Soon after we reached the inter-asteroid train, Jaclyn called us. A transparent picture of her appeared in my vision along with her name. We answered and with the obligatory greetings made, she said, “How far are you from us?”
“Don’t know the distance, but it took us about thirty minutes to get here,” Marcus began. Then he glanced over at me. “Does that sound right?”
“Yeah, I think that’s how long it took,” I said. “I bet it’ll be about the same on the way back—plus or minus traffic.”
The walls outside the train turned into a blur. I didn’t know exactly how quickly it was moving, but bullet train speeds would not have surprised me.
“That’s good,” Jaclyn said. “We’re back at the ship. We joined up with Katuk, the Xiniti who’s joining the group and he’s… interesting. You’ll have to meet him. You’ve got no choice.”
Next to me, Marcus snorted. “Sounds like they get along.” He didn’t send that over the channel.
“So that was the good news,” Jaclyn continued. “Here’s the bad news. The colonists are pretty sure they’re being tailed. They thought they’d lost their tail, but they’re not sure, so they want to go immediately.”
I said, “I don’t see a problem with that. We’ve got parts and spares—plus a story to tell where we won’t be overheard.”
Marcus broke in with, “You’ll be wanting to sit down. Think about the scariest thing that happened on the way here. It’s related to that.”
Jaclyn didn’t say anything for a second. “Are you kidding me? This is all falling apart. Ignoring everything with cosmic implications for a second, we can’t go. One of the colonists got off their ship and hasn’t come back. They sent me a file on her over the network. I’m sending it to you. She was last seen at a street market. It’s closer to you than us. I was going to run out there, but Katuk said it wouldn’t work. They don’t have lanes for me and there’s someplace between here and there with a chlorine atmosphere. Is that right?”
I thought about it. “Your new costume doubles as a space suit. I never did test it in a chlorine atmosphere.”
“Even if it worked, the connecting tubes still don’t have pedestrian routes,” Jaclyn said.
“We’re on our way,” Marcus said.
“And be careful,” Jaclyn said. “I’ve been checking in on what the Xiniti are legally allowed to do. There aren’t any limits for them, but I’ve got a feeling that the local government might not be as lenient on humans.”
“Understood,” I said, and she cut off the connection.
I opened up the information she sent, hoping that implant viruses weren’t a thing. The file included pictures of Tikki Tegrush, twenty years old and trained in starship life support systems. Her file noted that she was in training to become a starship engineer and had the basics of FTL and normal drives. It also noted that she was of gene line 72-9502 (whatever that meant) and that her parents and siblings had died in a rebellion on Subsector Capital Five in the Human Ascendency.
The pictures and video showed a woman with light brown skin, long reddish-brown hair, and wearing a silver and green form fitting jumpsuit. From the design of the neck, it was obvious that the jumpsuit doubled as a space suit. Other pictures showed her next to glowing murals she’d created.
“No kidding,” Marcus said as we both finished with the file. “I was looking at that stuff at the art store. In fact, I bought a couple of the beginner kits. Maybe she can show me how it works.”
“If we find her,” I said.
“That’s what I like about you,” Marcus said, “optimism.”
It took less than ten minutes for us to reach Asteroid Twenty-Two, level seventeen–where we transferred from the inter-asteroid gravity train to a cross asteroid train.
“Oh my God,” Marcus said as the train slowed to a stop, floating next to a platform held in the air by a series of towers.
I stared out the window. The “street market” was an open area that went on for miles. Booths, pedestrians, and floating platforms filled the space. Along with the huge variety of sapient beings who were there to shop, musicians performed and food vendors managed the lines in front of the local equivalent of food trucks.
I assumed that they all took implant managed credit as I wasn’t going to find an ATM around here.
“I knew it was big,” I said as we went down on the lift, “but I had no idea.”
“I’ve seen smaller towns,” Marcus said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Me too.”
When we reached the bottom, I opened up a pouch on my belt and pulled out a pair of sunglasses. Then I started tapping on my palms. Spybots flew out of my pouch and took to the air. As they did, I used my implant to inform the station that they were weaponless drones, the reason for their use, and the radio frequency they used for communications.
Then I stood next to Marcus, watching pictures from all the bots appear on the inside of the sunglasses. After using the Xiniti implant, it felt painfully low tech.