Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2016, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part XXX: Family Matters
Continued from the previous excerpt
4 Firstmonth 553JR
Hyperspace Transit, Sylvan to Alpine
“I estimate a 99%-plus probability,” Aurora stated, “that passenger Anna Nowak is Princess Agnieszka Elaine Caroline Lorentz Kordylewski Aldritch, seventh in line of succession for the Illyrian throne.” Displaying more of her increasing initiative, the ship added, “I had not thought to make such a comparison until you asked for the summary of the royal family, Captain.”
“A lesson for both of us,” Solomon observed, with some bitterness. “Please show me the latest news from Illyria.”
Aurora had monitored Illyrian broadcasts, and casts less broad, until she Transitioned away from the system. Her storage capacity was vast, and she had skillfully-written subroutines to flush obsolete or irrelevant data. Everything she had recorded at Illyria was still in her memory; typically such data was deleted after six Transits or one Monticellan year, whichever came first.
The data was presented as a list of headlines, translated where necessary from Illyrian Anglo-Polish to Jeffersonian American. While skimming, Solomon asked, “Anything on the incident when we left? Or about a missing princess?”
“Not that I can discern, Captain. However, this item may be of interest.” Aurora highlighted a news item from the Royal Broadcasting Service, reporting that King Henryk II had taken ill and Prince Stefan, whom Aurora's data described as fourth in line, had temporarily assumed the crown.
Solomon repeated, “Oh, crap.”
“Captain?” the ship asked.
Danner couldn't help but smile, briefly; Aurora did seem to be gaining sentience. Curiosity was surely an indicator, was it not? “I suspect a coup,” he told his ship. Thoughts raced through Danner's mind; maybe those three in that alley were “legitimate” cops- acting under orders to seize Anna/Agnieszka and deliver, if not “sell” her, to her- Danner checked the other display for the geneology- her uncle Stefan, to remove her as a threat to Stefan's overthrow of his father, her grandfather, Henryk. The princess, somehow forewarned, attempted escape, was pursued, encountered Aurora's crew clearly marked as foreigners, desperately begged their aid-
But that was all conjecture. “I suppose I need to speak with her about this. But first- crew meeting.”
“So that's how I see it,” Danner concluded after briefing his family, on Aurora's bridge.
“What are your intentions?” Prrg asked on behalf of the crew.
Danner paused. “I've been running that through my head. A lot.” After another pause, he continued, “I suppose it will depend on her intentions.” What obligation did Solomon Danner have to drag his family, potentially his nation, into what appeared to be an internal foreign conflict? “Anna” had, arguably, come aboard under false pretenses- but she had paid her fare, and Jeffersonians didn't meddle with people who weren't harming others.
Besides... he liked her.
“She could disappear,” Vatelius suggested. “'Anna Nowak' could start a new life in the Republic. No one would ever need to know different.”
“I suggested that option already,” Solomon answered with a nod, “and it seemed to upset her. That's what led me to investigate.”
Surprisingly, the usually-taciturn Daisuke offered, “She is a woman of character, with a sense of duty. These traits become evident as I teach her the way of the sword.”
Taniyama was the best swordsman any of Aurora's family had encountered, and trained himself constantly, sparring against Aurora's recreation robots or live opponents in dojos wherever they could be found along Aurora's travels. He trained in both the traditional Japanese kenjutsu and the simpler Jeffersonian midsword, which “Anna” carried. He had long since acquired a katana to go with his red-and-silver wakizashi, though he deliberately did not choose or make one to match the latter; instead his long sword was a featureless gray, utterly functional and void of any decoration. It was of traditional folded-metal construction, not a Mitsuhira ceramic-alloy blade like his short sword - those were rare enough to draw unwanted attention, which his Family had gathered he did not want.
“If she is who she now appears to be,” Daisuke went on, “I do not believe she could easily abandon her responsibilities. If the situation on Illyria is as you surmise, and I were in her place, I would feel compelled to return, put down the supposed usurper, and restore Henryk, or claim the throne in my own turn.” Daisuke suddenly fell silent, casting his eyes toward the deck, absorbed in a memory he had never shared with his family.
“I've seen the same,” Holly contributed, “teaching her hand-to-hand. She takes it seriously. She's a lot more grown-up than she looks.”
Solomon nodded, having noted the same during the girl's firearm training. “Jenny,” he asked, “did your friend Professor Symanski drop any hints while you were there? Or Jack, did you pick up any clues?” Epstein, despite a status the monarchists of Illyria might have considered “low”, had been treated with respect and deference during Jenny Blain's visit to their Royal University - she was a celebrity in her own academic circle, and he was her husband. He had hired servants to look after her and keep her from the exhaustion geniuses often suffered, and he had necessarily interacted with those commoner servants.
The cargomaster first answered, “The servants did seem nervous, but I didn't think anything of it at the time. Figured it was rich-galactic-foreigner syndrome and they were just worried about seeming backward yokels.” Epstein gave a chuckle at this. “If they'd known I grew up as a dockworker....” He turned to his wife.
The ship's Engineer shook her head and said, “Wlad-” she pronounced this with a “v”, that being the convention in Anglo-Polish- “...well, he's the absent-minded professor. Brilliant in his field, but blissfully ignorant of the outside world. Same with his colleagues, a real ivory-tower gang. Unless troops are breaking down their doors and spilling blood on their equations, the rest of the galaxy might not even exist.”
“Hmm,” Danner expressed. “Anyone else?” No one offered more. “Aurora,” he said, “please invite... 'Anna' to join me on the bridge.”
“Hello, Solomon!” the young woman said brightly as she entered the bridge compartment, which was in freefall during Transit. “Thank you for inviting me! I love to watch hyperspace-” she broke off abruptly as she noticed the entire crew looking at her.
Danner smiled at her, as best he was able under the circumstances. “Please, come in, take a couch.” Between the actual bridge stations were several observation couches, originally for strikers, subordinates observing or being observed by seniors, while training for naval duties, but now comfortably refinished for favored passengers to watch the flowing pastels of hyperspace through Aurora's armorglas bow.
Danner could see the thoughts racing through her mind. She was wearing her midsword, but not her pistol; the ship was in Transit routine and a threat to her safety from fellow passengers could be conceived of only with difficulty, from the crew not at all. The blade was, under these conditions, a fashion statement. Still, as memories of her narrow escape flooded back, Danner saw a hand twitch toward the hilt- then ease away.
Where could she go? An escape pod into the depths of interstellar space, where the only hope of survival would be the very ship she would escape from? If she even survived the unshielded Transition from Aurora's Marsten Field? She floated to a couch and drew one strap across herself.
“Let me begin,” Solomon said, “by stating you are under no duress and in no danger from anyone here. You are a free individual who has contracted with us for transport to New Israel. I see no reason to change that.
“However...” Solomon pressed a key on his command couch, and Princess Agnieszka's portrait appeared in the air between them. “It has been brought to my attention you are not who you claimed to be.”
The girl remained silent, her blue eyes meeting Danner's.
The Captain then repeated what he had speculated of the situation on Illyria. He watched her eyes widen with each detail. When finished, he asked, “How close am I?”
Her mouth worked soundlessly for a moment, then she asked, “How... could you have learned all this?”
“It's true then?”
“Yes.” Tears began to float at the corners of her eyes. “All of it. But there's more.
“My grandfather- King Henryk- is dead. Murdered by my uncle, his own son, Stefan.” She spat the name, not calling him “Prince”. “The rest of my family too-” she choked back a sob. “All challengers to the throne.
From the corner of his own eye, Danner noticed Daisuke become very still - but that had no bearing on the current issue. “Jeffersonians,” Danner said, “don't force ourselves on other people. We leave each other alone, so long as no harm is being done. You are not obligated to answer, but may I ask your intentions?” Again the girl, still only 17 Terran years of age, was silent.
After a time, Danner added, “It may help to discuss matters. I think you'll find us not unsympathetic.” Monarchist or not, the crew had all grown to like their redheaded passenger - for she had never acted the princess toward any of them.
Sarah Heusner, the extroverted, six-limbed, furry navigator, floated out of her own couch to the Human girl's side and took a hand in her own. “Part of me envies you,” she told the Human. “I never knew my real family.” “Anna” had been aboard for hundreds of hours, and had interacted with the crew far more than passengers usually did. She had learned Sarah's story of orphanage and adoption. “You at least have memories of them.”
The dam broke, and Sarah embraced Agnieszka as the Human girl sobbed into her Eyani shoulder.
The tears did not flow long, for as Gunner Cates had observed, Agnieszka was more mature than her years would suggest. Wiping her eyes, she suddenly blanched and turned to stare at Danner. “Those policemen-”
“Hm,” Danner uttered. “I... don't feel any particular remorse. I wouldn't have generally. Rather less so now, when their plans for you can be surmised.”
“But- I lied to you... and you killed them. For me....”
“Yes, I suppose. But I'm not seeing a lot of moral difference between what you accused them of, and what they evidently intended. Could they have not known who you were, and what they were supposed to take you to?”
Agnieszka drew her head back to think on this. Danner continued, “So, attempted kidnapping, accessories to attempted murder. Those are capital offenses under Jeffersonian law - which law, I'll add, in the same Article and Section of our Constitution, explicitly prohibits the existence of a police force, for reasons just like this. Don't lose sleep on it; I won't.” Prrg nodded agreement from his own couch, and even Daisuke gave one short, but sincere, nod.
“I...” She gave herself a shake, with Sarah's arm still around her shoulders. “Thank you. All of you.”
“If you're up to it,” Sarah suggested, “can you tell us the whole story?”
Agnieszka nodded, gathered herself, and began.
“Stefan-” she bared her teeth, Eyani-fashion- “he was always... not right. The details... are not relevant, I think.” The crew nodded, or in nonHuman cases indicated agreement. It was an old story. It was old when Shakespeare had written it.
Danner noticed Taniyama had become very still indeed.
“Over years, he... twisted people. Moved them into... certain positions.” Agnieszka noted the expressions on her audience's faces. “Yes, this has happened before,” she noted bitterly. “We are not all without access to information.
“I guess... he decided the time was right. It was very early in the morning, most people were asleep. I... was woken by my armsman, Bogdan, he... was bleeding. He-” Tears flowed again, and Sarah gave the girl's shoulder a squeeze.
Sniffling, she continued: “He gave me a sack of zlotys, and the cloak I was wearing when we met. He told me Stefan was rounding up the family, murdering them- I was the last. He told me to run, hide, try to find a foreign ship, a Republic ship, and buy passage offworld.” She forced a tragic smile. “He was right.
“I suppose he's dead too, now.” Her head bowed, silent tears floated from her.
After a respectful moment, Danner asked, “Did he give you any other information? Contact information, emergency codes?”
Agnieszka raised her head again. “Yes,” she said with some surprise. “How did you-” she nodded. “It is what you would have done. Prepared for.”
“Our Founders,” Danner observed, “were big on preparation. It's not paranoia if people really are out to get you.”
Agnieszka raised a hand to her face. “Oh God, Bogdan- I was so... cruel to him, sometimes. I thought he was punishing me-” Sobs threatened to break free again.
“He knew you escaped,” Sarah said. “He knew he'd succeeded.”
“He wouldn't have. If not for you, Solomon.” And again the tears came.
As gently as he could, Danner steered the conversation back on track. “Can you tell me the nature of the information he left with you?”
She nodded, stray tears breaking loose and floating away. “Yes, I have it here.” She withdrew an old-style data chip from a pouch on her belt. “I don't know if you have anything that can read it....”
“The device,” Aurora noted, “is a cXE memory chip, capacity four terabytes. Doctor Vatelius' science station has a compatible reader.” She helpfully projected a floating hologram indicator.
Agnieszka needed no assistance, not after her friends had educated her. She inserted the chip, and Aurora displayed its contents. “Yes,” she said after a moment, “contact codes, h-mail addresses- a video file?” She selected it to play.
An older man's face appeared. Slavic features, tall-seeming, military fitness to go with a not-quite-military uniform, what hair remained was salt-and-pepper, eyes brown, hard and soft at the same time. “Bogdan!” she whispered.
“Your Highness,” he began, in Anglo-Polish. The crew often wore earbuds, even aboard ship, to communicate with each other and receive notices from the ship herself; Aurora translated, where necessary, in realtime.
“I hope this message finds you well,” Bogdan continued, “and more important, free.
“I had tried to prepare you as best I could. I can only hope my preparations were sufficient.
“You know of my suspicions where your uncle Stefan is concerned. I believe his attempt to overthrow your grandfather is imminent. I tried to warn the King, but....” Bogdan trailed off, then gave his head a bitter shake.
“I had to work carefully. Stefan's... creatures... are everywhere, even in the Royal Guard. There are only a handful of men I can trust.
“If you succeeded in escaping offworld, use the contact information very carefully, following the instructions for coded messages. The mail accounts were set up secretly, and I'm as certain as I can be that Stefan knows nothing of them. If I or my trusted men survived, we'll check them as often as possible, but days may pass before we can respond without discovery.
“I fear the worst, that Stefan intends to... eliminate any competitors for the throne. Your life may be in danger. Trust no one among the government, not the Guard, not the police, not even the Navy. Only myself, and these.” The video cut away to show six portraits, five men and a woman, all in the same uniform Bogdan wore, each captioned with a name.
“I hate to lay such a burden upon one so young,” Bogdan concluded, “but if my fears are correct, you may be the last rightful heir to the throne. If I can escape as well, I will try to raise a resistance. You must keep yourself safe and hidden until we can organize a restoration. Contact us when you can.
“Good luck, Your Highness- Your Majesty. And may God watch over you.”
The video ended, and Agnieszka, rightful Queen of Illyria... did not cry again.
“Solomon,” she asked, “how long until we can send messages?”
“Over three hundred hours to Alpine,” he answered. “An independent world, low population, not much government. But they have a Marsten Device. We can stay there some days if necessary, waiting for replies.”
“I cannot ask you to turn back to Sylvan,” she stated. “And... if I am to be... Queen... I should not pass up this opportunity to learn more of the galaxy.”
She turned to face him. “I shall wait. I shall continue as I had planned. And I shall prepare myself. I ask... that you keep my secret.”
Solomon nodded. “As you wish... Anna.”
The crew went back to their stations or quarters and resumed Transit routine - essentially, hundreds of hours of nothing to do, especially with a high-functional AI like Aurora on duty. In the age of sail, such times resulted in scrimshaw and tattoos. Modern technology gave more options.
Captain Danner then sought out his purser, Daisuke Taniyama. He found him in the dining compartment of the forward grav ring, which had been cleared of furniture. Taniyama was sparring - vigorously - against three of Aurora's more-humanoid robots, with synthetic equivalents of the traditional wooden bokuto. He was using this compartment for its spin-weight, since the forward cargo holds and recreation rooms only had weight during boost. Clancy's galley compartment was in the next ring section, which was extended for maximum weight during Transit and therefore not directly connected; Aurora's robots would fetch room service, so the main dining compartment would not be used by passengers until scheduled mealtime, by which time Aurora's many robots would have cleaned and reconfigured it.
Taniyama was fighting all three sparring robots at once and, though not with ease, winning.
Danner waited until he took a break. Taniyama had not been unaware of his Captain's presence; despite never seeking battle and rarely being thrust into it, Prrg and Cates, the real warriors of the crew, considered him at least as skilled as themselves. He had proven as much on Illyria.
Daisuke was the “quiet loner” of the family... but he was still family. “I've never asked,” Danner said.
Taniyama accepted a towel from one of the robots and wiped sweat from his face and arms. He placed his back to a wall and slid down to the floor, recovering his breath. For all his quietude, he kept himself extremely fit, programming the sparring robots himself. Danner knew those programs were capable of killing a less-skilled Human; Daisuke disabled Asimov's First Law when running them, and had those programs protected under his own password so unsuspecting passengers couldn't access them.
Danner took a seat beside him. “No,” Taniyama answered. “You never have.”
It had been nearly a Monticellan decade, or six Terran years, since Aurora's family had assembled. Solomon remembered the day he met Daisuke, in The Hungry Kraken in High City at Wilson's Colony.
They sat beside each other, silently, for several minutes.
Finally, Daisuke said, “I will tell you, Captain.” He turned to face Solomon. “Soon.”
Danner nodded, and rose to leave. “Remember, Daisuke. You're not just our shipmate. You're our brother. Your fights are ours.”
As he entered the lift back to the main body of the ship, Danner added, “No matter how old they are.”
Continued in the next excerpt....