art by Erin Cardwell
The door unlatched, cracking open the middle of Arich’s screen. Gossamer entered and gave a small bow.
“You wanted to see me?” He squinted against the light of the projector.
“Yes,” Arich said, muting the video of the grum clip he was watching. He had to find a way for Trinta to beat Rhene. It was essential to her credibility as a grummer. “Come sit.”
The peacekeeper hovered next to the screen, a phantom Rhene — hanging upside-down — seeming to punch him in the groin.
“Do you know anything else about the PFA that you haven’t already told me?”
“I haven’t been withholding anything — not intentionally at least. Is there something you want to know?”
Arich shook his head. Sirius‘ scheme was so radical, even Gossamer might think better of it and tip off the stripes.
“Who services the PFA?”
“Tormer is the head of the analysis team…”
“Does she manage the software and hardware of the PFA?”
“Some of the software, I think. But the IT for the Hedron is managed by a group from the Utility and Communications Department.”
“Do they manage the pax servers as well?”
“I assume so. Are you planning something?”
“Nothing yet. Just gathering intelligence. What else can you tell me?”
“The PFA team works by recognizing patterns associated with criminal activities, and then using those patterns to determine what you and Sirius are up to.”
You and Sirius. Arich loved it when people said that. He’d worked hard to become Sirius’ most trusted canid. Someday, maybe Sirius would see him as more than a partner in crime, but when it came to leisure, he always favored Eris.
“Go on,” Arich said.
“The signals where they look for patterns are already noisy. You might be able to find a way to drown out the real signal.”
“Any suggestions on how to do that?”
“You could have your customers get directions to a random address when they’re leaving your bordellos. It seemed to work when you started having them get directions to nearby businesses instead of the actual front.”
“That might buy us a few weeks. But it’s not a permanent fix.”
The projection of Rhene squared off against another grummer, ignoring a fight less than a meter from her left elbow. He stopped, pulled up the previous clip side-by-side with this one. This one was a nearly identical situation but on her right side. He rolled the clip. Rhene took a step back to buy herself time to evaluate the other fighters before engaging her opponent. Could she… be blind in her left eye? Probably not, but he’d have Trinta try to exploit any possible weakness.
Gossamer’s eyebrows shot up. “What if you have them query, not a random address, but a distribution of addresses that will look similar to the opening of a new bordello centered on a legitimate business. Widen the field with some false positives.”
“If we’re going that far, why not skew the existing distributions systematically, have them center on a legitimate business a block away.”
“Even better. That way, even true positives will seem like false ones.”
Arich hesitated. If he had Trinta come charging at Rhene from the left every time, it would give away that she knew her secret and Rhene would be ready for it. They needed to be more subtle.
“Perhaps we shouldn’t change our behavior too abruptly. We don’t want them to know we’re forging the signals they rely on.”
He dismissed the second video and loaded another of the first grum, this one from a different angle. Then he merged the two together into a sim. The projection became grainier and bits of the action fuzzed out sometimes, but a 3D view was the right tool for the job.
He stood, swinging the virtual camera around so that he was viewing the grum from Rhene’s perspective. The fight on her left was clearly in view and a mere step away.
He closed his left eye and the conflict disappeared. Rhene was either blind or foolhardy. Either was good news for Trinta.
He turned off the projector and turned to Gossamer.
“Could we tap into the PFA and see what they see? Maybe we could move our businesses before their locations reach the level of detection?”
“Maybe. You’d have to be hardwired in to circumvent the network security protocols.”
“Hardwired in where?”
“I’m not sure where the pax servers are located. It’s not general knowledge.”
“Do you know who is on the IT team that services them?”
Gossamer dictated the names to Arich’s tablet and went back to his beat with a few extra dunnets.
Arich followed him to the door, beckoning in the girl he had sitting outside. She was no more than 12. Girls of her age made the best hounds. They were sly enough to follow even an Alpha, and innocent-looking enough not to arouse suspicion.
He handed his tablet to her. She took it without a word and read it. After a few seconds, she handed it back to him, repeating all the names on the list.
“Those folks need a tail. They’re not stripes, even though they all work at the Hedron. But I think that they work somewhere else, too. I need to know where. Take as many hounds with you as you need. I want this done as soon as possible.”
She nodded and bounded away.
Read the next chapter: Yazen