My eyes dart around the lab, seeking a place to hide, a weapon, or both. With Ichabot staring directly at me, a hiding place is probably a lost cause, but there are plenty of things around here to use as weapons. The lab is full of heavy throwable objects, breakable glass beakers, scalpels, syringes and more. I drop the computer mouse and make a quick move towards a scalpel, grabbing it and pointing it threateningly at Ichabot.
“Yeah, something came up and I wasn’t going to be able to make our meeting. You didn’t get my text?” I ask mockingly.
Ignoring the scalpel in my hand, Ichabot paces slowly into the lab, closing the distance between us. He looks over my shoulder, and I turn my head to follow his gaze. He’s caught sight of the monitor I’ve attached to the server rack, which is still displaying the contents of the file server. What he can’t see from his angle, though, is Doc Simmons crouched down behind a counter. She’s moving steadily towards the far edge, clearly aiming to keep the counter betweem them as he advances. I don’t know what her plan is, but any advantage right now is a good one, so I’ll back her play as much as I’m able.
“And now I find you going through my personal items. That’s very rude, Dan,” he chides.
“Well, you know. Couldn’t find paper and a pen anywhere and I wanted to write a ‘sorry I missed you’ note. I was gonna erase the whiteboard and write it there, but it looked like it might be important.”
Ichabot breaks into an insulting chuckle. “As if you can comprehend a single notation on there. You’re a toddler trying to read a graduate-school textbook.”
“I got the joke in your password hint pretty easily,” I tell him, gesturing to the computer and keeping his attention away from the doc’s hiding place. “And I figured out a way into your ‘secure’ system, too.”
“Very good!” exclaims Ichabot. “You’re right, I’ve underestimated you. You’re a kindergartener trying to read a graduate-school textbook.”
“Unkind,” I tell him, waving the scalpel. “And unwise. I’m armed, and you’re not. Seems like you might want to tone down the insults a shade.”
With my tiny sword held protectively before me, I advance slightly on Ichabot, circling around to his right so as to force him to turn his back to Doc Simmons. The maneuver works, although the intimidation seems to be failing. Ichabot turns to keep facing me, an amused smile on his lips.
“Or what, Dan? You’ll stab me? You’re not a killer. Besides, then how would you ever find out how to stop your friends from trying to murder you?”
“I’m already in your computer system. I can sort it out.” Doc Simmons is creeping up behind him now. I still don’t know what her plan is, but presumably it involves him not noticing her, so I’ve got to keep his attention. I decide to try a taunt. “You seem like the sort of guy who likes to leave copious notes so that history can understand how great you were. I bet it’s practically a step-by-step guide.”
“There’s that kindergarten can-do attitude again, Dan! I appreciate your optimism, I really do. Why, without –” Ichabot stops mid-sentence as Doc Simmons, rising silently up from behind him, stabs a syringe into his upper thigh. She presses down on the plunger, and I see liquid splash out in all directions. The doc pulls back the syringe, looking dismayed, and I can see that it no longer has a needle at its tip.
Before the doc can backpedal, Ichabot lashes out with one gangly arm and grabs her around the neck, hoisting her to her feet. “Really, this was your plan?” he says, addressing me even as Doc Simmons struggles in his grip. “You know my nanos are activated. You really should have assumed that I could dissolve would-be weapons on contact. You’ve watched Vincent do it, after all.”
He tightens his grip on the doc’s neck and, with only a small amount of apparent effort, lifts her off of the ground one-handed. “I’ve been testing the abilities on others, but I’ve been implementing them in myself. I’m really quite superhuman at this point.”
Ichabot grabs the doc’s right shoulder with his left hand and, in a movement almost too fast to follow, whips her over his head to hurtle against the metal roll-up door we crawled in under. Simmons barely has time to scream before impacting the door headfirst, denting it severely. She crashes to the floor in a crumpled heap and lies still.
“Doc!” I shout, rushing to her side. I kneel down and touch her neck for a pulse. My own heart is hammering so hard that at first I can’t find her heartbeat, but after a second I feel it beneath my fingers. There’s a clear red handprint around her throat from where Ichabot gripped her, and it’s already starting to bruise. Her breathing sounds okay, though, and her pulse is strong, so I’m guessing that she’s more or less all right.
Ichabot’s laughing, a hearty and sonorous sound which seems out of place coming from his matchstick frame. I look up in disbelief, and the expression of outrage on my face only makes him laugh harder.
“You should see yourself!” he manages between laughs. “Like a kicked puppy. You don’t get it at all!”
“Enlighten me,” I growl, rising to my feet.
“Oh, I’ll do one better,” says Ichabot, calming down. “I’ll show you, so that you can actually understand it.”
He rushes at me, covering the dozen feet between us in an eyeblink. Before I’ve even really processed that he’s in front of me, he has my head in both of his hands and is slamming it into the corrugated metal door repeatedly. My skull rings with the impacts, and the next thing I know I’m staring at the concrete floor from extremely close range, blood pooling gently beneath my face.
With a major effort, I push myself up to a kneeling position and look around. Ichabot is halfway across the room, reconnecting the monitor, keyboard and mouse to the computer I’d borrowed them from. He types something brief on the keys, then pauses.
This is it. He’s logged in. If I can just get him away from the computer somehow, even if it’s only for a second, maybe I can figure out what to do to shut everything down safely. The doc’s still down, though, apparently out for the count, and simply getting up to one knee took just about all I had left in me. I didn’t come this far to bail out now, though. I’ve got to make the effort.
I summon up my final reserves and, leaning heavily on a nearby shelf, manage to regain my bipedal status. The makeshift rubber shoes I still haven’t had a chance to take off might actually be helping me here, by giving me a broader base of support on each foot. I think it’s the first time they’ve been anything but a hindrance. Not the purpose I’d designed them for, but I’ll take it.
I do my best to strike a dramatic pose, despite how much everything hurts. Taking a deep breath, I point my scalpel at Ichabot and intone, “This ends now.”
“How right you are,” says Ichabot, typing in a swift command. Abruptly, every muscle in my body seizes up.
Think about a charley horse, or pointing your foot until it cramps up. This is like that: the same feeling of complete tension, the muscle becoming a rock-hard and unbending rod. Except instead of just being in my foot or calf, it’s everywhere, all at once. My feet, my legs, my back, my arms, even my jaw and eyelids. Everything locks up completely, radiating discomfort and pain. I’m frozen like a statue, scalpel extended, unable to move an inch.
“Bet you didn’t know I could do that!” says Ichabot. “It’s the same principle that allows the nanomachinery to augment your muscular strength, actually. In this case, rather than amplifying your muscle movements, I’ve seized them up entirely. So you see? It’s all over. The only question here is what to do with you.”
“I’ll kill you,” I say, or try to. Due to being unable to move my lips, jaw or tongue, what comes out is mainly vowels, sounding more like “Ah hih you.”
Ichabot seems to get the point, though, judging by the new bout of laughter that grips him. “Oh, really? How? Shall I come impale myself on the end of your scalpel?”
He walks over and presses the tip of his index finger against the scalpel blade, which dissolves. I’m left holding just the stainless steel handle. “Oops! Well, so much for that plan. I’m sure you’ll figure something else out.”
I glare at him, although this is largely a mental feat since even my eyes won’t move. Ichabot paces back and forth in front of me, tapping his long fingers together.
“So, how to get rid of you? I could just prop you in a corner, leave you like this until you die of thirst. It’s certainly a simple answer, although it lacks a certain elegance. Hm.”
Suddenly, the roll-up door behind me rattles. I try to turn to look, but of course it’s to no avail. I have a brief moment of hope that it’s someone here to help me, but no sooner has the thought flitted across my mind than it is banished as an animalistic howl sounds from outside. The howl is accompanied by a screech of metal and a crash of falling shelves the barely-opened door is grabbed and hurled upward along its track, opening the entire wall behind me. I’m facing the wrong direction to see for sure what’s going on, but from the howl and the brute strength I know what must be happening.
Peterson’s awake. And he’s right behind me.
“Ah!” exclaims Ichabot, a look of delight on his face. “Now here’s a nice solution. I could just let your friend take you apart!”