One Mind’s Eye
by Kathy Tyers
Air streams whispered out of ducts and vents, masking murmurs and quiet footsteps. On the third floor of the Nuris University library, sound seemed smothered under a weight of wisdom and recirculated air.
Llyn Torfinn stood at an i-net station, listening nervously, clasping her thin left arm with her right hand. The wall at the end of her aisle was opaque blue glass, and it glistened like a single gigantic opal. Closer by, head-high racks displayed information printouts, data spools, and ancient-looking scrolls and books. Her brother Niklo had explained them as replicas, dignifying the library with the appearance of Earth-date antiquity.
She glanced over her shoulder. Fortunately, there was still no sight or sound of Karine—Niklo’s natural mother, the woman who had adopted Llyn despite her baffling history. Karine had brought Llyn down to Nuris University today, to attend a choral festival. She’d ordered Llyn and Niklo to report to one of her professor friends for a tour of the campus. As if Niklo needed a tour! He lived here now.
And instead, Niklo had agreed to help Llyn run this search. Karine should be busy at the governmental pyramid for at least half an hour, and here in the library, data could be accessed that was not available over normal channels.
Llyn especially couldn’t have looked for this information at Karine’s residential clinic, because officially, she was a patient there. Karine—a well-known clinician and a genetic empath—had locked that i-net branch.
So Niklo hunched over the dedicated terminal, hurriedly searching the Concord’s medical network for families who were compatible with Llyn’s DNA. Karine had always claimed that Llyn was related to no one.
But even tube babies had genetic parents. Llyn desperately hoped to find the kin she could not remember. If they hadn’t forgotten her, they might take her home.
“Huh.” Niklo pushed back his chair.
“Did you find them?” Llyn asked, encouraged by his tone of voice. “My parents?”
“No. I found you.”
“Oh?” Llyn leaned over his shoulder. A wisp of black hair fell into her field of vision.
He pointed at the screen. “I accessed our clinic records with my family code. At the home terminal that doesn’t get me in, but look. Here it did.”
Llyn peered at the screen. The file looked like a medical log.
Patient #721: Llyn (matername not in thought stream). Address of origin: unknown. Mass: 34 kg. Height: 1.46 meters. Physical condition: poor. Mental condition: total dysfunction. Preliminary brain scan confirms hypertrophy of the temporal lobe, particularly the dorsal region that governs hearing.
Llyn nodded. Nothing about her background had ever made sense. Five years ago—just a few days before Karine had logged that entry—Concord authorities had found Llyn hardwired into an artificial reality unit, limply floating in an unlicensed laboratory’s AR tank, unable to speak, terrified by her rescuers. Her personal locator chip transmitted on a frequency that did not appear on Concord records. Her gene typing matched no strain on Antar’s med-net.
The authorities had ordered Karine to rehabilitate her.
She glanced around again. “Are you sure this terminal’s secure?” she murmured.
“You’re worried about Mother?” Niklo had always been subliminally sensitive to body functions, including Llyn’s tension. He stared at the screen through his fringe of brown hair and touched it at a control point. “I’ve got this under a security lock. She won’t find us.”
Llyn didn’t trust secure locks to keep Karine out of net searches. After five years as Karine’s patient, she always assumed someone was watching.
She returned to Karine’s old notes and read quickly, skipping technical sections. Maybe something in this journal would unlock her memory.
Admission: Subject has been placed in a clinical float tank with motion frame. Remains unresponsive, except to immersive first-person artificial reality. She seems content with the projection helmet and gaze-tracker I programmed, but confused to find that the images do not obey her. She must learn that she does not control the real world.
I learned, Llyn reflected bitterly. Her oldest memories glimmered: dim color washes, brilliant three-dimensional grid lines, a universe that obeyed her whims. Simple melodies that Llyn had composed as she wafted along had moved the small images of her life.
She remembered nothing before the AR. Still, according to Karine’s medical specialists, she couldn’t have been hardwired since birth. Neural pathways had kicked in as Karine trained her. She’d relearned human language.
No one knew where she’d mastered it before.
She always assumed she’d been kidnapped, probably from some other Concord planet, but she couldn’t guess why. Why would anyone lock a child’s mind into a different universe and abandon it there?
She vividly remembered being wrested out of it. As some huge moving form stripped off the transducer helmet, darkness had garroted her vision. She’d flailed in all directions, robbed of direct brain input, struggling to find up and down axes in a gridless world. She’d tried to sing up an image. Any image.
Preliminary diagnosis: This subject may never live “normally,” but perhaps can contribute something to society. It will take years to readjust her.
“Sounds like Mother,” Niklo muttered.
“Yes.” Llyn understood this world, now—though she could not manage it well. In the unlicensed tank, on an inadequate motion frame, her muscles had atrophied, and she’d missed her growth spurt. She’d been child-sized when they found her. They’d guessed her age at eleven. She’d only grown a few centimeters since then. Karine had eventually revised the admission estimate up to thirteen, but to this day, no one was sure how old she was. Probably seventeen. Possibly eighteen—or sixteen.
Her family would know.
She skimmed another section. Karine had predicted a long struggle with verbal and written language. Then Llyn’s eye caught the word “adoption.”
I have begun legal adoption proceedings. I would hate to lose custody of this unique subject.
Llyn pointed at the words, which looked as hard and cold as the screen.
“Unique subject.” Niklo snorted. “You’re more than that, Llyn.”
“To you.” Feeling as if she’d been slapped, Llyn read on. The next section described her lagging tactile development. Whoever put her in the tank had inserted a biochip in her upper spine, blocking all sensations except those transmitted through the AR. She still had trouble differentiating hot and cold, rough and smooth, sharp and blunt.
Plus zero point five years: Morphing of “Mother” agent to match my face accomplished. Subject should accept discipline now. She has resisted each infinitesimal change in imagery and is keenly aware of geometric proportions. Insists on attempting to control inanimate objects—and people—by croaking, despite repeated failures over six months. I will not be controlled.
That entry only inflamed Llyn’s resentment. She skipped far ahead.
Plus one point nine years: Subject stood upright with aid of walker. I drained the float tank to celebrate. Subject became violent. Confined her to padded room. Kicking and wall striking will accelerate muscular and tactile development.
Niklo whispered, “Nasty.”
“Of course not you. Mother.”
Llyn skimmed at a furious pace, looking for an incident she vividly remembered. Minutes were ticking away, and Karine would certainly find them if she decided to look. Campus Security could track their PL chips to the library, and Karine would search them out one floor at a time, by the scent of their mental activity. It was no use running from an empath.
Plus two point eight five years: Subject evidenced a deep, unaccountable catatonic state.
There it was!
Plus two point eight six years: Second catatonic episode. Evidently something in clinical environment is overloading area 41 of the gyrus of Herschel, or some other brain center; sound recognition depends on so many cortical zones.
Plus two point eight seven years: Catatonic-state stimulus identified as auditory tones that relate to each other within the unmusical tonality of her former artificial reality. She perceives the atonal sequences as “control music” and wishes to go back under their control. I have banned music from clinic grounds and removed all metal and glass objects, potential producers of musical tones, from the subject’s environment.
Llyn sighed. To her, those “episodes” had been heart-healing flights back to the only home she remembered, where broad sweeps of color danced through the stable grid. Abstract shapes sang there, shaped by rhythm and pitch. Many nights she had lain awake at the clinic letting faint remembered melodies feather the back of her mind. The music’s haunting, pure light cast dim shadows on reality’s dull backdrop.
Karine had hired a music therapy specialist to analyze output from the AR transducer. He’d finally made Karine understand that the AR music divided each octave into seventeen fractional steps, instead of the “standard” twelve half steps of most cultures. Llyn remembered his visit. He’d played the seventeen-tone scale on a portable synthesizer, and she’d slipped away. Instantly, joyously.
Plus three point five years: Subject has passed several grade levels at my satellite classroom. Fine mind, although social development still juvenile. Tactile sense lags on. Stubborn outbursts continue. Attempting to discipline consistently by stimulating pain sense with electroshock.
Llyn pursed her lips. To this day, Karine rarely praised her. She’d always felt slow and stupid. It was startling to read that Karine thought otherwise.
The most recent entry was six months old and surprisingly personal.
Plus four point five years: Subject insists she is ready for independence. Her resilience is admirable, but she is gravely mistaken. She will never be able to live alone. Before we give children freedom, we must equip them to use it.
Llyn will always need me.
“She hopes,” Niklo muttered. “I think she needs you worse than you need her.”
Llyn considered. For all Karine’s genetic empathy, she seemed not to care how often she hurt Llyn.
As if supernaturally responding to her critical thought, the floor shook. Llyn didn’t so much feel the quake as hear it rumble beneath ground level. Hearing still was her dominant sense.
She glanced up to see what she stood under, then aside for the nearest reinforcement. Falling objects had killed Karine’s husband eight years ago, and Karine had never remarried.
She was married to the clinic.
Niklo swatted her arm. “Hey.” His tone was blasé. “The University buildings and sky domes are quakeproof.”
So was the dome over Poulenc, supposedly, where Karine’s husband died. Llyn steadied herself with one hand against a shelf. There’d been no worry of self-preservation in her other world, no bony body to pummel toward strength. It was a world that still wanted to reclaim her, and every moment she must resist. This world could kill her the way it killed Niklo’s father, if she didn’t pay attention.
“Well.” Niklo pointed at a control over the terminal. “That was informative, but it wasn’t what we wanted. I’ll try the Genetics department.”
“Thank you.” Llyn glanced up the aisle again. At a terminal along the opaline wall, three women sat in quiet conversation. Racial variety persisted on all nine Concord worlds, even after centuries of intermarriage. Most people still chose mates who looked rather like themselves.
Hair and clothing identified these women as offworlders. One wore the archaic garments of the Tdega system: embarrassingly snug to Llyn, who daily pulled on full gathered culottes and a loose tunic top, the garb of both sexes here on hot, humid Antar. The other two women wore their hair in ornate topknots that marked them as Unukalhaians.
“It’s getting unusual to see Tdegans at Nuris U,” Niklo murmured, looking up. “Everyone was talking about it last term.”
“Maybe they’re here for the festival?” Llyn eyed them, envying their freedom.
“No. They’re foreign students. They keep to themselves these days.”
Llyn squinted and made herself really see them. Karine rarely mentioned other Concord worlds, and she didn’t encourage Llyn to follow i-net news, but maybe—could it be?—she was Tdegan. She did have black hair and a long oval face, like many Tdegans. She envisioned how she would look wearing snug, warm garments. Skinny, she decided. Or from Unukalhai: Would her hair knot that way if she grew it longer?
Maybe she’d been born at an even more distant Concord world, such as Kocab. She’d never be able to afford to send i-net search calls that far, unless she disproved Karine’s gloomy predictions and found a way to earn her own living.
She would! She would live independently someday. She was not Karine Torfinn’s property.
She tapped Niklo’s shoulder. “Genetics department. Good idea.”
He leaned down again.