The Man Who Saw Everything (Short Story)

Flower in ultraviolet light uv vision

He had signed up for the experiment not knowing whether it was a joke. A stray e-mail that had miraculously bypassed the Spam filters somehow snowballed into him signing up as a willing guinea pig. Yet, there he was of his own volition, ready to have his life changed.

The most accurate way to describe him was “painfully average.” He grew up in the big city to parents who weren’t too rich or too poor. A few years later he moved to a different city to work and led the life of a bachelor. He wasn’t popular and hung out with people his age that weren’t popular either. His average looks and average intelligence landed him an average job at which his performance was average. Perhaps the only two things extra-ordinary about this young man were a mysterious email that had landed up in his inbox and his strongly-held belief that one day, something would change his life.

“YOU HAVE BEEN SELECTED”, the email from read.
He rolled his eyes and casually glanced at the rest of the mail before instinctively preparing to trash it. However, the cursory glance evoked a feeling of inexplicable excitement in him which made his finger freeze before it could click the button.
“WE CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE”, the email went on.
As if guided by an external force, he quickly filled out the attached form and mailed back a reply. Then he opened the original mail to figure out just what the heck he had just signed up for.

It seemed like the weirdest scam mail ever. The opening paragraph talked about “volunteers with specific variables needed for a confidential science project involving Advanced Optical Implants.”  However, unlike the usual scam, it didn’t ask for any money nor offer it. All “PanOptics” wanted was for him to be a part of the project.

As soon as he switched back to his Inbox, there was another mail from already waiting for him. It read, “We greatly appreciate your willingness to participate in the Advanced Optical Implants project. Please report to the below address at any time on a weekday for medical and legal procedures:”

It seemed obvious that if he showed up at the address he might be robbed, killed or both. But it so happened that address wasn’t of a nondescript part of town but instead was an entire floor in the most posh commercial building in the city. He convinced himself that it wasn’t a scam and decided to go after work the very next day.

The elevator door opened and as soon as he stepped out, it took him a second to remind himself that he wasn’t in a palace. He looked around the massive lobby and spotted a receptionist at a table against the right wall. The name plate on her table read “Lana” and she was one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen; the type of woman which guys like him only saw on a computer screen. He was a little intimidated but walked up to her as casually as he could.
“Excuse me”, he said softly to get her attention.
Lana instantly looked up from her computer and said with a welcoming smile, “Welcome to PanOptics. We’ve been waiting for you.”
“Waiting? But I haven't even introdu-“
He was distracted mid-sentence when Lana placed a bunch of papers on the table which she had just pulled out of a drawer.
“Sir, we need you to fill out these forms. They mostly involve non-disclosure and undertakings for physical and mental health.”
He picked the forms up and sat down on a sofa beside Lana’s table.
“Wow, so you guys are serious, huh? You sure you won’t harvest my organs?” he said with a chuckle, though he wasn’t sure if it was a joke.
Lana smiled, which he found reassuring.
“So why aren’t there more people here? Not many volunteers?” he asked with a tinge of suspicion while examining the vast, empty lobby.
“The email you received was a special invitation, we don’t send those out in bulk” Lana replied matter-of-factly.
“Really, huh? You think I’m special?” he enquired, once again circling back to the notion that this whole thing is a scam.
“I’m just a receptionist, sir. But I can tell you that it isn’t just luck.”
So many questions poured into his head at once that he ended up saying nothing.

The next three months consisted of various tests with various doctors, all paid for by PanOptics. Once he was medically cleared, it was time to gather up the documents and meet the Director. Lana led him through an exquisite hallway to the Director’s office. It was the most impressive office he had ever seen. If the rest of the office was a palace, this was surely the throne room. The Director greeted him with a smile and a firm handshake, and offered him a seat. He was a sharply-dressed man with thinning hair and an expanding middle who looked quite aged, but in a way not unlike wine. The nameplate on his desk read “Director”.

Suddenly, a stream of pent up questions made its way out, “Lana told me you pick out who to send your mails to. Why choose me? And what’s with all these forms? Non-disclosure? Mental health? Are you telling me I might go crazy? What the hell are Advanced Optical Implants anyway? Who owns this company? Why send mails that look like scams?”

The Director was completely unsurprised by this barrage and began answering calmly, “You were chosen because you are ready. You are ready for a life-changing experience and collected enough to not go crazy. The forms, in your case, are a formality.”
He wondered how the Director could be so sure, but the thought quickly escaped his mind.
The Director continued, “You see, PanOptics makes its fortune by manufacturing cutting-edge optical technology and making it available to militaries. We're testing new versions that could work for the average civilian. The Chairman is one of those eccentric billionaires who much prefers to keep himself and his company out of the spotlight. Confidentiality is of the essence. This is why we cannot allow you to talk to anyone about your experience. I cannot even reveal my name, I hope you understand.
As for the suspicious-looking email…er…let’s just say that my generation is not very good with computers. Now, are you sure you want to go through with this?”
While his conscious mind was contemplating the credibility of the situation, his subconscious mind had already made a decision. He found himself nodding unwittingly. 
The Director looked pleased. “So let me tell you what the project is about…” he went on.

The procedure was done. He knew that his life would be altered the moment he opened his eyes. Gently parting his eyelids to let light in, he expected a moment of clarity and revelation. Instead, it was one of confusion. He looked around the room (which rapidly changed colours for a few seconds) and spotted a large mirror on the far side. He walked towards it to take a look at his new eyes. “He wasn’t lying. They look human” he thought while letting out a sigh of relief. He suddenly noticed that the room looked more like an upscale hotel than a recovery room at the PanOptics office.
The sound of a knock on the door distracted his admiration. Upon answering the door, he found himself facing the Director.
“Oh, hello…this is quite a room” he said with great appreciation in his voice.
“It’s important to be comfortable. The doctors told me you should be fine by now. Do you feel fine?” the Director enquired.
“Surprisingly, yes. I don’t have these things under complete control though.”
“They will take some time to get used to. For now, just concentrate. As I told you earlier, we will train and monitor you for the next three months. By then you will have complete control over your implants” The Director said reassuringly.

For the next three months, he learned how to control his new eyes under the Counsellor’s supervision. There was no manual he could refer to, for obvious reasons. Fortunately, the Counsellor was thorough in explaining every minute feature—perfect clarity, ultraviolet and infrared vision, zooming in, slo-mo --the works. Soon enough, he was ready to test his new eyes on the outside world.  

Moments after signing the last couple of documents and bidding farewell to the Director, he stood in front of the office window that doubled as a wall overlooking the city. From such a height, the city’s activity looked like ants scurrying about. With his new eyes, he could zoom in on any of those ants to reveal a deeper world of emotions and intentions-- a person. He now understood that despite being disconnected from one other personally, despite being absorbed in their individual activities, they all depended on each other more than they seemed to realize. He could shift his focus from one ant to other and zoom in to see the smiles and frowns on their faces. For the first time ever since childhood, he was literally amazed. The realization that he was one of those ants was a profoundly humbling experience, as intense as observing the stars on a clear night. As he walked out of the PanOptics office for the last time, he already felt a change in his life.

Sitting still in a garden surrounded by bushes and birds, he realized that even within one moment of vision lie worlds that ordinary eyes miss. In ultraviolet vision, the flowers seemed to lose their colour, but he could now sense a glow around the edges of petals. Watching insects (which themselves had hidden patterns) fly enthusiastically to the most ferociously glowing florae made him realize that the beauty of flowers is not just for the benefit of people. The flowers were speaking a in a secret language- rather, a dialect- of light that was not intended for people to hear. The birds too talked to each other using this glow. Magnificent patterns emerged on their plumage that he now understood were embellishments for attracting mates. Somehow, these birds that were already at the peak of natural beauty were now even more stunning. It wasn’t just the flowers and birds that were glowing; there was some kind of glow everywhere he saw.

He spent one whole day looking at life in thermal vision. People were reduced to human-shaped blobs of heat going about their day-to-day activities. It didn’t matter whether they were male or female, young or old, black or white. Everyone was just a constantly radiating blob. A new world of immense energy had opened up. Even inanimate objects and the sky now seemed alive. He could also adjust the implants’ infrared capabilities to permit night-vision. He now understood that truly, the city never sleeps. Even the darkest, most lifeless parts of the city were now alive with the activity of predators, prey, vermin and people- which in some cases were the same thing.

The most amazing power his new eyes gave him was the ability to distort time within his mind. They captured much more information per second and transmitted it slowly, allowing him to extend some moments while the world went on in "real-time".  Every simple action in nature had renewed grace- a dripping tap, a bird flapping its wings, people walking- all contained complex physics that had till now escaped his vision.

The true nature of nature was now clearer to him. Every day was a new revelation now that he was able to see the world, literally, in new light. He still couldn’t see the past or the future, but it didn’t matter because even the present moment held more than he could see at once.