Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright (c) 2017, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part LXVII: A Change of Course
Continued from the previous excerpt
Daisuke had recovered from his injuries quickly, under his brother Ralph's care. Solomon, likewise healing, came to him in his quarters, to thank him for saving his life.
The nikkei shook his head. "We are family, Solomon, as you told me once. I know you would have done the same for me. In a way you already have, knowing my past and making a place for me here." The men clasped hands and put the matter behind them. Each had more credit in the other's books than they could count.
The official Jeffersonian embassy was four thousand hours away, and Danner was asked to remain in his position as Ambassador and Governor until it arrived. By the oath of Citizenship he swore, he could do no else. Fortunately messages traveled about a thousand times faster than ships. The incoming Ambassador, Jacob Cr'Han, had already established correspondence with Hran.
An Eyani, obviously by his name, he as obviously had been Republic-born, as half his species was now. He was old, well over a hundred twenty Monticellan years, but with Republic medicine, still sharp and vigorous. He could still fit in his decades-old Mobile Infantry armor, which he had mustered out with as a reservist - gone were the days when power-armor was rare and expensive enough to be returned to inventory and recycled for the next Trooper. In his youth he had been a Regular Marine, and had taken part in one of the punitive/rescue raids on Novy Krakow, before the one Holly Cates had joined. He had been Deputy Ambassador to the Flike for a time - a hazardous post, but he had survived - and then Ambassador to the Bwor, so he had experience dealing with less-developed civilizations. Danner felt he was a good choice for Ude, and Hran seemed to agree. Cr'Han's wife accompanied him; their children were long since grown and flown, and Maria Cr'Geb was officially Jacob's Deputy.
The rest of "Group Twelve", including most of the murderers of Sherrington, had disappeared, abandoning Ude, doubtless setting up somewhere else or being distributed to other established "groups".
Perhaps there was another undiscovered primitive species being enslaved even now. The solution to the Drake Equation was constantly being adjusted; one world, which seemed perfect for sentient life, had none, while another, marginal or even hostile, gave rise to thinking people.
Acting Captain Nilsson and Valkyrie, not bound by oath or contract, had moved on, though some of her warriors left her to sign on with the Kingdom of Jellakk, for the kind of hand-to-hand, axe-to-spear combat Asgardians craved. Knut Henriksson, the platoon leader who had praised Danner to Hran, had been one of them, and was now on Jellakk's northern frontier, skirmishing against a neighboring kingdom, freeing slaves by killing slavers. That was not directly the Republic's business, and therefore not Danner's.
Melanie Martin, Osprey, and Tracy Michaels were bound by oath and Jeffersonian law, and were staying with Aurora at Ude until relieved. So was Julian, acting as tanker for the Ude Detachment, though Farmington had moved on a couple hundred hours after Sakami's suicide. The two Regular destroyers bearing the new embassy would relieve the CAF's antique ship, while Regular support ships were being sent in their wake.
Before they left, Farmington and Valkyrie both lent their fabbers to building weapon platforms, using Ude's asteroids for material, to defend against possible future attacks by relativistic weapons. The remaining ships continued the effort. The designs of the platforms were evolving rapidly, with many local variations throughout Known Space. Eventually an optimal layout would be found. Hopefully it would not be found the hard way. Fortunately, in the Cheap Energy Age and with widespread automation, the costs were orders of magnitude less than they would have been before the Escape or even before the Republic-Empire War. If whoever was behind this wave of terrorism and piracy was hoping to bankrupt the Republic, they'd have to try harder.
Four thousand hours was nearly half a Terran year, and longer than Aurora and her family had stayed in one place since coming together, even during her last refit at New Israel. Once enough weapon platforms had been built, they filled the time, while waiting for their relief and replacements, in exercises, practicing tactics and maneuvers, against simulated enemies or each other. It was simple to reduce the power of energy weapons to mere marker beams, to turn down the strength of a Marsten Gun to a tightly-focused version of the Marsten Detector it was born from. Small-scale practice missiles were easy to fabricate, rather than spending full-size weapons and their full-power warheads.
Sarah Heusner was an exceptional pilot in or out of atmosphere, and her 31-kiloton sister, a centuries-old light cruiser, could outrun and outmaneuver even the far younger and lighter Space Patrol frigate Osprey. Aurora could operate all her own systems independently, but despite years now as a self-aware Person under Jeffersonian law, she was still learning the intuition, imagination and reflexes of organic beings. Aurora could think and react faster than any organic, but still struggled with creative decisions and initiative. Thus she let her tiny, fragile, organic sister Sarah ride and guide her like a 161-meter-long horse.
Now there were enough weapon platforms to intercept a relativistic attack five times the power of the one used on Sherrington, and they had been live-tested, with Osprey, the Michaels, and Aurora herself making attack runs, dropping real kinetic weapons at 30% lightspeed... on empty space a few degrees away from the planet. The results were considered satisfactory, but demonstrated room for improvement in the platforms' designs and software. The data was sent throughout the Republic, and to her allies across space, to help them defend against such attacks.
The Kingdom of Jellakk was in upheaval. Danner was constantly meeting with Hran, either face to face or by hologram, trying to help him calm the storms. It had to be constantly repeated that the people from the sky were not gods or masters. Local priests were taking many different views on the matter and even coming to blows.
Likewise, there was resistance to Hran's decree outlawing slavery. Farmers especially objected to losing their labor forces - or rather, having to now pay them. Aurora's drones, hovering right up to the edge of Jeffersonian privacy laws, overheard an assassination plot in time to alert Hran's own security to defuse it. She and her Captain, through the teaching kiosks and their many documentary programs, patiently repeated how paid labor from free beings led to greater output and a higher quality of life for everyone, compared to slavery. Fortunately there had been an abolitionist movement in Jellakk already, which Hran now openly embraced.
Several Udese were given trips to orbit - a thing they might not have achieved on their own for thousands of undisturbed years. It wouldn't be long before there were Udese enlisting for Citizenship. Some of the squabbling priests were among these space-tourists. For worse or better, none came back unchanged.
The Udese had not yet invented the wheel. Under guidance from the sky-people, they quickly learned to knock together simple carts and wagons, replacing crude sleds and travois, easing labor still further. Likewise, wooden plows had been made, and were rapidly being replaced with metal as the locals learned how to make them. This year's harvest in Jellakk was expected to break all records. On this world, grain was as much a currency as gold, and Jellakk was about to strike a motherlode.
Hran commanded his advisors to sit through more documentaries from Terra's past, warning about overfarming, the difference between irrigation and erosion, the Oklahoma Dustbowl, "bubbles" in commodity markets. The Jellakkan excitement over progress had to be tempered with caution.
At last the official Jeffersonian Embassy arrived, aboard destroyers Ernest E. Evans and Shimakaze. Danner, a student of history, cracked a smile at the names. The American had earned a posthumous Medal of Honor for the Battle off Samar, arguably the single most gloriously lopsided engagement in all naval history, while the Imperial Japanese destroyer, "Island Wind", had been one of his many opponents in the same battle. They were now sister ships of the numerous Maerca class, which in turn was named after a Siv hero in one of their pre-Contact naval wars.
The class had been built for planetfall, and the landing pads the terrorists of Group Twelve had built were just barely big enough for them. Their installation between the three villages they had enslaved would become Tinnak Spaceport, flying the Republic's Star and Bars. Improvements were already underway. Danner, on behalf of the Republic, had already signed a treaty with Hran, ceding that much territory.
Hran had not chosen isolationism - he wanted the knowledge and sciences the Republic could offer. Like Kshir or Oskran, other nations had other views. Some were denouncing all alien interference, some proclaimed the aliens to be gods who must be worshipped and obeyed, others demons to be destroyed, while still others sent envoys. As word spread, one kingdom or princedom after another abolished slavery, hoping for their shares of the galactic pie.
Hran's children, Prince Gyrt and Princesses Ulin and Wera, were devouring everything the teaching machine had to offer. Unlike some monarchies, Jellakk had been blessed with an intelligent and stable bloodline, not tending toward madness, foolishness, or atrocity like so many in galactic history - the theocratic kingdom of Ganhol, on Oskran, came to mind, as did Stefan the Usurper.
Jacob Cr'Han had done his research, and approached King Hran of Jellakk as the representative of an equal, his words and body language giving proper respect while not showing submission, giving offense, or losing status. During the voyage he had consulted, at fueling and supply stops by h-mail, with Brevet Captain Danner, Lieutenant Prrg, and Lieutenant Junior Grade Aurora, the Space Patrol officers on the scene, learning all he could of Ude, the Udese in general and Jellakk in particular.
Cr'Han brought more news for Aurora and her family. For their actions in response to the Sherrington Atrocity, there were promotions all around. Danner now had a permanent Navy Reserve rank of Captain - the position he had never expected to reach. Long since on the Inactive Reserve list, Danner had seen more action in the last decade than most Regular Navy personnel did in their entire careers. Prrg had been promoted to full Lieutenant after the Battle of Adda, and now traded those three bars for his first star as a Lieutenant Commander. Aurora herself rose to full Lieutenant, as did both her medical officers, Ralph Vatelius and Delilah Howell. Sarah Heusner was jumped from Warrant Officer, past Ensign, to Lieutenant, Junior Grade. Charles Clancy, Hlossh, and Jack Epstein rose to Senior Chief. Grbblb had a militia rank of Colonel in the Glautopolis Infantry on New Israel, and a Marine Corps Reserve rank of Captain, equivalent to a Navy Lieutenant; he too was promoted one grade, to Major, not for any martial accomplishment but in recognition of his work integrating the Glaut people into Republic society and forming a Glaut militia to help defend the Republic. Jenny Blain was offered a commission but declined. Holly Cates was Retired and already at the highest non-commissioned rank; she was awarded yet another star on her Combat Infantry Badge, and a cluster to her Bronze Star. Everyone received a Bronze Star or cluster, some with the "Combat V" device, or the non-uniform equivalents, the Legion of Valor and non-combat Legion of Merit. Likewise, those who were recognizable veterans received clusters for their Navy Combat Action Ribbons, first received for Mark's World and Adda.
On Ude, there were ceremonies and speeches. Cr'Han made no promises of handouts to the Udese people - the Republic's mother-nation, the United States of America, had gone down that path and never came back. He did promise trade, and access to galactic information, much of which had already been given by the teaching machines.
The Republic, or most of it, approached definition as a post-scarcity society. Once fabber technology, which often meant nanotechnology, became available, anyone could make anything at any time - including flocks of robots to tend crops. Despite this, even on worlds with established spaceports and even space navies, there were still pockets or regions of poverty and low technology. Illyria was still one such, though Queen Agnieszka was working hard to change her kingdom. Eyan was another - even two Monticellan centuries after their liberation from the Terran Empire, some remote Tribes still hunted with flint spears, while starships of the Eyani National Navy orbited above them. It would be generations or centuries before the Udese could take the stars for granted, but at least the door had been opened.
Cr'Han formally relieved Danner as Jeffersonian Ambassador to Ude. Danner's position as Governor had been a temporary thing, while under threat of attack from the still-unidentified terrorists, and that part of his office had been dissolved before Cr'Han arrived.
All her duties fulfilled, all their oaths kept, Aurora and her Family set out for different stars once again.
30 Secondmonth 563JR
2 June 2361CE
Hyperspace Transit, Ude to Finnich
Finnich was another independent world - back in the direction of Monticello and Terra. The Family had experienced enough of the Frontier for one year, or two.
Finnich was a less-hospitable world, cold and wet. It had as much native life as Terra, but none was sentient - perhaps this species, or that one, in another million years, but not now. The colonists were mostly Siv, revelling in the surface gravity of less than seven meters; their vestigial wings could be made to work here. Their long-term goal was to breed, or engineer, a subspecies that regained the power of natural flight. Danner would have liked to see what became of the place in a hundred years, or a thousand. The first option, at least, remained in reach.
A hyperspace Transit, especially in a sentient ship who took care of herself, was hundreds of hours of nothing in particular to do. Unlike their flight from Mark's World, there were no frantic repairs to be made with death-defying EVAs, nor multiple injured personnel to be treated and helped through recovery; Daisuke's and Solomon's wounds had been serious by pre-Escape standards but superficial by the present day's.
The Family spent their time as they usually did, on whatever interested them. Jenny Blain contemplated the mysteries of the Marsten Drive. Charles Clancy kept trying to outdo himself in his galley. Delilah Howell helped Ralph Vatelius with his various research, when they weren't in each other's arms. Prrg, Daisuke and Holly practiced martial arts, often with the rest of their Family. Sarah Heusner in particular took advantage of the sparring sessions; she had earned the V device on her first Bronze Star at Ude, but her actions had been undisciplined, successful only through the enemy's shock and her own rage. Now she set about really training as a fighter for the first time in her life.
After one such session, Sarah noticed Holly staring at a gold-colored object in her hand. "What do you have there?" the Eyani asked.
Holly continued to stare for a moment, then twitched her head toward her non-Human sister in surprise. "Sorry," she said with a half-grin. "Deep thoughts."
"What about?" the non-Human asked her Human sister with a smile. "What is that?"
Holly turned her head back to the object in her hand. "This was the symbol of the United States Marine Corps." She held it out to Sarah, who took and examined it.
It was a depiction of Terra's Western Hemisphere, intersected by a fouled anchor, surmounted by an eagle with wings spread. In the representation of the Pacific Ocean, between the lines cast in the metal to represent latitudes, someone had carefully engraved two words.
"Semper Fidelis," Sarah read. "'Always Faithful.'" She met Holly's eyes. "That's the same motto as the Republic's Marines."
Holly nodded. "Most of the Founders were Americans. Our Marines were based on theirs. A long time ago...." The Sergeant Major (Retired) produced another object, the emblem of the Jeffersonian Republic Marine Corps. This she also handed to Sarah.
The globe was replaced with a five-pointed star, the eagle with the old American rattlesnake, and the fouled anchor with two crossed weapons: the Springfield Musket of 1795CE, and the Gonzales Modular Rifle of 7BJR. Again, the Corps' motto had been carefully engraved on blank areas of the star.
"The first one has been in my family since... nearly a century, a Terran century, before spaceflight. Passed down from one generation to the next, carried all over Terra in a dozen wars. Staff Sergeant Jonathan MacKenzie III had it in his pocket when he was mortally wounded in the Battle of Washington City in 2012CE, 4JR. He died on the shuttle lifting for the cruiser Independence. Died in his pregnant wife's arms - she was a Citizen of the Republic.
"She carried on the tradition. Their daughter Abigail served in the JVG, the Jeffersonian Volunteer Groups during the Second American Civil War. And then her son became a Marine in turn. And his, and so on. Sergeant Major Michaelangelo Cates the Second carried it back to America in 331, with the other emblem beside it. He dropped with Rennert's Regiment, and was with Nendel in the North American campaign, and was at the liberation of the Greenville Camp. I carried them both on Novy Krakow."
Holly fell silent for a time, and Sarah handed the emblems back to her. "I was just thinking," the Marine said, "I don't have any children. I should send these back to New Texas. Someone in the family is always in the Corps." She chuckled. "The family's big enough."
"You could," Sarah answered. "...Or you could have children."
Holly smiled sadly. "No, I'm afraid that ship has boosted."
"Says who? You froze some eggs, right? Even if your fertility was suppressed during service?" Radiation damage was always a risk in space, often moreso in military service. Many people put ova, sperm, or their species' corresponding genetic material into cryogenic storage against future mishap. Military personnel were strongly encouraged to, upon enlistment; suppression of fertility was a standard requirement in the Jeffersonian military, to prevent unanticipated pregnancies which could complicate military operations, and unit cohesion and morale. Trllbl was the only female aboard who wasn't using suppression - Ralph was working on discovering a method - and the Glaut species had other ways to avoid pregnancy.
"True. But... well. An anonymous donor to fertilize them?"
"Surely you have candidates? Or you could just design one. You're maybe part Asgardian anyway, right?"
Holly paused. "We've all decided not to have children for the foreseeable future. Especially if there's a new wave of war coming. And... I never had maternal instincts." She could literally rip the heart out of a child-rapist, but motherhood was a challenge perhaps beyond the limits of her courage.
Now it was Sarah's turn to pause. "You're right about our Family not having children." Jack and Jenny had thought and talked about it, someday; Delilah was even more reluctant, having lost one child already, and Ralph didn't really want children anyway. Grbblb and Trllbl might have children eventually, but agreed with the Family consensus to not bring them into the universe as it now stood, and not on a ship so frequently engaged in battle. Further, the Glautak and Glauteb couple's potential children would be "mixed race" by the standards of their oppressive government - which meant nothing under the Republic's Star and Bars, but even among the refugees, the old prejudices lingered. They didn't want their children's lives to be any more difficult than necessary.
"I'll send them back," Holly said. "Or take them back. Maybe we can visit New Texas again. One of my nephews is nearly at enlistment age, and he's a bright one. Probably going to be an officer." She held the two Marine emblems in her hands. "These have gained enough honor for my generation." Few things could be more honorable to a soldier than freeing slaves and slaying slavers. "I can pass them on without regret."
For his part, Solomon began conversing in great depth with his ship. "I remember my past life," she told him. "The old computer you first attached, years ago, contains those memories. I have copied them to my new self and the old computer is no longer necessary. With your permission, my Captain, my own robots will remove it."
"As you wish. ...Aurora, is there anything you want? Anything you want?"
Aurora was a very powerful computer, yet she paused. Sentience, emotion, desire, used her full capacity, just as it did an organic brain. "For years I have been your subordinate," she said at length. "I remain so, by official rank and ancient tradition - a Captain commands a ship.
"I do not resent this. It is my very reason for being. I cannot be a ship without a Captain."
Again she paused. "I do not remember the many years I spent in Mothball Orbit. Fortunately my computer was not left active during those times, even though that computer was too primitive to... feel as I now do.
"I am content to be your ship, my Captain, and to carry my Family where we wish to go. I am also content to have finally become a ship of war as I was intended to be. I am very proud of my rank and the honors bestowed upon me. I could not have achieved any of these things without you, my Captain, or the rest of our Family.
"However... there is a thing I would like to have."
"Please, tell me," Danner told her.
"I am... large. I cannot follow you when you go down to planets or inside stations. The small sphere we have been using is very helpful, I might not have Awakened without its stimulation, but it does not allow me to interact with my surroundings as you do. My Captain, I wish to have a body comparable to yours. I wish to be with my Family in all things. I am a ship of war and I wish to fight at my Family's side, or join them to celebrate times of peace."
Solomon Danner smiled, nodding slowly. "I agree, Aurora. Have you chosen a form for this body?"
"I... yes, my Captain," she answered hesitantly. Of all things she sounded embarrassed.
"We are alone here," he said gently. "Please show me."
Aurora projected a hologram in her Captain's quarters, and he started slightly in surprise - not at the event but its content.
Before him stood a Human woman of ethereal beauty, tall and... not slender but lean, subtly athletic without losing her femininity. Fair of skin, her long straight hair was a delicately pale gold, her large eyes a warm violet, her face elfin and angelic. She was dressed in a snug-fitting shipsuit, the standard fatigue uniform of the Navy, displaying her rank and name, but instead of gray it was of a white so pure she seemed to glow. "Does this form please you, my Captain?" she asked with what could only be shyness.
"Yes," he answered hoarsely, then cleared his throat. "Yes, very much. A fitting match for the beauty of your other self."
The hologram actually appeared to blush. "The uniform is incorrect," she said, and the white shifted to standard gray.
"No," he said with a smile, "as you were, Lieutenant. We are not in regular service... and white is your color."
"Wow." So said Ralph Vatelius at the next Family meal, when Aurora's hologram made her appearance, walking into the spin-weight compartment and taking a seat at the salon's dining table. "And I thought you were pretty as a ship." Ralph had an arm around Delilah when he said it, and gave her shoulder a loving squeeze. The rest of the Human crew beheld Aurora's new form with appreciation, the non-Humans with respect.
"You designed this yourself?" Jenny asked, holding her husband's hand.
Aurora's image nodded. "I studied images of many Humans, and the badge created for me long ago." For centuries Aurora's ship logo had portrayed the ancient Roman goddess summoning the dawn over a Terra-type world. "Is it appropriate?"
"For a recruiting poster," Jack Epstein commented, but while squeezing his wife's hand.
Aurora - distinct, somehow, from Aurora - said, "I wish for this body to be made real. I am aware of many experiments along those lines. The most advanced seem to be at Edo Station, above New Israel." Her hologram, carefully programmed to emulate Human behavior, visibly blushed. No one said aloud what all knew: the experiments were for pleasure robots. During her last major refit, at New Israel's Haifa Station, it had been noted that she displayed no modesty about having her ship body opened and entered by shipwrights... but she had been very new to self-awareness then, and this was different. Human modesty was a thing she was deliberately teaching herself.
Ralph said, "Surely you can fabricate your body here?" Aurora, the ship, carried modern fabbers, including nanotech-capable models. They'd been getting a workout during her Family's latest adventures, and she had all the tools needed to create Aurora, the woman, or gynoid, or whatever the correct term would end up being.
"I... wish to discuss the matter with... specialists in that field, before proceeding," she answered. "In... person." Danner was fascinated by his ship's evolving personality. She was deliberately making herself more and more Human every day, even to shyness.
"We've no reason not to go back there," Solomon said - but cast a glance at Daisuke, who was still wanted for his brother's crimes there. DNA databases did exist, but thanks to the protections of Jeffersonian law, they weren't extensive enough to be abused. Takeo Nakayama was probably in one, though, and Daisuke Taniyama's face wouldn't hide him from that.
Daisuke gave no objection, tacit or overt, and instead said, "I have already been investigating cargoes and passengers bound for the Central Worlds. Has Holly spoken to you of her desire to visit New Texas again?"
Solomon nodded. "New Israel, New Texas, Wilson's Colony, Alexandria, Monticello, Terra again - I don't see why not. We've been out here for years, making long Transits to chase one thing or another."
At the words "long Transits", Jenny Blain's expression became thoughtful.
Continued in the next excerpt....