Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2016, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part XVII: That Sacred Day
Continued from the previous excerpt
Aurora's cargo out of Alpha was of course beef, and hides, for the breeds of cattle within Alpha produced the most supple of leathers; saddlers (which included makers of holsters) often used New Texas supercow hide, but clothiers needed something flexible, and Hannebuth's successors practiced selective breeding. But she would also be carrying thirty-three passengers to Monticello for Landing Day, the Republic-calendar anniversary of the first Human extraSolar landing on Tau Ceti II, four Terran years before the Declaration of Independence. There was plenty of time; Clancy and Ralph were helping the passengers get settled for their 650-hour Transit, and they would be arriving early to enjoy the entire celebration.
Passengers had been among Danner's original concept for Aurora's new life, though she would never carry great numbers. Her aft grav-ring was dedicated to this use. Each of the eight identical ring sections could be configured into up to five compartments. Typically, two opposing sections were kept as single compartments, luxuriously appointed for one or two occupants, as 1st Class; flanking each of these, four sections were configured in three compartments, again for one or two people, 2nd Class; and the last two were each divided into five economy, single-bunk, 3rd Class compartments. Aurora and her crew, including her labor robots, could reconfigure one section to any standard configuration in about an hour by replacing partitions. There was even a 4th Class option, packing four bunks into each of four compartments with a common bath in the fifth, for a total of 128 passengers; this had been used on occasion by colonists, and was still well within Aurora's life-support capacity – her military crew had been larger yet. For this use, especially for long Transits to the Frontier, the ship typically dropped out of hyper and boosted on her realspace engines to simulate gravity at mealtimes, in a much larger temporary galley Clancy and Ralph set up in one of the forward cargo holds, rather than trying to feed people in shifts in the regular galley. Each section of both rings also left space for the corridor, along the forward edge of the ring, allowing passengers or crew to move between compartments and sections without disturbing occupants' privacy.
The forward ring had not been reconfigured since Vatelius joined the crew. She was their ship and their dream, their home. Even Grbblb's compartment was as he had left it; there was cubic to spare elsewhere, and he was... on leave.
For this Transit, the 1st Class sections were left as they usually were, both purchased by senior couples enjoying their retirements; the four usual 2nd Class sections had also been left unchanged, while the two 3rd Class sections had been remade to 2nd Class. These were filled with more couples, small families, and a few singles. Taniyama had led the crew in the construction of a tourism package. The ship was still famous and her next destination was popular; the twenty openings had sold out three hours after being posted to the Terran net.
Landing Day, 551JR
Liberty, East Continent
Monticello, Jeffersonian Republic
Danner watched from the Corona's cockpit as the reproduction Vetter Aerospace Model 3 landing craft, LC1-A Galileo II, undocked from the sacred original JRS Enterprise, XSLS1, the first Human starship, a centuries-old orbiting museum. Alongside was another Enterprise, F04, the Constitution-class frigate; both enshrined fragments believed to be from another, Aurora's sister CL19, destroyed in the Battle of Wilson's Colony, where Aurora herself had spoken in righteous anger. The event organizers had given Aurora the rare honor of docking alongside her ancestors and kin; the ship, through her robots, was conducting tours of herself even now, pausing to display holo of what was to come.
The Enterprise Museum also hosted portions or fragments of other ships to have borne the name, or famous under their own: a heat-shield tile stolen before the Escape from the American space shuttle, OV-101, later tragically destroyed in the Unification; part of a bulkhead from CVN-65, smuggled out of the breakers' yard at risk of execution; the CIC compartment of the dreadnought JRS Scotland, from which much of the Battle of Terra had been directed; the spinal Marsten Gun from the strike cruiser Tredegar; and the entirety of Glennis Yeager, FFX749, the first ship to exceed one hundred times lightspeed. The Museum itself was the converted hull of yet another Enterprise, E01, first of the huge post-War Explorer ships and the one which had discovered the Nikar. Her flight deck was filled with famous smaller craft, the Corsair fighters and Dauntless bombers used in the War, and examples of their descendants. Many of these still flew – especially this day – for the Museum was owned and operated by the Confederate Air Force. Too large to dock, the latest Enterprise, E47, held station two kilometers away, dwarfing her entire family tree. Twice a hundred more ships of every kind and origin sprawled across the same orbit.
Nearby, Two Boat, refit years ago with more viewports, was filled to capacity with Aurora's passengers; Three Boat, now identical, carried the overflow and more paying spectators from Monticello Station and elsewhere. Four and Five Boats were likewise filled, but further away; there were only so many positions available for what was to follow, and the organizers preferred smaller craft. Danner and Taniyama had purchased slots for the Corona and the twin Type 208 shuttles a year before – they sold out fast.
A hundred more shuttles, aircars, ship's boats, and vintage warcraft flew in computer-controlled, rotating, intermingling formation with Galileo II, manually piloted by the year's top graduate of the Space Patrol Academy (the Charles Yeager Academy took alternate years) and copiloted, this year, by a direct descendant of Nora Gaines. The lander's own half-dozen passengers had been chosen, first by essay contest and then by lottery of the finalists, from a hundred sixty-eight thousand schoolchildren across the Republic. The joyous ad-hoc fleet followed the little craft all the way down through atmosphere to her triumphant landing on the exact same spot where Captain Gaines and Dr. Elaine Bowditch had made the first Human footprints on a world orbiting a star other than Sol.
The town of Liberty, East Continent, had a permanent population of perhaps three thousand; for three days each year this swelled to over ninety. As One, Two and Three Boats followed computer guidance to parade overhead with their hundred fellows, the cheers could be heard above the engines and through the hulls.
The actual landing site had been paved with plasticrete mere days after that first Landing, and for a time Liberty had been the world's first spaceport; likewise Flag Hill was now topped by a stone monument and a towering flagpole; but the spirit of the proceedings was pure. With the hundred small craft hovering in geometric array around the site, Ensign Nicole Krueger joined hands with Citizen Fumie Greene and recreated the historic moment, stepping off Galileo II's ramp together, marching up Flag Hill with the ecstatic children to raise the Star and Bars of their nation once again.
Prrg, in the Corona's right front seat, said to Danner, “On my race's behalf, I envy your unity. Nikar still war among themselves for ancient tribal insults, but you – a dozen races, more alien to each other than any clan – do not. But for my own part, I am proud to be a Jeffersonian.” Prrg kept his recorder panning across the spectacle, taking holo to send to his homeworld, to rub his people's noses in what they could have.
Danner reached across to pat his First Mate's shoulder. “And I'm proud to have you with us.” Prrg had fought for liberty on Kshir, before he and Danner had met; and had proven himself a worthy comrade many times since.
Behind Danner, Sarah was openly weeping in joy; this was the first time any of the crew had observed Landing Day in person. Beside her, Holly dabbed at her own eyes, for the nation she had sworn to defend had not forgotten her past, and her many years of service had not been in vain. In the back seats, Ralph and Clancy were similarly moved, while in the cockpits of the shuttles, Hlossh and Jenny and Jack and Daisuke were also swept up in the moment.
Ninety thousand voices, many other than Human, sang the National Anthem, challenging even the roar of a hundred crafts' engines, as the flag reached the top of the pole, gloriously waving free.
Monticello was the first extraSolar world ever reached by Humans. She orbited Tau Ceti, not quite a dozen light-years from Sol. Her gravity was higher, her atmosphere thinner than Terra's; for the last few days of Transit, Aurora's grav-rings had been slowly brought to their design maximums of diameter and rotation to simulate the weight, the ship's pressure reduced to match. Many of the passengers, especially the elderly, unashamedly carried supplemental oxygen and walking aids.
Monticello, as every living world, also held much for the crew and passengers to explore. Central Terminal, in the equatorial desert of South Continent and one of the largest non-Terran cities in the Republic, still handled a great deal of traffic, not least for the national capitol and the many historic surroundings; directly above in synchronous orbit, Monticello Station was second in activity only to Aurora's place of birth and rebirth, High City. On West Continent's southern coast, the storied city of Cincinnati continued to thrive, her population doubling since contact with Boksi; a few hundred Glaut refugees now made homes there as well. Otherwise sparsely-settled, South Continent drew many a tourist to sweeping plains, white-robed mountains, sprawling forests and endless beaches. Tiny islands, anciently volcanic, dotted the vast ocean of the opposite hemisphere; most were privately owned and many were profitably operated.
Aurora's five boats carried her passengers to their destinations. Some had business to happily coincide with the Landing Day celebrations; one of the retired couples were embarking on a Grand Tour of the Republic, first visiting each Central World, then spiraling outward to the Second Wave and the ever-expanding Frontier – a journey which might take the rest of their lives, which were far from over. Danner reflected that his family's journey was similar, and reckoned himself most fortunate among men.
This couple, Danner flew to Central Terminal himself in the Corona, where they would book passage to Alexandria. Cates tagged along for another reason. While at the capitol, Danner and Cates checked in with the Department of Citizenship, updating records and confirming the crew's status. Grbblb had been counted a Provisional Citizen for the eight years he traveled and served with Aurora; this time served, and his new status as an officer of a recognized local militia, brought him to Full Citizenship, the first of his race to have earned it. All others in the crew were Full Citizens by their own paths, and their places aboard a reserve privateer counted as active maintenance of that status.
“I wish we could tell Glub in person,” Cates said to Danner as they left the Citizenship offices. “But the official notice will get there in just a few hours.”
“Let's have ours right behind it then.” Danner flipped on his 'puter and the two h-mailed him from the steps of the building. They copied the message to the rest of the crew, who would be sending their own congratulations.
Before they left Alpha, Grbblb had answered their query about a possible third caste – he didn't know. There were some legends even the Consolidation could not suppress... unless they'd created them. The crew's Glaut brother said he would pass on the inquiry to resistance members on his own world and others; some believed there were still forbidden archives, maintained by the Glautak regime, containing their real history.
He had indeed been sending militia and other video to that same underground, narrated by an avatar he had created with Sarah's help. The avatar was highly detailed, but deliberately 'flavored' to be unmistakably artificial. His voice was synthetic and could not be traced back to Grbblb. His appearance was blasphemous, a subtle mix of Glautak and Glauteb, an unspoken declaration of war against the caste system. He was larger than life, and wore a large blaster in a holster belted around his body between tentacles and eyes.
These videos were sent with instructions for extensive penetration of the Consolidation's computer networks. Rumor held that at least one high-ranking member of the Glautak hierarchy had suffered a fatal seizure at her first sight of “The Kraken.” The Consolidation was responding with more arrests and oppression, though they had learned to their cost to avoid the wholesale public atrocities recently indulged; now people simply disappeared. The Consolidation was also hiring computer experts, mostly Human. Those from the Republic were expensive, when they did not decline the offer with harsh language; generally, those from other nations weren't worth as much; but an invisible electronic war now raged on every Glaut world.
The capitol held many tourist attractions, and after delivering the last of Aurora's passengers, the crew regathered at Central Terminal to enjoy them: the unassuming Pentamvirate Chamber whose very architecture proclaimed that government was an evil to be forcibly restrained; headquarters of the few official Departments and Bureaus and Services which had survived the Great Repealing of the early 5th Century; the precious original construction of Old Town; galleries and shops and theaters in abundance. But of all these, the crew was drawn as a lodestone to one.
Everyone visited Lisa's Arms.
The weapon shop had been established by Lisa Mitchison upon the opening of Central Terminal's A Section in 56JR, 2044CE. Its location in the very heart of the capitol spaceport ensured an endless flow of customers. For the next 496 Monticellan years, 310 Terran, Lisa's descendants had carried on, each stipulating in the terms of inheritance that their successor must personally run the business. If one daughter or son was not inclined, another would be. The tradition had reached the ninth generation.
Originally, and still, a place of commerce, it had evolved, decade by century, into a cultural icon, a place of pilgrimage, an historical treasure-house. The store and museum were intermingled, and both encompassed far more than personal weapons. A stroll around the circumference revealed a chronological history of the Republic, reaching back to the mother-nation: her birth in battle in 1775CE, her trials and victories in following generations, her death by suicide in 2012. The shop had expanded five times and relocated twice over the years, and the museum kiosks, displaying photographs, holograms, documents and artifacts and recordings, had now reached three full turns on a gentle ramp spiraling upward around a 60-meter-diameter rotunda.
The crew took the Walk, seeing America's now-mighty daughter perilously Escaping in 2009, her power and wealth spreading across the stars. Of the three levels, the first covered the time from Lexington to Forest Grove; the second from the Declaration of Independence to the declaration of War; the third, from Masada's sacrifice to the present day. The shop itself was on the ground floor, the museum wrapping around the vast rotunda for which a fourth level was even now being constructed, in sections, offsite. But this was only the tourist attraction, the mass-market edition of the Jeffersonian Republic's history. Some years after the Republic-Empire War, the National Historical Society had relocated to seven levels, deep beneath the arms shop, easily accessible by lifts which could be sealed in moments to protect their copy of the National Archives from any practicable bombardment. Prolonged fire from orbiting Marsten Guns could tunnel that deep, or an asteroid could be blasted out of its path to collide, but under such imprecise energies no prize would remain for a conqueror to claim – and the Archives were copied on at least ten worlds which were publicly admitted to, counting Alexandria's Library and the Order of Librarians' still-hidden Backup World.
The rotunda was capped by a restaurant whose floor was armorglas so clear the diners seemed to be walking on air. Tables, chairs, even the very plates and utensils were likewise transparent. Another transparency formed a dome over this, to repel weather and the racket of the aerospace traffic still endlessly thundering above Big Tee, while giving an unobstructed view of the port complex and the city which had grown around it. When the museum's fourth level was complete, it would be installed in a single day and open for business the next, and the restaurant would be raised to perch above it, still giving a view through its transparent floor down the entire spiral to the arms shop below.
As the crew settled down to their meal, Hlossh said, between neoprawns, “First thing we do-” munch- “when Grbblb comes home-” crunch- “we bring him straight here and take the Walk again.” This was not their first visit to Lisa's, as it was not their first visit to the Republic's first world, though many exhibits had been added since the last time they'd been here with Grbblb.
“Hey, that'll be in time for the place's 500th anniversary!” Ralph noted. “Sol, let's plan for it!” The family tended toward first names; they wore no uniforms, despite most of them having done so before, and Danner was no martinet.
“Poor guy,” Holly said, “it makes him sad and happy at the same time. We know our history, he doesn't know if he has any.”
“Our history is his now,” Jack stated. “He's earned his claim to it. Plus whatever can be pried out of the Consolidation, someday.”
“I look forward to the prying,” Prrg rumbled. Hlossh reached a pincer-arm across the table and Prrg reached his hand out to meet it, briefly touching chitin to scales.
“I'm sending vid to mutti on Neues Deutchland,” Sarah said, busy with her 'puter. “She never made it here, in all those years with Flying Flea. We hardly ever got inside the Second Wave, and I can't remember ever being at a Central World before I joined Aurora.”
“That's a good idea,” Danner said. He asked the white sphere, “Aurora, would you please edit some video of the Walk we just made, to send to Glub?”
“Yes, Captain.” The sphere was silent just a moment – Aurora's present computer was powerful – before continuing, “Done, Captain. Length is thirty-two minutes. Would you like to review before sending?”
“Later, thank you, I'm sure it's fine. It'll be something for us to watch on the next Transit, and to share with passengers. Please add an introduction and send it.”
“Shall I add a narrative for each point of interest?”
The crew froze around the table, forks in hands, mouths open. Grbblb and Sarah had spent many hours tuning Aurora's AI, the rest of the crew testing the result through constant interaction. Was this another example – there had been others – of their largest sister's sense of self?
Danner broke the silence, casually answering, “Yes, that's an excellent idea. Thank you, Aurora.”
“You are welcome, Captain. Message sent.” The crew stared at the remote for a moment, then exchanged glances. Danner smiled, met his crew's eyes in turn, and went back to his meal.
A little while later, the meal was interrupted by a voice behind him. “Lieutenant Commander Danner, ten-hut!”
“Not bloody likely,” Danner boldly answered without turning or stirring from his seat. He took a sip from his glass and continued, “Besides, I'm a Captain now.” At this he turned to see who had teased him, and his face lit in a wide smile. “Beth!”
The woman was in Patrol uniform, with the three stripes and two stars of a full Commander, and a staff braid around one shoulder – but none of the other crew had snapped to attention either. The line between “civilian” and “military” was thin and blurry in the Republic, which was one of many reasons they'd won the War and hadn't had to fight another, but this crew was done with formalities. Those with the facial structures for it grinned wryly or cocked eyebrows questioningly. Hlossh staggered his eyestalks in a way that conveyed the same emotion, and Sarah likewise held one ear vertical and the other horizontal.
Danner rose from his seat and would have hugged the woman, if not for her uniform and her need to maintain decorum. Instead he took her hand in both of his. “Beth Lascomb! It's been ages! And moving up in the worlds, I see.” Promotion was slow in peacetime, and Lascomb had climbed two grades since he'd seen her last.
“Not as high as you,” she answered with a smile of her own. “Your own ship, and such a fine one! I'm green with envy!” Actually she was brown, as many Humans were since the War disposed of the old racial prejudices. Her skin was a bit darker than average, but centuries of mixed blood had given her naturally straight black hair and warm, if incongruously gray, eyes. High cheekbones, a snub nose and a delicate chin gave her face an elfin quality; her height matched Danner's own. Her build was that of a typical Jeffersonian woman, lean but robust, maintained by military fitness requirements and, for those with more challenging metabolisms, the occasional nanite treatment. On pre-Escape Terra she would have been a model. On post-War Monticello the competition was greater, but she had posed for recruiting posters.
Sol and Beth had been intimate, off and on, as their duties provided and regulations allowed. “You haven't changed otherwise,” Danner said now.
“You have. You look the same, but there's a difference. In your eyes, the way you carry yourself.”
Danner pulled out a seat for Lascomb, and they sat. “A dream come true will do that,” he answered, smiling warmly. “Let me introduce everyone. Well, almost everyone, we were just talking about our absent brother. Let's start with him. We call him Glub- Hlossh?” The Boksi pronounced the Glaut's name in a way no air-breather could. “Aurora, please display an image of Glub.” The spherical remote did so, and Lascomb's brows rose slightly in interest. “You'll have heard about the Relief of Rollbottle last year?”
Lascomb nodded. “I was on the flag deck of the Oregon with Rear Admiral Havatny's staff, waiting for a call which never came.”
“And I was the one who would have placed that call. My father gave me the codes and your location. I guess I'm glad you weren't needed, but for your personal information, every one of you was wanted.” Danner's smile had faded as he said this, and he tossed his head in dismissal to call it back. “But that's over with, at least this round. Glub's now mayor of a new settlement on New Israel, and colonel of what will eventually be a rather dangerous infantry regiment. We just got word he's the first Glaut to have earned full Citizenship. He'll be rejoining our family when his term ends in three years – less, now.”
“'Family'?” Lascomb asked. “Sol, are you turning into shipfolk?”
“I reckon so. Sarah here – Sarah Heusner – already is, not born but raised. One of the two best navigators I've ever known, she can drop a ship into any particular light-second you name from a dozen parsecs.”
Fur-covered Eyani did not blush, but Sarah fluttered her ears in embarrassment. “Sol- Captain Danner exaggerates.”
“Not by much. Prrg is my first mate, and the other best navigator. He did the math for September Rose at Rockville.” Lascomb's brows rose again; though it had been nearly a Republic decade, real spacers hadn't forgotten what Danner accomplished that day, and this was the being who had made it possible.
“Jenny Blain is the-” the crew joined in chorus, to Jenny's blush- “best damn engineer flying.” Alone Danner continued, “Rumors of Aurora's speed have not been greatly exaggerated. She has her up past 164 now, and we once boosted at over 73 meters.” Lascomb's eyes went wide; over 7 Terran gs of acceleration was more than most spaceframes were intended for even at present, and the Marsten Drive record was only c177, by an experimental ship which emerged from hyper crippled on its fourth record attempt.
“Hlossh is-” Jenny interrupted at this point: “The best damn engineer's mate. -One of two. Glub being the other.”
“Absolutely right,” Danner resumed. “Hlossh and Glub are also blood-brothers. When the Glaut revolution comes, we'll be in it.
“Charles Clancy is our steward-”
“An' pleased I am to be seein' ye again, Commander,” Clancy said. “'Tis long since we were on the New Texas together.”
Lascomb laughed aloud. “I was a very young mess officer on a very big ship,” she told Danner. “Chief Clancy very diplomatically took me under his wing.”
Danner grinned. “And it appears to be a very small galaxy. Holly Cates is our gunner, late of the Corps as a Sergeant Major, Retired.” The women nodded friendly at each other.
“Jack Epstein is our cargomaster, and a better structural engineer than most with degrees. He and Jenny could probably build a ship."
“She wouldn't be pretty,” Jack quipped, “but she'd fly. Jenny can make anything fly.” The engineer blushed again.
Danner resumed, “Ralph Vatelius, our doctor, when he's not playing steward's mate, when the robots aren't doing most of that work. Also our science officer and an above-average geneticist." Ralph's smile was restrained; he was instantly attracted to the other woman, but would not step in the minefield of what might be his captain's old flame.
“Daisuke Taniyama, the best purser I've ever flown with. We haven't lost money in two years – that was my fault – and we've never been in debt.” The purser bowed from the shoulders.
“Last and most, our sister and our home, Aurora.” Danner gestured at the white sphere on the table.
Without prompting, another holoprojector provided an image of the ship. “I am pleased to meet you, Commander,” Aurora said. Lascomb was visibly, if slightly, taken aback. Patrol ships were deliberately prevented from evolving toward sentience, and their AIs were limited; a regular-service officer would not be accustomed to higher-functioning AIs.
“Everyone, this is Beth Lascomb, a good friend I've known since my early days in the Patrol.” The crew chorused their greetings.
“I'm very pleased to meet you all,” Lascomb said.
“So Beth,” Danner asked, “what have you been up to?”
Lascomb paused a moment before answering. “Look over there,” she said, pointing to another table some forty meters away.
The crew did, and saw an Eyani in Patrol harness, two Humans and a Chikaran in what passed for diplomatic garb in the Republic, and what at first appeared to be three more Humans in unusual clothes with unusually red skin.
Holly was the first to notice. “Those aren't Humans.”
Continued in the next excerpt....