The next day Ethan found himself walking into the spartan office of his chief, Allister Henly. The room was hazy and practically choking with grey smoke that hung head level throughout the room.
The chief sat gloomily at his centrally located desk, puffing away on his brand, Lucky Strike, while slumped over a thick docket.
“Morning sir,” Ethan said, hovering near the long bank of windows that commanded a view of the Patomac.
“What, oh, good morning Rainer. Sorry to call you off vacation.”
“It’s alright sir, I was starting to get bored anyway.” Ethan lied. “Mind if I open a window?”
The chief looked up and, as if noticing the thick haze that filled his room for the first time, said, “Yes Ethan, go head.”
“Thank you sir.”
“I’ve been damned busy reading the latest bunk from the Russians. I don’t think I’ve looked up in the last hour,” the chief said, pointing to the docket in his lap.
“Decent plot I take it?”
“It’s the stuff nightmares are made of. Have you ever heard of the SGT?”
“No. I can’t keep up with all their three letter departments and ministries over there.”
“It’s a branch of the Russian machine devoted to the study of the human brain.”
“Sounds like a worthy subject.” Ethan said.
The chief grunted, “It could be, if done properly. You can imagine how it is done over there though. Stalin set up his chop shop during the war to find out what makes the human brain tick. Gruesome stuff –– about as bad as the Nazi’s. They studied on German prisoners of war and even their own people if the former was in short supply. Says here, at the height of the war the mortality rate coming out of the SGT was ninety percent, the remaining ten percent that lived came out vegetables and were only kept around to study long term effects of living in such a condition.”
“Good news though,” the chief said sarcastically, pointing to a spot on the report, “their mortality rate is down to fifty percent now.” Henly tossed the file onto his desk and grumbled, “Barbarians.”
“What’s happened?” Ethan asked.
“Something I’m having trouble dealing with Ethan. Not because I can’t handle it, but because I can’t make myself damn-well believe it.”
The chief paused and looked out the window into the crystal clear spring afternoon as if making sure the world outside was still there, still real, and to see, somehow if the rules of reality still existed.
“But, the Council has found serious evidence that what I’m about to tell you is perfectly true.”
“I’m ready, sir.”
“Well, to start from the beginning, the SGT started getting better at what they were doing. By 1954 they’d darn near perfected hypnotism in all its forms. On one end they can make a man believe he is a chicken and on the other that he should do something like, blow himself up, taking a consulate or ranking official with him anywhere in the world. They sort of wind the key up in his back and let him go like a toy. Also they’ve isolated the pain receptacles in the brain and effectively shut them down, rendering a man impervious to pain. I have a picture here,” the chief held it up, “of a man playing chess with a spike though his hand.” The chief looked at the picture closely, “Looks as though he’s winning too.” The SGT hasn’t stopped there. They’ve pushed further. Last year the Council caught wind of this report and have spent the last year verifying it’s validity. They’re certain it’s true. The SGT, while messing with the human mind stumbled across the devils work inadvertently.” The chief leveled his eyes with Ethan’s. “They claim to have found a way to kill a man with his own thoughts.”
Chapter 2 – The Power of the Mind
“It’s the very definition of incredible!” Ethan exclaimed.
“There’s plenty of credit there I’m afraid Ethan. As you may know the brain is made of cells that connect and communicate with each other, and the rest of the body, via minute electrical signals. They control everything you are aware of –– and millions of things you aren’t aware of. Mess with those signals and you mess with the whole works. The brain is all powerful inside the human body. It tells you everything you’ve ever sensed. It is what ties us to reality. If you think you saw something, it’s as good as truth, because your brain is the only thing that tells you anything. Insane people think everyone else is insane. Their reality is different from ours because their brain says so. For that matter, what’s sane. I’d consider anyone who jumps out of a perfectly good airplane insane, but hell if we didn’t ask thousands of our boys to do just that during the war. And now I hear of people doing it for recreation!”
The chief shook his head and looked to the ceiling as he took a long weary drag on his cigarette. “If your brain completely believes it –– your body is capable of anything. You are an example yourself. You’ve been taught how to slow your heart rate down and to remain calm in tense situations. You’ve been trained not to feel cold, not to be influenced by the elements and to feel nearly no remorse. It’s conditioning that took a long time, but it trained your brain to control things you hadn’t been able to control before. Can anyone explain reflexes? Tell me you haven’t woken up from a dream and reached for a gun that isn’t there.”
“I can’t sir.”
“Exactly. There are those in the psychology field that believe that if you die in your dreams you’ll die for real. People dream they are drowning and wake up gasping for breath. The brain is a crazy thing Ethan.
“I guess I’ve never thought about it much.”
“Well, the SGT has. Some sick twist over there sits around all day thinking of ways to use some poor fool’s brain to their advantage. According to this they’ve found the correct pattern of thought to literally tell the brain to stop functioning. Done correctly, through a simple suggestion, the test subject is cast into a state of brain deadness so deep that it is irreversible. The body just stops, the heart stops, the whole machine just dies. It’s like an off switch for people!”
Ethan shifted in his seat, wondering how best to object to this nonsense. It couldn’t be true; think yourself to death; it’s not possible. Is it? But, the sound barrier was impossible just a few years ago and before that, the bomb and before that, powered flight. Who knows what’s next. It’s just crazy enough to be true.
“Supposing this is true sir, how does it work for them? I mean wouldn’t the people that came up with it just die from thinking of it?”
“That’s what I asked Felix.”
“You talked to Felix already? Is that why I had to take a full psych eval when I came in today? That quack put me through every test he could think of.”
The chief reached out and picked up the black phone at the corner of his desk. He dialed three numbers and sat back in his chair. “Hello Felix––would you join us in my office?”
“Felix will be right up to explain.”
Minutes later there was a knock at the door and a rapier thin man, with close cropped hair of brilliant silver strode across the room with a confident gate. He took up the empty seat next to Ethan.
“Morning Allister…Ethan.” Felix said, nodding to both men in succession.
“Felix, would you tell Ethan what you told me this morning about this nonsense from the Rushkies. Explain how it works and so on.”
“Well,” Felix held out his hands as if there wasn’t much to say about it, “Supposedly it’s as simple as listening to the suggestion – which we don’t know what that suggestion is – and being told to think about it. Or in some cases, if the test subject is crafty, being told not to think about it. If someone tells you not to think of an elephant, the first thing that pops into your head is an elephant, naturally.”
“Think of it this way. The brain is almost like a visiting station for the soul. You, the part that is your character, your soul, if you will, can occupy the brain for any length of time to control things at will. Some people can control their brain for longer durations than others. We call it concentrating. But once you are done concentrating, your soul goes back to wherever it’s from and your brain goes back to its auto pilot. We’ve all driven home at night and suddenly think, ‘I don’t remember stopping at that last light, or making that last turn.’ That’s because you didn’t, your brain did. It’s capable of all sorts of things we don’t even know about yet. People that have been dead for minutes have mysteriously come back to life. Reports of men trapped under machinery suddenly having the strength to lift a tractor off of themselves have been reported for years. Spontaneous Human Combustion is another bizarre example. Women protecting their children have inexplicably had the strength of two men. Still others, in extremely stressful situations have blocked out memories the soul just can’t handle. Why does anyone wake up in the morning? Because your brain says it’s time to get up.”
Felix paused as he bummed a cigarette from the chief and lit it. “The only saving grace of this whole thing is that it has to have limitations. Or at least I think it should. At the root of it, it has to be a lot like hypnosis. The brain has to be susceptible to suggestion. Now, granted, anyone can be hypnotized if given enough time to condition things properly. Ad agencies have been doing it for years. But not everyone can be hypnotized quickly.”
The chief cut in, “And that’s why I had Felix evaluate you again Ethan. It’s been a while since your last exam. I needed to see if you would be susceptible should you, inthe course of your assignment, come across the suggestion and read it.”
“That’s considerate of you sir.”
“Nothing of the sort. I need you to get that information back to us, not drop dead after reading it––that’s all.”
“Any idea on how they plan to use this thing?” Ethan asked. “I mean are they going to play it over the radio, air drop leaflets, or what?”
Felix drew in on is cigarette and looked across the desk into the eyes of his old friend. They both exchanged wry looks. Felix smiled with amusement.
“Well Ethan,” the chief said, “Those are two possibilities we hadn’t considered, but they could be plausible. A bit grandiose, but plausible. Your suggestion makes this assignment all the more important. It does have mass death potential now that you mention it.”
The chief pointed to Felix and said, “We had envisioned a coupling of hypnosis and the fatal suggestion being used on the same person. Here’s a scenario. Subject Red, we’ll call him, is trained to kill. His whole life revolves around it; both physically and mentally. Red is hypnotized, sent into a embassy, or consulate and once he kills his target, the “fatal suggestion” is recalled in his memory and he simply dies, leaving no clues as to who he was, or who sent him. The Russians don’t have to trust that he’ll shoot himself, or take a cyanide pill at the end of the mission. Red probably doesn’t even know he’s got the fatal suggestion in his head. Another possibility is that we open the paper in the morning and find out the president has been found slumped over his desk, dead, with the phone in his hand. No clue as to how he died or why. Pretty scary stuff really.”
“So to answer your question,” Felix interjected, “those mad men that created this thing know it. It’s sort of like a criminal investigator knowing psychopaths. He can think like they do; understand their methods, but at the end of the day, can go home to his wife and kids and live a normal life. These men who created this thing can handle it, work with it, cultivate it and put it into people’s heads to kill them when and where they want.”
Ethan looked out the window, much as the chief had done not fifteen minutes ago and said, “I don’t know whether I should be mad, or just scared.”
The chief grunted. “The later doesn’t suit you. And anger is more useful to me.”
“Well, where is it now?” Ethan asked.
The chief looked up to his friend and said, “That’s all for now Felix, we’ll have lunch.”
“Sounds good –– see you then.” Felix put a hand on Ethan’s shoulder as he stood, “Try not to think too much about it –– never know what might happen.” Felix walked away, a soft laugh trailing over his shoulder.
The chief waited until the door to his office had shut before speaking. “There’s a man – a man named Sergi Romanov. He’s a freelance spy working for us behind the iron curtain. We received a coded transmission from him saying a man who knows the fatal suggestion is entering the US this week. We don’t have his real name, only the code name Dragonov and a picture to go with it. He’s supposed to be a real bad man.” The chief exhaled a cloud of smoke between his teeth in a slow hiss. “I don’t like bad men in my country Ethan. I think you and a few of our associates should pay this Dragonov a visit at Union Station when he arrives.
©2012 N.David Bauer