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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RELEASED TO PUBLIC | DATE OF REVIEW: 19.02.2098 |
AUTHORITY: WIPO | AUTHOR: RM RILKE |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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And should you set fire to my brain, I still can carry you with my blood.

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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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Maybe it's infinite space that makes time stretch longer than a morning yawn, separating each moment so that even the interstices between them are perceptible and fix in their memories like paintings. They hold hands at the edge of it.

"Zolotisty?"

"Spandex."

"I will."

Z half-turns, riddling at it. "Marry me, mean?"

"Yeh."

"I'll marry you."

"Count of three."

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RESTRICTED| DATE OF REVIEW: 01.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK | AUTHOR: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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"G'day, Frillsy, what's shakes — did you hear the Crews abducted a WIPO auditor last night?" Simpert shrugs out of his flak and drops his bag near the door. "Donno if they've released a statement yet, caught it on the ham on my way in."

Months ago, when rumours about his pre-Network life were still buzzing around the breakroom, this sort of remark would've left Cooper bristling defensively. He's since learned that it's probably not personal. People do seem to be genuinely worried about the increase in violent tactics used by Aussie Crews. He's not sure how much of that worry is driven by the propaganda that the Network puts out, or how much of it is word of mouth. Maybe it's both. The violence is one of the big reasons he got out.

Simpert's always been kind enough to not bring up his past, and he thinks the man tries to avoid pulling him into political or moral discussions, but with Simpert's wife as WIPO, this is different. "Yes sir, I did. WIPO's been trying to haul them in on claims the groups've been circulating propaganda they own. Doubt anyone will get hurt over it, sir, they're just making a statement." He pushes off from his desk to spin his chair to face the doorway. "You didn't get my message, sir. Ms Ogilvy will be here in about fourteen minutes. You've got about four full reels of footage to familiarize yourself with. I've just heat up the espresso machine. And you're late."

"Fuck off," Simpert says, incredulous. "The one time I leave my mobile off.." He shakes his head as he throws his flak onto his bag, then squeezes past Cooper's chair to sit in his own. "Time markers for the most pressing bits?"

They review the highlights; Cooper's cliffsnotes for the rest are a caffeinated series of run-ons that end a bare minute before Ogilvy's boots are audible in the hallway.

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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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Zolotisty imagines this is what it would be like to curl in a lung inside the chest of some sleeping god, the kind that breathes light and sighs star. "Do it again," she demands with a small-voiced kind of bravery, tipping her chin at the orange ball in Dex's hands. She's curled against her with her arms folded over her girl's hips.

This is the eighth time, and the novelty of it has worn off for Dex. Worse, the emotional tax is wearing her out. Sluggish, she gestures for Z to take her place again - - a few armslengths apart from her and half-turned away.

"Gon'a walk through you this time, and then pick up that bottle, k. So you watch and tell me if it moves. And also say when you can't hear me anymore." She straightens, ahems, and swirls the marble in front of herself with a great flourish, all center-ring showy just for her girl.

Positioned on her mark, Z wraps her arms around herself. "Yeh." She draws her feet and tail up toward her chest to itch vigorously at her calf, then jerks when Dex up and disappears - - no fade, no elastic snap of Improbability like a teleport. "Can't hear you right now." Straining her ears, she stares at the spot where Dex was. She can't keep her tail from puffing, though she's getting better about keeping it off her thigh. Z half turns to look at the bottle.

"BOO!"

Zolotisty yawlps and recoils, then lunges for Dex with a scowl. "Not funny, Spandex!" she insists over the laughter, popping her girl one in the tit.

"Owwwch." Dex's elbow pulls in protectively as she turns away. "Fine," she says after the giggles subside. "Won't take you with me this time if you're gon'be all grumpy."

"Take.." Z's expression changes. She kisses the underside of Dex's chin. "Unsets me, is all. Sor- -" She doesn't finish, as she's pulled into a tight hold. Nuzzling grown-long strands of Dex's sidelock, Z finds herself aware again of their heartbeats.

"C'mon twist, you do it. Why can't you just match yourself to my silence? But also, I was thinking.."

It's the kind of koan that makes her head hurt. 'Cos silence doesn't have a sound, she wants to answer, but she's better at riddles than that. "Mmh."

"My clothes and shit all disappear with me, so if you hang on..? Christ, just don't fuckin' let go."

"M'I gon'be able to see you or not."

It's a logic she can't even begin to work though. "Never done this before."

"Okay. What if I still cannot feel you."

She takes a quick step back from her, as if she might disappear and take Z accidentally. "Yeh, uhh. Maybe s'a bad idea." But she's thinking. "What if you match the sound I make to go invisible?"

"You don't make a sound," Z says, snapping her fingers. "It's like," and she moves to repeat the gesture, this time with a dampening blanket. It makes no noise. She pauses, then turns her head to stare at her hand. "Oh, hm."

"What. Also, if I'm really dead you don't need to come find me anyway, s'too late. So.. uhh, mmn. What?"

Zolotisty forgets the trick, gaze snapping to meet Dex's. "What do you mean."

"Nevermind. What you doing with your hand?"

"I'd come find you anyway, Spandex. Doesn't matter if it is too late."

"But if I do this, how will you know I'm not? I can't signal you or anything. Don't.. don't like seein' you like that, twist, it fucks me up."

"Nobody can hurt you, though, when you are unvisible. I do not think. If I know you mean to disappear then it's not so bad."

"Wait. Wait! Holy shit, Z!" She swoops Z up into a hug and spins her around. "I'm a superhero! A superhero!" She whirls away and poses, lifting her fist. "I'm untouchable! Twist, C'mon, figure out how to go invincible too. What if you match the sound of everything around you, then people can't tell you apart." Her energy's returned, and she circles Z, trailing her fingers around her waist, stopping briefly to tickle the base of her tail as she goes.

"Then I can't tell me apart either if I have to keep it like that for a long time. I could try I suppose. Everything changes in different places though."

"Christ, don't get fuckin' stuck invisible, I'll be all like.." She puckers, her lips making a loud smack as she kisses air. "N'that just doesn't do it for me no matter how good my imagination." She paces, picking at this puzzle. "What about the sound of missing or hiding or space or a hole or uhh, the opposite of your sound, so you're un-you?" She considers an anti-Z. "Mmmn, though that might turn you into a grumpy old man. Can you do that actually?" Her eyes narrow, and she mutters, "like you were at the pub."

Z's eyes narrow. "Aye, I think probably. That's the problem. I don't want to change the way I sound, cos then I've changed it. Last time I did that, I couldn't sort a way for it to go back for ahmn.." Close to a year. "A while. You were bad at the pub."

"Drop your knife, Dex," she says with an exaggerated deep voice.

"He did not even have anything in his hands. Why were you waving it at him, anyway."

"Wasn't waving! I'm steady as a rock." She grips an imaginary knife in front of herself and stares down the length of it to Z's sour expression.

"Pointing it, then."

Dex jabs. "En garde, grumpy old man!"

"Women don't say when a thing is bullshit when they are old?"

She lowers her hand."Mmn. How'd you know it was bullshit? You still don't know." Betrayal, hot in her stomach.

"He put in his application ages ago, Spandex. Before anyone would have known to be bad to us. And he's hardly been on the Island; he's not even turned into a cat. What could he have done, to you, in a pub. Sitting down. With nothing in his hands."

"Twisty, he's from the same Crew as NoseJab! Don't know exactly the timing, but he could've lived in the same fuckin' building as me, too. What's the chance of that? No, there's something's going on. S'weird. S'too much of a coincidence. They're up to something, Twist. Maybe.. maybe they told him to say that stuff now, right? I mean, he's legit.. but he could be a .. I donno. He's Crew, or was, but I still don'trust him, he talks too much for Crew." She takes a breath.

"Whatever he was, he's clan - - or going to be - -"

"I wouldn't have hurt him, christ.. but you took his side anyway. Didn'even ask. For all you know he just said somethin' vile 'n deserved worse."

"Like what! And what's sides, Dex, it's not - - it wasn't a wrestling match or sommat. If anything it looked like bullying and you had a knife, not like you needed me weighing in with you. I came in ready to. I came because I heard you unset yourself. He's new. He's supposed to be clan. He can't do anything if you want to hurt him. He can't."

"Didn't want to hurt him, as I just said." Her tone's calm, polite.

"Then why'd you have your knife out - - goddamnit, Spandex." Z huffs, shoulders going slack.

"Why didn't you ask then?"

"Why didn't you tell me. He wasn't threatening you. I thought someone had you boxed in an alley."

"Yeh, that's it exactly," she says, falling silent to let the words take up space between them. Then, with soft-voiced resignation,"I'll go see him again. I like him enough.. If you want I'll..take him swimming or whatever. Later. I'm tired."

The notion of Dex capitulating is like imagining her bound and broken in some Network backroom - - nauseating in its way, but so fantastic, so unbelievable that it strains credulity to see it happening now. It's antithetical to Z's idea of her, and it saps the fight from her - - all the belligerence about having a duty to the clan, too; about having a duty to her job as a moderator.

"Spandex," she says. She doesn't know how to fix it. "I am sorry I am not being fair even now. Mean." She catches the right corner of her lips between her fangs. "I did the same thing, at the end of it, n'you kept me from hurting him. M'sorry."

"You know what's weird? How come I pull a knife when I need to? I.. I could boil people to death. Freeze 'em and knock 'em over so they shatter like glass. How come the knife's the thing? What were you gon'do- - bite?"

Z hesitates. "Break him on the Bandit. Hands."

"Yeh, but how?"

"Grab'im by the back of the neck and smash his face."

A smile. "That wouldn't kill him, Twist.. though maybe.. you think it'd kill him?"

"You do it enough and they don't have a face anymore," Z says, looking uncomfortable.

"You were really pissed, yeh?"

"No. Felt like nothing really mattered except hurting him. Didn't know what he'd done, or even if he'd done it to you - - but you were suspicious of him before, and I couldn't hear you anywhere, so."

She covers a shocked laugh with her palm. "Holychrist. ..but why don't you use Improbability either?" Somehow she's finding comfort in the dark details.

"Donno. Don't think to unless someone else is using it or sommat like it against me, and that never happens, really. Let's go out of here. Come sit down with me. Are you hungry."

Dex wraps her arms around her girl. "Com'on twist, lets get this invisible thing sorted first. Can't you figure a way, you can do everybloodything with Improbability. Hey, what would you do if I started boiling you?"

"Cut you off from it. Or go away. Or do something that would distract you or hurt you so that you were distracted."

Dex nudges Z's jaw with her nose. "Yeh but you're really really hot, how can you think? I think I'd kick your ass, Zolotisty."

"I can unmake you, Spandex," Z says, brushing her lips against her neck.

"Can't find me, I'm invisible," she says, turning so their lips are almost touching. "Besides, what the hell does that mean?"

"Take all the sounds that make you and unwind them from around themselves."

"Woah." Her head jerks back. "Have you ever done this? What's it look like?"

"To things. Not people."

"Well? What happened? Hey, show me. Com'on, let's go unwind sommat."

"Easier with my viola," Z frowns, turning to follow Dex out of the starfield.

"Ohhh big talk," Dex teases, stopping so they bump into each other. "We're having a fight and you're all," She raises her hand as if in class, "'scuse me while I get my viola please, miss?'"

"M'onna sacrifice one of your poemtry books first." Z wraps her arms low around Dex's hips, nosing her nape. "I don't want to fight."

She turns so they can kiss, finally, as if that's what they both wanted to do since this whole mess started.

"Twisty?"

"Mm?"

"K, without Improbability I'd so win."

"Maybe now. Your teeths are bigger'n mine." Z doesn't notice Dex's disappointment at the answer as she studies the vista of stars. She adds, "But also only if you had a knife."

"Like hell. You're ticklish, and hopeless."

"Spandex, you cannot tickle me to death; that is cheating."

Laughter.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RESTRICTED| DATE OF REVIEW: 01.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK | AUTHOR: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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As a rule, Ogilvy keeps her team removed from the financial pressures of their jobs. She likes them to believe that anything is possible, without concerns for time, cost or who may need to be thrown under the bus to get it. Despite the hour-long whipping she just received from Godard about the fact their team's been bleeding money and generating none, she seems unusually sunny.

"Stasi's onside," she lies to Cooper and Simpert. "Can't wait to see what you produce." That part's true. They're running out of time. "I've assured her I've utmost faith in you. You should have seen her face when I told her about how Spandex and Zolotisty each independently almost murdered their newest clanmate." She doesn't add Godard's concern over the event potentially increasing audience sympathies to a Crew member, and as much as Ogilvy'd love to get her hands on that plot, Guido Haccadine's not one of hers. Not yet.

"You'll make sure the audience knows what Zolotisty's imagining in the pub, there. What's your guess, Simpert? Rip his trachea out with her teeth before loping off to one of her dens to gnaw on it?" Madeline, Ogilvy figures, wouldn't have even caught the threat in her own contestant's body language. She sure as hell did.

Simpert smiles politely. "Something like that."

Ogilvy laughs. "Don't pander to me, Simpert. She is an animal, just like we all are. She's a nice reminder of our base desires. Think Takeshi Kitano."

"Film criticism died with the universities and the middle class," he replies before he can stop himself, and he can feel his balls scrabble up to hide in his hips. Shit.

"Of course it did. And you're a.. what, Simpert? Documentary producer? Merely an archivist?" Her eyes shine playfully. She finds most Network employees will drone on about their contestant's latest antics but none have the interest or intelligence for self-reflective discussion.

Paid stalker, he thinks. "Nothing so lofty, ma'am. I point the camera where I'm told to."

Ogilvy's smile falls as she realises their game's over. "Yes, remind me to tell Stasi that next time you're up for salary review. Now then. You've been down to see Miss Lacey." The light tone she's using as she directs her attention to him sets all Cooper's alarm bells off, but he doesn't respond for fear of looking guilty.

"Good. Don't know whose idea it was to put a rookie on that gangmember, and with Miss Early Retirement Axelsson as her producer no less. It potentially adds a bit of a twist to our tale." She falls silent as if she's considering ideas, but she's watching Cooper closely.

Human Resources makes all the clever decisions, Simpert thinks, looking back to his keyboard.

Cooper doesn't crack and waits patiently for her to continue.

Ogilvy doesn't have a political horse in this race, but she does have a very strong interest in keeping Spandex, and by extension, Zolotisty alive and well-received, even as anti-heros. If the Network decides that the best punishment for a Crew member is to simply stop screening him, she doesn't want her team thrown out with the bathwater.

"We're not that interested in him," is all she says, and leaves.

"She's fucking crazy," Simpert says as soon as he's sure she's gone. "Hope you've got a good bank account, Frillsy."

"Huh? .. Oh. Yes, sir. I mean, no, sir. I'm screwed if I lose this job." For an instant he's almost compelled to continue, to confess his fears and worries to Simpert, who is the closest thing he has to an actual friend. Network employees aren't friends, he reminds himself and bites his tongue.

"Yeah, they'll take it all if you're in their credit system and you get booted. Fucking accountants. Move to a WIPO-owned bank if you can. WIPO's in bed with the Network, so it's not much better, but. Be harder for them to get at you. What d'you mean screwed."

"Sir?" Cooper stiffens, entirely uncomfortable with talking about personal finances. "I've not been here that long and..?" And the Network's the only game in town. There are no other jobs- - nothing legal, anyway.

Simpert cocks his head, then nods as he swivels to face his keyboard and screens. "I hear you. Just move your money, Frills. Be deeper in the hole than where you started when you were hired if she brings us all down."

"No banks," he says quietly and turns to stare at the space in the doorway where Ogilvy was standing earlier. Simpert's hands hesitate over his keyboard. After a moment, he decides it's best to pretend he didn't hear.

 
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