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  1. 1. The Project Gutenberg EBook of 2 B R 0 2 B, by Kurt VonnegutThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and withalmost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away orre-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License includedwith this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.netTitle: 2 B R 0 2 BAuthor: Kurt VonnegutRelease Date: May 3, 2007 [EBook #21279]Language: English*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK 2 B R 0 2 B ***Produced by Robert Cicconetti, Geetu Melwani and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at 2_B_R_0_2_B By Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.Transcriber note: This etext was produced from Worlds of If, January 1962.Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright onthis publication was renewed.Got a problem? Just pick up the phone.It solved them all--and all the same way! 2 B R 0 2 Bby KURT VONNEGUT, JR.Everything was perfectly swell.
  2. 2. There were no prisons, no slums, no insane asylums, no cripples, nopoverty, no wars.All diseases were conquered. So was old age.Death, barring accidents, was an adventure for volunteers.The population of the United States was stabilized at forty-millionsouls.One bright morning in the Chicago Lying-in Hospital, a man named EdwardK. Wehling, Jr., waited for his wife to give birth. He was the only manwaiting. Not many people were born a day any more.Wehling was fifty-six, a mere stripling in a population whose averageage was one hundred and twenty-nine.X-rays had revealed that his wife was going to have triplets. Thechildren would be his first.Young Wehling was hunched in his chair, his head in his hand. He was sorumpled, so still and colorless as to be virtually invisible. Hiscamouflage was perfect, since the waiting room had a disorderly anddemoralized air, too. Chairs and ashtrays had been moved away from thewalls. The floor was paved with spattered dropcloths.The room was being redecorated. It was being redecorated as a memorialto a man who had volunteered to die.A sardonic old man, about two hundred years old, sat on a stepladder,painting a mural he did not like. Back in the days when people agedvisibly, his age would have been guessed at thirty-five or so. Aging hadtouched him that much before the cure for aging was found.The mural he was working on depicted a very neat garden. Men and womenin white, doctors and nurses, turned the soil, planted seedlings,sprayed bugs, spread fertilizer.Men and women in purple uniforms pulled up weeds, cut down plants thatwere old and sickly, raked leaves, carried refuse to trash-burners.Never, never, never--not even in medieval Holland nor old Japan--had agarden been more formal, been better tended. Every plant had all theloam, light, water, air and nourishment it could use.A hospital orderly came down the corridor, singing under his breath apopular song: If you dont like my kisses, honey, Heres what I will do: Ill go see a girl in purple, Kiss this sad world toodle-oo. If you dont want my lovin, Why should I take up all this space? Ill get off this old planet, Let some sweet baby have my place.The orderly looked in at the mural and the muralist. "Looks so real,"he said, "I can practically imagine Im standing in the middle of it.""What makes you think youre not in it?" said the painter. He gave asatiric smile. "Its called The Happy Garden of Life, you know."
  3. 3. "Thats good of Dr. Hitz," said the orderly. * * * * *He was referring to one of the male figures in white, whose head was aportrait of Dr. Benjamin Hitz, the hospitals Chief Obstetrician. Hitzwas a blindingly handsome man."Lot of faces still to fill in," said the orderly. He meant that thefaces of many of the figures in the mural were still blank. All blankswere to be filled with portraits of important people on either thehospital staff or from the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau ofTermination."Must be nice to be able to make pictures that look like something,"said the orderly.The painters face curdled with scorn. "You think Im proud of thisdaub?" he said. "You think this is my idea of what life really lookslike?""Whats your idea of what life looks like?" said the orderly.The painter gestured at a foul dropcloth. "Theres a good picture ofit," he said. "Frame that, and youll have a picture a damn sight morehonest than this one.""Youre a gloomy old duck, arent you?" said the orderly."Is that a crime?" said the painter.The orderly shrugged. "If you dont like it here, Grandpa--" he said,and he finished the thought with the trick telephone number that peoplewho didnt want to live any more were supposed to call. The zero in thetelephone number he pronounced "naught."The number was: "2 B R 0 2 B."It was the telephone number of an institution whose fanciful sobriquetsincluded: "Automat," "Birdland," "Cannery," "Catbox," "De-louser,""Easy-go," "Good-by, Mother," "Happy Hooligan," "Kiss-me-quick," "LuckyPierre," "Sheepdip," "Waring Blendor," "Weep-no-more" and "Why Worry?""To be or not to be" was the telephone number of the municipal gaschambers of the Federal Bureau of Termination. * * * * *The painter thumbed his nose at the orderly. "When I decide its time togo," he said, "it wont be at the Sheepdip.""A do-it-yourselfer, eh?" said the orderly. "Messy business, Grandpa.Why dont you have a little consideration for the people who have toclean up after you?"The painter expressed with an obscenity his lack of concern for thetribulations of his survivors. "The world could do with a good deal moremess, if you ask me," he said.The orderly laughed and moved on.Wehling, the waiting father, mumbled something without raising his head.And then he fell silent again.
  4. 4. A coarse, formidable woman strode into the waiting room on spike heels.Her shoes, stockings, trench coat, bag and overseas cap were all purple,the purple the painter called "the color of grapes on Judgment Day."The medallion on her purple musette bag was the seal of the ServiceDivision of the Federal Bureau of Termination, an eagle perched on aturnstile.The woman had a lot of facial hair--an unmistakable mustache, in fact. Acurious thing about gas-chamber hostesses was that, no matter how lovelyand feminine they were when recruited, they all sprouted mustacheswithin five years or so."Is this where Im supposed to come?" she said to the painter."A lot would depend on what your business was," he said. "You arentabout to have a baby, are you?""They told me I was supposed to pose for some picture," she said. "Mynames Leora Duncan." She waited."And you dunk people," he said."What?" she said."Skip it," he said."That sure is a beautiful picture," she said. "Looks just like heaven orsomething.""Or something," said the painter. He took a list of names from his smockpocket. "Duncan, Duncan, Duncan," he said, scanning the list. "Yes--hereyou are. Youre entitled to be immortalized. See any faceless body hereyoud like me to stick your head on? Weve got a few choice ones left."She studied the mural bleakly. "Gee," she said, "theyre all the same tome. I dont know anything about art.""A bodys a body, eh?" he said, "All righty. As a master of fine art, Irecommend this body here." He indicated a faceless figure of a woman whowas carrying dried stalks to a trash-burner."Well," said Leora Duncan, "thats more the disposal people, isnt it? Imean, Im in service. I dont do any disposing."The painter clapped his hands in mock delight. "You say you dont knowanything about art, and then you prove in the next breath that you knowmore about it than I do! Of course the sheave-carrier is wrong for ahostess! A snipper, a pruner--thats more your line." He pointed to afigure in purple who was sawing a dead branch from an apple tree. "Howabout her?" he said. "You like her at all?""Gosh--" she said, and she blushed and became humble--"that--that putsme right next to Dr. Hitz.""That upsets you?" he said."Good gravy, no!" she said. "Its--its just such an honor.""Ah, You admire him, eh?" he said."Who doesnt admire him?" she said, worshiping the portrait of Hitz. Itwas the portrait of a tanned, white-haired, omnipotent Zeus, two hundredand forty years old. "Who doesnt admire him?" she said again. "He was
  5. 5. responsible for setting up the very first gas chamber in Chicago.""Nothing would please me more," said the painter, "than to put you nextto him for all time. Sawing off a limb--that strikes you asappropriate?""That is kind of like what I do," she said. She was demure about whatshe did. What she did was make people comfortable while she killed them. * * * * *And, while Leora Duncan was posing for her portrait, into thewaitingroom bounded Dr. Hitz himself. He was seven feet tall, and heboomed with importance, accomplishments, and the joy of living."Well, Miss Duncan! Miss Duncan!" he said, and he made a joke. "Whatare you doing here?" he said. "This isnt where the people leave. Thisis where they come in!""Were going to be in the same picture together," she said shyly."Good!" said Dr. Hitz heartily. "And, say, isnt that some picture?""I sure am honored to be in it with you," she said."Let me tell you," he said, "Im honored to be in it with you. Withoutwomen like you, this wonderful world weve got wouldnt be possible."He saluted her and moved toward the door that led to the delivery rooms."Guess what was just born," he said."I cant," she said."Triplets!" he said."Triplets!" she said. She was exclaiming over the legal implications oftriplets.The law said that no newborn child could survive unless the parents ofthe child could find someone who would volunteer to die. Triplets, ifthey were all to live, called for three volunteers."Do the parents have three volunteers?" said Leora Duncan."Last I heard," said Dr. Hitz, "they had one, and were trying to scrapeanother two up.""I dont think they made it," she said. "Nobody made three appointmentswith us. Nothing but singles going through today, unless somebodycalled in after I left. Whats the name?""Wehling," said the waiting father, sitting up, red-eyed and frowzy."Edward K. Wehling, Jr., is the name of the happy father-to-be."He raised his right hand, looked at a spot on the wall, gave a hoarselywretched chuckle. "Present," he said."Oh, Mr. Wehling," said Dr. Hitz, "I didnt see you.""The invisible man," said Wehling."They just phoned me that your triplets have been born," said Dr. Hitz."Theyre all fine, and so is the mother. Im on my way in to see themnow."
  6. 6. "Hooray," said Wehling emptily."You dont sound very happy," said Dr. Hitz."What man in my shoes wouldnt be happy?" said Wehling. He gestured withhis hands to symbolize care-free simplicity. "All I have to do is pickout which one of the triplets is going to live, then deliver my maternalgrandfather to the Happy Hooligan, and come back here with a receipt." * * * * *Dr. Hitz became rather severe with Wehling, towered over him. "You dontbelieve in population control, Mr. Wehling?" he said."I think its perfectly keen," said Wehling tautly."Would you like to go back to the good old days, when the population ofthe Earth was twenty billion--about to become forty billion, then eightybillion, then one hundred and sixty billion? Do you know what a drupeletis, Mr. Wehling?" said Hitz."Nope," said Wehling sulkily."A drupelet, Mr. Wehling, is one of the little knobs, one of the littlepulpy grains of a blackberry," said Dr. Hitz. "Without populationcontrol, human beings would now be packed on this surface of this oldplanet like drupelets on a blackberry! Think of it!"Wehling continued to stare at the same spot on the wall."In the year 2000," said Dr. Hitz, "before scientists stepped in andlaid down the law, there wasnt even enough drinking water to go around,and nothing to eat but sea-weed--and still people insisted on theirright to reproduce like jackrabbits. And their right, if possible, tolive forever.""I want those kids," said Wehling quietly. "I want all three of them.""Of course you do," said Dr. Hitz. "Thats only human.""I dont want my grandfather to die, either," said Wehling."Nobodys really happy about taking a close relative to the Catbox,"said Dr. Hitz gently, sympathetically."I wish people wouldnt call it that," said Leora Duncan."What?" said Dr. Hitz."I wish people wouldnt call it the Catbox, and things like that," shesaid. "It gives people the wrong impression.""Youre absolutely right," said Dr. Hitz. "Forgive me." He correctedhimself, gave the municipal gas chambers their official title, a titleno one ever used in conversation. "I should have said, Ethical SuicideStudios," he said."That sounds so much better," said Leora Duncan."This child of yours--whichever one you decide to keep, Mr. Wehling,"said Dr. Hitz. "He or she is going to live on a happy, roomy, clean,rich planet, thanks to population control. In a garden like that muralthere." He shook his head. "Two centuries ago, when I was a young man,
  7. 7. it was a hell that nobody thought could last another twenty years. Nowcenturies of peace and plenty stretch before us as far as theimagination cares to travel."He smiled luminously.The smile faded as he saw that Wehling had just drawn a revolver.Wehling shot Dr. Hitz dead. "Theres room for one--a great big one," hesaid.And then he shot Leora Duncan. "Its only death," he said to her as shefell. "There! Room for two."And then he shot himself, making room for all three of his children.Nobody came running. Nobody, seemingly, heard the shots.The painter sat on the top of his stepladder, looking down reflectivelyon the sorry scene. * * * * *The painter pondered the mournful puzzle of life demanding to be bornand, once born, demanding to be fruitful ... to multiply and to live aslong as possible--to do all that on a very small planet that would haveto last forever.All the answers that the painter could think of were grim. Even grimmer,surely, than a Catbox, a Happy Hooligan, an Easy Go. He thought of war.He thought of plague. He thought of starvation.He knew that he would never paint again. He let his paintbrush fall tothe dropcloths below. And then he decided he had had about enough oflife in the Happy Garden of Life, too, and he came slowly down from theladder.He took Wehlings pistol, really intending to shoot himself.But he didnt have the nerve.And then he saw the telephone booth in the corner of the room. He wentto it, dialed the well-remembered number: "2 B R 0 2 B.""Federal Bureau of Termination," said the very warm voice of a hostess."How soon could I get an appointment?" he asked, speaking verycarefully."We could probably fit you in late this afternoon, sir," she said. "Itmight even be earlier, if we get a cancellation.""All right," said the painter, "fit me in, if you please." And he gaveher his name, spelling it out."Thank you, sir," said the hostess. "Your city thanks you; your countrythanks you; your planet thanks you. But the deepest thanks of all isfrom future generations."END
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