Assessment

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Life’s a roller coaster sometimes.  You’ll be ticking along, things are steadily improving, and then all of a sudden you realize there’s nothing beneath you and you’re screaming downwards, rocketing lower than where you started.  It’ll throw you for a loop, whip you violently from side to side, and make you sick to your stomach.  And just when you’re thinking, “Well, at least I’ve got this safety harness to hold me down,” you hear a quiet click as the lock disengages.  Up ahead, you see another loop coming, and you’re scrambling desperately for anything to hold onto, but the car’s been greased and the edges are razor sharp and also it’s on fire.

Sorry, that got a little out of hand.  I’m feeling a little low right now.  Being in jail will do that to you.

I wasn’t in jail this morning.  Flashback to then: there’s me, Dan Everton, ticking my way up that metaphorical coaster track.  Everything looks like bright skies ahead.  For a year now, I’ve been afflicted with intermittent superpowers.  Yeah, yeah, scoff if you like, but it’s not a great situation.  I get hit with the power, but it doesn’t come with any instruction manual or anything.  I don’t even know what it does or how to use it until I stumble into it, usually through a painful accident of some sort.

And if that weren’t enough, every power comes with a nemesis — some other person who gets powers at the same time as I do, and also gets a burning desire to wipe me out of existence.  So I end up over and over again fumbling to stay alive long enough to get my power together and come out ahead.

They say lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place, but it sure does when someone’s directing it.  And I don’t just mean that in the case of Regina, one of my early nemeses who could control the weather and static charges in the air.  We hang out now, we’re cool.  Kind of a long story there.

Also, lightning does strike twice in the same place even naturally.  Something about paths of ionization, I think.  Plus if you’re the highest point around, you’re going to get struck pretty much every time lightning comes through. So I don’t know why they say that in the first place.

Anyway, back on the subject of metaphorical lightning, I’m definitely not the tallest point around.  I’m pretty much your stereotypical average white dude: six feet tall, little bit of extra pudge, short hair, a little slow on the uptake sometimes.  Maybe that part’s not stereotypical, but it’s definitely true of me.  There’s no reason why something like this would be seeking me out, is my point.

Or rather, there wouldn’t be, except for Ichabot.  Ichabot’s the name I’ve given to the spindly-limbed mad scientist who’s decided that I’m the perfect target for his experiment.  It turns out that the superpowers occur because I’m chock-full of nanomachinery which can be remotely programmed to have a whole host of effects.  Things like enhanced strength, durability, healing, or intelligence, but also weirder stuff like magnetism, pyrokinesis, charisma, and matter construction or deconstruction.  They’re activated through emotional triggers.  Honestly, the whole setup’s pretty cool, and if I weren’t being treated like a bacterium on a slide I’d probably be excited about it.

It’s been a rough year, is my point.  But this morning — which we’re still flashed back to, remember; sorry about the digression — things are finally looking good.  We’ve got my current nemesis, in the form of my good friend and local EMT Brian King, sedated and under the care of Dr. Simmons, a trustworthy and capable doctor.  We’ve tracked down Ichabot’s lab.  I’ve got Officer Peterson with me, a police officer who actually believes what’s going on and is working to help me.  And then, just as I kick down the door, the track drops out from underneath me and I’m plummeting down another hill, screaming.

So instead of Ichabot getting hauled off to jail, he strips me of my powers and uses his own nanos to convince Officer Peterson that I’m the one who’s causing problems here.  So the next thing I know, I’m in handcuffs in the back of the squad car.  I get hauled back to the temporary station at City Hall, processed in with mugshots, fingerprinting and all, and then chucked in the drunk tank while they figure out what to do with me.

Flashback over, coaster bottomed out and approaching an unlit tunnel at a high rate of speed.  That, or it’s just a black spot painted on a cliff up ahead.  We’ll find out shortly.

It really stings that Peterson turned on me so readily.  I keep telling myself that it’s not his fault, it’s not personal, it’s just what happens when nanomachinery writes new thoughts into your head.  But this isn’t the first time I’ve had the suggestion nanos used against me.  In fact, I’ve been dealing with the fallout from a large-scale campaign against me for a couple of months now.  So I’m pretty familiar with how they work, and the thing is, they can’t make ideas stick if the recipient knows that idea doesn’t make any sense.

If I were to use these nanos to tell you that bacon tastes gross, for example, it would work if you’ve never had bacon.  But if you have, that dissonant thought would meet up with what you already know to be true — that bacon is delicious — and would fall apart in the face of overwhelming facts and supporting experiences.

This metaphor doesn’t work if you don’t like bacon, of course, but if you don’t like bacon you might already be mind-controlled.  Get that checked out.

My point is that when Ichabot told Peterson that I was deranged, dangerous and causing a scene, it would’ve been nice if Peterson had shaken that off, declared his absolute or at least relative confidence in me, and popped the cuffs on Ichabot.  Instead, he took those new thoughts, compared them to what was already in his head and found it to be a close enough match to be worth believing.  And that doesn’t speak well of his opinion of me.

This is the sort of situation where it would be nice to be able to distract myself with my phone, but obviously they took that away from me when they put me in here.  There are three other guys on the benches in here, but they’re all passed out from the indulgences of the night before, so I can’t even make conversation to pass the time.  I’m stuck here with nothing to do but twirl the plastic booking-information wristband around my arm, waiting to see what comes next.

I guess what comes next is a phone call.  I feel like they have to give me that at some point, so I can let someone know where I am.  That, or they have to let me go?  I learned most of this stuff from police procedurals, which means I am woefully in the dark as to how it actually works.  I’m sure that they can’t just keep me sitting in the holding cell forever, though.  That’s un-American.  The police here may not like me, thanks to that previously-mentioned smear campaign, but I don’t think it would sit well with most of them to just keep me caged indefinitely.

It occurs to me that I actually have no idea who to call when I do get the opportunity.  Yesterday, my go-to for a situation like this would have been Officer Peterson, but given that he’s the one who put me in here, that’s probably not going to work as well as I might hope.  Next down the list would probably be Regina or Brian, but Regina was there when we tried to corral Ichabot, and she caught the mind whammy, too.  She seemed a little less certain about this whole thing than Peterson, but she still didn’t speak up for me, so I think she’s off the list, too.

Brian, meanwhile, has been wanting to kill me for a week or so now, thanks to the nemesis wrath.  He’s doped up on tranquilizers and antidepressants to try to mellow that out, but I think he likely still doesn’t want to hear from me.  That said, he’s been fighting through a homicidal rage to maintain our friendship, so that suggests he’s got a higher opinion of me than either Peterson or Regina.  So, drug-addled frenemy goes to the top of the list.  List is looking great, Dan.

I could call my mom and dad.  They’d be on my side; they’re good parents, and the good parent handbook says that you get your kid out of jail when he calls.  Even if your kid is in his thirties and the arresting officer says he’s delusional and broke into a medical building.  It might then go on to say that you take your kid straight from jail to an asylum or rehab clinic, but I feel like that’s got to be a step up from a holding cell with three other guys, one of whom has just thrown up in his sleep.  It’s puddling on the floor, and the smell is not making me feel better about my life.

I’m covering my mouth with my hand, pinching my nose and trying to take shallow breaths, when an officer I don’t know comes by the cell.

“Everton?” she asks, glancing at her phone before making eye contact with me.

“Me,” I say, standing up.

“Got a lawyer you want to call?”

“Lawyer?  Not r — well, yeah, sure, someone who can get me a lawyer.”

“All right, come on.  Walk with me.”

She opens the door and stands back, wariness in her posture.  When I just exit normally, she relaxes a fraction and points down the hallway.  I try to walk casually, which is harder to do than you’d expect when someone’s walking two steps behind you with a hand on a Taser.  I wonder what she’s been told about me.

“Phone’s here,” she says, motioning to a phone on a desk.  “Make your call.”

“Do I get privacy?” I ask.  She barks a short laugh, which I take to mean “no.”

I pick up the phone and dial.


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