Aleph-One: Matt + Lily
After my shift at the library ended, I hiked out to the Trask Center on the edge of campus. The training hospital was brand new, its glass-and-marble construction in sharp contrast to the red brick architecture that dominated the rest of Harkness University. I couldn’t decide if it was a blight on the classical theme of the college or a bold counterpoint enabling the school to embrace both extremes of the academic temperament.
As I walked in, I caught sight of the flyer in the lobby that I’d seen a couple of days ago. It wasn’t visually impressive; just black lettering on lime green stock. The content had caught my attention, though.
Volunteers Sought for Research Study
on Insomnia and Related Sleeping Disorders
Free Treatment & Counseling Available
Qualified participants earn up to $3,000 for
completion of six-week course of study beginning July 15th.
Overnight hospital stays at Trask Center required.
Call x7780, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
I wasn’t ordinarily one to sign up for research projects, even for the extra pocket money. I was short on funds, but volunteering to be a test subject seemed just a bit desperate. That, to me, was one step short of selling bodily fluids for cash.
But I had to admit that desperate was a pretty good word for how I was feeling at the moment, and “free” was always a good word when applied to medical care. And the compensation was excellent - which probably meant that they’d only take a few people for the project. Still, it was worth a shot, so I’d sent an e-mail from one of the public computer clusters last night after I finished up at the studio.
No, I don’t own a computer. Even today, it is in fact possible to get an education without one. I had two objections to buying a laptop. First, I couldn’t afford it. I had been scrambling since my scholarship ran out last year, and was already working through the summer to round out my financial aid package. Sure, Harkness would subsidize the cost of a computer, but I had other things I needed to spend the money on. Between studio fees and equipment costs, visual arts was an expensive major. And, of course, there was alcohol.
My second objection was aesthetic. It’s too easy to get addicted to using computers, and I worried that it would dull my sensitivity to color. There are hues that you just can’t get on a computer screen. I’m a bit more sensitive to distinctions between shades than most people; sixteen million colors isn’t enough when the specific color you need to use is one of the billions of others falling between the cracks.
Okay, I’ll admit that this second explanation was more or less bogus. I used it when someone asked about my aversion to silicon and I didn’t want to think or talk about my cash flow problems. But I did sort of like being the only guy in the lecture hall who looked human while everyone else was staring blankly at their screens, washed out to a zombie pallor. I usually killed time in class by figuring out my escape routes for when one of the undead scented my brain.
I took the elevator to the basement of the Trask Center, and looked for Room B202. The white hallways were punctuated with doors painted a dull cadet blue (#819F9F or thereabouts, if you haven’t weaned yourself from your own screen yet). Trask was still too new to have accumulated the layered posters and overfilled bulletin boards that served to decorate most walls at the school; this level was more like the floor of an office building with space left to rent.
A sudden splashing noise from behind me nearly made me turn, but I managed to ignore it. There wouldn't be anything there if I looked; it was just another hallucination. Hopefully, I would be able to get some help before crossing streets became too much of a challenge.
B202 turned out to be next to Professor Harte’s office. After my experience in Harte’s lectures, the thought of being a subject in a study that he was running gave me pause. Not that he was incompetent or anything like that, but he had some strange theories. He kept talking about interpretations of sensory input, and the charting of understanding and meaning on different scales and axes; a psychological disorder was supposedly “a disconnect between the interpretive matrix and the signifying elements of the perceptor’s surroundings.” I had to memorize that for the final. It was odd how things like that stayed clear in my mind, when so much else had been effaced by the flow of sleepless hours.
But then again, if this study was anything like Harte’s class, I’d see him only in passing from a distance while I dealt with his grad students.
I knocked on the door of B202. From the other side, a voice said, “Just a minute.” I recognized it from when I’d called earlier to schedule my appointment. At the time, in my typically pessimistic way, I had assumed that it was just some blue-haired secretary with a deceptively sexy voice.
The door opened. I had been very, very wrong.
[Go to Chapter 1.2]
[Go to Chapter 1.2]