Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2016, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part V: Starting Over
Continued from the previous excerpt
Danner turned back to his own table just as Eric was turning to get his attention. “Sol, boy,” he said, “I think I've found your Steward.”
The captain looked up to see a Human with bright red hair, sharp gray eyes and a cheerful expression. He was a big man, almost as tall as Linfarger but proportioned more like Danner, though several years younger. His forest-green shipsuit, like those of many veteran Human spacers, bore patches from ships he'd served and worlds he'd visited. Like most, his right shoulder bore two flags: First the national flag of the Republic – with pistol and blade at his belt, the usual three marks of a Full Citizen – and below it the flag of his homeworld. Danner himself wore the Seven Stars of Alexandria, Blain the Bars-and-Stars of Wilson's Colony. Beside the Captain, Linfarger wore the Wilson's flag below the Golden Lamp of Necessity; however much he hated snow, it was the world he'd been born on, and he still had family there.
It had been a long time since the War, and the old resentments had faded away, but Danner still raised an eyebrow when he saw the blue-globe-on-white, flanked by her Broken Chains, of Terra. His other brow rose as he saw a third symbol below the flags: The coat-of-arms of Ireland, a golden harp on a shield of blue.
Ireland had escaped most of the destruction of the Republic-Empire War, and in the years following had experienced a sort of reverse diaspora. At last freed from a long series of foreign yokes – Norman, English, European Union, United Nations, and last the Terran Empire – many descendants of the Emerald Isle, scattered for centuries, had made their way back to their ancestral home, where they could finally live as they pleased without the constant threat of intrusive government. Technically it was just another Province of the Member World Terra in the Jeffersonian Republic, but there was an ancient magic to the place and her people. There was, as there had been for millennia, a nationalist movement, but the Republic's “rule” touched the Irish so lightly compared to any that had gone before, most agitators were laughed down – as evidenced by the relative positions of the symbols on this man's shoulder.
“Who do we have here then?” asked Danner.
“Charles Clancy is me name,” the man said with a smile. “A chef by trade, on ship, station or solid earth.”
“How are you with nonhumans?”
“Sure there's no one I can't feed,” Clancy said, “especially if a gracious captain were to be having me build me own galley as I seem somewhere to have read. I can make Eyani thamma stew, Selmese seafood salad, Kshiran grain-meal, Gnoppan raptor-steaks, Chikaran gourd-stuffings, Zaggari loaf-meat by the decitonne, and a Flike once said some very kind words about me seasoning of-”
“How about pizza?”
“Sure and I spent a lovely year in the most darling little Italian café-”
“American pizza?” Danner had spent a lovely month in Utah, with a darling little lady.
“In me youth I baked many a pie for Gilson's Grog 'n' Grill.” Clancy did not elaborate; it was a place much like the Kraken, just outside Miami Spaceport. Danner had been there, as had thousands of other spacers.
Linfarger added, “I recall him asking my advice on how to reach space. I had him on the liner Marigold the next morning.”
“And a fine ship she was, and it's in your debt I am, sir Eric. Now seems I might be again.”
“No, boy,” Eric rumbled with a smile. “That debt's long paid. My wives had been begging me to settle down, and I found a way to do that and still be a spacer of sorts. You were the first crew I ever fixed.” The big Necessitan stood and thrust out his hand, and Clancy happily took it.
With a smile of his own, Danner said, “You can mark the Steward's berth as filled.”
Danner flipped some coins at Clancy and gave him his first order: “Go have a drink at the bar.” He happily did so, and was now surrounded by jealous colleagues asking him for references. Danner indicated he had some things to discuss quietly, and he, Prrg, Blain and Linfarger broke for lunch under the table's screen, the waiting spacers drifting off for their own meals, to re-form when the screen came down; by tradition they would take the same places in line, each taking note of the one before and behind.
The Captain explained what he knew of Glaut society to the Engineer, who was soon showing the disgust Danner felt. She knew what it was like to be an outcast. “Hlossh is certainly qualified,” she said. “One of the guys down at Everett was his boss on Musashi-III. I just commed him, and he said 'Grab him quick before he gets away, squid or no squid.' So I have my two Engineer's Mates.” She'd posted her decision on the net moments ago. The privacy screen was one-way, and fixers could be seen circling the other three finalists like sharks already; being almost accepted for a crew built by Eric the Bear was reference enough. Hlossh seemed happy, throwing a pincer-arm around the snot-colored Glaut and giving him a friendly shake. The invertebrate jiggled alarmingly. The other technical candidates dispersed in disappointment, a few lingering in hope of some other berth, but the fixers soon had them in hand. Such feeding frenzies occurred every few weeks.
“That leaves your Second, Purser, Bosun, and Gunner,” said Eric.
“I think I see the Gunner now,” Prrg answered, pointing out a figure in Class-A Marine uniform.
The Jeffersonian Republic Marine Corps was tiny in peacetime; traditionally the First Legion at Monticello was the only standing unit of ground forces, and more than half of them were scattered among ships, stations and embassies throughout the Republic and beyond, but the entire Exploration and Colonization Service were trained as Marines, as were all the local and planetary militias. The latter were based on the ancient Swiss system, which had repelled three conventional invasions during the UN's War of Unification before the Peacekeeping Fleet resorted to orbital strikes. Vast numbers of Jeffersonian troops could be mobilized in a very short time, most with their arms and gear already to hand, with little catch-up training required.
Not many uniforms were seen in places like the Kraken. It wasn't that they weren't welcome; these just weren't their kinds of places. Danner had always left his at his quarters when he started coming here years ago, wearing a plain spacer's shipsuit when he first met Eric at the same table they now occupied. But no one gave this uniform anything but respect. On her left shoulder this woman, as did every living Regular, wore the Big Black One on a field of red. Her sleeves bore the stripes and star of a Sergeant Major, and Danner noted the broad gold border around the national flag on her right shoulder, indicating this woman was Retired, after 40 Monticellan years of continuous service. In the Patrol or the ECS, it meant the same thing: she was exempt from all further reactivations and was a Full Citizen for the rest of her life. That could be over three Republic centuries with modern medicine, all of it worth living.
Danner and Linfarger were Full Citizens of the more usual sort, who had spent some years in one of the regular services, then lived as they pleased, reactivating every half-decade if they hadn't made other arrangements. Blain had reached the same status, more slowly, through her work building Marsten Drives; since nearly any Republic-flagged starship counted as a naval reserve, at least for transport, it was considered an essential industry. Her reactivation was due soon, but Danner had that fixed with his Patrol friends already; a permanent berth on a reserve privateer, which Aurora would be following post-refit inspection, would count. Linfarger used the same method through the CAF, and it was common among other “civilian” spacers.
This Marine looked to be about 75 Republic years old; she must have enlisted in the Corps barely out of school, and only recently retired. Danner could guess she would be looking for something to do with her life, and was immediately conflicted. On one hand, she might have exactly the skills and experience any Captain would want in a Gunner; on the other, a long-service Regular might not fit with an oft-undisciplined commercial crew.
She had ordered a meal and taken a seat deliberately in sight of Danner's table, so he could see her decorations. Foremost was the Combat Infantry Badge, almost impossible to obtain for the last two hundred years; she must have taken part in one of the rescue/punitive expeditions on Nowy Kraków. Even from seven tables away, Danner could see the Expert Rifleman medal, and that glint in the center would be the oak cluster for the Fast 40. Next to it was the one he was looking for: the Naval Gunnery medal, which was only given for the highest expertise with nearly every ship's weapon in the Patrol inventory, in targeting, operation, and maintenance. Around her left shoulder she wore the red/gold braid of an Instructor, probably at the Naval Weapons School in the military section of Monticello Station.
She was just what he was looking for, if she could fit on a ship built a century before the War, with a former Patrol LCDR who'd had his fill of spit-and-polish, a snake-man who liked dueling, an emotionally-scarred genius with dirty fingernails, a vagabond Irish chef, a crustacean with an attitude, a maimed alien exile, and gods knew what would fill the other berths.
Their lunch finished, Linfarger dropped the screen, the Kraken's staff cleared the dishes, and the spacers reassembled. Danner called the crew-thus-far over, and told them to sit and get to know each other. Clancy hadn't met a Glaut before and immediately asked what he liked to eat.
As Blain had done, Danner directed a few potentials to wait at other tables, but finally the Marine arrived. If she salutes, he thought, I'll have to find someone else. She was some years older than Danner, a handsome enough woman still, showing Latino heritage in color and features. Of average height – for a Jeffersonian woman; Terran stock, left behind after the Europa Incident, had some catching up to do – she was built like a Marine and moved in the Kraken's ¼g as though born to it. Dark brown eyes looked out of a face prematurely lined with responsibilities, yet something danced in their depths. Her nameplate read “CATES”.
“I hope you don't want me to salute,” she said. “I only wore the uniform as my resumé.”
“So far, so good,” Danner responded, straightfaced. “And an eloquent one it is.” Claiming false honors in the uniform of the Republic just didn't happen. Dueling was in the Constitution. “I presume, Ms. Cates-” he deliberately did not use her rank- “you are applying for the Gunner's berth?”
At this the woman doffed her jacket and laid it on the table, revealing a shirt which, centuries and parsecs distant, was still called 'Hawaiian.' “Forty years in the Corps,” she said as she seated herself, “and the only real target I ever had was some pitiful neobarb with a rusty slugthrower. I didn't even shoot him, a buttstroke dropped him cold. I always felt a little guilty wearing the CIB.”
“If it's action you're looking for, I'm not planning on any.”
“Then why'd you buy a light cruiser, and why were you waiting for the best damn Gunner in the Corps?” she retorted with a half-grin and a raised eyebrow. Then her face fell. “The last thirteen years I've been behind a godsdamned desk, teaching recruits who'll prob'ly never fire a shot in anger. I don't care if there's no action, just get me out of that classroom! And if you run into action you didn't plan on, there I'll be.”
“Getting warmer,” Danner said with a nod, remembering the desk he'd escaped from. “But I'm building an eclectic crew.” He shifted his head to indicate the others. “A long way from spit-and-polish.”
“I have my Citizenship and a bit of pension and I've had my fill of 'yes sar'major, no sar'major, aye aye sar'major,' and having to salute Ensigns young enough to be my children.”
“Where are you from originally, Gunner Cates?” Danner asked, extending his hand.
“New Texas,” she answered as she took it, “God bless her. And my name's Holly. I hope your cook knows how to barbeque.”
“Go ask him, Holly. His name's Charles Clancy, and mine's Sol.”
Meanwhile Prrg had set up his own table to interview potential navigators, which was the traditional role of the second mate. He had called all such candidates over – about thirty – and given them a little speech, yellow eyes raking them, tail slowly weaving patterns in the air behind him.
“I am Prrg, First Mate of IS Aurora,” he announced, as always omitting the other fifteen syllables indicating his clan, lineage, and territory. His voice was remarkably Human, clear and precise, but with an undefinable accent. “I am looking for one spacer to serve as Second Mate and Navigator. My last berth was Navigator on September Rose. My Captain is Solomon Danner, the Man Who Saved Rockville, and it was my navigation which got him there in time.
“I have created a navigation problem for you to solve.” Prrg raised his 'puter and projected a system map, the departure point marked with the ship's original vector, arrival with the desired one. The ship's mass and Drive characteristics were also listed. It was based on the problem he had solved in the Lone Star System, but more complex. “The first ten who finish will be interviewed further. You have one minute.” A man looked at the problem, shook his head and walked away; a female Siv clapped her long beak and followed him. The rest whipped out their 'puters and set to work.
The first to finish, comming her solution to Prrg's 'puter, was a young female Eyani. Prrg had noted her already, as she had started on the problem the moment it appeared. The next nine were three Humans, four Siv, another Eyani and a Zaggarish. Prrg thanked the other candidates for their time and turned to these ten. “The next test,” he stated, “is to see which of you has found the fastest route.” The top three were the first Eyani, a woman, and the Zaggarish, their plotted Transit times all within a few seconds of each other. One of the Siv, on the other hand, had flown the theoretical ship close enough to an intervening planet for the Drive to have dropped it out of hyper; Prrg, having no cause to humiliate her but needing to point out the error for her own future safety, indicated it silently, and she quietly left with the other six, neck-pheathers rippling.
Then Prrg sat down and started talking with the three. The woman turned out to have a different concept of “long-term”, but Prrg nonetheless sent her on her way with a letter of recommendation complimenting her skill. Such documents were immediately added to one's public profile on the net, and Prrg's name had already been known; she wouldn't be unemployed for long. The Zaggarish seemed a friendly sort, through his vox (of trilateral symmetry, they communicated through modulated whistles often beyond the range of most other races' hearing), but the harsh reality was he just wouldn't fit in most of Aurora's compartments. Prrg dismissed him the same way. This left the Eyani.
Her race bore superficial resemblance to Terran bears, with two arms, two legs, and two in between. Since their Liberation from the Empire two centuries ago, they had grown in size; this one, just entering adulthood, must have massed at least 80kg, half-again what her pre-Contact ancestors attained. Nor was it excess; with their ancient Tribal wars ended, and access to Jeffersonian medicine and nutrition, they just grew bigger. This one in fact looked lean and fit, and moved with exceptional grace in low-weight. Her fur was an eye-pleasing combination of whites, browns and blacks, not unlike a Terran calico cat in hues, but highly symmetrical in pattern. Since their Liberation they'd also colonized two worlds of their own, under the flag of the independent Eyani Nation, which had free-passage rights throughout the Republic; the populations of these colonies were thoroughly Tribe-mixed, unlike that of their homeworld where some Tribes still lived in relative primitiveness, their ethnic/evolutionary differences still distinct. Her coat indicated she was from one of the colonies, though her physique suggested mostly Plains ancestry. Her name was Human, Sarah Heusner, behind which Prrg knew he would find a story.
Covered in fur, Eyani did not wear clothes (Prrg himself wore only the equivalent of a loincloth, though it was made of fine modern synthetics), but harnesses bearing pockets and pouches and attachment points for tools and weapons. The material, color, and arrangement of the harness told much of its wearer's origin and status, for those who could read it. Since nearly half their race were now Republic-born, most Jeffersonians could. This one, after marking her as a Subject of the Republic, shouted “Shipfolk.”
Already a phenomenon among Humans well before the War, the concept was growing among the other starfaring races, all of whom but the Glaut had purchased or traded the Drive from the Republic. Shipfolk were beings born in space – the big stations and orbital cities didn't quite count – and who spent most of their lives there, rarely knowing an uncontrolled atmosphere or unchanging acceleration. The Boksi, widely settling their own system before Contact, had distinct Shipfolk of their own, but the Glaut had used drug-induced hibernation during hyperspace Transits, before acquiring modern Drives which eliminated most of the Transition Effects living beings suffered before the Fifth Generation. Most beings, of most races, were still Planetkind, rarely if ever leaving the surface of their worlds. Shipfolk were a subset of the title “spacer”, which bridged the gap and now described tens of millions.
“I see you are Shipfolk,” Prrg said to open the conversation as he and she rejoined the rest of the crew, while Danner and Linfarger continued searching for a bosun and purser. “That explains your skill as a navigator.” Shipfolk were raised to always think in three dimensions, often four, and tended to have extraordinary computer skills. “You look to have come from one of the Colonies, yet your name is Human and you are a Subject. How did this come about?”
More food and drink had been ordered for Aurora's crew, and a couple tables pushed together for them to gather around. As Sarah took a seat and filled a plate and a mug, she answered for all to hear. “I was born on New Eyan, the first Eyani colony world. Or so I'm told. I was less than a year old when raiders struck. That was 515.” All present knew of the Sacking of New Eyan that year. The colonists had sought a nonindustrial, low-tech lifestyle, and had eschewed the orbital defenses and militia systems of Republic worlds. The Patrol had raced to the scene, but they arrived over 200 hours later. The raiders had planned well and were long gone.
The colony's leaders had died in the attack, or they would have been executed by the Eyani National Congress for negligent genocide. New Eyan, and their second colony, Kro'Hr'Fala, were now as well-defended as any Republic world, and the Eyani Nation had built their own warships, and copied the Jeffersonian militia system, ever since. There was talk, perhaps two centuries overdue or perhaps only now in its proper time, of the Nation finally joining the Republic.
Heusner continued dispassionately; to her the events were little more than a history text. “From what I could piece together later, the raiders made a Close Transit attack, killed the colony ship in orbit, and we never had much of a militia, they got them with only two kinetic strikes, one on the capitol. One of the places they landed was my village. I may have been the only survivor. I'm told that two days later a trade ship arrived and found me in the rubble. The crew was human, and raised me as their own.
“It was Flying Flea out of- well, everywhere and nowhere. I only left her when she couldn't fly anymore – she was an old ship, her Drive was still Fourth-Gen, and mother – Captain Heusner, the only mother I've ever known – finally gave up on her and retired at Neues Deutschland, sending the crew – the family – to the Central Worlds for the berthing opportunities. They'd been planning it for years, and it was sad, but inevitable; we couldn't afford another ship of our own. We split up at Ember, and I came here. This is my first berth on any other ship.” She flicked her ears nervously.
“Welcome aboard, lass,” Clancy said, patting her shoulder. “Though I've not seen the ship yet I'm sure she's a fine one, and we're building a new family here today.”
“Aurora's a great ship,” Blain added with enthusiasm. “Though you might be surprised how old she is.”
“Is it true she's the last of the Adamants?” Sarah asked. “I'd read that on the net but I couldn't believe it.”
“It's true,” Jenny answered. “We've only two berths left to fill, so you should see her in a few hours. When I'm done with her she'll be a new ship, and we'll all be plank-owners. Our grandchildren might still be flying her. She was built as a Republic warship, and her bones are as strong as ever.”
Continued in the next excerpt....