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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RELEASED TO PUBLIC | DATE OF REVIEW: 05.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: WIPO | AUTHOR: E HEMMINGWAY |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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"They want to get you the medaglia d'argento but perhaps they can get only the bronze."

"What for?"

"Because you are gravely wounded. They say if you can prove you did any heroic act you can get the silver. Otherwise it will be the bronze. Tell me exactly what happened. Did you do any heroic act?"

"No," I said. "I was blown up while we were eating cheese."

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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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Spandex chooses the window Haccadine suggested -- third floor, boarded up and nearest to the right-hand corner of the building. She can approach it from the side and there's a good chance no one will be able to see her out the windows if they're watching. Unable to keep herself invisible as well as maintain the air platform, she uses it to get herself right up to the window. Despite her promise to Haccadine about her finger on the one-shot, it's her hands on her throwing knives -- one for her left hand, four in her right -- as she steps onto the narrow brick window ledge. Throw, throw, throw, she repeats over and over, in case she's left brain-fritzed on the inside. Splayed flat against the window, she tips up onto her toes and leans all her weight forward before she drops her safety ramp. A moment later, she's gone.

"Hate this," Z mutters, skirting the edge of the high cliffs as she heads for the building.

First thing Dex notices as she tumbles in from outside is that she's still formless. It's a huge cavernous space. Dust. Improbability, and she breathes deeply of both. Squinting into the darkness, her gaze catches the tiny blinking red light of a lone Network camera mounted in a rafter. She can only make out the few vague forms -- brick pillars at intervals to support the building's structure, and what turns out to be an old machine, half-covered in canvas, hulking in the darkness at one end of the room's open floorplan. The sound of hooves skittering, syncopated, against the floor echoes up dully from somewhere downstairs, and she follows them to the landing.

She doesn't head for Horse, not yet, and drifts up the stairs to the top instead. It's been divided into two long rooms, with a wide open walkway down the center. Latticed windows, the glass broken or gone or cracked, provide building-length views into the uppermost halves of each room. These, too, are empty, save for some junk lying on the floor, and the dull lights of two Network cameras.

She rushes back to the second floor, pausing on the landing. The air is still thick with Improbability and the second floor is not so much a floor as it is a series of catwalks suspended above the first floor below, where a small table has been set with a tea service and a lit lamp. There seems to be no one around, though a shadowy little form is ranging back and forth with a fast, limping gait. Horse. Ahead of her, there's a switchback staircase down to the first floor and she moves to hover on the top step.

A quick scout, that was the plan, and she's running out of time before the others come after her. She peers down the stairs, uncertain. If there's a trap, it's there. There's no way to warn them to stop if they're on their way in right now. She weighs her options: gamble an unknown trap below, or take a bad fall from jumping out a window above, so she tears down the stairs to sprint the fastest sprint of her life, towards the front doors, straight through the wall, outside.

She still can't see shit, really, and even so, there's no sign of anyone. She skids down the wet steps to run north, back where she left them, and crashes through Z's shoulder before she can stop. Throwing her hands up as if in surrender, Dex moves behind their backs and works herself solid as slowly as she can so that Z hears her first.

"Spandex," Z says, whirling to seize her.

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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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"Stripes is live again," Simpert says as Lacey says, "Dex on 439-B."

Gannet sighs, disappointed. "Didn't get her that time," he remarks. "Maybe they'll go back in as a group."

"Don't count on it," Cooper blurts, unable to keep quiet any longer. "Spandex is more careful with that group than she is with her own life, sir."

Simpert scratches his forehead with his thumb, then reaches for his coffee. "I was a bit underwhelmed by that, I agree -- Frillsy, let's see what you can do with the second approach, please. I doubt they'll stand around in the snow arguing."

"I hope something interesting happens soon," Terry complains. "I'm getting bored, just watching everyone getting damp in the snow."

"Still has to be the most action you've seen in quite some time, Babcock," Ogilvy says, and standing behind Simpert, adds at a whisper, "Besides after-shifts in the junior accounting offices."

The room's not big enough to conceal the whisper, but Terry pretends she hasn't heard it, all the same. Eyes on her screens, she answers, "You'd be surprised, Ms. O."

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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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"Z-- can't--" Dex wheezes, arms pinioned. Z kisses her roughly.

"What'd you see," she demands, pushing Dex backward. "Back to cover, lads, let's go."

Dex gasps, the cold air ripping down her throat and lungs. "S'dark. ..didn't see anyone.. Horse on ground floor," she says when she's able.

"Nobody? You sure?" Haccadine frowns. "What's the place like, anywhere they could be hiding?"

"Yeh. Course. Course. Lots of places, s'dark, fuckin' huge. Upper floors felt deserted. Lowest gave me the fuckin' creeps. Horse is there, table, tea... and floor above's all open and got this whole catwalk thing, for watching below like. Maybe that's it, they'll trap us there and watch or sommat. Lots of Improb around." Her rambling's almost manic. "Look, it seems to me they're expecting us through the front doors. S'where Horse is, right. But.. huh.. Shit, shoulda checked it, but if it's as easy as opening the door, Horse'll just run out, and we're done." She scowls. "Could go back in invis and check the door. Or." Z jostles her gently when she falls silent. "Just blow the fucker off its hinges, let him out of his cage. He'll run out, 'course he will. Poor Horse. Limpin', Z, but still runnin'."

"Okay." Z glances from Haccadine to Ebenezer. "Okay. This what we're doing?"

Haccadine shrugs. "If we get Horse out, nothin' to stop Z pullin' the buildin' down. If they're in there, that'll solve a lot of problems."

Ebenezer won't look up from the stamped-down snow by his shoes. "I want it-I just want it over with," he mumbles.

Dex has fallen quiet again. Then, "There were cameras. You two said--"

"Yeh. And there were files for these fucks," Z mutters, pulling away from Dex to prowl toward the building.

"Wait!" Dex squints through the snow and darkness."If we demolish the place, how we know we got them?"

"Not blowing anything up 'til we've got Horse. Both of you, hang back. Guns on the door." Z turns to trudge onward and Dex disappears again to follow on her heels. Skirting the seaside edge of the trail, Z centers herself roughly in front of the doors, the building barely visible through the dark and snow. She checks her footing as a gust of wind bites through her, then squints at the dim windows, reaching out to trace the door with her claw, like an art director framing their shot. The air's rich with Improbability, thrumming with it, and it's easy to reach both hands out as though to peel down an old piece of wallpaper, dig in her fingers, and wrench. The door's hinges shriek. Wood splinters and nails turn to toupees, strips of reinforcing metal to petunias, then the lot of it explodes outward into the snow, landing some distance from Z. She crouches, making herself small against the snow.

The light's brighter now, filling the square threshold where the doors stood. Snow gusts inside. No one, nothing comes out.

He's scared out of his wits, ran away from the blast, Dex tells herself, scanning the area for any movement, glancing back to Z's ears for warning of sound, and peering back at the building. He'll come out.

Holding still a moment more, Z chews on the inside of her mouth before straightening halfway to creep her way back toward cover and the boys.

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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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"They'll know where she's going," Gannet remarks.

"What? You don't even know the fuckheads have left yet," Simpert says. "And the visibility's shit anyway, and it's not as though she can do anything but walk."

"Deep breaths, mzeiya, I'm not disrespecting your wife."

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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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Not Dex. She sidles her way up to the front step to peer inside, stepping over the destroyed raft of a door on the way. Hooves echo eerily on the wooden floors, and snow gutters around Dex. Scared. Scared out of his mind. They've been hurting him. She waits, listening. From somewhere towards the back of the room, in one of the corners perhaps, she can hear a small, pathetic snorting. Hooves scrape and click.

Just a bit longer. She's not got much time until Z's up here. The snorting continues; hoofbeats move back and forth, but still do not approach. The pull of him is visceral even when she's not, but she doesn't give in.

The group meets Dex halfway, all of them looking tense and frozen. "Goddammit," she says, making herself visible again. "I can't tell if he's shit-scared or held somehow. Too dark and far back. Not like him to hide, but he's--"

"Don't you dare do that again," Z snaps. "What the fuck, Dex. You couldn't stop to tell me?"

"I didn't go in," she hisses. "Only sure bet is my whistle. I'll run south of here and whistle, then disappear again, okay?"

"Hurry," Eben pipes up. His shoulders sway back and forth with anxious shifting of body-weight. "They've g-got-got to know we're here. Got to-got to know by now."

Zolotisty thins her lips. "Go on, then."

At Eben's words, Dex scans the area. It's a good spot-- they'll be able to see anyone approaching. "Come close first," she says, then, outstretching her arms. "All'a you. I'll warm you up. Stop squeakin' Ebs, I've not fried anyone in months. Joking, Guy. Christ."

"You've gotta be kiddin'." Haccadine's scowl is visible even through a buffeting swirl of snow.

Dex drops her arms, but Z knocks into her anyway. "This is why you're not getting laid!" she barks, and with a wink to her girl, a warmth permeates the small group, as if everyone's clothing's been put on fresh after laying out on radiators. She disappears. A few minutes later, three short, shrill notes drift up from the south, audible to even the boys.

Invisible again, she moves north to stare up at the dark gap in the front of the building where the door was. She doesn't go any closer, and runs back to the group. "Something's holding him," she says, bent forward as she catches her breath. "They want us in there."

"I don't even hear him," Z says.

"For the show." Dex pulls off her hat and shakes melted snow off of it. "Doesn't make any sense. Why would anyone want to watch little animals getting hurt? This has got to make them look bad."

"An-animals get hurt-they g-get hurt all the time. In the jungle."

"They can take it out. An' there's always some sick fuck willing to pay for that sorta stuff." Haccadine shifts his weight, squinting at the building. "So he's not comin' out. What's our next move, then?"

Dex paces in a circle, wishing for more time to think. "We can't win this. Say we get Horse out. Next time it's Liebs in there. And going in is doin' exactly what they want. It's like we're in a script and can't get the fuck out. How do we get out?"

"Script is like a book where you can't change what you say, aye? Ionno. Change what they're betting on. Don't go in." Z hesitates. "Don't get Horse."

It's a thought that's crossed Dex's mind, too, but the only way she'd leave Horse is knowing he could no longer be hurt. "What you mean?"

"We've gone past a lot of him, I feel like. Maybe Tyr can fix what we get. I don't know."

"But doesn't stop them..." She falls silent, looking from Z to Eben to Haccadine, and knows that more than anything, she can't bear leading them deeper into this. "I don't want to do this. Let me go talk to them. We don't even know what the fuck they want, and it's what they asked for in the note -- a discussion."

"We all-we all c-came here together," Ebenezer admonishes. "All to-together."

Z's ear turns sharply. "Horse's out, I think," she says, turning around.

"Okay, I'll just go out far enough to see. Just stay here."

"Why can't you whistle and disappear all of us! Don't like you running off alone, Spandex --"

"You know why! Almost lost Eben once!" Impatient, she looks over her shoulder. "I'm just going to look and report back. And don't get complacent!" she barks at the group.

"So we don't let go!" Then, lower, "the fuck we're complacent," she mutters, ears up. Guilty, Ebenezer raises his trembling gun again. Although his face shows clear objection, he bites his tongue on the topic of invisibility.

"Don't go? We have to do this, sometime. They won't stop until they--"

They all feel the pulse of Improbability reverberate next to them like a thunderclap. Idris melts out of the snowstorm beside Dex, wraps an arm around her neck and vanishes with her as quickly as he came; the process takes less than a second. There's a terrible crash from the direction of the building, and then from behind the group, the staccato chatter of automatic gunfire starts up, bullets whipping through the air around them.

Ebenezer lets out a loud, terrible yelp. Before he can even begin to try to make sense of what's happening, Haccadine twists and dives for him, catching him in the gut with a shoulder and bearing him to the ground. One hand forces his head down into the snow. Bullets whine by their backs, scudding into the snow around them.

"Fuck," Z snaps, deking left as she conjures and lunges onto a ramp of air. Scrabbling above the salvo, she sprints toward the source of the gunfire. She can't hear anything but the boys, all white-hot pain and panic; Horse, stationary, a confusing hodgepodge; and the machine gun. There's another dim pulse of Improbability, this one with the familiar reverb of a one-shot teleporter.

The gun is tripod-mounted and unmanned when Z reaches it . Leaping to the ground, she loses her footing in the snow, swears, and barrels up again to fumble at the fresh masking tape on the trigger. Frustrated, she gives up and snatches the gun, angling it downward as its magazine runs out of bullets. She can't hear Spandex. She can't hear the strangers. "Fuck!" Stumbling backward a step or two, she kicks the lot of it on its side, thrashing over backward with the force of her aggression. Back up again seconds later, she ranges closer to where she hears Horse.

He's a pile of carved splinters.

The snow falls quietly on the cliffs. Dreading another sudden apparition and kidnapping, Z doesn't trust herself to crouch to collect him yet. She turns in place, ears up, and yells instead. "Haccadine? Eben?"

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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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The room where Idris and Dex materialise is pitch black. Struggling as they appear, she twists, stomps, kicks, strains to turn towards him, to find space to duck his grip on her neck. With one hand she claws at his fingers, and with the other, even while she feels the cool grey of unconsciousness drawing in, slides out a knife and punches him in the groin with it as hard as she can.

Idris' face contorts, unseen by all but the cameras, but his grip remains firm until he feels her go limp. The scene is oddly silent; no grunts, no screams, just the dull thump of her body as she hits the ground and the clank of her knife on concrete. After a moment to compose himself, he waves a hand and a bare lightbulb on the ceiling blinks into dull, orange-tinged life. He withdraws a syringe from his pocket and crouches, ignoring the blood running down his leg; it'll congeal soon enough.

Gripping Dex's chin between his thumb and two forefingers, Idris gently turns her head toward him to expose the gentle curve of her neck. The needle slides in easily.

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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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Monroe crunches forward in his office chair as if the wind's been punched out of him, with his hands balled tightly in his lap. "Auuuuuughhhh!"

While Monroe's bodily sympathies are with Idris, Terry's attention span is big enough only for Ebenezer. She's leaning too-close to her screens, eyes wide and unblinking. "Come on. Come on, lad." It's very likely she's forgotten that she's in a group suite, that everyone can hear her whispering. "Don't do this to me now. Please--" Her voice cracks. Her hands wring tight together.

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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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Dawn is just beginning to brush the storm a lighter shade of black. Ebenezer's breathing is loud and ragged, every exhale a whine. A moment passes, then Z's voice drifts again through the snow. "Haccadine?"

Haccadine raises his head first, wary of the silence, and then pushes himself up off Ebenezer. "Here," he calls back, "I don't think I'm hit but Ebenezer's bleeding." He glances down and claps the other man on the shoulder. "Head up. D'you think you can stand?" Eben, face wrapped in his own arms, gives a muffled groan. "Where are you hit?" Haccadine persists, and Eben mumbles in response.

"How badly?" Z calls, closer now than before.

"Unless he's got any vital organs in his arse... He'll live."

"I can't hear Spandex," Z says as she rejoins them. "The rest of Horse is all that way. Bits of him. Get Eben to Elias, s'the Lucky Dip in AceHigh. Big building by the train tracks, you can't miss it. Going to scoop what I can of Horse, I'll meet you there. Got your one-shot still?"

He nods, stony-faced. "Don't hang about."

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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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With a faint sizzle of ozone, Ed snaps into existence a few feet from Idris and Dex. She re-shoulders her assault rifle and walks across the room to flick the teleporter beacon off with her boot, knocking clumps of snow onto the concrete next to the machine. The beacon powers down with a shudder, and she turns a dispassionate gaze from Dex to Idris. "We should bring her to Daniels."

"No," he replies, curt. One sleeve is rolled up above his elbow; as Ed watches, he slides a needle into his arm, slimmer than the one used on Dex and filled with a luminous yellow-green liquid. It's emptied into his veins and then withdrawn smoothly, the single bead of blood that wells up in its wake coagulating rapidly.

"Why."

"Daniels can come to us. We have our target, there's no reason to risk moving her." His gaze lingers on Dex as he stands, blood pooled black around his instep. "I want this place dry, Edith. I don't know how long she's going to be out for and I don't want her disappearing on us if she wakes up early."

Ed lifts her hand to pick at one of her teeth with the side of her thumbnail, then shrugs off her assault rifle to throw it at him length-wise. "Watch for la chienne."

Idris catches the rifle deftly, lip curled, and turns towards the stairs.

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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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"No, we're not taking the bullet out -- sorry, lad. I can give you painkillers, but it's cauterized your meat, as it were. If I went in there and dug for it, we'd let the nasties in. The wound itself's just about cleaned out though, please hold still." Elias' voice is still sleep-thick, though his eyes are alert. He sets aside a dirtied gauze pad in a small stainless steel pan and tears open a silver package with a hemostatic bandage inside. He applies it, saying over his shoulder, "Haccadine, was it? There's a dropcloth in the cupboard off the kitchen, if you'd be so good as to go downstairs and cover my sofa? There -- that's done, thank you Ebenezer. You're being marvelous. No abdominal pain so far?"

Eben, trouserless and stretched on his stomach on the examining table in Elias' upstairs office, shakes his head. Haccadine turns and trods from the room, floorboards creaking underfoot as he goes downstairs.

"That's hopeful," Elias says. "I'd like to give you a tetanus booster, do you mind?"

Ebenezer's never turned down a tetanus booster in his life. He gives another headshake and manages, "Hope-hopeful?"

"Yes. I don't want to alarm you but there's very little I'll be able to do to assist you if the bullet has, for example, ruptured your colon. Tell me immediately if you experience any sort of cramping or discomfort -- and no false alarms, please, I don't perform any laparotomy that I don't have to." Ebenezer groans and smashes his face into his forearm, spectacles digging into his cheeks. "Hold still, just a prick and you're done -- there's a lad."

Everyone in the Dip jumps as the front door bangs open suddenly. Haccadine fumbles his gun from his pocket as Z ducks in, red-nosed and rainsoaked. The storm drizzles on behind her. "Just Z," Haccadine calls upstairs after a moment, catching the cupboard door with his foot and bumping it shut. He carries the dropcloth to the living room. It flaps as he throws it over the sofa, tugging it to cover the whole surface.

"Well?" Z says, peering upstairs for answers. She can hear Elias asking Ebenezer if he'd like someone to get in touch with Escemfer. No, Ebenezer says.

"Shot in the arse. He's still conscious."

"Sorry, Eben," Z murmurs, then, "Sorry Horse." She sets a fistful of toothpicks onto the sidetable by the door. In this light, it's possible to make out the shape of Horse's hundreds of faces. All of them are frozen into a horrible, yawing scream, ears flat and nostrils flared. Digging the rest from her pockets, she scrubs her hands down her side, turns in a restless click-claw circle, then takes a breath. "Haccadine, I can go alone if you don't want to. But I'm going to go."

"Of course I'm comin' with you." He catches the door with his foot and shoves it shut again, returning to the main room. "Where, though?"

She unwinds her sodden scarf, shrugs out of her jacket. "Don't know." Taking the stairs two at a time, she peers in at her friend injured on the examining table. "Eben, we'll come back to let you know what's what, aye?"

Nodding into his arm, he gives a whimpering affirmative noise.

Elias turns to look her over. He doesn't seem surprised. Toweling off his hands, he opens his arms to Z. She hesitates, edgy, then crowds close for a brief and very damp hug. "Fight hard, be safe," is all he says. "Same to your friend downstairs."

Haccadine eyes Zolotisty as she shies downstairs to fumble with the door. Huffing through her teeth, she takes a deep breath and ruffles her hand through her soaked hair, fingers puffed and prickling with the sudden warmth of AceHigh.

"Haccadine, m'going."

"Alright then. Lead the way."

"Gimme a second," she says, wetting her lips. She reaches sideways, grasps powerfully, and hauls.

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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 leans forward, trying to read Z's lips before the sound comes through. Eben, he thinks she says, then the screens simultaneously snow out. He swears, jerking backward as the speakers blare with static. "Someone dial down the master volume on the Penn-Werner," he snaps. "Monroe! Turn down the fucking volume!" What's she doing, he wonders.

Across the room, Gannet toggles through all of his feeds, then shifts to the Outposts. "Basement's still up but all my other feeds are down. AceHigh, down. Improbable Central, down. NewHome, down..."

"Cooper," Ogilvy starts, but he's already dialing his phone to the ground techs as fast as he can. "Where's she headed, Simpert?"

"I think she was calling up to Ebenezer. I don't know. The sound cloaking on that cabin is total, you think, Thab?"

Lacey runs a quick command through the terminal to output a service map of current camera coverage across the Island. Ordinarily almost entirely green, her screen comes up red with a single pixel of green. Looking over, Gannet leans back in his chair, drumming his fingers on the edge of his desk. "That's what Idris claimed to Edith. Whether that bears out in practice," he wags his head back and forth, "is another story, but it appeared to be total during those factory sequences."

"Earsy's top prio will be getting a bead on Stripes," Simpert shrugs. "This is maybe spite, maybe a diversion. Both are equally likely."

"Cooper!" Ogilvy snaps.

"No one's answering, ma'am," he responds, shaking the phone receiver in his hand. "Everyone's likely--" but he stops. She's not listening.

Ogilvy has her mobile phone out and is pecking at the screen, dialing the Director of Technical Maintenance. "Ogilvy here. Get me Chamkanni." While she waits, she glares at the screens as if she can scare the feeds back online. "Everywhere?" she repeats, scowl deepening. "Prioritize cameras in sectors A6 through Z6 at 3, 25." She hesitates, then adds, "And tell them to make a lot of noise down there."

"Bait," she explains to Simpert, unaware that she doesn't need it.

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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 like waking from sleep at the bottom of the ocean, with her eyes gummed shut and her body paralyzed from an unbearable and inescapable pressure on her head. Spandex doesn't struggle against her binds or open her eyes to see her surroundings. Unable to understand that her mind's been stripped of Improbability, all she feels is a terrific guilt-like pain that something horrible has happened.

Ed doesn't blink. Continuing to stare at Spandex prone in the middle of the room, she eventually looks down to her knife and resumes cleaning her fingernails.

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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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Amphibious barges disembark from NND Canberra, anchored as close as she can safely approach the Island's northern shores, like so many trundling water beetles. They churn toward the shore, each one bearing ten Scramblers and ten fully kitted equipment trailers. Technicians hurry back and forth collecting their gear in case they might be called for the next dispatch and off-duty retraining officers stand on the deck to gossip idly about what might have caused such an outage -- lots of people think Improbability interference from a major Drive explosion. There are a few hopeful rumors going around that that was it -- that the Drive's finally been defeated and they can go home to their families -- but those mostly come from younger ensigns who don't know any better.

Hundreds of miles away, Terry Babcock is sitting in the breakroom with a fresh cup of coffee and a notebook. The page is covered in purple ink. True Value of Friendship! What Money Can't Buy! Haccadine + Ebenezer Bromance? Pain is the Price! There's a small, relaxed smile on her face. "I knew you wouldn't die, m'lad," she murmurs to herself. And now she's got footage of him getting shot, getting patched up. He'll be limping for weeks. Her smile widens. "The viewers'll be all over this."

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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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The rain has cleared off by the time the sun's crept all the way over the horizon. Zolotisty and Haccadine stand on one of the Island's northwestern beaches amid wheel-torn sand. She gazes around them as he checks her goggles again, meeting crackling fuzz on most of the channels. Her grip keeps slipping, she says -- and every time it slips, a few more feeds come back up. A sleek metal boat cruises distantly off-shore, half as big as the FailBoat itself, heading again for the foggy uncertainty around the edge of the Improbability bubble.

Ears pricked, Z listens hard, then turns in place to look the way the Scramblers headed when they poured from the transport barge. "All of 'em going dead south, sounds like, and the boat's stopped south of here, I think to let more off," she murmurs. "Not breaking off for CC404 or anything. I'm gonna let go, aye? Tiring me out. M'gonna let go."

Haccadine gives a curt nod, eyes turned out towards the sea. "Do it."

Z releases her sleeper hold on the cameras and the channels simultaneously flare back into transmission. She holds out her hand to him, tipping her chin south -- the direction the tire tracks lead. "Com'on."

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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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The formless nightmare returns as soon as she's conscious again, and Spandex tucks into herself, trying to pull the blanket of sleep over her head. It's no use, the sharp light of panic has now taken hold of her body.

Her eyes snap open to see a woman staring back at her, expectant and silent. She pulls her gaze away to take in the rest of the cell --featureless cement but for one stark bulb and one blinking camera-- and returns to stare back compulsively at the woman. Not letting her out of her sight, Dex worms along the floor to get as far away from her as she can, until her back bumps into the furthest corner of the room

There's no reprieve, and the lack of Improbability is worse here.

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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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All the screens blink back to life at once, and all the people in the room relax, except Simpert. "She didn't break them then?" he can't stop himself from wondering aloud. Then, just as fast, "Shit." Where are they.

"Williams," Ogilvy says into her headset. "Everything's in place. Hurry to sector 6-6 at 7, 25. Ask for a few minutes alone with Spandex, get the location of their hiding spot, as we discussed."

"They've not contacted me yet!"

There's an uncommon pause. "Probably the hour. Be ready for first thing in the morning, but sleep with your radio."

"I will. What about payment? They'll want their payment."

"I'll tell you the details once you have the location of their hiding spot." Ogilvy cuts the call.

Listening in, Cooper stiffens, but activity on the screen in front of him pulls his attention to it. "Spandex is moving again. Ma'am, she's been without Improbability for almost an hour and a half now, and Network studies have proven--"

"Proven nothing. Frightening though, isn't it." She stands behind him and they watch Spandex inexplicably wriggle her way across the floor until she's at Ed's feet.

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AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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The Outpost closest to where Zolotisty believes the technicians are going is New Pittsburgh. "We're too far south," Z says immediately as they gather their bearings in the pre-dawn light, and they leave through the gates to head north on foot. The whine of dozens upon dozens of Scrambler engines droning back and forth in the distance ahead of them is like a confusion of wasps. Even those that pull away from the swarm help to define its edges as it disperses slowly then coalesces then disperses again. The two of them pause frequently so that Haccadine can look in Z's goggles, trying to find the point at which the Scramblers are thickest. No cameras have begun swiveling after them yet -- it's reassuring. They have a bit of time.

Haccadine merely grunts in response, having grown less and less verbal since leaving AceHigh. Much as it seemed a good plan to spy on the Scramblers when Z was explaining it to him and Ebenezer in the Dip, it's frustratingly slow now. The Scramblers have led them to the general area but he doesn't know how much closer they'll be able to get, now that the technicians have begun to spread out more generally. Still, he raises a hand and gestures vaguely ahead of them. "Why can't we warp there, again?" he asks. Z's eyes narrow.

"Can't go places I haven't been," she snaps. "Can't just go to a sound."

"Mh."

Z follows the line of his finger, then looks over her shoulder -- back along the way they've come. Unable to keep herself from reliving the night in the tunnel with Dex asleep on top of her, Z expects the technicians to turn toward them like an arrow, surround them suddenly. "Let's go, then."

At least the rain has stopped.

They walk on in silence, cutting through underbrush and avoiding the main trails.

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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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Liam Chamkanni checks a clunky handheld display for the third time in as many minutes, shielding his hand over the top of the device to get a better look at the flickering image on the screen. "Hm," he says. A lieutenant at his elbow peers at the display, too.

"Told you, sir," she says. "Full service coverage for the last seven and a half minutes."

"Give it another ten minutes. If this is that Joker's doing, the last thing I wish to do is to load everyone back onto the boats only to see all of our systems brought down again."

"Yes, sir."

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AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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The angles are all distorted. The woman's bootsoles and knees are all too big and her head, way up in the ceiling, is too small. Dex is so frightened of this woman, but Improbability radiates from her like heat, and something as primal as survival draws her to the stranger. Jammed up against the bottom rise of the steps, she gets her bound ankles tucked under herself and manages to flomp herself onto the first stair. Never moving her gaze from Ed's, she works herself to the second step, the edge cutting into her aching shoulder. Three more, she counts, to Ed's feet, and she'll be coiling around the woman's legs, pulling herself between them, inside them, housing herself inside this woman of Improbability.

Sucking on her teeth, Ed spits sideways from the corner of her mouth. She waits until Dex is just within reach, then stretches to plant her boot on the crown of her head. She shoves, and Dex falls backward like a rolled rug.

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AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Ebenezer lays crumpled on his side on the sofa in the downstairs living room of the Dip. He's covered in a light blanket, wearing nothing but an oversized buttondown shirt, generously lent from Elias' own wardrobe. Though sleep strongly allures, he can't afford to give into it now; there's a job to be done.

Eben wouldn'tve known that the cameras had all been temporarily pulled down had Z not told him herself before she left with Haccadine. I am choking them, she said. He wouldn'tve known that the dead cameras only needed to last long enough for the Network to send out repair technicians. If Dex is right, Z said, then this is a story for them. Follow the Scramblers and you'll find those Jokers -- you'll find Dex.

Ebenezer's been peering through his monocle since the feeds came back online, searching for his friends. When he finds the Scramblers, he knows, Zolotisty and Haccadine won't be far away.

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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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"Lieutenant," Chamkanni calls, and she turns with a clipboard and the mobile systems monitor in hand. "Status report?"

"No further outages, sir -- continued full coverage across the map. All sectors expected to be green are green."

"Alright. Let's bring them back in before Finances gets wind of the notion that I promised them overtime." He takes his mobile phone from his pocket, going to his recent contacts list to dial Ogilvy, as the lieutenant unhooks her walkie talkie from her belt.

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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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No Dex. No strangers. Just the engines and an eerie quiet around them -- no Jungle noises, no chainsaws revving. "I don't know," Z says, laying her ears back as the Scramblers begin to slow, to turn, to change direction, to come toward them. She glances toward the nearest camera, sick, waiting for that to turn toward them too. "Let's find somewhere to tuck in, think they know where we are."

"Back there, between those rocks. Reckon there's enough room." They backtrack and Haccadine ducks under a sprawling tree root, squeezing into the cavity beneath. When it's clear that it'll accommodate them both, he gestures Z in.

A squad of Network technicians pass close enough that they're visible through the brush, headlights slicing great arcs across tree trunks and scrubby bushes. None slow. A minute passes, two, then another squad roars by, traveling in the same direction.

It takes a minute for Haccadine to work out their heading, and then he nudges Z. "They're going towards the sea."

Fakeout, Z thinks, then takes a deep and self-conscious breath. Paranoia's the wrong part of Spandex to be carrying right now. "Yeh," she says. "You think they're calling them back?

"Prolly. All the cameras are working again, you said?"

"Yeh."

They crouch there as the jungle revs like a chainsaw -- Scramblers passing by, followed by a bout of quiet, then more engines. Forcing her attention away from the technicians, Z catches again on the quiet. It hums to itself unnaturally, pocked by a single well of nothing at all. "Haccadine," she murmurs, expecting some chord to fill the emptiness as it should, to shape it into a particular kind of silence.

"Mnh?"

It remains as perfectly formless as a forgotten thought. Z worms her way outside after another squad of Scramblers goes tearing by. "Let's try this way."

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AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Inside the cabin proper, Idris sits on a chair in the corner of the room, rifle held loosely across his lap. Out on the horizon, the sun might be beginning to creep up into the sky, but this deep into the jungle it's still dark as night. He sits still for a time, searching the wash of improbability outside the cabin for the sort of disturbances caused by a Joker such as Zolotisty. Then, satisfied of their solitude, he reaches for his radio.

"Daniels. Are you there?"

The answer takes a moment. Naija sounds groggy. "Yes, hello."

"I've got some good news for you. We have Spandex."

"Whm? Oh, brilliant. Ah, how do you.. want to do this?"

"You'll come to us, please. She's a slippery one; don't want to risk moving her."

Laughter, sleepy. "Of course. Where?"

"Six-six at seven twenty five, northwest of the hollow. Be quick about it."

"Right, see you."

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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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The scene plays again and again as if it's on loop. Cooper's hand covers his mouth when the hollow-wood sound of Spandex's head hitting the floor for the ninth time echoes in his earphones. Ogilvy nudges him, gesturing to the screen. Her ear's cut and a small rivulet of blood is trickling down her jaw. They zoom in. Ed's boot appears, Dex falls down the stairs.

"Me girl never blinks! You see that! Not once, check-it on the slo-mo," Monroe says, shuddering, pushing his chair away from his desk.

"Which one," Gannet mutters without turning his attention from Idris.

Ogilvy pushes back one of her earphones. "Simpert, why aren't Monroe's eyes glued on those boat feeds?"

Hissing through his teeth, Simpert whirls in his chair. "Stay on station! Christ, you're like a fucking toddler -- just do your job."

Spandex rolls to her side and starts for the stairs.

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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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Progress through the jungle is much harder without a well-beaten path to follow. In places, the undergrowth's light enough that the two of them can simply push it aside or trample it down; in others, they're forced to cut their way through or circumvent particularly large thickets of briars. The only saving grace of the denser patches is that they make life difficult for Scramblers, and give cover against the lights which occasionally strobe through the trees.

Pausing to remove a thorn from his arm, Haccadine checks himself, making sure nothing's been lost along the way. He's got no clear idea of how long they've been going, but it's been at least an hour, probably two. Most of the journey has been spent in silence with Zolotisty leading the way, communicating when necessary with hand signals. There's nothing to be said. He doesn't dwell on speculation, either about their destination or Dex's whereabouts, focusing instead on the faces of the hunters.

Zolotisty is dwelling, and it shows only in the slashing blows she deals to silent branches and brambles, the low tilt of her jaw, the speed with which she clears logs and gullies.

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AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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The eleventh time Dex stops on the third step to rest. Her lip is split and the blood from her ear's crusted maroon on her cheek and jaw, stuck with bits of her hair. She and Ed stare at each other for a long time, neither moving.

Ed stands this time to punt her back to the bottom.

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AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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With a sharp inhale, Ebenezer tenses, fingers tightening on the edge of his monocle. He's found them, Zolotisty and Haccadine, thrashing their way through the jungle. For a full minute, he watches them, afraid to look away. They're still moving, still breathing. For now, they're safe.

He'd only be doing a half-service, he knows, if he kept trained on the two of them. Reluctant, Ebenezer turns the tiny dial on his monocle to scan through nearby feeds and survey the surrounding area. Jungle. More jungle. Terrible scramblers, ripping through snarled vines. Quick, he skips back to find his friends. It takes a few moments to re-locate them; they're moving quicker then he thought. Again, he watches for a few moments before forcing himself to look away. The process quickly becomes repetitious: watching Z and Haccadine, peering around through the nearby cameras, struggling to find Z and Haccadine again, watching them, looking away.

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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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The twelfth climb Dex down until she reaches the step below Ed's feet. She's covered in shallow cuts and the first signs of dark bruises, and a good shiner's spreading south from her left eye. Cuddling up to the steps, she places her head as near to Ed's foot as she dares, careful there's no contact.

Ed shifts her boot slightly, leaning down over her lap to study Spandex, who rests there in a growing puddle of blood that pours from her nose and mouth. Her breath's got a slight catch to it, and she extends her tongue just enough for the tip to catch the Improbability surrounding Ed. She licks her lips, swallows blood and thinks nothing but that she'll die if she doesn't get Improbability.

As she lifts and turns her head, Dex's lips peel back in a smile that stretches impossibly wide. And then she bites.

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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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"Where are we going," Haccadine says finally as they come to another herky-jerky halt beside a bramble thicket. Zolotisty doesn't reply, doesn't look over her shoulder, doesn't have any words for the growing skein of anger and frustration in the pit of her stomach. She doesn't know which way to go; the void she hears is slippery and difficult to pin to a cardinal direction. It's not like following a sound; there are no echoes. She doesn't have answers. Wristing hair out of her eyes, she decides they'll go right and sets off without a word.

Haccadine narrows his eyes and stalks after her, breaking branches instead of pushing them aside.

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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 is a brief but terrible bellowing from the basement before sound of human pain gives way to scuffling and a series of violent, wet thumps. Idris stands, brow creasing. For a moment he glances out towards where he can sense Zolotisty, then heads to the basement door, rifle raised. He stops for a moment and draws a deep breath of improbability in through his nose, bracing himself before shouldering it open.

On the steps below, Ed slams her boot again and again into the bloody mess of Spandex's face, attempting to dislodge Dex's jaws from her ankle. Dropping the rifle, Idris slides one of Dex's knives from his pocket and walks calmly down to where his partner writhes on the steps. He grabs a tight fistful of Dex's hair with one hand and, with the other, drives the knife deep into her side.

She screams, and everything reverses: push instead of pull, desperate need to escape instead of cling. Her terror hijacks Idris' improbability and a solid wall of air materialises between them like a door slamming open, snapping his head back and hammering Ed's half-severed foot.

As they fall apart, the barrier shimmers and flexes then disappears.

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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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"Hm," Gannet says. Simpert glances sideways from his station, doubletakes.

"Jesus Christ!" he says, gawking, forgetting his own screen.

"You're going to want to adjust the angle to keep the tendon from showing through the boot," Gannet says, rolling his chair closer to Cooper and Ogilvy, who is practically applauding. "Legal doesn't like explicit gore on the primary channel."

"Beast!" Monroe shrieks, pumping his fist in the air.

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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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A turn of the dial brings a cabin into Ebenezer's view and it's not long before he's seen the place from all available outside angles. The windows have all been boarded. When he tries to find an interior feed, he comes up with nothing. The only camera-views available are those outdoor feeds he's already found.

Just like the place in the mountain, he thinks.

In a jerk, he skips away from the cabin, back to the jungle. Haccadine and Zolotisty aren't where he left them. "Ngh." A few frantic dial-twists bring them back into view.

"N-nothing," he murmurs. Wincing, he forces his voice louder, "Z-Zolo-lotisty!"

There's movement upstairs, a light switches on. "Everything alright?" Elias calls down, and Eben sinks guiltily against his cushion. Rocking his head towards the ceiling, he answers, "Sorry, Elias! N-nothing-nothing wrong! Just, erm-- trying to get her attention. Know-I know she can hear."

The figure in his spyglass pauses, ears pricked. Haccadine bumps into her then shifts restlessly backward. Z turns to say something to him over her shoulder.

"There's a cab-a cabin, erm, b-bit-a bit north of where you are. Can't see an-anything inside," he shouts. "No cam-ameras. It's like-it's like the mountains."

Flattening her ears, Z gestures forward and they go on.

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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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"Marco," Simpert says, soft and bitter.

"Polo, sir," Cooper replies after a moment.

"Shouldn't someone go get Terry?" Lacey asks, looking at the other woman's empty station. The more senior camera operators don't reply. Lacey thins her lips and returns her attention to Haccadine. He's being heroic -- that's something she can work with.

"Aaaag-man, you bunch of sugar-free tarts," Monroe complains, as he gets up from his chair. "My man will get The Shriek. You be brewing somma' dat wee posh jav for my roundtrip, Prettyboy."

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AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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"Wait! S-Stop-stop for a moment!"

There's a slight delay, and he watches Haccadine and Zolotisty knock into each other again. They both seem to bristle in the half-light; he can see their teeth ghost-green for a moment. When he's absolutely sure the two of them will hold still, he twists a monocle-knob to switch cameras. After a moment of deliberation, he calls out to her again, "You're t-too far-too far east. It's too far east! You'll g-go right past it if you don't go more-more-more west."

Z gestures. Haccadine gestures another way. Teeth again, then Z turns on her heel to thrash across a bush. He slopes after her at a skulk.

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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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Nothing slows Terry's hot, hellbent course down the corridor, back to the suite. Nor can she be soothed by Monroe's constant, flattering questions, like how is it she's so well-known around the Network ('it seems everyone knows you..') and how she got that Ebenezer to be so continually high-rated.

"Can't believe they didn't come get me sooner," she spits, instead of answering his queries. Her elbow juts out to knock a young PA out of her way as they pass. He barely manages not to spill the coffee he's carrying. "I can't fucking believe!"

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AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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"He says it's ahead," Z snaps, pushing through another dripping thicket.

"He said it was west, too," Haccadine replies lowly.

The cabin sits in the middle of a small clearing in the jungle, languishing in a state of ill-repair. Thick, scrubbish undergrowth pushes right up to the front steps, creepers having long since wormed tendrils into the wooden slats fronting the house and scaled the gutters. The windows are filthy to the point of being virtually opaque, and the front door is barred by two heavy, worn wooden planks. To the casual observer, it would look as though nobody's been home for a very long time indeed.

"That," Z says, pressed against a mossy tree trunk at the clearing's edge.

"What is it? You gettin' anythin'?"

Turning to him, she hesitates. "No. That's the thing. M'not getting anything from part of it, mean. I get things from everything else, even when it's quiet -- but it's like... Ionno. If you had a picture and cut a hole out. I can reckon the edges of it. Never heard anything like that before." Softer, she admits, "I don't know where else to go. Breathe in, though, you feel that?"

Haccadine draws a breath in through his nose, concentrating. "...Yeah." The air's got a slight catch to it, a thickness he can't quite put his finger on. He narrows his eyes. "It's like the mountains."

"Improbability, yeh." She turns her head to their right. "We should hurry, though. There's a Scrambler coming."

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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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The first sign of movement is faint -- a gentle ripple of Improbability near the clearing, weak but coherent. Idris almost doesn't notice Zolotisty's bow wave until it's followed by another, much stronger this time. He straightens, a slow smile spreading over his face. Company.

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AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Z chews on the inside of her mouth, studying the cabin's slumped roof and vine-eaten shutters, then looks again to their right. Haccadine chews the corner of his lip. "How close can you get?"

"What you mean, how close."

"How close before you start having trouble."

"Seems alright." Z shakes her head. "I don't know."

"Alright. They're probably expecting us. Can you get us in unnoticed?"

She thins her lips, shaking her head. At his skeptical look, she snaps, "Can't go into places I haven't been."

Headlights pierce the gloom, sweeping closer, growing brighter.

"Then I s'pose we've got to go in the front door." He fingers the rifle grip, tense. "Hear them?"

"No."

"Anything you can do?"

"Fuck, Haccadine, let's go." She pulls away from their cover, heading for the cabin. He slings the rifle over his back and follows, reaching into his jacket for the pistol. They lope across the clearing and slow before climbing the steps to the porch. Underfoot, the wood is soft with rot. Z's arm hair prickles as she paces close enough to brush her fingers over the planks barring the door. The nails are rusted in place. Smoothing her hand down the length of the upper plank, she feels for the end to prise it back, then shifts with surprise when she finds doesn't have to wedge her fingers underneath it. The planks haven't been secured to the cabin. Stretching quickly to test the other end, it's the same -- "S'not nailed shut. S'just boards stuck to the door." She tries the door. It's unlocked.

The Scrambler downshifts, engine slowing to a purr. Hesitating, Z eases her grip on the handle and snatches Haccadine by the arm to drag him back to the cover of the trees. It stops in the small clearing in front of the house and a figure dismounts, leaving the headlights trained on the front door.

"That one of them?"

He squints into the glare, bringing up a hand to block the worst of it. "Dunno. Hang on."

They watch as the figure turns once to scan the darkness. "Fuck that," Z mutters, slipping from cover to skulk the edge of the clearing. The figure begins walking toward the porch, and Z breaks into a sprint, piledriving the stranger from behind. There's a scream and a thump. Distorted shadows play gigantic on the front of the cabin as they struggle, then another scream is cut short by a choking gasp. Z wrestles to her feet, hands wrapped around the throat of a woman she doesn't know or recognize, and hauls her bodily toward the trees.

Haccadine's waiting with his knife out. As Z draws close enough, he leans across and scrutinises the woman she's dragging with her; after a second, he shakes his head. "Let's see what she knows, though, yeh?" Then, turning his attention to the captive, "In a second, my friend here's goin' to loosen her grip a little, and you're gonna tell us who you are and what you're doin' here. Don't try screamin', 'cause that'll just piss her off, and I think you'd look better with your head on. Got it?" Z squeezes demonstratively. Blood wells around her claws, and Naija nods, wide-eyed and gulping.

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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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Back at her station now, Terry Babcock grinds her teeth and glares at her screens. Though she's looking at Ebenezer, she's thinking about the many unfortunate, office-related ways that Ogilvy's life might come to an end before the day's out. Could have come and got me when my lad and Zolotisty were finding that dick-fucking cabin, but NO, Hisoka Ogilvy the queen bitch producer, the MAVERICK, demands we all must bow and lick her hideous leather boots -- see how fucking meretricious you'll be with a paperweight crammed up your arse, you bitch, I'm one cunt-hair away from doing it too, nothing stopping me with my lad stuck on a goddamned sofa while these cretins get the action scenes, ruined my FUCKING ANGLES --

"You can tell she's an actress," Terry says, indicating Naija. "She's horrific."

The rage coming off Terry is practically visible, and coupled with the scenes unfolding in front of them, has frozen the office into silence and sharp, quick movements at their stations.

Ogilvy cracks. "Terry Babcock, you sound like a camera op fresh out of training. Why are you feeling so insecure? And stop disturbing my team with your tantrum or I'll have you thrown out."

Something apart from fury flickers in Terry's expression, just for a moment before it's gone again. "Your girl Spandex would be better off dead at this point. Lucky thing she's more than half there already."

Like the others, Cooper's kept his head down, but at this can't help but look at Terry in shock. That's his job she's wishing dead.

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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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Ed is bone-white. She leans to inspect her foot, unable to tell much about the severity of the wound through the blood and torn leather of her boot, then looks up at him. She doesn't flinch at his ghastly appearance. "Give me the knife," she says.

Ignoring her, Idris reaches up and gently plucks his shattered glasses from his face. "Get upstairs," he says softly, staring down at Dex's unconscious form. The lack of Improbability in the basement presses around his temples like a vice. He welcomes the pressure of it, the way it makes his blood pulse in his eyes. Ed looks at him for a moment, then levers herself up to turn in place and begin the awkward, shambling business of climbing the steps. Her boot dangles limp from her leg, swaying gently with each hop. He waits until he hears the door click shut at the top of the staircase and then bends down, a curious expression on his face. With one thumb, he peels back an eyelid. "Spandex." Her eye barely flickers, but there's a faint low growl from the back of her throat. "We killed Zolotisty, you know. She died whimpering in the snow; far too quickly for my liking, but there you go. Your two friends? Well, they turned tail and ran. Nobody's coming for you, I'm afraid. It's just you and me." Smiling, he drags her up and throws her back down onto the basement floor.

The vice grip around his head has grown pincers. It lances, and he straightens. "Make yourself comfortable, I'll be right back."

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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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Matthew Simpert's stomach is roiling. This is out of control, he thinks, watching Dex bleed out on the floor of the basement. "She's right, really. We're killing her," he says, turning toward Ogilvy. Her attention is fixed on his screen -- Haccadine, Zolotisty, Naija. "A year from now, no one's going to remember this, and we're killing her."

Terry smirks.

"I doubt she'll die immediately," Gannet remarks. "Watch the replay on the stab. The man understands his anatomy; there's a good chance he's deliberately missed any important organs."

"It's a stab wound and her face looks like raw beef. Immediately is still dead," Simpert snaps. "And judging by his moral character, the chance is just as good that he deliberately hit important organs."

Gannet raises his eyebrows, and with a smug half-smile that Simpert recognizes as you care too much, he turns back to his station.

Ogilvy's fingers spread wide briefly before placing one to her lips. Positioning herself in front of the screen showing the scene outside the cabin unfolding, she adjusts her earpiece.

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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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Z's grip eases slightly, just enough that Naija's able to draw a breath. Haccadine's eyes narrow. "Well, then?"

"Let me go."

"Why you here."

"Network business," she says, lowering her voice as she glances over her shoulder to the door. Z snarls, tightening her grip again.

"What business." Haccadine steps towards her. His knife's blade catches diffuse light from the Scrambler's high beams.

"Moderator Zolotisty," Naija orders, struggling to keep her voice low and even. "You are threatening a Network employee."

"Answer the fucking question," Z snarls, slamming her back against a tree.

She coughs and hesitates, expecting some sort of reassurance in the sound of Scramblers approaching or instructions through her earpiece, but neither come. "Said. Network business. And if you want to see Spandex again, I suggest you let me get on with it." She pushes back, only to be pinned again. "I'm here to get her out," she wheezes. "Let me go."

"Yeh? Why you alone."

"Zolotisty," she whispers, strained, "those fucking creeps are expecting me. Let me go." She finds herself jerked forward and slammed backward again, hard enough that her head thocks audibly off of the tree trunk. She begins to cry. "Please, please, I'm here to help."

"Bit late for that," Haccadine says quietly. "How were you plannin' to get Spandex out, exactly?"

"Look, I'm just the messen-- Naija breaks off with a choking cry as her head's slammed backward yet again. There's a faint chirp at her hip as she gurgles in pain and panic, then tinny and fuzzing, a faintly audible voice.

"Zolotisty. Ogilvy here."

Startled, Z hesitates.

"Listen closely. You have a choice -- if you let my associate here go deal with this, Spandex will live. Furthermore, I can assure you, if you continue to contravene Network rules, as with your earlier stunt, we will ensure your entire clan is appropriately punished. Am I clear?"

Naija takes a great shuddering breath as Z lets go of her throat.

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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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Mechanically, Cooper rewinds the scene to find an appropriate point to remove Ogilvy's voice and Zolotisty's reaction. To avoid discontinuity he figures he needs to go back to Naija saying, "I'm here to help," and noting that point, he forwards slowly looking for where to bring it back. Should just leave her in this, he thinks, enjoying the feeling of vengeance in the idea. Show people how messed up this all is.

How messed up we are, he corrects himself, and cuts Ogilvy from the scene.

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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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Ed's foot is a mess of blood, meat, and gristle. Her boot sits beside her on the floor, cut in strips down to the sole, and she glances at Idris only briefly as he comes up from the basement. "Zolotisty's outside," he says bluntly, throwing Ed's rifle to the floor in front of her. "And I see we have another visitor. Make sure they're welcome."

She reaches for the rifle, settling it in her lap. "We've broken the contract."

Idris steps over her and crosses the room, opening a cupboard. "Dogeared it slightly, perhaps. It can't be helped." He pulls out a handful of black zipties and slips them into his pockets.

Grunting, she stares toward the door.

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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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"The fuck else did you want me to do, Haccadine."

"It's the fucking Network, Z! Their word means shit! She's probably gone to give 'em all a bloody great heads-up!"

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AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Naija cleans her face with her sleeves and walks towards the cabin door. Good job, Kimberly, now pull yourself together, she hears just before she knocks on the door. After a couple of moments, the handle turns and the door swings slowly outwards. Light from the Scrambler's headlamps pours around Naija, partially illuminating Idris and leaving the interior of the cabin cloaked in shadow.

"Miss Daniels. Nice of you to drop by." He steps to one side, allowing her entry.

She steps in, checking over her shoulder that he closes the door behind him. "Hello again. I won't keep you." Rubbing her arms as if it's suddenly cold, she squints into the darkness. "Where is she?"

Idris gestures towards the back of the room. "This way. She has proven most... problematic to contain."

Ed continues to gaze fixedly toward the cabin's front door, rifle primed. "She bites," she says as Idris opens the door to the basement.

Naija startles first at the voice and then at the sight of Ed's leg. "Oh my god! What the fuck happened!" She stuffs her hands, trembling profusely now, into her jacket pockets.

"This way, if you please."

Naija takes as wide as berth as possible around Ed. "And your-- your nose? She did that too?"

He raises a hand to his flattened nose and the blood crusted over his upper lip, as though only now noticing it. "Yes. Don't get too close to her." With an impatient gesture, he directs her down into the dull glow at the bottom of the staircase.

She stops halfway down. "We had an agreement!" He's standing between her and the stairs out, she notices with increasing alarm. "Holy fuck. Holy fuck. We need to get her to a medical tent. Oh my god! This is not what I wanted. I explicitly--"

"You asked us to capture her," Idris replies. "You were fully aware of her capabilities. Did you really think she would surrender without a struggle? Removing her from this room without appropriate precautions would be most unwise. We wouldn't want her to disappear on us." He pauses. "Then there is the matter of our payment. I'm afraid I can't let you take her until our accounts have been settled satisfactorily."

Ed's voice floats down from upstairs. "You will deliver our payment."

Although this isn't unexpected, she pales as she proceeds down the steps. "It's going to take some hours to get your transport ready--"

"Promptly," Ed says.

"I'll work as fast as I can -- things take time. Spandex needs help now." She nudges Spandex's leg with her boot. "Spandex? Spandex? Please, let me take her. You must know I'd never be so crazy as to fuck with you two. Please, you did your job, you'll get paid. Just let me help her."

"No," they say in unison. Idris forces his expression back into a smile to add, "I believe I have a first aid kit upstairs. You may dress Spandex's wounds yourself, but she does not leave until our transaction is concluded."

Crouching next to her, Naija doesn't feel the tears rolling down her face. "Spandex? Spandex, please answer me. I'm here to help."

A bubble of blood appears on Dex's lips as she exhales a low sound.

"Spandex! C'mon, you're going to be okay. Going to get you home, take you to Z soon. Can you hear me?" She crouches lower on her hands, hovering closer. "Z's here," she whispers. "Outside. Shit's going down real bad if she gets in here, and you can stop it. You hear me? You can do this, Spandex. Tell me where you two been hiding and Z will stay safe. Show me the coordinates with your fingers." She reaches for Dex's hands but jerks her hand away when she sees the unnatural angles disjointing her wrist.

The bubble pops.

Keeping her back to Idris, Naija pulls a knife out of her belt and quickly cuts the ties on Dex's wrists.

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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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"M'not waiting any more," Z says, taking off at a jog.

"Fuck," Haccadine hisses, drawing his pistol and snagging a grenade from his bandolier. He follows on closely behind, painfully aware of the shadows thrown by the Scrambler's headlights. Casting a look at the front door with its false planks, Z ranges around the building, looking for other doors or unboarded windows. Around the right-hand side there's a window underneath a gutterspout, the wood around it stained dark. Giving the board covering it a tug, she finds that it quickly works free of the soft wood. Casting it aside, she leans up on tiptoes to peer into an upper windowpane free from grime. There's a faint rectangular glow inside, partially obscured by a silhouette. Rocking back on her heels, Z taps a lower pane.

"Put your gun right there and shoot. M'go around, aye?"

Haccadine nods. "I'll count to ten. Three shots."

"Yeh." She bolts.

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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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Cooper and Simpert are pallid as they block, cut, and rearrange shots and pans of the action in the cabin on the fly.

"My, but Spandex is still losing a lot of blood," Terry coos. "How much blood can a person lose before the body shuts down, Gannet-ducky? Do you know?"

He hums thoughtfully to himself before replying. "About three quarters of a litre before unconsciousness, two litres before death begins to be a serious likelihood -- that's roughly forty percent of total blood volume, though there's naturally some variance by person and the wounds."

"Really now? That's fascinating! And they don't have the capacity for -- what do you call them -- transfusions, either, do they?"

"No viable bloodbanks on the island that I'm aware of, no."

"Oh no! Why, that's just dreadful!"

"Beach at 14, 7," Ogilvy tells Naija. "Boat's waiting." Ignoring Terry and Gannet, she turns off her mic and looks to Cooper and Simpert. "What's wrong with you two? We'll get the location. Now get ready for round two."

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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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Naija screams and ducks low behind Dex as she hears the sound of glass shattering and three shots barking out in quick succession upstairs. Idris jerks forward, eyes popping wide in surprise. He drops to his knees and coughs up a string of bloody phlegm, adding to the old already crusting the floor. Upstairs, Ed twists, and opens fire on the window as the front door bangs open.

"Now!" Idris roars through a froth of blood and saliva. Ed's reaction is instantaneous -- concussive, the Improbability remaining in the cabin draws inward then blasts violently outward. The shield cloaking the cabin's sounds dissipates and Dex, discordant and wildly out of tune, is finally audible to Zolotisty. Throat constricting, she sprints for Idris.

Struggling to his feet, he feels the surge of Improbability in his direction before he sees her coming and turns to face her, knife in hand. Light from the basement limns the blade's leading edge and recognizing it, Z dives. She turns a forward roll and leads with her feet as she comes out of it, driving both heels into Idris' hips. He slams back against the wall, a wild slash passing high over her shoulders, and the windows rattle in their frames. His concentration is broken only for a moment, but it's long enough for Z to get her feet under herself and deke into the stairwell, taking the steps two or three at a time. A bloody snarl rattles in his throat and he charges after her, fury pounding in his ears.

Not realising she's screaming, Naija rolls onto her back and fumbles for her gun, but as she leans up, she can only see Zolotisty barrelling towards her. "STOP!" she shrieks, "STOP!"

Z never was any good at holding her breath. Lungs burning, she ignores Naija, tumbles next to Dex, who looks so much like a marionette cut from its strings, and triggers the one-shot jammed in her pocket.

Idris' feet hit the last step just in time for the residual flash of the teleporter to fade. Without breaking stride, he walks straight towards Naija's shaking gun hand. She closes her eyes as a shot goes off, burying itself into the wall opposite. Wordless, he dashes the gun from her grasp and lunges, driving the knife deep across her neck as he pushes her to the ground.

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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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"That's a pity," Gannet says. "She won't survive. I'll pull the notification of deceased forms during my break. Do you want me to submit as incidental or accidental, ma'am?"

"It's already been taken care of, thank you," Ogilvy replies, and when he looks puzzled, she adds, "Surely you understood she'd never walk away from this."

"I expected we'd put a bullet through her forehead, yes ma'am, but I wasn't expecting the paperwork to come pre-filled."

She smiles at him and returns to her work. It's a ruse -- even though she knew this would happen, there's no way Finance would allow the fiscal loss of a senior tech on this project . She'll be filling out the accidental death report from home later.

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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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In AceHigh, Zolotisty crouches over her girl as she takes great shuddering breaths. She doesn't know whether it's the adrenaline that's making her breath catch, or the Improbability, or the raw pulp of Dex's face. "Spandex," she croons. There's Improbability all around them and she can breathe, herself; there's no one cloaking Dex's sound, she's visible, she's solid, she's here. Z can touch her but she can hardly hear her. "Spandex, Spandex." She readjusts herself, checks her footing, then crouches to scoop Dex's body as gentle as a wedding dress. "I'm so sorry."

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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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Ed has stopped firing at the window. She tears the pin from a grenade with her teeth, chucks it out the window, then pulls another from her bandolier and throws that toward the door before scooting quickly to a darker corner of the cabin. The screaming has stopped in the basement. With their common link dead and the quarry gone, she reasons that Idris has little incentive not to kill her from spite. She's reluctant to throw a grenade into the basement, though -- if Zolotisty comes back for the gunman, Idris will be interested, distracted. It will buy her more time to escape, herself.

Still, she has a gun and the ability to neutralize him. She's not concerned. Reloading the magazine, she wags her foot back and forth. It's not so limp as it was, less baggie full of flesh than a recognizable foot. The puffed rice crackle of her own bulwark of Improbability through the wound is like maggots in a corpse, nibbling and quiet as sinew and tendon rebind. She'll be able to stand on it soon, she thinks.

Haccadine starts back from the doorway as it bursts into flame. He waits a moment for the initial fireball to dissipate and then unhooks a stun grenade, weighing it in his hand. Judging by the break in gunfire, there's only one shooter in there, and it's a small cabin; if Z and Dex are still in there, he's going to have to be precise. He pulls the pin and hurls the grenade around the doorframe, jamming a finger in one ear. There's a deafening bang, and the inside of the cabin is saturated with a blinding magnesium flare.

He jinks in through the doorway, crouched low, gun raised. Ed, deafened and half-blind, still knows where the door is. She yanks another grenade from her bandolier -- one of her last -- then pulls the pin and throws. Haccadine fires, but too late to stop it leaving her hand -- he manages to squeeze off a couple more shots before the grenade explodes. There's another explosion, another brilliant flash of light. He fully expects to be torn to pieces by white-hot shrapnel, and for a second he thinks that perhaps he's already dead, but then the spots dancing in front of his eyes start to fade and he feels the wall against his back. "Z!" he yells, though it comes out muffled and indistinct to his ears. "Zolotisty!" He waits to the count of five, but hears nothing other than the piercing whine racketing around inside his skull. One hand digs into his pocket, searches for the button on his one-shot. After a moment further, he swears, hits the button and disappears.

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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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Wiping the blade of his knife clean, Idris glances down at Naija's body. Something catches his eye and he crouches, leaning across to brush her hair from her ear. It's an earpiece. Carefully, he pries it free and holds it up to his own ear, gaze rising slowly towards the camera in the corner of the room. "Terribly sorry, but she was getting on my nerves." He waits, lips pursed, ignoring the explosions upstairs. "Nothing to say? No more bargains to strike? How disappointing." Rising, he flicks the dead earpiece into the spreading pool of blood beside him and strides up the stairs.

Ed sits crumpled against a wall, half her jaw blown out. The cabin is thick with the metallic tang of magnesium and the sharp acrid notes of ammonia. A fire smolders half-heartedly on the porch, not making much progress against the sodden wood. Idris fingers his knife absently. If he were Zolotisty, running frantic with an injured Spandex, where would he go...? He crosses the room and exits through the burning doorway, breathing in the rich, saturated air of the jungle already beginning to roll back towards the cabin.

 
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