It’s funny. I wouldn’t call myself an optimist. And yet while I’m kneeling on this guy, waiting for the cops, I genuinely believe that the hard part of my day is over. All I have to do now is keep him down until they arrive to arrest him, give a statement, maybe answer a few questions and then it’s home for dinner. I pass the time by thinking about whether tonight should be a pizza night. By the time I hear the sirens, I’ve just about decided that it should be.
At first, it even looks like this is how things are going to work out. The cops show up, cuff the guy — who’s ranting about how I’m the menace, and I’m the one who should be in cuffs, of course — and ask me and Regina for our stories. Then they ask us to come back to the station to give official statements, which is a bit off-plan, but not much. I even know a good pizza place downtown that I rarely go to, so this is expanding my options.
Regina’s car is missing three windows, both taillights and a headlight; the back bumper is twisted and the driver’s side door won’t open. So it’s reasonable that we ride downtown in patrol cars. Even the fact that we’re in separate cars doesn’t bother me. They want to get our stories without us collaborating, so that makes sense. And everyone’s behaving in a calm and professional manner, which keeps me at my ease.
It’s not until we get to the “station” that my heart sinks. As the officer’s opening the door to let me out, I realize something that I should have thought about far sooner. The police station has been closed since I burned it down to stop Vince. I know full well that the new building isn’t ready yet; I’ve been working every day on the construction site to get it done. Their temporary housing is in the basement of City Hall. And with Tanger running for mayor, there’s no way that he hasn’t been down here regularly, glad-handing people and getting his thoughts all over everything.
If I’m very lucky, Tanger hasn’t had a chance to talk to the cops directly, and I’ll just have to deal with the low-level background distrust he puts out about me. That’s sort of a cop’s default operating mode anyway, so it won’t be all that bad. But frankly, I don’t feel all that lucky.
The officer leads me to an interview room, which is basically a large closet with no windows that smells like it was used to store damp cardboard for many years. There are two chairs, a table, a light, a camera up in one corner and not much else. I sit alone in one of the chairs for a few minutes before the door opens to admit a policeman carrying a notepad.
He takes the chair across from me and studies me for a moment. I try to decide if he’s been infected by Tanger’s opinion of me or not, but he’s got a great poker face and I can’t read anything from it. The silence stretches on awkwardly for a few seconds before he speaks.
“Okay, Dan Everton?” He makes it a question, and I nod. “I’m Sergeant Conroy. I’m here to get your statement about what happened today. Please speak clearly for the camera.”
I give him the basic rundown, leaving out things like why it happened and the fact that it wasn’t the first time today that someone tried to kill me. Those seem like the sorts of details that are likely to complicate matters rather than clear them up. I do tell him about the green car, though, since they’d probably like to talk to that driver, too. He nods and looks attentive during my story, and as I’m winding up, I’m starting to think that maybe my luck came through for me after all.
“And do you have any idea why you were attacked today?”
“Not really? He was yelling something about me blackmailing the mayor. I don’t know, it didn’t make a lot of sense. Maybe he had me confused with someone else.”
“Yes, certainly a possibility. Is that what you were doing when you burned down the police station?”
“W–what?” I stutter, taken totally off guard. Conroy leans forward over the table, suddenly on the attack.
“The police station fire, Mr. Everton, surely you remember that. Theoretically you almost died in there.”
“I remember it, but I didn’t do it! It was that guy, Vince D’ — Amano! I did almost die there!”
“Yeah? That’s interesting, because I have a dozen or so friends who also almost died there. They’ve all got scars to show for it — big burns on their arms and faces where the skin’s melted and the hair won’t grow back. One of them lost an eye. One’s still not back at work because the smoke inhalation scarred his lungs so badly that he’s still relearning how to breathe. And yet here you sit, fit as a fiddle.
“I believe you told the officer at the scene that you’re a construction worker? That wouldn’t happen to be at the site of the police station, would it? Very convenient.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean that you showed up at the station for reasons unknown, just before it burned down. Then you get a job working there, raking over the ashes. And now someone’s accusing you of being a blackmailer? It sounds to me like you were looking for something at the station. And maybe you found it. Maybe this guy isn’t on a crazy rant; maybe he just knows something that the rest of us haven’t figured out yet.”
“I saved people’s lives in that fire!” I protest.
“Sure, I’ve heard that you’re a hero. But how did the fire start, Mr. Everton? And why?”
I open my mouth, then close it again. There’s nothing I can say here. I did start the fire, but it was to stop Vince from turning the entire place into his clone army and overrunning the city with a one-man insurrection. There’s absolutely no way to explain that, though.
Conroy is still staring me down, a predator’s gaze. “I think we’ll keep you here for a while, Mr. Everton. Let you think about some things.”
“On what charge?”
“I’ll come up with something!” he roars, standing and slamming his forearms onto the table, and I flinch backwards. We’re in that tableau when the door to the interview room opens, revealing Officer Peterson in the hallway.
“Okay, AJ. Take a break,” he says evenly. Sergeant Conroy glares at me for a second longer, breathing heavily through his nose, then straightens up, turns and leaves the room, brushing past Peterson. Peterson watches him walk down the hallway before turning back to me.
“Everything okay, Mr. Everton?”
I let out a breath before replying. “I mean, yeah. I thought I was just here to talk about a guy who tried to run me off of the road and execute me in the street, though. I wasn’t ready to be put on trial.”
“Yes, about that. Let’s take a walk.”
I look at him quizzically, and he makes the slightest of motions with his head toward the camera in the corner. I’m not always quick on the uptake, but I can figure this one out; Peterson wants to talk about things involving my powers, and he’d just as soon not be on camera sounding like a crazy person. It took me a long time to trust him, but he not only helped with the official story on the police station fire, he even got me the construction job afterward. So I figure I can answer whatever question’s on his mind.
That question, asked soon after we enter the hall, turns out to be fairly broad: “Mr. Everton. What’s going on?”
“A lot. Can you narrow it down?”
“Don’t play stupid with me. There’s something wrong here. The department’s divided over you. It’s not just that some think you’re a hero and some don’t. Of those that don’t, a lot of them seem to full-on resent you lately. It wasn’t like that until recently. So what’s changed? And you know precisely what I mean by that, so please don’t dodge the question.”
“Ah, okay. So, this is going to sound paranoid, but I swear it’s the truth. You know Evan Tanger, the dude running for mayor? He’s the latest nanobot recipient. He can use them to spread his thoughts, to pass them on to other people. And like usual, he hates me. Furiously.”
“How do you know this?”
“I, um. Was at his office for a construction thing. Because he runs the company I work for. And I saw an email about it.”
Peterson gives me a dead stare. “Yes. What a reasonable story.”
“Anyway, he’s poisoning people’s minds against me. Some of it’s just background, but the guy today in the car was intentional. He’d been sent against me. So if Tanger’s been around here –”
“He has,” confirms Peterson.
“–then people are riding off of his residual distrust, at the very least.”
“Then why do some people here still think you’re a hero?”
“It’s not mind control. It’s just a new thought you get. Like, if you thought, ‘Hey, I’d like some ice cream,’ you might also think ‘but I’m full,’ or ‘I’m lactose intolerant.’ So it doesn’t overwrite whatever you already thought, and if it’s incompatible with what you already believe, you can ignore it.
“So anyone here with a strongly positive opinion of me is probably going to keep that, at least until it gets worn down. But anyone without those thoughts will just accept the ‘Dan is terrible’ ones, because they’ve got nothing to contradict it.”
We walk in silence for a moment. Then Peterson asks, “Do you have any evidence of this?”
“Yeah, Tanger isn’t a random victim like the rest of us have been. He was emailing with a guy, a scientist. He got the nanos implanted intentionally.”
“You certainly got a very thorough glance at this email, Mr. Everton. Let me say for no reason at all that stolen data is unlikely to be admissible in any sort of court case. And so I repeat the question: do you have any evidence?”
“Okay.” We walk in silence for another minute. Peterson leads me back to the front of the temporary station and signs me out. Regina is waiting for me at the front.
As I leave, Peterson says, “Mr. Everton. Please keep me in the loop on this.” I hear both the promise: so I can help you — and the threat: or I’ll put you in jail. It’s a very efficient sentence.
Outside, Regina asks, “So what now?”
I sigh as I pull out my phone. “I need to demagnetize this and recharge it, and then I’ve got some feathers to ruffle. You up for pizza?”