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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RELEASED TO PUBLIC | DATE OF REVIEW: 26.02.2098 |
AUTHORITY: WIPO | AUTHOR: SIR AC DOYLE |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Only one important thing has happened in the last three days, and that is that nothing has happened.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RESTRICTED | DATE OF REVIEW: 19.02.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION | AUTHOR: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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In the office, it's beautifully fashioned suits - - everything a designer homage to historic costumes in the latest repurposed fabrics. Gentle patterns and reSILK linings that slide over his pressed shirts. A dash of complementary colour here or there. Matching ribbons for his tied-back hair.

Amnat Cooper looks so fastidiously put together that it's as if it'd be more effort not to.

At end of every shift, he slips into one of the Network's enormous staff-only gyms and changes into common street camouflage. It's gear more than it is clothing - - all DIY, handmade and scrounged. It's protection from UV, from contaminants and disease carried on guttering urban winds. His hooded canvas duster looks like everyone else's - - the outer flaks are recommended "for public health and safety" - - but its top layer is a nanofabric designed to harden on local impact. No one does nanotech anymore, not since the EMP, and it cost him a couple month's wages. He looks like he could be hanging with Spandex.

By the time he's shown his ID to the front security and is in the street, he's pulled on his goggles and gloves. His usual poise shifts to sangfroid. No one from his floor walks, especially not through the Twelfth Sector - - but an hour later Amnat Cooper walks right in. He lives here.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC | DATE OF REVIEW: 26.02.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: UNEDITED VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Ebenezer would be cleaning if any of his things were actually dirty. There's scritching in the hallway and he freezes.

A tail ghosts past his half-open door. The noise fades down the hall, pauses, then grows steadily louder again. Z juts her chin into the room and Ebenezer recoils from his desk like he's been caught snooping through someone's purse. "Ahrrm hrrm," he says, brushing his hands down his shirt. "Hello."

"Hullo Eben." She studies his room and he follows her gaze. Bookcases, an ironing board, a desk, a bed. Ebenezer himself. The silence juts as sharp as her chin. Zolotisty is very bad at small talk - - it's why she prefers rifling peoples' pockets or creating diversions before they have an opportunity to settle into their hens' nests of conversational routine.

"Oh," he says, looking back to her. "You-you can come in, if you-if you like."

She does, because it's easier than going to see Elias, which is easier than thinking about the cameras watching them. "What are you doing."

"Erm! N-nothing, really." His hands shuff down his shirt again. "Nothing. J-just cleaning. Sor-sort of. What-what were you doing?"

"Looking for a presents." She prowls across the room to prod at his blankets and pillows, then zigzags off to the ironing board. She inspects it as he jumps to tidy in her wake. He dusts and primps his bed as she looks back at him. "You got modified. Yeh?"

"What?" Modi- -? "Oh! Yes!" Eagerly, proudly, he nods. "Yes, I-yes, I did g-got-get. Yes."

GRAWALLLKKKKSK, says the ironing board as Z folds it direction contrary to itself. Ebenezer yawps and she skitters away as he jolts to rescue it. She scuffs her hands off on her trousers. "Congratulations. Do you have some goggles."

He tests the ironing board: rattling, folding, and unfolding. "Thank you, yes-y-yes-yes, I have." He shoots her a look. "And you could've broken it. D-don't do that!"

"Okay," Z says as she steps up onto his desk chair. She turns in place and crouches to gargoyle on its edge. Her tail dangles limply beside her clean toes. "Do you like them."

He tests the board a few more times before crossing to stand near the desk. "What? Oh. I-I don't know. Am-am I supp-upposed to like it? I don't know. Do you? Erm. Like yours, I m-mean."

She takes hold of the edge of the desk and spins in place. "Aye, I suppose. I never used to think about it because nobody talks to you about it. Being modified, mean. They just sort of pretend you are not one. Well. Dex asked a lot of questions." She begins to lose momentum. "Now I am not so sure," she says, "that I like being able to see people when they cannot see me. But the job doesn't change. It is to keep people safe. It's watching for other reasons that is bad I reckon."

Ebenezer snorts. "Dex is al-always ask-asking questions. Def-efinition of Dex, I think." He leans, palms pressing on the desktop as Z reaches to spin again. "Well. I'd n-never watch for oth-other reasons," he insists, lip curling. "Blegh!"

"Even other than Bordellos," Zolotisty grins, and he bleghs again, louder. "Does Escemfer ask you a questions?"

"No-n-no, she doesn't. Well. Not-n-not about that, no. She asks oth-other questions."

The nausea of vertigo throws an arm around Zolotisty's shoulders, draping its clammy fingers down her breastbone. She leans into it, drunk-welcoming. "Like what."

"Oh." Ebenezer fidgets. "Erm. 'Eb, why are you-are you so boring?" At this, Zolotisty looks affronted. "What do you want for-for breakfast, Eb? Eb, do you think that cloud look-looks like an oct-octophant?' Erm. 'Why do you-do you dress like an off-office guy, Eb?' Things like that."

Z's offense is the sort that stems half from protective indignance and half from self-protective guilt. "You are not boring," she says, thinking of the night she complained to Dex about Ebenezer's choice to remember for them how his father taught him how to tie a tie.

"Yes I am." To prevent further argument, he spits out, "What s-sort of present are you l-looking for? Is-is it for-is it for Dex?"

But she snaps back, harsher than she means to, "You are not." Ebenezer's hands leave the desk as he flinches straight, spine rigid, and Z softens. The chair slows unevenly and she nods. "Aye, for Dex. I do not know what kind. What do office guys dress like."

"Yes, al-al-alright-alright," he says, adjusting his spectacles. "Erm. I'd not know what-what to get Dex either. And they d-dress like me."

Zolotisty doesn't reach to spin 'round again. "She likes most anything that you pick for her, because you picked it for her." Her tone is a bit guarded - - secret-sharing.

"Esc likes m-most anything I pick for her too," Ebenezer mumbles. He's given his wife acorns, bottlecaps, surprise lunches, and secret Island-places. All winners.

"Like picking things that are full of chances or people don't see. Elias' got good presents."

"Have-ave-aven't met Elias." With a half-a-wince, he corrects, "Well, n-not properly, I mean. Of-of course I've seen him and all."

"He took care of me when I was daft." She adjusts her toes to line them up again with the edge of the chair. "So he is family. I can take you sometime, if you want to meet him."

"Well, if-if he's family, shouldn't I m-meet him?" He sweeps his hands over his desk again.

"Probably. ..I am supposed to go be there now if you want to go with."

"S-supposed to why? Yes, I suppose I could- -" He pulls the watch from his pocket by the chain and squints down at it. "D-don't see why-why not."

Zolotisty stands up and steps down from the chair. She offers him her hand. "Com'on then." He holds up a finger in a 'just one moment' gesture. Hurrying across the room to shut the door, he jiggles the handle to be sure it's closed before he strides back. He straightens his spectacles. He takes a breath, then puts his hand into Z's.

They step into the tall grasses just outside the gates on the eastern side of the AceHigh. Zolotisty checks their surroundings - - no one here but a rookie asleep against the wall. He's using his backpack as a pillow, his bandolier as a blanket. She turns to look over her shoulder for the familiar boxy silhouette of the loft and lurches slightly in place, put to cross-purposes by rare boastfulness. "Did you know Dex can paint," she asks, palms itching with the need to drag him off and point, preen. Look, look see what she made. For me.

"No, I d-did-didn't know," Ebenezer answers, half-whispering and distracted. His posture's stiff, almost trembling with tension. "Doesn't seem like the sort of thing she-she'd- -you know?"

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: UNCLASSIFIED | DATE OF REVIEW: N/A |
AUTHORITY: N/A | AUTHOR: UNKNOWN |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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As time passes, the brilliance of their strategy erodes. Dex can't just turn on turned-on no matter how many times she's practiced, particularly when she's busily moping. Flopping back on the bed, all she feels is disappointing, the age-old antithesis of sexy.

Rolling over to breathe in lovelorn sheets only turns disappointing into pathetic, but at least it provides the impetus to get up. After rubbing her palms into her eyes, as if that may clear her outlook, she scans the tunnel for something to hook a memory onto.

The canal does the trick. It's a memory from months ago, before they'd even kissed. Floating in the sea, the two of them hyperaware of being close enough to touch.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC | DATE OF REVIEW: 26.02.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: UNEDITED VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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"No," Z disagrees with a quiet finality. Recalling herself, she uses the excuse of turning to face the loft wholly to prick her ears. "You see that building there? That is ours. She painted a thing on the wall outside. It is not done yet but it is very good. You should go see it." There's a twist of Improbability as she and Dex check in, echoing an 'i'm safe' to one another.

Though he's not sensitive to Improbability, Ebenezer feels the sudden pull. "That!" His index finger is pointed to Z's nose in an instant. "You did-did it again! That-that thing you keep doing. I know you're-I-I know you're doing it, you know."

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RESTRICTED | DATE OF REVIEW: 19.02.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION | AUTHOR: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Terry Babcock lunges closer to her screens, as if proximity will help her solve the mystery. "What did she do!" Her voice goes shrill. "Tell me!"

In his own camera room, Matthew Simpert silently cues up the footage with Z standing on the ramparts of New Pittsburgh, taken the last time she appeared solo with Ebenezer. He searches for his notes as it buffers. The markers for clan hall.. that moment when Stripes was in the elevator and Ears was alone with the carpenter and the beanpusher in the kitchen. "Got it," he murmurs, ragged voiced with fatigue. Chaktak.

Setting his chin in his palm, he watches closely. She's facing northeast in New Pittsburgh. Roughly east here. East..

Grunting with sudden recognition, he reshuffles the files on his desk to pull up the map he was working on a week ago. The transparency of probable coordinates for the hideaway the girls are sharing is still there. He stares between the shaded areas and the screen. "Is she saying something?" he wonders aloud. Zolotisty's hearing is good, and she's obsessively attuned to Spandex, but can Dex yell that loudly?

"No. Passive." He discards the notion; there would be nothing for Ebenezer to notice. "Shit, maybe they've figured out fuckin' telepathy.."

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: UNCLASSIFIED | DATE OF REVIEW: N/A |
AUTHORITY: N/A | AUTHOR: UNKNOWN |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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It drops her on her ass, like the first time. Whooping, Dex jumps into the water, clothes and cast and all.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RESTRICTED | DATE OF REVIEW: 19.02.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION | AUTHOR: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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The EMP wiped out industries and left block after block of office towers deserted. It didn't take long for them to refill - - transient squatters at first, and then after a few years of people working to turn them into something more like places to live, a system of organized, cooperative communities formed. InterNationBank is one of the oldest, the best and therefore the hardest to get into in Canberra. The Clothers, like all of the Crew's activities and buildings, runs it as a strict meritocracy. You contribute, you stay.

Two young women sit at a small table near the double-fronted glass doors. Hunched over a chessboard, they both seem completely engrossed in the game. Neither has looked up, but as he nears, one says, "G'day, Master's expecting you." No names, of course, not with all the cameras around. Cooper once witnessed someone not expected try to get in. One of the women had the gentlemen caller face down on the pavement begging her not to break his arm before the other had moved her bishop. He looks up at the building, gaze landing on his old window - - fifteenth up, fourth from the left. The sill pots of herbs he used to grow are gone, but at least they've been replaced by flowers. Something alive, pretty.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC | DATE OF REVIEW: 26.02.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: UNEDITED VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Zolotisty's teeth click neatly as they scissor the air a centimeter away from the tip of Ebenezer's accusing finger. She bares a Joker grin at him. "Not nice to point, Eben."

He recoils quick, with a tiny yelp of surprise. Expression twisting into a sneer, he retorts, "Not-not nice to bite either. And are-are you going to tell-tell me what it is you're doing or not?"

"I am not doing anything," Z says, spreading her fingers to show she has nothing in her hands. It's true, she thinks. All she ever does is wait for Dex's signal and ricochet it back. She checks the rookie - - still asleep - - with a glance and tips her chin to the Outpost. "Com'on, we will go meet Elias."

He's got the scowl and posture now of a man walking home in the rain, wind-broken umbrella stuffed in the rubbish bin a few blocks back. "Yes, al-alright," he concedes.

Z stuffs her wind-broken hands in her pockets and swings about to slouch her way toward the Lucky Dip. She keeps an eye on the cameras, on the Jokers in the square, and mocks herself for playing at Dex's paranoia - - but her skull is still smarting with the lump she got the other day and Dex has been right so far. They circle around to the back of the building, walking alongside the train tracks to climb the platform steps. "Elias?" Z calls, craning to peer into the open kitchen windows as she walks. Smells like baking bread.

The position of the sun overhead has dimmed the kitchen of its natural light, but a shadow darker than the rest shifts and turns toward her voice. "Hullo little gold - - are you hurt? Ah, you've got company, hullo."

"Not hurt. This is Ebenezer, can we come in."

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: UNCLASSIFIED | DATE OF REVIEW: N/A |
AUTHORITY: N/A | AUTHOR: UNKNOWN |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Dex always manages to swim her troubles away, even temporarily, and counting keeps her further occupied. After ten laps, she leans over the side of the canal next to her pile of wet clothes. Another easy memory- - Zolotisty's confident kiss as they sat on their surfboards. She flips and dives like an otter when the signal's returned.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RESTRICTED | DATE OF REVIEW: 19.02.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION | AUTHOR: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Two hours later Cooper leaves the building red-faced and warm from their Xingyiquan training. Since he left the Crew for so-called gainful employment six years ago, he and Durbin's conversations have rarely been much more than a debriefing on the session. Durbin certainly hasn't ever mentioned his work - - as an ex-Crew turned wagedog, it's a sign of the respect that he earned while he was a member that he's still welcome here at all.

Guido Haccadine.

Cooper wonders who in the Network this poor sot pissed off to get himself sent to the Island. As he turns the corner and passes the security cameras in front of a Network-owned FoodMart, he pulls his hood further over his head and quickens his pace. He wonders why the Network saw fit to put this Haccadine on their show, for everyone to watch, but more troubling is why Durbin wants him to keep an eye on this guy. He reaches his building's entrance and waits for the gaggle of hooded streeties to give him room to the front door. A line from an antique television series that Ogilvy made them watch occurs to him again: "If anybody asks you if in you in this game, you tell 'em you in it for life."

Fuck.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC | DATE OF REVIEW: 26.02.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: UNEDITED VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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They've been talking ages, it seems. Eben's stutter has relaxed to once or twice every other sentence and Elias is himself - -kind, patient. Zolotisty digs through tiny wrapped parcels, listening closely to their conversation. She's slung over the edge of a wooden storage box as tall as her hips. Her tail flails as she scritches at the floor for balance, trying not to jostle into the hinged wooden cover above her head again. She's opened and resealed several dozen of the giftboxes already, though she found the one she knows she has to take home to Spandex right on top of the pile - - Elias' work, she suspects.

How long does it take to pick out a present, Ebenezer wonders in the kitchen, especially when they're all wrapped and they all look exactly alike on the outside. Though the conversation with Elias has soothed his tension, Zolotisty's lingering absence has spiked his curiosity.

She did invite him, yes, but she didn't expect him, did she?

Ebenezer digs for his pocket-watch, out of routine rather than necessity. "Well, it's b-been very nice chatting with you, sir, but I think I'd better be-better be going," he says, rising. His eyes dart towards the living room, where Z's rooting around. "S-suppose you can hear me, Zolot-tisty. I'm going home now, it's late."

"Alraugh!" Whunk.

There's a faint whine. Elias gets up, head tilted. "Conk yourself good that time?"

"Mrrnnn." The wooden lid of the storage box thunks back into place as Z extracts herself, shuffling into the kitchen with a surly look about her. They've turned on the lights against the growing dusk. She has one hand pressed to her head, and in her other, a slightly squashed little box. It's wrapped with bright red paper. "S'alright," she says, snuffing. "Do you need to go a particular place, Eben?"

"Oh. I-I can walk."

"It was good to meet you," Elias says, gravely offering his hand to Ebenezer again as Z nods. He supposes the younger man will like the formality of it. "You're welcome here any time. Do you want to take any of the cookies with you?"

Ebenezer, grateful for the formality, shakes hands, then bows his head to Elias and Z in turn. "No, I'm all-all set, I think. Thank you. Good-goodnight." He excuses himself out from the kitchen, out of Elias' home, into the night air.

"Night Eben," Z calls after him. There's just one camera in the corner of the kitchen, a fixed-mount model just above one of the bookshelves. It points toward the door Eben has just left by - - probably to track people passing through for the trains. She flicks her ear and lowers her hand from her head, frowning at her clean fingers. Right against the egg she already had. She sighs, too antsy to wait until Eben is any farther than the bottom of the platform steps, and pads toward the bookshelf.

There's a medical bag laid against the base of the shelf. Z looks down at it, shuffing the knife of her foot into its end. Elias follows her and makes no noise of surprise when she backs her hip into him as they move just out of the camera's field of view. Gone.

Ebenezer waits, hands in his pockets, eyes on Elias' kitchen window. He watches as two silhouettes drift across the room then abruptly vanish away. His eyes narrow, but he makes no noise of surprise before turning away. To genuinely head home this time.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: UNCLASSIFIED | DATE OF REVIEW: N/A |
AUTHORITY: N/A | AUTHOR: UNKNOWN |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Dex is still practicing her frontflips off the side of the canal when Z and Elias arrive.

"Spandex, I - -" Z begins deferentially. She knows she's late and Dex, Dex just splashed them both. She stops, mid-step and sentence. She jams the box in her pocket, fits her fangs snug together.

Dex surfaces and is startled briefly by wet shoes, wet feet, and even from this angle she can tell that her girl is pissed. "Hallo," she says as she clambers lopsided out of the water. "Thanks for coming."

"Hullo," Elias nods. "Ebenezer has many things to say in defense of long division. How are you feeling? May I have a look?"

"Ebenezer? Huh? And thought you were here to- - okay, one sec." She throws a warm blanket of Improbability around herself to combat Z's cold stare. Dried, she holds and turns her casted arm for him to inspect. "S'been great, it's totally solid, itches like a motherfuck though."

"I did not get a chance to ask him," Z says. She pads off down the platform as Elias kneels to collect the medic's bag that came along with them.

"Any pain? Can you flex your hand at all?"

Dex pulls her attention from Z and her good nature returns as she waggles her fingers proudly. "Flex? I've been swimmin' with it since the second day." She doesn't mention the pain- - in fact, it throbs like a motherfuck after she swims, like now.

"I wouldn't recommend it - - your wrist should be given an opportunity to heal and rest. Putting additional stress on it will either prolong, or potentially, complicate your recovery. But." He smiles faintly and holds the bag between his legs as he takes her arm to gently test her range and her reaction. He gets the wince he's expecting, and stops to crouch, rummaging for painkillers. "You know that. How long do you stay in? You're certain you've got no pockets of moisture in the cast? It's extremely important you keep it dry."

She lifts the cast to her nose and sniffs. "I stayed in 30 laps and then 11 flips." Six echoes. "Improbability dries me, don'know how, maybe molecular? Sometimes it's like a wind but usually it feels like a quick vibration, so I'm thinking probably no pockets."

"Interesting," and Elias says that so rarely that it's meaningful whenever he does. He tilts his head slightly. "You wouldn't be able to smell it yet. The first, and I rather suspect last, time that Zolotisty did it to herself, we didn't know until it was quite bad." He smiles and pats her elbow gently as he stands up to offer her a blisterpack of dilute morphine ampoules. "For the pain."

"Euch. Did you mold, twist?" But Z's at the far end of the platform and gives no reply. "Nono, keep those for people who really need'em yeh," her face is grim and distant again.

"I seem to recall that you are not a 'strap-biting cowboy.' Just take them. If you don't use them, that's fine. It's better to have them on hand than not."

She has no plans to use them, preferring to keep her mind sharp these days, but accepts them graciously. "Z's turn now!" she then calls, eager for his medical attention to be elsewhere.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RESTRICTED | DATE OF REVIEW: 19.02.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION | AUTHOR: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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He smiles as he opens the line. "Hey you," Simpert says, cradling the phone between his shoulder and ear. There are maths equations strewn about his desk, aerial print-outs of New Pittsburgh and the warehouse in AceHigh bisected by twine and push-pins which describe the possible arc in which Zolotisty could be looking, and a new version of his transparency map. There's a smaller, darker spot amid the original shaded area.

"Hi," Elise says, and it's good to hear her voice. "You're late again."

"I know. I'm waiting for my cover, she's late."

"Oh - - is that Shezrae again?"

"Probably."

"Tell her I said hi."

"Tell me about your day."

"When you get home. Are you okay? You sound really tired, Mattie."

"Yeah, I'm fine. Should be like an hour, maybe less."

"Alright. I'll wait up. Your mom's asleep, she had another bad night."

"I'll be quiet when I come in."

"Okay. ..Alright, hon, I was really just calling to check in, see where you were. I'll see you soon, okay?"

"Yeah, alright." They love-you and hang up, and Simpert leans back in his chair. His gaze drifts across the mess.

Check in.

"Fuck me."

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC | DATE OF REVIEW: 26.02.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: UNEDITED VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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"As far as I can tell.. nothing. Honestly, Spandex, you or Zolotisty would be a more qualified judge here. If you find a new scab, very small, and you think you can feel something beneath the skin, then we'll have another look."

He's the only one with clothes on anymore.

Even though Dex is hovering close to Z , the crony ear refuses to look at her, slung back to point sharp at the curved tile walls. "They can chip you with practically nothin'. I got tagged once when I was outside, but dug it out. What's to say we don't have one now? You know we arrive unconscious."

"A syringe and a quick jab is all it takes, yes. And.." He shrugs, spreading his hands. What's to say.

"You don't have a scanner?" The Crew had small scanners. Dex owed them favours for months, but it's how she managed to find the chip in order to cut it out.

"It's a marvel to me that people have rebuilt even rudimentary electronics on the Island. Perhaps a Robot might be able to help, but no, I have had no functional need for a scanner."

"Yeh," she says, putting this aside to think about later. She waits in vain for Z to break her silence before taking over again. "What are the cuts for then?"

"Oh, the biopsies? I should think they're interested in medical curiosity. Tissue samples. For analysis."

"Curiosity? This ain't no fuckin' freak show." Dex, who cares not a whit about nudity, pulls Z's jacket over her shoulders, taking the opportunity to kiss her tight jaw. She gets a grudging half-lean for her efforts, though Z's focus remains steadily on Elias.

"I agree," he shrugs.

"Everything ..uhh.. normal last week or two, Elias? You probably figured it by now, but we're.. well, I mean, you should know, 'cuz maybe they're watching you leave with Z and then goin' off-camera, and I don't want to cause trouble for you, but the less you know the safer it is, right."

Elias smiles. "The enlightened man is at one with the law of causation," he says with a twinkle. "Please do fetch me if that," he indicates the hairline crack in Dex's cast, "deepens."

He gets a grin for not letting anything past him, and in answer, he slips a one-shot teleporter from his pocket. The frequency transponder has been replaced with a crooked Scrapyard antenna. He shows it to them with no magicianly showmanship. "If that's all, I'll leave you to your evening."

"That's from that fox story you told me," Dex says, softening her stance and finally giving Z some breathing space. "I figure it's about karma, but it'll crack my head, that one. Thanks for coming, Elias. My symbols say s'good to be gettin' help from someone now."

"Of course, sweetheart," Elias says simply. He smiles at both of them and triggers the one-shot, gone with a flash. Z blinks white sparks from her eyes and turns to look down the tunnel.

"He left his bag," she says, finally.

Dex stops her hand from grabbing at Z's to hold her from going, as if its a setup, but she pulls it back. It's Elias. Z turns in place to face her, finally. "I'll wait here, he probably needs it, yeh?"

"He does things like you talk. Definitive."

Z's puzzle's unravelled in one sharp breath. "We got'a bring him back. He'll be safer here.." But she knows they can't - - it's tied to his koan.

"Horse'n'Gidget woulda been too."

"Yeh.Was'wrong, twist?"

"Nothing. Everybody's themselves. I want to go sit down, m'head hurts." She shrugs out from under her jacket, letting it fall to the concrete. The box tucked in the pocket dokks instead of flumphing quietly, and she pauses to lean down and fish it out. "Here. I brought a thing."

"What you mean every- - it hurts? Wha'happened?" She takes the box and holds Z's elbow to walk her to the bed. "Are you dizzy? Why didn't you tell Elias? Where've you been?"

"Yes. I boxed myself. No. He knew. Clan hall and the Dip." She matches her impatient gait to Dex's, flicking one ear like it's got a nervous tic. The bed was the only place she wanted to be a few hours ago, and now, churlishly, she's finding she'd rather sulk. She tries to ignore the impulse, pulling loose of Dex's grip to nudge her onto the sheets.

"Hang on, you need water first," and Dex tries to peel away to fetch a glass for her. She gets as far as an arm's length away before Z's fingers catch her hips and press hard to stop her.

"No. Need to be close to you, needed that before and you sent me away. Come here."

She holds her place. "S'at why you took ages and come back bein' all quiet? Why didn't you say before leaving? Say 'no I don't want to.' Com'ere then," and she sighs and sits heavily on the edge of the bed. Z remains standing. "Com'ere let's lie down.. after I get water 'cuz I can't relax until things are done."

"I can't bark at you about swimming and making your arm all sick 'cos you're yourself and last time is probably like this time, you said keep from feeling cooped."

"Is that what's botherin' you? Fine, I'll run or read or ..uhh.. bake shit or somethin' if that's all it is." She frowns at her cast again. "You went moldy?"

Zolotisty shakes her head, thick-tongued with frustration, and Dex stares at the back of her as she goes to get the glass of water. "Doesn't matter. But aye, I did. Last Season."

"But you're not missin' anything.. I think." She tilts her head slowly and squints as if trying to look, and holds the pose for when Z turns back. "A bloke?" she says, hoping for a laugh, but as if that's the provocation, Z's crying.

There's a brief moment of shock - - Dex has heard Z cry only once before. "HeyheyZ.." She's up like a shot to pull her close, gift forgotten on the bed. "M'sorry, " she says. "..just tryin' to make you laugh." She knows that's not all it is, but isn't quite sure what all it is, so she stays quiet, letting her hand soothe up and down Z's head, neck and back. It's not the beautiful tears of that other time, not from the two of them overwhelmed with being so much in love, and it hurts Dex all the more for the difference.

Z presses into Dex and the subtle texture of fiberglass against her lower back makes her cry harder. But it's not her habit to do this and it passes summer-storm quick. They move to the bed to lie together, snugged tight and wrapped close. Quiet.

 
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