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

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Humiliate people for long enough and a wildness bursts out of them.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC | DATE OF REVIEW: 19.02.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: UNEDITED VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Spandex is playing with her food. Her salad's finished, and without a hitch but one - - a large leaf of somesort caught and wrapped itself to one of her new fangs, but it was easy enough to wrestle off, like a halfhearted groupie. She sniffs again at the steak, pokes at it, picks it up with her hands, sews a line of holes along its edge, then sets it back on the plate. She stares at Zolotisty's clean plate, and she watches Z watch her with her chin on the table, eyes flicking back and forth from fangs to fingers to steak. Grinning, she shoves her plate to Z.

"You don't like it."

"What is it? Smells shitrotten." A naked kittyproxi knocks over a chair and two plates as she hops up onto a table to lap at a sugarbowl. Spandex's head snaps in her direction, lips pulled back. Her stomach growls.

"Ionno. Meat." Z follows Dex's look, lifting her hand to rub at the base of her ear. She sits straight and picks up her fork to fidget with. "It's not. Thought you were hungry. Do you want it fresh?"

She pulls her snarl into a proper-faced grin by the time she turns to answer Z. "What? No.. no." She leans over the table and drops her voice, "You ever tasted one of those?" Her eyes flash quick to another jittery kitty.

Z's eyebrows flatline before arching and diving down to furrow together. "Dex."

"It's off, twisty," she insists, giving her plate a derisive shove so it clatters into the other. The cameras can't see Z's laughing eyes as she tries for a foreign tone - - matronly, you-are-embarrassing-me.

"Spandex, we are not in the jungle."

"Exactly," Dex says, her chair scraping the floor and sending all the kittyproxi's in the cafe into arched-back and punked-fur startled and staring poses. "Been spending too much time in the sea, twisty," she says louder, "let's go run on ground for a change, yeh."

"You didn't finish." They stare at each other, then Z kunkts aside her fork. She stands. "Yeh, Dex, let's go."

Dex leans a hand on the back of her chair. "You're not gon'let that go to waste, are you?" She wrestles a grin into her own version of matronly prim.

Z sidles 'round the table, brushing hard past her girl. "No. You are." She doesn't wait, padding quick for the stairs. Dex's brows shoot up. She quickly snatches the steak and frisbees it toward a group of kitties as she turns and follows Z out.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RESTRICTED | DATE OF REVIEW: 19.02.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION | AUTHOR: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Simpert's jaw won't quite close. His lips won't quite uncurl - - lopsided, half-scowl, half gawp. It's like someone's nicked the real versions and replaced them with two-bit live action roleplayers in very, very good costumes. "The fuck is going on," he mumbles.

The fuck else happened when they were off screen, he wonders. Dentistry and what.

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

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We are described into corners, and then we must describe ourselves out of corners.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC | DATE OF REVIEW: 19.02.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: UNEDITED VERSION | VERSION: 2.11 |

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The trees scarcely notice when they pass by, too busy stretching their skinny branches like antennae toward the sky. Potbellied clouds slump and slouch in their wake as they cut across dry grasses huddled in clumps for warmth, and as they climb the outer dunes of the eastern beaches, the salted breeze is coming to frost. There are no homes this way; the shifting sand is no good for building and the tide has a vengeful way of coming up fast on ground that should be safe. Sweeps it clean, reshapes it, then forgets it like a resolution as it turns back to itself.

Grey, oily, hunched into itself with a leonine surliness, the sea watches as they come close enough to taunt and dance just out of its reach. When there's no pounce, no roar, just a steady lapping at sandy toes, they lose interest and race each other up the beach on cold-caked feet. Zolotisty slows to a full-bellied lope as they thread between tide-crooked loudspeaker poles and scarcely notices the cameras turning in their wake. Dex slows too, but only to rubberneck the cameras.

The jungle is holding its breath.

They move northwest across boltways and through brambled thickets to startle a family of groundbirds from their nest. Synchronized, they both dropknee to lunge forward, then chokechain back when they see panicky babies bumbling the wrong way - - toward their feet, toward thick underbrush, toward the gnarled roots of a dead tree. Z waits ahead on the path as Dex peeptoms behind brush until worried chirps and hyper peeps mingle and become gentle sounds of admonishment herding away, then they move on.

No such kindnesses for the gnu.

The sky's gone gunmetal by the time they make the banyans with still-stained wrists. Z waits for Dex to worm down into the den first, then goes sliding after. "Gimme your clothes," she says when she has enough room to keep from scraping her head as she tugs off her own tee. Her skin protests, already pebbled, and she shivers. Spandex unabashedly stares while indulging in a quick fantasy of the excited friction of bodies, and Improbability vibrates in response, warming the air in the den, and then Dex undresses as told.

Fighting with her tail, Z untangles herself from the jeans and balls them with the shirt, taking Dex's too. She wedges their clothes in a narrow point in the tunnel, blocking most of it, then slides back down. They crowd each other, adjusting blankets and limbs and tailfur until their toes and fingers are toasty - - buried in fluff, sandwiched between arms and thighs.

"I know all of their sounds," Z says, pulling her chin in to graze an ear across Dex's cheek.

"Whose?"

"The cameras we went by."

They can't possibly snug closer, but they try anyway. "Huh. They're not all the same? Whad'they sound like?" She spots some blood on the side of Z's neck, and she cleans it off in short quick laps.

"All sorts. 'Mme your hand."

"All sorts like what?" she asks, nipping Z's ear for her ambiguous answer. There's a squeak at the unexpected intensity of the pressure, then Z rolls onto her other side to face away.

"Like bugs do. The little ones all over with the big all-together homes. 'Cept no moving, gimme," she says, fitting her hand over Dex's.

"Ants?" She relaxes and lets Z fold and bend and put her wherever she likes.

"Aye." Z reaches for Improbability as she curls one of Dex's fingers in, then she knits her hand in it and puppets her girl's with it too, so that she can feel the taffyworking of the energy into a string of Christmas lights. She loops and winds it several times, until there's no slack left. The air thrums around them, shaped. "Like ants. Think that's all of them. Maybe forgetting one."

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RESTRICTED | DATE OF REVIEW: 19.02.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION | AUTHOR: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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"No - - no, no you don't, don't you fucking dare," Simpert says to his screen, 'i'll-ground-you-for-the-rest-of-your-life-young-lady' sharp. The feeds go dead.

His shift crawls.

With dozens of CAMERA MAINTENANCE REQUEST: REQ. #743829 COMPLETE messages sitting in his inbox hours later, Simpert is tired enough that his voice rises to a tattletale whine on speakerphone. "Then they deliberately vandalized over one hundred cameras, n'there's no way that those reports aren't going to get sent up to the threat advisory board."

"What's that mean for you?"

"Meeting maybe. Another handler. Fhhh.."

"What do you mean, another handler?"

"If they decide they'll bump her threat level - - and honestly, I don't see how they wouldn't decide to do that, she's doing it for Stripes but it's getting to be malicious and those cameras are fucking expensive - - anyway, if they bump her up, it's automatically a mandatory three-person assignment. Fuckall it's good for, though. Another person to go, 'hurrrrr,' at the screens when we lose them."

The notification bell flashes before it rings, and he sucks in a breath.

"Need to go. I'm home in maybe an hour, pet."

"Be safe, Mattie. They're burning more shops."

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC | DATE OF REVIEW: 19.02.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: UNEDITED VERSION | VERSION: 2.11 |

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The Scrambler's engine whines in the early morning still - - not quite ready to hit the next gear, going to fast to downshift. The banyan grove sneaks up on him. Round the curve of that ravine north of Kittania, and there it is.

The technician has to park outside of the grove. The banyan's outer branches make an impenetrable maze of hanging tendrils. They creak with the cold; this part of the Island only rarely gets snow. Climbing off, he makes his way toward the trunk, where his supervisor claims there's a den with a camera. He's been warned about two Jokers inside. Fuckin' short end of the stick for him, this morning.

His boots crunch on the cold ground, and he checks the Sun Gun holstered at his belt. He ought to be safe. Kevlar protective gear under his olive green civvies: nylon trousers, nylon jacket (with a removable fur-lining for the cold), wool balaclava, helmet. The sewn badge on his jacket, the one that would usually state his name, just says 'NETWORK'. Spotting the dip in the roots that he supposes is the entrance to the den, he makes his way closer.

It's been blocked with clothing. To keep heat in, he supposes. Knocking it out of the way with his boot, he crouches and ahems from the mouth of the tunnel.

"Pissant," one voice says. "Think this is breakfast? M'starving."

Once upon a time Spandex used to try talking to the techs and other Network employees, asking them how things work, why things work, why they do it, who's in charge, where they come from, what their lives are like. Despite keeping any sort of accusatory tone out of her questions, they'd always feed her the same canned response, "I'm sorry miss, we're not permitted to converse with Contestants. If you have a complaint, please direct it to your local Network representative in any one of the major Outpost council offices."

When she was still human she jumped one once. Suckerpunched him in the face while his hands were busy, but they weren't for long and she ended up tazed into unconsciousness for the better part of a day and half.

Now she treats them as no more human, or humane, as their manufactured enemies in the jungle.

He crouches there, waiting. The silence drags. He clears his throat. "Ladies, I'm here on assignment to repair the camera at this location. Moderator Zolotisty, your cooperation would be most appreciated - - this is yours, yes? Do I have your permission to come in?"

"Yeh," the voice answers quickly. "Don'mind us, we're just all cuddled-up after amazing morning sex. You know what that's like.We need to get out so you can get in 'ere, hang on." There's the sound of movement. A whisper: "com'on, twist."

Still the same voice: "Mmm, look, snow, let's build something." He shifts uneasily. There are supposed to be two of them. He listens carefully, but the pauses aren't natural. There's a faint, "com'onnnn."

As long as they're coming out, he figures, and straightens. Grit twists under his boots and sends pebbles chakking down the tunnel. There's an animal snarl, guttural and loud, before they hit bottom, and a surprised obscenity from the Voice.

He's only got his sungun half-cocked by the time his legs are bulled out from under him, low around the knees. Cracking his head against the trunk of the tree, he's dopey and yielding when Dex scrambles out and, half-surprised, whirls and rolls him down the tunnel into the den. Z wets her lips, pulling shallow breaths as she clambers to her feet, just as Improbability moves to slam shut a thick wall across the door. Spandex bows. "Would you be so kind to plug the camera back in, Moderator Zolotisty?"

Twitchy with adrenaline, Z stares at Dex until the words click into place. She nods, retwists the bars of the den-cam to match those of a nearby tree-mount, then slinks to Dex, who bosom-buddies her arm around her shoulders. "Wish I had popcorn. Or nachos. Nachos.. with guacamole and extra jalapenos and fresh salsa. And meats."

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RESTRICTED | DATE OF REVIEW: 19.02.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION | AUTHOR: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Cooper gawps at the feeds, adjusting cams to make sure he's seeing what he thinks he's seeing. Where's the phone, phone, phone - -

"I have a 3-8 at the big banyan copse at 19, 22; I need a team of first responders."

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC | DATE OF REVIEW: 19.02.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: UNEDITED VERSION | VERSION: 2.11 |

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There's a scuffling in the den. Z's ears tic upward at a tiny clikt, then twinge backward as a plume of fire flattens against the wall and roils halfway back down the tunnel before dissipating. "Fuck," the Network tech yells as he presses back from the heat.

"Nacho," Z echoes, settling better against a relaxed Dex.

They stand there as the tech scrambles up the tunnel to open-palm pound at the air, trying to feel for any give, any way out. He uses the butt of his sungun when his hands don't work, but on his belly in a tunnel already too narrow for his chest, there's little room for leverage. "Jesus Christ, let me out! Let me out!"

"And sharp cheese. And you have to spread it out so that it doesn't glue together just a few chips and you like, lift one but you get eight and your girlfriend's next and she's all, 'what the fuck you forgot to put cheese on these.' I'm goin' make you nachos, twist. Homemade chips'n all."

"M'cold."

"Let me the fuck out!"

"Yeh, well. Loft's warm, but should release this jerk first," she whispers, then yells, "Hey! Wha's yer name?"

Z wraps her arms tighter around her chest, fingers tucked in her armpits. She shoots Dex a flat-eared look. "S'my house," she says, jutting her chin toward the den sullenly.

"George, let me out! Please!"

Spandex stands behind Z so she can wrap her too. She calls over her shoulder, "Get undressed, George. You got a family?"

"Two kids!"

"Yeh? How old? Why don' you say g'bye to them on the camera there. Now that you're gon'be livin' here with us." She squeezes Z tighter.

He's crying now. "What!?"

"Go on, tell 'em. And get undressed. We all arrive here naked, you'll get used to it.

"You can't fuckin' do this to me, you cunt - - let me out - -"

Zolotisty narrows her eyes but says nothing, headturned to stare southerly.

Dex laughs loud enough for him to hear. "Alright George, gon'take my girl for a nice hot breakfast somewhere. See y'round sometime maybe. Did we leave any food in there, twist? Well, if not there may be a few ants. You know ants, they sound like those cameras you work on- - for." She gently tugs on Z's shoulders to turn her around. "Com'ere m'girl," she coos, hugging her close and rubbing her palms on her cold skin. Z leans back and Dex feels it coming like the suck of air a giant wave takes before it breaks and whuffs her to shore, and she concedes, opening the door to the den as they go.

The tech sucks spit and snot from the inside of his balaclava and slumps as the engines whine louder through the snowstill.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RESTRICTED | DATE OF REVIEW: 19.02.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION | AUTHOR: NETWORK COMPLIANCE COMMISSION |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Cooper watches four scramblers with retraining personnel in heavy armor pull into the clearing from the south, then cradles his forehead in his palms. He rubs at his eyes and looks back to the dedicated Loft feed, not quite watching as Zolotisty pads for the bathtub. He reaches for his phone. Simpert's on speed-dial. So is Ogilvy.

Simpert's asleep and Ogilvy doesn't answer when he calls, though she does text him a few minutes later: Ready second resp. team for med exam. Calling Stonham now. Get Simpert in office. Be there in 20.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC | DATE OF REVIEW: 19.02.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: UNEDITED VERSION | VERSION: 2.11 |

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The camera over their bed gets a sudden Spandex as she hops up and stands on tiptoes to show off her new fangs. She doesn't mean for her smile to be menacing.

"Can I come in too? That was genius. I love you twist. In a way it's too bad no one but the NETJERKS," she raises her voices for this part, "WILL SEE IT. Why aren't you smiling?" Bubblebath keeps splooging out in the filling tub. Z rolls her shoulders, thonks the bottle aside, then peers toward her girl.

"Feel like I did when I bit you, a bit," she says. "Aye com'ere." She steps into the tub, bubbles shushing quietly as they pop and mold against her thighs.

"What'you mean?" She reaches for a sponge and crouches next to the tub.

"Like I wasn't thinking when I did it and I don't like that I wasn't thinking."

She dips the sponge into the frothy hot water and squeezes it over Z's shoulders so it runs down her front and back. Again and again. She doesn't get in, doesn't lean to kiss the water-tender skin. "What you think now?"

"Think you're the genius."

"It's jus' bathing, twist. Com'on duck'n I'll wash your hair - - and you too," she says, shaking the sponge at Z's tail. But, as Z dunks, Dex takes a long slow breath. The gossipy-ear has a Fisher-Price My First Mohawk as Z straightens, and it leans suspiciously toward Dex to check her out.

"Wut. Thought she was pissed a'me. You. You were." Dex lets the shampoo drool down the ear's length, then the other's since they're always in cahoots, then draws a swirl of circles in Z's hair between them. The sponge is dropped to splash in Z's lap and she sets to lathering.

"What?" Z squinches, only half paying attention as she leans her head into Dex's hands.

"I wouldn'a hurt him." Two horns compete with two ears- -'the giraffe', then one 'reverse-unicorn' (horn sprouting from the back of her head), then 'wind tunnel'- -everything swept sideways. The ears get special attention for being such good sports about it, though they start squirming when the shampoo makes it past the clumped-together sopping inner guard fluff.

"I would've."

With deftness and speed from lots of practice, Dex finger-scoops the wayward soap from Z's ear. A second too late, the cleaned ear whacks Dex in the knuckle. It would glare if it could. "I'd've stopped you."

"I know." She sounds grateful.

"They have no right.." she starts, but she realises she's starting and bullies her way into the bath instead. "S'fuckin' freezing!" Dex likes her baths very, very hot. The H tap squeaks once as she unwinds it full, and water splooshes everywhere as she jerks back at the early rush of cold water.

"Sex it hot, then," Z says, sloshing as she peers over Dex's shoulder. Dex's ass slips along the bottom and almost upturns her. Z snags her around the hips. It doesn't help.

"Th'fuck! Who put so much soap in'ere," but she's laughing and manages to lunge and shut the tap.

"Meee," Z lies, nosing Dex's neck before twisting to pat around for the sponge.

"K, right now it's.. mmn..you licking my ear but if you go to my holyzazoo we'll fuckin' boil in here so maybe kissing boobs'll do it." She pokes one of her breasts twice, then licks her finger and holds it in the air as if testing for wind direction. The water heats a few degrees. Happy, she sinks back against Z.

"Your what. Is that. That is not the science word and that is not a punk word, Spandex."

"Yeh? What'r the punk and science words for it then?"

There's a pause. Zolotisty is convinced that adding -core to anything makes it punk, which means the first is easy - - it's the science that's hard. That-all has no discernible patterning. "Moancore and ahmn, epiyesus. Epiyesticus. ..ehhh."

Dex almost slips again for laughing so hard. "Yeh. Yippieyestickles! Castor Muffininenis. Beaverbox. Fingerden."

"Wut. It is not a box." Z indignantly checks Dex. "Not a box."

"S'a shut box! It's closed!" She cackles, grabbing for Z's hands.

"Not even a box it is more like a, what's word, ahmn.. ..mitten."

"Mittenmitten fingerlickin'." From now on, it's 'mitten.'

"And noses. Noseslicking." She finds the sponge, adds, "Lips," and reaches for the shampoo bottle again. Baths are not baths without foam clinging to the whole of the tub after it's been drained. Dex rises after dunking, and brushes the long blue forelock off her face. Z works the lather into her scalp, settling her legs around Dex's middle as she massages and scrubs, so Dex can rub her feet. Best when they're so close.

"Spandex," she murmurs, hooking her chin around Dex's shoulder. She holds her elbows out, mid-finger scrunch.

"Mmn?" Face scrunched from the soap, one eye opens.

The tiny external speaker on the nearest camera crackles to life. "Zolotisty, your presence is requested immediately in the grotto." The sound quality is quite poor. Z doesn't recognize the voice. Distracted, she turns to look at it.

"Mn."

Splatt. "Wut. You're not going alone. They're pissed 'bout that tech, and it was me. We'll tell them it was me."

"You can't come."

Z's right. "M'waiting at the door then." Z lips Dex's neck apologetically before straightening to wash the shampoo out.

"Okay."

"I don'like this. Have they called you in there before?" She's out of the tub, holding out a towel for Z to step into.

"CMJ usually finds me if he wants me. But it is hard to find me, I reckon." She nuzzles into the towel, pressing into Dex with it. They're still warm and damp and they hold each other. Dex is buying time, thinking.

"Can you leave the door open? No, no that won'work, I couldn't come to help anyway."

"Nobody else is allowed into the grotto either, Dex, it'll be fine."

"You tell them it was me, yeh. Don'lose your job. And you go and come right back. Promise."

Z kisses her, warm and damp. "Promise." She pulls away to sidegrin. "Then nachos. And mittens." She pads to find clothes, happy to steal one of Dex's t-shirts to layer under a vest. Dex follows like a first-day-of-school mother.

"If they suggest you go anywhere else you say no."

Tail dripping, Z turns around with teenager eyebrows. She gentles them when she sees her girl's face. "Dex, it is the grotto. And I am me."

Dex scratches her lower back. "Nachos and guacamole and meats. Don'be long, I'm starving." Her jaw still grinds though - - they're separating them for a reason, she knows it. Z pulls her in for another kiss before she goes.

 
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