Thomas Darden was eight years old when his father insisted he have a full brain transplant. He would watch him sitting alone reading poetry or sketching ornate landscapes on the patio slabs with chalks and wish for a child that played sport and had friends, just like when Mr Darden himself was young.
Once he had convinced Mrs Darden, the couple poured over glossy colour catalogues, unfolding pullouts of ECG scans, tracing fingers over brain maps as consultants told them all about the fresh batches just in. They created a wish list of favourite brains from those on offer, placed their bids and waited for the auctions to end.
While they failed to secure their first choice, Mr and Mrs Darden were happy with their eventual purchase. Once installed the brain was true to it’s item description, craved exercise and companionship, was socially confident and not a little charismatic. Once Thomas had moved off the obese spectrum they enrolled him in a new, fee-paying school and crossed their fingers. Mr Darden, at work, boasted of his son’s new-found prowess on the rugby pitch. Mrs Darden found herself filling the hours reading Thomas’s old books, her finger following the words as she read the annotations Thomas had scrawled on the margins in biro.
‘Is he everything you hoped for dear,’ Mr Darden said, the following summer when Thomas arrived home for summer break.
The couple were watching him from the patio as he practised his martial arts.
‘He’s just perfect,’ Mrs Darden said.
The boy moved his arms slowly around his body, slipping from defensive to offensive postures with ease.
‘He’s doing so well, class President when school starts again this autumn, debating team captain, football team captain,’ Mr Darden said.
‘Yes, dear.’ Mrs Darden’s voice trailed off as Thomas, exercises complete, crossed the grass to them.
‘I’m going for a shower then off up the bowling alley with the gang,’ he said.
‘Good for you, son.’ Mr Darden gave his son a hearty smile and a slap on the back.
Thomas bent down to kiss his mother, who flinched almost imperceptibly. Neither of the men noticed.
‘What a young man, eh?’ Mr Darden said, nudging his wife playfully.
‘Indeed,’ she mumbled.
In the autumn, when Thomas returned to school, Mrs Darden ordered the equipment on a private Amazon account, keeping the invoice off the family account used by her husband. When the parcel arrived she concealed it in the bottom of her wardrobe. It took her three days to assemble the item, stealing an hour her and there while her husband was out and other commitments did not require her attention.
Only when it was ready did she make the phone call.
‘Yes, I’d like to make a withdrawal.’ She told the consultant on the other end of the phone. ‘No I don’t have a body for it.’
She listened to the voice for a moment.
‘That’s right. I have a base station and nourishment apparatus. Quite. The model with the voice modulator and aural receptors. I plan to purchase the optical upgrades next month.’
Mrs Darden collected her son’s original brain on his birthday. The new Thomas wouldn’t be coming home until the Christmas holidays. She made sure she got home with plenty of time before Mr Darden would be back from work. The storage facility staff had fitted the plug-in adaptor base to the nutrient jar as she requested. It into the base station with ease. She checked the battery packs for both the nutrient jar and the interactive base station were primed before switching it on.
She had put the device on the kitchen table to put it all together. She stared at the naked contours of her son’s original brain. Traced a hand across the glass, following the folds and creases of his temporal lobe . Her eyes glanced at the kitchen clock. Not much time. She flicked the switch.
‘What was that?’
The voice was that of an eight year old. It crackled and shimmied from the little speaker in the base unit but the fear it held was undistorted.
‘It’s okay, Thomas, Mummy’s here,’ Mrs Darden said.
‘Yes dear?’ Mrs Darden pressed her palm to the glass of the jar.
‘Where am I?’
The room was quiet for a moment. Then the sound of a car pulling up the drive filled the space between Mrs Darden and her son’s brain.
She scooped the apparatus off the table and ran upstairs with it, heard the key in the front door as she bundled the brain into the bottom of her wardrobe, next to the pile of Thomas’s old poetry books.
‘Mummy, are you there?’
Mrs Darden silenced the speaker with a lick of a switch.
‘Don’t worry, darling, Mummy’s right here.’
She kissed the ends of her fingers and placed them on the jar, just as she used to on her son’s forehead when, as a baby, he slept.