Xavier Xanthum, Space Explorer, made his debut during my first April "A to Z Blogging Challenge," when I needed a post for "X". That was in 2013. Since then, I have written and shared about 18 more XX stories, and have a particular fondness for the occasionally hapless explorer. Some of what's in this one I'd totally forgotten and may not be so true in later stories.
Xavier and the X-Ray Eyes
Xavier Xanthum explored space. With his Arcturian Warp drive, he’d been
doing it long enough that time and age no longer had any meaning for
him. Twice he had passed through random uncertainty fields, and met
himself coming. Once he’d hit something strange, and the next ship he
met told him a hundred years had passed. He'd aged two days.
After that one, he’d sold his ship to an antique dealer for enough to buy one of the new-fangled ships with an even better faster-than-light drive, one that was guaranteed to keep him from ever being stranded in a gravity well or adrift between galaxies, both of which had happened to him in the past.
All of which is to say he'd seen plenty of weird things in his indeterminately long life. None of them prepared him for the eyeballs.
The eyeballs first appeared in the galley. That was where Xavier usually saw odd things, because this new ship’s robo-kitchen had some very strange menu items. He didn't think anything of it until he'd had a good sleep and awakened to find the eyes still watching him.
He didn't know then what they could do. He only knew that there was now some kind of alien--something--sharing his ship. He supposed he might have picked it up in that last singularity, or maybe it--they?--came aboard from one of the planets he'd visited. Maybe the one that he'd thought was uninhabited. It would have been easy to miss a modest population of disembodied eyeballs.
After a week he began to notice that he was seeing things. Not seeing things the way he did when the robo-kitchen got too imaginative. That made him see things that were not there. Now he was seeing things that were there, but not here. He called it X-ray vision, but it wasn't really. Not like the kind he'd dreamed of as a kid, that let you see through clothes and into locked safes.
But he found that he could see whatever the eyeballs were seeing, even if they were in a different part of the ship. And they could see a wider spectrum than he could. He stopped burning himself on his coffee, because he could see when it was too hot. If, that is, the eyes happened to look at the coffee.
It was when the turbo-warp booster started acting up that Xavier got serious about the need to communicate with the eyes. He couldn't fit even his face into the service tube, so he was trying to install the replacement twerger by feel, and it wasn't working. He realized that the eyes could fit in the tube easily, and then he'd be able to "see" it all. But he had to find a way to tell them where to go, and to keep them looking at the repair until he'd finished. The eyes had a limited attention span, and were always drifting off after dust motes.
Xavier now had a near-perfect understanding of the air filtration system, but he needed something more. How did you communicate with something that had no ears, and maybe even no brain?
No, that wasn't right. The things were flighty, but there was an intelligence there. He tried sign language, since that was visual.
Signs meant nothing to an entity with no body.
Writing came next. Again, beings with no corporeal presence had no way to develop a written language. The eyeballs glanced at his message and drifted off after a dust mote.
With the ship drifting helplessly in space somewhere between the Horsehead Nebula and an unnamed star system he wanted to investigate, Xavier grew frustrated.
"Blast it all!" he exclaimed. "How in space am I supposed to tell you what I want?" His voice squeaked. He wondered how long it had been since he'd spoken aloud.
The eyes turned to look at him. And the answer appeared in his brain.
Just say it.
Unwilling to believe that the eyeballs had ears, Xavier tried an experiment first. He thought back at them. You know what I'm saying?
There was no response. He said it aloud this time.
"You understand what I say?"
Cheeky beggar. "How can you--never mind now. Let's fix this drive." Years of talking to hallucinations had made it easy for him to adjust to the idea of talking to a pair of eyeballs. He explained what he needed, and received the promise that it could be done. The eyes disappeared down the repair shaft and an hour later the ship was up and running.
After that Xavier began to enjoy the eyes. Not only did they give him "x-ray" insights into the bowels of the ship, but he enjoyed having someone to talk to. In an odd sort of way they became friends.
It wasn’t until the eyes helped him through a second repair that he realized the truth.
The eyeballs were a part of the ship. The part that prevented him from being stranded, because they not only could see all the places he needed to work, but they knew what needed to be done.
The eyeballs were a manifestation of the ship’s computer. A computer that perhaps had grown as bored with the empty space between ports as he had. Were they part of the original program? He asked.
After a long, thoughtful silence, Xavier asked no further.