There's only one thing all Belters have in common: a gambler's impulse to risk everything for the slight chance of hitting the big one. Life out here is hard. A few Belt miners strike it rich. More barely scrape by. Most who stay out here more than a year wind up dead.
There must be thousand ways to die in the Belt, each one horrific in its own way. I've seen miners flash frozen by sudden exposure to hard vacuum. I've seen miners burnt to a crisp in fiery explosions that consumed their ships. I've seen a whole family die of asphyxiation because nobody would stop and refill their O2 tanks. They were twenty creds short of the going rate.
I saw all these things and much worse because I'm what passes for the law around here. When I volunteered for Belt duty my chief was so surprised he made me take a psych test just to be sure I wan't crazy. Nobody volunteers for the Belt. Except me.
I might be borderline crazy but I learned long ago how to give the psych evals the answers they needed to hear. And I needed to get away. Away from everything that reminded me of her.
Everyone out here has a story. And as the only representative of the Interplanetary Peacekeeping Force you'll find within 200 million miles, I got to hear most of them. I liked to listen. Somehow hearing about the problems others were facing seemed to numb my own pain. You'd think it would give me perspective or something. It didn't. But misery does love company.
She was an Earthie. Growing up on Ganymede in the Jupiter Federation, I hadn't seen many Earthies before. She had come out to Ganymede when her mother, a prominent professor of planetary science, had won a fellowship to study the Rings at the main Ganymede research station. They were supposed to stay there for six revs which works out to about 42 standard days. But halfway through their stay, the ship her mother and three researchers were travelling in lost power at sub-orbital velocity and crashed into Jupiter.
That was the day I learned her name. I can still see her mother's smiling face in the background of the vid while the announcer somberly related that Marcia Roberts was survived by her husband Henry Roberts and her daughter Jillian Roberts.
I don't think it's possible to take losing your spouse well, but Jillian's dad simply couldn't recover. The next ship to earth wasn't due for two more revs so he took to drowning his sorrows in hard liquor and isolating himself from the rest of the base. A few people, including my parents, tried to reach out to him but he refused any assistence and made it clear that he preferred to be alone in his pain. Jillian had always been a quiet girl who stayed out of trouble and, while her mother's death was obviously devatstating to her, she continued to attend classes with the rest of us. Nobody knew what to say so mostly we said nothing and pretended like nothing had changed and Jillian seemed happy to leave it that way.
About one rev after the accident I went to the cafeteria during off hours to grab a snack and saw Jillian sitting at a table in the corner by herself, her face streaked with tears. Ganymede was still primarily a research colony then and there weren't many kids our age around. As a result I was even more awkward than most teenage boys when dealing with the opposite sex. But I felt compelled to do something, so I brought her a bag of synth milk and some Oreos and sat down beside her.
"They're better if you dip them, but all the cups are put away until on hours starts."
Jillian looked up, seemingly noticing me for the first time. "Thanks," she said in a faint voice but made no move to touch the food.
Awkward silence. Maybe I should just leave her alone. I got up to leave, but she reached out and, with surprising strength, grabbed my wrist and pleaded, "Don't go!"
Sitting back down heavily next to her I noticed bright red marks on her skin just at the edge of her sleeves and neckline of her T-shirt. Without quite knowing why, I put my arm around her and said, "You're safe here."
Burying her head in my chest she began sobbing uncontrollably. Gingerly at first, and then with more confidence as I saw it calmed her, I stroked her hair and held her close. Her shirt had shifted and I could see the edges of ugly bruises between her shoulder blades. Finally comprehending, I whispered, "Your dad?"
Jillian nodded mutely, her tears flowing again. I had led a fairly idyllic life up to that point and had never before had to deal with the raw agony that I now held shaking in my arms. I had no idea what to say, so I remained silent. After years of experience dealing with situations like this, I now realize that was the best thing I could have done in that moment. Finally, when she had no more tears, she sat up wiping her face with the back of her hand.
"Jillian I...", but before I could say anything, she took my head in both her hands and kissed me passionately, almost violently, her tongue questing for mine. While this was pretty much the culmination of every adolescent dream I'd had to that point, it was so sudden and surprising that I pulled away in shock.
"I'm so sorry!" she blurted and dashed out of the cafeteria.
I sat there staring after her, a crazy cocktail of hormones, confusion, and outrage that anyone would hurt such a beautiful person. In that moment, I vowed I would protect her from all harm forever. Little did I know at the time where that vow would lead me and what it would ultimately cost.