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

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Before pop art, there was such a thing as bad taste. Now there's kitsch, schlock, camp, and porn.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC| DATE OF REVIEW: 05.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Their second day out in AceHigh is much the same as their first, if not hotter and duller. As the long hours crawl by, Ebenezer's monocole-checks become less urgent and less frequent, and it's impossible for him to maintain his usual level of nervous energy. The miserable duty is made all the worse by present company and it's plain to see that Haccadine shares that same, unhappy opinion. Above the square, on a rooftop that lacks much shade, they watch Zolotisty decline invitations to card game after card game until finally, waistcoat soaked through with sweat, she gives in to boredom, keeping her ears up through each hand dealt out.

Dex moves through the sweaty crowds, instinctively ducking as someone's arm swings towards her face while she watches a flamboyant point-and-hit team work their small audience. One does the tricks; the other dips into pockets. She finds herself next to a whispering couple sharing their saucy plans for the evening. She catches people picking their noses, their teeth, their underwear out of butt-cracks, and she realises no one notices the cameras. People choose not to notice, rendering the cameras as invisible as herself.

Thunder rumbles distantly as the afternoon blurs to evening. Z stands from her seat with her sleeves rolled and her waistcoat hung over one arm. She looks toward the sound of the rooftop where Eben and Haccadine are, and shrugs before beginning to pad slowly toward the clan district. A striped grey KittyMorph, panting in the heat, watches her go and then turns quickly toward the local comms tent to put in a call. Five hundred requisition, the Joker with the broken teeth said. Easy money. "She went inside," he says.

"Expect the bank transfer tomorrow," the voice on the other end of the line says.

"Feel like we're wasting our time," Z says, repeating Dex's thoughts as she comes visible behind her on the landing in DICE's upper hall.

They wait there until Ebenezer and Haccadine, who look as if they've been trying to drown each other in a pond, catch up. Neither of them are speaking. Both of them are scowling. "Gonna shower," Dex says, looking from them to Z's limp tail. She laces her fingers in Z's to lead her down the corridor. "Meet you two back in the kitchen in a bit, and we'll discuss what to do next."

"Shower," Ebenezer wearily, whole-heartedly agrees. After a brief, but sincere sneer at Haccadine, he turns to head off up the stairs and find a shower of his own.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RESTRICTED| DATE OF REVIEW: 05.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK | AUTHOR: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Thabiti Gannet leans his cheek in his palm as Edith Tijoux exits the Communications Tent in CyberCity 404. He watches her skirt an oily ice slick and glance up toward heavy grey clouds. Driving winds push scraps of paper and wood across the hard-packed snow. "It's a pity they don't have local weather forecasting," he says. "That storm looks unfortunate." No one is listening. He watches Ed walk to the clan district, where she lingers under an awning.

"That's fair shabby, Babs." Monroe leans forward to queue up a file from the archives. "But this. This is beast," he says, tapping the screen before relaxing back in his chair and setting his feet up on the desk. "Not merksin' yeh, and what you pulled off with Grampa Neezy and his meow-minx in Episode 12583 was fuckin' conjurin', Babs, magic. But for my jags I like a buffer girl all to myself, and not those ones that like to imagine someone's watchin', nawmean. Pass my man that popcorn-- Here it is, look here, now. She's got the covers up, but all you need is her face. Com'on baby, Monroe's here, yeh."

Eyebrows lifted with genuine interest, Terry leans too-close to watch the screen over Monroe's shoulder. Her eyes don't leave the woman for a moment, even when she sloppily offers the popcorn bag to her young companion. "I've always preferred a scene with a bit more action." A laugh hums through her nostrils. "But oh, there's nothing wrong with this at all. Look at her go. Oh, Michael-dear. You do have a good eye, don't you?"

"And ear. Best part-- Oi! Gannet! turn that down, would you!" He pulls his feet off the desk and practically spills the bag in his lap as he lunges for the volume control. "You'll like this, Babsy. She's a squeaker."

Gannet turns in his chair, arm folded over the back of it. He stares at both of them. Simpert's getting coffee, and Ogilvy and Cooper aren't due in for another fifteen minutes. If he happened to put a stapler through Monroe's screen, no one would really be any the wiser. Terry's got no power over him, no matter what she may think.

Monroe's lucky -- it's Terry that's digging through the archives to queue up another of her favorite sex-scenes when Ogilvy's boots echo through in the corridor outside the editing suite. He snatches a copy of Gannet's overnight notes off his desk, pretending to be engrossed in them, but Terry doesn't seem to mind or notice the new arrival. "Michael-dearest. Are you even paying attention?"

"Hunh?" he tries, overacting irritation just as Ogilvy enters. Used to hitting the ground running, she takes in all the feeds and activity in the room, ignores Terry and Monroe, and looms over Gannet. "What's going on here? I'm mostly caught up -- just missed the last half hour. No feed in the car today; Crews knocked down another one of our mobile towers."

"I heard," he says. He frowns from Terry and Monroe back to his work station. "Drop-off," he says grudgingly. On his screen, Ed finally enters the clan offices. She moves quickly and quietly past Julia's desk to browse the doors. When she reaches DICE's, she takes a note from her pocket, along with one of Idris' new playthings, and pins them both to the door.

Gannet toggles back to the clan halls. He zooms in close on the note to set up a slow pan out. From the corner of his eye, he catches Ogilvy deliberately avert her gaze from his screen. She set all this shit up, he thinks, and this is what she flinches at? From Stanfield's sanctioned presence to the screaming matches in the Dome, he can find a thousand things that he finds more objectionable than this.

Probably didn't even feel anything, he thinks, shaking his head. Not even alive to bleed.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC| DATE OF REVIEW: 05.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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It's a hard downhill trek from CyberCity 404 to the cliffs, made worse by oncoming heavy snow. When Ed finally rejoins Idris, she stamps snow from her boots. "It's on the door."

"Good." Idris rises from his chair, straightening his cuffs by reflex. "It shouldn't be too long, now. Positions, Edith."

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC| DATE OF REVIEW: 05.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Zolotisty and Spandex lean against each other, silent in the spray of the shower. The water sluices away sweat and dust but doesn't dull the pulsing ache of a day's worth of sun and frustration.

"We're doing this backwards," Dex says as she suddenly turns off the tap. "They're looking for me, not you. Tomorrow, I'm visible."

Z says nothing, doesn't purse her lips, isn't even looking at Dex as she gazes over her shoulder at the tiling of the wall. "Can hear Horse," she says uncertainly.

Instinctively, absurdly, Dex turns and looks over her shoulder. "You can?! Where?"

They hurry from the bathroom, trailing puddles to the Dome, where Z drips confused and crook-eared before she climbs the stairs. She opens the door to clan offices, looking down instinctively. The hallway's empty, but a note flutters on the door, pinned in place with a tiny wooden hobbyhorse.

She wouldn't have seen it if it wasn't for the note, and it's not until Dex reaches to unpin it from the door does she realise what it is. Instead of pulling her hand back in horror, she wraps her hand around the thin stick so it won't break as she frees it from the door. The tiny sliver of Horse curves his neck as far as he can to nip at the soft flesh between Dex's finger and thumb. As the paper drifts to the floor, she immediately loosens her grip, cradling him in the palm of her hand.

"This is him?" She's stupid and pathetic, standing there naked and wet in the clan offices, clutching a hatpin-sized carving to her chest.

"That's what I hear." Zolotisty crouches to collect the note. She doesn't open it, hooking her arm around Dex's waist to pull her back into the hall. She closes the door, locks it.

"All of him?" Pulled inside, she struggles free to hunch against the wall. "Com'ere, com'ere. You okay? Did they hurt you?" she coos to her cupped hands. Horse belligerently tosses his head and tries to turn towards her flesh again to bite.

Sick, Z pulls her eyes away from Dex to focus outside the hall, struggling to listen for any other splinter of sound that matches Horse.

"I don't understand!" Dex bleats. Concentration shattered by Dex's cry, Z drops the sodden note to catch her girl away from the wall, pulling her to the floor. Dex huddles close, hiding her face in the crook of Z's neck.

"Can hear more of him," Z says quietly a while later. "We"ll get all of him back. Tyr can fix him."

"More? They're cutting bit--" The words are cutoff by a retch.

"We'll fix it. I'll fix it. Shshh. Let's get up, com'on."

"Where?"

"More than one place."

Dex snatches up the note and reads it on the way to the kitchen. She never lets go of Horse while she finds a carrot in the fridge and hurriedly chops it with one hand into tiny bits, feeding him some.

"What's it say."

"Miss Spandex, It has occurred to me that we perhaps got off on the wrong foot. Before any further damage is done, to our relationship or your properties, might I suggest that we meet and discuss the matter through? I'm sure you will find us to be quite amenable to reason; a deal agreeable to both parties may yet be within our power. Feel free to bring a friend if you so wish! We await your presence eagerly. Yours cordially, Idris Stanfield & Associate (33, 22). P.S. We managed to recover a possession of yours. I'm sure it will be glad to be returned to its rightful owner, and please don't wait too long, as the poor thing seems to be going to pieces without you." She carefully folds the note and stares hard up at a camera."33, 22? Z, where's that?"

"That's up in the mountains, I think. Up near the Robots. Don't go without me. I'll get our clothes."

Alone in the kitchen, Dex whispers to Horse, "We'll get your legs back, don't you worry." His ears flatten back as he bites at her cheek but she holds him there, nuzzling.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RESTRICTED| DATE OF REVIEW: 05.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK | AUTHOR: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Simpert toggles his cameras back and forth between DICE clan hall and the safehold that the hunters have chosen for themselves before restlessly queuing the feeds on top of one another in the same split screen. As soon as he sees Ogilvy sliding the earphones off her head, he asks, "Respectfully, ma'am, what happens if one of them gets killed?"

Terry gives a quiet, disbelieving snort. Unconcerned.

There are several ways to understand what he's really asking, but Ogilvy simply doesn't have time for this. "Improvise, Simpert. That's your job."

Lacey looks over her shoulder, pulling her earphones down to her shoulders. She thinks of the placards on the wall in every camera operation training room: YOUR CONTESTANT IS NOT YOUR FRIEND. YOUR CONTESTANT IS NOT YOUR FRIEND. YOUR CONTESTANT IS NOT YOUR FRIEND, in huge letters that marqueed around the top of the room like a primary school ABC chart. She used to stare at it during boring segments, looking for anagrams. SINCE YOU'RE NOT AROUND. FOUR NOES AND ONE NOT. AN INTRODUCTION TO...

To what, she used to think, but listening to Ogilvy, she thinks she knows now.

"I improvised by retiring," Gannet says cheerfully.

"I see," Simpert says. "Were you complicit in Kai's own retirement? He's still alive, for all you know."

"For all I know," Gannet agrees.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC| DATE OF REVIEW: 05.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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There's discord roiling out of Ebenezer's room as Z passes by -- a silent, seething sense of things out of tune. She turns her head to look, but the door's closed. Bad day, she figures, and hurries on to Dex's room to fetch a towel and a mishmash of clothes for each of them. "Spandex," she says when she comes padding back into the kitchen with the armload. "It seems daft to go now."

Dex reaches to set the tiny hobby Horse down on the counter, but pulls her hand back as she imagines him helplessly stuck there. She considers a cup about the right height, but that'd just feel like a cage, and she supposes she could lay him in some soft ground in the greenhouse, but doesn't want to risk it, not with all the people and creatures wandering around. She pats herself down with a towel one-handed. "Okay. Need a place to keep him safe," she says blandly as she crouches in front of the cupboard under the oven, considering various baking dishes.

"Put him in something, so he's not on his side." Z picks up a kumquat, fumbling it against the clothes.

"Pin him? I- I can't." She hears herself, whiny and hopeless.

"He can't move either way. If we don't pin him, we should prop him, so he can look around." She pads closer to bump into Dex, studying Horse from over her shoulder. "Here's your knifes. If you cut it in half," she sets the kumquat on the counter, "then make a grooves in it for him to lean in, he could get at the carrots."

While Z holds him, Dex cuts the fruit as suggested then sets an upturned dish of carrots at one end so he can reach. They place him in his bolster to test it. Stony-faced, she watches Horse thrash his head about. "Better put him in my room," she says, gathering everything up and heading toward the living corridors.

Still buttoning her shirt by the time Dex comes back, Z glances up. "Did you see Haccad -- oh, Spandex. Spandex, com'ere."

"Gave him a view," and Dex hangs her forehead on Z's shoulder while she's hugged tight. They stay like that for awhile until the wave of sad exhaustion passes. "Let's go where you hear more of him," she whispers at a level inaudible for anyone but Z.

She pets the back of her girl's neck. "Now?" she asks against Dex's cheek, reluctant. Her answer is a kiss on the cheek, before Dex pulls away to get dressed, retucking all her weapons into their pockets and sheathes. "Where's Guy."

"Up in his room, I reckon."

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RESTRICTED| DATE OF REVIEW: 05.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK | AUTHOR: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Forgetting his headphones are on, Monroe yells, startling the others. "Don't need them Enigma-Boys. She said, 'I want a threesome,'" and he and Terry laugh loudly. Lacey's eyes narrow and she pulls her earphones off of her head, turning in her seat to snap at them. She stops herself, though, and grits her jaw as she turns back to her console. Haccadine lies stretched on his bed, arms folded over his face. His room's quiet, and she can still hear the pair of them guffawing together even after she readjusts her earphones and maxes out the volume slider to static.

Cooper just sighs at his screen.

 
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