Louise used the toilet, because part of the reaction was that she really needed to pee. Then, with the fan going and without flushing, she stealthily opened the medicine cabinet. Given Penelope’s vast pharmacopeia, Louise was willing to bet she hoarded meds as well. And she was right.
It was the work of moments to find the bottles she wanted and slide the pills into her pants pocket. Then she flushed, washed her hands, and exited to face her concerned nurse.
“Can we just clean up a bit?” Louise said, glancing at the kitchen significantly. “I’d hate for her to have to come back to this mess.”
The nurse glanced at her timepiece, then, since Louise was already heading into the kitchen, sighed and followed her. Between them, it didn’t take long to wash up. Louise pressed the bread and soup on the nurse. “I know Penelope wouldn’t want this to go to waste, and she’s an awfully good cook. Can’t you think of someone who could use a homecooked meal?”
The nurse apparently could (possibly herself, Louise thought), because she cheerfully helped Louise package up the leftovers, and then wiped down the counters for extra measure.
Louise shut Penelope’s portable computer, turned off the media screen, and picked up her letter to her niece before allowing the nurse to herd her out of the apartment.
The nurse fussed her only slightly back at her empty, tiny flat. Louise promised solemnly that she would go to bed shortly, and call if she needed help. Then in an afterthought, she went to her bookshelf, pulled down Beloved, and wrote a brief note inside the front cover. She handed it to the nurse and said, “Would you please make sure Penelope gets this when she wakes up? I think she’ll like it.”
She shut the door after her solicitous healthcare worker, and leaned against it to breathe slowly and calmly.
Without Penelope’s help, she was likely to be dead within a day or two, whether from Vic Wachelski hacking her brain during the day or from being run to death in her sleep. Especially since she wouldn’t be able to get back into Penelope’s place to get to the interference generator. Wachelski was likely to hold a grudge and go after Penelope again with her new pacemaker should she live. And how long would Penelope’s program to upload her last without Penelope working on it?
Besides, she had a responsibility.
There was really only one option Louise could see.
She took eight Cognizoid, then sat down to finish her letter to Tanisa with a vivid description of the shock of what had happened to Penelope. She noticed, when she’d signed it, that her handwriting was noticeably shakier as well. All for the best.
She sealed and addressed the envelope and dropped it into the mail chute. Then she sat down at her screen. She wondered if Penelope’s vaccine had made her unable to tap Sheila’s programming know-how. But she thought about unblocking her Minder, and found herself doing it with great facility after a few moments. She wiped any traces of her tampering. They’d be confused as to why it hadn’t noted her being out so late. Oh, well.
The Minder said, “Goodness, Louise, it is terribly late. Shouldn’t you be in bed?”
“Yes, I think so,” Louise said, changing into her pajamas. She sat on the bed and looked at her hands. They were shaking hard. She was probably still underslept. She wasn’t thinking clearly.
She laughed out loud at that. She hadn’t been thinking clearly for years. And now she was a biocomputer. Oh, Mick.
The Minder said, “Louise, I am concerned about your behavior.”
Louise snorted. “Minder, I don’t feel very well. I’m going to sleep.”
“Do you wish me to call someone to help you?” the Minder said.
“No,” Louise said. “I’m fine. I just need to sleep.” She took up her water bottle and considered the contents of her pocket and the medicines on her nightstand. After a moment’s thought, she took several of Penelope’s heart tablets. She went into the kitchen and crushed the rest of the pills and sprinkled the powder into the trash, knowing that the toilet sensors would pick it up if she tried to flush them.
She lay down in her bed and turned out the light. She hoped it wouldn’t be too bad, since she didn’t dare risk, say, some of Penelope’s valium, which might interfere with her brain function. Who’s going to notice a troublesome old woman’s heart stopping?
Louise stared at the streams of data haze moving through the room, which she could see even in the dark, and thought, I’m coming for you, you bastard.
It was fast, at least. She felt nauseated almost immediately, and then she felt her heart kicking hard, slowing down with each beat. After a few of these, she thought that she could hear white noise, like the static from the space between television channels. And then she heard Mick laughing, warm and loving in her ear.
Louise started running and didn’t stop when she ran out of cliff.
The end??? [Spoilers: No, there will be more, but we’ll have a bit of a break while I write ahead on this.]