Act 01 — Chapter 01

The sound of bells signaled the end.

Today ended normalcy and all I had been allowed to know. Today I would turn the page on the worst chapter of my life and write a new story, get a pristine front cover, and change my life’s genre.

For today was December 23, the last day before the Christmas Holidays, and I had resolved to start the new year in a new place. By the time 2015 rolled around, I too would be a new and better person.

Today was a good day for positivity.

If all went as it had before, I would walk to my car with nobody approaching me, and I would drive home with no disturbances. Mother and Father wouldn’t be there, but I had already said my goodbyes to them. This was the better way; I knew that. Better for everyone involved.

The first two things met my expectations: Layla pretended I didn’t exist as we saw each other on the parking lot, and the universe didn’t see fit to punish me with an accident on the way home. The second thing was almost surprising at this point. No, that’s a good thing. Positive thoughts. Today is a day for positivity.

Everything went as expected until I parked my car and saw Father’s black sedan inside the garage. Mother’s car was also there, so they were definitely home. Of course they would be there when I didn’t want them to be, why wouldn’t that be the case? Not surprising, but still disappointing.

Positivity can go to hell.

It was almost funny, but not in a good way. When Father told me a month ago that I would—once again—not be going to France with them, I was mad. Anyone would get mad when punished through no reasonable fault of their own.

I had yelled at the Headmaster, and the old bastard deemed that enough cause to attempt to expel me. I suspected he had been looking for a “donation” from Father, for he did get one—of course he did. I hated that self-righteous sycophant, but what mattered at that moment was that it was thanks to him that I would not be going to France for Christmas. It was unfair, but it wasn’t new.

Yet against all odds, because apparently the universe wasn’t done with my punishment, things changed after that, and I was to go to London with Mother and Father. Not Paris, but London. Of all the places we could go, it had to be that hellhole. I wondered if Father knew my secret, if I was the reason he had decided to go there, but I didn’t think he hated me that much—at least not yet; he would soon, but it wouldn’t make much of a difference to the state of things then or now.

Things were never simple, and they would invariably be less simple if Father was involved. That was just the way he was; that was just the way we were. I didn’t fault him for it, and I wasn’t sure I would fault him for it even if he had planned the trip to London with me in mind. We were past that point.

In the end, I managed to convince Father to let me stay here until New Year’s Day before going to London to stay with Mother. I supposed I convinced Mother too, but she wasn’t in the habit of making her opinion be taken into account on matters involving her daughter, so what she thought was irrelevant.

Sitting inside my car, I took a moment to mentally prepare; I took a moment to assure myself that they did not know, that they could not know and would only know once it was over. With a last deep breath, I left the car and entered my house.

I didn’t bother looking for my parents in the first floor; if Father was here, he was most likely in his study. I ascended the helical staircase to the second floor, left my school bag in my room, walked to the other end of the floor, and found my parents exactly where I had expected them to be.

I passed by Mother reading a book on her bed and went to Father’s study where he was reading a newspaper. That surprised me; Father would only delay reading the newspaper if a true crisis occurred. He was a creature of habit—habit I scorned—and for that, I was scorned.

I knocked on the open door to call his attention. “Father. I thought your flight was this morning.”

He looked up from his paper—but didn’t set it aside—as he said to me, “Katherine. It was delayed; we are leaving tonight at eight.”

Father was not a man who showed his emotions to those he didn’t trust; he would be “Proper” with them instead. Propriety was very important to Father. I was certain he was suppressing his desire to bemoan the incompetence of the airline, or to go on at length about the “decline of American society.” I could think of several groups of people he would be blaming at this very moment. He was probably right about some of them.

All the better for me if Father restrained himself.

“I see. I’ll be in my room.”

It was a hindrance, but not a setback. If they left at eight, I would still have enough time to go through with my plans, so I headed to my room to get ready mentally if not physically.

But Mother had plans of her own. As I walked past her door, she said, “Blair.”

She had set down her book to look at me—either this was important or she was bored. Hopefully it would be the second.

“Yes, Mother?”

“What are you planning to do while we’re gone?”

So she was bored, then. Of course.

“Nothing much. Read, mostly. There are some assignments I need to get ready for when school starts again.”

“Will you go to any Christmas parties with Layla?”

Damn it, I couldn’t do that even if I didn’t have other plans already, because fuck me, and fuck Texas, and fuck the whole damn South. Except Layla.

“Maybe. But I think I’ll just order food and have a movie night here, invite friends over.”

Mother spent a long moment looking at me before nodding. I wished she would hurry; this was pointless. Even more pointless than usual.

“That sounds fun. I watched a film by Hitchcock yesterday. I left the DVD next to the library’s TV; I think you’ll like it. It’s not the first one hears when people talk about Hitchcock, but it surprised me how good it was. And Lawrence Olivier is always wonderful, isn’t he?”

Why on Earth was she telling me this? And what the hell, I knew which one she meant, of course I did—I was the one who bought it, after all. Who else could have bought it if not her or me? Father certainly wouldn’t do it. Was she doing this on purpose?

“Yes, he is. I’ll watch it. Thank you, Mother.”

Now she was looking around the room. What more could she possibly want from me? We said goodbye yesterday; it was done.

After what felt like an eternity, she donned a smile and said, “Well, go on, then. I’ll go say goodbye before we leave.”

Having been excused, I left Mother’s room and went to mine.

I stood in front of my closet, wherein lay all I would need. I knew I shouldn’t open it yet, but I felt anxious and wanted something to do, so I compromised and briefly opened my closet to take out only a black leather duster.

I looked at it, ran my hands over it, even smelled it. There wasn’t anything objectively special about the coat: it was simply another article of clothing, albeit an expensive one. But this coat was very important to me. This coat signified change, and it symbolized hope.

Change equaled salvation, and hope meant absolution

I would wear this coat tonight, but now was not yet tonight, so I returned the leather duster to the closet and closed the doors. I knew better now than I did in the past. I would follow the plan, make no mistakes along the way, and achieve the desired result.

There were still a few hours until Mother and Father left. I thought it would be wise to take a nap so as to be well-rested tonight, but I couldn’t bring myself to even attempt to sleep. Still, I wanted to do something productive right now, so I went downstairs to the kitchen and came back with a prepackaged sandwich. Energy was important.

I sat on my bed eating my sandwich while thinking about what would happen tonight. I was ready; I had been practicing for two months. I would have done it earlier, but practice brought to attention things I hadn’t been aware of, and I wasn’t willing to fail tonight—or any night after for that matter—so I kept practicing until I knew all there was to it. This was my first time; the previous times did not count.

I washed my hands in my room’s adjacent bathroom after finishing my sandwich, and I laid down over my bed’s covers. I knew I wouldn’t achieve my goal tonight, but it would be a step toward it. The first real step.

Everything depended on achieving this goal.

I thought of the past; I thought of why this course of action was available and necessary. Next month it would be twenty years since the Storms of Awakening came, bringing with them the gift I had earned. The power that freed me, that made me better, worthier than I was or could ever have been otherwise. The power that would keep me alive from now on. The power I already loved.

The lightning storms lasted thirty days from start to end, from January 14 to February 13 of the year 1995. They went through the entire world over that time, and there were some casualties—five hundred thousand or so throughout the world, if I remembered correctly—but compared to what the Storms brought, what they took was not much at all.

After the storms, or in some cases during, people for all intents and purposes completely different from each other became something greater than they had been. There came reports of a Mexican drug lord surrounded by a cyclone of metal, of the miracles performed by an elderly Chinese monk healing injury and disease with a touch of his hands, of the assassination of a popular British royal by an Irish terrorist said to move through walls, and even of a Russian politician rumored to read minds. All of them dead, now.

There weren’t many, and at first it had been thought to be a hoax. Then video recording of the Mexican drug lord kicking up a storm of flying metal reached the news, and it officially went from hoax to “anomaly.” Two months later, an American scientist named Christian Samuel decided to call the anomalies Diahumans. He said he chose the name because the anomalies could “reach across” to a source of energy outside what was known, but I wondered if he had decided on such a neutral term to avoid controversy. I found the name to be much better if one interpreted its meaning as Divine instead, which was what most Diahuman Supremacists did. Maybe he had meant it that way.

Regardless of name, there was one thing all diahumans had in common: the awakened always gained their gift during sleep after having experienced a life-changing moment of some sort. The particularly unlucky could wake up and notice that at some point during the night they had burnt down their house, and the even more unlucky could wake up as something that didn’t even resemble a human.

I was fortunate in that regard. Two months ago, I woke up being held by a naked girl. At the time, I panicked and jumped out of bed—who wouldn’t? But when I looked at the intruder, I saw the same black hair, the same hazel eyes, the same body as me in every respect, not a detail out of place, and not even my hurried escape had been enough to cause my doppelganger to stir.

Having calmed down somewhat after realizing I was not about to become a victim of murder, I noticed an odd feeling, something I could not quite name. I was aware of exactly where her body was even if I wasn’t looking at it, just like I was aware of my own body’s position. It was an odd sensation, but not uncomfortable—it was too vague to be much of anything. Later I would learn that what I felt was most likely a sense called proprioception, and I would immediately proclaim it as the most underrated of senses.

The girl, my doppelganger, lay unmoving and unseeing on my bed as I took my time to stare at her. She was as still as nothing living was, which made her seem dead despite her visible breathing—the rise and fall of her chest made all the more noticeable by the rest of her body doing a perfect imitation of a doll. Seeing as her body was my body, it was slightly unnerving. This is what I would look like in a coffin, was the thought that crossed my mind.

I shook off my morbid ramblings, sat on the bed, and made her move. I didn’t need a plan; I could feel it as if it had always been there: a way to move her body as if it were mine. And it truly was mine, I realized. There was no difference between our bodies, she moved as I willed her to move, and I was as conscious of her body as I was of mine. That made her mine.

I made her sit up in bed, look at me, and touch my face. Bizarrely, it felt like someone else’s hand touching me. I touched her instead, but I only felt my hand touching her, not myself being touched by my hand. I instinctively knew something was missing, like how one’s hands feel alien when they have gone numb. So when I tried again, I closed my eyes and concentrated on what in my mind I could feel was her body.

I felt it then: I felt my hand touching her body, and I felt my body being touched. I saw myself clad in black silk pajamas, sitting on the bed sheets and reaching my hand toward me. Everything about this new body I felt, and everything about it felt like mine. I never lost sensation of my original body, but I became so entranced by the senses of my new self that at some point I started to forget that this was only a copy of the real me.

I looked at my true body and realized I still had my eyes closed, so I opened my eyes.

The world didn’t make sense to my eyes any more. Everything was here yet there at the same time, and I couldn’t comprehend where anything was, not even myself. I felt sick and confused, and in my panic I desperately wanted it to stop, afraid that I had broken something and nothing would ever look right again.

That was when my new body disappeared, and I was left alone in my room once again.

The world was back in its proper order, yet my panic only increased. I had wasted a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I wanted her back more than I wanted to breathe. Then, as if summoned by my thoughts and desires, she was back. I was back. She was standing naked next to me. and when I hugged her from the floor and found she really was there, I began crying from relief—relief from a suffocating sense of loss that I didn’t yet know was misplaced.

All that day I spent experimenting. There was no right or wrong in experimenting; there were no mistakes that would lead to regret. It was fun.

My empirical efforts served to confirm that while I could sense through both my bodies at the same time, trying to use two sets of eyes simultaneously led to unbearable disorientation. I found that although the new bodies felt real, I couldn’t truly live inside them, but attempting to do so had led to an interesting discovery: I could switch the location of my real body with that of my copy, in what functioned much like instantaneous teleportation.

When I wasn’t busy jumping around in joy, I practiced walking, jumping, and moving one body while looking through the other. But the most interesting thing happened when I thought about going out. I wanted to have my ability available outside, but I couldn’t let a naked copy of myself be seen in public.

I willed my copy to disappear, remade her while thinking about her clothed, and then there she was wearing clothes. I didn’t even to form a picture in my mind, just the mental representation of myself wearing one of my outfits: black jeans that were comfortable yet looked tight, a red shirt of a most eye-catching scarlet shade, and a black leather jacket that defined the word cool. Logically it was surprising that I could do it all without even trying, but it also felt instinctively right—as if it was only natural that I could create those things. I didn’t like to question good fortune, and at that moment I needed good fortune more than I ever had before. I welcomed it all with open arms.

Wanting to see if the clothes would remain, I dismissed my copy of myself, and the clothes vanished along with it. It was worth a try.

I decided to go out with a new copy. I sat on my bed and closed my eyes, feeling all that my copy felt. However, trying to open the door with my copy resulted in the doorknob not moving in the slightest, regardless of how much strength I applied. Puzzled by this development, I turned the knob with my real body and made a small opening to the hallway outside. I then tried to have my copy pull open the door with both hands, but it failed to budge even an inch. Thoroughly confused in the wake of the unexpected and unwilling to give up yet, I tried to push the door closed with my copy, but that also felt like pushing against an immovable object.

I did give up on the door then, and I decided to try touching other things. My computer, the bed I was sitting on, and the window, in that order. My doppelganger went though the computer as if it were a ghost, touching the bed and the clothes on my body felt completely normal, and trying to open the window was like pushing against the earth itself. I wasn’t sure what the difference between those things was, but I decided to move on.

I used my real body to open the door, and I sent my copy down to the kitchen. I—my copy—passed by my mother in the living room and said good morning to her, but she didn’t even acknowledge my presence. Not even Father would react quite like that, so I said good morning again, and again I got the same result. I moved to her, stood between her and the television, and she didn’t seem to mind. I tried to touch her arm, and I went through her.

Any disappointment I may have felt over my copy’s inability to interact with most objects was surpassed by my euphoria upon finding out I could be invisible for most intents and purposes. Mother didn’t get to hear my joyous laughter.

It had been a while since I had woken up and, engrossed in experimentation as I had been, I hadn’t eaten anything yet. I got dressed and went to the kitchen, passed by my mother and my unmoving copy, and said hi to Mother. She looked at me as she replied with her greeting, and for a moment I felt a ghost of a presence on her body—the same faint sensation I got from my copies when I wasn’t focusing on them. The feeling vanished the moment my mother turned back to the TV.

I had an idea of what that could mean, but I didn’t want to risk doing anything to my mother. I got myself a bottle of juice and a sandwich, and I went back to my room. I would keep practicing until I understood what my power could do.

That night, I went out and sensed the faint presence of a person’s body whenever someone looked at me—even if I couldn’t see them, I was aware of where people were from feeling their bodies as if through their own sense of self.

I tested my suspicions of what that sensation meant when an old woman with colorful eyeglasses crossed the street across from me. She looked at me, and I used the ghostly feeling of the old woman’s body to create a projection—the official term for my copies—wearing the same clothes as me, right next to me and the copy I had made from myself. The old woman noticed the new copy, but no one else did; her eyes widened as she looked at me and my perfect copy suddenly standing in front of her, and I dismissed it then. She seemed to dismiss what she had seen as easily as I had dismissed my projection, and I was glad I hadn’t tried it on Mother. She would not have been fooled, and not even my mother could have ignored such a thing.

While testing with the old woman, I noticed that it wasn’t any harder to have two copies than to have one, and that I could project no farther than a few feet away from me even though I could feel people much farther away. But that was as far as I was willing to experiment in public for now, so I decided to head home. I had my copy walk home while I looked at shops; that way, I could test the “switch” I had done earlier. More importantly, I just felt like shopping. Everyone walked through my copy as if she weren’t there—which was good because although I could control her and knew where she was, my copy walked blind while I looked at clothes.

I bought an ice cream cone and a ring I thought would have looked good on Layla’s hand. It was silly of me, and I knew that, but I did it anyway. Ice cream made everything a little better, and my new gift was exhilarating beyond words. For a moment, I felt as if things were good again. I thought I might be able to fix everything now that I had true power.

Then I stopped feeling my projection. One moment there was the sensation of a me two blocks away, and the next there wasn’t. I thought maybe it got hit by a car, so I walked to where I last felt it and found there was nothing there. I tried projecting again, this time looking through its eyes all the while, and again it disappeared after walking two blocks. I tried once more, but this time I kept a constant distance with my projection, walking two blocks behind it while eating my ice cream, and my copy remained this time. Two blocks seemed to be the limit of my range. Infinite range would have been nicer, but two blocks wasn’t bad.

I thought back to that feeling I got when people looked at me, and I realized I hadn’t felt anyone past two blocks. I had assumed no one could see me from so far away, but now I realized it had more likely been because they were outside my power’s range.

My Power. That was the moment it dawned on me what this all meant. I knew about diahumans, everyone did, but most people would only see them on the news—maybe hire an independent if they had enough money. Or if one was unlucky enough, one could be the victim of a criminal—most likely unregistered—diahuman. They just weren’t something that truly mattered in most people’s lives, unless you knew someone killed by Shell or Scarcity or had come to the States from Mexico.

But despite the rarity of diahumans, everyone was interested in them to some degree, and anyone who claimed they didn’t want powers was a liar. Years ago I too had tried to find a way to gain powers, but the internet had only offered what everyone already knew: a traumatic event of some sort was involved, yet the nature of it varied from person to person. There had recently been a much-televised case of a diahuman who claimed he hadn’t received powers after being shot by a robber, but instead got them a week later when he realized he would miss a sports competition.

In short, there was nothing I could do about it, so I stopped trying to gain powers while secretly hoping they would come to me someday.

But now that I had them, I was more than I was before. I was better, and I could be worthy. I was part of something great; I had been given an opportunity to improve my life. I was most certainly not about to try to save the world from imaginary threats or any such nonsense, but I knew I couldn’t stumble my way through life without knowing what it meant to have this power, what it meant to be a diahuman.

So I decided to research. Therefore, the internet.

But I had to get home before I could do that, so I remade my copy—with different clothes this time—and walked two blocks behind it until it reached my house. I hid myself, and I hid my projection, and only then did I switch. It worked exactly as before: I still had my clothes—not the projection’s—and the projection was exactly where I had been hiding, while I was now outside my house.

I entered my house, said good night to Mother and Father, and went to my room to turn on my computer. Most of the night I spent researching. I found interviews of diahumans, research papers by academics (which said what amounted to nothing), news of diahuman crimes, and discussion about the differences around the world when it came to the treatment of diahumans.

But what would prove most fateful was an essay I found after hours of searching.

The essay spoke of what it meant to be a diahuman, and what it meant for society to have diahumans in it. Where society could be in the future if diahumans were to be given positions of power to govern over humans, like Russia had done. The author wrote about the wonders that came from diahumans, and claimed that one day all humans would be elevated by the gift of power, but that until then, all diahumans had a duty to life and civilization itself to utilize their gifts for the progress of mankind.

The author wrote of a role for me in that society, a duty and obligation, but not in the way Father talked about it. It didn’t feel like a responsibility, but a right; it felt important, and it felt mine. The author said there were things I could do and be proud about. They said I was important.

When I first read this essay, I skipped the author’s name and glossed over the title. I had read so many articles that night written by different M.D.’s and Ph.D.’s that I stopped caring about titles, for they all had said what amounted to very little regardless of having a prestigious author or not.

That turned out to be an important decision, for everyone knew the author of this particular essay. It had not been noteworthy at the time of its release, but it certainly was now. At the top of the essay was only the appellative “The Professor,” and I was deeply and immediately distressed by the presence of those two simple words.

“The Professor” was the name that sociology professor Eli Bishop had taken. What group he belonged to and what he had done were matters everyone in the world was familiar with. One couldn’t live in America without seeing him and his associates featured on the news at the very least once a month. “The Professor” was a name more familiar than that of the president, Eli Bishop’s unremarkable face more distinctive than that of any leading actor.

The Professor was the founder and leader of The Society for Diahuman Interests, a group for diahuman rights of a more radical nature than most.

I wouldn’t mince words; they were terrorists—the most wanted and reviled criminals in America and probably the world. They were important enough that they could call themselves “The Society” and there would still be no doubt over the object of discussion.

It bothered me that it was his words that had finally reached me, but not because of what he had done; it bothered me because the role I had been so taken with was the role of a criminal. It was not a matter of morals; it was a matter of lifestyle. I did not want to be a fugitive; it seemed like a very difficult way to live. Despite their incredible power, most of The Society’s members ended up dying.

The Professor’s role for me was disappointingly too troublesome after all, but I still liked his essay very much—it was an appeal in favor of me and my rights, so how could I not? I understood the importance of his cause, for I now knew what the United Kingdom was doing to diahumans like me, and The Society’s methods were not excessive if they kept our country from becoming like that.

The news called them monsters, but the news had never done more than judge me too. They did not understand, and they did not try to understand. The Society understood, and they were on my side. I wouldn’t sacrifice myself for them and their cause, but I could still agree with them and wish them luck.

I wanted to talk to The Professor, and for that purpose I looked for ways to contact The Society, but it seemed they were the ones who approached diahumans that showed promise and belief in the cause, and they left no way to contact them. Thinking about it more, I realized that even if I did find something, it most likely would have been a government setup to arrest supporters. Also, could the government track me from my web searches? I started to panic, and I deleted my internet history before searching for a way to delete it even better. I didn’t find anything, or what I found was too complicated, so I decided to just hope for the best.

I wasn’t even planning to donate money to The Society or anything of the sort; I just wanted to learn more about the man whose words had reached me like none had before. Perhaps communicate with him, if I was fortunate.

The sun came up over the horizon, and with it rose my somnolence. I closed all curtains in my room and retired to my bed, but something still felt wrong. I had power now, but it felt fleeting; it felt like a dream I would wake up from in the morning. Once under the covers, I projected and hugged a copy of myself as if it were a large pillow until I fell asleep. Nobody would know, only me.

That was how my first day as a diahuman ended. I woke up the next afternoon with my projection still in bed with me, and I kept practicing with my newfound power for the next two months. School became easier once I had something greater to focus on. None of it was fun, not like it used be before my mistake, but it was bearable. I didn’t look forward to the next day like I used to, but I did look forward to what new things my power would bring.

Father didn’t want to be seen next to me at any events, and although I missed the parties, having killed my social life had the benefit of giving me plenty of time to focus on my new power. Practice taught me that the projections I made when others looked at me could affect that person, but no one else than them, me, and my other projections—everyone that could see them. I learnt that I could project other objects on my projections in the same way I projected their clothes, and I was elated to discover that the ice cream I projected tasted just like the real thing—yet after dismissing the projection, I would feel as if I had eaten nothing, which I believed meant no calories.

I knew I would derive great enjoyment from that, and I hoped others would also.

For more serious matters, I projected a handgun. I had been taught by my father how to shoot when I was little, and I genuinely enjoyed it, first because of my father and later on despite him. I had kept practicing with different guns, going to the range in my free time when friends weren’t available—truthfully, it was mostly when Layla was busy. Father stopped going with me when I was fifteen, but he paid the owner to keep an eye on me and look the other way on the legal guardian requirement.

It was better that way. I knew he wasn’t happy with me, and I wasn’t happy with him either. We had agreements like this instead of something more complicated and uncomfortable for both of us.

Using my power to project a gun worked, but it also didn’t. The handgun was there, but it felt hollow, or perhaps full, as if I were holding a lump of plastic. When I realized it couldn’t shoot, I tried to dismantle it, but that wasn’t possible either. Next I tried breaking it open by force, which worked to confirm my suspicions: the pistol was indeed nothing more than a lump of metal and plastic in the shape of a gun, with an interior that resembled a gun in appearance but not in function.

With what I already about my power, I decided not to give up yet. My power was decidedly odd, but I found that there were rules it followed, and those rules did make some sort of sense. My projections were completely and unnaturally stopped by anything that might be considered a barrier—such as walls, windows, and even cars and closet doors—but they would go through anything else as if they weren’t there. I also discovered that much like I could project up to four feet away from myself, I could switch within a distance of a foot from a projection—it was not an exact switch, and I could come out standing even if my copy had been lying down, or vice versa. It all seemed to have something to do with the brain, for although I could still feel their presence, I could not switch with a “dead” copy, nor could could I use their senses.

Many copies died in the process of discovering that.

There were rules and logic governing all those things, so there had to be rules and logic in this case also. I projected the gun again, this time having thought about the insides of the gun, but it still didn’t work. I broke it open again and found that it was somewhat closer to a working gun, which confirmed that I was making progress.

The next part was both annoying and interesting. I researched guns online—everything from how they worked to videos of their making—and I projected again and again, getting closer to my goal each time. My efforts eventually paid off, and finally I had a seemingly perfectly functional gun.

There was only one problem: I forgot to include the ammunition.

I became worried I had wasted hours of my time, for I didn’t know if I could project something such as gunpowder, which produced a chemically complex reaction. It seemed vastly different from knives and desserts.

Cursing my lack of foresight, and with scant hope for success, I read about how cartridges worked. I decided that my first attempt at ammunition would be without any in-depth knowledge of the properties of gunpowder, and when it failed, I would try to make sense of the chemistry. I thought only about gunpowder’s form, color, texture, and smell. Then I thought about the way gunpowder should react, how it was supposed to respond to heat. Finally, I thought about the cartridge as a whole, with gunpowder inside of it.

I projected a pistol with 9mm ammunition made this way. As I checked the gun once more for caution, I thought that even if my future efforts toward gunpowder didn’t bear fruit, at least I would only need to carry ammunition to use a gun. It wasn’t all that good, but it wasn’t all that bad either.

So when I pulled the trigger of the gun and it worked, when it shot a bullet and it was every bit as loud as a real gun, I was ecstatic.

Of course, the bullet didn’t actually do anything. It stopped at the wall as if it had hit the literal end of all things and ricocheted off it. It didn’t do anything to the wall, but I thanked my luck for not getting hit by the stray bullet. Dying like that would have been pathetic.

Fear of death aside, I wanted to try it again, and so this time I grabbed the gun, made my copy jump from the second-floor window, and emptied the pistol’s magazine on it.

Predictably, it died.

The gun was wonderful. It felt in every way the same as a real small-sized pistol, which was what I was most used to firing. It was strange to see myself bleeding from bullet holes, but since I didn’t feel any pain, I had no trouble firing until the ammunition ran out.

Actually, to say that the copy of me died wouldn’t have been entirely accurate. Yes, it was indeed dead, but it was still there—it just couldn’t move anymore because its body was dead. I still had the gun even after my copy had died.

I dismissed the projection and noticed the blood on the grass disappeared along with it, although I was sure only I would have been able to see it regardless. I started planning to try other calibers and weapons later. And I could make bombs! They wouldn’t even damage the surroundings.

I didn’t have a reason to make weapons, but it was fun to know you could do something and then improve it further, make it bigger and better. My new power was a part of me, a great part of me, and if I wanted it to be as great as I could possibly make it, that meant exploring every option. Therefore, explosives.

Plus, guns were fun, and loud, and such an easy way to feel my power.

It was with great sadness that I gave up on the explosives when I realized I could accidentally blow myself up.

My experimentation continued for two months until the twenty-third of December arrived. I learnt that I could make copies holding all manner of small things—so long as I understood what those things were, how they functioned, and how they felt. It took me all of an hour to decide against registering as a diahuman with the government; I didn’t trust them nearly enough to let them have any control over me, and my power was easy to hide.

Two months since I got my power, and here I was now, reminiscing in my room before I made my first attempt to join The Society. If there was a deity in the sky, it was laughing now. Not with me, but definitely at me.

Mother came to my room to say goodbye; Father didn’t come—he had made it clear that he thought I was only staying to make things harder for him, so it could have been because of that, or it could have been because he was still angry about the money donation. He didn’t need an excuse either way.

“Be careful, okay? I’ll see you in London soon.”

“I will. Goodbye, Mother.”

She gave me an awkward little hug—quite unusual coming from her. “It will be alright,” she said.

She went to the door, but there she turned to look at me again.

“I really wish you would come with us now.”

“It’s only a week.”

She gave me a wan smile and left the room.

I watched her walk downstairs and close the door as she left the house. I sat on the stairs and waited to hear the sound of the car driving away.

That could be the last time I see Mother.

I projected a copy with a handkerchief and wiped my tears away. There was no time for anything but the mission. I went to my closet and opened it again, but this time I took out everything I would need. The black leather duster, black jeans, mid-calf black leather boots, black socks, black leather gloves, a black blouse, and a black leather mask with a relief that looked like feathers. A lot of black and a lot of leather, but I wasn’t going to a party in this—although it looked really cool, so maybe I could. Something to consider later.

It wouldn’t do to be recognized, so my outfit concealed every part of me. The duster covered most of my body, the mask hid my whole face save for my eyes and mouth, and the gloves would keep me from leaving fingerprints.

I didn’t think I would need to worry about fingerprints tonight. but I wasn’t going to take any chances. My identity would probably become public when I joined the Society, but that wouldn’t happen tonight, and I would put it off for as long as I could. I didn’t want any more TV appearances to happen for a while yet.

With everything in place, I examined myself in the mirror. I looked creepy in all black, which was exactly what I wanted; I had to project strength, and inspiring fear was good for that.

Not that I honestly thought anybody with an iota of experience would feel frightened, but some idiot with a gun might, and that was good enough.

My power was strong, I knew this, but my body wasn’t. One bullet was all it would take to kill me. I would have gotten body armor if I could, but I didn’t know how to get it without being asked for ID, so this would have to do until I joined The Society—surely they would have body armor for me.

On that note, I had also considered wearing the red, white, and black of The Society and the diahuman supremacist movement; but they weren’t as practical as sheer black, and I didn’t know if they’d be offended by an aspiring member wearing their colors, so I decided against it.

I was ready for the first night of the rest of my life. The previous nights didn’t count; tonight was the first time. It would be perfect.

I went downstairs and ate a sandwich. It wouldn’t do to be hungry later.

Noticing where my thoughts were heading, I realized I was stalling. I was definitely excited, but I was just as nervous. Nevertheless, I knew I was ready; I had to be ready. I would go out tonight, and I would start to gain the Society’s positive attention.

This was not where I would end.

I took off my mask and coat before opening the front door, letting my copy walk out, and closing the door after it left. As my copy walked away, I went to the kitchen to open a window, and I passed the time by drinking flavored water while enjoying the cold air coming from the outside.

When my copy was two blocks away and hidden from view, I switched, and then I took a bus to a seedier area of the city. Unfortunately, it wasn’t truly seedy, just poor. But it was as bad as it got around here, and my hopes were that by doing something like beating up drug dealers, I would find a lead to something greater. Something that would make waves big enough to attract The Society’s attention.

The only other possibility I had available was attacking the local Diahuman Security Agency officers. I would certainly get noticed if I did that, but it was just as likely to get me killed on the spot.

Therefore, I was calling that Plan B.

It took a while to get to the pseudo-slums, but I wasn’t sure how long because I avoided checking the time, for knowing with certainty would do nothing to help my nerves. I left the bus, entered an alleyway, and donned my mask and coat.

It was here in the slums that being affluent came back to haunt me: I was unfamiliar with this area, I knew nobody here, and I had no idea of where to go. In all the books and movies there was a place where criminals gathered, but even if such a thing existed here, I wouldn’t have known where to find it.

Even with the drug dealers my options were limited. I had looked it up, and it seemed there were a couple of diahumans running a city-wide gang. The problem was that they were not very gang-like: they sold drugs, of course, but they didn’t perform much violence and didn’t call attention to themselves. They didn’t even have other gangs to feud with, which I was pretty sure was something that gangs did.

Worst of all, they were powerful. If they were weak, I could have gone after them and made waves that way; but as it was, it would have been much too dangerous. From what I had read, Lázaro and Candela did something that could burn people alive in seconds.

Being fried did not appeal to me. Better to avoid them.

Apparently, they could but didn’t burn people alive, so there were some who thought that the DSA let them operate because they were powerful enough to keep away the much more violent Mexican Cartel and their allied gangs. Honestly, that sounded smart, and I would have been all for it, except now it was causing me trouble because it ensured that I had nothing to do.

I remained in the alley and sent out a projection. I had decided I would hide while my projection walked, hide it when it reached my range limit, and then switch and repeat. Only one factor kept my plan from being flawless: this alley was filthy. Hell, this whole street was filthy—I almost stepped on something disgusting and was only saved by a quick (not panicked, quick) projection and switch backward. Subsequent inspection from a sensible distance revealed that the unidentified piece of garbage was a brown T-shirt wrapped around something which would have to remain unknown.

Why was there anything here, let alone that? Did the residents hang around here in the daytime? Did they—god forbid—take off their clothes in alleys that had most likely never been cleaned since their construction?

I wasn’t spending a second longer than I absolutely needed around here, and damned be everything that made me come out here in the first place.

Two blocks at a time I moved as I had planned, waiting in places that seemed to get worse with every switch, until finally I found something.

It was exactly what I had been expecting: a drug deal. Two Hispanic men talked in an alley much like the one I was in; one man handed the other money and got a bag of white powder in exchange. A simple crime for the simple means of simple people.

I looked them over before making my move. The dealer looked like what he was, a gangbanger, and he had a gun; the client was slightly younger—seventeen or eighteen, about my age—and he didn’t look like he belonged in a gang, but he was buying drugs in an alley, so he obviously did.

I formed a straightforward plan and decided to go for it. I would have liked my first job to be more glamorous, but I would take what I could get. I moved my copy between them and prepared to switch.

The deal was done, but they were still talking about something inane—a sports team, I surmised. They saw me switch, and I instantly projected two copies with handguns and switched back to my copy safely two blocks away.

I closed my eyes to look through the projection I made from the dealer. He went for his gun, but I was faster and noiselessly (to other people) shot him in the leg. Meanwhile, I used my other projection to hit the client with the butt of my gun, but finely controlling two bodies at the same time was hard, and I ended up hitting him harder than I intended. That might lead to a concussion.

Now the dealer was screaming on the floor while holding his bleeding leg, and I realized there was something I still hadn’t confirmed about my power. My copy went to grab the gun the dealer had dropped across the alley when I shot him, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to pick it up, but I had to try anyway to be sure. Such was science.

As expected, I couldn’t do it, and now it was time for the fun part of science: experimenting.

The client cried as he leaned against the wall and held his bleeding head, while the dealer had sat up by now but was still shouting and sobbing. He was making too much noise, so I needed to get out soon, but I wasn’t going to pass on an opportunity to learn more about my power.

With one copy I told the client to stay where he was, and with the other I talked to the dealer.

“Pick up your gun.”

“Fuck you, motherfucker,” he cried. In Spanish, no less.

I was letting him pick up his gun; one would like to think he’d take the chance. Stupid gangbangers.

I would deal with the client instead—hopefully he still had a working brain after all the drugs he surely used on a regular basis. I looked through my other projection, and I noticed that the client seemed confused. It was probably the concussion, but it could also have been the drug addiction—I had no way to know for certain.

“You, same as him.”

The addict made a weird face before asking, “What?”

That was when I realized he had just watched his dealer shout at empty air, clutching a bleeding wound from a gunshot he hadn’t heard—all while I stood next to him like a statue. Damn it, this was why practice was important. Maybe it was a good thing that my first night out wasn’t more exciting.

“Just pick up the gun.”

He stood up to do as ordered, and he didn’t even grab it as one would a gun. I noticed he was shaking, and again I couldn’t be sure if it was caused by the concussion or the drugs.

Next came the fun part. I went to grab the gun from the client, and I could indeed touch it now, so I took the gun and moved it away from him.

Once it was four feet away from the client, the gun passed through my hand.

It hit the floor, fired a shot, and the bullet hit the dealer’s arm. He had finally gone silent, but now he started screaming all over again. In Spanish.

Now, while that was not what I had planned, I still learnt something. And it was absolutely hilarious, so all’s well that ends well. The dealer wouldn’t die from that. Besides, he was in a gang: even if he hadn’t experienced anything as bad as that by now, he would someday. They were gangbangers and drug addicts, so I was unmistakably in the right.

There was nothing else for me to try, so I decided to wrap things up. Once I was done laughing, I switched and—with my real body this time—picked up the gun and holstered it. I checked the dealer’s pockets and grabbed his stuff before telling the client to give me his wallet, and he didn’t resist. I could hear sirens coming, which meant it was time to leave the scene. I switched again and dismissed the projections.

I was safely two blocks away.

I thought that had gone very well. It was exciting like nothing else I’d ever experienced, and much more interesting than I was expecting a simple drug deal to be—there was even comedy thrown in. After all, if I had to shoot someone, it might as well be someone as low as that. This was just good enough to tell The Society about without feeling too embarrassed, but only if they asked.

I inspected the wallets: there wasn’t much money in them, but I pocketed them anyway. They would make for good mementos, so I would leave the money in them. It wasn’t like I needed it.

The dealer’s drugs I threw away; I had no use for them, and I didn’t know how to sell them.

With everything I could do tonight done, I headed back to the bus station—I wouldn’t be finding anything nearby after a shooting and police sirens. It went the same as before: I hid, made a projection walk forward, switched, and repeated.

But unlike before, I saw a woman in a black parka with the hood pulled up to cover her face. She stood next to a house and looked in every direction before going in. Her demeanor seemed suspicious, and she made me curious.

The building was unassuming, just as ugly as every other house around, no more and no less. I looked at the house from all sides, noticed an open window my copy could go through, and had it do just that.

I entered a rudimentary kitchen and saw a pan cooking on the stove; it gave the room a pleasant aroma of seafood. I walked to the next room and found three people sitting around a table in a living room; the woman from before had taken off her coat and taken a seat in an armchair, and two men were seated on a couch facing a turned-off TV.

I looked around the room, and god, was this place cheap and ugly. It wasn’t rundown or anything, but how anybody could live like this was beyond me. The TV had to be at last a decade old, there was a decrepit ceiling fan, and the only nice thing in the room was the woman’s armchair.

The woman, or rather girl, seemed to be younger than me—perhaps fifteen or sixteen years old. She was lovely: wavy blonde hair of mid-back length, small breasts, gray eyes, a perfect nose, and skin fairer than most people. She was tall, but still just a little shorter than myself—perhaps five-seven to my five-nine. I thought she looked like a flawless angel, but her dark clothes and the scowl on her face were in sharp contrast with her beauty. What is a girl like her doing here, I wondered.

Of the two men, one was Hispanic and in his late teens or early twenties. There wasn’t anything of note about him physically: he had short black hair, a somewhat round face, my height, brown eyes, no tattoos or other gang markings, and was slim—he could have been an older version of the drug addict from before, for all I knew. What was noteworthy were the three gray metal spheres floating in place above his head: they were perfectly round, with no markings on them, and each was slightly larger than his head.

But even more interesting than the metallic orbs was the third man himself. He was a little taller than me, looked to be in his early thirties, and his face was like a statue’s—the kind of face that looks as if it’s been perfectly carved from marble. And speaking of marble, that was what made him so interesting: he was white. Not even marble white, but an odd, partially-translucent white—like a jellyfish, but more solid-looking. He had no hair at all, not even eyebrows, and his “eyes” were disconcerting: they were partly white and partly transparent, in an approximation of what the pupil and iris should look like. What allowed me to distinguish one body part from the next, and made him look somewhat human, was that there were opaque whites set against the transparent details, giving his body a degree of definition.

Bizarrely, he wore clothes. He had a checkered blue shirt and baggy brown pants which didn’t seem to fit him too badly, plus brown loafers for footwear. It wasn’t a good look, far from it, but it was more than I would have expected from someone like him.

I knew that some diahumans could look monstrous—Form Fives they were called in America—but this was my first time seeing one in person. I wondered how he lived his life looking like that, and I was once again glad for the power I had. I didn’t think I could live with myself if I looked like him.

The Hispanic man was pleading with the girl; he had an accent, and he was as expressive with his movements as he was with his words. “It’s got to be at least a million dollars, Rayne, and it’s not that much worse than what we’ve done before. We could make so much money we won’t need to do another job; that’s sort of like safety.”

The girl, Rayne, was just as passionate, but she didn’t try to use her hands to illustrate her point. “Fuck the money! I don’t pick jobs for the money, and you know it. I’ve told you over and over again. Don’t do the bullshit that gets everyone else in jail or dead; keep your heads down, do the easy jobs, and in the end you’ll be the only ones left when all the idiots are gone. Idiots who do the kind of heist you want to do now!”

The jellyfish man spoke next, and he was more restrained than his companions. “Please calm down. We know where you’re coming from; we’re not dumb. We’ve known each other for a year now; you know we don’t like the danger any more than you do. But”—Rayne tried to interrupt, but the jellyfish man pressed on—“but! It is certainly a lot of money. We don’t need to do it, but we should at least take a look; it costs us nothing to take a look, and we stand to gain a lot.”

The jellyfish man’s voice was weird; it was deep and had an almost reverberating quality to it. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was very distinctive and almost inhuman.

Rayne remained silent, and the Hispanic man spoke again. “All we’re asking is that you consider it. We got two more days; we can try and get a fourth if you want. We can get another car; we can set a trap; we can do something. I haven’t even shown you the pictures yet. Just consider it.”

The men went quiet, waiting expectantly for Rayne’s answer. After a long silence and more than a little glaring, Rayne sighed and said, “Fine, I’ll take a look at the place. But! If I don’t like it, I’m not doing it.”

A heist worth a million dollars. I could certainly use that amount of money, and this could be just the kind of job that would get The Society interested in me in a positive fashion. The Hispanic man talked about getting another person, so they were at least open to the idea. I just needed to make a good case for myself and get them to hire me.

A million-dollar heist; I wondered what it could be. Maybe a bank? A jewelry store?

Regardless, these people were professionals. I needed to project strength, confidence, and a sense of danger. I needed the perfect first impression—the kind you never forget.

With every step forward, broken glass shattered beneath my feet. This was not the place for me.

Next Chapter

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