“The Wick” by Julianna Baggott is a look into the future of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and Genetic Engineering that is both engrossing and disturbing. The narrative structure itself tells the reader right away that something unusual is going on here. The story is told from the first person point of view of a being we later come to know as Bukef. Bukef is a genetically engineered AI know as a Hull. Hulls are war machines that envelop and bond with soldiers, known as their Wicks, for life. Bukef’s narrative is related in the second person to a young woman named Roan. Roan knows nothing of her past except her name, as her memory has been erased.
The story begins as Roan wakes up in a glass box in a room full of girls in glass boxes on a space elevator. The space elevator is attacked and begins to come apart. Roon, Bukef and many others face certain death. During the attack, Bukef spontaneously saves Roon by taking her inside itself, and she becomes an unlikely wick. With Roon hiding inside of and fueling Bukef with her emotional and mental energies, they escape the wreck of the elevator.
The unlikely pair form an immediate symbiotic attachment; each drawn to something in the other that they understand. Bukef is able to sort through the energies it derives from Roan to recover pieces of Roon’s erased memories. She learns that she is a cacheme, a clone of a person grown as insurance should the original die. She’s being taken from her ravaged world to be repurposed on a space station. She wants to go back to her vaguely remembered home to learn why she has become disposable. The pair work together to evade capture and return Roan to that home.
Baggott’s choice of narrative structure brings a unique closeness with it and the reader quickly bonds with this unlikely pair. It is weird as the reader to realize you are identifying with beings who are so wildly different from humans today, and it really makes you think about what it means to be human and if all sentient creatures must share some kind of inherent bond regardless of their physical realities or how they came to be.