I’m sitting at my desk, counting the hours like normal, but they’re passing even more slowly than usual. At first, I figure that maybe I’m just keyed up over last night, but it’s got to be more than that; the seconds are actually passing slower than usual. I mean, obviously they’re still moving at the rate of one second per second, but I’ve got more time to think during each one, and how else do you measure time? Time is what you’ve got to live in; if you can live faster, it’s the same as time going slower. Those little details that I’d been noticing all day – the misspelled sign, the twitch in Edgar’s eye – I’m seeing those sorts of minor things all around me now, in the quiet of the museum. I can tell where the drafts are coming from by watching the dust patterns in the low glow of the nighttime lighting in the lobby. On my rounds, I see every handprint smear that the janitors missed, every uneven bit of wear on the floorboards. I run some calculations in my head as I finish the rounds, figuring out the difference in height of the wood at the edges of the room, where few people walk, and the center, which gets the most traffic; I crunch that number against the thickness of the planks, make an estimate as to how thin the wood could get before it would crack, and come up with the approximate number of years until the museum will need to replace the flooring. All of this takes me about eighteen seconds, and as I mentioned, I’m not a college guy.
This is obviously unnatural, so I devote some of my new hyperprocessing power to figuring out what’s causing it. Result: insufficient data. I come up with a number of entertaining screwball theories, ranging from last night’s impact trauma having caused rewiring of some mental pathways, to some sort of gas leak in the museum interacting with the preservatives in the microwaved food I’d had for breakfast, to a sinister hospital plot involving a secret cabal of doctors injecting unwitting patients with strange drugs. None have the slightest evidence to support them, but this makes them no less fun to construct.
Back at my half-a-desk, I realize I’ve never been bored before in my life. I’ve often thought I was, but those moments were sheer joy compared to the utter soul-sucking endless seconds I’m suffering through now. When I was walking around, at least there were new stimuli; now, sitting still, there’s nothing but what’s in front of me, and I can only amuse myself counting the number of identical tiles in the marble floor for so long.
I make it through my first half-dozen rounds before I can’t take it anymore. I’ve come up with plans to improve the efficiency of the floor plan of the museum, some of which use existing doorways, and some which call for restructuring walls to allow new doors to be placed in superior positions. I’ve analyzed the issues in my own life, addressing the fears of failure that have allowed me to settle into a dead-end job like this for the better part of a decade, and I have admitted that the main reason I dislike Edgar is that I’m certain I’m going to be him in twenty years – and also that, if I continue to change nothing, this is an entirely rational belief. I’ve balanced my budget in my head, come up with excellent suggestions to help the country balance its budget as well, and have made pretty good strides towards peace in the Middle East. And as I sit down at my desk and contemplate the same still life with monitors in front of me, I absolutely have to do something else right then.
I’ve got twenty minutes until my next rounds; even on the crutches, it won’t take me more than five minutes to get to the parking lot. Allowing for five minutes back as well gives me ten minutes to try out the idea I had earlier: driving the car with my left foot. And if you think that sounds like an idea that’s too dumb for someone of my suddenly elevated intellectual caliber, then you’ve clearly never met a really smart guy. The smartest people I know have done some of the dumbest stuff I can think of, just because they were creative enough to think up really stupid ways to get themselves into trouble.
I figure I’m seeing everything around me, totally aware of my surroundings, making sense of it all, and it’s a mostly empty parking lot: what can go wrong? So I maneuver myself out to the car, throw the crutches in the backseat, and climb in through the passenger’s door in the front. I manage not to clock my head on the rearview mirror as I shuffle my left leg over the shifter, which is already an accomplishment. I get as comfortable as I can on the armrest between the seats, make sure I can reach both pedals, and start the car up. At six feet tall, I’m a little hunched up under the ceiling, but it’s not too bad; I wouldn’t want to take a long car ride like this, but I could manage to and from work if I had to.
I start out slowly, getting adjusted to the unusual angle, and to the tendency to support my weight with my left foot, which of course makes it hard to shift quickly between the pedals. Even in an empty parking lot, that seems like a bad habit to fall into. I’ve only got ten minutes for this, though, and even with my perception working overtime, the seconds aren’t creeping by anymore. As they say, time flies when you’re having fun.
Pretty soon I’m doing doughnuts in the parking lot, whooping like a maniac and enjoying the heck out of myself. I’m just creeping up on thirty miles an hour when there’s a godawful bang, the car lurches and makes a metal-tearing sound, and my head ricochets off of the rearview mirror. My first thought is that I’ve hit something invisible, because I was looking straight through the windshield when it happened, and there was nothing there. Microseconds later, the details drop into place. My head went forward; that means something stopped the car briefly. The tearing noise came from behind me, so the back of the car hit something the front didn’t. Therefore, either something burrowed up, or something jumped down.
These thoughts flash through as concepts; they’re not even in words yet before I’m looking in the rearview mirror, where I see the crazy guy from last night rolling to his feet and waving a polearm at me. That’s my immediate impression, which quickly corrects itself in two particulars. First, this isn’t the guy from last night; he’s got the same sort of matted hair sticking out all over, but it’s a different color, and the guy is taller, probably close to my height. Second, it’s not a polearm; it’s the back bumper of my car, which he’s just torn off.
It looks like the guy jumped down from the brick wall surrounding this edge of the parking lot, trying to land on my car, but missed and just got the bumper. Despite having ripped it off with his bare hands, and been sent tumbling by the car, he’s already running at me and swinging it like an enormous bat. He’s got a decent shot at catching me, too; I instinctively stood on the brakes when all this started to happen, and he’s making the most of my reduced speed. I jam on the gas immediately and start to leave him behind, but I can see I’ve got a problem. I’m going to run out of parking lot pretty quickly, and he can cut diagonally and narrow the distance between us. One good hit with the bumper could take out both headlights of the car, and the lighting isn’t good enough for me to be comfortable driving fast enough to avoid him using only the parking lot lights for illumination.
So just like last night, I’ve been ambushed at work by some sort of testosterone-boosted mutant. Unlike last night, I’ve got a busted foot, and no superstrength, as far as I know. I spare a second to try to tear the glove compartment door off – it’ll cause the least structural damage to the car in case I have gotten strong again and haven’t noticed – but it stays firmly in place.
Okay, so those are my disadvantages: surprised, hobbled, outmuscled. What do I have going for me? Speed, as long as I stay in the car, and brains. The speed’s taking care of itself for the time being, so it’s time to engage the brains.