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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RELEASED TO PUBLIC | DATE OF REVIEW: 04.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: WIPO | AUTHOR: J WOO |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Joe (about his gun): Easy to pick up, hard to put down.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC | DATE OF REVIEW: 04.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Scraping grime from under her fingernails with the blade of her pocketknife, Ed stands opposite Idris and looks down at her hands and the smoldering remains of last night's campfire. "They'll be looking for us." She starts in on her other hand.

"Well, I should hope so," Idris replies, smooth. Despite the night spent sleeping rough, there's scarcely a speck of dirt to be seen on him; every crease is sharp, razor-pressed, every hair set fastidiously in place. Not even a hint of five o'clock shadow. "I've been making an awful mess for nothing if they aren't."

The knife rasps soft and unpleasant. "Now what."

"Now, we find somewhere to wait."

"Have you ruined all of it."

"Near enough. There might be the odd cubbyhole they're keeping under wraps, but from what I know of Zolotisty, losing even one of those places would be enough to do the trick."

"The target is Spandex."

The corners of Idris' mouth tease up into a smile, half-lidded and condescending. "They're a couple. Where one goes, the other is sure to follow. Especially if you exert a little pressure."

Ed looks up, brushing her knife clean. It snakts as she folds it shut, slipping it into a case holstered on her belt. "And when they don't come where we want them to."

"They will come wherever we want them to. All it requires is the proper leverage." He uncurls his fingers, revealing a handful of short, wooden sticks -- each one pointed at one end, with the other carved into the shape of a minute horse's head.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RESTRICTED | DATE OF REVIEW: 04.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK | AUTHOR: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Ogilvy looks away.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RESTRICTED | DATE OF REVIEW: 04.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK | AUTHOR: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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"I'll never forgive you."

Terry's screens are full of footage. In the centre, Ebenezer's lurking around live in the Grotto. A single screen on the left is looping the moment in DICE hall kitchen where Eben realizes something, looks to Dex, and says only, "Oh." All other screens show scenes from the meeting by the waterfall in Dex's room.

"You've kept me waiting how long for you to say something, anything about your Network affiliation on screen? How long? And this is how you do it? This is how you fucking do it! You miserable, wretched little--!" She stifles a scream and hurls her half-empty soda bottle into the rubbish bin across the tiny room. "You just had to get it all twisted up with Zolotisty and Spandex. How the fuck am I supposed to wrench that footage away from Ogilvy?"

She'd rather be anywhere else, looking at anything else. Ebenezer's scanning through images now, on the Grotto's mammoth computer screen. Idris' file was easy to find: neither are common names. Even without recalling her surname, it doesn't take Ebenezer long to skim through every Edith on the Island until he finds the one he recognizes. He gets the printer working, slowly spitting out the Network files for Idris Stanfield and Edith Tijoux. As he waits for the papers, Ebenezer's eyes slowly turn towards the camera. Unwitting, he makes eye-contact with Terry Babcock.

"You little git," she hisses. As if he heard her, he looks away. Just to get Ebenezer's face off her screens, she punches hard on keys, bringing up other feeds. The many waterfall angles are replaced with Eben's cottage, his houseboat, the Warehouse. The centremost screen holds the live Grotto feed and that short clip in the DICE Hall kitchen is switched out for the camera in Ebenezer's room.

Much to Terry's surprise, the room isn't empty. "Oh hello, Mr. Haccadine." She leans closer. "My, my. What are you up to?"

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC| DATE OF REVIEW: 04.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Getting the door open is the worst part. Haccadine expects every creak of the floorboards to give him away, every metallic scrape of improvised lockpick against keyhole to bring Zolotisty pitter-pattering down the hallway. "Haccadine, why are you full of the sneakings?" she'd ask, and then he'd have to explain why exactly he was crouching, bootless, in front of Ebenezer's door with his ear pressed to the wood.

Because he's a sneaking rat bastard, and I trust him considerably less far than I can throw him.

But of course, that wouldn't fly.

Luckily for him, then, that Zolotisty's ears seem to be turned elsewhere. Lucky, too, that the lock's plain old pins-in-a-tumbler, nothing more complicated or.. Improbable. A few bits of bent scrap and some patience was all it took to get him in.

He stops at the foot of the bed, near enough to the middle of the room as makes no difference, and looks around with a trained eye. The ironing board stands tucked neatly into one corner, leaning against the wall. The tea service he saw last time has since been stored away somewhere, teacups no doubt neatly aligned and arranged in order of size. Neatness, yes -- the room screams of a fastidious attention to order and cleanliness.

Haccadine considers for a brief moment where a man like Ebenezer might keep things he'd rather not have others find, and then drops to his knees and lifts the edge of the draping bedclothes to peer into the darkness beyond. One arm sweeps the space knocks against something. He reaches in and pulls it out, finding the object to be a shoebox, plain and in pristine condition. Pausing only momentarily to listen for approaching footsteps, he carefully prises the lid off and finds the box to be full of shoes. A pair of neatly polished black brogues to be exact, stuffed with brown paper to help them retain their shape.

His lip curls back over his teeth and he replaces the lid, sliding the box back under the bed. Where next? He crosses the room to the chest of drawers, acutely aware of the coarse rustle of fabric as he moves. The first drawer contains stacks of neatly folded shirts, creases razor-sharp; the faint odour of starch wafts out as he lifts them, finding nothing but bare wood beneath. The second drawer holds underwear, as neatly tucked away as underwear can be. He gives the contents a cursory sift through but turns up nothing.

Next one down and it's trousers, accompanying belts curled up and placed neatly down one side like a row of hibernating snakes. Haccadine flips up a couple of pairs of charcoal greys and is about to shut the drawer again when his finger brushes against paper. He grabs hold of a decent-sized sheaf and slides it carefully out, a frown forming on his brow as he does so. Computer paper. The neatly printed characters on the top page confirm this, and inform him that he's looking at the Network file of contestant 74345, Guido Haccadine.

His knuckles whiten. He reads the other files, then carefully removes his from the top and folds it in half, stuffing the pages into his jacket. The rest go back into the drawer and he pushes it carefully closed, slipping out of the room with the lightest tread he can muster.

"Takin' ages," he hears Dex say as he approaches the kitchen. "You sure he's okay?"

"M'positive. He's coming. Almost here. I can hear him -- and see, here's Hacca. Can hear everyone in the clan. It's fine. Everyone's fine." Zolotisty gazes toward Haccadine as he joins them in the kitchen. Looking between them with a casual nod, he settles against the counter with his arms folded.

"What're we doin'."

"Spandex has to eat a thing then we share ideas as soon as Eben's here. What you want."

"What. No, I'm not--" Hungry. Instead of arguing, Dex opens the fridge and pulls out some leftovers without looking too hard to see what it is or if it's growing mold. She eats straight from the container.

"Be best if I stuck with you two, I reckon," Haccadine says. "Whatever they did, it had no effect on me." He reflects for a moment, then adds, "I might need-- a rifle, somethin' bigger, though. To deal with the sniper."

Dex swallows a thick mouthful of barbequed meat. "You sure you want to get involved with this, Guy?"

"Somebody shot at me, Dex. I'm already involved. Fucked if I'm gonna let 'em get away with it a second time, n'all."

Zolotisty looks sideways at her. "Kai gave me things, a while back. Better than Shack gear." Haccadine dips his head in, if not thanks exactly, then acknowledgement.

Ebenezer pipes up from the doorway. "Do I get-get a gun?"

"Mn," Z says after visible hesitation. Then, noticing the papers in his hands, "Wha -- fuck. That's all?"

"Just says 'c-contestant removed from airtime' and some dates," he mumbles, his head ducked to hide a grimace.

"That's it? S'that normal?" Dex is unsure if it's Eben she mistrusts on this, or the Network.

"They're usually.." Z measures a centimeter between her thumb and forefinger. Padding across the kitchen, she peers at the papers. There are just two -- one for 'Idris Stanfield,' the other for 'Edith Tijoux.' "No, this. What. This is the kind of file we have if someone's been banned. Looks like this if you go back, afterward, to check their name or somma. 'Cept banned usually means dead."

"That's awfully convenient," Haccadine grunts, unfolding his arms and pushing away from the counter. "Give 'em here." He holds out a hand for the files and Ebenezer immediately passes them over. It doesn't take long for him to read them through. He flips them over to check there's nothing on the back and then begins picking through the fiddly bits of file information at the top and bottom.

"It say when they got pulled?"

"Uh. Yeh, hang on." Haccadine squints. "October '95. That's-- shit, not a clue. Anybody know what the date is?" Met with blank stares, he glances back down at the file for help. Date accessed, maybe-- "Hold on, footnote. 'For full documentation, see archive on root share drive. C-OP level privileges required.' Looks like you been blocked out."

"Yeh, says to me it's a Network job. They knew all our landclaims better than I do. They knew Horse is mine. They knew to stake us out at the Loft, despite not bein' there in weeks. My money's on them being hired--"

"Jokers don't work for the Network, Spandex," Z cuts in. "Jokers take bets. We're on the wrong end of a game or something."

"Anybody can be bought for the right price." Dex takes a deep breath. "Look," she says, quietly, "If I'm right, as soon as we step out of Halls, we can assume they'll be told, yeh?" She thumbs over her head to the camera. "So traps are futile."

"By who," Z snaps. "Told what. 'They're going north, get them?' Get them and do what. If the Network wanted us, why they not just clubbing us again. They've got lots of people who could do it."

"Network's got p-plenty of per-personnel on the Island," Ebenezer mumbles. "Wouldn't n-need to send Jokers."

"The only people that knew about the Vineyard were you 'n me, Z. Tell me how they knew."

"I don't know. S'in files. Network. Mods. Could ask Sessine or Epaphus, I guess. Or -- fuck, Julia."

"Julia? Always been nice to her. Why would she tell someone my shit.. mmn, maybe they scared her or somethin'." Frowning, Dex squints at the group. "Who here's tightest with Julia?"

"If s-someone needs to talk to her, I'll do it," Ebenezer volunteers, eager to make up for Idris and Edith's files being an utter dead end.

"Could go now," Z says. "Haccadine, go with him, aye? Hang back in the corridor, make sure she doesn't see you. Watch Eben. Don't want people going places alone. Dex and I will get the gun, won't be long."

"D-don't you mean guns? Two." Eben meets Zolotisty's gaze evenly.

She studies him. "Two guns," she agrees after a moment.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RESTRICTED| DATE OF REVIEW: 04.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK | AUTHOR: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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"Cooper's on editing lead, I'll handle people problems as they come up, if they come up," Simpert says as soon as Ogilvy's gone. "And they will come up as soon as we've got the Shriek in here. None of you say shit about it to bitchboots. Gannet, you're on that station. Monroe, next to him. Frillsy and I have these two. Lacey, this one, please."

"The Shriek?" Monroe laughs, inadvertently saving Cooper from having to respond.

"You haven't met her?"

Gannet sets his things down by his assigned control panel and looks up appreciatively at the air conditioning unit in the room. "Monroe doesn't get out much."

"Met who?" Monroe says, ignoring the slight. He creeps his chair closer to Cooper's again. He could care less about some Shriek, he has a million questions he's been dying, for years, to ask Cooper about Spandex.

"Terry," Simpert says, short. He rolls his eyes at Cooper, this guy eh?, then remembers himself and looks apologetic. "She ops for Ebenezer."

"Grampa Neezy?! Agman, sign me up for the Pollution Report, but oh-no, not him. Seen more action in my innie lint, nawmean."

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC| DATE OF REVIEW: 04.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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There's no sign that they spent the night in this clearing but for a warmed circle of fire-burnt earth -- and that could've been anyone's. Swinging her rifle up to her shoulder, Ed turns to slouch toward the trail.

"Edith." Idris makes it sound like a command.

She stops but does not turn. "What."

"As frankly endearing as I find your unsociable demeanour and blank silences, now is really not the time. We have a job to do. I want to see it done properly. Our--" The word sits unpleasantly on his tongue, acrid and bitter, but he swallows it down. For now. "--first attempt was a disaster. Needlessly. Had you given me prior notice of your intentions, I could quite easily have prepared myself and been on hand to subdue the lout. This time, we do not engage the targets without a plan that we are both privy to. Co-operation, my dear, may be a test of our patience, but a much lesser test than failure."

Ed looks over her shoulder. "You want forewarning."

He smiles at her, eyes cold behind steel frames. "You do have such a talent for simplicity. Yes, I want forewarning."

Peeling her lips off her teeth, she smiles back. "Understood."

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC| DATE OF REVIEW: 04.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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"Here. Eben, you have the this one." It's a Kahr MK-9 in good working condition. "And Haccadine, you have the that." The that is a Dragunov SVU, old and bearing signs of wear but eminently serviceable. Z scratches the base of her ear, stepping back from the island in the center of the kitchen.

Dex awkwardly sets the guns down on the kitchen table next to a plate of butter biscuits cut into star shapes. "What Julia say?"

With an over-cautious hand, Ebenezer takes the weapon; his other hand jumps to adjust his spectacles. After looking the gun over with an uncertain eye, he cuts his attention to Dex. "It was her. She told him."

"What. Him? Just one? And why the-- What the fuck else she feel compelled to share with random strangers?"

"She said-she said a very polite gent-entleman had come looking for you, but when nobody answered-no-nobody answered the door to the Hall, she offered him the lo-locations of your dwellings and all Zol-olotisty's. She didn't know."

Dex bangs the boxes of ammo down on the table. She looks at Haccadine to corroborate Eben's story, not because she doesn't trust Eben, but that she believes Guy would be better able to tell if Julia's talking shit.

He shrugs, picking up the rifle and checking it over to identify what all the levers and switches are. "Seemed like she was bein' honest. Stupid, maybe, but honest."

Ebenezer moves to tuck his gun away in his right trouser pocket. Catching the movement from her periphery, Zolotisty turns, opening her mouth just enough for her fangs to peek out in concern. "Is that where you are going to keep it," she asks.

"Erm. Yes?"

"Here's the plan -- unless someone has somethin' better," Dex says as she fills four canteens with water. "Z will scout and ask around outposts-- Ace first, since we're dealin' with old-school Jokers. Someone's got to know them. Eben and Guy, you two cover her on a roof. Stick close. Eben, use that modocle of yours if you need to. Stay low, one of you watch Z and the other look for our fanclub, and be checkin' windows too."

Z edges closer to Eben. "Is it important to have toes," she asks softly after Dex has finished speaking.

Eben nods along to Dex to show he understands and accepts the proposed plan. At Zolotisty's whisper, he tenses visibly. "Yes."

"Then it is bad to point it at yourselfs."

Shoulder and elbow stiff, he warily reaches back into his pocket. Sloth-slow, the weapon's drawn out again, thankfully silent. Z taps the safety as she explains to him how to cock and load the gun, couching it in 'you remember how's. She glances up occasionally to see if Haccadine's following along, then moves back to stand near Dex.

"Bit different than a plas-a plasma gun," he murmurs, trepidatious.

"Why don't you just use that, if that's what you're good with?" Dex snaps.

"S'no good for this," he answers, shoulders stiffening. "Sh-short range and a big-a big--?" One hand gestures broad, signifying an explosion. "Sloppy. And J-Jokers might--" He hesitates, wetting his lips. After a breath, he finishes, "I've seen Jokers that can manip-ipulate plasma, but none that can stop-can stop bullets."

"Look, don't shoot anyone unless you absolutely have to, yeh? Let's find out what these jerks want. If you see someone, just say it, calm and quiet, and Z will hear you. Z, if they approach you, just ask'em what they want and how we can settle this so no one gets hurt. No cowboyin'. S'at a deal?"

She nods, glancing to the boys. "Dex's bossin' cos she's gombe invisible with me on the ground." She winks, as though they don't have guns in their hands. "Gotta get it all out now."

"M'not-I'm not a cowboy," Eben confirms.

One of the water canteen thuds into Z's belly, then another into Eben's. Dex hands Guy his. "What have I forgotten. I always forget something."

"What happens if they roll up and starve you two out again, and we can't get at them. Holed up in a building, maybe." Haccadine raises his eyebrows at them. "Or, say, they're bulletproof or someshit. Need a contingency plan."

"One-shots," Z says. "I've got money for it. Bank. We'll go to eBoy's."

"Alright, that's me an' him sorted, but if you two're like last time you'll be too out of it to do anythin' for a while. Window of opportunity for 'em. Don't like it."

She hesitates. "It's AceHigh. They're fighting with everyone if they do that there, in the middle of the Outpost. And I don't think you could starve us out there. Too much in the air."

"I'll p-pay you back for mine, then," Ebenezer insists. "You've got a bill to pay-to pay off."

Thinning her lips, Z looks to Dex. "I do," she says to Eben. "Com'on, let's go."

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RESTRICTED| DATE OF REVIEW: 04.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK | AUTHOR: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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"Oh, is that a pistol in your pocket, Ebenezer?" Terry giggles to herself as she clicks through her emails, sorting out the low prio deletes. Opening a message again from Ogilvy a few days old, she pauses. "Whatever happened with that special production suite business," she wonders aloud. Slow, her brow pulls into a scowl. "There never was any follow-up on that, was there?"

Her eyes turn to the door, then to the screens, checking Ebenezer. "I think I'll go and see if Mattie and Cooper might happen to know what's going on here. Be back with you soon, m'laddie. Don't do anything too interesting while I'm away."

Abandoning her post, she ventures down a floor to Simpert's door. She's not entirely surprised to find the room empty.

"Is that how it is? Started the party without me, did you?" She slams the door hard, and starts down the corridor towards the production suites, sneakers squeaking on tile with each hasty step. "Even if I have to pull open every damned door myself, I'll find where you've gone."

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC| DATE OF REVIEW: 04.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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They've been waiting for hours for something to happen. It's hot on the ground, down where Zolotisty's been loping around with Dex doubtless on her heels, and it's even hotter on the rooftop, where Haccadine and Ebenezer are baking in the sun. Idris and Edith are as absent as the clouds.

Haccadine, prone at the edge of the rooftop, scans the alleyways for any sign of the hunters while Ebenezer, seated with his back resting against the wall, fusses with this monocle for the hundredth time. The silence between them is airless and stale.

"You happy now?" The question is abrupt, sprung from nowhere. Haccadine adjusts the rifle's sight a little and glances over his shoulder at Ebenezer, waiting for an answer.

The answer's just as abrupt as the question. "No." He turns his head to squint and scowl in Haccadine's direction. "What's there to be-to be happy about. D'you see an-anything?" Looking back to the device in his hand, he peers through the glass again. "I d-don't I don't see anything."

"You wanted in on things, now you're in on them." He puts his eye to the scope once more, sweeping the crowd below. "Looks clear."

"They're my friends," Eben answers. Sudden, he sucks in a sharp breath and flinches straighter. Before Haccadine can mistake the reaction for something else, he explains, "S-saw Dex. J-just for a moment. S-see-through."

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RESTRICTED| DATE OF REVIEW: 04.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK | AUTHOR: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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It takes six buildings, a snack break, six floors and thirteen doors before Terry Babcock comes to a production suite that's not locked or empty or useless. Four startled junior operators turn to face her, eyes wide and wonderfilled. On the screens behind them, there's some rather graphic group sex going on, involving an improbably well-endowed Kittymorph female, two Joker males and a Midget. In any other circumstance, Terry would find a way to stall for time to stay and watch a bit.

"Sorry to interrupt, lovelies," she sings, "but you don't happen to know where Ogilvy's suite is, do you?"

"Wut? Yeh." Three turn back to their screens, while the fourth keeps his attention on Terry. "Think she's up in number 915."

Her red lips pull back into a bright-white grin. "Thanks very much. You've been so helpful, honey. Oh," she nods to the screens, "and send a clip to my inbox, won't you? Theresa Babcock. I'd like to see how it ends."

"Yeh." He turns his chair to face his station again. "You got it."

"Splendid. Toodles, my darlings!" She snaps the door shut and goes squeaking down the hall, double-quick.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RESTRICTED| DATE OF REVIEW: 04.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK | AUTHOR: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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The espresso machine hisses and Cooper carefully sets the demitasse on its little saucer and hands them to Simpert. After he glances up at the screens to find Spandex invisible again, he starts making the next. "Now I bet yours is a double shot, Mr. Gannet."

"One's fine, thanks."

He catches himself glancing up to Ogilvy, as if she might chastise him for this mistaken assumption, but her attention is fully on Simpert's screen. "She's getting tired," Simpert remarks to her, and Cooper returns to laying out a tray of fresh croissants that he's brought in for the group.

The door slings open and a burst of lime-green ruffles explodes into the room. Gannet's coffee slops into his lap and he swears, but Terry's laugh drowns it out. "Oh there you are! Ogilvy, dear, can you believe that you forgot to mention a date, time, and location on that invitation memo of yours? Rather forgetful of you. No matter. I'm here now. I'm sure you all must be very relieved. Move over, Mattie. Make room."

Monroe jumps and rips his earphones from his head. "Augh! My ears! Near leaked my keks!" His chair almost topples over as he wheels, huge-eyed, to see where the sound is coming from, and he snorts with laughter at sight of The Shriek.

"Theresa," Simpert smiles weakly. "Was wondering where you were. We, ah, saved a booth for you, you'll want that one there." It's piled with everyone's things. Terry laughs again, as if it's all a wonderful joke.

"How thoughtful of you. You'll have to move your shit out of the way. Quick. I've got work to do."

"Of course," he says and rises to clear off the station, heaping Cooper's leather bag away from Monroe's grubby collection of home-spliced reels. Across the room, Cooper frowns at the croissants. Didn't save one for her and hell if he's giving up his.

"And that station had better not have so much as a sticky key." Flashing her grin at Ogilvy, she says, too-sweet, "I'll need to be caught up on everything, since I'm a teensy bit late."

Ogilvy bites into her croissant while the storm settles. Dusting a lone flake from the front of her suit with a swoop of her free hand, she says, "Simpert's managing the shifts. The treatment and storyboards are on our share drive. I'm sure you're up to speed on where we're at right now-- you've seen the great work our team's done, even with Ebenezer just sweating up on the rooftop looking.. She gestures dismissively with her hand. Knowing his distaste for risk-taking, I doubt he'll get too much more involved. Though if he does," she says after ripping into her croissant again. "Sure hope he doesn't get killed. Those Jokers we hired weren't meant for the likes of Ebenezer."

Terry's smile only turns sharper. "We'll just have to watch and see how things pan out, won't we?" She takes her seat and turns to focus her attention on the controls under her fingers.

"Spandex," Cooper points, spotting her leather helmet in a tight crowd of Jokers. He tucks himself into his station. "I've got it."

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC| DATE OF REVIEW: 04.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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'Wishing for what you can't have' is the closest way Dex can describe the feeling she uses to stay invisible, and she's starting to believe, although she's well-aware of the twisted logic, that it's keeping those Jokers from bloodywell showing up. Not only that, although she's been trained for incredible physical endurance, she just can't keep up the lovelorn schtick that keeps her invisible any longer. She's already caught herself ghosting in once -- god knows how many times she missed.

She reappears in the middle of a bunched crowd of Jokers jeering and betting on two more that are trying to outdo each other with tricks of Improbability. No one seems to notice her, and she dips her chin, bright blue hair all tucked neatly into her old pilot's helmet. "M'fine," she whispers right away to Z on the other side of the performing duo, and scans the square for the hundredth time, gaze swooping past the rooftop where Eben and Haccadine are. I'm not fine, I'm fuckin' wasted, she thinks as she allows herself to be jostled. Now's a good time, you stupid bastards. Do it now that I'm wearin' out.

There's been nothing. One small lead, if you count a Joker recalling seeing someone that fit Ed's description arguing over prices in eBoy's a couple months back, but otherwise nothing. Not even suspicious looks after Z walked away from those she asked. "Fuckit, Z, let's go home," she mutters.

Cutting around the crowd, Zolotisty bumps up against her. "Yeh," she says readily, not because she wants to, but because her girl's been flickering in and out and she'll stay from stubbornness if she thinks that's what she wants. "Should I leave a sign or somma?"

"Saying what?"

Z gestures vaguely at the pair of Jokers battling it out with their showmanship. "Doesn't have to say anything. Just has to read me, aye?" Catching Dex's confusion, she points up. "Leave a mark in the sky or somma. So that it sticks."

"Naw, either they know everythin' anyway or they can enjoy guessing, just like we are. Want to ask around some more? Caught a second wind." It's a lie, but she knows she'll just have to dig deep and find a way to turn it into a promise.

"Naw," Z parrots back, shaking her head. "Let's go, m'all made of sweats." She leans close, hesitates, doesn't kiss her, and pats her on the hip. "Go inside. Be right after you with them." She waits until Dex disappears and has presumably headed for the clan district before she shoves both hands in her trouser pockets and slouches off to loiter for a moment under the eBoy's awning.

Far back from the ledge, Eben's on his feet now, and he's fussing with his eyeglass even more desperately than before. "I'm sure I saw her," he's muttering, sharp, under his breath. "Just have to find Zol-olotisty again. D'you see her? Where'd she go? Where'd she go? Why's she m-move so blasted fast when I look-look away for t-two seconds?"

"Calm down," Haccadine replies, terse. The barrel of his gun swings a lazy arc through the air as he scopes the milling crowd below, attempting to guess Zolotisty's course though it. "Saw her go into the crowd. No sign of anything wrong."

As he turns to glower at Haccadine, Ebenezer pushes his spectacles down from his damp forehead, back onto his sweat-slick nose. "Don't t-tell me to calm-to calm down."

"Somebody's got to. If you panic, you're worse than useless." His sights stray over an upturned face and coyote ears, and he grunts. "Got 'er. There, by the Trading Station.. Looks like she's leaving." He watches Zolotisty carefully until she disappears from view, then crawls back from the edge of the roof, rubbing his eye. "Alright, guess that's it. We're done." The stairs aren't far. He turns to glance back down at Ebenezer. "Coming or what?"

Ebenezer snorts, but gives no further argument. The monocle's tucked away into his breast pocket and he gives a sharp nod to gesture Haccadine ahead of him, down the stairs. Exhausted and dripping with sweat, the two of them head back to Clan Halls.

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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's gift to Spandex, a fit-in-your-palm radio hidden inside a stuffed tiger, lies on the floor under their small kitchen table where Fog's abandoned it. The kitten's managed to inadvertently switch it on, and the third channel crackles to life.

"You there? Daniels here. Hello?" She makes a point of being stilted and awkward, as if she hasn't used Network radios almost daily for the past four years. "Hello, just checking in."

Fog pokes his head up from his hiding spot, at first frightened and then curious. He creeps over to the tiger in small fits and starts, shrinking into a little ball when the line fuzzes and a male voice comes through. "Kimberley. How nice to hear from you."

"I was just wondering if you'd made any progress."

"Rome wasn't built in a day, my dear."

"I understand. Ah, I've seen Zolotisty hanging around here in AceHigh, though -- were you aware?"

There's a pause. "Of course."

"Good! That's good. I'll.. wait for an update, then."

Fog stretches out a paw tentatively, tapping the tiger in the nose. He jerks backward as the line fuzzes again. "Yes. Everything's in hand." Bolder now, the kitten swats the tiger in the face then leaps onto it and tumbles into a chair leg.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC| DATE OF REVIEW: 04.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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"Take me to the Vineyard, Z," Dex says after the boys slope off toward the bathrooms. Z shifts her weight, studying the lines drawn around Dex's mouth, and finally nods.

The rolling grounds are empty, quiet. The paint's starting to go on the shutters and sideboards of the fine white house that sits on top of the hill amid overgrown wisteria. They kick through the grass. Dex whistles. Z listens. There's nothing.

Tucking the hurt and anger away, Dex disguises it from Z again with the sound of country station static. "What's wrong," Z asks, moth-drawn by the silence, and Dex shakes her head.

"Just wonderin' what they're playin', yeh?"

"Aye. Maybe it's conning. I don't know. Did Tyr keep any of his pieces, when he carved Horse?"

Dex shrugs and tucks herself close to Z so she can take them back to the halls, briefly sinking her teeth into Z's neck to share the sharp pain.

 
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