Thursday, July 7, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 4, 2398

“Hey,, Abdoor—uh...”
“You’re close, sir. It’s Abdulrashid.”
“I knew that.”
“You can just call me Ramses.”
“No, I need to learn.”
His boss doesn’t say anything more.
“Is that all you wanted to do; learn my name?”
“Oh, no. Umm. Look, here’s the thing. I know you’ve already been working for us for a bunch of years, or whatever, but corporate has this new policy where everybody who starts at a new location—be it their first day with us, or a transfer—has to be run through another background check.”
“Most of it is easy, I literally just copied and pasted your living, work, and education histories from your transfer papers. But there’s one thing you’re gonna hafta do yourself.”
Ramses thinks about it for a moment. “The drug test.”
Oswald nods, and echoes, “the drug test.”
“That’s fine.” Ramses may no longer have his superpowers anymore, but he knows how to eat and live healthily, so his system is likely cleaner than anyone else’s in this joint. It definitely doesn’t have any drugs in it. “I can pee in a cup.”
Oswald contorts his face. “Pee in a cup? Why the hell would you do that? I’m talking about a blood test to make sure you don’t have any illegal substances in your body. I’m not sure what pee and cups have to do with anything.”
Oh, this world is different.
Oswald takes another sip from his fountain drink, but no longer has the taste for it after Ramses’ remark. “Ugh. Pee in a cup,” he says again, muttering under his breath. “You’re one crazy dude, Abdul-Jabbar.” There is no way, in a reality where people give blood samples instead of urine samples for drug screenings, that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also exists. The point of divergence was far too long ago.
Stockboy sneaks up to Rames by the side. “Have you even ever had a drug screening before?” he asks, sipping at his own drink, unfazed by the conversation that he obviously heard.
No, he’s never taken one before. In his time, using recreational drugs was rare, so people just assumed you weren’t on them. If you were, and it didn’t negatively impact your productivity, then probably no one would notice. But if they did catch you...
“You’re taking too long to answer,” Stockboy muses.
That’s right, he spends too much time in his head. It’s a habit he picked up from Mateo. “Of course I’ve had one. I spent some time in Croatia. The complex where I wanted to live had a strict drug policy, which required multiple forms of testing. You can test for drugs in urine, we just don’t normally do it.”
“Weird. And gross.”
Ramses sighs, and looks over at him. “Get back to that smart speaker that’s stuck on a triple echo.”
“Sir, yes sir!” he mocks with an equally disrespectful salute.
Now that the coast is clear, Leona feels comfortable approaching Ramses to discuss something sensitive. “You remember that our background information is fake, right?”
“Right,” Ramses agrees.
“So when they run a real check on you, that’s what they’ll find...nothing. The forger didn’t fake a background check, she faked the results.”
“Oh, shit. We’re exactly the kind of people those things are meant to look out for.”
“Not exactly,” Leona corrects.
“Wait, you just had your own check, when you first started here. How did you handle it?”
“I had to go pay the forger again. She was not happy. She said she never wanted to see our faces once we left the first time.”
“I have to work late today, and fill in for Bruno tomorrow.” He looks at her with his deep set Persian puppy dog eyes.
“You want me to go back a third time?”
“Pleeeeeeeaaaase? I just don’t know how much time we need.”
“I guess I don’t really wanna go to work, so...all right.” She takes off her apron. “But you’re finishing my shift here.” She hangs it on his neck.
“Great,” Ramses decides. “I’ll call it cross-training. Thank you so much for this.”
“Sure, Rambo.”

Leona calls Mateo to pick her up, and drop her off at the forger’s secret hideout. He asks to go in with her, but she won’t allow it. The forger will be even unhappier than she was the last time, and they don’t need to compound that problem with extra people. Leona is confident that she can handle it on her own, and it’s true that she doesn’t feel like going back to the lab anyway.
“You’re not mad?”
“Why would I be mad,” the forger asks.
“You were mad last time.”
“You silly Egyptian water lily, I was kidding!”
“What’s with you?” Leona questions. “You don’t smile.”
“You don’t know me that well.”
“It’s exceedingly obvious that you don’t smile. You don’t give off the right vibe.”
“Oh, it’s—relax, we’re all friends here.”
“I feel like you’re about to tell me that...” Leona trails off. She takes a receipt out of her purse, and scribbles down a note that reads, Is this place bugged?
“No, we’re not bugged. I’m not trying to trick you, I’m just being friendly.”
“To what end?”
“To...” Her demeanor drops with each following word as she struggles to maintain the charade. “I don’t know what a normal person would say in this scenario.”
“They would tell the truth,” Leona explains.
The forger scoffs. “No, they wouldn’t.”
“Do you need something from me?”
“Do you need something from me?” she returns annoyingly.
“Yes, I need an emergency background check interception.”
“And in return, you want,” Leona prompts.
“Oh, I don’t want anything,” the forger begins. “However, maybe in the future there could be something that you could get me?”
Leona narrows her eyes. “Something, like what?”
“Well, you work at that lab.”
“You got me in there. You could send anyone you wanted.”
“Honest hour? I didn’t think your fake university transfer would work.” She grimaces. “I’m glad to know it did, though.”
Leona ponders the offer. It would be dangerous, but that’s not the problem. The problem is she doesn’t know what it is yet. So here’s hoping that it’s worth it. “Fine.”

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