MIND PROBE by Michael Abbott
On our search for computer novelettes, we this time present to
you a story called "Mind probe", written by Michael Abbott. ©1984
by Business Press International, Ltd.
Apparently, Taylor, a tall and cadaverous civil servant bemopped
with sable hair, was not easily ruffled. The duty sergeant led
him to the interview room - a bare chamber with two facing
chairs, with a naked lamp hanging grotesquely from the ceiling.
The stench of desinfectant clawed into Taylor's nostrils; for
here, suspects were frequently sick with fright. The sergeant
took up position by the door, slamming it meaningfully behind
Chief Inspector Biles.
"I'm bound to inform you of your rights, Mr. Taylor," the stubby
Inspector said, abruptly. "You have the right to refuse our
questioning you with the assistance of any technical equipment
whatsoever, even a tape recorder. But if you insist on a
conventional interview, you should know that I am empowered to
detain you until completely satisfied with your statement."
"Off the record," he added with a smirk, "this could be
"What kind of equipment are you talking about?" said Taylor, who
was suspecting that Biles was referring to a piece of apparatus
commonly known as the mind probe. He resisted intimidation, and
his low, resonant voice started up again. "Surely, this is only a
Inspector Biles's frail quaver became almost defensive, "All
equipment is routinely used, sir, including the disposition
analyser, and has been since the 1989 Police Powers Act. If
you'll agree to its use, sir, the full interview need take no
more than 15 minutes, and there'll be no need to trouble your
solicitor. There's no discomfort, and a police doctor will be
present throughout. If you've nothing to hide, you'll consent."
Biles became impatient. Why detainees needed to deliberate was a
mystery to him. After all, he had made it clear that the
conventional alternative would be stretched so as to detain
Taylor beyond endurance.
Taylor had barely consented when the equipment trolley was
wheeled in, accompanied by a female doctor offering a mawkish
smile. The transferral to a reclining touch, and the fitting of a
hideous electrode cap, fractured Taylor's composure. His voice
became as taught as a child's. "Let me get this straight. This
machine merely extracts answers to your specific questions?"
"Something like that," Inspector Biles twanged, buoyantly.
The doctor raised an eyebrow. The approved procedure was
inconvenient and lengthy. Without sufficient forethought, it
could also be inconclusive. When under pressure, the common
practice was to copy the subject's entire mind to memory, and
examine it later. Taylor, who was simply helping Special Branch
with their enquiries, could be sent home, and his surrogate mind
probed for its secrets.
Taylor was shown an unwiendly black card from which he was to
read aloud the statements printed on it in large white
MY NAME IS JEREMY TAYLOR
I AM A CIVIL SERVANT
I AM A JUNIOR CYPHERS OFFICER AT THE GCHQ PROGRAMMING DEPARTMENT
GCHQ STANDS FOR GOVERNMENT COMMUNICATIONS HEADQUARTERS
I HAVE SIGNED THE OFFICIAL SECRETS ACT
"Don't read it yet," said Biles, "Tell me about your fishing
trips with Andrew Meredith."
"What's to tell?" said Taylor. "We are colleagues, and we share
an interest in angling."
Bill straightened up, and issued a stern proclamation, "Meredith
is here in New Scotland Yard, and is being charged under Section
One of the Official Secrets Act, for leaking sensitive
information to a foreign power."
Taylor was genuinly surprised. His association with Meredith
was one based purely on fishing. Chief Inspector Biles resumed
his all-knowing smirk. "Long boat trips, eh? Ideal for exchanging
information and ideas without being bugged. Surveillance is
difficult, even for the security services, when you're sitting in
a row-boat in the middle of a lake."
Taylor twitched. Not at the accusation, but because the probe
had been activated. Biles handed him the big black card. "Read
Taylor read it, and then repeated the alphabet three times, as
requested. Chief Inspector Biles explained, "As a computing and
cyphers operative, perhaps an explanation will not be wasted on
you, Mr. Taylor." Biles lit a cigarette before continuing, "You
see, the problem with reading a person's mind is that everyone
thinks with a language of their own. Unlike computers, which
think with the machine language they are designed to use, from
birth we humans can evolve our own individual code -- what
scientists now call a psychode. As a cyphers expert, you can
appreciate the obstacle that this puts in the way of mind-
Biles took the card from Taylor and fondled it absent-mindedly.
Yaylor insisted on knowing the purpose of this card, and the
Chief Inspector became animated again. "Extracting information
from the mind became possible when computers became intelligent
enough to decypher an individual's psychode. But the computer
needs a starting point - a set of clues, as it were. So, the
computer monitors your brain's electrical activity whilst you
read what's on this card. The signals from the electrode cap on
your head are the same as those generated by
electroencephalograph equipment used in hospitals. There is one
departure from its clinical counterpart, however. The cap you're
wearing is bi-directional.
The whites of Biles's eyes seemed to bloat at this point.
Cigarette smoke streamed from his nostrils. "Any minute now, this
machine will have constructed an algorhythm that will allow it to
monitor your conscious thoughts, directly access your memory by
circumventing your conscious thoughts, and evoke memories in
order to see what your conscious mind does with them."
"In short, it can help itself to any, or all of my personal
thoughts and experiences?" Taylor croaked, humiliated by the
"I retract my consent," Taylor said breathlessly.
Biles assumed a bored, irritated tone, "'Fraid not, sir. You've
signed the form. If necessary, I can use restraint." He summoned
the sergeant as a show of force.
Phase two of the mind probe commenced. The subject's mouth hung
open as the soporific tingling sensation intensified. He heard
the computer's voice somewhere in his mind, saying blandly,
"Relax, Mr. Taylor. Just relax."
The experience is not one that can be meaningfully related, save
to say that images, sounds, and long-abandoned memories spring in
and out of consciousness like accelerated dreams. A peculiar
awareness that something is helping itself to your private
thoughts accompanies the waves of voices, faces and startling
visions. Frequently, there are physical manifestations in the
subject, and Taylor was no exception. He began talking to
himself, then he cried out, sang and laughed heartily. The
doctor mopped saliva from his chin. It was a sight that
disturbed even Biles.
When the probe was completed Taylor slept for three or four
hours. By the time he awoke, Biles and the sergeant were at the
probes console, studying their detainee's mind. Taylor's
weaknesses and strenghts, be he incriminated by the probe or not,
would be passed on to New Scotland Yard's database.
Music floated down the corridor behind the sergeant, reaching
Taylor's ears as the officer entered bearing a cup of tea.
"Doctor says you can go as soon as you feel up to it," the
sergeant said. "I must compliment you on your memory for music,
sir. It's just like listening to the real thing."
As Taylor left, the sergeant was recalled to the console. Biles
had become excited about something.
"Usual thing until now, sergeant," Biles was pointing a the
screen. "Likes golf and fast card. Thinks his wife is sexually
boring. Fancies himself at squash. But look at this one. She's a
hooker. Our friend goes on regular sorties into the Earls Court
red light district."
Biles rubbed his chin angrily. "Guys like Taylor are time bombs
waiting for a subversive somewhere to light the fuse. He's wide
open to corruption. I'm going to ask the computer to set up a
scenario. Mark my words, sergeant, you're about to see Taylor
sell a state secret - not for money, nor in the face of violence,
but for services rendered. I'm going to arrange a seduction, and
see Taylor move in."
"Not Taylor, sir, but his surrogate," the sergeant added
plaintively. "It all happens inside the computer, not in real
"Same thing," said Biles. "The computer is capable of simulating
Taylor's decision-making processes. After all, a human being's
thinking is conditioned entirely by his expreriences and our
computer has all of Taylor's experiences at its disposal. The
Taylors of this world are law abiding by default. They are
circumstantially innocent. Anyone who is potentially willing to
commit a crime at the right price is a criminal."
The sergeant found his superior's attitude distasteful. "Hardly
fair, sir. The computer can romp around Taylor's memory seeking
out his weaknesses and fears. What chance would any human stand?
So what if he perform as you suspect, sir? He can't be charged.
He can thus hardly be regarded as a criminal."
"No, but he'll cease to be a civil servant. In fact, he'll never
hold a position of trust again. Either way, sergeant, the
information concerning personality will be secured with Scotland
Yard, and surveillance will do the rest."
The sergeant cleared his throat in readiness to make an
impertinent remark. "Are you sure such information would not be
more secure left inside Taylor's head, sir - how secure is New
Scotland Yard's database? I've heard worrying stories about
unauthorised taps. If they're true, we could actually be giving
our adversaries a leg-up."
Chief Inspector Biles gave the young sergeant a long, hard look,
before replying. "You've been with Special Branch five minutes,
sergeant. What makes you think you're in a position to improve
the procedures already? I'd be interested to hear. I don't care
what you've read in the fringe press, you can take it from me, no
one accesses police or government databanks without
authorisation. No one. Every precaution is taken."
Taylor was about to sip his coffee when he heard a noise in the
hall. More mail? He switched off the TV, yawned, and went to the
front door. There on the mat was the now commonplace pile of
envelopes which he would have to sift through before his wife
Three envelopes contained exotic funware catalogues; one other a
West End contact magazine. There were also two golfing
accesories special offers and a magazine for sports car owners.
He rolled up the saucy brochures, furtively poked them into his
dressing-gown pocket, and returned to the kitchen. There he sat
with his toast and marmalade, reading the sports car journal.
Since the police enquiry, Taylor had been dismissed from his job
in Cheltenham, and had become the target of numerous commercial
enterprises that seemed to know an awful lot about him. He had
his suspicions, but like the other to whom this had happened, it
was prudent to remain silent.
Next time, a novelette called "Dumb oracle"...
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.