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Eye of the beholder

by manfriday 

Posted: 14 April 2005
Word Count: 1201
Summary: A sideways look at technology.

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The Eye of The Beholder

Opthalmia Optima looked at her reflection in the video-mirror and sighed. Now, for those of you who may be wondering, the practice of having names linked to a profession had, to a degree, been revived around about 2196.

Opthalmia ran the tips of her fingers through the soft texture of her spun glass dress. She punched the keyboard in front of her and instantly saw how she looked from the back. Didn’t her behind just stick out in the most awful way. God she thought, how she hated being fourteen.

With tapping fingers she switched back to front view. Perhaps if she wore glasses? No perhaps not. Her best friend in the whole world. Remario Cursoria Philips, wore glasses and she had to admit they did nothing for Rem’s social life.
Indeed they were sometimes the focus for the cruelest of teasing. Mostly from boys
Of course. Nasty little prigs. The nastiest of all being Len String, the class swot. He never missed an opportunity to take somebody down in front of the rest of the class.

A light at the corner of the video mirror began to flash insistently. “Show!” she commanded. A series of numbers ran across the video-mirror screen. As the last number disappeared from the screen, she cried “Engage!” The screen brightened and a three dimensional image of a plain girl wearing glasses filled the screen.

“Wow” love the dress Opthalmia”

Opthalmia twirled. “Oh Rem". Do you like it. I mean do you really think its me. Don’t you think my bottom just, well it just sort of sticks out?”

“Of course it’s you”. She retorted. “I wish my bottom stuck out like yours. In fact I wish there was at least one part of me that stuck out even a little. I think if I walked along sideways like a crab I wouldn’t be seen at all.”

Opthalmia giggled

“Anyway” continued Rem, “I just thought you might like to know that its almost 8:30”

“Oh no” screamed the response. Followed by “See you in school Rem”

Opthalmia jabbed at a keyboard and the screen instantly went blank.

Rem and Opthalmia swiped their school I.D.s at the electron barrier and moved quickly towards the escalators.

Talking as they went, Opthalmia asked “What classes do you have Rem?”

“Computer Science. You”?

“New fabric Science” came the reply. “See you at break”

The friends separated and sped towards their respective classes.

“What time do you call this Opthalmia!” The New fabrics lecturer shrieked.

“Sorry miss. I lost track of the time. I’m finding the Art & Design project quite difficult” She lied without a blush.

“Very well, take 30 default minutes and put them to good use on the A&D project.”

“Yes miss, thank you miss..”Tyrannical old bat.” She added under her breath.

“Please miss”. Said Len String, “I think Opthalmia said something rude”.

Opthalmia poked him in the ribs. “Rotten little sneak”. She hissed.

“What did you say” The New fabrics lecturer glared.

“I said I didn’t speak “ responded Opthalmia, poking Len in the ribs once more.

“All right, all right, that’s enough. Let’s all settle down. Power up your keyboards. This morning I intend to go through Havelock’s principles of molecular glass

The Fabrics lecturer watched as the class obediently found the required file. Despite her brusque manner the fabrics lecturer was really a very kind hearted woman. The demands of the job however required her to play the role of the archetypal feminine fussbudget.

She had been the resident lecturer here for almost two months now and had still not become used to the children, and doubted she ever would

Glancing up at the gallery area she could see Professor Hynd smiling at her from behind the crystal like partition. She could see several other people gazing down at the class. The expected Government funding visitors, she had no doubt.

Up in the gallery area and out of earshot of those below, the Ministers of State waited patiently for Dr Hynd to speak

The gallery was, in itself quite unremarkable. Being about 20 metres long and 12 metres wide. Along the length of the overlooking wall was a two-way video mirror.

At the far end of the gallery stood a simple grey box. It was a metre high, three metres long and about as deep as an old-fashioned filing cabinet from the 20th Century. Along its front were 20 evenly spaced switches.

Dr Hynd pressed briefly on a small button switch. Five light emitting devices flickered almost un-noticed on the side of the grey box.

The Video-Mirror screen cleared and the visitors could see the five children in the class-room below.

“Below you” began Dr Hynd, you can see five of our twenty children. All of them without exception work very hard”

“The blonde child”. He pointed to Opthalmia. “Is responsible for the spun glass formula. “Both an economic and an export order winner, you will no doubt agree”

The Ministers of State nodded collectively.

The taller of the Minsters of State. A man of exceptional physical stature and clearly the most senior of all the Ministers stepped a little closer to Dr Hynd. His physical presence shadowing the somewhat slight figure of the academic Dr Hynd.

“I think you will find your funding is safe Dr Hynd. Not increased of course but safe In fact, the cheque is in the post as they once used to say. He gave a little chuckle. There was a murmer of consent from the assembled ministers, though no-one found enough courage to laugh at the inappropriate humour.

“He who gives promptly gives twice” Quipped Hynd

The Ministers of State looked puzzled.

“Bacon” said Hynd “Francis Bacon”

“Quite” said the Ministers of State

Quite indeed thought Hynd.

The Ministers of State filed quietly out of the gallery down the hall and out of the buildings front door. No-one looked back

Some twenty minutes later the fabrics lecturer looked around the gallery door.

“Have they gone?”

Dr Hynd nodded

“The funding was not increased I take it” It was a statement not a question but the fabrics lecturer waited for the reply

“no it was not”

“Its wonderful what you do here, and Sightlines, that is what you call it is it not?

“It is” He replied. Then quite unexpectedly went into a further explanation

“Its quite a simple thing really. Each child is linked to Sightlines via a small microprocessor implant”

He paused, sighed then continued.

“The system generated images they see of their surroundings and of each other are fed directly to the appropriate brain centre. Just so long as they stay within transceiver range they will lead a tolerably normal life. Their perceptions are of course an illusion, but then life one might say is precisely that anyway”

The fabrics lecturer and the Dr looked down at the scarred mutilated and blind figures of the children dubbed by the tabloid videos as “Europes Shame The New Thalidomides”

Politics, Politics..Plus ca change thought Dr Hynd.

“ I suppose” he said out loud “We ought at least to be thankful that the cheque is in the post”.

But he said it without much conviction.

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Comments by other Members

Nell at 18:33 on 25 April 2005  Report this post
Hi manfriday, welcome to WriteWords. I printed this out and read it yesterday, and it's been haunting me ever since. I'm not sure what level of crit you want - it's difficult to know how gentle to be, but here goes.

This begins almost like a childrens' story; the mood seems gentle and possibly slightly humorous with the clever punning names. You've placed the reader in the future with the first para, so we know where we are, and I love the idea of the spun glass dress. The darkness creeps up on the reader so gradually that it took me by surprise, and I liked that. The children seem happy, so it's strange to come to that last section that explains the bleak truth of their lives and a future in which terrible things happen. Afterwards I wondered exactly how they were damaged - the story hints at drugs, yet we're not sure, and the mystery remains - the right way to end it I think. So I've been pondering that future and the lives of the two children - the way you've written this with details of mundane concerns like funding make it very real and believable. There are typos - missing question marks, full stops, and I noticed that a particular error keeps cropping up - ie a full stop or no punctuation after speech instead of a comma - see example below.

"Please Miss". Said Len String, "I think..." ("Please Miss, said Len String, "I think...")

This rule holds good even after an exclamation or question mark which is said to be 'embedded' when used like this and is not followed by a capital letter - whatever Word tells you.

I did like your story very much though, and it feels as though it could be the start of something bigger. Write on.


manfriday at 09:51 on 26 April 2005  Report this post


Thank you for liking my story. Thank you also for the critique.

Vis a Vis the punctuation, I do tend to be a bit careless with that. Actually I wrote that story a number of years ago and a copy of that, along with other stories lay in the loft gathering dust.

I had originally intended that the children were damaged by drugs. Drugs however that had been administered during the pregnancy and were intended to increase "intelligence." From time to time I had been reading about parents who were trying to maximise the brightness of their children by such things as playing Mozart during pregnancy etc etc.

Dr Hynd had participated in the injecting drugs activity, the results of which would damage his own child (Opthalmia Optima)

It was also to an extent another "Thalidomide" disaster.

Dr Hynd would subsequently find a way to help the children lead better lives. However funding to do this would limit the children to be helped, to those who could make a significant contribution to society.

The ministers of state of course represent the kind of government one gets when the political raison d'etere becomes money and not compassion.

As you can see I decided just to write about the outcome rather than the lead up to it. I thought it might have more effect if I allowed the reader to figure it out.

I intend to get a copy of the Writers and Artists Year Book, and try my hand at a bit more writing..

May I ask would there be a magazine, periodical that it might be a sensible home for this particular short story.

Best Regards


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