Thursday, December 20, 2018

12/20/18

Trickster
By David Castlewitz


The rain cut the effect of the aura readers, so Oliver Lorde felt safe from detection. He sipped coffee from a 16 ounce porcelain cup, a hallmark of this café, Beans Roast and More, and watched rain refugees migrate into this sanctuary with water dripping from jackets and hats, making puddles on the black-and-white tiled floor. Even a very accurate reader, like those the Federal Protective Agency used, couldn't cull his personal aura from the mess they'd find in the café.

But Oliver knew he had yet to run the full gauntlet. Strolling cops and overhead drones sought indications of his presence, and self-driving cruisers patrolled the streets with sweeping parabolic antennae providing overlapping arcs of coverage. His best chance to escape lay in finding Dr. Love and buying an immunity band. The strap-on device, while not permanently destroying his natural aura, would at least dampen it.

Deep breathing exercises helped him relax. The coffee cooled in its cup. Now and then he looked at his notebook computer screen, which he kept on his lap, partially hidden by the tabletop. A benign slideshow of cuddly cat pictures played in a loop. He let his finger drift across the screen until the pointing arrow turned into a golden key. Then he tapped three times and the bottom third of the screen filled with a data stream culled from the air.

No one noticed, he assured himself. Maybe someone saw the cute kittens if they passed behind him and looked down at a certain angle. Maybe some curious person saw what was in his lap, but moved on without being suspicious. With his jacket wrapped around his thick body and his collar upturned even though it wasn't cold here, Oliver intentionally projected an oddball countenance. People didn't expect a chubby boyish-faced guy to be any sort of mastermind.

He looked at the stream of symbols and numbers and letters running in four bands across the bottom of his screen. It reflected smart phone communications, TV or a movie broadcast, streaming music services and game playing. Some people, he reasoned, were shopping. Eventually, someone would be stupid enough to enable an unsecured page and enter their secret credentials, their personal security not even a second thought. His data culling program would capture the credit card codes and store them in an encrypted file that he’d access as needed.

The rain stopped. Oliver closed his notebook computer, stuffed it into his drab green backpack, downed some coffee, and mingled with the other patrons exiting Beans Roast and More. According to a just-now-received message, Dr. Vivian Love waited for him.

He pictured her as an old hag with limp black hair and a smelly dress, her legs encased in dark stockings. Alternately, he imagined Love to be a svelte brunette speaking with an East European accent.

His latest Trick-fest had earned him enough money to finance a year of living off the grid. It had been a fun project. He'd planted fake news, rifled through secret files of targeted politicians, masqueraded as a foreign power's security agency, and provoked havoc during a recent election.

But those seven months of big paychecks had come to an end when his cover was blown by somebody who didn't work as carefully as he and bought their way out of trouble by naming names, fake and otherwise. Ever cautious, to the point of paranoia, Oliver stopped working.

For weeks, he kept on the move, staying at homeless shelters, sometimes living on the street in pop-up tent cities, often finding help from the community of anarchists. He used unsecured wireless access points to get into the Dark Web and search for someone who’d hook him up with the infamous Dr. Love and her aura-beating wrist band.

Oliver liked to imagine that he’d relocate to a less hectic environment, like a small town or a remote village. Perhaps he’d live where a wireless uplink wasn’t possible, where sitting in a coffee house and scanning for credit cards just couldn't happen because the patrons used cash and didn't shop online and never appreciated how smart they were.

Once he found her – or her agent – he obeyed the instructions sent by coded message and made his way to the edge of the city, where manicured lawns and gray-walled apartment complexes dominated the landscape. He sat on a bench outside a small park. He waited.

A tall woman approached, one of the versions of Dr. Vivian Love that he'd imagined in his daydreams. A beautiful woman with dark and exotic eyes. A tight-lipped mouth. A narrow face ending in a pointed chin. Her sweater lay flat against her chest. Her trousers made a swish-swish sound, and her hands, when they touched him as she sat beside him on the bench, tingled with electricity.

"Dr. Love, I presume?" Oliver said.

"I'll transfer to you my account information. You pay me.”

"I want the wrist band and proof that it works," Oliver said.

"Of course."

The woman stood. Oliver thought she'd lead him to her secret laboratory, which he pictured as a bubbling-beaker filled abode like those he saw in old black-and-white movies. When she walked, he followed. Until she stopped and turned to him, forcing him to wait for further instructions.

"What?" Oliver asked, impatient with this delay.

Drones appeared overhead. A squad car pulled up, one of the self-driving models. Four tactical cops stormed out from the back seats.

Oliver looked at the woman who'd lured him to his capture. She smiled and said: "Didn't you know? Dr. Love is one of ours."

Oliver paled. He’d been lured into a trap. He trembled in response to the truth.

Vivian Love was a Trickster like himself.


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After a long and successful career as a software developer and technical architect, David has turned to a first love: writing fiction of all sorts, especially SF and fantasy. He's published stories in Phase 2, Farther Stars Than These, SciFan, Martian Wave, Flash Fiction Press , Bonfires and Vanities (an anthology) and other online as well as print magazines. Visit his web site: http://www.davidsjournal.com to learn more and for links to his Kindle books on Amazon.

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