Protogen is the secret black-ops subsidiary of Mao-Kwikowski Industries, a major mega-corporation based on Luna that has interests all over the Solar System. Its labs secretly develop cutting-edge technologies like next-generation stealth ships which are even powerful enough to be equipped with rail-guns and take on Martian flagships. Protogen is behind the proto-molecule conspiracy which drives much of the plot.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Protogen just wants to develop the protomolecule for the highest bidder and has no particular loyalty or agenda, just so long as you pay them and supply them with the necessary resources. The only reason they never offered the proto-molecule to the OPA is probably just because they couldn't afford it.
- The Conspiracy: They are the driving force orchestrating the proto-molecule conspiracy. Protogen was originally called in by Mars to study the extraterrestrial proto-molecule samples they found on Saturn's moon Phoebe — but when they realized just how powerful what they were dealing with was, they betrayed the Martian base staff to the deaths to test the terraforming virus on them, then sold out to rogue elements of Earth's government that wanted to use the proto-molecule as a weapon against Mars. Then after this turned into the Eros debacle that nearly destroyed Earth, Protogen cut their losses and switched sides back to the rogue elements of the Mars military, offering them proto-molecule hybrid super soldiers in exchange for resources. Eventually Undersecretary Errinwright make an attempt to brow-beat them back into working for his side by blowing up the ship carrying their Martian clients.
- Egopolis: They apparently named the protomolecule after themselves.
- Mega-Corp: Technically, Protogen is only a subsidiary part of the larger, system-wide Mao-Kwikowski conglomerate with its fingers in many pies.
- N.G.O. Superpower: Just how big and powerful they are comes as a slowly dawning (and very nasty) surprise to the governments of both Earth and Mars. Not so much the Belters: they're pretty used to the idea of being crapped on by companies who think of themselves as being outside most governmental control, regardless of origin.
- Renegade Splinter Faction: Of a sort - they have co-conspirators in both the Earth and Mars governments, but it's an alliance of convenience, as Protogen is really playing both sides off against each other to get one side to pay them more for proto-molecule research than the other.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Not to mention the potential to get so much more of it! Yeah: morality and ethics are not really their strong suits. Or the Rule of Law, for that matter.
- Standard Human Spaceship: Averted. They have the best top-of-the-line ships that money can buy, ranging from advanced angular stealth ships to pleasantly shaped luxury yachts.
- Super Soldier: One of several projects they're working on.
The CEO of Mao-Kwikowski Industries, a major Lunar powerhouse that has interests all over the Solar System. He is the father of Juliette Andromeda Mao.
- Abusive Parent: Mao never lifted a hand to Julie and Clarissa, but he was not a good father. He had high expectations which neither of them could ever realistically meet, and his heartless treatment of them pushed Julie away entirely while causing Clarissa to become obsessively devoted to him, even at the cost of her own desires and mental health.
- Anti-Villain: He's certainly a ruthless prick with little-to-no ethics, but while it initially appears that he is simply trying his hand at war profiteering, it turns out that he is actually terrified of the Protomolecule, and all of his machinations were intended to ensure that he would have a steady supply of funding and resources to study and defend against it. He genuinely believes (not without good reason) that it poses an existential threat to the human race, and thinks that if that doesn't count as the Godzilla Threshold, nothing will. For this reason, he's willing to massacre the population of Eros, start a devastating war, and feed innocent children to the Protomolecule.
- Big Bad: He's the man pulling the strings of the Protomolecule conspiracy, and is firmly in control for Seasons 1 and 2. At the end of Season 2, he finds himself outmaneuvered by Errinwright. He is now, at best, a Big Bad Duumvirate with Errinwright. At worst, he's been Demoted to Dragon.
- Conspicuous Consumption: In a setting where space is at a premium, he lives in a mansion in the middle of a walled compound. And despite water being an incredibly precious commodity, he is able to casually offer guests cucumbers, crops that require large amounts of water to grow and maintain.
- Cooperation Gambit: When his base on Io is raided by the crew of the Roci, he understandably mistakes them for Martian marines and decides to surrender peacefully as a bid for favorable treatment. Strickland instead convinces him they have a chance to escape, and when he's caught by Holden, Holden bluntly tells him to shut up when he can't offer any information that is immediately helpful.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Mao seems to view the rule of law as entirely optional, and with his vast wealth and far-reaching connections, he's not exactly wrong.
- Disc-One Final Boss: Along with Errinwright. He is one of the main villains for the first two and a half seasons, but is captured by Holden and then imprisoned by Earth in the middle of Season 3. He is not seen in the present again.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Granted the man was Mao's cousin, but it still doesn't change the fact that he was rather appalled that Avasarala would go so far as to arrest an innocent Buddhist monk to use as a bargaining chip. He's also not openly sadistic, and does somewhat struggle with his own actions. He sees little point in wasting lives unless there's a benefit to it.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Despite their strained relationship, Mao did love his daughter Julie. When he learns of her death due to exposure to the Protogen molecule, he's fairly distraught. This makes it all the more horrific when he doesn't even consider abandoning his plans, and goes on to justify her death as a sacrifice that had to be made."This was Julie's spot. Far from the house, where no one could find her. Where she could find her adventures. She taught herself to shoot a bow and arrow at this tree. Nine years old. Just woke up one morning, and taught herself. My Julie. Even losing her was worth it."
- Faux Affably Evil: Mao has a very carefully-maintained public image, presenting himself as a charming captain of industry. In reality, he's a corrupt and ruthless man who's arrogant enough to have appointed himself as humanity's savior. Eventually the public image he'd cultivated is disassembled by Avasarala, although he's slippery enough to escape arrest.
- Fiction 500: He's one of the richest men in the entire solar system, and therefore his power cannot be understated.
- Greater-Scope Villain: Can be considered this for the second half of Season 3, as his daughter Clarissa's actions that drive the conflict are done to avenge her father's arrest and she is haunted by memories where she fails to get his approval. Another factor to her anger is having her assets frozen by the UN, which was because of her father's role in the Eros Incident.
- Heel Realization: After bonding with Mei on Io and her reminding him of his own daughters, he comes to realize just how far he's come and puts a halt to the experiments. He seems horrified to realize just what he's been doing. Unfortunately, seeing Katoa's ability to communicate with the rest of the protomolocue over vast differences convinces Mao that his experiments were justified."We're torturing children. We're creating killing machines. And we're still light years away from even beginning to comprehend [the Eros incident]."
- Hypocrite: He'll tearfully lament his daughter's death one moment, and then immediately push forward with the plan that turned her into collateral damage in the first place.
- Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Every time it seems like he might have a conscience, he chooses the more self-serving path. He wants to end the experiments due to a crisis of conscience, but after it seems to bear fruit, he agrees to continue. Later on, he wants everyone in the facility to stand down so as not to risk any more lives, but quickly changes his mind when convinced there's a possibility of escape.
- The Man Behind the Man: He's revealed to be the one calling the shots behind the Protogen conspiracy.
- My God, What Have I Done?: He starts questioning his plans when Eros goes rogue, and seeing firsthand how his scientists are experimenting on children convinces him to abandon the project, at least until he stumbles upon another one of its successes.
- Non-Action Big Bad: Mao is not a fighter. He runs away before bullets start flying, does not carry a gun, and does not try to resist when Holden captures him.
- Parental Favoritism: He strongly prefers Julie over Clarissa, despite Julie being the rebel who constantly frustrates him while Clarissa devotes herself hopelessly to pleasing him. He outright tells Clarissa this.
- Smug Snake: Even as his involvement in the Protogen Conspiracy comes out into the open and the UN retaliates by systematically taking his corporate empire apart, he refuses to be cowed and tries to maintain an upper hand. Unfortunately for him, Errinwright is dangerous when he's cornered, and Mao finds himself outwitted.
- So Proud of You: Downplayed, but part of the reason Julie was his favorite daughter, was because she was willing to live life by her own terms and actually had the spine to oppose him.
- Visionary Villain: His interest in the Protomolecule does not stem from financial gain, but rather as a method of defense from a possible looming threat. He also makes numerous references to the Protomolecule being sacred, and scoffs at the more petty motivations of those who view it solely as a weapon to fight over.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Mao's goals are noble and even somewhat altruistic: he wants to defend the system from the Protomolecule (and the possibly alien creators of such) by understanding and harnessing it. He's just willing to let thousands, even millions, die in agony to preserve the future of the human race.
Dr. Antony Dresden
The lead scientist of Protogen's Protomolecule research, aboard Thoth Station.
- Boom, Headshot!: Miller puts a bullet right between his eyes. Then two more.
- The Extremist Was Right: Nearly everything he said about the Protomolecule, he was absolutely right about it. It's precisely why Miller shot him, because he didn't want the Belt jostling over his knowledge.
- For Science!: Protogen as a whole might want the proto-molecule in order to sell technology based on it for untold fortunes, but Dresden is very much doing it just to unlock the potentially vast scientific breakthroughs it can provide. He doesn't care who he works for or what that person intends to do with the Protomolecule - as long as he can continue his research and receive proper funding, he'll do whatever he's asked - whether it's for Protogen or the OPA.
- Hannibal Lecture: Gives one urging the OPA strike team that have captured him why the proto-molecule must be researched: allowing humans to live in hard vacuum, cold sleep allowing easy travel to distant stars, the list goes on. Specifically asked why they unleashed it on Eros and 100,000 innocent people there instead of just bacteria in a petri dish first if they wanted to see what it does, he incredulously insists that it was because they wanted to usher in the next stage in human evolution, not bacteria.
- The Heavy: In the 1st season and briefly for the 2nd. Even though he works for Mao, Mao seems to trust Dresden as the expert. He is the one that commandeers infecting Eros and apparently had the idea in the first place when confronted by Holden, Miller, and Fred Johnson.
- Killed Mid-Sentence: By Miller via Boom, Headshot!, just as he'd agreed to cooperate with the heroes. Miller unloads a few extra rounds into his corpse as revenge for the death of Julie Mao.
- Mad Scientist: With a sleigh-full of jingle bells on. When you consider group lobotomies and a little genocide via And I Must Scream just part and parcel of experimentation, you are most definitely in this territory. Lampshaded in-series, even.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: He'd argue that what he is doing (i.e. killing a lot of people) is vital for the survival of humanity. He may or may not have a point; after all, if he's wrong about what the molecule is, he borked his whole research from the start with a flawed premis (that it's an extra-system weapon sent to "terraform" the Sol system) and triggered everything to snowball without cause. If he's right... all he's basically doing is... forcefully hacking and adapting that terraforming on the rest of the universe in mankind's image, thereby making Mengele look like an amateur. Most other people just question the state of his human empathy and emotional reasoning; it's nil-nada-zilch, by-the-by.
Dr. Lawrence Strickland
A Protogen pediatrician on Ganymede. In truth, he heads Protogen's Project Caliban within a secret compound on Io.
- Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Strickland has the sheer nerve to paint himself as Mei's savior instead of her captor, and when it becomes clear that Prax isn't buying it, pathetically begs for his life.
- Boom, Headshot!: Amos shoots him in the head, to the relief of the solar system at large.
- Dirty Coward: He kills a fellow lab tech to make it look like he was rescuing the children from her. Unfortunately for him, it's Prax and Amos that tracked him down, so they know he's full of crap. He proceeds to spin his lies, desperately trying to convince them that he heroically saved Mei and put himself in danger to do so. They don't buy it for a second. In the same episode, every other main villain meets their fate with varying degrees of defiance or acceptance, but not Strickland: he's a cowardly monster right to the end.
- Faux Affably Evil: He appears to be a very amiable and charming man, but it's only surface-level. In reality he's a merciless monster who views others as tools. At one point he cheerfully reassures Mei, and then the moment she's gone, his smiling expression hardens into something cold and empty.
- Karmic Death: Comes pretty close. Once Prax and Amos catch him and rescue the children, Prax seems ready to kill him, only for Amos to talk him down. Then Amos does it himself, because he knows Prax should be above such dirty work.
- Lack of Empathy: He doesn't seem to even understand why experimenting on children is wrong. It becomes clearer and clearer that his brain was not altered like Cortázar's was (he shows emotion and fear for his own life) which makes his behavior all the more disturbing.
- Mad Scientist: The guy conducts brutal experiments on children without demonstrating a shred of remorse.
- Would Hurt a Child: Strickland is downright proud of himself for discovering a genetic anomaly in certain children, whom he tears away from their families and turns into test subjects. He dispassionately has children tortured and turned into monsters, and was willing to feed Mei (a child he'd known since she was a baby) to the Protomolecule. Later, he plans to use them as a shield to save his own wretched life.
The only Protogen scientist who survived Thoth Station, and the only means for the OPA to understand the Protomolecule.
- Ax-Crazy: He's extremely volatile. When another prisoner takes a bench he was using, he promptly beats him half to death and takes it back. All the while barely changing his expression. Hell, his first on-screen appearance had him losing his shit at Miller's squad after they disconnected the VR lab.
- The Bus Came Back: After a three season absence, he finally re-emerges in "Nemesis Games" as the head scientist for the Martian splinter faction on Laconia.
- Mad Scientist: Even more so than Dresden or Strickland as he displays the typical twitchy expressions.
- Nightmare Fetishist: His utter absence of empathy turns him into someone who sees genuine beauty in the protomolecule, with zero fear of what it could do to humanity if allowed to grow beyond control. Amos is the one who recognizes Cortázar's fetish; until his captors engage with him along this line, he's utterly uncommunicative.
- Lack of Empathy: The part of his brain governing empathy was altered to allow him to work conscience-free on a very nightmarish project.
- Unwitting Pawn: While he wasn't unwitting in getting his brain altered, following Thoth station he's found himself in the un-envious position of being the OPA's only source of information on the Protomolecule. He even gets caught in a pissing match between Fred Johnson and Anderson Dawes and is eventually kidnapped by the latter. In Season 5, he's kidnapped once again by Duarte's Martian splinter faction to conduct research on Laconia. He realizes this, but doesn't mind or even care. He just wants to keep studying the Protomolecule, and it doesn't matter to him who benefits from his work.