How long was it? Gary couldn’t tell you, other than to say it was a long time. Hours maybe. The muffled noises decreased. His fear of someone flying down from the third floor was replaced with a bodily soreness from sitting on a stair step, occasionally stooping over to look into the bag and check the device’s functioning. He was sour, his blood sugar was down, his eyes drooped, and now suddenly he found himself sweating again. That’s odd, he thought, looking at his hand. He found to his surprise that it was beginning to tremble. He ran his hand through his thinning hair in an expression of his exasperation, and discovered a static-y mass that was half standing. Something was happening.

His eyes opened wide. Now or never. There was no way to open door to get back into the hall. He could bang on the door or the wall, try to attract attention. He could run down the stairs and out into the night in order to try his hand at getting back in. He knew he had to act. But he was paralyzed by a recognition of two bad alternatives and by the enervating feeling that he had schemed his way into a corner. Maybe he would be able to hear the MIBs enter and clean up the mess. Just muffled thuds on the other side of a fire door.

Not long after the self-loathing crescended, it happened. The sensations of a flooding heat and an expanding static storm rose in him, until he thought he could feel the source behind the wall of Alice’s unit. And then he saw it: at first the faintest glow, much like the fading after-effect created by a flash or a bright light switched on. Then slowly, especially as he glanced away, he noticed more detail, until finally he could see it while staring directly at it. In fact, he walked right up to it and put his eyes in front of the image: extruding as a completely insubstantial image, the platonic ideal of a phosphoric image, in a sickly green, not unlike the hue of old-style green monitors, but with the color constantly threatening to fade into an empty blackness and turning burnt yellow at the very edges.

When Gary had satisfied his momentary fascination and grew alarmed at the growing extrusion, he grabbed his bag — which crackled in his hands and felt as if it were just about to become a bowl of flames — and pulled the device out. He walked the three steps to the image and held the spiral, butt outward, toward the projection. The transmigration continued excruciatingly slowly for another minute, then there was a burst of transformation: in a greenish-white flash that lit every inch of the stairwell with the candle power of a spotlight, the image jumped to his antenna. He was temporarily blinded by the flash, but somehow managed to hold onto the device. At the same time, he could feel burns on his face and hands, and he could feel, actually feel, the image project through his chest. And just as suddenly there was a “whoomp” from immediately in front of him, and the image disappeared — he could feel the burn leave his chest and he could see with one squinting eye that it was gone.

He waited a few seconds before collapsing on a downward step from the landing and dropping the device on his lap. He released a giant breath that he had not realized he’d held. Even his ears felt abused. “Oh my God,” he whispered, “oh my God, oh my God.” He repeated it because it was handy and he wanted to see how well he could hear, repeated it quite a while before irony seeped in. “Jesus,” he concluded.

His face was burning him, and his hands ached when he moved his fingers. Eventually, he looked down at his device like a fisherman might examine his pole after the big one got away. At first he didn’t notice anything, but then it dawned on him that the whole device had been changed: the plastic coating had been burnt off the inner surface — along with a layer of his skin — and the spiral, so crudely formed by him, had become a visually perfect spiral form.

A more perfect vessel, he found himself mouthing.

After a few moments, the sensation of a rising static storm was rekindled. He looked down on at the reformed device on his lap. There was no hum or vibration, but he could feel something — prickling at hand hairs, worrying nerve endings, causing finger muscles to half-fire and tremble. He decided to give things another go, stood up and aimed the device as before, narrow end toward Alice’s apartment. He braced himself, unable to stop his eyes from blinking obsessively in anticipation. Everything was as slow as last time, but when the image appeared, it was a small green stain in the middle of his antenna. The image was new. Gary wasn’t sure what to make of it — the components looked a bit like dominos. But he didn’t concentrate on the message. He wanted to get the hell out of there.

When the message did not fade from view when he stared at it — it was still sickly green, much more faint, just barely extruding beyond the tubular shape — he started down the stairs. The image did wash out for a moment, then it came into better focus, as if in a kind of tuning exercise. He walked with deliberate slowness, barely looking away from the image, as if by sheer will he could keep it from disappearing.

After a minute, he was at the back door. He had the sensation again of being inside someone else’s tribal boundaries, the feeling that he would be out of place no matter what he did or which way he turned. The car was his escape, as it has always been — if you’ll allow me the editorial moment — humanity’s single greatest equalizer.

He turned around to push the emergency release with his back, and took that step into public with a whoosh of fresh air that seemed to clear his mind a bit. The device was glowing suspiciously, to be sure, but unless just queried by two strange men in dark suits about anything unusual, by-passers could make of Gary whatever they pleased. They might glower but no one could imagine that this unremarkable middle-aged man held a revolution in his hands. Gary looked back up over his shoulder as he got into the car. There were no strange SUVs about.

“Do you appreciate what I’ve done?” he said under his breath, both to her and to himself. This was a defining moment, a moment that survivors remember until they lie on their deathbeds, and he desperately wanted to share it with her. But he knew — sharing it now was tantamount to tearing their last connection asunder. He would carry this burden alone, just a little bit further.

The lot was completely abandoned to jacked-up trucks, rental cars and the occasional old American boat. A few rooms had lights and the oscillating glow of televisions. Hip-hop music blared from one room like a challenge to all in its sphere. Gary brought his prize, his still glowing prize, out of the car and into his room; he couldn’t help but feel that the proprietor was peering through his window and nodding. Something sick-o.

Gary set the device down and stared. In his exhaustion, he didn’t know what to feel; his endocrine system was unable to jack him up any more after the jolts of just before, and seeing the bed was like a Pavlovian signal. He watched the device as he flipped the battery off; the signal shrank back up into the antenna, but did not disappear. Seconds passed, then he flopped on the bed and lost consciousness.