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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RELEASED TO PUBLIC | DATE OF REVIEW: 26.02.2098 |
AUTHORITY: WIPO | AUTHOR: A MOORE |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Don't worry. Won't insult legendary underworld solidarity by suggesting you surrender name without torture.

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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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Laid on her back with her toes tucked in the fur of her girl's tail, Dex tells stories.

Tonight, it's one about a young, scrappy Spandex finally let loose from the locked room and tiny yard of Vera's tenement building, and the way that she took to life with an insatiable need for more space. With each line she crossed, she tried to build herself unstoppable - - picking up pieces of invincibility in every curfew she broke, every asshole adult she told off, and every mile she ran away. But the obstacles never stopped coming and she just kept moving the lines further out.

She doesn't tell the stories like that, not packaged so neat. They're just memories of a time.

Zolotisty loves listening. Her girl is a good narrator, a good mimic - - she can throw herself into a braggartly swagger or use her voice to recall someone's slung-low crouch if she's talking about a pub fight. On her back, Dex can only speak with her body and hands, but her painterly fingers speak just as strong as her voice. They swirl color into every action and brush broad strokes to gesticulate, accentuate, punctuate each memory. She listens and watches with a rare, exhausted passivity - - there are no questions about pollution, about foster care, about tower blocks and cops tonight.

It's not so much about the stories. It's the telling, tonight. It's the talking. Dex could be reading a clan roster over and over and it would still be an 'i love you, let me see you smile.' It makes the roots of Z's teeth ache.

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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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Shezrae packs up her things as Cooper flicks through the papers Simpert's left for him. He chooses the map first, reading it while sipping his coffee. He almost doesn't want to find their hiding spot. Not yet, anyway, even if it'd make his life a hell of a lot less stressful. Problem is, he's not the only one looking at these things. He tucks the map under the other sheets of paper.

"Miss Spandex grace us with our presence in my absence?"

"Mm-mn. Sorry, chief."

It's the answer he was expecting, and without a noise or gesture of disappointment, he nods a polite goodbye as she leaves. He takes Simpert's chair next to the feed controls and scans the screens above. Seeing no sign of Spandex, he returns to the notes.

They're three AM messy - - there are instructions about replicating and interpreting the maps he's made and a suggestion to call the ground crews to have them comb over that area more thoroughly. There are two lists of time markers to reference. The note on the first reads, Pretty sure they've sorted out some kind of check-in system; left doc with fuller thoughts on our private share drive. Maybe we investigate signal disruption / interference? Then the other, Depressive behavior in CH, check *'d markers for cynicism about us. Eb. in CH and then to Dip (no word from TB); Z leaves w/ E after Eb goes. Couldn't find E afterward; search. Thoughts on pressuring E?

By midmorning, Cooper's up to speed: he's watched the noted scenes, located Elias in New Pittsburgh an hour after he disappears with Zolotisty, and compiled and emailed a more thorough report for Ogilvy. Her response is immediate:

Hiring naturalized specialists soon. Don't forget to take the audience with you. H.O.

"I'm not a moron, ma'am," he complains to the screen. Simpert's done most of the work already but he goes through it again to emphasize the confusion and questions - - adding a close crop of Ebenezer accusing Z of something, and her dodge. Eben's suspicious looks and fidgeting. A civil social chat in the Dip, and framed through the door, Z practically hiding in a box. A disappearing act as Z and Elias leave; the camera pulling out on the empty kitchen. By chance, Cooper notices Ebenezer outside as he checks the exterior view. He follows Eben to a natural black screen, notching up the volume on his quiet footsteps. Later, in the darkness, Elias from behind - - alone.

Ebenezer's proving to be the accidental perfect narrator for this mystery. Cooper briefly considers calling Terry to consult on it, but changes his mind. The last thing that Ebenezer needs is more screentime.

Still no sign of Spandex. His croissant's fresh though, as is his coffee. He relaxes in Simpert's chair and searches the live listing of Contestant locations for Haccadine.

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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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The morning sun finds Haccadine tired, aching and caked in a mixture of blood, sweat and spittle. Some is his. Most is not. A pair of fat, bloated flies circle his head, dipping lazily to avoid the occasional half-hearted swat when they stray too close to his face. His feet and bared lower legs dangle in the cool waters of the fountain, toes spread wide. He wiggles them to shift the worst of the mud, then bows his head and looks down at himself.

"Morning, sunshine," he mumbles. In the water, his reflection nods a curt greeting. Still too early for eloquence, then. He reaches down with both hands, swamping his reflection with a hundred scurrying ripples, and lifts them cupped to his face.

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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 catches a dribble of juice with her tongue before it skitters down the inside of her cast.

"One of the things I like about th'island's being able to pick your breakfast," she says, stuffing the last orange wedge into her mouth and mimicking plucking a fruit off a branch above her.

"Are there no foods outside. That you have to eat," and she can't say it, really. She never can.

"What? What you mean?"

Zolotisty hesitates. "From dogs."

It takes Dex a few moments to be able to chew her orange again. "Oh," she says quietly, and swallows hard. "Outside outside, not just outside here." She plays with a round of her orange peel. "Naw, there are all sorts of foods, depending where you live, how much money you got. Network Foods owns all the hothouses, so whatever they're growing. Meat.. well, that's all supplied by huge producers, and it's just called 'meat' and it's these flavoured shapes.. nuggets, strips, balls, patties.. uhh.. steaks. Unless you know someone who can get you something specific."

Z insinuates herself into Dex's lap, stealing the orange peel from her. She tests the peel's flexibility before working it slowly, turning it 'round and 'round until it begins to pull tacky and clay-like. She rolls it between her palms until it comes to a sphere, all the pith turned inward, and then lets it harden again.

"Some people won't eat cows, some it's pigs, some it's dogs, cats, horses. Baby animals. Some are vegetarians, like I was 'til you fucked with my teeth." Her tone is teasing, and she scrapes her fangs on the side of Z's jaw.

"Spandex, are you ever gonna finish your paints. Told Eben 'bout it." Tipping her head back into Dex's shoulder, Zolotisty offers it to her - - a marble-sized, hollow orange that feels heavier than it ought.

"What. Why did you tell him?" Dex tests the orange marble: shaking it, tapping it, rolling it on the table, licking it, biting it. It gives like rubber under her taps and teeth, though even Dex's new fangs can't pierce it.

"We were near the warehouse and I asked if he knew if you could paints and he said no and I said you are good at it so now I remember. Are you ever gonna finish your paints." She runs her hands down Dex's legs as Dex drops the orange on the table, testing bounce. It clangs unexpectedly, though it doesn't jump back up to her fingertips.

"Course I am, it's your present." Guilt flushes her chest. She can't believe she's forgotten.

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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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A flake of croissant goes spiraling, brushed, from his jacket as Cooper studies the fellow on the screen in front of him. There's nothing particular about him that he can see, not yet, though there's nothing particular he's looking for. He's relaxed for a relative newcomer. Maybe that's something.

Still no sign of Spandex. Cooper looks over his shoulder to the door, switches the screens to all her favourite locations, and moves to his own computer to pull up Haccadine's file. His status as convicted felon and his Crew affiliation gets top billing on the paperwork. DICE applicant. Cooper's eyes crease - - he's just been gifted a perfect alibi for a visit. He scrolls down and pauses at the list of Haccadine's responders: Marshall, Axelsson, and Lacey, C. The last is unfamiliar. Probably new. He closes the door behind himself.

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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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"Wan'chu to go running."

"S'cuse me, what." Z's almost shuffed off so Dex can twist and lift enough from the chair to check out her own ass. "What you saying?" But the thought pulls her gaze to the small skylights over their head.

"You don't want to? When's last time you saw anybody but me."

A kiss for an answer, and she's up and pulling on her boots. "I'm only smooching you, Z, we talked about this." She's grinning, hunting for her jacket. Z rolls her eyes goodnaturedly.

"I mean like Sicpuess or Skidge or anybody. Or one of the new people for DICE. Or Tyr, or G, or."

She's on her belly reaching under the bed for her jacket and grabs the gift, tucked away earlier in favour of snuggling and sleep. The box is still slightly squashed, as though someone's sat on it, and she slides it in her pocket for later. "Skidge left, Z," she says with a hint of anger. "What new people? Any hotties?"

"She'll come back," Zolotisty replies with the stupid confidence of a dog told to sit and stay in the park. "Ionno, ahmn - - Liebs. Haccadine."

Cocked-hip, she shoots Z a superior look. "Why didn't you jus' say. Which one's got their challenge?"

"What?" Z stretches her way out of the chair, joints popping. "Say what. Both of them."

It doesn't occur to Dex that she's only seeing a broken reflection of Z in her own paranoia. "Fine, I'll go help. Where's this Haccadine? You're gon'have to pop me there, don't want them knowing I can do it yet."

The taut-tension ache of her muscles makes Zolotisty yawn, teary-eyed. "Hahhmn," she says, crunkling her eyebrows at Dex. "I don't know where he is, don'even know him. Maybe near IC or NewHome."

"Pfttsh. Since when we lettin' strangers into clan, what if he's.." She waves her hand, trying to think of the worst possible thing. Z raises her eyebrows, waiting. "Stupid and boring? Christ. Let's try IC then. But land us somewhere the cams won't see right away, and then we're goin' our separate ways as planned, yeh?"

Zolotisty takes a breath and smooths her hand down her face before she fixes Dex with a look of patient, gentle derision. It's as though they're playing poker and Dex's advice is, 'but hold your cards so that people next to you can't see.' There's a beat before she replies, "Yeh."

Stepping forward to catch her wrist, she drops Dex into a thicket of people in the eBoy's franchise on the edge of the square in Improbable Central. The jostling and moshing in there is aggressive enough that their sudden appearance goes unremarked. Z kisses Dex's ear and goes as quick as she came.

For a moment Dex stays hidden in the throng, all dipped-chin grin. Her girl's a fuckin' genius.

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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 door's open, and Cooper doesn't knock, choosing to appear as an imposing figure in the frame. He's dressed for it - - camera-ready, even, in one of Alice Chiao's sleek reinterpretations of a samurai yoroi hitatare in dark reSILK.

Caught by surprise, Lacey straightens up hurriedly from a comfortable slouch and looks to the door, one hand nudging her glasses back up. She clears her throat. "Yes?" Cooper ensures that by the time her eyes are on him, his are over her head on the screens. It's carefully constructed- - a personal snub, and a challenge to the insecurity common to all new cam-ops.

The screen directly in front of Lacey is showing a zoomed-in view of the fountain in Improbable Central, focused on Haccadine's loitering figure. Its neighbour shows the thin framework of a hut partway through construction, out somewhere in the jungle. The code flickering in the corner of the display suggests a northerly location. Out of habit, Cooper memorizes the code.

"Guido has submitted an application for DICE," he says, stepping in and not lowering his eyes. "Amnat Cooper?" he adds, as if she should know who that is.

Lacey flushes, burying her irritation under a bland smile and pushing herself back from the workstation. "Catherine Lacey. Nice to meet you." She kicks herself retrospectively for that. Nobody likes a suck-up.

"Bound for greatness, is he?" With his chin, Cooper indicates the shot which could as easily be a still photo. Finally, he drops his gaze to slowly and blatantly appraise the length of her. Pant-suit predictable and trying too hard. The rooks are all the same here. "Zolotisty selects carefully. Why him?" He's bluffing, but asks the question like a professor talking to a student.

The shrug and accompanying "I don't know" are crushed before they can become much more than a tightening of the shoulders. Lacey purses her lips, head swiveling back to the screens. "Difficult to say," she decides. "I'm not Zolotisty's operator, I don't know how she thinks."

His chin dips as if she's been insolent. "I'll leave you now, Ms. Lacey. If Contestant Spandex shows up, contact me right.." and as if he has the power to conjure her ass from up here, Dex appears on the IC screen.

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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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Pushing the shop door open with her shoulder, Dex wants to stop and lean against it, face-lifted to the sun, but it's too busy here, and like all the businesses around the island, there are several cameras mounted near the entrances. Her shoulders round protectively, and she weaves through the crowd, making her way from one sunny spot to the next without a vague notion of what their latest clan applicant will be like. "Haccadine?" she tries, as a Joker carrying a large ceramic plate of lemon squares bumps into her.

"Watchit," the bitch barks, and Dex's shoulders straighten immediately. She scowls at her, and moves along, drifting towards the fountain, aware without looking up of the cameras turning to track her path.

"I clean my boots in there," she says to the scruffy fellow bent over the water.

Haccadine lifts his head and twists around to peer at the woman addressing him, water dripping from his chin and brow. His eyes meet the mohawk first, then the cast, then the boots and the striped stockings. He assesses her face last. Unable to tell if she's joking or not, he swipes a sleeve over his mouth.

"S'okay I won't bite." Her lips pull into a crooked smile to flash her new fangs, but it's half-hearted. "You okay? The medtents here are utterly shit 'n the docs are all bastards, but if you need dosh, I've got spare, yeh." Her gaze travels over him. She's no professional, but most people that have been around long enough can distinguish the injuries that need attention. He seems okay, if a little ragged.

A sideways glance at the ground gives Haccadine enough time to consider. "Thanks, but I've got myself pretty well covered. Killed enough this mornin', should be good for the next few days." After a further moment's thought, he adds: "Although, if you could spare a cigarette - -" He tries a hopeful smile.

"Naw, I don't smoke, but check this shit out." Her smile is broad and genuine as she nudges him in the side with her elbow before reaching down for a walnut-sized stone. Standing, she points to a nearby camera with her chin. Her arm's strong, her throw's true and the hopper's familiar ker-chunk echoes in the square. "Just got'a hit it right below the lens and just above that whatsit where the cig spits out," she says, crouching to find another stone. "Here."

Suddenly the very image of rapt attention, he swings his legs over the edge of the fountain and just as he reaches for the stone, she snaps her fingers shut over it. "You might crack the lens," she tells him, slowly opening her palm again. Their eyes meet. After a few seconds, he breaks her gaze and reaches gently for the stone.

"I'll be careful."

"Why?" Her eyes haven't moved from him; her hand is equally unyielding. His brow furrows.

"Because- - I thought you didn't want the camera broken?"

"Why?" A passing KittyMorph scoops up the cigarette.

Amusement takes the place of confusion in his expression and he allows himself a slight smile. "I don't know. You tell me."

"Tell you what? Why you'd think I'd care about the camera?" She drops the rock into his palm. "I'm not the type of girl to tell people what they think. Or if they're thinking at all, for that matter." It's a bullshitter's grin now.

Haccadine hefts the rock, feeling its weight, reckoning the force needed to get it to its target. Been a while since he's done this, but there's a sort of comfortable familiarity about the situation and, well- - it's the sort of skill that, once learned, is never truly forgotten. He gives her a hard look, recognising the implicit challenge behind her grin. "Fair enough." She's waiting for the throw, but remains intent on her target, not his.

He gets to his feet, sizing up the camera. It follows him as he takes a step away from the fountain, its quiet whir barely audible above the background noise of the square. Rock gripped firmly in hand, he squares off against it and winds his arm back, pausing to make one last estimate, then hurls it at the camera.

For a split second he's sure he's got it dead on, but - - the rock doesn't slow like he thought it would and strikes the lens side on, fractures blossoming across the glass.

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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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Amnat Cooper shakes his head at a cubist Spandex in front of them, her face sheared into a psychotic grimace. "Switch to cameras IC-33 and IC-37 - - thirty through fifty are positioned around the square here, they follow a sequential one-two-three-four north-south-east-west grid. You want the south-facing cameras. Hurry now, let's not miss the reactions." He's been coolly back-seat driving since Spandex arrived in the square. Her instincts are good, he notes. A little slow, like all new employees. His hovering probably isn't helping.

Lacey's lips are pressed tight, bloodless and thin. Her fingers move across the controls and both screens blink, changing to display Spandex and Haccadine from another angle. She zooms one of them in as soon as the image clarifies, closing as far as she can whilst keeping both of their faces in the picture - - a smirking Spandex, still staring at Haccadine, who in turn stares at the shattered camera, slowly rubbing his throwing hand as though burned or struck.

"Are you familiar with the repair protocol on that, Ms. Lacey?"

She sucks a breath in through her teeth before reciting, parrot-like, "In the event of damage to a camera unit, a Camera Maintenance Request should be filed with the duty supervisor as soon as possible.' Yes, I am familiar with it."

The cam-ops have their own unofficial Hall of Fame list for CMRs. Spandex held the title until Zolotisty zoomed to the top from nowhere by breaking a hundred in one go last week. "Mmn. She likes him. Pull out a bit now, body language is key in interactions."

"Really? Looked like she was just playing games with him to me." She reaches across whilst she talks and zooms the camera out until the two contestants are almost completely visible; Spandex is crouching to collect another stone, and straightening, she offers it to Haccadine.

"Really."

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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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Haccadine eyes her warily, making no move to take the proffered stone. "Shouldn't we be leavin' about now?"

"Hrmm? You asking me on a date?" Spandex closes her hand around the stone, turns her head towards the next nearest camera and whips another fastball. Ker-CHUNK. "Best get it before another kittyproxi does, yeh?"

His eyes flick to the camera, down to the cigarette and then quickly around the square. His thumb and middle finger rub together in an anxious tic. "Only," Haccadine remarks, avoiding the question, "in my experience when you break a window it don't take long for the owners to come lookin'. Dunno about you, but I'd rather not be around when they do."

"Hate to break it to ya, but they've got the whole thing on tape, yeh. It's a fuckin' camera." When he doesn't laugh with her at this, she softens a little, "They'll send one'a them grumpy tech dudes that you see about to fix it, s'all. Don't worry, they all saw me provoking you."

He is silent for a moment longer before striding forward and bending down to scoop up the dropped cigarette. Never one to let things go to waste. Returning, he roots through his bandolier until his hand comes away with a lighter. "You break stuff a lot, then?" he asks, not looking up.

"Very funny," she responds, lifting her cast, though she knows that's not what he meant. "Depends what you mean by stuff." She doesn't reflect on why her first inclination is promises, but it does remind her to check in with Z. She turns to look towards an alley they cut through one late night several weeks ago. Her memory of the brick wall on her lower back is returned threefold - - impatient, nearly indignant. Dex almost stumbles.

With smoke curling up from the tip of his cigarette, Haccadine pockets the lighter and stands. Oblivious to the unseen signalling, he shoots her a curious look and half-perches on the rim of the fountain. "Things. Cameras. Property. Unless you break other sorts of stuff too, of course."

"Mmn, not so much. You? Hearts?" She finds herself craving a good, honest conversation, not one like this - - all braggadocio and sharp quips. The recent rediscovery of truly private space makes aware of her public persona. It's like eating junk food while her body's needing nutrition.

"Windows, mostly. The odd door, every once in a while. Or- - I used to, at least," he corrects himself. "It's all jungle things nowadays." The look on his face is almost wistful.

"Yeh?" Though she figures it's futile trying to keep their voices low enough to avoid recording, she's aware of the crowds of contestants passing through the busy square. "What," she whispers, "B'n'Es?"

"Sometimes." He tilts his head back, thinking. "When I was younger - - stupid - - I used to do it for fun. Like a game. You pick a house, pref'rably a nice, big, rich one, and you put a brick through as many windows as you can before somebody comes out to beat you or calls the cops. Y'win if you don't get caught."

"Huh. But didn't take anything? Where you livin' that people have big houses still?" Not rare are the rooks who beat their chests with tales of dirty deeds from before. A lot of it, she's surmised, is utter bollocks.

Haccadine shrugs, tapping ash from the end of his cigarette. "Depends on your definition of 'big', don't it. Lots of big houses in London if you're lookin' in the right places, with the right eyes."

"London?" His admission matches his accent. "S'rough as fuck in most parts there now. Where'd you live- - wait. You drink? Lemme buy you one. I'm Dex, by the way." It seems odd to just be introducing herself now, as it feels like they've known each other for awhile. She gestures to the Prancing SpiderKitty. It's about as rough as some of the places she knew in London - - probably why she's fond of it.

"I do, as a matter of fact. Be much obliged, thank you." He smiles and stands, dusting himself down and taking up his luggage.

Her eyes narrow suspiciously at his formality but she leads him to the pub anyway.

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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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Cooper still hasn't sat down, but he's shifted from orders to occasional remarks as he watches Lacey work. "Spandex always takes the corner booth under the window facing the square, but she's testing him so she'll let him choose," he says. "You'll learn your Contestant's habits better than your own soon, which helps in having the next shots set up." He watches the feed following behind them to the pub door. Dex is a bit less hunched and her stride's almost back to its usual ground-eating pace. "Pub's a bit of a 'mare with sound."

She grunts in response, switching the screens to a camera over the bar and another aimed at the doorway. Sure enough, the volume spikes as soon as the feed changes over and she quickly rolls down a handful of faders, reducing the noise to manageable levels. Lacey smiles as Haccadine moves to seat himself at a booth, having already picked out the next changeover, and toggles the switch just as he sits down. Her eyes flick sideways towards Cooper, still hovering. She considers something to say, but Spandex appears abruptly on-screen and she forgets the notion, intent on the pair of them.

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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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She joins Haccadine in his booth with a vodka on ice and a pint of ale. The seats are unpleasantly sticky in places and the table is swimming in somebody else's drink, but somehow the grottiness seems only to add to the ambiance of the place. They toast.

"London?"

"Yeah. Moved about a lot, 'cause every so often the rozzers would get wind that somebody was squattin' in a building and move in, flush 'em out and arrest those too slow to get away in time. Grew up in a little place on Muswell Hill." He takes another sip, trying to recall places and times. "Not sure about in between. Lived in Harrow for a bi- -"

An ice cube unsticks suddenly from its mates and clinks loudly against Dex's fangs. She lowers her drink and sets it down on the table. "Who'd you say you were?"

His brow knits together. "I didn't. But since you ask - - Guido Haccadine."

"Who sent you?" Her hands disappear under the table. She's trying to work it out- - why they'd send someone claiming to be from her old building. To her clan. Z said she didn't even know him at all, and now he'll have access to their halls. Her eyes flick to the two exits. What the fuck was she thinking. She's trapped in here.

Haccadine carefully sets down his drink. He puts both his hands flat on the table, fingers splayed. "Nobody sent me. It was a cockup, alright? Moonlighters just bust down the door one night, stealthy as anything until they were on us- -"

"Who's us?" Her heartbeat's in her head, and her ice tinks in the glass as another bit melts free. No shadows in the doorways, nobody in the pub's reaching for weapons.

"One of the salvage crews. You know - - crafters," he hisses.

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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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Midway through benign destruction in the tunnel, Zolotisty stops her work to prick up her ears. She turns in place to stare southwest, as though the panic she's hearing will write an explanation onto the walls. Little good it would do. She's a wretchedly slow reader.

Licking her fangs, Z abandons her project and moves, epicenter-bound, to investigate the shockwaves of alarm.

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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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Locking her grip around the handle of the tanto sheathed against the small of her back, Dex draws it and leans across the table as though to reach for her drink.

"Who sent you." The foot-long blade tickles the apple of Haccadine's throat.

The door bumps open and Zolotisty sidles into the pub. She slips her hands into her pockets, fingering her dice, and keeps her gait casual.

The perverse compulsion to swallow is almost overwhelming. Haccadine eyes the blade curving towards his throat, doing his best to retain a calm face. "I told you, nobody sent me. I got rolled, and this is where they stick troublemakers."

Dex's eyes flick as she spies Z in her periphery. "How d'you get into the HongKong Bank building on Pinner Road?" She doesn't know the answer herself, but it'd be his nearest Crew tower. Nobody in the Crews would ever give up the information, even with a knife at their throats. Not on camera.

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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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Lacey stiffens. Both screens show the booth, now, one focused on Spandex and the other on Haccadine and the knife, zoomed in close enough for her to watch the tightening of muscles in his neck. "What are the chances she'll do it?" she asks, low and quiet.

By the front door, if you Brit Crews are like us Aussies, he thinks, answering Dex's riddle. Standing, he meets the Dex on the screen almost at eye level. If it was him at the business-end of her knife, he'd have no doubt of her conviction. And if this was a month ago, they'd have to junk the footage. Graphic deaths don't sell.

"Do what," he says, his hands still itching to take the controls. "Get one on Zolotisty."

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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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"Spandex," Z says, slope-shouldered at the end of their table.

"Got the doors, Z?" she says calmly, not lifting her eyes from Haccadine's.

"Donneed to. Drop your knife, Dex." It's a tone she's never used with her before, and it only tightens Dex's grip on the weapon.

"How."

Haccadine's hands twitch, fingers curling ever-so-slightly against the wooden table, but his face is dead and impassive. He glances down at the blade, then up at its wielder, and holds her gaze, unblinking.

"Dex - -"

The tanto disappears nightmare-quick and she takes a deep breath, surveying the room once more. Onlookers seem disappointed as they return to their drinks. "S'a pleasure," she says quietly as she dips her chin. "M'sorry to hear of your.. predicament. If there's anything you need, yeh?"

He smiles in reply, but it's forced and it shows. "Yeah. Thanks." He picks up his drink again with one hand. The other balls into a tight fist, shoved into his pocket.

For the first time, Zolotisty feels compelled to apologize for her girlfriend's behavior. Despite the short-sighted idiocy in the scowl Dex just shot her, she keeps her anger leashed, wets her lips, searches for something appropriate to say - - anything in her wide bank of stock moderator phrases.

"S'a good clan, DICE," Dex says. "Really good."

"When we aren't trying to slit each other's throats," Z says. She inhales and turns a glance on Haccadine, trying for a less thunderous expression. She has to force her ears to a more pleasant angle. "Sorry, mate."

He sets down the near-empty glass and attempts another smile. This time it comes out better, much more genuine. "Don't worry about it. I've had worse things pointed at me before, and nobody ever bothered buying me a drink first. No harm done."

A defiant grin from Dex, finally, to match his.

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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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"Good work, Ms. Lacey," Cooper says, cupping his hand on her shoulder. "You just got yourself third-railed." Electrified. On the way to good ratings. He folds a paper with a list of time markers he's noted and slips it into his pocket. "Of course, all of this stays unscreened until Ms. Ogilvy gives the go-ahead. I'm in 4301 if you need me."

Lacey smiles thinly, acknowledging his praise with a dip of her head. "I'll put what I've got in a share - -" but he's out the door before she finishes her sentence. Her jaw clamps shut and she stares at the empty doorway for a few moments, fingers drumming a tattoo against the arm of her chair. Abruptly, she turns back to the screens. Posturing be damned, she has a job to be getting on with.

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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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"You seen any of the rest of us, lately, Haccadine?" Z asks. She's hoping he says yes. She's hoping it's not been just the carolling and his application and this. Dex leans back in her seat and empties her drink. Ice interrupts the pause at the table.

"My round, wha'ch'you want, Z," she says, heading for the bar.

"Nothing, thanks."

Haccadine breathes in deep, thinking. "Not many. There was- - uh, Sicpuess, I think, and whoever else was in AceHigh when. You know." He pulls a face. "I saw a chap with glasses and really long sideburns, what d'you call them. Muttonchops? But I didn't really get a chance to talk."

"That'd be Ebenezer."

Dex pushes a drink into Z's hands, and sets another pint of ale in front of Haccadine. "What's your challenge?" She sits, sliding further into the booth to make room for Z, and swirls the ice in her glass.

Haccadine nods gratefully. "Stories, if I remember rightly. The tellin' of, in exchange for somethin' else told in return." He looks to Zolotisty, eyebrows slightly raised, for correction or confirmation. She nods faintly, pricking her ears as she and Dex both glance toward the doorway then back. Different reasons, the two of them, and though it takes a great deal to run Z to the end of her patience, everything - - everything - - is a hasp across an open wound as soon as she's reached the dregs.

"That's right," Z says, instead of, "I was looking to leave, Dex, there's nothing fucking there." She studies Haccadine, tempted to ask him to turn out his pockets, show them the inside of his pack. She's tempted to ask what he's chosen for a weapon, whether he's got anything other than the baseball bat jammed through the straps of the pack he's left under the table. The shaming there, though; she suspects it would do more harm to him than Dex's more worldly-than-thou paranoia.

She can't be here.

Can't fucking be here. Running, she told her. Relax, she told her.

"Maybe you'd do him the kindness, Dex." She puts down her drink and catches Dex's eyes in a I donno what he did but see if I don't do it to you if you pull that knife again glance. "If you'll both excuse me." She smiles, and it's genuine by the time she's turned it to him. "I'll see you, Haccadine." He returns the smile, hand raised in farewell.

Dex keeps her eyes on him as Z wheels for the door with a punked out tail. "Would love to, yeh. Topped our drinks in time, you start." Her jaw clenches briefly, but she otherwise appears relaxed.

Maybe, Z thinks as she slams down the porch steps outside, you only ever give advice that you need yourself.

 
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