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21 February 2018 @ 07:30 am
Getting into tedious details that _Hopefully_, if read all at once won't be too boring . . . But I'm going to jump ahead to the fun stuff . . .

/// rescue the idiots and shift the errant containers

“Gerald? There are three shooting ranges aboard with varying amounts of gravity. Why don’t we hit one tomorrow?”

/// The Marshal’s an expert. A dead shot with either hand, and both at once. Spence shows him how to use his watch laser, and he’s good at that as well. Fast Draw. The works. A master.

“Gerald, you may actually survive out here.”

“Are there that many pirates?”

“Yes. Not to mention opportunistic criminals, fences, gangs, mean drunks, showoffs and crazies.” Spence grinned. “Who knows, maybe there really is a Spinner, and you can shoot him on sight.”

Gerald sighed. “This is . . . going to be a really interesting . . . several years. Maybe I should leave Sarah and the kids on Ganymed, send them back to Earth.”

Spence shook his head. “Ganymed, once she’s back in the belt, is the vacation Meccah of a thousand asteroid miners and associated persons. It’s the seedy side of Las Vegas in space for better than a year. The miners come, blow off steam and lose money for a month or two, then head back out. Station Zero really is the safest place.” He held up a hand. “I know. Den of depravity. Never mind.”

Three or four chapters later

/// In the Greyhound, two weeks out of Station Fifteen

/// A general broadcast on Zero Radio about a pirate attack on a ferry between Station 345 and Station Zero. Pirates repelled, but they'd stolen cargo and prisoners, injuries, no deaths.

"How can they do that!"

"The ferries are like us, only more so. They have heavy cargo pods they use to swing around. The pirates will cut one loose and run with it. And sometimes raid the ferry itself." Spence flicked a glance at the tense Dee, and shut up.

Dee's voice shook as she spoke. "They take women and children for sex slaves. That's why we have the Sliders. They'll be trying to track them. Sometimes they can get them back."

Sarah paled. "Before anything horrible happens."

Spence sighed. "If they can track them, it'll be weeks before anyone can get to them." He tried to soften his voice. "The news is hours old. Horrible has already happened. Sometimes ‘alive’ is the best we can do." He turned back to the navigation computer. If they go directly to Ceres, we'll have to stage a major raid. But if they go to Station Fifteen, they'll beat us there, but not by much . . . this could be tricky . . . ///


At least the kids were excited. Fawn had even worked out the math.

Cody was bright-eyed, and would have been bouncing if he hadn't been strapped in. "So all your equipment flies off toward Station Zero, and the main part of the ship is tossed backwards, so you don't have to waste fuel decelerating to dock with Station Fifteen."

"Exactly. The only challenge is catching up and docking with the equipment bundle. And . . . separating in three . . . two . . . one . . . zero."

At zero the centripital force that had been standing in for gravity disappeared.

Spence checked the bundle's course, and tapped in the next command—to turn off all signals. Already cold, it was suddenly no more detectable than a small asteroid. Less, the soft, loose, fabric shroud was impregnated with metal fibers that would reflect radar pulses in random directions as well as absorbing some of the energy.

He calculated their own velocity relative to the station . . . excellent. Just moving in on it at a nice gradual pace.

"F 3442 requesting dock assignment for personnel movement." Spence sat back and grinned over his shoulder at Fallon. "Don't worry about the profanity and gross insults. As soon as they realize I have their marshal . . . "

"You jizz swizzling piece of shit! You really think I'm going to let you dock here?"

"Well, I'm the only ride Marshal Fallon could find to your piece of crap station . . . but if Little Tony doesn't want you to house the marshal and his family until he sends a supply ship . . . "

"You weasely . . . Dock at A-fifteen." A snap as if someone on the other end had hit a switch rather forcefully.

"Tsk! A few dozen misunderstandings and they just don't trust a body." Spence checked their closing velocity and looked over his shoulder. "I'll hang around until you've looked the place over. Find out where you'll be staying and whether you want your heavy stuff in storage out here, or all of it down in the ring."

Five ships docked. I can't see the details on all of them, but the ones docked at B-three and A-eight don't look like they're rigged for mining. B-three's a big one, possibly set up for passengers. Could well be the pirates. So, all I have to do is find where they'd be holding captives . . . and the only way I can do that is to hand them more.

I'd better be as good as my reputation, today.

Spence eased off the rockets and warmed up the maneuvering jets as they crept up to the "christmas tree" of the non-rotating docking facility. Like most such structures out here it had been expanded several times, without much regard for esthetics. Station Fifteen's had a main run of three parallel tubes, with docks sticking outward on extensions.

Dock 15 was the furthest out on run A. Spence eased the ship up to it. Kissed the contacts and the docking boom clamped on. "Don't stand directly in front of the airlock. Everyone will be jumpy after the pirate raid." Because they know I'll be looking for them.

Spence looked over at Sarah. "Check out where you'll be staying, and what you'll want immediately and what you want me to shift into storage out here, and we'll get it all moved."

And his other concern . . . "Dee, check the galley for anything we're short on."

Dee floated to the spiral stairs down—a pain in the ass in zero g—and out of sight. But she'd be waiting. Armed.

Spence checked that the Fallons were all out of line of sight and allowed the station to take control of the outer airlock door. It immediately started cycling.

He turned on the airlock cameras. One wide-angle to show the whole interior, the other aimed straight out.

Pressure matched, the airlock opened.

To a heavy laser on a tripod a six meters down the docking boom.

"Just wait until they calm down a bit. Benny Morgan—the mayor—will probably show up in person . . . " Spence broke off as two people flew in to the camera's view. "The guy is Morgan, the . . . woman is Delilah Drayton."

Fallon leaned in to look. "And they're moving the laser. I guess knowing you and not liking you is different than thinking you're a pirate."

"Welcome to the Belt, where trust is hard to earn and fast to turn.” Spence hesitated, stripped off his laser watch and held it out. “Wear it over your skinsuit, just in case.”

The marshal glowered . . . took it and strapped it on.

“I'm opening the inner lock. You've got my number, when you figure out what to do with your stuff."

A quick glance out the airlock to make sure the laser was staying gone. "All clear. See you in a few hours."

Gerald floundered a bit and Spence gave him a helpful shove. Sarah made it to the hand grip by the airlock and got her gripper shoes down on the padding. The kids followed . . .

Damn it all!

He closed the inner airlock door and popped the hidden compartment. Tough bullet and laser proof armor in pieces to strap over his skinsuit, lots of weapons, and the special overalls.

He whistled, as he started strapping on the armor pieces. "Check the cams, are we clear?"

"The Fallons are just getting around the corner, and here they come! Closing the outer lock."

Spence could feel the thud as the door hit something.

"They got a bar in the door. Locking it down."

"Arm the bolts." Torso and back piece over his head, sides sealed. Three pistols, a few breeching charges, extra mags, the electronic toys were already on the tool belt and he was almost ready.

20 February 2018 @ 11:00 pm
Ready for the last typo hunt. And comments and whatever.

20 February 2018 @ 01:27 pm

Spence grinned and leaned to check Fawn’s course calculations. “Good. A nice sensible trip out to the containers. Now you two implement it.”

Gerald forced himself to not twitch as small careful maneuvers, and then a long strong thrust from the main engines—almost a tenth of a g, whoop-de-do—caused no visible change, what so ever, other than the view of the stars steadying.

And a fuzzy circle . . .

Spence shook his head. “I didn’t notice any stabilizing exhaust plumes.”

He glanced at the radio. “And they’re not saying much.”

Fawn zoomed in again. They all studied the spinning ship, the vector arrows and numbers.

“Well, that did slow them down a bit more, pity about the spin.” Spence pulled himself over to the radio, reached and switched it to two way. “Sexy Ride, this is Greyhound. Cut off that racing program and use you maneuvering jets to reduce your spin. From here it looks like you need starboard down and port up, probably three each side and . . .”

He paused at a burst of profanity.

“ . . . ing ass! I have to get my brother back to the doctor fast! I don’t have time for slow shit!”

Spence sighed. “Calm down. Do you have your brother strapped in to prevent further damage? And strap yourself in. Especially if you’re going to pretend to be a racer, instead of a mining ship.”

Another flare of exhaust . . . Hysteria on the radio.

“Jason. Calm down. Take slow deep breaths.” Spence shook his head. “Look at the control panel. Flip auto pilot off. Program the maneuvering jets. Single bursts. Gang up S -3, S-4, S-5, P 3, P4, P5. Got that? The starboard negatives, and the port positives.”

Shaky panting breaths over the radio. Quick little flares on the holo. The ship’s rotation slowed.

“Very good. Now you’ve got it programed so give it a second shot”

A second bust, then a third.

“Good, now stop, you don’t want to start rotating the other way. Look at the control panel and turn all those jets off. Now. Is Mark strapped in?”

A shakey voice. “Yeah, yeah. He’s strapped in. He’s moaning. He’ll be all right, right?”

“Most likely. Now, look at your fuel. What are the pressurized tanks reading?”

“Uh . . . O2 35% . . . H2 . . . is at 5%?” His voice started rising at the end.

“You guys need either a tune up or a leak test. I’d advise against lighting up until you get that checked. Now, how’s your water reserve look?”


“Your ice box. If I remember that model . . . to the left of the pressure gauges there three numbers. Kilograms of ice, kilograms of liquid water, and rate of hydrolysis.

“Uh . . . fifteen, twenty-five, four. That’s . . . bad, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, pretty much. It’ll keep you breathing until you get hauled into Ganymed. So, no more main engines, and wait for instructions from the tug before you maneuver.” Spence looked back at the holo.

“I’m going to come out and spin you and send you back toward Ganymed. Stay strapped in, and whatever you do, do not turn the autopilot back on.” He reached and flipped the radio back to receive only. “I knew I’d end up rescuing those idiots. Fawn, plot a course to intercept them.”

Cody gulped. “But you are going to save them, right?”

“If they don’t do something else stupid. No guarantee of that.” Spence floated around behind Fawn. “Sorry, bit of a hurry. We have fuel to burn . . . “ he tapped away for a moment. “I’ll show you why this specific course in just a few minutes. Sarah, this orientation and then a nice long slow burn.”

A tenth g again, for nearly ten minutes.

/// Note to readers! I haven’t done the math! If this ever gets published I’ll drag out the text books and put some real figures in. For now, just go with the story///

“Now, if you look at the vector we’re on. We’ll pass them at about a kilometer’s distance, and shoot them with a magnetic harpoon. Clamp the cord and we whip around them, jerking them around with us, so we’re rotating around our mutual center of gravity.”

Cody grinned. “And you let them go when they’ll go flying off toward Gany!” “Exactly. The important bit is the radial velocity. Since we were both still getting further from Ganymed, we’ll have to reel them in until we’re spinning pretty fast.”

Gerald eyed the holo. “And we go flying even faster away from Ganymed.”

“Right. But since we’ve got close onto a thousand times more fuel on board, that’s no big deal.” Spence checked the vectors, zoomed out . . . “Dee, I’m going to want you piloting, and Gerald? Let me show you how to harpoon a whale.

“Cody, give me two way. Jason? You’ve read all about spinning, right?”


“Well, we’re going to spin you back to Gany. So sit tight, and save your fuel for making air. The tugs’ll land you and I dare say a doctor will be there waiting for you.”

A long pause . . . “Thank you.”

“Ah, we were all green once. Okay, five minutes to rendezvous.”

18 February 2018 @ 11:22 am

Gerald had been to the Moon—a nasty murder case—and twice to stations in Earth orbit. He’d taken the space license classes and passed the tests. Had twelve hours of piloting experience. So he was moderately accustomed to zero g. He’d had no trouble with Spence’s ship, and instructions. But he’d never soloed. Never been in charge of maintenance never really been on the crew of a spaceship.

And Sarah took the classes, with the kids reading over her shoulder . . . but they’d never been off Earth until we headed for Ganymed.

We are really lucky to have tripped over Spence! By the time I get to Ceres and pick up the ship the Marshal’s office bought, I might not kill myself going out alone. And if Sarah, or God forbid, either Fawn or Cody ever needs to pilot a ship . . .

Gerald checked the airlock seals, the pressure in the connecting tube, unlocked the clamps so they could be released from the pilot’s panel. Rechecked interior pressure and toed back to the copilot’s seat.

“Take the pilot’s seat, Sarah.” Spence grinned. “What? You thought I was going to trust the Greyhound to your ham fisted husband? Now, it’s just like practice, except this time It’ll really happen. Fawn? Navigator’s seat. Cody, you get the last seat, and yes, every single on of you will get to pilot and navigate.”

Gerald looked past Sarah at Fawn, who was turning on the instruments. Excited and scared.

The holo opened, showing everything in a thirty thousand kilometer radius, except the broad cone blocked by the bulk of Ganymed.

Cody was clicking away on his other side. “Feed from Ganymed coming in.”

The holo filled in the empty cone.

Spence, from the far side of the control panel, poked a moving light. “This green light is the ship heading out to fetch the off course containers, which at these blue lights.”

“Green for manned and blue for unmanned.” Cody peered down the panel. “For priority in rescue situations.”

Fawn touched the white dot on the surface of Ganymed. “And that’s us. How did they get so far ahead of us . . . they’re going pretty fast, aren’t they?”

“Yep. I have a nasty suspicion they have a lot less experience than I thought. You can see they’re headed for the clump of containers. They aren’t very far off course—that’s, oh, call it three round trips, New York to Los Angeles. In space that’s nothing. And they’re more than half way there, and haven’t started to decelerate.”

Cody snickered. “Hot doggers!”

Spence nodded. “So, turn on the radio and let’s hear the chatter. Receive only, until we need to talk to someone, so we don’t confuse any communications . . .”

“ . . . nanny! We’ll flip and decelerate in a moment. Our upgraded navigation and autopilot program can handle something this simple without . . . whoa!”

In the holo, the green spot showed a diffuse white plume, swinging around with the ship. Yelps and thumps from the speaker.

Spence shook his head. “A powered turn. Did they install a racing program?”

“Mark? Mark!”

Gerald winced. “Seatbelts are so Downstairs. I hope the idiot didn’t hurt himself.”

The plume died away, miscellaneous thumps and thuds and faint off-mike cursing and questions.

Spence shook his head. “I think Jason cut the deceleration manually, before the autopilot finished stabilizing the turn. At least they did slow down quite a bit. Zoom in on them, Fawn.”

The holo focused on the Faulkner’s ship . . . a standard flattened disk with various things attached and sticking out all over. The thick “pusher plate” sticking out the top, rocket nozzles on the bottom. In a slow tumble.

“Well. That isn’t pretty. Let’s take a flying lesson while they figure out how to get themselves out of trouble. So, Navigator . . . when do we undock?”

“Considering Ganymed’s spin . . . we want to release at 90 degrees to the direction we want to go . . . because our radial velocity will be aimed that way. Saves fuel . . . although not much, really.”

“True, but by heading out the direction we want to go, we don’t have to maneuver around Ganeymed. So?”

“Oh! Two minutes!” She looked at her mom.

Sarah nodded. “Fuel tanks are only at 25% pressure.”

“Plenty for as little maneuvering well be doing immediately. So?”

“Oh, three maneuvering jets . . . spark test green on all. Pressuring their burst tanks, ganging the fire button . . . ready to retract docking clamps. Count down Navigator?”

“Twenty seconds.” Fawn’s voice squeaked and she cleared her throat.

Spence nodded and looked at Sarah. “Clamps at three seconds, triple burst at zero.”

Sarah grinned. “Do I look that nervous?”

The numbers over Fawn’s panel rolled down.

Sarah pushed the clamp retraction button . . . little jolts barely felt . . . she pushed the fire button. A soft shove into his seat.

“Very nice. Now, just for the practice, look up at the stars. See which way the ship is tumbling? Sarah, rather than calculate anything, what do you think you need to do, to stop that little bit of tumble?”

They all looked up and studied the stars sinking on one side and rising on the other.

Sarah pointed to port . . . and then a little forward. “Down jet there, or up up jet opposite . . . we’re tumbling very slowly, does it matter?”

“When we accelerate, it will. So we can just let it tumble while we figure out a course and stop the tumble when it points us about the right direction.

“You save every whiff of fuel you can, don’t you?”

“I’m an old spacer.”

Gerald chuckled. “As opposed to a bold spacer?”

17 February 2018 @ 09:51 am


Gerald pulled out the last wrinkles in his skin suit and checked Sarah's and let her check his backside.

"I wonder how long you have to get in and out of these things for it to stop being embarrassing?"

Sarah snickered. "They are quite . . . revealing . . . but the incompressible jelly in the toes of the socks, the gloves and . . . other more personal spots is really disgusting."

"No kidding." He tilted his head toward the kids' rooms. "Fawn and Dee are having fun, why don't you go make sure they're doing it right and I'll check Cody."

Actually they were all three trying on shoes.

"Dee says they have to be a little loose, else they'll split if the suits activate." Cody stuck his foot out for Dee's inspection.

She pressed and poked and nodded her approval. "Do you have sturdy loose clothing, Mrs. Fallon? We wear canvas overalls, but pants and shirts are fine."

It took a bit, but they got togged out to Dee's approval and headed for the elevator.

Gerald felt . . . odd carrying his little vd9 on his belt. And at that, it’s smaller than most of the pistols the locals carry.

He bloused his heavy shirt over it and walked out. "Dee . . . ? Where's Spence?"

"Oh, he went ahead. He'll turn everything thing on and heat up the air and so forth. He said once you guys knew what a ship was like once it was running, he'd teach start up and trouble shooting.

It was fascinating—and educational—to see the real thing.

In microgravity. With the saucer shaped ship sitting flat on the ground of the huge asteroid—near the pole—there was very little gravity, and slight tendency toward the equator and outward due to spin.

Gerald tip-toed and floated over to the controls in the center of the mostly open circular room.

Much less complex than a plane's control panel. Much, much more navigation.

"Thing is, in space you make tiny, incremental changes, with time to check and compute and get it right. Even though you are going much faster than any plane you've ever flown, your speed relative to everything in the asteroid belt is low. And there's no gravity. In a plane, you can fall, and well, you can't miss the Earth. Out here it's mostly empty space, and you have to aim carefully to find something to hit. Now these sensors all measure different things. Infrared—heat. Asteroids are cold, but still warmer than empty space, this is the active radar, a bit of an energy hog, given that space is so empty. This is passive broadband--visible light is still about as useful as anything else. The collector's two meters across, so it picks up even things you'd swear were utterly dark. The computer integrates everything, so there are very few surprises out there."

Spence was a good teacher, making all of them sit in the pilot's seat and set up programs for small bursts to to rotate the ship--then stop it rotating-- on all three axies. Program trips to Zero, Fifteen and Ceres.

And to several asteroids where he and friends had left emergency supplies. Tools. Parts. Food. Ice.

"When you pick up your ship, we'll have to get together and I'll give it a good checkup and make sure you can find these asteroids."

Cody snickered. "Hey Fawn, want to go see the one named Dog Turd?"


Dee laughed. "It's actually the best one. We fixed it up."

Spence nodded. "Too bad it's not bigger. So, Cody, show me how you'd get from here to Zero, and how much fuel you'd need to have left to brake and match velocity at the end."

Cody started bringing up the info for input. "You know, you can get computers that will do all of this for you."

"I know. In fact I have one. But if it breaks, no big deal." He tip-toed in the micro gravity over to the bulk head and returned with a book. "And if everything breaks, I can use these references and this thing called a sliderule to calculate it. Then I can manually open and close valves to run each engines just as long as I need."

Dee nodded. "He made me do it. Twice. He just sat there looking insufferably smug while I had to do it all myself. It was a real pain."

"I'm good at insufferably smug."

"No. Kidding. But it's also cool to know you can survive losing nearly all electronics on board." Dee grinned. "Not that I ever have, but he claims to of."

Spence looked at Cody's program. "Oooo! A hot rodder. I advise against letting your fuel get that low unless you really need to get somewhere fast. Try it again, but pretend you aren't sure of your welcome. Find one of my emergency stops and see if you can keep enough fuel to get to it."

It kept them all busy for weeks. They learned the life support systems--three of them. Just in case. The engines, the fuel system, from ice to the final mixing chamber. They put on hard suits and climbed around the actual mining equipment and all the spare equipment--he had a whole independent ice separator and hydrolysis system. Tanks of Hydrogen and Oxygen.

"Your backup's backups have backups." The marshal shook his head. "I foresee large expenditures in my future."

"Well, I am well known to be paranoid." Spence pulled a hook off his belt, extended the handle and reached up to snag Cody as he cartwheeled past. "Safety line?"

"It's a pain in the . . . neck." Cody's voice was a little high.

"Yep. Use it anyway. I regret to say that since I didn't have to take the ship out to pick you up, you have not actually earned your Flying Dutchman Badge. Good try, though."

"There's not an actual badge, is there?"

"Nope. You just get kidded a lot."

"Did you ever?"

"Oh sure. I worked orbital construction for years. But out here, there's no sleds standing off a bit, just in case . . . which, frankly, made us all a bit more careless than we ought to have been."


And then Carol Hatenberg asked for help with an off course delivery. "The booster had problems, so all five containers are a bit off course." Her voice flattened. "Those Faulkner boys jumped right in to grab the job as soon as they heard about it. They're hot rodding it out there, so I figured I'd better call you."

"Well, we'll find out how good--or bad--they are while we're close enough to help them. I'll go warm up and give my students a few lessons while actually under way." He glanced over his shoulder at Dee, who was grabbing her skinsuit while talking on her comm.

"The Fallons are all coming." She dashed out the door.

Having a friend has been good for her. I just hope to hell it doesn't end in a disaster.


Gerald tiptoe-skidded into what was fast becoming familiar territory. The kids had bounced ahead and Sarah was right behind him.

"Ready for some zero-g fun?" Spence grinned at their expressions. "It'll only be for a couple of hours."

Sarah swallowed. “I thought you swung around your equipment package, for artificial gravity?”

Dee grinned. “Can’t do that when we’re maneuvering.” She peered over Spence’s shoulder. “We’ve off loaded it all, so we can maneuver with less fuel.”

Gerald eyed the screen where Spence’s big mining shovels—they had a lot in common with earthbound excavators—were setting the equipment frame they were attached to, down, and shifting from moving it to holding it in place. “Why three of them? I see where it’s handy now, but . . . “

“With three I can grab almost any shaped asteroid, and if I surround the smaller gravel heaps, I can get them into the hopper in one piece. Saves a lot of hunting around for that one iridium rich pebble that floated off when the pile broke.”

“Huh. I suppose.”

The three arms locked in place, and Spence shut down that panel.

“Now for you first live lesson in separation. Remember the steps?” Spence headed for the airlock.

16 February 2018 @ 08:24 pm
Quick and dirty . . . Something cleaner . . . apart form getting a little carried away with sprkly things.

16 February 2018 @ 07:34 pm
I suspect you've all seen this, but just in case . . .

16 February 2018 @ 09:17 am

Chapter Three

A long slow trip

The airtight door opened to his ID. Thank god. I am definitely glad that trip is over. Especially the roll down the ramp. We must have hit sixty or seventy kilometers an hour . . . at least there was no one in the way until we'd slowed at the bottom.

Spence, on the other hand, didn't slow nearly as much . . . and handed the controls over to Dee to come back and help me push. Dee pretty much coasted up to their door. I don't know how he got so much experience, with a 4.35 Earth years' orbit, how many round trips can a man take in his life? He looks fiftyish.

Gerald shrugged aside analyzing the other man in favor of checking out his home for the next two years.

A short hallway past a nice large bathroom to a big open square. Fifteen meters on a side, three meters high. Absolutely bare. As he'd been warned.

At least the lights work!

"Oh my!" Sarah walked in, the kids on her heels, wide-eyed . . . "Good thing we brought more than the bare necessities."

"Eww! Is the other room like this, too? And I have to share it with Cody?" Fawn looked around, wide-eyed.

Thirteen years old. Am I insane, to have brought her here? And out to the asteroid belt? Cody's only ten. Does he understand the dangers?

"Let's go take a look, then start unloading."

Dee bounced in, with a cheerful "Hi! Hey the other one of yours and ours already have an air door in-between. Spence says we can swap, save you some money. At least that's what he says. I think he's paranoid and doesn't want an extra door to worry about."

A quick trooping between rooms and it was clear that there wasn't much difference. Sarah checked that the water worked in all three, then Dee got back on her comp and made the switch official, and the code to unlock the connecting door.

While Sarah hunted down the rugs, Gerald offered to help unload the Spencer's wagon.

"You bet. In fact lets get these two heavy ones of yours off first. Which room do you want them in? They'll make good walls."


"Yeah, it's a long trip. you'll appreciate some private spaces, even if there aren't doors, and the walls don't go all the way to the ceiling."

Sarah looked from the crates to the first room. "Excellent idea. Bring them in."

And damn, but the guns and ammunition were heavy in this near-normal gravity.

Spence hefted one end . . . "Let's back the wagon through the door first . . . "

It was a tight fit, but a damned good idea.

The two armory crates across, three lighter weight crates above and they had a privacy wall from what would probably be a living room. The kids got higher walls in their cubic, and went to work taping up their posters.

Then they took the wagons to "the shop" which was a . . . used furniture store.

"Everything they brought up originally, plus everything anyone left behind." Spence shrugged. "Dee and I will bring stuff down from the ship, but the wardrobes and beds are nice. A couple of big chairs and a screen and we're good. Oh, get a fridge, and they have folding tables if you like to eat in."

Two years rental for a couch, chairs, a dining room table and chairs (folding) four beds (Sorry, we don't get many couples) wardrobes and they had the bare minimum.

Sarah looked around and smiled weakly. "I know they said bring your own decor . . . but I didn't realize they even meant rugs."

A chime at the door. Dee, with two potted plants. "They really help with cabin fever, and Spence said he'd bring some extra stuff from the ship. From our ship, the Greyhound. I'm heading for the grocery store next, if you'd like to come?"

A chorus of agreements.

Gerald nodded, and went with them. Whatever my suspicions of Spence, running into him and his daughter has been a godsend.

They staggered home under the load and found Spence unloading more furniture and a some long vacuum compressed packages.

"Pads. They make ugly rugs, but they're warmer than the bare rock, easy on the feet and then you can layer on something more colorful." He grinned. "I'm sure Dee will drag you out to the shops."

"I started them out with the main grocery." Dee bounced happily. "The restaurants will be busy for a few days, until the fresh food is used up. Oh, it's not that bad. There are greenhouses all over, so there's always something fresh. Just, not always much selection. But right now the cooks are having a good time. So save the eating in for later."

Spence shook his head. "This is her first outbound trip. It's all gossip. Every trip is different."

Fawn eyed the girl. "You weren't born out there, were you? In the Asteroid belt?"

"On Station Zero." Dee looked suddenly wary. "I mostly live on the Greyhound, since my mom died."

A woman living on Zero . . . surely not a prostitute . . . And Spence is her father, right? She's talking about Spence's wife. I hope. Gerald pinched the bridge of his nose. I should not have brought my family out here.

"And Dee, remember that there's a different bunch of passengers now. Be careful until we've checked them out."

Gerald caught Fawn's gaze. She rolled her eyes but nodded.

He helped unload furniture, tried to not gawp at the expansion ratio of the pads, was relieved to see that Dee and Spence had small separate bedrooms, leaving a large open area. At the bottom of the wagon a large sheet of hard plastic that sat on triangular props for a large table.

Sarah sighed. "Now I have table envy."

"It's the largest size I can easily get though my airlock. Lets us spread out and work."

"What does an Asteroid miner work on?" Cody craned to look at the comp Spence set on the table.

"I've got a number of semi-autonomous surveyors. They fly around sampling small asteroids, and I decide if it's worth collecting. I have to check them once a week when they're between asteroids, and several times daily when they're on one. Right now I've got three in transit and two actively sampling."

"So you're not really taking a break, taking a four year trip to Earth?"

"Well, I'm not earning money—other than what I sold personally—last month. But I'll have a nice back list that I can work out a least-time-and-fuel-path to collect." He'd been bringing up data on his comp, then sending a duplicate to the large screen on the wall. Black and white, but good detail.

"This, as you see, is what we call a gravel pile. The micro gravity pulls stuff in. There's usually a fair amount of ice in there, and even a slow collision can heat the ice enough that the re-freeze incorporates the newest chunk into the whole. So we basically dig a hole, with frequent reflection spectra tests to tell us what elements we're looking at, to the middle to see if there's a chunk of something valuable in the middle. Or in the crust—you do find metal nodules, and if they're high enough in a couple of rare elements, they're worth stopping by to pick them up."

They watched the little robot push out a thick arm and freeze.

Dee giggled. "And they have no discretion as to what they test. That one is testing water ice. That spike right there is ammonia ice, not real strong, so there's not much of it."

"Is that good or bad?" Cody eyed all the graphs.

"Water is used for almost everything, including ship propulsion. This is a bit more ammonia than we like to see, to use in the ship. But for the greenhouses, it's a plus."

"Why does it matter for the ship?"

Dee grinned. "Because we have to get rid of it before we slowly electrolyze the water and store the oxygen and hydrogen for the engines."

Fawn sniffed. "I never understood how that works. Don't you wind up using more energy than you get back?"

"Oh yeah, tons. But the electricity is from the solar cells on the skin. It just perks along slowly making fuel, then we use it all up in a few maneuvers, and then coast to the next asteroid."

"Making fuel, slow and steady, all the way." Fawn beamed. "And that's what you're looking for? Asteroids with something valuable and enough water to get you to the next asteroid, or back to one of the stations. That's neat!"

Spence laughed, and looked over to where he was shaking out a roll . . . rugs with bright vibrant colors. "You have to like the life of a hermit, and the risks. It suit me, but I suspect Dee will outgrow it."

"Or I'll get a ship of my own. I'm saving up, you know."

"Uh huh."

Gerald couldn't tell if Spence was skeptical or proud. Maybe both? Dammit, back home I could run his name and . . . right, it's not like we're out of communication with Earth.

Chapter Four

Marshal Fallon is going to be a decent frontier lawman, once he gets his ass kicked good and hard a couple of times.

I hope.

At least he can play poker.

"Call." Spence waited to see if anyone was going to raise, then laid down his hand. Scooped the modest pot.

The money didn't matter, but as a way to get to know the other men hitching a ride out to the belt it was hard to beat. Good losers, and poor winners alike. Some experienced miners, some first timers. There were even a couple who lacked even orbital construction experience. Brothers who'd gone through so-called training camp downstairs.

At least they know how to put on a spacesuit. I hope. And they've bought Finnegan's ship and remotes, so they've got decent equipment. Now if they'll just stop rubbing in their wins and whining about their losses, they may survive long enough to be useful members of the community.

Fallon dealt with quick efficiency. He was fitting in nicely, a solid dependable man, despite being prickly about small transgressions that on Earth might have warranted a ticket, or a pulled license.

By the time we get out to the belt, he'll loosen up, and be sensible.

I hope.

With so many newbies, every single one of them believing all the tall tales the fine citizens of Zero Station love to tell the few news reporter who've actually been there, our new marshal is getting too much reinforcement of his misconceptions.

On Zero Station, the reporters can roam freely, and see everything. And tell the world about it. Fifteen and Ceres? They make damn sure the reporters never see the dirty side.

So all the marshal has is propaganda on one side and tall tales on the other. If I can just keep him alive long enough for him to wake up . . . God knows we need some form of law enforcement.

Spence suppressed a sigh as he viewed his cards and discarded two. Picked up a pair of aces and shook his head. Dammit, I was going to lose tonight, so I didn't get mistaken for a professional gambler.

He bid once, folded.

One of the Faulkner boys scooped up the pot, laughing. "You should never try to bluff me, Jase."

Jason Faulkner scowled. "I think you saw my cards, you dirtbag."

Silence, as people looked around to see who was going to get killed.

The marshal slapped a hand on the table. "I think you loving brothers need to split up and play at different tables. Christ, you sound like whiney children."

Which instantly united them, to face the marshal. Who stared steadily at them. Arms on the table, clearly not armed.

Spence casually laid his right hand over the heavy watch on his left wrist. Clicked the button to arm the mini-laser.

Bill Komiko hustled over. "No fight in bar. You start fight, you no come back for one month."

Mark Faulkner cast a sneer Bill's direction. "Oh yeah? Watch this." His hand darted behind his back, whipped out a pistol . . .

The laser hit his bicep and he lost his grip on the gun. It skidded across the table. Spence grabbed it, leaned back and, holding it by the barrel, lifted it behind his head. "Here Bill. Better lock this up for a month. Maybe . . . which brother are you? Mark? Can come back in a month and apologize."

"Good. You tell them, Spence." Bill took the gun and scuttled away.

Spence eyed the brothers. "Why don't you two collect your winnings and call it a night. Think about the consequences, out here, of insults and gloating." He stacked his own coins—the six carot gold and copper alloy that was the standard out here—stood and pocketed the money without taking his eyes off of the other people in the room.

Mark glared, but started gathering his winnings.

Spence turned and walked out, watching them in the mirror, in case Jason was also going to pull a gun. He didn't. Fallon joined the rest of the players in pocketing, in Fallon's case, a bit less that he'd brought.

Spence dawdled long enough for the marshal to catch up with him.

"That was a laser, wasn't it? And you fired it."

Not really a question. Spence tapped his watch. "Single shot. Weak enough that I'd have to be very unlucky to seriously hurt, let alone kill, anyone." Lucky, unlucky, depends on which end of the laser you're on. "The aim is difficult, but anywhere you hit them, the heat will make them flinch."

"Right. Thank you. I wasn't prepared for a shoot-out in the tavern. Guess I’ll have to start carrying—like everyone else out here. Now please tell me you aren't on my list of people to arrest."

"Gerald . . . I hate to spoil a good joke, but half of those 'famous criminals' are completely imaginary. The other half are made-up umbrellas names being credited with the exploits of hundreds of people."

"No Spinner? How about the Slider, or the Old Man."

"Lots of miners, myself included, will, when a nickel iron asteroid is at hand, shoot it with an electro-magnetic harpoon as we pass it, swing around on the harpoon cable and releasing it so we go flying off in the direction we want. We brag about especially good spins. But asteroids are not like in the movies. They are very spread out. There is no Mythological Spinner, swinging through the asteroids, never needing a course correction burn."

"The Slider?"

"The Sliders—plural—are a vigilante group committing . . . generally well-timed rescues, and yes, sometimes revenge. No, I will not name names. Your job should be to make them unnecessary, not arrest them. Jack the Giant Killer was so named because he picked large asteroids and demolished them. He died five years ago, without ever harming anyone. And if there's a century old war criminal hiding in the belt, well, I've never met him."

The marshal grunted. "I got a brief on that last. Experimental treatments to maximize the cellular level repair of radiation damage in the early space force troops. Then they topped it off with stuff to force recalcification of the bones after long stretches of zero g that caused some form of . . . not dementia, per se, but a loss of empathy.

"Apparently there were a couple of hundred men who received both treatments. It created an aggressive, ambitious man with a drive to control, and followers who would do whatever he ordered them to do. They were all tried for war crimes and sentenced to life in prison. Except that General Jack Murphy never aged, never died, like the rest of them."

"Yeah, I've read about the atrocities in history classes. Always figured it was the usual. Orders from on high. Anything gets out of control, blame the troops. The politicians get off scot-free." Spence sighed. "In the highly unlikely case that I believed a word of this . . . how did this supposed immoral immortal get out here? I mean, the war ended . . . ninety-eight years ago? They were just starting construction of the first three stations about then. When did he escape? There was a lot of stuff shipped this direction, for several years, but there was no place to escape to."

"Well . . . that's umm . . . they don't know. At some point they realized the man they had in prison wasn't him."

"What? That's . . . uh, did they ever have the right man? Or was there a prison break?" Spence boggled. Stupidest cover story ever. But enough, perhaps, to motivate their naïve agent here. "Not that I doubt that's what they told you . . . but do you believe it?"

"Nope. I can smell bullshit when my nose is rubbed in it." Fallon sighed. "I'm beginning to wonder how much of anything I've been told is accurate."

Wisdom strikes! Because the only way they got these six stations completed was with a work force that was sort of radiation resistant and didn't lose calcium from our bones, wouldn't demand to be rotated back to Earth, and that wouldn't get them into political trouble if we died.

Or were abandoned without supplies.

"You'll be walking into a viper's nest on Station Fifteen. Hopefully they will behave themselves, because I suspect that Ceres really wants you."

"Yes. I've exchanged mail with Mayor Hendricks. He was very welcoming."

Spence winced. "That's ominous. You should seriously consider leaving your family on Zero. Then going on to Ceres." He looked at the man's stubborn face and shrugged.

"Right. Well, how about tomorrow some hands-on introduction to spacecraft? Your kids'll love it."

15 February 2018 @ 09:07 pm
Surely I snippetted it. But search isn't turning it up. Anybody remember the first marshal sent out to tame the wild asteroid belt?

Chapter One

"What do you mean, there's no regular service to Ceres? It's the largest asteroid, it has the largest population in the belt!" Gerald Fallon glowered down at the clerk.

"Sorry sir, but once you are out in the Belt all transportation is personal. Most of our guests have their shuttles docked on Ganymed while they travel to and from Earth."

Gerald nodded. "Yes, we've arranged to purchase a small vehicle for local travel. At Ceres Base, where we will be living."

The man at the next window turned and stared at him. An ugly fellow with a scared face and a buzz cut, in old jeans and a tee-shirt. "The only way to get to Ceres is go to Station Fifteen and wait until their supply ship comes in to dock. They'll sell you passage."

Gerald turned and frowned at him, shot a glance to his left.

The man followed his gaze . . . "Gods and Comets! You aren't taking your family with you! That nice lady? Two teenagers? One of them a girl! Are you insane?"

Gerald loomed and glared. "I am Gerald Fallon. Just now appointed the . . . "

"Marshal of the Asteroid Belt. Good grief. We've all heard about it. We didn't realize you were mistaking us for a . . . civilized part of the Solar System."

Gerald looked back at Sarah and the children. They were getting lots of sidelong looks, but no one was bothering them.

The scarred man shrugged. "There won't be any problems on Ganymed for the trip out. The company office staff will outnumber the miners, and the men who sell ore of . . . dubious . . . source will be much fewer."

The Marshal glowered at the ugly man. Like you, perhaps? He glanced at the board behind the counter. "There's nothing for Fifteen showing."

Scar shook his head. "Do you realize that the problems you are supposed to address in the Belt are often due to the pirates that base out of Ceres? And Fifteen is nearly as bad as Ceres itself."

"Yes, I do realize that. That is why I'm going there. To assist the local miners in corralling the raiders."

"The local . . . " Scar pinched the bridge of his nose. "If you don't make other arrangements on the way, I can take you to Station Fifteen. I'm headed for Zero. The orbits are close enough, for now. I'm Harold Spencer. Call me Spence." He turned back to the window and collected his receipts and boarding pass. "See you upstairs."

Asteroid slang for "further from Earth" which in this case would involve a succession of shuttles, from the La Paz Magnetic Accelerator Rail to the long distance shuttle that would rendezvous with the asteroid Ganymed. Not to be confused with Ganymede, the moon of Jupiter.

The asteroid's eccentric orbit reached from well beyond Mars and into the belt, then brought it in close to Earth's orbit every four and a third years. That had made it an early target for the first asteroid miners. But after more interesting—much more interesting—discoveries in the main belt, the mining equipment had been used to tunnel beneath Ganymed's surface. Its equatorial belt was now riddled with rooms and served as a hotel and ferry and freighter from the belt to Earth. Its natural rotation had been sped up gradually and was now holding where the centripital force felt like three-quarters of Earth's gravity.

Unfortunately it was beginning to look like getting to the belt was going to be the easy part.

Gerald walked back to his family. "Right. Well, I've cleared up a few questions about why the office couldn't arrange passage all the way to Ceres Base. There's no regular transportation services. I've found a fellow who can take us to Station Fifteen. From there we'll have to wait for a ship from Ceres picking up supplies, and hitch a ride with them."

"Oh good. We can explore Station Fifteen and meet the people there, before we head for Ceres. Could be useful."

Gerald nodded. "Now it could be a bit rough out there. Like anyplace else, there will be parts of the station where you don't want to go. So we'll stick together until we pick up some local knowledge."

The World Council's grandiose plans for regulating asteroid mining had started with a spread of Space Stations every fifteen degrees around the whole belt. Only six of the planned twenty-four had been built before political infighting and massive cost overruns had shut the program down. Now, without orbital corrections—and in fact deliberate maneuvering to get closer to richer zones—the stations was were all well out of their planned positions.

Station Fifteen had moved so far out, into a slower orbit, that Station Zero was close to passing it.

Zero was well known for its lawlessness. "Murder Capital of the Asteroid Belt" the news articles called it. Prostitutes, bars, drug dens. Shoot outs! In space! The hideout of several notorious criminals. "Jack the Giant Killer" "The Slider" "Red Dalilah" "The Old Man
." Mostly sensationalism. Exaggerations for the sake of increasing readership, but a strong basis in fact.

After he'd helped the locals clean up Ceres, he'd tackle Station Zero, where there was no local authority at all.

Where I have orders to shoot several men on sight.

And Spence is lives there. I'll have to be careful.

Chapter Two

"So, what did you think of Earth?" Spence grinned at the pile of luggage. "Liked the shops, did you? I hadn't realized how much you'd accumulated."

Dee sniffed. "I got presents for everyone. And spare parts for everything. Trade goods out the wazoo. Yes, yes, I know I paid to get the mass off Earth, but once I'm home I'll really feel rich."

"Because everyone has money, but you've got a fifty megawatt duel amp?" He grabbed the first crate and pulled it to the wagon. The shuttles docked in the low-g ring for easy movement of freight and minimal dealing with floating tourists or drunks.

She sniffed. "No one will ever again drown out my music—and you know perfectly well that's for Jimmy anyway." She added hers and caught the one he slid her direction. "Sorry, we're going to be a little cramped for room, aren't we?"

"No big deal, it's only a two year trip."

She winced and he grinned. "So, was it worth it? Almost four years in a floating hotel so you can spend two months on Earth?"

"Yeah. It's . . . I don't know if I'll ever do it again. But I'm glad I saw Earth once in my life." She flashed a grin. "It was a dynamite fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth, and soon-to-be eighteenth birthday present."

And it got you completely away from some really nasty influences at a vulnerable time in your life.

He grinned back, and tossed the last little box. "Let's find our room . . . Oops, looks like the clueless newbs are in trouble already. Mind the wagon." He sauntered over to the family standing by their pile of goods.

"No one showed you where to find the wagons?" He charitably pretend to not notice their clumsy over reactions. "Wait here, I'll get you one."

Dee, of course, was towing theirs closer. "Hi . . . so why in the heavens are you going to the Asteroid belt?"

Spence loped off to the depot, and gave the snickering manager a dark look. "Is that really a good idea? Do you realize who that is?"

"The walking dead, and some new girls for the brothels."

"Nope that's the Marshal the president sent. Not much in the space smarts, but I'll bet he'll catch on fast. Best think about what he'll be like in a couple of years and leave his family alone."

The loading crew—whose jobs consisted solely of unloading the cargo holds and nothing to do with passenger service shrugged indifferently. Manny the manager spat.

"Nasty habit in space." Spence turned his back on them and walked over to the last two wagons. Took the one with four firm tires. What didn't matter here would be a pain in the higher gravity away from the pole.

When he got back, Dee and the two kids were head down in computers, the mother hovering, the father eyeing a few of the men wandering closer. Who glanced Spence's direction and started wandering away.

The Marshal eyed Spence. "So they know you and respect you? And what did they have in mind?"

"Snatch a box," or your pretty daughter, "and run. And yeah, they know better than to mess with a belter's stuff . . . not that I'd leave anything around untended. Dee can deal with them, but I'd just as soon she didn't have to."

"Ha!" Dee glanced up from the computer. "Anyway, they didn't have assigned cubic, so I got them the two rooms next to ours."

The wife looked dubious. "She says they're large."

"They are. And for cash, they'll connect them. Highly recommended, given the age of your kids." Spence showed them the Deadman brake on the wagons. "It's a long ramp, you'll need the brakes."

The marshal sighed.

Starting to realize he's jumped in over his head. Good.

"How long?"

"Umm, about a hundred kilometers. It's just a matter of coasting down into the equatorial strip where the gravity's about point eight g. It can catch you by surprise." He ignored their shocked looks. C'mon! No research? The asteroid's fifty kilometers in diameter. We have to spiral down the ramp to the equator.

They'd been loading as they talked and quickly filled the second wagon. Two good sized crates left. Spence just shrugged and nodded at his. "There's room, the only other wagon has a flat tire."

Two large heavy crates. Even in low g he could feel the momentum of the mass.

None of my business. Although I rather hope the first marshal out in the belt has come prepared to fight.

13 February 2018 @ 05:45 pm
Something new to add to ebooks . . . sounds like a lot of work, and impossible to avoid spoilers.