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Unseeing Eyes

     

2007-06-26 Swoosh!  The thrilling sound of a near-miss filled Hal Bjordman's ears as he wrestled against the G-forces pinning him to his seat.  Nothing like a game of Supersonic Pursuit to get one's blood moving!  Not really dangerous, either, if everyone obeyed the rules.

Hal turned his small craft into a nosedive out of his opponent's likely flight path, angled into a cloud bank and reversed direction, nearly cutting his jets as he did so.  It was a daring move and succeeded in surprising his opponent and best friend, Skag Elmore.  Skag had done just what Hal thought, hovering
over the cloudbank in wait.  Hal's craft emerged angled perfectly, straight towards Skag's and just above.  Less than a second later, the nose of Skag's ship was shot off, and Hal's friend was floating ignominously down in a large white puff of chute fabric.

Later in the bar, Hal crowed gleefully while buying drinks for the two of them.

"Pure skill, I tell you - and the luck that follows.  That turn in the clouds - you never even saw me coming!"

Skag smiled ruefully into Hal's infectious grin.  "You got me all right.  And the last fight of the year, no less."

"Don't worry, Skay - not all seniors are funless wimps.  We're still ourselves, just smarter.  I know for a fact that Srs. Helbourg and Gorman played Supersonic just last month."

"Yeah." Skag's face was morose.  "But I don't think they enjoy it like we do - and no Senior ever would do that turn you were so happy about.  Too much sense."

"Ahh...Well, who cares!  If we want to, we will - no one will stop us.  And from what I hear, running the world has its own advantages."  Hal grinned lewdly.

Further conversation on the last point was dropped as a well-dressed woman came into view, by her clothes clearly a Senior but still young, in her early twenties.

"What a touching sight - two Juniors bemoaning the impending loss of their youth.  Making plans for a last night's fling, boys?  The Festival should give you ample opportunity."  Sarcasm dripped from perfectly adorned red lips, literally oozing with the latest fashion in moving cosmetics.

"Hold your fire, Lady Doris - we get enough of it from your little sister.  She's jealous, what's your excuse?"

"Civil tongue, Junior Hal.  You may be Senior and Ruler-apprentice in a year, but up to tomorrow morning I'm still your better. And I can forbid you from Festival if I see fit."

"My apologies, Lady.  Cm'on, Skag - lets get outta hear before we get in more trouble - there's no way I'm missing tonight.  With your permission, Doris?  No offense meant, really."  Hal's youthful grin and sincere-looking chagrin came to his aid - for the last time?  I hope not.  Can't be - though I've seen some
changes I never would have expected.

***

Festival night turned out to be, not exactly a disappointment, but not what Hal had anticipated for his last full-blown revelry as an admittedly-irresponsible youth.

It had started out well enough.  Hal, Skag, and a handful of their gaming buddies joined for an early round of sense-enhancing Gira drinks in the late afternoon.  After downing the clear liquid his friends' faces seemed to glow with camraderie, and he felt immensely close to each of them.  They all agreed to experience the Festival together, and to share whatever pleasures they found.  Toasts were offered.

"To us - the best Rulers this world is gonna see!"

" 'To Rule is To Serve'  - and be served!" Laughter followed the common twist of their training motto.

"And serviced!"  Cheers and laughter.

"To all of us - may we never forget th' purity, sincerity and loyalty of our youth" - this from a friend whose name Hal had forgotton, who almost never drank.  He looked solemnly unsteady.

"Let's PARTY!!" Hal shouted, afraid someone would pass out here and put a damper on the whole Festival.

They took off towards the bright lights and loud music that marked the yearly revels.  They had been to Festivals before, but never as the honored graduates, for whom the whole revelry was thrown.

Hal had few clear memories of the rest of the night - though Gira enhanced the senses, it did nothing for the memory.  Which was probably a good thing.  He did remember bits here and there: he and Skag surrounded by five beauties from the provinces, all smiling and eager to please.  They should be!  For one night, a girl lucky enough to be selected for Festival made more than she would a year in the factories, or even in the low-class whorehouses.

One image disturbed him slightly.  It was almost dawn, and the four of them who were still awake were searching for a final fling.   They found it - or her - towards the edge of the Festival grounds.  Great body, and young too.  But she hadn't been properly instructed, or something - her eyes showed fear, and though she didn't resist, she left them all with a bad taste, like eating an unripe fruit.  The eyes were still with him.

Well, that was that, anyway.  His youthful frolicking was at an end, or at least was about to change character.  Hal had been woken with the rest of the graduating Juniors, after an hour or two of sleep, and was now proceeding down the hall to their pre-indoctrination review.  It would be nothing new.  Hal was
well versed in the process of mind-immersion, having studied it in training school.  He could probably give the talk himself.

The speaker started way back with the history of Praal, how there had been centuries of instability before the current Rulers came to power; how it was determined that the fault always lay with the lax younger generation that did not understand the complexities of ruling a world; and how the wise Third Ruler had come up with the brilliant idea of passing wisdom onto the young, while they still had time to use it.

"How many times," intoned the speaker, "has a wise old man wished with all his heart: If I Only Knew Then What I Know Now.   Well, you Juniors won't have to wish that, if you pay close attention with an open mind this next year."

Hal yawned.  He wished this guy would wrap it up already.  Actually, if he wasn't so sleepy, he'd be excited - he was to enter the eyes and mind of the Eleventh Ruler's right-hand man, Elder Senior Rojan.

This was a major coup.  He'd risked a lot for it, too.  Juniors could list up to ten desired mentors, and most times they would get someone on the list.  But Hal, the top of his class and with record-breaking aptitude results, put down only Rojan.  It was even more of a risk because he knew Rojan had not wanted
to be a mentor at all, in fact only some unknown political struggle had forced him into it.  But what a prize!  Seeing and hearing everything old Right-hand Rojan did for a year.  Knowing, if not his thoughts, then at least his emotions.  Hal would emerge knowing more than anyone about the inner workings of power on Praal.  Anyone, that is, except Rojan and the Eleventh Ruler himself.

The speaker was droning on, explaining the technical aspects of the process in detail, presumably for those who had ditched the entire last semester of training school.  He explained how, with the body in stasis, four receptors were implanted in each Junior's brain:  one for the optic nerve, one for the olefactory bulb, one for the auditory area of the neocortex.  The last one gently encircled  the thalamus, emitting the neurotransmitters that regulate mood, feeling and emotion.  Tactile sensations were not received directly,
but an overall sense of pain, pleasure or exertion would be experienced through the bath of chemicals flowing through the brain.

Each receptor was sensitive to a specific frequency, emitted by the matching transmitter placed in the mentor's brain some months ago.  Essentially, the mentor's optic activity was reproduced in the Junior's optic nerve, and the same for the other senses.  The chemical detectors and emitters reproduced waves of feeling rather than specific activity.  It was supposed to take some time - a week or so - for the receiver's brain to adjust to the new signal topography, but they didn't bring you to consciousness until then.  So you
"slept" for a week, then "dreamed" for a year - except that your dream was reality for someone else.

Finally the lecture ended.  A few last questions were asked, including one that had been bothering Hal.

"So, you have no control over anything that happens for a year?  Can we contact anyone on the outside?"

"Do you control your dreams?  No, of course not, the transmission is one-way.  But your mentor knows you are watching, and all of our Elder Seniors are responsible individuals.  Just think of it as a long, pleasant nap - and keep a receptive mind"

The Juniors groaned at the pun, and asked no more questions.  Time to go.  

Despite all the preparation he'd had, Hal's palms sweated profusely.

They shuffled single file into the tank room, to be given a tranquilizer, a mild hypnotic suggestion, and to "sleep" for the next twelve months.

****


Urine.  Stale urine.  Hal's eyes felt like they were open, but he could see nothing.  What's going on?  This place stinks, it can't be Rojan's chambers.

A crack of light appeared.  Hal wanted desparately to look around, figure out where the hell he was, but his new "eyes" barely looked up from some kind of straw pillow.

A voice spoke, seeming to come from inside his body.  A short, harsh noise.  A short, harsh, high-pitched noise.  Oh my god.  Something's got to be wrong.  That's not any Elder Senior I've ever heard.  Maybe this is a real dream, a first-week dream like we were warned.

Hal's new body sat up, arms around its knees.  A large hairy figure appeared in the doorway shouting some kind of invective.  Hal felt a dull fear, deep weariness, and hate.  Why do I hate this guy?  I've never even met him before.

His body rose, eyes towards the floor - and he noticed he could not see his new feet, because two bumps on his chest were in the way.

Oh....my....god

Hal's brain manufactured enough of its own shock, rage and fear transmitters to knock him from his fragile consciousness, and he blacked out."

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