G2. MIND MEDDLERS

1

“Bean,” said Vosh. “Do me a favour?”

“Yes,” I said. “What is it?”

“Tell me about mind meddlers.”

“Er… why do you want to know?”

“I messed up my last mission. I have to learn about mind meddlers before I can go on another one.”

Vosh’s parents came from Pakistan, but he was born and brought up in Perth, Scotland, and he seems more proud of being Scottish than I am. He’s about the same age as me, but smaller, with black hair, and dark eyes that shine with life – or mischief.

I asked, “What happened?”

“That big lummock Wellington was going on an important mission to the king of Nidlo 3. On that planet, all the posh folk have young servants, so Wellington decided he would take a young servant. Me.”

“Hard luck,” I said. Wellington, the commander of the local Investigators, is rather bossy.

“Yeah. It was a nightmare. Servant! More like a slave! I put up with it all day. Then, on the way back from the palace to our ship in the dark, a big animal attacked Wellington. If I’d known, I would’ve let him take his chance, but I used my stun-gun. Course, I couldn’t get the animal without hitting Wellington too.”

“That must have been embarrassing.”

“You’ve not heard the half of it. A guy came along, and went mental because the animal was the king’s favourite pet. It wasn’t attacking Wellington. It was being friendly. I ran to the ship, and grabbed the reanimator from the first-aid box. When I used it on Wellington, he didn’t waken.”

“That’s not so good,” I said. If a reanimator doesn’t waken someone, it’s a sign they’re badly hurt.

“The guy helped me drag Wellington to the ship. I told Victor it was an emergency, and ordered him to take off for the nearest base.”

“Good,” I said. “Apart from that one mistake, you did everything right.”

“Naw, I didn’t. During the flight, Wellington wakened. He found out why the reanimator didn’t waken him. It wasn’t the reanimator I’d used – it was the disinfector.”

I couldn’t help smiling.

“You can laugh,” he said. “Victor chopped 30 off my rank, and Wellington ordered me to learn about mind meddlers before he’ll let me go on another mission. How about it?”

I asked, “What do you mean by ‘mind meddlers?’”

“You know. Things like reanimators. Hey! I’m asking you. Didn’t you do it in your training?”

“No. Our class missed some of the mind training. Our teacher was… ill.”

“Quinn? Yeah. Heard about that.” He sighed. “I was hoping you could tell me. Suppose I’ll have to do what Wellington said – ask Criski.”

I sighed too. “I suppose I’d better come with you.”

 

2

Vosh and I went to see Criski.

I knew Criski, the new mind-training teacher, because I’d asked him about mind-sensing. We found him in his lab, a converted office in the college. He’s human-like, and young, about 25, with a beaming smile. His uniform has the white bands of a Scientist.

He greeted us with his usual enthusiasm. “Ah, Bea, Vosh. What can I do for you?”

Vosh said, “I been ordered to find out about mind meddlers.”

I said, “I’ve come with him, because I missed it during my training.”

“Mind meddlers,” he said. “Properly known as mental modifiers. Yes. I can help you.” He went to a box in the corner of the room, and laid seven gadgets and one power pack on a settee. “There they are.” He beamed at us. “I invite you to find out what they do.”

Vosh asked, “Don’t you know?”

His beam grew wider. “You will learn better by finding out for yourself. You have two subjects to test them on.”

“Yeah,” said Vosh. “But they’re mind meddlers.”

“They will do you no harm, I promise you that,” said Criski. “I shall watch you, and perhaps discuss the results with you.”

Vosh looked up at me. “Should we, Bean?”

“Yes, Vosh,” I said, without enthusiasm. “We should.”

 

3

We started by examining them, so I should describe them. All seven were the same shape – a white pad about the size of a playing card, mounted in a frame with a hole in the back, to hold a power pack, which then acted like a handle. It was at an angle, and had a button on the bend. The frames and the buttons were different colours, as I’ve shown below:

grey frame; red button

grey frame; green button

grey frame; blue button

grey frame; black button with a symbol like a white arrow with a gap in the shaft.

white frame; white button

black frame; black button with white 1

black frame; black button with white 0.

4

“We’d better start,” I said. “Do you recognise any of them?”

“Yeah. Three. The grey one with the green button’s a reanimator.”

I added, “For my report, I’ll say it revives unconscious minds, but….”

“But not all,” interrupted Criski.

“I was going to say that,” I said. “It revives someone who’s been knocked out by a stun-gun or a nerve-gun or a slight bump on the head. It won’t revive someone who’s drugged, or knocked out by a harder blow.”

“I knew that,” said Vosh. “That’s why I thought Wellington was an emergency.”

 

 5

Vosh picked up the white one with the white button. “This is the disinfector. If you sweep it over anything, like a wound, it kills the germs.”

I wondered how he could have mistaken it for the reanimator. He must have realised, because he said, “It was an emergency. It was dark, and I was in a hurry.”

I didn’t comment.

 

6

I picked up the black one with the white 0 on the button. “Do you know what this one does?”

“Yeah. That one’s in the first-aid boxes too. It’s a painkiller. If you hold it over a sore place and press the button, it takes away the pain.”

“That’s right,” I said. “I’ve used it for insect bites.”

Criski asked, “How does it work?”

Vosh looked at him. “Haven’t a clue.”

I said, “I don’t know.”

Criski asked, “If you have an insect bite on your hand, how do you know it’s sore?”

Vosh looked at him as if he was mad. “I feel it.”

“The pain is in your hand, but it’s your brain that knows it’s sore. How does your brain know that your hand is sore?”

Vosh started to speak, then stopped. After two or three seconds, he said, “Dunno.”

I shook my head. “Sorry.”

Criski said, “You have nerves, like thin wires, that carry messages through your body. Nerves from all parts of your body carry messages to your brain. If your toe touches something, nerves notice it, and carry the information to your brain. When you look at something, nerves carry the message from your eyes to your brain. As you are listening to me, nerves carry the message from your ears to your brain.”

Vosh looked half convinced, and Criski sounded like he would go on for ever, so I said, “If an insect bites your hand, the nerves carry the message, ‘Sore hand,’ up your arm to your brain.”

“That’s right,” said Criski. “But the ends of the nerves are all over your hand, so you know what part is sore. Can you suggest what the painkiller does?”

I asked, “Does it stop the nerves from noticing the pain?”

“Yes.”

Vosh said, “That doesn’t help your hand.”

“No. It doesn’t cure your hand. It only stops you feeling the pain.”

“Someone told me that,” I said, “After you’ve used a painkiller, it’s wise to check with a doctor.”

“Yes,” said Criski. “Unless you’re certain that nothing is seriously hurt. You have done well. So far.”

 

7

I turned back to the mind meddlers. “Vosh, can you recognise any of the others?”

He frowned at them. “Naw.”

Slowly, I picked up the other black one, the one with the white 1 on the button. “I can guess what this one does. Criski, will it work through my uniform?”

“There is a simple way to find out.”

“Thank you. Vosh, would you be ready with the painkiller?”

I sat on the settee, put the pad of the device to my ankle, and pressed the button – for a very short time.

As I half-expected, an agonising pain hit the place. I gasped, but managed to avoid screaming. Vosh was standing, holding the painkiller, looking interested.

“Thanks!” I grabbed it, shifted the power pack into it, and used it on the place. It gave a lovely, cool feeling that swept the pain away.

I gave the other one to Vosh, “That is a pain-maker.”

“Oh!” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “Do you want to try it?”

“Naw! I believe you. It figures. The black one with the 0 on the button is a painkiller, and the one with the 1 on the button is a pain-maker.”

Criski asked, “How does it work?”

I said, “I suppose it makes the place sore, so that the nerves take the message to your brain.”

“Yes. It’s the ends of the nerves that get the message. The pain-maker jars the ends of the nerves.”

I asked, “Is that how a nerve-gun works?”

“Yes. A nerve-gun focuses the pain-making into a beam, and sends it out.”

Vosh said, “So, if you used that thing on your head, it would be like a nerve-gun?”

“That is correct?”

“Can we try it?”

“If you wish.”

“Bean,” he said.

“No!” I said. If a nerve-gun beam hits your head, the agony is so great that you pass out. “If you want, I’ll test it on you.”

“Naw!” He turned to Criski. “Can we try it on you?”

He laughed. “No. I said you had two subjects to test it on. Not three.”

“That’s a pity,” said Vosh. “We’ll just have to believe that bit.”

 

8

Vosh took the power pack out of the pain-maker, and surveyed the other mind meddlers. “That leaves the other three grey ones.”

“I wonder….” I picked up the one with the red button. “Vosh, would you lie on the settee?”

“Why?”

“The one with the green button is a reanimator. It makes your mind go from unconscious to conscious. This one, with the red button, may make it go from conscious to unconscious.”

“D’you mean…?” he said. “Naw!”

“If you’re frightened,” I said. “You can try it on me.”

“Naw,” he said. “I’m not frightened.” He lay back on the settee, and closed his eyes. “Get on with it.”

I glanced at Criski. He was beaming as usual. I put the pad to Vosh’s forehead, and pressed the red button. I didn’t notice any change but, when I called, “Vosh!” he didn’t move. I shook his shoulder, but he was limp.

I quickly used the reanimator, putting the pad on his forehead, and pressing the green button. To my relief, his eyes opened immediately, and he said, “That’s another one. The one with the red button is a… a….”

“Deanimator,” I suggested.

“Good!” said Criski. “That’s the name.”

I asked, “Does it use the same idea as a stun-gun?”

“Yes. A stun-gun projects the stunning effect as a beam. How does it work?”

I looked at Vosh, who opened his eyes wider, and shrugged his shoulders. I said, “It does something to your brain. It must… shut it down, somehow.”

“In a way,” said Criski. “It blocks all the communication in your brain.”

“Is it the same as a stun-gun – the longer you use it, the longer the person is unconscious?”

“That is right. But there is a maximum.”

“Ten hours, with about ten seconds of a stun-gun,” I said. “I learned that on my first mission.”

He smiled. “You must have had an exciting start to your Federation career. The time of unconsciousness varies. Sol 3 minds are most strongly affected. The deanimator, or a stun-gun, can make them unconscious for up to ten hours. For other races and animals, the time may be shorter.”

“A stun-gun doesn’t work on some animals,” I said. “The ones that act by instinct, without using their brains to think about it.”

“That’s right. The effect of the deanimator is the same. Well done. You’ve done five. That leaves two.”

 

9

I said, “I might have another idea.” I picked up the one with the blue button. “Vosh, would you lie down again?”

He lay down, but asked, “Will it hurt?”

“Not if I’m right.”

“Then I hope you’re right.” He shut his eyes.

I put the pad to his forehead, and pressed the blue button. I was relieved when he didn’t squeal with pain. In fact, he did nothing. I said quietly, “Vosh.” He didn’t answer.

“Vosh!” A little louder. He didn’t answer.

“Vosh!” I shook his shoulder.

He opened his eyes. “What? Did I go to sleep?”

“Yes,” I said. “The bunks have devices that put you to sleep, so I wondered if one of these things would do the same. It was this one.”

“Good thinking,” said Criski. “What is its name?”

“Sleep-maker,” said Vosh.

“That’s what most people call it. The proper name is ‘somnoliser.’ How does it work?”

I asked, “Does it calm your brain? I thought that’s what the bunks do.”

“That’s a good enough explanation.”

I asked, “Does a reanimator work on someone who’s been put to sleep by a sleep-maker?”

Criski answered, “You can easily find out.”

“Vosh!” I said.

He sighed and lay back. “Get on with it.”

When I used the sleep-maker, then the reanimator, he wakened immediately and completely.

Criski said, “You have discovered six of the seven. I look forward to seeing what you do with the last one.”

 

10

I picked up the last mind meddler, with the broken white arrow on the black button. “I don’t like the look of this one.”

“That makes two of us,” said Vosh.

“That symbol on the button. Perhaps if we could work out what it means….”

“Looks dumb to me. An arrow with a gap in the stalk.”

“Why would it have a gap in the stalk? That suggests….” I asked Criski, “Could this one be used on another part of your body – like your arm?”

He said, “I suggest that you try it, although it will make your investigation less entertaining for me.”

I asked, “Does it work through the uniform?”

“You have a simple way of finding out.”

“Thank you. Vosh, let’s have your arm.”

“Why? Will it be sore?”

“I hope not.”

“Not as much as I do.” He held up his left arm. I set the meddler on his upper arm, so that the arrow on the button was pointing up his arm, then pressed the button.

He said, “My arm’s gone numb, below the place where you used that thing.”

I squeezed his hand. “Do you feel that?”

“Naw. I told you – I don’t feel a thing below that place.”

I put the power pack in the pain-maker. “Are you sure?”

“Y…yeah.”

I put the pad of the pain-maker on the back of his hand, and pressed the button.

“Nothing,” he said. “How are you going to fix it? I don’t like having a dead arm.”

I asked Criski, “Will the effect wear off?”

“Yes. It is the same as the deanimator. The longer you pressed the button, the longer the effect will last.”

Vosh asked, “How long did you press the button, Bean?”

“At least a second,” I said. “I wanted to make sure it worked.”

“Well, it worked, and now I gotta sit here with a dead arm for an hour.”

I glanced at Criski, but he just beamed.

“I’ll try the reanimator,” I said. “It might work.” I put it to his arm, and pressed the button.

That made him howl, and grab for the painkiller. “You might’ve used this first.”

I asked Criski, “What do you call that one?”

“First, you should tell me what it does.”

I asked, “Vosh, do you want to tell Criski?”

“Not really, but I think I know. You said the… the nerves run like wires, carrying messages from all parts of your body to your brain. That thing somehow blocks the message.”

“That is correct. A good explanation. The usual name for the device is a nerve-blocker.”

I asked, “Can it be used on other parts of your body, like your neck and head?”

“Why don’t you try it?”

I could have given him a reason – cowardice – but, before I could speak, Vosh said, “Not on me!”

Since Criski hadn’t stopped us, it must be safe, but I was nervous as I said, “All right, but I’ll lie down first.”

I lay on my back on the settee, and watched nervously as Vosh swept the nerve-blocker across my neck. “Well?”

“It’s… it’s strange. It feels as if my body’s gone. I feel the back of my head touching the settee, but not my back, or my arms or my legs.”

Vosh asked, “Like it?”

“It’s interesting, and not uncomfortable. I could almost believe that my body’s floating on air. But it makes me nervous, not knowing I have a body, and arms and legs.” I lifted my right arm. I could see it, so I knew it was there, but I couldn’t feel anything from it. I put it down again. “You can use the reanimator, Vosh.”

He grinned. “Don’t you want me to use the blocker on your head?”

I wanted to call, “No!” but I said, “Yes. I suppose we should try that.”

“Yes!”

I watched him put the device to my forehead, and press the button – and my head seemed to disappear too. I was a mind, floating in space. Everything was black; I couldn’t see. Everything was silent; I couldn’t hear. That was a shock. In alarm, I said, “The reanimator!” At least, I tried to say it, but I didn’t hear a thing.

To my relief, in a few seconds, I could hear again, and see Vosh leaning over me with the reanimator. I described how I’d felt, and said, “I didn’t like it. I felt so… so helpless.”

“You weren’t helpless,” said Vosh. “You moved your right arm, and you said, ‘The reanimator.’ It sounds peaceful.”

“It’s… it’s frightening,” I said.

Criski said, “Some people do it when they want to think. Scientists, working on their theories. Writers, making up stories. With no distraction from your body, they say you can think more clearly.”

“Perhaps,” I said. “Vosh, would you use that reanimator on my neck? I want to sit up.”

When he’d done it, I said, “That’s it. We’ve worked out what all seven of these things do. Criski, do you mind if I go over them before we go?”

Criski said, “I regret to tell you, Bea, but you have not finished exploring the effects of the nerve-blocker.”

“Huh!” said Vosh, picking it up. “What d’you mean?”

“I invite you to find out.” His smug beam was starting to annoy me.

“How are we meant to do that?” demanded Vosh, sounding irritated.

“You might try using it again.”

“Huh!” said Vosh. “We know what it does.” He put the device to his upper arm, and pressed the button. A look of alarm came to his face. “My arm! It’s gone funny!”

“What do you mean?” I asked. I squeezed a finger. “Do you feel that?”

“Yeah. I feel it – but I can’t move it. I’m trying to move my finger. I can’t!”

“Can you bend your elbow?”

“Naw! Get the reanimator!”

“Can you move your shoulder?”

“Yeah! See!” He lifted his arm at the shoulder. The rest of it hung limp. “The reanimator!”

I fitted the power pack to the reanimator, and swept it over his upper arm, until he said, “Thanks!” He flexed his fingers. “That was bad. Really bad.”

I asked, “How did you do it?”

“I shoved that thing on my arm, and pressed the button.”

“But it didn’t stop you feeling your arm. It stopped you using it. I wonder….”

He wasn’t likely to let me use the thing on him again, and I had to make the report. I put the nerve-blocker to my upper arm, making sure the broken arrow was pointing downwards. Before I pressed the button, I chickened out, and moved it to my forearm, just above the wrist. I pressed the button.

It was a strange feeling. I lost all power in that hand. How do I describe it? I tried to bend my fingers, but they didn’t move. I knew they were there, because I could feel them, touching the settee, but I couldn’t make them do a thing.

I said, “I know what happens, but I’m not sure how it works. When I used the nerve-blocker with the arrow pointing down, it stopped me using my hand.”

“How?” asked Vosh.

“I have a hazy idea,” I said. “It’s your brain that decides to move your hand. The nerve-blocker must stop that.” I glanced at Criski.

He said, “Good. It’s your muscles that enable you to move. I use muscles to bend this finger.” He held up his finger, and showed us he could bend it. “It’s your brain that decides that you want to bend your finger. You have two sets of nerves. One set takes messages from your body to your brain, and the other takes messages from your brain to your muscles, telling them to move.”

“Y…yeah,” said Vosh.

“Can you explain what the nerve-blocker does?”

“Yeah. This time, it stops the message going down your arm, from your brain to your hand.”

“The muscles in your hand.”

“Yeah. So they don’t work. What happens if you use it on your neck?”

“That is something I would not advise.”

“Great!” said Vosh. “Then we’re done.”

 

11

I asked, “Can I sum it up?” I put the mind meddlers in a row on the settee, and said what they did:

body grey, button red: deanimator – knocks you out.

body grey, button green: reanimotor – revives you.

body grey, button blue: sleep-maker – puts you to sleep.

body grey, button black with white arrow with gap in shaft: nerve-blocker – blocks nerve messages.

body white, button white: disinfector – kills germs.

body black, button black with white 1: pain-maker – jars nerve ends.

body black, button black with white 0: painkiller – calms nerve ends.

“Done?” asked Vosh. He gathered the meddlers together, and seemed to fiddle with them.

Criski said, “You have done very well. Vosh, what are you doing?”

“Collecting them for you.” But he kept fiddling with them.

I asked, “Criski, how long does the effect of the nerve-blocker last?”

“It’s the same as the deanimator. It depends on how long you hold it in place with the button pressed. Again, there is a maximum. Ten seconds’ application gives a maximum of ten hours’ effect.”

“Thank you.”

“Yeah,” said Vosh. “Thanks. Here’s your things.” He handed them in a bundle to Criski, who screamed, and dropped them.

“Sorry!” said Vosh. “I must’ve pressed the button of the pain-maker as I gave them to you. By accident, of course.”

Criski shook his hand, and held it under his armpit. “Get the painkiller!”

While he hopped around, we rummaged among the devices on the floor. We found the painkiller but dropped the power pack as we were swopping it, and had to scramble on the floor, looking for it. At last, we fitted it to the painkiller, and used it on Criski’s hand. With great apologies, we left.

Out in the corridor, Vosh said, “Sorry, Bean. I knew you wouldn’t like it, but I had to get revenge on that guy.”

“Vosh,” I said. “If you tell anyone, I’ll never forgive you, but you’re so clumsy. He was getting suspicious. He would have seen what you were doing if I hadn’t distracted him with that last question.”

“Bean!” he said. “You’re a man!” Arm in arm, we left the college.