Chapter Three

Surveillant Forty-six nudged the telescope a touch to the left with the foot pedal. It took a couple of seconds for the transaction engine to balance the array of mirrors, the image in the rubber face-glove losing focus before returning to sharpness with a clack — clack — clack. From the corner of his eye, Surveillant Forty-six could see the other surveillants riding the cantilevered brass tubes, cushioned red seats attached underneath the large cannon shapes of the telescopes.

The scopes followed the arc of the monitorarium, curving around the inside wall of the sphere. A gantry and rail ran behind their telescopes, monitors in grey court-issue greatcoats treading the iron plates. You could almost see the chill in the monitorarium — no heat that might interfere with the operation of the viewings.

‘Your report please.’ It was Monitor Eighty-one. She was always brusque and efficient. The wires in his earphones looped back to the gantry, to a voice trumpet where Eighty-one was bending down to speak.

The monitor was one of the new batch, fresh out of training, one of the ones who thought that relaying reports through, was the same as reporting to. He harrumphed. She lacked even the slight worldsinger craft the surveillants practised. Kicking her feet along the gantry in her fur-lined boots to prevent frostbite, unable to heat her body with her mind. Wearing one of the surveillant’s own leather skins would see her frozen to death in a telescope sling before the end of her first watch. Unable even to modify her blood after sampling one of the many potions the surveillants took to stay awake and focused, weeks at a shift.

‘This unit is still pulling slightly to the left,’ complained Surveillant Forty-six. ‘I thought a mechomancer had taken the telescope up to the maintenance level.’

‘Stop your whining,’ hissed the monitor. ‘This is a priority observation — someone could be listening. It might be for the old lady herself. You lose the plot on this job and there’ll be bloody analysts crawling all over us. Just give me your report.’

The surveillant held his tongue. Priority it may be, but not high enough to get his scope pulled out of the monitorarium and into the maintenance schedule, it seemed. ‘Target’s aerostat arrived at the Hundred Locks field as scheduled. Target was escorted to the contact’s house, as anticipated. Target has remained there for the last seven hours. Do you have any analyst predictions or instructions?’

‘There is an eighty-seven per cent chance the target will remain in the house for the next sixteen hours. Maintain surveillance.’

The surveillant sighed. ‘Preparing for night-time sighting.’ He pulled a drinking tube from the telescope, supping at the orange gloop that dribbled out. The potion warmed his skull as sparks fireworked across his eyes; the brew’s night vision would last until sunrise. As the liquid coursed through his body, he reached inside himself with one of the worldsinger magics, rendering the potion inert before it struck his liver, where the strange brew would have ruptured that organ into a broiled stew.

He gazed back into the rubber mask and centred the view on the smokeless chimney of Seventy Star Hall. True to form, the scope slid to the left. He cursed the bureaucrats of the Court. Silently.

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