At first glance, it looked like a miner had decided to lie back and admire Jupiter in the starry sky above. It would’ve been a good time to do so. The red-and-white planet was near Psyche’s perigee, and appeared about the size of the Moon viewed from Earth.
Lying face up in a narrow alley in the asteroid’s main camp, the miner wore a standard white biosuit and helmet, both of them new and in excellent condition—with just one problem, a spider’s web of cracks in the visor.
My suit’s sensors detected no pulse in the body stretched out in front of me. Sonograms indicated the victim had been dead two hours, 20 minutes. I knelt for a closer look. The cracks in the visor weren’t big, but clearly big enough to let in the cold vacuum of space. After a couple of deep breaths, I got up the nerve to shine a light into the helmet. Sunken white eyes stared back from a face distorted by the vaporization of water from the body, and ice crystals sparkled in the gray stubble covering the cheeks.
Three months with the marshal’s office hadn’t prepared me for sights like this. It took a few moments before I stood and cleared my throat.
“Activate comm, med alert frequency five. This is Deputy Marshal Malcolm Lamb investigating incident 3-18-2454, Zulu 0357. Subject is deceased. Please dispatch med rover to Plat 277-A.”
The automated dispatcher signaled confirmation. I placed warning beacons around the area to protect the scene from contamination from passersby. The alley wasn’t wide enough for the big rovers miners used, and saw little foot traffic, but you never know. After making vids of the body and the surrounding area, I continued scanning the scene for evidence.
Minutes later, my comm pinged. The image of my superior, Marshal Bolin Han, glowed in the data display area of my helmet’s visor, his chin lowered and eyes tightened.
“Lamb, my shuttle just took off from Ceres. I heard a miner was down. Which side is it?”
“He’s in a wildcatter’s suit.”
“Damn. Who is it?”
“Don’t know yet. I was about to scan the body. Give me a moment.”
“Oh, take your time. I’m in no hurry.” That vein in the middle of his forehead started throbbing.
I engaged the investigative tools in my customized biosuit, and the dead man’s bio popped up in an inset on my screen.
“Okay. The ID chip scan indicates subject is Peter Azov, occupation independent miner. He’s worked a gold claim on Psyche since July 9, 2453.”
“What killed him?”
“Asphyxiation. The visor’s compromised.”
“Compromised? Quit talking like you just got out of the academy.”
“What the hell could have done that?”
“No idea, sir. I’m sending you vids.”
Han clenched his jaw. “I knew this damn rivalry would heat up again. A Damani miner was knifed two days ago, and now it looks like they’ve killed a wildcatter.”
“Yeah, that’s how these turf wars go. It’s just like—” I shut up. But it was too late.
“Lamb, this is not 1920s Chicago. You can live in the past on your own time. I’m glad you have a hobby to relieve stress, I really am, but right now, you have to find out what happened if we’re going to keep this from escalating. Understood?”
“Wonderful. This is your first solo case. Don’t let me down.”
“I won’t, sir.”
“I know you won’t. The lab database was just updated, you’ve got full access to it, and your suit has the best investigative tools platinum can buy. So get your ass to work. Hail me when you find something. Han out.”
Han’s image faded from my visor screen, but I kept staring at it, grinding my teeth. I’ve never let my hobby interfere with my work.
Maybe I talk about it too much, but the conflict between Damani Mining and the wildcatters had a lot in common with old-time gang wars. Like Chicago in the days of Bugs Moran and Al Capone, there was valuable turf up for grabs here, only more of it. The Psyche asteroid had more surface area than the California Republic, with rich deposits of gold, platinum, and other metals. And like those rival gangs, people on Psyche were ready to kill and die for its treasures.