“It’s time to be young again.” Tyrone masked his nervousness with a laugh.
“Are you sure we’ll remember each other?” Candice asked again.
“How could I forget the love of my life?” Tyrone replied, as he did every time.
A distracted-looking technician held up a tray, bearing two white pills. They picked up one each, but Tyrone’s arthritis and Candice’s tremors caused them to fumble, and the capsules rolled around on the tray. The technician tutted, glancing at the ticking wall clock. It was an analog timepiece with ‘SecondTime Clinics: Wake Up Young Again!’ stenciled across the face.
“We could wait another year,” Candice said hopefully.
“Dr Yang says we’re the oldest patients he has. Time isn’t on our side. And you’re…” Tyrone tailed off.
Candice shook her head, confused. “How did we get to be this old? And when did Dr. Yang’s son take over his practice?”
“It’s the same Dr. Yang: he just became younger, like most everyone else. Now it’s our turn. We have a vacation booked for tomorrow. Hiking, swimming, camping, like we used to.”
Candice beamed. “Will Jeanie and Mike and the old gang be there?”
“If you’re ready, Mr and Mrs Macdonald…” the technician interrupted. She nodded at the clock, trying to look sympathetic but not making a good job of it.
“Second-timer?” Tyrone asked, and the technician flushed guiltily.
“It’s all right,” Tyrone said kindly. “I know you have lots you want to do. We’ll be the same.”
The technician nodded. “I’m sorry. It’s just… I only came out of a pod a week ago. I was so old and there’s so much I want to do this time around that I didn’t the first time. There’s no third time, after all.”
Tyrone found himself trying to reassure the flustered technician. Candice always said he gave too much to other people. “I bet by the time we’re all old again there will be. The scientists will work it out.”
The technician shook her head, glancing around at the bright room and the two cylindrical pods laid out side by side. “I hear the doctors talking. We can flip the genetic switch and make the body reset its DNA according to its backup copy, but it corrupts the backup in the process. It’s a new technology. They’d rather nobody did this, until they work out how to finesse the process, but…” she shrugged.
Tyrone nodded. “But when the alternative is dying…”
“The old gang: will we see them?” Candice repeated.
Tyrone turned back to his wife. “We’ll see the old gang. Except for Mike: he’s still in kindergarten. He lost too many years.”
“I remember now,” Candice said, gasping. “Mike came out a baby! Jeanie was inconsolable. Could that happen to us?”
“There’s nothing to worry about,” Tyrone said soothingly. “Most people lose between — what is it again?” he turned to the technician for backup.
“Your friend’s experience was the exception,” the technician agreed, slipping into PR mode. “The overwhelming majority of patients taking SecondTime experience a dialing-back of their body clock of between 36 and 51 years.”
Candice frowned. “That’s not enough to be really young again. Should we have done it earlier?”
Tyrone smiled. “No: this way we get to grow old together twice.”
“Your pods are pre-loaded with all of your memory recordings,” the technician said. “You’ll be listening to your life stories the whole time you’re in there. It gives you a good chance of remembering.”
She cleared her throat, looked at the wall clock, then tapped one of the sleek ceramic and glass pods. A flat screen was mounted on it.
“This will tell you how many years you’ve shed. It’s a wonderful, exciting moment.”
“I don’t feel well,” Candice whispered.
Tyrone raised Candice’s withered hand to his suddenly dry lips.
“Together,” he said, smiling.
“Forever,” Candice finished.
“It tastes like the vanilla ice cream we had on our honeymoon,” Candice exclaimed.
The technician motioned to the pods. “Please lie down before the medication takes effect. Let me help.”
Tyrone’s vision tunneled. “Candice first. I can manage.”
Through the pod’s glass lid, Tyrone saw an unfamiliar young technician fussing over Candice’s pod. His heart thumped in panic. He yelled, hitting a fist against the inside of his pod lid. It hurt. The woman turned at the sound and Tyrone laughed in relief.
“Candice!” he whispered. “It’s you! You’re so young.”
As his own pod opened, he saw the digital counter on Candice’s pod. “-68,” it read.
“You’re 20 again, my love!” Tyrone croaked. “That’s so much more than we could have hoped for!” His voice was weak, and when he sat up he was stiff. “Let me loosen up and I’ll join you! If I only lost half as much as you, we’ll be all right, won’t we? You always said I looked my best with some silver in my hair.”
Candice’s smile withered as Tyrone struggled free of his pod. She gasped in surprise, the way she used to.
Tyrone caught sight of his skinny, liver-spotted arms and clawed hands.
“Doctor!” he shouted, “You didn’t start my pod!”
A doctor burst into the room, trailed by people in suits carrying briefcases. They look mortified.
“Mr Macdonald, it did work,” the doctor said, smiling like a corpse. “But…” he gestured at the pod, and Tyrone followed his finger.
“-1,” the pod counter read.
“I’m sorry,” the doctor said. “It’s very, very rare, but there are outliers.”
“It’s in the small print,” one of the suited men said.
Tyrone fought rising panic.
“Together,” he whispered to Candice.
“Forever,” she replied hesitantly. But she didn’t come closer. And her eyes flickered to the clock.
David A. Gray is a Scots-born writer, photographer and designer, living in NYC. His stories have been accepted by Abyss and Apex, James Gunn’s Ad Astra, Starship Sofa and more, and his debut novel came out in 2019. He would like to be well enough known to be considered publicity-shy.