“Loading application,” buzzed the computer, a slim, shiny Mac in pink casing. Its keys were pink, too, with red lettering, and the touchpad was beige. It was a perfect complement to the turquoise tablet that sat nearby on the impeccably arranged white desk. Scattered cactuses decorating the surface, along with a huge container filled with archaic colored pencils that Jessica never used. Who used a pencil these days?
She sipped at her smoothie and grunted—it was sour. Still, she smacked her lips and drank it down—it was healthy, not to mention being in vogue. Meanwhile, the disc of her pink Mac stopped whirring and the machine, which she loved more than anything on earth, announced that Goddess for Mac had successfully been installed.
Jessica moved her fingers over the touchpad and clicked the logo. It showed a slim figure with wings and a halo over her head, dressed in a sparkling green fish-tail-style robe—very tasteful, and perfectly fitted to the target market for the game: women. This was the first computer game designed and developed solely for girls, one that no serious gamer with a Y chromosome would ever download, much less play. For Jessica and women like her—bloggers, journalists, therapists, architects, IT specialists, and full-time moms—Goddess for Mac was a milestone. At last they had the entertainment they’d been demanding, tailor-made for them—a relaxing game set in a peaceful, glittering world populated by unicorns and giant dragonflies, and whatever other creature you might want to be the goddess of. On the day the game was released, downloads were in the millions, proving that the concept underlying Goddess was sound and turning the owners of God Games into billionaires.
Jessica tossed the juice container in the bin, fixed her glasses and her hair, and then adjusted the glasses again—she only wore them for appearances, and took great care to arrange them just so.
“Login,” she mumbled, typing something quickly. Then she pressed Tab, typed a password, and hit the Enter.
“Welcome to the Goddess!” chimed the application, and the screen shone gold. “Pick an avatar or enter one of your own!” Jessica scoffed—she’d never use a preloaded image. She was a red-hot designer working in a fashion house. Her position required her to be creative, which meant creating a custom avatar. Fortunately, while waiting for the game to be released, she’d thought it over and had perfected the image she wanted. It showed a woman resembling the goddess Kali. She had no idea that Kali was a bloodthirsty goddess of death—vaguely recalling that Kali was the Queen of the Universe while forgetting all about the decapitations and hecatombs. The avatar had eight arms and purple skin. She wore a gold and pink dress, but didn’t have her traditional necklace of skulls. Jessica had also abandoned Kali’s long, protruding tongue and a few other details she thought had originally been introduced solely for the sake of arousing fear, that most powerful tool for controlling human beings.
Jessica was really proud of her revamped Kali. As soon as she’d uploaded the avatar, players around the web praised the artwork and send her invitations to visit their worlds. But Jessica wasn’t interested in banal socializing. What she had in mind was her own cult, a phalange of AI votaries she would foster and care for. With a little help from her credit card, she purchased a temple and a couple of monks to clean the place up. They arranged the altar and began populating the surrounding wood with the people she would cherish.
Her progress in the game was slow at first because of an urgent project at work. The company was pushing her to finish a fabric design she’d been working on for the last three months, and she still had to finish the pattern, send it to the factory, examine samples, tweak the pattern until it was perfect, and then, with the blessing of her line manager, order wholesale bolts of it to be transformed into dresses, jackets, and skirts. Maybe a couple of coats, as well. But she’d really moved the project along in the last little while, so she took a well deserved day off. She spent much of it at the spa, but later got down to work on the Goddess for Mac.
Her tribe was doing fine and welcomed her warmly. They’d missed her, the perfect embodiment of a combined spiritual guide and beloved queen. Her people had set up their village and, as Jessica had instructed, bred some goats and hens. They’d grown rice, too, and they delivered fresh flowers to the temple every day. Their community was quiet and idyllic. The little village didn’t need to worry about disposing of human waste, since in her world there was none. There were no horrible deaths, for there were no accidents or diseases or wild animals looking for prey, and nobody suffered, because everyone in the game was programmed to smile and cooperate. The world of the Goddess for Mac was in line with the deepest instincts of womankind, thriving on love and joy. Jessica, officially a feminist, appreciated this. After a long day at the office, clashing with men and fighting her way through the crowds of chauvinistic managers, she longed for a blissful place that had no men around to ruin it. She bought some trees, a pond and some geese, a couple of donkeys, and some musical instruments for the tribe to play, then logged out.
After that, she was away for two weeks in a row for a conference in Zagreb, then absent again for a show in Beograd, and immediately after that she travelled back to the States to visit her sister, who had just given birth to a baby girl. The kid was purple-faced and ugly, but Jessica raved about her beauty, and even managed not to retch while changing her diaper. After two difficult days, bookending a sleepless night during which the baby raged against everything and everybody, she said her goodbyes and went home.
She entered her apartment with a sigh of relief, kicked off her sneakers, took her clothes off, and got into the tub with a smoothie—no alcohol, that’s so passé. She eased into the hot, jasmine-scented water, and the ache in her back slowly abated. After soaking a while, she remembered her game.
“Just five minutes, then I go to bed,” she promised herself. She washed her hair, applied her daily lotions and serums, and turned the pink Mac on.
Disappointingly, some of her people had died. She discovered that, during her absence, God Games had released an evanescence patch. Goddesses could buy eternity—or at least a couple of years in real time—at the online store but, since Jessica had been away, her time account hadn’t even been initiated. As a result, the people of Jessica—the Goddess known as Kalica—were aging faster than those made of flesh and blood. Many of them lay in digital graves, while those who remained mourned over them for days, ignoring the crops, which filled with weeds, and the animals, many of which went astray. But they didn’t complain, only prayed to Jessica to have mercy on them.
“Oh, fuck me, I will!” Jessica said aloud. This time she poured herself a glass of wine.
A couple of hours later, not only was the bottle empty but so was her online game card, which had held two hundred dollars. That limit had been set by Jessica herself to minimize the damage that could be caused by data hunters and fraudsters. She still had two more cards and some pay passes, but she was reluctant to use them. For one thing, the numbers might be stolen—it happened all the time. For another, Jessica was cheap. Deep down, beneath the perfumed clothes and the sexy underwear, she was obsessed with saving money. She tried to fight the urge, which she’d inherited from her scrooge of a father, but usually lost the battle. She would go to ridiculous lengths, like walking far out of her way to go to a cheaper café. And now she wasn’t willing to buy new disciples or equipment, because God Games had raised the prices to an extortionate level.
“Of course they did,” Jessica snarled, struggling to open another bottle of wine. The game had become insanely popular, and now every girl wanted to her own online church with pews full of adoring devotees. The servers were bursting at the seams as new users joined the game every day, all over the world.
Jessica downed the last of her glass and grunted. She needed more followers, but they would cost her nearly six hundred dollars. Still, there was no getting around it. Someone had to restore the farmhouses, barns, sties, and henhouses, and fix the roofing on the temple—and, of course, reproduce. In their dolor, the sad little Kalicans had forgotten all about procreation, and it was essential. The more they reproduced, the greater the chance that Jessica would come to rule over a population large enough that it would never die out.
“People, I need people,” Jessica mumbled. For a moment she considered shutting the game down. It felt strange to be so concerned about her believers and her godly image. It was silly to feel sorry that their prayers would never be heard—they were just scripts, just temporary objects generated in the data center. She shook off the feeling. “People!” she snapped at herself. She had to do something because she liked the person she became in Goddess, omnipotent and kind. But also creative and ruthless, as she proved a moment later when she came up with the idea of borrowing some people from a nearby land ruled by Abigail, whose avatar was a simplistic Virgin Mary.
Abigail was a strict, demanding mother to her tribe, so it was no surprise that her people welcomed Jessica’s representatives with awe. They arrived in Abigail’s village with the flag of Kali aloft, announcing that whoever was fed up with Holy Mary could join Jessica’s tribe. The Holy Marians weren’t too bright, but they got the message from their more advanced digital cousins, who applied AI algorithms much more quickly than their neighbors.
“If you join the Kalica tribe, you get a house, a yard, and seeds to grow!” Jessica’s messengers said.
“What is grow?” asked the Marians. They had no experience with agriculture, just extensive knowledge of how to kneel and bow and scrape before Abigail.
“Come, we’ll show you,” replied the Kalicans. “It’s about food.” They relocated the Marians while Abigail was busy dreaming of the electric sheep she wanted to buy. Screw Abby, Jessica thought, and went to bed.
She woke at nine, hung over and late for work. She had a coffee and tried to eat some cereal, but retched as the wine continued to take its toll. She thought about taking a sick day, but she had an important meeting with a subcontractor at noon. Irritated, she managed to get the smell of alcohol off her breath with mint tea, then took a shower, dolled herself up, and took a cab to the city center.
Unfortunately, right at the door, she ran into Farah, her line manager. She was no fool, and she saw immediately that Jessica was in bad shape. She wrinkled her nose and snorted, but didn’t send Jessica home—the upcoming meeting was too important.
“Pull yourself together, focus, and get it done!” she barked at Jessica, then stepped away. Maybe the odor of alcohol had started to penetrate the patina of mint tea.
Jessica shrugged. The meeting would be easy. She was well prepared, with extensive notes and calculations, and she knew everyone who would be taking part. It was all about setting delivery dates and order volume. She smiled, strode to the conference hall, and cheerfully ticked off the items on her list. On the way she fished some lozenges out of her purse, and now she sucked on them to freshen her breath, telling everyone she had a flu. Nobody seemed to realize that she was actually hung over, and her cover story meant that everyone kept as far from her as they could and left as quickly as possible, so as not to catch the nasty disease that had her choking down so many lozenges.
Jessica went straight to Farah to brief her about the schedule. She tossed the documents confidently on the line manager’s desk and sank in an armchair, inspecting her nails while she waited for Farah to go pale with surprise. And the color did drain from Farah’s face, but not for the reason Jessica had expected.
“Why did you place an order for delivery in August instead of April?” she hissed, looking alarmed. Jessica made a face and shook her head.
“No, no. It’s April.”
“It’s August, look!” Farah snapped, pushing the papers toward Jessica. As they slid toward her, she saw the word August written in the trademark green ink she used. Oh, shit.
She went home, badly shaken. Farah hadn’t fired her, but Jessica knew there would be consequences. She had to come up with some kind of solution. They needed the fabric in April, no question, but she had no idea where to get it. So far her best plan was to raid the Red Cross containers where people dropped off used clothing for the poor—not much of a fix. She was in the very deepest kind of shit.