"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 Fallen 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. Ugly fellow, a scared hulk with a buzz cut, in old jeans and a tee-shirt. "The only way to get to Ceres is go to Station Fifteen and wait on the docks 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 Fallen. 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 haven't made other arrangements on the way, I can take you. 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 distnce 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 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. It's natural rotation had been sped up gradually and was now holding at about 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 was 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 Fifteen and meet people there, before we head for Ceres. Could be useful."
Gerald nodded. "Now it could be a bit rough out there. Like anyplace there will be places 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 richer zones—the stations was were all well out of position.
Fifteen had moved so far out that 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." Mostly sensationalism. Exaggerations for the sake of increasing readership, but a strong basis in fact. After he'd helped the local clean up Ceres, he'd tackle Zero, where there was no local authority at all.
And Spence is one of them. I'll have to be careful.