Read CHAPTER XV - A Matter of Brain Waves of The Electronic Mind Reader , free online book, by John Blaine, on ReadCentral.com.

Barby, Jan, and Scotty were kind to Rick, which annoyed him considerably. If they had scolded him for bad judgment, called him a chucklehead, or even ignored him, it would have been all right. But they all had to reassure him and tell him it could have happened to anyone, and so on, and on. All of which made it unbearable.

He was more sure than ever that the houseboaters and barber were connected, but he still had no clear evidence. Of course he had made a report of the day’s activities to Steve, who at least hadn’t tried to be nice about it.

“An agent can’t always think of everything,” was Steve’s comment. “But he can try. Sometimes, when he fails to take a factor into consideration, he gets away with it. Sometimes he fails. Sometimes he ends up dead, because of his poor judgment. Be glad your lives weren’t hanging in the balance.”

Rick took the lesson to heart. He wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.

On the evening of the cereal fiasco, Parnell Winston returned to Spindrift after another visit to Dr. Chavez. He called Steve Ames and spent a long time talking to the JANIG agent. Then he called the project team and the boys into the library.

“We’re on the track of something,” he reported. “At least we think we are. It’s so incredible that I simply can’t believe it. If true, it means some unfriendly nation is so far ahead of us scientifically that we should all be trembling in our boots.”

Rick had realized that only agents of a hostile country could be involved in the actions against the project team. Everyone present had known as much, without a word being spoken. Only another country could gain from disruption of the project.

“Chavez and I have run a series of EEG’s on Marks. We now have the records of EEG’s on the other two team members, and Steve has managed to turn up a pre-project EEG on one which gives us a basis of comparison. Now, to comprehend our tentative hypothesis, you must understand something of what is known about the brain.”

Rick prepared to listen without much understanding. The field in which Parnell Winston worked was new and strange to him, and while he understood some of the basic theories, he got lost when Winston got highly technical.

“Our understanding of the human brain is fairly recent,” Winston began, “and we’re still only on the threshold of knowledge. In a way, we’ve just discovered the tools of research. The principal tool, of course, is electricity. Through it we can explore the electrochemical nature of brain processes.”

Rick was with him so far. He concentrated hard, not wanting to miss a word.

“There’s no point in reviewing the entire history of brain physiology. You all know of Pavlov’s work on conditioned reflexes. And you all know that Fritsch and Hitzig demonstrated that, when electrically stimulated, certain portions of the brain show a response. You also know that Caton discovered many years ago that the brain itself produces electric currents.”

Rick didn’t know, but he intended to find out. There must be some works on brain physiology in the library.

“However, the important modern work started with Berger in the late 1920’s. He found that the brain emits a definite pulse of activity, which was then known as the ‘Berger rhythm.’

“Since then, Berger’s work has been very much refined. We now know that the brain actually produces a number of clearly defined electrical rhythms. These rhythms have been used in medical diagnosis of brain injury. Walter, in England, has even developed a machine that will show whether or not people will get along with each other, by analysis of their wave patterns.”

This was interesting, and Rick intended to find out more about it. But he began to wish Winston would come to the point.

“I might add that the rhythmic brain patterns seem to be highly individual. No two are alike, even in identical twins. However, each person shows a pattern that remains fairly constant, even over a period of years.

“With this background, you will understand when I report that the EEG’s taken of our colleagues brains are completely abnormal. The EEG’s were taken while they were awake. Yet, the most prominent pattern is the delta rhythm that is universally associated with sleep and some types of damage to the brain.”

“Are there any other signs of physical damage?” Hartson Brant asked.

“No. All tests are negative. Spinal taps show no concussion, and there is no evidence of trauma of any kind other than psychic. Yet, the delta rhythms persist. In the one case where we have an EEG taken before the incidents, let’s call them the pattern is entirely different. The scientist had a pattern of a well-known type which bears no resemblance to the EEG taken after the incident.”

Dr. Morrison leaned forward. “What is your conclusion?”

“That our mysterious enemy has somehow caused damage of an unknown kind, by remote means. And that can mean only one thing: The damage was caused electronically, probably by transmission through the air.”

“Incredible,” Weiss muttered, and the sentiment was reflected in the astonished gasps of the others.

“Let’s consider the implications of Parnell’s statement,” Hartson Brant said slowly. “If he is correct, then the enemy has devised a means for causing brain disruption in an individual. A transmitted signal would inevitably strike countless others; there can be no such thing as a beam of radiation that strikes one person at a distance while missing all others. Therefore, this beam must affect only one person among many.”

“But how can a beam be tuned to one person?” Rick asked.

“I don’t know, Rick.” Hartson Brant turned to Winston. “Do you?”

“No. I have only a hypothesis, and one so far afield from what we know of the brain today that I even hesitate to suggest it. Let me ask a question. If the enemy could have access to the brain pattern of an individual and remember such patterns are no more similar than fingerprints could the enemy then transmit a signal that would affect only that pattern?”

Julius Weiss objected. “The supposition is based on scientific knowledge that does not exist.”

“So far as we know,” Dr. Morrison added.

Parnell Winston held up his hands. “I’m as aware as any of you that the hypothesis assumes a knowledge of the brain that is incredibly far advanced. But let us consider the evidence. The three scientists who have fallen victim show the same signs of brain damage. Investigation indicates that they were different types who probably had dissimilar patterns. We also have the special case of Dr. Marks, who was drugged while on the train. The person who drugged him dropped soluble salt paste on the rug of his room. Can we accept the fact that the salt paste was used for EEG electrodes, and a recording made while Marks was under the influence of the drug? We can’t prove it, but what other explanation can there be?”

Dr. Morrison shook his head. “Suppose we accept that theory. How does that account for the other two? They were under guard, and there is no evidence that they ever were drugged. If we accept your hypothesis, we must also accept the theory that the other two men somehow were given an EEG examination and their patterns recorded.”

An idea was growing in Rick’s mind. Suddenly he blurted, “That’s where the barber comes in!”

“The barber’s machine was examined by Steve’s men and found harmless,” Hartson Brant pointed out.

Scotty spoke up quickly. “Yes, but when Duke looked at it this morning, he found electrical connections! Why couldn’t an EEG be taken with such a gadget?”

Parnell Winston considered. “It could,” he said finally. “I would need to examine the machine, but in theory any gadget that fits over the head could be adapted for proper placement of electrodes. The recorder would be difficult to hide, however, unless it was in another room.”

Rick sank back and looked at Scotty. No wonder the barber had wanted to give a treatment to Hartson Brant. The elevator operator’s wink had told him that the scientist had been on the fourth floor, where the project team was located.

“Didn’t you ever have your hair cut in the arcade shop, Dr. Morrison?” Rick asked.

“No, Rick. I used a barber in a hotel nearby, one I’ve patronized for years.”

“But the other two did use the shop in the building,” Scotty finished, “and Dr. Marks had no need for a barber, so they had to get at him some other way!”

“It seems reasonable,” Hartson Brant admitted. “The pieces fall into place nicely. But we must first accept Parnell’s theory that some kind of pattern can be transmitted that will interfere with normal brain activity. If we believe it, we must also believe that the enemy is so far ahead of us in brain physiology that we are hopelessly outdistanced. I can’t believe so much progress could have taken place without some word of it leaking out.”

Parnell Winston shrugged. “It seems incredible, Hartson. But we haven’t another theory, much less a better one.”

“We had better make sure no one takes EEG’s of the rest of us, in any case,” Weiss suggested dryly.

Rick added, “And don’t get any haircuts until this is all straightened out!”

When the meeting broke up, Rick and Scotty walked to the front porch where the girls were listening to the music of a Newark disk jockey on Barby’s portable radio.

“Lot of puzzled people in this neighborhood,” Rick said. “Including me.”

“And me,” Scotty agreed. “And I’ll bet I know the most curious one of all.”

“Who?”

“Cap’n Mike.”

Rick grinned. At least the rest of them had some information. Even Duke and Jerry had enough to know that national security was somehow involved. But the captain, who had the liveliest curiosity of all, knew the least.

As Rick dropped him off in front of the old windmill, Cap’n Mike had grunted, “When you can trust me a little more, you might tell me what this was all about.”

Actually, Cap’n Mike’s visit to the houseboat hadn’t been particularly productive. He had little to add to the Coast Guard inspector’s description, aside from his feeling that the houseboaters had wanted to get rid of him.

Scotty asked, “Why would anyone want to disrupt the brains of the project team? Seems to me that’s doing it the hard way. Assassination would be a lot easier.”

Rick shook his head. He had wondered about the same thing.

Barby and Jan motioned for silence. They were listening to a vocalist who happened to be Barby’s favorite of the moment.

The boys stood silent for a few minutes; then, by unspoken agreement, turned and went back into the house.

Hartson Brant came down the stairs, dressed in a suit, with white shirt and tie. Rick stared at him. “Going somewhere, Dad?”

“Yes. Parnell Winston has disturbed me deeply, with the implications of his theory. I’m going to pay a call on an old friend in Newark, an associate of Chavez. I want to explore some of the electrophysiological background of his hypothesis. I won’t be very late. Is there any gas in the car?”

“Almost full,” Scotty said.

The boys went on upstairs into their adjoining rooms. For a few minutes Rick tinkered with his camera equipment, then he went back down to the library and searched the shelves for something to read. He finally settled on W. Grey Walter’s The Living Brain and carried it back up to his room.

He sat down in the old leather armchair and manipulated buttons on one arm. The light brightened to reading intensity, and the back tilted to the most comfortable position. He had wired the chair himself, and it fit him perfectly. He settled down to read.

Time passed as he lost himself in the clear, exciting descriptions in Dr. Walter’s book. He heard a bell ring downstairs, but paid no attention. Then Scotty stuck his head in the door. “Rick! Your mother’s calling you.”

Rick sat up swiftly. It was true, and his mother had urgency in her voice.

He dropped the book and ran to the stairs, going down them three at a time. A strange, dark-haired man was standing in the hallway, and his mother, Barby, and Jan were waiting for him with strained white faces.

“Your father has been hurt,” Mrs. Brant said with false calm. “He’s on this gentleman’s houseboat!”