Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2016, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part XIII: Flight to Freedom
Continued from the previous excerpt
IS Aurora, 300km orbit
Rllbtl II, Glautak Consolidation
Most ships traveled at something over 100 times lightspeed. Messages between stars traveled a thousand times faster. Word spread: the Man Who Saved Rockville was taking the Lady in White to rescue people from their oppressive government. The news raced ahead of them, the trail of it branching from one world to the next dozen. Something began to happen.
Messages flew from Aurora herself, arranging fueling stops at calculated intervals. The tankers were waiting, and with Sarah's navigation they didn't wait long. The crew learned that word of their mission had spread, and many of the tankers refused to take payment; news of the Glaut oppression had reached the entire Republic and fanned the old fires of freedom. The tanker crews told them convoys were forming, ships nearer Rllbtl already making their own way there, some perhaps ahead of Aurora. The mood was infectious.
When Aurora finally Transitioned to realspace above Rllbtl, 1,382 hours after leaving Terra, ten ships were already in orbit and loading refugees. Three more arrived in the following half-hour, with word of dozens on the way. None were as heavily-armed as Aurora, but all were armed, and the Glaut military was letting the foreigners take their undesirables away – despite purchases of Republic technology and what was for them a frantic shipbuilding program, the Glaut Navy was outclassed and knew it. Now Aurora was here, and Cates had not exaggerated.
At fuel stops, Captain Danner had communicated by h-mail with Commodore Danner. The elder had given word that the Patrol was staying out of the situation, while what little government the Republic had was making it clear to the Consolidation they would intervene if any Republic-flagged vessel were fired on, boarded, or blockaded by Consolidation forces. Michael had sent his son a coded message with contact frequencies and locations of Patrol warships “on maneuvers” only a few light-days outsystem; a real task force, with a regiment of Regular Marines and four more of ECS reserves, was staged to arrive in minutes. In return, the Glautak had promised no hostile action toward the refugee fleet, so long as none of the ships or shuttles operated within populated areas; the refugees made their way to sea or islands, as Hlossh had foreseen – if the oppressors couldn't see the rescue operations, they could pretend they weren't happening.
Ships boosted and Transitioned when they had as many aboard as they could safely carry. A deal for the land Taniyama had found on New Israel was in the works, but Gambori, a recently-settled Republic world near the Consolidation border, not populous enough yet to be a Member, was the first stop for most – they had plenty of room, local plant and animal life were edible by Glaut, and the planet's Triumvirate had quickly set aside a large chain of yet-unused islands for the refugees. They would be accepted as Subjects, with as much right to earn Full Citizenship as any Jeffersonian.
Those refugees' stories were beyond tragic; they were atrocious. Entire families were being arrested simply because one relative had been seen near an anti-government protest. There were mass evictions, widespread seizures or destruction of what little property the Consolidation allowed even their own upper class; theirs was a totalitarian system, the government was the only employer, and to be unemployed meant to be unemployable, a slow death sentence by starvation. Hundreds, probably thousands were being maimed, as Grbblb had been, to be officially shunned by any who feared the same fate. There were images from the surface, of mounds of severed limbs and ruined eyes. And that was just the ruling Glautak; thousands of lower-class Glauteb had been summarily executed, more by the hour. So far three ships' Gunners had to be forcibly restrained by their crewmates. It was a miracle no one had yet opened fire.
Rather than taking on her own load of refugees, Aurora became the flagship of the ad-hoc fleet, directing traffic, coordinating information, sending her shuttles to ferry Glaut from the surface to other ships. Her comm channels constantly broadcast everything Ralph and Grbblb had learned in seven Monticellan years about Glaut medical science, interspersed with dietary and environmental requirements, plans for Blain's water-maintenance robots, a translation program. Freighters arrived, distributing food among the fleet; tankers brought fuel, and more seawater from Gambori, being denied permission to take water from Rllbtl. It was the largest such effort since the Relief of New Israel, 530 Republic years before. Over a hundred ships were involved just in the thirty hours since Aurora's arrival, and a couple of them could each have carried a quarter of the Berlin Airlift in a single trip.
Grbblb demanded to go planetside but Danner wouldn't have it, and Hlossh, over comm as he piloted the 300 shuttle, backed up his Captain. “No,” said Danner. “You're staying right here in thirty-one kilotons of guns and armor. I'm not letting them get their tentacles on you again. Besides, you'll be badly needed here, helping the refugees to their quarters, translating, leading them during the Transit out, helping them resettle at Gambori or New Israel or who knows where. You're too valuable to risk planetside.”
It was true Grbblb had been broadcasting priceless messages of support and encouragement to the refugees, doing all he could to calm the situation – though he had used Sarah's computer skills and his own to produce an avatar for the broadcasts, hiding his identity at Danner's insistence. The Captain, without hesitation, would use all available force to repel any attempt to take Grbblb from Aurora. He would rather it weren't necessary.
Grbblb hated the Consolidation, but dared not give them an excuse to mutilate or kill more innocents. Still, he chafed at his personal safety while dozens died every hour just trying to reach the relief shuttles. Glaut did not produce tears, but the event would be called a trail of them. He was near-frantic with internal conflict. “Captain-!”
“This is a direct order, Glub. You will not leave this ship until we have safely left this system. If the Consolidation catches you they'll... I can hardly imagine, what they've already done is beyond words. I will not let that happen to a member of my crew.” He softened his tone, took one of Grbblb's tentacles in his hand, and continued, “I'd have to go fetch you, see, and then we'd be at war and my father would be very upset with me.”
Grbblb seemed to deflate. “I am sorry, Captain. You are correct. I shall not go. But... how I long to...!”
“This is the beginning of the end, brother,” Hlossh said from the shuttle. “I've seen it before, on Kshir. We'll come back, and not just to Rllbtl. The whole Consolidation's coming apart. Maybe days, maybe years, but they're done for. You'll see it happen, in your own lifetime! Don't you risk not being around to see it!”
Charity and compassion were well and good, but few ships involved in the Relief were as financially secure as Aurora. Most made only a single run before being forced to seek paying work elsewhere. Fortunately, Interstellar Charities Inc., the organization which had helped Jenny years ago, arrived only two local days after Aurora with a flotilla of antique CAF warships, their Drives hastily replaced with Sixth-Gen models. Danner gladly handed over leadership to them. Donations poured into ICI from across the Republic and beyond, and soon regular flights were being planned; for the moment, the Consolidation was letting any Glaut who wished depart, at the cost of forfeiture of any property, assets, or rank. With examples from Human history, the Relief Fleet scrambled to save all they could, before the Glautak realized their mistake. Most refugees were destined to settle on Gambori, which with the sudden boost in population would qualify as a Member World decades earlier than planned, but there would be additional settlements in the Republic of Caledonia, the Russian Star Empire, and many Jeffersonian worlds.
Nine local days after Aurora's arrival, the brutality trailed off; even the arrogant Glautak were becoming aware of international opinion, with canceled contracts and refused shipments, their own vessels turned away from other nations' ports. ICI set up a station on a remote island and negotiated for scheduled flights to it from the largest cities on Rllbtl. Outcasts, refugees, dissidents, sympathizers, or those simply seeking a new life beyond the Consolidation made their way to Escape Island, leaving everything behind; the planetary authorities allowed not a single possession. Some swallowed their smallest heirlooms; others ingested data crystals.
By the discernible end of the crisis, fourteen local days after Aurora had arrived, at least 12,000 Glaut had been killed by their government, or died trying to escape it, through exhaustion, illness, accident, or atrocity. Over 73,000 had been rescued. Eight thousand of those had been maimed. It might have been called a civil war, if there had been more than one side.
IS Aurora, Hyperspace Transit
Rllbtl to New Israel
Taniyama had negotiated a charitable price for the New Israeli land. The immigrants would be years paying for it, but they didn't mind; they'd worked all their lives for next to nothing, slaves in all but name. Now they would be working for their homes, and the right and the means to defend them. Cates and Hlossh had started arranging for shipments of converted small-arms to all the new Glaut communities hours after they'd reached Rllbtl and realized the scale of the event; Grbblb was spending near every waking moment with his people, instructing them in the responsibilities and benefits of their new lives, as Cates had instructed him.
On the fifteenth local day, Aurora had taken her own complement of refugees, 207, more than half children and most of those orphans. Many of the adults had been mutilated, some even worse than Grbblb; one retained all her limbs but had been completely blinded, while another male suffered the opposite and had been dragged to the shuttle in a net pulled by shifts of his own and other children. They were Glautak and Glauteb both, Whole or Un-Whole, mingling freely; among the survivors, the old prejudices would never return.
Outrage was too mild a word for what Aurora's crew felt. Hlossh wanted to turn around and burn the planetary capitol from orbit, Cates was running constant diagnostics and simulations on the weapons, even Sarah and Jenny were getting pistol practice. “Not yet,” Danner had announced... after much thought. “Not this time.” The Glautak atrocities had not extended to Glaut children. If they had, their ships would have been swept from the sky, their ruler's buildings would have been craters, before Aurora arrived.
Prrg was as agitated as Danner had ever seen him, endlessly hurling knives across the practice range in the Rec Room, Hold #6 in the forward bulb, with all five limbs. “The worst part,” he said to Danner as he pulled blades from target, “to my mind, is that I cannot even duel them. They cannot comprehend why I would.”
“Maybe we'll come back here someday,” Solomon said to his friend. “In a less charitable capacity.”
When Danner had still been in uniform, there had been four Kshiran provinces still under dictatorships. Since escaping his desk, members of his crew had indirectly helped liberate the last three. Prrg had directly helped topple the fourth.
It was a long transit to New Israel, with more fuel stops on the way, but the 207 – 214, at least, by the time they arrived; Glaut were viviparous – would not be alone there for long, though they would be first. Other refugees were already making their way there and to every other Central World, often settling in existing Boksi communities, which were already built for amphibious life. Grbblb now had a heartbreaking decision to make: To go with his people or stay with his family.
Glautopolis, Greater Judea
New Israel, Jeffersonian Republic
The crew had gathered on Glautopolis' beach to bid their brother farewell.
First, partly to hide his emotion, he took them on a tour of the settlement, proudly showing off the new construction, the intermingling of the two former classes. They were using largely Boksi building techniques; it would soon be a beautiful town, in decades a magnificent city. Children played, while adults worked, the Whole and the least-maimed already drilling in the 1st Glautopolis Infantry, coming to attention and saluting their captain and mayor as he approached.
Grbblb had already made his private farewell to his blood-brother Hlossh, and overcome with emotion, the Boksi was waiting in the shuttle.
Ralph had almost left the ship as well, his youthful fear of commitment burned out of him by the horrors he'd witnessed. ICI was bringing in doctors, geneticists, even a cyberneticist, his small field kept from obsolescence by continued Siv and Chikaran regen failures, and genetic anomalies among other races; if new limbs could not be grown for the Consolidation's victims, perhaps they could be built. Still Vatelius would have remained in Glautopolis, but Grbblb insisted he stay with Aurora. “It is difficult enough to be leaving my family,” he told the doctor. “I do not want to reduce them still further. Besides, Aurora is your dream, as much as freedom from the Consolidation is mine. Let us not rob each other.” They clasped hand to tentacle.
“Me friend,” Clancy began, “I....” He knelt in the sand and pulled his brother to him. “Ye be careful, jelly-belly,” the Irishman said raggedly. “And ye be well.”
“You let me know how those... how those weapons work out for you and....” Sergeant Major Holly Cates actually sobbed.
“Dammit,” was all Jenny Blain could say through her tears. “Dammit.” They embraced tenderly.
“I will be proud to offer any financial assistance,” Daisuke told Grbblb. “If ever your funds are lacking, yours or the town's, call me at once. I know I do not often display emotion,” he said in rare candor, “but I too hate the Consolidation, for you are my... brother.” There was an odd hesitation when he spoke that word, but not when he repeated it: “Money is my weapon of choice, brother. Allow me to wield it.”
“You're damn good crew, Glub,” Epstein said in his turn. “Gonna be rough not having you around. You ever need anything, you call. Anything,” he added with a wink.
“When your revolution comes,” Prrg said, tentacle in hand, “send for me. I will be honored to fight at your side.” The Nikar handed Grbblb a bundle of a half-dozen throwing knives, which he had long since taught his shipmate how to use. “These blades were made by the hands of my father's father, who used them at the Battle of Cargg to defeat the invading Flggl Clan. May they find more such honor with you.” He stepped back and crossed his arms before his chest in salute.
“On that day, you send for all of us,” Danner said, taking tentacles in both hands. “Including our biggest sister. Until then, the berth's yours, anytime you want it. Just drop a line and we'll come running.”
“Really, Glub,” Sarah told him solemnly. “I'll have a Transit plotted to New Israel every time we leave hyper. Dammit I miss you already!” Glaut did not shed tears, but Eyani did. She scooped him up and reared on her hind legs, as they wrapped four arms and five tentacles around each other.
When the shuttle was finally away, Grbblb activated his comm, set to a channel he'd configured himself. “Aurora,” he said, “I am calling to say goodbye. You were the first true home I ever knew. I shall miss you, my sister. I owe you so much. I hope to return, someday.”
There was no reply.
Continued in the next excerpt....