Ninth Step Station: Episode 1 Sample

Ninth Step Station: Episode 1 Sample

by Malka Older

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A local cop. A US Peacekeeper. A divided Tokyo.

In the future, two mismatched cops must work together to solve crimes in a divided Tokyo.

Years of disaster and conflict have left Tokyo split between great powers. In the city of drone-enforced borders, bodymod black markets, and desperate resistance movements, US peacekeeper Emma Higashi is assigned to partner with Tokyo Metropolitan Police Detective Miyako Koreda. Together, they must race to solve a series of murders that test their relationship and threaten to overturn the balance of global power. And amid the chaos, they each need to decide what they are willing to do for peace.

This is the first episode of Ninth Step Station.

Created by Malka Older, whose Infomocracy was named one of Kirkus' "Best Fiction of 2016", with cowriters Jacqueline Koyanagi (author of Ascension), Fran Wilde (2016 Nebula Award nominee, and winner of the 2016 Andre Norton and Compton Crook awards), and Curtis C. Chen (2017 Locus Awards and Endeavour Award Finalist).

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781682105795
Publisher: Serial Box
Publication date: 04/13/2019
Series: Ninth Step Station , #1
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 35
File size: 955 KB

About the Author

Malka Older is a writer, aid worker, and PhD candidate. Her science fiction political thriller Infomocracy, was named one of the best books of 2016 by Kirkus Reviews, Book Riot, and the Washington Post. She is also the author of the sequels, Null States (2017) and State Tectonics (2018), as well as of short fiction appearing in WIRED, Twelve Tomorrows, Reservoir Journal, Fireside Fiction, and others. Named Senior Fellow for Technology and Risk at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs for 2015, she has more than a decade of experience in humanitarian aid and development. Her doctoral work on the sociology of organizations at the Institut d’Études Politques de Paris (Sciences Po) explores the dynamics of multi-level governance and disaster response using the cases of Hurricane Katrina and the Japan tsunami of 2011.

Read an Excerpt

The streets were rain-slicked and icy, but in Marunouchi, safely in the US zone of Tokyo, that was no deterrent. In the dark after-work hours, its tiny bars, ramen counters, karaoke boxes, and hostess spots were crammed with salarymen spending an extra few hours laughing at their superiors’ jokes or drinking off the stress of their jobs. A few spilled into the chilly streets, arguing drunkenly under one of the alternate streetlights that were still illuminated, or checking for updates on their sleeves. Garish signs gleamed from every building, one over the other in tapestries of contrasting calligraphy. There were pockets of darkness, victims of the spike in energy prices or the drop in population. But on the whole, calamity and war had increased the market for oblivion-tinged entertainment.

Even the bounty of the US zone was not endless. The metro—those lines that still ran in this divided city—closed at midnight, cutting short a ritual that, pre-war, would have gone on into the early hours of the morning. From 11:30 until midnight, men and the occasional severely-suited woman poured out of the cramped establishments. They flooded roads, bought last-minute snacks, pushed intentionally or unintentionally against each other like molecules in boiling water. They filtered in unsteady gushes under the archway announcing the west entrance of the shopping district, which cracked in the 2031 Nankai earthquake and was still unrestored a year and a half later. They stumbled across the street to the Kanda metro station, where the late-night rush hour bottlenecked into a tightly packed fumble towards the turnstiles.

Easy, in that crowd of black suits and narrow ties, to feel anonymous. Easy, once one had noticed the target slurping cheap ramen at a street-level establishment, to hover outside until he left. Not terribly difficult to keep him in sight through the crowd. All too easy, in the dense crush of the metro station, to unsheathe a knife close to the hip, where it would be invisible to the security cameras. Easy to jab it once, twice, three times into a dark, raincoat-clad back.

The stabbed man stumbled, was held up briefly by the press of the crowd, then slipped down to his hands and knees. There was a moment of disturbance in the flow as people stepped around his huddled form; then he slid completely to the ground. The energy-saving lights were dim; the people were drunk; the last train was leaving soon. No one noticed that they were stepping on a corpse.


Act I

Miyako Koreda tapped her sleeve against the panel by the door of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Headquarters in Kudanshita, clocking in. After the old headquarters in Kasumigaseki was bombed in the final days of China’s brief, partially successful attempt to add the capital to its territory, this office building off Yasukunidori had been pressed into service as a temporary headquarters. It was a good location, hard up against the narrowest stretch of the ASEAN buffer zone, with good transportation options to most of the American-administered eastern half of the capital, and close to the Yasukuni Shrine, which everyone expected to be a flashpoint one day or the next. But although someone had been thoughtful about which interior walls to knock down, Miyako still expected the old office every time she walked through the door, and the layout felt odd.

“Ohayo gozaimasu,” Miyako called into the scattered desks of the fourth floor Criminal Investigations Division.

“Ohayo!” The greetings chorused back.

“Ohayo, Koreda-san,” said a heavyset man in his fifties, passing the door on the way back to the desks.

“Yamada-san,” Miyako replied, following him to the work area. “What are you working on?”

“The Shiodome arson case,” he answered. “You?”

“Paperwork for that theft in Odaiba.”

“Got someone?”

Miyako nodded. “Looks like we might be able to pin a few other thefts on him too.”

Miyako slung her dark wool coat onto the hook by her desk and went to the tea station. The leaves in the pot were soggy, and she dumped them into the sink, rinsed the strainer, and sifted in a new fragrant layer from the tin. While she waited for the water to heat, Miyako browsed the snack offerings in lieu of breakfast. She selected a small sweet-potato-stuffed cake—rare now that Kyushu was held by China; she wondered who had bought that—and a handful of sour plum-flavored hard candies. In her right ear, the news broadcast burbled its comforting hum.

She sat down at her desk, lukewarm cup in hand, and started to fill in the paperwork on the Odaiba arrest, speaking the answers into the voice recognition on her sleeve. Something in the newscast caught her attention on a subliminal level, and Miyako turned the volume up slightly and jumped back ten seconds. “…the ASEAN representative in Tokyo made a statement condemning recent Chinese rhetoric.” Miyako waited, eyebrows hoisted like the cables on a suspension bridge, but the story ended with that. There wasn’t even a response from China. The news announcer chattered on, and Miyako lowered the volume again to the point where the words were barely intelligible and all she was aware of was the constant, unpanicked tone.

Nobody had started a war.

Then again, nobody had started a war.

Before she could get back to her paperwork, her sleeve sent a tingle along her forearm. That manufactured sensation triggered, as always, an echoing fizz in her gut, the combination of nerves and anticipation that came with every new case. Miyako slid her finger along the edge of her sleeve to bring up the details, and her pulse jumped again as she saw the crimson color-coding: a murder. Violent crime had ticked up since the war, but murders were still rare. No one was happy when one happened, but Miyako couldn’t deny the excitement of solving one.

Standing to pull on her coat, she flipped quickly through the template sent by the responding officer: body found in Kanda station; multiple stab wounds; no identification. She paused. This might be interesting.

Or, then again, it might mean hours stuck with the remnants of the city’s facial and fingerprint database, which had been in tatters since the earthquake.

In any case, it wasn’t going to solve itself. Miyako was on her way to the door when her sleeve vibrated with a different type of alarm. Annoyed, she glanced at her forearm. “Report to my office immediately,” read the message.

The Superintendent of Criminal Investigations, Hideo Nishimura, was tall and even-featured and had probably been handsome in his youth, but the years at the desk showed in his growing corpulence and a certain slowness in breaking inertia. When Miyako walked into his office thirty seconds after receiving his message, however, he was already standing with his coat on.

“Sir?” Miyako asked, hesitating by the door. “I was about to head to a crime scene.”

“That situation in Marunouchi,” Nishimura said. “I know. They’re going to have to give you a few extra minutes. I need you to come with me to the Japanese sector first.”

“Of course,” Miyako answered unenthusiastically. The Japanese sector was mainly Kasumigaseki—that, and the Imperial Palace, closed since the royal family had moved to the relative security of Sapporo. Kasumigaseki was all ministries and government offices and the Diet. Little good ever came out of going there.

Nishimura waggled his eyebrows at her. “You’re going to be a part of a special new pilot program.”

Waiting for the trap to spring, Miyako said nothing.

“The US embassy has asked us to allow one of their peacekeepers to join our investigative team. I’m partnering them with you.”

Whatever Miyako had expected, it wasn’t that. She remembered when the peacekeepers had arrived, as part of the unrolling of the United States’ “friendly” occupation of the parts of Tokyo not taken by China. It had seemed hopeful at the time, like the world was going to take this seriously. But, of course, by that time there was already peace, the peace of China having gotten what they wanted for the moment, and Miyako hadn’t heard anything about the unit since.

“Come on,” Nishimura said, taking his narrow-brim hat from the hook on his door. “We’ve got to get over there so you and your new partner can head to the crime scene.”

“Sir,” Miyako started, but decided not to continue until they had traversed the squad room. The stairwell was empty. “Sir, a peacekeeper? Don’t they have better things to do?”

“We’ve had nine months of peace, Koreda,” Nishimura said, plodding down the stairs ahead of her. “Perhaps they’ve gotten bored.”

“This person won’t know anything about police work!”

“Apparently the person they are sending has a background in the military police.”

“It’s not the same!” Miyako said. She didn’t bother mentioning her main objections: that she liked to work alone, and that she definitely did not like working with loud, uninformed outsiders. Nishimura already knew the first and would assume the second. “And they won’t know Tokyo. Does this person even speak Japanese?”

“It’s because they don’t know Tokyo that they want to pair with us. Besides, they know we’re understaffed since the attacks and they’re trying to help.”

Miyako made a nonverbal noise of disagreement.

Nishimura sighed. “Okay, they’re probably not trying to help out of the goodness of their hearts, but I don’t have much choice on this one, Koreda, so let’s make the best of it, shall we?” They reached the ground floor, but Nishimura hesitated before pushing the heavy door out into the lobby. “I was going to stick this on Fukuda, but today when they finalized it they told me that they’re sending a woman. I know how sensitive Americans can be about sekuhara, I thought I’d better partner her with a woman.”

Miyako refrained from commenting.

The US embassy was almost directly south of the Kudan station, on the opposite side of the Imperial Palace park. Miyako’s decades in Tokyo meant she automatically calculated a subway route on the Shinjuku and Namboku lines; her resistance to the current situation meant that it was only afterwards that she remembered the Namboku line was almost entirely in the Chinese sector and no longer ran. Maybe Nishimura was better adapted, because he went directly to the Hanzomon platform without so much as a flinch.

The frigid air hit them again as they stepped out of the subway in Kasumigaseki, between the large, guarded buildings of the national government ministries, now ruling a fraction of the country and bickering over what to do about the rest.

It was still early for government employees, and the sidewalk was almost empty. In the middle of the block, Nishimura stopped. “This is a ride along, an experiment in information sharing. We are not ceding them control. She follows you, not the other way around.” He nodded to himself. “It’s important to keep them happy. We can improve the relationship.”

Miyako nodded too. He was being as clear as he could about what he expected of her; whether she agreed was entirely beside the point. What bothered her was that it sounded like whether he agreed was just as irrelevant.

Once they had passed through the security-theater gauntlet required to enter the US embassy, they were immediately ushered to their appointment. The discreet plaque beside the office door read “Chief Liaison Officer to the Japanese Government, Charles Yardly III.” The man who stood from behind the desk was younger than Miyako would have expected, and trim, with carefully rippled chestnut hair and an expensive suit. He stood when they entered and bowed instead of shaking hands, as did his Japanese secretary, who had been seated in one of the chairs facing his desk. Miyako tapped her sleeve unobtrusively to turn her news feed down to the lower edge of audibility.

“Thank you so much for making this work on such short notice,” Yardly said in impressively smooth Japanese. “I know we’ve been talking about it for a while, but the final authorization just came through and we wanted to put it into action as quickly as possible.” He cleared his throat gently. “I’m sure you’ll be wanting to, ah, get to know each other, but we were also hoping that you might direct some of your attention at an incident that occurred early this morning.”

The secretary wasn’t taking notes, but perhaps she had a recorder installed. Miyako observed her closely and caught something flash in her eye. Video, then. She repressed a shudder. She wasn’t anti-body-mod, but the idea of someone plugging circuitry into their eyeball gave her the creeps.

“We have reports that a truck transporting a shipping container that had just been unloaded was hijacked shortly after it went through port security,” Yardly went on. “We believe it was taken into the Chinese zone, but since the hijacking itself occurred in the US sector we were hoping you could help us gain some clarity over exactly what happened.”

Nishimura murmured something polite about being sure that they could provide some information about the situation.

“Excellent,” Yardly said. “Well then . . . ”

The secretary spoke up. “Perhaps it would be better if you introduced us at this point.”

Her Japanese was clear but accented, and it was then that Miyako realized with a shock that she was not the secretary.

“Oh of course,” Yardly responded, smoothly. “Lieutenant Emma Higashi of the US Navy, seconded to the Brunei Accords Peacekeeping Force and now, to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.”


Act II

The meeting, Emma thought, had gone off with all the discomfort of a first date based on inflated profiles and a wonky algorithm. Even with her limited exposure to real Japanese culture, she could tell that the superintendent and the detective were not happy. Of course, why would they be? They were being forced to take on someone completely new and unfamiliar with their city, and all based on the leverage of a foreign power.

Maybe it would smooth things out if she let on to her new colleague—Koreda-san—that she wasn’t happy about it either. Or maybe that would be seen as an insult? As the three of them left the office, Emma feeling like a kindergartner being led away to her first day of school, Charles caught her eye with a meaningful glare. All of Charles’s glares were meaningful, but Emma knew what he was trying to get across with this one. He had hammered on it in their pre-meeting before the Japanese arrived.

“We need to know what happened to that shipment! And I don’t know how we’re going to track it without their help.”

“I could easily find it with a UAV reconnaissance,” Emma had started, but Charles waved her off impatiently.

“Not without alerting them to its importance and who exactly is looking for it!”

“What is its importance?” Emma had asked.

Charles ignored the question. “This idea of embedding someone with the Metropolitan Police has been in the works for a while, so don’t think it’s only about this hijacking. That just sped up the timetable a little. But the main point is cooperation.” He said it as though he were unfurling a proclamation. “We have no idea what’s going on in this city. We would need twenty, fifty times the personnel Washington is willing to commit—or fifty times the drones—to even begin to understand.” He leaned over the desk at her. “The city is poised in a détente right now, but don’t be fooled. Everyone is working to get ahead for when this situation falls apart. We need the locals. We need to work closely with them, to understand them, to be sure they’re on our side.”

And what side are they going to be on? Emma wondered. They’re not going to be helping the Chinese.

“You are the critical first step in this process,” Charles went on. “A bridge. Or better, a conduit. We’re counting on you, lieutenant.”

Emma straightened and nodded. Charles probably would have liked a salute, but she didn’t give it to him because he was a civilian and also fuck him for his stratagems and convoluted diplomacy. If they needed better relationships with the locals, why didn’t they just have a weekly meeting or something? Forcing a stranger into their squad room certainly wasn’t going to help. And Emma was a good peacekeeper; it was stupid to transfer her, even if she had to admit that lately the peacekeeping gig had been a little slow. Too much peace instead of too little. Not hard to keep at all.

In the elevator with the superintendent and the detective, Emma hesitated and then spoke up, the carefully composed Japanese sentence awkward and oversized against her palate. “We can get directly to the garage from the lowest level,” she said, indicating the button below the one they had pushed. The two Japanese exchanged glances, and Emma wondered if she had gotten the honorifics wrong. “If . . . if you didn’t know.”

It was the superintendent who finally spoke up. “We didn’t bring a car. You and Koreda will be taking the subway directly to a crime scene. They are waiting for you.”

Why didn’t he say san after Koreda? Was he being rude to his own detective? Or was he being rude to Emma, was it retaliation for some unintentional rudeness in her own statement? Emma was so caught up in linguistics that she was late getting to the end of the sentence. Did he mean a crime scene or the crime scene? The elevator doors opened on the ground floor.

“Ah, that, that,” unable to remember the Japanese word Charles had used, Emma fell back on English. “That hijacking?” She switched back to Japanese. “Is that where we’re going?”

It was the detective who answered, and she answered in English. “No. This is a murder.”

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