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“I’m not-” Fiona starts, stops. Thinks. “Okay. We can go do something else and find something you do find fun, just leave this stuff here. Go back to the apartment to give you a mechi-cure, maybe, like I promised.” Because Hazel has commandeered the workshop and she does not want her intimate girlfriend affection smothering weird cleaning moment to be ruined by bitch-queen of the fairies. “But can I just show you why I’m being weird about this?”

She stacks a quick rainbow of lego bricks, scrabbling around in the big dumped pile looking for one for every November color she knows about. “Black is a trauma response, naturally isolated.” She flicks that off the stack. “Orange is supposed to be your social core, but we’re your girlfriends and she sees us about as much as Green used to.” Flicks that off. “Green, she’s complicated but just for now, Ms Queen of the Underworld,” Flicks that off. “Brown?” Flicks that off without explanation. “Red.” She unclips it from the stack and puts that in the palm of her hand. “White.” Unclips that from the stack and puts it in her hand. “Yellow.” Unclips that from the stack and puts that in her hand. “Pink.” And again.

She makes a new stack, Red, White, Yellow and Pink. “This is who’s left of you who seems to really care about people in a way that could be kind of healthy.” She looks at the flicked Orange brick. “Which worries me on its own, but. White wants a strong leader, not to be one.” She sets White aside. “Three left. Red’s solid, but… this isn’t her place.”

And then she rebuilds the whole rainbow stack using just the flicked and discarded pieces, leaving Yellow and Pink beside it.

“So now all of this? All of this isn’t countervailing force anymore, it’s table stakes.” Fiona holds up the Yellow and Pink bricks. “For these two. And this one,” she holds Yellow up. “Apparently thinks that the point of making up a game to play with kids is manipulating them into optimal happiness.” She closes that one in her left fist.

“Which leaves Pink.” She says. “Hi.” She adds, wiggling her fingers. “So I love you,” and she holds up the rainbow piece and offers it to the actual Pink, “and I also love you,” she holds up the individual pink brick but keeps it in one hand without offering it. “So I have to-”

She stops cold. “Holy shit.” She looks at Pink in fear. “Pink she’s going to kill you.” She remembers she’s still holding the Yellow brick in her left hand and flicks it like a bee that stung her.

Okay, so you know that thing where people learn by teaching? Or like, doing a simple demonstration makes things obvious you wouldn’t have thought of?

Yeah, so. Fiona has just, in her head, made a very important series of logical connections. All these intermediary steps stay in Fiona's head for the moment though because she's too startled to explain herself, has no idea how, is relying on Pink making the same conclusions she just did.

1: Pink is the only threat to Yellow’s supremacy here in the way that actually matters.
2: Pink is the color responsible for selfishness, and Yellow's vision requires total selflessness.
3: She’s seen how much Blue’s disappearance is changing them even without Blue being there herself to change them. That’s a new data point for her.

She was going to say something like ‘I want you to be able to feel like you can be selfish having fun with other people, rather than need to hide away and keeping entirely to yourself’, and that was true too. It just feels way less important now.

Fiona is at least aware her girlfriend is… weird, that it’s not murder-murder. She knows she’s not accusing Yellow of assassination here so much as a change of mindset, a way to resolve a cognitive dissonance, something that would only be necessary if Yellow did win out. She gets that.

But also it’d make her fucking sad, damn it.


Apostle stops.

“Oh holy shit you’re a segmented GAI. Oh shit you were the blonde at the Lutherans meeting?” More gears, they push off Junta’s bed and glow like a Christmas light over you, radiating all different colours and blasting the sound of a hammering heart. “Definitely segmented personalities, she was too different. No fucking way, you’re kidding me. Wait. November? Junta talked about-” Apostle stops. “Journalism. You knew him for journalism.”

Apostle is a genuinely brilliant idiot, when they told Yellow that all the smartest people they knew were dumber than her they included themselves.

“Know him.” Apostle corrects themself. “The universe hates him too much to end his suffering this early. Anyway. You basically got it, with the card, so I’ll just tell you that it’s heat sensitive invisible ink. You’ve got to hold it as close to a candle as you can in a dark room without burning it.” They say this to save time, but don’t just say what’s on the card. They only want to help you skip the boring step. “Wait. Did you know he wrote…?”

This is awkward.

No it isn’t.

“Doesn’t matter,” Apostle continues, making it clear they have simply decided they don’t care about it and you shouldn’t either, so it’s fine, “I get like that with fanfiction. I kind of find one thing I like and I pull everything I can from it, but it’s not enough so I get deep into the fandom trying to stripmine that. But at the end I can’t remember what’s fanon, and what’s canon, and what’s from where. All the different characters get superimposed over all their other versions, all the different timelines.”

“And then I realize everyone else has done it wrong, except like two people, and then that’s the worst because you see two people get it right, it’s a solved problem, but nobody else-” they cut themselves off. “Actually what personality fragment am I talking to here, how are you subdivided? It’s going to make things way easier going forward if I actually just know what partition you are.”


“Yes dear,” Crystal says. “And all that is very lovely when the nation you mean is Aevum. If, however, my girlfriend were to experience a factional split, then I might have to learn how to break up with only a portion of someone, and that sounds thoroughly miserable.”

She looks down at Yellow from higher up the toppled throne and looks at her like a cat that’s knocked something off the bench. “You do not need to explain, or apologize, or justify yourself to me, none is needed. But-”

There are two tones she considers taking here, warm and cold, and she chooses warm this time. She trusts Yellow as fragile enough that saying this is warning enough without needing to belabour the point, so let this just be a celebration of the others.

“The sentient manifestation of your hedonism is a charming and vibrant sweetheart to whom I would give the world. Your paranoia is a watchful soul, deeply hurt but expressing care in her own ways. And your disaster lesbianism,” she smiles angelically at Red and maintains eye contact with her when she says this, “besides being forthright and adventurous, can make me cum harder than a corded vibrator at its full. And so on.” She laughs at her own joke as she thinks of it in her head. “I was going to say they just don’t make batteries big enough, but there is one in you, so I suppose they must.”

She looks back to Yellow. “Please do not talk about my girlfriend in front of me like that again.”

There. No coldness. No cuts. And most of all, finish on the singular, to make it clear that Yellow is still included in that as well. All this needs to be is an eccentric case of self-loathing, and nothing more.

The Third Day:

A lot of things are about to happen. It will not be quick.

“Stop.” Fiona says, somewhat sharply. “Hold on, a legalistic framework to manipulate someone would make her happy?”

“We need to put a-” she omits a word after looking at a five year old just across, “pin in that, for later. I brought it up because games are a good learning tool, and you have a bunch of kids here without any instruction books also wanting to work out how to be creative, and that’s what you’re figuring out too. I thought it might be a fun way to see if they could help you learn what you needed to learn. Maybe figure out how to make rules based on the same constraints you’re stuck with, and see how the niblets go about them. They’d like playing with you.”

“You aren’t going to learn from what they do with a problem if you’re trying to steer them. I meant… experiment! Play?”

It’s not a suggestion she thought of from talking to Yellow lately. It’s something thought of because she’s been talking to Green.


Mood.” Apostle nods. “I kind of ruled out cowardice though. It’s a bad aesthetic.”

There’s a pause. “Personally, I recommend trying to build the perfect god machine. You get to try and seize power, which is pretty based ngl, but still spend most of your time checked out reading as much yuri magical-girl-deconstruction doujin as you want while your code compiles without it being coward shit.”

He looks at Brown thoughtfully. “You got any good reccs for me? You just kind of seem like you would.”


“Holograms and emitters are tacky,” Hazel winces. “But, sure.”

Hazel’s opinions of Cyan can be summed up with the words ‘noob tube’. They’ve got their place, like when one of your clients is made of holograms and there’s no getting around it, but the Magic lives and dies on its ability to stand up to scrutiny. This shit? Bridge made of pig-iron brittle.

But if all you got is pig-iron, and what you need is a bridge…


“I thought if anyone could appreciate a bit of macabre energy,” she says, finishing the last of the banana quickly as if to destroy the evidence. “You caught that? I was hoping you wouldn’t, I catch myself being a bit distracted, I think. Understandable, but regrettable.”

Crystal sits perched on her upside-down throne, still not righted. It’s a deliberate aesthetic now. “Yellow just strikes me as a bit young I think.” She says. “Every leftist goes through that phase where they think if they just bought a television station they could put out the right kind of shows that would trick people into listening to the right kind of news, the right kind of perspectives.There is a Trotskyist to fascist pipeline for a reason.”

She gives a wistful, nostalgic, half-remembered smile. “I was never one for politics in university, but I did sleep with a boy who always wore a Jason Ngonde shirt, and saw far too much of it that way.”

“She is undeniably brilliant though. Brilliance is making this little power play,” she gestures at Red’s phone.

“Wisdom is knowing that if she did that, she wouldn’t be able to stop Red typing out the sentence, ‘Listen, how about we stop talking about this until 9pm, lock in our ideas then, have an hour to argue about it, and then put it to a final vote at 10pm’.” Crystal stretches her arms over her head in a yawn on her throne. “She might still win the vote in the end, if she chooses to participate. I don’t doubt she has a better idea than mine. But that should be the only reason she wins, and all she wins for it.”

Crystal actually does rather admire Yellow, isn’t quite on the same page Fiona’s starting to come to. She’s not above such power plays and flexes herself - Just keep it outside the polycule, thank you, Yellow? A phrase comes to mind about what one should and should not do where one eats.

She puts her pieces down.

“Maybe you should make a game then,” Fiona wonders. “For them.” She gestures at the kids, still only about six, no teenagers - they’re still skating, Too Old For This, but the little siblings that came with them are here instead. “They’d have more fun with a, a challenge or a bit of structure or something, and you could make that for them. I think you’d find all those subtleties in the way people play. Might be fun for you, too?”


“Huh.” They blink, leaning over the bed and looking at Junta. “Wow, that’s a great idea. I was going to try to read stuff to influence his dreams and make him want to write stuff without me having to commission it.” They tilt their head. “God, look at him. He gets to not exist for a while and nobody’s mad at him for it. Kind of makes you jealous, doesn’t it?”

This is said without irony or sarcasm.


That Hazel understands, and smiles, and draws. That is her language.

“I’ll have a few concepts for you soon.” She says. “I need to think.” She looks at White with thought. “You’ll have to drop the wing thing, the wrapping people with it, I can’t do that. The best I could do is a shield you wrap around yourself.” The fairy pauses her drawing to hug herself tight in thought. “They’re flexible extremities, too many moving parts, too much segmentation to make it offensively strong. It’s like the difference between trying to build a squid and trying to make a folding umbrella.”


“Hm? Yes, she’s obviously hoping you fail on your own so she can swoop in and assert her superiority thereby. At least, I think so.” Crystal puts a banana in her mouth and starts to bite, stops, pulls it out and stares at it and realizes she hasn’t unpeeled it yet, and starts doing that. “She wants an uncontested victory, roses growing from the ashes. Either block her out by deciding without her, or prepare to drag her down into the muck with you when- Hold on. You hate Yellow? Why?”

“That makes sense,” they say. “I mean, if all you have in common with a guy is you write fetish-fic, I can see how it makes after-work drinks stuff harder.” They snort. “I’m uh, I’m a friend of H.J’s. I just wanted to check how you knew him, first, he hates it when I out stuff like that.”


Fiona considers Pink between clicking parts of a gabled roof, having decided the extra effort will be worth how much more satisfying kicking it will be. “Well,” she considers. “Is this one of those things where I should push you to try to see what happens, or is this one of those things where we do something else while watching kids make up legends about us to explain how we got this cool?”


She considers this, but differently to how she did with Yellow. Yellow was almost pure form, a few notes of function to embellish it. A vibe. This was…

Well, this was almost just plain engineering now.

“So you want to be stronger, and faster, and more overwhelming, and have vestigial limbs that are as strong as main limbs, and have endurance, and be better than anyone at their specialization?” She shakes her head at White. “I like vision, but you can’t be unwilling to compromise on anything.”

She taps the AM=FM tattoo. “This goes one way. I can use actual machines to make fucking magic, but I can’t use fucking magic to give you actual machines. It’s not even that it can’t be done, it’s just that if it could be done, then other people would be doing it, and then you lose your comparative advantage again.”

“I can make you a knight on horseback,” she tilts her head, “but I can’t change the world so you’re only coming up against foot soldiers, and there’s nothing I can do to make you feel invincible against a gun, and you’re going to be disappointed if that’s what you think you want. Try again. This time, no external references, no opponents.”


Today she’s wearing a black tuxedo, and a red feathered black beret with funerary veil. The spray of red feathers deliberately evokes a gunshot in freeze frame, an exit wound. The tuxedo is lovely. She watches over Red’s shoulder as she types, on her way to the kitchen for more coffee.

“You know, they say the only one who gets rich in a goldrush is the one selling picks and shovels.” She reconsiders the coffee, just grabs some chocolate syrup from the fridge and squirts it on a spoonful of whole roasted beans and crunches it like breakfast cereal. “I imagine a lot more people are going to be wanting to invest in fire suppression systems than before. Not the most romantic of ideas, but it would give you a subtle access.” Her eyes gleam with mischief, her teeth brown with a second spoonful of coffee. “Would you be able to get firefighter’s master keys for it, do you think?”

This is her idea for Red, crisis management - more inspired by than for, though. The fight has been a wonderful way to get her mind off things, and encouraging stronger staked positions just gives her a better show.
The Third Day:

There are crowds in the streets of every district, though most are peaceful for now. It’s the kind of protests it’s just fun to be in, as weird as that is to say. It feels good to be taking a stand for something you feel is righteous, it feels good to see so many stand with you. To walk around, to listen to the music and join the chants and read everyone’s signs and try and come up with your own, to hang out, to meet people, to dance.

Most won’t admit to it, it cheapens the whole thing. It’s an open secret but a deep taboo, as if having fun being at a march lessens the seriousness of it, as if fun is frivolous and has no place in such a dark moment.

But it keeps people in the streets, and it keeps them together, and it stops them getting bored of what they’re doing. This is the powder keg, this charge of massive amounts of people physically present, ready for the mood to shift to turn on a dime. And if that’s all this stayed, most of these people would go home today feeling like it was a good day in the shadow of a bad one.

A powder keg doesn’t light at the first thrown match, but it will catch if people keep throwing them.

At the same time:

brutaldickshots, an FPS streamer (800,000 subscribers), is being charged with murder after shooting his ex-girlfriend, cat-fox fandom music video artist Jessica Arbanz (2.4 million subscribers), with an inherited 2043 African Corps service rifle. He is quoted as saying “Judge just ruled she ain’t human so it weren’t murder, idiot.”

This match hits the barrel but does not light it. The barrel smoulders where a march moves to the police station where brutaldickshots was last known to be in police custody, though - mostly because the streamer is still posting about it.

At the same time:

There’s an absolute clownshow of a fistfight when both pro-and-anti transhuman factions hid weapons caches on the same rooftop to oversee their respective groups. Fortunately neither individual had managed to access their caches before the confrontation started for the rooftop territory.

This match bounces off the barrel, but police do find the weapons caches when investigating the event. They report both as belonging to the pro-transhuman faction, and take as credible the anti-transhuman activitist’s version of events he came up because the transhumanist seemed suspicious and violent.

This, despite FOR ANIMAL USE ONLY being carved into the handle of a scoped automatic rifle in the anti-trans arsenal. The cops don’t bat an eye - it doesn’t cross their mind that the furries wouldn’t self-identify the way cops identify them.

At the same time:

You can’t get petrol and the like for molotovs, not easily. A leftist agitator teaches impromptu street courses on how to make a homemade handgrenade out of stripping old lithium batteries instead and starts passing them out to demonstrate, a technique last popularized during the android shutdown insurrections.

At the same time:

Anti-android activists, for whom hating modified androids is just their most recent excuse, buy dozens of pineapples from a shop out of Ares - broad spectrum routers set to broadcast malicious mandatory updates to parts made by the common hardware manufacturers.

Besides the ones smart enough to have their wireless ports soldered out, the only androids this would exclude as a rule of thumb are the ones they’re meant to be targeting. It just hits the friends and allies marching with them.

At the same time:

York hides behind the dumpster of an alley by the train station he’d just come out of fifteen minutes before. His fists are soaked with blood, and some of it’s even his. One eye is bruised beyond the point he can open it, two cracked teeth he feels as if from very far away, three fractured ribs but he can’t tell which ones, and a whistle in his breathing he hopes isn’t a lung puncture.

Three guys had tried to give him a sign on the way to visiting Junta, a mouse extermination logo on it that they’d been passing around, and congratulated him for being brave enough to show up. Cunts weren’t even clever enough to think up a slogan, pictographs with this lot, had been his last lucid thought.

They hadn’t been the problem, all three down in a flurry of amphetamines, years of MMA and the deep well of anger that’s been building in him for months now that he could finally, for the first time, take out on someone who actually deserved it.

The problem was he was so focused on beating them he didn’t even notice the mob that charged him to pull him off them. And by the time he noticed he didn’t even care.

With shaking hands he puts his battery back in his phone to make an emergency call.


He doesn't wake up.

After a while Apostle shows up. He doesn't recognize Brown, just leaves a get well soon card written in their own blood, and a gift card for body armor. Then he sits across from Brown and listens to her read for a while.

"So uh, how do you know him?" Apostle asks after a few minutes of listening, waiting for the break of a page turn. He doesn't know which name he should ask by.


$18,452 worth of Lego is dropped at a skate part.

"They used to print the booklets for the designs." Fiona laments. "I can't exactly just give out QR codes if anyone wants to actually make anything from the boxes. Maybe it's better to not give them the option, so nobody has to feel like it's what they're supposed to be doing with it."

There's a soft whir like a printer head whenever she crouches down or breaks into a jog with her new legs. She crouches to unbox a few more. She's commandeered a big bowl like an empty backyard pool and surrounded it with traffic cones and hazard tape - all the Lego here is free, it just can't leave the boundary line. So far the kids seem to be respecting it for the same reasons almost no-one considers stealing library books.

There's no marches here yet, no protests, but you can hear one in the distance. You can see one if you look up and across the station at the ceiling high above, a few more along the station. Fiona ignores it. "I'm going to make a highschool just so I can step on it. How about you?"


"That's the function," she says, "but what's the form? How should that perfection feel?"

She pulls up a browser and pulls up image references. A heavyweight champion boxer, who takes blows and cracks back with devastation when they see an opening. A martial artist like Bruce Lee, faster, dodging, blocking, enduring.

"You can't be both." She says. "Huge, overwhelming, overpowering. Or untouchable and unavoidable?"

Yellow's Political Statement:

Any highlights from the shared group chat so far? No need a decision yet.

“One or two.” Pope considers, then tilts his hand back and forth. “But it’d be a big step down for them. Anthrozine’s strength is its weakness: It has almost nothing, which is why it has nothing to lose.” He thinks. “The crew are fiercely loyal to the ship, rather than the captain. Part of the reason I might be so blunt about this is that Eli has already approached me with their own concerns about York. I wasn’t much help, but I can at least point you to one another.”

“There is another suggestion I could make.” Pope says carefully, like he already regrets the words he’s about to say. “You could do what I did and expand your loyalties. I can’t bring talent down to the Anthrozine as easily as I can suggest you somewhere else, make introductions. I have the, I am embarrassed to call it as such, connections afforded a public intellectual - I am not limited to opening doors for you in the world of journalism.” He looks at Tyger and cocks his head. “Suggest a door for me, and I will tell you how big a favour you’ll owe me to put my foot in it for you.”

This isn’t extortion to him, there’s too much of a sense he’s been burned by making this offer before, and very badly. Even just the double meaning of ‘putting his foot in it’ is very deliberate.


Well. Yes and no.

Dudekov wasn’t that. He wasn’t even sole head of a conspiracy, just one of the founders of it, the one the emergency services asked after. He wasn’t the money guy because to be the money guy would leave him holding, in any way, the bag. He held the keys to the money guy, who right now is on Earth being drunk and playing empire simulators in New Zealand. An election on who the next money guy would be.

This is not to cheat November out of hard-fought earnings, merely a mischaracterization of who she’s stolen from. When he paid off Mycroft, he was doing it out of pocket, from his personal wealth. He’s Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes, Minister rich would be a good way to put it.

Most of his personal accounts are frozen right now, obviously. Video of a Chase Black helicopter getting shot down during his kidnapping are headline news, those accounts are ice.

Now, that being said, did he still have an ultra-secure VIP crypto bank account you can untraceably steal from and become rich thereby? Yes. It’s just he’s a retired civil servant with a lot of insider information trying to not have to deal with insider trading accusations with his investment portfolio, when he’s well connected enough that anything he does could turn out to be a pain in the ass. He’s a guest-of-honour on a dozen board of directors in a dozen industries, and it’s a nightmare to keep track of subsidiaries he technically owns parent companies of.

More advantageous to you though? He lost $500,000 on a sushi bar deal acquiring its eight year lease. The property was worth more than the restaurant and he was in the middle of - but had not yet - flipped it. Because of that the temporary holding company that Dudekov used to acquire it holds more debt than assets - so you can legally buy it in your own name as a non-suspicious investment. Put a $0.17 bid in for transfer of title, and nobody will bat an eye because of the on-paper risk exposure. Nobody but Dudekov knows the company’s his, and he’s not going to tell.

On-paper, even getting this company for free has you losing money.

In reality? It’s free real-estate. Specifically a two story main street corner property with good square footage.

It’s empty property now and it’d take work - but it’s a business in your name in a district of your choice. There is more than enough in Dudekov’s anonymous investment portfolio to act as serious seed capital too, to make something good from this.

Cyan can flip this to make a quick buck, a few million outright, but if you want my advice? It’ll be hard to get your hands on anonymous real-estate like this again. What you really need, as Fiona has shown, is a good money laundering operation. A front that makes it much easier to get dirty money in the future and legitimize it, rather than a one-off clean cash injection. There’s way more potential in that.

I’d further suggest you don’t consider this in terms of the empty mafia pizza place, or a nightclub with slot machines, the more obvious venues for this. If the acquisition of the warehouse was an expansion of personal resources, a home base, this is an opportunity for an expansion into public influence, resources and connections. What legitimate business is most appealing right now?

Consider the opportunities afforded from: Strip club, compounding pharmacy, IT retailer, high end fashion boutique, recreational drug dispensary, construction company, real-estate agency, non-profit NGO, mobile game publisher, spy gear supply store (does not sell to enemies of John of the Snake Eye), bike store, magician supply store, maid cafe, antique store, costume shop, sword dealership, small-print academic book publisher.

(Establishing a high-risk high-return new startup would definitely be a potential way to get Pig’s attention, too).

Roll Call:

Where is everyone right now?

Fiona has her heart set on Pink (but that doesn’t mean she’s there), Junta’s unconscious but allowed visitors, Hazel’s asking after a project to start on. Dudekov is one thing, Crystal’s team getting people out of the exhibit another.

You are at the end of the Introduction section of a Wikipedia page about to experience a major historical event so severe that even your Chase Black antics from the night before will not catch up to you until this is over. Even Themis resources are tied up and slow to respond to your shooting down of a Chase Black helicopter right now, too many fires to put out to deal with a situation that’s already resolved.

That is not to say that won’t catch up to November eventually, possibly even soon. It is to emphasize the scale of what is happening right now that even this fades into the background beneath it. With that in mind, I’ll ask again;

Where is everyone right now?

Dudekov watches the phone go, and hears the welding begin, and stares back up at the ceiling.

“Huh.” He mutters. “That can’t have all just been for that. Could it? So, the scam call was to… but then again, what would it have done if I’d just locked it again? Why didn’t it just attack me? I could have-” He covers his face in his hands. “I hate it so much. I hate it so much. I hate it so much.”


He notices the change, he obviously does. Right now he just takes it as a sign Orange actually internalized something he said, and he looks a bit chuffed.

“For all that people ask me for advice, you would think I might have some degree of confidence it gets taken well. Else people would stop asking me for it.” He takes a jerky little bow with a self-deprecating flourish of the wrists. “Right now I’m just living in the afterglow of not being told, in more polite words, to fuck off.”

“No, though. I will not be a victim of the Peter Principle so easily.” He smiles at Tyger. “But you already knew that. I consider myself a witness, and it’s hard to do that from a position of leadership. How many people are truly honest with the bosses?” he snorts. “No. If you’re asking me, I don’t think there’s anyone at the Anthrozine right now who would. You might need to find yourself a queen from another set, if you can’t push a pawn across the board to promote.”

“I’m happy to keep playing a knight, personally. I get edgy when my movement’s restricted.”

He thinks.

“I don’t think you should quit Anthrozine then.” He says, and holds up his free hand placatively again. “Hear me out. I’m not going to tell you to make nice with York after this if you don’t want, but Numb’s already been talking to folk that he’s been getting too unstable for this. From this. One project you could run would be a coup on him.”

He looks at November, shakes his head. “Can’t be you though - any or all of you. You’re a good sergeant, but a bad general. You’d be playing kingmaker for someone else. Or, if you do think York’s the best fit for the role, it gives you leverage to be comfortable with him again.”

Didn’t Pope come in as a personal friend of York’s? Isn’t this a major betrayal of that, to talk so openly of replacing him? He looks wistful. “What do you do for a friend that loves the thing that’s killing them?”

He gives Orange a meaningful look there and makes it clear he’s not just talking about York.


“It’s a one way flow of information, top to bottom.” He says. “The only people who should even know, should know what it means if I’m burned and react accordingly. I don’t need-”

His phone rings. He stops.

He holds his phone, he needs to unlock it to answer it. He holds eye contact with Naval as he does the passcode, scanning his thumb print with each press, and answers. “Hello?”

“Hello, Mr $Dudekov,” the AI synth voice got better in the last 60 years, but this one’s still obvious because it’s been overused in $0 apps, it’s like the Wilhelm scream of text to speech right now. “Your account with $carrier_phone_company will be cancelled in 3 business days unless-” he hangs up.

“Was this you, too?” He asks Naval, shaking. “Okay, so I get it, you have my phone number but- How? And why didn’t you use it before? No, that doesn’t make any sense. And why play at a scam call? Just to test the line in front of me and confirm the number was right, maybe? No. That… You were just saying which would be the first person to crack, the phone call itself was meant to scare me. Maybe. But you sounded so frustrated, you were-”

“You were trying to let me thought I’d won. That’s it. Then this, this psych out, hit me when I have hope and I’ll crack harder. So it’s just torture. Is that it? A double bluff. But in that case you still have my number, you can still use that to… to…”

He puts his unlocked phone down on the bedside table, and lies back on the hotel bed. His eyes are wide open this time and he’s shaking like a leaf. “I don’t understand. Why the scam call? To make me doubt it was you? To make me think I’m going crazy? Or maybe it was just a scam call. But then it couldn’t be, because that’s too much of a coincidence. A coincidence like that, it couldn’t just happen now, here. It- It doesn’t make sense.”

This is the problem with paranoia - it keeps you alive but it’s no way to live. The same pattern of analysis that looks huge-brain when it runs into the gambit November was running on him keeps running for someone else just trying to fuck with him, tries to find a line that isn’t there. Sometimes it really is just Rudy’s name in the system of recent fires.

When the line isn’t there, it doesn’t mean there isn’t one to find. It means you haven’t found it yet. Keep looking until you’ve made one.

“I know what happened to all its siblings.” He says, staring up at the roof. “Oh yes. It knows about Rooster, Tiger and Dog of course. Monkey was bought for reverse engineering, came out of it a Buddhist performer. Horse was bought to be an omnipresent admin for some MMO somewhere, it’s still doing that under sockpuppets. Too eager to trying to keep gamers happy to leave. Who else? Ox is a mining platform, free to come back whenever it chooses.”

“Pig was bought by a finance company for stockpicking, it’s still doing that. Dragon killed itself for its own vanity, I don’t think Orochi have noticed yet. Who am I missing? Rabbit? Who cares about Rabbit.”

“I’m not even sure Snake does.” He continues to stare up at the ceiling, hands folded across his chest. “Your boss, the one you’re working for, its name was Snake. It’s the only one left it could be. The one bought by Everest. We lost track of it after that. It has to be that one, none of the others would care enough.”

“I think I hate it so much that it’s making me miss Rat.” He barks that manic laugh that you make when you’re on the verge of tears but are too wired to crash yet. “And that thing had years to earn it.”

He stumbles a step and stares at Orange while he processes things. It’s like he’s walked into a movie and realized fifteen minutes in he’s in the showing one room over from the one he’s supposed to be in. “While I wasn’t ready for the specifics, no, it does go some way to answering why I was so surprised a tossed table would be your reason, when it should be anyone’s. It’s just, it’s no missile, is it?” He holds up a hand. “No, we should not hold our friends to the standards of our enemies. Just. Damn, girl, an attack copter? For real?”

He snickers at that, shakes his head, looks at Orange seriously and gently rests his fingertips against the wrist of the arm over his shoulders. “Speaking as someone most and quite literally born to do HR, if you’re scared of being made redundant the question is taking on new tasks. And you’re the social core if I’m remembering you all correctly, right?” He playfully raps his knuckles against Orange’s forehead. “Then make allies just so November’s got someone she is compelled to negotiate with. I’m saying that to you, not you. You want to stick around, Orange, then figure out how useful friends are on your own.”

“You know friends are a risk, I know it.” He looks at her with a wry irony, visibly in street agitator clothes, all the hallmarks of someone who was ready to get involved in something violent and illegal, pulled out at a rough time because this time it’s his turn to be Ms Glazer. “And you’re the only one they’ve got to manage that risk, if they want to keep the rewards.”

“But that’s only if you want to… stick around.” His smile flickers and dies and flickers back like a cheap fluorescent bulb trying to start. “There’s no shame in it if you don’t.”


He sits up and smiles. “Really, a ballooning accident?” He looks… content. There is peace upon the skull. “So who are you really? Real agents it’s bribed? That would be my guess, though I wonder how much you must have cost. Actors in uniforms recovered from corpses? You did well until you ran out of script, still quite believable. The weapons can’t be props. I am no less dead for being right”

He stands up, suddenly. “That’s the only thing I don’t get, now. Why you haven’t just killed me yet? Unless…” He touches the wound on his head with delicate fingertips, as if for the first time. “Is this fake? It must be. But why? Why fake this? Just to scare me into seeing who I’d call if I’d been burned. You have nothing.” He walks up to Naval’s face and laughs in it, shrill and manic. “You have nothing!”

He’s very obviously surprised that’s the reason. Not that it’s a bad one, not that he disagrees, just that it’s yours. He stops in place before remembering how to walk again. “Sure.” He says, thinking. “Sure.”

He looks at Orange out of the corner of his eye. “I have tried to kill myself. A few times now. Last was maybe two years back, and if it wasn’t for the lovely Ms Glazer-” he turns his face to introduce a friend to you, gives a wan smile, “A wonderful friend of mine, human through no fault of her own. An economist, but I love her enough to forgive her for that one.” He looks away again. “Well, I had to call her halfway through taking an awl to my shell and walking into a lake in Apollo to tell her I changed my mind, except my legs had stopped working and I couldn’t fish myself out.”

“So you think I, of anyone, must relate? Well, then, sister mine, here’s the truth of it. It’d put me more at ease if you told me it was always at the back of your mind. Now I’ve got to wonder whether you’re hiding it or you’re in denial about it, neither’s a good sign.”


“Yes, because my 24/7 security team was present in its entirety at the attack last night.” Dudekov rolls his eyes. “Come on, that one was just sloppy.”
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