Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright (c) 2016, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part XLVII: Back to Work
Continued from the previous excerpt
12 Fifthmonth 556JR
"I think all the world would gain by setting commerce at perfect liberty." - Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1785.
Their last three Transits had been, for them, surprisingly routine. Passengers from Elysium had settled or caught different ships, bound elsewhere, along the way. Cargos were as Daisuke planned and profit was made. At each stop, passengers came and went, the Net was consulted for news, entertainment, more business opportunities.
It had been nearly four Republic years, or two and a half Terran, since Anna/Agnieszka had fled her murderous uncle on Illyria. No messages had ever reached her from there, from Bogdan, from the Resistance he hoped to organize.
It had been over three Republic months, nearly three thousand hours, since Aurora had left Elysium, with promises from the Asgardian mercenaries to search for more clues to the location of Daisuke's murderous brother. News had not come from that quarter either.
As Aurora Transitioned ten light-seconds above Burris and began boosting to brake for orbit, Solomon Danner and his Family looked forward to another routine layover, delivering or auctioning their cargo as usual, purchasing another for the next world, and perhaps some passengers as well.
Something else happened....
"Vessel Aurora, cease acceleration and prepare to be boarded for inspection."
Danner was nonplussed... for a second or two. Burris was an independent world, but Aurora's transponder clearly identified her as Republic-flagged, and a Reserve Privateer. The Sailing Directions said Burris operated under the same treaties and trade agreements as most worlds in Known Space - ships came and went as they pleased, without unwarranted searches, or fees levied only for the sake of raising government revenue. The ship calling them appeared to be a frigate, more like a corvette, whose transponder labelled it Wygant of the Burris Security Force.
Prrg was taking his turn as Navigator, while Danner himself was piloting from his duplicate controls. "Plot Transition outsystem and prepare to engage," Danner told him. "Aurora, open the channel please. ...Hailing vessel, this is Independent Starship Aurora, Solomon Danner commanding. Identify yourself and state your authority for boarding us."
"Vessel Aurora, this is your last warning. Cease acceleration or we will open fire."
The other ship was more than a light-second away and, by her size, probably carried no more than a Class-5 Marsten Gun, likely smaller - yet the tactical display now showed they were painting Aurora with a Marsten Detector, the FTL equivalent of targeting radar. "General Quarters. Holly, lock them up."
While Aurora changed her transponder from IS to JRS, and Jenny Blain increased the strength of the Marsten Field to defend against enemy Marsten Guns, Gunner Cates went Active on Aurora's Detector, quickly getting a firing solution - and threatening the other ship's systems with burnout from Aurora's signal strength.
Danner wasn't very worried, tactically. There were few places Aurora couldn't shoot her way out of, and the last few such they'd visited had tried to give them parades. According to Jane's (which Aurora projected for him unasked), Burris' entire Navy totaled about five times Aurora's mass and less than three times her firepower - if they were all in the same place. Wygant, according to records, was a Stiller-class corvette with four Class-4 Marsten Guns, which could only reach Aurora's current position in simulations and then would be dispersed by her Field. The Stillers carried locally-made missiles, roughly equal to the Republic's Mk54, which design was half a century old but could hurt Aurora... in the unlikely event they made it through her point-defense.
The problem was, Burris, when last the Directions were updated about four thousand hours ago, was signatory to the International Free Trade Treaty, imposed on Known Space by the victorious Republic following the defeat of the Terran Empire. All signatories were exempt from, and prohibited from enacting, tariffs on any other signatory. The official document was a laser-engraved titanium plaque about a half-meter square, kept in the National Archives deep below Central Terminal on Monticello. The entire text was only three sentences, with additional signatories welded on as they joined. Jeffersonians liked their laws simple, and few.
This was smelling like a shakedown, like pre-Escape ground-traffic speed-traps - armed robbery in uniform. The Founders had used explicit language to end such predation. If Burris was bringing it back now - despite today's error in victim selection - it would be a treaty violation, and that would be the business of a Republic Navy Reserve officer.
"Burris vessel Wygant," Danner continued, "this is Republic cruiser Aurora on legitimate business. I doubt you're carrying anything that can reach us, or that your aim is good enough if you are. We are now targeting you with four Class-10 Guns, and my gunner is that good. You will stand down and explain yourself or we will open fire."
The Burris ship's targeting signal had stopped, but Danner ordered Cates to keep them locked, though at reduced power. Aurora's Detector could interfere with communications, and Danner had to repeat his last message to Wygant.
"Under regulation 242-9, all incoming vessels must be inspected for contraband or invasive species and pay the standard tariff-"
"-Who am I speaking with?" Danner demanded.
"-to ensure fair trade practices with other nations and prevent environmental-"
Danner flicked a control and Aurora transmitted at maximum. "You have still not identified yourself. Give me your name and the name of your superior or I will consider you hostile." All the while, Aurora's braking acceleration had not stopped and she remained on course and speed to enter standard orbit over Burris.
It took a minute for, Danner would learn later, the crew of Wygant to replace burned-out components. A different, and less-hostile, voice eventually responded. "This is lieutenant commander Jane Burton, Burris Security Forces, commanding BSFS Wygant. Am I speaking with Solomon Danner?"
"This is Commander Danner, JRN Reserve, commanding JRS Aurora, CL63." He chose his words deliberately, to make it plain where Burton and Wygant stood, but it occurred to Danner that he should look into changing Aurora's hull classification symbol - she wasn't a light cruiser anymore. "Burris is signatory to the IFTT and as such is prohibited from enacting tariffs or conducting boardings or searches of Republic-flagged vessels. Just as I would be prohibited from doing the same to your ship."
After a pause, Burton continued, "Of course, you are exempt from our new policies, under the IFTT. However, we are within our rights to deny you entry or landing privileges."
"We are carrying cargo for which we have delivery contracts. Shall I contact our customers and explain who is keeping their goods from market?"
Burton paused again. "Commander Danner, you will find that communications to and from Burris are subject to new regulations. If you will not submit to search, then under my authority I must deny you entry and order you to leave our system at once. Any attempt to communicate with or land on the surface will be considered a hostile act."
So. This wasn't a shakedown- it was a revolution. Another clue was Wygant's designation, Burris Security Force Ship. Four thousand hours ago, the Directions listed no such organization; ten thousand, Jane's had listed her as a ship of the Burris Navy.
Eyeing his displays, Danner could see Prrg had plotted a Transit outsystem, to one light-hour south of the system's ecliptic. Most of Burris' settlements, and the planetary capitol, were in the southern hemisphere; if there were to be further communication it would be simplified from that position. The display also showed the status of the Marsten Drive, 83% recharged from their arrival Transition minutes ago. In about a hundred more seconds they could be gone.
"Very well, Commander. We'll be leaving you to your thievery and dictatorship- but not for long. You are in evident violation of treaty and you will answer for the innocent people you have been robbing. Danner out." He closed the channel.
Prrg announced, "Transition in ten, nine, eight-"
Cates was also in AuxCon, with Prrg on the bridge. Suddenly she called, "New contact, 142 mark 99, two point three light-seconds, hailing us."
"Hold Transition. Open channel."
"JRS Aurora, this is Burris Navy ship Coleman, D04, Commander Franklin Hatch. We're having a bit of civil war at the moment. I'd very much like to discuss it with you at a place of your choosing. The remnants of our constitutional government, which I represent, request Republic intervention and a path to Membership."
Cates observed, "Wygant is boosting away, charging for Transition." Coleman, an Allen-class destroyer, had the corvette outgunned.
Danner ordered, "Secure laser to Coleman: Commander Hatch, meet us one light-hour south of your system's ecliptic. Danner out. Send, and engage Transition."
The two ships met nose-to-nose and extended universal docking tubes, some of whose dimensions dated back to before the Escape, to the Vetter Aerospace ships which reclaimed Luna and first reached Mars. The arrangement allowed both ships' spin-weight to function. Coleman had a pair of telescoping arms with pods on the ends, which folded along the hull for maneuvering.
Hatch, and another man in civilian garb, floated through. "Permission to come aboard, Captain?" Hatch asked formally.
"Granted, Commander," Danner replied. Hatch was an ethnically-mixed Human, various shades of brown and rather shorter than Danner, and carried himself as a career naval officer. The other was markedly taller and somewhat Nordic in appearance, mature with blond hair beginning to gray. "Who is your companion?"
That one answered, "I am Samuel Post, Senate minority leader. Except that my party has been outlawed by the majority. Most of my colleagues have been imprisoned. Several have been executed- Forgive me, Captain. It has been months since I saw a new face that didn't want me dead."
Danner invited the two to Aurora's spin-weight salon. "You've been on the run a while then? What is your supply situation?"
Hatch cleared his throat. "I hadn't wanted to impose...."
Danner turned to his Steward and Cargomaster. "Clancy, Jack, we have some cases of instameals taking up space, don't we? And enough fresh water to share. See about a little fuel also." The Allen-class destroyers were small and inexpensive ships for system defense, hyper-capable but not intended for long operations away from support. The Jeffersonian Navy would have classed them frigates. They didn't have the equipment larger ships, or Aurora, carried to mine comets or the like, for straight hydrogen or water-ice to process it from.
Hatch visibly sagged with relief. "Captain Danner, my crew and I are in your debt."
Danner waved a hand. "Whatever side Wygant's crew is on, I'll be on the other. How did it happen?"
It had happened much like it had to the United States of America. Waves of immigrants were attracted to Burris with promises of land and jobs. One of the two political parties quietly raised barriers to that employment, while loudly blaming the other for their own actions, then demanding government handouts for the "poor, underprivileged, disenfranchised" immigrants who were being "discriminated" against by the "cruel, selfish" opposition. In a handful of years Burris' entire system of government and way of life had been inverted. The productive natives found themselves heavily taxed to support immigrants who wouldn't work, and fined or even jailed if they objected. Shooting was inevitable, and had begun about the time Aurora set out for Elysium.
The revolutionary party had been purging the military, driving out conservatives and constitutionalists, replacing them with ideologues and the politically-reliable, but hadn't quite finished the job before the navy split and declared for one side or the other. Most of the navy had mutually annihilated in a terrible battle, when revolutionary ships had begun bombarding loyalist surface targets and loyalist ships had rushed to stop them. Like the raid on Mark's World, tens of thousands of innocents had died.
Wygant was one of three functioning revolutionary ships, while Coleman likewise had two loyalist companions. Civilian or foreign ships present at the time of the coup were interned, if not seized outright, and were being hastily armed to replace losses. The revolutionaries had raised a large "army" from their immigrant power base - brutal enforcers, looting and raping at will - to suppress the general population. The remnant loyalist navy, unsupplied, could rarely strike back against the "Security Forces" which could get support from the revolutionary-held planet.
"We've made a mess," Post admitted. "Or allowed one to be made, no difference." He produced a datachip. "I appear to be the highest-ranked member of the old government remaining alive or out of custody. This is my formal request for annexation of Burris by the Jeffersonian Republic. Upon such annexation I will resign my office. I am not fit to govern." Post was a man broken, feeling he had failed his people. Danner offered no soothing lies to the contrary.
Eyeing the chip on the table between them, Danner said, "I'll transmit it, of course.... I'm not a diplomat or statesman, I'm a merchant captain. I only activated my Reserve commission when Wygant threatened to fire on us. Naturally I'm sympathetic, but committing Republic blood and treasure to your cause is far outside my powers.... If you can raise the funds, I can quickly put you in contact with some mercenaries who specialize in such cases, though they'd want to gather their forces for a job your size. Meanwhile, Commander Hatch, I can escort your ship to the comets and help you refuel with the equipment we carry. My Engineer can quickly fab more such gear for you, so you can at least keep flying while you await the Republic's response."
Coleman's commander replied, "I could not ask more, Captain."
"Captain Danner," Post added, "I would ask one more thing of you. Mercenaries, I'm afraid, are beyond our means, but would it be possible for you to transport me to Monticello, that I might plead our case directly? I have additional recordings, evidence of war crimes- I can pay my own fare in rhodium of course, I still have access to some offworld accounts."
Hatch felt compelled to interject, "Senator Post has already nearly emptied those accounts on our behalf, hiring blockade runners to resupply us. It's not his own skin he's trying to save."
"Hmm... your civil war has broken our itinerary." The metals and fissionables they'd loaded at Olympus could not now be sold at Burris. "Let me examine my options and you'll have my answer in an hour."
Continued in the next excerpt....