The bullet begins to slide out of the barrel.
People, in general, have a hard time gauging their own uniqueness. There’s a confluence of factors that cause this, one of which being the fact that many people have a drive and a desire to be unique. Some people take this further than others — artists and performers, for example. Some take it the opposite way, and want nothing more than to fit in. Some people are a contradictory mix of both possibilities.
I don’t feel like I fit in either camp. I don’t have a desire to be like other people, and I don’t really want to be different, either. I’m fine with the fact that there are some things about me that are unique, or even strange, and others that are found within large swaths of the population. Neither of these postulations bothers me.
One of the other factors that makes it hard to say how different you are from other people is that we know so little about each other. Everyone hides certain facets of themselves, whether intentionally or not. You act slightly different in a room full of strangers than you do in a room full of friends. Then you have another set of behaviors for when you’re alone with one other person, particularly if you’re romantic with that person; and another set again when you’re all by yourself, unobserved.
We don’t tend to witness how other people behave when they’re isolated. How many people, besides me, tend to dance to music in their house when nobody else is home? How many act through fight scenes from movies, or from encounters that they make up on their own? Who else closes the bathroom door even when they’re the only one in their house, because the thought of it being open makes them feel exposed and uncomfortable?
I found it particularly hard to figure out how different I might be when I was very young, as I’m sure many of us do. We have even less experience with other people at that age, and certainly less insight into the minds and behaviors of others. There was something true about me, from birth, that as a youth I thought was true of everyone. When I figured out that, no, I’m the only one with this ability — as far as I can tell — I decided to hide it.
I guess that contradicts what I said earlier, doesn’t it? That I don’t mind being different or fitting in. I think of myself as fine with who I am, but then, I hide this aspect of myself from everyone. The thing is, I’m afraid of people finding out. I’m afraid because in all of the movies and books and media about people with special powers, things tend to go wrong for them. The government or some shadow corporation or even just regular people end up after them, and either fearing or idolizing them. I don’t want that.
“Special powers.” It feels weird to think of it that way, since as a kid, I thought everyone could do it. It also sounds weird because, to me, it doesn’t feel that special. You see people in stories with crazy strength, or people who can get hit by a car and walk away without even a scratch, or people that can shoot crazy energy beams from their eyes or hands or chests. I can’t do any of that.
The bullet is in free flight now, clear of the gun.
I’m not fast or strong, or even very smart. I’m just a regular average person, except for one thing: I can change the way I perceive time. It’s not like those movies where people freeze time all around them and then move at normal speed. I can’t do that. I can’t time travel, either. I guess it’s mostly a shift in how fast my brain moves. At its most basic, it makes my reaction times incredibly fast.
(It also makes waiting for time to pass extremely easy, albeit dangerous. I can make an hour pass me by instantaneously. I don’t like to use my power that way, though. It feels like a waste, and I fear I’ll miss something important when I do it.)
This means I’m incredibly, unfairly good at one thing, which as a result is what I spend the majority of my time doing. I play video games. Specifically, I play fighting games and competitive first-person shooters. People have accused me of hacking, because my reactions are inhumanly, impossibly fast, and my aim in FPS games is unmatched, because I have ages to line up shots. I actually became a streamer so that people could see that I’m actually just that good.
Well. I have a crutch. It’s a definite advantage, but it’s something that I was born with. It’s natural to me. I don’t see that as cheating, I see it as using what I’ve got.
The bullet crawls forward through the air. I shift my weight to one side. I can see it spinning.
I’ve been approached by a few esports organizations. Ones that do competitive FPS games, one that builds teams for fighting game tournaments, and even one that promotes players who do real-time strategy games, even though those aren’t my forte. I play them passably solely because my APM is leagues higher than even the most skilled professionals.
Until today, that’s pretty much the only use I’ve given my ability. I guess I did use it once in high school, in “real life,” when a fellow decided he had a beef with me over his girlfriend. I honestly can’t remember for the life of me how it got to that point, but he decided it was a good idea to try beat the snot out of me.
I don’t know anything about fighting, but I do know that it’s hard to hit someone when, to them, your punches are moving through the air slower than a worm crawling through molasses.
I learned something important that day, something which made me want to avoid using my power for more physical things. It’s very easy to push my muscles too hard, when I slow down how I perceive time. That guy didn’t land a blow on me, but the next day, I felt like I’d been hit by a truck.
I’ve never thought about what I would do if faced by a gun. I didn’t think it would ever happen. Like, I’ve seen shootings on the news and I’ve read about them on the internet. I know they happen, and I know there’s gun violence in my own town. It’s just one of those things you don’t expect to happen to you.
I shift my weight, and I’m moving forward and to one side. I can see the path of the bullet. I don’t have time to move completely out of the way. Maybe — a very big maybe — I could do it if I was in better shape, or if I practiced moving more while my perceptions were dilated like this.
It’s surprisingly hard to balance when everything is moving in slow motion. It gives me too much time to think about all the little muscle adjustments I do automatically when I’m perceiving time as moving faster. I worry that I’ll embarrass myself or outright get myself killed by simply falling over as I try to move at a speed at which the human body is not meant to function.
I don’t know why the man his shooting. He wants the money from the till. I get that. The gas station employee is terrified. I think he was just going to hand the money over. So why is the robber shooting, and why is he shooting at me? I guess it doesn’t matter.
I’ve pushed my slow to its very limit, further than I’ve ever pushed it before, and if people are talking I can’t understand them. It feels like there’s a band being tightened around my head from the effort of maintaining the illusion of slowed time, but I need all the chance I can get.
I’m barely going to dodge this bullet. All of my muscles are tense with the effort. I’m pushing myself sideways and forward. Sideways, because it’s the only way the bullet isn’t going to hit me, and forward because I have to close the ground between us if I’m going to stand any chance here at all. I’ve got no weapon except my car keys, and also, the closer I get, the further he has to swing the gun to hit me. The bigger the movement is that he has to make, the more of an advantage my altered perception gives me.
I move just enough so that the bullet passes by me. I’m wearing light jacket for the cool spring weather. The bullet rips through it just under my armpit, between my arm and the side of my chest. My heart is pounding. I have to focus on breathing at the right tempo, which is already heard in a dilated-time state.
An expression of surprise spreads across the shooter’s face. I think I see what I have to do to survive this, but I don’t want to do it. Not at all.
I take an awkward step forward. I probably look like I’m impersonating a figure skater. When I’m forced to walk while dilating time, I try to keep both feet in contact with the ground at all times. It helps me balance. I suppose that if I practiced this more, I could walk in a more normal fashion, but right now I can’t afford to do anything I don’t have to do that’s not in my realm of comfort.
The shooter readies his gun. It’s aimed more toward my head this time. That’s good. The head is smaller and harder to hit even under ideal circumstances for the shooter. I can also move it much faster than I can my torso.
I’m already closing the distance. I can do this. I watch his fingers closely. As soon as he begins the squeeze the trigger, I figure he’s done adjusting his aim. I tilt my head to one side, eyes glued now to the barrel of the gun to make sure it doesn’t like up with any part of me.
My keys are in my hand. The bullet flies past my ear. It doesn’t hit me, but it still terrifies me. You’d think I would be used to the idea of people shooting at me, at least a little bit, from playing so many FPS video games. I’m not. Not at all. I feel like I’m going to throw up.
I close the distance. I’m used watching time unfold slowly, but I’ve pushed it to another level entirely. It feels like hours pass between the time the shooter fired that first bullet and when I finally step into melee range.
My keys are in my right hand. With my left hand I grab the gun, pushing it away from me. I don’t suspect I have the strength to win in a physical battle for the gun, so that’s not my goal. My fingers tighten around my car key, the longer, thinnest key on the ring, which also has the best grip. My brow furrows. I do not want to do this. I do NOT.
I do want to live through this, and this seems like the best change that I have.
As fast as I can, which has to look pretty darn fast to onlookers, because I’m pushing my arm as hard as possible, I push my key into the man’s right eye. It’s the only place I can see that I can do damage with my tiny weapon.
I watch every detail of the moment in excruciatingly slow motion. I put the tip of the key right through his pupil. I feel the urge to vomit welling up inside me, but I have time before my body can catch up to my brain’s desires. I withdraw the key from his right eye and strike out at his left, puncturing it as well.
The man’s grip loosens on his gun. Something snaps. The band that has been constricting my head releases, and the shooter falls to the ground, writhing and crying out. I stumble backward, his gun in my hand. I fall to my knees and I find the vomit pouring out of me onto the white tile floor of the gas station.
Subconsciously, I speed the way I see time pass around me. I don’t even realize I’ve done it until instants later, someone’s hand touches my shoulder. A police officer. He holds out his hand. Numbly, I hand him the gun.
I stand up, shakily. There’s an ambulance outside. The shooter is gone. I can guess he’s getting medical treatment. The clerk is just outside the door. He looks at me through the window. He looks terrified, but not only at what just happened. His look of fear is for me. He’s afraid of me.
The cop, too, has that look in his eyes. I feel sick all over again. What I did to that man was brutal and disgusting. I would be afraid of me, too. But I guess that’s not everything. I would be afraid, too, if I watched someone dodging bullets.
Maybe I do care if I’m different. Just a little bit. Just enough.