“What the… goddang it! How’d you manage to drug him so early?” Kaylee whispered, afraid this specimen collection might go wrong. She regretted ever telling Jorge about how she had access to horse sedatives.
At least she didn’t tell him about how her family owned horses, too. He’d definitely exploit that as a possible avenue for making Byte.
She burned a hazel gaze at him through the orange-blonde wisps escaping the sides of her pink beanie.
“I did not drug the test subject, Kaylee,” Jorge said, his tall, thin, midnight brown frame blending into the night sky, except for the whites of his eyes.
She had spent all night sewing the Ranger patches on their disguises. There was no screwing this up. He better have freaking not drugged the test subject.
“Don’t say my name! I mean, my code name. If you didn’t drug him, why’re three of his four limbs hanging off-a the hammock and into the water and also his pants are around his knees, Jorge. His pants are around his knees.” Kaylee pointed down at Matteo, snoozing in his cell.
“That I see. And he smells like rotten mango… and I detect… glucose breakdown products? Definitely bougie,” said Jorge.
“Boozy,” she corrected, a bit charmed by the steepness left in his social learning curve.
“Maybe. He’s got a ketonic yeasty smell evaporating off his skin. That could be due to malnutrition and not alcohol consumption. There’s a hint of expired chewing tobacco, too,” he said.
“You need to help fix this, Jorge.” She wasn’t about to be put through the lengths of another capture and lose the target for a third time.
“Well, now I’m confused. Are we using our names or not?”
Kaylee stared back at him.
“What?” he asked, his head moving a bit higher on his neck.
“You knocked him out without telling me. That changes the plan! I don’t trust you, again!” The truth was in the last few weeks, she’d learned to trust him, just not his judgement.
“What? Why?” he asked.
“I don’t know why — it’s the way you do things! He looks just like the last one, which you gave way too much sedative and everything went wrong after that,” she said, unable to whisper outright, while fidgeting with her backpack. She quickly pulled and unraveled a rope ladder.
She lowered herself into Matteo’s chamber carefully, turning her head to view the scene below with every other step.
“Fine,” Kaylee mewed from the bottom, “You didn’t drug him. The evidence is right here.” She pointed at the empty gulf bottles.
Jorge dropped onto a pile of laundry without a sound, though his weight did cause the structure to wobble a little. Matteo, in his hammock, appeared still relative to the motion of the room and in sync with the moon above.
“Good detective work,” Jorge said.
“And I also don’t detect any Mist. At least not registered. This is probably the right dud. Anyway, let’s just get his legs… no, no, not right away. Put his pants on first,” Kaylee directed. In another life, she may have been attracted to a guy who looked like Matteo. But first things first, a scientist never falls in love with her subject.
“Why don’t you put his pants on?” asked Jorge.
“Because… gross, Jorge,” she said.
“I do not understand the culture of this planet.” Jorge shrugged and made his way towards Matteo’s ankles. “This will be a more efficient task if executed alone, anyway.”
“Do you even know what you’re doing? He’s flopping out all over the place, now, be careful!” she said while catching herself in a little stare.
“So, what if he is? Nevermind, don’t answer. It will diminish my mental acuity.” Jorge sighed and finished pulling the pants back on Matteo. He vaulted him over his narrow shoulders, the two men a surreal vision — Matteo, a load that appeared much too heavy for its wiry bearer.
Matteo stirred. Kaylee’s face came into his view, her permanently-pleading eyes widening. “Anna…?” he mumbled sleepily.
“Quick!” said Jorge
Kaylee grabbed the first thing she saw — a rubber mallet for popping open physicals, and banged at his head really, really hard, multiple times.
“Ow! What the fuck are you doing?!” he slurred. She missed his skull and hit an eye. “OW! STOP!” There was no question about it, now — she had woken him up.
“Your solution is to hit him? Don’t hit him,” said Jorge in an even tone.
“And what would you do, Mr. Smart Calculator?”
“Sss!” Matteo sucked in air, “Just stop! You are making… my gulf withdrawal happen!”
Kaylee followed up, “Drug him, I bet that’s what you would do!”
Jorge flipped Matteo down to the ground with a plastic crunch, pulled duct tape from his back pocket and wrapped Matteo’s mouth several times over across his head and then bound his wrists in tape as well. He was unnaturally quick.
“Mmmph! MMMMPH!” said Matteo.
“We’re biologists,” said Jorge, calmly, staring through Matteo’s eyes.
Kaylee shot the most befuddled look of her life at Jorge, then halfway composed herself. “Look, big fella, we’re not going to hurt you… Or rob you… Well, rob you, yeah…”
Matteo yelled something undecipherable through the tape, but Kaylee knew he meant they already had hurt him. Mouthy guy, this one.
“Just. Pause it. Cease moving. This is a kidnapping,” said Jorge.
Matteo exhaled heavily through his nose, let the amazement leave appeared to try to stay cool. Then his eyes rolled backwards and he was burnt out into black space again.
“Goddangit you totally drugged him. Definitely ketamine,” Kaylee said knowing the words were falling on deaf ears.
“There may have been a pill on the sticky side of the tape, yes,” he said.
Kaylee stunned him with a blank stare. She wondered how someone so odd had become so predictable within the span of a few months of working together.
“What? You reminded me of how useful ketamine is. With your accusations. Help me get him onto that slider stuck to the wall,” said Jorge.
“It’s a sled,” Kaylee said as she tugged at the reigns.
“Fascinating. All momentum provided by the action of your musculature, with friction lowered by a utilizing a small surface area. I’d wager this works on frozen surfaces best. You show me fascinating things, Kaylee,” said Jorge.
Kaylee checked under Matteo’s eyelids and found the unregistered Mist. It’d be useful. Then, they bundled Matteo into an extra large black trash bag and closed the ends with a twist tie. Together, they swung him onto the sled.
“We only have twelve more minutes,” Kaylee said.
The Basura Barcaza, a sea-worthy barge in its own right, would be docked for only twelve minutes and two seconds more, to be precise. Kaylee and Jorge moved their living cargo to the port entry-exit. The few guards on duty were busy checking in dozens of new prisoners. Adding to the chaos were the deep clicks from drawing anchors, causing the floor and wall structures to rattle. They stole behind a pair of janitors who on their way to unload spent physicals on land.
Once on shore, they passed through admittance windows and turnstiles, which had been repurposed from an old SeaWorld theme park. Feeling safe at last, Kaylee turned over her shoulder to see the original SeaWorld sign, partially disassembled and upside down, serving as external support to one of the barge’s front-facing walls. The floating mountain began to slip away.
Kaylee gave Jorge a slightly disingenuous thumbs up. She wanted to believe that she and Jorge were good at their new job. But knowing the prison game, as her parents owned large shares in it, she knew this wasn’t a real test of their skill.
Since all prisoners had Mist, the prison and its shareholders profited off of escapees, who were easily tracked, captured, and returned to a stack of new fines. The rare prisoner without Mist, well, they were off the books entirely and even easier to disappear, in a way. She looked down at Matteo, who was snoring softly inside the bag and knew they’d bagged the right one. Whatever Mist he was using was off the books. A second-hand Mist meant he didn’t have one to begin with.
It had been only six months since she found out her genetic code all but ensured she would live far longer than could be predicted, perhaps forever. Within a day, Jorge had contacted her out of the blue, wanting to know how she beat the “life-death system on Earth”. The fact he’d gotten her info so quickly was the first hint he was going to be good to work with.
At least she wouldn’t die with the irony of getting shot several millenia too soon, tonight. Jorge had come through just fine.
And they had gotten their first dud. Poor guy could die at any moment, none the wiser, a victim of bad science. She had to work fast to save him. If she could figure out what her genes did to make her live longer, they had a shot at extending his life. Maybe not forever, but more than the twenty or so years he’d have otherwise.