413 29 27

I stretch out on a gentle slope of Sharon Meadow, my favorite lightly-discovered nook of Golden Gate Park, and rub clear my eyes. The temperature is a non-climate-controlled seventy-one degrees, the sun shining its best behind layers of cottony clouds.

I've been coding three hours straight and badly need banh mi.

A girl, five or six years old, keeps cutting her eyes between me and the sky.

"Is that thingie, um, yours?" she asks, pointing shyly. "Are you controlling it?"

Her mother, who wears one younger brother in a sling and was disciplining another some distance away, takes a step to discourage the girl. I wave to her that it's cool.

"Sort of," I say, tilting my laptop screen so the girl can see. "Right now she's controlling herself—making her own decisions about how high or fast or where to fly. But I did make her brains."

The girl recoils, probably imagining me manipulating squishy gray goop. "How do you do that?"

"Well," I say, "it takes a lot of work. A lot of determination. You have to go to school and study." I tap my forehead, then immediately wonder when the concept of corniness enters a child's awareness. "This brain I actually made a long time ago. It's an amazing brain. I didn't want to lose it."

Together we watch Wren traipse through the air, flirting with leafy willow branches, dodging Monterey pine needles. She has a more aerodynamic look than Raven—minus the repurposed arcade claw, plus a parabolic silver chassis. The waterproofing (I'm anticipating more outside use) has also shaved down several of Raven's pricklier edges.

When a real bird approaches, a splashy male cardinal, Wren appropriately rises to let him pass underneath.

The move is encouraging. I've been worrying about her paths, which can feel jerky compared to her mom's—twin sister's?—but that looked well smoothed. The algorithms are byte-for-byte identical; possibly I invented the deficiency in my head.

Preoccupied with the girl and drone, I don't notice Cecil's approach until he is standing right behind me.

"Lil Deb."

His deep voice spins me around.

"Look at you, healing up," he says. "I do believe the new office digs suit you better."

The girl leans to one side, peering around me to Cecil. Her eyes hitch on his cart, parked between bushes.

"Now I keep lollipops in there," he says. "But only for girls who been nice to their little brothers."

Her face is frozen for a moment until Cecil's breaks wide in a grin. She grins too. He glances to the mother with a question in his eyes. When she gives a nod of assent, he pulls a goofy-relieved face to the girl and heads for the cart.

Once the sucker is delivered, we sit in the grass and chat. Cecil catches me up on the giant Obama he and a friend are wheatpasting onto an I-80 overpass. I tell him what a difference it's made seeing Mom twice a day, how Crestwood Psychiatric has cut her dosages by two-thirds.

"They cut the dose," Cecil says, "or you made them cut the dose?"

"Made. They just raised their fees so they're feeling especially accommodating."

He drums his fingers over his broad belly. "You okay on cash, them raising fees?"

"Pshaw." I brush off his concern, then think twice—what am I, Miss Moneybags?—before remembering who I am talking to. Cecil has known me since I was making rain catchers out of milk jugs. "I'm still suckling at the Codewise teat. Susan gives me little contract stuff. Last week, I had to teach my old dragonfly friends a few hand signals."

Blackquest 40Read this story for FREE!