Chapter Forty-Six: Miller
Miller had known when he'd taken Holden's side against his new boss that there were going to be consequences. His position with Fred and the OPA was tenuous to start with, and pointing out that Holden and his crew were not only more dedicated but also more trustworthy than Fred's people wasn't the thing you did when you were kissing up. That it was the truth only made it worse.
He'd expected some kind of payback. He would have been naive not to.
"Rise up, O men of God, in one united throng," the resisters sang. "Bring in the days of bro-ther-hood, and end the night of wrong... "
Miller took off his hat and ran fingers through his thinning hair. It wasn't going to be a good day.
The interior of the Nauvoo showed more patchwork and process than its hull suggested. Two kilometers long, its designers had built it as more than a huge ship. The great levels stacked one atop the other; alloy girders worked organically with what would have been pastoral meadows. The structure echoed the greatest cathedrals of Earth and Mars, rising up through empty air and giving both thrust-gravity stability and glory to God. It was still metal bones and woven agricultural substrate, but Miller could see where it was all heading.
A generation ship was a statement of overarching ambition and utter faith. The Mormons had known that. They'd embraced it. They'd constructed a ship that was prayer and piety and celebration all at the same time. The Nauvoo would be the greatest temple mankind had ever built. It would shepherd its crew through the uncrossable gulfs of interstellar space, humanity's best hope of reaching the stars
Or it would have been, if not for him.
"You want us to gas them, Pampaw?" Diogo asked.
Miller considered the resisters. At a guess, there might have been two hundred of them strung in linked chains across the access paths and engineering ducts. Transport lifts and industrial waldoes stood idle, their displays dark, their batteries shorted.
"Yeah, probably should," Miller sighed.
The security team - his security team - numbered fewer than three dozen. Men and women more unified by the OPA-issued armbands than by their training, experience, loyalties, or politics. If the Mormons had chosen violence, it would have been a bloodbath. If they'd put on environment suits, the protest would have lasted hours. Days, possibly. Instead, Diogo gave the signal, and three minutes later, four small comets arced out into the null-g space, wavering on their tails of NNLP-alpha and tetrahydrocannabinol.
It was the kindest, gentlest riot control device in the arsenal. Any of the protesters with compromised lungs could still be in trouble, but within half an hour, all of them would be relaxed into near stupor and high as a kite. NNLPa and THC wasn't a combination Miller had ever used on Ceres. If they'd tried to stock it, it would have been stolen for office parties. He tried to take some comfort in the thought. As if it would make up for the lifetimes of dreams and labor he was taking away.
Beside him, Diogo laughed.
It took them three hours to make the primary sweep of the ship, and another five to hunt down all the stowaways huddled in ducts and secure rooms, waiting to make their presence known at the last minute and sabotage the mission. As those were hauled weeping off the ship, Miller wondered whether he'd just saved their lives. If all he'd done with his life was keep Fred Johnson from deciding whether to let a handful of innocent people die with the Nauvoo, or risk keeping Eros around for the inner planets, that wasn't so bad.
As soon as Miller gave the word, the OPA tech team moved into action, reengaging the waldoes and transports, fixing the hundred small acts of sabotage that would have kept the Nauvoo's engines from firing, clearing out equipment they wanted to save. Miller watched industrial lifts big enough to house a family of five shift crate after crate, moving out things that had only recently been moved it. The docks were as busy as Ceres at mid-shift. Miller half expected to see his old cohorts wandering among the stevedores and lift tubes, keeping what passed for the peace.
In the quiet moments, he set his hand terminal to the Eros feed. Back when he'd been a kid, there had been a performance artist making the rounds - Jila Sorormaya, her name was. As he recalled, she'd intentionally corrupted data-storage devices and then put the data stream through her music kit. She'd gotten into trouble when some of the proprietary code of the storage device software got incorporated into her music and posted. Miller hadn't been a sophisticate. He'd figured another nutcase artist had to get a real job, and the universe could only be a better place.
Listening to the Eros feed - Radio Free Eros, he called it - he thought maybe he'd been a little rough on old Jila. The squeaks and cross-chatter, the flow of empty noise punctuated by voices, were eerie and compelling. Just like the broken data stream, it was the music of corruption.
... asciugare il pus e che possano sentirsi meglio...
... ja mina nousivat kuolleista ja halventaa kohtalo pakottaa minut ja siskoni...
... do what you have to...
He'd listened to the feed for hours, picking out voices. Once, the whole thing had fluttered, cutting in and out like a piece of equipment on the edge of failure. Only after it had resumed did Miller wonder if the stutters of quiet had been Morse code. He leaned against the bulkhead, the overwhelming mass of the Nauvoo towering above him. The ship only half born and already marked for sacrifice. Julie sat beside him, looking up. Her hair floated around her face; her eyes never stopped smiling. Whatever trick of the imagination had kept his own internal Juliette Andromeda Mao from coming back to him as her corpse, he thanked it.
It would have been something, wouldn't it? she said. Flying through vacuum without a suit. Sleeping for a hundred years and waking up in the light of a different sun.
"I didn't shoot that fucker fast enough," Miller said aloud.
He could have given us the stars.
A new voice broke in. A human voice shaking with rage.
Miller blinked, returning to reality, and thumbed off the Eros feed. A prisoner transport wound its lazy way through the dock, a dozen Mormon technicians bound to its restraint poles. One was a young man with a pocked face and hatred in his eyes. He was staring at Miller.
"You're the Antichrist, you vile excuse for a human! God knows you! He'll remember you!"
Miller tipped his hat as the prisoners ambled by.
"Stars are better off without us," he said, but too softly for anyone but Julie to hear.
A dozen tugs flew before the Nauvoo, the web of nanotubule tethers invisible at this distance. All Miller saw was the great behemoth, as much a part of Tycho Station as the bulkheads and air, shift in its bed, shrug, and begin to move. The tugs' drive flares lit the interior space of the station, flickering in their perfectly choreographed duties like Christmas lights, and a nearly subliminal shudder passed through the deep steel bones of Tycho. In eight hours, the Nauvoo would be far enough out that the great engines could be brought online without endangering the station with their exhaust plume. It might be more than two weeks after that before it reached Eros.
Miller would beat it there by eighty hours.
"Oi, Pampaw," Diogo said. "Done-done?"
"Yeah," Miller said with a sigh. "I'm ready. Let's get everyone together."
The boy grinned. In the hours since the commandeering of the Nauvoo, Diogo had added bright red plastic decorations to three of his front teeth. It was apparently deeply meaningful in the youth culture of Tycho Station, and signified prowess, possibly sexual. Miller felt a moment's relief that he wasn't hot-bunking at the boy's place anymore.
Now that he was running security ops for the OPA, the irregular nature of the group was clearer to him than ever. There had been a time when he'd thought the OPA might be something that could take on Earth or Mars when it came to a real war. Certainly, they had more money and resources than he'd thought. They had Fred Johnson. They had Ceres now, for as long as they could hold it. They'd taken on Thoth Station and won.
And yet the same kids he'd gone on the assault with had been working crowd control at the Nauvoo, and more than half of them would be on the demolitions ship when it left for Eros. It was the thing that Havelock would never understand. For that matter, it was the thing Holden would never understand. Maybe no one who had lived with the certainty and support of a natural atmosphere would ever completely accept the power and fragility of a society based in doing what needed doing, in becoming fast and flexible, the way the OPA had. In becoming articulated.
If Fred couldn't build himself a peace treaty, the OPA would never win against the discipline and unity of an inner planet navy. But they would also never lose. War without end.
Well, what was history if not that?
And how would having the stars change anything?
As he walked to his apartment, he opened a channel request on his hand terminal. Fred Johnson appeared, looking tired but alert.
"Miller," he said.
"We're getting ready to ship out if the ordinance is ready."
"It's loading now," Fred replied. "Enough fissionable material to keep the surface of Eros unapproachable for years. Be careful with it. If one of your boys goes down for a smoke in the wrong place, we aren't going to be able to replace the mines. Not in time."
Not you'll all be dead. The weapons were precious, not the people.
"Yeah, I'll watch it," Miller said.
"The Rocinante's already on its way."
That wasn't something Miller needed to know, so there was some other reason Fred had mentioned it. His carefully neutral tone made it something like an accusation. The only controlled sample of protomolecule had left Fred's sphere of influence.
"We'll get out there to meet her in plenty of time to keep anybody off of Eros," Miller said. "Shouldn't be a problem."
On the tiny screen, it was hard to tell how genuine Fred's smile was.
"I hope your friends are really up for this," he said.
Miller felt something odd. A little hollowness just below his breastbone.
"They aren't my friends," he said, keeping his tone of voice light.
"I don't exactly have friends. It's more I've got a lot of people I used to work with," he said.
"You put a lot of faith in Holden," Fred said, making it almost a question. A challenge, at least. Miller smiled, knowing that Fred would be just as unsure if his was genuine.
"Not faith. Judgment," he said.
Fred coughed out a laugh.
"And that's why you don't have friends, friend."
"Part of it," Miller said.
There was nothing more to say. Miller dropped the connection. He was almost at his hole, anyway.
It was nothing much. An anonymous cube on the station with even less personality to it than his place back on Ceres. He sat on his bunk, checked his terminal for the status of the demolitions ship. He knew that he should just go up to the docks. Diogo and the others were assembling, and while it wasn't likely that the drug haze of the pre-mission parties would allow them all to arrive on time, it was at least possible. He didn't even have that excuse.
Julie sat in the space behind his eyes. Her legs were folded under her. She was beautiful. She'd been like Fred and Holden and Havelock. Someone born in a gravity well who came to the Belt by choice. She'd died for her choice. She'd come looking for help and killed Eros by doing it. If she'd stayed there, on that ghost ship...
She tilted her head, her hair swinging against the spin gravity. There was a question in her eyes. She was right, of course. It would have slowed things down, maybe. It wouldn't have stopped them. Protogen and Dresden would have found her eventually. Would have found it. Or gone back and dug up a fresh sample. Nothing would have stopped them.
And he knew - knew the way he knew he was himself - that Julie wasn't like the others. That she'd understood the Belt and Belters, and the need to push on. If not for the stars, at least close to them. The luxury available to her was something Miller had never experienced, and never would. But she'd turned away. She'd come out here, and stayed even when they were going to sell her racing pinnace. Her childhood. Her pride.
That was why he loved her.
When Miller reached the dock, it was clear something had happened. It was in the way the dockworkers held themselves and the looks half amusement and half pleasure, on their faces. Miller signed in and crawled through the awkward Ojino-Gouch-style airlock, seventy years out of date and hardly larger than a torpedo tube, into the cramped crew area of the Talbot Leeds. The ship looked like it had been welded together from two smaller ships, without particular concern for design. The acceleration couches were stacked three deep. The air smelled of old sweat and hot metal. Someone had been smoking marijuana recently enough that the filters hadn't cleared it out yet. Diogo was there along with a half dozen others. They all wore different uniforms, but they also all had the OPA armband.
"Oi, Pampaw! Kept top bunk a dir."
"Thanks," Miller said. "I appreciate that."
Thirteen days. He was going to spend thirteen days sharing this tiny space with the demolitions crew. Thirteen days pressed into these couches, with megatons of fission mines in the ship's hold. And yet the others were all smiling. Miller hauled himself up to the acceleration couch Diogo had saved for him, and pointed to the others with his chin.
"Someone have a birthday?"
Diogo gave an elaborate shrug.
"Why's everyone in such a good fucking mood?" Miller said, more sharply than he'd intended. Diogo took no offense. He smiled his great red-and-white teeth.
"No, I haven't heard, or I wouldn't be asking," Miller said.
"Mars did the right thing," Diogo said. "Got the feed off Eros, put two and two, and - "
The boy slammed a fist into his open palm. Miller tried to parse what he was saying. They'd attacked Eros? They'd taken on Protogen?
Ah. Protogen. Protogen and Mars. Miller nodded. "The Phoebe science station," he said. "Mars quarantined it."
"Fuck that, Pampaw. Autoclaved it, them. Moon is gone. Dropped enough nukes on it to split it subatomic."
They better have, Miller thought. It wasn't a big moon. If Mars had really destroyed it and there was any protomolecule left on a hunk of ejecta...
"Tu sabez?" Diogo said. "They're on our side now. They get it. Mars-OPA alliance."
"You don't really think that," Miller said.
"Nah," Diogo said, just as pleased with himself in admitting that the hope was fragile at best and probably false. "But don't hurt to dream, que no?"
"You don't think?" Miller said, and lay back.
The acceleration gel was too stiff to conform to his body at the dock's one-third g, but it wasn't uncomfortable. He checked the news on his hand terminal, and indeed someone in the Martian navy had made a judgment call. It was a lot of ordinance to use, especially in the middle of a shooting war, but they'd expended it. Saturn had one fewer moon, one more tiny, unformed, filamentous ring - if there was even enough matter left from the detonations to form that. It looked to Miller's unpracticed eye as if the explosions had been designed to drop debris into the protective and crushing gravity of the gas giant.
It was foolish to think it meant the Martian government wouldn't want samples of the protomolecule. It was naive to pretend that any organization of that size and complexity was univocal about anything, much less something as dangerous and transforming as this.
Perhaps it was enough just knowing that someone on the other side of the political and military divide had seen the same evidence they had seen and drawn the same conclusions. Maybe it left room for hope. He switched his hand terminal back to the Eros feed. A strong throbbing sound danced below a cascade of noise. Voices rose and fell and rose again. Data streams spewed into one another, and the pattern-recognition servers burned every spare cycle making something from the resultant mess. Julie took his hand, the dream so convincing he could almost pretend he felt it.
You belong with me, she said.
As soon as it's over, he thought. It was true he kept pushing back the end point of the case. First find Julie, then avenge her, and now destroy the project that had claimed her life. But after that was accomplished, he could let go.
He just had this one last thing he needed to do.
Twenty minutes later, the Klaxon sounded. Thirty minutes later, the engines kicked on, pressing him into the acceleration gel at a joint-crushing high-g burn for thirteen days, with one-g breaks for biological function every four hours. And when they were done, the half-trained jack-of-all-trades crew would be handling nuclear mines capable of annihilating them if they screwed it up.
But at least Julie would be there. Not really, but still.
It didn't hurt to dream.