Archive for homelessness

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.”

“What?”

“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?”

“I…”

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 8: Kasi

Kasi - server character from Selecting Faces

art by Erin Cardwell

 

Today could not have been a worse day. Kasi had woken up with one of the worst hangovers of her life, had lost a grum that she should have won, and lost it so badly that she didn’t get paid. Fighting that injustice had made her late to her shift at Orion’s Bistro, so she’d been relegated to serve the worst tables in the restaurant. Not to mention the fact that she was still a little soggy from getting splashed in the grum — which wouldn’t have been a problem if she’d placed even a little higher.

And to top it all off, she had the worst customer occupying the best table in her measly bunch.

He was about thirty, tall, a little overweight, with nervous, shifting eyes. He was decked out in formal attire: white tie, black shirt, and white pants obscured virtually all of his exoskin.

Kasi’s section of the restaurant was meant for the truly ostentatious — set up on a balcony — which is why it had only three small tables. But unless one of the Alphas or Betas came in, it was unlikely that she would make tips enough to justify the inordinate service she was expected to render her customers. Instead, most of the time her customers were pairs of middle-class saps who were coming to a restaurant like this for a special occasion, sitting in the fancy section, and then proceeding to try and spend as little as possible because they couldn’t really afford to come here in the first place. This was the story with one of her tables. Another of her tables was sitting empty at Gabra’s insistence, in case someone truly important strolled in, expecting to be seated at once.

And the third was occupied by the man in the white tie. He hadn’t ordered anything but a glass of water, which he kept picking up and setting down, over and over, and alternately glancing behind him, over the edge of the balcony at the entrance of the restaurant.

Kasi dropped off a check to the other diners — not that they’d requested the check, but they’d certainly been here long enough, especially since they’d turned down multiple offers for more dessert or another round of drinks — and approached the man in the white tie as he picked up his water and set it back down without drinking.

“Can I get you anything?” Kasi asked.

“No, not until my girlfriend gets here,” he replied without looking at her. His eyes darted from the entrance, to his water glass, which he picked up and set down again.

“You could move to the other side of the table, you know.”

“I don’t want it to look like I’m waiting for her.”

Kasi grabbed the lip of the table to keep from slapping him.

He started to babble nervously. “If it looks like I’m waiting for her, then she’ll think that I disapprove of her and she’ll be upset and then I’ll be upset for upsetting her, and then the moment won’t be right and –” Kasi walked away even though he was still talking.

She went past a flight of stairs leading down to the main dining room, and turned a corner, disappearing into her station. It had a checkout stand, stacks of menus, bins of supplies, and a pneumatic dumbwaiter to lift prepared dishes up from the kitchen. Almost immediately Gabra appeared behind her.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Gabra asked.

“Ugh!” Kasi let out involuntarily.

“I saw you walk away from that customer while he was talking.” She stepped around the corner to get a view of him. “And now he’s crying!”

“That’s not my fault! He’s all worked up because his girlfriend is running late.”

“And you want his girlfriend to arrive to find him crying? I’m sure that will be really great for both of their appetites.”

Kasi shifted her weight to the side and gave Gabra an exasperated look, who returned to her an insistent stare.

“Fine.” Kasi brushed past her and strode over.

The man in the white tie had buried his face in his hands.

“I’m sure she’s just running late because of the shuttle. I heard the new colonists were arriving around this time today.”

“You think so?” he asked, looking up. His eyes were all puffy and red. He sniffed, sucking wet snot back into his nose.

“I do.” She turned to walk away, then she caught Gabra’s eye. She was hovering near the top of the stairs, watching her. Kasi turned back to the pitiful man. “Blow your nose on the napkin. I’ll get you a new one.”

He took the napkin off his appetizer plate, unfolded it, and emptied his sinuses into it. He held it out to her.

She stared at it for a few seconds, wishing profusely to scoff and stroll away, but she couldn’t. Not with Gabra watching her. She took it, holding it away from her with two fingers.

Gabra remained by the top of the stairs as Kasi brushed by her and went to her station. She dropped the dirty napkin in her bus bin, and then grabbed a replacement.

Gabra nodded her approval and descended the stairs again as Kasi dropped off the napkin to the man in the white tie. He gave her a weak smile, then picked up his water and set it back down. He glanced over his shoulder and his red eyes lit up. Standing, he waved at the entrance of the restaurant.

“Finally,” Kasi muttered, moving over to the now-vacant table where her other customers had left their check and gone. Maybe she could still make enough.

She picked up the check and dropped it into her apron. “Give me some good news, KM.”

“Seven dunnets on a seventy-two dunnet bill. Nine point seven percent.”

“Of course,” she sighed. She grabbed a pair of menus from her station and returned to where the girlfriend was just sitting down. He’d had Kasi wait to bring the menus until she got here.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” the girlfriend said.

“What happened?”

Kasi went ahead and placed the menus on the table, since they weren’t paying any attention to her. She was about to walk away when she saw Gabra down on the floor of the dining room glance up at her. These were the premium tables, and she’d be remissed if she walked away when there were no other tables to go serve, no other duties to perform.

“It’s a long story,” she replied, waving a hand. “And I’m hungry.”

Kasi opened her mouth to run through today’s specials, but the man interrupted her.

“I was really worried about you.”

“There was no reason to be.”

“So what happened?”

She sighed. “I was dragged downtown by an overzealous stripe.”

“What? Why?”

“Well, the streets were super crowded, and I was running late, and I didn’t want to keep you waiting, so I thought I could get here faster if I took the rooftops.”

“You were swifting.”

“I wasn’t doing it dangerously.”

“We talked about this,” he said. “It’s always dangerous. If not for your health, then for your reputation.”

“No one is going to blame me for hurrying to a date with you.”

Kasi interrupted them. “Can I get you started with anything to drink?”

“A Gin Centauri for me,” said the girlfriend.

“And anything for you?”

“But why were you running late in the first place?”

“I just lost track of time.”

“You were gambling, weren’t you?”

“Handicapping,” she corrected. “I haven’t gambled since we talked about how a mom shouldn’t gamble.” She turned to Kasi. “I’m sorry about your luck today, by the way.”

Kasi’s cheeks flushed as she recognized the woman she was waiting on. Dema. She had been an renown punter, and no one knew for certain why she’d quit gambling. There were rumors, of course. That bitter punters who she’d beaten had hired some thugs to teach her a lesson. Kasi and many of the other grummers didn’t take stock in that story: everyone knew Dema had nerves like nanotubes.

Yet here was the answer, and it was far more mundane than any of the rumors.

“A mom shouldn’t be swifting either,” he said quietly.

“You do realize that Dema is one of the best punters there’s ever been. She has a gift, and you’re making her waste it.”

“For the love of the alphas, can you give us some space!” he said, rising from the table.

With pleasure, Kasi thought as she ducked out of the conversation.

As soon as she left the table, KM automatically relayed the drink order to the computer. Within a minute, the pneumatic dumbwaiter rose up and opened, bearing the Gin Centauri. Dema and the man in the white tie were still bickering — rather loudly — but Gabra’s policy was clear: when food or drink arrived on the dumbwaiter, it was to be on the table in thirty seconds, unless it would mean interrupting service to the customer she was with.

As Kasi walked back out to the table, she saw a couple come in. The badge on the woman’s sleeve marked her as a beta. The host gestured toward the balcony. They looked up, saw the fighting couple, and shook their heads. They pointed to a table on the lower floor. Kasi sighed. She set the drink in front of Dema without a word, then stalked back to her station.

When she got back there, out of sight, she slid the glass of her helmet down over her face. “KM, mute outgoing for a minute will you.”

The noise of the restaurant — including that of the worst customers she’d ever had — faded to a low rumble.

“Remember, you’re in an atmospheric building, so –“

“You couldn’t do this somewhere else?” she growled, not to KM. “I mean really, you’re here for a half hour ordering absolutely nothing, just taking up space, and then even when your girlfriend does get here, you don’t even bother to order a drink before you start bickering like you’re already married. And not only that, but you’re driving the other customers away, the only chance I have of making some decent tips. And of course you would. Of course you would. Because the whole burning solar system is conspiring against me today!”

Kasi breathed for a few seconds. Very faintly, she could still hear the voices of her fruitless patrons. She closed her eyes, leaning heavily on the checkout stand, hanging her head.

“Could you send a message to Tix?”

“Go ahead,” KM replied.

“We’re not going to have enough to keep Roddy from throwing us out. Pack up the Gyro-tote with some blankets, and all of the food. Fill up our water bottles and put them in there, too. If there’s any more room, pack up anything you think we can sell. Wait for me in the stairwell. I’ll be home at 1700.”

A lump formed in her throat and she did her best to swallow it back down.

“Is that the end of the message?” KM asked.

“Tell him not to be scared… That’s everything,”

“Message sent.”

Kasi took a deep breath and turned back toward the dining room.

Gabra was standing right behind her.

She said something, but it was muffled. “Glass up,” she said, motioning.

Kasi hurriedly unlocked the glass and slid it back from her face. “Sorry I –“

“Go.” Gabra gestured back toward the dining room.

Kasi brushed past her.

The bickering couple was gone.

No. They weren’t gone. That was still Dema, but she was smiling now, and holding hands with the man across from her, who had taken off his white tie.

She strolled up to the table. “Can I get you something to drink?” she asked hopefully.

“Get us a bottle of bubbly!” he said.

“We’re engaged,” Dema explained. “What will you have to eat, dear?” she asked her new fiancee. “Anything you want; it’s my treat. Let’s dip into the gambling fortunes I’ll make tomorrow,” she said, giving Kasi a wink.


Read the next chapter: Arich


Selecting Faces Table of Contents

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Selecting Faces Chapter 5: Perseus

art by Erin Cardwell

many years ago

Perseus woke up screaming.

A nurse hurried into the room.

Perseus swung around and tried to stand, but the nurse forced him back down.

“You try to stand up and you’ll be falling right over.”

“I’m fine,” Perseus insisted.

“Like hell you are,” the nurse responded. “You’re missing a limb, sieve-brain!”

His stay in the hospital flooded back to him. He’d been caught up in the dream, walking down Scorpio Avenue.

Coming back to the present burned.

He allowed her to push him back down on the bed. “Thanks.”

“Yeah, yeah.” She stepped outside.

He leaned back, trying not to think about her.

His missing left foot throbbed. He doubled over and massaged the right one. After a minute he decided that wasn’t helping and worked his thumbs over the stump of shin instead. The newly printed skin was soft to the touch and hairless, with no noticeable scar.

He heard someone enter. He looked up, hopeful that it was one of his friends finally come to check in on him, but it was just the nurse again. She was carrying a shoe, and draped over her arm was an exoskin.

“Who’s that for?” he asked.

She threw her shoulders back, putting her free hand on her hip.

“Already?” He reached out, and she handed it to him. He inspected the seamless left leg of the suit.

“Are you going to put it on or just play with it?”

“Oh, I trust that it fits.”

“Of course it fits! You’re being discharged.”

Perseus opened his mouth, and then shut it again. “Where’s my leg?”

“You mean your artificial leg? I don’t think you’re getting one.”

“What!”

She shrugged. “You have a job?”

“Well yeah!”

She shrugged again. “I’d check with your boss.” She dropped the shoe on the floor next to the bed. “The records don’t show it.”

He pulled a tablet from a pocket on the side of the bed to speak to his pax. “PZ, let Mister Kern know I’m being discharged and ask him when I should come into work next.”

“I didn’t mean right now,” the nurse said. She gestured for him to put the suit on.

He scowled up at her. She was sturdily built. If it came to force, she could make him do it.

“Fine.” He shoved the tablet back in the pocket. He flipped the legs of the exoskin inside out. He glanced up at her as he shoved his right foot down into that side. He rolled it up his knee, then started the left leg as well. When he got it up his thighs, he was struggling to get it any further.

“You need some help?” the nurse offered.

“I’m fine.”

She gave him a look.

“Yeah, yeah, ‘like hell I am.'” He motioned her over, and she helped him balance as he stood. As she held him up, he pulled the exoskin up above his waist under the hospital gown. She supported him while he sat back down.

“So, no job, no leg, huh?” he asked as he pulled the hospital gown off over his head. He inverted the arms of the exoskin, and slipped his hands in.

“More like ‘no job, no insurance, no advanced care.'”

He shrugged the shoulders on, and zipped it from hip to neck. “Well it’s a good thing I have a job then.”

She nodded, appearing unconvinced. “You got it from here?”

“Yep.”

She stepped out.

He pulled the hood of the exoskin up over his head, and it cinched into place, from bottom to top. The comfortable pressure felt like home.

“I missed you,” he said.

“It’s not like you haven’t had access to me.” Even his PZ’s masculine voice sounded more familiar coming through his helmet.

“It’s not the same,” he said. He reached down and put on his one shoe.

“Message from Mr. Kern: You don’t work here anymore.”

“Excuse me?” Perseus shot back.

“I tried to tell you,” PZ said. “But you were ignoring everyone’s messages.”

“Who’s side are you on, anyway?”

“Yours. I’m your pax.”

Perseus rolled his eyes.

“Mr. Kern: You’re completely irresponsible. You missed every single one of your scheduled shifts. And you were completely radio dark when I tried to contact you about it.”

A stab of pain shot through his chest, and he fought to suppress the memories of her.

“My reason for not coming in to work was a one-time thing, and it’s over now. Please consider bringing me back onto the team.”

“Your position has been filled.”

“I didn’t come in to work because I got hit by a burning meteor!”

“So you’re the one from those news stories a few weeks back?”

“That was me.”

There was a pause. Perseus knew the pity card would get him his job back.

“That doesn’t explain your radio silence before the meteor incident.”

Perseus’ chest throbbed. “Call the nurse back in, PZ.”

As he waited for her to return, memories forced their way into his mind. Walking down Scorpio Avenue. The tortured look on her face. The nauseating whirl of stars and streetlights as he fell onto his back. Her hand slipping through his as she stepped out his door. The pressure of his exoskin forming a tourniquet just below his knee. And the pain. Waves upon waves of pain.

“You okay?” The nurse’s voice broke the trance.

He raised his head from between his knees and looked up at her.

“I guess I don’t have a job.”

She pressed her lips into a thin line. “Look, I won’t make you get outta here this minute, but I’d try to find something real soon if I was you.”

He nodded.

She stepped out again.

He tried to steady his breathing and his racing pulse. “Lora…” he started to dictate the message, but broke off as his voice shook. He picked up the tablet and typed it instead. “Lora broke up with me. I tried to talk myself into coming in to work, but the possibility of seeing her there was too much. I was depressed, I think. I wasn’t answering anyone’s messages, not just yours.” He couldn’t make himself proofread it before sending it off to Mr. Kern.

“You left the rest of the team in a tight spot,” Mr. Kern responded. “They had to cover all your shifts. They can’t trust you anymore, and neither can I.”

“Then I’ll start from the bottom again. Just please take me back on.”

“No.”

He laid down and buried his face in the pillow. He didn’t look up when he heard the nurse come back in.

“You gotta go,” she said.

He let her haul him to his feet and shove a crutch under his left arm. He hobbled slowly out the door.

The walk home from the hospital was a fight. Like his shoe, the bottom of the crutch was an electromagnet. After a block, his left shoulder was exhausted from lifting it from the pavement. Soon, he felt his armpit chafing. By the time he got to his building, he was stopping several times a block to rest.

He leaned heavily against the wall, and touched the button to open the airlock.

Nothing happened.

He hit it again. Still nothing.

“Is it down?”

“Something else you missed,” PZ said. “You got evicted.”

“You couldn’t have told me earlier?”

“You didn’t tell me where you were going, and in the past you’ve thought it too ‘spooky’ when I take a guess.”

“Burn it!” He took the crutch from under his arm and leaned on the wall beside the airlock. “What about my stuff?”

“Gone.”

He slumped down onto the steel pavement. He wanted to just curl up into a ball, but he kept himself sitting upright. “Ask Minter if I can stay at his place.”

“Minter: Hell no! After what you did to Lora?”

Perseus cursed again. Of course they would take her side. All of his friends had been her friends first.

The doors of the airlock slid open, and someone stepped out. He thought about hurrying to catch the door before it slid shut, but what would be the use? Once he was inside, the only thing he could access was the common john.

The john! He should have used the toilet before leaving the hospital.

He scrambled up, but the airlock doors slid shut before he could get inside.

“Can I help you?”

Perseus glanced over his shoulder at the stranger behind him.

“Oh, sorry,” he said, moving out of the way of the doors.

“You’re okay. This isn’t my building. You just look like you might need some help.”

“That’s an understatement,” Perseus mumbled.

Without a word, the stranger knelt and fiddled with the electronics near the bottom of the crutch. “Give that a shot,” he said, rising.

Perseus looked at him skeptically, but took a step — and nearly lost his balance as he jerked up far too hard on the crutch. Once he had his balance, he spun back to the stranger.

“Better?”

“Infinitely,” Perseus replied. “Thank you.”

The stranger made slight bow. “Tawm.”

“Perseus. Nice to meet you.”

“You were hurrying to get inside. What is it you need?”

He hesitated. “The toilet.”

Tawm nodded. “Follow me.”

Tawm led the way — slowly enough for Perseus to keep up easily — to an older section of the city, and up to a particularly battered-looking building. There were dents and scratches all over its surface. It looked very nearly as scarred as the moon itself. There was a metal plate bolted over where the airlock controls should be.

Tawm sent a message as they approached it. After a moment, the doors slid open. A woman came running up behind them. Tawm held the door for her to follow them in. He assumed that she was speaking to her pax because her mouth was moving, but even when the air pressure reached atmospheric, he couldn’t hear even a muffled voice.

Tawm slid the glass from his helmet back over his head. Perseus was about to follow suit, but he stopped as he noticed the haziness of the air.

The inside of the building also betrayed its age. First, the walls were an unbroken collage of graffiti. He glanced into one of the rooms, where plants were growing in a system built from a hodgepodge of outdated and modern tech. Fish gaped at him from yellow and violet tanks.

They passed people in the corridor. First, a skinner with eyes that were glassy and vacant. Nectar? Next, a group of stocky men and women brandishing a variety of weapons. Thugs.

Perseus started to lose his nerve.

“The toilet is right in here,” Tawm motioned.

Perseus glanced around anxiously. Another skinner passed them. Her eyes were clear and bright, she was smiling at something down the hall behind him. She raised her hand to wave. The sleeve on the other side hung limp, empty.

Perseus turned to watch her as she met a guy skinner down the hall who threw an arm around her shoulders. They turned a corner out of sight.

He relaxed a little and stepped into the toilet. Tawm was waiting for him when he came back out.

Perseus followed him to the end of the corridor into what appeared to be an office. When they entered, he saw it was much larger than he had anticipated, and was furnished more like a living room.

“Have a seat.”

Perseus sat, but Tawm paced.

A woman followed them into the room, carrying an oblong bundle. She walked over to him and knelt. She unwrapped the bundle, revealing an artificial leg. It was old — it looked like a spring instead of like an ankle and foot — and it was worn.

“I… what? Thank you.”

The woman made a sign to him.

“You’re welcome,” PZ interpreted.

He wanted to ask if she could talk, but stopped himself.

She began strapping the leg in place.

“Why are you helping me?” Perseus asked.

Tawm was standing in the doorway, looking down the length of the corridor. He spoke without turning around. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

He inhaled a deep breath.

“Give me the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

The woman signed again. “It’s ready.” Then she stood, hovering off to the side.

Tawm turned back to him.

Perseus stood up slowly. He took a step, holding the arm of the sofa.

“Bravo.” Tawm said. A group of thugs passed behind him in the hazy, graffitied corridor.

Perseus looked back down at his feet and took another step. Then he pushed the glass of his helmet up away from his face. He could get used to it.


Read the next chapter: Ruke


Selecting Faces Table of Contents

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