Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2017, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part XLV: Incident at Elysium
Continued from the previous excerpt
29 Firstmonth 556JR
26 December 2356CE
It was a beautiful world, worthy of her name... but Aurora's Family were not planetkind. The itch to travel grew again.
They returned to their ship, their sister and their home. Aurora had already reconfigured the crew quarters for the new couple aboard, though Delilah and Ralph would do their own settling-in with their possessions.
The Family assembled again in the spin-weight dining compartment. “Daisuke, what's our financial status?” Solomon asked. All still used the name their Purser had given years ago in The Hungry Kraken. There was no reason to fall into a different habit, and a slip might bring trouble to a man they knew was innocent.
“Comfortable, Captain,” the nikkei answered. “We could easily spend another thousand hours here before needing paying work. However,” he continued wryly, “I think we've all had enough of this world, as lovely as it is.”
“Yes,” Danner answered. “What are our prospects then?”
“As yet Shambhala has few exports,” Daisuke said. “Luxury items, artwork, liquor, as is our specialty - I've assembled some, but I can't guarantee they'll sell this far out, where new colonies have more practical needs. They'd fetch better prices nearer the Central Worlds. I've h-mailed some collectors and auction houses there, and they've expressed interest, but I'm not sure we, as a Family, are ready to return to Terra and her neighbors.”
“Can you arrange transshipment?”
“Easily, Captain. There is a Terra-bound ship nearing departure now and I've already discussed matters with their Purser.”
“Make it so then.” With a few keystrokes it was done. The cargo had never even come aboard Aurora, instead held at one of the orbital stations. “What else have we?”
Cates spoke up. “Cap'n,” she said, “the day we met, you told me you weren't planning on action. There's been plenty to satisfy me regardless. Now, I'll admit I could live with more but I ain't demandin' it.”
“I was checking the Net and found this little item.” From her own 'puter she projected the details. “It's another Frontier world,” Cates explained, “only a couple hundred hours from here. Elysium, they call it. Near enough Terran conditions. Very new, maybe eighty thousand inhabitants, mostly Human, maybe ten percent Eyani. Independent, they call themselves, so they can't ask for help from the Patrol or Republic Privateers. Most of the population's spread out in homesteads and villages across the main continent, but there's one town on their northern coast, about five thousand people. That's who's asking for help.”
“What kind of help?”
“The usual – lack of vigilance, or lack of intestinal fortitude. Gangs formed and indulged themselves and now no one can stop them.”
Danner's brow furrowed. “I can guess....”
“So the town government did the usual – disarmed everybody else. With the usual results - now only the gangs have guns. They've thrown a coup, really, taken over the government. It's a resistance group calling for help.”
“For gods' sakes.” Sol lowered his gaze and shook his head in disgust. “No grasp of history.”
“So now the whole place is a basket case, like a miniature Novy Kraków. Rape, slavery, murder, now claiming the 'authority' of 'law.'”
Danner thought back to the Fall of America. It was exactly what the Founders had Escaped. But: “How would that be our business?”
“A hundred kilograms rhodium to anyone with the cojones to hit their reset button for them. Used to be fifty but no one cared, figured they brought it on themselves and deserved what they got.”
“Which they did.” People who would not defend themselves did not deserve to be defended by others. People who prohibited self-defense deserved the fates they sentenced their own victims to.
Cates nodded. “Anyway they doubled the offer a couple hundred hours ago.”
“How exactly do they want this done? Are they inviting a regime change, a takeover? Or just mercenaries? Do they expect us to bombard their gangs from orbit or wage ground warfare?”
“By now I doubt they care. Some of the homesteaders probably wouldn't mind if we did drop a rock on the town and the damn fools who got them into their mess.” Aurora's four remaining missile tubes were mass drivers and could throw traditional missiles, Mobile Infantry entry pods, or kinetic energy weapons.
“No one's taken the offer yet?”
Cates shook her head. “They've had a few look-sees, but none who stayed. Meanwhile, more thugs keep trickling in to join the plunder.”
“Hmm.” Solomon Danner was a Commander of the Jeffersonian Republic Navy Reserve and Space Patrol - inactive reserve. Hiring as a mercenary did not necessarily conflict with this status; precedents went back centuries, to the Jeffersonian Volunteer Groups in the Second American Civil War, and the American version in China before the United States' entry into the Second World War.
Yet, despite being a naval officer, one of the definitions of “sheepdog”, he was also a Jeffersonian, meaning a libertarian. It was not his or his nation's job to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.
Then there were practical considerations. “You wouldn't bring it up,” he stated to Cates, “if you didn't think we could do it.”
“The resistance was still gathering intel and sending it to the Net, but they went silent a few days ago. Probably the regime found their transmitter. But before that, it sounded like there were only a couple hundred real enemies keeping everyone else in line.”
“How are they armed?”
“Well.” Cates frowned. “Plasma rifles, missile launchers, reports of at least two suits of power-armor. Then, ships in orbit, five at last count, from gunships like the ones we met over Mark's World up to a pair of what the resistance was calling destroyers. Same class even, some ex-Russian thing I can't pronounce, broadsides of ten Class-Fives each.” Her 'puter projected the specifics. With evolving definitions of ship classification, each was nearly the size of Aurora, built centuries earlier as a cruiser - but these were built weaker, both structurally and in their armament. For example, a World War Two American cruiser could probably ram and sink a Cold War missile cruiser from the same navy and survive to sail away.
Aurora interjected, “I believe I have them outclassed, Captain. Especially with my new weapons. I can destroy them from beyond the range of their return fire.”
“Hm.” Danner considered. “Unless they have heavier guns installed. Pirates always modify their ships. But the real question is, is this our business? Is this our job?”
“Yes.” It was Delilah who spoke. Ralph, holding her hand, turned to look at her with surprise.
Danner looked her in the eye. “I know what you think I'm thinking,” she said. “Revenge. Even bloodlust. Hate.”
“That would be normal,” Ralph stated. “And I for one,” he went on, looking around to his family with a hint of defiance in his eyes, “wouldn't deny it to you.”
Danner was contemplative. “It's not your motives I question. Worse ones are used all the time.” It didn't need to be said that these pirates could not have been the ones, dozens of light-years away, a year past and now all indentured or dead, that had murdered Delilah Howell's family on Mark's World. Piracy was one of the Big Nine crimes in the Republic's Constitution, against which lethal force was presumed justified by anyone who cared to exercise it. Delilah might have been denied personal justice, but these would do in their place; and she could perhaps save others.
She nodded. “I know. The old Randian argument. No person has a duty to live or die for the sake of another. I agree. But this is something I... want and need to do. And they are offering to pay us. So my vote is 'yes.'”
“The next obvious question,” Daisuke observed, “is whether they actually have the payment. If the resistance transmissions have fallen silent, the enemy may have seized it. Or they may have been bluffing, hoping someone would bail them out, planning on making excuses later.”
“Then we kill the pirates and take the payment from their corpses and prize money for their ships,” Cates noted pragmatically.
“I vote 'yes' as well,” Anna said. “Rand aside-” Anna's continuing education included the Founders, and their Founders- “I do feel a duty. And... I want to test myself. Whatever my future may be, there are... things I need to know about myself. Things I didn't really learn in our recent battles.” Anna's involvement at Mark's World and RAS1441 was mostly technical, serving as an Engineer's Mate and helping with repairs and operation.
“Same here, Skipper,” Sarah added. “My mother- my Human mother, I barely remember my real one- she tried to raise me like an Eyani. Somewhere in the back of my mind I feel like Hr'Gen is watching.” Eyani mythology had some parallels to Asatru. There was an Eyani population on Asgard, for example, the planet settled by outlying members of the Linfarger clan from Necessity. Some preached that Hr'Gen and Odin were one, taking different forms.
Danner looked around to take the others' votes. “Where Aurora goes, I go,” Jenny Blain said - just as Sarah had before the Family went to Rllbtl.
“Where Jenny goes, I go,” Epstein agreed, holding the Engineer's hand.
“When have ye met an Irishman who shied away from a bit of a brawl?” Clancy asked rhetorically. “Especially with a promise of coin at the end.”
“Husband.” Trllbl turned to face Grbblb. “Let us test ourselves as well. Together.”
“Yes, wife,” he answered, their tentacles entwined. “It seems I have not yet known real combat. If we are to someday free our people, it is a thing we must learn.”
“Well you sure ain't going without me,” Grbblb's blood-brother Hlossh said, swinging pincer-arms around the invertebrate couple.
“I saw the markings of one from Clan Flggl, in the resistance transmissions.” Prrg had long ago renounced his claim to the Barony of Cargg, but that didn't mean he didn't still have a grudge against the clan that had killed his favorite great-uncle during a raid in his youth.
“I will go with my Family,” Daisuke said. Danner knew he didn't like fighting and killing, though he was proving to have an aptitude for it.
“Aurora?” Danner asked aloud.
“I am a ship of war,” she answered, her Human female voice surrounding them. “Though I am now a free Person, I choose to do what I was created for. As I choose to go with my Family.”
It was only seven Monticellan days from Shambhala to Elysium. During Transit, the Family drilled themselves in ship and personal combat. Personal armor was fabricated, though there wasn't time to make power-armor suits; they had to be carefully fitted to an individual, then trained with for hundreds of hours, to be effective. Personal weapons were practiced with, refurbished, fabbed from scratch. Aurora's sparring robots were beaten to scrap and rebuilt repeatedly. The ship ran simulations of her battle stations, greatly outgunning herself with enemy ships far more powerful than had been reported, until her crew prevailed more often than not.
As they had before the Battle of RAS1441, the crew donned their suits and armor, pumped the outer compartments down to vacuum, and prepared for combat. As before, they first exited hyperspace at some distance from the system, to make observations and plot their next move.
Continued in the next excerpt....