Archive for debt

Selecting Faces Chapter 13: Procyon

Procyon - thug character from Selecting Faces

art by Erin Cardwell

Procyon stifled a gag and looked away as the finger came loose and blood spurted from the remaining stub. He lowered the knife and turned away, leaving behind the screaming Kinch.

He ground his teeth in frustration, folding the nanoblade closed. He’d had such a good week, up to till now. But this was one of the Mirx’s big punters, and he would not be happy about a default. And if Mirx wasn’t happy, Sirius wouldn’t be either.

But it was better than coming back without punishing those who didn’t pay up. If he did that, it would take him years to climb back up to his current status.

He waved for Vairy and Jaims to follow him as he strode away from the airlock, trying to shake visions of the blood from his mind.

“Where are we going?” Jaims asked.

“Back to Mirx. We hurry, and we can catch him at the gala.”

“Should we make sure he wasn’t lying?” Jaims asked, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.

“About what?” Vairy asked.

“Don’t be a Holt,” Procyon said. “About owing Arich.” Why hadn’t he thought of following Kinch first? It wouldn’t matter, probably. He would claim it was his idea, and Jaims was slow — he wouldn’t call the bluff.

“This way,” Procyon said. He began hurrying back in the direction of the ambrosia den. “Jaims, go at the far door. You see him, call us.”

Jaims took off ahead, running with the grace of an athlete.

Procyon and Vairy headed back toward the airlock where they left Kinch. When they got there, it was empty. They went into the building, going downstairs to the reception desk to ask if Kinch had come back this way. The woman at the desk shook her head.

Procyon’s pax, PW spoke up. “Jaims: This girl’s a Venus.”

“Jaims sees him,” Procyon said to Vairy, taking off, back up the stairs. “Go talk to her,” he sent back to Jaims.

They dashed to the far airlock. Procyon turned the nanoblade over in his hands nervously, anxious to get out and catch up with Jaims. “Where you at?” he sent to Jaims.

“On Virgo. Headed earthward.”

Procyon swore. Kinch was moving away from the gala.

“Run. Don’t wait on us.”

If word got around that Procyon had been duped into letting Kinch get away, he would never earn Sirius’ approval.

The airlock doors opened, and they took off to the left.

After a block, Vairy began to puff. Procyon had pulled ahead of him by nearly twenty meters by the time he reached Virgo Avenue. He saw Jaims disappearing down an alley, then glanced back at the stout man running after him. After a moment’s hesitation, he took off down Virgo without waiting for him to catch up.

He veered into the alley. Jaims was wrestling Kinch to the ground. He slowed and tried to catch his breath.

“Didn’t think we’d tail ya?”

“I wasn’t lying,” Kinch said through gritted teeth.

Jaims wrestled Kinch’s right hand up and looked at the stub. Procyon felt sick. He crouched close to Kinch’s face to remove the wounded hand from view.

“Then where was you headed?”

“Toward Dirty Picies’.”

Procyon cursed. Arich did frequent the place, even though he wasn’t there now. It was a plausible story. “And why’d you bolt?”

“You guys are burning scary!”

“Look,” Jaims said, holding up the severed finger.

Vomit crept up the back of Procyon’s throat, but he forced it down.

“It’s fake,” Jaims continued. “See?”

“Oh, you has it coming now.” Procyon said.

“The sooner you let me go, the sooner I can settle things with Arich, and the sooner your boss gets paid.”

“Let’s see him now, then.”

Vairy came up beside him, resting his hands on his knees, chest heaving. Procyon motioned for Jaims and Vairy to raise up the miserable ambrosic.

“You’ll stay in line on the way there.” Procyon flipped open the nanoblade and tossed it up, snagging it deftly as it spun. “Catch my ring?”

Kinch swallowed and nodded.

They formed up, Vairy and Jaims on either side of Kinch, with Procyon following a few steps behind.

Kinch started talking to someone via his pax. Procyon couldn’t make out what he was saying. He hesitated, thinking that Jaims would be smart enough to stop him without needing to be told. Kinch spoke again, and Procyon stopped waiting.

“Shut him up!” he called.

Vairy turned and gave him a punch to the stomach.

Procyon stared at the back of Jaims’ head, wondering why he hadn’t shown his usual initiative.

They took alleys as much as possible. There, they could escort Kinch by the arms without arousing the suspicion of stripes. But when they crossed Virgo Avenue, they released him and counted on fear of a nanoblade in the back to keep him in line.

In a few minutes they entered through an airlock to the loading dock of a grocery store that acted as a front for a Canis lair. They wove through the warehouse and down a flight of stairs, passing several bodyguards who nodded at them as they passed.

He pushed open a door, entering into a make-shift ballroom. In the center of the room was a performing area — currently a bunch of skinners were executing some sensual and acrobatic choreography. Vairy stared at them. At the far end of the room, up on a short platform, was a long dining table where Sirius and the highest-ranked canids were watching the performance.

That was where Procyon belonged. He was one of Sirius’ own sons, after all.

Mirx’s eyes grew wide at seeing Procyon enter with his lackeys and their captive. He stood and gestured fiercely for them to move off to the side of the room. They obliged, and Mirx stood, waddling over to them on stout legs. His beady black eyes shone with rage.

A skinner followed him down from the stage, carrying his plate.

“What do you think you’re doing here?” he hissed.

“Transfer donations,” Procyon said to PW. He saw Sirius beckoning one of the skinner girls up onto the stage with him. She would leave with him tonight, like Procyon’s mother had, years ago.

“5902 dunnets received.” Mirx’s pax was audible via his open helmet. Her voice was seductive in spite of the dull subject matter.

The skinner stood next to him so his plate was at his elbow. He grabbed his fork, stabbing a large bite of cultured beef and asparagus, and stuffed both in his mouth. “You still shouldn’t have brought him here,” he said around the food.

“Who do you have over there, Mirx?” Sirius’ deep voice rang across the room, bringing a hush.

All eyes turned toward the little group, including those of the skinners, who stopped their performance and stood watching them.

“Just a punter who’s making excuses instead of paying up,” Mirx called back.

“Deal with him.” He turned back to the skinners in the performing area. “Continue.”

Just as they began, Procyon called up to the stage. “This one claims he owes Arich a load of dunnets.”

Sirius eyes locked on him, fiery.

Procyon’s heart nearly stopped. Mirx stared at his underling in disbelief. Then, seeing Sirius’ expression, punched him hard in the thigh. When he went down on one knee, Mirx backhanded him across the face.

Procyon stayed where he was, terrified of breaking the silence. He silently begged Sirius to turn his attention away and resume the show again. This time, however, he didn’t turn away.

“I’ve never seen him before,” said Arich, who was at Sirius’s left hand.

“I–” Kinch started.

“Don’t you think he would have told you anything just to get away from you?” Mirx hissed at Procyon.

“Well, I… If he did owe Arich…”

“Of course he would say anything,” Jaims said. “That’s why–“

Procyon interrupted him “That’s why we followed him.”

“You took him at his word, didn’t you?” Mirx asked.

“I… Not really. I cut off his finger… to send a message.”

Jaims held up the severed finger. “It’s a prosthetic.”

Sirius laughed, and the others at the banquet table joined in.

“And you let him go after that?” Mirx accused.

“We tailed him, I said.”

Vairy spoke up for the first time since they’d entered. “Not at first.”

Procyon shot him a vicious glare.

“What do you mean?” Mirx pressed.

Procyon shook his head at Vairy, but he was staring at Sirius like a punter who’s losing when he’s all in.

“We were coming here. Then Jaims said we oughta follow him.”

“Jaims, you’re in charge of this pack now,” Mirx said.

“Wait!” Procyon begged. “One more chance, please.”

Mirx glanced over his shoulder to Sirius, who made no indication of approval or disapproval. “Fine. Chip him.” He pointed at Kinch.

Procyon turned toward him, raising the nanoblade and flipping it open. The ambrosic shied away from him as he approached.

“Transfer it, or you lose a real finger.”

“You’ve got me, okay?” Kinch said, looking past him at Mirx. “I don’t have it. Not all of it anyway. I’ll give you as much as I have, and get you the rest in a couple days.”

“Send it,” Procyon said, halting his approach as though this would satisfy him, when it wouldn’t. Not this time. Not when he had something to prove. And especially not after all the other lies.

“923 out of 1577,” Mirx said from behind him.

“Can I go now?” Kinch asked, once again addressing Mirx, and not Procyon. “If I don’t make it to work on time, I’ll get fired and won’t be able to pay you.”

“It’s a bluff,” Procyon said. “Vairy, wedge him.”

Kinch bolted suddenly, headed for the door where they had entered. Vairy chased him, but it was obvious that the stocky man was too slow. Procyon turned instinctively toward Jaims. But now was not the time. He had to do this himself.

Procyon lifted the nanoblade, took a deep breath, and wished frantically that his practice would pay off. Then he let the knife fly.

He was on mark. It sunk into Kinch’s calf. He went down with a scream. Vairy caught up to him now, hauling him to his feet and holding him in a bodylock that pinned his arms to his sides. The nanoblade fell free of the muscle, clattering to the painted steel floor in a growing pool of blood.

Procyon stepped toward him, shaking his head.

“I have 400 more, but that’s it!”

Procyon shook his head. “Every dunnet.”

Kinch reached up with a shaking hand to the glass of his helmet. His tremors were so bad that he had a hard time pushing it back from his face. “KL, send Mirx every dunnet I have.”

Procyon could hear Kinch’s pax respond. “400 dunnets transferred.”

“1323 of 1577.” Mirx’s voice was distorted by talking around a mouthful of food.

“More,” Procyon demanded.

Kinch’s shakes were making it hard for even Vairy to hold him steady. “That’s all of it, I swear.”

“That’s cack for you, then.”

Procyon reached down to get the knife. He hesitated, his stomach revolting at the pool of blood. He tried to convince himself that it wasn’t blood. No, it was ichor. Someone had spilled their glass of ichor.

His hand closed around the knife and he stood up quickly. He was lightheaded, suddenly, but glared at Kinch until the black receded from his vision.

Then he moved to Kinch’s side and placed the knife next to the stub of finger which he had taped over. He did his best to look away from what he was doing. Not only because of anticipation, but also because of the blood — no, ichor — that covered his hand.

Kinch’s pax spoke again. “You have a message from Dema,” she said.

“Read it!” Kinch said.

“Shut up!” Procyon growled.

“How much do you need?” KL read.

“My daughter will give you the money,” Kinch said. “How much do I still owe?”

“254,” Mirx said.

“Dema, would you lend me 254?”

The room waited.

“254 dunnets received from Dema.”


“That’ll teach you,” Mirx said.

Procyon turned toward the stage, triumphant. With a demonstration like that, Sirius might even promote him.

Arich glanced at the other canids. “Does he remind you of anyone?”

Sirius began to laugh again. “He’s the new Holt!”

The whole table erupted into laughter. Even some of the skinner performers got the joke and joined in.

A few feet away, Jaims and Mirx were also snickering, facing away from him. Procyon’s vision narrowed on Jaims, and he raised the nanoblade, walking forward. There was a shout, and Jaims spun. The laughter drained from his face, replaced by a mixture of fear and anger.

Procyon leapt at him. Jaims lunged forward, inside his reach, bringing his fist up under Procyon’s chin.

Stars exploded in his vision, and he hit the floor.

Read the next chapter: Gossamer

Selecting Faces Table of Contents

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Selecting Faces Chapter 12: Roddy

Kinch - landlord character from Selecting Faces

art by Erin Cardwell

“Open the door!”

“Can’t you just wait until my sister gets home?” Tix‘s voice echoed through the hollow metal.

“Your rent was past due two months ago. The eviction notice gave you six weeks. And that’s more than you deserve.” Roddy’s ears were hot with rage. Kasi and Tix had been inconsistent on their payments, but they hadn’t been horrible tenants.

This incident with Yazen, however, was unforgivable. Such violence could not be allowed in his air.

“Please, Mr. Nolter, at least let her get home so we can pack.”

“You are to open this door and get out of my building. Now!”

He heard Tix gasp and begin to sob.

All bullies are cowards at heart, Roddy thought as he turned and strode away. He went down the stairwell to the first floor and knocked on the door under the stairs.

It cracked open, revealing a man in burgundy pants over his exoskin and graying eyebrows inside his helmet.

“Come in, come in.” Qaper moved spryly in spite of his hunched posture, welcoming him in. “What can I do for you?” he said.

“We’re going to need the ram.”

Qaper’s eyes lost a little of their glow at that. “This is the worst part of my job.” He sighed and walked away, still muttering. “Taking clogs out of toilets, I don’t mind, but taking people out of their homes…” He disappeared into a back room and began to rummage around.

Roddy sauntered over to a doorway and popped his head in. Willow — a girl of perhaps fifteen — was sitting up in her bed, wearing a pink blouse and a black skirt. She had no exoskin on.

Roddy had been embarrassed the first time he’d checked in on her after she and her grandfather moved in. It was strangely intimate to see anyone outside of one’s family without their exoskin. But it had been almost two years since they moved in.

She was paralyzed from the waist down and Qaper couldn’t afford to trade in her standard-issue exoskin for the fancy motorized kind. So she seldom took the effort of getting into her exoskin unless Qaper needed to carry her somewhere.

“How’s my favorite tenant?” he asked.

Willow looked up from the tablet sitting on her lap.

“I’m doing great, Uncle Roddy. I’m learning about geology!” She flipped her tablet around to show him what she was watching. There was an animation of how the moon formed, distributing different kinds of rock in different areas of the crust. “I’m thinking about going into mining when I finish school.”

“You don’t want to be a peacekeeper anymore?”

“I don’t know…” She looked down at the tablet thoughtfully. “This is just so fascinating.”

“Whatever you choose, you’ll be great at it.”

“Here it is!” Qaper called, his voice still muffled from being in the back room.

“See you later, Willow,” he waved to her.

She waved back, her wide eyes locked on the screen.

Qaper shuffled out of the room, looking more slumped than usual. “I suppose this means my pay check will be pushed back.” His eyes stayed on the floor.

“I’m afraid so.” Two weeks ago, Roddy had taken some of the money for Qaper’s paycheck out of the landlord’s wage he recieved from the Division of Housing. And since then a couple of rooms had gone vacant, making his books even more unbalanced.

Qaper motioned Roddy toward the door. “Lead the way.”

When they got back up to Tix and Kasi’s, Roddy pounded on the door.

“If I have to break down this door, I’m going to charge you for the repairs!”

He heard Tix sob again on the other side.

Roddy’s ears burned hot again. “Have it your way,” he said through gritted teeth. He motioned for Qaper to approach the door. When he was in place, Roddy hefted the other side of the ram and counted.

“One, two, three!”

They slammed the ram against the door, just next to the handle. It dented, but did not budge. It typically took them five or six strokes to get it open. They hit the door again.

Up and down the stairwell echoed the sound of doors opening as people came to see what the commotion was about. Heads peeked over the tops of railings, but their expressions were passive.

“One, two –“

The door swung inward suddenly.

Roddy and Qaper took a startled step backward.

Tix stood in the doorway, a smile covering his tear-soaked face. “We have the money.”


“Kasi’s got a table that’s spending a fortune. She only had enough time to tell me. She had to get back to serve them.”

“So transfer the money.”

“She doesn’t have it yet. She won’t get the tip until they leave.”

Roddy crossed his arms. “Then how do I know you’re not lying, just to buy time?”


Qaper looked at him pleadingly. If it was the truth, then he could afford Qaper’s pay. But Tix had attacked Yazen. How would he explain it to Rhene, or to any of the other tenants, if he didn’t throw them out? Word would get around.

He looked sternly at Tix. The over-sized boy wore threadbare shorts over his exoskin, and his eyes were still puffy from crying.

“Out.” He pointed in the direction of the stairs leading down.

Tix stared in disbelief for a few moments, then hung his head. He glanced behind him to grab the handle of the Gyro-tote and pulled it from the room. Qaper and Roddy moved onto the next staircase up to make way for him.

When the sphere-shaped Gyro-tote got to the edge of the stairs, Tix turned, hefting it too easily for a boy his age. Then he carried it down to the bottom of the stairs and set it down. He pulled the glass of his helmet down over his face, locking it in place. He pulled the Gyro-tote into the airlock.

The was a pause.

Suddenly he rushed back out of the airlock, looking excitedly up at Roddy. “She’s got the money!”

Roddy narrowed his eyes at him. “Prove it.”

“How much do you need?”

“They owe 97.44 dunnets,” RN, his pax, quietly informed him. “Including this month’s rent, payment should total 251.44.”

Roddy snorted. There was no way she could make that much in one shift.

“Two hundred and fifty.”

Tix looked down, speaking quietly to his pax.

Roddy turned away from the railing. Good riddance.

“Payment received,” RN said.

“What?” Roddy spun putting his hands on the banister.

“180 dunnets received from Tix.”

Roddy’s ears flushed again. “Keep what’s late, but reject this month’s payment.”

“Are you sure?” RN asked.

“Yes I’m sure!” He walked back over to the railing and looked down. “Reject payment!”

“What? Why?” Tix called up at him.

“I want you gone, you hear me? After what you did today, I had better not see you in here again, or so help me–“

“It wasn’t him!”

Roddy jerked his head up to see Yazen up on the next landing.

“It wasn’t him, okay?”

Roddy looked at him suspiciously. Why would he do this?

But if Yazen was willing to lie for Tix in front of the crowd that had gathered to watch the eviction, at least Roddy would have plausible deniability, in case Tix ever acted out again. And this way he wouldn’t be letting Qaper and Willow down.

“Fine. You can stay.”

Read the next chapter: Procyon

Selecting Faces Table of Contents

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Selecting Faces Chapter 11: Kinch

Yazen - drug addict character from Selecting Faces

art by Erin Cardwell

“You have a message from Mirx.”

Kinch felt the muscles in his shoulders go rigid. He reached with a shaking hand for the ambrosia bottle at the side of the pool, and shot a pump of it into his nose. The anxiety melted from his shoulders, and his hands steadied.

His pax, KL, and he had an unspoken agreement not to read him any disturbing messages until he had ambrosia in him.

She read the message without emotion.

“You owe me 1577. I’ll have it this week, or you start to lose fingers.”

Kinch felt bad — just a little — for the sucker whose digits hung in the balance. It would be several minutes before that poor sap was him again.

He shifted atop the thick, dense liquid of the pool and stared at skinners. The attractive young men and women wore no exoskins under their clothes as they passed this way and that among the float-pools, picking up empty ambrosia bottles and dropping off full ones. With no electromagnetic shoes to keep from bouncing, they moved in a peculiar yet graceful crouch. A woman in the pool next to Kinch was staring up at them also, her expression vacant.

As he watched, one of the skinners stepped into her pool, his bare feet submerging only up to his ankles. He bent down and scooped her up easily, the liquid of the pool shedding quickly from her exoskin in opaque, cyan droplets. He swung her easily onto his shoulder and carried her away.

She had been in that pool since Kinch entered. She must be broke, now. This place was a brilliant innovation — his best ambrosia experience since his first time — but burning expensive.

Kinch began to wonder about how much he still had in his account. He’d been at perihelion on his bets yesterday. The long shot with Rhene… He smiled, shaking his head.

He pulled the glass of his helmet down over his face, and rolled onto his belly, his whole field of view suddenly a wall of uniform blue-green. “How much do I have?” he asked KL idly.


Had he really spent over 400 dunnets already? He’d only been here for a few hours. Right?

“Tell Nellina I want to talk.”

There was silence for a couple of minutes. Kinch could feel the tension seeping back into him, but he needed to be alert.

“How much do you want?” It wasn’t his ex-wife’s voice; KL was reading her message aloud.

“What makes you think I’m going to ask you for money?”

“You’re not going to ask me for money?”


There was a pause.

“Then what do you want?”

“How are you?”

“I’m fine. Is that all you wanted to talk to me about?”

“I can’t be concerned for your well-being?”

“Be concerned if you want, but you forfeited your right to know details about my personal life years ago.”

“Are you still working in the kitchens at the Mining Mess?”

There was an extended pause.

“If you really want to know so badly, I got a job in Biorecycling.”

“Decided you want to see crap become carp, instead of the other way around?” He chuckled quietly at his own joke.

No response came. He rolled over onto his back again. After a few minutes, he gave up waiting, and sent another message.

“How’s Dema?”

“She’s engaged.”

Kinch sat up quickly, his butt sinking to the bottom of the shallow pool to support his weight.

“Yeah, I know. I meant how’s the engagement going?”

“Nice try. She asked me to tell you about it the next time you called to ask for money.”

He sat for a few minutes, staring blankly at where his feet disappeared into paint-like liquid. He hadn’t been aware that she was seeing someone.

He’d thought years ago that he’d finally won out over Nellina when Dema had taken to gambling, like her old man. Nellina wouldn’t even talk to him for a year after that. It hadn’t mattered, though. He’d heard enough about Dema from his fellow gamblers. He’d even used her reputation to keep in the black a few times.

But then she’d stopped gambling about a year ago, and no one knew why. And even though Dema still made a living at the grum torus, Nellina had gloated.

And now Dema was settling down.

Somehow, though, he felt very proud of her. This wasn’t her path because her mother had told her to take it, or because of her father’s legacy. She was her own, smart, capable person, and he was proud of her, dammit.

He would buy her an engagement present.

He stood up and quickly stepped out of the pool… His head swam and he tipped backward, falling slowly in the low gravity. He felt the double impact of striking the surface of the pool, and then its bottom. Giant globules of topaz drifted lazily up around him. The skinners dodged out of the way with practiced ease in their spider-like crouches, shooting him dirty looks and shouting things he was still too dazed to hear.

Kinch sat up, shaking the stars out. Then the globules came down, splattering on the walkways, and in the other pools, and on the people laying in the other pools. One landed on the face of a man two pools down from him. He sputtered, cursing, and sat up, trying to shake the liquid out of his nose and mouth and eyes, making sure that none of it slipped down his neck under the edges of the exoskin.

Kinch stood up again, more slowly this time. Setting aside his gray flat cap for the moment, he picked up his pants from the foot of the pool. He was about to put them on when one of the skinners, a beefy woman in her thirties — a former grummer, by the look of her — came up to him. She took him by the shoulders, moving him toward the exit.

“Hey!” he said, slipping out of her grasp and going back to get his cap.

She walked up to him, snatched the cap, and threw it down into the pool, stepping on it with her bare foot to force it under.

“How dare you?” He draped his pants over his left arm and fished out the cap with his other hand.

She took him by the shoulders again and escorted him out as he wrung the liquid out his cap, which was now a queer, dark aquamarine.

The skinner shoved him — stumbling — out the door.

“Don’t expect me to come back here!” he shouted.

“Good,” she replied without looking back at him, and shut the door.

Kinch raised his left hand, his pants — still draped there — sliding up to his elbow. He smiled at the little ambrosia bottle he was palming. He’d grabbed it in his left hand when he’d reached with his right into the pool for his cap. He raised it to his nose and inhaled another pump of it before slipping his pants on. Then he walked past the front desk of the “spa” and up the stairs to the first floor.

Kinch checked his helmet, which already had the glass down, shook his cap out once more, placed it on his head, and then punched the button to evacuate the airlock.

“What would she like for an engagement present?” he sent to Nellina. He took the cap back off and looked at it, studying its new color. To be fair, it had been white when Nellina had bought it for him.

The airlock doors opened, and he walked out, his mind and eyes still on the cap.

Hands grabbed each of his arms and carried him back into the airlock.

“Hello,” Kinch said, waving his cap at the two thugs who held him with what limited mobility his arms had. The ambrosia was still in effect, so he felt no anxiety at their appearance.

A third man walked straight up to him, slicing the cap clean in half with a ten-centimeter nanoblade. “Give us the money,” he said, idly twirling the white knife in his hand.

“Who sent you?” Kinch asked.

“Mirx,” came the answer from the man cutting off circulation to his right arm.

“Well, he’s going to have to get in line.”

“Huh?” asked the thug on his left.

“I owe five times as much to Arich.”

“You’re in some deep cack, then,” the man with the knife said.

“I don’t think Arich will take well to having his repayment delayed by your boss. I was actually on my way to go give him the money right now.”

“Was you? Because it looks to me like you was doin’ your best to spend it all before me and Arich can get our hands on it.”

“Look, if you want to risk your boss’ neck, that’s your business.”

The meatheads holding his arms looked questioningly at the man with the knife.

“Alright,” he said. “I’ll let you go. But, just to show you, you don’t mess with Mirx…” He raised the knife.

Kinch started to hyperventilate, pulling his right hand toward his chest. The man on that side forced his arm back out immediately, and the eyes of the leader shifted hungrily to that hand.

“Just not my index finger,” Kinch begged. “Please not my index finger.”

KL started reading a message. “She’d like a new tablet–“

“Tell her I–” Kinch whispered, but the man holding his right arm interrupted him.

“Why not?”

“I need it for… you know… skinner business…”

The man with the knife laughed. “Thanks for the tip.”

“Don’t. Please don’t.” Kinch pleaded with them.

“Shut up!” shouted the man on his right.

The man with the knife slid the blade down between the index and middle finger of his right hand. He turned the blade to face toward his index finger, and made a swift motion upward.

The finger came off and Kinch screamed. The men holding his arms let him go as he pulled his right hand back to his chest and covered it with his left. Blood seeped out between his fingers.

The thugs backed out of the airlock, laughing, as Kinch struggled over to the wall and hit the button to repressurize with his elbow.

As soon as the doors closed, Kinch’s screams turned to laughter. He let go of his right hand and scooped up one of the torn pieces of cap, wiping the fake blood from the stump. Then he picked up the prosthetic finger and cleaned it off as well, squeezing the excess fake blood out. When it was clean enough, he looked at it, grinning.

The best insurance policy he ever invested in. Only needed it twice in twenty years, but worth every dunnet. The airlock doors behind him opened, and he turned, startled, slipping the finger into the pocket of his pants.

He waited a couple of minutes to let the thugs clear out before trying to leave again through the same airlock.

“Why exactly,” KL read, “do you need a tablet for skinner business?”

“What? KL, why would you send that Nellina? Obviously I was talking to the thugs!”

“You told me to.”

He sighed. It was no use trying to explain to Nellina. The lie would reflect better on him than the truth, anyhow.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “Tell her I’ll get Dema the tablet.”

He stepped from the airlock out under the dark sky. “Where do the twenty-somethings shop for tablets these days?”

Read the next chapter: Roddy

Selecting Faces Table of Contents

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