Miners 16

“Can’t go anywhere in this town without running into the last person you saw, can ya?” Kaylee boomed as the door slammed behind Jorge, who was trailing behind.

Concha’s good fortune multipied before her eyes. Not only did she have the prime suspect in her grandmother’s murder in the palm of her hand, but she would have a chance to get a little more dirt on what LUFAW was up to. The resident LUFAW rooster had made snooping more difficult, recently.

“Our presence is no coincidence. Your racer disappeared from our tracker. We fortunately had your last location triangulated to within three hundred feet of this establishment,” said Jorge.

“‘Had my last location?’ Oh… right, you of course put a tracker in the bike,” said Matteo.

“I’d say you were getting smarter, but you still are an easy mark for falling into a dump like this,” said Kaylee. “If it weren’t for me, you might be lost forever. Jorge couldn’t put two and two together to figure out you might be inside the closest bar — was convinced you’d been taken in by the Rangers. He was totally in space.”

“We are all of us in space, Kaylee,” said Jorge, who was inspecting graffiti carved into the bartop.

Sonia held close her blank face. Breaking Matteo out was impressive for two new biohackers on the local scene. Maybe they wanted him to write neurosensory scripts like ojo for them, or vice versa.

“Goddangit, Jorge.” She squinted at Concha. “However, I wouldn’t have put y’all two together, ever,” she spoke while drawing a line with a pointed finger between Matteo and Concha. “Anyhow, this round’s on me, fellas.”

“I’m going to need to see your ID,” said Concha.

“Pff…” Kaylee rolled her eyes from Concha all the way to Matteo, whose eyes were flickering between being able to focus and crossing. He shrugged.

“Ok… miss. Here ya go.” Kaylee projected her license through a glowscreen on her wristwatch and smiled.

“Nice watch. How’d you get the flare so crisp? I could never get my hands on an immersion lens,” said Concha. She determined Kaylee was using a real, registered Mist for herself. And she also knew she could very easily develop a crush on her.

“No lens. I wrote a script to change both image processing in the device and how they’re filtered before it’s projected,” said Kaylee.

“Cool. What’re you drinking?” asked Concha, in her regular bartending tone, secretly admiring the lines of Kaylee’s face.

“Three Bud Lights for us and whatever you like for you. Unless you want to ask Jorge for his card, too,” said Kaylee.

“Oh, no. I know him. He’s eighty-seven.” They’d met once or twice when she was a teenager — online, anyway.

“Eighty-eight on Earth,” said Jorge.

“Oh, right, I forget your planet’s orbit is a little longer,” Concha said. Jorge’s mouth smiled unnaturally.

“And Matteo? I suppose y’all check the birth certificates of all undocumented Mist users?” asked Kaylee.

“No. I’m aware you are in the business of stealing aliens’ identities. It’s pretty obvious when his Mist avatar is a stock Spurs coyote. I have a record of him, already,” said Concha. And then she realized he was about the same age as duds should be.

Kaylee just said, “Ok.”

Jorge added, “We required a legitimate Mist address to associate with our stand. If you don’t alert the authorities, we can certainly put together some form of economic compensation. May I suggest free raspas for life?”

“Sounds good,” she replied.

Before long, Concha was inundated with happy hour revelers and left the roommates to drink each other into oblivion. Matteo, Jorge, and Kaylee were getting along after one more round.

Comer culo. Now that I’ve told you what it means, I think you should try to use it in a sentence,” said Kaylee, serious as a judge.

“Oh, I’ve fallen for that before. I may not know the translation but I’m not about to use it in a sentence the way you want me to just so I embarrass myself in front of the local population. I still am in my shock phase, you know,” said Jorge.

“You’ve lived amongst humans for years, what culture shock lasts so long?” asked Kaylee.

“Hah! No, not culture shock. Shock phase is what happens when visiting new planets. The brain is sent into a frenzy — it has to do with ambient radiation, gravity, those sorts of things. Sometimes events appear to unfold incorrectly in my perception. If I could project what I saw onto your mind, it would seem surreal. Take right now, for example. I forgot for a second or two that I am not a passive observer but an entity that is vulnerable to danger, that is physically in this context.”

“Ok, ok. Don’t tell that guy over there that you love to comer culo, then. You’re right, it doesn’t mean that you appreciate the welcoming you’ve gotten from the people of Earth,” she said.

“Go easy on him. He’s probably doubly confused with all the Tex-mex people speak around here,” said Matteo.

“Yes, and the gendered natures of your languages,” Kaylee added.

“Trickles down into bad behavior, too, right, mamacita?” Matteo winked.

“I thought you couldn’t speak Spanish very well, Matteo,” she said.

“You got me,” he said and held in a bumbling laugh.

Concha watched them interact over her shoulder. All teasing and jokes between the group. Behavior she’d seen a million times. She couldn’t bring herself to believe Matteo was behind the ojo, the sensory attack. He seemed so… clueless, which made him feel harmless, despite his large presence. Hard to tell for sure, though. She’d need to talk to him one on one again.

Jorge’s eyes lulled backwards as he picked at the label of his Bud Light. To bring him back to reality, Concha thudded her hands loudly on the wood in front of him and then rested on them. “Why don’t you tell these two about your home. What was it called again?”

“Planet Sexy,” Jorge declared.

Matteo laughed so hard his stool tipped backwards. Concha stopped pouring a drink to balance him by grabbing his collar.

Jorge kept talking and everyone kept listening, because he had never said a word about his past.

“I come from a world where a sex disease changed everything. See, one day, some people started living a long time, and it was all caused by something analogous to what you used to call unsafe sex here, back when people wrapped their genitalia in rubber, if my reading of human history is correct. Anyway, if you got infected, through sex, you couldn’t really tell at what point the infection would bloom. When it did bloom, you’d be cursed with life extension, or rather, typical aging would halt,” he said.

“Well, this took a turn,” said Kaylee and she waved at Concha for another beer.

“Over time, the immortals began to discriminate sexual partners based on ability. Those with shorter life spans were comparatively less experienced and therefore simply not as good in bed. Our beds are more like nests, by the way. Eventually the elders amassed considerable power through the weight of their sexual prowess. Advanced sex cliques formed among them, and because of their long lives, concentrated wealth and political influence, too. I will pause to say I use the terms wealth and politics loosely here, because Earth is somewhat unique in those regards. Anyway, they were out of control, bros. They’d engage in intercourse with someone without the disease and execute them after, for sport, in a sense, to make up for the sexual entertainment value the mortal lacked. Actually, I don’t want to provide any more details of this story.”

“And another turn. Welp, goddang, you’re not just an alien — you’re a refugee,” said Kaylee. Matteo nudged her with his elbow.

“Hmm. Maybe from a certain point of view. I could easily have laid low on some other planet. I choose to hop around, though, to amuse myself with the discovery of new technologies invented by other entities, like yourselves. Nature is an overstuffed toolbox. You humans have some interesting things going on here, lots of stuff based on rare chemistry. Even the protein cofactors in your bodies, phew boy, weird, to say the least. That’s where I find my purpose. I think that’s what you call it here. It’s a rough translation because, as you probably suspect, purpose doesn’t really exist. The fundamentals of reality are dispassionate.”

Jorge finally looked up from his beer label to his audience, which now included a few stragglers, huddled in a half circle of devastated expressions.

His eyebrows perked, “Did I tell you I perfected the most mana-efficient goblin sacrificial attack yesterday?”

“No, you didn’t. Tell me how it goes,” said Matteo. Jorge explained something about Magic the Gathering mana curves and card advantage for three full minutes.

Concha plopped four tomato-juice looking shots in front of them.

“Chamoys on the house. For being such good customers and all.” They’d totally missed the two fights she had broken up and the magnetic gun she’d confiscated.

“What’s a chamoy?” Jorge asked innocently right before swishing it in his mouth and swallowing.

“Oh… my god that’s… awful,” Kaylee stuck her tongue out.

“We ate this as kids, man! This was my candy growing up!” Concha took the shot, winced at the confusing assault of spices and salt, paused, and just said, “Sorry.”

Matteo had no trouble drinking it. Concha decided her profile of him was fairly accurate — he was a normal, Alamo City, born and raised baby.

The night became blurrier and blurrier, enough that Kaylee get lost on the way to the bathroom, twice. Jorge, still alternately his usual brand of odd and another drunk form of odder, grabbed her by one hand and went for Matteo’s hand.

“Our chariot to the bunker awaits. Our cells will be ready and waiting for us to get to work in the morning,” he bellowed and bowed before Concha. Two regulars at a table looked at each other to help suppress their desire to kick his ass.

Matteo gingerly slid his beer into a trashcan. “Take care of her for me, Jorge.”

“Wow, what a gentleman, even drunk,” said Kaylee.

Matteo continued, “You know… maybe it’s the third, the fourth shot, or that beer talking, but I forget, I forgot about it. I thought, hey, these guys took me forced me into their lair and hit me over the head and stuff, but you know what, let bygones be, and you know what, LUFAW forever. I mean it.”

“Jesus, Matteo. Do I need to carry you to the station wagon?”

“Ah, not this little one,” Concha nodded towards Matteo, who was now leaning far into the bartop and nodding his head. “He’s going to help me close down.” She felt fairly confident he was harmless. Definitely not a killer.

“I said, I mean it,” Matteo said, pointing at Kaylee.

Kaylee said, “Just have him back before our cells are ready to go in eighteen hours. Time is critical.”

“He’s safe with me,” said Concha. Kaylee’s drunkenness had revealed another clue, as Concha had hoped. She’d specified an exact hour because she was on a schedule, most likely for experimentation. Maybe Matteo was the subject of experimentation. Maybe that was a stretch. She’d need a bit more booze to find out. One thing was for sure, she wouldn’t mind having more of Kaylee in her life.

Jorge carried Kaylee outside, into the humid night, the both of them conversing nonsense, like two radios stuck on the white noise between stations. The station wagon, sporting a LUFAW bumper sticker made of generic, black-on-white sign sticker, sped them to Taco Cabana.

Miners 17

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