Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2017, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part LXII: Asgard
Continued from the previous excerpt
8 Fifthmonth 561JR
Asgard, named for the home of the gods in Old Norse mythology, seemed a primitive world. Raw and deadly, its untamed wilderness hosted many predators, along with typhoons and blizzards depending on latitude, poisonous plants, and at least one species of plant-animal-thing whose tentacles could drag a Human screaming into a sac of digestive fluid. Its population was less than ten million, mostly Human, about eight percent Eyani. Its "cities" were small, its architecture apparently pre-industrial. Even their flag was simple, a stylized Mjolnir, Thor's hammer, in gold on a field of red.
Yet there was science and technology here. Flaming torches were in fact holograms and electric heaters, their power gathered from the sun by day and stored in what the Prophet Heinlein would have called a Shipstone battery for night. The wooden walls and thatched roofs of their buildings concealed modern polymers and alloys, with every modern comfort within. They built their own starships in their own orbiting shipyards, their computers were as powerful as any in Known Space, their medical sciences actually more advanced than the Republic's in a few ways, especially in genetics. Holly Cates had been genetically engineered for a career as a Jeffersonian Marine. The doctor her parents had chosen had studied on Asgard.
While Gungnir went to a shipyard elsewhere for her refit, Aurora was directed to a 650km orbit, where she docked with Bifrost Station, the largest in the system and functionally the capitol city of the Viking nation. Completed a few decades ago, it was a Balloon World, a melted and inflated asteroid, six kilometers across and with a population of eight thousand on its inner, spin-weight surface. It was the most crowded community in the Asgardian nation, but could have held many more. Even moreso than Jeffersonians, they liked their elbow room. That was why the second-and-later sons of the Linfarger clan had left Necessity some two centuries ago, a generation after the Republic-Empire War.
Like historical Vikings, Asgardians were explorers, though they had foresworn the slaughter and rapine of their predecessors. They sought unclaimed worlds to conquer, and saved their bloodlust for the kind of villains Vikings used to be. Each end of Bifrost Station had a star of docking pylons, capable of hosting thirty starships, and three positions away from Aurora, a cargoliner was being fitted as a colony ship, for a journey to a newly-claimed world further out. Solomon Danner pitied any raider who tried to prey on them. The "cargoliner" was armed like a heavy cruiser and carried four fighter-bombers, to say nothing of its passengers, who began training against sparring robots, armed and unarmed, as soon as they could understand instruction. Six-year-olds carried knives, if their parents thought them worthy. Twelve-year-olds were expected to carry modern pistols along with the traditional Viking axes they had forged themselves.
These latter-day Vikings seemed genetically diverse, descended from Europeans, Slavs, Asians, Africans. Some were first-generation, new immigrants hoping they were strong enough to live the Viking life, recruits from rescued slaves, and the like. If they survived, their genes were welcomed to the Asgardian pool, having been proven worthy. Subsequent generations were designed to various degrees, and were as close to flawless as science could make them.
There were no weak, ugly, or fat people born on Asgard. Some people, on some worlds, questioned the morality of parents designing their children with certain cosmetic traits - indeed, some children were built as though selecting options from a menu, and most were brought to term in artificial wombs. Asgardians ignored the social-justice vermin, and if they did not shut up and go away, duelled them until they did. The unapologetic nature of Asgardian life appealed to many, but few were strong enough for it. There was a long waiting list for immigration, and strict requirements for citizenship.
There were about three-quarter million Eyani here, from all Tribes and Mixed as well. Some Eyani believed that Hr'Gen, the great warrior-priest of legend, was the same as Odin All-Father, taking different forms as he chose. The ancient myths and warrior traditions of Eyan meshed well with those of old Scandinavia. Human and Eyani clans adopted each other in, here, even to inheritance rights. There were few closer bonds than between beings who had fought and bled together.
Eyani traditional weapons were as varied as Human, including crossbows, Zulu-style short-spears, the Jeffersonian midsword, and some unique to Eyani history, like their battle-claws. Eyani had claws of their own, but they sometimes wanted enhancement. Before the Jeffersonians freed them from the Terran Empire and set them loose among the stars, where mortal minds had difficulty imagining running out of resources, Eyan had been a metal-poor world. Therefore the steel battle-claws had been rare and reserved to leaders or the very wealthy. Now, they could be mass-produced.
They were essentially armored gauntlets with one to four long blades on the back, used for both slashing and thrusting. The old methods of their use had survived for millennia and in recent centuries had been formalized and expanded. Claw-fighting was now one of the leading Eyani martial arts, including four-handed techniques for six-limbed Eyani physiology. Modern claws were of modern materials, stronger and sharper and resistant to corrosion, and retractable along forearms for convenience. Some Asgardian Eyani wore them constantly, as a Human would put on pants or a wrist 'puter in the morning. Others carried them sheathed on their Harnesses. Danner, a weapons amateur, and Cates, a weapons professional, viewed the many variations with interest. Sarah Heusner, the Human-raised Eyani member of their Family, knew she was weak in fighting skills, and bought some training software for Aurora's sparring robots, along with a set of four two-bladed claws.
Another Viking battlecruiser, Sleipnir, named for Odin's eight-legged horse, arrived the day after Aurora and Gungnir. This one, though usually under the command of another, had carried King Lars of Gokstad, monarch of Asgard, on a villain-hunting voyage.
The King had to prove his worth as leader and warrior, and craved his own admission to Valhalla, so occasionally he made such voyages himself. His queen, Gilda, who had remained behind to fill the throne, welcomed him at the dock, and they crushed each other in a lustful hug that brought cheers from spectators. Now both would stay for a local year, and then it would be the Queen's turn to go abroad and ensure her own place in Odin's feast hall. After a respectful moment their children, Crown Prince Eric and his twin sister Princess Hilda, ran in to join their parents' embrace.
It bore repeating that there were no ugly people born in the nation of Asgard. Lars and Gilda could have been brother and sister (they weren't, that sort of thing was looked for when designing children), each nearly two meters tall, he with long golden hair and beard and eyes of deep blue, she with a silken cascade of flaming copper and eyes as green as a summer meadow. Both were beautiful by any Human standard. Their skin was as fair as any found in Old Norway, though their ancestry could be traced through the Linfarger clan to slaves, sold by some other African tribe to Dutch traders, and then to British plantations in the Caribbean. From each separately, Aurora's Family had learned that the other two captains they had met, Lorraine Harroldsdottir and Abel Bjornsson, were cousins to the royal line, despite their very different appearances.
Aurora's cargo of crel from Oskran and seafood from Gambori had sold profitably, as Abel Bjornsson had promised. Finding an outgoing cargo was proving more difficult. Asgard had few exports beyond warriors, and imported only luxuries. Everything else, the world and the star system could provide for itself.
There was a tourism industry, but it was almost an afterthought, and not very significant to Asgard's economy, which depended on mercenary contracts and battle-loot instead. As on Alpine and some other worlds, tourism here was built around hunting. Arctic and woodland beasts rivalled the ky-orak, while in the tropical regions were sauroids to match any serpent or dragon of Germanic legend. Trophies would quickly overflow the Family's living spaces, so images and recordings and smaller items served. Hides, horns, and surplus meat were saleable, on one world or another. Each of the Family harvested something respectable. Daisuke, perhaps taking out some years-long frustrations, duelled a six-meter-long, ten-legged land-serpent, beheading it cleanly with one stroke of his katana as he sidestepped its snapping jaws. The scaled hide sold for a good price, for craftsmen to make body armor, while the meat went into Aurora's cryopantry.
Sarah Heusner took a few lessons at a local fighting school, learning to use her battle-claws. An accomplished pistoleer, she had thought to trade some of that knowledge in return, but quickly discovered that Asgardians, Human and Eyani both, were more than her equal in all combatives. Some could have made careers on the Republic's Combat Pistol Championship circuit. It wasn't clear whether they would have made more money there than from hunting pirates and taking prizes - but it was clear that playing games against robots would not earn them places in Valhalla. Still, she was appreciated for her skill as a navigator and pilot, and her low-weight and freefall dances were popular among Asgardian Eyani.
Prrg found himself at a higher level than Sarah. There were an increasing number of Nikar among the pirates of Known Space, and a few of them knew the tail-fighting methods the Barony of Cargg taught. Prrg demonstrated them for the Asgardians, and helped them develop counters. There was the beginning of a Nikar community here as well - Tyggl was viewed by some as yet another form taken by Odin. There were only a couple hundred so far, but Prrg talked with and recorded some instruction videos for them.
Holly Cates, famous now as a member of Aurora's crew, was tracked down by the Asgardian Genetics Institute, and interviewed by the woman who trained the doctor who designed her. Professor-Doctor Elaine Jonnsdottir was nearly a hundred forty Terran years old - proof of her field of study. She looked, and carried herself, like considerably less than half her age. Her hair was mostly white but still had a slight golden tint, and her sharp gray eyes were clear, bright, and lively. The interview went on for nearly two hours, with questions and tests about Holly's health, fitness, endurance, intellect, performance in battle. The former Sergeant Major was paid a metric ounce gold for her time, and another for a DNA sample. Ralph Vatelius, the doctor who had made the breakthrough for Glaut regeneration, and his wife Delilah Howell, were invited too, swapping many a note with the Institute.
Solomon Danner had killed armed men face-to-face, but was not an infantry soldier or ground-warrior in the Asgardian way. Instead he was known as a ship-fighter. Asgardians recognized wits as weapons, and valued audacity. It was hard to find an example of naval combat more audacious than the Battle of RAS1441. Most naval historians had to go all the way back to Taffy 3 off Samar. Wanting that audacity and courage in their children, three different Asgardian women, each very beautiful in different ways, asked him to impregnate them, with varying degrees of bluntness. Forewarned by Abel, he used the correct words to politely decline.
Several days after their arrival, Danner was summoned by King Lars.
On his own world, as monarch, the King had the power to compel, but rarely used it. Lars ruled with a light hand, following generations of tradition begun by the Linfarger clan's second sons- who had been born and raised under the Jeffersonian Star and Bars. The message was in the form of a dinner invitation, and included as many of Aurora's crew as wanted to attend. None had a reason not to.
The King had several dining halls, for different occasions and audiences. This one was smaller and quieter. Aurora, projecting a 1:100 scale model of herself as usual, attended with her whole Family. The twin royal children, about ten Terran years old, were also present. Danner was struck by their mature behavior and evident intellect, and was reminded that they were designed. Both were red-blonde, with bluish-green eyes, and already taller than unenhanced Terrans would have been. Like their parents, each wore only a dagger on a simple leather belt, and their white clothes appeared to be of silk. Just because the Asgardians valued strength, didn't mean they would forego comfort and pleasure.
The meal was as satisfying as Asgardian cuisine always was, and less boisterous than usual. Robots served the diners, pouring sparkling mead and refilling plates. The royals and the Auroras swapped their tales. Eric asked intelligent questions about Danner's tactics, also addressing Aurora directly as a person. The boy seemed to be the thinker of the pair, steering toward a naval career, while Hilda looked on Holly Cates with a bit of heroine worship, asking about the boarding actions at RAS1441. She would be the close-in fighter. As the meal came to an end and robots cleared things away, the talk turned to current events.
"Most people," the King began, "most rulers or leaders of nations, would consider an increase in piracy to be a cause for alarm." He smiled thinly.
"Asgardians," Danner observed, "view it as an opportunity."
"Just so," the King nodded. "We latter-day Vikings exist to destroy what our predecessors were. Our interpretation of the will of Odin is that we should hunt, fight, slay- but only those worthy of death for their crimes. We are not so much defenders of innocents, as removers of predators."
Solomon responded, "Jeffersonians do not go abroad in search of monsters to slay. We'd just as soon leave alone as be left alone. But when monsters do exist we've no objection to their being dispatched, by other's hands or our own." No one who spent a minute looking him up on the Net would accuse Solomon Danner of cowardice, or of lacking the will to do necessary things.
Gesturing at his wrist 'puter, the King called up an image of the stylized red rose. Switching to the royal plural, he said, "Among Our prey, We've been seeing this more often. We have heard it called the Blood Rose."
With a wave of his hand, Lars brought forth a starmap over the dining table, with smaller displays at each seat. "Our intelligence service suspects that somewhere, probably far to Galactic West, is an organization of size and power to be considered a nation. Our analysts further suspect that this organization is biding its time, gathering resources, training, establishing discipline within itself.
"This symbol has appeared on the weapons or clothing of individuals suspected to be members of this organization. Perhaps they are advisors, training smaller groups who hope to join the larger. Perhaps they are outcasts, escaped or dismissed from service to the Blood Rose. We do not know, for no one bearing this mark has been taken alive.
"We are told you have encountered this enemy yourselves. We would be grateful for any further information you can share."
The King would have heard from his cousins, the Viking captains Harroldsdottir and Bjornsson, that Daisuke's parents had been murdered by one who claimed the mark of the Blood Rose. Solomon waited a moment for Daisuke to speak if he chose. The Captain didn't look at his Purser and gave no indication that he might know more.
As Danner was about to speak, Daisuke said, "King Lars." Jeffersonians did not use words like 'Your Majesty', but recognized social ranks. There was no doubt, in this vigorous culture, that Lars had earned his place and was worthy of keeping it. "What I am about to say must be held in strict confidence." The King nodded and told the house AI to stop all recording. Daisuke continued, "Aurora, please show us a summary of the Nakayama murders." The sentient ship projected a 'pedia article, which the royals read quickly, before turning their eyes back to Daisuke.
"My name was Takeo Nakayama. My brother, Kazuo, murdered my parents and framed me for the crime. I fled, changing my name and appearance. Years later I joined Aurora's Family.
"Years after that, I heard that my brother had likewise fled and hidden himself, and that he had chosen the design of the... Blood Rose, for his own, to redecorate the sword he stole from our murdered parents." Daisuke lifted his sheathed wakizashi. "The mate of this. Aurora, please display the portrait Motoyama-san provided." The ship did so, along with the original sketch of the Blood Rose. "This was my brother's last known face. It was last seen some eighteen of your years ago, in a weapon shop in Old Nippon on Terra. I have no idea if he still wears it, what name he uses, or where he is now. If I had, I would go there to kill him."
The King stared at the drawing of Kazuo Nakayama, then turned back to the man known as Daisuke. "We thank you for this. We can imagine what it costs you to reveal such a thing to someone outside your Family. You may rely on Our discretion." The King cast a significant glance at his children, who nodded gravely. He then waved his fingers and caused a hardcopy of the portrait to appear at his place at the table. "Aurora, you may close your files. House, resume recording. Send this image to the intelligence bureau. It is from an anonymous source, and is believed to be a portrait of the founder or leader of the Blood Rose, last seen on Terra approximately eighteen years ago. No further information is available at this time."
Continued in the next excerpt....