The first thing Alan does after he gets home from Sam's "house" (his Snow Crash Pad, as Roy dubbed it) is call Lora and Roy over Skype. He's not worried about the hour; Roy never sleeps anyway, and he knows Lora's awake even despite the time difference because he's been texting back and forth with her since before the board meeting.

Since the pager went off.

"You sent him down there alone?" Lora exclaims in disbelief. "Alan!"

"You know what that part of town's like, man." Roy chimes in. "And it's ass-thirty in the morning. We should have all gone together."

Alan winces. It isn't like those exact thoughts haven't been repeating themselves on loop inside his head since he drove away. Still, he tries to hold his ground, tries to rationalize. "I swung by the arcade before the meeting, right after I got the page…the place is still locked up tight. No sign anyone's been there. And you both know Sam…if I'd suggested we all go with him he would have balked. He's got his cel on him, he knows who to call if there's trouble."

"Knows who to… Alan, have you met him?" Lora has that look on her face, the one that says she'd dearly love to reach through the internet and smack him upside the head.

"…if there's anything to find, Sam deserves to be the one to find it." Alan replies softly. "We all promised him." He glances to Roy's screen. "Have you had any luck with the back-trace yet?"

"I'm working on it, but it's weird, Alan. It was a wireless signal, and it definitely bounced off the cel tower nearest the arcade, but I can't figure out where the hell it was transmitted from. Whoever sent it is either a spy, a genius, or a ghost."

Wouldn't that be something, Alan thinks, and tries to ignore the way his skin is suddenly prickling.


4:45, and Alan's long since given up on sleep.

He's paced restlessly through the empty house, trying to burn off excess nervous energy, but it doesn't help. He tries to fix himself something to eat, only to find himself staring blankly down at the sandwich for almost five minutes before giving it up as a bad job and pouring himself another cup of coffee, instead.

The feeling has been building since he said goodnight to Lora and Roy, and it isn't just worry for Sam (though he keeps compulsively checking his phone every few minutes), or even his own burning need to know where the page came from and what it means. It's as if someone's set a cattle prod against the base of his spine, the charge set on low but increasing slowly and steadily until the tingle becomes a burn. At one point Alan catches movement out of the corner of his eye and is so startled by his own reflection in the sliding-glass door leading from the kitchen to the patio that he actually jumps. He wants to do something, feels as though he must do something or he's going to break, but he can't (remember) figure out what and every action he takes feels wrong somehow.

He checks his Android again. It's only been two hours since his conference call with Lora and Roy, but it feels like years. As if this whole insane night has slowed to a crawl since his old pager suddenly went off…or as if his perception of time has somehow been jacked up to the point that everything around him seems to be moving in syrupy slow-motion. He drags his hands through his hair, fisting them briefly at his temples.

Dammit Sam. Call me. Tell me what's happening. Or I'm going to lose my mind.


Alan doesn't realize he's dozed off on the couch until a harsh buzzing from somewhere in front of him snaps him from a hazy, harried dream he can't quite remember (blinding lights, red on gold, a blow that sends him plummeting into black water with the force of hitting concrete, sinking deeper and deeper and dammit you've fought this hard this long don't you dare give up now…). He focuses his eyes on the coffee table, staring stupidly at it until his head finally clears and he realizes what's happening.

The pager. The pager's going off again.

He doesn't bother getting dressed. He grabs his coat off the hook, throws it on over his t-shirt-and-track-pants pajama ensemble, steps into his jogging shoes, and two minutes later he's out the door, into the breaking dawn.