Absence: Part 4

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Peterson scans quickly through the texts.  “All right.  I have two men I can put on patrol tonight, and should be able to devote four more tomorrow during the day.  We’ll start checking likely locations –”

“You can just pull people off of what they’re working on?” I ask.  I don’t mean to interrupt, but it slips out.  “I mean, obviously I’m grateful, but I didn’t think you had that kind of clout.”

Peterson fixes me with a stare that I can’t interpret.  “Yes, I can.  Lately, it seems I’m the head of the special force in charge of keeping you out of the trouble and out of the news.”

“That hasn’t –” I start to say, but Regina elbows me hard.  “Ow!  Ow,” I add, looking at her reproachfully as I rub my side.

“Thank you for your help,” she says, looking at Peterson.  “I really appreciate it.”

“No, obviously thank you, but,” I say, “I’m not sure this is a good idea.”

Regina glares at me.  “How can you say that?” she hisses.  “He’s hiding to protect you, and you don’t want to even go find him?”

“Obviously I want to find him!”  I’m saying “obviously” a lot in this conversation, which I think means I’m not getting my points across very well.  I take a deep breath and attempt to explain myself better.

“Okay, look.  There are two reasons why I think sending random dudes out to look for Brian isn’t a great idea.  One: they’re probably not going to find him.  Two guys at night with the instructions to ‘look where people aren’t’?  That’s not a recipe for success.

“Two: if they do find him, then what?  He’s mentally unstable and unbelievably dangerous.  If they startle him, if he gets the drop on them, if he doesn’t understand that they’re trying to help him…if any of a thousand things go wrong, they die horribly.  While also vanishing completely, so we don’t even learn anything from their deaths, in case either of you were about to try to justify that horrible math.”

“You think he would kill them?” asks Peterson.

“Not on purpose, maybe, but yeah, absolutely.  This one’s ugly, and there aren’t any takebacks on it.  Look, give me that piece of paper there.  You don’t need this for anything, right?”

Peterson shakes his head, and I ball up the paper and place it on his desk.  Then, focusing my loathing, I tap it with the tip of my finger.  As if caught in an invisible fire, the edges curl and vanish, and within seconds the entire thing has been reduced down to the now-familiar pile of dust.

“So that’s the base form of this power,” I say.  “You touch something, and the nanos eat it completely.  All of its constituent parts, as fast as they can chew through them.  It’s possible that he’s gotten more control of the power, in which case it only eats holes through anything he touches, instead of devouring the entire thing.  But when it comes to people, that’s really not much of a reassurance.”

“Hm,” says Peterson.  “I don’t suppose that body armor would be of any help?”

“No, the type of material doesn’t seem to matter, just the quantity of it.  I suppose dressing in layers might work.  I don’t know if he’d have to affect them one at a time, but at least if you saw your outer jacket dissolving, you could try to pull it off before the nanos spread to the layer underneath.”

I think again about the shrieking rat and about how the spattered blood was the only thing left, and feel nauseated again.

To my left, Regina has gone quiet.  I glance over to see tears quietly slipping out of her eyes as she stares fixedly at the ceiling.

“Hey, it’s gonna be all right,” I say, uncertain what to do.  “We’re gonna find him, and fix this.”

“How?” she asks.  “Like you fixed it with me?”

I wince.  When Regina had active nanos in her, our interaction culminated in a knock-down, drag-out fight which left the atrium of a museum destroyed, both of us in the hospital, and her so magnetized that she couldn’t get within a foot of any electronics without breaking them.  She lost her job, lost her house and ended up living in her car, which was just old enough that none of its computerized parts were vital to its basic functions.

It was months before she was able to track me down and beg me to reverse what I’d done.  Fortunately, I was able to, but that was a significantly less destructive power.  With matter-destroying nanos, anything I do to Brian is likely to be far less reversible.

“No, hey, he’s gonna be fine,” I say.  “We’ve just gotta figure out how to get to him.  I’m not saying we’re going to leave him out there.  I just don’t think sending unknown guys with guns at night is the right idea.  We’ll get him back.”

“How?” Regina asks again, and I stop to consider before replying.

“Okay.  I think we stick with the original plan with the police — if that’s okay by you?” I ask, glancing at Peterson.  He nods, and I continue.  “So you guys are going to run searches on Rossum Medical Supply, Dr. Amun and whatever other proper nouns we’ve got tied to this guy.  See if we can find some more property, a money trail to follow, anything.  I’ll give you the phone number that Dupont gave me, too, in case that goes anywhere.”

“Some of the records are going to have to wait until tomorrow when people are in the offices again, but a lot of it is digitized these days, so we’ll get started on that tonight,” says Peterson.  “However, I can’t help but notice that your plan seems to leave you free to go cause problems.”

“To go solve problems,” I protest.  “Regina and I will go look for Brian, which is an extremely reasonable and legal thing for friends to do.  And is less likely to result in death or property damage than any other method of finding him.  Unless you have a better idea?”

Peterson’s lips tighten, but I can’t tell if he’s holding back a scowl or a smile.  “I will make only one request, Mr. Everton.  Please do not make my job any harder than it already is.”

“You say that like I usually mean to make your life difficult.”

“No, Mr. Everton.  I say it like you usually don’t mean to, and do it anyway.”

I spread my hands in an apologetic gesture.  “I’ll…try not to?”

Peterson shrugs.  “Thank you.”

Regina and I walk out of the temporary police headquarters together in silence.  In the parking lot, she finally speaks.

“So where do we go from here?”

“Well,” I say, “I’m not totally sure.  I was hoping you might have some idea of where he is.”

She shakes her head miserably, and I hasten to reassure her.  “That’s fine!  We’ll come up with some possibilities.  In the mean time, I want to go to the hospital.  The doc’s still there, and I have an idea she can help us out with.”


“Absolutely not,” says Doc Simmons.

“What?  Why not?” I demand.  The doc laughs in surprise.

“Why won’t I just give you some sedatives?  It’s against the rules, it’s against my judgment, and it’s against common sense,” says the doc, ticking the reasons off on her fingers.

“But we need them to get Brian back!”

“Even granting the validity of that statement, which I do not, what exactly is your plan for using them?”

“Well, um,” I say, having not actually gotten that far in the process, “I figured I’d just inject him.  But I guess maybe if he saw the needle coming, he could dissolve it.  Do you have like a trank gun?”

Simmons laughs again.  “Yes, Dan.  I have a tranquilizer gun in my laboratory, for all of those times that an experiment gets loose and I have to hunt it down in the air ducts.”

“Fine, but can you –”

“No.  The hospital does not have a trank gun.  It is not the sort of thing we would ever need or use.”

“Okay, okay.  Um, how big are syringes?  In diameter, I mean?”

“Dan.  I will give you the sedatives you want right now –” My excitement must be evident on my face, because the doc lifts an admonishing finger “– if you can tell me, honestly, that you are not currently thinking of making a blowgun.”

“I, ah.  Might have been,” I admit.

“This is why my answer is no,” says Simmons.  “If you give chemicals to untrained idiots, you end up with untrained idiots full of chemicals.  And you have no one to blame but yourself.”

“How much training can it possibly take to stick a syringe in someone?” I protest.  The doc’s cold stare stops me in my tracks.

“You don’t even know how much you don’t know.  No.  I will under no circumstances send you out with a load of sedatives, a lack of a plan and a deathwish,” says the doc, unlocking a cabinet and removing several boxes and bottles.

“Then what are you doing?” I ask in confusion, as she begins placing supplies into a messenger bag.

“I happen to like Brian.  He’s a good worker, he’s intelligent, and I’d like to see him back unharmed.  So I’m coming with you.”

“But we don’t even know where we’re going yet!”

“Actually,” says Regina, “I think I have an idea.  I thought of someplace.”


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