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And here's a new trick, Mr. Knox..



A text arrives as Hisoka Ogilvy's stork-legged to do up her knee high boot. She jerks at the zipper, drops her foot to the ground and snatches for her phone.

Gannet & Monroe on Project Lucky Dog. Prelim mtg sched 830am. - HR

She's surprised. Calling a meeting on such short notice is standard practice, but they've chosen an unlikely team. Gannet's name turning up for any project at all is unusual now that his primary ward, KK Victoria, found a way out of the program. Usually the older, more experienced cam-ops get sacked if they lose their ward. The Network has no interest in wasting top dollar on watching a rookie that might not survive their first month, and all the teams of the other high-rated Contestants hang on to their jobs as if their lives depend on it.

They do; it's not like anyone else is hiring.

She respects Gannet's work. He could have lowered KK Victoria to war-gore schlock, but he always found more subtle approaches. Raised questions, created a hell of a lot of controversy with the audience, got the show some respect, and the good ratings didn't hurt his longevity either. Monroe. A name she doesn't recognize, which means he's a nobody. She taps in a request for more information on him, and hell, while she's at it, what they've done with Gannet since Kai left.

Ogilvy grabs one of her leather coats, clicks off the screen showing highlights from Island Overnight, and shuts the door to her dressing room. It's bigger than most people's entire apartments.

Fuck, she's still here.

She adds a couple of items to her two pre-printed itemised lists, one for the cleaning staff, one for the pet-nanny, and pins them to the fridge. Kubrick pounces after her feet, skids out on the polished hardwood, then darts away as she crouches to tap her fingers against the floor. He bows at her, tail slashing back and forth, then charges back over.

"You're going to have to leave," she calls across her open-plan flat to her date sprawled on the bed.

"Mmn. Thought you had the morning off.."

Kubrick mewls and squeaks as she scratches him under his chin and coos at him affectionately. He tussles with her fingers, rearing onto his hind paws to make fierce faces and bat at her knuckles.

Morning off? Even if she does get time off, she usually works. "Three minutes," she says. Three minutes she spends playing with her fennec fox.

"Yeah, I hear you." The woman rolls over to find her clothes.

She lifts Kubrick to her shoulder and flips the switch on her espresso machine. It's already been set up for a demitasse, so she leans back against the counter and knocks open his canister of peanuts one-handed. She watches the television next to the fridge, doing her best to keep hold of him when he vibrates with peanut madness. The screen's looping the Improbable Central scenes from yesterday, from the point that Dex first met Haccadine to Zolotisty's disappearance in the pub. She shoots her espresso quickly, not because she's concerned that she might be late for a meeting with two camera ops, but because that's how she enjoys it.

"Goodbye sweetie," she says, setting him in his enormous cage. "Don't be sad, I won't be late." He tilts his head towards her finger as she reaches through the bars to scratch behind his ear.

Ogilvy shoves her phone in her matching leather bag, turns off the other screens, and takes her elevator downstairs to meet her driver.



Thabiti Gannet adjusts his sportswatch, centering it on the flat of his wrist. He checks the time, shifts his weight to his other foot, and gazes at a fixed point across the hallway. It's not unusual to be kept waiting for up to an hour by a producer, sometimes two. Ogilvy's typically punctual but he supposes she'll want to leverage her seniority and rank today, especially on this project.

Sign me up, he thought as soon as he read 'guaranteed overtime and full benefits.'

He turns his head as another man makes his way down the hall, shying to the edge of the corridor and checking doors for numbers. Looks young. Lost. Like a chaiwallah.

"M-Mr. Gannet?" The man adjusts his thin tie with his left while extending the right. "Man is Michael Monroe. Your partner for this gig?"

"Partner," he echoes, flat. He sizes up the younger man as he shakes his hand. "Who do you op for?"

Monroe doesn't stop shaking until Gannet extricates his hand. "Sorry, sorry, a bit shook. Op? This is my first, mate, man is Customer Dis-service. Can't believe it, sure it was jokes."

The disservice quip doesn't earn any smiles — it's a tired Network saw. "You're working as a camera operator and you're out of customer service?" What the fuck kind of project is this. Knew it sounded too good to be true. "How long have you been Network?"

"Thirty-seven weeks?" Monroe sits at the table, and unpacks a set of three pens and notebook from his stiff leather case. He uncaps each, chooses the one with the finest tip, and writes the date on the top right corner of the first page. "You?" He doesn't wait for a response before gushing, "Believe we're going to be rolling with the Zolodex? They're some slappy bitches, alie?"

Suddenly, the idea of Ogilvy as his supervisor is less welcoming than it was five minutes ago. She's a maverick, known for shoehorning her pet projects and pet people into high places. Gannet is silent, trying to suss out whether this Monroe might be one of them — or whether they're both guinea pigs on some fucked up meta-project that's got to do with crash-training an idiot. Gonzo-style journalism brought to bear in twenty second century video editing. He can imagine her pitching it as more authentic on basis of the man's lack of technical and theoretical training. The un-Othered gaze.

"Over ten years," he says finally. Slappy. Which fan club did you crawl out of, you fuckwit. "I opped for Kai Victoria. Yes, I can believe it."

"Kai?! Watch, now. Kai? Episode 10389 in Season One, where he gives Z the puzzle box and she flips out, alie? And he's all, 'you saved pineapple.' I got the shirt of that, s'well shabby."

"The shirt."

"You. Saved. Pineapple," he repeats in his best Kai-voice while drawing three lines across his chest.

"I suppose you have the commemorative Zolotisty-as-coyote plush then, as well."

"Don'be merksin' my mans, shit's for kiddadles." He does, though, have a set of fake claws, fake fangs, and a 'Zolotisty Synaesthephone' that was marketed as allowing users to hear the sounds and songs of various common objects. That piece of junk set him back two months salary, even with the employee discount.

"Excuse me?"



"Take the East Fourth overpass today, Rufus." She pulls the door shut and immediately begins tapping into her phone, impatient for the files she requested.

"Ma'am, I don't recommend it. It's Wednesday, they'll be setting up the labour demonstra-"

"Rufus, just gun it. If we hit anyone, I'll throw money out the window for damages."

He glances up at his rear view mirror to the back at the top of her head, bent down over her mobile device. She's probably not joking.

Cutting through the Tenth Sector is the fastest way to the East Fourth.

Australia's population centers shifted back in the fifties, after the last of the coastal cities and towns were drowned by the sea. Most people moved to Canberra — seaside now, itself. Expansion roiled inward, away from the financial districts and the downtown with its office buildings and highrises. Some, like the Twelfth and Thirteenth, are close enough to the new city center and its amenities that they are livable — dangerous, rough, but livable.

Others, like the Tenth and the Ninth, are no man's lands patrolled by junkies, garbos, dog rustlers and the occasional Crew runner. After the collapse of the oil markets and Canberra's working class economy, as well as the federal criminalization of most vehicles, it became uneconomical to transport the city's waste to outlying landfills. Some clever city official got the notion to begin filling the empty buildings like tremendous concrete garbage bins, and that's been policy since then.

The buildings don't always stay up, though. Left alone to elements and earthquakes, every couple years one of them crumbles or buckles open from the bottom, spewing out methane and rot and the husks of scrapped electronics.

People have built up shanties in the alleyways, over the hills of garbage, along the sidewalks. There are thriving open air drug markets if you go deep enough among them — places to buy synthetic alcohol and cheap, off-market rebreathers too. Garbos scavenge, salvage, sell to the runners who then resell to the Crew designers and collectors in the city center. Loping packs of dogs occupy buildings by rotation, and though they all know to bolt from the rustlers, none of the meatpackers have made a dent in the population yet.

It's a good place to get killed, if that's what you're into.

Ogilvy pounces on her phone when it pings, announcing the file on Monroe:

Michael Manning Monroe
Aged 20, average height, typical cis het, single and not currently seeking romantic or sexual engagement. Overall above-average health. Average blood sugar levels high, stomach pH trends toward acid, attributable to diet of convenience foods.
Network employee since June 2097 as customer service representative (CSR). No previous employment.

Worse than I thought, she thinks, scrolling past the psychologist reports, aptitude tests, and personal history. She skims for a family member link in the Network - - there must be if he's been assigned to her team. Nothing. The bastards must be trying to stitch me up. She calls up Gannet's information, expecting another surprise, but his is as expected: he was offered a good position training new cam ops, was offered the temporary move to her team and took it. It's a good gig. But a CSR?

There's a familiar bang just outside her window. Her head snaps up.

"Stop!" She's opened her door before the car stops rolling.

Rufus rests his forehead on the steering wheel. Crazy bitch. This is her fifth stray this year. She swoops in like some sort of mutt-angel, stealing or bargaining them away from rustlers, who carry tranq guns to shoot from a distance. It keeps them safe from rabies and attacks, keeps the dogs stupid and docile as they herd them back to one of the mobile butcher's camps. Most of the local rustlers have heard of her by now, and regardless of their opinions, one lost dog is usually worth the chance that they might be paid off if they kick up a shitstorm.



An empty fifteen minutes pass.

Monroe pipes up, "Zolotisty or Spandex?"


"They're both beast, nawmean? I'd have to choose Spandex though, I mean, I'd bang them both and together'd be extra, but Zolotisty's claws'd be like gettin' shanked, right-o." He snorts. "Though she's gentle like puppy-love when she wants to be." He purrs in demonstration.



In the Network-only drop-off zone, a door slams, leaving Rufus alone in the car with a shepherd mix. The dog is filthy, visibly crawling with ticks, and chubby-bellied with on-their-way puppies. Ogilvy only puts them in the front seat if she's on her way to work. It keeps the hair from her suits - - not that she minds the shedding, but she refuses to look disheveled in the office.

The dog's glassy-eyed with sedatives, and she sits next to him now like a seasoned airline traveler — - leaning over to gaze at what he's doing with his hands, taking up too much space. Her tail thomps and she licks her chops, glancing up to meet his narrowed eyes.

"Hanf hanf hanf hanf," she pants, moist and briny.

Now that he's out of Ogilvy's sight, he counts the neat wad of bills she stuffed in his hand. Enough to cover his petrol, the dog's medical bills, a stay at the local bleeding hearts SPCD, and airfare and handling to a country where people don't send death threats to dog rehabbers for wasting resources on walking food.

He'd kill her and take the money if he could get away with it. The wad of cash he's holding is equivalent to three month's of his fucking wages, and he's paid well to ram the car through crowds of children.

Three month's wages, wasted on this piece of shit, mange-riddled bitch.



"Gannet," Ogilvy says with a polite cheeriness as she appears in the doorway of the meeting room. Her voice drops a pitch to blatant denigration. "And you must be Monroe." "Your lucky day." She closes the soundproof door with her hip and chooses one of the tall leather chairs at the glass table across from the two men. "I trust you're a fast learner."

She gives a fleeting smile to the older man. "You've received the brief from HR?" The briefs are always too complicated, too long, and full of needless procedural details. She's never actually bothered reading one in its entirety. "You're now part of a major storyline that I’ve been working up for some time. You're hiring two naturalised specialists - - Jokers - - for me. Off-screen until we get them in place, then you'll be working op and edits." She leans back, holding court, relaxed in her chair. "You know Contestants Zolotisty and Spandex, of course."

Gannet inclines his head. Monroe nods furiously.

"The two have stumbled upon a way to spend a significant portion of their time off-camera." Her gaze is on Gannet, whose only sign of sympathy is a slight twitch of the bottom lip. "We've been monitoring it closely. They've also brutally attacked one of our on-ground techs after taking down about a hundred of our cameras." She smiles. "Of course, this will escalate."

Monroe is fastidiously taking notes.

"Everything we've got so far has been committed to your share files. I suggest you quickly become intimately familiar with the story so far, and experts on the girls' capabilities, skills and weaknesses."

"Get me a hunting party. Its primary goals are twofold. One, find out how they're hiding. It's unlikely, but it may not even be a location- - it's recently become apparent that Spandex can disappear, and Zolotisty may have acquired this ability as well. However, Zolotisty was seen gathering building supplies just before Christmas and then dropping off-frame. She can be a bit thick sometimes, naive, but she's also quite tricky when she puts her mind to it. But wherever, whatever it is. Find it. Find them. We need to get it live as soon as possible.

"Two, and this is just as important. Give me great fucking TV. Do you understand me?"

Hisoka Ogilvy rarely says fucking but she plays to her audience.

"Understood," Gannet says. "Any major symbolic themes you'd like from the outset or are we editing retroactively? Psych thriller or horror for this hunt?"

"Def-o psych-o, like woop-woop," Monroe pipes up, circling his finger around his ear, and although Ogilvy glares at him, she agrees.

"Let the audience be terrified of these hunters right away, but find types that will be very intelligent, bide their time, lurk in the periphery. There, but not quite there. The expectation and subtlety will mirror and exacerbate the paranoia that's building in Zolotisty and Spandex as we speak. Takashi Miike was a master of this genre, but I don't want his remarkable shock and gore, gentlemen. The girls deserve something sophisticated."

No needles in eyes, check, Gannet thinks.
Catch one, the other's your bitch fo'life, Monroe thinks.

"Timing-wise, your best course of action," she says, getting up from her chair, "is that you find them before your first.." She lets her eyes drop to the bulge around Monroe's waist. "..donut today, but we'll keep the hunting action for a few weeks. I approve your recruits before we hire them. Make no contact beforehand. Just let me know what they'll want based on your research."

She moves to the door and doesn't turn to look at either of the men. "All correspondence with me only. Thank you, gentlemen, I'll see you tomorrow." The door's left open behind her, signifying that there's no more to be discussed.

After Ogilvy's boots have faded down the hall, Gannet turns in his seat to size up Monroe. "Thought you might be fired before she left," he remarks, rising. "Guess not. Let's find our op room. You don't touch shit in there without my say so."

"Fired? Why?" Monroe hurries to gather up his pens and notes, and catches up to Gannet in the corridor.



"I don't know why it's not bloody working now. Maybe it's.. you got'a, uhh, you're like this," and Dex hunches her shoulders and hugs herself, "so your Improbability's too hard for me to find."

Z ruffles her hair, equally exasperated. They've been at this for what feels like ages, trying to find a loophole in the rulebook on moving quickly in and out of the tunnel together while Dex is unseen. Z can't take anything she can't touch, and Dex is refusing to let the cameras know yet that she's figured out her own teleportation herself. For the first time in recent memory, Z doesn't want the riddle of it. She just wants an answer.

"What you mean," she says. Improbability's too hard, tfh.

"You still get unset about me invisible so your Improbability closes in and I can't reach it to jack a ride."


Dex raises her eyebrows at the way Z's tail is skirting behind her calf. "Yeh, jus' try'n think about runnin' or somethin', twist, k?" She disappears again, unsure this will work. She works emotionally with Improbability, and she's still unable to get her head around what exactly she is when invisible. She knows she can't speak, can't manipulate or interact with things. Maybe that includes Improbability.

"Wasn't thinking 'bout running when Lelila scissored me. Or-"

The flashbacked protectiveness comes at her blindside. Dex bullies into Z to push them out of the way just as the solution hits her.

It works. Z's shoved to the edge of the canal. She doesn't yawp but she does suck in a breath and press her tail tighter against her leg — least they didn't hit the wall like the other times. Dex is still laughing when she reappears.

"Now you know how it feels," Dex says, fangs snapping at her nose.

Z lays her ears back and opens her mouth to say that Dex knows when she's being grabbed, but she thinks better of it and noses Dex's cheek instead. "Do it again."

"You don't get to boss me about just 'cuz you're my old lady now," Dex teases, disappearing before there's an elbow in her stomach. Z whufhs as she's muscled to another part of the platform. Narrow-eyed, she waits until Dex is visible again to snatch her up bodily.

"Changed your analaphor, Spandex!"

"Wife abuse! Wife abuse!" she laughs, craning to bite the nearest ear. "Com'on lets try gettin' out'a here next." Wroggling free, Dex takes a step back to position herself into a wrestler's crouch. "Act natural, and do somethin' 'bout your tail or you're gon'a have to start wearin' a long skirt, yeh. They can't know I'm with you and that I can do this yet."

"It is convinced you are a ghost."

Sighing, she straightens. "You need better mind-body awareness, Z. Maybe there's a yoga book in our library."

"I am aware if I am pokering! Just not when you are a ghost. Wh'syoga."

Immediately, Dex forgets their practice in favour of witnessing Z look at images of yoga for her first time. "Go get us books on yoga. Y-O-G-A, yoga! Go. Go go go. I'll wait. And no peeking."



While Monroe buzzes around like a teenager in a sex shop, Gannet works quickly to bring the computers in their op room up to speed. One's even more paleolithic than the usual Network fossils, groaning and rattling above the angry chug of the generator. Place is going to be like a sauna, he thinks distastefully. They might've at least started us in my old room. "What — close that," he snaps, turning as Monroe bangs through a file cabinet. "And open the door. Have you been trained on these terminals. Can you operate a cam. Do you know how to set up a shot."


He wastes the first two days bringing Monroe up to speed.

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