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Authors: Jr. L. E. Modesitt

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BOOK: Haze and the Hammer of Darkness
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In the end, after all his prodding and investigating, Roget could detect nothing except what he had observed. What he saw disturbed him a great deal. The cabin was simple, but it had heat and a power source for cooking. But there was no source of artificial light. It was spotless, as if it were scarcely used, yet there was no sign of recent construction. The exterior looked to be years old, and it was situated on a trail that had been traveled regularly, if infrequently, for years.

Roget was tired. The last two days had been long—very long. He decided to spend the night in the building. The back of the door did have a sturdy metal bolt that could be slid into place to lock the building. While the cabin might be a trap, that didn't make sense. But then, he had the feeling that not much about Haze was likely to make sense. He did know that anyone who could build such a structure wouldn't have much more trouble running him down in the forest than cornering him in the building.

That, too, was disturbing.

Still, after he'd eaten and was ready to go to bed on one of the bunk shelves, he locked the door and wedged a chair behind it. He hoped he'd be able to get some sleep.

 

6

12 LIANYU 6744
F. E.

Roget wore the white singlesuit of an energy and water monitor, if without insignia. He sat alone on the aisle in the second double seat on the left in the electrotram that ran down the center of the boulevard, flanked on each side by lightly traveled lanes. Back in the glory days of the United States of America, St. George had once been a small city. Now it was just a large town, an old, old town that had baked in the sun of Noram District 32 for the millennium and more since the founding of the Federation.

Almost all the neat stone dwellings were roofed with solar arrays designed to resemble ancient ceramic tiles, and most had shaded rear courtyards. Beyond the town limits, red rocks and sand and dry mountains stretched in every direction, with a towering bluff on the immediate west end of the town proper and a ridge along the north side of the town, with a gap in it to the northeast, a gap blasted out in the old days that had allowed expansion to the northeast. Coming in by the single maglev line that ended on the northeast end of St. George, Roget had noted the track of the old highway where it deviated from the maglev route, and he'd wondered why the maglev hadn't been extended through that gap. It hadn't, though.

As the tram neared 200 East and the stop there, Roget glanced to the south, taking in the shimmering white of the ancient Temple. Close as it was to a thousand years old, it was still a replica. The original had been destroyed in the first War of Confederation, but once it was clear that the violent hostilities were over, the local Saints had rebuilt it faithfully, although it had taken some thirty years because times had been so difficult. But then, they'd rebuilt their original temple at Nauvoo twice.

They'd also cleared the ground so that a hundred-yard-wide greenbelt ran the nine blocks between the boulevard and the Temple. Similar greenbelts ran from the Temple to the south, east, and west. The ground cover was desert green, good at retaining water, but off-limits to pedestrians or anything else weight-bearing. The Saints didn't seem to mind, and there hadn't been many tourists since the Federation had imposed regional energy curbs and geometrical incremental pricing nearly a millennium before. Not that there had been that many once the Virgin River dam had been completed and blocked the old overland route through the gorge to Mesquite. Only scholars in clean-suits visited the still-radioactive ruins of Las Vegas or the giant concrete ruins of the Hoover Dam. Other scholars visited the Saint Genealogy Center on the south side of the Temple. The Saints had an interest in all aspects of genealogy that bordered on obsession.

Peaceful as it looked to Roget, and notwithstanding the colonel's assurances, he had his doubts. The previous Federation Security agent—acting as a nature photographer—had died in an “accident” while hiking. The accident had been a loose boulder that had knocked him unconscious in the midday summer heat. His body and equipment had been found three days later, and his death had been reported as heat dehydration. One agent-captain Keir Roget had been assigned to investigate. Roget didn't think it would be the almost-vacation the colonel had promised after Roget's efforts against the Taiyuan economic terrorists. Not that he could do anything about it, but he still wondered exactly what had happened to Sulynn and who she really was.

His cover in St. George was as a regional E&W water monitor. The man holding the position—an actual monitor—had been promoted and transferred to Colorado Springs. Roget was listed on the payroll and everywhere else as a temporary replacement.

The only information Roget had was a list of four names: Brendan B. Smith, Mitchell Leavitt, William Dane, and Bensen Sorensen. He'd run searches on all four. Smith managed the local data/print center that specialized in Saint-oriented religious and entertainment material. Leavitt was a collateralizer. Dane was the assistant manager of the Deseret First Bank's local branch. Sorensen operated a guesthouse complex for Saint pilgrims and the infrequent tourists.

When the tram halted at the 200 East station at a quarter to eight, Roget exited by the front door, along with the other men, and one couple. Only a handful of unaccompanied women left by the rear doors. The station platform was of hardened and polished native Navaho sandstone. So were the columns supporting the roof that held the photovoltaic arrays. Of necessity, such systems topped all public structures in southern Noram that did not have historic significance.

He stepped from the shade of the platform onto the stone sidewalk that stretched northward toward the Red Hills Bluff and the Federation Services Station. A bronze plaque on a sandstone pedestal offered a local map. Prominent on it were the Temple and the summer home of the second Saint prophet, the one who had laid the groundwork for the Saint faith to become a world power before the wars of consolidation and federation.

Just beyond the station was a small shop. A woman had just unlocked the door and was raising the blinds. Her blond hair was French-braided, like that of most married women, at least those older than twenty-five whom Roget had seen over the past day in St. George.

The window featured mannequins displaying female attire, mainly below the knee dresses in subdued shades with brilliant flashthreads. There was one feminine singlesuit set in the corner, as if as an afterthought. Except for the shimmer of those threads, the dresses would not have been out of place in ancient Deseret or the state of Utah that had followed that short-lived Mormon dominance of the Noram southwest.

Ahead on Roget's left was a small café. “
JOHN D. LEE HOUSE
” proclaimed the modest sign above the windows that were already darkening in response to the intensifying sunlight. Most of the tables were taken by men. He only saw one couple—both white-haired.

He glanced westward across 200 East at another restaurant—Lupe's. There, two Sudams with their darker skins emerged from the doorway and hurried toward the tram. They wore the darker blue denims of manual workers. Another man walked toward the café from a battered electrocoupe parked at the curb behind a small lorry. A shaggy brown dog was tied in the open bed of the lorry, and it was already panting. Roget frowned, but he couldn't do anything. The dog wasn't being overtly abused, and it wasn't running free, something not allowed in environmentally fragile areas like St. George.

Roget took his time walking the four long blocks uphill to the Federation Services Station on the north side of where 200 East ended at Red Hills Boulevard. Already the temperature was over thirty. Even on fall days such as the one he was beginning, the afternoon temperature was often above forty-five degrees. He didn't want to think about how hot it would be in the height of summer.

The vent-weave of his singlesuit kept him from getting too hot. He was still sweating when he stepped into the cooler air of the FSS entry hall. There, a single guard sat behind a gray synthstone-fronted stone desk. Roget's implants sensed the energy fields around the man and around the screening gate beside the guard position.

Before Roget reached the gate, the scanners picked up his imbedded ID. Many had tried to counterfeit Federation IDs. A very few had succeeded. The rest had vanished.

“Good morning, sir,” offered the guard. “What can we do for you?”

“I'm Keir Roget. Reporting for work as an E&W monitor.”

“Last door on the left at the end, sir.”

“Thank you.” Roget stepped through the gate without any alarms being triggered and walked down the long corridor.

At the end he opened the door on the left and stepped through it. He closed it behind himself. The man who rose from the wide console filled with datascreens had silvering black hair and an oval face. His skin was an olive tan that minimized the blackness of his eyes. He smiled but did not speak.

“Keir Roget, sir. Are you head monitor Sung?”

“Elrik Sung, and we're not all that formal here, Keir. St. George is smaller than it looks, and formality wears thin when you're a minority. Those of us who are Feds or multis are a very small minority.”

That was something Roget had been briefed on, in far more depth than a standard monitor would have received. So he nodded again. “Is fraternization a problem?”

“Yours. Not theirs. Everyone will smile and be quite polite and friendly, and you'll be fortunate to have been invited to two Saint houses in the course of a year. Both of those, if they happen, will be to determine whether they think they can convert you.” Sung motioned. “Over here. Let's get your ID into the system.”

Roget stepped toward the chief monitor.

Sung lifted a tube scanner, then turned to the console. “Enter. Personnel. Code follows.” He straightened, gesturing to the wall display with the shifting views of St. George and the various data-drops. “There. Now the guards won't question you every time you come in. Here's the main console, not that you'll spend all that much time here after today and tomorrow. It's like every other one you've seen. The system analyzes what it finds and offers a set of prioritized options. Then it sends you out to verify what's happening. You never inform or confront the offender. If asked, you just say that you're checking systems. I'm certain your training has emphasized that, but I want to reemphasize it. You just confirm and document the situation and enter the report. If it's a criminal offense, the local security patrollers will deal with it. If it's merely a civil offense, the power board will issue the requisite compensatory levy. Our job is strictly to verify and certify any excessive use of energy or any escape of water beyond the minimums. I'm not sending you out on verification immediately. They're a little old-fashioned here. I'd prefer that you have at least a basic familiarity with the local geography and usage patterns first. Also, it won't hurt if you're seen around town for a few days.”

Roget nodded. He'd almost said, “Yes, sir.” Instead, he asked, “You want me to take the console and learn what I can?”

“That's right.” Sung pointed to a pair of narrow built-in desks with small screens and two drawers inset into the wall. “When you're not on the main console or out on verification, the one on the left is yours.”

“Thank you.”

“Go ahead and take the main console. You'll get better visuals there.”

Roget slipped into the thermacool seat. Following Sung's indoctrination protocol was fine with him. The more quickly he learned about St. George the better. He glanced up. “Is there any area or sector where I should start or where I need to be wary?”

“The Temple complex has a 10 percent variance under the religious leeway provisions. That includes the Tabernacle. Also, there's a history of faint geothermal activity to the east of Middleton Ridge. You won't notice that, if at all, except on cool winter nights.”

“They haven't tapped it?”

“According to the old surveys, there's not enough volume for consistent power, and it's right along the fault line. No one here has the yuan to do that kind of speculative exploration and development, and no one elsewhere has any reason to fund such a low-yield project.”

Roget nodded once more.

“I'll leave you to get yourself familiarized, and I'll check back in a bit. I need to attend the weekly supervisors' meeting.” Sung stepped through the side door into what had to be his private office, then returned almost immediately and departed.

Roget linked to the system through his implants, using only those standard for an energy and water monitor. He had no idea who had betrayed the previous agent, or what systems had been compromised. He did know that any new Federation employee in St. George would be scrutinized closely.

In less than half an hour, he had a solid overview and understanding of both energy and water usage patterns, along with daily and current comps. The inputs came from hundreds of thousands of minute sensors across and within St. George, all integrated and tabulated by the systems beneath the FSS building. Energy and water use defined a culture, from those who were a part of it to those who wanted to change it or overthrow it. Even with a stable planetary population of three billion, there weren't enough resources for the kind of profligate squandering that had marked the last days of the Saint-dominated Noram Confederation.

The Sino-Fed mandarins had learned the lessons of history. Let the market system allocate resources, and make sure everyone has the minimum for bare comfort, but ensure that excessive uses or waste required extraordinarily high recompense. Equally important was the understanding that whoever controlled energy, communications, and water controlled society. Food could always be found, made, or stolen, and the same was true of weapons. Industrious and inventive humans could turn anything into a weapon.

BOOK: Haze and the Hammer of Darkness
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