Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright (c) 2018, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part LXXIII: Apple Carts
Continued from the previous excerpt
5 Fifthmonth 564JR
27 April 2362CE
Space Patrol Central, Monticello Station, Monticello (Tau Ceti II)
Office of the Director of the Reserve Privateer Bureau
"Admiral. It's been a long time."
Vice Admiral Huang took Captain Solomon Danner's hand in both of hers. "Too long, Solomon. And please, call me Mei. Especially if you're out of uniform." They sat, around hot green tea, brought to her office by an orderly.
Huang felt quite warmly toward Danner, for helping her clean up her shop. Years before, when Aurora had departed for the Illyrian Civil War and taken hiatus from her Reserve Privateer duty, Huang had arranged false flight plans for the antique cruiser, to identify and plug the leak in her Bureau, who had been giving flight data to the media. In time of war, that leak would have met the Constitutional definition of treason.
It had turned out to be five different personnel, from clerk-rating to Commander, unknown to each other. Since it was legally peacetime they hadn't been executed or even imprisoned, but they'd all been dishonorably discharged, losing their Citizenship. Seven different media networks had been bribing them - one of the leakers was taking money from three at the same time. Charges had also been brought against several network executives. Two had fled the Republic, hopping ships to the Frontier with sacks of rhodium - they were not exempt from the Code Duello, and there were plenty of people whose families could have been put in danger by leaking their ships' movements. Huang was still using false flight plans, not least with Aurora, to detect new leaks.
Only a trusted handful knew when and where Aurora would really arrive - but Danner had filed a false plan of his own, giving his departure time as hundreds of hours earlier, when Aurora's new Blain Drive was still being tested. As he now explained to Huang: "I'll get right to it: We have a new Drive."
Huang raised an eyebrow. "Again? The Sixth-Generation-Improved wasn't that long ago." She turned to Jenny. "Don't tell me you've found the Seventh?"
Jenny shook her head, then gestured for Danner to continue. He said, "No. Well, I suppose someone will call it that, but Jenny has cracked an old problem. She's discovered a second level of hyperspace, and invented a duplex drive to reach it. Two Marsten Drives, sort of - she can explain the details later. The gist is, we secretly built a test rig, and on its first full-power flight we got 314c."
Huang's mouth and eyes widened. Danner went on, "After much testing and adjustment, we installed it in Aurora, whose current speed is now four hundred sixteen point seven times lightspeed. Jenny is confident she can reach 500 with further development. Communication speed will likewise increase.
"In addition, we've developed a new power plant, using Helium-3, and a new superconductor to contain the magnitude of its necessary confinement field. The Blain Drive has less fuel efficiency than the Sixth-Generation Marsten, but we expect that to improve with time also, and I'm sure you'll agree speed more than makes up for it. Pairing the Helium-3 plant with a conventional Marsten Drive should increase range by at least half. It would also increase the endurance of the weapon platforms everyone's using now, to defend against relativistic weapons.
"The implications are obvious - and also not. It could be the Cold War all over again. Even the FTL Bureau, though I hope to all the gods not. But my Family agreed that we can't just drop this on the Net... not with everything we know and suspect, about the Blood Rose, the Flike, the Consolidation, the Nikar." The Triumvirate of Selm had been honest: Huang was up to speed on the intelligence-sharing arrangement, all the way up to the Pentamvirate.
"On the other hand," Danner continued, "I don't want my sister chained to a workstation refining this thing. I can see a need for secrecy but I can't see one for conscription."
Jenny finally spoke for the first time. "I'm willing to sell the patent, like I did before. I'm willing to cooperate with ONR-" the Office of Naval Research. "I'm not willing to have my work stolen, or suppressed indefinitely, or to lose my freedom." Jenny had never accepted a commission or warrant in the Patrol or Naval Reserve. The Republic's military had little legal power over her, to say nothing of Article VIII, Section 5, the toothier Jeffersonian version of the American Fifth Amendment, preventing government seizure of private property, including intellectual.
Aurora added, "I am in agreement with my sister and my Captain, Ser. We are here as a courtesy, and out of patriotism. I am prepared to resign my commission if I or any member of my Family is mistreated." That would be bad press for the Patrol, and even for the Republic - the first Artificial Person, and a heroine at that. Aurora didn't explicitly say she would shoot her way out of any attempt to constrain her. Huang wasn't stupid.
Nor was she power-hungry, or hundreds of Reserve Privateer captains would have forced her replacement years ago. The Admiral pressed a key on her desk and told her adjutant, "Get Commander Fox in here."
In less than two minutes, James Fox arrived. He was of a height with Danner, of indeterminate ancestry but mostly European like Danner himself; except Fox had a little more mass than was strictly acceptable in military service. In this office environment he was wearing Class-A uniform, with his jacket removed. Danner got the impression someone else did the spit-and-polish for him; he looked a little rumpled. His decorations were all non-combat - most were, for the last couple centuries - but the Efficiency and Meritorious Service ribbons had stars and clusters for multiple awards. This was a brain, not a fighter.
He recognized Danner - everyone in the tiny Regular Navy, the larger Space Patrol, and the larger-yet ranks of Reserve Privateers, knew Solomon's name and face. Danner had achieved what all but a handful of them only dreamed of: adventure, wealth, fame, success, and surviving to enjoy it. Fox snapped to Attention and saluted, then dropped it after a moment. Protocol said that a recipient of the Legion of Honor, like the Medal of Honor, was due a salute from any other rank, but Danner was out of uniform.
Danner stood and returned the salute nonetheless, then offered his hand, which Fox took with a smile. "Honored to meet you, Captain!" the Commander said. Solomon introduced Jenny and Aurora, then Fox looked at his boss, Vice Admiral Mei Huang.
"Close the door and be seated, Jim." When he had done so, she added, "Jim, here, as you might guess from looking, is the Bureau's tech brain, and my personal liaison with ONR. Now hold onto your hat, Jim." The Admiral nodded at the Captain.
"Commander, my Family - my ship and my crew - have developed a new faster-than-light Drive. We got here from New Israel in two hundred fifty hours, at over four hundred c. We expect even more speed with further development."
Fox's eyes widened as his boss' had. Danner and Blain could see gears spinning like turbines behind those eyes. He stammered, too many thoughts trying to force their way through the bottleneck of Human speech. "Yes," Danner continued. "Worms and cans."
Fox nodded. "Lots of them. It's like the Escape and the Cold War all over again." Just as Danner had said moments before.
"We're willing to sell," Danner continued. "We're not willing to have it stolen, or to be kidnapped to keep it a secret - although this might have to be suppressed, for the time being. It feels like the Long Peace is ending. I want my team to have the advantage."
Fox sat thoughtfully, then said, "I'll start whispering in ears over at ONR. There's a few over there with functioning brains. Might take a few hundred hours but I can ease the idea into them. -Sir," he added with an afterthought and a smile. No, Commander Fox wasn't a spit-and-polish officer. He was too busy getting things done to worry about etiquette.
That suited Captain Danner fine.
In the Long Peace, the Office of Naval Research was a bureaucracy. Underperforming officers, who couldn't be conveniently released from service, were shuffled to ONR, and usually passed over for promotion until they resigned. ONR was the shame of the Navy, and the inglorious end of an officer's career.
The Director of ONR was Rear Admiral Na'Kre Vance, a Republic-born-and-raised Eyani like Jacob Cr'Han, the Republic ambassador to Ude. Many Jeffersonian Eyani adopted a first or last Human name, as their families had done for generations.
Vance was less than satisfied with her position. She was a manager, and not a bad one; she'd earned her second boxed star that way, never having commanded a ship. She wasn't a scientist or researcher in her own right - she was a babysitter, and a frustrated one. ONR was supposed to make breakthroughs in technology to give the Republic an advantage over real or potential enemies. Most of those breakthroughs were coming from civilians instead - like the Sixth-Generation-Improved Marsten Drive, developed by one Jennifer Blain, who'd never worn a Republic uniform.
That bothered her, in a couple ways. First, and unusual for the Republic's minarchist society, she believed - wrongly - that there were some things civilians shouldn't have or do. That attitude was a large part of how she found herself shuffled off to ONR, where she'd rarely if ever be interviewed, which would lead to Citizens demanding their Representatives demand her resignation. The only reason she hadn't been forced out already was, she was a good manager, and someone had to be on the top of ONR's pyramid.
Second, she considered it a personal failure that ONR wasn't producing the advances she thought they should. Every several hundred hours she issued a memo, alternately encouraging and condemning and demanding. She was a good manager, but not a great one. Only a few like-minded sycophants in the ONR upper ranks didn't hate her.
Mei Huang outranked Vance, but they were not in the same chain of command - Huang couldn't give Vance orders. Huang knew what Vance was, and that if she got wind of the Blain Drive, Vance would force her way in front of a camera, demanding the reinstatement of the FTL Bureau to protect the secret, and then probably giving it away by accident to some weaselly newsie.
Commander James Fox had several friends at ONR - lacking spit-and-polish like himself, short on tact and etiquette, not command material; but decent people who wanted to do their jobs. One by one he felt them out, over drinks and dinners. Fox, like Danner, had read and re-read Founders: Their Lives and Times, the definitive collective biography from centuries ago. Fox felt like Peter Sexton, the frustrated former NASA engineer whom Kurt Vetter himself had recruited to help build Humanity's first starship. He knew which ONR personnel felt the same way.
Vance and Huang both reported directly to Admiral Arthur Newtree, the Chief of Naval Operations. Newtree reported to the civilian Secretary of the Navy, former BuPers Admiral Morton Alexander, who reported to Councillor for Defense Golra, a Chikaran, third of his species elected to the Pentamvirate of the Jeffersonian Republic. Golra hadn't been in office when Danner came back from Mark's World and Adda to receive the Legion of Honor, so they hadn't met, but Huang said he was reasonable.
Huang, Danner, Fox, and several ONR officers were plotting to depose Vance. There were landmines and tripwires aplenty. If it went wrong, someone might even raise a charge of mutiny.
Danner suggested the best way was a frontal assault: Going up the chain one link at a time, instead of sneaking around. The Director of the Reserve Privateer Bureau, and a Reserve Privateer captain who had earned the Legion of Honor, could easily get an audience with the CNO. Jenny, the inventor, Aurora, the example, and Fox, the liaison, came along.
Newtree was a bit more hidebound than Huang, but also wasn't stupid or power-mad. After Huang and Danner carefully explained the situation, he got them an audience with Secretary Alexander. They repeated their report, and Alexander, after asking several questions, including of Aurora directly, got them in a room with Golra.
Golra had been a Marine, one of the few Chikarans to physically qualify. Like Holly Cates, his parents had used Asgardian gengineering to design him for a military career. He'd been part of the same punitive raid on Novy Krakow as Cates, commanding a squadron of aerospace fighters off the carrier Calvin Coolidge. He personally had delivered ordnance to the only real threat the landed Marines faced, one organized band of pirates who were well-armed and disciplined. A pair of cluster bombs had wiped them out. A few hundred hours later Detmund the Golden had been installed as king of the unfortunate planet. A few hundred more and Golra had retired to begin his political career.
As Councillor for Defense, Golra had broad authority to hire and fire throughout his Department. He knew and respected Mei Huang; he recognized the importance of the Reserve Privateer system, as the first and often only line of defense for far-flung Republic worlds; he saw the public relations value in Solomon Danner and Aurora; he grasped the strategic importance of the Blain Drive; he appreciated its inventors' patriotic intent. Unfortunately he had been infected with the politician's disease: Compromise. He was hesitant to simply give Vance the axe.
Huang brought out Fox, who brought reports from dozens of officers and lower ranks throughout ONR, expressing their dissatisfaction with Vance and conditions under her leadership. Then Huang, Newtree and Alexander offered a solution they figured Golra couldn't refuse.
They were right. A few days later Golra addressed the Republic Congress, and the Republic as a whole:
"My fellow Jeffersonians.
"The armed forces of the Jeffersonian Republic are the finest military in all recorded history. As Councillor for Defense, I have always sought to improve their capabilities still further, while also reducing the burden on our taxpayers. In pursuit of those ends, today I take great pleasure in announcing a streamlining in the Department of the Navy.
"Rear Admiral Na'Kre Vance, who has ably led the Office of Naval Research for six Monticellan years, has announced her retirement." Or else, was heavily implied. She would be getting her third and last star, and her pension, and never again any legal authority in the Navy. Golra continued: "This has presented an opportunity to reduce the Navy's tax burden and to simplify its organization.
"The Office of Naval Research is to be greatly reduced in size and scope. It will no longer be an independent command, but folded into the Reserve Privateer Bureau, under the command of Vice Admiral Mei Huang, who is also being promoted to full Admiral.
"Admiral Huang has for decades worked closely with our true First Responders, the good Citizens who operate our Reserve Privateers, who have never failed to answer when their nation called. As our brilliant Founders intended, the Reserve Privateer system offers us protection from real enemies and deterrent against potential ones, without draining the people's taxes.
"Many of the research and development functions of the Office of Naval Research have, for many years, been better performed by those same Reserve Privateers. Perhaps the most famous recent example is Jennifer Blain, a civilian Drive Technician and the Chief Engineer of JRS Aurora, the light cruiser who famously went to the rescue of the people of Mark's World. Just a few years ago Engineer Blain developed the Sixth-Generation-Improved Marsten Drive, the most significant increase in hyperdrive technology since the introduction of the Sixth Generation itself over seventy Monticellan years ago. It makes perfect sense for the Office of Naval Research to be placed in the same organization as the people actually doing most of the real research.
"To head this restructured department, Admiral Huang has recommended James Fox, who has been working closely with the most productive elements of ONR for some time. Captain Fox is ideally qualified for this position, and has an excellent record of meritorious service in the research and development fields. We expect great things from this streamlined, more efficient, and less expensive Office of Naval Research."
Golra would be reminding the voters of all of that, during his reelection campaign.
"Now," Huang said to the involved parties later, "the Blain Drive is in my house. Jenny, I give you my word, I'll take good care of it."
"And I give you my word," Jenny said, clasping the Admiral's hand, "you'll be the first outside my Family to know of improvements." Soon, the Blain Drive would be entering production, with priority given to the warships of the official Space Patrol. It would be kept secret, at least for a time, lest potential enemies learn of it - but that also meant it couldn't be openly used, or the time between departure and arrival would make the breakthrough obvious to observers. That meant Aurora couldn't use it either.
The Republic's allies also couldn't yet be trusted with it. The Eyani Nation and the Republic of Caledonia would probably be the first to get word - both had been firm and loyal allies since the War. The Russian Star Empire might be next, or might not; there were questions about their internal security. Asgard, maybe; they were friends, but not the most stable government. Illyria... Queen Agnieszka still had some housecleaning to do, some leftovers from Stefan's Usurpation, a small but real risk of being overthrown, or assassinated by holdouts as Hansen had been on Novy Krakow. Danner suggested to Huang that she open a dialogue with Lipinski, as Rach had done on the same advice.
But those were problems to be solved by higher ranks than Solomon Danner's, either military or civilian. Aurora had the Blain Drive and it wouldn't be taken from her. To keep the secret, Danner swore to use it only in emergency... and for further development, carefully timing their departures and arrivals to maintain the illusion of their "normal" near-record speed. With Jenny's genius, hauling around a Drive he could rarely use cost him little in fuel, and more only in cubic for cargo... which was no longer as great a concern:
Jenny had included every member of Aurora's Family in the sale of the rights to the Blain Drive. They'd been paid, far more than for the Sixth-Generation-Improved. Likewise, Alice and Tetsuo would be getting royalties for the Helium-3 plant and the new superconductor... and they were dating again. Cohen's Shipyard had been paid a lump sum, by Aurora's Family, for their assistance, and Hal was thinking about a larger Balloon World. Penny IX, still legally owned by Hal, had been quietly sold to ONR, where Captain Fox and people he could work with would be learning from it.
Again, Aurora and her Family could retire. Again, they had no wish to - or, in a way, already had. They had their own starship, a home they could take with them wherever they pleased. Their duties and obligations to others were few, infrequent, and mostly of their choosing. Few beings ever achieved such freedom. They chose to enjoy it.
As they boosted away from Monticello to meet whatever the universe would throw at them next, the Family sat down to dinner once more. "I was thinking," Solomon said to Jenny, "if there's a second level of hyperspace, could there be a third?"
As her Family turned to her, Jenny nodded, and her face was paler than usual. Beside her, Jack wrapped a comforting arm around her shoulders. "Yes," she said. "The equations suggest at least four, possibly seven levels. I've even... sketched a third-level Drive. Could break a thousand c."
"And?" Solomon asked gently.
"With current technology, and my current understanding of hyperspace, reaching the third level would require a Drive bigger than Aurora, fuel tanks the size of a dreadnought, and a power plant I can't even begin to imagine. Then, its organic crew would die instantly from Marsten Radiation, because no material we currently have could generate a Field strong enough to protect them.
"I'll let someone else invent all that, after another five hundred years."
Continued in the next excerpt....