Short Story: The Change

This is the third, and possibly the last of my attempts at more creative writing. I have no idea if I will attempt others.

The Change

Todd Stevens hated and feared hospitals. Such fear (he tried to convince himself) was not irrational. He had heard too many stories of mix-ups and deadly mistakes. He did not want to be the one that went in for an in for a in-growing toenail an ended up with an amputation; someone that presented himself for a routine biopsy, only to die of a deadly infection. He figured that if he was going to risk death or dismemberment he would wait until he was dying or dismembered. A small company called Neurphoria changed his mind.

It was Joe that introduced him to Neurphoria. Todd worked for a national retail chain with the title “Metrics Analyst.” Todd traveled around the stores helping managers gather and understand the information they would use to drive sales. Joe was manager at one of the larger locations.

Joe was a bluff, plainspoken man; smart, and a hard worker. Unfortunately, Joe suffered periods of depression and was (to be honest) a bit too fond of the drink. It was during one of their meetings that Joe first explained Neurphoria.

While going over recession dismal sales figures, Todd remarked that despite the difficulties Joe seemed very cheerful. “It’s the chipper chip,” Joe replied. Joe went on to explain about Neurphoria and their brain stimulation technology. “I am like a new man,” Joe explained. “I am off the drink, studying for an MBA, and I can handle asshole customers and dumb employees far better. Things just don’t phase me any more. It’s like magic, its like someone threw a switch and made a new me.” As it turned out, throwing a switch was pretty much it. Joe demonstrated the I-Pod sized box he wore on his belt. It was the control for the implant. The only control for the user was a simple on/off switch.

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) had been around for many years. DES was used to treat Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain, and some forms of depression. Neurphoria using progress in software, electronics, and brain imaging, had turned it up a notch. Indeed, they had turned it up several notches. By careful mapping of the patient’s brain, and careful placement of the nano-scale probes, they were able to bring about profound changes in demeanor.

Todd was fascinated. After much Internet research, he booked an initial appointment with the Neurphoria clinic (it is funny Todd mused, how an office becomes a “clinic” when the word “medical” is involved). Todd was always bright and a good student. He had achieved a BSc (cum laude), a Masters degree, and management status. What he had never achieved was “cool.” Todd felt a little embarrassed explaining this to the confident young man at the office … clinic. The young man smiled empathically, “That’s my story too. Our aim is to give you the brain you want. Your job is to describe it”

While implanting the probes did involve surgery, the rest of the procedure was far less daunting. Todd provided his medical history; underwent the traditional medical tests; took a written personality test (he was, it claimed, an “Amygdalian Theorizer” – nerdy worry wart Todd scoffed). The next stage was brain mapping.

They brought Todd into a pleasant and dimly lit room. The room was decorated in pastel shades. There was a bunch of technical but non-threatening medical machinery, a large screen TV on a pivot, and what looked like a dentist’s chair. He sat into the chair that was more comfortable than it looked. The technicians attached sensors to measure his pulse and heart rate. They asked him to don a facemask that would measure his respiration rate. On his head they placed something that looked like a hairnet, from which snaked a rat’s nest of wires. The entire setup was far more relaxing than it sounded.

They were ready to begin. The technician tilted the chair back and swung the screen into place. The technician explained that the screen would flash images and he was just to relax and take them in. It would take about five minutes. The screen came to life with the Neurphoria logo and tag (“The brains behind your brain”). After checking that Todd could see the screen and was ready, the technician left the room.

“Welcome to Neurphoria” the screen said. “Relax and let the images wash over you…” It started with simple boxes of colors, and then there was geometric shapes, generic landscapes, animals, faces. Soon the images came too fast for Todd to recognize. It was faintly hypnotic. He was hardly aware of time passing when he heard a gentle meep, meep and saw that the screen was telling him “Your brain mapping is complete. Thank You.”

Two days later Todd went for the operation that would add the Neurphoria implants. Despite all his hospital fears, the operation went well. He arrived at 10am, and was finished by 3:45pm. He underwent another, although shorter, brain mapping test. This confirmed that all was good. “So how does it feel to have a new brain?” asked the surgeon. “I don’t know,” answered Todd, feeling less than brainy. The technician showed him how to operate the unit. From the user’s point of view there was not much to it. An on/off switch controlled whether the implants fired or not, a little LED indicated it the unit was active or not. With a little trepidation, Todd moved the switch from off to on.

Nothing, he felt nothing. The technicians explained that the unit slowly increased the intensity to normal levels. It turned out that earlier units caused some people discomfort when they charged up instantly. It would take about five minutes to feel the full effect.

Several minutes later, he felt it. He checked the unit, and the green LED told him that the unit was on and fully active. It was hard to describe, he felt more alive and more aware. He felt a confidence and energy he had never experienced before. He really did feel like a new man. How did it feel to have a new brain? Friggin’ awesome, that’s how.

Before he was allowed to leave, he had to perform some more reaction and awareness tests. These tests were to make sure everything was okay. This was mostly a formality they assured him, but they liked to be careful. He passed all the tests with ease (higher scores than his pre-operation results). He thanked the surgeon, the technicians, and high-fived the pretty nurse (he would never have done that before).

He walked to his car and got in. As he settled himself behind the wheel he felt a little unease. “Beige,” he thought, “friggin’ beige. What a piece of crap.” Such thoughts surprised him. He had bought the little Honda Civic two years ago. It was twelve years old when he purchased it, but had low mileage and was a good price. While he always understood that his car did not bristle with excitement, such thoughts had never troubled him before. Maybe he would get something better; he had that bonus coming. He had liked the car precisely because it was unobtrusive and less likely to cause that big-wig-from-head-office resentment. Now he figured fuck ’em. He was management; he should look like it. The ferocity of these thoughts surprised him.

He entered his apartment. It was good to be home he thought . . . except for the boring decoration. His apartment was pleasant and cozy, many had described his good taste, but now he looked around and figured this dump needs personality. Again, he was surprised at these thoughts. He had lived there for five years and gradually, over time, made it home. He had never given much thought to the “impact” his décor choices would have.

He was figuring out what to do with his color scheme, the phone rang. The caller ID informed him it was Elliot. Aww Christ, not Elliot, he thought. All he will want to do is talk technology, work, and that stupid science show. What a dweeb!. Todd found himself recoiling at such a dismissal of an old friend. Todd and Elliot were high-school buddies. They worked in similar industries and had kept in touch. They had spent many a Friday night discussing politics, science, and Star Trek. Normally Todd would have been delighted to talk with his good friend, today he let the call go to voice mail.

Another thing Todd noticed was how quiet the place was. It was like a morgue. One of the reasons he had chosen this apartment was that it seemed peaceful and safe, now it just seemed dead.

He grabbed something to eat and then sat down with his new book. Normally he enjoyed time spend with a good book but now he just felt bored and restless. He felt he needed to “shake things up.” He dressed himself in some decent clothes and headed to “Caspers.”

“Caspers” was a local music bar. While it probably was not the most fashionable place in the city, it was loud and had an attractive and social clientele. Normally Todd would have avoided such a place; indeed he would have felt a certain unease entering it. Today he felt a certain excitement as he pushed the door.

He walked causally to the bar and ordered a drink. He chatted easily with the barman. He was not sure what they talked about words just seemed to flow back and forth. He found it easy but uninteresting. A cute girl walked up to the bar and gave him the eye. He held her gaze and the sauntered over. He really was not sure what he was saying but she seemed to like it. While it was obvious she was interested, it all felt remote to Todd. “Blah, blah,” he would say, “giggle, giggle,” she would reply. It all seemed so easy, yet so boring.

He left the anonymous cutie and headed to the pool table. He fell into an easy camaraderie with the guys at the table. He bantered back and forth and could see that the guys liked him. However, it all felt so banal, so remote. It was easy and automatic but provided no stimulation. He felt like a robot expertly going through pre-programmed motions.

Feeling a little let down he headed for home. He sat with his glass of beer musing over his day. As he shifted in his seat, he felt the pressure of the Neurphoria box on his belt. He plucked the box off its clasp and turned the switch to the off position.

The restful silence of the apartment building gently enveloped him. He picked up his book and began reading smiling contentedly. He would have to call Elliot tomorrow; he probably had recorded some Discovery Channel program and had a DVD for Todd.

Just before he slipped into sleep, Todd pondered all the money that he had spent on his Neurphoria experience. He realized it did not matter, he had no major expenses and the little Honda had another hundred thousand miles, easily.

This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to any persons or organizations is purely coincidence. No elements in this story are autobiographical.


11 Responses to “Short Story: The Change”

  1. An Unmarried Man Says:

    Love it 🙂

    …and the sequel writes itself, Hollywood style.

    A couple of days hence, Todd has a bad social experience at work. Slightly bitter and despondent, he comes home, and in a fit of frustration, he switches the Neurphoria back to the “on” position He finds himself back at Caspers where he picks up a girl who becomes his lover. Unable to maintain her interest with the Neurphoria off, he finds that he slowly becomes addicted and helpless to the pleasures of the “on” crutch!

    I’ve encountered a similar box throughout my life, though it comes in a bottle and is activated by unscrewing a lid…

  2. David Alexander Says:

    I like the story, but somehow, it feels unfinished and unresolved. So while Unmarried Man thinks it sets the stage for a sequel, I think it needs a bit more of an ending before we can ever consider a second stage.

    Mind you, I’m tired at the end of my long day at work…

  3. Default User Says:

    @David Alexander
    You are probably correct that is a little unfinished. The limits of my imagination and writing energy, along with an unwillingness to stretch the patience of my readers, means these stories tend to rush towards their conclusion. Not so much short stories as really short stories (although at 1,800 words it is not tiny).

    Perhaps I could make these pieces better with more editing or by making them longer (and breaking them into parts). Sadly, I prefer been writ rather than writing; I am so glad to click publish, thus ending my work, that I tend to fall into the “good enough” trap. While I am never fully satisfied with any of my posts, I am fully pleased to actually finish them.

    This post is reaching the limit of length that I would expect others to find comfortable for a single web page.

    @An Unmarried Man
    My idea of mood altering brain implants is far from original. Michael Crichton covered this almost forty years ago in Terminal Man. In that story, Crichton considers just such addictive possibilities. In a case of (I imagine not uncommon) unconscious plagiarism, this story came to mind without direct consideration of the Crichton novel that I had read many years ago.

    My main consideration in the story was that sudden personality change would still leave the memories, habits, and tastes of the pre-change person. He would likely find his old habits and tastes clashing with his new desires. The problem is that part of who we are relates to who we were.
    [As I wrote the above I realized that even that was not an original take, as just such thoughts were covered in the the movie Seconds where a character is given the chance to be re-born as someone different.]

    Thank you both for your comments.

  4. David Collard Says:

    I thought it was a very clever idea, although very much in the “transformation” story mode, which is normally used for erotic writing. I liked the idea, which was very intriguing, but I actually didn’t understand what happened to the guy. Did he turn the machine off, or lose interest or what?

    A good transformation story gives one an insight into the mind of a different kind of human being. For example, I have learned a lot about how women feel (or maybe I have) from reading stories in which men are turned into women. These often seem to be written by women, or maybe homosexual men.

    The only other way to assuage my curiosity about what it is like to be a woman is to read women’s comments on blogs.

    I am married, but my wife, like most wives, is probably not going to want to share too many of her feminine feelings with me. Women like to keep their secrets, unless they are anonymous.

    Anyway, I liked the story, but I felt it petered out a bit in unclarity.

  5. Default User Says:

    @David Collard
    In my story I saw it as the character realizing that the he really did not want to be what he thought he wanted to be. He realized that he enjoyed his low-key lifestyle, his good friends, and simple pleasures. In my view, he was unlikely to ever turn on the unit again.

    While the implant did make him a “cooler” person (approval of others), it did not make him a happier person (approval of the self).

    Some of the story came from the “transformation” imaginings you mentioned. I tried to imagine the mind of a more extroverted, sensation seeking type. I could see that what looked “cool” from the outside (all that seeming ease with people and groups) might not feel that way to the person themselves.

    Essentially the things about ourselves that make us happy, we take for granted. We have always been us, so do not have to imagine the good things that flow from them. Because they are so much part of us we find it hard to imagine life without them. We can only imagine the things we lack and thus tend to project onto those things expectations they may not be able to meet. The result is we under weight what we have and overweight what we lack.
    [This is the reverse of the “endowment effect” where people value tangible goods currently owned more than the same good before ownership. I suspect that as intangible goods, personality traits are more like the fish/water relationship; we do not notice them because they have always been there. Just as fish will notice a lack of food, we notice a lack of certain traits. Noticing that lack is what drives the hunger for change. We forget that there may be costs associated with obtaining such “food.” It would be like a fish jumping out of the pond to get food only, to end up flapping desperately on the ground realizing for the first time just how valuable water was.]

    I agree that the story did collapse a bit towards the end. As I said, I have only so much writing energy. I fear that if I leave a story (or post) aside for future editing I might never get back to it. I find writing (these stories or regular posts) difficult and tiring. Clicking “publish” provides a sense of relief as it removes something from the to-do list.

  6. David Collard Says:

    Thanks. Interesting point about the reverse of the endowment effect. It is a bit like people not valuing their spouse’s good qualities, because they take them for granted as givens, and only notice their defects, real or imagined.

    You don’t know how lucky you are to have the intelligence you obviously have. I do not want to downplay your problems, but they are “elite problems” if you know what I mean.

    BTW, I found your “this means war” post very amusing.

  7. Some of my recent comments on other blogs | David Collard Says:

    […] […]

  8. Default User Says:

    @David Collard

    You don’t know how lucky you are to have the intelligence you obviously have. I do not want to downplay your problems, but they are “elite problems” if you know what I mean.

    Ahh yes, the so called “high quality/high class” problem. Thank you for you words on my intelligence. While, along with Yogi Bear, I am probably “smarter than the average bear” I often feel more Wile Coyote than Roadrunner (while we are on cartoon metaphors).

    That said, I probably should stop writing whiny, self-indulgent posts. They make me sound worse off than I really feel, and are unlikely to provide guidance or relief to others (except in the “no life is wasted, you can always server as bad example” kind of way). I dislike sites deleting themselves but may go through my “back catalog” removing the worst offenders.

    Good luck with your new blog. Are you going to write posts, or leave it as a repository for your comments elsewhere? The idea of linking your comments is a good one; it offers an introduction to other bloggers and many of the comments where postworthy in themselves.

  9. David Collard Says:

    I shall probable write some posts. The thing is I have two other blogs under my own name (on science) and this would be my chauvinist rantings collected in one place under my pseudonym (David Collard). It would be a sort of hub for people to find other posts and blogs in the “gendersphere”.

    I shall probably save some of my earlier remarks from here and elsewhere and post them as posts on my new blog.

    I have written a lot of stuff at various places that ultimately got lost. I tend to write short things all over the place and they get lost, unless they are collated.

    [DU: I am sure your “chauvinist rantings” will be interesting. Reposting your comments is a good way of preserving them (and links to possibly interesting posts/discussions).]

  10. chicnoir Says:

    david alexander like the story, but somehow, it feels unfinished and unresolved
    agreed DA. One of my favorite authors* is famous for ending her stories in the same manner. It’s just that her writing is so good, that I can’t help myself even when I know i will be let down with the ending of her book.

    *Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

    [DU: I agree too. The unresolved ending was not by design. I just felt the story was becoming too long for a blog post. I probably should have written more or edited better. PS, You have been busy tonight, lots of comments, thanks!]

  11. chicnoir Says:

    for you default, I’m never too busy 🙂

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