Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright (c) 2016, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part L: A Time to Heal
Continued from the previous excerpt
25 Fourthmonth 557JR
Epsilon Indi system
Solomon Danner had been falling in love with Anna Nowak, and she had been falling in love with him. With Bogdan's return, the Queen overtook the girl, and a wall of formality rose between them. Neither wanted it, but both understood why it was necessary. A world was at stake.
There were other considerations. Aurora had searched herself carefully and found no trackers or transmitters, but she was a famous ship and anyone trailing Bogdan in search of Agnieszka could have reconstructed shuttle traffic, or hacked into cameras on Monticello Station, to see him meeting with her crew and being taken to her. Now her fame worked to her Family's advantage.
Danner arranged with Admiral Huang for an hiatus in Reserve Privateer availability; Aurora would not be called up. They would not lose status; all her crew, and she herself, would remain Full Citizens for the next five Monticellan years, by which time Danner hoped to resume normal operations. He had already agreed to file a false flight plan to identify whoever was leaking her itinerary from the Reserve Privateer Bureau; with the hiatus he wasn't required to file at all. Publicly, their Siv lawyer/publicist on Terra leaked that they were taking another vacation to an "undisclosed" world. Huang saw to it some of the Bureau clerks received a secret flight plan for Terra, others for New Texas, others for Adams' World.
They were really going back to New Israel. There was a regeneration facility there, built by the Family for the Glaut refugees but versatile enough for other species. Agnieszka's first promise as Queen would be kept, and Bogdan would be made whole.
New Israel had other advantages. It had one of the three highest traffic rates in Known Space, to get lost among; the Glautopolis Infantry could provide tight, and motivated, security, with their overt primary mission as a perfect cover story; and there were two asteroid belts, each with several shipyards and foundries. One which was both was selected, owned by a relative of Jack Epstein who had made a fortune in past years by smuggling items openly sold in the Republic - weapons, drugs, 'puters, fabbers, 'bots, Marsten tech - to nations where they were prohibited.
Aurora had already expressed her understanding of deception as a tactic. She gave no objection to her Captain's plan.
Hal Cohen, having made a lot of metal smuggling in his younger days, had used it to "go legit". Not that he had ever committed a "crime" under Republic law, though there were other worlds, under other flags, which would imprison or hang him... if they could ever identify him, and if he were stupid enough to revisit them. The Republic refused extradition for charges it did not recognize as crimes.
Cohen's Shipyard was a modest operation, compared to Haifa Station or especially High City, but it served his purposes. He would receive dead or broken ships from various sources, then scrap or refurbish them for resale as he found them worthy. Some of his customers were as he used to be, profiting from foreign prohibitions and not wanting a record trail for any warrant or subpoena to find. Money kept rolling in, from a brisk parts trade. Fabbers could solve a lot of problems but some components were best made the old fashioned ways.
Cohen had paid for the inflation of a Balloon World, an asteroid melted by sunlight focused by hundreds or thousands of mirrors throughout the Epsilon Indi system, then inflated with comet ice and left to cool. A little over 300 meters diameter, it was given a spin slow enough to minimize Coriolis effects yet still simulate a normal acceleration on the inner surface, filled with atmosphere, and finished comfortably. The result was nearly 300,000 square meters of inner surface area, his own private inside-out flying island. He kept half for himself and his family, while his employees took housing in the other half. Airlocks at the poles allowed smaller craft, like shuttles and aircars, to be brought inside for shirt-sleeve work, tethered to float along the freefall axis or landed on the surface as appropriate. A false sun was tethered to the center, simulating New Israel's day cycle.
Larger ships remained outside, on ever-changing gantries and scaffolds reminiscent of High City's early days. He had five at present, built above as many worlds and born under three flags. Two were large enough, a Monticellan-built tanker and a cargoliner made in the Russian Star Empire. For structural reasons, the latter was chosen.
Aurora Transitioned quite some distance away from Cohen's Shipyard, then nestled into an asteroid Cohen had blasted hollow for the purpose. "The place has never had a more prestigious tenant," he said with a laugh. More flying rocks were nudged across the entrance, and Aurora disappeared from view. Her presence at New Israel was known to only a handful outside her Family, and only one outside the system.
As the work began, Ralph asked Cohen if he ever had pirates for customers. "A couple times," the other man said. He looked the part of a mild-mannered Jewish merchant, small of stature and a bit rotund and balding, the kind whose ancestors meekly got on cattle cars at National Socialist orders. But this one had reached Staff Sergeant in the Regular Marines, and wore a Super LeMat revolver over his plain gray business suit, along with his Expert medal with both Rifle and Pistol bars. "Once I was sure what they were," he went on, "well, they went into the forge. Sanitary, that way, rather than having them float about to clutter navigation. The second one had slaves aboard. Slaves, in my shipyard! The very nerve! Turned out to be good employees though. Not a bad son-in-law either."
To remain undetected, the Family couldn't even use Aurora's boats. Ralph took Bogdan to the regen facility in a little yacht belonging to Cohen. Bogdan's eye was ready, in a vat in Aurora's sickbay, by the time they reached Epsilon Indi; some centuries ago, it had turned out that eyes grew quickly and with little regard for varying or no acceleration. Likewise a lot of spare skin was being grown during the Transit from Monticello. Vertebrate parts, however, needed a stable gravity field to develop correctly past fetal stage. His leg, and even his fingers, had only been started by Ralph, then placed in Chikaran cryostasis until they could be transferred planetside. The growth would take a few thousand hours, even with rapid-growth techniques. Bogdan would wait months to be repaired, then work for months more to reintegrate his own body. His eye, and the burns, could at least be fixed while he waited for the rest.
Between surgeries and physical therapy, Bogdan, Anna/Agnieszka, and her adopted Family discussed how to reclaim her throne. There was an Illyrian Resistance to Stefan's rule, but it was small, hunted, and ineffective. Bogdan had revealed some of them under torture and could not forgive himself. Seeing the man's pain, Danner supplied: "Rare is the being that wouldn't break under torture. The blame is not yours. I'm not a psychologist, but Stefan's head at Agnieszka's feet sounds like a good way to make amends. And remember this: You didn't give her up. You outwitted your captors before they even had you." Bogdan's instructions to Agnieszka had been to buy passage on a foreign starship and escape offworld. He hadn't wanted to know which one. Judging by the tracking devices they'd had to plant on him, they couldn't figure it out either, despite his revealing the plan. It had taken him two years of legwork himself.
Agnieszka laid her hand on his shoulder in agreement. "The problem persists, however," she said. "I rule a kingdom of two, and the Usurper is using a double of me in public. How can I make my claim? Where can I find more supporters? Will they be enough to overthrow Stefan's regime?"
"I've been researching that," Danner supplied. "There's increasing unrest on Illyria and your two colony worlds, dissatisfaction with Stefan's policies." He explained that though official channels denied it, news began to leak out. In the previous reign, the Illyrian people had little access to information and little chance to leave their planet, only because Agnieszka's grandfather, King Henryk, had never got around to getting out of their way. Stefan, on the other hand, was deliberately obstructive, registering, then confiscating, the few personal computers which had made it into the population. Weapons, of course, were also registered and confiscated, except for those owned by supporters of Stefan's regime. Fabbers, naturally, were also high on the prohibition list - Stefan couldn't have the peasants making rifles in their barns.
None of this was reported by official Illyrian media of course. Smuggled recordings on foreign starships, and the occasional defector or stowaway, brought the news to the rest of the galaxy. All such were denounced and character-assassinated by Stefan's regime, with convincingly-fabricated evidence of various horrible crimes. Some Illyrian expatriates had reached Republic space and were trying to raise a force to return to their world and overthrow their tyrant. Some of them turned out to be regime plants, betraying others to assassination. "I'm afraid you have a rough road," Danner concluded.
Bogdan's eye had been replaced and was quickly regaining function, but he was not blind figuratively either. He could see there was a relationship between his Queen and her Captain, and that his arrival had disrupted it. He did not speak of it, but said, "Her Majesty seems reluctant to ask, therefore I will. Captain Danner, what support can we expect from the Jeffersonian Republic?"
"None," Solomon answered, and Agnieszka flinched at the word. He went on, to her: "There's a parallel to Burris, as I'm sure you can see."
"Yes, Captain," she replied. "I remember your words to Senator Post, and I cannot argue against them."
"That being said... this ship's duty of service to the Republic has been suspended. We are now private individuals responsible only for our own actions. I don't know what I can promise you - we won't fly straight to Illyria and bombard the palace from orbit. We have only three real ground fighters-" Grbblb had constructed something like Mobile Infantry armor for himself- "to throw against a whole world's army. But your Family has agreed, at least for now, to render what aid we may."
"Solomon...." Agnieszka was for a moment Anna again. Then the moment passed. "Captain. My world, my kingdom will be in your debt."
Their eyes met, but Danner could not hold the gaze. "I think the colonies would be a good place to start," he said as he looked away. "Like the American states, they already have a taste for independence. A formal promise of it, or at least of reforms, might raise troops and ships from them."
"But how can we establish Her Majesty's credibility?" Bogdan asked.
Gazing at nothing, Agnieszka said, "There may be a way. I must... think upon it." Turning to Danner, she went on, "In the meantime, Captain, by Our authority as rightful Queen, We offer you, your ship and your crew a mercenary contract, for the span of four and one half Monticellan years-" before their Reserve Privateer hiatus ran out and their Citizenship was at risk- "for the purpose of overthrowing Stefan the Usurper and placing Us on the throne. You shall carry the rank of Commodore in the Illyrian Royal Navy, and such higher rank as may prove appropriate or necessary. Your crew shall carry such rank as you designate. Your pay shall be all expenses, maintenance and repairs as resources are available, whatever battle prizes you may claim under the recognized laws of war, plus one hundred thousand gold zlotys-" two-point-five-gram wafers, one-tenth 'metric ounce'- "to your unit upon Our ascension. What say you?"
Expecting it, Danner had already discussed it with his crew and ship. "Queen Agnieszka, we accept."
Continued in the next excerpt....