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The bus set Myriam down at a side entrance to the Peace Department building, inside the restricted-access perimeter on the east side of inner city Core Zone. Through the door, the line to the body scanner and sniffer at the security point was short, and she was not singled out on the far side for random screening. A corridor brought her to the marble-walled lobby concourse with its dominating central statue of the Leader. A series of frescos depicting the history of the Party and its struggle lined the walls on both sides. Above the high doors leading through into the main body of the building was a huge plaque bearing the State emblem of a swooping falcon, its wings spread and talons extended. Myriam took an elevator down to Sub-level Four, and arrived in the vestibule of Telesupport Operations less than fifty minutes after her wake-up call had sounded.

She arrived at the cubicle containing station for Watch Seventeen and hung her coat on the rack by the entrance from the aisle. Nathan, who was on night shift that week, had already activated the handover screen. He was tall and lean, with dark hair cropped short above a wan, spot-marred face rendered all the more bloodless by his gray, high-collared, work tunic. "There's been activity in the Abheradan sector," he told her" as he stood up to let her take the seat at the console. "Alert condition is at Orange-Two. Analyzer returns Subversive Probability at eighty-two percent."

Myriam nodded as she scanned over the summary displays and checked the log, following procedure meticulously. Nathan watched with a neutral expression. Nobody would compromise their record and risk disciplinary action failing to report an irregularity in procedure on the part of someone else. Personal affections undermined the first loyalty taught, which was to the State, and were discouraged from an early age. State enemies could appear in any shape or form. The complications that emotional conflicts led to were best avoided.

"Good." Myriam entered her ID and request to transfer the task supervisory status. A readout confirmed and requested her authorization code.

"What kind of a day is it?" Nathan inquired, pulling on a dark gaberdine overcoat.

"Gray and cold. It rained last night."

"Okay, then. . . . I'll see you tomorrow."

"Tomorrow."

Nathan left. Myriam slipped on the headset providing phones and imaging spectacles, which at that moment were presenting a copy of the Sector Summary screen. She selected a surveillance drone making a routine circuit in the north-central plateau region, and switched the sensor channel to "Live." Moments later, she was looking down over a scene of sandy hills speckled by clumps of scrub and brush, with greener gullies carving their way down to a winding river. For several seconds, she allowed herself to savor the illusion that she really was ten thousand miles away above a valley in a distant land of strangeness and mystery, breathing the air of its warm winds. Just for a moment, she let herself forget that it was seditious even to think of such things, and imagined that there could be an escape from the gray world of gray tunics, gray clouds, and the city's gray, brooding facades, to one where the sun shone from clear skies over unfenced lands, and the water flowed free from the mountains to the ocean.

"Item Check." The synthetic voice of the Activity Analyzer sounded in her phones. At the same time, a graticule appeared on the image, along with coordinate details in the margins. Myriam voiced a zoom command, and the graticule enlarged. The view showed some sheds approached by a track from the river's edge. Figures were standing in front of what looked like a pump-house serving a pipe that ran up to an earth-banked reservoir feeding the surrounding system of irrigation channels.

"Item Check." In a village two miles or so away, a crowd in gaily colored dress was gathering for what could have been a wedding celebration. Myriam directed the drone onto a course that would enable closer examination.

Peaceful and innocuous as such first impressions might seem, these were the sources who served the State's enemies by sustaining the rebel armies abroad, and traitors and saboteurs nearer home. They provided their recruiting and training grounds. The State's survival depended on being vigilant at all times, everywhere.

A red annunciator flag appeared in Myriam's visual field. The Analyzer intoned, "Query condition. Intervention indicated." It meant that an AI assigned to monitoring a condition tagged as "Sensitive" had spotted something that warranted human assessment. Myriam decoupled from the drone and returned to Sector Summary. The highlighted item was the situation at Abheradan that Nathan had mentioned. She connected to the device on station there, which the had already brought down to lower altitude. Its transmission showed a warehouse or factory building standing amid narrow streets and alleys in a densely built part of a town. The area seemed to be primarily residential, made up for the most part of houses with balconies, arches, and high, flat roofs. In a small open yard at the front of the building, facing a crowded street, a truck loaded with lettuces was standing in front of a large, open door. A box inset above the image summarized the AI's reasons for determining an alert condition.

The estimated amount of lettuces shipped from the surrounding area in the past few weeks was out of line with the figures for rainfall, yields of other produce, and the statistics for earlier years. The truck type was unusually heavy for this kind of work. Two similar, over-heavy trucks carrying lettuces had been observed on the road from this area in the past twenty-four hours. Other activity in this sector [reference link provided] has already yielded an alert condition at 82%.

Myriam consulted the referenced details. An independent intelligence report from some months earlier had identified the building as a suspected supply dump and meeting point for guerrilla forces operating in that area. Overnight electronic intercepts indicated a known recruiter and organizer of munitions shipments to be in the vicinity.

She returned her attention to the image. Figures had appeared and were moving around the truck in apparent agitation. Another alert flag appeared, accompanied by the announcement in her phones, "Signal analyzer detects strong Q-band spectrum sweeping. Consistent with attempt to jam transmission. Executing countermeasures." This needed to be referred higher. Myriam consolidated the situation outline and sent a request for the Duty Operations Controller to patch in. A few seconds later, an acknowledgment flag appeared on her status screen. Then the Controller's voice came over in her phones.

"Let's see, what have we got here? . . . Oh, these guys again, eh? I've been expecting something like this. Uh . . . Uh-huh. . . . And there's an ECM beam active, Watch Seventeen? That's definite?"

"JF evaluation positive," Myriam confirmed.

"Uh-huh." A short silence followed, giving way to the barely audible sound of the Controller humming to himself. Myriam waited. Ten thousand miles away, one of the figures by the truck was gesticulating wildly at the others. Somebody who had come out of the open door from the building was running toward the cab. In the street beyond the yard in front, people were milling around a bus with baggage and bicycles on its roof.

"Crosscheck affirms," another voice, female, said from somewhere.

There had been a bus in one of the dreams. . . .

"Okay. Are you there, Watch Seventeen?"

"Sir."

"It's a hostile. Code Red, authorization Seven-Peter-Bravo-Fifty-Six. Deliver for effect--the truck and the building."

Myriam brought up the equipment designator box, entered the clearance code, and selected two APX-3 explosive and fragmentation, followed by one IP-7 incendiary. Verification confirmed. Target locks confirmed. Warheads armed. Fire control showing Ready.

 
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