The doctor's office was painted a disconcerting shade of gray, like storm clouds on a summer day, or wet pigeon feathers. It didn't help that the room was cold. Annika was fully dressed and sitting on the exam bed facing doctor Ivory who stood and smiled back at her. Annika was disconcerted by that smile. He kept varying it ever so slightly, as if thoughts were racing through his head that wanted to be spoken aloud but some greater part of him felt the need to censor those thoughts.
"So..." prompted Annika.
"Ah yes. It doesn't hurt. The procedure. It doesn't hurt. It does take a while." He spoke seriously but then the smile was back.
"Okay," said Annika. "What now?"
"You're in good health of course, so you will be able to proceed. With the procedure. You can leave your things here--you're not wearing any metal are you? Jewellery?"
Doctor Ivory ushered her through the door and down the hall. It wasn't a clinic or a hospital, but a lab in a university. Annika thought the money from participating in the study would help with the rising cost of tuition. They turned a corner and went through a set of fire doors. There were hazardous materials signs on some of the doors in the hallway. Annika felt a slight twinge that so much radioactive material was being housed in this wing. Doctor Ivory glanced back at her a few times with that unending smile. She forced a smile back at him.
"Here we are." He led her through a thankfully unmarked door into a room crammed with computers and cobbled-together equipment. There were also several lab assistants eating lunch and chatting. They went silent when they saw Annika.
"Fresh meat?" asked one of them, a man about twenty-five.
"Yes," said doctor Ivory.
"I'm not meat," Annika protested.
"Oh, no of course not!" said Ivory. "We treat everyone with the utmost care. It's just a bit of fun."
"Sorry," said the assistant.
"Are you ready?" asked another assistant, a woman who looked to be in her fifties.
"I guess," said Annika. "What do you need me to do?"
"She hasn't been completely briefed," said Ivory.
"That's your job," said the woman.
Doctor Ivory shrugged then quickly left the room.
"He always ends up making me do it," said the woman. "Fine." She turned to Annika. "You at least know that you're going to have your brain mapped. We're going to put you in the mapper--"
"Basically a modified fMRI machine," interjected the younger assistant.
"Yes. And that should be fine unless you're a bit claustrophobic, which you're not are you?"
"No, not really I guess," said Annika.
"Good. This next part tends to creep people out, but it's actually very harmless. Well...you might have a small amount of memory loss, but it's not detrimental, it's just to your short term memory. It's not like we're erasing anything."
All the lab assistants chuckled at the joke but Annika stared at them and thought about just leaving.
"What we do is induce a seizure."
"It's low level."
"Yes, there will be no damage."
"A seizure?" asked Annika, very worried. "You mean I'm going to flop around?"
"Not that kind of seizure."
"No, you will be physically safe."
"We're going to apply a low current to your brain to prep it--"
"What?" asked Annika.
"Totally safe. And then you will be stimulated with audio and visual inputs."
"This is done to active certain areas of the brain. Sort of to drill down."
"The whole process is a little like taking a barium marker when you're getting your digestive system mapped. Does that make sense?"
Annika stared back at the assistants.
"Okay, I guess," she said resignedly.
Five hours later she woke up in the wet pigeon room on the exam bed. Doctor Ivory was seated opposite her with his long legs crossed. He was tapping on a laptop. When he saw that she was stirring he reassumed the smile.
"How are you feeling?" he asked.
"I'm a bit dizzy," said Annika. "Did I faint or something? When do we start this procedure thingy?"
"Oh, you're done. I figured you might have some memory loss. It took more current than predicted to stimulate the seizure. You have a thick skull."
"You mean I'm done?"
"Yes," said doctor Ivory, his smile widening briefly as if he was contemplating an internal joke.
"No," said Annika skeptically. "Was I in the control group or something?"
"I can't answer that," said doctor Ivory.
Annika sat up completely.
"What does that mean?" she asked.
Doctor Ivory let his smile fade.
"What's wrong?" asked Annika.
"Nothing," he replied. "You just don't like my smile."
"No I...how would you know that?"
"You're a very practical person. Not often swayed by your emotions. That's useful."
Annika watched him. The smile was completely gone now, but he wasn't menacing. There was a part of him that made her feel like she was looking into a mirror.
"Doctor Ivory, what do you do with the maps once you have them?"
"They go into a database," he said. "We study them. Compare them."
"You use them, don't you."
"And you're analytical." His smile returned. "Yes. It can be hard to hide sometimes, especially when the imprint is fresh."
Annika took in a sharp breath.
"You've transferred my brain to yours? How does that work?"
"That's not it. Your map is overlayed on my brain. The pathways. I don't share your memories or anything. Just the parts of your personality that I've found useful."
Annika slipped off the bed and stood. The dizziness was gone.
"That can't be ethical," she said.
"No, it's not. But the procedure is not harmful to you. And you have been paid."
The pigeon gray pressed in on her and she felt colder; her fingertips tingled.
"Sure," she said, nodding. "Sure."