ANTI-MAN by Dean R. Koontz

I stopped waiting for an opening, and shoved off the slow belt, onto the next one, almost knocking a dignified gray-haired man on his behind. The next belt was relatively clear, being the fastest one. I crossed to it, felt the jolt of a few extra miles an hour, then made the last crossing to the slower, innermost belt that passed the fronts of the stores. When I came to a drugstore, I got off and went through the swinging glass door.

The clerk was highly solicitous when I told him that some fool had changed pedways without looking, and had knocked me off into the narrow paved sections between opposing rows of belts. He helped me gather what I needed, and showed me the rest room where I could perform first aid on myself. I locked the door of the bathroom, put the lid down on the commode, and sat down to take stock of my injuries. I took off my shoes and socks, winced at the cuts on my legs. None of them were particularly deep, though they all trickled a little blood. I took a gauze pad from the large box I had bought and swabbed away the blood with alcohol from the (also large) bottle I had purchased. Then I coated them with a clotting and antiseptic agent, put my shoes back on. The socks were a loss. I treated my palm wound and the scratches on my hand, cleaned and swabbed my face. When I was finished, I did not look so bad at all, except for my clothes. And the pain was considerably lessened by the antiseptics and the clotting agents.

I deposited all my medicinal purchases in the toilet waste can and went back outside on the pedways. I remained on the slowest of the belts until I found a clothing store, where I purchased a new outfit and changed in their dressing room.

After that, there was only one more stop. I found a sporting-goods center and purchased another arctic suit. I emptied everything else out of my suitcase into a public trash receptacle, and packed in the insulated clothing.

Thirty minutes later, I was aboard a high-altitude rocket that would take me over Anchorage, Alaska. The journey might have been nostalgic, this heading to Alaska in the dead of night, this feeling of being chased permeating everything about me, everything I thought and did. But all I had to do was think of Him in the cellar of Harry’s cabin, think of the warped grin on the face of the android who had tried to kill me and had chased me through the tubeways. Then all nostalgia drained swiftly away. And was replaced with anger. And fear . . .

I went down into Anchorage in a drop capsule, rented a car, and drove up the familiar freeway to Cantwell. At the Port, I found a concession area where I could rent a magnetic sled. In the small shopping plaza underground, I bought a pair of heavy-duty wire clippers in a variety store. I loaded the sled and clippers in the car and drove out to the park. The gate was closed, of course, but I had never allowed that to stop me before. Parking the car along the fence near post number 878, I changed into my arctic clothes and boots, then unloaded the sled and struggled with it to the fence. I clipped at the thick wire for perhaps twenty minutes, finally made a hole wide enough, and shoved the sled through. I clambered after it, turned on its magnetic field, and boarded it, strapping myself in. In half an hour, forty minutes at the most, I would be at the cabin. I trembled, thought about turning back, then pressed down on the accelerator and shot forward toward the trees.

I handled the sled like a veteran now. That wild, careening trip with the wounded Justice Parnel had broken my fear into pieces, smashed those pieces to powder, and blew them away. I was reckless, but in a calculating way. Once, I almost missed a rise that came on me suddenly, almost tipped the sled over, but I pulled back on the wheel at the last possible second, and we glided up and over it without catastrophe.

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Categories: Koontz, Dean