Jorge watched as Matteo gained some control of his mind and body again in the truck bed. Their other captor, a child appearing to be around ten Earth years, stared at Matteo. Jorge made sure their their wrists were securely ziptied.
“What is this?” Matteo said to Jorge.
“The end, yo pienso,” said the boy. The truck hit a bump every couple of seconds. The boy stuck his eyes up high into their sockets, curious and exaggerated like all restless kids.
“So, how long has it been since you have been to Church, old brother?” the boy said.
“Brother? I don’t have any family left that I know about,” said Matteo. “Not even a real friend.” He looked at Jorge, now recognizing him fully. Jorge thought about drugging him.
The kid continued, “I’m speaking in the religious sense. You should try it too, some time. Tu y yo, nosotros estamos igual. We are the same, brother.” He smiled wide, with teeth a bit too big for his jaw.
“You have some confidence in you, mijo,” said Matteo.
“You’re both sick,” said Concha, from the driver’s cabin, the green from a glowscreen spilling onto their faces. “He’s not like you, and he’s not a kid. Unlike you, though, he actually did crack immortality, and expanded it to reverse his age, all without needing anybody’s blood.”
Jorge thought about how quickly human technology had flourished, even when underground, in the span of less than a century. He was also interested in whether Concha would finally give in to Kaylee’s wishes and join them as immortals. Drama was an interesting sideshow of this planet. He wondered if he could convert it into some useful technology…
The odds of Concha joining LUFAW were fifty-fifty, he surmised. She was a rare personality type. Sentimental in severe ways. She always remembered his birthdays, both of them. It was impossible for humans to conceive of a binary star system — easily, anyway. Kaylee had given her both Matteo and now the key to curing her own aging. She had to appreciate that.
“There’s a reason it’s called eternal youth, bughunter. Many consider me a god,” said the boy.
“No, that is not an accurate definition of ‘god’ in your language,” said Jorge.
“Quiet.” Concha focused on the traffic. Jorge thought it was a good move for her to drive since auto-pilot was susceptible to hackers, especially when transporting valuable cargo.
The boy leaned into Matteo and whispered, “Our colony never preyed on any real kids. We’re all very, very old adults.” His voiced raised, “Older and wiser than modern elders or immortals that were born that way. We know what it is to have been subject to death.”
Concha parked just on the water’s edge and Jorge opened the back doors. Jorge guided Matteo and the boy to a small skiff while Concha prepared her jetski to tow them. From a mile out, the Barcaza looked like a shredded diaper afloat in a bathtub.
“You’re taking me back to jail? Come on,” said Matteo.
“No. It’s no longer a jail. We acquired it some time ago,” said Jorge.
“We?” asked Matteo.
“LUFAW,” said Concha.
At that, the old boy visible lost his composure.
“Turns out you can get richer using information rather than just deleting it or uploading it to some AI like the Rangers were. Also, being mobile comes in handy for getting into international waters when we need to use our labs,” she said. “Not that any of that is really your concern.
The ride out was choppy, but Concha had little trouble docking their craft next to other rafts and paddle boats. Jorge untied their hands. There was really no escape for these two. Drugs were probably not needed.
They climbed the base of structure easily. When the incline became impossible, they made use of makeshift steps made out of beer boxes which led to a ladder. Concha motioned for him to proceed and at the top was a round opening with a fire station pole positioned in the center. Matteo slid down first, then the boy, then Concha, and finally Jorge dropped down.
They had entered at the perimeter of a circular room, which held what looked like three clear acrylic hair salon chairs. A stained-glass window, showing adult Jesus praying beside a lamb was fixed into the trash-walls, near the dome ceiling. At this time of day, it filled the interior with vibrant colors.
A corn-fed bro in dreads and a Mexican poncho welcomed Matteo and the boy with cold Mexican Cokes.
“What’s up, mi amigos? Don’t answer that. Just gonna guide you through the process here. All you need to do is sit down and relax. Concha knows what’s up. Don’t piss her off and you’ll be fine,” he said. Jorge had either liked or been indifferent to most humans, but this one stood out as what he could only imagine was the human concept of annoying.
Matteo and the kid sat down. The bro adjusted each chair’s netcap to a tight fit onto each skull. Concha checked the linkages, which connected through vintage metal wiring to a computing hub in an actual shoebox. A single, thick cord connected a more powerful console to the box. Jorge never tired of silently marveling at Kaylee’s ability to produce circuitry.
“You’re not going to get away with this,” said the boy. The man pulled an electric razor from the pocket in his poncho and quickly buzzed the boy’s and Matteo’s hair.
“I would turn y’all both in to the Rangers, but they’re just as bad as you. Besides, they’re soft. They’d let you grow old, and once your neurons re-organize naturally over time, the jail sentence would expire,” said Kaylee.
Jorge thought about whether the process of neuronal reorganization could find application on a planetary scale. Hmm. He watched Matteo’s reaction to seeing Kaylee again for the first time. She was dressed in monochrome maroon and worked at some machinery. There was something in Matteo’s face that Jorge couldn’t quite interpret. Maybe he would spend time working on a facial analysis program he abandoned years ago.
“It’s a fool’s errand,” the boy continued, straining to face her, “I don’t have Mist. My guess is this fella don’t either. None of us trust it. Unless you have hard evidence for the Rangers… something on a drive or — ”
The netcaps made a sucking sound as they fused with the skin of their skulls.
Concha and Kaylee’s Mistviews brightened as they saw the immense history of the two very old brains.
Jorge was hooked up to everything such that he could see the neuronal analysis as well as Kaylee’s private mental analysis of the data in real time. And he saw how she thought: So many fractal patterns, spiraling, worsening.
Steam escaped the box and Kaylee’s console glowscreen flooded with processes. “That right there is fifteen hundred and thirteen unsolved assaults and murders,” Kaylee whistled, “Got to be worth a couple trips to Whataburger.”
The rest of LUFAW just smiled.
The shoebox vibrated and the glowscreen went black, then it showed an animated ellipsis.
“That covers the memories. And the gene data?” said Concha.
“Normally, I’d get right to it. But, I know you cared for this mosquito at one point. Now, hear me out. You know very well I believe the world spins on second chances. We could erase any negative memories that might’ve made him behave the way — ” said Kaylee.
“Wait! Wait, I see why I was wrong. I can change,” Matteo said, his voice trembling.
Concha sighed. “You killed like a million people, man. Do you want me to go down the list? It’s right here on my Mistview. I’ll start with that poor nurse you killed… ” she said, her arms crossed, her stance widening.
“Shit. Women hurt me all the time and I don’t hold a grudge, you know. I was hoping people would forget… ” said Matteo. “I forgot.”
“Our Mist doesn’t forget. Neither did they,” said Kaylee.
“Remember how good I was when we met? I opened doors for you. I helped clean up the bar. Paid the whole tab at the end of the night. I searched day and night for you after. That was brave! I changed for the worse, yes. I can change back, for the better, too,” he said.
“Don’t give them the satisfaction,” said the boy.
“Now that you mention it, all that nice stuff you did — it was just as bad. Just a different type of bad. Anyway, isn’t that what you’ve always been after? You’d love to start over, feel the tingling excitement of the first infatuation, the first chase all over again. So, nah, fuck you. Hit it, Kaylee,” said Concha.
“Alright, then. Here we go!” said Kaylee.
“Hold on!” said Concha, her hands held up in earnest. “Can you make it hurt?”
“Will do!” said Kaylee.
Matteo and the ancient boy were dissociated and drawn in through the netcap leads. Channels inside of the chairs picked apart each cell’s component, recording every atom’s orientation. The structures turned opaque red and the remains of the two men drained somewhere below the Barcaza.
After a few minutes, Kaylee picked at the side of her console, teasing out a smoldering memory card, full of both men’s DNA and physiological structure.
“Just put it through diagnostics to make sure everything’s still there… once it cools. Don’t worry, I got the original backup on our system already, as usual. Then, highest bidder, as always,” Kaylee said and sighed relief.
Concha smiled back, “Hundred Byte says you don’t find any malaria DNA. That fool couldn’t grow a cell culture to save his life.”
“You got it.”
Concha and the man in the poncho left together to go to the interior of the Barcaza to start shopping all the new data. Jorge was 99% sure Concha would join. Her vocal patterns were different as were her movements. Something had changed in her.
Jorge walked up close to Kaylee. He gently put his hand on her shoulder, just like a real human would.
“Just saw the new memory files. Callous. I guess I don’t know what I expected from a planet that eats animals.” He immediately suspected he had chosen the wrong words.
“Hey now, I only eat plants,” said Kaylee. “You know that.” She laughed. Maybe he didn’t say anything too offensive, after all.
“Plants are animals on my home planet, too,” he said.
“Dang it, Jorge,” she said.
“I should not expect better from a planet with such violent weather, either,” he mused. “Brutal animals always evolve on planets with violent weather.”
“Geez, ok, but do you have to make it sound so prejudiced,” said Kaylee.
“Do I really sound like I do in Matteo’s memories?”
“Monotone and annoying? Yes,” she said.
Jorge shrugged, then he said, “Check out what Matteo was doing on year sixteen, day one hundred forty, 2:56 p.m. Matteo was actually really quite good at programming.”
“Geez, I envy how quickly you get through memory analysis,” Kaylee held one thumbnail on her teeth, and started to hack away at Matteo’s clouds of memory. “Shit. Do you even know what this means?”
“Yeah, I could’ve used his help on adapting Magic: The Gathering to digital,” said Jorge.
“He was designing neurosensory programs to hypnotize women into dating him. We got him. Sonia got him! He paralyzed her and by proxy, killed her grandma. He was guilty all along. It had nothing to do with kidnapping or experimenting…”
Just at that moment, her parallel query into his DNA came up as well. “Hmmph. Just what Concha suspected, too. No malaria DNA anywhere in Matteo. Nothing wrong with dud genes, either, just like all the other duds we’ve seen. Dude was just shitty.”
Jorge didn’t know everything about humans yet, but he knew this could be the closure Concha needed. There was no doubt Kaylee would figure out how the old boy had tricked his body to become young again. Concha could be saved from her aging, if she chose.
“She’s got to say ‘yes’ to life, now,” said Kaylee. “All’s not lost.” Stained water lapped underneath the garbage floor beneath her.
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