Little Tony turned away from the ship . . . and jerked to a halt, staring at Spence.
“Well, well, well. If it isn’t Captain Murphy, himself. Kill him!”
Fortunately only a few bosses and Tony’s bodyguards were armed.
Spence dived in between two men and under a third. Then out the hole, and he propelled himself along grabbing carts and flipping them up behind him . . . then there was a tangle ahead.
Confusion on his radio, then Tony’s voice, ordering his capture.
Not sure that’s not worse!
He bounced off a wall and down a side corridor, empty of people, but it curved enough to get him out of sight . . . that split in a Y intersection. He went left. Tried to estimate distances, wished for more curvature in the tunnel, not to mention people to confuse any hunters.
Ten kilometers. We tried to put in surface access every ten kilometers . . .
That ice cave was open to the surface, so we’d have gone another ten before . . .
A side tunnel ahead. He kicked off the opposite wall, crashed into the side of the side tunnel and scrambled up it . . . to a sold rock face.
He spun curled up to kick off . . . saw two figures coming at him and kicked harder.
Unfortunately, they both knew how to fight in low g.
The big one threw him up against the overhead, then grabbed his left leg. The lanky one grabbed his right arm and they stretched him between them.
“The boss wants you alive, but he didn’t say anything about uninjured.” Lanky smiled through his helmet. “So unless you like broken arms and legs more than I enjoy breaking them . . . You’re going to let us tie you up and search you.”
Yeah, dammit. I am.
Gerald found Craig Miller waiting at the door of the Marshal’s Office the next morning.
“I hope that means you’ve got some answers.”
“Heh. The time lag’s a mere twelve minutes, just now. I came close to having a conversation.” Miller followed him, and leaned on the wall while Gerald started the coffee pot. “Yes, the convict labor was about thirty percent former space marines. In fact every single one of Jack Murphy’s elite drop troops volunteered. General Murphy, himself, wasn’t allowed to go.”
“Not a surprise.”
“And later they found out the guy they had wasn’t him. That man had gotten his facial scars in an orbital accident two years before the Lena Valley Drop. The apparent mental issues, the docs say are typical of brain damage from high fever and meningitis.”
Gerald thought that over. “So they carved up General Murphy to match, and swapped them. When did the other guy get meningitis? I thought they were arrested right after the massacre?”
“Apparently there was a delay in them getting home, during which he became ill.” Miller shrugged. “They said they’d look for details.”
“And the MET1 versions?”
“Several different experimental versions were in use, early on. Lieutenant John G. Murphy was one of the crew in the first manned mission to the asteroid belt. That crew all received one version. The second mission, all ten crew—what we’d call spacers now—and all twenty scientists—NASA trained and experienced in LEO work—received an improved version of MET1.”
Miller took the mug of coffee Gerald offered, waved away the pods of cream and sugar. “The huge third mission, everyone—NASA and scientists, total of 600 people—got yet another version of MET1.”
They settled down at Gerald desk.
“My contact reports that some life extension effects have been seen, and are subject to a major research efforts among the phama companies. Life expectancy roughly doubled. Those six hundred, that they can find, failing accidents, murder and suicide, lived around a hundred and fifty years, with some still alive but very decrepit. What he said fits in with those old men we met two days ago, being the original NASA crew, most of whom wound up as Murphy’s Drop Company One.”
“Right. So the insular group of asteroid miners I’ve wondered about are probably General Murphy’s marines and, god help me, also highly trained NASA crew, that is to say, smart, well educated, and experienced.” Gerald leaned back to think that over.
“Yeah, and Murphy? I understand he got called ‘Jack’ because he could do anything, pilot, engineer for the ship engines, equipment, plumbing, electrical . . .”
“Jack of all trades, and master of none?”
Miller snorted. “Except he was an expert at several, and my contact got the distinct impression that during that third trip they kept sending him away because he rubbed some of the scientists wrong, analyzing things before they did. At which point my contact got really sparse with details. So I asked him what they’d found on Ceres. And he told me to not exhibit any curiosity that direction.”
“I see. Now about that second mission . . . are any of them still alive?”
“The entire crew was in the Drop Company. They all volunteered—except Murphy, himself—for the station labor. The scientists?” Miller frowned. “Some have dropped out of sight, some suffered accidents, suicide . . . my contact said none of them are known to have died of old age. And that they looked remarkably young when they died, or were last seen.”
“And my insular group of asteroid miners includes eight people who look young and get treated like they’re the bosses.” Gerald brought up several picture of Spence and sat back to watch Miller’s expression.
The Intel Officer paled, intent on the photos. “I think that’s him.”
Gerald clicked to replay a comm from back on Gany. Felt a twinge of guilt at the sound of his voice.
Dammit, the man saved us. He saw us diving straight into trouble and made sure he was placed to help. Rescuing those kidnapped women no doubt complicated his rescuing us, but he was on the spot because his first impulse was to save the idiot Marshal and his family.
“Is this the guy who took you to Station Fifteen, then went off to Ceres?”
“He didn’t go to Ceres. He rescued my family and the women kidnapped from the shuttle, then came back and saved my ass.” Gerald frowned across the desk. “We concocted the story that was least likely to have a belligerent fleet attacking Station Zero. Right now, he’s off to catch his mining equipment, that he abandoned while rescuing us.”
“I see . . . and the part about Station Fifteen having been taken over by pirates?”
“Again, I don’t want to see the Fleet killing civilians. I was not on Fifteen long enough to judge how many, if any innocent civilians are there. But whatever it is that’s brought the fleet out here, Ceres is where you need to look first.”
Spence watched the man pacing. Anthony Henderson, PhD Physics. Hasn’t changed much in a hundred and twenty years. Always did use the exercise machines to excess, always stayed wiry.
“It’s been too long for the electronic copies to be useful. That’s why we printed it all out, remember? Not that we thought it would take so long to get back.”
“You were back less than fifty years later!” Little Tony glared. “And don’t give me any shit about being a prisoner. I’ll bet you were in command five days after you got here.”
“Only of the workers.” The rest barely mattered. The idiots threatened to kill us if we didn’t do a good job of building what we fully expected to be our home for the rest of our lives. Although they were useful in keeping the other convicts in line.
“Heh. So where’d you put the print outs, Jack.”
“Two sets. One in a sealed crate in the ship. Top deck, forward of the hole in the top of the hull.”
The other men in the room stirred. Strangers to him, they didn’t have the look of spacers. Scientists and engineers. He’s brought them in to study, to reverse engineer, the alien ship.
The youngest of them leaned forward. “What made the hole? Heat or impact?”
Tony waved him back. “Impact, all the way from the top through the bottom. It took out most of their drive, damaged what was left behind.” His head snaked around to stare at Spence. “But you remember it all, didn’t you? You even made some replicas that could move. A clever idiot, aping his betters. The whole ship couldn’t move on electro-magnetic propulsion.”
Yeah, I love you too, Tony.
“The problem was the energy requirements.” Spence tried to keep him rational and talking. “I think the magnetic effects were either containment of controls of something else, that whole unknown that was in the ring of the EM modules.”
“Oh, you think. What you mean is that any idiot could see that whatever was in the center of the ship was punched right out the bottom of the ship.” Tony paced back and forth. “I don’t know why I’m keeping you alive. I might need you—but I can never trust you.”
Spence noticed the uneasy looks between the men watching. Why the hell didn’t he rope in any women scientists? Oh yeah, ‘women are nothing but trouble’ Tony.
“Is anyone else still alive?” Spence noted the stiffening of the man’s shoulders. “The MET1 effects were wildly variable among the crew. Hell, Haley wrinkled up and died at fifty. Half of them are dead . . . the rest are dying. 120 to 150 years looks to be the limit. You and I got multiple doses. But even so, we’re looking fiftyish. I figure fifty more years, max. Maybe less. The final decline seems to go fast.”
Little Tony sniffed. “They’re researching the effect. I only have to live long enough for the next life extension drugs to be tested.”
Spence nodded. “And the next and so forth. But you’re not out here to make money, are you?”
“Oh hell no. Not that money isn’t power, but those fools in government classified everything, they stole my fame, the discovery of a lifetime. And now? Now I’m going to tell the whole world about it. They’ll come crawling to me for scraps of knowledge, but we’ll be years ahead of them.” He showed his teeth, and looked back at the scientists. “We’ll be the experts, right?”
They look a bit nervous. Did they come willingly or not? And have they noticed he’s a bit cracked? Very ruthless?
“But are they going to let you keep it?” Spence shivered at his grin.
“They can’t. It’ll take the fleet a year to get here, more, stupid bureaucrats and their forms and regulations and passing a budget to supply them . . . Two years is more likely.”
Spence nodded. “And by then, you hope to have a nasty surprise for them.”
“I already do. Mining lasers are so useful . . . Especially the big ones we left out here a hundred and twenty years ago, refurbished and with a better power source. And a few other toys I’ve put together over the last ten years. We’ve been busy.” A toothy grin over his shoulder. “Haven’t we boys?”
Nods, a few smirks. Jerky uncertain agreement from the youngster.
Two corrupt, two getting into it, one starting to realize this isn’t like in the movies . . . and he just might be on the wrong side.
“Toss him in the jail. We may need him, once we get more ice moved.”