by Kevin Kekic
“The only eyes that truly see are the ones we have cut free,” the old man said. The words came shaky, hurried, as if he was telling an important secret. Yet his face was plain and unassuming. He reached for my arm. I pushed past with an awkward side-step.
It was strange to hear those words. Today, of all days, when the lenses were to be replaced.
I headed towards my destination, the Medi-Pod. I took slow, deliberate steps, keeping my vision centered. The outer edges of my sightline had been reduced to almost total darkness, leaving only a narrowing halo of light to guide the way.
The doctor called it tunnel vison. A rare occurrence, he explained. Most likely the retinal lenses were not implanted properly back in my teenage years.
A fingerprint against a glass screen and I stepped inside a single room smelling of antiseptic. Testing equipment was attached to the walls. An exam table stood on the center of the floor. The surgeon approached from a small desk tucked away in the corner and began to guide me through the surgical process. Conversing with him in the flesh felt odd. Medical appointments were normally carried out from home, any human interaction taking place on a small screen appearing in the top left corner of my vision—another popular feature of augmented reality. And whenever I did need bloodwork or testing, the robotics of the Medi-Pod were usually more than capable. Even my initial implant, all those years ago, was performed by a mechanical hand. But, as the surgeon explained on my last visit, on the rare occasion an implant malfunctioned, the human being was brought into the mix. To dot the I’s and cross the T’s. To record their findings into the feed. And, although he didn’t say it, the underlying message was clear.
To verify there was no foul play.
I remember little of the procedure. Only counting back from ten after the anesthesia mask was placed over my mouth and waking what seemed to be an eyeblink later. The surgeon looked me over. He gave me eyedrops to help speed the healing process and some pills to ease my anxiety.
Now, you may have some early complications, he told me. Your sight may be obscured, and things may not present themselves properly for several days as you adjust to the new implants. It takes time, John. It takes time for the maturation process to complete.
Glitches, he said. You’re going to see some glitches.
I hurried out the door, a little confused, but grateful the squeezing tunnel of light had finally released its hold.
“Can you see, now? Can you see the world for what it is?”
I turned. The old man stood before me. But he was no longer the same. His plain brown eyes were gone, replaced with crusted black holes, knotted with scar tissue that had long since healed over, as if he had only half-succeeded in the gruesome task of ripping his eyes from their sockets. He stepped toward me, tapping a metal cane against the sidewalk. A grin spread from the edges of his mouth, creating a walking, talking sort of smiley face. Some macabre picture a child would scrawl on a tablet with a few swirls of a finger.
I ran to my E-bike, leaving the old blind man behind. I tried to sort out what I had just seen, but my thoughts were disjointed. Everywhere I looked, something seemed off, like walking through a despondent dream. The trees weren’t as green. The sky was gray, dark gray, as if its lifeforce had been drained away. I didn’t understand how this could be. It was always blue until sunset unless there was a heavy rain. Even on cloudy days the sun would find a way to brighten the landscape into a brilliant mix of indigo and sapphire.
The anomalies came and went, of and on and off and on. By the time I arrived home my vision seemed to stabilize. Images were bright and colorful, as they should be. Maybe it was the eyedrops. They seemed to normalize the lenses. But an hour later, while eating dinner at the kitchen table, the glitches returned. My wife had streaks of gray in her raven hair. Her body appeared different too. Not heavier, but different. The muscle tone somehow sagging, as if she’d recently been bed-ridden for some time. Even my two boys had changed. John had a brown discoloration on his left cheek. A birthmark? And Simon was thin, much too thin.
I remember pushing myself away from the table, my wife watching me curiously as I stumbled into the bathroom. The mirror hung above the sink, like always, but there was a thin crack in the glass. And it was dirtier than I’d ever seen it before.
But the strangest sight was the face staring back at me. The creases and folds in my skin. The thinning hairline.
Glitches, I told myself. It’s just glitches in the new lenses. But I couldn’t bring myself to put in the drops. Because deep down, I knew. This was the reality society had stolen from me. From my family. This was the real me, the true me that was hidden behind the fake sunshine created by Augmented Optics. It wasn’t just a pathway to an easier life, a messaging service created by thought, a map of the world bestowed through my own line of sight, an answer to every question my mind could possibly create. It was also a lie. The biggest lie of all.
The only eyes that truly see are the ones we have cut free
I wished to follow the old man’s advice. To cut free. To rip my eyes straight from their sockets.
But I couldn’t. I had to work. I had to see. Whether real or illusion I had to carry on—another cog in the Augmented Optics machine.
It took a few days before the implants returned to full strength. In the end, I decided to enjoy my time in the natural world as much as I could. I made love to my wife, my real wife, in a house that was messy and outdated. I played with my boys, enjoying the look of Simon’s skinny arms, the beautiful swish of brown on John’s cheek.
My last vision of reality was a walk in the park. The trees were pallid husks of their former selves. The sun hid behind a drape of smog and smoke. The birds flew with tired wings.
It was beautiful.