Miss-Matched, a Short Story
Science Fiction Story By Tamara Wilhite
I hated match-making services. All the interviews. All the background checks. And the medical tests. As if all the mandatory ones every year weren’t good enough, here’s your urine tube and blood sampler AND don’t forget to give us your credit ID to pay for it all.
It’s all to end the loneliness I tell myself, as I undress before the examiner. Then they do all the tests they require. For as much as I’m paying, they still won’t touch me, for fear of the diseases I might carry. That so many are already infected with, are dying from. That so many have died from.
The confidence of a clean, disease free, healthy match … hope, hope for a future, for a life. I reminded myself of that mantra as I ran through the required second round of tests.
I sat in the gown on the examining table. How many visits like this did I have like this? One a month? More, maybe, because I was now registered as disease resistant and thus prime breeding stock? And blood donor, too. I wasn’t just alive, but the state now had an interest in my staying that way. Just my dumb luck. Good or bad I hadn’t decided yet.
I’d won the genetic lottery in a way, immune to some of the pandemics and resistant to most of the rest. It meant that I’d lived even when so many friends had died. Biowarfare unleashed by Islamo-nazis killed hundreds of millions, as they had targeted the infidel West for cleansing by plague. Then came eco-terrorists, seeking the same goal, with the same method but with different plagues, for not so different reasons. Refugees in camps created for those escaping bioterrorism from Islamo-nazis died in droves from the eco-terrorists who sought to clean up the camps built in the middle of nowhere.
MRSA and extra drug resistant TB had been with us for years, but spread like wildfire as people scattered to the winds, taking any road or route away from the waves of death. I wondered how many resistant to the new strains died needlessly of the old, assumed that they’d die of the new stuff and thus allowed to die of pneumonia and water-borne diseases, stuff easily cured if one was deemed worthy of a cure.
I was deemed worthy of a cure, once. I was in IT, a field all the more important to keep data networks flowing as the whole world decentralized. While in a work camp setting up sites, I bothered to help a colleague who’d collapsed. Blamed it on overwork, not yet paranoid. I got sick, stayed sick, but was deemed worthy of a single course of drugs. The State hadn’t yet decided that women had priority in care, just by profession. I got the drugs, and it worked. To everyone’s surprise, including my own. Then came quarantine and tests to find out why it DID work. Turns out, I was genetically resistant and the drugs were just the last push in wiping it out. With a bunch of other tests and some gene sequences, they found some genes to test for among the chronically sick.
Now those who were found resistant had priority in getting treatment. A single course of retro-virals might save them, at least of that plague, among the dozen others floating around. In the people, in the water, in the food, in the air. Pretty soon, it would be only the Immune left. The immunized of the two perpetrator populations were almost extinct, thanks to guided smart bombs, modern witch hunts, and the fact that diseases can mutate faster than humans can create vaccines.
Women were more important now, getting priority in vaccinations and treatment. Lucky me, being in IT was probably the only reason I got treatment when I did. Women were critical now, in hopes of rebuilding the population. Only 30% of the survivors today were women, and even fewer were of child-bearing age.
Women with kids took care of their sick kids, thus were more likely to die in pandemics. More women worked in medicine, where exposure was the worst. More women worked in childcare, where those that were of breeding age and interest were most likely to get infected from their charges and usually died because they weren’t given priority then. Then there was the whole biology thing, where women pregnant in pandemics basically died of diseases because of the morphology. Stuff that targeted babies, like the “not one more human disease” NOMHD the mothers-to-be too.
And because kids were more likely to get sick and more likely to spread it to parents, mothers died most of all. Lucky me, I’d never found Mr. Right, never married, never had kids. Not yet. Maybe now. Given how much chaos there was in the world, I still wasn’t sure if I wanted kids. But there was that loneliness all my life, being an oddball that led me to computers instead of humans. And with my parents’ death from lack of vaccine for their age, and my sister and her daughter dead of pandemic that my niece brought home, I was literally alone.
The doctor finally entered. “Congratulations, we’ve found a match.”
“Local?” I asked, hoping it would not be a total stranger.
“Short travel, only 50 klicks” the doctor compromised. Travel, these days, was highly restricted. But it was a breeding match, and that was priority these days.
“Do I travel, or does he?” I’d traveled so much trying to repair the wireless infrastructure eco-nazis physically destroyed and islamo-nazis electronically destroyed I was very much a homebody now. Even open sky scared me, after the dirty nukes-EMP combo went off only a few miles where we were working once. Luke, a nice guy was working with that time, threw himself on top of me. Protective instinct. Caring guy.
Pulling my arms away from my face, still blinking from the flash, his face on my shoulder. I thought he was crying. I rolled over, him still on top of me, maybe loving or obscene except us being dressed in protective gear. His terrified face and choking gasps, as the direct beta radiation cut through the first quarter meter of his flesh. His spine was fried, and his body couldn’t process commands. Hind-brain, too, was gone, so he couldn’t breathe right.
It was just as well, since the concussive damage had bruised him up, despite the protective suits we both wore. I lay there, holding him. Trying to comfort him, and trying to use his broken body as a shield from the radiation and fallout, and trying not to think of what would happen if this was the last thing I ever did.
He was so much larger than me, almost a security blanket. After an hour, my air started to run out and the radiation gauge started to fall. I made it back to a decontamination shelter, where too many others had taken refuge. They thought I was a rescuer, come to save them. No, just one more refugee. But after the terrorist act that had already killed half the crew who couldn’t make it to safety shelters in time, they couldn’t turn me away. Or, at least, they decided they couldn’t risk losing another worker. The gray sky rained ash into a thick deadly snow for the two days we waited until help arrived. I never wanted to go outside after that.
“He’ll travel to you,” the doctor said. I was visibly relieved. “Your profile indicated a strong preference for that.”
“When do we meet?”
“The order’s been sent. You’ll meet after he goes through quarantine.”
“You said it’s a short trip.”
“Sorry. Even short trips require that now.”
Fifty kilometers away might was well forever. Except for the two hundred to three hundred people in this camp, this “facility”, I never saw anyone in person. But that was why breeding matches took place through software analysis and medical matches – there were too few local compatible options. Especially when there were the chronically ill and infertile and dying in quarantine, even here.
“Can I see his profile?” I asked hopefully.
“It will be in your in-box when you get home.”
“People best do that reading at home.”
I got up and got dressed. I wondered about the doctor’s reasoning. I half expected the meeting to take place under medical supervision; why not the profile reading, too? Unless they needed the room for the next “patient”.
He was a hardware technician. I did mostly software, but had learned all the communication array hardware because our lives depended on it. It was a skill match for us, if we had to work together. Given post-modern life, we would. The personality profile was so generic it could have been for anyone except the 10-20% of the population left crazy by the aftermath. You couldn’t kill all the crazies now; too few people left, and too many plagues that might render all that way one day. Better to adapt and acclimate them to usefulness.
He was disease free. Hardly ill at all, too, having been working in an Alaskan site for two years straight. Far enough north for pandemics not to be spread because refugees couldn’t get there. Far enough away from major targets to get bombed. Lucky. Except for a note on starvation periods, he hadn’t seen any major die-offs.
No known living family. Baring post-war breeding and some families that had lived in the hills forever before the war and thus survived together, living family was actually unusual. Mention of a daughter born before the war, though no note of prior marriage. Finally, at the bottom, the name. “Devon Nam.” No photo in the file sent to me.
It was initially odd. Or did the doctors want me to imagine the man, building up an emotional idea untainted by criticism of his appearance? Of too thin or balding or pandemic scars? I shrugged in annoyance at the perceived lack of information on my potential breeding match. The scars on my upper arms where Luke’s body had not provided full protection scraped against the loose robe I wore. Maybe he had the same, or frostbite, or no teeth or … maybe it was so I didn’t judge him based on appearance. We all had scars of one type or another. Were physical ones better or worse than the mental ones?
I did as much research as I could during work shift. There was actually some data on him. Devon had been current on child support and visitation prior to taking the Alaskan assignment, current on child support despite lack of visitation afterward. Financial transfer money showed that he’d sent money to a Dana Nam while in Alaska, up until Dana Nam’s death. Supporting his mother? Leaving his kid to support her? Maybe misplaced family loyalty, but family loyalty none the less. Certainly better than studs who loved and left. And he had supported the kid, too, until she had died, too.
I spent the next days trying to discretely research my future mate. The genetic data was always classified, so that people didn’t find out what specific genes carried resistance and thus transmit that data to others that might try to engineer evil plagues that bypassed that small measure of hope for survival. But he was listed as a multi-immune, like I was. Low risk of kids dying of plagues, I was sure. That alone almost made me willing to forgo a picture.
I sat in the meeting room, nervous. I’d worn my work clothes only because I couldn’t get away from work long enough to get civilian clothing on and then come back in time. The doctor sat across the table, lots of space between us. He kept the minimum 2 meters between us. Disease protocol was kept to, though we’d all tested safe, just in case. How much trust did that leave me, if I was supposed to sleep with the man I was being introduced to?
A separate med-tech escorted in the visitor. He nearly brushed the visitor while escorting him in.
“Devon Nam, this is Leslie Anderson.” The protective suited figure waved his hand in that little hi-there gesture that evolved because nobody shook hands anymore and bowing took your eye off a potential enemy. He took of his helmet, having walked outside to get to this complex from quarantine.
I tried not to stare, wondering how my profile had gotten it so wrong.
He was moderately handsome, with a minor MRSA removal scar on his left ear. Flash blindness or infection took his right eye, leaving a gray smeared ball in the socket with a small tiny black pupil. No one did implants anymore, unless there was no choice, because of the infection risk.
He took off his jacket and outer pants, disrobing for all present. The ultimate act of trust – that we weren’t going to kill him by merely being in his presence. He had all his limbs, all his fingers, no serious restrictions in movement revealing injuries that couldn’t be rejuvenated. Given today’s world, he was a looker. And fertile. And a skill match, so that we could work together even as we would live together to maximize breeding opportunities. And an Immune.
And, for all I saw, I couldn’t help but think about him being black.
He saw my reaction, but didn’t quite get it. “The eye’s not totally useless,” he told me. “I’ve got a retinal implant, so I can see out of it some.” I blinked back, trying to act, knowing that lying could get one killed when survival depended on honesty. “I don’t have any other serious scars but the ear,” he said. He smiled fast then stopped.
I asked the doctor, “Are you certain our personality profiles are a match?”
The doctor’s gaze was cool, level, and clinical. “Survival of the species is all that matters now. Appearance is irrelevant.” Devon Nam’s expression shifted to one equally cool, now that he understood my reaction. “You both carry genes for immunity for several major plagues, and resistance for the rest. This is the highest immunological pairing we can find for you – and you rated survival of your children as your highest goal. No bearing babies to lose them, I think you stated while sedated.”
But he’s black! I thought Nam was Asian! “What about fertility? The odds of conception?” I asked, trying to throw a wrench into the metrics.
“The higher the genetic difference between the two breeders, the greater the odds of conception.”
“HMLA factors, immune sequence genes,” Devon said. “The less you’re related, the more fertile you are together.”
“And with all of the vaccinations pushing up the immunological threshold, many same-race couples that are even similarly matched in genetic resistance are hitting sterility levels. Why? Because their bodies are rejecting their offspring as cancer, too closely related to the mother, thus destroyed in an immunological response.” The doctor was in assessment mode. Assessing me. “You stated that you wanted children who will survive. This is the match that is most likely to result in that.”
“That is a goal we all seek,” Devon added.
Kids or racist thoughts. The doctor knew my prejudices, and had intentionally excluded the picture as a result. Given Devon before me now, I knew there were few choices. If I said no, as was my only right at this meeting, I would be alone. And given the psychological aftermath we all carried from the war, all children had to be born to married couples. Stable devoted couples were the best way to raise children, and given all the other mess we’d made in the world, kids had to have at least that attempt at a solid foundation to be born. No artificial insemination for me, as my mother had done for her two girls and my sister for her daughter.
Au natural, or not at all. That was my only choice.
I stood up and faced Devon. I held out my hand, knowing all the risks of physical contact. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
He took my hand. “I look forward to getting to know you better,” Devon stated without more than a hint of irony.
You said you’d do anything to end the loneliness. I sighed, but only on the inside. Even this. Just do it. Maybe one child, even if mixed race, is enough to fill the void, both for me and the human race.