The Procedure

The Procedure”

by P.A. Cornell

I expect there to be more to a test that will determine the length of your lifespan, but in the end it’s so simple I’m almost disappointed.

“What do we do with these?” Sam asks the young receptionist, holding up the tubes she just handed us.

She smiles with rehearsed warmth. “Simply insert a finger, and the test tube will do the rest. Don’t worry, it’s painless.”

We do as instructed. At first nothing happens, then I feel a slight pressure on my finger that releases just as quickly. A light on the side of the tube turns green.

“That’s it,” the receptionist says with more cheer than the situation warrants. She extends her hands and we each place our tubes in one of her open palms. “The results shouldn’t take long. Let me show you to the waiting room.”

She leads the way with the vigor of someone young with important things to do. We follow at our own pace. I watch Sam as he moves through the hall, taking cautious steps, favoring his good leg. The old knee injury must be bothering him today. Though I could go faster, I match his pace. As in all things, we’re in this together.

The young woman shows us into a room. The walls are white, except for a large N3G1 logo at the back of the room that glows in such a fierce pink that it hurts to look at it for long. I make sure to choose a seat with its back to the logo, and Sam joins me. The woman smiles once more before leaving. I hear the click clack of her heels receding down the hall.

The blank wall in front of us suddenly comes alive and we find ourselves staring at the latest N3G1 advert.

“Do you have the mutation?” asks a woman’s voice. Then a model-perfect face appears on screen. “Find out in just a few minutes!” The view pulls away and we see the model insert her finger in a tube, smiling like it’s the highlight of her day. Then we see her receiving her results and her expression shows even greater joy. “The N3G1 gene mutation is present in approximately sixty-two percent of the population. If you have it, our procedure can extend your life up to two additional centuries!” The image shows the same model moving through time, others growing older around her while her own aging process is slowed to almost imperceptible levels. As in all such adverts she lives her life to the fullest, active until the end. Not that they show us the end. That part’s still a mystery. After all, the procedure has only been available for about ten years. The original recipients still have decades ahead of them.

The wall goes blank again, and Sam takes my hand. I smile and he smiles back, and I feel both our hands start to sweat, but I don’t let go. Neither does he.

Elevator music begins to play now that the advert has gone silent. I imagine it’s intended to soothe us, but it only serves to annoy me.

“They couldn’t have put a window in this room?” I say to Sam. “At least then we could see outside. There’s nothing to keep you busy while you wait.”

He pats the hand he’s holding with his free one. “Shouldn’t be too much longer.”

I don’t know how he can be so calm. I feel like the lack of windows is trying to tell me something. That the world we left outside won’t be the same once we leave here. And I suppose that’s true, no matter what our results are.

I give Sam a smile to show him I’m all right, but I know I’m not fooling him. We’ve known each other for too long. Nearly forty-three years, thirty of them married. I can barely remember a time when he wasn’t there, and I feel myself turn cold when I think, what if only one of us has the mutation?

We never had any children. Couldn’t, though we did try. Even with all the options offered these days, it didn’t happen. But we’ve had each other, and that’s been enough.

We’re both in our fifties now. That used to be considered old at one time. These days, most people are just getting started. If you have the N3G1 gene mutation, they can extend your life, repair any damage time has caused. If you believe the adverts, our age is an ideal time to undergo the procedure. Our bodies aren’t yet a total mess, but we’re old enough to benefit from the procedure’s healing effects and for it to take us into the two-hundred-fifty-year age range.

I think about that. Imagine living over two centuries. The things you’d see. And so much more time than you thought you’d have. Time enough to see your dreams come to fruition. Time enough to learn and experience so many new things. I imagine myself sharing stories of how the world used to be, with people hundreds of years younger than me. The thought makes me smile.

But what about Sam? What if he can’t come with me? We met as kids. We’ve spent our lives together. How could I go on for so much longer if he isn’t there? With whom would I share all the wonders the future might bring?

I look at him again and I feel him squeeze my hand, though he doesn’t look my way. He’s watching the door, and sure enough, I hear the click clack of the receptionist’s heels. She appears in the doorway.

“All done,” she says with a flash of too-white teeth. “I’ll bet you’re excited to find out your results.”

She hands us each an electronic card without waiting for an answer. We take them and she leaves once more. We give each other a nervous look, then smile. I notice the wrinkles that form around Sam’s eyes as he does and in that instant I love him even more.

We activate our cards and each glance at our results. I have it—the N3G1 mutation. If I choose, I can live another two centuries. I deactivate the card and try to sneak a peek at Sam’s, but he has likewise deactivated it.

“Well?” he asks.

“You first,” I say.

He seems to consider then says, “Nope. Nothing.”

I glance at my card and imagine at best another forty years with him. Watching him age and grow feeble while I remain much the same as I am now.

“No mutation here either,” I say.

We both smile and, still holding hands, walk back to the receptionist’s desk and slip our cards into the reprogramming box.

“Thank you,” I say.

She gives me a look like she wants to ask me something, but I turn to leave before she can. As Sam and I exit the building, I turn back to see her shaking her head. She’s too young to understand. Give her time.

The receptionist presses a button on her desk. “Dr. Wellman, the Irving couple just left. They declined treatment. So strange. I mean, why bother finding out that they both had the mutation if they weren’t going to go ahead with the procedure?”

_______________

P.A. Cornell is a Chilean-Canadian author who wrote her first speculative story when she was just eight years old. A member of SFWA and graduate of the Odyssey workshop, her short fiction has appeared in multiple genre markets and anthologies. Her story, “Splits,” went on to win Canada’s 2022 Short Works Prize for Fiction. That same year, she published her debut novella, “Lost Cargo.” When not writing, Cornell can be found assembling intricate Lego builds or drinking ridiculous quantities of tea. Sometimes both. To find out more about the author and her work, visit her website pacornell.com.

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