The Iris

Standard

The Iris Symbol“What’s wrong?  You’re not worried I won’t make it, are you?”  He laughed.  “Don’t worry.  I updated my will.  You’re in it.”

“Don’t jest.”

“You didn’t just say that.”  He chuckled.  “Might as well tell me not to be me.”

A memory flashed through his mind.  Of the time he told her why he was called “Jesse.”  They were playing “truth or dare” during a date.  And it was his turn to tell a truth about himself.

It’s not my given name, he’d said.  My real name—don’t laugh—is Orsino.  My mom is a Shakespeare fan.  My sister got off easy with her name, but mine…

She hadn’t laughed, and not being able to see her face he was left in an agony of uncertainty, until she spoke.

Then, how did you come to be known by “Jesse”?

My mom.  Since I was baby, I’ve always made her laugh with all the crazy things I’d say and all the tumbling I tried to do.  She called me her “little court jester.”  Then just “jester.”  And then…

Jesse.

He hadn’t seen her smile, of course, but he felt that she must be smiling.  He asked her if she was.  After a moment of hesitation, she told him that he would have to excuse her while she wept, for it was the saddest story she’d ever heard.  But she broke out in laughter before she could finish speaking her cheesy line.  Still, it was the start.  He waited until he felt the vibration on the table of her hands settling down.  Then he slid his own hand forward and found hers.  He remembered how unusually warm it was, and stiff.  He had caught her off guard.

She must have realized too that there was something between them.  She told him that very night that she was the insecure type and that he would just have to learn to put up with it if he wanted to keep seeing her, which didn’t seem like the type of thing an insecure person would say.  In retort, he had thrown out his own cheesy line.

I’m afraid I can’t see you.

She hadn’t laughed.  Sighted people didn’t laugh at blind jokes when blind people were around.  Mostly.

It was hard to believe it had been a year.  In some ways it seemed he’d known her longer.  In other ways it seemed they had just met.

She was a great worrywart in general, but this time, he understood.  Everyone was nervous, save the one person who should have been most worried, Jesse himself.

The procedure was not something that scared him.  It should have.  He understood enough to know what delicate and tricky work it would be for the surgeons, scientists, nurses, technicians, and whoever else was involved.  The “Eyesight Recovery Combo Platter” was what he had begun calling it (and to his delight, what his growing medical team was also now calling it).  A combination of stem cell implantation, targeted gene therapy, and micro-robotics would be used to restore his sight to almost normal function.  If it worked, he would see light, and form, and color.  If it worked, he would see his mom, his sister, his friends.

And if it worked, he would see Cari.

Whether it worked or not, the procedure would mark a change in Jesse’s life, and in Cari’s.  He already had plans for what he would do if he survived, whether or not his sight was restored.  That night, when she was in the shower (they had practically been living together for the past two months), he checked and double-checked the little velvet box that he had hidden inside his winter boots in the back of the closet.  The ring was still inside.  It was no wonder that he wasn’t worried about the medical procedure that he was about to undergo.

He had a far more frightening experience ahead of him.

***

The procedure took months.  Several steps, quite a few drugs, special instructions.  Cari was distant.  Not emotionally.  She said all the kind and caring words he could want and left him alone when he wanted.  But physically.  Maybe she was afraid of touching him and disrupting or ruining the process.  The doctors had warned him not to strain himself, not to use cell phones or headphones, to stay away from pets, though that wasn’t an issue.  But no one said he couldn’t have the comfort of a human touch.  His sister didn’t punch him in the arm as usual or touch his face, but she hugged him and poked his ribs.  His friends held his hands when they wished him luck or wrapped their arms over his shoulder.  Even his mother, who was now too frail to travel outdoors, since she began fighting her own ailment, said she was putting her hand up the computer screen when they had a video-chat.

But Cari would not touch him.  He could tell that she hovered close by, and it meant something that if he were to slip, she was ready to catch him, but he began to wonder if it were a good idea to pop the question so soon after this big step in his life.  Her answer might be colored by what they were going through.  She might say “no,” thinking she would have to look after him all their lives.  More likely, she might say “yes,” out of pity or out of a devotion born of caretaking, not of equal love.

He just didn’t want to waste any time.  He wanted to see.  But moreso he wanted to live.  Live a good and full life.  He had hoped to find someone to share that life with before.  But he had never expected to marry or have children.  Before Cari, he never thought it possible.  His sister said it was his own will and stubbornness that kept women away.  But then, how had Cari gotten through to him?

She was a painter, of all things.  And she desperately wanted to share her art with him, but couldn’t.  She had tried taking up sculpting, saying that maybe they had met because she was meant to explore different media.  But after a while, she gave up, claiming she had no talent.  Jesse suspected she just didn’t enjoy it as much as she did painting.  It was the colors she loved most.  She often spoke of colors with such passion it seemed as if she could see hues, tints, and shades that even sighted people couldn’t see.  She could go on and on for a while about the subject.  The first time it happened was on another such date, when they were playing some other dumb icebreaker game.  She started talking and talking, and Jesse hadn’t seen colors in years, but he remembered them, and when she spoke, it was as if her words were painting a picture in his mind, so he listened, engrossed.  Until she suddenly stopped.

Then she had apologized.  He heard something drop and she cursed.  She had knocked over the soda glass.  He made her promise not to stop herself from talking about her passion again.  She never sounded so bold, so vibrant, so unlike her usual timid self as when she spoke about painting, about colors.

He had never felt so passionately about anything in his life, except maybe when he was still a kid, still able to see, and still dreaming of being the first person on Mars.  (And admittedly, the first person to punch out a bad-guy alien lizard like the heroes from the space adventures he watched.  And the first person to realize that bad-guy alien lizards weren’t so bad and maybe they could be friends with humankind.)

The thought of being able to watch those space adventures again, to watch all the shows, to sit on a bench at the park and just watch people grilling and kids swinging on swings and dogs chasing after Frisbees, made him desperate for the day he could remove his bandages.

And that day was soon approaching.

***

He opened his eyes and blinked for a few moments to gain focus.  His newborn gaze swept across the dimmed room and he saw.  He winced and shut his eyes as a wave of nausea passed over him.

“Take it easy,” Dr. Brody said.   He was the shape that was closest to Jesse, at his right arm.  “The stimulation we’ve been giving your eyes and your optic nerve should help ease any discomfort you feel, but you’ve got to take it slow.  Remember, don’t move your head and your eyes around too much.”

The doctor’s voice was calm and understanding, but stern.  He had already warned Jesse not to let his gaze dart around, but it was instinct to look for the people he wanted to find.  He thought he had glimpsed his sister before he shut his eyes.

He opened them again, slowly, and he looked down at his own hands at first, letting them come into focus, blinking and letting his eyes restore the film of fluid that should coat them.  A nurse asked him to raise his head and dropped saline into his eyes to flush them out.

Again, he blinked and resisted rubbing the saline away.  He looked around slowly this time.  He looked up at Dr. Brody, who was as tall as he had imagined, but nowhere near as old.  The man looked as if he were in his mid-thirties.  The doctor smiled professionally and nodded.  To the doctor’s right was a face Jesse would have recognized whether she was fifteen or fifty or one-hundred-and-fifty.

“Quince,” he said.  His sister wiped a tear away and gave him a playful punch in the arm.

His gaze drifted slowly to Quin’s right, slowly through shadows.  Two nurses and above them,  past the glass of what he guessed was the observation room, was his medical team, the doctors, scientists, and others who made his procedure possible.  Jesse’s gaze drifted back and rested on Quin.

“Where’s Cari?”

“I’m right here.”  From the corner of his eye, Jesse saw a shadow shift and something he couldn’t see touched his hand.  He jerked it back. A sense of alarm rose within him as he looked in the direction of that touch.  The voice was hers.  It was Cari’s.

“I can’t see you.  Doc, why can’t I see her?  Is she really here?”  He shifted his gaze around the room so quickly that the nausea returned.  He shut his eyes.  They felt so sore, so ragged.

“She’s right here,” Quin said.  When Jesse opened his eyes again, he saw that she had her hand at shoulder level gesturing to her right.  But he saw nothing there.  Nothing but shadow.  The room was still dim, but it wasn’t dim enough to hide a person standing right in front of him.

Jesse shook his head, but reached out slowly. “Cari?”

He gasped when he felt her hand in his.  It was her hand.  He grasped it firmly and wrapped his other hand around it.  He moved his hand up her arm.  “I can’t see you.”

He looked at the perplexed expression on his doctor’s face.

“What went wrong?”

***

He stayed in the hospital for a week for observation.  Quin and Cari came every day.  His best friend, Jack, visited a few times.  He was made to exercise his vision and then rest it on a strict schedule.  He was made to look at a variety of objects, living and non-living.  People and animals were paraded before him police line-up style.  He saw them through the glass of a clean room.  His medical team he observed directly.  He could see plants, medical instruments, photographs, television shows.  He could see everything.

Everything except Cari.

But he could also see a few things he should not have been seeing.  Streaks of light, spots, and the like.  That had been expected.  And if there were other people and objects he couldn’t see, as strange as that would be, that might have eased Jesse’s worries.

At first, they tried to investigate practically.  Cari worked in a studio where other artists sometimes used unusual materials.  Dr. Brody wondered if she might have been exposed to some rare chemical or radiation that was blocking Jesse’s eyesight.  That Jesse could see Cari in pictures and video further supported that theory.  Jesse was one of only five patients who had received that particular treatment during the advanced phase of the study.  Three of them were still healing.  But it was decided that they would bring those other patients together with Cari to see if they too were unable to see her.  In the meantime, they brought other artists from Cari’s studio to meet Jesse.  He was able to see them all.  And he began to entertain alternative notions.

***

“Maybe you’re emitting psychic energy,” Jesse said, glancing over at the monitor with the live video feed of his room.  It was pointed at his bed, on which Cari sat.

He saw her frown in confusion.

“You were so afraid I’d think you were hideous,” he explained.  “Maybe you’re emitting some kind of energy to keep me from seeing you.  Maybe it’s some kind of reflex.  Or maybe…it’s voluntary?”

He didn’t need to see the video feed to know she had risen from the bed.  The mattress sprung up.  She walked toward the camera and looked into it.  She looked straight at him with her hazel eyes.  It was uncanny seeing them from the video monitor.

“If I were doing this deliberately, why would you be able to see me through the video?  That defeats of the purpose of hiding from your sight, doesn’t it?”

“I don’t know.  I was half-joking.  This is freaking me out.  Such a specific blindness.  I’ve seen Jack, Quin, my mom, most of my friends.  Of all the people I wanted to see with my own eyes, especially the people I’ve never seen before, I most wanted to see you.  And you’re the only one I can’t see.  It seems supernatural is all.”

She looked down.  “Everything we don’t yet understand seems supernatural.”

He glanced at the coat she had lain across the bottom of his bed.

“When you take your coat off, I can see it.  When you put it on again, I can’t.  It’s like you’ve got a zone of invisibility surrounding you.  So it does make sense to think that you’re radiating something.”

She turned around to face him.  “I’m just as scared as you are, Jess.”

He couldn’t see her expression.  But he had a gut feeling.  He believed that she was scared.  But she wasn’t scared of the same thing he was scared of.  She knew something.  He heard it in her voice.  And he saw it in her eyes.  Before she turned away from the monitor, before her face became invisible to him again, she had looked conflicted.  Did she know something?  Was she hiding something from him?  But what?  And why?  Or was he being paranoid?  Was she merely worried for him?

On the video, he watched her walk back towards his bed.  She sat back down and lay her head against his chest.  It was a strange sensation, feeling her weight but not seeing it.  It was stranger still because they had done the same thing many times before, when he couldn’t see, and it had never seemed strange before.  He didn’t feel like comforting her.  His suspicion, his doubt, were too intense.

What have I done?

The thought was not a regretful one.  He was delighted to have his sight back, problems and all.  Not having his sight had taught him much.  He was certain he was a better person for the lessons he had learned by his loss of sight.  Maybe he would have learned the lessons of humility and strength some other way.  But now that he had learned, he was glad to see again, to see and to appreciate being able to see.  He didn’t want to go back to being blind.  He wanted only to move forward.  But was he strong enough for all that would come?  He sighed thoughtfully and raised his hand to rest on Cari’s head.  He felt her relax as he did so.

***

Jesse wasn’t surprised that Cari didn’t stay that first night he returned home from the hospital.  No one had spoken of the arrangement, but somehow it ended up that she left and Quin and Jack stayed.

“Look, don’t worry,” Jack said, as he watched Cari leave.  Jesse only saw his door open and close by itself and he wondered if that was what ghosts were, people who couldn’t be seen by certain other people.  “The MDs and the PhDs will figure out what goofy thing is going on with your eyes, especially once those other folks in the trial get a load of Cari.  I bet they won’t see her either.  So it’ll be an it’s-her-not-you thing.”

“But that begs the question of what’s up with Cari,” Quin said.

Jack’s eyes widened.  “Maybe she is supernatural.  Maybe your girlfriend is a fairy.  Or an angel.  Or a goddess from some ancient pantheon.  And maybe your robot eyes can only see mortals.”

Quin was smiling at Jack’s hijinks, but when she looked at her brother, her smile faded.  “Jess, if not being able to see Cari, or some other select number of things in this wide world, is the worst result of this procedure, I am clapping my hands and praising the heavens.  I’ve been terrified about all the things that might go wrong.  I was terrified you would die on the table from the anesthesia.  Terrified that you would have some infection or organ failure after the procedure.  Terrified you’d get a tumor from the stem cells.  Or some new disease that no doctor or scientist could foresee.  I still get nervous and jumpy every time you make a sudden movement or look like you’re in pain.”

Jesse gaped at his sister.  “I didn’t know that.”

“Do you want me to hit him with a pillow?” Jack offered.

Quin raised a hand.  “Perhaps another time.”  And the tension was diffused.

Jesse slumped down on his sofa.  “There’s no sense in worrying about the procedure.  What will happen will happen.  But Cari is a different story.  I think she’s keeping something from me.  And it’s something about my eyesight.”

Quin sat down next to him.  “Well then, the next time you don’t see her, ask her.”

They laughed and spoke of other things.  And despite Jesse’s protests, Quin and Jack stayed with him that night.

***

He spent the next day with them, too.  Most of it.  They had taken the day off from their respective jobs.  Cari was at work, not in her studio, but her regular job in the design department at a local ad agency.  When she came by in the early evening, Jack and Quin tagged out, giving him significant looks as they said their farewells.

Cari had brought dinner.  Bags that floated through the air until she set them on the kitchen counter.  He was going to wait until they had had a pleasant evening.  Until he had done the courtesy of asking how her day went.  But it was too much.  There was a white elephant in the room.  It had always been there.  And he suspected she had always known it was there.  But now he could see it too.

“Cari, why is it that I can’t see you?”  He waited, but she gave no answer.  “You know, don’t you?”

“Do you want to see me as everyone else sees me?” she asked.

“Of course I do.”

He felt her hand touch and lift his.  “Come with me.”  She led him to the bedroom they had shared every night for the past few months until last night.  He had slept on his side, even though he had the whole bed to himself.  He had tossed and turned.  He had marveled how even in the darkness, he could see.  He had both missed her and been relieved at her absence.

He could only tell what she was doing now by seeing the objects in the room move.  The closet door opened, the clothes on her side got pushed to the edge.  Something emerged from the back of the closet.  A canvas.  One of her paintings.  It floated out into the middle of the room.  It flipped around.  It was something abstract.

“How many different shades of green do you see?” she asked.

Jesse sighed.  She was afraid.  He could hear it in her voice.  He had scared her with his direct confrontation.  He would have to humor her if he wanted her to answer his questions.  He looked at the painting.  “Five, six…no seven, I think.  At least seven.”  The painting was vibrant, almost three-dimensional.

“The typical human being can only see one shade,” Cari said.

Jesse looked at the painting again.  There were clearly seven different shades of green.

“You may be able to focus your eyes so that you can only see the one shade.  You may need to squint or blur your vision.  Once you do that and you look at me, you should be able to see me.”

He did as she instructed.  For several minutes, he tried.  He’d heard about images, visual puzzles that were made so that if one un-focused one’s eyes, an image would pop out.  He realized after several minutes of trying, he would probably fail at solving such puzzles.

He frowned.  He was getting impatient.  “It’s not working.  Why can’t you just tell me what—”

“Please, Jesse.  Keep trying.”

There was a panicked urgency to her voice that pricked his sense of sympathy.  “Okay, don’t worry.  I’ll keep trying.”

And after trying and failing for a few more minutes, he attempted to not try.  He let his eyes go into a daze as his mind wandered.  And the colors on the canvas seemed to fade and melt into one shade and as they did, a human form flickered into view behind the canvas.

Cari.  She was holding the canvas, her expression half-expectant, half-worried.

Jesse recoiled.  And the sight of Cari vanished and the one green on the canvas shattered into many greens.

“You did it!” she said.  “I could tell you were looking at me.”

He tried again to repeat what he had done.  And she flickered back into view.  He looked at her but said nothing.  She dropped her gaze.

“I’m not made of ordinary matter,” she said.  “Almost no one can see past the cloak I wear, this false shape, but you can, because of your procedure.”

He gaped.  His eyes re-focused and he lost sight of her again.  He blinked and un-focused his eyes again.

She laughed nervously.  “It’s interesting how humans can intuitively do things without knowing what they are doing.  Your medical team removed a filter of sorts.  A filter that creates illusions.  Or rather, they never put it in in the first place.  That’s more likely.  The irony is that you are less blind now than almost everyone else on the planet.”

Humans.  She called us humans.  Then what is she?

Jesse said nothing.  And Cari kept talking, faster and faster.

“Your minds are not ready to perceive the world, the cosmos, as it truly is.  And so your minds created shields to protect themselves.  Your bodies.  And your bodies were made with limitations through which your perceptions would be filtered so that you could make sense of your world without being driven mad by it.  Until, of course, you were ready after gaining knowledge slowly.”  She laughed again.  Still an awkward and nervous laugh.  And it was making Jesse nervous too.  “Five senses?  Do you really think you only have five senses?”

He shook his head.  He reached out and grasped her hands.  “What am I touching?  What are you made of if you’re not made of the same stuff as me?”

“I made this body,” she said.  “I…condensed it out of ordinary matter.  It’s a device I was testing.  I could have made it anything.  I could have been a man, a dog, a tree.”

“Sounds like reincarnation.”

“Well, I’ve never had a star matter body before, so it’s more like just incarnation.”

“Star matter…”

“I am made from what you call dark matter.  It’s rather colorful actually.  I don’t know why you call it ‘dark,’ though I suppose that makes sense because you can’t see it with your eyes.  Dark matter doesn’t interact with star matter, normally.  That’s what I was trying to test.  It…it made it easier that you couldn’t see me.  I didn’t have to wear my cloak and condenser all the time.  They’re uncomfortable.  I only had to use the device that generates sound waves so I could speak with you.”

Jesse felt his face grow hot.  She had used him.  And she sounded excited about it.  About her pet project.  And she had took advantage of his blindness.  The blindness of his eyes, and the blindness of his foolish heart.  He wanted to rage at her.  But he spent a moment calming himself, so his voice would not betray his feeling.

“You’re an alien.”

“No, I’m a person, like you.”

“How can you be?  You’re made of the opposite stuff.”

“No, the opposite of matter is anti-matter not dark matter.”

“I thought you were insecure about your looks,” he said, frowning, “about me seeing you.  But that’s not what you were worried about, was it?  You suspected I might find out about you, the real you.  All that ruckus I heard every night.  I thought you were working out.”

“I was trying to construct a new cloak, one that would fool your eyes.  But I’m no more an engineer than you are.”

He suddenly relaxed his furrowed brows.  “Allergies.”

“What?”

“You said that’s why we can’t have pets.”

She understood.  She sighed.  “Like you, many animals can’t see me, but they sense me and grow agitated.”

His eyes glazed.  “I loved you.”  His voice was quiet, steady.

“I still love you.”

Tears pooled at the bottom rim of his eyelids and spilled over.  “No.  You have no love or respect for me.”

He saw that his words had struck fear into her.  She was shaking her head.

“You never would have told me who you really were,” he said, his voice calm and cold and steady.  “If I had never undergone that procedure, you would be carrying on as before, lying and pretending.  Such a reckless and selfish thing you did.”

“You wouldn’t have believed me.”  Her voice was high and pleading.  Tears spilled down her frightened face.  A face that would never be dear to him, but one he pitied.

“Probably not.  But if you truly came to love me, then you should have had the decency to either try and explain or leave.”

“Do you want me to leave?” she asked.

He had always tried to calm her when she was upset, even when she was upset about things that didn’t make sense to him.  Small hurts that a typical person could shrug off.  Everyone was different.  She was just more sensitive, he had thought.  But maybe it wasn’t sensitivity.  Maybe she was as she was because she wasn’t of his world and everything was too much for her.  She didn’t have all those filters and shields that ordinary human beings had.  And she wasn’t strong enough to handle the world.  He saw a woman before him.  But he couldn’t see the person he had known for over a year.  He couldn’t see his equal.

Even through his fury, he thought, No, I want to help you.  

But if he gave her any hope at all, he would in the end be just as reckless and selfish as she had been.  She had to take responsibility for herself.  Even if that meant leaving this world and returning to her own.  Did he want her to leave?  He felt himself detaching from her.

“Yes,” he said.

***

“That’s the last of it,” Quin said, lifting a box onto the kitchen table.  She began to fold the flaps down.  “Unless you find some stuff here and there.”

Jesse had spent the last month clearing his place, his computer, his life, of everything that reminded him of Cari.  He wanted her out of his heart, but that would take time.  First he needed to get her out of his mind.  And that would be an easier task with her out of his sight.

He slipped the ring out of his pocket.  The would-be engagement ring.  A sudden superstition seized him.  He held it up.

“Do you think if I gave this away, it would be bad luck for whoever got it next, considering what happened?”

His sister stared at the ring for a moment.  “We could walk to the ends of the earth, find a pit of lava, and throw it in so that its evil need never trouble the world again.”

“I know it sounds silly, but I don’t want anyone catching any bad mojo that might still be stuck to this thing.”

“I was only half-joking.  I think you should have the band melted down and the diamond…that you can donate to a museum for their mineralogy display or something.  It is an unusual color.”

“Her favorite.”

“Pink?”

Jesse frowned and looked at the ring.  “It’s not pink.”

“Well, whatever you do with it, make sure it doesn’t come back to you.  Sell it to me.  I’ll get rid of it.”  She held out her hand.  And he dropped the ring into it.

“This is going to sound bad, but I think I liked that she was so insecure and focused on me.  It made me feel more confident about myself.”

“That’s…messed up.”  She frowned at him, disapprovingly.

He smiled and that only made her frown harder.  He laughed.  Even though they met every week, it was still so good to see her face.  Her beautiful sistery face.  But she was right.  It was messed up.  He stopped laughing.

How could he have drawn good feelings from someone else’s bad ones?  How could he not have seen that something was wrong with their relationship?  Even if Cari was a typical woman made of stardust and everyday atoms, they were wrong deep inside.  So deep inside that only they could have seen it.  Not even his protective sister, his suspicious best friend, his wise mother could have seen it.

But Cari wasn’t a typical woman made of stardust and everyday atoms.

He must have looked as upset as he suddenly felt because Quin stopped frowning and stepped toward him.

“I’m afraid I’ve made a terrible mistake,” he said.

She frowned again.  “What?  No, she deserved to be kicked to the curb.  The little—“

“Not her.”  He still had feelings for her that he wished would vanish as easily as she had vanished.  “Her people.  We know for a fact that there is sentient life out there other than our own.  We made first contact, for crying out loud.  But I messed it up, because I was angry and hurt that someone broke my heart.”  He felt a wave of disdain for himself.

“That’s kind of a justified reason to be angry and hurt.”

“But not a justified reason to ruin a monumental discovery for all humankind.”

Quin raised her hand and gave him a little slap on the cheek.  “Snap out of it, bro.  You didn’t make first contact.  I bet those guys have been here before.  I’m sure Brody and the gang are analyzing all the data they’re still gathering from you.  And no one would believe you without proof.  Just like you wouldn’t have believed Cari, or whatever her name is.”

“Part of me will probably always love her.”

“More’s the pity,” Quin said, but she wasn’t frowning.  She put a hand on Jesse’s shoulder.

“There was a lot of good to her, Quinny.  I hope she’s able to see what she did wrong someday.”

Quin smirked and raised a brow.  “I see what you did there.”

“Just stop.”

She put an arm around his shoulder.  “Right, no more sight jokes.  But this is going to be fun, no?  It’s like you have a superhuman power.  Now you’ve got to learn to hone it.”

“In the meantime, I’ll be poked and prodded and drained of my fluids for science.”

“Complainer.  You knew what you were signing up for.”

Jesse took a deep breath.  “You’re right, I did.”

“I was just talking about the procedure, not your galactic lady friend.  No one saw that one coming.”

“I guess we’re all blind when it comes to love.”

His sister winced.  “Atta boy.”

***

Jesse was sitting at a picnic table watching people grilling, kids swinging on swings, and elderly folks feeding pigeons.  He was particularly interested in the retriever puppy who clumsily loped after his human’s Frisbee.  The little guy made Jesse laugh.  Dr. Brody hadn’t out and out said “no” when Jesse asked if it might be all right for him to get a pet.  It had been several months, after all.  It hadn’t been a smooth ride all the way.  He had needed a few extra surgeries and had suffered some side effects from medications that were bad enough to keep him housebound, but he had recovered from all of it.  And he was as healthy as he had ever been after the Combo Platter procedure.

And he could see as well as ever.

He practiced focusing and un-focusing his eyes regularly, both to exercise them and to experiment with what he might see or un-see.  He still saw streaks and spots and colors that no one else seemed to see, but he had learned how to live with such sights.

He was watching the puppy when he caught a shadow in the corner of his eye.  He glanced in the direction of the shadow and un-focused his eyes.  A shape suddenly appeared.  A middle-aged woman, wearing a business suit and holding a coffee cup.  She was looking directly at him.

Jesse held his breath as the woman rose and approached his table.  She sat down before him.

“I am here to offer apologies on behalf of my kind,” she said without introduction.  “What happened to you should not have happened.  We are sorry we didn’t catch the person who perpetrated the crime against you sooner.”

Jesse exhaled and raised his brows.  “Cari?  She’s been…arrested?”

The woman bowed her head.  “And found guilty of several charges.”  She took a sip of her coffee.

“I see.”

“We’ve been trying to interact with your world for decades now,” the woman said.  “In recent years, we’ve had some success.  And we hope to work with your people someday.  Though we are no more an enlightened species than you are.  The one who became attached to you was only supposed to observe and interact with non-sentient life.  There were others who were trained to interact with you star matter folks.  To make acquaintances, perhaps even casual friendships, but nothing as close as what you were subjected to.”

Jesse frowned. “I wouldn’t say I was subjected.”

“She deceived you.  Broke a taboo.  Broke your trust and ours.”

“I’m none the worse for wear.  I hope the part of her punishment that has to do with me is proportional to her crimes.”

“That is why I’m here.”  She looked at him intently.  “For your judgment.”

Jesse hesitated.  “You want me to decide?”

“You have the right according to our laws and custom.”

“Why come to me now?  It’s been half a year or so.”

The woman looked down at her coffee cup and back up at him.  “How long does your system of justice take to reach judgment?”

Jesse gave her the side-eye.  “I just want her out of my life, and I don’t want her or any of you to deceive and betray someone else like she did to me.”

“That is already done.  She is forbidden from condensing for the rest of her natural life.  And we are revising our laws based on her case.  Is there any other amends we may make?”

These dark matter people were ahead of the game.  Jesse felt the weight of responsibility to represent his star matter kind.

“We deserve to see your world,” he dared to say.  “After all, you keep peeking into ours.”

The woman looked him in the eye.  “It seems we won’t be able to stay hidden for long.  Not from some of you anyway.”

 

Copyright © 2014 by Nila L. Patel.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s