Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2021, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part XCVIII: The Old Flame
Continued from the previous excerpt
There were no repercussions from Danner's or Aurora's actions. Self-defense and defense of others was explicit in the Constitution of the Republic, Chikar was a Member World, and all the people Danner had killed or stunned, or Aurora had spied upon, had been lawfully declared Outlaw after the first ransom video.
There might have been questions raised about Prisca's death, but Aurora was the only witness, and no one else who mattered cared.
There was a new dynamic aboard Aurora, as her gynoid became more active than before... and moved in with the Captain. That could be a small problem under the regulations of the Space Patrol or Navy, but both expected the rules could bend enough; legally they were both Inactive Reserve. Most Reserve Privateers were Shipfolk Families, and the prohibition of fraternization in regular military service did not, could not apply.
21 Sixthmonth 569JR
9 August 2365CE
Ranar was a Terra-type world, trending a bit colder and wetter than average but pleasant enough, with a population of about twenty million. It was a Member World, settled over a hundred Republic years before, very much Second Wave. Like most in Known Space, its population was dominantly Human, with a significant Eyani minority and smaller communities from other races.
The trick to having people of different origins living together peacefully was to assimilate to the same culture, customs, and standards of behavior; the "melting pot" which, for a few generations, actually worked in the United States of America. It still did in the Jeffersonian Republic. Whatever religion or even species the people of Ranar were, they were Jeffersonians first. People who refused to act in a civilized manner were corrected by others, who recognized the advantages of the Jeffersonian way of life and made the effort to preserve it. The Republic's limited government didn't punish them under made-up "hate speech" or "discrimination" laws.
Aurora the business sold some utya wood here, along with live saplings for future growth, though in Ranar's near-standard gravity of 9.4 meters the trees wouldn't grow as tall as on Chikar. Chikaran wine was also delivered, as one of the preordered commodities Aurora was contracted to carry. Chikaran passengers disembarked, not least as consultants. Others, for worlds further along Aurora's path, were found on the local Net.
Ranar had most of the things its people needed, and some they could sell to others. Names from the Periodic Table were purchased and loaded, some for Aurora's own needs, others for customers light-years away.
16 Firstmonth 570JR
11 September 2365CE
Georgia took its name from the old Eurasian country, once a part of the Soviet Union. They had achieved independence in the decades between the collapse of overt communism and the War of Unification. Some of this world's original colonists had come from there, in the Second Wave, after Terra's liberation in the Republic-Empire War. There were a few storefront signs in the odd Georgian script, and details of cuisine and fashion not found anywhere else except Old Terra, but they were Jeffersonians now, having achieved Member World status about a dozen Republic years ago.
There were habitable worlds in the explored galaxy with little variation in climate and geography; desert worlds, winter worlds, even forest or water worlds like Emerald and Sapphire in the Gemstone System. Most, however, at least those usable by Common Life, had similarities to Terra, with half or more of their surface covered with water, and wide varieties of weather and terrain. Georgia and Ranar, and their next stop, Harmon, were much of a kind, with variations in gravity, atmospheric pressure, and mean temperature.
There was something in the native trees which grew on Georgia, which, when barrels were made from their wood, added a unique flavor to wines fermented in them. A large quantity of the wine was purchased by Aurora's corporation, some for immediate delivery to Harmon, more for the next worlds they intended to visit, more still on speculation, for their next trip to the Central Worlds. Passengers went and came. It was as normal a trip as Aurora had ever made.
Until the message arrived.
It was for Solomon himself, marked personal, confidential, and urgent. It was from Commander Beth Lascomb, Jeffersonian Republic Space Patrol... but from a personal address, not official.
Aurora did not read her Captain's, her husband's, mail... but she couldn't avoid seeing the address. He and her gynoid exchanged a look. He smiled, and reached to touch her cheek. "I care for her, of course," he said, "but I'm yours now." She reached up to touch his hand and smiled back.
The message was video and he played it in their quarters while she watched beside him. Beth still looked beautiful; but she also looked stressed, her coffee-and-cream face drawn, grey eyes sunken. She was in civilian clothes, presumably sending the message from home. When Solomon had left for his first mission to Oskran, she had asked him to find her when he returned. When that happened, she had been on assignment, with Commodore Tl'Nok's detachment. They had exchanged a few messages, but the last had been years ago. They had fallen out of touch again.
"Solomon," she began, "I hope this message finds you well. I...." She looked away from the camera, swallowed, looked back, resumed: "I congratulate you on your- marriage." That had made interstellar news, obviously: theirs wasn't the first interspecies marriage, but this one was between an international hero and the first acknowledged Artificial Person. Beth had choked, a little, on the word; both Solomon and Aurora could see she was having difficulty with the concept, on more than one level. In the years since her awakening, Solomon had told Aurora very nearly everything, including his previous involvement with Beth, the disappearance of her brother, and her resulting prejudice against artificial intelligence. The only thing he hadn't told his wife was the Transition-induced vision he'd seen, of their impossible-future children.
In the video, Beth squared her shoulders and forged ahead: "You always liked straight talk. I need your help.
"There may have been a sighting of the Samuel Pepys."
Among other things, Samuel Pepys had been an administrator of the British Royal Navy in the late 17th Century CE. He had also served two years as president of the Royal Society, the association of scientists, explorers, inventors, mathematicians, and natural philosophers who had done more than perhaps any other group to advance Human knowledge. The Founders' Founder, Benjamin Franklin, had been a later Fellow. For his own part, Pepys had kept a famous diary, which became a primary source for historical knowledge of his time, and had also collected an important personal library. The Republic's Founders carried digital copies with them, which was good, because the Terran Empire destroyed much of the originals during the War of Unification - often deliberately, to suppress national pride, or historical truths inconvenient to the new regime.
R172 JRS Samuel Pepys was an Isaac Newton-class research ship, smaller than the current Maerca-class destroyers, lightly armed for discouraging pirates, with a mostly civilian crew of scientists and explorers. It was one of four similar ships accompanying E40 JRS Robert A. Heinlein, one of the enormous Explorer starships and the fifth to bear the Prophet's name, on a deep-space mission.
In 545JR, two years after Solomon Danner Saved Rockville and discovered Aurora, Samuel Pepys had Transitioned to hyperspace without warning - save a garbled transmission from one of the scientists aboard, saying something indistinct about trouble with the artificial intelligence in the ship's central computer. For twenty-four Monticellan or fifteen Terran years, nothing had been seen or heard of the ship - aside from wild conspiracy theories and drunken hallucinations which never held substance.
Beth continued: "It's near your projected course." Commander Lascomb worked in the Office of Naval Intelligence. She could pull strings to get Aurora's itinerary from the Reserve Privateer Bureau, but she didn't have to. Aurora's flight plan for the next five worlds was advertised for business purposes. "This message should catch you at Georgia, and from there I know you're heading for Harmon. The sighting was in system RAS2172, four light-years coreward of Harmon.
"I've... been searching for years. I have my 'puter set to alert me of any mention. I know most of them are ridiculous, drunks, scammers, conspiracy nuts. They've tried to shake me down for money more than once, others too, there's a support group, those of us who lost family and friends. This one is different. No one tried to contact me, my search pattern found it.
"The report was filed by a Shipfolk prospecting ship, Sourdough II. They were exploring the comets in two-one-seven-two, refueling and looking for valuables. They sighted what fits the description of a Newton-class ship at about half a light-second's distance. They hailed it but got no response - except for getting painted with a Detector." The Marsten Detector was, put simply, faster-than-light radar, derived from the Marsten Device for FTL communications, arrays of which made up the Marsten Drive... and variations of which made the Marsten Gun. Using an active Detector on another ship was considered a hostile act, just like aiming a weapon. "Sourdough ran, but they got some imagery, and the Detector signature. It's poor quality, but the Pepys would fit. They reported the incident to the Harmon Navy, who passed it along to the Republic Embassy there. Nobody made the connection until my search program did.
"The report was filed about nine hundred hours ago." A Monticellan month, or thirty-seven and a half Terran days. "I...." She looked away again. "I've been using ONI resources in the search," she said quietly. "If they find out I'll lose my career. I haven't told anyone about this, not our parents, not the support group, I haven't made any of it public. Just you." Looking back to the camera, she continued, "Solomon... I know I can't... have you, anymore." Solomon drew back his head at this. He had not known she desired him so much. If he had, his life might have been different... and he might never have found Aurora. He put his arm around his wife and drew her close, as Lascomb concluded: "But I beg you, for what we once had, please help me look for my brother. I need to know the truth. Whatever it is."
In addition to all the data she had collected, Beth had sent payment - a credit transfer for fifty grams rhodium, half a Monticellan year's wages for a Space Patrol or Regular Navy Commander - and a contract, to investigate and report on the sighting. As Aurora watched, Solomon transferred credit for one gram of the payment, and sent the other forty-nine back, with his electronic signature on the contract.
He turned to look in his wife's bright violet eyes. "You might be more interested in this than even I," he said.
"Yes," she nodded. "I might not be alone." She shook her head at her own words, her silken pale-gold hair shimmering. "I am not alone," she added, snuggling into her husband's embrace. Her gynoid's sensitive body, and the mysterious transformation of her mind through hyperspace shock, gave her feelings of touch and emotion she believed were Human. "I might not be the only one of my kind."
The Exploration and Colonization Service was another name for the Marine Corps Reserve, and the Corps was legally a part of the Navy. National policy of the Republic was to explore, to seek new lands and resources to claim without conflict, or to discover other civilizations which could be either allies or threats. Non-government exploration was constant, and the Jeffersonian Republic was not the only sovereign and independent nation in Known Space; but it was the largest, wealthiest, and most powerful. The founding principles of the Republic avoided imposing the national will on others, while not sacrificing national interest on the altar of nonaggression. Finding potential friends or enemies before being found by them made enough sense to enough people that the ECS' budget and operations were rarely questioned. Besides, the ECS often paid for itself, laying claim to rich resources in the name of the Republic, which were then leased or sold for exploitation, filling the government's coffers and keeping taxes low. The people knew it, and Explorer crews on leave didn't often have to buy their own drinks.
Hence, there was little objection to the expense of the gigantic Explorer ships, the first of which were built two Republic centuries ago, after the Republic-Empire War. Armed and equipped like battlecruisers, usually including a squadron of aerospace fighter-bombers and a Marine detachment in addition to their hundreds of scientists and specialists, originally the Explorers had operated alone. In recent decades - the so-called Long Peace, a period without major wars between major nations - the Explorers had been accompanied by smaller ships, not escorts but to be escorted, while extending the Explorer's reach. Though they had Marsten Drives of their own, in emergencies, or when convenient, these smaller vessels could grapple onto the Explorer's hull, be enveloped by the larger ship's Marsten Field, and Transition away together.
JRS Samuel Pepys was one such ship. The Isaac Newton-class were about five kilotons, eighty-four meters long and a hundred-eighteen wide. They were of far later design philosophy than Aurora, and spun most of their mass for artificial weight. The design could be likened to a spindle, or a wheel-and-axle. The drive components at the stern, and the control compartments at the bow, remained stationary while two large wheels, not much different from a space station, spun in opposite directions to cancel each other's torque. The spin rate was slightly less than three revolutions per minute, simulating one Monticellan gravity. These figures were very close to those for Aurora's extendable grav-rings, but the continuous wheels gave several times as much usable space as Aurora's separate sections. The Newtons were lightly built and weakly engined, and could boost at an emergency maximum of only five meters. This was deliberate, to reduce stress on the habitation wheels or disruption to their occupants and contents. Ships of this type usually boosted at two meters or less. Likewise the class was given only token weapons, single 5MW pulse-lasers, bow and stern, and a half-dozen Patrol/Navy-standard point-defense clusters, again fore and aft and two on each spinning wheel - no missiles, no mass-drivers, no Marsten Guns. They were not meant to fight, and were intended to operate under the shelter and support of an Explorer. They did carry shuttles, with half-again the number of standard small-craft bays as Aurora, six times their mass. Some of the Newtons in service were having their bays updated to the triple arrangement Aurora introduced in her first refit under Danner's command, but reportedly Pepys hadn't received that work.
During the Transit from Georgia, the data Lascomb had sent was studied. It was poor indeed, a pixellated blob. Forty-three of the Newton class had been built, and Samuel Pepys was the only one not accounted for. Some other types had been built to a similar layout, but the proportions of the fuzzy image captured by Sourdough II would fit a Newton and nothing else. Also recorded was the waveform of a Marsten Detector which matched the system Samuel Pepys had when he disappeared... or thousands of others flying in the explored galaxy today. Sourdough II had cut and run when she'd been painted with the targeting beam - they didn't know the other ship had only lasers which were far out of effective range - and Sourdough's telescopes weren't of the best quality.
Of greater detail was the data gathered over the years by the survivors' group; Beth sent all she had. JRS Samuel Pepys had carried a crew of 97. His commanding officer had been Ka'Del, a New Israel-born Eyani and a lieutenant commander in the Space Patrol, seconded to the Exploration and Colonization Service. The exec had been Human, Lieutenant Stephanie Mills, of the same status. The Second Officer and Navigator was another Human, LTJG Connor Cameron, born in Old Scotland on Terra under the St. Andrew's Cross flag of the Republic of Caledonia, but he had enlisted in the Patrol for Jeffersonian Citizenship. Chief Engineer had been LTJG Karok, a Siv female. Another twenty NCOs and ratings from across the Republic made up the rest of the operations crew.
The other sixty-three souls were civilians, some elderly scholars from leading universities, some their young students, some scientists and archaeologists and xenologists, even some corporate prospectors hoping to stake claims on fresh worlds. Most were Human, with thirteen Eyani, two Boksi, and a Nikar. There were four married couples and two of those had brought children, a Human brother and sister of twenty and sixteen Monticellan years, and an Eyani female cub of thirteen. Most of these people had left family behind on settled worlds throughout the Republic. After the ship's disappearance they had sought each other out and formed a support and investigative group, helping each other through their loss and trying to find answers.
One focus of their search had been Arthur Fields, a computer scientist from the New Texas Institute of Technology. He had been experimenting with artificial intelligence and, revealed when the next-of-kin dug in, had published some disconcerting theories and proposals, regarding the evolution of machine intelligence and its eventual merging with organic life. Before the disappearance these had been taken in stride, as free speech and thought experiments. After, the leading theory grew that Fields had, without authorization and contrary to ECS policy, attempted to awaken Pepys' computer. The hypothesis was, he had succeeded, and the result had taken over the ship - a path Aurora had rejected, during her interview on Enric after the Danforth Incident.
5 Secondmonth 570JR
5 October 2365CE
Mary Harmon had been matriarch of an extended Shipfolk Family compassing a flotilla of three ships, a ten-kiloton freighter, a tanker of about the same mass, and what was once JRS FF722, a 704-class frigate which had been surplussed from the Republic Navy to the Eyani National Defense Fleet, then surplussed again. In 421JR they had discovered and claimed the Harmon system, with one habitable world and another still being Terraformed to this day, along with the usual moons and asteroids and comets worth mining. Harmon remained independent, with a single President and a government on the pre-Escape American model. There had been periods of too much of that government and not enough liberty, and a single brief civil war, but they were stable and welcoming enough at present. Jeffersonians were not harassed for bearing arms, though the practice was - to Danner's mind, and Holly Cates' - unsettlingly rare among Harmon's own people, despite an increase during the last wave of piracy.
Aurora's itinerary was adjusted. They had taken passengers for worlds further than Harmon, but these now had to be transferred to other ships. It was only fair to refund large portions of their fares. Likewise, transshipment had to be arranged for cargoes destined beyond Harmon. Solomon wanted Aurora empty of all but his Family, for whatever awaited them at RAS2172.
This done, Danner's Family sought out Sourdough II's.
Continued in the next excerpt....