Extract from Michael Mitchell's translation

From The Black Mirror and Other Stories edited by Franz Rottensteiner

Thought Control by Herbert W. Franke (1961)

A mental duel between man and machine. The machine is precise, infallible, relentless. The man's mode of thought, on the other hand, is vague — but that can be his strength.

The machine was guarding him. Its two pincers stuck out into his glass cage, which was otherwise empty.

Ben wondered how he was going to get out. All they had left him was what he was wearing. Everything else was outside the cage in the big shed. Including the flying platform on which he had come. It was only a few yards away, he ought to be able to get to it.

He thought of the hand grenade in his pocket. If he were to throw it into the opposite corner …

At that moment the claw arms shot forward and grabbed the grenade, which he already had in his hand. A sliding door opened in the wall in front of him, a third arm reached in from outside, took the bomb and placed it with the pile of his other things. Ben's heart sank. They were monitoring is thoughts! He made an effort to think inconsequential thoughts. He concentrated on numbers: 5,687 times 11 is 62,557, 5,687 times 12 is 68,244, 5,687 times 13 is …

Other thoughts kept flashing through his mind. When would Kai start looking for him? 5,687 times 13 is 73,931. Don't think of anything else. 5,687 times 14 … His transmitter came to mind. He still had it strapped round his waist. Perhaps it had enough energy left …

He felt the touch of cold steel. Unfeeling fingers were fiddling with the belt. He resisted desperately. Pushed with his whole weight against the claw arms, shook the ball-and-socket joints, held on tight to his transmitter. All to no avail. The blunt, flexible pairs of fingers proceeded, quick, dextrous, unwavering — and the little box joined his other belongings outside the cage.

Ben gave up counting. It was pointless. But how could he get out if every one of his thoughts was picked up? He went through all the things he still had left, but there was nothing suitable. It occurred to him that they clearly did not know what was part of his organism and what wasn't, and he had an idea, an almost amusing idea. He concentrated all his mental powers on a chain of thought.

What is active within me, is my soul. My willpower, my capacity for thought, my self even — all that is not my body, it is my soul. The instrument of my liberation will be my body, the strength in my muscles, the knowledge in my brain …

Once more the pincers moved. The two arms grasped Ben, the slide-door opened, the third, external claw arm took him from them and placed him on his belongings. Ben grasped the rail of his flying platform and ran, dragging it behind him, out of reach of the arms. He jumped onto his airboard, pressed a lever and already he was sweeping in an elegant curve to the entrance.

Seconds later he was soaring high above the buildings, which grew smaller and smaller until they disappeared in the haze.