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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RELEASED TO PUBLIC | DATE OF REVIEW: 06.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: WIPO | AUTHOR: PJ HARVEY |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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I've seen and done things I want to forget
Coming from an unearthly place,
Longing to see a woman's face,
Instead of the words that gather pace,
The words that maketh murder.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC| DATE OF REVIEW: 06.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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"Fuuuuuckkme," Dex complains when consciousness brings pain along with it. Then, a feeling of something thrashing in her mouth, the taste of blood. It's faint but frightening.

Z stirs alongside her, wincing as she uncricks her neck and props herself up on her elbow. "Hurts?" she asks, thick-throated.

The nightmare dissolves. "Twis'?" Dex can't keep the pleading of the injured out of her voice. She lifts her arms off the bed -- a cast on one, an IV in the other. "Wh'appen?"

Coughing to clear the husk from her voice, Z hijacks the gesture of helplessness into a poor excuse for a hug. It doesn't last; they've both got thick strips of clean muslin wrapped around their bellies, and the stitches beneath make them both flinch and draw backward. "We were in the snow," Z says, reaching for the juice glass Elias left, "and there were guns and the man took you--"

"Glasses?" Blinking sleep away, she pulls her head off the pillow and raises the covers to see for herself what's hurting.

"Yeh. Him. He took you. And I -- here, sit up, s'got things in it for you, Elias said -- I couldn't hear you at all. There was a woman with the man too, yeh, and she left. Ebenezer got shot--

"Shot! Was.. was here?" She checks Z's ears, but they're drawn entirely forward. "Guy was shot?"

"Eben got shot in his arse, yeh. He was here earlier when you were awake. Haccadine too. Eben got shot before Haccadine did. Eben can walk. I'll tell you Haccadine in a bit, yeh? Gonna confuse myself. He is alive and with Elias."

Dex swallows hard. 'Alive' as a status is never a good sign. "Confuse-- Z, people'r gettin' picked off 'n we're lyin' here."

"Picked off?" Z almost scoffs. "He picked himself off, Spandex. Let me explain in order, yeh." She doesn't start again until Dex sinks back into her pillow. "Anyroad, we were in the snow and the gun died. I got all of Horse that was there and--"

"Ohgod. Where?"

"I put him in the Dip and he is also still in the snows along the trails. I'll get the rest of him when I can walk."

"Can'walk?" She lifts the covers again, feeling sick for not noticing the extent of Z's injuries. "Wha's tha'."

"Yeh I had one of your knifes in my foot but I brought it back." She hears Dex gasp as she looks down the length of their bodies, barely able to make out the bandages around her middle for lack of mobility. "..also in my bellies. They're good, Spandex, they are sharp." She smiles wryly as she glances back to Dex's shocked expression. "Shsh. It is okay."

"I did--?"

Z looks alarmed. "No! No, you didn't. The Joker took your knives." She kisses Dex's jaw. "He did it, it is fine. That's later, anyway."

It doesn't help, and Dex sinks lower into the covers, pressed down by the growing weight of responsibility. Z kisses her jaw again, then her ear, then offers, "From the snows, Hacca brought Eben to Elias," and she gets a brief smile from Dex at this. "Then Hacca and I looked for you. Took ages and ages, Spandex. Eben helped find you--"

"He did? How?"

Pausing, Z picks a ragged bit of dried skin from her lips with her teeth. She chews on it, swallows it, wets her lips, and says, "You know how if you whack a bee's nest they will all come out to look for you."

"Jus'tell me."

"I took down the cameras," and Dex groans on cue, "because I thought you were right. About the Network, maybe, filming things. I couldn't hear you and I didn't know where you were, but I thought they'd go to where you were to fix things. So they could see. It worked, kind of. Lots of Scrambleders out of their nests. We got , mn. Close.. I told Eben to be watching," she lifts a circle of her splinted forefinger and thumb to her eye, miming a monocle.

"Your hand." Dex gingerly works to sit up straighter. Her head spins for a moment, but overall, she feels clearer.

Stopping again with a sigh, Z rolls onto her side to show Dex both hands, fingers splinted on both. "I got them caught under glasses man when I jumped him off the roof."

"Lemme see," and Dex sets the juice down on the bedside table to take each of Z's hands carefully into hers, inspecting Elias' work. "Tol'you not to jump," she teases, getting a tired laugh for it. "Busted or sprained? And these?"

"Elias said busted. Those ones the teeth came out. He said they'll grow back probably."

"Claws, yeh, they'll grow back. Look, there's still half of this left," she says, holding the glass of juice for Z. "How deep's the foot and side?"

"Said he was surprised the knife's didn't come out the top of my foot," she says, making Dex wince. She turns her chin away from the juice. "Stoppit, s'yours. I can get pills," but they both know how she is about swallowing pills. She studies the juice glass sidelong, then the set of her wife's mouth. She wants to argue; Dex is probably hurting more, she needs it more, she's not had medication as recently. Anything she can do to give Dex a sense of self-determination back, though.. "Yeh okay," she says grudgingly, taking a mouthful of it.

The panic lodges in Dex's chest again - or maybe it never left. "Lemme see," Dex orders, needing to do something. She pulls up the cover again.

"Nothing to see! It's just bandage and stuff. Do you want to hear the story or not."

"Please?"

Zolotisty frowns and hikes herself closer to the headboard, turning the side of her nose to the back of Dex's shoulder while Dex leans over to take a look and check the wrap is tight and secure. "Yours is worse," she says quietly. "And the way you hit your head is worse."

"Nothin' wrong with my head, Z. How many stitches? Lemme see the foot."

"I didn't count." She draws her knee up obediently to pull her foot closer, thinks about Dex laid out on the examining table in the Dip, thinks about Idris screaming with Dex's voice as his throat was being torn out.

Dex grunts involuntarily as she leans too far over to inspect the bandages on Z's foot.

"Hey," Z says sharply. She stretches out again, scooting downward to get a look at Dex's face. "You can take care of me but I get to take care of you, too, and yours is worse. So you should not be stretching around."

"Just looking. What if it's all lies for sympathy sex?"

Z grins crookedly and taps her forehead carefully to the knob of Dex's shoulder. "Yeh maybe."

Dex slowly lowers herself back against the pillows and takes a long, tired breath. "Claws were long 'cuz we haven't sexed for ages."

"Yeh well. Could sex you now. You look like shit and I still think you are the most beautiful. N'I know I look like shit but I think probably I could trick you into thinking I was still hot, yeh. Didn't bite any of my tongue off when I fell. Com'ere, take a drink of that and put it away, we need to learn how to cuddle when we're all busted up."

They shuffle together awkwardly but bending or turning makes them each wince, so they resort to pressing close lying side-by-side on their backs. Z rests her hand on top of Dex's cast.

Dex swallows a sob sticking in her throat. "Saline, right?" she says, lifting her other hand to look at the taped IV catheter. "What else? Need t'change bag later, but can come out tomorrow."

"Have to change the things on your face. Your belly. Keep an eye on your wrist."

"Stupid wrist." She gently runs her fingertips along her swollen lips and swollen nose and swollen eye. She feels bruises and scabs and gauze pads taped in place. "But what happened to me? What happened to you?"

"Mn. I don't know what happened to you, Spandex. I wish I did. I know that Eben yelled directions for us, and we found a cabin in a bad parts of the Jungle all boarded up and rotting. You'd been gone a long time by then. We --"

"How long?"

"Less than half a day. Maybe a quarter of a day, less than that."

"Not long." She tucks her foot under Z's ankle and slides it under so that Z's bad foot's raised.

"It was a long time. Felt like a long time, to me." She wets her mouth again -- it's bitter -- and adds, "Hacca and me caught, ahmn. A Network woman outside --"

"What." Her heart races. "Ogilvy?"

"No. Technician or sommat. She talked to me, though --"

"Who did."

"Olgav -- Olgivy -- Ogilvy, fuckit. She said threats we did not kill the technician, and the technician went inside, she said because she was a messenging and trying to fix it. Then also we went in because I got impatient. You were dying in a basement and the woman was there with you. I got you, and left to the Dip. Then Haccadine came--

"Z. Slow down. Slow down 'n tell me everything."

"Tech said lemme go, I'm here to help. And we said bullshit, if you are helping then where are your friends, because there was just one of her. Then through a whatsit here, like," Z gestures from where a normal human ear would sit along her jawline, "I heard someone and she called herself Ogilvy and told me to stop, or else I'd be punished with the clan or sommat. Was all dark inside. Lady Joker on the floor with a gun, then the man Joker by a door that went down stairs to the basement. They blew out alla the, ahmn. Improbability, when I went inside -- and there was less of it in the basement, also, so I think they were starving you. And you were bleeding everywhere on the floor, and the Network woman was next to you. Think she cut things off your wrists, so maybe she was helping, I do not know."

She doesn't tell Z that she can't feel any Improbability still, not only to not alarm her, but because she knows it'll come back, like it has before. "Helping? Anyone say shit about the tunnel or anything?"

"No. Nothing about the tunnel or anything. Just.. let her go do her job, or else."

"Ohgod. Check the clan now, twist. Check'em."

"I have been, Spandex. I don't hear anyone wrong."

Dex thinks. Who. Who would they go after next. "Escemfer? Wha'bout that woman Guy was into.. Honest.. Honesty? Uhh. Who else. Elias?"

"I don't know how to listen for Honesty. Elias is fine. I'll think about Escemfer in a bit when I can concentrate."

"No one can'do fuckall anyway. What then."

"Brought you to Elias. Haccadine came, also, then the man Joker came and I went out to kill him -- that's how I got hurt -- then Elias fixed me and I brought everyone here because I was worried that the other one would come. Haccadine --"

"You killed a Netjerk in AceHigh? Who saw?"

"What. He was a Joker, Spandex. Contestant. Or was, yeh?"

Her head throbs. "Christ. We're fucked. We're so fucked. We killed their guy, Z, and we're still in here."

"Yeh, well. He almost killed you, and wanted to kill me." She hesitates, wanting to tell Dex about Idris' illusions, but says instead, "Haccadine went out to blow up their boat--"

"..fuckme."

"He said Elias was wrong to keep anyone alive, especially us. And Eben left to stop him. I stayed here, and now Eben's in clan hall, he yelled it to me. Haccadine got himself shot a lot because Eben told the Network he was coming. And I went and got Haccadine, even though he's not worth getting, and Elias is fixing him, even though he's not worth fixing."

It's as if her gut stitches have split and as if someone's using her head as a bell. "Don'say tha'," she whispers, her eye closing. She struggles with the tiredness, needing to think through what they should do. Not here. Not clan hall. Not her. Not Z. "Need'a get out'ere."

"No. Not safe."

"They'll kill 'gain." And there's nothing she can do.

"Who they. Network hasn't touched us. Those Jokers have. Can't get into a place they donno, Dex; I'm not leaving."

"So tire'." Tucking her face into Z's neck, Spandex succumbs again to exhaustion.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC| DATE OF REVIEW: 06.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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When Ebenezer stirs, his head's thick and aching from stress and oversleep. It's been eleven hours, his alarm clock tells him, since he laid down. For a while, he considers trying to get back to sleep to pass the hours. Grudgingly, he rolls out of the bed and his bullet wound painfully reminds him of its presence when he moves.

The room is empty and quiet. He puts on the light and scans the room again. Nothing's out of place. Letting out his breath all at once, he bumps his spectacles out of the way and scrubs at his face with both palms. Re-settling his glasses on his nose, he steps to his tea service, always Improbably hot and ready. With steady hands, he makes good use of it, filling a cup.

After draining half the cup, he's brave enough to put the tea down and withdraw the monocle from his breast pocket. The eyeglass replaces his spectacles and he takes a quick look at all the Outposts, first. When there's nothing to see there, he tunes into the Lucky Dip next. Elias is standing with his back to the camera, seeing over Haccadine -- still alive.

Letting out another breath he didn't realize had been holding, he determines that he'll one-shot to AceHigh and visit the Dip. He'll go just after he's finished his tea.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC| DATE OF REVIEW: 06.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Z's breath is slow and her ears are slack, and Dex lingers and watches only until the nightmarish bloody feeling in her mouth disappears. Her glass of painkillers and juice is empty, and her IV bag is low. "Z. Z? Z, com'on," she says, soft, keeping the urgency out of her voice. Z's ear twinges; her breath hitches. "Z, check the clan. And I gotta piss."

"Nh," Zolotisty says. She turns her cheek away from Dex and cracks her eyes open to stare at the opposite side of the tunnel. "Yeh," she says after a moment, clearing her throat. "Gwan." She pushes herself up, scooting out of Dex's way.

The bed's low to the ground, and Dex rolls to her left side only to realise the IV shunt stops her from using that hand to push herself up. She rolls onto her right. "Do it myself," she grumbles to Z when she leans over. Still unable to push herself up, she manages to get herself in a half-crawling position on her elbows and backs her way off the bed. Stomach muscles refusing to work, she's stuck half-off the bed. Her head swims. Z squints, then pushes herself up carefully to balance on her foot.

"Gwan and go forward again, n'turn around so you're on your arse."

"I can do it myself. Fog, not now." The kitten waves his butt at Dex, bowing to her like she's bowing to him. He pounces onto her fingers.

"You can, maybe, but I cannot stand without you. So turn around so you can help me. Com'on."

The two of them together have enough working limbs between them to get them both to the small loo off the kitchenette. "What's Guy sound like," Dex asks from behind the curtain.

"Alive."

"'And Ebs?"

"Alright."

"What if he blabs to everyone?"

"Don't think he will. He'd have to rats alla it. Means ratsing him, too, and he won't do that.

There's a soft thud, a groan, then a shuffing against the side wall of the loo.

"Spandex?"

The IV bag emerges first, clutched in Dex's fist, as she pushes aside the curtain. "You got enough working fingers to wipe your own ass? Cuz--"

Z peers at her then around her, as though the toilet will have answers. "How did you get up!"

"Shoulder to the wall, yeh." She's still leaning against it.

Barking a laugh, Z shakes her head with wondering affection. She sobers slowly.

"Your turn."

"I'm glad you are not dead, Spandex."

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC| DATE OF REVIEW: 06.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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A brisk three-beat rap makes Elias stir on the sofa. He palms the salt-and-pepper shadow accumulating on his jaw and around his mouth, wets his lips, and levers himself up to answer the Dip's door. "No trains today," he nearly says -- it's habit -- but recognizing Ebenezer on the porch, he merely inclines his head in greeting and steps aside to allow the younger man entrance.

Ebenezer limps in through the doorway and instead of saying hello, he asks, "Is-is he going to die?"

"It's in his hands. He was asleep, last I checked. How are you feeling?" He locks the door behind Eben.

His eyes point towards the ceiling, as he might be able to see through it and get a look at the man in the room above them. "D-don't-I don't feel well."

"How so?"

"Hurts," he answers, turning his frown on Elias.

Elias nods. "I'll want a look, if you don't mind. How's your stomach feel?"

Sharp, he sighs through his nose and proceeds to unshoulder his suspenders and untuck his shirt. "Sick. Th-think it's fine. How're you?"

"Tired, I suppose." He prods Eben's stomach gently, searching for abnormally hard areas. "Have you heard anything from Zolotisty?"

Ebenezer pulls his usual expressions of discomfort. "You-you look it." He shakes his head. "Haven't heard an-anything from anyone. He's ups-stairs-he's upstairs, then?"

"Yes," Elias says, and lets Eben go after checking his dressings.

He makes short work of re-tucking his shirt and putting himself back together. "S-suppose-I suppose I should go and see. Is it--?" Frowning, he decides to rephrase, "Does it look bad?"

Elias is already shuffling off toward the kitchen. "I am less optimistic about Haccadine than I was about Spandex," he calls, "though I have no concerns about Haccadine spontaneously dying of a brain hemorrhage. Mind yourself, though, I couldn't do anything to save his lower leg."

"Mn." Ebenezer begins the slow, lumbering journey up the stairs, pausing for rest every few steps. When he reaches the top, he's hesitant, invading a space where he's not welcome. Instead of fully entering the room, he gets his look from the doorway.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC| DATE OF REVIEW: 06.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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"M'not taking it out, Dex -- n'you aren't either, don't fuckin' touch it!"

Dex would have pulled the IV catheter out by now, but she needs another hand to put pressure on its exit point. "Bag's almost empty."

"Yeh, I can see that, leave it alone!" Z glares at her fiercely, hunched over the spewed contents of the medical bag that's been sitting in their tunnel since the last time Dex busted her wrist. She waits for Dex's fingers to curl back toward the strip of plaster crossing her palm before she slaps a surgical staple gun away from a pile of sterilized suture packets.

"Z? What part of me you going to keep?"

"What?" A case of needles goes skittering off under the bed.

"After I explode."

Zolotisty looks up again. "What."

"You know. Air gets in my veins -- kablooey." She knows this isn't true.

"It's not fucking funny, Dex," Z snaps, uncovering the tatty little reference manual she's been looking for. She rocks heavily back onto her arse, unable to crouch one-footed any longer, and begins laboriously leafing through.

It's one of the first times she can remember that Z doesn't laugh at her joke. When she's not looking, Dex finds the roller clamp on the tube and closes it, stopping the flow of liquid. She turns so her back is to Z, and starts to carefully pick away at the edges of the tape. It's the mattress springs that betray her.

"What the fuck, Spandex! What did I just say!"

Rip.

There's a bird-like fluttering just before the little manual pegs Dex in the shoulder. "Leave it alone!"

"Get me some bandage."

"Did you take it out!"

"Not yet, need you. Get me some bandage, please."

"You don't need bandage if it stays in."

She reaches up, releases the clamp on the tube and lays back on their bed, staring at the curved tunnel ceiling. Marooned in a pile of medical supplies on the floor, Z glares at her foot for a while before snatching a roll of gauze and working herself onto her knees. She goes to the refrigerator instead of Dex.

Zolotisty had every intention of symbolically locking the gauze in the butter guard in the fridge, but she hesitates, staring at the top shelf. Scootching backward, she props the door open with her shoulder and reaches carefully for a full IV bag set next to a block of cheese. The bag's been labeled with masking tape and what has to have been one of Dex's fat graffiti markers. REFILL @ 24 HRS

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC| DATE OF REVIEW: 06.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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Elias hands Eben a cup of tea as he grimaces his way into the kitchen. "Still alive?" he asks.

"Still-still breathing," he answers. After a fortifying sip from his cup, he asks, "D'you know if he--? Mn. If he s-succeeded before--?"

"As he described it, he was ambushed. Zolo and I found him here in AceHigh; I should imagine he teleported."

"I t-told them he was coming."

"I see." Elias studies Ebenezer thoughtfully and takes a seat.

Ebenezer remains standing. "Didn't want him to g-get-to get killed."

"Mmn."

His expression goes sharp. "He's prob-probably going to die and what for? Don't know if he's stupid or-or if I'm stupid for t-trying to-trying to stop him. I don't know."

"If you hadn't intervened, it sounds to me he would have certainly died -- and killed many people, with him. Perhaps just a few. This way, no one's died so far that we know of. That seems admirable to me."

Ebenezer scowls into his cup and doesn't speak again until he's drained half of his tea. "Don't know what I'm s-supposed-supposed to do now."

"Why?"

"F-figure-I figure they'll come sooner or later. Someone will. The-the other hunter or m-may-maybe a new one. Network p-personnel. Someone."

"Mm." Elias sips at his tea. "Meet whomever comes with an unfettered mind, then." He smiles -- there might be a hint of self-mockery in it.

He scowls into his tea. "What's that s-supposed to mean?"

"There was a gentleman by the name of Takuan who once wrote a treatise to the Shogunate warriors of ancient Japan which applied teachings of Zen Buddhism to their training and craft. Among many other things, he advised the samurai of that time not to meditate or seek a sense of security by forcing themselves calm, nor to focus exclusively on expecting one sort of attack or planning another sort. Instead, he felt the best thing one could do was to allow oneself enough courage and calm to act upon instinct. He favored nimble thought rather than stagnant frames of mind. Anxious preoccupation, he said, congealed the body."

"Mn." He remains quiet for a few moments before speaking again. "Well, that's all m-much eas-easier to talk about than it is to do, I think."

"Buddhist principles tend to be, yes." Elias' eyes crease. "All the same, it is good to strive toward."

"S-suppose I could try," he murmurs, lowering his cup to the tabletop. "I l-left my things here. My c-coat-my coat and my, erm. Gun."

"Front hallway, by the stairs."

Ebenezer takes a step back, leaving his cup on the table. "Thanks v-very much for the tea. If you happ-happen to need me for anything, erm. I'll prob-obably be in my Warehouse or DICE Hall."

"Outside of CyberCity, mn?" He nods. "All right, then. Be well."

Ebenezer bows his head to the doctor and limps his way out of the kitchen. In a moment more, he's collected his things and vacated the Dip.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC| DATE OF REVIEW: 06.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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"Sorry," Z says when she flinches as Dex's knuckles brush her wrist. She pats her hand. "Do you want foods."

"You infected or somethin'? Let me see."

"It's fine," Z protests, knowing the fastest way out of this one is to give Dex her way. She thrusts her hand into her wife's lap and repeats, "Do you want foods."

Dex lays her hand on Z's wrist. "Not hot. Where's it hurt? Can you move it okay?"

It's easier when she's touching Dex -- touching, she knows it's Spandex next to her. "Surprised me is all," Z says, which is true. "M'tired." That's also true. She doesn't say that it's easy to worry that this has been some elaborate Joker trick, that it's even easier with phantom blood pooling in the side of Dex's neck like a punch bowl. "It's fine, see." She rotates her hand.

"We're safe here, Z," Dex says, reaching to put Z's hand back in her lap so she can run her fingers gently up and down her bare arm. Z's gaze follows every pass, the way she curls her fingernails under when doubling back.

"Yeh," Z says, smiling thinly. "Foods?"

"You sleep. I'll find something for us in the kitchen." She's not the least bit hungry. Could drink a river, though.

"I don't want to sleep."

Dex fixes her a skeptical look before patting her arm. "I'll find something."

"Stay here."

"What's wrong?" It seems a dumb question to ask, as soon as she hears it.

"Spandex, that man Joker with the glasses. I don't think he was Network. Not really. I think he was just bad. Bad person."

"But, why..." She takes a slow breath. "Yeh. You buggin' about it?" She wants to reassure Z that killing him was definitely the right thing to do, but she doesn't believe that it was.

"He made himself look like you when I was killing him."

"What." It takes her a moment to adjust. "Asked you to tell me everything."

"He used your voice."

"Why didn't you tell me."

"I just did. You look so sad when you are guilty, Spandex. You were already looking sad. N'you didn't do any of it anyway."

"'Just'." Her teeth ache again."What else did you leave out?" Z looks as hurt as Dex sounds."He illusioned himself to look like me and attacked you with my knives? Why--" Her breath hitches. "Thank christ for your ears." She cuddles into Z as best she can and they fall quiet. "Why'd he fuck with you like that? Bet Network did it to make it look like--"

"He was himself, mostly. It was just when he got cornered."

"..oh." Her heart's thudding in her ears. "Shit." She thinks, 'poor guy' and leans up on her elbow to look at Z so she can think, 'poor Z' instead. After a moment of eye contact, Z looks down to their hands.

"How'd you get me out of the cabin?"

"Almost had to fight the glasses Joker in there, but I knocked him down with my feets. I was hurrying cos I thought I'd have only a little bit. Haccadine distracted the woman one."

She traps her foot under Z's again. "Then the one came to Ace and you two fought and he never said anything? Like what the fuck he wanted?"

"I tricked him a bit and he couldn't see where I was, and he asked if I was done playing. But that's all."

"Need to find that woman," Dex says wearily. "Tell me the fight. What you mean tricked?"

So Z explains it from the beginning -- how she heard him coming, then how he disguised his sound and came at her with the knife ("I think he was being ironical," she says), the crevasse, the grift, the struggle afterward, his screaming as she laid into him. Dex gasps. Z hesitates.

"Bit?" Her tongue pokes at her own fangs.

She ducks her chin. "Yeh."

The sight of Z's shame immediately erases the taste of blood in her own mouth. "Don't do that," Dex says, tucking closer. "Saved your life."

"I wouldn't have minded dying. I just wanted him to be dead."

"I won't mind dying either." Dex drapes her arm protectively across Z's chest. In response, Z nuzzles close and pets her hair.

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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: NOT RELEASED TO PUBLIC| DATE OF REVIEW: 06.04.2098 |
AUTHORITY: NETWORK CLOSECASTING | AUTHOR: NETWORK CLOSECASTING |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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The sound of her own voice wakes her, and Dex lies corpse-still while her heart thuds in her ears and she waits for the familiar ache of resistance against her teeth and the hot, liquid sensation of blood filling her mouth to fade away. Called out in your sleep, she consoles herself while she blinks back at the stars in the skylights above. Both eyes are open, and she's finally able to see the left half of her periphery. Since arriving injured, she's shifted to the opposite side of the bed than her usual, to keep Z on her blind side. Didn't say a thing, just chose this side, just like she always takes the chair in a room without anyone behind it.

Her hand slips under the cover and sheets for the bandage around her waist. She worms her fingers beneath the wrappings so she can slide her fingers along the stitched wound. She presses as hard as she can, feeling for anything out of place, foreign, sure they've planted something in her while they knocked her out. She had Z search the rest of her body yesterday, and she found nothing.

Maybe she should shave her head.

"Spandex," Z says, stirring drowsily next to her. Dex doesn't move. Z shifts to set her hand on Dex's breastbone, feeling for the caged trembling of her heart beneath her palm.

Dex waits for Z's breathing to slow again before guiltily pulling her hand from her bandage, and curling her palm into Z's. "W'jyou dream?" her wife mumbles, half-asleep.

"You came to my house and asked my mom if I could go ride bikes and my mom said, 'Yes, but no more taking the bus into the city, you two, hear,' and you said okay and she asked if you were hungry and you said yes because you're always hungry and mom said, 'we just made nachos,' and I was waiting in the kitchen, and so happy to see you."

Zolotisty is quiet for so long that Dex thinks it's worked and she's fallen back asleep, but eventually, she asks, "Wh'shlook like."

"Like me, but pretty, and no sticking out edges, 'n she knows how to spread the cheese on the nachos."

"Y'rpretty. Whsa bus."

"Go to sleep."

"Mm-nm." Z draws her hand down to cup one of Dex's breasts, leaving it curved there protectively.

 
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