Quick wits and loyalty confront high-tech crime in space
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Richard Abbott

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Extract from Far from the Spaceports

I tucked in to the landing pattern at Hugh Town, St Mary’s, just the way the groundstation control system told me. Naturally none of it was my own work, though I reckon I could have done a fair job if they’d let me. But no, the Ziggurat class persona at the port talked with Slate, the Stele loaded in to my spaceship, and it was all done properly. By the book.

I unbuckled, and waited while the two machines chattered for a while – a few nanos of content, a handful of bits of payment, and a gazillion security protocol bytes surrounding both of these. It didn’t take long, not really. Not when you reckoned it against a few weeks of low-gravity transfer.

My shore bag was ready. I grinned while I waited, having all the usual thoughts. If I closed my eyes to the look of the spaceport, my ears to the mechanical hum of the ship, and my memory to the stark vacuum of the asteroid, I could be a traveller from any age of Earth’s history, waiting to be allowed to set foot in a new port. Always the wait at the end of the trip.

The Ziggurat was satisfied with what it found out, and sent out one of the bubble cars from the dome. The click as the car interlocked resounded through the whole of my sloop, the Harbour Porpoise. It was designed to be excessively loud – you really wanted to know that a proper connection had been made, when there was all that airlessness just outside. No matter what your onboard Stele told you, or the groundstation Ziggurat confirmed, there was nothing like a satisfying metallic clank to reassure you.

Some people I knew still wore a suit for the bubble car ride.But you got derisive looks from the porters, and it wasn’t the image I wanted them to see. I left my suit and lid fastened in their clips, slung the shore bag over my shoulder, and cycled through into the bubble just in street clothes.

The car whined a little as it disengaged and started to trundle back to the dome. Electric then, standard model, probably older than I was.It looked weary, patched here and there, well serviced but with generic components that would have long since invalidated the warranty. Getting new equipment out here must be a slow task.

The bubble top was clear to space. I liked it, but at a guess, a lot of newcomers dialled the opacity right up to max to shut all that emptiness out. Instead, I leaned back to get a sense of where I was. Not that the naked eye could do much. The inner system was behind the bulk of St Mary’s just now, and a whole lot of stars don’t really tell you much without ephemeris software. Once upon a time old sages knew how to navigate around their land, just by looking at a couple of dozen of the brightest stars, but that sort of thing belongs in a virtual world now. I called to my Stele for some assistance.

“Slate, overlay the display with something that helps me, please.”

Slate did some negotiation with the car, and after a short pause the inner surface of the bubble showed some enhancement overlays. The rest of the Scilly Isles showed up in a loose oval from near the zenith down towards the conventional-north axis, coloured ovals indicating relative size, with handy data tags telling me things like distance, available resources, and what were euphemistically called “tourist attractions”.

St Agnes was closest, and also lowest over the horizon from here. St Martin’s was up near the zenith, with Tresco, Bryher and Samson in between, and a whole slew of smaller rocks scattered here and there.

The Scilly Isles were a close gaggle of asteroids in matched solar orbit, slightly further out into the cold than Ceres, and detached by a fair bit of angular separation. Some lonely explorer with an eye for detail had called them that when he first prospected, but I guess the planetary reference from the old home went right past most people.

The early settlers out here, on the other hand, had been wildly enthusiastic about the name, and proceeded to make as many connections as they could. Settlements on the different rocks were named after the old towns, landmarks were identified, and so on. Even the furthest nav beacon stationed towards the inner system had been called the Bishop Rock. Slate had used it in the early stages of approach.

The islanders had rapidly become passionate about their new homes, and almost everything that could be found back off the Cornish coast had its mirror image. In the early years, the asteroids had attracted a disproportionate number of former United Kingdom residents. So where some of the domes had a high ratio of emigrants from America or China, the Scilly Isles had kept a British feel, reflected in the special interest meetup groups advertising themselves in the islands’ media outlets. I would fit right in.

It was time to play the role I had chosen as cover.

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