For once, luck is on my side, and I make it out of sight of the house without any visible pursuers. I slow my run to a jog, continuing to take intersecting streets at random in an effort to throw off any Vince clones who might be driving around looking for me. A sense of futility quickly begins to set in, though. Not only is my meager jogging speed totally useless compared to a car, if the original Vince is the one driving, he can clearly track me regardless. Staying on foot isn’t a sustainable strategy.
I start scanning the houses I pass, and soon enough I see what I’m looking for — a bicycle leaning up against a side wall. There aren’t even any cars in the driveway, so there’s a good chance that no one’s home. I can steal the bike and make my getaway without anyone seeing me. Then I’ll be moving faster and tiring myself out less. It’s not as convenient as a car, but I have no idea how to hotwire a car. I definitely know how to take an unlocked bike.
That’s not to say that I feel good about this decision. I have to do it, and I’m going to, but it feels lousy. My feeling only worsens when I get closer and realize it’s a kid’s bike. This poor kid is going to get home from school to find his bike missing. Then, after looking around frantically to find where he might have put it, he’ll get yelled at by his parents for letting it get stolen. So not only will he be out a bike, he’ll have to sit through a lecture. Depending on the parents, he may or may not get another bike.
I make a promise to myself to return the bike if possible, but it sounds lame even in my own head. I wheel the bike down the driveway and awkwardly straddle it. It’s much too short for me, and when I try to work the pedals, I bang one knee painfully on the handlebars. In the end, I’m forced to stand up on the pedals to get up to speed.
Still, even with the guilt and the bruised knee, this is an improvement over running. I still need to figure out a plan, but at least I’m on the move and more maneuverable than I was before. I’ve bought myself a little more breathing room.
Of course, I thought that when I got to the house, too, and what did that get me? A sandwich, true, which is something, but I could have gotten so much more. Supplies, a backpack, some money. I’ve never been the kind of guy to keep a go-bag by the door, but I could have put something together instead of screwing around reading about myself online.
In retrospect, I have no idea why I haven’t been the kind of guy who keeps a go-bag by the door. I’m certainly the kind of guy who’s likely to need one, as the current circumstances attest.
I’ve braked for a stop sign when I hear a voice shouting, “Hey! Hey, you!”
I look up to see a woman advancing angrily on me. Whatever she wants, it can’t be good, and I eye the cross-traffic ahead of me, looking for a chance to peel out without immediately getting hit. Well, as much as I can “peel out” on a kid’s bicycle, anyway.
Speaking of which, that seems to be the focus of her anger. “That’s not your bicycle! Where did you get that?”
“What? It’s mine,” I say, sitting awkwardly on a bicycle that’s about a foot too short for me.
“You liar! I know that bike. That’s my daughter’s friend’s bike. Where did you get it?”
“No, it’s mine,” I insist. She’s stopped at the edge of the street, possibly because she’s realized that she’s unarmed and isn’t interested in getting into a physical altercation. This works for me, as I’m really not interested in getting into one, either.
She’s clearly primed for a verbal altercation, though. “You’re a thief. Thief! I’ll call the police!”
“Lady, look. I need this bicycle. I’ll return it.”
“Don’t you ‘lady’ me! Thief! Call the police!”
She’s backing up for the house now, and although there still isn’t a significant gap in traffic ahead of me, I see something better: a bus, way off at the edge of visibility. I don’t know where the next bus stop is, but on a busy street like this it can’t be far. Giving up on the road, I turn the bike toward the sidewalk and start pedaling.
“Come back here! Thief! I’m calling the police!” I hear her yelling.
I call back over my shoulder, “I’ll leave it at the bus stop! Just come get it!”
I don’t know if she hears me or not, but I don’t have time to wait and see. I’ve got a bus to catch.
The bike slews from side to side as I pedal frantically, trying to coax the one-speed bicycle to racing speeds. Fortunately, the light drizzle of rain has ensured that the sidewalk is sparsely populated, and the few people who are there are courteous enough — or wise enough — to move aside and give me room to get by. As I blast through an intersection, I glance over at the main road to see if there’s room to rejoin the traffic there, but the cars are still whizzing by compared to my speed. I don’t know how anyone’s supposed to ride a bike on the roads without dedicated lanes.
My reign of terror on the sidewalk comes quickly to an end as I see my goal: a NO PARKING – BUS STOP sign. I screech the bike to a halt and leap off, drawing odd looks from the man and woman already waiting for the bus. Before they can ask me why I’ve been riding a kid’s bike like I’ve got a monster chasing me, though, the bus arrives.
I let the couple on the bus first, then lean my stolen bike up against the bus stop signpost and step onto the bus. As I’m putting my handful of change into the ticket machine, the bus driver says to me, “You can’t chain your bike up there.”
“It’s okay,” I tell him. “It’s not chained.”
This is a fairly stupid response, but it seems to work, or at least steer him onto a tangential subject. His brow furrows and he asks, “Aren’t you afraid it’ll get stolen?”
“No, my friend is coming to pick it up right now,” I say. He shrugs and closes the door, and I take a seat and let my heart rate slow down.
I’m honestly amazed that I’ve made it this far. I thought I was totally done for when Vince caught me at home, and even after I made it out the front door I was certain I was only delaying the inevitable. I must’ve really gotten him with that chemical cloud. I thought it would just buy a few seconds, but for me to have gotten away entirely, he and his clones must not have been able to give chase. I figured that at least one of them would have chased me in the car, but maybe they needed it to get him to the hospital or something.
The hospital! I can’t go there, for fear of riling up Brian, but I can call Doc Simmons and see if she’s got any helpful ideas. She got me the lawyer this morning, after all. It’s grasping at straws, I admit, but when there’s nothing else in reach, straws look like a pretty good option.
The rain has picked up a bit by the time I hop off the bus near a gas station, so I hustle to the safety of its overhang. I’m hoping that they still have a payphone, which it turns out they do. Unfortunately, when I pick up the receiver, there’s no dial tone. Also, I get something gross on my hand. I don’t even want to consider what it might be, so I just wipe my hand on my pants and go inside.
The attendant doesn’t even look up when the bell dings, so I go up to the counter and ask, “Excuse me, do you have a phone?”
“Outside,” he grunts, flapping his hand in the vague direction of the payphone.
“It’s not working. Do you have one here I can use?”
He sighs and shoves a cordless phone across the counter. I pick it up, hesitate and say, “Sorry, can you tell me the number for Carnation Hospital?”
He glares at me and I add, “I mean, I could call 411, but I think that might charge you.”
He sighs again, louder, and pulls out a cell phone. He types on it for a minute, then holds up the screen for me to read. It’s a search page with Carnation’s number displayed.
“Thank you,” I say, punching it into the cordless phone. He grunts, returns his phone to his pocket and clearly dismisses me.
The receptionist connects me to Doc Simmons’s line, and after a couple of rings she picks up.
“Hello?” she says, not sounding any less irritated than this morning.
“Hi, Doc,” I say. “So, uh. How’s things?”
“I hear you’ve been having an interesting day, Dan,” says the doc. “Brayden called. He’s not thrilled with you.”
“Yeah, uh. I bet not. I hope he’s not in too much trouble.”
“He’ll be fine. Where are you?”
“Um. Who have you talked to today?”
“No one with suggestion nanos, since I assume that’s what you’re asking. In fact, no one at all in person. I’ve been working with Brian, testing out his active nanos to see if I can find anything about what makes them work or what links them to you. I’ve barely scratched the surface, but it’s truly amazing work.”
I cut the doc off before she can wax too enthusiastic about Ichabot’s brilliance. It’s sort of a sore subject for me. “No one in person? So people have called?”
“Yes, although the only one I think you’ll be interested to hear about is Officer Peterson. He seemed quite interested in talking to you.”
“Yeah, I’m sure he did.”
“I think you should call him back, Dan.”
“Why? Because he’s on your side, even if he doesn’t know it right now. If you can talk him back around, you’ll have an ally in the police department again. Which I think you could really use at this moment.”
She’s got a point. “Okay. Thanks, Doc. Hey, can I get his number from you?”
She tells me the number, then adds, “And Dan? I’d like you to come by the hospital.”
“What? Why?” I ask again, this time with suspicion instead of surprise. She explicitly told me not to come there earlier. What’s changed? Did Ichabot get to her?
“I want to check out the interactions between your nanobots and Brian’s. I have some theories, but the only samples I have from you are old and inactive, and I need fresh ones to experiment with.”
No, no one’s gotten to her. That’s the doc through and through; science above all else.
“Okay, if I can I will.”
“Please make it a priority.”
That startles a laugh from me. “Yeah, Doc, can do. Got nothing else going on at the moment.”
“This is important, Dan!”
“Yeah, got it. I didn’t really have anywhere else to be, anyway. You sure Brian’s gonna be okay with this?”
“I’ve got it handled.”
“All right, I’ll make my way there. Sorry for whatever trouble I drag with me.”
“You always are, Dan.”