Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
Aurora, Part XXIV: Matters of Honor

This page Copyright © 2021, Karl Leffler

Continued from the previous excerpt
Airship Star of Arriod
Central Park, Arriod Spaceport, and environs
Arriod, Lii Confederation, Oskran

The dirigible tour included lunch, transparent tables and chairs descending from overhead storage with gentle bell tones to warn of clearance. Alran waiters likewise descended and began taking orders. As the tourists began to choose their seats and the crew asked the waiters to arrange tables for them to sit together (a Boksi perch and Eyani bench were provided), the Nikar noble and his servant approached. Prrg, having a closer look at the other Nikar's loincloth, could now tell he was the heir to the County Vrnt, of middling wealth, a couple hundred kilometers from Prrg's own former Barony of Cargg. The terms were Human-equivalent of course, having their own words and styles in Gnoppan tongues and minds, but were close enough. Socially, this Count-heir-designate ranked Prrg as Baron-heir-apparent; but Prrg had renounced that claim and its whole system when he swore his oath of Citizenship.
{Greetings,} the Count said in Gnoppan. Though Gnop had many languages, as had Terra, most of their states had developed a lingua franca, which was near-universally used by any Nikar who made it offworld. Likely unknown to the Count, Aurora translated through her crew's earbuds in realtime. {It is good to see a familiar face among these aliens,} the noble continued. {I am Grnnp-} followed by seventeen syllables denoting his territory, lineage, and rank. Like most Nikar, he wore little more than a loincloth, though this was bejeweled and ornamented with gold in a pattern Danner's endless self-education told him was the equivalent of a coat-of-arms. Grnnp's ethnic reflective scales were two broad green chevrons across his chest, one above the other, and a third, smaller one on his forehead. The servant was almost as drab as Prrg, with a broad blue stripe from forehead to tail-tip.
{I greet you, Count Grnnp. I am Prrg, First Officer of Independent Starship Aurora. This is my Captain and crew.} Prrg made introductions and Danner invited the other two Nikar to join them.
Taking seats, Grnnp and the servant, Wrrn, placed their lunch orders. Grnnp then asked, {Prrg, what is your rank and clan?}
{As stated, I am First Officer of my ship. I have no Gnoppan rank.}
A Nikar's reptilian face's expressions could not be read by Humans without many years of study. Aurora's crew read surprise. {But, you are of the Barony of Cargg, are you not?}
{I am of that line.} The patterns and colors of a Nikar's scales denoted their ethnicity and, without widespread travel and intermarriage like other races - Sarah Heusner's patterned coat for example - often their territory and bloodline. Grnnp had read Prrg's two thin red stripes like a book.
{Truly? The House of Cargg itself? What brings you here then, among the stars and the savages?}
Prrg would have cocked an eyebrow if he had any. Beside him, Danner did so. In a neutral tone, Prrg asked, {To whom do you refer as savages, Count?}
{Why, all these aliens, of course! Some scandal at home, is that it? Taking a leave until things cool down?}
Prrg paused before answering. {Nothing of the sort. I came here by choice.}
{Oh come, take no offense, Prrg, that sort of thing happens all the time. I'm just curious, that's all. -First Officer, you say? These then are your servants? Even that... furry thing?}
Prrg paused again, choosing his words. {You misunderstand, Count. I am second in command of my ship, after my Captain, here beside me. The other person to whom you refer is our Navigator, whose skill in that area matches my own, for which I have achieved some fame. Her skill as an atmospheric pilot exceeds that of any other being I have met.}
{Second... you mean you take orders from this... soft pink thing?}
{Count Grnnp, Captain Danner is my good friend and comrade of many years. Your words may be construed as insult.}
Grnnp was taken aback. {Well!} he exclaimed. {I suppose there's no accounting for taste. But truly, Prrg, you must tell me, what is a member of the baronial line doing so far from home? Myself, I only came out here because Father demanded it, for my 'education'. I can't wait to get home, away from all these lower creatures, can't you?} Aurora's crew, still listening to translation, stirred around the table, though Grnnp was oblivious to their reaction.
{Count Grnnp,} Prrg said in a noticeably cooler tone, {I am no longer of the baronial line. I have renounced my Gnoppan rank and inheritance in exchange for Citizenship in the Jeffersonian Republic.}
{You... what!?}
{I value my Citizenship far more than any rank Gnop could bestow. The rewards are far greater than I believe you can imagine.}
Grnnp stood, overturning his chair with a clatter, his ethnic scales flashing green. {If you were not beneath my station,} the Count intoned, {I would require satisfaction for your insult to my rank and to our people.}
Gnoppan dueling laws were complex, with countless restrictions and nuances for contests between different social classes or ranks. The Jeffersonian Code Duello Nuevo was far simpler, and the extraterritorial ground comprising Arriod Spaceport was legally under Republic law. Prrg turned to Danner. "With your permission, Captain?"
"Granted, and I shall stand as your second. As I have done before." Danner could not keep a faint smile from his face. Grnnp was a meddlesome aristocratic ass, and putting such in their place was one of the foundations of Danner's friendship with Prrg. Some people think they're born better than others, Danner thought. It's always been a pleasure to prove them wrong. Likewise, Danner had no objection to Cates' hobby of copkilling; he was a student of history.
Prrg and Danner rose together. {Count Grnnp,} Prrg continued, {let not your station prevent you. I consider myself of far higher station, and have come to regard the existence of the aristocracy as the true insult to the Nikar people. If you wish to contest the matter, this vessel will soon alight a short distance from the spaceport Field of Honor. For my part, I choose swords. I shall await your pleasure there, within the hour.}
Grnnp gaped, then snapped his jaws shut, whirled, and stormed away, Wrrn following, visibly upset. The Count had not spoken a word to any other member of the crew. It was doubtful he had even recognized their presence as sentient beings.

The referee was Human, a mature man whose hair was graying even with Republic treatments; he was probably well over 100 T-years old, but still obviously fit. He was not a government official; he was a bladesmith who had set up his shop in the Jeffersonian Zone of the spaceport, and had been chosen for his reputation of impartiality, and paid a small fee by both parties for his time. "Gentlebeings," he asked in a clear and ringing voice, "can you not be reconciled?"
Prrg stood silently, motionless, while Grnnp lashed his tail against the manicured lawn of the Field. He had a translator of his own, which he'd finally bothered to switch on.
"This contest shall be carried out under the Jeffersonian Code Duello Nuevo," the referee resumed. "Any attempt to use weapons or methods other than agreed upon shall result in the shooting of the offending party by myself at the first observance." The man laid his hand meaningfully on the butt of his pistol, worn smooth by decades of use. "Both parties having agreed to the venue and the weapons, come forward to choose your blades." The referee had laid out an assortment of matched pairs, which he kept on hand; he had been Referee of the Field on ten worlds so far, and the new Lii Bill of Rights included the Jeffersonian Code, similar in many respects to their native version.
Prrg, confident, stood back, hands clasped behind him and tail still, while Grnnp dithered over his selection, first taking in hand one, then another, testing their balance and the flex of their blades; the Count's tail flickered in what could be read as nervousness even across the species barrier. Finally he selected a swept-hilt saber, perhaps as much for the pattern of its hilt as for its qualities as a weapon. Prrg unhesitatingly took up its mate. Decorative the weapon may be, but no Jeffersonian bladesmith would offer a weapon that could not stand up to use. Taking a moment to learn the saber's balance, he nodded once. Danner and the Nikar second, Wrrn, examined the blades to ensure they were evenly matched. Prrg then walked calmly to his starting position, while Grnnp fairly stomped.
The referee continued, "Striking at an opponent who is down shall be considered a violation subject to immediate shooting. The contest shall end upon first blood from the torso, or when either contestant declares that he yields, or when either willingly leaves the marked circle. Count Grnnp, are you ready?" The aristo snapped his jaws in assent. "First Officer Prrg, are you ready?" Prrg nodded, Human-fashion. "Begin."
Grnnp flourished his saber, and began circling Prrg, first to one side, then the other. Prrg held his ground, turning always to face the Count, weapon held casually at low ready. For more than a minute this went on, while Aurora's crew stood and watched quietly. Spectators from the airship began, at some distance from the field, to quietly wager among themselves, while Grnnp's servant, standing as second and out of his depth, fidgeted.
With a roar, Grnnp lunged, attempting to run Prrg through with a single thrust. With a flick of his hand, Prrg's blade batted the Count's away as Prrg stepped smoothly aside, turning with such grace he appeared to be moving slowly. As he completed a full spin, Prrg's own blade reached out with a delicate whistle of cloven air to peck a shallow cut in Grnnp's upper left arm.
Grnnp hissed, jaws wide, more in rage than pain, but paused to regather himself. Epstein openly smirked, while Taniyama and Cates struggled to keep their faces straight. Jenny, hand-in-hand with Jack, simply watched her scaly brother with a faint smile, while Sarah, ears cocked forward, seemed to be taking mental notes - while a superior pilot and extraordinary navigator, the Eyani knew her combat skills were sorely lacking. Clancy and Hlossh looked a little bored, as did Vatelius, medkit in hand. Danner made eye contact with the Nikar servant/second and dipped his head in what he hoped would be interpreted as an expression of sympathy.
Prrg again stood facing Grnnp, weapon at low ready, while the Count again attempted to circle. With another hiss-screeching roar, the Count charged again, attempting an overhand, descending thrust. Again Prrg's blade flicked his opponent's aside with a ring, again Prrg stepped aside and spun, and made a shallow cut in the Count's upper right arm.
Epstein snorted, Blain glared, and the cargomaster raised his free hand to cover his mouth.
Grnnp's next attack lacked any subtlety, a wild slash probably intended for Prrg's neck. Prrg did not even parry this strike, simply slipping beneath it. His riposte marked Grnnp's right thigh. Enraged beyond reason, Grnnp charged a fourth time, with a crude overhand blow... and received a mark on his left thigh.
Foaming at the mouth with fury, Grnnp charged again and again, tail flailing uselessly. Rarely did Prrg need to meet the Count's blade with his own. After some minutes, Prrg had enough, and the tip of his saber darted past Grnnp's defense to mark an ichor-seeping slash across the Count's chest. Prrg then stepped back and lowered his weapon, awaiting the end of the duel.
Grnnp, all reason gone, charged yet again.
The referee drew his pistol and aimed, but could not get a clear shot before Grnnp slammed into Prrg, the two Nikar tumbling together in a tangle of flashing scales, their weapons flying aside. Grnnp clawed and bit at Prrg, who with the calmness earned through a hundred contests hung on, working for advantage.
The families of the Cargg barony taught all the ancient forms of close combat. Prrg slipped his tail around Grnnp's throat and precisely squeezed. It took a few moments, but the Count finally fell limp.
Prrg released him and stood away, just as the referee was about to command him to do so. The referee and Vatelius came forward to examine both contestants. Prrg waved them aside; he'd been hurt worse, though he'd let Ralph examine him thoroughly later. Ralph declared the Count alive and generally unharmed, merely unconscious.
In a few minutes, Grnnp came around, to see the referee aiming his pistol at him. Aurora's crew had their hands on theirs, but they were still holstered. Prrg stood beside the referee, hands clasped behind him in Human-style parade-rest... near the butt of the stripped-down Casetti Model G pulse-laser in the special pocket of his loincloth. When the Count appeared to have regained his faculties, Aurora's remote projected a hologram of the wound on Grnnp's chest, proof of the end of the duel. Eyes wide, the Count glared around at the crowd, then stormed away, his servant hurrying in his wake.
"Looks like you've made another enemy, friend," Danner observed.
"Yes... we won't be getting any cargoes from County Vrnt, I think." Rarely had Prrg dueled while still serving a ship; he preferred to keep his contests between berths, so his ship would not suffer for them.
Danner slapped the shoulder Grnnp hadn't bitten. "I'd turn 'em down if they offered," he said with a smile. "Now let's get you cleaned up."

Returning to their hotel suite, Ralph tended Prrg's wounds while the whole crew examined what Aurora had recorded from the Flike and Glaut. It seemed innocent enough, simple tourist stuff, but there might be some subtext the crew, not trained as Intelligence analysts, were missing. Danner ordered the whole package encrypted and transmitted to Lascomb for forwarding to ONI, and sent blind copies to his father and Grbblb.
As the message was being sent, their suite's AI - by no means in the same league as Aurora, though only someone who had associated with her for years could really tell such things - announced a visitor. It was Wrrn, Count Grnnp's servant.
After being admitted - outnumbered ten to one by armed beings; eleven actually, since Aurora carried a Merrill Pocket Penetrator in her remote sphere, with a variety of lethal and less-so darts - Prrg asked him, in Gnoppan with the sphere translating to the crew's earbuds as usual, {What business have you, Wrrn?} His tone was not openly hostile, but not overly friendly. Grnnp had behaved abominably from beginning to end, by the standards of Gnoppan or Jeffersonian society, and Alran too; thrusting himself uninvited into their company on the airship, insulting his de facto hosts and then perversely claiming insult, finally acting, literally, like an animal on the Field, breaking the Code, where any Referee of a hundred worlds or half-dozen races would have been considered justified in executing him. {I hold the contest between your master and myself to be concluded.}
Wrrn bowed. {I am no longer in the Count's service, Master Prrg,} he said as he straightened. {I wish only to express my admiration for your conduct in the face of such... provocation.}
Prrg's tone softened at once. {I see. Come, join us, friend Wrrn. Some refreshment perhaps?} Clancy, ever experimenting, had mixed fresh-squeezed crel juice with that of Terran-derived oranges and a Chikaran fruit whose name he still couldn't pronounce. It was the Human crew's new favorite soft drink, and Prrg found it surprisingly good himself, though Sarah's palate couldn't appreciate the nuances, and Ralph had pointed out that the Chikaran component was a poison to Boksi.
{Thank you, Master Prrg, thank you!} Wrrn replied as he entered the suite's salon.
After Wrrn hissed in pleasant surprise at Clancy's concoction, Prrg asked the former servant, {How did you come to leave the Count's employ?}
{He dismissed me, Master.}
{Call me no master, friend. Jeffersonians keep no slaves, of any degree.} Another reason Prrg had left his world and his inheritance had been his basic decency. Slavery, beneath many a euphemism, was still an institution on Gnop. The patterns of copper and wooden decorations on Wrrn's loincloth marked him as having been sold as a hatchling, trained throughout his life as a servant to nobles; likely he had spent his entire life within County Vrnt until being assigned by the actual Count to his son Grnnp for the latter's offworld "education." If Gnop were a Republic world... but that was not so. {For what supposed cause were you dismissed?} At Wrrn's hesitation, Prrg explained, {These are my family, Wrrn, as close as any blood kin. They all wear translators and understand our words. You will find them sympathetic. We have had... some experience with forms of slavery.} Beside their absent Glaut brother, Prrg thought back to what he had seen on Kshir, in the Yshlah dictatorship. He'd shared his war stories with his new family years ago.
{I see.... Mas- friend Prrg, as you observed, Count Grnnp is... well....}
{Typical of the Gnoppan aristocracy,} Prrg provided.
{Indeed. His father, Urngg, is a decent sort, as such go, but....}
{The Humans call it lese-majeste, disrespect for nobility. In their history, as in our present, it was a crime comparable to treason. The Jeffersonians - of which I am one - instead consider it a duty. Do not restrain yourself, friend.}
Wrrn stared at Prrg for a moment, then hissed, {Inbred, immoral, illiterate-} whatever Wrrn's status, he was educated, and didn't run out of adjectives for two whole minutes. The crew with faces for it were grinning before then. {When we returned to our hotel, he flew into a rage, throwing, breaking, raving. I tried to reason with him, but he struck me, then dismissed me from service.
{Friend Prrg- friends-} Wrnn made eye contact with the crew- {I fear he plans harm to you, against all custom and law. I came to offer warning.}
"Thank you, friend Wrrn," Danner said, while Aurora automatically translated. If the ship wasn't sentient, she was the next best thing. "Are you in any need? Perhaps we can help you find new employment?"
{There is another issue, Captain,} Prrg said, continuing in Gnoppan for Wrrn's benefit. {Under Gnoppan law, Wrrn is still a slave, property of County Vrnt and Count Urngg.}
"Ah." They hadn't thought of it during the duel, and the hotel wasn't Republic soil yet... Danner searched his memory, then his 'puter. Aurora's status as a Republic-flagged ship, moreso as Reserve Privateer, was plain, but he couldn't find a clear definition about her shuttles- "Well, let's all head back to the spaceport. Would you like to join us, Wrrn? The least we can do is buy you a meal for your warning, and without a job you shouldn't turn down free food." Without another word, the crew grabbed jackets or hats as they wished, and in a moment were ready to go.

Danner's Corona had not enough seats, so Aurora summoned Three Boat without asking - alerting Danner discreetly through his earbud - when she unavoidably noticed what Danner was searching for. It lit on the hotel's rooftop pad as the company made their way there. Wrrn sensed something in the crew's demeanor but could not understand the body language or facial expressions of the aliens; and Prrg kept his own face blank.
After the short flight, Sarah set the shuttle down near a food court in the Jeffersonian Zone, and it lifted away under traffic control to a parking area. At Danner's nod, Prrg announced, {Wrrn, you are now standing on the soil of the Jeffersonian Republic. Gnoppan law does not apply here. The Republic's Constitution states: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the Republic, or any place subject to its jurisdiction." It is established precedent that any slave, of any race or nation, is no longer a slave once he sets foot on Republic soil. Wrrn, you are free.}
Danner let that sink in for a time, then said, "That also means you're free to return to Gnop, but you would then be subject to their law again. A slave again."
{No!} Wrrn exclaimed. {No, I will not go back to... that. But....} Even his alien face showed bewilderment. {What shall I do? How shall I live?}
"Let's talk about that over some drinks," Danner said, leading his family and their guest into a bar. There might be an official complaint from Grnnp - unlikely - or Urngg, accusations of theft of County property, but the precedents in Republic law and Gnoppan treaty were clear; while the Republic did not interfere in Gnoppan internal affairs, any slave - with a few exceptions such as indenture as punishment for crime - was a free being the instant he reached Republic territory. Danner felt a moment of chagrin over nearly letting Wrrn's freedom slip away during the duel, when he was very much standing on Republic soil. It was fortunate that Grnnp had dismissed him, and that Wrrn had then sought out Prrg and his crewmates. Now, though, Wrrn had to stay in the Jeffersonian Zone indefinitely, or until he took passage on a Republic-flagged ship; otherwise he would be subject to re-enslavement, if Grnnp thought to make an effort. Any possessions he had would probably have to be left behind.

It was a shock, certainly. Free! Wrrn thought to himself. What manner of people are these 'Jeffersonians', to give such gifts?
"Take your time, Wrrn," Danner said. Aurora's remote carried spare translation earbuds. "We've no pressing business-" their cargo was either non-perishable or in first-rate Chikaran-built cryo, and Daisuke hadn't bothered searching for buyers yet; it was at least a half-year's travel back to the Central Worlds- "and if Grnnp thought to ruin you, I take pleasure in opposing his will."
{Thank you, Captain!} the former slave cried, prostrating himself at Danner's feet right there in the bar, drawing many a stare from the other customers.
Danner knelt down to gently draw the Nikar back to his taloned feet. "Free people don't grovel," he softly chided. "You'll never have to bend your knee again." Clancy handed Wrrn a glass of something he'd learned was appropriate for Nikar.
{Indeed,} Prrg added, {but having meddled so dramatically in our new friend's life, we bear some responsibility for him. We shall not simply cast you adrift among the stars, Wrrn. We shall see you employed and settled before we leave this world. For what work are you trained, and what would be your preference?} Prrg glanced at Danner, knowing his captain and friend well - if nothing could be found in the Zone, Wrrn could be carried as a charity passenger to Republic worlds - particularly Alexandria - with existing Nikar communities. Danner gave a miniscule nod in return.
Wrrn took a moment in thought. {I was raised from a hatchling as a servant,} he began. {Educated in the ways of Gnoppan society, etiquette, differences between ranks, correct forms of address. I speak and read three Gnoppan dialects besides this global tongue. I can read your English, a little, though I cannot yet speak or listen to it. I have learned to use computers, if they are in one of the Gnoppan languages I know. Naturally I can cook and clean and perform household maintenance. Perhaps... I could become hotel staff?}
Clancy interjected, "Captain, I'm thinking it's been some time since I trained a proper Steward's Mate. Ralph-the-doctor has higher callings these days and Our Lady does most of the work herself now, but I'm feeling a mite bored. I'm not saying Wrrn, here, would have a permanent berth, but 'twould not be a blot on his resumé to serve Aurora." Danner nodded approval. "Does that interest you, Wrrn?" Clancy continued. "Work yer way to the Republic's Central Worlds with us, then find a steady berth on a luxury liner? See dozens of worlds, take yer pick of 'em."
{Of course, once you reach the Central Worlds,} Prrg added, {you could find work in any field. Join our military for Citizenship as I once did, you're young enough. Anything you qualify for.}
{Citizenship...? I could become-?}
"There's a recruiting office not a hundred meters from here," Cates pointed out. "But don't be hasty. Military life isn't for everyone, even a single five-year enlistment. There are plenty of ways to become a Citizen."
"That's true," Jenny offered. "Sarah and I are the only members of the crew who haven't served in the military. I first earned my Citizenship by working in an Essential Industry, building stardrives. It takes longer that way, but the result, the duties and rights, end up the same." She turned to Danner.
"Now they remain Citizens," he said, "by serving as Engineer and Navigator on a Reserve Privateer, my ship. Roughly half of all Republic ships have that status, including many of the passenger liners Clancy mentioned. If, for example, you found a berth on a liner which was also an RP, and were trained as, say, part of a gun crew, you could be a Citizen in eight of our years-" Danner glanced at Prrg.
{Six of Gnop's,} the older Nikar said.
Wrrn was silent, struggling to wrap his mind around these new opportunities. Then he asked, {Captain, when must your ship leave?}
"We can depart at once, our business on Oskran is done. But we're in no hurry, no one's waiting for us." In previous discussion Daisuke had guaranteed a profit from Aurora's cargo, even if it took them a year to return to the First Wave. Danner could tell as much himself, but it was comforting to have the Purser's professional confirmation. And there was still some cargo space available, to fill along the way, to say nothing of passengers; and pay for their unofficially-official mission had come through the day after their arrival. The family wouldn't be losing any money if they spent another thousand hours at Oskran. "Tell you what- we'll put you up in a hotel room here in the Zone, for a couple days at least." At Wrrn's expression, which few other races could read without the years spent in Prrg's company, Danner waved a hand dismissively and added, "I consider it an entertainment expense. It entertains me to further upset Grnnp."
{I will stay with you, if you like,} Prrg added. {I can also begin your Jeffersonian education.} Which would include some skill at arms - though now a free being, Wrrn was not yet even a Jeffersonian Subject, much less Citizen; by Republic law he was an alien (in the legal meaning) transient with no claim to Republic protection, and by Gnoppan law he was a fugitive, for the "crime" of stealing himself. He could do with some protection, and the crew always brought their favorite weapons with them when leaving the ship; besides his usual M437 and midsword, Prrg had two identically-altered Casetti Model G laser pistols and rotated them every few hundred hours. Naturally there were also arms shops in the Zone.
Prrg always felt a vague guilt regarding his homeworld and species. He could not free them all... But I can free this one.
Continued in the next excerpt....
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