Evoguía excerpt

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cover for Evoguia, drama/adventure by Steven Lyle JordanIntroduction

…At the center of all, we have the brain. The human brain is a combination of storage and control functions, refined over millions of years from reptilian simplicity to mammalian complexity, and today still containing elements of both. The brain literally controls every single action and reaction of the body, and the collected data of its lifetime make up that which we generally refer to as the individual’s “personality.”

The brain is often referred to as the “ultimate computer,” or the ultimate thinking machine. In point of fact, it is far from perfect. The brain has been redesigned by evolution, but evolution chose to simply pile the improvements on top of the original parts, instead of replacing them. As a result, some functions of the brain are duplicated, and some resources literally fought over, while some parts of the brain interfere with the other parts in doing their job. This results in certain mental activities taking priority over others, and other mental functions that have given up the ability to be consciously manipulated.

The brain is an analog system, well suited to specific activities like reflex control. But it is not so well suited toward the more “digital” demands of activities like fine calculation. In fact, the reason that calculators generally do better at math than we do, and much faster, is that we must convert our “digital” numbering system to an analog system in our brains, then attempt to keep track of those converted numbers in our head while we perform our calculations. This is a very inefficient way of calculating anything, and only people with radically different mental facilities than normal can overcome this limitation.

If any of you remember the movie “Rain Man,” you have seen a demonstration of how autistic brains are sometimes reconfigured in favor of more “digital” activities, such as fine calculation, but at a cost: The “analog” activities are relegated to the less precise areas of the brain, and the individual loses the body and motor control we take for granted. You may also be aware of cases of subjects who lost a major part of their brain through severe accidents. In many of those cases, the activities formerly controlled by the now-missing parts of the brain, were somehow taken over by the surviving parts of the brain, when no connection between the surviving and the missing parts were ever documented.

There are also documented cases in which individuals, when placed under times of severe stress, have exhibited a temporary capacity for incredible bouts of physical strength. There are documented cases of individuals under severe stress whose hair has turned white, or fallen out, in a matter of minutes. There is evidence to suggest that some memories have been passed down from ancestor to ancestor, the so-called “race memory,” a throwback to times when the human animal was more of an instinctive creature.

All of these are indications of the barely-scratched limits of which the human brain is capable. As wondrous as the brain may be, it clearly has potential that has not yet been tapped.

Over the last few years, the Human Genome project has taken the fore in biological circles. The promise of genetics seems to offer the key to many aspects of human physiology, and it has many applications of its own. But genetics is an amazingly complex science, given the sheer size of the human genome itself, and its complex interconnected workings. There is little likelihood that we will be able, someday, to manipulate human DNA to, say, improve a subject’s I.Q. by one hundred points, and stop there. Also, one element of DNA does not manipulate the body independently. It is interrelated with countless other chains, and changing one could prove disastrous for any number of other bodily systems. It is not something that we expect to find a way to reliably manipulate for decades, if not centuries.

But genetics is not the only way to study the human body, or the human brain. Chemical therapy, electrotherapy, electronic monitoring, MRT scanning, hypnotherapy, surgery, and pure psychology, have all proven to be excellent methods to study and learn from the body in the past. Many of these methods have lately fallen by the wayside, again due to the Human Genome project. However, in the last few years we have found new ways to combine these more conventional methods, as well as adding the power of today’s computers, to obtain surprising new inroads into mental research and development.

We see an incredible potential for such mental R&D, right now. We have already succeeded in mapping more of the specific areas of the brain in the last two years than any other laboratory in over a decade. We have found vital links to the brain through instantaneous feedback methods, which give us the ability to evaluate mental activity on a much finer level than ever before. Soon, that mental activity will be literally under our microscopes, and we will be able to probe its innermost secrets, atom by atom…

-excerpt from address to the American Council of Researchers by Dr. Arnold Benson, Oct 4, 2012

Amanda Taim remembered once going to a charity dinner… one of those $500 chicken dinner affairs, everyone wore formal wear, lots of boring speeches. Her company had bought tickets to the affair, in the interest of public service, and handed the tickets out to any employees who wanted to go. She’d gotten a set, and gone with her husband. It had turned out to be such a dry affair, that the only part she’d enjoyed about the entire evening was dressing up. She hadn’t even gotten a chance to meet the one celebrity that had shown up, an actor from one of her old favorite television shows, whom she had assumed was dead at the time.

The room in front of Amanda looked a lot like one of those dinners: Lots of people, seated at round tables, eating simple dinners dressed up with parsley; a long table at the front of the hall, with a number of people seated at it, and a podium in the middle; and well-dressed people, although very few of them were even close to formal. But this was a roomful of scientists and science businessmen, not charity supporters. They were here on business, not to show off to each other. As was Amanda.

She self-consciously ran a hand over the line of her dress. She hadn’t had a formal gown that fit her (she was on the high side of a size nine this week), but she had a good dress that she assumed would be reasonably appropriate for the formal function she thought she was crashing. Now that she saw the people that were there, she felt slightly overdressed. Oh, well, she mused, maybe it will help impress someone…

She surveyed the room, and concluded that the evening’s functions had mostly finished up. She chewed her lower lip in concern: That would make it harder to find Dr. Benson, and she didn’t have any idea what he looked like. She tried to scope out the areas where clots of men and women stood about one or two people, and tried to divine the identity of Dr. Benson based on the crowds. Finally giving up on that, she walked on into the hall, determined to simply walk around and ask, if she had to. I’m here for Harv, she thought. Whatever it takes.

Amanda was glad to discover, once she waded into the room, that many of the people there wore name tags on their lapels or breasts. She immediately checked out each isolated crowd, to see if Dr. Benson was amidst them, but after fifteen minutes, gave up on that idea. She scanned the rest of the crowd, until she came across a gentleman who seemed to be giving her the eye. She smiled and changed direction to approach him, and before he could say hello, she said, “Excuse me: Could you help me find Dr. Arnold Benson?”

After the slightly disappointed gentleman gave her some quick instructions, Amanda found herself behind the long table at the front of the room. There was one more group of people there, that she hadn’t seen from the other side of the table. One man seemed to be the center of attention of the group, slightly taller than the rest of the crowd, with a full head of evenly gray hair. Amanda moved close enough to see his nametag: Doctor Arnold Benson.

Dr. Benson was flanked by a woman, decidedly Hispanic in appearance, who was a full head shorter than he, which put her at about Amanda’s height. This woman was in much better shape than Amanda was, she also noticed (obviously not a mother, she thought), and she wore a business suit that was tailored to show off her figure. She was mostly listening to the rest of the men talk, and seemed to be content in doing so.

“Well, yes, that’s true,” Dr. Benson was saying, “most evidence of augmented strength has been only temporary, which usually indicates that the state is created by increased adrenaline and hormone levels.”

“Then how can such a trait be made permanent?” another gentleman was asking. He had the aspect of a businessman, rather than a scientist, and Amanda wasn’t sure why he would be asking such a question in the first place. “Surely you can’t permanently stimulate the adrenal or hormonal glands… much less would you want to.”

“Actually, that’s not as bad as it sounds,” Benson replied, “providing you do it at a much lower level. Muscle growth and quality is controlled by the hormonal glands to some extent, and the proper level of stimulation can serve as a sort of subconscious reminder to ‘build muscle,’ as opposed to building fat or simply dumping the nutrients back out through the excretory system. But there are other ways to stimulate muscle growth, too.”

“Such as?”

“Have you ever dieted?” There was polite laughter around the group; the businessman who faced him was clearly on the heavy side. The businessman gave him a wry grin, and shrugged it off. “If you have,” Benson continued, “you know how your results depend on so many different factors.” He counted off on his fingers. “You have to watch not just how much you eat, but exactly what you eat… low fats, no glucose, no sucrose, none of this meat, none of that sauce. You have to maintain an appropriate activity level, to stimulate fat burning. You have to exercise, which will hopefully tell your body to build muscle, and not to store more fat. And the right type of exercise… aerobic, but also muscle building as opposed to just moving… This is why so many people cannot manage to lose weight successfully. If you don’t do all of those things at the proper level, you’ll likely fail.

“Now,” Benson continued, “all of these things are controlled by autonomic functions in the body… muscle growth, hormone stimulation, fat burning. Normally, the body cannot consciously access these functions… the brain must get signals from the body, saying, I am exerting myself. Then the brain decides to burn this storehouse of fat, and-or build this set of muscles. And if the proper raw materials aren’t there, it must decide which it can do properly… or if it will simply decide to let you fatigue, and stop.

“But the brain always has the final say. Not the hormonal glands, not the adrenal glands, but the brain, which controls all of those things. And we already know that the brain can be manipulated. So it’s a matter of finding the right part of the brain that makes these decisions, and training them to accept our conscious input.”

“In a purely subconscious area?” another gentleman asked. “Even those functions that are handled by the reptilian brain?”

“Absolutely,” Benson replied. “There are island divers who can, by training and practice, hold their breath for minutes… much longer than the period that generally causes the body to demand oxygen, and autonomously forces your lungs to take a deep breath. There are Indian priests who can literally stop the beating of their heart. Those are all autonomous, reptilian functions that these people have learned to consciously manipulate. The hypothalamus, which I believe you refer to when you say ‘the reptilian brain,’ is the area that controls those functions. It is not generally open to conscious input, but it can be trained, just like the divers and Indian priests trained theirs. What we are working on is no different… just more sophisticated, technologically.”

He turned and indicated the Hispanic woman next to him with a nod. “That’s why we have Dr. Anitra Juarez, here, on our staff. Dr. Juarez has personally studied most of the cases of conscious control over autonomic functions, around the world, and is the best at finding ways to achieve the same results with more modern techniques. You should see what she’s done by combining hypnotherapy with real-time electro-encephalograph monitoring…”

Someone in the group seemed to brighten at the mention of “real-time electro-encephalograph monitoring,” and immediately started asking some incredibly technical question of Dr. Juarez. Dr. Juarez immediately replied with an equally technical answer to his question, and while the attention shifted away from Dr. Benson, his eye roved past the crowd. He saw Amanda, standing almost on tiptoe to make sure he noticed her, and locking eyes with him immediately. She moved diagonally behind the crowd, still looking at him, and he sidestepped to the edge of the crowd, making excuses along the way. Finally they met at the edge of the crowd, and Dr. Benson smiled cordially.

“Good evening,” he said, inclining his head. “Do I know you?”

“No,” Amanda replied, “no, I’m afraid not. My name is Amanda Taim. I’ve looked forward to meeting you, ever since I heard about the work you are doing.”

“I see,” Benson nodded. “A colleague?”

“A—? ” Amanda realized his mistake, and shook her head. “No, I’m not a scientist. I’m an administrative secretary.”

Dr. Benson’s smile faded slightly, and his brow furrowed a bit. “Oh.”

“I didn’t come here for the dinner. I came to talk to you.”

“Oh,” Dr. Benson’s smile brightened back up. “What about?”

“Can I talk to you about my boy?”

Ch1

Nami ran full-tilt across the parking lot. It was just past midnight, but there was enough residual light from distant streetlights and open windows to illuminate the mostly-empty lot… which was not good, since it meant she was a reasonable target for the gunman in the building on the opposite side of the lot. Nami ran in a slightly-curved trajectory, then switched direction about two-thirds of the way across the asphalt, to throw off anyone taking aim at the top of her head. Just before she reached the far wall, she spun around and braced herself, and allowed her momentum to carry her. She struck the wall of the building hard enough to make her teeth rattle, but she flattened there, and stayed put.

And silently cursed herself for being caught in such a situation. Detective Nami Waters, with nine years on the force and two as a detective, wasn’t supposed to be out in the middle of the night giving foot chase to armed drug dealers. She was supposed to be cleaning up after the uniformed cops who were supposed to be chasing down perps in the middle of the night. No, she checked herself, that’s not true. She could feel her heart racing, and after a sprint across a wide open space that could have been her last steps alive, she knew she was spooked. And when she was spooked, she often got angry, and said (or thought) things that simply weren’t true.

“How the Hell,” she whispered to herself, “did I ever make detective?” Then she rolled her head along the wall to locate the nearest opening… in this case, a cracked wooden door to her left. She slid along the wall to the door, reached out, and discovered it was unlocked. An invitation if she ever saw one, but not one she wanted to accept at face value. She slid away from the door a few feet, and tapped her finger to her earphone. Her partner, Israel Madison, was supposed to be out here somewhere, but they had become separated when they went around opposite ends of the street to flush the dealers she had followed this far. She waited to hear the click of his tap on her earphone, indicating he’d heard her tap. Or a double-click, which would indicate that he heard, but could not speak.

She received nothing.

Or had she heard nothing?

Nami reached for her radio, and switched to a general call mode. “Central,” she whispered into her earphone mic, “1-Evan-6, requesting backup, code three. Possible officer down. Locate on me or Detective Madison.”

“1-Evan-6, we copy. Sending two units now.”

“Thank you,” she said after she switched the radio back to local mode. She tried tapping again, but still got nothing. Had Izzy been taken down? She hadn’t heard a shot. Was he already in the building? After all this time, she didn’t even know if the dealers were still in there. And here she was, plastered uselessly against the sooty wall of the building, while her partner might be bleeding to death, and her perps might be halfway to Marietta by now.

“Backup, backup…” she whispered again as she edged closer to the door. Moving her head right to the edge of the frame, she listened for any sound of movement. After what felt like a few minutes (and could have only been four or five seconds), she suddenly moved across the door, grabbing the handle and pulling it open as she crossed the threshold. She flattened herself against the opposite side of the now-open door, gun drawn at the neck-height of anyone who might be stupid enough to stick their heads through (like herself), and paused for a brief moment. Then she used her hand on the door handle to pull herself quickly forward, and used her momentum to carry herself into the dark interior, and downward, to hopefully land in some low shelter.

Instead, she crashed into a pile of boxes, some of which were empty and flew into the air upon her impact. She bruised her shoulder on one of the others, which must have been filled with machine parts. She heard no sound, and no shots were directed at her, so she quickly scrambled out of the pile and tried to get a good look at her surroundings. Nami’s eyes widened and strained to see, but the room was as pitch-black as it could possibly be. She waited for her eyes to adjust—which seemed to be taking far too long—and tapped her earpiece again. Still no reply from Israel. For the second time, she considered waiting until she heard something, or got her backup. For the second time, she decided against it.

Slowly she began to move forward, searching for the door to the next room. She grunted when she stubbed her toe on something absolutely unmoving and hard. She reached out, felt something cold and metallic, kept running her hand along its close edge until she touched something sharp, and pulled her hand back. She considered her encounter, then reached into her pocket and removed a tiny flashlight. Twisting it on, she waved it across the room in a quick sweep and took in the objects that were momentarily reflected in its light. She saw floor-mounted machinery. She was in a machine shop. Heavy-duty machines, designed to work metal.

If the entire building were made up of machines and metal like this, it might keep her radio from being able to communicate with Israel’s. So he might be okay after all, if he was inside. But if the building was that well shielded, her backup would not be able to locate them inside.

“It just gets better and better,” she whispered, making a mental note to stop whispering aloud for the duration of her stay inside.

The building proved to be empty on the lower floor, and she eventually discovered a stairway leading to the next floor. Before she reached its base, however, a distant voice froze her in her tracks. She waited, and the voice came again, definitely from somewhere above the stairs. Probably a sentry with a big mouth and an itchy trigger finger. So the stairs weren’t an option…

Click.

Nami’s eyes snapped wide, and she let a silent sigh of relief escape her lips. Izzy. She tapped back, twice, and waited.

“Look left.”

Nami looked left, and saw a vague figure in a shadowy corner, a dozen yards away. The figure waved at her. Nami glanced at the stairs, which were between her and her partner. It was close, but she concluded that she could move to his corner if she moved as far to the left of the room as possible. She started for Israel, taking care to move slowly and quietly.

About halfway to Israel, Nami heard sharp, insistent voices from the floor above. Something had set off the guys upstairs. Nami could not hear any specifics from their voices, but when she glanced back to look at Israel, she caught sight of a red flash of light, reflected against the wall. The flash came back a second later, and was followed by a blue flash a half-second after. The backup had arrived. They had just pulled up around the building. The dealers upstairs had seen the cars, and judging by their voices, were now panicking. If they decided to rabbit… as panicked perps often do… they would probably have to come right down the stairs that terminated about seven feet from her present position.

Nami’s stomach turned cold, and she looked over at Israel. His shadow had also shifted and tensed, and Nami knew he was thinking the same thing she was. And at that moment, the stairwell erupted in a ragged thumping of hurried footsteps, sounding much like a flurry of kids descending from their bedrooms.

Nami turned and rolled, coming around and taking aim at the first pair of legs rushing down the stairs. “PoliceYou’reUnderArrest Freeze!” she barked, at the same time that she saw the barrel of the automatic the first pair of legs was carrying.

The legs on the stairs suddenly tangled with each other. Nami heard a great deal of profanity erupt from the upper level… apparently, they hadn’t realized they had visitors in their lobby. But the legs in back could not stop soon enough to avoid forcing the legs in front the rest of the way down the stairs. Faced with imminently losing his footing, the first set of legs suddenly tried to leap the length of the stairway to the floor. There was a roar and bright flash as the man attached to those legs tried to fire a warning shot into the room with his automatic. But his uncontrolled fall down the stairs had thoroughly ruined his aim, and he only knocked plaster off of the roof. Nami had already taken a bead on him, and she squeezed off a shot. The gunman did a sudden barrel roll on his way down, landed at the foot of the stairs, and rolled limply across the floor.

“FreezePolice!” came the voice of her partner, who had come up out of the shadows and now moved up behind Nami. The legs did not freeze, however, and almost every set of them insisted on trying to shoot their way down the stairs. Their firing created a fireworks display in the small space, strobing light, and booming sound that could be felt down to the bone. Unfortunately for them, their own bodies were in the way of getting a clean shot at the officers below. Nami and Israel found themselves literally picking them off one by one, as they stumbled and tumbled down the stairs firing wild shots throughout the room.

Suddenly, there was no one else to shoot at. Nami’s ears rang from the cacophony of gunfire in the enclosed space, and her eyes blinked back the blind spots left by muzzle flashes. She barely had any connection to the room she was in, could hardly make out anyone in the room with her. Heart still pounding, she let herself slump to a seated position on the floor, just inches from a dead drug dealer. She looked at him: She couldn’t see in the dark well enough to identify him, even this close.

From somewhere a voice bellowed out. Israel raised his head, and yelled out, “We’re in here… stand down!” Then he moved over to Nami and knelt beside her. “You okay, partner?”

Nami, still half-blind and deaf, and fairly shaking with excess adrenaline, responded by thumping her fist against his chest, and demanding almost plaintively, “Where the hell were you?”

~

It was past two A.M. when Nami walked through the front door to her apartment. At least, she wouldn’t have to come in the next day, she thought… the only perk to working night shift, taking out a handful of drug dealers, and making your Captain happy. She walked out of her clothing, having stripped down to her trousers only by the time she reached the bathroom. She dumped everything into the hamper, finished off with the trousers and her panties, and forced herself into the shower to wash off a week’s worth of grime, accumulated in one day.

Once she was relatively clean, she padded back to the kitchen to get a glass of cold water. Then back to the bedroom, where she pulled on a long tee-shirt before she crawled under the sheet.

She had concentrated on every move she had made since coming home, right down to getting into bed. She had hoped to concentrate on going right to sleep, but contrary to plan, she did not go to sleep right away. Which, unfortunately, left her mind with nothing else to do except contemplate her evening, and how scared she had been out in the field. Slowly her resolve melted away, and she shivered as she fought back tears.

She managed to avoid crying, but she was too upset with herself to go to sleep. After a half-hour, Nami got back out of bed and paced into the kitchen again. She considered the lateness of the hour, and regretted that she could not call one of the men she had occasionally dated, and spent the rest of the night with one of them… she could have used the company (not to mention the sex). She could have used someone to talk to.

She had doubted lately that she had made the right decision in becoming a police officer. It had started when her eyesight had started to go south, a year ago, and she had been forced to start wearing reading glasses for the first time in her life. Then she noticed her hearing seemed to have lost some of its sharpness, and those loud concerts she sometimes went to seemed to force her ears to ringing a lot sooner, and a lot longer, then they had years ago. With her youthful sensitivities going, she seemed to be losing her youthful confidence as well, and working on the streets of Atlanta seemed tougher and tougher every day. She was becoming more and more concerned that she was losing her edge, and that loss would someday prove fatal in her line of work.

Nami sat at her kitchen table, contemplating her future. And once again, her mind returned to an entry she had read online in the Journal-Constitution weeks ago. She had a laptop that she generally kept in the kitchen, and used to read from the web, or get some paperwork done. She searched through her files of the articles and ads she had saved, until she found the one she was looking for.

Research Subjects

Participants needed for a research study being carried out on mental development and physiological conditioning. Subjects will attempt to augment their micro-physiological condition through mental development exercises. Long term study… must be able to stay in Atlanta for the next two years. Subjects will be compensated for their time. If interested, please call (404) 332-3602, ext 19.

Nami reread the ad carefully. She recognized the extension as belonging to one of the exchanges near Georgia State University, where a number of independent research facilities were located. And the research they suggested sounded just like what Nami could use right now. If they could actually help her regain her preferred physical condition, even through a “mental development” of some sort, she would be able to continue to work the streets. And if it didn’t work out, it might prove to be an indicator that she should start shopping for a new career, once and for all.

~

Nami had been right about the location: The building—a plain structure with nothing for adornment except its street number, in ten-foot numbers along the top level below the roofline—was literally across the street from one of the Georgia State University parking buildings, just off campus. She maneuvered around the parked cars that lined the streets, walked into the plain lobby of the building, and checked the kiosk that sat in the center of the lobby floor. Then she found an open elevator and took it to the sixth floor.

The sixth floor was even more plain than the lobby, if that was possible: Plain doors up and down a plain corridor. It was obvious that this building was here for purely sponsor-related work. Nami counted the doors until she reached the one marked 610, and turned the knob.

The office was not as plain as the corridor, but it was still pretty basic. There was a duo of couches in the front of the room, a table with a few magazines arranged on it, and a smaller table holding a lamp and a few more magazines. A woman sat on the couch on the left, and glanced up from the magazine in her lap when Nami walked in. Then she resumed reading.

Beyond the couch was a desk, with a young man seated behind a computer. He smiled and arched his eyebrows when Nami walked in. “Good morning. Miss…?”

“Nami Waters,” Nami replied, walking up to the desk. “I have an appointment.”

“Yes,” the young man said, consulting his screen. “Dr. Juarez is expecting you… she should be just a few more minutes, if you’ll have a seat.” He indicated the couches, and Nami thanked him and took a seat on the opposite end of the same couch the other woman sat on. The other woman did not look up again immediately, but she did look past Nami to the door on the opposite side of the room, past the desk. Nami settled back and waited, without picking up any of the magazines.

A little over five minutes later, the far door opened. Nami and the woman looked up to the door. A tall, thin boy walked out, followed by a small Hispanic woman in a white lab coat. The boy looked none too enthused about being there… in fact he looked bored, and maybe a bit put-out. The woman rose from her seat (she was clearly a relation to the boy), and approached them.

The Hispanic woman smiled at her. The woman looked to the boy and said, “So, what do you think, Harv?”

Harv, the boy, looked to her and the Hispanic woman, and even risked a quick glance at Nami, who was doing her best to give them their privacy from the far side of the waiting room. He finally shrugged and said, “Yeah, I’ll try it, Mom.”

“Good,” his mother said, smiling broadly at him the way only a proud mother could. “Don’t worry, it’ll work out wonderfully. Won’t it, Dr. Juarez?” (Thought so, Nami mused.)

“Yes, Mrs. Taim, he’ll be fine,” Dr. Juarez replied. “We had a good talk, and from what Harv tells me, I don’t see any reason why our program won’t potentially work for him.”

“That’s wonderful,” Mrs. Taim repeated, beaming at her boy. “What time should he start, then?”

“Harv,” Dr. Juarez addressed the boy, “can you come in on Monday, at ten in the morning?”

“Yeah, sure,” Harv nodded.

“Monday at ten it is, then,” Dr. Juarez said. “Thank you for coming in, Mrs. Taim. Harv, I’ll see you Monday morning.”

“Thanks again, Doctor,” Mrs. Taim said, leading Harv toward the door. Harv shot another quick look to Nami as they passed her. Then they were out the door.

“Miss Waters?” Nami looked up when Dr. Juarez addressed her. “I’m Doctor Juarez.”

Nami rose and shook her hand. “Hi.”

“Thank you for coming in. Please join me in my office?”

Nami was led through the far door, to make a quick right turn into a small office. The single desk had the same computer as that which adorned the receptionist’s desk, two chairs in front of it, and one behind. Two diplomas were posted to the wall, side by side, above a small cabinet filled with storage CDs and paper reference books behind glass doors. Dr. Juarez indicated the chairs to Nami, and sat down behind her desk. Then she reached for her computer screen and tapped at it, and Nami saw in the reflection of her eyes a document that filled the screen.

Dr. Juarez turned from the screen, once she had found what she wanted. “I was really glad to see your application when it came in.”

Nami raised an eyebrow. “I’m not sure how I should take that, Doctor.”

“Sorry. I’ll explain,” Dr. Juarez said. “And you can call me Anitra, if you like.”

“I’m Nami.”

“It was the fact that you are a police detective that caught my attention,” Anitra explained. “Not your condition, or your goals, precisely. I’m sure you understand that we are in very early stages of our research into conscious micro-physiological manipulation. We are still working out our theories, and seeking better ways of making these experiments work.”

“I understand.”

“So, when we saw your background, we realized that we had found someone who is already a trained observer. Theoretically, we should be able to glean much more information about our processes, and much more objective information, from you. It would be a big help to our efforts, and should help further our research. It should also make it much more likely that we’ll be able to help you.”

“Ah,” Nami said. “So there is something in it for me.”

Anitra smiled and nodded. “Sorry again. I do tend to get very excited about this research. You’re an intelligent woman… you must be, or you wouldn’t be a detective, right?… so you must have a good idea of the benefit to Mankind this research represents.”

“Finding a way to improve human physiology consciously, at a micro-cellular level, and without surgery or chemicals?” Nami nodded. “I’ve got a pretty good idea. And speaking of which… exactly what were you planning to do with me?”

“Well,” Anitra replied, “your situation is right in line with one of our four basic goals. You want to augment your sensory sensitivity. We have a program already worked out for that, as well as our other basic goals: Gross muscular augmentation; Analytical augmentation; and immunologic augmentation.

“The sensory augmentation program consists of two types: First, neural amplification, is designed to stimulate the neuro-chemical activity between the sensory systems and their receptors in the brain; and the second is micro-muscular augmentation, which is specifically related to isolated muscle systems, like those in and around your eyes. With both systems, we will locate the regions of your brain that are specifically linked with those functions, in order to set up a method of your being able to see what your brain is doing with its sensory input.”

“See what my brain is doing?” Nami repeated. “How, exactly?”

“We start out with an EEG,” Anitra replied. “You’ve seen those, I’m sure… it creates a graph of brain activity.”

“Sure.”

“Well, our electro encephalographic equipment is tied into a computer designed to break down the signals into specific bits, which we call ‘tags,’ which represent a single flash of information. Those signals are further manipulated, to create a specific pattern on a screen. That pattern is designed to respond to the signals in a certain way. As we teach you to try to adjust that pattern, you’ll see your actual progress on the screen.”

“Really,” Nami said, intrigued.

“Yes, it can actually be fun,” Anitra told her. “The trick is, to get you to make very specific changes to the pattern. Then we need to teach your brain to remember exactly what it did to create that change, in order to learn how to manipulate it on a conscious level.”

“And how is that done?”

“Hypnotherapy,” Anitra replied. Nami made a face, and Anitra returned it with a wry smile. “You know, it’s funny; everybody reacts strongly to hypnosis, either positively or negatively. But no one ever takes it in stride. I take it that you’ve never tried hypnosis before?”

“No, never,” Nami replied.

“Then allow me to give you some background. What we call hypnosis has been practiced for thousands of years, by humans throughout the world. It was often given different names, such as dreamtime, trance-state, or mind-walking. Generally it involved specific mental disciplines, sometimes aided by drugs designed to put the mind into the proper state of relaxation. Very often these trance-states were designed to clear the mind of the stresses of everyday life, and provide clarity.

“However, many peoples discovered that the trance state allowed them to exercise more control over the normally autonomous parts of their bodies or nervous systems. This allowed them to do things that are still not understood today by modern medicine, and considered by many to be outright trickery.”

“Like stopping their heart rate,” Nami volunteered. “I’ve heard of that in India. That, and walking on hot coals without getting burned.”

“Well, the coal-walking is actually not a great example,” Anitra told her. “In fact, there is a way to do it that avoids serious burning of the feet… if you know that trick, anyone can do it. However, stopping the heart… or cessation of breathing… or suppression of pain, has been done, and documented. I, myself, have seen it done in front of me.”

“Have you?”

“Yes,” Anitra nodded. “I’ve spent years studying in India, Asia, South and North America, with people who can enter various trance-states, and influence their autonomous systems, almost at will.

“Let me tell you about a study that was done in the 1970s,” Anitra continued. “Hypnosis was being studied, as a way to manipulate the body’s immune system on a conscious level. The subject was brought under hypnosis, and given a mental image of whatever the situation was that they were dealing with… for instance, if a body was under attack by a virus, the mental image might be the body being surrounded by attacking primitives, and fighting back from behind a barricade. The person controlling the session would describe antibodies as being guns, or bullets, tailor-made to destroy the attackers. Then the subject would be told that their body had just found more ammunition in its stores, more than enough to vanquish the enemy. The whole thing would be orchestrated like a dream, with the imagery designed psychologically to trigger a specific response from the brain. With about twenty percent of the subjects, an actual improvement in the body’s condition was recorded, with about three percent of the subjects becoming cured of their affliction without the assistance of drugs or any other therapy.”

“Three percent… twenty percent?” Nami said. Doesn’t sound like very high successes.”

“Actually, a one in five response rate is considered very high,” Anitra pointed out. “As to the three percent total cure rate, that figure can be debated even further. But the fact that there was progress at all, shows there is merit to the method. The catch was, although the hypnosis and auto-suggestion seemed to work, it did not give the subject any way to physically see what the body was doing. What was happening was that the subject was making a vague suggestion to the brain, and hoping that the brain would respond as desired. It was akin to tossing a ball of paper into a corner, and hoping you would hear it, go over, pick it up and read it. Almost everyone would look, but many would not get up from the chair. Some would go over and see what made the noise. And some of those would actually pick up the paper. And a few of those would simply throw it away, instead of reading it.

“What I’ve done is to take those mental cues, and tie them in to tailored biofeedback data. Based on what I’ve learned from natural practitioners, I’ve worked out a series of tests that will isolate the particular areas of the subconscious brain that should be targeted, and a program that will allow the conscious mind to draw connections between itself and those subconscious areas.”

“So, your system provides better feedback, I guess.”

“Exactly right,” Anitra nodded. “It gives you a visual of what your brain is actually doing, and how your efforts are directly affecting it. No dreamlike imagery that you hope your brain will figure out properly. We are talking to the brain itself, and giving it direct commands.”

Nami nodded silently, considering the implications of Anitra’s answer. In the space of that silence, Anitra glanced back at Nami’s application information, on her computer screen. “I understand this is a bit more than just an experiment, to you.”

“Yes,” Nami nodded. “Lately I’ve had a lot of trouble doing my job, because I seem to be losing my edge. I can’t see, or hear, or smell, like I used to. I don’t recover as fast. Maybe it’s just too much hard living, but…” Nami trailed off, opening her hands in an “I don’t know” gesture.

Anitra nodded. “I understand. You need to be in peak condition to do your job. You’re losing that, and you want to see if we can help you to regain it.” She leaned forward across the desk. “We can. I’m sure of it. That’s why we accepted you. The NA and MMA programs will work for you, and you’ll be sharper than you’ve been in years.” Anitra saw the spark of desire then, a change in Nami’s face that signaled the abandonment of her concern in favor of the need to try. “So, what do you say? Will you be here on Monday?”

Nami actually squared back her shoulders, and smiled. “Try to keep me away.”

“Great,” Anitra said, rising from her desk. “I’ve got a few minutes… would you like to see the lab?”

“No, I’m afraid I don’t have time today,” Nami replied. “I’ve got to get back to my job. But I’ll see you on Monday.” She extended her hand. “Thanks, Doctor… Anitra.”

Anitra shook her hand. “Thank you, Nami. See you Monday.”

Once Nami had gone, Anitra returned to her desk and opened another file on her computer. It was a database broken into two, one above the other, with four names in the top section, and forty names in the lower section. The four names in the top section were, “Jafar, John Singh,” “Larson, Nicolette Mary,” “Taim, Harvey Alan,” and “Waters, Nami Ann.” Beside each name were “X” marks in individual categories, each related to a specific set of test procedures scheduled for that person. A few categories were marked for each person, but all of the subjects had one item marked on the schedule that no one else had marked. Altogether, the four of them were scheduled to try every test procedure on the schedule, with some overlaps.

Anitra looked over the database, and moved to a comments area after Nami’s entry. Then she took out a microphone and began to dictate. As she spoke, a small icon began to blink on the screen, indicating that it was saving her voice recording with the database.

“Detective Waters seems to have a healthy dose of concern over our program, but she also has a strong desire to succeed, thanks to the pressures of her profession. She may prove to try too hard at first… I expect her progress to be slow. But if she perseveres she could ultimately prove to have the strongest results we get out of the four subjects.”

At that point, she switched to the comments section after Harvey Taim’s name, and continued. “Harvey Taim is a textbook underachiever, although in his case, there do seem to be some indications of mental problems in his history. The records his mother provided to me suggest there may be a level of retardation, but the original tests were done in public school, and were far too vague and crude to be at all reliable. I will have to assume, therefore, that he is simply hard to reach, probably a short attention span, possibly ADD but not necessarily. Hopefully the sight of all our machinery will keep his attention long enough to show some results. If not, we’ll have to find new ways to inspire him.”

Anitra ended the dictation, and closed the database. She had a few minutes until her next interview was due, so she spent the time going over her notes on the various testing procedures she had outlined. Anitra had been almost solely responsible for the procedures they would be using, although Dr. Benson had made a few improvements with the help of the cash donations he had arranged. His replacement of Anitra’s intended Sun workstations with a Cray X-MP meant that she’d been able to make her self-designed feedback-simulation programs much more elaborate, faster and more powerful. She’d even been able to rewrite some of the feedback displays to function in true three-dimensions, as opposed to the “false 3-D” effect that most of her research had demanded in the past. She had already seen a vast improvement in the subject’s ability to discern and control the more accurate 3-D objects, just from testing it personally. She was confident that it would make an incredible improvement in her research. She still had four more simulation programs to adapt to the new format, but she had plenty of time to do that by Monday.

Anitra smoothed back her long hair as she worked on her simulation programs. As a student, she had proven to be as adept at programming as she had been in the rest of her medical studies. But she had always been an adept student, well before medical school. Her fellow students had often been amazed at the sight of her holding down her medical classes, clinical psychology, electrical engineering (which she admittedly only dabbled in) and computer programming at the same time. Anitra threw herself totally into her work, whatever it was, and she just happened to be smart enough to be able to keep it all balanced in her head. Her drive and energy had caused her to wear out countless roommates during her collegiate career, all of whom would have sworn on a stack of bibles that Anitra had never once slept during the entire school year.

From college (with degrees in medicine, clinical psychology, and published papers in her minor of anthropomorphic studies), she had traveled the world, taking the advantage of her credentials to get her into research hospitals around the globe. Her travels exposed her to first-hand examples of the real range of human anthropology, especially in those who could seemingly push back the theoretical limits of the human mind and body and do the impossible. She quickly noted the practitioners’ distinct improvements in health, vitality, and mental acuity, and saw a coherent benefit to overall health that Western medicine might take advantage of. Eventually, she began to see the similarities between hypnosis and self-hypnosis, used in many cultures under the guide of meditation, and the biofeedback systems she had studied in college… and she started to assemble a theory. When she returned to the United States, she had been determined to find the way to tap into the subconscious mind’s control areas through a mix of the traditional and the western scientific method, and to discover a way to teach it to absolutely anyone.

The papers she published on the subject were eventually picked up by Arnold Benson, Ph.D., former psychological researcher, author, Georgia State department head, and now owner of his own research institute. Anitra’s theories and observations openly intrigued Benson, who had himself witnessed the feats of Yogis in the Far East, and saw the same potential for body control and pain suppression that Anitra obviously saw. He had offered her a position instantly, and had made her one of his pet projects of late. As a result, she had lacked for nothing, including expensive dinners designed to promote her research and solicit healthy grants and donations to the institute on her behalf. She had since been building her way to this point, the opportunity to start human trials with her augmentation techniques.

There was a tone from her computer, and Anitra switched to the intercom. “Yes?”

Mr. Jafar is here, Doctor.

“I’ll be right there.”

Anitra opened the door to the waiting room and saw John Jafar, and realized at that point that she was surprised at his appearance. John Jafar was a relatively tall man (of course, at 5’-8,” most men looked tall to Anitra), with a just-slightly-dusky skin tone and round, handsome features. It occurred to Anitra that she had expected to see a shorter, darker man with a more pronounced nose and more… well, Indian features. This man honestly looked more Spanish to her, and as she happened to prefer Hispanic men, Anitra considered him to be more handsome than the average Indian male.

All of this went through her mind in a flash, and she quickly tried to put all that to the back of her mind as she extended her hand. Business, business. “Mr. Jafar? I’m Doctor Anitra Juarez.”

The young receptionist inclined his head her way, but just as quickly turned it back to his desk. He had caught the slip… she almost never introduced herself with her first name, just her title and last name. Of course, Mr. Jafar wouldn’t know that from experience, he knew.

But John Jafar seemed to pick up on the fleeting signals between the Doctor and the receptionist, and his smile widened perceptively. “Good morning, Doctor,” he said cheerily. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Thank you… and you, Mister Jafar.” Anitra replied.

“Call me John.”

“John. Please, join me in my office?”

“Gladly,” John Jafar replied, and followed not too far behind her.

Ch2

As it turned out, the lab area was not on the same floor as Dr. Juarez’s office. Rather, the lab took up the entire floor above it. The elevators opened into a small anteroom, where the single door was adjacent to a small slot for an electronic card reader.

After Nami had gone to the office downstairs, she had been issued the card and told to take the elevator to the seventh floor, and use the card to enter. Nami did as she was told, and walked into a large, fairly antiseptic-looking suite of labs and offices. Much of the floor was open to the outside walls, allowing ample natural light to enter from the two sides facing east and south. The north wall was made up of more traditional offices and rooms, whose doors were mostly closed.

The rest of the floor was filled with exotic equipment. Nami recognized the familiar bed-and-doughnut arrangement of an MRI scanning bed in one corner, and a number of fairly standard medical tables, though they were surrounded by equipment Nami couldn’t figure out. There were also chairs, resembling the type found in dental offices, but many of which had more medical equipment attached on three sides. There were a number of rolling stands with large television monitors, mostly near the dental chairs, and other rolling carts with more non-identifiable equipment. A few lab-coated young people walked around the equipment, checking things and making notes on clipboards.

The three people waiting near the entrance to the lab all turned to regard her when she walked in. Two of them, a man and a woman whom Nami had never seen before, were each shouldering a bag of, presumably, the same type of exercise clothing Nami had been advised to bring, which she had in her own gym bag. Nami recognized the third, Harv Taim, and he gave her a bit more of a glance than he had the last time she had seen him. He had no bag of clothing, but he was dressed simply in shorts and a tee-shirt. After a moment, Harv returned to idly examining the rest of the room from the safety of his location. The Indian/Spanish-looking (she was not sure which) man smiled at her and said, “Hello.”

“Hello,” Nami replied. “Am I the last one here, then?”

“I think so,” the man told her. “Dr. Juarez is over there…” he waved in the direction of the offices… “with this young man’s mother.”

“Hi, Harv,” Nami said, smiling at the boy. Harv mumbled a hello, and turned back to the lab. He seemed to be concentrating his attention on the rooms, where his mother had apparently gone. “I’m Nami. Nami Waters,” Nami offered to the others.

“How are you?” The man offered his hand. “I’m John Jafar.”

Indian. “Hi,” Nami said, shaking his hand.

“I’m Nicolette,” the third person offered, holding out her hand. “Nicolette Larson.”

“Hi. Are you all here for the same experiments I’m here for?”

“Yes and no,” John said. “I understand that all of us are undergoing slightly different series of tests, depending on what we put on our applications.”

As he spoke, Nami heard footsteps coming from one of the offices. Dr. Juarez walked into view with Amanda Taim, and she had heard John’s response to Nami’s question. “That’s right,” she spoke up, in order to announce her presence, and joined them by the door. “Each of you will be having a different set of procedures done, so that we can try to get results out of different areas of each of you. Mrs. Taim, would you like to stay with Harv? It’s up to you, and Harv.”

Amanda turned to Harv, and said, “Will you be okay?”

Harv gave a snort of a laugh and a sheepish smile. “Yeah, I’ll be fine, Mom,” he said, trying maybe a bit too hard to sound confident.

“Okay,” Amanda said, stepping over and giving him a kiss on the cheek. Nami noticed that he didn’t pull away, unlike most adolescent boys his age. “I’ll see you later, then.”

They waited for Amanda to exit the lab, before Dr. Juarez addressed them all. “Well: Welcome to the lab. I imagine you’ll all become very familiar with it over the next few weeks, but I know it might all look a bit intimidating. So, come on, let me show you around.”

Anitra put her hands in her lab coat pockets and started to slowly walk through the lab, as if giving a tour to picture-snapping tourists. The group followed behind her, and she started speaking as she walked. “John was right: Each of you is here for something different. In his case, John is here to try our macromuscular augmentation program. It is designed to teach his body to consciously control muscle growth and quality throughout his body.” Nami glanced at John, who was clearly on the thin side, though not overly so. “Nami is here to try to improve the sharpness of her senses, and additionally, to improve her reflexes. Nicolette is here to try to strengthen her immune system. And Harv, here, wants to improve his learning skills. We have a program tailor-made for each of those goals, which does some overlapping with each of you, and hits some areas exclusively. I think you’ll all be fascinated with the processes of each procedure, though. Who knows? You may even want to try the other procedures out, if the first one works out the way we’d like.”

She stopped by the MRI scanning table, which they all regarded critically. “You’ll all be starting your procedures here. The Magnetic Resonance Imaging scanner allows us to take detailed pictures of the interior of your brain, without making a single incision. It can even register brain activity, on a rough scale, in real time. We will be using it in two stages… first, to get a static picture of your brain’s layout… and second, to obtain preliminary data on brain activity while you perform specific tasks.” She turned to face them. “This will allow us to map out the portions of your brain that we will be working with, in a very general fashion, before we move to more specific areas.”

She started moving on, toward the dentist’s chairs. The workers she passed, apparently technicians, smiled and stood aside from their jobs as they passed. “Now, the next step in the process, once we have identified the general areas of the brain we will be working with, is to find the specific brain wave points we will need to study, and you will learn how to manipulate. Now, in the past, that meant having to actually perform surgery on the brain itself. Doctors would have you perform tests while they probed around in your open brain cavity, until they found the source of the signal, then inserted a probe into that spot.”

“Whoa,” Harv said. “You’re not doing that, right?”

“No, we’re not,” Anitra shook her head. “We have a much better, less invasive way of doing the same thing, and it’s essentially a more refined form of the MRI scanner.” She had reached the chairs at that point, and stepped around one so that the chair was between her and the rest of them. “This piece of equipment,” she said, indicating a large assembly at the head of the chair, “is an MRI scanner, like the one on the bed over there. But this one is designed a bit differently. The one on the bed is designed to scan your entire head, and it has to rotate around your head to do that. This one is designed to scan only a few small places at a time. It has two imaging systems, to allow it to triangulate on one specific spot, and read the brain activity at that point. We can triangulate down to any single neuron, which will allow us to pinpoint any neural activity we are interested in. The system is totally non-invasive. You can’t even tell you’re being scanned.”

“Cool,” Harv nodded.

Anitra smiled. “Thought you’d like that.” She started to walk away from the chairs, and the tour resumed. “Now, all of that is only part of the procedure, although it’s a major part of it. The next important part of this is the hypnotherapy. A lot of work has been put into all of the equipment I’ve just showed you. But the real obstacle to all of that doing what we want it to do, is the human brain itself.”

“How’s that, Doctor?” John asked.

“Because, although we can monitor the activity in the human brain, the brain itself is not designed to recognize the connection between outside stimulus and inner activity. Your senses are designed to input a specific set of impulses to your sensory reception areas. The brain uses these signals to interpret your surroundings. But the signals are nothing like the actual images you see, or the things you hear, or smell, etc.

“Think of the digital signal of a television set. If you are viewing through the receiver, you can see the image, and hear the sound. But if you are simply intercepting the signal from a wire, you cannot see the image or hear the sound… all you get is an electronic stream of data. And it’s not a stream that can simply identify a single point on the television. So you can’t simply wait to ‘see’ a specific object, and tag it. You need another way of identifying the signal you’re looking through.

“In this case, we have to use the brain itself to identify the signal for us. The idea is to allow the brain to make a visual correlation between the action and the signal, so it can recognize exactly what happens when that action is made. Once the brain has made that connection, we can work on training it to make that conscious decision to initiate that action.”

“Doctor,” John asked, “I’m not sure I understand how hypnotherapy enters into this. If we will see the brain activity, why will we have to be hypnotized to make the connection?”

“Because the brain is simply too vast and complex, and fast, for a human to easily make such a connection,” Anitra explained. “Going back to a television analogy, it would be like trying to touch a single pixel at the exact moment the scanning line reached it. Your motor control is too slow and clumsy, and the scanning line is so fast, that you simply couldn’t do it reliably. Sure, you might hit it once in a million tries, but you’d never be able to train yourself to hit it every time… and that’s exactly what you need to do.

“Hypnotherapy gives us a better way to control that, by allowing the brain itself to keep track of the activity and connections, and teach itself. I know it sounds strange, almost like your brain functions independently of you. But in a way, that’s exactly what it does. It controls your body functions at a much more involved level than the conscious mind can hope to grasp. And it is purposely wired to make sure your conscious mind does not need to keep track of all that subconscious activity, just for you to function. It does the hard work, and leaves the easy stuff to you.”

Anitra was becoming more animated, as she continued. She stopped at a blank monitor, and turned back to face them. “Hypnotherapy gives us access to those subconscious functions. Through documented hypnosis techniques, we can get the attention of the subconscious mind, and force it to pay attention to its own workings. We can convince it to watch for a specific sign of activity, and when it sees that activity, train it to remember what it did to cause that activity. Once the brain can recall that important bit of information, we can further use hypnotherapy to cement a conscious-subconscious connection to that activity. You could call it ‘hard-wiring’ a connection from the conscious to the subconscious mind.”

She turned and switched on the monitor next to her. It remained blank for perhaps a second, before an object instantly appeared on a perfect black background. The object was a wireframe model of a sphere, with the frame laid out like the longitude and latitude lines on a globe, and nothing inside… a hollow ball.

“Hey!” Harv immediately exclaimed. “It’s 3-D!”

Everyone else stared harder at the sphere, and slowly, their eyes widened. “It is!” Nami agreed. “What kind of monitor is this?”

“There’s nothing special about the monitor,” Anitra told them. “The image you’re seeing is being filtered through a program I designed, which uses certain lighting and color tricks to create a true 3-D effect, without the need for special glasses of any kind.”

“You designed that?” John made an impressed face. “That’s incredible! But if you can do this with a standard monitor… why don’t they use it on television or video games, or something?”

“Because this image requires some intense processing,” Anitra replied, “more than your average computer can accomplish. To create this static image would take a minimum of a ten thousand dollar computer. And you can see how simple this image is. To do moving graphics, or actual television pictures, would be much more than even a ten thousand dollar computer could handle.”

She pointed across the room. “See that machine behind the glass wall?” In a room beyond the glass was what looked like a circular couch, about six feet in diameter, surrounding a pillar of metal. The pillar had an opening running vertically from the seat of the sofa to its top, through which could be seen multicolored cables and terminals in the interior of the column.

“I’ll bet that’s one of those Cray supercomputers,” Harv quickly spoke up. “Isn’t it?”

“That’s right,” Anitra replied. “It’s a Cray X-MP processor.”

Nami sniffed in amusement. “That? I thought it was an air conditioner.”

“No,” Anitra said. “The Cray supercomputers are some of the most powerful processors in the world. Dr. Benson bought that one for our project. That Cray has the job of creating the real-time three-dimensional objects on these monitors, and manipulating them based on the brain wave readings we get from you, also in real-time. As I said before, coordinating these images is a very exacting process, but it’s necessary to allow the brain to distinguish cause and effect and learn from it. Only a supercomputer can make such a task possible.”

“So,” Nicolette said, “who will be hypnotizing us? You?”

“No,” Anitra replied. “I’ve done it a few times, in Mexico, but I’ve never been the best hypnotist. Besides, I’m generally needed to watch you and the equipment. So we have a specialist who will supervise the hypnosis sessions with you.” She had steered them over to the wall of offices, and when she reached one, she knocked. A muffled reply came from inside, and Anitra opened the door. A small man, dressed casually in slacks and a tie-less shirt, sat behind a desk, with a sheaf of folders in his hands and strewn over the desk. He smiled at Anitra and the others, and set the rest of the folders down in front of him.

“This is Doctor Robert Kidd,” Anitra declared. “Bob, these are our subjects.”

“Hello, everybody,” Dr. Kidd replied, standing up and coming around the desk. He was even shorter than Anitra, who was the shortest of the five. He clasped his hands behind him and stepped up to the group, looking at each of them through thin-lensed wireframe glasses. “Nice to see you all. I hope you’re all prepared to make a little history, here.”

“Dr. Kidd,” Anitra explained, “is a psychologist and psychiatrist. He’s used hypnotherapy with his clients as a standard practice for over ten years. He’s very accomplished.”

“Thank you, Anitra,” Dr. Kidd acknowledged. “You can all call me Bob. Or Dr. Kidd. I won’t be working with you for a couple of days, yet. But I’ll be around, seeing how everyone is getting along. Have any of you ever been hypnotized before?” Nobody replied in the affirmative. “Well, the process is actually quite simple. All I do is relax you, and help you to concentrate. One your concentration is set, I can guide you through making a connection with your subconscious that most of us can never quite reach… except in our most lucid of moments, at best. It’s a painless and sometimes enjoyable experience, and even beyond our work here, it should prove very relaxing and mentally balancing for you, long term.”

“Have you ever been on television?” Nicolette asked.

“Not in front of the camera, no,” Dr. Kidd replied. “I did work once as a scientific advisor to a program on the old Sci Fi channel. One of those Roswell Incident anniversary programs. If you were lucky, you didn’t see it.” They chuckled politely at his comment. “But I don’t usually have the time for that kind of thing. And speaking of which, I’d better get back to my files…”

“Of course,” Anitra said, stepping back. “Thanks, Bob.”

“Anytime. See you later, all.” Dr. Kidd shared one last smile with them, then turned amiably back to his desk.

Anitra closed the door behind her. “Bob’s a great guy. He’s considered to have one of those dispositions that can calm a pit bull. That’s why he’s so good at hypnotherapy. Anyway, you’ll be seeing him around. For now, we should get started with the first part of the program. Now, you’ll all have to bear with me, because we can only work with one of you at a time. But the rest of you can certainly watch, and get a chance to check out the rest of our lab. We have two rooms over here, where you can all change… well, I guess you’re already ready, Harv. Would you like to be first on the scanning bed?”

Harv looked at the MRI scanner, then at Anitra and the others. “Yeah, okay.”

“Great,” Anitra replied. “Then why don’t the rest of you get changed, while we get Harv strapped in?”

Nami and Nicolette selected a door, and John headed for the other one. Once inside, Nicolette and Nami opened their bags, and began taking off their clothing. Nicolette glanced at Nami while they were disrobing, and gave her a relaxed smile, and Nami took that as a signal to open a conversation.

“So, you’re going to have your immune system built up. Have you been sick?”

Nicolette smiled. “It seems like I’ve always been sick. Oh, nothing serious, you know. I’m just one of those people that always catches colds, not to mention whatever else is going around. But it always takes me forever to shake them.”

“I get it,” Nami said. “I usually get a summer cold, that takes me over a week to get rid of. It’s almost a yearly tradition.”

“With me, it’s a yearly constant. And so are the pills, the allergy medicines, the air filters in my house… the whole bit. So I’m really hoping this treatment will help.”

“I hope so, too.”

“Oh, God,” Nicolette suddenly exclaimed, “you’ve got the perfect abs!”

Nami actually stopped to glance down at her own midsection, which she had just bared. Then she looked at Nicolette’s flat stomach and trim waist. “Honey, you’re not so bad, yourself.”

“Yeah, but I don’t have those muscle lines! Oh, I would die for a stomach like that.”

“Take the police training course someday,” Nami told her. “If it doesn’t kill you, this is just what you’ll get.” With that, Nami pulled her tee-shirt on over her chest, and reached for her shorts.

“The Doctor said you’re having your senses augmented?” Nicolette asked. “You mean, trying to get better vision, hearing, smell, and like that?”

“Uh huh,” Nami replied.

“You’re not wearing glasses,” Nicolette pointed out. “Is your sight really that bad?”

“Well, not for everyday things, I guess. I do have reading glasses. But on the job, I have to be on my toes all the time. If I don’t happen to see what’s in the hands of the guy twenty feet away, or hear the footsteps around the corner, that kind of thing can get me killed. As well as anyone who might be out there working with me. So, it’s pretty important for me to make my sight, and hearing, and everything else, as sharp as I can.”

“Mm.” Nicolette pulled a sports bra over her head, and smiled sympathetically. “You’re worried about getting old.”

Nami looked at her, but had to admit that her somewhat blunt comment had hit the mark. “I am getting old. I just want to make sure I continue to get older.”

Nicolette nodded. “Sounds like a good plan to me.”

~

When Nami and Nicolette exited the changing room, John Jafar was already outside. He had on a long, loose tank top and black bicycle shorts, and jogging sneakers. John was very slightly built, without any body definition, which had not been evident when he had been in his street clothes. Along with Nami, in her police issue black tee-shirt and gym shorts, and Nicolette in her running outfit, they looked like they had come for an aerobics class. John looked at them and smiled when they walked up, without making a point of staring at them in their more form-fitting workout gear. Then he nodded in the other direction. “Take a look at how they’ve got Harv set up.”

They looked past him, to the MRI bed. Harv was lying on his back on the bed, with his hands clasped awkwardly across his chest. His head was literally locked into a metal contraption at the head of the bed, an adjustable arrangement of plates, straps, screws and cushions that was clearly designed to keep his head completely immobile. It did not look particularly comfortable, judging by Harv’s posture on the bed, or the tension in his hands. But he was not squirming or complaining.

“How are you doing, Harv?” Nami called out.

“Okay,” he mumbled past the chin-strap.

Anitra looked up from checking the positioning of the headgear. “It looks worse than it is. Promise.”

“It’s not so bad,” Harv mumbled again.

Anitra smiled down upon him. “Okay, you’re set. What we do now is, we’ll slide you into the imaging area. You won’t be able to see us, but you’ll be able to hear us just fine. While you’re in there, I’m going to run some scans, and I want you to just lay still and relax. Then I’m going to ask you some questions, which I want you to try and answer as accurately as you can. Then we’ll pull you back out. Sound easy?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Harv replied, his eyebrows suggesting a shrug.

“Okay. Then here we go.”

One of the lab workers came over, and helped Anitra to slide the bed, and Harv, into the circular opening of the MRI imager, paying particular attention to the position of his head once inside. They reached in around his head and made some final adjustments, then the lab worker stepped around to a control panel. Anitra straightened up, turned around and rolled up a small cart, upon which was a recorder and a microphone, and positioned it nearby the head of the bed. Then she picked up a small device that had been sitting on the table next to the recorder. She flipped open a cover, which folded back behind the handheld device. Then she produced a small pen from somewhere inside the device, which she used to tap at its surface.

“Pretty cool,” John commented, and Nami and Nicolette looked to him. “A tablet computer,” he explained for their benefit. “Looks like the new IBM Taplets. I hear they’re all the rage in the healthcare industry.” She raised his voice to include Anitra. “Does that control part of the procedure, too?”

“No,” Anitra shook her head. “I just happen to have my notes stored here, not to mention the questions. Can you hear me okay, Harv?”

“Yeah,” came a mumbled reply. “I can hear you.”

“Okay. We’re starting the first part of the process now. Just sit quiet and relax.”

They all watched as the technician worked at the control board, making adjustments to the MRI as it worked over Harv. Anitra remained silent as well, looking over the notes on her handheld computer and occasionally glancing at the MRI control board. Partway through the procedure, John stepped over to her and looked over her shoulder at the computer in her hand. When Anitra looked up at him, he smiled, and began speaking to her in a low voice. Nami and Nicolette were too far away to hear the conversation, but they recognized the overly catty look on John’s face, and the reaction on Anitra’s face to his conversation, and they shared knowing looks.

“Doesn’t something about this picture look wrong to you?” Nicolette whispered to Nami.

“What’s that?”

“We’re standing over here practically in our underwear, and Romeo, there, is hitting on the girl in the lab smock.”

Nami smiled. “To each his own, I guess.”

After a few minutes, the technician at the control board gave Anitra a high sign, and she stepped closer to Harv (and away from John). “Harv, it’s time to answer a few questions. Ready?”

“Ready,” he replied.

Anitra reached for the recorder on the cart, and switched it on. She tapped the mike, and watched a small gauge on the recorder jump. Apparently satisfied, she said, “Harv, what’s two plus two?”

Harv chuckled, before he replied, “Four.”

Anitra grinned, and made a notation on her computer. “What’s ten plus twenty?”

Harv hesitated only a beat. “Thirty.”

“Good. What’s nineteen times six?”

Harv, not surprisingly, did not reply immediately. They could not see his face, but his hands unclasped at his chest, and they could see him trying to work it out in his head. “Uh… uh… one hundred… four… fourteen. One hundred fourteen.”

“Good. Can you figure out the square root of one hundred ninety six?”

After another lengthy pause, Harv simply said, “I don’t know…”

“That’s okay. How’s your geography?”

“No, not geography,” he mumbled.

“Okay,” Anitra replied. “History?”

“…Okay.”

“What’s the capital of Alabama?”

Harv broke out in laughter, and he coughed out, “Montgomery! Hey, no fair!”

Everyone else laughed, too, and Anitra smiled. “Okay, a history question. In what year did Columbus discover America?”

“1492.”

“Right. Which came first: The Greek empire, or the Roman empire?”

“Um… the… Greeks.”

“Right. Good. Who invented the airplane?”

“Leonardo DaVinci.”

Everyone stopped and stared at Harv, even Anitra, whose hand paused over the handheld computer she took notes on. Finally, Harv asked, “Is that right?”

“Yes, it is,” Anitra replied, smiling again and taking down a new note on her computer. “Last question: Did man live during the time of the dinosaurs?”

“No.”

“Good. Okay, that’s it. Now, Harv, just relax, and in a minute or so, we’ll be taking you out of there.”

“Okay.”

Once Harv was out of the scanner and the head holder, he said to Anitra, “How did I do?”

“Oh, you did great,” Anitra assured him. “Just so you know,” she addressed all of them, “these questions aren’t really designed to test your memory. They were specifically designed to make you think in certain ways. You brain calculates a math question, but it remembers a history question. If I ask you to compare two different things, like the Greek and Roman question, then another part of your brain is used. And so on. This way, we can get readings on how different parts of your brain are working. By the way: Did you know that the Wright brothers actually built the first successful airplane?”

“Uh-huh,” Harv replied. “But Leonardo DaVinci designed one years before them, even if he couldn’t actually build it. So he really invented the airplane.”

This is the shy kid from last week? Nami thought to herself, and grinned. Anitra nodded at him, and made another note on her computer. Then she turned to the rest of them.

“Okay, who wants to be next?”

“I volunteer,” John Jafar said.

~

“You know, my arm is still sore,” John commented. He flexed his arm for emphasis.

“Next time,” Nicolette told him, “tell them you want to be smarter, not stronger.”

“Maybe you’re right,” John agreed. “But who thought they’d make me lift weights, while my head was in there? What’s so funny?”

Nami grinned. “You did look kind of silly,” she said. The others laughed politely, and when John finally smiled back at them, they all laughed harder. “Lifting those barbells and going, ‘You’re killing me! You’re killing me!’”

“Well, it was hard!” John thumped his stomach, which jumped once, like a shock wave moving out from the source. “I’ve never been a strong person. I’m the original 98-pound weakling. You know, I’ve tried exercising, off and on, but I’ve never been able to build myself up. I think I just have one of those fast metabolisms. And I haven’t touched a weight in years.”

“Well, they sure made you work up a sweat,” Nami pointed out. “I suppose the idea was to get a reaction from whatever part of your brain tells your muscles to build themselves up.”

“What part would that be, anyway?”

“I have no idea,” Nami shrugged. “Dr. Juarez knows, I’m sure.”

“Mm.” John suddenly decided to stand up. “Maybe I’ll go find out what part.” And with that, he ambled back into the lab.

The rest of them continued to sit around the dentist chairs, waiting for Anitra Juarez to come back. She had been discussing the readings with some of the technicians since they had finished and gotten dressed. Harv had said little after he came out of the MRI scanner. Nami suspected it was due to seeing herself and Nicolette in their exercise gear, and possibly getting a bit uncomfortable around them. Although he was clearly as interested in attractive women as most adolescent boys would be, he was also significantly younger than either of them, and apparently too shy and uncomfortable to know what to do about it.

John’s turn in the scanner had been the most entertaining of the four, watching him lifting weights and doing isometric exercises while his head was locked away inside the scanner. Nami had been next, but she had had little to do while in the scanner: Instead, Anitra put a helmet on over her head, looking much like the virtual reality headgear she had occasionally seen on television shows, and she had been forced to endure countless beeps from the speakers, and flashes and images in front of her eyes. Anitra had also broken vials of different chemical elements under her nose, without even bothering to ask about the smells or sensations she might be getting from them. Then came objects of different textures, which were simply placed into Nami’s hands to hold. She was surprised she wasn’t given anything to eat.

Finally, Nicolette’s scan had been the most uneventful of all. In her case, a technician gave her a hypodermic, which Anitra explained was a fairly common smallpox vaccine, then she was put into the scanner. The technician took her temperature and blood pressure while she lay in the scanner, and that was it. She was also the longest under the scanner, a full half-hour. When she was taken out, she had stifled a yawn and grinned sheepishly. “That’s it?”

“That’s it,” Anitra had said. “Why don’t you all get dressed?”

It was already three o’clock when Anitra came back out, with a technician and John Jafar in tow. John seemed to enjoy keeping a close eye on Anitra, and at least so far, it hadn’t seemed to bother Anitra, although she hadn’t given any sign of interest in him. The technician veered off to handle some other tasks, and Anitra and John joined the others by the dentist chairs.

“Everything’s looking good,” Anitra told them. “We’ve gotten all the preliminary data that we need at this stage. What we’re doing now is feeding that information into our computer, which will generate the data we need for the next step.”

“Great,” Nami said, although she was just assuming it was great. “Is that it for today, then?”

“Yes, that’s it,” Anitra said. “We should have our data processed and ready for the next stage by Wednesday morning. So you’ve got tomorrow off. If you can be in around nine on Wednesday morning, we’ll be ready to get started.”

Everybody looked to each other, and nodded. “Nine it is,” John replied for them.

“Okay,” Anitra said, “I’ll see you Wednesday morning. We’re off to a good start.”

~

Anitra looked up when she heard the knock at her office door. “Come in.”

The door opened, and Dr. Arnold Benson stepped into the room. “Abe,” Anitra greeted him. “We had an interesting first day.”

“Really?” Arnold walked in and sat down in front of the desk. “What happened?”

“It doesn’t look like that boy Harv is at all retarded. I don’t even think he’s a bit slow. He recognized our Cray computer when he walked in. I expected him to be interested in our equipment, but he surprised even me.”

“You think he’s just acting stupid for his parents… at school?”

Anitra shrugged. “Something’s probably going on at home, maybe at school, that just makes him close up for them. We might be able to find out from Harv himself, but there’s always the possibility that he won’t talk to us about it, either…”

“Should we bother?” Arnold shrugged. “Personally, I don’t care about his home problems… assuming he’s not being abused or something, which I expect we’d probably notice.” Arnold looked meaningfully at Anitra, and she shook her head at him. “Okay. Then his home life really isn’t our business. Is he suited for the tests?”

“Sure,” Anitra replied. “According to the MRI readings data, we won’t have any problem working with him.”

“Good. Then the procedures should still work, right? And the worst that will happen is, he’ll be even smarter than we would have expected.”

“Yes, agreed,” Anitra said. “But what if whatever psychological problem he might have might be exacerbated by our efforts?”

Arnold considered her suggestion. “What do you want to do?”

“Have Bob talk to him, either before his first hypnotherapy session, or as his first hypno session. We should try to confirm that his own problems aren’t going to get worse thanks to us.”

After a few moments, Arnold said, “All right. Talk to Bob about it, and see if you can do it before the first hypno session. I want you to video the sessions, and I don’t want that to be part of the official records of the project.”

“Thank you,” Anitra smiled. “I’ll take care of it.”

Arnold returned the smile. “Is there anything equally unusual about the rest of them that I should know about?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Anitra replied. “The others are pretty much what their applications say they are. I think it was just the fact that we took Harv’s information from his mother, essentially a third party, that’s confused things with him. We should probably avoid any subjects from our secondary list that didn’t fill out their applications themselves.”

“Agreed,” Arnold said. “Can I entice you with dinner? I had a notion to go back to the Red Star tonight.”

Anitra looked up and smiled. “Sorry, Abe, I really can’t. I need to do some more work on the 3-D monitor programs, to get them ready for Wednesday.”

“Of course. Well, I’ll let you get back to work, then. Good night.”

“Good night.”

Once Arnold left, Anitra shook her head wryly. She was an attractive enough woman that she was familiar with older men who were attracted to her. But she had not yet figured out the best way to deal with Dr. Arnold Benson. She had absolutely no interest in Abe, who clearly fancied himself a bit of a ladies’ man, and who was much older than she. On the other hand, he was the one holding her purse strings, and she did not want to callously blow him off, for fear of what might happen to her project, or her position, if she did. It occurred to her that she might have mentioned John Jafar to him… hearing about another man with clear interest to her, might serve to diffuse him. On the other hand, she had no interest in Jafar, either, so suggesting to Arnold that she was interested in Jafar would only needlessly complicate things, and almost certainly backfire (that kind of thing usually did backfire, eventually). She’d be better off wrangling a harmless date sometime soon, and making sure Arnold (and Jafar) knew about it.

But none of this was going to be her concern for anytime soon, she decided. Anitra had enough work to do with the beginning of the project, and no time to worry about avoiding dates she had no time for anyway.

 

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