ANTI-MAN by Dean R. Koontz

The Bubble had shielded me from the compressed-air cylinders under the chair, for the cylinders had been slung so that the plastic was blown above them. Now I could reach them. With the wind whistling over me, pulling my hair straight back behind me, I brought the edge of my battered suitcase down on the cylinders, knocking them awry. I struck again, knocked them off altogether. The seat, sans Bubble and propulsion system, wobbled, collided with a wall, and turned over, spilling me onto the floor of the shaft, my face slashed by the soft wires, the rest of my body protected by my clothes.

His capsule bulleted away, almost out of sight before the computer shut down the air suction in the tunnel, and directed all Bubbles to stop-position through remote control shut-off in their propulsion systems.

“Please stay where you are. If you have been involved in an accident within the tubeways, please remain stationary.” The computer’s voice was heavy, even, reassuring. “Assistance is already on the way to the point of the accident. Remain where you are.”

Disregarding the computer, I grabbed my suitcase and started back along the tunnel, away from His capsule. The going was not easy, for the floor, as well as the walls and ceiling, projected thousands of soft wires which were usually used to monitor the Bubble capsules. I walked carefully, pressing the flat of my foot against the sides of them, and forcing them down before me. As I walked, the ones I had trod down sprang erect again behind. Now and then, one of them would slip out from under my foot, and slide painfully up my pants leg, gouging my shins and calves. I could feel my socks getting damp with blood.

Behind, I heard His Bubble capsule shattering. He had probably formed His hands into mallets. I tried to hurry.

“Someone,” the computer said, its voice echoing through the tubeways, “is moving through the tubeways without a capsule. I can pinpoint your location through my sensor cilia. Please sit and wait for the ambulance. It will be there momentarily.”

I turned into a branching tubeway that was blocked by a capsule at rest. I moved up beside it, pressed my body sideways against the wires projecting from the wall. I did not do that maneuver smoothly enough, and some of the cilia punched painfully into my back. I tried again, pressed them flat, and slid around the shell of the Bubble. The man inside looked out at me, wide-eyed, and said something that I couldn’t hear through the plastic Bubble. I did not ask him to repeat it, but moved in front of his capsule, and hurried, as well as I could, down the tunnel toward the bulk of another car, a hundred feet ahead.

“I detect,” the computer said, perhaps a bit more loudly than before, “two distinct movements within the tubeways. There are two individuals moving without benefit of Bubbles. I direct both to cease and desist, and await the arrival of the ambulance.”

I stumbled and fell, managed to throw the suitcase up in front of my chest and groin. I wire-punctured my shoulder, and sent a hot pain through my flesh, but I was otherwise unscathed. I stood, blessing my suitcase, and continued toward the next vehicle blocking the tunnel.


I pretended I did not hear.


I could not stop myself. I looked over my shoulder. He was a hundred feet behind, back at the last capsule. He was waving at me. I turned, squeezed against the wires, and moved between the tube wall and the shell of the Bubble. On the other side, I moved more quickly than before, oblivious to what the stray wires were doing to my ankles and calves.

“This is a command to stop,” the computer said.

I kept moving, almost a slow run now, and I was certain He had not stopped following me.

“Halt!” the computer boomed. “From preliminary scan of my sensory cilia, neither of you seemed to be wounded. From that same information scan, it is apparent the second of you is in pursuit of the first.”

I ran.

“You are both guilty of sabotaging the public transportation system, a crime which is punishable by not less than one and not more than five years in prison.”

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Categories: Koontz, Dean