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They're not masters, Rowf. I had a master once, and I know. Whatever the White-coats are, they're not masters.



In a meadow north of Kittania, a newly installed camera picks up a beleaguered technician pushing away a tangle of meadowsweet to set his ladder against a branch-stripped tree-mount. He turns around to set his arse on one rung and his right heel on another, fumbling in his pockets. A quick smoke break and then he's moving again, climbing up to replace the camera - - it's his tenth. There's a huge swathe of them out from here to northish of AceHigh. He's running out of spares on the trailer he's pulling by Scrambler - - be a fuckin' load easier if all of them had cut cables or smashed lenses, but these are just dead. Big Nicky's working the quadrant north of him and she says Zolotisty did it yesterday, that it's not a grid malfunction like his super says. They all heard the rumours about George Cartwright, the tech that bumped into Zolotisty a few weeks back. Hasn't been seen since - - officially on 'stress leave', but no one believes it.

It takes thirty minutes to get the new camera online and the old one piled onto the trailer with the others. The shoppies will take a look at all of them, see what went wrong. Might be like the last big outage around here.

He notices a flattened spot in the tall grasses on his way back down. He's lucky. Hasn't run into any contestants in the flesh today. Can't waste any time. There are loads of them working on this and he's got his Super barking through the radio on his hip to move faster.

He lights up another ciggie, collects his ladder, and hurries on his way.



Haccadine has bought a gun. It sits uncomfortably in the palm of his hand, snub-nosed and ugly - - efficiency of design made king, aesthetic considerations abandoned altogether. In a word, soulless. He had a strange fancy that perhaps, upon holding it, he'd feel the need to use it; to exercise his newfound power. But it demands nothing from him. Somehow, the inert submission of the object is far more frightening than any active malevolence.

Stepping deftly around an outstretched pair of arms, Haccadine shoves the gun into his pocket. He looks down at his clothes. Too thin and tattered by far, anything concealed beneath them would show. He'll have to remedy that.

He briefly meets the gaze of a camera as he passes, heading for the gates. It continues to follow him down the street long after his thoughts have moved elsewhere.



Terry Babcock hasn't stopped laughing since her boy found that slice of cheese on the couch in the lounge. Ebenezer's excited. He's very entertaining when he's excited. First there were the sandwiches. Messy sandwiches. The new DICErs don't seem the least bit surprised about their clanmate's fussing fits. Then Ada, sweet, dear Ada. From the moment Ada said the word "empathy," Terry knew what would happen. She's been on the edge of her seat, waiting for Ada to creep closer on a seemingly unsuspecting Ebenezer. Of course he didn't move. Of course he bragged about how the cleanerbots never come after him because he's so always so clean himself. That didn't make it any less lovely and perfect when Ada finally lurched forward to stuff sandwich down Eben's collar and smear food in his hair. Terry guffawed when she saw it and she shrieked with joy when, right on cue, those terrifying cleanerbots showed up to tidy up the mess.

The only thing between Ebenezer and the pack now is Darcy, one of the newest clanmates, who he's grabbed as a meatshield.

"Such a warm welcome for our Miss Darcy," Terry giggles, in raptures. She lets out a sudden, loud, shrill laugh as Ebenezer shoves Darcy towards the robots and bolts for the lounge, right towards Dex.

Surely not.. "Oh, you don't honestly expect Dex to protect you, do you my lad?" Especially not after that lovely show they had the last time they were together: that "chat" on the DICE beach. Rage tremors and sharp tongues. Terry ate it up and so will the audience. Now, she's on the edge of her seat again.

She sets the audio to play through the speakers in her little camera room, just in time to catch Dex playfully soothing Eben: It's okay, nownow, shhhh.

A giggle hums in Terry's nose. If she didn't stifle her laughter now, she might drown out Spandex's good lines!

It wants you, Eben, good thing I'm here and clean. Aren't you glad I'm here?


What's that? Oh, Eben, remember how you spied on me disappearing? Remember how I can do that?

"Oh, give him hell, Spandex," Terry hisses, encouraging. Her shoulders brace. Dex's hand lifts, poised to snap. Yes..

Huh, never tried this while holding someone. Wonder if you'll disappear too, Eben. And I have no clue how to bring you back. A beat. Oh well.

A snap and they're both gone.

Terry howls, "No! You were supposed to leave him! You bitch! You did it all wrong! Haven't you got any sense of - -!"

She falters when Spandex returns. Alone.


On screen, Spandex wheels. Fuck!


You fuckin' fuck shitfuck Eben, grab on to me for fucksakes!

"SHIT! Where is he, you little shit!"

Spandex vanishes again.

"Bring him back. Bring him back."

The punk doesn't oblige. Panic's sharp little claws slash through DICE Hall and simultaneously pierce Terry's chest. Liebs is the voice of fear, Dex, did you make Ebenezer disappear forever? Dex disappears and reappears and disappears. Zolotisty arrives, edged, while Darcy jabbers.

Dex tries to keep everyone calm, He's not dead, Z. I can do this.

Ebenezer stays gone.

"Stop FUCKING around!" Terry screeches, slapping her palms to her screens as if it's a window, as if they might hear her.

Zolotisty goes. Just as she comes again, viola in hand, Spandex snaps back to reality, dragging Eben along with her. Terry screams with joy and plants a cherry red lip-print on top of Spandex and Ebenezer. Her laugh's different now. Tired. Relieved.

Between slow, breathy giggles, she murmurs, "Never do that to me again. Never do that to me again."



Haccadine scuffs his way through one of the open sewers that pass for streets around here, ignoring drunken enquiries as to whether he wonts a fackin' foight then, 'ardman?! and trying to avoid the worst of the excrement. He scans the buildings as he passes, watching for the oblong silhouettes against the sky and telltale winks down dark alleys. Seems like the more he looks these days, the more cameras he sees. He's getting better at figuring out which are his, too - - like that one there, on the corner of the pub; just finished zooming in.

He strides over and looks directly up into its lens, a one-eyed squint against the sunlight; it whirrs in response, smug and safe on its metal perch. His hand slips into his pocket. His fingers wrap around smooth stone - - a rock, picked up on the beaches, rounded and well-formed for the human hand. He takes several paces backwards, eyes still locked on the camera as it tracks him.

Withdrawing the stone, he squares off against the camera. He wonders, not for the first time, just who sits on the other end of the feed, watching. Whether they'll get shit about this. Network, says the hard voice in his head. 'Who' is not the word.

Haccadine sincerely hopes they do. He ratchets his arm back and hurls the stone, lip curling with satisfaction as the camera's lens crazes and shatters.

Down the street, Tyr turns toward the crashing sound. Some days, regardless of Onslaughts, there's more violence inside Squat Hole's gates than out. Four Midgets brawling over a cigarette filter, a drunken brawl, someone breaking cameras.. He doubletakes as Haccadine stoops to catch up another rock.

Eyeing another camera as it turns to face him, Haccadine tips it a cheerful nod before letting fly. The rock spangs against the metal casing. His aim's a little off, but he shatters the light. Satisfied, he casts around for another projectile. What about that bottle, looks nice and weighty..

Tyr takes a few steps forward. "Haccadine?"


Haccadine jerks, surprised to hear an unfamiliar voice calling his name. He turns slowly, hands deep in his pockets, brow knitting together. "Yeh?" he replies, sizing the other man up. Tyr takes a step back.

"Ah, do you remember me? I'm Tyr. We met in the Hall? In the kitchen?"

"Oh." Haccadine’s shoulders relax a little, just enough for it to show. His brow, however, remains furrowed. "Yeh, I do. What can I do for you?" Despite the polite phrasing, his tone is distinctly hostile.

Looking from his clanmate to the camera and back again, Tyr rubs the back of his neck. "Nothing! Nothing, just saying hello. Ah. Mm. Yes." He grimaces a smile and Haccadine's eyes slide sideways to the fritzing cameras. "If you don't mind me asking, ah, what are you doing?"

"Somebody showed me how to get cigs out of 'em for nothin'. Was just gettin’ in some practice."

Tyr glances at the shattered lenses as Harris saunters through the eastern gates, digging his finger in his ear. He waves at the both of them as Tyr says, "Looks like you need a bit more practice, then."

"I do. Yeh. S’why I’m here, isn’t it?" Haccadine’s eyes remain firmly locked on his. "Want a go? Y'gotta hit 'em right below the lens." He holds out a rock, but Tyr quickly shakes his head.

"No thanks. I don't smoke them, so they tend to pile up." He waves back at the KittyMorph, somewhat desperately. "Harris!"



Zolotisty is late. Again.

She sidesteps backward into the tunnel, bracing a rough wicker basket between her hip and arm. It's like she's a peasant from a pastoral, sunburnt and armed with the day's wash. Dirty blankets, dirty clothes. "Spandex?" she calls, turning 'round to pad forward as she gets a better grip on the basket. All she can see are the soles of Dex's feet on the bed, clean.

She follows the feet to find Dex reading, back on the floor and legs hung up on top of crumpled blankets. Dex is pretending not to hear, pretending she's not been worried tense the whole time Z's been gone. The last time the Network goons grabbed Z was just after they took out the load of cameras, and Dex has been waiting for their retaliation since they knocked another bunch of them out yesterday. She hasn't been able to read a thing. The act continues as Z makes her way to the far side of the bed, where Dex suddenly shoves the book under the mattress.

Z cocks her head, leaning from the waist to eye the seam between mattress and bedframe. She searches Dex's face. "What." She knows.

Mewling from that basket, and Z straightens to put it on the bed.

It's as if someone's shot at her, Dex ducks and rolls so fast. "What's that!" She knows. She leans up on her elbows so she's eye level with the top of the basket.

"Little cats."

"Kittens!" Dex says simultaneously. "Holyshit Z did you steal Audrey's kittens? Where's their mother? Where did you find them? Are they hurt?" She's up and on the bed and gently lifting them out with two-hands around their bellies to inspect each before returning them to the basket. They're eyes-open and ears-up, but still little enough to have tails that are growing into proper lengths. Black, calico, and two grey tigers.

"They were in Improbable Central behind the pub this morning and then there still when I was there after you were out and then also there tonight. I donno. I don't think so."

"Z maybe their mom is scared and runs off every time you come! We need to put them back." She sneaks a look at Z's polygraph ear, which is forward, innocent.

"I gargoyled at them! So that they would not be scared."

Dex can't keep her hands out of the basket. She lifts each again to stuff her nose into their faces. "What's making bug-out eyes going to do- - oh you mean like sat up on'a roof yeh? Ohmygod this one, look!" She turns it towards Z, who nods. "One ear each colour. Shit, Z, what the fuck we going to do with them!"

"I donno. Do little cats get sad if they are indoors all of the time."

"Of course they do!" Dex stands and carries the basket to one of the scooped alcoves where she squats, taking each kitten out in turn. On the ground, they mewl and huddle for a moment before the two greys break free to explore in fits and jumps. The black and the calico are compelled to follow. Watching, Z grins crookedly. Bad at their feets, she decides, and pads to sit with Dex. The calico hunches and springs on one of the greys, the two ending up on their sides, punching each other with paws and biting each others' necks and ears. "Fight like you do," Dex says, laughing. "Hey! Herd that one, she's headed for the canal."

They follow the kittens as the four disperse and defiantly scatter toward the water, clustering on the lip of the platform. The black leans down to pat the side of the wall. Dex holds her breath. Mewing, it backs off and goes bumbling into her feet as the others stretch their necks to peer at the water. A grey goes creeping down the canalside as the runt tries to turn toward safety and sprawls instead on unsteady feet. There's a horrifying moment where it nearly falls. "Z!" Dex gasps, though Z's watching from the alcove, several feet back. The runt collects itself and hunches into a ball. "Christ!" She velcros the black kitten from her ankle and crouches next to the runt. "S'okay lil guy, com'ere."

"That is the one that got beat up?"

"How you know it got beat up?" The runt ignores her. "We need to feed'n water them lots. Lots. Day and night."

"It got eated by the three color one before. That one's got socks and the other one that is smoke does not." Z flicks her ear, checking the calico with a glance as the black creeps around Dex to try to climb her knickers. She snorts. "You have a tail."

Giggling and ouching, Dex twists around to pull it into her lap. It clings, tiny claws dragging tears in the fabric. "Do you like kittens, twist?"

Clambering up again, Z pads to the edge of the canal to pry the runt from the concrete like a furry baby barnacle. "Make me want to guard things."

"Guard them, like?"

"Til they are big. Hullo little cat."

"Wonder if you ate any when you were a full coyote." It pops out unconsciously, and now that she's heard herself say it, she's only vaguely aware that it's something that would have made Z terribly uncomfortable just a few months ago.

"They do not go in the jungle."

"What's the worst thing you ate?" she says, rubbing the top of the kitten's head with her nose.

The runt feels inspired to attack Z's thumb, so she turns it onto her back in her lap and doesn't mind its claws as it flails and mouths at the first thing it thinks it can beat. "I don't remember anything really. Probably I ate bunnies and gnus maybe."

"Twist, do you want real babies?"

Zolotisty looks puzzled. "These are babies." Then, "Oh! Like Seven?"

"Yeh, like Seven." For the most part- - and she's had a lifetime of people leaving- - Dex has learned not to miss people, but letting go of that little girl who looked so much like Z still hurts. She often avoids thinking about it.

Zolotisty looks up from her kitten, and shrugs. "If cameras went away, f'that wasn't a thing we had to worry about."

Dex sighs silently through her nose. It's not anyone's fault, but their impasse remains. "We don't have to worry about them. We can forget if it makes you happier."

"D'you want babies?"

"What if I dropped it or forgot to feed it or let it get cold or what if it wandered into the jungle?"

"You wouldn't. And I would help."

Overwhelmed by that gift-feeling again, Dex drops her chin. The kitten in her lap purrs as she strokes it with two fingers. "It's so completely shit they take babies from mothers here. I know war's fucked place to bring 'em up, but s'a woman's right to choose. We could make tunnelhouses for families, I guess, but babies want fresh air 'n grass too."

"I made night inside. I could make sun and stuff maybe I bet."

"You can- - woah." The kitten rolls into a tighter ball and covers its head with its paw. "Kids need to run though, Z. And sooner or later they'll want to go outside."

Zolotisty unfolds her legs to stretch them toward her girl. She curls her toes around Dex's. "So we could quit. If it is more important, then we quit and we are outside."

"They seem to have forgotten us. Probably means they're plottin' somethin'. Waitin' for us to get complacent."

"Complacent? Spandex maybe it was just the thing. Elias said they did not do anything to me. And you just said they have not done anything."

Dex considers not arguing with Z for once. The near constant worry of threat is taking its toll, but it's the guilt of imposing it on Z that's becoming overbearing. "Yeh maybe. Let's give it a day or two more now that we've twatted a bunch'a their cams." She feels slightly disappointed they haven't seemed to react to the fact she's not given them much viewing. Although, she figures, the pub date with Haccadine spoiled her run of dead air. "Oh, and Tyr and Eben found out I pulled my knife on Haccadine in the pub."

Zolotisty flattens her lips, unsure of how to play this. When they talked about the beach incident in the meadow, Dex was insistent that she not name names as a condition of sharing the secret of what made her upset. "Argument with clan," she said, or something like that. But Z knew then it was Tyr and Ebenezer, heard them in tinny echoes, bouncing off her girl. Straight, she decides. Play it straight - - but Dex intercepts and doesn't give her a chance to confess. "Thought you should know, case anyone's actin' upset or weird'n shit. Don't want it comin' down on the new kid, yeh."

"Ahmn," Z says, diverted, and recalls Tyr in the barn. "He's been breaking cambras."

"What. Oh. Oh. With stones? Throwing stones? He's trying to get free cigs. Fuckin'hell, I taught'im that trick. His arm's shit 'n he broke a lens."

Z grins stupidly at the runt as it relents and curls into a ball. "Little cats."

"Kittens," Dex corrects. "We can't keep 'em in Clan Halls, too many animals there that'd eat them."

"Can't we make them live in ahmn. Some DICE place."

"Z, they need feeding all'a time until they're older, then once or twice a day too unless there are mice 'n things."

"I could put them back. Or we could, ahmn. Give'm to Audrey. Or Elias, he could take care of them."

"Christ, not Audrey! She runs a fuckin' kitten zoo, Z! I hate that place. And what if Elias doesn't want four cats?" She huffs. "Did you bring them to prove a point about fighting the Network or what?"

"A what."

"You found them, you figure it out."

"I am not blackmailing you with little cats, Dex." She stands up.


Z snaps her wrist dismissively, whatever, and skulks across the platform.

"Your little cats are goin'to want feedin' as soon as they wake up, Z," Dex says, craning her neck after her. Z doesn't reply. Her skateboard's leaning against a column, and she foots it onto the floor to step on, coast to the nearest bowl, and drop in.

The rhythmic murmur of Z's board's trucks against the concrete is punctuated frequently by chuks and scrapes as they leave the ground, chakaks and scuds and occasional obscenities as they come down again.

Eventually, the trucks slow. There's a pull of Improbability, then silence.

Dex bangs her fist on the ground, forgetting it's in a cast. She winces, not from pain, but from her disappointment at not managing her anger. Dex sits still for several minutes, watching the grey and the black scuffle while the runt sleeps.

"I'll teach you how t'be orphans," she tells the kittens finally as she rolls to her feet to fetch their basket. "Lesson one: put on your best cute faces, we need food." The calico is marching down the tunnel, so she trots to catch up to it. "You remind me of myself, so listen up - -"

Zolotisty stalks back into the tunnel moments later, carrying a rucksack with her. "I have food," she announces, flat. "The book says they can eat it. And water from a bowl."

"Hey!" Dex says, pulling her foot up sharply. She scoops the calico and when they reach Z, she reaches it out to brush the underside of her jaw with the top of the kitten's head. "Sorry I thought you were playin' shit on me, and I love you."

Tipping her head away, Z curls her lip before she relaxes. She starts to reply and then the calico claps two cranky paws to either side of Z's chin. Z yawps; Dex's eyes go huge. Frightened, the kitten kangaroo-kicks with its hind feet even as it writhes to sink its teeny fangs into Dex's knuckles.

"Owchhey!" Dex tangles one-handed to tuck the calico into her belly. The kitten's claws leave neat red lines on Z's chin. "Hey!" She gets stabbed in the bare flesh near her ribs as it pushes away, so she sets it down on the ground. It spits and fiercely punks its fur out at them before scampering back to its siblings. Dex bursts out laughing.

"Yeh," Z says, grinning as she dabs at the stinging scratches. "Little Spandex cat."

"Got'a respect her independence is all." Dex hooks her finger in one of Z's beltloops. "We've only been married less than a week, already bunch of babies. You move fast, Zolotisty."

"Yeh, so do you, cept you move out fast - -" She raises her voice to mimic Dex's. "Twisty maybe I want the babies," and now a scowl, "YOUR LITTLE CATS NEED FEEDING Z."

Dex's eyes are huge again. She yanks on the loop, making Z stagger nearer. "Okayokay," she laughs. "If you really want four kittens, I'll help you."

"No. I just did not want them to get cat launched. Or be alone. It is raining in Improbable Central."

Grinning, Dex checks on the calico over Z's shoulder. It's safe, batting at the runt to wake the hell up. "Bet you were so cute as a baby- -" Her face drops. "You're right, I'm trapping us with fightin' the Network."

"No. We trapped us, together. You just make the bars tighter when you make mean eyes at everyone and everything, n'you shouldn't be making mean eyes at me. I miss the loft. And sexing you on sands. And surfing with you." She feels Dex's tears splashing on her neck.

"Can't even look after kittens."

"Spandex," Z says softly, pulling back to bump Dex's chin up. "Spandex mine, don't cry. Com'ere."

"Not cryin'," she says, swiping her eyes with her good wrist.

Knocking their hips together, Z kisses her gently.

It doesn't last long. "What 'bout Eben and Esc? They've got a nice house and she'll love cats I bet."

"Mnn." Z pulls back, looking doubtful.



"Christ, Godard's on the line. Call you back later, Simpert." Ogilvy smooths the frustration from her face and hits the button to switch lines. "Ogilvy here. Yes, ma'am I'm on it right now. All of the third ring northeastern cameras this incident, yes, I've seen- - Yes, I'm going to speak to- - Yes, ma'am, of course I understand the cost implications- - Yes, well of course there is lost footage, I'm well awa- - Well, technically it's Zolotisty who- -" She raises the point not to complain, but to voice the fact that although the damage was done by Madeline's contestant, and effects her team as much as her own, Godard's called her.

"Yes, goodbye," she finishes as if there was someone in her room and she doesn't want them to know she was just hung up on. Pushing her chair back, she straightens and rebuttons her shirtcuffs, sweeps her hand over her dark slim-fitted skirt and pulls on her matching jacket. She turns to look at her reflection in the full length windows before leaving for Gannet and Monroe's office.



Lacey kicks off her shoes in the hallway - - what passes for it, anyway. She reaches down as a tortoiseshell cat comes padding from the kitchen. "Hey, puss," she says quietly, stroking along her back.

"Hey babe," Robert says, not looking up from his spot on the sofa. Island Highlights is playing on the tiny telly in their equally tiny flat. He reaches down for his bottle of beer, another FINAL NOTICE serving as a coaster.

She straightens, heading through the lounge, and throws her jacket over the back of the sofa.

"We're out of cat food," he calls after her.

She wants to tell him they can't afford cat food - - that lately they can barely afford food for themselves. She's still on the pitiful salary the Network offers new camera-ops, and Rob's employment has consisted of queuing up at the government-sponsored employment centers every day.

"And I've been watching for your guy - - he's still not been on. They're paying you anyway, right?" It's half a joke. He knows she's salaried.

"Yeah. Producer’s probably reviewing it or waiting for a slot, I don’t know. They don’t seem to bother telling us a lot." She begins unbuttoning her blouse, entering the bedroom to change. "Shops closed again today?" It’s a jellyfish question, light and full of barbs.

"That job makes you bitchy," he calls, turning his head absently toward the bedroom. He can only see her hip. Wrinkling his nose, he glances back to the TV.

"Pays the bills," she replies calmly, sliding the wardrobe open. "I’m afraid you’re just going to have to put up with me if you want running water." After a couple of minutes, she reenters the lounge, charcoal suit swapped for a top and jeans. "Budge up."

Robert swings his legs off the sofa, opening his arm to her as he sets his beer down again. "The price we pay." She snorts and eases herself down, leaning to kiss him before turning her attention towards the television.

"Jesus. I spend all day sitting in front of a screen watching this stuff, Rob. Change over or turn it off."

"Nothing else on, 'cept NetworkNews, which is pretty much the same. Turn it off, then." Lacey sighs and pushes herself to stand, flicking the television off with a pop and the settling crackle of static. Robert pats the sofa next to him. "Tired?"

"Yes. What did you do today? Any luck at Employment?"

He leans back heavily into the well-worn couch. "Stood in line for five hours only for them to take one look at my record and tell me there's 'nothing suitable at this time'. Need fake ID, and- -"

"No, Rob, you promised you'd stay away from those guys."

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