I started my novel. 3,286 words completed, 46,714 remaining… not bad for day 1! If you want to preview/proofread for me later in the month let me know, I will need it! I will be posting the link for the novel blog this week once it is spiffed up a bit. For now, please enjoy the prologue and tell me what you think!
Prologue–Luck’s dreams, eye-sight and upbringing
A monster grabbed me by the pajamas, clenching its many tentacles around my throat. I lashed under covers, unable to scream. I still have nights my arms can’t move and it feels like my head’s held underwater. I finally flop, blue faced, on the firm mattress.
Mornings like this it’s hard to turn over, forget, and get back to sleep. In time, heartbeats slow to normal and fatigue hangs heavier than the fear of returning to the nightmare. Remember waking up from a dream and not quite knowing where you had been or how long you’d been there? Maybe you’re not even awake at all, just trapped in yet another dream?
What if I told you the life you think you are living while awake was nothing more than the boring dreams of the real you inside the life you call a dream? You might get mad, thinking you invest so much time with this life, it must be the superior reality. You could grow sad thinking of the friends you’ve lost in dreams but how could you? In that land they can spring up again and again, angels and nightmares alike. You might not believe me because you can’t see the dream world or, at least you don’t remember seeing it.
All of these reactions are understandable. I had many of the same when I realized I had it backwards all along. Everything seems normal until you understand how we come to see our surroundings in the first place.
We actually see upside down, rearranged, filled in versions of our worlds. Brains are but powerful projectors, nothing more. I see, smell, taste and feel the vibrations around me, like a bat, wandering the skies, sending out signals, waiting for reply. What if dreams didn’t come true… What if they were true?
My mother used to read me great stories from history before I went to sleep. Before she turned off the light she would whisper, “Anything that’s real, starts with a dream!” and then she would close the door. This happened every night until I grew up and Mom was forced to go back to work at Robotix Co. In her twenties she was a successful optical device developer. She gave robots eyes. Once I asked her how robots see and she replied with a question of her own. I always thought she was annoyed by my unending queries but now I know she wanted me to understand the process on my own. She asked me how I see. I explained that my eye looks at something and I see it in my mind.
Mom took out an old projector and loaded a battered metal wheel on its side. After adjusting a few things and feeding the film through the projector she flipped the switch. It made a lot of noise, it was nothing like holographic television which barely indicated it was turned on. This machine had a clicking noise to go with the grainy and discolored footage. There was no sound, just a woman rolling a wooden cylinder along what appeared to be a soft counter-top. She giggled when I asked what that woman was doing. It was my great-grandmother rolling out cookie dough for a holiday party.
Grandpa once told me grandma had a camera permanently attached to her eye. Even after she went mostly blind Mom said she would squint at the reels and at negatives. Grandpa built a dark room in their basement. Polaroids and disposable cameras were all the rage when my mom was growing up but by 2012 when she had me, analog technologies were fading out rapidly in response to a booming digital approach to memory storage and transmission. Mom still kept her family’s equipment, it was the only thing they were allowed to pass on. Everyone was forced to move out of their individual homes soon after I was born. Community leaders coordinated the transition to mass housing units (MHU) and the organizing of citizens into districts. Mom saved as many of the old technologies as she could. She was fascinated with analog, even if a digitized world. Once she explained how the projector worked I could see her preoccupation with the ancient art form.
“Projectors mirror our own eyes” she indicated the lens. “Our eyes contain lenses that absorb light. The projector takes in the upside down image on the film and projects it and we see it on the screen.” She pointed to the white wall where the image of her great-grandmother was pressing funny shapes into the dough and setting them on sheets of metal. “Without light, there’s no projection and without light we couldn’t see. Everything we touch or experience with any sense is only our perception of the object, person, plant, you get the idea?”
Sometimes mom could forget she was talking to a kid. She always treated me like I was as smart as she was and I wanted to be. I would daydream a bit if she got on some wild tangent about the persistence of vision but most of it was fascinating to me from a young age. “According to the theory of persistence of vision” she would say, “the brain and the retina of the human eye retain an image for a brief moment of time. This was said to account for the illusion of motion when a series of images is displayed rapidly. The eye does not catch specific frames for our close examination but rather blends the images and adds bits from memory to create our reality.”
I must have been turning my head sideways about that time and so she made it more simple. “Your eye isn’t really a camera that captures things exactly as they are but the connection made between your eye and brain allow you to detect motion and detail. If something is wrong with the pathway, like if a person gets hurt they don’t sense reality like you and me anymore.” That made more sense but it usually didn’t hit home until mom found a way to make a diagram for me.
She was a good enough artist to draw most problems so I could get a picture of what she was talking about. On this occasion we made a camera obscura from a small box so I could see a simplified version of an early projection device. “Camera obscuras are also known as pinhole cameras. I can’t remember the last time I saw one. Your great-grandma was fond of photography and made these with her daughters. It is really just a simple camera without a lens and a single tiny aperture.” To me it just looked like a box with a hole in its side. I nodded but couldn’t figure out how something as big as a projector or camera could fit inside my head. Mom smiled and continued noting my worried look. She knew she had me going, my curiosity was peaked.
“Lucille, you are an amazing child. I don’t expect you to comprehend all of this right away. It took a lifetime for me to understand something as straightforward as eyesight. That is the beauty of our world and technologies that enhance it. The basic explanation is that our brains see our surroundings, not our eyes.” I was taken back by this statement. It felt like the images were coming right from my eyes… or going directly into them. I tried to sense the path the light took through my pupils, behind my ears and into the base of my skull. It gave me a slight headache. “Close your eyes.”
When I did I found my mind flooded with a million more questions but before I could formulate one and blurt it out in the direction of mom I heard her get up and stand behind me. She placed her index finger near the back of my head. “This is where your projector is set up” She put her hands in my curls and began to break down the journey an object takes through the mind. “And things look different depending on who you are and how your eyes work. Colors can be subjective and everyone seems to have their own idea of what is beautiful or ugly. Perception is much more than light and it will never be an exact science. You can open your eyes now.”
When I did I saw her turning off the projector. She took one last look at her grandmother and mother covering the hardened shapes with dull but still colored frosting. “Robots don’t have the same problems as people. If their vision fails, they just need a new sensor. When a human’s vision fails it is much harder to delve into the brain and reprogram the machine. Someday soon though, I bet we will figure it out.
Mom may had been fond of robots but I got a feeling that she went into robotic optics to understand more about her own brain and how she saw the world. She was my greatest teacher. I never learned more from another person but she taught me to question for myself and discover my own answers. I was devastated when she suffered a stroke at forty years old and lost sight in her left eye. She could no longer work with the small pieces and delicate nature of her business and she was put on mandatory retirement. A sure death sentence for a scientist who could never keep her work at work. She played around with the machines she collected as a young woman until Dad found her in her small study with a large chunk of her middle finger missing. When he revived her she couldn’t remember what happened and she couldn’t remember my father.
The doctors said another stroke had given her temporary amnesia. If my dad hadn’t found her she would probably have bled out. Instead, he watched the woman he loved get shipped away to a private care facility (PCF) because he couldn’t take care of her, keep an eye on me and work a fulltime job to afford our compartment in District 292. I told him I would be willing to move further from downtown if it meant mom could stay but by that time she could do little more than drool and mumble. He noticed my marks slipping and knew I would have to leave home in a few years, that I only had so much time to train for a profession.
I had little interest in anything besides my mother’s brain. Her left eye was completely cloudy but I still sensed the burning passion for knowledge in the right. She could barely form words or move her arms but she managed to write a small note to me a week or so before they took her away. It contained these words, nearly illegibly scrawled on a yellowing envelope: use grandma machine luck you my life love momma.
I cried for weeks but she was no longer lucid. That was the last message my mother ever sent me. A brilliant woman reduced to an archaic form of communication. Seeing her spiral into dementia became my only obsession. After a year of resenting my father and retreating or lashing out at everyone I knew I realized what my mother’s last testament meant.
I was supposed to make life better. I had made my mother’s life better and she had made millions of lives better. Still, her main goal was to understand the brain and how we perceive the world. She lost all ability to continue her search but she left me the equipment I would need. Now that I was seventeen it was time to graduate from academy and select my life’s profession. I expected to go into a Robotix career just like my parents when I was a child but now I was torn between studying the human brain and its pathways of communication or being a historian of the ancient technologies my mother treasured. I told my father of my plans and he just shrugged. He missed my mother so much and I must have reminded him of her. We looked identical in our academy identification card photos right down to the curly red hair, band of freckles across the nose and curious green eyes.