Finally his leg slipped free from the vise of the two doors and they slammed shut.

Michael pulled his leg in and rubbed his calf and ankle, watching from the ground as the train lurched into motion again. The alarm cut off and the familiar creaks and groans of transit resumed. He glanced up as the cars disappeared into the tunnel. In the very last one stood Douglas, staring back at him through a grimy, fingerprint-smeared window, ignoring the still-chaotic scene playing out behind him.

And for the first time, the man looked angry.

Chapter 3: A Hitch in the Gut

Michael winced and clutched his leg, breaking his gaze with Douglas as he slipped away. The screeching sounds faded into echoes as the train finally vanished into the darkness of the tunnel. There was a scuffle of footsteps and then the two officials were lifting him to his feet. He stepped gingerly on his injured leg and thanked them.

After a couple of minutes of scolding and reprimanding, they let him go, warning him not to do something so stupid ever again. Neither of them had noticed that he’d actually been escaping a kidnapping or that a couple of stone-cold-expressionless men had been trying to yank him back onto the train. Which was a relief to Michael. He didn’t want to draw any more attention to himself. He dusted off his clothes and tested his leg. It hurt, but it wasn’t broken. He finally limped out of the station and onto the city sidewalks.

He stopped to take it all in. There were people everywhere, cars everywhere. And the world was full of sound. Horns and engines, talking and shouting and laughing. A hovering cop car zoomed past above him. The brightness of the day blinded him slightly, making everything a sea of blurred movement. He was still shaking from having lost Douglas and Kinto; it would take some time for him to adjust.

He found a bench and sat down, and not just because his leg ached. The whirlwind of events since he’d read the letters from Gabriela and Jackson Porter’s dad had spared Michael from having to figure out what was going on. Kaine might’ve provided answers, but Michael had no doubts about his decision to run—he needed to stay as far away from Kaine as possible. How could he possibly trust the Tangent?

Elbows on knees, he dropped his head into his hands and took a deep breath. The reality was, to find Bryson and Sarah—to find his next meal—he’d need something he didn’t have.


He desperately needed money.

His stomach rumbled with hunger and he almost laughed. It was funny how his old “fake” life resembled this new one. Unless he wanted to beg or go Dumpster diving, he’d need to figure out a way to fill his coffers with electronic cash. Then he realized the bigger problem: he didn’t have any coffers. The kid known as Michael didn’t exist in this world.

But Jackson Porter did. And according to the note the Porters had left, they knew he’d need money while they were in Puerto Rico.

Michael felt another pang of guilt, then reminded himself that Kaine had done this to the boy, not Michael. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to force himself to accept the thought. But he couldn’t. Because he now existed in the real world, a family would never be the same. Maybe he could pretend, make the Porters believe their son was alive, just off to see the world. They’d be sad—not to mention Gabriela—but not utterly devastated.

He was safe for the short term, anyway, and would just take what money he needed. When the family returned from their vacation and realized he was missing … Well, one day at a time.

Right then he needed a better place to sit—a little darker, so he could see a NetScreen more clearly—and some time on the VirtNet. He found a relatively clean corner tucked away in an alley with just enough passing traffic to keep the hooligans away, and he sat down on the hard pavement to work. One click of his EarCuff and the glowing green screen that belonged to Jackson Porter flashed to life in front of him.

Then a cold fear crawled up his spine. What if his coding skills had been as fake as his life in the Sleep? What if the code was somehow different out in the Wake? The real Wake.

Scarcely able to handle the thought, he got to work, and soon realized his fears were unfounded.

He swiped and typed, allowing his mind to take over, and he dug further and further into Jackson’s and his family’s lives, searching the Net for codes and files he’d used or heard about before—password unlockers, false-identity creators, secret sites about the ins and outs of bank cybersecurity. It wasn’t long before he’d created an entirely new human being—new to the virtual world, anyway. He called this new human Michael Peterson.

Kaine knew his first name, but it was common; there had to be thousands of Michaels out there. Hundreds of thousands. He couldn’t bring himself to use a completely different name—it was all he had left from the life that had been taken. Plus, Kaine probably expected him to change it.

Luckily for him, the Porters weren’t hurting in the money department. Michael started the process of transferring funds, making all the trails appear as if their sweet boy, Jackson, had actually taken cash credit withdrawals, practically untraceable.

Things were running more smoothly, more quickly than Michael would’ve hoped, and he was just beginning to feel good about himself when a glitch hit. A diagonal line of bright blue slashed across the NetScreen. It only lasted half a second, but his stomach dropped. The glitch was unmistakable. Somebody was trying to break into his system.

Another slash. Brighter. Followed by another.

Michael’s hands flew between the screen and the keyboard, his instincts taking over. He built makeshift firewalls and scrambled his digital signal—Jackson Porter’s digital signal, rather—and coded some other quickie programs to block the intruder. But he could tell from the strength of the pushback coding that whoever it was had massive skills.

There was no question in Michael’s mind. It was Kaine.

Michael couldn’t hold him off much longer. The two dull-faced men who’d come to take him away must’ve reported back up the chain of command. Michael was now officially rogue, and Kaine wouldn’t be happy.

Michael kept working, feverishly. He had to get a few more things done before he could sign off. Wrap up the new identity so he could access him later, tie off any loose ends so Kaine wouldn’t be able to find him when he did so. He had to finalize the accounts, secure the money, make sure he could access it from somewhere else, respond to the Porters so they’d know their son was safe.