Chapter Forty-Four: Miller

Miller sat by himself, staring out the wide observation windows without seeing the view. The fungal-culture whiskey on the low black table beside him remained at the same level in the glass as when he'd bought it. It wasn't really a drink. It was permission to sit. There had always been a handful of drifters, even on Ceres. Men and women whose luck had run out. No place to go, no one to ask favors of. No connection to the vast net of humanity. He'd always felt a kind of sympathy for them, his spiritual kindred.

Now he was part of that disconnected tribe in earnest.

Something bright happened on the skin of the great generation ship - a welding array firing off some intricate network of subtle connection, maybe. Past the Nauvoo, nestled in the constant hive-like activity of Tycho Station, was a half-degree arc of the Rocinante, like a home he'd once had. He knew the story of Moses seeing a promised land he would never enter. Miller wondered how the old prophet would have felt if he'd been ushered in for a moment - a day, a week, a year - and then dropped back out in the desert. Kinder never to leave the wastelands. Safer.

Beside him, Juliette Mao watched him from the corner of his mind carved out for her.

I was supposed to save you, he thought. I was supposed to find you. Find the truth.

And didn't you?

He smiled at her, and she smiled back, as world-weary and tired as he was. Because of course he had. He'd found her, he'd found who killed her, and Holden was right. He'd taken revenge. All that he'd promised himself, he'd done. Only it hadn't saved him.

"Can I get you anything?"

For half a second, Miller thought Julie had said it. The serving girl had opened her mouth to ask him again before he shook his head. She couldn't. And even if she had been able to, he couldn't afford it.

You knew it couldn't last, Julie said. Holden. His crew. You knew you didn't really belong there. You belong with me.

A sudden shot of adrenaline revved his tired heart. He looked around for her, but Julie was gone. His own privately generated fight-or-flight reaction didn't have room for daydream hallucinations. And still. You belong with me.

He wondered how many people he'd known who had taken that path. Cops had a tradition of eating their guns that went back to long before humanity had lifted itself up the gravity well. Here he was, without a home, without a friend, with more blood on his hands from the past month than from his whole career before it. The in-house shrink on Ceres called it suicidal ideation in his yearly presentation to the security teams. Something to watch out for, like genital lice or high cholesterol. Not a big deal if you were careful.

So he'd be careful. For a while. See where it went.

He stood, hesitated for three heartbeats, then scooped up his bourbon and drank it in a gulp. Liquid courage, they called it, and it seemed to do the trick. He pulled up his terminal, put in a connect request, and tried to compose himself. He wasn't there yet. And if he was going to live, he needed a job.

"Sabez nichts, Pampaw," Diogo said. The kid was wearing a meshwork shirt and pants cut in a fashion as youthful as it was ugly, and in his previous life, Miller would probably have written him off as too young to know anything useful. Now Miller waited. If anything could wring a prospect out of Diogo, it would be the promise of Miller getting a hole of his own. The silence dragged. Miller forced himself not to speak for fear of begging.

"Well... " Diogo said warily. "Well. There's one hombre might could. Just arm and eye."

"Security guard work's fine with me," Miller said. "Anything that pays the bills."

"Il conversa a do. Hear what's said."

"I appreciate anything you can do," Miller replied, then gestured at the bed. "You mind if I...?"

"Mi cama es su cama," Diogo said. Miller lay down.

Diogo stepped into the small shower, and the sound of water against flesh drowned out the air cycler. Even on board ship, Miller hadn't lived in physical circumstances this intimate with anyone since his marriage. Still, he wouldn't have gone as far as to call Diogo a friend.

Opportunity was thinner on Tycho than he'd hoped, and he didn't have much by way of references. The few people who knew him weren't likely to speak on his behalf. But surely there'd be something. All he needed was a way to remake himself, to start over and be someone different from who he'd been.

Assuming, of course, that Earth or Mars - whichever one came out on top of the war - didn't then wipe the OPA and all the stations loyal to it out of the sky. And that the protomolecule didn't escape Eros and slaughter a planet. Or a station. Or him. He had a moment's chill, recalling that there was still a sample of the thing on board the Roci. If something happened with it, Holden and Naomi, Alex and Amos might all join Julie long before Miller did.

He told himself that wasn't his problem anymore. Still, he hoped they'd be all right. He wanted them to be well, even if he wasn't.

"Oi, Pampaw," Diogo said as the door to the public hall slid open. "You hear that Eros started talking?"

Miller lifted himself to one elbow.

"Si," Diogo said. "Whatever that shit is, it started broadcasting. There's even words and shit. I've got a feed. You want a listen?"

No, Miller thought. No, I have seen those corridors. What's happened to those people almost happened to me. I don't want anything to do with that abomination.

"Sure," he said.

Diogo scooped up his own hand terminal and keyed in something. Miller's terminal chimed that it had received the new feed route.

"Chica perdida in ops been mixing a bunch of it to bhangra," Diogo said, making a shifting dance move with his hips. "Hard-core, eh?"

Diogo and the other OPA irregulars had breached a high-value research station, faced down one of the most powerful and evil corporations in a history of power and evil. And now they were making music from the screams of the dying. Of the dead. They were dancing to it in the low-rent clubs. What it must be like, Miller thought, to be young and soulless.

But no. That wasn't fair. Diogo was a good kid. He was just naive. The universe would take care of that, given a little time.

"Hard-core," Miller said. Diogo grinned.

The feed sat in queue, waiting. Miller turned out the lights, letting the little bed bear him up against the press of spin. He didn't want to hear. He didn't want to know. He had to.

At first, the sound was nothing - electric squeals and a wildly fluting static. Then, maybe somewhere deep in the back of it, music. A chorus of violas churning away together in a long, distant crescendo. And then, as clear as if someone were speaking into a microphone, a voice.

"Rabbits and hamsters. Ecologically unstabilizing and round and blue as moonbeams. August."

It almost certainly wasn't a real person. The computer systems on Eros could generate any number of perfectly convincing dialects and voices. Men's, women's, children's. And how many millions of hours of data could there be on the computers and storage dumps all through the station?

Another electronic flutter, like finches looped back against themselves. A new voice - feminine and soft this time - with a throbbing pulse behind it.

"Patient complains of rapid heartbeat and night sweats. Symptom onset reported as three months previous, but with a history... "

The voice faded, and the throbbing rose. Like an old man with Swiss cheese holes in his brain, the complex system that had been Eros was dying, changing, losing its mind. And because Protogen had wired it all for sound, Miller could listen to the station fail.

"I didn't tell him, I didn't tell him, I didn't tell him. The sunrise. I've never seen the sunrise."

Miller closed his eyes and slid down toward sleep, serenaded by Eros. As consciousness faded, he imagined a body in the bed beside him, warm and alive and breathing slowly in time with the rise and fall of the static.

The manager was a thin man, weedy, with hair combed high above his brow like a wave that never crashed. The office hunched close around them, humming at odd moments when the infrastructure - water, air, energy - of Tycho impinged on it. A business built between ducts, improvisational and cheap. The lowest of the low.

"I'm sorry," the manager said. Miller felt his gut tighten and sink. Of all the humiliations the universe had in store for him, this one he hadn't foreseen. It made him angry.

"You think I can't handle it?" he asked, keeping his voice soft.

"It's not that," the weedy man said. "It's... Look, between us, we're looking for a thumb, you know? Someone's idiot kid brother could guard this warehouse. You've got all this experience. What do we need with riot control protocols? Or investigative procedure? I mean, come on. This gig doesn't even come with a gun."

"I don't care," Miller said. "I need something."

The weedy man sighed and gave the exaggerated shrug of a Belter.

"You need something else," he said.

Miller tried not to laugh, afraid it would sound like despair. He stared at the cheap plastic wall behind the manager until the guy started to get uncomfortable. It was a trap. He was too experienced to start over. He knew too much, so there was no going back and doing fresh beginnings.

"All right," he said at last, and the manager across the desk from him let out a breath, then had the good grace to look embarrassed.

"Can I just ask," the weedy man said. "Why did you leave your old job?"

"Ceres changed hands," Miller said, putting on his hat. "I wasn't on the new team. That was all."


The manager looked confused, which in turn confused Miller. He glanced down at his own hand terminal. There was his work history, just the way he'd presented it. The manager couldn't have missed it.

"That's where I was," Miller said.

"For the police thing. But I meant the last job. I mean, I've been around, I understand not putting OPA work on your resume, but you have to figure we all know that you were part of the thing... you know, with the station. And all."

"You think I was working for the OPA," Miller said.

The weedy man blinked.

"You were," he said.

Which, after all, was true.

Nothing had changed in Fred Johnson's office, and everything had. The furnishings, the smell of the air, the sense of its existing somewhere between a boardroom and a command and control center. The generation ship outside the window might have been half a percent closer to completion, but that wasn't it. The stakes of the game had shifted, and what had been a war was something else now. Something bigger. It shone in Fred's eyes and tightened his shoulders.

"We could use a man with your skills," Fred agreed. "It's always the small-scale things that trip you up. How to frisk someone. That kind of thing. Tycho security can handle themselves, but once we're off our station and shooting our way into someone else's, not as much."

"Is that something you're looking to do more of?" Miller said, trying to make it a casual joke. Fred didn't answer. For a moment, Julie stood at the general's side. Miller saw the pair of them reflected in the screens, the man pensive, the ghost amused. Maybe Miller had gotten it wrong from the start, and the divide between the Belt and the inner planets was something besides politics and resource management. He knew as well as anyone that the Belt offered a harder, more dangerous life than Mars or Earth provided. And yet it called these people - the best people - out of humanity's gravity wells to cast themselves into the darkness.

The impulse to explore, to stretch, to leave home. To go as far as possible out into the universe. And now that Protogen and Eros offered the chance to become gods, to recreate humanity into beings that could go beyond merely human hopes and dreams, it occurred to Miller how hard it would be for men like Fred to turn that temptation away.

"You killed Dresden," Fred said. "That's a problem."

"It needed to happen."

"I'm not sure it did," Fred replied, but his voice was careful. Testing. Miller smiled, a little sadly.

"That's why it needed to happen," he said.

The small, coughing laugh told Miller that Fred understood him. When the general turned back to consider him again, his gaze was steady.

"When it comes to the negotiating table, someone's going to have to answer for it. You killed a defenseless man."

"I did," Miller said.

"When the time comes, I will hand-feed you to the wolves as the first chip I offer. I won't protect you."

"Wouldn't ask you to protect me," Miller said.

"Even if it meant being a Belter ex-cop in an Earth-side prison?"

It was a euphemism, and they both knew it. You belong with me, Julie said. And so what did it matter, really, how he got there?

"I've got no regrets," he said, and half a breath later was shocked to discover it was almost true. "If there's a judge out there who wants to ask me about something, I'll answer. I'm looking for a job here, not protection."

Fred sat in his chair, eyes narrow and thoughtful. Miller leaned forward in his seat.

"You've got me in a hard position," Fred said. "You're saying all the right things. But I have a hard time trusting that you'd follow through. Keeping you on the books would be risky. It could undermine my position in the peace negotiations."

"It's a risk," Miller said. "But I've been on Eros and Thoth station. I flew on the Rocinante with Holden and his crew. When it comes to analysis of the protomolecule and how we got into this mess, there isn't anyone in a better position to give you information. You can argue I knew too much. That I was too valuable to let go."

"Or too dangerous."

"Sure. Or that."

They were silent for a moment. On the Nauvoo, a bank of lights glittered in a gold-and-green test pattern and then went dark.

"Security consultant," Fred said. "Independent. I won't give you a rank."

I'm too dirty for the OPA, Miller thought with a glow of amusement.

"If it comes with my own bunk, I'll take it," he said. It was only until the war was over. After that, he was meat for the machine. That was fine. Fred leaned back. His chair hissed softly into its new configuration.

"All right," Fred said. "Here's your first job. Give me your analysis. What's my biggest problem?"

"Containment," Miller said.

"You think I can't keep the information about Thoth station and the protomolecule quiet?"

"Of course you can't," Miller said. "For one thing, too many people already know. For another thing, one of them's Holden, and if he hasn't already broadcast the whole thing on every empty frequency, he will soon. And besides that, you can't make a peace deal without explaining what the hell's going on. Sooner or later, it has to come out."

"And what do you advise?"

For a moment, Miller was back in the darkness, listening to the gibbers of the dying station. The voices of the dead calling to him from across the vacuum.

"Defend Eros," he said. "All sides are going to want samples of the protomolecule. Locking down access is going to be the only way you get yourself a seat at that table."

Fred chuckled.

"Nice thought," he said. "But how do propose we defend something the size of Eros Station if Earth and Mars bring their navies to bear?"

It was a good point. Miller felt a tug of sorrow. Even though Julie Mao - his Julie - was dead and gone, it felt like disloyalty to say it.

"Then you have to get rid of it," he said.

"And how would I do that?" Fred said. "Even if we studded the thing with nukes, how would we be sure that no little scrap of the thing would make its way to a colony or down a well? Blowing that thing up would be like blowing dandelion fluff into the breeze."

Miller had never seen a dandelion, but he saw the problem. Even the smallest portion of the goo filling Eros might be enough to start the whole evil experiment over again. And the goo thrived on radiation; simply cooking the station might hurry the thing along its occult path rather than end it. To be sure that the protomolecule on Eros never spread, they'd need to break everything on the station down to its constituent atoms...

"Oh," Miller said.


"Yeah. You're not going to like this."

"Try me."

"Okay. You asked. You drive Eros into the sun."

"Into the sun," Fred said. "Do you have any idea how much mass we're talking about here?"

Miller nodded to the wide, clear expanse of window, to the construction yards beyond it. To the Nauvoo.

"Big engines on that thing," Miller said. "Get some fast ships out to the station, make sure no one can get in before you get there. Run the Nauvoo into Eros Station. Knock it sunward."

Fred's gaze turned inward as he planned, calculated.

"Got to make sure no one gets into it until it hits corona. That'll be hard, but Earth and Mars are both just as interested in keeping the other guy from having it as in getting it themselves."

I'm sorry I couldn't do better, Julie, he thought. But it'll be a hell of a funeral.

Fred's breath grew slow and deep, his gaze flickering as if he were reading something in the air that only he could see. Miller didn't interrupt, even when the silence got heavy. It was almost a minute later that Fred let out a short, percussive breath.

"The Mormons are going to be pissed," he said.