Miners 18

Concha sobered up a little. “So, I didn’t just bring you here to look at your ass. You interested in trading anything? I have physicals and some sensory viruses. I’ve been picking them apart, trying to find ways to disable them blindly. But if you need some for work.”

“No, not at all. We — LUFAW, I mean, isn’t that kind of club. I’d be offended if I wasn’t so drunk.” But he was offended. “I already told you, I’m not a real criminal.”

“Sorry, I didn’t even mean to suggest you’d use it for bad, but as things to practice protecting yourself from,” she said. Matteo had his suspicions, though.

“Actually, we might be able to trade something… they mentioned needing crisper.”

“Crisper? Hmm, might be able to conjure that up,” she said.

“Seriously?!”

“Yes, it’s not totally authenticated. I haven’t made the protein from the sequence or tried it out in an experiment. Anyway, I got it on the NOW.”

“When?”

“Not whenhow — the New Old Web. You didn’t hear it’s up and running in some areas?”

“This was the thing where some people wanted to resurrect the old networks — the modem networks. I had heard of that before. I thought that wasn’t going to be a thing for at least another couple of years or so,” said Matteo, thinking about how happy Kaylee and Jorge would be with the crisper sequence.

“Speeds are atrocious. But it keeps the file size people use down around what physicals of turn-of-the-century devices can hold. Unlike reading on the Barcaza, hacking isn’t the only barrier. Everything on NOW has an encryption preventing it from being copied by modern tech. You can’t even take a picture of the information on the screen with your Mistview. It’s actually technologically related to ojo. Instead of hacking a brain to visuals and sounds, it hacks the camera’s computational components through the lens.”

“Parece brujeria. Next you’re going to tell me people can’t just read the sequence and write it down by hand.”

“You could. Definitely. The crisper sequence tops out at just a couple thousand characters. Chances for error are high, of course. When was the last time you held a pen, though?” she asked.

She pulled out a first generation GameBoy, unsheathed and handed a Tetris cartridge to Matteo with a kiss. “I like LUFAW. Maybe we’ll cross paths in the future, again. Since it’s not authenticated or anything, we’ll just call this a you-owe-me-one, for later. Still, keep this shit secret.”

“Not even a crisper whisper.” Matteo set it in his bag with care and was quiet a moment. The buzz in his head was receding like a tide, but he knew it could wash over him again any moment.

“Predictably, you’re not even asking me why I would help you,” she said.

“Hey, now. I’m not even sure I need your help!”

“Don’t think about it. I probably have my own vested interest in you,” she said.

She grabbed his hips to align their bodies together and then wrapped both arms around his shoulders. His crushed forearm latched to a boob and locked her onto him.

They quieted and noticed for the first time the weathered digital radio had been playing music softly the entire time. Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You” was only a few seconds in. Concha pulled off her wig and the two relaxed and started dancing without touching.

“Eep! You have no hair”

“When I met you, I had white hair and now it’s shaved off entirely and I’m wearing green. Maybe I’ll grow rainbows, next.”

“Just a surprise. Why so many disguises, Shady?”

“If you don’t know who is worth hiding from it’s probably cause you live boringly enough to not have it be a concern. I’ve said too much!” She smiled wider.

“Well for what it’s worth, I like the buzz cut. I actually have a crippling buzz cut fetish.”

“Well, that’s perfect then.”

“Actually just on butts. Show me a good hairy buzzed butt and I’ll show you…”

“Right, I’m two-stepping with a college boy, after all. Shh, this is my favorite part.” She broke away from him and danced alone.

“How is it I am so attracted to you and I don’t even know you?”

“Not knowing somebody is the best part don’t you think?”

Matteo forced her gaze. “Get over here.” And she did! He grabbed her waist and whispered into her ear, “When I walked into your bar, I didn’t notice anyone else.”

“Ooh, haha, ‘cuz It was empty, hur hur’,” she said.

“Oh? Was it?”

“You’re the only one I see here, now, too,” she said.

They got closer and Concha knew exactly when and how to end the dance, when both felt the right amount of silly and the right amount of romantic. Matteo’s body crunched the plastic-sleeved bed, which was not bouncy in the slightest.

“Ow! Wha…” He pulled a doll out of his rear.

“Ahh! Julian!” Concha grabbed the small figurine of Julian Castro wearing a t shirt that read: 1A PRES CHICANO.

“Where did you get this? And why do you use it to cause me such pain?”

“Haha, I just always had it… since I was a kid. My parents were nuts about politics before I came along. He used to say stuff but not anymore.”

“Here’s another gift,” she said.

A shared packaged pinged his Mist. It was a .butt file, almost certainly holographic nudes for his eyes only.

“Make sure to have some privacy when you open that, you can only watch me once before it expires. And don’t try to make a copy because it will literally kill you,” she said.

Matteo just nodded, stunned that he had gone further with Concha than anyone else, before.

“Sorry… I don’t have any… I didn’t think I’d need holo — ”

“No worries. I know you just got Mist recently, anyway. And you’re a shy guy,” she said.

She dozed quickly, resting her head on his arm, wheezing a little in her sleep. Matteo found it endearing, like a stealthy bobcat accidentally giving away her coordinates during a nap. He tumbled backwards into sleep and dreamed his arm had fallen into an icy pond. Was he back on the Barcaza hammock again? The sensation woke him momentarily, and he slipped his arm free from under Concha.

Matteo shifted back and forth.

“You ok?” Conchas eyes weren’t open, her lips puckered a little bit.

“Yeah, no. Just a dream.”

Boring. What about?”

“Home. It was the same place and everything but totally different. Kind of a spooky feeling.”

They fell back asleep and she stirred once more that night and spoke as though she didn’t know she was speaking. “Listen. I don’t normally… I want to see you again,” she said, and then she was completely out again. He had felt the connection, too. A bright future lay ahead. No more loneliness and jerking off to sexually ambiguous elves on Kaylee’s heavy VR set.

“I can’t run from you. You’d find me, again — just to break my bike some more,” he said.

Miners 19

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