Chapter Sixteen: Miller
Miller watched the feed from Mars along with the rest of the station. The podium was draped in black, which was a bad sign. The single star and thirty stripes of the Martian Congressional Republic hung in the background not once, but eight times. That was worse.
"This cannot happen without careful planning," the Martian president said. "The information they sought to steal would have compromised Martian fleet security in a profound and fundamental way. They failed, but at the price of two thousand and eighty-six Martian lives. This aggression is something the Belt has been preparing for years at the least."
The Belt, Miller noticed. Not the OPA - the Belt.
"In the week since first news of that attack, we have seen thirty incursions into the security radius of Martian ships and bases, including Pallas Station. If those refineries were to be lost, the economy of Mars could suffer irreversible damage. In the face of an armed, organized guerrilla force, we have no choice but to enforce a military cordon on the stations, bases, and ships of the Belt. Congress has delivered new orders to all naval elements not presently involved in active Coalition duty, and it is our hope that our brothers and sisters of Earth will approve joint Coalition maneuvers with the greatest possible speed.
"The new mandate of the Martian navy is to secure the safety of all honest citizens, to dismantle the infrastructures of evil presently hiding in the Belt, and bring to justice those responsible for these attacks. I am pleased to say that our initial actions have resulted in the destruction of eighteen illegal warships and - "
Miller turned off the feed. That was it, then. The secret war was out of the closet. Papa Mao had been right to want Julie out, but it was too late. His darling daughter was going to have to take her chances, just like everyone else.
At the very least, it was going to mean curfews and personnel tracking all through Ceres Station. Officially, the station was neutral. The OPA didn't own it or anything else. And Star Helix was an Earth corporation, not under contractual or treaty obligation to Mars. At best, Mars and the OPA would keep their fight outside the station. At worst, there would more riots on Ceres. More death.
No, that wasn't true. At worst, Mars or the OPA would make a statement by throwing a rock or a handful of nuclear warheads at the station. Or by blowing a fusion drive on a docked ship. If things got out of hand, it would mean six or seven million dead people and the end of everything Miller had ever known.
Odd that it should feel almost like relief.
For weeks, Miller had known. Everyone had known. But it hadn't actually happened, so every conversation, every joke, every chance interaction and semi-anonymous nod and polite moment of light banter on the tube had seemed like an evasion. He couldn't fix the cancer of war, couldn't even slow down the spread, but at least he could admit it was happening. He stretched, ate his last bite of fungal curds, drank the dregs of something not entirely unlike coffee, and headed out to keep peace in wartime.
Muss greeted him with a vague nod when he got to the station house. The board was filled with cases - crimes to be investigated, documented, and dismissed. Twice as many entries as the day before.
"Bad night," Miller said.
"Could be worse," Muss said.
"Star Helix could be a Mars corporation. As long as Earth stays neutral, we don't have to actually be the Gestapo."
"And how long you figure that'll last?"
"What time is it?" she asked. "Tell you what, though. When it does come down, I need to make a stop up toward the core. There was this one guy back when I was rape squad we could never quite nail."
"Why wait?" Miller asked. "We could go up, put a bullet in him, be back by lunch."
"Yeah, but you know how it is," she said. "Trying to stay professional. Anyway, if we did that, we'd have to investigate it, and there's no room on the board."
Miller sat at his desk. It was just shoptalk. The kind of over-the-top deadpan you did when your day was filled with underage whores and tainted drugs. And still, there was a tension in the station. It was in the way people laughed, the way they held themselves. There were more holsters visible than usual, as if by showing their weapons they might be made safe.
"You think it's the OPA?" Muss asked. Her voice was lower now.
"That killed the Donnager, you mean? Who else could? Plus which, they're taking credit for it."
"Some of them are. From what I heard, there's more than one OPA these days. The old-school guys don't know a goddamn thing about any of this. All shitting their pants and trying to track down the pirate casts that are claiming credit."
"So they can do what?" Miller asked. "You can shut down every loudmouth caster in the Belt, it won't change a thing."
"If there's a schism in the OPA, though... " Muss looked at the board.
If there was a schism within the OPA, the board as they saw it now was nothing. Miller had lived through two major gang wars. First when the Loca Greiga displaced and destroyed the Aryan Flyers, and then when the Golden Bough split. The OPA was bigger, and meaner, and more professional than any of them. That would be civil war in the Belt.
"Might not happen," Miller said.
Shaddid stepped out of her office, her gaze sweeping the station house. Conversations dimmed. Shaddid caught Miller's eye. She made a sharp gesture. Get in the office.
"Busted," Muss said.
In the office, Anderson Dawes sat at ease on one of the chairs. Miller felt his body twitch as that information fell into place. Mars and the Belt in open, armed conflict. The OPA's face on Ceres sitting with the captain of the security force.
So that's how it is, he thought.
"You're working the Mao job," Shaddid said as she took her seat. Miller hadn't been offered the option of sitting, so he clasped his hands behind him.
"You assigned it to me," he said.
"And I told you it wasn't a priority," she said.
"I disagreed," Miller said.
Dawes smiled. It was a surprisingly warm expression, especially compared to Shaddid's.
"Detective Miller," Dawes said. "You don't understand what's happening here. We are sitting on a pressure vessel, and you keep swinging a pickax at it. You need to stop that."
"You're off the Mao case," Shaddid said. "Do you understand that? I am officially removing you from that investigation as of right now. Any further investigation you do, I will have you disciplined for working outside your caseload and misappropriating Star Helix resources. You will return any material on the case to me. You will wipe any data you have in your personal partition. And you'll do it before the end of shift."
Miller's brain spun, but he kept his face impassive. She was taking Julie away. He wasn't going to let her. That was a given. But it wasn't the first issue.
"I have some inquiries in process... " he began.
"No, you don't," Shaddid said. "Your little letter to the parents was a breach of policy. Any contact with the shareholders should have come through me."
"You're telling me it didn't go out," Miller said. Meaning You've been monitoring me.
"It did not," Shaddid said. Yes, I have. What are you going to do about it?
And there wasn't anything he could do.
"And the transcripts of the James Holden interrogation?" Miller said. "Did those get out before... "
Before the Donnanger was destroyed, taking with it the only living witnesses to the Scopuli and plunging the system into war? Miller knew the question sounded like a whine. Shaddid's jaw tensed. He wouldn't have been surprised to hear teeth cracking. Dawes broke the silence.
"I think we can make this a little easier," he said. "Detective, if I'm hearing you right, you think we're burying the issue. We aren't. But it's not in anyone's interests that Star Helix be the one to find the answers you're looking for. Think about it. You may be a Belter, but you're working for an Earth corporation. Right now, Earth is the only major power without an oar in the water. The only one who can possibly negotiate with all sides."
"And so why wouldn't they want to know the truth?" Miller said.
"That isn't the problem," Dawes said. "The problem is that Star Helix and Earth can't appear to be involved one way or the other. Their hands need to stay clean. And this issue leads outside your contract. Juliette Mao isn't on Ceres, and maybe there was a time you could have jumped a ship to wherever you found her and done the abduction. Extradition. Extraction. Whatever you want to call it. But that time has passed. Star Helix is Ceres, part of Ganymede, and a few dozen warehouse asteroids. If you leave that, you're going into enemy territory."
"But the OPA isn't," Miller said.
"We have the resources to do this right," Dawes said with a nod. "Mao is one of ours. The Scopuli was one of ours."
"And the Scopuli was the bait that killed the Canterbury," Miller said. "And the Canterbury was the bait that killed the Donnager. So why exactly would anyone be better off having you be the only ones looking into something you might have done?"
"You think we nuked the Canterbury," Dawes said. "The OPA, with its state-of-the-art Martian warships?"
"It got the Donnanger out where it could be attacked. As long as it was with the fleet, it couldn't have been boarded."
Dawes looked sour.
"Conspiracy theories, Mr. Miller," he said. "If we had cloaked Martian warships, we wouldn't be losing."
"You had enough to kill the Donnanger with just six ships."
"No. We didn't. Our version of blowing up the Donnager is a whole bunch of tramp prospectors loaded with nukes going on a suicide mission. We have many, many resources. What happened to the Donnager wasn't part of them."
The silence was broken only by the hum of the air recycler. Miller crossed his arms.
"But... I don't understand," he said. "If the OPA didn't start this, who did?"
"That is what Juliette Mao and the crew of the Scopuli can tell us," Shaddid said. "Those are the stakes, Miller. Who and why and please Christ some idea of how to stop it."
"And you don't want to find them?" Miller said.
"I don't want you to," Dawes said. "Not when someone else can do it better."
Miller shook his head. It was going too far, and he knew it. On the other hand, sometimes going too far could tell you something too.
"I'm not sold," he said.
"You don't have to be sold," Shaddid said. "This isn't a negotiation. We aren't bringing you in to ask you for a goddamn favor. I am your boss. I am telling you. Do you know those words? Telling. You."
"We have Holden," Dawes said.
"What?" Miller said at the same time Shaddid said, "You're not supposed to talk about that."
Dawes raised an arm toward Shaddid in the Belt's physical idiom of telling someone to be quiet. To Miller's surprise, she did as the OPA man said.
"We have Holden. He and his crew didn't die, and they are or are about to be in OPA custody. Do you understand what I'm saying, Detective? Do you see my point? I can do this investigation because I have the resources to do it. You can't even find out what happened to your own riot gear."
It was a slap. Miller looked at his shoes. He'd broken his word to Dawes about dropping the case, and the man hadn't brought it up until now. He had to give the OPA operative points for that. Added to that, if Dawes really did have James Holden, there was no chance of Miller's getting access to the interrogation.
When Shaddid spoke, her voice was surprisingly gentle.
"There were three murders yesterday. Eight warehouses got broken into, probably by the same bunch of people. We've got six people in hospital wards around the station with their nerves falling apart from a bad batch of bathtub pseudoheroin. The whole station's jumpy," she said. "There's a lot of good you can do out there, Miller. Go catch some bad guys."
"Sure, Captain," Miller said. "You bet."
Muss leaned against his desk, waiting for him. Her arms were crossed, her eyes as bored looking at him as they had been looking at the corpse of Dos Santos pinned to the corridor wall.
"New asshole?" she asked.
"It'll grow closed. Give it time. I got us one of the murders. Mid-level accountant for Naobi-Shears got his head blown off outside a bar. It looked fun."
Miller pulled up his hand terminal and took in the basics. His heart wasn't in it.
"Hey, Muss," he said. "I got a question."
"You've got a case you don't want solved. What do you do?"
His new partner frowned, tilted her head, and shrugged.
"I hand it to a fish," she said. "There was a guy back in crimes against children. If we knew the perp was one of our informants, we'd always give it to him. None of our guys ever got in trouble."
"Yeah," Miller said.
"For that matter, I need someone to take the shitty partner, I do the same thing," Muss went on. "You know. Someone no one else wants to work with? Got bad breath or a shitty personality or whatever, but he needs a partner. So I pick the guy who maybe he used to be good, but then he got a divorce. Started hitting the bottle. Guy still thinks he's a hotshot. Acts like it. Only his numbers aren't better than anyone else's. Give him the shit cases. The shit partner."
Miller closed his eyes. His stomach felt uneasy.
"What did you do?" he asked.
"To get assigned to you?" Muss said. "One of the seniors made the moves on me and I shot him down."
"So you got stuck."
"Pretty much. Come on, Miller. You aren't stupid," Muss said. "You had to know."
He'd had to know that he was the station house joke. The guy who used to be good. The one who'd lost it.
No, actually he hadn't known that. He opened his eyes. Muss didn't look happy or sad, pleased at his pain or particularly distressed by it. It was just work to her. The dead, the wounded, the injured. She didn't care. Not caring was how she got through the day.
"Maybe you shouldn't have turned him down," Miller said.
"Ah, you're not that bad," Muss said. "And he had back hair. I hate back hair."
"Glad to hear it," Miller said. "Let's go make some justice."
"You're drunk," the asshole said.
"'M a cop," Miller said, stabbing the air with his finger. "Don't fuck with me."
"I know you're a cop. You've been coming to my bar for three years. It's me. Hasini. And you're drunk, my friend. Seriously, dangerously drunk."
Miller looked around him. He was indeed at the Blue Frog. He didn't remember having come here, and yet here he was. And the asshole was Hasini after all.
"I... " Miller began, then lost his train of thought.
"Come on," Hasini said, looping an arm around him. "It's not that far. I'll get you home."
"What time is it?" Miller asked.
The word had a depth to it. Late. It was late. All the chances to make things right had somehow passed him. The system was at war, and no one was even sure why. Miller himself was turning fifty years old the next June. It was late. Late to start again. Late to realize how many years he'd spent running down the wrong road. Hasini steered him toward an electric cart the bar kept for occasions like this one. The smell of hot grease came out of the kitchen.
"Hold on," Miller said.
"You going to puke?" Hasini asked.
Miller considered for a moment. No, it was too late to puke. He stumbled forward. Hasini laid him back in the cart and engaged the motors, and with a whine they steered out into the corridor. The lights high above them were dimmed. The cart vibrated as they passed intersection after intersection. Or maybe it didn't. Maybe that was just his body.
"I thought I was good," he said. "You know, all this time, I thought I was at least good."
"You do fine," Hasini said. "You've just got a shitty job."
"That I was good at."
"You do fine," Hasini repeated, as if saying it would make it true.
Miller lay on the bed of the cart. The formed plastic arch of the wheel well dug into his side. It ached, but moving was too much effort. Thinking was too much effort. He'd made it through his day, Muss at his side. He'd turned in the data and materials on Julie. He had nothing worth going back to his hole for, and no place else to be.
The lights shifted into and out of his field of view. He wondered if that was what it would be like to look at stars. He'd never looked up at a sky. The thought inspired a certain vertigo. A sense of terror of the infinite that was almost pleasant.
"There anyone who can take care of you?" Hasini said when they reached Miller's hole.
"I'll be fine. I just... I had a bad day."
"Julie," Hasini said, nodding.
"How do you know about Julie?" Miller asked.
"You've been talking about her all night," Hasini said. "She's a girl you fell for, right?"
Frowning, Miller kept a hand on the cart. Julie. He'd been talking about Julie. That was what this was about. Not his job. Not his reputation. They'd taken away Julie. The special case. The one that mattered.
"You're in love with her," Hasini said.
"Yeah, sort of," Miller said, something like revelation forcing its way through the alcohol. "I think I am."
"Too bad for you," Hasini said.