Travelling in the Darkness
by Tony Noland
Dr. Goldfarb flipped the pages of the chart, as though there were something in them that he didn't already know just from looking at the patient. Back and forth, back and forth. Dr. Sommerlin watched him read, splitting his attention between Goldfarb and Mr. Kaminski. Although there was a certain similarity in the frowns each of them wore, Goldfarb's looked displeased while Kaminski's was... what? Can a frown look hopeful? No, Sommerlin decided, what looked like a frown on Kaminski was just intent concentration. It was the gaping holes where his eyes should be that gave it the sinister cast.
With the sniff Dr. Goldfarb used when impatient with people less intelligent that he was (and, of course, everyone was less intelligent than he was), he closed the metal cover of the chart and held it in front of him.
"Why am I here, Rick? There's nothing I can do for this man."
Sommerlin nodded, continuing to watch Kaminski. Through the one-way mirror, his observation room had a greenish-gray cast. Kaminski sat in his plastic chair, hands folded in front of him on the table, mouth tight and eye sockets gaping. His eyeballs were in the felt-lined box in front of him, the lid closed. Sommerlin was thankful for that; it was unnerving to see the glass prosthetics looking up at him. Modern printing methods made them quite realisitc, down to the pattern of veins around the iris.
"Wait. Just watch."
"Why? There's nothing for me to treat. I can't reconstruct what isn't there." Goldfarb flipped open the chart again. "If if had just been the macular degeneration, I might have been able to do a deep theraputic injection of that new synthetic hormone Bayer came up with. Then at least he might have retained some light/dark sense, maybe even some facial recognition. But with the damage from the explosion, there's nothing for me to work with."
"I know, Ben, I know. That's not why I asked you to come down here. Just watch him."
"Watch what? Come on, Rick, the man has no eyes. Not even a terminus of the optic nerve. It's a tragedy, of course, since he seems like a nice guy, but we deal in tragedy much more often than in miracles." Goldfarb checked his Rolex, a heavy, gold model. "I've got a flight at 4:30. How about we go get a late lunch and you can take me out to the airport?"
"Here it comes." Sommerlin pointed at Kaminski. "Watch, he's just about to do it."
"Do what? I don't see what -"
The metal chart case hit the floor with a clatter. Goldfarb's eyes bugged outward and he put a hand on the glass. He leaned in close, the fact of what he'd just seen overwhelming his rational mind for a moment... but only for a moment.
"All right," Goldfarb said, "OK, fine. Ha ha. Joke, right? What is this, a projector or something? We're watching a movie? Ha ha. Funny stuff, Rick, just hilarious." His hands had been roaming the glass, seeking some means of establishing that this was a trick. The one-way mirror was as firm as it had ever been. Coming to himself, Goldfarb dashed from the room, went around the corner and yanked open the to door to the observation room.
"Mr. Kaminski? Are you in here? OK, this is very funny, and I certainly appreciate the humor of it. Really, this speaks very well for how you're, ah, adjusting to the, ah, circumstances of your, ah... injury." He was pacing the room, looking under the table, moving the chairs, opening and closing the box with Kaminski's eyeballs. Nothing.
Sommerlin pushed the button on the intercom. "He's not there." Goldfarb jumped at the sound, turned to face the mirror.
"What do you mean he's not here? Where is he? This is not funny, Rick. I don't know what the hell you're doing with this, but I didn't come all the way down from Boston to be made a fool of."
"Just step away from the table, Ben. He'll be back in a moment. It'll be easier for you to accept if you're in the same room when he comes back. Convince you it's not a trick."
"It IS a trick. It has to be!"
Sommerlin shook his head, forgetting that Goldfarb couldn't see it from his side of the mirror. "No, it's no trick. It took him two years after the accident to figure out how to do it, but he did. Somehow, he did it."
"He described it as rewiring himself. All of the neural functioning devoted to sight - the visual cortex, the hypocampus, Broca's area, the concatenated glial cells in the frontal lobe - he reworked it all so he could... do things. And don't ask me how he did it or how it works," Sommerlin said, cutting off Goldfarb's objections, "because I don't know. I've had him under CT scan, PET scans, high-gain quantum magnetometers, MRIs, you name it. Before, during and after his... his... activities. It's crazy, irrational, impossible even, just not physically permissible by any law of physics or biology and yet, there he is."
"I've got fifteen terabytes of data that I can't make heads or tails of, Ben. I need you here, with me, making sense of this. I had to let you see it, really see it happen, or you never would have believed me." Sommerlin checked his watch. "He'll be back in about twenty seconds. Listen, Ben, there's something you have to know before he comes back."
"What? What are you talking about?"
"I just don't want you to be alarmed. It's a... side effect or something. It goes away after a while, but it's unnerving. Just be calm, OK?"
"Be calm? Why should I need to be calm? What's going to happen when he -"
Though Goldfarb had moved the chair in his initial searching, Kaminski materialized sitting in it. Upright and comfortable, his face was smooth and pleasant. He looked at Goldfarb with eyesockets alive with twisting, writhing tendrils, bright with blue and red flames. They bulged from underneath his eyelids like handfuls of hungry, glowing worms, squeezed tightly and protruding between grasping fingers.
Kaminski looked straight at Goldfarb, looked him right in the eye and smiled.
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