Wednesday, 25 November 2015


“So, gentlemen: this is our first subject. Our pioneer, if you like. Meet Patient Zero.”

Professor Austin addressed his two students. One of whom, Verity noticed, was female. 

The Professor’s voice was lower and more carefully-spoken than Verity remembered: she wondered if he had the ‘flu. She stared blankly at the wall behind his left shoulder. 

There was Jamila in her damask robes, turning her chair round and getting out her little book for morning prayers. She put a shawl over her head. Verity wished she could do the same; she was finding it hard not to smile at her own ingenuity.


“Helen, Jamila,” she had said earlier, over breakfast, “I don’t know if I ever told you, but I volunteer for experiments. As a, er, subject. And I heard yesterday that these guys, the latest lot, they’ve just got their grant money through. They’re psychologists. Or psychiatrists, I can’t remember.”

“Are they coming here, to the ward?”

“Yes.” Verity looked into her empty breakfast bowl. “I’m really sorry_”

“What are they going to do?” asked Jamila.

“Just...look at me and, try and talk with me. It’s like a Turing Test_”

Helen looked up. Verity could tell she’d never heard of such a thing.

“They’ve got, fifty real mental patients, and fifty of us who’ve got nothing wrong with us. And we’ve got to pretend to be, you know, one thing short of a wotnot, and then without doing any physical tests, like brainwaves and stuff, they’ve got to tell the real ones from the, er,”


Verity grinned. “Yeah. Players.”

“So I take it your sponsored silence_”

“Ooh thanks, yes, that’s a point!”

She took down the notice about Amnesty International. “Yes: I’ve not really much choice have I..?”

“You must be mad.” Helen had said.


The Professor came around beside Verity’s bed, pulled up a chair and sat down. He leaned in. 
“Hello, Verity.” He spoke slowly and carefully, looking right into her eyes

Verity stared blankly past him and out of the window.

“Do you remember who I am?”

“Judge your honour...” said Verity in a monotone. She noticed the male student snigger.

“Can you hear_”

“Hear...” Verity echoed.

The female student came over. 

“Can you remember your name?”

“My...prayer...” Verity remembered to squint: disconcert them. The female student backed off a little. 

“Yes: Player, that’s right.” said the male student with a smile that even Verity could see was fake. “Verity,” he looked down at his clipboard, “Imelda, Player.” She decided she didn’t like him. She stared straight in his eyes and announced:

“I’ve just cut my good man’s throat.”

She saw Helen grinning and stifling a laugh. Thankfully Jamila was still in deep communion with The Merciful.

The Professor’s right hand flashed up to slap Verity, but her own left arm moved quicker to block: defence. 

“Self-preservation.” said the male student. “Surely getting rid of the drive for self-preservation will prove more difficult than the work done so fa_”

“And what, exactly, would you know about these complex cognitive processes, hmm? Of the statistical calculations involved in analysing and modifying them? Of the search, the screening, the vetting, for the ideal, first subject? Ewan?

Verity noticed ‘Ewan’s ears turn red. 

The Professor turned pale. He got up and left the bay, followed by his two students. Verity watched them out of the ward door until it had closed.

“They’ve gone”, she said.

The Colonel walked in with a coffee. 

“Oh, thank you.” She smiled up at him.

“You were damn good!”

“Thank you, Colonel. Have you met Helen and Jamila, by the way?”

The Colonel’s eyes widened on seeing Jamila.

“Is that a real, y’know, Moslem?”

“Yes. She’s praying.”

“Well, OK. Now, let’s talk about Cassie. Methods: tactics. You ‘member the tone?”

Verity hummed it.

“She ain’t gonna get scared off like your Prof, and she ain’t got a stinkin’ hangover neether_”

“Was he hung over?”

“Sure, couldn’t you tell? ‘Mazed you didn’t get tipsy just sittin’ near the guy.”


In. No I wasn’t. Trusted ya to do a good job. You play soccer don’tcha? Defense.”

“Used to.”

“One-up at half-time, huh? Whatcha gotta do now?”

“Er...keep my nerve.”

“Sure. Defend good. I can go in and tell if you’re losin’ it, if ya like. If it don’t disconcert ya.”

“What could you do, though? If I_”

“Sit in the lounge there, line o’sight, and give y’a signal. Biofeedback.”

“That might help actually, yes.”

Verity spent the rest of the morning on-edge. Just before lunch she went to the window and looked, once more, at the evil Plant Building. Recalled the lad she had seen in Helen’s chair. Decided not to tell Helen about it: thankfully everybody had slept right through the fracas. 

Hurts. Sicks. 

She grasped the handle to open the window. No infrasound today.

And screamed out loud:

Oh my God!! Infrasound! Hertz! Six!! That lad...Six Hertz!! Bloody hell! Am I thick or what??”

When she turned round to apologise to Helen and Jamila, she slammed straight into Cassie. 

Can love beeee...

She hummed the tone in her head: block Cassie’s signal. 

She couldn’t see the Colonel. She didn’t know how a broken person should walk. She recalled the R.T.I. video she'd watched last year, took its advice about emergency situations and collapsed.

Cassie knelt beside her. Someone's footsteps headed for the Nurses’ Station. 

“Are you OK?” Cassie’s voice. Footsteps headed in towards her.

“All the excitement proving a bit too much for us, is it?” Dr Wheeler’s voice. “General, I think we’d better allow Mrs Player a bit of quiet, hadn't we?”

Cassie wouldn’t budge.

Thud.” said Verity.

Cassie’s footsteps receding.

Dr Wheeler knelt beside Verity, but she could tell his attention lay elsewhere. She heard the ward door close.

“Well done,” said Dr Wheeler, putting down Verity's discharge report and medications so as to offer her a hand up. 

“I think we had her fooled, don’t you?”

Verity couldn’t quite believe her ears.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015


Verity buried her face in her hands, in despair. 

She pulled her notebook towards her and wrote “Please read my mind.” 

The Colonel smiled and obliged. 

I’ve been stupid! I completely forgot I’m being listened to!! We’ve given everything aw_


Professor Austin celebrated alone. He pulled the bottle of bourbon out of his desk drawer, found a large glass and filled it to the top. Might as well: he seemed to have misplaced the earbuds from the Remote for Verity’s heart, so he couldn’t listen in for the time being. But it wasn’t important: his algorithm was doing its work even as he downed his drink.

He would only be able to publish a sketchy outline of what he had achieved: the serious work all came under strict Classification. It was to be regretted: such a great breakthrough not receiving public recognition for fifty, perhaps seventy-five years. He would not be there to see it: didn’t even have heirs to claim it on his behalf. He poured himself another glass.

It occurred to him as he drank his way down it that his subject had been an academic’s wife. There would be another man, somewhere in the corridors of academia, alone as he was.

Or perhaps not: the Russian at least had children. Children with a piece of human wreckage for a mother. Everybody has to make sacrifices for the advancement of Science. Professor Austin poured out a third full glass. 

He smiled: now at last he would get a proper suite of premises for his work, for reasons of National Security. He would be free of the English Method research which, compared with the perfection of his techniques for breaking the mind, was simple, repetitive drudgery. Women’s work. 

He raised his third glass to that prospect, and downed it in one. 

He would administer a detailed Turing Test in the morning: the subject’s failure would mark his success.


Ruth couldn’t sleep: she felt so guilty about the earbuds that she got up, put on a coat, found a spade and buried them in the garden. Even though she understood the Colonel’s reasoning about why she should “look after them, y’know? Just for a short while...”


“Aw, don’t you worry on that score.”

No? Then can I...perhaps...sorry but...ask you to leave? My mind?

He could feel her mind calming, as if to listen for the sensation of his leaving. 

He stayed put. Wondered what she’d do about that. Started to look arou_

It all cut out: no words, no pictures, nada. “Whatcha doin’?”

But he could see how pleased she was with her achievement: memorised the jamming tone. 

Well I’ll be. Perfect pitch: I clean forgot about that.  We can use that: you an’ me, we can use it an’ we can make the second time, when ya do it all over again for me, even better’n the first. 

She’s gooood, my little ally. She’s gonna give her Colonel everything he wants...

“How ‘bout I tell ya, why ya needn’t worry ‘bout bein’ listened in on, huh?”

He could tell it was an effort for her to hold on to the musical note while nodding assent. He’d better leave her mind alone if he wanted her to take this all in. He pulled out.

“Thank you, Colonel. That’s...very kind of you.”

“Well, the Professor had a workin’ set o’ears, but I went an’asked your friend Ruth to, kinda borrow them a while. So he ain’t listenin’ to ya no more.”

“But...the Listening Sta_”

“An’ I know the guy who’s listenin’ there. He’s,”

The Colonel leaned in,

“The absolute soul of discretion.”

He could tell she was waiting for a name. 

“So discreet, I can’t tell ya who he is. Ya just gonna have to trust your Colonel right now.”

Aw, she don’t like that. But she got no choice.

“Anyways, we’re talkin’ so quiet, the two of us, I guess nothin’ much is bein’ picked up, huh?”

That’s better. She’s thinkin’. What’s she thinkin’..?

“This way, to stop you picking up the signals. That the little pickup transmits from my mind, when you...when...”

“When I go in, huh?”

She don’t like that eether. But I do. It’s a pleasure, even jus’ talkin’ ‘bout it...

“Is it the same note, the same frequency, for all of you?”

“No it ain’t. You thinkin’ ‘bout Cassie, huh?”

“How...did you..?”

“ ‘Cause you’re rational. You know she’s a mind-reader, you know she’s a psycho, and now I told ya, you know she’s up to no good_”
“How did she not read my mind, that morning?”
“ ‘Cause she’s stoopid. I’d found out how sensitive y’are to Oxytocin: how trustin’ y’are. I told her: told her all about’cha. She didn’t listen. Always thinks ‘more is better’. She’s, kinda crass. She gave y’an O.D.: scrambles the signal. She got nothin’."

I’ll just let her be happy ‘bout that a short while. ‘Fore I make her even happier...

“Cassie’s jammin’ frequency, it’s eight-fifths a’mine.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know the_”

“Minor sixth.” 

“Ah, right. Thanks. It’s...kind of you, to let me know.”

He heard her hum a song which started with a minor sixth: Laь-Do-Do-Laь Laь...

Aw, ‘Love Story’. Ain’t that cute?

“Now, how about the two of us, you and me, we team up. Get our own back on your Professor and on Cassie, huh? How about we ice_”


“Ah-ah, I ain’t finished. I don’t do that kinda stuff no more, ‘member?”

“Oh, right. Er, in that case why could Cassie even ask you”

“’Cause she wanned to get your Colonel into trouble. She knew I wouldn’t do it: wanned an excuse to get me outta the way. Then she’d-a hired someone else to do it. ‘Cept now she and the Professor, they got a reason for keepin’ ya alive.”

She don’t look too happy ‘bout that...

“Y’see, he thinks he’s broken ya. Thinks ya’ve stopped talkin’ sense. Long silences. Random words. Ever’body else just humourin’ ya sayin’ other random words back atcha.”

Aw, she’s gigglin’. She gets it.

“And Cassie, she’s the one who ordered him to do it: ordered him to find a strong-minded subject, and break ‘em. Usin’ the Enhanced Heart. Behaviour modification: Learned Helplessness. Parta the Program. That’s why she had an implant put in ya, ‘gainst your will_”

She ain’t too pleased with my part in all that...

“She gave orders: no choice. I said we’d be better with y’as an ally instead: worth a try. But she ain’t got the subtlety: the tactics. She said court-martial or turn your heart off. No ch_”

“Hang on! You've got_”

The Colonel unbuttoned his shirt and pulled the left collar down to reveal a hideous, ragged scar.

“We all got one. Controls with Cassie. Only after your little birthday party, I ripped mine out.”

Controls with shit...

He lowered his voice and leaned right in: had a perfectly valid reason this time.

“So, tomorrow, Lady Player, before you go home to hubby, we’re goin’ to play a little game with these guys: you an’ me versus the Prof and Cassie...”

He explained the ‘rules’ in a whisper.

“An’ we’re gonna win.”

Aw, she likes that. Likes her Colonel givin' the orders. 

You’re gonna do it both times for me, you’re gonna do it good, and you’re gonna love it...


Verity watched the Colonel leave the ward and listened for the door closing behind him. 

She put her hands to her mouth to hide her grin at what she’d managed to do. She had got him to reveal the way to tell if a psychopath was reading one’s mind, Cassie’s jamming frequency, Professor Austin’s over-stepping of his brief, and finally a way of ending both their careers, and with them, quite possibly, the entire, wretched, ‘Program’, riven as it appeared to be with internal splits. 

And she could tell, from his voice, that he’d enjoyed every minute of it. English Method: just ask nicely.

She smiled on her pillow. Sleep came easily.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Right axis deviation

Verity couldn’t sleep. 

She had no idea what time it was; the curtains round her bed shielding her from the corridor lights also hid the clock.  

Probably infrasound again.

She got up and went to the window to check: remembered to don her dressing-gown first for the sake of public decency. And warmth: single glazing, metal frames.

She touched them. No vibrations: no infrasound. 

Turning to go back to bed, she sensed Helen’s corner of the ward sounded different: softer. Sure enough, looking to her right she noticed a figure sitting in Helen’s bedside chair. It wasn’t Helen’s husband with his distinctive smart white hair: it appeared to be a lad in his twenties. Dressed in daytime clothes, but with E.C.G. leads dangling out below his shirt, which wasn’t tucked in. 

What on earth was an outpatient doing in the building at this unearthly hour?

He looked up at her.

“Hurts.” he said. 

She walked over to him.

Crew cut. Face...she might have seen somewhere. Where..? 

“This is the Ladies’ part of the ward. You’re not really supposed to be here, at night-time.”

But all he said was: “Hurts.”

“If you go to the Nurses’ Station I’m sure someone’ll be able to get painkillers for you.” Verity was still on eight paracetamols a day.


“Oh don’t...not here. They’ll be able to get a vomit bonnet for you if you go_”

He’d got up and gripped the two sides of her face_



She tried to back away. Took paces backwards, to get out of the bay and into line-of-sight of the Nurses’ Station, so that someone’d see the problem without her having to scream.

He kept hold of her face. 

After three paces he wouldn’t move any further. 

Verity didn’t want to scream and wake everybody up.

She lifted her arms carefully to put her hands on his shoulders. The action brought an ache to her abused ribs.

She repositioned her feet. 

She defended herself as she had been taught.

The lad bent double and she legged it to the Nurses’ Station to raise the alarm. She didn’t even have to say anything: someone was already calling security. 

She was relieved to see the burly men in their dark blue uniforms. 

“I think he’s a patient from another ward. He seems in shock or something. He...he’s like someone with P.T.S.D. It’s weird.”

One of the Security men was trying to talk with him: get any sense out of him. He couldn’t even get a name. 

“These aren’t standard E.C.G. leads: he’s from somewhere else.”

They had no idea where. 

There were no spare beds. 

As a last resort, they escorted him out of the building and across the side car-park to St George’s. Reckoned they’d know what to do with him.

By a remarkable stroke of luck St George’s Crypt, the homeless centre under the eponymous church, had just landed a massive ‘Good Neighbors’ grant from the Listening Station. 

Warm inside and smelling of tea and potatoes. There were spare beds. Even a military doctor: a lot of ex-military with P.T.S.D. came their way.

Verity went back to bed. But no sleep came: only questions. She got up again, to look out at the dark Plant Building. 


Aw look, there she is, Little Miss Curious.

He went in.

Wondrin’ what’s up. Wondrin’ ‘bout that building. Picked up the sound! Well I’ll be. An’ all upset because she’s gotta go home tomorrow. Plus in shock. Aw, she’s had a scare: I know all ‘bout that. Well don’t you worry ‘bout a thing, Little Miss Curious, because your Colonel’s here now.  

I ain’t gonna hurt ya, I ain’t even gonna twist nothin’ like I did before, ‘cause you don’t like that, do ya? Makin’ you all conflicted. Stronger the mind, more the twistin’ hurts. An’ you put up a fight, didn’tcha, and it sure hurt.

This time, we’re gonna work it better’n that: you ain’t gonna put up a fight. No sir: I’m gonna give you somethin’ you like. An’ you’re gonna do exactly what your Colonel wants, you’re gonna smile all the way through it,

He smiled.

An’ best of all you’re gonna thank him afterward. You’re gonna be so thankful, you’ll wanna do it all...over...again...

“I broughtcha a coffee. With sugar. Like you like.”

“Colonel! What’re you doing here?”

Verity looked at the cup. 

“It ain’t laced, don’t you worry. C’mon: back to bed where it’s warm. Put it up in ‘sun-lounger mode’ so’s we can_”

“How d’you know I call it that?”

“Aw c’mon, you’re not thinkin’. How’s your Colonel know anything, huh?”

“Oh. Course.”

She’s smilin’. 

“F’rinstance, I’m there right now.”

He saw her mental image of the Mind Drill.  She wasn’t smiling any more. 

“Have y’ever wondered...”

He wanted the smile back. Give her something...

“How ya can tell if I’m in there, huh? If anybody’s in there, that oughtn’t be?”

“Ooh, is there a way?”

“There sure is. Wanna learn it?”

“Ooh yes please! I’d love to_”

“Well, I’m there right now, huh? So: first, you gotta calm your mind down, right down. Just look at something; something ornery. And think...of your water in that old pond from the Haiku, when all the ripples have spread away and gone...

Verity looked at one of the square patterns on the curtain. 

The Colonel’s voice became soft: he didn’t want to disturb her concentration. 

She concentrates good...that’s gonna be useful later...

“OK. I’m in there. I’m gonna leave, on Zero, right. Countdown: Zero.”

He pulled out.

“Feel anything?”

“Yes! Yes I did!”

“Whatcha feel? So’s I know you got it.”

“I felt...well as if, er, there’d been a draught, cold air. In my thoughts. And I up and shut the window.”

He smiled.

“You got it.” 

She sipped the coffee.

“Thank you for telling me that, Colonel.”

Smilin’. Little Miss Curious. Satisfied.

“Ya do know, don’tcha, that Cassie’s a mind-reader?”


“Cassie that came to ya early that mornin' and laced ya with_”

“Oh yes!”

“And you know who she is, don’tcha?”

“Yes...I suppose you already knew I’d realised_”

“Sure. The drug did it for ya, huh? Remembrin’ faces? An’ she O.D.-ed ya din’t she?”

“I...think she must have done, yes. It...well I suppose you know.”

“What it does in O.D., sure I know.”

“You...don’t like her. Do you?”

“Sure. Wanna know why?”

“Go on.”

“ ice ya!”

“Oh come on!”

“No, I’m serious.”

He leaned in.

“Deadly, serious.”

Verity looked at her coffee again. The cup shook as she put it back down on the over-bed table. She spilled some.


“And she wanned it to look natural. So, wanna know what your Colonel did? For ya?”

“No! Er...well...”

“He...made...sure, that they kept ya in. Right here in the Cardio Ward. Where it’s safe. Can’t die natural in here, can ya?”

 “No. They’d...come and revive me, wouldn’t they?”

“Sure. So you gets to live, till Cassie Dame changes her mind, and I don’t get a court-martial for disobeyin’ orders. You got the idea.”

“Did she? Did she change her mind?”

“Sure she did. Wanna know how I kept ya in here?”

“Did you...keep giving the Doctors a scare? With_”

He reached into his jacket and pulled out the Remote.  “You got it.”

He handed it to her: she raised the rate from 70 to 80. 

“Feels good, don’t it?”

She nodded.

“Colonel: why did Cassie change her mind?”

“Aw, we’ll get to that. Soon as I’ve told y’about someone else who’s up to no good.”


“Now. Guess who thinks he’s got his hands on the controls, but hasn’t, huh?”

“You’ve...lost me. Sorry.”

“OK, guess who thinks he’s Third Time Lucky?”

“I can’t think. Colonel. Sorry. Third time lucky at, what?”

“At breakin’ Little Miss Nerves of Steel, that’s what.”

Verity put her hands to her face.

“C’mon. Where’d the two of us first meet?”

“That...awkward, er, interview in the Milgram Labs. Where I thought...I’d get into trouble for telling you about the English Method. But, it didn’t matter because...I didn’t know how to tell you anyway!”

She looked startled. She looked as if she wanted to say something but_

“What’cha thinkin’?”

“ to...”

She blushed crimson.

“First, when you came back my Colin Powell. You knew I...respect him, and guessed I’d...tell him. And then, at the Listening Station, after that horrible lecture you gave...about...other methods! You dragged me off and_”

“Aw, that ain’t it. An’ these are the real controls. C’mon: who else was there, in Milgram? Who’s gotta set of controls right now, that ain’t real?”

“Professor Austin!! Isn’t it? He was going to stop my heart for seven minutes and...d’you know it’s funny: Ruth came and visited just the other day and we were talking about exactly that. Stop my heart, leave it too long before reviving me, and keep me in the lab for experiments, like a zombie. And then at the Camp, he went back on his word! He took Sleep-E-Z and...teamed up with Reid and Byrnes. Drugged me and wired me up to the Inverse Polygraph. Fry my brain. I had to defend myself! It’s him isn’t it?”

“Sure. It’s him.”

He watched her face as the implications sank in. 

“But your Colonel ain’t gonna let that happen. You an’ me, we’re gonna stop him.”


“We’re gonna use a weakness of his. And he’s gonna help us. He’s already started to, matter o’fact.”

He didn’t have to be anywhere near her mind to be able to tell she was dying to know what that weakness was.