Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Microstory 1722: The Chameleons

I’ve always been really great at fitting in. In grade school, I would seamlessly switch from clique to clique, making people feel like I belonged, and also that there was nothing wrong with me belonging elsewhere at the same time. People noticed that I was friends with pretty much everyone, but they still couldn’t see the big picture. I didn’t even really see it. It’s not like this was a calculated strategy on my part. I just did it. Everything changed when I went to college. I met people from all over the country, and beyond. I found it harder to relate to some, and that made it harder to want to try to relate to anyone. It was disheartening. It was a small liberal arts school, far from home, so I didn’t think I would ever see anyone from high school again, but there was one. I’m not being rude by calling him an outcast, because that’s how he referred to himself, and how he liked it. He and a few others deliberately separated themselves from the herd, not because they hated people, but because they were all destined to lead lives that required that they be excellent observers. One of them became a writer, who could tell meaningful stories about unique characters. Another decided to be a private detective, specializing in the hardest cases, which others were not able to crack. She operated on referrals from those who would be her competitors. This all may sound irrelevant, but it’s not. The guy who ended up going to the same college as me didn’t know what he wanted to do with his observational skills, but he knew they were important, and he didn’t think he was good at anything else. He was better with computers than people. That was fine when he was younger, but he began to feel too isolated when he was on his own, because he no longer had a support system. That’s why he turned to me.

The two of us became great friends from that point on. He helped me understand my talents, and get back to what I do best. I was making friends left and right, and I realized that doing this in college was even easier, because the individual groups never noticed each other. It was like a playground, where I honed my skills, and became the best version of me. In exchange, I helped him out of his shell. He started to make friends too. He was never Mr. Popular, but he was a lot better than he was before, and he had other gifts to bring to the table. We spent our days getting better and better at slipping into new social situations, and reading our practice targets. We practiced lying by coming up with wondrous, but believable, stories about ourselves. Some failed, but we learned from our mistakes, and we only got better once our writer friend started making the stories up for us. We didn’t know why the hell we were doing any of this—why it mattered—but it felt good to deceive others. It felt like power, knowing that people trusted us who really shouldn’t, and that we could hurt them if we chose to. But we never did. Not once. This isn’t a story about a group of conmen. It’s about three guys and one woman who want to help change the world. A few years after college, the four of us joined forces, and started working on cases together. We specialize in infiltration, with me on the frontlines. I penetrate a group, gain their trust, and solve whatever problem they’re causing. Cults, militias, other evil-doers. The detective finds the cases, the writer creates a backstory, the hacker fabricates the new identity, and I play the part. The problem is that none of us has any combat training, and some of our cases lately have been a little dangerous. We realize now that we need a skilled fighter. That’s why we’ve turned to you.

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