Despite my bold words, though, I realize on the drive home that I have absolutely no idea what I can do without those addresses. I still don’t have a real name for Ichabot, I don’t know where he is, and I don’t know what he’s planning. This leaves me at something of a loose end.
This is ordinarily the point where I’d bounce ideas off of Brian. With him out of commission, I feel like I’m missing half of my reasoning capability. I try to remember how I used to solve problems before I met him, but unfortunately the answer there is: basically, I didn’t. I took the path of least resistance and coasted along doing as little as I possibly could. Prior to all of this, if someone had told me to come back at 7 AM the next day to hear what their solution was, my only complaint would have been about being awake at 7 AM.
Now, though, I am a man of action. I go boldly forward, doing what my gut tells me to do.
“So, gut, what shall we do?” I say out loud.
My stomach responds with a gurgle, telling me that what we do is go get something to eat before it gnaws its way out through my abdomen. This’ll be my third meal of the day and it’s barely past lunchtime, but accelerated healing demands accelerated caloric intake.
My stomach says Indian food, but the open wound in my cheek says “no spices.” I compromise on Mediterranean and pick up a falafel wrap from a street cart. It’s freshly made, warm and delicious, and I consume the entire thing in an embarrassingly short period of time.
I’m just finishing up and licking the hummus from my fingers when my phone rings. I fumble it out of my pocket to see that it’s Doc Simmons calling, so I subject my screen to a faint smear of hummus and answer the call.
“What’s –” shoot, I already did that joke “– going on?”
“Do I even need to keep Brian sedated?”
“What? I don’t know, you’re the doctor. If you think he’ll be under control without it, then go for it.”
“No, Dan.” The doc sighs in the manner that means “I have to explain this to an idiot.” “I’m not asking your opinion on whether he can keep his emotions in check. I’m asking whether he still needs to.”
There’s a pause while I try desperately to think of a way to ask a clarifying question that doesn’t make me sound dumb. I haven’t come up with one before the doc takes pity on me and asks the question more directly.
“Does he still have his powers, Dan? Which is to say, do you?”
“Oh! Yeah, I’m pretty sure.” I focus on the tin foil wrap in my hand and allow myself to loathe it. It shrivels and vanishes. “Yeah, definitely.”
“I don’t know, I usually have them until I defeat…huh.”
The doc makes an excellent point. Traditionally, my powers fade — or are revoked, or whatever — immediately upon the defeat of my nemesis, in whatever form that takes. Outfighting, outthinking, outmaneuvering, anything like that.
But I handed Brian a pretty solid loss at Stonefield. I took my lumps, sure, but in the end he was passed out, bundled off and neutralized. So by all logic, the nanos should have powered down while I was still in the mall, watching Brian sleep under a pile of chairs.
And since mine are still active, something’s not done here.
“What does this mean, Doc?”
“Well, the obvious answer is that you haven’t won yet.”
“Oh, come on. We bagged him and tagged him. What else is there to do?”
The doc’s silence hangs heavy in the air, and I find myself shaking my head at the phone.
“No. No way. Not happening.”
“I’m not suggesting you should, Dan. But if your Dr. A wants things to end with one or the other of you disintegrating each other, waking Brian back up could be very dangerous. For him and for you.”
“So what do you want to do? Just keep him drugged unconscious?”
“No, not unless I have to. I intend to wake him up while still under medication to keep him docile. I’ll make further judgment calls from there.”
She sighs, this time in resignation. “Honestly, I’d really hoped that you’d lost your powers again and just hadn’t noticed amidst all the excitement.”
“Sorry, Doc. I’m clueless, but I’m not that clueless.”
“Not in this particular instance, unfortunately.”
“As ever, Dan, when you can show me that I’m wrong I’ll apologize for making statements that have offended you.” She says this with humor in her voice, not meanness. If mocking me helps her deal with this whole situation, I can let it pass.
“Take care of Brian, yeah? I’ve got a bead on Ichabot. We’ll see if this whole thing can’t get wrapped up tomorrow.”
“Dan,” says Simmons, all levity gone from her voice, “be careful. Be extremely careful. This man is brilliant, unscrupulous and determined. He’s almost certainly still at least one step ahead of you, no matter what you think.
“Remember you have help. Make a plan, involve your friends, and don’t go in alone.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I say. “You sound just like Peterson. ‘Don’t rush into the lab until you have backup. Stick to the plan.'”
“You found his lab?” asks the doc. “Where is it?”
“I don’t know. Peterson won’t tell me until he’s ready to go in,” I complain.
“Good,” says the doc, sounding relieved. “I knew he seemed like a smart man.”
“Sure, ha ha, make fun of Dan. Just go take care of Brian, okay?”
“Don’t teach grandma how to suck eggs,” says Simmons, and hangs up the phone before I can ask her what that’s supposed to mean.
I check my phone clock. It’s still barely 1 PM. 7 AM never seemed so far away. I’ve got to find something to do with myself for the rest of the day, or I’m going to go crazy stressing about what tomorrow might look like.
Netflix is no good for burning off nervous energy, but lifting weights is. I haul my bench and weights out of the closet and load up the bar. There’s no particularly good place to store the weights in my house, so half of each session is spent just moving the weights to where they need to be. I thought about getting a gym membership instead, but thanks to the nanos, I can lift a fair bit more than my frame would indicate, and I don’t really want people gawking. Anyway, this way I can pick what I want on TV.
After setting everything up and starting up the reps, though, I realize that I’m in the wrong frame of mind for this. Usually focusing on the weights lets me block everything else out, but today it’s just giving my mind free rein to run through worst case scenarios. I can’t shake the doc’s suggestion that I might have to fight Brian until one of us drops for good. I add on more weights, heavier and heavier, but can’t drive away the image of me, bloodied and feral, pressing my hand against Brian’s face while his flesh dissolves underneath it.
“Never!” I grunt, pressing the bar towards the ceiling. “I won’t! I’ll beat you!”
But will I? Doc Simmons thinks I’m underestimating Ichabot, and she’s probably right; she usually is. So if I want to beat him, I’ve got to change the game.
Okay. So what will he be expecting? I suppose that to answer that, I should just think like myself. I can do that! For once, we’re playing to my strengths.
So, what’s my automatic instinct? Hit him hard, as soon as possible. Kick down the front door and come in guns blazing. Go solo so that there’s no chance of anyone else getting hurt. Subdue him without killing him.
Assuming Doc Simmons is right, he’ll be expecting every bit of that. Meaning he’s already holed up in his lair, traps set at the front door, just waiting for me to barge in and set them off.
Laid out in black and white like that, that sounds like a distressingly realistic scenario.
What can I change, then? I can’t fix the part where he’s ready for me. It’s tempting to tell myself that he isn’t quite set yet, and that if I track him down tonight, I might be able to steal a march on him. But since that’s the sort of thing I’d think — and in fact, am thinking — I have to assume that Ichabot would have predicted it. I’m pretty sure that makes sense, but I’m thinking myself into a knot.
What won’t he be expecting? Patience. Backup. A fallback plan. Everything Peterson’s putting in place, essentially. That doesn’t leave much for me to do.
Weights up. Weights down. Dwell on the problem.
If Ichabot can out-think me, he can out-think Peterson. Maybe not, but safest to assume that. So Peterson’s plans will also fail. Ichabot’s ready for him, too. It’ll be much the same as for me: wait for us to come to him, have traps set at the front door.
Easiest way around that, of course, is to come in the back door. Assuming it’s not locked, assuming it’s not trapped. Assuming it exists.
Weights up, weights down. Dwell on the problem.
Actually, this one seems pretty easy, once I get far enough outside the box. If I need a back door, I can just make one.
So, tomorrow we go in with a hybrid plan. Peterson provides the addresses and the backup. I provide the surprise entrance point. And Ichabot provides the satisfying look of shock when we take him down and make him undo everything he’s done.
Weights down. I’m dripping with sweat, but my mind is clear and I feel good about what’s to come. I’m out in front of this at last, and it feels good.