Sight Unseen
Fiction by Christian Larsen

March 12, 2013

“Take a look in that cage.”

“What am I looking at, Jackie?” Arthur asked, peering into a large wire cage.  He could see a rope and  a dead tree limb, a bowl of water and some straw.  It smelled faintly of feces and urine, but it was otherwise remarkably vacant.

Jackie didn’t miss how he called her by her preferred name.  Everyone else called her ‘Jack’ because she was so frumpy and shapeless.  “Do you see the monkey?  A rhesus macaque, to be specific?”

“No, it’s empty.”

Jackie, who had slipped on a pair of dog training gloves, shook the cage, and stirred from the emptiness the panicked screech of a rhesus macaque.  The straw flattened and flew, the rope swung, and the bars even pinched together as if squeezed by small, invisible hands.

Arthur sucked his teeth. “How did you do that?  Hidden speakers?  Animatronics?”  But he didn’t really believe that a gag that simple would be worth the trouble, especially from a true scientist like Jackie.

“Invisibility,” breathed Jackie, as if it were the true name of God.  “Not some bullshit cloaking meta-material, but honest-to-goodness invisibility—on a biological level.  I’ve done it with frogs, mice and monkeys already.”

“I don’t believe you.”

Jackie grabbed a can of colored hairspray, shook it, and sprayed a swath of empty cage.  The red ends of a patch of fur emerged from the ether, as well as a few prominences of flesh, but the creases and undercoat were still invisible.  Arthur had never seen anything like it.

“How?  Have you coated them with Rhodopsin proteins to mimic the light?”

“Carnival barking compared to what I’ve accomplished.  And its so simple, really.  DNA is transparent in the invisible spectrum.  Think about it—DNA is our essence.  What I’ve done is simply extend the biology to the cellular level.”

“But why?”

Jackie could feel her cheeks flush in red, blotchy rosettes.  “Ask anyone on the street what superpower they would want, and they’ll tell you either flight, super strength, or invisibility.  I’m tired of being judged on appearances, by my moles and pimples, and by my limp, greasy hair.  Besides, invisibility would blow the observer effect out of the water.  I would be able to see the world as it really is.  And just think of what the military would pay me for the blueprint!”

“You mean you want to do this to yourself?

“I already have,” said Jackie.  “It should be taking effect any minute.  I needed you here to record it, and to be a witness.”  She didn’t tell him that she also simply wanted him to be a part of it.  She didn’t have many friends, but Arthur had always been nice to her.  “The camera’s over there.”

Arthur had a reputation that would lend credence to the procedure, but he didn’t know if he wanted his name attached to something so bizarre—something that smacked of pseudoscience and had never even been whispered about in the journals.  And yet, unless he was the victim of the most elaborate hoax in the history of science, Jackie’s breakthrough was pretty amazing, and he found himself unable to say ‘no’ to her request.  Before he knew it, he was framing up a shot of her on a lab stool, and damnit, if she didn’t look downright homely, just like everyone said.

“Something’s happening,” Jackie said, grabbing the edges of the stool like someone riding a chair at a bar mitzvah.

Arthur saw a worried look in her eyes and resisted the temptation to zoom in on her face, but a few moments later, there was no face anymore on which to zoom.  Her hair and skin simply vanished, like the painted macaque in reverse.  Her white lab coat kept its shape—Jackie’s shape—leaving an empty collar that moved slightly with her quick, mouse-like breaths.

“Jackie, it worked!” he said, checking his wrist for the time.  It seemed like the exact second it happened was worth celebrating.

“Something’s wrong!” quavered Jackie.  “This isn’t right.”

“What are you talking about?” Arthur asked, laughing nervously.  “It’s just how you had it planned, isn’t it?”

The handless sleeve went up and waved in front of the empty spot above her shoulders.  “Arthur … I—I can’t see.”  Arthur left the camera running on the tripod and went to help her to the couch, but she wouldn’t move.  “No, I want to work through this here, with the camera on.”

Arthur touched the back of her head.  He could see his hand through it perfectly, without the slightest interference, shadow, or bend in the image.  The light went straight through, as if she really wasn’t there.  Nature had no analogy for it.

“Oh, God, Jackie,” sighed Arthur.  “Are the animals blind?”

“I never checked,” she admitted.  “It was just me working on it, and it never occurred to me to test for that.  Why should I have?”

“Basic scientific method, Jackie.”  Arthur sounded defeated.  “How could you have done this to yourself without knowing all the vectors?  I don’t think they can see—and you, as well—without photosensitive pigment on your retinas.  It’s like pointing a movie projector into space.  Without a screen to land on, the light just keeps going and going into infinity.”

The frame of the camera captured an empty lab coat fumbling for Arthur’s arms, and from somewhere in the room came the disembodied sound of muffled sobs.


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