G1. MIND-SENSING

1

I was lingering over my breakfast cup of tea in the dining room of the college on Yband 4 when Ed came in. “Hi, Bean. You look thoughtful.”

“Hi, Ed,” I said. I’d been feeling lonely, but I didn’t want to tell him that. I did explain, “Hais has been helping me to do reports about the Federation, but she’s just been called home to Dancer 61. Her mum’s not well, so she has to look after her little brother while her dad’s at work. How are you doing?” We met Ed on our mission to Arc 89. He’s now at the Yband 4 college, training to be an agent.

“Don’t ask.” He slumped into the seat opposite me, and ordered a full fry-up from the dispenser. “Blackett ordered me to report to Criski.” He glanced at his wrist unit. “At 5%. And this is supposed to be our day off.”

I knew Blackett’s in charge of the agents’ training, but I asked, “Who’s Criski?”

“New teacher in the college. Does mind-sensing.” He looked sideways at me. “Er… have you done a report on mind-sensing?”

“No.”

“If you want to do one, I’m sure Criski would help you.” The hatch opened. Ed took out his plate, cut a sausage in half, and put one half in his mouth. Between chews, he went on, “If you like, I’ll take you to see him.”

“Would you do that?”

“Glad to.” The other half of the sausage followed the first. “But Criski bounces with enthusiasm. You may be there all morning.”

“No, Ed,” I said. “Criski must be busy. He won’t have all morning to spend on me – and, to be honest, I don’t want to spend all morning on the report.”

“Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you. I’ll take you to his lab.”

“Lab?” I said. “I didn’t know there were labs in the college.”

“It’s not really a lab. It’s an office, but he’s got stuff in it, to do experiments on mind-sensing. That’s why he calls it a lab.”

2

That didn’t raise my enthusiasm for the meeting, but I couldn’t change my mind now. Ed gobbled the rest of his breakfast, and we hurried through the college to Criski’s door. I waited nervously as Ed called, “Open.”

A voice came from the room. “Ed, don’t you know it’s 5.6%? We have lost valuable time.”

I followed Ed into the room, and saw Criski. He was human-like, but no taller than me. His head was big, and reminded me of a skull, because he had no hair, not even eyebrows. His spotless uniform had the white bands of a scientist, with his name and rank on the chest. Criski 351. His mind signal was the clearest I’d ever sensed. Seeing me, he was curious.

Ed told him, “This is Bea.”

“Bea!” The curiosity turned to delight. “I am pleased to meet you.”

“I’m doing reports about the Federation. I wondered if you would be good enough to tell me about mind-sensing.”

“That will be no problem, no problem at all. I would have asked you here because you are considered to be the second-best mind-senser currently working in the Federation.”

“I don’t know about that, but I….”

“Now that you’re here, I hope you won’t mind doing a few tests. I am working on methods of testing mind-sensing, so I am particularly keen to work with you. Do say that you will help me.”

“How long will it take?” I didn’t want to disappoint him, but I didn’t want to get tangled in long tests.

“Not long.” His mind said he’d stretch it as long as he could.

I said, “If I do your tests for 2%, will you answer my questions for 2%?” (2% is about half an hour.)

“2%? My usual assessment takes 8%. Four sessions of 2%. Perhaps we might start, and see how it goes.” Again, I sensed he would try to stretch it.

I checked my wrist unit. “It’s nearly 6%. Can we stop at 8%?”

“That would be an excellent start. Would you care to sit in that chair?” The room was the usual Federation office, with the U of seats facing Victor’s screen. But a white chair sat on a four-wheeled trolley which ran on two rails from the command chair to the wall under Victor’s screen.

Ed asked in a quiet voice, “Criski, do you need me?”

Without turning, Criski waved a hand. “Not this morning.”

With a quick, “See you, Bean,” Ed was out the door.

 3

I climbed into the white chair, and sat, facing Criski in the command chair. He pushed buttons on a white box. My chair moved upwards, until my eyes were level with his, then rolled along the rails until it was opposite the ends of the settee.

I sensed his excitement as he told me, “I was appointed mind-sensing teacher for the college because I am an Andean – from Ande 4 – and our people are reputed to be clear thought transmitters.”

I nodded. “Yes.”

“Part of my job is to improve the mind-sensing of trainee agents with Sol 3 backgrounds. I did not see how I could claim that I had improved their mind-sensing unless I had some way of measuring it.”

I said, “I’ve never heard of any way of measuring mind-sensing.”

“No. They tried it in the early days, but gave up. So many factors can affect it.”

“That’s one of the things I wanted to ask you about. How do…?”

“May I start the tests?” He stared at me. “What emotion am I feeling?”

“Sadness, but there’s a lot of excitement too. I’m ignoring that.”

He smiled. “Please continue to do so. What now?”

“Hope.”

“What now?”

“Happiness. And the excitement is stronger.”

“I’ll tell you why the excitement is stronger, Bea. You gave those answers without looking into my eyes.”

“I don’t need to look into your eyes. Your thoughts are strong and clear.”

“That is amazing!” He was excited. “Can we repeat that test at greater distance?” He pushed a button on his control panel, and my chair rolled backwards until it bumped gently against Victor’s screen. “What emotion now?”

I had to look into his eyes. “Anger.”

“Now?”

“Anger again. And excitement.” Hoping to shorten the test, I asked, “Do you want me to do it with my eyes closed?”

“Could you do it with your eyes closed?”

“Not at this distance. Try halfway.”

So I guessed a few more emotions with my eyes closed. Then with my back to him. Then I wore a blindfold and earplugs, and pointed towards him as he walked around the room.

4

As Criski took the blindfold and earplugs from me, he said, “You are by far the strongest receiver that I have tested.”

“Receiver?” I asked. “I’ve never been called a receiver.”

“That’s the usual term. My mind gives out thoughts. Transmits them. Your mind takes them in. Receives them. You are a receiver. A strong one.”

“Your excitement is strong,” I said. “It was easy to follow.”

“Amazing!” he said. “But measuring is difficult when the tester’s emotions are part of the test.”

I checked my wrist unit. “It’s after 9%. Can we…?”

“No, Bea! These were only preliminary tests. I haven’t started the measuring yet. You must let me do the measuring. Won’t you give me another 1%?”

“Just another 1%,” I said. I didn’t want to disappoint him.

He went back to his seat, with mine near the end of the settees. “I have devised a new method of measuring mind-sensing. I shall make some statements. You will tell me if they are true or false. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“I have two brothers.”

“True.”

“The younger one’s name is Bruta.”

“False.”

“The younger one’s name is Corlo.”

“False.”

As he paused, thinking of the next statement, I said, “True.”

That gave him a surge of amazement. “I hadn’t spoken.”

“I sensed it. You decided to do a true one next.”

He laughed. “That is delightful! Next one?” He thought.

“True again.”

“How do you know?”

“I sensed it as you made up your mind.”

“What was the statement?”

“I haven’t a clue about that, but I sensed you deciding to do a true one. May I suggest – could you make up statements beforehand, and give them randomly? Perhaps Victor could put them on the screen behind me. Would that make it easier?”

“That’s a good idea – but couldn’t you tell if they were true or false as soon as I read them, before I spoke them?”

“Yes. I probably could.”

“It does sound more scientific. Thanks for the suggestion. I hope you’ll come back, and try it out. Would you mind continuing the test at greater distances?”

We did more true/false at longer distances, before I checked my wrist unit again. “It’s 10.8%. Can you answer my questions now?”

“But, Bea, we can’t stop the tests now. These first ones have given you a score of 9.3%”

“9.3%. That doesn’t sound high.”

“100% would mean you could sense everything I was thinking, but 9.3% is the highest I’ve found. Ed, the next highest, is only 6.9%.”

“You should test Tony. He’s a much better mind-senser than me.”

“So I’ve heard. Would you ask him to come and see me?”

“He’s away on a mission just now, but I’ll ask him when I see him.” I was glad Criski couldn’t sense my mind. Tony hates being tested, so I could guess what he would say when I asked him. I went on, “But I really must stop the testing now. I… I’m a bit tired.” Again, I was glad he couldn’t sense my mind: that wasn’t exactly a lie, but it stretched the truth. “And you agreed to answer my questions.”

5

I hoped Criski wasn’t keen enough to argue, so I was relieved when he said, “Of course. I thank you for the time you have given me. What do you want to know?”

“I’m doing a report on mind-sensing. Do you know how it works?”

“No,” he said. “No one really knows. Most scientists believe it’s like radio. One mind gives out thought waves. Another mind senses them. That’s why we use the words ‘transmit’ and ‘receive’. Like a radio transmitter gives out radio waves, and a radio receiver… detects them.”

“Can’t the scientists invent a machine to detect them?”

He smiled. “Many have tried, without success. Perhaps because no one knows what thought waves are like.”

“They’re like sound,” I said. “It’s as if the other minds are talking to yours.”

“So the trainee agents have told me.”

“You notice it when you go into a room with a lot of people. It’s a babble of minds, like a babble of voices.”

“In that situation, do you hear when someone speaks to you?”

“Yes. Easily. The sounds from your ear are… are stronger. You can push the thoughts into the background.”

“How easy is that?”

“It’s difficult at first, but you get used to it. Hey! I’m the one who’s asking the questions.”

“I’m sorry. Since you’re a stronger receiver, I wondered if you found it more difficult.”

I didn’t comment. I asked, “Why do I receive signals from some people’s minds, but not others?”

“That’s another difficult question,” he said. “I can only tell you the most popular theory. Do you know that radio waves can have different wavelengths?”

“Y…yes. I’ve heard that.”

“A radio can be tuned. When you do that, you adjust it so that it receives different wavelengths, for the different stations. The theory is that thought waves also come in different wavelengths. You transmit thoughts of one wavelength. I transmit thoughts of a different wavelength.”

Now I understood where he was going. “And my mind happens to be able to receive thoughts of the wavelength that your mind gives out.”

“That’s right. But, unlike a radio, your mind can’t be tuned to receive signals of different wavelengths. It can receive signals of only one wavelength. Until we can measure the wavelengths of thought waves, or devise a better theory, that’s the best explanation I can give you.”

 

6

“I think I understand,” I said. “Why are some mind signals stronger than others?”

“Ah!” he said. “This is interesting.” Waving his arms to show what he meant, he said, “Let’s consider you sensing my mind. The strength will depend on three things – how well my mind transmits, what is between us, and how well your mind receives. You are a receiver, so let’s consider receivers first. Why might one person be a better receiver than another?”

“Do you mean things like race, sex, age?” I asked.

“That’s exactly what I mean. Your race are particularly good receivers. Some believe that boys are better receivers than girls, but that has not been proved. Age?” He looked at me.

I said, “I heard recently that Sol 3 people can sense most strongly at age 10. After that, the power gets weaker.”

“The early tests seemed to indicate that a Sol 3 receiver’s power is strongest at age 10. I would love to test natives of that age.”

“But the Federation doesn’t accept agents for training until they’re at least 4000 days old. That’s more than 11 Sol 3 years. Why do they wait?”

“I cannot tell you that. If you want a guess, would a Sol 3 child of 10 be responsible enough to be a Federation agent?”

“That’s not just a question of age,” I said. “I’ve met Sol 3 people of 40 who are not responsible enough to be Federation agents.”

“4?” he asked, with a smile.

“All right,” I said, smiling too. “It depends on the person.”

“What other factor about the person?”

“I don’t know. Wait. Character. Tony’s the excitable type. He gets annoyed easily, although he’s learning to control it. We were told that excitable people are better mind-sensers.”

“Yes,” he said. “It’s often called temperament. Those are the main factors. But they can’t be the only ones. Two people of the same race, sex, age and temperament may have greatly different abilities to receive thoughts. We can’t explain why. Now let’s focus on one receiver. You. Do you always sense thoughts equally well?”

“N…no. I don’t.”

“What makes a difference?”

“What makes a difference?” I repeated, playing for time.

“Yes. Can you thing of anything that affects how well you receive thoughts? There are three basic ones.”

“Three?” My racing mind hit something. “Training. Training improved my thought-sensing.”

“I hope so. That’s why I’m employed here. Good. Two more.”

“Distance. How far away I am from the… the transmitter.”

“No. That’s a factor, but not of you, yourself. Still two more. Did you say you were tired?”

“Thanks!” I said. “What do you call that? State of mind. I’ve noticed that, if I’m tired, I can’t mind-sense so well. When I’m asleep, I sense nothing at all. Tony thinks he’s been woken by strong emotions.”

“I would love to test that. You must ask him to see me.”

“Yes.” I changed the subject quickly. “What else? Health? If I’m ill, I can’t sense minds so well. Does that count?”

“If you like. I include it under ‘State of Mind.’ There’s one more. Think carefully.”

That gave me the clue. “Concentration. If I focus my mind on the transmitter, I can sense his feelings more clearly.”

“Well done, Bea. Training, state of mind, and concentration. Those are the three factors which affect a receiver’s mind-sensing.”

 

7

Criski continued, “Now, how about the transmitter? Why would one person be a better transmitter than another?”

The answer flashed into my mind. “The same as for a receiver. What was it? Race, sex, age, and character. And the other things you can’t explain.”

“That’s right. Is there any difference?”

“Any difference? Race? Sex? Age? Yes, age. Older people transmit thoughts, but they don’t receive them.”

“Correct. You’re quick. We’ve already covered three of the trainee agents’ lessons. For any single person, what can affect his ability to transmit thoughts?”

“The same as for a receiver? Let me remember. Training. State of mind. Concentration.”

“Good. I ought to say that some people train to reduce their thought transmission, not to increase it. It can be done, I believe.”

“Why would they do that?”

“Guilty conscience, maybe. Or maybe they don’t like others prying into their minds.”

“We don’t pry. We can’t help… noticing.”

“I know. I simply mention it. Another two factors affect the strength of the transmission. One is obvious.”

“Is it?” It came to me. “The strength of the emotion. If you’re happier, or sadder, or more worried, you give a stronger signal.”

“That’s it,” he said. “A stronger signal from one mind, or….”

That was a big enough clue. “Or the same signal from a lot of minds. That can be so loud that it’s overpowering.”

“Overpowering? Has that happened to you?”

“Almost. When Tony and I helped the people of Sting 4, they invited us to a big celebration. We were in the middle of a huge crowd, all highly excited. The noise from their voices and minds flooded my mind. I could hardly think. I found it unpleasant, but….”

“But?” He leaned forward eagerly.

“I’ve said too much, but I’ll go on if you promise not to tell anyone.”

“Of course. This is fascinating.”

“The signal was so strong that it overwhelmed Tony’s mind. He leaned helplessly on me, with his hands over his ears, crying.”

“Did he really?”

“Yes. Imagine how you would feel if you were in a crowd where everyone was making a loud noise – shouting, banging drums, ringing bells, and blasting trumpets. The din rang in my mind for hours.”

“Indeed.” I sensed interest in his mind but no sympathy. I was sorry I’d told him. I went on, “I’m sorry. What were we talking about?”

“Can’t you tell…?” Perhaps he saw my face, because he quickly changed to, “We were discussing what decides the strength of the signal you receive. One factor concerns both the transmitter and receiver.”

“Both? Yes. If they’re friends. When I asked, I didn’t know. It sprang into my mind. Perhaps it came from your thoughts without me knowing. That’s happened several times. Tony says it sometimes happens to him, but I’ve never been sure it’s happened to me.”

“That is amazing. I would love to test it. You really must ask Tony to see me.”

“I’ll do that. Was I right?”

“Yes, of course. I call it sympathy. If the two people like each other, the communication is stronger. That’s why I work hard to befriend the trainee agents. Good. We’re almost done. Do you have time to consider what’s between the transmitter and the receiver?”

 

8

I didn’t dare to look at my wrist unit. “Yes, if you don’t mind.”

“Not at all. I’m enjoying this. What are they? Distance you’ve already mentioned. If you’re farther from the transmitter, you receive a weaker signal. What else?”

“What’s in the space between. I’ve sensed someone hiding in a bush, or inside a doorway. On Wotzit 4, Tony sensed someone over a wall. It was a low wall. I don’t think we could sense someone through a wall.”

“No. If, as we suspect, there are thought waves, it doesn’t take much to stop them. I’ve tested it with the trainee agents. A thick sheet of paper will do it. And related to that is line of sight. You’ll receive a stronger signal if you can see the transmitter, especially if you can look into his eyes. That reminds me; suppose you looked into my eyes through a sheet of glass. Could you sense my mind?”

“I’ve never tried it, but… but I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. Have you tried it?”

“Yes. With Ed. You’re right. He could see my eyes clearly, but received no signal. May I try the same test with you?”

“Not now. I have to go.”

“It will only take a moment. The glass is here. Please won’t you try it?”

He was so keen that I couldn’t refuse. I said, “All right. Just that.”

“Excellent!” He was all business now. “We must try it at different distances.”

When he held the glass between us, I could still sense his feelings, but he suggested the thought waves might be going round the glass.

When we finished the tests with the glass, I said, “I must go now.”

I started to lift my wrist unit to look at the time, but he held it down. “Time does not matter when we are obtaining such interesting results. Won’t you try one more test? Just one?”

9

Criski’s voice and mind were pleading. I knew he would be heartbroken if I refused. “Just one more,” I said. “Then I really must go.”

“Thank you. Would you sit in the chair?” Once again, he switched off the pleading and switched on the business. That made me realise at last. He was doing it deliberately.  He was putting on the pleading mind, knowing I could sense it and I wouldn’t want to disappoint him.

By that time, of course, it was too late. I couldn’t get up and walk out. But I was determined to be hard-hearted the next time.

I was sitting in the white chair with a wire mesh cage over my head when the door hummed open. Ed. “Martin wants to see Bea, now.”

“Go away!” said Criski. “Can’t you see that Bea is busy?”

“Sorry,” said Ed. “Martin said it’s urgent. She has to come immediately.”

With relief, I lifted the cage off my head. “I’m sorry, Criski. I must go.”

“That is tragic.” His disappointment was strong, and genuine. “Perhaps we can continue some other time.”

“Perhaps,” I said.

“”When? Can we make a date?”

“I’d better not.” I pushed the cage into his hands. “Martin probably wants me for a mission. I don’t know when I’ll be free again.”

“I’ll call you in a few days.”

“Yes. You do that.” But I was determined I would be too busy for tests for a long time.

As I followed Ed along the corridor outside, I checked my wrist unit. “25%! It’s lunchtime!”

Ed said, “I told you he would keep you all morning.”

“He’s… keen,” I said.

“I’m wise to him. I would’ve got away about 15%.”

“Do you mean…?”

“Yeah. Since I’m the best mind-senser in the class, Criski persuaded Blackett to order me to do those experiments on mind-sensing. But I knew that, when Criski saw you, he would lose interest in me.” Ed was grinning.

“Ed! You… you…!” I couldn’t be angry with him. “I don’t know when I would have got away. Thank goodness Martin called me.”

Ed’s grin grew wider. “Who called you?”

“You said Martin…. Was that just a story?”

“Yeah. I thought you’d need rescuing. One good turn deserves another.”

“Ed! You shouldn’t!”

“Sorry, Bean. Do you want me to go back and tell Criski it was a mistake?”

“No!” I said. “Definitely not! Let’s go for lunch.”