Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
Aurora, Part XVIII: You Can't Keep a Good Alran Down

This page Copyright © 2016, Karl Leffler

Continued from the previous excerpt
Imagine a world.
A planet, like Terra, warm and living. Blue and white of ocean and sky, green of land. Vast plains, great mountains, desert or forest or jungle or ice where patterns of weather and chaos dictated. Animals and plants of air and sea and soil, the million mysteries of any living world.
On this world, as on others, life grew toward intelligence. Some animal discovered some advantage – an upright stance to view predators (or prey) from a greater distance; an opposable thumb to grasp tools for defense (or attack). Across ages, this clever animal grew cleverer, organizing into society for mutual advantage, creating new tools with which to conquer his environment. Writing and language were invented, and with them the concepts of history and future. Families became tribes became nations. Some warred with others, as any such do, but for any one nation the times of peace were longer than those of war, the times of building greater than those of destruction. Rivers and roads funneled people together, cities reached out and up. Centers of learning and invention were decreed by rulers, or more often born as though from windswept seed.
In three and a half Terran centuries, Humans had searched twice a thousand worlds about thrice a hundred stars, and found fifteen such intelligences comparable to their own. The Drake Equation at last approached wondrous solution: We are not alone.
The people of this one world were, in the set of their minds, very Human-like, and bore much outward resemblance beside. Ever questing, they had learned to till their earth, herd their animals, find and smelt metals, even to harness the power of steam. Their Industrial Revolution was just beginning – factories produced goods of luxury beyond their ancestors' imagining, ships carried them across oceans with little regard for wind, some few brilliant dreamers reached for their sky in fragile craft of cloth and wood and wire. A few even looked to the stars and wondered.
Thus it was on the world her inhabitants named Oskran, at approximately the time – depending which history one reads – the Roman Empire crumbled.
Thus it was, when whatever gods the Alran people then worshiped, for whatever reason withdrew their favor and smote this world with fire.

From the depths of blackness, a swarm of debris – a collision of asteroids or comets from their own Oort Cloud or Kuiper Belt, for which the Alran had not yet names – had scarred Oskran's face, fracturing continents, sculpting seas, flaying the biosphere... incinerating her civilization. The bombardment was thorough, the confluence of axial tilt and orbital position leaving little but the poles unaffected; the legends spake of twenty days and twenty nights of thunder and flame. Cities of hundreds of thousands vanished in instants, and all their histories and sciences with them. Strikes in oceans raised tsunami to scour coasts; strikes inland raised clouds of dust and ash to blot out the stars toward which some had reached with curious minds, from which all now cowered. Crops withered, herds starved. Plague held a minor role; most had died by cataclysm, in the Twenty Days – few survived to host or spread lowly bacteria or virii.
But some did survive.
Some of the cities were not struck directly, but without constant supplies of food from the countryside, as the world's lifecycle was crippled and those who toiled in fields had more immediate concerns, the urbanites starved. The pattern could be predicted: some gang would attack another for dwindling stores of food, imagined or real – a spark would be struck – flames would devour the work of centuries – ragged survivors would trickle out of the ashen ruins to seek what life remained.
An age later, minds of science guessed that of the billion people on Oskran before the Fire, perhaps five percent survived the Twenty Days and the weeks and months following.

Not all was lost. Some of the oldest monuments, those carved from stone in an age before science, survived much, some buried in ash or dust or sand where once was forest, waiting centuries to be rediscovered. Books of paper, though too many had been burned for warmth in the dark age and long winter after the Fire, could also be found, secreted away in this monastery, that remote outpost, some pioneer's home on what had been called “frontier” before all the world was cleansed of “settlement”.
Slowly and with pain, the Alran people rebuilt, clawing their way up from barest survival, decade by century rediscovering what had been destroyed. Again there were cities, many rebuilt on the bones of the old. Again there was invention and learning, industry and commerce. Again the Alran reached the heights they had known when the Fire came, and climbed further: electricity lit their cities, connected their nations, eased their labors. Those of moderate prosperity could own motor vehicles, and some of these had conquered the sky, with bags of gas or rigid wings. New cycles of tribal conflict – who remembered the old? – from stone and spear through arrow and trebuchet to bomb and gun, had risen and fallen. In time's fullness the Alran were, if not united, at relative peace.
Thus it was, the equivalent of two thousand Terran years beyond the Fire, when the Explorer ship JRS Meriwether Lewis Transitioned to realspace a dozen light-seconds from Oskran's surface, at about the same time Solomon Danner was piloting the ship's boat of September Rose to glory and wealth.

Lisa's Arms, Monticello

“Alran,” Lascomb identified the others, “from Oskran. I'm on staff attached to the diplomatic mission. I have an image here-” The commander reached to activate her 'puter.
“Please allow me, Commander.” Aurora's remote projected holo of an Alran male and female in clothing similar to that worn by those at the other table.
The crew were dumbstruck. The Alran were startlingly humanoid in form and size, but differences were obvious – skin shades of red, from a very Caucasian pink to the hue of fresh blood; a four-fingered hand, large eyes with horizontally-slit pupils, very small noses, large backswept pointed ears. “Shall I summarize the encyclopedia entry?”
“Please do,” Danner said quietly, too surprised by the aliens to be surprised again at Aurora's initiative.
“Bipedal, bisexual mammals. Similarities to Human are obvious but there is no evidence of relation. Human-equivalent intelligence and sentience across all standards of measurement. Their world, Oskran, orbits a G3 star approximately thirty parsecs from Monticello. Oskran is slightly smaller than Terra with correspondingly lighter gravity of 9.3 meters. There is evidence of severe meteoric bombardment in the planet's recent-geological past, estimated at thirty-two hundred Monticellan years ago, during which any previous civilizations would have been effectively destroyed. Current level of Alran development includes steam and electric power, internal-combustion engines, and aircraft both lighter and heavier than air. They have an understanding of basic astronomy and general relativity, and at the time of Contact may have been experimenting with mechanical calculators and fundamental radio, but have not independently developed switching electronics. Current population is estimated at 300 million. They were discovered by the Explorer Meriwether Lewis in 543JR and are currently in negotiations for trade and diplomatic relations with the Republic.”
The crew were staring at the projected holo, but Lascomb was staring at Aurora's remote. Even the semblance of machine sentience was outside her experience, and she was a bit unnerved by the computer's initiative.
Meanwhile, Sarah, Prrg and Danner all looked at each other; the two navigators and their captain could read a starmap from memory, but Aurora had projected one. Danner turned to Lascomb and stated: “They're right between the Glaut and the Flike.”
The commander started at this, snapping her eyes away from Aurora. “Uh- yes, that's- that's the, uh, issue.” She shook her head once to clear it, and Danner wondered if Lascomb had a problem with AI. “You already know what the Glaut are like, better than anyone.”
“It's not the Glaut,” Hlossh noted. “Just their damn government.”
Lascomb nodded and went on, “How much do you know about the Flike?”
“Suddenly less than I should,” Danner answered. “Carnivores. Imperialistic, they've unified their own world. Contacted... what, twenty years ago? Aurora, please?”
“Yes, Captain.” Aurora's remote displayed an image of a Flike. There was no mistaking it for anything but a predator. In form it took elements of the leopard and the wolf, covered not with fur but a leathery hide of dark brown, shading to black, rippling over finely-tuned muscle. It walked upright on two hind legs, but motion holo showed it running on four limbs to attack prey. The upper limbs had a tool-user's hands, but hands and feet all carried prominent claws; those on the fingers were retractable. Another, smaller pair of limbs, just below the arms, ended in single claws, for holding prey once it had been caught. The holo demonstrated graphically. Its face was a demon's, filled with carnivore fangs, topped with a hunter's mobile ears, tipped by an elongated snout much like a wolf's, surmounted by a predator's binocular eyes which seemed to glow red. The imaged example bore many battle scars, wore a loincloth similar to Prrg's, and carried an iron-tipped spear. It also wore bracelets and earrings of silver and gold, and a leather pouch at its hip, slung diagonally across its torso. The chest, back, head and face were ridged with natural bone armor, and there were knobs of bone at elbows and knees. The creature stood 2.5 meters tall when upright, and a caption identified it as a baron. A stone castle rose in the background.
Aurora narrated: “Flike are almost purely carnivorous. They have been tentatively classified as mammals but debate continues. As apex predators, their numbers are necessarily small, estimated at 140 million. They are bisexual and viviparous, but the females are subsentient, nearly always giving birth to pairs, male and female. While the males are classed as Human-equivalent in sentience and intelligence, they are still driven by powerful hunting instincts and reflexes, which has made diplomatic relations physically hazardous. Nikar, and to a lesser extent Eyani, sharing more visible predator heritages than other Republic races, have achieved the few diplomatic successes thus far.
“Discovered by JRS Robert Goddard in 529JR, their technology at time of Contact was roughly Iron Age, and their understanding of the universe was mythological or animistic. After an estimated seven hundred Monticellan years of war, their planet, Kmar, was unified under a dynastic emperor an estimated three hundred years ago. Since Contact the Flike have adapted rapidly, and while much of their population remains relatively primitive, their ruling class have purchased advanced weapons and other technologies from throughout known space. Reportedly the Glautak Consolidation has been building ships for sale to the Flike, including copies of the Sixth-Generation Marsten Drive the Consolidation first purchased from the Republic shortly after its introduction sixty-three years ago. Though most are old and some were purchased as scrap, the Flike operate at least eleven starships at the time of this report, and are known to be developing their own shipbuilding capability and space industry. The Flike Empire has declared expansionist intentions and is considered a danger to peace in the region, moreso when considering their connection to the Consolidation.”
As Aurora fell silent, Danner turned to face Lascomb again, wearing a serious expression. “You didn't just bump into me, did you?”
“Well.” She avoided his eyes for a moment. “It's coincidence that you're here at this time, but when I saw Aurora in the Landing Day coverage I mentioned it to Commodore Tl'Nok-” she gestured to the other table to indicate the Eyani Patrol officer- “and we thought you might be interested in a charter.”
“We know what's happening in the Consolidation,” Danner said. “What else is going on out there?”
Again Lascomb evaded Danner's eyes. She activated the table's privacy screen, transparent memory-plastic which rose around them in a dome – to outward view, this and the floor beneath became mirrors – and said, “This must be confidential.” The crew nodded as one (Hlossh bobbed his eyestalks), and Lascomb began, “The Glaut and-”
She broke off, staring again at Aurora's remote.
“Two things, Beth,” Danner said after a moment, waiting for her to meet his eyes before continuing. “First, eleven beings have trusted Aurora with their lives for eight years. She can be trusted with secrets, too. She was born to defend the Republic.
“Second, I can guess: ONI suspects a military alliance between the Consolidation and the Flike Empire, and fears they'll conquer Oskran and any other world who can't defend themselves.” Lascomb stared. “Did I mention my father, the 'retired' Commodore, gave me your task force's location and comm codes for the Rollbottle business?”
Lascomb cleared her throat but said nothing.
Danner said, “Beth, the last time I took my family into a war zone, a member of this family was already at war.”
“No!” she answered with a trace of alarm. “It's not that bad, at least not yet. Neither Glaut nor Flike are stupid, it'll be years before they can build up enough strength to have any hope of success. They won't dare start anything. But the State Department wants some of the Alran delegates returned home to give first-hand reports, and they want our new ambassador on-site as soon as may be.”
Her eyes slid away from Danner's again as she added, “...And... staff.”
Danner looked the woman up and down. “You've changed MOS.”
This she did not answer, but said, “Sending the... staff... openly, on a Patrol ship, might raise... suspicions, and make... information gathering more difficult. Sol, I swear, it's not a dangerous situation and won't be for years! We... the Republic just wants to... set up shop. All we want from you is a ride. Discreetly.”
Danner locked eyes with his former lover and was silent for a time. “How many and when?”
“Four Humans, three Eyani, one Chikaran, two Alran. Ready to depart in four days. Uh... two of the Humans and one Eyani will be traveling as tourists. Another Eyani as a trader.”
One would have to know Danner very well to notice how his nostrils flared for a moment. “Are you coming with us?”
“No,” she said. “I'm staying here to liaise with the Alran embassy. Sol, I'm not a spook, I'm still a data-pusher! I just... push it somewhere else now.”
Danner's expression softened. “All right, pax. Any cargo?”
“Two standard Number Eight containers. Sealed.”
“Naturally. That's a very light load, all together. Daisuke?”
The purser had been busy with his 'puter. “I can assemble a profitable, and plausible, cargo in time. Also another...” he tapped a holographic key. “Seventeen passengers, engineers and technicians to improve Oskran's infrastructure as part of the technology transfers already agreed upon.”
“Jack, you can hide a pair of Number Eights?” The cargomaster snorted and smirked. “Anyone else?”
“All we need is fuel along the way,” Jenny commented. “I think we can get a couple more c besides, I was swapping notes with a gal I know at Marsten Inc.” Sarah turned to confer quietly with the engineer, examining a starmap.
Clancy had also been consulting the Monticellan net. “Appropriate food is-” another virtual keystroke- “on the way.”
“I'd like a few more missiles,” Holly said. “On principle. And more ordnance for the small-craft.”
Danner cocked an eyebrow while considering. Turning to Lascomb again, he said, “I've been meaning to take care of that. You're going to have a well-stocked Patrol tender, with a very efficient crew, meet us in the deep black at coordinates to be provided by Sarah, where they will quickly and quietly load my ship for orak. This is not a request. Or a loan.”
Lascomb hesitated for a single heartbeat. “Done.”
Danner looked around the table again. “More?” No one spoke. He told Lascomb, “Daisuke will inform you of the rest of our fare. For appearances. Further details can be sent to him as well.” The captain stood and switched off the privacy screen. “It is good to see you again, Beth,” he told her, taking her hand again as the rest of the crew stood; it was time to go back to work. “But I do wish the circumstances were different.”
“So do I, Sol.” She smiled, with a touch of sadness, and they parted.

Over the next four days, Lascomb and the crew made detailed arrangements while loading the regular cargo and passengers for cover. Epstein made the “tourists”' containers vanish in the ballast compartments, what would have been called the bilge on an ocean ship; Clancy laid in sufficient supplies, including the necessary supplements for Alran biology, despite many opportunities to restock along their flight plan; Daisuke, researching the Alran from the moment Lascomb had identified them, rounded up a diverse cargo he guaranteed would sell.
Jenny announced a new speed of over c167, and this was where more details began. Officially, Aurora would still Transit at c164, and fuel consumption, her times of departure and arrival between fuel stops, would be calculated to maintain the fiction – for she would lose time along the way, which would have to be made up. Lascomb had assured Danner that a Patrol supply ship would be waiting in deep space, three light-years from Monticello, to fill Aurora's magazines.
On the last evening before departure, Lascomb commed Danner from the surface to finalize arrangements and wish Danner and his crew good fortune. With the formalities finished, Danner asked Lascomb to stay online and switched to a private channel.
“Beth, I would have liked to have shown you around Aurora. You've said you were too busy to make the trip up, but I think there's another reason. Can you tell me?” he asked gently.
She hesitated, then softly replied, “My brother was on the Samuel Pepys.”
“I see.” And he did. R172, a research ship with a mostly civilian crew accompanying E40, the fifth JRS Robert A. Heinlein, had disappeared six years earlier, after the crew had transmitted something indistinct about trouble with the AI. The ship had Transitioned into hyperspace without warning and had never been found. Many had speculated, but likely none would ever know. “I was not aware. Please accept my condolences.” Danner did not offer apology; neither he nor his ship was responsible, and he and Beth had fallen out of touch before he left the Patrol. There was no way he could have known.
“Thank you.” She was silent a moment, then asked, “So what do you have against spooks? Isn't your father one?”
“Not exactly. And, nothing in particular. I just don't like... false pretenses.” This he said without malice.
Now it was Beth's turn to not apologize. “'Gentlemen don't read each other's mail'?”
“You know I'm not so naïve. I accept the necessity, I just don't want to be involved. This is my ship and I am her Captain and that is all I've ever wanted.”
“...All?”
“...Most.”
Beth gave another sad smile. “Take care, Sol. When you get back, find me.” She broke the connection.
Continued in the next excerpt....
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