In the not too distant future, Edward Wehling, Jr. sits in a paternity ward awaiting the birth of his children- triplets. Natural births are a rarity these days, as worldwide population controls have been established. Humans even have extended lifespans, reaching over two hundred years. Everything is neat, clean, orderly and perfectly swell. Except for that previously mentioned article. In order to keep the planet sustainable, the Federal Bureau of Terminations has been instituted: your friendly neighborhood suicide assistance program for anyone who desires it. Or has children. Because in order for you to have a child, someone must volunteer to make room for them on the planet. Faced with such a dilemma, let alone three of them, what’s a new father to do?
You know you’re in for a good time when the opening line of a story reads: “Everything was perfectly swell.”
Right off the bat, without even knowing anything else, you can tell this author has style. And when it’s Kurt Vonnegut, you just settle back and enjoy the ride.
The eponymous title comes from the contact number of the agency: 2BR02B- the zero pronounced as ‘naught’. Say it out loud and you’ll get it immediately.
Vonnegut’s legendary storytelling skill is readily apparent in this short story. No space is wasted; it gets right to the point, focusing on the humanity of all the characters in an inhumane situation. Humanity in all its aspects- good, bad and indifferent. What’s interesting is that the heart of the story lies not with the new father, but another man- literally an innocent bystander who supplies an apt metaphor for the state of the world in the story.
Just because it’s a dystopian short story doesn’t mean it’s without humor. Vonnegut’s asides and character interactions are wryly amusing; like the fact that every woman who works at the FBT ends up sprouting a moustache within five years.