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.”
“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.
“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 perverse 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.
“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?”
“No...er...just 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’re...er...not me.”
“The target. No. Didn’t hurt you, did it? All those times.”
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 in.
“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 start up, 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 Verity heard extra sounds. The screen was full of images of dogs, and the audio seemed to consist of a constant stream of complaining.
“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_”
“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,
“Yes...you...got 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 been...in the room. You must have asked Charity not to give me the Sleep-E-Z that night, because it would have stopped me from 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.”
“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...
“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. Use it on people like you.”
“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 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.