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Confusion is mightier than the sword.



The door to Ebenezer's room rattles faintly in its hinges as though from a quaking in the heart of the hall. Silence, then a dull tunk. "Ebennnn." Tunk tunk tunk.

Ebenezer's attention flinches to the door, but he doesn't rise from his chair. "It's locked," he calls. He doesn't like people banging his door open while he's trying to work.

Tunk. Tunk. ..tunk.

"I have numbersss."

He gets up this time, crossing the room to peek the door open a crack. Zolotisty backs up-- she's been using her forehead to knock. "If this is-is a game, then I don't want-I don't want to play," he warns, watching as Z raises a sheaf of dirty looking papers.

"It is not a game. I want your advices. Please."

Ebenezer squints, but opens the door wider. "What sor-sort of numbers?"

"It's a bill." She cocks her head, then extends the sheaf to him. "Ionno how to read it proper and Ionno if it's got things in it that are cheats, and you do numbers and Dex said you could oddify it. Are you feeling better."

His eyes are on the papers, not Zolotisty. "M'fine. Wasn't anything. Aud-audit you mean?" Gesturing her into the room, he shuts the door behind her. When he looks up again to find her crouching by his bookshelf, he's wincing. The papers crinkle gently as his fingers tense. "Where'd you get this?"

"Darcy paintified the cameras a while ago and people came to fix them and gave me that also."

"Oh dear." The bill is first priority now and he trembles his ledgers aside to make room for it on his desk. "Erm. S-suppose-suppose they take this s-sort of thing very seriously. Very serious. Has this ever--? In an-any other Hall?"

"What?" She scans titles, then glances back to him. "You should get books on raps."

"Has this ever-ever happened in any other Hall. D-damages to--" He waves about the room. Realizing his gesticulation is too vague, he finishes, "To cameras." He frowns. "Raps?"

"Oh. No, I don't think so. Anyway mostly they are the cameras that I broke, I think." She brightens. "Aye, raps. The music."

Ebenezer only darkens. There are a lot of pages in this bill. A lot of horrifying pages. "How-ow-ow many-how many did you--? Oh dear." He pulls off his spectacles and rubs at his brow. "How was this--? Why did--? This-this is all very serious!"

"Yeh?" She straightens, padding over to peek over his shoulder. "So you reckon I should pay it then? They were full of threats."

"Yes!" Wide, incredulous eyes turn on Z. Spectacles are replaced where they belong. "Yes, f-for-for certain, you should pay it!"


Ebenezer doesn't understand the question. He rattles, "This-this is a bill. A very-it's a very big bill. And it's very serious and it's from them and you-you-you must pay it."

"Spandex and I think it is bullshit."

"B-but-but-but--!" He's not sure where to go with his objection. Grimacing terribly, he tries, "It's an-an official-- it's-- you said threats. You said threats."

"Aye, well." She scruffs the base of her ear, mushing the fur around. "People are full of threats at the mercenary camps too. Can you tell if they're cheating."

With a small noise of discontent, Ebenezer bows his head to frown down at the papers again. After a grave consideration, he mumbles, "I'll-I'll look-I'll look at it." The pencil in his hand is quaking as he skims through. Zolotisty watches him, feeling as though she's put her trousers on backward and her tail's all jammed by her arse and trying to poke through the zip. Something's not fitting quite right.

Hesitant, he asks, "If-if it's not cheating, are you going to pay it?"

Zolotisty turns her eyes from the pencil to his face. "I suppose. Why."

His eyebrows twitch in a small wince, but he maintains eye-contact. "R-really think you should-you should pay it," he mumbles. After a tense pause he adds, "Erm. And n-not break anything else."

"Are you scared of them."

Another hesitation before he answers, "Yes."


"For-for-for every reason," he replies, with an incredulous squeak to his voice. "They own the Island."

Z's eyes narrow. Dex said that, too. "Drive owns the Island."

"They own the Island. Ev-everything, everyone on the Island. It's theirs."

"Don't own me."

He brandishes the papers between himself and Zolotisty. "Please, just-just give them their money and be done with it."

"Or Spandex, or anybody who doesn't let them," she adds judiciously. "Are they cheating."

"You broke over four-f-four thousand cameras," he answers. "I'd say this is-this is g-getting off easy."

"Aye but are they cheating."

"It's not cheating. Paying for damages to their prop-property."

"The numbers, I mean."

"N-not cheating," he says again, moving the papers closer to her. She takes them finally, turning them round to look again at the numbers.

"S'not like you can go into the Shack or eBoy's or anything. Just don't want to pay more'n they're worth, f'I'm gonna pay at all."

He looks away from her, rubbing at his nose with the back of his hand. "Looks-looks fair to me," he mumbles.

"Aye. Thank you. What are you working on."

He's still for a moment, before drawing out his papers to show her. She studies them -- diagrams, graphs, and charts half-inked. "For our shop," he explains. No doubt, he's only doing it for the joy of drawing straight lines

"What do they say."

"You really want to-want to know all that? It's v-very boring," he assures her.

"If it's boring then why are you doing it."

Instead of inventing something about using his charts to maximize profit, he tells the truth, "I like to. It's what-what I'm good at doing."

"Then it's not boring." Z looks puzzled.

"Shows imm-immaterial profit," he says, adjusting his spectacles as if there really is such a thing. "Erm. Over time." He squirms in his seat a bit, then murmurs, "J-just sort of, erm, counting up things people've traded me. Things that are-aren't things. Stories and se-secrets and songs. Those sorts of things."

"That's not boring. How immaterially rich are you."

His mouth twitches in an almost-smile. "Very."

Zolotisty grins, lax tail tickling the edge of her ankle. "That is good, then."

"You still-still owe me a story," he reminds her. "For the tin-the tin of tuna f-for your little cat."

"His name is Fog. Yeh, I will tell you one. Now, or later?"

"I've de-decided I'd like a true story. One I d-don't know," he says, pencil eraser tap-tap-tapping at his desk. "N-now or later's up-up to you."

"Mnn. I will think. Do your little cats have names."

He answers, "The c-cal-alico's Moxie and the stripe-striped one's called Bettie. Erm. Esc w-wants to name the black one Sprinkle."

Z nods sagely, as though all of these names are perfectly intelligible. Sensical, even. "Thank you for taking care of them."

"Oh." He settles his pencil down on the desk and tweaks it straight, then shuffles through his charts. "Thanks for give-giving me them."

"Yeh, I am glad they are safe with you." She jams the papers into her pocket. "I am going to go checkify petitions, I think." Means he won't have to. Means maybe she can be alone in the Grotto unless Sessine or Epaphus comes around.

"And I'll g-get back to work." He leads the way to the door, to see her out. "G-good luck."

She cocks her head at him. "With the Grotto?"

"Bill," he corrects, opening up the door.

"Aye," she says after a moment, and is gone.



The Moderators-only Grotto makes a poor den, but Zolotisty doesn't feel she can visit any of hers.

Holed up among the office clutter and gilt chaise longues, she pretends the thick tangles of cabling across the floor are banyan roots. The hulking computer terminal is, maybe, the front dash of her abandoned plane in its copse of trees. She can't figure the wall of television monitors for anything but a reminder of the Network, which is a reminder of Spandex, which makes her turn away to double-check the petitions board. She picks up old incident reports and puts them down again. She rifles through the tea cupboard, puts a kettle on to boil, and keeps one ear turned toward the door.

Clearing off a mug-sized section of the longest table in the room, Z sits with her jaw flat on a dead piece of computer equipment. It's too heavy to move, and after a few long moments thinking about the papers in her pocket, she fancies her head's too heavy, too. She doesn't think about things that relate directly to herself unless she's forced to.

Ebenezer says the Network scares him, that they own everyone, that it's nothing that Haccadine tackled him and that he's fine. She wonders why his pencil shook when he was looking at the sums. She wonders why he didn't ask why she expected him to know what a camera was worth. All the time she's known him, numbers make him calmer.

Haccadine says he tackled Eben to keep him from hurting people. Says that if you don't care, nobody can take anything from you -- and though he meant the Network when he said it, she thinks now of the way he lurks quiet in the wings and skirts around sharing anything with a grunt if you ask him a question. She wonders what he thinks she'll take from him, whether he reckons her a different sort of Network. He was willing to draw a gun with her when the technicians were in the hall and she took the gesture then for solidarity. Thinking about the way he looked at her when he was standing with Dex, she's not so sure that it was, 'i'm with you' then as it was, 'i'm against them, too.'

Spandex says Haccadine's name is Guy and though she doesn't say it with anything but her face and her hands, she says she wants to believe he's family. She says he's Crew, that he knows her places and her people. That they know a language together, that he's going to teach it to her and then she'll teach it over again. She has a piece of paper with nonsense words on it to prove it, like it makes a difference.

Maybe Dex doesn't remember it anymore but Zolotisty hasn't forgotten the knife at Haccadine's throat in the pub. Hasn't forgotten coming home after seeing him in the library and Dex's reaction then -- don't trust him. How-to books and sharp words against the Network weren't convincing then, but Z supposes maybe that piece of paper with its scribbled words is enough to make Dex forget. People believe what they want to.

Z wants to believe her girl's instincts, but Dex's messages are at odds now. She's feeling like the game was changed on her while she was up for a piss or a new glass of scotch -- like suddenly she's on a different team and Haccadine's giving her looks across the table that accuse her of peeking at the Network's hand. There's no way of saying this that Dex understands.

You jealous? Dex asked when she tried to ask again what have you been doing with him lately to make you change your mind like this, why didn't you tell me, why haven't you said anything. Came out all wrong.

Not jealous, Z thinks now. Just can't fucking speak English. Like she needs to learn another fucking language and fuck up in that one, too.

Crewslang. Fuck.

Like they have anything to say in front of the cameras that's so urgent that it couldn't wait until they were in the tunnel. Like words are more important than surfing together or kissing in public.

She fell asleep last night wondering what she'd say to Dex when -- not if -- she asks if Haccadine can visit the tunnel, or asks her to make some other place so that he can visit. Doesn't matter that it was her idea first. Doesn't mean it was a good one.

Thinking about it now, the muscles around her stomach lock tight. She turns her head to rest her cheek on the dead machine, gazing toward the computer. It takes up half the Grotto, a behemoth of blinking lights and reels and funny little knobs and switches. She hates it; it's impossible to work. CMJ has had to make up a cheatsheet for her. It's taped up to one of the corners with instructions on how to look up contestants or printing out various types of reports. Sessine and Epaphus have no problems with it. Ebenezer knew how to do it on his first day, even, and she felt stupid as she watched him pick confidently through the terminal screens.

She drinks her tea before it goes cold, rinses out her mug, then goes to look at the cheatsheet. Studying it with her arms folded around her chest, she tucks her chin to her throat.

Zolotisty draws her bottom lip into her mouth and catches it behind her top fangs. Rubbing her tongue across a half-healed nick, she reads the bulleted list of instructions below CONTESTANT LOOK-UP a few times before crossing the room to dig out a stapled stack of clan roster print-outs. She flips it to DICE's page then catches herself with a violent start, thumping the stack of rosters down as though it's just bitten her.

"Fuck," she says, scrubbing her palms down her trousers.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck."

She goes, hurrying.



Matthew Simpert laces his hands behind his head and leans back in his chair. He checks the clock. The hallway is quiet, though he half-expects to hear Ogilvy's heels powering toward the cam-room. He figures she's like one of the old Outback gods -- drawn to bad fortune like snakes to boots and beds.

Zolotisty is paused on one of his screens. He's watched her come and go from the Grotto twice now and he can't help but think that he's responsible for how miserable she looks.

He's wrong, he knows that. Got nothing to do with it.

But, swiveling, he stares at the two grim-faced Jokers wandering around sniffing for leads, and thinks, 'I've got a lot to do with it.'

Camera operators have the authority to delete footage. It's their job to cull their contestant's raw reels for the screenworthy bits, edit it up all nice and tidy for their producers, then pass the raw to Archival, just in case. Everything that's unusable gets junked. This is the twenty second century, not the twenty first. Gigabytes don't grow on plastic trees anymore.

Ogilvy will want this. Zolotisty alone, looking miserable in a place that people can't quite tell what time it is. It's infinitely flexible. Slot it in when someone's teeth are being kicked in, and you've got yourself a nice dramatic counterpoint, rife with subtext about how much the girlfriend, or the clanboss, or the moderator actually cares about whatever's going on in the next or last cut.

Sucking a breath through his teeth, he turns back to his keyboard and quickly types the command to transfer the footage to today's delete queue. Godard doesn't review shit in there, he figures, she just hits delete. The meeting with Ebenezer can stay. Ears can be alone, this once. He'll say she lied when she left for the Grotto.



Snow crunches underfoot as Idris and Edith approach a large warehouse on the outskirts of CC404. Idris fiddles with his gloves, puffs of breath condensing in front of his face as he regards the outside of the building; after a second or two, he glances back over his shoulder. "The door, if you please."

Ed has been inspecting the roof, and the surrounding slicks of oil and battered metal, and testing the thin dot of grey light that is the sun for any potential shadows, and makes a very deliberate point of ceasing to do so so she can look at him. Hrrsh, she says through tightly clenched jaw, which is all she's said for the past hour of travel since she lost patience with her chattering teeth.

He levels a quiet gaze at her, nostrils flaring red in the cold air. "If you're going to be tiresome about this." One hand slips into his coat and withdraws, slow. There's a dull flash of metal as he flicks a requisition token at her. "The door."

She watches it spiral through the air, going plop into the oily snow just at her boot. It sits there for a quiet moment before she slowly bends, scooping it up along with a handful of slush. Plodding over to the door, she pockets the coin, barges inside, and closes the door in Idris' face.

Ebenezer springs out of his desk chair at once, leaving his ledger open and pen uncapped on the desk. "Oh, hello. Erm. L-looking for a place to--?" He nods towards the cots. "Or--?" He nods next to the wall of crates.

She nods toward him instead.

His eyebrows press together in a confused expression. "What? Me?"

The door to the warehouse shudders and slams open with a sudden bang, cold air blasting in to run riot amongst the crates. Idris withdraws an extended finger, stepping into the building before he carefully shuts the door behind him. "Wind caught it," he explains with an apologetic smile, dusting snow from his lapel as he strolls over to the two of them. "Oh! You must be Ebenezer, yes? This is your... establishment?"

Still tense from that loud banging noise and the sudden rush of cold, he answers, "Yes. Y-yes, yes, I am, yes. And yes it-it is. And who're the both-the both of you, then?" Sharp eyes dart between the pair.

A black-gloved hand is offered to him with a twinkling smile. "Idris Stanfield. This is my--" Eyes flick sideways to Ed, who gives a perfunctory nod, and back. "My associate, Edith Tijoux. We were wondering if you could help us?"

Ed leans past Idris' shoulder. "You trade in abstractions."

Obliged, Ebenezer shakes the hand. That odd gentleman's smile does help to take some of the tension off the situation. "Help with--?" His attention turns to Ed. "W-well, I can trade with ab- a- abstract goods, yes. What is it you're l-looking for, exactly?"

"It's not a what so much as a who," Idris cuts in, folding his hands in front of him. "We were looking to do business with a clanmate of yours, but we haven't heard from her in some time, and frankly... Well, we're beginning to worry. Aren't we?"

"Distraught," says Ed, taut-lipped. She looks around at the towering crates, listening for anyone working in the back or watching from a corner.

"Who?" Ebenezer's attention is directed toward Idris, who seems to be the more personable of the pair.

"I believe her name is Spandex?" Idris smiles, warm and reassuring.

"Oh. Y-yes, I know her, of course." Pushing his spectacles higher up his nose with one finger, Eben enquires, "What d-do you-do you want to see her for, then? What's this business?" There's a hint of wary curiosity in his voice.

Idris spreads his hands with a soft creak of leather. "She approached me and expressed interest in a deal of some sort, but we didn't get a chance to discuss specifics. I don't like talking business without my partner, you understand."

"I'm n-not quite sure what it is you're asking me for," he says, slow and careful. Whatever business Dex might be involved in, he's sure he doesn't trust it. "If Dex is s-so-so eager about it, then I'm sure she'll find a way to-erm-to find you herself?"

"We move about a lot, unfortunately," Idris replies with a shrug. "Trading's one of our main sources of income. Good money in it, but makes it hard for people to find us. I'm sure she'd be grateful if you could point us in the right direction."

There's a bit of a pause before he replies, "I'm n-not Dex's keeper, you know." Thank heavens. What a horrible job that'd be.

"Please, I didn't mean to insinuate anything of the sort. I merely assumed that, as a friend of hers, you might be able to put us in touch. I understand you must be very busy with your work; I wouldn't want to trespass too much on your valuable time. But if there's anything you can do, we'd be in your debt." Another winsome smile.

"S-suppose you could leave me your names and t-tell me where you've b-been staying and I could, erm, p-point her your way? When n-next I see her, I mean."

"I'm afraid that would be difficult." Idris' smile freezes. "As I said, we move about a lot. I don't suppose there's anywhere she frequents, particularly? We could meet her, you see, save her the hassle."

Ebenezer dodges, "She m-moves around a lot-a lot too."

Ed lets the lid of a crate fall shut with a bang, which makes Eben flinch. "As many people tend to, here," she says to it, slowly craning her neck to one side until it crackles in protest. Then she's turned, brushed past Idris, and is very nearly breathing Ebenezer's air in a few short steps, replacing the dusty chill scent of the Warehouse with tobacco and sweat.

In an attempt to maintain his personal space, Ebenezer pulls back towards his desk. "S-sor-sorry, I don't think I can help you. Erm. G-good luck finding her, then, if-if you really must find her."

She doesn't so much as blink. Slowly, deliberately, she raises one fist between them to show him a large, mothbitten, very warm looking hat. "How much."

Ebenezer stiffly seats himself behind his desk. Dutiful, he answers, "De-depends on what you've brought to t-trade for it."

She tosses it in front of him, a sad, faded red little pile of wool. "Name something."

"T-too many things to possibly ask for. All de-depends on what you've got, what-what you're willing to part with, and what your skills are. Erm. And wh-what you've got to t-talk about." His nervous fingers snatch up the uncapped pen from the desk. He taps it neurotically as Ed extracts a small and tatty case of bullets from her bandolier -- 7.62 x 39mm boat-tail copperplates. They rattle in their cardstock box. The logo on the box has faded but the mascot, a grinning cartoon badger carrying an assault rifle, is still bright. Ebenezer's shoulders twitch. After a moment's hesitation, he says, "F-for a hat? Th- that'll do."

Leaning forward, she plucks up the little heap of red wool.

"I'm s-sure it'll look lovely on you, I'm sure." Ed squares it on her head and he rises from his chair hopefully. "Sh-shall I see you out, then?"

"No need. Thank you for your time." Idris smiles, and bows at the waist with only the faintest hint of mockery. "Edith. Come."

The two let themselves out with a thunderous clang of the heavy warehouse door. Ebenezer sits stone-still in the eerie quiet that follows, listening to his own shallow breaths and his thick, quick-drumming pulse, deep in his ears. The door stays shut. The room remains silent.

Three full minutes linger before he's willing to move, to dip his ink-stained fingers into his breastpocket and draw out his monocle. It replaces his spectacles. Winding a tiny side-dial like a pocketwatch knob, he calls on the cameras outside the Warehouse and then those in Cyber City. With a bit of searching, he catches a glimpse of Idris and Edith, beginning their way down the mountain on foot. Some of the tension leaves his shoulders, but the frown doesn't leave his features. The monocle and pen are placed side by side on the desk, leaving both hands free to scrub at his face.


There's a small hesitation before he takes up the monocle again, to look for Dex. It takes time, scanning through images of all the Outposts, DICE Hall, a few beaches, Dex's loft: all the most likely places. It shouldn't be hard to spot a bit of blue hair in a crowd, but Dex is nowhere to be found. Ebenezer drops the monocle on his desktop, where it spins in place like a coin on-edge, slowly clattering down flat. He sighs through his nose, sharp and frustrated.

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