Zenith squeezed her eyelids together, shutting out the night, and tried to remember what it was like. Home – as arbitrary a word as any other, and yet it carried with it a heavy weight that could not be denied.
“I don’t think I can see it,” she admitted in defeat. They’d been at it for hours with no improvement.
“Sure you can. Breathe from your centre, and connect to the memory. It’s there, Zenith. You know it it.” Dr. Lux’s urging was as gentle as she could manage in her frustration.
Zenith sighed, and tried to release herself of the sensation that she was only a test subject.
Since humankind migrated to this planet some 400 years ago, Optical Memory had been their most cherished sense. It was the ability to see this new world through Earthy eyes; historical perception – a collective memory passed down from generation to generation so that the legacy of their diaspora would always be a part of them. But now, that was all changing.
With each passing generation it seemed Earth fell further away as Zenith’s people thrived, adapting to the host environment to a point of (accidental) pure assimilation. Soon enough, the optical memories began to fade as trees melted and oceans evaporated to reveal rocks – a plethora of colours and shapes humankind had once not even known. This new world was becoming the familiar, the recollection of Earth for comfort becoming less necessary. Less thought of. Zenith, the elders feared, might very well be the last to see it. That is, if she could any more.
It was a few days before she told anyone that she had seen her last cloud. Clouds, she was realizing, was just another false perception; a deception of her genetically human eyes. Slowly but surely, her world was changing before her until she didn’t even recognize it any longer. Strangely though, something about the change felt right. Losing the memories felt less like loss to her than to the elders, who had lost them long ago. Zenith’s inability to hold on for them, it seemed, marked Earth’s final death. She and the few others had been undergoing tests and observation ever since. It was an arduous advent, and she just wanted it to be over.
“I just see the rocks. I’m sorry.” Zenith averted her eyes, hating having to let down not only Dr. Lux, but her entire race.
Dr. Lux forced a smile and shrugged; “Get some sleep. Come back fresh tomorrow.”
That night Zenith couldn’t get a wink of sleep. Something about the way she had left things stuck with her like a deep itch she couldn’t quite reach. “I just see the rocks.” Why had she said it like that? The rocks were the most beautiful, welcoming, visions Zenith had ever known. The rocks were Home.
“Feeling better today, Zenith?”
“No.” Zenith looked at Dr. Lux, determined to assert herself. “Why are we doing this?” she asked firmly.
Dr. Lux looked stunned, her face hardened, then softened again.
“You know why we’re doing this Zenith,” she said in that lulling tone of hers. “You and your peers are the guardians of humanity’s collective memory. It’s so important that we remember.”
“Why?” Zenith asked without skipping a beat, or breaking her glare.
Dr. Lux rose from her chair and swept across the room to the window facing Zenith. She stared out of it for a long, silent, time. Without looking back, she finally spoke. “Because if we don’t remember our mistakes, we’re inclined to make them again. It’s a genetic fault that can only be controlled, not fixed. We can’t let ourselves destroy another great planet. We have to know that Earth was once strong and beautiful, and ours. We have to remember. We just do.”
Zenith shrunk. It’s not that the response was entirely satisfying, but rather that it couldn’t be argued. The history of humanity on Earth had been irreparably stained. It was a part of them, of her. No matter how badly Zenith wanted to move forward, Earth was her ancestry – how could justify not looking back?
“I know it’s over, Zenith.” Dr. Lux broke Zenith from her contemplation. “You can’t see it because you can’t feel it. The whole premise of Optical Memory is that it’s collective and hereditary. Things like that only exist as long as the genetics deem them necessary. We’ve all moved on, against our wills, I suppose.”
Zenith thought Dr. Lux might be whimpering, but she still hadn’t turned to face her.
“Go home, Zenith. We’re done.”
The statement was loaded, and stung. Zenith obliged, lugging her body so heavy with confusion, out the door.
Read more from this universe in Perception