Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2016, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part XX: Broadening Horizons
Continued from the previous excerpt
Hyperspace Transit, Monticello to Adams' World
Aurora's next stop was Adam's World, one of the oldest of the First Wave, but this was still nearly 500 hours of Transit away. The ship's zig-zagging path to Oskran, for reasons of resupply and emotional health, was less direct than it could have been.
Thanks to Jenny Blain, Aurora was the fastest ship in known space which could carry so many passengers. Only fast couriers, operated by the Patrol or commercial freight lines, could match her speed; few could best it, and all such speedsters, though some challenged the cruiser in size, devoted most of their internal space to fuel and machinery, leaving room only for the most precious cargo or the most important persons. But even at her best speed, Aurora's passengers would be together for most of a Republic year. Danner contemplated the barrier of professionalism his crew had always maintained; would it survive so long? Should it?
Except for the two Alran, all the passengers were Jeffersonian, and Yonn, after five Monticellan years touring the Republic, was de facto if not de jure; he had not taken the final step of renouncing fealty to any other state, for he still had his duty to Lii. Tlam remained polite but distant to all but her uncle. The techs out of cryo numbered three women and two men, and they would be on an alien world a year's travel from home for half a decade. (In cryo were four more women and five men; the two Siv were neuter, the gestators of their trisexual race, and the sleeping Eyani was male.) Fellows' Human aide was another man, while the "tourists" were a Human couple and an adult female Eyani. Attachments were already forming between other Human passengers.
This was no concern of the crew's unless emotions ran to excess (and the Code Duello had proven superior to pre-Escape “law” in such cases), but as the crew held their own meeting in the weightless bridge one “evening” after the passengers had dined and retired, Danner brought up the subject of relationships. Hlossh was seasonal, though Prrg was not, but neither of their species were otherwise represented, so they merely listened to the conversation.
The ever-shifting pastels of hyperspace shone through Aurora's alumiglas bow. Each of the crew would sometimes spend their off-duty hours here, watching. Even now Sarah's bright blue eyes were trained forward as she said, “Bi'Che's a nice guy, but not my type. The others less so.” Bi'Che was the relatively young Eyani aide to Ambassador Fellows, while one of the other two awake Eyani passengers was female; the other, the “trader”, an aged male. The crew, and Sarah herself, knew that by Eyani standards, she was what Humans called a “hot chick”. Bi'Che beheld her with appreciation, Mr'Yil with wistfulness, but both were gentlebeings and would not cause trouble.
“Nrii is quite an eyeful,” Ralph admitted, “but we came to that understanding the day we met, Sol. Likewise the lady techs. I'm keeping my hands to myself. I might find a special lady someday and want to settle down, but my thought at present would be to bring her into this family. Aurora is almost as big a dream for me as for you. My work in science and medicine is my justification for living in this ship.”
“Sure me own thoughts run along with Ralph's,” Clancy put in. “And me habits of these past years as well, truth be told. Though not as often as the youngster,” he added with a wink and a chuckle.
Cates gave a short laugh. “I'm not so old myself-” especially for a Republic Human, with a life expectancy well over 200 Terran years, and as many years' advancement in anti-aging treatments since the Escape- “and most of the places we go, no one knows or cares I was a Sergeant Major. Which can intimidate some fellas. I'm with Ralph and Clancy.”
Daisuke said, “I also have... followed the same pattern. My thoughts flow in the same direction. This ship is my home and you are my family. I wish no disruption.”
Danner nodded agreement; he'd had a few dalliances himself in the last eight years, on long layovers, though far fewer than the other Humans aboard. Meeting Beth after so many years had unsettled him, and he was in no mood now for intimacy with anyone else. He looked the question at Epstein.
Wordlessly, tenderly, the cargomaster took Jenny Blain's hand. She did not take it back.
Ralph was the first to break the stunned silence. “Well I'll be-” Then the crew was grinning and laughing and gathering around the couple to clasp hands and clap shoulders in congratulation.
The question seemed settled, then. With the passengers making their own arrangements and the crew knowing where each other stood, the discussion changed: Jack and Jenny naturally wanted a space of their own together now, but when they had first chosen their quarters, years ago, their compartments happened to be separated by a whole section of the forward grav-ring, Jenny splitting one section with Daisuke, Jack with Holly, and Hlossh & Grbblb's amphibious section between them. It was the Captain's prerogative to have the largest living quarters aboard, but he had promised every member of his crew half as much space as his own, a fantastic luxury by the standards of the time in which Aurora had been built and still very comfortable for a modern working ship. Always accommodating, Daisuke volunteered to swap with Jack, to his and Jenny's fulsome gratitude.
“This leads to another question, then,” Danner said. “If by some chance I were to...” he hesitated, thinking of Beth – and realizing she would never become shipfolk, and he already had- “...become involved, I already have a full section to myself and I'd share that with her, no moving except in. But if anyone else – let's say it plainly – takes a mate, we've just now established a berthing standard of one full section per couple. Sarah, how do real shipfolk handle this sort of thing?”
“Just like we're doing right now, Skipper. We talk it through and find a solution everyone thinks is fair. Suggestion?”
“If more of our future passengers will be carried in cryo anyway, newly-formed couples could move into the aft ring. This would reduce our passenger capacity, but 'folk ships tend to carry even fewer passengers than we already do – and mutti's compartment in Flying Flea was smaller than mine in Aurora. If we're really becoming shipfolk, that's where we're headed.”
“Ah,” Clancy pointed out, “but me own section is split between me quarters and me galley.”
“No problem,” Jenny answered. She had not released Jack's hand, nor stopped smiling since he took hers. “All the sections are interchangeable along each ring and between rings. You and your hypothetical lady could move into a vacant section, then we could arrange that one adjacent to the galley, and convert the other half to a smaller dining space, like it was half of E Section. And if we're carrying fewer passengers anyway, there will be fewer to feed.” Clancy nodded in satisfaction. The meeting broke up soon thereafter, and the crew retired to their own quarters for sleep.
Ah, Beth, Danner thought as his eyes closed. We're just not meant to be. He fell asleep with one hand resting gently on Aurora's bulkhead.
The following “day” saw the relocation done, Aurora's remotes doing most of the actual labor and the passengers completely unaffected by the process. There were reasons the aft ring had been dedicated to passengers and the forward for their own homes; privacy mattered in both cases. Refinement of the previous evening's discussion resulted in an alternate plan to move the galley and dining area to the aft ring, swapping the relevant sections forward for couples' quarters. The galley had been placed forward originally to maximize passenger berths, but with fewer wakeful passengers expected, the new arrangement – to be implemented when necessary – would provide for more convenient service. On the other hand, dining would be less convenient for the crew. But there was no hurry; it would be at least a year, likely several, before any such change was needed. Meanwhile, Aurora had reached her next waypoint.
Adams' World, orbiting Gamma Pavonis, had been settled in 46JR, 2037CE, and was named after the family of revolutionaries who were instrumental in the birth of the Jeffersonian Republic's mother-nation. Remarkably Earthlike, for generations her population had been small and limited to a single island about the size of the subcontinent of India. Long before the War, she had become host to the Republic Olympics, held every three Monticellan years. Before the Europa Incident and the subsequent Isolation and Cold War, some Terran nations had sent Olympians, but already the UN had been discouraging nationalist identity. Many of those athletes never went “home” to Terra. One was an ancestor of Epstein's. One year, the entire team from the Federal States of America had defected en masse, their hostage families smuggled off Terra by Jeffersonian operatives. They were the last Americans to participate.
Following the War, more of the world's land area had been opened to colonization, but her continent-spanning forests remained largely untouched. Centuries-old operations on Timber Island continued to supply specialty lumber for export to a hundred worlds; the mainlands still held ancient mysteries for scientists and lovers of nature to respectfully explore. Logging and tourism remained the planet's two most lucrative industries. Some naďve tree-huggers didn't come back, of course; Adams' World had her own very complete ecology, including predators. The tourism brochures were explicit, and Jeffersonian society reckoned the rest “evolution in action”.
In eight years, the quality of Sarah's and Prrg's navigation had fed on each other. The First and Second Mates often competed to see who could bring them out of hyper closer to their target. The Close-Transit Attack limit for a Terra-type planet was less than two light-seconds with the Sixth-Generation Drive; the polite traffic limit for departing ships was four; most ships arrived at ten. Aurora Transitioned to realspace at exactly the customary three-gigameter limit, and Sarah won again. With their initial velocity from the Transition perfectly calculated, it would take a bit over seven hours, boosting at 10 meters, to enter the docking pattern at Liberty Station.
For a century Liberty Station had been the only station above Adams' World, serving as commercial port, military anchorage, and orbital defense. The system was too remote and undeveloped, at the time, to draw Imperial interest during the War, and the conflict's only effect on the planet was the memorials to her people who had fallen in battle, and the few soul-scarred veterans who sought peace in her endless forests. The planetary triumvirate worked hard to keep the permanent population low, while carefully balancing the tourism industry which was half the planet's GDP. They'd done a good job for a long time, and their techniques were carefully studied on other resort worlds like Marseille. Though long surpassed by later construction, Liberty was still an active port, like many in the Republic a stack of wheels converted to a Cylinder. It was an orbiting town of about four thousand permanent residents, and was rarely crowded. This suited Danner perfectly.
Aurora had spent a Terran month in hyper. Ship and crew could press on for twice again as long, but the passengers, unused to shipboard conditions, had to be let out. At a 400km orbit, Liberty was easy to reach from the surface, and vice versa. After a meal at one of Liberty's restaurants – included in the passengers' fares, and therefore charged to the ship's account – Five Boat took all interested crew and passengers down to some of the tourist attractions. The most memorable was Arboria.
The most common tree on Adams' World was the Great White, grossly similar to pine but tending to greater size than California Redwoods. The Adams' Great White often reached heights of over 150 meters. Only Chikar, with surface gravity roughly half that of Terra's, boasted taller trees. At the north coast of Timber Island, decades before the War, tourism promoters had built Arboria, a complete community suspended an average 100 meters above ground, integrated with the living trees to which it clung. In the following centuries, as the trees continued to grow, xenobotanists had steered that growth to create living buildings, shaped into rooms of natural wood. Tlam was fascinated.
Hunting was high on the list of Adams' World's tourist attractions, and a traditional pastime throughout the Republic. Unfortunately for their schedule, proper hunting took days, even weeks, camping in wilderness and stalking prey. “Canned” hunts were for the people of lesser nations; Jeffersonians kept their population pressure low, leaving great expanses of unsettled land teeming with game – but if one could not hunt, one could still shoot.
Shooting was often called the national pastime, and it was practiced in great variety. The Combat Pistol Championship was among the most revered. Created as a game through which to practice combat techniques, like IPSC and IDPA before it, it had remained true to its founding principles and avoided being overrun by “gamesters” with specialized equipment no ordinary Citizen would use in the real world. Ever-improving holographic and robotic technologies made the game ever more lifelike, and even before the War there had been live dueling – two or more shooters, each in their own identical ranges, their opponents duplicated by robots and holograms programmed to react exactly as live opponents, safely removed by impenetrable barriers, did. There were variations of course, using rifles at longer distances, weapons of every description in elaborate simulations, sensors and computers coordinating and judging the action in sprawling VR arenas, many repurposed from Wartime training camps.
Most of the crew indulged whenever they had a layover near such establishments. Cates had made the quarterfinals on Helvetia one year, in that world's month-long, biannual, multi-discipline schützenfest. (Most Republic worlds held their own fest, but Helvetia, settled by Swiss survivors of the Terran Unification, had brought the tradition from their shattered homeland; theirs was the best and biggest. Cates' performance had brought more notoriety to the ship.)
Sarah Heusner was an avid hunter and shooter, as well as the most extroverted of the crew. While the other passengers dashed away to their own preferred diversions for Aurora's 40-hour layover, she happened across Nalat Yonn trying, again, to convince his niece Nrii Tlam to join him in handgun practice.
Most 'puters, including Sarah's, included vox programs, realtime translators which could be programmed with any preexisting language file; for new languages the same software could create its own file, using context and AI to grasp the rudiments of most spoken languages in hours, sometimes minutes. The Lii file had been provided by Beth Lascomb and copied to the 'puter of every crewmember and passenger; such files were public domain in the Republic, maintained and updated by a small bureau of the State Department.
Both Alran had become fluent in Jeffersonian English in their five years in the Republic, but when Sarah encountered them on one of the many scenic boardwalks of Arboria – two hundred meters of what looked like hand-hewn planks, suspended a hundred meters above endless untouched greenery – they were speaking Lii, their own nation's language. She settled on a bench which placed a floral planter between her and the Alran, pretending to read from her 'puter, and shamelessly eavesdropped for a time, the 'puter picking out the conversation from background noise and her earpiece discreetly translating for her, the 'puter showing directional holo of the pair through a remote she quietly extended.
The pair stood at the boardwalk's railing, facing out toward forest as far as could be seen. The mighty Great Whites, millenia old, had spaced themselves for optimal growth, nutrition, and sunlight. Their networks of branches spanned forty or more meters at the base, and often intertwined even at the boardwalk's altitude. Arboria had been carefully built to maintain the image of unspoiled nature; landing platforms were far above, power and maintenance plants far below, all concealed as much as possible.
“Come, Nrii,” Nalat asked. “Consider it another part of your education.”
“Please, uncle, not again,” Nrii pleaded. “I'm not comfortable with it.”
“Nrii,” the other answered with gentle patience, “on these worlds it is expected. Women-” Sarah's vox used the appropriate synonym- “here are not as they are at home. They do not shrink and flutter and wail for a man's protection. Nor have you ever done, my dear! Remember your poor riding instructor!”
“Uncle, I want to be accepted into my society-”
“But why? What I have seen here, the people I've come to know...” Yonn shook his head. “You know some of them view us with contempt for the inequality of women on our world. Certainly all those we've dealt with directly have been very correct and polite, but you know as well as I that Jeffersonian females – of whatever species – consider Alran women weak compared to themselves. And honestly I've come to agree with them.”
“I've no desire to be some, some... hairy, sweaty ornle!” Sarah's vox whispered its electronic speculation that this term equated to “amazon”. Files on Alran mythology were, for a number of reasons, incomplete.
“Oh come now, Nrii, you know that is a false argument. Look around at these Human women.”
“You mean the ones nine fak tall and bulging with muscle?”
“Surely you do not mean Commander Lascomb? I found her most gracious.”
“You would, uncle. I suppose you are also charmed by Gunner Cates?”
“I find her a stimulating conversationalist, and a formidable yvit opponent.” This was the Alran equivalent of chess.
“To be both a soldier and a woman is... unnatural.”
“Who says one ceases to be a lady when one becomes responsible for one's own life? And one need not be a soldier to be so responsible.”
“By the standards of Lii society-”
“Whose standards, niece? Madame Glaro? Mistress Hray? They would not survive a day without their clouds of servants.”
“Those are my friends....” Nrii's voice trailed off, as doubt crept upon her.
“Nrii... you know I love you as my own daughter.” Sarah was reminded, from Lascomb's briefing, that Yonn had no children of his own. “Please take no offense when I explain: By galactic standards, Oskran is terribly backward, and we find ourselves between two potential enemies-”
“I know that. You're telling me I should act like an ornle for political gain? I should make myself an outcast in Arriod society to make your job easier?” Sarah could see Nrii's face take on a stricken expression as she turned to face Nalat. “Uncle, forgive me, I didn't mean that.”
Nalat smiled in forgiveness, placing a hand on his niece's shoulder. “I know, Nrii, it's all right.” The older Alran sighed visibly. “Your words are not without justification.... You are so much a creature of your environment, like your mother. I know you're intelligent, Nrii, and capable of learning new things, else I would have left you in Arriod surrounded by frippery and uselessness.”
Nrii raised a hand to cover her uncle's. Wryly she asked, “You're calling your own sister 'useless'?”
“By galactic standards, yes. Certainly by the standards of- let us be plain with one another- the one nation we must ally ourselves with if we are to survive with even the semblance of freedom.”
Nrii looked up into her uncle's eyes. “You want Lii to join the Republic, I know. If not all of Oskran. To become a Member State or Member World.”
“The advantages are... incalculable. I know you've read the history of Kshir.”
Nrii shuddered and looked away. “I'm sorry, uncle, but the Boksi, they look like....”
“I know, they look like giant xren-” the Oskran cockroach-analogue- “and the Eyani look like miniature miad-” the horse-equivalent- “with fangs and arms, and the ship's First Officer looks like a nightmare. But they're all people, Nrii.”
“I know, I know! And I've been traveling with... their kinds... for five years now, I should be able to overcome my reaction.”
“We learn by doing, my dear. Perhaps we could ask Miss Heusner, a young lady about your age, someone you could relate to, setting aside her appearance. She's reputed to be quite skilled with firearms, almost as much as Hol- Madame Cates, and would perhaps not be so intimidating an instructor.”
Nrii giggled. “Every time I see her I want to stroke her fur and feed her some lett.”
Choking back a laugh of her own, Sarah took this as her cue to announce her presence, surreptitiously retracting the remote eye and flipping her 'puter closed. Emerging from behind the planter, she feigned pleasant surprise and cheerily called, “Hello, friends! How are you this day?”
“Miss Heusner!” Nalat said in reply. “Sarah, I mean!” Sarah's life was an endless adventure of travel and discovery, and Danner's barrier of professionalism had always been less formidable where she was concerned; by the third day out from Monticello she had placed herself on a first-name basis with the two Alran passengers. “We were just talking about you! I've been trying to convince my dear niece to learn to use firearms. You see, it's considered... unladylike, back on Oskran, and especially in Arriod, Lii's capitol city.”
“Why, that's awful!” Sarah answered, not needing to fake her disapproval. “All women should know how to defend themselves.” Sarah did not digress into explanations of tri-sexual Siv, or matriarchal Zaggarish, mores. “I'd be very happy to teach you, Nrii. There's a shop not twenty minutes' walk from here, or we could call a taxi.”
“Ah-” Nrii was taken aback, but quickly recovered. “Yes, thank you, Miss- I mean Sarah. Let's walk, shall we? The forest is so beautiful.”
Nalat thrust out his elbows, and Nrii and Sarah placed their hands on his arms as they walked on together. “How wonderful,” Nalat commented with a smile, “to be on such a lovely world, with such lovely and charming young ladies on each arm!”
Continued in the next excerpt....