He steps out of the bar into a world that for him is almost a year behind him, one that in some ways he’d moved past and in some ways he hadn’t even started to. The Valencia bombing isn’t quite as fresh in his memory, though there’d still been times in the bar when a bright flash of light from somewhere out of the corner of his eye brought him back to that suburban yard, the sight of the mushroom cloud rising on the horizon momentarily filling his vision as though he was back there, watching it all over again.
But for the most part, the event feels distant, even if that distance hasn’t made it much easier to think about. The deaths of nearly 20,000 people and climbing never is.
The world he walks out to, however, isn’t even 48 hours beyond the blast, and so when he steps onto the sidewalk in front of his apartment building--the same sidewalk that had traded itself for the bar so many months ago--it’s a world still in the middle of trying to cope with it.
The first thing he should have realized back in the bar is that the train and inter-city bus service has only just resumed, and is still in chaos. None of the routes heading north are operating, whether they go through Valencia or very far to the east or west. So far the wind is blowing radiation to the west, toward the ocean, but no one seems to want to take the chance that the wind will change. Buses and trains are having to be re-routed around it, taking up space on highways and rails and at stations that don’t have enough tracks or platforms for the traffic.
Not only that, but there are throngs of people competing for every space available. People who’d been stranded when flights had been grounded, when all transportation in and out of the city had ground to a halt for two days. Then there are those that are just leaving, those that aren’t confident that the threat really is over, and are trying to get away from a city that’s been the target of so many attacks over the years.
This is the world that Jack walks out to, and finds himself trying to cope with. That morning he takes one step into Union Station and walks right back out, pressing his back against the station wall. The number of people heading inside as he’d approached should have been a clue, but the number of people packed inside had caught him by surprise, sending his instincts into overdrive.
The Greyhound terminal isn’t any better and Jack walks away with the certainty that he won’t be getting out of L.A. any time in the next couple days. Not when simply being in the stations with all their possible exits and hiding places threaten to send him into an anxiety attack.
Maybe it’s better this way, anyway. If the government’s looking for him, they’ll be expecting him to leave the city as soon as possible. Wait long enough and they might assume they missed him, or that he has no intention of leaving L.A.
It’s four days before he tries again, four days that make it amply clear that spending that time in the bar hasn’t acclimatized him to being free very much at all. While the bar allowed him more freedom than his cell, it still had boundaries, still had places where you could go no further and just ended up heading back where you came from. It also had its own strange kind of order. You were locked in or allowed out by the whim of the Landlord, Bar provided the food and sometimes chose for you. Strangely enough, for someone who’d spent the previous twenty months in a concrete box that was barely eight feet by eight feet, who had been severely punished when he’d disobeyed an order, this had been comforting. It had been just a little freedom, a little choice, giving him a chance to remember what both of those concepts were like.
Outside, though, the thought that he could go anywhere is a little frightening. The lack of boundaries, the abundance of choice is almost paralysing. Faced with so many decisions and no crisis or order pushing him toward one, he finds it difficult to decide, and he hates himself for it. Hates himself for letting his tormentors win, in the end, by creating a prison for him in his own head.
The plan he’d come up with in Milliways is his only guide, and he clings to it, not considering a deviation. It narrows his choices, gives him one step to focus on at a time; a technique he’d found was the only way to stay sane in China. Think only of this one moment, this one task. Don’t imagine what will happen after until you get there, or the thought of the unending scope of everything in front of you will break you. One step at a time.
His plan holds no place for finding Audrey again, for looking up Kim. Chloe had told him after he’d faked his death that Kim had moved away from Valencia after Chase had left her. He has to believe that going back would be too painful for her, and she wasn’t anywhere near the blast. As for Audrey...there’s no way he can help her. How can he be any use, when just getting through the day is a struggle, when he jumps at every unexpected movement, when he keep looking over his shoulder?
No, they’d both been hurt enough because of him. Better that he stay away, draw any danger that might follow him away from them.
So four days after leaving the bar, he's sitting in Union Station, pretending to read a newspaper as he waits for a train to take him east. His ticket's for Tucson; after that, he's not sure where he'll go. Just as long as it's not L.A.