Harmony’s watch beeped just as the first dark clouds gathered on the horizon. The storm was right on schedule. The protesters outside were about to get very wet.
“God controls the weather! You’re not God!” they chanted, clutching their signs.
Thunder rumbled overhead, and they glanced up at the sky. Moments later, they scattered to their cars as the clouds opened.
“Raining out the protesters isn’t going to convince them that you don’t think you’re God,” Toni said.
Harmony shrugged. “I don’t believe in God. But if he is real, he either doesn’t care to control the weather, or he’s bad at it.”
Toni winced. “And that’s why we don’t let you talk to the media.”
“The rain looks good. Nice and steady,” Harmony said. They stood and watched it streak down the glass. After a few minutes, Harmony’s watch beeped again, and the rain slowed to a stop. “I’d call that a successful test,” she said. “I’m going to call it a night. I think we’ll be ready for the meeting tomorrow.”
“Want to go for a drink? A few of us are gonna hit happy hour.”
“No, thanks. I want to take a long bath and get to bed early.”
“Come on. You’ve been spending too much time alone since–well, you know.”
“Since Meg died.”
Alone was easier. Friendships were messy, unpredictable. Vulnerable. “Thanks, but no. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Meg’s father sat on Harmony’s doorstep, completely soaked, and Harmony suddenly wished she’d gone to happy hour. “Hey, Jack.”
He stood, loomed over her. “I can’t believe that you’re going forward with it.”
“It’s what she would have wanted. Controlling the weather was her life’s work.”
“Till it killed her.”
“Our work didn’t kill her. Someone sabotaged it, and she died trying to fix it.”
We’d programmed the rain to last for fifteen minutes. It had been three days before it let up enough for us to recover her body.
“Dead is dead.”
“You think I don’t know that? You lost your daughter, and that’s hard and I’m sorry. But I lost my wife. And I’m going to finish her work, because it is what she would have wanted. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to go inside.”
“Please, I’m begging you. Stop this.”
Harmony stepped around him and went inside.
She woke to the smell of smoke. She reached for Meg, and only found a cold pillow. Panic surged through her for an instant before she remembered. She blinked back tears, scrambled out of the bed, and snagged her watch from the bedside table.
She placed her hand flat against her bedroom door. It was hot, and wisps of smoke curled in from under the door. She felt like she was in a nightmare, the familiar one where water surged around her and slowed her movements.
She walked to the window and fumbled with the latch on the fire safety box she’d insisted they install.
The best way to avoid tragedy is to prepare for it, after all.
She hooked the rope ladder onto the windowsill and scrambled down it. She’d insisted that they test the kit, that they practice getting out of the house. It was easy.
The grass was wet with dew and cold against her bare feet. Flames engulfed her house. Their house.
Her wedding dress was in the attic. The cedar chest that Meg’s grandmother had given them in the guest room.
The origami swans that Meg had made for her when they started dating were tucked in a box under the couch.
The distant, dreamlike feeling shattered. Harmony ran toward the flames, tears drying on her face as soon as she shed them.
Then something hit the back of her head, and there was darkness.
She woke tied to a kitchen chair. Her head ached and her hands and feet were numb. She turned to try to see her wrists, but couldn’t.
“Not so high and mighty now, are you?”
A middle aged woman with dark hair with gray roots glared down at her.
“I recognize you,” Harmony said. “You’re one of the protestors.” The fact that she wasn’t wearing a mask was terrifying. Did they plan to kill her? But why kidnap her, if killing her was the plan? She wished she could tell if they’d taken her watch.
“And you’re the mad scientist.”
“I’m not the kidnapper here.”
“Well, I never expected that you’d have a fricking rope ladder installed in your bedroom.”
“The best way to avoid tragedy is to prepare for it,” Harmony said.
“You wanted to kill me with the fire. And when that failed, you didn’t have the stomach to murder me, so you knocked me out and dragged me here.”
The woman just glared.
“What are you going to do with me now?”
“Don’t you just want to know?”
“I want to know, too,” Jack said, stepping out of the shadows. “Why in the world did you bring her here?”
Harmony gaped at her father-in-law for a moment, then all of the pieces clicked together. “You killed Meg,” she whispered. “It was you. You sabotaged the program.” Too many emotions to deal with ricocheted around inside of her. She felt like a tornado.
She hated tornadoes.
“She wasn’t supposed to be there. It was supposed to be you.”
“Because humanity isn’t meant to control the weather! You’re overstepping our bounds, Harmony!”
“Do you know how many people tornadoes kill every year?” Harmony asked. “Or hurricanes? Or floods? Or fires caused by drought?”
“That’s not something you can change,” the woman spat.
“Yes, it is. I can change it. And even if you kill me, you won’t kill my work. It’s too important. Too much good can come from it.”
“Your lab and your fancy machines are burning even as we speak,” Jack said.
Harmony blinked back tears. She could refreeze the polar ice caps or change the direction of the breeze, but she’d never change these people’s minds. Jack had killed his daughter, and it hadn’t stopped him.
If she was still wearing her watch, the police could use the GPS to find her, the heart monitor to see that she was still alive. If they even knew to be looking, with the fire.
Her watch was gold, with an analog face and a leather band. It had been Meg’s last present to her, because she didn’t like the look of smartwatches. The woman might have left it.
Harmony rocked back and forth in the chair. Maybe it she knocked it over, something would come loose and she could run. Or at least see if she was still wearing her watch.
Jack grabbed the chair and leaned on it, pinning her in place. “Meg hated how you always needed to control everything. Did you know that?” he asked. “She complained about it all the time.”
“She loved you very much,” Harmony said. “But she complained about you, sometimes, too.”
“The project needs you,” he said. “It will fall apart without you.”
“Maybe for a little while. But California needs rain.”
“And who decides who gets the weather they want?” the woman asked. “And how much will they have to pay for it? How long till your weather machines are used as weapons to cow people into submission? How long till someone else builds one? What happens to the planet if the weather becomes schizophrenic because it has multiple masters? How is that going to fix anything?”
Harmony blinked at her, honestly surprised. “Those are valid concerns.”
“I’m not an idiot,” the woman snapped.
Red and blue lights flashed outside the window, and loudspeaker-enhanced voice boomed through the room. “We have you surrounded. Come out with your hands up.”
“How did they find us?” Jack asked.
“I have no idea! She’s not carrying her phone.” The woman opened a drawer, pulled out a gun, and held it out to Jack. “Here, there’s still time to finish this.”
“Why don’t you do it?” he asked.
“I can’t. I tried. But I can’t.”
“What makes you think I can?”
“You killed your daughter.”
“That was an accident,” Jack said.
“We’ve come this far,” she said.
Jack took the gun. “I’m sorry, Harmony. I told you to back off.”
Harmony squeezed her eyes shut. She’d worked so hard to plan for every possible contingency, to maintain control at all times. It was time to let go.
Maybe they were right, and she’d see Meg again.
The gunshot rang out, and she flinched, waiting for the end. A moment passed. Had he missed?
She opened her eyes, and Jack was crumpled on the floor with a hole between his eyes.
The woman cowered in the corner, crying. A moment later, police officers rushed in. They untied her, and Harmony could finally see her watch, still safely on her wrist.
Harmony’s office had not been burned down, but her kidnapper’s words haunted her. She’d spent so much time focusing on controlling the weather that she’d never considered what other people might do with that control.
It could be a terrifying weapon.
But it could also save thousands of lives and stabilize the environment.
She wouldn’t be able to control what happened, once the technology was out there.
“You ready for this?” Toni asked. “They would understand if you wanted to postpone, after last night.”
She was meeting with people from the department of agriculture. Not the department of defense or homeland security or some private corporation.
She’d just have to let go and trust that everything would be okay. Could she do that, after being kidnapped and nearly murdered? Could she trust humanity to do the right thing, knowing that Jack had killed Meg? She rubbed her leather watchband and looked out at the rain.
Meg would have wanted her to try.
“I want to move forward,” Harmony said.
“If you say so. Will you be okay?” Toni asked.
“I–I will be, I think,” Harmony said. “Do you want to grab a drink after work and talk about it?”
Jamie Lackey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and their cat. She has over 120 short fiction credits, and has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and the Stoker Award-winning After Death…. She’s a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Her short story collection, One Revolution, and her science fiction novella, Moving Forward, are available on Amazon.com. Her debut novel, Left-Hand Gods is available from Hadley Rille Books. In addition to writing, she spends her time reading, playing tabletop RPGs, baking, and hiking. You can find her online at www.jamielackey.com.