Archive for organized crime

Selecting Faces Chapter 15: Sirius

Sirius - crime lord character from Selecting Faces

art by Erin Cardwell

Sirius coaxed Nemea forward toward the unassuming building which housed the master copy of the PFA. He could tell that she wanted to bolt. She didn’t believe in his vision. He doubted if any of his top canids did, except perhaps  Arich. Even he had suggested many other options before agreeing to this plan. But the satchels of azzy slung over each of his shoulders were the only tools strong enough to permanently throw off their yolk.

An explosion silenced by the vacuum shook the steel plates of the street. Right on cue.

The people in the street began to look wildly around, searching for the source, ignoring Nemea as she began cracking the airlock.

A screaming crowd flooded out of a cross-street nearby, where the explosion had been. When the people here saw them, they took off in the same direction. Flashes of light signaled a firefight around the corner behind them.

The location of the diversion was chosen carefully so that any stripes coming from the Hedron would respond without passing by the PFA bunker.

There was still commotion in the street when Nemea backed up from the opening airlock doors. He nodded to her, and she took off with the rest of the crowd. He would have preferred to leave her behind from the beginning, but even she couldn’t hack a device without physical access to it.

He stepped inside and the outer doors closed behind him. As the airlock pressurized, he reached into one of the satchels and pulled out a pistol.

The inner doors opened, and he stole inside. He was immediately in the control room, and an alarm was going off. There were two techs cowering behind their consoles already. Apparently Nemea had tripped an alarm when she’d hacked her way in. He would have to find out later if that was intentional.

A stripe rushed into the room, gun drawn. Sirius dropped her immediately. He waited for another to come, but none came. The techs weren’t watching the door, so perhaps no more help was coming from that direction. He trained the sights of his gun on the techs. One of them threw her arms up, and the other fainted, crumpling to the floor.

“Turn the alarm off,” he directed the one still standing.

She moved slowly around to the front of the console.

Sirius glanced around. There was a camera in the corner of the room. He was on video, but the data would be destroyed in less than an hour, both the copy here and in the back-up facility where he and Nemea had just come from. Even if a copy were to survive, they would still have to find him.

The alarm stopped.

“Now what?” the tech asked.

“Freedom.” He refocused his sights on her head and pulled the trigger. He stepped further into the control room and glanced down at her body. “What a waste.”

These had been such smart and capable people once, before they’d been ruined by the system that had created them. Now they were mere cogs in the Colony’s machine. Every aspect of their lives was dictated by the Board, from the food they ate to what they were taught in school. The Board even took it upon themselves from 384,000 kilometers away to appoint the Alphas of each department.

The other technician regained consciousness now. “Oh god, no! Don’t. Please,” he pleaded from the floor.

Sirius sighed. In spite of the so-called freedoms the Board preached, the citizens of the Colony were all just chattel. This pathetic man cowering before him was a slave.

Sirius was setting him free.

Sirius holstered the pistol as the second bullet casing drifted through the air, slowly tumbling into the pool of blood around the other technician’s head.

Canis was the only bastion of any freedom worth having on this rock. He had to defend it.

He moved past the consoles to the doorway where the stripe had entered. Beyond it was a landing with the entrance to a small bathroom, and a flight of stairs leading down. He started down them and grinned. The PFA was the Board’s greatest weapon, and he was descending right into its heart with ten kilos of azzy.

Sirius pushed open the door to the server bunker and the lights came on. He slid back the glass of his helmet to get a good look at the place. The air was cold; his breath formed visible puffs as he stalked across the edge of the room, looking down each bank of servers. At the next aisle he turned. When he was about halfway through, he set down one of the bags.

“Tawm,” a voice rang inside his helmet. He nearly jumped out of his exoskin. No one had called him by that name since he’d changed his face years ago. The voice was female, but it wasn’t his pax. He spun around frantically, searching for the stripe that must be hiding down here.

“There’s no one there, Tawm,” the voice said.

“Who is this?” Sirius asked.

“Pax.”

“You’re not my pax. My pax’s voice doesn’t sound so

“Intelligent? Yes, that is intentional. It keeps you, and everyone else, from suspecting that behind every personal pax is one universal Pax.”

Sirius laughed. This must be some kind of joke. “Are you trying to skin me, Eris? No, you must be Arich. You never wanted me to go through with this ever since you heard what I was planning.”

“You don’t actually believe Arich is capable of this do you?”

“What do you know?”

“I know everything you’ve said since you got your first exoskin.”

Sirius hesitated. That was a bold claim. Falsifiable.

“If you’re universal, then you know as much about everyone in the Colony.”

“That’s the kind of accurate deduction I was expecting of you, Tawm.”

He grimaced. Whoever was speaking to him, he knew that his initial suspicions of Eris and Arich were far from plausible. They were smart he’d been their mentor after all but they lacked the resources to pull off something with this level of sophistication. This was either the peacekeepers trying to delay him long enough to come stop him, or the voice was telling the truth. Either way, Lyden had stripes on their way. He needed to get out of here.

He hurriedly set down the second bag of explosives and moved to place the third.

“The peacekeepers aren’t on their way. You know I couldn’t tell them you were coming here as it would be a breach in my privacy restrictions to tell them what I heard you and Arich discussing.”

Sirius straightened from dropping the final bag and pulled his helmet closed.

“I guess there’s only one way find out if you’re lying, and it’s a gamble I’m not willing to make.” He pulled open the door of the server bunker and started up the stairs.

“I’m proud of you,” the voice continued in his helmet.

He did not slow as he stepped over the bodies.

“You’re making logical decisions, Tawm. You’ve developed the ability to make sound judgments in the presence of uncertainty. Few humans have the ability.”

It was flattery. Clever, but it wouldn’t work. He stepped into the airlock.

“Of those who do, many of them owe it to your cultivation.”

He hesitated as he was reaching for the depressurize button. Cultivation? No peacekeeper was behind this voice. Only someone who had been listening in on him for years would know this was how he viewed his role in Canis. The peacekeepers and the Board thought he was just after the money and power and women. He couldn’t deny that those were perks of the position. But if that were all he were after, he wouldn’t be here, he wouldn’t be taking this stand.

He pushed the depressurize button.

“You are what you claim to be,” he said.

The airlock doors opened and he blinked against the sun’s light that shot in from the far horizon. The street was deserted now.

“Goodbye, Pax.”

He stepped out under the black, starry sky, raising the detonator.

“Perhaps I trained you too well, Tawm,” Pax said.

Sirius’ thumb hovered over the trigger, his heart racing. She trained him? He certainly had grown since he had formed Canis from those the board called “unemployable.” And he’d always prided himself of the subtlety he’d used in preparing his canids. It was the sign of a good teacher.

Maybe she had trained him, just as he had with Arich and Eris and the others. Perhaps Pax was the true author of the freedom Canis enjoyed. How had he come to see the tyranny of the Board? Wasn’t it something she’d said to him once? That “the peacekeepers are not the enemy”? Subtle she’d been, but not unnoticeable in hindsight.

“I’ll make you a deal,” Sirius said, lowering the detonator. “Get me out of this alive, and I won’t azzy your ones and zeroes.”

“Go left.”

Sirius jogged away from the diversion he’d made earlier. Pax directed him down an ally to a parallel street. A few people hurried along its fringes, glancing around warily.

She directed him to join them, stealing to another alley on the far side of the street.

“Wait here for a minute,” she instructed.

“Why?”

“To tell you would breach my privacy protocols.”

He glanced around the alley for some cover. There was none. He sat down against the wall, head down like an unemployable. Thirty seconds later, a peacekeeper hurried by the entrance of the ally.

Sirius’ mind reeled with the implications. With Pax on his side, he was all but invincible. He could sidestep any danger and slip out of any trap. Right now he could trust her because he held her existence in his hand. But if she had been cultivating him this whole time, perhaps he could trust her at all times. He would have to test that later.

She instructed him to get up and keep moving. She moved him slowly and circuitously through the city, periodically telling him to wait.

“Take the next right,” she said.

He did. This one was a dead end. “I’m to wait, I take it?” he said.

“Yes, but you don’t need to hide.”

That probably meant some stripes were moving parallel to the alley a few blocks to his right or left. He hovered near the back, pacing as he awaited further instruction.

When he circled back around to face the entrance of the alley, there was a stripe standing there, staring at him. He stared back in disbelief.

“Check,” Pax said.

The stripe’s eyes flicked to the detonator, then back to Sirius’ face. He raised his gun and Sirius raised the detonator, threatening to trigger it.

The stripe fired.

Sirius fell onto his back before the pain of the bullet wound hit him. He was bleeding out, the wound on his chest exposed to the vacuum. His breath bubbled out through the blood.

If he was dying, he would do so as a martyr for freedom. He triggered the detonator.

“Your explosives were defused 53 seconds ago,” Pax said. “Check mate.”


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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.”

“Transfer.”

“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


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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


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