Parental Aptitude

A computerized voice spoke softly from loudspeakers in the lobby ceiling: “Now serving C-158 at window number #3.”

Jarvis looked at the clock, leaned back, and yawned as the voice repeated itself. Seconds passed, each one a small eternity. Just as the voice was starting to repeat itself again, two women appeared at his window. He leaned forward and pressed a small red button to cut the voice off.

“Welcome to Planned Parenthood,” he said, for the thirty-fourth time today. He mustered as warm and accepting a tone as he could.

One of the women, the shorter one by a few inches, slid a form underneath the glass separating him from them. Jarvis took it. As expected — today was a C day, after all — she wanted to activate her uterus.

He passed the form underneath his scanner and gave the women a once-over as the computer read in her details. Their faces — especially the short one’s — were vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t quite place them — like their names were on the tip of his tongue.

The network had been slow that afternoon, and there was an awkward silence as it ran her identification code through the system. When his computer terminal finally sprang to life, he slowly, deliberately, looked at it without turning his head from the two women.


He sighed. C-days were long, boring and dreary — there were so many steps in the Parental Aptitude Test before he could approve procreation. This one would require careful examination of every piece.

Question one: Is the applicant a citizen of positive standing?

At the top of his terminal, the PAT system had pulled up police reports from the past few years. The woman was a Chinese ex-pat who had sought asylum in the United Kingdom after being charged with a litany of terrorist acts in her home country.

Jarvis looked to the applicant. “Three years ago, you stood on the steps of a Planned Parenthood in Shanghai with a firebomb in your hand.” He allowed himself a very tiny inquisitive quirk of an eyebrow.

The woman huffed and brought herself closer to the glass. “Those were … very dark times,” she quietly admitted. “I’ve changed. Since I emigrated — “

“You were exiled,” he corrected.

“… since I … came to Great Britain, I’ve been a model citizen.”

As she spoke, the PAT system looked for evidence to the contrary, but it came up blank. Perhaps she truly had reformed. He marked that in her file.

Question two: Does the applicant recognize the importance of population control?

On her form, she’d marked yes to the question — why they even asked it on the form was beyond him — but he asked her again so that the PAT system could scan her face as she responded.

“Yes,” she said, almost too quietly for him to hear beyond the glass.

“Your history says otherwise,” he said, and his terminal sprang to life with corroborating evidence from her adult life — the back-alley operations she’d undergone to try to remove PAT microchip given to her at birth, the rallies, the protests, the active demonstrations.

“History,” she insisted. “All history. I’m reformed. I just …” She looked to the woman at her side. “We just want a kid. It’s almost too late.”

He instinctively glanced to the top of the form. Indeed, she was in her mid-fifties. The PAT system displayed a small chart estimating the truth level of her response, and it was within acceptable parameters, although just.

Jarvis eyed the clock. Two hours left in his shift.

Question forty-one: In the past four (4) years, has the applicant committed any crimes at level two (2) or above?

The lifestyle part of the test was mostly data entry — the PAT system did the work for him, but Jarvis monitored her as it perused every detail of her life. When it finally came up green, he added his digital signature to that section of the form and shifted so that he could look more directly at the woman’s partner. Rinse and repeat.

“Let’s move on to your co-applicant.”

Question eighty-three: What country will the offspring belong to?

Jarvis wasn’t fond of open-ended questions like this, where the right answer changed depending on the political climate of the day of the month. Still, he had to ask, and he paid careful attention to her response, as, on the form, she’d written one thing and scribbled it out to write “Great Britain.”

“Great Britain,” she said, and the PAT system alerted him to a hint of despondence in her response. He marked it in her file and moved on.

Question one hundred and five: Does the applicant, or any member of his, her, or its immediate family, suffer from a history of mental illness of any kind?

She’d marked that her father had had dementia in the later years of his life. The fact that he hadn’t lived long enough for this to present a danger to society was a helpful detail, but, still, the PAT system marked it in her file.

“Right,” sighed Jarvis, rubbing at his eyes. “The Parental Aptitude Test will now calculate your results. Please be aware that I can not personally alter these results, and that your performance today is largely irrelevant when compared to the facts present in your life and the choices you’ve made prior to your appointment.”

The two women shifted uneasily as an awkward silence fell on them, pockmarked only by the occasional announcement of new applicants at other windows.

Finally, his terminal lit up: The applicant’s offspring stood a 41% chance of presenting an immediate danger to the society Great Britain, with a 67% chance of presenting dangers to the societies of Great Britain’s current allies.

As his terminal printed her results, he licked his teeth, trying to remove a stubborn piece of lettuce that was starting to bother him. He made a mental note to send in an authorization form to have plastic toothpicks in the break room.

When her informational packet was finished printing, he took it, carefully stacked each paper against one another, then stapled them together and slid them beneath the glass.

“Planned Parenthood offers its humblest apologies,” he said, in a tone that was as warmest and welcoming as he could muster. “Your history simply has too many predictors. Included in your packet is a pamphlet offering predictor solutions — things like community service or civic duty — that may result in a better test. You might also consider a more …” — this part was always delicate for some reason — “… suitable co-applicant. We invite you to retake the test after a minimum waiting period of six months.”

The applicant thumbed through the packet for a few seconds, not really reading it, before fighting back a sob. She swore under her breath in Mandarin and her co-applicant took her by the shoulder, hushed her, and the two walked away from the window until he couldn’t see them.

The PAT system marked her swearing in her file, which added half a percentage point before Jarvis closed it, cleared the terminal, stretched, and pressed the new applicant button.

A computerized voice spoke softly from loudspeakers in the lobby ceiling: “Now serving C-174 at window number #3.”