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SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: RELEASED TO PUBLIC | DATE OF REVIEW: 19.02.2098 |
AUTHORITY: WIPO | AUTHOR: D SPARKS, L7 |
DOCUMENT STATUS: FINAL VERSION | VERSION: 1.0 |

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When we pretend that we're dead
When we pretend that we're dead
They can't hear a word we've said
When we pretend that we're dead


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

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"- -reached the voicemail of Madeline Axelsson. Unfortunately, she is unable to take yo- -"

Matthew Simpert slams his mobile onto the desk with more force than necessary, wetting his bottom lip to keep from calling his producer the goddamned lazy cunt that she is. He stretches his fingers wide to keep from putting a fist in one of the screens, then chaks his neat fingernails against the edge of his seat. "Fuck."

The smell of coffee and marmalade arrives a moment before Cooper does, carrying two mugs. He has dabbed concealer under his eyes, but that doesn't hide the worried expression he looks to have been carrying for days, even under the perfectly pressed suit. "Mr. Simpert," he says, straightening himself into a more positive outlook as Simpert swivels to look at him like a caged animal. "I've brought you coffee, black like your heart." It's Simpert's joke. "Please don't tell me you've been here all night, not because I care about you, you understand," he smiles politely, setting down the coffee next to Simpert's keyboard, then nudging it so their top edges align. "It's just that there are no windows in here, and you're desperate for a shower."

"Desperate for a shotglass, Frills," Simpert says. He feels empty as the violent-edged shape of frustration slips from his body like a battlefield ghost, murmuring about wars losing and wars lost. "Or hell, a shotgun might be nice - - I've been calling since yesterday. Yesterday! You'd think her secretary would have got back to me by now. And the fuck're we supposed to do with that - -" One broad, artistic gesture toward the screens. Elias Ruzicka, spirited from AceHigh with maybe a glimpse of Zolotisty at the edge of four frames, gone for a few hours, then strolling from an alleyway in Improbable Central. Nothing to corroborate his disappearance - - no one-shot pulse, no train ticket, nothing but a blurry half-tail. "Can't get at him, not easily, not without our sailor bitch knowing and kicking up a shitstorm. Fucking fixed mount cameras."

He turns the handle of his mug toward him, staring at its Network logo and the text above it without seeing. Ministry of Love, his says.

Cooper folds into his chair, failing to unbutton his suit jacket. "Few hours- - that's.. Either one of them's hurt or they got him to check Zolotisty over for signs of.." He falters, unsure of the correct term and hides whatever he's feeling behind a sip of his coffee.

"Crikey - - spare me the genius, I'm not Ogilvy."

"Yes sir." He taps half-heartedly at his keyboard, logging into his email.

THE PARTY starts here, says Cooper's mug. Simpert stares at it before pulling at the back of his neck. "Frills, mate, sorry - - I'm acting a right fuck."

"Yes sir," Cooper says. They toast, coffee sloshing dangerously. "How long has it been since last sighting then?"

"Coming up on fourteen hours."

"They slept. No." He lists his predictions on his fingers. "Spandex demanded to know everything. There was confusion over language. They had sex, depending on injuries. They slept. Spandex ranted. They tried to make plans. Got distracted. Spandex is ..angry.. but part of her enjoys this. She's worried about Zolotisty. Your turn."

"Pfsh.. They're both getting restless, if they're not outside somewhere." Cooper grimaces for having missed an easy guess. "Zolotisty is angry, in part for what's happened, but I think probably in greater part because Spandex is angry. They'll be wondering if they're about to walk into another one of those set-ups, or whether we'll do the same to the rest of the clan. They'll be reluctant to warn anyone in case we haven't - - they're both too martyr-like with responsibility and guilt to do otherwise - - but it would be a good way to flush them out. They'll be looking for ways to trick us, beyond what they already have done - - yeah, yeah, plans. Ah.."

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

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Longing burns down fear, consumes hesitation, ignores danger. You wish to lie open as a field.
But people can't be truthful, not all at once.


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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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"My teeth want meat, twist, so my tongue does and now my stomach's always noisy too." Dex plucks two grapes from a bowl on the counter, corks her fangs with them, then grins at Z like an overbite nerd. Z laughs and apes the expression back at Dex.

"S'attractive," she tells her, before digging for meat. Bacon, panthzer filet, this here is maybe pork flank. Nothing much else. Fruits, vegetables, cheeses. "What kind of meats."

Dex shrugs and moves to push herself up to her usual spot on the counter, but can't manage it one-handed. "Any. You're the chef," she says, backing out of her way.

"You are trusting," Z says, crowding Dex back into the counter before scooping her just under her arse. She slides her onto the counter, escapes Dex's legs lifting to wrap her thighs, and goes back to survey the selection again, looking with fresh eyes. Mnh. The panthzer steaks come out, along with cheese, onions and potatoes from beneath a counter, and olive oil in a suspicious looking container from a little shelf over the sink.

"If I were a person running the cameras," she remarks as she finds a large skillet, tonking it onto the range, "I would be out of patiences with us. There would be none left."

"Sound bet, yeh, they want us to roll over so they can jus' keep shittin' on us, twist, but it ain't gon'be like that. No loose talk, no second thoughts and no snitchin'. We're gon'a play it like that."

"I could make another of these. But different. Let them find that."

"Yeh I was thinkin' that too, but they'll install cameras and then realise we're still off'a grid sometimes." She hands Z a knife. "Maybe we jus' gotta look like we ain'missing. Make it look like we're sleepin' in bed in'a Loft whenever we wanna come here. Donno how, got'a build fake heads or- -'"

"Build - - what if we just.. what if we Jokered somma real, then they follow the fake ones around. Then they realize, 'oh, they are fake.' And they stop paying attention because they think they are too clever for it, then we can go around as the decoys and they'll not pay attention, because they are too clever. Or maybe there are too many to follow so they don't know what's us. Or both. Both of the things. Or, ahmn. We could.. we could make the cameras go dead. Over and over. We could not be in the jungles."

"Maybe. I don't mind if they show things if they makes 'em all see the shit they bringin' down on us .. all'a us. Hrmm."

"Ionno how to grift making them look stupid when they're the ones who tell the story."

Dex smiles, stands and turns her back to Z to walk to the water's edge where she crouches to pick something up. Zolotisty cocks her head and doesn't hide her stare as she compares the hollows of Dex's knees to the small of her back, her front side hidden from Z's view as she stays crouched to do something with the thing.

"Ignoring them?" she asks after a moment.

"No," Dex responds without turning around, apparently distracted by the mystery in her hands.

"Ionno. Leaving. What you got."

Whatever it is makes her shriek and laugh as if she's been bitten by a kitten.

On cue, Z forgets playing at being Julia Child. She pyramid-ears at Dex's back. "Whatsit, Dex." She leans to the left to crane her neck as though it'll help, then cocks her head right. The view doesn't change. She can't hear anything - - there shouldn't be anything unusual there, but maybe there is. Maybe Dex snuck something in - - no. Wouldn't've been a chance. Right?

She shakes off before slipping after her to investigate but Dex keeps moving, deking and ducking left and right, keeping her back to Z.

"Again! Again!" she tells the thingie, and whoops and cackles. And then she drops it into the water. A small splash, and it sinks, never to be seen. Dex swipes her hands and finally turns to face Z. "What's what?"

Zolotisty doesn't turn to look toward the water. She stares at Dex for a moment. Admiration and enlightenment kindle her yellow-green eyes to springtime shades. Then she grins like Coyote and kisses her rough. "W'tha work, you think?" she asks, framing Dex's face with her hands. "What kind of a thing makes them go whatsit whatsit."

Dex's eyes reflect the light in Z's and she presses their noses together before answering. "Lots, I bet. We've had this place for what.. two days? And already they're so pissed they're kickin' shit up."

"Where's the animal book," Z demands.

Dex snatches Z's hand from her cheek as Z pulls away, looking. "Twist. Don' leave. Don'wan'a walk into another trap, yeh."

Zolotisty only half-turns, looking impatient. "Yeh," she says. She scavenges along the low bookshelves at the foot of the bed, trying to remember whether it was one of the armful she scooped to bring along, or whether it's jammed somewhere under disheveled jeans in the loft. Dex watches her for a moment before pacing in her own search- -she needs to learn how to disappear, how to travel, how to use Improbability as a trap or shield or radio. Z knots one hand in it as she moves, kneading and flexing absentmindedly. It pulls powerfully around them, protesting - - too rough, be gentle. Dex frowns, feeling it weigh and tug on her neck and shoulders.

Nothing. Z rubs her free hand over her mouth and turns to watch Dex now, fingers still working busily - - curl and yank and release and smooth, wind and twist and ease and purl. She drags her eyes up from feet to thigh without her usual half-lidded appreciation and doesn't x-ray linger on her favorite scars or the gurney-fresh scrapes layered through torn denim.

"Z," Dex almost stomps. "Can't- -how can I learn to go when you.. it's like a fuckin' wind tunnel in here, what you doin'?"

"Mh?" Z morning-mimes.

"Wha'you doin?" she repeats, mimicking Z's busy fingers with her good hand. The motion alongside Dex's legs draws her attention and the charm breaks. Z cocks her head, blinking, then smiles.

"Don't reckon I've ever tried to make sommat like this," she remarks, then twists to two-fist her tail as though it's about to Houdini its way out of the tunnel. The tension eases abruptly, bobbin thread unwound.

"Twisty." Dex cracks her neck.

"Mhm?" Z carries her tail back to the bed, where she sits with it. It opossums limp in her hands, playing dead.

Two can play this game. Dex closes her eyes and decides she's going to ride the Improbability express to one of her favourite swimming spots in the sea- -it's a wide stretch of flat sands buffered by dunes with patches of wind-bent grasses, a low foamy break close to shore, and a long walk out in the water until its deep enough to swim. The late afternoon sunwarmed wind on her face whips her hair across her forehead and she holds her breath and dives under and pulls herself further into darkness and kicks the world away behind her.

The cast on her arm vibrates and a bit of plaster flakes off as a hairline crack appears from one end. "Shit!" She opens her eyes and shakes her head of the feeling of freedom.

"Spandex."

"S'okay, it's still good," she says poking and squeezing the cast. "I didn't bloody move but that shit will be real handy sometime."

"What'd - - how did you - -"

"Are you hurt?"

"What?"

"Your tail, Z. Wha'th'fuck is wrong wi'your tail!"

"It's alright. Come here, lemme see."

"No," she snaps. "You're hidin' somma'."

"Not." Z lets go her tail to reach up for her ears. She watches, gambles, says, "Sicpuess does illusion but I can't do much of it without getting tired, 'cos I've not practiced. Certainly nothing that moves. But I reckon I could make things if I sorted it. There's ahmn.. word.. There's a word.."

"Word for what?" Dex sits heavily next to Z on the bed.

"A fake of a thing that you want someone to look at while you hide the real one." She lets go of her ears.

"Decoy? Wait, wait, your tail's a fake?" She reaches to yoink at its tip, getting a trap of teeth around the ball of her shoulder for it. Z dimples the skin there until Dex stretches her fingers in surrender. Not for long, though; her hand is soon trying to sneak its way back to feel for difference. It lies furry, witless, and ignorant.

Sour, Z starts to respond as she pulls away, but pauses as she stares down at a rip in Dex's jeans. "You put your whatsits on backward," she says, smug. For once it's not her.

"I what?" But she's bent over and poking and sees it immediately. Cover Dex's eyes at any given moment and ask what the patterns on her striped stockings are and she'll get it right every time, and it's a twice daily ritual to check them again for changes. "Shit Z, nice one. These two'r dif'rent than this morning. They've changed." Her jeans are around her ankles faster than Z can manage, even.

"Wut." The smug look has disappeared. She peers at the pooled fabric around Dex's stockinged ankles, up her legs. "Why did they change. They do not look different to me."

"Yeh look, this one was striped before, now solid, and this one too. I donno why really, they just do, and I read them and try'n listen to what they say."

"Make them tell you to come give me kisses," Z says, pulling Dex from contemplating the changes ahead of her.

"Sorry Z, I can only read'em. Could throw my cards to ask how to get your kisses tho'." She did once, actually, unconsciously. Dex hikes up her jeans and buttons the fly.

"Yeh? What if I am here and I want them."

She stares, then, "Zolotisty! You fuckin' genius! Where's my jacket?"

"What?"

"These," Dex says, dropping her jacket back on the floor beside the bed and brandishing her deck of symbol cards. "When I want to know 'bout something, these tell me the changes I need to make to get there. Get it? What if I ask about a place?" The cards make a whispery sound as she shuffles them.

Zolotisty cocks her head then leans forward to make grabby hands. She thomps her tail once as she resettles. "Do it! Ask them a thing. Ask about ahmn. Ionno. Somewhere."

They grin at each other. "K, need to concentrate." She takes a breath and looks down at the cards as they disappear from one hand to the other. The feelings of the beach and sea return easily. "Change to swimming," she asks them, shuffling a few more times before flicking two with two snaps of her left hand so that they thwpthwp, sticking into the air a few feet in front of her. Zolotisty watches the cards and worms in place. She doesn't think about Dex's cast.

Dex trots over and pulls the bottom card free. "S'the water card- - danger." The top card takes two tugs. "Okay, two changes on this. It starts as another watery one. This is being happy and indulgent, but its' askin' me to go from that to.. uhh.. like thinking and being conscious of my actions." Dex sets the cards down on a shelf of air beside her and rocks up on her toes. Her nattering accelerates.

"Fuckme, twist, see how the cards are so bloody smart I asked for swimming and they totally nailed the watery ones and they know how swimming is one of my favourite things and you were right, twist, askin' the cards is gon'a crack this open I know it." Her smile is broad and unself-conscious and her gestures are large and she mimes an exaggerated one-legged frog kick, "jack this ride, c'monnnn gon'go swimming!" And Improbability trapdoors the floor from underneath her and she disappears. It worked.

Zolotisty lurches forward to scratch at the space Dex no longer occupies. She turns a circle with lifted ears, tuning through static to find her girl southwesterly, and hesitates. Maybe don't stalk. Stalking's expected, two of them in a place is expected. She listens for panic, for problems, and itches like a babysitter watching their favorite kid in the deep-end without arm floaties for the first time.

Mud. Mud and darkness and slimy ribbons wrapping her feet and she's an eel in a net at the bottom of the lake in the middle of the island. Improbability's decided it would be a right laugh to be literal, and dumped her ass almost exactly where she and Callia found the crateful of beerbottles containing her symbol. But she doesn't realise this, not yet, just that she best get her ass in gear 'cuz fuckknows how far above the surface is. She digs her foot into the slip - - that's down - - but there's nothing to push off of, and she's one-flippered. A wee bit of foresight earlier would have suggested that swimming with a casted newly broken wrist is ill-advised.

Just as the cards said.

Skrr-klklklklklk-skrrrrch, Z's claws say. Water, southwest, no twanging alarm 'til there's a ghost of the bars that go with being trapped, and she remembers the cast and lunges headlong after, hounddogging the sound of her with blind-faith. Hard to go anywhere she's not already been. The black is startling, absolute.

A fuckin' seamonster or one of those big-ass ancient carps bumps along her side. Dex twists, kicks, thrashes- - more to break free of the grabby lake grass and swim for surface than to fight this dumb creature that was probably jus' passing through. Then it clamps around her leg and before she can rethink her pacifism, they're flung and flopped back onto the tunnel floor like two giant snappers, breathless and flailing. Z's tail slaps like a rudder against the concrete as she sits up. "Why," she gasps, "did you pick waters if you have this - -" Chk chk chk.

Dex's heart's beating like it wants out of her chest as she lays still shock-splayed and panting on her back. "Forgot." A grin. "It worked.. jus' need..map.. to ge'back nex'time."

"Make it dry, Ionwan you to rot. You need that." She picks up Dex's arm at the elbow, lets it drop gently, then barnacles to her girl's belly while they catch their breath. Improbability sucks the damp off of them and Dex pats Z's frizz-dried hair and silt-speckled shoulders before rolling her off so she can grab her cards. "Where's the tunnel," she asks them and then adds, "Yaksi."

She showboats by sticking the cards in the air just above Z, and they can snug close while she reads the symbols. "Thought you were a giant squid or somma', twist."

"Need more arms. Like in the book with the blue people."

"What book? Look," she waves the card, "Happy'n indulgent again. Wants two changes to be, uhh, going with the flow, listening and being flexible'nshit." She balances the card on Z's head - - pausing to pluck out a bit of lakeweed from her hair - - and frees the second one. "Okay this one is strength and power'n all, but it wants.. bloody smartasses." She sets the card on top of the other and pulls at the back of her neck. "Told me to be conscious'n smart, again."

Z flicks an ear, staring at the length of Dex's throat before she rolls onto her back to give the cards the hoary eye. Hers aren't smart, she doesn't think. Where do these keep their brain. She scratches at the edge of one of them with the tip of a claw. Not under the coating. It occurs to her after a moment that she might be pissing them off, so she pulls her hand back to jam it under her thigh.

They're silent for a while, each working through their own puzzles.

"S'humility," Dex says finally, pausing, rubbing the fronts of her fangs on the round of Z's shoulder. "This place is dangerous for us, twist. Powerful. Like Yaksi, like Improbability is sometimes. S'what the cards mean- -to get here I need to be humble and remember it's bigger than me. You know, like respectin' a really hot Joker." There's a gentle nudge.

"'Mprobil'ty's not dangerous."

Dex opens her mouth to argue but her stomach cuts in angrily, speaking over her. They both pause. Z looks guilty and moves back toward the kitchen. "..Decoys," Z says again as she flecks the outer layers of skin from the onions.

"Yeh! Tha's good. And we set them up thinkin' s'a bunch of parties 'n they've not been invited or set 'em up to meet us on th'corner, like, but stand their asses up. They be all feet shufflin', fingers up their nose, wonderin' why they ain't got a friend in'a world." Dex is enjoying herself watching Z move- - always elegantly athletic, even in the banal dance of cooking. "Okay, so two goals: one, they never find this place; two, they never lay a hand on you again."

"Two, they never lay a hand on either of us again."

"And we need to think bigger, twist. We need'ta subvert this shit. Just don' got it figured how yet. Not in a way they can't edit, like you said."

They both fall silent, thinking. The onions are diced and dumped into the skillet with a healthy drizzle of oil from the suspicious looking bottle. Z scrapes things around with the knife. Dex swings her feet occasionally, letting them fall back against the cupboard. By the time Z's forgotten watching the skillet to try to balance eggs on end on the countertop, Dex slams her left palm on the counter. The egg wobbles, then falls to spin wildly in ever-widening arcs.

"Fuckit. They've got us cornered. I can't think of one thing they can't just change or delete. Best rebellion is building places like this for people. Givin' us our private lives back. Unless you got somethin'."

Zolotisty catches the egg, stills it, then turns to make a plus symbol out of her fingers. She holds it parallel to the floor. "Maps are exan whys, right?"

"Those of the privileged, yeh."

"Huh? Put up your finger." Z pads closer to notch hers perpendicular against Dex's one upstretched finger. "They've got everything on the flat. They can put cameras everywhere there. But the other line, they can't - - not really. Not easily. We could go up. We could go down."

"Mmn? I heard they got'em mounted in the bubble 'round this place, s'at not true?"

"Got the planes. But those can't go too close or else they are briskets."

"Really? So tops of trees..? But hang on, a lot of the jungle cameras have Exorcisty swivellin' heads. Can turn right up, then they spew it all out for the gapers in'r sofas to eat."

"How far can they see?"

"Donno. We'd have'ta test. But how you know there aren't hidden ones in the bubble?"

Z screws up her face. "We'd see them. Or they would be a flower. And falling."

Dex gets her legs 'round Z's thighs to pull her in. "Maybe build a bunch'a stash houses then- - tunnels and treeforts. Quietly get the word 'round, so people can use 'em. Network get all fuckin' uptight when they start missin' things - - 'where'd that cast come from?' 'why'd they split up?' 'why they not fightin' no more?' All the stuff they jus' can't go blame on the dri- -"

"Split up?"

"Not us, Zolotisty.. but if someone did, how much better to do it without millions watchin' yeh?" By the time she reaches the end of her question, Dex realises that up until she told Z about the show and audience, Z did in effect have this privacy simply for not knowing any better.

"Mnn," Z says, rubbing the side of her face. "Better, aye," she says but doesn't sound certain of it.

"Was'wrong?"

"S'at the way out? They'd leave us alone, cos no us. Took away their story."

Puzzled, Dex knocks her forehead into Z's. "What you mean no us?"

She chews on the inside of her mouth and shakes her head before she touches their noses together. "M'confusticating it, s'arright."

A gentle shove. "No tell me."

"I donno what I am thinking, I will tell you when I know. Ionno how to make it into words."

"But.." She sighs, with frustration replacing bemusement and releases her legs from around Z's waist. "Okay. Anyway, we need to work out plans for right now. Like how to get in and out'a here without them finding out I can jump like you can, and how to lie to each other in front of cameras.. and some sort'a radio so we can be separate when we want to. And anything else I'm forgetting, like ONIONS!"

"Whuh - -" Z wheels to add more oil, pauses when she realizes potatoes go before onions, pulls it off the heat, then sighs mightily which sets Dex to giggles. She begins dicing. "I do not like cooking," she tells the cutting board.

 
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