Mate Run: Pia preview
In the year 2124, the world's population has been divided into two groups: infected and noninfected. Race, ethnicity, and nationality no longer matter.
Pia Montgomery is one of the noninfected. She's dedicated the last twenty-plus years of her life to being a surgical nurse. It's time for a new chapter.
She goes to the Match Mate Agency seeking a husband among the infected. Unlike others, she's not afraid of their animalistic tendencies. In fact, she admires them.
However, Mate Match is no ordinary dating agency, and the infected do things differently. They hunt for their mates. Ready. Set. Go! It's time for the Mate Run.
I sat in a director’s style chair that left my feet dangling. Behind me was a ceiling-to-floor black curtain. Overhead was a boom microphone that picked up every word. The thing was so sensitive, I almost heard myself breathing. What unnerved me was the video camera pointed directly at me. The interviewer, Jillian, sat facing me but to the side, just out of camera range. The bright lights created a glare that made it hard to see her.
“I didn’t realize this interview would be videotaped,” I said.
“We find videotaping the interview gives the mate candidate a much better idea of your true personality. It’s so easy to simply check a box on a computer screen. This is more personal,” Jillian said.
Eyes narrowed against the glare, I didn’t respond. Jillian knew I wasn’t happy. I’d been given no warning and little time to freshen up before being stuck in front of the camera. I still had on my scrubs, for goodness sake, and wore no makeup. The most positive thing I could say about my appearance was that my hair was neat, and there was nothing in my teeth.
“Let’s start with the basics. What’s your name?” Jillian asked.
“Last name?” Jillian asked.
“Just Pia.” I wasn’t stating my first and last name. The agency, Mate Match, had it in their records.
“Okay, Pia, how old are you?”
“Are you single as in never been married, or divorced?”
“Never been married,” I said.
“And why is that?”
I thought of all the answers I could give: never met the right guy, it never seemed to be the right time, too picky. All those were true. Finally, I said, “For the past twenty years, I’ve been focused on advancing my career. It hasn’t left time for anything else.”
“What is it that you do?”
“I’m a trauma nurse.”
“That sounds very stressful,” Jillian said. For the first time, her voice lost the robotic sound of a woman who’d asked the same questions hundreds of times. She actually sounded impressed.
I rotated my neck from side to side. “It can be.”
“Tell me about your job,” she encouraged.
“I work in the emergency department of Mercy General, taking care of patients with critical, sometimes life-threatening injuries. I triage patients as they come in, making sure the most critical are seen first. My work hours are seven p.m. to seven a.m. That’s what the schedule reads, but I frequently go over. If the ER is hopping, I can’t just leave because the clock says it’s time to go,” I said.
“No, I don’t imagine you can. Why come to Mate Match?”
It was difficult speaking to a faceless voice. The effort to make out Jillian in the shadows hurt my eyes. I blinked, wishing I’d worn sunglasses. After working a fourteen-hour shift, my eyes were tired, and the lights felt like abuse. “The reason most women do, I guess. I’d like to share my life with someone. Waiting for someone to find me hasn’t worked out too well. It’s time I became more proactive.”
“I understand, but that doesn’t answer the question. Why Mate Match in particular?”
“You mean why come to a dating agency that specializes in finding matches for the infected?” I asked.
“Yes. Most people fear them. Or think they’re animals,” Jillian said.
“First of all, I’m a medical professional. I know exactly what the infected are, and what they’re not. I’ve treated my share of the newly infected and know how the virus attacks the body. Despite having many animal characteristics, the infected are not animals. They don’t change into werewolves, or whatever animal combination they’ve been infected with. Are they stronger, faster, smarter, and more cunning than the average human? Yes, they are. Their emotions are more volatile, and they’re driven more by instincts than the noninfected population,” I said.
“Sounds like you know what you’re talking about,” Jillian said.
It took all I had within me not to roll my eyes. “I have a master’s degree in nursing. In order to treat the infected, we had to learn all about them.”
“So again, why seek out the infected?” Like a dog with a bone, Jillian kept coming back to that same question.
“I’ve seen the infected with their mates. There’s a bond, a sense of loyalty and commitment I don’t see in noninfected couples. Maybe it’s due to their animalistic nature? Scientists say wolves mate for life. That’s the type of relationship I want.”
“Thank you, Pia. That’s all I need.” Jillian pushed her remote control and the red light on the video camera winked out. Another button switched off two of the overhead lights. My eyes still had that halo effect, and I blinked, giving my pupils time to adjust.
“That’s it?” Somehow, I thought there’d be more. Where were the questions about my likes and dislikes, hobbies, and what I looked for in a man?
“Yes. We want to leave something for your match to discover on his own. There is one more thing I need from you,” Jillian said. Something in her voice told me I wasn’t going to like it.
She handed me a plastic zip lock bag. “I need you to take off your panties and seal them in here.”
I gave a slow blink, certain I’d misheard. “Do what?”
“Your panties. In this bag,” Jillian patiently repeated.
Hesitantly, I reached out and took the bag from her. “Why?”
She gave me an understanding smile. “The infected determine compatibility on the basis of scent.”
Just like an animal, I thought, but didn’t say.
Reminding myself I was the one who’d initiated this process, I went into the bathroom to do as instructed. As I placed the plain cotton inside the bag, I gave a mental shrug. My undies tended toward comfort and practicality. Again, had I been given warning, I might have chosen something more feminine and appealing. Something that said, “Sexy, exciting woman here” and not “boring and practical.”
I exited the bathroom, happy the next stop was home. Going without panties in public wasn’t a feeling I enjoyed. “What’s the next step?”
“If you’re selected, we’ll be in contact,” Jillian said.
I didn’t like her answer. “So, I don’t get to view photos of potential matches?”
“No, the choice is all on the part of the male. Infected males like to give chase, not be chased.” Jillian laughed as though she’d made a joke. If so, I didn’t get the humor. I had a lot riding on this.
“What are the odds of my being selected? I imagine I’m older than your usual client.” It was something I’d spent plenty of time pondering, and one of the reasons I’d hesitated to take this final step. Jillian was a young, attractive woman in her twenties. I didn’t think she’d understand my concern.
Jillian placed a reassuring hand on my arm. “Infected males don’t worry about things like age, race, shape, or size.” She held up the plastic bag and gave it a shake. “It’s all about the pheromones. One sniff and they know. Don’t worry. I’m sure we’ll find a match for you. The males far outnumber the available females. That’s why Mate Match was created. We have agencies all over the world.”
This brought up another question. What if my match lived in another city, state, or even another country? Was I willing to move to be with him?
One step at a time, Pia.
A yawn caught me by surprise. “Sorry. The long night is catching up with me. You have my contact information?” I’d listed my name, phone number, and email address on the application.
Jillian smiled reassuringly. “Yes. Go home and rest. We’ll be in touch.”
“Okay.” Another yawn racked my frame. “Thank you for seeing me, even though I was late for my appointment.”
Jillian grinned, her kind face crinkling at the eyes and around her mouth. “Like you said, when things get hopping, you can’t just walk out of the hospital because the clock says it’s time for you to leave.”
I gave her a tired smile in return. “Now I really have to go before I fall asleep on the train and miss my stop. I’ve done it before. It’s no fun. Have a nice day. I hope to hear from you soon.”
Despite Jillian’s optimism, a month passed with no word. We were short-staffed at the hospital—when weren’t we?—so I barely noticed. My life was consumed with work, work, and more work. When I wasn’t at the hospital, I was asleep or trying to keep up with household tasks. By week six, I’d forgotten all about Mate Match.
I exited the hospital after a grueling fourteen-hour shift, covering for another nurse who worked days. Working seven a.m. to seven p.m. was a change of pace for me—different doctors, different nurses, different emergency medical staff and paramedics. I wasn’t used to leaving the hospital in the dark, or getting off shift when the people I knew were coming on.
Fortunately, the metro stopped right outside the hospital. I climbed on after a short wait and wearily sat in the front, waiting for my stop. One of the good things about living in New Town was the transit system. On the outskirts, cars were a necessity. It was rare for a Townie to own a vehicle.
The bus let me off about two blocks from my apartment complex. My apartment was located on a busy thoroughfare containing several eateries and a few corner groceries. I trudged down the sidewalk, shoulders hunched, hand clutching my shoulder bag. It was early enough that there were plenty of people about, so I felt safe.
As I waited with a few others at the crosswalk for the light to change, someone bumped into me. “Sorry,” I apologized automatically, moving to give them space.
“My fault,” a woman responded.
The light changed and we walked across. The others went straight, but I turned down the block. After a few feet, I began feeling lightheaded and dizzy. My vision blurred, and I grabbed hold of the wrought iron fence surrounding my complex to remain upright. Damn, was I catching a bug? It was the fall season and there were so many viruses going around, it had almost reached epic proportions among the noninfected. The emergency rooms and doctor’s offices were crowded with the afflicted. The infected, with their hardy immune systems, rarely became ill.
“Just a little more, Pia. You’re almost to the entrance. Another couple of feet and you’ll be inside of your apartment. Then you can collapse,” I encouraged myself.
I managed to take another couple of steps before my knees gave way. I fumbled for my phone to call nine-one-one. Just as my hand closed around it, a gloved hand closed over my mouth. What the hell?
I struggled weakly as I was lifted off my feet and carted to the white panel van that had eased up beside us. Abducted in plain sight? This couldn’t be happening. Surely someone would notice and intervene. I tried screaming but didn’t have much air. The hand over my mouth also covered a portion of my nose. Terror gave me an extra boost of energy. I bit, clawed, and kicked. Anything to draw attention.
“Damn, she’s a fighter. How long does it take the drug to kick in?” the guy dragging me asked.
“Any second now,” the one holding the door open said.
My captor tossed me none too gently into the back of the van and threw my bag in beside me. The whole process had taken less than a minute. A black tide swept over me, and I lost all consciousness.