“What the hell?” Louise said, and she turned her head as lights moved in the corner of her vision. The big media screen lit up with the same pane, the same words. Somehow, they were more menacing when they were that large.
“It’s Wachelski, or whatever he’s become,” Penelope said. If her scowl could have damaged Vic Wachelski at that moment, Louise thought, he would be scrubbed out of not only every spot he occupied on the net, but also everyone’s memory. “I couldn’t cover all my tracks, and I knew that. But I’d hoped to distract him with some false trails. I guess I got careless when I got tired.”
The panel added, “OH PENNY. SEE: TURNING UP LIKE A BAD. ALL THE TIME.”
“I gather you didn’t have the best of professional relationships,” Louise said dryly.
“I might’ve testified against him in court a few times,” Penelope said, her fingers flying over the keyboard. Text flooded by on her screen. “I might’ve had something to do with one of his companies going down in flames.”
The lights in the room turned off, then back on. “Now I feel like I’m in a bad horror movie,” Louise said.
The chat panel went on: “PENNY WISE OR PENNY FOOLISH? PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS? IN FOR A PENNY, IN FOR A POUND. PENNY ANTE.”
“Little troll,” Penelope muttered.
The lights flickered again, then all the lights flooded the room. The microwave turned on.
“He’s in the Paradise Living systems?” Louise said.
“Apparently,” Penelope said. “I’m mostly worried about keeping him out of my machine right now.”
“YOU’VE COST ME A PRETTY PENNY,” the chat pane announced.
“I’m glad you don’t have voices enabled,” Louise said. “I imagine that he sounds like a smug frat boy.”
“You wouldn’t be far wrong,” Penelope said.
“WHEN THE PENNY DROPS, SOMEONE’S CUT OFF WITHOUT A PENNY.”
“Penelope,” Louise said.
“If you say you have a bad feeling about this, I will hurt you,” Penelope said through gritted teeth. She slammed a key and the chat panes vanished. “There.”
Both of them sighed. Then Penelope jerked slightly and made a wordless noise.
“What’s that?” Louise said.
“Defibrillator shock,” Penelope said dismissively, but then she jerked again. “Fuck this thing. It’s like being kicked in the chest,” she said, rubbing her chest.
Then it happened again. And again. Penelope’s eyes grew large and her breathing changed radically. She looked up at Louise and tried to speak, but another shock hit her.
Louise ran to the wheeled cabinet, piled the panels atop it, and pushed it as fast as it would go across the carpeted room. In just the few moments it took her to get there, Penelope had fallen forward onto the table.
Louise tried to haul Penelope out of her chair and onto the floor as gently as she could manage. Penelope was a big woman, and Louise was no longer as strong as she once had been, and they both fell. Louise managed to keep both of them from hitting their heads, and then scrambled out from under Penelope’s unconscious form. She seized the panels and flipped on the cabinet, then stuck the panels under Penelope’s arms.
The tiny spasms stopped. Louise put her fingers on Penelope’s pulse and couldn’t find it. “Oh, no, you don’t,” she snarled, and started CPR. “Don’t you fucking well die on me too.”
After she’d done three cycles of chest compressions and breathing, she looked around. There were panic buttons at floor level all around all the residences, and it didn’t take her long to find one nearby. She kicked it, and went back to work.
It felt like forever. She’d forgotten how tiring CPR was, and she was starting to get dizzy when Penelope’s door opened and the response team roared in. One of the paramedics gently pushed her out of the way and took over, and the other called for a crash team.
Louise knelt back on her heels, unable to stand, and panted. When the second paramedic was done with her call, Louise gasped, “Someone hacked her pacemaker.”
The paramedic doing CPR cursed, and the second paramedic spoke into her microphone again. The crash team arrived, and finally there were enough people that someone could help Louise to her feet and get her into a chair out of the way. Louise was relieved that no one asked how she knew it was a hacker.
“You did good work, Doctor,” the nurse said, checking Louise’s pulse while glancing at her medical record on her tablet. “I guess that Cognizoid stuff really worked well for you.”
“Yes,” Louise said. Now she had her breath back, she was having reaction shakes, which frustrated her because she was furious.
The crash lead said, “She’s stable. Get that gurney in here and these stupid steel things out of the way.”
Louise closed her eyes and breathed, “Oh, thank god.”
“It sounds like you did it, Doctor,” the nurse said, patting her hand kindly. “Still, you know these hacking situations. They’re going to have to replace her pacemaker immediately.”
“Yes,” Louise said, staring at the media screen, where the chat pane had been. “Yes, I remember.”
“Do you want me to walk you back to your flat?” the nurse asked. “It’s awfully late for you to be out and about.”
Louise stared at her for a long moment, knowing that the nurse wouldn’t let her refuse, and said, “Yes, thank you. But I’d like to stop in the bathroom first.”
“Of course.” The nurse hovered next to her on the short walk, and then Louise shut the door in her face.