How Much
For Prime Minister?

How Much For Prime Minister?

How Much
For Prime Minister?

How Much For Prime Minister?

Grounded SF from
the Netherlands
and Flanders
no. 3

Grounded SF from
the Netherlands
and Flanders
no. 3

Grounded SF from
the Netherlands
and Flanders
no. 3

AUTHOR

Roderick Leeuwenhart

PITCH

Your identity is no longer something you can decide for yourself: you have to claim it from a highly regulated authority. The government determined the optimal mix of all possible identities in society using ‘game theory’: a certain percentage of gays, a certain percentage of rock fans, so many homeless persons and so many traders. This leads to harrowing situations when your assigned identity isn’t consistent with who you really are but deviating from it is punishable. A black market in identities emerged. How much for prime minister?

Grounded SF

 

The gun is cocked and raised at Kwame’s forehead in the blink of an eye. Stunned, he watches the woman change identity. Only a minute ago they were having a nice conversation, just a simple salesman and a presumably straight clubber desperate to flip queer. Although she could be anything now, Kwame has a feeling what she might be.

The gun is cocked and raised at Kwame’s forehead in the blink of an eye. Stunned, he watches the woman change identity. Only a minute ago they were having a nice conversation, just a simple salesman and a presumably straight clubber desperate to flip queer. Although she could be anything now, Kwame has a feeling what she might be.

The gun is cocked and raised at Kwame’s forehead in the blink of an eye. Stunned, he watches the woman change identity. Only a minute ago they were having a nice conversation, just a simple salesman and a presumably straight clubber desperate to flip queer. Although she could be anything now, Kwame has a feeling what she might be.

The gun is cocked and raised at Kwame’s forehead in the blink of an eye. Stunned, he watches the woman change identity. Only a minute ago they were having a nice conversation, just a simple salesman and a presumably straight clubber desperate to flip queer. Although she could be anything now, Kwame has a feeling what she might be.

The gun is cocked and raised at Kwame’s forehead in the blink of an eye. Stunned, he watches the woman change identity. Only a minute ago they were having a nice conversation, just a simple salesman and a presumably straight clubber desperate to flip queer. Although she could be anything now, Kwame has a feeling what she might be.

‘I knew I was a catch,’ he says with, hopefully, disarming whimsy.

‘You bet. You’re under arrest.’

She holds the red identity card between her fingers, the pistol grip perched on her palm. Practiced ease. Identity enforcer alright. Textbook bait and switch, and he falls for it. Sure, no red flags leading up to the meeting, here, in the Marquis’ neon-drenched booths. They’re getting wiser every day.

Identity trade isn’t a serious crime, at least it shouldn’t be according to Kwame, but it happens to be the number one pain in the ass of the current government. After theorising the hell out of it, they weren’t about to let a bunch of black market scalpers ruin their perfectly calibrated society.

The woman’s fed up and drags him out of his seat. Next stop: the cobblestone streets of Utrecht and then either some uninviting black van or the waste-filled waters of the Oudegracht.

‘You did that quite well,’ he says, pushing through the dancing throng towards the exit – no need to feel the gun to know it’s there behind him. Kwame imitates her: ‘“That’s a trick question. I’m not allowed to engage in homosexual acts without that little piece of plastic in your backpack.” Let me get you an actress pass. Better money, and you clearly have the chops.’

No response. The backpack burns on his shoulder. It carries every identity he has for sale, a hundred-odd cards – the sum total of his business.

He stops. As long as they’re in the club, there’s noise and poor sight that could work to his advantage. But as soon as he turns around, her weapon is all he can see. If it were any other firearm, he’d switch identities on the spot, confusing it long enough to vault over the tables and be gone before its owner could override the registry. He can’t, but he has to. Kwame’s been in this game long enough to know what awaits him, a status holder – Ghanaian, now.

‘Move.’

Cold sweat snakes down his neck in the rhythm of the thumping bass. The DJ doesn’t see, the clubbers don’t care.

‘If I move, it means I leave the EU. And not on a first class seat.’

‘Should’ve thought of that–’

Before she finishes, the identity enforcer stammers into silence and her eyes go milky. Instead of slumping to the floor, she’s caught by the fixer behind her. The all-important gun slips from her trigger finger. Kwame reaches out to snatch it from her mid-air.

‘Wouldn’t want this to go off.’

His unknown rescuer wipes the spot on the woman’s neck where he scratched her with a drugging agent and simultaneously helps her into a seat. Anyone would think she’s resting or drunk.

What’s a fixer doing here? And more to the point, why save me?

The man’s voice is precise. ‘Kwame Danquah.’

‘Yes?’

‘You may render your thanks to my employer in person. Please come with me.’

The thing about fixers is they don’t need pistols to force you to comply.

‘I knew I was a catch,’ he says with, hopefully, disarming whimsy.

‘You bet. You’re under arrest.’

She holds the red identity card between her fingers, the pistol grip perched on her palm. Practiced ease. Identity enforcer alright. Textbook bait and switch, and he falls for it. Sure, no red flags leading up to the meeting, here, in the Marquis’ neon-drenched booths. They’re getting wiser every day.

Identity trade isn’t a serious crime, at least it shouldn’t be according to Kwame, but it happens to be the number one pain in the ass of the current government. After theorising the hell out of it, they weren’t about to let a bunch of black market scalpers ruin their perfectly calibrated society.

The woman’s fed up and drags him out of his seat. Next stop: the cobblestone streets of Utrecht and then either some uninviting black van or the waste-filled waters of the Oudegracht.

‘You did that quite well,’ he says, pushing through the dancing throng towards the exit – no need to feel the gun to know it’s there behind him. Kwame imitates her: ‘“That’s a trick question. I’m not allowed to engage in homosexual acts without that little piece of plastic in your backpack.” Let me get you an actress pass. Better money, and you clearly have the chops.’

No response. The backpack burns on his shoulder. It carries every identity he has for sale, a hundred-odd cards – the sum total of his business.

He stops. As long as they’re in the club, there’s noise and poor sight that could work to his advantage. But as soon as he turns around, her weapon is all he can see. If it were any other firearm, he’d switch identities on the spot, confusing it long enough to vault over the tables and be gone before its owner could override the registry. He can’t, but he has to. Kwame’s been in this game long enough to know what awaits him, a status holder – Ghanaian, now.

‘Move.’

Cold sweat snakes down his neck in the rhythm of the thumping bass. The DJ doesn’t see, the clubbers don’t care.

‘If I move, it means I leave the EU. And not on a first class seat.’

‘Should’ve thought of that–’

Before she finishes, the identity enforcer stammers into silence and her eyes go milky. Instead of slumping to the floor, she’s caught by the fixer behind her. The all-important gun slips from her trigger finger. Kwame reaches out to snatch it from her mid-air.

‘Wouldn’t want this to go off.’

His unknown rescuer wipes the spot on the woman’s neck where he scratched her with a drugging agent and simultaneously helps her into a seat. Anyone would think she’s resting or drunk.

What’s a fixer doing here? And more to the point, why save me?

The man’s voice is precise. ‘Kwame Danquah.’

‘Yes?’

‘You may render your thanks to my employer in person. Please come with me.’

The thing about fixers is they don’t need pistols to force you to comply.

‘I knew I was a catch,’ he says with, hopefully, disarming whimsy.

‘You bet. You’re under arrest.’

She holds the red identity card between her fingers, the pistol grip perched on her palm. Practiced ease. Identity enforcer alright. Textbook bait and switch, and he falls for it. Sure, no red flags leading up to the meeting, here, in the Marquis’ neon-drenched booths. They’re getting wiser every day.

Identity trade isn’t a serious crime, at least it shouldn’t be according to Kwame, but it happens to be the number one pain in the ass of the current government. After theorising the hell out of it, they weren’t about to let a bunch of black market scalpers ruin their perfectly calibrated society.

The woman’s fed up and drags him out of his seat. Next stop: the cobblestone streets of Utrecht and then either some uninviting black van or the waste-filled waters of the Oudegracht.

‘You did that quite well,’ he says, pushing through the dancing throng towards the exit – no need to feel the gun to know it’s there behind him. Kwame imitates her: ‘“That’s a trick question. I’m not allowed to engage in homosexual acts without that little piece of plastic in your backpack.” Let me get you an actress pass. Better money, and you clearly have the chops.’

No response. The backpack burns on his shoulder. It carries every identity he has for sale, a hundred-odd cards – the sum total of his business.

He stops. As long as they’re in the club, there’s noise and poor sight that could work to his advantage. But as soon as he turns around, her weapon is all he can see. If it were any other firearm, he’d switch identities on the spot, confusing it long enough to vault over the tables and be gone before its owner could override the registry. He can’t, but he has to. Kwame’s been in this game long enough to know what awaits him, a status holder – Ghanaian, now.

‘Move.’

Cold sweat snakes down his neck in the rhythm of the thumping bass. The DJ doesn’t see, the clubbers don’t care.

‘If I move, it means I leave the EU. And not on a first class seat.’

‘Should’ve thought of that–’

Before she finishes, the identity enforcer stammers into silence and her eyes go milky. Instead of slumping to the floor, she’s caught by the fixer behind her. The all-important gun slips from her trigger finger. Kwame reaches out to snatch it from her mid-air.

‘Wouldn’t want this to go off.’

His unknown rescuer wipes the spot on the woman’s neck where he scratched her with a drugging agent and simultaneously helps her into a seat. Anyone would think she’s resting or drunk.

What’s a fixer doing here? And more to the point, why save me?

The man’s voice is precise. ‘Kwame Danquah.’

‘Yes?’

‘You may render your thanks to my employer in person. Please come with me.’

The thing about fixers is they don’t need pistols to force you to comply.

‘I knew I was a catch,’ he says with, hopefully, disarming whimsy.

‘You bet. You’re under arrest.’

She holds the red identity card between her fingers, the pistol grip perched on her palm. Practiced ease. Identity enforcer alright. Textbook bait and switch, and he falls for it. Sure, no red flags leading up to the meeting, here, in the Marquis’ neon-drenched booths. They’re getting wiser every day.

Identity trade isn’t a serious crime, at least it shouldn’t be according to Kwame, but it happens to be the number one pain in the ass of the current government. After theorising the hell out of it, they weren’t about to let a bunch of black market scalpers ruin their perfectly calibrated society.

The woman’s fed up and drags him out of his seat. Next stop: the cobblestone streets of Utrecht and then either some uninviting black van or the waste-filled waters of the Oudegracht.

‘You did that quite well,’ he says, pushing through the dancing throng towards the exit – no need to feel the gun to know it’s there behind him. Kwame imitates her: ‘“That’s a trick question. I’m not allowed to engage in homosexual acts without that little piece of plastic in your backpack.” Let me get you an actress pass. Better money, and you clearly have the chops.’

No response. The backpack burns on his shoulder. It carries every identity he has for sale, a hundred-odd cards – the sum total of his business.

He stops. As long as they’re in the club, there’s noise and poor sight that could work to his advantage. But as soon as he turns around, her weapon is all he can see. If it were any other firearm, he’d switch identities on the spot, confusing it long enough to vault over the tables and be gone before its owner could override the registry. He can’t, but he has to. Kwame’s been in this game long enough to know what awaits him, a status holder – Ghanaian, now.

‘Move.’

Cold sweat snakes down his neck in the rhythm of the thumping bass. The DJ doesn’t see, the clubbers don’t care.

‘If I move, it means I leave the EU. And not on a first class seat.’

‘Should’ve thought of that–’

Before she finishes, the identity enforcer stammers into silence and her eyes go milky. Instead of slumping to the floor, she’s caught by the fixer behind her. The all-important gun slips from her trigger finger. Kwame reaches out to snatch it from her mid-air.

‘Wouldn’t want this to go off.’

His unknown rescuer wipes the spot on the woman’s neck where he scratched her with a drugging agent and simultaneously helps her into a seat. Anyone would think she’s resting or drunk.

What’s a fixer doing here? And more to the point, why save me?

The man’s voice is precise. ‘Kwame Danquah.’

‘Yes?’

‘You may render your thanks to my employer in person. Please come with me.’

The thing about fixers is they don’t need pistols to force you to comply.

‘I knew I was a catch,’ he says with, hopefully, disarming whimsy.

‘You bet. You’re under arrest.’

She holds the red identity card between her fingers, the pistol grip perched on her palm. Practiced ease. Identity enforcer alright. Textbook bait and switch, and he falls for it. Sure, no red flags leading up to the meeting, here, in the Marquis’ neon-drenched booths. They’re getting wiser every day.

Identity trade isn’t a serious crime, at least it shouldn’t be according to Kwame, but it happens to be the number one pain in the ass of the current government. After theorising the hell out of it, they weren’t about to let a bunch of black market scalpers ruin their perfectly calibrated society.

The woman’s fed up and drags him out of his seat. Next stop: the cobblestone streets of Utrecht and then either some uninviting black van or the waste-filled waters of the Oudegracht.

‘You did that quite well,’ he says, pushing through the dancing throng towards the exit – no need to feel the gun to know it’s there behind him. Kwame imitates her: ‘“That’s a trick question. I’m not allowed to engage in homosexual acts without that little piece of plastic in your backpack.” Let me get you an actress pass. Better money, and you clearly have the chops.’

No response. The backpack burns on his shoulder. It carries every identity he has for sale, a hundred-odd cards – the sum total of his business.

He stops. As long as they’re in the club, there’s noise and poor sight that could work to his advantage. But as soon as he turns around, her weapon is all he can see. If it were any other firearm, he’d switch identities on the spot, confusing it long enough to vault over the tables and be gone before its owner could override the registry. He can’t, but he has to. Kwame’s been in this game long enough to know what awaits him, a status holder – Ghanaian, now.

‘Move.’

Cold sweat snakes down his neck in the rhythm of the thumping bass. The DJ doesn’t see, the clubbers don’t care.

‘If I move, it means I leave the EU. And not on a first class seat.’

‘Should’ve thought of that–’

Before she finishes, the identity enforcer stammers into silence and her eyes go milky. Instead of slumping to the floor, she’s caught by the fixer behind her. The all-important gun slips from her trigger finger. Kwame reaches out to snatch it from her mid-air.

‘Wouldn’t want this to go off.’

His unknown rescuer wipes the spot on the woman’s neck where he scratched her with a drugging agent and simultaneously helps her into a seat. Anyone would think she’s resting or drunk.

What’s a fixer doing here? And more to the point, why save me?

The man’s voice is precise. ‘Kwame Danquah.’

‘Yes?’

‘You may render your thanks to my employer in person. Please come with me.’

The thing about fixers is they don’t need pistols to force you to comply.

Cold sweat snakes down his neck in the rhythm of the thumping bass.
The DJ doesn’t see, the clubbers don’t care.

Cold sweat snakes down his neck in the rhythm of the thumping bass. The DJ doesn’t see, the clubbers don’t care.

Cold sweat snakes down his neck in the rhythm of the thumping bass. The DJ doesn’t see, the clubbers don’t care.

Cold sweat snakes down his neck in the rhythm of the thumping bass. The DJ doesn’t see, the clubbers don’t care.

Cold sweat snakes down his neck in the rhythm of the thumping bass. The DJ doesn’t see, the clubbers don’t care.

Without so much as a word the fixer’s gone, taking the gun and locking the doors behind him, leaving Kwame in a strange city apartment. The rain-slick façade outside was something of a shock and the interior just as much. The study’s lined with paintings featuring faceless mannequins, homely furniture is kept to a minimum.

This is not the usual seedy den that small-time vendors are summoned to.

He feels a tang of jealousy. Kwame’s used to midnight draughts and moisture curling up the wallpaper. Here, the air’s carefully conditioned to keep the art pristine.

Then again, no matter how impressive this is, a prison is a prison. He pivots away from the room’s disturbing sights to face the entrance. Whatever plan they have for him – he’s out.

The doors, of course, don’t give way.

Kwame whips out his wallet and synchronizes with an identity card by planting it on the NFC chip in his wrist.

A warm finger pressed to the door’s security panel is all it takes for the system to wake.

‘I am Kwame Danquah, security employee at Capital. Override the lock.’

No luck. The system barely responds.

Seems everyone is getting wise.

Before he gets the chance for another attempt, footsteps alert him to a presence. He gets rid of the wallet with a sleight of hand and turns around. His host is… not what he expected. The patrician is dressed in expensive-looking casual wear – an off-white wool turtleneck with designer slacks. He seems ill at ease while shuffling forward.

‘You’ve had worse welcomes. I’m Arnoud.’ Arnoud flashes a nervous smile. ‘Do you know what today’s number one vanishing identity is?’

Kwame’s used to switching gears on the fly. He tempers his beating heart, shakes hands and ventures a guess. ‘Billionaires.’

‘Wrong. The answer is immigrants. Goes against every instinct, right? More refugees wash up every day, and yet... Our leaders allocate fewer and fewer immigrant passes, because something’s not a problem if it’s not in the books. That these illegal, identity-lacking people now overflow our streets is, well, a detail. That’s why I’m so impressed with you. You are a necessary agent, your services give them a fighting chance.’

He’s either playing on my sympathies… or making a veiled threat. Kwame can’t rule out the possibility Arnoud is aware of his fraudulent status holder card. But it feels unlikely this is a sting. Too exotic. Why bother just to pick up a petty vendor?

‘Interesting story. But you don’t seem lacking in any way.’

‘Oh, no, quite the opposite.’

He gestures him to follow, eager for a demonstration. They pass a tabletop hovering in the air, held aloft by an electromagnetic field. The back of the study features an art collection of, again, mannequins. It’s opulent and visually chaotic enough to miss the subtle hairlines cut into one of the abstract paintings. The outline of a door, hidden in plain sight. When Arnoud suddenly stops before it, Kwame takes a full second to notice. The patrician places his hand on the canvas, where a secret touch pad scans him before opening the wall section, silently but with a shiver, into a secret room.

Kwame forgets to breathe.

The vault is bright like an optician’s, but instead of pairs of glasses it displays an endless array of identity cards. Thousands of them, neatly categorized and presented as exquisite jewelry.

His mind reels at these riches. If he were to just grab a handful, he’d be settled for life. It’s impossible that a single person could hold so many, and such rare ones too! Pension fund CEO, lead singer – platinum... he nearly gasps as he spots minister of urban planning.

‘You’re no ordinary rich man.’ He keeps his breathing light with effort. ‘You’re a collector. But you aren’t supposed to exist outside of drunken rumors.’

‘Would you believe me if I say I go out every day a different person, trying out new identities like pieces of fashion? Once you get into the habit of collecting, it’s rather addictive.’

Arnoud walks deeper into the vault and brushes some of the cards with his fingers, lost in thought. Kwame’s desperate to do the same, just to touch this wealth. He reaches out, but withdraws again. Arnoud seems oblivious to his struggle – it’s no more than a walk-in wardrobe to him.

He’s trying to dazzle me. But why? I don’t deal in rares and he obviously has fancier sources.

Kwame closes his eyes as to ward off the temptation. To no avail. He feels his curiosity winning, the need to know Arnoud’s upcoming request and the reward on offer. Both must be monstrous after being abducted and buttered up this way.

His host wakes from his thoughts, turns around. ‘You must be hungry after all that clubbing.’

Without so much as a word the fixer’s gone, taking the gun and locking the doors behind him, leaving Kwame in a strange city apartment. The rain-slick façade outside was something of a shock and the interior just as much. The study’s lined with paintings featuring faceless mannequins, homely furniture is kept to a minimum.

This is not the usual seedy den that small-time vendors are summoned to.

He feels a tang of jealousy. Kwame’s used to midnight draughts and moisture curling up the wallpaper. Here, the air’s carefully conditioned to keep the art pristine.

Then again, no matter how impressive this is, a prison is a prison. He pivots away from the room’s disturbing sights to face the entrance. Whatever plan they have for him – he’s out.

The doors, of course, don’t give way.

Kwame whips out his wallet and synchronizes with an identity card by planting it on the NFC chip in his wrist.

A warm finger pressed to the door’s security panel is all it takes for the system to wake.

‘I am Kwame Danquah, security employee at Capital. Override the lock.’

No luck. The system barely responds.

Seems everyone is getting wise.

Before he gets the chance for another attempt, footsteps alert him to a presence. He gets rid of the wallet with a sleight of hand and turns around. His host is… not what he expected. The patrician is dressed in expensive-looking casual wear – an off-white wool turtleneck with designer slacks. He seems ill at ease while shuffling forward.

‘You’ve had worse welcomes. I’m Arnoud.’ Arnoud flashes a nervous smile. ‘Do you know what today’s number one vanishing identity is?’

Kwame’s used to switching gears on the fly. He tempers his beating heart, shakes hands and ventures a guess. ‘Billionaires.’

‘Wrong. The answer is immigrants. Goes against every instinct, right? More refugees wash up every day, and yet... Our leaders allocate fewer and fewer immigrant passes, because something’s not a problem if it’s not in the books. That these illegal, identity-lacking people now overflow our streets is, well, a detail. That’s why I’m so impressed with you. You are a necessary agent, your services give them a fighting chance.’

He’s either playing on my sympathies… or making a veiled threat. Kwame can’t rule out the possibility Arnoud is aware of his fraudulent status holder card. But it feels unlikely this is a sting. Too exotic. Why bother just to pick up a petty vendor?

‘Interesting story. But you don’t seem lacking in any way.’

‘Oh, no, quite the opposite.’

He gestures him to follow, eager for a demonstration. They pass a tabletop hovering in the air, held aloft by an electromagnetic field. The back of the study features an art collection of, again, mannequins. It’s opulent and visually chaotic enough to miss the subtle hairlines cut into one of the abstract paintings. The outline of a door, hidden in plain sight. When Arnoud suddenly stops before it, Kwame takes a full second to notice. The patrician places his hand on the canvas, where a secret touch pad scans him before opening the wall section, silently but with a shiver, into a secret room.

Kwame forgets to breathe.

The vault is bright like an optician’s, but instead of pairs of glasses it displays an endless array of identity cards. Thousands of them, neatly categorized and presented as exquisite jewelry.

His mind reels at these riches. If he were to just grab a handful, he’d be settled for life. It’s impossible that a single person could hold so many, and such rare ones too! Pension fund CEO, lead singer – platinum... he nearly gasps as he spots minister of urban planning.

‘You’re no ordinary rich man.’ He keeps his breathing light with effort. ‘You’re a collector. But you aren’t supposed to exist outside of drunken rumors.’

‘Would you believe me if I say I go out every day a different person, trying out new identities like pieces of fashion? Once you get into the habit of collecting, it’s rather addictive.’

Arnoud walks deeper into the vault and brushes some of the cards with his fingers, lost in thought. Kwame’s desperate to do the same, just to touch this wealth. He reaches out, but withdraws again. Arnoud seems oblivious to his struggle – it’s no more than a walk-in wardrobe to him.

He’s trying to dazzle me. But why? I don’t deal in rares and he obviously has fancier sources.

Kwame closes his eyes as to ward off the temptation. To no avail. He feels his curiosity winning, the need to know Arnoud’s upcoming request and the reward on offer. Both must be monstrous after being abducted and buttered up this way.

His host wakes from his thoughts, turns around. ‘You must be hungry after all that clubbing.’

Without so much as a word the fixer’s gone, taking the gun and locking the doors behind him, leaving Kwame in a strange city apartment. The rain-slick façade outside was something of a shock and the interior just as much. The study’s lined with paintings featuring faceless mannequins, homely furniture is kept to a minimum.

This is not the usual seedy den that small-time vendors are summoned to.

He feels a tang of jealousy. Kwame’s used to midnight draughts and moisture curling up the wallpaper. Here, the air’s carefully conditioned to keep the art pristine.

Then again, no matter how impressive this is, a prison is a prison. He pivots away from the room’s disturbing sights to face the entrance. Whatever plan they have for him – he’s out.

The doors, of course, don’t give way.

Kwame whips out his wallet and synchronizes with an identity card by planting it on the NFC chip in his wrist.

A warm finger pressed to the door’s security panel is all it takes for the system to wake.

‘I am Kwame Danquah, security employee at Capital. Override the lock.’

No luck. The system barely responds.

Seems everyone is getting wise.

Before he gets the chance for another attempt, footsteps alert him to a presence. He gets rid of the wallet with a sleight of hand and turns around. His host is… not what he expected. The patrician is dressed in expensive-looking casual wear – an off-white wool turtleneck with designer slacks. He seems ill at ease while shuffling forward.

‘You’ve had worse welcomes. I’m Arnoud.’ Arnoud flashes a nervous smile. ‘Do you know what today’s number one vanishing identity is?’

Kwame’s used to switching gears on the fly. He tempers his beating heart, shakes hands and ventures a guess. ‘Billionaires.’

‘Wrong. The answer is immigrants. Goes against every instinct, right? More refugees wash up every day, and yet... Our leaders allocate fewer and fewer immigrant passes, because something’s not a problem if it’s not in the books. That these illegal, identity-lacking people now overflow our streets is, well, a detail. That’s why I’m so impressed with you. You are a necessary agent, your services give them a fighting chance.’

He’s either playing on my sympathies… or making a veiled threatKwame can’t rule out the possibility Arnoud is aware of his fraudulent status holder card. But it feels unlikely this is a sting. Too exotic. Why bother just to pick up a petty vendor?

‘Interesting story. But you don’t seem lacking in any way.’

‘Oh, no, quite the opposite.’

He gestures him to follow, eager for a demonstration. They pass a tabletop hovering in the air, held aloft by an electromagnetic field. The back of the study features an art collection of, again, mannequins. It’s opulent and visually chaotic enough to miss the subtle hairlines cut into one of the abstract paintings. The outline of a door, hidden in plain sight. When Arnoud suddenly stops before it, Kwame takes a full second to notice. The patrician places his hand on the canvas, where a secret touch pad scans him before opening the wall section, silently but with a shiver, into a secret room.

Kwame forgets to breathe.

The vault is bright like an optician’s, but instead of pairs of glasses it displays an endless array of identity cards. Thousands of them, neatly categorized and presented as exquisite jewelry.

His mind reels at these riches. If he were to just grab a handful, he’d be settled for life. It’s impossible that a single person could hold so many, and such rare ones too! Pension fund CEO, lead singer – platinum... he nearly gasps as he spots minister of urban planning.

‘You’re no ordinary rich man.’ He keeps his breathing light with effort. ‘You’re a collector. But you aren’t supposed to exist outside of drunken rumors.’

‘Would you believe me if I say I go out every day a different person, trying out new identities like pieces of fashion? Once you get into the habit of collecting, it’s rather addictive.’

Arnoud walks deeper into the vault and brushes some of the cards with his fingers, lost in thought. Kwame’s desperate to do the same, just to touch this wealth. He reaches out, but withdraws again. Arnoud seems oblivious to his struggle – it’s no more than a walk-in wardrobe to him.

He’s trying to dazzle me. But why? I don’t deal in rares and he obviously has fancier sources.

Kwame closes his eyes as to ward off the temptation. To no avail. He feels his curiosity winning, the need to know Arnoud’s upcoming request and the reward on offer. Both must be monstrous after being abducted and buttered up this way.

His host wakes from his thoughts, turns around. ‘You must be hungry after all that clubbing.’

Without so much as a word the fixer’s gone, taking the gun and locking the doors behind him, leaving Kwame in a strange city apartment. The rain-slick façade outside was something of a shock and the interior just as much. The study’s lined with paintings featuring faceless mannequins, homely furniture is kept to a minimum.

This is not the usual seedy den that small-time vendors are summoned to.

He feels a tang of jealousy. Kwame’s used to midnight draughts and moisture curling up the wallpaper. Here, the air’s carefully conditioned to keep the art pristine.

Then again, no matter how impressive this is, a prison is a prison. He pivots away from the room’s disturbing sights to face the entrance. Whatever plan they have for him – he’s out.

The doors, of course, don’t give way.

Kwame whips out his wallet and synchronizes with an identity card by planting it on the NFC chip in his wrist.

A warm finger pressed to the door’s security panel is all it takes for the system to wake.

‘I am Kwame Danquah, security employee at Capital. Override the lock.’

No luck. The system barely responds.

Seems everyone is getting wise.

Before he gets the chance for another attempt, footsteps alert him to a presence. He gets rid of the wallet with a sleight of hand and turns around. His host is… not what he expected. The patrician is dressed in expensive-looking casual wear – an off-white wool turtleneck with designer slacks. He seems ill at ease while shuffling forward.

‘You’ve had worse welcomes. I’m Arnoud.’ Arnoud flashes a nervous smile. ‘Do you know what today’s number one vanishing identity is?’

Kwame’s used to switching gears on the fly. He tempers his beating heart, shakes hands and ventures a guess. ‘Billionaires.’

‘Wrong. The answer is immigrants. Goes against every instinct, right? More refugees wash up every day, and yet... Our leaders allocate fewer and fewer immigrant passes, because something’s not a problem if it’s not in the books. That these illegal, identity-lacking people now overflow our streets is, well, a detail. That’s why I’m so impressed with you. You are a necessary agent, your services give them a fighting chance.’

He’s either playing on my sympathies… or making a veiled threat. Kwame can’t rule out the possibility Arnoud is aware of his fraudulent status holder card. But it feels unlikely this is a sting. Too exotic. Why bother just to pick up a petty vendor?

‘Interesting story. But you don’t seem lacking in any way.’

‘Oh, no, quite the opposite.’

He gestures him to follow, eager for a demonstration. They pass a tabletop hovering in the air, held aloft by an electromagnetic field. The back of the study features an art collection of, again, mannequins. It’s opulent and visually chaotic enough to miss the subtle hairlines cut into one of the abstract paintings. The outline of a door, hidden in plain sight. When Arnoud suddenly stops before it, Kwame takes a full second to notice. The patrician places his hand on the canvas, where a secret touch pad scans him before opening the wall section, silently but with a shiver, into a secret room.

Kwame forgets to breathe.

The vault is bright like an optician’s, but instead of pairs of glasses it displays an endless array of identity cards. Thousands of them, neatly categorized and presented as exquisite jewelry.

His mind reels at these riches. If he were to just grab a handful, he’d be settled for life. It’s impossible that a single person could hold so many, and such rare ones too! Pension fund CEO, lead singer – platinum... he nearly gasps as he spots minister of urban planning.

‘You’re no ordinary rich man.’ He keeps his breathing light with effort. ‘You’re a collector. But you aren’t supposed to exist outside of drunken rumors.’

‘Would you believe me if I say I go out every day a different person, trying out new identities like pieces of fashion? Once you get into the habit of collecting, it’s rather addictive.’

Arnoud walks deeper into the vault and brushes some of the cards with his fingers, lost in thought. Kwame’s desperate to do the same, just to touch this wealth. He reaches out, but withdraws again. Arnoud seems oblivious to his struggle – it’s no more than a walk-in wardrobe to him.

He’s trying to dazzle me. But why? I don’t deal in rares and he obviously has fancier sources.

Kwame closes his eyes as to ward off the temptation. To no avail. He feels his curiosity winning, the need to know Arnoud’s upcoming request and the reward on offer. Both must be monstrous after being abducted and buttered up this way.

His host wakes from his thoughts, turns around. ‘You must be hungry after all that clubbing.’

Without so much as a word the fixer’s gone, taking the gun and locking the doors behind him, leaving Kwame in a strange city apartment. The rain-slick façade outside was something of a shock and the interior just as much. The study’s lined with paintings featuring faceless mannequins, homely furniture is kept to a minimum.

This is not the usual seedy den that small-time vendors are summoned to.

He feels a tang of jealousy. Kwame’s used to midnight draughts and moisture curling up the wallpaper. Here, the air’s carefully conditioned to keep the art pristine.

Then again, no matter how impressive this is, a prison is a prison. He pivots away from the room’s disturbing sights to face the entrance. Whatever plan they have for him – he’s out.

The doors, of course, don’t give way.

Kwame whips out his wallet and synchronizes with an identity card by planting it on the NFC chip in his wrist.

A warm finger pressed to the door’s security panel is all it takes for the system to wake.

‘I am Kwame Danquah, security employee at Capital. Override the lock.’

No luck. The system barely responds.

Seems everyone is getting wise.

Before he gets the chance for another attempt, footsteps alert him to a presence. He gets rid of the wallet with a sleight of hand and turns around. His host is… not what he expected. The patrician is dressed in expensive-looking casual wear – an off-white wool turtleneck with designer slacks. He seems ill at ease while shuffling forward.

‘You’ve had worse welcomes. I’m Arnoud.’ Arnoud flashes a nervous smile. ‘Do you know what today’s number one vanishing identity is?’

Kwame’s used to switching gears on the fly. He tempers his beating heart, shakes hands and ventures a guess. ‘Billionaires.’

‘Wrong. The answer is immigrants. Goes against every instinct, right? More refugees wash up every day, and yet... Our leaders allocate fewer and fewer immigrant passes, because something’s not a problem if it’s not in the books. That these illegal, identity-lacking people now overflow our streets is, well, a detail. That’s why I’m so impressed with you. You are a necessary agent, your services give them a fighting chance.’

He’s either playing on my sympathies… or making a veiled threat. Kwame can’t rule out the possibility Arnoud is aware of his fraudulent status holder card. But it feels unlikely this is a sting. Too exotic. Why bother just to pick up a petty vendor?

‘Interesting story. But you don’t seem lacking in any way.’

‘Oh, no, quite the opposite.’

He gestures him to follow, eager for a demonstration. They pass a tabletop hovering in the air, held aloft by an electromagnetic field. The back of the study features an art collection of, again, mannequins. It’s opulent and visually chaotic enough to miss the subtle hairlines cut into one of the abstract paintings. The outline of a door, hidden in plain sight. When Arnoud suddenly stops before it, Kwame takes a full second to notice. The patrician places his hand on the canvas, where a secret touch pad scans him before opening the wall section, silently but with a shiver, into a secret room.

Kwame forgets to breathe.

The vault is bright like an optician’s, but instead of pairs of glasses it displays an endless array of identity cards. Thousands of them, neatly categorized and presented as exquisite jewelry.

His mind reels at these riches. If he were to just grab a handful, he’d be settled for life. It’s impossible that a single person could hold so many, and such rare ones too! Pension fund CEO, lead singer – platinum... he nearly gasps as he spots minister of urban planning.

‘You’re no ordinary rich man.’ He keeps his breathing light with effort. ‘You’re a collector. But you aren’t supposed to exist outside of drunken rumors.’

‘Would you believe me if I say I go out every day a different person, trying out new identities like pieces of fashion? Once you get into the habit of collecting, it’s rather addictive.’

Arnoud walks deeper into the vault and brushes some of the cards with his fingers, lost in thought. Kwame’s desperate to do the same, just to touch this wealth. He reaches out, but withdraws again. Arnoud seems oblivious to his struggle – it’s no more than a walk-in wardrobe to him.

He’s trying to dazzle me. But why? I don’t deal in rares and he obviously has fancier sources.

Kwame closes his eyes as to ward off the temptation. To no avail. He feels his curiosity winning, the need to know Arnoud’s upcoming request and the reward on offer. Both must be monstrous after being abducted and buttered up this way.

His host wakes from his thoughts, turns around. ‘You must be hungry after all that clubbing.’

‘You’re no ordinary rich man. You’re a collector. But you aren’t supposed to exist outside of drunken rumors.’

‘You’re no ordinary rich man. You’re a collector.
But you aren’t supposed to exist outside of drunken rumors.’

‘You’re no ordinary rich man. You’re a collector. But you aren’t supposed to exist outside of drunken rumors.’

‘You’re no ordinary rich man. You’re a collector. But you aren’t supposed to exist outside of drunken rumors.’

‘You’re no ordinary rich man. You’re a collector. But you aren’t supposed to exist outside of drunken rumors.’

While they were in the vault, Arnoud’s invisible staff set the table with trays of sashimi and a soup tureen. The master of the estate waits patiently for his guest to seat himself and take a bite.

He wasn’t wrong, because Kwame’s stomach glows with satisfaction as he digs in.

‘Time for you to propose whatever it is you want from me,’ he says midchew.

The meal is more than dress-up. Arnoud scoops a full ladle into his bowl and begins:

‘Yes, you’re right. When I came of age, like every young patriot I swapped my undecided card for the identity allocated to my profile. In ten years I worked my way up and, well, rolled into some lucky breaks. Having no real need to remain a stock broker, I started collecting identities, which was a little naughty of me. It’s then that I stumbled into a bit of a crisis, I’m afraid.’ Again that timid, embarrassed grin. ‘I seem to have lost any idea of who I am, exactly. Is it accountant, sculptor? Software programmer? Did I ever really know?’

He suddenly chokes on a spoonful of broth and punches his chest, coughing. Kwame remains silent, happy to eat the premium tuna. Unlike Arnoud, he never had the luxury of starting life with the standard-issue undecided identity for children. Privilege is invisible to the privileged.

‘So,’ Arnoud continued, ‘every night I head into my vault and try them on, all those precious cards, but the one feels no different or truer than the other. Now, before you raise your hand in protest: yes, I have consulted with psychologists and philosophers and the smartest salon merchants, but none of them could plainly tell me who I am.’

So that’s it, Kwame thinks. Here are two men, late at night, breaking bread together. Neither of us knows who the other truly is, and one doesn’t even know it of himself.

He finally answers: ‘You are... unmoored.’

‘That’s the word!’

Arnoud flares up from his seat and Kwame is all too ready to deflate him.

‘Get in line. I see that all day long. On every corner, slumping in hamburger joints, working counters, stalking the train cars – no one knows who they are.
Half of us is miserable under some ill-fitting identity.’

Arnoud sinks back. Kwame is surer and surer his need is sincere.

To his surprise, so far he’s enjoying this game. Most of his time he spends around desperate, honest folk. Sparring with this rich man teases out all sorts of new pleasures. He’s not sure who has the upper hand – it’s a thrill.

But the picture gets clearer every second.

‘I’ll give you this, though: the majority of my clients hurts due to a lack of options. You’re the first whose problem is abundance.’

‘Well, ah, I doubt that, but since the elite have quite failed me, I’ll cast my lot with a man of the street. Help me figure this out. I offer you an obscene retainer for your services.’

Kwame pictures himself in the coming years: supplying Arnoud with new identities, week after week, like a personal physician. In one stroke he’d be lifted up. No more nightly haunts, no more one-medical-bill-away-from-poverty. It would mean a better life, a future. The chance to naturalize for real. And all he has to do is say yes to a desperate man with more money than sense.

Or...

He starts rummaging through his belongings, as if to present his wares. There, his wallet. Kwame fingers the cards, tension running through his body and making his hand tremble ever so slightly. Arnoud hasn’t caught on yet.

I’m quicker than him and his servants are gone.

As nimbly as he can, he pulls out an identity and synchronizes it. Arnoud realizes what’s going on.

‘Fuck!’

He reaches underneath the table – figures, he’s got a stash there for just such an emergency – and slams a card on his wrist as well.

Their eyes lock. Arnoud has grown pale, Kwame’s face is flushed. He pushes himself to speak first.

‘Police sergeant. I’ve a hacked connection standing by. If I call this in, you’re done.’

It’s no bluff. As far as the system is concerned, Kwame is an actual officer now with all the authority to make an arrest. Even an act of violence against him will be uploaded to the system – rendering him untouchable.

So what’s that smile doing on Arnoud’s lips?

‘Then I’m afraid we’re at an impasse.’ He reveals his own card, the air in the room is suddenly twice as heavy. ‘Immigration inspector. I lose everything, you lose everything.’

Kwame pictures himself saying goodbye to everyone he knows, or worse; not getting the chance to. He’s heard tales of midnight flights to the places they take the identityless. They’re not pleasant countries.

‘Think you can just rob me?’ Arnoud hisses.

‘Yes, because we’re not nearly at an impasse.’ Now is the time for his training to pay off; to keep the sweat locked in his skin, to maintain a casual smile, to not reveal his tell. ‘If I leave this door, I’ll just become another man. I’ll get new lodgings, a new name. Means nothing to me. Can you disappear like that, Arnoud? If I’ve learned anything from my clients, it’s the more you have, the more you’re afraid of losing it.’

He sees Arnoud calculate losing his liberty against the contents of his vault. His eyes glaze over, his face slackens.

‘I see.’

_____________

Kwame is meticulous in clearing out the vault. Arnoud’s not around – he resigned himself to his bedroom and locked the doors after dinner. Though a little morose, he showed good manners and wished Kwame a pleasant evening before leaving him to his theft.

He pushes the identity cards into his bulging backpack, careful not to leave a single one.

I’ll be as rich a man as him, but I won’t make the same mistake. This is poison to the mind.

In all his years, there’s one thing Kwame has never done, despite moving among pushers and pimps. Not once has he preyed on his clients. Arnoud was a willing victim, practically begging Kwame to take all he’s worth. And he would have, had it actually solved his problem.

But Kwame looked in the patrician’s eyes and saw no amount of cards would ever help him. He knows which identity Arnoud needs – though he’ll have to be forced to accept it.

Minutes later, Kwame peers over the empty storage. Where to leave it? There, in the mannequin’s hand. He takes a special card out of his coat.

He leaves, never knowing the look on Arnoud’s face as he discovers it in the morning – likely still groggy from the valerian pills and oat milk. Kwame’s certain he’ll understand in time.

A single identity rests in Arnoud’s vault. The one he gave away, the only one that will ever fit: undecided.

While they were in the vault, Arnoud’s invisible staff set the table with trays of sashimi and a soup tureen. The master of the estate waits patiently for his guest to seat himself and take a bite.

He wasn’t wrong, because Kwame’s stomach glows with satisfaction as he digs in.

‘Time for you to propose whatever it is you want from me,’ he says midchew.

The meal is more than dress-up. Arnoud scoops a full ladle into his bowl and begins:

‘Yes, you’re right. When I came of age, like every young patriot I swapped my undecided card for the identity allocated to my profile. In ten years I worked my way up and, well, rolled into some lucky breaks. Having no real need to remain a stock broker, I started collecting identities, which was a little naughty of me. It’s then that I stumbled into a bit of a crisis, I’m afraid.’ Again that timid, embarrassed grin. ‘I seem to have lost any idea of who I am, exactly. Is it accountant, sculptor? Software programmer? Did I ever really know?’

He suddenly chokes on a spoonful of broth and punches his chest, coughing. Kwame remains silent, happy to eat the premium tuna. Unlike Arnoud, he never had the luxury of starting life with the standard-issue undecided identity for children. Privilege is invisible to the privileged.

‘So,’ Arnoud continued, ‘every night I head into my vault and try them on, all those precious cards, but the one feels no different or truer than the other. Now, before you raise your hand in protest: yes, I have consulted with psychologists and philosophers and the smartest salon merchants, but none of them could plainly tell me who I am.’

So that’s it, Kwame thinks. Here are two men, late at night, breaking bread together. Neither of us knows who the other truly is, and one doesn’t even know it of himself.

He finally answers: ‘You are... unmoored.’

‘That’s the word!’

Arnoud flares up from his seat and Kwame is all too ready to deflate him.

‘Get in line. I see that all day long. On every corner, slumping in hamburger joints, working counters, stalking the train cars – no one knows who they are.
Half of us is miserable under some ill-fitting identity.’

Arnoud sinks back. Kwame is surer and surer his need is sincere.

To his surprise, so far he’s enjoying this game. Most of his time he spends around desperate, honest folk. Sparring with this rich man teases out all sorts of new pleasures. He’s not sure who has the upper hand – it’s a thrill.

But the picture gets clearer every second.

‘I’ll give you this, though: the majority of my clients hurts due to a lack of options. You’re the first whose problem is abundance.’

‘Well, ah, I doubt that, but since the elite have quite failed me, I’ll cast my lot with a man of the street. Help me figure this out. I offer you an obscene retainer for your services.’

Kwame pictures himself in the coming years: supplying Arnoud with new identities, week after week, like a personal physician. In one stroke he’d be lifted up. No more nightly haunts, no more one-medical-bill-away-from-poverty. It would mean a better life, a future. The chance to naturalize for real. And all he has to do is say yes to a desperate man with more money than sense.

Or...

He starts rummaging through his belongings, as if to present his wares. There, his wallet. Kwame fingers the cards, tension running through his body and making his hand tremble ever so slightly. Arnoud hasn’t caught on yet.

I’m quicker than him and his servants are gone.

As nimbly as he can, he pulls out an identity and synchronizes it. Arnoud realizes what’s going on.

‘Fuck!’

He reaches underneath the table – figures, he’s got a stash there for just such an emergency – and slams a card on his wrist as well.

Their eyes lock. Arnoud has grown pale, Kwame’s face is flushed. He pushes himself to speak first.

‘Police sergeant. I’ve a hacked connection standing by. If I call this in, you’re done.’

It’s no bluff. As far as the system is concerned, Kwame is an actual officer now with all the authority to make an arrest. Even an act of violence against him will be uploaded to the system – rendering him untouchable.

So what’s that smile doing on Arnoud’s lips?

‘Then I’m afraid we’re at an impasse.’ He reveals his own card, the air in the room is suddenly twice as heavy. ‘Immigration inspector. I lose everything, you lose everything.’

Kwame pictures himself saying goodbye to everyone he knows, or worse; not getting the chance to. He’s heard tales of midnight flights to the places they take the identityless. They’re not pleasant countries.

‘Think you can just rob me?’ Arnoud hisses.

‘Yes, because we’re not nearly at an impasse.’ Now is the time for his training to pay off; to keep the sweat locked in his skin, to maintain a casual smile, to not reveal his tell. ‘If I leave this door, I’ll just become another man. I’ll get new lodgings, a new name. Means nothing to me. Can you disappear like that, Arnoud? If I’ve learned anything from my clients, it’s the more you have, the more you’re afraid of losing it.’

He sees Arnoud calculate losing his liberty against the contents of his vault. His eyes glaze over, his face slackens.

‘I see.’ 

_____________

Kwame is meticulous in clearing out the vault. Arnoud’s not around – he resigned himself to his bedroom and locked the doors after dinner. Though a little morose, he showed good manners and wished Kwame a pleasant evening before leaving him to his theft.

He pushes the identity cards into his bulging backpack, careful not to leave a single one.

I’ll be as rich a man as him, but I won’t make the same mistake. This is poison to the mind.

In all his years, there’s one thing Kwame has never done, despite moving among pushers and pimps. Not once has he preyed on his clients. Arnoud was a willing victim, practically begging Kwame to take all he’s worth. And he would have, had it actually solved his problem.

But Kwame looked in the patrician’s eyes and saw no amount of cards would ever help him. He knows which identity Arnoud needs – though he’ll have to be forced to accept it.

Minutes later, Kwame peers over the empty storage. Where to leave it? There, in the mannequin’s hand. He takes a special card out of his coat.

He leaves, never knowing the look on Arnoud’s face as he discovers it in the morning – likely still groggy from the valerian pills and oat milk. Kwame’s certain he’ll understand in time.

A single identity rests in Arnoud’s vault. The one he gave away, the only one that will ever fit: undecided.

While they were in the vault, Arnoud’s invisible staff set the table with trays of sashimi and a soup tureen. The master of the estate waits patiently for his guest to seat himself and take a bite.

He wasn’t wrong, because Kwame’s stomach glows with satisfaction as he digs in.

‘Time for you to propose whatever it is you want from me,’ he says midchew.

The meal is more than dress-up. Arnoud scoops a full ladle into his bowl and begins:

‘Yes, you’re right. When I came of age, like every young patriot I swapped my undecided card for the identity allocated to my profile. In ten years I worked my way up and, well, rolled into some lucky breaks. Having no real need to remain a stock broker, I started collecting identities, which was a little naughty of me. It’s then that I stumbled into a bit of a crisis, I’m afraid.’ Again that timid, embarrassed grin. ‘I seem to have lost any idea of who I am, exactly. Is it accountant, sculptor? Software programmer? Did I ever really know?’

He suddenly chokes on a spoonful of broth and punches his chest, coughing. Kwame remains silent, happy to eat the premium tuna. Unlike Arnoud, he never had the luxury of starting life with the standard-issue undecided identity for children. Privilege is invisible to the privileged.

‘So,’ Arnoud continued, ‘every night I head into my vault and try them on, all those precious cards, but the one feels no different or truer than the other. Now, before you raise your hand in protest: yes, I have consulted with psychologists and philosophers and the smartest salon merchants, but none of them could plainly tell me who I am.’

So that’s it, Kwame thinks. Here are two men, late at night, breaking bread together. Neither of us knows who the other truly is, and one doesn’t even know it of himself.

He finally answers: ‘You are... unmoored.’

‘That’s the word!’

Arnoud flares up from his seat and Kwame is all too ready to deflate him.

‘Get in line. I see that all day long. On every corner, slumping in hamburger joints, working counters, stalking the train cars – no one knows who they are. Half of us is miserable under some ill-fitting identity.’

Arnoud sinks back. Kwame is surer and surer his need is sincere.

To his surprise, so far he’s enjoying this game. Most of his time he spends around desperate, honest folk. Sparring with this rich man teases out all sorts of new pleasures. He’s not sure who has the upper hand – it’s a thrill.

But the picture gets clearer every second.

‘I’ll give you this, though: the majority of my clients hurts due to a lack of options. You’re the first whose problem is abundance.’

‘Well, ah, I doubt that, but since the elite have quite failed me, I’ll cast my lot with a man of the street. Help me figure this out. I offer you an obscene retainer for your services.’

Kwame pictures himself in the coming years: supplying Arnoud with new identities, week after week, like a personal physician. In one stroke he’d be lifted up. No more nightly haunts, no more one-medical-bill-away-from-poverty. It would mean a better life, a future. The chance to naturalize for real. And all he has to do is say yes to a desperate man with more money than sense.

Or...

He starts rummaging through his belongings, as if to present his wares. There, his wallet. Kwame fingers the cards, tension running through his body and making his hand tremble ever so slightly. Arnoud hasn’t caught on yet.

I’m quicker than him and his servants are gone.

As nimbly as he can, he pulls out an identity and synchronizes it. Arnoud realizes what’s going on.

‘Fuck!’

He reaches underneath the table – figures, he’s got a stash there for just such an emergency – and slams a card on his wrist as well.

Their eyes lock. Arnoud has grown pale, Kwame’s face is flushed. He pushes himself to speak first.

‘Police sergeant. I’ve a hacked connection standing by. If I call this in, you’re done.’

It’s no bluff. As far as the system is concerned, Kwame is an actual officer now with all the authority to make an arrest. Even an act of violence against him will be uploaded to the system – rendering him untouchable.

So what’s that smile doing on Arnoud’s lips?

‘Then I’m afraid we’re at an impasse.’ He reveals his own card, the air in the room is suddenly twice as heavy. ‘Immigration inspector. I lose everything, you lose everything.’

Kwame pictures himself saying goodbye to everyone he knows, or worse; not getting the chance to. He’s heard tales of midnight flights to the places they take the identityless. They’re not pleasant countries.

‘Think you can just rob me?’ Arnoud hisses.

‘Yes, because we’re not nearly at an impasse.’ Now is the time for his training to pay off; to keep the sweat locked in his skin, to maintain a casual smile, to not reveal his tell. ‘If I leave this door, I’ll just become another man. I’ll get new lodgings, a new name. Means nothing to me. Can you disappear like that, Arnoud? If I’ve learned anything from my clients, it’s the more you have, the more you’re afraid of losing it.’

He sees Arnoud calculate losing his liberty against the contents of his vault. His eyes glaze over, his face slackens.

‘I see.’

_____________

Kwame is meticulous in clearing out the vault. Arnoud’s not around – he resigned himself to his bedroom and locked the doors after dinner. Though a little morose, he showed good manners and wished Kwame a pleasant evening before leaving him to his theft.

He pushes the identity cards into his bulging backpack, careful not to leave a single one.

I’ll be as rich a man as him, but I won’t make the same mistake. This is poison to the mind.

In all his years, there’s one thing Kwame has never done, despite moving among pushers and pimps. Not once has he preyed on his clients. Arnoud was a willing victim, practically begging Kwame to take all he’s worth. And he would have, had it actually solved his problem.

But Kwame looked in the patrician’s eyes and saw no amount of cards would ever help him. He knows which identity Arnoud needs – though he’ll have to be forced to accept it.

Minutes later, Kwame peers over the empty storage. Where to leave it? There, in the mannequin’s hand. He takes a special card out of his coat.

He leaves, never knowing the look on Arnoud’s face as he discovers it in the morning – likely still groggy from the valerian pills and oat milk. Kwame’s certain he’ll understand in time.

A single identity rests in Arnoud’s vault. The one he gave away, the only one that will ever fit: undecided.

While they were in the vault, Arnoud’s invisible staff set the table with trays of sashimi and a soup tureen. The master of the estate waits patiently for his guest to seat himself and take a bite.

He wasn’t wrong, because Kwame’s stomach glows with satisfaction as he digs in.

‘Time for you to propose whatever it is you want from me,’ he says midchew.

The meal is more than dress-up. Arnoud scoops a full ladle into his bowl and begins:

‘Yes, you’re right. When I came of age, like every young patriot I swapped my undecided card for the identity allocated to my profile. In ten years I worked my way up and, well, rolled into some lucky breaks. Having no real need to remain a stock broker, I started collecting identities, which was a little naughty of me. It’s then that I stumbled into a bit of a crisis, I’m afraid.’ Again that timid, embarrassed grin. ‘I seem to have lost any idea of who I am, exactly. Is it accountant, sculptor? Software programmer? Did I ever really know?’

He suddenly chokes on a spoonful of broth and punches his chest, coughing. Kwame remains silent, happy to eat the premium tuna. Unlike Arnoud, he never had the luxury of starting life with the standard-issue undecided identity for children. Privilege is invisible to the privileged.

‘So,’ Arnoud continued, ‘every night I head into my vault and try them on, all those precious cards, but the one feels no different or truer than the other. Now, before you raise your hand in protest: yes, I have consulted with psychologists and philosophers and the smartest salon merchants, but none of them could plainly tell me who I am.’

So that’s it, Kwame thinks. Here are two men, late at night, breaking bread together. Neither of us knows who the other truly is, and one doesn’t even know it of himself.

He finally answers: ‘You are... unmoored.’

‘That’s the word!’

Arnoud flares up from his seat and Kwame is all too ready to deflate him.

‘Get in line. I see that all day long. On every corner, slumping in hamburger joints, working counters, stalking the train cars – no one knows who they are. Half of us is miserable under some ill-fitting identity.’

Arnoud sinks back. Kwame is surer and surer his need is sincere.

To his surprise, so far he’s enjoying this game. Most of his time he spends around desperate, honest folk. Sparring with this rich man teases out all sorts of new pleasures. He’s not sure who has the upper hand – it’s a thrill.

But the picture gets clearer every second.

‘I’ll give you this, though: the majority of my clients hurts due to a lack of options. You’re the first whose problem is abundance.’

‘Well, ah, I doubt that, but since the elite have quite failed me, I’ll cast my lot with a man of the street. Help me figure this out. I offer you an obscene retainer for your services.’

Kwame pictures himself in the coming years: supplying Arnoud with new identities, week after week, like a personal physician. In one stroke he’d be lifted up. No more nightly haunts, no more one-medical-bill-away-from-poverty. It would mean a better life, a future. The chance to naturalize for real. And all he has to do is say yes to a desperate man with more money than sense.

Or...

He starts rummaging through his belongings, as if to present his wares. There, his wallet. Kwame fingers the cards, tension running through his body and making his hand tremble ever so slightly. Arnoud hasn’t caught on yet.

I’m quicker than him and his servants are gone.

As nimbly as he can, he pulls out an identity and synchronizes it. Arnoud realizes what’s going on.

‘Fuck!’

He reaches underneath the table – figures, he’s got a stash there for just such an emergency – and slams a card on his wrist as well.

Their eyes lock. Arnoud has grown pale, Kwame’s face is flushed. He pushes himself to speak first.

‘Police sergeant. I’ve a hacked connection standing by. If I call this in, you’re done.’

It’s no bluff. As far as the system is concerned, Kwame is an actual officer now with all the authority to make an arrest. Even an act of violence against him will be uploaded to the system – rendering him untouchable.

So what’s that smile doing on Arnoud’s lips?

‘Then I’m afraid we’re at an impasse.’ He reveals his own card, the air in the room is suddenly twice as heavy. ‘Immigration inspector. I lose everything, you lose everything.’

Kwame pictures himself saying goodbye to everyone he knows, or worse; not getting the chance to. He’s heard tales of midnight flights to the places they take the identityless. They’re not pleasant countries.

‘Think you can just rob me?’ Arnoud hisses.

‘Yes, because we’re not nearly at an impasse.’ Now is the time for his training to pay off; to keep the sweat locked in his skin, to maintain a casual smile, to not reveal his tell. ‘If I leave this door, I’ll just become another man. I’ll get new lodgings, a new name. Means nothing to me. Can you disappear like that, Arnoud? If I’ve learned anything from my clients, it’s the more you have, the more you’re afraid of losing it.’

He sees Arnoud calculate losing his liberty against the contents of his vault. His eyes glaze over, his face slackens.

‘I see.’

_____________

Kwame is meticulous in clearing out the vault. Arnoud’s not around – he resigned himself to his bedroom and locked the doors after dinner. Though a little morose, he showed good manners and wished Kwame a pleasant evening before leaving him to his theft.

He pushes the identity cards into his bulging backpack, careful not to leave a single one.

I’ll be as rich a man as him, but I won’t make the same mistake. This is poison to the mind.

In all his years, there’s one thing Kwame has never done, despite moving among pushers and pimps. Not once has he preyed on his clients. Arnoud was a willing victim, practically begging Kwame to take all he’s worth. And he would have, had it actually solved his problem.

But Kwame looked in the patrician’s eyes and saw no amount of cards would ever help him. He knows which identity Arnoud needs – though he’ll have to be forced to accept it.

Minutes later, Kwame peers over the empty storage. Where to leave it? There, in the mannequin’s hand. He takes a special card out of his coat.

He leaves, never knowing the look on Arnoud’s face as he discovers it in the morning – likely still groggy from the valerian pills and oat milk. Kwame’s certain he’ll understand in time.

A single identity rests in Arnoud’s vault. The one he gave away, the only one that will ever fit: undecided.

While they were in the vault, Arnoud’s invisible staff set the table with trays of sashimi and a soup tureen. The master of the estate waits patiently for his guest to seat himself and take a bite.

He wasn’t wrong, because Kwame’s stomach glows with satisfaction as he digs in.

‘Time for you to propose whatever it is you want from me,’ he says midchew.

The meal is more than dress-up. Arnoud scoops a full ladle into his bowl and begins:

‘Yes, you’re right. When I came of age, like every young patriot I swapped my undecided card for the identity allocated to my profile. In ten years I worked my way up and, well, rolled into some lucky breaks. Having no real need to remain a stock broker, I started collecting identities, which was a little naughty of me. It’s then that I stumbled into a bit of a crisis, I’m afraid.’ Again that timid, embarrassed grin. ‘I seem to have lost any idea of who I am, exactly. Is it accountant, sculptor? Software programmer? Did I ever really know?’

He suddenly chokes on a spoonful of broth and punches his chest, coughing. Kwame remains silent, happy to eat the premium tuna. Unlike Arnoud, he never had the luxury of starting life with the standard-issue undecided identity for children. Privilege is invisible to the privileged.

‘So,’ Arnoud continued, ‘every night I head into my vault and try them on, all those precious cards, but the one feels no different or truer than the other. Now, before you raise your hand in protest: yes, I have consulted with psychologists and philosophers and the smartest salon merchants, but none of them could plainly tell me who I am.’

So that’s it, Kwame thinks. Here are two men, late at night, breaking bread together. Neither of us knows who the other truly is, and one doesn’t even know it of himself.

He finally answers: ‘You are... unmoored.’

‘That’s the word!’

Arnoud flares up from his seat and Kwame is all too ready to deflate him.

‘Get in line. I see that all day long. On every corner, slumping in hamburger joints, working counters, stalking the train cars – no one knows who they are. Half of us is miserable under some ill-fitting identity.’

Arnoud sinks back. Kwame is surer and surer his need is sincere.

To his surprise, so far he’s enjoying this game. Most of his time he spends around desperate, honest folk. Sparring with this rich man teases out all sorts of new pleasures. He’s not sure who has the upper hand – it’s a thrill.

But the picture gets clearer every second.

‘I’ll give you this, though: the majority of my clients hurts due to a lack of options. You’re the first whose problem is abundance.’

‘Well, ah, I doubt that, but since the elite have quite failed me, I’ll cast my lot with a man of the street. Help me figure this out. I offer you an obscene retainer for your services.’

Kwame pictures himself in the coming years: supplying Arnoud with new identities, week after week, like a personal physician. In one stroke he’d be lifted up. No more nightly haunts, no more one-medical-bill-away-from-poverty. It would mean a better life, a future. The chance to naturalize for real. And all he has to do is say yes to a desperate man with more money than sense.

Or...

He starts rummaging through his belongings, as if to present his wares. There, his wallet. Kwame fingers the cards, tension running through his body and making his hand tremble ever so slightly. Arnoud hasn’t caught on yet.

I’m quicker than him and his servants are gone.

As nimbly as he can, he pulls out an identity and synchronizes it. Arnoud realizes what’s going on.

‘Fuck!’

He reaches underneath the table – figures, he’s got a stash there for just such an emergency – and slams a card on his wrist as well.

Their eyes lock. Arnoud has grown pale, Kwame’s face is flushed. He pushes himself to speak first.

‘Police sergeant. I’ve a hacked connection standing by. If I call this in, you’re done.’

It’s no bluff. As far as the system is concerned, Kwame is an actual officer now with all the authority to make an arrest. Even an act of violence against him will be uploaded to the system – rendering him untouchable.

So what’s that smile doing on Arnoud’s lips?

‘Then I’m afraid we’re at an impasse.’ He reveals his own card, the air in the room is suddenly twice as heavy. ‘Immigration inspector. I lose everything, you lose everything.’

Kwame pictures himself saying goodbye to everyone he knows, or worse; not getting the chance to. He’s heard tales of midnight flights to the places they take the identityless. They’re not pleasant countries.

‘Think you can just rob me?’ Arnoud hisses.

‘Yes, because we’re not nearly at an impasse.’ Now is the time for his training to pay off; to keep the sweat locked in his skin, to maintain a casual smile, to not reveal his tell. ‘If I leave this door, I’ll just become another man. I’ll get new lodgings, a new name. Means nothing to me. Can you disappear like that, Arnoud? If I’ve learned anything from my clients, it’s the more you have, the more you’re afraid of losing it.’

He sees Arnoud calculate losing his liberty against the contents of his vault. His eyes glaze over, his face slackens.

‘I see.’ 

_____________

Kwame is meticulous in clearing out the vault. Arnoud’s not around – he resigned himself to his bedroom and locked the doors after dinner. Though a little morose, he showed good manners and wished Kwame a pleasant evening before leaving him to his theft.

He pushes the identity cards into his bulging backpack, careful not to leave a single one.

I’ll be as rich a man as him, but I won’t make the same mistake. This is poison to the mind.

In all his years, there’s one thing Kwame has never done, despite moving among pushers and pimps. Not once has he preyed on his clients. Arnoud was a willing victim, practically begging Kwame to take all he’s worth. And he would have, had it actually solved his problem.

But Kwame looked in the patrician’s eyes and saw no amount of cards would ever help him. He knows which identity Arnoud needs – though he’ll have to be forced to accept it.

Minutes later, Kwame peers over the empty storage. Where to leave it? There, in the mannequin’s hand. He takes a special card out of his coat.

He leaves, never knowing the look on Arnoud’s face as he discovers it in the morning – likely still groggy from the valerian pills and oat milk. Kwame’s certain he’ll understand in time.

A single identity rests in Arnoud’s vault. The one he gave away, the only one that will ever fit: undecided.

Roderick-Leeuwenhart

RODERICK LEEUWENHART 

Roderick Leeuwenhart (1983) spends his days in utter bewilderment why his home country of the Netherlands ever lost its appetite for science fiction. This noblest of all genres deserves to be embraced, nurtured and critically reviewed just like it is abroad.

Roderick has been writing for Japanese pop culture magazine AniWay since 2001. Between 2014 and 2017 he wrote and published a series of YA novels called Pindakaas en Sushi. In 2017 he won the Harland Award Verhalenwedstrijd with Sterrenlichaam. Recently, he co-wrote a slew of short stories with writing legend Tais Teng in the new ‘ziltpunk’ genre: optimistic and Dutch-centric eco science fiction where it isn’t enough to merely survive – you should live post-catastrophe life with flair.

Find his work at www.uitgeverijleeuwenhart.nl

Photo: Heidi Bakker

 

This literary magazine for Grounded SF from
the Netherlands and Flanders is published twice
a year by Lebowski Publishers.
© Lebowski Publishers  |  Amsterdam

For international rights please contact:
Oscar van GelderenTracy Fisher, Jill Gillett or Sylvie Rabineau

This literary magazine for Grounded SF from
the Netherlands and Flanders is published twice
a year by Lebowski Publishers.

© Lebowski Publishers  |  Amsterdam


For international rights please contact:
Oscar van GelderenTracy Fisher , Jill Gillet
or Sylvie Rabineau

This literary magazine for Grounded SF from the Netherlands and Flanders is published twice a year by Lebowski Publishers.

© Lebowski Publishers  |  Amsterdam



For international rights please contact: Oscar van GelderenTracy Fisher, Jill Gillet or Sylvie Rabineau

© 2019 Simone Atangana Bekono, Hanna Bervoets, Willem Bosch, Joost Devriesere, Rob van Essen, Jerry Goossens, Gina Hay, Bertram Koeleman, Roderick Leeuwenhart, Erik Nieuwenhuis, PJ Pancras, Joost Vandecasteele 

© TRANSLATIONS Anne Chadwick Wendrich, Jai van Essen,
Paul Evans, Antoinette Fawcett, Kristen Gehrman, Suzanne Jansen, Thijs van Nimwegen, Jonathan Reeder, Sarah Welling, Joni Zwart

© 2019 Simone Atangana Bekono, Hanna Bervoets, Willem Bosch, Joost Devriesere, Rob van Essen, Jerry Goossens, Gina Hay, Bertram Koeleman, Roderick Leeuwenhart, Erik Nieuwenhuis, PJ Pancras, Joost Vandecasteele

© TRANSLATIONS Anne Chadwick Wendrich, Jai van Essen, Paul Evans, Antoinette Fawcett, Kristen Gehrman, Suzanne Jansen, Thijs van Nimwegen, Jonathan Reeder, Sarah Welling, Joni Zwart

© 2019 Simone Atangana Bekono, Hanna Bervoets, Willem Bosch, Joost Devriesere, Rob van Essen, Jerry Goossens, Gina Hay, Bertram Koeleman, Roderick Leeuwenhart, Erik Nieuwenhuis, PJ Pancras, Joost Vandecasteele

© TRANSLATIONS Anne Chadwick Wendrich, Jai van Essen, Paul Evans, Antoinette Fawcett, Kristen Gehrman, Suzanne Jansen, Thijs van Nimwegen, Jonathan Reeder, Sarah Welling, Joni Zwart

© 2018 Simone Atangana Bekono, Hanna Bervoets, Willem Bosch, Joost Devriesere, Rob van Essen,
Jerry Goossens, Gina Hay, Bertram Koeleman, Roderick Leeuwenhart, Erik Nieuwenhuis, PJ Pancras,
Joost Vandecasteele


© TRANSLATIONS Anne Chadwick Wendrich, Jai van Essen, Paul Evans, Antoinette Fawcett,
Kristen Gehrman, Suzanne Jansen, Thijs van Nimwegen, Jonathan Reeder, Sarah Welling, Joni Zwart

© 2018 Simone Atangana Bekono, Hanna Bervoets, Willem Bosch, Joost Devriesere, Rob van Essen, Jerry Goossens, Gina Hay, Bertram Koeleman, Roderick Leeuwenhart, Erik Nieuwenhuis, PJ Pancras, Joost Vandecasteele

© TRANSLATIONS Anne Chadwick Wendrich,
Jai van Essen, Paul Evans, Antoinette Fawcett, Kristen Gehrman, Suzanne Jansen, Thijs van Nimwegen, Jonathan Reeder, Sarah Welling, Joni Zwart

EDITORS Oscar van Gelderen, 
Jasper Henderson, Maaike Pleging

DESIGN 
Bart Heideman  |  uncanny.design

EDITORS Oscar van Gelderen, 
Jasper Henderson, Maaike Pleging

DESIGN
 
Bart Heideman  |  uncanny.design

EDITORS 
Oscar van Gelderen, 
Jasper Henderson, 
Maaike Pleging

DESIGN 
Bart Heideman | uncanny.design

EDITORS 
Oscar van Gelderen, Jasper Henderson, Maaike Pleging

DESIGN 
Bart Heideman  |  uncanny.design

EDITORS 
Oscar van Gelderen, Jasper Henderson, Maaike Pleging

DESIGN 
Bart Heideman  |  uncanny.design