“This is the first date I’ve been on that wasn’t set up by the Agora App. Imagine if this works out...We could be a couple that met naturally, in the wild. Very rare.” Cynthia says, eyes leaving the game console as she turns towards her date.
Makeup has set her face in a softer, more feminine way and neurologically reminds her to make her eyes big and steady. The thin veil of her foundation provides minute armour for her softer side, as her cold, calculating nature attempts a moment's reprieve. The low mantra repeats in the back of her mind; I am safe. He is trying to woo me. I am safe. We are partners. I am safe. There are guards. I am completely safe.
She attempts to keep her eyes wide and engaged, attractive.
“First rule of killing zombies: Don’t take your eyes off the infected,” Jonah admonishes; however, he is smiling at her.
She notices how nice his teeth are. Straight and white. Agora offered him the same complimentary dental work she herself has received, as a young member of the tribe.
Deciding to play it cool, Cynthia raises the shotgun and fires without looking. She works hard to maintain a poker face as Jonah reacts to her no-look kill.
“I guess you’ve shot a real one?” Jonah asks as they move away from the arcade game. “These days, I suppose most people have experience with guns. I wouldn’t take you for an avid gun user though, if it weren't the circumstances of the times,” he surmises of his date, taking her in.
Cynthia nods, “Legend has it I was a rainbows-and-unicorn, princess-dress-wearing child.” She confirms his suspicions. “I’m not sure I could watch any zombie-killing movie now...Zombieland? That's where you got that ‘First rule’ line, right?” She asks.
“Yes. Great movie!” Jonah says, making a mental note to stay away from the post-apocalyptic genre if ever selecting a movie for them. He catches himself thinking a future thought and is momentarily confused. Maybe his enthusiastic interest in Cynthia is a timing thing. He almost never has future thoughts – certainly not with any potential partners.
Cynthia had appeared in Jonah's rations cohort a few weeks prior. There were eight others in the group with whom he had not exchanged more than pleasantries. They just danced around each other.
Cynthia, however, danced with him, that first rotation and then each of the subsequent two. There was chemistry there, no doubt. It was noticeable enough for the older Korean gentleman doing the slow box-step to give him the thumbs up. Everyone from guard to clerk smiled at them as they danced in line. The night before he saw her for the second time Jonah had hoped she would be there again, even practicing some new moves, hoping to impress the lovely stranger.
It was Cynthia who made the first move, as is the social custom among the tribe, the thousands of years of successful matriarchy among the Iroquois Nation, not erased by the loudest men in politics and science during the parasitic invasion. She approached their cohort liaison about her interest in Jonah, arranging the video chats. Since it was not the traditional match, by app, both had to have their compatibility accessed by their counselors before a meeting was arranged. The professionals must have come to a consensus as this date had been arranged for them in the old casino.
‘There can only be one sociopath in the relationship, am I right?’ Cynthia had joked, in therapy, while rubbing the tattoo of the long-lost locket she has on her shoulder. The hart shape was depicted dented crushed closed, as it was when last she saw it, forever trapping inside faces too painful to look at, just above her heart. Her counselor replied by giving her the look she always gave Cynthia when she wished she would take things more seriously.
Together, they made a good-looking couple. Approximately the same age, reproductively sound. They had undergone tests to insure it. On their first virtual date, they had flirted by disclosing they are both in possession of ‘clean’ cards, indicating they are up to date with vaccines and have no transmissible infections.
Should tonight's date go well, they will be encouraged to get a room specifically prepared for them by the tribe in the hope they will consider copulating.
“Well, I tweaked the first rule to what I believe it should be,” Jonah says, referring to the zombie movie “You definitely don’t want to take your eyes off the infected,” he says.
“Ironic, because it’s the eyes they want most,” Cynthia says, and shudders. A sour taste permeates over her taste buds. She closes her eyes for a moment and tries her self-soothing exercises, I am safe.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn't have…” Jonah begins, looking concerned.
“No, it’s ok. I just...well, let me put it this way; My therapist has suggested I strongly avoid talking about the world outside the tribe for now. I have PTSD.”
“As do we all” Jonah acknowledges.
“Of course! That is why they take such good care of our mental health. They don’t want any more incidences like the one they had at the Khasis settlement in India.” Cynthia acknowledges.
“My god, what a waste. All those healthy people!” Jonah says. “I was eight when my formal education began to dissolve. Things got brutal fast, but my family was more prepared than the average family. Being Jewish.” he pauses a moment to check if she knows what the means, when she nods, he continues “My family was always prepared for the possibility of civil unrest. We had supplies and ammunition stored and some land. We held for a long time. My Dad taught me to shoot a shotgun as soon as I could level it. If you are having a problem with recoil, it's because you’re anticipating it. Next date should be at the shooting range.” he suggests.
I did it again, Jonah thinks, This girl has me thinking future thoughts.
Cynthia tilts her head and furrows her brow behind the clear visor of the jumpsuit and says, “I guess it’s safe to assume we are both part of the same sad-orphans club?”
“Yes, mam, unfortunately,” Jonah replies. “Although what I remember from before the parasite seems like another life. I had my Dad with me until about six years ago. We were in Toronto, struggling with what the City was trying to implement, we started to hear whispers of a settlement up North where things were working well. Especially for young people. Right before he died - cancer got him, not the parasite - he told me to ‘go North, the Iroquois got it right.’
Yep, I’m into this guy. Cythia thinks, followed by slow down. Do not scare him off.
Back when Cynthia first started dating, her counselor had gently suggested she not speak about her past. The road to finding the tribe for Cynthia was not as smooth as Jonah’s sounded, but she’s been reminded not to do the comparison thing with others before.
Based on the decline in violent endings to relationships amongst people of their age group, the community implemented dating app and the mandatory counseling programs are working. The tribal communities have ensured the system will work to fully support those, like Jonah and Cynthia, who are of childbearing years and willing to give it a shot. The incentives to procreate include spacious living quarters in the hive - a beautiful condominium constructed to mimic the inner working of a beehive. Two weeks on and two weeks off their designated community support positions so they can spend good, family time, and participate in the vast array of activities available to young couples. Increased rations, of course. Vacations around the world, anywhere tribal safe zones have been set up.
Jonah can’t see into Cynthia's suit much past her neck; however, he remembers her skin from the second of the two video chats they have been able to arrange. That night, she had been wearing a tank top. Her pale skin looked impossibly soft and he had yearned to touch it where her tattoo draped over her clavicle. He wonders if he will be invited to touch her skin with his bare fingers. Tonight, even. The thought interests him.
“My Dad lasted a few years longer than my mom, who was the first person I ever witnessed being put down.” Cynthia shares, “We had to do it. Dad and me. It really helped that we had all talked about the very real possibility of having to put each other down, if we got infected, just days before we had to do it. We even ran some drills. We did not let her in that day because she was acting strange. We asked her to dance for us...that's when we knew. Anyways, Dad did it right there on the front stoop, and then we had to leave in a hurry because her eyestalks blossomed.”
“Shit. Blossoming eye stalks will throw spores across a whole neighborhood.” Jonah says, shaking his head. “How old were you?”
“Eight or nine.” she pauses wondering if she's going too far, then adds “I don’t remember much about my mom, except...every now and then I smell a smell that guts me. It's lilac and something else I can’t quite name. Mom-smell, I guess,” she says and shrugs.
“I have those moments too,” Jonah says
Before long they are dancing, playing games, and flirting. Their young bodies move with strength and fluidity, years of living on the run and dancing for survival have blessed them with agility. They talk about which dances are their favorites and how it is a lovely greeting, very ritualistic. They imagined what it was like to exist in a world where people greeted each other affectionately, with handshakes, hugs, and kisses.
Displays of fluid movement became necessary after it was determined one of the first signs of parasitic infection was a loss of motor skills, muscle control. The Kamikaze parasite assumes control of the infected persons motor function as it consumes their brain. Once a person's eyes fill up with blood, it’s too late. After the death of the host, the parasite attempts to fling spores into the wind through giant stalks that grow from the eyes of the deceased. The name Kamikaze was given to the alien parasite, as once it outgrows the space in the host brain, it kills itself to grow the eyestalks, self-sacrifice for a chance to propagate spores.
Agora provides free instruction in parkour, martial arts and dance. Movement being very much a survival skill. Making music and art or other demonstrable gifts of fine motor skill are much sought after. Cynthia, in fact, noticed Jonah because of his dance skills.
“Our date is almost over -” Cynthia points out.
“Oh yeah,” Jonah notes, disappointed.
“I’m all for continuing things on to the cleanroom they are going to want to give us – if you are, that is,” Cynthia says, suddenly feeling shy.
“Yes!” says Jonah.
“I’m having an enjoyable time with you, Dance-moves-rations-guy,” Cynthia says.
“And I with you, Woman-with-the-locket-tattoo” he replies, and when they smile at one another again, something subtle, behind their eyes, has changed.
It takes them several tentative moves after they take off their protective layers to get close enough to touch. All they do for the first few hours is enjoy the novelty of another human being close. Cynthia wants to lie on Jonah’s muscular abdomen and listen to his insides work. Jonah wants to rest his fingers lightly on her pulse; to feel the way her heart pumps the blood through her body, the way the artery bucks upwards to meet his fingertips.
Eventually, they fall into each other. They mimic what they have seen of lovemaking, although neither believes they are capable of it.
In ten days a pregnancy test will be administered, for now, they rest after a successful first date.