Penelope waited until the door was shut before asking, “So, did anyone else try to kill you last night?”
“No,” Louise said, staring around at the haze moving through Penelope’s apartment. “There was a coincidental flying spear point, though. It missed.”
“Hunh,” Penelope said, then she scowled at Louise. “What the hell are you looking at? You’re like my old cat, staring at invisible things.”
“I think,” Louise said slowly, “I can see data moving wirelessly.”
“You can what?” Penelope said.
Louise walked over to a wall and touched a spot that was smoking with her semi-hallucination. “There’s a source in this wall.” She drifted to a small box sitting on a table. “And in this thing.” Then she looked at Penelope and noticed that her friend’s chest was emitting haze. “And your chest, right here,” she said, pointing to a spot high on the left side of her own chest.
Penelope looked like she’d bitten into something unpleasant. “That first spot is a repeater—I know because I had my daughter pull it out to update it when I moved in. The box is the interface for my pacemaker, which is right,” she put her hand on the smoking spot, “here.”
Louise sat down hard on one of the kitchen chairs. “Fuck.”
Penelope silently brought a plate of cookies to the table. The cookies were hot, fresh from the oven, and Louise had been so distracted she hadn’t even noticed the baking smell.
“Thanks,” Louise said, smiling weakly over the cookies, which were emitting real steam. She took one from the plate and blew on it.
Penelope busied herself at a low console, pulling a bottle out of the cabinet and pouring something into two cut-crystal glasses. “Have you been increasing your dose?” she asked without looking at Louise.
“Yes,” Louise said. “I took three before bed last night, and three this morning.”
“Why?” Penelope said, setting one of the glasses in front of Louise.
“Because most of the other women I’ve talked to are on high doses,” Louise said. “All of them say that it’s ‘clearer’ in there at higher doses. Sheila, the woman who seems to be coordinating the response to attacks, said she didn’t really ‘see’ much until she was on six per day.”
Penelope had rolled her chair into place before the table and was raising the glass of amber liquid when she froze. “Did you say ‘Sheila’?”
“Yes,” Louise said, sniffing her glass and finding the contents to be some sort of sherry. “Do you know a Sheila that she might be?”
Penelope pulled her tablet out of the side pocket of her wheelchair and pulled something up on it with a few deft strokes. “Is this her?” she asked, pushing it across the table.
Louise was briefly distracted by the data flowing lazily to and from the tablet, then focused on the image on the tablet. After a second, she picked up the tablet to look more closely at the middle-aged woman on the screen. “Take forty years off this photo,” she said finally, “and give her hippie hair, and yeah, I think so.” She handed it back to Penelope.
“That’s Sheila Wachelski,” Penelope said. “Vic’s wife.”
Louise blinked. “You mean, the man recruited his own wife for this gig?”
Penelope shrugged. “I hadn’t heard that she had Alzheimer’s or anything, but it doesn’t surprise me that she’d be in on things. She worked to pay for graduate school for him. When he opened his own company, she funded most of it out of an inheritance, and she was the chief cook and bottlewasher while he did his ‘important work’. She became president to his CEO, and, last I looked, was still on the Board of Directors.”
“Huh,” Louise said, handing back the tablet. “Deniece said she thinks Sheila’s actually dead, because Sheila’s always there, in the VR, whenever anyone looks for her.”
Penelope cocked an eyebrow and did something on her tablet again. “Not dead,” she said. “At least, there are no obits. I suppose I could confirm with a little work.”
“Then she may be comatose or something,” Louise said. “I think that when people are heavily medicated, they stay manifested in there most of the time, and only go sort of unresponsive if they’re disturbed in real life.” Like Mick, she thought. She took a swing of her sherry, grimaced a little at the burn, and winced internally at the thought of alcohol on top of “tough on the liver” Cog. Then it occurred to her that she didn’t know for sure that that bit of wisdom was true or not.
“Can I log into the agency site from here?” she asked.
“Sure,” Penelope said, not looking up from her tablet and waving Louise toward the media setup.