Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2016, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part XXI: The Long Voyage Home
Continued from the previous excerpt
Liberty Station, 400km orbit
Adams' World, Jeffersonian Republic
Encountering Ralph in the mess section, Sol asked, “So why do Alran look so much like Humans?”
“Dammit, Sol,” Ralph answered calmly, “I'm a doctor, not a xenopaleontologist.” Danner cocked an eyebrow. Ralph looked up from his 'puter's display and grinned. “Pre-Escape entertainment reference. I'll explain sometime.”
The ship's doctor looked back to his display. “But that's a really good question. Their DNA, or I should say the stuff we think they're using in its place, is nowhere close to Human. Eyani are more like us, in a biochemical sense. Maybe a dozen-billion years ago they and we sprung from the same batch of microbes, but not the Alran. There are radical differences in Alran organs and bone construction too, once you get past the wrappings. Whatever the Alran are, they are not evidence of some Ancient Progenitor Race Who Seeded the Stars With Life.” Ralph spoke the last words in mock-reverent tones.
“Yet,” Danner observed, “they eat nearly everything we do, needing only a few supplements native to Oskran. Which is hardly worth mentioning since most other known sentients are the same. And those wrappings are disturbingly similar. As is their culture.”
Ralph faced the captain again while jerking a thumb at the holo. “It's been tearing up the 'net for nine years. Their bodies...” Ralph waved his hands in frustration. “Do the same stuff as ours, in different ways. A few of my esteemed colleagues have invoked the Code over it, though their seconds talked them out of it. The consensus is, 'convergent evolution' – similar environmental pressures driving similar results, like bilateral symmetry, opposable thumbs and binocular vision. Which is a fancy way of saying....” Ralph cocked an eyebrow.
“'We have no narging clue.'”
The doctor nodded. “Worse, we can't even ask them because they have about as much clue as we do. The Fire obliterated nearly all scientific data before it, and scrambled their fossil record like the gods' own tossed salad. Stuff from three million years ago is laying, meters thick and kilometers wide, on top of stuff from three thousand years back. And even that's just educated guessing since the same bombardment made radiometric dating mostly useless – everything says it's two thousand T-years old. They can only be sure when something's younger.” He turned back to the display and pointed at it again. “Says here, three separate Republic archaeologists have suffered nervous breakdowns since Contact.”
“Only three,” Danner mused, leaning over Ralph's shoulder for a closer look.
“Expedition leaders with names and funding big enough for the media to notice. The forums say there's high turnover in the field staff too, lots of university students dropping out or changing majors. But, plenty more lining up to take their places, for the challenge.”
Returning to upright, Danner commented, “I'm so glad I'm a simple starship captain.” He moved to the small auxiliary cryopantry, which Aurora's remotes kept stocked with fruits, drinks, and sandwiches. “Speaking of, Prrg reports all passengers aboard. We'll be undocking in twenty minutes.” Sol grabbed a kaka-and-Swiss on his way to the bridge.
Eyeing the label as he folded his 'puter closed, Ralph asked, “Any more of those?” The kaka was a flightless Eyani bird, roughly between chicken and turkey, with two wings and two and two-halves drumsticks. It was one of the first animals the six-limbed people had domesticated in their prehistory, and a major export for Eyan's economy.
“Last one,” Sol answered – Aurora would be restocking during the ship's “night”; Clancy had taught her how to make sandwiches and even cook simple meals – “but there's some superbeef.”
“Number Four Sauce.”
Ralph grimaced. The condiment was the most famous product of Lone Star Foods, and the most infamous. “How can Holly stand that stuff? You can't taste the meat over the flavor of your teeth melting.”
“Prrg thinks it's mild.”
“Yeah, and Hlossh uses it to polish his shell.” Sol chuckled. “No really, I caught him once. The fumes were making my eyes water, I thought one of the shuttles was leaking coolant-”
Aurora departed Liberty Station on schedule and shortly Transitioned to hyperspace again, on a 370-hour Transit bound for Albion. Crew and passengers studied the world through the ship's library while she sped toward her.
Dover Station, 1,000km orbit
Rosalia, Isle of Roses
Albion, Jeffersonian Republic
The first world settled in the post-War Second Wave of colonization, Albion took the archaic name of England. The expedition was undertaken by what had been a secret society of English patriots, guarding their traditions and history through decades of Imperial oppression. Originally meant to be an independent and sovereign world, their government had attempted to enact the same laws and restrictions which had led to Britain's, and Terra's, plunge into tyranny. With the constant example of the Jeffersonian alternative – and a notable shortage of tourism and trade from Jeffersonians who were disgusted with Albion's system – the Showalter Monarchy collapsed in short order, a republic was formed in its place, and Membership was granted in 359JR.
That was almost two Republic centuries ago, and Albion had since been “smoothed over” so it resembled, culturally and architecturally, most other Republic worlds. There were a few preserved exceptions like the original colonists' “re”productions of Camelot and Sherwood Forest – leading tourist attractions, now – but as Aurora's boats brought her passengers and crew toward Rosalia's rooftops, they might as well have been landing on Monticello or New Texas, for the lack of roads and skyscrapers and the random placement of buildings among unmolested wilderness.
Jeffersonian cities were unlike those of other nations. The dozen races which comprised the Jeffersonian Republic, whatever their origins, had adopted the Human passion for “elbow room”, whether they had elbows or not. Only Terra still had “real” cities of high density and skyscrapers, and after centuries of abuse and reconstruction, of depopulation by genocide and diaspora, these were no longer as they had been; city centers were now tourist attractions and archaeologists' digs. People lived and worked where they had room to breathe.
True-Jeffersonian cities, like Central Terminal or Steeltown, sprawled across surface areas comparable to or even exceeding their Terran ancestors, but suffered only a fraction of the population density. Since most travel was by air, and most vehicles were capable of full automation, there were no raw slashes of roadways through wilderness, and parking structures could be dug underground and out of sight – the cars could park themselves on command, and return, from considerable and unobtrusive distance, when summoned. Likewise, independent fusion plants in each building, or beamed power from orbiting solar collectors, had eliminated planetside powerplants, substations, and power grids. This incidentally made any Jeffersonian population center nigh-invulnerable to attacks on, or failures of, infrastructure; one of many things the Terran Empire failed to understand when they started the Republic-Empire War, attempting the traditional targeting that had worked so well on Terran nations during the Unification. The Republic didn't have such infrastructure, and the farms and factories, even on occupied New Israel, continued pouring out beans and bullets.
With energy to spare, even waste processing had been decentralized, usually done in the subbasement of each building or an underground collection point for a particular complex. Most buildings or “towns” and “cities” were built near reliable sources of water, and if it was salty or otherwise impure, there was also more than enough energy for desalination and purification. Empty kilometers of forest or jungle or plains would be dotted almost randomly with buildings; a single family dwelling here, a factory there, a collection of theaters and shops another place. Even spaceports, with a few established exceptions, cities in their own right like Central Terminal and Miami, were phasing out; orbital stations served that function now, and personal aircars could take their owners from orbit to surface and back without need for centralized surface facilities.
Thus, the “city” of Rosalia, though officially larger on a map than Arriod, hosted less than one quarter the population. Also, fusion and solar power had eliminated air pollution centuries ago; much of Oskran still used coal. Nrii wondered if she would ever again feel at home in Arriod, after years touring Jeffersonian worlds. “Uncle,” she asked Nalat as Three Boat curved for a rooftop landing, “how much do you think Arriod has changed since we left?”
“How do you mean, niece?”
Nrii marshaled her thoughts. “I mean...” she waved a hand at Rosalia through the viewport. “I'm not sure what I mean. Part of me is afraid I won't recognize home when we return....”
“And part of you,” her uncle gently replied, “though you may not want to admit it, is hoping it will look like this. Clean air, open spaces, fewer crowds. Fear not, Nrii. The Humans have the same saying we do: 'Home is where the heart is.' And if their new sciences are making that home cleaner and more beautiful, how can we complain?”
“You're biased, uncle.”
“Of course! And when we do finally return to Arriod and you get your first lungful of coal smoke and your first shoeful of gutter water, you'll be biased too!”
“You seem to think the Humans never had such things in their own time.”
“Ah, good, you have been reading those histories! Of course they did, that's the point. For some centuries their cities were no better than ours, often worse. They learned, they grew, they improved themselves and their worlds. -Remember our last visit, to Adams' World and Arboria. I happened to strike up a conversation with one of the city council there-”
“When did you have time for that?”
“While you and Miss Sarah were off shopping. She may have six limbs and fur but she's still a female.” Riding over Nrii's gasp of proto-feminist outrage, he continued, “This councillor, Fo'Sre I think his name was, an Eyani not that it matters – I was describing Arriod to him, and he told me Arboria had enough power in two of their three fusion plants to light every home in a city half-again Arriod's size, and enough in the third plant to process all the water and waste for at least half Arriod's population. Later I spoke with Engineer Blain, and she informed me that each of Arboria's three power plants was less powerful than any of the four which provide Aurora her main power.”
Nrii rolled her eyes. “Numbers, percentages- you're obsessed, uncle.”
“But don't you see? You wonder if Arriod will have changed – I hope it has! The coal plants, the sewer works – they could all be gone, erased, in mere months! How many gaslamp fires or explosions have there been in the city since you were a child? There need never be another!”
Nrii furrowed her brow, thinking.
As they set out to explore, as best they could in forty hours, the city of Rosalia, Nalat contemplated his niece. He could see that Nrii was suffering intellectual anguish; Jeffersonian ideals had been rubbing off on her. By Arriod standards she was already an ornle, deny it though she would - moreso since finally accepting more weapons training, and discovering that it was fun.
Humans, and most of their partner races by now, had dispensed with the term “feminist” as obsolete; Nrii was just discovering the concept and her ideological evolution was progressing faster than she was comfortable with. There was a feminist movement in the Lii Confederation and had been for some time; since Contact the movement had become... perhaps the only appropriate word was “volatile”. The Humans' own Abigail Adams had become an early role model but was quickly surpassed by the Founders themselves: Lynna Bjolnir, Rachel Marsten, Teresa Hadley, Nora Gaines, Elaine Bowditch – Warrior, Scientist, Healer, Captain, Explorer. The overt and unavoidable display of sexual equality among Jeffersonian visitors to Oskran was fanning flames lit even before the world's discovery by the Republic.
Fortunately that same display also had a cooling effect. Alran and Human women were interacting, talking, befriending one another, comparing histories of their worlds and peoples. Nalat received regular reports from home through the Humans' FTL devices. He had two sisters; Crie, the youngest, was Nrii's mother and very much adherent to The Way Things Have Always Been. Deti, on the other hand, had always been what Humans called a “tomboy” and, though in a very respectable and traditional marriage with three children of her own, had a mind as flexible as Nalat's. His junior by one year, they had been close all their lives. Thinking of her now, he smiled at the memory of their many adventures and mischiefs.
Deti's latest message, which Nalat had shared with Nrii, was most encouraging. Like her brother, Deti had happily adopted new technologies and ideas, and now rarely left home without the Edo-made 'puter displayed ostentatiously on her left wrist... and a New Texas-made Ladies' Companion Mk IX tucked discreetly up her right sleeve, Arriod tradition, and ordinances, be damned. In this message she had, almost formally, interviewed a Human woman she had met in an Arriod market. The questions and answers had given Nrii even more to consider, but the most important message, to Nalat's mind, was the concept of “post-feminism” - Human genders had been equal, in every realistic way, for so long that it was no longer an issue. The Human woman, a member of a civilian freighter's crew, had matter-of-factually spelled out how true equality worked: In both directions. “If I can't do the job I was hired for,” she said to Deti while her 'puter recorded, “I'll be let go. Not because I'm a woman, but because I can't do the job. And I wasn't hired because I'm a woman, I was hired because I can do the job.” Deti reported that the interview had been published in some Arriod newspapers – I wonder how that happened, Nalat had thought with a grin – and had remained a topic of conversation for months. The Congress of the Confederation had taken notice and some brave Representatives had introduced equality legislation.
One of the leading tourist attractions on this world was the Maze. A cube of 100 meters, half below and half above ground, it was constructed in every style, from harsh industrial ferrocrete below, to rich hardwood panels in the middle levels, to living hedges and climbable trees above, the structural skeleton cleverly hidden throughout. A flock of robots maintained, and sometimes rearranged, the immense three-dimensional labyrinth, played a variety of games with visitors depending on the level and season, watched over energetic children, and provided assistance to lost explorers. There were three such mazes on the Isle of Roses, one within and two on the outskirts of Rosalia. The one inside the city got the most attention and traffic, visited by tourists and native children and families; the two outside were for... adult customers, and had reputations of their own. Nalat refrained from mentioning those to his niece.
After the Maze, Aurora's party took the usual tour through Camelot, watched the “re”enactments of events and battles which may never have happened, snapped more holos, bought more souvenirs... and returned to the ship and the empty depths.
Continued in the next excerpt....