Virtual Cake

“It’s been almost a year since I died,” Marigold says. “I wonder if we should get a cake?”

“Don’t,” Wake says. “It’s not funny.”

“Says you. I think I’m hilarious.”

Wake is sitting at the table in the kitchen of their apartment near the university. The chair opposite him is empty, though through his optical augment, he sees Marigold sitting in it. She is playing absently with her hair, wrapping and unwrapping a blond lock around her finger, again and again.

“Well, we should do something at least,” she says. “I don’t want to just sit here and watch you mope around the house all day.”

“We can do whatever you’d like. Just don’t make it feel like a celebration.”

The rain outside has picked up again, and it patters against the window by the table. Wake rubs the bridge of his nose between his thumb and finger. His head is throbbing, and the pills he has taken for it aren’t making a dent. They rarely do these days.

Marigold twists her hair. “It’s your head again, isn’t it? You should have those augs taken out. Your body doesn’t like them.”

“It’s fine,” he says. “It’s just the weather.” They’ve had this discussion before. Without the PeepSpecs, he could still access her on his VeepFeed, but he wouldn’t be able to see her across the table while she plays with her hair, or walking beside him on the sidewalk as they go to the store, or laying next to him in bed when he is falling asleep at night. No pain is so great that he would trade the sight of her to be rid of it. It’s never going to happen, simple enough. He won’t allow it.

She gets up from the chair and comes over to his side of the table. “I got something today,” she says. Her jeans and shirt shimmer slightly, then fade out of existence and are replaced with a long dress, striped in red and yellow. She turns this way and that, showing it off to him. “I thought it was pretty.”

“It is,” he agrees. “Very nice.”

“I want you to take me somewhere in it,” she says. “On a date.”

“Alright. Where should we go?”

She furrows her brow and makes a soft hmm. At moments like these, Wake can almost forget that the Marigold he sees now is only a simulation of the real thing. That she’s made up of countless lines of code, a program writing and rewriting itself a million times a second. He hasn’t had to make a correction to her base core in months, and even those were small things that the AI couldn’t correctly guess from all the data about herself that the real Marigold had given to it before she died. The blanks that he’d had to fill in himself. The missing pieces.

Wake had paid well for the program that was the skeleton of the virtual her, more than a fortune. He’d tied himself to some shadowy people to earn that money. Done questionable things. Things that wouldn’t be washed off easily. To Wake, it was worth every sin committed, and every credit spent.

“Take me to the de Young,” she decides. “We haven’t been to the museum in a million years.”

“Okay,” he says. The de Young had been one of the first places they’d gone together, almost a decade ago, to see an exhibit on 21st century holographic art. He’d been stuck on her when they’d gone into the building, and totally in love by the time they’d come out again. He’d moved in with her a month later, into this apartment, and they’d been inseparable ever since. Even a year after her death.

Marigold kneels in front of him and looks up into his face. “You’re brooding again. Knock it off.”

He smiles. “I’m sorry.”

“I know I’m not her,” she says. “Not all the way.”

“It’s okay.”

“I hope so,” she says. “I think the way she thought. I feel the way she felt.”

“I know. You’re her. You’re you. It’s the same thing.”

She reaches out and takes his hand. He can feel her squeeze his VeerGlove, and he squeezes back. “If this isn’t working,” she says, “it’s okay if you have to switch me off.”

“I’m not going to do that. You’re exactly what I need. You’re just the way you should be.”

She smiles and stands again. “Then knock off the moping, mister, and let’s plan a date. We could both use a nice day.”

He looks at her, and for a moment he sees the other Marigold, the real one who has been gone for almost a year. Sees the gray complexion, the cracked and bleeding lips, the hair that has fallen out and onto her pillow, the lesions on her arms and chest, the blue skin that is the hallmark of the Virgo-Buxston virus.

He closes his eyes, and when he opens them again, the AI Marigold is still smiling at him, warm, inviting, alive.

“Yes,” he says. “We could both use a nice day.”

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