Archive for double life

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


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Selecting Faces Chapter 9: Arich

Arich - mobster character from Selecting Faces

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.”

“Good point.”

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?”

“Yes.”

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


Selecting Faces Table of Contents

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A White Washed Tomb

Stephen looks around the family room.

“Where is it?” He says out loud, throwing stacks of paper around, turning furniture upside down, spilling out the contents on the floor. He runs his hands through the pile digging and digging until he was pulling up carpet.

“Where did I put it?”

He runs upstairs to his room. Checks his dresser drawer and then re checks it. He tears off the covers and flips over the mattress. He looks over the night stand at the picture of his wife Susan. He wonders what’s she’s doing.

Then he remembers why he’s looking for his keys in the first place. Falling down to the floor he looks under the bed, nothing. He springs back up.

“Where could they be?”

Feeling something in the palm of his hand he opens it to reveal metallic pieces hung together by a thin chain.

“There they are.”

Then he thinks of Susan his beautiful sweet Susan with her tan skin her black tasseled hair, her slender frame. He imagines her dancing, dancing, dancing. Not for money. Not for fame. Not for anyone but him. Stephen smiles, moving downstairs he ignores the mess he has made.

He opens the front door. He walks out to his driveway. He was ten steps away from his car.

“Stephen!” He turns around to see Mary and Jerry Fitzgerald approaching him the happily married couple, the perfect next door neighbors. Their smiles are shining sparkling ivory. Not a dent or scratch in their pearly whites. They walk in sync, her arm gently around him and his around her, her blond hair blowing in the breeze, the envy of the city, the evil in Stephen’s heart.

He swallows and thought what she looks like naked. Strangely enough he transposes Susan’s body on hers. Even stranger he did the same for Jerry. He shuts his eyes hard and opens them for Mary and Jerry to be fully clothed.

“Where you off to Stephen?” Jerry pushes up his glasses.

“Nowhere.” Stephen wants to hurry away opening his door.

“Oh come on Stephen. You never do anything with us anymore. You and Susan used to stop by all the time.” Says Mary. He is stuck.

“Yea. You guys never come over anymore. How is Susan? It’s been ages since you guys came to our last party.”

Stephen had more money then.

“Susan’s been busy working.” says Stephen.

“I’m actually on my way to pick her up. I’m sorry guys we should do something soon. But I have to go, I’m late.”

He slams the door as he gets into his car. He watches the Fitzgerald’s from the rearview mirror. They wave in unison with big grins. Then they turn and walk back into their home. Jerry looks back seeing his house. It’s white, the only white house in the neighborhood of brick. It’s almost obscene how noticeable it is.

“How can the other neighbor’s stand it?” Stephen says to himself.

He breathes a deep sigh when it was finally out of sight.

“God it is so horrible!”

“Day in and day out, it’s so glaring and obvious! A dung pile burning in their noses how can they tolerate it?”

Stephen stops talking as he enters the highway. He pays careful attention to the drivers around him. His eyes dart right then left. His hands become clammy and tense as he grips the steering wheel. His heart races as a car comes closer and closer to him from behind only to turn left and speed up.

“Bastards!” he mutters to himself. “Bastards all bastards, all dirty stinky miserable vain bastards!” His face is getting redder the more he mutters to himself.

“They’re all ugly. Stupid. Conceited..” He begins to drool a little. The fuel tank alarm sounds.

“Aaahh come on!” he shouts. In the business to leave he forgot to check the fuel gauge. He starts cursing everything, the road, the cars and the people.

“All are in my way!!!” He turns off to the next exit. Luckily there is a gas station not too far. Stephen pulls in and starts pumping gas. He looks around the station, remarking in his mind about its dirtiness. He then went on to comment on the stench.

“Never have my nostrils befell something so odious.” He says to himself, barely audible.

“Stephen!” Stephen turns around and sees Phil.

“How are you? You know I haven’t seen you in some time. It’s been ages.”

Phil is short and pudgy. His head gleams from lack of hair. Stephen looks into his beady eyes pausing for a proper response.

“I’ve been good.” Stephen checks the amount, ten bucks and still going up.

“Yea, well that’s swell. The office is still the same. You know pushing paper, crossing T’s and dotting I’s. You know how that goes. The new guy that’s in is doing an ok job. But that’s boring stuff eh. How’s Susan? How’s your wife?” Stephen’s gas-nuzzle clicks off.

“Sorry Phil. I have to go. We should talk some other time.”

“Yea we should.”

Stephen closes the door of his car and speeds down the highway.

Thoughts of Susan race through his head, Stephen entertains an old memory. Stephen is sitting in his chair reading the paper. Susan is sneaking up behind him. She lifts her arms high above and plops a big bowl of fudge on his head. Stephen jumps up and chases her as she laughs. The memory flickers out as the next exit approaches.

He turns in where all traffic ceases to exist. Only people on foot come where he is. Walking leaches with pale blotted skin, wearing over coats, trying to hide the burn marks from their cigarettes, a lot of the same that feed from the sewer, the refuse from the rich. The values from the shadow of diamonds, it sparkles and dazzles to hide what it does in the dark.

He turns down a familiar alley where vomit is the key to the right direction, old nostalgia for Stephen. Cat fights behind dumpsters, high art obscenity written on every building, the vulgarity in the tension of Stephen’s grip.  He turns the wheel.

He emerges from the alley. There they are. All lined up like peacocks for display. A vanity they need to sell what’s in between their legs. All shades of color mismatched and ill applied.

“They’re all clowns.” Stephen mutters to himself seeing how their looks fade from one to the next in an evolution of degradation. Not one peek his interest, but there are enough men on the street to take one and disappear into dark places. Some may not survive. If they’re gone no one cares to look, just another dead prostitute for the police to write up, put in a file and never look at again.

Stephen turns his head toward a familiar form. She turns. Her body dazzles in his mind. He stops the car and rolls down the window beside her.

“Susan!” She looks at Stephen with a sour expression.

“Oh, it’s you. Listen I can’t go with you anymore. Jeremy doesn’t like me going away for so long.”

“Susan please, come back to me. I’m your husband.”

“Listen, cut the husband crap ok. You still owe Jeremy money. He’s still pissed.”

“Susan.”

“I ain’t going with you.”

“But you’re my wife.”

“How many times do I have to tell you? I ain’t your wife. That was all role-play. You might have thrown a wedding and everything, but I ain’t married to you.”

“But I… But I…” Stephen stammers. “But I love you.” A tear rolls down Stephen’s cheek.

“Well that’s a shame because I don’t love you.” A man emerges from the dark in a purple jacket with rings on his fingers. He yanks open the door and grabs Stephen’s wrist flinging him to the pavement.

“You’re the fool, who took candy and hasn’t paid in full.” Stephen squirms against the man’s impressive bulk.

“Jeremy don’t. He’s just a sucker.”

“Shut up Candy! Every sucker has to pay.”

Jeremy dragged Stephen into the alley while Stephen kicks and screams.

“No don’t! Susan please help! Susan don’t leave! Susan please! I love you.”

A few moments of struggle and then silence.

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