“Not in there, Dan!” snaps Doc Simmons.
“You just told me to get in the car!” I protest.
“Yes, but the front seat has an oxygen tank in it. I assume you can see that? Get in the back. Honestly, Dan. I shouldn’t have to tell you not to attempt to co-locate with other solid objects. Though actually, perhaps that explains why you get hurt so much.”
I carefully arrange myself in the backseat, wincing with every move. In the front, the doc fiddles with the tube on top of the tank, fixing it from where I’ve jostled it out of place. Satisfied, she fires one more dart into Peterson’s prone form, then turns back to the wheel.
“Time to leave here, I think,” she says, putting the car into gear. “I’m sure the police have been called by now. Hopefully no one got a good description of this car through all of the rain.”
“Wait, yeah!” The first of my questions manages to surface. “How did you even get this car?”
“You’re not the only one who can borrow a car, Dan,” the doc says archly. “And just where is my car, hmmm?”
“It, ah — a couple of blocks from here.”
“I see. Out of curiosity, how would you describe its condition?”
“Yes. Rather.” She raises a hand to forestall any comment I might make. “I am truly not interested in hearing about how it’s not your fault. Blame can and will be assigned later. Right now I’d like to know where we’re going.”
“I mean, you’re the one driving, so –”
“I know you were just hit repeatedly in the head, Dan, but I really need you to focus up. I am asking you where you were going before the car accident. You looked like you had a plan in mind. What’s your destination? I’m going to take you there.”
“Oh.” I give her the address for Mangiafuoco Medical Transcription. “Thank you.”
We ride in silence for a moment, and then another question coalesces. “Wait, how did you know I looked like I had a plan before you got here?”
Apparently I’m going to begin all of my questions with “wait.” In fairness, I’d really love it if events would wait for me to catch up to them for once. Doesn’t seem likely to happen, but it can’t hurt to put the request out there.
The doc reaches in her coat pocket and pulls out the cell phone she’d loaned to me. “I was tracking you from my hospital-issued phone to see where you went. You weren’t driving aimlessly or choosing randomly. When I saw the lightning strike, I was briefly concerned that you’d done something stupid and burned down the nanomachinery lab, but the way you drove after that suggested another specific destination in mind. I thought you’d arrived when the signal stopped moving, so imagine my surprise when I pulled up to find my car totaled.”
She waves the cell phone at me again. “Thank you for not destroying this, at least. It’s good to see that you don’t break everything you get your hands on.”
“Hey! I returned that oxygen tank I borrowed, and I had to shelter that through a raging fire to get it back to you. I’m careful with other people’s stuff!”
“And yet, my car.”
“Well, fine. But I’m as careful as I can be. I got hit from behind there.”
“Like I said, blame can and will be assigned later. I don’t want to hear about it right now.”
“Hang on,” I say after a short pause. At least I’ve moved on from “wait.” “Did you only give me your cell phone so that you could track me?”
“You asked to borrow my phone, Dan,” says Doc Simmons.
“That’s not an answer.”
“And yet it is a response.”
A short time later, we pull up outside of Mangiafuoco Medical Transcription. I feel like the building should look ominous in some way, either brooding like a dark castle or gleaming like a cold and uncaring futuristic lab. Instead, it’s just an nondescript door opening onto an alley with dozens of others just like it. It’s depressingly banal.
“In there is his lab?” asks the doc. Her voice is hushed, as if worried that we might somehow be overheard out here in the car.
“Yeah, it’s in the side of the building behind the big roll-up garage door. From what I saw this morning, he’s got everything in there. The computers, samples, everything. I should be able to shut it all down once we’re inside. I hope.”
“I assume you have no idea how to operate it, but are assuming it will be clearly labeled?”
“Well…yes. I mean, I saw him turn off my powers this morning, and it was just a couple of keystrokes. So it’s not some complicated thing you have to do. I’m just hoping those keystrokes are obvious, or written down somewhere.”
The doc nods, which either means she thinks this is likely, or it’s too dumb to be worth arguing about. “And you think he’s not there right now?”
“He shouldn’t be, no. I called him out, told him I was going to another of his buildings to destroy it. He took the bait, I think. He’ll figure it out quickly enough once he gets there and I don’t show, but I’m hoping to still have maybe half an hour to figure it out.”
I pause, realizing that I have no idea how much time the fight with Peterson cost me. “Well, fifteen minutes, anyway. Hopefully enough.”
“So how are you planning to get inside?”
“I’m going to nano-melt a hole in the wall. It’s a slow process with the nanos shut down, but I think I’ve still got time, and I don’t really have a better option.” Suddenly, my eye falls on the oxygen tank in the front seat. “Hey, unless –”
“You can’t go tranquilize everyone in the office, Dan.”
“Because you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t know how to aim this reliably, and calibrating appropriate levels of sedatives is not a game. You could kill someone with this.”
“You shot Peterson four times!”
“It was a calculated risk. I needed to stop him, and I assume that the nanobots restructuring his system will help to neutralize the damage I inflicted. In fact, I wouldn’t count on him still being asleep at this point. He may well be back up already.”
“I think you just don’t want me to fire the trank gun,” I grouse.
“That’s correct. I think you’ll harm yourself and others. I did just say. Time’s ticking! You’d better get going.”
I get out of the car, then hesitate when the doc remains inside. “What are you going to do?”
“I’ll stay here and watch for unwelcome visitors,” she says, patting the oxygen tank. Sure, fine. It’s fine to use the trank gun when she gets to do it. It’s only unreasonable when I want to.
Complaining about it doesn’t seem likely to make any headway, though, so I hustle across the alley in the rain and take shelter under the narrow eaves of the building. Placing my fingers to the giant roll-up door, I concentrate on my loathing. It comes easily in the shadow of this place.
My broken finger screams at even the light pressure I’m applying, but I take that pain and turn it back on the one who caused it. On Ichabot, Dr. A, whatever his real name is. Behind this wall lies the root of all of my physical torment for the last year, the reason for everything bad that’s happened in my life during that time. This is a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. There have been other minor screwups, both mine and others’, but nearly everything can be traced back to the machinery inside this building and the man who’s been operating it. So yeah, it’s easy to loathe right now.
And yet, after a minute of focus, I lift my hands to see only the smallest of circles etched into the metal, ten discs about a half-inch in diameter each. It shouldn’t be a surprise; it took me a significant amount of time even to get through the thin link of the handcuffs in order to escape from Brayden’s car, and now I’m trying to make a hole in a wall big enough to climb through. I’d hoped that the intensity of the emotion would accelerate the process, but it seems like this trickle is all I’m going to get.
Then it dawns on me that I need to work smarter, not harder. This is, after all, a door and not a wall. Casting my gaze downward, I quickly spot what I was hoping to see: a lock set nearly flush with the ground. I kneel down in the swirling rainwater and press my fingertips against that part of the door, forming an arch around the lock. My fingers slowly sink in like I’m pressing them into thick molasses, and when I can feel them break through into empty space, I slowly tighten them together, connecting the holes.
After a couple of minutes, there’s a lurch as the entire door is freed from its moorings. It shudders upward about an inch before coming to a stop, so I slide my hands under it and lift. The metal groans in protest but moves up almost a foot before stopping.
“What is it?” the doc says in my ear, and I just about jump out of my skin. I hadn’t heard her leave the car and come over here.
“It’s caught on something inside,” I tell her as my heartbeat returns to normal. “I could maybe force this past it, but I don’t want to knock over whatever it is and alert everyone in the main part of the building.”
The doc eyes the gap. “Looks wide enough to wriggle inside.”
So saying, she drops to her stomach, heedless of the puddles, and belly-crawls in.
“Hey! What? Wait!” I am articulate as always, and the doc ignores me, also as always. I give a mental shrug, lay down in the water and follow her inside.