Chapter Twenty-Six: Miller
Your police friend put a lockdown order on my ship," Holden said. He sounded outraged.
Around them, the hotel restaurant was busy. Last shift's prostitutes mixed with the next shift's tourists and businessmen at the cheap pink-lit buffet. The pilot and the big guy - Alex and Amos - were vying for the last bagel. Naomi sat at Holden's side, her arms crossed, a cup of bad coffee cooling before her.
"We did kill some people," Miller said gently.
"I thought you got us out of that with your secret police handshake," Holden said. "So why's my ship in lockdown?"
"You remember when Sematimba said we shouldn't leave the station without telling him?" Miller said.
"I remember you making some kind of deal," Holden said. "I don't remember agreeing to it."
"Look, he's going to keep us here until he's sure he won't get fired for letting us go. Once he knows his ass is covered, the lock goes down. So let's talk about the part where I rent a berth on your ship."
Jim Holden and his XO exchanged a glance, one of those tiny human burst communications that said more than words could have. Miller didn't know either of them well enough to decode all of it, but he guessed they were skeptical.
They had reason to be. Miller had checked his credit balance before he'd called them. He had enough left for another night in the hotel or a good dinner, but not both. He was spending it on a cheap breakfast that Holden and his crew didn't need and probably wouldn't enjoy, buying good will.
"I need to make very, very sure I understand what you're saying," Holden said as the big one - Amos - returned and sat at his other side holding the bagel. "Are you saying that unless I let you on my ship, your friend is going to keep us here? Because that's blackmail."
"Extortion," Amos said.
"What?" Holden said.
"It's not blackmail," Naomi said. "That would be if he threatened to expose information we didn't want known. If it's just a threat, that's extortion."
"And it's not what I'm talking about," Miller said. "Freedom of the station while the investigation rolls? That's no trouble. Leaving jurisdiction's another thing. I can't hold you here any more than I can cut you loose. I'm just looking for a ride when you go."
"Why?" Holden said.
"Because you're going to Julie's asteroid," Miller said.
"I'm willing to bet there's no port there," Holden said. "Did you plan on going anyplace after that?"
"I'm kind of low on solid plans. Haven't had one yet that actually happened."
"I hear that," Amos said. "We've been fucked eighteen different ways since we got into this."
Holden folded his hands on the table, one finger tapping a complicated rhythm on the wood-textured concrete top. It wasn't a good sign.
"You seem like a... well, like an angry, bitter old man, actually. But I've been working water haulers for the past five years. That just means you'd fit in."
"But," Miller said, and let the word hang there.
"But I've been shot at a lot recently, and the machine guns yesterday were the least lethal thing I've had to deal with," Holden said. "I'm not letting anyone on my ship that I wouldn't trust with my life, and I don't actually know you."
"I can get the money," Miller said, his belly sinking. "If it's money, I can cover it."
"It's not about negotiating a price," Holden said.
"Get the money?" Naomi said, her eyes narrowing. " 'Get the money,' as in you don't have it now?"
"I'm a little short," Miller said. "It's temporary."
"You have an income?" Naomi said.
"More like a strategy," Miller said. "There's some independent rackets down on the docks. There always are at any port. Side games. Fights. Things like that. Most of them, the fix is in. It's how you bribe cops without actually bribing cops."
"That's your plan?" Holden said, incredulity in his voice. "Go collect some police bribes?"
Across the restaurant, a prostitute in a red nightgown yawned prodigiously; the john across the table from her frowned.
"No," Miller said reluctantly. "I play the side bets. A cop goes in, I make a side bet that he's going to win. I know who the cops are mostly. The house, they know because they're bribing them. The side bets are with fish looking to feel edgy because they're playing unlicensed."
Even as he said it, Miller knew how weak it sounded. Alex, the pilot, came and sat beside Miller. His coffee smelled bright and acidic.
"What's the deal?" Alex asked.
"There isn't one," Holden said. "There wasn't one before and there still isn't."
"It works better than you'd think," Miller said gamely, and four hand terminals chimed at once. Holden and Naomi exchanged another, less complicit glance and pulled up their terminals. Amos and Alex already had theirs up. Miller caught the red-and-green border that meant either a priority message or an early Christmas card. There was a moment's silence as they all read something; then Amos whistled low.
"Stage three?" Naomi said.
"Can't say as I like the sound of that," Alex said.
"You mind if I ask?" Miller said.
Holden slid his terminal across the table. The message was plaintext, encoded from Tycho.
CAUGHT MOLE IN TYCHO COMM STATION. YOUR PRESENCE AND DESTINATION LEAKED TO UNKNOWN PERSONS ON EROS. BE CAREFUL.
"Little late on that," Miller said.
"Keep reading," Holden said.
MOLE'S ENCRYPTION CODE ALLOWED INTERCEPT OF SUBSIGNAL BROADCAST FROM EROS FIVE HOURS AGO.
INTERCEPTED MESSAGE FOLLOWS: HOLDEN ESCAPED BUT PAYLOAD SAMPLE RECOVERED. REPEAT: SAMPLE RECOVERED. PROCEEDING TO STAGE THREE.
"Any idea what that means?" Holden asked.
"I don't," Miller said, pushing the terminal back. "Except... if the payload sample is Julie's body."
"Which I think we can assume it is," Holden said.
Miller tapped his fingertips on the tabletop, unconsciously copying Holden's rhythm, his mind working through the combinations.
"This thing," Miller said. "The bioweapon or whatever. They were shipping it here. So now it's here. Okay. There's no reason to take out Eros. It's not particularly important to the war when you hold it up to Ceres or Ganymede or the shipyard at Callisto. And if you wanted it dead, there're easier ways. Blow a big fusion bomb on the surface, and crack it like an egg."
"It's not a military base, but it is a shipping hub," Naomi said. "And, unlike Ceres, it's not under OPA control."
"They're shipping her out, then," Holden said. "They're taking their sample out to infect whatever their original target was, and once they're off the station, there's no way we're going to stop it."
Miller shook his head. Something about the chain of logic felt wrong. He was missing something. His imaginary Julie appeared across the room, but her eyes were dark, black filaments pouring down her cheeks like tears.
What am I looking at here, Julie? he thought. I'm seeing something here, but I don't know what it is.
The vibration was a slight, small thing, less than a transport tube's braking stutter. A few plates rattled; the coffee in Naomi's cup danced in a series of concentric circles. Everyone in the hotel went silent with the sudden shared dread of thousands of people made aware of their fragility in the same moment.
"Oh-kay," Amos said. "The fuck was that?" and the emergency Klaxons started blaring.
"Or possibly stage three is something else," Miller said over the noise.
The public-address system was muddy by its nature. The same voice spoke from consoles and speakers that might have been as close as a meter from each other or as far out as earshot would take them. It made every word reverberate, a false echo. Because of that, the voice of the emergency broadcast system enunciated very carefully, each word bitten off separately.
"Attention, please. Eros Station is in emergency lockdown. Proceed immediately to the casino level for radiological safety confinement. Cooperate with all emergency personnel. Attention, please. Eros station is in emergency lockdown... "
And on in a loop that would continue, if no one coded in the override, until every man, woman, child, animal, and insect on the station had been reduced to dust and humidity. It was the nightmare scenario, and Miller did what a lifetime on pressurized rocks had trained him to do. He was up from the table, in the corridor, and heading down toward the wider passages, already clogged with bodies. Holden and his crew were on his heels.
"That was an explosion," Alex said. "Ship drive at the least. Maybe a nuke."
"They are going to kill the station," Holden said. There was a kind of awe in his voice. "I never thought I'd miss the part where they just blew up the ships I was on. But now it's stations."
"They didn't crack it," Miller said.
"You're sure of that?" Naomi asked.
"I can hear you talking," Miller said. "That tells me there's air."
"There are airlocks," Holden said. "If the station got holed and the locks closed down... "
A woman pushed hard against Miller's shoulder, forcing her way forward. If they weren't damn careful, there was going to be a stampede. This was too much fear and not enough space. It hadn't happened yet, but the impatient movement of the crowd, vibrating like molecules in water just shy of boiling, made Miller very uncomfortable.
"This isn't a ship," Miller said. "It's a station. This is rock we're on. Anything big enough to get to the parts of the station with atmosphere would crack the place like an egg. A great big pressurized egg."
The crowd was stopped, the tunnel full. They were going to need crowd control, and they were going to need it fast. For the first time since he'd left Ceres, Miller wished he had a badge. Someone pushed into Amos' side, then backed away through the press when the big guy growled.
"Besides," Miller said, "it's a rad hazard. You don't need air loss to kill everyone in the station. Just burn a few quadrillion spare neutrons through the place at C, and there won't be any trouble with the oxygen supply."
"Cheerful fucker," Amos said.
"They build stations inside of rocks for a reason," Naomi said. "Not so easy to force radiation through this many meters of rock."
"I spent a month in a rad shelter once," Alex said as they pushed through the thickening crowd. "Ship I was on had magnetic containment drop. Automatic cutoffs failed, and the reactor kept runnin' for almost a second. Melted the engine room. Killed five of the crew on the next deck up before they knew we had a problem, and it took them three days to carve the bodies free of the melted decking for burial. The rest of us wound up eighteen to a shelter for thirty-six days while a tug flew to get us."
"Sounds great," Holden said.
"End of it, six of 'em got married, and the rest of us never spoke to each other again," Alex said.
Ahead of them, someone shouted. It wasn't in alarm or even anger, really. Frustration. Fear. Exactly the things Miller didn't want to hear.
"That may not be our big problem," Miller said, but before he could explain, a new voice cut in, drowning out the emergency-response loop.
"Okay, everybody! We're Eros security, que no? We got an emergency, so you do what we tell you and nobody gets hurt."
About time, Miller thought.
"So here's the rule," the new voice said. "Next asshole who pushes anyone, I'm going to shoot them. Move in an orderly fashion. First priority: orderly. Second priority is move! Go, go, go!"
At first nothing happened. The knot of human bodies was tied too tightly for even the most heavy-handed crowd control to free quickly, but a minute later, Miller saw some heads far ahead of him in the tunnel start to shift, then move away. The air in the tunnel was thickening and the hot plastic smell of overloaded recyclers reached him just as the clot came free. Miller's breath started coming easier.
"Do they have hard shelters?" a woman behind them asked her companion, and then was swept away by the currents. Naomi plucked Miller's sleeve.
"Do they?" she asked.
"They should, yes," Miller said. "Enough for maybe a quarter million, and essential personnel and medical crews would get first crack at them."
"And everyone else?" Amos said.
"If they survive the event," Holden said, "station personnel will save as many people as they can."
"Ah," Amos said. Then: "Well, fuck that. We're going for the Roci, right?"
"Oh, hell yes," Holden said.
Ahead of them, the fast-shuffling crowd in their tunnel was merging with another flow of people from a lower level. Five thick-necked men in riot gear were waving people on. Two of them were pointing guns at the crowd. Miller was more than half tempted to go up and slap the little idiots. Pointing guns at people was a lousy way to avoid panic. One of the security men was also far too wide for his gear, the Velcro fasteners at his belly reaching out for each other like lovers at the moment of separation.
Miller looked down at the floor and slowed his steps, the back of his mind suddenly and powerfully busy. One of the cops swung his gun out over the crowd. Another one - the fat guy - laughed and said something in Korean.
What had Sematimba said about the new security force? All bluster, no balls. A new corporation out of Luna. Belters on the ground. Corrupt.
The name. They'd had a name. CPM. Carne Por la Machina. Meat for the machine. One of the gun-wielding cops lowered his weapon, swept off his helmet, and scratched violently behind one ear. He had wild black hair, a tattooed neck, and a scar that went from one eyelid down almost to the joint of his jaw.
Miller knew him. A year and a half ago, he'd arrested him for assault and racketeering. And the equipment - armor, batons, riot guns - also looked hauntingly familiar. Dawes had been wrong. Miller had been able to find his own missing equipment after all.
Whatever this was, it had been going on a long time before the Canterbury had picked up a distress call from the Scopuli. A long time before Julie had vanished. And putting a bunch of Ceres Station thugs in charge of Eros crowd control using stolen Ceres Station equipment had been part of the plan. The third phase.
Ah, he thought. Well. That can't be good.
Miller slid to the side, letting as many bodies as he plausibly could fill the space between him and the gunmen dressed as police.
"Get down to the casino level," one of the gunmen shouted over the crowd. "We'll get you into the radiation shelters from there, but you've got to get to the casino level!"
Holden and his crew hadn't noticed anything odd. They were talking among themselves, strategizing about how to get to their ship and what to do once they got there, speculating about who might have attacked the station and where Julie Mao's twisted, infected corpse might be headed. Miller fought the impulse to interrupt them. He needed to stay calm, to think things through. They couldn't attract attention. He needed the right moment.
The corridor turned and widened. The press of bodies lightened a little bit. Miller waited for a dead zone in the crowd control, a space where none of the fake security men could see them. He took Holden by the elbow.
"Don't go," he said.