Chapter Six: Miller
The cart sped through the tunnel, siren masking the whine of motors. Behind them, they left curious civilians and the scent of overheated bearings. Miller leaned forward in his seat, willing the cart to go faster. They were three levels and maybe four kilometers from the station house.
"Okay," Havelock said. "I'm sorry, but I'm missing something here."
"What?" Miller said. He meant What are you yammering about? Havelock took it as What are you missing?
"A water hauler millions of klicks from here got vaporized. Why are we going to full alert? Our cisterns will last months without even going on rationing. There are a lot of other haulers out there. Why is this a crisis?"
Miller turned and looked at his partner straight on. The small, stocky build. The thick bones from a childhood in full g. Just like the asshole in the transmission. They didn't understand. If Havelock had been in this James Holden's place, he might have done the same stupid, irresponsible, idiotic bullshit. For the space of a breath, they weren't security anymore. They weren't partners. They were a Belter and an Earther. Miller looked away before Havelock could see the change in his eyes.
"That prick Holden? The one in the broadcast?" Miller said. "He just declared war on Mars for us."
The cart swerved and bobbed, its internal computer adjusting for some virtual hiccup in the traffic flow half a kilometer ahead. Havelock shifted, grabbing for the support strut. They hit a ramp up to the next level, civilians on foot making a path for them.
"You grew up where the water's maybe dirty, but it falls out of the sky for you," Miller said. "The air's filthy, but it's not going away if your door seals fail. It's not like that out here."
"But we're not on the hauler. We don't need the ice. We aren't under threat," Havelock said.
Miller sighed, rubbing his eyes with thumb and knuckle until ghosts of false color bloomed.
"When I was homicide," Miller said, "there was this guy. Property management specialist working a contract out of Luna. Someone burned half his skin off and dropped him out an airlock. Turned out he was responsible for maintenance on sixty holes up on level thirty. Lousy neighborhood. He'd been cutting corners. Hadn't replaced the air filters in three months. There was mold growing in three of the units. And you know what we found after that?"
"What?" Havelock asked.
"Not a goddamn thing, because we stopped looking. Some people need to die, and he was one. And the next guy that took the job cleaned the ducting and swapped the filters on schedule. That's what it's like in the Belt. Anyone who came out here and didn't put environmental systems above everything else died young. All us still out here are the ones that cared."
"Selective effect?" Havelock said. "You're seriously arguing in favor of selective effect? I never thought I'd hear that shit coming out of you."
"Racist propaganda bullshit," Havelock said. "It's the one that says the difference in environment has changed the Belters so much that instead of just being a bunch of skinny obsessive-compulsives, they aren't really human anymore."
"I'm not saying that," Miller said, suspecting that it was exactly what he was saying. "It's just that Belters don't take the long view when you screw with basic resources. That water was future air, propellant mass, and potables for us. We have no sense of humor about that shit."
The cart hit a ramp of metalwork grate. The lower level fell away below them. Havelock was silent.
"This Holden guy didn't say it was Mars. Just that they found a Martian battery. You think people are going to... declare war?" Havelock said. "Just on the basis of this one guy's pictures of a battery?"
"The ones that wait to get the whole story aren't our problem."
At least not tonight, he thought. Once the whole story gets out, we'll see where we stand.
The station house was somewhere between one-half and three-quarters full. Security men stood in clumps, nodding to each other, eyes narrow and jaws tight. One of the vice cops laughed at something, his amusement loud, forced, smelling of fear. Miller saw the change in Havelock as they walked across the common area to their desks. Havelock had been able to put Miller's reaction down to one man's being oversensitive. A whole room, though. A whole station house. By the time they reached their chairs, Havelock's eyes were wide.
Captain Shaddid came in. The bleary look was gone. Her hair was pulled back, her uniform crisp and professional, her voice as calm as a surgeon in a battlefield hospital. She stepped up on the first desk she came to, improvising a pulpit.
"Ladies and gentlemen," she said. "You've seen the transmission. Any questions?"
"Who let that fucking Earther near a radio?" someone shouted. Miller saw Havelock laugh along with the crowd, but it didn't reach his eyes. Shaddid scowled and the crowd quieted.
"Here's the situation," she said. "No way we can control this information. It was broadcast everywhere. We have five sites on the internal network that have been mirroring it, and we have to assume it's public knowledge starting ten minutes ago. Our job now is to keep the rioting to a minimum and ensure station integrity around the port. Station houses fifty and two thirteen are helping on it too. The port authority has released all the ships with inner planet registry. That doesn't mean they're all gone. They still have to round up their crews. But it does mean they're going."
"The government offices?" Miller said, loud enough to carry.
"Not our problem, thank God," Shaddid said. "They have infrastructure in place. Blast doors are already down and sealed. They've broken off from the main environmental systems, so we aren't even breathing their air right now."
"Well, that's a relief," Yevgeny said from the cluster of homicide detectives.
"Now the bad news," Shaddid said. Miller heard the silence of a hundred and fifty cops holding their breath. "We've got eighty known OPA agents on the station. They're all employed and legal, and you know this is the kind of thing they've been waiting for. We have an order from the governor that we're not going to do any proactive detention. No one gets arrested until they do something."
Angry voices rose in chorus.
"Who does he think he is?" someone called from the back. Shaddid snapped at the comment like a shark.
"The governor is the one who contracted with us to keep this station in working order," Shaddid said. "We'll follow his directives."
In his peripheral vision, Miller saw Havelock nod. He wondered what the governor thought of the question of Belter independence. Maybe the OPA weren't the only ones who'd been waiting for something like this to happen. Shaddid went on, outlining the security response they were permitted. Miller listened with half an ear, so lost in speculating on the politics behind the situation he almost missed it when Shaddid called his name.
"Miller will take the second team to the port level and cover sectors thirteen through twenty-four. Kasagawa, team three, twenty-five through thirty-six, and so on. That's twenty men apiece, except for Miller."
"I can make it with nineteen," Miller said, then quietly to Havelock, "You're sitting this one out, partner. Having an Earther with a gun out there isn't going to make things better."
"Yeah," Havelock said. "Saw that coming."
"Okay," Shaddid said. "You all know the drill. Let's move."
Miller rounded up his riot squad. All the faces were familiar, all men and women he'd worked with over his years in security. He organized them in his mind with a nearly automatic efficiency. Brown and Gelbfish both had SWAT experience, so they would lead the wings if it came to crowd control. Aberforth had three write-ups for excessive violence since her kid had been busted for drug running on Ganymede, so she was second string. She could work out her anger-management issues another time. Around the station house, he heard the other squad commanders making similar decisions.
"Okay," Miller said. "Let's suit up."
They moved away in a group, heading for the equipment bay. Miller paused. Havelock remained leaning against his desk, arms folded, eyes locked on the middle distance. Miller was torn between sympathy for the man and impatience. It was hard being on the team but not on the team. On the other hand, what the hell had he expected, taking a contract in the Belt? Havelock looked up, meeting Miller's gaze. They nodded to each other. Miller was the first to turn away.
The equipment bay was part warehouse, part bank vault, designed by someone more concerned with conserving space than getting things out efficiently. The lights - recessed white LEDs - gave the gray walls a sterile cast. Bare stone echoed every voice and footfall. Banks of ammunition and firearms, evidence bags and test panels, spare servers and replacement uniforms lined the walls and filled most of the interior space. The riot gear was in a side room, in gray steel lockers with high-security electronic locks. The standard outfit consisted of high-impact plastic shields, electric batons, shin guards, bullet-resistant chest and thigh armor, and helmets with reinforced face guards - all of it designed to make a handful of station security into an intimidating, inhuman force.
Miller keyed in his access code. The seals released; the lockers opened.
"Well," Miller said conversationally. "Fuck me."
The lockers were empty, gray coffins with the corpses all gone. Across the room, he heard one of the other squads shouting in outrage. Miller systematically opened every riot control locker he could get to. All of them were the same. Shaddid appeared at his side, her face pale with rage.
"What's plan B?" Miller asked.
Shaddid spat on the floor, then closed her eyes. They shifted under her lids like she was dreaming. Two long breaths later, they opened.
"Check the SWAT lockers. There should be enough in there to outfit two people in each squad."
"Snipers?" Miller said.
"You have a better idea, Detective?" Shaddid said, leaning on the last word.
Miller raised his hands in surrender. Riot gear was meant to intimidate and control. SWAT gear was made to kill with the greatest efficiency possible. Seemed their mandate had just changed.
On any given day, a thousand ships might be docked on Ceres Station, and activity there rarely slowed and never stopped. Each sector could accommodate twenty ships, the traffic of humanity and cargo, transport vans, mesocranes, and industrial forklifts, and his squad was responsible for twenty sectors.
The air stank of refrigerant and oil. The gravity was slightly above 0.3 g, station spin alone lending the place a sense of oppression and danger. Miller didn't like the port. Having vacuum so close under his feet made him nervous. Passing the dockworkers and transport crews, he didn't know whether to scowl or smile. He was here to scare people into behaving and also to reassure them that everything was under control. After the first three sectors, he settled on the smile. It was the kind of lie he was better at.
They had just reached the junction of sectors nineteen and twenty when they heard screaming. Miller pulled his hand terminal out of his pocket, connected to the central surveillance network, and called up the security camera array. It took a few seconds to find it: a mob of fifty or sixty civilians stretching almost all the way across the tunnel, traffic blocked on both sides. There were weapons being waved over heads. Knives, clubs. At least two pistols. Fists pumped in the air. And at the center of the crowd, a huge shirtless man was beating someone to death.
"Showtime," Miller said, waving his squad forward at a run.
He was still a hundred meters from the turn that would take them to the clot of human violence when he saw the shirtless man knock his victim to the ground, then stomp on her neck. The head twisted sideways at an angle that didn't leave any question. Miller slowed his team to a brisk walk. Arresting the murderer while surrounded by a crowd of his friends would be tough enough without being winded.
There was blood in the water now. Miller could sense it. The mob was going to turn out. To the station, to the ships. If the people started joining the chaos... what path would it be likely to take? There was a brothel one level up from there and half a kilometer anti-spinward that catered to inner planet types. The tariff inspector for sector twenty-one was married to a girl from Luna and had bragged about it maybe once too often.
There were too many targets, Miller thought even as he motioned his snipers to spread out. He was trying to reason with a fire. Stop it here, and no one else got killed.
In his imagination, Candace crossed her arms and said, What's plan B?
The outer edge of the mob raised the alarm well before Miller reached it. The surge of bodies and threats shifted. Miller tipped back his hat. Men, women. Dark skin, pale, golden brown, and all with the long, thin build of Belters, all with the square-mouthed angry gape of chimpanzees at war.
"Let me take a couple of them down, sir," Gelbfish said from his terminal. "Put the fear of God into them."
"We'll get there," Miller said, smiling at the angry mob. "We'll get there."
The face he expected floated to the front. Shirtless. The big man, blood covering his hands and splattered on his cheek. The seed crystal of the riot.
"That one?" Gelbfish asked, and Miller knew that a tiny infrared dot was painting Shirtless' forehead even as he glowered at Miller and the uniforms behind him.
"No," Miller said. "That'll only set the rest of them off."
"So what do we do?" Brown said.
It was a hell of a question.
"Sir," Gelbfish said. "The big fucker's got an OPA tattoo on his left shoulder."
"Well," Miller said, "if you do have to shoot him, start there."
He stepped forward, tying his terminal into the local system, overriding the alert. When he spoke, his voice boomed from the overhead speakers.
"This is Detective Miller. Unless you all want to be locked up as accessories to murder, I suggest you disperse now." Muting the microphone in his terminal, he said to Shirtless, "Not you, big fella. Move a muscle and we shoot you."
Someone in the crowd threw a wrench, the silver metal arcing low through the air toward Miller's head. He almost stepped out of the way, but the handle caught him across the ear. His head filled with the deep sound of bells, and the wet of blood tracked down his neck.
"Hold fire," Miller shouted. "Hold your fire."
The crowd laughed, as if he'd been talking to them. Idiots. Shirtless, emboldened, strode forward. The steroids had distended his thighs so badly that he waddled. Miller turned the mic on his terminal back on. If the crowd was watching them face each other down, they weren't breaking things. It wasn't spreading. Not yet.
"So. Friend. You only kick helpless people to death, or can anybody join in?" Miller asked, his voice conversational but echoing out of the dock speakers like a pronouncement from God.
"The fuck you barking, Earth dog?" Shirtless said.
"Earth?" Miller said, chuckling. "I look like I grew up in a gravity well to you? I was born on this rock."
"Inners kibble you, bitch," Shirtless said. "You they dog."
"Fuckin' dui," Shirtless said. Fucking true. He flexed his pectorals. Miller suppressed the urge to laugh.
"So killing that poor bastard was for the good of the station?" Miller said. "The good of the Belt? Don't be a chump, kid. They're playing you. They want you to act like a bunch of stupid riotboys so they have a reason to shut this place down."
"Schrauben sie sie weibchen," Shirtless said in Belter-inflected gutter German, leaning forward.
Okay, second time I've been called a bitch, Miller thought.
"Kneecap him," Miller said. Shirtless' legs blew out in twin sprays of crimson and he went down howling. Miller walked past his writhing body, stepping toward the mob.
"You're taking your orders from this pendejo?" he said. "Listen to me, we all know what's coming. We know dance starting, now, like pow, right? They fucked tu agua, and we all know the answer. Out an airlock, no?"
He could see it in their faces: the sudden fear of the snipers, then the confusion. He pressed on, not giving them time to think. He switched back to the lower-level lingo, the language of education, authority.
"You know what Mars wants? They want you, doing this. They want this piece of shit here to make sure that everyone looks at Belters and thinks we're a bunch of psychopaths who tear up their own station. They want to tell themselves we're just like them. Well, we aren't. We're Belters, and we take care of our own."
He picked a man at the edge of the mob. Not as pumped as Shirtless, but big. He had an OPA split circle on his arm.
"You," Miller said. "You want to fight for the Belt?"
"Dui," the man said.
"I bet you do. He did too," Miller said, jerking a thumb back at Shirtless. "But now he's a cripple, and he's going down for murder. So we've already lost one. You see? They're turning us against each other. Can't let them do that. Every one of you I have to arrest or cripple or kill, that's one less we have when the day comes. And it's coming. But it's not now. You understand?"
The OPA man scowled. The mob drew back from him, making space. Miller could feel it like a current against him. It was shifting.
"Day's coming, hombre," the OPA man said. "You know your side?"
The tone was a threat, but there was no power behind it. Miller took a slow breath. It was over.
"Always the side of the angels," he said. "Why don't you all go back to work? Show's over here, and we've all got plenty that needs doing."
Momentum broken, the mob fell apart. First one and two peeling off from the edges, and then the whole knot untying itself at once. Five minutes after Miller had arrived, the only signs that anything had happened were Shirtless mewling in a pool of his own blood, the wound on Miller's ear, and the body of the woman fifty good citizens had stood by and watched be beaten to death. She was short and wearing the flight suit of a Martian freight line.
Only one dead. Makes it a good night, Miller thought sourly.
He went to the fallen man. The OPA tattoo was smeared red. Miller knelt.
"Friend," he said. "You are under arrest for the murder of that lady over there, whoever the hell she is. You are not required to participate in questioning without the presence of an attorney or union representative, and if you so much as look at me wrong, I'll space you. Do we understand each other?"
From the look in the man's eyes, Miller knew they did.