Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright (c) 2016, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part XLVIII: Reset
Continued from the previous excerpt
9 Thirdmonth 557JR
Danner had transmitted Post's requests to Monticello, then accepted his fare and departed for the Republic's capitol, stopping along the way to sell Aurora's cargo and disembark her other passengers at other worlds. News quickly spread about the Burris coup. The Republic Congress voted a resolution to find them in violation of the International Free Trade Treaty, meaning they were no longer immune from tariffs - from anyone. Though the Republic rarely issued embargoes, most merchants chose to stop doing business with the overthrown world, just as they'd boycotted the Glautak Consolidation.
Danner had cautioned the Senator against high expectations, though. "The Republic does accept other worlds as Members," he had told the refugee politician, "but on majority votes of their population. Evidently the majority on Burris, however they got there, want things the way they are. It's neither fair nor honest, but it's not something the Republic can intervene in. I'll take you there and I can probably get you on the list to address Congress, even meet the Pentamvirate-" a recipient of the Legion of Honor had strings to pull- "but it's not likely there will be a Navy task force and Marine expedition to restore your constitution or annex your world. Bluntly, I see two options for you: The mercenaries I mentioned-" Danner had given Post, and Hatch, contact information for the Asgardians- "or saving what people you can and starting over somewhere else." Which was much as had been done between Nowy Krakow and Illyria, though Danner didn't make that comparison, considering Illyria's recent straits... which few outsiders knew of.
Seeing Post safely quartered, Danner's responsibility to him ended. However much he sympathized with Burris' plight, the world's voters and government had allowed their own fall. The parasitic welfare system which facilitated the revolution was strictly outlawed on Republic worlds. Danner, still a celebrity, allowed himself to be briefly interviewed by the media, only so he could point that out on interstellar news.
"The Republic leaves people alone," he had told the cameras. "Our government stays out of the way. Thus, we have the most freedom and the highest standard of living in history. I sympathize with the innocent people of Burris who are now suffering under a dictatorship, but they let this happen to themselves, even invited it by stealing from one class to bribe another. With all of history, and our own example, as guides, they cannot claim they didn't know what would happen....
"That being said, Senator Post did everything in his power to stop it and was driven to exile for his efforts, while many of his colleagues have been imprisoned or murdered. He also has evidence of orbital bombardment of noncombatant surface targets by the new regime, which every civilized nation has called a war crime for centuries. He'll be setting up relief and support organizations presently and you can get details and contact information from him. He's scheduled to address Congress in twenty hours, so link in for his first-hand report."
Anna Nowak, Agnieszka Aldritch, still did not allow herself to draw public notice. Despite her increasing closeness to Solomon Danner, she had not joined him in the interview, but saw it later. The Engineer's Mate saw and heard some things... the Princess and supposed Queen, others. She slept poorly that night.
Finding themselves again at the Central Worlds, Aurora's Family started over too. Opportunities abounded here, at the center of Known Space - passengers and cargo for all other worlds.
Offers had been waiting for Aurora before she Transitioned over Monticello, since her movements weren't really secret and someone in the Reserve Privateer Bureau kept leaking them. There would be jobs lost over that, at the least. Vice Admiral Huang, Director of the Bureau, arranged with Danner to file false flight plans to identify the leak. In peacetime it mattered less, but in war it would be treason, and a noose. Huang took her job seriously and had kept it longer than would be expected, in a national culture openly hostile to bureaucrats. Hundreds of Reserve Privateers activated every year, across the sixty and more parsecs of Republic space. Recommendations from their captains carried most of the weight which decided who ran the Bureau. Danner's were among them. When last it was contemplated to replace Huang, over six hundred captains h-mailed their objections. Again, Danner's were among them, as were a comparable number from the Space Patrol and the much smaller Regular Navy, which counted on Reserve Privateers for backup or even first response.
Aurora had docked to Monticello Station, still a centuries-old stack of wheels, though work had finally begun to cover it over for conversion to an O'Neill Cylinder. The crew wandered the flying town, shopping and recreating, while Danner, Prrg and Daisuke sifted through the available jobs.
"Four hundred thirty-nine cryocolonists to Beatty," Prrg read.
"That's way off Galactic West-Coreward," Danner observed. "Haven't been there before... call it a 'maybe.'"
"Twelve kilotons agricultural seeds to Sierra IV," said Daisuke.
"They're only two Transits from Dakota, that's stupid. Unless it's a luxury crop, true-Terran?"
"No, standard rates."
"Forget that one, someone's trying to rip someone off."
The Captain, First Officer and Purser had gathered at a buffet restaurant, paid their entry, and settled down to graze while looking over the Net, one or another getting up to refill a plate as he chose. It was a slow hour for the place and there were few other diners.
One had drawn Danner's attention by trying to avoid it. A Human, or humanoid, male, he sat in a corner, quietly eating and viewing a reader. The man wore a plain brown hooded cloak, rather worn. When he had walked by Danner's table, the captain had heard the whirr-click of an artificial leg, rare in an age of near-universal Human regeneration and rarer still to hear one in need of maintenance. Modern cybernetics, especially on Monticello, home to the great hospitals of Cincinnati General and Lexington University, were so good their users could forget they weren't original. There had been court cases involving sports leagues. What little Danner could see of the man's face seemed familiar, but he couldn't place him.
"Aurora?" he asked to his collar tab and earbud. The flying sensor sphere was elsewhere at present - or likely several elsewheres. Aurora could pass a half-dozen Turing Tests at once.
"Yes, my Captain?"
"Are there cameras here you can access?"
"I have already done so, to watch over my Family." That wasn't strictly legal, but not exactly a crime either, expectation-of-privacy-wise. Anyway, she'd never been caught and wasn't likely to be.
"There is what appears to be a Human male in a brown hooded cloak in a corner." Daisuke and Prrg tensed but did not turn to look.
"I see him, my Captain."
"He seems familiar to me. Please run a comparison against passengers or customers."
There was a quite short pause. "No match found."
"I know I've seen him... check communications."
The pause was slightly longer. "No match found."
"Check flight recorder."
"...Match found. Eighty-three percent probability subject is Illyrian Royal Guard Armsman Bogdan Plebanek, seen in recordings belonging to Engineer's Mate Anna Nowak."
At Danner's gesture, the three picked up their plates and took seats at Bogdan's table. When the man looked up, Danner had another shock: His right eye was also artificial, and at least a century behind Republic technology. "I'm... captain of a ship," Danner said quietly. "I've seen your face before, in a recording, in the possession of a member of my crew. I have heard your name from that person's lips."
Plebanek's remaining eye flicked around to the trio, and beyond. He had the air of a hunted animal. "I... had scarcely hoped.... This member of your crew, is... that person... well?"
Danner nodded. "That person has been with us since that day." Danner kept up the evasive speech pattern. Plebanek feared something, and the threat of assassins sent by King Stefan had been haunting Agnieszka's dreams for years. "We have grown fond of that person. Protective."
Plebanek seemed to alternate between relief and panic, horror and joy. "I searched the records," he said, nearly whispering. "Every ship which left that day. I've searched, for so long...." Tears began to roll from his natural eye.
"You must understand," Danner said, "we are suspicious of you, suddenly appearing after so long, never having answered messages."
"I was... unable." He gestured at his replaced eye. "I was captured... tortured. Someone sympathetic to... my cause... aided my escape. For two of your years I have been making my way here, hoping...."
"Ship-" it was possible the other man was recording or transmitting- "please discreetly alert that person to not return to the ship until called. That person might also consider evasion and cosmetic changes. Other crew with that person should be alert for potential attacks."
"Then, alert the doctor to prepare to examine this person to verify his identity and ensure he poses no risk."
"These things being done," Danner continued to Bogdan, "I believe a reunion can be arranged. But meanwhile, you seem in fear of pursuit?"
Bogdan nodded jerkily. "Three times they have caught up with me. I thank you for your caution, Captain. They may be tracking me."
"We'll find out. Doctor?"
Aurora connected Danner's comm to Vatelius, after warning him to not use names. "I'm here."
"Pick a boat, quickly load the instruments you'll need to search for trackers, traps, bombs or the like, and meet us at a docking port you choose on the other end of the Station. We'll keep whatever this is away from our crewmate and our ship until we know better."
"On the way."
"Shall I... surrender my weapons to you, Captain?" Bogdan asked.
Danner paused. He was an absolutist on the right to keep and bear arms, but disarming him would be entirely reasonable on behalf of Anna/Agnieszka's safety. On the gripping hand, this man could have bombs in his prosthetics, or surgically-implanted reservoirs of binary explosives or chemical or biological weapons. Having admitted capture and torture, he might not even be aware of them. "Keep them for now. If you are an enemy I'm guessing you wouldn't spend yourself short of your true target. If you're a friend I wouldn't insult you by disarming you. Ship, recall all other crew not with that person. You two-" Daisuke and Prrg- "return to the ship. Undock, discreetly go to General Quarters, and put a light-second or so between you and the Station. I'll stay with our guest and our doctor, then make our way to you with the boat after."
Shortly Ralph arrived with Two Boat. Aurora's robots had quickly stripped the passenger seats to make room for the ship's spare, portable Examiner. Two of the 'bots were aboard as security. They didn't need to be armed, they were weapons. Daisuke, Prrg and Holly used them for sparring practice. Aurora watched through their eyes, acted through their hands, faster than any organic.
Ralph instructed Bogdan to strip. As he did so, Ralph and Solomon were first impressed by the collection of weapons he placed in bins or on stickypanels in the freefall shuttle... then grew horrified at what remained of his body. The scars around his replaced eye spread down his cheek, across his forehead, through his hairline and across much of his scalp, preventing hair growth along their tracks. Only now did they notice the last three fingers of his left hand were missing. His left leg was replaced with what appeared to be salvaged robot components, up to and including the hip. A control-and-power box for it was worn on a belt around his waist, with a cable running up his body to a neural-induction headband. It was an ugly back-alley job using technology that had been obsolete halfway through the Republic-Empire War. Burn scars, obviously artificial and deliberate, covered at least half his flesh, and his genitals were gone.
Bogdan smiled grimly at the other men's expressions. "I did break," he said. "I would have told them everything, anything. But I didn't know... where... she went...." He grinned, not quite sane, showing missing teeth the others could guess had been pulled without anesthesia. "I won. Even when I lost, I won." The broken old man broke down in sobs, curling upon himself in weightlessness as tears floated from him.
Two Boat was a Type 347 shuttle, standard for a squad of Marines and commercially popular for a dozen passengers or a few tons' cargo.
Radiation shielding had been a concern for centuries, since the Apollo program first sent men through the Van Allen belts. Before the Fusion Age and the advent of cheap energy, the only solution was to minimize exposure. Now, even family aircars could be orbit-capable and carried electromagnetic field generators strong enough for many hours of protection. Thus, each of Aurora's five shuttles were natural Faraday cages, blocking radio or comparable signals in or out. A subsentient copy of Aurora, now cut off from her mainframe, occupied the two robots and the shuttle itself.
Danner explained this as Ralph began the examination. He told Bogdan the story of meeting "Anna Nowak", months later discovering her identity. Danner assured him she was quite healthy and safe, protected by a well-armed warship and a skilled crew. He glossed over the Family's subsequent battles, in which they could have all been killed.
"Whoa," Vatelius suddenly called. "Nanobreeder in the leg. Leaving breadcrumbs." Bogdan, naturally pale, grew whiter. "'Bots, search and destroy," the doctor ordered, sending them a profile of the nanite trail markers. "And hand me that maser, Sol." The robots produced small lasers of their own and began firing around the interior of the shuttle in what seemed to Human eyes a random pattern. Meanwhile Ralph had extracted the breeder device, placed it in a tray, and now washed it with concentrated microwaves until the tray glowed with heat. "Nanites always creep me out, even when I'm the one prescribing them. Good call on the boat for separation, boss."
"It's not paranoia if they really are out to get you." He'd said that years before, on Aurora's bridge, when confronting Agnieszka with her real identity. "Any sign of transmissions?"
"Not yet," Ralph answered. "Burst, maybe. The 'bots are listening, full spectrum. Ugh-"
"Whoever did this work... well, I was about to say I'd like to meet him in a dark alley but I take it back. I'm guessing you couldn't check into a hospital?" he asked Bogdan.
The armsman gave a short, bitter laugh. "No. This was done on Calabar. I was using a crutch until then. That... tracking device... can you tell when it was installed?"
"No idea. Someone you brushed up against waiting in line for a shuttle ticket, or a bowl of soup. They could have dropped it on the ground next to you and let it crawl up your leg. It was only a few millimeters wide, and the nanites it dropped would only show up on good sensors. -'Bot, take a look in here, see if I missed any." One of the two robots leaned close to Bogdan's artificial leg, then reached in and fired a fingertip laser three times, then a fourth, then withdrew. "Thanks." Ralph resumed his scan, having started at the feet, moving upward. "I wish Jenny, or Hlossh or Glub or Jack, were here to help me identify these electronics. The 'bots should catch it though, they know what to look for, anything remotely like a recorder, transmitter or receiver, anything explosive or propulsive-" The Examiner suddenly beeped. "Yeah, like that. Burst transmitter. Looks like a similar design to the nanobreeder-" Ralph fiddled with the Examiner's settings. "Yeah, the control chip is in the same sequence. Doesn't look like it was originally part of the leg though. Planted on you later, I'd guess, like the 'breeder."
Bogdan nodded. "That will be one less person I need to kill."
The scan concluded, eventually, with another nanobreeder found attached to the leg's control box, and another transmitter having burrowed into the artificial eye. "Oh!" Bogdan exclaimed when the latter was removed. "I've had that pain for months and now it's gone!"
"Interference," Ralph surmised. "Get the FCC on their case, heh. Except those thugs died in the War too." Getting blank looks from the other two, Ralph explained, "The Federal Communications Commission was a pre-Escape bureaucracy. You can guess what it did by the name. After Liberation, it was one of many the Republic never bothered bringing back, and good riddance. You may dress, Armsman."
As Bodgan did so, Ralph went on, "So, I think we got all the bugs, though we'll have Aurora look and listen for more. I saw no bombs or other harmful implants. The transmitters, I'm putting in Faraday boxes so Jenny and the guys can take a closer look, maybe figure what and when they were transmitting. As for... your injuries... according to your DNA scan, you're capable of regeneration. It's a rare Human who isn't. All your wounds can be healed, real organic replacements cloned from you and grown for you. It'll take time, and rehab can be hard work, but you can be put back together again, the way you're supposed to be."
Bogdan was speechless, and his tears flowed.
Continued in the next excerpt....