Chapter Twenty-Eight: Miller
The first time Miller killed anyone was in his third year working security. He'd been twenty-two, just married, talking about having kids. As the new guy on the contract, he'd gotten the shit jobs: patrolling levels so high the Coriolis made him seasick, taking domestic disturbance calls in holes no wider than a storage bin, standing guard on the drunk tank to keep predators from raping the unconscious. The normal hazing. He'd known to expect it. He'd thought he could take it.
The call had been from an illegal restaurant almost at the mass center. At less than a tenth of a g, gravity had been little more than a suggestion, and his inner ear had been confused and angered by the change in spin. If he thought about it, he could still remember the sound of raised voices, too fast and slurred for words. The smell of bathtub cheese. The thin haze of smoke from the cheap electric griddle.
It had happened fast. The perp had come out of the hole with a gun in one hand, dragging a woman by the hair with the other. Miller's partner, a ten-year veteran named Carson, had shouted out the warning. The perp had turned, swinging the gun out at arm's length like a stuntman in a video.
All through training, the instructors had said that you couldn't know what you'd do until the moment came. Killing another human being was hard. Some people couldn't. The perp's gun came around; the gunman dropped the woman and shouted. It turned out that, for Miller at least, it wasn't all that hard.
Afterward, he'd been through mandatory counseling. He'd cried. He'd suffered the nightmares and the shakes and all the things that cops suffered quietly and didn't talk about. But even then, it seemed to be happening at a distance, like he'd gotten too drunk and was watching himself throw up. It was just a physical reaction. It would pass.
The important thing was he knew the answer to the question. Yes, if he needed to, he could take a life.
It wasn't until now, walking through the corridors of Eros, that he'd taken joy in it. Even taking down the poor bastard in that first firefight had felt like the sad necessity of work. Pleasure in killing hadn't come until after Julie, and it wasn't really pleasure as much as a brief cessation of pain.
He held the gun low. Holden started down the ramp, and Miller followed, letting the Earther take point. Holden walked faster than he did and with the uncommented athleticism of someone who lived in a wide variety of gravities. Miller had the feeling he'd made Holden nervous, and he regretted that a little. He hadn't intended to, and he really needed to get aboard Holden's ship if he was going to find Julie's secrets.
Or, for that matter, not die of radiation sickness in the next few hours. That seemed a finer point than it probably was.
"Okay," Holden said at the bottom of the ramp. "We need to get back down, and there are a lot of guards between us and Naomi that are going to be really confused by two guys walking the wrong direction."
"That's a problem," Miller agreed.
Miller frowned and considered the flooring. The Eros floors were different than Ceres'. Laminate with flecks of gold.
"Tubes aren't going to be running," he said. "If they are, it'll be in lockdown mode, where it only stops at the holding pen down in the casino. So that's out."
"Maintenance corridor again?"
"If we can find one that goes between levels," Miller said. "Might be a little tricky, but it seems like a better bet than shooting our way past a couple dozen assholes in armor. How long have we got before your friend takes off?"
Holden looked at his hand terminal. The radiation alarm was still deep red. Miller wondered how long those took to reset.
"A little more than two hours," Holden said. "Shouldn't be a problem."
"Let's see what we can find," Miller said.
The corridors nearest the radiation shelters - the death traps, the incubators - had been emptied. Wide passages built to accommodate the ancient construction equipment that had carved Eros into a human habitation were eerie with only Holden's and Miller's footsteps and the hum of the air recyclers. Miller hadn't noticed when the emergency announcements had stopped, but the absence of them now seemed ominous.
If it had been Ceres, he would have known where to go, where everything led, how to move gracefully from one stage to another. On Eros, all he had was an educated guess. That wasn't so bad.
But he could tell it was taking too long, and worse than that - they weren't talking about it; neither one spoke - they were walking more slowly than normal. It wasn't up to the threshold of consciousness, but Miller knew that both of their bodies were starting to feel the radiation damage. It wasn't going to get better.
"Okay," Holden said. "Somewhere around here there has to be a maintenance shaft."
"Could also try the tube station," Miller said. "The cars run in vacuum, but there might be some service tunnels running parallel."
"Don't you think they'd have shut those down as part of the big roundup?"
"Probably," Miller said.
"Hey! You two! What the fuck you think you're doing up here?"
Miller looked back over his shoulder. Two men in riot gear were waving at them menacingly. Holden said something sharp under his breath. Miller narrowed his eyes.
The thing was these men were amateurs. The beginning of an idea moved in the back of Miller's mind as he watched the two approach. Killing them and taking their gear wouldn't work. There was nothing like scorch marks and blood to make it clear something had happened. But...
"Miller," Holden said, a warning in his voice.
"Yeah," Miller said. "I know."
"I said what the fuck are you two doing here?" one of the security men said. "The station's on lockdown. Everyone goes down to the casino level or up to the radiation shelters."
"We were just looking for a way to... ah... get down to the casino level," Holden said, smiling and being nonthreatening. "We're not from around here, and - "
The closer of the two guards jabbed the butt of his rifle neatly into Holden's leg. The Earther staggered, and Miller shot the guard just below the faceplate, then turned to the one still standing, mouth agape.
"You're Mikey Ko, right?" Miller said.
The man's face went even paler, but he nodded. Holden groaned and stood.
"Detective Miller," Miller said. "Busted you on Ceres about four years ago. You got a little happy in a bar. Tappan's, I think? Hit a girl with a pool cue?"
"Oh, hey," the man said with a frightened smile. "Yeah, I remember you. How you been doing?"
"Good and bad," Miller said. "You know how it is. Give the Earther your gun."
Ko looked from Miller to Holden and back, licking his lips and judging his chances. Miller shook his head.
"Seriously," Miller said. "Give him the gun."
"Sure, yeah. No problem."
This was the kind of man who'd killed Julie, Miller thought. Stupid. Shortsighted. A man born with a sense for raw opportunity where his soul should have been. Miller's mental Julie shook her head in disgust and sorrow, and Miller found himself wondering if she meant the thug now handing his rifle to Holden or himself. Maybe both.
"What's the deal here, Mikey?" Miller asked.
"What do you mean?" the guard said, playing stupid, like they were in an interrogation cell. Stalling for time. Walking through the old script of cop and criminal as if it still made sense. As if everything hadn't changed. Miller was surprised by a tightness in his throat. He didn't know what it was there for.
"The job," he said. "What's the job?"
"I don't know - "
"Hey," Miller said gently. "I just killed your buddy."
"And that's his third today," Holden said. "I saw him."
Miller could see it in the man's eyes: the cunning, the shift, the move from one strategy to another. It was old and familiar and as predictable as water moving down.
"Hey," Ko said, "it's just a job. They told us about a year ago how we were making a big move, right? But no one knows what it is. So a few months back, they start moving guys over. Training us up like we were cops, you know?"
"Who was training you?" Miller said.
"The last guys. The ones who were working the contract before us," Ko said.
"Something like that, yeah," he said. "Then they took off, and we took over. Just muscle, you know. Some smuggling."
"All kinds of shit," Ko said. He was starting to feel safe, and it showed in the way he held himself and the way he spoke. "Surveillance equipment, communication arrays, serious-as-fuck servers with their own little gel software wonks already built in. Scientific equipment too. Stuff for checking the water and the air and shit. And these ancient remote-access robots like you'd use in a vacuum dig. All sorts of shit."
"Where was it going to?" Holden asked.
"Here," Ko said, gesturing to the air, the stone, the station. "It's all here. They were like months installing it all. And then for weeks, nothing."
"What do you mean, nothing?" Miller asked.
"Nothing nothing. All this buildup and then we sat around with our thumbs up our butts."
Something had gone wrong. The Phoebe bug hadn't made its rendezvous, but then Julie had come, Miller thought, and the game had turned back on. He saw her again as if he were in her apartment. The long, spreading tendrils of whatever the hell it was, the bone spurs pressing out against her skin, the black froth of filament pouring from her eyes.
"The pay's good, though," Ko said philosophically. "And it was kind of nice taking some time off."
Miller nodded in agreement, leaned close, tucking the barrel of his gun through the interleaving of armor at Ko's belly, and shot him.
"What the fuck!" Holden said as Miller put his gun into his jacket pocket.
"What did you think was going to happen?" Miller said, squatting down beside the gut-shot man. "It's not like he was going to let us go."
"Yeah, okay," Holden said. "But... "
"Help me get him up," Miller said, hooking an arm behind Ko's shoulder. Ko shrieked when Miller lifted him.
"Get his other side," Miller said. "Man needs medical attention, right?"
"Um. Yes," Holden said.
"So get his other side."
It wasn't as far back to the radiation shelters as Miller had expected, which had its good points and its bad ones. On the upside, Ko was still alive and screaming. The chances were better that he'd be lucid, which wasn't what Miller had intended. But as they came near the first group of guards, Ko's babbling seemed scattered enough to work.
"Hey!" Miller shouted. "Some help over here!"
At the head of the ramp, four of the guards looked at one another and then started moving toward them, curiosity winning out over basic operating procedures. Holden was breathing hard. Miller was too. Ko wasn't that heavy. It was a bad sign.
"What the hell is this?" one of the guards said.
"There's a bunch of people holed up back there," Miller said. "Resistance. I thought you people swept this level."
"That wasn't our job," the guy said. "We're just making sure the groups from the casino get to the shelters."
"Well, someone screwed up," Miller snapped. "You have transport?"
The guards looked at each other again.
"We can call for one," a guy at the back said.
"Never mind," Miller said. "You boys go find the shooters."
"Wait a minute," the first guy said. "Exactly who the hell are you?"
"The installers from Protogen," Holden said. "We're replacing the sensors that failed. This guy was supposed to help us."
"I didn't hear about that," the leader said.
Miller dug a finger under Ko's armor and squeezed. Ko shrieked and tried to writhe away from him.
"Talk to your boss about it on your own time," Miller said. "Come on. Let's get this asshole to a medic."
"Hold on!" the first guard said, and Miller sighed. Four of them. If he dropped Ko and jumped for cover... but there wasn't much cover. And who the hell knew what Holden would do?
"Where are the shooters?" the guard asked. Miller kept himself from smiling.
"There's a hole about a quarter klick anti-spinward," Miller said. "The other one's body's still there. You can't miss it."
Miller turned down the ramp. Behind him, the guards were talking among themselves, debating what to do, who to call, who to send.
"You're completely insane," Holden said over Ko's semiconscious weeping.
Maybe he was right.
When, Miller wondered, does someone stop being human? There had to be a moment, some decision that you made, and before it, you were one person, and after it, someone else. Walking down through the levels of Eros, Ko's bleeding body slung between him and Holden, Miller reflected. He was probably dying of radiation damage. He was lying his way past half a dozen men who were only letting him by because they were used to people being scared of them and he wasn't. He had killed three people in the last two hours. Four if he counted Ko. Probably safer to say four, then.
The analytical part of his mind, the small, still voice he had cultivated for years, watched him move and replayed all his decisions. Everything he'd done had made perfect sense at the time. Shooting Ko. Shooting the other three. Leaving the safety of the crew's hideout to investigate the evacuation. Emotionally, it had all been obvious at the time. It was only when he considered it from outside that it seemed dangerous. If he'd seen it in someone else - Muss, Havelock, Sematimba - he wouldn't have taken more than a minute to realize they'd gone off the rails. Since it was him, he had taken longer to notice. But Holden was right. Somewhere along the line, he'd lost himself.
He wanted to think it had been finding Julie, seeing what had happened to her body, knowing he hadn't been able to save her, but that was only because it seemed like the sentimental moment. The truth was his decisions before then - leaving Ceres to go on a wild hunt for Julie, drinking himself out of a career, remaining a cop for even a day after that first kill all those years earlier - none of them seemed to make sense, viewed objectively. He'd lost a marriage to a woman he'd loved once. He'd lived hip deep in the worst humanity had to offer. He'd learned firsthand that he was capable of killing another human being. And nowhere along the line could he say that there, at that moment, he had been a sane, whole man, and that afterward, he hadn't.
Maybe it was a cumulative process, like smoking cigarettes. One didn't do much. Five didn't do much more. Every emotion he'd shut down, every human contact he'd spurned, every love and friendship and moment of compassion from which he'd turned had taken him a degree away from himself. Until now, he'd been able to kill men with impunity. To face his impending death with a denial that let him make plans and take action.
In his mind, Julie Mao tilted her head, listening to his thoughts. In his mind, she held him, her body against his in a way that was more comforting than erotic. Consoling. Forgiving.
This was why he had searched for her. Julie had become the part of him that was capable of human feeling. The symbol of what he could have been if he hadn't been this. There was no reason to think his imagined Julie had anything in common with the real woman. Meeting her would have been a disappointment for them both.
He had to believe that, the same way he'd had to believe everything that had cut him off from love before.
Holden stopped, the body - corpse now - of Ko tugging Miller back to himself.
"What?" Miller said.
Holden nodded at the access panel in front of them. Miller looked at it, uncomprehending, and then recognized it. They'd made it. They were back at the hideout.
"Are you all right?" Holden said.
"Yeah," Miller said. "Just woolgathering. Sorry."
He dropped Ko, and the thug slid to the floor with a sad thud. Miller's arm had fallen asleep. He shook it, but the tingling didn't go away. A wave of vertigo and nausea passed through him. Symptoms, he thought.
"How'd we do for time?" Miller asked.
"We're a little past deadline. Five minutes. It'll be fine," Holden said, and slid the door open.
The space beyond, where Naomi and Alex and Amos had been, was empty.
"Fuck me," Holden said.