Wake and Marigold

Wakeley McPhee steps off the curb and into the gutter, narrowly avoiding being hit by a cybe on a chop board as it hovers past on the sidewalk. The cybe is fortunate that Wake only does violence as a vocation, and not as a hobby, or that chop board would be broken in two halves directly over the cybe’s head and shoved right up his exit port.

Wake steps back onto the sidewalk and continues on. It’s just before four in the afternoon on Irving Street, in the city of Two Francisco, in the state of Boomifornia, and Wakeley McPhee is aching to get his hands around the neck of flapjacking Sterling Ballantyne.

“Calm down, Wake,” Marigold sends into his Verpfeed. “The last thing you want to do is stroke out on the sidewalk.”

He grunts a response verbally, and an old Asian woman pulling a wheeled metal basket scowls at him as she passes in the opposite direction. In his V-feed, he sends to Marigold, “I am calm. Just irritated.”

“I know, honey. But it won’t do either of us any good if you blow a gasket.”

Wake doesn’t respond, but he really doesn’t have to. Marigold knows him inside and out. Literally, he supposes, now that she’s essentially living inside his head.

“Maybe your info was bad,” she sends.

“Maybe. I don’t know. Nobody is reliable, especially a snitch.” Maybe if he’d smacked Mercer around a little for real, instead of just the threat of a broken nose. Wake would be correcting course on that, when he ran Mercer down again. Which, he promised himself, would definitely be soon.

He sighed, checked the time on his Verpfeed, and grunted again.

“Let’s go home,” Marigold sends. “He’s not going to show. Mercer probably pinged him a clue.”

Wake reaches the end of the block, then turns around and starts doubling back. He’s been walking this same block for the past hour and a half, with nothing to show for it but a migraine chipping away at the back of his left eye. “Five more minutes,” he sends. “Then we’ll pull the plug for the day.”

“Good. We should stop at Ricci’s on the way. Get some pierogi for dinner.” Wake doesn’t say that Marigold can’t even eat them herself, but he doesn’t have to. “I just like to watch you eat,” she sends.

“Sure thing, if you’d like.”

Five more minutes crawl by, but still no Sterling. Wake grinds his teeth and wishes that Mercer was there to be pummeled. “Pulling the plug,” he sends.

“Unlock me,” Marigold prompts him. “We can walk to Ricci’s together.”

Now that he’s given up scanning the streets for Sterling’s flapjacking face, Wake’s optic augmentation is free for other things, namely Marigold. He sends the command to the augment, and Marigold appears suddenly on the sidewalk beside him. Only he can see her, of course, because she’s not really physically there, only projected onto the PeepSpecs in his eyes, but it’s enough for Wake. Besides, it’s not as though it’s actually Marigold anyway, not really. But the AI was trained on all the video he had of her, all the messages she’d sent him, and nearly fifteen years of her journals, so it’s close enough to her that he’s really got nothing to complain about.

Wake can’t bring the real Marigold back from the dead, but with the AI, he’s got the next best thing to her, and that’s good enough for him.

“Brood long enough,” she says to him, “and your face is going to stick like that.”

“I thought you liked my face.”

“I like it better when it isn’t telling me that you want to hit somebody.”

He tries to soften his expression, which is difficult since he has pummeling on the brain, but he manages it enough to satisfy her.

“Let’s go,” Marigold says. “I’m ready to be home.”

“With pierogi.”

“Obviously. You’re grouchy when you’re hungry.”

He holds his hand out to her, this ghost AI that only he can see, and she takes it. The VeerGlove he’s wearing simulates the feeling of her hand in his, and he gives it a squeeze. “I’m grouchy all the time,” he says.

Especially when there’s another copy of Marigold’s AI out there somewhere in Two Francisco.

Especially when Sterling Ballantyne is the one who has it.

Grouchy doesn’t begin to cover it.

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