Leviathan wakes, p.9
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       Leviathan Wakes, p.9
 

         Part #1 of Expanse series by James S. A. Corey
Chapter Eight: Miller

 

  Aggression against the Belt is what Earth and Mars survive on. Our weakness is their strength," the masked woman said from Miller's terminal screen. The split circle of the OPA draped behind her, like something painted on a sheet. "Don't be afraid of them. Their only power is your fear. "

  "Well, that and a hundred or so gunships," Havelock said.

  "From what I hear," Miller said, "if you clap your hands and say you believe, they can't shoot you. "

  "Have to try that sometime. "

  "We must rise up!" the woman said, her voice growing shrill. "We have to take our destiny before it is taken from us! Remember the Canterbury!"

  Miller shut the viewer down and leaned back in his chair. The station was at its change-of-shift surge, voices raised one over the other as the previous round of cops brought the incoming ones up to speed. The smell of fresh coffee competed with cigarette smoke.

  "There's maybe a dozen like her," Havelock said, nodding toward the dead terminal screen. "She's my favorite, though. There're times I swear she's actually foaming at the mouth. "

  "How many more files?" Miller asked, and his partner shrugged.

  "Two, three hundred," Havelock said, and took a drag on his cigarette. He'd started smoking again. "Every few hours, there's a new one. They aren't coming from one place. Sometimes they're broadcast on the radio. Sometimes the files show up on public partitions. Orlan found some guys at a portside bar passing out those little VR squids like they were pamphlets. "

  "She bust them?"

  "No," Havelock said as if it was no big deal.

  A week had passed since James Holden, self-appointed martyr, had proudly announced that he and his crew were going to go talk to someone from the Martian navy instead of just slinging shit and implications. The footage of the Canterbury's death was everywhere, debates raging over every frame. The log files that documented the incident were perfectly legitimate, or they were obviously doctored. The torpedoes that had slaughtered the hauler were nukes or standard pirate fare that breached the drive by mistake, or it was all artifice lifted from old stock footage to cover up what had really killed the Cant.

  The riots had lasted for three days on and off, like a fire hot enough to reignite every time the air pumped back in. The administrative offices reopened under heavy security, but they reopened. The ports fell behind, but they were catching up. The shirtless bastard who Miller had ordered shot was in the Star Helix detainment infirmary, getting new knees, filling out protests against Miller, and preparing for his murder trial.

  Six hundred cubic meters of nitrogen had gone missing from a warehouse in sector fifteen. An unlicensed whore had been beaten up and locked in a storage unit; as soon as she was done giving evidence about her attackers, she'd be arrested. They'd caught the kids who'd been breaking the surveillance cameras on level sixteen. Superficially, everything was business as usual.

  Only superficially.

  When Miller had started working homicide, one of the things that had struck him was the surreal calm of the victims' families. People who had just lost wives, husbands, children, and lovers. People whose lives had just been branded by violence. More often than not, they were calmly offering drinks and answering questions, making the detectives feel welcome. A civilian coming in unaware might have mistaken them for whole. It was only in the careful way they held themselves and the extra quarter second it took their eyes to focus that Miller could see how deep the damage was.

  Ceres Station was holding itself carefully. Its eyes were taking a quarter second longer to focus. Middle-class people - storekeepers, maintenance workers, computer techs - were avoiding him on the tube the way petty criminals did. Conversations died when Miller came near. In the station, the sense of being under siege was growing. A month earlier, Miller and Havelock, Cobb and Richter, and the rest had been the steadying hand of the law. Now they were employees of an Earth-based security contractor.

  The difference was subtle, but it was deep. It made him want to stand taller, to show with his body that he was a Belter. That he belonged there. It made him want to win people's good opinion back. Let by a bunch of guys passing out virtual reality propaganda with a warning, maybe.

  It wasn't a smart impulse.

  "What've we got on the board?" Miller asked.

  "Two burglaries that look like that same ring," Havelock said. "That domestic dispute from last week still needs the report closed up. There was a pretty good assault over by Nakanesh Import Consortium, but Shaddid was talking to Dyson and Patel about that, so it's probably spoken for already. "

  "So you want. . . "

  Havelock looked up and out to cover the fact that he was looking away. It was something he'd been doing more often since things had gone to shit.

  "We've really got to get the reports done," Havelock said. "Not just the domestic. There're four or five folders that are only still open because they need to be crossed and dotted. "

  "Yeah," Miller said.

  Since the riots, he'd watched everyone in a bar get served before Havelock. He'd seen how the other cops from Shaddid down went out of their way to reassure Miller that he was one of the good guys, a tacit apology for saddling him with an Earther. And he'd seen Havelock see it too.

  It made Miller want to protect the man, to let Havelock spend his days in the safety of paperwork and station house coffee. Help the man pretend that he wasn't hated for the gravity he'd grown up in.

  That wasn't a smart impulse either.

  "What about your bullshit case?" Havelock asked.

  "What?"

  Havelock held up a folder. The Julie Mao case. The kidnap job. The sideshow. Miller nodded and rubbed his eyes. Someone at the front of the station house yelped. Someone else laughed.

  "Yeah, no," Miller said. "Haven't touched it. "

  Havelock grinned and held it out to him. Miller accepted the file, flipped it open. The eighteen-year-old grinned out at him with perfect teeth.

  "I don't want to saddle you with all the desk driving," Miller said.

  "Hey, you're not the one that kept me off that one. That was Shaddid's call. And anyway. . . it's just paperwork. Never killed anyone. You feel guilty about it, you can buy me a beer after work. "

  Miller tapped the case against the corner of his desk, the small impacts settling the contents against the folder's spine.

  "Right," he said. "I'll go do some follow-up on the bullshit. I'll be back by lunch, write something up to keep the boss happy. "

  "I'll be here," Havelock said. Then, as Miller rose: "Hey. Look. I didn't want to say anything until I was sure, but I also don't want you to hear it someplace else. . . "

  "Put in for a transfer?" Miller said.

  "Yeah. Talked to some of those Protogen contractors that passed through. They say their Ganymede office is looking for a new lead investigator. And I thought. . . " Havelock shrugged.

  "It's a good move," Miller said.

  "Just want to go someplace with a sky, even if you look at it through domes," Havelock said, and all the bluff masculinity of police work couldn't keep the wistfulness out of his voice.

  "It's a good move," Miller said again.

  Juliette Andromeda Mao's hole was in the ninth level of a fourteen-tiered tunnel near the port. The great inverted V was almost half a kilometer wide at the top, and no more than a standard tube width at the bottom, the retrofit of one of a dozen reaction mass chambers from the years before the asteroid had been given its false gravity. Now thousands of cheap holes burrowed into the walls, hundreds on each level, heading straight back like shotgun shacks. Kids played on the terraced streets, shrieking and laughing at nothing. Someone at the bottom was flying a kite in the constant gentle spin breeze, the bright Mylar diamond swerving and bucking in the microturbulence. Miller checked his terminal against the numbers painted on the wall. 5151-I. Home sweet home to the poor little rich girl.

  He keyed his override, and the dirty gree
n door popped its seals and let him pass.

  The hole canted up into the body of the station. Three small rooms: general living space at the front, then a bedroom hardly larger than the cot it contained, then a stall with shower, toilet, and half sink all within elbow distance. It was a standard design. He'd seen it a thousand times.

  Miller stood for a minute, not looking at anything in particular, listening to the reassuring hiss of air cycling through ductwork. He reserved judgment, waiting as the back of his head built an impression of the place and, through it, of the girl who'd lived there.

  Spartan was the wrong word. The place was simple, yes. The only decorations were a small framed watercolor of a slightly abstracted woman's face over the table in the front room and a cluster of playing-card-sized plaques over the cot in the bedroom. He leaned close to read the small script. A formal award granting Julie Mao - not Juliette - purple belt status by the Ceres Center for Jiu Jitsu. Another stepping her up to brown belt. They were two years apart. Tough school, then. He put his fingers on the empty space on the wall where one for black could go. There was none of the affectation - no stylized throwing stars or imitation swords. Just a small acknowledgment that Julie Mao had done what she had done. He gave her points for that.

  The drawers had two changes of clothes, one of heavy canvas and denim and one of blue linen with a silk scarf. One for work, one for play. It was less than Miller owned, and he was hardly a clotheshorse.

  With her socks and underwear was a wide armband with the split circle of the OPA. Not a surprise, for a girl who'd turned her back on wealth and privilege to live in a dump like this. The refrigerator had two takeaway boxes filled with spoiled food and a bottle of local beer.

  Miller hesitated, then took the beer. He sat at the table and pulled up the hole's built-in terminal. True to Shaddid's word, Julie's partition opened to Miller's password.

  The custom background was a racing pinnace. The interface was customized in small, legible iconography. Communication, entertainment, work, personal. Elegant. That was the word. Not Spartan, but elegant.

  He paged quickly through her professional files, letting his mind take in an overview, just as he had with the whole living space. There would be time for rigor, and a first impression was usually more useful than an encyclopedia. She had training videos on several different light transport craft. Some political archives, but nothing that raised a flag. A scanned volume of poetry by some of the first settlers in the Belt.

  He shifted to her personal correspondence. It was all kept as neat and controlled as a Belter's. All incoming messages were filtered to subfolders. Work, Personal, Broadcast, Shopping. He popped open Broadcast. Two or three hundred political newsfeeds, discussion group digests, bulletins and announcements. A few had been viewed here and there, but nothing with any sort of religious observation. Julie was the kind of woman who would sacrifice for a cause, but not the kind who'd take joy in reading the propaganda. Miller filed that away.

  Shopping was a long tracking of simple merchant messages. Some receipts, some announcements, some requests for goods and services. A cancellation for a Belt-based singles circle caught his eye. Miller re-sorted for related correspondence. Julie had signed up for the "low g, low pressure" dating service in February of the previous year and canceled in June without having used it.

  The Personal folder was more diverse. At a rough guess there were sixty or seventy subfolders broken down by name. Some were people - Sascha Lloyd-Navarro, Ehren Michaels. Others were private notations - Sparring Circle, OPA.

  Bullshit Guilt Trips.

  "Well, this could be interesting," he said to the empty hole.

  Fifty messages dating back five years, all marked as originating at the Mao-Kwikowski Mercantile stations in the Belt and on Luna. Unlike the political tracts, all but one had been opened.

  Miller took a pull from the beer and considered the most recent two messages. The most recent, still unread, was from JPM. Jules-Pierre Mao, at a guess. The one immediately before it showed three drafted replies, none of them sent. It was from Ariadne. The mother.

  There was always an element of voyeurism in being a detective. It was legal for him to be here, poking through the private life of a woman he'd never met. It was part of his legitimate investigation to know that she was lonely, that the only toiletries in her bathroom were her own. That she was proud. No one would have any complaints to make, or at least any that carried repercussions for his job, if he read every private message on her partition. Drinking her beer was the most ethically suspect thing he'd done since he'd come in.

  And still he hesitated for a few seconds before opening the second-to-last message.

  The screen shifted. On better equipment, it would have been indistinguishable from ink on paper, but Julie's cheap system shuddered at the thinnest lines and leaked a soft glow at the left edge. The handwriting was delicate and legible, either done with a calligraphic software good enough to vary letter shape and line width, or else handwritten.

  Sweetheart:

  I hope everything's going well for you. I wish you would write to me on your own sometimes. I feel like I have to put in a request in triplicate just to hear how my own daughter is doing. I know this adventure of yours is all about freedom and self-reliance, but surely there's still room in there to be considerate.

  I wanted to get in touch with you especially because your father is going through one of his consolidation phases again, and we're thinking of selling the Razorback. I know it was important to you once, but I suppose we've all given up on your racing again. It's just racking up storage fees now, and there's no call to be sentimental.

  It was signed with the flowing initials AM.

  Miller considered the words. Somehow he'd expected the parental extortions of the very rich to be more subtle. If you don't do as we say, we'll get rid of your toys. If you don't write. If you don't come home. If you don't love us.

  Miller opened the first incomplete draft.

  Mother, if that's what you call yourself:

  Thank you so much for dropping yet another turd onto my day. I can't believe how selfish and petty and crude you are. I can't believe you sleep at night or that you ever thought I could

  Miller skimmed the rest. The tone seemed consistent. The second draft reply was dated two days later. He skipped to it.

  Mom:

  I'm sorry we've been so estranged these last few years. I know it's been hard for you and for Daddy. I hope you can see that the decisions I've made were never meant to hurt either of you.

  About the Razorback, I wish you'd reconsider. She's my first boat, and I

  It stopped there. Miller leaned back.

  "Steady on, kid," he said to the imaginary Julie, then opened the last draft.

  Ariadne:

  Do what you have to.

  Julie

  Miller laughed and raised his bottle to the screen in toast. They'd known how to hit her where it hurt, and Julie had taken the blow. If he ever caught her and shipped her back, it was going to be a bad day for both of them. All of them.

  He finished the beer, dropped the bottle into the recycling chute, and opened the last message. He more than half dreaded learning the final fate of the Razorback, but it was his job to know as much as he could.

  Julie:

  This is not a joke. This is not one of your mother's drama fits. I have solid information that the Belt is about to be a very unsafe place. Whatever differences we have we can work out later.

  FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY COME HOME NOW.

  Miller frowned. The air recycler hummed. Outside, the local kids whistled high and loud. He tapped the screen, closing the last Bullshit Guilt Trip message, then opened it again.

  It had been sent from Luna, two weeks before James Holden and the Canterbury raised the specter of war between Mars and the Belt.

  This sideshow was getting interesting.

 
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