1650 words, short story
Informed Consent Logs from the Soul Swap Clinic
TECHNICIAN: Recording new consent document, procedure 228. Patient is a thirty-nine-year-old female. C-could you state your name for the record?
PATIENT “BLUE”: Sure! I’m [BLUE]. Is this, like, really formal?
TECHNICIAN: Um. Fairly. C-can you tell me about any reservations you have regarding the procedure?
BLUE: Probably what I’m most, like, nervous about—besides learning how to walk again [laughs]—is that my new body’s neural pathways won’t be developed right for engineering work. Not that I work since getting married. But you know. I like keeping up with nanomaterials and stuff.
BLUE: Oh, but I’m, like, totally on board.
TECHNICIAN: Great. I just n-need to ensure that you understand the medical risks before we schedule. Firstly, we strongly recommend against pursuing repeated swaps, which would increase your risk of d-developing epilepsy or Alzheimer’s in later life.
BLUE: No problem there. I don’t think my husband would, like, pay for me to swap back. [laughs] He’s really excited.
TECHNICIAN: Recording n-new consent document with primary sponsor of procedure number 228. [SPONSOR], I’m just going to ensure you understand the medical risks to your wife.
SPONSOR: We went through the think-pack. Obviously, we think it’s fine.
TECHNICIAN: She and [RED] will experience significant side effects as they habituate to each other’s neurology. They’ll have to essentially retrain themselves to interact with the world. N-nausea, visual or auditory hallucinations, loss of control of bodily functions. Some patients experience d-dysmorphic distress, which can be transitory or—
SPONSOR: Do we have to go through it all? My wife and I have the resources to get her back on her feet.
TECHNICIAN: I d-don’t doubt that, but I still need to walk you through the—
SPONSOR: She’ll be fine after a week or so, right? In [RED]’s body? Healthy; full of energy?
TECHNICIAN: Probably, but—
SPONSOR: Then we’ll be fine. Listen, is [RED] going to be here today? Can I see her? Get her autograph?
TECHNICIAN: C-could you state your name for the record?
PATIENT “RED”: Oh, honey. You know my name.
RED: Chill out, you’re making me nervous. Figured you’d be used to interacting with celebrities by now. I mean, you have to be rich as God to shell out for this. Like [SPONSOR].
TECHNICIAN: Well, we’re c-contracted by organizations more often than individuals.
RED: You mean spies and shit? Deep cover face changing shit?
TECHNICIAN: Um. I’m unable to disclose—
RED: [laughs] Oh my god. Maybe that’s who I should’ve swapped with instead. Some James Bond lady instead of a past-sell-by wife due for a flesh upgrade.
RED: What a freak, that guy, right? You know he paid me [REDACTED]? That’s more than I’ve made in ten years, just to stick an old trophy wife in his movie star crush’s skin.
TECHNICIAN: Once we get a “map” of each of your n-neurologies—basically a freeze-frame—I’ll program the machine. You and [RED] go to sleep, and when you wake up—
BLUE: Yeah. I get it.
TECHNICIAN: Are you alright?
BLUE: People ask if I miss the pageant days, but they never ask if I miss, like . . . all the stuff that came after. You know I was [SPONSOR]’s first technical hire, before he hit it big? That’s how we met. We were so different then. Both of us.
BLUE: Like, I guess what I’m saying is I miss going in to work in the morning. Doing science. You’re so lucky.
TECHNICIAN: It’s . . . alright. It’s fine. For me, it was better than the alternative.
BLUE: But you, like, went to school for this?
TECHNICIAN: I d-didn’t, actually. It’s kind of a long story. But it’s not hard! Practically automated. You’re in good hands.
BLUE: I’m so out of date in my field. Tools, techniques, all of it. Like, over a decade off. Even if I wanted to go back to work, I—
BLUE: Can I ask you something else?
TECHNICIAN: We really n-need to get through this script.
BLUE: Oh, sorry. I’m like, always talking too much. That’s what my husband says. Ever since my sister moved to Sydney and the café in our building shut down it’s been like . . . sorry. I’ll stop.
TECHNICIAN: N-no, go ahead and ask.
BLUE: It’s just, maybe you have a read on [RED].
TECHNICIAN: I n-never have a read on anyone. Fatal weakness.
[laughter from either BLUE or TECHNICIAN—unclear]
BLUE: But seriously, why would she agree to trade with me? Like, she gets my old-ass body and a brain that used to be good at microfabrications research. What else? Why would she ever want to, like . . . stop being her?
TECHNICIAN: I really can’t disclose c-content from these sessions.
BLUE: I’m sorry. I shouldn’t’ve asked. Just . . . you seem nice. Like the barista who used to work downstairs. He let me talk to him for as long as I needed to. During the day, when I was alone.
TECHNICIAN: Trophy wife? Please don’t call her that.
RED: Hey, no offense intended. It’s a solid gig! Hell, I considered it for a hot second before my breakthrough role. Just . . . intoxicating some yacht party with my presence until a powerful creature can’t help but take me home. You ever thought about what that would be like?
TECHNICIAN: . . . Yes.
RED: You mean you’ve pictured it, in your head?
RED: [laughs] Damn, boy! Knew this mouse had a material side. I’m never wrong about these things.
TECHNICIAN: I’m n-not saying—
RED: Anyway, listen, she’ll get plenty of love once the tabloids get wind that I’ve donated my rack to her cause. If I were her, I’d divorce [SPONSOR]’s nasty ass right after and have some fun.
TECHNICIAN: Do you think she’ll do that? D-divorce him?
RED: Don’t sound so hopeful, honey. Sometimes people get stuck.
TECHNICIAN: There’s no reason she can’t—
RED: She can walk away, but she can’t leave. You want somebody to leave, give them something to run toward.
RED: You know I can tell a lot about people, just by looking at them? I can feel their feelings and shit? My mom called it “hyperempathy.” Your think-pack said it was a highly developed EQ.
TECHNICIAN: Yes. It’s a c-competency not many people have. I’m envious. I’ve always wanted—
RED: I’ve spent my life trying to shut that shit out. It follows me closer than the damn paparazzi, or the kids on my feed who think they’re in love with me. I can feel that shit on my skin. I can walk away, but I can’t leave.
TECHNICIAN: I don’t understand.
RED: I’m ready to pilot that lady’s big engineer brain straight to my expensive new private island and solve Rubik’s Cubes for the rest of my life. Or lock myself alone in a room and cure cancer or something. She can keep the EQ for all I care if it means I can be alone for once. Alone on the streets, in my own brain, whatever. Both. Either.
RED: I mean, she’s lucky, right? Everyone’s forgotten her name.
TECHNICIAN: Last question: why are you undergoing this procedure?
BLUE: What do you mean?
TECHNICIAN: I just n-need an answer. Please. Tell me you have a reason to do this. Tell me that you want it.
BLUE: I . . . I want to.
TECHNICIAN: If you weren’t married—or if you left him, or he d-died one day—would you still want this? Would you still want to live in her body? Fight off tabloids forever?
TECHNICIAN: What if you had a better option?
BLUE: Yeah no, this is like, a life changing opportunity. Or whatever.
BLUE: Stop making that face, goddammit! Stop pitying me.
TECHNICIAN: I d-don’t pity you. I would love to have your life.
BLUE: No you wouldn’t. Don’t lie to me.
TECHNICIAN: I’m serious! The resources. The body you’re about to have. Her people-reading skills; the d-development of her anterior insula and her ACC.
TECHNICIAN: C-can I tell you something? My life before this job wasn’t good. I worked in a corporate lab and trusted the wrong guy. Got blackmailed. K-kept being forced into situations I couldn’t control. Then I met someone here who offered me a choice. The same choice someone else gave him.
BLUE: Must be nice, all these choices.
TECHNICIAN: What I’m saying is, this job—this life—wasn’t my first.
BLUE: Well, sorry if I don’t feel bad that you get to spend all day doing—
TECHNICIAN: I d-didn’t develop this stutter as a child.
TECHNICIAN: Someone else did.
[Investigator’s note: approx. eight minutes are unrecoverable due to audio file corruption. Note potential tampering.]
TECHNICIAN: Thank you, we’re c-clear to proceed. Are you alright with scheduling for two months out?
BLUE: Sure! God, I wish you really were my barista. I think we’d have a lot to talk about.
TECHNICIAN: Okay, people, time for final consent! This is, like, the last possible moment for takesies-backsies. [RED], how we f-feelin’?
RED: Golden. I consent to the procedure. Honey, you okay? You seem . . .
TECHNICIAN: Ready to go! F-f-full of energy. I was sick for, like, a week? But now I feel brand new. I’ve already thought of, like, a ton of improvements I w-wanna make to this procedure. “Automated” my ass.
RED: Huh . . . you don’t say. Good for you.
TECHNICIAN: F-fill me in, [BLUE]. You ready to, like, start a new life? Become the b-b-beautiful lady you see beside you?
BLUE: Um. Yes. I consent. I’m ready—I think I’ve been ready my whole life.
TECHNICIAN: Awesome. Thank you. Now it’s f-finally—finally—time for me to do some goddamn science. Let’s get this show on the road.
Sarah Pauling spent several years sending other people to distant places for a living as a study abroad advisor in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She’s now in Seattle, graciously sharing her home with two cats and a husband. A graduate of the Viable Paradise workshop, her stories have appeared in places like Strange Horizons, Escape Pod, and Diabolical Plots. If approached without sudden movement, she can be found at @_paulings on Twitter, where she natters on about writing, tabletop gaming, comics, and books.