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Grève (Thursday, 2012 April 12)

April 15th, 2012

The arm-bands are nice and all but the first sign I saw of things changing on Zhen was militias drilling. It was the second-most surprising thing that happened that day. The first-most surprising was that Morgan called. I was so stunned that for a second I answered the phone.

"What’s up?" I asked. She was standing against a building, and her eyes weren’t tracking me — she was looking out over the phone at something else.

"Hi Sandiego. This is Morgan."

"Yes," I said.

"How are you?"

"Fine." Apart from the surprise of seeing her name on the phone, everything was nominal: heartbeat regular, tone of voice even and level. No problems whatsoever. "What’s up?"

"Just checking in. Have you seen these field exercises? Have I gone crazy or are the authorities really that ignorant?"

"Not sure myself. There’s no weapons, maybe they’re in a loophole somewhere. Like maybe they’re registered as a yoga class or something."

"Yeah, I think mine are a cheerleader squad. They’ve got pom-poms. I guess I’m calling you because I’m afraid I’ll find out that they really are cheerleaders." She tucked her hair behind her ear. When she was quiet, I could hear the shouts and callouts in the background. She was probably watching a local militia. "It’s a nice change of pace from the armbands, though."

"It’s definitely encouraging. We must be doing a great job."

She met my eyes, but she didn’t agree. "How’s school? Is it a ghost town like ours?"

"No, we have students. What’s going on over there?"

"I think the students are training too. Or maybe they know something I don’t."

"That seems unlikely to me."

"Hah. I’ll keep you posted."

"Got it. Signing off." And then I cut the connection.

I wanted to get another look at the village militia so I followed the trail around the back of the hill to the stadium, normally used for sports but commandeered by a bunch of people. None were wearing armbands — plausible deniability? I guess the peculiar jagged dancing might have looked less like battle if I hadn’t been looking for it. But sure enough, there was a local sheriff watching them too, looking, well, complacent. Maybe he hadn’t had enough military training to recognize drills.

As I watched, one of the "dancers" noticed me. He was a big one, muscled and sweaty, with a scar over the corner of his head, and he had just made a series of gestures similar to what you would do to dislocate a joint. He looked me up and down, and he didn’t like what he saw. He narrowed his eyes and his fringe popped up like an angry lizard’s. He bared his teeth and made as though to advance towards me. Suddenly I wondered if Zhen resentment against Sumi extended to all offworlders. I backed up a few steps and then turned and walked away as fast as I could without looking like I was running.

This was the first time on Zhen that I’d felt fear.

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