Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2016, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part VIII: Brothers and Brutes
Continued from the previous excerpt
Wilson's Colony to Alexandria
Once underway, the grav-rings were extended to maximum for greater weight, while also slowing their rotation to reduce Coriolis effects. Blain had already delivered part of her promise to increase Aurora's speed, making c121 with only a slight increase in fuel consumption over the rated 103. One did not make adjustments to a Drive in Transit, and though she had the next round of such in mind, she and Danner agreed it would be inefficient to drop out of hyper to tune the Drive further before reaching Alexandria.
Minor mechanical issues arose, no more than expected on a pseudo-maiden voyage; failed lights or motors, sticky hatches, vents which would not close or open as desired. Hlossh and Grbblb set these aright and contributed their findings to the ship's Book, building the regimen of preventive maintenance and procedures for repair.
The main holds, converted from what had been crew quarters and the original, larger freefall galley, were in the aft 'bulb' of Aurora's wasp-waisted cylinder, each a half-circle, two forward and two aft of the spinning grav-ring. The Drive was mounted in the centerline of that area, just forward of the big fusion thrusters for realspace travel, which doubled as the reactors which powered the ship. The forward 'bulb' contained most of the ship's control and life-support machinery, and two smaller cargo holds which at this time were empty, being used as recreational space.
The crew began developing the ship's routine, setting watches and assigning tasks, though labor-saving devices of every description did nearly all the real work, leaving much time free. Sarah spent much of this being trained, or at least drilled, by Prrg in navigation, but also gave lessons in freefall living which only Shipfolk had discovered. Clancy happily experimented in his galley, to the mealtime acclaim of all. Cates brought Grbblb up to speed regarding Citizenship while sharing her extensive knowledge of personal and naval weapons with all the crew. Taniyama discovered he could contribute swordsmanship, defeating Cates four times straight in sparring, and Grbblb seemed pleased to fabricate dummy blades, targets and armor for practice. Epstein proved to be quite good with a guitar, when he wasn't cross-training his crewmates in freight-handling to reduce the ship's time at dock even more.
Danner thought ahead to times in port or orbit, and began drafting standing orders. His first was, upon arrival at any port, all pending ship's business would be finished, all repairs and maintenance and replenishment done, first, before anyone took shore leave. Danner wanted to be able to undock or break orbit, setting out across or between systems free of debt, on the shortest notice possible – always. He and Prrg had known ships, and ports, where that mattered, as had the rest of the crew except Blain, who made no objection.
Hlossh and Grbblb had already modified their living quarters in the forward grav-ring to hold water for their comfort, with systems to quickly secure the water for freefall, maneuvering, or in case of emergency – they were Engineer's Mates, after all. The amphibians each took half of the same ring-section and often visited each other.
Clancy had bought a small supply of neoprawns at HC, and Hlossh introduced Grbblb to them; the Glaut pronounced them another cause for revolution among his people. Alexandrian neoprawns were very much like their Terran namesakes, averaging about 20cm live and 12cm shelled, with fewer legs and more meat. It was like they were designed to be devoured. Humans and most other known races enjoyed them prepared in all the traditional Terran ways, while Boski, and now Glaut, preferred one of the smaller species live in their native water. They were a major export for their planet and were farmed widely. Aurora now had four main cargo holds and several smaller ones, and Hlossh's plan was to fill each main hold with a different variety of neoprawn, shipped live for Boksi consumption; Aurora could have carried far more frozen, without water, but he was certain there was more profit to be had this way. He had already hypermailed his cousin and received confirmation that the holding tanks, and more to the point the payment, would be waiting. Meanwhile Taniyama had already shopped for the wholesaler with the best tradeoff of price and quality; the farms sent their bulk frozen product to Beta Station several times a day, but the market for live product was still small, using a less-frequent system of specialized tankers.
“The holds'll be ready, Chief, two hours after we offload the cloth,” Epstein reported. “Sooner if I can get all hands to help. Disinfection, heat, lights, aeration, it's all staged and prefabbed, just have to plug it in and test it. Freefall won't be a problem, neither will acceleration; the holds will be full of water with a small air pocket, so there won't even be a surge worth noticing when we boost and we won't have to install baffles. I looked these critters up on the net and they ship easy as long as they're in their native water and they're fed enough. Jenny's already whipped up feeder robots to swim around each hold. Cleanup after delivery will be easy too, just open the holds to space and wait a bit – there's more'n one reason I wanted those big freight hatches outside.”
Everything was going smoothly. Danner wondered if it was too smooth. How many men really lived their dreams?
By a dozen hours before the Transition, Cates had organized the crew into something resembling an infantry squad and had started drilling them in tactics. Blain had helped Cates modify an old Casetti Model G pulse-laser pistol for Grbblb's tentacles, and Hlossh had invented a holster, more like an Eyani harness, which somehow stayed put on the Glaut's boneless body. Prrg, examining the weapon, requested another, for his tail – the reptilian liked formal dueling, especially under the Republic's more elegant laws, but had seen his share of brawls, 'friendly' and otherwise. Meanwhile Epstein seemed to be forming a band with Clancy's clarinet, Hlossh's built-in percussion section (four arms and a carapace), and some surprisingly beautiful noises Grbblb said were based on ancient mating songs. Sarah enhanced the act with a freefall dance routine. Blain had started building a detailed model of Aurora, when not drilling the crew in damage control, scribbling arcane Drive equations, and cross-training on nearly every task in the ship. Prrg, when he wasn't reading like Danner, passed many hours in a sleep which neared hibernation – then randomly awoke to practice throwing knives with his tail in one of the empty forward holds. Taniyama also kept to himself, spending hours on the net, searching for... even he knew not what.
At last the grav-rings were retracted, braked, and locked for maneuvering, the Transit ended and on 24 Fourthmonth, 543, the ship Transitioned to realspace, within a comfortable ten light-seconds of Alexandria. There was little of navigation young Sarah Heusner could learn from old Prrg; she was a natural.
Alexandria, orbiting Beta Hydri, had been settled early in the 1st Century JR, by colonists of the Republic's second 'safety valve' dissident ship, Botany Bay II, and had originally hosted the Betan Confederacy, six nation-states in loose association for commerce and mutual defense. By the end of the 1st Century they'd shot each other to pieces, but by the middle of the 2nd they'd put themselves back together, established a republican government compatible with the Jeffersonian Constitution, and became the seventh Member World in 165JR. The later Republic-Empire War had not touched the world directly, but in the aftermath, members of the planetary militia, formerly the Twelfth Legion of the JRMC, had formed the Alexandrian Institute and began constructing a monumental library complex, well-defended and with multiple backups, while also pursuing advances in information storage and retrieval. The Order of Librarians had since gone in a rather monastic direction, supporting themselves with donations, usage fees, and contracting for research projects. Otherwise, in the mid-6th Century JR (mid-24th CE), Alexandria was a typical Human world, very much like Terra, with just a touch higher surface gravity. It was the world of Danner's birth; but Aurora was now his home.
Beta Station predated Alexandria's Membership in the Republic. It was one of the last relics of their Confederacy, somehow surviving their civil wars without a scratch, and was constructed like most early Jeffersonian Stations, several wheels spinning to simulate gravity, with a non-rotating hub and spine sticking out from either end of the stack for ships to dock with. Stations built above newer worlds were more often O'Neill Cylinders like Edo, or a single Torus like New Portsmouth, much larger than the original wheels, with open spaces and Terralike conditions inside. High City, sprawling across synchronous orbit, was a spectacular, ever-shifting tangle of every kind of space-habitat construction, but Beta was just a good-old-fashioned Station, a stack of spinning wheels glinting in the sun. There were dozens of other stations above Alexandria now, of as many types and in as many orbits, but Beta was always The Station.
In not many more hours, Number Two Boat, the first of the two Type 208 shuttles, launched as they neared Beta, with Hlossh at the controls. He would deliver the rifles to Cates' gunsmith friend, and both aid and test their conversion for use by Boksi rebels.
Aurora docked at Pylon 8, a rigid tube extending perpendicularly from one end of the Station's stationary, freefall spine. In another dozen hours, the tanker from the planetside prawn farm would arrive at the next pylon and run a hose across. Epstein was as good as his word, and the textiles were unloaded and the holds cleaned and converted in little more than an hour. The ship was refueled, consumables replenished, and in every respect made ready for space. She could undock in minutes and be back in hyper in a dozen hours, most of it spent boosting past the peacetime hyper limit; the Sixth-Gen Drive had eliminated the nausea and hallucinations of earlier versions, and could safely enter and exit hyperspace within two light-seconds of a Terra-type planet's surface, but such Close Transits were usually reserved for combat operations as they caused gravitational and electromagnetic disturbances which could disrupt local traffic. With Standing Order Number One fulfilled, the crew were released for shore leave, the term still used even when the nearest shore was 40,000 kilometers down.
Blain stayed aboard to tune the Drive, Taniyama stayed aboard by inclination, and Grbblb would have done the same if Clancy had not insisted the Glaut accompany him on a shopping trip. The molluscoid was then convinced to ride Clancy's shoulders, so as not to be separated from his guide and to avoid possible injury on a station populated mainly by vigorous Humans and Eyani, who could crush a Glaut almost without noticing.
As they wandered along the dockside shopping mall they drew the attention of many. Clancy was often asked what kind of pet Grbblb was; prompted by the big, cheerful Irish chef, the Glaut, overcoming shyness and displaying a sense of humor, described how he found Clancy as a stray, or in some alien pet shop, on planet Sligo in the Connacht system.
Clancy was a guide in truth, for he had visited Beta Station many times; the Irishman had been a spacer far longer than his Captain, and thus far had traveled more widely. Yet Clancy had respected Danner immediately. Partly this was due to the Alexandrian's reputation, proven by deed to be a man with spine and cerebral horsepower; partly to his friendship with Eric the Bear Linfarger, the famous crew-fixer who had helped Clancy himself become a spacer. And partly, Clancy's respect for Danner was due to that respect being mutual. Clancy had known worse captains, and never a finer ship.
Clancy carried Grbblb toward a restaurant of his acquaintance, which he knew served live neoprawns for Boksi customers. Danner made a point of paying his crew in cash, solid Republic coins honored throughout Known Space, not once the ship had docked but as soon as it entered hyperspace. Danner didn't want to owe anything tangible to anyone, and he wanted his crew to know they were trusted and valued. Taniyama raised an eyebrow at the unorthodox practice, but said nothing; the ship's account was still well in the black, and it was the purser's job to keep it there.
This pay was among the highest Clancy had ever received, and his working conditions were luxurious compared to most he'd known. He knew he'd eventually be cooking for paying passengers, and that would be different, but he was not apprehensive – as a permanent member of the crew he would also receive a share of profit from Aurora's operations. He expected to be flying with this ship for a very long time.
Grbblb, like the rest of the crew, had also been paid as soon as the ship had entered Transit routine, and had been tutored by Hlossh in the Republic's monetary system since they met just over a Republic year earlier. Coins now filled a pocket on his harness, and his pistol was balanced by a long, thin blade, rather like a miniature rapier, which Hlossh had constructed along with the harness.
The Glaut was still coming to grips with his new status, but found being a Provisional Citizen of the Jeffersonian Republic much preferable to being a mere Level Nine Employee of the Glautak Consolidation. The thought that he need never again be taken alive for imprisonment and torture was heady.
Their orders arrived, and he and Clancy settled down to their meals. Grbblb's eating apparatus was much like a Terran octopus, mostly out of sight on the being's underside; the prawns disappeared between tentacles – the tips of which branched and branched again, forming four “fingers” each – and the pseudo-arthropods were too low a lifeform to protest much at what happened next. Likewise Boksi eating habits were discreet enough for Human and Eyani society (the two dominant races in the Republic, though Boksi and Siv were racing for third place), their sustenance vanishing beneath their carapaces at the ends of swinging pincer-arms. The clientele here was largely Boksi; the stares directed at Grbblb were for his species, not his culinary preference, and the Republic flag on his Human tablemate's shipsuit prevented comment.
During the eleven-odd Monticellan days Aurora had spent in hyperspace between Wilson's Colony and Alexandria, most of the crew had revealed most of their backgrounds to each other. Taniyama was reticent, mentioning little more than that he had been trained as a banker before he “had reason to” leave his homeworld; Danner made it plain that no one in his crew would have to explain themselves in greater detail than they wished.
Grbblb had told some of his story, particularly how he had come to be arrested and maimed by his government. The rest of the crew radiated such tangible fury at his story – with the exception of Grbblb himself and Prrg, they had all been raised as patriotic Citizens – that Grbblb had a moment of near-panic until he realized their anger was not directed at him. These people, fierce apex predators and champions of their evolutionary paths, viewed him not as a subject of pity, or revulsion as his own society would have, but instead declared their readiness to stand beside him in battle, and provided him with weapons fabricated for his personal use.
Grbblb had reasons for desiring, someday, to return to the world of his birth – but for the first time in his life, he had a home and a family. He had already been impressed with the Republic's tightly-limited government and respect for individual freedom, an affinity which had led to his misfortune. Now, meeting more of their people, not just the one Boksi who had saved his life and given him reason to go on living it, he was becoming a patriot with the zeal of a convert.
Clancy now struck up conversation with Grbblb, as the Human dug into a chicken-analogue salad which he had taught the chef here how to make a couple years earlier. “Glub me friend,” he said, “if ye don't mind me asking, how is it ye came to be meeting Hlossh and finding your way to the Republic?”
Not long ago the memory had been too traumatic to examine, but Grbblb had changed much with Hlossh's friendship, and rapidly more since joining Aurora's family. He still felt the terror and loss, but his shame had been replaced by righteous, constructive anger. “You know, friend Clancy, of how I came to be... violated... in the name of 'law'. Following the... procedure, I was cast out onto the street. Literally. If I had bones such as yours, they would have broken.
“As is the way of my people – the way of 'law' – as one who was now Un-Whole, I was shunned by most, acknowledged by none. Even my fellows in the Opposition could not openly aid or even take notice of me, for fear of similar treatment in turn; nor did I wish to expose them to such risk.
“I crawled for... I do not know. Days perhaps. I had no food; occasional rainfall hydrated me. I intended to reach the sea, to exist there as little more than an animal or to die; my old life was over, my mind as ravaged as my body.
“I had reached the shore. The waves invited me to oblivion. The surf washed over me and I prepared to take my last breath of air, to plunge beneath the waters and exist only there, as had my distant ancestors, thoughtlessly seeking food and avoiding becoming it for the rest of my life.
“At that very moment, Hlossh emerged from the water before me....”
Continued in the next excerpt....