Episode 16: Headaches

episode-16-headaches“Jaxon’s scowling worse than usual,” Ivor said as they walked out of the lab. “What’s wrong?”
“McKinsey wants me to go to some appointment. I don’t know what, but it means I don’t get to look at that robotics book Kelly Jean found. I thought I would finally have time tonight.”
“Relax, man. She probably just wants to check you haven’t lost your room key yet or something.”
Jaxon shrugged. “It’s annoying.” He continued in silence.
After he’d dumped his bag and his lab coat on his bed he headed to Mrs McKinsey’s workroom.
“Jaxon Maike, yes?” Mrs McKinsey looked up from her table.
“Yes, ma’am.”
“You’re very lucky that Ginny had a slot for you after class at such short notice. We usually sort all of this out in your holidays.” She switched off a screen on her desk and stood up.
“Yes ma’am.” Jaxon swallowed. “Um, sort all of what out?”
“Medical appointments, of course. What else would I be talking about? Come now, we don’t have too much time.” She walked briskly out and Jaxon hurried after her.
“But I’m not sick!”
“On the contrary, Monica seemed to think you needed your eyes looked at as soon as possible.”
“Monica? Oh, Mathematician Nieminen, right? Hang on, is this all about how I used that microscope? But she didn’t tell me I was doing anything wrong.”
“My dear child, you don’t visit the optometrist because you’ve done something wrong. Monica has your best interests at heart in making sure you get the help you need.”
Jaxon had nothing to say to that. He followed Mrs McKinsey out of the Academy and into the gaslit streets of Middle Echelon. They stopped under a swing sign that read “Doctor Ginny Twola, Mechatropolis Optometrist.”
Mrs McKinsey pressed the ringer. Someone inside called, “Come in!”
They went in and were greeted by a young man who emerged from the back of the building. “Ah, welcome. The young man from the Academy yes? Ah, very good. Yes, Ginny is finishing up with a patient, but I’ll get you checked in now. Ah, my name is Farai.”
“Evening, Farai. This is Jaxon Maike. I’ll just take a seat over here if you don’t need me.”
“Yes, ah, very good, Mrs McKinsey. Ah, pleased to meet you, Jaxon. If you’ll kindly have a seat over here?”
Jaxon lowered himself into the seat indicated. The desk was taken up with a reversible viewing screen and controls.
“Good, now thumbprint here.” Farai held out the scanner and Jaxon placed his thumb over the sensor.
“Good. Ah, is the information on the screen so far, correct?”
Jaxon squinted at the screen. His name and date of birth had appeared. “Yup, that’s right.”
“Ah, do you have any medical history of which we should be aware?” Farai sat down opposite Jaxon and began manipulating controls.
“Uh, I don’t think so.”
“Good, good.” Farai punched something into the system. “Have you worn glasses before?”
“When was your last eye care consultation?”
“Uh, never?”
Farai jerked upright in surprise. “You have never had your eyesight examined?”
“Uh, not that I remember. I can see fine and stuff.”
Mrs McKinsey cleared her throat. “Monica Nieminen seemed to think he had some trouble. I daresay this is why it’s gone undiagnosed.”
“Well, ah, very good, then.” Farai pressed a few more keys. “Ginny will establish things presently. Ah, here she is.”
A plump middle aged man stepped into the room, followed by a short, slight woman with wild hair. “Farai will help you with the new prescription,” she said. Then, turning, “Jaxon Maike? Come this way, please.” She showed him into a small room at the back of the shop. “Have a seat.” She gestured to an armchair with a number of curious attachments and then turned to a viewing screen beside it. “You’ve never worn glasses?”
“I don’t think so.”
Ginny laughed. “Don’t worry, we’ll figure out what’s happening to your eyes from the ground up. It’s probably nothing complicated. Now, I’d like you to read out the letters from that poster on the far wall.”
Jaxon squinted. “There’s an M, I think, O, R, O again. Or maybe a Q. This isn’t even English, is it? How am I supposed to read it from here if it isn’t English?” He ran a hand up his forehead.
“It may surprise you to learn that with normal vision you could identify those letters without any guesswork, Jaxon.”
“From here?” Jaxon didn’t believe her.
“Mmmhmm. Now, I’m going to arrange these lenses in front of your eyes, like they’d be positioned if you were wearing glasses, and we’ll see if we can correct things by redirecting the light into your eyes.” She pulled one of the chair’s attachments forward and slid a pair of glass lenses into place. “Does that make the letters clearer?”
She presented Jaxon with different combinations of lenses for several minutes. By the end of the process, the poster across the room was impressively bright.
“Alright, I think we’re done here. Tell me, do you get headaches often?”
“Yeah, all the time.” Jaxon rubbed his forehead.
“That should improve from hereon out. You’ve been overworking your eyes trying to get them to focus. But your eyeball isn’t responding to that, so we’re going to prescribe lenses to make it easier.”
“What do you mean, my eyeball isn’t responding?”
“Your eyeball should be redirecting light so that it focuses just on the retina at the back of your eye. But either the shape or the exact composition of your eyeball means that light is focusing in front of your retina instead, even when you strain your eye muscles trying to correct for it. So we’re going to add glasses to the system. The glasses will start the redirection process and when the already-redirected light goes into your eyeballs, it’ll land where it should. I’ll find a picture for you while Biddy and Farai sort out the details of getting the spectacles made. Come on.”
Jaxon was still trying to reverse engineer the diagram of light bending through a lens when Mrs McKinsey called him to choose his frames.
When he’d arrived back in the Academy’s junior common room and explained his situation to the class, the bending ray was still bothering him.
“Cheer up, man. I promise I won’t make fun of your new specs more than you can handle.”
“Oh stop it, Ivor. I’m trying to work out why light bends through lenses.”
“Well, it’s because lenses are curved, right?” Buhle looked up from her book.
“But the light ray doesn’t know that.”
“Oh, yeah. That’s true.”
“Optics is all backwards,” Quintessa said. “You have to know that light bends through lenses before you can make the ray model.”
“So it’s impossible to make sense of that diagram anyway?”
“If you mean from first principles, it probably is,” Quintessa said, ignoring the fact that she hadn’t seen the diagram in question. “I think you can get it by assuming that light always takes the fastest path or something. But then you still have to think about light having different colours — well, frequencies — and that’s never in those ray diagrams.”
“Wait, what’s colour got to do with it?” Buhle put down her book.
“It’s like shining a light through a prism to get a rainbow. The glass slows down the different colours differently and you get dispersion effects and stuff. But if you average them into a ray, it’s just bending. It only really works at the centre of the lens, though. Otherwise it doesn’t average out properly. It’s called chromatic aberration.”
“Where d’you learn all this stuff, Quintessa?” Jaxon asked.
“Oh, I read up on it when we did lenses in school.” She disappeared back into her textbook.
Jaxon pulled out a pen and started sketching diagrams. It felt like he might have traction on the problem now, although the number of ideas he had to stick together was a headache in its own right.

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