THE CURIOUS HALF_LIFE OF ALEX
The alarm rings.
My pod opens. My head is heavy, as my eyes struggle to adjust to the autumn light. I stretch as feeling spreads like thick honey down to my fingers and toes. The last time I surfaced the air had been laced with summer sun but today a month later, it had mellowed.
My eyes start the familiar process of focussing on Lacey.
‘Good morning Alex, and welcome back to your life, while your body adjusts to the surface, let me fill you in on what you’ve been up to while you’ve been away’.
The pod adjusts and brings my body to a 70 degree angle as lacy shifts left to make way for a screen.
I watch as the other Alex Magpie sits at our desk, rides the bus, helps the other Molly with her homework, ushers people to their seats at the cinema. Performing our life diligently as Lacey comments on the efficiency of the task at hand.
My eyes flicker left as I watch the red light change to green on the transfusion machine. My least favourite part.
‘You may experience organ discomfort while the blood flushes the saline solution from your body.’ Lacey smiles ‘For your mental wellbeing we have put together this comforting short- enjoy!’
Lacey shifts left again as the screen fills with ambling puppies, toppling over each other as they race towards the camera. The sound of scuffling paws mixes with a loud bubbling noise as the solution gushes through my veins and restarts my heart.
The puppies are replaced with a vat of m&ms as a hand reaches in and the sweets part satisfyingly to the sides. My hands fumble the interbation tube as it retracts mechanically from my throat.
Lacey is back. ‘Brain activity- normal. Heart rhythm- normal. Organ function- normal… ‘
The pod clicks as the cuffs on my ankles and wrists are released.
I wait as she lists lung function, kidney output- all normal after a month of rest.
Satisfied, the numbers disappear and her blue eyes focus unblinkingly on me.
‘May you live a full half-life’ a flicker, and then she is gone.
I extend my left foot and gingerly hoist my full weight into the ground.
I had never enjoyed the hibernation process.
Molly and Alex’s parents stumble out of their pods and stretch groggily in the small hibernation chamber.
He watches Molly, small for 6- struggle to push her pod back against the wall. She smiles crookedly- the nerves on her left cheek always slow to respond- as he lifts her and she taps her small hands on the red button which deactivates her pod.
He did the same for his own, pushing his pod to the left of his other. The door to the hibernation room is active for 20 more minutes. A digital clock - the only other object in the chamber other than the 8 pods and the alarm clicks loudly on the wall above them.
‘Who wants eggs’ calls Simon- his father figure- over the ringing of the alarm, as he makes his way up the ladder. This is a practised routine. Simon- a town planner, was militant with procedure even when it came to breakfast.
Molly half hisses half squeals a ‘yesssssss’ as our mother helps her up the ladder, her left arm swinging uselessly at her side.
‘Yes please Dad’ Alex calls. However he doesn't immediately follow. Instead he circles back to pod 3.5 And presses his forehead to the glass above a small engraved plate that reads ‘Alex Magpie- other’.
The other Alex is taller than him, his hair a little darker and wilder though cut to the same style. His oaky skin, a shade lighter is tinged with green as the pod light flashes blue.
He’d often wondered why this boy had been matched to him. Alex had been only three when the matching process had begun and it seemed to him that any likenesses they shared as toddlers had long since evaporated as 12 year olds. His eyes scan his others body for a small red badge which he spots pinned to their jacket. A small twinge of annoyance- he had asked him not to wear that jacket in hibernation.
‘Lamp’ is scrawled untidily in the centre- the handwriting more illegible than his own. Alex smiles- the other Alex lacked imagination when it came to hiding places-he made his way up the ladder. The hatch clicked shut behind him, leaving the others in complete darkness.
‘… Here you go, Mol!’ Simon says as he pushes a plate of eggs on toast towards her. ‘ three eggs each today Alex- I thought they’d forgotten us last month, given all the extras to the others-‘ he starts quickly counting the remaining eggs’ ..10,11, 12!’ His expression quickly changes from delighted to questioning ‘did you say you’re shorter than your other? ‘ Alex grunts non- committedly- ‘We should write in- I’ll say you’ve been the same height for 9 years- maybe the Twitten’s wrote in?- ‘ he pulls a well used notebook from his jacket pocket and makes a neat note’ well someone was complaining- three eggs! Three!’ He shoots a sideways glance at Rhiannon- our mother for all intensive purposes-who was stretching - cat like- on the carpet, her plate of eggs going cold beside her.
She crooks her head ‘Have you checked the flags today Simon? Dot told me she found other flags at the last changeover- it’s not like them, is it- to forgot to clear up?’
‘Why does it matter that they left some flags up?’ Alex asked as he stuffed his mouth with toast ‘ it’s not a big deal is it?’
‘ the real question is why are the flags changing at all- we all voted ‘Virhu’ - we should vote as one society- or how will we maintain our half’s?’ Simon gestured around at the pristine kitchenette.
Although Alex could hardly describe their flat as a dump it couldn’t be called homely either. It ticked many of the boxes you might expect a home to tick. Built precisely to space standards for two adults and two children. It boasted 3 square bedrooms, a shower room, a kitchenette and a hibernation chamber. The flat Stacked neatly between 3371h and 3371i which were occupied by two families that greatly resembled his own.
‘I swear to you love- I was conscious this time- at least for part of the month’
Rhiannon clicked her tongue impatiently ‘ impossible- you know as well as me that you can’t poss…’
‘ I am telling you love! I could hear them talking- something about ‘wires’ or ‘connections’. He rubs his fingers together in an attempt to catch a forgotten word, staring intently at the grey wall.
‘I spoke to the other Molly this time dad! We played in the chamber together, ponies and doctors and unicorns…’
‘ yes Mol, of course you did’ he pats her on the head his mind still searching for a missing word.
‘Dot kept the flags, did I say that Si? Wanted to make them into cushions or something . They aren’t very tasteful though- blue eagles hardly match the decor do they‘ she laughs airily and gestures to the minimalist grey living space. Each piece of furniture rigourosly tested for purpose.
‘She what?’ Simon blinked. His mind back in the room.
‘Kept them- like i said- wanted to make them into cushions…’
‘Silly woman. Don’t want to get caught with something like that in your home. You be careful there love…’
Rhiannon scraped her three eggs to one side and took a bite of the toast dismissively- You better get dressed you two’ she sighed as she ushered them off their stools.
Mollys auburn hair clashed violently with the orange left half of the cargo suit as she swings carelessly from our parents hands. Her left side now recovered- We mirror almost identically the family ahead- the older child reaches to hold his fathers hand and Alex quickly withdraws his own and places it in his pocket.
Alex’s family live in Omicron constituency which comprises of 32 identical multi storey blocks of flats. Each one a pristine grey colour and as flat and featureless as a sheet of paper.
Ten minutes pass as they walk towards the ceremony - the view is barely distinguishable from when they started.
Another ten minutes and the road flattens out into an expanse of grey stone. A vast grey square sits evenly around a large screen. It’s walls imposing and windowless.
Simon starts gesturing for them to make a line - which they do- then they march in height order towards the identity detectors.
He waits while his mother is searched and then steps up to the screen.
A life sized Lacey materialises in front of him- this time dressed in an official looking cap and gown.
‘Good morning Alex magpie. It’s good to see you on this glorious September morning’ she gestures cheerfully to the grey sky ‘ may I take your measurements’ Alex nods assent as several blue lasers start flashing timely across his body. After a few minutes of digital examination - Lacey smiles ‘ you are free to enjoy the ceremony’ Alex laughs- ‘enjoy’ was a strong word. He’d attended the surfacing ceremony every other month for 9 years and there was very little in Alex’s opinion to enjoy. Alex steps through Lacey to join his parents and she glitches blue for a second before welcoming ‘Molly Magpie’. Who giggles and clamps her small arms around the air in an attempt to hug her.
They wait for Molly which takes slightly longer than normal owing to her showing off all her best ballerina moves.
‘Rhi-Rhi!’ A beautiful woman with a voice like a drill sashes forwards and pulls Rhiannon into a lazy embrace. ‘ I thought that was you! How are you my darling?’ Her voice drips with feinted interest.
‘ Tiana- oh wow- your here-‘ a barely disguisable grimace spreads across Rhiannon’s face- she hated Tiana Mulberry.
‘ fabulous- aren’t we boys’ Mo and Abbus Mulberry nod and turn back to each other as the conversation drifts to an increase in eggs which if possible darkens Rhiannon’s already twisted smile.
Molly skips over to them ‘Lacey said I’ve grown 1 inch!’ She beams up at Alex. ‘Cool’ he agrees pinching her shoulder.
‘See Rhi- even Molly is growing- the system is working- you see!’
After a hasty goodbye they leave the Mulberry’s and take their place in-front of the screen.
He stands quietly between Albert Giten and Armir Patel as they loudly diss agree on the possible reasons for an increase in eggs.
Armir had just uttered ‘mutant chickens..’ when the familiar jingle of the ‘Virhu party’ filled the square and the muttering of egg conversation broke into silence- the screen glowed green and read THE HALF LIFE PROGRAM
After decades of rapid population growth the country was unable to cope with rising demand.
The screen flashed to people struggling to walk on busy streets
Transport and services had been overwhelmed,
Roads heaved with traffic, littered with accidents.
the strain on natural resources, food and water -surged
A little boy tugs at his parents sleeve,
and crime over scarce resources had reached an all time high.
A woman sinks to the floor while a man steels a water bottle from her pocket, bloody brick in hand.
The government had no choice but to act. And we asked you- our people to vote.
A ballot box filled with orange slips.
You unanimously voted for the half-life program. By sharing your home, job, food and resources with an other…
A line of woman are matched on sharing an interest in hockey.
…And hibernating every other month - We are all able to live a fuller life.
…two women with blonde shoulder length bobs and pink shirts, smile as they embrace…
‘May we live a full half-life’ they all chant.
Alex waits for the sickly sound of the Virhu party to ring again. He looks around- eyes are searching left and right, looking for the speaker. And then something unusual happens. The sky erupts in an explosion of confetti and blue leaflets fall on them like rain.