Homeworld/OpportunityMetropolis

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Rising out of the Inner Sea in a clot of light and steel, the metropolis of Opportunity is the nexus of trade throughout the Homeworld. Built on a volcanic island chain, its spires claw at the smog-choked skies and its warrens plunge deep into the hot bedrock beneath. Over twenty million souls live, work, scheme, and strive in the span of little more than a dozen square miles.

Most live in the towering slums controlled by Margin Drivers, competing over the breadline of contracts that trickle down from their Exchanges, and working for the best ‘protection plans’ they can afford. Plentiful distraction from desperation is on hand, however, in the flood of programming and designer chemicals that pour from the lurid world of Joy Effect’s ateliers.

The upheavals elsewhere in the Homeworld have caused Opportunity’s fever-pitch economy to convulse, and the flow of trade is coming to a juddering halt. Through the eyes of every informant and surveillance drone, Protean Dynamics observes it all: while their invisible hand has kept a tenuous grip thus far, the riots grow larger every day.

The Opportunity Metropolis is likely to feature stories from Protean Dynamics, Joy Effect, and the Margin Drivers; the Penitents who are trying to maintain a tenuous grip on the city; and emissaries from other cultures.



Pre-Season

ZSASZ: Welcome back to Zsasz After Dark! We're joined here once again by Sapphire Sinstar - Sapphire, darling, I hear you have some big news for us tonight?

SAPPHIRE: That's right, Zsasz! But my mother told me never to tell tales.

ZSASZ: You can tell, darling. Nothing, and nobody, escapes this jacuzzi intact. (audience laughs)

SAPPHIRE: Well, Zsasz... I'm amazed to say... we're about to have our first look.... at the Outworld! (audience gasps, cheers) I know, I know! And we're going to have the whole thing EXCLUSIVELY captured by our friends over at Holovid 12.

ZSASZ: That's amazing. Isn't that amazing, folks? (audience cheers louder) So what can we look forward to?

SAPPHIRE: Well, personally I can't wait to see Desiderata's bold new Outworld style. Or what Protean Dynamics have up their sleeve. And then there's the contest for Prime Executive. I hear Ziggy Love's in the running... (audience screams)

SAPPHIRE: ...I know, I know. Kissy face, Ziggy. So much love. And he's up against none other than that bad old hound, Chain Dog! (audience screams intensify, howls heard)

SAPPHIRE: I'm watching you, naughty doggy. (Sapphire wags her finger as the audience's howls grow louder)

ZSASZ: Wow! That's got to be a thrill. But that's all we have attention for tonight, folks! Turn over to Holovid 12 for a livestream of the Worldbreach, or keep on watching for... Naked Blades!

Channel 60

Author: C60, after Iteration I

Channel60.jpg

VACANCIES

I'm C60 at Channel 60, and This Is Happening.

Are you a new Shaper looking for your place in Outworld? Are you ambitious, relentless and extravagant? Have you always wanted a career in broadcast and multimedia but find HoloVid 12 are Just. Too. Pink.?

Channel 60 are the answer. A no punches pulled, Proteon Dynamics backed inverse Joy effect. The corporate media/mercenary full frontal assault collective transmitting from Austere in the oceans at Rift's end.

We are so good that if we want you we will get you. And that's why you should want us.

Why not be a part of such up and coming cutting edge programming like

  • Keeping up with the Valterians
  • Walking with Shapers
  • Back to the Affront
  • @1 with The V01D
  • The news is what we make it and
  • Spider Time.

We believe "Strangers are just assets we haven't met yet" so follow the link to talk directly to myself or one of my many channel 60 affiliates.

Before you Have regrets about joining the Penitent Order, see the error of Valteria or align your mind with the design of the Combine, don't miss this new opportunity to have your visions realised.

We have openings in

  • Camera crew
  • Make up
  • Human resources
  • Marketing
  • Shaper relations and
  • Assassinations.

Outworld will be our world. Take the first step and make contact today.

I'm C60 at Channel 60, and This is Happening

WALKING WITH SHAPERS

I'm C60 at Channel 60, and this is happening.

Today we will be asking "what are Shapers? What can we learn about their habits and motivations from observing their behaviour? What goes on in the minds of these mysterious creatures? And how can we make sense of their culture's prolific expansion?" For the answers to these and many more questions we turn to Stratos of the Walkers. He has observed Shapers in the wild and believes he has uncovered the patterns of behaviour that govern their way of life.

Join us on a magical journey as we follow real shapers with a live camera crew and discover what they really do when they think they are alone. The truth cannot stay buried forever and Stratos has the intention unearth it live, right here on the air.

I'm C60 for Channel 60 and this is happening

KEEPING UP WITH THE VALTARIANS

I'm C60 at Channel 60 and this is happening.

For years the kingdoms of Valteria have machinated in secret, accruing dissonance and becoming blind to the world outside their influence.

Now for the first time in a Channel 60 exclusive one monarch and one monarch in shadow, both Outworld romantics will unleash the pride and the prejudice of Valteria live on KUWTV.

Hear of valiant exploits and watch legacy unfold before your very eyes as we bring you all the drama of the Kingdoms before a live studio audience.

Syndarra the Unyielding and Gedremonde the Lightscourge are the will be facing off when the Rift reopens. Breaking hearts, breaking legs and making history.

I'm C60 at Channel 60, and This is Happening

NUTS ABOUT Ds KNUTZ

I'm C60 at Channel 60 and this is happening.

Are you nuts about Ds Knuts? Here at Channel 60 we have all the toys, play sets and cereals ever sponsored by the mighty Chain Dawg, the blood sports champion of Opportunity Knoxx. You should have them too, and to make clear exactly why and how, the Dawg himself will be bringing the pain and gaining the fame right here in high definition.

We don't want you to miss a single second or miss out on a single product so tune in for exclusive coverage and mind-blowing prizes.

Are you a Chain Dawg fanatic? Don't miss your chance to get rare and exclusive signed Chain Dawg merch by sending your Chain Dawg story to proteondynamics@gmail.com

I'm C60 and this is happening.

BRANDING

I'm C60 at Channel 60 and this is Happening. Here at Channel 60 we are thrilled to announce that we are re branding and taking our already striking image to new and exotic heights. We believe our place in the Outworld multimedia market will be reinforced by this sharper and slicker image, paving the way for our domination of the Aethernet in the coming months. A reminder to all Channel 60 affiliates that branding is everything in this business and its inclusion in outfits and accessories, in the walk you walk and the talk you talk will be paramount in establishing our broadcast empire. I'm C60 at Channel 60, and this is Happening.


Priority Mail

Author: Thoughtful Spider

Priority Internal æ-Mail
FAO: The Void, Opportunity Metropolis
Subject: Employee Induction

Void

I would like to invite you to collaborate with me on the induction of a new Asset, currently affiliated to the Walkers.

Initial assessments indicate the Asset may be the result of a Shaper or Shaper-Like production complex, adapting and amalgamating Proprietary Designs of Protean Dynamics and ProdCorps, likely operated by the Sublime Concord. Details of the Site Location are attached and should be considered a Valid Target for Restitution Projects.

The Asset has shown a forward thinking approach to New-Media Solutions, which should be encouraged and developed within the supportive Protean Dyanamics Environment™ . The Asset has already shown Initiative™ in advertising for roles within the Metropolis, adapting Protean Dynamics Approved wording.

However, in the absence of effective Transhuman Resources to provide effective Psychitectural Solutions, the Asset should be partnered with an Operative. Given your recent endeavours on the Ratings Auspex Project, I feel you would be appropriately placed to act as a producer for the Asset, and induct him further into the Organisation.

Your assent can be indicated by passing through the Breach, we will Touch Base in Outworld and arrange an initial One-to-One meeting between you and the Asset.

With thanks,

Thoughful Spider
Continuity Planning Project | Contingency | Protean Dynamics | Outworld Branch


Light The Sky

Authors: Dahlia Twist, Skyshock Sigma

Darlings, lovelies, dears - welcome back and welcome viewers just tuning in on your holovid sets, from Opportunity and beyond - it's time to Light The Sky! I’m SkyShock Sigma, and if you ARE just joining us right now, unfortunately you HAVE missed The Arquette Phoenix Hot Tub Remix, but he’ll be back next week for sure to show us the latest musical mashups and samplings from across the globe - I simply cannot wait, petals, and I know you can't either. The GOOD news is that, as I have said, you are joining us right now for the first time, you’ll be VERY surprised – and delighted- to hear that my next guest is *none other* than the fabulous DAHLIA TWIST!

(APPLAUSE)

Dahlia, you stunning creation - I'm simply thrilled you're here.

Thank you, Sky, and thank you for having me back on your show.

Oh thats RIGHT, you *were* here some months ago, weren’t you?

Yes, and I was here before then too.

(OOOH)

Darling, you simply *must* forgive me -

Oh no darling don’t be embarrassed, it wasn’t you! I think it was before Splendora took over the channel.

(LAUGHTER)

(Speaking off camera) Chrome, Crymson, darlings, prove me wrong, by all means, can we check the archives - My little Storms are telling me that you are correct – and oh, my stars! Such a long and successful career, spanning not one but TWO commercial takeovers, and several hosts. I have seen starlets and idols grace my lounge sets and greenrooms and not last until the next airdate – but YOU! You have remained a constant and effervescent figure in Opportunity.. Dahlia Twist has *always* been IN, but.. how long has it been since you were HOT?

(SCATHING GASPS)

Well, Sky – The answer is probably that I was hot before you were born. I remember the day I took the limelight, my first few weeks of fame as a musical idol. I was fairly standard, run-of the mill star – a teenage heartthrob with a pretty voice and a good stylist-

I’m sure everyone remembers your first hit, ‘U look gud on me’ - my poor mother certainly had it drilled into her head!

(HUMMING AND GIGGLING)

Yes, yes, I was quite the boy to behold. It was exhilarating, and everything my parents had trained me to be. I loved it, but the fame wouldn’t last. It rarely does.

Ah yes, your inevitable decline. Tell me what it was you did next?

I became a garbageman.

(GASPS)

DARLING, tell me you're fibbing!

Yes, I did. At 19 I was a refuse collector for Peach Plaza District 7. I did that for a year or so before I got a job in Margin Drivers as a marketing assistant for municiple waste disposal. From there I.. well. That would be telling.

Twist, my love, don't tease, we simply -must- know.

SkyShock Sweetie, do you think I spent that time at MD learning how to give away things for free?

(LAUGHTER)

If you really want to know why I haven’t turned to ash like so many of my forebears, I’ll tell you why. I refuse to burn out. Instead of letting my money make money and live off of investments and stocks, I decided to keep creating. To keep building, learning, growing, and changing. I may not bask in the limelight as often as them, but I was here, successful and vibrant, before they finished basic performance academy – and I’ll be here long after they’re gone. Dahlia Twist is staying power.

Fabulous, fantastic! Just FANTASTIC! Dahlia, we love you, we adore you.

I know, Ms Sigma, I know.

Well, we all know what everyone here is *really* excited to talk about – your delicious new tech! After some time in the shadows you have emerged from your, dare I say it – secretive – life consulting at Protean Dynamics with a brand new business concept – Experiences!

(APPLAUSE AND SCREAMING)

That’s right, Experiences. We have all had them. The day your daughter was born, powering on the brand new SkysurferXPRO you got on your Name Day, your first kiss – Moments that define who you are and who you become. But what if I told you that not only could you re-live those moments over and over again – but you could live them even if they never happened, no matter how impossible?

I would say I'd like to test that theory with - oh, what shall I choose... A date with you?

(LAUGHTER)

Well darling, everything is permitted in the greenroom.

(OOOHS)

Practically encouraged, darling. My backstage Storms tell me we have one of your new products here to try out, shall we have a go?

(CHEERING)

Okay now Sky, this is the Peer headset. It channels specific neuron-stimulating vibration and radiowaves into your head, to trigger the production of a fantasy-like state, where the virtual world you experience is completely and utterly indistinguishable from reality.

I hear there are other ways to achieve the same effect?

Oh yes. For erotic and romantic experiences we encourage the injection module, as it most accurately mimics the sensations of lust and love. It also leaves your body more free to move and react naturally, where as the headset puts you in a coma-like state for more cerebral slice-of-life experiences. We also have tablets and candies, that give smaller, short-lasting experiences such as orgasm, weightlessness, flying, acceleration, an applauding audience or a serene landscape. There, you’re all hooked up now.

So what delights have you got in store for little me?

I’ve talked to your mother, and she’s told me you’ve always wanted to be able to play the mediaphonium, but you’ve never had the courage to try.

(AWWWWH)

Its a very complex instrument, takes years to master completely - and really, who has the time or patience?

Thats very true.. but not for you. I’m going to plug you in, and you’ll experience a few moments playing a mediaphonium with exquisite expertise, in front of a thousand-strong audience at the Glitter Lounge of West Ecstasy, Opportunity’s premier classical music theatre.

Honey, you simply -can't- be serious! How do you do it?

Let me just turn on your PeerSync and I’ll explain... there! Using data my Blendgineers have gathered from your past shows, your early life, and the donated experiences of professional mediaphonium players, we have constructed this artificial memory. All that it requires to be complete is you. Inside the Experience, you won’t know that the world is virtual and you won’t even think about thinking about how you ended up there. Special neurotransmitter blockers help with that. Okay, your Peer sensors are all fully synchronized. Here we go, see you in a moment, my little musician.

(Sky falls limp onto the lounge chair. Ticking sounds play over the PA, the audience mutters and whispers for a few moments, before the host springs upright from her comatose position)

Mother of golden glittering-[expletive]

(LAUGHTER)

Twist... that was amazing. It felt so real. The touch of the keys, the cheers of the audience, the lights of the stage, the smell of the perfume of the gents on the front row.. Everything was perfect. Thank you... I.. I don’t know what to say.

(AWWWW)

Well, how about you ask me out on that date now?

Darling, after a mind-[expletive] like that I am not sure I have it in me.

Why don’t you leave what’s ‘in’ you up to me?

(OOOOOOOOOH!)

-Well-. On that thoroughly scandalous and oh-so-promising note, let's take the opportunity for a commercial break and, in my case, a glass of something strong! Thank you VERY much Twist! DAHLIA TWIST EVERYBODY!

Thank you, Sky. And remember viewers, with Experience Modules you can be anything, become anyone, and Try Everything.

(THUNDEROUS APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)


Basic Risk Management

Authors: 'Ten Count' Markowitz, Thoughtful Spider

It was just after one when Ten Count Markowitz started to lose his temper.

The Opportunity sun had dawned weak but gotten stronger and stronger by the minute and as the clocks struck thirteen, had reaching the heights of “scorching”. The morning’s jackets and coats had been doffed by the public on the streets below and the occasional parasol or set of sunshades had emerged but, up on the rooftops where Ten Count lay prone, there wasn’t an inch of proper shade on offer.

“Holly, love, the next time you see me give me a clip round the ear for accepting this poxy job in the first place.” A treacherous bead of sweat trickled down over his eyebrow, and Ten Count had to waste another second wiping it away with the back of his hand, keeping his eye glued to the sight on his rifle.

“Got a problem, Mister Markowitz?” came the chirpy reply into his earpiece. He’d taken Holly Gaines under his wing a couple of years ago when her dad had had a minor attack of colourblindness, hooked up two wires he shouldn’t have, and been redistributed across half a city of block. Orphans weren’t uncommon in the slums of Opportunity, where the Margin Drivers held sway, but for an Accounts Executor like Ten Count to effectively adopt one was uncharacteristic. The current theory was that he was planning on teaching her everything he knew and then retiring.

None of it was true, but there was no sense in correcting people when they were determined to be wrong.

The target stepped into another doorway and Ten Count had to bite back his normal stream of baroque profanity, settling for grinding his teeth. Holly had only just hit double digits and while she'd learn how to swear properly in time, Ten Count wanted to keep as much of the wise old mentor image as possible while he still could. “This is the trouble with Accounts, youngster. When you aren't being paid by the hour, marks who don't have the common decency to present a nice easy target get right on your nerves.”

And that was the thing that grated on the Margin Driver - there was no reason for this mark to be as all over the place as he was. He'd tried to be smart and play the Drivers off against the glass tower mob and, once somebody in Sales had dug through and figured out the scam, they'd decided his best career option was to become an example. Turn up dead in a river, bullet through the head, no collateral damage – easy. It had taken Ten Count about a day to track the guy down, another couple to make sure his routine was clear, and a couple of hours to find the best hidey-hole for him to set up shop. Dead simple, and yet...

“Kid, how long have I been here?” Ten Count said, pressing the balls of his hands into his aching eyes. Staring down a telescopic sight did absolutely nothing for one's vision; not that his was going to get much worse short of actual blindness.

“This week, or...?”

“Fuck me.” If she had to ask that question, he'd been on this one far too bloody long. “The hells with it. Holly, I'm leaving the rifle. I'm going to give this squirrelly bastard a personal appearance.”

“You told me never to do that if you could avoid it, Mister M,” Ten Count heard as he rolled onto his back and sat up, giving his knees a quick rub. Lying prone on a hard surface could do a real number on the body.

“Good, you've been listening.” The rooftops weren't the easiest to navigate, but at least there weren't going to be any jumps to make. “Now for lesson two – do as I say, not as I do.” Ten Count patted his hip holster, making sure his pistol was still safe and secure. “So I’m telling you: do not show your face to the mark, do not talk to him, and above all do not give him a change to escape or overpower you.”

“Which you’re going to.”

“Of course.” Ten Count heaved himself over the parapet and out into the empty air.

---

With the alley sandwiched between a pair of tall buildings, the only thing the midday sun could do for it was make the darkness less complete. It suited Thoughtful Spider to the ground. Standing hidden in a shadowed doorway, Spider resettled his grip on his knife and beckoned the target with a crooked finger. The glove he wore was something he’d shaped to his own needs – without knowing why, his target would be steadily drawn towards him.

It wasn't that Protean Dynamics disapproved of insider trading in of itself, but - not only had the deal been unsubtle, the resulting stock increase had fallen well short of projections. The initiative was sound and could be earmarked as an endeavour worth pursuing in the future, albeit on a more restricted scale, but better to dismiss the responsible party. The conduct of his peers and other low-level operatives would be maintained.

It made for a straightforward Contingency operation, and Spider's objectives had been clear: terminate the target's employment and reclaim any Protean Dynamics property on, inside, or integrated with the target's person. As Spider waited for him to get closer, he knew other operatives would be at the target's personal residence and any known safehouses, ensuring that Protean Dynamics reclaimed everything due to them.

Spider prized efficiency in his operations. Delays, minor or otherwise, were not to be tolerated...so for a man to drop ten stories, land in front of the target without appearing to take physical damage and draw a pistol was especially sub-optimal.

...

Ten Count tried not to get too caught up in looking cool or being stylish when out on a job - that was the purview of the Joy Effect cretins – but sometimes, it was hard not to. “A perfect landing, not a hair out of place,” he said, snickering as he popped open his holster. “That, Scorpion, is exactly how it's done.”

To give the man credit, the Protean Dynamics operative known as Lucky Scorpion dealt with his dynamic entry rather well. Ten Count had pulled that trick on plenty of people before - some gibbered in fear before breaking and trying to flee, others stared blankly with their mouths hanging open like fish at feeding time – but Scorpion's only reaction was a quiet, muttered curse. “Shit.”

“Shit indeed, sunshine.”

Trying his best to avoid obviously staring at the holster, Scorpion shifted his weight tentatively, and Ten Count guessed there was about one chance in four he'd try to make a quick break for it. It would be a brave thing to attempt, but Scorpion had spent a few months trying and mostly succeeding in scamming two of the three big Visions in Opportunity. Whatever else you could say about the man – not much fashion sense, the early stages of male pattern baldness, a distinct paunch – he had balls. “I did...I did wonder...if they found out, who'd come for me first,” Scorpion smiled faintly. “Your people or mine.”

“Both.”

Ten Count had had a response ready to go, but the single word made him bite it back. Behind Scorpion, a figure detached itself from a deep pool of shadow maybe twenty feet away; inching his hand down towards his pistol, Ten Count’s eyes flickered around the alleyway. If this newcomer was hostile, he could have literally dropped into a trap. “Oi! This is a private function, no guests allowed. Piss off!”

There was a gentle sound of metal on metal – either a weapon being drawn or one being sheathed – and the newcomer stepped forward a couple of paces. “Unfortunately, Mr. Markowitz, Lucky Scorpion already has a scheduled meeting. This is Protean Dynamics business.”

“I guessed.” It wasn’t hard to figure out – he wasn’t nearly ostentatious enough to be with Joy Effect and everything looked far too custom to be a Driver. “But you’ve got me at a disadvantage and I don’t like being at a disadvantage. Who the fuck are you?”

The newcomer laughed, a gentle chuckling noise that seemed to carry no mirth with it at all. “Operative Thoughtful Spider. Contingency Division.”

Contingency Division...that put a wrinkle in the situation. One-on-one, Ten Count would pick himself to kill just about anybody Opportunity could throw at him, especially if it didn’t have to be a fair fight, but Protean Dynamics’ Contingency people were nasty pieces of work, bred for killing and mentally bleached to ensure obedience. Or so the rumours said. “Thoughtful Spider. You people do love your names, don’t you?”

Thoughtful Spider quirked an eyebrow, as if struggling to process something. “Yes, we do. Ten Count.”

“Don’t you fucking move,” Ten Count growled, flicking a finger at Lucky Scorpion to disguise his embarrassment at saying something so foolish. “Alright, we’ve established everybody knows who everybody is, next order of business. What do you want?”

“Much the same as you.” Spider touched the hilt of the knife at his belt. “Lucky Scorpion, terminated.”

Ten Count snorted a laugh. “Fuck, you are not making any friends, are you Scorpion? What’s he done to piss you lot off as well?”

“Again, the same as you. Our understanding is that both of our organisations have suffered from Lucky Scorpion’s indiscretions in the market,” Spider said, straightening out his glove. It looked like an odd affectation for somebody otherwise so businesslike. “It was unsurprising your superiors chose to place a contract on his head.”

“Yeah, about that.” Now he was satisfied he wasn’t about to be ganked, a little more of Ten Count’s ordinary arrogance had returned. “Let’s not mess each other about. You know how the Accounts department works. Contracts come down, we fulfil them, and most of time people end up dead. Thing is, I don’t know who’s ordered this one but I’m pretty sure they want it completed how they specified, so I need you gone. Sorry.”

Spider adjusted his sunshades briefly, resettling them on the bridge of his nose in an oddly disarming manner. “True. However, Lucky Scorpion is a Protean Dynamics operative before anything else. It reflects better on the organisation if we resolve disciplinary matters such as these in-house.”

“What does it even matter? He’s a walking corpse. He ends up dead anyway, doesn’t matter who actually shanks him, and two shots to the head means we all go home happy. Sorry, Scorpion,” Ten Count had to add. “Forgot you were there for a second.”

“Unfortunately, Mr. Markowitz, that is precisely why we cannot allow you to simply neutralise Lucky Scorpion. He is in possession of certain pieces of technology that the organisation would prefer to reclaim intact.” With what almost sounded like dry wit, Spider noted, “Bullets tend to make reclamation projects significantly more difficult.”

Slipping his hand into a pocket, Ten Count removed a single round. He’d shaped them himself for maximum lethality: capable of piercing most conventional armour, while retaining the hollow points that meant any wounds were sure to be lethal. “Then I think this is what they call an impasse. I’m happy to cap him right now and chuck him in the nearest, I can’t say I care about making sure your mob get your gadgets back.”

With a thin smile, Spider replied, “I prefer to think of it as the opening of negotiations.”

“It’s going to be like that, then.” A pair of industrial bins sat up against the wall, apparently abandoned, and Ten Count leaned back against one, taking a stubby bottle from one of his dozen vest pockets. “I’d offer you a drink, but...I don’t want to. Look, I know you people like negotiations, but you have to have something to offer and I don’t want shit from you.”

“Credits or information.” Spider looked up for a moment. “Your current contract was valued at two twenty-nine k upon completion. We would be prepared to offer that sum with an immediate ten percent addition as a buyout in order to have the issue resolved immediately.”

The sum was complete almost before Ten Count tried to calculate it. 262 was an impressive figure for a single action, especially since the mark was going to die anyway, and his mind clicked up another seductive gear. There was no reason he couldn’t take this deal and then report the contract complete to claim the rest of the payment, was there? Hell, what were they going to do? Send a Margin Driver to catch a Margin Driver? Only if they didn’t want them back in one piece. And yet…

“Nope, going to need to try harder. Think what sort of damage it’d do to my reputation around here if the word got out that you could buy Ten Count Markowitz off,” he said, shaking his head with some regret. “I’ve worked jobs for millionaires and billionaires and their enemies are normally just as rich as they are. Who’d hire me to liquidate their business rival if they thought their rival could pay me off? No deal.”

Spider raised another eyebrow. “Long-term plans, curious. Is your continued reputation so relevant when rumour has you hanging up your pistols and handing over your mantle to...” Ten Count’s hand dropped to his pistol, almost unconsciously. Besides her father and HIS father, nobody knew he had any connection to Holly. It was the safest thing for her. The instant Spider’s mouth shaped the word, Ten Count had the pistol free of it’s holster and blasted a single round at the operative.

As a disabling shot, it was sweet - the bullet smashed into Spider’s shoulder and penetrated cleanly. It wasn’t likely to be fatal, but it would hurt like hell and badly hinder the use of the arm...which is why it was so disconcerting that Spider barely appeared to register anything at all. The bullets hit with a lot of force yet Spider hadn’t even stepped back and, as Ten Count lowered the gun slowly, a trickle of something oozed from the wound. It couldn’t be blood – he’d seen a lot of people bleed but so far, nobody had bled black.

Thoughtful Spider glanced down at the wound without any particular interest. “I think, at this stage, it may be prudent to consider de-escalating this encounter.” The words fell on mostly deaf ears, however, as Ten Count’s gaze was still fixed on the dark liquid slowly streaming from his shoulder.

“Who the fuck is this guy?” whispered the Margin Driver, half to himself and half at Lucky Scorpion. “What the fuck are you?”

“An operative for Protean Dynamics. Contingency Division,” replied Spider, wiping the blood from his shirt. “And a Shaper. Like you.” For the first time in recorded memory, Ten Count had nothing to say. More than anything else, he’d worked hard to keep his Shaper status secret, and there were four bodies somewhere in the rivers of Opportunity to prove that... yet Protean Dynamics knew it enough for this creature to drop it into conversation like it was no great thing. “May I suggest we resume negotiations and consider information as currency?”

“...so what are you offering?” The bottle still in his hand, Ten Count took a long slug. It felt like the appropriate time.

“In brief, how we know about your associates and your capabilities. Protean Dynamics is an information trading enterprise. You may be surprised at what we are aware of.” Spider turned slightly, not losing sight of Ten Count or Scorpion, but enough to see the alleyway entrance. “As a gesture of goodwill, if you assent immediately we are willing to consider marking certain files for...permanent archiving.”

Ten Count licked his lips. Presumably Spider was concerned about the gunshot drawing unwanted attention. It was unlike somebody from Protean Dynamics to willingly add extra incentive without good reason but, much as Ten Count wanted to exploit the advantage, he was still a little shaken. The mission parameters had changed rapidly and the smartest thing to do was retreat, reassess and reclaim. “Permanent archiving.”

“The strategic loss of information can sometimes be more valuable.”

“Hm.” The grunt filled the silence as Ten Count’s brain ran through the list of possibilities. Getting his own file destroyed was going to be pointless because he was still active, which ruled out most of the names jumping to mind. Grandpa was long dead, but getting his father a little extra security couldn’t hurt. And on the subject of fathers, Holly was likely too young to have any significance but she’d show up in her dad’s records. She wasn’t going to get a clean slate, but it’d do. “Take three out of circulation and that’s a deal.”

“Three. The names?”

“Terry Gaines. Used to be known as ‘Capital’ Gaines, deceased a few years back. Milo Markowitz, Shrapnel.” Spider’s head tilted faintly, and Ten Count decided to answer the unspoken question. “Yeah, my dad. You already knew that, it’s not like I’m giving anything away.”

“The third?”

Even legends deserved a bit of a break. “Spence van Oren. The ‘Thrift’ in Thrift and Ransom Associates. He taught me a fair bit and I’ve never repaid him.” Spider nodded, but Ten Count wasn’t done. “For the record, if something happens to any of them and I think Protean were responsible, I don’t give a fuck what you are or why you don’t bleed right, I will come for you and you will not live to see the next day.”

The threat appeared not to register, but Ten Count wasn’t expecting it to. It wasn’t meant to elicit an emotional response – he just wanted it to lodge in Spider’s head for the future. “Duly noted,” said Spider, placing his hand gently on Scorpion’s shoulder, and the other Dynamics man tensed briefly. “In short, your communications have been compromised and have been for some time. The majority of our information on you has come through your own network, standard Protean procedure is to monitor any unsecured networks. Especially those known to be associated with new and upcoming Shapers.”

“I never talk about that.”

“No. Unfortunately, while you did a good job removing all those you knew to have discovered that information, it came to us nonetheless.” Spider held up his bare hand, cutting off Ten Count in anticipation of the next question. “We will not divulge the identities of those responsible. Your principle of client anonymity is a laudable one, especially for a member of your organisation. Others have proven to be significantly less principled.”

Ten Count hissed through gritted teeth. “And there I am, twisting in the wind with my fucking principles, not knowing who’s listening in.”

“But knowing your network is no longer secure gives you a place to start looking for answers.” Thoughtful Spider turned away, crooking a gloved finger at Lucky Scorpion; apparently accepting his fate, Scorpion followed his to-be executioner. “Good doing business with you, Mr. Markowitz.”

Shoving his pistol roughly back into the holster, Ten Count plucked out his earpiece and gazed at it. “Fuck’s sake,” he muttered, for nobody but the shadows to hear. “This is what happens when you buy cheap.”�


Report to the Board

Author: Chain Dog

What follows is the information we have been able to gather on the asset.

[retrieve file \uNet 10040 ProDyne Personnel record "Scion Wing"]

Personnel file

Scion Wing, 19 Personnel Wing: Pathway Augmentation Solutions COntingency Client: Terminal Recourse

Pre-Procedural comment: Slumspire trash, didn't mention family, has done some very low-grade accounts work for the Drivers in the past, most recently in manufacturing.

BIOMANCY/PSYCHITECTURE PROFILE

Organ implants:

  • Enhanced Adrenal Cortex
  • Cortisol Slough
  • Toxin Siphon
  • [CLASSIFIED]
  • Glandular Output Modulator

Cranial implants:

  • Ventral Tegmental Stimulator
  • Neural Input Modulator
  • Optical Input Modulator
  • Olfactory Input Modulator
  • Auditory Input Modulator
  • Paroxysmic Enhancer
  • Dreamchafer
  • [CLASSIFIED]
  • [CLASSIFIED]

Subdermal Implants:

  • Polyelectrolytic infraplating
  • Muscular Microfibration
  • [CLASSIFIED]

Psychitectural procedures completed:

  • Combat Antideliberation Conditioning
  • Identity Repatterning
  • Response-time Restructuring
  • Target Delineation
  • Counter-Meditation

Post-Procedural comment: 100% retention on all implants, now get him out of the lab before we lose another invigilator.


[retrieve file \uNet 11131 ProDyne Contingency record "Scion Wing"]

Terminal Recourse PDC 'Taking Your Last Chance'

Scion Wing uses the latest advancements in Biomancy, Psychitecture and Contingency Operational Training to deliver an integrated package for emergent coercion strategies. He is the last word in abrogation strategies, asset reclamation and liability repackaging. The following aethernet footage demonstrates his abilities. It is recommended that sensory input be restricted to audiovisual while experiencing.

Completed Training Programs:

  • Basic Combat techniques (all)
  • Advanced Firearms and Melee techniques
  • Applied Melee techniques
  • Advanced Covert Training
  • Basic Overt training
  • All basic vehicle techniques

Operations file:

  • Delta Sundown (Completed)
  • Operation Skyfire (Completed, earned Killstreak bonus)
  • Three Dragons (Completed)
  • Zarin Spire (Completed)
  • [CLASSIFIED] - Asset temporarily missing in action, mission otherwise successful

Asset's file closed, transfer to Joy Effect pending.

[retrieve file \uNet 12090 ProDyne Relations record "Vesica"]

The following transmission was intercepted from the Combine frigate 'Deliverance's Ascent' at timestamp 400/128/10.98.44

Facilitator, we have failed to [GARBLED] Vesica's Hope. However we retrieved the data on the [static] and are transporting it now. Even as I transmit, our volunteers are making their bold last stand against the Shaper. He has, er, boarded the vessel in pursuit of the information. I am going to make one attempt to transmit the data from here, but it is heavily encrypted. My own shaping talents should allow me to~ Ah, he has entered. Rhetonomic Engineer Chain Drive signing off. Wish me fortunes, Comrades.

[TRANSMISSION ENDS]


Dissonance Cascade

Author: Chain Dog

The airship hung in the air, burning, angled downwards in frozen descent. Pillars of smoke blossomed from rents in the side. The outside was ablaze, but the fire didn't spread. The flames were moving but never expanding. It was almost a grim tableau.

"Why doesn't it fall?"

"The other question one could ask is, why doesn't it burn? Or why doesn't it fly away?"

"Who are you?"

There were two speakers. The one enquiring about the state of the Combine ship was sitting on the pebble beach, being tended to by the other. The first was clad in a tight fitting thermal bodysleeve, dark grey with white and orange highlights. The logo on his breast was a diamond with a stylised TR emblazoned on it. The other man was dressed like a Margin Driver, all black suit and black tie, black shades and a black briefcase which apparently contained some emergency First Aid biomantic gear.

"I'm just this guy, you know", he replied, in a kind of sing-song manner that suggested he was about to finish a lyric. "And who are you?"

The assassin, which is clearly what he was, looked at the dog tags in his hand. They simply read CHAIN D- and finished there, because something had clearly cloven them in two. Chain D. Dog tags.

"I'm Chain Dog."

"Are you, now? Well, you're lucky I found you. You were out cold when I found you."

"So what's with the gunship?"

"It's there because a Shaper was onboard. If she hadn't been there, that ship would have been embraced by the sea by now. And if you hadn't been there, it would made it clear by now."

"Dissonance?!"

"You seem surprised, Chain Dog. Did you even know you were a Shaper?"

Chain Dog hadn't considered it. He'd never seen anything like this before, though. He wondered how long it would sit there, in the sky. He wondered about the other Shaper.

"So that's what Dissonance looks like?"

"It's what it looks like today, yes."

"What about the other Shaper?"

"Chain Drive? She'll be fine. She's probably in no worse state than you, but she's still up there. A colleague of mine will see to her wellbeing. Fear not, no data will be passed to the Combine. That's part of the arrangement I made with your superiors."

"What? What arrangement?"

"Chain Dog... I like that name, by the way... you should work on your gift. Tell me, what did you most enjoy about your work?"

"What- uh. The look in their eyes."

"The eyes of your foes?"

"Yeah. Yeah!"

"Noted. You've always dreamt of the spires, haven't you? Consider, what would happen if those talents of yours found themselves... on the floor of the arena? What if those thin energy blades you use... you made yourself, in your own style? What do you see yourself as? What parts of your life will you embrace? What will you abandon?"

"Tell me more. I want it all! The lights! The Sounds! THE MUSIC! ALL OF IT!"

"Yes, Chain Dog. All this and more will be yours. But first, let me show you how to shape an item..."


Food For Thought

Author: Rain Falls On The Snow, after Cycle II

PRIORITY MESSAGE - OUTWORLD TO HOMEWORLD
ENCRYPTION ENIGMA-FIVE- SEVEN (WARNING: KNOWN INSECURE)
ROUTING HEADER: ORDER ADDRESS XS3-H5- K23-P1 - YOU KNOW THIS MEANS WAR (HELLION), E5-C67- LM2-P3 - MARKET ADJUSTMENT (ADJUTANT)

MESSAGE BODY BEGINS:

War, Market, this is Rain. I’m calling in my markers.

If you’re both dead, well, anyone else intercepting this, you owe me a pretty big favour on account of how I helped save your life, and the lives of everyone else in Homeworld, and I’m calling that in.

Just read the message and do what you can to help.

We still get some news from Homeworld, for certain definitions of ‘news’, and I hear that Opportunity are starving, and they’re doing some stupid things because of it. Attached data files are a solution. Not a perfect solution, but this isn’t a perfect world. Yet.

They’ll need a couple of large-scale hydroponics facilities, any skilled bio-engineers they can dig up, and possibly some fertile soil. War, I know you still have some Walker contacts - if that’s not enough, grab the Green path Sage called Thorn and remind them who taught them everything they know about biomancy. Market, hit your Protean R&D contacts from the other side. See if you can sell it to Joy Effect as a new fashion or something. Personal food gardens or whatever. I don’t know. Your speciality, not mine.

Technically the files are corporate property of MetaGen LLC (The Last Word In Agrobionomics TM ), but, well, they’ve all been dead for a good 800-plus years-personal-subjective, so I don’t think we have to worry too much about lawsuits. Also it’d be funny to see someone try and serve me here.

Be sure to make them read the usage and planting instructions carefully. The juice-vines in particular are very sensitive to the alkali content of the soil; they won’t uptake the vitamins right if it’s more than 0.2 off. If someone works out a way of fixing that, stuff the details into the pocket of the next lunatic who jumps through the Breach and I’ll see what I can do about constructive criticism.

Rain Falls On The Snow, signing off.

MESSAGE BODY ENDS

ATTACHMENTS:

Bio-Gene Recipe 00347 (Juice-Vine).gen
Bio-Gene Recipe 00210 (Megapumpkin).gen
Bio-Gene Recipe 01056 (New Corn Plus).gen
Bio-Gene Recipe 00023 (Rainbow Apple).gen
Bio-Gene Recipe 10012 (Starshine Seaweed).gen

One Night Only

Author: Miss Marina Montague

She sat alone in the green room. A brief moment of quiet. She knew any moment she would be interrupted, there was always someone wanting something. She closed her eyes, and took three deep breaths.

“Miss Marina? … That’s your 5 minute call.”

“Thank you Tracey” , she sighed breathlessly, opening her eyes to a stylishly cardiganed, handsome young man. He had a slight frame, thick glasses, and dark – impeccably styled hair.

He raised a hand and touched his ear “Yup. Yup. Are Emily Cho and Xeva Diva in position? Two min makeup reset. Uh-huh Got it. Yup. No No. The blue – Sponsor is ZenX tonight.”

Marina’s eyes wandered across the walls.

Lost in thought, she examined the Neon gilding intertwined with barbed wire, and the curve of the well- known faces that had passed through those halls, the most prominent of which belonged to Trojan Force, he in fact - was on EVERY wall. This was his turf.

But it was clear that he had taken the trouble to make Marina feel welcome. He’d left her a present. Two incredibly large dumbbells in the shape of his own face, un-liftable to all but juiced up tanks. A hand scribbled card read “Lookin’ the Bomb as always. But if you really want to make your Tri’s explode…”

She looked at the slightly ‘off’ versions of Trojan’s face. He’d clearly had them cast from holding his breath, and sticking his head in to a mold until he passed out.

What a sweetie. Not too bright, but a sweetie.

“I’ll just keep them as statues” she thought to herself.

Flowers filled the room, and a large selection of exquisite edibles and beverages from every corner of the realm adorned a table in front of her. She separated out a small plate of Redvine grapes, and put it aside for after the show. Redvines reminded her of her mother. They were her favourite…

A large antique looking mirror was nestled amongst the bouquets. Marina caught a glimpse of herself in it, from the corner of her eye, and brushed her gently curling blonde hair from her face. A red sparkling tag hung from the top corner of the opulent frame, it sprung to life on registering movement, and in a thick accent she recognized all too well said: ‘Heeeeeey, Marina Honey! Holomirror edition 6. Pretty stylin, huh? Am I forgiven yet sweetheart? C’mon back to the company baby. This thing is great for virtual-conferencing. ;) BLOODNETWORK ain’t the same withoutcha. Talk Soon Sexy. Billy Singh xox.’ She rolled her eyes. “Rot in Hell Bill” she muttered to herself.

Suddenly, there was a mountainous clamor from outside. The event was starting. Trojan Force must have made a ‘surprise’ appearance on stage. She could hear distant echoes of “CAN YOU DIG IIIIIT?” Marina ran her hand idly over some beautifully flowering Starificus Maxima, its petals smelled like a moon lit night in late summer.

“Yup. Yup. Moving now…Miss Marina?”

“Tracey, will you make sure the families in The Flies District get all of this? Gift wrap it for them. I don’t want anyone feeling like it’s a hand out, okay. Promise me? TF has got a tough neighborhood around here. You don’t win, you don’t eat. They’re a proud people. Can’t have anyone looking weak. Don’t sell the stuff okay?”

“Miss Montague! I would NEVER…”

“I know… Say Tracey, do you maybe wanna come back with me? We could use a new Director…and I kinda get the feeling you don’t fit in around here.”

“…I.” Tracey’s ear buzzed, [ 3 MINUTE CALL. PA 5 REPORT IMMEDIATELY - *where is that prick?* - P A 5 POSITION IMMEDIATELY. ]

“C’mon Honey, let’s go. I don’t wanna get you in trouble.” A cacophony of flashbulbs exploded as she stepped out of her dressing room, a long silver mermaid gown trailing behind her. A crowd of tightly packed press, and HoloRatzzis shouted and jostled for pictures, lunging towards Marina.

However, due to her host, some extremely large, bare chested security guards with TF firmly emblazoned on their chests kept a suitable radius around the star. She smiled, and gave a little wink to the hulking guardian beside her, whose face had been firmly fixed in Marina’s direction. He batted the yelling HoloPaps away like flies. The gargantuan mass of muscles grinned. A huge, stupidly untamed genuine grin, and gave a little blush whilst chuckling to himself.

Marina and Tracey passed through a second set of heavy steel doors.

The bare chested soldiers of Trojan Force kept the HoloRats at bay there.

Another brief moment of silence.

“Tracey… The audience... Do they look kind tonight?”

Tracey smiled warmly as Emily Cho and Xeva Diva rushed towards Marina, Kawaki Makeup brushes in hand. “BLUE, BLUE, Get the blue!” Emily fussed.

“With you? Always.”

She smiled back at him gratefully.

The speakers boomed. Trojan’s voice filled the arena.

[COMING TO YOU LIIIIIVE FROM THE TROJAN FORCETRACE OF SOLITUDE. A ONE NIGHT ONLY SPECTACULAR.]

The arena was plunged into darkness. Cheering, screaming and thunderous applause filled the air.

Moments later, thousands of tiny blinking lights ruptured into being from countless Biocoms being held aloft, all attempting to Holocapture the event.

[THE SINFUL . THE SPECTACULAR!]

“Check. Marina to stage position please. Marina to position”

[BLONDE BOMBSHELL YOU ALL LOVE TO LOVE AND WATCH MAKE LOVE. TOURING WITH HER NEWEST, HOTTEST HIT]

“Cue trap 7 please. Trap 7 on the lift”

[THE ONE!]

“Check sound, Cue light. Roll VT on go”

[THE ONLY!]

“Booth is hot. 4…3…2…”

[THE DIVA HERSELF!]

Fireworks streaked across the roof of the dome, exploding in a vibrant extravaganza of colour and avertizing, raining down sparkles upon the euphoric screaming masses below.

A single spotlight hit center stage, illuminating the star speckled darkness.

Marina appeared like magic, as if materializing from crystals, floating in midair, almost incorporeal, and sparkling like a diamond. She was engulfed by a wall of immense sound and pure ecstasy from the crowd.

[MISS…… MARINAAAAAAA MONTAGUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!]

She whispered to herself.

“Show time.”

House calls

Author: By My Crooked Teeth

By My Crooked Teeth had been in the Opportunity Metropolis for two years. He can come to the city with nothing and made it look like something. He needed a job to keep his cover and being true to himself he had several. This was roughly how a standard night went for him.

Wellspring

First, we visit his persona Wellspring, an experience locator for one Delila Twist. Mostly he either trawls around looking for good tales to spin or convincing people to perform desirable actions and collecting the Experience later. He mostly did this job for access to the Experience machinery and for the intellectual exercise. Here is one such conversation with a future experience who is having second thoughts.

“Now, I understand that you have some questions?” Crooked would say.

“Yes, sorry I never asked your name.” The mark would enquire.

“Call me Wellspring.” Crooked would lie.

“Wellspring, right. I have been having some doubts about this. I don’t know if this is a good idea you know. You can’t imagine the places they could put me in if I get caught.”

“I can imagine a lot actually.” Crooked would say truthfully.

“I am just not sure this Margin Drivers con is going to work.” The mark would say.

“I understand friend. But I remind you, you came to see me, you told me that you wanted revenge of your co-workers, you were the one with the plan and promised you would perform it. And I don’t think you would want to upset my employer. I am helping you out here mate. I am putting up some money for the execution and I got you those guns didn’t I? I thought you can do it”

“I can for a price.” The mark would say obviously.

Here we go, Crooked would think. “Everything in Opportunity has a price. Your teeth if they were in good knick would fetch 500, your kidneys and lungs 5,000 in the right markets. But for your experience? Some people trade simply to be rid of the nightmares, with a little pocket change to walk away with. Some will give away everything to live a different life. I know one person who will go out and perform every daredevil act only to trade it in for a month solid in the machines. Price is fluid sir. But a price can only be breached once we know what you have is genuine.”

“Why would I lie?”

“Because money is on the line. Everyone here lies for it.”

“I ain’t lying.” The mark protested

“Then prove it. Contact me when you have collected your experiences make it exciting and there will be a bonus.” Crooked wrote a number to get his attention on a napkin and pushed it over. The mark picked it up and looked at it. His eyes widened. Got him, Crooked thought. “Can I count on you?” Crooked pushed.

“Yeah,” The mark said stunned “Yeah, I’ll get to it. I’ll get it to you. For this I will get anything.”

“Good, see you soon then.” Crooked got up and left the mark dreaming of his wealth and revenge. He made a mental note to drop a tip to the margin drivers see if he can spice the experience up a little.

….

Smiles

Next we visit his other persona in Joy Effect known as Smiles. A ‘Image consultant’ which was code for keeping the wrong scandals out of prying eyes and releasing the right ones for the boosted reputations. Here is one such client who is having a spot of bother.

“Oh, god their dead!” the client would bluster into the phone.

Crooked exhaled and braced himself. “Whose dead darling?”

“I met these people and I took them back to mine. We…..you know.” The Client implied.

“Yes. I have an idea.” He replied with hollow cheerfulness. “And then what? Actually, shut up and don’t say anything until I get there.”

Crooked arrived the celebrity (whose star was already waning to obscurity) looked tired, Sunburst was a singer with a few albums under his belt, none of them sensational but catchy enough to have some nostalgic fans. Crooked walked in adjusting his long white scarf to fall over his shoulder. There was a puddle of collapsed mostly undressed people. A whole rainbow of possibilities for the singer to indulge in.

Crooked lifted his hand and kept Sunburst from speaking.

“How long have they been like this?” He asked impatiently.

“Twenty minutes’ tops.”

“And what did they take?”

“I can’t remember.”

Crooked shot Sunburst a look. “Can’t remember or won’t tell me.”

“I mean we took a lot. Must have been something to take out everyone but me.”

“That’s not a miracle, that is a cleansing implant so your voice doesn’t get damaged from the staggering number of drugs you take.” He crouched and checked the pulses of the bodies in turn. “So, what happened to bring about the cuddle puddle of corpses?”

“I felt like celebrating?” Sunburst said sheepishly.

Crooked glared at Sunburst then turned his attention to one of the bodies. He checked the pulse and huffed in annoyance. “Did no one teach you how to check a pulse?” He touched one on the shoulder and said “Darling? Trust me this is not a great place to sleep. Stoned girl, ONE UP.” A little of his power flowed into the woman and she jerked awake.

“Oh, my tabloids! What a rush! What happened? Who are you?”

“I’m Smiles and you are not going to talk about this night to anyone understand?” He pulled out folder of bills and peeled off a generous portion. (It was Sunburst’s money anyway.) The woman nodded and collected the money and her clothes. He moved around and healed those who could be healed and patted down the ones he couldn’t save for a form of identification as he went. When he was done out of the six people Sunburst went home with four survived the trip and two more were going to perform a vanishing act.

“Now I want you to go home. Shower, sleep whatever you do with yourself but please leave the bodies out of it. Thank you. I will have to raise my rates if I have to keep making house calls.” He muttered dryly as he dialed. “Daz? Yeah hi Smiles here. Could you get this stain out of my carpet? I need it whiter than white. Can you help?”

….

Mr. Locke

Finally, we meet Mr. Locke a freelance operative who has worked for all three Visions at one time or another. His main job was to be the person you go to when you don’t want anything on the books. This meant embarrassing jobs and dirty ones. This particular job was to retrieve some blackmail information on a high up executive on Protean Dynamics. Things do not always go to plan.

….

Crooked waited patiently, all his other jobs were done for the night, this was his last one. The sounds of the metropolis were loud and bizarre, it was like a beast in the throes of mind altering drugs trying to sing, which was likely true for many people within earshot.

The blackmailer arrived promptly along with two bodyguards which was going against the instructions of his message for them to meet alone. Crooked commended him on his sneaky-ness. Crooked scratched his beard and said “Funny I seem to be off in my mathematics. I am sure you said it would be the two of us.”

“That was then. This is now.” The blackmailer smiled. The two bodyguards were big and mean, obviously carry weapons and doing so poorly in an attempt to intimidate Crooked. It wasn’t working.

“I guess so. Let’s get this over with.” Crooked kicked over a bag filled with money. The blackmailer crouched down to check it. He barely glanced at it before he said.

“You’re short.”

“Five eleven isn’t short.” Crooked joked, keeping in character.

“There isn’t enough money here.” The blackmailer smiled.

“Now I know you are lying because there is more than what you asked for in there.” He said levelly.

“But the price is 10 Million.” The Blackmailer said with a broad smile, the picture of innocence.

“No, it isn’t. it is barely worth five but here we are. Take it and it is over or I shall make it so.”

“Maybe I should send you back in pieces then our friend will understand that he pays what he owes.”

The bodyguards surged over. Clearly some cybernetics to increase speed, would be hell on the bones in the long run given it was likely a cheap job. But he was in no position to discuss the virtues of cybernetics as he was shoved against the wall with a knife at his throat. “Any last words?” Crooked smiled. “Yeah actually. OC CALL GET OFF.” The bodyguard was stepping off before he realized what was happening. He was staring at Crooked like he couldn’t believe what was happening.

“Oh, shit he is a Shap-.” Was all the bodyguard got out before Crooked shot him in the head. He whipped the gun around twirling it around his fingers and levelling it at the second bodyguard and with another crack the second bodyguard went down.

“There the maths is fixed now. Much better.” The Blackmailer was running, he had the forethought to take the bag of money, which was greedy but predictable. Crooked pulled out a detonator and pushed the button. There was a small pop and a scream. He really should he checked the bag better, Crooked thought as he walked over. He twirled the gun and levelled it at a wounded body guard. “You took the wrong contract boys. You! HA!” and the bodyguard went still. Crooked walked over to the wounded and crawling blackmailer. He twisted the gun again. “You! HA” and blasted the blackmailer in the leg.

“Fuck you. Who are you?”

“Mr. Locke at the moment. Now tell me where you got the information from.”

“You can go Fu-“ Crooked interrupted him by throwing a HA into his chest. He checked the loads of his pistol and crouched down. He looked at the inert Blackmailer and turned his face over in his hands.

“Huh, K.O I guess.” He rubbed his fingers together and pulled out a small set of keys placing them on the Blackmailer’s chest. “Rise and shine I am not done with you. You! ONE UP.” The Blackmailer gasped for breath.

“What the fu-“ CLICK he was silent as the pistol was cocked against his chest.

“Now I am going to ask you some questions.”

“What the fuck was that? Who the hell sends a shaper to a meeting?”

“Someone with deep pockets and something I find valuable. Now shut up.” BANG the gun went off into his chest and he went limp again. Out came the Keys again. “Now you will begin to learn a lesson. YOU! ONE UP.” The blackmailer gasped again. “To be fair I will answer your question. Yes, I am a Shaper. Yes, you are shit out of luck right now and yes if you draw that gun I know you are reaching for I will shoot you again.” BANG.

Crooked exhaled in irritation. “I’m surrounded by idiots.” He placed the keys on the chest again. “Eventually the lesson will sink in. Eventually you will learn. YOU! ONE UP.” The blackmailer woke up again looking scared. “In case you didn’t know I am a Keystone. This means I am able to heal you. I can do this all night until you tell me the answers to my questions. Do you understand?” BANG

He reloaded his pistol and played with his nailed for a few seconds and then replaced the keys “Once more with feeling you will be educated. YOU! ONE UP.” The blackmailer was terrified by the time he woke up this time. “Do you understand?”

“YES, By everything expensive Yes. Please don’t shoot me again.”

“Then talk.”

And he did. Crooked left him in the river and reported to a very happy executive to let him know his troubles were over and all it cost him was ten grand and a small explosion.

Just another day in Opportunity.

The Sky’s the Limit

Author: Dhalia Twist

Enforcer Willik sat at his desk, watching the lights. The lights twinkled like stars (he had seen them shown in a recent documentary). He liked watching them, they were evidence of lives well lived, albeit dangerously. The control panel was his starry sky, and he fancied himself an impotent god – all watching, all-knowing, but powerless to stop the tide of life that unfolded before him.

It wasn’t a bad job, he thought. The prime executive paid lots of firms for surveillance and monitoring, but his ping was better than the rest. He would see a light turn on, then turn off.

Occasionally, the light would turn blue, and he would get a call. Occasionally it would turn red, and he wouldn’t. That was beyond his station, and he respected it. He was happy and comfortable; his big wide desk, his sprawling view of the metropolis, his intricate and expansive control panel. It was his modicum of power , and when his day was done he would go to his home and watch bloodsports, and enjoy an expensive Walker-sourced Gynn &Tohnik. Life was good. Life was profitable.

A light came on in the Broadcasting District. It went off. Ahh yes, the ebb of life.

The light came on again, this time it was blue. Here comes the call, Willik thought to himself.

  • PLEEPPLEEP*
  • PLEEPPLEEP*

“Enforcer Willik.”

“Two female civillians have exited a building on Stage Square and entered the premises’ of Studio Sexty-Nine without prior appointment, and security have entervened. Patching visual to you now Sir.”

“Carry on.”

Willik flicked a switch next to the blue light and a holovid sprang to life before him. Two young women spoke noiselessly to a security guard and his partner, clearly flirting with them. Oh, he thought, they’re trying that old trick. Sexty-Nine knows how to deal with them, run of the mill. He turned away to refill his coffee mug. He turned back.

The guard was on the floor, passionately exploring the body of his cohort. The girls were gone. Willik’s eyes narrowed, and flicked a joystick by his monitor, trying to follow their passage through the corridors on the security cameras. He caught the heel of one by the toilets, then the hair of the other disappearing around the corner of the greenroom.

The greenroom light was on.

Willick quickly wheeled around to his personal holovid projector and switched to Sexty-Nine. Chaos.

The girls filled the screen, one pushing aside host Almond Butterwish and taking his seat, the other sitting on the lap of a very surprised (but delighted) actress from Love’s Affair III. The camera stuttered and struggled to focus as a panicked camerahand adjusted to the rapidly changing lighting.

A unheard conversation was held between the girl in the host’s chair and Mr Butterwish. Willik fingered his pager, ready to send that Blue to Red. However, to his surprise, Almond bowed to her elegantly, and sat on the floor by her feet, coying like a puppy. The camera refocused, and a smooth, genteel voice filled his ears.

“Studio Sexty Nine, this has been a takeover.”

Dahlia Twist. But.. she had just been on Light The Sky! He had caught the last few minutes of the broadcast with – Oh.

The girl with her was Skyshock Sigma.

Twist continued, patting her large beehive gracefully and adjusting her necklace. “I’m afraid I made a promise to a very special creature that I would give her an experience that she would never forget.

Well, the bedroom is all well and good, but there has to be foreplay. Mr Butterwish..” She paused briefly to tickle the aging host’s whiskered chin. “..Has delightfully permitted not to press charges for trespassing on his show this evening. But this message goes out tonight not just to you, kind viewers, but to all the studios of Opportunity Knoxx.” She stood and walked over to a giggling Skyshock, playing with the golden curls of the blushing actress. “Sky?”

“Oh!” and she jumped to her feet, wrenching the headset from the actress’ head unceremoniously.

“Hello Opportunity! This is SKY. SHOCK. SIGMA –And this is a very special message to your BROADCASTERS.” She patted down her dress, took a deep breath, and stared straight into the camera. “We’re coming for you.” She winked.

“Thats right!” Dahlia continued. “Every studio, every district, every channel : for one night only, we’re INVADING THE AIRWAVES!”

A bright pink infographic flashed on the bottom of the screen reading <3PASHTAG- AIRWAVEINVASION<3

Dahlia turned to Sky with flair “This is but our first stop babe! We’ve got to move fast if we’re going to make them all!” Dahlia tore off the headset and ran, grabbing Sky’s hand as they ran screaming and laughing off the stage.

Willik rested back in his chair. He panned over Twist’s and Sky’s journey out of Sexty-Nine , stopping for a quick selfie with the two security gaurds, obviously out-passioned and resting against the receptionist’s desk. They left.

The light turned off.

Another light turned blue.

  • PLEEPLEEP*

This was going to be a long night.

The Stars and The Moon

Authors: Miss Marina Montigue and The Moon on Rapids

“So, talk me through exactly what happened.”

Marina was cuffed to the table. She looked practically at ease considering the situation. The cop leaned in closer and repeated the question. Marina’s lips remained sealed, but she looked him in the eye without fear.

“You know Miss Montague, your boy next door, he’s singing like a bird.”

The interrogation room was small, concrete, and goulagian in style. A single two way mirror was inset into the wall, and three security cameras covered the ten by ten room. The room however, was not sound proof.

Just as the cop spoke, he heard a large crash, and a string of expletives from Regal Rage. He pinched his forehead.

“Nice song.”

The cop sighed. He was young, but already looked beaten down by the job. He sported three days’ worth of stubble, a hairstyle in desperate need of a salon, and warm, earnest, brown eyes.

“Marina, I want to help you.”

“Oh, were on first name terms now, are we? And here I just thought you were cuffing a girl in a professional capacity.”

The officer blushed, wrong footed by the comment. He quickly regained his composure.

There was a small tap on the window.

“Your girlfriend’s calling ya.” Marina said smiling. “She’s not my...” “Oh, strictly professional then. Shame. She’s cute.”. Another small tap on the window echoed around the stark room. The officer seemed flustered, as he stepped into the corridor.

The conversation was whispered, but Marina could make it out through the glass and woodchip door. “Anthony, would you mind tagging in for me? This guy is exhausting, I’m getting nowhere with this steroid monkey.”

The shadow outlines of the two officers were marbled through the glass inset of the door. Marina examined them carefully.

“Sure thing, Crystal. To be honest, I’m not sure how far I’m getting either.”

The door to the interrogation cell swung open. Haloed by the florescent light of the corridor, the officer stepped through. She was gorgeous, pint sized, and fiery. Her black hair was in a professional braid, and a few loose strands fell over her honey brown skin. Marina turned to survey the new officer. She gave a little side smile. “Crystal. Lucky me.” The officer sat down very professionally. It almost looked choreographed to command respect. She was straight backed, and spoke in a measured tone.

“Interview. Miss Marina Montague, commencing Zero-Three hundred hours. Miss Montague can you recount the events of tonight, exactly.”

Marina leaned back in her chair, as far as the cuffs would allow.

“Aren’t you supposed to be reading me my rights first, Crystal?” she said, smiling as she looked the officer up and down.

“The name, is First Class Officer Davis. My colleague has already read those rights, according to the constitution, put forth in…” “I know. I just wanna hear you read them.” Her voice was soft, and coaxing. The officer shifted uncomfortably in her chair, and rearranged the papers, she began to miss the explosive anger of Regal Rage. That’s what she had trained for. She was used to abuse, not flirtation. “You know Crystal, these things ain’t exactly the most comfortable in the world.” Marina said, motioning to the handcuffs.

“A necessary precaution I’m afraid. Now, the events of tonight.”

“Precaution? For me?” Marina laughed.

The officer looked stern, “Miss Montague, I’m not sure you quite understand the gravity of the situation.

You are currently under arrest as a class six Dangerous Criminal.”

“Dangerous, me?” Marina smiled, “Sugar, I don’t bite…. Well, not unless you ask.”.

The officer was flustered by her nonchalance and flirtation. She snapped back, “ Attempted Murder, Conspiracy, and Grievous Bodily Harm.”

“All those charges for lil old me? Well then, I’d better do what my buddy Mr. Smiles always said, ‘If stars ever get in trouble, you ask for the Moon.’”.

First Class Officer Davis’s face dropped. She knew exactly whom Marina was asking for.

Ms. Moon was one of the most talented criminal lawyers ever to walk the face of the planet. If she told you down was up, and poison was edible; if you just tried hard enough, you’d believe her. She wore a black and white geometric blazer, over a tailored black dress. Her heels were designer, and no more than a week old.

Ms. Moon entered the interrogation room of Regal Rage first. It was a max security version of the cell Marina was residing in, next door.

Her eyes locked on to Regal Rage. He had shoulder length brown hair which hung in curtains over his hazel eyes. Her eyebrows raised at what Rage was wearing. It wasn’t much to say the least. Rage was still in his battle gear, which consisted of boots, a small pair of tight shorts, and some grieves – that was all. Her eyes scanned across his muscular chest, along his broad shoulders, and down his arms. She was amused by him already. The mass of muscles grinned at Moon, and some blood trickled from his mouth.

A large, thick, heavy iron collar was around his neck, holding him to the chair. He sported two pairs of handcuffs, and his ankles were shackled to the floor.

Ms. Moon spoke calmly, “Is that really necessary?”

Her eyes drifted from Rage across to Officer Anthony Miller. Miller had a new cut across his lip, and an additional air of being ‘completely done with shit’ for the day. His tong subconsciously licked the blood from the corner of his mouth.

“It’s necessary.” He said flatly, and with a hint of venom.

Ms. Moon sniffed, and gave a curt hum. “And you did read him his rights?”

The cop was mentally and physically beaten down, exhausted, and downright pissed off “Of course I read him his rights! What kind of moron do you take me for?”

Ms. Moon smiled calmly, and with an air of condescension. “And, did he understand them?” “What?” The officer’s brow furrowed. He hated lawyers, this was the reason why.

“Did you check that my client, understood his rights?”

Officer Miller gritted his teeth.

“Mr Rage,” Moon turned to Regal with a pleasant smile “Were you in full mental capacity to understand the rights being read to you, and in doing so, acquiesce to a full confession, without duress?”

A large smile spread across Regal Rages bloody gums, and he shook his head.

“Well then, Officer…Miller, anything that my client may have said, or done before this moment in time is strictly OFF the record.”

Miller was furious, he stormed out of the room. Ms. Moon followed him, sauntering casually, with perfect posture.

Rage was left alone in the interrogation room, grinning like a chained up guard dog.

Ms. Moon entered the neighbouring cell without knocking.

Quite a different scene greeted her.

Marina was sitting, handcuffless, with a Spiced Latte in one hand, and a small pair of keys in the other. She was leaning over the table. Marina brushed the silky black strands of hair away from Officer Crystal Davis’s ear, and whispered something. The two giggled slightly, and Marina bit her lip.

Ms.Moon coughed loudly to announce her presence.

The two women sprang up, or at least they would have done, if one of them wasn’t cuffed to the table by a single wrist. The cuffed one, was not the prisoner.

Officer Davis span round to hide the restraint behind her back.

“Ms. Moon. Good to see you again.” The officer said quickly, searching for pleasantries.

“I’ll cut to the chase First Officer Davis, did you read my client her rights?” Officer Davis was still trying to recover from the embarrassment. “My partner…”

“Your partner has already been earmarked with negligence of instruction, voiding any confession taken by him so far. Did you, personally, read Miss Marina Montague her rights?” Her words were curt, precise, and sharp as a blade.

Officer Davis fell silent.

“Then release her, immediately. If you wish to pursue the matter of the removal of Billy Singh’s Thorax any more, I suggest that you contact my office directly.”

With those parting words, she turned on her immaculate heels and exited the interrogation room. Marina leaned in closely to First Officer Davis, pressing the small key in to her hand.

“Looks like you should have read to me when I asked.”

Marina looked the officer up and down, slowly, carefully, remembering everything.

“Shame… I was just starting to enjoy myself.”

Something Crooked this way comes

Authors: Miss Marina Montigue and By My Crooked Teeth

Finally, he was coming. Her lover and partner in crime Regal Rage had made parole. The thought of seeing him again made her stomach light, and a smile spread across her lips.

After the incident of Billy Singh’s thorax, prison hadn’t been too bad for Marina. In fact for some reason she saw it as a welcome break. It wasn’t the living hell experience it could have been, and often is, for many others. She seemed to float above it all. Never bothered. Always dreaming. Never hurt. Always with a friendly face, and an extra cigarette for anyone in need. The sentence has been vastly reduced too, from 15-25 years in a max security, to three months in gen pop. All this thanks to her Lawyer, Ms. Moon. But Lawyers, at least good ones, come with a hefty price tag.

Her credits were low. The last of her paycheck from THEBLOODNETWORK had just been unfrozen. And although she was inundated with calls for surreality shows, she was cautious of the men holding the keys to the kingdom. She’d been bitten before. This little motel room was all she could afford right now. It was small, and neat, and cream coloured with gold accents.

She fixed her hair again in the mirror, and ran her hand over the single red rose that had been delivered to her earlier that day. A small card in Rage’s extravagant writing, read, ‘8 months. You are all that I’ve thought about. I can’t wait to see you again.’

There was a knock at the door. She practically ran over, and peered through the peep hole. It was Rage.

She flung open the door and threw herself into his arms.

Something wasn’t right. He didn’t smell right.

“Hey Beautiful. I’ve missed you.”

He smelled of paper, not Iron. Marina could always smell traces of blood on Rage. However, now, the smell of books and dust filled her lungs.

Paper. Not Iron. PAPER... NOT IRON. She panicked. Marina’s body went ridged, and she shoved him back from the doorway with incredible force.

"Where is he?" Marina demanded, eyes fixed on the borrowed face of her lover. Rage exhaled, "What did I do wrong?"

"Cut the shit. Where is he?... I swear if you've hurt him..." She was angry, far angrier than she had ever been in jail.

"He's perfectly safe as far as I know.” The stranger said dismissively. As he spoke a biolight glinted in his eye, and pixel by pixel his true appearance was revealed. Dark hair, sideburns, and piercing brown eyes became the new face in front of Marina. The voice too had changed. It became articulate, intelligent, and cold. “Though you do have some more pressing issues to be worrying about Miss Montague." "Who are you?"

He took out his glasses, and cleaned them nonchalantly before placing them carefully on his nose. "Does it matter? A Craftsman doing a job. I assure you this is nothing personal."

She was infuriated by everything about this man. "Nothing personal? What do you mean?"

The stranger exhaled again, almost as if he was bored or tired. "I was told to deliver a message, I think it’s rather overly dramatic personally. I would rather just put two in the back of the head and be done with it, but I had to 'make you suffer and sweat'." He said with clear distain, forming air quotes as he spoke.

Marina’s eyes widened, and her breath quickened.

"Anyway." He drew a concealed silenced pistol. A meticulously kept piece. "Billy Singh sends his regards."

He shot twice. Just to be sure.

Marina suddenly raised her hand to her eyes in pure instinct.

It was quiet, and all that she could see was pure white behind her closed eyes. Death. Finally death…

But she kept breathing. One breath. Then another. Nothing had hit.

She winced, awaiting impact.

Spinning in the air, weightless, and inches in front of her face were two small diamonds where once there were bullets.

Marina raised her hand away from her face. Her eyes fixed on the stunned looking man behind the gun.

Her brow furrowed. "I hope you have a safeword." she hissed, and booted him in the chest as hard as she could, over the motel balcony.

Catching his breath, the stranger scrambled for the ledge, and grabbed hold tightly before he could plummet downwards. His knuckles were white as he hauled himself back up. “That was unexpected.” He muttered to himself.

The dark eyed man dusted himself off. "Shit." She cursed, slamming the door and looking for a weapon. Any weapon. "Shit. Shit. Shit. Not again. Please not again. Shit."

The stranger’s whole demeanor had changed. He was no longer a bored assassin. Curiosity coursed through his veins.

He approached the door again, and knocked politely. “Hello Miss Montague. Were you aware you could do that trick with the bullets?”

"Shit…GO AWAY!”

The man on the other side of the door reached into his pocket of his dark jacket, and pulled out a set of keys. They were a set of nano forged skeleton keys (Paton pending) which molded to the locks it was placed inside. He selected the key with the right size for the lock and fed the key in. With a sharp twist, the lock clicked and swung open the door.

He was greeted by a lamp smashing into the wall beside him. It had missed by quite some margin. Marina wasn’t the greatest shot.

His eyes followed the projectile and looked back. "Now let’s be civilized about this." Another lamp hurtled in his direction.

"Are we done?" he said as he pivoted around the door frame. She held a metal alarm clock aloft above her head, ready to throw again "WHAT DO YOU WANT!?" "That's a complicated question."

She threw the clock.

The stranger ducked out of the way, “When I knocked on the door, yes, I wanted to kill you. Originally I just wanted a simple job to keep my skills sharp. I wanted to be over and done so I could head back to my apartment to read a book. Mostly, I wanted to not make a mess of my mission. Now I don’t. Are we done throwing stuff at me?”

She tentatively lowered a fourth object, this time a flat iron for hair. "You're...not going to kill me?" The stranger leaned nonchalantly against the door, "Seems counterproductive. I don't kill other Shapers if I can help it. Too much of a mess."

Marina looked taken aback. “Shaper.... I'm not a....”

"Miss Montague, you just stopped three bullet without a vest. Not many people can do that."

“I....uuuuuuh” She looked around in a mix of shame and embarrassment.

The stranger raised his eyebrow. "I see. How about this. Process the information. We can get back to the subject in a little bit.”

Marina had never met anyone like this. An assassin one minute, a psychologist the next. She was wary of such a combination. “You ain't gonna kill me?” she said softly.

"Do you want me to?"

“NO.”

"Then what's the problem?"

Marina placed the flat iron on the dresser, she looked like a deer in the forest upon hearing hunters.

“Look, Mr...whatever your name is... This....This is all just a bit much, okay? I'm gonna... uh process it. In the powder room.... I'll talk to ya'll in like two minutes.”

"Sure. Why not?' he walked over to the bed and sat down.

Marina hurried in to the bathroom. She closed and locked the door behind her. She breathed out exasperatedly, but inspiration had a habit of striking at the right moment.

Marina eyed the room, some creativity, and she’d be out.

She removed the long shower curtain, and threaded it through the window. She shimmied down the slippery vine.

In her panic, Marina had severely miscalculated. She hung in midair, with at least a ten foot drop below her.

Her hands started to slip through the sheer polyester fabric. “Shit, shit, shit, shit.” She tried to scramble back up, but it was too late. She plummeted downwards, and crumpled on the floor. Marina landed with a thwump. "OOFT. SHIT!".

She was disheveled, but unharmed. Only her dignity had been injured.

In the other room, the man in the dark suit was sitting on the bed, perusing a book, his mind only half on the situation. "These bathrooms have windows don't they?" he muttered to himself, "By now she has likely snuck out of the back and evaded capture or at least fallen in a heap on the ground floor.'

At that moment he was pondering the possible escape scenario, the stranger heard a loud THWUMP, and a muttered cry of "Shit"

He sighed "Thought so." He got up and walked out onto the balcony. He saw the sprawled woman and waved a halfhearted wave goodbye.

Marina took off her heels and ran to the corner, signaling a passing biker, who pulled over immediately.

“Hey cutie, can I grab a ride?” she said breathlessly. The leather clad lady seemed more than happy to oblige.

The stranger in the dark suit leaned against the balcony and chuckled, watching Miss Montague speed away into the night.

He walked back into the hotel room, put his feet up on the bed, and popped the champagne that had been waiting for Regal Rage.

“Maybe I’ll get to read my book after all.”

Diamonds, Drugs, and the Dustbowl

Author: Miss Marina Montigue

It had been three months since the incident with the stranger. Marina’s life had returned to that of normality. A quiet, unassuming life. She worked as a waitress in a diner, scraping money to put towards board and lodgings. Marina was back in the dustbowl, where she was told she belonged, living with her mother Julia, Grandmother MaeMae, and stepfather, Deryk. She held no more pretentions of being Miss Marina Montague – Cage fight commentator, scandalous star-crossed lover of Regal Rage. She was just Melissa. Melissa Strahovich from Park 9. Just another ex-Jail bird, in a place its inhabitants lovingly refer to as the rust- ghetto. She went to church, dyed her hair brunette, and tried with every fiber of her being to be “Normal”, after the incident at the motel. Shapers were not normal. In the dustbowl, they were an abomination. Pastor Augustus Winetail had made that abundantly clear, when at the age of seven, Melissa began to manifest. The first time was with Cousin Ray. Ray had been ‘Cooking’… Melissa was ordered over to his trailer, so that ‘Mommy could get to know her new friend, Deryk’ a little better. Ray was already high when Melissa knocked on his door, Lindy doll in hand. “C’mon in scraps” Ray said with a beaming smile. “How’s that new daddy of yourn?” Melissa was sullen, “He ain’t my daddy…” She said quietly. “Yeah yeah I know. Your Daddy’s a big ol’ Star, and one day he’s gonna come back n getcha.” Ray said half mockingly, but seeing Melissa’s eyes turning towards the window, covered in a fine film of salt water, he checked his tone. “Scraps… Just give this one a chance, huh. He might be a good un.” There was a knock at the door. Melissa peered through the grimy lace curtains of the shack. There stood a tall, muscular man, in bright, patterned street clothes, covered in bling, and wearing a pair of large pink shades. Ray flung open the door, and greeted his friend with an elaborate hug and fistbump “Yo Yo SlayZee! Welcome to my micassa. You remember Scraggitty Ann.” “Melissa? That you little boo? Man choo getting’ tall.” SlayZee said with a huge smile. Melissa beamed. She liked SlayZee. “So Ray Ray, how’s my favourite chef?” “Good man good. I got some new shit to show you.”

The two men bustled around the kitchen, happily chatting whilst Melissa was back on the lounge couch, playing with her Lindy doll. “Okay, and THIS is the Piss de resis-dance.” Ray exclaimed energetically. “Volatile as shit – take your damm head off if it ain’t cooked right, but MAN is it a good time! You hit the right club with this, and we are outta this hell hole. HookerHill Mansions all the way baby!” Melissa giggled. “Ay!...Choo ain’t old enough to know why that’s funny, Scraps.” “Mel’s a sharp one Ray Ray. She might even work with us someday.” Melissa liked this idea. She didn’t know EXACTLY what they did. But only that it would get her out of the Rust. She continued playing with her doll, but couldn’t take her eyes off SlayZee’s bling. He wore a large, almost license plate around his neck, spelling out his name in as close to a gold approximation as you could get in the dust bowl. Melissa considered him carefully, “How come they call you SlayZee?” she asked curiously. He grinned, and quickly responded “Coz I’d be KILLING it, if I wasn’t so CHIIIIIIIILL.” The two men laughed and fist bumped over their assortment of designer drugs. But the merriment was cut short. “RAYMOND.” Three slow, loud knocks on the door announced the presence of a familiar face. He was tall, gaunt, and wore a long black robe, with a small white embellishment. Two hands around a burning world. Pastor Winetail was an unwelcome intrusion. “RAYMOND GILLIGAN.” The Valtarian voice seeped through the trailer’s walls. “Shit man, hide this. And don’t let it smoke. For GOD’S SAKE. Don’t let it smoke.” Ray said passing the blue liquid over to SlayZee. He opened the door, and leaned against the frame nonchalantly. “Heeeey, Pastor, I…” “I Didn’t see you at church, young Raymond.” “Yeah well I..” He was cut off mid-sentence. “I DID however, see that young man Mark Shapelle enter this residence.” “Name’s SlayZee, chief.” He said coming in to view of the pastor. SlayZee held the blue liquid behind his back. “Your NAME is what GOD gave you.” The ex-Valtarian scowled “Must be why I don’t like it.” “CAREFUL BOY.” “Lotta power in a name. Guess that’s why I chose it for myself.” SlayZee spoke coolly. The pastor spat on the ground, infuriated. “You talk like one of THEM. An abomination.”

SlayZee’s muscle’s tensed, and the blue liquid started to spit behind his back. Melissa thought back to Ray’s words “Don’t let it smoke…Take your damm head off.” She whispered “…SlayZee…” The two men continued to argue with vitriol. Ray sighed exasperatedly. The blue mixture began to hiss. “There is but ONE God. The Shapers are SERPANTS, and will be smitten from this world with Hellfire and fury.” “They ain’t nothing like that man.” SlayZee was beginning to lose his cool. The mixture sloshed behind his back. Smoke. “SlayZee!” Melissa spoke up. But the two men were too distracted by theology to heed any warnings. “I can SAVE you Mark. If you would just SUBMIT!” Smoke billowed from the beaker. Thick, toxic and volatile. “ZEE!!!” Melissa ran forward and grabbed the glass from behind SlayZee’s back, she retreated into the trailer. A second of terror fell of the faces of Ray and SlayZee. Ray saw his tiny cousin, clutching the smoking vial with one hand, and a Lindy doll in the other. Melissa breathed in, and in that second an explosion ripped through the trailer. Smoke, flame, and debris filled the air. The men were tossed aside by the explosive force. His body felt like polystyrene, and ringing filled his ears as SlayZee came back to consciousness, he had glass through his shoulder. SlayZee pulled it out, and roared with pain as he threw it to the floor. The skin began to knit back together again. Ray was catatonic next to him, eyes peeled wide open. He had a large chemical burn across his neck and cheek, all the way to his socket. “Fuck”, SlayZee coughed as he slammed his palm into Ray’s chest. The burn started to recede as Ray struggled for air. He didn’t bother to check the Pastor. Ray was breathing heavily, and still in shock. However, the burn, was now gone. SlayZee struggled to his feet. “MEL!!!!”

The air was thick and black with smoke. Twisted metal lay everywhere, and the scent of burning plastic was vomit inducing. He coughed as he scrambled back towards the scene of the blast. “MEL!!!!” He cried again though the smoke “Lil Boo!” “Please God, C’mon” “BOO!!!” He turned over pieces of metal. Ripping the remnants of the trailer apart. “Please…PLEASE.” He heard a small noise, rapid shallow breathing. A door of twisted metal was over the sound, he tossed it aside like it was nothing. She was balled up. Eyes shut tightly to the world. Her dress and hair smouldered. She was covered in ash, but remained completely unburned. Melissa clutched a solid diamond doll to her chest. She rocked back and forth, almost hyperventilating. Tears streamed down her face. “Shhhh, shhh. It’s okay. It’s okay.” She opened her eyes sobbing. “Zee.” The child clung to him, and wrapped her fingers around his T-Shirt collar. “SHAPER!... YOU DID THIS.” Boomed a voice from behind them. The Pastor stood aloft on the wreckage of the trailer. “…AND THAT LITTLE WITCH.” “Ain’t no witch, ain’t no hellspawn here preacher – Jus’ an honest to goodness miracles that this child survived.” A crowd was rushing towards the burning remains, shouting for water and help. Melissa’s mother came running too. “DEAMONS. SHAPERS!” The crowd almost stopped in their tracks at hearing the Pastor speak those words. They gasped, and mumbled, hissing hysteria around each other like a plague. Melissa was calmer now, but tears still streamed down her face. “Momma?” Melissa’s mother was a feared to approach. “AND THEY WILL WALK AMONG YOU AND BE KNOWN. WHISPERING FALSEHOODS LIKE A DISEASE UPON MANKIND. THOSE NOT OF THE LIGHT SHALL NOT BE HELD ALOFT OR IMPERSONATE GOD’S PERFECTION. FOR I SHALL KNOW THEM. AND I SHALL CLENSE THEM FROM THIS EARTH.” The preacher pulled out a long blade that had been sequestered within his robes.

“TAKE THEM. SKIN THEM, AND LET THEIR BODIES BE LEFT AS CARION.”

Melissa’s grasp tightened around Zee.

“Momma?”… Her mother turned away.

Winetail approached and ripped the child from SlayZee’s arms. Guns and swords surrounded him from all directions.

“Get the flay.” Winetail muttered to one of his larger followers. The man nodded. Melissa kicked and screamed, as Winetail began to drag her away.

“WAIT! WAIIIIIIIIIIIIT! … It was me.... It was all me. Look, I confess. It’s me. I sinned. I strayed from God’s light. I CONFESS and ask to be saved… please. She didn’t do anything. She’s only a kid. Please.”

Silence echoed around the dustbowl.

No one had ever openly confessed to being a Shaper before. It was usually tortured out of them.

The Pastor put down the child, and took a step forward towards Zee. He laid a hand on SlayZee’s head

“My Son, you will be saved… strip him.”

Melissa ran to her mother, who was still unsure how to act around the child.

“Momma, stop em, please stop em.”

The Pastor shot a look to Melissa’s mother, “Bring the girl to see this too..”

SlayZee was marched to the central market place. It was dusty and open without its usual yelling vendors. In the middle of the square stood a large wooden stake, chains hung at either side, swinging in the breeze.

“String him up to receive God’s love.” Said the Pastor, calmly.

“Watch closely girl, and mind. For this is what happens to those who would sequester God’s light.”

He held Melissa tightly by the shoulders.

Her eyes fixed on SlayZee’s face.

“Kid…” SlayZee smiled at her and nodded “It’s alright.”

The knife sliced down into SlayZee’s flesh, spilling his blood over the market place floor.

She felt her eyes starting to roll back in her skull, her legs went weak, and it was if all the air was sucked out of her lungs.

The fanatics kept calving until the screams stopped. SlayZee hung limp and lifeless.

They made sure Melissa stayed until the end.

She watched it all in a fugue state.

They left the body there for days. Then one day it was just gone. Cut down, and probably tossed in an unmarked grave.

After that, Melissa could barely sleep. She kept having visions of SlayZee. Dream after dream, reliving what she’d seen, and how many other ways in which the situation could have played out.

She had lost all concept of reality with how long she’d been awake. She kept seeing his face. Melissa was alone in her room, staring at the ceiling, unable to close her eyes.

Every time she did, she’s see the blast, the whiteness, the mob, and hear the screams.

But through her visions, she heard a small tapping. Like a branch on her window.

Then she heard a voice…

“Lil Boo.”

A mixture of fear and joy washed over her. Ghost, Deamon, Shaper, or madness, it didn’t matter. It was her friend. He was back. The voice whispered through the window.

“Lil Boo. I didn’t want you to worry.”

She ran to her trailer’s window, and threw it open.

SlayZee’s wounds were healed, and the sparkle was back in his eyes.

“I gotta go away now, K? Me and your cuz, we’re taking off. They think we’re both dead. That’s the best way to leave it. Don’t let em catch you, okay?”

Melissa nodded.

“This is yours”

He handed her the solid diamond Lindey doll. “You ever need to…use this and get out.”

Melissa shook her head “Y’all are leaving now. I think she’d like to go with you.”

SlayZee smiled again.

“You know Lil Boo, there is a lot of power in a name. You oughtta pick yours.”

There was one last, final smile, and with that SlayZee vanished into the night.

That was the last time she’d seen another Shaper, or at least knew she had.

That was, until HE arrived.

The unexpected customer

Authors: Miss Marina Montigue and By My Crooked Teeth

The bell chimed above the diner door, marking another customer entering.

The place was small, cute, and thoroughly dilapidated. Hardly an establishment for fine dining.

A neon sign hung from the back wall. “EDDIE’S”.

Marina wiped down the coffee rings from the counter tops, and gazed at the almost empty tip jar.

She wore a check body con uniform, a stained apron, and a nametag that read “Melissa”. Her hair was dyed brunette, and she had swapped her sparkling lip colour for a chapstick. She didn’t want recognition. Although sometimes it couldn’t be helped. The ones who did know her would look her up and down, raise an eyebrow, whisper about ‘That tape.’, or attempt to touch her as she’d walk past. She just wanted to get though the day – not make waves. ‘Good girls don’t make waves.’. She repeated the mantra to herself as she polished the counter.

If she could get a few more credits, she could take the express train to visit Regal Rage in St Luke’s Penitentiary.

Regal Rage had been in the Pen for almost a year after the incident of trying to rip a rib from his Executive Director, Billy Singh. Rage had supposed to be out after eight months. He had supposed to meet Marina at that motel on Claremont Street. He never made it there. That was the night when THE OTHER guy had showed up, wearing Rage’s face. A guy in a dark suit, with a skeleton key, and the intention to kill Marina. Luckily the stranger had changed his mind.

Rage’s absence from the motel was due to his never having left the pen. Stabbing a guard has those kinds of consequences in the dust bowl. An additional minimum of five months had been added. It could have been life, if it weren’t for the talents of his lawyer Ms. Moon, with the parole board. Apparently the guard had seen the sex tape that Rage and Marina had filmed, and wanted to offer his congratulations. It did not go well.

The bell chimed again. A tall man, in a well looked after grey suit and black tie came sauntering into the restaurant. He took a seat in a pink booth with his back to Marina, and pushed his glasses up his nose slightly, examining the menu.

Marina grabbed her order pad and headed over. Hearing the footsteps approach, the dark haired man in the booth turned his face towards her. She immediately tensed.

He opened his mouth to speak.

“NO, no no no no, you cannot be here. I JUST got this job back” Marina interrupted in a hurried, hushed tone.

“I heard the pancakes here were exceptional.” The stranger said smiling.

It was HIM. The man who had tried to kill Marina three months previously. She didn’t know his name.

But she’d know that face anywhere.

“Are you serio- fine, fine if I get you your pancakes, will you not say anything to anyone okay – about what happened, and just…just leave, okay?”

“Of course. No blackmail. Not going to kill you. Just…here for the pancakes.” He said staring at the menu.

Marina rushed to the kitchen and headed for the back door. He was the only one who knew about her.

He knew she was a shaper, and in this town, that was enough to get you killed. She wasn’t going to stay here to take a chance that either he, or the townsfolk would end her.

She opened the back door to see the man in the suit smiling, with his hands in his pockets.

“Same trick twice…sloppy.”

Marina backed into the kitchen, and grabbed the nearest knife to hand.

The stranger approached, unflustered by the development "Don't worry, I'm not here to hurt you. Calm down please I am just here to talk." He said, in a cool, measured, almost soothing tone. Marina looked tense. She clutched the knife tightly, and eyed the exits.

"Listen, ‘Melissa’,”. He said, reading her new name tag in air quotes. “I am honestly just here to talk. I am not here to hurt you. I just want to talk. Please."

Marina looked around her for any unwanted observers, she stepped closer to him. "You can't BE here.". "Why not?" The words tripped off his tong with a mix of haughty derision and earnest curiosity. It was a strange combination. It appeared that this man had never been told he ‘couldn’t be’ somewhere in his entire existence.

“They catch wind that either of us is... Look, it just ends bad okay.” Her voice had softened from tension to an honest concern for the stranger’s wellbeing. Her face was tinged with sadness.

The stranger seemed oblivious to this shift, and pressed on with his purpose. Maybe he did notice, but emotion wasn’t part of the plan. "Well then I recommend you stop making a fuss, it might tip them off."

“Fine, look if we talk...” Marina said putting down the knife.

Suddenly a large, bald man shoved his head through the dumb waiter slot in the wall. It was Eddie. His face was red, and he looked two burgers away from a heart attack.

He yelled through “YO MEL. ORDER: 3 GRILLS AND A SIDE A SLASH TATERS, TABLE 5.” Marina bustled about the kitchen, between the two hot fryers. She dumped the slashed taters through the double fryer.

“GOT IT ED.” She yelled, attempting to throw three insta-hot grills on simultaneously. The meat spat and jumped in the intense heat. The side of the precariously balance pan drifted towards Marina. She tried to adjust it.

“If we talk, will you just...” The pan scolded her. “OUCH, SHIT!” The burn travelled across her left arm. Pain and frustration leapt through her body. 300 degrees of heat seared into her flesh, leaving a deep red line. She retracted her arm and gripped it tightly.

"Just what?" the stranger pressed.

Marina shook her hand, as if to cast off the pain “Ah SHIT ow, will you JUST…”

The stranger calmly took her hand.

He whispered something.

The burn immediately cooled, and the red raised skin faded back to unblemished white again, as if she’d never been near the fire.

“just… leave” Her sentence had trailed off.

She stared into the dark, intense eyes of the stranger. She didn’t want him to go.

He was still holding her hand.

Marina was speechless. Her eyes searched every inch of him for answers.

“Okay” He said cheerfully, dropping her hand, and turning on his heel to walk out the back door.

“What? That's it? You follow me for god knows how long, STALK me to my place of work, pull some fucking WIZARDRY shit like that…and then what, you’re OUT?”

“Yes. If you don't want to talk I can’t tell you what I want to tell you." He continued to walk out of the back door.

“Wait! ...What do you have to tell me?” He stopped in the door frame.

“That you could do so much more with your life.”

A mixture of shame, disbelief and hope hit her like a wave. No one had ever thought she could ever BE anything. She didn't know what to say. Marina searched for words, but only silence came.

He approached her slowly, and with kindness in his eyes.

“You” he began slowly “Are a Shaper. You can create worlds. Stop pain. Survive great falls, live more years than anyone else here. You are capable of making things beyond imagination. The beauty of a thought and endless possibility. Eternity in the palm of your hand. Anything, everything is possible.”

Marina smiled, looked down, and shook her head in disbelief. Before this moment in time, she could have never believed that it was real. All those dreams, the whispers and rumors came flooding back to her. The night she had first manifested all those years ago. It had been buried by the thought, or at least the hope, that she was crazy. Because to be a Shaper in this town, was death.

“I couldn’t”

“Why?” The stranger protested “You don’t have to be here. You could have anything you want. What do you want, Marina?”

“It’s more complicated than that.” she said, averting her gaze. The waitress couldn’t meet his eyes.

“What do you want?” The stranger pressed again.

There was a long silence. “I want so many simple things. I just wanna get momma out the trailer, help Deryk find a good job, that ain’t gonna shit can him with no wage after two weeks. I want…I want abundance. I don’t want nobody to go hungry, or poor, or cold, I don’t want em to have to slit throats or cook chems to make a decent living. I want everyone to have a good life. Hell at least the chance of one. I just want a world… where everyone helps. Where they don’t skin ya fur being different…” She sighed,

“But what do I know. I’m just a waitress.”

The stranger smiled broadly. “Marina, you can have that.” He moved away and towards the door. “Have you ever been to the metropolis? Where there are towers of glass that touch the clouds, where there buildings are alive with a thousand-thousand people. With every sight and sound imaginable crammed into one place at a reasonable price. Invention and opportunity. Well, have you?” He continued animatedly.

She laughed and shook her head “I ain’t never left the dust bowl.”

Eddies voice rang out through the kitchen once more, “MEL! C’Mon honey, I’m DYIN’ out here! Where them orders?”

“Jussa sec Ed!” She replied, not moving.

“Come with me. One day in the neon lights of the city. See something more. Maybe it will inspire you. I can make up for trying to kill you after all.” The stranger’s eyes were sparkling with mischief.

“I….fuck it, I’m in… EDDIE I’M CUTTIN’ OUT!”

Eddie barreled into the kitchen, pot belly first. “Mel, Ya’ll can’t jist…”

The stranger threw a large rolled up wad of cash to Eddie. It looked to be about 15.000 credits.

He caught it with wide eyes. The stranger smiled, “Actually. She quits.”

The bald man had the look of a child on Christmas. He excitedly ran back through into the restaurant and shouted “WOOOOOOWEEEEE!!! GET OUT ASSHOLES. I’M GOINNA PLEASURELAND!”

Marina was doubled over with laughter.

“Let’s go.” Whispered the stranger.

The two vanished into the metropolis. It was an unforgettable day. He showed her the towering glass spires, the neon strips, and a thousand worlds within one day. They laughed, and joked. He told her of great palaces, possibilities, and principles. They swapped philosophies, and talked until the sun came up.

Then he was gone.

Just…gone.

She didn’t see him for years.

Not until that night, at the Boulderstone Theatre.

The Director’s Box

Authors: Miss Marina Monitgue and By My Crooked Teeth

Since her encounter with the stranger, and her introduction to the metropolis, Marina’s career had gone from strength to strength. Her reality show was burgeoning, her first album ‘Trouble’ was Triple Crystal, and she had just been signed to star in a gangster movie with Chain Dog, and Trojan Force; all this without being known as a shaper.

Everything was going her way. Even Rage was out of Prison.

He owed his freedom to a young and brilliant lawyer named Ms. Moon.

Ms. Moon was the type of lawyer who could convince you that a cat was really a dog, and that you could hold the sun in your hand without it burning.

She was impeccably dressed, with sharp lined black and monochrome suits, over a well-tailored black dress. She wore a perpetual look of determination.

Even with Rage stabbing the guards in St Luke’s Penetentiary, Ms. Moon managed to convince the parole board that he had only done it in order to defend his love from the slurs of roughians, and thereby was contributing to the zeitgeist of society as a whole anyway. She was brilliant.

A year had passed, and tonight Marina had top billing at the Boulderstone Theatre. She was to launch her second album ‘Playing with Fire’.

The Boulderstone Theatre was a beautiful building. It was gilded with gold, and had hundreds of nooks and crannies, practically labyrinthian in its layout, the way all the best old buildings were.

Marina stood on the stage bathed in light. But above her an entirely different scene was unfolding.

In the flies above the stage, a man lay down, peering through the slots. He was heavily augmented, and sported a green mohawke, and red visor. He chewed some kind of gum – it was loaded with synths. This man needed to be sharp. He slowly unfolded his kit, all the while watching the performance. It was a black, silver and red rifle; perfect for sniping jobs. Emblazoned on the handle was the logo 86R. He had his own brand. This man was a professional.

Marina was almost through her set list, she began her last song “Playing with Fire”, a tribute to her relationship with Rage.

The assassin was grumbling to himself, almost incoherently. “Hits that top C, then bye bye birdy – dammit, should have charged more – brain matter gonna look good on that dress – damm that’s a good song- why?-stupid,stupid! Billy Singh sends his regards – stupid!” He chunnered to himself, as he tweaked and twitched.

He took aim.

But he wasn’t alone in the darkness.

Suddenly the assassin was scooped into the blackness of the fli-wings. A place forever untouched by light in the theatre. If anyone had been there to hear it, they would have heard a soft pleading, followed by a muffled gurgle.

“And we’ll set the world… on FIRE!”

Marina’s voice rang clear and sustained over the audience, a perfect top C. The crowd erupted into elations and applause, the sound was thunderous.

But just as quickly, the cheers turned to screams as a body crumpled onto the stage, with a rope around its neck, dropped from above. The mowhawked man was lifeless.

People scattered in panic, and five security guards rushed towards Marina.

They were a detail provided by the theatre. Handsome young men in tuxedos – handpicked to blend into any high class crowd. Chaos was all around as Marina was rushed through the concrete labyrinth of corridors back stage.

“What happened? Who was that!?”

“Nothing to be concerned with Miss.”

Two guards stayed at the end of the corridor, two outside the door, and one accompanied Marina into her dressing room. A tall, blonde guard with a man-bun, and a small scar on his left eyebrow; Adrian.

He closed the door behind them.

Marina slumped onto the chair in front of her dressing room mirror.

“Oh my God, why would somebody do that, was it a suicide? An accident? Adrian what the hell is going on out there?”

He did not respond, but he slowly locked the door behind them.

Marina did not notice.

“We have to make sure everyone is alright.” She scrambled for her com device to call the front desk, to make sure there had been no injuries during the unexpected exodus.

She found the device out of its usual place, and the battery was gone. “What the..”

“Pity I didn’t get a kiss before you go.” Adrian said nonchalantly.

“What?!” Marina was caught completely off-guard, and was slightly pissed off and offended that someone could think like that; after all, a corpse had just dropped on stage.

“It really is a shame.” He said, looking her up and down.

She snapped round to him angrily “Look sugar, I don’t know what you heard about me, but this is not the time, nor the place, and you are certainly not the man.” She turned round again, and began to agitatedly search the draws of the dresser cabinet for her missing battery. She was furious. Suddenly, she felt a cold metallic object pressed to the back of her neck. Her body went rigid.

“Well, that makes this easier.” He said, moving closer to her.

Adrian was holding a chrome silenced pistol to her spine.

She turned around slowly to look into his eyes. She wanted to see the face of the man who had been paid to kill her.

The gun trailed round her neck to point up, under her chin.

Adrian gave a small side smile, “Billy Singh sends his...” The sound of bones and tendons snapping filled the air.

Adrian crumpled to the floor.

As the fresh corpse collapsed in a pile at Marina’s feet, it revealed the man who had done the snapping. Marina looked up from the body to see a familiar face. Dark hair, glasses, sideburns, and coldly intelligent eyes. It was the stranger from the diner. The one who had set her on this path. He glanced down at the corpse momentarily then back to Marina.

“So… you can sing.”

Heartbreakers and Hitmen

Authors: Miss Marina Monitgue and Trojan Force

The bullets streamed above their heads. They crouched behind an overturned table, clutching Uzis.

Smoke billowed around them, and the sound of gunfire was deafening.

“This is it babe, the end of the line.” A handsome, long haired, gangster growled to his compatriot. She was curvy, with blonde tousled hair, and wearing a white, blood stained dress.

“Don’t say that Jonny. It ain’t too late.” She grabbed him by the collar and pulled him close.

“Not for you sweetheart, but for me it’s a one way ticket to Deathtown”

She pulled him closer, until their lips almost touched. She was moments from him.

“April..I…”

Suddenly a bullet came streaking through Jonny’s shoulder, blood spattered from the wound. He shrieked out in pain and anger.

He swung the Uzi behind the table, and standing like a colossus, took aim as bullets coursed through the air, smashing into…

“CUUUUUT”

“CUT?! WHAT THE HELL WAS WRONG WITH THAT ONE?!!!” Trojan Force exploded.

“Blood settings are off.” yelled the First Assistant Director. “Resetting squibs!” The call rang around set, and was echoed into walkies by the set PAs.

“Just fix it in post!” Trojan Force roared in exasperation, flinging up his arms.

“If we don’t get a reset asap, I swear there is going to be real blood. C’mon man I was in THE TROJANZONE”

There was an audible sigh, “And can we please get a re-write on “Deathtown” it’s ridiculous, who’s dumb idea was that?” Marina interjected, as she reached down to the hidden script at her feet.

“The Ruby award nominated screen writer’s dumb idea.” a meticulously disheveled looking man retorted.

The screen writer shuffled forward to speak. His messy, sandy blonde hair was hidden under a baseball cap. This in combination with an artfully destroyed hoodie, gave the unmistakable trade mark appearance the infamous Kane Woodrow, screenwriter of every hit for the past five seasons. “How about...” But before he could speak, Trojan Force interrupted “My man, if you suggest KillsVille again, I swear I’ll…”

Marina stepped in as a calming influence, and took Kane’s arm, leading him quietly aside. Trojan wasted no time in fitting in a set of high intensity reps, whilst the crew reset the blood splatter settings and squibs.

“Sweetie, you know that I love your work, but how much ZenX have you been on? C’mon. I know that you are better than this.” She said, handing Kane the script.

“Marina I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. Vega is riding me like a donkey, and bloody Max Tythe, the producer, himself is in the studio today. I just need…” “Shhh, shhh, honey, it’s okay” Marina reached into her bra, and pulled out a small, clear bag which contained two glossy white pills.

“Here, this will focus you, and make you the best damn screen writer in the world.” she said, slipping the pill into his mouth.

The writer’s eyes sparkled behind his thick rim glasses, and he smiled as he walked back to his standing office at the back of the set.

“48! 49! 50! YEAAAAAAAH.” Trojan Flexed and admired his guns.

“You aren’t going to be able to fit in that monkey suit soon, TF.” Marina taunted with a smile.

“So…whatcha slip him?” Trojan attempted to ask with as much subtlety as a brick being hurled through a plate-glass window.

Marina smiled again, “A breath mint. We don’t want him high when Max gets on set.”

“Tythe is coming?! Shit yeaaaaah.” Trojan said, grabbing his weights again “Time for a raise.”

Suddenly a dark, and overly dramatic presence swept on to set. Valentino Vega.

It was as if a spotlight followed him. He paused, waiting a cinematic beat before he spoke “I want… Blood.”

A sarcastic voice from close to the ceiling dissipated all drama, with an almost hissed reply of “Jeez. K Dracula, I’m working on it.”

Valentino’s angry, guy-linered eyes shot up to the 1stAD.

The Assistant Director was rooted three quarters of the way up a metal ladder, with a bloodpack in one hand, and a large roll of clear plastic bullet squibs in the other. The AD was bulky, and wore a navy gilet with every type of electrical tape known to man, hanging off assorted carabinas. This was Augustine Vega, sibling of Valentino. Augustine, by this point in the production was thoroughly sick of Valentino’s shit.

“Make sure you do.” Valentino said with a voice, brimming with condescension.

Moments after the gothic presence had settled on set, he was followed by Kane Woodrow, hurriedly explaining his new brilliance to the money man, Max Tythe. “Max, Max. I guarantee you. THIS is what the people want to see. I am a Genius!”

Max was a fit, older man, in his fifties. He was wearing a black suit, with pink piping on the lapels, and a beautifully pressed, pink pocket handkerchief poked nobly out of the couture ensemble.

“A Re-write? At this hour” Max said with furrowed brow.

“They’re Pros, they can handle it. Marina was the one who suggested it.” Kane insisted.

“Miss Montague suggested this?”

Kane, shuffled and hesitated, before re-embarking on his animated stance “Well…Uh, no. Not this exactly… But I know she’ll be happy with it. And it’s what the audience wants! Drama, and Lust...”

He handed Max the sides.

Max read over the page carefully with a raised eyebrow, before a large smile spread across his lips. “Eighty-six the old ending. This, I wanna see.”

“Rina darling, your wish is granted.” Max said, handing her a new page.

“Oh!” Marina said eyeing the page, her eyes pulled towards the bottom of the leaf.

“And Trojan Force…” Max continued “I trust you’ll have no problem with this.”

Trojan had a grin on his face, and was subtly nodding as he read “…Do you really need to ask that?” He said, winking at Marina.

“Good” Max smiled, “Reset and block. Ninety minutes.”

Eighty minutes later Marina Montague stood by the side of the set. Emily Cho, the make-up artist was by her side for ‘last looks’.

Marina was practicing controlled breathing to steady her nerves. Her hands were shaking.

“C’mon. It’s not that bad.” Emily said, makeup brush in hand, “What’s the worst that could happen? Well, you know, other than Regal Rage turning up in a jealous fury, killing a bunch of people on a mass murdering spree that could spark an almost eternal blood-war between supporters and”

“OH MY GOD, CHO, You are so not helping.” Marina interrupted the thought spiral.

“C’mon, I’m kidding…articulating all your inner anxieties, but hey…mostly kidding. Girl, it’s gonna be fine.”

“Not if I like it.” Marina smirked. “And you know how Rage has been since I came out as a Shaper. The guy gets jealous at everything.”

“He’s only envious because you’re more famous than him now, and besides, this thing should be no problem for you. It’s just one little kiss. You already made a full tape of that other stuff.” Emily winked.

“AH HA HA AH HA, You’re so funny.” Marina said in a stupid voice, sarcastically mocking Emily. Even though she did think it was hilarious.

“3 Minute call. Talent to position” Augustine shouted across the set.

Emily could see how nervous Marina was.

“Rina, You can do this in your sleep. A lil dialogue, lil kiss, die, wrap, check the gate, then back to the trailer to split that big ass tub of triple chocolate Ice-cream.” Marina smiled at her “You really are the best.”

“48! 49! 50! YEAAAAAAH!!!” Trojan’s voice boomed from the other side of the set. Marina and Emily watched him doing tricep curls. There was no denying the guy was hot, but good god, did Marina wish he’d pick up a book rather than a dumbbell occasionally.

“POSITIONS PLEASE”

Marina and Trojan hunkered back down into their bunker behind the over turned table.

“Okay, Silence please people, we’re going for a take”

“SOUND ROLLING”

“CAMERA SPEED”

A small, old ginger lady held the clapper aloft.

“Alternative ending. Heartbreakers and Hitmen. Scene 42. Slate 5a. Take 1” She twisted the slate, and expertly snapped it shut as she flew out of shot.

“SET”

“ACTION!!!”

The bullets once more streamed above their heads. They crouched, huddled behind the overturned table, clutching Uzis. Smoke billowed around them, and the sound of gunfire was deafening.

“It’s the end of the line.”

He was just as handsome as in the last shot. But somehow, more compelling. More in tune with the dialogue. More real.

She slapped him “Don’t say that. It’s not too late.” Marina grabbed him by the collar and pulled him close. She had tears in her eyes.

“Not for you sweetheart, but for me it’s a one way ticket to hell”

She pulled him closer, their foreheads touched. She was moments from him.

“I won’t lose you John.”

Trojan looked into her eyes and drew her closer.

“You will never lose me.” He whispered.

Marina was against him, and traced her hand up his neck. She could feel the heat of his breath.

“April…I…” They leaned into each other, millimeters from away. Trojan looked at her lips, savouring the moment. He ran his hand against her cheek, and up into her hair.

Their lips touched, and a spark shot through them.

The kiss obliterated every thought. The lights, the noise, the bullets. It all faded in a rush of euphoric warmth.

Suddenly the blood filled squibs exploded with gore. Peppering tiny explosions across their clothes.

They didn’t notice. She tightened her grip around his hair, forgetting the world.

The intensity increased.

“CUUUUUT!”

The Guy-linered director called “Come on, more death, less kissing – Next scene”

He was being ignored by everyone on the set.

“CUT!!!

… GUYS CUT.

Uuuuuuh…Guys?”

Emily Cho pulled out her phone. “Tristra, set reminder to prepare for oncoming Rage related shit- storm.”

The stars were lost in each other.

“CUT GOD DAMMIT. CUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUT!”

Just passing through

Authors: Miss Marina Montigue and An Endless Falling

“Happy Birthday Dear Endleeeeeeees, Happy Birthday to youuuu.”

The song echoed around the dust bowl. It was night, and a few campfires burned in oil barrels, highlighting four shadows in the darkness. Close to them was a rough looking RV. It was brown, and weather beaten – with a missing number plate. It had done a lot of miles. The four figures were gathered round a rusted out car, with a cake precariously balanced on its impacted hood. SlayZee, RayRay, Endless and Melissa watched the home made roman candles spit colourful smoke.

“Ay Yo, How old are you this time Endless?” SlayZee taunted.

“Don’t ask.” She replied with a wry smile.

“’Bout choo, Mel. You old enough to be holding that bottle?” He said turning his attention to the next target.

“Old enough to know when I need a refill.” She said sweetly, raising the bottle.

“17…She’s 17” RayRay interjected “And don’t y’all be getting my cousin drunk… THAT’S MY JOB.” Ray tossed her another ‘Dust Bite’, the strongest and cheapest drink they made in the bowl. Endless stood, attempted to brush the dust off the gun strapped to her thigh and pulled SlayZee to one side. They seemed to be embroiled in a deep conversation, Melissa couldn’t hear what they were saying, but they kept looking over. Cousin Ray pulled up a Monster truck tire, and slapped it twice, indicating that Melissa should sit.

He began “So, how’s your mama?”

“She misses you” Melissa said, staring at her bottle. Ray sighed. “I know ya’ll can’t come back into town.” Melissa said, mournfully. “It’s death if they cetcha…. Pastor Winetail left, but with him preaching Shaper hate on the ‘vision, it’s like he’s still here breathing down our necks.”

“They still don’t know about you, right?” Ray pressed.

“No. But it’s getting harder to stop it.”

Ray put his head in his hands, and tousled his short hair “You still got that diamond doll?” Melissa nodded. “Keep it well hidden. I think you might need it one day soon.”

SlayZee and Endless made their way back towards the oil drum fire, and the two cousins. They were smiling.

“Ay Yo, RayRay, can I borrow you for a minute?” SlayZee shouted jovially.

“Sure, wassup?” The pair vanished into the darkness, leaving Endless and Melissa alone. Endless appeared to think for a moment before looking over at the teenager. Her tone politely corporate, matching her clothing. "SlayZee mentioned you might have somewhere I could sleep. I can provide recompense and I know a courier works at ‘Big Burger’ willing to deliver, even out this far. SlayZee said that that is your favourite restaurant?” It isn't actually a question.

Melissa laughed at the stiffness of Slayzee’s friend. She clearly did not come from around here. The dustbowl was the kind of place that didn’t stand on ceremony. “Don't ya'll worry about 'recompense'.

The spare bed is always open. It ain't fancy or nothing. But you're more than welcome.” It was like that in the bowl. They had nothing. But everybody had nothing. So, the nothing was shared. Willingly, or unwillingly.

The stranger sat with Melissa on the tire. Her back was straight, and she looked forward as she spoke, watching the flames rise from the rusted oil drum in front of her. "My project manager is very generous.

It would be unmutual not to share that with my associates." Melissa burst out laughing.

“Well, if your boss is paying!” She smiled warmly at Endless, reassuring her. “No need though, seriously.

Got bed, got grub, if you wanna help with the cleaning though that would be most appreciated. RayRay and SlayZee ain't exactly been the most conscientious house guests.”

Endless laughed gently, and looked in the direction of the two men. They had vanished into the RV, doubtless to improve on their chemically joy based exploits.

Whatever deep thoughts Endless was having about their little drug operation was cut short by the curiosity of the teenager.

“Say... what's your favourite Holomovie?”

Endless paused, considering, weighing up both Melissa and her answer.

"Er, I like 'Love Stings.'

Melissa knew it well. It was the latest trashy Rom Com from B-LEEV Studios. She exploded with delight

“Are you serious?! That's great! Got it at home. That bit, with the rain, then the dog comes, and and the other part, with the poisoned tree frogs, and the old man! Oh man, I love it! We can totally have a popcorn party if you want. I've got a THING for movies. Me and my step daddy Deryk even fixed up an old holo-projector. It's kinda creepy looking, because the picture looks flat. But, on a night like this, when the dust cloud ain’t blowing about, you can sit and watch movies under the stars.” Melissa was yammering a stream of consciousness, her eyes twinkled with genuine enthusiasm at being able to share this with someone. She spoke as if she hadn’t been spoken to in months. Endless let the teen prattle, almost reenacting the movie scene for scene. A small smile quirked one side of her mouth. She nodded, pleased, almost self-satisfied. When Melissa had quite finished regurgitating the ’final kiss’ scene, along with suitable sighs and dramatics, Endless slowly spoke. "I have to spend some time in the City on and off, asset redistribution mostly - nothing important, but otherwise I'm up for that." Endless kept her word…

The next week Endless turned up at the front door of Melissa’s Micro trailer. It was Lilliputian in scale, dusty, and had just about enough room for three people to lie down. A tiny, stainless-steel sink was in the back corner. Endless scanned the room for anywhere to put her bag down. A place was not forthcoming. Her brow furrowed slightly, but she seemed determined to make the best of it. Melissa grinned, especially at seeing the stifled reaction of Endless “Promise ya ain’t gonna tell the landlord ‘bout this? They charge by the square inch.” She winked, and tossed back the corner of a thin, moth- eaten rug that was laying on the floor. Beneath it was a flat handle. Melissa hoisted it up, revealing a metal staircase that ran downward. She slid down the bannister and triumphantly flung on the coloured fairy lights.

“Ta-da! In the words of cousin RayRay, ‘Welcome to my Mi Cassa.’.” Melissa stood with arms outstretched, beaming with pride.

Her home was about the size of two large RVs. Its concrete walls were painted red, orange, yellow, terracotta, and brown with blue accents. It looked like any paint pot left lying around had been pilfered for this little project. Movie posters also lined the walls; either home printed, or quite clearly sequestered from a local Holo-Screening venue. What looked like egg boxes hung on the ceiling, they were sound dampeners to compensate for the four full length speakers at each corner of the room.

Melissa excitedly whipped round to a large book case. She pulled something from it, and unexpectedly flung it, full of glee at Endless. Endless caught it without blinking. She looked down to see a familiar title.

‘Love Stings’

“Sooooo…” Melissa smiled “Movie night?”

Endless stayed there a month and a half, vanishing to the city for days at a time. Melissa would spend her days pouring coffees at Eddie’s Diner. The diner, and Eddie were new to the area. It had little pink flamboyant booths, and all the waitresses wore check body-con uniforms. Eddie was a young, handsome cook, who loved to dish out free portions of his special; the double fried treat of ‘Slashed potatoes’, named after Ed’s favourite blood sport idol, Slasher McKee. Melissa would pour the coffee and absentmindedly watch the news: More fires in the city. More unexplained deaths. Every time Endless would leave, more fires, or explosions and then she would be back come back with gifts from the City and the lingering smell of smoke.

Melissa would always try to call her, to make sure she was okay but Endless kept her comm's off while working. Melissa may have been young, but it didn’t take her long to figure out why. She even tried to talk to her about it, in her own way. You didn’t poke at other’s business in the dustbowl, ‘Snitches get stitches’ was the common saying used in those parts, but, if you saw someone as family, you could always help with whatever business they were involved with. Melissa had come to see Endlesss like family. She felt an unexplainable connection with her. The same way she did for her cousin RayRay and SlayZee. That they were all just different somehow. Melissa decided she would share the second greatest secret she had. Not the Shaper one, that would stay hidden for much, much longer; but, the secret of the house. One night, as the two sat watching movies, Melissa pointed to a poster on the wall, it was of style icon, Dahlia Twist.

“You know, Endless, just at any point, if shit gets real,” Melissa said lifting the poster “We can bounce via this… You don’t gotta worry about anything. I’ll protect you. Just exit through the gift shop and we’re gone.” Behind the visage of Dahlia was a steel ventilation grate, just about the size for a human to fit through. “Spits you out right by the Birthday car.”.

Endless seemed thoroughly amused and confused at the prospect that she might need protecting, and gave a nod. “A very sensible idea.” In truth, Endless had spotted the ‘secret hatch’ on the night she arrived, but thought it impolite to point it out. After all she had at least fifty years of Order training on the teenager.

WHOOZATDEN Profile//MM24601

Author: Miss Marina Montigue

WHOOZATDEN: The only place to find the real, linked, collected works of your favourite Stars, Euphoristas and Heartsians.

Find out all the latest gossip, news, and reviews, right here, on WHOOZATDEN.

MISS MARINA MONTAGUE

FILM

TOP PICK*****

(The Lust and Lacerations Franchise: A Duodecimology – watch all in 24 hours if you dare)

Blood and Dames – Gangster Movie: Staring Chain Dog and Trojan Force

Violence and Vixens – Gangster Movie: Staring Chain Dog

Heartbreakers and Hitmen – Gangster Movie: Staring Trojan Force

Sirens and Savages – Post apocalyptic Gangster Movie: Staring Trojan Force

Swords and Seduction – Post apocalyptic Gangster Movie: Staring Chain Dog

Maidens and Madmen – Costume Drama Gangster Movie: Staring Trojan Force

Damsels and Delinquents – Costume Drama Gangster Movie: Staring Chain Dog

Guns and Geishas – Martial Arts Gangster Movie: Staring Trojan Force

Kinksters and Katanas - Martial Arts Gangster Movie: Staring Chain Dog

Secret Passions and Forbidden Fury – Urban Fantasy Gangster Movie: Staring Trojan Force

Dammed Warriors and Wasteland Wenches – Urban Fantasy Gangster Movie: Staring Chain Dog

Lust and Lacerations – Time Travel Gangster Movie: Staring Chain Dog and Trojan Force

  • spoiler alert: You find out they’re all the same characters living in reincarnated split time streams. Lust

and Lacerations, the time Traveling Gangster flick, restarts at the beginning of Blood and Dames, so the audience have to re-watch it.

This results in at least 48 hours of viewing. People often spend weeks hooked to the Holochair to understand the Franchise. The Cosplays are also very popular.

…………………

Other works include:

Veronica Vengeance – Assassin Movie

Mistress Mayhem – Biopic of the life of the infamous pit fighter

The Arena – Bloodbath II – The bloodening – Action gorefest, Cameo as head.

The Prom Queen – Teen Comedy

The Prom Queer – Offbeat indi Comedy Satire

Honey , I killed the Hitman – Comedy

The Adventures of McStabby the alley cat - Animation Children’s Comedy

The Scandalous Life of Ms Marina Montague – Biopic

Death on the Dancefloor – Musical (part 1) Staring Ziggy Love

Return of the Karaoke Killer – Musical (part 2) Staring Ziggy Love

No seriously, make sure he’s dead this time – Musical (Part 3) Staring Ziggy Love

In The Marina – Notorious Leaked Sex Tape

TV

Marina Unchained – Surreality TV Show (9 Seasons)

The Surreal Life - Surreality TV Show – EXTRA ACCESS (3 Seasons)

Getting Fresh - Cooking show – Health Food (1 Season)

Steamy - Cooking Show – Desserts across the realms (1 Season)

Exotic Tastes (Definitely NOT a Cooking show – ObDoc - a class 1 adult pass must be obtained to view)

Pillow Talk (Relationship Advice show)

MARINA – TV Chat Show (3 Season and running)


MUSIC

ALBUM: Trouble

ALBUM: Playing with fire

ALBUM: Bombshell

NEW ALBUM: Fight for me

BOOKS

On The Ropes – A Tale of Bondage, Sex, and Violence. (Autobiography)

FRANGRANCES

Starlet, Scarlet, Scandal, Sin.

CLOTHING LINE

Cutthroat Couture

Briefing

Author: Diamond Mantis

"Your two o'clock is here, sir."

"Thank you, Hart. Send her in."

Protean Dynamics Senior Vice President Enigma Raven, head of Relations, steepled his fingers as his office door opened and his next appointment walked in. He scanned her with an expert gaze. Immaculately dressed in suit and tie, true age impossible to determine as it was with so many Shapers. He stood, and offered his hand in greeting. "Ah, Diamond Mantis, do come in. Please, have a seat." He waited until she sat in front of his desk, before resuming his own seat. "I trust you have been fully briefed on the Outworld situation?"

"Yes, sir."

"Excellent. Then I'm sure you understand why the Board of Directors is concerned. Inter-colleague power struggles that recently resulted in the termination of a key Joy Division asset - the Board does not believe that the best interest of Opportunity are being served by the current situation."

"No, that did seem... unfortunate. A waste of good talent."

"Indeed. Which is why we are sending you on assignment to the Outworld. Your role will be to facilitate relations between the representatives of the Visions shaping our future, and ensure that they are acting in the best interests of the companies. Conflict may be profitable, but only from the outside. I have assured the CEO of Joy Effect that Protean Dynamics has the situation in hand. I am certain you will not make a liar of me."

"No, sir. I will begin preparing to leave immediately."

"Glad to hear it, Mantis. Now, the trip to the Breach is not an easy one, even with all the support we can give. The next set of Cycles is due to begin soon, though, I understand, and so I am afraid you will only have two weeks to put your affairs in order."

"Won't be a problem, sir. I'll be ready to leave on time."

"Excellent. Speak to Frozen Hart on your way out, she'll arrange your travel details."

As Only They Know

Authors: SkyShock Sigma and "Ten Count" Markowitz

“Am I doing the right thing?” Sky muttered, so quietly her voice could barely be heard over the music from the stage.

Not for the first time, Ten Count looked up to the ceiling and sighed melodramatically. “What are you asking me for? I’m not you and I’m not him,” he said, waving his cigarette in the direction of the band’s frontman, “so what inside knowledge do you think I have about your bloody relationship?”

“You’re not helpful.”

“Not here to be helpful. If you want marital counselling, go talk to that Twist person who’s doing the rounds.” Sky stuck her tongue out childishly and went back to pacing the wings of the stage, full of the twitchy energy she always felt before performing. From his perch on the box of lighting gear he’d commandeered and pressed into service as a combined seat, table, coat rack and gun closet, Ten Count nodded to one of his colleagues. Besides him, there were half a dozen young Margin Drivers on this job, mostly backstage and all posted to the building’s chokepoints. “Matter of fact, what am I here for?

“Three reasons,” Sky replied back quickly, ticking them off on her fingers. “First, Thrift likes Prophett. Second, he knows you’re good at security detail. And third,” she said, smiling smugly, “you’re too scared to turn him down.”

“I am not.” Ten Count’s indignant tone said otherwise. “He bought my contract, he’s been a very good teacher and I respect the man immensely,” he continued, lying.

Sky’s expression said she didn’t believe a bit of it far better than words could. “It’s your own fault. If you hadn’t done it well the first time, he wouldn’t have asked you to do it again.”

“Shame it was such a clean job.” Ten Count had to laugh at Sky’s now-scandalised look and shrugged. “What? You know I don’t like the guy and besides, he’s too much of a pretty boy anyway. Definitely not my type, all that eyeliner and the lashes.”

“It’s called style, darling,” Sky shot back dryly. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand.” In an uncharacteristic display of restraint, Ten Count looked over her outfit - black leather, purple lace - and refused to comment.

Their earpieces buzzed together, the on-stage Prophett signalling for Sky to prepare for her entrance. Flicking her microphone on, Sky took a breath to steady herself. “S-3 in position. Waiting on your signal, Proph.”

Under the stage makeup, Ten Count could see how pale she was. Pausing to tuck his cigarette safely behind his ear, he dropped down from the crate. “C’mere, Sig,” he said, catching Sky before she could pace away again and gently touching his forehead to hers. It was an unusually affectionate gesture for the two, but the last person who tried to start a rumour that it was more than platonic had had terrible trouble getting their article written with a jaw broken in three places (two him, one her) and all ten fingers fractured (three him, six her, one they argued over who got credit for). “It’s going to be fine.” She nodded, mutely - the tension in her jawline was plain to see, she was clenching her teeth hard enough that she couldn’t have spoken. “And I’m not scared of your dad.”

Sky smiled tightly. “Honey, I’m scared of Thrift sometimes, don’t bullshit me.” She heaved another sigh in a futile attempt to calm herself, mouthing along with the words she and Prophett had scripted together as he purred them into the microphone from centre stage.

… and what’s thunder without lightning? So…

A dramatic pause as the audience collectively held its breath…

...if you think you can handle us both at the same time…

Ten Count rolled his eyes...

...let me have the pleasure of introducing the storm herself…

“Five seconds, Sig.”

Lady Lightning…

“Wish me luck.”

The stage lights went out. The rustle of Sky’s outfit disappeared from his side.

“Good luck, kid.”

Sky. Shock. Sigma!

A fork of lightning hit the stage a split second before the lights rolled back up. Sky and Prophett stood perched on the colossal speaker stacks, posed in a perfect mirror of one another, while flashes of Shaped lightning lit up the night sky between them. Ten Count settled back onto his makeshift throne and resigned himself to the show.

The band played their set with the usual exuberance, heightened as always by the addition of Sky to the team. She’d become an unofficial member of the band - secondary vocals, occasionally a little guitar, and she had even covered bass while Ember had been recovering from a broken shin. And, of course, the quality of the special effects had tripled since she came to the team.

As the last riff of Psalm For The Lovers faded out, the atmosphere on stage shifted ever so slightly. Prophett caught Sky’s eye, and they shared a resigned nod, noticeable only to them. Proph offered her centrestage with a gesture. She returned it. This was his show and she wouldn’t rule it.

The persona slid back up effortlessly over his face as he stepped up onto a prompter box at the stage edge, gesturing dramatically for silence. It fell instantly.

“Alright, we’re gonna get serious for a little while.” A few stray boooos were quashed quickly by the other fans. “Now, I know you’ve all come to love Little Miss Lightning here as much as we have…” Sky laughed despite herself and took his offered hand, stepping up next to him. “That’s why it’s important you hear this from us first hand, not on those sleazy gossip sites I know some of you run.”

His fingers tightened around hers, protective and full of silent meaning.

Do you want to?

You do it. I can’t.

“Prophett and I are breaking up.”

Stunned silence filled the venue for a few moments. Then the barrage of noise hit them. Thousands of questions flew through the air, all demanding the same answer in different words. It took what seemed like forever for the pair to call order.

“I want you all to know, it’s not Prophett’s fault,” Sky assured the fans once it was reasonably quiet again, her voice wavering slightly. She pushed the feelings down. Never let them see anything they haven’t paid for. “He’s been the best support I could have asked for, in everything. When I was still in bloodsports, before the Projects and after them, even when the Walkers were after my blood - whenever I needed someone… Your idol’s always been there for me.”

“So why?!” The voice came from the front row - a red-haired Heartisan-in-training dressed in a perfect replica of Prophett’s outfit from the band’s last publicity shoot. One of the Drivers moved towards her to warn her into silence. Sky waved him away, opened her mouth to reply - but nothing came out.

“It’s the right thing.” Proph took over, his thumb brushing comfortingly across Sky’s knuckles as he took the burden from her. “We know, it doesn’t make much sense…. We just need you all to trust us.”

Murmurings of confusion turned to assent, slowly creeping across the sea of tear-stained faces and smudged makeup. Sky glanced towards the frontman - he was avoiding her eyes purposefully. But she could still see the tears beginning to glitter in the corners.

“But it would be cruel to leave without one final performance… I think The Night-Watcher’s Child would be fitting, hm?” Sky forced her usual Euphorista honey into her voice as they stepped down from their perch. She hoped she was the only one who had seen Prophett twitch slightly as his mind jolted back into reality. He was good at hiding these things. They both were. He jumped down lightly after her and took her guitar from the rack at stage-left, handed it over and picked up his own.

“And, uh….I guess there’s no point hiding this anymore,” Prophett added with a guilty grin as they took their seats on the edge of the stage, “the rumours are true, I did write Night-Watcher’s Child for Sky.”

That seemed to be the last straw for a large portion of the audience - audible sobs broke out in various parts of the arena, the kind that have been held back for longer than was comfortable. Prophett and SkyShock sighed, almost in unison, met each other’s eyes at last as they began to play for the last time - and what was already the most melancholy of the band’s repertoire became a funeral hymn, to hopes, dreams, terabytes of fanfiction, and one of the most watched and long-running relationships in Opportunity.

They weren’t performing for anyone else - the audience just happened to be there. This was a goodbye, given the only way they could. As they set their instruments down, and stood to take the dim spotlight illuminating centre stage, there was no-one in their world but them.

He kissed her, soft but desperate. Her fingers curled into his shirt as if, by holding him close, she could change it.

The lights went down.

When they came up, Prophett Six was alone on stage, eyeliner seemingly immaculate and microphone back in hand.

In the wings, SkyShock Sigma wiped his tears from her fingertips.

“Hey, Ten Count!”

Purely out of pettiness, the Margin Driver took two more slow steps before stopping. He’d never liked the voice and as surrogate elder brother was obliged to dislike the man but, no matter how much of the breakup was for theatrical effect, nobody got to make SkyShock Sigma cry. Ten Count turned on his heel as slowly and insolently as possible, angling himself just enough to flash the pistol on his hip. To his credit, Prophett barely blinked. “Listen, man, I hope none of that affects our business relationship and I can still count on you backstage.”

A smarter man, somebody capable of reading body language cues, might have picked up on the tiny tics of anger. Prophett was neither. “Me and the guys, we really appreciate the job you do here, man, this place wouldn’t be the same without you,” he continued on, gesturing to his band without noticing his drummer and bass player already beginning to sidle away.

Ten Count took an exaggerated breath. “I appreciate that,” he started, putting his arm around Prophett’s shoulders, “but there’s one small thing you’ve not considered. Obviously I enjoy the money, but that’s not why I took this job on. Any ideas what is?”

The confused Prophett looked over at his now-ex-girlfriend. Outright threats he could deal with, but this bonhomie was unsettling. She refused to look his way.

“Let me spell it out for you, then. SkyShock Sigma might be Joy Effect trash,” started Ten Count, earning him a Look with a capital L, “but her dad is ‘Thrift’ van Oren, Margin Driver, self-styled Employee of the Year, the one who owns my employment contract and the closest thing I’ve got to a dad I actually get on with. It’s not blood, but she’s my sister. And that means you’ve been getting family rates, real Band A quality.”

Prophett quirked a thin eyebrow. “So, what’s that mean for me now?”

“I don’t know. What do you think happens when you split up with my sister and you’ve been getting the family rate?” Ten Count closed his fingers on his thumb and popped it satisfyingly. “You find yourself...downgraded. And let me tell you, Band N means you definitely can’t afford my services any more, pretty boy.” He patted Prophett convivially on the shoulder. “But best of luck with the new album. I’m sure it’ll sell just fine.”

With a vulpine smile, the Margin Driver strode off, pointedly ignoring Sky’s disapproving glare.

“What the fuck even is Band N?” she muttered as she fell into step beside him.

“It’s an initial. Stands for ‘not on your fucking life, sunshine’.”

Its not really a choice

Author: "Pandora" Morozov

A series of wet thumps and the occasional cry of pain play like a symphony. The Archives have plenty of rooms very few people get an invitation to; this is one nobody wants to see. It’s dark, but the tiles, the drain and the shackles are there to tell an obvious story.

The broken man dangles by his wrists and spits out another ropey stream of blood. “I told you, I told you I don’t know anything!” he gargles, missing teeth and swollen lips making it hard to understand.

She takes a draw from her cigarette. The only light in the room is pointed at the beaten man, so the glowing tip only casts her face in a deep shadow. She exhales, sighing with boredom and dissatisfaction. “If I believed that, you wouldn’t be in this room.” She speaks softly. She doesn’t need to speak up. “As it is, I clearly don’t. So here we are.”

“Cold b-” The captive doesn’t get any more out as the other man cracks him in the jaw, head snapping to the left and catching the words before they can escape.

“That’s enough,” she snaps, jamming her cigarette into the wall. “You keep aiming for the head like that and it’ll be like talking to static.” She starts to roll a replacement, considering how much longer she can keep going for. She knows she’s tired; she assumes her guard dog must be as well. Caffeine stims only last for so long. Biting down on a yawn, she gets to her feet.

“It’s not really a choice,” she drawls, stepping carefully to avoid the splatters of gore, “but I feel compelled to offer it. Carry on being stubborn and we escalate, or use what brain matter you have left to tell me what I want to hear. One of those scenes sees you leave this room under your own power.”

It takes a lot of effort for them to spit out a response. “Kill me already.”

She raises an eyebrow, licking her roll-up before popping it delicately behind her ear.

“Not an option,” she laughs mirthlessly. “Talos, would you be a dear?”

Her right-hand man slinks over, scraping the tyre iron off the yet untouched table of tools as he passes. She shrugs off her jacket to throw onto her seat out of harm's way, places her cigarette between her purple lips and accepts the heavy iron bar. He makes to leave and she clears her throat pointedly, shooting him an expectant look.

“Yes?” he grunts. He knows perfectly well what she wants; this is not the first dance they’ve danced. She cocks her head to one side, refusing to give him the satisfaction of asking, and he growls. The lighter flares.

“Thanks, puppy,” she says around it, eliciting the traditional eye-roll from the much hated pet name. He slides the heavy door open, but he doesn’t get through it before she shouts, “And fetch me a drink!”

She turns her attention back to the semi-conscious figure, now hanging entirely by his wrists and having given up trying to stand.

“The amount he rolls his eyes at me...one of these days, they’re going to fall out. Anyway,” she muses, pushing up her sleeves, “let me ask again. Who thinks they can steal my secrets and get away with it?”

In the kitchenette outside, Talos daintily pours from the steaming teapot. Not for the first time, he wonders where exactly the terms of his service contract state he perform butler duties. His gaze falls on the bright yellow bucket and map and he sighs, reaching for the liquid soap. Butler, bodyguard and cleaner.

That’d teach him not to read the fine print.


Graveside Visits

Author: Pandora Morozov

Pandora sat with her back to the stone. No one had come by to scold her for being 'disrespectful' as of yet so she was quite content as she continued to smoke, occasionally taking a dram from one of her flasks. Today was the one marked Poison. It seemed appropriate while she was resting against the gravestone of her former teacher, Anastasia 'Ice Queen', or at least as appropriate as it could be.

"So, I went through the Breach." She spoke as smoke escaped her lips. "It was an interesting place, you probably would have loved it. Or maybe you wouldn't."

She tilted her head to the other headstone. "Considering who was there actually I know you'd have hated it. The wonderful, mysterious and bizarre shit that happened would have been ruined by the small fact that the man who killed your lover, I guess."

"And you wouldn't have been able to kill him unless you tried really hard." Pandora shrugged, rubbing the bouquets petals idly. "Not that you can really care that much about that anymore."

Finishing one cigarette she began quickly rolling another. "He's not a bad man. You know. I know you'd hit me for saying that. But he's… well he's like me in a lot of ways. Scared to be rejected. Craves knowledge. And in all honesty Daniel was an idiot for trying what he did, you'd agree with that at least. I mean, I don't know. I don't really know what you'd say about all this. About what I've learned, relearned. Shit. I don't know. I guess I thought coming here to where it all started would get me focused but it's really not. I'm just rambling."

The roll up had crumbled in her fingers during all this making her scowl and crush it into a ball before starting again, really focusing this time. Pandora then paused. "This isn't where it all started though. Is it? It's not even close."

There was no answer. She didn't expect one either. She did however hear a far off yell from the groundskeeper who had finally spotted her. With a sigh she finished up and got to her feet, placing the cig behind her ear as she dusted herself off.

"Thank you, for everything," She placed the roll up in between her lips and lit it, "but I think it's time to move on."


Oversight

Author: Orb Weaver

Aspirant Rotation - good to meet you at the symposium. The attached documents comprise the extended records of the oversight process I was involved in with regards Doctor ‘Precipitous Cascade’. Also a few references of interest that were archived after the sudden retirement of the then VP of Special Projects. Hopefully this will be of some use to your cell, particularly with regards the influence Opportunity has had - knowingly or unknowingly - on other cultures.

For context: Official ‘Corporate Welfare’ team records show a successful retirement, but the final document shows details I pulled out of the good doctor’s personal slush fund records: accelerated clone growth; level 3 cortex overwrite; a session to remap the doctor’s genome to one falling within standard variation for territories held by the then-minor insurgency group that now call themselves the People's Combine.

Yours, In the Reflected Vision of a Better World

Aspirant Weaver


Orpheus Actuation: Perfection Unleashed

Gate 17 Review: Project Valence: Lead Researcher: Dr Precipitous Cascade

Purpose of Project: Development of Mental Restructuring and Incentivised Compliance techniques not subject to the limitation of patent and licensing by competing corporate actors.

Premise: Premise of the direction taken with research is that all existing patented techniques for cortex rewrite are non-invasive; therefore a more aggressive technique blending surgery in the following regions of the brain is believed to be both effective and not subject to legal challenge:

● Region BA24 (whimsically referred to as ‘the seat of free will’ by a number of our less rigorous peers)

● Region BA25 (primarily focused on mood reinforcement)

● Regions BA45 (application of semantic filtering)

This invasive surgery will be supplemented with external cortical stimulation (chemical, ideological, environmental) would allow Orpheus Actuations to provide a service crafting highly motivated special ops units. Service addons to include additional control elements such as physical/emotional/mental enforcement of crafted cortical reality.

Efficacy: While techniques around BA25 are well documented and typically only of interest to over-enthusiastic junior researchers, there is potential in the overlooked BA24 and BA45 regions. If the cortical entanglements identified by Dr Cascade prove as fruitful as early results indicate, efficacy could be in the upper quartile (see attached analysis), and as such the project is suitable for progression through Gate 17 (though see note).

Note that demonstrations of the cortical reality elements of the project repeatedly demonstrate breakdown under stress situations, resulting in undesirable emotional shutdown of the carbon component, which would be unacceptable in operational situations. Note: Dr Cascade shows little concern for this, which I myself find concerning.

Likelihood of legal challenge: Moderate. The proposal by Dr Cascade is an extensive set of procedures, and our competitors are zealous about guarding their proprietary techniques. The extensive number of sub-procedures makes it significantly more likely that casus belli infringement may be identified. Progress through Gate 17 should be subject to sign off by sponsor at Vice-President level.

Recommendation: Proceed subject to sign off by VP sponsorship. Recommend additional reporting progress of i) progress of cortical entanglement development; ii) management of cortical reality side effects.

Auditor: Dr Weaver, acting as Subject Matter Expert



Orpheus Actuation: Perfection Unleashed

Project Valence: Phase 18 Business Case Audit

Due to the retirement of Lead Auditor Von Bismarck and the subsequent emergency audit of the Auditing Division, all projects are subject to immediate review by a Risk Mitigation Special Review Team.

In this case, review seems timely. Business case paperwork is thin and fails to address a number of core questions.

How does this product fit with our wider strategy? There’s been no sniff of any board plans to move away from our Faster Better Stronger strategy, and this seems at best tangential to that. While I am certain this could never be someone’s vanity project, it’s just possible that someone less clear-sighted than myself might see is as so, based on current documentation.

What is our USP? A product we can’t be sued for is fine internally, but why do our customers care.

What is our strategy to establish a position in a market with three pre-existing dominant players? The business case notes that the Competitive Analysis Division have undertaken interviews with relevant corporate security officers, but someone needs to go give them their annual kicking and remind them that it’s all very well for them to have their fun, but they do actually need to turn in a report afterwards. Frankly it seems unlikely that the board will have a taste for grey/black ops against parties with significantly larger war chests. Particularly disturbing are the redacted documents implying these actions have already begun. If there is no board sanction for these, then the project has grossly overstepped its limits of delegated authority, and in doing so incurred unsustainable levels of risk.

Do we envision that the significant infrastructure investment to productise this solution is likely to be recouped? Initial calculations indicate that this procedure would need to be undertaken at significant scale to ensure financial viability. This means the need for large scale facilities and a means of securing a consistent supply of raw material. I’m talking significant - we’re going to need to look at getting deals with prisons, sidelining one of the major cults, or hoping one of our customers starts a war.


Recommendation: This project represent a RED level risk for the corporation. Immediate review of business case irregularities at a Vice-President Council level to ensure that this project falls within acceptable risk profile.

Reviewer: Adamant Verisimilitude, Risk Management Special Review Operative




Orpheus Actuation: Perfection Unleashed

Internal Memo: Priority Crimson

TO: C.Biolizard.V32c, Corporate Welfare Case Lead

The Vice President’s Council has authorised immediate investigation of discretionary expenses associated with project code [Redacted] for the purpose of unapproved corporate warfare. Bring the Lead Researcher in for a Corporate Welfare interview, and put the laboratory complex on lock-down pending an outcome.

Z.Perpetuity VP Special Projects



Orpheus Actuation: Perfection Unleashed

Internal Memo: Priority Crimson

TO: G.Vice, Risk Mitigation Logistics Manager

Immediate Priority Activate Risk Mitigation Team Xeno to shut down operational teams coded Genitive, Subjunctive, and KeyLime. Actualisation of associated hazard may result in retaliatory action against critical board level assets, so Garrett - make it real obvious we’re terminating the operation and our assets and there’s a chance that the CFO won’t lose another husband.

Z.Perpetuity VP Special Projects



Orpheus Actuation: Perfection Unleashed

Internal Memo: Priority Crimson

TO: C.Biolizard.V32c, Corporate Welfare Case Lead

Cicci. Find out who failed to rescind Dr Cascade’s vacation travel permissions in the wake of that clusterfuck in audit, and terminate them. And I want him back. Get his details to one of our recovery agents and get a slush fund set up. I don’t care what backwater rust-bucket burg he’s holed up in - the board will have someone’s head for this, and it won’t be mine.

Z.Perpetuity VP Special Projects

An offer

Author: [REDACTED]

Opportunity Metropolis
Necessitated Residence Project 'Blossom Lane'
Block 2383, Ventilation outlet 4
Era: Before The Breach

Huddled for warmth against the rain, a loud thunder crack shook him awake. Still daytime, time left to sleep, they thought. He pulled his covers closer, patting the insides for another hit, to make the cold go away. He found it numbly, swallowing the dirty pill with reverence. He scratched his face, and waited for it to kick, send him off to sleep. Glitter fell, the last of his expensive cosmetic modification finally crumbling away. His set wasn't due until midnight, but he was planning something big , and he needed rest. Something to make the suits upstairs notice. He could feel it, deep inside, something had awoken. He couldn't control it yet, not for real, but it was there - the power to change things, to make things better. He had been practicing, planning, he knew the lynch-pin that needed to be pulled.

A shadow appeared. A flash of white light, the blur of black coats, it was all so fast; the world rushed apart, then together again.

'Not yet, Stellar. Not before you know.' A voice reached out. It was smooth, calm, like milk flowing over ice. 'That way wouldnt solve anything.' he tried to see who was speaking, but his vision blurred and span. He chose to close his eyes to avoid being sick.

He spoke, softly, into the darkness. 'They needed a sign, they needed to know they have a voice. I can be it for them-'

'They have nothing, not like you. You would lie to them, and they would lie to themselves. False hope is worthless, less than. What matters is action.'

'What then?'

A long pause.

'The Order wishes to make you an offer.'

Before the Operation

Author: Razor Fine

“I Didn't Want Them to do That to Anyone. Ever Again!”

The teen looked up at his parents and there was something sad and feral in his eyes.

The blood was glittering in his eyebrows.

---

Two days previous:

Fling, Bl00dLov3 and BluSKY Surprise had seen their fair share of crisis meetings. You didn't get to be an Opportunity power thrupple without your share of speed bumps.

They had survived them, as they always remembered that every problem was a new chance to define the narrative.

But a pallor fell over them now that no amount of sex-murder scandals or contractually obligated public breakdowns could match.

“He just doesn't have It.”

“But how, baby-steaks? We had him sequenced by the best bio-jackers money can buy!”

“I know, sugar-sparkle, I know. But look at him.”

They all looked over at the teenage boy, busy training in the rec-deathpit.

“Take that, uh, monarchist scum?” He cried, as he sank his trident into the Valtarian-themed training clone.

“Very good, young knight.” The clone mumbled, slightly embarrassed, as it died.

It wasn't that anything he did was … bad. It was all technically perfect. But there was simply something lacking.

From his blandly soft voice to his scraggly teen stubble, he was simply the opposite of *extra*.

“Come here, Scrub.” Called Fling.

They had begun to call him Scrub after his genetic sequence had been scrubbed from records, due to their less than spectacular results.

“Yes, mums?” He bounded over eagerly.

“Clear your schedule for tomorrow.” If Bl00dLov3 hesitated at all, you'd need a slow motion replay to catch it. “We've scheduled another Spa Day.”

Scrub tensed for just a microsecond, but even he barely noticed the tiny slice of panic that shook him.

A tranquil smile spread over his face.

“That sounds relaxing. A nice, quiet day.”

“Yes.” said BluSKY, putting her thumb print on the surgery consent form. “It should be.”

---

Scrub’s parents stared at him, the sound of screams still ringing around the clinic.

“Scrub. Honey. What did you do?”

Between them lay the bodies of the surgeons who had performed the operation and bio-therapy on Scrub's vocal chords.

“I Didn't Want Them to do That to Anyone. Ever Again!”

Scrub stood there, shaking, a bloody blade still hanging loose in each hand.

His mothers stared at him, open-mouthed.

The moment stretched on.

Then something lit up in them like neon.

“You have to admit, it's a bold look.”

“Oh, for sure, honey-entrails. With a few tweaks, this is *marketable*.”

“We can tell the news-feeds that he did it to preserve his brand identity. Ditto, his gene records.”

“Ah, a classic USPlea. The court case can be his Debut. A legal Cotillion.”

“He'll need a new name.”

“Quite. Now that he's got It, he needs an identity to match.”

“What do you think, Scrub? Any blue sky ideas for your new 'nom de flair’?”

The teenager looked down at the bloody blades in his hands, then looked up at his mothers and smiled wide. He couldn't help it.

“Razor.”

The thrupple looked at each other.

“I suppose…”

“Razor is…”

“...fine.”

Arts and Crafts

Author: Razor Fine

There is a girl crying. She is being led away. There is glitter on his hands. The boy that will become Razor Fine does not understand.

But he wanted her to feel better.

So he made her a painting.

“Arts and crafts aren't your strong suit, Scrub.”

The voice behind him is disapproving. He recognises the tone all too well.

“Take it back and tear it up, nothing-child. We can't leave something like that out there to be traced back to you. Bad for the brand. Hurry up, I need to discuss this with your other parents.”

Scrub - latterly Razor Fine - gulps and walks towards the girl. He doesn't want to impact on his parents’ brand.

---

Razor Fine blinks. He doesn't know where that memory came from.

There is a someone crying now, too. Razor Fine is confused. He doesn't understand - Falconet has just taken part in a grand piece of showpersonship and capitalism. Yet she is sad.

Sure, she came out on the losing side, but every story with Real Life Drama and Edge of Your Seat Conflict has losers. Razor had his own share of losses in the bloodsport arena - and the lows made the highs all the higher. And you could barely tell the difference between the synth flesh and the flesh he was born with. No, there was no sense crying about losing.

Unless the cameras are watching of course. Tears can show the fans you care. They like it when they think you care. It sells the story.

But there are no cameras. And Razor is confused. He doesn't understand this strange woman, Falconet, and her sadness.

And yet something pings. There is sensation in his chest he doesn't know or like. Something is remembered.

---

He can hear them. His three parents. They think he can't, but he can.

Or perhaps they just think so little of him that they don't need to lower their voices.

“What's Scrub done now, my double-loves?” Fling asks, sipping from the cocktail drone that is hovering in front of her face. Behind her, a peacock's tail of lasers rises up in colours to match her mood. They're all red and spiky and wobbling dangerously.

There is the sound of a heavy sigh.

“He tried to do a picture, babythunder.” Bl00dLov3 was lifting weights in the shape of small planets. They had a whole galaxy on their shoulders. They always lifted when they were stressed. Admittedly, they lifted at most other times too.

“At least he's done *something*. Better than sitting around the domicile, being aggressively average.” BluSKY Surprise barely looked up from the holo-spreadsheet. She had assets to balance and some that needed to disappear.

“Was it a bad picture?”

“It was a terrible picture.” Bl00dLov3 added another moon to the weights. “Terrible composition. No colour synchronization. Unrealistic stick figures. If it was a person, I would have dismembered it.”

“Better than his usual dullness at least.” BluSKY still didn't look up.

“We didn't pay for top quality gene-mixology for our child to be the human version of a mid-to-bottom shelf blended whiskey. We’re a top shelf family.” Fling stamped her foot.

“What's with the booze metaphor, darling?”

“I have been drinking. Heavily.”

“To cope?”

“No, for fun. It doesn't take the edge of this *at all*.”

“The picture isn't the worst of it.”

“What could be worse than a disappointing creative endeavour, Sweetglitter?” Fling was beginning to sway unhappily.

“He gave it to a girl.” Bl00dLov3 continued.

“A girl with good brand synergy prospects?”

“No. She's in a RealityDrama that won't mesh with our brand at all. And there's more.”

“Worse than poor synergy?”

“He gave her the picture for free.”

A collective shudder passed between them.

“Every day, I'm glad we had his genetics scrubbed from the database.”

“Quite.” Bl00dLov3 finally puts the weights down. “There's a silver lining though.”

“There is, neon-dreams?”

“She was *sad*.”

It would be unfair to call their grins *evil*. But they were just as sharp as they needed to be.

---

There is a feeling in Razor Fine’s chest that he doesn't like.

He doesn't remember feeling like this before.

He has buried these memories very deep indeed.

He wants to make these feelings go away. He begins to walk towards Falconet.

---

They make Scrub watch as the girl and her family are ejected from the Cloud Level and sent to Support Level.

The exposé on the girl “cracking under the pressure” and her “failing show” had become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As the ratings plummeted and the network lost confidence, it was decided this family simply couldn't handle a starring role.

And only stars lived on Cloud Level.

As they board the HoverBus that would take them to the underlevels - her fathers struggling to load all their bags onto the crowded public transport - the girl makes eye contact with Scrub. She doesn't cry. She knows what happens now when you cry.

The boy that will grow up to be Razor Fine is aware of everything that has led to this moment. But he doesn't understand.

The one thing he does know: this is his fault.

BluSKY hands the offending picture to him. He knows what's coming.

“Tear it up now, Scrub. The only marks we leave on this world will be fabulous ones.”

He rips it up.

There is glitter on his hands.

There is a feeling inside him he doesn't like. He pushes it down.

---

“I'm not very good at Arts and Crafts.” Razor Fine says as he hands over the card.

It is addressed 'Dear Falconet’.

It is glittery.

And it is terrible.

There is a feeling in Razor Fine's chest. He doesn't like it. But he has missed it.

It's something in his nature that he has let starve.

It's something in his DNA.

It's the part of him that makes him want to comfort people who cry.

It's the part of him that wants to do Arts and Crafts even though he's terrible at it.

He wants this feeling to go away.

He wants to bury it so deep he'll never find it again.

He wants to make a crying person smile.

He wants to make her a card.

He wants this feeling to go away.