Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2019, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part CVI: Relationship
Continued from the previous excerpt
Beth Lascomb, and her parents, had sent a tearful, barely-coherent video to Solomon, thanking him profusely for finding her brother alive. Beth was taking a long-overdue leave, traveling to Limbo on the Patrol destroyer being sent to defend the world. The Lascomb family swore their eternal gratitude and debt to Solomon and his Family. As wealthy as the Auroras were, that actually meant something, from an ONI officer who had the ears of admirals, and whose parents had growing resources of their own, in mining investments.
Similar messages arrived from the families of most of Arthur Fields' victims, some of whom lived at or had traveled to Alexandria to express their gratitude in person. Trace and Krrd both had emotional reunions with their families... and Krrd discovered that the lovely girl with the bright golden stripes in her scales had waited for him, all those years. While Trace prepared to reenter the life of a teacher, Krrd immediately made preparations to be among the first true colonists and settlers of Limbo.
Solomon and every member of his crew had received more hugs than they knew what to do with, even from those whose loved ones had died in the Samuel Pepys incident - at least now they knew, and the horrible, decades-long doubts were gone. Aurora's Family now had credit that couldn't be measured, in banks that couldn't be robbed.
There had been talk of official awards for Solomon, but he quickly declined. He had not been acting in any official capacity, and closer scrutiny might have brought certain inconsistencies, in logs and schedules, to light.
Instead he had submitted to an interview, with the same reporter, Gina Rode, who years earlier had helped him establish Aurora's rights as an Artificial Person, following the Battles of Mark's World and Adda. She was grateful enough for another exclusive that she didn't object to softballing. Aurora was the most famous and successful ship in the galaxy, but there were a handful of others who approached her. Solomon Danner had shown the captains and crews of those ships that Gina was one of the few in her profession who could be trusted to not muckrake or mudsling or backstab. Her career had soared since her first interview with him, and now a powerful media figure was in Solomon's debt too.
2 Secondmonth 571JR
17 May 2366CE
New Farsala, Thessaly Province
Hellene Continent, Alexandria
The Danner family home was modest, but as Solomon had sent some of his prize money, his parents had been able to buy a good patch of rural land, lift the house out of New Farsala, and deposit it whole in the countryside twenty kilometers out of town, a short distance from his sister Tina's own small ranch and veterinary practice. There were few roads on most Jeffersonian worlds, and even before Membership, Alexandria had followed that pattern. The move had been performed with a heavy-lift airship, a slow method but a gentle one. Now, in the same living room Solomon had grown up in, he reunited with his biological family. Sitting on matching couches, husbands and wives had their arms around each other, while Tina, Solomon's sister, sat in a chair nearby.
Solomon's big sister was considered pretty, even by post-Escape standards; age was less a factor, with Jeffersonian anti-aging treatments. Though some fifty-eight Terran years old, she had not yet married but had gone through a few boyfriends. Solomon could tell she was intimidated by Aurora's angelic beauty, simulated youth, and obvious intelligence.
Michael Danner had met Aurora as a Human-shaped hologram, years before, when Aurora had visited the Central Worlds after the Sherrington Atrocity, and before departing for the Danforth Expedition. Now she was a convincing artificial expression of a living Human woman, and a remarkably beautiful one at that. He was having trouble remembering she was a thirty-one kiloton warship, and kept thinking to himself what a good catch his son had made.
Solomon's mother Shelly Caren seemed to have difficulty wrapping her mind around the idea that her son had married his ship. "But... you're... Human," mother said to daughter-in-law.
"Thank you," Aurora answered with a laugh. "I have been trying very hard for several years to be Human. However-" Aurora broke off, reconsidered. "I was about to demonstrate proof of my artificiality. It might be disturbing to see. I shall refrain, but please take my word that I am not, in fact, a biological being like yourselves."
"She is, however, a person," Solomon countered, "and the one I happen to be in love with." He didn't bother with defiance, or preparing to defend his marriage against disapproval. Such matters were beneath him, when she held his hand.
"So..." Shelly asked, "what does this mean for grandchildren?"
Aurora did not allow disappointment to reach her face, but the tension Shelly had noticed between her son and her husband appeared to increase. "Children are not presently in our plans," Aurora answered. "All our Family have agreed to not bring children into an increasingly-violent galaxy, for the time being."
That set Shelly off. "And that reminds me! Solomon! I used to be terrified of space, and of aliens. Your father has worked a long time to rid me of those fears, but then you go and take part in civil wars and pirate attacks and ghost ships and you even get kidnapped and held for ransom! And I only ever hear about any of it from the news!"
Aurora gave her husband's shoulder a squeeze. "Perhaps I should remind you to write home more often? Or perhaps I should strike up correspondence with my in-laws myself." Solomon's parents and sister acclaimed this proposal, while he blushed.
Alexandria's calendar, her days and years, were closer to Terran than Monticellan. Two weeks passed. The other members of Solomon's other, and no less true, Family, took leave of their own. Prrg had ties to the Nikar community on Alexandria, as did Sarah Heusner with the Eyani, and Hlossh with the Boksi.
Aurora was fully resupplied and fueled, what minor repairs were necessary were made, further upgrades installed; not least improvements to her method of converting hydrogen to Helium-3. It turned out Ca'Sce had been recruited by the Office of Naval Research to work on the Blain Drive, and was therefore cleared to know of its existence. He spent many hours in conference with Jenny Blain, learning the secrets of the secret Drive from its inventor herself, and from the self-aware ship in whom it had been installed.
Marsten-Vatelius-Blain facilities were springing up across the Republic, and its inventors were in constant demand. Ralph's wife Delilah Howell was still uncomfortable working inside a regular hospital, especially a Human one; they were all much of a kind, and reminded her of the day her first husband and unborn daughter had died on Mark's World. Knowing this, Ralph and Jenny, with the help of Jenny's husband Jack Epstein, had designed the MVB template to a different architecture, blending elements of non-Human races, not just to help heal their own ship-sister's emotional wounds, but to soothe, or at least distract, patients dealing with traumatic injuries or addictions. The four of them had plenty of brainpower and developed an information package which could be easily transmitted and efficiently built under varying levels of technology and infrastructure.
Glaut had been spreading through the Republic for years, and Trllbl was overjoyed to find on Alexandria relatives of hers who had escaped the troubles on Rllbtl. Her aunt and cousins had seemed shocked that she, a lower-caste Glauteb, had married a Glautak, but after Trllbl's name came up in a Net search, her uncle Brnnl had been gathering everything he could learn about Grbblb and Aurora. Brnnl told his niece how proud he was of her success and, in body language no other species could read, glared at his wife and children, shaming them for their prejudice.
Charles Clancy had sent a private message ahead, chartering an entire ship - he was wealthy in his own right now, from his shares of prizes and subsequent investments - for some members of his extended family in Ireland. Eleven had answered, to set up a proper Irish pub on the world so distant from Eire, in a building Charles had commissioned, on land he had purchased for no small sum, conveniently near the University District. Clancy's was an instant success, and its opening night celebration quickly became a local legend. The place had guest accommodations too, in addition to the staff's own living quarters. Holly Cates had found someone to share one of those rooms with, and told her Family to not worry if they didn't hear from her for a few days. Like so many other places - The Hungry Kraken at Wilson's Colony, Gilson's Grog 'n' Grill on Terra, MoreHAMmed's on Mars, and now Dawn on Chikar - Clancy's would become a landmark for travelers from dozens of stars.
Daisuke Taniyama rarely took leave or joined revelry. There were too many ghosts chasing each other through his head for him to indulge in simple relaxation. No one in his Family, or his Captain's family, was stupid. As he had done at Asgard years before, he revealed his true name and history, this time to Michael Danner.
The "retired" Commodore was astounded that the solution to one of the most infamous crimes in the history of the Republic had been flying with his own son for years. "You've just filled in decades of blanks," he told the nikkei. "And I don't dare use more than a fraction of what you've told me."
"I appreciate your discretion, Commodore."
"You can call me Michael, by the gods," he answered, pumping the other man's hand. "Someday this will all be straightened out-"
"No." Michael's face showed puzzlement. "Leave Takeo Nakayama as a dead man, and Kazuo as well. My family has suffered enough shame."
"But the rest of your family isn't responsible for...." Michael's voice trailed off, as he saw that he was wrong.
"We are Jeffersonians," Daisuke said, "but we are also Japanese. Our ways are not entirely the same as yours. Law and logic are not always enough to overcome prejudice. If the gods permit it, I shall deal with my brother myself." He stepped back and bowed. "It is I who am in your debt, Michael, for providing the opportunity, after so many years."
There was dinner, small talk, mild anecdotes. By mutual and tacit consent, no one further explored the deadly battles Solomon and Aurora had fought. Aurora toured her husband's childhood home. Michael showed off the lovely forest that home stood in now, and his attempt at tree-shaping, using techniques from Adams' World and Chikar. Tina proudly displayed her ranch and work, most of which she had built herself, before her little brother became a wealthy international hero.
It couldn't last. Shelly saw tension still rising between her husband and their son. Finally, taking the two of them aside, she asked.
Both hesitated to answer. "I know what kind of man I married," she said, "and what kind of son we raised. You're going somewhere, aren't you?" Her eyes flicked between the two men she loved most.
"I'm not," Michael said after a moment.
He hadn't married a stupid woman. Her mind racing ahead, she asked: "Is it war?"
Her son answered this time: "We don't know."
"And no one can say," Michael added... as an instruction.
"I know that," she snapped. "Sixty years we've been together, I know that much about being a Navy wife!" She turned to her son. "I...." She shook her head in frustration, blonde curls bouncing. "Just because I know what not to ask doesn't mean I don't want to ask it! Where will you go? Who is the enemy? Will my son be safe?"
Tears came now. "I know you can't answer. Knowing might even be worse." She threw her arms around her son. "Wherever you go, whatever you face, don't you dare let them hurt you. You kill them all if you have to," she wailed, weeping on her son's shoulder, "and you come back to me."
At some point, it became clear that Aurora, the ship and Shipfolk Family and naval-auxiliary unit, would accept the mission. They'd be paid, of course; metal, or credit for it in their accounts, and topped up on munitions again, as they had been on their first mission to Oskran in 551.
Eventually the "assets" Michael had mentioned began to arrive. Two Nikar: Hnnk and Mrrd, the first a replacement for Knnd, the previous Republic ambassador to the Flike, the second his deputy. Three Humans and an Eyani: Laura Starrett, an ONI operative covered as a member of Hnnk's security detachment, and her subordinates, Jerome Taylor, Jl'Gat, and George Kanagawa. Like the mission to Oskran, they brought sealed cargo containers, which Jack Epstein made disappear in Aurora's ballast compartments.
Aurora and Solomon both had rather high security clearances, since many of the things supposed to be hidden behind that security had been discovered by them. Aurora accessed the records of her passengers and shared them with her Captain-and-husband. Starrett had been a SEAL, the forty-third Human woman to ever qualify in four and a half Republic centuries. She had four Crimson Bands, as many Bronze Stars, two Silver Stars and two Navy Crosses - the circumstances of most of which were classified even beyond Solomon's clearance. Nearly eighty Terran years old, she looked rather less than fifty and was as fit as a woman younger still; she had been genetically designed, as Holly Cates had been with the same Asgardian technology decades later. The two women warriors sparred, and called a draw.
Taylor and Jl'Gat, a Plains Tribe female, were Marines, and would sometimes play their parts as embassy guards, wearing dress blacks with polished rifles - with which they regularly qualified Expert. They were actually Rangers, among the most elite members of the Corps, who shared some training grounds and some Instructors with SEALs.
Kanagawa was a rare civilian, skilled in electronic surveillance, codebreaking, computer security and counter-security; and a high-ranking student of kenjutsu. He had earned Citizenship as an ONI technician and consultant. Human mercenaries had been reported in Flike service, making attempts to break the Republic embassy's security. Kanagawa would oppose them. Born and raised on New Israel, like Daisuke, the two men struck a friendship, and also welcomed the opportunity to spar regularly in their traditional styles of fencing.
There was one other asset to be added to Aurora's semi-secret mission: Frashkra, the only Flike survivor of Brown's Flotilla and the Battles of Mark's World and Adda.
Continued in the next excerpt....