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Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Mind Setter


“Here we go, Chatterjee. We’ve made history”, said Yash in an excited voice, puffs of smoke emanating from his mouth and nose. I grunted in affirmation, my eyes still fixed on the 19 cm long black object that Yash held in his palms. An array of buttons on it gleamed in the white rays of the tube-light that was flooding my laboratory. It resembled a television remote control; with the power button, the mute button, the numbers from zero to nine and everything at the right position. And yet, there was no electronic device that could pick up invisible signals from it.
This was no ordinary remote control. This small wireless handheld object had the human brain as its target. We called it the mind setter.

“I still don’t believe my eyes”, Yash carried on enthusiastically, “Can you see the prospects Chatterjee? The mind setter is undoubtedly the most remarkable invention of the decade.” He was pointing at the portion where the LEDs were placed. “Even the sharpest brains of the universe are not impervious to the rays emitted by this instrument. The zeta rays…they are far more powerful than Infra-Red or Radio signals. This is our brain-child…
Our hard work has finally paid off.”
For the first time I lifted my gaze off the wireless device and looked at Yash directly. We were sitting on the marble floor of the laboratory at my place, situated in the heart of Bangalore. Yash has been smoking a lot lately. He sounded eccentric…I realized that he was too elated to talk sense. His casually handsome features seemed puffed up. His hair was graying….his eyes looked bloodshot and sleepy. As I looked at him, I went back two years to the seminar at New Jersey where I was first introduced to him.

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“The human brain is like a supercomputer, gentlemen. It has got sensors and receivers just like any other electronic device. Why do you take your hand away when you touch a hot object? How is it possible that your eye visualizes images and your brain processes it? Every signal that your nerves pick up is processed by the brain.

“The human brain has been estimated to contain 50-100 billion neurons, of which about 10 billion are cortical pyramidal cells. These cells pass signals to one another via around 100 trillion synaptic connections. Neurons can receive signals or stimulations from an external source and pass it onto the brain. The brain then acts accordingly. And according to my theory, it’s a matter of days to devise a means to control the human brain, externally.

“Look at the different parts”, I pointed to the screen which now portrayed a detailed diagram of the brain and its parts.
“The frontal lobe, parietal lobe, temporal lobe and occipital lobe… they’re responsible for most of our actions. The frontal lobes have various functions such as self-control, planning, reasoning and abstract thought. The portion of the brain devoted to vision is also greatly enlarged in humans. If we can control the brain externally, you can control your anger, emotions, senses, just about everything. We are on our way to a path-breaking discovery, gentlemen. The future lies in our hands”, I smiled and concluded my speech.

My discovery that the human brain can be controlled at will had created a huge stir in the medical world.
Dr. Ankur Chatterjee (that’s me) wasn’t just an established psychiatrist for the audience that day. He had brought his ideas forward, and they had been accepted and appreciated by all.

“Phenomenal”, I heard as someone gave my hand a violent shake.
“I am Professor Yashvant Mehra.”
“I know you”, I beamed. “I’ve read a lot of your articles. You’re
an eminent physicist and you’ve made our country proud. I’ve always wanted to meet you. It’s an honor.”
“The pleasure is entirely mine. I like your dedication towards science. A lot of it went over my head though!” He smiled.
“But I must say, your speech was very intriguing indeed. I need to know more about this. Can we sit down for a while?” He sounded eager.

Little did I know that this would change the course of our lives soon. That Yash would express his desire to work with me. That anatomy and physics together would lead to the discovery of the zeta rays. Rays which could be emitted from an artificially manufactured source, but nevertheless strong enough to penetrate the cranium. And there they would be picked up by sensors prepared by the Creator of Nature.

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“What next?” Yash sounded tired from excitement. I looked at him through my glasses and cleared my throat.

“There’s a lot more to be done”, I said, “Our initial aim was to put the target into a state of physical relaxation with diminished peripheral awareness. Because his brain would not be able to pick up signals unless it has been hypnotized. But we’ve still got a lot more research to do on hypnotization. You must be knowing that every individual is not susceptible to hypnotism. We have used the Harvard Group scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility and therefore concluded that the zeta rays would affect only those individuals whose average score is 5 out of 12.”

“What are you talking about?” Yash frowned. “The zeta rays are so powerful that even a fraction of them can penetrate the human skull. I believe that a slight overdose can hypnotize even the strongest minds on this planet.”

“But we have used an approximate estimation. You can’t make a person follow your orders unless you put him into trance. And there is no apparent way to figure out whether we have actually managed to hypnotize the target. Not everyone has the same mental setup, Yash. How can you be sure that his brain is picking up orders? I’m a psychiatrist, for God’s sake! I know.”

“You know, don’t you?” Yash hissed through parted lips. His bloodshot eyes looked sinister now. “What makes you think you know everything? This is my triumph, Chatterjee. I know that this invention is extraordinary and it doesn’t need improvisation. And I think I also know the reason why you want to spoil the hard work t. You’re jealous of me…that’s clear by now. And you’re lying to me because you want the credit to your name. But remember that the zeta rays were my discovery in the first place? I can’t let this happen.”

“I think you need to get some sleep now….you sound disturbed.” I smiled. I was thankful to God that I wasn’t short tempered like Yash. “You must be exhausted….so am I. This is a moment to celebrate, not to fight over our differences.” I chuckled.

“I don’t understand, Chatterjee. Just when everything is going fine, you’re about to mess it all up! Listen to me. I know that the Mind Setter is perfect. And when I say it, I mean it.” He burst out.

“And how exactly do you know that?” I tried not to sound impatient.

“I’ve tested it already.”

WHAT?” I almost jumped out of my skin. “When did you do that?
Tell me Yash…what did you do exactly?”

“Well, I took it last night when you were asleep. I put the batteries in and took it outside. I went down the lane and there I found the targets. Four slum children were lying on the footpath. I used it on them. Don’t worry, they’re alive.”

I gripped his collar,”What did you do to them? The effect is irreversible, for God’s sake! It’s not that you don’t know!”

“Turned them deaf…mute. Turned one of them numb. And not to worry, Chatterjee. It’s working perfectly. Come on, sometimes you’ve got to sacrifice your morals for the sake of science. I didn’t kill them, did I?

“Do you know why I don’t have a family of my own? My wife left me because I couldn’t look after my children. I spent every bit of money I had for the sake of science, but she accused me of being negligent. The effort that I gave to make this a success… You don’t know how dedicated I am towards this project.” Yash didn’t sound eccentric now. There was an edge to his voice which I couldn’t identify him with. There was something evil and fearful about him. I saw that he was leaning towards me, his fists clenched.

I sank into my chair. “I don’t believe this.”

“Well, you better believe it my friend. If you don’t, you may not be alive to regret it later.” He said.

And before I could react, I saw him point the Mind Setter at me and push down a button. There was a flash. And then everything went blank.

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I opened my eyes slowly. I was in my bedroom. My head throbbed painfully, as if someone was pressing my temples with Herculean strength.

Something was wrong…I couldn’t place it…

I shook my head, yawned and stretched. It was a breezy night, my wristwatch was pointing to 2.20 in the morning. I felt dizzy and lethargic. I rubbed my eyes and tried to remember what had happened to me.

I was on the verge of completion of an important project. What was it? AND WHERE WAS YASH?

I looked through the house for any trace of Yashvant Mehra. I searched the kitchen and then my laboratory. There was no sign of him anywhere. I sat down on the marble floor and tried to figure out what was wrong with me.

Okay. Me and Yash were working on something. It was on the verge of completion. We had been euphoric throughout the day. But what happened after that? He couldn’t have vanished into thin air. And what the hell has happened to me?

And then I saw it…suddenly. My lime green diary; I used to jot down things into it whenever I had the time to. I crossed my fingers; maybe it could be of some use!
I started flipping through its pages. The headache was so bad by now that my eyes had started watering…but still…I had to know…I had to find out…

It was of no use…I couldn’t focus. My insides were churning suddenly.

I staggered down the stairs... the pain in my head was killing me now. I knew that I would collapse any moment. I couldn’t afford to do that. I was in the bathroom now; I threw up in the basin. After I was done, I splashed ice-cold water on my face. My mind was a bit calm now. I walked to the dining room and headed for the sofa. I needed to find out what was wrong with me.
As I tried to sprawl my body on the sofa, I sat on something. It was the remote control of my AC. I picked it up to keep it on the table and all of a sudden the memories rushed back to my mind.

I could remember everything.


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Yash had tried to kill me. But he failed somehow. Maybe I know the reason why... the single drawback of our invention had saved my life. He had tried to put me into nervous sleep, which is comparable to animal hibernation or Yogic meditation, and then let me slip into eternal unconsciousness. But I wasn’t dissociated from awareness. Here I was, alive…and safe… because my mind was stronger than he could have guessed. I wasn’t susceptible to influence and as a result… I did not succumb to his attempt. I might have lost my memory temporarily but I’ve got it back again. But enough damage had been done already. My wristwatch told me that it was 4 in the morning. If I couldn’t find him soon he would be out in the open, putting more and more hapless lives at stake. We had initially agreed to utilize our invention for the sake of medical science. None of the present means of medical imaging techniques could influence the actions of the brain. Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Electroencephalography… and the other structural and functional imaging techniques of the brain were far behind the technology that we had devised. We could cure neurological disorders in no time.

I looked at my wristwatch again. Time was running out. The blinding headache was gone now, replaced by a dull throb that aroused a sense of nausea in me, once again. I could still feel the lethargy inside me but I couldn’t possibly lie down. I closed my eyes and could see Yash pointing the deadly device at thin naked slum kids sleeping peacefully on the pavement. I couldn’t take it anymore.

It was time for action.

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I stopped my Audi before Yash’s mansion and killed the engine. I had no idea what I could do to stop him. All I knew was that I had to do something…anything to prevent him from posing a threat to humanity. I stood before the door and pressed the doorbell. It was 5 in the morning.

The domestic help opened the door with puffy eyes. She was a heavily built middle-aged woman with an irritated look on her face.
“Chatterjee babu?” she inquired.
“Where’s Yash?” I inquired back.
“Come in. I’ll ask him to come down. He’s working in his room.”
I stepped inside and seated myself in one of the arm-chairs that adorned the living room.

Five minutes went by, there was no sign of Yash. Anxious and tense, I moved towards his lab to find him. Outside his bedroom, I found the maid squatting on the floor with a shocked look on her face. The door was open.
He can’t have tried it on her….. I swore under my breath and went inside.

He was lying on the floor on his face.

As I turned him over, I found that his body was stone cold. I checked his pulse…I couldn’t feel any. His hands and feet were stiff, and his face was contorted as if he had suffered from an epileptic fit before dying. His eyes almost bulged out of face. I could see that he had been foaming at the mouth; there were white marks all over and around his mouth. He had been writhing on the floor in pain before death, his hair which was never out of place looked unkempt and fizzy. Professor Yashvant Mehra has had a painful death a few hours back.

The first thing which I did was to bring the maid back to her senses. She was scared and shocked and needed time to gain control over her nerves. Then I started looking around his room to find any trace of the mystery death. And finally, I could see the Mind Setter lying near Yash’s dead body. I picked it up and took the batteries out. To my utter shock, I found that the LEDs were burned. Someone must have tried to fire an overdose of zeta rays from the instrument. And that someone couldn’t be anyone other than Yash. He had always been intrigued to find out the effect of zeta rays if they were applied beyond the threshold value.

I had warned him before.

But still I had no idea what Yash had done to himself. Maybe he had tried to increase his mental abilities and killed himself in the process. Maybe he was busy examining it and it backfired. Or maybe I was responsible for this; the questions that I had raised were disturbing enough to make him try and mend the defects himself. There was no way that I would know the truth. Yash had taken the secret with him.

But there was something which I could do. I had a last look at the Mind Setter. Then I smashed it on the floor.

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P.S. I wrote this a year back...and it won me the second prize at a science-fiction writing event organized at the Jadavpur University tech fest...SRIJAN 2009. It was judged by Mr. Amitava Ghosh!! Phew!

10 comments:

  1. Awesome post..i luved every bit of it..:) aro oneeeeeeek lekh.

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  2. luvly honey!!! loved it!! muah!!!

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  3. @ankit...thanks...likhbo!! onek onek :)
    @tinni muah backos!! thanks :D

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  4. yeah...read it back then...Superb.. :)

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  5. Hey,

    Brilliant scifi story. I recently wrote one myself here http://www.krishnanravi.com/?p=75 . I guess ur an engineer too.

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  6. @krishnan ravi...thanks a lot :) read your post and commented :) and yes, I'm an engineer too!

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  7. Good post. Should not make some madman to try to invent something like it.

    Work From Home

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  8. i loved it....gr8 story....waiting eagerly fr ur next post

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