Synopsis: Colonel Frederick Lucius Johnson from Earth subsequently visits Belter bars obviously trying to get himself killed by OPA (Outer Planets Alliance) people. They only know him as the “Butcher of Anderson Station” while at the same time he is celebrated as a military hero on Earth.
He gets kidnapped and interviewed by OPA agent Anderson Dawes who wants to know
What happened to you on Anderson Station?
Now, mind the careful wording. Anderson doesn’t want to know “What happened on Anderson Station”, because he and the rest of the world already knows that:
Johnson was the military leader of 600 Marines invading Anderson Station and killing thousands of belters there. The exact procedure is narrated in retrospect chapters alternating with the interrogation.
Anderson formulated his chapter, because something changed Johnson during or shortly after the military action.
The story unfolds what happened from Johnson’s point of view and why he subsequently defected to the OPA.
Review: This prequel to the Expanse novels has been published by Orbit and hasn’t been anthologized or collected anywhere else so far. Currently, you have to pay the relatively high price of €1,49 for just 15 pages text. Next year in March will see “The Complete Expanse Story Collection” collecting eight stories of the Expanse series. Decide yourself, if you want to pick it up then or need it right now.
I’ve previously read Drive (review), which told the story of the invention of Expanse’s fast space ship drives and was a great read. That set my expectation pretty high for this one. My motivation to read it was that I just started with the second novel of Expanse, Caliban’s War, after I had watched the whole series half a year ago. That novel has been waiting for years on my shelf.
The story’s main protagonist Fred Johnson had a fascinating role in the show, and I wanted to learn more about him and the incident that led to his moniker “Butcher of Anderson Station”. How could someone who killed thousands of people become a leader figure of that same folk?
The narration is interestingly structured. The interrogation by Anderson gives away a lot about Anderson’s personality. It is a kind of battle in itself where Johnson deflected interrogation techniques just to slowly fall for them nonetheless while exposing ever more of the incident’s backgrounds. The retelling of the military action and its debriefing mirrors the interrogation, first by technical recaps and than by giving away more than Johnson would be allowed to tell anybody.
Johnson didn’t know that he’d survive this interrogation, but he didn’t know that he’d survive anyway and become a different person for a different people later on.
I have yet to read the novels, so I can’t say how much exactly they give away. Having watched the show, this novelette was a welcome addition and also a very entertaining read full of military action and closed room psychological battles.
I guess, it could even be read as a standalone story independently of the Expanse because it is self-contained and I’d like to recommend it not only for Expanse fans but every reader of Military SF.