“Next case. Request 14875 on entry into the Houston Reproduction Program.”

Commissioner Morris looked at his fellow commissioners. “Report on the genetic analysis?”

Commissioner Buchman cleared her throat. “Yes, I have the results here. The figures are looking surprisingly well. Both samples are very promising and their combination might have a lot of potential.”

“Historical background?”

“I have those,” Commissioner Waldock said. “Our computers show no match between the relatives of the pair, as far as they can trace back. There should be no fear of inbreeding.”

“Thank you, colleagues. So we have an agreement then?”

The other two nodded, and Morris pushed a button. “Send them in, Sally.”

Two people appeared, their worried faces trying to read an answer off the expression of the stern-looking Commissioners. Morris didn’t feel like playing any games, so he cut to the chase.

“Lambert and Wallace?”

The man and woman both nodded.

“You have been accepted into the program.”

Their faces lit up. The man was the first to speak.

“Oh thank you, Commissioner, thank you so much. Does that mean we…?”

“Yes, you are granted permission to have one baby of the…” He quickly looked at a screen. “Of the female gender.”

The woman started to cry. “A baby girl, Michael.”

Michael Lambert could cry from joy as well. Not many couples got selected by the Reproduction Program.

“We will contact the Methodist Hospital and you can both expect a drone soon to handle all the… administration.”

Michael couldn’t help noticing the pause. They still can’t mention it properly after all those years.

He could feel sweat on his skin underneath his Virtual Reality suit. In spite of the advanced technology, he was still aware of his body floating in the VR tank at his house. He became even more aware of it, now that he was to pose his final question to the images of the three Commissioners in the virtual meeting room.

“I have one final request, Commissioners.”

Morris raised a virtual eyebrow. He hadn’t expected them to be there anymore, and was annoyed at this waste of his time. He looked at Lambert. “And that would be?”

Michael swallowed. This is it. No way back anymore. “W-we were wondering if we are also allowed to…”

“Allowed to what, Lambert?”

“To have sex, Commissioner.”

The image of Commissioner Morris flickered for a second. The system must have a hard time processing his emotions, Michael thought. The Commissioner’s face was now a combination of pale and red, and looked not pleased at all.

“There are VR places you can attend for that, Lambert. The samples will be taken by drones, under perfect condition using proper procedures.”

“But I don’t want drones doing it. I want it in person with Sophie, the way Nature intended it.”

“WHAT?” Morris screamed.

“Do we have to remind you of your isolation, Mister Lambert?” Waldock added. “You cannot physically meet with one another. It would be harmful.”

“Perhaps Mister Lambert has spent too much time on VR, and has forgotten about our earthly boundaries?” Commissioner Buchman suggested diplomatically.

“I know perfectly what is real and what is not,” Michael reacted.

Ever since the oceans had risen, and one of the Nuclear Powers had panicked over it, Earth had become a hazardous place to live. Many had died in the massacre, and even more had been mutated by the fallout. Chaos had ruled the world for a decade before organization had taken form again.

Then another disaster had struck. Human immune systems hadn’t been able to deal with the many new diseases. And even worse, sperm had itself become the cause of a lethal disease, which made reproduction impossible without in vitro fertilization.

People had started to keep their distance and live by themselves. Social networks had become increasingly important until they had taken over day-to-day functions. Isolation became the standard and ultimately a law, and Virtual Reality the only means for people to meet.

“How have you come up with this nonsense?” Morris asked.

“From a book.”

“Sandy, have Mr. Lambert’s system scanned and all improper documents removed,” Morris ordered his personal console.

“No eBook, an actual book.”

“An organic one?” Buchman shouted. “Impossible!”

Michael knew he had no choice anymore. In a few minutes, drones would appear at his house and scourge it. He made a gesture and the room disappeared. He quickly tossed off his helmet, and opened the VR tank . He exchanged his suit for the clothes he had found in their vacuum wrapping, together with the sealed-off chest containing all the books. They had once belonged to his great-grandfather.

He had discovered it after Sophie and he had already applied for the Program. Upon reading them, he had realized there was an alternative way of doing things, and they had formed a backup plan, should they not be selected.

To his surprise, they got selected after all, and he had the courage to ask for permission to meet Sophie and have intercourse with her. Now that it had made things worse, the backup plan was initiated after all. He wanted a better life.

He took a backpack already made, and pushed a red button. A door slid open.

Outside, the sky was deep blue. He took a few steps and became aware of something warm on his skin. He looked up and was blinded. The sun, he realized.

Never looking back, he advanced into the wilderness Houston had become. He knew that Sophie was doing the same. Every step brought them closer to each other. Together, they would try their luck and see if there really was a curse on their seed, or if it was just a way to control the masses.

When he had walked for a while, Michael did what humans did best. He puckered his lips and blew air through the hole, copying the sound that was all around him.

Whistling with the birds, Michael Lambert continued his way into a new future.