The Butcher of Anderson Station

James S. A. Corey
The Butcher of Anderson Station Cover

The Butcher of Anderson Station


The character of Fred Johnson, head of the OPA (Outer Planets Alliance) always intrigued me: it would seem almost impossible for an Earth-born to reach such levels of power in Belter society, where outsiders are looked at with mistrust (and that in a best-case scenario), even more so considering the shadow cast on him by his past as an Earth soldier -- and therefore the enemy, from a Belter point of view, the one who has been dubbed "Butcher" for his past deeds.

Much is explained in this story about how he gained that name, and we also get a glimpse of the beginning of Johnson's "second life": as the narrative opens, he's in a Belter bar, standing out very much like the proverbial sore thumb in such a hostile environment and not, as one would expect, trying to draw as little attention to himself as possible, but rather looking for trouble. A series of flash-backs takes us to an operation on the titular Anderson Station, a supply base in the Belt that had been taken over by rebels: Johnson and his marines manage to retake the station but something does not add up and some evidence seems to indicate that the action was less of a military operation and more of an exemplary warning to all Belters.

This is indeed the most interesting part of the tale, the one that shows in no uncertain terms the history of the bitter hostility between the inner planets and their far-reaching colony: a video message from one of the rebels gives Johnson a new viewpoint on the situation, one that points to the ruthless exploitation of the Belt colonists, whose meager quotas of air, food and water are constantly reduced in the name of profit, a goal to be reached without thought for the suffering of one's fellow humans. The reason for the revolt he was called in to quell came from a three percent increase on supply charges applied to already overburdened colonists, whose protests were dismissed with a careless exhortation about "working harder", not unlike the alleged Marie Antoinette reply about eating croissants... As the recorded message from the now-dead Belter says:

"...what if you're already running at the bare minimum? How about every year, you just don't breathe for three days? That would about cover it. Or you don't drink any water for three days. Or you don't eat for three days when you're already on the brink of starvation. When there's nothing left to cut back on, how do you make it up then?"

This is a short but very intense story that literally begs to be read and gives you a deeper insight in many of the facets of this fascinating universe. To say more would mean to spoil its effect, or the emotional impact that it carries. Highly recommended.