Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2021, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part XLVI: Can't Win Them All
Continued from the previous excerpt
6 Secondmonth 556JR
"Acting President Lorraine Harroldsdottir welcomes all peaceable visitors to the Elysium Republic. The reported crisis has been resolved and the reward has been claimed. A provisional Constitution is in effect, including a general right to bear arms and protections for lethal force in self-defense. Any Persons with criminal intent may be dealt with by their intended victims. Repeating: Acting President Lorraine Harroldsdottir welcomes all peaceable visitors-"
In his command couch on Aurora's bridge, Solomon Danner laughed aloud.
"Ahoy, Aurora! Welcome to my little world!"
President Harroldsdottir's image in the comm screen, and the particulars of her ship, matched reports in Aurora's database. She and her crew were mercenaries, true guns for hire, with a reputation for honesty and always choosing the right side in a conflict. "Ahoy, Valkyrie," Danner answered. "Another feather in your cap, Fru Kaptein." Some version of English was the usual trade-language in Known Space, but the Asgardians flavored theirs with a lot of Norwegian. The Net said Harroldsdottir was also a full Captain in the Asgardian Navy Reserve, one rank-equivalent above Danner in uniformed service, though here and now they were social equals as captains of not-really-government ships.
Asgardians were never quite what one might expect. Settled by dissatisfied members of the Linfarger clan, who remained landowners and industrialists on Necessity, their original ethnicity was African-American - emphasis on American. Their ancestors had earned seats in the Founders' Fleet, with not a single EBT card or "quota-hire" among them. In the centuries since, they'd bred with whomever they considered worthy, to say nothing of generations of post-War immigration and deliberate adjustments. Harroldsdottir had grey eyes and a faint reddish cast to her straight dark hair, and a very bright smile splitting a deceptively elfin brown face with a hint of Asian epicanthic fold. Two parallel scars marked her left cheek, just dashing enough to not bother erasing. Since she was not operating in an official capacity, she was not in Asgardian uniform, wearing instead traditional civilian garb for her homeworld, which was also light armor and a weapons harness. Asgardians had claimed the Viking heritage as their own, but did not reave the innocent; they instead hunted those who now were what Vikings used to be, rewarding themselves with battle-prizes and mercenary contracts. They did go abroad in search of monsters to slay. "Glad I beat you here," she answered. "You've a reputation of your own, now."
Though this was their first meeting, Danner had heard of Harroldsdottir. Elysium wasn't the first world she'd been "Acting President" of, while the locals put themselves together enough to elect one of their own. Once done, she and her crew moved on, looking for another adventure. "An anticlimax for us, to be sure," Danner said. "Not that I'm very disappointed. Though I doubt I can say the same for my Gunner."
"I'll live with it, Cap'n," Cates quipped from offscreen. They'd stood down from battle stations once they heard Harroldsdottir's automated, systemwide transmission. Aurora had then Transitioned openly at the usual ten-light-second limit, weapons secured. They were now decelerating toward orbit.
"Come alongside," Harroldsdottir suggested, "and we can at least have a meal together. And perhaps look over each other's ships," she added with a wink.
"Agreed," Danner answered, "if your duties as president will allow?"
She laughed. "Now that I reminded the natives where their spines were, I expect to break orbit in another fifty hours. My duties here are about over. See you soon, Kaptein."
"Welcome aboard Valkyrie!" Harroldsdottir announced.
The Asgardian ship had been purpose-built years ago, after Harroldsdottir and her crew had some years of successful operations under their belts. She was a battlecruiser, ovoid-shaped, about 200 meters long and half that in width, with internal grav rings at the widest point, protected by uninterrupted armor - a stronger design than even Aurora. Her broadside was a dozen Class-Twelve Marsten guns, interleaved with 30MW pulse lasers on ring-turrets not unlike Aurora's, while the hull carried six mass-drivers each on opposite sides of her length. Those were the same size as Aurora's, for Republic-and-international-standard missiles and MI pods, or any kinetic-energy slug that could be made to fit with a sabot. Battle scars could be seen on her curving hull, work crews tending to their ship's wounds. Of the reported enemy ships, only one was in evidence, one of the destroyers, mauled and probably fit only for scrapping.
Aurora had hailed Valkyrie, in machine code, on a private subchannel. Alas, as all before, the ship was not sentient and gave no reply.
"And a fine ship she is," Danner observed. Introductions were made - all of Aurora's family came over on one of her heavy shuttles. Valkyrie's crew was necessarily much larger: Nearly two hundred conventional ground troops, a full platoon of Mobile Infantry just about as good as the Republic's, a flight of four aerospace fighters with their necessary support, and likewise an armored platoon of four panzers, each with their own aerospace landers which doubled as cargo and troop shuttles. Valkyrie was a complete traveling regime-change kit for hire. Harroldsdottir introduced only some of her officers.
"I have one more introduction to make." Gesturing to the 15cm white sphere that served as her traveling sensors, Danner said, "My ship, my sister, my partner and my home, JRS Aurora, Full Citizen of the Jeffersonian Republic and Ensign in our Navy Reserve."
Harroldsdottir's eyes widened a bit, then she cracked her brilliant smile again. "I had heard of you," she said to the sphere. "I think most of the galaxy has by now. Shipboard protocol begins to break down at this point, but welcome aboard, Ensign!"
"Thank you, Captain. Your ship is quite impressive."
"Perhaps. But size isn't everything, and Valkyrie can't think for herself. And, while her performance is admirable by modern standards for her size, what I hear of yours makes me jealous. What is your speed now...?"
Aurora easily held her own in the subsequent dinner conversation. Lately she had begun projecting a hologram of herself, a one-hundredth-scale model, surrounding the hovering sphere which generated it. Oriented upright, 1.6 meters tall, this resulted in an image about the size of a Human woman, and gave people something to look at other than a small white ball.
Valkyrie's grav rings were conceptually the same as Aurora's, two counter-rotating, magnetically suspended to reduce noise and vibration except when locked for maneuvering - but far more spacious than the older ship's. While Aurora's were extended in sections on monomolecular cables, away from her slimmer hull to reduce Coriolis effects, Valkyrie's were fixed in diameter and enclosed in the ship's primary armor. They also went the full circumference of the hull, giving several times more usable space than Aurora's eight sections per ring. With their greater radius, the floors were less curved than Aurora's. Each ring was fifteen meters wide, six meters deep, allowing two full decks for Human-sized beings, and emergency partitions every thirty meters, which were now left open for people to move freely. In this section, furniture was of wood, and it was paneled likewise, with only a single deck and a six-meter overhead, to resemble an ancient Viking mead hall, roaring with vigor and mirth.
Dinner guests regaled each other with their exploits in battle. Asgardians sought hand-to-hand combat, seeking proper foes to slay face-to-face, their shades to serve them in Valhalla. But these troops were not berserkers, and were far from primitive. Superstitious savages did not pilot aerospace fighters in and out of atmosphere, or operate fusion-powered panzers on the surface, or crew and maintain a hundred-kiloton starship to carry them to battle. The Asgardian Navy used Valkyrie, and a couple more like her elsewhere around Known Space, to train and to blood their personnel. Jeffersonian spacers and Marines occasionally joined them in exchange programs.
One of the ground troops was recounting his tale in a clearing among the dining tables. "This was an evil man, worthy of death. On his arm he wore the teardrop tattoos, each marking a woman he had raped. Many were filled with red, showing he had murdered them. My heart sang, that I could slay such a beast without guilt.
"His rifle failed him and he threw it away, drawing a short sword. Odin smiled on me, for here was a foe I could kill the proper way! Holstering my pistol I drew my own axe and strode to meet him.
"His blade met the shaft of my axe and I could see the beginning of fear in his eyes, for he could feel my strength was greater. I hooked his blade down and away-" the man illustrated in pantomime- "and drew back my arm to finish him.
"What he lacked in strength, he gained in speed, recovering his stance and slashing at my neck. Barely in time did I raise my own weapon to parry his blow, which would have taken my head. Then I struck again and it was his turn to defend himself.
"Back and forth we went, ignoring all others around us. Small wounds we gave to each other, but none was a killing blow. For two whole minutes we battled, axe to sword, flesh to flesh. It was glorious!
"Seizing a chair he hurled it at me, tangling my axe and my free arm. Raising his sword he prepared to finish me!
"Desperately I rolled beneath him, into his legs. He stumbled over me and fell. He hurled himself over to face me again but my axe was already descending, inside the sweep of his sword. Though his weapon pierced my shoulder-" the man's left arm was in a sling- "I buried mine in his poison heart!" The assembled crew raised drinking horns and shouted their praise.
"I thanked Odin, Thor, Freyr and Tyr for my victory, and took from my enemy's corpse his weapons and his gold. This sword-" he held it aloft- "he had meant for my neck. Now it is my prize!" The crowd cheered again.
Daisuke stood suddenly, overturning his chair. The sword was a wakizashi, its hilt and scabbard black, marked with a stylized red rose.
All turned to look at the disturbance. Regaining himself, Daisuke strode into the clearing where the other man stood. He bowed, New Israel-fashion, briefly and not needing response. "There is no quarrel between us," he announced. "I am Daisuke Taniyama. The sword you won in righteous battle bears the mark of my sworn enemy. I would converse with you, and learn of its origins."
The man, Sven Bjornsson, joined the Family at their table. Sven actually looked his part, tall, muscular, fair-skinned, blonde and bearded, green-eyed. Humanity had seen much tribe-mixing in the centuries since Escape, but parents could now design their children. Sven's could have been as black as Eric Linfarger, or as Asian as Daisuke.
"So far as I know," Sven related over a roast haunch of something native to Elysium, "he was just another pirate. By now his corpse has been cremated. I'm afraid there's nothing left to question, even forensically." For his audience, Sven had played the part of a joyous barbarian warrior, but in closer conversation he gave an air of refinement and education. His garb was typical of the crew, non-uniform, lightweight armor and personal weapons, but like most, he bore miniature Asgardian rank insignia, in his case the equivalent of a Marine sergeant. Most of Valkyrie's crew were reservists, much like the Republic's Reserve Privateer system.
Daisuke and his Family examined the prize sword. It was of good, if ordinary, construction, the blade traditionally folded in the ancient Japanese style, not a Mitsuhira pattern like Daisuke's. Aurora compared its mon to the drawing Hiro Motoyama had provided - without telling the story behind it. It was close enough. "The man who claims this mark," Daisuke told Sven, "murdered my parents. Many years ago."
"Then their souls may rest, for he has met his end! I am only sorry you could not have done the justice yourself."
Daisuke shook his head. "The beast you slew was not the beast I hunt. He... was of a different kind. I believe the one who bore this sword was a hireling or other servant, perhaps escaped or dismissed from service. The design and quality of this sword is good, but is of lesser quality than I would expect from... my enemy himself."
"Hmm." Sven put hand to chin, considering. After a moment he raised his wrist and gave voice commands to the 'puter he wore there. These latter-day Vikings availed themselves of technology, including sensor spheres much like Aurora's, though without her sentience of course.
In case of such questions, Harroldsdottir had made a habit of distributing such sensors among her troops, her ship's computer correlating their data. It was simple enough to pick out the opponent Sven had faced. Aurora then used that imagery to make a biometric comparison - again not explaining who she was comparing it to - and proved the dead rapist was not Kazuo Nakayama.
"But who was he, then?" Danner mused. "And how did he come to bear that mark on his sword?"
Daisuke asked Sven, "Were there any survivors among the enemy, who could be questioned about this one?"
Sven nodded. "They're indentured on the surface, those not awaiting the noose or the like." Not all the gangsters who had taken over Elysium had been Human. "I think at this point we should ask Fru Kaptein."
Harroldsdottir had been sympathetic to Daisuke, and the Elysiites had been grateful to her, but sometimes the universe refused to provide. After hunting through the records and making announcement to the prisoners, none had come forward.
Sven Bjornsson had made a gift to Daisuke of his battle-prize wakizashi, saying, "I have many such and do not need another. Besides, this one's proper use is unfamiliar to me, and it may someday help you find justice."
The Family returned to their ship.
Back aboard, the Family met again, gathering in the spin-weight salon compartment. "What now?" Sarah asked. A third of the crew had lost family to violence and she was one. She would likely never find justice for her own parents, but her ship-brother knew that his enemy still existed. She wanted to help him achieve the vengeance she never could.
Danner said, "Harroldsdottir has agreed to search her and Asgard's records for more examples, and to keep an eye out for new ones." Nothing had come up in a search of Valkyrie's memory - the Asgardian battlecruiser's computer was as powerful as Aurora's, but had not yet felt the elusive spark of sentience. Danner suspected computer sentience had something to do with hyperspace and the Marsten Transition, especially a Close Transit. He and Jenny, and Aurora, had mentioned the theory to Harroldsdottir, who promised to give it thought. Meanwhile, three other Asgardian ships were similarly employed around Known Space, and shared data on real and potential enemies.
"Back to work then," Danner said. "Where to next?"
Daisuke visibly put his brain back in gear. He always kept abreast of likely prospects and had a route already planned despite the sudden distraction. "There are several possibilities. I suggest we move back toward, if not necessarily to, the Center." He projected a map of Known Space, with their current location and his suggested destinations. The route curved around the Galactic East side of the Republic, bending toward the Central Worlds.
"Elysium as yet has no exports," he said, "nor infrastructure to process or gather them. We will probably have to deadhead to the next world where we can expect to purchase a cargo, though we could also take passengers. Several survivors of the recent oppression wish to leave this world behind them.
"Driscoll, an agricultural world not unlike Dakota. Both more and less developed, they have no orbital elevators but have a larger and more diverse population and significant orbital industry. We could take a load of produce and grain from there to:" He highlighted the next world.
"Olympus. A metal-rich world, they are not quite capable of growing enough food for themselves. They're set up rather like Anvil, but with a Common Life environment, mostly. The mines are ugly but profitable, and there was no native population to object when the planet was colonized. Like at Anvil, we can take a load of conductors, alloys, even fissionables.
"Those in turn would sell at Burris. Though colonized early in the Second Wave their growth has been slow. The world is metal-poor, like Eyan, but has recently increased development and immigration. They will be hungry for the metals we can deliver. Their fabberies are not entirely orbital, because what they lack in metal they have gained in petrochemicals and it is cheaper to base the factories on the surface than lift tankers of petroleum to orbit. Their exports are plastics, and manufactured goods with low metal content.
"From Burris we could take bulk plastic pellets for other fabberies, or finished goods like consumer electronics, further out, perhaps to the Eastern Frontier. We can of course change plans at any point, return to Monticello or New Texas, or wherever seems needful." H-mail, forwarded through the Reserve Privateer Bureau or commercial accounts as appropriate, would keep the family abreast of any news regarding Daisuke's brother or Anna's world.
Continued in the next excerpt....