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Ethan Neufeld

What's in Your Wallet?

What's in Your Wallet?
12 JUN 2388
(Immediately following the events of "Playing with Fire")


As a child, Security Inspector Olan (né Olanrewaju) Adisa Lowell had idolized the legendary career of Captain James Tiberius Kirk. Commanding the Enterprise from the treehouse his father built in their backyard—while dad played all the other roles—forged some of the best memories from his formative years. He admired Kirk's sense of adventure and responsibility—above all, the ownership he exercised for his mistaken biases. He had not anticipated also sharing an allergy to the drugs that treated age-related macular degeneration.

The grizzled Londoner with Nigerian roots peered at the screen, rectangle-rimmed prescription eyeglasses perched low on his nose. Like many before him, the adrenaline rush of hunting bad guys had started off Olan's career. He believed he had a calling: the sheepdog protecting the lambs of society. But deep beneath his coarse exterior, he cared about everyone. He wouldn't have persisted in the profession if he didn't. The job was grueling, dreary, repetitive. That bold line between good and evil he perceived readily as a child had blurred into a mess of socioeconomics and psychology, churning out more malcontents than anything. He could scarcely claim he had met more than one or two evil people in all these years while malcontents lived on a merry-go-round. A dime a dozen. Deal with one: know them all. The same busted pattern over and over. You had to be a nutter to expect better results. But he had convinced himself he could make a difference someday in at least one person's life. He hadn't seen it yet, but he kept at it because he cared. 

He knew he had a softhearted vein under the gruff, salty manner. That didn't mean he wanted to show it off, and he was sorely aware that the eyeglasses sitting on his face smothered his hardened veneer. Whenever he wore them, the piercing gaze he honed over the years became rather unintimidating. He struggled to command the respect of delinquent kids these days. One morning, he complained to his lovely wife that he looked like some softie granddad, and she patted his cheek, saying that she loved seeing the real him. The absurdity. It still made him laugh.

"Alright, let's start from the top," he droned, tapping the field he wanted on the report form. "What was the suspect's name?"

"Jah Quee," said the fellow male Human seated across the desk.

Olan shifted his head to line up the screen through the readers, slowly parroting the name as he typed. Easier than dictating to the computer in his experience. The old girl struggled to get it right sometimes in a galaxy awash with innumerable languages, accents, vocalities, and transliterated spellings. He had argued like a madman with her on a few occasions before he settled into the habit of doing it himself. "J-a-h. Q-u-e-e. Correct?"

The man dipped his head affirmatively, so Olan moved to the next fields. "Do you remember what they looked like?"

"She's in the Deck of 52."

Olan froze for a second, eyes darting between his hands hovering above the virtual keyboard. Officially known as Personality Identification Playing Cards and based on a three-hundred-year tradition, the Deck of 52 constituted the Federation's Most Wanted criminals. He gazed over the terminal and the rim of his eyeglasses, sizing up the reporting party again. The spectacles weren't all bad—made for a nice sophisticated air of disbelief. He could see its effect reflected in the narrowing of the other man's gaze.

At first, Olan sensed kinship in the man who introduced himself as Ethan Neufeld. He exhibited self-possession and awareness. The swagger of someone who had a sense of purpose, knew what he had done and could do, and didn't feel the need to tell anyone, much less sign a book deal about it. Olan admired that silent confidence. 

Everything appeared to match the identity on the screen tagged by the DNA scan. But an attached Starfleet dossier showed Neufeld held the rank of lieutenant senior grade, and he didn't have an active post. That piqued Olan's wariness a bit, questioning what motivated someone not to introduce themselves fully. 

JAG had also marked the lieutenant as a special witness and person of interest in an ongoing internal case and court dockets linked to his file. But Olan's clearance couldn't get into the contents or much else. Aside from dates coinciding with a general court-martial that recently leaked in the press, Olan couldn't guess the sort of trouble in which the man had become involved or started. He only suspected he wouldn't want to become wrapped up in it. From that point, he felt less eager to trust the lieutenant out of some misplaced professional propinquity.

Neufeld was a little over a decade younger than Olan. Northwestern European ancestry from the look of him: short brown hair, blue eyes, light complexion weathered by UV exposure. More than the average spacer got. Despite the paleness he had now, he must have spent a lot of time in the elements until recently. He was slightly taller than Olan, broad-shouldered, lean, and hefty. Possibly a bit vain, given how he filled out the button-down shirt and slacks. Keeping up with fitness routines between the demands of space exploration and defense required time that a lot of fleeters couldn't spare. He didn't have the overbulked stiffness of a bodybuilder wearing one-size-too-small, yet he clearly worked at his fitness more than most. 

But the lieutenant balanced all of it forward in the balls of his feet, which raised Olan's hackles. He looked fast, sitting there on the edge of the chair. The veteran officer had visualized a dozen scenarios in his head within the first few minutes of meeting Neufeld, deciding what to do if the guy balled up. Olan knew he would be in a world of hurt no matter how it played out. The sort of fight shown in the training holograms of real incidents. Visions of those officers pinned to the ground, just barely holding on until help arrived, must have flashed through his head a dozen times.

So far, the lieutenant had behaved courteously with a faint aloofness. But Olan held no delusions about how quickly someone could flip. That didn’t mean he wouldn't call out the other guy's mistake. Beyond pride, it was a warning to a fellow professional not to pursue a bounty that no longer existed.

"No, she's not," he retorted.

Neufeld's brow furrowed. "She's the five of diamonds."

Olan pursed his lips in a drawn hum, giving a headshake. "No. Not anymore."

He almost missed the lieutenant's close-mouthed sigh. "Either way, she's here—or someone pretending to be her," Neufeld said flatly. 

"The woman on the five of diamonds."


Olan set aside the readers and pressed a thumb to the lock on the single drawer. He couldn't use a nonexistent wanted poster to fill out his report. "Here, have a look for yourself," he said, tossing a swelling tuck box. It skidded into the middle desktop. "Telling you your suspect's not in there."

Neufeld had shown up at the commerce-level office with a story about a Chameloid seducing a Bajoran female to fill a bounty that would likely end in the latter's death. Even for Aegis, it rang oddly to Olan. Most of the time, the most bizarre stories turned out to be nothing more than delusions. But Neufeld related it in such a dry conviction that it was hard to dismiss. 

He had met Olan's assertion about the suspect's nonexistence in the 52 with pragmatism instead of arguing. So the recovery of the abductee had to mean more to him than trivia. It convinced Olan that the man had witnessed something. But what he had seen was still a foggy question to Olan. Whether Neufeld wanted to debate the existence of Jah Quee or not, Olan thought he needed to know. He wanted to see what the other man would do.

Neufeld returned Olan's annoyance with a look he couldn't decipher and unhurriedly picked up the box. Folding back the top flap uncovered the edges of fifty-two cards: oil-stained, crinkled, notched. A subdued realization filled Neufeld’s face—perhaps he had accepted his gaff. "How often do you look at these?"

"Every damn day. More on poker nights. I've committed every face in that deck to memory, but" — Olan urged him on — "best you see for yourself."

Olan reckoned it wouldn't take the lieutenant long to find the fives, given he had kept the cards in numerical order. He watched Neufeld joggle the deck into his palm and fan it out in a line. Sliding the four-of-a-kind above the rest, he plucked out the diamond. "Errol 'Bad Guy' Flynn,” the lieutenant faintly scoffed at the name before setting it down. Olan let the man scan the rest out of pity.

Anyone could get a copy of the deck off the black market. Despite all attempts to prevent it, given those decks often included errors or even endangered innocent people. Or Neufeld could have just heard the rumors from loose lips. The hazy anecdotes: that's where conspiracy theories derived a lot of their staying power. But official decks only got distributed to intelligence and security types, and Olan couldn't shake the feeling Neufeld should have been on that list. Yet the guy was way behind. Olan wanted to know why.

Headquarters had issued this deck just one month ago. The second deck since last year in which Jah Quee hadn't appeared after almost a century and a half. Sometimes only a portion of the deck contained faces. It was full for several years before but, this time, they had added a few extra cards. Regardless, it was always informally known as the Deck of 52.

The cards had become worn by Olan's relentless work to memorize the new faces. But he vaguely remembered the woman Neufeld mentioned because so many rumors surrounded her. She had taken on mythical proportions. Hardly a reason to believe myths. 

Starfleet Intelligence only removed targets for conviction, acquittal, or a confirmed death. Once her face showed up in the 52, she couldn't shuffle out for grand monastic vows of pacifism, much less pinky-swearing to "be good and stop killing." Given how long she lasted in the deck, Olan had bets on a death certificate with a DNA match gathering dust somewhere. Chameloids suffered from mortality like everyone else.

Not to mention that printing a Chameloid's natural face or name on a card bordered on absurd. Non-shifters could have the same names and look alike. Sure, the holoimage contained a few of the most well-known faces the shapeshifter had worn. But expecting to catch her wearing any of those faces again was madness. Chameloids didn't have the ability to hide as inanimate objects—zero chance of finding her unawares in a bucket of torpid goo like the Founders. But they could look like your friendly neighbor and lie about it for a lifetime. They had but one tell in the unchanging color of the iris, and cosmetics had solved that, too. That didn't invalidate Starfleet's reason for adding a Chaneloid to the deck; it only implied the difficulty and risk in chasing one.

Olan reckoned a genius would save their favorite look for private moments and mimic a new face regularly in public. Cover their tracks with the witness accounts of innocent people so they would take the fall. Or at least bog the system in false sightings and ID thefts. 

They were security nightmares, to be sure. No one knew where they originated or exactly how many Chameloids lived or passed through Federation space at any given time. Olan couldn't begin to guess who had talked to Neufled or why they had impersonated a dead criminal.

"Just like I told you," Olan remarked after the other man sat back.

Neufeld sighed deeper this time, chafing his jaw. "Yes, yes you did." Curious. Olan didn’t see the anger or disgust of wounded pride he had anticipated. Maybe Neufeld’s expression read closer to anxiety. 

"Jah Quee is probably dead. Odds are the Chameloid you saw was a copycat," Olan remarked. 


Olan heard acknowledgment in Neufeld's tone but couldn't pick up much beyond that. "You have to know our chances of finding her aren't good."

"Her or the Bajoran," Neufeld said. "Was too preoccupied to see it."

"Right. You were focused on getting the information about your kidnapped niece."


"Well, let's hope she's good for it. From what I hear about Sovana, be a fair trade for a little girl's life." He said it without a lot of forethought and cringed inwardly. Neufeld didn't appear fazed, and Olan spun back to the terminal, replacing the readers on his nose as he finished musing darkly, "Bring balance back to the universe." 

Olan snuck a peek from the corner of his eye. The lieutenant still chaffed his face and stared at the cards. Huh. Must not be into pop-culture history. Or the guy just had other things on his mind. 

Olan resumed typing, filling in a few details about the suspect as Neufeld recalled them: height, weight, and other minute observations about her.

“Is this what she looks like?” Olan asked of the AI-drawn composite that he would compare to surveillance later.


Swiveling the monitor back, it struck Olan that the description Neufeld gave didn't match the faces he remembered on her card. That made him uneasy, despite having expected it. Even if this suspect didn't share a name with a known deceased criminal, she must have borrowed it, whoever she was. She couldn't possibly be the real Jah Quee, he thought. 

"Is the nightclub the first place you saw her?"


"You never saw or talked to her before tonight?"

"No." Neufeld's head shook, lips pressing a bit. "Not that I know, at any rate."

Olan nodded. That was always the eeriest thing about shapeshifters. You could meet one a million times and never know it.

Next, they discussed the alleged victim, Sovana. Neufeld related that they had first met at a holo-café after the recent station-wide blackout. The lieutenant didn't know her surname, but Olan could get that from the holo-café—if she hadn't used an assumed name, too. 

They moved on to the incident at the nightclub, which Neufeld meticulously recounted as he gathered the cards. While Olan typed out notes in the pauses between questions, Neufeld fell back to silence, studying the faces of the Federation's least favorite people. Olan half-thought any semblance of conversation had flatlined before Neufeld asked out of the blue, "What've you heard about Sovana?"

Olan blinked. "Oh, just a few complaints. Can't really discuss it—confidentiality and all that," he said, giving a token smile.


"Why," Olan pressed on a hunch at Ethan's pensiveness. "Do you have a complaint about Sovana?"

"Nah," he answered casually.

"Alright," Olan accepted. Mostly accepted as he looked over the paperwork once more. "Well, that's that. I just need your signature here." He spun the monitor around, pointing where Neufeld would sign biometrically. Neufeld stood and pressed his thumb to the screen. The lieutenant's shoulders had dropped slightly, Olan reckoned out of fatigue.

"Thanks for your time," Neufeld said.

"Of course," Olan nodded. "Rest assured, Mr. Neufeld. We'll do our best."

"I know." Neufeld gave a wan smile before he pivoted around for the exit.

The doors hissed behind him, leaving Olan alone. He regarded the deck of cards, tucked back inside the box laying on the desk, and wondered what he would have done in the lieutenant's position. Neufeld struck Olan as someone out of place, who should have been hard at work somewhere else but was here without a post or command for mysterious reasons. Though Olan didn't have all of the details, he could imagine quite a bit. Envisioning himself in Neufeld's shoes—an honest cop sidelined in some undisclosed controversy—by the end of an otherwise quiet shift, Olan had concluded that he would have done the same thing.

Edited by Ethan Neufeld

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