Maud walked out onto the ITB sky bridge. It was a cool, calm Wyoming night. She reached into her safecase and activated a loafer. It had no mission, so its navigation and propulsion kept it stationary in mid-air. Maud checked its systems, then downloaded an assignment from her ptenda into the L-4R661. A moment later, the loafer sailed off into the haze of city lights.

It would be seven loafers tonight. She regretted the ones visiting new recruits, as it always offended some of them, but it was standard procedure, especially with the level of surveillance Varghese demanded. They needed to be vigilant for moles.

She estimated ten minutes for L-4R661 to reach its destination. Maud lingered outside, enjoying the air and stillness high above ground. She looked at the sky and saw the dull red point of Mars staring back.

Maud walked back to her office and sat. She glanced at the displays. The loafer reached a building and ascended. She brewed a pot of tea as the climb continued. When L-4R661 paused to scan the exterior privacy wall, Maud casually entered the compstate security codes allowing unfettered access to a private apartment.

A few minutes passed, and the loafer reported an empty apartment. It would lie in stasis until activity prompted a return to surveillance mode.

A perimeter alarm in her antechamber noted and identified the visitor. She sighed and opened a link.

“Good evening, Wilmer,” she said.

“Protector Van Decker, may I please have a word with you?”

She closed her eyes and shook her head. Tactical error. She shouldn’t have mentioned to him that nightly reconnaissance might yield his next mission.

“Not now, Wilmer. Go home. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

She could tell that Wilmer wanted to say something further, but didn’t have the courage to force a meeting. He turned and left.

She looked again at the loafers’ telemetries, and belatedly activated their backup systems. The backups made the loafers more expensive, but, as she put it to Varghese, it also meant they lost less. Maud disliked failed missions.

Five of the loafers had found their target regions, no issues flagged. They began their surveillance.

“Tell me something,” she said to the screens.

Corey OstmanPort Casper