The first thing Matteo noticed was an old plaid couch and a microwave set on top of a mini-fridge. There were also two curtained entry ways. One was clearly a bedroom, he could see a mattress peeking out from under the floor.
They’d set up a neatly kept area with a few serious-looking computers and glowscreens. The majority of the space was taken up by rows and rows of shelving, including piles of old electronics, not unlike what he’d seen in the collection storage rooms on the Barcaza. Each physical had been catalogued in a meticulous fashion, with descriptions of the collection date, location and other details on a paper tag tied with white string.
Many items were from the late 20th century, a nearly inconceivable time when having online profiles was still taboo. Not as taboo as Matteo’s fucking hidden profile on an illegal Tamagotchi, though.
Kaylee’s head poked down the opening, “Don’t you dare touch anything!”
Matteo sighed loud enough for her to hear, but was happy that she might be flirting.
Kaylee’s head popped in again, “While you’re down there maybe take a shower?”
“You stink.” Her face disappeared above.
One glowscreen was on. He approached as silently as he could manage and saw a file about him had been opened. Beyond public information they had managed to make clones of a few of his old computers, which was fairly impressive. There was also a .ama file, an amalgam of his likeness taken from personal photos and Basura Barcaza security stills. Using an .ama made perfect sense since he had no Mist until just the other day. With it, they could search other public Mist recordings for his possible participation in a host of activities. He’d spent most of his life indoors. Joke was on them.
Another folder held information about his mother, which was more scant, keeping in line with her overall avoidance of Mist technology.
There was also a folder for his father, whom he’d never met.
He clicked the screen with his finger, anticipating an alarm to go off. What were they going to do if they caught him snooping? Kidnap him again?
The folder opened silently. There was a birth certificate fused to a death certificate on a single .pdf. The other file was a personality summary of his social media — not the tweets and MySpace posts exactly, but an averaged algorithm of his tastes and beliefs as derived from online accounts, typical of last generation that reached adulthood without Mist.
He quickly scanned it with his Mistview, absorbing it onto his AI. It was closer than he ever imagined he’d ever get to meeting him.
::Don’t cry. Your mom does enough of that for all of us.
“I won’t,” Matteo whispered. He bit his tongue and didn’t.
Down a short hallway was the tiny bathroom, consisting of just a toilet and a spigot at about the height of a normal shower head. He could see the hot water line and thought about how it would beat the tepid water he’d been washing himself the last year. Matteo peed deep orange and pulled on a chain to flush it. He realized his surrender to an underground structure with no exit except for a flimsy rope ladder would have been a really easy way to trap him. At this point, it was too late, he guessed, and decided to take three minutes to rinse off.
His hangover lost a little strength under the new humidity but the knife-like head trauma he’d incurred kept him dull. He was absolutely not very good at all at being kidnapped. He looked in the bathroom mirror.
:Ha ha, puedo verlo ahora! I’m looking a los fotos de cuando era un bebe in your record. We thought you would be a heartbreaker! Pero you turned out medio feo like your abuelo, on your mom’s side. Don’t worry, mijo, you are tall and broad. The man doesn’t have to be good-looking in a relationship. No mas necesita Byte if you want a girl and it looks like you are taking care of that.
He shook off the comments, got back into his clothes, and climbed back up to the raspa stand, grateful the door hadn’t been closed.
“You two aren’t being upfront with me. That’s not all you know about me,” said Matteo.
Jorge and Kaylee looked at each other.
“I mean. There are plenty of people who know how to work computers. Why choose me, specifically? Anybody can program,” said Matteo.
“Anyone can program… with programs. You’re the real deal. You haven’t even really been introduced to Mist or AI softwares that do the coding for you.” She really was proving they knew quite a bit about him.
“Everybody has Mist,” he replied.
“Ha ha, what a bluff. Not you. We know you were kept off the grid. We know about your momma,” she said.
“Just enough. The important parts. She kept you away from modern tech your whole life, correct? Makes sense you’re using a second-hand Mist, right now,” said Kaylee.
“Thanks for reminding me. I still haven’t paid for it. And yeah, my mom’s a little eccentric. And so what, who cares?”
“That’s not the whole story. About your mother,” she said, a little quieter now that she had his attention.
“It really is.”
“Mhmm.” She rolled her eyes.
“Yeah. It was no big deal. I wasn’t like abused. Like you said, she swore off all this tech-aided learning. Wanted me to get my hands dirty with the real nuts and bolts of reality. It wasn’t just computers. I had to plant nopales with real dirt, learn to cook with real food I grew in the garden, write code on homemade computers. Plus we were broke, so it was cheaper than buying fancy apps. Typical stuff. So what? Now you know everything about me and you haven’t even said not one word about what I’m supposed to get started on.” She was a good mom.
“Jorge will cover that soon. Before we get into it, we have to clear up some things. Well, from our files it looks like you didn’t have much of a network… in terms of, you know, friends. But just to make sure, aside from your mom, have you interacted with anyone else in the last year?”
“Just criminals. And Rangers,” said Matteo.
“Hmm, alright. So no religious leaders, professors… girlfriends?” asked Kaylee.
“No. Do you have a boyfriend?” he asked back.
“As a matter of fact, it is not your business.” She turned away from him, slipped on her boots, and stepped outside. Did he hit paydirt?
Jorge handed him a sticky bright red raspa. “Irrelevant questions. He has no appreciable Mist presence for now. Matteo, you’re going to help us locate a Church. Then decrypt the DNA sequence you already started on further. It’s the design for some really, really important cells, if you haven’t already figured that out. It will help us make lots of Byte, which will increase our chances of making even more Byte. That’s how it seems resource distribution works on this planet.”
Matteo took greedy bites of the top of the snow cone, “Damn, this is bu-en-o.” The door to the raspa stand was open and Matteo could see Kaylee brushing the feathers of a riding chachalaca outside.
“I expect an equal share of Byte from all sales, including whatever we make from cells. Twenty-two thousand Byte is going to be a ton of work. But I’m gonna get out of jail the right way. Comprende?”
Jorge leaned back and his pupils circled the edges of his eyelids. “It sounds like reasonable compensation to my sensibilities. We’ll head out to Loteria on my birds in a moment, then, for the Church.”
“Loteria?! You’re fucking joking.” Just like that, he had to pee again. Going after an illegal Church in an off-the-books flea market, complete with gambling facilities, gun shops, and a petting zoo wasn’t worth a chance with a cute girl or erasing a thirteen year prison sentence and a strawberry raspa.
Dillo entered through the skylight of Matteo’s cell and scaled the wall, salty grime packing underneath his fingernails. Word was that the Rangers had lost another prisoner — los biologos had come earlier than scheduled. Not that it mattered, they’d paid upfront for his arranging the kidnapping, and the Mist he traded Matteo for wasn’t even fully networked or entirely functional. He’d gotten it practically for free off a dead guy.
He picked through the box, counting the physicals one by one. All but one were untouched, and he checked that no new data was uploaded to Matteo’s store of Ranger-approved memory chips, which meant he hadn’t found anything worth storing.
Getting a reliable extractor was becoming a pain, he thought it better to swap the box for something tangible… something people would need soon and he could make quick Byte off, like a Church. That is, if the reports about immortals were true, and regular people wanted to tap into it.