Part I -- The Debate
"So, what is the status of free will these days?" John asked.
"Still going strong," Rhonda said, "thank you very much."
Kari laughed, tossing back her blonde curls. "How exactly did we get on this subject?" she asked.
It was late at night, and the window of John's dorm room looked out on a nearly deserted quadrangle. Five students were relaxing on the beds and chairs in various stages of fatigue and inebriation; a good-sized collection of empty beer bottles in the corner attested to the amount of celebrating that had already occurred. John's room would ordinarily have housed two students. But by some quirk of administration he had it to himself, and it had become something of a social center for the students on his corridor. Though John himself tended to be rather quiet, he had quickly made friends with most of the others in the dorm.
The room was known as 'The Romper Room,' both for the socializing that went on there and for the succession of girls that John had brought home in his astonishingly successful dating career. The secret of his success was widely debated in the dorm; though reasonably good-looking, tall and thin with brown hair and piercing green eyes, there was nothing obvious about John to explain why so many women fell for him.
As is often the case with late-night college discussions, especially when ample supplies of beer are on hand, the conversation had turned to The Deep Questions. Jasmine took a swig from her own bottle and answered Kari.
"I think we started from the ethics of medical practice and took a right at the nature of consciousness. But I might have missed something."
Though three girls were present, none of them were among John's conquests. All were friends from the dorm. Rhonda and Kari were roommates from down the hall: Rhonda was a tall, slim brunette, and Kari a short, curvy blonde with an infectious laugh. Kari was an art major, while Rhonda majored in philosophy, which was what had invited the question about free will in the first place. Jasmine, the third girl, was a petite Japanese girl who (like John) was studying psychology, and who tended to keep to herself. This was the most outgoing that anyone had ever seen her.
The only other guy present gave a snort. "Free will is a myth," Gary declared decisively.
Gary was a sharp contrast to John. He stood six foot three, with large muscles, wavy blond hair and deep blue eyes. His track record with the ladies was nearly as impressive as John's, though no one wondered at his success; nor did he have John's knack of avoiding recriminations. At the moment, four different girls were in love with him (that he knew about), and all of them hated each other poisonously, while at least three others had progressed to the stage of hating Gary poisonously. That was the way Gary liked it. He found the idea of monogamy extremely dull. Gary was pre-law, and already had plans for how to spend his first million as a top attorney. Perhaps for practice, he also enjoyed taking the side of any argument which was most opposed by the people he was with, whoever they might be.
"How on earth can you say that?" Rhonda demanded disgustedly. She was not among Gary's corps of admirers.
"Simple physics. Our brains are just machines, like computers, programmed in a certain way. If you could measure them well enough, you could predict everything we do. If you could alter the pattern of our neurons, you could make us think and do whatever you wanted. Where's the free will in that?"
Jasmine spoke up. "At the level of the single brain cells that might be true..."
"There you go!" said Gary triumphantly.
"...but the brain as a whole is so complex, it couldn't be predicted in practice, by any conceivable means."
"In principle is good enough for me, babe," Gary said. Jasmine flushed.
"Well, I feel like I have free will," Kari intervened. "I mean, I think and do things, and I make decisions."
"Only an illusion," Gary said. "If I could reprogram you to do something else, that would seem like your own decision as well."
Kari shuddered. "That's a creepy thought."
"I wouldn't worry about it," Rhonda said. "And anyway, it's irrelevant. Even if he could take away your free will -- which is impossible -- he'd still have his own free will. It wouldn't make free will a myth."
"Not really," Gary denied. "I'd still be controlled by my natural programming."
"That's crap, Gary," Rhonda said flatly. "You are your natural programming. That's like saying you'd be a slave of yourself. It's meaningless."
John seemed more interested in the earlier point. "So, if I had a machine to reprogram Kari here, you would still believe in free will?"
"Absolutely," Rhonda said.
"Why is everyone picking on me?" Kari pouted. "Why don't you reprogram Gary?"
"OK," John agreed with a smile. "Say I could reprogram Gary. What would that prove about free will?"
"Nothing," Rhonda maintained. "And besides, it would be very immoral to do that. Even to Gary."
"Gee, thanks a lot," Gary said, flashing the grin that had brought many a coed to her knees.
"Do you think so?" John asked. "Would it be immoral under all circumstances? How is it any different from ordinary persuasion?"
"It's completely different. When you persuade someone, they have a chance to think about your arguments and make a decision. If you reprogram someone they don't."
"Is there any more beer?" Kari asked.
"In the fridge," John said. "Why don't you bring one for everybody? And I think there's another bag of chips over there."
This proposal was approved by everyone except Jasmine, who claimed to still have plenty in her bottle. Kari got up from her seat on the second bed (John was reclining on the first) and fetched beers for everyone while the argument continued.
"I think that reprogramming someone wouldn't always be immoral," Jasmine said. "I mean, imagine using it to cure mental illness. That would be good."
"I don't know," Rhonda said. "It sounds dubious to me even then. I mean, if you reprogram someone, you're changing who they are."
"Not necessarily," Jasmine argued. "A minor change wouldn't have to alter their identity..."
"You girls are such wimps," Gary said. "If I had a machine to reprogram people I'd use it in a heartbeat, and I wouldn't lose any sleep over it."
Rhonda rolled her eyes. "Oh, please."
"Seriously," Gary insisted. "Why not? You've got to use every advantage you've got. Survival of the fittest. The best will prosper."
"They shouldn't let civilians read Nietzsche without a license," Rhonda said. "Or is it Ayn Rand in your case? But I don't think even you would use something like that without suffering a moral qualm."
"Maybe if I were using it to hurt people," Gary said. He accepted a new beer from Kari and took a drink. "But I'd just be using it to help myself. No different from any other advantage."
"What do you think, Kari?" John asked her, as she settled back onto the bed next to Rhonda. "Would reprogramming people's minds always be immoral?"
"I think this is the silliest debate yet," Kari said. "Cheers!"
"But aren't there things you'd like to change about yourself?" Jasmine asked. "You could...oh, I don't know. Stop biting your nails, or something. Wouldn't that be worthwhile?"
Kari examined her well-chewed cuticles critically. "Well, maybe. But I'd only want it to be used with my own permission. Having someone change me without knowing about it is creepy."
"So, to sum up," John said, ticking them off on his fingers. "Rhonda thinks it would be immoral under all circumstances; Kari thinks it might be all right with her permission; Jasmine thinks it would be moral if used for the good of others; and Gary..."
"In a heartbeat," Gary said with a grin.
"Interesting," John said. "Oh, Kari, by the way: do I have your permission? I promise only to do good things with it."
Rhonda gave a groan, but Kari laughed. "Sure, John," she said. "Why not? Fire away."
"Thanks a lot," John said gratefully. "I appreciate it, just for the record." He sat up and raised a hand. "OK, everybody. Nap time now."
John snapped his fingers, and Gary, Jasmine and Kari all immediately slumped into apparent unconsciousness. Jasmine's beer bottle slipped from her limp fingers and began spilling onto the floor.
"Oh, shit," Rhonda said.
Part IIA -- The Test: Practical Experience
"OK, guys," Rhonda said. "Very funny. Ha ha. The joke's on me."
Gary, Jasmine and Kari remained oblivious. John sighed.
"They can't hear you," he told Rhonda. "They're all asleep. I wanted to have a private chat with you. Would you mind picking up that bottle, by the way? It's spilling everywhere."
Rhonda righted the bottle while saying, "So, what am I supposed to think? That you have a machine that reprogrammed them, just like that?"
"No machine," John said. He tapped his forehead. "I'm all natural."
"Sure you are," Rhonda said. "Jeez, guys, get up. How gullible do you think I am?"
"All right," John said with another sigh. "Proof. Why don't you try leaving the room?"
Rhonda looked at him suspiciously. "Why? Is there some practical joke rigged outside?"
"No jokes," John said. "Just try it."
With a shrug, Rhonda got up and went to the door. There was a long pause.
"I can't open the door." She looked back at him over her shoulder with growing anxiety.
"Why not? It's not locked," John said calmly.
"No, that's not it. I can't raise my hand to put it on the knob."
"That's strange," John said, as if he didn't find it the least bit strange. "Why not try your other hand?"
There was another pause, and Rhonda said. "That one doesn't work either." Slowly, she turned and looked back into the room. "Did you do this to me?"
"I'm afraid so," John said apologetically. "Sorry -- I'm not quite as scrupulous as you are."
Rhonda returned and sat, staring at him wide-eyed. "You mean -- you're psychic or something? You're controlling us?"
"Something like that," John said. "But only a little bit, in your case. I'm not letting you leave until we're done talking. And you can't yell, or attack me, or try to attract help. Don't worry," he added, as Rhonda reacted to this list, "I'm not going to hurt you. I just found the discussion interesting, and I wanted to follow up on it."
"I don't believe it," Rhonda said, without much conviction.
"Then try screaming," John suggested. Rhonda opened her mouth, held it open for a few seconds, then closed it. She shook her head.
"Or I could give you a command. What's the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you?"
"I was twelve," Rhonda said promptly, "at school, when I had my first period...I was wearing white shorts, and everyone could see..." She clapped her hands over her mouth in astonishment, her cheeks flaming.
John smiled. "That's pretty tame, actually," he said. "You shouldn't feel bad about it."
Rhonda lowered her hands. "Ohmigod."
"Ah, a theist as well," John said. "But never mind. You see that the ethics of mind-control are of more than theoretical interest to me."
"Ohmigod," Rhonda said, "Ohmigod, ohmigod. Oh. My. God."
John waited politely for a moment. "Finished?" he inquired after a bit.
"For the moment," Rhonda said. "I can't believe it. I mean, I believe it," she said hastily, "you don't need to prove it anymore. But...wow! I mean...I never thought..."
"It's all right," John said. "I get this reaction all the time."
"So, this is how you got all those hot girls to date you?" Rhonda asked suddenly.
John spread his hands. "I'm afraid so. A bit of an unfair advantage, I admit, though no one has ever complained."
Rhonda shook her head, as though unable to take it in. "So, I guess you don't agree with my ethical stance, anyway."
"No. Though I find it interesting. And disturbing, I must admit. I've always taken a view more like Jasmine's. But it does worry me -- what if I'm wrong?"
Rhonda laughed. "Yeah. You get all those girls to fuck you for their own good." Abruptly she realized her own position, and added, "Uh, what I mean is..."
"It's all right," John said. "You won't offend me. Be honest. But, to answer your question, yes. In a sense. They might not normally choose to sleep with me, but I make sure they have a very good time. And I do things for them. Fix personal problems that they have. Help them handle stress and study better. Stuff like that. So you might say that I do fuck them for their own good."
"You're a real philanthropist," Rhonda said. "Of course, you could fix their problems without making them sleep with you."
"I could," John admitted, "if I were a philanthropist. I think a little quid pro quo isn't too unreasonable. I leave everyone better off."
"But you change who they are," Rhonda said.
"Not really," John said. "Or only in minor ways. I've affected you. Do you feel like a different person?"
"No," Rhonda said grudgingly. "But you said yourself you weren't doing much to me."
"Not yet, anyway," John said, smiling. Rhonda felt a chill.
"Please, don't" she said.
"Shhh, don't worry," John said. "I told you, I'm not going to hurt you."
"Are you going to make me...sleep with you?" Rhonda asked.
"Only if you want me to," John said ambiguously. "But don't knock it until you've tried it. I can do things no normal man can. For instance..." he snapped his fingers. "Come!"
Without preliminaries, a powerful orgasm ripped through Rhonda's body. She threw her head back and gasped in pleasure, her hips spasming around a nonexistent cock, as a wave of ecstasy spread out from her loins to the furthest points of her body and reflected back, to converge again in her center. Stars danced in front of her, and she nearly passed out. Certainly the world went gray for a while; when it returned, Rhonda found herself lying on her back, staring up at the ceiling and drawing in deep, ragged gulps of air.
"Ohmigod," she said again.
"Yeah," John agreed. "Though I prefer to do things the traditional way. It's more fun. And it lasts longer. After a few of those, a girl isn't usually up to much for quite a while."
"I can believe it," Rhonda said, still staring at the ceiling while her pulse gradually calmed. "Uh...is snapping your fingers part of it?"
"Nah," John said. "I just do it for effect."
"Oh," she said.
John kept quiet for a few minutes while Rhonda recovered. He got up and tidied away the beer bottles and chips. He adjusted the positions of the three sleepers to make them more comfortable.
"So, what do you want with me?" Rhonda asked eventually.
"In our little debate before," John said, "you were arguing completely in principle. You didn't believe that this kind of mind control was possible."
"Yeah," Rhonda said, wondering where this was going.
"I just wondered if practical experience might make you change your mind."
Rhonda sat up. The aftereffects of the orgasm seemed to slow her thinking; or maybe it was too much beer. "You think my being controlled by you will make me change my mind about the ethics of mind control?"
"No, no," John said. "That's where our three friends here come in."
Rhonda shook her head, confused. "You control them, too."
"Sure," John said. "But now, so do you."
While Rhonda stared at him in incomprehension, Kari abruptly opened her eyes. "Hi, Rhonda!" she said in a dreamy tone.
"Careful what you say to her," John cautioned. "Right now, she'll do and feel anything you tell her to. You're in complete control of her."
"Me!" Rhonda said in horror.
"That's what I meant by practical experience," John said.
Rhonda looked at him, then at Kari, who lazily blinked up at her from the bed. "Kari, can you hear me?" Rhonda asked her.
"Of course, I can, silly," Kari giggled.
"And you'll do whatever I say?" Rhonda said.
"Sure." Kari batted her eyelashes at Rhonda, for all the world as though flirting with her.
"All right," Rhonda said. She shot a sidelong glance at John, then said "Run quickly out of the room and call the police!"
Kari giggled. "Don't be silly!" she said.
"I should have mentioned," John said. "The same safeguards I took with you also apply to her. Sorry about that. She'll do anything you say that won't result in harm or exposure for me or anyone else in this room."
Rhonda sighed and sat down again. "Then forget it. I'm not going to do anything to her. You must be crazy!"
"Not at all," John said. "And don't be too hasty. Think about what Jasmine said." Upon her name being spoken, Jasmine opened her eyes and blinked at Rhonda as well. "You can use your ability to do good."
"Hi, Rhonda," Jasmine said, in the same dreamy voice that Kari had used. "Do you want to tell me to do something? That would be very nice, I think."
"What am I supposed to do that will help them?" Rhonda asked sarcastically.
"Well, you could always cure Kari's nail-biting," John suggested.
"Yeah!" Kari said with vague enthusiasm.
"Nail-biting is harmless," Rhonda hooted. "Messing around in her psyche is criminal. Besides, she's probably fulfilling an oral fixation, or something; if I make her stop she might just find another outlet, and a worse one."
"Oral fixations. They shouldn't let civilians read Freud without a license," John said, and Rhonda flushed.
"Forget it," she said. "I'm not touching Kari."
"All right," John said equably. "What about Jasmine, then?"
"There's nothing wrong with Jasmine," Rhonda said. "She's the most level-headed person I know."
"That's what one would think," John agreed. He got up and circled around the bed to stand next to Jasmine's chair. "Tell me, Jasmine," he said conversationally, "are there any secrets you're keeping from the people in this room?"
"Sure!" Jasmine said happily.
"You can't get her to tell her secrets!" Rhonda hissed. "That's just wrong!"
"I don't think she'd mind your knowing this particular secret," John said. "Right, Jasmine?"
Jasmine shook her head, still glassy-eyed. "No...Rhonda's all right. It's Gary."
"You've got a secret from Gary?" Rhonda asked in spite of herself.
Jasmine's placid expression took on an unhappy tinge. "Yes. I'm in love with him. Horribly, degradingly in love with him. I want to sleep with him and do all sorts of nasty things. Whenever I'm around him I feel like rolling over and panting. It's awful."
"Why is being in love with Gary so horrible?" Rhonda asked John, then thought about it. "Never mind. I get it."
"You know how he treats the girls who like him," John said. "Jasmine's too smart to have any illusions about Gary, so she doesn't want to tell him how she feels. But she can't help loving him. It's making her very unhappy."
"How do you know all of this?" Rhonda demanded.
John shrugged, and returned to his bed to sit down. "I can sense things, as well as influence people's behavior. I can't read thoughts, but I can sense emotions, and sometimes at what or whom they're directed. I've known about Jasmine's feelings for Gary nearly as long as she has."
"Well?" Rhonda said irritably. "What is it that you're proposing I do? Not that I'm going to do it."
John smiled. "Well, there are several possibilities. The easiest is that you could 'cure' Jasmine of her feelings for Gary."
"What!" Rhonda said, aghast. " 'Cure' her of being in love?"
"Sure," John said. "A few words from you right now would be all it took. And she'd be much happier."
"How can you be sure of that?" Rhonda said. "People often get a lot of joy out of being in love, even if it's unrequited. And it's obviously in her nature to fall in love with someone like Gary; it wouldn't be right to change that. Loving someone is a deep and profound thing. I couldn't take that away from her. Even if he is a louse."
"Well, that brings us to option 2," John said.
At this point, Gary opened his eyes and smiled at Rhonda as well.
"Hey, babe," he said drowsily. "Gonna reprogram me? I'd reprogram you." His grin, without ever quite becoming focussed, took on a lascivious tinge. "In a heartbeat."
Part IIB -- The Test: What's My Motivation?
Rhonda stared at Gary with an expression of dismay.
"Option 2 is that you could make Gary fall in love with Jasmine," John said, a bit redundantly
"Now there's a fabulous idea!" Rhonda said. "The only thing I can think of that's worse than unrequited love for Gary is requited love for Gary. You said yourself that he treats his girlfriends like shit."
"Well, yes," John agreed. "But of course, you could change that."
Rhonda stopped, astonished. "You mean...I could just tell him to be a nicer person?"
"I'm afraid you'd have to be a bit more specific than that," John said. "But basically, yes. Think of it as a public service."
"Not for Gary, it isn't," Rhonda said. She looked over at Gary, who continued smiling, oblivious to the discussion about him.
"Actually, it might be," John argued. "He might actually be happier with some of his more unpleasant characteristics toned down."
"I'm sure lobotomized people are happy, too," Rhonda said, shivering.
"Lobotomies are crude, destructive, and haphazard," John said. "They have no way of controlling the effects of the surgery. You can change things with precision, and positively. Gary has a lot of good qualities -- he's smart, and disciplined, and ambitious, with a lot of charm -- but his selfishness goes a long way towards turning his virtues into vices. He wasn't kidding when he said he would use my talent without a second thought. You should be glad that it's me who has it and not him; you'd all be his mindless sex slaves now, with no thought except the best way to suck his cock."
"While instead we're your slaves," Rhonda said bitterly. "I fail to see a difference."
John smiled grimly. "Believe me, there is one." He got to his feet again and paced. "Even without mind control, Gary can do a lot of harm. He's hurt several girls quite badly since he's been here -- more than you know about -- and more, back in high school. Think what he'll do when he's a rich lawyer."