Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
Aurora, Part XIX: Between Two Points

This page Copyright © 2016, Karl Leffler

Continued from the previous excerpt
It was a long Transit to Oskran. In actual necessity, several; only the titanic Explorers could carry enough fuel for a nonstop flight of 100 light-years, not least as their lower speeds gave greater fuel-efficiency than Aurora. With Jenny's miserly low-speed settings, the cruiser could make the trip in only two Transits, but that would take a third again as long, and time was already a concern.
From the Republic, Oskran was on the far side of the Glautak Consolidation's seven stars, and Kmar was farther yet. Counting fuel stops, and assuming no other delays at her admitted hyperspace speed, it would take over 5,500 hours for Aurora to travel from Monticello to Oskran - seven and a half Terran months, just short of a Monticellan year. But, necessary for morale, there would also be layovers at worlds in between; the crew were indeed at home in Aurora, but no passenger could be expected to remain in such confinement for so long.
This would be the longest voyage the reborn Aurora had made with a set destination. Danner reflected that it was just as well Beth wasn't among the passengers; their past together would be a complication. From their early days, the family had raised a barrier of professional detachment between themselves and their passengers; soon after, Ralph had begun providing a constant example.
Yet, Sol admitted to himself, part of him wished she were traveling with them.
The last time Aurora had been to the Frontier had been nearly five years ago, on a journey of similar length, carrying a load of over four hundred Human colonists. This was far beyond Aurora's life-support capacity; they had been shipped as cargo in a leased array of Chikaran cryogenic units, their leaders revived days before arrival. Most colonization efforts were one-way with their own dedicated ships, but that colony had already been established and that latest wave of emigrants had been on a budget.
During the less-than-direct return from that trip, Ralph had talked Danner into purchasing a bank of twelve units, which were then installed adjacent to sickbay. The technicians heading to Oskran, mostly Human with a single Eyani and a pair of Siv, had signed lucrative contracts for five years of service plus travel time. Twelve had elected to make the outbound trip in cryo; all seventeen would have, and had played a poker tournament to eliminate the leftover five. Those in cryo paid far less for their passage, as they consumed neither food nor atmosphere. With the Frontier being pushed ever further, and longer trips in Aurora's future, Danner told Daisuke to shop for more cryo units. The Chikarans had invented practical cryo for their famous gamble on sublight starflight – the Bussard ramjet Chikar's Hope was now a museum above their homeworld, comparable to the Enterprise Museum above Monticello – and modern Jeffersonian ships tended to have a couple installed for medical emergencies, but with the Republic now nearly 200 light-years in diameter and most Drives, without the benefit of Jenny Blain's genius, rarely exceeding c130, more ships were offering cryo as a passenger option. Meanwhile, this left the crew of ten, and fifteen passengers, awake for the trip.
For this long voyage, the aft grav-ring was reconfigured again. The techs were being well paid and could afford the best Aurora had to offer, including private compartments. Seven ring-sections were arranged in two sections each, furnished to 1st Class standards except for size. The five awake techs, four Republic diplomats, three “tourists” and one “trader” each had compartments to themselves, each measuring roughly seven by seven-and-a-half meters at the “floor”, somewhat less at the “ceiling”, and with nearly four meters of headspace to help fight claustrophobia. The last section was done with a large central compartment for living and working space, flanked by smaller sleeping compartments for each of the Alran, all also done to 1st Class standards; the flanking compartments were the same size as regular 3rd Class, one-fifth the size of the entire section, while the central compartment formed a salon slightly larger than the other passengers'. As usual for 1st through 3rd Class on Aurora, each passenger compartment had a private bath; everything was modular, the ring-sections rebuilt for the purpose, and Aurora could do most of the work herself through her remotes – every trip, the crew had a little less work to do. At these standards of comfort, actual bathtubs could be indulged, though there were automatic systems to capture and secure loose water in emergencies, if the ship had to maneuver with little or no warning. Nor was water an expensive luxury; with essentially-unlimited power from the fusion engines, water and waste could be reprocessed to exceptional purity. Even leftover waste had some value as ballast or reaction mass, or on remote space habitats such as asteroid mines, as fertilizer for their farms.
Four 30-hour Monticellan days was plenty of time to get the passengers settled and familiarize them with Aurora's facilities and capabilities. She had transferred from the Enterprise Museum to Monticello Station for loading, and had finally undocked. As she was boosting to the hyper limit, Danner addressed the passengers from the bridge, Aurora projecting him by holo in every compartment.
“Gentlebeings, this is your Captain, Solomon Danner. I'd like to again welcome you aboard my ship, Aurora.”
Unseen by the passengers, for a moment Danner gently caressed his command console.
“We're currently boosting at 10 meters for the Monticello hyper limit, which we'll reach in about four hours. A countdown is being displayed in all compartments.
“Most of you will have heard this before, but for those who haven't, please bear with me. For those of you unaccustomed to space travel, during this time the direction of 'down' will be toward the stern of the ship. You'll be given plenty of notice when we're about to go into freefall, which will be shortly before we Transition to hyperspace.
“Once in hyper, the grav-rings containing your living quarters will be extended and spun, giving 10.9 meters acceleration, which is one Monticello standard. Since you were all living on Monticello before boarding, this should be a familiar weight. The direction of 'down' will then be out, away from the center of the ship, and in those compartments only; the rest of the ship will be in freefall until we emerge from hyperspace, at which time the rings will be retracted and halted, and we'll once again boost on our thrusters. The rotation will be 3rpm, and this may cause some discomfort due to Coriolis effects, but on such a long voyage we'll be maintaining that speed to prevent bone and muscle loss.
“This procedure will be repeated many times before we reach Oskran, as we'll have to drop out of hyper to refuel and resupply. We'll be having layovers, typically two or three days, at planets or the stations above them along the way; this will give you time to stretch your legs, breathe different air, and see something new.
“By the time we reach Oskran, every one of you may legitimately claim the title of Spacer.
“For practical purposes, our supply of water and electrical power is unlimited, so you may use as much as you like and adjust the conditions in your personal compartments however you please. Steward Clancy has given his personal guarantee that you will not be bored with the food; I'm not, and I've been flying with him for over eight years. Eat as much as you like, we have twice as much aboard as we'll need before we reach our next port.
“If you feel any discomfort, don't hesitate to call upon the services of our Ship's Doctor, Ralph Vatelius, an experienced surgeon trained in the Space Patrol Medical Corps and at Lexington University on Monticello. He's also our science officer and an accomplished geneticist whose work has been widely published.
“If anything in your compartments needs attention, simply press the call button, or call Aurora by name. She's highly intelligent and capable of handling most issues herself through her many remotes. To help pass the time, she also has an extensive library and is capable of playing nearly any game. Virtual-reality headsets have already been placed in your respective quarters, configured for your particular physiologies. Aurora can also explain how to use any device or facility aboard. Exercise and recreational equipment is available in Hold Number 5 in the forward bulb.
Aurora's clock is set to Monticello Standard Time, based on Central Terminal; it is now seventeen hours and thirty-seven minutes in a 30-hour day. We simulate night for sleep period at twenty-five hundred, and wake-up is at five hundred. You may of course sleep in or use whatever schedule you like.
“We're going to be together for nearly six thousand hours, so we may as well get to know one another. We'll be having dinner at twenty-one hundred hours. You are all free to dine privately in your compartments, but your fares are all-inclusive and have been prepaid in full, so you are all invited to the scheduled meals, which will be at seven hundred, fourteen hundred, and twenty-one hundred every ship's day, barring necessary adjustments for the operation of the ship. When we're boosting on our thrusters as we are now, meals will be held in the central dining compartment, Hold Number 6 in the forward bulb. When in hyperspace or in orbit, meals will be in Section E of the forward grav-ring, which will be retracted to connect with the galley in Section D; at these times the perceived gravity there will be roughly one-sixth standard. Room service is available at any time through Aurora's remotes.
“If you need help finding any location in the ship, simply call Aurora by name and she will direct you. Again, welcome aboard, and I hope to see all of you at dinner.”

Everyone did indeed gather for dinner in Hold Number 6, and introductions were made all around. Of the passengers, the “trader” and “tourists” played their roles well, the latter exploring the ship and snapping holos, the former conferring with Daisuke, Jack, and other crew to discuss business opportunities. The techs were not really spacers, and certainly not shipwrights; while they asked many questions and watched the crew's operations with interest, they knew to leave Aurora well enough alone.
The new Republic ambassador was a Human male – for even the relatively enlightened Lii Confederation remained comparatively xenophobic and patriarchal – named Sergei Fellows, from Hornbeck, a First Wave world settled before the War by the Republic's last dissident ship, Botany Bay IV. His staff, another Human, an Eyani and a Chikaran, had come from as many more worlds, none of them the homeworlds of their species; the Chikaran was generations removed from her homeworld's lighter gravity and was adapted to Human standards. Pushing 100 Monticellan years of age, Fellows had been an officer in the Regular Marines, and had participated in the same punitive raid on Nowy Kraków as Cates. They knew each other slightly and spent some time catching up.
While a regular Alran ambassador and staff had been left behind at Monticello, the delegate returning to Oskran was named Nalat Yonn, a distinguished-looking male of perhaps 90 Monticellan years. Like Human shades of pink, brown or black, Alran skin was in shades of pink to red, and his was about halfway through the scale. His hair, what remained of it, was white, adding more similarity to an aging Human, and his build was a bit portly. He was not a physically powerful being, and at 1.7 meters, most of the Human crew and passengers, with generations of Jeffersonian nutrition and medicine behind them, towered over him. According to the information Lascomb had provided, he was... the words she had chosen were “elder statesman” rather than a potentially offensive allusion to careerism. Lascomb's briefing reminded the crew that, while the one Alran nation the Republic was dealing with, the Lii Confederation, was the best of an imperfect lot, they weren't Jeffersonians and did not have the same concepts of government or individual liberty.
Still, Yonn had been chosen for his flexible mind, and despite an age that would set most people in their ways, he had vigorously embraced what the Republic had to offer, even dressing in modern Jeffersonian clothes – favoring jeans and t-shirt, or a common one-piece shipsuit – and wearing the embellished midsword presented to him years ago by the captain of Meriwether Lewis, opposite a utilitarian plasma pistol he had later purchased for himself. With his aide, Yonn had toured the Republic, from the Frontier to the Central Worlds, and been overwhelmed by the standard of living and personal freedom he had witnessed. He had “gone native”, and was returning to his world as a missionary, calling for Lii to join the Republic, as Boksi nations had in their turn.
Yonn's aide, Nrii Tlam, was a much younger female, perhaps Sarah's age. Her skin was a lighter hue and she appeared permanently sunburned. She was petite, barely 1.5 meters, but unmistakably mammalian and feminine. Her large eyes were violet and her hair, usually in a modest bun, was an almost-metallic red-gold. By Human standards, she was exotically beautiful, and the Human techs who had not gone into cryo tended to stare.
Lascomb's data explained that she was Yonn's niece. Officially brought along to gain, and later share, a younger mind's perspective of the Republic, she had of course been chosen by nepotism, but seemed competent in her duties. The pair's tour of the Republic had taken years, during which time she had adapted to new technologies and become more than adequate in the use of a common 'puter. At Yonn's insistence, she carried a weapon; at hers, a simple stunwand. She was dressed in a mixture of Lii and Jeffersonian garb; Alran ladies' clothing tended, at their point of development when Contacted, toward the frilly and elaborate and grossly impractical in freefall. Tlam typically wore a relatively demure blouse with a minimum of frills and a maximum of coverage, followed by trousers reminiscent of old Terran jodhpurs, and modern Republic-style softboots designed for a variety of terrain. All these were in shades of cream, but if her intention was to be unobtrusive her other attributes negated the effort.

160 hours out of Monticello, Aurora made rendezvous with JRS Io, AOE114. In the peacetime Patrol, to reduce costs and tax burdens, most transport duties were performed by the Transport Corps, similar to the United States' Military Sealift Command, with mostly civilian crews. But for this operation, Lascomb and her superiors had arranged a regular Patrol vessel with a crew under full military discipline. Io had been in commission for fifty-three Monticellan years, and had won Efficiency awards for thirty-seven of them, including the last nine. Thrice Aurora's size, she was a fast combat transport, carrying fuel, munitions, and regular supplies, and enough heavy shuttles and C221 Sky Knight landers to deliver them all, anywhere. She and her crew were often called upon for covert operations, and were accustomed to... discretion.
Io had a top hyperspace speed of c134, but usually cruised at 107 to conserve fuel. A day after Danner and Lascomb had struck their deal, she had been en route to the rendezvous point three light-years from Monticello, at a speed calculated to coincide with Aurora's arrival. The ship's military crew were professional and experienced, and often felt, with some justification, a sense of superiority over the civilian ships they frequently serviced.
Io Transitioned out of hyperspace and her navigator announced, “Captain, we're at the designated coordinates.”
Captain Yael, a Siv neuter with over thirty years in the Patrol, asked his navigator, LCDR Nakel, a Chikaran female, “How close?”
“Half a light-second, sir,” she answered with pride. A mere 150,000 kilometers was as good as any ship could expect, across three light-years, more than ninety-four million light-seconds.
Yael nodded in satisfaction, then asked his exec, Commander Howard Bates, a Human from the Second Wave planet Sylvan, “How long until contact?”
“We're a couple minutes early,” Bates said with a trace of sneer. “So we'll probably only be waiting a week or so for this civilian ship to show up, then we'll only spend another day or three chasing her down when she misses her mark.”
As Bates finished his sentence, alarms rang as an electromagnetic pulse swept the ship. “What!?” Bates' head whipped around toward the sensor station.
The sensor operator called out, “New contact, hyperspace Transition, 184 mark 237, range... 120 megameters!”
Communications then announced, “Sir, we're being hailed, sublight audio!”
Captain Yael rippled his neck pheathers. “On speaker.”
The communication lag was negligible, and there were reasons to not use either ship's Marsten Device. “Aurora to Io, Captain Danner speaking.
“This is Captain Yael of Io. We read you, Aurora.”
My compliments to your navigator, you're early and within half a light-second. We're coasting as planned, see you in three hours. Aurora out.
After some moments of silence, the Captain asked, “Mr. Nakel, what is Aurora's exact position relative to the coordinates we were given?”
The navigator worked her controls for a moment, then announced soberly, “Sir. Triangulating from standard beacons, Aurora is within 87,000 kilometers of stated coordinates.”
A Siv's beak could not form a smile, chagrined or otherwise, but certain cues of plumage served the same function. “Howard,” he said, “Mr. Nakel; following this operation, I have determined the focus of our next series of exercises.”

150 minutes later, Aurora's intercom announced, “Gentlebeings, this is your Captain. The ship will be undergoing routine maintenance and safety checks in a few minutes, and at this time I must ask all passengers to return to your quarters, for your own comfort and to aid the efficiency of these necessary tasks. We should be done in no more than three hours, at which time you may again move about the ship. I apologize for the inconvenience and I thank you for your patience and cooperation.”
The viewports in the ring-sections and elsewhere along the hull were smart windows, which could be set for simple transparencies or a variety of enhancements using the ship's many sensors. They were also under Aurora's control, and whatever commands the passengers entered, the windows would show what she chose – including the convincing illusion of hyperspace even if the ship were still in Newton's universe. Aurora had been providing that illusion since before she exited hyperspace, and would continue until she Transitioned again.
The Sixth-Generation Marsten Drive had eliminated earlier Generations' side-effects, and Jenny had tuned this Drive to perfection; modern Transitions were nearly impossible to detect by feel, Aurora's less so. Her thrusters would not boost, her rings would not retract; the “tourists” and “trader” might know otherwise but would say nothing, and the other passengers would have no reason to believe the ship was not still in hyper. It was still called “plausible deniability”.
The crew of the supply ship had been thoroughly briefed and drilled, given detailed plans of the relevant areas of Aurora's hull and interior, and had practiced in VR since receiving their orders. Avoiding the still-spinning grav-rings, they guided their cargo into Aurora's magazines, designed long ago for both protection and ease of replenishment. Her capacity had been reduced by her refit – she was no longer expected to fight prolonged battles as part of a fleet – but she could still carry forty-seven capital missiles, whose outer dimensions had not changed since her class was introduced.
When she left Monticello she carried nineteen Mk53 multipurpose weapons, eleven fitted with bomb-pumped laser penetrators, the rest with dial-a-yield nukes adjustable from 0.5 to 80 kilotons. The warheads had changed little in many years, nor had most of the missile itself, but guidance, control, and electronic warfare systems advanced constantly. Among the payment being transferred were modules to upgrade these older missiles to the latest standards; these would occupy Hlossh and Cates for a few ship-days.
The largest items were twenty-eight Mk57 missiles, outwardly similar but the very latest Patrol standard. They were an even mix of the same laser penetrators, though more powerful; heavier dial-a-yield nukes, from 30kt to a city-busting two megatons; multi-stage kinetic penetrators, designed to achieve even higher relative velocities than most ship-to-ship missiles, and also usable against hardened surface targets; and cluster payloads, each carrying two dozen surface-attack, precision submunitions. In addition, Io transferred drop tanks, bombs dumb and otherwise, smaller missiles of many kinds, and mass-driver pods with ammunition, for mounting to Aurora's five small craft.
With Yael's professionals on one end and Jack Epstein and Holly Cates on the other, the operation was completed in 79 minutes, and suited crewbeings from both ships signaled their mutual respect; each thought of the other, “They know what they're about.” Io boosted far enough away to avoid the worst of the EMP, then Aurora Transitioned again and returned her windows to their normal functions.
The orak were a family of mighty predators native to Eyan. The ky-, or grand, orak averaged twice the size of a Terran grizzly bear. With these new munitions, her eight Marsten Guns, and her plethora of secondary lasers and mass-drivers, Aurora was now loaded for orak.
Continued in the next excerpt....
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