Gerald felt like he was betraying a friend, but sent the background request anyway.
Got the reply in three days.
Harold John Spencer, 54, born in Omaha Nebraska, BS mechanical engineering, University of Nebraska. No marriages recorded, no children recorded.
A Florida drivers license, with a picture of a baby-faced man in his mid twenties, no scars, but the set of his eyes, the nose and ears . . . Yeah, that's Spence. I think.
Gerald's eyes drifted back to the other picture. General John "Jack" Murphy, called the Old Man by his troops. In prison orange, but the eyes set in the middle-aged wrinkles were set the same, the nose a bit more battered, longer than baby-face . . . "Dammit. That could be him, too." But still no scars. They said he got in a fight in prison, and one of his former troops carved him up.
Gerald scrolled down to the Harold Spencer's information. "No police history. Three former employers, the last two, orbital construction companies. Licensed for Earth-to-orbit, Orbit-to-Earth, Lunar base permit . . . registered owner of a Class F . . . " Gerald broke off his muttering to look that one up. "Right, low impulse, no landing even on the Moon."
He frowned down at his comp. "So brief and so clean . . . But I'm not going to ask. I need my native guide, and his past is none of my business."
A city that might not have the latest anti-intruders software. The employers are all large companies, just need to get into the data base to add an employee. Space licenses . . . those types of government offices are always a generation behind electronically . . . This is stupid speculation. He'd have had to file taxes, the companies would have had to send withholdings to the government.
Not that false identities aren't a fact of modern life.
But Spence looks 54. General Murphy would have been double than that at Spence's birth date. And would have been in prison for four decades. Look at the early prison picture. The "Old Man" is a young looking probably sixtyish. Slow aging maybe, but he's not going to be taking baby-face driver's license pictures thirty years later.
No, Spence can't be the Old Man. It's just a chance resemblance.
Or family . . . Did Jack Murphy have any brothers? Or given their ages, grandnephews?
Anyhow, Spence was just now down on Earth for several months. In and out of security. Scars in roughly the right places or not, he is not the man they want me to find.
But perhaps I'll send a picture back to Toronto, with a request to check with the military people. Just to be sure. Maybe ask for a post-scarring picture of General Murphy. And ask if perhaps they're chasing a chance resemblance in an ordinary hard working asteroid miner.
Chapter Station Zero
Docking at station Zero was . . . interesting. The docking tubes were easily double the length of Station Fifteen’s and sprouted wildly in all directions. Spence and Dee eased the two ships in gently to close in spots.
“Don’t tell me you pay for upscale parking spaces.” Gerald tried to unknot his fists.
Dee giggled. “No, it’s more a matter of only letting the experienced pilots get into the maze. Not that Spence doesn’t prefer a bit less congestion but he knows there’ll be a bit of hooprah about rescuing the gals.”
“Oh.” Of course. The whores are home.
Two little taps on maneuvering jets and they were stationary to a dock.
“Dee, there are men outside . . .”
“Yeah, we blew our docking points at Fifteen. This’ll just take a minute.”
“Blew . . . oh. I suppose they attacked the Greyhound as soon as we were out of sight?” Gerald drifted up to the clear overhead to look around while they were stationary . . . Funny, the hull’s white . . . must have been out of the sun . . . except . . .
“Yep, so I flew away while Spence jumped to the outside of the station.”
Why didn’t the station act like they could see it.
Cody grinned. “It was scary . . . but neat, watching Dad and Spence just jumping across to the ship. With corpses for steering.”
“Ick.” Fawn sat in the co pilot’s seat, staring up at the all the tubes and docks.
And . . . Dee had to be closer to accurately aim that laser . . . So Spence isn’t being straight with me . . .
A chuckle from the radio. “How far did he jump this time?”
“Close to six hundred meters. I really thought I’d have to slide in and pick them up.” Dee shrugged. “Although Mrs. Fallon did get some piloting lessons on the way out here.”
“The whole family did.” Gerald put in. Spence . . . Taught us, argued with us, rescued us . . .
“We were trying to figure out how to when you got there. That rope trick was neat.”
I hope to hell I never have to try to arrest him.
From the radio, “You’re good, Greyhound. Cleared to dock. And welcome home, Dee.”
As the ship rotated a bit, Gerald grabbed a handhold. He could see the other ship kissing up to a nearby dock. “The pirate ship’s in.”
Two little puffs and they touched the dock and were latched in place.
And on the other side of the airlock, it was party time. A cheering crowd was handing the poor rescued women down the tube . . . with surprisingly little groping.
Most of the party followed the women, leaving Spence and a dozen other people.
Gerald did a quick assessment. Eight men, six very fit, two older portly types. Four women, two older and two younger—more prostitutes—who were hugging Dee, and hauling her off after the party.
The fit men were glaring at Spence.
Gerald caught a “ . . . know better than to tackle Fifteen by yourself!”
Lots of nods.
Are these the Sliders that Mayor Morgan thinks follow Spence? The vigilantes?
“Mitch, did you find anything like I suggested?”
“Sure, no sweat, but . . . a Marshal’s office? Here?”
Gerald shoved off carefully and managed a reasonable stop near the group that rearranged itself to check him out.
“Marshal Fallon, may I introduce Tia Herron, the mayor. John Mitchell—Mitch is a real estate agent, or as close as we get, here.”
“Mayor Herron, a pleasure. Mr. Mitchell . . .”
One of the fit men snorted. “Such good manners! I’m Will, that’s Perez, Phil, Robert, Gonzo and Pete. The old dude is Leon, and this is Reatha. We can fill in the details when you’re settled.” He looked beyond Gerald, and shook his head. “I thought Spence was kidding when he said you’d brought your family.”
Gerald grit his teeth. “Now that I’m out here, I agree with him. I was insanely naïve.”
“Heh.” Reatha floated past him. Chubby, a few wrinkles, gray streaks in her hair, no makeup. “I approve. We really ought to import more nice normal families. Welcome to Station Zero. I’m Reatha Bonilla.”
“Gerald Fallon. My wife Sarah, and our children Fawn and Cody.”
Reatha gathered them all up and got them moving down the tube. Behind him, Gerald spotted Spence following him, still surrounded by the fit types.
“We were a week away! And that was with blowing fuel and hoping for the best!”
“Hey, I had a Federal Marshal for backup! He’d almost gotten himself out of City Hall by the time I got back there after getting the rest of them into a ship—oh hey, did I mention they killed Delilah?”
“Whoa! Good riddance!”
Gerald left Spence to his friends and turned his attention back to business as they crossed the hub and crowded into an elevator.
Station Zero was laid out much like Fifteen, no surprise, as they were built to the same plans. But where Fifteen had aped a nice urban street, Zero was . . . untidy.
“We call the first level the Bazaar.” Mayor Herron waved at the bustling street of small shops and restaurants. Work shops; advertising mining equipment, custom skinsuits, and photovoltaics. And as they walked spinward, bars got more frequent, and a few places Gerald feared might be brothels.
Where they caught up with the street party.
The five women were telling every one about it, laughing, now.
They know they’re safe. How the hell did this place get such a bad reputation?
Dee wiggled out of the crowd, a couple of other kids in tow. “. . . and these are the Fallons. Fawn and Cody. Guys, these are Lati, Cleo and Van. Now that I’m back and you’re here, the local kid pack is up to fifteen.”
The stringy Black girl laughed. “You’re practically too old to count any more.”
“Hey! I’m only eighteen!”
“Old, old, old!” The six kids all eased to the side, giggling.
Good. The kids will have friends.
But fifteen? Fifteen kids, including mine, on the whole station? Not that they need to be a self-sustaining population, but . . . But nothing. Half the women on the station are probably pros, a lot of them are old . . . and then there’s radiation, especially effecting men who spend a lot of time in—and out—of spaceships. The stations have good shielding, but it takes two . . .
Gerald looked back at the mayor. “So, what’s the population of Zero, now?”
Tia Herron shrugged. “How do you count the miners who stop in for a few weeks then leave for a few months? Or years? I figure five thousand, mostly full time, and ten times that in transients.”
“And not many families, I take it?” Gerald looked over to where Sarah and Reatha were talking and pointing.
“No. Oh, plenty of married couples, but space just isn’t very child safe. Mind you, everyone on the station watches out for the kids. But most of their mothers’ are prostitutes, and generally have no idea who the fathers are.” She raised up on her toes and failed to look over the crowd.
“Well, down there you see the brown building that goes all the way to the overhead? They’ve got the same space on all three levels. Very nice restaurant on the second level, the Just Desserts. You should try it. There are apartments above it, and up here. That’s where Spence and his friends keep rooms. They’ve got their own repair shops on the third level. But you won’t get past the restaurant without Spence’s letting you in.”
“I only saw six men.”
“Oh, there’s a couple hundred of them, but they tend to be out catching asteroids, not lolling around here. Those six? They were close enough to head for Station Fifteen when the news about the pirate raid broke. Some other fellows headed for Ceres.” The Mayor shrugged. “Luckily Spence was where he could jump in quickly, before they split the women up and we had to track them down one by one.”
She waved around at the crowd. “I say we, but we don’t have a fleet to take down the pirates properly. We’re mostly just regular folk. Well, up on this level, as you see, it’s, well . . .”
“A busy little town?” Gerald watched her brows rise.
“I was trying to find a way to politely say, the red light district. Beyond the curve there are more shops, then a lot of apartments and so forth.”
The Mayor shrugged. “If it weren’t for the party, I’d have taken you straight to the second level. That’s mostly resource company offices and homes. Nice big stores and restaurants. Mitch says Spence radioed him to find you and your family a good home there—no problem, there are three empty right now—and a store front for the Marshal’s office.”
She eyed Gerald dubiously. “You do realize that the Federation of North American States just barely has any authority out here, right?”
“We have authority over our citizens, space habitats owned by American companies, and ships registered in North America.”
“According to the United Nations. Out here? Who cares? All they—the UN and the FNAS—do is talk and point and spend money on studies. Not a penny of which is spent out here. Not a researcher of whom comes out and studies anything. ‘Too far away. Takes too long to get there and back.’ Huh.” The old woman eyed him. “You’re on your own out here, and the only thing you’ve got going for you is that Spence likes you, and God help us, thinks we ought to have a marshal out here.”
Gerald nodded. Just rode into town in my white hat, and probably eighty percent of the people here would just as soon throw me out. I really need to sit down with Spence and his friends and prioritize the big problems.
“So . . . what about all this?” The mayor waved at the happy, and probably half drunk, crowd.
“It’s a local problem—if it’s a problem at all. I’m here to address some larger issues. Piracy and kidnapping are at the top of my list.”
Gerald turned to find Mitch behind him, Sarah and the kids beyond.
“But first why don’t we drop down to the second level and I’ll show you some homes.”
The next opening to the other levels had an actual staircase.
“You just have to watch your step over the big break where the seal slides across.” Mitch paused to make sure they all handled the big step then led on downward. The stairs ended at a long sidewalk curving out of sight both directions.
What he would have called townhouses lined the outside of the walk, the other side was a railed drop . . . he glanced over, then leaned for a good look.
“So . . . this level is split into three floors, for housing?” Makes sense. The tube cross-section is sixty-five meters . . . over two hundred feet, as my granny would say. Insulation and shielding, three levels of twenty meters. So these three floors are around six meters, plenty tall enough for two story homes.
“About half the level. Some of the first companies here built deck to overhead.” Mitch shrugged. “It saved us from conformity and boring vistas of similarity.”
Sarah paused to admire the landscaping in one tiny front garden. “Doesn’t a FedState company own the station? I remember the government privatized it.”
“The Omen Off Planet Society for Investment and Exploration—OOPSIE—bought it. They’re a registered FSNA company. Privately held by a bunch of asteroid miners.” Mayor Heron cleared her throat. “Probably Spence and his friends, but when anyone asks they just shrug and say they’ve got a few shares.”
Gerald paused. “All right. I got the impression Spence wasn’t hurting for money. But how badly did I underestimate that?”
“Oh, Spence. Who knows?” Reatha chuckled. “The man doesn’t talk about himself. He just keeps on mining.”
Mitch turned into the next doorway. “This is the first of the vacant houses . . .”