Chapter Eighteen: Miller
The death of the Donnager hit Ceres like a hammer striking a gong. Newsfeeds clogged themselves with high-power telescopic footage of the battle, most if not all of it faked. The Belt chatter swam with speculation about a secret OPA fleet. The six ships that had taken down the Martian flagship were hailed as heroes and martyrs. Slogans like We did it once and we can do it again and Drop some rocks cropped up even in apparently innocuous settings.
The Canterbury had stripped away the complacency of the Belt, but the Donnager had done something worse. It had taken away the fear. The Belters had gotten a sudden, decisive, and unexpected win. Anything seemed possible, and the hope seduced them.
It would have scared Miller more if he'd been sober.
Miller's alarm had been going off for the past ten minutes. The grating buzz took on subtones and overtones when he listened to it long enough. A constant rising tone, fluttering percussion throbbing under it, even soft music hiding underneath the blare. Illusions. Aural hallucinations. The voice of the whirlwind.
The previous night's bottle of fungal faux bourbon sat on the bedside table where a carafe of water usually waited. It still had a couple fingers at the bottom. Miller considered the soft brown of the liquid, thought about how it would feel on his tongue.
The beautiful thing about losing your illusions, he thought, was that you got to stop pretending. All the years he'd told himself that he was respected, that he was good at his job, that all his sacrifices had been made for a reason fell away and left him with the clear, unmuddied knowledge that he was a functional alcoholic who had pared away everything good in his own life to make room for anesthetic. Shaddid thought he was a joke. Muss thought he was the price she paid not to sleep with someone she didn't like. The only one who might have any respect for him at all was Havelock, an Earther. It was peaceful, in its way. He could stop making the effort to keep up appearances. If he stayed in bed listening to the alarm drone, he was just living up to expectations. No shame in that.
And still there was work to be done. He reached over and turned off the alarm. Just before it cut off, he heard a voice in it, soft but insistent. A woman's voice. He didn't know what she'd been saying. But since she was just in his head, she'd get another chance later.
He levered himself out of bed, sucked down some painkillers and rehydration goo, stalked to the shower, and burned a day and a half's ration of hot water just standing there, watching his legs get pink. He dressed in his last set of clean clothes. Breakfast was a bar of pressed yeast and grape sweetener. He dropped the bourbon from the bedside table into the recycler without finishing it, just to prove to himself that he still could.
Muss was waiting at the desk. She looked up when he sat.
"Still waiting for the labs on the rape up on eighteen," she said. "They promised them by lunch."
"We'll see," Miller said.
"I've got a possible witness. Girl who was with the vic earlier in the evening. Her deposition said she left before anything happened, but the security cameras aren't backing her up."
"Want me in the questioning?" Miller asked.
"Not yet. But if I need some theater, I'll pull you in."
Miller didn't watch her walk away. After a long moment staring at nothing, he pulled up his disk partition, reviewed what still needed doing, and started cleaning the place up.
As he worked, his mind replayed for the millionth time the slow, humiliating interview with Shaddid and Dawes. We have Holden, Dawes said. You can't even find what happened to your own riot gear. Miller poked at the words like a tongue at the gap of a missing tooth. It rang true. Again.
Still, it might have been bullshit. It might have been a story concocted just to make him feel small. There wasn't any proof, after all, that Holden and his crew had survived. What proof could there be? The Donnanger was gone, and all its logs along with it. There would have to have been a ship that made it out. Either a rescue vessel or one of the Martian escort ships. There was no way a ship could have gotten out and not been the singular darling of every newsfeed and pirate cast since. You couldn't keep something like that quiet.
Or sure you could. It just wouldn't be easy. He squinted at the empty air of the station house. Now. How would you cover up a surviving ship?
Miller pulled up a cheap navigation plotter he'd bought five years before - transit times had figured in a smuggling case - and plotted the date and position of the Donnager's demise. Anything running under non-Epstein thrust would still have been out there, and Martian warships would have either picked it up or blasted it into background radiation by now. So if Dawes wasn't just handing him bullshit, that meant an Epstein drive. He ran a couple quick calculations. With a good drive, someone could have made Ceres in just less than a month. Call it three weeks to be safe.
He looked at the data for almost ten minutes, but the next step didn't come to him, so he stepped away, got some coffee, and pulled up the interview he and Muss had done with a Belter ground-crew grunt. The man's face was long and cadaverous and subtly cruel. The recorder hadn't had a good fix on him, so the picture kept bouncing around. Muss asked the man what he'd seen, and Miller leaned forward to read the transcribed answers, checking for incorrectly recognized words. Thirty seconds later, the grunt said clip whore and the transcript read clipper. Miller corrected it, but the back of his mind kept churning.
Probably eight or nine hundred ships came into Ceres in a given day. Call it a thousand to be safe. Give it a couple days on either side of the three-week mark, that was only four thousand entries. Pain in the ass, sure, but not impossible. Ganymede would be the other real bitch. With its agriculture, there would be hundreds of transports a day there. Still, it wouldn't double the workload. Eros. Tycho. Pallas. How many ships docked on Pallas every day?
He'd missed almost two minutes of the recording. He started again, forcing himself to pay attention this time, and half an hour later, he gave up.
The ten busiest ports with two days to either side of an estimated arrival of an Epstein-drive ship that originated when and where the Donnager died totaled twenty-eight thousand docking records, more or less. But he could cut that down to seventeen thousand if he excluded stations and ports explicitly run by Martian military and research stations with all or nearly all inner planets inhabitants. So how long would it take him to check all the porting records by hand, pretending for a minute that he was stupid enough to do it? Call it 118 days - if he didn't eat or sleep. Just working ten-hour days, doing nothing else, he could almost get through it in less than a year. A little less.
Except no. Because there were ways to narrow it. He was only looking for Epstein drive ships. Most of the traffic at any of the ports would be local. Torch drive ships flown by prospectors and short-hop couriers. The economics of spaceflight made relatively few and relatively large ships the right answer for long flights. So take it down by, conservatively, three-quarters, and he was back in the close-to-four-thousand range again. Still hundreds of hours of work, but if he could think of some other filter that would just feed him the likely suspects... For instance, if the ship couldn't have filed a flight plan before the Donnager got killed.
The request interface for the port logs was ancient, uncomfortable, and subtly different from Eros to Ganymede to Pallas and on and on. Miller tacked the information requests on to seven different cases, including a month-old cold case on which he was only a consultant. Port logs were public and open, so he didn't particularly need his detective status to hide his actions. With any luck Shaddid's monitoring of him wouldn't extend to low-level, public-record poking around. And even if it did, he might get the replies before she caught on.
Never knew if you had any luck left unless you pushed it. Besides, there wasn't a lot to lose.
When the connection from the lab opened on his terminal, he almost jumped. The technician was a gray-haired woman with an unnaturally young face.
"Miller? Muss with you?"
"Nope," Miller said. "She's got an interrogation."
He was pretty sure that was what she'd said. The tech shrugged.
"Well, her system's not answering. I wanted to tell you we got a match off the rape you sent us. It wasn't the boyfriend. Her boss did it."
Miller nodded. "You put in for the warrant?" he asked.
"Yep," she said. "It's already in the file."
Miller pulled it up: STAR HELIX ON BEHALF OF CERES STATION AUTHORIZES AND MANDATES THE DETENTION OF IMMANUEL CORVUS DOWD PENDING ADJUDICATION OF SECURITY INCIDENT CCS-4949231. The judge's digital signature was listed in green. He felt a slow smile on his lips.
"Thanks," he said.
On the way out of the station, one of the vice squads asked him where he was headed. He said lunch.
The Arranha Accountancy Group had their offices in the nice part of the governmental quarter in sector seven. It wasn't Miller's usual stomping grounds, but the warrant was good on the whole station. Miller went to the secretary at the front desk - a good-looking Belter with a starburst pattern embroidered on his vest - and explained that he needed to speak with Immanuel Corvus Dowd. The secretary's deep-brown skin took on an ashy tone. Miller stood back, not blocking the exit, but keeping close.
Twenty minutes later, an older man in a good suit came through the front door, stopped in front of Miller, and looked him up and down.
"Detective Miller?" the man said.
"You'd be Dowd's lawyer," Miller said cheerfully.
"I am, and I would like to - "
"Really," Miller said. "We should do this now."
The office was clean and spare with light blue walls that lit themselves from within. Dowd sat at the table. He was young enough that he still looked arrogant, but old enough to be scared. Miller nodded to him.
"You're Immanuel Corvus Dowd?" he said.
"Before you continue, Detective," the lawyer said, "my client is involved with very high-level negotiations. His client base includes some of the most important people in the war effort. Before you make any accusations, you should be aware that I can and will have everything you've done reviewed, and if there is one mistake, you will be held responsible."
"Mr. Dowd," Miller said. "What I am about to do to you is literally the only bright spot in my day. If you could see your way clear to resisting arrest, I'd really appreciate it."
"Harry?" Dowd said, looking to his lawyer. His voice cracked a little.
The lawyer shook his head.
Back at the police cart, Miller took a long moment. Dowd, handcuffed in the back, where everyone walking by could see him, was silent. Miller pulled up his hand terminal, noted the time of arrest, the objections of the lawyer, and a few other minor comments. A young woman in professional dress of cream-colored linen hesitated at the door of the accountancy. Miller didn't recognize her; she was no one involved with the rape case, or at least not the one he was working. Her face had the expressionless calm of a fighter. He turned, craning his neck to look at Dowd, humiliated and not looking back. The woman shifted her gaze to Miller. She nodded once. Thank you.
He nodded back. Just doing my job.
She went through the door.
Two hours later, Miller finished the last of the paperwork and sent Dowd off to the cells.
Three and a half hours later, the first of his docking log requests came in.
Five hours later, the government of Ceres collapsed.
Despite being full, the station house was silent. Detectives and junior investigators, patrolmen and desk workers, the high and the low, they all gathered before Shaddid. She stood at her podium, her hair pulled back tight. She wore her Star Helix uniform, but the insignia had been removed. Her voice was shaky.
"You've all heard this by now, but starting now, it's official. The United Nations, responding to requests from Mars, is withdrawing from its oversight and... protection of Ceres Station. This is a peaceful transition. This is not a coup. I'm going to say that again. This isn't a coup. Earth is pulling out of here, we aren't pushing."
"That's bullshit, sir," someone shouted. Shaddid raised her hand.
"There's a lot of loose talk," Shaddid said. "I don't want to hear any of it from you. The governor's going to make the formal announcement at the start of the next shift, and we'll get more details then. Until we hear otherwise, the Star Helix contract is still in place. A provisional government is being formed with members drawn from local business and union representation. We are still the law on Ceres, and I expect you to behave appropriately. You will all be here for your shifts. You will be here on time. You will act professionally and within the scope of standard practice."
Miller looked over at Muss. His partner's hair was still unkempt from the pillow. It was pushing midnight for them both.
"Any questions?" Shaddid said in a voice that implied there ought not be.
Who's going to pay Star Helix? Miller thought. What laws are we enforcing? What does Earth know that makes walking away from the biggest port in the Belt the smart move?
Who's going to negotiate your peace treaty now?
Muss, seeing Miller's gaze, smiled.
"Guess we're hosed," Miller said.
"Had to happen," Muss agreed. "I better go. Got a stop to make."
"Up at the core?"
Muss didn't answer, because she didn't have to. Ceres didn't have laws. It had police. Miller headed back to his hole. The station hummed, the stone beneath him vibrating from the countless docking clamps and reactor cores, tubes and recyclers and pneumatics. The stone was alive, and he'd forgotten the small signs that proved it. Six million people lived here, breathed this air. Fewer than in a middle-sized city on Earth. He wondered if they were expendable.
Had it really gone so far that the inner planets would be willing to lose a major station? It seemed like it had if Earth was abandoning Ceres. The OPA would step in, whether it wanted to or not. The power vacuum was too great. Then Mars would call it an OPA coup. Then... Then what? Board it and put it under martial law? That was the good answer. Nuke it into dust? He couldn't quite bring himself to believe that either. There was just too much money involved. Docking fees alone would fuel a small national economy. And Shaddid and Dawes - much as he hated it - were right. Ceres under Earth contract had been the best hope for a negotiated peace.
Was there someone on Earth who didn't want that peace? Someone or something powerful enough to move the glacial bureaucracy of the United Nations to take action?
"What am I looking at, Julie?" he said to the empty air. "What did you see out there that's worth Mars and the Belt killing each other?"
The station hummed to itself, a quiet, constant sound too soft for him to hear the voices within it.
Muss didn't come to work in the morning, but there was a message on his system telling him she'd be in late. "Cleanup" was her only explanation.
To look at it, nothing about the station house had changed. The same people coming to the same place to do the same thing. No, that wasn't true. The energy was high. People were smiling, laughing, clowning around. It was a manic high, panic pressed through a cheesecloth mask of normalcy. It wasn't going to last.
They were all that separated Ceres from anarchy. They were the law, and the difference between the survival of six million people and some mad bastard forcing open all the airlocks or poisoning the recyclers rested on maybe thirty thousand people. People like him. Maybe he should have rallied, risen to the occasion like the rest of them. The truth was the thought made him tired.
Shaddid marched by and tapped him on the shoulder. He sighed, rose from his chair, and followed her. Dawes was in her office again, looking shaken and sleep deprived. Miller nodded to him. Shaddid crossed her arms, her eyes softer and less accusing than he'd become used to.
"This is going to be tough," she said. "We're facing something harder than anything we've had to do before. I need a team I can trust with my life. Extraordinary circumstances. You understand that?"
"Yeah," he said. "I got it. I'll stop drinking, get myself together."
"Miller. You're not a bad person at heart. There was a time you were a pretty good cop. But I don't trust you, and we don't have time to start over," Shaddid said, her voice as near to gentle as he had ever heard it. "You're fired."