“Holy. Goddang… Jorge!” said Kaylee. Jorge’s mouth was frozen open about the width of a pencil. “We have to wake him up. We have to get the crisper!”
“Kaylee, take a moment to gain composure. We just knocked someone who is already probably on his deathbed the fuck out. We can’t just inject a host of uppers into him. He’s delicate,” said Jorge.
“Fuck! Sorry, I mean, goddangit! Do we just go ahead with it?”
“If we proceed and it works like we hope, he’ll live and maybe he’ll cooperate?” Jorge offered.
“And if it doesn’t, he dies and we lose crisper,” she replied.
“You’re still assuming he agrees to give us the sequence, though. Might not go over so well. He’ll suspect we drugged him since he just woke up from that nap. Hmm.”
“Let him sleep it off. Maybe we can convince him before the deadline for the most dangerous part of the experiment. Also I was right! He would’ve been a willing test subject, Jorge. What a waste,” she said.
“Aliens make mistakes, too,” he said, somber.
The early afternoon turned into the next pre-dawn. Matteo stirred. There was the sweet smell of laboratory grade ethanol in the air and also something like bready champagne carbonation.
“Don’t look around you,” said Kaylee.
Matteo looked around. “Oh, FUCK! What the fuck?!” He was strapped down, lying on his back atop a poker table. Dozens of tubes perfused different liquids throughout his body. He could hear the beeps of machines out of sight. glowscreens vibrated alerts.
“Calm down. Calm it. Down. Okay?” Kaylee was pointing at Matteo with both of her hands trembling.
“Did I piss myself?”
“No. But yes. We switched out your pants. Jorge did,” she said.
“My arms — I can’t feel them,” said Matteo.
“Don’t worry. We know what we’re doing. You’re anesthetized. We’ve got you hooked up pretty extensively,” said Kaylee.
“How long was I out?”
“Twenty hours, give or take.”
“A whole day? You waited for the time it takes the entire Earth to spin on its axis to wake me up?” he said, his voice unable to shout.
“A human would’ve taken three days to set up this experiment,” said Jorge, perhaps offended.
“Stop whining,” she said, shakily, “I mean, you’re in good hands. Jorge was doing all the surgical parts on account of his being sterile.”
“What?” slurred Matteo.
“Bacteria doesn’t grow on his weird skin, remember?” she said.
“Good grief. Scooping raspas with a scoop is not the same as surgery with — wait. I’m not angry. You’re going to kill me and I’m not angry. Why am I not angry at you?” said Matteo.
“See that clear-blue line coming out your side? Low dosage of a THC analog,” she replied. “Sorrrrry. See…OK we should explain what’s going on. We got preoccupied… with immortality.” She looked at Jorge. “Do I tell him?”
“I don’t see any other option,” Jorge replied.
“You do it,” she said.
“We’ll begin at the beginning. Matteo, your mom didn’t keep you off the Mist your whole life ’cause she was superstitious. In reality, you were a biological experiment gone wrong. A dud. The Rangers forced her to never register you on Mist so that nobody could track their failure back to them. The failure being you. Sorry, failure isn’t the word I meant. It’s because English is my hundred and twelfth language. Unless you count automated languages, then it’s another twenty two on top of that,” said Jorge.
“It was either hide you off Mist or they’d kill you straight away. We know from trying to track others like you down,” said Kaylee.
“Just so you know my Mist said we were an 83% love match, which is impossible seeing how you’re so evil, so I believe you, because an accurate Mist wouldn’t say that, you evil… chupacabra.”
Jordi continued, unabated, “And then you were sent to Barcaza til the end of your life.”
“No, that doesn’t make sense. You all are lying again. I was only gonna be on the garbage boat for like a decade, tops. What, did they expect to just keep slapping me with fines for nine more decades to keep me there?”
Kaylee looked at Jorge. She sighed heavily, took off her surgical mask and put her hands on his shoulders. “Honey, you could die at any moment. You’re a dud. You don’t have much time to live. We’re trying to save you.”
Kaylee squinted as though he could rebuke her at any moment.
“This pot is making me see things clearer, clearly, real clear. Is that why you chose me? Duds are perfect guinea pigs because they don’t live long. Plus, without a real, linked up Mist, no one would notice if I was gone. And I’m like, an ideal test subject, because I can solve some of your little programming problems, too! That’s sick. Making me work on ways for you to experiment on me! That’s so meta,” said Matteo.
“We are helping you, Matteo. The Rangers left you for dead…” Kaylee was tearing up, “Not so long ago you were dyin’ in a heap of garbage. With no friends. Now, we gave you a new life with a clean criminal record!”
“Yeah, I get it. We all fucking get it, don’t we?” He looked at Kaylee for agreement, forgetting she was the enemy. “Jorge wants new tools for his toolbox. So that’s what Jorge will get. A new crisper tool to enslave the masses on a galactic scale. Except you’re not even a real alien! I met your brother.”
Jorge lifted the mirrored lenses that shadowed his eyes onto the top of his head. He locked a gaze with Matteo and Matteo saw universes in them.
“Matteo. We really, really need that enzyme. If we had crisper we’d have everything. We could right so many wrongs, together,” said Kaylee.
“Right what wrongs? I am a dud, not a wrong. Or a guinea pig. Or mouse. Or fruit fly or yeast or C. elegance,” said Matteo.
“Elegans. Listen, we’re not bad guys, here. Ok? We’re doing you a favor.” Kaylee turned to sit on a lab stool and sighed.
“If this is such a good deal why don’t you volunteer? Or Jorge?”
“Well obviously it wouldn’t work on me, I am not a human,” said Jorge.
“AH! YES YOU ARE!” said Matteo and Kaylee in odd unison.
“So… wanna give us the crisper sequence, hehe…?” she asked.
“You’re fucking joking,” said Matteo.
“Kaylee, do something,” said Jorge.
“I’m in science, not public relations, goddangit!” she shouted, “Uh…”
Jorge walked over with a loaded syringe equipped with a low gauge needle.
“Oh chingado, Mendoza. Of course, the tranquilizers were for me, duh… “ Matteo felt a muted dull pressure on his arm and closed his eyes. He searched for a thought and latched onto a notion and wondered if he’d see Concha again.
Then he heard Jorge’s garbled voice, as though underwater. “He’s in immunological shock.” And “That’s impossible! There’s not a single human cell that isn’t O…” and “Better if he’s put down into rest… like deeper, this time.” And “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” coming from Kaylee, frantic. He had a conflicted urge to soothe her. The inky black curtains appeared again, with dreams of Concha.
Ranger Mike shone his flashlight around the exterior of the raspa stand, shadows forming behind cracking white paint and the creases of his face. He was sure the dud was hiding inside. Dumbass dud thought he could make a fool out of Ranger Mike by playing innocent at The Shifty. In front of hot little Anna, no less. All newbies had to learn the game the hard way.
Ranger Mike couldn’t wait to see the look on his face when he threw him back in his cell. He’d point to the logs and watch the dud witness his debt go up by 2,000 Byte. The best part, though, would be when he offered to buy him a bag of Takis, on account the whole extra paycheck he’d get for retrieving him!
The door to the raspa stand was left open. Enough evidence to investigate a possible break-in, he thought. He stepped halfway in, checking each corner of the small structure with the flashlight. Nothing seemed out of place. He stepped inside.
The sound of the soles of his boots grating against the wooden planks was authoritarian music to his ears. He nudged a box of styrofoam cups, checked underneath a table, and looked in a storage closet. Nobody could hide anywhere in such a small place. His shoes had become sticky from syrup, so he wiped them on the rug, moving it a few inches off-center.
He walked out, did a final survey with his light and then clicked it off. And that’s when a thin sliver of light became noticeable, peeking through a space in the floor the rug had concealed. He crept back in, pulled it off and swung the trapdoor open.
An alarm blazed through Matteo’s ear canals. He managed a swollen eyelid open. His pupil dipped in and out of the tiny window open to the world. A figure was scuffling with Jorge and Kaylee. Beams of blinding light. Then he had the sense of being carried upside down, or possibly right side up after being upside down for an extended period of time. A quick view of gravel moving underneath him. Inky black curtains again, but this time, he had no dreams.
Kaylee had fucked up. She could now see very clearly how she was just as much in the wrong as Ranger Mike was for trying to capture Matteo.
With that in mind, she grabbed a tranquilizer and went right for the Ranger’s jugular. As he slumped over onto the floor, she told Jorge the experiment was canceled. She had Jorge help her carry Ranger Mike to his squad car, set the autopilot course for Marfa, and punched the engine start.
Together, they stabilized Matteo’s vitals and took him to his home. Hopefully, his mom would be able to bring him back to a better measure of health. She’d been a very successful curandera, according to the file they had on her.
When they got back to the raspa stand, they started gutting the whole lab, everything they had worked to build. With the Rangers soon to be aware of the location, they had to act quickly. They’d packed the wagon with the most important data sets and the last of the rare physicals. She walked around their lab one last time before leaving for good.
She turned out the lights on the first floor. “Wait, it’s not like Concha gave him crisper to memorize,” said Kaylee.
“Check his Mist for his time with the woman,” said Jorge.
“No, that won’t work at all. Concha not only scrambled our spying on them, but she totally fried his Mist. She’s smart. Probably didn’t want any kind of record of herself wherever Matteo ended up… wait. Crisper — it’s got to be in his bag.” She lunged for the trash, and pulled out his backpack. She tossed “Persistence of Personality” aside. “Here! I’ll bet my best standardbred it’s on this GameBoy cartridge!” Her heart leapt.
“If it’s not under lock, we can have crisper synthesized in less than an hour,” Jorge said, the peptide synthesizer in a cardboard box his hand. “Did you just say you have a racing horse? What kind of bet are we talking here?”
“Oh, shutup — I’m not serious. Let’s just go for it,” she replied. “And then I’m done with this biohacking bullcrap forever.” When Matteo came to she’d make sure to have delivered all the tools he needed to save himself, if he chose to.