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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fourth Millennium (12)


8 The One That Got Away

Optical transplant surgery was relatively uncommon in 30th century St. George. Those unfortunate enough to lose their eyesight, even their eyes, faced an extremely expensive course of treatment, with no guarantee whatsoever, of success. Therefore, such procedures were the unfortunate luxury of the extremely affluent. Even for those who possessed the wherewithal to squander on executive, vanity gadgetry, which was how most people classified artificial eyes, it presented a gamble that few were prepared to take. It was an extremely risky operation, requiring as it did, much more than merely a successful graft to the optic nerve. Other considerations to take into account, included compatibility with the unique function of each individual’s visual cortex, perception of images, and each individual brain’s sensitivity to image definition. Effects or more accurately, defects, that patients could expect to experience, or suffer, covered the entire range of the characteristics of photographic filters. Success or failure of the operation was not gauged so much in terms of whether or not it actually provided any sort of vision, but in terms of the longevity of the laboratory developed tissues. The results of the surgery varied vastly, in terms of quality and longevity.
As yet, a lifetime of anything, from a few hours to several months was considered the ‘rule’. The exception was perfect vision for the remaining lifetime of the patient; an unprecedented achievement, until now, when it seemed to apply in the case of just one, solitary recipient. Perfect and permanent ability to see once more, was what he could potentially and quite literally expect to look forward to.
Rejection, which was more generally the outcome, was not detectable until after the new eyes had been positioned permanently.
The art, or science, of artificial generation of tissues, had been far from perfected, but as all forms of cloning had been vehemently opposed by the ultra-religious, ethical and moral, pressure groups that formed the solid coalition government, it was the only available option. With cloning outlawed, there was never going to be any opposition to the artificial techniques, but the process had taken decades to develop to even a less than satisfactory standard.
For Marc; full name, Marcel Carpenter, the surgical procedure had been a complete success, as far as anybody was able to tell. A mere two hours under the knife, followed by three days of tests and observation to ensure correct function; much longer than most patients new eyes survived. This seemed a small price to pay for his unique success story. The monetary cost, however, was a staggering, two million Dollars.
Fortunately for Marc, he was well capable of footing the equally unprecedented medical bill.
The average income in Port Elizabeth, the capital city of the island nation of St. George, was just one thousand dollars; double the national average in the democratically governed independent republic. There were no poor people among the fifty million plus inhabitants of the island. Full employment had always been the proud boast of every president in almost five hundred years of modern history.
In 2965, the year of Marc’s operation, one thousand dollars could buy a brand new, family Hoverjet; the trackless, self-navigating, popular conveyance of the time. Ten thousand could purchase a six-room apartment in a respectable neighbourhood of any major centre of population. However, none of these expenses were of concern to Marc. He had been born into money.
His father, who had been killed in the skiing accident that led to Marc’s own hospitalisation, had been the president of Transys, a company of trend analysis experts, whose job it was to compare and contrast products versus produce. In other words, the complete spectrum of attitudes; pro’s and cons, likes and dislikes; preferences, to modern, genetically modified foodstuffs, or natural, traditionally yielded food with its erratic variation in quality and quantity, availability and price.
By only nineteen years of age, Marc was already number one in his field of expertise. The work of his father’s company was wholeheartedly supported, and backed, by the government, who advocated the promotion of the ‘natural’, and a return to more traditional values, when it came to lifestyle choices.
As a direct result of his father’s death, Marc was the natural successor to the day to day running of the organisation; a task for which he required the use of his eyes. From being a very rich and successful employee of the company, he became the billionaire owner, overnight. This was thanks, in no small measure, to the success of his eye surgery. He had been the youngest patient to undergo the procedure, which many doctors attributed to its success.
By 2969, at the age of twenty three, he had put behind him, all fears of suffering any side effects or rejection, and had once again, become involved in a wide range of physical and sporting activities; especially his passion for water sports.
It was in this year that Marc accepted the challenge to participate in the single-handed powerboat circuit of the two thousand kilometre expanse of sea to the ‘exclusion zone’, that separated the territory of St. George, from the rest of the world; the Nation.
The ‘exclusion zone’, applied by the ‘authorities’ of the Nation, more than a hundred years previously, at the time of the ‘Purges’, was a ‘Ring’ of computer generated ‘protection’ in the form of a cloud of dense fog, spanning a further two thousand kilometres. Inside the ‘Ring’, almost zero visibility combined with the most severe weather conditions, and a highly sophisticated intruder detection system, ensuring that neither passage, nor aerial attempts to cross or attack the barrier, were possible.
Marc had embarked upon his ‘adventure of a lifetime’ in perfectly calm conditions; confident of victory, in what was billed as the ‘ultimate test of endurance’.
Difficulties were the major theme of Marc’s attempt to prove his return to full visual awareness. Just days into the race, he lost his main source of power, when the outboard propulsion inlet encountered a mass of submerged seaweed-like vegetation, and the internal components of the housing became entangled. The entire unit was ripped away, detaching the integral auto-navigational console. Marc would have to manoeuvre the boat physically, relying on the position of the sun, by day, to maintain his course. The star filled sky at night was of no practical help to him; its usefulness as a directional aid, having become long redundant, as a result of the advances in computerised, auto-tracking technology. The extent of modern reliance on micro-particle devices meant that neither Marc nor his boat possessed even a compass. Communication with St. George was now impossible, and only close proximity to his fellow competitors, could have alerted them to his predicament But Marc was already several kilometres off course, meaning that a similar misfortune, by another vessel, would be the only way in which his condition could be acknowledged.
Using only his temporary back-up power cells, and drift mode, emergency propulsion unit, he was able to make only limited further progress. Without any other artificial power source, his boat drifted ominously closer to the ‘Ring’.

The solid wall of darkness that enveloped him rendered his vision ineffective, once more, and he was unable to see the dangers that the ‘Ring’ held.
Gigantic waves tossed his boat, relentlessly. The ‘ultimate test of endurance’ had been a minor inconvenience, compared to the physical as well as mental torture conditions inside the ‘Ring’ dealt him. Anything not integrated into the virtually indestructible structure of the vessel was washed, blown, or beaten away by the artificially intensified elemental forces.
Marc himself was strapped inside his sleeping hatch, in a desperate bid for survival. Much of his drinking water, and large quantities of his nutrition capsules were stored just a couple of metres below where he was lying, but were, effectively, inaccessible, such was the unabating ferocity of the prevailing conditions. Marc attempted to ration himself wisely with the emergency supplies, stored within his coffin-like compartment, hoping optimistically that his ordeal would soon come to an end. He remained dubiously confident that the natural buoyancy of the materials from which the hull of the boat had been manufactured, could survive the tempest, but it was his own chances of survival that were of increasing concern to him, as days became weeks, and supplies became depleted. Eventually, Marc lost all track of time, space, and reason as he was forced to endure all the mental, as well as physical, effects of malnutrition and dehydration.
Just twenty years previously, even close proximity to the ‘Ring’, would have triggered its highly sophisticated, early-warning, defence mechanism, rendering illegal entry into the zone, impossible. If the ‘impossible’ had ever been achieved, summary destruction would have been a matter of course, as these systems were activated. Exposure to the hurricane force winds, driving rain, and mountainous waves, would have been short lived and terrifying experiences, as the additional onslaught of laser guided Micromax missiles took devastating effect.
Now that the mutual ignorance and apathy of the authorities of the planet’s two remaining land masses, towards each other had rendered continuous vigilance irrelevant, the defence mechanisms had been partially dismantled, in a cost-cutting measure by the Nation.

To be continued

Copyright © Stanislaw Skibinski

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