John51874 let the laser examine his iris. The clerk then gave him his groceries. Though groceries were still the old fashioned pork chops, apple sauce in a jar, and potatoes au gratin in a box, payment was EyeCash. Scientists were working on electronically replacing food, but so far, only a few Brain Tasty—as the brand was—morsels were for sale. John51874 had tried the Brain Tasty hamburger. It was tasteless so far.

He carried the bags of pre-food to the coaster and was soon Zipped to his unit, a square covered in sound tiles. He put the jars, boxes, and meat on Styrofoam trays, still, in the, still, square refrigerator, and sat on his, still, foam sofa rectangle on his, still, concretized floor. Nothing much in his mail, which arrived on the wall. That included his application to change his name.

His parents, Marvin23899 and Lydia4854, had tried for just John, but of course, that was ridiculous. The web site gave them a choice: John 51874 or Xerxes 126 or Maximillian2876. They still laughed about the choices. John51874 actually wanted to be Triton1, and was excited when he searched and there was not a single human named Triton on the planet. Amazing when there were 20 billion.

That afternoon, 72 degrees as always on the whole planet, was his day off. He got one a month. Instead of running around calling repair bots and drones, checking on the thousands of new hope applications he had filled out automatically on the web, or communicating with his parents, he went for nostalgia, like the grocery store. Like driving. Like searching for a woman mate. After all, he was 3,000 units old as of the previous month, called Leadership8, the current president’s name, and it was time for him to do something. Work consumed his life, as it did most of the 20 billion, and typically all he could do was sit on that sofa or his stand-up desk and review video all day. He wasn’t allowed to be bored; the Normalcy Police kept a field on his brain like everybody else. Like everybody else he had been operated on at the Brain Normalization Unit when he turned two years old. Now, like everybody else, he glided through the days. The days were turning into years, though, and the operation wasn’t effective against the future, like dreams. The scientists were working on that.

FeMateJ9H67eqZ appeared. She was scanning for a male. Plain face, no expression, shaved head, but the bluest of blue eyes. Normal Rating 876. Really good. “Maybe,” he said. She was put into his list. Since he had just started, the list was only 11 so far, but he wanted 100 choices before he said yes. She had to say yes too. If agreed, they would be mates.

His file, as MaMateYU88BeFl5, was scanned, too, and so far he was on 18 lists. Who accepted him was kept secret, of course, as his list was kept secret. He hadn’t checked for agreement yet, being shy.

FeMateK63gvpP345 appeared. She wasn’t live on video, but her file showed a shaved head, cute, bushy eyebrowed female. Normal Rating a miserable 355.  He deleted her.

John51874’s video file was secret, too, as was his Normal Rating, but he felt that he had a good one. Shaved head, square jaw, brown eyes, thin lips. He looked a bit like Leadership8 and was proud of the resemblance.

While he put the old-fashioned pork chops in the old-fashioned pan on the old-fashioned stove—most people just stood on their coaster and were infused with food—the wall alarm began clanging. His father.

“John, I am dead,” he announced. The sagging features of the old man smiled. A smile might have been illegal. “I was terminated at 8AM. Useless because of age.”

“Are you happy about this?” John51874 asked. He was curious. He worked hard not to show the disgust he felt. His father was 118; his mother had died at 93, soon, but she was tired of life and requested termination. They should have been disposed long ago. Neither worked any more. He himself was worried because his position, creating designs for official proclamations, was based on the slim idea that humans alone could be creative. Software had advanced, and the designs were damn good. Even John51874 admitted that to himself.

“We are never happy. Or sad. Of course,” his father said. His face turned to suspicion.  The son realized his father thought he was trapping him. The law for obvious emotion was death, but he was already dead, so why worry? In the death state, when the brain exists in code, people still have to be careful, or Hide is the punishment.  Delete was the ultimate.

“I was just curious. Keep in touch,” he quickly said.

“How are you?”

“Normal,” John51874 said.

“Your mother says hello,” the old man said. “I accessed her yesterday.”

The wall became a wall again.

The call reminded him that he had to reproduce in five years at the latest or he faced disposable as a weight on society. So on to FeMateU44ik98X. A sexy name.

She was a redhead before shaving, a rarity with gene regulation. This woman obviously was Selected. One percent of the female population was allowed to be red-haired before shaving. One percent was blue-haired. One percent was green-haired. And so on. He preferred the more populous brown-haired, 90 percent. But, looking at her on the wall, he thought she was acceptable.

“I select you,” he said, loudly.

“I select you,” she agreed, softly.

The wall became a wall again.

His sperm was stored in the huge Central Reproduction Center in the capital. He pictured her in her unit, nothing on her bottom half, legs spread, and the fog that spread from nozzles in the floor. His sperm would penetrate her from that fog. Pregnant. Of course, he had to wait for Central to confirm, but he felt safer with a mate. In the future, men might not be needed for reproduction, and all men might be eliminated.

The baby, when it came, would be picked up by the drone and taken to the Central Infancy Facility.

Now that he had a mate, he felt happy, though he destroyed that feeling. Back to neutrality. At least he could contact her on the wall from time to time. They would never meet in person, but nobody met anybody in person. The image was just as good. The baby also would be available by wall. Software would raise it in a neutral world, but he would be allowed a “visit” by wall from time to time.  The baby would never know, however.

A knock at the door wall. John51874 sat perfectly still. Only two reasons why there would be an old-fashioned knock at the door: either he was being terminated by the police, a rare event because the system could just cut off the air supply in the unit, or he was being moved, and why would he be moved? He had been in the unit since he left the Central Child Facility.

The knock became a banging.

“Yes!” he said. He began shaking. He could hardly stand up. The eight steps to the wall were hell, as if his legs were poles. He activated the opening by pushing a button. Old fashioned.

There stood FeMateIJ44ik98X, just like in her wall image. Red-haired before shaving, neutral.

“I have special permission to see you. So I have seen you. Goodbye,” she said. She smiled. Her lips were big and warm. He killed the thought.

“Thank you,” he said, neutrally. He struggled not to show what a storm was going on inside.

She turned quickly and walked to the waiting drone taxi. She entered without a second look, and the drone rose noiselessly into the sky. No rotors like the old kind, but anti-gravitational fins.

John51874 was amazed. He stood in the opening and looked outside. The sky was orange; the air was 72 degrees; he heard birds. He stared where she had been for an hour.

When he finally closed the unit and sat on the foam, the wall began. The stern face of an Enforcer appeared.

“Central Adulthood has allowed one visit from your mate as a result of her job promotion from Indexer II to Indexer I. She has become a powerful worker. She is Selected. There will be no more visits. You have behaved poorly. This is a first and final warning. The next show of emotion and you will be deleted. Work hard.”

The wall went to wall again.

John51874 felt horror. Then he killed that feeling. He had made a mistake, but the visit was so unusual he hadn’t known how to react. Actually, he realized, he had known. Remain neutral. Don’t let your face show any emotion. Speak, but only in official phrases.  He deserved the warning. From then until he was deleted, he couldn’t feel anything.

A word popped into his head: “LOVE.” Terrified, he closed his eyes and imaged a dot in the black. He concentrated as hard as he could on that dot, and all other thought ended. This technique was from his training at Central Child: how to be nothing. Work and nothing. Work and nothing. He had to remain functional.