by Brian FH Clement
"Mister Lee, is it? Mister Lee, I need to ask you a number of questions before we go any further. You understand the necessity, yes?"
Anton Lee looked around the soft, lime green walls of the office for a moment, and listened to the sounds of birds chirping outside the window. The sound might have been a recording piped in to allow potential patients to feel relaxed. If so, it was working. "I do understand, of course, Doctor. I guess this can be a life-altering procedure."
"Indeed, it is. Clarity is not something that should be undertaken lightly. Once performed, the surgery is not entirely permanent, but in order to reverse it, there is the high possibility of emotional damage. It also costs more to reverse than to have the procedure performed in the first place."
"I read that in the pamphlet, yes."
"We also need to be certain of your current mental and emotional state. That you're stable."
"Understandably. I took the test."
"And once the results are back, we can determine fully your suitability. For example, we can't have someone have Clarity performed so that they can remove their anxiety about committing a revenge murder. Of course, revenge is motivated by emotional concerns that Clarity would effectively nullify, so we haven't had any trouble with that yet. We'd still be considered partially liable if we were to enable someone's criminal activity though."
"That makes sense. You can't just eliminate one set of emotions?"
"Clarity isn't quite so selective. In order for the procedure to be effective, and for the individual undergoing it to continue functioning, what we do is dampen the most extreme emotional responses. Anger, hatred, lust, anxiety, excitement, jubilation, that sort of thing. If you had no emotional responses, you'd lose all will to live."
Lee tapped his fingers on the chair's arm. "I've read about the experimental failures, people becoming so apathetic that they starved to death. Is that true?"
The Doctor scrunched up her mouth and nodded. "Unfortunately, to some degree. What you've probably read is an exaggeration, but there were some cases in which the worst did happen with complete emotional erasure. They felt no need to clean themselves because they felt no disgust, or discomfort, nor did they care what anyone thought about how they looked or smelled. They stopped eating and drinking because while they knew they had to eat, it didn't bother them that they were hungry or thirsty. They also lost almost all motivation to do anything - work, leave the house, exercise. That version of the procedure came to an end very quickly. Years ago, and never since. Which is why the approved, modern procedure only eliminates the extremes."
Lee frowned and pursed his mouth, the cleared his throat. "May I ask, how will it affect sex? Will I still be able to perform sexually?"
The Doctor pointed a finger at nothing in particular. "Now you see, that confusion, even your trepidation over asking that question will be gone. Since you'll no longer feel shame or guilt, you'll feel less inhibited in your attitudes. Of course, the flipside of that is that your lust will be almost entirely absent. The effects vary from patient to patient, but most we've seen have been able to continue sexual activity. The difference is that it will be more mechanical. My understanding based on what patients have told us is that it is similar to a gym workout, like running on a treadmill or doing bicep curls."
"Interesting. May I ask how the procedure is achieved?"
"After sedation, we perform an operation that implants a cybernetic device in your brain. It functions by moderating communication between the two hemispheres of your brain to dampen emotional responses."
Lee looked down at his hand, then moved it back to the arm of the chair. "Have there been any complications resulting from the surgery?"
The Doctor cocked her head to one side, then back again as she thought for a moment. "In one instance, during early trials, a patient became convinced that he was able to see past the boundaries of our universe, and that something was looking back at him. Absurd, of course. Once he had the procedure reversed, his hallucinations stopped, naturally."
"That's good to know," Lee said.
"Now, I have ask your reasons for considering Clarity. As I mentioned earlier, we must be certain that your intentions cannot lead to any potentially destructive outcomes."
Lee frowned. "More than what the questionnaire will tell you?"
"Yes," the Doctor replied. "This interview is something of an extra safety net."
Lee cleared his throat. "My marriage fell apart fairly recently."
"Just over a year ago."
The Doctor nodded. "That's good. Our limit for relationship issues is one year. Go on."
Lee took a deep breath. "And since then I've had trouble at work. Trouble sleeping. Digestive problems, anxiety, that sort of thing. I can't get the negativity out of my head. I can't get back to a state of normalcy. It's like a shitty feedback loop of being upset, feeling sick, being unable to sleep, and then that makes me more upset, increases my stress, which leads to more trouble sleeping."
"I assume you've tried alternative treatments."
"Yoga, meditation, hypnosis, drugs, exercise." Lee threw his hands up in frustration. "Seeing my friends more. Family time. Acupunture. Prayer. Everything. Nothing helps."
The Doctor thought on this for a moment. "As you yourself said, Clarity is a life-altering procedure. It's not something that can be a quick fix when you're upset. The only real cure for heartache is time."
Lee took another deep breath, and sighed. "I don't mean to be looking for a quick fix. It's not just that she left me. Before the marriage it was like this with three other women I had been with. I'm sick of the same feelings over and over again."
"That's just the human condition. You must understand that Clarity will alter you fundamentally as a human being."
Lee sat back in his chair. "It almost sounds as if you're trying to talk me out of the procedure."
"I'm a doctor, not a customer service rep. You should be certain that Clarity is right for you. You must know, with complete conviction, that it is what you want. That you want the faucet of feelings to be shut off."
"I do. I definitely do."
"Then let me go over some caveats." The Doctor looked at her computer pad, and scanned her finger down a list.
Lee shook his head in modest refusal. "Tell me the pros before the cons. Please. That’s why I'm paying for this consultation."
"Very well." The Doctor scanned to another page. She read down for a moment and looked at Lee. "Some of these Pros might also be considered Cons, depending on your own attitude to them."
Lee shrugged. "I want to hear them."
The Doctor raised her eyebrows as she looked down at the pad again. "Clarity is free to members of the military." She looked up at Lee. "It helps considerably with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder."
"I imagine it makes it easier to deal with death and violence as well."
The Doctor nodded. "You'll still choose to avoid pain and bodily injury, you just won't suffer from terror or fear that shuts you down completely."
"That does sound handy. Although I'm not planning on going off to war any time soon."
The Doctor went on. "You'll remember your emotions, so you'll still have an understanding of what others go through. Your compassion won't disappear. This isn't a recipe to become a psychopath. It will differ from how you think of emotions now, though. I suppose it's similar to the way you can remember being ill, but the exact sensations are something that fade quickly from memory."
"You don't mean to say that emotions are an illness, do you?" asked Lee.
The Doctor smiled. "No, not at all. It's just a metaphor. If you prefer, think of it as the reverse. Healthy now and you'll have a hard time remembering how health felt when you have the flu in the future."
"You're not painting an attractive picture. You're supposed to be giving me the pro side of the argument."
"You're right. It's a poor analogy. Being ill is terribly uncomfortable. Clarity isn't uncomfortable at all. When genuinely ill for example, after Clarity you'll still find it unpleasant, but your reactions won't be of anger, frustration, disgust, or annoyance. You'll simply view it as something you have to deal with and wait out. You'll very likely become more aware of physical sensations, and thus gain a greater understanding of yourself as a person. Since you won't have any emotional response to, for example, a cold wind, or a glass of whiskey."
Lee held up a finger as if asking for time. "That's another question. What happens if I get drunk? Or stoned?"
"As I said, you'll be more aware of physical sensations. You'll notice your speech slurring, your motor functions diminishing, or in the case of marijuana, your senses becoming more heightened or attuned. Since you'll be so aware of the changes in physical sensations, you'll have a greater awareness of when to cut yourself off. The same relaxing effects would be present, but you'd hardly need them. There would be a complete absence of the need to flirt or become violent while under the influence. Your pleasure in those things would be diminished. In fact, most patients report near total abstinence from inebriants as they simply no longer desire them, or want the lack of inhibitions they feel. Clarity already provides that, to a degree. The relaxation as well." The Doctor smiled. "We call it Clarity for a reason."
"That sounds great, really," Lee said.
The Doctor continued reading from her list. "You'll likely find it easier to concentrate, since you won't be distracted by emotional concerns. You may take up new skills with greater ease, as you'll be able to focus more on the mechanics of, say, playing the guitar, or speaking a new language. You'll be able to sleep much more easily. Nights you've spent lying awake, thinking about some argument you got into years ago, or a time someone embarrassed you in public, or when you said or did something stupid while drunk? Gone. You'll sleep like a baby. Digestive troubles as you've described will likely vanish, except of course in the case of genuine illness or food allergy. If you create a routine for yourself, for example with exercise or dieting, you'll have an easier time sticking to it. Any former compulsive behaviours you may have had - eating issues, self-doubt, addiction, obsessively checking social media - all will either disappear entirely or at the very least be far easier to mitigate and control."
Lee ran a hand through his hair and paused for a moment. "I can't see any problems here," he said with a smile.
"And if you are able to form a relationship with a romantic partner, or anyone really, you'll be more understanding, calmer, more patient. You'll be able to listen to them without prejudice or judgment, and without immediately reacting by way of emotions. Prejudice in general will disappear. You'll want to learn the most you can about something before coming to any conclusions, rather than forming conclusions based on your preexisting beliefs."
Lee made a fist and rubbed his thumb up and down his knuckles. "Again, that sounds excellent. But you say, 'if able to form a relationship'. That sounds a bit ominous."
The Doctor nodded. "Now this is where I come to the cons. You will have trouble forming relationships the way you're used to. People may find you cold or distant, with a personality they might recognize as more analytical and less empathetic. Your calm demeanour can be unnerving to some. Your reactions to stimuli that most people would respond to with a laugh, or a yelp of pain, or crying at someone's death, will be so muted that others may think there's something wrong with you. Of course, your desire for relationships, particularly romantic affection, will be muted as well."
Lee frowned. "I won't turn into a misanthrope, will I?"
The Doctor chuckled. "No, that's the result of emotional responses just as much as loving the company of others. You'll neither hate nor love being around people. Either will simply be a fact to you. You'll feel no empathy, but at the same time you'll recognize needless suffering as something you yourself went through, which is unnecessarily inflicted on others. You can choose to alleviate that or not."
"That sounds fine."
"And I think what gives people pause most of all, is the small, incremental differences. Things that you take for granted every day. Enjoying the sound of a piece of music, or a good joke, or even a hug from a loved one. All will be dampened until you only regard those things as purely functional or for aesthetic merits. You'll feel no nostalgia over things you enjoyed as a child."
"What about automatic responses, like smiling or frowning? Will I still do those?"
"Yes, but it will be more the result of a learned, mechanical behaviour. Your body will remember that you should make those gestures, but you'll feel no compulsion to do so. Over time, your smile for example might come to resemble that of someone who doesn't know how and is only imitating the smiles of others, or in your case, the smile you used to have. By the time you are much older, say thirty or forty years down the road, you may not smile or frown at all."
"Probably better for my wrinkles. I think I can deal with all of these. And as you mentioned, I doubt I'll be so concerned after Clarity."
"That's true. So we'll give you a full week to think it over before you proceed. Does that sound amenable?"
Lee chuckled. "I suppose my impatience to have the procedure done sooner is something that will disappear as well, once I have it done."
"Indeed. Thank you for coming in, Mister Lee. Any other questions should be addressed in our educational package, and if you have further concerns, you can contact our office again for more information. Should you choose to continue with Clarity, then I hope to see you in a week's time." The Doctor rose to shake Lee's hand.
Lee returned home. He read through the package, three times to be sure he didn't miss anything. He fretted, he worried, he tossed and turned while trying to sleep. After three days the Clarity office called him to let him know his test results looked good, and he had been approved. He made an appointment for the following week to have the surgery performed. Lee's nervousness over acceptance turned into anxiety over the upcoming procedure. He called his parents, and his friends, telling them what was happening, and reassuring them that he would still be the same person, but easier to deal with. On the surface he spoke to others, but it was more to reassure himself, and speaking to other people helped his own state of mind. He avoided telling his ex. Over the days leading up to the surgery, his nervousness increased. He worried about what might go wrong. He talked himself out of it, then back into it, and gave himself a list of reasons it would be fine. He was confident that Clarity was what he wanted.
The day arrived. He showed up for his appointment thirty minutes early. He read through the information package in the waiting room again, more to waste time than to allay his doubts. When his name was called, he took a deep breath and followed the nurse. Once he had changed and lay down on the operating table, he smiled up at the surgeon. It was the Doctor who interviewed him in her office the week previous. She smiled back, although her face was obscured by the surgical mask she wore.
Lee was sedated.
Upon awakening, everything was different. His nervousness was gone. The tightness in the pit of his stomach was absent. His shoulders were no longer in a constant state of tension. He didn't feel nagging gas pain. He wasn't annoyed about how much the procedure had cost him. He didn't even mind that he had been kept sedated for a full day after the procedure. He lay in a care bed for a week, resting and recuperating.
A week earlier, he would have been surprised at how quickly he recovered when he was stress-free, but now it was just another fact he noticed. He reflected on one of the reasons he had undergone Clarity: his stress over his last relationship. Now it was merely a collection of events and information. He recalled being upset, but it was like scanning a spreadsheet of numerical data entries rather than painfully flipping through a photo album of memories. It was if before the surgery, Lee had been stumbling through thorny bushes, barely able to make forward progress, and being scratched and nicked at every movement. Now, the bushes had been cut back and there was a clear path for him to walk. He might have been elated at this effect, but he realized that the lack of elation itself was what made everything so clear and simple.
After a brief exit interview to be sure he was all right, and his senses and mental faculties were intact, Lee was cleared to return home. The Doctor who had operated on him visited, and Lee listened as she spoke. In their first interview, Lee chuckled nervously several times. Now he only absorbed information and nodded, and gave simple answers to any questions she asked. He dressed, texted his parents and some friends to let them know he was being discharged, and he left the hospital. Outside, it was a warm, summer day. Birds chirped, and the sun warmed Anton Lee's face. He was neither relaxed nor agitated by this.
Copyright 2017 Brian Clement. No reprinting without permission.