Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
Aurora, Part CXVI: Loss

This page Copyright © 2019, Karl Leffler

Continued from the previous excerpt
22 Firstmonth 573JR
4 August 2367CE

Grbblb awoke in pain and darkness. He tested his limbs-
-and vomited in panic as he realized all six were gone.
The thing he had sworn, to outlawed, half-forgotten gods, to never allow, had happened. He had been captured alive by the Glautak Consolidation.

He did not scream or cry out. My brother Ralph can heal me, he assured himself, again.
They have left me my eyes, he found. He seemed to be in a sack, through which faint light filtered.
They want me alive, he comprehended. There must be something they want me to see-
Trllbl! Hlossh!

{Awaken, criminal!} The harsh Glautak voice was accompanied by grinding, sadistic pressure on his tentacle-stumps.
Grbblb was powerless. Perhaps, if his captors were careless, he could bite, with the chitinous beak which was the hardest part of a Glaut - but he could not move, could not strike back, could not defend himself, could not wield a weapon or tool.
It was a feeling of utter nightmare helplessness.
{Awaken, un-Whole!} The agony returned, but still Grbblb did not make a sound. {The Brethren of Purity are here to judge you!}
The sack was opened and Grbblb beheld horror.
His wife, Trllbl, brilliant and kind, was restrained - each of her six tentacles pulled taut from her body by clamps, stretched by ropes staked to the ground. Beside her were the four Free Glaut bodyguards, likewise restrained.
His blood-brother Hlossh was leaking ichor from multiple wounds. All twelve of his limbs had been pulled off, and his four eyestalks as well. He was on the back of his carapace, his stumps wiggling feebly, his plastron expanding and contracting with breath.
{For years we have hunted you across the stars,} his tormentor intoned. {Exposing ourselves to abomination upon abomination. Witnessing as your crimes compounded. Consorting with aliens - accumulating personal wealth - fomenting sedition - miscegenating with the filthy Glauteb! Undermining the pillars of our culture!
{It was I who was first assigned to your case, all those years ago. It was I, by these very tentacles-} the torturer waved them before Grbblb's eyes- {who marked you as deviant and cast you out of our society. You have somehow been... repaired, against the laws of nature. I have repeated my work, and corrected that crime as well.
{All these years I, I have tracked you across the galaxy, swallowing my own disgust and revulsion, true to my duty to the Consolidation, to maintain order! Always you were beyond reach, in your ship, under your alien flag. Now at last you have strayed within my grasp.
{Now, at last, I can go home.}
{Murder me and be done, monster,} Grbblb answered. He sounded calm - there was little else he could do... and he had made one final preparation, he and his wife together, with the help of his Family.
{No, Grbblb, no. We will not kill you. We will use the forbidden knowledge, made public by your own perverse 'brother', to keep you alive. But first-}
His captor raised his voice, to the assembled crowd of Glautak. They seemed to be in a forest clearing, within a circle of flickering torches. {Behold the cost of perversion! The terrible price of disobedience! Burn in the flames of Purity!}
Taking one of the torches, the leader of the abductors thrust it into a pile of kindling beneath Trllbl's captive form. His followers did the same for the bodyguards.
The crowd cheered.
Aloud and in American, Grbblb said, very clearly, "Two Niner Four Seven One."
Nothing happened.
As the flames rose and Trllbl began to whimper in pain and terror, the Glautak leader turned back to Grbblb and said, {Oh yes, rebel. We removed your explosive implant, and hers as well. Your tracking devices also. No one will rescue you. You cannot commit suicide. You will watch as your filthy whore dies screaming.}
And scream she did, as she shouted her last words: "Grbblb! I love you! I LOVE YAAAAAAAAHHHH"

Back at the stream of refugees, Aurora noticed immediately that one of her spheres was not responding, and that three of her ship-siblings' trackers had stopped transmitting. She sent another sphere to investigate.
At the previous sphere's last known location, she found nothing at first - then faint signs, not of a struggle, but of recent activity, body-warmth in the ground; Glaut tracks, such as they were. Her missing Family was not to be found either - but here, Hlossh's tracks ended, there were signs of something being dragged-
"Alarm!" she announced, her words repeated to her Family's devices, "Alarm! Hlossh, Grbblb and Trllbl are missing and may have been abducted." She sent more spheres in all directions from the last known point, seeking body heat or activity... but the streams of refugees had muddied all tracks, dozens of transient cookfires sparkled on her infrared sensors.
A computer could not be frantic, but Aurora was more than a computer. Her gynoid twitched with the need for action, even as dozens of her eyes flew remotely here and there. She played back recordings from her spheres, looking for any clue-
There, a burst of static, a spike of energy. Her missing sphere had been shot down. And the last frames before it died-
-A plasma rifle, in the tentacles of a Glautak... one of at least a dozen.
Her gynoid ran.

She did not know where to run to, but still she ran, faster than any organic life, to where her Family was last seen, while a part of herself shared what information she had with her Family, through the clumsy bottlenecks of organic language. Her spheres hunted, looking, listening, even smelling-
One heard a Glauteb screaming. Its atmospheric sensors detected Glaut flesh burning.
The gynoid changed course, leaping, swinging from branches, bounding from trees and boulders as the hunting Flike had done at Clearsky. Her sphere dove, needles of toxin lethal to all Common Life spitting, piercing Glautak bodies, while its cameras saw her ship-sister and bodyguards burning alive, her brothers horribly mutilated.
Her gynoid arrived, hurling her wakizashi to sever the ties that bound her sister on one side, the pulse-laser concealed in her finger burning the ropes on the other, the rapid fire overheating the limited-use weapon until it scorched away the concealing artificial flesh. Trllbl began to drop into the flames but Aurora tackled her in midair, her gynoid twisting to cushion her from impact-
She was too late. The cooked Glaut flesh ruptured in her artificial arms, spilling vital organs already damaged far beyond even her brother Ralph's ability to repair.
The Glautak Consolidation had horribly murdered a member of her Family.
Except for her brother, and the bodyguards who she was also too late to save, her sphere's needles had already killed every Glautak in the clearing.
Covered in the fluids of what had once been her sister, she drew her katana and struck at the enemy's lifeless remains.
Her sword was still rising and falling, beyond organic fatigue, as the rest of her Family arrived.

Swallowing bile, Delilah and Ralph tended their brothers' wounds. None were immediately fatal. Grbblb's stumps had been roughly cauterized, while Hlossh's had been sprayed with sealant. The Glautak wanted their victims to suffer.
Hlossh had lost consciousness from the pain, but Grbblb had seen and heard everything. His wife's last words. His tormentors' gloating laughter. His sister's vengeance....

"How long must they have been planning this?" Solomon wondered, rhetorically.
Aurora's gynoid clung to her husband in sorrow and unspent fury, but she had nonetheless calmed. "The cyberattack at Kmar. The message from Drbbldd. Probably similar efforts against other ships, less able to repel the intrusions. To confirm Grbblb was aboard, to learn our next destination. How they must hate our brother."
Solomon, Aurora, Holly Cates, Ralph Vatelius and Delilah Howell had returned to Aurora with their patients, and the grotesque remains of their murdered sister. Jack Epstein, Charles Clancy, Prrg, and Sarah Heusner remained on Rntggld, continuing to aid the evacuation, along with several of Aurora's Humanoid robots.
"I've started stockpiling spares," Doctor Vatelius explained, "after all our... incidents. It so happens I have a full set of replacements for Glub. He'll be... physically healed... in a few hundred hours. Hlossh will take longer, I only have eyes ready for him." He turned to his ship-sister Jenny Blain, who had stayed aboard with Daisuke Taniyama.
Daisuke was occupied with coordinating the evacuation among the Reserve Privateers and other ships, but Jenny had a new task: "Ralph says it could take a year or more to heal Hlossh, the way their chitin grows. This kind of Boksi injury isn't unknown and there were templates on the Net for prosthetics. They're fabbing now."
"The Consolidation may not be at war with the Republic yet, but they've damn well declared war on me," Solomon Danner snarled.
{Captain Danner,} Chancellor Grkbbt said by holoconference, {words fail me. I would gladly have given my own life to save hers. I....} The leader of an entire rebel nation about to go into exile couldn't very well offer help to the people helping him. In the hologram he trembled with emotion.
"Continue your evacuation, Chancellor," Solomon replied. "Every free Glaut you can save is a blow against my sister's murderers. And don't forget yourself. Your people will need your leadership."
{May the gods be with us all,} Grkbbt said, and closed the channel.

"Hlossh is still unconscious," Ralph explained, as Solomon and Aurora's gynoid went to visit their wounded crewmates. Sickbay was in freefall while Aurora was in orbit. "There's brain activity, so he should wake up normally when... he's ready. The eyes are ready to... install. I'm not sure if it would be more or less traumatic to wake up before or after that, so I've sedated him anyway. Glub has been awake the whole time."
"Captain," Grbblb said, from within a water chamber, in which he was anchored. His stumps had been bandaged. "My sister."
"Grbblb, I'm so sorry!" Aurora exclaimed, floating near to place her hands on the chamber wall. "I should have been faster, I could have saved her!"
"The fault is not yours, my sister," Grbblb answered. "They had been hunting me for years, and had planned well for this day. They struck from ambush, with superior numbers and coordination." When Grbblb had first joined the crew, he would tremble with emotion, in the Glaut way, when encountering things that would bring tears, for good or ill, to Human eyes. Now he was very still. "I am in your debt, my sister, for avenging my wife's murder, when I could not."
"Glub," Danner said, "brother, tell me what you need."
"Please tell me, how goes the evacuation?" Ralph had already informed Grbblb about Hlossh's condition. The Boksi was in a similar chamber just two meters away.
"I just spoke with Gurkbit. He said he would have given his own life to save her. I told him to continue evacuating. Daisuke is coordinating. Nearly half are embarked already, the first few ships have already Transitioned out."
"That is good," the maimed Glautak exile replied. "How close are we... the Republic... to war?"
"Closer every minute. If I had my way I'd already be shooting. What just happened... doesn't quite make it, on the international scales. But for my part, a state of war already exists between the Consolidation and myself."
"Yes," Grbblb said. "You asked what I need. Captain... brother... please promise me an opportunity to strike back against the Consolidation, by my own hand."
There was not a moment's hesitation when Solomon answered, "I swear it on my life."
Even immobilized, afloat in freefall, and without limbs, Grbblb seemed to sag in relief. "Thank you, Solomon. Now, please, I wish to speak with Ralph privately."

"Ralph. My brother."
"Yes, Glub." Ralph had already told Grbblb of his own prognosis too, and the spare limbs he had grown for him.
"Where are my wife's remains?"
Ralph hesitated a moment. "Here. Aboard. In storage."
"I know what became of her. I saw. I do not need to see again. But, my brother...."
Ralph was a long way from stupid. He jumped ahead: "She placed ova in storage. In this very room. Enough that some will surely be viable. Just like your samples."
"I ask that you initiate fertilization at once, and transfer the results to the refugee ships. As many of the ships as you can."
Ralph nodded. "I understand."

It was only a few hours' work for a man of Ralph's skill. They were small things, in their portable cryogenic chambers, but they were received as sacred treasures. The zygotes were transferred to every ship in the refugee fleet, all bound for Republic worlds.
Several Republic worlds.
Trllbl was dead and Grbblb would never remarry, but their children - dozens of them - would live in freedom.
Continued in the next excerpt....
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