Regina floors the gas pedal, but the man in the black car matches her speed and stays even with us. The green car is still following right behind us, so we can’t slam on the brakes and hope to make him overshoot; even if we didn’t end up getting rear-ended, we’d still be trapped in between the two cars afterward.
The driver next to us points the gun more precisely, no longer just waving it at us. His window begins to roll down, clearing his shot.
“What do I do?” shouts Regina, her hands locked in a death grip on the steering wheel.
“Bump him!” I say, having been able to get a much longer look into the car than Regina. “He’s got both hands off of the wheel right now.”
Regina shoots me a look of terror, but pulls the wheel to the left. The car veers, and there’s a jolt and a tinkling of glass as our headlights smash together. The black car swings wildly off to the side, and I can see the driver drop his gun as he scrambles to get it back under control. There’s a sound of metal tearing as he sideswipes a parked car, and I see what looks like a sideview mirror tumbling in the street behind us before it’s crushed by the green car.
Regina’s hyperventilating, which is more than reasonable in the circumstances, but she’s still speeding along and that’s the important thing. I dig my phone out of my pocket to call 911. After a brief pause, they pick up.
“911. Police, fire or ambulance?”
“Um — police. Police!”
“What is your emergency?”
“We’re on the road and someone is trying to kill us! He’s got a gun and he’s ramming us with his car!” Technically, we rammed him, but I don’t feel bad about stretching the truth here. I think we really just beat him to the punch.
“Okay, sir, where are you?”
“I have no idea! We’re on some side street. The road signs are going by kind of fast! Can’t you get this from my cell phone?”
There’s the roaring of an engine as the black car surges up beside us again. The driver, now with one hand on the wheel, has his window down and the gun pointed at us. “Regina, hit the brakes!” I yell, and she does just as the gun goes off. Her window and mine both shatter as the bullet whizzes through the car, and then we’re rocked from behind as the green car tailing us slams into our rear end.
“Go, go, go!” I shout unnecessarily, as Regina is already standing on the gas again.
“Sir, are you all right? Can you tell me what’s happening?” says my phone.
“A man is shooting at us with his gun, and we just got rammed again! No, we’re not all right! Regina, see if you can get back to the main streets. They might back off there.”
The 911 operator sounds alarmed. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea! Going to the main streets may just escalate the situation.”
“It’s feeling pretty escalated right now!” I shout, crashing against Regina as she swings the car in a hard right in an attempt to shake our pursuers. The green car has a cloud of something, smoke or steam, coming up from its hood, and is starting to fall behind, but the black car is still with us, with the driver trying to line up for another shot. Regina’s feinted at him a couple more times, trying to knock into him, but he’s dodged or fallen back each time.
The 911 operator has gone silent, and when I hold it up to see if the call was disconnected, I see that my phone is off. I mash the power button, but nothing happens. I start to flip the phone over to check the battery, and it briefly sticks to my hand before pulling free. Abruptly, I comprehend what’s happened.
The trigger for my magnetism is any sort of high emotion, like frustration or anger. Since that particular power got switched off, it takes a concentrated effort to make things even slightly magnetic — but apparently the current situation ramped things up enough that I’ve magnetized my phone, which is completely screwing with its circuits. It’s not going to work again until I can calm back down and demagnetize it.
Even as I’m realizing this, the back window shatters. The driver of the black car, tired of Regina’s attempts to run him off of the road, has gone for the less precise but easier technique of simply firing at us from behind. My heart is thudding in my chest and I can feel my blood pulsing in my head, so calming down to fix my phone is really not going to be an option right now.
The green car is nowhere in sight now. Regina throws our car into another sharp turn to lose the black car, and it buys us a few seconds of lead time. Suddenly, an idea comes to me.
“Regina, hit a few more turns like that one, buy us a little distance. Then hit the brakes and let me out.”
“What? No! He has a gun!”
“No, it’s okay, I have a plan. Make sure he’s far enough away that he can’t just shoot me immediately, then let me out and drive off, like a block away. He’s after me, not you, so he’ll come after me. You call the police and tell them where we are, and I’ll stop this guy.”
Even through her terror, I can see doubt on Regina’s face, but she slaloms into another turn. As the black car fishtails to make the corner, I shout, “Now now now!” and Regina stomps on the brakes, throwing us both forward.
I’m scrabbling for the handle even as I unbuckle, because the black car is coming up fast. Regina starts to accelerate before I’m fully out of the car, and my intended run for cover turns into a graceless tumble instead. I fetch up against the bumper of a parked car a split-second later and duck behind it as the black car screeches to a halt next to me.
“Dan! You thief!” the driver hollers, bounding from his car.
“I don’t even know you!” I shout. Not that I expect that to work, but I want him to know where I am without being able to see me to take a shot, so I’ve got to say something. And if it does somehow make him realize that this is crazy, then hey! We can end this right now.
No such luck, of course. A bullet zings off of the trunk of the car I’m hiding behind, and I reflexively duck further, banging my head into the side of the car. How many shots was that? Four? Five? How many shots does a gun hold, anyway? I think a standard clip is eight or ten, but it’s probably different based on the type of gun, and I have no idea what he’s got. He’s still got plenty of shots left, in any case.
“You’re going to pay, Dan! Ruiner! You can’t expect to just go around spoiling everyone’s hard work and get away with it!”
“Just stay over there and let’s talk about it!” I call, peering under the car to see his advance. He’s creeping forward cautiously, hoping to spring out at me and take me by surprise. I keep talking in the hopes that he’ll think I’m distracted.
“I haven’t done anything to you. These aren’t your thoughts!” I tell him. He’s at the far edge of the car now, trying to peer over the trunk. I crouch low to the ground and get ready to jump. “Just stay calm and put down the gun and we can –”
His hand holding the gun comes into view around the edge of the car, and I leap upwards at him, knocking his hand away from me and crashing into his chest. The gun fires once as I smack into him, and then we’ve both got both hands on it, wrestling for control. He’s still got his finger on the trigger and has the better grip, but hands wrapped tightly around the gun is exactly where I want him.
Focusing all of my thoughts on the gun, I shout, “Uuuuuppppp!” I don’t know if the driver even hears me through his incoherent shouting, but after a few seconds, he definitely feels the effects as I escalate the gun to a burning heat. It’s not a shadow of what I could do when the nanos were actually tuned to produce this effect, but even the residual is still enough to make the metal blisteringly hot, and the driver screams and tries to drop the gun.
I hold his hands in place for a few more seconds, still focused on raising the heat, but I lose my concentration when he headbutts me on the bridge of the nose. I reel back, and he drops the gun, shaking his injured hands. Before I’ve recovered, though, he’s on me again, throwing a wild haymaker at my head.
I turn into it, raising my arm, and take the punch on the left shoulder. Then I return a punch of my own, slamming it solidly into his chest and knocking him back into the parked car hard enough to break a window. Its alarm goes off, as if anyone on the street had not already been alerted by the squealing tires, gunshots and screaming.
He comes at me again, but working on the construction site, coupled with my residual superstrength, has left me able to throw a pretty hefty punch, and I hook one into his gut, leaving him winded. He doubles over, gasping, and I step behind him to put him in a chokehold, just like you see in the movies. I figure I’ll knock him out quickly this way, and then I just have to babysit an unconscious guy until the police get here.
So it’s a bit of a surprise to me when he punches me in the face, which is not a thing that they show happening in the movies. It’s not a great angle for him, but it still hurts, and try as I might I can’t find a place to hide my head from his pummeling. So after a second, I let go and slam a hammerblow into the back of his neck with both fists. It’s not elegant, but it drops him to his knees, where I kick him squarely in the stomach with my steel-toed construction boot.
That takes most of the fight out of him. The gun’s still a little too close to him for comfort, though, so I kick him in the ribs on the other side to roll him away from it. I probably could have just kicked the gun, but I don’t know what sets a gun off. And to be honest, I’m not feeling all that charitable towards this guy right now.
He’s lying facedown on the ground groaning, so I put a knee on his back to make sure he stays there. “Okay, buddy. You want to tell me what set you off today?”
“Screw you,” he manages, wheezing. “Trying to…blackmail our next mayor. Someone had to…take you out.”
Not like I didn’t know these were Tanger’s thoughts driving him, but this is more than just a passing idea picked up by an unstable mind. Tanger clearly sent this guy out, purpose-driven. He’s not accidentally infecting people; he’s targeting me.
Beneath me, the man starts to struggle, so I take his head in both hands and knock it against the sidewalk, not ungently. “Trust me, dude. Stay down.”
Down the block, a voice calls out from one of the houses, “I’ve called the police!”
“Good!” I shout back. “So have I!”
As I wait for the cops, I ponder my situation. It’s only getting worse as it goes. I can’t continue to sit here and wait for Tanger to lob victims at me. I’m going to have to take the fight to him somehow.