This story comes from my musing as to what it would be like if humans possessed a specialized structure of the eye. Being a biology and anatomy professor definitely gives me lots of fodder for stories!
Darkness. Heaviness in the limbs. Muffled voices.
“He’s coming to.”
I don’t know that voice.
Jack Nelson fought to kick-start his lethargic brain back into life. A vague memory of going somewhere that morning flitted through the murkiness. He opened his mouth and cleared his throat.
“Where am I?”
“You’re at New Metro Medical, soldier. Name, rank, service number!” the voice demanded.
“Captain Jack Nelson, 4537654.” The information came to his lips despite the fog shrouding his brain.
“He’ll be okay in a few hours. Just waiting for the anesthesia to wear off.” A different voice answered.
“Call me when he’s coherent. How long until we know the procedure worked?”
A pause. “Hard to tell. Could be days, maybe as much as a week.”
“Call me if there’s any change in his condition.”
Jack could hear clipped measured footsteps exiting the room. He assumed it was the man that asked for his rank and service number but he couldn’t be certain. The muffled sound of someone else still in the room reached his ears. Jack tried to open his eyes but they were stuck fast. The noises coming from the darkness took on a sinister air. In a panic, he reached for his face. His fingers moved across something rough, something that felt nothing like skin.
“None of that now. We can take the bandages off in a few days but for now, your eyes need to heal.”
Jack swallowed hard, forcing the fear to a far-off place as only a soldier can do. As his heart rate slowed, he began to remember more about that morning. He could recall being driven to the hospital but everything after that was fuzzy.
Jack turned toward the voice on his right and nodded. Something touched his lips. He opened his mouth slightly and something that felt like plastic was gently placed between his lips. A straw. He sipped the cool water.
“Try to rest. I’ll be back in a few hours to check on you.”
He settled back against the pillows, trying to take control of his scattered thoughts but the effort was too much and he slipped into sleep.
Jack sat on the edge of the hospital bed and waited for the doctor to get there. It had been three days since the surgery and it was time for the bandages to come off. He clenched his sweaty palms together in his lap and tried to keep his breathing regular. Living for days in darkness had rattled his nerves more than he cared to admit. The worst-case scenarios played in his mind like a record. Jack had been aware of the risks when he agreed to the dangerous surgery but he thought the end result was worth it.
If it worked.
Footsteps coming closer, then retreating down the hall. Muffled voices. As the minutes ticked by, his anxiety swelled in his chest, making it feel as though he couldn’t draw breath. He resisted the urge to reach up and rip the bandages off himself.
When the door opened suddenly, it startled him.
“How’s my patient this morning?”
“Good. Ready to get these bandages off.”
“We have to do this slowly and carefully, layer by layer. If I don’t feel the tissue has healed enough, I’ll put the bandages back on.”
The thought horrified Jack; he didn’t think he could stand another day in the dark. As the doctor moved back and forth, Jack sent up a silent prayer that his body was healing and he could continue without the bandages.
As the doctor unwound the gauze, Jack strained to see through the remaining layers. He tried to move his eyelids but they felt like they were stuck together.
“You’re eyes will be gummed shut. We’ll need to wash them off before you can open them.”
He tried to relax as more layers were removed. As the last of the gauze fell away, his head felt a few pounds lighter. He reached up and felt two round patches of bandages still covering his eyes.
“This is gonna hurt some.”
Jack cried out as the doctor pulled both bandages off at the same time, the tape ripping out the delicate peach fuzz on his face. The tape had been placed above his eyebrows so at least those remained intact.
He heard the sound of water, then a gentle touch on his eyelids and surrounding skin, wiping away many days worth of build up. Jack backed away as the wiping grew more insistent, instinctively protecting his eyes. The doctor wasn’t fazed; he followed Jack’s head no matter where he tried to move it and continued to clean Jack’s eyes.
Jack forced his eyelids to move and hissed as light hit his sensitive retinas.
“Give it some time. Your pupil muscles have been out of practice. Just open your lids a little bit until your pupils start constricting properly.”
Never one to listen to advice, Jack blinked through the pain and the fresh onslaught of tears but kept his eyes open, reveling in the sight of shadows and bright light. It didn’t take long for him to make out the details of the room: one row of windows facing the mountains in the east, a small dresser complete with a tall narrow vase with a cheery orange carnation inside, a couple of chairs, a few plain landscape pictures in the white walls, and the bed he sat upon.
“You’re going to be a fast healer.” The doctor moved into Jack’s field of view, lifting his lids and peering into his eyes. “Maybe one of these days we can genetically engineer a tapetum lucidum rather than having to surgically implant it.”
“How long until we know the procedure worked?” he asked.
The doctor shrugged and held up his hands. “You’re the first person to get this surgery. Could be days, could be weeks.”
“Understood. When can I return to base?”
“I don’t see why we can’t discharge you this afternoon.”
Jack nodded and continued to survey the room, hoping to get some clue as to whether the surgery was successful.
You won’t know until it’s dark.
Knowing it would be hours yet before he could test his new addition, he laid back down and closed his eyes.
“How you feel, soldier?”
“Fine, sir. The light still hurts my eyes but other than that, I’m good,” Jack answered.
“Here’s your next assignment. All the info on your target is there.”
Jack saluted as his CO left the room. He’d been back on base for two weeks, giving his eyes a chance to get used to their new accessory.
People always dreamed of being able to see as well as some animals at night; he was the first to actually be able to do so. An engineered assassin that could take out a target in the dead of night without the need for specialized equipment. Only my specialized eyes.
Jack watched through the window as the sun set over the mountains, bathing the base in shades of peach and gold. As darkness fell, his eyes adjusted, allowing him to see with almost perfect clarity, though only in varying shades of grey. He couldn’t wait to try out his new eyes.
Lt. Valdez walked the perimeter, the other men no longer visible in the darkness. His senses were alert for any movement and any danger to his boss. His eyes picked out several beams of light coming from the direction of the compound, fanning out in all directions. Relief is here.
The soldier shook his head. “Not unless you count the movement of animals in the brush.”
Juarez handed him the flashlight. Valdez made to walk back to the compound when the beam from the flashlight picked up two glowing eyes in the far distance. His hair stood on end and as the blue-green orbs dropped out of sight.
“What’s the matter Valdez?”
“Did you see that?” Valdez shone the light in the general direction where he had seen the glowing eyes, hoping to catch another glimpse.
“Eyes in the distance.”
“So what? Probably a coyote.”
Valdez nodded and frowned. Something wasn’t right about the eyes but he couldn’t put his finger on it.
The bullet hit him in the chest, blowing him off his feet and onto his back. Another took the second soldier in the throat. Valdez reached for his radio but his arms refused to cooperate. He tried to draw breath but all he managed was a wet gurgle. There was no movement from Juarez.
A man walked out of the darkness with the grace of a predatory cat, rifle up to his eye, finger on the trigger. He turned to face Valdez and his bowels loosened; the man’s eyes glowed blue-green in the glow from the flashlight that lay in the ground beside him. Suddenly he knew what it was about the eyes that had triggered his instincts…
The eyes…the eyes had been too tall!