I’ve already resolved to get on the first bus that comes by, reasoning that anything that takes me out of the area is an improvement. After reading the schedule, I find that luck is with me for once: I can get home with only one bus change, and the first bus I need comes by here pretty regularly. If I’m very lucky, it might even be the next bus to arrive.
I don’t know exactly what time it is. McMannis had a clock on his dashboard display, but I wasn’t paying attention that closely to it, and also I don’t know exactly how long ago I made my escape. It feels like it happened just seconds ago, but looking at events logically it could have been anywhere from ten minutes to half an hour. That kind of range makes it hard to say whether the bus is about to arrive or whether I’ve just missed it.
I see a man with a watch walking by, and attempt to attract his attention.
“Excuse me,” I say, but he doesn’t hear me, so I say it again. “Excuse me!”
He keeps walking, eyes straight ahead as if I don’t exist, and I realize: he thinks I’m going to ask him for money.
“I’m not homeless!” I shout after him. “I just want to know the time!”
He keeps walking, never looking back. I think about telling him that I already have money, but I suppose pocketsful of change is not terribly compelling evidence against being homeless. I sulk back to the bus shelter to wait.
“Anyway, so what if I were homeless?” I mutter to myself. “Dude could still give me the time of day. Literally, in this case. I’m still a human being.”
Then I think about all of the times I’ve ignored similar attempts to start a conversation from people on the street, and I feel deeply guilty. It sucks when the shoe’s on the other foot.
I study the bus route map some more, both to give myself something else to think about and to partially hide my face from passing traffic. This successfully passes the time until the bus arrives and I board.
The driver sighs heavily when I start feeding the ticket machine a fistful of change. It looks like I’ve ended up with mainly dimes, so the process takes a while. I’m only about halfway done when he closes the doors and pulls the bus away from the curb, leaving me swaying precariously while trying to add more coins. I try to lean against a pole to steady myself, and receive a sharply painful reminder that I may have a broken rib.
Despite everything, I do finally pay for my ticket and make my way carefully to a seat. There are a handful of other passengers, none of whom seem to be paying any attention to me at all. I take a window seat on the left side of the bus, which shows my cheek bandage clearly to anyone inside but hides it from the street, and close my eyes, enjoying the momentary respite. It’s been a very long day, and it’s probably not even one o’clock yet.
The journey home is blissfully free of interruptions and complications. I change buses without incident, unless you count another sigh and eyeroll from the driver of the second bus when I pay in dimes again. They’re valid currency! And I let the other people getting on go ahead of me, so it’s not like I was creating a line. These guys just need to chill out a little.
Walking up to my house, I reach into my pocket for my keys, which obviously I don’t have. Once again, they’re in that stupid Ziploc baggie in my lawyer’s car. I really should have taken the time to grab that before making my escape from the car. It seemed impractical at the time, but I’m starting to think that it might have been worth the extra trouble.
I check the front door just in case I left it unlocked, but no dice. I know there’s supposed to be a way you can open a window latch with a credit card, but I don’t know the technique to do that. Also, I don’t have a credit card, those being in my wallet, which is in turn in the baggie in the car. So that’s a no-go on several levels.
The nice day we’ve been enjoying seems to be diminishing along with my mood. Clouds are starting to move in, blocking the sun and threatening rain. I’m really not dressed for being outside in a cold rain, so after trying both doors of my house and checking every window, I pick up a fist-sized rock and traipse around to the side of the house.
I don’t see any neighbors around, so I quickly rap the rock sharply on a basement window, shattering the pane. I run the rock around the edges, clearing away most of the broken glass, then lie belly-down on the lawn and slide myself uncomfortably through the gap. The most awkward part comes after I’m most of the way inside, and my shoulders briefly get trapped in the frame. I’m momentarily stuck, unable to push myself farther in and without the leverage to pull my body back out. It lasts just long enough for me to have a clear vision of the police coming by to find me like this, and then my shirt tears at the sleeve, a piece of glass rakes painfully down my left arm and I’m dropping to the floor inside.
I jar my ribs painfully on the landing and drop to one knee, arms wrapped around my side. I stay like that for a few seconds while I get my breathing under control, then assess my situation. Physically, I’m thrashed. The slide through the broken window has just added a half-dozen surface cuts to my existing injuries. I’m suffering from an adrenaline crash. And I’m absolutely starving.
I can do something about that last one, at least. I head up to the kitchen and start assembling a sandwich, although I eat a good portion of the toppings before ever putting them between two pieces of bread. This is what passes for an appetizer in my house.
Sandwich in hand, I boot up the computer and load a local news site. Sure enough, they’ve got my picture plastered on the lead article. I look pretty terrible. My skin is pale, my cheek bandage is stained with dried blood, and my expression is best described as “angrily dazed.” The article itself describes my invasion of Rossum Medical, my resisting of arrest and my subsequent escape en route to a psychiatric evaluation facility. I’m described as “confused, dangerous and potentially armed,” and I’m forced to concede the accuracy of that statement, at least.
They have a video interview with the cyclist I ran into, and I click play out of morbid curiosity.
“He just came leaping at me. It all happened so fast,” says the cyclist, who the screen identifies as Alan Yonnig. “At first, I thought it was just an accident, but now I think maybe he was trying to steal my bike. It’s hard being a cyclist in the city. There are a lot of dangers out there.”
I snort and stop the video as it cuts back to a newscaster. Maybe if you didn’t speed on the sidewalk, some of those dangers would be lessened, Alan! Take some personal responsibility.
There’s another video at the bottom of the article, and the still is a face I recognize: Evan Tanger, Jr. Previously the owner and CEO of Tanger Construction, where I work. Also previously my nemesis, the man who launched a successful citywide smear campaign against me with the help of his suggestion nanos, the same ones that have landed me in this current trouble.
Last I saw him, he was being quietly removed from corporate power by whatever backroom machinations millionaires use against each other. His nanos were deactivated when I exposed the truth about him, so what’s he doing back in the news? I click the link with a sense of unease, skipping ahead to the part where Tanger starts talking.
“Mr. Everton is, unfortunately, a very troubled man,” Tanger says smoothly to a reporter standing next to him. “Please don’t take this as sour grapes. I knew this well before he scuttled my mayoral campaign with that faked video. I attempted to warn people before, but it was not well-received. Perhaps now people will understand.”
Tanger reaches out one hand and clasps the reporter’s shoulder. “I’ll be holding a press conference later to discuss what I know. You’ll all find it very interesting,” he says with conviction.
The reporter smiles, then turns to face the camera. “Evan Tanger, Jr. A pillar of the community, to be sure.”
Well. Seems that Tanger’s gotten his nanos reactivated, too. Apparently Ichabot is pulling out all of the stops against me now.
Maybe I should be flattered. After all, he clearly must consider me a large threat to go to all of this trouble. But then again, is it really all that much trouble? It took only a few keystrokes for him to deactivate my nanos. It’s probably about the same to reactivate them.
Should the bacterium be flattered when the scientist sterilizes the Petri dish at the end of the experiment? It’s definitely overkill, but is it really any more effort on the scientist’s part than taking proportionate measures?
I’m mulling over this unpleasant philosophy when there’s a demanding knock at the door.
“Open up! It’s the police!” comes the muffled call.
I freeze, unsure what to do. Should I hide? Run? Give myself up?
Before I can decide, a heavy impact shudders the door in its frame. It repeats, then again, before the door finally crashes open.
“Just kidding,” says Vince, standing in the doorway. He’s flanked by two identical copies of himself. “It’s not the police at all. Hello, filth.”