Matteo rose from the abstraction of a sleeping hangover cloud and slowly remembered he was indeed still alive. Pain rushed into the front of his skull, as he used one arm, heavier than usual, to feel around the bed. There were two warm spots: one from the beam of sun pouring in through the window and another in the place where Sonia had been. Concha.
His pupils refused to leave the safety of the back of his eyelids completely, but let enough light in that he was able to spot a breakfast taco on the nightstand, a small bite of negative space left by Concha. He took a bite, beating the urge to vomit, chasing a newfound hunger. Then he got up for a dusty glass of faucet water.
Last night had really happened and though many moments were lost to memory, Concha had almost definitely not ended the night hating him. Otherwise she wouldn’t have left the taco.
He locked the motel door from the inside before closing it. His bike revved nicely again, so he revved it once more for drama and then pressed the autopilot button.
“And what happiness score you’d give a hangover overshadowed by love, huh, computer? Pretty glad I didn’t kill myself, yesterday.”
The AI chirped on.
::Hola, Cochino. Maybe it’s good you’re finally listening to yourself and not me. Tambien, H-E-B es no mas unos tres miles away. I’m very sure your happiness points will go up with a some barbacoa and Big Red.
A full breakfast was a good idea, but he thought some fried glazed donuts from the Donut Shop would have the grease his stomach needed and a nice little gift for LUFAW.
When he got back to the base, the raspa stand had been shuttered and a bright green truck was parked out front. As soon as he opened the front door, a blur of Jorge grazed him and dropped a vintage plastic astrolabe with an Astroworld logo on it.
“Hey Jor — oh, disculpe, I thought you were my roommate,” said Matteo
“Pardon me. You must be Matteo. I am Jorge’s brother, Mendoza. It’s not uncommon for strangers to mix us up. We are twins, you see,” he said. So this is where Matteo’s temporary Mist profile came from.
“Metaphorically speaking — yes, we are brothers,” piped in Jorge, hauling a bed of spikeless cacti behind Mendoza.
“No, not metaphorically speaking. We are brothers. Literally,” said Mendoza.
“Impossible. As you are fully aware, I am from another planet. A place you’ve never traveled to or even seen,” said Jorge.
“I saw you come out of mom’s vagina with my own two eyes.” Mendoza rolled his eyes.
“This is highly unlikely. Human babies do not open their eyes for some time after birth,” said Jorge.
“We look exactly the same!” said Mendoza.
Matteo swayed in awe at their likeness they even dressed similarly, still unable to focus his eyes in one place.
Jorge freed a hand and secured it on Matteo’s shoulder. “It’s just a matter of convergent evolution. Bats and birds both have wings, yet they do not share recent ancestry.”
Jorge’s touch was enough to push Matteo’s nausea over the edge. He dry heaved, grabbing his chest in pain. Then the puke erupted into the donut bag. Mendoza used the opportunity to excuse himself to get back to packing the truck. It dawned on Matteo that while Mendoza was more normal in conversation, he didn’t seem to enjoy it as much. What a pair.
“I take it your night went well. I read in a physical humans celebrate life by poisoning themselves. It also encourages recreational mating by lowering inhibitions. Personally, I never found you people sexually repulsive, though,” said Jorge.
“Here… have a donut…” Matteo placed the bag on the planter in Jorge’s hands. “So, uh. What’s your brother, I mean, that guy, doing here, anyway? Is he part of LUFAW, or…?
“He’s helping us lighten our load, down there. You never know when shit might hit the fan and you have to relocate,” said Jorge, in a vocal tone Matteo had not heard before.
“Oh, yes, that’s the right expression. Alright, well, all very interesting. I’m going to go lay down on the couch and die, now.” Matteo burped.
“Oh? Don’t do that,” said Jorge.
“What, did he take the couch, too?”
“I wasn’t being — nevermind, I won’t.”
Mendoza returned with a small briefcase. “Here, Matteo, was it? The tranquilizers.”
Matteo took the package under one arm. “Tranquilizers? Are you trading with Jorge for something else? Nevermind. I don’t want to know.”
“Then you won’t know.” Jorge wasn’t blinking as he left them to load the truck with the cacti.
Matteo struggled down the ladder into the hidden base.
“Dude, you reek of booze and stale pan dulce. Don’t get near me,” said Kaylee, huddled over a flask of cells. “You’ll contaminate.”
“It’s the donuts. I guess I’ll keep yours, then,” Matteo stretched out on the couch. “You got jealous of the new girl, or what?”
“What? Who? No,” she said.
“Whatever, maybe you should’ve made your move earlier,” said Matteo.
“Oh come on. I don’t date my coworkers.” She turned away quickly.
::She sounds nervous, mijo. I think tienes una oportunidad!”
“I guess I am just a coding mercenary for hire to you, now. A genius one.” said Matteo.
“Don’t flatter yourself. I have no interest in you. I have a boyfriend,” she said.
“Good.” He exhaled and placed the tranquilizers on a shelf.
“I know,” she said, squinting her eyes.
“I feel sorry for him,” said Matteo, dusting his hands off.
She stuck the cells back in the plate warmer. “Speaking of your filthy smell, have you noticed it’s been a week and Jorge hasn’t showered?”
“Why are you asking me this?” Matteo sandwiched his face between two cushions. Kaylee turned on a desk lamp near him. “Ow,” he said.
“He doesn’t even smell though. So, why then is he in the bathroom all the time?” she asked.
“It’s like he only poops and plays Magic,” said Matteo, satirizing interest.
“Yeah. He is one bizarre pickle.”
“Your friend,” Matteo said barely audible. Could he just get some rest for once?
Through the bathroom door, they heard a muted: “Guys, I can hear you.”
Kaylee and Matteo looked at each other in silence for a heartbeat. “How’d you get down here without the ladder?” she asked coolly.
In return, Jorge muffled, “Teleportation.”
Kaylee whispered, “He’s poopin’ again I know it.”
Jorge emerged wearing only a green towel around his waist. “I don’t need to shower like humans. My sweat is different, it’s much more volatile. And your microbes don’t colonize me because of my skin’s outer chemical composition. All I have to do is turn the air exhaust on to aid in the drying process while I’m in the bathroom. I’m not egesting.”
“Christ, nobody cares. Ya, dejame dormir!” Matteo clicked the lamp off.
“Maybe his date didn’t go so well, after all. He must be really cranky if he’s trying to speak in Spanish,” said Kaylee,
“Not everyone could afford personal tutors when they were growing up,” said Matteo.
“Fascinating,” said Jorge.
“What Jorge?!” said both Kaylee and Matteo in unison.
“Do humans always hide their attraction from each other and themselves? In which case, how does and agreement for mating ever occur?”
“Goodnight!” Matteo said and he was out just that instant, for the better part of six hours. He dreamed mostly of The Shifty Lounge.
Matteo stirred to the back and forth of Jorge and Kaylee’s conversation. He felt, for the first time this year, maybe his life, lucky. These two were legit, chill people, his record was going to be clean permanently, soon, and he was well on his way to being a biohacker. These first few days together felt somehow gilded, and he thought they would provide fond memories to reflect on in old age.
Matteo rubbed his eyes awake. When he came to completely, he saw that everyone was at least two drinks ahead of him. A neat pour of whiskey was on the coffee table for him. It must’ve been early afternoon already.
“Hair of the cat,” said Jorge, passing over a glass with a tortured smile.
“No, not exactly right, but thanks.” He tipped the drink back and let the liquor sit on his tongue a moment. God, it tasted delicious.
“Fur of the cat,” Jorge said.
“Yes, Jorge, fur,” said Kaylee, her eyes set on Matteo. He wondered if she was trying to read his face for clues as to whether he and Concha had hooked up. They really had, he remembered. He had the .butt file to prove it.
“Here, take some ibuprofen for that headache. Don’t worry it doesn’t stress your liver when you drink alcohol like acetaminophen does.” She handed him two brown pills.
He popped them to the back of his throat and swallowed with a swig of booze. “Thanks.” Was there something a little dark and sad about Kaylee? She must be really jealous, he thought.
Matteo cleared his throat. “I was thinking, you know, I think LUFAW needs to crack immortality. It’d be such a money-maker.” After meeting Concha, he wanted life… more of it — infinite sums of it.
“Whoa, how’d you get that info about the immortals so quick?” said Kaylee. She seemed to almost relax.
“Concha told me. You already knew about it? Shoulda said something,” said Matteo.
“Oh it could be a very important turning point for you people. Before, you just had VR and movies to live vicariously. Now you can actually do it, since spending a whole lifetime doing something or being someone is a negligible sacrifice. It happened to our people on Planet Sexy,” said Jorge.
“So, about that… about immortality…” Kaylee started, as she grabbed a pillow and moved closer to Matteo. She had a look in her eye he hadn’t seen since the first time they met.
“Oh, hey, and duh, I almost forgot. I think we can do it because I got crisper. Sorry, it totally slipped my mind after… last night. You know, I did basicallyget laid, so yeah, makes sense that it would slip my mind. Whoa, what’s in this ibuprofen? My brain just got a lot more clear. Probably the whiskey. Anyway, I totally got the full sequence of crisper.
“Yeah, the whole sequuueeennnnncee…” And then Matteo lost control of his mouth, which felt like it was made out of tamarind paste and he knew he’d been drugged yet again. His eyes crossed and rolled backwards and he fell backwards into twilight.