Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
Aurora, Part X: Worlds to Explore

This page Copyright © 2021, Karl Leffler

Continued from the previous excerpt
26 Fourthmonth 543
IS Aurora, Hyperspace Transit
Alexandria to Kshir

Minutes after the airlock had closed behind them, the forward grav-ring was secured for maneuvering. Aurora was released from the Station's docking clamps – which she could have torn out of the Station's hull with a single pulse of her battle-rated RCS jets – and pushed herself gently away, flipping to boost away from the Station without threatening it with her exhaust; the fusion thrusters were designed to use superheated water for reaction mass on such occasions. When at a safe distance and angle, the fusion torches themselves lit, and Aurora boosted at a comfortable 10mps2 for the hyper limit. Epstein reported the cargo was secure and healthy – Jenny's feeder robots were also monitors, and this wasn't the first run of such cargo; instructions for safe handling had been found on the net, provided free by Boksi entrepreneurs who wanted more product to sell – and the ship Transitioned for Kshir.
The neoprawns didn't seem to mind hyperspace either, if they had even noticed the change. Jenny had fully delivered on her promise of increased Drive performance, now making c133 with fuel consumption actually lower than the manufacturer's specifications for the original c103. Having discussed the matter with Sol, Captain and Engineer were equally ambivalent, torn between publishing her work to her credit or keeping it secret for commercial advantage. They chose the latter for now.
What it meant was, the Transit to Kshir would take just over 400 hours, instead of the usual 520. While the cargo was loading, Danner had Hlossh send another h-mail to his cousin with their updated ETA, warning him to be ready for the cargo. The h-mail worked just like a conventional e-mail, except for being routed through the Marsten Device, precursor of the Drive, shot between star systems at many thousands of times lightspeed. Since the advent of the Sixth Generation of Marsten technology, the effective speed was near c130,000; this meant barely half an hour for a one-way signal from Alexandria to Kshir, though it was nearly a full hour before the regular packet was transmitted. The reply from the cousin, Priirc, had come during dinner, guaranteeing all was in readiness.

Starships spent most of their lives either in hyperspace or orbiting a world, the latter either docked to a station or not. Thus it was essential to have comfortable living quarters and at least some simulation of weight, other than what thrust from the main engines provided. Off and on, especially during the Cold War with Terra and the actual War which followed, there had been a law, sometimes enforced, as often not, requiring all military and commercial ships to maintain the weight and atmosphere of surface conditions on Monticello, the Republic's “capitol” world. The second planet of Tau Ceti, Monticello had thinner atmosphere and higher gravity than Terra, and these were used to condition Jeffersonian troops to higher standards of strength and endurance than their Terran opponents. When the real War finally came, the strategy had worked, but with the Republic entering what looked to be a long peace the practice had fallen out of favor.
Aurora had been built during an era when the law was being enforced. Her grav-rings were capable of simulating one Monticellan gravity, 10.9mps2, when spinning at 3rpm at full 110-meter radius. The rotation speed produced enough Coriolis effect to make more sensitive crew uncomfortable, and within her original Third-Gen Marsten field, during Transit, the sections could safely be extended only 47 meters, producing only 4.6 meters, or less than ½ Monticellan g. The Sixth-Gen Drive produced a much larger field, so the radius restriction no longer applied. The comfortable standard to reduce Coriolis was 2rpm; thus during Transit, IS Aurora, no longer an official ship of the Patrol, carried in her spinning rings 4.8 meters acceleration, indiscernably more than her original operating standard. For Danner's purposes it was enough; he wasn't expecting his crew to fight as ground infantry or pull 6gs in space combat.
A ship did not boost on her fusion thrusters during Transit. The experimental vessels that tried, centuries ago, had dropped out of hyper in pieces; fortunately they had been robotic. Instead, the output otherwise directed to thrust was used by the Drive. The first starships had been designed so, and the experiments had carried twice the normal power plants for the purpose. After three destroyed ships the scientists had enough data to give up on the idea. Only through rotation, of the whole ship or a part, could weight be simulated while in Transit.
Modern ships were built fat, quite unlike Aurora's graceful length. Her successors' greater radii allowed the entire ship to spin to provide weight, and the largest vessels were built like Stations, with a non-rotating central hub for docking. They were very comfortable ships to travel in; but Aurora was pretty. And she was his. Danner wouldn't trade her for any other ship ever built.

Four hundred hours equated to two Monticellan weeks, or two and a half Terran, closer to three Alexandrian. While the Monticellan calendar and clock were standard throughout the Republic, each world by necessity had her own – 'puters, miniaturized personal computers/comms/libraries/entertainment centers, now as ubiquitous as wristwatches had been before the Escape, kept track of the differences, and far more. Spacers talked in terms of hours, not days or months.
And hours could crawl, on even the shortest transit. 400 hours was short; most Sixth-Gen Drives ran about c110 with a competent Engineer who had tuned Drive to ship. Experiments had exceeded 170, but the power required was cost-prohibitive even in the Cheap Energy Age; a ship could only carry so much fusion fuel, the reactors could only output so much energy from a package small enough to be mounted in a ship.
The performance Jennifer Blain had coaxed from an off-the-shelf Drive was extraordinary, and proof of it could easily restart her career, erasing her past in the eyes of CS, Marsten Inc., Steeltown Aerospace, or any of the half-dozen other companies which now produced Drives since the wartime security prohibitions had been removed. She knew this, but serving as Aurora's Engineer was as close as she expected to get to her own dream of owning that Zephyr yacht; in some ways even better. The crew had become a family in truth, in the weeks of refit and more weeks of Transit. Jenny wouldn't leave them.
But despite Aurora's exceptional speed, that family was still faced with 403 hours of relative inactivity. When not performing their duties, they passed this time as best they could, each in their own way.
There were drills of every description – this was not a military crew, but still would not be a slack one; Danner and Prrg had both been officers on poorly-run ships, sometimes brought in to clean up the mess, other times escaping at the next port, and they would not allow such slackness to infect their home.
Otherwise the crew played games, from ancient cards to modern VR; each 'puter could contain and project thousands of books or recordings, and the ship's library was larger still; some practiced in Epstein's band, and Sarah began writing a book of multispecies freefall dances set to the Bosun's music. Cates, Prrg and Taniyama sparred with dummy blades, teaching any crewmate who asked; Grbblb made surprising progress with his miniature rapier, his boneless body capable of freefall maneuvers no vertebrate could match. One of the forward holds had been more-heavily armored and was used as a pistol range, with holographic projectors for action games or combat simulations. Clancy's cooking went a long way toward maintaining morale, and Danner told him so, in as many words, in front of the others – a starship's Cook was as indispensable as her Engineer.
At last, again, the ship Transitioned to realspace; again Sarah's navigation was as precise as could be asked for, and Prrg stopped trying to teach her.

Kshir, Boksi homeworld
Jeffersonian Republic

The Boksi had thoroughly explored their own system before Contact, and in fact had built a far greater presence in space than Humans had before the Escape. There were over a hundred stations orbiting Kshir, from 300km to well beyond synchronous. The crustaceans had been no slouches in computer science either, and traffic control was an efficient ballet.
Aurora was directed to a station in 800km orbit, where Priirc was waiting to inspect and receive the cargo, a tanker for planetfall already standing by. “Hlossh, cousin, buddy, pal!” the entrepreneur exclaimed as the Engineer's Mate floated through Aurora's 'lock into the docking pylon. The two Boksi bumped carapaces and did something intricate with their pincers. Priirc's shell was painted in a swirling pattern of yellow and bright green, with silver highlights, and his pincer-arms were adorned with what appeared to be platinum bracelets. The rim of his carapace had been pierced in places and hung with gold.
Hlossh introduced everyone. “Permission to bring the customer aboard, Captain?” he asked Danner; his first allegiance was to the ship.
“Granted,” Danner said with a sweep of his hand. “You'll find your cargo in order, right this way.”
As Danner, Hlossh, Taniyama and Priirc moved along passageways toward the aft bulb and the main holds, Priirc looked around in some surprise. “But she looks new!” he remarked to Hlossh. “You told me this was an Adamant!”
“She is,” Danner said. “Her refit was extensive. In many ways she is a new ship, and I'd bet real money she'll outperform any other you've done business with.”
“No bet,” the restauranteur said, retracting two eyestalks in mock alarm. “I can't believe you made the run from Alexandria so fast! Your Engineer must be a genius!”
“She is that. I'm lucky to have found her.”
“Listen, Captain, we could set up a regular run. Steady work, steady pay, steady profit. I can sell every prawn you bring in, and your ship's speed can give me a huge jump on my competition.” Neoprawns' breeding cycle was comparable to that of their Terran equivalents, but irrevocably linked to Alexandria's seasons, resulting in exactly two large harvests each year, from either fisheries or farms. This had little effect on the frozen market, especially with Chikaran cryotechnology, but Boksi investors had made and lost fortunes gambling on live product.
Likewise, captains had got their ships in or out of debt by the order of their arrival at Kshir. Even a relatively small shipment, arriving before others, would be enormously profitable. Hlossh, keeping his cousin in mind, had kept an eye on the prawn season when suggesting the cargo, while gambling on Blain's skill. The gamble was now paying off; the next ship with live neoprawns was days behind Aurora.
“I appreciate the offer, friend Priirc, and I will sincerely keep it in mind, but I didn't buy my own ship just to become a bus driver. I expect we will be doing business again, but not regularly, and not right away.”
“Fair enough, fair enough. And who do we have here?” The group had reached the first of the main holds, and two more of the crew were waiting.
“This man is Jack Epstein, our Bosun and cargomaster,” Danner said in introduction. “He's responsible for our superior freight-handling capabilities, and the excellent condition of your cargo. The lady is Jennifer Blain, the genius Engineer we were discussing a moment ago. She also designed and fabricated robots to feed and monitor the cargo, using aquatic technologies provided by your cousin. Crew, this is our customer, Hlossh's cousin Priirc.”
“I am so very pleased to meet you!” the painted, bejeweled Boksi said, extending pincers to shake hands. “You've just made all of us rich!”
Danner took the cue and nodded at Taniyama. The purser floated forward, 'puter ready. “Friend Priirc, the sooner we agree on a price, the sooner your customers will fatten your accounts.” The two set to haggling, while Danner flashed a thumbs-up, grinning widely, at his crew.

Chrashal Province, Hriik Continent
Kshir, Jeffersonian Republic

“Decent-looking planet you have here, Hlossh,” Danner commented.
“Thanks, Captain. Kinda fond of it myself. But you're only seeing a fraction of it. To really understand the place, you have to spend time in her water.”
When Taniyama had finished crunching his numbers and announced the bottom line, each crewmember's share had been... substantial. With no outbound cargo or passengers arranged yet, Danner had encouraged the entire crew to take shore leave, and they had, as a single group with Hlossh as guide. Aurora, though not yet sentient, had developed enough of an AI to call Danner if a situation arose, and she was well able to protect herself, not that she was in any danger above what was a de facto Member World; the status would be de jure when the last authoritarian provinces collapsed or were overthrown, in a decade or three. Local news indicated that the modified rifles were already bringing that day closer.
Sol had left his 'puter's comm channel open to the ship, including live holo from his headset. He didn't want her to feel left out, even if she couldn't feel. He didn't tell the others; nor did they know he had spoken, softly and privately, to her bridge before leaving.
Hlossh was eager to show off his birthworld. Unlike the Eyani, the Boksi had integrated wholly into the Republic and had no separate colonies of their own; Boksi emigrated to new Republic colonies as any other Jeffersonian would, making Kshir the only world they called their own. He led the crew to a tourist mall, where they rented a small submersible – Danner's Corona could have served, but wouldn't seat the entire crew; they'd taken Number Three Boat from orbit, one of the Type 208 shuttles originally designed for a squad of Marines – and Hlossh fitted himself with his own thruster pack, enabling him to fly underwater almost as gracefully as a Siv in low weight. During Transit he had built another for Grbblb, who now “flew” in formation with his friend.
With Hlossh leading the submarine, the crew spent hours exploring the rest of Charshalii City, spreading for kilometers to the very edge of the continental shelf, towers thrusting above the surface like Human skyscrapers wherever the builders deemed them convenient or aesthetic. Lower life forms thronged Kshir's seas, but took no hold on the dominant race's ceramic construction, treated with sophisticated coatings which repelled growth and corrosion – except specific patches left untreated to attract them deliberately. Hlossh kept up a narration, describing plants and animals, pointing out historic buildings, giving relevant details of their construction.
The trek continued along the coast, well away from the city, and Hlossh now described underwater terrain along with the life forms. Suddenly he broke off, exclaiming, “There's one! Grbblb, c'mon!” The two amphibians jetted away, and the submarine, Sarah at the controls, followed to find the diminutive pair engaged in battle with a Kshiran piscoid looking something like an armored six-meter-long tuna with a pair of sharp, straight horns. “Haah!” Hlossh yelled. “That's it, get under him! Now I'll distract him and youWHRBBLGHH!” A flick of the creature's head, and horns, had sent the Boksi tumbling. “Yeeaaah, that's it, lookameee! Pay no attention to my friend getting ready to you got him, buddy, you got him!” A bluish ichor clouded the water and the creature overturned and went still. Grbblb, now on top of the inverted thing, braced himself with three of his remaining tentacles while the other two pulled his rapier free from the animal's ventral braincase. “Beautiful!” Hlossh shouted while jiggling his friend in congratulation. “Perfect thrust, right in the clockwork, no Boksi hatched coulda done better! You're a Sea-Hunter, Grbblb! And we're all having battlefish steak for dinner!”
The rest of the crew, catching on, applauded and cheered, the sound audible over the amphibians' comms while the pair threw a line around the beast's tail and secured it to the submersible.

They towed the kill to a vacant beach, the landward part of the city visible in the distance, and all pitched in to dress it out under Hlossh's direction.
“So this is being the 'little cookout' ye were asking me to be bringing the supplies for,” Clancy said with a grin. The meat, very much like tuna and fortuitously edible by the entire crew despite its bluish color, had dressed out at nearly 600 kilos. Hlossh had shown the crew how to wrap the meat in a particular species of seaweed to preserve it until they could rent freezer space in the city. Taniyama, after his first bite of pseudo-sushi, immediately declared it marketable among the nikkei of New Israel and probably even the natives of Old Nippon.
“Well, you're always looking for new material to work with,” Hlossh answered as he cleaned his horn. Battlefish were traditionally hunted by pairs, Leader and Slayer; each of the pair claimed a horn. In ancient times, the act had been part of several ceremonies: parent and offspring to confirm the child's adulthood; mating rituals, to prove a pair was a good match who could cooperate and provide for future hatchlings; between chieftains to secure tribal alliances; or what a Human familiar with Native American traditions would have called blood-brotherhood. Hlossh, discussing it with Grbblb beforehand, intended the latter case.
“Sure we'll have enough for the next two Transits. I'm wondering how it is with lemon, or a nice batter. What do ye use for beer on this planet?”
For his part, Grbblb, clutching his own horn, was basking in the crew's adulation, even Prrg, who all knew by now did not give false praise. The Nikar was in fact near speechless. The act had been comparable to his own folk's traditions, yet he had just seen it performed by a member of what most Jeffersonians considered a weak and unspirited race. “You are full of surprises, friend Glub,” he told the Glaut. “I had not believed you capable of such a thing. I was very wrong. Such a challenge is worthy of my own people.”
“Thank you, sir. It was very exciting. I have never done such a thing before. Hlossh prepared me as best he could, but the reality was very different from what I expected.”
“We all witnessed the battle. As you know, I make a hobby of such contests; they are tradition among Nikar. I consider myself a good judge of warriors. Though your form is still alien to me, I saw you act with the energy and determination of a race who evolved through combat, as all here have. Yet Republic scientists are puzzled that a race so seemingly weak and unfit for battle could have risen to dominance on your homeworld. Those scientists would have much to contemplate if they had seen you this day.”
“You are too kind, sir. I have given this matter thought myself,” Grbblb went on more soberly, the battle-high beginning to wear off. “I wonder how much of my people's history has been erased. I suspect we once had epic legends of our own, comparable to any other race's, like Hr'Gen or Hercules or Tggyl.” Now his mood was swinging the other direction, mourning the deliberate destruction of his heritage.
“Well, Glub,” Cates said around a dripping mouthful of battlefish, “if the rest of your people are anything like you, you can damn well write new ones.” This cheered him noticeably.

Returning to their hotel in the city that evening, the crew began discussing their next job. Taniyama immediately suggested a cargo of battlefish, but Hlossh said it couldn't be done. “They're semi-protected,” he explained. “No commercial fishing, no harvesting, no sales. There's plenty of them, they're not endangered or anything, but they mean so much to our traditions we want to keep them that way. Pair-hunts like ours aren't regulated but if we tried to fill Aurora's holds we'd get protestors.”
Danner asked, “Hlossh, how about these anti-corrosion treatments of yours? Who do you sell them to?”
“Frankly one of the biggest customers is the Glaut Consolidation, some of their cities are a lot like this one. But they buy megatons at a time, they wouldn't have anything to do with a relatively tiny load like ours.” Boksi had no facial expressions a Human or Eyani could interpret, but Hlossh's tone was unmistakably sour when he added, “And I really dislike doing business with them. I did before I met Grbblb.”
Sarah suggested, “There might be a market for the amount we can carry with some of the Water Tribe Eyani communities, either on Eyan or the new colony they're talking about. It's a wet planet, and they've known about Boksi cities for decades, some of the colony planners want to try one of their own.” Daisuke added it to the list.
Danner inquired, “What else do you export?”
“We're known for our glasswork,” Hlossh said. “But that's mainly a luxury market, rich snobs who want to show off how snooty they are by filling their mansions with alien art. I have another cousin who could get us a cargo.” Daisuke made another note.
“Surely we're far enough ahead, we can deadhead to another system if we have to,” Jenny wondered. “We don't need money right away, do we?”
“We are very solvent at the moment, Captain,” Daisuke confirmed.
“Well,” Danner said, “this is it, the spacer's dream; our own ship, no debt, no obligations except those we choose. But I don't want the dream to end. I want us to be extremely solvent. How about we split the difference; decide where we want to go next, then look for a way to profit from the trip?”
“It's been a long time since I've seen New Texas,” Cates commented.
“I've never been there,” said Sarah. “I'd like to see supercows on the prairies!”
“From a safe distance, I hope you mean,” Cates grinned. “I joined the Marines 'cause I figured it'd be safer than the ranch I grew up on! Captain, Daisuke, a load of Boksi crystal, figurines, dinnerware, what-have-you, that'd sell in half the cities on New Texas. Hlossh has cousins on this end, I've got some on mine.”
“Once we're there,” Epstein added, “We can load up on superbeef for any world in the Republic. I've hauled it before, the butchers seal and freeze it by quarters; we don't even have to convert the holds, just leave them in vacuum and keep them closed otherwise to control the temperature.”
“Superbeef will sell anywhere, Captain,” Daisuke noted. “Not least in Nippon.” Now a Province of the Republic like most former Terran nations, the islands once known as Japan had suffered in the War of Unification, before Aurora was born; whether by deliberate Stalinesque policy or simple bureaucratic bungling, the UN, as it transformed into the Terran Empire, had caused or allowed famine to strike. Tens of millions had starved, and millions more succumbed to resulting disease. The nikkei of New Israel were aware of their history, and had been the most relentless fighters of the Republic-Empire War. They had taken few Imperial prisoners when liberating New Israel; they had taken fewer in Nippon. The islands and their people had recovered in the Terran century since that War, but the scars went far deeper than those from Terra's World War Two.
“I've never been to Terra either!” Sarah said. “Flying Flea spent most of her time just inside the Frontier.”
“'Twould be nice to visit me old homestead again,” Clancy put in. “And perhaps to be bragging about what a fine ship I'm the Chief Steward of.”
“It's settled then,” Danner said. “Art glass from here to New Texas, superbeef from there to Terra, and whatever we can find there that's headed where we feel like going next.”
As his crew hammered out the details, Danner leaned back in the couch in his hotel room. The dream was real and he was living it. It was working.
Continued in the next excerpt....
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