Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
Aurora, Part LXXIV: The Danforth Expedition

This page Copyright (c) 2018, Karl Leffler

Continued from the previous excerpt
After Monticello, Aurora finally visited New Texas again, to pick up a special cargo. While doing so, Holly Cates had returned her family heirloom Marine Corps emblems, which were passed on to her nephew, Edward George Velasquez-Cates III, the very day he raised his hand, swore his oath, and signed his contract to enlist. She also handed him her personal M12 midsword, which she had worn on the last big punitive raid on Novy Krakow. Marine boot camp was necessarily harsh, but even the most cruel drill instructor would respect a recruit's personal property, especially an approved sidearm. The traditions of the Corps were not lightly broken. Some "boots" arrived for induction with weapons their ancestors had used in the battles of New Israel, Eyan, and Terra.

While in the "neighborhood" of the Central Worlds, they also revisited Alexandria, and Solomon Danner's biological family. It had been twenty-two Monticellan years, fourteen Terran, since Solomon assembled Aurora's Family. His mother, Shelly Caren, was an astrophobe and a bit of xenophobe too, and there was still no explaining why she'd married Michael, a naval officer.
In the passing years, though, and with Michael's "retirement" from the Office of Naval Intelligence, she had mellowed. Doubtless her husband, Solomon's father, had been working on her phobias, to the point where Sol was surprised when she accepted his invitation to tour Aurora and meet his Shipfolk Family. No doubt prepared by her husband, she even touched grasping appendages with Sarah, Grbblb, Trllbl, Hlossh, and Prrg, without flinching away.
His sister Tina had come along too, and couldn't stop staring at her once-upon-a-time baby brother - who was now a recipient of one of the two highest government decorations in the explored galaxy.
His father, very seriously, saluted him, then embraced his son, who had never felt more proud in his life.

It had been most of a Monticellan year, and much of a Terran one, since Aurora had last departed Monticello, capitol of the Jeffersonian Republic. Behind her she left the secret of the second level of hyperspace and the method of reaching it, more than doubling any previous starship's speed. Unfortunately, using Blainspace for communication was proving more difficult; there seemed, as yet, to be no way of communicating to, from or through Blainspace without a ship, as there was for the first level, Marstenspace. Still, even Marstenspace communications traveled faster than 100,000c, using Sixth Generation Devices, so that was no great loss.
Along the way, Jenny Blain had been making constant adjustments to the Blain Drive. Aurora's present speed was now 491.3 times lightspeed-equivalent, relative to Einstein's universe. Jenny had promised to break 500, and expected to. Each of the improvements was sent, well-encrypted, to Mei Huang at the Reserve Privateer Bureau, who passed them along to James Fox in the Office of Naval Research. The tests, however, had to be secretly made in deep interstellar space, and the ship's Transit time had to be adjusted to match her known performance, c171.4. If an enemy did declare war on the Republic, they'd get a very bad surprise, when Jeffersonian fleets and taskforces suddenly appeared at thrice their expected speed.

19 Fourthmonth 565JR
21 November 2362CE

Before them was Layden, a typical Second Wave world and a Member of the Republic, with her own Triumvirate, Representatives and pair of Senators. Her population was some hundred million, mostly Human and some twenty percent Eyani, her main exports agricultural.
Aurora's cargo to Layden was a breeding population of supercow from New Texas. They had been, with some difficulty, placed in cryogenic suspension, under the Chikaran-developed Fanouu Field. There was no way any captain would allow a living, breathing, bad-tempered beast of well over a metric ton on board his ship, even in the most secure cage; to say nothing of the life support requirements. Aurora, though, had a reputation for delivering rare or luxury cargoes, intact and on time - when she wasn't hunting pirates or deposing usurpers. The Ship's Purser, Daisuke Taniyama, could have charged a lot more.
Layden Station was a one-kilometer Bernal Sphere variant, in a 1,000-kilometer orbit. Aurora docked to one of its poles, and the cryo pods containing the supercows were slid through her cargo locks for transshipment to the surface. Ingots of rhodium were received in payment and the business was concluded. Some of the crew took some of the boats to the surface, but nothing about Layden was particularly unusual or exciting to this much-travelled Family. Once refueled and supplied, Aurora stood off from the Station to clear the dock for other ships, but lingered to update her libraries from the Net, and to seek the next opportunity.

There were dozens. Though her movements were no longer being leaked through the Reserve Privateer Bureau, Aurora's commercial operations - when she had them - were no secret, and customers needed to know where to find her. Offers came for cargoes, passengers, salvage missions, mercenary operations - even a few wedding proposals for Sarah, who seemed to have picked up some stalkers along the way. She wasn't worried; her Family were strong and would protect her, as she continued learning to protect herself. Likewise there were breeding proposals, like the ones Solomon had declined on Asgard, for Sarah and for Holly Cates, both prime genetic examples of their species. These too were politely turned down.
"An escort mission," Prrg suggested, scrolling through the net. His Family turned to look and he continued, "The cryoliner Haldred, from Terra, to Danforth IV. Over a thousand colonists."
"If they're from Terra," Danner asked, "why are they stopping here and asking for escort? They should have had that arranged before leaving."
"They did. Winsom, eleven kilotons, many times converted - originally a typical cargoliner." Prrg scrolled. "Reserve Privateer... status lapsed for failure to maintain readiness." If Prrg's reptilian face had brows, they would have lowered. He had not sought a long career in the Space Patrol, but he was still a Reserve officer and kept his oaths, in or out of uniform; like his Captain and ship-brother, he had no use for those who didn't. "According to Haldred's report, they were abandoned here while stopping to refuel. Winsom apparently made off with more than half of their colonization supplies as well, which she was carrying for them."
"Are you sure it was deliberate? Not Winsom just going missing?"
Prrg shook his crocodilian head, Human-style. "They arrived together, began refueling in the comets - Winsom carries the equipment - then the escort just boosted away and Transitioned, without a word. And with their supplies." Vehicles, tools, fabbers to make more, seed banks, gene banks, suspended adult or embryonic livestock, data archives, spare Marsten Devices for interstellar communication - all of which would be fenced for non-trivial prices. Colonization would not stop, even with widespread pirate activity on the Frontier. Brutal Indian attacks hadn't stopped the Founders' ancestors from claiming the western United States... and colonists weren't always picky about where their desperately-needed supplies came from. "Six hundred hours ago," Prrg concluded. "Haldred has been unable to attract a new escort since then."
"What pay do they offer?"
"Credit," Daisuke said, looking up the same Net entry on his own 'puter. The Purser's brows did lower. "It appears Winsom's captain convinced the expedition leader to store their hard currency aboard Winsom. For 'safekeeping.'"
Solomon Danner rarely said dirty words, but he thought some, really loud. "Poor judgement on one side, and a new pirate going on the account on the other." He nodded to Daisuke, who had begun doubling as Aurora's intelligence officer. The nikkei set about collating the information and forwarding it to the Asgardian-created international piracy database. Winsom would now be marked for death, if she weren't already.
"I sympathize," Danner went on, "but sympathy doesn't keep a Family in business. Neither does credit offered by an outfit proven to lack business sense."
"Land," Daisuke said, still reading. "Rather a lot of it, on Danforth. Permanent citizenship in the republic they intend to form. Mining and fueling rights throughout their system. Lifetime tax exemption."
Now Danner's brows lowered. His Family waited silently, with their own thoughts. "I've little use for land," he finally said. He reached out and patted Aurora's bulkhead. "I have a home."
"Land can be sold, or rented, for profit," Prrg observed. "Mining rights can be licensed and leased, for steady income."
Danner turned to Daisuke, who said, "There appear to be no restrictions on doing so, in the contract as stated."
The Captain was ambivalent. Handled right, what the Danforthers were offering could provide generations of financial security - if they could be trusted. They'd already been ripped off, and maybe their own integrity had been damaged by the experience. "We don't really need this work," he said. "Not with a couple-few tons metal in our own vaults." The quarter-ton gold from Agnieszka's palace had still barely been touched. After secretly selling the Blain Drive to the Republic, Family accounts in a half-dozen banks across Known Space were bulging - and the last Republic politician to propose an income tax had barely escaped with his life. Aurora's merchant operations were taking on hobby status....
...And that was what decided him. "Let's look at it," he said. "It would keep us occupied, and take us somewhere we haven't been. I'm sure we can scrape some rhodium out of an asteroid or two, so we profit even if Danforth folds."

Haldred massed some dozen kilotons, an old and converted bulk freighter. Despite carrying many times Aurora's crew, the cruiser dwarfed her; the cryocolonists were stacked in their pods like any other cargo. Built fat like most ships since shortly after the War, Haldred spun her entirety for artificial weight when not boosting, instead of slim Aurora's extending grav rings of much older design. Haldred carried no Marsten Guns, but a quartet of 12MW pulse-lasers were paired fore and aft, along with a minimal number of point-defense clusters and two afterthought missile racks, ten each. She carried few shuttles, and nowhere near enough lifeboats; the cryogenic chambers doubled as automated, independently-powered escape pods, with an endurance of nearly three hundred hours in space, though they would not survive atmospheric entry. Haldred had been refit for landing, and once she did, she would likely never fly again, becoming the center of her passengers' new community, as well as their power source and infrastructure, with the fusion plant, workshops and medical facilities she carried.
Danforth IV was reportedly hot and wet and uninhabited. The world had been examined remotely, by a robot ship dropping robot probes - the same ship, Danner read, which had found Beatty years before, a couple parsecs away. More cryocolonists to Beatty had been one of the business opportunities the Family had examined at Monticello Station, when Bogdan Plebanek had finally tracked down his Queen. The robot ship had been sent by a company whose line of work was to discover habitable worlds, file claims on them, and sell those claims. With the Frontier always expanding, there was plenty of such work, and profit, to go around.
Haldred's passengers were diverse, gathered from all over Terra, meaning, technically, most of them were Jeffersonians, but the expedition intended independence. Danner eyed the list of ethnicities and religions, and his brows lowered again. Some of them had hated each other for millennia. On Terra, the Pax Jeffersonia kept the old wars from returning, but there had been a few little wars between worlds which did not fly the Star and Bars - one of which had resulted in the Aldritch dynasty fleeing Novy Krakow to found the Kingdom of Illyria. Danforth was sounding like someone's ivory-tower social-engineering experiment, doomed like most to bloody failure.

Haldred's captain, Johann Gormann, was a Human of southeast Asian descent and of about 70 Terran years, looking younger with Jeffersonian medicine. He had been a lieutenant commander in the Space Patrol, like Danner, and likewise had worked on many merchant ships after leaving the service. Like most Space Patrol personnel during the Long Peace, he had never fired a shot in anger during his forty Monticellan years of service, through which he earned Permanent Citizenship in the Jeffersonian Republic. In fact he had never commanded a warship, but the Net told Danner that Gormann had a respectable record of commanding transport and service ships, with not a single black mark.
Gormann had been talked into one last voyage, with permanent citizenship and land on Danforth, where he intended to settle down and raise Eyani thamma beasts, the horse-equivalent from Eyan's hexapedal biosphere. The citizenship issue was touchy - the Jeffersonian Constitution prohibited dual fealty and required one to be renounced for the other. That was a decision only Gormann could make.
The decisions to store supplies and currency aboard Winsom had been made by the colonists' leader - over Gormann's objections, he made clear. Gormann's recognition of, and respect for, Danner, Aurora and their Family was plain.
The expedition leader, Victor Bunn, had not entered suspension, intending to make the trip unfrozen. Bunn was also Human, about a Monticellan century old, pale, with traces of black remaining in his silver hair, and eyes of a rather plain brown. Danner, perhaps prejudiced against Terrans despite having one in his crew, pegged him as naive.
His first words did nothing to dispel the notion. "Captain... Danner, is it? I'm President Victor Bunn of the Republic of Danforth." Bunn did not offer a hand. Danner added "arrogant" to his evaluation.
Gormann, perhaps having his fill and rethinking his contract, stated: "Solomon Danner is a reserve officer in the Jeffersonian Navy, and a recipient of the Legion of Honor for actions against pirates. His ship and crew are of the highest quality, well-armed, skilled, and experienced. We are most fortunate that he has chosen to consider our request."
Bunn tossed his head. "I care little for military matters. My Republic is... will be free of militarism."
Solomon turned and floated out of the compartment. He hadn't said a word to Bunn.

"So much for that idea," Danner said to his Family upon returning to Aurora - they had all watched and heard through a discreet camera in his clothing. "We'll have to find our entertainment somewhere else. That bunch is on course for gulags and crematoriums, if pirates don't wipe them all out first. I've no intention of being party to it."
"Incoming call from Captain Gormann," Aurora announced.
"Anyone with him?" Sol asked, with a disgusted tone.
"He appears to be alone on the channel, my Captain."
"Very well, let's see him." Aurora projected the other captain by hologram, appearing life-sized, complete with his seat, into her own salon. The partially-projected background suggested he was in his private quarters aboard Haldred.
"Captain Danner, I apologize," were Gormann's first words. "I regret taking on this contract but have no honorable way out of it."
"You're not the one with something to apologize for, Captain," Danner answered reassuringly. "Is there anything else I might do for you while we're here?"
Gormann was hesitant, then said, "Actually, Captain, I ask you to reconsider." Gormann held up a hand. "I know, the man is... words unfit for polite company, and likely leading all his followers to ruin. It is those followers I ask you to contemplate. I am not one of them, I was hired for this mission with a promise of citizenship and land, but now, as master of this vessel, I find myself responsible for a thousand souls. Captain, I humbly request your aid."
Danner said, "Come aboard."

Gormann took his gig, an antique Type 144 Navy-surplus shuttle, across. The boat docked in Aurora's Small Craft Bay Two, which normally carried carbonan fuel bladders to extend her range, but like drop tanks on fighter aircraft, that was used first, the bladders deflated and stowed, and the bay made available for its original function.
The Family gathered in the salon, to which Gormann was guided by one of Aurora's many robots. Introductions were made, hands were clasped. Gormann was small of stature, compared to European-descended Jeffersonians, but like Daisuke, taller than Asian stock from Terra, left behind for generations while the Jeffersonian Diaspora improved the gene pool. He was dressed in a sort of uniform; gray with black trim, its cut partly Jeffersonian, partly something else, none of it official anywhere, with a bit of silver braid and many buttons which appeared to be the actual metal. He wore a white peaked hat with a glossy black bill - not unlike those worn by pre-Escape European powers, particularly German and British, to mark the commander of a ship.
He swept the hat off as he gave an almost Prussian-style bow to Aurora's intangible Human hologram. At his hips he wore a cutlass, closely modeled on the US Navy's Model of 1917CE, whose blued-steel basket-hilt was moderately engraved; and of all things a Luger Parabellum pistol, traditionally blued with a bit of silver inlaid scrollwork, matching the style of the cutlass. Danner exchanged a glance with Holly Cates; both were small-arms enthusiasts. The pistol was too fine-looking to be an original, but the reproduction was of the Navy version, with a 15cm-long barrel and stepped rear sight. The holster, belt and baldric were of tooled New Texas supercow hide, dyed black to match the trim of Gormann's suit.
It might have been easy to dismiss Gormann as a dandy or poseur, arrogating himself above his abilities - but his record said otherwise. Solomon thought of his own years of service, and now his years with Aurora; of the decorated midsword and M437 pistol he wore at this same moment; of the little Command-in-Space badge on his Navy Reserve uniform, which he treasured more than the Legion of Honor. Evidently Gormann had no one ship he clung to - certainly not Haldred, which was fated, at the end of her voyage, to never rise from a planet's surface again. Solomon loved being Aurora's captain. Johann apparently loved being a captain. That was close enough for the men to relate to each other.

Aurora's robots, long educated by Charles Clancy, served a small buffet. Leftovers would not go to waste, in the real Chikaran-built, Jeffersonian-improved cryopantry. "Ah," Gormann exclaimed, "that's better than I've eaten in... possibly ever." Which was saying something, from a Retired Space Patrol officer whose job often involved delivering quality food to other ships. "My compliments to your Steward, and my thanks for your hospitality." In the salon's spin-weight he made another little Prussian-style bow, and Danner thought he saw him almost click his heels. Gormann must have had an interesting upbringing, having nothing to do with his ancestors' ethnicity. Danner saw Sarah Heusner cocking her head as though in recognition. Perhaps the man had been raised on Neues Deutschland, the homeworld of Sarah's adoptive Human mother. Though allied with the Republic, the neo-Germanic world remained independent, and their culture was flavored with Victorian-era European customs.
Gormann got to business. "As I said, I am concerned for the welfare of the colonists currently in suspension. I'm afraid I bear some responsibility for the situation. I feel I should have done something to prevent Winsom's departure, or resist the transfer of supplies and currency, or... I don't know."
Danner thought a moment, then said, "If it weren't you, someone else would have found themselves in the same conditions - perhaps with less honor and sense of duty than yourself."
Gormann lowered his head in effacement, but Danner could tell the neo-Prussian was pleased. Haldred's captain said: "I offer payment from my own promised shares - land, mining and fueling rights, and so on. I have changed my mind about settling on whatever Danforth will become. Surely there is a place under the Star and Bars where I may retire, without constantly fearing the rules to change."

Daisuke got down to haggling on Solomon's behalf. Aurora's contract with Gormann and Haldred would be secret, at least to Victor Bunn, but for 16% of what had been promised to Gormann, in addition to all promised to Aurora's Family, Danner and company would serve as backup to Gormann and his crew, a dozen beings he had collected during his years of service in the Space Patrol. In the worst case, Danner would activate Aurora as a Reserve Privateer and take whatever actions proved necessary to defend what were still Jeffersonian Subjects, having not yet renounced their status. Gormann, as a Permanent Citizen, could swear a warrant authorizing such action under Jeffersonian law, as part of his responsibility as captain.
Aurora refueled the smaller ship enough for a hop to the comets, to top off both vessels. Sarah Heusner plotted a course to their next stop, and sent the data to Haldred - Gormann had a record of competence and was expected to arrive at the rendezvous on time. Bunn did not have or want anything to do with running the ship, much to Gormann's relief.
Clancy topped up consumables for Aurora's crew at Layden, and laid in extra for Haldred's unsuspended personnel. The run to Danforth would be stopping for little more than fuel, in the cometary regions of inhabited or uninhabited systems along the way. Both ships' remaining fabbers would be working, during the voyage, to replace the tools and equipment lost to Winsom. Some of the raw materials were purchased at Layden - Aurora's corporation paid, and added the expense to their escort bill - while others would be taken from the same comets and asteroids they would be mining for fuel.
Since they were getting paid by Haldred's captain in addition to the Expedition she carried, Jenny Blain gave the ship's Sixth-Generation Marsten Drive a tune-up, raising her speed to c138. Gormann's Engineer, a grizzled old Water Tribe Eyani named Ju'Nek, was first offended, then astounded at the idea that a relatively-young Human woman could teach him anything about the Drive. It had taken him a moment to understand that she was that Jenny Blain. When it sunk in, he quit making comments and started making notes.
Aurora's official speed was still only 171.4 times lightspeed-equivalent, and her arrival times had to conform to the illusion. Still, even without using the Blain Drive, she could race ahead of her charge to examine a destination system before Haldred emerged from the inaccessibility of hyperspace, discovering and if necessary neutralizing threats, making preparations for refueling, arrangements for resupply if necessary.
As the little two-ship convoy Transitioned away from Layden, Solomon Danner sent an h-mail to the Family's Siv lawyer and publicist on Terra, asking nim to go over the contracts, confirm the ability to sell or lease the land and resources they were to be paid with... and to gather background information on Victor Bunn.
Continued in the next excerpt....
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