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The Long, Dark Goodnight

Vivienne Raper1

I saw a lot of death as a copper. Accidental suicides, drug overdoses . . . I once saw a bloke with the back of his head blown off and his face flopped over his neck like a mask. Most of them didn’t get to me—I could block it out somehow.

But the dead kids got to me. Still get to me, even here, in this spinning can, billions of miles from Mother Earth.

The girl lying in the mortuary drawer had thick, long dark hair and smooth caramel skin. Her slim hands were folded in the lap of her hospital gown. There wasn’t a mark on her. When they look like that, you half expect them to climb off the tray.

“What happened?” I asked.

Angel, the senior doctor, pulled open a second drawer. “Besma came in with her boyfriend. They both had headache and dizziness. She was worried about the baby.”

I nodded. Last time I’d seen this girl, she was waiting for a checkup. Sixteen years old. Twenty-three weeks pregnant. Now she was dead. Angel rolled back the sheet on the second corpse: thick blond hair, acne scars on both cheeks, long rectangular jaw—the boyfriend. Seventeen last month. Both of them, still just kids.

I smoothed the sheet back over his face. “Any idea on cause of death?”

Angel shook her head.

You get a hunch sometimes, when you’ve been working as a cop. I joke that it’s my spidey sense, yes, after the superhero. It’s this niggling itch that you’re not getting the full story.

I looked at Angel closely. She was a small, slim woman with freshly-ironed scrubs, her hair in a neat black bob. Not chatty like the nurses in MedLab, she’d worked in a private hospital in Manila and had one of the bigger cabins on A Deck. Her lips were pressed into a tight line.

“What about cause of illness?” I asked.

Her lips twitched. “We had an equipment failure. We’ve been monitoring patients, but . . .” She shrugged, unhappily.

“What caused that?” I asked.

“Local computer issues. We’ve called out an engineer.”

She folded her arms. I took a couple of deep breaths. I pride myself on acting professional but, as I say, dead kids get to me. “It’s my job to ask these questions,” I said in a softer voice.

“Tony . . . I know.” She lowered her head.

Asked her some easy questions. The kids came in two days before. They were okay until they weren’t. MedLab treated their symptoms but—with the equipment gremlins, the cramped and crowded clinic—there wasn’t much they could do. She rolled the corpses back into the cabinet and I couldn’t help looking at the soft swell of the girl’s belly.

“What happened to the baby?” I asked.

“Emergency caesarean,” she said.

Didn’t want to ask. “Alive?”

She made a seesaw motion with her hands. “Touch and go.”

I went to see the baby. She was squirming about in a clear plastic bag, hanging on a rail, with black tubing emerging from her navel. I watched her for a while—the first baby born in space. She was red, with veins on her knees. Her little hands were clenching and unclenching. I could have held her in the palm of my hand.

They’d told the crew and colonists not to have kids. We had a talk on precautions in basic training. Not to get political about it, but we needed it—half the colonists on the Cheng Ho are teens. A physicist from NASA flew over to present on cosmic rays and brain damage. “Forget life insurance,” he’d said; “you can’t afford the premium.”

Not that I needed life insurance.

My daughter died six years ago; killed by a drunken scrote in an uninsured car, crossing the road on her walk home from school. He got community service and a disqualification. I kept calm watching him laugh his way out of court. My wife never got over it. Our marriage didn’t survive it either. I was a sergeant in the Met serving London south of the river. I knew I’d either get cynical about road traffic or I’d get fanatical. I didn’t want to get either.

When they advertised for a security officer with European policing experience for a UN mission to the new world, Terra Nova, I had nothing to lose. I’d always been a bit of a science fiction geek. Asimov, Heinlein, the old stuff—reading it under the covers until midnight as a kid.

Lizzie, the Scottish nurse, handed me a mug of tea. “She’s doing well for a wee one, given what a hard time she’s had,” she said, nodding at the baby.

I cupped the warm mug in my hands. Lizzie was a Brit, like me—or close enough, anyway—and I liked her for it. The familiarity of home.

“You were monitoring the girl, weren’t you?” I asked.

Lizzie rubbed her eyes. “Yes, sweet lass she was. Excited about the bairn. A bit scared too, to tell you the truth, but the wee one was developing well enough.”

“No sign of suicide?”

“No. Not a hint of it.” She grimaced and rubbed her eyes again. A tear rolled down her cheek. “Forgive me, I’m blubbering like a bairn myself.”

Waiting for her to get it together, I prised the ‘low-pressure’ lid off the mug. The tea was lukewarm. You can’t boil water properly with the air pressures you get aboard ship. I sipped the tea: it tasted of powdered milk. Motorway service station tea on the highway to the stars.

I handed the mug back to Lizzie. “Anything physically wrong with Besma?”

She looked straight into my eyes.

“Ach, if you ask me, the only thing wrong with Besma was her father, the sexist Arab bastard. If you’re looking for who killed her, you should talk to him.”

I inwardly groaned at that. I’d arrested Dr. Akbar al Damer, Besma’s father, a month back. My mate Jamal and I responded to a call of a male shouting and being disruptive in what had become the ‘European quarter’ on B Deck.

No sign of a weapon, but it was 23:00, and the people in the nearby cabins were wanting to get some sleep. The Portuguese woman who called OpSec (the nick) thought he was shouting in Arabic—so, before I could attend the disturbance, I had to get Jamal out of bed.

Jamal was the UN Africa Group liaison. He was pretty cheesed off at me for getting him up, but—as I said to him—he was the only member of our team who spoke Arabic.

The way policing works on the Cheng Ho is a bit like policing in international waters—the 120 nationalities onboard are subject to their own laws. What this means in practice is 120 different bodies of law, policed by six security officers who need to be on call 24/7 in case—for example—an Indian and a South African get hammered and into a fight.

I’d like to say that drunks on the Cheng Ho were rare, but we get about two calls a week dealing with people lying in the corridors. The week before, I’d arrested a bootleg brewer who’d been cooking up moonshine in the botany lab. Space makes people go mental. It’s the isolation, seeing the Earth receding behind you, being on a one-way mission . . . some find God. Some go berserk. The rest get drunk.

They’ve even got a name for it—the Lunar Effect.

As it was, Dr. al Damer was an observant Muslim who frowned upon alcohol, and especially his teenage daughter getting pregnant after drinking it with her German boyfriend. Not that I blamed him, really. When we arrived, he was trying to have it out with the boyfriend by hammering on his cabin door and threatening to murder him (in heavily-accented German, as it turned out).

The minute he saw us, he left off banging on the door and planted himself in front of Jamal. “2 he said, indignantly.

(I didn’t need a translation. He was demanding Jamal “do something”—like every bloke with an exaggerated sense of his own importance I’d ever met on the job.)

“What’s going on here?” I asked.

“Officer, my daughter has been kidnapped! By a German boy,” he said, gesturing. “She is in this boy’s cabin.”

I advised al Damer to vacate the area as security were now in attendance (or, at least, that’s what I put in my report). He started ranting that this was about his daughter and a private matter—somewhat surprising as five minutes before Jamal told me he’d wanted us to break into the cabin.

Jamal warned him under Section 5 of the Public Order Act (or the Saudi equivalent, at least) and took a firm grip of his arm to pull him away from the door. Whereupon, he resisted, so I assisted by pulling his arms behind his back and cuffing him. Then Jamal dragged him, shouting and kicking, away from the cabin and I knocked on the door.

It turned out that Besma had run away to her boyfriend’s cabin earlier that evening—after finally telling her dad she was twenty weeks pregnant.

“I knew he’d go crazy,” she said. “I was scared of him. When I told him, he told me he wouldn’t let me leave.”

Back at OpSec, al Damer was ranting on about how he was an eminent Saudi chemist and was going to make a complaint to the authorities back on Earth. Part of my job, as it’s turned out, has been top-level diplomat. When any jumped-up scrote can claim that the reason they were restrained, drunk and in a fight, is because of geopolitics back on Earth, it makes security harder for everyone.

Luckily, as the mission’s gone on, it’s become clearer; if we were a bunch of nationalist thugs, Terran bureaucrats couldn’t do a thing about it.

I explained this to al Damer. Then I explained the onboard contract where he agreed to keep away from his daughter, and I didn’t throw him into the brig.

“But she’s my daughter,” he protested. “She’s my responsibility.”

“She’s the responsibility of the ship,” I said.

I left him in the brig while we called an emergency shipboard summit. This was the first pregnancy aboard ship. The girl was risking her life—and that of the baby. We needed the medical team to look her over.

As we waited, Jamal told me a story about two Saudi girls who wanted to go on “adventures,” aka dates. The strict dad drowned his daughter in their swimming pool, in full view of the family, to put off any other girls. The tolerant father locked his daughter in an attic and fed her through a slit in the door. She died a few years later.

“That book was banned in Saudi, but people read it in secret,” said Jamal, who’d lived there a few years.

“Al Damer is a tolerant father?” I asked.

Jamal shrugged. “Something like that. Although killing your daughter is not, in truth, the Saudi way . . . ”

At 8am ship’s time sharp, I presented myself to the shipboard summit. It’s a room full of senior crew and colony council bureaucrats—the bigwigs chosen to rule over us, God forgive us, when we get to the other end. I put forward my view that dad couldn’t stay living with his daughter and we don’t have the brig space to lock him up until we reach Terra Nova.

We spent hours and hours discussing this. The geopolitical, philosophical and legal ramifications of a baby aboard ship and granddad being out of the picture, blah blah. Almost everyone on this ship, except yours truly, has a Ph.D. in something or other. The medical team report that the baby is developing normally. Eventually housing agrees with me that Besma and her boyfriend need to move to their own large cabin in the European quarter. To make room for the poor sod currently in the cabin, housing will convert a storage container on C Deck.

In the meantime, dad will sign a contract to keep out the European quarter. Daughter and dad will talk to the ship’s counselor—the ‘go to’ option for every fight aboard ship.

I let out al Damer. He was as meek as a baby. He went back to his cabin, his daughter moved out, and I started to believe I’d hear no more about it.

Shows you can never be too cynical as a cop.

I’d like to say the next thing I did was investigate the suspicious deaths, but the truth is that OpSec doesn’t work that way. As per usual, there were only two of us on duty—myself and Larry, the USA Group Liaison.

On the way back to OpSec, I was diverted to the botany labs. A Dutch botanist had called to report that the bootleg brewer was up to his old tricks again. The complainant was European and Larry had to hold the fort.

I spent the next half hour talking to an American botanist who was adamant that, no siree, he was nothing to do with the French bloke I’d nicked (arrested) for brewing booze the previous week, and—yeah—the fermenting potatoes were one hundred percent for research purposes.

We took him down to OpSec where, because it was busy, Ryan and I (we were on first-name terms by this point) spent an hour talking about American spelling and mutual friends. Turned out that he was Angel’s boyfriend.

His fingerprints matched up with the ones on the vodka we’d confiscated the previous week. I persuaded him to sign a waiver and left him in the waiting area while Larry got a warrant to search his cabin.

Later that day, Larry told me there’d been a drunken fight on the American side of A Deck. Two people taken to MedLab with minor cuts and bruises. A third bloke arrested. An hour later Larry found five litres of vodka stashed in the bootlegger’s cabin.

I’d love to say that we banged him up until we hit Terra Nova, but the captain told Larry that “prohibition didn’t work.” So, later that evening, I let the bootlegger go. He and his mate’ll get to carry on brewing booze, but under close supervision . . . apparently.

Yes. Babysitting bootleggers. This is why I joined a mission to the stars.

Death knocks were the worst part of being a copper. You’re telling a loved one that they’re never going to see their mother, wife, husband, son, or daughter ever again. Even when it’s an accidental death, and you weren’t on the scene, it doesn’t make it any easier. That said, I’ve had a few weird ones where I had to call HQ to check that it wasn’t suspicious and the family member had an alibi.

Al Damer, I expected to be a weird one. We picked him up after Larry got a report from MedLab “Male arguing with staff. Wants to see his daughter.” I was still babysitting the bootlegger, so he woke up Simon Zhang, the Singaporean Asia-Pacific Group liaison.

By the time I arrived, al Damer was sitting in the MedLab waiting room. He’d been handcuffed and his head was down. I’d be lying if I said I’d expected him to be upset, but his whole body was shaking with grief, poor bloke. Someone, possibly Simon, had made him a cup of tea—although, with the cuffs on, he couldn’t drink it.

Now, I wasn’t a detective. I’d never wanted to be, and I certainly wasn’t trained in interview techniques like you see on TV. The closest I’d got to criminological profiling was talking a drunk guy down off a roof in Brixton. I had no idea how to interrogate a Saudi chemist who may—or may not—have murdered his kid.

So I did my usual routine for death knocks. Introducing myself. Expressing sympathies. Looking sympathetic.

Al Damer looked up at me. He was a well-turned out bloke; neatly-trimmed goatee beard, black-rimmed designer specs, but right then his eyes were red rimmed and bloodshot. Either he was the world’s greatest actor or he was genuinely gutted by the death of his daughter.

“You know I’ve got to ask you some questions?” I said gently.

He nodded stiffly.

“Do you want to speak to anyone? A lawyer, maybe?”

A slow dark flush spread across his cheeks. “You believe I killed my daughter. But it is you who is responsible . . . ”

“Okay.” This was news to me.

“. . . You took her away to be with the German boy.”


“You let her continue drinking . . . whoring . . . when she is just a girl and it is haram.”


“Our people are not like you. We don’t do this. That boy changed her. She was a good girl. Because of this, Besma, the flower of my life, she is dead.”

I reflected on this for a moment. This was the bloke who’d locked his daughter in his cabin, and then gone crazy, threatening to kill her boyfriend. I gently pointed this out. Then I asked him when he last saw his daughter.

He shook his head, “I have not seen my daughter. How could I see her? You stopped me. I promised my wife, Allah have mercy, I would keep my children safe.”

He sounded honest. We hadn’t heard a dicky bird about him. He began to pray, “Allah, have mercy on my daughter. Have mercy on me. Guide me. Guide me.” Looking into his tear-streaked face, I could have been looking at myself, six years ago. Grieving dad. Trying to make sense of a new world.

“Look, I need your help, Akbar,” I said. “We think your daughter’s death could have been suspicious . . . ”

“Your colleague says that you have no idea how my daughter died.”

“Investigations are ongoing,” I said, “. . . But if it is suspicious, I want to catch the bugger who did it. You’re her father. You might know.”

He thought about this. “Tony,” he said, shaking his head slowly with each syllable, “know that I did not kill my daughter.”

“You allegedly locked her in your cabin. At least ten people heard you threatening to kill her boyfriend. You can see how that might look?”

“It was in the heat of anger. There is no reason for me to kill my daughter. She is my blood. We are going to a new world. We have no other family. We are blood. How can you think I would kill my own blood?”

“She shamed you?”

“Honor killing is not part of my culture.”

“Then why lock her up?”

He met my eyes. “My daughter had gone wild aboard this ship. It is full of temptations . . . I wished to protect her. I have a good friend, a good Muslim. He lost his wife to cancer and, awash of grief, he came on this mission. I wished him to marry my daughter—I thought he would be a calming influence upon her.”

“And you locked her up?”

“I needed her to be without child. I knew she would not agree.”

I was interrupted by a pat on the shoulder. Simon, the Asia-Pacific liaison, said, “Sorry . . . Lizzie wants to talk to you outside.”

I stepped into the corridor and Lizzie handed me a tablet PC. “The doc’s got a preliminary COD [cause of death].”

“Which is?”

“Probably methanol poisoning, poor bairns. He’s trying to firm it up right now.”

I looked down at the pad. It was all numbers and percentages. “Any idea where the methanol came from?”

She shook her head.

I thought about al Damer. “How about the chemistry labs?”

“Ach, I suppose so.”

I thanked her and walked back into the waiting room. Al Damer was exactly where I left him.

“You’re a chemist, aren’t you?” I asked.

He nodded, warily.

“How often do you use methanol?”

He put his head into his handcuffed hands. “That is how she died, isn’t it? This is all your fault—she drank, which is haram, and she died—” I heard him choke up, and then he howled like a wounded animal.

I left him with his grief. And maybe I took a little of it with me, too.

Food. It brings people together across cultural barriers—or, at least, that’s what the cultural diversity people at UN Headquarters insisted, during our training. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t object to the idea of cultural awareness. The reality, though, was some of us—Jamal and I included—privately questioned why we were spending so much time on stuff that seemed unnecessary.

I don’t think we were interested in a sociology professor from Geneva discussing “diversity of cultural expression”—and other jargon—while we watched Japanese puppet theatre. Us security officers fondly imagined our job was stopping a Japanese linguist getting into fisticuffs with his Malaysian counterpart over something that happened in World War II (which only happened sometimes).

Yet, twenty days in, we still hadn’t covered basic questions like: “Why do cultures differ?” “How does this lead to misunderstandings?” “What tips, tricks or advice are there for social mediation, i.e. helping people from different cultures get along?”

Maybe even, “How do you deal with a Saudi bloke who may have killed his own daughter?”

Luckily, like all good coppers, Jamal and I aren’t averse to a great dinner or two. So I met him at the Ban Kai Moon saloon for a freshly-made curry. It wasn’t a good curry, let alone great, made even less tasty by the thin air interfering with the smell, but it was the best you’re likely to get 50AU from Earth.

I showed him the audio-visual recording of my conversation with al Damer. Jamal used an earpiece to keep anyone else from listening in.

“You think he did it?” I asked.

He shook his head. “I don’t think so.” He prodded his curry with a spoon, thinking. “He’s not a psychopath. The pre-mission tests weeded them out. He is correct that honor killing is rare in Saudi Arabia. It’s more common in rural Pakistan.”

Jamal had family in Saudi Arabia. He loved them. Talked about them all the time. He’d lived in Saudi for twelve years and New York for five. That made him either an unbiased expert or a lying patriot—although, to be honest, it didn’t matter either way.

“So what does happen if a girl shames her family?”

“By getting pregnant? She has a secret abortion. If word gets out, she is quickly married off to an older man. If not, Saudi women are smart. My relatives tell me girls use goat’s blood capsules to fake virginity.”

“What al Damer said, then.”

“Do you believe him?” asked Jamal.

“He’s a grief-stricken dad,” I said.

So, yes, I believed him. I had first-hand experience. Thing is, what I believed was entirely irrelevant to whether he would end up being spaced as a murderer. The way the law works, even in space, is that you can only get convicted of a crime if there’s evidence—beyond reasonable doubt—that you committed the crime.

And, right then, neither Jamal or I had any evidence.

We squeezed into al Damer’s cabin on A Deck and found nothing but kids’ clothes and a well-thumbed Koran. I picked it up and looked at it. I knew there was not a word in the book that sanctioned honor killings. Negative evidence counts, too. We took the lift down to B Deck and chatted to the scientists working overnight shifts. They didn’t use methanol and had no reason to suspect al Damer. We rode another floor down to the maintenance area on C Deck where we found a stash of ganja in the head technician’s office. I told him to bag it up and OpSec would give him a ration card.

Jamal and I went back to the canteen to search the shipboard surveillance systems for footage of al Damer in MedLab or outside his daughter’s cabin. He’d never been in either place.

At 01:00 ship’s time, I finally made a call to Earth to report the murders. It would be fourteen hours—more than half a day—before I got a reply, even an acknowledgement. With no excuse to hold him, and two drunks asleep in the waiting room, Jamal and I told Dr. al Damer to keep out of trouble and released him to his cabin. By Sod’s law, I shouldn’t have.

An hour later, I rode the lift back to my cramped cabin.

I’d only been in bed ten minutes—or that’s how it felt anyway—when OpSec put out a general call for assistance:

“All officers to attend B Deck, Section 2. Reports of youths fighting in the Middle Eastern quarter. Weapons seen.”

It was 04:00. My cabin was in the aft of the ship. Section 2 was towards the bow. I couldn’t hear anything. At that stage, I didn’t know how bad things were going to get. I thought it was the usual. Drunks . . . lover’s tiff . . . I didn’t make the connection.

I started shrugging my uniform back on. I was about to clip on my communicator when I felt the floor shake beneath my feet. Then the lights flickered and went out briefly. I heard the shipboard PA crackle into life: “Warning. Air system failure. Air system failure on B Deck,” and I thought shit, that’s bad.

For the first time since we’d blasted into space, I felt my life was in danger. It was an odd feeling in a cabin with no sign of a problem, on a space mission that was dangerous by definition.

I was the frontline of security on the ship. The ship was designed to automatically close off corridors and cabins to maintain oxygen and Co2 levels. I didn’t want to go outside the safety of my cabin, but I sort of had to. I raided my closet for my emergency spacesuit—chunky helmet, thick padded chest plate, protective boots—and opened the door onto the B Deck corridor.

The first thing I noticed was . . . well, nothing. The corridor’s usually busy 24/7, all the time, with the ship having no true night or day. But it was empty and silent. I guess people were staying in their cabins, for safety.

My protective boots made a heavy thudding sound, but I soon heard shouts and chants above my footsteps. An insistent amber light popped up on my heads-up display to report that oxygen concentrations were twenty-six percent and rising. I turned a corner and heard Jamal shout “No sparks,” and was in the thick of twenty lads fighting . . . just like a pub fight.

Except that it wasn’t.

Our officers, some crew, and a couple of big Turkish colonists, were trying to break them up. In the low light of the ship’s corridor, claret [blood] was splattered across faces. The youths, all mid-teens I’d guess, were coded like a football team, but without the strips—Arab-looking lads on one side, and a smattering of black teenagers and various white Europeans on the other.

I’ve dealt with a fair few ruckuses as a cop, but my instinct was to stop and gawk . . . We were in a narrow, rotating tunnel with broken ventilation pipes lining the walls and the metal gangway splattered with blood. A few of the Arab lads had makeshift weapons you’d never find in a pub brawl . . . a spacesuit tether line, a zoologist’s tranquilizer gun, and nail scissors.

I felt my hands sweating in my spacesuit gloves. The total Twilight Zone-ness of the situation was unnerving. The low gravity, half that of Earth, gave the rioters’ movements a clumsy, unworldly grace.

“Tony,” someone shouted. “Over here.”

I rushed over to help a group of crew members who were holding two youths apart. They were trying to get them into handcuffs, but the Polish youth was spitting and shouting. “Calm down. You’re under arrest,” I said, and locked handcuffs onto his wrists while he cursed me—for “protecting a murderer.”

The fight, I realized, was close to Dr. al Damer’s quarters.

Some of the maintenance crew had arrived from C Deck. They dragged the shouting youth off towards the brig while I ran back. I had sweat pouring down my back—completely terrified and trying not to show it—and my skin was prickling with fear. The oxygen percentage was up to thirty-one percent, but the teenagers were still in full punch up mode—either too angry or too drunk to care.

Jamal was grappling with an Arab-looking teenager armed with a short rod with a spike at the end (a soil penetrometer he’d nicked from storage). He was quite tall and lanky, and brandishing it overhead like a short spear. I rammed into him like a rugby prop forward, which sounds brutal, but there’s no good way of subduing a crazy drunk. “Police, police,” I shouted, and the rod went skidding across the deck. The youth swore and yelled, “Get the fuck off me,” and we rolled about on the metal gangway, until Jamal and a guy I didn’t know managed to grab both his arms.

By the time we got him into handcuffs, the others had got control of the fight and the various combatants were being dragged towards nearby cabins for questioning. I was about to send our youth off with the rest of them when I noticed his narrow face, thick wavy hair and slightly angular eyebrows. They had a family resemblance to the girl on the mortuary slab.

“Al Damer?” I asked.

“Fuck you,” he replied, which was all I needed to put two and two together.

Taking that as a “yes,” we wrestled Besma’s brother, Rashid, into a nearby cabin. Jamal gave him a cup of coffee while the rest of us spent what seemed like days interviewing a motley collection of Arabs and Westerners—many of whom turned out to be Rashid’s ex-drinking buddies. Unsurprisingly, they all blamed each other.

It was all “Rashid drunk himself stupid.” “Then his Muslim friends attacked us” and “this mob of Westerners set upon us—for no reason. They’re all Islamophobic, man.”

From what I could tell, Rashid and a bunch of other teenage wasters of various nationalities had taken to hanging around the hydroponics bays on C Deck. Mostly boozing and having sex behind the dwarf wheat—just like every bored yobbo back on Earth, but with a decent excuse for having nothing to do and a better class of parent.

At some point, earlier that evening, Rashid had started getting lairy (or, rowdy, as I put in my report), accusing everyone of discriminating against his dad. One of the French kids said it was Dr. al Damer who killed Besma, and Rashid started attacking him. The Muslim teenagers sided with Rashid and, when he started losing, everyone fled to B Deck.

At least, that’s the story according to Jan-Frederick Muller, a friend of Besma’s dead boyfriend. Rashid’s mates, of course, had a different story. But to be honest, I didn’t care whose fault it was.

You don’t fight on a spaceship.

It’s not Star Wars.

And most of them were underage.

Anyway, by the time I’d finished, Rashid had sobered up. He sat in the cabin with a coffee, looking faintly sheepish, while I asked him questions. He was a lot more Westernized than his sister, clean shaven with gelled hair, and a UNCS Cheng Ho T-shirt and jeans underneath his regulation canvas trousers.

“They’re just fucking Islamophobic,” he said, in a strong American accent. “My dad’s a liberal guy. I’m a liberal guy. How can they believe crazy stuff like he killed my sister?”

His side of the story was that his so-called European friends started accusing his dad of murdering his sister. When he defended him, they rounded up an angry mob and tried to storm al Damer’s cabin. “I was just trying to protect my dad,” he said.

“I’m going to need to talk to your dad,” I said.

His face turned faintly gray. “Please don’t tell him I’d been drinking. Please . . . He’ll kill me. I mean . . . not literally, he’ll kill me, I mean, he wouldn’t . . . actually kill me, you know . . . but . . . he’ll get mad.”

I didn’t get to tell him: you should have thought of that before you and your mates went Rebel Alliance and cracked an oxygen pipe. My communicator buzzed. It was Lizzie.

I went outside.

“We’ve got more from forensics,” she said.

“Go ahead.”

“Nothing much of interest . . . ”

It was my spidey sense going again. “Except?”

“She’d got alcohol in her bloodstream. Both of them had.” Lizzie sighed and paused for a moment. “Don’t want to speak ill of the dead. But she shouldn’t have been drinking with a wee bairn on the way.”

“Baby is doing well?” I asked.

“Squirming away . . . she’s a real little fighter.”

“How long did they drink before they died?”

“Same time as the methanol.”

“Doped booze?”

“Ach, maybe. I’m not a doctor . . . or a detective.”

“Lizzie. Neither am I.”

I went back into the cabin. Now I had something to ask Rashid. I sat directly in front of him, leaning forward, with my elbows on my knees—a look that meant business.

“Tell me about your sister.” I said.

Rashid put his head into his hands, and began to sob. “It’s my fault. It’s all my fault.”

“Your fault?” I asked.

“I was her brother. She was all I had . . . my family, my blood. I should have protected her better.”

“Do you know what happened to her?”

He shook his head.

“The autopsy says that she died of methanol poisoning. She’d been drinking before her death.”

“NOOOOOOO . . .” He began rocking backwards and forwards, without looking up. I had a niggling feeling that he knew something, and it was causing him unimaginable guilt. I gave him a moment to compose himself. Then I asked, softly, “Your friends say that you often went drinking in the hydroponics bay.”

“Fuck, don’t tell my dad that.”

I sighed. “Rashid, you’re how old? fifteen, sixteen?”


“That’s still underage in most jurisdictions; even if you weren’t supposed to have a religious objection to booze. Look, how about I’ll be vague with your dad—provided that you tell me what you know about your sister.”

He finally looked at me, nodding.

“Okay. When did you last see your sister?” I asked.

He swallowed and knotted his fingers together. “Last Friday, three . . . no four days ago.” He paused. “She was with her boyfriend, you know, Hans, who died. We were hanging out in the hydroponics bay . . . ”


He shuffled uncomfortably. “Yeah.”

“Where did you get the booze?”

He swallowed again. “Ryan. He’s an American botanist.”

“I know him.”

“He brews it in the botany labs. Seriously, though, he wouldn’t have murdered Besma, he’s got no reason to kill her. He really liked her. And he’s not the type.”

“We had psychometric testing to get aboard this boat. No one should be the type.”

He gave me a wide-eyed look of terror. I couldn’t blame him. I wasn’t exactly happy with the idea of sharing a three-hundred-meter-long flying can with a double murderer myself. “Is there anyone among your mates who might have wanted Besma dead?”

He shook his head again and put his hands across his face. I patted him on the arm and stood up. “Look, I’ve got to slap on a curfew for rioting, underage drinking, and damaging the ship, but—I swear—I’ll find who killed your sister and make sure they’re held responsible.”

He glanced up with a hopeful look.

I’d remember that look as long as I lived.

We just got lucky on casualties—it could have been a lot worse. Two of the kids needed to go to MedLab—one with a broken nose and the other with a stab wound in his chest. One of the Turkish guys had a mild concussion from being hit on the head with a pipe. I was bruised all over—hips, thighs, elbows—from rolling on the floor with Rashid. Nothing serious, but not how I’d have wanted to spend my evening.

Contrary to what you hear, cops like me don’t like fighting. We do the job for the pay and to catch criminals. If you get into a fight, you risk getting injured. It’s rarely worth the pain.

Larry insisted I go to MedLab to get checked out, but there wasn’t any point really. Bruises are bruises and I just wanted to go to bed.

I limped back to my cabin, stripped off my clothes and went out like a light. I dreamed of my daughter. She was running down a smoke-filled corridor, her arms outstretched towards me. Her body was engulfed in flames.

I woke to find my pillow damp with tears.

I’d never cried before my daughter died. There was a time after she did when I dreamed about her every night and woke every morning with a damp pillow. But since I’d applied for the Cheng Ho mission, I’d never cried at night. Not even when they quizzed me about her death.

Maybe it was the sudden anger of the kids that had got to me. I was used to people who hated cops and were out of control—it comes with the job. I was a dab hand at dealing with criminal scrotes who used any excuse for a fight and a bit of looting. And I’d seen my fair share of pub scraps where the combatants were drunk, lairy [aggressive], and mates again the next morning. But those kids . . . They’d been buddies for months and, the next minute, they were breaking noses and cracking oxygen pipes.

Riots weren’t supposed to happen aboard the Cheng Ho. The crew and colonists had been chosen to be tolerant and law-abiding people. Well, that’s according to the powers-that-be, anyway. So the reality was that we weren’t equipped for mass disorder. We were six security officers for a couple of thousand crew and colonists, no backup, no tear gas, water cannons or rubber bullets, and no riot gear. There was nowhere to lock up rioters. If anyone did anything wrong, we were expected to talk them out of it.

We’d been lucky this time to have a bunch of colonists willing to muck in and make up numbers. Even luckier that there weren’t any fatalities. I reckoned we wouldn’t be so lucky if—and it was an if—there was a next time. And, on a ship in deep space, that wasn’t a good thought.

My morning shift began with me walking to the cabin of Ryan, our friendly American bootlegger, so that I could arrest him.

Ryan, as I’d learned last time, was a former university botanist who signed up for Cheng Ho because he had “nothing better to do.” He gave off the strong impression of a surfer bum, but minus any passion for surfing. He was also Angel’s boyfriend although, when he opened the door of his cabin, she was nowhere in evidence. His blond hair was mussed from sleep, and he had on stripy boxer shorts and a pair of Birkenstocks.

The smile dropped right off his face when he saw me.

“Fuck, I didn’t do anything,” he said.

“What do you think you did?” I said.

“B Deck last night,” he said. “I swear . . . I only supplied the booze. I wasn’t even there.”

I informed him that he needed to be arrested so that I could interview him. Afterwards, he was free to go. Then I read him the Miranda Warning off a card—a relief because, since the 2023 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, the British right to silence goes on for pages. I always joke that it works as a form of torture; the perp will confess just to get me to stop.

After that, I waited outside his cabin while he threw on a crumpled lab coat and boardshorts. He acted the same as our first meeting—not especially bothered about the situation. If anything, he was even less concerned than last time—possibly because he knew I wasn’t about to nick him for bootlegging. I fetched him a coffee and we walked back to the OpSec interview room.

“Ryan,” I said. “We have evidence to suggest that Besma al Damer and Hans Schwerz died from consuming methanol—administered deliberately, or by accident—in an alcoholic drink. We have reason to believe that the alcohol they consumed before their death came from your brewing operation.”

That took a minute to sink in. He began to drum his fingers on the table. “Shit. Shit. Shit,” he said. “Shit, man. I check all my booze. No way . . . ”

“They couldn’t have drunk the methanol accidentally?”

“No way! I taste everything before it goes out . . .” His voice tailed off, and he looked at me for reassurance, which I didn’t give him. Eventually, he stammered, “Seriously, dude. I loved Besma, she was the sweetest; I wouldn’t do a thing to harm her.”

“Apart from giving her booze in pregnancy?” I said.

He shrugged. “Well, I told her. But it’s her choice.” That was the kind of public-spirited comment usually reserved for the better class of drug dealer I’d arrested: the ones with an IQ greater than their shoe size.

I pulled up the transcript from his interview a few days before, and went through the details of his bootlegging operation. “Who else has access to your booze when it’s in storage?”

He shrugged. “Me and my mate. Well, actually just me and . . .” His voice trailed off.

“You and who?” I asked.

He shrugged.

“Do you know of anyone who might have reason to harm Besma?”

He shrugged again.

“Look. I know you know something.”

He thought about it. “It’s nothing.” I waited. “It was just . . . I talk to, you know, my girlfriend.”

Now that was a surprise. “Angel?”

“And, a month ago, she got moved from A to C Deck . . . ”

I realized where he was going. Space was a premium on the Cheng Ho. The senior staff, medics and navigators, were allocated the larger cabins on A Deck. The smaller cabins on B Deck, like mine, you couldn’t swing a rat in. They simply weren’t big enough for a pregnant teen and her boyfriend. Someone—Angel—had been moved to a converted storage container on C Deck.

“. . . She was really mad about it,” Ryan was saying. “I mean, man, she’s not me. She’s kinda uptight.”

And that was the shape of it: Angel was angry about being moved to C Deck to make room for an irresponsible teenager.

It wasn’t much to go on.

I nodded to Larry to check out this story. Then I wracked my brains for questions to ask Ryan. I was sure he was involved. I had a niggling suspicion that he knew something, and was blaming his girlfriend to keep us off the trail. So I went through the details of his bootlegging operation yet again. Then I went through his movements in the twenty-four hours after the couple were admitted to MedLab and the events leading up to his arrest.

“The five litres of vodka in your cabin . . .” I said.


“Was that the same batch you gave to Besma and Hans?”

He shrugged. “Yeah . . . no . . . I mean, maybe, man.”

I pride myself on remaining calm and professional, but I felt myself losing it. There was a dead girl and Ryan was covering his arse.

“You know, I’d taken that vodka to my cabin . . . ”

The color drained out of his face. “Man, you’re not drinking it?”

I leaned forward. “There’s something wrong with it?”

“Man, seriously . . . it’s not . . . ”

I gestured to Larry, who was outside the interview room. “Look, I’m switching off the AV recording now.” I stood up. “Then I’m going to go to our evidence room, take your vodka and test every last bottle . . . ”

His back slumped in the chair. “You’re not?”

“Drinking it? No.”

At the door, I turned back to him. “If I find meths, mate, you are straight out the fucking airlock and floating your way home.”

Next stop . . . the five litres of vodka stacked in the evidence room. Larry and I carted it down to the chemistry labs for testing with firm instructions that it was evidence in a poisoning. You’d think that no one would nick bootleg vodka, but there isn’t much use for cash on the Cheng Ho. Booze, movie memorabilia, food rations—you name it, it gets swapped for just about anything. Social prestige, future favors, time off the work rota . . . yeah, we’ve nicked a few Toms-in-training [prostitutes] too.

No one’s obvious about it, of course. After all, we’re supposed to be building humanity’s home for the future here. But it still happens—the people with the most ‘stuff’ (what they called “social capital” in training)—get the best perks.

At 10:00hrs, Simon came on shift and I sent him off to arrest Angel. Then I went down to the botany labs and nicked the French bootlegger. He hadn’t seen Besma or Hans for a fortnight and claimed Ryan’s booze was nothing to do with him. Can’t say I believed him, but he didn’t act dodgy either.

I walked down B Deck to MedLab where Lizzie was on duty to ask if they’d finished on the forensics. She shrugged at me. I asked what had taken so long.

“Ach, it’s the equipment,” she said.

“Which equipment?” I saw the pain and confusion in her face, and added, “Sorry for asking.”

“Well, all the analyzers . . . ”

“. . . For blood tests?” I asked.

She nodded.

“For methanol poisoning?” I asked.

Her eyes widened. “No . . .” Her hands flew to her mouth. “. . . It couldn’t have been deliberate.” Lizzie was a sweet soul—she needed to catch up to reality. Eventually, she said, quietly. “The poor wee lass.”

I left Jamal to go through the MedLab audio-visual records and went back to my cabin to look up methanol poisoning. Now I’m no chemist—it was my worst subject—and half an hour on the ship’s intranet wasn’t going to change that.

So excuse me if this account isn’t the best. I’m not on this boat to be smart.

When you hear of old guys going blind on moonshine, that’s no joke. If you fancy amateur distilling, you should do your homework. Throw away your first runs; make sure you’re not producing methanol. Thing is, methanol is a lot like booze, but it breaks down in your body to formaldehyde. If formaldehyde sounds familiar, you’d be right. It’s the stuff they use for pickling the animals you see in museums. If you drink methanol, the formaldehyde hits your eyes and your gonads first.

So, if you drink the stuff and you’re a bloke, you’re pickling your balls.

[This also explained how the baby survived—premie infants can’t make formaldehyde].

Now, I’m not a detective, and methanol poisoning isn’t your usual brand of southeast London murder (that’s usually teenagers stabbing each other). But, going by the symptoms, if you suspect it, you can confirm your suspicions with a gas chromatograph—if you can find one. You might be able to save the poor sod’s life by giving them alcohol, which competes with methanol for “binding sites”—whatever that means. As I say, I’m not a chemist.

Either way, you can’t get anywhere without a suite of blood tests. And, if your analyzers aren’t working, you’re flying blind.

At 13:00hrs, Jamal came around to show me the audio-visual records. They showed what I’d expected; Angel acting suspicious near the MedLab equipment. Looking behind her, entering the room, and messing with the equipment. Angel—a doctor—tinkering with analyzers in MedLab: that wasn’t evidence of anything. So I sent him to talk to the IT guys.

An hour later, I went back to OpSec. Angel was seated in the interview room. I looked at her through the glass. She wasn’t my usual brand of criminal scrote . . . the sort I caught running away with a blood-covered shiv. Her back was straight and her hands were folded primly in her lap . . . a proper little Miss Perfect.

“I want a lawyer,” she said, as I walked in, in her strong American accent. “I’m permitted competent and independent counsel under Filipino law.”

I folded my arms. “You can have the ship’s lawyer if you want,” I said. “But he’s been a bit busy; you’ll need to wait until he gets back on shift.”

“Fine,” she said. “I’ll wait.”

I asked her some questions anyway. She’d been moved cabins. Was she angry about it?

She shook her head.

“Your boyfriend said you were angry,” I persisted.

Her lips formed an angry line. “Then my boyfriend is a fool. The cabin on C Deck is larger than my old one.”

“Did you blame Besma for that?”

“That little whore. No, I did not. Or, at least, not enough to murder her.” She frowned at me. “I’m not insane, Tony.”

Larry came into the room. I went outside to speak to him. He’d sped up the lab tests on the vodka. They’d found methanol in one of the bottles. Per unit of booze, it was a lethal dose. I walked back into the room and sat, quietly, facing Angel. She stared back at me.

“Did you tamper with the equipment in MedLab?” I asked.

“The equipment failed. I told you. We asked local IT to assist.”

“There’s footage of you near the equipment.”

“Yes, I’m a doctor.”

“We’re asking local IT to investigate.”

She blinked at me. It was the first sign that I’d fazed her.

“Did you tamper with the equipment?”

“I may have been near the equipment. I did not kill Besma al Damer. Certainly not over a cabin.”

I stared into her face. She stared back without blinking. I try to keep it professional with people . . . we meet a lot of very nasty people on the job, but I couldn’t deal with someone like her. Someone acting so cold.

“You know that . . . you must know, being a doctor, that young couple could have been saved with the right tests.”

She stared at me. “I said I wasn’t talking to you without counsel.”

“Isn’t that against your Hippocratic Oath?”

“I said I wasn’t talking to you . . . ”

I turned off the audio-visual feed and went outside. I got the lukewarm powdery water that passes for coffee in these parts, and stood for a time in the B Deck corridor . . . thinking. This was outside my years of experience as a cop in southeast London. A bit more like Agatha Christie’s Murder at the Vicarage than Peckham Gone Bad on a Saturday night. And, as I thought it, I wasn’t sure if there was a murder. There are the usual tragic cock ups that define us humans. Not what you’d think of as the best story, but—at the same time—they happen.

I finished my coffee and went back into the interview room. Angel stared at me, defiantly.

“You knew all about your boyfriend’s bootlegging operation, didn’t you?”


“Let me run something past you.”

“If you insist.”

“Maybe your boyfriend made a mistake. He’s not a legal distiller. Maybe some methanol got into the mix. Maybe a pregnant lass and her boyfriend got ill, and ended up in MedLab. You suspected what was going on . . . ”

Her left eyelid twitched.

“Maybe you thought he’d get spaced . . . so you tried covering up for him?”

“No, certainly not. Now, if you will leave me to await counsel,” she said, in the same stiff voice. And then she put her hands across her face and began to sob.

I left her. There was nothing else I could say.

The last thing I went to do before I got off-shift was see the baby. Bigger than I remembered her, although I might have been imagining things. She was squirming around in her bag. While I watched, she opened and closed one little fist.

Lizzie put her hand on my shoulder.

“How’s she doing?” I asked.

“She’s doing really well. She’s just a bit small,” she said proudly. “We definitely think she’s going to make it.”

“She’s got a name yet?”

Lizzie smiled. “Oh yes, we’ve named her . . . We’ve named her Hope.”

The most frustrating part of being a copper back in London was probably the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Or, as we liked to call them, the “Couldn’t Prosecute for Shit.”

What you’ve got to realize is that the British police only do arrests and interviews. It’s up to the CPS, a government department, to decide whether to bring a case to court. The experience of cops like me is that they’re risk averse in the extreme and disorganized to boot. Even if they decide to prosecute, they’re going to have lost the (paper) file by the time you get to court.

It’s very frustrating. You get a watertight case, or so you think . . . and then, oh sorry, we can’t prosecute. Or their solicitor doesn’t have the file, the case gets postponed to another court date, and your criminal (who’s got no fixed abode) goes AWOL. Then you’ve got to tell the victim who blames you and hates your guts.

Same pattern, as it turns out, on the Cheng Ho.

The next morning, I had the pleasure of going down to the shipboard summit to present my evidence. I was trying to get them to understand that this was outer space. We weren’t equipped for murders. There were no experienced detectives aboard and it took sixteen hours to get advice from Earth—which was, broadly speaking, “do whatever you’re doing and don’t scare the horses.”

We had the methanol test results, the audio-visual footage from MedLab, and all the forensics and interviews. It all pointed to my theory—Ryan had accidentally poisoned Besma and Hans, and his girlfriend had tried to cover it up.

“On balance,” I said. “Given you’re not likely to space them, I’d lock them both up. It’s not like they’ve got anywhere to run.”

There was a bit of oohing and ahhing about that. Then the Chief Liaison for the European Colony Council raised his hand. He was in his mid-fifties, plumpish, with a drinker’s nose and gray hair. A bureaucrat from Liechtenstein who had an annoying habit of talking down to me and using my “Mr.” title to rub in his two Ph.D.s.

“Do you actually have any evidence beyond the circumstantial, Mr. Martin?” he asked me.

“Look, we’ve . . .” I began.

“It seems to me,” he added. “That the unfortunate deaths of this couple could be due to anyone or—indeed—almost anything onboard the ship. Have you fully investigated the possibility that they drank methanol deliberately, in a suicide pact?”

“Yes, we have. And no, that’s not the way to bet . . .” I said.

We spent another hour going back through the evidence. They didn’t want to “incarcerate anyone needlessly,” but they did want “a speedy arrest to improve morale.” They thought we could fingerprint everyone. Or use trackers. Or some high-tech forensics they’d seen once on an American cop show.


An hour later, Marjorie Billings-Rajamana, another European Colony Council bureaucrat and—to my shame—a fellow Brit said, “I think you should carry on questioning Dr. al Damer. Maybe he will crack under pressure.”

They all agreed to that. So no one got charged. That afternoon, Simon and I went back to Dr. al Damer’s quarters to arrest him again. Rashid was there, hanging about in the corridor with a couple of mates. He responded about as you’d expect.

“You promised me you’d find who’d killed my sister,” he said.

And then he told me to fuck off.

We were four and a half billion miles from Earth.

And I may as well have been back in southeast London . . .

A few years back, a mate of mine was investigated for police brutality. He and a colleague attended a reported break-in at a warehouse. A well-known crook called Liam was handing canisters of freeze-dried coffee to his mate Wayne through a broken window.

As my mate tells it, his colleague nicked Wayne while my mate wriggled in through the window to chase Liam, who tried to leg it. I say, tried, because—as my mate puts it—Liam was a lard-arse. Big gut hanging out of his T-shirt, flabby pockmarked face, and prematurely bald on top of it.

Not one for the ladies, our Liam.

My mate called for backup, and then jumped on him, and they started rolling around on the floor together. Liam was going mad, thrashing and shouting, and throwing his weight around. By the time he got outside, he was huffing and wheezing. They called an ambulance for him.

As my mate said, he was a heart attack waiting to happen.

A week later, someone leaked the CCTV footage from the warehouse. It was trial by media. A grandfather of five with a dodgy heart and lung cancer, brutalized by the police. No mention that he was a career criminal, or that he was resisting arrest.

The complaint was dismissed in the end. But the way he was treated . . . no smoke without fire. He never got promoted beyond sergeant, despite twelve years in the force with an exemplary record.

It’s no joke that a handful of complaints can end your career.

And that’s why I came out in a cold sweat when, a couple of weeks after the shipboard summit, Jamal and I got called into the office of Dominic-Rubin Frick. Neither Jamal nor I had any idea what the complaint was about. So we compared notes while we sat outside the office like naughty school kids.

“Sadly, I think it is the case of Besma again,” said Jamal.

That put a dampener on things.

As it turned out, it was the case of Besma again. One of Rashid’s mates, a British bloke called Mohammed Khan, had taken the trouble to film the riot on B Deck on his mobile phone . . . (yes, you’re probably asking the same questions I am). He sent the footage back to Earth with a voiceover about Islamophobic cops.

Unbeknownst to us, our UN-approved arrests had caused riots in countries worldwide—Muslim kids burning flags, cursing the UN and America’s space policy.

“This is a major interplanetary incident,” Rubin-Frick said, glaring at us. “I have spent this entire cycle discussing with Earth, at the highest levels, how this incident could have been . . . ”

“With due respect, sir, the crew and colonists were in danger,” I said.

“Nevertheless, this situation required sensitive handling, which you and your team failed to display . . . ”

“They were textbook arrests, sir,” I said.

He snorted. “Textbook, indeed.”

“We used UN-approved techniques for riot control and restraint. We reviewed the AV footage with the Master at Arms, as part of the post-incident briefing.”

He leaned forward. “Regardless, you gave these young men cause to believe you were hostile towards them, thereby eroding racial and religious relations aboard ship.”

I said nothing. If you’ve arrested an angry drunk, you know it’s hard enough to get them to comply without either injuring them, or getting injured—without having to acting ‘non-hostile’ as well.

Rubin-Frick flicked off the AV. “I’m extremely disappointed with the performance of the security team throughout this investigation.” He pressed a button and the door opened behind us. “With this in mind, I have authorization from Earth to take over the handling of this case.”

And, with that, the bureaucrats took over.

You can imagine how well that went.

15 months later . . .

Britain’s biggest export is bureaucracy. That’s what I say to Jamal, anyway. That, and our national sport is queuing. So, if you’re a British copper, you’re well-versed in being subject to petty bureaucrats who see government initiatives as the practical alternative to catching real crooks.

So I had every confidence in Dominic-Rubin Frick . . . Every confidence he’d achieve nothing.

I was wrong.

He achieved worse than nothing . . .

The man lying in the mortuary drawer was wearing frayed jeans and a pair of Birkenstocks. His head was covered with a white sheet.

“Do you recognize him?” asked Lizzie, pulling back the cloth over his face.

“Yeah, it’s Ryan . . . the bootlegger,” I said.

Lizzie bit her lip, nodding.

“Methanol poisoning?”

Lizzie nodded.

“Who brought him in?”

“A friend . . . a French botanist,” she swallowed. Tears glistened in her eyes. Can’t say I was too upset myself. To be brutally honest, he probably deserved everything he’d got.

I covered his face again. “What about the others?”

Lizzie led me into the adjoining ward in silence. The six beds were occupied by naked bodies swarming with wires and breathing masks. I recognized some of them by sight—they were kids who I’d caught boozing in the hydroponics bay. The only sound was the steady beep-beep of machinery.

“Are they going to make it?” I asked.

She nodded slowly. “Ach, I’m crossing myself for them.”

“Any of them spoken to you?”

She shook her head. “Only with symptoms.”

I followed her through the ward into the duty doctor’s office. A nurse came into the office, picked up a mediscanner, and walked out onto the ward.

“Angel off duty?” I asked.

Lizzie shook her head quickly. “She’s never been on duty.” She quickly corrected herself. “Not since they came in, anyway.”

I stared off down the ward. The nurse was bending over the beds, checking vital signs with the mediscanner. Angel had carried on working as a doctor after I arrested her for being an accessory to manslaughter.

Rubin Frick said there wasn’t enough evidence to arrest anyone. He’d dropped the whole case after six months of questioning.

Now Angel’s ex was dead. And six kids were fighting for their lives.

I felt my stomach constrict with righteous fury.

I tried not to let it show.

Angel wasn’t in her cabin on C Deck. I called her communicator, but it was off. I rode the lift back up to A Deck and dropped into OpSec, where I found Simon and Jamal booking a big Polish cook who’d gone for his co-worker with a meat cleaver. I asked Simon to find Angel on the shipboard surveillance system, and talked Jamal into helping me catch the French bootlegger.

At 9:00hrs, I took the lift back to MedLab and spoke to the nurse on the ward. The kids had brought themselves in. They were dizzy, sick with blurred vision—same as Besma and Hans. The duty doctor was treating with alcohol, which still sounded crazy to me (but I’m no clinician).

She hadn’t seen Angel since the previous cycle.

I went back to OpSec where, in the brig, the big Polish guy was headbanging the wall and shouting. Jamal had tracked the French bootlegger down to C Deck so we took the lift down to the labs to interview him. He denied everything. We found six litres of vodka stashed in a storage compartment and nicked him anyway.

At 11:50hrs, I left Jamal with the bootlegger and walked to the Annan canteen in what had become the ‘European Catholic’ quarter, and an altogether pleasanter task. I was providing security for Hope’s first birthday party. You wouldn’t think a baby’s birthday would need a bouncer, but both granddads—and their family—wanted custody. The dispute had got so vicious, the shipboard summit had given her to Lizzie.

Not sure what to make of that—all things considered—but my job, such as it was, was to stand outside the canteen door to make sure Hans’ dad, Immanuel Schwerz, didn’t gatecrash.

After an initial rush of guests, mostly pregnant ladies from Lizzie’s antenatal class, nothing happened . . . which was bliss.

At around 12:30hrs, a petite Kuwaiti lady brought me a cup of tea, and a slice of freeze-dried lemon cake with “Welcome to Terra Nova!” iced into the top.

I washed the dry cake down with the tea and wandered up and down the corridor.

On my third trip, I noticed a dripping symbol of green paint on the dirty bulkhead. It was smeared into the shape of a tree with arrows at the top.

Underneath, they’d written Protect. Defend. Phalange.

Typical . . . Graffiti.

I hoped someone else would do the door-to-door. Catching kids vandalizing walls is the kind of policing you don’t want to do. It’s like catching swans on the M25: there’s a lot of running and spitting, but it’s all a bit pointless, and you’ve got better things to do.

I knocked on a couple of doors, anyhow.

Then I left a message for the colonists on clean-up duty.

No one had seen anything.

They never do.

At around 14:30hrs, I walked back to the canteen. The party was breaking up. Lizzie had Hope clinging to her hip. She was talking with a Spanish colonist with a baby swaddled in a torn-up blanket. As I arrived, the colonist excused herself and hurried away.

Hope watched me with her mother’s large dark eyes.

“What’s Phalange?” I asked.

Lizzie shrugged. “Never heard of it.”

We spoke for a while—or, rather, she spoke and I nodded along. Hope was starting to walk, but Lizzie was worried about her muscle mass. Terra Nova had gravity similar to Earth, but Hope had been born in low-G.

And it wasn’t just Hope.

The ship now had six children to worry about, and there were ten more babies on the way.

After she’d left, I walked back through B Deck. Every door I passed had the official name plaque crossed out. With couples marrying and children being born, the colonists were playing musical cabins, and housing was struggling to cope.

People marrying people like them—who thought like them, shared their culture and values.

Business as usual for humanity, I guess.

We had a few suicides on the job. Back on Earth I’d one guy put a hosepipe through the window of a vintage Prius. Must have taken him an age to die. I felt sorry for him, to be honest. He’d lost his job a week before and his wife had gone to her mother’s. She found him a week later, slumped in the front seat.

The wife told me he’d felt guilty.

At 17:00hrs, I got a call from OpSec. “Can you attend an unauthorized opening of E Deck Escape Hatch 2?”

I sighed at that. The escape hatches were standard airlocks. Two doors—one into the depressurization chamber. Another out into space. We’d had a few suicidal people opening the escape hatch on A Deck. It was usually a cry for help. Thankfully, someone usually spotted them. That’s why they chose the residential decks.

E Deck was a new one on me.

“Can you see who it is?” I asked.

Simon’s voice cut onto the call. “It’s Angel.”

I ran, or—rather—I bounced through the low grav. Two elevators down to the lowest gravity deck and then I kicked my way through engineering like a big hairy frog. Can’t say I didn’t want her to space herself, but we needed to chat under oath about her dead boyfriend.

I knew as soon as I floated to the outer door. The airlock was a round metal disc, like a big manhole cover, with a thick glass window in the top. Angel was tumbling around in the compartment behind, her limbs blue and horribly swollen. But the thing that stuck in my mind most was the red light flashing on the airlock controls. She’d climbed in and manually depressurized the compartment.

No cry for help there.

I repressurized the compartment and went in to retrieve the body. Protocol was we documented the death, even if it was suicide. For the scientists back on Earth. I had to check over the body to confirm she was dead. I knew she was dead. I’d watched the demos. She’d watched the demos. They said it was a nasty way to go.

I called MedLab and waited for a doctor to take her away.

Before I finished my shift, I had to interview the Polish cook, Przemys. He was a stereotype of an eastern European bloke. In his early twenties, square jaw, short brown hair, a short brown beard, and a nonregulation black sweatshirt with a load of “Cs” and “Zs” in bold white font.

As I walked into the brig, he was sitting quietly on the bed.

“You shouldn’t arrest me, Mr. Martin,” he said, looking up. “I did you favor.”

We agreed I’d call him Dennis. I read him his rights. He looked like he couldn’t care less. “Your victim is in MedLab with a shoulder injury,” I said.

He blinked at me. “He is criminal, Mr. Martin.”

“What did he do?”

“He is dirty. He cleans plates badly. I have told him for six months . . . ”

“Is that why you attacked him?”

He shook his head. “He tried to bring his brother to volunteer in the canteen. After our shift, I told him no, in the early hours, while we were drinking, and he argued. My girlfriend is expecting baby and eats in the Cafe Internationale, Mr. Martin. I do not want her to die.”

“Because he’s dirty?”

“Because he is ciapak,” he said. I looked blank. He leaned forward, intently. “I was there when they trashed ship, Mr. Martin. They tried to kill you. They would have killed us if they’d had chance.” Now I realized he meant Rashid. “Now two more people are dead, and others are in hospital.”

“That’s nothing to do with it, mate,” I said.

“Then why have you arrested no one?” he replied.

I didn’t think the truth would help. So I told him that investigations were ongoing and he should leave the job of vigilante to security. Then I did the usual procedure—handed him a contract that he’d stay off the booze and keep away from sharp objects. Fat lot of use if he didn’t, but my job’s what keeps me sane.

As he took the pen, I noticed a green tattoo on his wrist, a tree with arrows at the top. Underneath was written Protect. Defend. Phalange.

Dennis told me nothing about the Phalange. I didn’t have grounds to hold him, so I let him go. Then I walked to MedLab to check on his victim. He was asleep. Lizzie told me he was a Turkish teenager who’d got into the riot. He’d sided with Rashid and got a mild concussion. I finished my shift and walked to the Annan canteen. The graffiti was still on the wall. Protect. Defend. Phalange. I called the cleaning team before I went into the canteen. I had to hope the graffiti was Dennis’ handiwork.

It wouldn’t be, knowing my luck.

I asked the canteen manager about the graffiti. He said, “Fucking kids.” I told him we’d arrested Dennis. An Irish bloke asked, “The kid defending Rashid’s lot?” I named the victim. “Rashid’s fucking crazy,” said another guy at the bar. The Irish bloke nodded sadly. “He’s like every stereotype of a Muzzie I never wanted to believe.”

Both guys knew about the Phalange. “It’s some security thing Schwerz set up,” said the Irish bloke. “He doesn’t think we’ll get off this ship alive.”

I thanked them for their time. I thought about nicking them for hate speech, as well, but what would be the point?

I finished my curry and sleepwalked to Dr. Schwerz’s cabin. It was one block from the canteen and shipboard surveillance told me he was in. I wasn’t looking forward to seeing him again. He was outraged when Liz got Hope. Can’t say I blame him, really. He’d lost his son—no fault of his own—and then we take his granddaughter away.

He opened the door and frowned at me. He was in his late fifties, with precisely trimmed salt-and-pepper hair and a tidy gray beard. His gray suit had creases down the legs. He was soft-spoken, polite . . . just like you’d imagine a middle-aged academic. He wasn’t how I remembered myself even a few months after I lost my daughter.

And graffiti-wise, he didn’t look the type.

He invited me in. “I am sorry to hear about Przemys,” he said.

“How do you know him?”

He raised his eyebrows. “We are on the same spacecraft . . .” He paused. “Ah, I see what you mean now. We worship together. I am a Bavarian Catholic.”

I squeezed onto his narrow sofa.

“Did you suspect he might attack someone?”

He shook his head vigorously. “No, no, of course not.”

I couldn’t tell if he was lying. Sometimes you can’t. “So what’s the Phalange?” I asked.

He sat on his fold-down bed “It is what it appears, Tony. My son is dead. The security team has not found the killer. We are very frightened here in the European section of the ship. We think a murderer is free and more people will die.”

“D.I.Y. policing doesn’t end well.” I was thinking of a case where a vocabulary-challenged mob went after a pediatrician. We cops may not have Ph.D.s, but at least we can spell.

He leaned forward. “I do not encourage violence, Tony. We just patrol corridors in this quarter. We only defend ourselves if attacked. And our thought is we do attack if there are more murders that security fails to solve.”

“I’ve solved your son’s death,” I said.

He waved his hand, dismissively. “So I have heard. And they are dead, jah. Very convenient for you, I think.”

I ignored him. I’d heard this before. It’s not like it didn’t bother me. Ask any cop. You get accused of all sorts by the public when you’re just trying to do your job.

“How many people are in this Phalange?”

“We are few, but our numbers are growing.”

“Why ‘Phalange’?”

He frowned and his voice went cold. “Why are you here, Mr. Martin?”

“I’m investigating graffiti. Put up by your Phalange.”

He laughed. “Graffiti, hah!” He stood up, opening the door. “It was not me.”

“Do you know who it was?” I asked, standing up.

He shook his head. “I am not responsible for all the people here, Tony.”

I walked back to my cabin. I couldn’t blame him. Rubin Frick messed him about for months. No one took responsibility. It shouldn’t surprise anyone the colonists lost their trust in the crew and security. Over those long months, I’d thought about security taking over the ship; we’d make a better job. Thing is, if anything was likely to set off a riot, it was that.

Later that sleep, I dreamt of my daughter. She was running towards me with a fireball roaring along the corridor behind her, Little Hope holding tightly to her hand.

Two months later . . .

I got a call. “The recycling crew have found a dead body. Can you check it out?”

It was 2:00hrs ship’s time. I remember crawling out of bed in my emergency spacesuit, staring at a patch of mold on my sink unit. I was thinking of the worst possible option, which was Besma and the bootleggers over again.

“Not one of mine, is it?” I asked.

The guy on the other end sounded apologetic. “I think it’s one of yours.”

I got dressed in the storage locker adjoining my cabin. Not in my cabin, you understand, as the temperature controls in the sleeping section had been on the blink for a fortnight. I’d taken to sleeping in my spacesuit, calling the repair crew regularly, and praying for the end of the mission. Terra Nova was three weeks away, by this point, and the old boat was falling apart.

So I call OpSec on the way down in the elevator. The recycling crew had found the body in a distiller in the urine recycling system on D Deck. Not knowing what a distiller was, I was disappointed that it was a big silver drum like a beer keg. The recycling manager told me it spun to create artificial gravity, while boiling off clean water.

He opened the lid of the drum. I remember feeling relieved the crew had drained the urine—we were in low-G. The body was curled up in a tight ball, didn’t smell too bad, so we decide to get it out to do an ID. So we don protective gloves and ease out of the barrel what turns out to be the naked body of a non-Caucasian guy. His skin is a bruised fleshy mass. His legs have been tied together with cables. His hands are trussed behind his back.

There’s one thing I’m sure about. He hasn’t crawled in there on his own.

Once he’s out to head level, I realize it’s my worst nightmare. Al Damer, blindfolded, urine drifting around his face. I remember thinking about the distiller. Al Damer’s been stuffed into a machine for cleaning up piss. There must be a message in there somewhere.

I ask the recycling manager a few basic questions. No, he doesn’t know when al Damer went into the drum, but it was probably between 23:00 and 2:00hrs ship’s time. He hadn’t seen anything unusual. “I did see some graffiti though,” he volunteers. “It’s just behind the recycling system.”

I knew what I was going to see before I saw it, and—to tell you the truth—that’s when my hands got sticky with fear. Directly behind the drum, a green symbol had been splattered on the bulkhead wall. Protect. Defend. Phalange.

I call back OpSec. “It’s al Damer. Get everyone up and ready.” Then I call Jamal and tell him to meet me on B Deck. Right then, my plan was to nick Dennis and Schwerz, go and nick Rashid, and, hey presto, nothing kicks off.

Back on B Deck, the corridor is vibrating with a low thudding sound. As I start wondering about that, my comms buzzes.

“. . . all security officers. We have reports of a woman being assaulted by youths. Local comms are down. Please attend Cabin 624 B.”

That was a few doors down from Dr. Schwerz’s cabin, so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone. I remember the thudding getting louder as I ran into the European quarter, and then, as I pass through the first set of bulkhead doors, I see two bodies facedown in the corridor ahead.

Dead? By this point in the mission, I don’t assume anyone’s blind drunk anymore. Then, I recognize the short brown hair. Blood is trickling over his ear. I bend down and check his pulse. Dennis is alive. His chest is rising and falling. I check the guy next to him—no pulse.

Shit. Another dead body—this is really turning into Agatha Christie. Or maybe another golden oldie, 300, because tonight I’m likely to dine in hell.

I hear footsteps pattering down the corridor. I turn around, adrenaline pulsing, my hands sweating cobs, but it’s only Jamal and Larry. I stand with them, while Jamal calls MedLab and tells them to send a doctor for Dennis and the dead bloke.

Then Jamal and Larry fall in with me, and we thunder into the Catholic section. First thing we see, is a cabin door hanging off its hinges. I can hear sobbing in the cabin beyond. I hold up my hand to Jamal and Larry. There’s a blond woman tied up and gagged on the bed. She’s clothed in a labsuit and soil-covered boots, probably a botanist just come off shift. Her huge, tear-filled blue eyes give me a beseeching look.

I rip off the tape on her mouth. “Thank God you’re here,” she says, in a strong American accent. “They’ve kidnapped Wanny.”

The name rings a bell. The petite pregnant lady who gave me a cake a few months before.

“Who kidnapped her?”

The woman starts sobbing. “The . . . Arabs . . . fucking Arabs.”

“Where are they now?” I ask gently, trying not to scare her. I start to untie her hands.

Suddenly, there’s a metallic crash, not far away. A door? Someone breaking a door down. Then I hear a woman scream.

“I’ll be back,” I tell the woman, and rush out into the corridor. The scream comes again, and I’m trying to follow it with my head. Then Larry says, “down that way,” and points through a maintenance corridor, and we go that way, following the crashes and screams.

We come out in the main corridor, right in front of a group of Arab-looking lads gathered around a cabin door. Two of them have a huge oxygen cylinder balanced on their shoulders, which they’re ramming into a cabin door. Thud . . . Thud . . .

“Stop! Security!” I shout.

A couple of them turn around. The scrotes with the battering ram ignore me. Thud . . . There’s a loud creak, a woman screams inside the cabin, and the door crashes down. Jamal and I rugby tackle the rearmost lad to the ground, pulling his arms behind his back. I’m calling for backup from the crew, while we cuff him and get out the homemade pepper spray. He’s screaming and yelling—he can’t be more than fifteen.

Two of the lads drag the woman past us, unconscious. Her head lolls forwards, long dark hair tumbling across her slack face. There’s no sign this is a drunken brawl—I don’t know what’s happening.

Larry’s pepper sprays another lad. Jamal and I go past him, after the two with the woman. They’re heading back down the corridor towards the Middle Eastern section. They stop and look around as we approach.

“Stop! Security!” I shout again.

“Fuck you,” says one of the lads. I remember arresting him during the riot.

I realize I can still hear thudding. The lad taps his ear and says something in Arabic, and I realize he’s wearing some kind of makeshift communicator. Jamal and I go for him, wrestling him down, cuffing him, and sitting on him, and hoping the other lad will run (he does).

Suddenly, I hear running footsteps in the maintenance tunnel. Abruptly, we’ve got twenty lads crowding us, armed with steel rods, cables and oxygen canisters. I’m trying to run back down the corridor, knowing they’ve killed someone already, and thinking that’s not how I thought I’d die.

Something hits me on the head.

I feel myself falling, with blows raining down on my head and shoulders. The last thing I remember is heavy footsteps and fresh shouting.

There are coppers you meet on the force who like a good fight—gives them an adrenaline rush. We had one guy, six foot five, ex-army, big guy, played rugby, used to rush headlong into pub fights like a cartoon character. He’d come out with blood pouring down his face, high fiving everyone. He was always getting hospitalized, broken nose, cracked ribs. . . . I used to feel a right wimp in comparison, until the poor sod died in a charity parachute jump. Then I was glad I had healthy sense of self-preservation.

That’s not to say I’ve never had the occasional broken bone on the job, but it’s nothing I couldn’t handle. I’ve been concussed a couple of times too, which I’m less keen on, because you see these blokes on the TV, getting hit on the head all the time, and they’re drooling vegetables by the time they’re forty-two.

I said that to Lizzie when I came around . . . and had my senses back . . . and she just laughed at me. We might be on a moldy tin can, but the UN had spared no expense on a top flight brain scanner, so apparently I was going to be fine.

I wasn’t so sure about the UNCS Cheng Ho. We’d lost control of the ship. Jamal and Larry had brought me in. They’d been fighting their way out, like I had, when twenty or thirty Phalange rushed in. The guys had risked their lives hauling me out, to MedLab, past twenty, fifty, eighty colonists scrapping in the corridors.

The camaraderie, the feeling of us against the world, that’s the one thing I’ll take to my grave.

I called Jamal, after a while, for an update. I felt dizzy, queasy, couldn’t focus on a book right in front of me, but I felt powerless sitting on my arse (or lying on it, at least).

He was down on the reactor deck with the guys and gals from the recycling, engineering and maintenance crews. They’d had a few colonists trying their luck at taking control of the ship (fucking idiots), but they’d managed to chase them off. I asked him if he had a plan, but he didn’t, and I felt sick to my stomach that colonists were smashing up the ship, kidnapping and murdering innocent people, and we were just standing about watching.

You get mood swings with concussion, or—at least—I do. So I got pretty depressed just thinking about it. What sort of security team were we? I imagined myself as Rambo in the old movies, single-handedly taking them down with machine guns, but—realistically—I’d be dead in a minute.

We didn’t have the numbers . . .

(Nor the machine guns, unfortunately).

I just couldn’t help blaming the UN and NASA. Why didn’t they think this might happen? We didn’t get any training for it (unlike Japanese puppet theatre). Surely astronauts going nuts was a fictional trope.

I started crying.

Lizzie asked, “Is it the concussion?”

And I said, “No, it’s the crooks.”

We had civilians arriving by this time—injured or just frightened—and she felt sorry for me.

So she was like, “Ach, I’m off shift. Can you look after Hope for me?”

And I knew she was giving me something to do, to stop me dwelling on it. So I said, “Yes,” and she bought over a box of toys they’d made in the postnatal group—hand-drawn books on cardboard, cardboard tubes and boxes.

Next minute, she walked Hope onto the ward, and I had a toddler on my hands for the first time in a decade. I remember holding her on my knee, the warm weight of her, looking at the little brown pigtails, feeling her chubby little hands clasping mine, with the memories of my daughter flooding back like a tide.

I sat there, watching the colonists come in wrapped in blood-stained bandages, listening to them talking, telling Lizzie that the Phalange and Rashid’s lot had barricaded themselves into their respective sections, and they were scared to go back.

I looked back at the little girl, grinning with a gap-tooth smile, and I thought poor little sweetheart. You don’t know what a tough life you’ve had.

She’d escaped death, as her name suggested, and I thought: you’re the reason I became a cop. I’m not going to let you down.

Later that afternoon I met Rashid again.

I was reading to Hope a hand-drawn book about space ships. I wasn’t a great reader, with having slightly blurred vision, and the story wasn’t great either, but she was an appreciative audience. Toddlers generally are, in my experience. She snuggled down in my lap, and pointed at the wobbly stars and comets, going “Spa . . . Spa . . . ”

What a beauty salon had to do with space travel escapes me (ha!), but you’ve got to make your entertainment somewhere—especially when you’re seventeen months old.

Suddenly, I hear voices shouting in the reception area, not clearly, but I recognize Rashid and Lizzie’s voices. He’s telling her to give him bandages and the triage nurse, a petite lady, to check up his injured cronies and the pregnant women. Lizzie is telling him, she’ll treat anyone, but he’ll have to bring his injured cronies to MedLab.

By the time I get out the ward, Hope tucked under my arm like a rugby ball (it’s an ex-dad thing), Rashid and his five goons are menacing the nurses with sharpened metal bars. They’ve backed them into the corner of the reception area. Lizzie has her head up, defiant, and her body blocking the doorway to the nurses’ office. The other nurse is still behind her corner desk, looking uncertain, but not terrified.

I can’t help but admire their guts.

“What’s going on here?” I ask.

Lizzie gives me a look of relief. “He wants bandages, and for Maryam to come with him,” she says, nodding at the triage nurse, a petite, Eritrean lady with a shy smile and large, wide eyes.

Rashid waves his metal rod at me. “What’s he doing here?”

“Ach, he was concussed . . . by your lot,” says Lizzie.

Rashid blinks at me. “You’ve got to get them to help me. I’ve got people dying,” he says, gesturing with the rod.

“You shouldn’t have kidnapped those girls then,” I said.

He frowns. “I was trying to protect them, Mr. Martin.” His voice is that shrill you hear when you attend a domestic. His eyes are red-rimmed and bloodshot, and he’s got blood trickling from a wound on his forehead. “My sister was with a European boy, Mr. Martin. Now she is dead. My father is dead.” He spat on the floor. “I was taking them away for their own safety.”

Shame they didn’t agree with you, I thought.

“You’ve been out there, Mr. Martin. You know I can’t bring the injured here. The Europeans would kill them. They want us dead.”

I couldn’t exactly disagree with him. They all looked like the typical patrons of accident and emergency in the early hours of a Saturday morning . . . or, maybe, as they were sober, the walking wounded in a World War I documentary. They were covered in cuts and bruises. One guy had a makeshift bandage wrapped around his forehead. Another had the blooded sleeve of his sweatshirt pinned to his chest.

Not that I could talk. I had more bruises than an unsuccessful parachute jumper and, right then, Hope was kicking me in the back. I put her down. She ran to Lizzie with her arms outstretched, saying, “Mamma.” Rashid looked at her, silently, and I had to feel for him. Hope was his dead sister’s kid.

“I’ll go,” said the triage nurse, Maryam, quietly.

“Ach, you don’t need to,” said Lizzie, picking up Hope.

Maryam got up from her desk. “They trust me. I became a nurse to save lives. It’s my job.”

“Just come back, okay?” Lizzie said.

She nodded. “I’ll come back.” Then she glanced at me and added. “I’d feel safer with Tony along.”

And that’s how I came to walk across B Deck in the company of five Arab thugs and a small nurse. The only sign of fighting was the occasional dented pipe where someone had got carried away with a blunt weapon. They could’ve hacked straight through the life support systems. This was among the sane reasons security weren’t issued with firearms on the Cheng Ho.

Halfway down the corridor to the Middle Eastern section, we came to a makeshift barricade made out of cabin doors and broken chairs. A couple of youths crouched behind it with spears made out of sharpened pipes. Rashid acknowledged them in Arabic, and we climbed over a chair and went on into a cabin with a youth with a leg wound and a broken arm. Maryam set the broken bone, put some stitches into the leg wound, and gave out some painkillers.

In the next cabin was a youth with a head injury sat with a woman who said she was his mother. Maryam checked him over, but said she couldn’t do more without the brain scanner. The mother nodded slowly and looked upset.

The third cabin had two older guys sitting with the woman I’d seen being kidnapped. Maryam checked her over, asked if she was pregnant, and reassured her the baby was okay. I asked if she was happy where she was. She said “yes,” but kept looking to the older guys for reassurance, and I didn’t believe a word of it.

At the fourth cabin, Maryam told me that she wanted to stay with the son with the head injury. She was worried he might slip into a coma. She assured me that she’d return to MedLab once her work was over. I wasn’t happy, but I let it go.

I was shit-scared walking the long, empty corridors back to MedLab. The slowly spinning tubes with their bright white lighting at cross-junctions reminded me of every SF horror movie I’ve ever seen . . . aliens loping down corridors, and all that.

It was a bit stupid of me, to be honest. All the cabins on the corridor were occupied, and I could hear people talking, but you do worry about aliens on a mission like this. Terra Nova is a planet the scientists are pretty sure was seeded by ETs. We all gossiped about it, back on Earth, even when the boffins at HQ assured us there was no sign of them. Seems a bit crazy, thinking back, that I was worried about aliens, and not rioters and crooks.

Turns out I’m too idealistic for a cop.

Anyway, as I gets to MedLab, I see my favorite Polish cleaverman, Dennis, standing guard outside the door. He’s got a kitchen knife and is a crazy nutter when pissed, so I’m not keen on wading in, but then I hear a crashing sound and a woman screaming. So it turns out I’ve got two choices—stand there like a wet towel or let the Phalange terrorize a bunch of mostly-female nurses, none of whom are over five foot five inches.

My heart’s pounding, but I walk straight up past him, like I’m going into MedLab.

“What you doing?” he asks. Luckily, he sounds sober.

“I could ask you the same question,” I say.

He glares at me. “Fuck off. It not your business.”

I know he’s not a trained killer, so I go for the knife, and he’s not prepared at all. There’s a fight lasting a couple of minutes, in which he yells like a maniac, before I manage to knock him out (not standard procedure) and cuff him on the floor. I’m sure, if I’d been back on Earth, I’d have been kicked off the force for excessive violence, no questions—but I was billions of miles from the Big Smoke, so who cares.

No one’s heard Dennis go down.

So I’m on my own.

Looking back, I couldn’t have forgiven myself if I’d walked away. So I picked up Dennis’ kitchen knife, and pushed open the double doors to MedLab. I was humming the music from an old western. I really felt like I was pushing open the saloon doors, and taking on the bad guys.

The reception area of MedLab looked like a bomb had gone off . . . smashed chairs, broken AV screen, the works. There’s a nurse sobbing behind the triage desk, but I don’t have time to check she’s okay, because I can hear crashing and tinkling glass from inside the main medical suite. I burst through the doors, and run straight into a group of three European guys, all shouting in Spanish as they smash the equipment with heavy piping.

“Security! Drop the pipes!” I shout, and they completely ignore me. By then, I’m looking right and left like a maniac. I can’t see the nurses, and don’t know whether to save them or the life-saving kit that we need on Terra Nova.

I go for the nurses.

I’m sure I can hear voices on the ward, so I fling open the door, and it’s like a hostage movie in there. Lizzie cuddling Hope tight against her chest, about twenty women either pregnant or with babies, a handful of walking wounded, and several nurses, are huddled into the corner of the ward. They’re guarded by five European guys, armed with makeshift weapons, a couple of whom I remember from the riot, and Dr. Schwerz in his clean, pressed suit.

Several babies are crying. I’m guessing the Phalange arrived at the same time as Lizzie’s weekly post/antenatal class.

Schwerz turns around and stares at Dennis’ knife.

“Are you crazy? Stop smashing up MedLab,” I shout at him.

“You’re not in charge here,” he shouts back.

“I don’t care who’s in charge. Are you bloody nuts?” I say.

I’d have taken on all five of them, but I’m not James Bond—even with a knife. My training didn’t stretch that far.

So I walk up to them, and they point weapons at me. My heart’s thudding with terror, at this point, and my mouth’s like parchment, and I’m certain I’m going to die. I’m literally counting on my natural authority to stay alive, and my belief the Phalange were sorted enough to know that one bloke with a knife, even a cop, wasn’t a threat.

“You had Rashid visit you this morning,” Dr. Schwerz says to me. “You accompanied Rashid and a nurse, to his sector.”

“He threatened us. Tony offered to protect us,” shouts Lizzie. “We provide medical services to everyone.”

Hope starts to cry.

“You provide medical services to the Arabs so they can carry on killing us and we’ll never get to Terra Nova alive.” He shouts at her, “You’re a traitor to your people.”

“She’s a nurse,” I say, quietly.

“Be quiet,” he says. “You’ve been sympathetic to the Arabs all along. You’ve favored Dr. al Damer, believed him, when it was obvious he was responsible for my son’s death. My only child, Mr. Martin, I have no other.”

I can feel the adrenaline pounding. “So you murdered him?”

He raises his eyebrows. “No, sadly, I did not.”

I don’t dwell on that. Instead, I say, quietly, “You should let these people go. They’re just medical staff, pregnant women and babies, and wounded people on your own side.”

He stares at me. “My side?”

“I’m on the side of the law,” I say.

He stares at me again, and I can feel him weighing up whether to shiv me, and I’m wondering if I’m done for. After what feels like forever, he says, “Very well, you’re right. Take these women and children, and go.”

Lizzie looks up at me, hopefully. I realized she’d expected to die too. So I think for a second, knowing that I can’t take these ladies back to the European quarter, back to anywhere on B Deck, in fact.

Where to go?

We did training on “hostile action” back at HQ (aka aliens—they didn’t admit to that). In the case of hostiles, there was a secure corridor between MedLab and the bridge. Reinforced sides, own oxygen supply. Inaccessible from anywhere else on the ship, and protected in the event of a hull breach.

“We’re going to the bridge,” I say.

I start helping up the injured people, trying to get them moving before this loony and his friends change their mind. Lizzie and I get the women and babies to their feet, and we guide them through the medical suite, to the secure lift. I can’t help looking at the broken screens and scattered syringes and medicines—we’ve got two weeks to Terra Nova and I know people are going to die.

As we get into the lift, my legs start quivering and I’m freezing cold. Maybe we’re all going to die. After all, you’ve got to be pretty crazy to destroy the only hospital for a billion miles.

Crazy . . . or desperate.

I start thinking of my dreams. My daughter running through flames. And I wish I could cry like a babe.

How do you imagine the bridge of a spaceship? I’d bet you’re thinking an open space with a wide view into space, glossy screens, holograms and a big leather captain’s chair . . . like in Star Trek.

I certainly did. Or I did until I went onto the bridge of the Cheng Ho.

Spaceship bridges that aren’t on TV are more like aircraft cockpits, or the bridge of a cargo ship. Loads of consoles packed in, bundles of hanging wires, and a low ceiling, with a couple of bolted-down chairs for the first mate and captain, and four doors leading to crew cabins, auxiliary offices, wardroom and officers’ kitchen.

With twenty-eight pregnant women, wounded colonists, nurses and kids camped on the bridge and in the crew cabins, the air felt hot and stagnant. Hope and the babies were in makeshift nappies and, within a couple of hours, the wardroom area began to smell of poo. The captain got me to promise to take the women off the bridge once B Deck was secured, but—as the afternoon wore on—I realized it wouldn’t be. About 15:00hrs ship’s time, we finally got hold of Jamal and Larry. They were still trapped on the reactor deck. The Phalange and Rashid’s lot were fighting to take control of the lifts on C Deck, and several dead bodies had traveled down to the decks below.

The master at arms and I went to the captain’s cabin for an urgent meeting. Aarav was a tall, stocky bloke, joined the mission from the Indian Army, and didn’t scare easily. I’d never seen him look terrified before. The colonists were in full-scale mutiny, he told me. Every ethnic or religious group was holed up in their own sector, and neither A or B Deck was safe.

“How many crew do we have left?” I asked.

“Not as many as the captain would like,” he said, looking despondent. “We’ve got one hundred crew members unaccounted for across all the decks, and half the crew upon the bridge have joined with the colonists.”

“Jamal and Larry are with the maintenance and engineering crews,” I said. “There can’t be more than a hundred mutineers. It’s possible we could make a coordinated attack, kettle the troublemakers and space them. It would help if we had the guns.”

Aarav gave a throaty laugh. “Dominic-Rubin Frick will not sign off on the guns, even if he had not joined the Phalange for his own self-protection.”

My eyes widened at that.

“Luckily, he’d need the captain to give them the guns.” Then he added, “You will need to speak to Jamal and Larry. I was in OpSec when the Arabs attacked it. Now Jamal thinks I deserted my post.”

I called Jamal who went off to speak to the maintenance and engineering crews. Then I went back to the bridge to stare out of the square windows with their thick, bottletop glass. It felt like being at the bottom of an aquarium. We were within Terra Nova’s star system now, and—off to the left of the bridge—I could see the yellow ball of another sun. A bright star was straight ahead and the captain told me that was Terra Nova.

A shiver went down my spine. I remember thinking this was an alien world, and I would be one of the first people to step onto it, not a bad achievement for an ordinary London copper . . . if we made it out alive.

Jamal buzzed me back. My heart sunk the moment I heard his voice. “I’ve spoken to the crew downstairs,” he said. “Sorry, Tony, but they are all in agreement that it’s too risky. They have already lost crew to the mutiny and none of them have military training. They tell me they are loyal to the ship, not the colonists, and have enough food stores for a fortnight. They intend to barricade off the reactor deck and life support systems, reach Terra Nova, and let the mutineers disappear into the jungle and kill themselves there.”

I told Aarav and we both did a walk around the bridge and cabins. There were thirty people squeezed into quarters made for ten. We went to stand back at the windows. Terra Nova looked a long way away.

Two weeks later . . .

I’ve never thought about dying on the job. You hear cases of coppers getting killed and, when you’re in a sticky situation, that’s closest to your mind. But, ultimately, I’d always imagined myself dying in bed, with a cupper in my hands, and my wife and kids weeping by my bedside. Or, at least, that’s how I’d imagined it early in my career. Then my daughter died and my wife left, and all bets were off.

We did do the whole death spiel during training. Medical disclaimers, next of kin, video statements that’ll get released on your death. So, yeah, you think about it, your nieces reading how you crashed into the sun, or spent your last moments sucking in vacuum.

But you never believe it, not really. And you certainly don’t think you’re going to die in a scene from a movie—fighting your way off a ship.

A fortnight after the Phalange smashed up MedLab, we arrived at Terra Nova. We had thirty people bunked in the cabin area, squeezed four to a room, with babies crying 24/7. Aarav and I kipped on the bridge, rolled up in spare blankets.

We did eight-hour shifts for twelve days. Riding in the secure lift, keeping an eye on MedLab and the C and D Deck corridors. Before the lift doors opened, I’d patch into shipboard security, but you never knew if you were going to get jumped. The time I did get jumped, I’d got complacent. I think I’d slept three hours that day. I got the lift doors shut, and the colonists couldn’t call the lift back down. I took a knife and a padded jacket after that—didn’t want to risk the colonists getting past me.

We’d cordoned off part of B Deck with the blast doors, but, from shipboard security, I knew the colonists were still fighting for control of the upper decks. We could see dead bodies in the Ban Kai Moon canteen and I’d started smelling decay when I opened the blast doors. That’s a smell you never forget, as a cop, and you can’t describe it either. . . . Maybe the stench of garbage left in the sun for a week. You’re dry heaving with it and, even when the doors close, you can’t get it out your nose and throat.

The day we entered orbit around Terra Nova, I was on shift on the bridge. I remember seeing the planet below us and thinking it was Earth, except—when you looked closely—the continents were different. Otherwise, you could almost think the UN/NASA were playing a cruel joke on us, and the Cheng Ho been going around in circles for years.

I told the captain not to say anything until we’d got a plan for getting off this old boat, but—even then—he was an optimist. He believed the colonists would pull together to get everyone down to the surface. Within an hour, the ship was in uproar, colonists fighting on B Deck, trying to get to the shuttles. The Phalange attacked the long-term storage area on D Deck where they stowed the food and weapons.

Jamal’s crew, camped on the reactor deck, fought them off with a chainsaw. An hour later, I went to the bridge to catch some kip.

Within an hour, I was woken by a siren howling. So I roll out my blanket and look around the bridge. We’re still in orbit around Terra Nova. When I get up, Aarav comes onto the bridge with me, and yells, “It’s a gas alarm. There’s a gas leak somewhere! The sensors are picking it up.”

Anyway, we check over the sensors, and it looks like D Deck/the reactor deck. Call Jamal, who’s down there, but I can’t raise him on comms. Typical, thinks I, that we get a gas leak in engineering at the eleventh hour.

Hopefully, someone’s fixing it, but Aarav and I decide to go down to D Deck, with gas masks and knives, just in case. We check the corridor near the lifts, looks okay, so we go down there, doors open, looks clear . . .

We get out, and suddenly we’ve got ten European guys hurtling towards us, armed with metal spikes, knives, the works . . . Aarav is hammering on the lift controls, I’m in a floating crouch with the knife, defending the doorway.

The lift doors start closing, two guys try barging into the lift with me. They’re both early thirties, both got razor blades. Aarav pushes one of them into the closing door, getting a bloody wrist for his trouble. The door starts opening again. I start fighting with the other one, getting razor cuts all over my arms, trying to twist his arms around his back to subdue him.

After about ten seconds or so, I get him to drop the razor, and—as he’s thrashing around—the lift jerks upwards and clouts his head on the handrail. Then I hear a piercing scream, and I realize the other guy is trapped in the lift door. He’s half-in, half-out the lift, the lift is going up, and his torso is trapped in the metal doors. He’s screaming and screaming—the noise is like nothing I’ve heard. I look around, and see Aarav has opened the cover to the manual override.

The shit I was fighting hunches over, vomiting on the lift floor. I cuff his hands and turn him around. He’s got a bandana across his face with a green tree symbol drawn onto it with felt-tip pen.

“Where’s the gas leak?” I shout at him. “Where’s the gas leak? Where’s Jamal?” He’s looking past me, at his mate trapped in the lift doors. I can’t see him, but I assume he’s dead—he’s not screaming anymore, and it’s not a pretty sight. I wrestle off the bandana—I’m getting this cold sick feeling that it’s a makeshift gas mask.

“Do you know anything about the gas leak?” I shout.

He looks straight into my eyes and starts laughing. “We’re gassing the rats,” he hisses, coughing. “They’re all traitors—we’re gassing the rats.”

His eyes are bloodshot . . . he’s completely doolally. He’s totally lost it—either before he got into the lift, or after seeing his mate cut in half. I’m not doing much better. Every time I’ve woken up, the last fortnight, I’ve felt this creeping sense of dread. It reminds me of when my daughter died, and I’d wake up every morning thinking what am I missing?

I’m not certain I’m going to get off the ship alive.

I grab him by the collar. “Let me get this straight, you and your mates have caused a gas leak?”

“No,” he said, staring into my eyes. “We’ve taken the labs. We’re going to get off this ship. We’re the chosen ones. We’re going to survive.”

I remember feeling this red rage overtake me, thinking this psycho was laughing about killing Jamal . . . people I’d served with for three years. I wanted to run the knife right through him, but I just couldn’t in the end. Stabbing a guy in cold blood, just pushing the knife into him as he stood there, didn’t sit right with me.

I’ve never been to a war zone. I’m just a cop.

Anyway, back on the bridge, I leave him tied up and gagged in a kit locker. I still have a vision we’ll regain law and order, once the colonists are down on Terra Nova, and the colony councils will decide what to do with him, but if he gets left aboard in the chaos, no skin off my nose.

His mate had made a right mess of the lift. So we take the body up to MedLab, and leave it in the mortuary to stop it stinking the bridge up. The saddest bit about that trip is, opening the mortuary drawers, I realize Besma and Hans were never dealt with. They’re still there, on ice, waiting for a proper burial.

In the absence of sleep, I spent the rest of the morning trying to raise Jamal on comms. I knew he was probably on D Deck. I knew there was a fight going on down there. I knew the Phalange were trying to gas him.

To be honest, I just wanted to know he wasn’t dead.

About 13:00hrs, he finally calls me. “Tony,” he starts off, in a resigned voice. “I am calling you to say goodbye to you, and to tell you to get off the ship.”

My mouth goes dry. I realize Jamal’s dying, or he thinks he’s going to die, and this is the end.

“What’s going on?” I ask, calmly, trying to not to let it show. “Tony, please make sure that my family hear my goodbye tape. Tell my family that I sacrificed my life to save us here on Terra Nova,” he says.

“Okay. What’s going on?”

“We are all trapped on the reactor deck, Tony. We cannot get out. The storage area has been filled with gas; we have lost twenty defending it.”

My heart pounds in my ears. I barely hear what he says next.

“We think we have minutes before the gas enters the reactor deck. We have no gas masks or space suits. The ventilation is not working. We think the colonists hope to get a shuttle to Terra Nova. It is not my decision, but the maintenance crew have decided to irradiate the reactor deck. I have called you to warn you to get off the ship in case this does not work.”

My palms are sweating. “How long do I have?”

A second siren began to howl around the deck, and the lights went dark bloody red. “Engine unstable. Engine unstable.”

He was silent for a moment. “Tell my family that I loved them.”

“Okay,” I say, and then I realize Aarav and the captain are on the bridge looking at me, and Lizzie and Hope are coming out onto the bridge, with a couple of other women behind them. I look at the little girl, and I realize this is like the Titanic.

Pregnant women and children first.

“They’re going to nuke the reactor deck,” I shout to Aarav and the captain. I’m drenched in freezing sweat, cold shivers passing down my spine. I jerk my head to Lizzie and Hope. “We need to get the women and kids onto the shuttles.”

Lizzie is crying, big sobs that shake her body. I remember then; after our little girl was killed, my wife couldn’t cry. She just held it all in, cold and distant, until she exploded.

I sweep up Hope, put her into a fireman’s lift, start chivvying women and babies down towards the secure lift. In my mind’s eye, I’m plotting a route to the shuttle bay, to the aft of the ship. I wasn’t thinking about dying right then, I was just thinking about getting out, getting the women and kids out.

And that’s how I ended up taking the lift down to E Deck, with Aarav and me leading thirty women, babies and injured civvies kicking and floating down the hundred meters or so of maintenance tunnels running down to the shuttle bay.

The main thing that struck me, crawling along, was much how the old boat looked like the closing scenes in a horror movie. The emergency lighting drenched everything in a blood-red gloom and the sirens howled constantly. The air stank of damp and rotten meat, and the walls of the tunnels were covered in mold—I guessed the Phalange or Rashid’s lot had wrecked the hydroponics bay. At an intersection with the main corridor, I saw two crumpled shapes—dead bodies, by the smell of them.

We didn’t go fast, with multiple pregnant ladies and babies, and I kept having this fear that we’d be irradiated before we got there. As we floated along, the gravity got lower and lower, and I started hearing yells and shouts over the sirens.

When we get to the docking port, I could hear yelling and screaming, so I stick my head out of the maintenance tunnel, and see fifty people scrapping in the tunnel to my right, and the hatch door onto the shuttle bay off to my left. No one looks to have got onto a shuttle, but there are pasta shells and spaghetti floating around, so I’m guessing the fight is over supplies. They must have heard the sirens and the shrill robot voice repeating, “Engine unstable. Engine unstable.” So I don’t know why they haven’t got onto the shuttles. Twats.

I duck back into the maintenance tunnel, and tell the people behind me we’re going to have to make a break for it.

“We’re going to die. We’re going to die,” someone whimpers behind me.

I’m breathing heavily. I’m not certain I’m going to make it myself. I pull myself out the tunnel, and just float around, waiting for the women to kick past me. They’ve got babies strapped to their chests, one pregnant lady is bobbing uncontrollably between floor and ceiling.

There’s limited heating in this part of the ship, but I’m sweating cobs under my padded sweatshirt—I can feel it trickling down my back. I’ve got my hand on my knife and I keep looking at the fight. It’s a surreal scene—fifty blokes, mostly youths, grappling with each other, droplets of blood floating around them.

After three or four minutes, we’ve got twenty-five people out of the tunnel. “Cycle the hatch doorway,” Aarav yells. “We’ll cover you.”

As the doors start opening, we start floating backwards towards the shuttle bay, and I start believing we’re going to make it. I’ve only been there a couple of times—on the pre-mission tour and on the job—but I know it’s basically a long corridor sticking out the back of the ship with airlocks at regular intervals. If we can get into there, and lock the hatch behind us, we’re basically safe from the colonists.

Suddenly, I realize there are three guys in the shuttle bay already—Dennis and two guys in Phalange bandanas. They’re clinging to the guide rail beside the nearest airlock and, as we arrive, they start yelling. “Fuck off. Fuck off. Fuck off and die.” Five seconds later, they’re kicking towards me, weapons outstretched, trying to stick me with them.

I grab the first guy around the neck, pull him towards me, trying to twist the weapon out his hands. I can hear one of them yelling, “I kill you. I kill you properly,” and realize it’s them or me—there’s no good way out of this one. I thrust the knife into his stomach, and he flails away screaming, droplets of blood bubbling into the air.

The other guy pauses, taken aback, and I slash at his shoulder with the knife. My adrenaline is thumping. Something hits me on the shoulder and I twist around to see the second guy spinning off towards the hatch door. He yells, suddenly, and I realize Aarav is slamming his body into the airlock.

Then, I don’t have time to take breath, because I’m in a knife fight to the death with Dennis. He stabs me in the shoulder, forearm, and slashes me across the jaw. Then he stabs at my chest, but luckily I’m wearing a padded jacket. I finally get my arm around his neck, choking him out, wrestling the knife off him. I relax my arm, and he drifts away, unconscious, the knife clattering against the walls of the shuttle bay.

A blizzard of blood droplets is drifting off my face and arms, towards the ceiling of the shuttle bay, and I start worrying I’m bleeding to death. Below me, I can hear shouts and yelling, and I notice that about fifteen women with babies are clinging to the guard rails around the airlock. Marjorie Billings-Rajamana is messing with the controls. Her bodysuit is torn and she has a huge open cut across her forehead. No idea where she came from; some of the colonists must have been making for the shuttles.

Two of the women start gesturing at me. As I float down to them, one yells, “Lizzie’s still out there.” The hatch doors are still open, so I kick my way out there. One of the heavily pregnant ladies is vomiting, next to the guard rails near the maintenance tunnel. Lizzie and another lady are trying to hold onto her . . . and Hope.

“Get into the shuttle bay,” I yell, and take hold of the woman’s arm. She’s gasping and moaning.

Suddenly, the whole ship shudders and the sirens rise to a screech. There’s a small explosion somewhere.

“Get into the shuttle bay,” I yell, leading the woman by the arm.

Then I hear someone yell, “Kill them,” and realize that the Phalange and Rashid’s crew have finally spotted us. A second later, there’s a ragged cheer over the sirens. Billings-Rajamana has finally got the airlock open and the first group of women are filing onto the shuttle.

I push the vomiting woman forward and two people grab her hands. A few seconds later, she’s been pushed towards the airlock.

“Ach, Tony, come on,” yells Lizzie.

Hope is crying, her face screwed up, tears pouring from her mother’s big, dark eyes. I glance out of the shuttle bay, towards the yelling colonists who are hurtling towards her. I realize there is no time to cycle the airlock shut and launch the shuttle before they reach them.

In my mind’s eye, I see my daughter running down the corridor, a fireball rushing behind her. She’s holding Hope’s hand.

“Lizzie, get Hope onto the shuttle,” I shout.

“But . . . but . . . ”

“They’ve seen us. I’ll hold them off.”

Lizzie heads for the airlock.

The ship shudders again. I turn back around, facing the colonists who are heading towards me.

Tears brim in my eyes.

I’ve heard about officers dying in the line of duty. But it’s not something I ever thought I’d see.

I tighten my grip on my knife, set my ear-mounted comms device to record.

“This is Tony Martin, Security Officer and European Liaison aboard the UNCS Cheng Ho,” I say. “Whoever finds this, give my love to the ex-wife—I’ll always love you. I’ll see you, in Heaven, with my daughter one day.”

“Now I’m finishing my report here and switching off my personal record.”

“Thank you. And good night.”

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