Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2018, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part LXXX: The Color of Hate
Continued from the previous excerpt
Winsom's captain was named Sharise Burgundy.
Her ancestors had never left Terra. They had been among those who "hadn't worked for five generations", living off welfare funded by taxes stolen at the point of a government gun from the last of the productive class.
After the Republic-Empire War, African-American culture was in great need of... correction. After more than a century of living off handouts, they were widely illiterate and possessed no work ethic to speak of, thinking nothing of stealing whatever else they wanted and murdering anyone who resisted, breeding without responsibility, often addicted to alcohol or drugs, openly hating anyone with lighter skin... acting, and living, like animals.
Commander Beth Lascomb of the Jeffersonian Republic Space Patrol's Office of Naval Intelligence would have turned her pretty little nose up at them. Wing Leader Eric Linfarger of the Confederate Air Force would have spat in their faces, then laughed while crushing them with his bare hands. His very distant cousin, Captain-and-Count Abel Bjornsson of the Asgardian Royal Navy, would have split their skulls with his axe... then thrown away the axe. These starborn blacks had proven themselves equal to any other beings in the galaxy, and held as much contempt for the American blacks of which they were an offshoot, as had any Jim Crow-era deep-south Democrat sheriff.
There hadn't been many African-Americans in the Founders' Fleet. Not because they were being deliberately excluded, but because so few were qualified, or had anything to offer the cause of liberty. Now, like that between nihonjin and Jeffoujin, there was a split between blacks whose ancestors had stayed and those who had Escaped. Unlike the Japanese cultural rift, however, the black divide was full of seething hatred. The Terran side had little to offer modern society beyond unskilled labor or criminal violence, yet these inferiors had nothing but contempt for the Jeffersonians, who had achieved real equality and freedom by, to the Terran blacks' minds, "acting white" and becoming "race traitors". The Jeffersonian side viewed their distant American relations with horror and disgust.
Some Jeffersonians had even suggested sterilization programs. One such had been General Jane Keyes of the Fourth Legion, the legendary panzer commander of the Liberation of New Israel and the final American Campaign, whom some considered a reincarnation of Patton. After Major LeBeaux' Surrender at Gasconade, which ended the last official, organized resistance by the Terran Empire, Keyes had been appointed military governor of what had once been the United States of America.
The generations-old welfare systems had been cut off by the War, and never reinstated by the Republic. Cities had burned in riots and looting when the handouts stopped coming. Keyes' Marines had needed panzers and air strikes to restore order. Methodically, ruthlessly, the troops under her command pacified one piece of inner-city territory after another until the job was done. It had taken twice as long as the Battle of Terra itself. Nearly a million had been killed, mostly while committing acts of rape, murder, arson, theft, and other violence, mostly against their own kind.
It did not go unobserved that General Keyes' skin was darker than most of the scum she was sweeping away. Doubtless some of her own distant blood relations were put down on her orders, but if she felt remorse or doubt she displayed none. On multiple occasions she loudly and publicly declared the rioters to be less than Human. Given the evidence of their behavior, no one who mattered bothered to argue otherwise. History remembered Keyes as the right person, in the right place and time, for the horribly necessary task.
The survivors were placed in labor-and-reeducation camps, and many of them did have their fertility suppressed. Many of the adults were unrecoverable, fit only for simple labor and little of it. Drug and alcohol addiction had been widespread among them for over two hundred Terran years. Like the Glautak Consolidation's caste system, there was evidence of genetic change, forced devolution, as brain damage was passed from mother to child in the very womb. Imperial Terran records proved such suffering had been at least partly deliberate, that the Empire knew of and may have been complicit in the narcotics traffic. They had been using their fertility-suppression chemicals among the black American population too, but for several reasons - not least the widespread alcoholism - it hadn't been as effective as in Asia or Africa.
Only the youngest proved reachable... salvageable. Their parents had learned from their parents, who had learned from theirs, to hate other races while expecting free goods and services from them; to never work and to always vote. Now the system was reversed: there was no vote without service, and there were no handouts at all. Only the youngest could be taught to work for a living, instead of living off other people's work.
Sharise Burgundy was descended from these.
Despite these terrible costs, and the inevitable prejudices which grew from them, it had been well over a Terran century since the end of the Republic-Empire War and the Liberation of Terra, and some progress had been made. The Jeffersonian Republic attempted to be a meritocracy, and came closer than any other nation in history - not through a choking tangle of regulation and certification, but through proven ability, and endless opportunity as the Frontier constantly expanded. The universe was vast, and Humans had explored only the tiniest speck of it. Anyone who wanted to succeed could find a place in it, somewhere.
Like seven generations of her ancestors, Sharise had been born in Chicago, Illinois Province, North America, Terra. Her parents had been laborers, her father a landscaper and her mother a food server, some of the few lower-level jobs robots hadn't completely taken over.
The government-run, union-dominated public school system had been eradicated by the Jeffersonians; education was no longer compulsory, yet the Republic accomplished a higher literacy rate than even their mother-nation, the former United States of America. Schools were either run for profit in a competitive market, or children were homeschooled by their parents, through personal computers so inexpensive anyone could afford them, and Net access that rarely wasn't free. Her parents had acquired such a 'puter for her and her two younger brothers... but rarely bothered to make sure they were using it.
At least most of the legendary Chicago violence was gone. If gangs formed, the Investigators' Corps, or simply attentive Citizens, wiped them out under Article I, Section 5, or Article VIII, Section 14, of the Republic Constitution. Though she didn't have to worry about drive-by shootings or home invasions or carjackings or rape, Sharise grew up in poverty, ignorance and neglect.
She had wanted more. Captivated by recruiting posters and advertisements - some of which featured Solomon Danner's sometime-lover Beth Lascomb - she had studied, worked, trained for a career as a spacer. On her own time and initiative she had applied to Annapolis, the former United States Naval Academy, now the Terran branch of the Space Patrol Academy. She had - barely - been accepted. After five Republic years, three Terran, she had - barely - graduated as an Ensign, and a Full Citizen. She had expected her parents to be proud.
Her father complained about her "giving up her roots" and her mother cried that she was "abandoning" them. Her brothers starting arguing over her room and possessions. Her accomplishment was soured from the start.
The work was hard. In the back of her mind she imagined sitting in a command chair and issuing orders. In the egalitarian Patrol, where half the officers had risen from enlisted ranks and Academy products were looked down on as inexperienced, the reality was pitching in to clean fouled thrusters, performing EVAs to replace components, and hearing the not-quite-smothered comments behind her back. She was a naval officer... but she was assigned to tasks like Mess Officer, Sanitation Officer, leading thrown-together Shore Patrol detachments to round up drunken shipmates. Her parents' words, that a black person could not get ahead on her own merits, echoed in her mind. Seeing non-Humans advance to higher ranks, and faster, added to the bitterness.
She sent some of her pay home to her parents and brothers. She never heard back from them. After a year, she stopped sending. She never heard anything about that either. When leave came, she never went home - never saw her family again.
Despite growing doubts, she persisted. After two Terran years, she was promoted, by time-in-rank, to Lieutenant, Junior Grade. She applied and studied for specialties - weaponry, navigation, engineering, communications, sensors, piloting. The classwork was at, or beyond, her intellectual limit. Perhaps generations of substance abuse had taken a genetic toll. Perhaps decades of indoctrination were too difficult to overcome. Frustration grew, and as it did, her enthusiasm waned.
Still, seeing Jeffersonian-born blacks having success in their Patrol careers, she persevered. Gravitating toward those Jeffersonians who looked like her, she made what she thought were subtle inquiries about race relations - and was shut down. "We left that skin-color nonsense behind two hundred years ago," she was told. "If you're not getting ahead here, it's no one's fault but your own."
Five Terran years after graduation she was promoted, again by schedule, to full Lieutenant - the last default promotion she could expect. Any higher rank would have to be earned, and in the Long Peace, there were few opportunities and much competition. After seven Terran years, eleven Monticellan, she resigned her commission and left the service.
A civilian again, she sought new opportunities, like signing on to a merchant ship's crew. Job requirements remained largely beyond what she could honestly put on her résumé. A passenger liner offered her a position as Assistant Health and Safety Officer - essentially, a glorified janitor, or rather, manager of a fleet of janitor robots. She literally couldn't get a job as a dishwasher. Robots had taken over those jobs centuries before. She considered being dishonest in her résumé - but that limited her choices rather than expanding them, because her Space Patrol records could be accessed by a respectable employer's background check. That left employers who were less than respectable, who neither asked nor answered questions.
After months, years, of searching and job-hopping and dwindling savings, she found something in between: a group of former Space Patrol personnel, combining their resources to purchase a ship and become a Reserve Privateer. She had enough money left to buy her way in, as Gunner. She wasn't truly qualified for the position, but she figured she could learn on the job. These spacers were a collection of disappointments and disillusionments, like herself - most of them American blacks, like herself. She hoped for an environment of understanding and fellowship.
The ship, docked at Torus Alpha, was half a Terran century old, refit and modified many times and still in need of work. The crew had renamed her Winsom.
The captain had been named Lashawn Davidson. Like Sharise, he had reached the rank of full Lieutenant in the Space Patrol, and been unable to rise higher. Like Sharise, he'd had high hopes, of providing an example, proving that his demographic could be successful. After fueling and provisioning the ship, he set out drilling the crew, navigating around Mars and the Belt, testing her systems, establishing procedures, with the intention of claiming official status as a Reserve Privateer.
If he'd found more people like himself and Sharise, or if he hadn't selected his crew only by the color of their skin and the region they were born in, his dream might have come true. Instead it had lasted barely a thousand hours. Quickly the crew degenerated into sloth and incompetence, cliques and grudges and turf and infighting. The crew had split, one faction loyal to Davidson, the other following the would-have-been Navigator, Trayvon Stone. Whether Stone was qualified for his intended position was unknown. What was later discovered was that he had deserted after being charged with rape - a hanging offense anywhere the Star and Bars flew. Sharise hadn't quite got around to lying on her résumé. Trayvon hadn't waited.
Nor had he been alone in his behavior. Sharise had to fight off three rape attempts, one of them a gang of four. She shot and killed two of them, precipitating the faction split. The six other women in the crew weren't as fortunate. Two of those had been murdered after being used. A third committed suicide. One remained captive, the last two escaping to Davidson's faction. The ship hadn't even left Sol System, but was already in a state of violent mutiny. Davidson raised Burgundy to first officer, she being the only other member of the crew to display anything like a work ethic or sense of professionalism.
With the ship floating in an unoccupied stretch of the Belt, nearly opposite where Jupiter had been at the time, they fought it out, eleven on Davidson's side, forty-three on Stone's. Since Davidson and Burgundy had taken their Basic Training seriously, Stone's faction had been eliminated... but of Davidson's, only four survived, of which the highest ranking was First Officer Sharise Burgundy. Lashawn's last act had been to hurl himself in front of her, taking a plasma bolt through the heart that would have taken her head off instead.
Davidson had made her status official, recorded in the ship's log; she would have no legal trouble claiming ownership and command of Winsom.
The other three survivors were Frances Gilbert, Shuttle Pilot; Darren Fraser, Engineer's Mate; and Alysha Green, Able Spacer. Gilbert had been raped twice and beaten, burned with cigarettes, cut upon. She was acting Navigator, sometimes almost normal, other times curling into a ball and crying. Fraser had lost a foot to a plasma bolt from Stone's faction, but gobbled painkillers and kept his station as acting Chief Engineer. Green had been gang-raped and abused even worse than Gilbert, and was rarely more than catatonic. She was under sedation and restraint in sickbay.
With only four left alive, only three effective, and considerable internal damage to the ship, Captain Sharise Burgundy limped Independent Starship Winsom to Port Titan, setting her to stationkeeping some distance away and out of traffic patterns, because she wasn't sure she could afford docking fees or repairs.
There was no police force in the Jeffersonian Republic.
The Investigator's Corps was technically part of the Navy. They pursued criminals only on sworn warrants from actual victims, and did not go hunting for people to punish and revenue to generate under made-up malum prohibitum "laws". Even a public killing might not draw official attention from the Corps, if it appeared to be a mutual quarrel on approximately even terms. Dueling was, after all, in the Constitution. The Corps had a presence at Port Titan, but not much of one. It was a mind-your-own-business kind of place. Captain Burgundy had learned of it during her time in the Patrol. Now it became Winsom's home port.
Sharise Burgundy's family had never responded to her messages home, or to the money she sent. For all she knew they were dead, and for all she cared, they might think she was. It turned out that most of the rest of Winsom's crew were similar, hoping the Space Patrol would be an escape from poverty and aimlessness. Only seven others had family Captain Burgundy could reach. All but two of those had been in Stone's faction. She told all of them their family members had died in a training accident, and blamed it on an error in navigation made by Stone. Newshounds came sniffing and she repeated the lie until they went away.
Alysha Green had been taken home by her family, but Gilbert and Fraser had stayed, becoming Burgundy's and Winsom's First Officer and Engineer. Gilbert never went anywhere without a plasma pistol on one hip, a powerful stunwand on the other, and a few knives in between. Fraser had built a replacement foot for himself in the ship's fabbery, using a template found on the Net, but had to buy a doctor's time at Port Titan to have it attached and integrated. All three kept working the fabbers, repairing the ship themselves rather than paying others to.
Captain Sharise Burgundy started over, assembling a new crew... carefully screened.
Winsom's first customer was a small independent rancher from Old France on Terra, seeking New Texas Supercattle for breeding. She couldn't pay market rates... and Winsom couldn't charge them. The job was completed to the customer's satisfaction, but every gram of profit went back into the ship as repairs and maintenance. Likewise, there had been no outgoing cargo or passengers - Winsom had deadheaded to New Texas, earning nothing for the first leg.
The next run was a little better, True-Terran seed to a farmer on Adams' World, followed by passengers from there to Monticello. This didn't pay much either though, and there was barely enough to cover the crew's back wages from the previous run... if Sharise didn't keep any for herself.
So it went, small, low-paying runs, often costing the ship as much as she earned. Captain Burgundy had, barely, earned a listing as a Reserve Privateer along the way, then lost it when she couldn't spare the renewal fee and couldn't make a rendezvous for certification. Eventually she and Winsom found themselves back at Terra again, looking for something, anything, to keep them flying.
They started taking the dirtier jobs. Cargoes to non-Jeffersonian worlds with prohibitions. Cryopods whose occupants she didn't ask about. Goods sent by people who maybe weren't the rightful owners, delivered to people who maybe weren't the intended recipients. She couldn't have given a particular date when she realized she and her crew were crooked.
Then another prospect came along: Victor Bunn.
He had played to their prejudices. Not just their skin color, but their status as Terrans, from Old America, the Fallen Mother-Nation. Discrimination against Terrans and Americans was widespread, he had told them; he himself was a victim of it, driven out of one home after another, never allowed to demonstrate his talents, strangled by the manifestly unjust system. Prejudice, not incompetence, was holding them back - the starborn, the aliens, a vast conspiracy against the natives of the mother-world, which the oppressors now considered a useless backwater, full of people they viewed as not really civilized. Why, even the Republic's own flag was based on that of the vile Confederacy, practitioners of human slavery!
Burgundy and her crew could prove them wrong, he promised. He had a plan, a dream, to found a new world, an ideal society, based on equality and fairness. He had promised them all an important place in it. For months Bunn and Burgundy had planned together, imagining and covering contingencies. Colonists were gathered, buying their way in, and placed in suspension as Haldred was acquired and refit. Bunn's mind wandered to the future, when he and his "republic" would be recognized as one of the great nations of the galaxy, an example for others to follow. Burgundy focused on more immediate goals.
It had seemed to work. The colony ship had successfully landed, that damned deadly escort ship had seemed to depart, the Danforthers were ready to be ruled, their world a base for expansion. Burgundy had dreams too, new and darker ones, of building a fleet, of becoming - in the secret corners of her mind and heart - a pirate queen of the stars.
Then, just when the dream was about to begin, Aurora's torches lit above them, Winsom's threat warnings sounded as radar and the Marsten Detector painted them for firing solutions, all the ship's computers stopped responding to the crew's commands, and Captain Solomon Danner's face appeared on their screens.
Continued in the next excerpt....