Thursday, 16 July 2020



Ethical Empire built the gate to heaven, and their employees hold the keys. By offering custom-built afterlives through full-brain uploads, they answered the needs of a society pushed to the brink by climate change and cascading antibiotic failure. But for Zoe, who works daily to assess the sins of users and decide who’s worthy of salvation, heaven is not so simple. Despite the urging of the angels on her shoulder, she is determined to uncover heaven’s secrets, no matter the cost.



Zoe had met Henri at the office. Of course she had. It wasn’t like she went anywhere else. She’d thought Paris would be different than Arlington, Virginia, that she’d get out more, eat fabulous meals and meet fabulous people. But it was the same life against a different backdrop. She still spent most of her time hunched before a screen, combing through the sordid details of other people’s lives and tallying points to enter into the endless Ethical Empire database. When she got out of work, half the places in her neighborhood were already closed. She usually ended up swiping snacks from the office for dinner because she didn’t want to cook, and then going home to watch American shows alone in her frigid flat.

Her office offered all kinds of opportunities to meet people: bowling leagues at the indoor lanes, gaming marathons in the immersive virtual environments, biweekly ice cream socials at the trucks on the fifth and twenty-third floors. Zoe, however, had always been an introvert—“a mope,” as her mother spun it—and her position at EE hadn’t bolstered her enthusiasm for interacting with humanity during her off-hours. The system was supposed to prevent her from receiving a case from anyone in her network, but it had happened once, when she met the husband of a high school friend and realized she’d watched him slip pills into the pocket of his pharmacy lab coat a few weeks before on the monitoring feeds. It had soured her on meeting new people. So she poured all her effort into work, which was why she’d been able to apply for a transfer to the Paris headquarters from the dysfunctional Arlington branch after only three years, securing the work visa only once her extensive medical tests came back clear.

Somewhat against her will, she had made one friend: Silvia, who sat next to her in the cubicle pod and was the one who warned her about Henri when she caught him flirting with Zoe in the snack kitchen. “He’s bad news,” Silvia said. “Goes through girls like fppp, fppp, fppp—” She mimed riffling through a stack of cards.

Zoe wasn’t sure she’d mind that. She needed something to distract her from how sepulchral Paris looked in the early springtime. So she said yes when Henri asked her out, even though she’d heard by then from others in their pod that Silvia and Henri had dated and it ended badly. Silvia herself hadn’t told Zoe anything, so she couldn’t expect Zoe to know, could she?