Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
Aurora, Part VI: Secrets

This page Copyright © 2016, Karl Leffler

Continued from the previous excerpt
“Still no luck with a purser?” Danner asked Linfarger.
“Pickings are slim, boy. Most such find a berth and stick to it. The few loose ones I've found today were loose for a reason.”
“The bosun then.”
“There've been several, but none quite fit for the lady.” Danner did not question the fixer's judgement; this is what he was paying Eric for, and he'd been doing it extremely well since before Danner escaped his desk. “Here's another now.”
“What's your name, spacer?” the Captain asked.
“Jack Epstein, Chief,” the candidate answered. “Haifa Station.” This was the older of two orbiting cities above New Israel. The later Edo Station was the first realization of the pre-Escape theory, the O'Neill Cylinder, but Haifa was of conventional construction, like Monticello Station, a stack of spinning wheels, separate but interconnected as the station expanded with new wheels added to the stack. Monticello Station had grown so many times in five Republic centuries, being recycled completely once already, there was rising talk of sealing the whole stack over and converting it to a Cylinder. There were similar plans for Haifa, but no urgency in either case.
Epstein was young and muscular, obviously used to physical labor, about 40 Republic years of age, and surprisingly short. His eyes had an energy and intelligence Danner instantly liked, while the rest of him had the look of the ancient Semitic stock which had first settled New Israel during the Escape, when the Republic calendar started.

Those first settlers had been nationalists and separatists, who had for their own ends given material aid to the Jeffersonian Founders. They had been repaid with Epsilon Indi IVb, the moon of a gas giant which the secret explorers had seeded in passing with Terraforming bugs years before the Declaration of Independence. About a Terran decade after the Escape, the near-socialist system the New Israelis had brought with them from Old Israel was on the verge of collapse. After several rapid changes of government, one interim coalition had successfully petitioned to become the Republic's third Member World. Over the following several decades, they'd repaid the massive Republic bailout with ships and weapons and soldiers and spacers with which to defend their new nation.
As the only Republic soil ever occupied by a foreign foe, New Israelis remained sensitive about independence and sovereignty. Following the War, they'd sent their planetary Triumvirate to the Republic's Pentamvirate, to demand the right to construct the New Israel Home Fleet. Councilor Schweitzer, forewarned, had hit them first, with a proposal to do just that with technical and financial support from the Republic, and to integrate the result with the regular Patrol; every time a NIHF ship rotated out for training or maneuvers with the rest of the Patrol, the Patrol would send an equivalent ship to take its place, battleship for battleship, cruiser for cruiser, so that New Israel would always be ringed in ships of war. The proposal had instantly defused what could have rapidly spun into a secession movement, and the arrangement had worked well ever since.

Haifa was a port city as well as home to Steeltown Aerospace. While the city of Steeltown itself was planetside, most of the company's operations were at Haifa. They were comparable to Constitution Shipyards, but dealt in smaller ships and support craft. Epsilon Automotive had factories both at Haifa and planetside, and the station was the third-busiest port in the Republic, after Monticello Station and High City.
“Dockworker?” Danner asked Epstein.
“For a few years, when I was young,” the young man answered. “It's been ships for the last decade though. My last berth was Kleine Heidi out of Helvetia.”
“I know that ship,” Linfarger put in. “About two megatons, all the latest systems. Usually an ore carrier when she's not tanking ice.” Epstein nodded. 'Ice' could mean not just H20 but any of a dozen useful gasses, collected from comets or dipping into a gas giant's atmosphere. 'Ice' could also mean atmosphere, to fill a new ship or habitat; Aurora would be getting her own shipment in time.
“Why'd you leave her?” Danner asked.
“Got bored. Same stuff, run after run, fill up here, Transit to the same four ports to unload, then the same thing all over again. She's a fine ship, clean and solid, and Cap'n Jolescu's a damn good woman, but I just couldn't take the sameness of it. Same reason I quit the docks, I wanted flavor.”
Danner again recalled his desk, but said, “That's a far bigger ship than you're looking at here, and far more modern. Aurora's cargomaster will have to find ways to secure freight of every description in compartments not meant for it.”
“'Last of the Adamants,' everyone's saying,” Epstein answered with a nod. “There was a note on the net about a lot of cubic being freed up by the new Drive, and the cargomaster would have a say in how it was arranged. So now comes my sales pitch, right Chief?” At Danner's nod, Epstein continued.
“I've been on both sides of the airlock,” he said, “and both ends of every container and handling rig there is. I know how to make the dockmen's work easier going both ways, and that saves time, and time is money – and word gets around, about a ship that's easy to service; dockmen have ways of showing their appreciation. I've shipped on everything from the big tankers like the Heidi to little free-traders barely bigger than a yacht. Most of my dockwork was at Haifa, but I've pitched in for eating-money on everything from dinky little dirtside Frontier ports to the really big spreads right here at H.C. I can make your cargo move smooth, and from what I see of your outfit so far-” he nodded in the direction of the rest of the crew- “I won't be bored. As for how to arrange that new cubic, like I said, I've been in every kind of ship there is, and I've done my time in the Patrol too, so I know how warships are built compared to real merchies. I was drawing sketches of how deck plans should be when I was still pushing a pallet-jack on Haifa. If you're offering me a blank slate, I can fill it up pretty.”
“What do you think, Eric?”
“Fine recommendations from his last four ships,” the crew-fixer said, having already consulted the net, “and better than fair from those before. His old boss at Haifa still misses him.”
“Okay, Jack,” Danner said with a handshake, “welcome aboard. Dig in to the buffet with the rest.”

As each berth had been filled, the spacers hoping for it dispersed, quickly snapped up by other fixers for other ships. Everybody won in such feeding frenzies, but now there was no one left, no candidates waiting for the purser's berth; as Linfarger had explained, good ones stuck with their ships, and bad ones knew better than to confront the Bear.
“We can do that ourselves,” Prrg said. “We have before.” Both he and Danner had held purser's berths on other ships, though they had no formal training for it. Computers did much of the work, but a purser was often the person responsible for setting a cargo's price at its port of sale, and for haggling the same when buying a load the crew hoped to profit from – even the most advanced AIs couldn't manage the subtleties of what something was worth to someone else. Prrg and Danner had managed, having both seen their share of good and bad pursers, but having an experienced being in the position would go a long way toward keeping Aurora “in the black,” in both meanings of the term.
Just as the crew were about to pack up and go to the ship, most for the first time, another spacer made his landing in Fixer Country, immediately setting out toward their table. It was a male Human of Japanese ancestry: a nikkei.

New Israel had two major subcultures, beyond all its inhabitants being Jeffersonians. First were the Jews who had sought a world of their own, yet brought with them the seeds of their own collapse: too much government. The statesmen who had negotiated the world's entry to the Republic were considered traitors by some, but planetary heroes by most. When the crisis peaked in 18JR, thousands had been starving. Now New Israel was one of the Central Worlds, with a population nearing half a billion and a standard of living often matched but never surpassed.
The largest and most lasting break between the Republic and Sol System did not occur on the day of Escape, 11 April 2009CE. In a very few years, something like normal relations had been restored, and the Republic used her rapidly-growing wealth and power to get more and more people out from under the ever-heavier yoke of Terran governments, baldly poaching the brightest and best for themselves, leaving the unproductive, overdependent dregs. One of the largest migrations had been Japanese, mostly Westernized youth but with enough old idealists and far-thinkers to preserve their culture. They'd started arriving on New Israel's second continent, Lesser Judea, in the mid 2030s CE, and hadn't stopped until the Europa Incident, on the Republic calendar's bicentennial in 2134CE, when all overt contact with Terra was cut off. Books had been written on why and how they came to settle mainly on New Israel instead of some other world and the reasons no longer mattered but to historians. For a time they had kept themselves apart, and there had been some tensions, but that was long past. Half the New Israel Home Fleet had been built by nikkei companies, named for ancient Japanese warships, but the crews, like the rest of the world's society, were long since integrated. Thus it was not even a matter for comment to see a nikkei on any other world, much less at High City.
But Danner had spent days with Jennifer Blain and had become sensitive to certain cues of Human behavior he had not previously noticed. This spacer, as he approached the table, had a touch of the same wounded animal about him, though few would have noticed. Exchanging glances with Linfarger, who had seen the same, the Captain looked up from his seat as the new man arrived.
He was of average height, about 1¾ meters; millennia of overpopulation and limited resources had been responsible for the short stature of the Japanese, and like the Eyani, once freed from such constraints they grew to their potential – in all senses of the term. He was very thin, but not weak or undernourished; just built wiry. He moved like an experienced spacer but not a born one; he had grown up planetside. Danner was the same, and had been spacing long enough to tell the difference, even in a mirror. He seemed to be several years younger than Danner, but it was hard to tell with that stock.
The nikkei of New Israel had, over centuries, disposed of several aspects of their original culture, particularly bowing – Jeffersonians never bowed, knelt, or otherwise debased themselves (except for religious reasons, and that was no one else's business). Other aspects of Japanese culture had returned, and grown; with a universal right to bear arms and a government that stayed out of the way, the wearing of swords had returned and spread widely. One unfamiliar with Jeffersonian society might think swords and starships made an odd mix, but there had been times they went well together, most famously in the Battle of Terra when Commodore, then Commander, Roland Fuentes repelled boarders while assuming command of the cruiser Tredegar.
Danner was no professional like Cates, but he knew personal weapons and saw that this nikkei carried a wakizashi built to the once-heretical Mitsuhira pattern: a synthetic hilt made hollow for tool storage, and probably a modern cermetal blade requiring a sheath lined with artificial diamond to contain its near-molecular cutting edge. Pre-War technology; even back then, ceramic-alloy had been common for a variety of armor or heat-shield uses, and industrial diamond could be found as other industries' waste. The sheath was lacquered in a deep red, with a family mon in silver inlay. Most of the design had been chiseled out, leaving only a silver ring marking its border.
The man reached the table and politely announced, “I am Daisuke Taniyama.” Another tradition the nikkei had let go was their last-name-first naming convention. He spoke fluent English, as all Jeffersonians were raised in, but had a faint accent from his native tongue, which was not prohibited. “I am seeking the Captain of IS Aurora, to apply for the position of Purser, if it has not yet been filled.”
“Just in time,” Danner said. “We were about to pack up and head to the ship.” He stopped and turned as he sensed Linfarger tensing beside him. The fixer had looked up the candidate's profile on the net as soon as he said his name – and found nothing. Then he remembered something he'd been sent that was definitely not on the net. “What is it, Eric?”
The big man locked eyes with Danner for a moment, then gestured for Taniyama to sit in the interview chair and raised the table's privacy screen, to the puzzlement of the rest of the crew, who were outside it.
“I commed Milowski,” Linfarger said without preamble, “and she wouldn't tell me any more than I can read on the net, except that you are the only reason she's still Captain of the Morning Flower.” On hearing the ship's name, and the Captain's, Danner began to understand. Eric continued, “She implied you're also the only reason she's still alive. Just to satisfy an old man's curiosity, is there anything you'd like to add?”
Taniyama's eyes widened – a little; while Danner brought an eyebrow to full cock and flicked his eyes between the two other men. After a moment the younger man, keeping his composure, answered, “With respect, sir, there is nothing more I can say on the matter.”
Linfarger turned to Danner. “You've heard of the case?” The Captain nodded slowly, staring at Taniyama. It had happened just months ago.
Morning Flower was a passenger liner. There had been reports of theft from passengers, fraudulent accounting, potential mutiny. Not from any harshness or incompetence of her Captain; it was later learned that for over a year, the ship had been deliberately infiltrated by a criminal gang of at least twenty, signing on as replacements for crew who had left the ship naturally, or in some cases had “accidents”. They'd planned to gas the passengers and loyal crew into submission, then hijack the ship and ransom the passengers. It wouldn't have worked for long; nearly all the passengers were Citizens, and nearly all Citizens, everywhere, were constantly armed, with military training of some kind. Among the 1,200 passengers had been no less than five Regular Marines like Cates, and two of them, including an Eyani, had earned the Ranger tab. Just one such, if not murdered at the outset, would likely have been enough to retake the ship.
Probably before the Patrol delivered the traditional response to hijackers or terrorists: retaking the ship with overwhelming force, or failing that, destroying it utterly, including all aboard. Jeffersonians did not pay ransom.
Public reports said one anonymous ship's officer had blown the whistle before blood had been spilled. Or more accurately, more blood, for rumors hinted that a man with a sword had slain one of the would-be hijackers moments before he would have signaled the gang to begin their takeover.
Eric jerked his head at Daisuke and said, “This is the man who kept a disaster from becoming a catastrophe. And according to a woman I know and trust, he's also a damn good purser.” Linfarger turned back to Taniyama. “I expect the name you've given is not your real one, though it's the one Milowski sent me. Your new Captain is Solomon Danner, the Man Who Saved Rockville, and an old, good friend of mine.” Eric turned back to Danner and added, “You two men can count on each other. If he wants to tell you the rest of the story someday, I'd love to hear it myself, but I'm not asking.”
Danner nodded solemnly and said, “Then neither will I.” He turned to Taniyama and extended his hand. “Eric the Bear's word is metal in the bank. The berth's yours.”
Not all the nikkei had given up the tradition of bowing, and as he took Danner's hand, Taniyama's nod was slow and deep.
Continued in the next excerpt....
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