Luis stood in what he hoped was a confident stance, his feet shoulder width apart, his hands closed into fists and slightly apart from his body. He closed his eyes, noticing as he did the cool wind that blew off the water laden with the scent of the river.
Luis tried to pull together an emotion that he thought would activate his powers. He tried to make himself feel confident and powerful, imagined that he was standing at the head of an army.
He tried to make himself feel sad. Imagining the death of his family and loved ones.
He tried to make himself feel angry. He imagined all the people who had done him wrong, all those who would be sorry if they ever knew that he had the powers he had. He imagined their sneering faces twisting into shock, disbelief, and finally horror when they saw what he could now do. He imagined the thing that had done this to him, that had given him his powers at the price of his free will – imagined making that thing squirm in his hand.
However easily the anger flowed into him, nothing happened.
Luis opened his eyes. The sun was low behind the clouds, but other than that the scene around him was exactly the same. Luis slumped a little from his stance, a hot flush of mingled embarrassment and frustration coming into his cheeks. He turned his head backwards and forwards for a moment, as if inspiration, or even a solution, would present itself. Nothing occurred.
The only two things left on his list was to place himself into actual danger, or to remember what had happened that night. He couldn’t decide which was less appealing.
Luis’s hand reached up to the back of his head, and he stopped it. But then, after considering for a moment, he decided that he had nothing to lose.
Slowly, hesitantly, he removed his hat, and reached his fingers towards the back of his neck. They found his short, dark brown hair, but as they moved lower, to the point where his skull met his spine, they found something hard, cool, and smooth. It was disconcerting.
Luis’s fingers gently traced the outline of the metallic structure. Smooth, and slightly cooler than the skin around it, it was approximately diamond shaped, flat, and about the size of an egg, with graceful curves meeting in four corners. He tilted his head, and felt the structure move with his spine. It was a part of him. Connected to him.
He traced his finger down further, just beneath his coat collar, where the first of the much smaller structures that lined his spine peaked out of his skin from where it joined the first vertebra.
Quickly, he pulled his hand away. It was too weird.
It made Luis think, though.
The metallic plates had appeared with the accident. They were tied to his powers. Maybe there was a clue somewhere in them to how his powers worked. But what?
Luis thought further, imagining the graceful curve of the metal. They were crafted. They had clearly, from their structure, been designed. This got him thinking that maybe the source of the powers was more mechanical than he’d initially thought. It wouldn’t explain why he was the only one of the nine to get any obvious implants, but it was something to go on.
The darkness was creeping closer now. Luis started to worry that he wouldn’t have the time to get home. He bent down to take out his phone, and turned it on. Luis looked at the display, but he didn’t take in the time. Instead, he started to think about the phone. He thought about how easy and intuitive technology was, and about how difficult it would be to explain something as simple as a touchscreen to a caveman. Maybe that was the way to get the powers working. Maybe it wasn’t about a huge effort, or trying to force it. Maybe it was just flipping a switch.
Pondering this, Luis slid his phone away. He closed his eyes, and tried to clear his thoughts down to the bare minimum. When he felt that he was as clear headed as he was ever going to get, he tried to ‘move’ his consciousness from behind his eyes, towards the back of his head. He imagined slipping a switch.
There was a feeling like a muscle twitching that he had not known was there, a nerve firing that he didn’t know he had, and then his third eye opened. He could think of no other way to describe the explosion of green-blue light.
His true eyes opened too as he yelped, certain that they would find the docks around him bathed in green fire that would be pouring from his eyes. But the grass and concrete was all the same. If anything, it was a little darker from the setting sun.
Except, it wasn’t the same. Luis knew that he was looking at the Hudson River and the lights of Jersey beyond, the ordinary world that he had always known. But while he was looking at that, he was also looking at something else. Writing in a language that he didn’t speak was streaming past his eyes, too fast for him to make out. The two scenes were not overlaid, they existed entirely independent of one and other. Luis was looking at New York, and he was looking at a foreign alphabet stream past his eyes, and each one was simply there. Most disturbingly of all, however, Luis found that focusing on one did not mean that he was ignoring the other. He was effortlessly, simultaneously, viewing both scenes in perfect detail.
It was all horrifyingly familiar.
Panting heavily, recovering from the shock, Luis found the strange characters flow away to nothing. In the strange, green vision that he was experiencing, the individual characters were replaced by one huge symbol that dominated his field of view. The strange ‘double-vision’ he realised had an auditory equivalent, as he heard a sound that was crystal clear and distinct, but at the same time entirely in his head. A pleasant ringing of bells.
The symbol faded.
There was a brief blurring of his second vision, and then, abruptly, darkness. With his true eyes, he could still see the river and the darkening sky, but the other view was solid blackness.
He paused for a long moment, struggling to see anything in the darkness. He thought he saw the occasional white dot, as if grains of static were tumbling by.
Shit, why did it turn off? he thought.
He turned his head back and forth, as if this might help. No response, just a blank screen and points of static.
He was about to give up. To just take today as a learning exercise and go home.
A face appeared in his second vision. The face of a monster. Black, bulbous eyes in glistening, slimy scales. A tentacle-ringed mouth with over-large lips. The mouth opened up, as if to swallow him.
Luis screamed, and stumbled backwards, falling into a sitting position. As he did, he felt something else move in unison. He felt nerves, muscles, and bones, or something like them, all of them under his control, none of them inside his own body.
The face immediately pulled back, revealing itself to be nothing more than a fish which swam away into the darkness. No, not darkness. Water. He was submerged in water so deep that light could barely penetrate it. The points of static were actually tiny pieces of flotsam caught in the current.
Luis hardly noticed. He was too focused on the flood of new information that was assaulting his consciousness. He could move something that wasn’t his body. He saw with eyes that weren’t his. Distantly, he even thought he heard muted noises.
Luis was panting on the ground, and he was deep underwater somewhere.
The familiar ‘doubling’ feeling was back now. He could feel both bodies without any crossover or interference. Hesitantly, he tried turning the head of the other body. His view of the falling static-like points rotated and shifted. He tried moving its limbs, and felt them shift and move sluggishly through the water. The limbs of his new body didn’t seem to be in the same places though. He found that the body was on all fours, but was comfortable in that position.
Holding his breath, terrified of what he might see, Luis looked down at where his hands would be.
He realised, looking down, that whatever this new head was, it seemed to be producing light, because the floor before him was visible. It was all silt and mud, with tiny clouds of dirt from his recent movement. Sticking out of the mud were his hands, except they clearly weren’t hands. They were elegantly curved, and angular shapes, like those in the back of his head. They looked more like paws or hooves than hands. Light glinted off them in a strange way. The colours seemed wrong somehow, as if the eyes he was using saw colours in a slightly different way than his own did, but the way the light reflected made him think of metal. They shifted and moved in response to his control.
‘Oh my God!’ said Luis, ‘Oh my God! This is so…’ But no word seemed to sum it up. It was awesome. It was terrifying. It was disturbing. Strangest of all though, it was familiar. It was so natural to split his mind between his two bodies, so easy. It felt so comfortable that Luis found himself feeling an idiot for talking to himself about it.
As he moved the body, Luis could feel feedback. He felt the resistance of the mud. He felt how each part of the body moved against each other part. He felt the texture of the water. What’s more, he felt information. He knew how to move this body, its stresses and limitations. Muscle memories poured into his brain in a gentle stream.
‘Right, okay, right,’ he said, trying to catch his breath, ‘So, I’ve got a robot body in the bottom of the sea somewhere. Isn’t that something.’
There was one very obvious problem. Luis had no idea where the body was. He looked around with his new eyes. Every direction was identical. The darkness around him was making it impossible to gain his bearings or to get a sense of direction. He tried to get a feel for the incline of the ground with his new feet, to get a sense of which direction was uphill, but it was impossible to discern. He needed to work out where he was.
I should just ping.
The thought slipped into his mind as easy as if it had originated from his own head. Luis felt disturbed by the phantom idea that had occurred to him. He had no idea what it meant to ‘ping’ or what it would result in, but despite that, the thought was present. Pinging was the logical solution to the problem of trying to figure out more about an environment. You just reach out, and ping.
He still had no idea what it meant.
He pulled back into his brain to find the same area that had allowed him to activate the other body in the first place. He knew exactly the way to enact the new function.
Luis breathed deeply, and then he pinged.
Almost faster than he could register, a bubble expanded out from his new head. Where it passed, it left a brief impression of what was there, a three-dimensional silhouette. It wasn’t quite vision, and it wasn’t quite hearing. Instead the expanding impression from the ping had been an amalgamation of the two, as if each object was harmonising in perfect synchrony. Up to a range of about twenty feet or so, Luis sensed with perfect clarity the shape of the earth, and the outline of every stone. He even felt the depth of the ground beneath his metallic feet. Beyond that, the view was duller, but he got the vague impression of the shape of the land as it stretched away.
Quickly, the image faded into darkness once more. So, Luis pinged again, and again he felt the pulse highlight the environment before fading. He pinged again, and again, almost laughing at how much new information was being displayed every time he did so. Once, he thought he managed to feel a fish pass through the bubble as he pinged, leaving a blurry outline that quickly vanished. Distantly, he wondered if it was a good idea to use the power repeatedly. He felt somehow exposed every time he did it, but he was too excited to stop. He tried it again, seeing how far it could reach.
As Luis tried to bring his focus to the edges of the ping-bubble, he felt a strange sensation. Everything that had happened, every movement split between his real body and the mechanical one had a simultaneity to it. He was simply controlling both bodies at the exact same time with no conflicts. This new sensation was uncomfortable. It was the feeling you get when you see someone who looks exactly like you wearing your own clothes, just before you realise that there’s a mirror. But there was no mirror.
Something was beyond the bubble, like a tiny point of light, blinking rapidly. Luis knew, in some way that he could not identify, that the light was himself. He knew it because as he pulled his attention to that blinking spot from the perspective of the mechanical body, he felt the perspective of his human body shift, as if he was orienting himself.
He turned downriver, toward the sea, and suddenly realised that he knew which direction the body was. He knew where it was resting.
Luis gritted his teeth, and then began to move the mechanical form across the riverbed towards his real body. The form loped on all fours, which like everything else felt natural and familiar. It clearly hadn’t been built for water, so it was difficult to power his way through the currents, or to find footing on the slick floor.
Back on land, Luis found himself holding his breath. The sun was getting low on the horizon now and the water was rusting, going from steel grey to orange-brown. His eyes were glued to the gentle waves. He knew the exact spot where the mechanical body was. After a few minutes, he felt that spot’s position a little closer.
Back in the water, the mechanical form was picking up speed. The ground down here was thick with mud and trash, weird shapes that appeared and disappeared into the murk as he moved forwards. At first, he was careful to try and not bump into any rock too rough or misshapen, in case it would hurt his new form. But he quickly realised that although he could dimly feel the ground beneath him, the material of his new body protected him from getting hurt. Soon, he was crashing merrily through the trash and debris.
Back on land, Luis had begun to feel impatient. While the machine moved through the murk, his own body felt powerless. He paced back and forth, a knot growing in his stomach. Up until this point, the powers and the abilities and the weird things that had been happening were distant. He had been controlled into using his powers. Now, he was choosing to use them. A new world was bounding across the river-bed towards him. It made him sick with excitement and fear.
The slope was definitely increasing now, and the light was growing brighter. The colours of the setting sun were different seeing them with the new eyes. Recognisable, but in subtly shifted shades.
Back on land Luis found that he could no longer pace. He was too intent on watching the water move beneath him. He crossed his arms, and then uncrossed them.
His thoughts were so evenly split between both forms, that it was hard to tell which spotted which first. His mechanical body paused. It was so close to the water’s edge now. Above it, he could see the surface, only a few feet away. Beyond the surface was an orange sky. Distantly, there were long, grey fingers that might have been buildings. But between them, was a small silhouette.
Luis on the surface was frozen looking into the water. The awareness of where the other body was was now flaring so powerfully that it took up his entire mind’s eye. It was less than ten feet away. Just beneath the surface.
Luis looked into the water, and as he did, his eyes made out two glowing discs of blue-green light. Though they were distorted and rippled by the gentle waves, he knew they were staring straight at him.
Luis stood like that for a minute. Staring at the form beneath the water. Finally, his breath held, he raised his arm. He nearly passed out when the silhouette above the water do the same. He put his arm back down, feeling his stomach spasm in disbelief.
After sixty seconds of calming his breathing and steeling his mind, he decided to make the machine move.
It was hard to balance on three legs in this form, but he managed to slowly raise one of the machine’s front legs.
Above the water, Luis watched the eyes shift a little. He tried to make sense of where the edges of the machine’s body were, but his mind couldn’t figure it out. Then it clicked. Whatever was beneath the water was big. Car-sized or larger. Luis saw the dim shadow of it as it moved one leg up.
He had gone from not breathing at all, to hyper-ventilating. This was too much. It was too real. It was two scary. As if in sympathy, he felt the mechanical form begin to react to his panic response. It was shifting, almost of its own volition – crouching. It’s mouth was open. It’s weapons were-
‘Okay! Okay, okay, okayokayokayokay! Okay!’ Luis said in a strained, small voice that grew firmer, ‘That’s enough of that for one day.’
He reached back with his mind, and tried flipping the same switch that he had before. The blue-green eyes beneath the surface faded. It was something of a relief to feel the scene vanish and to feel his focus return entirely to the world in front of his face.
No, he realised, not entirely. A tiny stream of information remained. A small feeling of awareness, like the ringing of a bell on the edge of hearing. Or like a tingle on the back of your head when something is millimetres away from your bare skin.
Luis once more touched the metal plate that protruded from the exact point the feeling had come from.
Suddenly, Luis’s eyes widened.
His hand went to his pocket, as quick as he could, fumbled his phone, then turned it on.
It was past nine. His mom was going to kill him.