Log of the Month for December, 2004
Posted on December 23rd, 2004 by Jack Leirone
“How is he doing today?” The voice sounded mildly chipper and satirically hopeful. It was a male voice, deep and smooth, and from the sound of it, it sounded slightly sound-guarded by a moustache. No beard though. (Funny. How the hell did he know that?)
“The connection with his visual cortex is weakening,” said a female voice, with that ever so satirical hilarity. (He was faintly, dimly, peripherally aware of birds chirping.) “His body is rejecting the implants. This sort of thing being implanted so late in life may cause its malfunction. It may cause him extreme discomfort, and eventually he will collapse, going into a comatose state and at that point…”
“Yes,” the male voice interrupted. “Removal by surgery. It’s best to try, wouldn’t you say? See what you can do to strengthen that connection. I’m going to go get some coffee. You want any?”
“Sure,” she said. “I take it black.” And away, down the hall…WAY down the hall, the male voice was heard saying, “Is that how you take your women, you cold bitch-dyke?” But what was strange, the female didn’t react. She didn’t hear it. (But…he did.) Instead, she crossed the room by three and three-quarters feet, grabbing a five-inch silver, cold metal object that emitted electronic waves. (The specifics of everything, all of the objects of his environment, were being fed to him, straight into his mind, as if his being was extending and touching everything in the room.)
“Here’s your coffee, black as you want it.” The male voice entered the room, holding two steaming cups of coffee. He took cream and sugar. Pussy. (How many people were in that room?! He heard at least a hundred voices all in variations volumes and pitches. He felt like he was in an auditorium and he was the cadaver in a surgical presentation.) The female thanked the male quietly and sipped her coffee and set it down on a countertop five feet away, in the back of the room, the part of the room at which the headrest of the examination table pointed. “Were you able to do anything?”
“A little,” she replied, yawning. She had been very tired for a very long time. Insomnia? Maybe. “I strengthened the bioelectric connection only thirty percent but it began to drop again. Slower, this time, but damn it, it’s still going down. Maybe there’s something we could also implant that would…”
Nodding, making ever so delicate fluctuations of vocal projection, the male voice said, “That would constantly strengthen the connection. Either that or he could do it himself.”
There was a different fluctuation, a horizontal one in the female voice. She was shaking her head. “No, he’s an officer of Starfleet. An engineer. With all that equipment surrounding him, taking into account the stress of the engineering department and the availability to do so…he would not be able to maintain the connection manually.”
The argument was slowly but surely turning into something a little less professional. “Well, Abby, if we installed a device in his brain – first of all, where would we put it? – the emitted magnetic and electronic fields would cause his brain to spasm. Either that, Abby, or you could stabilize the bioelectric connection so that it DIDN’T weaken.” The two medical people were flanking the examination table, exchanging hot glances at each other, animosity fuming like a bridge over the unconscious patient.
“Look, Eli, I’ve done all that I…”
“Doctor Ullman would do just fine…Abby.”
Abby was apparently stunned. A couple spatters of vocal ejaculations erupted from her throat as her train of thought battled itself to get back onto the tracks. “I’ve done all that I can. We’re going to have to get science in here anyways to get…”
“Anyway, Abby. There’s no S. You sound so damn uneducated.”
“ANYWAYS, to get him able to SEE. And I don’t give a damn how I sound, thank you.”
“Get out of here.”
“He’s my patient.”
“This is my wing.”
“I know more about the inside of this man than anyone else at the present moment, and I believe that counts given that time is of the essence and I am determined to give him the proper treatment. If you want him to be unable to see, walking primitively around with a white-and-red stick and sunglasses, then I suggest YOU leave and allow me to do my work…Eli.”
(Dr. Eli Ullman coughed and scuffled out of the room. He felt sorry for Abby Whatever-Her-Last-Name-Is. And it had come to him at last. He was blind. For good. He would never see the world the same again. Jack Leirone was blind.)
Abby sniffled and went to work on a console not too far away. A tear, two, three fell on the countertop and flattened in a pathetic puddle of sadness and defeat. Beeps and boops of the console permeated the room’s atmosphere like a low-rolling wave permeates a smooth damp-sanded beach, untouched by human toes. Her left hand lay at her side, clutching a kerchief and clutching hard in a festered fist of anger and disappointed. But suddenly, something wrapped around it and at first she was frightened.
“Don’t cry, Abby.”
He was awake; Jack Leirone was awake for the first time in her presence. Abby looked at him, looking at his blank eyes that were so colorful and full of life but so utterly blank that it made her sad. How did he know her name? Oh, he probably heard her arguing with Doctor Ullman, impossible beast of a doctor. The next time he tries to pull that uppity bullshit again, she swore she’d knock him right in the kisser…
“Don’t cry. Come on. It’s okay.”
Since the moment she first took him into her surgical room and laid her fingers on his face, she felt a certain kinship with him, a romanticized connection with his eyes that were so awfully bereft of function. Shamelessly, she succumbed to the Florence Nightengale effect, something she swore she would never do but secretly knew it was inevitable. Yes, shamelessly, but secretly. God, if Ullman knew she was clinging to this patient so ravenously because she was in love with him… she’d have to go find a different hospital. Pestilent bastard, she thought. Any-WAYS, she had known his skin, known his hair, known his history, known his…well, a good doctor takes very good care of her patient, and that includes dressing them in their patient garb…and felt like she really knew him, knew Jack Leirone. But there was always something that kept that process of knowledge incomplete, and that was his voice. And now, it was presented to her in a calm, comforting, consoling manner, and not only was her knowledge complete, but so was her love.
“Me? Oh, I’m not crying. Crying? Don’t be silly. I’m glad you’re awake, Jack…Mr. Leirone. Are you in any pain?”
“Physically, not much. A headache, an itch in my eyes. Emotionally, well, being blinded is a pretty devastating happening for someone such as me. How can I live my life? How can I do my job?”
Abby approached him and he felt it as much as heard it, and she sat on a stool next to his bed. “You can do both of those things fine with practice and patience. Your job? Reading up on your records, forgive the expression, but it looks like you could do those things with your eyes closed anyways. And look at Geordi LaForge of the Enterprise. He did it.”
“He was born like that. He had time to get used to it.”
“And you’re a strong man, Mr. Leirone. You can get used to it pretty quickly. I just know it.”
“And how do you presume to know how strong I am?” Jack smiled and looked in her general direction, almost exact direction, his pupils landing on her jaw rather than her eyes. Abby thought to herself and realized he was already beginning to adjust.
“Well, uh…” and she chuckled to fill the silence of her pause. “Because as I said, Mr. Leirone, I read your records and saw the things you’ve done. Though I am confused where you were between high school graduation and Starfleet…”
He responded almost too quickly. “Nowhere, really. Heh. Nowhere. I guess I know what nowhere looks like. Though in my mind, I’ve been calling it ‘Neverwhere.’ Heh. Yeah.” Then, he tried to sit up, but he felt to firm hands on his shoulders pressing him back down and a hurried voice telling him not to move. When his hair touched the softly cushioned headrest of the examination table, he swore he was able to look straight up at an upside-down face that was peering down on him, a pretty face with auburn hair floating distractedly around it in pretty, done-up curls. So young was his first thought, and then everything went black again; blindness robbed him of the teasing glimpses at the physical world. Or was he just imagining her? There were too many sedatives running marathons through his bloodstream to guess.
“In your mind?” Abby said, moving away from the table now and walking again to a countertop, retrieving a tricorder. “There shouldn’t have been any dreams in your long sleep. Were there?”
Nodding, Jack said, “I remember them vividly. None of the dreams had any content of pertinence but, I remember having my conscious thought in an unconscious world. You know? And I called it ‘Neverwhere.’ Neverwhere is this entirely new world, some sort of a parallel universe to this one. It was odd how all of my dreams seemed to have different stories and happenings, but all in the same place. Anyway, it’s an odd world where the blind are the seers and the people with eyes can’t use them. Only those without ears can hear you, only those without hearts can feel you.” Jack shivered. “Creepy stuff.”
He sensed that Abby was frozen in thought. “Yeah,” she agreed, breathlessly, recommencing with her duties. “Sounds like it. I’ve never heard of that before: dreams so vivid and themed in a comatose patient. Huh. Maybe God was showing you things.” And the shape of her mouth must have been a smile from the way her words came out.
There was a long period of laughter, and then Jack drew his somberness back to him like a net in a pond. “Or someone else.” And the graveness transmitted to her, and he could feel it. Then the idle chat commenced as Abby scanned him for progress and checked the connectors on his temples. For some reason, Jack Leirone couldn’t picture himself with one of those funky visors on like that LaForge guy from the Enterprise had. A thought struck him then like a stone thrown wayside. “Say, isn’t there some new biological implant where I won’t need the visor? I’d rather have that.”
“Oh, dear, you’ll need to adapt to the visor before you can adapt to those. We’ll try the visor first, okay? And once it looks like you can handle that, then we’ll upgrade. My goodness,” she said. And that “dear” at the beginning of her answer sounded less like an exclamation to Jack and more like a term of endearment. “My goodness, it’s just like back in the twentieth century. Back when nearsightedness and eye-deterioration was a problem. People who would start to go nearsighted or farsighted would do anything to replace their spectacles with contact lenses. The human concern for appearance never dies, I guess.”
Abby’s cold fingers touched the bridge of Jack’s nose as she peered under his eyelids, and he felt sheepish and hot in the cheeks. “I guess I – well, I guess I don’t want the implant instead of the visor for fashion sense. I just want to be able to do my job without some metal crescent attached to my face, having to worry about it falling off, and then kicking it under a table, and all that shit.”
She laughed joyously at his remarks but made no motion of backing down. “I’m afraid, for your health, we’re going to have to do the visor first, Jack. I’m sorry. You going to be okay with that for a while?”
“Yeah, I guess.” A brief pause grew pregnant between them and finally gave birth to a question. “Say, you don’t happen to know where my ship is at these days? I’d imagine they haven’t stuck around Earth, if they even came here at all.”
Jack heard the lady gasp slightly and she put a hand on his hand. “Jack, how did you know you weren’t on your ship? How did you know you were on Earth?”
“That’s a – that’s a robin chirping out there. It’s spring, isn’t it? By the temperature in here feeling as natural and non-air-conditioned as it is, I’m guessing it’s of moderate degrees outside. And yeah, that’s a robin chirping.” Abby was stunned by his words; her office and this examination room were both in the middle of the building, far from any window or door. Then, realizing something, she leaned back in astonishment, nearly physically out of breath.
Meanwhile, Jack was feeling a bit uncomfortable in the silence, like being in his skivvies on stage. “Um – is something wrong?”
And Abby snapped back into the real world. Returning from Neverwhere, she mused. “No, it’s just – well, no, I’m sorry, I don’t know where your ship is. And no, the Constitution didn’t come here. They dropped you off at the nearest Federation planet and they played Planetary Hot Potato and you wound up here. If they did, I’m sure I would know; usually one’s friends come to see how the patient is doing before they head off again, and I don’t remember seeing any friends – or a wife, or anything.” Clever, Abby. You’re a damn clever girl, and he won’t suspect you said that intentionally, no not at all. Clever, clever girl, Abby.
Jack snickered, shaking his head and folding his hands on his abdomen. “No, there wouldn’t be a wife.” His snicker died into a sigh. “No friends either, I guess.”
Great, Abby, you got more than you bargained for. Stupid girl, Abby. Stupid, stupid girl.
“That confuses me, J- Mr. Leirone. Why wouldn’t you have any friends?”
But he didn’t want to answer.
“Okay, then the wife thing. Surely the women are beating down your door?”
Jack’s thoughts fixed on Nicole, how little they’d seen each other; he wondered if things were going to work out. He wondered if she even knew he was gone. He wondered if anyone besides Blackthorne and the medical people knew he was gone. And if they did, he wondered if they cared. “Nicole – ” he muttered.
“A very wonderful person, but someone who’s never there, someone who never really shows she cares. It’s funny; for a while I thought she was the only person in the universe I wanted, actually wanted, to be around. Actually loved being around. But then she disappeared, and everything we had – well, it didn’t even end. It just sort of vanished. You know? Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions, because I haven’t even talked to her recently, but you see – that’s the problem.” Jack felt again the chilling sensation of Abby’s icicle digits on his face, caressing him, it almost felt like, but with that green-sterilized feeling of being examined.
He heard Abby exhaling delicately. “Girlfriend, then?”
“If you could call it that. What are you doing?”
Almost with a suggestive, almost cutely provocative tone, she answered, “Checking for infection – and finding none. Everything’s clean. Do you still feel sore?” And Jack suddenly remembered that she stuck him with a hypospray during his rant about Nicole, too caught up in the fishnet of emotional despair and anger to notice, and he felt an alleviating numbness all around his head that was nearly angelic, a sort of euphoria. He answered in the negative and then succumbed to fatigue, slipping into sipping at a sweet dream, his last conscious thought being: The near future holds many obstacles. And I am damn near shitless over them.
Four sets of hands grappled his biceps, Jack’s, and obediently dragged him down a hallway, his flopping footsteps fearful, frigid, and flailing on the smooth surface of the hospital’s hallway. The time was 0830: time to meet destiny. Destiny – God that just sounds weird now. ‘Going to meet Destiny’ sounds like I’m actually going to meet the person – damn weird. Destiny came this time did not in the form of an omen, or a woman, but it came in the crescent form of gold fitted to Jack Leirone’s countenance. Itching at his temples were two tiny black squares of technology with two blinking lights on each side like airplane wings. Receptors – receptors for my manifest destiny. Stop using that na – that word. You’re going to beat yourself up over that shit too, now, huh? Well you have bigger fish to fry; and stop worrying about Nicole too. ‘S not like she’s worrying about you or anything.
One of these pairs of hands that led him to an overall colder place of the hospital, more in depth of the architecture, like a shallower circle of hell, was a pair belonging to Doctor Abigail Hart. The other was some girl nurse named Troy something, but Jack concentrated on the touch that permeated his being and led him safely to whatever was waiting; there was an obvious affinity between them, pertaining to which he seemed to be kept out of the loop. When they spoke, he sensed in her voice utter comfort and content, pure and unspoiled, painfully akin to that of newlyweds. More than it did creep him out, it amused him, but he noticed recently an arousal of spirit (and of other things) around the woman, like that person who walks into a room and your heart jumps. Nicole was that person – would she have the same effect if I saw he walk i nto the room now? Well, no, ’cause I can’t see anymore. I guess I got to get used to that.
He entered the room, and though he was wrought with blindness, he sensed his environment darken and obfuscate, and he felt cold, a dry lukewarm lull that could paralyze the mind. “Now just relax, and stand still, okay?”
Faraway, a young male voice said, “Here it is, Doctor Hart. Everything’s ready.”
“Thank you. Troy?”
The second presence, the one that held his right arm, let him stand on his own and walked in the direction of Abby’s voice, and he felt like he was jettisoned in space, like a disused piece of obsolete cargo that was cast into the forever darkness. Troy’s little babydoll voice was alike a child’s intonation, but Jack sensed moderate age in her; he was right: she was thirty-two. Troy Marks traveled through the dark space and then came back with Abby, who held something cold and made from metal. And he knew what it was.
“Now, Jack,” and he detected her passive, casual utterance of his first name instead of Mr. Leirone. “It is quite dark in this room, but your eyes have been shrouded in darkness for a month and a half. You’re going to feel like you’ve just stared at the sun, but I want you to keep your eyes open for me, okay? If you keep your eyes open, your visual cortex will adapt to its new perception much easier and faster – despite the pain. Can you do that?”
With a gesture of courage, he reached out and deftly took her hand without knowing where it was. “You have no idea what I can do.” He took the visor in his hand and was so fascinated by it in a marveling and disgusting way, that he didn’t take notice of Abby’s rapid change in body temperature and her uneasy scurry to the other side of the room. Had he felt that, he would have said, Ha, got her.
Placing the visor on his face, he had his eyes closed at first, and he told her that. “Abby, I’ve got my eyes closed, but I will open them – now – ” And when he did, the pain was unimaginable; the good doctor’s description of staring into the sun was inaccurate. Inadequate. Yes, it did feel like staring into the sun, but not from the beach, not from the mountains, not from his back yard. From about a mile away. All over him, his body began to sweat and he could feel tiny claws of pure light and fire clutching at him, ripping off his hospital-provided clothes, trying to get under his flesh. Despite the visor’s purpose, he couldn’t see a damn thing. Everything went from black to burning white in a matter of thought. Pandemonium took him and he began to shake in some frantic state of shock, his fists knotted, his head thrown back into a silent howling wail, his pearly whites bea ming like swords of dying warriors thrust towards the sky in the final heave of war. Dimly, he was aware that Abby and a technician, not Troy, were closing in on him, bearing down on him to help ease his suffering, but he artfully pressed one stern palm out toward the technician’s exact position and then his other in Abby’s and said one word. “Stop.”
“Jack, you can close your eyes,” came Abby’s trembling voice, almost – leaves shaking in a rain of tears. “I’m sorry, Jack, I shouldn’t have been as steadfast as to force you into record-breaking recovery time, please, close your eyes!”
“No,” said he, sniffing hard, trying to keep his mucus in his nose; with the immense pain in his eyes, his nasal cavities transformed in Niagara Falls, like the visor violently unscrewed a faucet and let it all come out. He nearly gagged on all that mucus going down his throat and he swallowed – nothing, swallowed again – and then it all went down and out of his way. Abby was hysterical, breaking his invisible wall of will that projected from his palm and clutching to him.
“Jack, damn it! Take it off, close your eyes! It’s too soon, please, oh god, forgive me, I’ve ruined it all. Jack, please, I can still help you if you just take it off now, my god, Jack, shut your eyes! Please!” Now chaos seized the little dark room. The technician guy, who didn’t know whose side to take, just resorted to attempting to separate the doctor and the patient, just get her off him and go from there. His hands grasped both their biceps. Troy was trying in vain to valiantly reach for the visor and yank it off from Jack’s right side. Another technician was fending her off, and there was much shouting. But over every other voice, Jack heard, “Jack, for the love of Christ, close your eyes! Close your eyes! The love of Christ, Jack, close your eyes!”
Leirone knew she was just using the expression, but he sensed a sort of celestial feeling of “averting his eyes to God” or some shit like that. Being penitent before God, but he wasn’t exactly a good church-going individual. If God was staring at him now, demanding he bring down his eyelids like tragic curtains at the end of some second-rate show, he was at least going to get a glimpse of who was being such a control-freak. Jack did not shut his eyes.
Meanwhile, more doctors and nurses were joining the “festivities.” Eli Ullman stood back somewhere and watched as the “cold bitch-dyke” failed, and failed miserably. Two men in Starfleet uniforms were trying to push past all the bodies to be heroes (like they always wanted to be). There was a mad battle for that golden crescent on Jack’s face; a hand would reach for them and another would bat it away, over and over again, from almost a million different people, it seemed. Still, Jack stood standing, the crowd festering behind him, looking diagonally up, as if to heaven. In front of him was Abby, still screaming in hysterics, beckoning him to end the pain and lose his sight temporarily again, but he still looked heavenward and almost seemed like he was whispering something. Among the fraying voices were cries of, “don’t touch him!” and “get the visor!” and “somebody do som ething!” Abby’s voice began to hurt and she felt her fists, which had Jack’s shirt in their vices, begin to become sore from the tense flexing and shaking she was doing.
“Jack, don’t do this! You don’t have to prove anything! If you close your eyes now, it doesn’t mean you’re less strong! You don’t have to impress anybody!”
Story of my life, Jack thought, but then continued with his angelic conversation. But this time, I’m right. And my stubbornness will not fail me, but it will help me. You can’t run it all. I don’t care how big you are; you’ve taken my sight and you will not take my artificial sight. I dare you to show such hate to one of your “children.” I dare you to show such cold wrath. I don’t believe in you if you do this because I don’t believe that any father would punish their child exceedingly. If you do this, then you have one less son.
Ullman had entered the seen, and was now at Abby’s back like a jackal, trying to tear her away from him, but her grip would not let release.
“Let go of him!”
“No! He’s my responsibility! I will take care of him!”
“Fine job you’re doing, Abby. Let go!”
“Doctor Ullman, please, you have to let me deal with him, you have to let me cure him! It won’t work if I don’t!”
“You’ll blind him right through the point of no return, damn it! What were you thinking?!”
“What was I thinking? I was thinking I could save him, I was thinking he could be something prodigious, something miraculous, and call it a feeling, and call that feeling an ‘intrusion on the medical field’ or however you put it, but I think it’s right! I
think what I do can help him, I
want to help him get better as soon as possible because – because – ”
“Abby,” Jack was saying to her, and the roar of the crowd had died, and everyone stood staring. Instead of the sweating and struggling man, burning with pain, she saw a man brought into the cool air after being thrown about in hell. He was looking at her, looking, and she only looked back, mouth gaping in awe and shock. Soon, she saw a tiny simper break out between his cheeks and his hands fold in front of him. His wild hair was still darkened and moldable with sweat, but he was still and looking at her. Four words crept from his mouth to hers in slow motion and they changed her tears from angry and afraid to happy as soon as they climbed to her mind to settle in for the night.
“I can see you.”
Unbelieving, Abby broke out of Ullman’s grasp and approached Jack slowly like a bride would approach her husband at the alter. Her eyes fixed on his as if the visor wasn’t there at all, and she put up her hand in a statuesque wave, silent and unmoving, palm out, fingers almost welded together. She put it right in front of his nose and then, slowly and timidly, she slid it to her right and to her surprise and wonder, his gaze moved with it, and then to the left, and then to downward until he stared at her eyes, again, as if no implants resided in his skull. By now, the entire crowd was cheering in a mix of victory of relief. Ullman disappeared. And what Abby did next was unlike anything Jack had ever seen in doctors: she hugged him, hard, and pressed the side of her head against his chest like a mother who had just saved her child from a whirlpool, or a lover who had just seen her husband back from war. Curious, the doctor part of her taking over now, she asked, “Are you in pain?”
Shaking his head and smiling, he said, “No. Not a bit. Everything looks a lot more normal. Only a lot more colorful.” And they laughed as the others vacated the area. Soon, she took his hand and led him out.
“There’s still much more to do,” Abby said. “We’ve got to get you used to it now. You’ll be going back to the Academy, if you don’t mind, but only for an hour and a half a day, in private sessions with Professor G’Lar, who will oversee your development in learning your job again with different eyes. But that doesn’t start until Monday. In case you didn’t know, it’s Fri – ”
“Friday. I guessed. There are more sighs as people are walking out the door.” And to Abby’s almost expected surprise, she heard this, and said to herself that there wasn’t a door to the outside world for halls and halls and halls. Sunlight through the large glass doors wasn’t even visible this far into the infirmary. But as said, it was expected.
“Anyway, I was wondering, since you’re so far from home, and you are under no obligation to stay overnight at the hospital, I welcome you to my home.”
With public transportation as their means, Abby Hart and Jack Leirone traveled through the bustling city of San Francisco, heading toward Abby’s place of residence. They took the trolley, which had been restored from the twentieth century to give humans the constantly sought-after feeling of rustic reminiscence and history. The wonderful bell, even, had been restored, that dinging noise alerting everyone on board that a stop was arriving, or the recommencement of the car was now underway. Ahead in the driver’s compartment, the little engineer was a balding man with a kind face that would have been perfectly accompanied by tiny round spectacles, had the times allowed them. A great, round, gray-and-blue engineer’s cap sat on his head, giving the entire scene a trip right back to the nineteen-nineties. Seated around them were pedestrians, longing not to use their feet and le gs in their venturous trips across town to shop, to work, to go home, or simply to ride the wind down the hilly streets. Jack did not like to call them passengers because his strange thought pattern did not register users of public transportation to be dubbed so; instead, they were just called pedestrians. Looking at the man, no one could guess a single truth about him; he was not blind, he was not a Starfleet officer, he was not once paid to take lives. To the other people bobbing and wagging their bodies this way and that with the rhythm of the streetcar, Jack was just another pedestrian, another man, meaningless, another parasite on the dying beast of the world.
Jack had his visor in Abby’s purse for two reasons: one, sunlight on his newly refreshed eyes would surely terminate any process that the pretty, youthful doctor beside him had made, and two, that the bridge of his nose ached from wearing them all afternoon. So he rested and saved himself simultaneously, and let the passively passing breeze caused by the streetcar’s motion take him somewhere no man had gone before. He stood as the others sat and gripped the brass pole for balance, taking San Francisco in through all of his sensatory entrances that had not been closed for repairs. It was as if five doors to a grand stadium had remained open for the steadily coming crowd for years and now one gateway was locked; more people, then, would go through the other four doors, and that is what Jack’s sensation was. He heard things better than he used to; he listened and felt, smell ed and tasted the loud, summery, salty city and formed an image in his mind. Wind blew his bangs listlessly across his forehead like a thousand and one reeds brushing up against the vertical shore of a man-made pond. He stared off the car and into the bay as the five-o-clock sun turned the entire Franciscan kingdom to gold as if Midas himself was king, but this he could not see – could not even sense at all.
Knowing almost exactly what time it was troubled him; he heard the rustling of feet and doors as the streetcar blew by business buildings and knew it was a shift-change, and his body was feeling the biological lag it normally felt at this hour. As a student at the Academy, he knew well what summer San Francisco looked like at about this time, and he missed it. Now, he leaned his forehead up against the chilling brass pole and just looked out at the sunset as if he could see clearly.
Fourteen dings of the bell later and Jack and Abby removed themselves from the trolley and began walking, her arm in his, but her leading him down the darkened sidewalk; they were walking on the opposite side of a building from the glistening bay, and Jack felt chillier. Abby said, “This is my building, the door’s twenty paces down. You okay?”
They entered the building and took the lift up to her apartment which overlooked the now unseen finale of the day’s musical, and the curtain of night was drawing slowly, slowly, slowly. Abby poured the two of them drinks; it had been long since Jack had tasted the bittersweet taste of alcohol, even if it was synthehol, and he gulped it down with an almost dissatisfying finish. Idly they spoke, they chatted, and when eleven-thirty came slugging around they called their awareness quits and went to bed. Her apartment was accommodating; it was a large metropolitan appointment that had four bedrooms and one bath, and one hell of a living room. Jack was almost tearfully shocked to find out that he could gauge the approximate size of the room by listening to the echoes of their voices. Blind as a b at, he thought to himself, but didn’t say.
Three out of the four rooms had beds (the other was meant for exercising equipment, weights and treadmill that were out of use until running outside was put off for temperature reasons) and Jack slept in the room adjacent to Abby’s and was bugged by the lack of weight on his body. All his life he had slept with heavy comforters blanketing him, soothing him to sweet sleep, but though he was warm, he felt that Abby’s emaciated, paper-thin quilts were inadequate. He lay awake, staring blindly upward. The ceiling was actually a darkened blue as the full moon stood between Wax and Wane in the same place the sun had showered gold upon the city many hours earlier, and Abby’s open windows allowed the lulling moonlight to filter into the apartment, making it almost radiate. Jack knew this as well, and hated it, and hated that he knew it. Slowly, he slinked out of bed and tiptoed t o the nearest window.
Fumbling his fingers around the edges of the windowpane, he found the latch and opened it. The glass detached from the building with a dim crackle that lasted the – blink of an eye – and then continued to quietly creak as it swung gradually open. Summer breeze caressed his face and bare chest and infiltrated his boxers and instinctively, he blinked when the breeze caught his damp eyeballs. Lifting his right leg up first and trying his best to remain silent, he brought himself up and sat on the windowsill, his legs dangling nine floors above the street. Sighing and drumming his fingers nervously on the brick of the outside layer of the apartment building, he stared pensively into a cloudy blackness, if that was at all possible. Imagination imported what he might have been looking at, had he not decided to fail in that matter-antimatte r chamber. That was his thought: he decided to fail up there; he decided to go blind. And that hurt, it hurt, it was pain, something Jack Leirone was not supposed to feel. Pain was not something he was accustomed to, and he did not want to get accustomed to it. It was to end here, this pain, and the last thing he would hear would be the harsh rustle of wind against his ears, the smell of metropolis, the feeling of concrete, the taste of blood. It would be a grand dive into the unknown for he was unaware of exactly how many floors up he was sitting; he only knew the fall would indeed be fatal because he guessed from how long he was in that lift early that afternoon.
Between his toes, he felt cool air drying his sweat. And he leapt.
The next morning, Jack awoke, and he was shocked that he did. He did not feel paralyzed, he did certainly did not feel dead, and he did not feel any pain, aside from the aches of – sleeping on a fire escape all night. He came to the quick conclusion that he had jumped no more than three feet onto the metal grating of an old fire escape that kept him suspended in the air indefinitely. Jack hypothesized that the shock of falling a very short distance and collapsing on chilly metal put him almost directly to sleep, a slumber so deep not even the undying noises of San Francisco could arouse him until his biological sleeping cycle had made its full revolution. Entering his ears, closer that the streetcars and seagulls, was the sound of grease popping on a cast-iron frying pan, and the smell of sausage was so strong that it wafted out the window. Inside must be a vegetarian’s nightmare, he thought.
Climbing in the window a little less gracefully than he had climbed out, he was too distracted by the awful slaps his palms made on the hardwood floor to notice that he was not alone in the room. Clad in a white nightgown with one hand tucked under her other elbow which maneuvered the frying pan (this one with eggs – over easy), was Abigail Hart, eyeing his gorgeous almost-naked body as it returned from a suicidal crusade gone wrong. Or gone right?
“Ah!” Jack startled and sprang to his feet, knocking over a tall tree-like plant in a wicker planter. “Jesus. You startled me.”
“No, it’s not Jesus. It’s just me: Abby.” And then she began to sing in a deep sultry voice of a jazz singer. “Eggs and sausage – side o’ toast – coffee and a roll – hash browns over easy – chili in a bowl – ” The woman knew Tom Waits; and Jack thought he was the only one. All those things sounded so delectable it made him crazy, maybe, but God, he hoped there was no chili. It was too early for that. “Only,” she said in her speaking voice, “there’s no chili in a bowl. Unless you want it, of course.”
He shook his head while correcting the position of the disparaged houseplant, then approached her, dragging his feet like any droopy teenager on a school-morning. “No, I’ll wait till lunch, thanks.”
“I don’t know what it’s like on other planets or on starships, but we normally use the fire escapes when the building’s on fire, not when we find the beds uncomfortable,” she said, and he could tell she was biting her lip mischievously, wading in her own senseless humor like it was the best stand-up of the century. “I know why you were out there, you know. It’s quite normal for someone who’s lost a sense to want to lose all of them. And don’t worry, Jack, it doesn’t affect my opinions of your strength at all.”
Embarrassed finished nothing in the description of Jack’s thought’s and emotions. Neither did ashamed. All he could do was collapse on one of the stools that faced the bar-counter across from the stove range. Still, his eyes moved like they did when they worked; they ogled blankly in front of him, resting above a mouth agape, shocked and stunned. Before he knew it, he heard a clay plate clank down in front of him and all of those things (except the chili) mentioned in the old song ejected their scents into his nostrils and his stomach begged him to swallow it all. He hadn’t eaten in more than a day; too many chemicals had been running through his bloodstream to allow it a full twelve-hour stay in his digestive system. Quietly he ate and was unaware of Abby, who also ate, but looked in one place the entire duration of the meal: Jack’s eyes. In her mind, she made awesome love to him, and in her heart, she made more. Curtailing her naughty thoughts, though, she did dishes and ordered Jack to get dressed. “Your clothes are on your bed. Socks first, trousers, then shirt. Just so you don’t get confused.”
And that day, after two hours of physical therapy, Doctor Hart and Ensign Leirone took the trolley again in the direction of the Academy, but this time, Jack was not the only one who stood and stared in the direction of the bay. Abby too stood next to him and beheld two of the most beautiful sights she could ever imagine.
Jack was now unashamedly trekking through the corridors that wound tightly in the innards of the Starfleet Academy like a matrix of veins and arteries, pumping pupils downward, professors upward, leftward and rightward, forward and backward. He wore his visor now like a badge of abated indulgence of common sense, and it clung to his face snugly; it was the only thing now that his visage featured that was incapable of muscular adjustment, its cold golden structure unmoving and esoteric. His mouth, however, had also protested any transformation as the lips kept in the legato, mild, stony frown. The inside of the building was warmer than the outside; the air conditioning system had not quite detected the rise in temperature. Most of the heat, however, came from the vessels of the bloodstream hallways: the students and the like. It was a passing period and young cadets in the ir youthful uniforms darted to and fro, brushing past one another, desperately trying to make it to the next class on time. And Jack saw them, could recognize features and, from memory of his physical therapy sessions, colors. Colors and shades had been a difficult task for him to learn, and he was still not through with his erudition; he identified primary and auxiliary colors. Red, yellow, blue, green, purple, orange. Though it was not taught to him, Jack was teaching himself hair colors. Blonde, dishwater, brunette, brown, white, black, red, auburn.
Professor G’Lar, when they got to him, was a tall, gaunt Vulcan, and it didn’t require Jack’s self-teachings to guess his hair color. Speaking of unmoving faces, G’Lar was no exception to the Vulcan coldness, the quiet, contemplative logic that bereft them, seemingly, of emotions. He was not old but not young, and wore a Starfleet uniform in the place of some fluvial Vulcan garb. The light shown mercilessly on his skin, as if he had been working in the deep, deep belly of the engine that slung a starship to and fro in the sea of the galaxy. Reaching a sideways hand in Jack’s manner, he waited silently, as if already testing Leirone even in their meeting. Jack knew this and kept his mask of solidity; he almost expertly reached out in order to meet the Vulcan’s greeting, but found that the Vulcan had moved his hand listlessly to th e right as if to dodge a hot-potato in slow motion and at the moment this movement occurred, Jack stilled his hand and then deftly seized the relocated digits of the professor before it could make any further elusion.
“I am Professor G’Lar, and you are Ensign Jack Leirone of the Atlantis.” Presumptuous, bowl-cut turd.
“And you are Doctor Abigail Hart of the Good Samaritan Hospital.” He took her hand, not dodging hers.
“I am,” Abby answered, clearing her throat, preparing to continue with some premeditated report to give to him. But her words were halted with his, and his voice carried them deeply and almost chillingly, stopping her words at the gates of her own lips like mighty sentinels keeping prisoners in their cages.
“He seems to be doing well, though I was to understand that the normal process called for a week’s preparation before the visor was applied,” and he perked his narrow, deep-colored Vulcan eyebrow at her, already demanding explanation. “Yet this is his third day of post-surgery consciousness, and he is standing here with a fully functioning visor. Why?”
If he drops the L word, Jack thought, I’m gonna – well – guess I can’t hit him, or leave. I’ll be annoyed, that’s one thing for sure. Damn it.
“I figured I’d try. He was recovering from the surgery rapidly, though there still is a problem with maintaining the connection with his visual cortex – ” Her speech was again ceased, but this time with G’Lar’s upheld palm.
“This is not logical.”
Yup. There it is. I’m annoyed, now, Prof, thank you.
G’Lar continued: “A premature application of the visor and an unsatisfactory connection with the visual cortex? I’m afraid I cannot begin the evaluation until his health is secured. Mr. Leirone, I’m afraid this meeting will remain introductory at this time. Come back when everything is in its right place.”
Abby tried to plead with him, but her speech stopped at, “But – ” He was gone, back into the engineering training department’s labyrinthine innards. As she chased after him, Jack was left alone in the anteroom, gazing about with his new eyes, having trouble remembering what it looked like when he was a cadet years ago. At the moment, he was feeling a little lonely, as if something had been lifted off of him and the lack of weight was making him uncomfortable. Like a comforter taken from a deep sleeper. Trying to pinpoint what it was, he was running through mental lists. Right when he realized it was Abby that he was missing, he turned to look at the doorway through which she had run, to see if she had returned, but all he saw was blackness. His vision was gone. The shimmering figures that the visor interpreted for his eyes had vanished, and he was greeted by the sadly famil iar blindness that enveloped him. Panicking, he touched his temples and checked to see if the visor was connected properly; it was; something was wrong.
Troubleshooting, he took his visor off again and reattached it; nothing. In a severe seizure of desperation he actually touched his eyeballs to make sure they were unveiled by his lids. The stinging sensation of his oily fingertips making contact with his eyes was abated by the pain of his new blindness, his reentry into the world of darkness and despair. Jack found himself stumbling backwards, in shock, sweat in his collar, tingling in his toes, frigid cold in is digits. His seizing shoulder blades rammed into the rear wall, near the entrance, and he slid down into the sitting position and discovered frustrated tears were coming down on his nose like ice melting in a distant mountain. A call festered in the bottom of his soul and exited through his teeth, which were clamped tightly, in an invisible torture.
Almost too quickly, he felt her hands, singeing hot this time, grabbing his head like that used in a passionate kiss. She had worry written into her voice. “Jack, what’s wrong? What’s wrong Jack?”
Unable to use his fingers to point to his visor, he merely shook a hand in its direction. It now lay on the floor not too far away, glimmering like a dead angel. Pointing with his ambiguous, flailing hand, he sobbed and said, “It’s gone.” Then he pointed in the same manner to his eyes and repeated: “It’s gone.”
An hour later, Jack was sprawled like a broken doll on the black-cushioned examination table that had waited for him at the hospital, blankly looking, but painfully expressing toward the vaulted ceiling with the lights shining down on him like God’s judgment. Nurses busied about, efficiently handing medical tools and PADD rectangles off to one another like a million football games going on at once. The dull sound of solid objects connecting with skin-and-muscle-cushioned bone astounded him and the complete absence of the cantankerous noise of things falling to the tiles surprised him. His feet felt numb; his thighs were tingling; his hands were sweating. But in his left hand was her hand, Abby’s hand, Doctor Hart’s hand. She held it with an icy vice-grip like a wife holding her husband’s hand as he dangled off the edge of the inf inite abyss. Distinctly, the sensation of falling took him and he felt stagnant, repugnant air brushing past him, not cooling his perspired skin, but burning it, as if he was tumbling into the depths of hell. Long, branch-like fingers the size of tree-trunks felt as if they were wrapping around him and pulling him down; he felt the strange sensation that there was a darkened angel with him, a king of locusts, that was coming to claim him.
Jack Leirone slipped out of consciousness once more.
“Doctor Hart, report,” and his voice was muffled then by a surgical mask. This was Doctor Ullman. “What’s his status?” Following this was a moment of apprehension, as if Abby had been taken aback by Ullman’s compliance. A stutter, a clearing of a throat, and then she spoke.
“His vital signs are strained; his immune system is under attack,” she said, sounding like she was in tears. (And still, her hand clung to his.) Then a barrage of medical babble to and fro over his body and he felt a clamp go over his skull, even through his dreamless state of undeniable limbo.
“Classic rejection syndrome?”
“Yes, I’ve injected immuno-suppressants, but it will only alleviate his symptoms. We have very little time to get in there and fix whatever is wrong.” And from here, there was only silence on this side of the astral plane.
Where Jack Leirone was now, he had no answer, not even a guess. It was pitch black, but he felt surrounded by flame, as if an invisible burning forest surrounded and imprisoned him. Despite these sensations, he felt as if he had lost his hearing too, for accompanying him was his long lost friend: silence. Another sense was depleted, and the stale smell of extreme age that wafted from all directions in the blackness, was replaced by neutrality. Then another, and he was numb. Then another, and his tongue no more tasted the bloody mucus that rose in his throat. With every sense abandoning him, Jack had no body left; he was only a spirit, floating listlessly around, yet so still. Like a corpse chained to the bottom of the ocean where no current ever existed. Left with him, however, was his sixth sense, the one inside his mind, and hi s memories, and his pain.
This is a hazelnut, a symbol of love, you put this in your mouth, kiss me, and deliver it to my tongue, and I eat it. Then it is reversed, and we share our love forever.
Had that really come from his own lips? The steaming needles of painful reminiscence as he remembered Nicole, almost by force, wound their way like stitches through every pore on his skin.
Yeah, but do you know who we GOT, Drake? We GOT Marine Captain Adam Drake, the finest engineer anyone could find on any ship. Ever. And at Adam Drake’s back, we GOT Jack Leirone, one of the best bounty-hunters in the galaxy! Who’s going to take us down, huh, Drake?
The matrix chamber. “My God,” he said aloud, “had I forgotten?” He knew his voice worked, for some strange dominating force gave him the knowledge that it did.
Well, Jason, you’ve just – well – you’ve just got to do what your heart says is right. Your heart, well, it can tell you things. It can sense things that no other part of your body can sense. You have your sight, your hearing, your smell, your taste, your touch, your mind – those are the six known senses. But there is another sense that has been with us all along since the beginning of human understanding: your heart. It tells you the honest truth on the deepest level, just as your eyes tell you the grass is green or dead-brown, just as your nose tells you that the rose is sweet, just as your fingers tell you the skin of your lover is like silk. So listen to it, and trust it, just as you’ve trusted your other senses these past fifteen-and-a-half years. So if you feel Jane is the one because your heart says so, then you should listen. If it is the other, then –
“I was right,” he said noiselessly (to him), but knowing there were listening ears in the forever-darkness. “You strip me of my senses but know there are two, two of which you cannot rob me! My mind and my heart, and it is those that will stay with me forever, no matter how numb you make me to my world. So I take my judgment now, knowing there are those two things that I will keep in my working-over. Judge me how you please and deliver me in the direction that is directed by Heaven and Hell themselves!”
And Jack stirred, and then awoke with a jump and a gasp, and he sat up in bed. The stale air failed to thrust itself against his face’s heavy perspiration, and so he remained, boiling in the saucepan of hell. His feet tunneled through the light sheets, desperately seeking a way out, and then they found the icy floor, so chilling that it burned. He sucked that stale air through his teeth sharply at the touch of pain and then set his feet down again, willing himself to stand, no matter the agony. Soon the floor was not so cold anymore; so he walked, cautiously, feeling around the room. Instinct touched him and compelled him to look for his visor, and though he wondered why, he complied. Somehow, the visor came to him, presenting itself at the next fall of his left hand upon the bland touch of the counter (gray-blue). Whe n he placed it on his face, he found that he could see; the doctors had fixed him, and for that he was thankful. Finding the door and pushing it open, he heard nothing but the echoes of his actions: no footfalls of passing nurses, nothing. Just the disdainful answer to his bare feet slapping on the sleek tile, calling to him from deep within the bowels of the hospital. Jack was in his hospital gown, and he staggered in minor delirium, and half-cognizance. Down the hall, he went, for down the hall was a blinding white light, the light of the sun. He thought for a moment, wondering why, in broad daylight, he seemed to have the whole hospital to himself.
Unsure of his own actions, Jack looked back over his shoulder and saw – nothing. Only black nothingness as if he had gone blind, but this nothingness had a certain substance to it, a life, a consciousness. But he felt not danger from it, but compulsion, compulsion to move forward. Turning his eyes back to the light he half-expected to see nothing, and to hurl himself at the feet of defeat once more at the loss of his sight, but instead he saw it, beckoning him kindly. It was down a long hallway that had tiny tributaries into patient rooms. Looking inside each one as he passed, he saw the patients, warm and full of life, smiling, their families surrounding them. Each one smiled and waved to him as he passed, deliriously sauntering through the corridor towards the great light. Patients of all ages greeted him from their beds, old men, little girls no older than fou r, men like himself, beautiful ladies, smiling perfect smiles with pearly whites.
Warmth took him as he returned a wave to a tiny boy with a withered leg, a little crutch by his bedside. And he knew he had reached the glass-pane door from which the light shone. So he turned and just beheld it, unable to discern any shapes or shadows beyond it: just white light. Jack heard something from his left and saw that the little boy was now limping to him, leaning heavily on his crutch, and heartily smiling despite his ailment.
“Are you leaving, mister?” said the little boy, curiously.
“I suppose so,” Jack said.
“I’m happy for you,” the boy said, laughing giddily. “One day I’ll get out there too. Maybe I’ll see you, you never know. Out there, you see thousands, millions of people, but somehow people who have met before always seem to meet again, no matter how insignificant their relationship is.”
“You’re pretty philosophical for your age,” Jack said, smiling and ruffling the boys hair. The boy only turned and looked out at the light, seeming to see something, and widening his youthful smile into a crescent moon of pure joy.
“Isn’t it great?” he asked, and nodded toward the door, redirecting Jack’s attention. And what Jack saw was this: instead of the white light, he saw a brilliant bustling city and people all around it, all cheerful, walking to and fro without a care in the world. Beyond wondrous spires of buildings and concrete courtyards with fountains of sparkling water, he saw grassy foothills that reminded him of Home, of Paradise Canyon, and a dazzling blue sky that touched the tops of the green hills so lovingly. Everyone outside, their attention seemed to draw to him, welcoming, but not too welcoming. Some waved, some regarded with a smile, others showed no visible sign of acknowledgement, but emanated the notion of it. It was then that a tiny white cloud shadowed the sun for a moment and allowed Jack to see everything in a less intimidating light. Nothing diminished in brilliance.
“Am I dead? Is this Heaven?”
The boy looked up at him and shook his head. “You’re not dead, John Stark Leirone. Try to open the door, and you will find it locked. But when the time comes, you will walk through this hall again and see this door, and you will find the locks opened and the sun will greet you, and the people will welcome you, and take you beyond the foothills, and there you will remain forever. In Eternity. Now, you are only being shown what will happen.”
Suddenly all the fears of death exited him and he could fear no more. Gazing out at the fields of Eternity, hearing the caws of gulls and the roaring of waves caressing white sandy beaches faintly beyond, he whispered to himself, “Well I guess that won’t be so bad.”
And that’s when Jack awoke into the living world, alive, and in his hospital bed, Abby Hart beside him. In reality, the doctors had fixed him, and they hypothesized it would be for good. In the year to come, Jack Leirone would train every day at the Academy with G’Lar, and without hearing any news from the USS Atlantis or hearing where they were, he would be reassigned to the USS Armonikos. But half a month after his successful sight-recovery with his visor, he would be sitting in a café with Abby.
“I love you, Jack,” she would say. “I want you to know that.”
“I’m afraid I can’t return that, Abby. There’s a girl on the Atlantis to whom my heart belongs, and I have to find her again. G’Lar says there are openings on the Armonikos, the Patriarch, and another ship, and when I’m on board, I will find the Atlantis again, and when I do I will find Nicole. And with hope, we’ll be together again, and it may take me years to finally catch her – ”