Hiatus

I’m sorry that Chapter Ten of Learn isn’t out today, but it doesn’t seem like anyone is going to miss it anyway.

I have decided to take a break from my blog and from writing in general, for several reasons.

I’ll be honest: I don’t find writing as fun as it used to be. It used to be cathartic and something useful I did with my time outside serving the army. But now it feels more like a chore. It’s taking me longer and longer to continue writing the story for Learn, which gives me less time to write other posts, and hence also less time to spend with my friends.

It’s hard for me to say it, but I’ve lost my passion, my drive for writing. I still have topics in draft, skeleton outlines for my fiction pieces, even a list of character details I built to keep track of my characters’ history, abilities, relationships and quirks. I don’t have writer’s block; I just have a severe lack of interest to write anything right now.

There have been a few things going on in my life right now as well. First, from next week onward, I’ll be in training again, meaning I’ll have actual lessons and physical training sessions instead of the random instructions we’re given now. So there’s some good and some bad, but overall, I can’t complain; I’m moving closer to my ORD, after all.

More importantly, I think I need to take some time to reflect on myself as a person, and on my actions. Two of my strongest friendships are now starting to waver and I don’t know what to do about them. They’re unrelated too, so they really are two separate issues. What’s more, one of them is someone I always go to with my relationship problems. Who do you talk to when your go-to person is the one with whom you have problems?

On top of that, I have to think about my future after NS. The current plan was to go on a trip around Europe then come back and study in a university, but after a talk with one of my mentors, I’m really questioning whether or not going to a university will help me at all.

My ultimate dream is to build my own house. Most of the skills I need can be learnt on the internet for free, with online universities such as Udemy and Coursera. I could probably channel the money meant for my university studies into funding for this project.

On the other hand, I do need a job in order to be able to build my house. And a degree is the minimum thing one needs to survive in the working world. So I now have yet another dilemma to work out on my own. Between this and the problems with my friends, I’m really feeling very pressured at the moment, and now I feel like just abandoning everything altogether.

If there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s recovering. I know I’ll find a solution to all this, but I need some time alone to do so. That’s why I’m stopping this blog for a while. I need to remove unnecessary pressures. Perhaps when I feel like it, I’ll write some posts and keep them in draft mode, so that when I officially return, I’ll have some buffer posts to use.

Don’t miss me too much :)

-Jace

C is for Cookie

That’s good enough for me!

Of all the sweet treats in the world, cookies are one of my favourites. I’d take a good cookie over any kind of chocolate, cake, and ice cream. Okay maybe not cookies-and-cream flavoured ice cream.

Oreos
I don’t think there are many people in the world who dislike Oreos. I personally prefer the good old fashioned original Oreo, not the ice cream sandwich or the chocolate filled or the golden Oreo. Original is the best and I eat the cream before enjoying the cookie, so there.

Chocolate Chip
Ahh… The classic chocolate chip cookie. I’ll take just about any type of cookie with chocolate chips in it, short of it containing nuts or raisins.

Raisins cookies are the reason I have trust issues.

01 Subway Cookie

Right now, the most consistent way for me to get a chocolate chip cookie is to buy it from Subway as an add on to my meal. It’s actually really good when I have it for breakfast the next day, along with a cup of milk.

Digestive Biscuits
This is another of my favourites. It’s plain and simple; I know exactly what I’m getting. There’s this mix-and-chill jelly cheesecake recipe that uses a biscuit base made of crushed digestive biscuits mixed with butter. Mmmmm those are awesome. I made it a couple of times before, and I brought some pieces along with me on a picnic. That was the day I learnt that jelly melts. I really had no idea that jelly could melt.

Lotus – The Original Caramelised Biscuit
02 The Original Caramelised Biscuit by Lotus

THESE ARE FREAKING AWESOME. They literally melt in your mouth and they’re really addictive. I had to ration out my supply for the week while I was in camp, otherwise it would have been all gone in one day. And I refused to share this with anybody.

Come to think of it, I don’t share my cookies much. If I do share a cookie with you, you’d better be honored because I think you’re worth sharing a cookie with.

03 Cookie Monster Friendship

-Jace

Old Brunei Hostel

I initially submitted this as a guest post to The London Traceur’s blog six weeks ago, but they haven’t replied at all, nor have they had a new post since May. Ah well, here it is anyway.

01 Old Brunei Hostel

This is Old Brunei Hostel. An abandoned location claimed back by nature’s grip. It may not be the first place you’d think of as a parkour spot in Singapore, but we make do with what we have. At least it’s out of the way of the disapproving eyes of most of the public.

This place caters to both nature lovers and people who prefer to navigate the concrete jungle. The grass is so overgrown that it provides a soft landing when you’re vaulting over railings and barriers and jumping down from higher levels. The dilapidated buildings provide much to explore, climb, run and jump about in.

02 Jump

It’s quite out of the way and I don’t go there very often myself. But it’s peaceful most of the time because barely anyone else goes. Even if there are other’s around, there’s always a spot to train at. You can leave your stuff in one part and explore the whole place at leisure without worrying too much about your things being stolen. I’m not saying you should do that, but you could if you wanted to.

Anyway, how to get there: It’s almost a straight walk up from Redhill MRT Station. It might be a bit far for some people to walk, but that does provide a nice warm up before you actually start training. Here’s a map.

03 How to get there

Old Brunei Hostel is really big and there’s so much space to explore. You could even have a picnic or camp out there, though I wouldn’t recommend it. There’s no electricity, no running water and barely any life nearby. Also, it’s quite creepy if you stay there after the sun goes down.

04 Creepy Building

See?

My personal favourite things to practice there are pop vaults, wall climbs and just running around, being as creative as I can while I run. This wall is about 1.6m and has a nice run up. This is where I do my pop vaults and wall movements, a la Assassin’s Creed.

05 Pop Vault Area

There are also open air stair cases which allow you to practice climbs and drops, like this one.

06 Open Air Staircase

You’ll probably want to go there in the earlier half of the year, before the monsoon season when it’s hot and dry, as this place can become a mosquito breeding ground. There aren’t any caretakers as far as I know, so no one clears any stagnant water.

If you do visit, remember to bring lots of liquids as there are no nearby stalls to buy drinks or snacks from. Also, I promise that you will get dirty if you train hard there, so do bring a spare change of clothes. Track pants or sweat pants are recommended even if it isn’t mosquito season, as the pants will give you at least some protection from grazes and cuts. There are lots of plants, wooden doors and planks to get splinters from, so do bring a pair of gloves as well.

Have fun!

-Jace

Learn – Chapter Nine

Click here for Chapter Eight

“I need to know.”
-Haley Hollingberry

“This is where we have our physical training,” Ethan informed Haley as they and stopped in front of an empty dojo-like room. It was quite spacious, nearly the size of a basketball court, but with no stands. The floor was covered in rubber mats and there were several large foam blocks stacked neatly on one side of the room.

“We usually use it for some self defense, sparring, and parkour practice,” Ethan said. “This is the only place we’re allowed to fight, so sometimes we come here to settle disputes. It’s always fun when you watch two guys going at it in a fight to death.”

Haley gaped at Ethan, who held her gaze with a straight face.

“He’s kidding!” Monique exclaimed and a grin broke out on Ethan’s face.

“Yes, I’m kidding, but we do sometimes like to settle disputes by fighting or just spar for fun, and no one has ever died here. The worst we’ve ever had here was a broken arm. We do have rules for sparring,” Ethan continued. “No weapons allowed other than your mind and body and no hard feelings after the fight. We can and will check.” He gestured to Monique and she winked. “See, each person fights differently. Mimics are considered the strongest in this aspect because they can learn martial arts exceptionally quickly. Ever seen the scene in The Matrix where Neo says ‘I know Kung Fu’? Yeap, it’s kinda like that, except that we actually do need to practice, but once we do, the fights between Mimics are amazing to watch. Sometimes we choreograph fight scenes purely for entertainment.”

“Architects are the second best,” Monique chipped in. “But they have a totally different approach. While some do actually learn some combat moves, the usual tactic for an Architect would be to enter his or her opponent’s mind and make them forget how to fight. It sometimes takes a while to find the right memory, so Architects favour grappling moves.

“Empaths tend not to get into fights at all. We’re usually able to calm people down enough to talk it out. If you do find an Empath in a fight, however, watch out. We’ll attack you by making you feel our pain. The harder you hit, the harder we’ll return the pain to you. There was once this really buff Empath who was able to focus and channel his anger so strongly that he went berserk on his opponent. His opponent was barely conscious and had a broken arm from defending himself. A fight with an Empath that goes berserk is deliciously messy.” Monique licked her lips and Ethan grinned sadistically.

Haley let that sink in. “What about Historians?” She asked in a small voice. Ethan and Monique exchanged glances.

“Umm… as a general rule, Historians don’t fight. They tend to keep to themselves. Actually, come to think of it, I’ve never seen a Historian fight at all,” Ethan mused.

A cheerful little tune played and Monique pulled out her mobile phone.

“Time to go!” Monique bubbled happily and looked at Haley. “Professor Michael wants us in his office in five minutes.”

Ethan took this as his cue to leave. He stepped away, did a theatrical bow to Haley and said, “I bid you adieu for now, m’lady. It has been my pleasure to serve as your tour guide this afternoon.” He smiled, spun on his heel and strutted off before Haley could say a word. She giggled.

“Is he always like that?” Haley asked Monique as she stared at Ethan’s retreating back.

“Almost always.” Monique rolled her eyes. She grabbed Haley’s hand and led her to towards Professor Michael’s office.

***

I had just finished my phone call with Mum, telling her about Dad’s transfer to the MIND facility, when Monique and Haley tumbled through the door in peals of laughter. I made eye contact with Haley, who was clutching her tummy, and raised an eyebrow at her. That just made her laugh even harder. Professor Michael cleared his throat and the girls’ laughter faded, though their silly grins did not. Monique went up to Professor Michael and offered her hand, which he took.

“Hi Hales. Found my replacement, huh?” I mock pouted at Haley, who teased me by nodding unabashedly. Seeing Monique again, I couldn’t help but smile myself. The fact that Haley was laughing so much was quite interesting to me, though. I’d never seen her so at ease with a new situation. Usually I’m the one to break the ice. It was nice to see her making friends on her own.

“Thank you, Monique,” Professor Michael said out loud as he dismissed her. Monique nodded and retreated out the way she came.

“Hello Haley,” Professor Michael greeted her. “I trust Monique has taken good care of you?”

“Yes, thank you, sir,” Haley replied. “I had a good time with her and her friends.”

“Excellent. I understand you have an unusual mental shield. Would you mind if I saw it for myself?”

“Sure,” Haley extended her hand and Professor Michael took it. He closed his eyes for a few seconds, frowned, then opened them and let go of Haley’s hand.

“Remarkable,” he murmured. “That is, by far, the best way I’ve seen a Historian protect herself. You, young lady, have a very useful skill.”

“Umm… Thanks, I guess,” Haley said uncertainly. “I don’t quite understand what that means.”

“Ah, yes, well. In order to understand what your ability means, I must first explain how a Historian’s shield typically works. Usually there is a barrier that we can feel if we try to enter their minds. We can sense the presence of the mind behind the wall so sometimes Empaths can get a sense of what they’re feeling, but usually no one can get past the wall unless the Historian is overpowered by many simultaneous attacks, or he or she consciously pulls down the wall themselves.

“One interesting thing to note is that in a Historian’s default mental state, the shield will be in place. He or she can reinforce the shield by focusing on it, but it takes just as much of their effort to take it down. What I’m saying is, a Historian actually uses less energy leaving the wall up, than he or she does letting it down.

“What makes your case so intriguing is that we can’t sense your mental presence at all. I’m sure you have been informed of this by Zack, or any other user of extracognitive abilities. You are literally invisible on a mental level, which means you are completely immune to all mental attacks. No one can hit a target if there isn’t one to hit, right?”

Haley was silently musing over everything Professor Michael told her. I knew that she knew exactly how her shield – or more aptly – her cloak worked, but the implications astounded me as well.

“Wait, Historians can take down their own shield? How and why would they do that?” I asked.

“Oh yes, of course,” Professor Michael replied. “Mental Shielding is a learnable skill. Historians are just born with it.

“To answer your question, a Historian might lower his or her defenses for any number of reasons. Perhaps to allow an ally into their heads. For example, an Architect might enter to repair some damaged memories. Although, I do admit that is very unlikely to happen, since Historians remember almost everything. A more likely scenario is if there is a lot of information to transfer, or they need transfer it silently. Lowering the wall grants a Historian access to the traditional extracognitive abilities: mindshifting and mindspeaking. As for how set up and take down a mental shield, you’ll learn about it in Professor Acklebury’s class.”

“Class?” Haley asked me inquisitively. Before I could reply, I saw her eyes light up as she realized something.

“Hang on a minute,” Haley turned back to Professor Michael. “You mean I can do the mindshifting thing too?”

“Of course,” Professor Michael replied. “Just as Mimics, Architects and Empaths need to learn how to bring up a mental shield, Historians need to learn how to take it down in order to learn and use other abilities. Would you like to learn how?”

Haley’s eyes widened.

“Normally I wouldn’t allow a Historian to join us without being vetted, but you’re young and, if Zack is willing to vouch for you,” – Professor Michael glanced at me and I nodded quickly – “I will offer you a temporary internship with Professor Acklebury only until you to learn how to bring down your shield. Once you can do that, you must voluntarily submit to a vetting session. Otherwise, I will have to deny you further lessons and entry to this place. I apologize for the harshness, but we really do have enemies in the outside world and we cannot allow even one of them to infiltrate our ranks.”

“Umm… wow,” Haley was speechless. “This is a lot to take in. Could I think about it first?”

“You may,” Professor Michael allowed. “Do come back with Zack tomorrow if you wish to accept my offer. Once trained, you would be an exceptional asset to this organization.”

***

After settling the logistics of moving my Dad with Professor Michael, Haley and I left MIND. I brought her up to speed what happened when I was alone with Professor Michael and, besides telling me about her adventure with Monique, she was quiet the whole way home.

I didn’t mind. I had a lot to think about myself, so I was glad for the companionable silence. I felt like a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders since Dad was going to get the help he needed.

Dad was going to be okay.

Click here for Chapter Ten

-Jace

Commander! What should I do?

I was playing Commander (formerly known as Elder Dragon Highlander, or EDH) last Monday with my one and only Commander deck: The Mimeoplasm. I hadn’t touched it for months, let alone play a game with it. To put some perspective on it, the last time I played with that deck, the legend rule hadn’t changed. Since that change, the whole idea of my deck got messed up. My deck is full of clones, which I use to copy the best creature on the board, or to destroy an opponent’s commander by legend ruling it away.

Anyway, what do you do with a deck like that? You rebuild the concept.

So here is my new concept for The Mimeoplasm: Graveyard theft with mass effects that affect all players. Milling, creature destruction, card drawing and ramping will affect all players fairly. The only things that will be beneficial to me will be my graveyard-related stuff. I’m gonna have creatures that benefit from dying and steal everyone’s stuff from their graveyards. As a rule, I will do my best to avoid cards that target. This means I’ll have to get a whole new bunch of stuff, like the Muses, Font of Mythos, Howling Mine, Rites Of Flourishing and the green, blue and black Dictates from Journey into Nyx. Perhaps milling will be my secondary win condition, but I find that unlikely, since many Commander players will have creatures like the Eldrazi, which shuffle their whole graveyard back into their library.

I actually started work on my second Commander deck: Brago, King Eternal, from the Conspiracy set. I’m building around his flickering ability, so I’ve got two sets of cards: cards that have flicker effects and cards that benefit greatly from being flickered. Obviously this means I won’t have many auras, unless the auras benefit from dying (as a result of the creature it enchanted being flickered), or benefit from being flickered itself even more than a creature in my deck would.

When I started building Brago, I didn’t actually make a whole decklist. I just started shoving in cards I had that fit the theme. Some were pretty awesome, like Venser and Conjuring Closet, and some cards I decided I needed to get because they synergized with my deck, such as Sudden Disappearance and Sun Titan.

My cousin Mark told me to bring my Commander deck so we could play at Christmas, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish building Brago’s deck before the end of this year. So now my plan is just to finish building a simple working deck for Brago before doing any modifications on The Mimeoplasm.

On a related note, I decided to just buy all the pieces I needed for my Second Sunrise Eggs deck. Some of the cards in the deck are banned in tournaments, but I just built the deck to play as a solitaire type game. The way it wins is to draw it’s whole library in one turn, then shoot the opponent repeatedly with Pyrite Spellbomb. This deck is what I call a masturbation deck, since I’m basically playing with myself.

The reason why I built it is to practice being aware of my combo pieces and calculating the probably of “going off” successfully. I’m just going to build it once, then never modify it at all so that I have my very own self contained Magic game.

-Jace

Psych Out

I’ve recently got back my passion for developing my observation and mentalism skills. By mentalism, I don’t mean just entertaining magic tricks, I mean psychological techniques to mess with someone’s mind, like neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), subliminal messaging, and framing.

I blame Psych, one of the most awesome detective and humorous TV series I’ve ever followed. I started watching it again since it finally completed and I can watch all the episodes at once without feeling of being left hanging by a season finale. I can stop watching at any episode whenever I want, as long as I know I can watch the next episode whenever I want. I’m even able to stop in the middle of an episode if need be. I just need to have the following show to watch, otherwise I don’t feel I have closure. I can’t bear to starting something if I don’t have access to the end, but my OCD-ness doesn’t hit me if my completist tendencies are satisfied.

Hmm… closure before the series ends, is that pre-closure? Or foreclosure? Heh.

Anyway, I’ve realized that these TV series are my primary sources of inspiration; they help me shape and give direction for my passions. For example, while I was still watching Avatar: The Last Airbender series (I haven’t started The Legend of Korra yet!), I was very into the four elements and their attributes. This led to my interest in personalities and classification of stuff. Lie To Me got me obsessed with deception, facial expressions and body language, but it sadly and frustratingly got cancelled. Now Psych (and The Mentalist and Criminal Minds, once they’re complete) are driving me to hone my observation and intra-personal skills and awareness. I bet Arrow and The Flash would greatly increase my passion for parkour and freerunning, just as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Misfits would push my want for superpowers over the edge.

Back to observation skills. I’ve been training myself by playing brain games to improve my memory and reflexes, and continually testing myself to keep me on my toes.

My brain games are all on my mobile phone. With mobile apps like Elevate and Lumosity, it’s very convenient for me to train myself. Sometime I do it first thing after breakfast, sometimes I play at night just before I go to sleep. I started actually started off with Lumosity when I was in Japan for my internship, but I didn’t have a smartphone back then, so I played the web version. I was still watching Monk and the other detective TV series back then, but once I decided to be a completist, I stopped watching the incomplete TV series and hence lost interest, which also made my commitment to play Lumosity every day fade away.

In my opinion, Elevate is more fun because it has more games, but requires a higher level of academic skills to play, compared to Lumosity. I mean, in order to play Elevate’s games, one must already have a strong grounding in English, especially grammatical and spelling skills. Quick math is also required, but then Lumosity has a game that requires basic math too. Having said that, the math games in Elevate are much harder because they require knowledge of different units of measurement (both metric and imperial systems) and the ability to calculate or estimate percentage type questions. Lumosity only requires the four basic functions of math: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. I would definitely recommend starting with Lumosity if you’re not strong in English or math.

Other than those games, I do play other classic games like Sudoku and Backgammon. Sudoku is awesome on my mobile because I have several different modes to play: classic, sudoku-X, sudoku-% and squiggly. The squiggly is the weirdest variant I’ve played because instead of nine 3×3 boxes, I now have to solve them like this:

01 Squiggly Sudoku

Besides my brain training games, I also found several other games I could play in the real world, although most of them require being tested by a friend. While I was doing research on games I could play to strengthen my observational skills, I came across four specific games I’d like to share.

The first game is one I play the most. I don’t know if there’s a specific name for it, but I call it an observation walk. It really is just what it sounds like. Whenever I’m outside, I do my best to observe as many things as possible. I broke it down to just noticing simple anomalies: stuff that’s unusual, things you don’t see everyday but are totally normal, things that are normal but become weird because they’re in the wrong context. Like a guy with his arm in a cast. Or a pregnant lady. I thought I should start with these things because hey, if I fail to notice things are ought to be noticeable, how am I going to even observe subtle details?

This game branched off into a couple of things. When I’m travelling alone, I started building a mental list of things I force myself to observe. My goal is to make this become a habit so that I’ll unconsciously take in this information in future and be able to recall most of it if I want to. The most prominent thing I started to take note of were people’s watches. I liked to observe people as a group, like a row of passengers on an MRT, then I close my eyes and I ask myself some standard questions:

What material are they made of (plastic, leather, rubber or metal)?
Are they analog or digital?
What’s the colour scheme?
Is the watch big or small?
Is the watch on the left or right wrist?

I actually made a surprising discovery. Since I was young, my mum taught me to put my watch on my left hand because I wrote with my right hand. She told me this is so that watch doesn’t annoy me when I write. That made perfect sense. Along the same line of thinking, I thought lefties wore their watches on their right hands. That belief stuck with me for most of my life, even when I had examples of righties wearing their watch on their right hand. My brother, for example.

Based on that assumption, whenever I met someone with a right hand watch, I thought I’d be clever and ask if they were left handed. And you know what? 100% of people I asked were right handed. I asked about six or seven people since I started observing watches and after that I just stopped asking because it sucked to be wrong. There are WAY more people who are right handed and wear their watch on their right than there are lefties with right side watches. This bummed me out more than it should have.

I play the other variation of the observation walk when I have someone around with me. I simply get them to ask me questions primarily about the environment; I can’t observe a lot of people at once yet. But I tell them to focus on anomalies, regardless whether its on a moving object or person or part of the environment. How many orange cones were in the construction site we passed? What did the last three shops behind us generally sell? What was the most unusual thing about that cyclist?

Another game I discovered was a picture game. I stare at a picture for a minute, then shut my eyes and recall as much as possible. By itself, this is a simple memory game with no fun whatsoever. It’s a challenge, but not a fun one. It get’s more fun when I have a friend firing questions at me, because I get them to ask me about the objects in the picture relative to one another, so this gives me some clues to trigger my recollection. I think this is a bit more fun and easier than the observation walk with a friend, because there are fixed parameters for me to observe within. Perhaps I should be playing more picture games then slowly progress to bigger and more complex pictures, then scenes in real life.

In the same vein of picture games, spot-the-difference games help with training my observation skills too. I don’t really like this as much because I have to keep referring back to the original picture, so it’s quite tedious. In the real world, it’s more likely there won’t be a picture for me to refer to when checking for differences; I have to do it from memory.

The last game is quite unusual and I haven’t actually played it yet. Apparently, this is how the U.S. train snipers. Using his scope, the sniper has a few targets to find and describe back to HQ. The catch is, he can’t say exactly what it is. He has to describe it as much as possible without actually saying the name or part of the name. It’s like Taboo extreme. You can’t say “apple” you have to say something like “sweet red fruit that Newton used to discover gravity”. The point is to describe the object in as much detail as possible. If a sniper can do this, then he can successfully pick out and describe his target, or give very accurate intel of a situation.

I want to be like Shawn Spencer, whose father actually trained him to be hyper observant since he was young. Hyper observation is a trainable superpower and I’m going to get it.

-Jace

Learn – Chapter Eight

Click here for Chapter Seven

“People with extracognitive abilities are extremely rare, and Mimics just might be the rarest of them all.”
-Professor Adam Michael

“Come along now,” Dr. Michael said.

I hurried to catch up with him and I’d just reached him when he opened the door to a seemingly random room. We stepped inside and Dr. Michael shut the door. There was an intercom system on the opposite wall, which Dr. Michael walked over and pressed.

“Dad, I’ve done the check. He’s clean,” Dr. Michael spoke into the system.

“Very well, wait for me,” a male voice responded.

A few minutes later, an elderly man who had to be Professor Michael strode into the room through the door we had entered by. Dr. Michael met him and they grasped each other’s exposed forearms for a few seconds. It looked like this kind of information transfer was quite common among shifters. I took another bite of my chocolate bar while I waited patiently. They let go and Professor Michael looked at me.

“Bye, Zack,” Dr. Michael threw me a half wave as he let himself out of the room. I swallowed.

“You’re not staying?” I asked. He’d become so friendly after going through my mind. I suspected his formal, no nonsense, Secret Service attitude was just bravado.

“No,” he chuckled. “I’ve got other responsibilities. Besides, my father doesn’t bite… Hard.” He grinned wolfishly at me and shut the door.

“Good afternoon, Zack,” Professor Michael greeted me with a gentle smile.

“Hello, Professor. I suppose you know everything about me already,” I said resignedly.

“Yes, I do,” he replied as he peered at me over his spectacles.

“Then you know the purpose of my visit.”

“Zack, do you know what we do here?”

“Er… fix people with mental problems, I guess?” I shrugged.

“First of all, we prefer the term ‘mental disabilities’,” Professor Michael sniffed and adjusted his glasses. “Yes, we do our best to help them recover, but most of the patients that get admitted to this facility are almost beyond help by conventional means. It’s not that we don’t bother with therapy and whatnot; it’s just that this place is more of a home or prison, to keep extreme cases of mentally unstable people safe from their family, friends, the general public and themselves.

“But that’s not all we do here. MIND is also a recruitment center, training ground and base of operations for people like you and me. I believe you call us shifters, short for mindshifters, which is the ability you possess. Most of us do have this ability, but not all do. We call it Consciousness Extension, or ConEx for short, but, I must admit, your term sounds a lot more apt.

“However, we are not called shifters, because mindshifting, while admittedly the primary skill of most of our kind, it isn’t the only skill we possess. There is no name that encompasses all people with extracognitive abilities, but the general classifications for people like you and me are Empaths, Mimics, Architects and Historians. Historians are the only people who have mental abilities but cannot, as you say, mindshift. I’m primarily an Architect myself, with some Mimic abilities.”

Professor Michael paused and watched me. I wasn’t totally surprised, but I hadn’t expect him to suddenly enlighten me either. I said nothing and waited for him to continue.

“Most of my staff and some patients here have many different gifts. We do have a name for us – people with abilities that live and work here, I mean. When I had just founded this place and my son was much younger, he called us Minders, because of the name of this institution and also what we do here.”

“I get it. You mind the patients,” I nodded in understanding and appreciating the double meaning.

“Yes, there’s that… but we also do other things. Remember I said MIND was a base of operations and recruitment center? Well, we have teams out in the field, tracking down and recruiting people with the same abilities we have and offer them training and protection.”

“Protection? What, you gonna kill them if they don’t work for you?” I asked jokingly.

“No, Zack. We offer them a chance to hone their skills and unlock new abilities they otherwise wouldn’t have been aware of. I’m sure you’ve realized by now that whenever you mindshift, you feel hungry, especially for sugar,” he glanced pointedly at the last two sections of the chocolate in my hand. I nodded, put both in my mouth and crumpled the wrapper into a ball.

“Using these abilities quickly drains a body of it’s resources,” Professor Michael continued. “Sugar is the fastest way to replenish your energy, but it’s not healthy. If you don’t have sugar on hand or fat in your body, you start breaking down muscle to fuel your abilities. The longer you use it, the more energy you need. That’s why you probably wouldn’t see an overweight person who had and used extracognitive abilities. And that’s also why there aren’t many of us. Many often don’t live long enough to pass on their skills to the next generation. If they don’t learn to control their abilities and use them sparingly, they could, in a way, think themselves to death.”

I had nothing to say to that, but I did think to the relatives – or rather, the lack of them – on my father’s side. It seemed that Professor Michael’s ominous statement might hold some water. After all, I’ve never met my grandparents, nor are any of my living paternal relatives shifters.

“Naturally, I would like to extend the offer of training in this institute to you. Due to their adaptive nature and no outward distinguishing characteristics, pure Mimics like yourself are extremely hard to find and you would be an invaluable asset once you’re fully trained.”

No wonder Dr. Michael was so excited about my twin sisters.

“Asset? What would I be doing here?” I asked suspiciously.

“Well, most of the time you would be discovering and developing new skills, practicing them on the patients here or teaching new recruits. But most likely you would be in the field. See, sometimes a mental illness or disability is brought on by mental abuse at the hands of someone using extracognitive abilities. For example, I know your father has a Historian stuck in his head and that he momentarily got back control of his body. I’m sure you can see that he could be perceived as having dissociative identity disorder, more commonly known as multiple personality or split personality disorder.

“Imagine someone, say, an Architect, were to repeatedly destroy the memories of another person. That might appear to result in amnesia or dementia. In your father’s case, there would be no offender to find since he caused this himself. However, when a patient with amnesia is admitted to this facility, we first check for foul play.

“This is the third part of what we do here. We locate people with extracognitive abilities and one way we do this is by tracking abusers of their abilities.”

“Wow. This seems straight out of a scifi movie. Very Alphas or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I came here to get help for my dad and I get sucked into a super secret subterranean society of superhumans. Is this one of those government departments that don’t exist? Or perhaps you ain’t on no government list, you straight don’t exist, no names and no fingerprints?”

Professor Michael smiled.

“You truly are a Mimic. Clever with words and always looking for the humorous side of everything. This isn’t Men in Black, my boy, but we might not let some people remember.”

He winked and I blinked. I hadn’t expected him to get the reference.

“What if I refuse? What if I don’t want to be part of your whole brain game?” I challenged.

“Well, I would strongly urge you to reconsider. You might even be able to learn some skills in time to help your father recover faster.”

I hesitated. It seemed a little too good to be true. He was essentially giving me a job offer, with training. My father would be taken care of and I’d have professional help with my abilities. The thought of teaching and fieldwork in the future didn’t appeal much to me though.

“Let me help you make up your mind,” the professor continued. “If you join us now, I could help get your father into this facility and start providing him with the help he needs as soon as tomorrow morning.”

I thought about it. As long as Dad got in and got help, I could leave if I wanted to and I could always quit after Dad recovered. Besides, if I didn’t help him now, where else would I go?

“Okay,” I agreed.

What did I have to lose?

Click here for Chapter Nine

-Jace