Her month’s prescriptions had arrived that morning, and Louise stared at the yellow diamond pills she’d spilled on her desktop while prying the “child-proof” bottlecap off with a knife. (Her niece always forgot to send her any of the various appliances old people stores sold to help old people with arthritis get lids off things, so she just went for the brute force method.) She wondered why some of the women — like Mick — were taking higher doses of Cog. She wondered how they’d come to think of it, and what it did for them.
She wondered what two Cogs would get her that one Cog didn’t give her.
She picked up her glass of tea in one hand and two pills in the other. Her liver was in good shape. Why not try?
They washed down as easily as a single pill. She finished the tea, looked at her computer for a moment, and decided to go for a walk.
There were limited walking options at Paradise Living. She could sign up for a nannybot and a tracking bracelet and go for a casual stroll in the extensive weather-controlled domed garden. She could go to the Activity Wing and sign up for Golden Dynamo Power Walking. Or she could walk the halls around the solarium.
The solarium had a pretty view and was nicely appointed, if one ignored the sea of old people dozing in the overstuffed chairs, the perfume that the home used to cover the smell of old people soiling themselves, and the nurses and nursing assistants dressed in stiff, starched, romantic, old-fashioned-by-the-time-Louise-was-born white uniforms.
Louise hated the solarium. But she hated nannybots and cheerful skinny white girls condescendingly telling her what a good job she was doing even more.
On the up side, Penelope was there, one of the only other black women in her tower. She was a powerfully built late-seventy-something, with a broad, high-cheekboned face that had no doubt been “distinguished” for years. Penelope was scowling through her thick glasses at something that looked like…
“Is that… a newspaper?” Louise said, peering down at the table.
“Why, yes,” Penelope said drily, laying it out for Louise’s edification. “It’s one of the staff’s quaint little projects for the benefit of their charges. It’s the sort of thing that family members wave at us as they commit us, saying, ‘Now isn’t this nice?'”
“My,” said Louise, “what a long list of birthdays.”
“What else do they have to write about?” Penelope said. “Other than interviews with the residents. Here’s a lady named Imelda I’ve never met, probably over in the east tower. Says she loves cats and growing dahlias.”
Louise settled down in the chair next to Penelope’s wheelchair. “Neither of which is allowed here.” She flipped a couple of pages. “Where are the obituaries?”
“You think they’d publish those?” Penelope folded the paper and pushed it away. “Reading about old people always depresses me,” she said, pulling her electronic tablet closer.
Louise glanced at it, then froze. She pointed at an icon on the screen—a coiled blue snake resting in a blue pansy blossom—and said, “What’s that?” as casually as she could.
Penelope glanced at her narrowly, then said, “It’s the logo for one of the leading hacker cooperatives. Why?”
Louise’s mind was racing—it was distractingly pleasant for a moment—and then she remembered that Penelope had been one of the leading “gray hat deep-frackers” in the business for several decades. “Keeping up on business?” she said.
“Have to,” Penelope grunted. “I’m still getting interviewed and asked to contribute to journals, y’know. Can’t be uninformed when you’re a talking head. Where have you seen that logo before? Because it only generally shows up in industry publications.”
“I…” Louise stopped herself, inhaled, and smiled. “I’d rather not say right now.”
Penelope gave her the side-eye, then said, “No offense, but you’re remarkably sharp today.”
That stung. “I’m on a new medication,” Louise said, trying to remain casual. “It’s called Cognizoid.”
“That’s one hell of a med,” Penelope said. “I’ve heard of it, though,” she added, rubbing her chin and tugging distractedly at a thick black hair there. “I’ve heard of it. Where have I heard of it?”
“Better Thinking Pharma,” Louise said, her attention arrested by the tone of Penelope’s voice. “I hadn’t heard of it till a friend tipped me off.”
“No, I’ve seen something in the industry about it,” Penelope said, frowning at her tablet. “Some chatter. Let me think about it, I know I’ll recall.”
There was a bit of silence between them, with the general hum of voices, exclamations, and the multimedia center in the background. Louise said, “Well, I was walking, so I’ll let you be.”
Penelope looked up at her sharply, then raised one grizzled eyebrow. “You come by sometime. We can have some tea, a nice long chat.” She smiled and said, “I’m sure you’d like to get out of the panopticon for a while. I’m still with-it enough that I don’t have a Minder.”
Louise raised both eyebrows and said, “I’ll just do that. Morning or afternoon?”
“I have PT most mornings,” Penelope said, thumping a hand on the arm of her wheelchair. “Doing anything tomorrow afternoon? Say around 2?”
“I’ll have to doublecheck with my social secretary,” Louise said, “but I’m pretty sure I’m free.”
“I’m pretty sure I’ve got some cookies,” Penelope said. “I might’ve even baked ’em myself.”
Louise stood up. “You’re on, old lady.”
“See you tomorrow, old lady,” Penelope said, turning her attention back to her tablet.
Thus dismissed, Louise turned her steps down another hallway, and enjoyed the effortless joy of thinking.