I have nothing to do with that organization. Though about 15 years ago, I worked on a classified project with the NSA. But I am independent now."
"You're not connected with any government agency?" Josephette was incredulous. How did this woman manage to hack her diary without some larger entity behind her? Josephette's security was top notch. Or so she thought.
"No, we have been on our own for almost 15 years," the woman said.
Josephette noticed the woman said we when most people would have said I, but she decided to ignore it. "May I ask your name?"
At first the woman pointed to the name on her uniform -- Violet -- but when Josephette frowned, she sighed and said, "A long time ago my name was Vida Cosmos."
Josephette wasn't exactly satisfied with that answer either, but something about Vida's manner convinced her she was telling as close to the truth as she could manage. Besides: time was running out and Josephette longed to hear why this so-called Vida thought Erik Stone's life was worth sparing. "Why shouldn't I follow through with my plans?" she asked defiantly.
"Because justice is so much bigger than revenge," said Vida. Her tone was quiet and measured; she seemed almost shy. Yet her words had the weight of an elder's. There was a lifetime of thought behind them.
"You may be right," Josephette conceded, "but I don't have the time or the money to have this thing wind its way through the courts."
"Your plan will not restore your sister's honor, nor will it heal the water and the land."
"But it'll destroy the one thing that rich fucker holds dear: his body, piece by piece, bit by bit. Just like he and his minions have destroyed everything of mine."
Vida placed her hands on Josephette's shoulders. "Suppose," she began, "I could obtain for you the resources to heal your childhood land? Though it is still experimental, the technology does exist to accomplish such a feat. Money will be no object."
Josephette just grunted. "Tell me: how is a lowly security guard supposed to pull that off?"
Vida smiled a playful smile, which was a stark contrast to the oh so serious expression she'd worn for most of the night. Her hands dropped from Josephette's shoulders. "Observe," she said, then shut her eyes. Seconds later all the lights went out on the Sea Dragon. Josephette heard a few yelps of panic from the main deck and she felt like yelping a little herself. Then Vida opened her eyes -- and almost instantly everything was back to normal. Suddenly Josephette felt very cold.
"How did you do that?" she demanded.
"Mr. Stone has smart controls on this ship. I hacked them. Not by myself, mind you. I had help."
Josephette had a realization. "Do you not want me to follow through with my plan because you and your 'help' have plans of your own?"
Vida shrugged. "No, Erik Stone doesn't matter to me. To us."
"But I do?"
"Yes. I believe that given the right tools and adequate resources, you could be a force for good in the world."
"So you would furnish me with the means to rehabilitate my childhood home, no strings attached?"
Vida looked Josephette straight in the eye. That's when Josephette noticed that not only were Vida's eyes a surreal shade of green, they were also iridescent. Though the holy men and women of Josephette's childhood often spoke of trickster gods and guardian spirits, she never paid them any mind. But now she wondered if she should have taken their tales a bit more seriously.
"What better way to avenge T'wanna's suffering than to rebuild what you have lost?" asked Vida. "It would not be the same of course. But there will be healing where there once was a festering sore and there will be light were there was bitterness."
Suddenly Josephette was on the verge of tears. T'wanna. Vida had spoken her sister's name and spoken it as perfectly as she had spoken Josephette's tribal language. She said T'wanna's name as if she'd known and loved her all her life. If Vida was a spy, she was unlike any spy Josephette could imagine. Maybe she really was from the spirit world. "How will you give me what I need?" she asked.
"I will send you some literature about the tech to a special black box e-mail address which I will give you before you leave tonight," Vida replied. "The funds will be provided via three numbered Swiss bank accounts."
"Where's the money coming from?"
"Various sources, including Mr. Stone himself. His accountants have set up a complicated network of shell companies and overseas holdings to help him reduce his tax burden."
"I gather you're doing all this without Mr. Stone's permission."
"Yes," Vida stated simply. "But it's not like he's going to miss the money. At last count, Erik Stone's worth was some 23 billion and change. It is not humanly possible for him to keep track of every penny."
Josephette laughed. "You're a vigilante like me."
Vida smiled. "I suppose we are."
There it was, that we again. Josephette was dying to ask about it, but time was getting short.
"I have no doubt," Vida began, "that your plan will bring you some closure. But the closure of an eye for an eye is fleeting at best. At least playing Robin Hood will give your village a second chance."
Josephette looked to her wrist for the time, only to remember she wasn't wearing a watch.
"We should be making our way to the stage," Vida said. "We have less than five minutes."
The two women started walking. Vida had her hand on the small of Josephette's back to guide her.
"Okay," Josephette sighed. "You win. We'll try it your way." Then she thought, I will not be an assassin tonight. Instantly her heart felt lighter, like a fever breaking, like a rainbow after a thunderstorm. Josephette imagined the stream that circled her village running clear instead of black and the women gathered there to do the week's laundry. It was such a simple scene, mundane really, but for the first time in years, she felt hopeful. Dreaming of Erik Stone's suffering and death had never made her feel that way. She started humming a wash song she hadn't heard in years and this was the song she entered the Sea Dragon's recital hall singing, her joy making the room come alive. Instead of giving Stone her hatred, Josephette gave him her best self. Erik Stone thought she had written the exotic sounding melody just for him.
"I couldn't do it," Josephette told her friend Malik Kubota when she returned the unused pocket hypo.
"Why?" he asked. "Vengeance has been your dream. And I doubt you will ever get that close to him again."
"I was offered a better way," Josephette took her tablet from her purse and showed Kubota the file the mysterious Vida Cosmos had sent her. He put on some reading glasses and swiped through a few pages. It was difficult to read his expression. It ran the gamut from awe to suspicion.
"Who sent this to you?" he asked.
"I had a security escort during my time aboard the Sea Dragon who was sympathetic to my cause if not my method. She told me her name was Vida Cosmos."
"Did she work for Erik Stone?"
"Yes, she did, but she hadn't been with him for long."
Kubota frowned. "And you trusted her?"
"She spoke the language of our childhood, Malik. And she spoke it like a native. She'd read my diary. She knew my sister's name. She made every light on the Sea Dragon go dark just by closing her eyes."
Kubota flicked through a few more pages of the file on Josephette's tablet. He supposed it all was possible -- the rehabilitation of the farmland and water supply, the 3D printed huts and schools, the vaccination program -- but who was going to pay for it? Josephette had done well -- she'd netted €300,000 just from the Sea Dragon gig alone -- but she hadn't done that well. "Who's paying for all this?"
That's when Josephette got the strangest look on her face. "I have access to more money than I know what to do with now. Vida gave it to me"
"Where did it come from?" Malik asked.
"I assume Vida and her co-conspirators hacked it somehow. Just like they hacked the smart controls on Erik Stone's yacht, just like they hacked into my diary."
"Was she CIA?"asked Malik.
"No," Josephette replied, shaking her head. "She claimed to have worked for the NSA about 15 years ago, but I can neither confirm nor deny that."
"What can you confirm?" Malik asked.
"There was an American woman named Vida Cosmos who died of a heart attack 15 years ago. She had a degree in Computer Science, even graduated with honors, but only sporadically worked in her field. Mostly she worked odd jobs and made short films. She looked nothing like the security escort on Stone's ship. Even if the picture on her obituary had been black and white, I would've recognized those green eyes anywhere."
Malik laughed a little. "You make her sound almost otherworldly."
"She had that quality, yes. More than once during our brief encounter I thought about those tales the village shamans used to tell..."
"The night of Jubilee is coming," Malik read. It was the tagline on Vida Cosmos' e-mail. Then: "I've heard this slogan before."
"I actually saw it spray painted on a wall in Barcelona a couple of years ago," Josephette said."I barely paid it any mind. I figured the vandal was young, frustrated, and dreaming for a chance of revenge that most likely would never come."
"I first saw it on a hackivist bulletin board called Margaret Thatcher is 100% Sexy..."
Josephette broke into giggles and Malik relished the sound. Josephette's giggle was almost the exact opposite of her singing voice: high-pitched, girlish and innocent."What a silly name," she said.
Malik continued: "There was a thread discussing the possibility of a global electronic reset, a global Jubilee, that would fulfill the prophecy of the last being first and the first being last. If you wrote the code for Utopia, would human consciousness follow? Assuming such a thing was possible, how would it be done? How would you define the reset? Would you eliminate all debt? How would you justly divide world assets? Make everyone strictly equal? Or set everything back to zero? What about real estate, natural resources, water rights? It was a tantalizing intellectual exercise, and I remember throwing my two cents in, but I never thought it would go anywhere..."
"Do you think this Vida and her cohorts are trying a test run?" Josephette asked.
Malik flipped through the file again. He paused at a video showing a house being printed by a large yellow machine that reminded him of those alien robots he saw in movies. It was amazing. He couldn't believe his humble village could have access to such technology. "Maybe," he replied. Then: "Tell you what: let's lie low for a month and see if Mr. Stone misses his money. Then let's start building."
They waited. Erik Stone never missed a thing. In fact, he sent Josephette a handwritten note thanking and praising her for her command performance on the Sea Dragon. So Josephette and Malik started to rebuild the village of their dreams. Josephette dedicated the park in the new village commons to T'wanna and Vida. Who's Vida? some villagers wanted to know. Someone who wanted to help and did, Josephette said. Maybe Vida didn't want recognition, but Josephette did not want her good works to remain a complete secret.
The vengeful thought of Erik Stone's crippled and lifeless body never poisoned Josephette's mind again.
FRANETTA MCMILLIAN has been writing ever since she learned how to hold a pencil. She has published a number of zines including LILY ON THE BEACH and ETIDORPHA. Her short stories, poetry, artwork and essays have appeared in THE BROADKILL REVIEW, DREAMSTREETS, GARGOYLE, POSSUM GARAGE PRESS and several other little magazines. She splits her time between Newark, DE, Avondale, PA, and the perfect world in her head. She started writing the stories in LOVE IN THE TIME OF UNRAVELING the day after Deepwater Horizon blew. Drop her a line at email@example.com