Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2016, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part III: Rebirth
Continued from the previous excerpt
Equatoria, Wilson's Colony, Jeffersonian Republic
As a spacer, Danner had no house or apartment, and few possessions; that would start changing as Aurora became his first real home since he joined the Patrol. He had already arranged the purchase of two surplus Type 208 shuttles for use as ship's boats, and instructed that one of the ship's four small-craft bays, originally designed for larger warcraft like the Type 84 heavy shuttle, the Banshee bomber, or a pair of fighters like the Corsair or later Starcat, be reconfigured into three subcompartments which could be cycled individually, conserving atmosphere and power. Two would hold the 208s, but neither bay nor shuttles were ready yet, so the shuttles were stored elsewhere for now.
The third section was being rebuilt with a universal aircar cradle. Shortly after delivering Aurora to dock, he'd picked up a 539-model-year Corona, a six-place SSTO triphibian SUV. With the latest fusion pack, which Monticello Motors had developed for the Patrol's new Type 323 shuttle, to which the Corona was distantly related, it could lift pilot, five passengers, and up to 800kg of cargo to synchronous orbit on internal fuel. For one or two people planetside and a couple trips to low orbit, it could run for days without refueling. It took standard drop tanks from Patrol fighters for greater range, and since the off-the-shelf hardpoints were the same, it also accepted Patrol-standard ordnance, at least the smaller weapons, though fire-control was not standard from the factory. A plasma rifle, equivalent to an infantry squad-automatic, could be added in a handy chin turret, and the used car came with one and the necessary fire-control package, mostly the same as the current Lightning-VI fighter; these were selling points, and Danner hadn't haggled too hard with the wily Chikaran dealer. He was figuring on adding a laser in a top turret later, a simple aftermarket kit any body shop could drop on and which the larger chains kept in stock. The car was also seaworthy, rated to 80 meters depth under Monticellan conditions, and another aftermarket kit would install a pair of waldoes rated for all environments – he'd had that one mounted already, figuring it might be useful in cargo-handling or salvage; Aurora would work for a living.
Nearly the only thing the car didn't have was its own FTL. Monticello Motors had sold nearly six million in fourteen years, nearly a third to Eyani (the seat design had won two industry awards and a military contract); only Epsilon Automotive's legendary FlyCycle had a better sales rate, and as an air-only two-seater, it didn't compete for the same market. The Corona made an ideal runabout and captain's gig. The downsized, peacetime Patrol had only borne the name “Navy” for fifteen of its 545 years, during the War and its immediate aftermath; it had long since reverted to its original, less-formal militia status, and many captains were buying their own Coronas.
During her service life, Aurora had been painted white. With the ship in pieces at CS, and her armor being replaced with newer, better material, little of that remained, but in time she'd be refinished. He'd already had the Corona painted to match, and marked with her name as a ship's boat.
Linfarger and Danner took the Corona down to Everett, the planetside city at the Tower's base. They landed at CAFB Everett, the Confederate Air Force's system headquarters on the city's outskirts – the CAF tended to restore and maintain only smaller vessels which could make planetfall, not least for reasons of cost.
As they approached the field, they saw Marjorie Halliwell, the second-largest ship in the CAF, a sleek, curvy tower gleaming silver despite the day's overcast and showers; 200 meters away the smaller Scottish frigate MacDougal stood proud in white-trimmed blue. Lesser craft were arrayed around them or could be seen through open hangar doors. As the Corona approached it was buzzed by a Type 108 shuttle, the economy model originally planned for wartime mass-production, but redesigned to higher standards when the War ended before manufacture began; this one was marked as a ship's boat of JRS Israel, one of the Republic class dreadnoughts which entered service at the very end of the War. The 108 took up formation on the Corona's starboard, while to port arrived a Starcat-II fighter, in the bright red of VFA-141 from the carrier Hornbeck in 412, gold lightning bolts trimming wings and rudders. The pilots saluted their Wing Leader, and he returned the honor. They were all Citizens, all reservists; every ship and craft the CAF flew was still armed and could be pressed into service if the nation called, true to the Founders' concept of Citizen militias and sharply-limited government. Halliwell and MacDougal were listed as reserve privateers, and often made trips to remote Republic worlds and stations to allow far-flung Citizens to maintain their status with the few weeks, every five years, of required reactivation. The other Wings of the CAF performed the same service throughout the Republic.
The formation orbited the field. Danner's piloting wasn't up to the CAF's level but he didn't embarrass himself or endanger them. His landing was smooth enough, the belly jets bringing the car down without a bounce or skid. He'd been flying manual for the practice; the car's computer could do it all, a valuable emergency feature, but no real spacer used it for something as simple as reentry from synchronous orbit and landing on a prepared field.
As Danner was shutting down, Linfarger stepped out of the gull-wing hatch, returned a few more salutes – these were not required by CAF rules; he had earned them, and those giving them had earned his in return – and gave Patrol hand-signals, designed for noisy, or noiselessy airless, flight decks, for the fuel truck to top off the Corona. In the modern age, with sunlight for solar power and water from comets or any planet where men could live, fusion and rocket fuel were all but free.
Danner followed the crew-fixer out and looked around. He'd known of this place, having grown up on the outfit's homeworld, but had never been to one of their bases. At the far end were the shop buildings; one of the ways the CAF kept itself solvent was to refurbish and sell craft of less historical significance, like the three heavy Type 300 shuttles he saw being worked on, one already repainted in a small passenger line's livery. As Linfarger joined him and they began walking to the field's admin building, Eric saw where Danner was looking and remarked, “I can give you a very good price on one of those. It's a tight fit, but the wings fold just enough to get into an Adamant's bay – it's the same standard bay as on Margie over there.”
“That's a good idea, Eric, but I've been spending a lot of money on Aurora already.”
“A Three-Hundred is a moneymaker for any working ship,” Eric pointed out. He wasn't just Wing Leader, he was also CEO with an emphasis on the E, and it was his acumen which had discovered MacDougal in time to be saved from the breakers. “And I can give you a very good price. But no hurry, we get them all the time as the Patrol replaces them with 318s, we won't run out for years. We've a dozen in parking orbit now in fact.” The pair entered the admin building and made their way to the small cafeteria, to find a lone woman waiting.
“And here she is,” Linfarger stated. “Captain Solomon Danner, IS Aurora” - Danner, hearing it for the first time, felt a thrill at the title and the designation: Independent Starship - “meet Jennifer Blain, Drive Technician, General Technician, and Ship's Engineer.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Danner said, shaking hands. “General Technician” was a title with meaning, with some equivalence to “General Practitioner”, and Eric Linfarger did not bestow titles lightly. She had the grip of a woman who did real work, and he liked her instantly.
She was about forty in Republic years, under thirty Terran. She was slightly overweight, shorter than most Jeffersonian Human women, and though easy enough to look upon, she would not be an object of Danner's physical desire. Wavy brown hair was cut short to keep it clear of machinery; her brown eyes were clear but guarded, and she had something of the wounded animal about her. Her pale skin was lightly freckled, her strong nose smeared with what was probably thruster-soot. She wore no jewelry, and a shapeless gray-green shipsuit which had been much-washed and much-repaired.
Eric had told him nothing of the woman's “problem”, only that she was recovering from a personal tragedy and that otherwise he couldn't think of a better candidate for Danner's requirements. As for Blain, Eric had told her only that a good captain was looking for an engineer for his ship, which was just starting a major refit.
Blain, fearing change, had demurred at first. Eric had told her, “I won't say you can't stay here forever, lass – you could, and we'd be glad of it. But is that what you want? In honesty to yourself, is that what you need?” She had agreed to at least meet with the captain and discuss the project.
“Why don't you two sit and get acquainted,” Eric now said cheerfully as he jerked a huge thumb at the cryopantry, “while I see if they've sold the place for scrap while I was away.” The bear-man lumbered out of the building, already hailing a Wingmate and asking after parts.
“I won't bother asking for your credentials,” Danner said as he fetched juices and sandwiches from the cryo', bringing them to a table and gesturing for Blain to help herself. When energy became cheap, so did everything else, including food, and one look at Linfarger was enough to know he wouldn't begrudge his friends several thousand calories. “If Eric says you're qualified, that's enough for any Captain.” The woman blushed, and took a sip of juice as though she were hiding behind it. Both took seats, and Danner asked, “What has he told you?”
“Only that you were the Man Who Saved Rockville, you were his good friend, and you were starting to build a crew.”
Danner almost spewed juice. “Gods, has anyone not heard of that?” He blushed a little himself. “In hindsight I'm amazed I survived. I promise I won't be trying anything like that again!”
Blain laughed, very briefly, very softly, as though she were unaccustomed to it. “He said, 'Sol Danner doesn't think of being a hero, he just is one, then wonders at the fuss after.'”
Danner blushed more thoroughly and replied, “Let me assure you I have every intention of living to a quiet old age. But he didn't tell you about the ship?” Blain shook her head.
“Her name's Aurora,” he said, his voice changing instantly to reverence. “I saved her from Mothballs at New Texas just over a month ago. She's up at High City now, the 'wrights are getting the heavy stuff out of the way. I need an Engineer who loves ships to bring her back to life and make her whole. Then we'll build the rest of the crew and go spacing on our own by-gods ship. Charters, freight, salvage, exploration, whatever keeps us flying, for as long as we can stand it.”
Blain was silent a moment, then asked, her eyes intense, “What is she?”
Danner locked eyes with her, leaned forward, and answered, “She's the last of the Adamants.”
Blain took a little breath and slowly leaned back, her eyes not leaving Danner's. “That's impossible!”
With a smile he gestured at the shape of a 'puter in her breast pocket. “Look her up,” he said softly. “CL63.”
She started to reach for the 'puter, then stopped, dropping her hand to her lap. She was still and silent for more than a minute, then finally stood and, eyes flashing, said, “Show me.”
After hurrying to grab her suit and a few other items, the two notified Linfarger they were going back to High City, and he waved them off with a smile. He'd be staying with the Wing for a while, and had plenty of ways to get back to the Kraken when he was ready. His two “jobs” were frequently one.
“Nice car,” Blain said as she strapped into the Corona.
“Thanks, I picked it up last week. As you saw, it's a ship's boat now too, the first. I'll be adding some things, like a Tanaka-Halverson turret and more cargo-handling gear. I've a pair of 208s in storage but they need work.”
“You could get all three of those in a standard Adamant bay,” Blain said with sudden animation, “and then you could partition the bay so-”
“-So each compartment could be cycled by itself, without evacuating the whole bay. The 'wrights are already starting that.” Danner grinned, and the corners of Blain's mouth twitched in the ghost of a smile.
“Show me,” she repeated.
Danner lifted off, orbited the field for a minute awaiting clearance from the traffic AI, then stood the Corona on its tail and boosted.
With only two aboard and no cargo, the Corona could reach synchronous orbit in a couple hours, wrapping once around the planet. During the trip, Danner told Blain more about Aurora and his own past as a uniformed bureaucrat, free from his desk at long last.
Arriving at High City, Danner took the Corona in a slow, close pass around Dock 49 – the same dock Aurora had come from, three and a quarter centuries before. Constitution Shipyards was slashing their prices and milking the publicity - how many companies could boast a product that lasted longer than many countries? Pondering the discounts, Danner made a note to pick up a Type 300 from Eric after all.
Blain became excited, pointing out features, asking deep questions which even Danner had trouble answering. “Enough. Let's have you meet her,” he said. He told the city's traffic AI where he wanted to park and it directed him to the nearest available space, which it reserved for him, billing his account once he docked.
Dock 49 was open to space; a ship Aurora's size could not practicably be enclosed in atmosphere and removed again. The pair donned and checked their suits, cycled through the personnel 'lock, turned on all their lights and safety strobes, and jetted over to the cruiser.
“Oh... my... gods,” the woman exclaimed. “She still has her grav-rings! You're keeping them, right? Of course you are, I can see them laying new races. That attitude jet will burst the next time it's used, oh good, that guy is cutting it loose, get it out of here. What in Nora's Name happened to this cargo hatch? They're replacing the power feeds, looks like the new Telsin-5 stuff, that's great. Is that Minamoto armor? I need a closer look at that thrust-brace–”
“Does this mean you'll take the job?” he radioed.
She fell silent and canceled her motion. After several seconds she rotated to face him, and through her visor, suddenly looked much older than her years.
“Take me someplace quiet and buy me a beer,” she said. “There's something I need to tell you.”
Jennifer Blain had loved her job.
It paid well enough for an apartment in the Azalea Arms wheel complex, 8mps2 at 1rpm with a very nice view. The hours were convenient, the commute was short, and she knew her work really mattered.
Jenny Blain built Marsten Drives, the faster-than-light engines which carried mankind to the stars.
The three-century cold war with the UN, later the Terran Empire, had been over for more than two centuries, after the decade it turned hot. The security and background checks once required for employment in Marsten Drive production were now pointless, especially since the discovery of the haughty, tentacled Glaut a century and a half ago, who had figured it out on their own. Constitution Shipyards was a nice, friendly place to work. Jenny's particular job was alignment and testing of the rare-earth cores, which interacted with the generated tachyon bombardment to create the Marsten Field, allowing a ship to slip into hyperspace and come out again intact. She'd been promoted twice in one year and was a foreman responsible for ten other workers. She was “upwardly mobile”.
In her spare time, she was a ship-lover, and had been since childhood. She built models, collected books and data, joined enthusiast groups like Alexandria's Confederate Air Force, which maintained antique ships and smaller craft as living, flying museums – their local Wing, so near the shipyards where many of the most famous vessels had been built, was large and active. Her dream was to someday own a Zephyr class yacht, made in another department of CS a few kilometers across the city; her own private little starship in which to live and travel and retire.
Three years ago she'd been on her way, recently given another raise, just in time for the weekend. She'd gone out with friends to celebrate. Four of them had rambled across High City for 50 hours, sampling every pleasure and diversion they encountered. Jenny had never tried Juice before, but anti-addiction treatments had been perfected centuries ago – what could be the harm?
The first drop spread across her tongue like moonlight, flowing through her whole body. Total euphoria flooded her consciousness. It lasted for hours. When it started to wear off, she quickly took another. This one didn't last as long. The third was even shorter, and had a reduced effect. Withdrawal threatened to drive her to depression.
That Monday she called in sick and made her way to a local clinic – a simple injection, a few hours of purging, and she'd be right as rain; she wasn't even getting the one and only tax-paid State treatment, but paying for her own, so she could forego the infrared tattoo. The techniques had been established, and the social stigma had vanished, before the Europa Incident, what could go wrong?
She found out. The nurse first analyzed a blood sample, examined the readout, and hurried out of the room with a concerned expression. Minutes later, with the pangs of withdrawal gnawing at Jenny, the nurse returned with a doctor who somberly explained that she had a rare genetic anomaly preventing the traditional treatments from working. The Cure would kill her, slowly and painfully.
She pleaded, threatened, raved and stormed, but the doctor held fast – he would not be a party to suicide. Jenny became violent, security was called – they were as gentle as possible, that company specialized in such cases and two-thirds of their personnel were recovered addicts themselves, but Jenny could be neither calmed nor consoled.
Finally released, she binged.
She lost her job. Her savings evaporated. She was evicted from her apartment, her belongings seized and auctioned for debt. Homeless, incomeless, her “friends” turned her away. She had no family to turn to except some cousins planetside, and she couldn't even afford passage down – and they'd stopped answering their comm.
She washed up at the hatch of ICI, Interstellar Charities Inc. She didn't remember going there; some anonymous Samaritan had dropped her off. She tried not to think about what she'd been doing, or who she'd been doing it with, before.
Her sponsor had been nonhuman, an Eyani. That wasn't surprising, the six-limbed people had been integrated with Human society for two hundred years. What shocked Jenny was that this elderly female was scarred and half-hairless from fire, the damage never repaired despite partial-cloning and nanosurgery techniques almost as old as the Republic itself.
Juice worked on Eyani much like it did on Humans. Y'Tre was an addict, with a genetic anomaly comparable to Jenny's. In the depression of withdrawal, she had burned her rural planetside house down around herself. A Human had been passing by in his aircar and saw the smoke, investigated, dragged her out, brought her to hospital. Ironically he had been a manufacturer of Juice, returning from a business meeting and taking a scenic sidetrip.
Together the two had founded ICI over a hundred Monticellan years ago. The man, Howard Muratelli, had sunk his whole fortune into it, using the same business skills that had made him the Juice Baron of Wilson's to keep the new operation solvent while funding research for improved Cures and other medical advances – Y'Tre's anomaly also prevented traditional regeneration, and ordinary Eyani biology rejected most grafts or transplants.
Y'Tre had found a reason to go on living: to help others who had suffered reclaim their lives and live with their pain. In time, she helped Jenny find her own reason to live.
That reason was ships.
The Confederate Air Force, based on Alexandria and named not only for the pre-Membership Betan Confederacy but for a much older organization with similar goals on pre-Escape Terra, was also a charity of sorts, putting on aerospace shows and reenactments, providing ships and craft and consultation for documentaries and historical dramas, raffling historic rides as fundraisers for communities or individuals, providing low-cost or free transport to needy causes – and once in a great while, taking in people who needed somewhere to belong. CAF and ICI had been partners since the latter's founding.
Jenny had already been a yearly member, but had never expected to be so close to such historic craft. They put her to work right away, first on a pre-War Type 63 shuttle. Found wrecked in Epsilon Indi's Alpha Belt, where it had rested since the First Battle of New Israel, the CAF had been trying to restore it for seventeen years. Jenny had it flying in two months.
When she was working on it, she sometimes forgot the pain.
They moved her to larger projects, their prized, pristine Deitrich class destroyer, DD212 JRS Marjorie Halliwell; she had the Fourth-Gen Drive fixed in a week and was given the honor of Initating the ship's first hyperspace Transition in eighty-seven years. When the Caledonian frigate MacDougal had been three weeks from the breakers, she had led the crew which restored Drive and engines in nineteen frantic days, the ship triumphantly landing at CAFB Everett under her own power. When their Havoc bomber, the last one flying, had landed hard and parts could not be found, with a reenactment of the Nowy Kraków Raid of 494 eight days off and thirteen thousand expected to attend, Jenny had that very evening contacted an ex-coworker who had built them at CS seventy years before, and acquired complete specifications; the new parts had been fabbed in a day and the bomber was flying the following morning.
The pain was always with her, but the ships, the beautiful brave ships with their wonderful stories to tell, had anchored her. She had been clean for two years, three months, and nine days.
Since 537, beside his “real” “job” as freelance crew-fixer, the Wing Leader of the Wilson's Colony Wing of the Confederate Air Force was Eric Linfarger.
Jenny finished her tale, then finished her beer. She couldn't meet Danner's eyes.
When it was plain she was done speaking, Danner asked, exactly as he had in Dock 49, "Does this mean you'll take the job?"
Jenny jerked her head up, eyes wide, and for the first time in three years, she smiled.
Continued in the next excerpt....