Absence: Part 3

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It takes at least fifteen minutes of staring sightlessly into the deepening dusk before I’m finally back under control.  Calm and focused, I get back into the car and immediately panic when I see I have half a dozen texts and two missed calls from Regina.  Fortunately, panic doesn’t set off any of my residual powers, so I can work with that.

I grab for the phone, terrified of what I might see.  Visions of the kidnapper mailing us Brian’s fingers to show that he’s serious zip through my head in gory detail, so it’s a relief when the texts turn out to be much more mundane:

Peterson wants to talk to you
Come to the police station?
I told him I don’t know where you are
He basically flat-out called me a liar
Says you’re causing problems for him now that he’ll only find out about later
He’s on the ball

I sigh.  Nice to see that Regina is bonding with the police over making fun of me.  Though honestly, it is heartening to see a normal tone from her.  Peterson must have calmed her down a lot.  It’s good to have competent friends.

There’s a voicemail, too, but it’s just the same message: “Dan, hi.  Hope everything’s going well, um, wherever you are.  Peterson wants to talk to you.  Call me when you get this.”

I send a quick text:

on my way over
be there in 20
everything cool?

Then I fire off an email to the doc:

Got a number and an actual name from Dupont!  Guy’s actual last name is Amun.  Taking info to Peterson now.  See if you can find anything on him?

Then, putting the phone away, I start the car back up and swing around to head to the police station.

A few minutes down the road, my phone buzzes, but I conscientiously ignore it.  It’s not safe to drive distracted, after all, particularly if you’re me and people are regularly trying to kill you.  I get blindsided enough as it is.  The last thing I need is to have something taking my eyes off of the road.  Most people just have to worry about someone stopping suddenly in front of them, or maybe a deer jumping into the road.  I have to worry about people actually aiming for me.

Also, thanks to Tanger’s poisonous thoughts, a significant chunk of the police department still has a seriously negative impression of me.  So I try not to do anything that’s going to give them a reason to fine or harass me.  I drive the speed limit these days, is what I’m saying, and my phone stays in my pocket.

As I’m thinking these semi-sanctimonious thoughts, my phone buzzes again, and nervousness starts to overtake curiosity.  What if it’s important?  What if it’s my nemesis with some sort of ultimatum?  I’ll be at the station in ten minutes, but there are a lot of things that could be more time-sensitive than that.

When my phone buzzes a third time, I can’t take it anymore.  I reach a stoplight, look around for anything that seems dangerous, and pull out my phone for a quick look.  The preview screen shows me two messages from Regina and a reply email from the doc.  I can’t see any more than the subject line on that one, but Regina’s messages display fully:

okay
Sam says bring anything you have about nemesis

I shove my phone back in my pocket as the light turns green.  That could have waited after all, as it turns out.  All I have on the nemesis is some vague thoughts and the texts I got.  Those are on my phone, which I obviously have, or I couldn’t have gotten the text telling me to bring it.

Also: Sam?  Regina’s on a first-name basis with Peterson already?  Dude still calls me “Mr. Everton” 95% of the time, and I’ve known him for a year now.  Maybe he lets his guard down more around women.

Or maybe it’s just that she’s not regularly damaging his city.  Could be that, I suppose.

If it is, though, then that’s deeply unfair.  She flooded the whole place last year with that month-long storm.  If he’s forgiven her for that but is holding it against me, that’s — sexist?  Maybe just revisionist?  Some -ist that’s unfair to me, in any case.

It’s not like it was her fault, since the nanos twisted her mind and made her do it, but it’s not like it’s my fault, either.  I don’t cause these problems.  I’m just inextricably bound up in them.  I’m the real victim here.  Well, a real victim, at least.  I hope Peterson appreciates that.

I’m still feeling indignant and slightly sorry for myself when I pull up to the temporary police station at City Hall.  I’m about to walk in when I realize that I don’t know where Peterson is, and I don’t really want to just go ask whoever’s at the desk.  As I said earlier, I’m kind of persona non grata for a lot of the cops since Tanger’s nanos told them what a horrible person I am, so I’d just as soon stay off of their radar.

I should probably just bite the bullet and go inside, but I chicken out and call Peterson.

“Peterson.”

“Hey, I’m here.”

There’s a pause.  “Then come see me.”

“Yeah, um.  Can you come get me?  I’m, uh, not sure how popular I am here yet.  Does the, uh, desk sergeant, um, like me?”

I swear, I sound like a middle school girl about half the time when I’m talking to Peterson.

There’s another pause, then, “Come to the front.  I’ll come get you.”

I think this probably means that I was right, and whoever’s on duty was going to have a problem with me.  Then again, maybe it just means that Peterson doesn’t want to deal with my neurosis, and has decided that it’s easier to escort me back.

“And maybe he’ll ask you to the dance,” I mock myself as I head to the front doors.  I still don’t go inside until I can see Peterson through the glass, though.

Peterson walks me back to a cubicle-office where Regina is waiting.  She looks pretty composed, but when she sees me, she gives me a hug that’s longer and tighter than normal.  I return it, feeling slightly awkward but hoping it helps.

We sit down and I ask, “So I’m guessing you haven’t found anything concrete?”

“Nothing yet, although we’re checking for other properties owned by Rossum, to see if we can get a lead on his lab.  It would help if we knew this doctor’s actual name, of course, but we’re working without that.”

“Oh!  I have that now,  A last name, anyway.  It’s Dr. Amun.”

“Interesting.  How did you get that name, Mr. Everton?”

“I, um, talked to a guy that works for him.  I told him that he was in trouble for, um, medical malpractice, and he, uh, helped me out.”

Peterson’s stare could bore a hole through a sheet of iron, but all he says is, “I see.”

I have got to get better at lying.  None of that was even untrue, but I’m still sweating like Peterson’s busted me for drug-smuggling.  Thankfully, he moves on without pressing the issue.

“We’ll see if Amun shows up anywhere interesting.  In the mean time, I’d like to hear your speculation on the current nemesis.  What you know, what you think you know, and why you think you know it.”

“Okay, well: we know he’s got the same powers I do, molecular disintegration, because half of the stuff in Brian’s apartment was vaporized.  And he’s got to be someone who knows me or has been watching me, ’cause he knew to go after Brian to get to me.  Probably not a bad guy?  I mean, without the nanos.  Everyone else has just tried to kill me, or ruin me.  No offense, Regina.”

Regina shrugs uncomfortably.

I stumble on.  “I mean, I’m not saying you’re a bad person.  Just that this guy found a solution that — I mean, where you –”

There’s no good way out of this particular hole, so I just stop.  Neither Regina nor Peterson seem inclined to take over the conversation, though, so after a moment, I start again.

“Anyway, he wants this to stop, which I can agree with him on.  But we can’t leave Brian with him and hope for the best, because nanos make people crazy.  No offe– no, screw it.  Regina, I’m sorry and I’m gonna say stupid stuff here, but the nanos suck and they screw with your mind and none of this is an attack on you, so can I issue a blanket apology for anything that sounds like it might be related to you here and move on?”

Regina surprises me with a genuine laugh.  “Dan, you say stupid stuff pretty much constantly.  It’s okay.”

“Fine, I’ll take it.  Anyway, that’s basically it.  He’s a crazy person; the nanos pretty much guarantee that.  He’s trying to do the right thing, though, so he’s not a criminal or a politician.  And I’m gonna guess that he’s somewhere semi-remote, because this particular power is a little out of control even for me, and I don’t have homicidal thoughts raging in my head.  So if he’s looking to protect people — and I’m guessing he is, since he didn’t even come after me — he’ll be away from them.”

Peterson nods.  “Thank you.  Can I see your phone?  I’d like to read the texts from the kidnapper, to see if there are any clues in the style of speaking.”

“Sure thing,” I say, but as I’m getting my phone out to hand to Peterson, it buzzes with an incoming call from Doctor Simmons.  “Hang on, it’s the doc.  Let me get this.  Hello?”

“Dan!  Did you read my email?”

“No, sorry, I was driving.  What’s up?”

“Well, it’s not that important, but his name almost certainly isn’t Amun, either.”

“What?  Why not?”  Regina and Peterson are looking at me quizzically, so I put the phone on speaker and place it on Peterson’s desk.

“Amun was chief of the gods in ancient Egypt.  It fits his pattern of fake names.”

“Shoot.  I thought I had actual information there.  Well, he’s got a bank account in that name, at least, so it’s still something.  What made you think to look the name up, anyway?”

“I didn’t look it up; I just happened to know who Amun is.”

“You just happen to know the names of ancient gods?”

“I had a lot of hobbies growing up, Dan.  I didn’t always want to be a doctor.”

“So, what, for a while you wanted to be a mummy?”

Doc Simmons sighs.  “Look, the reason I’m calling is that I was looking over the skin and blood samples I took from Brian when he met Dr. A in the cafeteria.  And I found nanos in the blood sample.”

“Okay, so the dude was carrying them.  We knew that, though, right?”

“No, Dan.  Not in the skin sample.  In the blood sample.  Brian’s blood has nanos.”

Regina’s hands fly to her face in an almost comical expression of shock, and Peterson frowns.  “You’re saying that he’s been infected?” he asks.

“Probably that day in the hospital, yes,” says the doc.  “I think there’s a good chance that Brian’s the nemesis.”

“No way,” I say, shaking my head.  “No way.”

“Can I see those texts, please?” asks Peterson.

I hang up with the doc and open the text thread with Brian.  “Hang on,” I tell Peterson.  “Let me scroll back.  The last hundred or so were just ‘filth’ over and over.”

I’m scrolling back through when suddenly I freeze.  I never actually read these texts past the first few, and while most of them do just say “filth,” several have an extra word.  The part that’s arrested my attention looks like this:

Filth
Filth
Filth
Filth sand
Filth

It’s the exact same trouble Brian was having with getting the speech-to-text to understand that he wanted it to send.

I swallow hard as I pass the phone over to Peterson.  “Um.  So.  Yeah, I think the doc’s right.  And that sort of puts a new spin on things.”


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