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I mean, there are all sorts of things happening all the time, and it's difficult to distinguish between the conscious and the unconscious working, or the instinctive working, whichever you like to call it.



Without looking down to the page or her pen, Ogilvy jots reminders to herself in her leatherbound notebook. 45:28 - 49:02 / del GH & shots. 51:13 del Z 'leggo'. Z breath volume - callback to boat.

She stands behind Simpert and Cooper as they anticipate shots, adjust sound levels, toggle feeds open, look to see what the other's highlighting. Their collaboration is natural, rare -- most Network camera operators work solo, and when they're forced to work together, they waste time and resources fighting for control of the cameras.

Intent on the screens, Ogilvy splits her focus between the DICE clan hall feeds and those following Idris and Edith. He's good too, she thinks as what must be Gannet's camera lingers on Idris' horrific burns before the Joker's illusion shimmers back into place, obscuring them with cold perfection.

The generators whine and chug. No one speaks.



"Guy!" Dex yells over her shoulder, dropping to her hands and knees beside Z, who hasn't moved from where she was laid, breathing shallow and irregular. "Talk to me Guy.. c'mon, tell me.. shit.. Guy, talk!" She grips Z's shirt in her fists, fighting the urge to run away. Clumsy, like dragging her hand through river silt, Z touches Dex's arm.

Haccadine lifts his head, eyes still bleary and unfocused. He squints at Dex, then down at the puncture hole in his sleeve and reaches clumsily across to pinch himself. Evidently dissatisfied, he grunts and lets his head loll back against the wall. Words spill from his lips, mumbled and incoherent.

"There's ..fuck, ..Z! breathe.. can't ..fuckin think." Squeezing her eyes shut, she yanks on Z's shirt as if shaking her awake. "Don'die don'die," she repeats, beginning to sob.

"sdobbid," Z coughs, lolling.

"Z!" Her eyes open with a gasp. "Shot! A shot.. shit.. shot.. fuck.. where!" She looks over at Haccadine, and another rush of worry and Improbability floods more sense into her. "Pain? You're hurt? Blood.. Guy! Talk! Z where's a medkit!"


Dex slumps and drums her fingers on her temples. "Thinkthinkthinkdexfuck! Don'move!" She tears down the hallway for the bathroom, running back while unzipping a medkit, fumbling inside for the pen of epinephrine. On her knees again, she takes one long breath to clear the cottonwool stuffed between her ears before she slits a tear in Z's trousers with her balisong and punches her outer thigh with the syringe, plunging deep. "C'mon Z, relax, relax. Breathe." Wheeze. "M'right here," Dex coos as she grabs the medkit and crouches next to Haccadine.

"Guy, Guy? Wakeup, Guy, c'mon." She gently slaps his face a few times but his head just flops to the side. Her sense and reason are returning quickly now that they're out of that void, and she falls into her normal adrenaline-fueled efficiency. Patting down his shirt, she finds the blood smear on Guy's sleeve and slits it wide to expose a tiny puncture. Drug, poison, tranq, some Joker'd mix of something unfathomable-- could be any of these. Can't go fetch Elias in a hurry, and unless they knew what Haccadine was hit with, he'd likely be waiting and seeing, like she's going to have to. She helps him to lie down on his side, so he doesn't fall, so that he's free to puke up whatever's in his guts if he needs to.

Dex shuffles back to sit between them, taking Z's hand. She keeps watch -- Z, Guy, door, Z, Guy, door, Z, Guy, door. Clearer thoughts and plans form quickly, even while her girl's still struggling to breathe and her friend's still unconscious.

A Joker for much longer than Dex and more fully made out of Improbability, Z's recovery is slower. It's almost ten minutes before she can manage, "was a team." She struggles to sit up, hunching over her lap to suck in deeper lungfuls of air.

"Twist, s'okay. You okay?" Dex rubs circles on her back. "Guy's still fucked. I want to go back 'n look. M'better now, think. Will stay invisible. But Guy.. You okay?"

"..not alone."

"They see you, they'll hit us with ..whatever the fuck that was. Com'on, it'll be okay."

Zolotisty turns to look at Spandex, hard-eyed.

"Com'on,they're probably long gone, but maybe I can find the needle or somethin', n'case Guy's poisoned. Elias'll need it."

"Not alone."

"Z. Can you teleport yet? Na bapka." I can. "Listen to me. I won't get close, just to look. Watch Guy."

"I'm asking you to stay. Or let me come. Just wait."

Z has made up her mind as much as she has, which means if she just disappears, Z'll probably follow anyway. "Stupid," Dex says. "Stupid, Z. Stubborn."

"Yeh you are."

"M'still here, aren't I." She shuffles over to check on Guy again. Z wheezes, watching her.

"Was a team," she repeats, drawing a stronger breath. "Maybe more than two."

"S'fuckin'bullshit. You know anyone that can blast away Improbability like that? N'that ..what the fuck'is name. You seen him before?"

Zolotisty shakes her head.

"Z, please. I'll be quick. No one will see a thing."

"Not alone, Spandex."

Well, at least she's sounding better. Dex bangs the side of her fist on the floor, just once, before taking a deep breath. "They were shootin' at Guy, 'n wanted us fucked up so we couldn't help.. but why would they wait 'til we were there, if they're after him. So I'm thinkin' it's you or me they're after. Take one guess who it is after us, unless you've got gamblin' enemies you not been tellin' me, Z."

"Why do it like that," Z says, scrubbing at her face. "Why not jump me at the table. Why do it when there's you and there's Haccadine."

"Network's made their move."

"Was a Joker."

"Yeh.. that's.. fuck, donno. Can you modgoggle 'em?"

"Yeh. File too, f'we need." She rolls her shoulders, trying to make more space in her chest for her lungs. "Don'.. where's m'goggles?"

Dex moves close again and brushes a bit of Z's hair away from her face. "I'll get'em. You okay?" She noses the underside of Z's jaw, then. "Hate seein' you not breathin'. M'so bloody useless."

"M'be okay," she says as Haccadine attempts to force words over the thick, leaden barrier of his tongue. They come out as little more than an inarticulate groan, but it's noise nonetheless. His head pounds, pain beginning to seep in as the anaesthesia slowly wears off.

Dex is kneeling in front of him immediately. "Guy? Guy? Com'on. Wake up now."

He cracks open his eyes, squinting ahead for a moment whilst he attempts to get his bearings. "Sfah," he tries again, brain still buzzing static.

She brushes his hair back to feel his forehead -- slightly warm, but not hot. "Your guts hurtin'? Don't move, I'm going to get you water. You're okay, Z's here."

"S'fine." It comes out clearer this time. "Feel fine." He reaches up to push her hand away and attempts to sit. He rocks, and Dex catches and rights him against the wall.

"Worst patients," she says, pointing her finger at each of them as she stands. "M'getting water. Don't move. Stubborn-asses." This last comes out in the teasing tone of great relief.


He rubs a hand across his face and glances across at Z. "Yeh?"

"Thank you."

"..No problem."


Dex hurries back with water and three glasses. "How you feelin'? You see who hit you?"

"Too far away," he replies, gently shaking his head. "Jus' tired. Nothin' but tranqs, think."

"You know that guy? Drink your water. Z, where are your goggles?" She gulps her water in one go, sets it down, paces around them.

Haccadine takes the glass with both hands, careful. "Never seen 'im before. Won't forget 'is face, though. Can bet on that."

"Which face," Z mumbles, then, "No. Ionno. Maybe.. where we were last night." Where they are every night, the tunnel.

She stops moving and gives Z a meaningful look. "In my room. I'll fetch 'em. I'll go invis, okay." Maybe stop by the loft on the way--

Zolotisty stares back at her: you come right fucking back here ann beatrice. "Yeh. Don't be slow."

It takes Humility to teleport to the tunnel, and by calling her bluff, Z just provided her the extra push. By all appearances, though, it looks like she vanished as she has many times before. Z looks uncomfortable, gazing back to Haccadine. "What you think."

"Think? S'a.. s'a fuckin' hit-- no." He blinks, hard, attempting to shake the lethargy. "Why'd they use tranqs. Fer.. capture. Like animals."

"Capture for what," Z says flatly, breathing steadier now. She thinks of being clubbed outside the grotto -- but those were retraining personnel, burly and Network uniformed. And she was alone. Bit stupid, she thinks, to try to do that to three people at once.

"Fuck knows. What would a Joker want with captives? You pissed anybody off?"

"Gamblers'd roll me at the camps. Network otherwise. Dex thinks they wanted her. Or us."

He grunts. "Who's she been pissin' off, then."

"Nn.. Network I guess, but. She hasn't broken anything."

"Maybe s'just a buncha Joker fucks, then. Want you for ransom, or somethin'. None of 'em are right in the head anyway."

Zolotisty scoffs. "Yeh," she agrees, smiling. "Reckon none of us are."

"I mean the sort you get prowlin' about with needles an' poisons," he adds, defensive. "Weirdos you get hangin' about in the worse bits of Ace High. DICE lot seem alright."

"Teasing, s'arright."

Dex appears with the goggles dangling from her fingers, having reappeared first in her room to try to make it look like that's only where she been and where she found the goggles. "Here. Teasin' bout what?"

"Buncha Joker fucks," Z says, stretching her arm up for the goggles. Slipping them on, she settles on her back to fiddle with the little dials on each side.

"Mmn. Or Joker-haters.. with that anti-Improb 'nade shit. What about you, Guy, you made any enemies here?"

"Don't think so. Been careful. Shouldn't think Network got much love for me, but they ain't topped me just yet."

"What you see, twist?"

"Nobody in AceHigh. Don'think, anyway."

"Check the merc camps."

"Okay." Several minutes pass before Z shakes her head. "Nobody out of sorts and that Joker's not there."

"Check the loft, and New Home, all'a outposts. Keep checking." She opens the door and looks out into the lobby-- empty. "How'd they know where to find us?"

"Already checked the loft," Z sighs, toggling one of the dials.

Dex frowns at her. "What. We can't just bloody stay in here forever, can we. Think.. where would they go. They hunting for us or running?"

"Rookie," Z says, then, "Who says it wasn't them tryin'a roll us for money or something anyway. I don't see them anywhere, Spandex."

Dex's pacing starts again until she's under the gaze of the camera over the door. "Ogilvy," she says, glaring up into the lens, "if I find out any of this is your doing, swear on my grave I'll find a way.. Oh, you'll get your war, alright. Lot closer than you'll like." She fights to keep her voice calm, to not rip the camera off its mount and stomp it until nothing but a multitude of tiny ineffectual broken bits of metal and glass. She turns to face Z and Hacca, who have been watching in silence. "I'm feelin' much better. Let's make some plans, yeh. Off-the-record, like. Udna andedak sias." Let's hunt Jokers.

Z rubs at her temple, trying to pet herself calm again. "Isyak," she begins questioningly as she twitches another dial, then slurs right into, "kyou motherfucker--" as she snarls to her feet.

By the sound of Z's growl, their enemies have found clannies. "What'sit? You see somethin'?" A lie for the camera, though it hardly seems worth it now.

The goggle strap snaps as Z tears them off. "Whatsit? Andedak? Aye. Now."

"Oh shit, thought you saw'em." Dex lets Z watch her glance at Haccadine while reaching out for the goggles. "Lemme look? We'll find somewhere safe to make plans, yeh." They clatter as Z slaps them into Dex's hand. Dex drops her gaze guiltily for not trusting Z outright, and then she peers into the goggles. Idris, sniffing around the copse, running fingers along the mossy wheel covers of the plane. Searching. Prying. She pretends to fuss with one of the dials and scratches at her ear. "Busy crowded place maybe? Like one of the booths in Cool Springs? I'll meet you there?"

"Yeh. You coming, Haccadine."

"Let's give him time to feel better, then come back 'n get him." She takes a breath. She hasn't learned how to teleport to the copse yet, and Z can't take her while she's invisible -- unless, she makes them both invisible first. It's a big risk, but hell, she fixed Eben.

He briefly considers arguing, but the lingering numbness in his arm tells him he'd be near enough useless should Idris and his companion make another appearance. Worse than useless. A dead weight. "Yeh," he says, slow and quiet. "She's right. I'll prob'ly be fine in an hour or two."

Dex moves close to Z and holds out her hand. "Don't let go, yeh, I'm a delicate flower." She chuckles as Zolotisty frowns, lacing their fingers. Dex grips hard-- an instruction.

"Want us to bring you somma back," she asks, gaze sliding to Haccadine. "Can bring it here if you think you'll be around."

With her free hand, Dex offers him the modgoggles, still tuned into the copse. "Here. Can spy hotties while you're waiting."

"Thanks, but I'm not hungry." He glances at Z, one hand raised towards the goggles. She nods. His jaw juts and he takes them from Dex, nodding thanks just before they vanish.

There's no telling where Dex is -- or where her self is, though she's standing where she was and nothing else has moved but Haccadine's fingers around the goggles. Zolotisty fusses. Can't feel her girl, and Improbability's a different tone here, like this. Doubt carves around her forehead with thin blades and she takes a breath, hopin' like fucking hell they don't get stuck like this, leagues apart. She goes.



"Is this hers."

Idris's head tilts back, staring up at the rusted underside of a light aircraft. He purses his lips, irritation creasing his brow, and shoots Ed a glance. "No, I thought we'd just poke around in the middle of nowhere for our own amusement."

"Spandex's or not."

"Zolotisty's. But once you find one, you find the other." Eyes slide back to the aircraft and he circles around to the other side, pulling on his gloves. Ed squinches up at the plane. It's wrecked, pointing nose-first toward the ground from where it's tangled between three trees. She nips a hangnail from her thumb and spits.

"Find them then."

"They will have gone to ground after your little display. I shouldn't imagine they're hiding anywhere as easily found as this, but we may turn up some leads."

There's a faint pulse of Improbability through the copse. The fine hairs on the back of Idris' neck prickle and he turns, gazing in the direction of the ripples. Nothing. His eyes narrow, but he remains silent, gazing back up at the cockpit of the aircraft.

A few paces back. Improbability brushes through Idris' hands, winding snakelike around his fingers; he waits a moment, lets it push up against him and then grips, hard, clamping down before it has a chance to buck him. He takes a step forward and leaps, sailing easily up to land on the side of the plane. Ed tears off another piece of uneven fingernail and chews on it for a moment before spitting it, too, to the side as he reaches down and pulls on the handle. The door sticks a little, protesting with a low groan as it swings open on rusted hinges. He smiles and slips inside, crouching low.

It's been used, alright. Blankets and pillows, strewn across what looks like part of a couch wedged tight into the cabin; a crate of supplies, propped against the dashboard, including books and sustenance enough for at least a few days; the smell of sex still lingering faintly in the air. A lovenest of some sort. His lips twist up at the corners as he reaches down to pluck a couple of hairs from a pillow, most dark brown and long, but this one shorter -- and blue. He holds them up to his nostrils, contemplative. Old. Not as lousy with Improbability as you'd get fresh from a Joker. Still useful, nonetheless. He produces a twist of paper from his pocket and wraps the hairs neatly, slipping them into a pocket for safekeeping, and turns to searching the cabin more thoroughly.

The couch is first. He rips into it with a knife, slicing the cushions open and dumping them out of the open door when he's satisfied they hold no secrets. The underlying upholstery is torn out, too, until nothing remains but tatters around the wooden frame. He turns his attention to the crate, kicking aside an empty bottle as he moves. He flips briefly through a couple of the books -- some poems by Rilke, a faded and dogeared volume bearing a name he's not familiar with -- before he loses patience and shakes them one by one, bending the pages back to let any inserts loose. Once done, he tosses them into the wrecked frame of the sofa and starts on the food. Tins are opened, their contents tipped out onto the floor, and bottles are drained out onto the ground below. Finally satisfied that he's gleaned all he can from the place, he overturns the crate and jumps back down to where Ed sits waiting, leaving the cabin a wreck.

"They haven't been here recently. We should move on."

"Where now."




"Spinach salad, and only from Patch & Co's. Everywhere else is reconstituted garbage," Ogilvy orders, passing him a wad of bills. "And get Simpert and yourself whatever you want."

Cooper tucks the money into his pocket, hiding his seething belligerence at being made to be their delivery service. Why can't you go, he thinks as Simpert blows out a breath and turns to look toward him. Behind him, a camera auto-pans over Zolotisty's copse. "It's whatever, mate, I don't have much of an appetite."

Cooper pushes his chair so that its back lines up perfectly parallel with the desk edge. He closes his notebook, nudges it slightly so it aligns with the keyboard and picks up his leather satchel. He's doubly exhausted this week -- not just from the extra work Ogilvy's given them, but also from the way keeps replaying over and over that kid's threat in his mind.

At the door he turns back to glance again at Ogilvy, her hand on Simpert's chairback, leaning over his shoulder. Silent, he snatches their espresso off the filing cabinet and leaves.

Cooper doesn't go to the deli, though, not yet. Instead, he pays camera-operator Catherine Lacey a visit. He knocks on her open door, and leans on the doorframe as casually as he can, lifting a small paper bag in one of his hands.

"Miss Lacey? Hello, are you busy?"

She turns to glance over her shoulder at him, waiting a beat before replying. "No more than usual. Anything I can do for you?" Her lips press thin, impatient.

"Brought you some of my handground espresso. Little something to show our appreciation for your excellent work this week." He hesitates as if shy before stepping in. "Oh, don't worry, Mr. Simpert has got that covered," he says, subtly re-affirming the pecking order-- and perhaps unconsciously re-affirming his fear back in his own office.

"Thank you," she says automatically, pushing herself back from her console and turning to face him. Her hands fold themselves in her lap. "I assume you didn't come here just to do the coffee rounds?"

He carefully sets the bag down on the standard issued tall grey filing cabinet. "You're correct about that, Miss Lacey, but I assure you the gratitude is genuine." He doesn't sit, and is careful to not obstruct the doorway. "Guido has taken it upon himself to come to Spandex's aid, it appears, at threat to his own life." He doesn't mention that Ogilvy has ordered this all edited out. "It seems he's becoming a key player in this storyline we've been working on. Mr. Simpert and I aren't like the other camera operators you'll meet around here. We know the value of good teamwork, of having talented people on your projects, and we like to nurture them, so if there's anything you need.." He tilts his head to the coffee he's brought. "Even just to make it through the nastier shifts they like to drop on us."

Lacey regards him for a few moments, mulling things over; on the one hand, Cooper's gesture has something of a peace offering about it. On the other, he and Simpert are coopting all her footage. "I appreciate it," she says eventually, chin tilting ever so slightly. "It's nice to know somebody around here notices."

"Tschk, and you're one of Ms. Axelsson's," Cooper says, lowering his voice. "Let me guess -- you met her once, get the occasional text message from a 'lunch meeting'? Miss Lacey, we notice." He sighs and glances over his shoulder to the hallway through the door. "Unfortunately, almost everyone else around this place is too busy obsessing over ratings and viewing figures to see good work. Especially," he adds, pointedly looking her in the eyes. "Good work on a doomed character. I should know, I've been in your shoes." Thankfully, not those, he says to himself without looking down to her feet. He sussed her outfit before he made it through the door. 'Practical' is a kind way of describing her shoes, he'd say. Never to her face, obviously.

Lacey rolls her shoulders, holding his gaze. "I've got a job to do. I'm getting paid to do it. Doomed or not, you've got to do the best you can with what you have." She pauses and then adds, offhand, "I assume you're not talking about Spandex, when you say you've been in my shoes. You were assigned to somebody else before?"

"You've not seen footage of Spandex's early days, I take it." He exhales, lifting his face to the ceiling dramatically. "Her anti-social behaviour would give Guido's a run for the money. Between spitting and cursing at cameras, the occasional angry brawl in the jungle for some food, sulking or passing out on some cheap swill she stole from the pub, there wasn't much compelling footage. What I mean, though, is her affiliation, her alignment with Crew. That didn't go unnoticed with the Corporate Comms team here. I bet we could compare notes.. let me recall.. 'unsympathetic but possible redemption storyline'? But here I am, five years on and still with Spandex." He's half-lying to her: there were no concerns at all about her Crew affiliation back then.

"No, I haven't. I suppose I'll have to have a look." Her lips press even thinner again, brow furrowing in thought. "Well. We'll see. Assuming he doesn't get himself shot in a more terminal manner."

You poor thing, he thinks as he tries to keep his own expression as dispassionate as possible while studying hers. "Our hunters won't kill him, if that's what you mean. That's the last thing Ms Ogilvy'd want, right? Suddenly it's 'who's this new guy that took a bullet for Spandex?'" Not to mention the political blood the Network would have on their hands if a Crew member got shot on live television. " No, you're in the clear. In fact, while everyone's looking elsewhere, I'd say you've got yourself some time to make him.." He pauses, as if improvising, "..mmn.. more viewable. Get himself a bit of a steady audience."

Lacey's eyebrows raise. "Are you suggesting I act in direct contravention to an order from a representative of this company, Mr. Cooper?"

He chuckles. "If I did that, I'd not have lasted five years, would I? Look, you're busy so I'll leave you. Just wanted to say I know this can feel like a lonely place. You know where to find us -- Mr. Simpert's a decent fellow." He leans forward. "Actually cares about his contestant beyond her bringing in his salary."

"Yes, I've met him already," she says cautiously. Seemed about as bad as you is left as a silent judgement in the back of her mind.

"Oh?" he creaks, feeling suspicion grab his throat. "Used to really bother me-- you know, the way the contestants have no choice about joining the show," he says, changing the subject. "But despite her hatred of us, now I see Spandex happy and healthy, I see her housed, with a family for the first time. Married. Speaking of love, I saw a bit of recent footage in queue for Guido -- seems you're working on something romantic? Or not -- oh, you're editing that very well. I love the ambiguity of that affair, as will your ratings. What you think, Ms. Lacey, think he's grifting Miss Honesty?"

"I can't be totally sure myself," she replies, a little surprised by the sudden change in direction. "I think they're both playing at something, although I doubt it's exactly the same game. I suppose he's sincere, though, more likely than not. Lotta trouble to go to for -- what, exactly?" She spreads her hands.

"Mmn. I hope so." He taps his chin as if thinking of this for the first time. "How are you going to handle that then? Man meets woman, woman robs man, man manages to find something redeeming in her, believes in her.. falls for her? That makes him very sympathetic ..doesn't it?"

Lacey shoots him a lopsided smile. "It's ambiguous enough that you could read what you like into it. I won't be giving any definite answers. If some people see that as sympathetic, it's not my fault."

He dips his chin slowly, as in admiration. "Yes, well played," he speaks quietly. "And then what you need to do is.. oh, excuse me, Miss Lacey, I got excited and spoke out of turn. You don't want my advice. I'm sure you're handling it."

"No, please. You were going to say?"

He reaches to for the door. "May I?" After she nods assent, he shuts it quietly. "What I did with Spandex is let her grow. It's almost a blessing if your character arrives broken -- gives them a good story. What I'm saying is let your character flourish, let him be controversial, a bit ambiguous. Guido's background story's pitiful, and the audience loves that.. and let him fall in love, and fall out, if it so happens. Let him succeed, fail.. focus on the bonds he makes with others. He's trying, we can see that. The poor lad is just hurting inside, I'm sure." He sighs. "Poor lad. Just remove any mention of Crew. Anything." He leans even closer to her and lowers her voice even further. "They're incredibly short-sighted in this place, so you have to look long. Just keep the Crew stuff out of their eyes, get his ratings up so that he's in high demand, and voila, you've got yourself tenure."

She sits a little straighter as she regards him, one hand tapping slowly against the arm of her chair. "I see," she says slowly.

"It's not easy," he interrupts. "On one hand, you have to be subtle, so Comms doesn't notice, but on the other, you need those ratings so Finance does."

"No, I understand. It'll be a damn sight easier than trying to jump through every single hoop that's thrown my way and keep myself in a job." Lacey gives a wan half-smile.

Cooper nods. "Come visit either of us anytime, you'll want refills on those beans once you taste them, I can guarantee that." He straightens his jacket, but unlike his last visit, he waits until she responds before leaving.

"Thank you," she says simply. "And thanks for the coffee, too."

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