The Fine Print
Okay, so this day is not going quite as I had hoped it would but it could certainly have been worse. I knew that we would be spending most of it trying to get Jim and Blair acquainted with the SGC but I had also hoped to be able to conduct a few tests on Jim... unfortunately Blair shot that idea down in a hurry. That's left me with only one choice here, and that choice would not have been my first one.
"Blair, may I ask you a few questions?" I ask, deeply relieved by the fact that the colonel and Teal'c have borrowed Jim to try to get an idea of just what his skills are when it comes to hand to hand combat.
"It's about Jim's senses, about what he can do, what to expect and so on," I explain, not quite knowing how to phrase it. I've been teased a little too often about my 'evil scientist' side and I really don't want to scare him. I know just how wary Blair still is about the military getting too close to Jim and getting him over that fear is going to take a while.
"Well, to tell you the truth, I have a few questions about how that is going to work myself," he admits.
"What do you mean?"
"Let's face it, the conditions we are going to be working under here are going to be very different from the ones we are familiar with, so I'm not really sure what to expect or how this is all going to work out."
"And yet you wouldn't let me run any tests on him," I point out, hoping that I may be able to get him to change his mind about that.
"It's not so simple. First of all, right now any tests would be liable to provide you with false results so there's..."
"False results? Why?" I interrupt him.
"Because as far as Jim's senses are concerned, this is an alien and extremely hostile environment, one he can barely function in. It's going to take him at least a couple of days to get used to it enough to be able to compensate automatically so the only thing any tests done right now would accomplish would be to annoy him. Believe me, he doesn't like tests even in the best of cases... I should know."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I've been helping him for years now and even back when we first met, when he was desperate for something that could possibly enable him to achieve some semblance of control, he resented my attempts to measure his skills... he said I made him feel like a lab rat. It took me a while to figure out that the best --if not the only-- way to get Jim to cooperate with me was to disguise my tests as something he could actually use."
"Actually, I meant what do you mean when you say that as far as he is concerned this is an alien environment," I say, smiling a little, though I definitely appreciate the heads up concerning how to approach any possible tests of Ellison's senses in the future.
"Oh, that. I was trying to help him cope with it earlier but the truth is that he is still having a bit of trouble. There are so many things that are bugging him right now --things I don't even register-- that we never really got past him being able to function without having me glued to his side. That's one of the reasons he agreed to go to the gym with Jack and Teal'c. He is trying to see how independent he can be."
"It can't be that bad!" I exclaim.
"Actually it's even worse," says Blair with a smile. "You have to understand that Jim's world is very different from ours. As far as he is concerned the hum of the ventilation system that is constantly reverberating through the corridors is almost deafening and, given that this facility is deep underground, there is no fresh air, no natural light and so on. For him all of those little things are constant nuisances and until he can learn to properly compensate for them there's no point in trying to run any tests because the environment would be getting in the way of your results... and I can tell you now that there's no way you are going to get him to agree to go through the same test twice without a damned good reason."
"But if he needs to get used to an environment before he can safely use his senses in it, don't you think that will be a major problem in the field?" I ask, thinking back to some of the worlds we've visited.
"I'm not sure. I mean, let's face it, the SGC may be on earth but it's not exactly a normal place and he can compensate almost automatically for most of the things he is likely to encounter in a more natural environment so that may help. In fact, from what Daniel's told me, chances are he won't have that much trouble when visiting other worlds... if anything those planets are likely to be soothing for him."
"I'm just speculating here," he warns me, "but going by what Daniel's told me most of the worlds we are likely to visit will be capable of sustaining human life but at the same time they are also likely to be less technologically advanced than we are. That means that even though the plants and animals are likely to be different, chances are that there will be far fewer unnatural, irritating elements from Jim's perspective. Of course, I could be mistaken. We'll see how that goes once we actually go through the stargate. Luckily I think General Hammond is planning to have us visit a couple of 'friendly' planets before attempting any real missions so that should at least give us an idea as to what it is that we are up against."
"Yes, he mentioned something about going to the Land of the Light sometime next week. So what would happen if it turns out that Jim does have a problem with gate travel?" I ask, feeling both curious and more than a little worried.
"To tell you the truth I don't really know, though I'm hoping that that won't be the case. I mean, I wouldn't say that he won't have any trouble with it at first, but I'm hoping he will be able to learn to compensate for it."
"But even in a worst case scenario he'll still be able to help us with the data collected by the MALP, right?" I ask.
"I'm not sure," says Blair before explaining. "We've never had to deal with a situation like that before, though I'm guessing that the information he'll be able to gather from such probes will be far less than the one he would be able to gather from direct observation."
"Well, there are several limitations I can think of off the top of my head. For instance, such a probe would relay audio and video but that would only provide him with a very limited picture because that would cover only two out of five senses. There's no way that a probe can accurately relay information concerning touch, taste and smell. In addition to that the limitations intrinsic to the equipment being used would at times render his senses useless because his enhanced senses would only enhance the information that is being sent back... and more often than not the equipment will have technical limitations that mimic those of normal senses. There's no way Jim can overcome that."
"Okay, I'm not sure I'm following you," I admit.
"It's simple, really. Take for instance an audio signal. Most microphones are designed to work within a range similar to that of human hearing, meaning between 20 Hz and 20 kHz. In other words, subsonics and ultrasonics won't be picked up."
"Actually, we use ultra-sensitive equipment and..."
"And that still won't solve the problem because you are not listening to the sound directly," he reminds me. "That means that you have to contend with the technical limitations of the mechanical elements that are to be found at both ends of the transmission chain: the microphone and the speakers. In other words, even if you are using a microphone that has been especially designed to record sounds that are beyond the normal human range --either ultrasonic or subsonic-- there are no speakers capable of reproducing them because all speakers are designed for human ears. Also, do your probes have one or two microphones?"
"Because that means that in spite of his heightened hearing Jim cannot recreate a three dimensional image out of that sound, there's no way for him to figure out where a sound is coming from. You could say that there's no way for Jim to compensate for the loss of 'depth perception' a single microphone causes, regardless of whether that microphone happens to be uni, bi or omnidirectional."
"I see, and what about video?" I ask, fascinated by how Blair perceives technology and its limitations from a sentinel's perspective.
"Again, he may be able to enhance what is there without the need of special software or technical equipment --and that is a skill that may well come in handy when time is of the essence-- but at the same time the fact remains that he cannot compensate for what is not there and the resolution of the average video camera leaves much to be desired..."
"Because it is intended to be used with a screen that has an equally low resolution," I finish for him, realizing what he is trying to say.
"Exactly. The most you could hope to have is a situation similar to the one you encounter when you try to digitally enhance an image: yes, you can get a lot more detail than you would normally get but you can't enhance it to the point that you see something that isn't there to begin with. For instance, if you have a blurry reflection on a window, you may be able to enhance it until it makes some sort of sense but if there is no reflection to begin with then there's nothing you can do about it. In addition to that there is also the fact that a camera does not provide you with a full picture of your surroundings and --since a camera operates alone and is not aware of the input from any other 'senses'-- you may be unaware of something that is not in frame until it's too late. The thing is that when you hear something to your right, for instance, your natural reaction is to turn around and look for it. A camera doesn't have the ability to hear, a single microphone does not allow you to pinpoint the source of any given sound and there's no way Jim's senses can compensate for those limitations. He may be able to see more than the rest of us but he won't be able to see what the camera isn't showing him... and, to be perfectly honest --when lives are on the line-- those limitations are not something to be taken lightly."
"In other words, you are saying that using Jim's senses on the information provided by the probes could turn out to be a wasted effort at best and dangerous at worst?"
"Not necessarily. I'm saying that yes, he can help but that that is not the best use of his senses and that there are some technical limitations to those probes that Jim can't overcome because our technology was never intended to be used by a man with heightened senses. In other words, you could say that in a way the equipment is likely to end up imposing some of our own senses' limitations on him," explains Blair and I find myself trying to figure out what all of this means both for Jim and for the SGC.
Up until now Jim's heightened senses had been a rather intriguing phenomenon as far as I was concerned, they were a curiosity, now for the first time they are beginning to feel like something real.