PROPAGATE OR DIE • by Richard Lawrence Bennett

“Tell us, Grandma, please!” the girls said.

“Oh, well, it’s not like you have it now, with your beautiful DNA bracelets and your fabulous Russian dances…”

“No, Grandma, we’re not yet twenty-one!” Jessica said. “We’re only children.”

“Oh, yes,” Grandma said. She kept forgetting that her granddaughters couldn’t go to the dances yet. They couldn’t go out much at all, in fact. “Only a few more years for you both.”

“So in your day, Grandma, how did young girls meet their husbands?” Lucinda asked again.

“Well, it was quite different in my day, my dears. We went and had our DNA tested at age thirteen in laboratories and it was put on our passports…”

“What are passports, Grandma?” Jessica asked.

“They were our identity, my child. All of it in one little notebook. You had to keep it with you at all times!”

The two girls looked at each other and laughed at the silliness of the old days. They were both sitting up very straight and correct in their chairs. Each of them had taken one of Grandma’s hands in their own hands and were waiting for her to tell them more stories. They saw her so seldom due to the restrictions that this afternoon was a real treat for both of them.

“And in those little notebooks,” their grandmother continued, “you had your blood type, your haplogroup, and all the different information that made you into ‘you.’ So we got tested, and our genetic code was recorded in our passports, and we carried these passports around with us. They were small, like mini-books. I kept mine in my handbag.”

“And did you carry them all the time, every day?”

“Oh, yes.”

“What if you lost it?”

“Then you would have to contact the Office for the Laboratories and they would find your record for you. But you would be fined for losing it, and there was something else that happened: because someone else would have your details and could pretend to be you, you would be put on a special list for life, for your own safety, in case someone tried to copy you. Except they couldn’t, really, because of your thumbs.”

“Thumbs, Grandma! Are you teasing us?”

“No, my sweet ones! Your thumb print is unique. Or it was thought so at the time. That was your entry into places, for work or leisure. Without a thumb print, the passport was useless. It couldn’t be activated without the thumb print of the owner.”

“Oh, how clever!”

“Not as clever as the DNA bracelets.”

Grandma glanced at the silver bracelets on each of her two granddaughters’ wrists. They were not truly bracelets, but an embedded code deep in the flesh, all the way round, in a design that made them look like bracelets. They contained the relevant genetic information about a person, just as the passports of her and her friends had done. A correct touch with one of these “bracelets” onto the bracelet of someone of the opposite gender would show whether you were a good genetic match or not.

“Oh, but we know all about these, Grandma,” Jessica said, as the bracelets flashed beautifully. “Tell us, how did you ever meet Granddad?”

“Well, us girls would wait patiently for messages from the laboratories. We would be sent invitations to events based on our genetic code, because it was important to the authorities that we met the right match, you see, just like today. Haplogroup I-M253, that was mine. Then we would receive a beautiful letter, and it would tell us when and where the right party for our genetic code would be, and so we would meet the right partner.” Grandma sighed.

“Was it Granddad?” Lucinda asked.

“Indeed it was,” Grandma said. “He was tall and handsome and clever, and he told me he would provide me with the right genes so we would have beautiful children together… And that led us to you, my dears, in the end.”

She looked at her beautiful grandchildren, with their blonde hair and blue eyes and who were so innocent, even at seventeen and nineteen years old. They were students, like their young friends, at the school of ballet and classical music, and with their soft dewy skin, they were so perfect-looking.

But then she saw Lucinda’s bracelet in the corner of her eye and shuddered. Lucinda was the younger one. So sensitive, so nice. But she was a rare type, genetically, a carrier of a mutation, an infertility gene, a “slow breeder,” which meant she had to meet a man who was super-fertile, nowadays itself rare, in order to breed at all. It was possible. Although for her girls there was no choice, no way out. They both had to meet someone.

“Of course, there wasn’t the pressure that there is today. Our population was much greater fifty years ago. If you didn’t meet someone you liked, it wasn’t the end of the world. You could still…” Grandma paused.


“You didn’t have to have children, I mean.”

The girls gasped and looked at each other.

“Yes, it’s true,” Grandma said.

She knew the worth of her beautiful grandchildren. She also knew the worth of the powerful and all-controlling State, which under the greatest difficulties had given her and her family and everyone else such a fine and well-organised country to live in, such good health, and such iron-clad defences. But it came with conditions.

She knew above all the seriousness of their situation. Something her son had seemed to have neglected to tell his daughters. There was another flash of the bracelet on Lucinda’s arm. It would only be fully activated at age 21, with the message then emblazoned proudly and permanently, the motto of their nation’s womanhood: “Propagate or Die.”

Richard Lawrence Bennett is a writer, poet and psychogeographer from Arundel, England. He has written three collections of short stories, for which he is seeking representation from a literary agent. His individual short stories have so far been published in Ambit Magazine, Dawntreader Magazine and the Best British Short Stories Anthology for 2020.

Regular reader? We need your Patreon support.

Rate this story:
 average 4.5 stars • 12 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction