(fiction by Shubashree Desikan)
A tiny dark shape scampered across the portico. Mesa glanced up, briefly pulled out of his reverie. ‘A squirrel’, he registered, his mind still floating restlessly here and there.
The last of the guests had left and Mesa was indulging the familiar empty feeling that comes after a huge party. What a special birthday it had been. ‘That may well be the last time I meet all of those friends together,’ he registered, sombrely.
It all went back to his meeting with Doctor Isai, a month ago.
Doctor Isai had greeted him at the doorstep, a very unusual casualness, ‘Hi there, Mesa! Come in and make yourself comfortable.’ He led Mesa into a plush consultation room.
Dressed in a pale pista-green shirt, his trousers hugging his slim form, Doctor Isai seemed to be exuding confidence, except for that shadow of concern in his hazel eyes. He put his arm around the older man’s shoulder almost hugging him and ushered him into a comfortable lounging chair.
The doctor’s warm and attentive behaviour was not new to Mesa. At 250 years of age, this was something he attributed to his seniority and to being the oldest patient under his doctor’s care. But this time, Isai’s face looked just a little too grim for it to be good news.
‘What’s the matter Doc? Am I a goner?’ Mesa asked abruptly.
Isai liked Mesa. He was an old charmer and that made what he had to tell him that much more difficult. After some preamble, he broached the issue. ‘You know, don’t you, that 65 percent of your brain has been replaced by synthetic neural tissue. That’s not all. Your body is almost fully automated. You have been pulling on with this and now face permanent damage to the remaining 35 percent of your brain. To put it bluntly, your brain has reached the end of its lifetime as far as we can tell’.
It was worse than what Mesa had feared. Now he knew the reason for his fatigue and breathless spells. He had at most three months to live with that brain.
Mesa meditated on this for a moment, and then he said with a little smile, ‘So that will be the end?’
‘No! Mesa I am not done yet.’ said Isai. ‘There is one way out. We could complete the process you have been already undergoing – replacement of your natural brain with substitute brain tissue grown from your own cells… but…’
So there was a way out, thought Mesa, why was Isai hesitating?
‘But what?’ he asked eagerly.
‘Here it is! Replacing the core of your brain fully will mean that you will lose every memory of your own life, every face, every single action, everything will be erased from your mind. You will lose yourself. What is more, you will lose every notion of ‘self’. Yet, you can continue to live and function in a different sphere.
‘You mean I will be a… a self-less organism, a robot?’
‘Something like that’, the doctor affirmed. ‘You will lose your consciousness of self. You can no longer live among your friends and family as you used to. It has been done before. You will be removed to National Space Services. You can work for outer space explorations. You can still serve humanity.’
Waves of emotion swept over Mesa – Pain, Desperation, a desperate helplessness. ‘Oh let me die,’ he exclaimed.
‘Not so fast’, said the doctor, somehow managing to smile. There was something strange in his voice, even sly, as he added. ‘You have trusted in the future so far. Each of the replacements done to your body was a blind step into the future. You can take such a step again. You could have the surgery, and place your trust in the future. Perhaps one day a reversal or improvement of your condition would become possible…’
Mesa promised to think over the situation and left the consultation room.
One month passed quickly. He summoned all his friends to ask should he opt for it or no, but he still had too many questions and the appointment was nearing.
Should he opt for surgery and just accept that the lease ends in three months? What is better – immortality or death, self or life? What would he be without a self? But then, he could at least be. Had he come this far to perish like every other ordinary being?
The last cigarette was lying in his case. Should he smoke it or not? He picked it up as if to light it. Right when it reached his lips, he drew it across his nostrils and took a deep deep breath. In that moment, his decision was made.
At peace now, Mesa un-hurriedly flicked open the mobile communicator embedded in his left palm to call Doctor Isai…
The author is based in Chennai, India. She has a PhD in physics and currently focuses on journalism and literary writing. Visit her blog to read her work in various magazines and newspapers.
Artwork: Heads and Brains / S Vowles/ Satire on George IV in support of Queen Caroline, his estranged wife. The new king spent much of the lead up to his coronation trying to get rid of her/ 1820 / The National Archives/ Flickr The Commons