I can feel the ventilator that keeps my lungs working pump before I hear it hiss, quietly. That’s my caretaker who came in to check the IV drips that keep me fed. An unnecessary precaution. I am completely aware of my surroundings and can perform any maintenance on the vast array of machines that sustain my life without assistance, but he knows I appreciate the thought. When I shift my shoulders, one of the last things I have nerve control over, that gurgle is at the pain. I have in thirty-eight years never stopped hurting but taking medication that would dull my mind would leave me vulnerable to assassination, to losing my rank as the most powerful human in this city. Oh, don’t worry, he couldn’t see you – I bent the light around you to keep you hidden. That’s a trick I only got down recently. He’s not good with guests, even if they are upstanding members of the community like you. I understand you built a successful business from the ground up? I appreciate that kind of fortitude, that drive. Most people who could teleport would probably make an easier living. Call me old-fashioned. You see, I was born in a time before the power rankings even existed, before the meteor showers of 2018. That was before all the government testing, before the conflict and civil wars. When half the population below 30 began to show signs of special abilities, there was so much hope, then expectation, then fear. If I hadn’t been born in rural Canada I doubt I could have survived to adulthood; I didn’t even feel my powers until I was thirteen. It was not until I moved here, once called Chicago, as an older teen that I was even truly aware of what the abilities meant. It’s not the only city left with rankings – the other eight major cities on this continent have them too, and they all have someone like me. The other number 1’s, as we are called, leave each other alone. We’ve decided, after many decades, to respect our little fiefdoms, and even occasionally speak to each other. No one knows the burden a crown brings besides another king. It is worse when you are so powerful and no-one can know why. The reason no one knows what I can do is because I have taken such great pains to keep it secret. I can appear to have almost any ability I choose because I can manipulate matter. I don’t mean I can pick up an object and throw it with my mind, I mean I can atomize someone. I have imploded a skyscraper and I have severed the hemispheres of my enemies brains inside their skulls. I will occasionally peel back the layers of my own flesh and draw out my various muscle tissues and veins, peering deeply into the ruined track of offal you could call my nerves. No matter how I try, learning with great patience to shape individual cells and repair strings of tissue, I cannot restore function. I cannot create life. I feel like a dollmaker, crafting and forming, molding the shape of a man but with no way to animate it but through my own action. Even using stem cells I felt inside my brain stem yielded only minimal results. So I lay, crippled and twisted, in the highest chamber of the tallest remaining building here. I can, of course, move myself through my power. My brain functions perfectly through repairs I conduct regularly – touching everything but what I have identified as the seat of my power, a small gland in my frontal lobe. When I was 23, rank 10,287, tied up with the great struggle of the power games, a young man at rank 1,673 tried to kill me using bioexplosive compounds he could excrete. I tracked him to a portside warehouse and fell into a trap he laid – the place was covered with the slime. Before I knew what it was, the explosion levelled a city block. Though I kept as much force as I could at bay, my body was shredded. I had so little knowledge then, such poor control. I don’t know how I pulled myself back together and forced my body to hover out of there, but I did. The next three weeks are a blank – hospitalized, remembering only pain. When I awoke, I realized not only could I not move under my own power, but my mind was different somehow. Before, I could reach out, feel perhaps as far as a few hundred feet away. Now, I saw everything in my head for miles. When I once could make out the rough shapes of large objects and the basic presence of small ones, now I could feel everything. There was no blank space, no simple guesses. I could feel the air around me, observe the workings of the living bodies and explore every miniscule facet of the environment in every direction. It was rapture. It was hell. I nearly went insane from the flood of information I could hardly understand. I also came to realize I had awoken for the last time. I can no longer rest – my brain does not allow it. I became incapable of sleep. I hid my consciousness from the doctors and nurses, and started to test my abilities. I did accidentally perform actions before I regained control – instead of moving a vase of flowers, I disintegrated a rough cone of matter around it and flung it across the room. I tried to catch it but instead collapsed a chunk of the wall it was about to hit. It took several days, but I became confident enough in my abilities to try moving my limbs. Within a week, I “walked” out of the hospital. I had repaired my face as well as I could but since my previous life had ended it didn’t bother me I no longer looked exactly the same. If I was a new man, I would be new entirely – and no one would know what I could do, and the extent of my ability. Before I made it a block I saw a listing board for the rankings, scrolling through the low 1,000’s. I wouldn’t have stopped or paid it any attention if I didn’t see a familiar name at rank 1,002 – the bioexplosive man who had left me crippled. This was a time when the numbers were followed with great interest: many people over rank 5000 would boast their successes, and the media would follow them. There was even someone working at the largest news station in the city who could tell what rank you should be just by meeting you. There were gaps, of course – people like me, either keeping secret or going unnoticed – but I would occasionally check to see where I should have been. As my luck would have it, he had appeared on the news recently to take credit for a spectacular beheading of some super-strong brute. I found him, and I found where he lived. I am not, and never have been proud of how I killed him. It has never taken that long since, and I have left the rest of my regrettable opponents… intact, for the most part. It wasn’t until then that I heard the crying. This maniac had a baby – couldn’t have been more than 2. It may speak ill of me to kill someone with a kid, but he had took out so many others I couldn’t feel remorse. I got the child to a home where it would be cared for, and kept tabs on it for quite a while. The girl turned out alright. Suffice to say, I took his home and made it my own – rent was a fairly flexible concept at that time.