My bid for freedom is almost cut short in its first few seconds. I weave between the cars and reach what should be the safety of the sidewalk, only to find myself squarely in the path of an onrushing cyclist.
His eyes widen as he attempts to swerve, but with a building on one side and parked cars on the other, there’s not much of anywhere to go. To his credit, he almost makes it, but the trailing edge of his handlebars catch me in the gut, spinning me painfully around to carom off of the brick edge of the building. This also has the effect of wrenching his bike toward me, spilling him in a rolling crash to the ground at my feet. I manage to avoid accidentally kicking him in the head, but that’s about as much as I contribute to the situation.
I’d like to stop and help him up, but for all I know McMannis has ditched the car and is sprinting after me right now. With a grunted, inarticulate apology, I leap over the fallen cyclist and resume my flight for safety. He had a helmet on, so he’s probably fine. A little scraped up, I’m sure, but I can feel fresh blood oozing from where my collision with bike and wall reopened wounds from capturing Brian yesterday. So maybe he deserves a scrape or two as well, really.
In either case, I don’t have the time to think about him. I need to formulate a plan other than “run,” and I need to do it while on the run. Cudgeling my brain for a few seconds, I come up with something that is perhaps less of a plan and more of word association: “hide.”
Still, light on details though it is, it’s basically the right concept. I sprint for several more blocks, taking corners at random, then slow to a brisk walk so that I look less like I’m fleeing from something. I’m hoping that this will reduce Brayden’s ability to find out where I went by asking passersby if they saw anyone fleeing. Of course, slowing down raises his chances of simply seeing me if he cruises by, so the next step is getting out of sight.
Up ahead, a narrow walkway leads between two office buildings to a sunny courtyard, mostly out of view of the the street. I turn smartly down it, enter the courtyard and plant myself on a bench that’s getting meager shade from a small tree. Time to catch my breath, both literally and metaphorically.
Time is my biggest enemy here. And Ichabot, obviously. Plus through him Vince, and anyone else he’s mobilized with the nanos. So actually, I’ve got a lot of enemies, but the point I’m making is that time is on their side, not mine. If I sit around doing nothing, my position gets weaker while theirs gets stronger.
I reach for my cell phone to check the time, and remember that I don’t have it. It’s in a plastic baggie in Brayden’s car, along with my wallet and keys. Basically everything I need to get around in daily life, in short. So add that to the list of problems arrayed against me.
Also, now that I’m calming down a bit, my ribs are really starting to throb on one side. I think the cyclist might have hit me harder than I realized. I probe gently at the area with my fingers, and wince at even the light touch. If nothing else, I’ve got a tremendous bruise forming, and I hope that’s all it is.
Speaking of which, I’ve still got a basic recognizability problem. Generally, I’m a fairly nondescript white guy. A little taller than average, but not so much as to stand out. No tattoos, no unusual hair style or color, neither notably attractive or eye-catchingly ugly. Usually, anyway.
Today, I’m covered in bandages from corralling Brian, and that includes two wrapping my hands and one covering the entirety of my cheek. I could probably take the ones off of my hands by now, but when I poke the inside of my cheek with my tongue, I can still taste the gauze pad that I applied to the outside of my face. So if I take that bandage off, I suspect the attention will simply morph from “why does that guy have a bandage?” to “look, look, I can see his teeth!” And that’s not really much of an improvement.
Also, in assessing my physical attributes here, I’ve noticed that I’m still wearing handcuffs that just don’t happen to be connected anymore. That’s the sort of thing that stands out in people’s minds as well. Fortunately, I’ve finally found an aspect of my situation that I can do something about.
Wrapping my fingers tightly around each cuff, I scowl and let the nanos do their work. Seconds later, the cuffs are fading away, a light rain of dust falling from my wrists. It’s uncomfortably easy to summon up loathing right now. That’s currently quite convenient, but it’s a weird blessing to be counting.
Okay, so arrayed against me we have: hunted by the police, no cash or phone, supervillains trying to kill me, currently no major power of my own, easily identifiable. And in the positive column there’s…I can dissolve small holes in things. Good. This seems fair.
I need a place to hide out, to recharge, to get centered. And the only place I can think to do that is home.
On the face of it, it seems like a patently stupid idea. Obviously the police are going to look for me at my house. I mean, where else am I going to go? But on the other hand, everyone would assume that the police would check the home address first, and therefore no one would go there, since clearly the police would be waiting for them. And if that’s the case, then the police wouldn’t waste their time checking the house.
Even though I realize that if I continue iterating that thought, it leads back to the police definitely going to the house, I haven’t got a better idea. If I go home, I can get money, computer access to find out what’s going on, maybe contact some people who haven’t been turned against me yet. Without home, I’ve got none of those things. So I might as well stop on the part of the thought process that gives me some hope.
I don’t know exactly where I am, but I know I’m miles from my house. What I’m bound to be close to, though, is a bus stop. In this part of the city, they’re rarely more than a dozen blocks apart, so all I need to do is figure out which bus to catch and I can make my way back home.
I reach for my cell phone again to check the bus schedules, before remembering that I don’t have it. This also reminds me that I don’t have my bus card, or any money to buy a ticket with. Problematic.
I look surreptitiously around the courtyard, scanning for anyone with lightly attended purses or easily accessible wallets that I could snatch and run with. It’s not my proudest moment, but I’m more than a bit desperate and the police are already looking for me, so it’s not like I’d be making things any worse for myself.
The only other person in the courtyard is a guy on a tablet computer, though, with no visible wallet. I consider grabbing his tablet and making a break for it, but then I’d have to find a pawn shop and also I’m not at all certain that it’s as easy to pass off stolen goods at those places as the movies make it look. I’m still thinking about it, though, when I spot something better through the glass doors of one of the office buildings: a vending machine.
The plan comes to me fully-formed: pop into the lobby, boost my magnetism to scramble the machine’s workings, catch the coins that come pouring out like a slot machine jackpot. Easy as pie, and much less morally repugnant than purse-snatching. Maybe not legally much different, but it feels better, anyway.
I saunter over to the door to the lobby and encounter my first problem when I attempt to open it: it’s locked. There’s a card-reading machine to the side of the door, presumably for employees to swipe their badges, and obviously I don’t have one of those. I’m already angering up to futz with the vending machine, though, so I focus that building magnetic charge and wrap my hand around the card reader. It lets out a stuttered beep and goes silent. I hear a soft click from the door and pull on the handle again, and this time it opens. Success!
Feeling good about my progress thus far, I approach the vending machine and quickly glance around the lobby. No one’s paying attention to me, so I put my hand over the coin slot and try to look like I’m just considering my options while I magnetize things.
At first, nothing happens. After a few seconds, though, the lights in the machine shut off, after which nothing continues to happen. I move my hand down to the coin return, in case there’s something more sensitive there, but the now-silent machine refuses to dispense so much as a single quarter.
I attempt to channel my frustration into anger to boost the magnetism, moving my hand randomly around the face of the machine, but it stolidly resists my every effort. After almost a minute of this, something snaps. Not in the machine, but in me.
“Fine,” I growl, changing tacks. I press my fingers together and lean hard against the machine, letting my loathing flow through them and dispensing my destroying nanos. The plastic of the machine peels away, revealing a brief glimpse of cylinders of change beneath before those in turn flay open and the coins begin to pour out in a tumult.
Surprised by the speed and intensity of the flow, I cup my hands and try to catch the sudden bounty, but they rapidly overfill my hands and pour onto the floor, ringing musically against the tile. Every other head in the lobby snaps around to see me kneeling there, a look of guilty shock on my face as I blatantly rob a vending machine.
Luckily, though, I recover from the surprise faster than anyone else. There’s no one between me and the front door, so I close my cupped hands into two fists and sprint for freedom, coins still falling in my wake. I knock the door open with my shoulder and hip, springing down the front steps and hitting the sidewalk at a run.
A block later, I slow down to a brisk walk and shove my hands in my pockets, storing my bounty. I take a few more random turns in case anyone’s pursuing, and through a stroke of luck I happen to wander right toward what I’ve been looking for: a bus station, complete with a map and list of bus routes. I’m going home.