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The Lie that saved the World Chapter 11: The eye of the storm

by VengefulReaper


Warning: This work has been rated 16+.

A few hours earlier

Ethan squinted, the blinding light from the med bay theater shining down on his face. He lay flat on a bed with Amber looking over him. He had changed into a white hospital robe in preparation for his eye surgery. It smelt just as terrible as a hospital, the suffocating smell of sanitizer permeating his nostrils.

Just knock me out already, Ethan thought frustrated by the lengthy procedure of applying the necessary sedatives and anesthetics.

Amber had told him the surgery would take a total of nine hours. Two hours to fit in the new eye and the other seven waiting for the eye to link to his nervous system. She was considerate enough to spare him the gruesome details of what exactly they would do to his eye socket in order to implant the new eye.

After the operation, he’d need to calibrate both his cybernetic eye by synchronizing it with his remaining eye. The eye was initially designed for high-functioning individuals who could handle massive amounts of information thrown at them all at once but Breach had turned down some of its features to ensure Ethan’s brain wasn’t overloaded upon waking up.

Amber lifted an injection with a needle that looked longer than a dagger and injected it into Ethan. He winced. It stung on its way in and even more on its way out. Amber mouthed something but Ethan was far too focused on the pain rushing to his brain to be bothered with lip reading. His eyes began to close shortly after, the sleep becoming an overwhelming force taking over him.

***

Ethan regained consciousness and forced his eyes open, rubbing them. He paused as his hand rubbed over a smooth metallic surface with uniform striations exiting from the center of his eye. He looked to his side table and picked up the mirror.

His pupils glowed a jade green while the serrated, liquid metal iris spun around the pupil as he focused on a specific object like a camera lens brought into focus. He ran his hand over the surface of the eye noting its texture.

“You’re awake,” Amber said in a soft voice. “It’s been four hours.”

“Four? Wasn’t the op nine hours?”

Amber scrolled through the tablet in her hand. “We took longer than usual to insert it but within an hour your nervous system had accepted the eye and fully merged with it.” She twisted a strand of her hair around her fingers. “We’ve also incrementally upped the power of the eye to its maximum and it has had no effect on you. I’ve never seen cybernetics merge so perfectly before.”

“Maximum power?” Ethan asked.

“Breach had an idea to import the HUD system from the exo-suits into your eye and a little more. You won’t need your link anymore because it has been integrated into your HUD.”

Ethan pulled himself up into a sitting position, his feet placed on the footstool of the bed. He felt as if the left side of his face was heavier than his right. He shifted his eyes around the room. His vision was back to normal, perhaps better than before.

Upon focusing his vision on a particular object, a window opened in his HUD showing a brief description of it and potential hazards. His link interface neatly tucked itself away in the bottom left of his HUD with a small, red, pulsing dot most likely to indicate a notification or call.

Ethan felt a rush of energy in his brain ever since he woke up. It was as if his brain was in overdrive mode. His mind was at the peak of its function.

He flicked his head up to Amber. “Is it normal for me to feel a rush to my brain?”

Amber shook her head. “Nothing about any of this is normal, Ethan. As a former surgeon and field medic who has done several operations post-war, I have no idea what the hell is going on.” She flicked through her tablet once more comparing the model of the eye with what was on Ethan. “Hmmm… Looks good for now, but I do want you to come into the base every morning and evening to have a check-up done for the next month.”

Ethan stood up from the bed, taking off the hospital gown he wore for the past four hours. With a curt nod of his head, Ethan walked to the exit of the medical bay simply glad he could have his full field of vision back.

“Oh, and Ethan,” Amber called.

“Yeah?”

“Rico is having dinner tonight with everyone at his restaurant. Come if you’re feeling up for it.”

Ethan smiled. “I’ll see how I feel. No promises, though.”

***

What was the difference between moving on and giving up? One was admirable and the other was not yet they seemed so similar in action. Did he mistake moving on for giving up? Were people telling him to give up or advising him to move on? Did he want to give up or move on?

Ethan sat at the edge of a pond with his feet in the sparkling water and the roaring of the picturesque waterfall in the background. Spurts of water tickled his face from the gentle splashes of the torrent of water descending from above. The trees ruffled with the strong breeze sweeping the clearing while a variety of familiar birds chirped making it sound like an aviary.

He called it his ‘thinking palace.’Recently, he spent little to no time in this place but with his decision to join the Alliance, he realized it was more than necessary to think the decision through.

The most jarring sensation was the familiar feeling of coming home from a normal day of work. He had a lunch break, a meeting prefaced with the standard announcement ‘please switch off your links', and a tour of the place. His colleagues spoke about normal things like football and gathered in a normal, somewhat filthy canteen. Despite being an organization that was fighting a secret war with high-tech suits, they had a sense of normalcy and familiarity that Ethan was comfortable with.

On the flip side of that coin was a man who had threatened to feed him truth serum, a bloodthirsty squad of elite soldiers, and a potentially catastrophic bioweapon threat all interwoven in the web of espionage. Had he not known they were the ones who saved him in the forest he would’ve thought they were two different groups of people. It all sounded like a bizarre conspiracy theory nobody would ever believe.

So they want to make me into that? Ethan thought recalling the bloodbath he had witnessed from the infiltrators in the desolate forest. What he’d witnessed was a mere skirmish but what would an outright raid look like? Ethan felt his heart’s pace quicken at the mere thought of war because it reminded him of his mandatory military service. While he’d never been deployed into the field, he’d heard plenty of stories from veterans and instructors about their ‘fallen comrades’. The ones who couldn’t sleep without a gun at their side or those who wore a ragged scar over their eye from prolonged exposure to tear gas. They survived the cruel war but could hardly claim that they were ‘living’ the rest of their shattered lives. The intense anxiety before poking your head out of cover not knowing if the barrel of a gun would be the final thing you see was frightening even to think about.

He picked up a pebble and flicked it into the pond. The gentle ripples dispersed from the epicenter making their way to the edges of the pond but never reaching it.

He smiled. “Incredible…” he whispered to himself. He wished he could have seen such a majestic time. Paradise. Bio-weapons were not the start of Earth’s premature destruction but they could have been seen as the straw that broke the camel’s back. The last domino to fall caused the obliteration of every ecosystem in Africa. All that for what? Power?

It all seemed stupid to Ethan. Inevitable, but stupid, nonetheless. Chaos, war, death, and destruction. Everyone always said, ‘war leads to peace.’ Perhaps it was the only way to achieve it. To endure until everything he hated perished. That’s what he did all his life, right? And it worked. It gave him a ball to chase and the energy to chase it. That was all he needed… the chase.

There was only one downside to his pursuit. When he took a break, and he had to at some point, that exhilarating feeling fled and left a hole that was filled with doubt. Doubt was the last thing he needed right now. There was no time for doubt. His path was just as inevitable as a stone creating a ripple when it falls into a pond so why was he resisting something that wasn’t just certain… it was natural. About as natural as everything around him.

He heard a knocking noise come from his left. Sighing, he rose from his seat in front of the waterfall and waved his hand in a circular motion above his head. The room shattered into what looked like glass shards, the sound cut, and the pieces of the environment swirled to the center of the room like water flowing down a drain. It was funneled into a small device placed on his table as the virtual paradise unpeeled itself to reveal reality.

Ethan stepped off the multi-directional treadmill and walked over to the door, looking through the peephole. Sarah stood outside holding her body with her arms and shivering as her body and clothes dripped of water.

He hurriedly opened the door and ushered her in, getting her a blanket and putting on some water to boil.

“Why were you standing outside without an umbrella? You’re soaked!” Ethan asked.

Sarah laughed. “Oh, you know Durban weather. One minute it’s sunshine and rainbows, the next it’s thunder and rain. I was on my way here when the heavens decided to open the floodgates.”

Ethan shrugged. “It’s been like that lately.”

Sarah blinked twice in quick succession. “You got another eye,” she said surprised. “Military grade?”

Ethan nodded. “Former military grade. Apparently, it’s been decommissioned and downgraded for commercial use after the war.”

“What does it look like for you?” she asked, leaning forward to examine his eye. “Usually these come with some added features like vitals and a HUD of sorts.”

Ethan focused his vision on the nearest electronic device which happened to be Sarah’s link in her back pocket. A flash of information zipped past him as if he’d just consumed the entire internet in a matter of seconds. He saw everything all at once.

The pulse flooded his brain as several chains of information scrolled through his mind. Millions if not trillions of data packages bombarded his mind. It was as if he had to interpret every pixel, every bit, every line of code consciously, and somehow he wasn’t completely lost. He was far from keeping up, but it wasn’t just a mess in his mind…more like an incomplete puzzle.

He sank deeper and deeper into the digital realm. Each microsecond anotherbit was set, anotherregister filled, anotherline of code executed and anotherpulse of electricityweaved its waythrough the device like a snake winds its waythrough a forest.

Everything operated in perfect harmony. At a large scale, the clustered and scattered packets of data formed a digital forest… An ecosystem of its own unlike any other, yet so many were blind to just how complex a simple link could be.

“Ethan?” Sarah muttered faintly as if she was speaking through a glass pane. “Ethan!”

He forced his eye closed, and everything that had exploded in front of him condensed into a small ball that vanished from sight. Slowly opening his eye, his vision returned back to normal but he avoided focusing on Sarah’s link for the time being.

“Sorry,” he apologized, shaking his head. “It’s a lot to take in.”

Sarah eyed him skeptically. “You blanked for a good two seconds.”

Seconds? Ethan thought. It felt like a minute or two of sinking in quicksand.

“Who fitted it in?” she asked still prying at the flashing green eye pulsing like a heart.

“Dr. Amber Vitser,” Ethan replied. “She’s a former field medic.”

“Vitser, you say?” Sarah mused scratching her chin. “Blond, freckled, and a little scary?”

She’s a lot scarier than you think, Ethan thought. “You met her?”

She nodded, “in a conference a while back. She can be difficult to forget.”

Ethan chuckled, “Yeah… I can see that.”

Looking Ethan up and down, a warm smile spread across her face. He hadn’t seen one of those in a long time. Sarah always smiled, but there were always special ones that didn’t come out too often. It was one of those smiles you couldn’t help but smile back even if you were having the worst day in the world.

“It’s weird…” she said softly.

“What’s weird?”

She looked at Ethan closely. “Seeing you… normal.”

Ethan frowned. “You call this normal?” he said pointing to his metallic eye with a little smirk.

Sarah chuckled and shook her head. “Well, aside from that. You’ve either been depressed, angry, or obsessed. It’s weird seeing you smile… actually smile.”

He was far from normal. He just got better at hiding it. Though he had to admit that day by day, he treasured these small moments he had with Sarah. He looked forward to just sitting in her apartment and having dinner or walking back from work even if it was in complete silence. Perhaps partly because of how short-lived their time together would be. He still had a pile of lies between them that would soon grow into a mountain.

But her happiness was far more important than the truth. She had a long life ahead of her filled with ambitions, trials, joy, and sadness. What good would come from telling her everything and putting her in the firing line between him and SEKT?

Maybe joining the Alliance wasn't such a bad idea. Ever since he got fired from that lab, his relationship with her and everyone else improved. Sure, there was a lie between them that never existed before but the odds of her discovering it were slim. If nobody knew about the Alliance's existence, surely hiding his involvement in some 'crazy conspiracy' was easy enough.

Ethan smiled. He decided on a comforting lie. “What can I say? I’m finally moving on.” 

Questions

1. Does this chapter show the two sides of Ethan's character? Is the conflict between these two sides evident?

2. What do you think about the cybernetic eye?

3. Does Ethan's self-reflection and decision in this chapter make sense?  


Is this a review?


  

Comments



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Reviews: 54

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Tue Jun 06, 2023 10:51 am
MerleBlackbird wrote a review...



To start off, this is some very good writing. You use just enough description for a clear picture, but I never felt I was being info-dumped on. The characters also seem well-developed, contrasting with each other and functioning within their own set of traits. Ethan is immediately likeable, though outwardly closed off and cold, because the reader gets a sense for his struggle to swallow his own pain. He is sympathetic towards Sarah, caring about her almost selflessly. (I suppose that answers your question 1.) I also appreciate the third-person writing. I have always liked that better than first (or second - yikes.)

Now to address the other questions you had... I like the way you presented the cybernetic eye. It feels real, and it never floats to the background so much that I forget it's there. That's a very realistic quality of this chapter, because you have to have the main character think/talk about other things - but realistically, the back of his mind would still be on this weird, unnerving feature he won't be used to for a while.

For question 3... As far as a rational person's thought process goes, yes, Ethan's self-reflection and decision (I assume particularly in reference to what he chooses not to tell Sarah) make cohesive sense. That being said, I don't know Ethan very well from reading only one chapter, and cannot predict if his decision/thought process makes sense according to his character.

Excellent writing! Seriously, keep up the good work. :)




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Tue Feb 28, 2023 9:31 am
Liminality wrote a review...



Hey Reaper! Lim here with a review.

General Impressions

The beginning of the chapter conveys Ethan’s discomfort with the operation. I was really surprised by Amber’s reveal that the eye had merged so quickly. It makes me wonder if there’s something going on with Ethan’s body and what the cause of it is. His exposure to Secronium? The switch to the pond/ VR scene was a little jarring, since it goes from an active dialogue scene to a series of questions that appear to be internal monologue. I think that part brought a more conflicted mood to it as Ethan goes back and forth between different ways of looking at his situation. The ending thoughts as he’s talking to Sarah seem ominous, since she thinks he’s doing better but we as the reader know it’s not true. Makes me wonder if something might happen that makes Sarah find out.

Characters

I hadn’t really categorised it into ‘two’ sides at first, though it was clear on my first reading that Ethan was troubled. On the second reading, I could see that there was a kind of pros and cons structure to his thoughts, which could be what you mean by two sides? One part of Ethan wants to stay in the moment and is questioning his path, and the other clings to what he thinks is his path.

He smiled. “Incredible…” he whispered to himself. He wished he could have seen such a majestic time. Paradise.

^ This bit kind of shows Ethan could have the potential to lead a more peaceful life.

Everyone always said, ‘war leads to peace.’ Perhaps it was the only way to achieve it. To endure until everything he hated perished.

^ But he goes back to what he was thinking before.

I think Ethan’s decision makes sense at this point. He decides to just keep pressing onward, from what I understand, because the doubt disturbs him too much. It didn’t occur to me at first that the reflection by the virtual pond and the decision he makes to keep lying in the end were linked, but I got it eventually. I think it was just that there are quite a few other events between those two (Sarah suddenly makes an appearance, he tries out the cybernetic eye’s functions, there’s more detail given about Amber . . . ) and so I couldn’t immediately make the connection.

Worldbuilding – Cybernetic Eye

The cybernetic eye was kind of interesting. It made me wonder if questions of human-ness were going to come into play in the setting. When Ethan uses the eye while talking to Sarah, the descriptions there and how overwhelmed he is make him almost seem like he wasn’t his usual self in that moment. Perhaps a post-human element?

Everything operated in perfect harmony. At a large scale, the clustered and scattered packets of data formed a digital forest… An ecosystem of its own unlike any other, yet so many were blind to just how complex a simple link could be.

^ This description makes it sound surreal and poetic, quite different to how Ethan has usually perceived the world so far.

I thought the description of how the eye worked seemed plausible enough ( though I don’t know a great deal about the visual system, it does make intuitive sense that having an implant like that done would take a long time). I like the comparison to the camera lens, because that helped me visualize what the eye looked like. It also kind of explains how he ‘zooms in’ on things later in the chapter.

Overall

I like the consistency with Ethan’s character so far. I kind of feel eager to see the next event that challenges his way of thinking, though that might not come for a while, since Ethan still has yet to actually do a mission with Alliance, which seems to be the point at which the plot will take off. My main suggestion for revision would maybe to make the links in Ethan’s chain of thought more obvious, if the decision he makes at the end is important for the reader to grasp right away.

Hope this helps – let me know if you’d like more feedback!
-Lim

Image




VengefulReaper says...


Thanks for the review, Lim! I think I was trying to do too much too quickly in this chapter lol. I wasn't quite sure how to transition between these scenes. So I am a bit stuck there. I'll have to think about it when I revisit this chapter...

It didn%u2019t occur to me at first that the reflection by the virtual pond and the decision he makes to keep lying in the end were linked, but I got it eventually

I'm thinking maybe eye operation --> Sarah conversation --> self-reflection. I'd just clump up the virtual forest part and the lying part into one? Idk if that will help...

Also,
This bit kind of shows Ethan could have the potential to lead a more peaceful life.

So glad you picked this up!

One of the things I wanted to describe the eye was the immersion in the digital realm. It was sort of inspired by the scene in Ant-Man where he's falling/shrinking infinitely into the quantum realm and it's so much to take in his mind nearly shuts off.

I'd love to know if that was the impression you got when reading and if you didn't, what would you change to make that more clear?

As always, thanks for the regular feedback. Your reviews have actually made me reconsider an arc for a specific character based on something you picked up that I accidentally wrote in lol.

-Reaper



Liminality says...


Glad you're finding these reviews helpful!

I'm thinking maybe eye operation --> Sarah conversation --> self-reflection. I'd just clump up the virtual forest part and the lying part into one? Idk if that will help...


Hmm do you mean have Ethan make his decision to keep lying right at the end of the virtual forest/ reflection scene? I kind of like that idea - that would make things clearer. Having the lying be in the conversation with Sarah does have the advantage of showing a more practical consequence of his decision, but if she's not going to react to the lie or if it's not super important to the story that she does, I can imagine cutting it will be fine. And Sarah already can be shown to believe Ethan's doing fine in the preceding conversation anyhow c: So if you ask me, I like that arrangement!

One of the things I wanted to describe the eye was the immersion in the digital realm. It was sort of inspired by the scene in Ant-Man where he's falling/shrinking infinitely into the quantum realm and it's so much to take in his mind nearly shuts off.

I'd love to know if that was the impression you got when reading and if you didn't, what would you change to make that more clear?


Oh that's neat - I haven't actually watched Ant-Man but your description makes sense to me. I definitely got that impression from reading it.

All the best with the writing!
-Lim




By swallowing evil words unsaid, no one has ever harmed his stomach.
— Winston Churchill