"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.
"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.
"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.