I didn’t mean to freak Ernie out. Usually he’s so nonchalant about everything I guess I thought he’d have some whimsical angle about me losing my eyesight. I thought he’d make light of my situation so that I’d end up feeling almost silly about the whole thing, so that I could relax enough to go wake my parents and tell them what’s happened. Instead I just feel worse. Ernie had sounded so…scared. Like when you’re horsing around with your friends at the mall and one of you falls down the stairs and starts bleeding all over the floor in front of GameStop. Everyone in your group takes off running because they don’t want to have to stay and listen to the crying. They don’t want to get in trouble. And even though you know better, you leave too, because you’d much rather hear the story later than try to stop the bleeding yourself, possibly fuck it up so that your friend has to get his leg amputated at the hospital afterward. You know what I mean, right? That’s how I feel right now.
Except I can’t run away from myself.
And I have absolutely no clue how to get rid of the darkness surrounding me.
They say your sense of hearing becomes sharper when you’re blind. It’s true. I can hear everything now, every rustle, every whisper, the muffled clicks of my computer’s hard drive, the creak of my office chair beneath me. These are things I’ve heard before but never noticed. Their meaning now is momentous.
I sit still for a few minutes, listening closely for Mini-Theo. He’s probably hiding from me because he knows he’s gotten me in big trouble. After all, he was the one who insisted I use the New Eyes in the first place. Oh, why did I listen to him? He’s not even real…is he? I mean, did Jan really see him that day I brought him to school with me, or was it me imagining that he did—
—I’m grasping at tangents. I’m trying not to notice that my hands are trembling and my heart is racing. I’m burning up and yet not sweating. This is ridiculous. Why can’t I simply get up and go tell my parents? I could let it all out, then. I could just cry and sob while they get dressed, find their keys, take me out to the car; I could fall asleep in the backseat as they whisper reassuringly that everything is going to be all right. On waking I’d be in good hands, surrounded by doctors, specialists, people to make me feel better.
“But what about what happens after?” Mini-Theo asks softly.
I swivel in my seat, frown in the direction of his voice. “There you are. Traitor.”
“Me? A traitor? Hardly!”
“This whole thing was your idea.”
“I was just trying to get you to think and act more proactively. And if you want to get technical, yes, it was my suggestion to try the New Eyes—and it would’ve worked, too, if you hadn’t pissed your pants a whole two days later. The Old Eyes were your doing, not mine. But let’s not get off task here. My original question is still valid: What happens after?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I lie.
“What happens when—if—the doctors fix your eyes and you’ve recovered well enough for your parents to ask you to explain yourself—”
“I don’t want to hear it.”
“They’ll pity you, that’s what. They’ll use your weakness to dig up all the dirt on you, expose all the cracks and crevices of your facade. They’ll treat you like the twelve-year-old you really are.”
I want to swat at him, but I can’t see exactly where he is. And besides, he’s right. I hate being the needy kid, the fragile only child who’s afraid of everything and everyone. Blowing my cover story now would be suicide. But how do I keep this a secret? And, besides the blindness thing, how can I maintain the illusion that my noggin is improving, that my sessions with Chandelier are working, that I’m once again getting a full eight hours of sleep each night?
Beta’s got to know something. I mean, he’s figured out how to store his entire self on a server. Maybe there’s a chance he also knows how to bring sight to the blind.
My instinct is to reach for the mouse—duh, I can’t see. I start hitting the Tab key, trying to visualize in my head what the layout of my desktop is. It’s wishful thinking, though. There’s no way to know which buttons are active in which windows. Getting to Ernie’s had been easy the last time because his window had already been active from when he’d downloaded into my room. Now it’s all chance.
Fumbling. A pissed off voice (not Beta’s) asking, “What the fuck?”
Good! At least I know I’m tabbing through my SMN buddy list (and not just through the icons on my desktop)!
Snoring, followed by a quick cough, the rustle of a blanket, Summer’s sleepy voice— “Theo? Are you still awake—have you kicked Beta out yet?”
I’m about to call out Beta’s name again when suddenly I feel the keyboard slipping out from beneath my hands.
“For Christ’s sake,” Mini-Theo grunts. “Let me do it.”
I hear him moving the mouse and pounding a few keys with his fists. It must be tedious, considering his diminutive size, but worth the wait, as in a moment I hear Beta’s voice coming through my speakers:
“Yo, little dude, what’s—holy fuck.”
Holy eff is right. “Oh, Beta, thank goodness! I need your help. I…I think my Old Eyes messed up my original eyes.”
“Yeah, I can see that. I…holy fuck.”
I can hear it in his voice: He’s never seen this before. He’s never talked to someone in the Five Percent Side-Effects Club, of which I’m a member.
It takes all my willpower not to burst into tears as I ask, “Can you do anything for me?”
Beta sighs. “Shit, no way. I’m just a programmer—nanotech is programming and biology and, in your case, ophthalmology.”
“Oh.” Well, that settles it. Dark glasses and a cane for me—
“But I might know someone who can help you.”
My hopes do a cautious about turn. “Yeah?”
“I have to warn you, though, he’s an old dude. He gets grumpy when people wake him up in the middle of the night.”
“I’ll take that chance,” I say.