Copyright © Karl Dahlke, 2020
The two officers walked down the dimly lit hall of the apartment building with its deep blue carpeting and dingy white walls. They were dressed in the gray uniforms of the PC unit. Make no mistake, Population Control was an arm of the police, and these officers had the power and authority of the law. They could cart you off to jail as surely as a man in blue. Sergeant Collins held the warrant in one hand and his smart phone in the other. The year was 9923, yet still, the warrant had to be presented on paper. That was the law. “Let’s see,” he mumbled to himself, as he looked at the small screen in his right hand. “What was the apartment number again?”
Officer Barns, the younger and stronger of the two, turned to him and asked, “What was that?”
“Nothing,” replied the sergeant. “It’s coming up here on the right, 33B. You get us inside, and make sure she doesn’t cause any trouble.”
“Of course,” grumbled Officer Barns, “that’s what I get paid to do.”
“What was that?” asked the sergeant.
“Nothing,” replied Officer Barns, who had been waiting for a promotion for a very long time. They stopped in front of the prescribed unit, and he knocked loudly. “Population Control, open up!” The old wooden door seemed to tremble in response. “I could break it down with one hand if I had to,” he thought to himself.
Sergeant Collins looked at his partner’s biceps beneath the gray uniform and thought the same thing. Well, they weren’t going to break down any doors today. The apartment manager wanted no damage to his property, and agreed to open the door with his master key if need be. “Too bad,” Collins thought, “I always enjoy breaking into an apartment. These women have no control over themselves or their bodies, as though they were still in their teens.”
Barns knocked again. “Open up! We have a warrant!”
A pause. The door opened, revealing a pretty woman with green eyes and disheveled brown hair. An oversized blouse hung over her midriff, hiding the evidence of her second trimester, but to no avail, they already knew. The detector in her toilet found the telltale proteins, and reported the pregnancy to the local precinct. Someone in this apartment was pregnant, and a quick check confirmed that she lived alone, and she had no permit. Yes, a pregnant visitor could have come and used her toilet, that’s the story she might tell, but Collins had heard it all before. No matter, the oversized blouse gave it away.
“Ma’m’,” Collins began, trying to be the good cop, “you need to present your pregnancy permit, or come with us.” Before she could respond, he looked at the bulge in her blouse, and righteous indignation took over. “How far along are you anyways? If it’s more than 25 weeks, we can’t abort. After you have brought an unauthorized child into the world, your tubes will be tied to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Anna Garlin finally replied. “It’s not that far along.” She paused, and tried to smooth her hair in a self-conscious gesture. “I’ve been waiting so long, do you know what it’s like? Everyone I know has kids, I just want someone to call me Mom. I’ve been waiting so long for a permit.” In a last desperate plea she pointed to her stomach. “You can’t abort, the baby has a heartbeat.”
Collins chuckled; he couldn’t help himself. “Miss Garlin, nobody has used that argument since the 21st century. A mosquito has a heartbeat, you don’t mind swatting a mosquito. Our best medical experts believe the developing brain, at 25 weeks, has enough complexity to host a soul, if there is such a thing, or present emergent consciousness, and that’s when the fetus is a person, and that’s the law. Our government is based on science, not one philosophy or another. Now please, come with us; we don’t want to cuff you and drag you out of here and make a scene. You know the drill, you’ve been here before.”
He looked down at his four-inch screen again. “Three times before, in fact. Mistakes happen, we understand that, but why can’t you get to a clinic and take care of these matters? It’s free – it’s covered by the state – what is the problem? You make us come out here, and then you have to pay for the house call at the very least, assuming we don’t file criminal charges.” He didn’t expect an answer. “You know, ” he reminded her, “if the state has to perform a fifth abortion, your tubes are tied automatically. That’s the law. And this is your fourth. Tubal ligation is not reversible, so I suggest you figure it out before you are rendered infertile and can never have children, even if you are granted a permit in the future. All of this was explained to you before.”
He looked down at his screen, reviewing the dates of the prior offenses, then looked back up into her soft green eyes, which were filled with tears. She seemed sad and alone, no husband, no roommates, just her, and all she wanted was a child. She was obviously fertile, that wasn’t the problem. But the law was the law, and he had to enforce it. “Please ma’am, come with us. A counselor will talk to you when the procedure is over.”
“I’ve waited so long.” repeated Anna, in a soft voice.
Officer Barns spoke to her for the first time. “It will come. It’s a lottery, but your permit will come when you least expect it. It could come tomorrow. If you get your tubes tied, it will do you no good. Just try to hang on.” He peered past her into the apartment, and saw only dilapidated living room furniture with no evidence of animals. “Do you have a dog or a cat? I’m not trying to be patronizing, but a pet helps a lot of people while they’re waiting. Almost everyone has a dog or a cat these days.”
“My sister said I should get a dog. I don’t know. I like dogs – maybe she’s right. It’s a small apartment, on the second floor, I don’t even know if they allow pets here.“ Her voice trailed off.
“Get your purse, lock the door, and come with us.” Sergeant Collins decided the conversation was over. The counselor could do the rest.
Bart needed to relax after a stressful day at the office, and the air was cool and inviting, so he walked the mile and a half to his favorite cafe. He waved to the server behind the counter. She already knew his order, a cranberry orange muffin and a coffee – one cream, one sugar. He was about to take a seat at an empty table when a woman with long red hair caught his eye.
“She’s pretty,” he thought to himself. “No wait – she’s familiar. Where have I seen her before? Did she work at Google? It’s been a long time since I worked at Google, and I certainly don’t remember all my co-workers, or even the people I casually met in the cafeteria, but she just looks … familiar. Well, I guess there’s only one way to find out.”
He walked over to her table and introduced himself. “Hello, my name is Bart, Bart Thompson.”
“I’m Allison,” she replied, looking back at him with deep blue eyes. She didn’t offer her last name, nor did she show any sign of recognition. Maybe it was all in his head. They shook hands, and Bart waved towards an empty chair. “May I?” he asked politely.
“Sure, sit down. I could use the company.”
“I’m sorry,” he began as he took a seat across from her. “It’s just that … you look familiar. Don’t I know you from somewhere?”
Allison looked back at him. “I didn’t think so, not at first, but as I look at you …” She gazed at his tall frame, his dark brown hair, his dark eyes, and his neatly trimmed beard. “Yes, I’ve seen you before. Did you work at Cook County Hospital in Chicago?“ she asked excitedly.
“No – no, I’ve never been to Chicago.”
“Well, all right then, maybe we just met a couple of times in a park or a restaurant.”
“Let’s find out,” said Bart, pulling out his smart phone.
“Biographies?” she asked with a laugh. “You won’t find anything there. They only hold public records: when we were born, where we lived, where we worked, and so on. If we just met a few times in the laundry room of an apartment building, it won’t show that.”
“Well, it could tell us we lived in the same building at the same time, or perhaps we worked for the same company at the same time. It doesn’t hurt to try. Let’s compare biographies.” He called up his own biography, something people did often, just to satisfy their own egos. “May as well start at the beginning,” he said to no one in particular. He scrolled through a series of events in silence, then froze. “Allison? Allison What? I mean, what was your maiden name?”
“Sparks,” she said simply.
Bart looked down at the screen, then back across the table at her. “We were married,” he declared, as he slid his phone across the table to her. There it was, Bart Thompson and Allison Sparks, with her picture, a perfect likeness. Her red hair was shorter then, but it was her.
She stared at it, dumbfounded. “Shut – up!” she blurted after several minutes. In disbelief, she pulled out her own phone and called up her biography, skipping ahead to the relevant year. There it was: “Married to Bart Thompson on June 17,” with his picture, although he didn’t have the beard at that time, but it was definitely him. She looked back across the table and asked the obvious question. “How could we not remember that? We were married for eight years and we forgot it completely?”
“Bart.” The server called from behind the counter. She knew his name, as well as his order. He had forgotten all about the coffee as he tried to reacquaint himself with his ex-wife.
“Be right there.” he said as he rose from the chair and walked to the counter. He paid, and took his muffin and coffee back to the table, then he tried to answer her question as best he could. “The human brain only has so much memory. We’re not a computer, we don’t have near infinite storage. New memories replace old ones, and we just forget.”
“I know,” said Allison, “I understand that, but an entire marriage‽”
“I remember something now.” proclaimed Bart. “We went on an Alaskan cruise, you and I, together. We saw whales, and we visited several port cities, and the food was fantastic.”
“Yes, that’s right!” said Allison, glad that all was not lost. “We had a great time, didn’t we?”
“We did! Do you remember anything else?”
“Just, little things here and there. If I think about it, more memories will come.”
“If you dare, I’ve been keeping a journal.” Bart tapped his phone and accessed his personal files. “Not regularly, but sporadically. I may have entries during those eight years, I probably do. We could read through them and see how much we remember.”
“Later, perhaps,” she suggested, “but not right now. If you wrote about arguments, or fights, I don’t want to think about that, I don’t want to spoil what we have right now.”
Bart wasn’t sure exactly what they had right now, except coffee and muffins – hers was chocolate and his orange cranberry – but he recognized the wisdom of her decision, and closed the file. They divorced for some reason, and there was no need to go into that right now. Finally, he asked the question that had been on his mind for several minutes. “How long ago were we married? Did you subtract the dates?”
Allison consulted the website once again, with her biography in front of her, then called up a calculator. “Three thousand three hundred and twenty-one years ago.”
“Well, there you go!” declared Bart in triumph. “We can’t chide ourselves for forgetting something that happened three thousand years ago.”
“No, I suppose not, but it was an entire marriage!” She took a bite of muffin, chewed slowly, then sipped her coffee. “Were we good in bed?”
“I think we were,” Bart smiled. “I think we were great in bed.” He remembered taking a bath with her too, and he thought it happened with some frequency. None of his other wives or girlfriends ever wanted to do that. It was a big tub, bigger than the one he had now. Hell, he didn’t even have a tub at all, just a tiny walk-in shower that barely gave him room to turn around. They must have been well off 3,000 years ago. Perhaps they both had good jobs at the time. Say what you will, but money really does buy happiness.
Bart returned to the present. “How old are you, anyway?” he asked. This was not a rude question, since people didn’t age.
“Seven thousand one hundred something, I’m not exactly sure.”
“Well I’m 5,322.” Bart knew, down to the year.
“Oh,” she chuckled, “then I married a younger man.”
“Yes, you did, a man half your age.” He took a bite of muffin and a sip of coffee. “I remember we were waiting, and hoping, for your permit. Waiting for that magical day when someone would die from some kind of accident, and the lottery would pick you to have a child, to keep our population precisely at eight billion, but it never happened, at least not while we were married. Did you ever get a permit?”
“I did,” she beamed. “And Charles and I had twin boys.”
“I never thought about that; what do they do in that case? They don’t abort one of them do they?”
“Of course not, they just consider the next permit as pre-assigned. Assuming your twins are natural, and not part of some technology. If you deliberately have multiple births, the others go up for adoption by lottery.”
“Okay. Do you keep in touch with them?”
“Of course.” She almost thought this was a silly question, but one never knew. “Sometimes we only email or text a few times a year, but they are my boys, and will always be my boys.”
“We were married for 41 years, which is a pretty good run. I keep in touch with him too, since he is the father of my children. We all get together when we can, though not as often as I would like.”
They talked for over an hour, and dredged up a few more memories of their time together. Bad times would probably stand out, and yet, their recollections were invariably positive. It wasn’t clear why they went their separate ways. “Let’s get together soon, shall we?” suggested Bart.
“Yes,” agreed Alison as she slid her phone towards his. The two phones exchanged contact information, then she stood up and gathered her phone and purse.
“I’ll call you.” Bart assured. He meant it; this wasn’t an empty promise.
Alarge black lab poked his nose into the room, surveyed the office furniture and the man behind the desk, decided it was safe, and entered, with his owner close behind. Remmy stopped at the chair, guessing that his owner would want to sit down and talk to this man. Indeed, he did.
Martin sat down and, with a simple hand gesture, commanded Remmy to lie on the floor. Remmy flopped down with a thud. Her harness made a small clacking sound as it bumped against the metal legs of the chair.
“We’ve spoken often on the phone,” Mr Sutor began. “It’s nice to meet you in person.” He stood up and reached out to shake Martin’s hand, but after an awkward minute he realized Martin couldn’t see his hand waving about in the air, so he reached all the way over, took his hand, and completed the social formality. “I assume this is the leader dog Remmington that you were telling me about.”
“Her name is Remmington,” said Martin with a smile, “but we all call her Remmy.”
“Yes,” said Mr Sutor. “I understand. And she’s the best dog you ever had?”
“It’s like we were made for each other. She takes me around obstacles, she learns my routes quickly, and she adapts. Last year they were renovating my entire office building, and she figured out, on her own, a new route to get me to my office. She’s very smart!”
“And this is the dog that you want to live forever, to be your life partner?”
“As part of my job, I have to give you a little background information. I apologize if you already know this.”
Martin merely nodded.
“We started with humans in the 25th century. We restructured their DNA to repair itself, and mop up cancer cells, and clean arteries, and resist aging at all levels. It took a few hundred years to get it right, but now, humans essentially live forever. At the time, applying this technology to other animals seemed like a bad idea, and to be honest, it still seems like a bad idea. We can’t really control the population of any creature other than humans. Imagine rabbits who reproduce as they do today, but never die!”
“It doesn’t really matter, does it?” asked Martin. “Animals don’t die of old age in the wild. They get eaten, or they run out of food, or they get injured and the ensuing infection kills them.” Martin was well educated, and well read. He wasn’t locked into computer programming, that was merely his day job.
“You’re right, I suppose, but the scientists didn’t want to chance it.” Mr Sutor paused for a moment. “Maybe a pest like the cockroach, or maybe an agricultural pest that has no predators, if it lived forever, and reproduced as it does today … In any case, extending the life span of any other animal became a federal crime. Then, a couple thousand years ago, the government made an exception for service dogs. You are not the first person to make this request.”
“I’m sure not,” laughed Martin, as he reached down to pet his companion. Remmy thumped her tail against the floor in appreciation.
Mr Sutor continued. “It took several hundred years to perfect the technique, just as it did with humans. We almost had to start over with dogs. Eventually we got it right, but there are several caveats.” Mr Sutor straightened his tie, and then realized that Martin couldn’t see it, so it hardly mattered. He was a salesman at heart, and maintained a professional appearance at all times. He adjusted his glasses and continued. “This has only been tested on dogs, no other animals. And Congress has not approved testing for any other animals. Dogs were sanctioned because they act as service animals, even vital companions, for so many people, and it would be a great advantage to have the same service animal for decades, even centuries. I’m sure you understand.”
“Yes,” Martin nodded. “That’s why I’m here.”
“Right. Next, the animal must be spade or neutered. We can’t begin a genetic line of immortal animals. Nobody is willing to take that chance.”
“Guide dogs are always spade or neutered,” replied Martin. “It has been so from the beginning. We depend on these animals to get to work, we can’t pause while they raise a litter of pups.”
“I suppose not,” Mr Sutor acknowledged. “Still, we have to confirm that your dog, Remmy, is sterile. And finally, this is a very expensive process. We extract bone marrow, and restructure the DNA, and insert it back into the animal, and those stem cells become every type of cell that the body might need, and if all goes well, your dog does not age, just as you don’t age. But there are no guarantees. You pay your money and take your chances. The procedure has a 70% chance of success, and a 1% chance of killing Remmy.” Martin swallowed hard. “Our lawyer will go over the eleven-page contract with you, paragraph by paragraph. I’m just giving you the highlights.”
“You have a good job, or some other source of funds, yes?”
“I have a good job.”
“What do you do?”
“I maintain the database for all of McDonalds.”
“McDonalds has a database?” Mr Sutor asked. “I thought they just served hamburgers.”
“You’d be surprised.”
“Well all right – no matter. Our finance officer will work out the details. But there’s one more thing. This procedure is physically stressful for the animal, and if there is emotional stress as well … I mean, we can’t just tell Remmy what is happening, and if you’re not there to comfort her, she will panic. Can you be on premises for the duration of the procedure, and spend some time with Remmy every day? It would help a lot.”
“I think so. I’ve already talked to my boss about taking time off, and I don’t have any other commitments, so I can probably do that.”
“Very good.” Mr Sutor tapped his pen on the table. “Our housing officer will go over the details. I’m afraid you’ll have to rent your room for the month, we can’t offer it for free, but that’s pretty small compared to the cost of the procedure.”
This was the opening Martin was waiting for, a chance for him to express his discontent. “Coming back to that, there’s something I don’t understand. Why don’t you create a few ageless dogs who can reproduce, and keep them here, and breed ageless puppies, who will then be sterilized, most of them that is, to become ageless service animals for people like me. The procedure is done on just a few breeding animals, instead of every service dog on the planet. Doesn’t that make sense? What you are doing today is grossly inefficient, and I have to pay the price.”
“The answer is simple,” replied Mr Sutor. “The government hasn’t approved a breeding pair of ageless dogs. It’s still illegal.”
Martin had a feeling the real answer was money, and profit, for Mr Sutor and for his corporation, but he didn’t say anything. Finally he mumbled in resignation. “I understand.”
“I assure you,” Mr Sutor lied, not even trying to put on his poker face, “Congress is looking into the matter.” Martin didn’t say anything, and Mr Sutor was anxious to close the deal. “Then I think we’re good to go?” This was both a statement and a question. He stood up and shook Martin’s hand, this time doing it correctly. “Come back tomorrow at 2 and we’ll complete all the paperwork.”
“I’ll be here,” said Martin, as he rose from the chair. Remmy got up off the floor at the same time, ready to lead. He took the harness, motioned toward the door, and Remmy escorted him out of the room.
Allison knocked on Bart’s door precisely at 6, and he let her in. His studio apartment barely had a living room, if you could call it that. A dark green couch sat against one wall, and a large-screen TV hung on the opposite wall, almost too close for optimal viewing. A coffee table sat in the middle of the room, and an end table next to the couch. With these accommodations, Bart could entertain one person comfortably, two if they were cozy. He only had one person to entertain tonight, so that was fine.
“Are you a Disney fan?” he asked, as he motioned her toward the couch.
He liked her answer. “They’ve come out with a new movie, I thought we could watch it, if that’s okay.” He stepped through one menu and then another with practiced ease. “Did you ever scroll through all the Disney movies since Snow White in 1937?” he asked, making small talk. To illustrate, he let the movies scroll by, thousands of them in a dizzying blur.
“No,” she replied.
“Well after eight thousand years, it’s an amazing catalog. And the thing is, they almost went out of business in 1949, after just a few movies. Just imagine, Snow White, Fantasia, Bambi, and that’s about it. Cinderella, in 1950, was the blockbuster that brought them back from the brink. It’s still one of my favorite movies today.”
“I didn’t know that,” she replied as she watched the movies rush by. “It’s amazing how history can turn on a dime. Like whether a giant asteroid slams into earth or sails on by. Sometimes I think the entire universe is a bit of a crap shoot.”
“It probably is.” Bart started the movie and sat down on the couch. “I’m a good cook, you’ll see, but tonight I’m feeling lazy, so I thought we’d just order a pizza. Do you have any preference on toppings, things you like or things you dislike?” To his surprise, she liked the same things he liked, right down the line. He placed his order through the TV, then resumed the movie.
In a cautious gesture, Allison touched his hand as she asked the next question. “Did you look through your journals, about us I mean? I never kept a journal, but maybe I should. Nobody remembers anything for more than a thousand years.”
“I did,” replied Bart, as he took her hand in his. After a moment of silence he answered her next question. “Everything I wrote was good. Sure we had a few spats, as couples will do, but I didn’t see any big arguments, or at least I didn’t write about them, and there were a lot of good entries.”
“And we broke up because …”
“Near as I can tell, you got a great job offer across the country, and I was pretty happy where I was, so we parted ways and figured we’d connect with other people. That’s pretty normal. The average person has three or four marriages a century. Thing is, I don’t even remember the job that was so great that it held me in place. I can see it in my biography, and I have some journal entries about it, but three thousand years later – well, I just don’t remember much about it, or what made it so great. It didn’t pay well, I know that!”
“That’s funny,” remarked Allison, “I don’t remember the great job that took me across the country and away from you, either. I see it on my biography, but I don’t have any notes to help me, because I didn’t keep a journal.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Bart was waxing philosophical. “The past is always nothing. When you live forever, the future is everything. We can learn from the past, but we plan for the future.” He wasn’t sure if he should ask the next question, but after thousands of years, he wasn’t shy any more. “Do you think we should get back together?”
“Are you asking me to marry you again?”
“Maybe.” Bart was rather ambiguous, in his words and in his thoughts. Loneliness, love, confusion – his emotions were all over the map.
“Don’t you think we should date first?” she laughed.
“Oh hell, we already did that. I don’t remember it, I suppose you don’t either, but it must have gone well, because we got married. And I hate dating – the whole process.”
“Me too.” She watched the movie for a couple minutes, but wasn’t really following the story. “We might be different people today – people can change in just a few short centuries. It’s been three thousand years. Are we the same people we were when we dated, and when we got married?”
“In some ways, I think we are,” Bart mused.
“In some ways,” Allison repeated, “I think we are.”
Bart reached over and stroked her long red hair, and this too seemed familiar, like he had done this a thousand times before. They were interrupted by a knock at the door. “Pizza,” announced a muffled voice behind the door. Bart already paid for the supreme, including the tip, so he simply took the box, waved the delivery man away, closed the door, placed the pizza on the coffee table, and sat down. Then he stood up again. “Drinks?” he asked.
“Coke if you have it, or just water.”
Bart took three steps and he was in his little kitchenette. “I have both.” He returned with a Coke and a glass of ice water, then went back to the kitchen to get the same for himself. Allison placed a piece of pizza on her paper plate, and another on his. This was all they needed for now. Sometimes you want lobster, sometimes you want pizza.
They ate, and talked, and ignored the movie that streamed in front of them – they would have to watch it again someday. When the pizza was finished, Bart brought out a blueberry pie for dessert.
“I love pie, even more than cake. How did you know?”
“I didn’t know, I just … I like pie too. Especially berry pie.”
After dessert and another hour of conversation they decided to get married again. They were both alone, and lonely, and it seemed to work before, so why not? They would marry legally in a couple weeks, then have a small party when they could get a few friends and relatives together. Weddings were not the big deal they use to be, because nobody expected marriage to last a lifetime. That was no longer practical. A wedding was just another happy event, several steps up from a birthday. Nearby friends and family might gather at a restaurant, or at someone’s house with catered food, but relatives were not likely to fly in from across the country. No rented hall, no DJ, no dress, no blizzard of presents, no elaborate cake.
By the year 3100, the leading causes of death were accidents, suicide, murder, natural events such as hurricanes and earthquakes, and rare and scattered diseases that the human body couldn’t combat, even with its enhanced DNA.
In 3110, Dr Frankin wrote a prescient paper, predicting that suicide would become the leading cause of death in the distant future. His reasoning was simple and inescapable. The body did not age, or succumb to most diseases, but it did not regenerate either. If a hand was lost, it was lost forever. It might take thirty thousand years, but statistically, disabilities would accumulate, until the person simply didn’t want to live any more. Near the end of his paper, Dr Frankin expressed the idea in terms that everyone could understand.
“Each day we get in our cars and drive, knowing the risks. There is a certain probability of death, and we accept that. However, there is also a probability of serious injury, or even dismemberment, and these are not well quantified. If you drive every day, then every thousand years or so you can expect to be injured in an accident, and if that injury is significant, and does not heal, then it is part of your world, and is compounded by the next injury, and so on. If we are lucky enough to avoid lethal accidents, and live forever, significant disability is the likely outcome for all of us.”
Everyone had first-hand experience with this phenomenon, as evidenced by smiling into a mirror. Teeth weren’t designed to last more than a century. They decayed away, and even if you were lucky, and avoided sugar, and brushed regularly, they gave way to normal wear and tear. By age 200, almost everyone had a full set of implants. These were almost as good as real teeth, and didn’t require much maintenance, so everyone took it in stride. The state paid for it as part of universal healthcare, so it wasn’t even a fiscal burden. However, the ubiquitous dental implants reminded everyone that Dr Frankin was right. The body did not regenerate, and injuries would accumulate with time.
Tommy Murser lost both hands in an industrial accident in 4227. He received the best prosthetics, and his artificial hands could do a few things, like open and close to grasp a can of beer, and he was drinking plenty of beer these days, but they couldn’t do everything. Certain daily tasks, like washing his hair, were beyond him. He lived with his sister, and she helped him with the things he couldn’t do. Instead of enjoying life, he was simply getting by, just as Dr Frankin had predicted. He could still run, and he liked to run for exercise. He read books, and spent hours a day on social media with his friends. The government granted him disability, which was not easy to get; you almost had to lose a couple of limbs to be approved. And don’t forget the doctor’s note. You could walk into the hearing with no hands, waving your stumps about in the air, but if you didn’t have medical documentation proving you had no hands, you would be denied.
The equation for disability was quite different from its original formulation, and it was constantly under review. At the outset, the math was actuarial. Life expectancy was reduced, according to the person’s disability. The government took what he might have earned from Social Security, squashed it into his remaining years, and doled out monthly payments accordingly. However, that formula went out the window when people, even disabled people, lived forever. On the flip side, people did not become infirmed, and, barring disability, people were expected to work forever. Eternal life meant eternal employment, so you better find a job you liked. If you wanted to retire, you had to save and save and save, perhaps for thousands of years, until you could kick back and live off the interest. Good luck with that.
Under the new reality, Social Security disappeared, and SSI and SSDI merged into one program, simply called “PD” – Permanent Disability. The latest formula was not particularly generous, and Tommy was glad he lived with his sister, since the PD payments were not enough for him to live on his own.
In the year 6585, Tommy was involved in a car accident that damaged his spine. After months of physical therapy he could walk short distances with some effort and pain, but he could never run again. This injury, combined with his artificial hands, was more than he could bear. Two doctors and a psychologist agreed, and signed the appropriate forms, whereupon his case went before the Compassionate End of Life Board. Three months later they approved his request, which was rather expeditious for them.
Tommy entered the termination clinic, hobbling, and bent in pain.
“This is exactly what we do for dogs and cats,” Dr Watchman explained. “It’s painless, and it’s peaceful.”
“I understand,” said Tommy, as he climbed up onto the table. “I’ve had to put many pets down in my day.” Tommy laid down, the white paper sheet crinkling under his body.
“Are you ready?” asked Dr Watchman.
The doctor found the vein, and injected the cocktail of sedative and pentobarbital with practiced ease. Tommy passed within a couple minutes. Dr Watchman wrote the death certificate, and sent it to Population Control. The corresponding pregnancy permit was issued the next day.
In 6585, suicide was still not the leading cause of death, with accidents prominent in an industrialized society, but they were on the rise, and the two curves would cross in the year 8421. People didn’t want to live forever in a broken body, and some people, after twenty or thirty thousand years, decided they didn’t want to live forever at all.
There were ten countries on earth in the year 9923, and each managed its own population, according to its size and agricultural resources. Over time, the procedures had become similar, almost uniform, across the ten countries, so that you could hardly tell one from another. In fact, one company built and maintained all the machines that picked the random numbers used to assign pregnancy permits. At the start, these were computers, using a pseudo-random number generator, or even a radioactive decay source, but computers could be hacked. Rich women bribed computer operators and bought pregnancy permits, sometimes for millions of dollars, depending on the number of bribes in the chain and the greed of each official. An investigation by the Washington Post brought this to light in 2967, and computers were replaced with mechanical contrivances that dropped balls into tubes, much like the lotto machines of the 20th century that were used as a form of state-sponsored gambling. Everyone could see the balls falling through the air and into the tubes, and tampering was difficult, if not impossible.
Susan Eiman operated the lottery machine for Australia, and she was always surprised at the amount of money she made, just for pulling a lever a few dozen times a day. It was an important job, and the government wanted to make sure she couldn’t be bribed, just in case there was a way to fix the outcome, so they paid her well. In B. F. Skinner’s Walden Two, people worked only four hours a day, yet after eight thousand years, humans had not quite reached that level of utopia, even though virtually everyone was employed. Most people worked at least 25 hours a week, but Susan worked just ten hours a week, two hours a day, doing a job that was by no means taxing. And her job was never going away. She was truly sitting in the catbird seat.
“Wow – this one died of an illness,” remarked Gary Lockman as he looked at his computer screen. “Person 22883100353, cause of death, endopolycythemia.”
Susan got up and walked towards her boss. She had to see for herself. She looked over his shoulder, past his jet black hair, and there it was on the screen: “Cause of Death: endopolycythemia”. “That’s extremely rare, isn’t it?” she asked.
“It is,” replied Gary as he touched a couple of icons on the screen. “Haven’t seen that one in years.” He didn’t mind when she came over to watch. They were attracted to each other, even though they were both married. They would probably never do anything about it, but he thought she was very pretty, with her sparkling blue eyes and her blonde hair tied up in a bun, and she liked his cologne, so subtle that she only noticed it when she came over to his workstation to watch what he was doing. Gary turned towards her, quietly acknowledging the feelings they had for each other, and then got back to business.
“The permit is ready.” Indeed, the pregnancy permit was on the screen, person 22971629066, yet to be born or even conceived. This permit would be assigned to a woman at random, with a few caveats. She must be over one hundred years old, since people under a hundred were idiots, and she can’t have two permits within the span of a thousand years, since that was considered unfair. She can’t be on permanent disability, or in prison, and of course, she can’t be infertile, as a result of a natural defect, or as mandated by the state. There were a few other rules as well, and the computer was aware of them all. It would check for compliance before the permit was issued.
Susan went back to her lottery machine and pulled the lever. Balls bounced about in the machine and landed in their slots, selecting a 12-digit number at random. Through a congruence algorithm, this determined a specific woman in Australia, the next mom-to-be. The permit was good for one hundred years; if she didn’t conceive in that time, it was passed to someone else. Susan called out the numbers, but they were already in Gary’s computer. She was simply confirming by eye what the computer recorded, so there was no tampering. She dutifully wrote them down in her notebook, maintaining a paper trail. Gary tapped “OK”, in a tradition that went all the way back to Microsoft, and the permit was issued.
“Two more, then we can go home,” commented Gary, as he saw the last two death certificates pop up on his screen. “Looks like two sailors drowned in the ocean last night, just off the coast of Sydney.” Gary touched an icon and queued up the next death, person 22883293145. Cause of death, accidental drowning at sea, exacerbated by an unexpected storm. He thought about his own number popping up on the screen some day. It would happen; it was just a matter of time. A shiver ran up his spine as he pushed the thought from his mind. “That’s at least a hundred thousand years in the future,” he comforted himself. The computer allocated a new permit, person 22971629067. “The next one is ready,” Gary announced, looking over at Susan. She pulled the lever, and recorded the numbers in her notebook, and Gary tapped “OK”. They did the same for the second hapless sailor, assigning permit 22971629068 to one Martha Wallace, living in Perth. Gary turned off his workstation and motioned towards Susan, who was already picking up her purse. Their 9-to-11 job was finished, and they were free to go.
Martha Wallace received notification by text on her phone, and by email, and her official paperwork would arrive in the mail in a week. If she was married, her husband would rejoice with her. If not, Martha could have her pick of any man on the continent. Men were just as anxious to have children as women, but they were not selected by the lottery; they had to find a woman who was. If Martha was smart, she would keep this secret to herself. She would find someone who loved her for who she was, and then, after he proposed, she would tell him about the permit, and they would go out shopping for a crib. It was such a joy, people didn’t even do it online. They drove for 80 miles if need be, to find a physical store that had cribs, and they looked at one model after another, until they found one that was just right. Then they bought a car seat, diapers, clothes, and toys. It was a wonderful ritual that you might enjoy only once every ten thousand years.
As it turns out, Martha was married, and she conceived two months later. Fortune smiled upon them again; Martha could work part-time from home, and her husband’s job was transferable. They moved to Melbourne, which maintains a community of families, so that children can go to school together and play together. It isn’t healthy for a child to grow up in isolation.
Bart spent the last three months in his meager apartment, to finish is year long lease – then he moved into Allison’s house, which was spacious, and equipped with all the modern amenities. The house was big enough for a family of five, but Allison lived alone. Perhaps she was waiting for Bart, or somebody like him, to join her. On September 8, 9923, he did just that, and his public biography was updated accordingly.
After unpacking his essentials, they decided to go out to dinner to celebrate. They both liked to cook, but this was a special occasion. They went to a Japanese restaurant, and watched the meal being prepared at their table. The food was delicious, and they both had plenty of plum wine to help it along. No worries about drunk driving, since cars started driving themselves in the 21st century. They got back home and laid on Allison’s queen sized bed, like to lions resting comfortably after a large meal. Bart took her hand in his, which felt natural, as though he had done it all his life. “Say, do you wanna watch that Disney movie, the one we saw on our first date but didn’t pay much attention to?”
“Sure,” replied Allison, “But I think I’ll take a shower first, then I can watch the movie and drift off to sleep.”
“That’s a good idea,” commented Bart. “I might do the same.”
“Hey, you haven’t tried my big tub yet,” observed Allison, as she sat up in bed. “Let’s have a bath together.”
They went into her master bathroom, which was almost as big as his studio apartment. She started filling the tub, and it brought back a fleeting image of the two of them in a tub some 3,000 years ago. It was just an image, blurred by time. This was a completely different house, in a different state, and yet it looked familiar, as though it could be the same tub.
In ten minutes the tub was full, and they were both enjoying the warm water. There was room for both of them, without having to scrunch up into uncomfortable yoga positions.
“Why do you have such a large bathtub anyways?” Asked Bart.
“I don’t know, it just came with the house. I hardly ever use it. It definitely jacks up the water bill, as you might imagine.”
“I’m sure it does,” Bart laughed. He sat quietly for several minutes, then put his thoughts into words. “I know we’ve been here before, I almost remember it, but it’s just an image, like a still frame taken from a movie. I don’t quite know what to do next.”
“I do,” said Allison with a playful smile, as she glanced up at the soap and shampoo on the shelf. “It’s been a long time, but I remember.”