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Alas, poor men, their destiny. When all goes well a shadow will overthrow it. If it be unkind one stroke of a wet sponge wipes all the picture out; and that is far the most unhappy thing of all.



Z HEARS HORSE. GOING __________________ TO CHECK, Dex writes, and slides the paper to Z, but she only looks confused.

Dex taps the space. "We got'a tell him, in case of trouble."

Zolotisty's frown lingers a moment more before clearing. "Yeh, sorry," she says, taking Dex's marker. "Tired." While Dex leans over the note, Z adds NIR CC404, stacking the words on top of each other.

"No. Not there, Z. You said.."

"All of it's around there, Spandex."

She hesitates a moment before snatching up both notes. "Can't be tired now, Z. Drink something, eat something. Just pull it together, yeh," and she trots off to Guy's room, Z's eyes hard on her back.

This morning she knocked at his door with black coffee and apologetic eyes. Now, as the door opens the mug's replaced with two notes, and her eyes look like wounds. "He's cuttin' Horse," she says, pressing the paper into his hand. "Get Eben's monocle, but don't follow," and she turns to leave quickly.

"What?" he replies dumbly, expression darkening as he cottons on. "Dex. Dex. You're not going after him on your own, fuck's sakes--" He strides down the hallway after her, voice raising to a shout. "Don't you remember what happened last time?"

"Yeh, you got your ass shot at," she says cruelly, "and I had two fuckin' bodies to lug into halls. And stop bloody yellin'." She doesn't want him tagging her when she gets back to Z, so she stops in the hallway and turns to face him. "I told you: get Eben."

"And you were floppin' around like a dyin' fish," he snaps, fists balling by his sides. "You might not've noticed, but they fuckin' well botched that ambush. Now you're goin' lookin' for 'em? If they've got their shit together this time, you are fucked."

"Jesus Christ, Guy, calm down. Yerli votana stone." Read the notes. But as she waits for him to stop glowering at her and start reading, an idea occurs to her. She shakes her head sharply, chastising herself for not thinking of it earlier. "Z's in the kitchen, com'on." Haccadine grunts, but doesn't say anything further as he follows her through the lounge.

"Z, use your goggles to look where you hear, yeh."

"The fuck am I looking for," Z says incredulously, padding to get the goggles.

"Where we're going to land?" Dex says, failing to keep the frustrated condescension out of her voice.

"Excuse me?"

She closes her eyes to take a deep breath. "Where. Exactly. Were. You going to take us?" she repeats.

"Not taking your ass anywhere if you don't stop using that fucking tone, Dex."

Instead of vanishing, she slaps her palm loudly against the counter. "Why are you wasting our time, Z?"

"Guys." Haccadine's voice is unusually soft, like a sheet of foam wrapped around an iron bar. "Let's just have a look and see if there's anything there, alright? Sounds like the mountains. Find a camera high up, any buildings should be easy to pick out."

Z returns with the goggles and hands them off to Haccadine. Her expression is dark. He takes them, calm and slow, and turns aside to begin cycling through the cameras.

"You were going to land us somewhere, right? I want to see that place before we get there. Do you understand?" Dex pulls juice and leftovers from the fridge, setting them on the table.

"Can't look where I hear, Dex. If you wanted me to look at the fucking coordinates, you ought've said so in the first place. Closest I know how to get us is with the Robots."

"It's not what I'm sayin', I'm saying they've set a trap and know where you're likely to land, so I'm asking to make sure they've not set up a trap there. Seems common sense to me."

"How they know we're not coming on foot from AceHigh. How they know we're not coming up the fucking coast. How they know where I land."

"Because, YOU DIM COYOTE, whoever's talking in their ears is watching you right now, and has been watching you for most of your ENTIRE SORRY LIFE. But, fuckit, don't look if it's too much trouble."

Zolotisty is silent for a moment, then she says, soft, "Say it again, Spandex."



Monroe's chair almost tips over as he falls to his knees on the floor with his hands lifted in prayer. "Yes! Girlrodeo and mudwrassle! Oh sweet, sweet Jah, you've ken'd my pleas. Swear me won't stretch my saussicon for six months if you make this happen."

"I'll plug your saussicon up your fat ass if you don't get back in your chair, shonde," Gannet barks, focused on his screens.

"Gentlemen!" Simpert snaps. Lacey's buried her face in her forearms. "Both of you!"

Turning away from her screens to grin around at the others, Terry muses, "My, these group suites are interesting, aren't they? I'm so glad I'm part of the team."

It's as if Ogilvy's not noticed the brief uproar in their suite. "Cooper," she orders, snapping her fingers, "Find that scene where Zolotisty can't say the word 'coyote' to refer to herself. We'll insert a little flashback here, up the ante on this fight a little."



"Eat and drink something, then we're going. Guy, you too, and wear a coat, it's cold up there."

"Say it again, you fuckin' coward."

Dex silently snatches up the pitcher of orange juice and pours three glasses full.

"M'not taking you anywhere, you can walk."

Spandex downs her juice and heads for the Dome. Z curls her lip at the clearly audible thud of bootheels on the stairs and takes off at a lope, catching Dex at the door with a harsh grip on her arm.

Dex had braced herself to be tackled."Go get your goggles and a coat if you're coming. I'll wait here."

Z's claws dig in deeper. "How long can you stay invisible after today, Dex. Be honest. You think they're betting on me to come up in a particular place or betting on you running out like an idiot first thing."

"Don't need to be invisible. You can't be, Guy can't be. Just need to look as far ahead as we can, and try to be smart."

"Yeh, smart -- tired, upset, empty stomach, and no one with you."

"Right, so if you were there gettin' pieces cut out of you, you'd want me to take the time to enjoy a nice steak first." Over Z's shoulder, Dex sees Haccadine reach the top of the stairs. He hangs back, arms folded.

"I'd not want you running in stupid to get yourself cut to pieces either -- don't be thick, they did cut pieces out of me and you fucking waited then and it was better that you did."

Dex flinches, wanting to argue, but Z's point gets through. "Okay. Guy, keep looking. I'll go get Eben and get him to ask Julia who owns landclaims in those coordinates. And everyone eat something." Her mind works through plans. "Riu nego tynto, tale. Panviui dinut." We're going tonight, late. Nap if you need to.

Z's grip relaxes.

"Yeh?" Dex checks with Guy, not noticing the four bright red points left on her arm.

"Sure," he replies, giving the pair of them a hard look before turning and heading back downstairs.

Dex glances down at Z's hands before pulling her arm free. "Sorry."

"I am too."

"You're not a dim coyote anyway, more a belligerent old cow," she grins, half-aware of her hypocrisy. She stretches to nip at Z's top lip, but she ducks away.

"How come I'm always old," Z says. "And you're not a coward. Sorry."

"Going to get Eben," Dex says again before she leaves. Z stands in place for a moment before going downstairs to find Haccadine.

"Do you see anything."

"Nothin' around the co-ordinates, no sign of 'em in City. Could be hidin' maybe, but nothin' we can do about that."

Still fully dressed to go out, Dex knocks. Weariness hits her again as she leans against the frame of the door to Eben's room, listening for him stirring. He's stirring alright, like a mouse scrabbling around inside a shoebox. In a shout, he answers through the still-closed door, "What!"

Her head falls against the wood frame, and she takes a breath. "S'me, Dex. We got a note."

There's a soft lock-click and the door cracks open. Through the thin sliver, there's a peek at the visual cacophony inside. Nothing's been left in its regular place. The bed's been stripped of blankets and sheets. The chairs and desk are on their sides. All the dresser-drawers have been pulled out, and their contents put in piles on the floor. The view's gone in an instant, when Ebenezer side-steps to fill the thin door-gap up with himself. "What's it about-about-what's it about, then?"

Straightening to look over his head, she pales. "What the fuck? Have they've been in your room?!"

"I'm org-organizing," he says first, scowl deepening. Quick and sharp, he adds, "They haven't been in, but your good friend Hacc-acca-Hac-- he's been in here. Broke in."

"He did?" she asks, her voice lowered to an conspiratorial whisper. "How you know it was him?"

"I know." His volume's steadily climbing, along with the colour in his face. "Don't try to tell-to tell me it wasn't him!"

Dex steps back, lifting her hands in surrender. "I'm not tellin' you anything, Eben," she says, as calmly as she can. She thinks quickly, trying to come up with a different tactic. "Is anything missing?"

Frustrated, he scrubs at his hair with his forearm. "Don't take his side. I did-didn't do--It's not bad. He's the one who broke in." Prelude out of the way, he gulps a breath and answers, "Took some files. I had-I had files and he took his, so I know it was him."

She presses her lips tight, keeping back the first, angry accusation. "How'd he know you had his file?" she asks, instead. Her eyes flick sideways, down the hall to where she left Z, probably now in the kitchen alone with Guy.

"He didn't! He broke in and he went through-through-he went through all my things." Plowing forward, he spits out, "What's the note. You s-said-said there's a note."

"Yeh, they sent a note, stuck in the clan door with a piece of Horse. They're carving him into bits and he's awake for all of it," she says, eyes locked on his as she hurts them both with the details. "Did you read the file? Do you have mine, too? And Z's?"

Forearm scrubbing at his head again, he looks away from her to pull sick-faces at his gutted dresser. "It was be-before I knew what was hap-p-happening. Nobody t-told me anything," he murmurs, half excuse, half apology.

"Whose did you read, Eben?" Her voice is calm, forgiving. Perhaps it's easier now she's had to try to come to terms with Z's admission of the same temptation.

"His," he answers first, meaning Haccadine's. Before speaking again, he makes himself re-connect his eyes with Dex's. "Z-Zolotisty's. Yours."

"Give them to me." Instead of anger, she feels a tired sadness.

There's the briefest of hesitations before he steps back from the door into the wreckage of his room. Stooping down, he reaches beneath a heap of shirts. The thick stack of papers drawn out looks yellowed against the white cloth that's been hiding them. He rises to his feet and slowly returns to the door to make the delivery.

Watching him through the door he's left deliberately half-closed, she doesn't bother asking him why he looked at the files, for she's beginning to understand the helplessness borne of not knowing and not understanding. So when she takes the files from him, she tries her best to keep this in mind, and to not hate him for perhaps knowing more about her girl's - or even her own - life than she does. "Less'go," she hisses, tucking the files under her arm and herding him to the kitchen.

Z's gazing toward the Dome even before they even make it down the stairs. She looks uneasy as they come into the kitchen, then alarmed when Dex hands over her file. "Why -- Eben?"

His posture's hunched, but his head's not bowed when he answers, mumbled, "Be-before I knew anything. Nobody would t-tell me-tell me anything, so I went to the Grotto."

"I'm going to destroy mine, Ebs," Dex informs him, "and if you ever say peep to anyone about anything in my file, I'll cut your tongue out with my favourite knife."

"S'worth more as a s-secret," he answers, as if he expects it'll comfort her to hear it put that way. Frowning, Z slides her file toward Dex and checks Haccadine with a glance. Fidgeting in place where he stands, Ebenezer decides to add, "Sorry."

Dex drops the files into sink, takes Z's hands and sets the papers alight with Improbability. The edges wick immediately and curl toward themselves like a bug or a baby turning onto its back, then the flame catches higher and stretches ambitiously toward the faucet. But there's nothing left to set flame and the margins have already crumbled to ash. The bodies of the pages, thick and close-set, take a few more moments to smoulder before it's an indistinguishable mass of char and paper fragments with indistinct letters and phrases -- bject shows signs of ou, nsive scrutiny during early st, volatile. Dex stirs and pokes at them until they all disappear.

In respect of the ritual file-burning, Ebenezer remains quiet and still until Dex has prodded the papers entirely into ash. Drawing a calming breath, he turns to Haccadine. "St-stay out of my room."

"Stay out of my files," he retorts. "You do not get to start preachin' about privacy."

Ebenezer's nostrils flare and his posture stiffens. "J-just stay out. S-say-say 'Yes, I und-understand.'"

Haccadine narrows his eyes. "Fuck you."

Leaning over the table to plate up the leftovers she's pulled out earlier, Dex looks over her shoulder to witness Eben's reaction.

Sharp, he turns towards the sink to scrub up. "Only time I'm g-going to warn you about it," he murmurs, moving for the kettle next. When all else fails, make tea.

"Thank you, Spandex," Z says wearily when a plate slides her way. "Haccadine couldn't find anything."

"Eben, can you -- mean, when you two figure yourselves out -- can you go ask Julia for a list of land claims in 33, 22, please?" She realises then that he's not up to speed on the latest news and fills him in, taking the note from Haccadine and letting Eben read it himself.

When the kettle's filled and in place on the stove, he bows his head to read the note. He falls silent and the frown-line between his eyebrows deepens. Glancing up again, he gives Dex a nod to accept the mission. "Can do it now," he mumbles, pressing the paper down onto the countertop.

"Please. I'll make your tea."

Ebenezer won't admit that he only started making the tea to keep himself busy anyhow. "Won't be long-be long, then." He steps away from the stove and makes his way out, towards the staircase.

With her back to the kitchen, Dex waits for the kettle. Zolotisty shovels her food, chews mechanically. Haccadine stares fixedly down at his plate, transferring food to his mouth with his fingers. "Need to feed Fog," Z murmurs eventually, pushing her plate away.

Dex finds the cannister of tea in the cupboard and fills the metal ball she's seen Eben use with it. "There detailed maps of the island? You know, of paths and roads and shit?"

"None I've seen." Z rests her chin on the counter. "People might've made some. Dunno who. Syd Lexic, maybe, he makes maps."

Dex stares at the cupboard door. Then, "We can use the goggles instead."

"For what."

"Did anyone notice," Haccadine interrupts, "Whether that note was on the door when we came in? 'Cause I think we would have seen it." He looks up, eyebrows raised. "Means they've been by recently."

Dex and Zolotisty look alarmed as Z shoves back from her seat. "He sounds alright right now, but -- Dex, come invisible with me. Hacca, three minutes and you follow, aye?" He nods.

"Be right behind you," Dex says, turning off the stove before she disappears.

Z hurries to the exit, schooling herself to a casual pad as she leaves the hall for the clan offices. "Oi, Eben," she calls, craning her neck down the hallway. She swivels an ear, then eases the door shut behind herself, while Dex slips out unseen. "What kind of tea did you want?" Nothing sounds out of place.

Ebenezer's standing at Julia's desk, as she's bent over, searching through a filing cabinet. At Z's call, he starts, flinching around to look at her over his shoulder. "Oh! Erm--?" Sharp, he glances about the room. When nothing looks in the least bit unusual, he squints back to Zolotisty. "D-dar-darjeeling?"

Even as he responds, Dex moves right beside him, needing to see him for herself.

Z joins him, too, looking around with spaded ears. "Yeh? Alright. Anything else? Hullo Julia."

"Zolotisty," she says with stiff courtesy.

Dex cases the place, looking for hiding spots and hidden vantage points to watch from. Finding none, she moves through the door to a narrow cobblestone alley flanked by three-story rowhouses. It's quiet, except for a couple of rowdy KittyMorphs, arm-in-arm and singing offkey as they saunter towards the Outpost square. Dex scans the vicinity. There are tons of good spots -- curtained balconies, half-closed doors, windows that only reflect the building across and rooftops much like the ones Eben and Haccadine have been watching from in AceHigh.

Ebenezer fidgets in place, fingers plucking at the end of his necktie. He clears his throat and asks, "S-so, erm, find an-anything, Julia?"

"Mm-mn, no... I'm not finding anything. You're sure you wanted 33, 22?"

With a sharp nod, he replies, "Yes. I'm s-sure-I'm sure that was it." He frowns. "You m-mean to say-to say there's nothing there at all?"

She shakes her head. "Nothing in my records."

Ebenezer turns his frown towards Z as she leans on the desk, inadvertently nudging one of the little spiderkitty bobbleheaded figurines sitting there. It nods manically as she asks, "What d'your records cover."

Julia turns to look at Zolotisty, weren't you here for the tea order writ clear on her face. She thins her lips. "Current contestant holdings. Current contestant everything, here, and mainly clans -- of course, I'm not even supposed to be giving out the land records, and I wouldn't be if you two weren't moderators."

"F-funny, when you choose to re-remember these things," Ebenezer mumbles, sweeping his palms down his necktie. Lifting his voice a bit louder, he says, "Well, thanks v-very much, Julia. I think-I think that's all." Another glance to Z, for confirmation.

Dex steps back inside. Seems like nothing's changed in the clan offices but that Z and Ebenezer are hunched closer over Julia's desk.

"Did you see anyone come in here with a Distract for us? Or any note. We got one on our door but it's unsigned."

Julia shakes her head impatiently. "I manage an office, I'm not a personal assistant."

"And you d-do-you do a fine job at it too," Eben murmurs. "Tea, Zol-olotisty?"

Z straightens impatiently, knocking the bobblehead figurine over. She snatches it up and rights it. "Yeh. Com'on."



"You said it wouldn't be long," Ed says, staring out the window.

"Patience is a virtue. I suggest you take this opportunity to cultivate it."


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