Up for Renewal
By LUCIUS DANIEL
Illustrated by DOCKTOR
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Galaxy Science Fiction November 1954.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
"I'd give a year off my life to...." Idle
talk now, but it was ghastly reality to Kent!
Howard Kent looked at his young and beautiful wife and felt the weight of the years rest on his shoulders. In her eyes he saw his heavily lined face and sagging, stooped shoulders.
They stood just inside the long, narrow reception room of the Human Rejuvenation Plant. Potted palms and formal chairs reminded one of a Human Disposal unit.
"I have a confession to make, darling," he said.
"Oh, no, Howard. Not now. I take for granted you've done the usual things in your youth."
"And we needn't have hurried so, as you can see. Now we'll probably have to wait hours in this perfectly dismal place."
She looked as young and fresh as he looked old and dusty, he thought, so out of place in this kind of establishment.
He had always loved small women. Leah was small and vivacious and dressed a year ahead of styles. No matter what happened, he'd never regret having married her.
"But this is something I should have told you before," he said.
She put her hand on his arm. "I've been perfectly happy these past six months. Whatever it was, I forgive you."
"It's not that. I'm talking about my age. I didn't think you'd marry me if you knew how old I really was. I put off telling you and figured you'd see my birth certificate at the wedding ceremony."
"I never even looked at the silly old thing."
"Well, darling, I looked at yours and felt a little guilty in marrying a young girl of twenty-three. But the fact is I'm sixty-five. I've been rejuvenated before."
"I rather suspected it when you started aging so suddenly last week," she said. "Before that you didn't look a day over thirty. But it doesn't matter."
"It's worse than that, Leah." His face worked convulsively. "I've been here twice before. This is my third trip."
"I'm too modern to act shocked, Howard. If you didn't want to tell me before, dear, it's perfectly all right."
"Look, darling!" Perspiration stood on his forehead. "You don't seem to understand. But then you never could add or subtract. Now listen carefully. Each trip clips five years off your life span."
"Everyone knows that, of course. But it's better to be young...."
"It's better to be alive than dead," he said harshly.
"But your doctors have given you a longevity span to the age of ninety."
"Suppose it was eighty, instead of ninety?"
"Oh, dear, you worry too much," she said. "Doctors don't make such mistakes."
"They can't give me a guarantee. You see, three of my ancestors died from accidents. The prediction of ninety years is based on the assumption that they would have lived a normal life-time."
"They make few guarantees. You know, all of you men are such babies at a time like this."
"Yes, but if it is eighty—then, I'll come out not a rejuvenated man, but just a handful of dust."
"Oh, that can't happen."
"Look at it this way." He paused a moment while taking in her youthful appearance. "From now on I wouldn't look much older. Just a little grayer and perhaps more stooped. Then, I'll have what's left of my longevity plus the five years this rejuvenation would clip off."
"Why, Howard, dear." Leah sounded shocked. "You don't know what you're talking about. An aunt of mine elected that choice and it was perfectly horrible. She drooled the last few years of her life and was helpless as a baby."
"Why didn't they use Euthanasia?" he asked.
"The courts decided she wasn't capable of making a rational decision."
He wiped his forehead. "That would be a long time off, darling. We'd have so much time together in the next fifteen years."
"But what would it be like if you were crippled with arthritis or some other disease?"
"You could divorce me if that happens."
"I can also divorce you if you don't go through with rejuvenation. You know it's the law."
"You wouldn't do that." His face was more lined than ever.
"Don't be silly, dear. Nobody gets old these days. Who would remain our friends? Why, everywhere we'd go, people would point us out. Oh, no, life wouldn't be livable."
"That sounds like a cruel and calculating decision to me," Howard said. "Either I take a chance on dying or you'll divorce me."
"You have no right to make such an accusation. I married a young man who said he was thirty years old. Six months later I discover he's sixty-five. Now who's cruel and calculating?"
"Please, darling, I didn't mean it. Look," he pleaded, "I'll even sign permission for you to have a lover. There's that young fellow that's always around. Maybe it's happened already."
She stood back from him. "Howard, you're being perfectly nasty. Just like an aged person you read about."
"Five million dollars, and all of it yours when I die a natural death." He put his hands in his pockets.
The street door opened just then and a young man came toward them with a light springy step.
He offered his hand to Howard who took it slowly. "How are you, skipper? And you, Leah? I came as soon as I got your message."
"He's worried, Mike." Leah's face had brightened. "And now he's insisting on growing old."
"I've been through the wringer twice before, you see," Howard said in a low voice.
"I don't think you have much to worry about," Mike said. "Those medics know their business."
"Aging is a nasty process." Leah wrinkled her nose as if she smelled something offensive. "Maybe you can convince him, Mike."
"Leah is right, you know," Mike said. "A few years ago I visited the old age home. There's only one left. You'd be surprised at the amount of suffering old people go through before they die; cancer, angina, broken bones, strokes, arthritis. Rejuvenation won't work on extremely old bodies. Longevity has run out."
"Why does it have to clip off five years?" worried Howard.
"It's the old-age governor they found in the pituitary gland. They can turn it back, but the shock takes off about five years."
"Oh, I know what's in the medical articles," Howard growled. "Remember, I've been through here twice before. But the Sun was so warm this morning. It was like seeing everything for the last time. I felt like sitting down and letting everything drift."
"That's a sure sign that you really need rejuvenating," said Leah. "After it's over you'll be making me a golf widow again. Won't he, Mike?"
"Of course. He'll come out raring to go."
Howard looked from Mike to Leah and back at Mike. Age was no match for youth. If love hadn't started between them already, it would soon.
At the end of the long room, a door opened and two nurses entered, starched and antiseptic.
"Your room is ready, Mr. Kent," one nurse said.
Howard shuddered. "Everything is so horribly familiar. The pill to erase the worry, which doesn't work. The cart you ride on which makes you feel like a carcass. The little bump as you enter the regeneration room. Then you get a hypodermic and crawl into a long boiler tank."
"You're just nervous, dear," said Leah.
"A dismal, miasmic cloud settles on your mind and you decide you wouldn't go through it again for anything in the world."
Mike put his arm around Leah as if it were the most natural thing in the world. "He'll be all right, my darling."
Howard looked at them and then turned wearily to the nurse. "I'm ready."
The nurse walked down the long room with the stooped man and disappeared beyond the door.
"Did you tell him about us?" asked Mike.
"Of course not. What a man doesn't know won't hurt him."
"Are you Mrs. Kent?" asked the other nurse who had remained behind.
"The doctor said to remind you that the fourth time is very dangerous," the nurse said. "You'll have five years and six months without it. But possibly only six months if it should be successful."
"Better take the first offer, Leah," said Mike.
Leah smiled. "I found a gray hair and a wrinkle this morning, love. Better six months of youth than a thousand years of old age."
She went into his arms. "Don't worry about what happens, love. You'll have a lot of fun in the next seventy years."
He kissed her and held her closely.
"I've got to go now," she said. "I'm so grateful you were able to get the forged birth certificate."
Her high heels tapped rapidly on the tile floor as she walked down the long room with the other nurse.
"Good luck, Mother," he called after her.