Friday, 9 October 2015


“Listen up. We gotta problem.”

“Colonel.” came the answer.

“The Remote. For the English Patient. It’s been stolen.”

“Stolen? How’d that happen?”

“None o’your goddamned business!” snapped the Colonel.

There was a short silence from the Listening Station.

“OK, Colonel: whaddya want me to do?”

“You gotta listen-in from there. Make sure she don’t get up to anything Unauthorized_”

“You mean she knows the damn thing’s gone AWOL?”

“Sure she knows!” slammed the Colonel. “She, freakin’, took it!”

The line went quiet as the implications sank in. 


“You on the Black Line?”

“You betcha!”

“You gotta tell me the channel and stuff for that Remote. The codes. For listenin’ in.”

“Sure. Keys with Cassie. Tell her ‘Red Cell’.”

“Red Cell. Got it.”

“I’m headed right over. Be there in a half-hour. Now get listenin’ in. Anything outta the ordinary, get Cassie on it.”

“Cassie. Sure. That all?”

The line went dead. 

Within two minutes, Mac was listening in. 

But all he could hear was Verity’s voice repeating the same sentence, over and over, more faintly each time.

Test forEcho...”

Until it faded away into an inaudible whisper.

He reached into his pocket for his private line. Time was of the essence. 

Sure enough, within ten minutes he heard the voices of his two comrades, over the Remote line. There were the sounds of a short struggle. Other voices. 

Then Verity crying. 

Then silence. 

Dome picture, thanks Corbis Images, and PBS Architecture page: 

Monday, 5 October 2015

Four chambers

“Verity says he can read minds.”

“Who is he?” asked Ruth.

“I believe he is the Colonel; the one who made her have the Enhanced Heart put in.”

“So is he reading her mind right now?”

“No,” answered Sacha, “Verity is reading his mind. He can read minds all the time. Not only like this. If somebody is near enough to him, he can read their thoughts.”

“Can he read ours, now?”

Ruth tried desperately not to think of the Remote, still lying on the four-poster in the spare bedroom where she had left it.

“I don’t believe so.”

“I don’t know how to stop myself thinking about something...”

The four-poster didn’t go away. 


“Verity says she fills her mind with monkeys_”

Monkeys!” Ruth tried not to laugh, and failed.

“Monkeys. Like in Haja Nasruddin, the spell that doesn’t work if you are thinking of monkeys. She says it, they, chase all the other thoughts away.”


Verity and the Colonel were looking up, blinking.

“What’s that gorgeous smell? I’m starving! Oh, hello Ruth. Hello.” She smiled at Sacha and turned to put an arm round him. 

“I’ve brought some chicken soup for you.”

“You’re a star! Thanks!”

They all went through to the kitchen.

“Oh, er, sorry. You haven’t met, have you? This is Colonel..., of the U.S. Army.”

She added matter-of-factly, “He’s a psychopath.”

There was an awkward silence.

“Oh. And a mind-reader. He’s been showing me how he can do mind-reading without Empathy. It’s...”

she turned to the Colonel and smiled,

“Quite impressive actually...Oh, yes, and, this is Sacha, my husband_”

Ruth noticed the emphasis on the last word,

“And this is Ruth. She works at the University.”

Verity was smiling sheepishly.

“But I suppose you could already tell.” 

Ruth wiped the table while Verity got down bowls and served the soup. Sacha deployed a plate of dark bread.

“No meat.”

“Oh! Sorry...”

“Not since the summer.”

Verity brightened. “Oh of course, yes. It’s...for the weak. Isn’t it, Colonel?”

Ruth glanced across at Sacha, who looked as puzzled as she felt. Verity’s gaze was wandering around the room, as if searching for something. She stopped when Ruth caught her eye. 

“Did you know...” she began, “Monkeys are vegetarian?” They both grinned.

When they had finished their soup the Colonel got up and walked round the table as if to leave. He stopped directly behind Verity.

Verity was wearing her usual V-neck woollen jumper, as yet without her necklaces because they would touch her wound and feel unpleasant. But something gleamed_

Ruth and Sacha both saw it at the same time. 

Verity stiffened just a little, and looked down briefly. “He bought it in Sheffield.”

“I left something here, on this table, when I came to visit. Anyone care to tell me where they might have tidied it away?”

Verity shook her head vigorously. 

“The Colonel...has forsworn violence. Since the summer. That’s why he...doesn’t eat meat any more. He says,”

She turned around and looked pointedly up at him,

“Violence is for the weak.”

She paused.

“Isn’t that so, Colonel.”

The Colonel remained silent.

“Verity_” Ruth started.

“In a Mind Palace, you can see a person’s skills. Including all the languages they speak. Thole is the name, in English, for the Language of Violence. The reference for it, in the Colonel’s Mind Palace, is boarded-up and derelict. Abandoned.”

Verity's voice had softened. She looked down to her right. 

“He has no need for it anymore.”

Sacha’s eyes widened. Verity continued,

“It’s all about soft power. Persuasion. Influence. Isn’t it, Colonel?”

Ruth looked across at Sacha. She wondered what he could be making of all this. Wondered if he, or Verity, had ever heard of Stockholm Syndrome.

“The Colonel works for American Millennium Project,” Verity resumed, in more matter-of fact tones. “His detail is to monitor me. Using, among other things, this Enhanced Heart. It’s part of an experiment. So, I have to,”

She glanced straight down once more.

Survive. Unharmed. Or the experiment won’t work, will it?”

The Colonel was moving away from Verity. Towards_

Ruth, Colonel, as you may well know,” Verity began, “Is...working with Professor Austin, who I believe is now a colleague of yours, on the vital matter of getting the English Method to work in Arabic! And then Hebrew, and then Spanish, all of which she speaks fluently. No-one else is better placed for this work. I don’t think your people’d be too pleased if_”

The Colonel gave a slight affirmative gesture. 

Oh no! I've got distracted and given it away...

“And Sacha is a Russian citizen. There are delicate negotiations. Trade. One of the delegates is an old classmate of his. Still in touch. You don’t want a diplomatic incident to your name_”

“That’s a real cute bit of quiltwork you got on that bed there,” the Colonel began. “Roses. Very English.”

Ruth could see Verity mouthing the word ‘monkeys’. But it was too late.

“And a four-poster. I ain’t never slept in a four-poster before.” 

He lowered his voice,

“Ain’t never done anything in a four-poster before.”

Verity blanched. 

Sacha coloured.

Then Verity’s face took on a strange, remote expression. She looked as if she were concentrating hard on something. On a thought, perhaps. She was staring right at the Colonel.

“That..remote...” she began, through gritted teeth, 

“leaves this house...” 

She was still glaring at the Colonel but seemed not to be seeing his face,

Over my dead body.”

Ruth had never heard such an odd turn of phrase before. It seemed to affect the Colonel, too. His face paled. 

He looked as if he’d given up. 

“Guess I’ll just have to get another one fixed-up first thing tomorrow, then.” he said, turning to leave.

Verity seemed to be holding her breath until he had gone. 

As soon as the door closed, she grabbed her notebook and started to write. 

I’m still audible at the Listening Station! I think we all are.

She pointed up at the poster on the wall: Careless Talk Costs Lives, before resuming her writing.

But getting hold of that Remote was still worth it!

Ruth couldn’t think why on earth that might be.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

A suitable case

It was on the floor. Verity had to kneel.

“Er, how d’you open it?”

She lifted the front of the large black attaché case towards her to get a better look at the fastenings. 

“Ah, right, I can see now.”

The Colonel remained on his feet, looking down at her. Power was obviously a thing with him: if there were a table on which she could rest the Mind Drill, allowing her to remain standing while investigating it, the Colonel and she would be exactly level.   

And if it were somewhere other than in the Skills Hut of the Colonel’s Mind Palace, she wouldn’t feel quite so...

But you have to go to repulsive places for answers sometimes. And I want answers: how does this thing work? What are the Colonel’s other skills, that I need to know about? How much can I get him to show me before the effects of the Oxytocin I managed to get him to inhale wear off? 

“You...really have forsworn violence, haven’t you?”

The Colonel remained silent.

“Because I noticed, when we were walking from the parade-ground to this hut, that the Languages hut, where the Thole reference lives, is boarded-up.”

“Open it.”

“Ah. Sorry: I got distracted...”

Verity pushed the two chrome knobs away from the centre; the locks sprang open. 

She lifted the lid. She could tell by the hinges on the case’s spine that it could be opened flat, like a tool box. Which was, essentially, what it was. 

The inside was lined with soft, dense black foam, with each of the many parts of the Mind Drill fitting snugly into its own indentation. All were black. The whole was so neat, it almost looked like a grim work of art. Verity reached out a hand towards it.

A left hand. 

“Is it_”

“I got it altered. It’s left-handed now. Like I am. Like I shoulda been all along.”

Verity startled as images of her appeared on the walls of the room: herself, as the Colonel saw her, in his mind. 

“Like you.” he said finally, as he followed her gaze.

Verity’s mind started to twist with the bizarre flattery. The Colonel, forced by his father to change hands when he was a child, had made the effort to return to the condition that nature had intended for him. And had done so because he had seen it in her.  

“Aw, we got a lot more than that in common.” he added, as if reading her thoughts. Although she knew he couldn’t do so while she was here, in his Mind Palace. But she could read his, plainly, on the walls. Which was one of the reasons she had asked to visit the place again. It wasn’t so much a Mind Palace, though, as a sort of military camp, with a high wire fence, and huts instead of rooms. Mind Camp. 


Sister languages...

Verity shivered.

“Get it out.”

The Colonel indicated the largest piece in the case. It resembled a black, oversized Glock pistol.

It looked as though it should have been heavy, but she found it easy to lift up. In the Mind dimension, she wasn’t her slight physical self with bones yet to heal after her heart surgery: she had a strong mind. She held the piece as she did the air-rifle at home, when Sacha, Andrei and she would practice shooting in the back garden.

“You’ve done this before, ain’tcha?”

“ shooting an air-rifle.”

She squeezed the trigger carefully, and startled as the thing sprang into life.

“You gotta put a Bit on. For drillin’ into people’s minds...”

“Sorry but...before I start, er, doesn’t it hurt?”

“Only if ya catch your hand on it_”

“I mean, hurt the person you’ me.”

“The target. No. Didn’t hurt you, did it? All those times.”

“No. I...”

The Colonel finally levelled beside her, so as to whisper,

“Didn’t feel a thing, did ya?”



The Colonel picked up one of the small sharp Bits and unscrewed the end of the drill. Three evil-looking black petals opened. They closed around the Bit as he fastened it back up. 

“Now...we just gotta I.D. a target. Someone we can hear, from where we are: from my mind. Maybe someone who’s walkin’ down your street_”

“How can that work, though? We’d have to shoot through the window and_”

“Mind space: all you gotta do is imagine you’re right next to 'em: they're at point blank range. Then lift, aim, fire.”

“And...what does that do?”

“That Bit, it’s a little pickup. Gotta drill it into the Target’s mind, then it’ll send ya all that’s goin’ on in there: audio, pictures, smells, the works. Send it only to you, ‘for your eyes only’: focused. Not all scattered and faded-out like you get from an Empathy pickup.”

Verity recalled the Empathy set she had found, and helped re-start, in Reid’s Mind Palace, when he had stopped taking Sleep-E-Z and got his Empathy back, and with it his mind-reading skills. It worked like a radio receiver, only in the Mind dimension rather than the physical. It seemed a much less intrusive way of picking up people’s thoughts. 

She heard footsteps.

“OK, there’s your target. Gotta imagine you’re real near her now: up close and personal.”

Verity looked at the figure. She thought she recognised her. She imagined herself on the pavement next to her, lifted the drill in both hands, looked along the sights and_

“Er, whereabouts on the person_”

“Ear. Into the ear. It twists right in.”

Verity squeezed the trigger. She was spot-on. The woman walked on, oblivious.

A screen embedded in the inside of the attaché case’s lid came to life, and there were extra sounds. The screen was full of images of dogs, and the audio seemed to consist of a constant stream of complaining. 

Verity grinned.

“It’s Anne, from the next street! I recognise her now: she’s always whingeing about something.”

“She got an attitude problem.” the Colonel smiled.

“Yes. I usually cross the street to avoid her, or she starts whingeing at me. Well, I suppose at least she’s consistent.”

As Anne walked on, the audio and video faded.

“What’s the range of this thing?” asked Verity.

“Gotta be within earshot_”

Verity grinned.

“Pun intended?”

“Limeys. Always eether jokin’ or complainin’.”

“So would you, if you lived here.”

After a short silence the Colonel said,

“There’s more. Wanna see_”

He smiled when she looked up,

“ ‘Course ya do.”   

“What d’you mean, more?”

“Remember The General?”

“Leeds General? ‘Course! It’s only been three days_”

The Colonel leaned in and whispered slowly,

General Powell.”  

“ into my dreams...made me think you were him. Asked me about the English Method.”

“Well, Little Miss Curious: how d’ya suppose I got there?”

“You must have the room. You must have asked Charity not to give me the Sleep-E-Z that night, because it would have stopped me dreaming. You must have_”

“Done something a bit more than just read your mind, huh? I made y’a nice hotel room, with flowers. We had a whole conversation in there.”


“I musta got in somehow, huh? All the way in.”

Verity shuddered.

“Now. Take a look at all that hardware in there,”

he indicated the attaché case,

“And tell me whaddya think I used, to get in.”

Verity picked up an implement that looked like a laser pointer. 

“Is this how you take aim at somebody’s mind when it’s dark?”

It was only then that she realised there had been an image of it on the walls. An image that had materialised while he was still asking her the question.

“No. Butcha answered the question right. That’s what I use for startin’ to get in: it’s a laser. That’s how I make the incision.”

Verity’s mind was straining: half revolted, half exhilarated that she might be on to something...


“In the ear, after the drill bit’s gone in. Only this time, there’s no pickup. No need.”


“So: whaddya reckon I have to do next, huh?”

“I’m...not sure. You said...get in. I suppose.”

Verity stared at the contents of the case, but tried to see, over to her left, what was being projected onto the walls. It looked mediaeval. It had gears, and teeth. 

“You need something else...before you can get in?”

There seemed to be two long strips of metal. She looked for similar ones among the implements in the case: picked them up out of their indent...

But they weren’t just strips, with gears for moving them apart. There were spikes extending down underneath...

Verity dropped the thing.

“Aw, clumsy. Just as well your Rembrandt didn’t do that last week, ain’t it?”

“Is...that what you use?..”


Player, remember that Chinese proverb! You knew this wasn’t going to be pretty: ‘not afraid of the answers’, lass. Stay in one piece...

“Retractor. Open things up. Your mind’s got defences: I gotta get in through ‘em. That’s what I use. All in the Mind dimension. Little ol’ me, like we are now. My, you call ‘em 'steersman' or 'steerswoman', don’tcha? Like on a ship. Gets in. Gets on board. Like the pilot in a harbour. Help steer ya through the tricky bits. Steer ya towards answering my questions, or else towards seeing things the way I want ya to see ‘em.”


“Didn’t feel any pain eether, did ya? All that pullin’ stuff apart, stuff that your mind’s made of, tough stuff that protects it, and whaddya feel? Nada: zilch. Your Colonel’s pain management is good, huh?”

“I...did have a terrible migraine the following day_”

“Sure, but what kinda warning is that, huh, a day late? There’s no way you can stop me. You’re asleep, ain’tcha? Defenceless. No pain, no alarm bells. Nothin’ you can do.” 

There’s always something I can do! I can ask questions...get answers...

“That’s...worth knowing.”

Ask nicely...

“Thank you, Colonel, for telling me these things. They’re...interesting. The devices, though. In the black case. Are they...unique to you?”

“Now that’s a real inneresting question. No, they ain’t. There’s other psychopath mind-readers out there. A whole buncha us. Workin’ as a team. Workin’ for the Project. We all got the same gear. Use it the same way.”

“How did you meet them? Was it on your course in Thailand?”

“Nah, not Thailand. Those were more your physical types. These guys, I got to know ‘em in Psy-ops.”

Verity looked up surreptitiously at the walls. And sure enough, there she was! Pale brown hair, Eveninglanders’ blue eyes, teeth too straight, smile too artificial...For one of the few times in her life, Verity had got the measure of a person right first time.

And since when did a bunch of psychopaths work together reliably?...

“So...if one of these people...if you, fall out with them, or they want something from in your mind, something you don’t fancy sharing...and you know that they’ve got a kit like this,”

Verity indicated the attaché case: the words came to her unbidden, 

“Nobody ever gets the better of your Colonel! Not Little Miss Weak, not Cassie Hertford, not nobody. ‘Course there are ways...” 

Verity, suddenly more alert and less distracted, smiled up at him and set to listening carefully as a whole new branch of science unfolded before her.