Matteo shared his last beer with Concha as the remaining drunks, with heads bowed far too low or flung too far back, shuffled out. The place was theirs alone, again, and they were each on the verge of throwing up. They shared a Topo Chico with bitters splashed in to settle their stomachs.
Concha shut down the lights one by one, occasionally having to try twice to make physical contact with the switch, while Matteo emptied the ice tub into the sink. She locked up and they leaned on each other in the parking lot for a moment.
“S’ok — about the bike,” she told Matteo, failing to focus on his face, “Can’t fix right now. Will later. Have room. Over there.” She pointed in the direction of Roosevelt Ave.
“Room for what?” he asked. Whatever lay beyond the grass and road was a blur for a second and then Motel Cielo in neon blue cursive came into crisp view. “ Oh, a room room,” he said.
He picked her up and onto the bike seat, where she was small enough to lay down on her belly awkwardly. Then he pushed the bike while she attempted to steady the front handlebars, veering a little to the left for a while, and then a little to the right for a while. By the time they crossed the street, devoid of traffic in the dead of night, the urge to vomit had subsided and a sleepy fun took over his mind.
Matteo gained some speed with the improvised pushcart, hit a bump, and Concha slipped off onto the asphalt of the motel parking lot, landing squarely on her butt.
“Oh my god! Did you hit something?!” she said and looked around, “The ground is so soft. It’s like a garden after it got rained on.”
“I think I ran over a tamale. What are you talking about? It’s reg-lar ground,” said Matteo.
“I want your tamale. Pff.” She had an infectious expression that would flash before a laugh erupted, a charm that was all the better given its rarity. She nodded to her left, which Matteo somehow knew meant that she was indicating the direction to her room. The entrance was a partially hidden behind a rusted over, unplugged soda machine.
Concha fumbled her keys and spent a minute and a half at the lock, which may as well have been an intractable mathematical proof. Matteo plowed his shoulder into the door with a stiff yank of the doorknob, pushing the lock to its limits against the worn frame. He somehow opened the door without breaking the whole thing. He had to be impressing her by now.
The suite was larger than expected and smelled like cold french fries. A few glowscreens crunched data and an antique rotary disc-drive based server was connected to an old fashioned low-res computer monitor, which was beaming a S.E.T.I. screensaver.
The inside of the closet was partially hidden by a mirrored sliding door, cracked diagonally in two. Several days’ worth of clothes hung on hangers, matched by as many strewn about the chair, on the bed and floor, though his brain refused to process the mess properly or get confused by it.
Matteo went straight to the coffee machine and poured two cups of hot water. He unwrapped two tea bags from his back pocket and began to steep them. “Do you like, live here, live here?”
Concha giggled as she rifled through Matteo’s hip overnight canvas bag. “What’s this?”
“Oh, snacks. Haven’t you ever had a de la Rosa? Try it. It’s good… for hangovers.”
“Yuck.” She let the sand-colored crumbs dribble down her chin. More giggling. “And what’s this little thing?”
“A book I’m reading,” he said, smiling in anticipation of whatever joke she was going to make. He started to giggle a little too. “‘The Persistence of Personality’, it’s about archetypes and ways of being that repeat through history and families and so on. A break from programming. But, I think programs are a bit like personalities, don’t you?”
“Oh, sure, personality persistence. The pp! Pp is cool,” she said.
“Real funny — you are way drunk,” he replied and found a binder full of polaroids to counter attack with. “What are theeese? You’re a selfie maniac. And they’re all panoramic!”
“I’m tracking my aging, as a matter of fact.”
“Yeah, ‘oh’,” she imitated his voice, “You really didn’t see the pre-print, did you? Immortals walk among us! Like 2.3% of the population! Can you believe it?”
“Oh, are you one of these so called immortals? I heard a secret they might be dying, now!”
“Not quite,” she said.
“Maybe you’re just a vampire, then,” said Matteo.
“Not even close. It’s an art project. And a science one. I want people to see how I age and I’m also tracking gene expression changes. The beauty within withers, too, something something art.”
::You can trust her. His AI knew exactly what Matteo needed to hear.
Concha turned to face Matteo, with empanadas in her mouth.
“Where did you even get those? Oh man, are those apple or pumpkin?”
“Pumpkin. The only kind.” She tore one in half and offered him a piece. He accepted without hesitation.
“Fuck, they’re so good. Tienes mas?” He started through the greasy white paper bag on the nightstand.
“I ate them all,” she dramatically turned on her side, “I ate too fast. I wanna throw up.”
“All there is is stale maranos and pink cookies left in here. Just spit out what you have I’ll eat it.”
“Ok, I’ll shutup. So… how’s motel life?”
“Hmm, it’s alright. Nobody stays here ‘cept for truckers, and they’re usually out for the night. We literally have this enclosed parking lot, empty swimming pool, and broken Coke machine to ourselves. Here’s a potato and egg I have leftover from the morning, want some? Never time to eat anything at work.”
As Matteo was distracted with the taquito, Concha entered a few keyboard commands into a small device. Instantly, Mist connections within the radius of a room or two were scrambled.
Several miles away, at Taco Cabana, Kaylee bit into a taquito of her own. “I think she cut me off!”
Jorge hiccuped. “Hmm. Cut us off. I can’t hear a thing. That Concha was savvy. Couldn’t get a read on her beyond that.”
“That’s not surprising,” said Kaylee. Then she felt a little bad about attacking Jorge unprovoked. None of this was his fault.
“Well, maybe it’s time, then. We should advance on the schedule. This female human is too much of a risk,” said Jorge.
“Yeah. She knows way too much. I’m alternately impressed and furious she compromised our experimental sample so easily. It’s like she knew everything we were up to a day in advance. How do we move forward, though? We don’t have crisper, yet. Or even a good plan to get it,” said Kaylee. At least they had more than half a day to prepare the lab before Matteo returned.
“Well, we got much of the preliminary steps done today. Then it’s at least a week or two of experimentation to go, for sure. At the very least we can see how he fairs knocked out for several days. And whether his body can handle regular old synmalaria with no additional modifications…”
“Maybe. Don’t know if I like that idea. God, today was going so well, too.” And she gripped her chest not knowing if it was just internal ethical conflict or gas.