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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Fellowes


Updated: 5 days ago

Q: What if you could choose your age?

(Scroll down for Chapter three)

Chapter one - they were all at it

Everyone was at it. Unadulterated, uncensored, full-on-shit. All hours of the day, all days of the week. Man, even that old guy across the street was doing it. It was everywhere I looked.

I guess it was inevitable. Ever since Blue Zone Corp cracked cellular reprogramming and longevity became accessible to the masses, the obvious next step was age assignment. They discovered that our T-cells could be programmed into ageing cell killers or chimeric antigen receptors (CAR) and with a little manipulation, you could reverse or forward the aging process and choose whatever age you wanted. Choice was king after all. There was nothing you couldn’t choose anymore. Everything was accessible to everyone, everywhere.

Except for me. Off-limits. Thanks to my parents. AKA fun blockers. They were ex-Blue Zoners and for whatever reason they weren’t drinking the Kool-Aid. Nor allowing me to take a sip. Age morphing was totally verboten for me and I was paying the price for it at school, socially. I was the class outcast, static in age, unable to dip my toes in the forbidden elixir. Of course, age morphing was banned during school hours. We all still needed to learn, to experience life; any age acceleration didn’t necessarily translate into worldly acumen. But as soon as the end of day bells struck, they all became of legal age and headed off to the bars and clubs, leaving me behind. Many parents campaigned for parental control but the governments weren’t listening. Age morphing was too lucrative a business.

The other group campaigning against it was the ‘longevity industry’, mostly the Botox and supplements market who were once worth $421.4bn in 2030 but were now worthless. They were constantly lobbying the politicians but they might as well not have bothered. They were no longer relevant in this dog-eat-dog world.

Anyway I digress. Yup, big word. I actually listen in class. They were all at it. It wasn’t just the youth fake-IDing themselves up. Most ‘agers’ - that’s what they’re called - were clocking back the time, reliving their youths, having their best times again and again. I mean why wouldn’t you if it was there for the taking? This age group were the winners in this new scientific era, having wisdom and experience on their sides whilst enjoying the benefits of mental and physical youth. For it wasn’t just the body that rejuvenated when you de-aged. The brain regenerated itself too, repairing synapses and rebuilding neural networks. Studies were still at early stages but they were discovering ways to heal trauma through neuroplasticity by forming new pathways that could bypass damaged areas. All sounds too good to be true right?

It just meant that everyone looked the same now. A sweet spot of 26 for the women and 32 for the men. You just never knew what you were getting from the packaging until you peeled back the layers… that’s what my parents kept telling me anyway. They were advocates of the Now, of living life how we were meant to, of limited choice and being grateful for it. Yawn. I mean, they looked good for their ages, whatever that meant now. They ate well, they kept themselves fit and mentally agile. It was all just a bit too much effort from my perspective. With just some cell adjustments they wouldn’t have to bother.

Blue Zone had even made the procedure simple. Available in most drug stores and beauty salons, the Aeon was a glorified sun bed, in which you keyed in the age you wanted. Lasting 24 hours or until your next age re-programme, the manufacturers stated that it was safe to administer daily and to travel up and down the age spectrum. The zapping took only 20 minutes and then you were good to go. You just had to make sure you had the right clothing with you.

It would be a no-brainer to me if it wasn’t for my parents. They worried a lot. Pointlessly at times. There’s no independent testing, no long-term studies they whined. It’s as if they were blind to the fact that we were entering a new era and they were still stuck in the past. They were particularly concerned by kids my age growing up faster than they should. The brains developed in line with the physical maturity but they feared the lack of real-world experience would be detrimental to their mental health. Sometimes I really hated that they were so invested. Sometimes it was better not to know.

That’s how I felt when I received a Snap of Mum coming out of a store looking visibly younger. Isn’t that your Mum, someone had written? I thought you didn’t do it in your family, said another. You chicken?

Was I a chicken? Was I letting my parents’ fear taint my judgement? Shouldn’t I be rebelling against them as per my teenage rite? I looked at the photo again. Was that really her? Or an AI-image? I didn’t know. What I did know was that my parents were good people. They were just looking out for me… to the point of obsession. I wondered why they were like that? Why were they so anti-age morphing? How bad could it be? I mean, it wasn't going to damage me straight away, right? It's not like gonna hook me and turn me into an addict after one go. Could it? I’m sensible. I could handle it if everyone else could. And everyone else was doing it. Everyone. Shouldn’t I just join in and check it out? Especially now my Mum was too? What should I do?

Chapter two - hot pants, beer, grinding bodies

Piercing white light. Blaring silence. Skin prickle. What was that? Burning flesh? I squirmed. This was not pleasant. Breathe. What was I doing here? OMG, can’t take much more of this. The red button. Where was it? Press if you want to stop at any time, the guy had said. I can do this. Fucking hell. Breathe. I can. I can’t. I reached over, I hovered over the red button, the tip of my finger nestling snugly in the curvature of it, ready to push…

And then it’s over. Lights on. Lid opens, unfurling to reveal a mass of hexagonal prismatic cells, all containing the Aeon; age-morphing each and every one of us on mass.

I stepped out of the pod and reached for my freshly bought clothes. My new curves reflected back in the mirror and I averted my gaze, blushing. Was that really me? I sneaked another peep and this time I couldn’t get enough. I followed the undulating contours of my body with my fingers and a sensual charge of energy rippled through me. A wave of shame and guilt washed it away, leaving behind a heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach. What was that? I quickly dressed and headed out into the streets, the sun burning away any clouds.

The Snap Map showed that everyone was at The Proof, the bar where they didn’t ID you...even though I was currently physically of age. It was heaving when I got there. Hot pants, beer, grinding bodies. I didn’t know where to look. Hey, called out a familiar-looking guy. Don’t I know you, he said? You’re in my class right? The chicken? Hey, he called over to his friends. It’s the chicken. She’s all grown up. They swarmed around me. Man, you’ve turned out well…hot even, one leered. Are you going to show me those tits, said another. Want a boyfriend, smirked the one closest to me. I…I…I stammered. Heart racing, cold sweats, I had no idea what to do or say. Sensing my discomfort, they laughed and flicked at my straps, trying to pull down my top. I wrapped my arms around myself as a shield, making myself small when someone grabbed me and pulled me out from under them. Leave them alone, she said. So immature, she continued, trailing me behind her. Come and hang out with some real ass grown-ups. I’m Cassie, we’re in chemistry together, I sit at the back. Don’t waste your time on them, she winked. Meet Jared and Kris, they’ve just started their own company, something to do with measuring neuroplasticity, right? She dazzled a smile and I marvelled at how cool and collected she looked. You would’ve never guessed that we were the same age. Hi, I mumbled, I’m…but before I could introduce myself Cassie had pulled me on to the dance floor and next thing I knew, we were dancing, the music taking me over and we were laughing and she looked like she really wanted me there, smiling and holding my hand. Someone gave me a drink and it was sweet and made my head light up. Then I’m dancing real close to one of the guys, was it Jared or the other one? I didn’t know. My head was spinning now along with my body as I got bolder with my dance moves. I never realised how cool a dancer I was. So confident. So sexy.

So hungover. I don’t know how I ended up back at his apartment. Half-dressed, nauseous, feeling ashamed, dirty. I collected my things and sneaked out before he woke.

My parents were playing bananagrams when I got home, back to my rightful age. Wanna join, they asked? Normally I would’ve laughed at such a suggestion but I felt compelled to hug my Mum. You alright honey, she asked, stroking my head. I nodded and snuggled in deeper. The innocence and safety of home suddenly made me feel sad. My night of rebellion had left an empty feeling in my heart.

But that didn’t stop me from returning to Aeon. I wanted more. More of that dopamine-fuelled hedonism. I felt that the answer to my feelings of emptiness was to dive right back into the chaos that brought me so much pleasure for that short-lived moment. Maybe I could try a different age, even just by a few years…see if a little more maturity might take away that bitter aftertaste. That loss of innocence.

So I experimented. Tried a whole bunch of ages, of experiences, of sights that were previously shielded from me. It was a seesaw of excitement then fear. Elation then shame. I had never felt more confident amongst my peers and other times so vulnerable around them. It was worth it. I was no longer an outcast. I belonged.

My parents sensed me pulling away from them after that one night of regression. They attributed it to puberty, the customary ritual of cutting the apron strings and becoming more independent. It’s what they wanted for me but they could see that I was struggling. The more choice I had and the more experiences I indulged in, the more anxious I felt. I wanted to be a grown-up and be part of the gang but at the same time I wanted to remain a kid. It was hard to stop once you’d taken that first leap and the more I tried to resist and failed, the worse I felt about myself. The guilt was unbearable.

I hadn’t heard from Cassie in a while when she called. I’m meeting Jared and Kris tonight, she said. Wanna make up a foursome? We’ll score some stuff and we can stay over at theirs. Just say you’re at mine to your parents and I’ll do the same. Meet you at Aeon at 6pm? How old shall we be for them?

I hesitated. I didn’t know what I wanted. I wanted to belong, for Cassie to like me, to hang out with her and do all the crazy grown-up things with her. But I also wanted to be good, stay my age, chill at home and cocoon in the safety of my Mum’s arms. Oh to be a kid again but I had to grow up some time, didn’t I? Maybe not quite yet. But everyone else was. What was wrong with me? I didn’t know how to feel. The excitement of Aeon and everything that came with it was thrilling. But the emptiness of the after and perpetually wanting more was tiring. What do you say, asked Cassie. Are you in or out?

Chapter three - we have agency

I was all in. Deep. Up to my neck. Breath tight and shallow. Anxiety strangling me with one of her cords and ribbons. The things I’d seen, the things I’d experienced, you couldn’t make it up. And once you’ve seen something, you couldn’t unsee it. Ever.

My finger hovered over the red button in the Aeon, the air getting thinner and thinner around me as I breathed in gulps and splutter. I needed to get out of here, no longer wanted to age-morph. What was once thrilling now tormented me. I was exhausted. I was broken.

I pressed the button to abort, jabbing at it and banging on the sides of the wall as panic set in. Get me outta here, I screamed. Please let me out, I cried, snot and tears mottling my cheeks. Oxygen was running out, I could feel it and in my frenzy I stood up too swiftly, knocking myself out.

Hazy grey shimmer, like millions of flies buzzing around in front of my eyes. I pulled myself up and shielded my face from the darkness. Where was I? I felt sad, empty, hopeless. Mum, I cried out. Mum, I yelled. Mummy, I whispered as I slumped back down to the ground. I missed her, I even missed my Dad. I wanted to be back at home, safe in their arms, no cares in the world like it used to be. Why had I never appreciated it then, so desperate to grow up instead?

Then I saw her. My Mum. In the distance, in the darkness, a spotlight on her. Mum, I cried out but she couldn’t hear me. I ran towards her, shouting out her name. She was with Dad, arms around each other, in their own world. I felt an ache in my heart, a murky feeling I used to get when I was little, a feeling of jealousy, that I was simply an addition to their already perfect unit.

I watched them amble down the street, arm in arm, making sure they didn’t see me, skulking at a safe distance. They stopped outside Aeon and my heart sunk further. What were they doing here? Were those rumours true after all? I stared in disbelief as Mum hugged Dad and walked through the main doors. My parents were hypocrites. It was as if my world was collapsing around me. No one could be trusted any more. Not even them.

I followed her in, not quite sure why, prolonging my anguish perhaps. Maybe I wanted to feel something for all I felt was numb. I stopped in my tracks. Who was that talking to her? Looked familiar. And then I realised. It was Jared…or Kris, one of them anyway, I never knew which. What was he doing with my Mum? They looked comfortable with each other, not a casual acquaintance, talking intensely. What could this mean? I needed to get closer, hear what they were saying but every time I got nearer, they moved further away. The spotlight on them within the murky darkness kept following them wherever they went, out of my reach, always within sight. I had to find a way. I had to know.

I find the game of bananagrams overwhelming at first. So many letters, time ticking away as you try to conjure up a word. Then a veil of calm descends upon you as you commit to that first word, the other words spring naturally from it. Euphoria never lasts though. Always a couple of letters that can't be placed. The frustration, the agony, the stress. It’s only when you dig down and draw on your convictions that nothing is fixed, that change is possible at any given moment and that we all have agency, you get the confidence to break up a word and start again. This was one of those moments.

I reached out my hand so it looked like it was hovering over my mother. I grabbed at her spotlight, squeezing it within my fists and pulled it towards me. My mother and Jared, deep in conversation, contained within the cone of light and diminutive in form, floated over in my grasp. I lifted them to my ears so that I could hear their conversation. What did the latest readings show? Brain activity…monitoring…impulses…what were they talking about? I had no clue. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder. I let go of the spotlight and spun round to see who it was. Dad. Then Mum was standing in front of me, normal-sized, smiling lovingly as always. What’s happening, I asked? I don’t understand what’s going on, I cried. My mother gave me a tight squeeze to calm me down. She always knew what to do. She took a deep breath. We’ve been waiting for the right time to tell you, she said. We’ve been monitoring how age-morphing is affecting brain activity, rewiring brains, impairing prefrontal cortexes. Jared and Kristopher have been helping us. Best neuroscientists ever. I think you’ve met? I blushed. And we were right, continued my mother. We’ve always been right but Blue Zone never listened to us. We had to protect you from Aeon but we were naive to think we could keep you away from it indefinitely. We did everything we could, even tested on ourselves to shield you but…we’ve run out of time.

What do you mean, I asked? Mum averted my gaze. We were so desperate to protect you, we even asked the guys to keep an eye on you. And Cassie. Cassie, I exclaimed? How? Mum grabbed my hand and placed a key in my hand. We haven’t got time, she said. You need to get out, take this, use it. Get the data. Make the world see before it’s too late. Jared and Kristopher will help you. Cassie will look after you. But Mum, I hesitated, why can’t you? Dad put his arms around her and mouthed, it’s time. She nodded and took me in her arms and hugged me with all the love in the world. My father wrapped his arms around us and for a moment, we were the perfect unit.

Then I was back in the pod, throat tightening, oxygen depleting, red button malfunctioning. But I had the key. In my hand. Just like the one my mother had given me. It slotted in smoothly in the lock and as I turned it, the pod lid sprung open and I could breathe again.

Cassie was standing outside, waiting. We’ll be late for school, she said. We need to hurry. She pulled me out and straightened my hair, just like my Mum used to do. I looked in the mirror. I was back to my rightful age. Come on, let’s go, said Cassie. She was dragging me out of the building, just like she pulled me on to the dance floor that very first meeting. Aren’t you going to change back for school, I asked? She ignored me but kept tugging me behind her. We’ll be late, she repeated. It then dawned on me that I’d actually never seen her my age.

We arrived outside the classroom just in time. Have a good one, Cassie said as she pushed me through the door. Aren’t you coming, I said as I stumbled in. But she was already there, standing at the front of the classroom, looking out on to us. Then I understood. I felt a lump in my throat, tears welling. Cassie clapped her hands together to get the attention of the class. Good morning, she smiled. I’m your new form teacher. I’ll be looking after you from now on.

📷: Sigmund


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