Archive for corruption

Selecting Faces Chapter 14: Gossamer

Gossamer - dirty peacekeeper character from Selecting Faces

art by Erin Cardwell

Gossamer shivered as he walked into the bloodhouse, sliding the glass of his helmet up over his head. Arich was so careful to preserve his cover, never communicating with him using any digital means, instead always sending a hound to go summon him. Receiving a call from Arich directly was disturbing.

He saw Arich sitting at a booth on the far side of the hazy room with someone he didn’t recognize. She had the look of a skinner, but had an exoskin on. Gossamer went and sat down at the next booth, back-to-back with Arich.

“We only have a few minutes,” Arich’s voice said from over his shoulder.

“What’s going on?”

“I found where the PFA servers are. Sirius doesn’t want to hack them; he wants to blow them up.”

Gossamer nearly turned around to look at Arich, but restrained himself from revealing his association with the canid to an entire roomful of civilians.

“I need you to stop him. Give the stripes a tip that some fanatic is going to try and destroy the communications hub of the city.”

“You’re betraying Sirius?”

“I don’t have any other choice.”

“And if I can’t stop him? What happens to us?”

“If you don’t stop him, the Colony will collapse. Thousands of people will die in the ensuing anarchy, quite possibly including both of us. But if you succeed, I can make you a Beta canid. Or you can be a hero among the stripes, if that’s what you want.”

“I Okay. I’ll do it.”

“Good. Go now. Sirius is on his way already.”

“Where are the servers?”

“You can’t go after him yourself. He’ll recognize you and know I sent you.”

Gossamer cursed. Arich was right. And that wasn’t the only reason he couldn’t go himself. How would he explain his presence there if he did succeed?

Gossamer stood, sauntering toward the restroom. If anyone was watching, walking straight out of the bloodhouse would be suspicious. As far as him speaking at an otherwise empty table, they’d just assume he’d been speaking to his pax.

When he got to the hallway leading to the restrooms, he pushed through the door into the kitchen. He passed a waiter who gave him an odd look, but said nothing. He found the rear airlock where supplies were brought in.

A teenage delivery boy was passed out on the floor nearby. He had an ambrosia bottle in his limp hand.

Gossamer pushed the button for the airlock. After a few seconds, he got an idea.

Then he knelt down beside the youth. He plucked the ambrosia bottle from between his fingers, then slapped his uncovered face. The delivery boy howled. Gossamer dragged him to his feet and into the airlock.

The boy finally realized it was a stripe whose fingers were digging into his arm, and the blood drained from his otherwise ruddy face.

The doors to the airlock slid closed, sealing them off alone.

“I have a job for you,” Gossamer said.

“What do you mean?”

“You just overheard a canid planning to blow up something called the PFA.”

“The Pax Feed Aggregate? Why?”

“Shut up! Just send a message to the Hedron saying you overheard some canids planning on blowing up the PFA, and soon. An hour at most.”

“Why?”

Gossamer held up the ambrosia bottle. “I could arrest you now. I’m sure that would go over well with your parents.”

The boy gulped, then nodded.

“Go ahead.”

“SN, tell the stripes – peacekeepers, I mean – that I just overheard some canids talking about blowing up the PFA…” he looked for confirmation at Gossamer, who nodded. “It sounded like they were going to do it soon.”

“The message is prepared,” the boy’s pax said.

“Send it.”

“Sent.”

“Can I go now?” the boy asked.

“I want to make sure the message got through.”

The boy moved to pull the glass of his helmet down.

Gossamer stopped him. “Leave it open. I need to hear what your pax says.”

“What if someone tries to open the airlock from the outside? I’ll suffocate.”

“GA, disable this airlock from both sides until I tell you.”

There was a moment’s pause.

“I don’t have access to this airlock’s system,” GA said.

Gossamer sighed. It was hard to know if things like this were sabotage or mere disrepair. “Read me the override code.” GA read him a series of digits which he punched into the touchscreen on the wall. In a moment, it verified that the airlock was disabled.

“The Alpha of the Peacekeeping Department is calling,” the delivery boy’s pax said.

He swallowed hard. “Answer.”

“Sinon,” came Lyden’s voice through his helmet.

“Yes, sir. I mean ma’am.”

“What exactly did you hear?”

Sinon recited again what Gossamer had told him to say.

“What did these people look like?”

Gossamer quickly motioned high.

“One of the guys was tall…”

Gossamer pointed to his face and dimmed the lights in the airlock.

“Pretty dark skin, I guess…”

“That could be Sirius. Who was other?”

Gossamer covered his eyes and turned his back toward Sinon.

“I… I couldn’t see…”

Gossamer pointed more emphatically at his back.

“Oh! His back was to me,” Sinon said.

Lyden paused.

“Who’s there with you?”

Gossamer shook his head at him.

“Lying to an officer is a criminal offense, you know,” Lyden said.

Gossamer pressed the screen to enable the airlock, and then let his finger hover over the button to depressurize.

Sinon stared back for a moment, clearly unsure of what to do. Then he reached up and quickly pulled the glass of his helmet down over his face. “It’s a stripe,” he said as he locked the glass in place.

Gossamer didn’t push the button. It wouldn’t do any good now. Sinon continued speaking, though his voice was muffled now.

“What the hell are you doing?” Lyden’s voice came directly into Gossamer’s own helmet.

“I needed to warn you, but I didn’t want you to know I’d been drinking on duty.”

“So you’re the one who overheard the conversation.”

“Yes.”

“And you think it’s a credible threat?”

“Yes.”

“But you’ve been drinking.”

“I hadn’t even finished my first drink! GA, tell her my BAC is less than 0.2.”

“Gossamer’s blood alcohol content is below detectable limits.”

“So you haven’t been drinking.”

“I – no. Look, I have a contact among the canids, and he told me this is going down right now.”

“You have a contact, or you are the contact.”

“Fine! I’m the contact. Just send someone to stop Sirius from blowing up the PFA!”

“LC, get Apollo on the line. Gossamer, report to Internal Affairs immediately.”


Read the final chapter: Sirius


Selecting Faces Table of Contents

To keep informed about when the each story in Selecting Faces becomes available, follow Arch City Alchemists on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and sign up for the email list below.



Selecting Faces Chapter 4: Dema

Dema - gambler character from Selecting Faces

art by Erin Cardwell

“You’ve got to be burning kidding me!” Dema’s face was flushed as the peacekeeper escorted her from the building — whatever this building was.

The peacekeeper didn’t lay a hand on her; there was no need. She had an Achilles on her ankle.

They emerged from a row of buildings of varying heights onto a bustling, steel-paved street. Dema turned back to her escort as they stepped out under the black, starry sky.

“Who is this?” Dema whispered to DL, her pax. Peacekeepers on duty could be identified upon request.

“Officer Zandish,” DL replied.

“Mr. Zandish,” Dema said, fixing him with a candid gaze. “My boyfriend is planning on proposing tonight. He’s supposed to be meeting me at Orion’s Bistro in…”

“You’re now 4 minutes late,” DL said inside her helmet.

“…I’m actually a few minutes late already. Please let me off with just a warning so I make it to my date.”

Zandish shook his head.

“Where’s your heart? This is supposed to be one of the most important days of my life.”

“Then it looks like you chose a bad day to go swifting,” Officer Zandish replied. His voice was tired and vacant. He was in his thirties, and his exoskin didn’t hide his growing paunch.

Dema dropped the demeanor of courtesy. “You can’t arrest me for swifting,” she said. “Just give me the fine so I can make it to my date.”

“I’m not arresting you for swifting. I’m arresting you for flight from a peacekeeper.”

Dema gave a guttural sigh, and turned back to plodding toward the city center where the Hedron was — and away from Orion’s Bistro. She imagined Zute sitting alone at the restaurant, waiting for her to arrive. He already thought she was commitment-averse. If she stood him up tonight…

She thought about messaging him. But they’d already had a fight about swifting, at the end of which she’d promised to quit. The only way to make him understand was face to face. She’d just have to take her chances on getting there as soon as possible.

She picked up her pace, but not so much that Officer Zandish would think she was trying to run away from him. She just wanted to get to Peacekeeping Headquarters. The sooner they arrived, the sooner she could be on her way.

Officer Zandish didn’t increase his pace. It was as though he knew what she was doing and was deliberately trying to slow her down. Of all the vindictive stripes in the Colony, she had to get caught by this one.

Dema glanced over her shoulder. Officer Zandish was still breathing hard from the chase and was holding his side. A cramp. So many of these peacekeepers let themselves get soft as they got older. It was a wonder he had been able to catch her at all. And he hadn’t really caught her; her heart was just too big for her own good. She should have known it was a trick.

“Come on!” she groaned. “Why are you walking so slow?”

Officer Zandish didn’t reply, but he gave her a look darker and colder than a lunar eclipse.

“I can make it worth your while…” Dema said in a more coaxing tone.

“Should I add ‘attempting to bribe a peacekeeper’ to your list of offenses?”

Dema just sighed again and trudged on.

Despite their excruciatingly slow pace, they finally made it to Peacekeeping Headquarters – twelve minutes after she was supposed to meet Zute. The Hedron was an eight-story building, and equally wide. It was shaped like a triangle at the base and at the roof, with the top triangle rotated so that its corners were aligned with the edges of the bottom triangle. It stood alone in the middle of a wide plaza, with streets radiating from it in three directions.

They entered through the middle pair of double-doors on the closest side. Dema had heard about the Hedron by friends of hers who had been detained here, but this was her first view of its interior. Inside, they passed through a wide, low corridor and then out into a large central atrium. It seemed that all the office space within the Hedron was plastered to the exterior walls, and instead of hallways, all traffic passed around the building on the balconies of the atrium. These balconies were connected with a seemingly random network of catwalks, many of which were sloped from one level to another.

Officer Zandish led her to the center of the atrium, and from there they took one of three sloped catwalks up to the second level. At the top of the ramp they turned right.

“Zandish,” came a woman’s voice from behind them on the balcony.

Dema heard him give the slightest of sighs as he turned back to her. That might be a good sign.

“Yes, Alpha?” he asked.

Alpha? Not a good sign.

Dema turned now, too. The alpha approached them with another peacekeeper beside her.

The alpha’s companion chuckled. “That doesn’t look like the rabble you usually drag in here,” he said to Zandish, motioning to Dema.

“Why? Because she’s too old?” Zandish replied dryly.

“There is that. But you normally bring in both of the swifters.”

“Just one this time.”

“The captain will take it from here,” the alpha said, interrupting them.

“I really shouldn’t take him away from his other duties,” Zandish floundered.

“Now,” she said.

He glowered. “Transfer Achilles control to the captain,” he said to his pax.

“Officer Zandish. A word?” the alpha said, turning and walking up the ramp.

He gave Dema one last glare, then turned and stalked after her.

“What’s the story?” the captain asked, arms folded.

“I was running late for a date with my boyfriend.” Dema explained. “He was planning on proposing tonight. I was swifting, but I wasn’t doing it dangerously.”

The captain nodded. “Officer Zandish can be a little overzealous at times.”

“So you’ll let me off with just a fine?” Dema asked hopefully.

“That depends,” he said leaning back and crossing his arms, “on the size of the fine.”

Dema’s nerves tingled. Handicapping paid the bills, but it didn’t thrill her like gambling. She relished the opportunity to place her bet. Too high, and she’d be gouged. Too low, and he might back out. “I think my friends have been fined fifty dunnets for a first offense.”

The captain pushed himself off of the railing and began walking away. “Let’s get you to detainment,” he said over his shoulder.

“I meant eighty,” Dema said, hurrying to catch up the with the captain.

He paused. “I think the fine for disobeying a peacekeeper’s orders are more like one hundred and fifty dunnets.”

Dema groaned. “How much do I have, DL?”

“One hundred and twenty seven,” DL whispered in her helmet.

“A hundred and twenty is all I have.”

The captain considered it. “I suppose it is your first offense,” he mused, as though to himself.

“Transfer,” Dema said to her pax, grimacing.

“Payment confirmed.”

The captain smiled at her. “Have a nice time on your date.”


Read the next chapter: Perseus


Selecting Faces Table of Contents

To keep informed about when the each story in Selecting Faces becomes available, follow Arch City Alchemists on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and sign up for the email list below.



Selecting Faces Chapter 2: Lyden

art by Erin Cardwell

“Officer Zandish. A word?”

He said nothing, but followed as Lyden turned and led the way.

She strode up one of the catwalks that sloped up from the second tier of the Hedron to the third. She walked without glancing back to make sure he was following, rubbing her temples. She was engulfed by incompetence.

On the third tier, they walked around the perimeter a short way before stepping into a large office with a single desk.

Lyden dropped into her chair, leaning her head back and closing her eyes. She heard the door close as Zandish stood hovering just inside.

“What did I tell you the last time, Zandish?”

“That swifting is the least of your concerns.”

“Uh-huh.” She sighed. “Let me make myself clearer. Don’t arrest swifters.”

“But it’s against the law! And it’s an issue of public safety.”

Lyden sat up abruptly and fixed a firm stare on him. “So are substance abuse and prostitution. Not to mention ‘canid justice.’”

He stiffened.

She stood. She appreciated that he took his job seriously. She actually trusted him more than some of her other peacekeepers because of that fact.

But it took more than a little push to change an orbit.

She came up to him, and gripped his left arm tightly. She dug her fingers into the dark bands on his exoskin that indicated his status as a peacekeeper. “If you drag another swifter in here, you will no longer bear these stripes.”

She caught a whiff of garlic off of him, and a bubble of nausea crept into her stomach. She released his arm and hurried back to her desk. Spinning her chair away from him, she surreptitiously wrapped her arms around her middle and closed her eyes.

She mustered her self-control to speak evenly. “Dismissed.”

She heard him step out, shutting the door behind him.

With him out of the room, she doubled over to help relieve the discomfort in her abdomen.

“When is that doctor’s appointment again?”

“Your first appointment is tomorrow at 1600,” chirped LC, Lyden’s pax.

Lyden closed her eyes. “Turn down your pitch half an octave. You’re shrill.”

“I’m the same as always.”

“Well you sound more shrill today.”

“Is this better?” LC’s voice was still cheerful, but lower.

“Fine. And stop being so chipper!”

Her pax’s response came in a deep, monotone, digitized voice. “Is this better?”

“You’re not funny,” she said even though the banter had made her feel a little better.

LC went silent. She did that sometimes. After a short rally, she would usually go quiet. It wasn’t that she couldn’t come up with a logical — or witty — response. But paxes were programmed to sense when a human was running out of responses and stop short so that the human could have the last word. LC got it right the majority of the time. This was supposed to make Lyden feel like she’d won the argument, and thus feel less hostile toward her pax. It worked. It also tended to make her feel like scum.

“Bring up the PFA, will you.”

The wall across from her was immediately illuminated with a series of images. On the left border were video feeds of her analytics team. Everyone but her linguistics specialist were at their desks.

The center viewport was a 3D rendering of the Colony with vertical bars of various colors rising from each city block.

“Fill me in, Tormer.”

She nodded. “You got it, Alpha. First and most obviously, a body was found at the Earthward mine.”

The viewport shifted, so that it looked like Lyden was flying rapidly over the city, settling on a spike of red that towered out of a steep spiral depression in the regolith.

“Male. Age twenty-three. One Rale Sim.”

Images of the body and his surroundings appeared on the right of the main viewport.

“The cause of death is not clear at this point, but Straya’s diction models of his recent digital activity are consistent with suicide. She can give you more details when she gets back. The autopsy should be back in an hour.”

“Keep me notified.”

“This one’s interesting,” Tormer continued. “We’re detecting a query trend over near the Biorecycling plant…” The camera seemed to swivel and glide back toward the center of the city. All of the colored bars dissolved away except the yellow ones. They were randomly distributed at first, the ones from different blocks rising and falling at different times. Then a wide, irregular ring formed and started to expand outward like a ripple.

Yellow. Prohibited substances. “What does it mean?”

“I couldn’t say for certain, but let me show you this.” The viewport split into two, and the other half showed a similar pattern — though on a smaller scale, and this time in pink.

“This is what we saw when a new bordello opened on the corner of 5th and Sagittarius a few months ago.”

“What are you saying?”

Tormer shrugged. “My best guess: Sirius opened an ambrosia den. The initial ring may have been so large because everyone who lived within a few blocks knew the location on sight. Eventually, though, word spread to folks who needed to ask their paxes for directions.”

Lyden nodded to herself. “He’s responding to the crackdown.” The crackdown had made peddling ambrosia and nectar on the street much riskier. She felt a small surge of satisfaction, knowing that she was forcing him to change his tactics. At the same time, however, she understood that this was a setback.

She set her jaw. She would see this city purged of Canis and the vices it brought in the next eight months if she had to spend ninety hours a week doing it.

“Thank you, Tormer.”

She nodded to her and his feed minimized.

“Get me Apollo.”

“Right away,” her pax replied.

The PFA dimmed as she turned away from the screen.

“What.” Apollo’s voice was flat.

“Where are you, Apollo?”

“At your beck and call, apparently.”

She rolled her eyes. Would he never cool off? It had been almost a year since she’d been promoted.

“I have an assignment for you.”

“Oh? I thought I just busted crime rings for fun.”

“You’re receiving a call,” LC said.

Lyden glanced up at the corner of the wall-screen. It was Vice-Chair Pelar. Lyden hesitated, weighing whether or not to take the call.

“It’s the Board, isn’t it?” Apollo said.

God, she hated that he could read her like that. But that was part of what made him a good detective.

“I’ll call you back,” she said. The Vice-Chair’s video feed went live on her screen. “What do you want, Pelar?”

“I want to know what you’re doing up there. You haven’t released a statement about the Sim boy. And don’t tell me you’re short-handed, because you’re over budget.”

“The autopsy will be back in an hour. I’ll release a statement when I have all the facts. Anyway, all signs point to suicide right now.”

“That’s not what his friends are saying. Apparently his boss wouldn’t listen to his complaints about the working conditions. When he threatened to smear the mine on his vlog, mine officials had him killed and made it look like a suicide.”

Lyden’s head started to throb. Lyden made a motion and LC dimmed the lights. . She leaned back in her chair and rubbed her temples.

“The motive doesn’t hold up. A suicide would corroborate his accusation that the working conditions are poor.”

“I want you to put your best detectives on this.”

“My best detectives are busy. People die up here every week, Pelar. You want me to pull people off of legitimate murder cases to look into a probable suicide?”

“How many of those murder cases are unemployables?”

Lyden glared at the ceiling. “Most of them.”

“All of them, I bet. Well the Sim boy was in good standing with the Colony. Not to mention he’s got a bit of a following down here.”

“I’ll release a statement when I get the autopsy, and I’ll get a detective on it as soon as I can.”

“What’s Apollo working on?”

“I thought you didn’t like him.” After all, Pelar had passed him over in favor of Lyden.

“He wasn’t right for the Alpha position. He was too abrasive.” He let the comment hang, and Lyden could feel the implication: don’t be like that.

“He’s just on his way to bust up an ambrosia den.”

Pelar gave her a blank look.

“It’s a new development,” she added.

He waved a dismissive hand. “The starheads can wait. He’s on this case now.”

Lyden pressed her fingertips into her temples more forcefully. He didn’t understand. He didn’t have to walk these streets. If he did, he might be able to see that the escapist culture was probably responsible for the suicide anyway. When all your peers were doping themselves into oblivion, it was easy to feel alone — like you wouldn’t be missed.

What’s more, the prevalence of substance abuse and prostitution also underpinned most of the violent crime in the Colony. But the Board’s concern was to keep the institution from looking bad. Sure they wanted her to keep violent crime from getting out of hand, but they kept trying to force her to treat the symptoms, instead of curing the disease. Violent crimes were typically committed by unemployables or low-ranking citizens, and thus made no ill reflection on the Board. The Rale Sim case, on the other hand — with its high-profile victim and implication of a Board-appointed official — had the potential to make their lives hell.

“Well, I guess Apollo will be okay for the job,” Lyden said.

“Of course he will. He’s top-tier.”

“You said yourself he’s abrasive.”

“I suppose this is a sensitive case… Did you have someone else in mind?”

“Officer Hillimer.”

“I haven’t heard of him.”

“He’s up-and-coming. And he’ll handle things… gently.”

“Make sure he’s thorough. And get back on budget, even if it means some low-priority cases gather dust.”

“Trust me.”

“I’ll check back in an hour.”

Lyden sat up, and her pax brought the lights back up, though not to full brightness.

“You want Apollo back on the line?” LC asked.

“Get him.”

“How did it go?” Apollo asked without genuine interest.

Lyden ignored him. “There’s a place I want you to check out. LC, send him the distribution of addresses that have been queried.”

“Yeah, sure,” Apollo said. “I’ll get right over there. And then you can take all the credit when I bring Sirius’ organization down single-handedly.”

Another bout of nausea rose up, and she leaned forward, putting her face in her hands and breathing deeply.

“What do you want, Apollo?”

There was silence. They both knew what he wanted: her job.

Lyden took a deep breath to force down the queasiness. “Stay bitter if you want to. But when the Board asks me who was behind busting Canis, I’ll have to tell them that my man on the ground was Officer Hillimer.”

“Ha! Hillimer couldn’t spot the sun at its zenith.”

“Gambling is against regulation, you know. If I were you, I wouldn’t bet against him and Luinti.”

He cursed. “Fine. I’m going.”

She grinned.


Read the next chapter: Pax


Selecting Faces Table of Contents

To keep informed about when the each story in Selecting Faces becomes available, follow Arch City Alchemists on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and sign up for the email list below.