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In our increasingly vicarious culture, the adventurers are the people who perform marvels on our behalf.


Dex believes that the moments of half-awakening are body-limitless, as if the molecules break free in the night and the space between them grows and expands into the world. Sometimes she imagines this like dust mites slowdancing in low-angled morning sunbeams, but with Z she imagines seeping warm honey. Hers is darker than Z's- -more impurities, she figures. Not that Z's pure, whatever th'hell that means, just less full of contradictions. The same sunbeams make Z's honey glow golden.


They're greenscreening the yard.

The technician's apartment is too precise, too company, too flatpacked furniture and gated sector clean for the effect Ogilvy's demanded, so they've got process shots from one of the old suburbs to replace it.

The suburbs are architectural relics; denounced by thespians and historians as the epitome of all the symbols of man's excesses in the twentieth and twenty first centuries. There aren't many of them left, not really. Most neighborhoods in the Western world were reclaimed by waves of protest movements in the forties when the Federation implemented mandatory income-tiered housing and "planned urban stasis" programs. Other neighborhoods were bought out en masse by New Agra, Genco, Environcea, all the big global hothousers. The rest were burnt down and irradiated in the eighties.

Nobody who lives in a burb chooses it, not if they can help it. You have to wear a rebreather for the dust. Meals come from cans or boxes. Heavy planks against doors and ground-level windows at night are mandatory; permanently nailed boards are even more desirable.

They're crafting a story about an honest family trying to make a go of it, surrounded by thieves and addicts. A single father managing to keep it together after his wife's suicide, laughing as the youngest fumbles a frisbee catch, the three then fall into a dogpile of tickling and cries of laughter. He lifts them off one at a time, kissing their cheeks, then scoops up their schoolbooks and herds them inside.

Actors, all of them. Ogilvy's taking no chances.

They have a half-dozen different versions of the technician's tearful pleas from inside the den, culled from seventeen scripts and four times as many takes. Blood has been edited back into every shot that shows Spandex or Zolotisty's hands, dried to rust. Zolotisty's look of self-shock after tackling the technician has been replaced with a violent snarling from earlier in the Season - - some altercation at the mercenary camps that never made it to air. The surprise has been leached from the moment Spandex clotheslined the man. It's all purpose, now. Cold, trained, deliberate purpose.


She pets and smooths and nuzzles her honeyed girl, seducing her to stay half-asleep and blurred open so she can whisper instructions like a hypnotist. "Remember wha'happened, twist, 'n tell me."

It's a good trick. Semi-conscious of her slow-breath obedience, Zolotisty thinks as she drifts the pads of her fingers back and forth along dex's cast. "mnhh.. wen'gro'o, n'nobody, sep'cou' hear sommon, so yi- -" She yawns. "- -wen'ousi' t'gobagin, got hit.. wog'up onna table 'n'ey ahmn.. needles.. 'n' meshurs, 'n'ey cudda coublbits i think.. pitchers."

The limits of her body return as if a lens pulled her into focus. Her hipbones feel too sharp, her knees and elbows too teenaged-knobbly and too bent and her wrist throbs as if Z's fingers are piercing the cast through to the busted bones. "Pictures? Of what?" One would almost believe Dex hadn't heard 'cutting', but she's gathering the blanket into a tiny ball in her fist to keep it out of her voice.

"ahmn. ionno, s'big cambra. o'er me."

"Mmn, yeh, I remember now. X-rays. Remember everythin' they said, twist,'n then tell me."

She wets her mouth. "s'somma'abo'uh'datin' records. n.. recklessifyin' me'n'you. n ahmn. finin' a sui'ble spot for a tracky whatsit. crisp. chip. chip. n.. roots to you. n maybe sommatalksa you ionno. n.. medicines for'a keemme still.. fret levels."

"Z? Tell me their sounds."


"Mmn. Tryin' to figure if they're just posin'."

"mhh. donno. i could tell th'bou'you.. or sommone elsim knowin', b'.. ionno. mebbe li'they were rehearsin' for somma.."

A kiss for good behaviour. "Where'd they cut, twist?" The t's come out too sharp.

Z mnfs and hamsters for her ears, searching for the tiny nick and long scabbed scrape at the base of one of them. "here," she says when she finds it and Dex leans up on her elbow to look, "nalso leg 'n' jus' hairs."

Dex pauses the interrogation to feel along the length of the scab and to stroke her ears thorough, not to erase what's been done- - she knows that's impossible- - but so that her hands are the last on Z's ears. She then nuzzles her nose into their soft beige centers, breathes warm. Nothing's changed, look.

"Leg'n hairs where, show me," whispered as she she pulls away.

Z can't remember where they took fur from her tail, but the notch on the inside of her thigh is mapmarked and easy to find - - a scalpel-shaped triangle about the size of the pad of Dex's pinky. Deep, by the look of the scab, a little inverted pyramid through skin and muscle. There's nothing nearby for Dex to kick or hit or throw, nowhere to put her guilt or her rage and her head just drops to rest on Z's thigh. When she looks up at Z it's as if the morning's gone already, as if it's cold and they should be moving on now.

"Wha'you want to do, twist?"

The sleep has cleared from Z's eyes. She rests her fingers on Dex's head, measuring the length of soft-shorn hair with her curved claws, then presses. I know. I know. Not your fault. "Grift'em. Fuck'em up."

"Yeh? Why?"

"Knock'm off balance before we tie'm down. Cut their legs for their girls to see. Make'm break their arms when they want to leave."

"Yeh? Who?"

"Whoever's thinking s'a good idea to fuck with us first."

"Anyone we can get our hands on ain't them, twist. The people in charge.."

"Said you've seen whasherface."

"Ogilvy? Talked through comms mostly. Tha'bitch only shows up when she's stressin' 'bout my ratings, and the more we kick shit up, the better their ratings are."

Z sucks air through her fangs, lets it hiss through her nose. "And if we do nothing? Ey're fucking with us cos we've done nothing, aye?"

Dex gets up off the lay-low bed and pads barefoot to the water's edge. The floor's cold and the water's so still she's almost sure it's stopped moving since yesterday. She dips her toe in, frowns at her cast, retreats back to the foot of the bed and pokes her fingerpads with Z's toeclaws until one breaks her skin.

"Maybe too late for doin' nothin', I donno. An'wha'bout this place, Z?"

Z sits up, not so much Venus as she is flytrap when she yawns. "Wh'bou'it."

Dex lifts her fingerlens and looks through it at Z. "And here is Zolotisteeee, look at what a hot Contestant she is, what a fine specimen she is, everyone's favourite, and look.. look at this," and Dex leans forward, stretching her hand out as if zooming in, "She seems.. yes, yes, she is, she's going to scratch her butt, which buttcheek will she choose! Let's have a look, shall we, and OH! OH NO.. we seem to have.." Dex scans the room with her fingerlens before lowering it. "..sorry folks we've lost her. Now we'll never know which side." The lens lifts to Z's face again, disappointed that it only gets a faint smile.

Zolotisty twists her neck, crakakak, repeats herself, "What about this place."

"Jus' told you," she says while the lens becomes just fingers again. "Drives'em wild they can't see us all'a time."

"So then we stay, or we make more places like this." She frowns at Dex's hands and opens her arms. "Com'ere."

Dex flomps to sit on the bed next to Z, burrowing her fingers into the long fluff in her tail. "We can't stay in here- - I mean I love this place, twist, but can't not go outside. Can't be looking over our shoulders all'a time for someone gon'a grab you. And who d'we fight? The tech dudes and pilots jus' glad for a payin' job? That slimyass doctor? The fuckers editing us to look however they want? Ogilvy and the rest of them suits? The morons gaping at our asses from their sofas, jus' lookin' to escape the fuckin' shit tha's their lives?"

"If the whole of a clan is responsible for sommat bad, someone's to step forward for it even f'it didn't fall altogether on them. They pulled the clan into itself in the first place."

Silence. Then, "You think I should'a killed those doctors'n guards?"

"No." A pause. "I would've."

Dex's judgment on this is a beleaguered smile. "Yeh, I would'a too but they're jus' idiots, and the two hours they left me got me thinkin' this whole thing's a setup, like they've written the script for us and the only way I could think'a fuckin' with them is not to do what they expected."

"Don't want anyone's hands on my ears but yours, Spandex."

All the breath is taken out of her. "I know, Z," she says finally, soft. "Saw 'em all dead. But they're jus' slaves. And it's not 'cuz I feel sorry for those fuckers, I don't, jus' like I don't pity the monsters they send to us in the jungle. It's killin', Z, and I'm not the same after. Splits my head into places I can't go back'n look at and I worry there won't be places left unless I stop."

"Mnh." Z nestles around her girl, petting her hair. She flicks her gaze from tile to tile overhead, looking for clues that she didn't leave when she built this tunnel. It's not a Tibetan wheel; this place - - there are no hidden symbols to help her understand the problem of their situation. The two of them have fancied themselves clever, fancied themselves grifters - - and fuck, it doesn't take much to con your way around mercenaries, around rookies, around two-trick Jokers. What's grifting people who have them so thoroughly grifted? What's revenge when any revenge is what they want?

"Fine," she says, sheathing her fangs. "Alright. Pretend you are whatsherface. I am me. What do you think me and Dex-who-is-ahhh.. .. my tail.. are going to do now. Now that there has been doctors and now that we are gone." She gathers her tail in her fist and makes it wave belligerently at Dex-who-is-Ogilvy.

"I like bein' your tail, know why?"


"Get to touch your ass all day."

They snort and nuzzle. Z kisses Dex's throat before her mouth, then pushes her onto her back to blanket her, gentle about the cast.

Dex's turn now to pet. "So wha's the question? I'm a Netjerk and what do I think you're doin' out'a my sight now?"

"And what you think I'ma do when I'm in your sight again, aye. What you want me to do."

"Huh." She thinks on this while, pokes one of her fangs with her tongue until it hurts, yelps, "Owfuck thi'thooth bith m'fuckin' thongue," which makes Z snort again. Dex frowns and has to remind herself of the question. "Wha'ever we norm'ly do.. uhh.. I'd say we had a bath, well I've no choice I'm your bloody tail, and we checked if we're okay and had sex- -"

"Spandex I do not sex my tail."

"Do. You're all like.. draggin' on my legs and- - OW."

"I have made it sex you - -" Z protests, pinching Dex's forearm.

"You've gone mean, Zolotisty and now I lost my place."

Dex sits up, leaving Z on her back on the bed. "This. We're so fuckin'.." She draws a fast meandering path in the air with her finger. "We never plan shit yeh."

Z flips her knees and tail up over her head to sort dead fur from her tail. She makes a colony of mangy little dustbunnies and surrounds herself with them. "I haven't for a long time, aye. I don't like planning. So they want us to not plan, then? But what they trying to get us to do, how they want us to bite."

"Well I can't plan, I'm jus'a fuckin' tail." Milking it, Dex snorts and likes it when Z chuffs and uncurls springloaded to glare at her. "No offence. Kay, uh.."

"Spandex, what happens if we - -" She mnhs and rubs her hand down the inside of her thigh, feeling for the scab. "Is it important, to us, that we give them shit. We could just not grift and be on cameras and they'd leave us alone like before."

"Yeh we could- - well sorta. We'd have to let'em cam up this place, and Ogilvy'd still come around if I got boring again, and they'd still make the monsters where we wan'a run, and make 'em fuckin' hardcore just when I get better trained'n learn their weaknesses. And people'll go missin'n die if they're no good for show anymore, but yeh, we could go back to before. Maybe."

Z frowns, starts to say something, then asks instead, "What you mean, no good for show."

"You've not heard those rumours? Ah shit.." Dex rubs her temple with her good hand. "Forget it."

"What's boring, you not fighting's boring? Or people being bad at the Jungle?" The frown hasn't smoothed itself on Z's brow. "I used to be like Tyr, Spandex. Last Season, I.. four hundred times, somma like that. Solid four hundred and then this Season I - - I can't remember the last time I did it, s'got to have been ages now. Since before I ever even saw you. Nobody comes around for me."

"Either they like you for other things then or I'm makin' shit up." As if part of her self feels accused, she recalls the times Ogilvy's visited: woke her from sleeping out in the forest, camping with the GERMs when Dex was still pretty new; in the Loft when Dex crashed through the window and cracked her head on the railing; and she talked to Dex through the comms - - Sic was there, Sic had a guy too. "And I'm not. Or maybe I jus' had th'bad luck 'n drew a bitch. Story of my life," she mutters, catching a foot in the stomach. "Not you Z."

"Mn, so, what - - you said before, you said s'nothin' we can really do to anyone who's doing this to us, but if we stop, then the problem doesn't go away and it's still worse for other people."

"What, I didn' say nothing, and what problem and what's worse?" It's no wonder they don't often plan. "Twist, what'a you think? You're the one with all the access to files'n whatever all mod shit 'n been around for ages."

"You said there's nobody for us to fight and anyway you don't want to fight that way. And it's.. mn.. you said, when I said why don't we stop, you said that's just.. it supports what they do, doesn't it? Cos it shows them it works and lets them go on doing it and threatening people and making them do as they like, cos it's their show. And then if we do anything, they can just edit it away. So I don't understand what we can do, is what I am thinking right now, cos we should change it but the way you say it, there's no way. It's ahmn."

She gestures, trying to remember the word - - it's a Dexword, one of the political ones instead of the poetical ones. They come out in unguarded moments. Z intended this place as a garden for them, cameraless.


"Stopstop. Stop. Don't want to hear what I think or say, want yours."

Zolotisty takes a deep breath and flaps her tail against Dex's leg before falling to the sheets to make a G of her body. "I think there should be no more show. But I don't know we can do that. I don't think we can. We could hurt how the show is interesting to people and make it a different show maybe. I can - -"

"Twist. You didn'even know 'bout the show 'til I started telling you stuff. You were happy. Now look at us. Instead of breakfast, we're.. doing this." She reaches for Z's tail, and sighs. "Though s'hot when you say things like hegemony. You ever work it into one of your poems I may explode."

"Spandex." Z pulls her tail away, through Dex's fingers. She turns her shoulders to study her. "One of the reasons I love you s'that you pick the truth all the time, even if it isn't maybe what someone wants to hear - - like when you said I wasn't people, you were right, and nobody else was saying that to me. And they weren't saying it because they wanted me to be happy, cos I was unhappy about it, and I'm happier now because you said it and made me look at it."

It's the same sort of feeling she gets when given a gift. Like it is just too much for one person and her instinct is to refuse it, to push back the hands offering it. "Mmn. In lots'a ways twist, you're more people than the ones that look most like'em." She blinks the rising tears away, wants to see her girl smiling again. "Also, I've not told you all'a things, like that you do this," and she tilts her head as far back as she can, drops her jaw and GRNNNKKK! "When you sleep."

Z gives her tail back, suspicious-looking. "Do not."

A one-shouldered shrug. "Do tails lie?" She lifts it to cover her grin. "Can we scheme over food, I'm starving.


"Oh shit, are you cookin' cuz then least I don't have'ta worry 'bout someone else killin' me," Dex says, cradling her cast arm as she pads after Z to the icebox.

"You are funny," Z says. "Like a comedic."

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