Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
Aurora, Part XLIII: Anvil

This page Copyright © 2016, Karl Leffler

Continued from the previous excerpt
12 Thirdmonth 555JR

Anvil was actually not a habitable world.
It was the fourth planet from an F-class star not unlike the sun Eyan orbited. There were no naturally-habitable bodies in the Anvil system, but unlike RAS1441, people lived and worked there. The system was very rich in metals, gasses, rare elements, enough to make mining worth the cost. A sextet of orbital elevators were planned, “beanstalks” like High City and Dakota, with a ring to connect them, still being constructed and expanded. Only two beanstalks were in operation so far. Below them was an ugly planet which never had or could support life of its own, made uglier by heavy mining.
Anvil had been discovered by the Terran Empire and was expected to be a major resource for them, but they couldn't exploit it fast enough to make a strategic difference in the War. There had been no armistice, no limited occupation with the hope of rehabilitating a former enemy back into the international community - the Jeffersonian Republic had devoured the Terran Empire which attacked them. Only the Imperials objected, and the last of those had died over a century ago. A Subject of the Republic had more real freedom, and a vastly higher standard of living, than a “citizen” of the Empire. No one living still worshipped the Emperor or longed for his return.
The Empire had operated Anvil with slave labor. A few were real criminals whom even the Republic would have put to such work, in the penal mines on Crunch, but most, like the victims of National Socialist Germany's arbeitslager, had committed no “crime” a Jeffersonian would recognize. The Republic took over with, yes, some indentured criminals, but more robots, and workers who wanted to be there for the fortunes they could make.
Though it had no atmosphere, Anvil's orbital distance and surface gravity were near-enough Terran, and domed habitats had been under construction since Imperial times. They were oases of light and life among dust and age-blasted rock. Atop the beanstalks there were shipyards, and breaker's yards, orbital refineries and foundries and fabberies, but despite its proximity to the Central Worlds and the massive construction underway, it still had a small population and a Frontier feel. The Family picked up a load of semi- and superconductor elements to be delivered to the fabberies of the next three worlds on their itinerary. While waiting for it to load under Epstein's supervision, some took a tour of Dome Four, at five kilometers diameter the largest yet completed.
Danner had felt compelled to stay aboard during loading. His own Standing Order Number One had been met, but he was Captain and the incoming cargo was New Business. Epstein had waved a hand. “Forget it, Chief. Me 'n the Lady got it covered.” With Aurora's increasing sentience, expressed through her many robot extensions, there was less real work for her organic crew to do all the time.
“How about your own shore leave?”
“Nah, I been here before, on the Heidi.” Kleine Heidi was the two-megaton tanker/bulker which had been Epstein's last berth before joining Aurora. “Too often. Had my fill o' the place. I'll stay with this ship,” he said, patting a bulkhead.
The beanstalks were already paying for themselves, bringing rare minerals out of Anvil's gravity well, but were slow and rarely used by people. Danner, Cates, Prrg, Clancy, Ralph, Hlossh, Sarah, Anna and Delilah took Two Boat to the surface. “Ladies,” Danner warned before departure, “though I haven't been here myself, I've heard it can be rough. Maybe Jack was right.”
Delilah was making progress, fighting through her emotional scars. “Aurora's a beautiful ship,” she said, “but I'm not a real spacer yet. I need to get out once in a while. Besides, Holly's been giving me lessons.”
“Me too,” Anna supplied, “just as you have been doing, Solomon. And I do still want to see more of the universe.”
“Well....” The ladies were armed, pistols and midswords, and Danner knew they knew how to use them, and how to defend themselves without them.
“C'mon, Skipper!” Sarah enthused. “I've never been here either. Let's go check it off the list!”

After Kure, the Family had changed their habits, and their shore-leave dress. Though they still might be recognized as celebrities, they no longer advertised they came from Aurora. Danner had worried about hurting her feelings - she was a very proud ship, with every reason to be. But when asked, she said she understood. “There will be other times to draw attention to ourselves, my Captain,” she had said. “Social interaction is a skill I continue to learn, but it is also a form of battle. Stealth and deception are fundamental tactics, and I am a ship of war.” There was a smile in her voice.
So they had touched down at one of the landing locks ringing Dome Four. Sarah had guided Two Boat to an unassisted landing on a mobile platform, which then rolled through an airlock not much bigger than the cargo doors on Aurora's main holds; the dome had different sizes for different craft. Larger shuttles or ships remained in vacuum and used extending tunnels or small transfer vehicles.
When the Republic had assumed governance of Anvil, there had been talk of prohibiting weapons inside the domes, fearing they might cause blowouts. Like the Kraken Rebellion generations before, someone had nearly gone out an airlock. The Republic's answer was to redesign the domes, which they had to do anyway; Imperial construction was inferior in a number of ways.
Dome Four was on a level plain, an old impact sea like the mare of Luna, which simplified engineering. The lowest forty meters of the dome's construction were of hull material, not quite armor like Aurora's but close enough where small-arms were concerned. There was nothing but rubble and lifelessness to see outside anyway, and the new walls wore active murals, projecting wilderness scenes from different worlds. The airskin making up the actual dome was triple-layer, transparent when appropriate, showing a sky full of jewels at night, during the day filtering the star's glare and radiation and giving the illusion of a Common Life atmosphere. It was of material which made kevlar seem a little fragile. Repair 'bots were distributed throughout, with patching material. Even a full power-cell from a plasma rifle emptied at the dome would not cause a blowout, or meaningful loss of pressure before the 'bots could make repairs. A few drunken miners had tried it over the years, and had been spaced for the attempt.
Dome Four, or “Foursville”, was like an American West boom town that hadn't quit booming for two centuries. The respectable folk lived near the center, in towers reaching half a kilometer to nearly touch the airskin, while the workers and such lived closer to the edge in proportion to their status. Dock 22 was about north-northwest from the city center, not that it much mattered. As Two Boat emerged from the big airlock and was lifted away for storage, the Family disembarked and took in the spectacle.
“It's like the Kraken on steroids,” Ralph observed.
The gravity was too high for Siv to fly unassisted, but there were ScootAirs and Hoppers and Flitters and FlyCycles and aircars of every kind filling the dome's artificial sky, somehow never colliding. People of every class went to and fro: Suited executives briskly on their business or talking earnestly with their counterparts; miners just in from their shifts, still in their suits with only their helmets removed, reeking of sweat and metal and hot rock; townsfolk loading and unloading supplies, hawking their wares; yes, brothels, appealing to every need. A considerable Zaggarish population was evident; twice the size of most Common Life, they often found employment as laborers. There were some things robots just couldn't handle, some problems only an organic brain could solve.
There was ground traffic here, simple electric carts mostly, and so there were streets, or at least roads. Pedestrians stepped lively and drivers kept their heads swiveling. On one side of the street leading to Dock 22, a pair of brawlers erupted from a tavern's swinging doors, a dozen-odd of their companions making wagers on the outcome. On the other side, another contest concluded in front of another saloon, the combatants staggering back inside, leaning on each other and calling for another bottle.
There was no sheriff or constable, and certainly no police force, to break up the brawls or throw the drunks in jail to sleep it off. Jeffersonians policed themselves, and if a person couldn't stomach such an environment they had better get on the next ship to Terra.

They drifted through the town, heading vaguely toward the center. Sarah's ears gyrated and she stated, “Eyani music!” The group changed course to follow her.
What they found was a dance club and bar, named simply “Club Eyan”. More than half the customers were Eyani but the other races were present. Most were younger, the equivalent of late teens or early twenties in Terran years - Anna's age - but Jeffersonians of a half-dozen species benefited from anti-aging treatments so it was hard to tell and didn't matter.
The music was Eyani, heavy on drums and pipes, flavored with Human strings and keyboards and electronics. The band was live, all-Eyani, in wildly-dyed fur and not much else. Old-fashioned colored spotlights gyrated everywhere, mixed with exaggerated holographs, predators like the orak, leaping intangibly at the dancers. The song had Eyani vocals, North Hills High Tribe dialect, the quasi-official Eyani National language, mixed with American. The lead singer was female and belted out lyrics with real talent, about the “heart of the orak” hunting for a companion. At least a hundred people were on the illuminated dance floor.
The Hungry Kraken in High City had always been a quieter place, except with a brawl going. Danner never much liked crowds or noise, but could tolerate them in small doses. The group went to the bar-bot and punched in orders for drinks - it was doubtful even the 'bot could hear spoken orders over the music. The tables were arranged so none were very far from the dance floor, and the family dialed one up, its memory-plastic forming to the necessary size for their group.
The song ended to applause and cheers and the lead singer said, “Cra-Ya! Thank you! We are The Oraks!” The band lifted their heads and roared in unison. “We'll be back in ten, for the dance contest! Get ready!” They trooped offstage.
Ohhh yeah,” Sarah said. “My turn.” Solomon grinned as she stripped off most of her Harness, leaving her weapons and equipment at the table with her Family, wearing only the bits that identified her as a Citizen and Shipfolk.
It's usually said that Eyani look like Terran bears, but they can also have a feline aspect, especially when young and fit. Sarah Heusner's Tribe-mixed physique, maintained by being an active spacer and a lover of dance, kept her in a condition even a Human could see and appreciate. Eyani had stub tails, conforming with the rest of the body's fur, so modesty was rarely an issue; their Harnesses were a cultural imperative, not a necessity. Still, her Family had rarely seen Sarah so close to being “naked”.
She found an Eyani staffer to enter her in the contest, then started warming up, stretching, doing a few pull-ups on some gymnasium bars at the edge of the dance floor. About another dozen Eyani, male and female, did the same. Soon enough the band returned, to more cheers. “We are The Oraks!” The band roared again, evidently their trademark. “LET'S DAAAANCE!!”
The band erupted with a fast-paced instrumental piece, drums thundering, pipes howling, and the contestants dove into their acts. It was very informal, no choreography, just healthy young people enjoying the power of their own bodies. The floor lit in colored squares, one for each contestant. The spectators clapped and stamped in time, shouting encouragement.
Near the Family's table, a young male Eyani stood fascinated. He was mostly Ice Tribe by his color but still Tribe-mixed, with a dash of Water in his physique. Danner, with an Eyani in his crew and his own propensity for study, could read traditional Eyani Harnesses like books. This one was a Jeffersonian Full Citizen, earned through the Patrol, and not long out of the service. His weapons were the standard M437 pistol and M12 midsword, and his Harness included, in the non-active position, the bar and reversed chevron of a Spacer 1st Class, equivalent to the ECS/Marine Lance Corporal. Beside it was the separate rating device of an Electrician's Mate. He was staring, a little slack-jawed, at Sarah, ignoring all others.
Danner smiled. “Mesmerizing, isn't she?” he said aloud.
The Eyani, not looking away, answered, “Gods, yes.” He spoke American with a Monticellan accent – nothing unusual about him. “Look at her coat!” he said now, still staring. “The colors, the patterns! The... movement....”
Danner suppressed a chuckle – he remembered what it was like to be young and on leave. “Been aboard ship long, Spacer?”
“My hitch just ended,” the Eyani said, glancing at Danner, then doing a double-take. “Wouldn't expect a Human to appreciate Eyani dancing.” Hurriedly he added, “No offense, I mean, just surprised is all.”
Danner nodded with a smile. “None taken. This one here-” he inclined his head toward Sarah as she leapt, spinning three times, in tempo with the music, before landing- “well, she is a famous dancer. She's written a couple books about it in fact, they're around the Nets.”
“You know her?” The Eyani was twitching his head back and forth, watching Sarah and trying to converse with the man. “What- what's her name?”
“Sarah Heusner. Ever heard of her?”
The Eyani shook his head, Human-fashion – probably born and raised on Monticello, among that planet's Human majority. Then he turned to Danner and asked, “Wait- you know her?” At Danner's nod, he then asked, “Could- could I... meet her?”
Danner didn't hide his laughter now. “Maybe so, maybe so. But you know, it's not her dancing she's really famous for.” The Eyani looked the question and Danner went on, “She's Navigator and Second Officer of the independent cruiser Aurora.”
The young Eyani male's eyes went wide, his head snapping quickly between Danner and Heusner. “She- that Sarah Heusner? The one who made the Close Transit over Dakota?” Then his eyes went wider. “You're- Captain Danner!” He braced to Attention and saluted. “Sir!” he barked.
Danner laughed aloud, waving the salute away while dialing up another bench. “As you were, Spacer,” he said. “No rank in the dance hall – and I've been out of uniform longer than you've been in it. Let me buy you a drink.”
“Thank you, si- thanks!” He took to the bench and dialed for a house ale, his eyes always straying back to Sarah on the dance floor. “I'm Nl'Kam, just off the Hobart. Everyone calls me 'Mac.'”
Sarah wasn't using one of her established acts. Keeping an eye on the other contestants, Danner could pick out some of the moves his ship-sister had published, but next to her they looked forced, clumsy. Her own dance was new, on the fly, not even thinking about it. Not even looking - her eyes were closed, and she was using her Shipfolk-and-pilot's three-dimensional sense to stay in her colored box. With a glance, he made sure Aurora's sphere was recording the act.
Her Shipfolk upbringing had made her more agile and supple than planetbound Eyani, or most other vertebrates. Her old family's ship, Flying Flea, often spent long periods in freefall or reduced weight, so her bones had grown a touch longer than the Eyani norm. Certainly her true-legs seemed longer than the other dancers', and she was undeniably taller when she stood on them alone, her mid-limbs and true-arms weaving a graceful pattern before her in time with the music. She twirled, she leapt, she kicked and spun and flipped, using all six limbs together. One, then another of her opponents stopped and began staring like Nl'Kam.
The band was watching and dance and music fed on each other, somehow inspiring each other. The instruments swelled and bellowed, Sarah became more fluid, more energetic. The club rocked with rythmic applause, stamping feet, wordless shouts in time with her movements. Band and dancer reached a climax together and Sarah, somehow despite her different skeleton, seemed to kneel and bow like a Human, her four arms spread in simultaneous gratitude and triumph.
The club exploded in wild cheers.

The prize was two metric ounces - 25-gram ingots - of rhodium. The contest was held every Seventhday night and the club made a lot more from drinks and such. Sarah tossed one of the coins in the air and caught it, then flipped it at the band's lead singer, to more cheers. “Couldn't'a done it without ya!” she shouted.
The club had showers and she took one before joining her family at their table, rebuilding her Harness with the weapons and tools she had left with them. The dance contest was the highlight of the evening and people began filtering out as the band packed up for the night. Suddenly Club Eyan became a quiet restaurant-bar, and a different clientele filtered in.
Danner introduced Sarah to her tongue-tied admirer. “Hiya, Mac!” she said with a smile and a Human-style handshake. She began working her extrovert magic, drawing the young spacer out of himself.

The club's staff was almost entirely Eyani. Even the server 'bots were shaped like them. One of the live ones came to deliver another round of drinks for the Family. As he did so, he looked at the entrance and said, “Uh-oh.”
Danner followed his gaze and saw a couple dozen Eyani enter - all male, all Ice Tribe, purebloods by their color. “Trouble?” he asked.
The server nodded. “Haven't seen them for most of a year. Hoped I never would again. They must have been on a ship....”
“What is it?” Danner asked.
“It's a gang,” the server replied. “Racists. They think Ice Tribe Eyani are superior, mixed-Tribe Eyani are mongrels, and any Eyani who associates with other species is a race-traitor.”
Reeeeally,” Clancy mused, cracking his knuckles.
Anna and Delilah glanced at each other and, in unison, reached back to tie their long straight hair in ponytails.
“Oh, gods, please, fellas, don't start anything,” the server pleaded. “They busted up the place real bad last time-”
“We won't be the ones starting it,” Sarah announced.
The gang started circulating, glowering at any non-Eyani until they left. Like Terran polar bears, Ice Tribe Eyani were larger than other ethnicities, an evolutionary advantage to store heat and fat in arctic conditions. It wasn't long before they got to the Family's table. {Well, what do we have here?} the leader asked - in Ice Tribe Eyani, which Aurora's earbuds translated. {Looks like a regular zoo! A lizard, a bug, two mongrels and a bunch of monkeys!}
{You-} the next one sniffed, looming over Nl'Kam. {you got ape-stink on you. Maybe you should cut off your middle limbs and walk on two legs, ape-lover.}
{And shave off that fur,} another said, noting the dash of Water Tribe in Nl'Kam's ancestry. {Your mother got it dirty.}
Nl'Kam did stand, on four legs. Turning to the leader of the gang, he said, “Let's step outside.”
{No need,} that one growled, and swung. Suckered, Nl'Kam went down.

The Jeffersonian Republic Marine Corps was officially considered a direct descendant of, and successor to, the United States'. At the time of the Escape, the US Marine Corps was the only gender-segregated service in the nation, and that only during training. In that age, through biological necessity, women were held to lower physical standards than men – but in the USMC, not much lower.
After the Escape, this changed. The Founder herself, Lynna Bjolnir, had served a standard four-year enlistment with the USMC, the last in a long family tradition of service, and the first in a new one. Among the other Founders, she sought out her fellow Marines and with them constructed the nucleus of a new Corps. Once the right people were brought together, she bowed out; having reached only the rank of buck sergeant in her own service, she did not consider herself qualified for further command.
The Marines she selected from the Founders' Fleet, however, consisted entirely of combat veterans from as far back as Vietnam - not a single one hadn't earned the Combat Action Ribbon. Few didn't have at least one Purple Heart. Nearly a third had Silver Stars, and there were two Navy Crosses. She and her husband, Founder Kurt Vetter, told them, “Build a Marine Corps” - and left them to it.
Such institutions unavoidably evolve over time. Some traditions were abandoned, new ones born, others adopted, like the Combat Infantry Badge from what had been the United States Army. Two Terran centuries passed between the Escape and the beginning of the Republic-Empire War; more than another from its end to the present. New technologies spawned new tactics, new enemies demanded new methods, non-Human recruits required new training techniques. But Bjolnir had chosen wisely. The JRMC openly claimed the heritage of the USMC as their own, and upon that mighty foundation built the finest military organization in the histories of a dozen races.
The Cates family also had a tradition of military service, stretching back to the Mexican-American War, a generation before the Eagle, Globe and Anchor emblem had been adopted. Female Human recruits in the JRMC were still trained separately from males... but to exactly the same standards. Few qualified. Since the technology had become available centuries ago, the Cates clan had been making adjustments to their children.
With a mighty “YEE-HAW!”, Holly Cates picked up the gang's leader - outmassing her by at least twenty kilos - and hurled him through the club's front window, into the plaza beyond.
There were still at least fifty people in the club, plus the gang. That meant a hundred or more guns, twice as many blades, and probably a couple grenades.
None of them came out.
Oh, some bottles were broken over some heads, but the remains were discarded instead of being used as weapons. Of the two organic bartenders, both kept their hands under the bar, one on a wide-angle stunner downgraded from what the UNPF used to use on food-rioters, the other on a pair of pistols, one throwing non-lethal needles and the other very-lethal plasma bolts – but those didn't come out either.
With a joyful laugh, Clancy waded in, decking two of the gang with as many blows, then getting tackled by a pair of them. Sarah reared on her true-legs and laid about with her mid-limbs, fending off blows with her true-arms - for this was a dance too. Cates picked up another thug and tossed him into his companions.
Nl'Kam recovered, saw Sarah about to get blindsided, and charged her assailant with a roar. They went down in a tangle of limbs, smashing at each other with eight fists. Ralph squared off with a big brute, jabbing at his face, dodging return blows until one landed on his temple, dropping him. Delilah dashed in to cover him, delivering a high kick to the brute's face. Something crunched.
Another thug advanced on Anna. {Little monkey,} he said with a fanged grin. She sidestepped and buried a dainty foot in his belly. He doubled up with a “Whoof!”, then she brought her joined fists down on his head. His chin cracked on the floor and he was out. The next came up behind her and Danner stepped in, grabbed him by the ears, and hauled his face down into his rising knee. That didn't quite put him out so he added a roundhouse left, snapping the thug's head sideways. He staggered backwards, four knees weakening, and collapsed.
By this time the leader climbed back in through the shattered front window and headed straight for Cates. She grinned happily and began trading blows. Prrg, meanwhile, had his tail wrapped around one thug's neck and was pummeling another's face with a scaly fist. Hlossh had somehow leapt onto the back of another and was throttling him with all four of his pincer-arms.
Then the rest of the customers joined in. A wave of Eyanity crashed upon the gang, kicking, punching, gouging and choking. The servers joined in with their trays. In a minute the thugs were all down, being dragged to the rear exit and dumped next to the garbage, with a few extra blows to remember by. Bones could be heard breaking. With the back door closed and locked, the whole crowd cheered each other and themselves.

As they were being removed, the gang's currency and weapons were seized. They made an impressive pile on the bar. A few choice pieces had already gone into other people's pockets but there was plenty left to pay for damages. The club's owner set up drinks on the house.
Nl'Kam had been hurt, a couple dislocated fingers, some sprains, and a roughed-up face. Sarah fussed over him, tending his wounds, while Delilah sat on the floor with Ralph's head in her lap, holding his hand and stroking his hair. He was still unconscious.
Anna got away without a scratch, mounting a table and throwing an occasional bottle or kick. Hlossh had joined her after his opponent had shaken him off. They were now sharing a bottle of wine, both shaking a bit but from exertion, not shock. Clancy had lost a couple teeth but Ralph could replace those in minutes, back aboard Aurora. Cates had some bruises, and probably a black eye in a couple hours, but she and the Irishman were smiling over their drinks. “Now that's what I call shore leave!” she exclaimed, and clinked bottles with her ship-brother. Prrg was basking in the attention of a pair of Nikar females, and presently got up to take a room with them.
“They might come back,” Danner warned the owner, a mottled Hills Tribe female. “Not today, obviously, but....”
The owner shook her head with a smile. “Nah. Last time, we had a different schedule. Now we're open 'round the clock, there's always enough people here to outnumber them. Needed someone to remind us how!” She touched glasses with Danner.
Continued in the next excerpt....
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