They both perked up at that.
Short on cash.
They swapped glances and the one on the right nodded. “Sure. I’m Mark and this is my brother Jason. So, have you been mining long?”
“Yeah, umm . . .” Crap how long since the last name change? “Fifteen years, now.”
Jason looked horrified. “And you’re not rich yet?”
Spike laughed. “Yes, but you know how it is. ‘One more year and I’ll be really rich. Then I’ll retire.’ I’ve been playing that game for ten years now. If I ever do quit, I’ll be living high, downstairs.” He headed out, and turned spinward.
“Huh, so it took you five years to get marginally rich?” Jason was more thoughtful.
“About that. It depends on what you find. Not very many people find a hot rock right off the bat. Your best bet is a slow traverse out from here, then back . . . uh, you want to watch out for Station Fifteen, but if you head out angled down or up on the ecliptic, you should be far enough way from them to not attract pirates.”
“Really?” Mark snorted. “Like I believe in pirates? That shuttle? They just snatched a couple of cargo containers and ran off with a couple of whores. I mean, they let the whores go. Probably didn’t pay them, but who cares? They’re back here safe and sound.”
Spike shook his head. “Still kidnapping and rape. Doesn’t matter what their jobs are. You two look pretty sensible . . . so I probably don’t have to point out there aren’t many kids out here, so we value them and protect them.”
Double snorts. “Whores bastards, I suppose?”
Mark again. I suspect I’ll be trying to beat some sense into his head, sooner rather than later.
“Some are, some aren’t. Doesn’t matter. We watch out for them.” Spike nodded across the center hall. “Chong’s Chow. Second best restaurant in the station.”
Jason’s frown was aimed the other way. “What’s that big brown building? There’s no sign on it.”
“Apartments for rich miners. Instead of a hotel room for a week, they rent a small efficiency apartment so they can leave extra stuff behind. Dress clothes and so forth. There’s several others, that one’s just the snobbiest.” Spike led them into the restaurant.
“Umm, spells good in here. I’m surprised we couldn’t small it outside.” Jason looked around. “Not bad.”
“They run the air through filters, and exhaust it up high. So the air flow is in through the front door. Air quality is a big deal, on a station.”
Yikes! Greener than I thought.
A grandson of the original owners led them to a table off to one side, and handed out menus.
“We’ll start with a bo bo tray for three.” Spike sat down and opened the menu. “Man I haven’t been back for six months. Guess I’ll start with my favorite.”
A waiter, an older man, also oriental, brought water, flatware. “Spike, long time.”
“Barry, you quit mining?”
Big grin. “I went downstairs for a year, came back with a bride. I think I’ll stick close to home for awhile.”
“Really? How’d I miss hearing about all this? Congratulations, you lucky dog!”
“Oh, no luck! I planned ahead. Four iceteroids, on the right course and you can get going pretty damn fast. Refuel, and go again. We got back almost six months ago.”
“Huh . . . Now I’m going to have to think about this . . .”
Barry held up a warning finger. “First you make friends online. Then you go downstairs and meet them in the flesh. Now, you want General Tso’s Chicken? And these gentlemen?”
The younger Chong was seating people behind him. Spike glanced over his shoulder and blinked in surprise.
An actual family! Husband, wife, three kids, preteen through preadult. Damn. Things really have changed around here. Maybe the Old Man is right, and we’re to the point of being a civilization instead of a frontier.
He turned back to the brothers. “So . . . tell me about this Marshal person.”
They swapped grins.
“Total hard ass. Looking down his nose at every little thing. I thought he wanted to start writing tickets.”
Mark nodded. “Totally pig ignorant, had to get lessons—I mean, the basics—in space craft and maneuvering. Not that we didn’t pick up some pointers ourselves, and we got a different autopilot for the ship based on the recommendations of the experienced miners. But holy cats, that man didn’t know anything!”
Their eyes flicked back behind him.
Oh, surely that father back there isn’t the marshal! No one would bring his family all the way out here for a dirty, unappreciated job!
Except the way they’re smirking, he must be.
Spike sat back and ate in silence, and learned a great deal—about the Faulkner brothers.
The Chinese restaurant Dee led the family to looked so normal it nearly brought tears to his eyes. All Oriental staff, most with a strong family resemblance. Goldfish in a pond, for heaven’s sake!
Gerald deliberately failed to notice the Faulkner boys sitting at the next table, eating with a stranger. Late thirties, early forties, fit, short blonde hair.
He mentally cursed his police brain for its automatic classification, and sat with his back to them.
“So . . . tell me about this marshal person.”
Gerald stiffened. Dee was pecking at her comp . . . passed it around the table.
Spike is a friend of Spence’s. Don’t worry, he knows idiots when he’s pumping them for information. And he knows how to judge the accuracy of the information.
Gerald blinked. So another of Spence’s fit young men. I need to figure out how to get more information about his associates without starting a witch hunt right here. He decided to concentrate on the food, starting with these excellent egg rolls and perhaps meet this “Spike” later.
Gonzo and Pete are nice young men. Maybe that’s all this one is too.
“So how’s school?” He turned his attention to the kids.
“Different. I mean, fourteen kids in two classes.” Fawn perked up. “I’m doing the high school junior level with Lati and Cleo’s doing freshman.”
“Me and Van are seventh grade.” Cody shrugged. “Then some other kids are upper grade school.”
Fawn nodded. “And the other class is, like, daycare through about second grade. I think there’s six of them. We get canned lectures, then interactive homework, and when we’ve got it, we go right on to the next lesson. One class in the morning, one in the afternoon. History and math, this six weeks. Science and English next cycle.”
Sarah nodded. “Dee and I dropped in, it’s nice and quiet, the kids working away. Flo’s volunteers surprised me a bit. More old men. They’re on the edge of a demographic cliff. Those five thousand permanent residents? Half of them are retired miners, who’d rather stay out here until they die, rather than return to Earth.”
Dee nodded. “All their friends are here, and if they have any family, well, most of them haven’t seen them in twenty or thirty years.”
Sarah nodded. “So I heard. Does Spence have family back on Earth?”
Dee shook her head. “He says he had some cousins and they probably had kids, but he doesn’t know them, even to email them.”
Gerald gritted his teeth and tried to ignore a slightly exaggerated version of his first attempt to harpoon a container. “I suppose that’s pretty standard for a frontier. Too bad, that families can’t follow their men out here.”
Dee nodded. “Growing up out here, I guess I never thought about how dangerous it is. For me, it’s just the way the world works.”
Behind him . . . “And he had to burn fuel like you wouldn’t believe to get back to Gany.”
Gerald sighed. “Well, I had a thrilling day reading reports and sending off demands for more reports to read. Chatted with the mayor and met a couple of the traffic control people. I think what I need to do tomorrow is take a hike around level three and check out the industrial side of things.”
Behind him, chairs scrapped. And as the Flanigan boys walked past their table, “Oh, speak of the devil, here’s Marshal Fallon in person.” Mark walked off with a snarky grin, Jason following.
Spike, far from being embarrassed, just grinned and held out his hand. “John Peabody, please call me Spike.”
“Gerald Fallon. My wife Sarah, and kids, Fawn and Cody. I believe you know my secretary, Dee Spencer.”
Spike froze starring at Dee. Then shook himself a little, shook his head. “Nope. Dee is this cute little black-haired girl about yay so high . . .” He held his hand out about waist high.
“Spiiiiike! Just because I’ve been gone for almost four years . . .”
“Huh. Sounds a little bit like Dee.” He peered suspiciously . . . “I suppose you might be her.”
“Want me to kick your ankle again?”
“Dee! It is you! Welcome home!”
De was giggling by then. “I should never have told the Marshal you probably knew all about what those idiots were doing.”
“Yeah, green and stupid. But it was entertaining. However, I’ll let you all finish your dinners, and perhaps stop by your office tomorrow.” He flashed a smile around the table. “A pleasure to meet you all.”
Gerald sat down.
Fawn nudged Dee. “Oooo! He’s Cute!”
Dee grinned. “Yeah, I had a massive crush on him when I was thirteen . . . He looks kind of old now. I’ll have to look for a new crush to gaze worshipfully at, and be too shy to say anything too.”
Fawn widened her eyes, all innocence. “Mark or Jason?”
“Ewww! Nope, nope, nope!”
“Girls . . .” Sarah’s glare had them giggling, but dropping the subject.
Oh Dear God! Fawn’s sixteen. No boys here age in school, just a few new miners, some young enough to be interesting.
And Spence’s Sliders.
I need to research them. Fast.