Time For The Cake!

                                                                                      by R.J. Rymer          

          "Will it hurt?” Tommy asked, ashamed of the nasal whine that came out, even if it was accurate.

          His dad looked at him over the data slate he read. He cocked his head for a moment in the way that meant he was waiting for his eye implants to cycle back to normal vision. 

          “What do you mean, champ?”

          “My birthday,” he continued, ringing his hands. “It’s tomorrow. And I- Will it hurt?”

          “Ah,” Dad grunted in that voice parents used for anything they considered childish. “Did it hurt last time?”

          “No. I don’t think so,” he sighed. “But, I don’t remember much. That was my birthday from toddler to child. This is an adolescent body. It’s almost adult!”

          Tommy’s dad pursed his lips and nodded. That was how parents confirmed you were, as they expected, being childish.

          “Do you remember your lesson vids?” He paused while Tommy nodded. “Then you know it doesn’t, champ. You’ll go to sleep as a child and wake up tomorrow as an adolescent. All your memories, everything you’ve learned and done, slides right over. The computer handles all of it. And then…”

          “Cake.” Tommy must have still looked unconvinced because his dad uncrossed his legs and set down the data slate. 

          “Do you want to see it?”

          Did he?

          “I- Yes,” he said, nodding slowly. Truthfully, he had been practicing looking excited in the lavatory mirror like he thought an older boy would look when excited. What if he still had dimples. What if he didn't? 

          His dad stood, holding out a hand which Tommy took. He led him down the hall and through the familiar door. Against the wall, where Tommy had picked up his tram set the day before, a covered pod stood beeping quietly.

          “Are you sure, Tommy? I always wanted to, but your mother never did.”

          Tommy forced himself to nod, unwilling to feel childish anymore.

          His dad reached out, pulling the plastic sheet down and exposing half the length of the pod. Tommy made himself look.

          “You alright? Do you want some time alone for processing?”

          Tommy didn’t know if he nodded, but his dad left. He looked down at his face. At what would be his face tomorrow, anyway. It was older, not so much like an adult, as he had hoped, but a bigger kid. His face was there, but also glimpses of his teen and adult birthdays to come. He backed away slowly—quietly, as if not to wake it—until the back of his legs hit his bed. He sat heavily.

          What had it been like before, when they lived outside under a sun that didn’t kill them and breathed an atmosphere that wouldn’t melt their lungs? What were people like before the vats, when people grew--aged? They died sooner, sure, but what was it like to change without changing? Just the slow, steady beat of time.

          He thought about his last birthday. He remembered the presents, sure, but the real treat was the cake, warm and moist. For most people, Tommy’s family included, it was the one day of the year your diet went beyond processed synthpaste and nutriwafers taken from carefully monitored machines in the feeding halls. It was the only time he remembered not eating something that had been processed and recycled a hundred times into a tasteless, textureless form. Even thinking about it, his mouth watered in anticipation.

          Tommy still sat staring at himself—his other self—when his dad came to give him a goodnight kiss.

          “One more hug,” his dad said, encircling him. “Tomorrow, you’ll be too big. You won’t want to give your dad hugs anymore.”

         “I’ll still be your little boy, Dad.” 

         His dad smiled, but the wet tinge of sadness Tommy saw in his eyes proved he didn’t quite believe it.

          In the darkness, Tommy tried to ignore the blinking lights and soft hum from the other side of his room. He was too excited. New body, new toys. He didn’t think he could sleep.

                                                                                                  #

          Tommy woke through heavy eyelids to the sound of his birthday party. He lay there, listening to laughter and shouting somewhere down the hall. He stretched, flexing his new body-

          -but nothing moved. He tried to shrug, to lift his arm, to open his eyelids wider. Despite the sounds of celebration, his room was quiet. Perfectly still. 

          Panic welled through him. He couldn’t even scream, not on the outside. His mind told him his skin should be prickled, clammy with fear, but there was nothing. Just as he reached a point where he would usually devolve into what his parents called a fit, his dad came into the room, followed by his mother.

          Relief flooded through him. They would know what to do. 

          They lifted his pallet and carried him gently down the hall to the long table in the living room. 

          “Time for the cake, Tommy!” his mother said.

          Through half-lidded eyes, he looked up at his new body and the shining fork and razor-sharp knife in its older hands. The face—his face—looked down at him with the excited look he had so carefully practiced, complete with dimples.  He could almost feel the rumbling sensation in his stomach when the partygoers began to sing.

          “Happy birthday to you...”