Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project: Student

This page Copyright © 2010, Karl Leffler
Continued from previous excerpt
2 Thirdmonth 377 JR
University of Alexandria, Alexandria City
University District, Alexandria, Jeffersonian Republic

Te'Hir's heart pounded with excitement as she hurried across the campus to Professor Caldwell's office. Did I make it?
Glancing up, she saw sunlight reflecting from two large objects in high orbit. One was Beta Station, over two hundred years old, a living monument to the Betan Confederacy, from before Alexandria became a Member World of the Republic.
The other object had become her obsession - the deep-space explorer ship Hr'Gen, named for her own people's most legendary historical figure. The enormous starship had returned barely a year ago from a seven-year mission, during which it had made peaceful contact with an early-interplanetary-level race of avian life, the Siv. When Te'Hir was a mere cub, just becoming aware of the universe around her, the first such explorer ship, Enterprise, had returned from its own mission with similar news of the discovery of the reptilian Nikar, who had just begun venturing beyond their own atmosphere. From that moment, Te'Hir knew what she wanted to do with her life: she wanted to see, she wanted to know, she wanted to go! She had since dedicated herself to that goal, studying, researching, working for the opportunity to seek out her own strange new worlds and civilizations, to make discoveries that no one had made before.
Now, though still young at only thirty Monticellan years of age, she had her chance - but a slim one. Of the other explorer ships, Enterprise and Leif Ericson were parsecs away on their own current missions; the battered but triumphant Everett Wilson had only recently returned after, true to his notorious namesake, stumbling upon, and eliminating, a nest of Imperial holdouts, and would be laid up for refit for at least a year; Robert A. Heinlein would not be completed for at least as long, and Rachel Marsten had only begun construction months ago. With the fierce competition for Explorer missions, if she missed this opportunity she might never have another. It had to be Hr'Gen.
Te'Hir had completed the requirements for Citizenship (only full Citizens were accepted for Explorer missions) only months before, studying diligently between field assignments and military training in the ECS. Her friend, classmate and fellow-soldier, Altamond Gorro, said that her baccalaureate dissertation was the second-best he'd ever seen, after his own father's. Monty's father was now an Instructor at the Leonardo da Vinci School of Engineering on Monticello, and Monty himself had only days earlier earned his place on Hr'Gen - surely she had earned her place on the mission...!
The fact that she was one of only two surviving offspring of the Highest Chief of the Eyani Nation - in fact, second in line of succession for what amounted to monarch of a world - never entered her calculations. If that little item - which was impossible to hide, with the Republic's free media - had anything to do with her advancement, anyone involved in such a scandal would have been prosecuted, if not lynched, at the first hint of favoritism. Raised as a loyal Subject, now full Citizen, of the Jeffersonian Republic, the thought of using her birth as an advantage had never entered her mind - until an intrusive reporter bluntly put the question to her.
After taking a moment for her mind to process the alien concept, she had, equally bluntly, decked him.
Duelling laws in the Jeffersonian Republic very specifically did not exempt journalists.
Upon learning of the incident, her parents were so shaken with huffing Eyani laughter that their attendants in the House-of-Chiefs feared they had been poisoned by Imperial holdouts. But no one from the media had willingly come within a hundred meters of Te'Hir for six years, and that suited her fine.

Theodore Caldwell was an awesome figure. In his youth he had won the coveted Harrison Schmitt award, named for the first Human field xenologist, not once but twice, first for his extensive cataloging of plant and animal life in the northern mainland of Adams' World, and again for some of the first methodical studies of fossils on Necessity shortly before the War. For a hundred and three Republic years - not counting the decade of War with the Terran Empire, in which he had earned a battlefield commission and at least three decorations for valor (like most veterans, he did not boast of these, and few people knew of his half-dozen other awards and two wound stripes) - he had maintained a position as Instructor at the University of Alexandria. For the last fifty-eight of those years he had been Dean of Xenological Studies, with the de facto final word on who was qualified for the prize of prizes, a long-term deep-space exploratory mission. That he had remained in a string of closely-related, highly-prestigious positions for nearly twice a pre-Contact Eyani's life expectancy, in a nation whose sociological climate was openly hostile to entrenched bureaucracy - that his final word had been proven uncannily insightful for over half a Republic century - spoke volumes about his ability and integrity.
Skidding to a stop outside Caldwell's office, Te'Hir took a moment to compose herself, smoothing her dark-gold, subtly-mottled fur, straightening her harness, double-checking her handputer, and the pistol and blade that marked her as a full Citizen. Taking a deep breath, she stepped inside. Caldwell's secretary, a sleekly gray-furred Water Tribe Eyani, said, "Right on time, Ms. Te'Hir; go right in." As she nodded and breathlessly approached the next door, the secretary whispered in Water-dialect Eyani, {Full nets!} - the traditional goodwill salutation of his fish-harvesting people, which included Te'Hir's paternal grandmother. She turned back to him, twitched her ears in thanks, braced herself again, and stepped through the door.
Caldwell sat at his desk, pecking at the keyboard of one of his terminals. Even seated he was an imposing sight; nearly two full meters tall, well-muscled despite his age, completely bald, and with a sharp angular face seemingly chipped from flint by an Eyani maker of spear-points, wearing a perpetual scowl. About half a minute after the door clicked shut behind Te'Hir, he swivelled his eyes up to her, and with an almost indiscernible movement of his head indicated the Eyani-style bench, beside the Human chair, in front of the desk. She reclined upon it in the way of her people, belly down with her legs and mid-limbs hanging down to either side - but if her friend Monty had seen her, he would have said she was 'on the edge of her seat,' despite the physiological differences.
Finally the ancient academe spoke, in a terribly deliberate cadence, whole paragraphs flowing with the utterance of mere syllables, punctuated by the ticking of the old-fashioned plunger-switch keyboard. "Ms... Te'Hir." Ticka, ticka.
Ticka tacka tick. "...Yes."
Tackatickatick, ticktick. "I have here your dissertation."
Tick, tick, tack. "...Ms. Te'Hir."
One of the larger holographic screens in Caldwell's desk came to life and began running Te'Hir's audio-visual dissertation, with the sound muted.
"'Observations on the Development of Siv Technology,'" Caldwell intoned as he leaned back in his chair, locking his fingers behind his head. His hard gray eyes swung like the muzzles of mass-drivers to lock with Te'Hir's hazel pair. "Do you know... Ms. Te'Hir... the one thing I most often find... disappointing... in my students?" Petrified, the young Eyani very slightly shook her head.
"Overcompensation. ...Ms. Te'Hir. ...The overriding need. ...To prove one's worth. ...In some area of expertise. ...In spite of... shortcomings... in others; or, independent of... advantages in others."
Oh, no, thought Te'Hir.
Suddenly Caldwell stood and began pacing about his office, slowly orbiting his desk and Te'Hir with hands clasped behind his back; the plodding, intimidating cadence of his speech quickened but became no less frightful. "So many of my students, Ms. Te'Hir, are intimidated; by minor failures in one or two areas of study completely unrelated to those upon which I pass judgement; intimidated, by the need to prove themselves worthy despite their 'low' origins in society- poverty, such as all known societies will always have; Citizenship earned late in life; the false perception that they are perceived as inferior by birth - Terrans, poor souls, most often suffer this affliction, even half a century after the War.
"And on the other end of the spectrum, Ms. Te'Hir, are those who feel they must make every effort to prove themselves for the opposite reasons - students with names like Sexton, Dmitriev, Thibbedeau, even though their relations to our Jeffersonian icons are astronomically distant if they exist at all. Also feeling this need to overcompensate are... certain members of certain royal families from certain other nations, who have been fostered to the Republic for our superior educational opportunities, and are intimidated by our society's entirely-correct condemnation of systems of nobility and inherited rule."
Oh, NO! Te'Hir thought.
"Overcompensation, Ms. Te'Hir. The compulsion to try so hard to succeed that instead one fails utterly - by exceeding one's intellectual or emotional capacity. For one cause or another, that is what I most often find disappointing in my students." As he said this, he returned to his side of the desk, and sat - and smiled. "Fortunately, such disappointments are extremely rare. Our republican ways of life seem to have quite a liberating effect on one's consciousness; a calming, soothing effect, allowing one to set aside one's difficulties of birth, or of the past, and work unhindered on a level field.
"Your dissertation, Ms. Te'Hir-" Caldwell gestured at the projection- "is, simply... good. Let me repeat that - it is simply good. These overcompensating students - who are, as I said, thankfully few and far between - most often display their affliction by trying to impress me - by turning out an enormous quantity of statistics and narration to convey a relatively small amount of real information.
"Ms. Te'Hir, I find your work here quite refreshing! Simple, straightforward, really quite educational - even entertaining! You have easily and painlessly conveyed your message without burying it in an inordinate amount of numbers and references-" Caldwell pecked at his keyboard to select a certain point in the presentation, where Te'Hir theorized on the Siv's transition from the stone- to the metal-age. "Here, you have taken a completely fresh approach to this particular problem, very creatively using examples from all the other known races for comparison.
"Some students try to impress me, Ms. Te'Hir. You, instead, have tried to impress yourself - and that has impressed me. Your 'puter, Ms. Te'Hir."
Suppressing a tremble, she handed her handputer to the professor, and he dropped it into an interface slot on his desk, then pressed some keys. The legs of the handputer's holoscreen extended and spread and, in reverse, Te'Hir could see files being uploaded. "You will have the rank of Warrant Officer Fourth Class," Caldwell stated. "This is a non-combat, non-command rank; if the ship or your away team gets in a fight, you're just another spacer or private, unless instructed otherwise by a regular officer. While aboard, you will be assigned a ship's station and be trained in the relevant duties - you took the military track for Citizenship? Good, that simplifies things. As general policy regardless of gender, you will have your fertility suppressed for the duration of this assignment - any problem with that? Good, wandering about the galaxy with gods-know-what waiting for us, nobody needs another complication; plenty of time for children after you've outgrown the youthful illusion of immortality. The mission is scheduled for eight years, but could be significantly shorter - or longer; choose your luxury items carefully."
"You- you mean-" Te'Hir stammered. "Sir, am I going?"
Caldwell stopped typing, looked up, and chuckled. "Yes, Te'Hir, you're going."

The ship was huge.
Hr'Gen, second of the Enterprise class explorers, was an irregular cylinder nearly four hundred meters long and up to a hundred-twenty wide, massing over eighty-five thousand tons. He (most Human ships were referred to as 'she,' but this one bore a masculine name, and there was precedent in pre-spaceflight maritime history) was equipped with a Fourth-Generation-Improved Marsten Drive, capable of fifty-six times the speed of light; he also carried some of the most powerful fusion engines ever installed in a moving object, pushing the ship at up to five gravities in realspace.
While not primarily designed to fight, Hr'Gen had a full set of teeth: almost the full offensive suite of a 65,000-ton New Hampshire class battlecruiser, including the legendary E-cannon or 'Marsten Gun' within the ship's spine, and all the defensive systems of a 100,000-ton Kentucky class battleship. He also carried a full squadron of sixteen Starcat aerospace fighters, a flight of four Banshee bombers, and two large Type 84 & six small Type 108 shuttles, all in compartmentalized launch bays. In addition, thirty small, short-range nonatmospheric craft, versatile one-person workpods as used in civilian space construction, were docked or stored at various points about the ship. Finally, there was a large flight deck to accommodate non-standard craft, which could also be fully pressurized for repair work or other purposes, and which contained an additional eight Type 91 medium shuttles and a single 100-ton Hermes class yacht, capable of nearly 70 times lightspeed for 'short' distances or up to four parsecs at lesser speeds.
Though not intended to be a warship, Hr'Gen was crewed and operated like one, by regular Space Patrol personnel - although all had first volunteered, and were then carefully selected. The ship's operational complement consisted of five hundred twenty-seven crew and forty-three officers, with an additional platoon of forty Marines and their lieutenant (who, with an Explorer mission in his file, would likely be a captain before he got home, and a major shortly thereafter). If ever pressed into combat, all of this was entirely sufficient to fight the ship to the best of its considerable abilities, but Hr'Gen's real reason for existence was fulfilled by the mission-specific personnel, which for this voyage numbered four hundred thirty-eight - counting the late additions of WO4's Te'Hir and Gorro.

Altamond Gorro was, in many ways, an uncommon Jeffersonian. For one thing, he was short, barely 1.5 meters in height, and very slight of build at only 50 kilograms. His skin was very fair and burned easily in sunlight, and his hair was a bright coppery red. All of these features were unusual enough in the ethnically-mixed Republic, where due to generations of superior nutrition and medical technology most of the population was tall and athletic, but another unusual thing about Gorro was his religion; though not devout, he was a practicing monotheist, subscribing to the Third Stellar Reformation Church of God, a distillation of various aspects of Christianity.
None of this mattered, of course; the law regarding the earning of Citizenship was as old as the Republic itself, and was completely blind to such superficialities. Gorro had, like all the generations before him, adhered to that law, and his nation had adhered to it in turn; he was a full Citizen in good standing, and had, on his own merits, earned his place in Hr'Gen's crew.
Gorro had been born in the Québécois community at Third Try Island on Wilson's Colony. His father was a native Wilsonite but his mother was a separatist, desiring the establishment of an independent nation in the old Canadian province of Quebec. In his youth she had constantly told him that as a Québécois he could never be equal in the Jeffersonian Republic, that his only chance for true freedom would be in a separation from the largest and richest nation in Known Space. But Altamond's inquisitiveness had manifested early and, after examining the universe around him, he came to the conclusion that his mother was full of it (something his father finally admitted to himself once Altamond was of independent age; the elder Gorro was now happily remarried, and Monty's mother was back on Terra, agitating with her fellow separatists). It was against his mother's wishes that Altamond had gone offworld for higher education, and it was at the University of Alexandria that his evaluation of, and loyalty to, the Jeffersonian Republic had been confirmed.
It was at the University that Gorro and Te'Hir met as freshmen. Their obvious common ground was the far-reaching field of xenology, where the two had dovetailing majors and minors, Te'Hir's in archaeology and technology, Gorro's the opposite. But they quickly learned that they had more in common: a love of the outdoors, especially hunting and fishing; fierce patriotism and passion for freedom; and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and exploration. The pair became inseparable, even renting a house together with money raised by working as fishing and hunting guides. By their sophomore year they had easily convinced each other to apply together for assignment to a deep-space exploration ship, and they collaborated toward that common goal. Through a great deal of hard work, both succeeded in earning a place on Hr'Gen, and finally the time had come for the years-long mission to begin.

Four years into the mission....

While traveling in hyperspace, a starship using the Marsten Drive cannot detect, or be detected by, anything in Einsteinian space, without the use of Marsten's technology. With careful calibration and coordination between transmitter and receiver, the Marsten Device could be used to communicate between realspace and a ship in hyperspace - but the ship remained blind and deaf to any object or non-Marsten signal not in hyperspace with it, and detection of ships in hyperspace, from realspace, was rare, and almost entirely accidental.
Thus, as they spanned the depths of space seeking new worlds, the enormous Jeffersonian explorer ships, like their tiny ancestors, would Transition back to real space every parsec or so, to send and receive messages, and to look at and listen to the normal universe, hoping to find radio signals or some other sign of intelligent life, or simply collecting radio and visual astronomy data for navigation and charting purposes. It was during one such period of realspace travel - typically at 0.1c, ten percent of the speed of light - that Warrant Officer Second Class Altamond Gorro, Mission Specialist Xenotechnology, was on watch in the Sensor and Navigation compartment adjoining the bridge, buried deep in the vessel's heart for protection against collision or battle damage.
As he watched and listened to his screens and indicators, Gorro observed the usual: the hiss of background radiation and noise from the supposed 'Big Bang,' upon which the jury was still out; pulsars, tantalizingly, misleadingly regular; once in a great while, through some freak of amplification, ancient radio or television signals from Human, Siv and Nikar worlds, a source of some excitement until they were disappointingly identified.
With only minutes remaining in Hr'Gen's scheduled two-hour "dip" into realspace, Gorro detected what he first assumed to be another such signal, what at first appeared to be an ordinary carrier wave, which could be modulated to contain information. Following procedure, his first instruction to the ship's computer was to compare it to patterns from the three known radio-capable races. (The Eyani, pre-industrial before their discovery by the Terran Empire, now used technology only trivially different from the Humans'.)
"No match found," stated the computer.
Uh-oh, thought Gorro. The next step was to determine the signal's origin. With the ship moving at one-tenth lightspeed, a few minutes' travel was sufficient to triangulate the position of most observed objects or signals - but Hr'Gen was scheduled to return to hyperspace at any moment. Gorro called on the intercom, "Bridge, Sensors."
"Sensors, Bridge aye," came the response.
"This is Sensor Twelve, request delay of Transition, I've got a signal I'd like to triangulate. Can you give me another five minutes?"
"Sensor Twelve, this is the Captain, what have you got?"
"Possible artificial signal, sir, computer says no match. First estimate, bearing 080 mark 330. I'd like to get a few more minutes of it for triangulation and identification, Captain."
"Very well, Mister, we're in no hurry."
For the next several minutes Hr'Gen moved through space relative to the new signal, giving Gorro all he needed. Captain Kantori appeared behind Gorro as the young scientist completed his analysis. "Bearing 078 mark 337. Distance about twenty light-hours... that can't be right-"
"I'll say," said Kantori. "There's nothing within twenty light-days. Could it be a malfunction?"
"No, sir, I don't think so... I don't get it- oh! It's moving! But that can't be right either, not that fast! Lemme run it through again-" The resulting analysis was refined, but otherwise unchanged.
"Am I reading that right, Mister? How fast is it going?"
"Point-four c," Gorro said quietly.
"Yow!" the captain softly exclaimed. Accustomed as they were to the Marsten Drive, Humans rarely saw the need to reach high percentages of the speed of light in real space. The implications here were significant. "Definitely artificial?"
"No question, skipper," Gorro answered. "Look at that waveform - that can't be natural. It's an electromagnetic field, easily powerful enough to be a fusion containment bottle. The Detector says there's something metallic there. Even if it is just a weird rock, I'd say it's weird enough for a closer look - but I really don't think it's a rock, Captain."
"Hmm- well! This is certainly why we're here." Kantori leaned over Gorro's shoulder to activate the intercom. "Bridge, Sensors, Captain speaking. Plot Transition to intercept and match vector with Contact 4083. Let's start with five thousand klicks."
"Sensors, Bridge aye, Transition to intercept and match Contact 4083 at five thousand kilometers. Transition in two minutes." Bells jangled and purple lights flashed as the shipwide comm announced, "Now hear this. All hands prepare for Transition. Hyperspace Transition in two minutes."
"And you, Mister Gorro," Kantori added, "as our resident xenotechnologist, are going for a Sunday drive."

"Personal Log, Warrant Officer 2nd Class Te'Hir, Mission Specialist Xenoarchaeology, E02 JRS Hr'Gen. 14:35 hours, 21 Fifthmonth 381, Monticello Standard Time.
"Today marks the halfway point of our planned mission profile, four years since our departure from Alexandria. We've surveyed and cataloged twenty-seven new planets around four stars - but a lot of the crew is disappointed, because none of these worlds contain, or can support, 'life-as-we-know-it.' Oh, they're rich in resources; gas giants with their attendant moons, plenty of asteroids full of all kinds of lovely metals - but what we're really looking for out here is real estate: worlds we can live on, so that the Eyani and Human races - and, hopefully, the Siv and Nikar as well, if they join the Republic or make proper republics of their own - will be spread so widely that no single catastrophe, natural or otherwise, could possibly wipe us all out.
"Of course the possibility exists that when we find new real estate it will already be occupied - and that's what I'm here for. Well, me and about four hundred other scientists, technicians, and so on. It is in the nature of the Eyani and Human races to explore. Explorers generally bump into other people. Exploring on purpose in an organized manner lets us bump into them gently, before someone else rams into them and breaks something - or before they ram into us."
Te'Hir's dictation was interrupted by a thumping on her compartment door. She saved her log entry and opened the door. Outside was her friend-mate Ri'Cho, his brilliant white Ice Tribe fur smeared with a variety of substances which he had not yet had time to wash off since the end of his shift in Hr'Gen's engineering department. "You're not coming near me," Te'Hir said, "until you shower! Unless you want me to scrub your back...?"
"Ah, um-" The bright pink flesh of Ri'Cho's ears blushed red. "For once, that's not why I'm here." Te'Hir could see and hear off-duty crew scrambling down the corridor beyond Ri'Cho, calling to each other in excited voices.
"Why, what's going on?"
"It's Monty, he's made the first real catch of the mission. It's a signal intercept, they're saying there's an actual alien spacecraft way out here and that we're going to rendevous with it!"
Te'Hir's jaw dropped, drawing more air over only-slightly-atrophied scent receptors, and her ears likewise cocked forward in ancient predatory reflex, stretching for more information.
Humans had been exploring space for centuries; the Eyani had been their partners for more than a generation. Prospectors, adventurers, wanderers and the like had sought new worlds and wealth throughout that time; just since the War, there had already been several deliberate Explorer missions like this one - and not one had ever found evidence of another starfaring race.
Now there was one here? But they weren't anywhere; the nearest star, and therefore the nearest world, was Far, Far Away-
After a moment Te'Hir grabbed Ri'Cho by his harness and hauled him inside, shoving him toward the shower. "You clean up while I try to find out more," she ordered, already turning to her console to call up views of the bridge and SensNav.
Continued in the next excerpt....
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