“Having trouble with your eyes?”
Really? Here I was in an ophthalmologist’s office, sitting in the classic chair , staring at the mask of doom hanging down in front of me like a spider, and the doctor makes a wild guess like that. I nodded. “When I get tired, everything seems to get a little blurry lately.”
Doctor Bradshaw fit my image of an eye doctor. Short, overweight, with thick horn rim glasses. He looked down at the form I had filled out for his receptionist. “You know, our eyes change as we grow older. When was the last time you had your eyes checked?”
With a shrug, I said, “Probably twenty years ago. When I was in the service.”
He looked up, studying me. “Special forces?” He returned my nod.
“I can tell. You’ve kept yourself in good shape. You wouldn’t believe how most people let themselves go.”
His triple chins jiggled as he spoke. He would consider anyone who could wobble into his office without a crane to be in good shape.
“I try to stay healthy,” I said.
His eyes lowered back to the form. “You would be a good candidate for a new procedure I’m working on. If you agree to be a test subject, I can treat you for free. The exam isn’t dangerous, of course.”
I like free, but he neglected to say that the treatment wasn’t dangerous. “What would be involved?”
He sat up straighter in his chair, a new gleam in his eye. “I’ve invented a new machine that can actually project what you see onto a screen. It will revolutionize eye care, but it needs to be tested on a few patients to gather data before I announce it to the world.”
That put a different spin on things. “It hasn’t been tested?”
He waved off the question. “Of course it’s been tested on various animals. I’ve tried it on myself and even checked my granddaughter’s eyes with it. But it still needs a significant number of tests on a variety of people before I can get approval for the machine.” With a reassuring grin, he continued. “It’s perfectly safe. Let me show you.”
I stood up, grabbed my coat from the chair where I had deposited it and followed him down a short hallway to a tiny office in the back. A look through the doorway revealed two eye charts adorned the flat surface behind a table with two chairs. A standard chart with a series of random letters in rows growing smaller as one read down the page hung on the left side. The other resembled a bullseye with a cross of three vertical and three horizontal lines dissecting the circle. On the table stood a computer with a large monitor and what appeared to be two bulky printers. An HP logo on the face of the box on the left identified it as a printer, while the other held no markings whatsoever. A series of wires stuck out from that box, some kind of connectors on the ends.
“Looks like an EKG machine, doesn’t it?” Dr. Bradshaw stepped over to the desk and turned on the computer, blocking my view so I wouldn’t see the password he entered. “Actually it uses the same sensors. Instead of reading your heart the sensors read the optic nerve. It combines the technology of a brain scan with that of an ultrasound. I’ve spent ten years working on this design.”
“Impressive,” I said. A box with two rows of three dials. The machine wasn’t much to look at but the concept was intriguing.
“May I demonstrate?”
I was dubious but interested. “You sure there’s no radiation or anything?”
“No radiation, no chemicals. Perfectly harmless, I assure you. No more dangerous than an EKG.”
I sat down and the doctor started connecting sensors to my head. Two on the temples, two on the back of the neck and one below each eye. The sensors were little round adhesive pads, with thin wires connecting each to the machine. If I moved my face muscles, the pads under the eyes pulled a little, but there was no real discomfort. I started to relax.
He flipped a switch on the machine. I heard a whir as a fan started up, then a series of clicks. Finally he clicked the computer mouse and two annoying words appeared. “Please Wait.”
Nothing changed for about ten seconds. Except for the words the screen was blank. Then some fuzzy blobs appeared. Dr. Bradshaw fiddled with two of the dials on the top row on the machine, and I started to make out an image. A slight turn of the third dial and I was looking at the computer on the computer. What I viewed on the screen was what my eyes actually saw.
Bradshaw strived to talk in a calm, controlled voice, but I could sense the excitement and pride just below the surface. “The image is a little blurry, but that’s why you came to see me. The retina of the eye collects light and sends tiny electrical impulses through the optic nerve to the brain. This machine intercepts the impulses and the computer interprets them the same way the brain does.”
“Okay, that makes sense,” I said. “Then what?”
“You look carefully at the eye chart on the wall. While you are examining the chart, the computer will check the vision you have of that chart and determine what you need. Sometimes in very mild cases the computer can adjust the patient’s brain waves and help him see better. Otherwise, it determines the prescription for the best corrective lenses for the patient.”
“You mean the machine will fiddle with my brain?” Not the most comforting image. I reached for the sensor on my left temple.
“Relax,” the doctor said. “The program will determine if that is a viable option and ask for approval. If the patient declines, it will defer to writing the prescription. Perfectly safe. And if the patient agrees, the change will be very subtle. You’ll just see everything a little more clearly.” He paused for a moment to let that sink in and continued, “Are you ready to begin?”
In spite of my concern, I was intrigued. “Okay. You’re the doctor. What could go wrong?”
He smiled. “Not a thing. Now I need you to study the circular eye chart for a couple of minutes while the computer does its analysis. Concentrate on the chart.”
I sat for a few seconds staring at the poster while the machine whirred and whistled.
The doctor stiffened. “What in the world?”
I turned my eyes to the monitor. A scene was playing out on the monitor. A man seemingly in fear waved his arms in front of him.
Dr. Bradshaw pointed at the screen. “I’ve seen him before. Isn’t he some kind of gangster? I thought he had vanished.”
I didn’t have to study the screen. It wasn’t hard to identify Wesley the Weasel, especially when you spent as many hours with him as I had. “What’s happening?” I asked.
The doctor looked puzzled. “I’m not sure. I think the machine has somehow tapped into your subconscious memory. It’s not supposed to do that. It’s never happened before.”
I could feel his eyes staring at me as the figure on the screen sunk to his knees in prayer. Excitement built in the doctor’s voice and he leaned forward. “Are you remembering this? Is this a true memory?”
I took a deep breath and snarled, “Turn the machine off. I changed my mind. I don’t want to be part of this.” Again my hand moved toward a sensor.
He turned my chair to face him. “But think of what this means. Think of what the machine can do. I’ve got to know. Did this really happen?” Turning back to the screen, he added, “This is incredible!”
The glue was stronger than I expected. As I wrestled with the sensors, I didn’t have to turn toward the screen to know what Bradshaw saw when he gasped a few seconds later. A week had gone by and I still savored the moment when I raised the pistol and put a bullet right in the middle of Wesley the Weasel’s forehead.
Finally the sensors on both temples popped off, and the screen went blank. “It’s really too bad there wasn’t sound with the picture,” I said with a laugh.
“That was the best part.”