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The orchard and quiet zone both turned out to belong to a farm that stretched across a significant chunk of North Dakota, from the Little Missouri grasslands to the east almost as far as Fargo to the west, north halfway to the Canadian border. Clair's portion of the airship had come down on the southern edge of the farm, near a ghost town called New Salem. Two human generations earlier, a farm would have seemed perfectly normal. Now, with fabbers responsible for generating food for everyone on the planet (everyone who wasn't an Abstainer) cultivated plants for anything other than decoration were a rarity. And even then, the perfect rose only had to be grown once; copied, it could be reproduced as many times as desired, complete with dew.

There was another reason beside food and decoration that humans had grown plants, and some even believed it was the driving force behind the earliest forms of agriculture: to make alcohol and drugs, two demons that had either addled human intelligence or been a potent force for intellectual growth, depending on the agenda. A perfectly satisfactory drug could be copied as easily as the perfect rose, but nature was a tireless laboratory technician, eternally creating new compounds with unknown effects on human brain chemistry. Places were rumoured to exist where cultivars were deliberately crossed or randomly mutated to see what psychoactive substances they produced -and strictly speaking what people did in such places wasn't illegal, just as long as they didn't try to traffic what they made.

The more I studied the quiet zone, the more certain I became that this was what I had found. Why else the impenetrable security? The farm would need to defend itself from people trying to steal their seeds, as well as the peacekeepers. And how else to explain the connection to WHOLE? Honour among thieves, I thought. An illegal farm could supply biological agents for potential terrorist strikes, while a means of moving people and cargo that didn't involve d-mat would be useful for the farmers. The two groups would share a natural affinity, even if their goals didn't completely overlap.

All this I learned from peacekeeper files preserved under moderate security in the Air. Few charges had stuck to anyone associated with this particular farm, but it was known, and it was monitored. Movements to and from were meticulously logged. The area was so vast, though, and so much of it was overgrown, that comprehensive surveillance was impossible. There were means of moving around, I was sure, that wouldn't be seen.

And then there was the matter of information. It had to be leaking somewhere, both in and out. No firewall was complete-not where modern technology was certain to be operating. I probed every lead I could think of, certain that I was missing something. All I had to do was keep looking and I was sure I would find it.

As it turned out, someone else found it first.

And then I found them, not a moment too soon.

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