Back in the little lobby, with no distractions, I stood and stretched my arms to the sky. I pushed and pushed until I felt like the skin on my ribs was about to tear. I leaned forward until my fingers were under my boots. Face to face with the reason I was here, I let out a sigh. I closed my eyes and held that position, my hamstrings complaining.
“Ma’am?” The man at the desk raised his voice to get my attention.
I stood up and turned to face him.
“They are ready for you.”
“Awesome,” I said flatly.
I walked toward his post. There was a door to his right, my left. I walked over and stood in front of it. It slid open. I could hear the music that I had heard in the intake lobby.
They had started vaccinating people against sexually transmitted diseases when infertility was on the rise, thinking that could be the culprit. It wasn’t. So now, you could have sex with very little consequence; very little of anything, truth be told.
My grandma told me about Leprosy. People’s body parts and skin would literally fall off their body. What was learned with this disease was that it didn’t actually cause the loss of body parts. The disease caused numbness. So, if your hand was affected by numbness and you sliced it open, you wouldn’t know. The resulting infection was what would cause the decay and eventual loss of the limb.
I always thought about that when I was here, talking ever so rote, about the procreation process. This process that never had to be taught or improved or monitored until recently.
It was a large bright room. The reception kiosk was immediately inside the door. It was a smooth light stone running perpendicular to the floor. It was a seamless extension of the wall. A man stood there.
Directly behind him, along the wall on the left were six doors. Across from the doors on the right side of the room where six more of these smooth white stone bench extensions from the wall. These served as the exam tables. They had the ability to make the exam areas more private, as there were curtains. But they never did. The curtains stayed bunched up against the wall behind the patient. This entire area was under camera surveillance. The music had always seemed out of place. It was pretty busy today; I made for the third examinee.
“Exam one,” The man said.
I walked past him and sat on the first white stone bench. I let my legs swing a little, bouncing gently off the stone beneath me.
Humans are supposed to procreate. That was just how it was supposed to work. They wanted me to believe that is what I wanted. They wanted me to believe it was possible. This was my purpose. They wanted me to try, try again. So I would.
In all the times I had sat here, no one ever asked me if I wanted to be pregnant. Not even once. It is probably a stupid question, but no one had ever asked.
What would I say if someone ever did ask?
I knew we were in a crisis. I knew that humanity was taking it in the teeth these days. Even if I could procreate, why would I want to? To bring another life into this? That seemed short-sighted. As of right now, I scraped by on supplements and a small indoor garden. I slept with a man who from time to time illegally brought me oranges. Is that the life I’d been destined for?
What would that child grow up to do? How much worse would things be then?
What if he or she was “inconclusive”?
But to not try? That was the question to stop all other questions. No one seemed to be ok with the extinction of humanity. Everyone understood why we were doing this, everyone subjected themselves to this. Everyone knew planet Earth was on a ventilator. It groaned and cracked under everything we did to try to eek a little more time out of it.
A woman dressed in gray came over. She had her DOP issue phab and held it up in front of my eyes.
“Please state your name and DOP identification number, please.”
“Bette Donovan. 208366-4.”
“Thank you. You will notice a red dot on the back of the device I am holding. Please, blink once, and then stare at the dot. Try not to move, shift or blink.”
I blinked. I stared at the dot.
“Thank you. Now, please give me your left hand.”
I stretched out my left hand. She took a flat silver square out of the pocket of her gray tunic.
“Hold this between your thumb and forefinger. Make sure the pad of your finger is as flat as possible.”
I did. A little click signaled my fingerprints had been taken. She watched her phab.
“All right Ms. Donovan, your identity has been verified.”
Her assistant rolled over a small steel tray with various implements on it. She picked up a two-inch wide strip of paper.
“If you can go over to the restroom and place this strip in your urine stream, please?”
I took the strip and walked across the room to the line of doors with her assistant in tow. I opened the door, allowing her to go before me.
She smiled at me as I shut the door.
“How are you today?”
“Great,” I said, unzipping my pants and sitting on the toilet.
Once complete, I handed it to her. She placed it in the clear container she had been holding and left. I put my hand under the waterless sanitizer unit to my right. I rubbed it into my hands. Standing, I pulled up and fastened my pants.
The agent had already imprinted a barcode on the urine sample.
I hopped back up on the bench.
“Please hold out your right arm.”
I stuck out my right arm. She took one vial of blood and handed it to the assistant who now had the phab. I watched as she held the vial in front of the phab, saw the tiny flash, and then the vial had a barcode. Meanwhile, the agent had my right forefinger. She placed a gray plastic sheath over it. It had a clear window. I felt a little prick and watched as the blood oozed into the window. Then she took it off, handing it to the assistant. It, too, was barcoded. Then the assistant fastened the sheath to the phab, handing it back to the agent. The assistant rolled away with the filled containers.
The agent stared at the phab. Then made a few taps.
“If you will go over to the reproductive imaging room, please.” She said without looking at me.
I hopped back down and walked across the room to the fourth door on the wall. I walked in and stood in the middle of the room. A white circle that had been painted to the floor to indicate where you needed to stand. The assistant came in.
“Please spread your legs and arms apart, like you are making a human X.” The voice of the agent came over the speakers.
I did so.
The assistant pressed a button on the wall. There was a little chirp.
“All right,” the assistant said, “you can follow me back to the exam table.”
We left the room.
The agent was waiting over by the exam table. I walked over, leaning on the table.
“Well Ms. Donovan, everything looks normal. There was just the slightest uptick in your hormone levels, but nothing that is going to affect your status. We get that from time to time if a device’s calibration is off. This tiny increase is well within our department margin of error levels.”
I had had this happen before. This uptick was usually so small it wouldn’t register on the graphs they would e-mail me.
The tech handed me a bottle. She smiled and gave it a little shake,
“Don’t forget these.”
How could I?
I took the bottle and put it in my bag.
I walked out of the Propagation center and into the balmy overcast that was every day. I sat down on the busted curb, sighing into my mouth cover. I closed my eyes and ran my fingers up the sides of my temples and into my hairline. I took a small sip of the heavy air and held it in my chest.
Hours of my life spent in there. Always the same answer. Always the same result.
I let my little breath out through my nose and opened my eyes.
This place was ugly. Even uglier than around my apartment, if that was possible.
A little movement at the edge of my vision caused me to look over. Across the street was a tiny patch of dandelions jittering as a result of some unintelligible breeze. They had come up between the cracks in the concrete next to an old abandoned bus stop. They were white and fuzzy, meaning that they had already released their seed into the world.
Funny, you didn’t even have to think about it. I thought, giving a disgusted little huff.
It was just the regular process a plant went through. And, the damnedest thing was, it would have total luck in propagating. It wouldn’t be monitored or tested or put under a special light. It was simply a weed in the world, under no pressure to perform.
“How the fuck is that fair?” I asked the dandelion.
There was the crunch of gravel behind me. I started to turn.
Before I could see anything, I heard a muffled grunt and something hard hit the back of my head. I pitched forward.
Grit scoured my cheek as my hands skidded out from underneath me. A stabbing pain filled my chest. I arched up a little. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t scream.
Everything everywhere hurt. It was beyond hurt. I felt hands on me. I heard yelling.
Nothing was in focus. Then nothing was there at all.