Superpowers

I’m fascinated by superpowers. Real or imaginary, brought on by magic or technology, it doesn’t matter.I have an obsession with humans being able to do more than they know.

In my series 46 ascending, I write about five superpowers and I did a considerable amount of research on each. I’ve posted information from some of that research here. (Of course it’s color coded by book.)

Telepathy

This contains information and links based on my initial research into telepathy and then it gives an update on how today’s technology could perhaps someday be used to produce a type of mind reading. It finishes with an excerpt from the original novel x0 detailing how telepathy works in the universe created in that book.

Telepathy: real or not? (my initial research on the subject):

I was very surprised to find that three out of four Americans believe in at least one paranormal phenomenon, according to a recent Gallup poll, and that ESP is the most commonly held belief. Friends and relatives provided me with ample interesting stories once they learned of the subject matter of my book, and most wanted to know what I really thought about telepathy.  The initial truth was that once I began writing this book I discovered that I had not thought nearly enough about it!  I wanted to write a book that explored the idea of whether humans would get along better if we could really understand how each other thought.  Telepathy was an obvious means for investigating this idea. But it was more complicated than that.

I learned much about the nuances of various psychic abilities from many websites including http://www.armageddononline.org/esp_telepathy.php which provides definitions of telepathy and related forms of ESP.

I became fascinated reading the blogs and websites of those who believe firmly in telepathy and who make compelling arguments for some sort of psychic link between humans.  For examples of these please check out http://phoenixesotericsociety.com/ and http://deanradin.blogspot.com/ both of which present believers’ views of how telepathy works.

I also became fascinated reading of many mind reading hoaxes exposed over the years and of many detailed studies at prestigious universities that have at best been inconclusive.  Please check out. http://www.skepdic.com/telepath.html and http://www.rit.org/essays/esp.php for “Why People Believe in ESP for the Wrong Reasons” by Sharon Presley, an article which originally appeared in Independent Thinking Review, Vol. 2, No. 2 for a couple of compelling non-believers’ views of how telepathy does not work.

In the end, by the time I finished writing the book  I had to conclude that the classic idea of holding conversations directly from from mind to mind seems unlikely.  There seem to be just too many logical obstacles.  However, the idea that humans do communicate emotionally with each other on some level that does not involve sight or sound remains intriguing and, I think,  possible.  Check out the website to which the photo above links for some interesting recent research on the subject.  The scientist in me thinks that there is a lot about human consciousness that we do not yet know.  So, perhaps……

Telepathy and Technology (An October 2015 update):

magicAfter I writing x0 I began to occasionally search for news about telepathy, and I noticed an increasing number of stories about using technology to achieve the same effect as psychic powers. In 2013 I described a story in Science about lab rats who had their brains wired together such that what one rat learned could be transmitted by direct wire to the other. Turns out that the other rat listened better if he got a treat for doing so (big surprise) but basically they communicated pretty well with what the researchers call a BTBI (brain to brain interface).

A couple of months ago Mark Zuckerberg made news by saying that the future of communication is telepathy. In a Q&A session with site users, he wrote “One day, I believe we’ll be able to send full rich thoughts to each other directly using technology. You’ll just be able to think of something and your friends will immediately be able to experience it too.”

The Washington Post responded with a well done article analyzing how this could work. They talked about the linked rats, as well as a University of California at Berkeley study in which a team of cognitive scientists managed to reconstruct clips of movies their subjects were watching, based solely on measurements of their brainwaves. They described how in another experiment involving a noninvasive technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation (or TMS) test subjects in India were able to use TMS  to “think”  words to test subjects in France. The Washington Post added that “the process was painfully slow, however, and the words weren’t sent in their entirety — they had to be encoded as binary digits, uploaded to the Internet, sent, downloaded and then decoded as flashes of light.” Yes, painfully slow.

horseThe article quoted Mark Harris at the MIT Technology Review as saying “‘Telepathy’ technology remains so crude that it’s unlikely to have any practical impact.” It concluded by noting that “even if Facebook isn’t leading the charge toward telepathy — a worrying concept in itself, given the site’s past indiscretions re: research consent and user privacy — the field poses tons of ethical challenges” which lucky for us “is many breakthroughs and advances away.”

Yes, it is. But it is worth remembering that most big advances began very slowly, at first. For decades, many people didn’t think a fancy machine would ever replace something as reliable as a horse. We all know how that one worked out.

Telepathy in One of One:

Telepathy, also known as “feeling at a distance,” is direct brain-to-brain contact. In One of One it is a poorly developed human sense somewhat like touch or smell but understood far less well, probably in part because the sense is only possessed by a small percentage of humans.

It is most often an emotional feeling received from someone else which is sometimes accompanied by one or more of the following: a mental image, sounds or words heard in one’s head including tunes or songs, the memory of a physical sensation such as falling, nausea, or cold, or the memory of a smell, touch, or taste.

Excerpt from the original book x0 describing telepathy:

Just over a week after her meeting with Maurice, Lola sat alone with her laptop. She had avoided going to Maurice’s website for a lot of reasons, one of which she supposed was discovery by her family. But tonight Ariel was out with friends, and Alex and Teddie had both gone to sleep a good while ago. It was the perfect time.

She turned the small deep red card over and over in her hand. On one side was the enigmatic “x0.” On the other side were Maurice’s carefully scrawled handwritten instructions for logging on. She felt oddly nervous. Don’t be silly. For heaven’s sake, it’s a stupid website. You can delete it from your browsing history. In fact, you probably should delete it from your browsing history. Like a guilty soul searching for porn, Lola typed in http://www.tothepowerofzero.org/ and waited. Password? She typed exactly as instructed and she began to read.

“Welcome to the homepage of x0. Now please relax. As this is your first time here we invite you to explore and learn more about us. Click here to continue.”

The only option was to click the small dark red button in the corner. Okay. Lola clicked and read on. After her conversation with Maurice, she was not so surprised by the description of what telepathy was, but the next part caught her attention.

Telepathy is not mindreading because telepathy generally works at a sub-verbal level. The transmitter can attempt to send words, but it is the feeling behind the words that actually goes. If words are received, they are supplied by the receiving brain attempting to make sense of the emotion and are not necessarily the words being verbalized in the transmitter’s head. They may be similar, or there may be significant differences. However, the tone and intent will transmit.

Telepathy is also not hallucinatory. Transmitted sounds or images are received “in ones head” in a fashion similar to thoughts, daydreams and dreams, and no healthy human would confuse them with real sights or sounds. Physical sensations such as vertigo or heat, if strong enough, may be more confusing.

She clicked to go on to the “FAQ’s

Q: Who transmits information telepathically?

A: We all do. Everyone transmits, although most people merely emit an ongoing low-level signal. Occasionally those with secrets to hide become unconsciously adept at transmitting no or false information. Anyone, even those completely lacking telepathic skill, can make an effective cry for help. Adept telepaths generally learn to transmit better when they wish to do so.

Lola was particularly eager to read the next answer.

Q: Who receives information telepathically?

A: Far fewer people. Being a receiver is the real gift. About one percent of the population has at least a poorly developed ability to receive information telepathically. This ability appears to be evenly distributed by gender, ancestry, ethnicity, location, and socio-economic status with the exception that over the last few decades there has been a noticeable increase in the number of receivers among younger people.

Yes, Maurice mentioned something about this.

Q: Isn’t being a receiver an awful nuisance?

A: It can be, but receivers learn to shut out most of the input that they receive. This filtering ability is more akin to earplugs than to shutting one’s eyes in that it does not keep out all input but reduces it. On the other hand, many receivers use their gift to live a fuller life, even if they do not realize that they are doing so. Receivers typically excel in sales, politics, teaching, litigating, or any profession in which feeling the driving emotions of others is an asset. They make great negotiators, can make highly effective healers, and many are described as being the kind of person who could “sell ice to Eskimos.”

Lola paused. So did this explain all her debate trophies in high school? How about the presentations that almost always went so well?

Q: Can a receiver choose to improve his or her abilities?

A: Up to a point. Like playing the piano or running a mile, the gift can be practiced to develop it up to a person’s maximum potential. However each human will have their own natural limits. A person who has chosen, consciously or not, to develop and use their abilities as a receiver to their fullest is known as an adept receiver. It is estimated that about ten percent of all human receivers have learned to be adept, whether they realize it or not. This is not an insignificant phenomenon, as it currently amounts to almost seven million humans.

Lola paused to sip her glass of wine. So she was, probably, an adept receiver?

******

Somadina was confused. What she did and felt seemed to be something well beyond what was being described here. She read on.

Q: Is being a receiver the same as being a telepath?

A; No. Only about one in one thousand adept receivers will find that their abilities progress into the range of true telepathy. There is no clear delineation between the two categories, but based on our research we estimate that there are seven thousand or so true telepaths alive today.

Okay. That made more sense, Somadina thought. I am a telepath. I have always been one.

Q: How does a receiver become a telepath?

A: Telepaths are born as receivers, and some of them develop into telepaths as children or young adults. The ability also develops spontaneously in later life, even, surprisingly often, in old age. Often receivers are catapulted into being telepaths by a strong experience such as a life-threatening event or danger to a loved one, in which telepathy aids them even though they may not be aware of it at the time. In other cases, the catalyst is close association with someone who already is a strong telepath. Whatever the cause, once the transition to full telepathy is made, there is no going back. And if another telepath has been involved, then the mental bridge that has been built between the two minds appears to be permanent.

******

Lola started to feel a cold chill. So this is where it was going to get weird. She thought of her imaginary friend, the distraught Nigerian older sister, her panic under the water that had turned to calm as she had asked the right questions, which had saved her life. The diffuse yet very real link she seemed to now share with some woman she had never met. She wasn’t crazy. This stuff happened. She wasn’t crazy. It was okay. She wasn’t crazy. This was good. She read on.

******

Somadina was concerned. Being a telepath seemed like a powerful thing. A scary thing. Was she hurting people without even knowing it? She read the next part with relief.

Q: Can telepaths place ideas in other people’s heads?

A: No. The vast majority of people transmit but do not receive. If one tries to place a thought or feeling in the minds of ninety-nine percent of the population, the recipient will have no idea about it. If a thought is placed in the mind of a receiver, it will result in a vague, fleeting sensation that will likely be ignored.

******

Unless the person doing the placing is damn persistent about it, Lola thought to herself, thinking over the events of past spring. So now what? Was she totally vulnerable to whatever this lady sent her way?

Q: But couldn’t someone place ideas in the mind of another telepath?

A; Yes. That is one of the many reasons this organization, x0, exists. One of our missions is to locate all people who can fully feel another’s emotions, and to inform, teach, and even warn them for their own well-being.

Okay. This explained Jumoke’s brother’s urgency that she meet Maurice. Shit. She wasn’t crazy. A minor case of post-traumatic syndrome was the least of her problems. She’d get over that. Maybe had already. No, the real issue here was that Jumoke had been worried about her, had sensed that she was, what, a receiver with issues? He didn’t know what those issues were and he had suspected they might be an abusive husband. But the fact was she was turning from being a pretty good receiver into a full-fledged telepath, and now she knew that the turning was likely being done by some desperate woman who had no idea what she was doing.

And this group here was trying to educate, warn, and help her. Shit. As if she wasn’t weird enough already. But if it was going to happen, why wasn’t she, like, turning into one? Picking up more information from people? Did the process take awhile?

******

Q: Can an unwitting telepath be made to do something they do not wish to do?

Now that’s a good question, a guilty and worried Somadina thought.

A: Fortunately, no. As far as we know, no telepath has the ability to force another to do something against their will. At most a suggestion can be transmitted, one as simple as “call me so we can talk”. Suggestions can be ignored or acted upon as the recipient chooses.

That’s a comforting answer, Somadina thought.

******

Q: This still seems like it could be a dangerous skill in the hands of the wrong person. Shouldn’t we be worried?

Lola winced.

A: It appears that telepathy is a high-level skill when it manifests itself in humans, and to date a certain degree of moral advancement appears to go hand-in-hand with its possession. So far at least there has been no need for policing, as kindness and empathy appear to be a natural outgrowth of being able to feel the emotions of others, and being aware of a potential victim’s pain or discomfort is apparently sufficient stimulus to alter any potentially problematic behavior.

That is real good to know, thought Lola.

******

That is real good to know, thought Somadina.

******

The back door started to open and Lola jumped in her seat.

“Mom,” Ariel smiled as she came in. “You okay?”

“Fine dear. You just startled me. I’m headed off to bed myself actually.” Lola clicked her browser shut as casually as she could manage and glanced at the clock. It was already way after midnight. “Did you have fun?”

“A bunch of us went to see a movie. It was okay. Kind of a dumb plot. A really long car chase which I thought was pretty pointless, but the guys all seemed to love it.” She laughed easily and started to head upstairs. “Get some rest Mom. That stuff on the internet will keep.” She winked.

As she turned away Lola thought, Damn. I bet she thinks I was looking at porn.

******

The overhead lights flickered and went dim, and then the whir of the computer ceased. The internet users muttered curses and complaints one by one as the screens went dark, but the clerk in charge just shrugged his shoulders and laughed. The generator had gone out. What could one say? It happened.

“Come back later and I’ll give you the rest of your time,” he offered. “It will probably take awhile to fix it.”

Somadina sat on her stool sadly. She had not gotten to finish the FAQs, she had not even started on the list of in-laws names Ikenna had given her to search for, and she had not even had the chance to check her brother Udo’s email account like he had told her she could, to look for messages from Olumiji, who had still not gotten back to her via her father’s cell phone.

Shape Shifting

The character Zane lived in my head for years before he became the hero of my book Shape of Secrets. I knew exactly what he could do. He could control the muscles of his body, and particularly his face, well enough to alter his appearance at will. It seemed theoretically possible to me, and it sounded like an ability that would make for a fun story.

One problem was what to call it. It was shape shifting in my mind, but in the world of fantasy shape-shifting often describes taking on the form of an animal, with the change brought on by a full moon or by a bite from another shape shifter. These are magical changes. The physics and biology don’t have to make sense, because reader and writer have agreed to pretend that a 120 pound girl can turn into a 400 pound lioness, behave as an animal, and turn human again. This is all great fun if you are into stories like that, but it wasn’t the kind of story I was writing.

My favorite shape shifter of all time took the process a step further.  Actor René Murat Auberjonoi’s wonderful character Odo on Star Trek Deep Space Nine could actually turn into a silver liquid at will, slither under a door or through a crack in the walls, and emerge on the other side as a solid of any shape. Shape shifting doesn’t get much more versatile than that. In fairness, Robert Patrick’s Terminator T-1000 in Terminator 2 could do much the same thing, but with a decidedly more villainous twist. Both were fabulous to watch, but Zane had to stay solid and keep his human body.

normal 1Lucky for me, the Earth we live on is full of creatures who really can do some variation of what I wanted for Zane.  Cuttlefish, octopi and chameleons head this list, as this wonderful TED video on shapeshifters in the real world shows. My version of shape shifting was destined to be less eye-popping, but I hoped that the trade off would be that my reader might wonder if maybe, just maybe, a real life Zane could exist.

Here is an excerpt from Shape of Secrets which explains much about Zane’s unique talents:

Zane had never tried out for a school play. Lack of time was one reason but there were others as well. Theater people tended to be a flamboyant bunch, and Zane preferred a low profile. He liked to blend in. It was why, in his own way, he was a rather good actor even if his style was not particularly suited to the stage.

He sounded more Texan in Texas, more East Coast at school, more educated on campus, and less educated in a bar. He could carry himself like a preppie, gesture and stand like a rodeo kid, walk like he was from the inner city. He never consciously mimicked people; it just happened. He’d known from early on his mind was a precious thing, and his body’s main job was to protect it from harm. He figured his body had found and developed all the skills it could.

He knew there was nothing magical about him. He had a better mind-to-body link than most and was gifted with particularly adept fine muscle control, which he’d improved over the years. There had been a lot of time spent in front of mirrors playing around to be able to do what he could do. Yet, the results would have astounded his friends and family.

Zane knew there was one peculiarity about his skills. When the male cuttlefish turns its skin from brown to white to warn approaching males it is going to fight, that cuttlefish, as far as we know, does not give the process a lot of thought. Perhaps no more so than the man who places his hands on his hips defiantly. The difference is the man can choose to do something else with his arms while no one is sure whether the cuttlefish chooses anything. This was where it got confusing.

Zane did, after all, have a human brain, and making choices was one of the things his brain had evolved to do. So while his abilities in biological mimicry would often occur without his conscious choice, like a reflex, other times he could and would choose to control them. He could stop changes he felt starting to happen, undo changes which had already happened, and, over the last few years, he had gotten better at learning how to instigate changes of his own conscious choosing. That last ability turned this into way more than a reflex, way more than what the octopus or chameleon could do. It was no longer a quirk. The things Zane’s mind could make his body do were a gift.

For more information on this subject see:

Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature by Janine M. Benyus
Chameleon changing colors http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=060YXITlyOE
TED’s David Gallo http://youtube.com/watch?v=YVvn8dpSAt0

Slowing Down Time

matrixIf you type “slowing down” into Google, one of the first alternatives it will offer you is a search of “slowing down time”. It is obviously a popular topic, and I knew when I created my hero Alex that his ability was hardly unique. Normal humans often report time moving slower during an emergency, although Jeff Wise has a wonderful blog post explaining how researchers have shown this is just an illusion. Fictitious super humans frequently slow down time to stop crime or protect themselves, none better photographed than Neo in the original Matrix movie.

But Alex is just a normal guy, in what I want my readers to believe is the real world. What’s more, time doesn’t merely slow down for him in an emergency, it eventually moves differently for him when he wills it to do so. During much of z2, Alex learns to recognize and to finally use this gift. Along the way, he gives the very nature of time, and the possibility of time travel, some serious consideration.

slowing-time-clockAs I created Alex, I wanted him to discover another who shared a variation of his talent so that at the very end of the book they could work together. Xuha, a short-in-stature student of Maya descent, surprises Alex with his fighting abilities and confides his own time manipulation talents. The two of them consider whether great fighters, athletes, and musicians might not all have a touch of these same abilities.

Here is an excerpt from Twists of Time, telling of the first time that Alex uses his ability off of a basketball court.

Then, there she was. Alert, wide brown eyes and dark reddish-brown hair the color of the logs popped up about sixty yards upstream. All three of them shouted before the current sucked her back under. Alex felt his own breathing return, knowing she was alive. Seconds later she popped up again, moving towards them, but this time she was coughing hard. Alex looked closer. She didn’t have her life jacket on.

She was in the middle of the river now, moving fast. Ken started walking downstream hoping to intercept, but Alex thought she was coughing too hard to even try to make her way to shore. Hell, she can barely swim. He looked around for anything he could grab quickly.

“Alex, get back here!” Sara yelled it as she saw Alex start to wade out into the fast cold water, a canoe paddle in his hand.

“Alex, no!” Ken joined in as well from his position downstream.

All Alex could think of was he damn well had to make sure he did everything he could to make this right.

Then he noticed how wide the river was. How far to the center Lola was and how fast she was moving. How slow his own progress in the deep cold water was going to be. He realized he’d never make it to her in time. She’d flail on past, dozens of feet away from him, and none of them would have any way of reaching her before cold and fatigue completely overtook her.

Then it happened. The roar of the water and the sound of Ken and Sara’s shouts faded and all Alex heard was his own heart pounding. The beat of it remained steady as the water slowed down. Alex had the odd sensation of walking out onto a basketball court, willing his body to move to the rhythm of the game, of this game. His feet felt light but firm as they moved with power along the rocky riverbed. His hands were strong as they lifted the paddle out towards Lola. He was moving at a normal pace to him, but he was already in chest-deep, and only feet from her now. She looked puzzled but grateful, and Alex heard his own voice boom slowly “Lola! Grab the paddle!”

He thrust it towards her, and as the current twisted her body downstream, her fingers barely curled around the white blade. Alex pushed the paddle more firmly into her hands. Her grip tightened as Alex used the paddle to pull her in closer, reaching out to grab her shirt and drag her towards shore. She collapsed at the water’s edge, coughing hard and shivering uncontrollably.

Sara rushed to her, and Ken hurried back to them, as Alex sunk down into the pebbled sand, shaking with cold. Slowly, Lola’s coughing picked up speed, as did Ken and Sara’s movements, and then everything moved with his heartbeat again, happening at the pace it should.

“I had no idea you could move so fast.” Ken chided Alex with a relieved grin as he joined the group.

“We yelled at him not to go out into that water.” Sara was shaking her head to Lola. “But thank heavens he did, huh?”

Lola pulled herself upright and stumbled towards Alex to give him a hug. “How did you make it out there to me?” she asked.

“I wasn’t willing to accept any other option.”

“I’m glad.”

As they got off of the river, changed into dry warm clothes, and headed home towards Texas, Alex kept having one thought.

I had no idea. It never occurred to me time would slow down like that for me anywhere but on a basketball court.

For two of my favorite sources of information on time dilation, see
It’s About Time: Understanding Einstein’s Relativity, N. David Mermin, ISBN 978-0-691-12201-4
Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel, Michio Kaku, ISBN 978-0-385-52069-0

Out of body experiences

Teddie, the hero of Layers of Light, lived in my head for years and I knew what she could do, but I didn’t know what to call it. The other members of my superhero family had easy to describe skills. We had a telepathic mom. Dad, a former athlete, could slow down the passage of time. This ability shows up in lots of stories; I went ahead and called him a time warper.  Big brother Zane learned to morph his own appearance, becoming something of a real life shape changer. Big sister Ariel could see into the future.

But what about Teddie? Well, I knew that she could become become invisible, and teleport somehow. It was like she could be anywhere she wanted and no one would see her. The problem was that these are magical realism books, written so as to hopefully convince my readers that the stories I tell just maybe could happen in the world in which we live. How could I ever convince a reader that a character could both turn invisible and teleport to anywhere, I wondered, as I began to write the story.

Then it hit me.  Her body doesn’t have to go anywhere. Just like Edgar Rice Burroughs sent his hero John Carter to Mars via some sort of astral projection, my hero could do the same. So I began to study astral projection. It turns out that there is quite a lot of material written on the subject, and I soon learned that it wasn’t quite what I wanted either. Astral projection technically involves going to some other plane of existence, and I wanted my hero to stay right here on earth.

No, it was an out of body experience that I was after. In an OBE, as they are affectionately called, the traveler visits a plane that exactly mirrors our physical world. They are unable to interact with the solids around them, but under the right circumstances they can return with accurate knowledge of distant objects and events.

I discovered that there are quite a few books out there that claim to be able to train you to have an out of body experience, and the internet is full of people happy to describe their own adventures doing the same. I had run into something similar while writing x0 and researching telepathy. Once again, I asked myself — do I believe any of this?

I was a scientist before I retired, a geophysicist to be specific. It is not surprising that I default to a belief in the laws of nature and I approach anything else with skepticism. Thanks to my background, though, I also know that the universe naturally behaves in many strange ways that we can’t explain, and that the more physics you know, the stranger some of it gets.

true voice 1As I read of these OBEs, I do admit that a few of the authors came across as scam artists, and a couple others seemed out-and-out deluded, at least to me. But most fell into neither of those categories. From their writing at least, they appeared both rational and sincere. I decided that a lot of the folks describing their out of body experiences were just very imaginative people, and the secret lay in how they chose to see things. But did that describe them all? Reading through many of their stories I concluded that I had no idea how possible, much less how common, real OBEs are. Maybe the world has many real life Teddies. In fact, maybe an entire c3 organization exists.

You can see some of my own thought processes in this excerpt from c3, when Teddie first begins the training to turn her innate abilities into a well developed skill.

Lhatu swallowed hard. He had known before he ever agreed to do this that the next few sentences would be the most difficult part.

“Let me back up, please. Amy, you see the world from inside you, so to speak. What I mean is that even though human consciousness is not understood very well, we think that it comes from inside of our bodies, inside of our brains. Some people imagine that they leave their bodies behind and wander off while they sleep or even as they go into a trance, and quite a few books have been written on the subject.”

“Sure,” Amy said. “Astral projection. I’ve heard of it. You think it’s impossible?”

“No, I’m saying that in most cases the person is just experiencing a lucid dream, or a creative daydream—harmless and even somewhat consciousness-expanding. I’ve no quarrel with this, it just doesn’t involve really leaving their bodies in, well, in the way that I do.”

“Oh.” The sarcasm was back. “So most other people can’t really do this, but you can.”

“Yes.” Lhatu said it simply, without embarrassment or pride. “And I’ve been trained to do it better since birth. I work for the people who trained me. I serve as their chief scout and trainer.”

“Is this shadowy organization that sneaks around watching kids run by some kind of a crime organization by any chance?” Amy asked.

“No. It’s a sort of informal monarchy and it’s run by my grandmother.”

“Oh.” Amy honestly didn’t know what to say.

“Look, there aren’t a lot of people who can do this naturally,” Lhatu went on. “It’s not nearly as common as, say, telepathy, which of course isn’t all that common at either. Most travelers—and we refer to it as traveling—most travelers start to have out-of-body experiences some time in their teens. It’s not always the case, but often some sort of trauma, or a series of traumatic events, encourages this ability. Feeling powerless, being powerless, needing to escape and having no other means to do so can sometimes set this ability in motion if the young person is prone to it to begin with.”

Lhatu gave Amy a long hard look. “It shouldn’t surprise you that more females develop this ability than males. Not that there aren’t plenty of young males in this world trapped in awful situations, too. And obviously most young people of either gender can never do this, no matter how desperate they become. Like everything else human, this ability seems to come from a combination of genes, environment and the very essence of the person themselves.”

Lhatu turned to Teddie. “I’m right, aren’t I?”

Teddie looked down embarrassed, and Amy got it.

“Teddie? Is that what this is all about? Your dreams? Seeing Usha at the bus station leaving for Gangtok? Seeing her flee into Bhutan? You think now that this is all real?” Amy asked.

“I guess so,” Teddie said. “At least this good friend of my mom’s thinks it is because this guy here told him so, and now I’m supposed to stay here and be trained so that I can help them find Michelle and Usha both.”

“I’m scared, Amy.” The words popped out of Teddie’s mouth before she could call them back. “I’m not sure I want to learn how to be a freak.” She gave Lhatu a little bit of an apologetic smile. “No offense.”

“None taken,” he said. “This is absolutely your choice, Teddie, and it will continue to be so. You may quit or pause the training at any time you are the least bit uncomfortable.” Then he added with his own small smile back. “We are all kind of freaks already in our own way, you know? This will just make you a more talented freak.”

“Talented freak. I do kind of like that.” Teddie smiled back more confidently, and for the sake of her young friend, Amy decided to put her own skepticism on hold.

Like my character Amy, I too put my skepticism on hold as I did my research, and I did my best to treat the subject matter itself with an open mind.

No, I didn’t try the training to induce an out-of-body experience, and I’m not sure if I ever will. I may be a little like my character Amy in more ways than one. As Amy points out in my book, the state of not knowing is sometimes the best state to be in.

Here are two of my favorite sources of information on the subject:

Precognition

Ariel, the hero of Flickers of Fortune, lived in my head for years and I knew what she could do. She could see into the future. It wasn’t until I began writing her story, however, that I realized how complicated the very idea of precognition is.

27-Courage-23I’d already given serious thought to the pros and cons of a fixed future, and I’d thrown out the idea of a predestined universe.  Over my adult life I’ve heard compelling arguments that in a universe ruled by cause and effect, the future is as immutable as the past. Perhaps it is. But as long as I’m writing the book, there are going to be surprises and free will in the story, and any bits of prescience will work on the assumption that the future is a probability curve. Guess you could say I can’t write stories any other way.

But it turns out that there are many more vexing questions to consider.  How far into the future does she see? Why? How much does she understand about what she sees? Why doesn’t the whole process happen all the time and leave her overwhelmed and unable to function?

To sort some of this out, I researched famous psychics from Casandra and Nostradamus to their more modern counterparts. It seemed like many reduced their input by relying on divination techniques like crystal balls or going into a trance. They willed their visions, and went about a relatively normal life the rest of the time.

I knew that this wasn’t the way Ariel saw the future. In d4 it was going to come at her unbidden. Historically, psychics who experienced unwilling visions almost always had very little extraneous information to help put their data into context. This vagueness is often translated into fiction, and it has certainly made for some great stories over the years, but I knew that I didn’t want to spend half my book writing about Ariel trying to figure out what it was she was seeing. So I decided to approach clairvoyance more like memory. I assumed that a sight or sound or smell could touch off a short video clip in the mind, and that the brain would supply the context much as it would when one remembers, for instance, blowing out the candles on ones twelfth birthday.

That left the question of how far ahead she saw, and in that quandary I found the roots of my story.

Below is an excerpt from d4, taken from the scene when Ariel first meets another person who shares her gifts. Once I wrote the scene below, I had a pretty good idea of how precognition was going to work in the world I was creating.

Ariel stepped off the plane to her first view of the barren rocks mottled with bright colored lichens that make up the tundra. She had never set foot inside of the Arctic Circle before. Tiny flickers and flashes erupted as her boot touched the ground.

My premonitions are stronger here, she noticed with surprise. The cold dry air? The earth’s magnetic field? There had to be a reason. She added it to her list of things to try to figure out later.

While they were waiting for the luggage to be brought into the waiting area of the airport, Ariel wandered off, looking for a bathroom. She turned into an office and noticed a man’s legs sticking out from under a desk.

“Are you okay?” She felt like she should say something.

She heard him chuckle. “No, I’m in serious need of somebody to grab the other end of this wire. One man doing a two man job.” Ariel saw that he was trying to get some sort of computer cable to go up through a small hole in the desk.

“Let me help.” She came over, pulled the cord through and by acquired instinct plugged it into the monitor where it was clearly intended to go.

“Thanks,” he said with appreciation, as he wriggled out from under the desk. Then he noticed that she’d connected the cable. “A helpful tourist and one that knows how to connect hardware.”

“I can manage considerably more than plugging in a monitor,” she laughed. “IT training here, though I don’t use it enough these days. I’m Ariel. Passing through trying to hunt down the ladies room.”

“You came all the way to the arctic to find a place to pee?” he teased.

She rolled her eyes and when he held out his hand she took it without thinking.

“Siarnaq,” he said and Ariel saw a small spark in the air before their hands touched.

Then for a few seconds, neither of them could have said a word if they had wanted to.

For Siarnaq, the images he saw were so much larger than those he was used to—close-up and huge, like looking at something right in front of your face with a pair of binoculars. Amidst the blur of something too big to take in, he knew that he was finally seeing the future from his own lifetime. The prospect filled him with joy, but the images were just so close that he had no way to make any sense of them, The accompanying knowledge in his brain seemed to be coming at him like hundreds of birds chirping. We must not be designed to see what comes in our own lifetime, he reasoned.

To Ariel, the flickers of the distant future went wild in the corners of her brain, like far off flashing lights too remote for her to see the images that they were illuminating. This man matters in a future too far off for me to see, she thought. I wish I could enlarge these images somehow. We must not be able to see past the next several months. I guess that makes sense.

He let go of her hand slowly.

“You’re a seer.” He said it like he knew it for a fact. He studied her red hair, fair skin and blue eyes. She wasn’t of the People, or at least if she had Inuit ancestors they were few indeed. Had he ever met a seer who wasn’t mostly Inuit? He didn’t think so.

“You get visions of the future?” Ariel’s heart was starting to beat louder. She had never expected to be asking this question, much less to be in this situation for a second time in her life.

The Inuit man laughed. “The world is full of seers,” he said.

I had no idea that would be so good to know, she thought.

Siarnaq added gently. “You have a lot to learn. You’re with the tour group?” he asked. She nodded, not trusting herself to speak. “Today, they give you time to shop and sight see. Let’s go get a cup of coffee.”

Two of my more useful written sources were:
Clairvoyance August 3, 2009 by Charles Webster Leadbeater. Publisher: Merchant Books ISBN-13: 978-1603862417
Seeing Your Future: A Modern Look at Prophecy and Prediction March, 1990 by John E. Ronner. Publisher: Mamre Pr; First Edition ISBN-13: 978-0932945389.
On a more humorous note, Rational Wiki offers a nice list of predictions about the end of the world (or universe). It sort of puts everything into perspective.

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