‘What’s wrong with your beefmeat, Fy?’
Fjonn stared glumly at his untouched plate, ‘I’m not hungry.’
‘He’s yucked out from the Museum!’ Aelza piped up, helpfully. ‘They showed us beefmeat from thousands ago – actual animal flesh!’ The thought didn’t seem to deter her, tucking fervently into her own perfectly marbled slab. Fjonn turned pale.
‘They made them have lots of babies and put them in cages their whole life! Then when people got hungry… ‘ Aelza swallowed a mouthful, and drew a line with her finger across her neck impressively.
Fjonn looked close to tears. Mother leaned down gently and took away his plate.
‘Savage, weren’t they… maybe evenmeal isn’t the time,’ she gave Aelza a pointed look, then turned to a gleaming enamel pantry and said, ‘Nutribar’ to the embedded digital screen.
‘What else did you see today?’
Fjonn opened his mouth, but not before his sister.
‘Ancient animals were so lux! We got to see the VR-Zoo! Mammoths! And elephants, sabre tooth tigers, and rhinorecisses, and great white sharks!’
Aelza sat back and brushed a wavy lock of hair away from her doe-like eyelashes, her discourse at a temporary lull. Her disdain for the rich, coppery auburn tone Mother had spent months agonising over - the shade she had always wished her own parents had chosen for her, that so beautifully contrasted with the blue-grey eyes – produced a deep pang, always in the most unsuspecting moments.
Fjonn took the chance to pipe up, ‘I’d rather live back then. It’d be lux seeing a real whale in the sea, or a manta ray! I’d be vegetarian, though,’ he added as an afterthought.
‘No way!’ Aelza’s silence was predictably short-lived, ‘you couldn’t even swim then cuz sharks would eat your arms and legs, and you’d die forever! And they had wars against each other and then you’d die forever too! No ReGen, remember. You’d be cracked to wanna go back to then.’
‘She’s right,’ said Father, ‘you sure you’d want to go back there, Fy? People were extremely fragile. You got sick, injured, that was that,’ he paused momentarily to swallow a mouthful of beefmeat.
‘We should all be very grateful, shouldn’t we?’ Mother eyed the children in turn, and handed the compact bar of dense, nondescript nourishment to her son.
‘Imagine dying of something as simple as a bacterial infection, or being paralysed forever by one stupid accident,’ Father shook his head in pity, ‘or cancer. Without cell ReGen, a ball of cancer cells just keeps growing and growing, and spreading, until eventually it takes over your whole body. Nothing you can do.’
Mother sighed. History was a favourite subject of her husband, but none of it seemed pleasant.
‘You could get sick in the mind too. Even if you were young and healthy and avoided war, you could have an illness that made you sad all the time, or worried all the time even when everything was going alright around you. Imagine that.’ Father tucked in to the last of his meal, and continued with a mouth full of cultured beefsteak, ‘Even if those things didn’t happen, all your body parts would wear out eventually, and that was it. You started accumulating damage the moment you were born, back in those days, and you just had to accept it.’
‘They showed us what happens to old people before ReGen,’ Aleza added, ‘they end up slowly crinkling up like sultanas. Everyone was so worn out, and fat, and UGLY. And they were stuck with each other! You only got to have one coupling and one family your whole life forever. You’d get soooo sick of each other.’
Father chuckled, ‘Well, supposedly. That was the ideal in some places at the time. I guess they weren’t living all that long, so being in the one coupling your whole life wasn’t too much of a stretch.’
Aelza considered her parents curiously, ‘How many couplings have you had?’
Mother laughed, ‘no more questions.’
Father stopped chewing as a thought occurred.
‘Did they show you how people spawned children back then? Even that was a traumatic process, very dangerous.’
It transpired that the children had not been introduced to ancient birthing practices, and only when Mother threatened them with dishes ‘the old way’ did Aelza’s fruitless interrogation relent.
Mother stared through the ceiling at the intangible droplets speeding down toward her, then vanishing to leave her dry, warm sheets untouched; a million tiny anticlimaxes. The chorus of rain patter was their preferred bedtime ambience. The setting hadn’t been changed for months.
‘Not sleeping?’ Father inquired. He sat up and moved toward her, one hand stroking her platinum blonde hair. He took in the silhouette of her delicate nose and full, rosy lips in the semi-darkness.
‘What’s got your mind, Laaney?’
Mother’s gaze remained fixed on the ceiling.
‘You know, I do wonder what it must have been like, sometimes,’ she paused, ‘before ReGen, back the way it was. Just getting a little sentimental I guess.’
‘Ah, getting to that time of the month, isn’t it?’
Mother nodded, ‘I’m due another treatment next week.’
‘You do tend get a bit this way when it’s wearing off, my love.’
‘I know,’ she turned towards him, ‘Do you never feel that, though? That it’d be nice, in a way, to know you only had a short time on this earth, and one family to share it with. In a way, it’d be all the more precious.’
Father appeared to consider this momentarily.
‘I get what you’re saying, but in the end... I don’t really see that loving one person your whole life purely because you die too soon to grow out of the relationship... is all that much more romantic.’
‘I know, I know. But imagine it for a moment. Knowing it’s going to end in the blink of an eye, that that’s all the time you get. Having children with that person – children made up of the two of you alone, just your DNA and no one else’s, who look just like you, even have the same little quirks you do.’
Father snorted, ‘all the diseases and deformities and personality flaws that came with that!’
Mother smiled without conviction, ‘I’ve been doing this a lot longer than you, my love,’ she fingered the obligatory tiny, golden pendant he had given her – this one shaped like a heart, a feature she’d always thought a little old-fashioned, but it was discreet enough. The access code stowed inside the locket was little more than a token; she had memorised it, as she had in most previous couplings. Her thoughts turned to the long untouched drawer where, among a few disused regenerative mascaras, laid 14 similar pendants. Her thoughts were interrupted.
‘Oh by the way, I’ve been thinking about Fjonn. He looked a little sad this last week, not sure what it is.’
‘I noticed as well.’
‘I think it might be time to run another Psy algorithm on him and tweak the levels a bit. Poor kid.’
‘I’ve been wondering that myself. Never had to recalibrate the thing so frequently on any of my kids before. He’s such a good boy. I don’t want him unhappy.’
Father continued, ‘Imagine the poor child living back in those times. These kids...don’t know how good we have it. I think they get more oblivious to their luck every generation I raise.’
Mother nodded absent-mindedly.
‘Yes, they’ve really no idea.’