Louise was beginning to wonder why she seemed to default to “waking up” on the roof of the castle. It meant that at least she always had a nice view over the landscape before having to climb all the way the hell down to the main floors.
When she got to the bottom of the ladder from the roof, however, she very nearly toppled over as a transparent woman walked slap through her and on down the hall. “Hey!” she shouted after the woman. “Hey!”
The woman never turned or acknowledged her, and, indeed, passed on through a stone wall.
“Yes,” Concepción said a little later when Louise found her downstairs, “the castle’s got ghosts.”
“Seriously?” Louise said.
Concepción sighed, put aside her sketchbook, and focused on Louise. “You see them from time to time. They’re usually in the upper halls, and they never see you. Sometimes I think I recognize one.”
“Are they women who died?” Louise said.
Concepción stretched her legs off the windowseat and leaned her dancer’s body back over the window sill. “Who knows?” she finally said. “Some people think they’re Cog takers who can’t get all the way in, you know? They could be dead. I thought I saw someone I knew once.” She shook her head. “Old people, we always have ghosts.”
“Hunh,” Louise said. The idea of being stuck here after death was an uncomfortable one.
When she asked Deniece about it later, Deniece had her own theories.
“I think,” she said, and Louise recognized the tone of voice from their earlier conversation, “that if you die while you’re in here, you stay here. If we think about it as a virtual reality, it makes sense for the system to retain a… a data ghost.”
“You were in computers when you were working, weren’t you?” Louise said. Smart women were hellaciously sexy, and Deniece was certainly both.
Deniece shrugged and shook her head. “You learn the lingo when you’re working around them, you know. Self-defense.”
“Concepción said some people think they’re women on Cog who’re just sort of crossing over from the real world,” Louise said. “Like… in reverse from when someone here goes all unresponsive maybe?”
“I could see that,” Deniece said thoughtfully. “Some of those women who’ve come here once and never come back again?”
“I was… looking at some information,” Louise said hesitantly. “About Cog.”
Deniece looked at her with some interest.
“The data seem to show,” Louise went on, “that some people respond… more than others. The cognitive improvements are more marked. That sort of thing.”
Deniece nodded. “That makes sense. I know a woman in my home who’s on Cog, but she’s nowhere near as good as I am. And she started out higher on the brains than I did.”
Louise looked at her askance. “Really?”
“Oh, yeah,” Deniece said. “I was having the sundown crazies, and was a wandering risk, and forgot pretty much everyone in my family except my little brother. That woman, she forgot things sometime and was losing some words, I guess. Her family’s rich, so I guess they figured they’d get her started on Neures-Q and Cog and bring her back to normal or something.”
“Hunh,” Louise said, and made a mental note to look more closely at the cognitive data. Was there an inverse relationship between baseline function and functional improvement? That would probably be too straightforward and obvious.
She ended up with Mick, of course, because that’s how her evenings were going, and despite her misgivings about the world around them, they ended up in bed. Making up for lost time, she told herself.
“I don’t want to hear about it,” Mick said when Louise broached the subject of the Cog clinical trial.
“Why not?” Louise said, sitting up and looking down at her lover. It was hard not to get distracted by the smooth line of Mick’s belly, though.
“I’ll say it again,” Mick said, sitting up and pointing at her. “You: Wile E. Coyote. Super-fucking-genius.” She pointed at herself. “Me: Road Runner. Okay? I don’t want to know the story behind the story, okay? I just want to enjoy what I’ve got.”
Louise sighed and stared off through the window. She inhaled to start another sentence, and Mick said, without even looking at her, “No. Nothing about the drug, nothing about the council, nothing about anything. I’m here for my last vacation. Don’t bring work on holiday.”
Louise laughed a little and said, “All right,” but something clutched at her stomach. Last vacation?