Chapter Thirty-Six: Miller

The war stories flowed in. Miller watched the feeds five at a time, subscreens crowding the face of his terminal. Mars was shocked, amazed, reeling. The war between Mars and the Belt - the biggest, most dangerous conflict in the history of mankind - was suddenly a sideshow. The reactions of the talking heads of Earth security forces ran the gamut from calm, rational discussion of preemptive defense to foaming-at-the-mouth denunciations of Mars as a pack of baby-raping animals. The attack on Deimos had turned the moon into a slowly spreading ring of gravel in the moon's old orbit, a smudge on the Martian sky, and with that, the game had changed again.

Miller watched for ten hours as the attack became the blockade. The Martian navy, spread throughout the system, was turning home under heavy burn. The OPA feeds were calling it a victory, and maybe someone thought that was true. The pictures came through from the ships, from the sensor arrays. Dead warships, their sides ripped open by high-energy explosions, spinning out into their irregular orbital graves. Medical bays like the Roci's filled with boys and girls half his age bleeding, burning, dying. Each cycle, new footage came in, new details of death and carnage. And each time some new clip appeared, he sat forward, hand on his mouth, waiting for the word to come. The one event that would signal the end of it all.

But it hadn't come yet, and every hour that didn't bring it gave another sliver of hope that maybe, maybe it wasn't going to happen.

"Hey," Amos said. "You slept at all?"

Miller looked up, his neck stiff. Red creases of his pillow still on his cheek and forehead, the mechanic stood in the open doorway of Miller's cabin.

"What?" Miller said. Then: "Yeah, no. I've been... watching."

"Anyone drop a rock?"

"Not yet. It's all still orbital or higher."

"What kind of half-assed apocalypse are they running down there?" Amos said.

"Give 'em a break. It's their first."

The mechanic shook his broad head, but Miller could see the relief under the feigned disgust. As long as the domes were still standing on Mars, as long as the critical biosphere of Earth wasn't in direct threat, humanity wasn't dead. Miller had to wonder what they were hoping for out in the Belt, whether they'd managed to talk themselves into believing that the rough ecological pockets of the asteroids would sustain life indefinitely.

"You want a beer?" Amos asked.

"You're having beer for breakfast?"

"Figure it's dinner for you," Amos said.

The man was right. Miller needed sleep. He hadn't managed more than a catnap since they'd scuttled the stealth ship, and that had been plagued by strange dreams. He yawned at the thought of yawning, but the tension in his gut said he was more likely to spend the day watching newsfeeds than resting.

"It's probably breakfast again," Miller said.

"Want some beer for breakfast?" Amos asked.


Walking through the Rocinante felt surreal. The quiet hum of the air recyclers, the softness of the air. The journey out to Julie's ship was a haze of pain medication and sickness. The time on Eros before that was a nightmare that wouldn't fade. To walk through the spare, functional corridors, thrust gravity holding him gently to the floor, with very little chance of anyone trying to kill him felt suspicious. When he imagined Julie walking with him, it wasn't so bad.

As he ate, his terminal chimed, the automatic reminder for another blood flush. He stood, adjusted his hat, and headed off to let the needles and pressure injectors do their worst. The captain was already there and hooked into a station when Miller arrived.

Holden looked like he'd slept, but not well. There weren't the bruise-dark marks under his eyes that Miller had, but his shoulders were tense, his brow on the edge of furrowed. Miller wondered whether he'd been a little too hard on the guy. I told you so could be an important message, but the burden of innocent death, of the chaos of a failing civilization might also be too much for one man to carry.

Or maybe he was still mooning over Naomi.

Holden raised the hand that wasn't encased in medical equipment.

"Morning," Miller said.


"Decided where we're going yet?"

"Not yet."

"Getting harder and harder to get to Mars," Miller said, easing himself into the familiar embrace of the medical station. "If that's what you're aiming for, you'd better do it soon."

"While there's still a Mars, you mean?"

"For instance," Miller agreed.

The needles snaked out on gently articulated armatures. Miller looked at the ceiling, trying not to tense up as the lines forced their way into his veins. There was a moment's stinging, then a low, dull ache, and then numbness. The display above him announced the state of his body to doctors who were watching young soldiers die miles above Olympus Mons.

"Do you think they'd stop?" Holden asked. "I mean, Earth has got to be doing this because Protogen owns some generals or senators or something, right? It's all because they want to be the only ones who have this thing. If Mars has it too, Protogen doesn't have a reason to fight."

Miller blinked. Before he could pick his answer - They'd try to annihilate Mars completely, or It's gone too far for that, or Exactly how naive are you, Captain? - Holden went on.

"Screw it. We've got the datafiles. I'm going to broadcast them."

Miller's reply was as easy as reflex.

"No, you aren't."

Holden propped himself up, storm clouds in his expression.

"I appreciate that you might have a reasonable difference of opinion," he said, "but this is still my ship. You're a passenger."

"True," Miller said. "But you have a hard time shooting people, and you are going to have to shoot me before you send that thing out."

"I'm what?"

The new blood flowed into Miller's system like a tickle of ice water crawling toward his heart. The medical monitors shifted to a new pattern, counting up the anomalous cells as they hit its filters.

"You are going to have to shoot me," Miller said, slowly this time. "Twice now you've had the choice of whether or not to break the solar system, and both times you've screwed it up. I don't want to see you strike out."

"I think you may have an exaggerated idea of how much influence the second-in-command of a long-distance water hauler actually has. Yes, there's a war. And yes, I was there when it started up. But the Belt has hated the inner planets since a long time before the Cant was attacked."

"You've got the inner planets divided up too," Miller said.

Holden tilted his head.

"Earth has always hated Mars," Holden said like he was reporting that water was wet. "When I was in the navy, we ran projections for this. Battle plans if Earth and Mars ever really got into it. Earth loses. Unless they hit first, hit hard, and don't let up, Earth just plain loses."

Maybe it was distance. Maybe it was a failure of imagination. Miller had never seen the inner planets as divided.

"Seriously?" he asked.

"They're the colony, but they have all the best toys and everyone knows it," Holden said. "Everything that's happening out there right now has been building up for a hundred years. If it hadn't been there to start with, this couldn't have happened."

"That's your defense? 'Not my powder keg; I just brought the match'?"

"I'm not making a defense," Holden said. His blood pressure and heart rate were spiking.

"We've been through this," Miller said. "So let me just ask, why is it you think this time will be different?"

The needles in Miller's arm seemed to heat up almost to the point of being painful. He wondered if that was normal, if every blood flush he had was going to feel the same way.

"This time is different," Holden said. "All the crap that's going on out there is what happens when you have imperfect information. Mars and the Belt wouldn't have been going after each other in the first place if they'd known what we know now. Earth and Mars wouldn't be shooting each other if everyone knew the fight was being engineered. The problem isn't that people know too much, it's that they don't know enough."

Something hissed and Miller felt a wave of chemical relaxation swim through him. He resented it, but there was no calling the drugs back.

"You can't just throw information at people," Miller said. "You have to know what it means. What it's going to do. There was a case back on Ceres. Little girl got killed. For the first eighteen hours, we were all sure Daddy did it. He was a felon. A drunk. He was the last one who saw her breathing. All the classic signs. Hour nineteen, we get a tip. Turned out Daddy owed a lot of money to one of the local syndicates. All of a sudden, things are more complicated. We have more suspects. Do you think if I'd been broadcasting everything I knew, Daddy would still have been alive when the tip came? Or would someone have put it all together and done the obvious thing?"

Miller's medical station chimed. Another new cancer. He ignored it. Holden's cycle was just finishing, the redness of his cheeks speaking as much to the fresh, healthy blood in his body as to his emotional state.

"That's the same ethos they have," Holden said.


"Protogen. You may be on different sides, but you're playing the same game. If everyone said what they knew, none of this would have happened. If the first lab tech on Phoebe who saw something weird had gotten on his system and said, 'Hey, everyone! Look, this is weird,' none of this would have happened."

"Yeah," Miller said, "because telling everyone there's an alien virus that wants to kill them all is a great way to maintain calm and order."

"Miller," Holden said. "I don't mean to panic you, but there's an alien virus. And it wants to kill everyone."

Miller shook his head and smiled like Holden had said something funny. "So look, maybe I can't point a gun at you and make you do the right thing. But lemme ask you something. Okay?"

"Fine," Holden said. Miller leaned back. The drugs were making his eyelids heavy.

"What happens?" Miller said.

There was a long pause. Another chime from the medical system. Another rush of cold through Miller's abused veins.

"What happens?" Holden repeated. It occurred to Miller he could have been more specific. He forced his eyes open again.

"You broadcast everything we've got. What happens?"

"The war stops. People go after Protogen."

"There's some holes in that, but let it go. What happens after that?"

Holden was quiet for a few heartbeats.

"People start going after the Phoebe bug," he said.

"They start experimenting. They start fighting for it. If that little bastard's as valuable as Protogen thinks, you can't stop the war. All you can do now is change it."

Holden frowned, angry lines at the corners of his mouth and eyes. Miller watched a little piece of the man's idealism die and was sorry that it gave him joy.

"So what happens if we get to Mars?" Miller went on, his voice low. "We trade out the protomolecule for more money than any of us have ever seen. Or maybe they just shoot you. Mars just wins against Earth. And the Belt. Or you go to the OPA, who are the best hope the Belt has of independence, and they're a bunch of crazy zealots, half of 'em thinking we can actually sustain out there without Earth. And trust me, they'll probably shoot you too. Or you just tell everyone everything and pretend that however it comes down, you kept your hands clean."

"There's a right thing to do," Holden said.

"You don't have a right thing, friend," Miller said. "You've got a whole plateful of maybe a little less wrong."

Holden's blood flush finished. The captain pulled the needles out of his arm and let the thin metallic tentacles retract. As he rolled down his sleeve, the frown softened.

"People have a right to know what's going on," Holden said. "Your argument boils down to you not thinking people are smart enough to figure out the right way to use it."

"Has anyone used anything you've broadcast as something besides an excuse to shoot someone they already didn't like? Giving them a new reason won't stop them killing each other," Miller said. "You started these wars, Captain. Doesn't mean you can stop them. But you have to try."

"And how am I supposed to do that?" Holden said. The distress in his voice could have been anger. It could have been prayer.

Something in Miller's belly shifted, some inflamed organ calming enough to slip back into place. He hadn't been aware he'd felt wrong until he suddenly felt right again.

"You ask yourself what happens," Miller said. "Ask yourself what Naomi'd do."

Holden barked out a laugh. "Is that how you make your decisions?"

Miller let his eyes close. Juliette Mao was there, sitting on the couch at her old apartment on Ceres. Fighting the crew of the stealth ship to a standstill. Burst open by the alien virus on the floor of her shower stall.

"Something like it," Miller said.

The report from Ceres, a break from the usual competing press releases, came that night. The governing council of the OPA announced that a ring of Martian spies had been rooted out. The video feed showed the bodies floating out an industrial airlock in what looked like the old docks in sector six. At a distance, the victims seemed almost peaceful. The feed cut to the head of security. Captain Shaddid looked older. Harder.

"We regret the necessity of this action," she said to everyone everywhere. "But in the cause of freedom, there can be no compromise."

That's what it's come to, Miller thought, rubbing a hand across his chin. Pogroms after all. Cut off just a hundred more heads, just a thousand more heads, just ten thousand more heads, and then we'll be free.

A soft alert sounded, and a moment later, gravity shifted a few degrees to Miller's left. Course change. Holden had made a decision.

He found the captain sitting alone and staring at a monitor in ops. The glow lit his face from below, casting shadows up into his eyes. The captain looked older too.

"You make the broadcast?" Miller asked.

"Nope. We're just one ship. We tell everyone what this thing is and that we've got it, we'll be dead before Protogen."

"Probably true," Miller said, sitting at an empty station with a grunt. The gimbaled seat shifted silently. "We're going someplace."

"I don't trust them with it," Holden said. "I don't trust any of them with that safe."

"Probably smart."

"I'm going to Tycho Station. There's someone there I... trust."


"Don't actively distrust."

"Naomi think it's the right thing?"

"I don't know. I didn't ask her. But I think so."

"Close enough," Miller said.

Holden looked up from the monitor for the first time.

"You know the right thing?" Holden said.


"What is it?"

"Throw that safe into a long collision course with the sun and find a way to make sure no one ever, ever goes to Eros or Phoebe again," Miller said. "Pretend none of this ever happened."

"So why aren't we doing that?"

Miller nodded slowly. "How do you throw away the holy grail?"