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Time Wars & other SciFi Tales

by Gordon Rowlinson

The Mind Machine


Gordon Rowlinson

I felt an awesome, Dr. Frankenstein-like-oh my God what have I done-feeling as I stepped back and looked at the scary thing I had created. A myriad of scattered thoughts of pride, satisfaction, achievement and utter confusion ran through my mind and danced around in my head. It's not every day one discovers the find of the century and creates an invention that will forever change the world.

I did it all by myself! My name is Rob. I've been called a nerd before. I don't know if that's true, but I will admit that I'm more comfortable around machines than people. For the past 15 years, I've been working at a medical instrument company. My boring job is designing new versions of the same old thing. It's about as exciting as watching paint dry. To keep myself sane and to find an excuse to stay away from home because of a bad marriage, I began tinkering in my company's lab in my off-hours. I had a crazy idea to create something new and turn my radical mind theories into reality. After two hard years, I finally did it. I built a machine that reads people's minds.

My dream was to quit my job and be rich and live in Bora Bora--or any of those Pacific islands where the women don't wear any tops. I nostalgically looked around the lab that had been my home for 15 years.

“Could I leave all this behind?” I thought as I flopped down on my butt on a lab chair. But after thinking it over for a nanosecond, the answer came to me-"Yup! Stop being an ass and get the hell out of here!”

Like many major scientific discoveries, I found this one by accident. I was experimenting with studying the aura or simulated electro-photogenic response around a person's fingers. It has been documented that the aura around a person's fingers can determine a malfunction of an organ in the body long before physical symptoms become evident. One day I set up my medical equipment wrongly and looked at the complete aura around the my body. I found that my aura changed dramatically and quickly based upon my thoughts and emotions. Soon I made the jump to interpreting the thoughts that were being displayed in a subject's aura. The first two primitive prototypes didn't work. However I never gave up. I reasoned that the Wright brothers never gave up and history showed that the Wright brothers were right. After all they didn't call them the wrong brothers. Today was the day I corrected a few errors and finally finished the work on my new compact design.

My mind machine had three parts. The reader was a thin device that you pointed at a subject and picked up the aura or electro-photogenic response. The interpreter was a laptop computer that analyzed the data. At a distance, the headset looked like ordinary music headphones. However they fit directly onto the scalp and relayed the interpreted thoughts of the subject to the experimenter.

I stood up and put the reader, laptop, and headset into a small black computer carrying case and triumphantly strutted out of the lab and back to my small office cubicle. Feeling like I should be laughing like a mad scientist and wondering what I should say in my Nobel Prize winning speech, I clumsily tripped over my cubicle wastepaper basket.

I noticed Brad glancing my way from across the room. Brad was the lazy office weasel and I was shocked to see Brad was still in the office. It was 6:00. He was rarely seen in the office after 4:55. He stole several ideas of mine last year. I looked down at my untested invention. Intense feelings deep inside of me of years of pent up resentment--or perhaps merely indigestion--made me want to use him as an unwilling Guinea pig.

I put on the headphones and pointed the reader in his direction. A strong sea of emotions and thoughts hit me with frighteningly clarity.

I see that Rob is working late again and still is going to be late with the product testing data. Old man Wilson is really going rip into him tomorrow. Rob looking bad makes me look better.

“Zounds!” I said to myself as I ripped the headset off. The thing actually worked! I could read minds! I stuffed my fist into my mouth to keep from screaming. My brain thought the same thoughts and felt the same emotions that Brad was feeling. It was a very unusual experience.

As Brad walked out of the office, I thought a little more about what Brad the weasel had revealed. I realized that I had forgotten a medical instrument project deadline. I did the product testing two days ago. But I forgot to give it to my boss by today's 5:00 deadline. I packed the machine back in it's case and rummaged around my chaotic desk and finally found the infamous product testing. After checking to see Brad was gone, I snuck into Wilson's office and tossed the product-testing data onto the boss's in basket.

The data didn't really matter as my job was now unimportant. My mind machine was going to make me millions and I was going to be the master of the world. Still, it was going to be fun to see how disappointed Brad the jerk would be tomorrow.

I repacked my machine in the carrying case and had a horrible thought. I was still under contract that stated anything I created at the company was the legal property of the company. As my mind machine had nothing to do with medical instruments and I created my invention in my spare time, it wasn't fair. Still, legal is legal. I had to find a way to smuggle my machine out of the building. I looked down at my mind machine and a strange and new powerful feeling came over me. I had the world in the palm of my hand.

I took the stairs down to the first floor so the night guard at the front door wouldn't see me coming out of the elevator. Wondering if Thomas Edison ever had these problems, I peered around the corner and saw the elderly night guard at his post. The man looked so old and frail that he might die of a heart attack any second. I quietly put on the headset and aimed the reader around the corner at him.

I can't wait any longer. I gotta leave my post and slip into the men's room for 2 minutes. No one will know.

“No one but me,” I thought smugly. I quietly put the reader and headset back into the case and watched the elderly man slip away from his post. Then with the coast clear, I calmly walked out the corporation's front door with the greatest invention since...well...maybe since the invention of the wheel. It was incredibly easy.

“Perhaps with my mind machine at my side, the rest of my life would be just as easy,” I thought hopefully. I jogged to my car and squealed the tires as I drove out of the company parking lot. Now that I was free, my thoughts turned to conducting some more tests. Where could I find some unsuspecting experimental subjects? I yielded to an impulse and pulled into the local shopping mall's parking lot. Full of confidence and feeling like a secret agent, I picked up my case and walked into the mall. Attempting to look as casual as possible, I sat down on a bench in the middle of the mall. I covered the reader with my coat to hide it from my unsuspecting subjects. Hoping that the headset would look like music headphones, I began to listen in.

A shapely blond woman of about 25 was walking towards me. It may have been my hopeful imagination, but she seemed to briefly glance at me. I was 40 years old and technically still married, but she made me want to be 25 and single again. I discretely pointed the reader at her. The messages came back:

That guy is soooooo sexy. I can't stand it.

My heart instantly swelled with pride. I was 40 and had not the courage or the foolishness to approach her. I was way too old for her. But the important thing was I was still sexy. I knew I was developing a disturbing receding hairline and a spare tire around the middle that seemed to inflate a little more every year. However it was very clear from this very attractive young woman's uncensored thoughts, that I still had it. Even after all these years, I was attractive to the other sex. I stole a glance at the woman, but she walked past me as if I wasn't there.

I optimistically decided to try another subject. There was pre-teen girl of about 10 years old who was looking at a huge music store poster of pop star Justin Bieber. I pointed the reader again.

That guy is soooooo sexy. I can't stand it.

It was the same message as before! I threw the headset down in disgust. I had been picking up this silly pre-teen girl's thoughts all along. Apparently my little experiment showed the reader did not work well at a distance. The lack of long range accuracy was a minor flaw. I was more concerned that the machine was unable to distinguish between a grown woman and the immature thoughts of a crazy young girl. The machine worked, but had some small kinks to work out.

As I sat there, the reality sank in. For about 20 seconds, I was feeling really good about myself. Now I realized that I was just a foolish, middle-aged, insecure, introverted man. As I quickly left the mall, I comforted my wounded pride with the fact that although I wasn't the sexiest guy alive, I had something even better. I had the mind machine. I still had the world at my feet.

When I got home, I was relieved that Sheila wasn't there. We had grown apart in the last five years. As I was never good at interpersonal relations, the marriage breaking up confused me. At first it bothered me to see everything fall apart. In the last year, however I resigned to the inevitable. Like the ocean tide moving out, we were moving farther and farther apart and there was nothing I could do about it.

Sheila's dog Daisy greeted me at the front door and started looking accusingly at me so I let the little dachshund out for five minutes so she could take care of business. I idly wondered if Sheila would take her wiener dog with her when we broke up. She hated Daisy and never fed or patted her or cleaned up the dog barf. By default, I was the only one that took care of the lonely mutt. I kinda liked Daisy and I wouldn't mind it if I ended up with her. If Sheila took the dog, the poor creature would probably starve. It was good that we never had any kids as she would probably hate and starve them too.

I let the little wiener dog back inside and she started looking up at me and wagging her small tail. Knowing that meant that she wanted food, I did the chore of opening a can of dog food and dropping the bowl on the kitchen floor. Daisy dashed over to the bowl clattering her little nails on the tile kitchen floor. After feeding the dog, my mind started thinking about my machine again. I knew I should make myself some dinner, but I wanted to test my machine again. I thought of my neighbor Mrs. Smith, who was a quiet, retired librarian. She usually sat on her porch this time of the day. Like a cold war spy, I lifted the blind and peered out the living room side window. She was on her tidy white painted porch sitting on a wicker rocking chair.

I set up my machine by the side window. Then I put on the headset and slowly pointed the reader out the window towards my neighbor's porch. The message was clear.

I'm running out of space in the basement to hide all the bodies.”

I dropped the reader to the floor in horror. How could the the innocent, sweet little old lady next door be some kind of horrible, hideous, hardcore, homicidal killer? How many bodies did she have in her basement? Was I in danger by living next to this manic? Should I call the cops? There must be a mistake. I ran to the bedroom. I had a set of binoculars that I used to watch birds. I grabbed the glasses and ran back to the side window.

I focused on Ms. Smith and saw that she was holding something in her hand. Worrying that it was a hand gun, I looked closer. With shaking hands, I focused the glasses and identified the object as a detective paperback novel. I pointed the reader out the window again.

My, my, my, this detective novel is much too gruesome for my tastes. I’m going to put it down now and go inside and make myself a cup of herbal tea.

I was so relieved. My knees were weak. The sweet little old lady next door wasn't a crazy killer. Her book was about a crazy killer. The machine had made no mistake. Her mind was merely relaying to me what her eyes were reading.

“What are you doing, spying on the neighbors?” Sheila's sudden accusing voice sounded like fingers on a blackboard. She had slipped into the house without my noticing. Something about how she stood there on the worn living room carpet wearing her overstretched polyester slacks and orthopedic sandals, with her black roots clearly showing in her bleached blond hair told me not to mess with her.

“No. I saw a yellow bellied warbler outside,” I protested while I wondered whether there was such a bird.

“I don’t care. I’m just here to get a few things as I'm moving permanently to my mother's.”

As Sheila moved into the bedroom to collect some clothes, a dark idea suddenly illuminated the gray matter in my head. If we were about to divorce, why not try my mind machine on her? I could find out if she has any hidden bank accounts or secret assets. The bedroom was in the line of sight from where I was set up so I put on the headset and pointed the reader at the bedroom.

The thought-message from Sheila was as clear as it was shocking.

I love that man. He is so wonderful and such a good provider.”

It was the surprise of my life! I couldn't believe that the horrible battle ax that had been making life miserable for me still felt that way. Her positive thought-message brought back a flood of warm, wonderful memories of our happier times.

When we were first married, we had the dream marriage. We did everything together so much people remarked that we were never seen apart. When we bought a small 2 bedroom ranch home, we made a point of making love in every room. Every Friday night, we would have a candlelight dinner at the small Italian restaurant on the corner.

But that was in the past. I couldn't remember the last time we made love and that quaint little restaurant closed 10 years ago. I realized that I was as much to blame for our growing apart as she was. I had used our increased domestic disharmony as motivation to stay in the lab and work on my invention. Being in the lab had been productive as I had succeeded in building my mind machine. Now that my work on my little creation was complete, perhaps I could work on recapturing what I had lost in my personal life. Maybe I was too poor at relationships to realize that I was tossing away the love of my life. Maybe we were being too premature on this breakup thing. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Sheila walked into the room carrying a cardboard box full of shoes. Suddenly I was desperate for her to stay. On impulse, I grabbed her.

“Is there a spark? After the deep fire we had, it can't be just ashes now!” Poignant, romantic words somehow suddenly sprang from deep within me.

“Rob what's gotten into you?”

“Don't leave and we can start again. We can start again and it won't be like it was when we were young. It will be even better!”

“Well...I don't know.”

“Your head doesn't know. But if you look deep into your heart, it will tell you to stay,” I said as I was amazed at the pent-up emotional response that somehow kept flowing out of me. I didn't know I had it in me.

“We can try...”

“Of course we can.”

“Oh Robbie...I'll come back and we can start again. Let me go back to Mom's and get my things so I can move back. I'll be back in 30 minutes.”

“I'll be waiting here for you my little love bug,” I could hardly believe I said that that. It was a crazy day and my head was spinning.

As she left, I instantly fell into the living room chair and thought about what had just happened. I had been such a blind fool. How could I have resigned myself that our breakup was inevitable? How could I have been so close to letting the best thing that ever happened to me slip away?

Now all the foolish mistakes of the past few years were wiped away clean and our lives were going to be new again! It was going to be like being young again. We were going to make love in every room in the house again! We'd find some new romantic restaurant for our intimate candlelight dinners. Like a teenager, I ran to the stereo to select some mood music for tonight. On the top of the player was Streisand “The way we were.” In disgust I threw it in the waste paper basket. The next CD was BB King “The thrill is gone.” I broke it in half and threw it in the waster paper basket. I suddenly decided to forget about mood music.

I ran to the refrigerator. There was a cheap bottle of wine in the fridge, but it was almost all gone. I estimated I had enough time to dash to the liquor store and grab another bottle. I didn't want to get another cheap bottle. Sheila knew a lot about wine. I reasoned if I got one with a cork instead of a screw top, it would probably impress her a lot. Feeling light-headed and wishing I knew more about wine, I quickly grabbed my jacket and keys and headed for the door. Everything in my life was going to be OK from now on. It was all because of that wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful machine I invented. I looked back into the house.

The mind machine was still on. I had forgotten about it. I slowly walked over to the machine and picked up the headset. I put on the headset. The message came through again even stronger than before.

I love that man. He is so wonderful and such a good provider.”

But Sheila was gone! She had left the house three minutes ago. Who was thinking this thought-message?


On an impulse, I turned sharply around. Daisy was curled up in the kitchen corner on her oval-shaped dog bed. Her eyes met mine. In her little puppy-like eyes was something warm and deep. Was it?...yes...it was love.

Read more stories by this author

2019-05-04 19:15:48
dandrew72 - Very good story! Thank you!!

2011-07-31 20:59:17
Sidewinder4 - Good story and a good ending. The wife will be back in 30 minutes with "let's get together" on her mind. And the dog has a good provider. Things could be worse. But more funny is promised. Good job.

2011-07-09 20:09:31
I enjoyed the story and wish the ending happened more often.

2011-07-07 07:41:24
I loved the story and want to read more.

2011-07-02 06:24:31
Very funny! I loved the ending.

2011-07-01 18:45:18
Fun, how a new invention needs to be tamed!

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Books by Quantum Muse contributors and friends.
Time Wars & other SciFi Tales

by Gordon Rowlinson