I still remember my very first eye. I was five years old when Dad brought it home, and the unfamiliar feeling of the lens pressing lightly against my own cornea made me nervous. I remember Mum stroking my back as Dad explained how to switch from one view to another, how to blink the world away and let my left eye become everything. And then I did switch, and our living room became something else. The ocean, I think.
It was a child's eye, of course, devoid of violent and gruesome memories. Not a girl's eye, though: Dad had always had his own ideas of what I was fit to see, and so instead of castles and horses, the clear lens that would cover my left eye for the next three years held memories of jungles and the sea.
I loved that thing, the wonder that it was. I wanted to know how it had been made. I wanted to know where it had come from. And by the time I finished school, trees and waves long since abandoned for blueprints and business models, I wanted to make them myself.
Making eyes isn't as glamorous as the TV spots would like you to believe. There are no smiling playboys and adventurers strolling into a clinic and coming out again with a rakish patch over their left eye. There are only dead bodies, belonging to the companies after they experienced whatever they were paid to experience. Poor, desperate souls and adrenaline seekers, those are the ones who collect the memories you pay for. And they deliver when they're dead.
Of course I'm not saying the companies are killing them. But it's risky, trekking through jungles and deserts or exploring the deep sea, and during my training, I seldom removed the eye of an old woman or man.
I cannot tell you how the memories are extracted. I cannot tell you how the lenses are made, or why they only ever work with the left eye, not the right, both in collecting the memories and sharing them. I mean, I could tell you, but then I'd lose my license for sure and I already came close enough.
I'm not ready to quit this. Not quite.
I'm not actually making the eyes now, you know. Learning how much they cost, those who sold them pretty much put me off that particular venture. But I still love them, even if the delight has become bittersweet, so now I'm selling them instead. I have my own shop, small but reputable, and for now at least making more money than my dad ever envisioned for his little girl. And my left eye can still take me away from reality, even if I haven't used it in a while.
You may argue that this is no less morally wrong than creating the eyes in the first place, and I'd have to agree. But those poor guys should be remembered by someone who appreciates them, don't you think?
Dr. McKay barged into my shop like it was his own, already gesturing when he spotted me.
"You! What's the most expensive and no doubt useless eye you have?" He snapped his fingers when I didn't answer right away, looking at me as if I was slow and wasting his precious time. I checked him out – a habit you pick up in this business – but his left eye was clear, no soft plastic lens reflecting the light.
Dr. McKay, it seemed, was a purist.
"Well? Are you here to make money or is this establishment purely for decoration?"
"Uh." I blinked, then pulled myself together. "I have several high-end beginners' eyes over here, if you'd like to take a-"
"No," he interrupted me, frowning outright now. "I want the most expensive thing you have. I don't care what it is; I don't need other people's knowledge to impress anyone, but it seems that in certain circles you are only acceptable if you invite scratches to your cornea and death by brain aneurysm, so I might as well impress them with my money, at least."
I blinked again. There had only been a handful of aneurysms in the over sixty years the eyes had been on the market, and even those couldn't ultimately be connected to the eyes themselves, so Dr. McKay's fears struck me as rather paranoid. But you know what they say: the customer is always right. I guess it hadn't occurred to him that he could simply buy a beginner's eye and claim it was something more sophisticated.
"How about a pilot's eye, then?" I asked, finally realising that this man was practically forcing his money on me. "They are rare because, uh…" I trailed off when I saw the scowl. Back then, I didn't understand the memories I was so casually stirring up.
Dr. McKay finished for me. "Because pilots seldom come out of a crash with their brains intact." That wasn't at all what I had been going to say, and I must have looked shocked because he rolled his eyes at me and waved his hand dismissively. "Yes, yes, I know how your pretty merchandise is manufactured; what, do I have stupid written all over my face?"
"No, of course not," I hastened to assure him, now completely off-balance. Believe me when I say that normally I am a little more professional.
I motioned Dr. McKay toward the counter where I kept the more valuable items in a showcase made of safety glass.
The pilot's eye had been a lucky score. I had only obtained it through friends who still worked in extraction, and even then it had cost me a small fortune. Dr. McKay was right – he was, after all, a genius – with his reasoning why pilots' eyes were incredibly rare. You see, we're not talking about commercial or hobby pilots here, whose memories are turned mostly into eyes for children who want to see the world from higher up. Flyers' eyes, those are, but a pilot's eye… it's the one that has seen combat, the one that holds speed and danger and exhilaration. Few pilots sign up for our program – although after the court decision the Air Force has to let them – and even fewer ever deliver.
You know of course that eyes can not be copied, that each of them is unique. If Dr. McKay wanted to impress, there were few eyes that could outscore this one.
And he took it, of course. Didn't bat an eyelash at the sum I was asking and simply handed me his credit card. That was when I learned his name, too, though in all honesty I was expecting to have forgotten it again before the week was out.
"Thank you, Dr. McKay," I told him, handing him the small container that held his precious lens as well as a beginners' manual. In theory, the latter should have cost an extra $9.95, but at what I charged him for the eye, I could afford to be generous. He took both, nodded, and left, and when the door snapped closed behind him, bells jingling, I finally allowed myself the shriek that had wanted out from the moment the computer declared Dr. McKay's credit card valid. In less than ten minutes I had made a profit that could easily afford me the new car I had been flirting with at the dealer's, and then some. For the rest of the afternoon, I caught myself humming, and every now and then a smile would break free.
It was a good day.
The next time I saw Dr. McKay, it was on the evening news two days later. I watched open-mouthed as the camera panned over a jail-like building the flash claimed to be a military sanatorium – a place for those who were wounded in battle and didn't have any family to take care of them – while the announcer recounted in a clipped voice how Dr. McKay had sneaked into the building and kidnapped one of the veterans, somehow escaping security and disappearing with his victim. I gaped at the sheer amount of soldiers being dispatched to find him, thinking that surely this was overkill for one man. And I was so riveted by the time a grainy security photo of Dr. McKay flickered across the screen that I embarrassed myself with a flinch and a startled gasp when someone started pounding on the front door.
I was half-expecting soldiers, claiming that the pilot's eye I had sold to Dr. McKay had somehow driven him insane, that there really had been a brain aneurysm and that I would somehow be held liable. By the time I opened the door, I had managed to convince myself that I was going to be arrested and locked away for the rest of my life – if not shot right away! – and all the moisture from my mouth seemed to have evaporated through my palms.
It was Dr. McKay, the man at my door. Dr. McKay and his kidnapping victim, and for a moment we just stared at each other. That is, Dr. McKay and I stared… Major Sheppard, the man he had in tow, was squinting at the name plate beside my door with his one good eye. The right one, though back then I didn't think much of it.
"Whuh?" That was all I got out, and even that much was an accomplishment. I felt as if I'd put on the wrong eye and found myself in a war zone instead of at the beach.
"Move, move, don't gape, let us in!" Dr. McKay said, stepping from one foot to the other before he ushered Major Sheppard inside. Dazed, I stepped back and let them pass, gaping after them before shaking my head in the hope that it would clear my thoughts.
"Dr. McKay!" I caught up with him in the living room, where he was staring at the TV with a sick expression. The news was still running, a pretty brunette now explaining the efforts being made to 'bring this evil genius to justice,' but I ignored all of that. "What are you doing here? Do you have any idea how many people are looking for you right now? How do you even know where I live? What are you doing here?!"
Dr. McKay wrung his hands while the Major watched the news with interest. "Your name was on the receipt. I looked you up," he blurted, then gestured toward the Major. "Miss Logan, meet Major Sheppard. He's the pilot."
"It's Lindman," I said, crossing my arms in front of my chest. Dr. McKay didn't seem any more dangerous than he had two days ago in the middle of my shop, and I couldn't imagine how he'd even gotten into that sanatorium, let alone out again. Now that my heart rate was slowing down again, I was getting angry. "And what do you mean, 'he's the pilot'?"
"What I said, he's the pilot. From my, from the, uh, eye you sold me." Dr. McKay pointed vaguely at his own left eye as though that would explain anything.
I have to admit that I gaped at him yet again, arms slowly sinking back down to hang at my sides. But you have to understand. "That's impossible."
In reply, Dr. McKay pulled the eye case out of his pocket and mutely held it out to me. I took it, blinking down at it and then looking back up at Dr. McKay.
"Go ahead, try it," he said and motioned toward the case.
I hesitated, but then I told myself that the sooner I put on the eye the sooner the crazy man and his creepily quiet kidnap victim would be gone from my living room. Besides, it wasn't like the case didn't disinfect the eye after each use, so with a last glance at Dr. McKay, I took my own lens out and put in the pilot's eye.
It was a rush. It was vertigo, banking left at an insane speed, sitting in a cramped cockpit, mask on my face and g-force pressing my back into the seat, cutting through the clouds so fast they were only a blur, and it was too much, far too much so I flinched over to the next memory. Stumbling through the desert with my friend's near-dead weight leaning against me, dragging him, blood seeping from his side onto my clothes, no! Sticky railing and the taste of cotton candy and the blue, blue sky as the Ferris Wheel jerked to a stop, laughing at a younger Dr. McKay's green-tinged face, the gondola creaking as it swung. And underneath every taste, every sound, every memory, lay a terrible, fearful urgency: no, no, Rodney, Rodney, Dr. Rodney McKay, find him, tell him, tell him, tell him, and I pulled myself out with a gasp, staggering at the shock of finding myself in my stupid, ordinary living room with the news still running and Major Sheppard watching me.
"What did you see?" he asked in a curious voice, but I was speechless. I was already stumbling over to Dr. McKay, hand stretched out to bring him the eye like it had demanded.
The moment it dropped into his palm, the urgency flicked off like a switch had been hit. I gasped, jerking back. My knees hit the couch and I sank down, staring at Dr. McKay, at Major Sheppard, and back at Dr. McKay with what I fear was a rather wild-eyed gaze.
"That's impossible," I insisted, more out of a stubborn grasp on the reality I knew than any real conviction. I turned to Major Sheppard and asked accusingly, "What did you do?"
"Nothing," he said, the same time as Dr. McKay snapped, "Look, as much as I love inane chats… except, wait, I don't, and there are soldiers looking for us everywhere," he flailed at the TV, "so can we perhaps get a move on and talk about this on the way?"
Confused and maybe a little befuddled I let Major Sheppard pull me to my feet, closing my hand around my key ring as he pressed it into my palm.
"On the way? The way to where?"
The last real contact between Dr. McKay and Major Sheppard had been over four years before, when the Major had called Dr. McKay from the sanatorium to tell him he'd been shot down and had received another black mark for disobeying orders and would probably never fly again, and that he had enough shit to deal with without adding Dr. McKay's neuroses to the mix. Dr. McKay, hurt and confused and not a little angry, had tried to reach him again and again, both over the phone and in person, until finally a nurse had told him to stop or Major Sheppard would take out a restraining order.
Major Sheppard didn't remember any of this. He remembered waking up in a white-washed room and being told he'd had an accident. He remembered looking into the mirror, staring at his blind eye and not recognising his own face. He also remembered the nurse handing him the phone one day with – as she told him – a very persistent salesperson on the other end of the line, and telling them to fuck off.
Dr. McKay remembered that call. Sitting in the backseat of a dark blue Prius – "My sister's," Dr. McKay had explained shortly – and watching his eyes in the rear view mirror, I believed he'd remembered it more often than he'd wanted to.
I could of course see the picture Dr. McKay had pieced together for himself. In the tradition of all the best conspiracy theories, it appeared pretty obvious: the Air Force getting fed up with their black sheep pilot losing their helicopters to ill-advised rescue missions and deciding to get rid of him, maybe even get some money out of it to cover at least some of the costs he'd caused them. Selling said black sheep pilot to an eye manufacturer to have his memories extracted against his will. The manufacturer able to run illegal tests on a human subject without fear of repercussions. And Major Sheppard, poor Major Sheppard, probably being forced to call his friend at gunpoint before being forced into the extraction chair, infusing the stolen memories with a final plea for help before he forgot his past altogether and spent the next four years in a military sanatorium… not to be nursed back to health, but to be kept under observation.
It sounded like the plot of a really cheap movie, and I hesitated to believe it. No matter how gruesome processing the dead bodies might be, the system was still set up to extract the memories of volunteers. Who had been paid, yes, but who had carried their lenses for months, often years, forming the connections and uploading a steady stream of memories. Ripping away someone's life like this should have been impossible. Was impossible, for all I knew, no matter what I believed I had felt when I'd worn the Major's eye.
And I wondered, if the Air Force had really sold Major Sheppard to AugenBlick, the German-based company from which I had bought the eye, would they have let him live? Would the company have been stupid enough to sell the eye without testing it first? The obvious answer to both these questions would be no, so there had to be another explanation, there had to be.
That's the conviction I'm clinging to even now, although my grasp on it has gotten weaker. Because there is no denying that the pilot's eye I sold to Dr. McKay contained the Major's memories, and try as I might, I still can't come up with an explanation that doesn't sound like science fiction.
Especially considering what Dr. McKay did only a few hours later.
As it turned out, our destination was AugenBlick itself. I balked and refused to leave the car, but in the end Major Sheppard's gentle prodding made me go. He seemed strangely content to follow Dr. McKay around, eyeing everything we passed with a sort of detached curiosity, and I wondered what it was that made him trust Dr. McKay like that before I realised that, really, it wasn't like Major Sheppard had very much to lose.
I balked again when Dr. McKay told me what he expected me to do. "That's impossible!"
Through some miracle or sheer dumb luck, we had made it into the building without being detected, Dr. McKay using the laptop he carried to, as he said, "put the security cameras into a self-sustained feedback loop, bring up the floor plan and cross-check it with the security schedule… what? Why are you looking at me like that?"
He was looking at me now, irritation clear on his face as he tapped his fingers on the backrest of the extraction chair. "You keep saying that. Why do you keep saying that? And why do you think I brought you here, to dazzle you with my intellect?"
"I have no idea why you brought me here," I snapped, suddenly fed up with him and this strange adventure he had dragged me into. If we were caught, if a security guard happened to pass by at the wrong moment, I would lose my license for sure. Not to mention ending up in jail for breaking and entering, but somehow that seemed to be the lesser evil. "I was sitting at home, watching TV and thinking about what to have for dinner when you barged in and, and kidnapped me, just like him!" I pointed at Major Sheppard, who was watching me with one eyebrow raised. "I don't know who you think you are, Dr. McKay, but you can't just go around kidnapping people from their homes, and anyway I have no idea how to do this! It's impossible."
Dr. McKay blinked at me. They both did. Then Dr. McKay's face turned red and he opened his mouth, but Major Sheppard slapped a palm across it and smiled at me; a big, friendly smile that for some reason looked entirely fake.
"Look, Miss… Lindman, was it?" I nodded, and he went on, "Miss Lindman. How about you just explain to… McKay here," and his tongue stumbled over the name, "which part does what, and let him take it from there?"
Dr. McKay tilted his head. Major Sheppard pulled his hand back, and after a moment of looking at him strangely, Dr. McKay said, "Yes, that would… actually, that could work." He frowned, and then he threw Major Sheppard the oddest look. It seemed… hopeful, almost shy, and for some reason it made my heart ache a little. "How did you know that would work?"
Major Sheppard smiled that phony smile again and lightly slapped Dr. McKay's shoulder. "The news lady called you an evil genius. If it's on TV, it's true, right?"
Dr. McKay's face fell, and suddenly I felt bad for him. He had lost his friend once already. Denying him my help would be like having him lose Major Sheppard all over again, this time without any hope of ever getting him back since I had no doubt that he'd be locked away for a long time if we got caught.
I thought that, maybe, me losing my license wouldn't be the worst possible outcome of this night.
So I showed him. I explained every visible part of the chair as well as I could, detailing extraction techniques and how everything was connected. I explained, and Dr. McKay asked questions and nodded, and eventually I stopped explaining and simply watched as he started to take the chair apart, severing connections and making new ones with a speed I couldn't follow, in a way I couldn't understand.
The news had had that much right, at least. Dr. McKay really was a genius.
I wasn't the only one impressed by Dr. McKay's swiftness. Major Sheppard was watching him in open fascination, licking his lips every now and then like he wanted to say something but didn't know how, or what exactly.
"Hey, McKay," he said suddenly, half an hour after Dr. McKay had unhinged the first panel, "what's your first name, anyway?"
Dr. McKay stilled, his lips pressed together. He didn't look up as he said, "Meredith," his voice clipped and business-like. The effect was ruined by the slight crack on the last syllable, but Major Sheppard didn't comment. He just tilted his head and said, "Huh," and that was that.
I was a little glad that no one was looking in my direction, because I don't think I managed to keep the surprise off my face. I didn't remember the name on Dr. McKay's credit card, but I was pretty sure it hadn't been Meredith.
Finally, Dr. McKay was done. Amazingly fast, and still none too soon, if you ask me. I had told him what I knew of the extraction process, but that didn't mean I was happy to be there. I wanted to get out of that room. I wanted to go home. I really, really didn't want to watch Major Sheppard sit down to have his brain fried, which I was convinced was going to happen the moment Dr. McKay activated the chair.
You see, taking away the memories of a living person was unimaginable enough. But putting them back by, what, reversing the polarity of the extraction chair? Impossible.
I still stand by that. It shouldn't have been possible. I don't know what Dr. McKay did to that chair.
Major Sheppard sat down when Dr. McKay told him to, grimacing a little when Dr. McKay took out the pilot's eye – Major Sheppard's eye – and applied the lens gently to Major Sheppard's blind left eye. If everything worked as Dr. McKay intended, the Major would never be able to take it off again, but then I guessed he wouldn't want to.
He never even asked what was going to happen to him, how everything was supposed to work. Even today, I still wonder why he didn't.
Dr. McKay typed in a few commands on his laptop, and then the chair hummed to life, sides glowing a soothing blue. It sounded a little different than I remembered, but then it had been a long time since I last witnessed an extraction process. Though this wasn't extraction, was it? It was an insertion, or it would be, hopefully, and Major Sheppard gasped as the chair made the first connection to his spine. Then he lay very still, mouth slightly open and both eyes unseeing as the machinery did its work under Dr. McKay's watchful, nervous eyes. Like the extraction, it didn't take more than a minute; the Major only jerked a little when the chair disconnected and went dark again, and then he blinked and shakily tried to sit up. The whole process was so anticlimactic it was almost boring.
That was when the guard barged in and shot Dr. McKay.
I don't know if it was Major Sheppard's shout that startled the guard or the fact that the person in the extraction chair wasn't supposed to be moving, but his surprise saved my life. The gun that had been pointed at me swung toward Major Sheppard, but he was already out of the chair.
Never before and never since have I seen anyone move as fast as Major Sheppard moved that day. I stood rooted to the spot as he kicked the gun out of the guard's hand and grabbed his arm. The guard stumbled as Major Sheppard yanked him toward the chair. There was a cracking noise and the guard slumped and didn't move again, blood staining the chair's back where his head had hit the metal.
I blinked. It had all happened so fast, and Major Sheppard seemed to be surprised as well. He stared down at the guard and swayed on his feet, staggering slightly as he caught his balance. He picked up the gun the guard had dropped, looking at it like he'd never seen one before.
And then his eyes widened and he drew in a sharp breath, his body turning toward where Dr. McKay lay on the floor before his feet could even stumble into motion.
"Rodney," he said again and dropped to his knees beside the fallen man. His voice seemed to hold a myriad of emotions, all of them tinged with loss, and his hand was shaking as he reached out. And his face… I never want to see an expression like that again. It hurt to look at, lost and angry and afraid, and I finally realised what an idiot I had been, because these two men weren't friends.
They were lovers.
"Rodney," he repeated, quietly, and I had to blink against the burn in my eyes. The front of Dr. McKay's shirt was dark with blood, glistening wet high on his chest. More seemed to be pouring out of him, although I tried to tell myself that it was just shadows on the floor, that the wound wasn't really that bad.
"John." Dr. McKay's voice was barely audible, but he managed a shaky smile as Major Sheppard clasped his hand and brought their foreheads together. There was blood on his teeth and I had to look away, pretending I hadn't seen it.
Like I pretended not to see the same blood on Major Sheppard's lips as he rose – though it explained so much, so much – and lifted Dr. McKay's slack body in a fireman's carry, one hand holding his legs, the other clasping the guard's gun.
"You're going to hurt him," I said foolishly, blushing when he just looked at me. His left eye looked plastic in the extraction room's unnatural light.
"Right," I murmured, and led the way out.
Wait, that's all?
That you may ask, and rightfully so. But I'm afraid that I have nothing more to tell you. The search for Dr. McKay and Major Sheppard was called off a few days later, but I don't know why. I don't know what AugenBlick did with that chair Dr. McKay had worked on, or if there are more eyes out there with owners who will some day feel the irresistible urge to bring them to someone, to tell them, "It wasn't an accident."
I don't think there are, but how could I be sure? I would never have thought it possible in the first place.
No one ever tried to arrest me. I still have my license and I still have my shop, although to be honest I think I might try something different soon. Maybe become a florist, like my mum. I haven't used an eye for a while and I think that flowers might be… relaxing. You know. Safe.
As for Major Sheppard and Dr. McKay, I never saw them again. A few weeks after that night, when I had finally started to believe my face really hadn't been caught on any security camera, I got a postcard from New Zealand. There were only two lines scribbled on the back in blue ink, the words causing my heart to pound.
The weather's fine. Meredith says hi.
They are okay. They are together.
What more could I possibly add?