Mark and Kathy stood, pensively, in front of their picture window. Before them, Haro Strait glimmered in the mid-morning sunshine, with the silhouette of Victoria, British Columbia, interrupting the seam of sea and sky on the horizon. Their spacious home sat perched on the west side of San Juan Island, with a steep hillside of grass and moss, dotted with douglas fir and madrone trees, all that was separating them from the shoreline, and the view, of the Salish Sea.
After a time, Mark, tall, strapping, middle 20s, turned his head towards Kathy’s. Kathy, some centimeters shorter, some years younger, didn’t meet his gaze immediately. Her eyes were still directed towards the strait, but it was by no means clear that she saw the water, or the city looming behind it, or the container ships that were passing through it. It was only after Mark’s right hand gently touched her left that she departed whatever space she was in and returned to the present, and to Mark. Their eyes at last met, their hands clasped.
“Shall we?”, Mark asked, caressingly.
“I – I think so”, Kathy, replied, nervously. Then, more forcefully, “No more thinking. Let’s do this!”
Tom gave Kathy’s hand a squeeze, then lifted his head and his voice. “Alexa Health, apply for procreation license!”
“Ready when you are”, called a voice from the sofa in the middle of the living room.
Mark and Kathy turned towards the voice. It belonged to a figure that was standing in front of the sofa, between it and the coffee table that separated the sofa from two upholstered chairs facing it. What Kathy saw was a person who looked just like Mark, but had firmer muscle tone, broader shoulders, prominent six-pack abs, and ears that were on the same plane. What Mark saw was a person who looked just like Kathy, but who had fuller, shapelier breasts (no bra, of course), tauter skin the glow of which was almost blinding, and no trace of the bulge that had begun to show on the real Kathy’s waist. Such clothes as the apparition had on were positioned to enhance, not conceal. Mark squeezed Kathy’s hand again, Kathy returned the squeeze. Unsurprisingly, Alexa wanted their full attention on this momentous occasion.
“Hi. I’m Kevin.” Mark heard a studio version of Kathy’s voice; Kathy heard a similarly idealized version of Mark’s. “Come, sit down. And tell me what’s taken you so long! We were beginning to worry.”
“Worry?”, Mark asked as he and Kathy sat in the chairs facing Kevin, who sat on the sofa.
“You two have had your cohabitation agreement for nearly two years now”, Kevin replied matter-of-factly. “Our metadata analyses tell us that two people who are as well matched, and as well suited, for procreation as you are, typically put a contract in place before the first year of cohab runs out. We were wondering if you had seen something off-putting in each other that we hadn’t seen, and that was the reason for the delay.”
Another mutual hand squeeze. “That isn’t it”, Mark said.
“So”, Kevin mused, conspicuously pretending not to notice the display of affection. “Your genetic profiles are optimal. You generously exceed the income qualifications (nice spread you have here, by the way), and have excellent prospects for expanding on your income potential while retaining the time, space, and energy for children. You’ve passed all your parenting exams, and your psychosocial evaluations, in the top 5th percentile. You remain within the optimal age brackets for somatic and gamete health – but the clock is ticking. Hence our concern. Especially since we are prepared to put no upper bound on the number of children approved under this contract for you.”
Mark’s eyes widened. Kathy gasped.
“I see you grasp the significance”, Kevin continued. “We fulfill our mission to promote human health, in this continuing climate and population emergency, by promoting child rearing by those most likely to succeed at it, while putting downward pressure on the human population overall. We see a profound benefit in investing in you, and in couples like you, and we would like to see you get started, as you obviously wish to get started yourselves. Say the word, and we will disable the birth-control implants and let you start filling those cribs you’ve got in the side rooms.”
“I – I’m still nervous,” Kathy whispered.
“Understandable”, Kevin sympathized. “Anything in particular?”
“Clause 57 and its riders”, Mark thrust out.
Kevin pursed his/her lips, nodded pensively. “Given your intelligence and empathy scores, we should have seen this coming. I’ve added a note to our files. You do grasp the importance of this section of the contract? And that, according to your genetic profiles and our other assessments, your risk of negative outcomes under these provisions is low, as low as we’ve ever seen?”
“Yes.” Mark bit off the word. He paused; then resolved, whatever the risk, to tell the machine exactly what he was thinking. “I understand the logic behind removing my wife from all health care apart from diet, exercise, and general wellness monitoring, regular checkups, cures for infectious diseases that threaten the population instead of just individuals, and repairs of accidental injuries.
“I understand the logic behind removing our children from health care under the same criteria, until they reach puberty.
“I understand the logic behind using ‘natural processes’ to cleanse the deleterious mutations that lead to allergies, autism, and inherited conditions like sickle-cell anemia, muscular dystrophy, and all of that from humanity.
“I understand the logic that prevents us from using ‘heroic medicine’, or genetic engineering techniques, or cybernetic enhancements, to combat these conditions.
“I would have Alexa Health Services understand the emotions at play here.” Mark put his arm around Kathy, who nestled into his shoulder. “This is my wife, to whom I have pledged everything I have, up to and including my life. To her, and to any children we should have together. For me to sign my name to any instrument that will allow her, or any of them, to suffer, or even be taken away from me, without my having the ability to do everything possible to prevent her suffering, or loss, is … difficult.”
Silent tears streamed from Kathy’s eyes.
Abruptly, Kevin stood up, eyes cold, face set hard. “This is disappointing.” The words were almost snarled. “We shall have to review the significance of the empathy scores we obtain. We prescribe a six-month series of counseling sessions, to see if we can get these (Kevin spat out the word) emotions of yours under control. We will revisit the matter after completion of those sessions. In the meantime, your request for a procreation license is denied! And if if it is denied again after counseling, or withdrawn, we will be reallocating all this (Kevin waved arms to encompass the house) stuff. You will have neither need nor justification for it!”
Kevin vanished. In his wake, the house perched on the hillside overlooking Haro Strait fell dark, and silent – except for Kathy’s stifled sobs.