2110 CE/161 JR
Florida, Federal States of America
Terra, United Nations
Harvey Singer adjusted his grip on his cane and limped ahead. Just a little farther....
"Hold it, you."
The muzzle of a police-issue automatic shotgun rose in front of Singer's chest. He stopped, looked up into the mirrored facemask of a UNPF trooper. "Papers," the trooper said, his voice muffled and impersonal from behind the mask.
Singer sighed. He'd expected this, and had his documents ready. The trooper's gloved hand took them from Singer's, and held them up to his mask. Singer could imagine the trooper's brow furrowing as he struggled to decipher the clear, oversize script; literacy was not as important to the State's idea of a proper citizen as it had once been. "‘Harvey Singer, auto mechanic, Jacksonville, Florida.' Where you headed, Jacksonville?"
"Geneva," Singer replied. The destination was clearly marked on his travel authorization.
"'Geneva,'" parroted the trooper. "What's in Geneva for you?"
Singer swallowed, and forged ahead. "From Geneva I will be leaving for Monticello." That information was plainly visible as well.
"Yeah?" The trooper snarled, and raised the muzzle of his shotgun to Singer's throat. He held it there for several seconds as he pressed his mirrored visor close to Singer's face. "Let's see if you got any contraband." The trooper grabbed Singer by the shoulder and shoved him out of line to the inspection desk. "Hey, Lieutenant!" the trooper shouted. "This one thinks he's going Jeffy!"
With Singer's belongings scattered across the inspection desk, the lieutenant leaned forward on his hands, stared into Singer's eyes, and said, "Let me ask you something, Mr. Singer. Why would you want to leave this wonderful country?"
"Let me ask you something, Lieutenant. Do you intend to cause an international incident?"
Singer, the lieutenant, and the trooper all turned at the sound of a new voice. Singer saw a man, somewhat shorter than himself, a bit wider, and considerably younger. He wore the gray denim jumpsuit of a spacer, and a slim, modern-looking pistol at his hip. On the suit's shoulder was a patch in the form of the red, white and black flag of the Jeffersonian Republic. The lieutenant demanded, "Who the hell do you think you are? This is a sovereign United Nations matter-"
The man answered, "I don't need to think about it, Lieutenant. I know quite well who I am. My name is George Ganz, Field Coordinator, Jeffersonian Republic Department of Citizenship, Miami Office. I believe you've got one of my people there, am I correct, Mr.-?"
"H-, Harvey Singer, sir."
Ganz pulled a data pad from a pocket of his jumpsuit and pressed a few keys. "Yes, Harvey Singer, Provisional Citizen, scheduled to depart on the liner Mary Pickersgill in eleven hours. Sir, I must apologize for not meeting you earlier, I was unavoidably detained by ground traffic when clearance for my aircar was denied. Are these... gentlemen causing you any difficulty?"
At the words "Provisional Citizen," the UNPF lieutenant blanched, though the trooper appeared unaffected. The officer started shoving Singer's belongings back into his bag, saying, "No trouble at all, Citizen, uh, Ganz, just a misunderstanding-"
"I'm sure," Ganz replied, straightfaced. "Be a little gentler with my countryman's property, will you?"
"Just a damn minute, you, you watch your attitude-" The trooper swung his shotgun round to bear on Ganz, and the lieutenant's expression became one of horror. Smoothly, Ganz caught the fore-end with his left hand, twisted it out of the trooper's one-handed grip and tapped him on the side of his helmeted head with the six-kilo weapon as though it were a plastic toy. Ganz must be a native of Monticello, Singer's whirling thoughts provided. Growing up in the higher gravity has made him stronger and faster.
The trooper, stunned, crumpled to the ground. Still holding the shotgun in his left hand, with his right, Ganz drew his pistol, placed his right boot at the trooper's throat, bent down, hooked the pistol's front sight under the mirrored visor, flicked it open, and pressed the muzzle gently against the trooper's left eye. He spoke, then, in a clear, calm voice ringing with steel:
"Lieutenant, allow me to remind you of your obligations under the LaGrange Treaty. It's quite simple, really; the Republic, with its fleet of starships and wealth of resources, exports food, raw material, and medical supplies and technology to the United Nations. In exchange, Jeffersonian Citizens and Provisional Citizens are granted diplomatic immunity and are allowed to bear arms in UN territory.
"Now, your subordinate here just threatened not one but two Jeffersonian Citizens with deadly force. This is, as you might imagine, a grave offense, far worse than the typical harassment and discrimination my people usually encounter here. Left unchecked, this sort of behavior could lead to increased tensions between the Republic and the United Nations. It could even lead to an embargo on those vital supplies we keep giving you. But we don't want that, do we, Lieutenant?" The UNPF officer shook his head, eyes wide.
"Normally, I'd haul your trooper here, and perhaps you as well, over to the Space Patrol offices and have you up on charges, as per the aforementioned treaty. However, I am in a generous mood, and my countryman here has a schedule to keep. So, in the interest of international relations, I am willing to overlook this incident - or at least your part in it, Lieutenant. Rest assured that I will file a formal protest regarding this trooper's actions through channels, but in the meantime, unless I am very much mistaken, Mr. Singer and I are free to go, is that correct?"
"Ah, yes, of course, ah, Mr. Ganz." Ganz rose, holstered his pistol and tossed his head at Singer, who picked up his cane, shouldered his bag and resumed limping toward the airliner's boarding gate, though he watched over his shoulder as he went.
Ganz changed his grip on the shotgun and ejected the twenty-five-round magazine of 15mm rounds to clatter on the floor. He then jerked back on the charging lever to eject the round in the chamber, which bounced and rolled away. Next, he pressed the takedown button to pop the receiver cover open, reached inside, and hauled out the bolt assembly, dropping it onto the lieutenant's desk. Finally, he tossed the disabled weapon at the trooper, who had by this time risen to his knees and was knocked to the floor again by the impact.
"Have a nice day, Lieutenant, Trooper," Ganz said pleasantly, as he smiled, turned, and walked after Singer.
"Mr. Ganz, I don't know how to thank you," Singer said as they walked together toward the airliner that would take Singer to Geneva.
Ganz smiled. "Don't be ridiculous, sir. I haven't had that much fun in months. Besides, Jeffersonians look after each other! I'm only sorry I couldn't have reached you sooner and spared you the insult."
They walked together in silence for a few moments, then Singer asked, "How did you do that- that, with the trooper's weapon?"
"Oh, that? It's the standard model, just a Kalashnikov derivative. The basic design's well over a century old. These Terries take forever to come up with something new. Besides, my last trip here, something similar happened, and I took one home with me." Ganz chuckled at the look on Singer's face. "What was he going to do about it, cause a diplomatic incident? Disarming one of these UnPuff thugs isn't so hard, really. You'll learn, yourself, as you earn full Citizenship. Mostly it's mindset. These Yoonies have been propagandizing and browbeating and cattle-herding for so long, they've come to believe their own lies on the one hand, and on the other there aren't many free-thinkers left to challenge them. Most people here grow up with United Nations indoctrination pumped into every orifice and never have a chance to think for themselves." Ganz and Singer halted as the thronging Terrans surged before them. With a fluid grace Singer envied Ganz slipped through the crowd and Singer did his limping best to follow.
"What a mob," Ganz commented unkindly. "Nothing like this in the Republic. Humans aren't meant for this kind of density. Too many crammed together in too little space. That's one of the reasons we left. I'll be glad when my assignment here is over next year." Ganz resumed his previous thread of conversation. "UN brainwashing. Think about your own reaction, just now, hm? A ‘Huxleyesque conditioned response,' is the fancy name for it. Well, Mr. Singer, we'll give you a chance to drain the poison from your brain, and replace it with whatever you like. You're halfway clean already, or you wouldn't have been accepted for immigration."
"Actually, Mr. Ganz, I was surprised to have been accepted. I don't see what use the Republic has for a crippled old man like myself."
Ganz barked out a short laugh. Counting points on his fingers, he explained, "As for crippled, that's easy enough to fix - at worst they'll grow a spare leg for you and change it over. As for old, the average life span in the Republic is something over 120 Terran years - you're not even middle-aged yet. As for use, technical aptitude is always welcome, and you scored significantly above average on every test in the screening process; you should have no trouble finding work on anything from clockmaking to stardrive calibration. Frankly, sir, with the kind of mind you seem to have, I'm surprised the UnPuffs haven't hauled you in for ‘reeducation' or whatever euphemism they're using this year."
Singer said, "Well, actually, they did once. I played scared - which wasn't hard - and after a few hours they let me go. Since then I laid low, and contacted the Embassy discreetly."
"Hmpf." Ganz snorted in disgust at the United Nations' casual violation of every basic Human liberty he and his people held sacred. "You'll soon have no more need for that kind of discretion, Mr. Singer."
Switzerland, European Union
Terra, United Nations
"Liberty Lines shuttle nineteen, to passenger liner Mary Pickersgill, now boarding at gate E." The message was repeated in several languages. Singer struggled to his feet, shouldered his bag, and started walking again.
The flight from Miami to Geneva on an aging but sound Air Swiss supersonic had been relatively uneventful. Switzerland wasn't as bad off - yet - as the Federal States; Geneva was cleaner, quieter and in better repair than Miami, with smaller crowds of a less noisome nature. After some painful minutes of walking Singer reached Gate E; the spaceplane outside was sleek and futuristic, obviously far advanced over anything Terra could produce - and as he took his place in line, he overheard a pair of his fellow passengers, presumably Jeffersonians returning to their own worlds, commenting on its age and obsolescence.
"Look at that," said the first, a petite young Asian woman wearing a cowboy hat, leather vest, denim shirt, jeans and cowboy boots - and a pistol identical to Ganz', except for the fancy engraving and exotic wood grips. A Citizen, Singer identified her, remembering Ganz' words to the Imperial lieutenant; from New Texas, obviously. "That's an old 312!" she said. "I thought they'd all been recycled."
"We use these older designs whenever possible here on Terra in case terrorists try to seize one," said her companion, a tall black man wearing a uniform field jacket with the red, blue and black shoulder patch of the Wilson's Colony Militia. "We have to keep our technological advantage over these people as long as possible. Gods help us all if they get loose in their current state." He also wore jeans, but with military boots, and his sidearm was of a different design and much larger. The militiaman lowered his voice and continued, "Did you know - this is supposed to be secret, mind you, at least from most of the Terries, though the governments here have been told - every starship that visits Sol System is fitted with a self-destruct on the Marsten Drive?"
"I'd heard about that," the New Texan replied, "but I don't think I like it. It's... it's censorship! It's un-Jeffersonian! Marsten's work is the most important breakthrough in human history, it should be shared!"
"Normally I'd agree," the soldier said, "but now that you've finally visited Terra, now that you've seen how these people live and behave, how the ones in power think, can you imagine what would happen if they got hold of our faster-than-light technology?"
The young woman thought silently for a moment as the line moved steadily ahead. "Barbarians at the gates," she said.
The soldier nodded once and said, "They wouldn't get through, of course - at least not as they are now - but we would have to kill them. The real danger is that they would secretly colonize other worlds in some other direction, and use those resources to build their strength to a point where they could threaten the Republic."
The woman shuddered. "I'll say this, anyway," she continued, "now that I've seen Terra, I've no desire to ever see it again!"
The tall black man nodded again, more vigorously.
The line moved smoothly and smiling flight attendants directed Singer to his seat and helped him stow his bag. A screen in the back of the seat before him described how to fasten his seat restraints, detailed emergency procedures, indicated the location of motion-sickness bags and offered refreshments and entertainment.
The intercom was activated. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking," a woman's voice said. "Welcome aboard Liberty Lines flight nineteen from Geneva to orbit. We will be taking off in six minutes and climbing to an altitude of twenty thousand meters on our jet engines before engaging our rockets to reach an orbit of eight hundred kilometers, where we will dock with the starship Mary Pickersgill approximately forty minutes from now.
"Please ensure all firearms or other projectile weapons are correctly loaded and fasten your safety belts before takeoff. We wish you a pleasant flight, and we thank you for choosing Liberty Lines." Singer watched in awe as the Jeffersonian passengers obeyed the command, drawing and checking an astonishing variety of projectile weapons - and then looked around, loosening small swords or large knives in their sheaths, evaluating each other, smiling to each other as they identified one another as fellow Citizens and not potential hijackers or terrorists. Singer noted that some of the passengers reloaded their firearms with what appeared to be different ammunition, and displayed pins, wristbands, or other small accessories in bright green. Later he would learn that the particular shade of green signified that these Citizens' weapons were loaded with special ammunition, whose bullets were designed to minimize the risk of hull breach if fired inside a pressurized air- or spacecraft.
Never before had Singer seen so many weapons in a single place - or any at all in the hands of anyone but government forces.
Another thing I'll have to get used to, he thought.
With a whine of turbines not unlike those he had experienced crossing the Atlantic, the spaceplane began to move, and like the conventional airliner upon which he had already traveled, it taxied away from the terminal to the end of an ordinary runway. Tires rumbling over the reinforced concrete (smoother than the century-plus-old runways at Miami), the 312 lifted off and climbed - and climbed, and climbed; the nose of the craft came down little if at all from its takeoff attitude, and the angle of flight kept Singer pitched back in his seat. Presently the captain announced that the rockets would ignite, and gave a countdown - "...three, two, one, ignition!"
The roar of the engines was muted by the spaceplane's superior construction, but acceleration could not be. The seat seemed to swallow Singer up as his weight doubled, then tripled. The sky outside his window turned black, and stars blazed brighter and more clearly than he had ever seen before. Just when he thought the crushing grip of the rockets would go on forever, it stopped completely, and he was falling - falling!
With a vast effort of will he unclenched his hands from the armrests just in time to fumble the spacesickness bag in front of his face. Fortunately he had been too nervous to eat all day, and so was in no danger of filling the bag past its capacity; also, his embarrassment was somewhat alleviated by hearing a handful of the other fifty-odd passengers having the same difficulty. After a few minutes his insides settled and he began carefully experimenting with weightlessness; moving his arms about, gently releasing a pen and watching it slowly float and tumble before him, capturing it before it drifted too far.
The screen before him showed a graph of the spaceplane's flight, and with a start Singer realized that it had already completed most of its orbital maneuvering to rendevous with the liner, which now grew in the screen from a speck of light to a slowly revolving cylinder. Excitement almost made Singer reach for another bag, but the discomfort passed.
There were no Jeffersonian space stations in Terran orbit, or as far as Singer knew anywhere in Sol System. They were considered too tempting and vulnerable as targets for terrorist attack. Jeffersonian starships - thus far a redundant phrase, since no one else had any - did not dock at Terran stations either, for a variety of security and political reasons; instead the starships emerged from hyperspace a few light-seconds from Terra, entered orbits which were not used by Terran stations, satellites or spacecraft (the Terrans, he had learned from Citizen Ganz, had "no 'ships' worthy of the description"), dispatched their own shuttles to existing Terran ports and recovered them in orbit, leaving no permanent Jeffersonian presences except in their Washington D.C. and Geneva embassies, and Space Patrol offices at major air- and space-ports.
Also, though Ganz didn't say it in so many words, Singer got the distinct impression that besides carrying self-destruct devices, any Republic ship visiting Sol System was armed. Likewise, the embassies and Patrol offices were heavily fortified, equipped with self-destruct charges on items of advanced Republic technology, and hosted very-well-armed contingents of Republic Marines.
The starship resembled nothing so much as a spinning soda can, festooned with lights, bulbs of fuel tanks and growths of masts and scaffolding for antennae, sensors, and docking apparatus. A spigot-like affair protruded from the centerline of what Singer took to be the ship's bow, and this was stationary relative to the approaching spaceplane while the ship spun around it. In just a few minutes, the smaller craft had gently mated with the larger, and the flight attendants began guiding the passengers through the connection.
An attendant checked Singer's boarding pass and directed him to Deck 9, Section 1, Cabin 918, Second Class. More spacious and better-appointed than he expected, Singer followed the instructions for stowing his luggage so that it would not shift excessively as the ship changed acceleration, leaving the unpacking for later.
MS Mary Pickersgill
800 km orbit, Terra
United Nations, Sol System
"Welcome aboard Monticello Starship Mary Pickersgill. This vessel is named for the American patriot woman who created the enormous American flag flown over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem ‘The Star Spangled Banner,' which was later set to music to become the national anthem of the United States of America. The original flag was tragically destroyed along with much of the Smithsonian Institution during the Fascist Coup of 2012, in fighting between UN forces and outnumbered Constitutional loyalist Virginia National Guard troops under Colonel Robert L. Taylor.
"MS Mary Pickersgill is one hundred twenty-seven meters long, forty-nine meters in diameter, masses eleven thousand tons, and carries seven hundred forty passengers and sixty-eight crew. Constructed by Marsten Incorporated at Monticello Station, she was launched in 130 JR-"
Singer watched in fascination at the holotank in his cabin; he had seen only a few such sets before, on Terra, hopelessly expensive, bulky and balky. This one was compact, efficient and reliable, obviously mass-produced for mass consumption, and vastly superior in image quality to anything he had seen before.
The image of the Liberty Lines spokeswoman in the ‘tank was at least as fascinating as what she was saying; like the returning Citizens sharing the spaceplane and now the starship with Singer, she was remarkably attractive by Terran standards: tall, not slim but lean, obviously in excellent health and physical condition, moving like an athlete - or a warrior. Probably twice as old as she looks, too, he thought. The standard of living kept rising in the Republic; it may not have actually been falling in the UN, but it hadn't been anything to brag about to begin with, during any of Singer's thirty-eight years.
The starship halted her rotation and the orientation of "down" turned ninety degrees, from the outer bulkhead to the aft deck, as the main realspace engines ignited and built up to one Terran gravity acceleration. Singer took his eyes away from the holotank only to stare with equal hunger through his cabin's viewport, as he listened to the first uncensored news programs he had ever heard, the first information and education programs he had ever seen free of government threats and intimidation. After two hours there was a brief period of weightlessness as the ship swapped ends and began boosting in the opposite direction, entering orbit above Luna, where some passengers disembarked and more boarded.
Here the period of freefall lasted nearly half an hour, the passengers experiencing what was after all a minor inconvenience in order to save a significant amount of fuel that would have been spent spinning and de-spinning the ship. Passengers secure and shuttles away, Mary Pickersgill boosted again, and in another four hours halted her linear boost and made the transition to hyperspace.
Singer had been briefed that everyone experienced the transition differently, and now he was pleasantly surprised at the mildness of his reaction. While he had been told that others reported violent nausea or vivid hallucinations, all Singer felt was a moment when his entire skin crawled. Finally he began to relax, as the cabin's displays showed that the transition was over and as the ship began to spin and the furniture rearranged itself again.
Even at twenty-three times the speed of light, the trip from Terra to Monticello took over six Terran months, or more than three-quarters of a Republic year. Singer had a curriculum of recommended study to help him prepare for his new life and for earning full Citizenship, and was surprised at how quickly and easily he completed the courses, especially considering how much trouble he had in Terra's public education system. The significance of this would sink in much later.
The starship used Monticello's clock and calendar, and after a week Singer discovered that he preferred a day with thirty hours to one with twenty-four. For that and the second week, however, he did not leave his cabin; the facilities were more than adequate (better than his apartment), room service was fully automated and, therefore, mostly included in the cost of his passage, and there was always the holotank, filling his head with new ideas, leaving him ecstatic at the promise of his new life one moment, furious at the stagnation of his old one the next.