Help me brainstorm an Evil Device
August 9, 2019 1:39 AM   Subscribe

I apologise in advance for this goofy question. It’s for a somewhat gothic, silly story set in the early 19th Century. The TLDR is that I want an evil guy to entrap a telepathic person and...record his emanations for his own later deployment. Preferably using some Evil Guy apparatus or set up. LIKE WHAT??

I‘m running up against my own skepticism here but I do want to make it work, because the rest of the story is so much fun! Thank you for helping me with possible scenarios.

Telepathy in this case means that the person has a rare condition that means he broadcasts his own nightmares to everyone within a large radius. So this only comes up in unpredictable but fairly frequent bursts. At which point the person would have to be hooked up to whatever records and stores his brain waves. And this is the early 19th C.

And then obviously there would have to be some apparatus or method that emits the stored stuff again on command.

The Evil Guy in question has barely any telepathic abilities himself.

One idea that appealed to me would be a musical instrument. I was toying with the idea of a barrel organ (corny!) But constructing a barrel pin for pin is painstaking work and not really compatible with recording mental emissions on the fly.

I guess ELECTRICITY! is always an option but I‘m stuck on how to use it so it at least makes some goofy kind of sense.

Do you have any ideas / advice for me? Thank you!
posted by Omnomnom to Writing & Language (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wax cylinder?
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 1:42 AM on August 9


That would be great, but was invented too late (1870s).
posted by Omnomnom at 1:44 AM on August 9


An aeolian harp rigged up to a Leyden jar?
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 1:48 AM on August 9


What about something like The Yellow Wallpaper? The Evil Guy broadcasts his nightmare whilst he's in the room and imprints it into the wallpaper in the room. See also, The Stone Tape.
posted by oh pollo! at 2:23 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


I'm no good for figuring out the mechanics of this, but think it would be great if you could work in an armonica! They were reputed to drive people mad, and were largely out of favour by the time of your story's setting. Evil Guy could discover an old one and use it for his nefarious purposes. Sounds like a blast!
posted by kate4914 at 2:28 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


Something involving a Jacquard Loom perhaps (invented 1804) which 'records' the emanations into a design on a length of fabric via punched cards.
posted by misteraitch at 2:46 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


The Evil Person should dose the telepathic person with laudanum to ensure they stay in a perpetual nightmare state.

How about if the telepathic person’s mental emanations can align the molecules in a tuning fork in a specific way, and when the tuning fork is struck again it transmits the nightmare to people within range?
posted by ejs at 2:46 AM on August 9


On further thought, Mr. Evil could combine Jacquard's punched cards with a modified barrel organ or piano with the help of some assistants: a 'sensitive' organist/pianist and a deaf barrel-organ operative. The captive telepath's emanations could be converted into nightmarish musical form by the organist who operates a specially-designed keyboard instrument/card-punch: of course doing so might drive the unfortunate musician to madness. Then the punched cards could later be fed through a modified barrel-organ by the deaf operator able to broadcast the terrifying music with impunity.
posted by misteraitch at 3:23 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Maybe something modeled on Wilhelm Reich’s orgone accumulator?

While it dates from the 1940s, is something similar (designed to “trap and radiate” telepathic signals) the sort of apparatus Evil Guy could plausibly concoct?
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 4:06 AM on August 9


Maybe something along the lines of a wire recorder... invented too late though, 1898, but maybe your mad scientist produced some prior art that was never made public?
posted by smcameron at 4:22 AM on August 9


In the early 1800s the concept of electric fields existed, and the telegraph and modern battery had just been discovered. Galvani’s demonstration that life was intricately tied to electricity was barely twenty years past.

So: Electric field causes nightmares, field can be recorded by special telegraph and stored in battery for playback later.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:04 AM on August 9


Some sort of Leyden jars in series? A glass jar with some delecate capacitance within that can store and discharge thoughts transmitted over the aether?
posted by nickggully at 6:05 AM on August 9


I'm imagining a storage device along the lines of a music box - Evil Guy turns the crank to replay the dream tones. Or maybe a player-piano-style strip of paper.
posted by jquinby at 6:40 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


It depends on how much you want to lean on technology vs. people, but another solution might be an assisting hypnotist/mentalist. (Or Evil Guy could possess those skills). With a "blank" telepathic sensitive under his hypnotic control, EG records the telepathic attack into the memory of his prisoner, ready for later release as a future attack.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:09 AM on August 9


...or of course you could skip the literal middleman, and have EG hypnotize and weaponize the telepath, but that's somehow less fun and not quite Mad Scientist enough.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:11 AM on August 9


You could maybe use analogue fax as the science hook for your device. It was 1st patented in 1847.
posted by Mitheral at 8:25 AM on August 9


kate4194, I am so in love with the armonica idea, OMG. But yeah, the mechanics.

But in practical terms the electric field concept might be most useful. I‘m thinking that maybe telepathic transmissions might generate an electric field. *handwavey*
posted by Omnomnom at 10:14 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


"Magic Lantern" slideshows were a popular entertainment developed in the late 17th century and adopted limelight for illumination before the arc lamp was made.

So maybe your antagonist can soak up all the nightmare emanations in the quicklime cylinders that have had a SUPER SEKRIT ingredient added.

Then, activate and release them when the cylinder is illuminated under the guise of, "Come look at my totally benign slides of The Wonders of the World," sort of thing, to gatherings anywhere between a parlor and theater in size.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 12:36 PM on August 9


Multiple telegraph machines hooked up to the telepath like an ekg. Bad guy hires lots of telegraph people to record the telepathy. Later, they replay the telepathy to a leyden jar hooked up to a monstrous Tesla coil, which amplifies and re-radiates the telepathic nightmares. /evil laugh and gleefully rubbing hands
posted by forforf at 12:45 PM on August 9


Oooh, is there any plausible way the emanations could be recorded in/by the glass? Evil Guy could be the musician playing it.
posted by kate4914 at 1:08 PM on August 9


What about the Armonica (or something like it) with some kind of sympathetic resonance notion woven into it, so the nightmares are 'recorded' by spinning/turning the Armonica (or some other delicate glass or rare crystalline substance) at great speed (on some sort of crank with an elaborate series of flywheels and gears attached) and then they can be 'played back' 'on demand' for nefarious purposes by cranking the machine back up to the exact same speed to release the nightmares?
posted by Chairboy at 3:10 PM on August 9


Huh! The armonica was invented by Benjamin Franklin! I think you really should go with some kind of lightning rod-electric-field-telepathic-resonance-armonica device. The electricity-armonica-franklin connection's just too good to pass up...
posted by Jon Mitchell at 4:35 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


And there's an armonica-Mesmer connection too. Mesmer's in your time period. Maybe some form of his baquet? (I'm totally spitballing here.)
posted by inexorably_forward at 5:36 PM on August 9


You could use an armonica carved from quartz. Quartz generates a piezoelectric field when put under stress, and that could be your electricity link.
posted by Gneisskate at 5:37 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


What you want is an Orb. It could be made of molten tuned quartz Crystals that then re-form into this Orb of Emanations. Once the Orb cools, it could either be Shattered to disperse its troubling Energy, or, for certain Applications, a specially-prepared Orb thirteen inches in diameter could house several mystical tarantulas, the deployment of any of which would cause permanent Madness in the targeted Person or Persons.

For best results, the Orb should be created by glass blowing in the presence of the human source, and should cool completely before the source wakes.
posted by amtho at 6:38 PM on August 9


Fiendish experiments in rare botanical specimens mixed with the vital science of mesmerism and magnets could, one might theorize, create a specimen that acts like a pitcher plant for nightmares, where the animal essence of the soul's nocturnal horrors is drawn into the plants through magnetism and can be released again by cutting the plants and distributing them among the intended victims where the nightmares come out as the plants decay.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:16 AM on August 10


These answers are all so amazing and I love every single one of them. YOU ARE THE BEST!
posted by Omnomnom at 1:06 AM on August 10


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