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though me nah sling no gun,
but a smart
the warrior smart


Zolotisty sets her viola to her shoulder and tunes as she pads down the platform by the water, looking foremost for Dex's key. She pulls an experimental stroke, frowns, twists a peg, draws her bow again, continues the adjustments.

Dex follows closely behind silently cycling through a scatterbox of songs: 'mommas don' let your babies grow up to be jokers' in exaggerated twang, 'sweet 69' in punk grrl grrrowl, 'march of the priests of isis and osiris' in mock-operatic chant, 'warrior queen poison dart' dubstyle, and then just a riot of electric guitar noises.

"You are not being tricksy," Zolotisty says, interrupting a BWAOU-BWAONNNNAAAUWW.

"Weh me say - I mean, what."

"Wut. I do not know what you are doing but you are not being tricksy."

A pause. A loud sigh. An underbreath grumbled, "jus'wan'make you laugh." Then, louder, "What am I then?"

The viola replies instead of Z - two in-your-face stabs climb pellmell into hunt-fast fretwork and run with a loose basting stitch through a patchwork of influences mimicked as close as possible on the strings, the warp and woof of poets and punk rock poetasters. It's cinched together into stripes of song layered on top one another, and then Z unchins the instrument, looking dissatisfied. "I'm missing the finicky bits. Like this," and she stretches for the affection in Dex's fingertips when they're exhausted and oversexed, swirling lightsolight through the fur at the very bases of her ears, which is precisely where Dex's thoughts drift to - the softest fur, hidden from sight in the longer strands of humanhair.

Z lowers her hand and presses the pad of her thumb to one of her eyeteeth anyway, turning 'round to fix Dex with architect eyes.

"You're a genius," she says, keeping still.

"Gimme your tooths," Z replies, moving toward Dex to slip her thumb between her lips and press at not just the canine tooth but the incisors and bicuspids and molars as well.

"Wuaaah wait! Waitwait." She jerks and ducks away and covers her mouth with her hand. "You can't pull them out! What if-"

"Pull them out?"

"Oh." Dex drops her hands and steps forward again. "You said gimme. Here," and opens dentist-wide.

"Aye so I can touch." She tucks her bow under Dex's arm and her viola between her own legs to two-hand-touch the tips of Dex's eyeteeth, checking against hers with one hand every few moments. She frowns as she pokes at their gums, comparing, then sizes up their jaws. Pulling away finally to wipe her hands against her borrowed jeans, Z says, "I don't think you will be able to bite so hard as I do unless I rewrite all of it and I don't know if it will hurt and I don't know if you want that."

"Yes I do."

"To bite as hard as me?" Dex nods once curtly- get this shit over with. Z cocks her head. "But also you want ears and tail too still?"

"Oh. Uhhmm.." She knows they're what she wants, but there's something right about leaving them just on Z, for if her fingers crave soft fur, they need Z. "No, don'wan be you. Just teeth. S'at harder?"

"Ears are hardest. 'Cos it's not just adding to something you've already got and making it be different. It's making this," Z reaches to finger the peachy skin of Dex's earlobe, "go away. And then adding it again in a different place. And your headbones have to be different 'cos the shape is different." This is to say nothing of the delicate rerouting of the brain. "..also I like your earses," she adds, softer. The tenderness transmogrifies into a trickster grin a second later. "'Cos it is easy to see the ticky bugs on your ears 'steada mine. Also put tongues there."

"Yeh? You don't wish..?"


Dex squawks and twists free. "You used to be a bit fuckedup about bein' diff'rent you know."

"I think still, if I am not with you."

The deep-tread instinct to protect is manifest in a brief snarl. She'd bust anyone that made Z feel badly. A thought, though - that there is no one, and how can she bust Z for hurting herself. Z smiles crookedly, quiet while she thinks, then says, "You are going to have to relearn how to do that."

Her hand lifts on-topic to her front teeth and it's then Dex realises this is not just stretching a tooth, but some sculptural reworking. This is serious shit. Her hand drifts to her jaw.

"Will you like it?" No one else's opinion matters.

"Kissing will not be the same, I do not think, so I will miss that. But I like when you're happy. N'if you don't like it," she pauses, testing the truth of what she's about to say. She thinks it's possible. "Could make it go back."

"No goin' back, tha's lame, unless.." She draws her hands down from her front teeth. "It's walrus tusks or mouse buckteeth or horse's or sommat. But will you like it?"

"I think I will. I don't know. You have your teeths right now."

Dex slumps her shoulders to stuff her hands in her pockets and turn away, deeply uncomfortable. She's never wished for a life or self different than what she had.

"Spandex. Gimme your teeths again."

She halfturns back. "S'like a boob job."

"What? Gimme your teeths."

"Women used to be told they had to have perfect boobs and perfect was like this," she explains, gesturing about twice the size of her own and impossibly round. Z lays her ears back skeptically before bringing them forward. "So they'd go to a geneticist to fix'em." She takes the viola from between her legs to set it on the ground, crowding Dex to palm her tits before touching teeth again.

"Real's perfect. Lemmesee." She squints. "I think maybe, ahmn." She pulls back to study the curl of her inDex finger, just slightly hooked. "..tigers."

A kid takes over. "Yes! Tiger!"

"You are," Z says, stealing a kiss, but only getting the corner of Dex's mouth as she refuses.

"Stopitstopit. You're doin' my head in."

"Oh I am going to try not to. That would be bad."

First a moment to gape, then a few to scrutinize if Z's serious. She is. "Fuckit," she says, impatient with indecision. "Let's do this."

"Last kiss like this first, Spandex, and it has to be a good onnne."

Her heart's pounding like it's a firstdate kiss, but it has nothing to do with Z's command to perform. "What. When has it not-" and she opens her mouth wider than an openpit mine and jams her tongue for tonsils and waggles it furiously and "alALALALALALas" in harmony. And drool. Lots of drool.

Z looks almost hurt as she wrists off her mouth. She's battling amusement. "Okay."

After she dries off her own mouth with the back of her hand-all the while grinning satisfied, she kisses her again. So-so-soft, almost trembling for containing a flood of want and love of her girl that knows her so well. She lets Z feel her teeth as they are for the last time before nibbling gently down the line of her jaw to her neck, where her teeth sink harder and harder, holding on. Z considers the fronts of fangs grazed backward up wet-silked skin and exhales, tilting her head to nose Dex's cheekbone.

"There are alcohols," she says. "Maybe you will want them." Dex looks puzzled. Booze has long stopped being something to douse pain with, and hasn't even really got her drunk since she became a Joker. "Sometimes if there is no medicine," Z shrugs, catching the quirked eyebrow from the corner of her eye. She pulls away to fetch her viola, her bow, and to pad toward the bed.

Obliging, Dex brings back a bottle of the clearest, vodka, figuring Z means for disinfecting after.

"I don't like the idea of hurting you."

"Z, c'mon. Don'worry."

She relaxes back on the bed, entirely unafraid and trusting of Z's deep and entirely confident music. Rumpled brow, Z checks her tuning, fussing to make sure she can call Dex, call the deepset sheathed blade sound of her own fangs, call jaws and gums and nerves and muscles as they are.

She adds no hooks for Improbability until she's certain it's right, and even that's a test, all shy-murmured, "Temme if you feel sommat," when she reaches to match Dex again. A splash makes Dex twinge as Z guides her to test-toes-in-the-sea, but the creases in Dex's eyes disappear as her body adjusts, feet sinking into the sand.

"S'good," she whispers. Fangs, next, 'til they thrum and summer heat shimmer at their tips, then jaw and tongue and muscle and mouth, then Dex's, until she has it all balanced. The effort of maintaining the sound of Dex's independent to herself is almost schizophrenic; if this were anything else, she'd look forward to the synchrony for its relief.

"Okay," Z says, worried eyes sliding along Dex's neck. Improbability staggers toward them as Z wrests it close, big surf breaker frozen and waiting to crash. It roils through the tunnel, setting crystals of iridescent CD fragments growing from between the cracks in the grout, turning the mismatched mugs in the cupboards to sleepy chinchillas. Zolotisty will find them later and set them loose; turn the glittering stalactites to nothing at all. "Gonna try. Say if you want to stop, aye?" A bucketful pours free with the first bar.

"S'good," Dex repeats, and takes a breath for diving. Then it's the tide. There's no going slowly or easing in now when the speed of the work demands precision to match and rematch and write and rewrite. It plows into Dex too quick and from nowhere to dodge, and then it creeps to a torturous super-slo-mo: a long drawn out continuous bootkicking to the face. The cream-colored bellies of Z's ears curdle to yellow as they twist backward to hide.

Dex has always had a remarkable pain threshold, but this.. She doesn't move her jaw or mouth to curse, and she's left twisting sheets in furious fists to stop from writhing and throwing off whoever's kneeling on her chest armed with giant pliers, leaning back with all their weight to pull righteous barnacles from the refusing rock of her jaw. She starts a silent count backwards from ten. Her neck's yanked into an arc and there is a nauseatingly wet KRAAAKle by seven.

For Z, conviction has already turned its face to convicted, and she carries out the crime with a sick kind of guilt. By three there's an unspeakable grinding noise, and Dex passes out. Zolotisty has to fight not to rush it, to fumble notes, to finish what she's started with the grace and care it deserves. Her face is salt-soaked as the soundwaves settle, and she shoves aside her viola to cradle Dex's head in her lap, folded over her to sorrysorrysorryi'msosorry over and over.

Later, when she comes to dumped on the beach, face stomped and stiff and swollen, she feels two unfamiliar columns of perfectly built teeth with her sluggish tongue, manages a fatlipped halfsmile, and shifts her hands onto Z's legs, warm sun of Z's face on hers. "Beautiful," Z smiles back, drowning the worry until Dex's eyes close. Hooking her arms gently under her girl's, Z scoots back to lean against the wall, pillowing the back of Dex's head against her belly. She frowns at the far wall and doesn't sleep.

Hours later she blinks halfawake. Did you do my boobs too? comes out as "shmoojhzmehmoosjzoo?" And holychrist it hurts. Z folds again to touch noses briefly before squinting. She considers for several seconds.

"I agree," she says, "I should not leave juice out."

Dex snuffs impatience out her nose. She asks "shi'roken?" while she cups the tender underside of her jaw. Great. It still hurts and she can only talk shit and she doesn't even know if she should be moving it or not. Z kisses Dex's scowl-wrinkled forehead.

"Can't understand you. What you want, sommat cold maybe?" Dex's finger's in her mouth, feeling her fangs. Her scowl smooths as the fresh made tips poke sharp through her flesh. She wants to open and close her mouth, to feel how it works, but it's rusty-trap-tight and any movement drives a nail of pain up the side of her head to her temples. She'll test that later; for now, she parts her cracked lips for a toothy fake smile to test Z's response. Chuffing, Z bares her teeth back before grinning and kissing Dex's forehead again. "Mirror? And what for cold."

"Thoka," while she rolls on her side to get up. It bonnnngs, sure, but she's had worse heads than this. Z rises after her dayafterdrunk-wobbly girlfriend, scuffing her foot against the viola on the floor. It spins lazily in place before scudding to a gentle stop. She glances at it, then moves to get a cup from the ice box.

"What else. Ll'get whatever you want."

It's the guilt in Z's voice that stops Dex from drinking. She leans against the fridge and rubs her eyes with the back of her free hand to get a good look at her. "'mere," she calls softly, reaching for Z's hand. She comes as called. "I love you," she says, working it slow, but still the l's aspirated through thick tongue and she sounds like a melodramatic drunk, all lean-to and drool, you're the best frien' I ever ha.. Crease-eyed, Z thumbs Dex's temples for fear of touching any lower, lips her nose, and pulls back to judge.

"Lemmesee." Grinning-eyes, Dex sets the glass down and pushes her hands under her still-c-cup boobs. Z snorts and ducks to lip those too. "Not what I meant, lemme see!" And Dex tries to kiss her, but it's an awkward, stiff and ouchie business, so she sighs, stands still and pulls her lips away from her new teeth. Z studies them with Dex intent on her eyes for any sign of disappointment. They hood slowly until Z knocks hips with Dex, presses her back into the fridge. "Since I did it for you, gotta be first thing you bite," she demands against her jaw, breath-close.

"Mmnngk," and they spin slow to trade spots and Dex hangs by Z's hands to steady herself while she lowers to squat, nosing her downy pubic fur. Mischief planned to bare her fangs with wild eyes and mad-villain laugh, as if the fangs carry Vampire with them, but the pain hits and all she can manage is a pathetic grimace. "Ffffuuuuchhhh," she apologizes, resting her forehead on Z's tummy.

"Com'ere." Z pulls Dex back up, swirling fingers across the back of her head. "Should be me with my nose 'tween your legs right now, not the other way. What you want. Ll'get you anything, temme," but Dex just shhs her, finger to Z's lips. She takes two glasses, the vodka and Z back to bed, pointing to the viola on the way.


Cooper is dreading the three-toned chime of the shift relief notification bell. He keeps sneaking glances at the speaker over their door, resting his head in one palm. Then he looks sideways at the whiteboard they've propped up against half their shared screens. Simpert's neat architect scrawl outlines their brainstorming.

He stares at the whiteboard again. ACTIVITY OFFCAM is circled several times. This is where they need to focus - to find a way to install cameras in the hiding spot and ensure the next one is found quickly. Doesn't matter so much what Contestants get up to, as long as its filmed.

"Tracking chip," he murmurs, half-hearted at first, then, clearer, "Tracking chip." He stands, as if there is any room in this box of an office to pace while he thinks. There's got to be some means. His chair squeaks as he leans forward to tap sharply and read the text file Simpert sent to him weeks ago. Zolotisty's rapsheet.

She hasn't hit the Drive in years, perhaps they could cite an outdated Spatial Awareness implant. He scrolls through the list of Network's supplied legal files for the manual on best practices, and begins skimming for the clause on maintaining constant contestant surveillance under extenuating circumstances. And they all rolled their eyes at him in training.


"ionhave n'more poems," Z whines, exhausted, jamming her face in Dex's armpit. "took'm all."

Only when dawn stains the empty vodka bottle with bruised tones do they agree to sleep.


"You're shitting me."

"No sir."

"You're fucking shitting me, mate," Matthew Simpert says as he throws himself down in his chair, raincoat half-zipped, to toggle through their feeds. "How long."

"I had them on camera for seventeen minutes thirty-eight at two thirty one. Then gone again." Cooper snaps his fingers. "Loft to clan hall, gone."

"What were they doing."

"Cooking bacon and eating on the bed, as when you left, then they went to get Contestant Zolotisty's viola from the upstairs lounge in DICE clan halls."

"Fuck me running. Have we heard from the coffin boys?"

"Not yet, sir. I checked in about an hour ago. Also sir, ah -" Cooper gestures to a partially completed CONTESTANT MODIFICATION REQUEST form, appropriate cross-codes handruled neatly in columns where necessary. Blue ink, as per Network regulations. Black ink is for forms of permanent record. "I printed that out, sir, as we discussed, to microchip Zolotisty?

"It could work, sir, but I was thinking. Perhaps I could try Ms. Ogilvy?" If there's one thing Ogilvy excels at, Cooper thinks, it's the psychological shakedown. "She would probably enjoy having a few words with Spandex, to point her in a better direction."

Simpert puffs his cheeks and blows out a breath. "Shoulda brought a crossword," he mutters, waving Cooper toward the door. "Get out of here. Go home, sleep. Yeah, call bitchtits - or I can. Doesn't matter. Let's hold off on the form until we run the idea by her, see if they turn up again soon. Processing will be a bitch if we get that through the door."

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