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

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Beth yw byw? Cael neuadd fawr
Rhwng cyfyng furiau.
Beth yw adnabod? Cael un gwraidd
Dan y canghennau.

To live, what is it? It's having
A great hall between cramped walls.
To know another, what's that? Having
The same root under the branches.


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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC| DATE OF REVIEW: 01.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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"Guy?" They reach the rail of clothes that's been left out for all of the new clanmates -- formal outfits, all of them in varying combinations of white and brass and shades of green. "S'at what you like bein' called?" Dex looks at him as if the new-sounding name is an outfit he's tried on and she's scrutinizing it for size and fit.

His brow lowers into a familiar defensive surliness. "It's my name. D'you like bein' called Dex?"

"Depends what you're callin' me for." A hanger scrapes across the metal rail. "Here's yours."

He stares blankly at her for a minute before taking the long white dress- hers, in fact. His hands leave great dirty stains on the white fabric as he drapes it across himself. Smoothing it across his hips to check the fit, he glances up. "Huh. S'nice, but not really my colour, an' I don't know about this corsetty bit..."

"Helps with the cleavage. Try it on."

"You talkin' trash 'bout my boobs?"

Dex slaps a hand to her own chest, wide-eyed in mock anguish. "I'd never! They're perfect for you!" Her gaze, though, flicks to the nearest camera. "Beth yw adnabod?" she asks, after consideration, deliberately stumbling over the sounds as though she's not said them before. Then she repeats it, quicker. "Beth yw adnabod?"

Dress forgotten, Guy's jaw is slack in surprise. Christ, he hasn't heard that one in... How'd the answer go? "Kyle een gwiru... uh." Fuck.

Zolotisty leans over one of the second floor landings, rumple-eared and disheveled. What the goddamn christ -- her ears are broken. She tamps at her temple with the heel of her hand. Maybe it's like fixing the gramophone when it skips. Whack it a few times and maybe it'll go back.

"Kyle een gwurithe, dan ee cangehen-now," Haccadine blurts, stumbling over unfamiliar vowels and rushing the easier bits. He speaks it not as a language, but more like a passage learned by rote and run through the mangle of untutored tongues. Answer given, he watches Dex carefully for her response.

Only a brief smile, then, "You should visit the Warehouse."

"What warehouse?"

"Eastside Ace. You're welcome anytime. Only one way in though." Even if you somehow manage the death-defying climb to the roof, finding the secret entrance is almost impossible, even for old-school Jokers. The place is like her -- tests people before it lets anyone inside.

He rubs his hand, distracted, and nods. "Thanks. I'll have to drop by sometime."

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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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Ogilvy has always wanted to say 'annnnd action.' She almost succumbs to the temptation now, but as soon as Gannet finishes the soundcheck on Naija's tiny earpiece and even tinier hidden camera, she holds her breath.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC| DATE OF REVIEW: 01.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Approaching the mercenary camp outside the busy outpost, retraining personnel Naija Williams, today Kim Daniels, looks the part of an Island veteran. There's a plasma gun rattling in a makeshift holster at her hip, and she's wearing battered combat armor nicked off a body just this morning. A wannabe-actor, she likes her job, especially when it brings her on assignments like this one. She weaves through tree stumps where poker players sit, swatting flies away before pushing their coins into the center of makeshift tables. She rolls her eyes at the cat calls, refuses a game, and makes her way toward the woman she recognizes from the photograph clipped onto the assignment sheet she received last night. When she finally finds her, Naija realises she's somehow walked by her twice already without seeing her.

Ed Tijoux is leaning over a battered assault rifle. Half its stock is split and missing, scored by monster fangs. She looks bleary, like she didn't get enough sleep in the oil-stained canvas puptent she's sitting in front of, or maybe like she's nursing a hangover. She watches Naija as she approaches, green eyes sharpening with wary speculation.

Naija thrusts out her hand and they shake. "Kim. I'm looking to hire someone for a job."

"Ed. What kind."

"Need help catching a Joker. Can we go somewhere quieter and talk?"

Raising an eyebrow, Ed stares at Naija before rolling to her feet. She uses the stock of her rifle to nudge the tent's flap aside, then follows Naija in. There's not much to boot out of the way to make room, just a backpack and a standard bandolier, but there's not much room to sit straight either. They have to settle with their legs folded, knee to knee.

"It's as simple as that, really. I'm looking to have a Joker delivered -- however works for you, just alive and relatively unharmed."

"If you're posting a bounty, why are you offering it to a single person."

"She's got herself a hideyhole of some sort, and if she finds out she's being hunted, she'll just hold fort and not come out, so I figured it's best avoiding a bunch of hacks stomping through the jungle after her alerting half the island to what's going on."

"I don't typically work hits, no, but I'm listening. Who you looking to catch."

"Spandex? You know of her?" Naija says the name like tossing a small blind on the table.

Ed raises her thumb to scratch at her cheekbone. The air in the tent is stale and warm and they breathe it together while she thinks it over. Catch hell from her girlfriend, she figures. Clan. "Yeah," she says finally. "Blue-haired dyke. Comes around with Zolotisty to card." The mod.

"That's the one. Hard to miss. I just want her in one spot for a bit."

"Mm. Why me."

"Need someone with talent."

"Yeah, who said I was talented."

"Ed, you think I didn't scout my options carefully first? You ready to talk payment yet, I'm dying in this heat."

"Payment."

"Yeah."

"You think I'm taking this. A hit on a moderator's lay." Ed leans backward, flint-eyed. "That's suicide. You'd never pay enough."

Ogilvy prepared her for this very objection. Naija leans close. "Look -- I can get you off the Island. Used to sleep with a tech, I've been on their boat. They get letters in and out, and they can get people in and out. I can pull a favor if you don't want Requisition." It's a lie.

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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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Ogilvy switches off her live mic to Naija's earpiece as the camera switches from the hidden body cam to the one mounted in the mercenary camp. "Catch the react on Ed, and keep your filthy hands off the tent footage -- keep the wobbliness of the hidden camera and the shuffling and breathing sounds of the wire," she says. "Don't overwork it, leave the ambient sounds of the camp in." She's been leaning over the controls through the entire scene, and they all watch as Ed emerges impassively from her tent.

She crosses her arms. "We're going to have to find a way to make her less bland, boys. Maybe your second choice will be a catalyst for her."

"Not bland," Gannet says. "Understated. She's smart. But yes, Idris Stanfield is ... camera-ready."

"Gannet, perhaps after working with the likes of KK Victoria for years you've forgotten how to appreciate complexity of character. This Ed is an unexpected choice for a hunter, I'll give you that."

"Agman, jemmy lass don't leave me cramped in my kecks, nahmean, but jus'wait Missus O, we watched some tee-vee of her jackin' some jungle moegoes, an' she's tight when she's layin' a dewskitch into some poor pigeon. Bam!"

"Monroe," Ogilvy says, her nostrils widening, "I know you represent a good-sized portion of our key demographic, but god help me.." She doesn't finish, and picks up the earpiece mic. "Switch to your other man, Gannet." They find him in Improbable Central. Ogilvy turns on her feed to Naija's earpiece again. "He's at the pub in IC, let's go."

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC| DATE OF REVIEW: 01.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Foul-faced, Naija slumps heavily in the booth in the Inn and knocks back her drink. "Another, Dan!" she calls, waving her empty pint glass at him. She catches the eye of a man sitting nearby and flashes him a sardonic smile. "And top up this one's. Kim," she tells the man. "One of them days, you know."

Stanfield raises his glass in acknowledgement and gives her a dry-lipped smile. "I do indeed. Better acquainted with them than I'd like, more's the pity. Idris," he replies. "Are you new here? You don't look it, but your face isn't one I'm, mm. Familiar with."

Their drinks arrive. Naija takes hers to his table and sits as he gestures an invite. "Likewise. I'm not a drinker... well, I haven't been in years. Cheers, Idris." She punctuates a large drink of her pint with a deep sigh. "You ever find this place entirely too predictable?" Her gaze meets his. He's a hottie, she thinks despite the explicit warnings laid out in her assignment sheet.

His eyes crease in amusement, green and warm behind silver framed glasses. "You mean-- playing along, the endless grind of the jungle? It does get a little tired after a while, yes. These days I like to make my own fun." He curls slender fingers around the base of his glass and lifts it to his mouth.

"Yeh?" she says, leaning forward. The hair on her nape prickles. Funny how the physical response to titillation and fear is similar. "Lucky you. I tried that, but this Joker bitch -- no offence -- kept getting in my face about it. Real self-righteous mouthy type. Some sort of moral arbiter, thinks she's better than everyone else." She swirls her glass. "Sorry, I'm going on. Your own fun?"

"Mm," he agrees, resting his chin in one hand, eyes still locked firmly on hers, making her toes curl tight in her boots. "Well, I am fond of my silly little games." He smiles, self-effacing. "It's been hard finding good people, though, lately; you need a certain... calibre of player. I think you would like them, you know. There's ever so many things you can do to take the edge off the boredom, if you're willing to play."

"I bet you can demand a certain calibre," she says, swallowing hard and setting her glass down and circling the rim with the tip of her finger. "Mmn, I've already gone and hired this mercenary, but... I don't know. She seems cleverer than most, but you know how mercs are. They lack finesse and, to be honest, I doubt she's even going to be capable of pulling this off. Not alone."

His lip twitches, a little of the warmth draining from his smile. "What? Oh. To hunt down this Joker bitch, you mean." The words drip from his tongue, distasteful. "Yes, well. The only thing sellswords have to recommend them is that they come in just two varieties -- able, and dead. That said, I do believe the latter is far more common than the former."

"Idris. Please. I'm not some helpless damsel in distress here." She pauses to try to pick up again in small-talk tone, but finds her tongue cleaving to the roof of her mouth. "I assure you I'd catch her myself if I could, but the Joker in question... tch, nevermind."

Well-manicured fingernails tap at the side of his glass, low in the hubbub of the inn but insistent. He purses his lips. "Never start a story that you don't intend to finish, Kim. I find it a most irritating habit. Please, continue."

It's his fingers that keep pulling her gaze down, she tells herself. "As you wish," she hears herself say. "The story starts with a Joker named Spandex. Perhaps you've heard of her?"

"Spandex? Yes, I know her face. She used to be a regular in here, although haven't seen her as often of late. Quite lovely, to be sure, but not really to my taste." He wets his lips and smiles again, hiding it behind the rim of his glass as he drinks.

"Quite." A slow drink buys her time to think of her next move. "But I'm not looking to set her up, Idris. I want her." She leans forward to whisper. "Caged, perhaps. Or, tied... mmmn.. straps.. not injured... you know, very aware of being alive. Very grateful for it." His gaze is relentless. The glass feels too cold, too wet -- like it might slip out of her fingers. She sets it down on the table and tucks her hands in her lap to let them tremble. Five years working as a retraining officer on this island, and he's got her behaving like a new recruit.

The bottom of Stanfield's glass touches the table with a thud. "I see. You're here for business, rather than pleasure." He reaches up to remove his glasses, and breaks her gaze for the first time since the conversation began. When he looks up at her again, the easy charm is gone, sucked back behind those brilliantly green eyes. "Well then, you've told me what you want. Now, tell me why exactly I should do anything for you." His tone is brisk, cold. It demands brevity.

"I didn't ask for anything." Her relief is tempered by an uncomfortable wash of disappointment. "Who is to your tastes, Idris?"

"I prefer those who know how to be a good audience," he retorts. "You've made it quite clear that you have no interest in my games, so either do me the courtesy of--"

"I know a good listener," she dares to interrupt, eliciting a sharp flash of green, "who happens to come part and parcel with Spandex, and likewise fancies herself interested in games."

His fingers beat a loud tattoo on the tabletop. "Get on with it."

"No!" Naija's earpiece hisses. "Stick to the plan."

Naija finds her gaze drawn to his fingers again. She ignores Ogilvy. Faceless as she is, she's not going to listen to her on this -- she's not offering herself up to this creep. "Whatever you like to do with Zolotisty, so long as Spandex ends in some sort of cage -- not that I think I'm wasting my money, but. You said it yourself about mercenaries. I'm just looking for some reassurance."

The drumming stops. "Whatever I like?"

"You will stick to the plan, or be fired."

She frowns, as though she's not following. "Whatever games you play, I mean. I don't want anyone hurt here. Christ, Idris, who do you think I am? Who do you think I think you are? Sorry to get recursive, but."

He leans forward, elbows on the table, hands folded in front of him. "Now who's playing games? If that was your idea of subtlety, then I'm afraid you're really going to have to work on it. You knew exactly what you wanted out of me before I'd even said I'd do anything for you -- no, I think you know just who I am. Who, I'd like to know, are you?"

"You've said you'd do something for me?"

"I'll accept your offer, on condition that you tell me who you are and whose interests you represent." He talks quickly, leaving no room for interruption.

"Kimberly Daniels." She leans across the table to pluck an imaginary piece of hair off of his collar, leaning close enough to kiss him if she liked. Her skin crawls as she murmurs, "Network." One lie and one truth will have to do.

He smiles wide for her as she draws away again, teeth white and perfect. "I don't suppose you'd tell me why-- no, I shan't ask. You can have your secrets." He replaces his glasses and the warmth comes flooding back into his face, as swiftly and suddenly as though a switch were flipped. "I can't say it's my usual avenue of work, but I'll put Spandex in a cage if that's what you want. For a pair of ears like Zolotisty's, yes, I'll do that."

Naija offers him her hand. "Wonderful. When might be convenient to become acquainted with the mercenary I hired?"

Stanfield's handshake is soft. "You'll have to give me a day to get my things in order. Drop by here this time tomorrow. I'll be waiting."

Ogilvy's voice is entirely calm in Naija's ear. "Until tomorrow, then."

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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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Monroe is, for once in his blessed life, silent. Gannet shifts in his seat before turning to watch Ogilvy turn off her microphone. He tongues his bottom teeth. "We're in it, now, I suppose," he says. "If you're uncomfortable with Stanfield, we could --"

"He's perfect. That actor of ours," she says smoothly, pointing to the Naija's back as she leaves the pub, "would rather throw her life away than risk the possibility of being left alone with him. No, I'd say you chose well, Gannet." She sets the mic down on the desk and turns to leave, adding over her shoulder, "Best hope Zolotisty's everything you dream she is, Monroe. We don't want either of them caught too quickly. The key to this is the anticipation."

Once she's round the corner in the corridor and out of sight of any open office doors, she leans heavily on the wall. Three deep breaths to compose herself before she knocks on Godard's door to assure her everything's in place and going according to plan. She rather just send her a memo about it today, but Godard's insisted on face-to-face on everything lately. Ogilvy takes a breath and heads for the elevator.

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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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On his way in to start his shift, Cooper has taken the time to stop at the staff bakery for croissants. He's wearing one of his own designs today. He's proud not only that his body's held its trim shape, but that the suit looks just like it did the day he made it -- well over seven years ago now. It was one of his last designs before leaving his Cloth Crew, before Ogilvy appeared offering him the sort of wages he suspected his parents used to make before the EMP, when working as a lead researcher in assisted reproductive tech meant a good life for a small family.

"Any of the DICE clan show up for the Joker lessons, Mr Simpert?" He says jo-krr lissins to mimic the way Dex wrote the sign, pretending that it was Zolotisty's.

"Mmn, bunch of their greenos." Simpert spins in his chair with a lazy kind of smile. "Alla the truth or dare girls, Ebenezer, and that Mattcat, and I expect Harris' handler's about flipped his shit since he's gone all fleshy."

"Harris? ..Oh dear, it's a good bet they'll be axing him from the childrens' channels then." He sets out two small plates for their croissants. "Was Spandex there? Where are my espresso beans?"

"Top of the filing cabinet, darling. Oi, cheers. These from our cafe or did you hit the bakery on Davinport? No, don't tell me. I'll guess." He's peeking into the bakery bag. "Anyway, Stripes was there, yes." Taking out one of the croissants, Simpert wolfs a bite and half-closes his eyes meditatively, as though savoring a fine wine. "Mmn.. margarine.. synthesized wheat flour.. that undeniably heavy 'I've just woken up after last night's sex' coating on the tongue.. right, I know. Ersatz Boulange, Canberra's one stop shop for everything that's come out of an oven."

Laughing, Cooper's hand-grinds the coffee beans, not for lack or cost of a power-grinder, but because he insists it's better for the beans. There are very few indulgences he'll spend money on, and his coffee's one -- took him months and months of asking all his connections before he found actual non-GM, non-hothoused coffee beans.

"I'm baking some again next week, sir, promise." He switches their espresso machine and waits for it to heat. "Let me guess what happened." He doesn't peek up at the screens now, but he sure as hell looked when he first walked in. The main screen was trained on the DICE hall lounge, with five of the DICE females passed out on various sofas. "Zolotisty, using cunning training lessons and Spandex as her lovely-and-talented protege-assistant, has created an elite team of Jokers to fight the evil Network Empire and all its various and sundry evil over- and under-lords, such as miserable technicians rudely barging into their home to -- god help us -- clean camera lenses."

Simpert snorts at the notion. "Oh, that's good. Really good, Frills -- mind you don't say as much when bitchboots is around or she'll take it serious-like." The feed's already lined up and ready for the replay. He sets it into motion with a gentle chakt then sits back, smug. "Have a look at this."

Cooper provides biting commentary as they watch. He particularly likes making fun of the new, shyer clanmates. "Wait. Did she say Miss Zolotisty Svazek. She's teasing Eb--" Cooper's out of his chair fifteen minutes later. "Spandex Svazek?! How is that remotely a good choice -- oh dear. You call Ogilvy? Please tell me you have and I was just lucky enough to be out of her blast range when she heard they actually went ahead and did it."

"Ann Beatrice Svazek," he corrects. "I texted her and said important news, didn't specify which."

Cooper closes his eyes. "I had a feeling you hated me, sir. Please tell me you at least have a plan?"

"Oh, I thought we'd borrow from the girls -- in all their infinite wisdom. We improvise. Well, first we distract her with this..." He fast-forwards to a long-range shot of Liebs, airborne and hurtling toward a distant horizon. She stops abruptly as though by chokechain and boomerangs backward. Simpert's grinning. "Watch. I don't have all the transitions worked out yet, got tired toward five o'clock -- but most of it's here. No FX, by the way. This is raw. Just watch."

Cooper stands in front of the screen and as the scene unfolds her feels himself step towards it. "My word! You see how fast -- Liebs is going to hit the bubble -- Oh! Oh dear god! Ebenezer looks sick. Oh! Com'on, com'on Spandex...Yes! Sir, you see that! You see that? The reflexes on Zolotisty and Spandex are unbelievable. Check that-- sweet mother of Mary, I've never seen anything like this in my life!" When the replayed scene ends with Liebs safely on the ground emptying the contents of her stomach, Cooper falls into his chair. "Spandex can slow time like," He snaps his fingers. "And I knew Zolotisty was powerful but.. let's rewind here, let me get a better look at this." He hits the button on his own controls, and several views of the outpost appear on their screens -- buildings still lean back skew from the Outpost's central square, trees and cobblestones and stone archways all turned to quilted cloth and fluff and seaming.

"My word. The Weavers should recruit her," Cooper mutters. "Sir? They both kept their heads, reacted incredibly quickly and Improbability..." He gets up, shaking his head slowly, and turns toward the espresso machine to fill their cups.

Simpert picks up his and gives it an appreciative sniff. "Is their bitch, it would seem. Contrary to what Stripesy says. Button trou, Frills, I hear heels."

While Simpert grabs for his controls to replay Zolotisty and Spandex rescuing their clanmate from certain death, Cooper runs interference with his espresso. "Ms. Ogilvy, you're just in time," he says, standing to flip the switch on the machine. "Your usual?"

"What news?" She lets Cooper start to make her coffee first before gesturing for him to stop. "What's this?" she adds, attention on the replay.

"They child-proofed AceHigh." Simpert pauses, hand hovering over the enter key on his keyboard. "Also-we-think-they're-married. Watch." Chakt.

Ogilvy lets Cooper sit in his seat before gesturing him to bring her a cup of coffee while she watches. "She could be teasing Ebenezer," she says, echoing Cooper's suspicions as Z calls herself a new surname.

"No teasing back from Spandex, though," Simpert says, tipping his chin slightly when Z addresses Dex by the same name.

"They could be playing us." She watches the scene in for a few minutes, quietly taking in all the dynamics at play and evidenced in body language. "There's no wedding, so no marriage," Ogilvy declares. "Nothing happened. We'll edit what we need to, play the rest as them teasing. None of their clan care to ask, and only two of them even noticed. It's a non-issue. Yes, rewrite it as an ongoing joke. Let the audience get themselves all worked up in the question."

Simpert, happy with the decision, doesn't protest. "Yes ma'am."

"Excellent. The Improbability theorists will go wild for this scene when we release it," Ogilvy says, pointing proudly to the screen. "Maybe we'll even gain some press over it, like we did when all those kids were jumping off buildings to be 'like Z and Dex'." She sips her coffee and, unusually, leans against the desk to take the time to enjoy the rest of the footage in their office, rather than in her own or at home while fastidiously taking notes. "That mutt of yours seems to be a good influence on Spandex, Simpert. She's vastly improved. This Hunted plot is going to be fantastic."

Cooper and Simpert exchange looks before each making a non-committal noise into his espresso.

 
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