“So, may I invite your family to dinner at the Just Desserts?”
The Just Desserts was a nice place. Not crystal-and-silver fine dining, but table cloths and fancy folded cloth napkins, an extensive menu, imported meat from Earth, fresh fruit and vegetables from the farm asteroids.
The waiters, on the other hand were a bit eccentric—old men, with limps, missing limbs, a few breathing masks.
“This is a bit . . . transitional. When miners get too old to go out, and no reason to go home. They work in stores, restaurants, sometimes open their own. Some go back to Earth, but very few of us have any roots there, anymore.” Spence grinned and ordered wine. “Upstairs we’ve got a skilled nursing home on two floors. All us old miners are . . . getting old.”
“Ha! Don’t listen to him.” The waiter stuck his nose in the air and presented the wine. At Spence’s nod he twirled his corkscrew and poured for Spence.
Spence played along, smelling and tasting.
“He’s a young punk, among us abandoned.”
Spence just held out his glass. “Fill’er up, Hask, if you must ruin my reputation.”
It was good wine.
Sarah sipped. “Umm, yes. What did he say about the abandoned?”
“That’s what we call ourselves. When the World Council quit building and abandoned the Stations project, abandoned the stations. Those of us who were out here then felt like we’d been abandoned too.” He shrugged. “We’d seen it coming. We had enough farms, enough manufacturing capacity to carry on. Meh. It’s old history. We moved into the stations, finished them ourselves in two cases, and made them home. The name stuck.”
“I thought that was seventy-five years ago?” Sarah eyed him. “You’re much to young for that.”
Spence shook his head. “That when they stopped the Station project. They kept up a show of being available, of being in control, shipped out supplies, ferried people. I started out in orbital construction, then came out . . . oh, just a few years before they admitted that the fleet wasn’t ever coming back. There was a period of pretty tight supplies, the pirate raids switched from grabbing incoming tech shipment to raiding the farms. We had to guard them, while still doing enough mining to afford shipments of things we couldn’t grow or build ourselves.”
“What about Gany?” Cody broke his silence.
“It was one of the first large asteroids mined. With poor results. It’s just a big ordinary rock. It was private from the start, and never completely abandoned. They just kept tunneling through it, digging out their equatorial city. One huge supply run every 4.35 years. In between, we had to be very close to self sufficient.”
You’re getting too chatty, too trusting, Spence. The abandonment was at the desperate level seventy-five years ago . . . twenty-one years before your papers say you were born.
Hask is too young to have been out here, seventy-five years ago.
So how does this fit with what I’ve been told?
A couple of hundred soldiers with experimental treatments to repair radiation damage and not lose calcium from the bones? Imprisoned for war crimes. The perfect construction crew. And I can believe they were abandoned to stave or asphyxiate when the fleet left.
Did those experimental treatments extended their lives?
Maybe. But they aren’t immortal.
Or . . . not all of them.
“Mrs. Johnson wants me to read up on the history of the asteroid belt.”
Gerald looked over as Cody set his little comp on their new dining room table.
“Me too.” Fawn slid into a seat. “Did you know the old United States, like fifty years before they joined with Canada and Mexico to for the Federated States, was exploring the asteroids? And they did some experimental stuff out here, way back then.”
“Mrs. Johnson says it’s just a myth that the USA was testing a Faster Than Light Spaceship out here.” Cody looked glum.
“A hundred years ago?” Gerald shook his head. “Nope. If there’d been any such thing, it would have been improved and be working by now.” Surely those early explorers weren’t . . . General Murphy’s enhanced troops.
Maybe I’d better study some history myself.
He started the next morning, with a skeleton outline.
Then started adding dates from his information packet.
2089- John “Jack” Murphy born.
2111- First manned asteroid mission, sample returns and a hands on survey of Ceres, with deep drilling.
2119- The five year long Asteroid Survey by the USSS Deep Explorer. Crew of 10 space marines led by Captain J.G. Murphy. 20 civilian scientists.
2134- Rumors of USSS secret projects in the belt.
2140- Mining expedition to Ganymed is a commercial failure, but the crew is committed to a 4.35 year mission. At the far end of its orbit, they capture numerous small asteroids that contain extremely valuable ores. The Rush is on. And short lived, as the expense, and isolation send the survivors back to Earth.
2142- USA, Canada, Mexico join in a Federation.
2149- The World Council ratifies a plan to place a space station every 15° around the whole belt.
2160- General Murphy and his specialist company found guilty of war crimes on Earth.
2179- World Council officially defunds the Asteroid Belt ring of 24 Stations, with only six built and none occupied.
2203- Harold John Spencer born
2257- The first federal Marshal to the Asteroid Belt turns into a gibbering wreck and tries to hide under his bed.
“At least I know that last is true.” Gerald growled. “And I know Spence has to be a lot older than he looks. So . . . is he The Old Man himself, or is he the youngest of Murphy’s company?”