Chapter Thirty-Eight: Miller
The observation deck looked out over the Nauvoo as the behemoth slowly came together. Miller sat on the edge of a soft couch, his fingers laced over his knee, his gaze on the immense vista of the construction. After his time on Holden's ship and, before that, in Eros, with its old-style closed architecture, a view so wide seemed artificial. The deck itself was wider than the Rocinante and decorated with soft ferns and sculpted ivies. The air recyclers were eerily quiet, and even though the spin gravity was nearly the same as Ceres', the Coriolis felt subtly wrong.
He'd lived in the Belt his whole life, and he'd never been anywhere that was designed so carefully for the tasteful display of wealth and power. It was pleasant as long as he didn't think about it too much.
He wasn't the only one drawn to the open spaces of Tycho. A few dozen station workers sat in groups or walked through together. An hour before, Amos and Alex had gone by, deep in their own conversation, so he wasn't entirely surprised when, standing up and walking back toward the docks, he saw Naomi sitting by herself with a bowl of food cooling on a tray at her side. Her gaze was fixed on her hand terminal.
"Hey," he said.
Naomi looked up, recognized him, and smiled distractedly.
"Hey," she said.
Miller nodded toward the hand terminal and shrugged a question.
"Comm data from that ship," she said. It was always that ship, Miller noticed. The same way people would call a particularly godawful crime scene that place. "It's all tightbeam, so I thought it wouldn't be so hard to triangulate. But... "
"Not so much?"
Naomi lifted her eyebrows and sighed.
"I've been plotting orbits," she said. "But nothing's fitting. There could be relay drones, though. Moving targets the ship system was calibrated for that would send the message on to the actual station. Or another drone, and then the station, or who knows?"
"Any data coming off Eros?"
"I assume so," Naomi said, "but I don't know that it would be any easier to make sense of than this."
"Can't your OPA friends do something?" Miller asked. "They've got more processing power than one of these handhelds. Probably have a better activity map of the Belt too."
"Probably," she said.
He couldn't tell if she didn't trust this Fred that Holden had given them over to, or just needed to feel like the investigation was still hers. He considered telling her to back off it for a while, to let the others carry it, but he didn't see he had the moral authority to make that one stick.
"What?" Naomi said, an uncertain smile on her lips.
"You were laughing a little," Naomi said. "I don't think I've ever seen you laugh before. I mean, not when something was funny."
"I was just thinking about something a partner of mine told me about letting cases go when you got pulled from them."
"What did he say?"
"That it's like taking half a shit," Miller said.
"Had a way with words, that one."
"He was all right for an Earther," Miller said, and something tickled at the back of his mind. Then, a moment later: "Ah, Jesus. I may have something."
Havelock met him in an encrypted drop site that lived on a server cluster on Ganymede. The latency kept them from anything like real-time conversation. It was more like dropping notes, but it did the trick. The waiting made Miller anxious. He sat with his terminal set to refresh every three seconds.
"Would you like anything else?" the woman asked. "Another bourbon?"
"That'd be great," Miller said, and checked to see if Havelock had replied yet. He hadn't.
Like the observation deck, the bar looked out on the Nauvoo, though from a slightly different angle. The great ship looked foreshortened, and arcs of energy lit it where a layer of ceramic was annealing. A bunch of religious zealots were going to load themselves into that massive ship, that small self-sustaining world, and launch themselves into the darkness between the stars. Generations would live and die in it, and if they were mind-bendingly lucky enough to find a planet worth living on the end of the journey, the people who came out of it would never have known Earth or Mars or the Belt. They'd be aliens already. And if whatever had made the protomolecule was out there to greet them, then what?
Would they all die like Julie had?
There was life out there. They had proof of it now. And the proof came in the shape of a weapon, so what did that tell him? Except that maybe the Mormons deserved a little warning about what they were signing their great-grandkids up for.
He laughed to himself when he realized that was exactly what Holden would say.
The bourbon arrived at the same moment his hand terminal chimed. The video file had a layered encryption that took almost a minute to unpack. That alone was a good sign.
The file opened, and Havelock grinned out from the screen. He was in better shape than he'd been on Ceres, and it showed in the shape of his jaw. His skin was darker, but Miller didn't know if it was purely cosmetic or if his old partner had been basking in false sunlight for the joy of it. It didn't matter. It made the Earther look rich and fit.
"Hey, buddy," Havelock said. "Good to hear from you. After what happened with Shaddid and the OPA, I was afraid we were going to be on different sides now. I'm glad you got out of there before the shit hit the fan.
"Yeah, I'm still with Protogen, and I've got to tell you, these guys are kind of scary. I mean, I've worked contract security before, and I'm pretty clear when someone's hard-core. These guys aren't cops. They're troops. You know what I mean?
"Officially, I don't know dick about a Belt station, but you know how it is. I'm from Earth. There are a lot of these guys who gave me shit about Ceres. Working with the vacuum-heads. That kind of thing. But the way things are here, it's better to be on the good side of the bad guys. It's just that kind of job."
There was an apology in his expression. Miller understood. Working in some corporations was like going to prison. You adopted the views of the people around you. A Belter might get hired on, but he'd never belong. Like Ceres, just pointed the other way. If Havelock had made friends with a set of inner planets mercs who spent their off nights curb-stomping Belters outside bars, then he had.
But making friends didn't mean he was one of them.
"So. Off the record, yeah, there's a black ops station in the Belt. I hadn't heard it called Thoth, but it could be. Some sort of very scary deep research and development lab. Heavy science crew, but not a huge place. I think discreet would be the word. Lots of automated defenses, but not a big ground crew.
"I don't need to tell you that leaking the coordinates would get my ass killed out here. So wipe the file when you're done, and let's not talk again for a long, long time."
The datafile was small. Three lines of plaintext orbital notation. Miller put it into his hand terminal and killed the file off the Ganymede server. The bourbon still sat beside his hand, and he drank it off neat. The warmth in his chest might have been the alcohol or it might have been victory.
He turned on the hand terminal's camera.
"Thanks. I owe you one. Here's part of the payment. What happened on Eros? Protogen was part of it, and it's big. If you get the chance to drop your contract with them, do it. And if they try to rotate you out to that black ops station, don't go."
Miller frowned. The sad truth was that Havelock was probably the last real partner he'd had. The only one who'd looked on him as an equal. As the kind of detective Miller had imagined himself to be.
"Take care of yourself, partner," he said, then ended the file, encrypted it, shipped it out. He had the bone-deep feeling he wasn't ever going to talk to Havelock again.
He put through a connection request to Holden. The screen filled with the captain's open, charming, vaguely naive face.
"Miller," Holden said. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah. Great. But I need to talk to your Fred guy. Can you arrange that?"
Holden frowned and nodded at the same time.
"Sure. What's going on?"
"I know where Thoth Station is," Miller said.
"You know what?"
"Where the hell did you get that?"
Miller grinned. "If I gave you that information and it got out, a good man would get killed," he said. "You see how that works?"
It struck Miller as he, Holden, and Naomi waited for Fred that he knew an awful lot of inner planets types fighting against the inner planets. Or at least not for them. Fred, supposedly a high-ranking OPA member. Havelock. Three-quarters of the crew of the Rocinante. Juliette Mao.
It wasn't what he would have expected. But maybe that was shortsighted. He was seeing the thing the way Shaddid and Protogen did. There were two sides fighting - that was true enough - but they weren't the inner planets versus the Belters. They were the people who thought it was a good idea to kill people who looked or acted differently against the people who didn't.
Or maybe that was a crap analysis too. Because given the chance to put the scientist from the Protogen pitch, the board of directors, and whoever this Dresden piece of shit was into an airlock, Miller knew he'd agonize about it for maybe half a second after he blew them all into vacuum. Didn't put him on the side of angels.
"Mr. Miller. What can I do for you?"
Fred. The Earther OPA. He wore a blue button-down shirt and a nice pair of slacks. He could have been an architect or a mid-level administrator for any number of good, respectable corporations. Miller tried to imagine him coordinating a battle.
"You can convince me that you've really got what it takes to kill the Protogen station," Miller said. "Then I'll tell you where it is."
Fred's eyebrows rose a millimeter.
"Come into my office," Fred said.
Miller went. Holden and Naomi followed. When the doors closed behind them, Fred was the first to speak.
"I'm not sure exactly what you want from me. I'm not in the habit of making my battle plans public knowledge."
"We're talking about storming a station," Miller said. "Something with damn good defenses and maybe more ships like the one that killed the Canterbury. No disrespect intended, but that's a pretty tall order for a bunch of amateurs like the OPA."
"Ah, Miller?" Holden said. Miller held up a hand, cutting him off.
"I can give you the directions to Thoth Station," Miller said. "But if I do that and it turns out you haven't got the punch to see this through, then a lot of people die and nothing gets resolved. I'm not up for that."
Fred cocked his head, like a dog hearing an unfamiliar sound. Naomi and Holden shared a glance that Miller couldn't parse.
"This is a war," Miller said, warming to the subject. "I've worked with the OPA before, and frankly you folks are a lot better at little guerrilla bullshit than at coordinating anything real. Half of the people who claim to speak for you are crackpots who happened to have a radio nearby. I see you've got a lot of money. I see you've got a nice office. What I don't see - what I need to see - is that you've got what it takes to bring these bastards down. Taking out a station isn't a game. I don't care how many simulations you've run. This is real now. If I'm going to help you, I need to know you can handle it."
There was a long silence.
"Miller?" Naomi said. "You know who Fred is, right?"
"The Tycho mouthpiece for the OPA," Miller said. "That doesn't draw a whole lot of water with me."
"He's Fred Johnson," Holden said.
Fred's eyebrows rose another millimeter. Miller frowned and crossed his arms.
"Colonel Frederick Lucius Johnson," Naomi said, clarifying.
Miller blinked. "The Butcher of Anderson Station?" he said.
"The same," Fred said. "I have been talking with the central council of the OPA. I have a cargo ship with more than enough troops to secure the station. Air support is a state-of-the-art Martian torpedo bomber."
"The Roci?" Miller said.
"The Rocinante," Fred agreed. "And while you may not believe it, I actually know what I'm doing."
Miller looked at his feet, then up toward Holden.
"That Fred Johnson?" he said.
"I thought you knew," Holden said.
"Well. Don't I feel like the flaming idiot," Miller said.
"It'll pass," Fred said. "Was there anything else you wanted to demand?"
"No," Miller said. And then: "Yes. I want to be part of the ground assault. When we take that station crew, I want to be there."
"Are you sure?" Fred said. " 'Taking out a station isn't a game.' What makes you think you have what it takes?"
"One thing it takes is the coordinates," Miller said. "I have got those."
Fred laughed. "Mr. Miller. If you'd like to go down to this station and have whatever's waiting for us down there try to kill you along with the rest of us, I won't stand in your way."
"Thanks," Miller said. He pulled up his hand terminal and sent the plaintext coordinates to Fred. "There you go. My source is solid, but he's not working from firsthand data. We should confirm before we commit."
"I'm not an amateur," Colonel Fred Johnson said, looking at the file. Miller nodded, adjusted his hat, and walked out. Naomi and Holden flanked him. When they reached the wide, clean public hallway, Miller looked to his right, catching Holden's eyes.
"Really, I thought you knew," Holden said.
Eight days later, the message came. The cargo ship Guy Molinari had arrived, full up with OPA soldiers. Havelock's coordinates had been verified. Something was sure as hell out there, and it appeared to be collecting the tightbeamed data from Eros. If Miller wanted to be part of this, the time had come to move out.
He sat in his quarters in the Rocinante for what was likely the last time. He realized with a little twinge, equal parts surprise and sorrow, that he was going to miss the place. Holden, for all his faults and Miller's complaints, was a decent guy. In over his head and only half aware of the fact, but Miller could think of more than one person who fit that bill. He was going to miss Alex's odd, affected drawl and Amos' casual obscenity. He was going to wonder if and how Naomi ever worked things out with her captain.
Leaving was a reminder of things he'd already known: that he didn't know what would come next, that he didn't have much money, and that while he was sure he could get back from Thoth station, where and how he went from there was going to be improvisation. Maybe there would be another ship he could sign on with. Maybe he'd have to take a contract and save up some money to cover his new medical expenses.
He checked the magazine in his gun. Packed his spare clothes into the small, battered pack he'd taken on the transport from Ceres. Everything he owned still fit in it.
He turned off the lights and made his way down the short corridor toward the ladder-lift. Holden was in the galley, twitching nervously. The dread of the coming battle was already showing in the corners of the man's eyes.
"Well," Miller said. "Here we go, eh?"
"Yep," Holden said.
"It's been a hell of a ride," Miller said. "Can't say it's all been pleasant, but... "
"Tell the others I said goodbye," Miller said.
"Will do," Holden said. Then, as Miller moved past him toward the lift: "So assuming we all actually live through this, where should we meet up?"
"I don't understand," he said.
"Yeah, I know. Look, I trust Fred or I wouldn't have come here. I think he's honorable, and he'll do the right thing by us. That doesn't mean I trust the whole OPA. After we get this thing done, I want the whole crew together. Just in case we need to get out in a hurry."
Something painful happened under Miller's sternum. Not a sharp pain, just a sudden ache. His throat felt thick. He coughed to clear it.
"As soon as we get the place secure, I'll get in touch," Miller said.
"Okay, but don't take too long. If Thoth Station has a whorehouse left standing, I'm going to need help prying Amos out of it."
Miller opened his mouth, closed it, and tried again.
"Aye, aye, Captain," he said, forcing a lightness into his voice.
"Be careful," Holden said.
Miller left, pausing in the passageway between ship and station until he was sure he'd stopped weeping, and then making his way to the cargo ship and the assault.