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

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Even among those who seek but their own personal moral purity, among monks and anchorites, men are to be found who, undermined and devoured by failure, have become barbarous and hopelessly morbid.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: UNCLASSIFIED | DATE OF REVIEW: N/A |
AUTHORITY: N/A | AUTHOR: UNKNOWN |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Wheezing, Z leans over the examining table when they come up alongside the canal in the tunnel. She has to close her eyes before the nausea passes. "If she's gonna die," she says quietly, "I don't want them to see."

The sudden change of surroundings makes Ebenezer lurch, seasick, sending tea sloshing out from his cup, onto the floor by his shoeless foot. "D-don't want them-don't want them to see," he echoes in a murmur, eyes rapidly searching the place. His posture doesn't relax. There are no cameras, but he's still got an audience of three.

"Elias," Z says wearily, pushing herself up on her forearms. "Can you bring Dex to the bed, it's this way."

"Mmhm. I'd like you to sit down and --" He's interrupted by a plaintive meow from down the tunnel, and he turns to look in the direction of the noise. Fog comes galloping around a corner a moment later, tail standing up straight as he beelines for the group. "Have something to eat, Zolo," he finishes, crouching to put his hands out to the kitten. Fog crowds anxiously between his fingers before trying to dart for Z's ankles, but Elias catches him around the belly and rises to place him on Dex's hips.

He turns in place, stretching his tiny jaws wide as he mewls again. Knocking his head against Elias's thumb, he nuzzles for a moment before he nips and whirls to go skittering up Dex's belly. He makes it almost to her collarbone before Z's able to scoop him up. Squalling under her chin, he fusses and squirms, kangaroo kicking her splinted fingers. She has to pass him off to Elias. "Sorry, little cat," she says, and Fog yells back, huge-eyed, though he settles to fierce, desperate purrs in a moment or two.

They make their way to the bed with Ebenezer hobbling after them as quickly as he can. Haccadine trails silently behind, examining the tunnel with great interest. His eyes rove across the walls, the river, the light fittings-- and not a single red blink to be seen. With Guy's help, Elias transfers Dex onto the sheets and offers his elbow to Z for support when she worms her way after. She waves him off, settling with her back against the headboard as she tugs Dex's head and shoulders into her lap.

"So this is how you've been disappearing on them?" Haccadine watches as Fog leaps onto the bed, defiantly balling himself up between Z's hip and the side of Dex's ear.

"Yeh," Z says sullenly, gazing down at Dex. She feels the urge to apologize, not to the men standing awkwardly in Yaksi, but to Spandex or Fog or the tunnel itself. This was meant to be a private place. "There're no cambras."

Haccadine lapses back into silence. His mind is elsewhere; running through the events of the past few days, trying to recall things heard and things seen and piecing something together out of it all. Ebenezer takes it as his cue to speak up. "Now we-now we're lost-we're lost too," he says. "Now we're all gone."

Z's eyes snap to him. She curves her hands one around Fog, one around an unbandaged stretch of Dex's neck. "What."

"Gone."

"I don't understand."

He sighs sharp through his nose, free hand jumping to brush back his hair. His voice slows considerably, as if he's trying to explain to a very dim child. "They can't-they can't-they can't see. We're gone. They'll look."

"I didn't want to bring you," Z blurts back. "I did so you won't die too."

"Now, prob-obably, we're all going to die. Will-willing-they're willing to kill Dex to find-find-to find your stupid hideout. Now we're all going to die."

"It's not stupid."

"Look-look at Dex. Look at Dex!"

Zolotisty's eyes burn. She stares at Eben through a sudden mirage of tears and says, very soft and very careful, "I know what she looks like, Ebenezer."

Elias is rummaging in the refrigerator. There's not much that's fresh and still good, but there are a few apples that haven't shriveled and the cheeses and cured meats are all fine. He puts the kettle on, again, and pulls a plate from a shelf as Ebenezer, offering no apology, turns to frown at the river.

Haccadine drops into a chair, back hunched, hands pressed together. His gaze falls on Dex, watching the small, shallow motions of her breathing. Even if she survives, there's no way they can keep running from the Network with an invalid in tow. If she dies... His thumbs tap lightly against his lips. No one notices the calculation in his expression, so usually stoic.

"Is that all?" Z asks the back of Eben's neck. She can't quite swallow.

"Mn."

"I said is that all!"

"S-suppose so."

Z huffs through her nostrils and looks down at Spandex. Most of her forelock's been trimmed. Were it not for the sound of her, she'd hardly recognize the woman in her lap for her wife. She takes slow breaths and tries not to cry.

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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 oddest thing about standing on the pavement while three security guards load them each into a corporate car is that Ogilvy's waiting with them. Even though she's turned away from the camera operators and pulled her coat tighter around herself as if to close herself off further, Cooper watches her huddle in the wind and polluted dust just like the rest of them.

There's a thick, buttery layer of sugar coating the back of Simpert's tongue. He stares ahead, aware of the security guard lingering at his elbow like a premonition. He almost turns to the man to suggest they be allowed back inside -- that one of their contestants is dying, and no, she's not on camera now, but maybe, in the event that she does reappear.. that it would be good to pay final respects. Aware of his own absurdity, he remains silent and wonders what to tell Elise.

Lacey's already gone in the first car, worry lines furrowed deep into her brow. Standing by Monroe's side, Terry picks her nail polish off in flakes while he mutters an endless stream of obscenities. Only Gannet remains serene. He takes the time to finish his cigarette before he's loaded into his car.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: UNCLASSIFIED | DATE OF REVIEW: N/A |
AUTHORITY: N/A | AUTHOR: UNKNOWN |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Cat food crunches under Elias' heels as he carries a plate of food over to the bed. "Do you have a broom? He's torn into his bag." Z shakes her head. "Buffet for the kitten, I suppose." He sets his hand briefly on the crown of her head then says, "Who's for tea, then?"

Hours pass. Zolotisty dozes on and off, jerked awake by paranoia and nightmares in turn. The kitten eats, kills dustbunnies, attacks Eben's nape when he flops distastefully onto the free end of the bed, and watches Haccadine as he prowls the length of the tunnel. Spandex continues to breathe, shallow and slow.

"So we're j-just going to-just going to wait around?" Ebenezer pipes up again.

Zolotisty's voice is cold. "What do you want to do."

"You said there was a ship." Haccadine turns away from his examination of the canal. He's looking at Zolotisty.

"Yeh, s'where the Scrambleders came from."

"How many techs d'you reckon they've got on there?"

Z blows out a the-fuck-you-asking-me-for breath through her teeth and worms lower on the bed. She readjusts Dex, pulls Fog up to her belly and Eben pushes up onto his elbows, answering, "Twen-twenty five hundred." Before anyone has a chance to ask, he explains, "P-payroll. I remem-member it from the payroll."

Haccadine's teeth pull at the corner of his lip. "Be a shame if something happened to it. Wouldn't it?"

They all look at him. Ebenezer objects, "Well! If-if-if-if waiting here to die wasn't f-fast enough for you, then congrat-g-gratulations, you've found an ev-even quicker way to get killed! What an awf-awful-a terrible idea!"

"What're you gonna do," Z says flatly, looking at the color of Haccadine's eyes, "swim to it?"

"Scramblers gotta get on and off it somehow."

Elias feels another headache creeping around his temples. He rises to put the kettle on again. "Amphibious barges."

Haccadine nods, folding the information into his plan as he goes. "One of those'd get you there nice enough. Pack it with explosives, you wouldn't even need to get on board; just park up alongside the ship and blow a nice big hole in the hull."

"No. For-for one thing, they've got-they've got guns. They've got all s-sorts of guns and they'd b-blow up an-any barge before it got an-anywhere near close enough. And anoth-another thing, you'd kill t-twenty five hundred innocent people! No."

Zolotisty lifts her wrist to try to scrub at her face with the back of her palm. "Why you want to do this."

Haccadine's cheek pulls taut, revealing teeth on one side. His gaze lingers on Ebenezer. "Because it's probably the best chance I'll get at --"

"Dying," Z interrupts.

"The cameras follow me, Z. The Network doesn't do anything that doesn't profit them; they'll be splicin' me up into propaganda, sellin' me off every time I kill somethin' out in the jungle and the blood flies pretty, turnin' as much of me as possible into-- fuckin'-- brain-scramblin' drivel and merchandise." He spits the word out, every syllable dripping with contempt. "What they did to you and Dex-- what they do to ev'rybody here-- that doesn't just happen on this island, yeh? They do that everywhere, Z. They shut down businesses, they throw people onto the street, they can make you disappear if they don't like what you're saying. People stolen from their beds in the middle of the night, chucked in a van, beaten with electric cables until they sign a piece of paper sayin' they confess to murdering eight kiddies or whatever and then, right, if they're really lucky, they take 'em out the back and shoot 'em." Haccadine's almost shouting. He pauses, and the sudden silence is treacle-thick. "So if that's what I'm helpin' them out with every time I take a breath, then fuck it. I'd rather not."

There's a hesitation before Ebenezer says, careful, "The ones on the boat have-aven't got any say in any of that. They're just-they're just p-people with jobs."

Haccadine turns his stare slowly to Ebenezer. "It's only ever just people with jobs. If you were in a room with a man whose job was to press a button, an' he didn't know it but every time he pressed it somebody died-- would you try to explain to him, knowin' that every word was another life gone, or just knock him in the head with the axe hangin' on the wall? It's not pretty, but in the long run you do the most good."

"If you knock him in the head," Z says, "won't they just get someone else to do it."

"Yes," Ebenezer answers, fast. "Ev-even if you could blow up the boat, they'd on-only just replace it with a new one. They'd g-get-they'd get twenty five hund-undred new people to do the job."

"Maybe," Haccadine replies softly. "But it'd take 'em time. Cost 'em money. And it'd prove that they're not quite as untouchable as they like to think they are."

Zolotisty sucks on her teeth. "The word is complicit, aye? Being responsible when someone else is doing something wrong. Are you more complicit here than you were when you were not here."

"Yes." Haccadine slides his hands into his pockets. "I was doing something in London. We were helping people, yeh? We taught 'em how to do stuff for themselves, we got 'em things they needed that they couldn't afford otherwise, and we had absolutely no part in the system. The government, Network, bloated, cash-hungry multinashes-- they got nothin' from us. But that's not the point."

"Yeh, I get it. Point's whether you want to die or not."

The kettle whines. "Who's for tea?" Elias asks again, mild. Groaning, Ebenezer slowly rolls himself off the bed and limps in the direction of tea. Zolotisty stares after him.

"When's Spandex going to wake up," she asks.

Elias glances back at Zolotisty and Dex. He wets his lips. "On her own time. Two sugars or one, Zolo."

"I don't want tea."

He fixes her a mug anyway. "Haccadine?"

"No. Thanks."

"Mmhm."

Zolotisty's left leg has fallen asleep, all distant throb out of tempo with her pulse. She ignores it and studies Haccadine, so suddenly talkative without cameras around. Both he and Dex seem more alive here. "Where are you going to get enough grenades." She pauses. "I have a lot of money, if you need it."

"No!" Ebenezer calls back at them.

Haccadine raises a hand to pull at the back of his neck, ignoring Ebenezer. "Actually-- that gun you got for me. Used to belong to some para-military clan member, yeh? Don't s'pose he left anythin' with a bit more... kick lyin' around?"

"Parawut. The gun was a present. Ahmn." Z sighs deeply as she tries to think. Kai emptied the Compound -- of people, of munitions. "Maybe in the barn or in some closet in clan hall. I don't know. You mean kick like bigger explosions yeh?"

"No! You're n-not-you're not helping anyone! You said-you said you wanted to help. That won't-it won't help!" Ebenezer has forgotten his tea.

"Oh? And what would you suggest? Just sit around polishin' my shoes and stutterin' until the problem grows wings and flies off oinkin'?"

Ebenezer's nostrils flare. "M-maybe you should do s-something for other cont-t-testants. T-teach them to do-to do things themselves. Help them-help them get things they can't get otherwise."

"So, what, they can all grow up to be big and strong and strut around pretty for the cameras? You still haven't fucking well got it, have you? We're all complicit here, all the time. Every single person on this island is a part of the problem."

"As is the audience," Elias says quietly. He presses tea into Eben's hands, then crosses the room to set a mug by Z. She glowers at him, looking betrayed. Why can't you fix her.

Haccadine nods. "But there's nothin' I can do about that. I'm stuck here -- I'm goin' to die here, sooner or later -- and I can either stick my head in the sand and become just as bad as everybody gawpin' slack-jawed into their TV sets an' laughin' at people gettin' their legs torn off in the jungle, or I can do my best to fix the problems I see before me."

Smiling faintly, Elias lets Haccadine's words hang for a moment before he says, "May I ask you a question, Haccadine?" He nods, curt. "Do you suppose I, personally, make good television or good propaganda? When I'm not medicking, that is."

Haccadine observes him for a good long while, and then rolls his shoulders. "D'you think Z does? D'you think Dex does? Because from the sound of it, they wouldn't still be here if not for you. Maybe you don't go about turnin' outposts into bouncy castles and settin' up great big excitin' puzzles personally, but at the end of the day..." He trails off with another shrug, watching Z out of the corner of his eye. She's staring back at him, hawk-intent and cold.

Elias seems unperturbed. He wraps his hands around his mug and leans back against the counter in the kitchenette. "So I oughtn't have bothered with Spandex. Nor should I have attended to Zolo, or Ebenezer. Yes? It would be more moral to remain completely uninvolved."

There's a long silence. "Objectively? Yes." Haccadine's thumb rubs circles into the creases of his forefinger, curled tight into a fist. "But I, personally, wouldn't have you do that. I'm not-- There's a line, yeh? Between what I'm proposing an' just picking up a rifle and goin' round NewHome gunnin' down rooks. S'not the best-defined, and sometimes I'm not totally sure where it is, but--" He gives Elias a thin smile. "You do what you think is right, yeh? You do it to the best of your ability. You try to help people your way, I'll do it mine."

Zolotisty shows her fangs as she opens her mouth, but Elias stills her with a mild look. "We disagree," he says to Haccadine. Pausing, he considers the younger man for a moment, the cat food scattered across the concrete floor, the tiled subway arches of the tunnel. "From my perspective as a trained medic, I have an obligation to preserve life wherever possible. Your objections to the Network are many and rightful, yes, and among them you suggest they have the power to torture and kill with impunity. We have a motivation in common -- preservation of life. However, blowing up their boat and very possibly taking your own life in the act is... antithetical to that motivation, and counterproductive at best, as it borrows from their self-declared privilege and tendency to commoditize human lives. You, too, become a murderer for sake of profit, though I admire your tenacity of feeling."

Pausing to sip from his mug, he adds, "I mentioned to Spandex once, standing in this tunnel, a piece of wisdom that I myself have tried to live by and which I think you are proposing in spirit, if not action. Einstein -- he was a famous thinker and scientist -- said of Gandhi, a famous peacemaker and philosopher, that we should try to do things in his spirit, that we not use violence in fighting for what we believe is right, but by making judicious use of non-participation in anything we believe to be evil. Your silence suggested that you agree, Haccadine. I make poor television."

"That works fine for yourself," Haccadine replies quietly, "But the trouble is, it takes a lot of people to stop participatin' before things actually start to change. How d'you show people what they're losing, convince them to stand up against an organisation that has the power to decide whether or not they get heat and water and medicine today or not, when-- fuck, they don't even care anymore, you know? Too busy tryin' to crawl into their own little fantasy worlds, livin' vicariously through people like us 'cause their own lives are a pile of shit. Only way out is to pull the plug, yeh? Drag 'em back into reality. Force 'em to take a good look around and actively make the decision to either live in oppression or do somethin' about it, and yes-- some of 'em will still want to roll back over and return to their comfortable ruts, but at least we gave 'em the choice. I don't think that can be done just by stepping back and hoping others will do the same, not when it's so much easier to go along with things."

"They're not gonna say if you blew up their boat, are they?" Z says, looking to Ebenezer for confirmation. He shrugs. "Nobody's even gonna know. So you'll be dead, and so's everyone on the boat, and you won't have forced anyone to do anything."

"You got a better idea, then?"

She shows her teeth. "Get shot and don't let Elias touch you."

"Zolo," Elias says softly, chastening.

Haccadine lets out a short breath through his nose. It's only a very subtle change, but all of a sudden the animation in his features is gone, drawn back behind the familiar, defensive stiffness of expression. "Even if nobody finds out, it's still something. I don't expect you to look at it the same way, so I won't bother tryin' to convince you any further."

"No, mate, fuck you. This tunnel was something. Those cameras I broke, they were something. And Dex dying, that'll be something too. But at the end of the day, no one knows and no one will fucking care."

"At least I'll have tried."

Zolotisty doesn't reply. Looking away, she glowers at the wall for several moments before her ears spade and her expression changes. She jerks upright, her sleepy left leg suddenly rippling with needles, and peers better at Dex. Fog pounces on her hand, hoping to play, and Spandex stirs with a subthroat groan.

"Spandex," Z says urgently, unaccustomed to this kind of sluggishness. Dex usually wakes like a shot, up and out of bed and wobbling like a drunk before her body's caught up to her intent. But now, Dex twinges and Fog impatiently launches onto her instead. Haccadine watches without comment, keeping his distance, but Ebenezer limps closer for a better look.

Elias crosses the room too. He scoops up the kitten and leans to get a look at Dex's face. "Spandex?" he says, moving the kitten gently back and forth in front of her face as she opens her unblacked eye. "Visual tracking," he explains. Her eye follows the kitten for two passes until rolling upwards to Z, briefly, then searching for the others. When she fixes on Ebenezer, his posture snaps straighter. "She's visually responsive. That's hopeful," Elias says, sounding cheerful. "Maybe no brain damage." Fog struggles, kicking his feet.

"What's that mean," Z snaps. She pets Dex's hair, tone gentling. "Spandex," she says again, but she won't look away from Eben. "Say sommat."

"Zolo, Ebenezer, one of you do me a favor and ask her an easy question she's likely to know? She's not paying attention to me."

"Spandex, can you hear me."

Ebenezer and Dex don't take their eyes off each other. "Erm! Wh-what-what's your name?"

After several long moments more, she releases him from her one-track stare to take in her surroundings, and to check each of the others again in turn as if polling their opinions on the matter. Looking back at him then, her mouth pulls on one side to attempt her usual cock-eyed smirk, and only Zolotisty can hear the creak of an answer -- fuck you. Z laughs with relief, nervousness. Ignoring the bandages around her own torso, she hunches to drop a kiss to Dex's forehead. Elias exchanges a glance with Ebenezer, both looking to see if the other got the joke. They shrug.

"S-suppose-suppose that's hopeful," Eben mumbles. His ears are turning red. "I g-got shot, Dex," he tells her, perhaps to explain his current state of dress.

"Why won't she answer me," Z asks.

It's incredibly difficult to speak-- her tongue's too thick, her mouth's full of glue and her jaw feels wrong. "Sorry," she manages with big rolypoly tears tumbling down her cheeks. Z thumbs them away, worry lines creasing her face.

Her reaction startles him. "Oh." After an awkward moment, he replies, "W-well, me too." His eyes cut to Elias, then Z, just to have an excuse to look away from Dex. Elias hands him Fog.

"Why won't she answer me, Elias," Z asks again. He only thins his lips.

Dex reaches to paw at whatever's bothering her nose and eyes and discovers her wrist cast is back on. A look of confusion passes over her face, and unable to sit up, she lolls her head against Z's belly and slips back into unconsciousness.

Haccadine turns away, picking up two one-shots from a small table pressed against the wall of the tunnel. He slips one into his pocket and glances back over his shoulder at the bed for a moment. Then, in a bright flash of light, he disappears from the tunnel, leaving the acrid smell of burning plastic hanging in the air.

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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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Ogilvy finds herself checking her phone again for lost reception, but it's as solid as always. No messages, no missed calls, no emails. She catches herself in the car's rearview mirror -- tense, a bit too pale -- and she does her best to relax. Lean back, look out the window, she directs herself.

The giant exit sign for the Twelfth, Sixth and Second Sectors zips past her shoulder. "Take the Twelfth," Ogilvy orders, jerking forward to tap the driver's shoulder.

"Ma'am, we're under strict orders to drive you directly to your residence," but his hand's already at his shoulder to meet the fold of bills she's offering.

The exit curves round and as soon as they join the overpass, they're consumed by a throng of people -- sellers, gawkers, loiterers, protesters, pickpockets, haulers, hoodies, dealers. Runners -- children in those bandaged jackets, everywhere, somehow finding boltways to run, like thin streams of sewage.

"Market day," the driver says unapologetically as the car inches forward. As if every day in this area isn't Market Day.

Ogilvy doesn't seem to hear, face almost pressed against the glass, searching.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: UNCLASSIFIED | DATE OF REVIEW: N/A |
AUTHORITY: N/A | AUTHOR: UNKNOWN |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Ebenezer flinches around, sharp, to where Haccadine had been standing a moment ago. The only thing in that space now is the used one-shot, burnt out and smoking on the floor. "No! He can't. We've got-we've got to--!" He doesn't finish his sentence, but goes hurriedly limping for the table to exchange his teacup for a one-shot of his own.

"Ebenezer!" Z barks. "Let him go, you can't get back."

"Have to," he argues. Twisting to look miserably back at her, he adds a short, but sincere, "Sorry." Light flashes and Ebenezer's one-shot drops to the floor to join Haccadine's.

Elias looks for a moment at the husk of the device as it spins in a skittery circle on the floor, then he slowly crosses the room to pick both up. "What do you do with your garbage?" he asks.

Zolotisty doesn't reply. She blinks spots from her eyes and huffs a short breath through her nose.

He sets them back on the table, separate from the others, and stands for a moment looking at the piles and piles of dented, silver requisition tokens buckling the table's legs.

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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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"Drive safely," Simpert says, closing the car door behind himself. He catches a glimpse of the driver's bemused expression through one of the side mirrors and sighs heavily. Asshole. When did common courtesy become uncommon, anyway.

He scans his retina, enters his citizen ID on a tiny keypad, and patiently consents to a routine full body search on his way into the gated condo complex where he lives. The Simperts live on the twenty third floor, which is a measure of their relative prosperity and financial good luck. Anyone's lucky to live in a condo, but the closer you are to the ground floor, the better -- evacuation times are exponentially reduced the lower you go, and upper floors are (people say) more likely to be hit in the event of some sort of attack. Not that those happen anymore, really, but you can never be too careful.

Last year, they were on the thirty seventh floor in a building across the complex. The kitchen was nicer, but there weren't guards in the elevators and Elise used to worry about him dragging his bicycle up and down almost forty flights of stairs every day on his way to and from work. "Twenty three, please," he says to the guard. The man keys in a code before punching the 23 button; neither of them speak during the ride.

There are two big flats per floor. Simpert's never seen the people that live in the flat opposite his, though he hears the skittering and whining of some sort of animal every once in a while. Probably a gengineered designer pet; maybe one of the little dog-sized tigers that were so popular a few years ago.

"Hello?" Simpert calls as he unlocks the door and steps in. Elise will be at work, still, but his mother might be awake. He lets his messenger bag down to the floor, untucks his shirt, and kicks off his shoes. "Mom?" The lights are out; he doesn't bother turning them on. Rolling blackouts in civilian sectors were instituted as normal several years ago. SAVE ENERGEE(TM) FOR YOU AND ME, the billboards said. Of course, he knows that Energee(TM) is a Network subsidiary -- and the Network itself is the current greatest global consumer (and provider) of renewable energy. What a fucking joke.

Stripping his belt from his trousers, he lays it over the back of the couch as he passes through the living room. His mother's room is at the end of the hall; the door's slightly ajar. He pushes it open, suddenly unsure of himself. How is he supposed to explain being home so early? Or about his job? Probably, he's fired -- and he feels serene about that now, though he won't later, and --

Aniyah Simpert is eighty seven years old, old enough to remember when everyone owned cars and there were still fish in the oceans and everybody ate meat, real meat, five or six or even seven times a week. She is tiny, shrunken and dried in her clothes, veins and bones standing out on her dark freckled hands. She is so still in her bed, eyes closed, that for a moment, Simpert thinks she's dead. He strides into the room, forgetting to be quiet, and she stirs slightly.

"Mum?" Simpert says urgently.

She cracks open an eye to look at him, then smiles. "Hi baby," she creaks. Clearing her throat, she sits up. "What's the matter?"

Elise has been taking her to all her doctor's appointments, lately. Elise has told him her cough is getting worse. Elise has said, you should really try to come home early one night, your mother misses you. And he, he's been in front of computer monitors.

Head pounding, Simpert thinks he deserves to lose his job. "Nothing, it's okay. Sorry I woke you up. Go back to sleep."

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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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DICE halls are quiet when Haccadine arrives. He stops dead on the landing and listens for a few moments, straining for any sounds of movement, then heads straight for his room; the sooner he's done and gone, the better. Shouldering his door open, he crosses the artificial street scene inside with barely a glance at the ever-dusky sky overhead. He opens a window set into one of the buildings at street level and slips through into a spartan basement room.

The camera in the corner of the ceiling watches as he drops to a crouch, reaching under the bed to drag out a backpack, straps pulled taut by its weight. Pulled open, it's revealed to be mostly filled with semi-useful junk -- salvaged handgun magazines, a transistor radio just a little too badly damaged by the elements and years in a scrapheap to be reparable, and a crowbar with a tarot card tied to it by a piece of string. It's this last he's after. Ripping the card off, he stands.

He's still for a moment. Then, pivoting on his heel, he brings the crowbar up and smashes it two-handed into the camera's casing, ripping the thing whole from its perch. Glass scatters across the floor as he turns to leave, lips pressed into a thin, bloodless line.

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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 |

******************************************************************************

The Grotto seems hotter than it should. The mechanical hum of the machines seems louder, more aggressive than usual against Ebenezer's eardrums. The switchboard before him seems to have more circuits and plugs than he ever noticed before. Feverish, he hovers a finger along the labels, searching. AceHigh, Pleasantville, Cyber City, Retraining, PSK, Raven Inn. There. NW Tech. He jams in the plug, flips the switch hard, and grabs up the rusted transmitter.

There's a moment of staticky dead air. His voice catches in his throat and it takes a few tries before he forces it out, "A c-c-a contestant, coming. St-stealing-stealing a barge." He gives a sharp exhale and shoves a hand back through his unwashed hair. "He's p-p-plan-he's bringing explosives, planning to sink the boat."

"Who's --" the voice on the other end starts, then pauses. "Please hold a moment."

The line is muffled; Eben can hear voices chattering distantly on the other end, then the sound comes clear again and a new voice says, "Moderator Ebenezer?"

"Exc-cuse me, I'm off to try-to try and find him. It's urgent." He yanks out the plug and punches the switch off, then throws down the handset. Leg stiff and teeth clenched tight, he hobbles for the exit.

 
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