By SAMUEL HAWKINS
Chapter 2: Mind Games
It was early the next afternoon. Superboy sat alone in the quarters the Legionnaires had provided for him, his chin resting glumly on his hand. His thoughts were not cheerful.
What a terrible weekend!
What had he been thinking in coming here!
How he couldn’t wait to go home!
And never come back?
His gloomy reverie was broken by a gentle buzz. He sighed, stood from the bed, and walked to the door. He was slightly surprised to find Saturn Girl.
"Hi," she said.
"Oh," he replied, "hi. Uh … can I help you?"
The girl from Titan almost smiled. "Well, since you’re the new one here, I think that’s supposed to be my line, but actually you can. I need to talk to you."
"Oh," Superboy said, "uh … sure. You want to go down to the rec room?"
"Actually, we need to talk in private, if you don’t mind. May I come in?"
Superboy cast a furtive glance behind him into the small room. "Oh … sure … I mean … if you want to."
His sudden uneasiness puzzled her until she remembered who he was. The co-ed accommodations of Legion headquarters had been a bit of an adjustment for her too, she recalled, and 30th century Titan was far more permissive than 20th century Smallville. She smiled at his awkwardness, finding it somewhat … sweet. "Thanks," she said as she entered. "Are your quarters okay?"
"Sure," Superboy said as he offered her a seat, "the room’s great."
"Good, good," she said as she sat. "So, is everything okay? You finding your way around all right?"
Superboy nodded. "Oh … sure. Everything’s … great. It’s really … great here."
"That’s … good," Saturn Girl said, suddenly a bit uncomfortable. She didn’t need her telepathy to know that something was troubling him. Still, she couldn’t pry. "Well, let me know if I can do anything to help you. I mean that." The Boy of Steel nodded politely, but didn’t say anything. "Well, I guess we should get down to business," Saturn Girl said. "What I wanted to talk to you about is your memory. Specifically, what you remember of the 30th century when you return to the past."
"Oh. Uh, what exactly do you mean?"
"We need to make sure that your knowledge of the future doesn’t somehow disrupt the natural flow of history."
"Oh," he said, "I see," and, clever boy that he was, he did. "Well, don’t worry. I’m not going to be stopping by the Superman Museum or anything. I have no interest in knowing the details of my future life."
"That’s good," Saturn Girl explained, "but it’s still a problem. Even if you don’t know specifics, you still know enough to be dangerous. For instance, since you know that there is a Superman Museum in this time, you know that you live long enough to grow up to be Superman. And since they don’t put up museums for just anyone, you know that you live long enough to make a great name for yourself. Knowledge like that could cause you to … oh, I don’t know, not take some threat seriously enough. Not try hard enough when you really need to. Now, Brainiac 5 assures us that the past can’t be changed, but … well, let’s just say that we don’t want to take that risk."
"I see," Superboy said grimly. "So … what? Should I just leave here and never come back?"
One of Imra Ardeen’s eyebrows rose at the extreme nature of his solution. "Uh … no. Nothing that drastic is required. That wouldn’t solve the problem of what you already know anyway. No, I think I can fix it so that this isn’t a problem for you anymore."
"Oh. Uh, what do you want to do?"
"I’d like to try to establish a set of non-conscious protocols in your brain. Post-hypnotic suggestions, they’d have probably called them in your time. I think I can make it so that whenever you return to your own time period, you automatically forget anything about your future that you learned here."
Superboy didn’t seem to immediately warm to the notion. "Well," he said slowly, "I don’t know about that."
Saturn Girl suddenly felt the need to sell him on the procedure. "I think it’s the only way that you won’t have to worry about knowing something you shouldn’t. Besides, I’m sure that you’ll do lots of time traveling in your career. Won’t something like this be helpful to you?"
Superboy was quiet for a moment as he considered the proposition. Reluctantly, he said, "I suppose you’re right." He paused, then said, "Okay then. If you think it’s necessary. What do I need to do?"
"Just relax," the young Titanian said. "I’ll do all the work." She leaned forward, reached for his head, then paused to say, "May I?" He nodded his assent, and she reached out and lightly touched his temples.
The natives of Titan are almost universally regarded as the greatest telepaths in the galaxy. This status has caused some to regard them as mystics, akin to the natives of Naltor or Zerox. Mention this notion to a Titanian, however, and he or she will howl with laughter. For them, telepathy is a completely natural process. Titanians are the greatest telepaths in the galaxy because they are the greatest neuroanatomists, gifted with an intuitive and direct understanding of brain structure and function, and the ability to restructure it. Far from being mystical, their telepathy is a strictly physical undertaking.
So when Saturn Girl made contact with the brain of the Boy of Steel, she responded with a small yelp and pitched backwards. Though Imra Ardeen had been identified as a prodigy in exoneurology at a tender age, nothing in her decade of training at the Titan Academy had prepared her for contact with the brain of a Kryptonian under the influence of a yellow sun. The pace at which it functioned was dizzying, the speed serving as much as a barrier against telepathic intrusion as the natural defenses that most beings possessed.
Superboy reached forward and grabbed her before she could fall. "Are you okay?" he asked urgently.
She nodded. "I’m fine … just need … to … catch my breath." She paused to rest for a moment, then said admiringly, "Your brain. It’s so … fast."
"Oh," Superboy said. "Sorry."
Saturn Girl smiled broadly. "Oh, don’t be! It’s really quite remarkable. Half the researchers on Titan would give their right lobes for a chance to study it. It’s really … quite remarkable."
"Oh. Thank you. Uh … does this mean you won’t be able to perform the procedure?"
She shook her head. "No, I still think I can do it. Just give me a minute to think of how." He was more than willing to do so, but she required only a few seconds. "You converse at a normal pace, so you’ve obviously developed a set of dampening lags in your verbal feedback loops. Maybe if I go in through your language centers, rather than at the basic input/output level, I’ll find a pace I can handle." She reached for him again. "Here we go," she said.
Steeling herself for the rush of activity, she again attempted entry, only this time with the forceful caution of one attempting to cross a raging river. Even then, it was a fight to maintain her equilibrium, to prevent her consciousness from being washed away by the torrent that was Superboy’s mind. There were, she knew immodestly, few telepaths that would be able to even attempt this. She also knew that she, fortunately, was one of them.
Within moments, she had found his language centers and had burrowed out a small hub from which to work. To get a feel for the basic setup, she spent twenty minutes or so stimulating the system and observing responses. It was remarkable, she again observed. The similarity between the Kryptonian brain and that of other humanoid groups was uncanny, the only significant structural differences being a much larger hypothalamus and what she could best describe as a neo-neo-cortex. In fact, the similarities were such as to suggest either a common origin lost to antiquity or some unequaled instance of parallel evolution. Fighting down the urge to sightsee, she made herself comfortable and began to work.
The basic problem was challenging, though given Saturn Girl’s talents and creativity, not insurmountable. Essentially, Superboy’s non-conscious mind would have to decide what he should and shouldn’t remember, and then seal off access to that knowledge. Saturn Girl’s goal was to use Superboy’s re-entry into the time stream as the trigger that would signal his brain to hide any knowledge of his future he’d gained, yet make it available when he again visited the future. Without him consciously knowing anything about it, his brain would have to differentially block access to the stored information.
As a first step, Saturn Girl built a complex neural network that would search for the information to be hidden. She then paired that network’s results with cascading thresholds for retrieval of that information, and set those thresholds so that they would rise to insurmountable levels when Superboy returned to the 20th century, but plummet to allow access when he returned to the future.
To trigger the threshold cascades, she synthesized in Superboy’s hippocampus an artificial neurotransmitter linked to both visual memory and vestibular acceleration history. Then she set the limits on the search at too short a time for the process to bubble up into consciousness. He would never know that anything was happening. The general framework was now in place, and while this had required no small amount of creativity, the actual mechanics of her work hadn’t been that difficult.
But as usual, the devil was in the details. It was the specificity of what knowledge should be excluded from his conscious memory that was the real challenge. For instance, she couldn’t let him remember in the past the existence of Supergirl when the time came for him to meet her here in the 30th century. On the other hand, she couldn’t let him completely forget that there was such a thing as a Legion, lest he not remember to return to the future.
Again, Superboy’s mind would have to do most of the work. Saturn Girl set up a decision-making network that would decide what was and wasn’t dangerous. Aside from a few specifically tagged bits of information that she knew he absolutely couldn’t be allowed to remember, an extremely sophisticated filtering strategy was required, and developing it required a draining two hours.
Her final hour inside Superboy’s mind was spent testing the system and, like any good craftsperson, cleaning up after herself by tidying up stray neuronal links and inadvertent neurotransmitter secretions. When she finally finished and closed the connection, she sagged backwards in the chair, exhausted from the strain of what she’d attempted and accomplished.
Superboy felt a bit overcome himself, but he sprang into action when he saw her droop. "Are you okay?" he asked with evident concern, and Saturn Girl realized how spent she must have looked. "Do you want me to get Brainiac 5? He’s like a doctor, isn’t he?"
She tiredly waved a hand in response. "No, I’ll be fine. Just need to rest. Could I get a drink of water?"
Almost instantly, a glass of water was offered to her. She took a long, slow drink. "You sure you’re all right?" Superboy asked again.
"I’m okay," she assured him, "though," she paused to take another drink, "I wouldn’t want to tackle something like that every day. If I could just rest here for a few minutes, I’ll be fine."
"Sure," Superboy said. "Take all the time you need." Not wishing to hover about her, he began to walk around the room. He surveyed the bright buttons on the food replicator for a while, then looked at the replicas of 20th century art works with which the Legionnaires had decorated the room in an effort to make him comfortable. He stared at the Pollack on the wall and shook his head. Probably wouldn’t go over too big at the Small County Museum of Art and Agriculture, he decided.
As he slowly paced, he gently tilted his head from side to side. Didn’t feel any different, he decided. But it was. Somewhere inside lay … what? A forgetting machine? A ticking time bomb to his memory? Suddenly he became anxious. He hadn’t been Superboy for very long, but it hadn’t taken long to learn that a healthy dose of paranoia was vital to the role. Yet now he’d allowed someone to tamper with his mind. Fortunately, she was a friend.
But, he recalled, one who’d already attacked him once when under the mental domination of an enemy.
A sudden chill rushed through him.
He’d opened his mind to her.
What if this was a trap?
|TOMORROW'S LESSON Copyright 2000 Samuel Hawkins.  All rights reserved. This story is neither authorized nor endorsed by DC Comics. Superboy, Clark Kent, Martha Kent, Jonathan Kent, the Legion of Super-Heroes, Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Chameleon Boy, Triplicate Girl, Brainiac 5, Sun Boy, Phantom Girl, Colossal Boy, Shrinking Violet, Bouncing Boy, Invisible Kid, Mordru the Merciless, Smallville, Metropolis, & Krypton are TM DC Comics & © DC Comics, Joanne Siegel, and Laura Siegel Larson.|