Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright (c) 2016, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part LIX: The Way Things Used to Be
Continued from the previous excerpt
Jenny Blain, having suffered trauma of her own, could see Solomon's pain, and that he was hiding it so his Family could enjoy their well-earned rewards. She was as much as, and in some ways more a sister than his biological one, Tina Caren on Alexandria. She subtly deflected attempts to get him to join various revelries, and as subtly dropped hints that they shouldn't stay at Illyria too long.
Jenny couldn't navigate a starship (though she could probably build one), but she could read a starmap. As Agnieszka's aircar undocked and Solomon floated, lost, in his ship's bridge, she joined him and asked Aurora to project one. Laying a hand on her ship-brother's shoulder, she gently said, "Hey, Sol. Let's go back to Oskran and see how they're getting along. And pick up another load of that crel fruit."
He turned to her, smiling sadly. Placing a hand on her shoulder in return, he said, "Thank you, Jenny." Raising his voice, for Aurora to direct shipwide, he announced:
"All hands, prepare for departure!"
18 Fourthmonth 560JR
Every member of the family, including Aurora, had earned nearly 18 kilograms of gold in their mercenary contract to the Queen of Illyria - a small price to pay for the throne of a three-world kingdom. They could retire... but what else would they do with their lives?
Since assembling as a family more than a Terran decade ago, with additions since, they had set new galactic speed records; cut travel and communication times throughout Known Space; helped colonists settle new worlds; rescued refugees from tyrannical governments; fought pirates five times; freed slaves; introduced a new sentient species and secured legal recognition for it; discovered regeneration for another species; and helped depose a monster and win a civil war.
Now they were supposed to stay home and tend gardens? Or sit around watching vids until they died?
Again Aurora visited Dakota, where she and her Family were welcomed as heroes by those who remembered her charging to the freighter Heritage's rescue years before. The ship exchanged salutes with DNS/JRS Ruthless, LPA547, the Mobile Infantry carrier which doubled as a light cruiser, having been commissioned since Aurora's last visit. A sister ship, Heartless, was nearing completion at a shipyard atop one of the orbital elevators. The ships' names had been truncated, Bastard and Bitch being dropped at the insistence of Space Patrol Central as a condition of their being accepted into the Naval Register as auxiliaries, and receiving federal funds when necessary.
They hadn't made planetfall last time, delivering their biomatter waste in exchange for outgoing cargo at one of the Beanstalks, but this time they chose to land and explore the world. There was a thing not unlike bison on Dakota's eastern continent, and this time every organic member of the crew (they'd all practiced) managed to harvest one, without large possibly-sentient catlike beings interfering.
This resulted in several hides, from which the crew would make clothing, furniture and equipment; and several tons of beef-analogue, which was stored in Aurora's cargo holds under Chikaran-built cryogenic storage - which had been heavily reinforced for high-thrust maneuvering during the ship's last refit. The cryo rigs were expandable to accommodate different volumes of perishables without interfering with regular cargo. During the months-long refit at New Israel, a representative of the Institute of Chikaran Cryogenics had visited, and left with a lot of notes. There were no previous records of that technology being tested so harshly and on such a scale, and the discovery that the Fanouu and Marsten Fields were related, and had medical applications, was groundbreaking.
Setting aside enough for themselves and passengers, that pseudobeef would be part of their outbound saleable cargo. The rest would be grain and produce, as usual for this world. Their next destination was Avalon, an independent world and a source of controversy.
6 Fifthmonth 560JR
Avalon had been claimed by a colonization enterprise about a Monticellan century earlier, and for several years was the furthest Human settlement from Terra. The settlers were a consortium from Wales, England, and Albion, dissatisfied with lives they considered crowded. They established a constitutional monarchy with restricted powers and guaranteed rights for the people. They named their planet after the mythical island in the legend of King Arthur. Their capitol was named Glastonbury, after an abbey where, legend had it, Arthur's grave had been discovered more than 800 years before the Escape.
Difficulties began not long after landing. While the planet was environmentally very hospitable, and showed no evidence of sentient life or civilization, things began... happening to the colonists, their buildings and equipment, their attempts at cultivation.
Like Salvation, the Avalonians had brought a labor force of robots, and fabbers to make more. In less than a thousand hours the core of Glastonbury was laid out, its central castle more than a quarter complete.
Then something started smashing the 'bots.
The first to go were the farming robots. They were programmed to first clear selected land of trees and brush, then plow the resulting fields and plant food crops, then tend the crops to maturity and harvest them. They worked 'round the clock, automatically refueling from native water sources, using solar power to electrolyze it into hydrogen for their fuel cells.
Six 'bots, quadruped models with manipulator arms, loosely based on Eyani physiology, were found at and in a stream where they had been refueling. Their heads had been battered, apparently with rocks and tree branches. Their robot brains were protected deep inside their chassis and the raised heads were only to carry sensors, but they had no extra sensors on their bodies, and so had been blinded. They were not designed for combat and the damage to each was well beyond their on-board self-repair capabilities. The heads also contained their radio antennae, so they couldn't call for help or even respond to a location ping. Live Human colonists had to go look for them.
Their recorders gave little clue as to what had happened. Navigating with infrared lights, the six robots had gone together to the stream just before dawn, to load up on water which their photovoltaic coating would turn into fuel during the day. With their fueling hoses deployed, something very fast had struck them, all within two seconds of each other. The last to be disabled recorded three frames of a flying stone striking its neighbor in the back of the head, before it too was blinded and crippled.
Many Human heads were scratched. A more combat-capable model was fabbed and set to guard the farmer 'bots. Another thousand hours passed without further incident.
Then the 'bots quarrying stone for the castle suffered the same treatment.
This time, one of them caught about a dozen video frames of something that might have been a living creature... or a wind-tossed tree branch. Some fabbers were directed to make armed fighting robots for defense of the workers. Another thousand or more hours passed without incident and the colonists began to relax.
Then a crew of worker 'bots building an aqueduct were found battered and crippled. This crew had not been assigned fighting-'bot protection.
Camouflaged fighters were tried next, externally similar to the workers they protected and performing the same tasks, but with omnidirectional sensors in multiple spectra, and concealed weapons.
Twelve hundred hours later the farming crew to which the first of these sheep-clad robotic wolves was assigned was found smashed. The disguised fighter had been disabled first. A tree had fallen on it.
Examination of the site was inconclusive. These marks on the tree might have been made by stone tools, those marks on the ground might be footprints, if "foot" was even the right term. Satellite imagery never caught anything conclusive either, even with an elaborate decoy plan. If whatever was causing this were living creatures, they didn't show up on infrared.
So it had gone, for decades now. Aurora's Family visited the Colonial Museum of Glastonbury, relating the tale and sharing numerous and contradictory speculations, artists' conceptions of what the supposed creatures looked like, theories about natural phenomena which could have the same effects.
The mystery wasn't going to be solved during Aurora's visit. The Family sold some beef, took some passengers, and moved on to the next world.
11 Secondmonth 561JR
Lii Confederation, Oskran
It had been more than seven Monticellan years since Aurora's last visit to this world, and much had changed. It would be years before a Torus or O'Neill could be built, but a wheel station was now in operation at 630km and obviously in growth mode. Many ships from many worlds and nations were present, exploring this new market. A Space Patrol detachment was on duty too, as had been promised, currently the light cruiser Vincennes and two destroyers. There was a shipyard under construction at synchronous orbit, made from a captured asteroid, and a frigate under construction within it, the first Alran-built starship. Her name was to be LCS/JRS Shrakor - "Defender".
As Aurora had Transitioned over Oskran, news awaited her. She had reactivated as a Reserve Privateer before leaving Illyria, sending a message to that effect, and her itinerary, to Space Patrol Central at Monticello Station. Now, with her time-in-grade, the ship, the first and so far only recognized Artificial Person, had been promoted from Ensign to Lieutenant, Junior Grade, in the Jeffersonian Republic Navy Reserve. Once docked to one of the poles of Oskran Station, she had her robot extensions update her rank insignia, meters wide beneath the viewports of her bridge, with a second silver bar.
As she approached the Station, several ships could be seen nearby. The nearest was one of the destroyers of the Patrol detachment: "Oathkeeper" class, DD1059 JRS Charles T. Chapman, named for a martyr of the Second American Civil War. Asking permission from Danner, Holly Cates, whose bloodline had been Texan all the way back, took to the intercom and summarized the tale for Aurora's passengers.
A warrant officer helicopter pilot of the Texas National Guard, Chapman and like-minded Constitutional loyalists had stolen and armed a Cobra gunship, which he then used to destroy two companies of Federal armor ordered to suppress rebellion in San Antonio. These were the same Federal tanks and accompanying infantry responsible for the Rape of Pennsylvania, the Burning of Des Moines, and the Wichita Massacre. Chapman, flying alone and without a proper gunner, still single-handedly wiped out the Federal force, buying time for over eight thousand refugees to escape, before being shot down by a pair of Federal F-16s... one of which he managed to bring down with the Cobra's gun in his last moments.
Among the refugees were the ancestors of Aaron Johnson and Miles Finch, heroes of the Texas Resistance and the first President and Vice President of the Fourth Republic of Texas. Chapman, when his story was uncovered after the Escape, was posthumously awarded the Jeffersonian Republic's Legion of Honor, the same award Solomon Danner had received for the Battles of Mark's World and RAS1441.
Lii had already been blessed with natural resources and only the stupid went hungry in the Confederation. When Jeffersonian agricultural techniques arrived, coupled with cheap energy and reliable aerospace transport, Lii became Oskran's breadbasket, exporting cheap, quality food and other commodities worldwide and even offworld. When Contacted, Lii had not yet made the mistake of abandoning reality-based currency, and smoothly integrated with the Republic's use of silver, gold, platinum and rhodium. The rising economic tide was lifting all boats... at least in Lii.
The other nations on the meteor-scarred world had not been invited off it, and their command economies and fiat currencies were having great difficulty adjusting. They demanded a piece of the pie others had baked, and were refused. They protested about "equality" and "fairness" and "proportionality" and "monopolization" and Lii, and the Republic, ignored them. The Confederation was now a Member State of the largest and strongest nation in Known Space, and they had the highest ground. Everyone else could see that Lii could bring the Fire back, bombard everyone else on the planet whenever they chose, destroy any other military force or government power on their world at will. Everyone could see that they hadn't. Some, unhinged, seemed to be disappointed that their hate-filled fantasies of Lii and the Republic forcing their will on all of Oskran at the point of a kinetic weapon or energy beam were not coming true. Instead the Jeffersonians were evilly, treacherously, maliciously leaving them alone.
There was, everywhere but Lii, "unrest" for which that word was often far too mild. The "republic" of Nuce had used guillotine-like devices for centuries and over the last several years they had been getting a workout. Nuce was effectively in a civil war, with the regime lopping off any head suspected of disloyalty, resulting in the spread of the very thing they were trying to stop. The kingdom of Ganhol, a totalitarian theocracy, was busily burning any heretic who refused to deny the existence of any world or people other than Oskran and Alran, despite the light from orbiting starships being plainly visible to anyone who looked up. The People's Establishment of Lanos, the largest nation after Lii, was getting its North Korea on, with mass arrests, labor camps, famine, and cannibalism. There was evidence the last was being institutionalized. Ralph Vatelius, with an enthusiasm for pre-Escape entertainment, kept muttering about "soylent"-something and pondering aloud whether dropping another batch of rocks on the place would be such a bad thing, really.
Then Lanos, Nuce and Ganhol began seizing Lii ships at sea or in port, confiscating cargoes of grain, oil and the like and refusing to pay. Republic Marines, Mobile Infantry dropped from orbit, retook the ships easily enough, either sailing them back to Lii, or recovering the crew and destroying the ship, as Decatur had done with USS Philadelphia in the First Barbary War.
Naturally this changed Lii's relationship with the other nations of Oskran. All trade and travel to those three nations was stopped. The three totalitarian belligerents, though they had committed acts of war, were not much of a threat, too busy with their internal tyrannies to mount expeditions against Lii... which would be burned from orbit shortly after leaving port, and even the raving theocrats of Ganhol knew it. Technically Lii was at war, and technically that meant the Republic was too, but enough sanity remained on the other side to keep the shooting from starting. The other four nations on Oskran were loudly proclaiming neutrality and one, the Kingdom of Narloof, was making some attempts at reform, with an eye toward making themselves acceptable to the Republic and getting their own piece of the action without having to steal it.
But fleets and armies weren't the only weapons available. Refugees were swarming toward Lii and being ruthlessly turned back. The Second Holocaust of Terra, the Islamic expansion of the early 21st Century CE, was the cautionary tale. The swarms had to be stopped at the beginning, or Lii would be drowned in people who would strip it like locusts, leaving desert and rubble in their wake. Investigation proved that, like on Terra, three-quarters or more of the "refugees" were males of fighting age, not innocent women and children.
Rather than building a wall, Vincennes had been using her Class-6 Marsten guns to carve canyons along Lii's land borders, digging a moat around an entire country, earth and stone fused to glass, glowing hot for hours or days, then solidifying smooth, unclimbable, a hundred or more meters deep and wide. Any higher life form within several kilometers of the beams was killed by Marsten Effects, short-lived radiation from the faster-than-light particles causing instantly-fatal brain damage. Between natural rainfall and deliberate diversion using the same method, the Great Moat was also being filled with often-rushing water. Bridging attempts were knocked out with follow-up laser or kinetic shots - all of them provably within Lii's recognized boundaries, provably legitimate defensive actions against invasion.
The destroyers used their mass drivers or 9MW lasers at sea, turning back refugee ships and even sinking some. The Lii wet-navy joined in with conventional gunfire and submarine torpedoes, carefully aimed to cripple ships without immediately destroying them. The surface ships would recover survivors, put them on barges, and tow them back to where they came from.
Conditions on the barges were usually nightmarish, despite plentiful food, water and sanitary facilities being available. The "refugees", like their Islamic equivalents on Terra centuries before, apparently didn't want to behave in a civilized manner. Watching their behavior solidified the crews' resolve to not let any of them set foot in their country. The tow cables attached to the barges were electrified to keep them from crawling up to the towing vessels, and there were round-the-clock anti-boarder watches. When the barges were close enough to an appropriate coast, they were cut loose to drift ashore.
It was difficult duty, taking an emotional toll on the crews both at sea and in space. They knew they were killing hundreds, probably thousands of people who refused to heed the leaflet drops and loudspeaker overflights. They also knew that if they didn't fire, millions more in Lii, now their fellow Jeffersonians, would be enslaved, raped, and murdered in their own homes, just as had happened throughout Europe from the 2010s through the 2030s. That had eventually resulted in the United Nations committing the first of a series of genocides, bombarding the Muslim world from orbit. The crew of Vincennes were killing thousands so they wouldn't have to murder millions.
Speaking with Commander Steven Hartley, captain of Vincennes, Danner offered emotional support and reiterated historical necessity, then offered Aurora, a reserve warship no less legitimate than Vincennes, to take a turn in the firing rotation. Hartley nearly wept in gratitude.
The demand for Aurora's firepower was not constant, and after a few hours' work with her Class-10 Guns, presently the most powerful in the system, the Great Moat had jumped ahead of the migrations. Vincennes' crew gratefully resumed the duty, now blasting canyons in empty wilderness instead of mobs of people. This left Aurora's Family free to visit their old shipmates, Nalat Yonn and his niece, Nrii Tlam.
Continued in the next excerpt....