The Unknown Object
Christopher Wilford watched as Ms. Sommer and the weird-looking kid went off to the stacks to look at Oskar Müller’s papers (whoever that was - Christopher had never even heard of the man). He sighed with relief—he hated working on days when the chief librarian was on duty. Ms. Sommer was a petty old martinet who made life miserable for both her assistants as well as the library volunteers.
He was just about to go back to work classifying books at the computer when he noticed the note Ms. Sommer had left behind. He glanced at the note, written in Ms. Sommer’s looping cursive script: ‘Timothy H. West—cutting school???—claims to be doing research—history teacher is Ms. Hannah Davis at Lansdale High School. Contact teach.’
‘Contact teach’? Christopher figured the old bag was planning on calling the school and reporting the weird kid for playing hooky. He gently scratched his generous chin and thought about it for a moment—maybe he could get in Ms. Sommer’s good graces if he took the initiative of calling this Ms. Davis and reporting the student’s absence. At the very least, it might avoid giving her another reason to be upset at him. As if she needed one.
He sighed and looked up the Lansdale High’s number on the computer. He found the extension to the senior high school and called the number on the library’s information desk telephone.
“Hi, is this Lansdale Senior High? This is Chris Wilford, I’m a librarian at Lansdale Central Public Library. Could I please speak to a Ms. Hannah Davis in the history department?”
Tim stared at the old woman, his expression one of obvious confusion.
“Please forgive me,” Ms. Sommer pleaded. “I had no idea you were the heir to Dr. Müller. But of course, how else could it be? He told me, so many years ago, to work here, to keep watch over his work, and to make sure that I’d be available to help when one of his heirs came to look for his research, to serve the heir the same way as I’d served Dr. Müller. But I waited, and I thought perhaps he’d never had the chance to pass on the mind control gun to anyone after he died so suddenly. But I waited. Oh, I’ve waited so many, many years for this moment.”
There were tears in the old woman’s eyes. Whatever commands Dr. Müller had given her so long ago, she was obviously still following them.
Tim made a decision.
“Okay, Ms. Sommer, why don’t you take a seat and explain to me, briefly, what this is all about?”
“Of course, of course,” she said, standing up after a bit of struggle and taking the other chair. “How much do you already know?”
“Not much,” Tim admitted. “I know Dr. Müller invented the mind control gun. I know that he showed it to War Department scientists before he, uh, changed his mind. I know that he used the gun on—“
“Yes, yes,” Ms. Sommer continued, impatient, as though she had been waiting years to tell the story to someone (as perhaps she had). “The master invented the gun, but when he spoke to the War Department scientists, he realized that it would lead to calamity to give it to them. So he made sure to brainwash them, make them think he was just a kook. It must have been such a sacrifice, such an indignity, for the master to be the brunt of the jokes of everyone in Lansdale. But they all got their comeuppance in the end.”
She chuckled, and continued.
“You see, eventually he used the gun on everyone who’d laughed at him, mocked him. Not all at once, and not very quickly. The master was quite patient—he knew to act in ways that would not attract suspicion. It took him years to build up the life he’d always wanted for himself, surrounded by people who loved him, catering to his every whim.”
“Uh, and then…?”
“Well, then, just a year or so after he’d married Elizabeth Duvivier, he collapsed during one of his daily strolls. He’d suffered apoplexy—what would now be called a massive stroke. He never regained consciousness. Such a sad end to such a great man,” Ms. Sommer concluded, her eyes wet with tears.
“Oh, as for myself,” Ms. Sommer said, regaining her train of thought, “I was one of his newer servants. I’d only been…loyal…to him for three years when he passed away. Perhaps he had seen the end approaching—he ordered me to take care of his papers, to work here, in this library, until his heir approached me. He didn’t tell me who the heir would be, of course. He had several candidates, other prominent scientists from around the country—all long dead now, sadly. But he told me I would know by the fact that they would have the mind control gun, and that at that point I would transfer my loyalty and my knowledge to my new master.”
She grabbed his left hand, startling him.
“And so, I live to serve you, young man.”
Tim couldn’t believe it. This was a huge stroke of luck, if it were true. Someone who’d known Dr. Müller firsthand! Someone who’d obviously been under the influence of the mind control gun, and whose loyalty to the doctor was unquestioned.
Of course, ironically, it also demonstrated one of the weaknesses of the mind control gun—by interpreting the commands she’d been given so literally, Ms. Sommer had apparently become just as loyal and servile to him as she had been to the doctor throughout his lifetime.
Still, he had to confirm it.
“Uhm, you understand, Ms. Sommer, that I have to make sure about this, right?” Tim said, raising the mind control gun.
“Oh, of course,” Ms. Sommer said with a smile. “My goodness, it’s been so long since I’ve been under the gun’s effects. It’s actually quite exciting.”
“Huh. Uh, okay,” Tim said, pointing the gun at her, and then firing. As the warm vibration spread up through his arm, Ms. Sommer slumped forward, the familiar glazed expression on her face.
After confirming the truth of her words and reinforcing her absolute loyalty and obedience to him, no matter what, Tim released Ms. Sommer from the gun.
“Ah, so I passed your test, haven’t I?” Ms. Sommer said, smiling gently. The old woman looked almost attractive when she smiled. Tim supposed she must have been a great beauty when she was younger—probably why Dr. Müller had chosen her in the first place.
“Yes…and I have some questions...about this,” he said, pointing to the mind control gun.
“Of course, of course, anything.”
“Well, first of all—how does it work? I mean, the battery—“
“Oh, it doesn’t use a battery. It uses the body’s own electromagnetic field to power itself. If taken good care of, Dr. Müller aid it could last hundreds of years. It fires a narrow beam of electromagnetic waves which…and I’d have to refer to Dr. Müller’s notes to get it exactly right, but…”
“What’s the range of effectiveness?”
“That’s an easy question. It has a range of fifteen feet. As the beam is narrow, you can only really utilize it on one person. You wouldn’t be able to just hit an entire room full of people at once, for example.”
“That’s what I figured. I can only use it on one person at a time, but is there a limit to the total number of people who can be controlled?”
“You mean, the number of people who can be under the influence of the mind control gun at any one time? Oh, not at all. I can’t imagine why you would want to, though. It would be much easier to subjugate a few people at a time.”
Tim marveled at the nonchalance and outright cheerfulness with which Ms. Sommer answered all his questions.
Now, on to the important stuff.
“Are there instructions on how best to…control someone? Did the doctor ever write an instruction manual for this thing?”
“Ah, I should have known that was what you were looking for,” Ms. Sommer smiled. “Have you tried using it already? I suspect it didn’t work out the way you’d hoped, did it?”
Tim touched the swollen lump on the side of his head. It still throbbed.
“Yeah, I, uh, I suppose you could say that.”
“Tell me all about it. Every single instance when you’ve used the mind control gun. Perhaps I can assist you, show you where you went wrong, guide you on how to fix it.”
Tim recoiled slightly at that. It was one thing to ask her for help, but to tell this lady about what he’d been doing with the mind control gun? Telling her how he’d used it on Eddie was one thing. But to reveal what he had been up to with his family—to let an outsider know that he’d used the gun to convince his own mother and sister to have sex with him. Any normal person would be repulsed.
Then again…Ms. Sommer wasn’t a normal person. Who knows what sort of things Dr. Müller had gotten up to when he’d used the mind control gun? She might be used to a bunch of really freaky stuff.
Alright, Tim decided. I’ll tell this old lady all my dirty secrets. And if she flinches or shrinks from it, I’ll just make her forget I said anything in the first place.
“The first person I used it on, really used it on, was my friend Eddie. I discovered he and my sister were…”
Ms. Sommer wasn’t just not repulsed, she was excited by the story, kept asking for more details. Tim had no idea she was such a dirty old lady, though what she seemed to be getting off on the most was the idea of control, of subjugation.
Finally, he ended the story by telling her how his mother and sister were now effectively ‘in stasis’ until he figured out a way to fix the situation, and make sure neither of them went out of the bounds he’d placed for them again.
“Hmm, I see—you’ve been a very enterprising young man, shall we say,” the old woman said, grinning. “The fact that you were able to get that far with both your mother and sister solely through trial and error is, in fact, quite impressive.”
“When I used the mind control gun for the first time with Eddie, I was able to use him to sort of access the gun’s operating system, and it answered some of my questions, but the answers were incredibly vague.”
“Yes, well, I suppose the doctor expected his heir to get all of his information from his notes.”
“But the notes are all in German,” Tim complained. “I’d have no idea where to start!”
“Ah, that’s where I come in,” Ms. Sommer clarified. “I can speak four languages, and German is my strongest, aside from English. Doubtlessly, that was one of the reasons Dr. Müller chose me for this role.”
“So, is there, an, uhm, guide? An instruction manual? Translated into English?” Tim asked, hopefully.
“Yes, there is, but not here,” Ms. Sommers replied. “I have it at home, and I can go fetch it in just a few moments. And even better than that, I have the doctor’s guide to obedience.”
“Guide to obedience?”
Ms. Sommers nodded. “Dr. Müller worked on it for a few years—that one was written originally in English, and I have a fair copy.”
“What is it, this guide to obedience?”
“It’s a script the doctor created, to be read to those under the influence of the mind control gun. You’ve noticed that there are natural barriers within the psyche which have to be overcome in order to subjugate the individual. For example, your mother’s fierce resistance to engaging in incest.” She licked her lips as she said this last part.
Tim said nothing, but his face reddened.
“Oh, dear, nothing to be ashamed of—for a strong man, no woman should be off limits. But the only reason you were able to overcome that particular barrier was due to your innate understanding of your mother’s psyche. You were able to manipulate her emotions in order to overcome her morality, her sense of ethics.”
Tim didn’t particularly like being reminded of that uncomfortable reality, but he nodded, motioned for Ms. Sommer to continue.
“Well, you can’t know everyone as intimately as you know your family members, can you? And so Dr. Müller was confronted with a problem. How to control subjects and convince them to take actions that would defy conventional morality?”
“So, wh-what did he do?”
“The scientific method. Through experimentation, trial and error, he came up with a script, one with a series of commands designed to tear down the walls, the barriers of the mind, and replace them with absolute and complete compliance. You see, my dear boy, from what you’ve told me of your experience with your mother and your sister, you were approaching things in a very backwards way.”
“What do you mean?”
“You were affecting their emotional responses in order to change their behavior. It really should be the other way around. Their behavior naturally leads them to certain emotional responses. Arousal, for example. Pavlovian responses.
“And this would make them…?”
“Completely pliable to your suggestions and commands. Like putty in your hands. Oh, it might be a bit awkward at first, but eventually, they would understand how much control, how much power you have over them, and after that, they would love you. And then you’d never have to worry about your father or your friend Eddie taking your place in your bed.”
“One more thing that I couldn’t help but notice. While you were telling me your story, you kept referring to those you’d controlled as your mother and your sister.”
“Well, yeah—I mean, that’s who they are.”
“Of course, of course. And they always will be. However, one thing you must come to understand is that there is something else that must always take precedence over their status as your family members.” Now Ms. Sommer smiled large and wide, and it reminded Tim of a shark, almost. It was a predatory smile.
“What do you mean?”
“You must never forget, that above all else, they are your slaves. And you are their master.”