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What would it be like to live in a world where emotion is banned?

By on June 8, 2012

To explore this idea, I wrote a novellette of 13,000 words called Mind Games. It’s a detective thriller set in London, with a surprising amount about games. It’s available right now on Amazon as Kindle book. I’d be honoured if you would check it out, and if it appeals, buy it.

There no chapters, but here is the beginning for you:

It was a crisp spring day and the early rays of sunshine refracted into Mordant’s eyes as he pulled up in front of the mortuary.

Doctor Harvinder Singh waited as Mordant locked his battered car. Mordant thought that the perpetually-harrowed face behind the wire-framed glasses looked even more perturbed than usual.

“Harvinder,” he said, stretching out his hand. “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen you outside the lab before. I was beginning to think you liked it in there.”

Singh shook Mordant’s hand lightly and drew back, as if the contact with living flesh repulsed him. His skin was stretched taut over his bones, and he carried a scent that mingled preservation and decay.

“This is no laughing matter, Inspector,” said Singh, spinning on his heel and heading towards the double doors with their plastic coating and wired glass windows. Mordant rearranged his features into what the twins called his ‘work-face’ and hurried after him.

Singh carried on talking as he walked. “I’ve been doing this job for 15 years. We had one of the first Z-scanners in a pathology department in the country. It takes a lot to shock me.”

He stopped and looked Mordant straight in the eye. “This is the most violent attack I’ve ever seen.”


The lab was silver and green. Mordant had often wondered why a place so heavy with death was tiled from floor to ceiling in the colour of life. The heavy glaze on the ceramic reflected the light from recessed halogen lights in the ceiling, which glinted on chrome fittings: doors, trolleys, scanners and the rows of drawers that filled two whole walls of the room. Mordant felt as if he were underwater, trapped in the grotto of an aquatic demi-god or malign Kraken, glimpsing the sunlight that refracted through an opalescent sea overhead.

He pulled his coat closely around himself. The temperature in the room was a shade above freezing. Dr Singh never seemed to notice the cold.

“I thought it was just routine,” he said. “Female. Caucasian. Late 20s. Drowned. Fished out of the Thames this morning. But you know I like to do things properly.”

Mordant nodded. “Procedure.”

“Procedure. I searched for evidence of foul play. I found nothing external. No lesions or injuries. No signs of violent struggle.”

Singh unlatched one of the drawers and turned the handle. The drawer slid out on plastic runners, cantilevered to support the weight of the cadaver that rested on a trolley that stretched six feet into the room. Singh pulled back the protective blue plastic sheeting. Mordant’s heart stopped.

The girl was beautiful. In death, she looked serene. Her pale skin was almost translucent, the purity of an angel. Dark hair, long eyelashes, high cheekbones and a full-bodied mouth.

Mordant’s breath coalesced in the air of the mortuary. “Harvinder, this isn’t my case. Even if it was no accident, drowning is Body, not Mind.”

“I know,” said Singh. “I was ready to mark it down as an accident. Footing is treacherous at any of a hundred places on the river. But I followed procedure.” Singh fetched a wheeled trolley festooned with wires and computer equipment. He took the ERI scanner and placed the lead-lined box over the girl’s head. He powered up the unit and increased the gain. Mordant heard the high-pitched whistle modulate as Singh searched for the optimal pattern.

Mordant knew what was coming. There could be only one reason to get Mind involved. He turned to look at the giant repeating monitor set in the green tiles on the far side of the room. And blanched.

“Jesus wept. You certain you’ve got this calibrated right.”

“I’ve checked it three times, Frank. Fifteen years and I’ve never seen the like.”

The two men crossed the floor, their footsteps echoing as they were drawn to the screen.

The girl’s brain was a mess. Whoever had gone to work on it had no mercy. There were lesions and blank spots, broken neuron pathways and the epsilon and zeta zones had been all but destroyed.

Singh reached into his pocket and pulled out a fountain pen to use as a pointer.

“There’s damage all across the limbic cortex. The hippocampus and amygdala are shot. She’s a textbook.”

Mordant stayed silent as Singh continued his litany of damage. The pen darted across the screen.

“We’ve got the whole gamut. Betrayal. Abandonment. Rejection. Loss. Despair. Abuse. Everything we ended fifteen years ago. This girl has had them all.”

“Who would do something like this?” said Mordant.

“It’s your job to find out, isn’t it?”

“Sure it is. But this, this ferocity. It’s not usual, doctor.”

He couldn’t get the image of the beautiful girl out of his mind. She was so innocent, so fragile. And someone had subjected her to the most horrific attack he’d seen in all his years as a detective.

“Find the monster, Frank,” said Doctor Singh. “Find him and make him pay.”


“Morning, Frank.”

“Good morning, Victor.” Everyone called Victor Longuino Vic, except Mordant. Sitting at his desk in the office they shared, he looked like a short man, slender, dark. But when he unfolded out of his chair, the legs that were too long for the body stretching and extending, he rose to a good four inches above six feet. Longuino was transformed: rangy, alert, composed. It was a good trait for a Mind officer. Seated, he was all but invisible; standing, he was impressive and intimidating.

Long ago, when they just started out, they had been partners. But ever since the Choudhuri case, partners were no longer allowed. Too much potential for an employer negligence lawsuit. So Longuino took his cases and Mordant had his own. It flashed through Mordant’s mind that he missed the camaraderie with Longuino but he suppressed the thought with a shiver at his own weakness.

“How was Harv?”

“Upset,” said Mordant.

“Upset? That man has ice in his veins and the heart of a lizard. What the hell could make him upset?”

Mordant tossed a copy of the girl’s scan across the desk. It rocked a stack of files which started to topple. Longuino steadied them with one hand and reached for the scan with the other.

“Holy shit. Is this real?”

“Harv says so,” said Mordant.

“Need help on this one?”

“You know the rules, Victor. I’m on my own.”


Ophelia Rashwood. Age 28. Born 15th September. Died in the early hours of Thursday 28th June. In the hours, days, months or years before her death, she had been subject to a series of vicious emotional attacks that had left her permanently scarred. This was not supposed to happen anymore. The Emotional Health Act had put an end to it. Emotional pain leaves scars. Permanent damage in the frontal cortex. Trauma every bit as enduring as a physical wound.

For millennia, humanity had accepted it. Society had never cared about emotional damage. “We can’t see it,” we said. The pioneering work of Havranek and Howell changed all that. The Z-rays identified damage across the brain as clear as the blackened eye on a battered wife or the gaping wound on a stab victim.

And with identification of the trauma came the outcry. Something must be done. Now we know that emotional trauma is as tangible as physical pain, we know emotional trauma is an assault, a violation of the basic human rights of a life free from fear and injury.

A thousand newspapers demanded action. With every picture of the damaged brain of a victim of emotional pain, the clamour grew.

It took just one politician to raise the spectre of legislation. Within twelve months, every major country in the world made it a crime to inflict emotional pain on another person. And a new breed of cop was born – Mind – to enforce the laws.

At first Mind was busy, removing perpetrators from the streets. Prisons bulged and new approaches were developed. Treatments for those who sought it, but also imposed by the judicial system: reprogramming, electro-shock therapy, even a throwback to the early twentieth century practice of lobotomy. Within a decade, the idea of enduring emotional pain was extinguished, society as unforgiving of emotional harm as it was of racism or environmental destruction. The detectives of Mind were redeployed. Only a committed few, like Mordant, remained to investigate the cases of emotional harm in the deceased or traumatised.

Ophelia Rashwood fitted both categories.


Mordant stepped out of the cab on London Wall. On either side, the beige stone and glass frontage curved round to envelope him. He drew his stomach in and stood straight and tall as he pushed through the revolving glass doors.

The interior atrium was huge. It took up almost the whole ground floor and reached two stories high, a colossal waste of space in one of the most expensive postal addresses in the world. In the middle of the atrium, a desk of black polished marble held two young blonde women with immaculate make-up and coiffed hair.

“Can I help you, sir?” asked one of them, a girl with a round face and full red lips.

“I’m looking for Simon Rashwood. He’s expecting me.”

She gestured with a manicured hand. “Take a seat and someone will be with you shortly.”

Mordant sat on the leather benches. They were uncomfortable. Long and low, a visitor had to perch on the edge or lean back with his legs stuck straight out like a child. Mordant thought of Longuino, of how his former partner would have fitted in effortlessly here, his long legs making a mockery of this juvenile effort to keep visitors off-kilter.

“Mr Mordant?”

“Inspector Mordant,” he replied.

“Of course, Inspector. Please come this way.”

Mordant stood and followed the receptionist across the atrium to the lifts past a solid bronze sculpture, two kidney beans mating.
“Is that a Henry Moore?” he asked.

“Yes sir. The bank has long been a patron of the modern arts. You’ll find works throughout the building. Here’s the lift. My colleague will meet you on the fifth floor and escort you to the meeting room.”


“How can I help, Inspector?”

Mordant turned from looking at the skyscape out of the fifth floor window. Rashwood was of middling height, with brown receding hair cropped close to his scalp. The file said he was only a few years older than his sister, but Mordant thought it looked more like a decade, maybe more. He wore glasses with thin horn-rims and his face looked strained, as if he were holding himself in by force of will alone.

Mordant pulled out the warrant card in its leather wallet and showed it. “DI Mordant. I’m from Mind.”

“I know that, Inspector. I checked you out when you called my assistant for an appointment. What do you want?”

“It’s about Ophelia…”

“I guessed as much. Only person I know who’s died in the last week.”

Mordant stared.

“I’m sorry,” said Rashwood. “Rather a lot on my mind. You know, this is the third close family member I’ve had to bury. Two parents and a sister. Coffee?”

“Tea, if you have it.”

“We do, but I don’t recommend it. Incredibly expensive stuff and tastes bloody awful. So, if you’re here about Ophelia, you must have found something? But you’re Mind, not Body. So that suggests that you’re investigating emotional injuries, not physical ones. Have you ruled out murder? Milk?”

“No. Yes. No.” Mordant was confused by the staccato questioning. “Mr Rashwood…

“Call me Simon,” said Rashwood, handing over a china tea cup.

“Very well, Simon. Ophelia drowned. There were no signs of a struggle but we can’t rule out foul play. Not when we’ve got this.”

From inside his coat pocket, Mordant drew out copies of the scans that Dr Singh had shown him in the pathology lab. He unfolded them and spread them flat on the table. Rashwood glanced at them, then looked up at Mordant. “I’m a corporate financier, Inspector. My expertise is in valuing telecoms companies. I don’t expect you to understand my business and I wonder that you expect me to understand yours.”

“This is a Z-ray of Ophelia’s brain. It was taken this morning.”

Mordant reached for a pencil from the collection standing in a wire basket on the conference table. With the sharpened tip, he pointed out key areas of the frontal cortex. “You can see serious scarring here, and here, and here. Scarring commensurate with a sustained and violent assault on a young woman’s emotions.”

“And you think that whoever mounted this emotional attack may have killed Ophelia.”

“It’s possible.”

Rashwood removed his glasses and folded the arms closed. He placed them on the table and looked Mordant in the eye.

“Inspector, Ophelia was a law unto herself. Isn’t that always the way with the youngest? I tried. God knows I tried. I tried to set a good example, encourage her through university, help her get together a deposit for a flat of her own. She was having none of it.”

Rashwood reached for his coffee and took a sip. He replaced the coffee cup, picked up his glasses and put them back on.

“If you want to find out about Ophelia’s personal life, you’re asking the wrong person. I doubt she confided anything in me since our father died, and that was fourteen years ago. I’m the last person who would know.”

“So you don’t know if there was a boyfriend? A lover? A self-selected partner?”

“If I know Ophelia, there will have been many. And all self-selected. She didn’t go in for that government-matching crap.”

“And how about you, Mr Rashwood?” Mordant’s tone was steely.

“Oh bloody hell, I call the government’s policy crap and you go all officious on me. Disliking official policy doesn’t make me a monster, Inspector.”

“Maybe not, sir, but disdain for the Environmental Health Act makes you a more likely suspect.”

“Inspector, you are barking up the wrong tree. For me to have inflicted emotional pain on Ophelia, I would have to have been close to her. Which I wasn’t. Quod Erat Demonstrandum.” Rashwood stood. “If there won’t be anything else, Inspector? I’m a busy man.”

“Just one question? If Ophelia wasn’t close to you, who was she close to?”

“Adey. Adrienne. She’s our sister. She’ll have more answers than me.”

“Well, if you remember anything else, you will let me know.”

“I’ll get my assistant to get in touch, Inspector. The receptionist will show you out.”


The fluted obelisk of St Luke’s soared into the azure sky. London planes gathered like disciples, their full crowns pierced by occasional shafts of sunlight that pooled on the pavement. Mordant stood for a moment, his eyes drawn to the cross mounted a hundred feet above the pavement.

Inside, the scene was chaotic. Schoolchildren with musical instruments scurried across worn flagstones. A middle-aged man balanced a harp on a trolley and processed at a steady pace through the crowds. A triangular sign saying “Reception” sat on a small wooden desk on the right, almost hidden behind a Perspex rack of pamphlets and flyers.

“Hello, I’m looking for Adrienne Rashwood.”

“Have you got an appointment?” asked the lady with greying hair tied up in a bun who sat behind the desk.

“No, but it’s important.” Mordant pulled the leather holder out of his coat pocket and flashed the warrant badge.

“OK. Let me see.” She flipped open a ring-binder and consulted a hand-written appointment list.

“She’s just finishing with a client. She may have a minute or two for you now.”

The lady looked into the crowd, her head turning from side to side as she scanned. She lowered her gaze and pointed.

“There she is.”

A motorised wheelchair sat in the middle of the concourse. A woman knelt beside it, talking to the occupant. Long, dark hair fell past her shoulders in waves.

“Adey. Someone to see you.”

The woman stood and said a final few words to the person in the wheelchair. Then she turned and for the second time that day, Mordant’s heart stopped.

“Hello, I’m Adey Rashwood.”

Mordant’s mouth was dry and hung open as his brain tried to comprehend what he was seeing. She had the same high cheekbones and full mouth, the pale skin and dark hair. In death, Ophelia Rashwood had looked angelic. Adey Rashwood carried that same look but the warm spots of her face were flush with life. Ophelia was serene; Adey was radiant.

“Are you OK?” she asked.

With an effort, Mordant pulled himself together.

“Yes, thank you. Is there somewhere we can talk?”

“What’s this all about, Mr…?”

“Inspector. Inspector Mordant. I want to talk about Ophelia.”

Adey nodded. “Of course, I should have known. Listen, I’ve got clients all day.”

“Surely, this is more important than a music rehearsal.”

“It’s not rehearsal,” she flared. “Do you know anything about music therapy, Inspector?”

Mordant shook his head.


“These people. My clients. They’re in desperate need. They can’t express their feelings or emotions. Can you imagine how painful that is? I’m sorry, but I need to put the living ahead of the dead. I’ll be free tomorrow. Meet me at 10 am at the coffee shop on the corner of Old Compton and Greek Street.”

Without waiting for an acknowledgement, Adey strode away across the paving slabs, a path appearing for her in the crowd. Mordant considered chasing after her, demanding that she talk to him, but feared he would look ridiculous. She wasn’t a suspect yet, so he could wait until tomorrow.

To continue reading, check out Mind Games on Amazon.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: