It was more spacious that he’d expected. Big kitchen, dining room, and living room downstairs, with a patio “outside” through sliding glass doors.
“Some folks landscape, some folks are gone for such long stretches they don’t bother.”
Sarah swooped around the kitchen, nodded approvingly and headed up the stairs. Two bedrooms and a bathroom in front, windows overlooking the street, master suite in the back, looking at the wall of the station six meters away.
“There’s not much difference in the rest of the houses.” Mitch looked around. “One of them has the master in front, the other two rooms in the back.”
Gerald thought about possible attacks . . . shooting up the cop’s house . . . “Let’s go take a look at that one.”
It was further around the wheel, down one floor and through an airlocked divider.
And it had a tree.
“A live oak? It’s going to get kind of big, isn’t it?”
“If it survives.”
A dark head poked up over the fence. “Hello? Reatha, is that you? Oh, hi Mitch, Tia. Don’t worry about the tree, I’ve been squirting water over the fence for months.” She eyed the new comers.
Reatha snorted. “This is the Federal Marshal everyone’s heard about. And family. Mrs. Johnson and her husband work for NorWest Metals.”
“We’ve been out here for a year now, not counting the eight month trip. Such a relief to get off that wretched ore hauler!”
Sarah walked over. “We came out on Ganymed, which took over a year, even for the small part of the orbit we were onboard. Then another two months on the Greyhound.”
“Whoa, you flew with Harold Spencer? Umm, I’m Florance. Flo.”
“I’m Sarah.” She waved back at the group. “My husband Gerald, and the kids are Cody and Fern. Howdy, neighbor. Gerald? We’ll take this one.”
Flo laughed. “So these are the new students I was told about. Mind you, it all canned lessons, but four of us run the school, to answer questions, and one-on-one tutoring when needed. Day care for the youngest, including an all night nursery.” She cleared her throat. “Since their mothers work nights.”
“Umm . . . I take it they dim the lights? On Gany it was for six hours out of twenty-four.”
“Yep. With an hour for gradual lightening and darkening at either end.”
Mitch poked at his computer, turned it to show. “This is the rent. Is the government paying for it? They can pay the Earth-side bank, no problem. And the office I thought might work is just spinward and down on the bottom floor . . .”
Gerald bit his lip. “How secure is it?”
“Very. The first tenant was a buyer of very rare elements, the whole back third is built like a bank vault.”
“Well . . . let’s take a look.”
It was right outside the elevators and airlocks area. Down from what Mitch admitted was the worst part of the Bazaar.
“Never hurts to have a police station between the drunken miners and the more civilized people.”
The office sported bullet proof plex windows and thick walls. A heavy door, triple locks. Reception, a hallway with three offices on each side, bathroom and storage, and a false wall concealing the vault door.
I won’t have to worry about someone stealing all the weapons and ammo.
“I’ll take it.” Gerald eyed the inside controls on the door. Pretty standard, easy enough to program. “I’m surprised they left the furniture.”
“About four tenants ago we just kept the furniture for back rent, and so far, everyone’s been happy to rent it as is.” Mitched raised his eyebrows.
Gerald nodded. “I’m happy. Now let’s see if I can program the vault lock . . .”
An hour later all their boxes and crates started showing up at their door, one cart at a time, with willing helpers—Gonzo and Pete—to haul it wherever they wanted.
“Spence said you might want those two heavy crates down at the office?”
“Yeah, I’ll stick them straight in the vault, and then I’ll find out if I’ve properly programmed the door.”
Double grins. “We’ll bring them down next. Give us half an hour.”
And, of course, a trip to the furniture store, for the house.
Dee showed up with the plants, grinning. “I knew you guys would like it here. I didn’t have to hold your hands a single time.”
Yeah. This is what I was expecting when we got to Ceres. I think my first job is going to have to be rereading all the reports and orders I was given . . . this time with my eyes open, and a very large dose of skepticism.
Chapter Tedious Paperwork
“Bye Honey. I’m off to the office.” Gerald hefted a box with all his com gear. “I’m not sure I can deal with so much normalcy.”
Sarah chuckled. “Have a nice day, dear. I’m going to check out this school of Flo’s then do a bit more shopping.” She gave him a peck on the cheek and held the door so he could make it out without dropping either the box or his briefcase.
The office was deathly quiet and promptly made him nervous.
And he had a backlog of mail.
Demands from his boss to report.
Demands from his boss’s boss to do something about this pirate attack on a shuttle between stations.
A query from Space Command about whether he needed assistance.
And most recently, wanting an on-the-spot report on the pirate raid on Station Fifteen that left six dead and dozen wounded and damaged the station’s docking facilities.
And asking if the person he’d requested information on was involved.
“Oh . . . isn’t this just going to be an interesting . . .” He started at a knock on his door. He looked out. Dee waved through the window.
He unlocked the door. No sign of Spence. “Come on in, what’s up?”
“Spence said I should ask if you need a secretary/receptionist/girl friday. And tell you that the pirate ship was owned by a guy who had come to Zero regularly, until a year and a half ago. And Keri and Mona both said they didn’t see him among the pirates or on Fifteen.”
“So they probably killed him and took his ship. I see. And you want a job? Not going to go off mining?”
“Well . . . I have friends here, I’m grown up and can take care of myself. And . . . I think I’d like to enjoy having friends again for awhile longer.”
“Well, I don’t know if I can offer you long term employment, but I do need a receptionist, and someone to figure out how to figure out what miners haven’t been seen anywhere for . . . a worrisome amount of time.”
Dee’s eyes lit up. “I’ll check the docking records. Here, it’ll be easy. Then I can see if the other stations will dump their records to me. Well, not Fifteen, obviously.”
“Indeed. Dee . . . if you see Spence, tell him I’d like his advice on something this afternoon.” Gerald left her setting up her computer in the outer office and retreated to write . . . something . . . to his various superiors.
“Station Fifteen has been taken over by the pirates?” Spence looked at him for a long moment. “You found the kidnapped women and were able to retrieve them, but the majority of the people on Fifteen are too frightened to resist. The reported deaths were pirates killed as you departed with the rescued women, and the docking facilities were damaged when a mining laser detonated a missile they were preparing to fire at you.”
“I am attempting to not tell them the report they gave me was a total farce, completely inaccurate. Dangerously inaccurate. I have no idea if there are any people on Fifteen who are innocent . . .” He looked at Spence, who shrugged. “But if they move the fleet out there . . .”
“You’d rather they didn’t just hole the station, and kill everyone.”
Spence looked back at the letter. “And you suspect Ceres may be under the pirate’s thumb as well. Heh. I know they are. And there’s that gaping hole in the report.”
“Yes. Do you want me to mention you?”
“No . . . or . . . could it be useful?” Spence stared at the screen, but didn’t seem to be focusing.
“I regret that I asked my office to run your name and ID.”
“Doesn’t really matter. But it may have caught the attention of UN Space Command. They’ve got a bloody fleet, but they never do much. Traffic control, rescues if they’re close enough. ‘War games off Mars,’ just now. They’re actually pretty close.”
“We could use their help.” Gerald eyed the man. “What are you thinking?”
“I’m being paranoid. I’m wondering if they’re fishing for a good sounding reason to move in, out here. And whether they’re planning on staying.”
“You think they want to bring the Asteroid Belt under United Nation’s control?”
“We’re rich. I don’t know why they think they could tax us any more than they already tax the materials we send to Earth, but they may be ready to try.” Spence leaned back and eyed him. “What if you told them that Spencer person delivered you to Fifteen, where you found the pirates in control, using the names of the genuine leaders of Station Fifteen to maintain an appearance of normalcy. And that Harold Spencer was definitely well known to them. Say that you don’t know if he’s still there. Or hint if you don’t want to outright lie.”
“You want to see what the fleet is going to do.” Gerald stood up and paced. “If they’ve got a plan to take over the belt . . . shit, nothing we say will matter. They just want a reason that will play well in the news.”
“Spoken like a true Belter.”
“No, spoken like a NorAm who’s seen the UN in action, and . . . doesn’t trust them to not endanger everyone.” Gerald scowled. “I’m definitely going to aim them at Ceres. In fact I should check them out myself. If that pirate ship is stolen, I could . . .”
“Now you’re trying to get yourself killed. I’ll take you.” Spence cleared his throat. “Don’t forget to add to your report that you very clearly heard me say ‘And from Station Fifteen I’ll be going home to Ceres.’ Right?”
“Right. So I just have to not mention when I heard you say that.” He shook his head. “If this is all paranoia, your reputation is toast.”
“Well worth the vision I have of a thousand space marines all over Fifteen. And Ceres. Especially Ceres.” Spence grinned, then sobered. “You might mention that Zero is wholly owned by a FSNA company, but Fifteen has been sold several times and you have no idea who the legal owner is, for jurisdictional matters. Ceres, comes under UN authority, under the Dwarf Planets Accord. So there wouldn’t be any legal blowback if they sent a ship to find this Spencer person.”
“Not in my first report. Let’s be a little subtle.” Gerald started adding bits to the various missives. “I found Spencer knowledgeable and helpful. No . . . criminal type reactions or demeanor, but I did overhear him saying he was going home to Ceres.”
Gerald shrugged and sent them.