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I have found that humanity is not incidentally engaged, but eternally and systematically engaged, in throwing gold into the gutter and diamonds into the sea.



Though Cooper doesn't know it yet, the flashing "file loaded" message on Simpert's screen is about to save him his job.

"Finally," Cooper says. "Let's queue this up on the screen overhead, order in a pizza, cuddle up on the sofa and watch it together, shall we, sir?" He rolls up his knitting and tucks it into the leather satchel he keeps under his desk. The metal clasp clicks fastidiously shut, the screentoggle chakts, and it's as though they've cued it with the foley boys - - the warhorse clopk of business heels echos in the hallway.

Simpert hears it first, swiveling toward the door with a look of animal wariness. "Fuck me, bitchboots - -" he hisses before squaring his shoulders. He leans back in his chair to wait, sparing the briefest look of resentment for his phone. Still no call from Axelsson.

"Why," she starts before even making it through the door, "am I on the phone hearing about Zolotisty planning a meeting with Ebenezer from Stasi Godard?"

Cooper almost concusses himself trying to get his head out from under his desk.

"Are you gentlemen deliberately trying to make me look like a jackass or are you just completely incompetent?" Her breath is even and her face is untwisted, as if seething is her normal state. "What have you got?" She holds court from the doorway, tapping a list out on her fingers. "I'll tell you what I've got. I've got no biochem stats on Zolotisty. No proposal for continuity editing with Spandex's fangs. No update on your marriage lead, no evidence you're investigating how Spandex managed to get her filthy ass onto that boat. No script and no storyboard for the reworked rescue scene. No leads on their whereabouts, and no notification the instant they showed up again."

Ogilvy takes a moment to stare at the two as if she actually expects a response. The massive computers built into the walls behind their screens continue groaning and churning. The main feed flickers, loaded and ready to stream. Simpert looks hungry with exhaustion, staring back at her with scrapyard patience.

"What have you got?" she repeats, and Cooper thinks, not my knitting, or I'd be fucked.

Simpert takes a breath and reaches to toggle feeds for two of their secondary screens. "I've got Zolotisty on some off-grid cams before the New Pittsburgh footage with Ebenezer. Brief, nothing worth airing," or at least, that's his guess - - no goddamn time to review footage you found all of six minutes ago, "and I'm widening the net to her other trails. Going to backtrack through the day; see if we can find Spandex in here somewhere too - - if they're feeling good enough to run around, maybe they're back to feeling good enough to behave as they normally do. What's more, if they're wandering the jungle, maybe their hideyhole's nearby." Cooper struggles to hide his relief as Simpert plays the footage of Zolotisty loping a footpath while he calls markers for another segment. "Following the incident on the boat, we know they saw Elias. Look close, watch right here." He gestures to the right edge of the screen as he plays the clip. There's a dust-colored smudge for a split-second as Elias is pulled off-screen.

Pausing the clip, Simpert rewinds then taks at his keyboard to move them forward frame by frame until there's a clear shot of the smudge. Black-tipped, fluffy. "He shows up in Improbable Central a few hours later. No evidence of either of the girls with him."

Neither of the men in the room see it, but Ogilvy's nostrils flare for an instant. "Simpert. Are you suggesting we broadcast a blur- -" She stops herself. "The audience will be wondering if one of them is hurt or not, I suspect just as you two are. Slot that in as the scene after the physical exam. Speaking of which..." She steps into the room and Cooper stands immediately to offer his chair. She remains standing, of course.

Ogilvy does not sit. She looms.

"Work it up to a classic martial arts scene and story of punk-becoming-lethal weapon. Lean on our stock footage, pull things from the Victoria training sessions that we didn't air. Get some slow-motion replay of Spandex's moves, and that knife as it buzz-cuts that tech. Gun barrels, beads of sweat, eyes full of fear. Zolotisty reaching for Spandex. Those near-misses when the guard fires. Put me so close to the edge of my seat that I'm tipping my chair over, then tip me over. Park Chan-Wook, boys, and I'm not even asking if you've watched the films I sent to your homes. Include everything in the Loft up to my voice."

The comforting weight of routine blankets as cozy around Simpert as the woolly thickness of stress and fatigue. He nods, rubs the hollows of his eyes, and turns to check his partner.

Cooper is stiffer than ever. "Yes ma'am," he says, jotting notes. "As to Spandex's fangs- -" Ogilvy's look is a macktruck that stops his voice like an insect.

"The examination scene will go out as Spandex saw it, but add everything starting from your naive little pet getting clocked by the pickup crew, draw out the examination, keep her looking distressed, make it visceral. Footage of the aftermath has all been declassified- - so you've got terrified medical staff, an enraged butcher of a doctor, bumbling guards and the whole lot of them getting their asses fired for incompetence." She pauses here, daring Cooper to speak again.

Declassified? both of them wonder.

"The discomfort you boys are feeling now? Remember it, and treble it, because that's what I want our audience to be feeling. Is that clear? If we work together on this, not only will it get us all back in the top three, but you'll finally have made something you'll be proud of."

The scritch of Cooper's pen on paper in the sudden silence makes him wince.

"Yes ma'am," both of them breathe.

"Fangs, Cooper?"

"Yes ma'am. I took footage of Zolotisty playing her viola for Spandex along a riverbank from a few months back, cropped it close and keep the depth of field short to avoid any seasonal discrepancies. Called on some favours with the riggers and FX crews for the fang growth sequence. Would you like to see it now?"

"Sounds positively Arcadian," but she's lifted her phone to tap a message. "I'd wager the actual scene wasn't such a picnic, but your scene will work as a nice contrast to the conflict on the boat. Upload it to my share file. Anything else?" She looks up.

The screen on Simpert's phone lights up before it begins to chime. Fear keeps him statue-formed before the Medusa for the first two rings. "No ma'am," he says finally, stretching to snatch the phone.

AXELSSON, M. the caller ID says. Fuck me, Simpert thinks as Ogilvy's phone beeps.

"Ogilvy. Put her through," and she steps out of the office into the hallway.

He snaps the phone open. "Simpert speaking, Network cam ops."

Simpert's news will be in the room after Ogilvy's long gone, so Cooper dares to sidestep toward the door. He strains to listen. "Yes Ms. Godard, I'm in their office as we speak."

A two-part harmony becomes a fugue as an email pings into their inboxes. The subject reads, 'Z & D - FIELD FLOWERPICKING.' A door slams behind Spandex as she walks into the DICE hall feed over Simpert's head. He flinches, looking up. Volume..

"Hi Matt." Madeline Axelsson has a voice that confuses private callers into asking for the nearest adult. Her tone today is light, pleasant.

"Ms. Axelsson," Simpert says, trying to keep his tone present and light and passive aggressively venomous. He swivels his head toward Cooper, mouthing 'get on it!' "I've been trying to get a hold of you - - are you up to date on the latest with our coyote?"

"I have about thirty pissy memos from Stasi sitting in my inbox, and one or two fuck-off nasty emails from Hisoka too. What are you doing to fix it?"

".. I'd bet my job on it," is all Cooper catches from Ogilvy as he dives for the controls, following Spandex to the kitchen. Spandex stomps down the stairs all swinging-armed business-as-usual, but for the fact one arm is in a cast.

"Cast. Cast. Cast-dex," Cooper sputters, zooming in on it and then up to her tensed forehead.

Dex heads straight for the kitchen and grabs a jug from the icebox with her good hand. Still not used to her new fangs, juice spills down the front of her shirt as she gulps. Ogilvy steps back into the office just in time to catch it, and both she and Cooper roll their eyes as Spandex mutters, "I got a drinking problem, har-har." They watch as she reaches to swipe her chin with the back of her hand, only to realise there's a cast.

"That's your Elias," Ogilvy scowls, pointing her phone at the screen. And another continuity problem, they both think. She taps a message into her phone. Getting access to Elias will require some authorizations from upstairs.

"We've got a live feed coming in now," Simpert is saying to Maddie, mashing the phone between his ear and his shoulder as he opens his own e-mail. There's a duplicate notification from an off-grid operator. Judging by the coordinates, it's one of the undeveloped blocks northeast of Kittania. "I don't think it'll last long, they haven't lately - - but we've got ground crews looking, also, and Ms. Ogilvy has been providing direction in your ab-"

"She can get the fuck out of my camera room," Madeline spits.

Simpert doesn't finish his sentence, mouth hanging slightly slack. It's not astonishment, this is typical Madeline, but it is distraction as another feed goes live just shy of Cooper's left ear. Zolotisty, sauntering into NewHome with a nonchalant 'who me, I'm not a moderator' look about her as she heads straight for a group of new contestants. "Uh, yes ma'am," he says, trying to queue the feed. Markered, it buffers quickly.

"Where is she? Is she there?"

"Excuse me?"

"When was the last time you saw her, Matt."


"Fuck it, I'll call." The line goes dead and he lets the phone fall from his shoulder as he scrabbles to reorganize their feeds by priority. NewHome, clan hall, what the fuck are these flowers.

Ogilvy's phone beeps. "Maddie. What a pleasant surprise. Thought you were on holidays," Ogilvy chirps, knowing full-well Madeline's scheduled break isn't for two months. "It's one o'clock, how does Moshi Moshi for lunch grab you? I'll have my driver meet us downstairs in twenty." She hangs up, giving Madeline no chance to respond. "Entitled prat," Ogilvy hisses, snapping the phone shut and glancing up at the screens.

Simpert twinges bodily as he hits play on the off-grid backfeed. Spandex is naked and flitting through a meadow like she's goddamn Demeter, picking flowers - - one-handed because she's wearing a fucking cast. He toggles to get a look at Zolotisty, how she's comporting herself. "Fuck. Fuck, what is this - - Cooper, I don't give a fuck about that, look at this."

Cooper glances up briefly from tracking Spandex as she trots back up the clan hall stairs and out the NewHome entrance, presumably to meet Zolotisty. Sure enough, she crosses the square and stands behind Z, watching with an impressed smirk as Z gently teases the sense back into a boastful rookie.

Ogilvy grins at the panic in the room. "Nothing, nothing goes out on either Zolotisty or Spandex until we've got this under control, meaning my go-ahead. And we'll talk about the plans for the Warehouse meeting once I return Madeline to her cushioned case," she says cheerfully.

They scarcely notice as she leaves.

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