“We’re just supposed to walk, are we?” the man shouted at Wyn as he passed her on the stairs. She ignored him and added a mental tick to the tally of complaints. It was their fifth time down the steps, and each time they passed a line of commuters going the other way. A stream of angry faces, ready to vent and eager to blame her. She was bored with it but then they all were.
“We going again are we, chief?” Doron said loudly enough for everyone to hear.
“Still a sergeant, Doron, and yes, you know the plan.” Wyn had to raise her voice to be sure to be heard over the echoing footfalls. “We keep riding the trains until we’re told to stop.”
“So, we just go around and around?” Doron said. “This is militia work, and you know it, but then I guess you’re hoping they’ll give you a job.”
“What the hell...” Wyn spun around on the stairs, intending to give Doron an earful, but Bran caught her by the shoulder and kept her moving down the steps.
“Let it go,” Bran said. “He’s just upset because he missed his nap.”
“Why are you smiling, Bran?” Wyn scowled at her partner.
“I’ve always liked the metro,” Bran said with a cheerful grin plastered across his broad face.
“Bran, did you just say you like trains?” Doron said. A ripple of laughter passed up the line. “How did you pass the detective’s exam?”
“I kind of just nodded and smiled politely. I think they felt sorry for me.” Bran glanced over his shoulder and gave the veteran officer a wink.
Doron couldn’t help but laugh. “I swear you’re going to be commander one day. God help us all when that happens.”
“That’s my plan, make you think I’m an idiot and then wham, I’m the boss.”
“Enjoying yourselves, are you?” The shout came from a woman trudging up the steps with a carrier bag in each hand. “You should be ashamed of yourselves.”
“Mam,” Doron said, speaking up for the squad. “This is a militia operation, so I encourage you to complain to them.”
“Oh, I will.”
“Excellent,” Doron said enthusiastically. “Just talk to the Militia Lieutenant in the ticket hall and she’ll take your details. Make sure to give her your address so they can make a follow-up visit.”
“I don’t think...” the woman blanched. “That won’t be necessary.”
“Thought not,” Doron said.
Wyn reached the bottom of the steps, and steered the detachment into the westbound tunnel, away from the heart of the sector and towards the colony.
Wyn looked around to find a smartly dressed woman standing to one side, she had a thick folder wedged under one arm and a briefcase in the other. “Has there been an accident? I have to reach the colony.”
“It’s a government operation,” Wyn said. “They’ve laid on a replacement bus, so keep going up.”
“Will it take me to the colony? I have to meet with clients today.”
“Keep going.” Wyn waved for Bran and the ten officers nominally under her command to move on. “Are you a solicitor?”
“We can’t hide from each other, can we?” the woman said pleasantly. “I have a series of appointments with clients in the colony. A few are time-sensitive.”
“I apologise for the inconvenience, but the government has declared a health emergency and sealed off the colony.”
“What kind of health emergency?” the woman asked before tutting. “Don’t tell me those idiots are going to try it again? It won’t work. All it causes is upset. The gangs will entrench and people like my clients will be the ones that suffer.”
“What do you want me to say?” They were alone now, the last of the passengers at the top of the stairs and her officers on the platform. “The party gives the orders, and the police obey.”
“I’m not angry at you, officer, just at the system,” the woman said with a heavy sigh. “I assume there’s a militia liaison officer upstairs?”
“There is, but they’ll give you the same information. I'm sorry I can’t be more help.”
“I understand. We’re all just trying to do our best.”
Wyn took a few steps away and then turned. “By the way, the line opens up again after Eden Park. Just in case you want to get back on.”
“Eden Park? The convention centre?”
“The governor has commandeered it, but I couldn’t comment on that,” Wyn said and walked away.
“Why, is that where they’re taking the prisoners? Officer?”
Wyn didn’t answer, she had given enough without breaking the rules. Eventually, she heard the click of the solicitor’s shoes on the steps.
The platform was empty but for the two squads of police standing apart and eyeing each other up like they were back on the playground. Not Bran though, he’d crossed over and was having a private conversation with a tall sergeant. He looked over at Wyn's approach and waved enthusiastically for her to join them.
“You already know Wyn, don’t you?” Bran said to the tall sergeant. “Wyn, this is Ted.”
“By reputation only. How are you?” the sergeant said and gave Wyn an easy smile.
“Loving this op, how about you?” Wyn said. She fiddled with the strap on her bulletproof vest, it was bulkier than the one she usually wore and just wouldn’t sit right. Bran slapped her hand away and pulled the strap tight.
“Will you stop fiddling with it,” Bran said. “It has to be tight or it won’t do any good. It’s only for a few more hours then you can stick it back in the boot of the car and forget about it.”
Wyn glared at Bran, but he didn’t seem to notice.
“He’s like this on the pitch,” Ted said.
“It’s not just me he mothers then?” Wyn said.
“No, we call him Father Bran.”
“Pay attention, Wyn,” Bran said with uncharacteristic seriousness. “Ted, tell her what we were talking about.”
“Short version,” Ted said, checking his watch. “We got a box delivered to the station last week. The front desk opened it and inside were these posters and flyers, I guess to be put up around the station or handed out in the area.”
“How is this interesting?” Wyn asked Bran.
“Ignore her, Ted, she’s actually quite nice once you get to know her,” Bran said.
“Sorry,” Wyn said. “Ted, what was so interesting about these posters?”
“Well, they were all about the new militia police force,” Ted said making sure to keep his voice low enough so as not to carry to the rank and file. “The message was that even though the police station was now a militia post, it was the same old service, only better.”
“God damn it,” Wyn said, suddenly interested. “We'd heard the rumours, but we thought it was bullshit.”
“As did we,” Ted said with a rueful shake of his head. “The captain queried it with Command, and they gave him an earful. Claimed he was trying to damage morale.”
“Did they deny it?”
“No, they said the box was sent out by mistake, no further explanation given. An hour later a driver turned up to collect the box, they even did an inventory to make sure no one had lifted anything from it. But that’s not all of it though...”
A gust of wind announced the imminent arrival of the next train. Both Wyn and Ted signalled for their people to stand ready. Ted’s squad split into pairs and spread out along the platform.
“One of our guys,” Ted continued as the train emerged from the tunnel, “a party member, admitted to being approached and offered a posting with the new militia police force.”
“They’ve already been recruiting among us?” Bran said, horrified at the idea.
“If you’ve got party members in your squad, there’s a good chance they know more than you. I’d best go. Look after yourselves today.”
“You too, Ted,” Bran said. “Pint soon?”
“Hopefully at Wyn’s pub!” Bran shouted.
Ted turned and gave a thumbs up.
The train doors slid open, and a few wary passengers stepped out, but more stayed seated, staring out of the windows at the uniformed officers. Ted and his unit stepped on board to give them the bad news. Most left without a fuss, but a few had to be escorted from the train and deterred from coming back.
“How does everyone know I inherited a pub?” Wyn said as the train pulled out. She counted the carriages, marking the pair of officers in each one.
“It’s a big deal, Wyn,” Bran said in a serious tone. “Cop bars are an institution. There aren’t many left.”
“It will not be a cop bar,” Wyn said fixing Bran with a firm look to make sure he was listening. “There will be no photographs or memorabilia. No truncheon above the bar or framed newspaper headlines.”
“Hate to break it to you, but you might not have a choice. Not as if you can stop us coming.”
“I’m not even opening the bar, so it’s a moot point.”
“Unless you’ve joined the party and not told me, you might have to.”
“They won’t sack us. The militia has no experience with policing and certainly none with detective work. They’d be mad to get rid of us.” Wyn heard the approach of another squad and waved for her people to move forward. So far the operation was running smoothly, and she wasn’t about to be the one to screw it up. “Cooler heads will prevail. We might have to wear a different uniform, but they won’t turn their back on an established resource.”
Bran looked at her as if she were a stranger.
“You could do that, seriously? Fiona’s connected to the party so if it comes to it, I can put an application in, but you, I know you, Wyn; you’d rather go hungry than work for them.”
“Maybe I don’t have a choice anymore.”
“But that’s my point. Your aunt left you a pub, a market pub at that. You could make a good living running it and leave all this behind. You must be near retirement by now?”
“There it is,” Wyn said. “You’re a master of the subtle jab. I don’t know how your wife puts up with you.”
“I’m serious, Wyn, you need to find something more for your life. It can’t just be this, you know.”
“It’s not a good time, Bran. If the militia are taking over, then I need to be part of it.” She stepped closer to him and lowered her voice. “Things are coming to a head, and I won’t be able to do anything if I’m stuck behind a bar pulling pints. I need to be on the streets.”
“You’ve been talking to that crackpot again, haven’t you?”
“If you mean my confidential source, that’s helped us solve a dozen cases, then yes.”
“Wyn, the guy’s crazy. I’ll admit a few of his leads have been on point, but he throws so many your way that the odds are on his side. You can’t trust him.”
“Just talk with him. If even a little of what he says is true, then the sector is in trouble. Not just the colony, but all of us.” Wyn placed a hand on his arm. “You trust me, don’t you?”
“Wyn, you’re a better detective than I can ever be, but you’re obsessed. I’m saying this as your best friend, get a hobby. You’re looking to this shadowy character as if he has all the answers, but he doesn’t. You want to believe in people so much that you don’t see their failings. Probably why I’m your best friend.”
“Being obsessed isn’t a bad thing.”
“It is when it isolates you. I’ve told you a hundred times, you’ve got to learn to let things go.” Bran nodded to the tunnel. “What did you think of Ted? I play footie with him on a Tuesday, he’s a good guy, excellent goalie. I could put in a good word for you?”
“How are you a detective?” Wyn sighed. “Don’t answer that. Just get the squad up front and spread out.”
“He’s sporty like you are.”
“Bran, go away before I hit you.”
Bran gave her a wink. “Think about it. You’re both health nuts, so you’ve got that in common.”
Wyn stepped to the edge of the platform and stared into the tunnel. Less than a kilometre away, ten thousand people were being forcibly evicted, many of them at gunpoint. Right behind them would come the militia engineers with their explosive charges, ready to collapse sections of the colony and destroy their homes. Families would be funnelled down to the metro, where the sector police would get them on the trains and escort them to the processing centre. The institution that Wyn loved was in its death throes and she was being forced to take part in its destruction. Wyn hated what was being done to them, but then she had grown to hate a lot of things recently. It seemed to her that her aunt dying had been a catalyst, the last precious thing that kept her in line. Fear of disappointing the woman that had done more to keep her safe than her own mother, keeping her from acting the way she knew she needed to. With the closure of the station and the death of the police force, she would be free, but she would be on her own.
Wyn knew herself better than most people could ever dream. Twenty years on the beat meant she had seen everything, all the torment that man could bring upon himself and his neighbour. But she had been tested and found wanting. No one else would say that or dare think it, but Wyn knew it. The more she had seen, the more convinced she had become that she wasn’t enough.
She didn’t want to step into the dark alone, not any longer, but if she had to then so be it.
A gust of wind buffeted the platform, and Wyn steeled herself for another sortie into the colony.