Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
Aurora, Part CXVII: Exodus

This page Copyright 2019, Karl Leffler

Continued from the previous excerpt
30 Firstmonth 573JR
13 August 2367CE
Rntggld

The heavy cruiser CA259 JRS Steeltown was commanded by Captain Frederick Ya'Kur, an Ice Tribe Eyani born and raised on New Texas.
Unlike most of the Space Patrol's officers, he had seen a little combat, during his command of the destroyer Hatsuzuki, against a pirate raid on the Republic Territory of Fleur du Ciel, some twenty light-years from Anvil in the Edgeward regions. Like Aurora's own action over Dakota, it was pure chance that Hatsuzuki was in the system and near enough to intervene, but Ya'Kur had reacted quickly and well, skillfully directing a Short Transit - many captains were also, or had previously been, navigators - and not only breaking up the attack before the raiders could land, but capturing the pirate vessel, resulting in freeing eleven slaves. He'd received the Combat Action Ribbon, rare during the Long Peace, the Pentamvirate Unit Citation, and a Silver Star. Ya'Kur had been a Lieutenant Commander during that incident; now he was a full Captain, in command of a flotilla built around one of the most modern and powerful units in the Patrol. He was on track for flag rank.
Still, he greeted Solomon Danner with respect, because Danner and Aurora had seen more and larger actions in a shorter time than any ship and commander since the Republic-Empire War. Also, Danner was still a Commodore in the Illyrian Royal Navy, and Acting Ambassador-at-Large for the Republic. "Welcome aboard, Captain," Ya'Kur said as Danner met him for a strategy meeting in Steeltown.
"Thank you, Captain. Call me Sol."
"I'm Fred. Please accept my condolences for your loss."
Aurora was present also, in her gynoid, and a grey fatigue shipsuit uniform, like her captain-and-husband. "Thank you, Captain," she said. "She was truly a sister to me. She helped rebuild me. She was brilliant." The Blain Drive was still a military secret, even from some of the crewbeings in the ships which carried it, so Aurora did not name it aloud.
Ya'Kur nodded in understanding. "How are your other crewmates?"
"Recovering," Danner said - with some bitterness. "Our murdered sister wasn't the only brilliant member of my crew. There's little our Doctor can't fix."
"Sol, how's your fuel and supply situation?" Ya'Kur asked, and the question was to the point: Danner had come to coordinate his next actions with Ya'Kur, and to place his ship under the Patrol's authority if necessary. Danner had reached the rank of Captain nearly a Monticellan year before Ya'Kur, and so had a claim to seniority, but Danner was a reservist, while the Eyani was a regular officer and was familiar with the other ships assigned to him. Steeltown had a small flag compartment and staff. Ya'Kur had not been offically brevetted Commodore but it made sense to view him as one.
Danner waved a hand. "We have more food than we need. Aurora is in good order and we're over eighty percent fuel." Aurora had topped off from one of the visiting tankers, which stopped at the comets to top itself off on its way to the Republic with refugees. "All weapons operational, forty-three missiles aboard, a variety of payloads." Without prompting, Aurora sent a status report to Ya'Kur's wrist-'puter. "All our shuttles are away with the evacuation, except my own gig. Only the-" he scowled, and looked away- "thirteen of us aboard. Aurora runs herself and we don't need more crew. If we do, she has robot extensions."
Aurora added, "Even if I am incapacitated or unable to communicate, my extensions are programmed as spacers and can take over stations as necessary."
Ya'Kur nodded again. "I don't have to tell you how close we are to war." The Consolidation agents' murder of Trllbl, a Jeffersonian Citizen by way of service aboard a Reserve Privateer, might be enough cause after all. Danner had already made a report to Patrol Central, which would be going up the chain to the State Department. Ya'Kur continued, "My crews are getting worn out from the constant alert status, and keeping our Fields up makes a mess of routine communications. Still, it would be a load off my mind to have you in my flotilla if the shooting starts. You've already proven your quality." He made eye contact with Danner and Aurora's gynoid both. Dakota, Adda, Ude, and the Illyrian Civil War had shown that Aurora and her crew could be relied on.
"What about your own logistics?" Danner asked.
"We've enough food to Transit back to Republic space, though we might have to crack the ration bins by then. Elwert jumped an ice-rock for us and we're taking turns mining it, so all four of my ships are keeping above seventy percent fuel at all times." It went unspoken that all of Ya'Kur's flotilla possessed the Blain Drive, but using it would severely limit range, as the Helium-3 power systems - co-invented by the murdered Trllbl - were taking longer to distribute. Only Steeltown herself had yet received the new reactors and torches, while the three destroyers continued to use hydrogen. Also unspoken was, the destroyers were producing Helium-3 fuel through neutron bombardment, and traces mined from the comet, then transferring it to Steeltown.
"I'll have some food sent over, give you some variety at least. My Steward will send recipes to yours. Some of what we have is... unusual."

Steeltown was a Bremerton class heavy cruiser, massing forty-three kilotons. Like many ships built after the Republic-Empire War, she was fat, to spin her entire hull for artificial weight for crew comfort. She was considerably shorter than Aurora at only a hundred six meters, and more than twice as wide, at eighty-one in diameter. This gave far more usable weight area than designs like Aurora or Valkyrie, but a drawback was it put living quarters at or near the outer surface of the ship, making them more vulnerable to damage. Aurora's grav-rings had the same problem, even moreso since the ring modules were often extended for use, but their outer surfaces had some of her thickest armor, which merged with the rest of the hull when her rings were retracted. Protection standards had atrophied considerably since the War, and modern warships had little armor at all compared to Aurora; Steeltown would not have survived the hits Aurora received at the Battle of Adda. Another disadvantage to these modern designs was that the diameter of the weight areas was limited to the diameter of the hull, and to achieve full weight required rotation speeds that would induce unhealthy Coriolis effects; but they were far less expensive to build and required less maintenance. No elegant solution had yet been found.
Rather than the ring-turrets which fully encircled slimmer ships, the Bremertons used more conventional turrets for their twelve Class Ten Marsten Guns, each paired with a 22MW laser. Steeltown also carried a dozen standard mass drivers, which served as launch tubes for a variety of missiles and for Mobile Infantry drop pods. For small craft she had a pair of Type 318 heavy shuttles and six Type 323 light.
Her companions were the destroyers John W. Ripley, Elwert and Urakaze. Elwert was a modern Maerca class at seven kilotons, but the others were older and smaller. Ripley, named for a legendary United States Marine from the Vietnam War, was Fletcher-III class. These did use ring-turrets like Aurora's, four of them, each carrying a pair of Class Five Marsten Guns and a pair of 11MW lasers. There were two missile tubes in the bow, and two Type 323 light shuttles in separate bays flanking the stern. At four kilotons, he could make planetfall. So could Urakaze of the even older Ayanami-IV class, of a similar design but omitting all missiles for another pair of ring-turrets.

The Free Glaut Armada was comprised of a 21-kiloton light cruiser; a 25-kiloton cargotanker, what the Republic Navy would call an AOE; and seven matching 3-kiloton destroyers, all fairly recent construction from the Consolidation's naval buildup, and all influenced by or copied from Republic designs in various ways. While Aurora was present at Rntggld, two more destroyers and another AOE had arrived, with word of more coming.
The Consolidation/Alliance Navy force consisted of a single heavy cruiser not far different from Steeltown, and four of the same Glaut destroyers, all lurking further outsystem. Occasionally one of the destroyers would make a Close Transit and fast reconnaissance pass, but no fire had been exchanged since the original mutiny. Another light cruiser, Glaut-built but crewed by Flike, had joined them recently, as had a Consolidation cargotanker.
The Reserve Privateers and other ships had been trickling away with the refugees, while a few more had arrived for the same fire-sale cargoes and desperation-fare passengers. Only four of the largest remained, still loading. More than two thirds of Rntggld's population had escaped and there was, probably, enough capacity for everyone.

Seven local days had been spent at Rntggld, helping evacuate the Glaut rebels... and screening them very carefully for Consolidation holdouts. After Trllbl's martyrdom, those who were found were subjected to the same treatment they would have dealt. In more peaceful times Solomon and his Family would have objected. In these, they simply looked away.
On the eighth day the war began.

Two more heavy cruisers and seven destroyers arrived, along with a pair of supply ships and three troop transports which waited outsystem. The cruisers, transports and supply ships were crewed by Glaut, while Flike crewed three of the destroyers and filled the transports' bunks.
That would be sorted out from signal intercepts later. The warships made a Close Transit two and a half light-seconds from Rntggld, joined by the others already in the system, coordinated by Marsten Device before the new ships arrived. Now the Consolidation had numerical superiority. They burned for a passing attack, obviously intending to Transition again after, to cancel velocity and reverse vectors in hyperspace. They would be spending most of their fuel on this maneuver, and would be vulnerable after their pass. The Republic used similar tactics in the Second Battle of Terra, which was actually a strategic raid, and the first relativistic attack in known history. They'd had tankers prepositioned for recovery, beyond detection range. It would be stupid to assume the Alliance didn't.
Ya'Kur's flotilla and Aurora immediately raised their Marsten Fields to full strength and went to battle stations, but officially the Republic was viewing the Rntggld situation as an internal matter for the Consolidation. Rules of engagement were to not fire unless a Jeffersonian or allied ship was fired upon. All Republic-flagged ships in the system were using transponders which clearly identified them as such. Aurora's shuttles were still ferrying refugees to the rescue ships but all her crew were back aboard, including her gynoid; her robot extensions were aiding refugees on the surface and she was operating the shuttles remotely.
It would be over an hour before the Alliance ships were within practical weapons range. Aurora sent her shuttles scrambling for whatever ship was nearest. Three of the remaining ships were cargoliners, one a cargotanker; one of the former was from the Republic of Caledonia, the rest were Reserve Privateers. The tanker's Shipfolk Family was mostly Eyani.
The Alliance flagship, whose name translated as Rectifier, broadcast: "All ships in the Rntggld system, cease acceleration, strike your Fields, and prepare to be boarded. This system and all beings in it are under the jurisdiction of the Glautak Consolidation. Surrender immediately or be destroyed."
The Scottish ship boosted and ran, scooping up Aurora's Five Boat and dozens of refugees on the way in an impressive display of helmsmanship, plasma discharges sparkling as the shuttle's Faraday hull passed through the ship's Marsten Field. Jenny Blain and Sarah Heusner had sent tips to every friendly ship and MacAndrews was on course for a Close Transit out. The Eyani-crewed ship, Ja'Nok'Hrek, followed the moment her own two shuttles were aboard. Danielle and Catalina lingered, dropping to lower orbits to sooner grab every shuttle they could. Catalina's bays were full; two of the empty shuttles were sent to parking orbits on automatic to make room, a third, from one of the Free Glaut Armada warships, plunged back to the surface for more refugees.
Ya'Kur was in military command of Jeffersonian forces here, and Danner and Aurora would defer to him in that role, but Danner was acting Ambassador and held the highest diplomatic rank. "Rectifier," he transmitted, "Jeffersonian and Caledonian ships are not subject to Consolidation jurisdiction. Any interference with their operations will be considered a hostile act."
That was when the other Alliance Navy detachment made an even closer Transit in the path of the two ships already fleeing.

It was a light cruiser and three more destroyers. They burned for a passing attack too, setting up a crossfire with the first group. None of the refugee fleet would escape their reach.
There was no answer to Danner's transmission, but Captain Juliet MacAndrews sent, "Be damned if I'll let the sassenachs board me. I'm pushing through!"
"We're right behind you," Captain Gl'Tar sent, as Ja'Nok'Hrek's torches throttled up to their maximum of thirty-one meters acceleration. In less than forty minutes they would be in weapons range.
The Space Patrol warships were in a higher orbit, over a thousand kilometers, to stay out of the way of the evacuation, while staying close enough for deterrence against Consolidation interference. They and Aurora were together, and the timing of the Alliance arrival was such that the Jeffersonian ships were above the far side of the planet from the impending action. Danner sent to Ya'Kur, "Recommend boosting for the hyper Limit. We're low on options this deep in the gravity well."
"I just gave that order," the Eyani replied, and indeed the Patrol ships' torches were lighting before Danner had finished his sentence. Aurora joined them. They were boosting at the slowest ship's maximum, which was Steeltown herself at 49 meters. It would take them most of an hour to reach one light-second from the surface, which was the hard Limit for hyperspace Transition for this planet's gravity and the quality of the Patrol ships' Drives and Navigators.

The evacuation had effectively ended. Though nearly fifteen of the seventeen thousand people there had boarded ships, and most of those had already escaped to hyperspace, no one else was getting off Rntggld until the end of this battle.
The Free Glaut Armada also began boosting for the hyper Limit, but they had been at a lower orbit, to recover shuttles. There wasn't much space for refugees aboard warships, but over a thousand had been taken in, spread across all the ships. Some shuttles were now discarded when empty, to make room in docking bays for more. Most Glaut could not survive long periods of high acceleration. The mutinous crews of the Armada had built tolerance, as Grbblb and Trllbl had. The refugees aboard the Armada were sent to water storage tanks to help endure the heavy boost. Even so, the Armada was only making forty-three meters. The Alliance forces would reach weapons range long before the Armada could safely Transition.
MacAndrews and Ja'Nok'Hrek continued boosting for the Limit. Having already built speed, they couldn't easily evade the reach of the second Alliance detachment. Even with Sarah Heusner's navigation tips, and Jenny Blain's help with their Drives, the ships would be in range of Alliance Marsten Guns for at least six minutes before they could Transition. The Jeffersonian flotilla, of which Aurora was now a part, would come over Rntggld's horizon to unmask their own heavy beam weapons two minutes after the refugee ships entered the Alliance's range.

There was no further communication to or from the Alliance. All other ships prepared for battle: putting all personnel in suits or rescue bubbles, pumping air out of the most vulnerable compartments, charging capacitors for energy weapons, loading mass drivers with missiles or slugs... updating log buoys for jettison.
Aurora, her gynoid on her own bridge beside her Captain, projected a tactical display. Minutes, then seconds ticked by, as MacAndrews approached the envelope of the Alliance's weapons, Ja'Nok'Hrek a half-minute behind, each with hundreds of refugees aboard. The icons crossed the line.
Captain MacAndrews transmitted, "They're painting us with Detectors. They haven't fired yet-"
And then they did.

The Alliance light cruisers were armed with ten Class Seven Marsten Guns, in turrets spaced across its cylindrical hull, each paired with a heavy laser. With the ship rolled appropriately, eight could be brought to bear in a broadside, counting the single chase mounts fore and aft. Four were fired at each of the oncoming refugee ships. Two missed MacAndrews, three went wide of Ja'Nok'Hrek.
Those that did strike were enough. These were not warships, they had no armor, their fighting systems were afterthoughts, their Reserve Privateer status valid but acquired for legal convenience. As Aurora came over the horizon, her telescopes could see the ships involved, but she was not yet far enough clear of the planet to fire her Marsten Guns. Live video showed MacAndrews shattering, bursting with flame and debris; then fusion containment failed, star-hot plasma was let loose. There could be no survivors. Ja'Nok'Hrek was drilled through, the beam piercing one side of the bow, emerging from another side of the stern. The Marsten Field decelerated the faster-than-light particles of a Marsten Gun to relativistic speeds, a conventional particle beam, and also protected organic brains from Marsten Radiation; but as Aurora watched, Ja'Nok'Hrek's tachyon emissions faded as her Field dissipated. Her telescopes saw escape pods and shuttles launching, fleeing the wreck-
The Alliance cruiser fired again. Without the protection of a Field, the radiation of the passing beam instantly destroyed every living brain in the vicinity.
The moment the cruiser fired on MacAndrews, a ship of the Republic of Caledonia, allied by mutual-defense treaty with the Jeffersonian Republic, a state of war began. Now the Alliance had done the legal equivalent of machine-gunning lifeboats in the water.
And they had done it to Citizens of the Jeffersonian Republic.
Ambassador Danner nodded to Captain Ya'Kur's hologram. Ya'Kur then sent to his flotilla: "All Jeffersonian or allied ships. An act of war has been committed by the Glautak/Flike Alliance against the Jeffersonian Republic and the Republic of Caledonia. Weapons free. Engage any Alliance target at will."
The Free Glaut Armada had already rewritten their transponders to show "friendly" on Jeffersonian displays. Now it was Ya'Kur's turn to nod a signal to Solomon. Danner sent: "Admiral Burtulb, the rules have changed. In the name of the Jeffersonian Republic, I invite you to join us in battle against the Alliance."
Brttlb proved to have a penchant for the dramatic, and this was not the wrong time for it. {We join the Lady in White! We avenge the martyr Trllbl! ALL FREE GLAUT, FOLLOW ME TO WAR!}

Now it was two separate actions, both in support of a third: the Jeffersonian flotilla against the second detachment, and the Armada against the main Alliance force, with the planet between them, above which Danielle and Catalina were waiting for the last shuttles, and would then need cover to escape the system. Ya'Kur's flotilla was now unmasked; and Jeffersonian gunners were far better than the Alliance's. "Our lighter Guns won't reach," Ya'Kur's hologram said, "but you and I have Class Tens. Execute those murderers!"
Holly was on the bridge, while Prrg was taking his turn in Auxiliary Control. To her, Captain Solomon Danner of the Jeffersonian Republic Navy said the words his ship-sister had been waiting all her adult life to hear: "Gunner Cates, you may fire at will!"

The Marsten Device used focused tachyon emissions to send and receive information faster than the speed of light. Arrays of multiple Devices made up the Marsten and Blain Drives, to carry ships through hyperspace; a different derivative was the Marsten Gun, a faster-than-light particle beam weapon.
Marsten Device transmissions were directional and nearly impossible for an enemy to jam or intercept. Thus the Jeffersonian and Free Glaut ships formed a tactical network to select and efficiently distribute targets, and to share sensor data. Presumably the Alliance was doing the same, but over the last few days Ya'Kur, Danner and Aurora had been giving the Glaut rebels a crash course in modern naval tactics and strategy. They had also given them improved computers for each of their ships, fabbed and programmed by Grbblb, Trllbl, Sarah Heusner, Holly Cates, and Prrg. Inspection of the rebel ships and interviews with their commanders and crews showed that the Alliance systems were inferior, and the enemy crews, especially the Flike, could not use them to their full potential.
On the other end of the bell curve, Holly Cates had been dreaming of this moment since she had stood on the yellow painted footprints of Camp Stoddard, her first day as a Jeffersonian Republic Marine. Perhaps she should have gone to the Space Patrol, the Navy Reserve, instead; but the Cates family had always served the Corps, many Republic warships carried Marine contingents, and many of those had weapons crewed by Marines. It was a tradition dating to well before the Escape, when certain turrets on American Navy battleships wore the Eagle, Globe and Anchor on their armored sides.
She had come close to her dream at Adda; closer at Illyria. She had passed on her ancestors' ancient Marine emblems to her nephew, but her family had given her others, one from Afghanistan, another from Eyan. Now, as her warship-sister's weapons rose above the edge of the planet, she took her hands away from the pockets where she kept the emblems, and placed them on Aurora's gunnery controls. The tactical network, now with some guidance from Aurora's self-aware computer brain, had assigned targets: Steeltown would spread her Class Ten Marsten Guns across the enemy destroyers, nine of the twelve able to bear. Aurora had only four of that size, and Sergeant Major Cates concentrated them on the light cruiser which had murdered hundreds of innocent people. The two Jeffersonian cruisers fired together.
There was no restraint, no attempt to disable an enemy ship instead of destroying it outright, no thought of allowing the crew to escape. All four enemy ships in the second detachment became minature stars.
Danielle and Catalina had picked up the last shuttles that would make it. They now dove to a lower orbit to pick up speed, not quite skimming the atmosphere, which would slow them down; then, using this gravity slingshot, they shaped their courses to boost for the hyper Limit, through the place where the enemy had been. They would need an hour to get there.
Continued in the next excerpt....
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