A couple of hours later, Penelope made a satisfied noise and Louise looked up. Penelope gave her a wide grin. “I’ve not only found his original code, but also figured out what he did wrong with it. It’s in your CPU—” Penelope pointed to her own skull “—and also out in the network, multiplying as we speak, with some mutating code to keep them from sending out a vaccine of their own to stop you, even if they happen to figure out what I’m doing.”
Louise blinked several times. “Wow,” she said finally. “I… think I’m only starting to think about the… I’ll upload only if they kill me?”
“If you die in any way short of complete and instant disintegration of your brain,” Penelope said, cracking her knuckles with satisfaction. “The moment your CPU detects that your life signs are down and dropping, you upload. Now, I have no idea what that means, or what it will be like. Wachelski and his cronies seem to be functional, if not acting entirely along their original lines. I think I’ve fixed it so that most of what makes Doctor Louise would mostly be out there. Somewhere.” Penelope waved a hand vaguely at the window. “More than Wachelski at least, who seems to’ve left some key ethics behind. If he ever had them.”
“This seems about as imprecise a science as medicine,” Louise said.
“Human brains are messy,” Penelope said with a shrug. “This accidental wetware interface? Even messier. No one planned it, or designed it, it just happened. Somehow.”
Louise nodded and stared at her wavery handwriting. “I suppose it’s kind of inevitable that they’re going to get me in the end,” she said, and was irritable because her voice shook. “Because they’re immortal digital minds, and I’m an old lady. My body’s got to give out before they do.”
Penelope spread her hands. “You could drop your dosage, which might make your connection less clear and have that work both ways. I could build you an interference generator or a Faraday cage or something like that to sleep in while I figure out how to turn off your wifi.”
Louise chewed her lower lip. “I went in there last night and started a revolution.”
“An overdue revolution,” Penelope said. “In an overgrown videogame.”
“But I have a responsibility to those women,” Louise said, frowning and examining her bitten nails. She’d thought she’d broken that habit long ago. “Most of them haven’t got any more clue about what’s going on, what they’re supposed to be fighting against or why, than your file told them. They don’t know they can manipulate the world around them. They’re up against their friends and Sheila and the Council, and they’re old women.”
Penelope said, “Don’t forget that you’re an old woman too.”
Louise replied, slowly. “There’s something else.” She hadn’t realized that this had been bothering her so much. “The company is applying for another clinical trial. This time, in young people who are comatose.” She looked down at her hands. “What if it works?”
Penelope sighed. “You’re going to go back in, aren’t you? And try to get yourself killed?”
“I should go back at least once,” Louise said. “I owe some people explanations. Apologies.” She was feeling responsible for making Deniece a target. And feeling responsibility as at least something of a lover, she had to admit. She had prided herself all her life on treating her lovers as straightforwardly and… just… right as she could. And leaving Deniece in the lurch, even if they’d just had a one-night stand, would leave her feeling regretful for the rest of her life.
Penelope sighed and rubbed her eyes. Louise looked at her co-conspirator more closely, peering through the damned data haze that she’d gotten so used to now, and could see the deepened lines of exhaustion.
“You should get some sleep,” Louise said.
“In a bit,” Penelope said, typing. “I want to send out this vaccine update. It will continue to change the code so their zombie program can’t get purchase. If you need to upload, you need as many women as possible in your court, because I’m using their processing power to accomplish it.”
“Wait, so you’re zombie-ing them for me?” Louise said.
Penelope stopped and looked at her. “Look, I think the reason that the Council is so limited and fucked up and needs live brains to work through is that they botched some of the uploading, depending only on machine processors to manage it. I don’t think they uploaded in their entirety. Theoretically—theoretically, mind you, so don’t you come haunt my computer if I’m wrong—if you have enough women’s wetware processors working on your upload, you’ll go much faster and more completely, and you’ll be distributed more widely across the entire web. You’ll have the upper hand on these assholes, and then you can free the hell out of all the women.” She made a few more keystrokes and sat back with a sigh.
“I’m sorry,” Louise said, finally getting a glimpse of the scope of what Penelope was trying to do. “I… what’s wrong?”
Penelope’s head had jerked up. “Fucker,” she hissed, and she started typing.
Louise stood and moved to look over Penelope’s shoulder. Some chat application had opened on the screen, and it said, “FOUND YOU.”