Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2016, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part XI: A Late Addition
Continued from the previous excerpt
Marseille, Jeffersonian Republic
The glassware had sold at New Texas as Cates had promised, and the crew had spent four days there, Sarah buzzing wild supercow in her flitter on the free range part of Cates' family ranch, Clancy learning the secrets of real barbecue. From there they took a full load of superbeef to Terra, selling the entire cargo to a restaurant chain based in Kurume in Old Nippon, as Taniyama predicted and had prearranged by h-mail.
They took a week at Terra, visiting the usual tourist spots – Founders' Park, the Pyramids, the remains of the original Alamo, the Victory Monument outside St. Louis; the Monument of the Return in Scotland, where the Marines had first landed during the Battle of Terra. They had walked her fields, swum her oceans, breathed her air, and rested their eyes on the cool green hills of the birthworld of Man. The visible scars of War and Empire had long since healed: Mt. Rushmore reconstructed, Arizona's sacred grave rediscovered, Jerusalem's radiation falling enough to allow pilgrims once more. Terra's throngs, once over eleven billion, had been reduced twice, first by the UN & Empire's de facto genocides and later by the Second Wave of colonization – only two billion now called the planet home, and few went hungry. Many times a battlefield, she was now a garden... enveloped by defenses equal to those of Monticello herself.
The crew could have spent a year, a lifetime, exploring, delving uncounted mysteries in the ancient cities – but they would return again. From Terra they'd carried True-Terran fruits and vegetables, and 27 passengers, to Marseille.
A system in the other direction, relative to Terra, from the Republic's Central Worlds, Marseille was settled by the Empire shortly before the War, intended to be a place for the ruling dynasty to escape the mobs and squalor of Terran peasantry. It had not been discovered until two months after the surrender of the Imperial Army, and then only by references in captured records from Old Corsica. The Imperial flotilla at Marseille had surrendered on the orders of the highest surviving Terran admiral, brought along in the half-wrecked remains of his own flagship for the purpose – accompanied by half the Republic's First Fleet. There were no ground forces to speak of, only servants... and slaves, Human and Eyani. The latter had been kept for the entertainment of the Imperial family, as gladiators. The survivors had been given the honor of carrying out the death sentences.
But that was long ago. Marseille was a paradise planet, as lovely and varied as Terra. During and after Reconstruction, resort companies by the dozen had moved in to stake their claims and the world was now a prime vacation spot, competing facilities catering to every conceivable taste. Eight days they spent there, not denying themselves the world's many pleasures.
On the last day they'd gathered at one of Marseille's innumerable restaurant/bar/hotels, atop a mountain surrounded by even higher snow-covered peaks; this one's top had been sliced flat to act as a small spaceport – it was where they'd landed their passengers in Number Five Boat, their new, fat lifting-body Type 318b, paid for with the profits from their first neoprawn run, which also carried the personal FlyCycles or Flitters the crew had picked up for their own use when planetside. They were reuniting now, preparing to set out with another three dozen passengers for the next world, Nouveau Corsica, once the Imperial Capitol planet and dramatically saved from vengeful destruction in the closing months of the War. The passengers going there were documentarians, tracing the rise and fall of the Cardino dynasty for history's sake.
The crew had been here a couple hours, waiting for Grbblb and Hlossh to come back from their latest fishing trip, Cates and Heusner from hunting transplanted Terran antelope. Prrg was methodically wrapping himself around an imported Gnoppan raptor-steak at one table, Epstein & Taniyama were playing Go at another; Blain & Danner were at a third, debating whether to use the fuel-hungry high-speed Drive settings on the next run, and Clancy was at the bar.
There he was methodically sampling things, from twenty worlds, which dared to call themselves usquebaugh. So far he wasn't impressed and planned to stick with the very large cask he'd picked up from relations in County Sligo; one reason for Irish loyalty to the Republic was the conspicuous absence of regulation or taxation of distilleries. However, Clancy thought some of the competition might be suitable for passengers, who hadn't palates refined enough to appreciate the difference.
It was a slow day, and the place was mostly empty. Another man had come to the bar a few stools away from Clancy about half an hour ago, and was nursing a beer. He'd been watching Clancy for most of that time, and now came closer to satisfy his curiosity. “Howdy friend,” he said. “I don't mean to intrude but I must ask, what are you doing?”
It took more than twenty tastes to get Charles Clancy drunk, and he answered clearly, “I am sampling of the beverages to stock the cabinet of me ship, of which I am the Chief Steward. Sadly I'm finding none to compare with the true Irish, though two or three might be fooling an uneducated tongue.”
“You're a spacer?” the man asked with sincere interest. Merely traveling somewhere in a ship did not give one claim to the title. “That's fascinating, I've always wanted to be one.” He was young, early twenties Terran, a typical blend of European stock with a dash of much else, dark blond hair over dark blue eyes and a deep tan. He was attractive to women and knew it; Clancy, older and wiser and remembering adventures of his own, suspected the other man's looks often got him in trouble his brain had difficulty getting him out of. He introduced himself as Ralph Vatelius from Monticello's South Continent, and declared himself a physician.
Their conversation quickly expanded, Vatelius drinking Clancy's stories like water, asking probing questions about worlds the Irishman had visited. In time Clancy asked, “Are ye a doctor for the resorts here then?”
“Ah... no,” Vatelius answered in some embarrassment. “I'm sort of... between jobs at the moment.”
“Sure there must be work hereabout for a talented young man such as yeself.”
“Weeell, in truth, I'm sort of... on hiatus, you might say.”
“Ah, so ye've made yer pile of coin from the healing of the wealthy gentlefolk and have come here for vacation, is it?”
“...Yeah, something like that.” The young doctor looked away in obvious embarrassment.
“Meanin' no disrespect, me friend, but ye are not attired, nor seem ye to be enjoying of the comestibles, as one for whom money is no object.” It was true; though a handsome and fit young man, Vatelius' clothing was faintly threadbare, and Clancy had heard his stomach growl. The Steward signaled the barkeep, tossing coins onto the bar: “Two daily specials for me friend and meself.”
“Oh! Ah, really that's not... I mean-” His stomach growled again.
“Tsk, lad, 'tis many a time I've been in like conditions, and now I find meself quite removed from them. Sure it does me heart good to be helping of one less fortunate, as I remember too well being. Especially one who has the patience to sit through me stories and not ask for the charity.”
“No, I like the stories! I wish I could do what you do, visit all those other worlds. For me it was Monticello, Terra, then here.”
“'Tis only fair ye be telling me a story of yer own then, if ye're so inclined.”
And so he did. He had been a bright youth, a talented student, working toward his degree through the Patrol's Medical Corps. He'd gained his MD and his honorable discharge, and was about to begin residency when: “I got bored, okay? No, I got scared, I should at least be honest. One day I looked in the mirror and saw forty, fifty, sixty years of bodily fluids and screeching children and I just had to go. I packed a bag and hopped a ship. What you said, treating wealthy gentlefolk, that was sort of my idea, but it... didn't work out.” He sighed and rested his elbows on the bar, chin in hands. “My folks'll kill me....”
Then he brightened, raising his head and turning it toward Clancy. “Hey, does this ship of yours need a doctor? I have my MD, for real, from Lexington U at Monticello, I was set to become a General Practitioner and Assistant Surgeon at Cincinnati General when I chickened out. I don't need much pay as long as it's a good ship and she keeps taking me to new places, and I can learn other jobs for when no one's sick. A doctor is what everyone else wanted me to be, a spacer is what I wanted.”
“Well now, Ralph me lad, we're having a fine crew as it is, but I'm admitting there are times it would be helpful to be having a physician along. Also I was thinking it wouldn't be such a terribleness to be having a Steward's Mate to help with the cooking and the like. Can ye cook, lad?”
“I sure can, and I learn fast, just try me!”
“Can ye be healing of the nonhumans? We've four aboard, Nikar, Eyani, Boksi and Glaut.”
“Sure, I've worked on all of those before, with the ECS- did you say Glaut?”
“Sure he's the only one I've ever laid eyes on me own self. Missing some parts the poor tyke is, but it's still the fine Engineer's Mate he's being despite it all, never a complaint, always ready to lend a hand- er, tentacle, wherever it's needed.”
“...What I don't know, I'll learn,” Vatelius said, eyes bright. “Do you think I can get a berth?”
“We've a small crew for her size, so there's plenty of room for another hand. The Captain will be having the final word of course. We can be meeting him presently if it's being convenient for ye.” Clancy gestured to the table where Danner now sat reading, while Blain was doing something mysterious with a Drive schematic.
“Gods, that'd be fantastic! What's his name? What's the ship's name, for that matter?”
“Oh didn't I tell ye now? How very neglectful I'm being. She's the cruiser Aurora, the finest ship flying, and our Captain is Solomon Danner, the Man Who Saved Rockville,” Clancy said with a smile. Then he added with a chuckle, “Ye might want to be closing yer mouth, lad, afore something goes in it all unexpected-like.”
Clancy took him to the Captain's table and made the introductions. Danner, a former Patrol officer and an officer on several merchant ships before Aurora, quizzed him insightfully on his qualifications while consulting the net. There he found Vatelius had briefly served as Ship's Doctor on a liner making a regular Terra-Marseille run. He asked, “Why'd you leave Salamanca?”
Vatelius blushed. “Well, Captain, I... don't like children, see, and I'm not figuring on having any for a good long time if ever, so... I had my fertility suppressed, and you know, I'm not bad with the ladies, so that's kind of a... selling point, and, uh-”
“Captain's daughter?” Danner asked with half a scowl.
“Don't bring trouble to my airlock,” Danner said, adding the other half of the scowl.
“My word on it, sir,” Vatelius answered, raising his right hand, eyes wide. “I learn from experience.”
“I'll give you a couple days to get settled in, then you'll start by examining everyone who asks. I think you'll be pleased with our sickbay, I had an old friend in the Medical Corps design it. I have a damn good crew, I want them healthy as well. One other thing, are you one of those doctors who thinks the Hippocratic Oath precludes self-defense?”
“No sir! I have my Four-Thirty-Seven right here, ECS surplus. Did most of my internship with the Service on the Frontier, no room for pacifists out there! Got a midsword too, back at the hotel.”
“You need any cash to settle your bill there?”
“Well, uh, honestly sir, I am a little short-”
“See the Purser, Daisuke Taniyama.” Danner inclined his head toward the appropriate table while extending his hand.
“Aye aye, Captain!” After the handshake, Vatelius hurried toward the Purser's table with a wide smile.
Once he was out of earshot, Danner gestured for Clancy to sit. “I trust your judgement,” he said. “And honestly I'd been worried about the lack of a doctor aboard, especially since we've begun carrying more passengers. But he's already cut and run twice. Do you think he'll stick?”
“Aye, Captain,” the Irishman answered with a nod. “I remember dreaming of space when I was his age. 'Twas a bit like looking in a mirror.” Danner nodded in satisfaction.
IS Aurora, Hyperspace Transit
Marseille to Nouveau Corsica
The subsequent voyage was uneventful, but the documentarians had talked Danner into including Aurora herself in the story; she was, after all, the last example of a warship from the pre-War era, and all the crew were proud to show her off.
Vatelius settled in quickly, taking for his quarters half a section of the forward ring, opposite the dining area from Clancy's space. He had indeed been pleased with the ship's sickbay, and was more pleased yet when Danner told him to submit a list to Taniyama for anything it was lacking.
His first patient had been Jenny Blain, asking after any advances in the Cure for Juice addiction; Vatelius regretfully dashed her hopes but swore he would continue searching for any news at every port. He also took a DNA sample for reference; while doctoring wasn't his real passion, he was good at it and had shown some aptitude for genetic research. Perhaps he could stumble across something, tinkering with it in his spare time – and he had colleagues with greater skill in that direction.
His second patient had been Grbblb, on the Captain's urging to the Glaut.
“Well, spacer,” Vatelius said, “since I've never seen one of your kind before and there's nothing about you in the database, I have no idea if you're healthy or not. How do you feel?”
“Far better,” Grbblb answered, “since I joined this crew.”
“Is there any pain from...?”
“There is. I have studied medical texts from the races of the Republic. I believe I am suffering from 'phantom limb syndrome'.”
“Let's have a look then.” Vatelius invited Grbblb onto his examining table, or rather into it. The sickbay was a freefall compartment in the ship's forward bulb, oriented with the deck toward the stern. If weight were needed for some procedure, he would ask the Captain to drop the ship out of hyper and boost on her fusion thrusters, but with modern techniques, weightlessness was more help than hindrance in diagnosis and treatment. In sympathy, the Doctor said, “I was shocked when I heard your story. I find it incredible that a race capable of starflight has such a, a... callous society. Meaning no offense to you, friend.”
“I assure you I am not offended. I had not given such incidents much thought,” Grbblb admitted, “until I was the focus of one. In an instant I learned that my government has more crimes to answer for than I had imagined.”
“Most governments do.” Vatelius had, in his time, earned the two bars of a Junior Lieutenant of the Patrol as a medical officer and surgeon, though he'd taken his discharge not long after his promotion. All commissioned officers, of the Patrol, ECS, and especially the handful of Regular Marines, were required to demonstrate a knowledge of history.
“I have found nothing comparable in the Republic's history. And I have searched.”
“There was almost one example, at the world we're headed for.”
“Yes, your Admiral Bramowitz. His memoirs are in the ship's library and I have begun reading them.”
“I had to do a report on them in school. Which turned out to be not as unpleasant as a schoolboy would otherwise think. The man had been there and done that.”
“It is difficult to imagine how he could have carried on. His entire family destroyed by the Empire, except for his daughter, whom he did not know had survived. No wonder he almost committed genocide.”
“And that daughter was the only one who could have prevented it. I don't want to spoil the story for you, when you get to that part you'll see. But there's a big statue of her where we're headed.”
Hums and beeps came from the examination table as Grbblb was scanned, by instruments as advanced as any planetside hospital's. “Your example is well taken, but I meant that I had not found, in the Republic's history, any comparable atrocity of overreaching government, treating people like property.”
Vatelius nodded and smiled. “'That governs best which governs least.'”
“Words attributed to our nation's namesake.”
“He wasn't perfect either, but even if he didn't always live up to them himself, he left us the ideals we enjoy today. He was a lot better than most who followed him.”
“Yes. The Coup of 2012, the Federal Restructuring, the Usurpation, the Unification.” At Vatelius' gesture, Grbblb splayed his whole tentacles so the Doctor's scanner could more thoroughly examine the stump. “I still sometimes think in terms of an Employee of the Consolidation, yet the thoughts clash with my new awareness as a Citizen of the Republic. Part of me wonders how any people with a history as proud as yours could have submitted to such evil, while another part sees exactly how it happened.”
“Friend,” Vatelius said with feeling, shaking an instrument for emphasis, “I hope you live a long, healthy life, and that you preach that sermon every day of it. Some people out there still haven't figured it out.” He may have been a tomcat with various fears of commitment, but he was still a patriot.
The scan result took form in the diagnostic holotank – Danner had spared few expenses when refitting Aurora and none at all where the health and safety of his crew or passengers were concerned; it was the very latest model from Matamori Electronics at Edo Station, and could do things Vatelius had only imagined during his internship. “If I'm reading this right-” the 'tank was making educated guesses about a being it had never encountered- “that Boksi doctor did as good as anyone could have, lacking Glaut medical texts.”
“As far as I have been able to determine, there are none.”
Vatelius whipped his head around so fast the rest of him spun in reaction. “None?”
“Glaut medicine is... by Republic standards, nonexistent. Injuries such as mine are not treated, they are deliberately inflicted. One who falls ill is considered to have... done something to deserve it. They are then judged to have rendered themselves unfit to work, and have therefore become traitors to the Consolidation.”
Being a doctor wasn't Vatelius' first choice, but this offended his sense of professionalism - and every other sense he possessed. He stared a moment at Grbblb in astonishment. “That's... a helluva eugenics program, I suppose would be one way of looking at it. But I wonder how many inventors and philosophers and artists, and their lines, have been erased from your society for the 'crime' of catching a cold.”
“As do I.”
“Maybe you and me, we'll write a Glaut medical text of our own, hm?”
“I shall help all I can. ...Doctor-”
“Hey, call me Ralph, we're shipmates, right?” Vatelius smiled sincerely, having finally achieved his true dream. Being a Ship's Doctor made being a doctor worth the work of becoming a doctor. Even if he was spending most of his time as a Steward's Mate.
“Friend Ralph, when she treated me, doctor Lloshka suggested I seek regeneration. I have been too busy, or too... unfocused, to do so until your arrival. I know such treatment is possible for your race, and all others in Aurora's crew.” There were a few Chikarans and Siv among the passengers. “Do you think it might be possible for me?”
“I'll tell you plain, friend: At present, no. We wouldn't know where to begin. But! Before the Escape it was rarely even imagined for Humans. I have to warn you against false hopes – it took eighty-some years to figure it out for Boksi, even longer for Nikar. But it took barely a decade for the Eyani. No one's even looked at your DNA, or equivalent, yet. Maybe it can never be done. Maybe some egghead at Cincinnati General could figure it out on his lunch break. I don't know. What I can do, is take a sample from you – you'd be completely anonymous, you know that's by Oath – and send it to some colleagues of mine, who would know. The ones I'm thinking of would jump at the chance, it could make their careers.” And, he thought, maybe I'll tinker with it myself.
“Please do so.” Grbblb knew that if Glaut regeneration were possible, it would never be allowed by the Consolidation; the threat of maiming was their most powerful tool of control. Even the thought of it being possible might shatter their government.
“Please do so,” Grbblb repeated, “and tell me if I may be of any more help with the research.”
Continued in the next excerpt....