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The Power of Suggestion
by Michael Bard
Michael Bard -- all rights reserved

Dr. Timothy Martin, or Tim to his friends, stood in his test room, hands on his hips. The room was painted a stark white. It had no furniture, no windows, and even the door could only be seen if you knew where to look for it. In fact even the floor was painted the same stark white as the walls and ceiling. The doctor himself was dressed in a ratty, torn and dirty lab coat that might once have been white.

Nodding, he checked the chronometer implanted into his wrist. Yes, it was almost time and his assistant and oldest friend would soon be arriving. Soon it was time to test his latest improvements and play his ultimate joke.

"Hal?"

"On line," a toneless, slightly distorted voice answered.

Maybe someday they will get an artificial voice to sound right. "Run simulation MADLAB."

"Acknowledged."

The room flickered and then the stark whiteness was gone. In its place was a dank dungeon, the walls were now ancient moss-eaten stone, damp in many places. A large table was against one wall and on it was a sewn together human corpse. The other walls had manacles, or were just bare. Throughout the room were various battered tables covered with boiling beakers giving off clouds of coloured vapour that spilled out of the beaker and flowed off of the table to coil along the floor. The air smelled of ozone and various wires sparked at irregular intervals. In the very centre of the room was a large wooden basin, about five feet in diameter and almost two feet deep. It was bone dry.

A loud and deep BONG filled the room, sounding like it came from a massive bell some distance away. The sound was even distorted slightly to represent a crack in the bell, if it had been an actual bell that was making the sound.

Tim turned around to face the door, which now appeared to be a massive thing of ironbound oak, the iron flaking rust as the tones of the bell echoed through the lab. "Come in David."

The door creaked open and a young man in a stark-white jumpsuit walked in. Ominously the door slammed behind him on its own.

"Tim, when will you get over your fascination with horror and make you lab look like something remotely modern?" He shook his head as he stepped into the room.

Tim replied with a hideous cackle. "But what would be the fun in that? This is so much more interesting than clean white tables and comfortable chairs and holographic display tanks."

Meanwhile David was sniffing the air. "I'm impressed - how are you managing the scents so well?"

"It's actually subliminal. Very low-powered lasers project frequencies on your eyes that causes your brain to recall the appropriate memories." And, hopefully, it can do other things too.

"Is that what you wanted to show me then?"

"Nope, my hunch-backed assistant. I need you to step into that tub." He pointed at the wooden basin in the centre of the room.

David shrugged his shoulders. "Fine." Then he walked over and banged into the side of the basin. "Ow! Is this thing real? Where'd you dig it up?"

Tim rubbed his hands together. Perfect, the subliminal suggestions could also make the subject think that things that weren't there actually were. So much simpler and more effective than that ancient televideo show that used some kind of force fields. "Would you step over the rim please and stand in the middle?"

"Whatever you want doctor." David jumped over the rim and landed inside and walked to the middle. "Ready."

Tim walked over pulling a needle out of one of his pockets. He stopped at the basin and held the needle before his face, carefully removing its cap. Then he pushed a small amount of a silvery liquid out. It was actually water, but the holographic projectors in the room made it look silver - all part of the illusion, all part of the ultimate joke.

"What's that?"

"The real thing I want you to try. Now don't worry, it won't hurt." He pulled a wrapped towelette from another pocket and ripped it open. Then he rubbed David's wrist with the alcohol drenched material.

"Hey?!"

"Just being careful." He finished and dropped the cloth and watched it vanish beneath the holographic projections. "Now don't move." He carefully pushed the needle against David's arm.

"Don't you..." but he was too late.

The needle slid in easily and Tim slowly pushed the silvery liquid into David's body. When he was finished he carefully pulled the needle out.

"What was that for?" David asked.

"That is what I have actually been working on." Sort of a lie, but the truth would kill the joke and prevent his testing of his actual breakthrough. "A friend, Dr. Makarak, has been working with me on nanites and wanted me to test them."

"On me?"

"Of course, what else are assistants for? Anyway, the idea is that the nanites can transform a person into a more useful form for spaceflight. Unfortunately there was no way to program the nanites before injection, so we've been working on using the holographic and laser technology I've developed to control them."

"That's ridiculous."

"Well, it's worked fine in rats. Now I suggest that you remove your labsuit - while you still can." Tim let out another evil cackle.

"I refuse. You're taking this joke too far."

Tim smiled - David hadn't seen anything yet. Then he shrugged his shoulders. "Your choice. But as you start changing, the clothes could cause you excruciating agony. Besides, it's nothing I haven't seen before." Tim remembered that time, almost two decades ago, when they were both in university and had to strip as part of an initiation rite.

David sighed. "If it'll keep you happy. This joke of yours had better be worth it."

"Oh, it's no joke. And you'd better hurry, because in about a minute you're going to start shrinking. And I'd start with your shoes - the process will expel water through your feet to get rid of the excess mass." Then Tim clenched his fist twice to signal the computer to begin running the transformation simulation - soon he would know how powerful his subliminal techniques really were.

David reached down and pulled off his soft shoes - they already felt damp - and then his damp socks. They landed with a soft plop after he tossed them out. His labsuit followed. "Any other instructions?" he finally asked.

"Not right now, although in a few minutes you should probably go down on your hands and knees."

"What?"

"The nanites are transforming you into an axolotl - a salamander that can breath both air and water. Dr. Makarak and I hope to use that idea so that spaceships can be flooded to allow the passengers to better survive acceleration."

"That's ridiculous! There's all kinds of easier ways."

And of course there was. But that was the best rationale Tim could come up with to camouflage the real experiment. "You would think so, but nope." He stepped over and looked into the basin. There was already about an inch of water in the bottom and David was noticeably shorter. He really wasn't, but the holographic projections distorted him so that he appeared to be.

"This can't be real!" Then David shook his head as he now had to look up at his friend. "How the hell are you making me seem shorter?"

"I'm not making you seem - you ARE shorter." He checked his wrist chronometer. "And now you should start to notice colouration differences." He looked up and checked. "Good, right on schedule."

"I don't believe you." But David couldn't help but raise one arm, and then he just stared. His flesh was darkening to a mottled black, and then he watched speechless as his arm visibly shortened - water, and even bits of flesh, dripping off it to splash into the water in the basin.

"Now your hair is falling out. You probably should go down onto your hands and knees now before you fall over."

"This can't be happening. It's not real. It can't be!" But David watched, and even felt, the changes. The water in the basin was warm, and he could see bits of flesh and strands of hair floating in it. He groaned as cramps clenched his stomach and he fell onto his knees. But they weren't his knees, he was on his feet and hands, but it was comfortable and easy, it felt natural.

Tim watched the holographic sequence he had programmed. David now appeared to be about three feet long, and a dark, speckled black. A tail was beginning to stretch out from between his legs, and his legs and arms had visibly shortened so that his head and torso were barely out of the water in the basin that was now almost a foot deep. "You might want to hold your breath until your gills develop," he suggested.

By now David had to crouch to keep his head, now visibly deformed, out of the water. His ears had vanished and his neck was gone - his head had been pulled tight against his body. Tim watched as feathery growths started at the base of Tim's head to form gills. "Oh, and don't worry about your mind, the nanites will make sure you keep your intelligence."

"Are you..." David paused, his eyes blinking. "Who...are...you?" he finally spoke, saying the words slowly and carefully.

What? This was all a simulation - he couldn't have any trouble with his mind or with speaking. Wait a minute! David was trying to pull a fast one and turn the joke around. Fine. "Well, we could be wrong about the mind part."

The transformation was almost done. David now appeared to be just under a foot long and the gills were well developed. Tim watched the gills finish growing and watched as David sink to the bottom of the basin and start to crawl around, avoiding the bits of blood and bone that had fallen from his body during the transformation.

Wait a minute - crawl around?! That hadn't been in the simulation. "Hal?"

"Yes doctor?"

"Why have you changed the holographic sequence to show the subject crawling?"

"The sequence has ended doctor."

Impossible! David must have gotten in and programmed the changes. Tim smiled and shook his head - he had to hand it to David. What a perfect way to turn the joke around. Unfortunately that meant that his subliminal systems hadn't been fully tested, but he could play jokes, and he could take them. "Hal. Relay any instructions that David entered in the last twelve hours."

"David has entered no instructions."

So he was covering his tracks. "Hal. Override code H1997ABZ. Relay any instructions that David entered in the last twelve hours."

"Code accepted. No instructions have been entered by David within the requested time frame."

There had to be! Wait a minute - that's it - he'd gotten someone else to do it for him. What a evil thing to do. He grinned. "Ok David, you win. You've beaten me."

There was silence.

"Enough David. You've proven your point."

Still silence.

Why wasn't he answering? Maybe he'd tripped or something. "Hal. End all simulations."

The room returned to its original empty condition. Except that it wasn't empty. He looked at where the basin had been. It wasn't there, but the floor was damp and clumps of bone and flesh, and even the towelette and its wrapper, were scattered near the middle. And there was indeed an axolotl crawling amongst them. Then Tim noticed that his feet were cold and looked down and saw that his shoes were damp.

His head shot up and he stared at the axolotl. "David, you're really starting to scare me. You can cancel your joke any time."

The axolotl stopped crawling and just lay there.

"Hal. Override code H1997ABZ. Turn off all projectors and other equipment, except lights, in this room. And open the door."

"Code excepted. All equipment is already off."

No! It couldn't be. Fine, he would prove the fakery and let David have his laugh. He walked over and carefully picked up the heavy axolotl and staggered with it out and through the door.

The axolotl was still there. It turned its head to look at him.

Tim couldn't argue with his perceptions anymore. There were no projectors of any kind in the hallway. None at all. He leaned down and carefully put David onto the floor and then he collapsed onto his knees. How could this have happened? All he'd done was control David's senses to make him believe that he was being transformed.

Could that have done it? Could it?

Dr. Timothy Martin, or Tim to his axolotls, started sobbing.

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Website Copyright 2004,2005 Michael Bard.  Please send any comments or questions to him at mwbard@transform.to