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

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Don't let the bastards grind you down. I repeat this to myself but it conveys nothing. You might as well say, Don't let there be air; or Don't be. I suppose you could say that.

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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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Lacey doesn't notice how tight her grip is on the edge of her desk until Z has disappeared. She relaxes and her fingertips prickle, reddening, as blood rushes back into them. In front of her, one screen shows a live feed of the hall -- empty now, except for Dex and Haccadine -- and the other she switches to replay the two of them in the library, setting markers around their gibberish. She's already got the tackle saved for later.

Her telephone buzzes and four little lights blink on and off in succession: 3809, Terry Babcock's line. Keeping a careful eye on the live feed, she reaches across to unhook the booth phone from the wall.

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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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Dex leads Guy down a precarious scramble down alongside the waterfall in her room until they reach a point where the slope evens out into a wide ledge, big enough for two people to sit in reasonable comfort. The crashing of waterfall onto surf below means they have to practically speak into each other's ear to be heard.

Haccadine's lip curls. "Eben seemed pretty desperate to get away. How's your hand?"

"S'nothing," she replies quickly. "So strange. Eben's usually not afraid of me. He'll get in my face, gimme hell.." She laughs. "Pinches my arm. Hard, the bastard, too. Think he was jus' feelin' guilty for listenin' in?"

He looks across at her, eyebrow raised. "What, you reckon he was just there by accident?"

"I figure he walked by, heard us talking and decided to hang around. You think it was more deliberate than that?" The thought didn't occur to her until now, but in ways it makes sense. "While back he came all flappin' about me bein' violent after he heard about me threatening you -- why did you tell them?"

A moment's silence, then a shrug. "You got jumpy when I said where I was from. Pulled a knife on me, asked me who sent me. You knew about the HKB building, but you didn't put the weapon down when I said I was Crew; only thing I could think was that you'd done somethin' bad enough to them that you were worried about em wastin' a person just to get at you here. I mentioned it to the others cause, well, could've been you were just paranoid as shit about everybody. Just needed to know."

She barks a laugh. "Christ, naw, that never occurred to me. I figured you for Network, tryin' to get close, and.. awfuck. When Eben and Tyr came to give me shit about it, I kept looking at the cameras to make it clear I was suspicious, yeh. Eben seemed to pick up on it. But what's he thinking? Jesus, what were you thinkin'? Tackled the poor -- fucksakes, we made him cry."

Incredulity flickers briefly across his expression, and then it smooths over once more. "Tackled him cause he ran. He ran cause he knew he shouldn'ta been listenin', and instead of explainin' himself he tried to palm us -- you -- off with some bullshit about slippers. Maybe I shouldn't have done it. Maybe I should've let him go. Maybe it was just an innocent mistake. But I'd rather be safe than sorry, dunno about you." His glass raises halfway to his lips, then stops. "Why would the Network want to get close to you, anyway?"

It's not just the telling him that weighs on her, it's admitting her thoughts in front of the cameras. "Oh, uhh.. Figure they'd like me to stop doin' shit to piss'em off, like teaching a new clansib how to bust up their cameras, yeh." She stares hard at him. "Z said she heard Eben sounding like death.. Death. So for him to be that scared.. You and him have run-ins before or something?"

"No. Only ever properly talked to him once before, an' that was when I told him about you and the knife."

Again, she stares at him, but now to search for some detail she might of missed. "It doesn't make sense. Maybe he's just jumpy. Maybe Crew's mixed up in new shit I don't know 'bout. Who you so worried about him talking to, anyway? Everyone in the world heard us talkin'."

"Don't know. At the time, I just-- well, fuck me, you know how it is. Somebody as shifty as that, gotta be guilty of somethin'. They run, you catch em, find out what it is afterwards." He glances across at her. "Maybe he knows about cant. What if he knows -- you know?" He makes a small swapping gesture with his fingers, tucked close so the cameras can't see. "Then that's part of it already. An' I think I know who'd be interested in that. Explain why he was so bloody scared, too." He gestures with a thumb to the nearest camera, expression dark.

She makes a mild sound of agreement. "S'nothing to do with being a moderator, tell you that. They're not in bed with those fuckers." But while she takes a long drink, her mind runs the scenario -- Z giving her a tunnel with promise of no cameras, but they're there, which meant she faked the hostage thing and Elias would have to be in on it too and this quickly hits a wall of crazy until her paranoia picks up the loose thread again. What if Ogilvy got to Z, threatened her with something in exchange for good telly. She shakes her head slightly to be clear of this horrible thinking. "Why th'ell would they send one of their own here?" But something clicks into place: Eben's warehouse, full of fuckin'everything. 'Sources', he said.

He works his jaw, thinking. "If I was the Network, I'd want somebody like him about the place. Looks like he couldn't hurt a fly. Goes an' has tea with the new kids, smooths down ruffled feathers. It's alright lads, just smile nice for the cameras. Helps em forget what's just been done to em."

"Maybe. Gets 'em talkin' about their pasts'n shit right away, too." Her shoulders lift and she cracks her neck. She's come to the limit of what she'll say in front of the cameras. "Yeh, I donno. What I am interested in is that mutual friend of ours, Ez.. Ezko, yeh? Him. Somma' his stories are so fresh, yeh, needs to be put in a book or somethin'. "

Haccadine drains his glass and nods, drawing a sleeve across his mouth. "Yeh, he was fulla stories, was achezko. Whole lotta kvatch, too. You ever hear his one about the time he got kidnapped and whisked off to th' continent?" he asks conversationally, digging into his pockets and turning up a folded-up bit of paper and a pencil stub. He looks up, scanning for cameras, and pushes himself as far back against the rock as he can before beginning to write.

Dex leans against him to provide further cover from the cameras, and finds that it feels good, too.

Later, when he's finished writing up a list of words for her, she kisses his cheek, whispering, "Be careful, Guy," and then, louder, "You can crash here if you like," knowing he won't. Crumpling the paper in her fist, she disappears.

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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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"No. You know what's really not fair, Dex. I reckon it's not being able to make a decision about protecting you, or Eben, or Haccadine, or my clan, cos somma happened with spying that was important enough to make Haccadine say Eben'll hurt people, and important enough to make Eben think he was goin'a die, but isn't fucking important enough to say to me." The kitten burrows into the crook of her elbow and she lowers her voice self-consciously. "Important enough to keep secret with Haccadine, though, and you don't even trust him. F'you talk to me, should be because I'm your girl -- and. ...N'I shouldn't have to fucking ask it out of you. Who the fuck you hiding here with, Dex. Eben? Haccadine? Or me."

Dex opens her mouth to shout that she's not hiding, but shuts it in time and rubs her eyes. "S'just gets confusing for me, twist," she says, working to keep them both calm. "I don't know if you're there as moderator or clanboss or what, yeh. I don't want them thinkin' I get special treatment or anything. I want to be someone people can trust with tellin' things. If there's a fight or misunderstandin' I want to try 'n handle it ourselves first."

"Wasn't there for a fucking job, Dex. Was there because one of my friends was scared. Then someone else says maybe there's reason for other people to be scared of him. The fuck did you want me to do. Leave him? Brought him away because if he's bad, then he's not somewhere he can hurt people, and if he needs to feel safe, then he can feel safe."

"I thought I was his friend," she blurts and Z's shoulders go slack.

"Reckon you are but if you think you're getting ganged on then you don't yell for someone who's gangin' you."

"Was trying to bloody help him!" Dex pushes herself to stand, needing to walk or move to escape the threatening storm of her anger.

Zolotisty lets the kitten down, then picks him back up again when he refuses to move. "D'you reckon he'd hurt people. Other than how he hurts you."

"He doesn't hurt me! Just.." She tilts her head back and takes a few deep breaths. "He's so fuckin' frustrating. No. Well, fuck, depends. I donno anymore, he's so bloody edgy and.. he's always there, yeh. Always around the corner, listening. Heard us speaking Crewcant. Seemed to freak him right out, which is strange."

"Why didn't you say so to Haccadine."

"Z. I sort of didn't get much of a chance to say anything much more than 'no' and 'stop'."

The kitten sucks in his paws and tail like a pillbug when Z rolls him onto his back. He gazes up at her, wide-eyed, and she settles him so that she can press a finger into one of his paw pads. His claws peek from their sheaths then ease back under cover. "Yeh," she says, looking up. "Sorry."

"No, I'm sorry. Got pissed at you instead of Eben for callin' you."

"I don't think the way he called me would be any different if somebody was gonna try to be awful to him in the jungle or somma. He doesn't fight, really. Gets other people to do it for him. Lookit the little cat."

"Mmn. You're good with him, twist."

"Name's Fog."

"Fog?" At Z's grifter's grin, Dex gets it: "Oh! The fog comes in on little cat feet.. Twist! Williams doesn't mean little cat ... nevermind. Anyway, I mean it, I'm sorry. I was a bitch. You know, I can't tell if Eben's faking being brave or being afraid. Sometimes I'm sure it's one, then it's the other."

Z noses Dex's jawline. "Mn. Come sit." After reconciliatory kisses, she passes off Fog to Dex and herds her to the bed. She settles with her back to the wall and gestures her girl into her lap, looping her arms around her middle and folding her legs crooked over one another. Fog ends square in the middle, blinking around while Z steals Dex's hands. "It's both maybe," she says finally, breathing the smell of Dex's neck. "It's easier to listen to him like he wants you to hear him."

Dex can't quite manage it so gracefully-- either her fingers end up laced in twos in Z's, or her neck cricks or her foot gets trapped in a blanket. "Guy bein' jumpy's easier to explain. He's new here, probably had to watch his back all'a time, had to be wary of who was listening, what you were saying, who you can trust or not. He's like I used to be, I mean, before we pissed off the Netjerks 'n all. Eben; though, what the fuck's he got to hide?"

"Didn't know you when you were jumpy." She snuffs. "Ionno. Why you think he's hiding somma."

"Because I recognize it. That's what I'm saying. Did you see me when I got here? You know my leather pilot's helmet 'n goggles? Remember I used to wear it all'a time? That was to hide my bright hair, yeh, so I'm not so easily spotted. Bloody hair."

"Spotted by who. I like your hairs."

"I told you ages ago. Everyone, 'cuz I've always been running away from people." She smirks as she hears herself say it. "You know what I mean. And people after my cobalt when I was young." Z untangles one of her hands to touch Dex's hip. "And then -- stop looking at me like that. The art freaks after I ran from the Academy. Then all sorts of probies and social work jerks and .. I donno. Just always someone. It's just something you know, twist. S'why I made myself into a punk. Why I don't show who I am so easily. I mean, don't hide as much anymore, 'cuz don't need to except to hide from cameras. So when I meet someone like Eben, I recognize the feeling. He's ..uhh.. he's constructed. Carefully."

"Need it cut, s'getting longish where you like it short. Mnn... So you think he's full of grifting, aye? You wore the helmet to make people look at other things about you. What's he made himself into to make people look away. Boring?"

"Fuck knows. S'like, why'd he work so hard to pretend he wasn't soft for those kittens? Wasn't foolin' anyone, yeh."

"Oh, thas'easy, if you're right about it."

"We're wives," Dex interrupts, rubbing their noses. "Job's to say, 'yes you're right, Spandex.'" Dex laughs. Z looks uncertain and fluffs her fingers through Dex's hair. "You cut it," Dex says. "And tell me why Eben did the thing with the kittens."

Z draws her eyebrows together. "Well, to keep people from wondering what you are wondering. We're wondering, mean. Acting soft makes all the other ways he acts a lie -- and if you find out someone lied about one things, then you wonder what the other things are, so he has to lie about all of the things, even if it's dumb and small and would not hurt him. Liars are like hurtful magicians. Soon as you figure out it was a grift, you start looking for their other tells."

"Oh. Pathological liar, like? That's usually just people who are totally insecure, I think. Mmn, could be."

"Insecure? Ionno. Maybe. Or maybe he started lying at the beginning to keep himself safe, like you did, but couldn't take off his helmet."

"I never lied! I just don't tell things. You know he doesn't even like anyone knowing his last name. Only people I know like that are Crew people like me-- oh, hey, Guy and I are making a new Crewlang, look." She leans forward to dig the crumpled piece of paper with the list of words he started out of her pocket. "You need to learn it too."

"Ann Beatrice," Z says, because it feels more secret to her than Svazek. She cranes her neck at the paper. "Why."

"Talk freely in front of cameras, and ..mmn.. it feels good speaking it again, you know. Like visiting old friends. S'what we were doin' when Ebs heard and squawked."

Z's silent for a moment. "Donno what that's like," she says, guarded, as she looks over the list.

"Do so," Dex replies, equally defensive.

"Nenoc? Ezko? Hmn.." She raises her hand to pull at the back of her neck before catching the inside of her mouth with her fangs. "Talk free about what."

She's incredulous. "Everything! Anything! Same reason to have this place."

Zolotisty has learned to keep her tail impassive when Dex disappears. An accidental consequence is the ability to keep it equally still right now. "Yeh," she agrees, and does not set the paper back in Dex's lap. "Com'on, teach me while I cut your hairs."

"Sure! You got scissors?" Dex pulls her shirt over her head and scrambles off the bed to move a chair under one of the lights. Z untangles Fog from her tail, leaves him on the bed, and goes to rummage in the kitchen drawers as Dex sits patiently.

"Where's lessons. And how come you like Haccadine now."

"You have the paper, twisty," she says as Z carries the scissors to the bed to fetch the cant notes. "Uhh, I like him 'cuz.. why not? He's a bit surly, but.. I donno.. reminds me of bein' back in London 'n stuff."

"You didn't like him before. Here. Be still, Ionwanna be Paul Lo."

"Lo used his teeth, why aren't you jealous of him?"

"Jealous?"

"Joking." She snaps the wrinkles from the paper. "Christ. Okay, lessons."

Frowning, Zolotisty holds her hands away for a moment. She says nothing. As Dex explains what she's been told about cant, Z cuts and shears -- its use throughout history to speak covertly, and how the Crewcant that she learned made deliberate use of minority and at-risk languages. She teaches Z the mechanics of the cipher. First is to split the word into its constituent syllables, then reverse them. For every odd-numbered syllable in words, the rule is to reverse its constituent parts. "Okay, try doing Spandex and Zolotisty."

The riddle of it has distracted Z from the scribbly knot of unease lodged between her lungs. "Skedspan duna Itisolzo," she says after a protracted pause. "No. Yes. Duna. This is hard. You can do it fast?"

"Yeh, thiw sitprac. Teacher's pet, kisses," she says, tilting her head back. Z straddles her lap, closed scissors tickling her bare shoulderblade, but she doesn't kiss.

"How could Eben understand this."

"He couldn't. We don't even use English words a lot of the time, or it'd be too easy to crack. S'why I know some French and Welsh and bits of others like Arabic, yeh. Just pidgin-like, but enough."

"Mn," Z says, then coos a good impression of a pigeon.

Laughing, Dex cups her hand around Z's nape. "Okay, gnalle na, itwis." She pulls her closer. "Gnalle na."

Z balks, eyes creased and neck unyielding beneath Dex's insistent palm. "Ies zilp. And what's.. lelang."

"Zillllp. La langue is the tongue in French. Gimme."

The chair tips backward with the abrupt force of the kiss. Z has to shoot a leg out to catch them; Dex squeaks.

"I love you," Dex says, plain and uncoded. "Is my hair done? Can I open my present now too?"

"You haven't yet?" Z carefully leans back, shuffing her foot in to snug it against a rear leg of the chair. "Yeh. More kisses after. Wheresit."

"Gnalles in nemits. Still in my jacket pocket."

Zolotisty hesitates. Her gaze slides across the room, searching for the jacket. "Hair's done," she agrees absently, dropping the scissors. Dex doesn't want to let her go. Z doesn't want to move. "Donno. Present maybe lat--" She yelps suddenly, banging her nose into Dex's cheekbone. They lurch; there's an indignant peep and a tiny fft, then a mewl of panic. "Owfuck, ow Spandex help--"

"What!" Dex tries to bend around Z but can't quite far enough to see any sign of the kitten. "S'on your tail?" Fog's obsession with it surpasses even her own.

"Help." She's trying not to laugh.

"Put me down then! I can't reach."

"Ionwanna squash him! Ow -- what --" They get the chair flat on the ground again so that Dex can lean far enough to see Fog thrashing around on his back like a worm on a hook. She cackles with laughter. He's got his back claws caught now, too. Mewing frantically, he wriggles and fights as Z tries to work her way off Dex's lap.

"Here," Dex says, scooping up and offering the scissors.

"That's not helping!" Z splutters, leaning down to drag Fog flush with her toes. He gnaws anxiously at her knuckles. "Hold him." Dex does, easily wrapping most of his tiny body in one palm. One by one, Z untangles his claws, along with a sizeable puff of fur.

"M'never getting laid," Dex mutters once Fog's freed. She wanders off to fetch the gift in her jacket pocket. Fog darts off to hide with a flagging tail and Z huffs, picking at her own. Dead fur comes out in dustbunnies.

"Knit a little cat," Z mutters back, looking up to see Dex trying to surreptitiously straighten the box on her way back. "M'squash the next present you give me."

"Better not be a puppy then, yeh." Z averts her gaze to her tail. "Is it hurt? You got bald spots?" She sits crosslegged across from Z so she can see the expression on her face when she opens the gift. It's part of the ritual of exchange, Dex figures.

"Not hurt. S'just too hot. Open your thing."

She turns the box around in her hands a few times, still hesitant to open it, and then carefully peels up one triangular fold. "Yeh, you're moltin' all over the bed. I can cool it in here if you want." It's an excruciatingly slow process, this gift-opening, partly to test Z's patience as well as her own. After flattening the sheet of giftwrap, she opens the little box to find a palm-sized stuffed tiger with. "Oh! Uhh.." Dex brushes some tiny scratchy hairs off the back of her neck. "A tiger." She holds it out with its neck between her fingers.

"No."

Squinting, Dex turns it towards herself. "It is. I know a fuckin' tiger."

"It is Trojan."

Dex's eyes round and she sets it in her lap to poke at a loose seam on its belly. "What. Our enemies are inside this-- ohmygodit's--"

"Little robo-ear whatsit. Careful!"

Dex lifts her hands. "What you mean careful? Some kind of detonator or what?"

"It's fragile. Maybe you already broked it."

"Why didn't you tell me."

"Because it's Trojan!"

"Could'a just said fragile!" There's a tiny switch and dial on one side of the radio. Nothing happens and Z ohs, rolling to her feet to go dig through the pile of things that Dex fished out of the canal for her. She turns out a few AAA batteries culled from a remote in the barn, one extremely rusty D cell, and a handful of watch batteries that rattle like pebbles in her fingers. Shuffing the rest back into the pile, she carries the watch batteries over to pour them out by Dex's knee.

"One of those works."

"One of the things I love about you the most, Zolotisty," Dex says as she selects one, "is how you still surprise me, and I don't jus' mean with presents." She fits the battery into the felted-striped belly of the tiger, clicks the little hatch closed, and tries the switch again. Static. Z leans closer to delicately woggle the dial between the tips of her claws. The static fuzzes and squawks before warbling closer to voices, and Z fine-tunes until the sound's as clear as it will get on the receiver's tiny speaker.

"Base to RT unit 893, body for FB transport in quadrant 24, 28, 1, northern perimeter by a ridge and stand of spruce.."

Dex stares as if the tiger itself just spoke, while Zolotisty looks impossibly self-satisfied.

"RT 893 to base, copy. On my way now, please stand by. I'm going to want directions as I get closer."

"Base to RT unit 893, copy. Standing by."

"FB transport? RT... twist, this is the Network's on-island channel? How'd you--"

"Aye, they've got walk'n'talks."

"Holy mother Mary of fuckin'shit, what else we can pick up." She carefully turns the dial until the signal turns to noise and then picks up another signal.

"HQ's got snow on WM-32-8-98C. Maggie, you still out that way?"

"Aw, boss, I was. I just passed the lighthouse up near 404, be there in thirty."

"Techs," Dex whispers, turning the dial further. Again, it becomes static until it reaches the third channel, which is, right now, completely silent. She keeps turning, and it cycles back to the first feed. "Huh. Techs, the failors'n'sailors, so what would the third be?"

"Maybe just two."

She works the dial to find the silence again, gently sets the radio down the ground and tackles her girl.

 
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