The Brain Trade, A Technicolour Nightmare

Last night my sleep was weirdly disturbed, the kind of sleep where it seems like one never actually goes to sleep, with plenty of muzzy uncomfortable memories of cracking an eye open to see the alarm clock saying something disturbing. I must have slept somewhat, because I was quite chipper when I actually got up.

The problem wasn’t the seeming insomnia though, it was the recurring stop-start nightmare:

Brain Transplants (including a small amount of spinal cord and the eyeballs) are commonplace. The surgical technology to do such a transplant has become so widespread, and so simplified, that some very scantily qualified ‘surgeons’ can perform it.

After the surgery, the only way to tell a ‘transplant recipient’ from the body-donor is that their eyes may look different, and may be quite inflamed and sick-looking due to being an imperfect fit in the new body’s sockets. The skull incision is hidden almost immediately by a slick plastic surgery technique.

At the same time, it’s extremely simple to keep a removed brain ‘alive’ in a jar of special oxygenated brain-nutrient solution. The brain in these circumstances has no sensory connections but vision, and that only straight ahead. You can see out of the jar, and you can think, and that’s it.

So, want a new body? All you need to do is persuade someone to swap, or to sign a statement agreeing that they want to be placed in a jar.

This isn’t (for some reason) about longevity or eternal youth, as much as it’s about the ultimate identity theft, the ultimate voyeurism, the ultimate sibling rivalry…

For the full effect, I’ll re-cast it with you, as I saw it:

Your partner comes home acting strangely one day. Their mannerisms are all wrong, and they keep staring at you with a really odd expression. They seem a little uncoordinated.

Slowly the reason for this dawns on you. You don’t know who the new person is, but for a long time they refuse to admit their crime, laughing off questions about where your partner is, and what state they’re in;
“I’m right here!”

Then your sibling comes to visit. You’re quite sure that they’re still the same person they always were, but they’re acting strangely too: they keep trying to get you by yourself, and they won’t show you what they’ve got in their hand. Your memory lapses: one moment you’re walking down a corridor, your sibling behind you, the next you feel numb and cold. You can see a dirty little room which has been pressed into service as a ‘surgery’. Beyond the glass you can see yourself, looking back in, with bloodshot eyes, lips moving but no sound coming out, that you can hear. In fact, it’s perfectly silent.

After a while, the other you leaves, in the company of someone you don’t recognise. They turn off the light, leaving only dim sunlight seeping in through some curtains.

Hours pass.  Days.  Weeks.
All you can do is watch, and think. You can’t even sleep.

Eventually, person who has your body comes back. They’re with the person who has your partner’s body. They both look terribly sick, grey and wasted, their eyes rimmed with flakes of dried blood.

One of them laughs bitterly, then holds up a notepad, one hand-written page at a time, on which they explain to you: The ‘surgeons’ have a secret. When they take your money, they fail to mention that the anti-rejection drugs only work for a month or so, at best. Then rejection slowly kills the new brain and the ‘donor’ body, in a massively painful way, over the course of several days.

They have come here to die, and all you can do is watch.

This takes several days.

Your partner comes home acting strangely one day….

E was somewhat disturbed when I woke her up to ask if she was the real one.

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