Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
Aurora, Part XCI: Scars

This page Copyright 2018, Karl Leffler

Continued from the previous excerpt
Chikar was a world of scars.
About the time the Republic-Empire War ended, another escalated on Chikar, between the approximately-republican Eastern Pact, and the recognizably-communist Southern Union. The conditions were not unlike Terra's Cold War; puppet states slaughtered each other by proxy for decades, then some incident was misinterpreted, and hair-trigger protocols cascaded into a full nuclear exchange. Records were destroyed in subsequent conflict; each side insisted the other shot first. The war went on, and on, for decades more, using every weapon available. Poisons and plagues of every kind were released, often cutting both ways. Four billion people, over ninety percent of Chikar's pre-war population, died in a single year.
Shortly before the missiles flew, while the Pact still had resources, they had launched a spaceship: Chikar's Hope. Though Humans and other races had considered the design, so far in the known galaxy, only Chikarans had built one: a Bussard ramjet, using vast electromagnetic scoops to gather interstellar gasses to fuel a fusion engine. Bussard's original concept had proven unworkable, as the interstellar medium was less dense than hoped, but the Chikarans had figured out a hybrid design, in which the scoops supplemented on-board fuel. Three volunteers from the Eastern Pact Navy made up the crew, and the ship was desperately launched toward radio signals detected shortly before the war, from a star some dozen light-years distant.
Later investigation showed that the radio signals were natural and the system they had hoped to reach was uninhabited and uninhabitable; the trip would have been wasted. But they never got there anyway. In 381JR, 2247CE, Chikar's Hope had been detected, by astronomical chance, by the Jeffersonian Explorer ship Hr'Gen.
The volunteer crew had been placed in cryogenic suspension, a technique not fully tested or understood, even by its inventor, a scientist named Fanouu. Under wartime pressure, with the threat of destruction rising hourly, three suspension chambers were hastily built. One, it turned out, had been more slipshod than the others, and failed during the journey, awakening and trapping its occupant, the commander of the mission.
The other two worked perfectly for half a Monticellan century, or a third of a Terran. The second-in-command was automatically revived by the ship's computer when it detected Hr'Gen's presence. Contact was made, and Hr'Gen went to Chikar, covering in months the distance Chikar's Hope had traveled in decades. The massive Explorer carried the tiny Chikaran ship inside, returning it and its surviving crew to their home.

The Jeffersonians found a world in ashes.
The two sides, and all their followers and clients and puppets and fellow-travelers, had blasted each other back, not quite to the stone age, but to the edge of pre-industrial. Some state militaries had reverted to muzzle-loading firearms. Others, to pikes and bows. Disease, bio- and chemical weapons, and starvation had eliminated most of the population, left much of the rest weak with sickness. The environment had been poisoned, irradiated, or both. Crops and herds could barely support what people remained. There was even a touch of the "nuclear winter" warned of during Terra's Cold War.
The volunteer crew of Chikar's Hope knew they would not see their families again; bachelors had been chosen. They did not expect the utter devastation that awaited their unexpected return. The Jeffersonians, too, were not unmoved; they had seen destruction, during their own recent War, and could easily imagine a fate like this for their own worlds.
The surviving Chikaran crew, Bacco and Wodon, had become friends with the crew of Hr'Gen. They had described the political structure of the Eastern Pact, and it sounded compatible with Jeffersonian ideals. What they said of the Southern Union was not. Still, Captain Kantori, who would soon be thrust into the role of ambassador, used caution. He did not announce their arrival, or even allow Bacco and Wodon to communicate with their homeworld, until he launched probes to eavesdrop on the Chikaran people and learn how their world and society had changed over generations of war.
The Union was as advertised: communists in all but name, with all the starvation and brutality every such regime had always inflicted. Unfortunately the Pact had gone down a similar path - excusable, in some ways, as the "lifeboat socialism" Old Israel had used while surrounded by genocidal enemies. Without American tax dollars propping them up in foreign aid, New Israel quickly reached the brink of starvation and abandoned collectivist philosophy, and their independence, for Membership in the Republic. The Eastern Pact had no option but to continue down the spiral. There was now little to choose from between the warring powers... who had exhausted each other past the ability to make anything more than border raids, often on the equivalent of horseback. Each side still mouthed slogans and platitudes, and some middle-ranking ideologues still believed them; the dictators on top, and the footsoldiers on the bottom, knew better.
The captain of a Jeffersonian Explorer ship had broad powers, and matching latitude in their use. Now-Ambassador Kantori directed his probes to seek out the vestiges of both sides' governments. A headquarters for the Eastern Pact was found - far removed from the one Bacco and Wodon, and their lost commander, Colly, had been decorated for bravery in, just before their departure. That place was now a crater, as was the corresponding location for the Union. A new Southern command center was also discovered.
Both these places had some computers remaining. Hr'Gen's computers, and the beings operating them, easily took them over. The months of Transit time from the interception point, and the translation device the Chikaran scientists had sent with Chikar's Hope, were enough for functionality in the Pact's dominant language; and Bacco, having learned Jeffersonian ways during his trip home, looked at what remained of the government he used to serve, and chose a new side. It was his voice, without script or rehearsal, which came from the speakers of the Eastern Pact's machines... and, translated by Hr'Gen's computers to appropriate tongues, the Southern Union's, and every other radio or television receiver surviving across their world. His tone was as chillingly detached as the one Grbblb would use, generations later, to address the Congress of the Lii Confederation:
"I am Bacco, vice-commander of spaceship Chikar's Hope. We have found the allies we were sent to seek, and with their aid, we have returned home.
"My commander, Colly, died by accident during the journey. Our third crewmember, Wodon, survives and is with me now.
"Look to the sky. Even with eyes alone, you will see a large object in orbit. This is our new allies' starship, Hurjen. By its size alone you can see they are far more advanced than we. They have the ability to travel faster than light. Their computers made child's play of taking control of yours. They possess weapons capable of destroying all life on Chikar.
"From within this enormous starship, shining with power and progress, I look down upon the homeworld I left more than thirty kamei ago, and I see you have already destroyed yourselves.
"I mourn for the loss of all I fought to preserve, of all I left my home to rescue. I curse the governments, on both sides, who led us to this slaughter.
"I renounce my citizenship in the twisted, pitiful remains of the Eastern Pact, and pledge allegiance to my new nation, the Jeffersonian Republic.
"This Republic embodies, and exercises, the ideals the Pact only spoke of. Their government is limited, their people are free. Free to think, to speak, to act, to create, to worship, as they choose. Free to build, to invent, to discover ways to avoid war, to access resources so vast as to make war over them unnecessary.
"The Jeffersonian Republic is comprised of several different races of people, from as many different star systems. They live in peace and equality - equality not of results, but of opportunity. At the time I left Chikar, they would have been natural allies to the Eastern Pact; they find the Southern Union as detestable as I do.
"Unfortunately, after decades of war, the governments of the Pact and the Union are nearly indistinguishable. Kantori, the captain of this mighty ship, and now the ambassador from the Republic to our world, has chosen neither side in our conflict. He will impose peace upon both.
"All hostilities are to cease immediately. The offensive buildup of Pact troops on the southwestern border of Lael province is ordered to withdraw to their bases. The Union fleet now traversing the Sea of Retse is ordered to return to their home port. Failure to comply with these orders will result in the destruction of all forces exhibiting any aggressive posture.
"To prove the resolve behind these declarations, the Jeffersonian Republic starship Hurjen will now make a small demonstration of the destructive power at Ambassador Kantori's command." Moments later, kinetic weapons struck land and sea ahead of the advancing belligerents. "Rulers of Chikar, lament. People of Chikar, rejoice. Your war is finally over."

Back then, Ambassador Kantori had declared a pox on both houses - in addition to the poxes they'd unleashed on each other. Any organized hostility or aggressive act was considered an attack on the Jeffersonian Republic. That was an overreach, and a blatant one, but Kantori, horrified at what the Chikaran people had done to themselves, could not resist - and he got away with it, through later developments.
The inner circle of the Southern Union - who, like all socialists, lived in luxury while the common people bled and starved - openly declared war on the Republic, and attempted to launch their last hoarded missiles against Hr'Gen in orbit. Only one came close enough to bother shooting down. The launch sites were struck by kinetic slugs and laser pulses, the Union's underground headquarters located and drilled into with a Marsten Gun, killing every higher life form within a seven kilometer radius with Marsten Radiation.
The Eastern Pact, on Bacco's advice, surrendered unconditionally to the Republic. They were therefore the first to receive aid. Surviving commanders in the Union briefly attempted to keep their war going, then fell to internecine fighting, each grabbing what he could and warlording over it. The Union shattered, two of the factions each claiming to be legitimate successors and hating each other for it. Some of the other fragments, as had the nation-states of the Boksi world Kshir, eventually reformed enough to beg aid from the Republic. That aid was only given under contract, to be repaid, with resources or precious metals or labor. Private Jeffersonians could give all the charity they pleased, from their own pockets; indeed, Interstellar Charities Inc. had constant operations here, but the government of the Republic did not throw away the people's taxes.
Chikarans had been Contacted in the year 381JR; the Boksi of Kshir, in 363. Using the crustacean world as a template, adventurers and mercenaries formed bands to overthrow the last Chikaran dictatorships, bringing them into the Republic a piece at a time. Now all of Chikar was a Member World... but the places where the Southern Union had once held power still suffered poverty, corruption and pollution, despite more than a century of Jeffersonian enlightenment. At least the decent people in those places had a way out: they could enlist for Citizenship, or even sign up as scut crew on a tramper, and get the Hell off what was left of their world.
More often they simply emigrated across their own planet, to places formerly claimed by the Eastern Pact. There they found opportunity, healthy environments, corruption so rare as to be newsworthy when found - and promptly eliminated. Like many survivors of the former Soviet Union on Terra, who emigrated to the United States of America after the Soviets broke up, they assimilated to Jeffersonian culture with zeal; blaming, as Bacco had, governments on both sides for the ruination of their world. Now Chikarans were spreading through the galaxy, in every walk of life, even attaining high elected office, like Golra, Councillor for Defense of the Jeffersonian Republic and a rare combat veteran of the Marine Corps.

20 Fifthmonth 569JR
1 July 2365CE
Chikar

So said the documentary program in Aurora's library, played for her Family and for passengers from other worlds along the way.
Bacco Station was a Torus, in synchronous orbit above what had been the pre-war capitol of the Eastern Pact. It consisted of three concentric rings, the outermost simulating Monticellan gravity, the inner that of Chikar, and the middle a weight between, to help travelers adapt. In the freefall hub was a museum, built in and around the tiny, sublight starship Chikar's Hope. There were statues, of Colly, Bacco and Wodon, of Altamond Gorro and Te'Hir, of captain-and-ambassador Kantori; models of Chikar's Hope and Hr'Gen, to scale.
Aurora docked to one pole of the hub, and a flock of lighters and landers queued to receive her precious cargo. The transshipment continued for ten hours straight. Some of the goods, like the fissionables, were containerized, and transferred quickly. Others, like the suspended pigs, required special treatment. Still others had been bought on speculation along the way, and were auctioned by Daisuke to an enthusiastic crowd. The business finally done, and Standing Order #1 also met, Aurora's Family took rest in their own quarters. The following wake-cycle, her own shuttles took them down to the planet.
Scars remained... and new beauties grew to contrast them. Many of the cities had to be built anew, their old sites still deadly with radiation or poison or plague. When Contact, and contracts, had been made with the Alran people of the Lii Confederation on Oskran, part of the deal had been an environmental cleanup of parts of the city of Arriod. The techniques to do so had been developed, and were constantly being improved, on Chikar.
Craters could be seen everywhere, or at least the evidence of them, in unnaturally-circular lakes. Some missiles had flown, or been driven, off course. Others, those who launched them didn't care where they went. Where cities used to be, skeletons of pre-war towers reached for the sky with ghostly fingers of steel and concrete. Residential areas lay broken and decaying, with air and ground vehicles still in parking spaces, but never overgrown, because nothing could grow there. Through Aurora's telescopes - direct atmospheric overflight was not recommended - Chikaran skeletons could also be seen, after more than a Terran century, never scattered by wildlife which also could not survive. The world was recovering, forests and plains could be seen, as green and lovely as any other Common Life world... but the edges would fade into stunted growth, then brown sickness, then grey death. Local news programs reported that the green was, very slowly, winning.

It was a puzzlement, why the Chikaran people had evolved as they did in their world's low gravity, diminutive and somewhat Humanoid, rather than as, or from, fliers like the Siv. There were, or had been, many avian life forms on Chikar, but what records and fossils survived their war showed that none had approached sentience. Doctor Ralph Vatelius, when asked, quoted a pre-Escape science-fiction author: "The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine."
Chikarans had grown from an arboreal lifestyle - tree-dwellers. Their hands had five fingers, and two of them were thumbs on opposite sides. As Altamond Gorro had speculated upon First Contact, they used base-ten math. Their feet were similar, and still had grasping ability. Chikaran "shoes" were more like heavy gloves, whose designs had cross-pollinated, post-Contact, with what modern Eyani wore on their fands. Chikaran gripping strength, with hands or feet, was greater than Human; comparisons had been made to Terran chimpanzees.
Their architecture reflected their evolution, as had been seen on the Chikaran colony world, Enric. Towers soared and branched like trees, with platforms and balconies and homes and businesses at all levels. Monomolecular cables, a post-Contact technology, made these buildings even more spectacular than pre-war photographs and recordings had shown. The new capitol city, Carra, was a fairy-tale artificial forest. Personal air transport had also become widespread since Contact, and a variety of small aircraft filled Carra's sky, like Latii, capitol of the Siv homeworld Selm, or Coruscant from pre-Escape fiction. Again, these people were now Jeffersonians; there was no centralized traffic control but individual systems in each vehicle, automatically networking to avoid each other without surrendering independence of movement.
One of Chikar's tourist attractions was their native trees, called utya. They were among the tallest in Known Space, often growing to well over two hundred meters in this lighter gravity. Like the Great Whites of Adams' World, Chikarans had been shaping them as living houses, for centuries and millenia. The trees carried great cultural significance here, and the loss of many forests during their war had left deep scars in their society; but with Jeffersonian help, the forests were returning. Only some remote areas still had ancient live trees; most others had either burned in atomic fire, or been harvested for building material and fuel for the war. Aurora and her Family, her shuttles weaving through polluted areas, visited some of the oldest, whose shaping was believed to be over a thousand years old. They were among the most treasured and sacred monuments remaining on Chikar.

If either side could be said to have "won" Chikar's world war, it would have to be the Eastern Pact, the nation which sent Chikar's Hope and the first to make peace with the Republic. Carra was the name of the old capitol of the Pact; the Chikarans hadn't bothered calling this one "New". From a tall tower in the new, the poisoned ruins of the old were in sight, sixty kilometers to the southwest. The replacement city had been built out of the path of prevailing winds; from space could be seen a downwind swath of death reaching more than forty kilometers, and another thirty of crippled, struggling regrowth. Archaeologists and salvagers made teleoperated expeditions to the old city, sometimes, using semi-disposable robots.
As often, Aurora's Family was invited to meet with heads of state. Since Chikar was a Member World, this was a Jeffersonian-style planetary triumvirate, dividing power and setting it against itself. The senior member was Gorak, who was the older sister of Golra, Councillor for Defense of the Jeffersonian Republic. She too had been gengineered for surviving higher gravity, and had earned her Citizenship in the Space Patrol, the decentralized, defederalized Navy Reserve. The other members were Yinnk and Halor, both males. Halor was a pure native Chikaran without modifications. Visiting other Common Life worlds would tax him physically, and a high-acceleration maneuver in a warship would likely kill him. He had taken a non-military path to Citizenship, while Yinnk had gone through the Exploration and Colonization Service, the Marine Corps Reserve. Gorak and Yinnk remained reserve officers. She had commanded a destroyer, he an infantry company, and could again at need. Halor, despite his lack of Jeffersonian military service, was still respected; as an adolescent, he had borne arms against the last Southern dictatorship on Chikar, shooting his way to freedom in the East. Since then he had proven a sharp negotiator, and a level head in crises.
But there was no crisis here. Those few Chikarans who still held to the ideals of the Southern Union were ridiculed, or dueled, into silence. On this planet, the lessons of collectivism had been learned. The Triumvirate simply wanted their photo-opportunities, and to share information on pirate activity and other threats in the region.
There wasn't much. Pirates had never come to Chikar; the self-inflicted plagues and poisons were enough deterrent, even without the constant presence of Jeffersonian warships and Reserve Privateers in orbit, and the weapons on Bacco Station and other orbital habitats. Chikar was far removed from the threat posed by the Flike-Glautak, and possibly -Nikar, axis. Automated weapon platforms, of recent construction, ringed the world, set to engage and destroy anything approaching faster than 5% of lightspeed. In a press conference, Danner, with Aurora's gynoid at his side and the rest of his Family in view, praised the Chikaran people for their resilience and preparedness.

As the conference ended, the cameras were put away, the crowd dispersed, and the Family walked back toward their shuttle, Aurora took Solomon's hand in her own.
Continued in the next excerpt....
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