Chapter Description: The testers’ resolve to make the best out of their situation is challenged, when the end draws closer and they are regressed to toddlers. Before they go through the scientists’ final tests, they have to face the question what remains of them.
Losing Weight(Chapter 7)
The testers’ resolve to make the best out of their situation is challenged, when the end draws closer and they are regressed to toddlers. Before they go through the scientists’ final tests, they have to face the question what remains of them.
They were gathered in the cafeteria just before breakfast.
“Another test?” Christine asked.
“No,” Dr. Wilson replied. “Your memories have proven to be stable so far. It is time for another phase.”
“How young?” Anton asked.
The three children starred at the doctors.
“Why?” Christine asked. “I mean don't you want to test our memory a bit longer? It has been what? Eight days?”
“Ten,” Dr. Barrow corrected her. “Yes, being able to test it at last a month would be optimal, but the time we have been given is limited.”
Anton could easily translate this from his own office: Somewhere in the company's headquarter someone in a suit was putting pressure on them for results. Had he or she been turned into a ten-year-old and handed to him there would be some fun.
“Let's get it over,” he said.
Anton hardly felt the needle entering his body. Once they all had gotten their shots, they were led into one of their earlier training rooms. There were mats on the ground and three piles of clothing, each on a different mat.
“We want to monitor this more closely,” Dr. Barrow explained.
Anton didn't like it, so he chose to inspect the clothes laid out for him. It was clear they were his, since the trousers were blue. Besides these lay red and white shoes with laces, blue socks showing Thomas the Tank Engine and a shirt with a puppy from Paw-Patrol. Dr. Barrow had explained to him that buying regular children clothing had been less suspicious than ordering small training suites, but he guessed it had just been cheaper. It didn't bother him any longer, but the underwear they had prepared for him did.
Dr. Barrow looked up from the file she read and discovered his problem.
“It isn't that we think your mind will change,” she tried to explain. “It is your body. At a young age the control of your brain over some of the body functions isn't quite established. Sometimes it establishes earlier, sometimes later. It has nothing to do with maturity.”
“I controlled it early!” Anton lied.
“Then it will stay dry,” Dr. Barrow replied kindly.
Feeling defeated, Anton starred down on the pull-up, showing Kion of the Lion Guard.
I will protect you, the lion cub seemed to say
Fuck off, Anton thought, but when he walked away, he lost his left shoe and noticed his trousers were in danger of falling down.
Meanwhile Michelle and Christine had sat down on a mat and talked, when the latter suddenly halted in mid-sentences and spit out a tooth.
“What is this?” she asked, starring shocked at it.
“Gross,” Michelle commented, going over her own teeth with her tongue.
“This is normal,” Dr. Wilson noticed, picking up the tooth with a paper towel. “You will lose all your adult teeth while your milk teeth regrow.”
“This didn't happen with mine,” Anton noticed, coming nearer barefoot while fastening the band of his trousers.
“It happens by one in four, as far as we can tell,” the doctor explained. “By the majority the adult teeth transform into milk-teeth, though not always perfectly. Braces might also be needed during ageing, but not regression.”
Dr. Barrow handed Christine a cup to spit in her teeth and a second later the next landed in it.
The tooth-fairy is making someone rich tonight, Anton thought dryly and sat himself besides both girls.
They looked like first graders now. Curious, innocent and a bit afraid. Maybe waiting for the teacher to appear for their first hour in class. Anton wanted to comfort them, but he realized he looked hardly any more mature himself. No longer a big kid, but soon a kindergartener and then ... something in him wanted to scream.
Internally he could feel something change, too. Something in him wanted to play, maybe a round of tag. Throwing a ball. Climbing a ladder. to run around. Anton looked at his legs which had become noticeably shorter. He would not get far with these.
The regression finally came to a halt. At this point all three testers only wore their totally oversized shirts, having even lost their underpants some time ago.
“Please dress yourself,” Dr. Barrow asked them. “Time for some new tests.”
The toddlers walked to the clothes laid out to them. Michelle just shrugged at the sight of her Minnie-Mouse-pull-up and Christine put her own on without any emotion on her face. Anton gave his own a last, long look, before stepping in the holes and pulling it upwards. It felt soft, but also so very thick and it crinkled when Anton moved. Deciding he didn't want to see himself in it, Anton tried to put on his trousers before removing the oversized shirt which hang on him like a tent. The effort of standing on one leg proved too much though and instead he fell on his butt, feeling the benefit of the thickness of his new underwear.
When all had finished dressing themselves the new tests started. This time there were a lot of physical tests. Walking over a plank, which proved to be unexpectedly hard, not at last due to the training-pants pushing the legs apart, holding a pen, which seemed much too large for their pudgy hands and binding their shoelaces, which showed which they managed, but not after realizing they had lost much of their dexterity. The memory tests were child's play in comparison.
The return to their room proved little comfort to Anton. Everything was so huge and strange, like they had been transported into the land of the giants. Also, not for one moment he could forget the training-pants, which thickness he could feel between his legs, especially when he climbed unto his bed. His only relief were the snacks and bottles of soda having been delivered to the room for them during their absence.
“Great room service,” Michelle commented, jumping on up and down on her bed while eating a sweet.
“What are you doing?” Anton asked unbelieving.
“Having fun!” Michelle commented, letting herself fall on her patted butt. “Why not make the best out of it? This is what we always did!”
“Do you remember ...” Anton began.
“Being fifteen? Here and in real?” The toddler asked, grinning at him. “Yep! You sound like the doctors.”
“As long as we don't suck our thumbs ...” Christine commented.
Anton looked between the two girls, noticing that Michelle looked Christine had brought her on something, and gave up. There really wasn't much more to do.
“Did you notice how it changed our emotions, too?” Christine asked. “I don't mean this, but when I looked at the doctors, I had to control myself not to plead for their attention.”
“I had this when I was five,” Anton remembered. “It is stronger now.”
Obviously frustrated, Christine took the remote control and turned MTV on. Anton grabbed the Coca-Cola-bottle and took a deep gulp. There was no reason to be worried about his weight any more, nor about his teeth. It was this thought which distracted him enough to let it happen. His small, pudgy fingers were already unfit to hold the bottle properly. While he was distracted, they lost hold and he spilled a good amount of cola on his trousers.
“Goddamnit!” Anton cursed his stupid body, barely managing to keep the bottle from falling and emptying on his bed.
“Potty mouth!” Michelle commented. “Be careful or it is soap for it!”
Anton glared at the girl, but she only showed him an innocent-looking toddler smile. Frustrated he stood up and pulled off his trousers and threw them in a corner, realization too late, that he now stood on the bed with his training-pants exposed. Embarrassed he sat down again and put the blanket over his lower half.
“We should ask for smaller bottles,” Christine suggested.
Anton nodded, guessing it was okay, as long as it didn’t come in a sippy cup or even a baby bottle, but had enough of talk for now. They watched MTV in silence, but somehow the songs didn't appeal to them as much as before. Anton couldn't lay his finger on it, but it seemed to him that the music was too loud, too fast and the dissonances were too strong. It had to be the effect of their younger and better ears.
Deciding to lose himself in another world, Anton grabbed Crime and Punishment for some adult entertaining. It was a large book and felt strange to hold. It was also a heavy, so Anton placed it on his lower stomach. This was a mistake.
Anton felt the pressure in his bladder rising, due to the book's weight, but ignored it at first, having just settled and wanting to read at last one chapter before going to the bathroom. The pressure even rose, though, and when Anton shifted the book to ease it a bit, the dam that was his weak bladder burst.
It even felt like this to Anton. Warm liquid pressing out of his wee-wee without him being able to stop it, despite all his mental effort. All what was left for him was to lie there and feel his bladder emptying.
I will wet the bed, Anton thought, feeling close to crying.
The training-pants seemed to hold, though. It grew warmer at his crotch and as the pee spread to his butt, there, too. Finally, his bladder was empty. Anton threw a short look at Michelle and Christine, but the girls chatted and paid him no mind. Carefully, not to attract attention, Anton rose and slipped out of his bed. The feeling of the warm training-pants pressing against his front and behind was humiliating. When he went to the bathroom, he also noticed how much it has swollen, turning his walk into a toddle.
Finally entering the bathroom and closing the door behind him, Anton felt a sudden relief. This relieve became shock, when he noticed a toddler standing in front of him. It was a surprised looking tod, around two years with brown hair, clothed just in shirt, socks and training-pants. Anton needed three seconds, until he realized he was looking into the large bathroom mirror. This realization came with a shudder he felt racing over his whole body. He felt like there were two versions of it at the same time, one his adult sized body, one that of the toddler he saw. Instinctively her touched himself, going over his whole body to give his brain the data to bring order in the different versions of himself.
At last the feeling subsided, leaving Anton touching his training-pants. The squishy feeling wasn't too bad right now, not if he forgot for a moment what really filled it. There was warmth and a certain feel of secureness. Again, he looked in the mirror, seeing Kion looking at him. The paw had vanished completely, but the lion cub seemed to smile.
See, he said, the Lion Guard protects little boys!
“When I'm grown up again, I will go to Africa lion-hunting!”
Saying this made Anton feel better, until he realized speaking with imaginary cartoon characters was no sign of maturity. Quickly he dropped his soaked training-pants and threw them in the trash. He felt a slight cold around his groin, but ignored it, looking at the shower. The shower head loomed in heights fit for giants from his position and he had no intention of further embarrassing himself, by asking a guard to help him. Instead he stepped on the step-stool in front of the sink, wet some toilet paper with warm water and cleaned himself this way. Once dry again, Anton noticed the two packages of pull-ups besides the sink, one for boys, one for girls. Like the step-stools and the snacks this must have been prepared for them, when they were being regressed.
Reluctantly, Anton pulled a new pull-up out of the package and starred at it.
Missed me? Kion seemed to say.
Anton didn't dignify him with an answer. At last no one could tell he was wearing a new one. He put the training-pants on and went out of the bathroom. The scene awaiting him back in the main room, was nothing like he had expected. Christine was chasing Michelle who was like him just dressed in shirt, socks and her Minnie-Mouse-pull-up, holding the remote control. The TV showed Barney.
“Give it back!” Christine shouted, racing around the bed.
“Try!” Michelle replied, climbing on the bed.
“I will tell!” Christine threatened the other girl, while trying to get hold of her feet.
“Is the baby running to the grown-ups?”
“You will see!”
Christine seemed really angered by this and tried to climb on the bed herself, but Michelle already jumped off it, giggling.
“What is going on?” Anton asked, as Michelle ran behind him.
“She wants us to see this!” Christine told him, showing to Barney, around whom a group of children had now gathered.
“Just because adult music is boring!” Michelle defended herself. “Tell me you like it.”
“This is no reason watching a show for babies!”
“It is my TV, too,” Michelle replied.
“She is right,” Anton told Christine, not looking forward to watch the argument of two toddlers, probably filled by a sugar rush, before turning to Michelle. “Just this one show.”
Michelle nodded. Christine had a pouting look on her face, as she returned to her bed, while Anton settled back on his own and returned to his book. He tried to concentrate on reading, but again and again his eyes wandered to the TV. Michelle had been right: The soft music sounded better to his ears than the loud one of MTV. More than this, the bright colours, slower movements and the children appealed to him on a level he couldn't quite identify. Maybe most of all it was Barney's who attracted his attention. His soft, cheery voice, the soft fuzzy skin and the smile made it hard for Anton to turn his eyes away from the dino. A look to Christine revealed it was the same with her, while Michelle watched with a big, wide grin.
Anton was happy, when the show ended and Michelle let Christine switch to a news channel, which appeared less enthralling to him. They had been toddlers half a day now and it seemed for him even longer than all their ages before. He only hoped the worst was over.
The hope didn't last long.
It was late in the night, when Anton awoke. For a moment his hand searched for Zagra, his faithful green plush dragon, then he remembered, that he had let his mother give him to Goodwill when Anton had been sixteen, after it had spent five years in a box on the attic. Anton had just shrugged to it then. He had been big. Of course, he was big now, too, his sleepy brain just needed a moment to remember.
Groggy Anton wondered why he was awake. Something was wrong, but he couldn't lay his hand on it. He looked around, but Michelle and Christine were still asleep. Touching the front of his training-pants he noticed to his relief that it was still dry. Yet there was something wrong. He sat up in the bed.
The poo spread on Anton's butt like wet, sticky mud. It felt slightly cool already, so he hadn't woken immediately after pooping. The worst part though was the smell he suddenly became aware of. Distinct, icky and shameful. Anton wondered that the others hadn't woken up to it. A voice told him that he had to go to the bathroom and clean himself up, but he was paralysed by the fear of them finding out, especially Christine. Tears filled his eyes, as his adult mind fought to control his emotions.
Anton lost the fight, when his penis released a stream of urine. It wasn't much – he hadn't dared drinking anything for hours before going to bed – but it broke his thin dam of self-control and he began crying. More than crying, he wailed openly, the knowledge that this would wake the others made him just cry louder.
Christine and Michelle rose. In the darkness Anton couldn't see their faces, but the way they rubbed their eyes they were probably confused. Before they could ask something, the light was turned on, causing them all to blink. One of the staff came in, looking surprised a moment, before sniffing.
“Oh shit,” the man commented sarcastically. “Houston, we have a problem.”
“What ...” Christine began, still half asleep.
“You go back to sleep,” the man told her. “He will be back soon!”
With this he picked up Anton and was carrying him outside, before the latter really realized it or could even protest. Not that he could have uttered a word, since he felt still powerless from stopping himself from crying, even more so, since the man held him such that he still felt his wet, filled training-pants all too clearly. Without ushering a word, the man brought Anton into a room maybe two doors away from his own. There he laid him on his back on a changing mat laid out on one of the beds and began pulling the trousers of Anton's pyjama down.
Anton tried to resist it by moving his legs, but the man held them tight with his vastly superior strength.
“Do you want to stay in the dirty thing? No problem!” The man noticed. “I don't look forward to it, either.”
Reluctantly Anton relaxed. He still felt tears running down his cheeks, but he controlled his emotions now, at least better than before. Without looking, he heard how the man tore training-pants open at its side and felt how he used it to wipe the larger parts of poo away before throwing it in the trash-can nearby. The rest was cleaned with baby-wipes.
Next the man put something on the bed beside Anton's head. It was a diaper package. Not even a normal one, but one with thick over-night diapers, showing a peacefully sleeping toddler. Anton was so shocked, he needed a moment to register, that the man had begun to smear what had to be baby cream on around his groin. Also, there was a folded diaper next to him on the bed.
“I don't need ...”
“We all saw what you need, kid,” the man replied, continuing creaming Anton's butt. “Look it is hard and I'm really sorry it happened to you. Really. I wish it on no one. But I'm doing my job here and a diaper will help you sleep through, while giving me less to do. Win for us both.”
Anton didn't reply to this. Just a job … How often had he done it? Was he because of this so good prepared with a changing space in a room close by? Had to. How where the chances the man would get regressed once this was over? Anton wasn't sure about the last one.
He nearly started crying again, when the man unfolded the diaper and only managed to control himself, by again looking away. Still Anton felt his legs and butt being lifted and something placed under it. Then there was something between his legs, pressing them slightly apart. Next something about his groin, then some pressure around his waist.
“See, no problem!” The man exclaimed, pushing up the trousers. He must have seen something in Anton's face though. “You can put the diaper off tomorrow morning. Throw it in the trash in the bathroom and the girls won't know if it used or not. We have some you can put on yourself, so you won't even have to go to the changing table again.”
Feeling a glimmer of gratitude, Anton nodded, only to shake his head, when the man wanted to pick him up.
For a moment the man looked like he would ignore the protest, then he nodded. Anton quickly jumped off the bed and led the man lead him back. This should have made him feel better, but the thick night-time-diaper made his walk a waddle and he was aware that he looked just like a little boy in his Thomas the Tank Engine pyjama. The feeling of cold floor on his bare feet didn't help, but when he entered his room alone Michelle and Christine seemed to sleep again or had the respect not to look at him. Anton was thankful for it either way.
In the dark he crept back into his bed, feeling the diaper ever step. Even just lying was strange, since lying on one side made him feel it more and lying on his bed meant he had to spread his legs in an unusual manner. Sleep evaded him for long, but his drowsy mind turned to strange thoughts. He once again thought of Zagra, how he had abandoned his green friend and how therefore maybe this all served him right.
Anton woke up dry and quickly removed the diaper in the bathroom, putting on training-pants which were so much thinner in comparison, that it felt like a relief. The man had turned out true to his word and by midday there was a package of easily slip up and down diapers besides the training-pants. The next morning Anton woke slightly damp, but not soaked, the next with a little pebble of poo in the diaper he hadn't even noticed before seeing it. Once Anton even saw a pink training-pants in the thrash, but didn't ask whose it was. Michelle and Christine didn't talk about his accidents either, so it was best he returned the favour.
There were little things making their life easier, like having the shower-head lowered to the ground, so they could use it without asking for help, or the toilet getting a potty seat, both thanks to Christine complaining by the staff. While Anton wasn't thrilled about the latter, he had to admit this was better than having to fear falling in the toilet when not paying attention.
The tests of their memory and skills became the height of Anton's day, since there wasn't any reason to complain, ever, proving despite having shrunk dramatically and the loss of some emotional control, their brains still kept their memories. Still the doctors had more tests up their sleeves.
“You want us to what?” Anton asked unbelieving.
“Socialising,” Dr. Barrow replied.
“Because we want to test your social skills.”
“What could we even do with a bunch of toddlers?” Anton asked, feeling the training-pants on his groin.
“Playing? Talking? Impressing them?” Dr. Wilson suggested. “The choice what to do is yours. We are testing them, too.”
“If it is only for one hour ...” Christine began, remembering her last encounter with them.
“It is,” Dr. Barrow assured her. “The others are nice and we will be there if there are problems.”
“I want to be the first on the slide!” Michelle declared.
Anton, Christine and Michelle were the first to arrive in the patio. The latter – true to her word – lost no time and raced to the slide, just before the doors on the other side of the yard opened and the other group of toddlers rushed in, also heading to the play equipment. Christine followed, walking normally, but obviously a bit intimidated by the scene of laughter and motion which had erupted before her.
Anton lingered a moment longer, giving Dr. Barrow a look, which was just for the two of them.
Three conditions, he thought, remember and please keep your promise.
Of course, the doctor didn't reply, but a sparkle in her eyes made him hope she had understood. With great reluctance Anton joined the fray, remembering the day he had arrived at the near city. It had been before he had even met Michelle that he had looked at the playground in the park and watched children play. Now he was the one being watched. Did god really love irony that much?
Anton wanted to join Christine, but the second swing besides the one she was using was already taken by a blond girl – Tiffany, by the nameplate on her Hello-Kitty shirt – who didn't look like she would go soon. Briefly he thought about joining Michelle, but then he noticed her running past him in chase of an african-american boy. Laughter was all around him, yet Anton felt not a bit like joining it. For this he felt a hint of regret.
Anton turned around to see a blond boy of his age looking at him with a big smile. The nameplate on his Paw-Patrol shirt revealed him to be Stuart, the one he had met when thus still had had the body of an adult and he that of a teenager. Ages ago.
“Hello Stuart,” Anton replied. “I'm Anton.”
If the boy was surprised by him knowing his name, he didn't show it.
“Wanna play car?” Stuart asked.
Anton wanted to drive a car and this meant driving it as fast and as far away from here as possible, but even if he sat in one, he would be too small to reach the pedals. Not knowing anything better, Anton shrugged. It was what the doctors wanted after all.
Stuart ran to where the staff had placed a large toy-box and getting the clue Anton followed. The toddler kneeled in the grass besides the box, while going through it, no more caring that his legs got all dirty than for that his lifted shirt revealed his training-pants. When Anton reached him, Stuart presented a large blue plastic car.
“Cool!” Anton praised him.
Anton went through the toys – all more attracting to him than he cared to admit – and fished out a red plastic car of similar size. Holding it felt strange. It seemed to have the perfect size for his hand and following an instinct he made the wheels turn. This felt good. Looking at Stuart, he noticed the boy smiling at him as if he understood perfectly, which most likely he did.
No more talk was needed. Stuart began crawling in the grass, pushing the toy car along with him, making engine sounds. Anton watched it a moment. Not long ago, according to Dr. Barrow, Stuart Clover had had Alzheimer, living in a nursery home alone and forgotten, even by himself. Now he had largely forgotten himself, too. Still, had he been able to choose freely between both options, what would he have preferred? Anton knew what he would have chosen, but those questions led to nothing, instead he followed suit and let his own car race after Stuart's.
They raced over grass and stone, sand and the metal of the play equipment. For Anton it felt unreal how easy it was to just play. Not long and Anton had lost himself to it. Lost himself to a daydream in which he was behind the steering wheel of a car. Adult again, strong and free. The world outside just his size and waiting for him.
Back in the real world, Stuart led his car up the rails of the swing, stretching himself to reach the highest point he could. Suddenly the toddler stopped, looking first confused, then beginning to cry. Anton didn't know what to make of this, until he saw, that Stuart pressed his hand on his groin. Now he understood, but didn't know what to do to calm the other toddler down, or even help him. He was simply too small.
A realization crossed Anton's mind and he raced to the nearest adult, which was one of the staff-members who had once guarded them.
“Mister!” Anton began. “My frien... Stuart needs help.”
“Help?” The man looked sceptical.
“He mhh …” Anton felt a sudden shyness running through him.
The man looked at Stuart.
“I see,” he said, walking to the crying toddler. “No problem.”
With this the man picked Stuart up and carried him to the strollers. There he unpacked a changing pad and placed the still crying toddler on it. During this Anton felt quite useless, not knowing what he could do to help the boy. Suddenly he realised he still held the toy car and began moving it around in front of Stuart's face. The other toddler, who had dropped his toy car, didn't respond at once, but slowly he stopped crying, watching the car with renewed interest.
“Hello Anton,” a voice said suddenly from above.
Turning around Anton noticed Dr. Wilson standing behind him.
“How much is three exponent three?” The doctor asked.
For a moment Anton didn't even grasp the question.
“Three exponent three,” the doctor repeated. “How much is it?”
Suddenly Anton remembered, it was maths. Of course. So, the answer was …
“Nine,” he answered. “No twenty-seven.”
The doctor smiled, something which made Anton feel proud.
“Right,” he noticed. “Thank you.”
Only when the man had left, Anton realized what had happened. Socialising. Of course, the doctors had planned more. He looked to Dr. Barrow, who watched Michelle playing in the sand-pit, then he looked back to Stuart. The toddler didn't get new training-pants, but a diaper and seemed distressed about it. Once again moved the car around to distract him.
“All done,” the man finally declared. “Have fun you two.”
With this he left them, Stuart still lying on his back, dressed only in shirt and diaper. Anton didn't know what to do or say. Returning to play with the cars would be an option, but Anton had dropped his back at the swings and looking around Anton couldn't find it. Most likely it had been picked up by another toddler. So, he pushed the red one over to the boy. This didn't lead to much of a reaction, so Anton thought about what could lift Stuart's spirit. Finally, he got an idea.
Stuart's face lit up and he stood up.
Together the toddlers rushed to the slide.
Later, Anton laid on his bed and read his book, happy to be back in their room. There had been more questions by the doctors in between and every time he needed too long to answer for his taste. The typical activities of a toddler seemingly had let his brain switch back to a more primitive state. This was nothing he liked very much, since he knew it already awaited him in the not-so-distant future. Michelle and Christine had other ideas, though.
“We are going to play with the toddlers,” Christine declared.
“What?” Perplexed Anton laid his book aside.
“The doctors said there is a room for them with a lot of toys, where they play most of the day,” Michelle explained. “We want to try it out.”
“You can't be serious!” Anton declared.
Michelle rolled her eyes and Christine sighed.
“Look Anton,” the latter began. “I am still 15 in mind, but my body doesn't find watching news or reading much fun anymore. Even my taste of music has changed a bit. Why not trying to have a good time, no matter how? That is what we have done so far. Let us try this.”
“No,” Anton replied.
Michelle shrugged, “Told you.”
“Your decision,” Christine replied friendly. “See you later.”
With this the girls walked out of the door, leaving Anton to ponder. Were they nuts? Had their mind regressed without them noticing it? Playing with a bunch of toddler and babies who didn't mind crapping their pants …
Of course, Stuart had minded and the time Anton had had with the toddler had been fun. Maybe more than anything it was spending time socialising with someone else his size other than Christine and Michelle. It wasn't that girls weren't nice, but … Could he call Stuart his friend? Anton couldn't bring himself to think so, but in a very real sense he was a boy of the neighbourhood. He had been an adult once, too, and even when he hadn't his old mind anymore, they were both heading the same direction anyway: Beginning anew as infants. Playing with him had been fun, so …
Closing his book, Anton hopped of the bed, hardly minding his training-pants anymore, and followed the girls to playtime.
“It is time for the next phase,” Dr. Barrow explained them one morning, when they had once again gathered in the cafeteria.
“The last phase?” Christine asked in a neutral sounding tone with hints of fear in it.
“The one before the last,” Dr. Wilson explained. “This will sound a bit extreme ...”
“Infancy?” Anton asked, feeling his fears coming true.
“Senectitude,” Dr. Barrow replied. “70 to be exact.”
Anton starred at them in disbelief.
“It is a few days this age and then down to the age you came in,” Dr. Wilson explained. “This will be the final test to see if the memory protection works even during such extreme regressions. After this ...”
“Infancy, Lethe and adoption,” Anton noticed.
The doctor nodded.
The three toddlers looked at each other. Anton was the first to extend his arm.
The three seniors laid on their beds in their room. Each was lost to their own thoughts. Anton wondered if he should be happy to experience an age his father had never reached. He starred at his hand and was still aghast how spotted his skin looked. During the progression he had done exercises, lifted weights, and run around, all to be fit once he reached this age. This had helped. He was fit, still had muscles and looked healthy, despite the grey in his hairs. He lacked the energy of a young man or a toddler, but there were none of the typical woes of old age it usually brought with it. They were as healthy as they could be, without wear or tear.
Best of all their minds and memories had gone through it without damages as far as Anton could tell. Still remembering having been closer to old age, Anton had taken it a bit easier than the girls who only remembered being teenagers.
“Could we get dementia?” Michelle asked worried. Her blond hair had gotten grey streaks, too, something she had nearly freaked out about. “Alzheimer?”
“I think this develops over time,” Anton replied. “The doctors said our cells aged but haven't degenerated like cells normally would.”
“I will be happy once we are done with it,” Christine noticed, still starring at the ceiling through eyes resting in wrinkled skin.
“We all will,” Anton replied.
“Not just done with this age. With all of it. I will be happy once I'm an infant and can start over. Really start a life,” she turned over to look at them both. “It isn't that I want to forget. Could I start as a teenager as I had planned, I would welcome it, but being here during all those ages. Trapped. Stagnant at one point. It has been too long. It feels like I already spent a life here.”
“Yeah,” Michelle agreed.
Anton thought about it. It could be their new age wearing them down. The lack of hormones, of energy and yet …
“Yeah,” he admitted. “I will miss you though … I mean we had a good time despite all.”
Christine sat up in her bed, giving him a soft smile, looking as beautiful as always to him even with the grey in her hair.
“Despite all,” she agreed.
“The best!” Michelle added, sounding for a moment like the teenager she was inside.
They spent the evening in the patio, watching the toddlers and babies play.
They were back at the ages they had come in this night, although Anton was the only one to remember this time. He sat on the bed in a new black jeans and a white shirt, watching the news with mild interest. A second later Christine left the bathroom, dressed in a black and white dress, the sort she could never have even dreamed of wearing when they had arrived here. Michelle followed, dressed in a blue dress which pronounced her curves, making her look quite sexy.
“Ladies,” Anton proclaimed. “You look beautiful tonight!”
Both smiled, seemingly comfortable in their 40-year-old bodies, despite their 15-year-old minds and took his arms when he extended them. Tonight, the staff had prepared a candlelight dinner for them. They would enjoy it together and not waste a moment bothering themselves with how little time they had left together.
Anton felt little drops of sweat running down his forehead and he liked the feeling nearly as much as that of the football under his arm. Nearly. His opponent before him had introduced himself as James, one of the staff in this college-prep-institution and he looked ready to block him. Two times he had managed to do so, two times not. This time it counted. For a moment he had the faint notion that this was wrong, that he had never gotten in the college football team despite all he had tried, but Anton suppressed this voice and concentrated on the here and now.
He began slowly, turning his walk to a run and then a spring. Besides him Christine and Michelle made some of their cheerleader-moves and at their side were the two doctors, watching with interest. First, he made a feint to the right, then to the left and was through under the arms of the older man! Cheering he threw the ball on the ground, not remembering ever feeling better.
“Give me. Give me!”
Anton smiled and threw the football to Michelle, who pressed it close to her flat breast, before throwing it to Christine. They played enthusiastically, but watched out for the little ones, the toddlers and babies they shared the patio with. Some of them watched the three play in wonder over their size, speed, dexterous movements and skilful passes. In some faces stood clearly envy and some imitated the movements, but they still had a long way to go. After all Anton, Michelle and Christine were big kids. Already ten.
“What is the matter?” Dr. Barrow asked, kneeling down to get to an eye level with the five-year-old.
“I can't find Zagra.”
“My dragon. He is green and plushy and ...”
Dr. Barrow remembered and gave him a smile.
“Have your nap like a big boy and in the evening maybe I will find him.”
“Promised?” Anton asked, looking at her with still red eyes.
When Anton woke up, Dr. Barrow wasn't there, so he joined Michelle and Christine to playtime in the playroom with toddlers. There wasn't much to do with the latter, but they had the best toys. After dinner the three prepared for bedtime. The girls were already done, sitting on one bed watching a show about speaking ponies in their pink princess-pyjamas – Christine with Cinderella and Michelle with Bell on it – while Anton still put up in his astronaut-pyjama all by himself. It was when he had done so, that he noticed Dr. Barrow standing in their room, holding a bag.
“I have something for you three,” she declared, causing the kindergarteners to instantly join around her.
“Christine,” the doctor said and gave her a stuff-Twilight Sparkle.
“Michelle,” the doctor said and gave her a stuff Apple Jack.
“Anton,” the doctor said, giving him a stuff green dragon.
“This isn't Zagra!” Anton complained, feeling close to tears again, even more so by seeing how happy the girls were with their stuff-toys.
“No,” Dr. Barrow admitted. “Zagra is on a very important mission in a faraway land. But she has sent you Yildir. Yildir is a friend of Zagra and would like to be your friend, too. Would you like to be his friend?”
Anton thought about it.
“Will Zagra come back one day?” He asked.
“One day,” Dr. Barrow promised.
Reluctant at first, Anton took the green plush dragon. If it was just for a short time and Zagra would one day come back … he embraced his new plush-friend and smiled.
“See,” Dr. Barrow noticed. “Now you three. Have a fun evening and remember your bed-time.”
Anton jumped on his own bed, when Dr. Barrow left.
Such a nice lady, he thought, not quite sure who she was. His kindergarten-teacher? No that was Mrs. Stamps, but maybe she was her assistant. Deciding it was not important, Anton turned his attention to the TV. There was still the show about ponies. Girl stuff, but with a dragon by his side, everything seemed better. Anton smiled.
Anton kicked the ball through the grass. It was a beautiful ball with Fireman Sam on it and many beautiful colours he couldn't name, but didn't need to for liking them. His diaper let him waddle a bit while following it past the sand pit, where Michelle and another toddler were playing with forms, wearing nothing but diapers themselves. Left of him, Christine made some rounds with her tricycle, giggling loudly and enjoying the fabulous speed. Anton gave the ball another kick, laughing as it rolled through even father than before.
Suddenly he stopped. Dimly he was remembered that there had been another sort of ball he had loved to play with. This one had been not quite round and there were so many rules linked to it and big, adult words which no longer made sense to him. Still, he concentrated, trying to get hold of the memories, concepts and pictures, but it was like trying to hold a cloud which was already dissolving.
Anton's concentration was destroyed, when noticed a sudden rush of pee leaving his pee-pee. He grinned on this, liking how it turned his diaper all warm. This was when he noticed another toddler his age standing in front of him. The blond boy offered him a red toy car, while holding a blue one.
Dr. Barrow watched the infants in their carriers being placed in the cars. Only three had nameplates on their breasts, though they wouldn't journey to the same destination, nor even with the same car. This felt wrong and what came next even more.
“Here,” the man whose name she didn't know passed her plush-dragon while securing Anton in the car seat. “Can't take it with us. You know this.”
“Just remember the names,” Dr. Barrow told him.
The man nodded, not uttering a word, before taking his place in the driver's seat, starting the car and driving away. The doctor felt strange. Anton had been awake, agitated. Would he like the journey? Remember anything of this? Find good parents?
“It has been a long time,” Dr. Wilson said, suddenly by her side.
Dr. Barrow looked down at the plush-dragon. Yildir.
“Just tell me there won't be more,” she asked him.
“Why should there be? Her colleague replied. “We perfected the process. We made the tests to proof it. The rest will be marketing.”
Dr. Barrow didn't respond, so he laid a hand on her shoulder.
“Write the last report, relax and then have a break, maybe a vacation,” he told her. “This was worth it. This will change the world.”
This were pretty much her own words, still she didn't feel like she could believe them anymore.
“You are right,” she said despite this and turned to the entrance of the building. “Same for you.”
Dr. Wilson looked after he as she vanished in the building. Dr. Barrow passed the reception. Had she ever told Anton that it had been her idea to create a fake exit-number? That the rest of the team had thought her overcautious? She lowered her head and continued walking through floors which had never felt emptier, finally arriving at her working room.
Sally greeted her. A happy rat in her prime and the first true beneficiary of the improved serum. Dr. Barrow placed the plush-dragon besides her on the table, then she looked around. Her eyes passed the sheets of papers hanging on the wall, on which a boy named Gary Thompson had once filled the outline of jumpsuits with colours. Finally, they rested on the table, where a football laid besides the plush-dragon and Anton Lubowsky's file between them.
Dr. Barrow thought about sacrifices and progress, about a better world and the dark places they had gone through to create it. Most of all she thought about names and promises.