He kept walking.

Michael and his escorts made their way down the hall to the elevator, out of the building, through the bustling streets, and to the subway. He sat squeezed between the two men as they jostled along underground, and his thoughts kept returning to Jackson Porter. His family. His girlfriend, even. Gabriela.

What had happened to the consciousness of the boy once known as Jackson? Was that it for him? Had his mind, his personality, been erased? Or was it stored somewhere, somehow? If Michael could be transferred into Jackson’s body, maybe Jackson could be transferred out.

He kept thinking about how Jackson’s family was basking in the sunshine in Puerto Rico, oblivious that they’d lost a son and a brother. Guilt overwhelmed him. Though it hadn’t been his choice, he’d taken a life, and he wished he could make the loss bearable for them in some way.

Not a word had been spoken between Michael and the others since they’d left the apartment, unless you counted the grunts the men made when they needed to change direction.

Michael sat, quiet, as the train pulled into a station and stopped. The doors opened and he watched absently as the passengers crowded in like herded cattle. There were some who smiled or apologized when they bumped into others. Those were few and far between. One woman barely made it through before the doors closed on her, catching the corner of her handbag. She had to yank hard before it came free, allowing the doors to seal shut.

As Michael observed, his mind started turning. His gaze went from the woman to her purse to the door, and his thoughts picked up speed. What in the world was he going to do? He literally knew no one, had no home, no money, no clothes. No place to start. Did he continue with these people, go to this gathering place, this meeting, find out what Kaine wanted with him? He needed answers from the Tangent, but did he dare let himself be trapped in a situation he couldn’t get out of?

He missed his family and his friends more than anything. They couldn’t all be fake—he refused to accept that.

The train continued along the tracks, flashing lights breaking up the darkness of the tunnel. He was surrounded by people—some dozing, some reading, many just blankly staring into space. Kinto and Douglas sat on either side of him, their shoulders pressed against his, their faces as blank as most of the others on the train.

Michael had a sudden thought: if what Agent Weber from VNS had told him the night before was true, Michael wasn’t alone. Somewhere out there in the big, bad world, he had the two best friends a person could ever ask for. They weren’t Tangents like him—they never had been. They were real. Weber had said so.

Bryson and Sarah.

Michael then realized he was scared of something: what would his friends think of him? He was a Tangent. Did that change things? He had a sudden and terrible vision of them stumbling backward, running away from him, a freak that had taken the body of a real person. Stolen it.

But did he actually believe that? Wouldn’t they understand?

Yes, he decided. Yes, they would.

The train bounced and creaked, everyone staring down at the floor. Lights flashed and dimmed, then blazed back on. His two escorts said nothing.

He couldn’t go with them. He just couldn’t. Yes, he needed answers. Yes, he needed to figure out a way to confront Kaine and find out the why of everything. But not this way. Not with the Tangent calling the shots.

Michael needed Bryson and Sarah. He thanked the stars that he’d seen that poor woman get her handbag caught, because it had sparked an idea.

He had to stay calm. He stilled his whole body until he sat frozen, like a wax figure, and waited for the right moment. The train began to slow and pulled into the next station. The doors slid open and passengers surged off en masse, plowing into those who wanted on the train. Cattle in, cattle out. Michael watched it all calmly, waiting. Riders found their way to seats until those were full, then packed in, clasping handholds attached to the ceiling and the poles running the length of the car. There was a loud tone and the doors began to close.

Without warning Michael launched himself out of his seat, knocking people out of the way, and lunged for the disappearing gap between the closing doors. He stumbled over something, recovered, dove for the thin sliver of an opening. His body made it through, but the doors slammed against his right calf, the rubber seals clutching, holding him firmly in place. He crashed to the ground, twisted around to look back. The two men stood just on the other side of the doors, calmly looking down at him through the gap. Their serene expressions actually scared him more than if they’d grown fangs and wings.

Douglas bent down and grabbed Michael’s foot, pulling him with a shocking amount of strength, while Kinto attempted to force the doors open. They didn’t budge. A blaring bell rang out, followed by a mechanized voice.

“Please remove all obstructions from the path of the door.”

Michael gritted his teeth and pulled his trapped leg, kicking the train with the other, trying to squirm his way free. But Douglas held firm on the other side, twisting Michael’s foot painfully. Michael cried out and struggled even harder. A woman on the train screamed. It was a piercing wail that drowned out the alarm—it must have been clear that Douglas wasn’t exactly trying to help Michael.

Then the train started to move.

It lurched forward, dragging Michael along the cement floor of the station as he tried to grab anything nearby, but there was only the floor. A second alarm rang out, this one more of a booming, electronic clang that filled the air, and the train stopped. Michael’s leg screamed with pain; the doors pinched in a viselike hold where they had closed around his calf. Douglas continued to twist his foot from inside the train, and the other passengers were realizing that he was hurting Michael—doing more harm than good. There were shouts, and Michael strained to look and saw scuffling; a punch was thrown. Douglas’s head snapped to the left, but his face registered no pain. Michael watched it all in a daze, as if his mind had risen out of his aching body.

And then someone was pushing his foot instead of pulling on it. A hand gripped the underside of his calf, trying to leverage it at a better angle. Kinto and a burly man were fighting inside the train—they fell to the ground and Douglas released his hold on Michael. He pulled himself up and pushed against the door of the train with his other foot. The alarms clanged and rang at a deafening pitch. Two men in uniform ran toward him, barking orders he couldn’t understand. People on the train were shouting and pointing at him through the windows.