Next thing I know, Regina is shaking me awake. “Dan. Dan? Get up.”
A dream falls away as I open my eyes. I try to hang onto it, but the only pieces I retain are a sense of paranoia and that every S on every sign was backwards. I swat at Regina’s hand groggily, only to be met with a hollow plastic thunk. I struggle for focus and realize that she’s been poking me awake with an empty two-liter bottle.
“Whum?” I mutter, sitting up and running one hand through my hair.
“Sam called. Peterson. He says to come down to City Hall. I think he’s found important stuff about Dr. A, though he wouldn’t get specific over the phone.”
“Why not? This is the twenty-first century. I shouldn’t have to drive to go see someone in person just to get information,” I complain, standing up from the couch and stretching the kinks out of my back.
“Maybe he thinks Dr. A has your phone tapped.”
“For all we know, Dr. A has my me tapped. I’m filled with a trillion of this guy’s tiny robots. I don’t think we can beat him at the technology game.”
“Okay, so I don’t know what his reasons are. We can ask him when we get there. Are you ready to go?”
I look down at myself. “Yeah, lemme go change and hose off in the shower real quick.”
“You look fine. Let’s just go!”
“Chill! I’ll make it quick, but I am changing and showering. I have like a hundred bandages to change, so I might as well rinse everything clean, too.” A thought strikes me. “Hey, speaking of, how’s your head?”
“The headache’s died down since I took a handful of aspirin, but you can see the knot for yourself,” Regina says, pointing to her right temple. A purple-and-blue lump almost half the size of my fist is raised there, and she’s got a black eye forming on that side as well. “I looked in the mirror and my pupils looked like they were the same size, though, so I don’t think I have a concussion.”
“That’s your considered medical opinion, is it?”
“Shut up and go take your shower, Dan!” Regina says, thwacking me in the arm with the plastic bottle. I retreat upstairs, hands held up in mock surrender.
There turns out to be no good way to wash eaten-away skin in a shower. I end up standing back out of the spray and gently dabbing at the wounds with an increasingly bloody washcloth, rinsing that off whenever it starts to simply be moving blood around instead of cleaning it up. That said, all of the blood appears to be old and dried; my cuts are healing with extreme rapidity. I’d been a little concerned that the nanos wouldn’t be able to deal with the broad disintegration damage, but the remnant of my super-healing is doing the job just fine.
Even so, they could stand to work a little faster. I taste soap while I’m washing dust and grit out of my hair, and realize that a trickle of shampoo has slid into my mouth through the hole in my cheek. I spit it out, which makes my cheek throb, and when I put my hand on my cheekbone to relieve the pressure, more shampoo slips in. I grimace and rinse my tongue off under the water.
Drying off basically doesn’t happen. I pat myself gingerly with the towel before sitting down to apply nearly an entire box of bandages to various parts of my body. It’s a painful process, but all told it probably isn’t twenty minutes before I’m back in the kitchen in fresh bandages and gauze, wearing clean clothes and ready to go.
“Finally!” says Regina, who has no appreciation for the process I’ve just gone through. “Ready to go?”
“Yeah, lemme just find my sho– right. My other shoes.” I’ve instinctively gone looking for my steel-toed boots, which are obviously not by the front door, or in fact anywhere. I dig around in the hall closet and fish out a pair of sneakers. “Let’s roll.”
“You okay to drive?” asks Regina as we get into the car.
“Yeah, I’m feeling a lot better. Especially since our option is you, Ms. Head Trauma.”
“I told you, it’s fine. I looked up the symptoms. No tiredness, no dizziness, no slurred speech, no erratic behavior.”
“None?” I ask teasingly. “You woke me up by poking me with a soda bottle. What was that about?”
To my surprise, Regina looks embarrassed. “I wasn’t sure it was safe to touch you bare-handed. I didn’t know how waking you up was going to go, and I didn’t really want to get dissolved. I mean, I know you wouldn’t have done anything like that on purpose, obviously, but people wake up weirdly sometimes, and I just figured it was better to play it safe.”
“Hey, it’s cool,” I say soothingly. “I get it. No offense taken.”
We ride in silence for a little while, and to break it, I ask, “Have you heard anything about Brian?”
Regina nods. “The doc sent an email. You should have it, too. Basically just says that she’s got him set up at the hospital, and that she’s keeping him drugged out until the initial effects of the Prozac can kick in. He’s fine, he’s peaceful and he’s not dissolving anything.”
“Good, great,” I say, and that’s the last of our conversation until we get to City Hall. We park next to Regina’s car and head inside to find Peterson. I let Regina do the talking at the front desk and do my best to look inoffensive. The guy on desk duty doesn’t seem to do more than glance over me once, so maybe the effects of Tanger’s poisonous thoughts are finally wearing off. Or maybe he’s just new here.
We’re escorted back to Peterson’s office area, where he looks somehow even less happy to see me than usual. He waves to the chairs and we sit down. Peterson leans forward, folding one hand over the fist of the other, and stares me in the eye.
“Mr. Everton. I want your solemn promise that you will work with the police on this.”
“On what? I mean, absolutely, but on what?”
“Rossum Medical Supply owns a number of properties around town. Five, to be specific, including the Rossum storefront you’ve been to.”
I practically jump out of my chair. “Okay, awesome! Let’s go!”
Peterson motions to the chair, a look of mild disappointment on his face. “Stick with me on this, please. First of all: we do not have warrants, or any way of obtaining them whatsoever. ‘My friend’s superpowers drove him crazy’ is a tabloid headline, not a convincing argument for a judge.
“Second of all: we do not have the manpower to go check out more than one place at a time. And going to any one of them might alert your Dr. Amun that we’re on to him.”
“Oh, so you do think he’s tracking me?” I ask.
Peterson looks surprised. “Actually, I meant that an employee at any one of them might call him after we’d stopped by.”
“Oh. Sure, yeah.”
“Regardless,” Peterson resumes, “the point is that we can’t just pick one at random and go to it. We need to do some reconnaissance, online and in person, to figure out the best order, the best time and the best method to go and gather information.
“Once we’ve learned as much as we can, we’ll try to narrow down which one is most likely to yield a cause for a warrant. Part of the problem is that a lot of what he’s doing here probably isn’t visibly illegal. But if we can find zoning infractions, mishandled animals, anything — even neighbor complaints of loud noises — we can parlay that into taking a look around. Possibly he’ll tip his hand, or maybe we’ll get very lucky and we’ll find something solid to pin on him.”
“All right, sounds like a plan,” I say. “So when are we doing this?”
“We’re aiming for tomorrow,” says Peterson.
“Tomorrow?” I yelp. Beside me, Regina makes a startled sound as well.
Peterson sighs. “As much as I would love to yell ‘Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!’, that is not the way things actually get done. We’ll finish doing our research today, get the broad overview and go in tomorrow.”
“So what are we supposed to do today?”
“Rest, I’d suggest. I hear that your friend has been contained, and since I did not have to hear it on the police scanner, I am happy with exactly that level of detail. It does not look like it was an easy morning for either one of you. Go home, rest, and come back here tomorrow at 7 AM. We’ll sort it out then.”
I’m not satisfied with this plan. “You don’t know this guy. He could already be planning something else. What’s to stop me from just going to these five places today and finding him myself?”
“Aside from the fact that you gave me your word that you wouldn’t, Mr. Everton? I haven’t told you any of the addresses.”
“I — hm.” He’s got me there. “Anyway, I was just asking.”
“And I’m just asking you to wait until tomorrow morning. I’ll see you then.”
Peterson stares me down again as I reluctantly stand up to leave.
“Look,” I tell him, “honestly, I know you’re doing a good job here. I’m sorry. I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”
“I look forward to it,” he says, shaking my hand.
As Regina and I walk back to our respective cars, she asks me, “So are you really just going to wait until tomorrow morning?”
“Not if I can help it,” I say.