Matteo woke late in the afternoon to the familiar contours and smells of a rust-colored couch. He was home, at his mom’s house, an impossibility only a week ago. What a mistake he made trusting LUFAW. He should’ve run away with Concha when he had the chance. A real romantic.
He breathed in deeply and inspected himself. Jagged arm tracts, check. Patches of skin ripped off, check. Broken ribs, check. Blurry vision, yup. And his tongue found a sharp kink on his front tooth. It was really sensitive to cold air, too. He took a minute to pin waking thoughts down to present reality.
Now, Jorge and Kaylee’s words shook him. The day of his arrest, had his mom really known the Rangers were going to take him? Given up to the Rangers, to die somewhere, out of sight, a mutant freak of society, a bastard of science gone awry, as agreed upon and signed electronically somewhere on a server on the hour of his adoption.
Maybe he could find that record on a physical somewhere, print it, and drop it on the kitchen table for his mom to find.
The house shrank around him like a glowscreen hologram scaling down to nothing after the power was pulled. Mom was nowhere to be found. He tried to stand from the couch and collapsed into a roll. In another few minutes, he was able to lift himself into a crawling position, and pushed himself to the bathroom, where he climbed to the sink to wash his face and spit up as much blood as possible into hot running water. The steam seemed to draw out some portion of the side effects of whatever Jorge and Kaylee had pumped into his veins.
He walked upright by bracing himself against the walls, all the way to the kitchen, where he inhaled a bottle of Gatorade. He got back to the couch, laid down, and stared at the ceiling fan. The blades moved too slowly to cool the room.
Matteo felt the midday humidity slap his face and enter his lungs before he heard the front door open. The view of the front yard was forced into pixels by the tiny squares of the screen door. He squinted to see her standing in the doorway, and he murmured, “Estrella, llena de pensimientos…”
“Estrella, su mama.” She inhaled.
She was a full inch taller than he, but she seemed smaller, now. Maybe she was starting to shrink already like all old women do. He yawned, followed the lines on her face down to a hint of stubble and sighed, “Mom.”
“Ay mijo, I didn’t think I’d see you again. Como te escapo?” She secured every lock on the doors behind her and soaked up the view of her son.
“You knew. Didn’t you?” he asked, sounding much less betrayed than he felt.
She stopped looking at him and turned to put down her purse and bag. “Knew? De que estas hablando?”
Matteo sighed, knowing she held emotion back only when things were hitting her especially hard.
“Ah, okay. Okay. Ya sabes,” her penetrating gaze now back on him, “They got to me cuando eras bebe. You know, nosotros, las brujas, we stay off-Mist. We always have. Don’t be mad at me. You were such a delicate boy. I could always feel it, that you had a sickness. I am not ashamed… How could I tell you? Ven aca. You are still mine.” She embraced him, setting one arm across his back, with her hand on the back of his head. “How could I say it to you?” She sniffed his hair. “Hmph. Huele como… sangre de gallo.”
“Chicken blood? Uh? Oh! Yes. Si, nosotros tuvimos chachalakas. Something happened and two died. I must still have some of the blood on me somewhere”
“No, it’s not on you. Eres tu,” she prodded the center of his chest with a long finger, “Tu tienes mala sangre.”
“What? No, no, you’re wrong,” said Matteo.
She drew a longer breath through his hair. “Ah, ese pinche Barcaza, es mucho basura. I can’t tell. You need a bath.” Still close, she put her fingertips on his neck. A physical glowscreen embedded to her collarbone changed color. “Sicker than the last time… the last time I saw you.” She turned away and said, “Did you have any money with you?”
“No, ma. Whatever Byte I had is not even covering the debt I left on the barge. If they were even recording any of it to begin with.” When he was upset with her, she always reminded him of his responsibilities to her. He would be more upset, but at least they were together.
“And no data to trade?” she asked, faking surprise.
“I was kidnapped — right out of jail. There wasn’t any time for dragging along a bunch of physicals,” he said.
“Not drives, the plankton, algae, many many years of informacion in esos animales. All of them in the water. They listen to the drives and nobody knows it, out on the Barcaza. Worth even more than ese pinche Tamagoncheh… Tienes novia?”
“Ay, mom. Not now.” Matteo’s eyebrows compressed. But eventually he told her everything about Concha. And if there was one thing she didn’t need detailed bioanalysis for, it was knowing when her son was lost in a crush.
“Que bueno. I can’t wait to meet her. Matteo, I’m sorry. You know I was younger than you when I got you. I didn’t know how to raise any kid. And now that I’m older, I’m sorry I couldn’t save you. You know I have influence… and power. Just not over the Rangers,” she said.
“Si. I know. It’s ok,” Matteo said and hugged her. He laid back down. What a crazy week it had been.
His mom went into the kitchen and he heard her unlock the back door. The next thing he heard were heavy footsteps and the smell of leather belts and holsters.
“Quien es? Oh, fuck!” he said.
Three Rangers pushed into the house. They shoved the kitchen table aside and moved towards the living room.
“Dillo sends his regards,” said a bullish one.
“Ama? Ama!” He glanced at the front door, locked, and used what little strength he had to bolt for the bathroom, doubling back to grab an old console and bag of clothes in his room. He then flew through the bathroom, pulling the shower curtain off its secures.
He squeezed through the small window, scraping his torso and limbs. Fuck Dillo, he thought. Fuck Dillo and fuck LUFAW.
Once in the backyard, he saw his mom on her knees, sobbing. Beyond the backyard fence he saw the racer.
::Why are you upset? His AI sounded very feminine.
“She’s my mom. They’re putting her through too much, even after she was the one to take care of me. Probably Dillo is behind this bullshit…” His shock met the first hints of a hopeless anger. “What happened to the other AI?”
::No te precupes. The old AI was recalled. Too glitchy, I see here he nearly killed you. Que lastima. He wasn’t a real mentor, anyway. But I do understand his perspectives, so I will keep that in mind as I soothe you. Let me tell you something about your mom. Ella no compartio su sangre. And she hid who you really were from you. She didn’t try to save you from the Rangers then and she didn’t try to save you —
Matteo sniffled. “You don’t know what you’re saying. No entiendes…” He ran to the bike.
A Ranger was managing his body through the bathroom window. Estrella charged him. She wasn’t going to let them take him again, this time.
The engine started up quickly and there was a sticky note on the dash that read: UNTRACEABLE, ENJOY. “Fuck you, Kaylee,” he said to himself. The least LUFAW could do was return his bike, but to pretend as though it wasn’tbugged was an insult.
A gunshot blasted. He drove off, pretending he hadn’t heard it for a second, then turned to see what had happened. His mom lay limp, bloodied in the grass. He screamed and whipped the bike around, wanting revenge, but was met with a barrage of shots from all three Rangers. He quickly turned off into an alley. Dillo would pay for their sins.
There was only one place he could go to evade Dillo, the Rangers, and LUFAW: Distrito Loteria.
He pivoted around deep potholes through the neighborhood, the older ways of Alamo City played out on the left and right sides of the street like movie sets on train tracks. Abuelitas made-up in dresses and their mustached heroes in tucked button downs, ate charro beans on fold-out tables in their parkways. Some kids and grandkids chewed on barbecue while catching them up on life out in the new suburbs with the new car. Tejano and Cumbia buzzed through old speakers at reasonable volumes. One radio speaker was mounted onto an oak tree.
::Both of them betrayed you, mi amor.
The family that lived on the corner house was burning trash in the backyard. Two chubby faces, a boy and a girl, were illuminated by the glow as they crouched, watching from the rooftop. Next door was a tiny blossom of apartments filled with drug addicts and cheap-tech addicts and their kids.
It was as if nobody had died just a moment ago.
He merged onto 281 South and the town felt silent and vacants after ten minutes of driving. He felt exposed and alone, as though he’d done something wrong and the city was punishing him for it.
His bike worked with the downward slopes but wobbled the more it coasted. Behind him, the whole circle of Alamo City, space needle short and prominent, looked like an icing whorl on a glittery pan dulce mollete. In the far distance, he could barely see the soft crests of the northern hill country in the bike’s rear mirrors. Some hills were frosted with snow and crowned with with 200 foot high crucifixes.
He drove south past the Loteria mall, taking a hard left eastward. After twenty minutes of riding, the old markets vanished and he reached a sandy trail that ended in the strung lights of an unnamed trailer park.