/// 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.