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Mars prison colony 27:
Earth date 2197 315 -08:14:
Main bubble: Cargo-trap 4e: C.O. Tom Richards.
The com-link buzzed and Tom Richards answered. Part of the job required the com-link implant. It had bothered him more when he had initially heard about it than it ever had in the last twenty-eight years that it had been in.
The link consisted of a visual implant along with an aural implant. No one else could hear the low buzz and it wasn’t excessively noisy to him.
The vid-link materialized in the corner of his right side vision. Perfectly visible, but not blocking any of the screens.
“Richards,” Sims said. “I have an Intra freighter coming in about 15… Star Dancer. Captain Michael Watson: Navigator Petra Stanovich… Fed crew with their own security… Robert Baylor, likes to be called Bob… I trained with him: A by the book kind of guy, a little tight laced.” Boris Sims was the newest flight controller for the main docks at Twenty Seven. He and Richards had instantly disliked each other.
Richards wrote while he spoke. He took a lot of heat for using the write-screen instead of just typing or voice filing. Old fashioned. When he had looked into it he had been shocked to learn that very few of the new generation of C.O.’s could write. It was an old skill.
“You getting this? Uh, writing this down?” Sims chuckled.
“Uh huh, Bob Baylor… Straight laced, by the book,” Richards said deadpan. He knew that pissed Sims off and he lived to piss off Boris Simms.
“You know, you have no sense of humor,” Sims complained.
“Uh huh. Had it removed and I’ve never missed it. They popped it right out when they implanted the com link.”
“No sense of humor, but a real smart ass… Isn’t that humor?”
“Ship will be here before you are done at this rate, Boris.”
He cleared his throat. “Just making sure you’re on your game is all, Tom.”
“Well I knew about Star Dancer six months ago. You know I track it too. I have dealt with Michael Watson for nearly twenty years and every one of those trips was secured by Bob Baylor, good man; and we have Mary Ann and Julius tracking too.”
“It’s my job.” He sounded a little tight…
“Uh huh, I’m good with that… What else do I need to know? Obviously you’re routing it to my bubble or you wouldn’t be calling…. I’m locked onto it… Navigation beam is on… And … I’ve assumed control. Navigation shot it over to us… We’re good, Boris she’s coming in.”
“Maybe I’ll come down and look around,” he said.
“Clear it with the union reps,” Richards answered.
Management, and Boris was on the low end of the management scale, was never allowed to be directly involved with operations crews.
“… If you need me.” Before Richards could answer Sims broke the link.
Richards sighed. This was year twenty-eight, he had two years to go until mandatory retirement: Fifty-eight. The feds kept saying they would raise the limit to forty or even fifty years, but so far they weren’t too anxious to raise it. With the human life span hovering around one hundred and thirty years and steadily growing it didn’t make much sense to leave it so low. He keyed his com-link, selected the band and spoke.
“Star Dancer this is main cargo security chief C. O. Thomas Richards. I’ve got you locked in. Sit tight, enjoy the ride. I make it thirteen twenty-seven.” He keyed off.
“Navigation officer Petra Stanovich; Captain Michael Watson is present… Copy.”
“Uh, first time in?” Richards asked. “I know Mike’s been here about three million times.
She laughed. “Yes.”
“Never fear, Petra you’re in good hands. Let me run this down. I’m sure Mike has told you, but it’s what they pay me to do… Okay… We’re a max prison colony. That means all the hard cases; the permanents. On most colonies the inmates are used as workers, not here; except a small staff of worker inmates we shipped in to deal with the inmates directly. There is no contact at all with outsiders. It only means that you won’t have to ever wonder if the guy you are talking to is an inmate or an officer. It will always be an officer. At other colonies, max b and down that won’t be the case.
“So because of that you’ll be somewhat restricted. Mike usually hangs out with me. I don’t get many civilized visitors so if Mike hasn’t made you uncivilized by now you’re invited too. I’ll give you the ten cent tour and we have real beef. Real beer!
“Yeah, I knew that would get you. We raise the cows on the prison farm and I brew the beer myself.”
“Mike says the beer is good,” she laughed again. “Beef? He told me only synth beef.”
“Mike never lies,” He told her in a serious tone. “The beef is brand new. They decided to cut us in. Synth beef? No. I got real steaks waiting for both of you.”
“I’ll have to write that down,” Mike said.
“Richards laughed. “See you in about ten, buddy.”
“Get the beer cold too,” Mike told him.
“Don’t sweat it you’ll love Tom. He’s a good guy. I keep expecting him to be gone one of these times. It amazes me that someone of his quality would stick it out in this place,” Mike said.
“It looks stark,” Petra said.
“It is… Most of it anyhow.”
“I read about it,” Petra added after a short pause.
Mike raised his eyes.
“Before now,” she said. “I mean before I met you or knew I would someday come here. It was one of the places where they sent some twenty thousand inmates to build the infrastructure.” She looked at the stark steel panels that rose from the red dirt up the side of a rocky cliff. “Most of them died during the early stages of construction.”
Mike nodded. “I’ve read it; Tom can tell you a lot more. He was here right after stabilization. He’s one of the guys that blew the whistle.”
“That’s surprising,” Petra said. “I mean, he works for the Feds.”
“So do we,” Mike said.
“Yeah, I guess we do.”
“Hey,” Mike stepped forward and pulled her close. “Don’t worry about, Tom. Tom isn’t going to take offence at your viewpoint. He thinks the same way in many respects. Criminals have to be locked up… Some anyway: Locked up not abused.”
“It’s kind of creepy looking,” Petra said after a moment. Her eyes swept from the main screen across the huge viewing bubble.
“Tom’s area looks pretty good. We’ll skip the socialization with the rest of the base, but Tom will still give you the tour… You the tour: I’ll tag along, but I’ve had it… You’ll like it. You see the outside, but inside it isn’t close to what you would think. They have the farms. They grow all of their own food. They have hybrid animals: Cows, chickens, pigs. I can’t wait to see your face when you see them.”
“They look weird? Five eyes or something?”
“No. No five eyes. They have the right parts, but they were raised in low gravity. They are bigger than any earth counterpart you have ever seen. They have cows that stand ten foot at the shoulder. They can carry that weight easily because of the low gravity. It’s part adaption, part genetic engineering.”
She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him. “Should I… You know, act proper, military in front of Tom?”
“Act like you. Tom’s not stupid. Relationships happen. I think he’d be surprised if we weren’t together.
A slight vibration ran through the ship: Petra kissed Mike once more.
“I better get back to work.” She sat down at her console, thumbed her com switch and began signing off on the security slips deck by deck as they came up. She then turned the decks and the two small shuttle transports over to security chief Baylor. She locked the com switch, reactivated the controls on her wrist implant and followed Mike from the bridge.