You Can Only See
By Charles Matthias
I've wanted to write a story like this for quite some time!
The room was abuzz with murmurs from the press gathered. Peter Gillvanny clutched his pad and pencil in his lap as he sat in the front row, legs crossed. That ape Carter from the Gazette was sitting next to him, his breath foul from onions. Ever since he’d arrived at the impromptu press room that had been set up at the college campus, he’d had to put up with Carter’s asinine pretensions to being a reporter. He openly pondered the ridiculous, always seeking Gillvanny’s input, even when it was clear none was forthcoming.
The truth of the matter was that Gillvanny was not happy to be there. His editor had snatched him off the Freemont killings to cover some scientific bit of news that was breaking. As he’d taken some science courses while in college getting his journalism degree, he found himself the one summoned anytime anything remotely scientific was discussed. He hated it, as most of the time he understood what he was writing about as much as anyone reading it would.
Gillvanny stretched his legs then, looking at the empty stage, studiously ignoring whatever drivel Carter was mumbling into his right ear. The stage was only a foot off the ground, made from panelled wood. Power outlets abutted the wall, which was a good fifteen feet from the lip of the stage. Somebody had set up a microphone in the front centre.
“So, Peter,” Carter said, th use of his name catching his ear. “What do you think this is all about?”
Gillvanny stared at the wiry man, his own pencil and notepad clutched firmly in his hands. He’d already scribbled a few notes down, most of them with a liberal dose of question marks. “I don’t know,” he said in reply, his voice curt. “We’ll soon find out,” he added after a brief glance at his watch.
At one end of the stage was a pair of double doors. The transom above was the type that could be swung out of the way if necessary. Gillvanny stretched then, and stifled a yawn. Glancing backwards he could see that several of the networks had stationed cameras in the back. A jumble of cables crawled out the doors of this impromptu studio. Whatever it was that was to be announced, it had to be pretty big, Gillvanny realized.
And then, just as he turned to sit back in his seat, the double doors opened up. Coming through first was a tall dark skinned man carrying a clipboard, and looking nervously. He smiled to everyone in attendance a bit anxiously, and then stepped over to the microphone. He tapped it once, and then when it did not sound, he flipped the switch. Feedback struck them for a moment, and then it ebbed away. Gillvanny grimaced as he gripped his pencil firmly in his hand, ready to write.
“If you will give us just a few more minutes, we will be underway,” the man who must have been the scientist said. He was of medium build, in his fifties, but had a bookish appearance that was easy to recognize.
Two other men came in through the doors then. They removed the bar in between the doors, and after setting that aside, swung the transom out of the way. They left back into the darkened hall beyond the doorway, and then the sound of something heavy being wheeled could be heard. Gillvanny leaned forward a bit to see what it was, but all he could see was a dark tarp. The object was pushed into the room. The scientist looked very nervous, fretting as parts of the tarp covering whatever it was were scrapped against the side of the door frame.
But the object, whatever it was, was safely moved into the room. The two men left the tarp in place for the moment, returning to the hall. They then wheeled a large cart onto the stage. Two large rectangular devices with two circular nodes, one on each end, were set on the cart. “Those look like oversized car batteries,” Carter murmured. Gillvanny had to agree at that. Whatever the device was, it looked like it required quite a bit of juice.
The scientist’s hands were shaking slightly as he stepped to the microphone, smiling nervously. “Ladies and gentlemen of the press, I have to report an amazing discovery to you today. I, Dr. Michael Ball, have been working to understand the nature of consciousness.” Gillvanny raised one eyebrow at that, even as he wrote down what was being said in shorthand.
“I had no idea where my work was going to take me,” Ball said, his voice trembling. It was clear he would be more comfortable behind a stack of books. “But let me tell you what we do now understand about consciousness itself.”
Dr. Ball glanced at the two men who had helped him. They were busy moving the two large batteries from the crate to either side of whatever was under the tarp. The scientist turned back to the podium, his face flushed. “At first we thought it was an entirely chemical process, but as the work of more in my field began to make clear, chemical and electrical processes in the brain could not account for all that was occurring. I and other like minded scientists began to theorize that there may be an element that our current scientific understanding could not explain.”
Carter raised his hand then and asked in a loud voice, “Are you saying that there is a soul?”
Dr. Ball tensed then, but shook his head, large eyes closing briefly. “No, I am not saying that, but there does appear to be an element to consciousness that we cannot as of yet explain. The existence of a soul is but one possible explanation. But a theory of mine that I have been experimenting with for a number of years was that each consciousness was connected both to all consciousness, as much as it is to the physical body and world. This connection is evidenced strongly by those familiar with one another. The ability to recognize moods and behaviours develops naturally over time given enough exposure. It has been my belief that the connection between consciousness also plays a part in this.
“The central question I have spent the last ten years exploring was whether it was possible to strengthen the connection between consciousness.” Gillvanny looked at him skeptically then. This all sounded like pop science to him, though he knew his editor would eat it up like a dog with a milkbone.
Dr. Ball glanced down at his clipboard for a moment, his smile emerging and disappearing from his face in rapid succession. “I knew the physical side to the equation, so what I have attempted to do was to exaggerate that reaction, to see what it would accomplish on the consciousness level. What I found was, well, unexpected.”
Gillvanny raised his hand then, his grimace firm. “Dr. Ball, just what did you hope to accomplish by this?”
The scientist twisted his head suddenly and held out his hands in supplication. “To help everyone understand each other better. If our conscious selves could reach out more tangibly to one another, then all the strengths and talents we each have individually could have been pooled.”
“So you think it could have been used to help solve many of the problems facing today’s society?” Carter asked. Gillvanny kept himself from snorting in derision. This was about as ridiculous as it came.
“That was my hope, yes,” Dr. Ball admitted.
“But what did you accomplish?” another voice from the crowd asked.
Dr. Ball tensed and sucked in his breath. “We discovered a way to travel back in time.”
Gillvanny almost let out a bark of laughter, his pencil tip nearly breaking as he started. He was not alone in this, though the hushed whispers of astonishment gave way to a veritable incomprehensible chorus of questions. The scientist was quite obviously intimidated by this, and practically shrank back from the microphone.
One of his two aids came up behind him, a large man with dark hair and a cleft chin. “One at a time please,” he said, voice carrying across the room without benefit of the microphone.
“Yes, one at a time please,” Dr. Ball echoed, regaining his composure. Remebering their grade school lessons, the members of the press resorted to raising their hands. Gillvanny raised his own, his momentary derision passing to skepticism and wonder. Ball pointed at him first, and he felt a bit of smugness in that.
“Dr. Ball, just how exactly did you manage to do that?”
Ball looked back at the tarp covering the device that they’d brought in through the double doors. “Well, I am my machinists have been working on a device intent on stimulating the chemical and electrical aspects that we knew were part of the consciousness, or at least that we had theorized were its byproducts. The machine does this in a manner that does not cause any harm to the brain or to the body. We have run many tests, and in each one, no damage has resulted. The unexpected side effect though was that those of us that have used the machine found our consciousness transported back in time.”
Carter interrupted then, his voice eager, “How do you go back in time?”
Ball took another deep breath, glancing back at the tarp. The two men with him began to unwrap the tarp, from the top. It looked like a fairly large metal box from Gillvanny’s perspective. “Your conscious self will latch onto the conscious self of another being in a previous day and age. You can see through their eyes, but otherwise you do not interact in that time."
“So there is no worry about causing any paradox?” Carter shouted out.
“I do not believe so. All we have ever been able to do is watch.”
Dr. Ball pointed to somebody further back, and a voice asked, “Will the person you are connected to know that you are there?”
The scientist blinked and shook his head. “I do not believe so. At present, none of our experiments has lead us to believe that the host will know that he or she is a host. At best, we suspect they may feel something strange, but will not know what, and so will ignore it.”
Gillvanny raised his hand then, leaning back a bit in his chair. The two men had uncovered most of the machine. Though it had been years since he’d had hands on experience with scientific devices, he could tell that it appeared simply to be a regulator for electrical circuits, albeit one designed on a far grander scale than anything he’d fiddled with in his college days.
He was recognized by Dr. Ball after a moment, and then he asked calmly and skeptically, “How do you know you have travelled through time?”
This appeared to irritate him, though Gillvanny was used to irritating people. Rather testily, Ball replied, “I know because while watching through the eyes of the individuals I’ve connected with, I saw several indications that I was seeing past events. For instance, I found myself at an Elvis Presley concert one time I went back. Another time I was caught in a battle in the Bronze Age. Those sorts of things do not happen anymore.”
Gillvanny did not wait to be recognized this time. “So, how do you get back?”
Dr. Ball appeared more agreeable once more, “When you go, you are leaving your body. You will feel a connection to it though, and you simply will yourself to return to your home. It is like a cord, an umbilical if you will that keeps you tied. Everyone who has gone back has spoken of it the same way.”
Carter raised his hand now, his hands eager. “You said that you can only see. Do you experience any other senses?”
Dr. Ball shook his head. “No, at least we never have so far in our experiments. As most of our sensory input comes from sight, that is the one our consciousness most strongly adheres to. I suppose if by luck one inhabited the body of blind man, you might be able to hear what was occurring around you, but so far that has not happened.”
Another voice from the audience then asked. “Can you go to the future?”
“I don’t know,” Dr. Ball admitted, which led to some furious scribbling on the part of Gillvanny and those around him. “So far, we have only been able to go back in time. I do not know why this is so yet. We need more time to experiment before we will know for sure.”
Gillvanny raised his hand in the air then, curiosity beginning to fill his mind. “So, if you are not certain, why have you called this press conference now?”
Dr. Ball seemed to flinch at the question. “If we reveal that we have this technique, then we will certainly be granted more money, and more people will join my work here, thus providing for a greater chance to make discoveries. That was my hope at least.”
The two men had removed the last of the tarp. In the centre was a cushioned seat with arm rests. A form fitting helmet was at the back, while several medical monitoring equipment was arrayed along side. It was obvious that only one at a time could use the machine. Gillvanny wondered to himself whether this was the only one built so far. And then another thought struck him. He raised his hand once more. “How long can you go back for?”
But the dark-skinned scientist simply shrugged. “We do not know. I have stayed back for nearly a full hour before, but more testing needs to be done to ascertain whether there is a limit.”
“Isn’t that rather dangerous?” somebody from the far back called out.
“Very dangerous,” Dr. Ball agreed. “Which is why we need to have adequate funding to provide compensation to any volunteer we have.”
Gillvanny found his skepticism beginning to melt. Why would this Dr. Ball come here and make this announcement if the machine did not in fact work? But how well did it work, and when could it take him? Raising his hand once more, he put more emphasis into his skepticism. “How accurate is this device? Can it take me to a specific date, or is it more haphazard. What sort of ballpark date-wise are we looking at with this?”
Dr. Ball turned to look back at the machine. His two assistants were making sure all the connections were secure. After a moment they began to flip a few switches to the back, and a soft electric hum began to fill the air. “It is not very accurate at this point. We have not yet done enough testing to determine just what the triggering mechanism for the time period is. We do know that if the subject concentrates on a specific target they are interested in, then their chances of hitting it are far greater. But there is still much work to be done.”
Carter managed to raise his hand first. “What happens if the host dies while somebody is watching through them?”
It was obvious that the scientist did not like that thought one bit. “We do not know and have no intention of finding out if we can help it. I hope that it would just result in the subject returning to his own body, but we simply do not yet know.”
“What sort of host bodies can you see through?” Gillvanny asked then, not bothering to wait his turn.
Dr. Ball glanced backwards towards one of his two assistants, the taller of the two, with a crewcut. “Mr. Keck here says that he has seen through the eyes of a dog one time he went back.”
At the mention of his name, Keck stood up straighter, quite surprised at this revelation. He nodded emphatically, though did not speak. However, the scientist waved him closer, and he stepped to the microphone. “Um, yes, I did. I, um, was just thinking about my dog, and well.” He trailed off then, obviously even more uncomfortable speaking in front of others than Dr. Ball was.
Questions were shouted out again as most of the reporters furiously scribbled this new tidbit down. Gillvanny tapped his pen on his pad thoughtfully, unable to help but wonder about this new aspect. If one could see through the eyes of a dog, what did that say about their machine? What did it say about consciousness? Even as Dr. Ball tried to sort through the barrage of questions, Gillvanny slowly raised his hand, waiting to be recognised.
After Carter managed to ask whether Keck only saw in black and white, Gillvanny was finally noticed and signalled. In a slow measured voice, he asked, “If the consciousness of a man and a dog can be connected via this device of yours, then what other sorts of consciousness do you think you could connect? Is it anything that is alive? And incidentally, just what do you call that device of yours?”
Dr. Ball was startled once again by his question. “Name? Well, we haven’t named it officially yet. We nicknamed it Timmy, for Time Machine, but that’s all.” Gillvanny narrowed his eyes, uncertain how his readers would react at hearing that the first working time machine was called Timmy.
“As to what sort of consciousness you can reach, we do not yet know. My theory is this. Consciousness is attracted to similar consciousness. So, unless you think otherwise when Timmy is activated, you will see through another human’s eyes.”
“So you could not see anything predating human history with this machine?”
“You could,” Ball said, gripping the microphone tightly with one hand. “You would just have to focus on the creature you wanted to view through, and make sure they are not around today.”
“Have you tried to do any of this?" Carter managed to ask before Gillvanny could speak again.
Dr. Ball shook his head. “No, but that is one of the tests we wish to run once we have more funding.”
Gillvanny still has his hand up though, and after another pointless question about Keck’s experience through the eyes of a dog, probably from a tabloid, though he could not see who asked the question, he was selected again. “Dr. Ball, how exactly do you verify your tests? How do you know if you have been successful?”
“The one who goes through describes what they saw, and that is how we know.”
“So you have no way of monitoring their experience from this side?”
“Not yet. We have no way to read minds either. We can only observe the chemical reactions. Besides, no matter how long the consciousness is being a voyeur, from our point of view they are gone for only a few seconds.”
“Can’t you record what they see?” somebody from the back asked.
Dr. Ball stared back at him as if he’d just said that the Earth was flat. “Their consciousness is not a VCR. We cannot record what it has seen and play it back to our heart’s content. We have to use what they say as proof.”
Raising his hand once more, Gillvanny began to let the smug expression he felt inside begin to show. He knew that Dr. Ball would be eager to let him ask questions, as his actually allowed him to talk about his device, this Timmy. And as he expected, the scientist quickly pointed towards him in his front row seat. “Now, Dr. Ball. If as you say, the only way that we can be certain this device is working is to use it ourselves, how will the world know that it works if not tested and verified by an outside user who has no stake in your success?”
This flustered Ball quite visibly. Indignantly, he set his hands on his hips. “Why in the world would you have reason to doubt me?”
“This sounds all very impressive,” Gillvanny admitted blandly, almost disinterestedly, “but isn’t the mainstay of science the ability to observe repeatable patterns? If there is no observability in your device, of what use is it? For all we know, it could induce an elaborate hallucination.”
“Just what are you suggesting?” Ball declared hotly, his eyes narrowing.
“That if you want your funding, then you better have more proof than what you have given us. We are easily impressed and overwhelmed by even the hint of such a scientific discovery that you purport to make. But to show that this device truly works, you need somebody who is not learned in these affairs to report accurately on details he could not possibly know, and to do so without any prompting.”
Dr. Ball continued to stand akimbo at the microphone. Keck and the other man were glaring ever so slightly at Gillvanny, but he ignored them. Beside Gillvanny, Carter was furiously writing down, though his face was filled with shock. It was not often that such skepticism was apparent in a journalist these days. But skepticism was like any tool, and Gillvanny knew how to use it well.
“How do you suggest I accomplish this?” Dr. Ball asked testily.
Gillvanny leaned back and smiled. “Allow myself to use the device.” There was a sharp intake of breath at this. Ball began to object, but Gillvanny cut him off. “I obviously have no stake in your success. And I do believe I approach this with the requisite degree of skepticism. I am not learned in any ancient history, or prehistory. I do not understand the limitations of this device, nor do I go into this expecting anything in particulr to occur. You could not ask for a more perfect subject.
“Further,” at this Gillvanny leaned forward, waving the end of his pencil in the air, “I am willing, and I am not going to hold you responsible for whatever may happen. I offer this risk free to you. I will take all of it myself.”
Dr. Ball shook his head still. “I cannot do that, you don’t know what you are getting into.”
“But I do,” Gillvanny said, standing up then. Keck moved to intercept him, but Gillvanny did not yet step forward. “I am challenging your assertion that this device works. And I am offering myself as a test subject. I waive all legal rights to my person for the duration of this test. If it works, you have nothing to lose.” And everything if it does not, but Gillvanny knew he did not have to say it. The consternation in the scientist’s face told him clearly that Ball knew it as well.
Dr. Ball grimaced and stepped back from the microphone, gesturing with one hand towards the seat set in the machine. “All right then, step into Timmy, Mr?”
“Peter Gillvanny,” he smiled, extending his hand as he stepped up on stage. The cameras were trained upon him. While he had never been seen outside of the byline, he knew that he’d likely be on the big screen for years to come now. The networks would snatch him up in a heartbeat after this. He could see several jealous faces amongst the crowd, Carter’s included.
Ball shook the hand and stepped out of the way. Keck was still glaring sullenly at him, as was the other man, but they helped him into the chair. It was comfortable enough, though stiff. He laid his head back, the drone of Timmy’s innards humming in his ears. “Now,” Dr. Ball said as he took his place back at the microphone. “My assistants will place the needles in his neck. Do not worry, Mr. Gillvanny, you will not feel a thing. They are too small for your nerves to detect.”
“Sort of like acupuncture?” Gillvanny asked, even as he felt soft plastic press against either side of his neck. Though he felt a strange sense of discomfort, he did not feel the pinprick of anything sharp against his flesh.
Ball’s face flushed with slight annoyance but he nodded. “Yes. If you will just close your eyes and relax, we’ll get underway. For Timmy to work, you must be calm. The chemicals will sooth your mind and help you forget the rest of your body. In a minute we will activate the fields that will release your consciousness and send it where you wish. Keep in mind something that you wish to see, something in the past that you can bring back with you and tell us about. What are you thinking about?”
Smiling ever so slightly, he said, “I’ll tell you when I get back.”
“Fair enough. Now just concentrate on your thoughts. In a minute, you’ll be there.” And then Ball’s voice was no longer directed at him, but at the other members of the press. Gillvanny ignored it of course, determined to follow the instructions he had been given. Now he had to focus on what he wished to see. But what from the past could he speak about, what would people recognize, but at the same time, may not know all that there was to know about?
It was the first thing that came to mind, something that had been trembling at the edges of it for some time now. Dinosaurs. He tried not to smile. In fact, he realized he was having a hard time feeling any part of his body anymore. Whatever chemicals they were pumping into him were doing a fine job of that. It was strange and frightening at the same time to realize that he could no longer feel the chair beneath him, or even feel where his hands might be. His arms simply vanished into empty space.
But, he had to remain focussed. Before his teenage years, he’d had a poster over his bed featuring artists’ realizations of several dinosaurs. He could never remember their names, but he remembered the way they looked, large lizards, some on two feet, others lumbering about on four. Long claws and sharp fangs, or hard nails and beaks. Even as the sensation of his chest, his very heart beating disappeared, he tried to settle on just one of them, imagining from their long tail to powerful hips, and sloping back.
Gillvanny felt the creeping darkness and absence of his body begin to wear upon his mind. He tried to open his eyes, but could no longer touch them with his mind, as if he were cut off from all tat he was. Trying not to scream in fear, he kept that image in focus, locked as he was in his own mind. It was too late now to go back he rationalized, assuaging that darkness, though it crept forward, determined to swallow him. Yet somehow, even as he did so, he still saw that image of the dinosaur, one of the leaf eaters he thought. The darkness was not eating away there.
Gillvanny wondered as he pondered the saurian shape. Was this how he would be connected to the dinosaur? The blackness forcing him from his own body to inhabit this other creatures’s? If that was so, what would happen if he did not think of anything at all? Even as he dwelt on that possibility, he glanced at the coming darkness as it began to eat away at his mind. And with terrible fear turned himself back to that dinosaur.
And then, Gillvanny could feel the blackness pressing all about him, squeezing tighter and tighter. Dinosuar, dinosuar, he repeated to himself, that one focus his only remaining bit of light in the emptiness of the void. With a terrible lurch that tore him and stretched him, he felt the blackness recede, and his mind flash in brutal agony.
The moment passed quickly though, and Gillvanny realized he was staring at blue-green water only inches from his eyes. The rippling was quite erratic, as something large and greenish-brown disturbed it in rocking motions. No sound came to him, no sensation of the water, or of the air about him. No scent or taste either, only the sight of the rippling. The only other thing that Gillvanny was aware of was what felt like a rope tied about his middle, holding him back away from the sight.
He tried to blink, but of course accomplished nothing. With a start, Gillvanny realized that everything that Dr. Ball had said was true. Here he was staring through the eyes of a dinosaur! He could now see into the water itself, see the waving plants that were rooted beneath the surface, strange moss-like growths unlike anything he’d ever before witnessed. Out of the corner of the creature’s eyes he could see the gentle stream meandering away, lumbering figures perched next to his host. They were also dinosaurs, brown-green scaled hides smeared by muddy grime. Behind their head was a slight protrusion like a crest, short arms of a fair length ended in stubby digits that were of little use. He could see no more than that.
Gillvanny felt as if he were sitting agape as he watched, realizing that the colours he was seeing were strangely off. He could not quite understand how, but they appeared muted, almost distorted, as if he were wearing a veil. He tried to pull closer to that sight, but the rope clinging to him did not have much give. With a heave of sorts, he dragged himself fuller into that vision, feeling something soft and pliant before him. It was like a cushion, dimpling slightly, but never enough.
As he pushed against that cushion, Gillvanny realized that he could hear the sounds of honking and grunting, faint but audible. Had his conscious self a heart, it would have been pounding in excitement. Here he was, the first man to ever see a dinosaur. He knew that his future was secure. He would be able to write dinosaur books that would sell in a way paleontologists could only dream of. Networks would pay millions of dollars for the right to have him lead their broadcast. The reporter who was willing to go any length to get a story, that was Peter Gillvanny.
The rope pulled him backwards, but he continued to press against that strange cushion that blocked him from the dinosaur’s senses. The more he pressed around within it, the more he could observe. A faint brush of water over scales, rough yet smooth. The mud between thick toes, squishing upwards as his host’s ponderous weight bore down upon the earth. The wet feel of the plants upon a tongue as thick as his head, uprooted by pliant lips. The scent of musky earth and of unwashed bodies, strange intoxicating aromas the likes of which he could never have imagined.
Gillvanny could almost feel himself inside the hosts’s flesh, the way the muscles were moving, powerful and thick. He could feel the jaw moving as if it were his own. Even the tail, lifted high as it was, was in those moments his tail. All around him, the body of the dinosaur, filled him, surrounding him. The cushion wrapped about the rope holding him fast, the two completely mixed. Every pinprick upon the dinosaur’s scaly hide he could feel. With a sudden exultation, Gillvanny raised the dinosaur’s neck, and it responded, doing as he instructed.
A strange forest was visible just beyond the herd of dinosaurs he was a part of, though otherwise a low lying grass filled the field. This sight captured his attention for only a moment, as in the very next came the realization that something else was absent. Gillvanny could not feel either the cushion or the rope. Closing the dinosaur’s eyes, he frantically began to search for both, but all that was there was his own mind. Everything else was gone. Opening his eyes again, he saw the dinosaurs and that prehistoric landscape. Fright filled him, and he kept blinking, willing the sight to disappear, eagerly reaching for that rope, but it was gone, the cushion he’d pressed against with it.
A sudden evocation in the distance distracted him, keeping him from total panic just then. The rest of the heard turned their heads in the direction of the sonic blast, and then as one began to run along the field. Gillvanny was frozen, the body no longer acting of its own accord, as if there was nothing left to guide it.
Blinking once again, Gillvanny recognized the creature that had burst from the trees, giving another titanic roar. It was one of the carnivorous dinosaurs. Turning his head to look at the rest of the herd, Gillvanny did his best to run, unable to even think about the missing rope anymore. At first he stumbled, but soon, his mind understood how to move the body, and he ran harder than he ever had in his life, the thundering of the rest of the herd not too far ahead of them. All he could do now was hope that he caught up.
Dr. Ball was quite surprised when Gillvanny lunged out of the chair giving off a horrible shriek of confusion and fright.
End You Can Only See
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