A sort of companion piece to "Knew Her When". Some insight and history on contemporary and fellow super "Okulus". Some super powers have some very interesting side effects.
It wasn't until he turned thirteen that things truly began to become unusual. Karl began to have headaches and complain of vision problems. His parents got him glasses but the blurry images and eyestrain continued. Ojbects jumped in and out of focus. There were days when he could see less than an inch away from his nose, and others where he could see literally for miles. His parents, afraid that their son was losing his vision, sought treatment for him, but dozens of pairs of glasses and twice as many eye examinations did nothing to help. Karl was unable to explain that a lack of vision was not his problem. His problem was that he was seeing too much. By the time he turned fifteen the first layer of just about everything had vanished. He could read the first page of a book by looking through the cover, count the coins in a man's trouser pocket, and study the cogs in his father's pocket watch while it ticked. At first it wasn't so bad, it was fun in a way, but the novelty soon wore off. Especially as more layers began to disappear. One day he found himself unable to walk to school. When he rushed back into the house, face beet red and hands over his eyes his mother asked him what was wrong. "Everyone is naked!" he cried, genuinely alarmed. His parents began to be concerned for their son's sanity.
That memorable incident taught Karl to keep what he saw to himself. Even though his last pair of glasses did absolutely nothing to help, he smiled and told his parents not to worry. He learned to navigate by tracing the city sewer system since he could see right through the sidewalk. The walls of buildings had disappeared but he could still map their location by the water pipes and gas mains running up and down in mid-air. More layers disappeared and Karl found himself staring through to muscle and bone on most people, sometimes able to see what they'd eaten for lunch churning in their stomachs. He was able to see remarkable things that even modern science had been unable to reveal and yet in his daily life he lived like a blind man, feigning an appreciation and comprehension for things that for him had vanished. Once an avid reader, Karl found himself cut off from books and all other printed material. Taking notes in class became impossible and so he was forced to commit everything to memory or risk failing. His brother read to him what wasn't covered during class time. In order to read for himself, Karl learned braille and borrowed books from the local school for the blind. Due in part to his unique vision, he found books about medicine and biology to be the most interesting. At last he knew what it was he was looking at.
It was not until the local hospital received a grand and glorious new machine that emitted things known as "X-rays" that Karl finally understood what he'd been seeing. His own body was doing naturally what the machine was doing mechanically: looking inside a person without cutting them open. Once in dire panic as to what he would do with his life, Karl decided at once that a medical career would be ideal for him. He enrolled in a university at Dessau and while written tests continued to be a problem, Karl led his class by a wide margin. The lead student in the class behind his was a curious gentleman by the name of Julian Xerek who appeared to Karl to be mostly teeth. Julian was not exactly the most personable student at the univeristy and was twelve years Karl's senior, but the two struck up a friendship. Perhaps, in part, because they were both unique among the other students, Julian listened to machines and electricity the way Karl looked at people from the inside out. It was Julian who picked out Karl initially, the younger man's dark sunglasses giving him away. The smoked glass helped to cut down on the number of layers he was able to see through, he could even read the text book- three pages behind the one he was actually reading.
The medical university was within walking distance of another notable college- this one housed a peculiar collection of artists and artisans. It was known as the Bauhaus. Karl, between his vision problem and the rigors of medical school, did not get out much. Even though he could not see the clean-lined sculptures and delightfully simplicstic utensils designed by the Bauhaus students, Karl decided to see how much he could see of a theatrical presentation. The evening turned out better than Karl had anticipated. The players- dressed in large and heavy full-body costumes- were visible at skin level and while slightly embarrassing, it was nice to see something other than muscle and bone. It was not the performance itself, but one of the audience that truly made him stop and look.
She was female, a tiny little bundle of muscles with a pen and notepad in her handbag. At first he thought she was a child but realized that her insides were all wrong for anyone under the age of thirteen. She was no taller than he was himself, indeed perhaps an inch or two shorter. They had stood and looked at each other for a moment before breaking into simultaneous smiles, Karl's rather sheepish. Her name was Edna and she was a student at the Bauhaus. She was a designer of clothing, her genius sadly invisible to Karl's X-ray eyes. What proved to be a revelation to Karl was that she could see through him.
Edna was also unique. She could hear and see what went on inside Karl's head- if he let her. They could even think back and forth to one another, a trick she'd learned upon being introduced to Julian. They talked of their abilities sometimes, trying to guess the scope of their individual talents. While Edna and Julian contemplated expanding their powers, Karl sought a way to limit his. Edna came to him one day with the answer in a small box: a pair of glasses, the lenses made of mirrored, one-way glass. Enda's smiling bespectacled face was the first thing he saw. For some reason, it touched him to discover that she wore glasses too. The best way he could think of to thank her was to kiss her. Their friendship seamlessly translated to a quiet romance.
With Karl's vision at last under control, he joined E (she disliked her given name) and Julian in what they called "practise sessions", testing and exploring their abilities. E made Karl serveral other versions of glasses, finally settling on a pair with lenses blended of various types of glass and minerals. The composition of the lenses acted like bifocals, creating various points of focus for Karl, allowing him to see at great distances, normally, and even peer down into the very molecules of a structure. It was a marked improvement.
A curious side effect of their practise sessions was that they tended to attract trouble. Indeed trouble seemed to have a way of finding their mis-matched trio. Karl, with his X-ray vision, was best at sighting trouble from afar and assessing the situation. Julian too was good a sniffing out problems before they happened by listening in on the electrial currents in the air. The only one over five foot tall, he also took up the singular responsibility of appearing intimidating. Ironically it was E, tiniest and most delicate of the trio, who did most of the actual thug-pounding. Half Japanese, she had martial arts training and where that failed her, telekenisis made an excellent substitute.
E and Karl went out together as often as possible, sometimes with Julian, sometimes without. In order to reduce the awkwardness, E introduced Julian to her roomate Margaurite Lance. They hit it off beautifully but unlike E and Karl's comparatively tame relationship, the romance was brillaint but short-lived. Karl had always considered Julian pleasant enough if a bit stiff, but apparently the taller man was ill suited to romance. His and Margaurite's parting of ways was a glorious display of flame and smoke, like unto a missile barrage rather than fireworks. E was left to deal with the aftermath of a broken-hearted roommate and relayed the edited versions to Karl out of her own frustration. It wasn't until Karl noticed something peculiar in Margaurite that things truly got ugly.
How a man so intelligent could behave so foolishly was beyond Karl and he said as much to Julian. A series of arguments among the three of them began and went round for almost three months. E was enraged at Julian's heartlessness in leaving Marguerite to fend for herself. Karl, as a fellow member of the male species, offered only slightly more sympathy and the accession that Margaurite's condition had not been intentional. However, he agreed with E that Julian ought to take responsibility for his actions and marry Margaurite. Julian, given the nature of the breakup, didn't feel that would be the best course of action. The quarrel went around several times, Karl annoyed with Julian's apparent lack of remorse and Julian becoming indignant over Karl's holier-than-thou attitude. In a rare flash of temper Julian flatly requested that Karl stop lecturing him about standards that he himself was not upholding. Karl, who had in fact been upholding the standards in question, fired back a retort of his own. If Julian wanted a reason for his behavior that didn't involve social or moral standards he had one: "because I don't want to KILL her." Several minutes of silence followed. Karl and Julian's friendship was never quite what it had been after that. Julian left for Vienna at the end of term, and Karl stayed to finish his residency locally while E gained favor among the fashion elite.
The political situation, however, became increasingly unstable and E's father, recognizing the signs of a second conflict, packed up his family and fled to England, taking Margaurite with them. E tried to insist that Karl come as well, but he would have had to start his residencey afresh in Englad. Instead, he stayed behind, praying he would finish before the Nazis took Dessau. It was not to be. Less than a week before his residency finished the Axis invaded, raiding the hospital where he worked, rounding up any able-bodied men and burning the facility to the ground. Karl- despite having been turned down by the allied enlistment office due to his height- found himself pressed into service at gunpoint by the Axis. He attempted to plead that as a medical doctor, he was obligated to treat anyone and everyone, whether ally or enemy. His captors laughed and etched a swastica into the back of his left shoulder, a reminder that he was duty-bound to serve the Reich and no one else. He was tossed from one division to another, country to country serving as a field surgeon. Germany, France, Italy, even Russia. His skill at saving lives- german and otherwise- was passed back through the ranks to the higher-ups. He was removed from field duty and added to the medical staff at Buchenwald, an infamous experimentation camp. The bombings, mines, firefights, bullets, and blood he'd seen on the field were not enough to prepare him for the atrocities he would witness in the sterile rooms of that camp. After collapsing in the middle of witnessing an experiment, Karl pled a lack of scientific knowledge and insisted that he would be more useful as a field surgeon than as an administor of the grisly treatments. He still served for six more weeks diagonising what had gone wrong in various experiments before he was finally transferred back to field duty. The germans needed an able surgeon to treat soldiers now fighting a losing battle.
The battles grew fiercer, the injuries more deadly, the stakes higher than ever. The rules of war had been thrown out the window and Karl's division was fighting dirty. Entire villages were razed for the sake of flushing out one spy or slowing the allied advance. Men, women, children, it didn't matter to them. Unable to do anything else, he treated the german casualties as bullets flew overhead. It was during one such raid that his division found themselves surrounded by allied forces. Outraged at the murder of innocent villagers, the Tommies had opened fire, gunning down anyone in a german uniform including the man on Karl's operating table. The muzzel of a gunbarrel pressed against his temples, Karl raised his hands in surrender, fully expecting his skull to shatter at any second. At that moment, he would have welcomed it. After what he had seen and done, he felt he deserved it.
The cold press of metal lifted away and Karl turned to stare wide-eyed at a face he had not seen in years. Julain Xerek stood before him, battle-worn and rifle in hand looking just as stunned as Karl felt. His nerves and sanity down to the last raw edges, Karl burst into tears, trying to bawl the whole horrible story in under thirty seconds. A hearty slap across the face from Julian restored his senses. Karl would never be able to explain just how Julian kept the rest of the squad from shooting him point blank, but Karl survived the surreal journey, Julian dragging him along behind every step of the way. It took some persuasion, but Karl was allowed to serve as field surgeon and medic to the allied troops he traveled with, changing several minds with his skill and tenderness. However, not everyone believed "Julian's German Dwarf" was trustworthy. The stress of living in constant fear of his life and sewing up soldiers during the last bloody days of the war proved too much for Karl's already over-worked sanity. He collapsed during a firefight and woke up days later in a French hospital. Julian's mercy had placed him anonymously in with a shipment of American wounded headed home. Karl would arrive at San Diego, California, USA, July 4, 1946 and never look back.
It came as a surprise to Karl that others like him were now being recognized as "supers". Cautious of their identities, their physiology above and beyond that of a normal person, an injured super needed a special kind of doctor. Karl fit the bill perfectly. Rotating with other "super docs" on the west coast, Karl examined and treated hunders of supers. It was during this time that he learned E, the love he'd left so long ago in Germany, was alive, single, and living on the east coast. One of the "equipper" class, E was not only the leading fashion designer among the regular population, but was also a highly sought-after designer of super hero suits. Rather than contact her, Karl quietly watched from a distance, fearing too much time had passed and that he or she had changed too much to rekindle a relationship that had lain dormant for almost twenty years. It would take another twenty for them to meet face to face once more. In the meantime Karl continues to work by contract for various hospitals, treating the not-so-average citizens of California and other states. His current clientel includes Gamma Jack, Apogee, the Incredibles, and many others.