Archive for December, 1995

Simon Says

Sunday, December 31st, 1995

Simon collapsed onto his bed and emptied his bag to inspect the damage. A large quantity of mouldy crisps was mingled with his school books, two of which were torn and one of which was totally ruined. Fortunately it was an old maths exercise book, which he probably wouldn't need again anyway. He took the sticky tape from the hook on the wall where it always resided and repaired the other two. Then, he collected up all the crisps in a plastic bag and dumped them in the dustbin. The job almost made him feel sick, and he remembered that he had had no lunch that day. He knew it was no use complaining about the bullies, he didn't know who they were - they were in a higher year, for one thing. Also he knew that they would only hit him harder next time if he did. So, he took the only option left and ignored them, living with them as if they were a necessary evil.

He did his homework, and then set up the computer. This was the only way he could calm himself down, and forget about the bullies at school. He didn't play games, as most twelve year olds did, because he always became bored with them very quickly, but instead he loved to program. The reason, he thought, that he so enjoyed this art, was that the machine would do whatever he told it to, and only refused to do something if he made a mistake. Also, he believed that any problem could be reduced to a series of very simple steps, and working out which steps he needed to solve a particular problem was the most fun part. That and the tremendous sense of achievement when he completed a program and it worked.

The computer was a fairly old model, which he had bought for £50 from his friend, Daniel four years ago, when he had upgraded. Simon had then borrowed a pile of books from the library on how to program it. He had started simply, making it do things like print his name on the screen. Then he had discovered graphics. First he did simple things like drawing lines and circles in different colours, and later moving them around the screen. He wasn't much of an artist, but he didn't need to be. He had moved from telling the computer where to draw the line and circles to how to work out where to put them, and loved the patterns that resulted.

Because he was in a bad mood that day, Simon decided to try a much more ambitious project. He had had this idea in his mind for several weeks, but not until then had he felt capable of implementing it. He told the computer to draw a spiral of circles, which got smaller as they reached the centre of the screen. Then he told it to draw another spiral in each of these circles. Next, he added animation instructions to make the picture spiral inwards and cycle the colours, so that he couldn't really tell whether it was moving inwards or outwards. Smiling, he saved it and hit RUN. Not only did the program work first time, something very rare in the world of programming, but the effect was even better that he had anticipated. The spirals were fantastic, but the way it seemed to be spiralling both in and out at the same time was wonderfully relaxing and almost hypnotic, so fascinating he just had to watch it...

Suddenly, the screen blanked out. Simon blinked, and noticed his seven year old brother standing by the door swinging the plug in his hand. Simon looked at him, puzzled.
        "Dinner time! Come on, I've been calling you for ages."
        "Uh, yea. Just coming." Simon stood up and followed his brother out of the room, being sure to close the door behind him.

*        *        *

        "It was really weird, like I was asleep. Two hours passed and I didn't even notice." Simon told his best and only friend, Richard. Richard frowned, and then took his glasses off to clean them.
        "It seems to me that your program might have induced a state of hypnosis" he replied enigmatically. "The possibilities are endless. Induce a hypnotic trace in someone, and whatever you tell them to do whilst they are in that trance they will attempt to carry out when they awaken."
        "We can make people do anything we want." The full consequences of this statement were just beginning to dawn on Simon at this point.
        "All you have to do is get them to make visual contact with your program. Normally someone couldn't be hypnotised unless they were willing, but I think that the patterns you described are so aesthetic that you would just want to watch them and relax. The rest comes naturally. Of course, they wouldn't know that that was what was happening at the time. They would just think that they were looking at some pretty patterns." Richard liked using long words. If you can't out argue them, his philosophy went, at least you can baffle them.
        "Do you think I could use it to get through to the bullies? To stop them making my life so miserable?"
        "Yes, that should certainly be possible. Bring your computer and the necessary software to school tomorrow."
        "But how do I get it to school? It's too heavy to take on the bus."
        "Get your mother to take you. She owns a car, does she not?"
        "Yes, but she won't want to."
        "You're forgetting something..."
        "Right. Experiment with it on your little brother first, it would be embarrassing if it failed to work."

*        *        *

        "Mikey! Come in here a minute would you?"
        "What for?"
        "I've got something I want to show you."
        "Oh, all right." Seconds later, the door opened.
        "What is it?"
        "Come and look at this." Simon left his chair, and his brother sat down. Simon retreated to behind the screen, then leaned over and pressed a key on the keyboard.
        "Hey, that's really... good..." Simon watched his brother's face carefully. He was transfixed. In a very low, soft voice, Simon said:
        "When I say 'go', you will get down on the floor and do ten press-ups. You won't remember anything about being hypnotised, just some pretty patterns on the computer." Then he leaned over again and switched off the computer. The screen went dark.
        "Hey, what did you do that for? I was enjoying that."
        "Go." Mikey dropped to the floor and performed ten press-ups.

*        *        *

After putting Mikey back to normal, Simon performed a similar ritual for his mother. So, early next morning she helped him load the computer into the back of the car, and drove him to school. When he got there, the playground was fairly empty, as he was half an hour earlier than usual. He carried the computer to the classroom, which was empty, set it up and loaded the program, being careful not to look at the screen. Soon, the rest of the class filtered in and were caught, like flies on flypaper, to the computer screen, all apart from Richard, who walked in with his hands over his eyes so he could only see the floor. When they were sure that everyone who was coming had come, Simon began.

        "When you awaken, you will be totally under my control. You will act completely normally, as if today had been exactly the same as any other day, except that whenever I tell you to do something, you will want to do it. Your desire is to follow my every command."

        "What is it?" Richard beckoned to Simon to approach.
        "Don't you think that you ought to incorporate some kind of safety guard, so that they won't do anything you say unless you confirm it?" Richard was talking in a low whisper, so that the hypnotised group wouldn't pick up on what he was saying.
        "Like what?"
        "You should say that they should only interpret what you're saying as a command if you touch them on the shoulder, something like that."
        "Okay." Simon returned to the group and spoke. "You will only interpret what I say as a command if I touch you on the shoulder while I am speaking." He looked over to Richard, who gave a thumbs-up sign. Then, still careful to avoid eye contact with the computer screen, he reached through the crowd and switched of the computer screen. Everyone blinked. A large, acne ridden boy turned to face Simon.
        "Why did you do that?"
        "Yea, we were enjoying that. I reckon we'll have to beat him up, now." Simon reached over to the boy who had made the suggestion and put his finger on his shoulder.
        "From now on, you are complete pacifist. You detest violence and have no intention of beating me up." He let go. The boy looked puzzled and then returned to the group. But the large, spotty boy had decided that he would carry out the deed. Quick as a flash, Richard saw what was going on, and barged through to switch on the computer screen. Instantly, everyone facing Simon stopped in their tracks, and Simon nearly turned round to see what had caused them to do this. "I am speaking to you all. From now on, you will have no memory of anything I say when I am touching someone on the shoulder. Also, you are all pacifists." Simon switched the screen off again. Again the large youth approached, and Simon feared for his life. What if he was immune to hypnosis?
        "I'm not a violent person, but just don't do that again, right." Simon breathed a sigh of relief.

*        *        *

        "Well, that's solved the bullying problem."
        "It certainly seems to have done the trick."
        "But that's not all I can do, is it? I've got this incredible power, and I'm just using it in self-defence. I could be rich. I could get a new computer, for a start."
        "Do you really think that that is morally acceptable? After all, someone or something has granted you this incredible power, and you want to use it for financial gain."
        "No way. I've made this myself. The world has taken from me for long enough, making me look small and weak. Now I've got the chance to take back from it."
        "Well, I'm not having anything to do with it. Count me out."
        "You can have your share. Money, computers, whatever you want."
        "It's really tempting, but I can't accept stolen goods. I don't really think you should, either, but it's none of my business if you do."
        "You're right, it isn't any of your business. In fact, if you don't want to help me you can leave now. Goodbye."
        "You'll be sorry. Sooner or later, you'll be in trouble." Frustrated, Richard left the room.

*        *        *

Simon's portable computer arrived a few days later. Richard watched through binoculars from the other side of the street as Simon signed for the parcel. He had been watching for the few days. Watching, as everyone he knew came under the spell. No-one else noticed, Simon had been careful to make nothing look suspicious, and whenever someone did start to get wind of the truth, he hypnotised them. Now, of course, it would be much easier. Excepting Richard, all the staff and pupils at the school including the headmaster were now under Simon's spell. Simon hadn't paid much attention to Richard at all these last few days. He wasn't needed now. Everybody was his friend, like it or not.

But Richard knew he had to do something. Simon was becoming so completely self-centred and greedy that Richard knew that sooner or later he was going to attempt to hypnotise him. He knew that he couldn't let that happen. He might be the only person left who could stop this before it got even more out of hand. But how? Everybody would be out to stop him. He needed a plan. He thought for a while. What advantage did he have over Simon? Then it hit him. He'd have to sabotage the hypnosis program. That meant getting his hands on the computer, which wouldn't be easy, especially not on his own.

*        *        *

Richard had seen Simon's mother go out already, that left him and his brother. He rang the bell.
        "Go and see who's at the door, Mikey!" came Simon's voice from upstairs. Seconds later, Mikey opened the door. Richard grabbed him and tied the gag over his mouth before he had time to do anything. He had practised on his pillow, but he still didn't make a very good job of it.
        "Mmmm, MMMM!"
        "Be quiet. This is for your own benefit." Richard pulled Mikey's hands behind his back and handcuffed them together with the toy handcuffs he had brought. Then, he tied his feet together. He took him around the side of the house and left him there. Then, he returned to the front door and rang the bell again.
        "Mikey! I said go and see who's at the door! Mikey?" Richard ran around to the back of the house, being careful to make sure that Simon couldn't see him from his bedroom window. As Simon went to see who was at the front door, Richard crept around to the back and tried the handle. It was locked. He looked through the wrinkly glass and could just see the key in the lock on the other side. He fished around in his pocket for a piece of wire and a scrap of paper. He unfolded the paper and slid it through the draught excluder underneath the door. There was a gap of a good centimetre or so. Next, he pushed the wire into the keyhole. After some fiddling, the key popped out of the other side and landed just on the corner of the paper. He pulled the paper but the draught excluder prevented the key from coming through, and he could see that it was in danger of coming off. He took the wire and managed to hook the key, and finally got it through to the other side, where he quickly unlocked the door.

By this time, Richard realised, Simon would have discovered that there was no-one at the door and would have returned to his room. Richard knew that he couldn't return to the front door - Simon would see him through the window. So, the only way left was in. He opened the door carefully, being sure to make as little noise as possible. He crept through the house to the front door, opened it, and rang the bell.
        "Got you!" Simon scared Richard out of his wits. Unbeknown to Richard, Simon had discovered Mikey upon answering the doorbell, and deduced the details of the plan from what he told him. Richard caught a glimpse of Simon's new portable computer and shut his eyes tightly. He knew that if he opened them he would be hypnotised instantly. Quickly, before Simon had a chance to persuade Richard to open his eyes, he took a small mirror from his pocket and pointed it between where he thought Simon and the computer screen were. Being careful not to move the mirror too much, he turned around and opened his eyes. As he turned back, he could see that his plan had worked. Simon was hypnotised.

*        *        *

        "I was being stupid, wasn't I?" Simon asked.
        "It was partly my fault, too. I gave you the idea of hypnotising the anarchists in the first place." Richard replied.
        "I thought I was going to take over the world or something. I'm going to have to put everyone back the way they were, now, aren't I."
        "You most definitely are."
        "But I can leave the bullies as pacifists, can't I?" Richard shook his head.
        "I've been thinking about that. If you do that, sooner or later you'll be tempted to correct everything about them that irks you. You'll be back to where you were. Besides, I've been cogitating, and I don't think that you need to hypnotise people to get them on your side."
        "But I can't just let them go on making my life miserable."
        "You don't have to. I contend that if you talk to them they'll find out what a exceptional individual you are, and your quandary will be rectified. Don't try to avoid them, just treat them like human beings."
        "Thanks. But what can I say that will get them to stop treating me like dirt?"
        "I propose that you entice them around for a game of, say..." Richard rifled through Simon's computer disks, which were scattered around the room "...Simon says."