In a nondescript State Health Service in Brighton, a young mother named Beatrice-Joanna is grieving for her infant son, who has just died of meningitis.
Beatrice-Joanna watches as men from the Ministry of Agriculture (the Phosphorus Reclamation Department) collect her son's body, and take it away to be reprocessed into agricultural fertilizer.
Dr. Acheson tells Beatrice-Joanna to look on the bright side: now that her son is dead, the world has one less mouth to feed, and a bit of extra fertilizer to help the crops grow. When Beatrice-Joanna accuses him of not caring about human life, he reminds her: "We care about stability. We care about not letting the earth get overrun. We care about everybody getting enough to eat" (1.1.9).
As she rides the elevator down to the ground floor, Beatrice-Joanna is disgusted by a lesbian couple and a gay man who are with her in the lift. In fact, she's disgusted by the whole social order, which encourages homosexuality as a means of keeping the population controlled.
Beatrice-Joanna is weeping for her son by the time the elevator reaches the ground floor, and when her fellow passengers giggle at her, she calls them all "unclean" (1.1.13).