I approached the Propagation Center. It was on the outskirts of the city center. The property was dirt cheap out there. They did a decent job with securing the premises, but being that close to Canner country was always unnerving.
It was a square cement building, like every other building. Like most government buildings, concrete, and steel. It had a dark solar glass sliding door, nothing that set it apart from anywhere else.
I had scheduled my quarterly visit when I had found out about my work meeting.
I had the exact same results since I was seventeen. Every quarter I was legally obligated to put myself through this examination. I would sit around, waste my time, and hate my life just for them to reiterate the exact same thing I’ve known for fourteen years. It’s not as though the Department of Propagation doesn’t have any record of it. But, they put you through the farce of coming down here all the same. That way everyone can say, “We did all we could” and sleep better knowing the world is ending not due to their lack of protocol.
The visits had gotten somewhat easier over the years. Were they still invasive and demeaning? Of course. Were they still a waste of time? Yes. Were they still required by law? Until I turned forty.
I walked through the sliding glass doors, tinted with a dark UV shield. There was a medium sized lobby filled with kiosks and chairs. I walked to the beige DOP kiosk. The screen asked for my DOP ID. I entered it and waited for my phab to buzz. When it did, I looked at the screen. Twelve. I was number twelve today. Every time I heard that number, I knew it was my turn.
The kiosks were free standing and set up at the back of the lobby, in rows. Then there were chairs in front of them, their backs facing the kiosks, their fronts facing the door you just came in.
I sat down in a chair and looked at the giant screen that had been built into the wall. It was a slideshow of protocol, advertisements, and propaganda. Since I didn’t like the constant noise of my phab in my ear, I had disengaged the audio stream. Which meant the crap on the screen was, thankfully, silent.
There was some faint ambient background music coming from within the Propagation center. Probably at the eye and finger scan stations just beyond the doors leading out of the lobby. The music was supposed to be calming, so they could get a good eye scan the first time around; for official productivity percentages no doubt.
No one was even looking at the screen in the lobby. Everyone’s head was down over a phab, making slight hand swiping motions like they were magicians of technology. A couple of people would look up, but new traffic was barely noticed.
I always found the lobby screen show comical... due largely to the fact that it was insensitive and absurd. I know that women have been marginalized and talked down to since the beginning of time, my grandma had taught me that much. But even after everything, as we sat on a survival precipice, they still speak to us like we are missing a lobe.
Today’s message was a pretty good one. Intermittent among all the advertisements for pills, creams, and products that would “enliven” your love life was a picture of a beautiful pregnant woman. She was draped ever so carefully in red satin. She had flawless porcelain rosy skin. Her dark hair flowed behind her as if she was standing in a gentle breeze. Her hand was on her exposed belly. Her gaze directed very longingly at her enlarged midsection.
Above her, it read: Family... It’s a growing trend.
Who the fuck ever thought this would work?
Besides the fact that it insulted everyone’s intelligence, it was just plain incorrect. First off, how was that pregnant woman Caucasian? Anyone who was fertile in the United States was a part, most or all Latino. A full Caucasian woman hadn’t had a baby in nearly sixty-five years. Secondly, that lady had no skin conditions. Impossible. Third, how are they going to put a picture like that in a room full of infertile women? Implying that we were selfishly choosing not to have children and needed a little coaxing.
But, if it wasn’t this ad, it would be some other ludicrous DOP extolment.
There was a ding overhead. Then a voice said, “Twelve.”
I stood up and walked over to the double doors. I put my thumb and finger on the keypad and waited for them to open. They opened into a hallway. There were two doors on each side as I walked to the desk at the end of the hallway.
I said to the man behind the desk.
“Over here, please.” He gestured to his left. There was another little waiting area here. It had six chairs. There were no monitors or screens or kiosks. This was the wait before the questions. The doors that I walked by the rooms where we had to answer our “history panel” in. This took anywhere from thirty to forty-five minutes if you said the right thing. They always said that there “were no wrong answers” and “everything was confidential”, but you were a fool if you believed that.
I leaned back and rested my head against the wall. I closed my eyes. I was drifting when I heard my number. I walked back over to the desk.
“Room number four, please,” he said to me.
I walked back up the hall to a room labeled four. I opened the door and sat down on the love seat. It faced an oversized chair. There was a little table next to it. A couple of paintings were on the wall.
I waited. I had learned quickly that the right answers would get you in and out of there without causing any suspicion. While this was done under the guise of monitoring public health, it also had begun to serve as a platform to ask about other non-procreation related items. The visit comprised of three parts, in no particular order; the physical examination where they poked around and drew blood, the sexual health interview, and the physical health interview.
The sexual health interview consisted of questions on all the intimate details of your life from how often you had sex, number or partners, positions used. The physical health interview seemed to be tailored to what the Department of Agriculture wanted information on. This was more about how much you ate and where you bought supplements, seedlings, and produce. Part of the motive was to ferret out smugglers. A majority of seedlings and produce were smuggled in from Cartel farms. So, while it is not a crime for a citizen to grow and sell their own produce, it did raise a red flag. The origin of such products being prosecutable. It was illegal to re-sell any product obtained from or associated with the Cartel. If suspected, the Department of Agriculture would genetically test your plants. If they matriculated from known Cartel stock, you were in trouble.
After a few minutes, a woman came in.
“Hello! Good morning! How are you today, Ms. Donovan?” It was in true Department of Propagation style to be this excited all the time.
“I’m well. Thank you,” I said brightly, but not at all trying to mirror her intensity.
“Great! I am very glad to hear it! So, it looks like you are here for your quarterly check-up. So, let’s go ahead and get started.” She propped her phab up on the little table next to her and made a couple of swipes.
“Ok,” I said.
“Alrighty. How do you feel?”
“Have you had any dark thoughts lately? Any thoughts of despair?”
“Good! What about any signs of depression? Sleeping too long? Suppressed appetite? Or any behavior that seems out of place?”
“Great. Are you getting adequate nutrition?”
“How so?” She looked genuinely concerned for a moment.
“I’ve got a garden and take supplements. You know, normal stuff.”
“And with this garden, do you trade or sell produce from it?” She said sounding very curious.
“Oh, no, not really. If I do, it is just with my neighbor.”
“And that neighbor is still,” she paused to consult her phab, “is still a Mr. David Rey?”
“Where do you purchase your gardening materials? Your seed, soil, implements… those types of items?”
Oh, the Department of Agriculture versus the Cartel. They were always trying to track the activity of the Cartel. The Cartel had the best products because they didn’t genetically modify plants the way the Department of Agriculture did. Not everyone liked to be used as an unwilling, unknowing test subject.
“When I need something, I go to the Pantry. But, as of right now, everything is pretty well established.”
Which was a lie, but as long as they saw my face in line a couple of times a year at the Department of Agriculture’s Pantry, they didn’t have much of a case.
“Are you able to get enough citrus in that way?”
“Uh… not really. Citrus is hard to get out where I live.”
And this was true. But, this was also a trap question. Everyone knew that citrus was the main thing that the Cartel dealt in. Saying yes only lead to more questions. Now, sub-bubs also had citrus, but it was against their laws to have any produce or agricultural product leave their perimeters. The consequences were steep for a non-subbite being in possession of it.
“And you said you were taking your supplements?”
“Including your fertility citrates?”
“Where do you purchase your supplements?” She smiled and crossed her legs. Like we were having a friendly chat. When really, she was just gathering information. This conversation was being recorded and would be submitted to the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Propagation.
“I get them when the Ag agent comes to our complex.”
She nodded, “And how often do they come?”
“My complex is on a six-week rotation.”
She asked more questions about my gardening. She asked again about my access to citrus. Then she started on water. This was a serious set of questions. Water was so scarce and heavily regulated, any wrong answer could lead to detainment.
“Are you getting enough water, Ms. Donovan?” She grinned, her eyes unblinking.
“Our water carrier comes every two weeks. That seems to be the perfect timing. So, yes, I think I am well hydrated.”
“Have you or anyone in your building noticed any sort of leaks or dripping near the water reserve?”
I cocked my head to the side, to make it look like I was thinking. When in reality, I was just breathing, to help calm my racing heart.
“I haven’t seen any. I’m trying to think if I’ve heard… no, I don’t think anyone has mentioned anything like that.”
She picked up her phab and made a couple of taps. I knew that she was accessing the history of our building, to see what, if any, citations had been issued in the last quarter.
“All right,” she said in her sweet, perky, voice, “let’s switch gears a minute, what do you say?”
I smiled and exhaled at the same time.
“I’m going to get a glass of water, would you like some?” She asked.
She was going to upload this interview to the Department of Agriculture. She just didn’t want to be obvious about it while I was in the room.
“Yes, I would love some water.”
She smiled, picking up her phab and standing.
“I’ll be right back!”
I leaned back in my chair and was mindful not to look relieved. Even though the agent had stepped out of the room did not mean that our conversation wasn’t still being monitored. I looked up at the ceiling, trying to figure out what they might be using in this room. All the rumors of late had been about some breath meter. Supposedly, it would measure your breath sounds before, during and after an agent was in the room.
She came back into the room with two small cups of water.
“Here you go!”
Once again, she settled into her chair phab recording next to her.
“So, let’s change subjects here. Are you seeing anyone?”
“Yeah, I am.”
“Wonderful! And how long have you been seeing him?”
“Maybe two and half weeks.” Not true.
“All right. And what is his status?”
“He is fertile.”
Inconclusive women were encouraged to have sex with fertile men. I mean, we were encouraged to have sex with all men but fertile men received preference. On the off chance that an infertility status was incorrect there would be no delay in the procreation process.
“How many relationships have you had in the last twelve weeks?”
“Four, five counting him.”
“That is very good. And, if needed you can furnish us with their DOP ID numbers?”
This, too, was a bald-faced lie. I was twenty-nine and inconclusive, no one was banging down my door these days. I had met Cabe, quite by accident, at the train station after my last quarterly appointment. My mind wandered a little as I thought about that day.
I’d been standing next to a shrub, the kind that makes up the green space in the terminal. I had been stroking its leaves trying to figure out what they did to get them to look so good. He had snuck up on me while I was examining the shrub.
“May I ask what your intentions are regarding this shrub?”
“I’m sorry, I was just…” I had snapped up quickly relieved that he was not part of the security.
“Yeah, they will totally notice if you dig it up.” He had been smiling.
“On average, how many times per week are you having intercourse?” The propagation agent’s questions sapped me back to the present.
“Uh, I guess about three.”
“Is there any reason that it couldn’t be more? Department standards do suggest three to five. Three is the minimum, you know.”
I felt my face get hot. I should have known better.
“Well…He lives in a sub-bub and only has to be in the city center a few times a week.”
She clasped her hands in her lap and pursed her lips.
“Now, Bette, I don’t want to waste your time by stating the obvious here. I think we both know that you could have a lot more, well, influence over the number of times that you see him in a given week. Let’s try to be more proactive, what do you say?”
“Sure. I will work on that.” I pushed down the indignation of being treated like a child.
“I know that it is common to become complacent about your age. You are getting older and haven’t had much luck. But, you still have a commitment to your country for the next few years. So, let’s not get lazy; ok? A lot is at stake here.”
I set my jaw and smiled as sweetly as I could.
“I am fully aware of that fact.”
She continued on to ask if I was using various sexual positions. If I was sure how to do them correctly. How much time I waited after emissions and so on and so forth.
“And finally,” she asked, “do you have any prospective relationships lined up after this one?”
“Wonderful. Well, that about wraps up what I need here. If you want to head back over to the waiting area, Miguel will be able to alert your next station that you are ready.”
I stood up to leave. As I opened the door, she stopped me.
I turned around.
“Don’t lose heart. You are very pretty, considering your age and status. There is still a chance.”
I think she was genuinely smiling.
“Thanks,” I said half- heartedly.