Chapter 9: Plain Sight

Unimportant held his right hand up to his hat. (‘I never noticed he had a hat before’). A feeling of intense concentration overtook him and more and more details came into focus. His face was still obscured by his power, but they could now identify the red baseball cap on his head, his worn down jeans,  and his plain black t-shirt.

After a brief moment, Unimportant lowered his hand, but his power remained faded. He slumped into the chair and breathed deeply for a few moments. “I apologize… It takes….a significant amount of effort to tune my power so acutely.” His voice sounded less hollow, and Will picked up a significant amount of emotion. ”But I wanted you all to see me a bit more clearly for at least the beginning of my story.

“My power is unstable at best, so I hope you can forgive me if it does not hold steady until the end.”

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To start with, I suppose I should identify my powers for you. I am a slider (a few of the others fidgeted uncomfortably at that), and not a normal one. My body exists at almost all times on at least two planes of existence.

I was almost definitely born with my powers. Though it is hard to say for sure, I was identified as quick to disappear and easy to miss as early as I could crawl. Even the most diligent watchers could not keep track of me for long once I learned to walk.

I started to learn how to control it when I was 4 or 5. It didn’t take much at first; it was like easing up on the gas in a car. And it only became easier.

I wasn’t very careful about keeping it quiet, but nobody really noticed either. My power likes to stay hidden; it prevents passive observation.

I started reading comics when I was 9, and when I was 10 I started trying to figure out my power. At first, I thought I was a tel, that I was just blocking my presence from people’s minds. I was pretty sure I wasn’t a light manip, because I could see my reflection, though there are ways that could still happen. Nothing else I could think of fit. For a while there I gave up.

It took me three years before I tried meditating. I was always a very hyperactive kid, and the idea of sitting still for that long drove me insane, but it was the only idea I had left. It was…strange. I saw myself, sitting in my room, but I also saw hundreds of other worlds. It was like I had a camera installed in each of them, I could look in each world, even explore it, but I had no real presence there, nothing reacted to me.

It took me a while to realize what this meant. I was a slider, splitting myself between hundreds, if not thousands of other worlds, while keeping my mind here. It…diminishes my presence in this world, my mind is still here, and I can touch things normally, but other people see me and I don’t register. What I do here is toned down to some of the lower levels I can manage, but at full strength you wouldn’t even realize I was in the same room.

For a while there, I became a stroller. My power isn’t exactly fight friendly, and when you’re thirteen you don’t exactly think of superheroes other than the ones flying around and punching buildings. So I was well into high school before I started to really think about using my powers.

It happened my sophmore year. A friend of mine…he wound up in a bad place. At first I thought he was just drinking too much at parties, but then he started coming to school looking worse and worse. Even then, I didn’t say anything. It wasn’t until I found him unconscious, hiding behind the tool shed, that I realized I had to do something.

So I followed him. It wasn’t hard. He wouldn’t have been able to lose me if he knew I was there. I saw him buying his drugs out of the back of some gas station.

I didn’t do anything right away, except lift the drugs off of my friend. It only took one look to tell me what they were. People had tried passing them around a few parties months beforehand, but almost everyone turned them down when they heard who made them.

It was definitely his work. Nobody would be stupid enough to use his mark on their drugs.

Asclepios’s stuff is dangerous at best. He’s always managed to fly under the radar because he’s never been overtly destructive. In fact, I doubt he even cares what happens to his drugs once he sells them off. But I’m sure you’ve all seen what happens to people who use them for too long. I saw one of them on my way here, the man looked like he’d been set on fire from the inside, and he was still begging for more.

Luckily, my friend didn’t have enough money to get any more drugs for the next couple weeks. The rest of us, me and his other friends, confronted him about the drugs. I didn’t say I followed him, definitely didn’t tell him I stole them off of him, but we managed to pull together enough evidence despite that. When he didn’t agree to quit, we told his parents. They were as free spirited as they come. Hell, I’m pretty sure he could’ve been doing half a dozen different drugs without them caring, but when they heard it was Asclepios’s work, they sent him straight to rehab.

I haven’t heard much from him since that. We tried to visit him a couple of times, but he refused to speak with us.

I don’t blame him, never did. I blamed Asclepios.

As little as I thought of my powers, I found them perfect for this. I started tracking my way up Asclepios’ ladder. The attendant who my friend bought from turned out to be a good starting point. His supplier was a storeowner at the East Mall, who got his stuff from a homemaker in the suburbs, who got hers from a gardener who makes his rounds all over the city. Each layer exposed another dozen of the one below it.

Following them was easy, but I had to teach myself a lot over those months. I practiced lock picking on random houses, never going in just opening and closing the door. I had taken some basic fighting lessons when I was younger, but I needed some major refresher courses if I ever ended up needing to fight. Alarms, dogs, safes, I had to figure out tricks for all of them. As much as I could learn by following and watching, I always needed to get a room to myself for a little bit if I wanted to get any real information.

I still haven’t made it far. The hardest part has been getting the members I have uncovered arrested without tipping off the others. A few I’ve had to let go, for now, the others I make sure to spread out. A couple anonymous tips, a concerned neighbor, and a case of “breaking and entering” later and I’ve actually managed to do some good.

It was just last month that I began to notice something. Sometimes, when I’m using my powers, I begin to remember things that never happened to me. They usually fade, but more and more I’m holding onto memories I can’t have, animals that don’t exist, people I’ve never met, words that don’t make any sense. The worst part is that I can feel them crowding together with my own memories. After using my powers for a long time, I nearly forgot my mom’s face. If I hadn’t heard her speaking, I may not have been able to remember it was her.

The worst part is that as much as I want to pause and figure out what’s happening with my power, I don’t think I can stop what I’m doing. I feel like I’ve actually done something good with my powers. Even tonight, as I sit here wondering if I should quit while I’m still sane, I fully intend to go out and track down another dealer.

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“It’s not that I want to quit. I want nothing less, but I’m worried about what’ll happen to me if I don’t. When Slipstream confronted me after I tracked the gardener to another delivery, I asked him if he knew of anyone who could help. He sent me here.” Unimportant made a gesture with his hand. “And this is it.”

Unimportant’s features began to fade into obscurity, the aura of nervousness seeping out from him once again.

Will looked at everyone’s reactions. Most of them had been shocked when he mentioned he was a slider. Few sliders stayed sane in the long run, but he had made it almost 19 years without losing it. Luckily, their reactions seemed to have calmed down as the story progressed.

Red Racer looked particularly deep in thought. “Hey, if you saw all those worlds, what did they look like?”

Will heard Allspades trying to hide a chuckle. That entire story, and that’s what the kid focused on.

Unimportant seemed amused too. “Well…most of them were empty…except for the animals…A few seemed stuck in the past…like they just stopped moving forward at some point…Others seemed similar to here…A couple looked straight out of books and movies…I’m pretty sure there were elves riding kangaroos like horses.”

Red Racer laughed. Will heard Allspades join in. Despite himself, he felt a smile creep onto his face.

Once the two had stopped laughing, Will stood up and looked around the room. “That wraps it up for today. You all know I’ll be meeting up with you over the next week if you need to say something outside of the group. We’ll meet a week from Wednesday. That should give me a chance to meet with everyone. It’ll help if you think over everyone’s stories today, not just your own. We’re here because we’re in this together. If you want to keep in contact with each other outside the meeting, do it. Everything helps.”

Will turned to walk out the door. “Make sure you don’t forget anything, the doors’ll be locked after we leave. Tread softly.”

“Tread softly, Mr. Writer.”

Will felt a small tug when he heard Red Racer speak along with Unimportant.

 

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