Connection: Part 1

I glance over at the attendant. He’s still paying me absolutely no attention, and doesn’t seem to notice that my call has ended. Rather than asking if I can make another call and risking him taking the phone back, I just dial Peterson’s number. As expected, the attendant doesn’t seem to notice.

After a couple of rings, the phone’s picked up. “Peterson.”

“Officer Peterson, hi. This is, um. This is Dan Everton.”

“Mr. Everton.” His voice is completely flat. I’ve never heard anyone manage to say anything so completely devoid of emotion. I’m guessing that that means he’s pretty ticked off, and is suppressing it while waiting to hear what I have to say.

“Look, I can explain everything. I just need you to listen.”

“When you say ‘everything,’ what does that include?”

“Everything! Why you’re mad at me, how you ended up arresting me, why a lot of things don’t seem to make sense and fit together.”

“So you can explain all of my behaviors. How about yours? Can you explain why you fled custody?”

“Well, yeah. I was being set up, and –”

“By your lawyer?”

“What? No. No, he wasn’t intentionally involved. This was — okay, this is going to sound weird, but I promise you it makes sense. You remember Vince Amano?”

“Let me guess,” Peterson says, sarcasm lacing his voice. “Vince broke out of prison, leaving behind a clone of himself to disguise his escape. He then stole a car and made his way to your house, which for some reason you had decided was the most inconspicuous place to go to ground. He cornered you there, probably with other clones, and attempted to trap you in a house fire. You escaped, stealing a bicycle to get away from him, and are now hiding out at a gas station calling me.”

I’m momentarily stunned into speechlessness. That’s not entirely accurate, but it’s pretty darn close. “I…yeah, but…wait, are you saying that you don’t believe that? Because, um –”

I’m cut off as Peterson starts to laugh, a deep and slightly menacing sound that only stops when it turns into a small coughing fit. I wait for him to pull himself together. I don’t really know what I’d say here, anyway.

“You’re an idiot, Mr. Everton,” says Peterson once the coughing subsides. I tell myself that there’s fondness in his tone. Certainly I don’t hear any malice, at least. “Yes, unfortunately I believe this. Various police reports support aspects of the story, which is why I know about them in the first place. I even believe what you were doubtless planning on telling me to begin with, that my thoughts were influenced by nanobots controlled and spread to me by Dr. Argute.”

I’m both relieved and impressed. Peterson has managed to assemble all this and figure out what happened while under the influence of foreign thoughts prejudicing his mind against me. He really is impressively dogged in his pursuit of the truth. I sum all of these feelings up with a simple, “That’s great!”

“And I deeply resent,” Peterson continues, and now his voice is definitely angry, “that I have somehow ended up forced to believe in science-fiction idiocy like this. I blame you entirely for this, Everton.” He practically spits my name, and I notice that he’s dropped even the honorific.

“Look, I’m sorry for –”

“Shut up. I am a police officer, and that means I am responsible for seeing justice done.” Peterson coughs again, a wet hacking sound, and continues. “I will figure out a way to safely arrest Dr. Argute. I will see you back in here, where I expect minimal paperwork and a few phone calls from connected people will see you gone. And then I expect to never see you again, Mr. Everton. No more monsters, no more nemeses, no more manifestations of powers. If you find yourself involved in these things again, you will go do it in some other precinct. Do I make myself clear?”

“I think y–”

“I want to hear a yes or a no from you, and only that. Do I make myself clear?”


“Good. Stay out of my way and let me solve this.”

That sounds like a conversation-ender, but I have one more question for him. “Wait! Before you hang up, can you put Regina on?”

There’s a pause, and then Peterson says, “Interesting. She left earlier. I’d assumed she was looking for you. If she–” Peterson stops abruptly, then laughs again, a short bark this time. “Of course. Mind the weather, Everton.”

I look outside, where it’s raining in earnest, and for just a moment I still don’t get it. Then in a moment of perfect choreography, lightning flashes outside and I suddenly understand. With Vince, Tanger and Brian all active, why wouldn’t Regina have had her nanos turned back on as well?

The thunder rolls. I didn’t count the seconds to check how close the storm is, but I know basically what the answer is: close, and getting closer all the time.

I start to ask Peterson another question, but he’s hung up already. There’s nothing he could have said that would have changed the situation in any case. Assuming Regina can track me the same way that Vince can, I need to get on the move, and fast. At least Vince has to be in sight before he’s a danger. I have no idea what kind of range Regina has with lightning, but I know she’s called a bolt down on me once before when I didn’t even know she was there. She might have been halfway across town, for all I know.

Rubber. I need rubber. Pushing the phone back across the counter to the attendant, I ask, “Do you sell rubber boots here?”

He lifts his head to look at me before rolling his eyes and sneering as if to say, are you an idiot? “No,” he says slowly, enunciating carefully as if I might not speak English. “This is a gas station. No shoes here.”

“Fine, whatever,” I say, rolling my eyes in return as I turn away to look through the shelves.

Unsurprisingly, I do not find any shoes. The attendant may have been rude, but his basic point was valid. What I do find, though, are thick rubber floormats designed for trucks. They’re thick but fairly flexible, enough so to wrap around my feet, at least. I test this out by standing on them and pulling them up into a rough taco shape. Obviously, they don’t stay like that, but it’s a start.

After a few minutes of searching for some kind of clip, I settle on wrapping a couple of bungee cords around each mat to secure them in place on my feet. It all makes for some fairly awkward footwear, but the mats stay in place and I’m able to walk around without tripping. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it does put some insulating material between me and the ground. I can work with the awkwardness.

I stomp my way to the front and put the tags from the mats and bungee cords on the counter.

“I need to pay for these,” I say to the attendant.

He looks up from his phone at me, then down at the counter, then back up at me. “Where are they?”

“I’m wearing them,” I say, trying to pretend that this is normal.

He leans over the counter to look at my feet, then looks back at my face, and makes the facial equivalent of a shrug. He turns to the cash register to ring me up, and I start fishing change out of my pocket.

“Whoa, what? No. No way,” he says, as I start dumping change on the counter.

“Yes way,” I say. “It’s valid American currency, and I’m spending it.”

“Fine,” he says. “Then I’m refusing you service. Take off your stupid cosplay or whatever you’re doing and get out of here.”

I keep emptying my pockets onto the counter. “No, just take the money. I’ll count it for you if you want.”

“I can count fine!” he retorts. “I’m just not dealing with this junkie nonsense. I’m refusing you service. Get out.”

I pick up a few quarters, acting as if I’m giving up. Then I abruptly shout “Take the money!” and shove the rest of the accumulated change at him. He flinches back and coins rain to the floor on his side of the counter, clattering off of his chair and spinning on the floor. I turn and run for the door, my bizarre new footwear making even this simple motion into a small challenge.

“Man, I let you use the phone!” the attendant calls out in an aggrieved voice as the door closes behind me. He doesn’t bother to give chase, though. Just another day of dealing with the public. I’m probably not even the weirdest guy he’s had in there this week.

The rain’s coming down at a steady pace now, and my shirt’s soaked through in under a minute. I clomp down the street in a graceless canter, the bungee cords rolling uncertainly under my feet at each step. The rain’s probably a good thing, honestly. It means that no one else is out here to see me and raise questions.

I pass the bus stop I arrived at and keep going. I’m pretty sure I’m headed in the direction of the hospital, and I’d like to find a stop that’s actually got a bus shelter so I can get out of the cold rain. Besides, being more than a block from the scene of my sort-of crime doesn’t seem like the worst idea.

In short order, I come to a bus shelter, and shiver there for fifteen or twenty minutes until the bus I need comes by. I board it, feed my last quarters into the ticket machine, and slump dripping into a seat. Next stop: the hospital. I hope the doc’s got some good thoughts on what to do next, because I’m pretty low on ideas.


Escape: Part 4

[You’re joining a story already in progress.  You might want to start at the beginning of the current book, Day of Reckoning, or you can start from the very beginning with Book 1: The Reluctant Superhero.]

[< Previous ]

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.”

“What?  Why?”

“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.”

[ Next >]


Escape: Part 3

[< Previous ]

Entertainingly, my very first thought is, “I should call 911!”  This despite the fact that I’ve spent all afternoon trying to avoid the police.  It’s hard to break a lifetime of ingrained habits.

I search frantically for a better plan, but the best that my brain can conjure up is apparently “Stall.”  That’s pretty much the mental equivalent of a “Please wait, loading…” screen.  Still, if it’s all I’ve got, then I’ll work with it.

I figure that the first move in any successful stall is to get the other guy talking, so I ask the first question that comes into my mind.  “How did you find me?  Did you figure that I’d think that the police wouldn’t think to look for me here, since I obviously wouldn’t go to the most obvious place?”

Vince, still in the ruined doorway, tilts his head to the side quizzically as he looks at me.  “Did that make sense in your diseased brain?”

He steps inside, and I stand up from the chair and retreat as he advances on me slowly.  “I found you,” he says through gritted teeth, “because you feel like a tear in a map in my brain.  It doesn’t matter where I’m looking, where I’m thinking about going.  My eyes are drawn to that ripped spot every time.  I couldn’t not know how to get to you if I wanted to.”

Vince’s mood seems to have dramatically worsened since his arrival.  At least when he kicked down the door, he was faking humor.  Now he has his teeth bared like some sort of feral animal, and from the look in his eyes I really can’t be sure that he won’t try to attack me like one, too.  I recall my attempts to talk to Brian while he was in the grips of the nano-inspired hatred, and how the very sound of my voice drove him into a rage.  This is probably not a situation that can be improved by conversation, then.

My eyes flicker to the kitchen doorway, measuring the distance.  As if this is a prearranged signal, all three Vinces lunge at me.  Their movements are almost perfectly synchronized, which is unsurprising since they think almost exactly alike.  The only thing that saves me from being immediately caught is that since they all came to the same idea independently, they all rush the same spot instead of fanning out.  This allows me to stay one step ahead of their grasping hands as I sprint into the kitchen.

Never before in my life have I cared about interior doors, but now I find myself cursing their lack.  I tear open the door to the refrigerator as I run past, hoping to slow down my pursuers, and a slam behind me tells me both that I was successful, and that they’re right on my heels.  With my left hand, I snag a chair from the table and turn my run into a spin, swinging the chair in a wide arc around me.

I almost hit the wall, which would have been a fatal mistake since one of the Vinces is nearly upon me.  Fortunately, I miss it by inches and slam the edge of the chair’s seat directly into the side of his face.  Blood spatters, two of the chair legs crack and fly off, and Vince grunts and careens off into the table, smacking his face into it before hitting the ground heavily.

“Back!” I shout, brandishing the shattered chair at the next Vince, but he grins nastily and doesn’t even slow his charge until he collides with the chair.  I’m knocked back by the impact, so I take an extra step back and swing the chair again, crashing it into Vince’s shoulder and head.

I see his skin briefly torn by the impact, only to immediately knit itself back together.  The chair, meanwhile, loses another leg and part of the seat, and this time it’s not entirely due to the impact.  Vince has stolen pieces of its material to rebuild his own body.  For the same reason the police couldn’t fight him with their batons, I’m not going to be able to do any damage with this chair.  And in the time it took me to try, his other clone has shouldered past him and is coming at me, fists up in a boxer’s stance.

I throw the chair at the clone on the grounds that maybe it’ll do some good and run for the hallway.  I reach my bedroom ahead of my pursuers, slam and lock the door, and knock my wooden dresser over in front of it for good measure.  The drawers jar open and spill their contents onto the floor.

From the other side of the door comes Vince’s mocking voice.  “I just broke down your front door, spitrag.  You think this can stop me?”

“Why are you after me?” I shout, looking frantically around my room for anything useful.  I don’t see anything immediately likely to get me out of this situation.

“To kill you!” shouts Vince.  This is punctuated by a thump that rattles the door, but it’s a solid oak door and might actually be stronger than the front door.  It should hold him long enough for me to come up with some sort of a plan, anyway.

“I can tell you who did this to you.  I can tell you where to find him!  He can stop it!”

“I like what he did to me, moron.  I love this!  The only part that’s bad about it is having to feel your festering pus-wound of a life.  And I can fix that myself.”

My search for useful items has led me to the attached bathroom.  The cabinet under the sink has a bunch of different cleaning chemicals, and it seems like I should be able to do some damage with those.  Even if he can heal it, I might be able to blind him for a second or something, long enough to get past.  I sweep them all up in my arms and head back into the main part of the bedroom.

A faint scratching noise snaps my eyes to the fallen dresser.  I see grasping fingers on top of it and at first, I think someone trying to climb out from underneath it.  Seconds later, I realize the truth is much worse.

Vince, on the far side of the door, is converting the door into a mass of animated flesh, foregoing the complete cloning process in order to make a Lovecraftian puddle of semi-sentient limbs and organs.  Not only is that horrifying and potentially dangerous, it’s also stealing away the material of the door at a concerning rate.  Vince doesn’t have to break the door down if he just converts it.  I look frantically around the room, at my spilled clothes and my armload of chemicals, but nothing seems to offer a way out.  The pool of flesh is creeping up the sides of the door, turning the frame into fingers, eyeballs and the occasional tongue.

“I’ll be in there in a minute, Dan!” Vince calls in a sing-song voice.  “I’ve got all of the exits blocked.”

I rush to the window, and sure enough, Vince is on my back lawn.  Is this one of the ones who was at the front door with him?  Are there more that I hadn’t seen?  Even if it’s just one of him, he’s a better fighter than I am and he’s obviously prepared for me.

“There’s no way out but past me.  Might as well take it like a man, you worm.”

Suddenly, an idea occurs to me.  It’s stupid and possibly suicidal, but it might create enough confusion for me to slip by.  Rushing to the bed, I place both hands on the comforter and focus on intensifying.

“Uuuuuuuuup!” I chant, clutching the comforter in my fists and raising it into the air.  The material smolders, then bursts into flames.  Thick smoke begins to rise from the bed.  I cough and retreat to the bathroom, returning with a wet washcloth held to my face.

The bed is blazing merrily now and smoke is filling the room.  I crouch low to the floor and pour all of the bathroom chemicals into the largest jug among them, a multi-gallon container of Clorox bleach.  I don’t know if it’ll explode or what, but I cap it, put it on the dresser by the door and hope for some sort of a distraction.

“Why do I smell smoke, Dan?  What nasty little trick are you trying?”  Vince kicks at the door and, weakened by the structural damage it’s taken, the door pops open.  He kicks again, shoving the dresser a few inches backwards.  The smoke rushes out of the room and I hear him cough.  This is probably about as good a moment as I’m going to get.

Washcloth still pressed to my mouth and nose, I crawl over to the door, grab the jug of bathroom chemicals and crouch by the entrance.  As Vince kicks it again, shoving the dresser far enough back for him to enter, I pop the cap on the jug and squeeze it as hard as I can.  Thick white vapor billows out along with a gout of liquid, and Vince screams, coughs violently and staggers backwards.

I leap from my crouch into the hallway, slamming my shoulder into Vince and knocking him off of his feet.  He grabs at my ankle as I run past, so I chuck the bleach jug at his face.  He pulls his hands up to protect himself and I’m running free.

The smoke alarm goes off as I make it to the kitchen, and once again my brain kicks in with, “Call 911!”  Not helpful.

I’m heading for the front door and feeling like I might be home free, when Vince suddenly steps into the door frame.  This isn’t the original, though, which means he’ll take damage.  He steps in to punch at me, but I’m riding high on adrenaline and duck under it.  He manages an elbow to the back of my head, and I see stars as I drop to one knee.  But even as he’s closing in with a kick, I rise back up, putting the full force of my body into an uppercut that smashes him full in the face.  Now Vince is the one on the ground, and my kick to his head is successful.

I’d love to take a moment to catch my breath, but the fire alarm is still shrieking, original Vince is probably back up by now and there could be who-knows-how-many more clones waiting for me.  I stagger out into the street, coughing, and pick a direction to start running again.

[ Next >]


Escape: Part 2

[< Previous ]

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.”

[ Next >]

Escape: Part 1

[< Previous ]

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.

[ Next >]

Incarceration: Part 3

[< Previous ]

“All right,” Brayden says.  “Here’s what’s going to happen now.  While I get everything set up for the transfer, you’re going to go back to the holding cell for a bit.  It could take anywhere from ten minutes to a couple of hours to get this done, so I need you to just sit tight and not cause any problems.  Remember, any of these people could be called on to testify against you in court, so you want to leave a good impression.”

“I have been a model prisoner!” I protest.  “I haven’t so much as run a tin cup along the bars while yelling, ‘Jailer, we’ve got a sick man in here!'”

Brayden looks at me earnestly and says, “Dan, I need to hear you say that you’ll stay calm.  This is the difference between me driving you to the psychiatric evaluation center and you being taken there in cuffs in the back of a police van.”

I raise my hands placatingly.  “Okay, got it.  I’ll keep quiet.”

Brayden starts to stand up from the table and I add, “Can I whistle ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ the whole time, at least?”

He gives me a look that’s half-exasperated, half-concerned.

“Just a joke!” I assure him.  “Man.  Tough crowd.”

A short escorted trip back down the hallway sees me locked back in the holding cell, and McMannis presumably off filing paperwork or making calls or whatever he has to do to get me transferred.  I sit on the bench and think about the next seventy-two hours.

Potentially, this is a good thing.  It gets me out of jail, so that’s a pretty good start no matter how you look at it.  Admittedly, it puts me in a different kind of jail, but it’s one where not only will the people not ignore me, it’s actually their job to talk to me.  So that’ll give me a chance to explain my story.

Now, there’s a very real concern that this whole move is being orchestrated by Ichabot.  He’s clearly got an in with the judge, as evidenced by the immediate restraining order against me.  Probably it’s suggestion-nano based, but maybe it’s just good old-fashioned political influence.  Heck, for all I know, he’s got the judge running nanos of his own like Tanger was, in which case the guy’s totally in his pocket.

I think this is the sort of speculation I’ll keep to myself for the time being.  If the psych doctor asks me “How did you get here?” and I tell him that a judge corrupted by scientifically improbable robots was in thrall to a mad scientist, the rest of my story’s going to be a hard sell.  I’d do better to lead with something else.

I wonder if they serve coffee in the asylum?  I bet they probably don’t.  Riles up the patients or interferes with their meds or something.  I’m going to get pretty riled if I can’t have any coffee tomorrow morning, though.  In the movies, when the patient’s having an interview with the doctor, the doctor usually has a cup of coffee on his desk.  Maybe I can coax some out of him then.

Are you even supposed to call it an asylum these days?  Maybe that’s prejudicial language.  “Looney bin” is the replacement term that keeps coming to mind, though, and I’m sure that’s not better.  “Psych ward” is probably the acceptable language.  I can ask the doctors.

With an effort, I haul my train of thought back on track.  So, assume that I’m going to the psych ward because Ichabot wants me there.  That means I’ll have an uphill battle convincing the doctors that I’m sane, since he could have already given them the belief that I’m not.  But these guys are supposed to be able to set their preconceived notions aside, right?  And I’ve demonstrated many times that talking with someone infected with suggestions from the nanos, reasoning with them and letting their mind see the contradictions, is the best way to counteract them.  So this is really a perfect scenario for me.

For certain values of perfect, anyway.  I’m being sent from jail to a mental hospital to try to prove I’m not a terrorist.  “Perfect” might not the best word to describe any part of this situation.

That said, I don’t actually have any other options right now, so I suppose it’s as perfect as it’s going to get.

I cool my heels for maybe another half-hour or so before Brayden comes striding back into view, accompanied again by Erica, the female police officer who took me to make my phone call.  She motions for me to come to the edge of the cell.

“Turn around, hands behind you,” she says, and I oblige.  She slips handcuffs around my wrists and locks them into place.

Behind me I hear my lawyer say, “Is this really necessary?”

“Protocol,” says the cop.  “Besides, it’s for your protection.  If he becomes violent, you’ll be glad that he’s cuffed.”

“I’m sure that’s not going to be an issue,” says Brayden.

I turn around in time to see Erica shrug as she unlocks the cell door.

“You can’t ever be sure of anything in this job,” she says.

Processing out of the police station is a surprisingly painless process.  They make McMannis sign a half-dozen pieces of paper, but the end result is that in just a few minutes, he’s got my wallet, keys and phone in a Ziploc bag and we’re walking out the front door.  I’ve still got my hands cuffed behind me, but otherwise this is a big improvement in my day.

Stepping outside is psychologically huge.  A tension leaves me, one I hadn’t even realized had settled in.  I bask in the bright sunshine, look up at the cloudless sky, and take a deep breath in relief.

“Feel better?” Brayden asks, noticing my posture shift.

“Immensely,” I say.

“All right, good.  This is my car over here.  It’s going to be about an hour to the hospital, so be prepared to settle in for a while.”

He opens the back passenger door for me.  “The backseat?” I ask.

“Yeah, it’s what they recommend.  Something about the airbags, I think.  Maybe it’s hard to get free of them if your hands are cuffed?  I’m not totally sure.”

“Oh, so instead I should just bounce my face off of the headrest?” I say, getting into the car.  Brayden leans across me to fasten the seat belt.

“How about I just don’t get into an accident?” he suggests.

“Isn’t the nature of accidents that they’re, you know, accidental?”

“Ah,” he says, straightening up, “they may be accidents, but you can avoid them on purpose.”

He closes the door and walks around to the driver’s side.  As he’s getting seated, I say, “That sounds like a fortune cookie.”

“Close,” he says.  “Driving school.”

“Hey, speaking of, you’re driving me all the way out there yourself?  I’m surprised you didn’t pass the job off to someone more junior.”

Brayden laughs.  “You’d be hard-pressed to find someone more junior than me at my firm.”

Sounds like Simmons couldn’t get the big guns out for me, then.  I can’t think of a tactful way to say anything about that, though, so after a short pause, I change the subject.

“You seem awfully calm for someone who’s got a potentially crazed terrorist in his backseat,” I say.

“Allegedly crazed, alleged terrorist,” he says, and I can see him smiling in the rearview mirror.

“So you don’t believe I’m guilty?  Or crazy?”

“It’s my job to believe you, and to get other people to do the same.”

“But what do you personally think?”

“I don’t think about it personally at all.  My opinions don’t come to work with me.  Work is just for facts, and what they can do for us.”

“Have you ever had a guilty client?” I press.

He shrugs.  “I’ve had some who’ve been found guilty, or who plea-bargained.  I don’t pass judgment.  They’ve got judges for that.”

I can’t really think of anything to say in response to that, and apparently neither can Brayden, as the conversation lapses again.

“Radio?” he says after a moment.

“Sure, whatever you like to listen to is good for me,” I say.

He turns it on and flips to a local mix station.  “No satellite radio?” I ask.

“Like I said, junior lawyer.  I’ll spend money on satellite radio once I’ve paid off my law school bills.”

For the next fifteen or twenty minutes, we let the radio do the talking for us.  After a few songs, the DJs take over to do the lunchtime news announcements.  I’m only half-paying attention until a name I recognize catches my ear.

“In weird news, serial arsonist Vince Amano attempted to escape from prison this morning.”

Vince is one of my previous nemeses, the guy who could grow clones of himself out of non-living matter.  It’s kind of funny that they put him away for serial arson, since although he was involved in a lot of fires, I was the one starting them.  In my defense, it was to contain him.  I suppose it’s a lot easier to put someone in jail for burning down the police station than it is to convict them for illegal cloning.

“According to reports, Amano dug entirely through the wall of his cell to escape.  The security cameras at the prison show him running naked across the yard, only to be stopped by the fences.  Maybe the hole wasn’t big enough to get his clothes through, too!”

Brayden laughs, but I feel a chill in my stomach.  Vince’s clones always showed up naked; he couldn’t clone clothing or any sort of accessories, only himself.  So if there’s a hole in his cell wall, a naked version of him outside, and no outcry about how they seem to have two of him in custody now, then there’s a very good chance that the real Vince actually did make his escape this morning.

Last time I saw him, he tried to beat me to death, while I asphyxiated him.  You could say that we didn’t part on very good terms.  So if he’s suddenly gotten his powers back and escaped at the same time as I’m heading to be locked up, that seems like a bad thing for me.  And when you consider that Ichabot is probably the one behind getting me sent to the asylum and therefore knows exactly where I am, it looks a lot like I’ve just had a guided missile pointed in my direction.

Ichabot stripped me of my powers, but they never quite go away entirely.  And in this case, a tiny bit of disintegration is all I need.  Touching as many fingers as I can to the handcuffs, I focus on loathing them as deeply as I can.  The lack of freedom, the physical discomfort, the entire situation that they represent — I pour it all out until, with a whispered clink, I hear the chain fall free of one wrist.

McMannis is approaching a stoplight, which is perfect.  I have an urge to apologize for what I’m about to do, but I really don’t want him to have any warning.  So I sit quietly, still pretending to be cuffed, right up until the light turns green again.  As he’s putting his foot on the gas, I throw the door open, yell “Sorry!” over my shoulder and jump out into the road.

Car horns blare and I hear McMannis yelling, “Dan!  DAN!” behind me, but I’m sprinting for cover and not looking back.

[ Next >]

Incarceration: Part 2

[< Previous ]

I kill the next couple of hours mentally trying out various methods of arresting Ichabot.  The hazmat suit remains the most reasonable of them, but far from the most entertaining.  The method that takes that prize is the one where we lob knockout gas into the room, drag him into a hermetically sealed cell while he’s unconscious, and interrogate him via a camera-and-microphone setup once he wakes up.  I admit that getting canisters of knockout gas might be difficult, but Doc Simmons just told me two days ago that the hospital didn’t have any sort of tranquilizer gun, so I’m improvising.

As the morning wears on and I’m still in the cell, though, I start to get antsy.  The drunks are all released one by one as they wake up, so my accommodations do improve slightly as the morning goes on.  This is especially true after a janitor arrives to swab the vomit off of the bench and floor.  Nevertheless, I’d still like to know things like when I’m getting out of here, or what I’m being charged with.  Failing that, I’d at least like some breakfast.

“Hey!” I call to a random police officer I can see walking by.  He ignores me, but I persist.  “Hey, do I get any food?”

He keeps walking without any sort of acknowledgement, so I try again.  “Can I get some water, at least?  Hey!”

There’s still no visible response, but a minute or so later another officer approaches with a plastic cup of water.

“Step away from the bars,” he tells me, and I do.  He puts the cup down in front of the cell and retreats several steps, then gestures to it.  I squeeze the cup through the bars.  The cheap plastic cracks as I do, and the cup starts dribbling water immediately, so I drink the entire cup at one go.

“Put the cup back through the bars, then step back again,” instructs the officer, and I do that, too.  He picks up the broken cup and turns to leave.

“Hey, is my lawyer coming?  When am I getting out of here?” I ask, but the only response I get is his back turned to me.  They don’t seem big on answering questions around here.

It’s possible that this is a “squeaky wheel gets the grease” situation.  Right now, they’re successfully ignoring me, so perhaps I should raise the difficulty level on that.  They already think I’m deranged, so they can hardly expect me to act normally, right?

Then again, it might not be the best idea to play into that impression.  But being polite hasn’t gotten me anything so far, so it couldn’t really make things worse.  Or could it?  There could be worse things happening to me than “nothing.”  Nothing good is happening to me right now, but nothing bad is, either.  Maybe I should accept the neutral state.

I’m still debating this internally when the female officer from earlier unlocks the door to the holding cell and waves me out.  She’s accompanied by a trim, balding man in a tailored suit.  He looks to be about my age, has a professionally courteous smile and is carrying a briefcase.  Seems fair to assume that he’s my lawyer.

“Dan Everton?” he asks as I step into the hallway.

“That’s him,” confirms the officer before I can speak.

“That’s me,” I say anyway, not to be left out.

“Brayden McMannis, hi,” he says, shaking my hand.  “I’m here to represent you.”

The officer leads us down the hall toward where I made my phone call, but opens a door before we get there and motions us inside the small room.  It has a table, two folding chairs, and no windows.  Honestly, the holding cell was a bit more hospitable.

“Thank you, Erica,” says Brayden, and she smiles at him in response before shutting us in.

“Okay, let’s talk about these charges against you,” says Brayden, sitting down casually in one of the chairs.  I sit across from him, but these chairs are anything but comfortable.  I don’t know how he manages to look so relaxed, especially in a suit.

“Yeah, so,” I say.  “I don’t actually know what the charges are.”

He raises his eyebrows.  “They haven’t told you?”

“They have not.”

He opens his briefcase, takes out a yellow legal pad, and makes a note.  “That’s unusual.  And you’ve been here since when?”

“Probably about eight o’clock this morning?”

“Hm.  All right, well, let’s see.”  He pulls out a printout and begins reading.  “It’s a decent list, but the broad categories are: breaking and entering, assault, battery, destruction of private property, stalking, resisting arrest and terrorism.”

I’m shuffling through events in my head as he lists the charges, mentally matching each one up to what actually happened to prepare a defense, but the last one catches me totally off guard.  “Terrorism?”

“Yes, the lab you broke into — Rossum? — there’s some concern that due to some of the cultures they work with, you might have been trying to steal weaponized viruses or other dangerous biological material.”

“Dude, that’s ridiculous.  I had no idea they had anything like that there.”

“How about the other charges?”

“I mean, they’re ridiculous, too!  But like, at least they’re the kind where I can say, ‘Yeah, but here’s what really happened.’  Terrorism?  That’s nuts.”

I see an expression I can’t interpret flit across his face for a split second.  “Which brings us to an interesting point.  Dr. Argute has taken out a restraining order against you.”

He’s got one against me?  Wow, that’s rich.  Also, fast!  How’d he get that done so quickly?”

“I suspect he pressed the terrorism angle.  You’re ordered to stay away from him and all Rossum properties.”

“Fine, whatever.”

“You’re not worried about this?”

“It’s no more ridiculous than everything else here.  We’ll get it all cleared up at the same time.”

“You keep saying ‘ridiculous.’  Why do you think this whole thing is so ridiculous?”

“Because it is, that’s why!  Peterson — Officer Peterson — asked me to come with him this morning so that we could look into suspicious things that Dr. A was up to.  Now suddenly this whole thing’s been spun on its head and I’m being painted as the instigator?  As a terrorist?  I was working with the police!”

“So you think the police set you up?”

“No!  I mean, not really.  But those charges make it sound like the police were called on me, like I was in the middle of a break-in and they caught me.  I’m just saying that I brought the police.  I showed up with them.  I rode there in Peterson’s car.”

“I see,” says McMannis, making more notes.

“You don’t have to take my word for it.  Even if for some reason Peterson won’t back this story up, check the sign-in roster at the front desk.  I’m on there yesterday, and this morning, too.  My car’s parked out front.  I came from here.  If this was a terrorist plot, it was totally insane.”

That same expression twitches across the lawyer’s face again, and he writes for a few more seconds before saying anything.  To fill the silence, I say, “So, with those charges, what’s bail?  When can I get out of here?”

“Ah.  Well,” he says, “that’s an interesting question.”

“I feel like you mean that it’s an interesting answer,” I tell him.  “And that sounds like it’s not good news.”

“Not entirely,” Brayden admits.  “In addition to the charges, and the restraining order, it’s being recommended that you go in for a psychiatric evaluation.”

“Oh, ‘it’s being recommended,’ is it?” I ask, making the air quotes.  “Just by the environment?”

“By the judge,” says Brayden.

“So by recommended, you mean…”

“Mandated, yes.  Basically.  We can fight this, of course, if that’s what you want to do.  However, in my professional opinion, kicking and screaming ‘I don’t want to go to the nuthatch!’ is not a good way to make it look like you don’t belong in said nuthatch.”

“And in your unprofessional opinion?”

“Well, the beds at the hospital look a lot more comfortable than the benches here,” he says.  It’s a weak joke, but I smile.  It seems like the sort of response that a sane, calm person would have, and that’s really the aura that I want to project right now.

“Okay, let’s say I go through with this,” I say.  “I’m not committing to — sorry, bad choice of words.  I’m not signing on to this yet, but I’m willing to entertain the idea.  So I walk in there.  What happens?”

“They keep you for up to seventy-two hours, during which time they assess your mental health.  There’ll be a lot of talking, a lot of doctors, probably a fair amount of bloodwork taken to see if you have any pharmaceutical reasons for your behavior.”

“I’m clean.”

“Good to know, but I’m sure they’ll test you anyway.  Anyway, after those three days, they’ll release an assessment of your state of mind, and we can use that to bolster your defense in court.”

“Well, if they say I’m crazy, yeah.  But I’m not.”

“Right, we’d take a different tack if they gave you a clean bill of health,” says Brayden.

“You seem awfully doubtful about this.”

“My apologies.  I don’t mean to.  I’m just interested in coming up with the best strategy of defense for you, and I’m sorry if it looks like I’ve skipped over a couple of steps.”

“I don’t mind that you seem to be ahead of the game.  But you’re already assuming that I’m not sane.  How prejudicial is just going in for assessment going to be?”

“Legally?  Not at all.  What matters is what comes out.”

“Yeah.  So in the eyes of most people, only a crazy person would go in for an assessment to find out if they’re crazy.”

“Well, we can have any insinuation like that stricken from the record, and the jury told to disregard it, should it come up.  If you get a clean bill of mental health.”

“So what happens if I refuse to go in for assessment?”

“Well, the thing about a judge’s order is that you can’t really refuse.  If you don’t go in, then they take you in.  Presumably restrained and under guard so that you don’t try to escape on they way.”

“Ah,” I say.  “Then I suppose I’d like to voluntarily go in for testing.”

“A fine choice,” says Brayden.

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