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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RELEASED TO PUBLIC | DATE OF REVIEW: 19.02.2098 |
AUTHORITY: WIPO | AUTHOR: S RUSHDIE |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0
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Now I know what a ghost is. Unfinished business, that's what.

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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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Sometimes a bone breaks undramatically. Spandex doesn't even notice her wrist at first. In fact, as she lays awkward on the ground like a shock-eyed doll, she doesn't notice anything but the soft arc of the tiled tunnel roof. Remembering Z is like a defibrillator and she gasps and lolls her head up. All she can see is the gurney's metal belly and helpless bent legs. One wheel is still spinning, dog-dream industrious.

"Twist?" She curls fetal to get up, and there's an answering cough. "Twist you okay?"

Whine.

Fortune's broke her non-favoured side, and Dex'll be glad for using her left to push her weight up. Even so, everything turns porridge coloured and her gut spins. She rolls up on her shins until the gurney's back in focus and she's swallowed the urge to barf. There's a faint squirrels-in-the-attic scritch from Z's direction, then a rasp and a wheeze and another whine. Dex ignores the nausea and stumbles over.

"Twisty, s'okay," she says, hearing her voice too laboured. It's not until she crouches in front of the wreck that the pain hits. Her wrist. She swallows again."You hurt? Gonna get you out but only if you swear to me you're not hurting." She looks over the length of her. "Wiggle toes and fingers, twist, com'on." Z's ears aren't examination-room flat; they're at full alert and she's locked on Dex's static-wrecked wrist. She struggles, trying to get closer to inspect the break - - again, still.

"Z!"

Surprisingly, it's the nosy ear that twinges. Z meets her girl's eyes, guilty and defiant in equal measure. "mmeout."

"Swear." One-hundred-percent-stubborn, hers.

"aye."

The straps have been jerked too tight in their buckles, and she's good for shit one-handed, so she digs her balisong from her boot and cuts Z out, careful. Zolotisty's tail is sporting liberty spikes and the style doesn't suit her shaking. She's careful not to touch Dex's right arm as they press close, craving each other's heartbeat, familiarity.

"mme see."

Dex lowers her hand like a fragile object, careful not to bend her wrist. That bump shouldn't be there. "Jus'a sprain. Did they touch you?"

"liar."

"Did they?"

"monna ge'lias."

"Did they fucking touch you, Zolotisty." It sounds like a threat. Z recoils.

Dex is unmoved. "Tell me." Her wrist pounds.

"yes."

Her eyes close. "Tell me." She had them wrong- - wasn't idle threats.

"after," Z says, and goes, leaving Dex snatching for her collar no longer there.

"FUCKIN'.. fucking .. fuck," the last to her wrist. She slumps back against the slow curve of the tunnel wall. "Not fuckin' coming if they snatch you again!" she yells, kicking her heel against the wall as the empty threat echoes back to her. She slides down the wall.

Zolotisty initially hangs behind Elias when she reappears with him a few minutes later, then she slinks closer to Dex, pretending not to notice the glare. Dex keeps her eyes mostly directed at the ground, except when Elias turns to pick through his field kit, and she wide-eyes an angry, pointed look to the back of his head.

"You're lucky," he remarks after looking over her wrist. He sounds tired. "No cartilage break. No gross misalignment. Reduction cast and stay off it for a few weeks and you'll be in a brace in no time." Silent and unabashed, Z watches Dex with a half-turned head, brash enough to brush her good knuckles.

"Mm. Thanks," Dex says, now watching him at her wrist. The fingers on her other hand stretch to lace Z's but she folds them away, closed. "Elias, you didn' see us today, and you've never been here." She takes a softer tone with him, but it's still assertive.

He smiles lopsidedly as he glances up. "It'll take a few minutes for the plaster compound to set up. I can figure out a dose for you for painkillers meanwhile, though, if you want them, and give you morphine for the cast now."

Narrow-eyed, Z takes Dex's fist in her hand.

"'Course I do, 'm not some leather-biting cowboy. Please." She relaxes her fist so they can lace their fingers together. "They did somma'to Z, Elias. S'okay. Tell him." She squeezes that hand as she double-crosses her for the first-ever time.

The connection between them goes from comfort to cage, but Z doesn't move. She gazes at Dex, betrayed, then studies Elias' raised eyebrows. She's breathing easier now. "No. Dex's to know, first. Later maybe."

He nods as though she's turned down extra cookies, then turns to sort a morphine syrette from his field bag. He judges the size against the lights overhead before selecting another and breaking the seal. "Mm. Hold still please, Spandex, just a prick." Later, reflecting on it, he'll recognize it for Zolotisty's first-ever refusal to share something with him. He will feel proud and then he will put it immediately from his mind.

"I was forward recon for the Network," he says, mild. "Medical support when they were first determining the suitability of the Island for, how did they phrase it.. ah.. continuous dynamic broadcast? Something of the sort." He checks the plaster - - not quite there yet - - and readjusts the gauze already in place on Dex's wrist and forearm. "The organization's bureaucratic structures and ambition weren't in place then, but it was a rapid and I think natural evolution. One I wish I had anticipated, but the callousness they displayed even then meant it was important for anyone of modest medical talent and training to consider going with them. No one else had the best interests of the men in mind."

"Or women," Dex mumbles, wincing as he turns her arm.

"Patriarchal roots, I'm afraid - - no women in the initial missions. Plenty now. Do you have any allergies?"

"Yeh, tryin' to strip people of their dignity makes me sick." She shakes her head.

Elias smiles. "How does it go.. Einstein said of Gandhi, we should strive to do things in his spirit - - not by using violence in fighting for our cause, but by non-participation in anything you believe is evil." He gestures vaguely toward the ceiling then turns to check the plaster. "I'm going to need to ask you to be very still for this."

Dex's rage disperses as he speaks and as the morphine spreads, and she breathes deeply. "Why'djoo quit? K, ready."

He begins laying strips of plaster-wet bandage. "Mm, marked MIA.. then dismissed after it was discovered how I had been using our relatively limited medical supplies. The dismissal was somewhat redundant. I had already naturalized."

Her hand loosens its grip on Z's. "Missin'? How'djoo manage tha'?" Z doesn't move her hand away, shifting her thumb to stroke the side of Dex's.

"No efficient surveillance mechanism in place yet.. and there were multiple Drive explosions as the Island, shall we say, warded itself from the invading parasites." His eyes remain focused on his work. "Many people died or disappeared. One missing medic was not so unusual."

"How many of you were there?" Her knee bumps sideways into Z's as she flinches. "Sorry," she whispers and gets a kiss to the neck for it.

"Less than two hundred on the ground, initially.. then less as time went on. They sent support divisions but there was a certain learning curve then, as now, to surviving in an unpredictable environment."

The cool plaster strips warm quickly, making Dex sleepy-eyed. She watches Elias work for a while. "Where'd'oo get yer supplies?"

"Used what I had, begged and stole what I didn't."

"Mean now."

"Some of the retrainers are self-interested. They'll smuggle for the right deal."

She smiles thickly. As soon as Dex got a reputation in the med-tents for her loud and angry rants about the cost of health care, a few doctors approached her with various offers- -mostly trying to fence stolen supplies for their own profit. And as soon as she got a reputation for punching one in the face, no one talked to her much about anything. It's why she watches the procedures so closely- -she always figured one day they'd just refuse her, and many injuries looked easy enough to work on herself anyway.

"Hard to get some of the more finicky things. Hard to get some very common things. Sterilized needles, for instance." In coming weeks, Elias will find paper-wrapped packages of them left on his office desk. He rises to wet the last set of fiberglass-reinforced bandages, figuring that the same precautions he takes with Zolotisty should apply in equal measure to Spandex.

Dex's eyes threaten to close again. Z noses her jaw before she moves behind her to wedge herself between the wall of the tunnel and Dex, settling her arms and legs around her. "You get any.. trouble from.. Network now?"

"Mm. Not so much. I technically have a proprietor's license; that's how they grandfathered me in."

They watch you though. She thinks she says this aloud before losing the fight with sleep. Elias finishes the wrap job and gently holds Dex's elbow up and away from her lap. He studies the two of them as he and Z wait for the wrap to set. Even in this first dozy bit of sleep, he thinks Dex looks harried. Zolotisty does, flat-eared and silent.

"Alright," he says finally, standing up. "I don't have a sling with me. You can come by for one, or you can make one." Z nods and he begins cleaning up and packing away his things.

She presses her nose into Dex's neck and breathes out before scooting the both of them gently out from the wall, maneuvering to get her feet under herself as she scoops Dex bridal-carry. Adjusting her grip, she carries her to bed to tuck her before returning to Elias.

He watches her still as she pads toward him, and he thins his lips. "Mindful of your battles, little gold," is all he says and all he will say. Pressing into him for a brief embrace, she brings him back to Improbable Central. It's not where she found him, not where they'd expect them. Then she goes, to click slow back to the bed, where Dex lays blinking. "Nod'wi'ou'me."

Z frowns and nuzzles in next to her. "Ll'bring you next time."

Missed-you pressed noses. You're-here-now kisses.

Fatigue and the morphine overwhelm Dex like hopelessness can, and a sigh pulls her eyes closed. She rolls onto her back. Z blankets her.

"Thank you for coming," Z says eventually. "Was scared." But Dex is asleep and she knows it. She watches Dex sleep for a while before rolling off the bed, looping back along the platform to pace the length of the canal slowly up and down, hesitant to touch her ears.

 
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