Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
Aurora, Part XVI: Life Goes On

This page Copyright © 2016, Karl Leffler

Continued from the previous excerpt
Everyone was depressed over Grbblb's departure, including Danner, though emotions were mixed; the Glaut, and at least some of his people, were free of an oppression so ancient and pervasive one became nauseous contemplating it. Danner quickly arranged another paying Transit to take everyone's minds off the loss.
It was easy to find paying cargo and passengers from one Central World to another, especially for a ship with Aurora's reputation. This trip, she was carrying maintenance robots from Edo Station to Sol System, and technicians to install and program them. Danner instructed Blain to leave Aurora's Drive at the high-speed settings. Fuel was cheap, ports were near, and the pain of Grbblb's departure was fresh; the less time spent in Transit to brood over it, the better.
Hlossh busied himself with his own work and that which had been Grbblb's. Aurora was highly organized now, and over the years the Engineering department – insofar as there were “departments” among the family they had become – had built several labor-saving robots, all sub-sentient by themselves, but with enough AI to receive orders and give reports in speech. They were networked to Aurora herself, and were part of her as much as Danner's own hands were part of him. Sensors throughout the ship monitored everything that mattered and Aurora alerted the robots, Blain, or Hlossh – and formerly Grbblb – to anything which needed attention. This was not often; she had been designed well, and redesigned better. She largely took care of herself. Hlossh distracted himself from his missing blood-brother in other ways when the work ran out, helping Epstein monitor cargo or practice configuring passenger quarters, pitching in with Clancy in the galley, wordlessly playing backgammon for hours with Ralph, or like Danner spending days in self-improvement with the ship's library or computerized lessons.
It wasn't entirely enough. What had passed between the blood-brothers, the decision of who would stay and leave, was for no one else, and no one asked; but somehow, even across the sharp species barrier of inexpressive chitin, the Boksi looked sad.

551JR
Torus Alpha, Cis-Lunar Region
Sol System, Jeffersonian Republic

Again Aurora had reached Terra, docking this time at Station Alpha, built shortly after the Liberation to clean up the orbital debris from the naval components of the Battle of Terra, and expanded ever since. Her name reflected her status; nothing survived the naval battle, the orbital slate had been wiped clean. Even weather and communication satellites had been targeted by one side or the other, to deny their use to the enemy or eliminate what might have been disguised weapon platforms. The Republic Navy's support elements brought prefabricated replacements along with their bullets and beans – they already knew who would win the War.
Originally another stack of wheels, these nearly 500 meters in diameter, Alpha had been covered over and converted to an abbreviated O'Neill Cylinder. This in turn was dwarfed by the mammoth structure since built around it, using the Station for a hub: Torus Alpha, of the pre-Escape Stanford concept, three kilometers in diameter, spinning at a bit more than ¾rpm, providing one Terran gravity inside. The resulting structure was now simply referred to as Alpha, and was home to over ten thousand sentients, mostly Human. Many more could have lived comfortably in as much space, but Jeffersonians liked their elbow room – and much of the space was otherwise occupied. At half-again synchronous orbit, Alpha was above most of the clutter and bustle of near-Terran space and free of most tidal forces, and had grown into a small world in her own right; her permanent residents named themselves not Terrans, but Alphans. Technically part of the Province of Canada, she was a District of the Republic, with her own single Representative in Congress – on the rare occasions that mattered, with so little government.
Aurora's cargo for this Transit consisted of nearly three hundred robots to maintain Alpha's outer hull, armored with disassembled asteroids against impact or radiation, and automated apparatus to maintain the robots. The technician passengers would set up and test the system, then train native Alphans to run it; they'd take another ship back to New Israel months later. Most of Alpha's construction had been accomplished – most of a Terran century ago – without lifting material from Terra herself. The mineral resources of Sol's Belt would not be exhausted for millennia, and then they could start on the dozens of moons throughout the system; with cheap energy and fusion rockets, these, and comets from deeper space to provide water and air, could be gathered and processed without disturbing the garden that was Man's grandmother, or expensively lifting her flesh out of her deep gravity well.
Alpha had served many roles over generations. Built as headquarters for post-War orbital cleanup, when this was done she remained for a time an orbital foundry, processing the recovered scrap into usable metal before Sol System's space industry grew to match that of other stars; smelting and processing was done on-site now by great ships, traveling foundries built for the purpose, which could devour an asteroid in a day or a shipwreck in an hour. After this phase, Alpha had a brief career as shipyard, before again being surpassed by newer, more conveniently located facilities. It was during this phase she was converted to a Cylinder, but soon after, Alpha was languishing with a population of barely two hundred. Then came Hannebuth.
By 2259CE, Terra was the newest Member World of the Republic and many of her people were Citizens, most of the rest recognized as Subjects (with greater rights and protections than most “citizens” of most “republics” in history). Emerson F. Hannebuth, born and raised a flatlander outside Winnipeg, had earned his Citizenship in the Patrol, though his five Monticellan years of service were remarkably unremarkable. When discharged, he returned to his family cattle farm and, with little thought for the future, settled down to what he expected to be a life of anonymous mediocrity.
Three years later he became the ninth winner of the Terran Lottery.

Cattle are raised for meat, milk, and hide. Most worlds raise their own product for their own market, but some worlds, from some fluke of environment or biology, cannot; other worlds' populations desire particular products, for statements of fashion or wealth, strongly enough to pay for them; thus there is commerce between stars.
Most of the cost of getting product to market was in lifting it out of its gravity well of origin (dropping it into its destination was much cheaper). As the Founder Vetter paraphrased the Prophet Heinlein, “Once you're in orbit you're halfway to everywhere.” Though out of favor following the Coup of 2012, and banned outright since Unification, Heinlein's work was rediscovered after Liberation, and was recommended reading for even common ratings in the Space Patrol. Hannebuth had devoured his collected works and, suddenly finding himself wealthy, was inspired to address a problem of economics: he would create the first orbital cattle farm, ensuring a controlled environment for healthy and consistent product, much nearer the top of the well than the bottom. Seeking out a group of like-minded investors, he purchased Station Alpha and instigated plans for Terra's first Torus.
Holodramas have been produced about the ensuing eight Terran years of construction, scandal, and near-disaster, but at last Hannebuth's dream came true, and within another decade his investors had received their first dividends on schedule. Now, beside the straightforward ranching operations (Alpha truly held more cows than people, grazing on engineered grasses which would take over the habitat in a week without cows to eat them), portions of the Torus' habitable interior had been set aside for tourism – “dude ranches” in pre-Escape parlance – or retirement. Along the six mighty spokes which connected the Torus to the Station hub, more habitats had been built, over decades, for retirement and medical use, the simulation of lesser gravity aiding in healing and recuperation, or lengthening lives already long. A sub-torus, recently completed at the halfway diameter, was even now beginning operation as a vast amusement park, to much media fanfare.
Aurora's crew had a habit of playing tourist wherever they went, whenever finances weren't pressing – a dream-come-true should be enjoyed, after all; every world held a lifetime of mysteries, and there were still many worlds even in the Republic they'd never seen. On this layover, they rented wingsuits and flew like Siv in the sub-torus' reduced weight; Siv and Chikaran communities were already forming here. Hlossh explored a half-g lake for a time, but left when it reminded him of Grbblb's absence; Clancy made a point of introducing the Engineer's Mate to a local entrepreneur who was trying to design flyers for other races, thus distracting the Boksi from his loss with a tangible problem he could openly attack.
Sarah had talked Ralph into accompanying her to one of the dude ranches in the main Torus. There were many Eyani throughout the Republic, and thamma beasts had been added to several corrals, coexisting peacefully with Terran horses. Up on the sub-torus, one of the park's attractions was a CPC arena, where Holly and Jack practiced their combat pistol techniques against holograms and robots. Jenny and her Engineer's eye was away with a tour of the entire complex, while Danner and the rest of the crew had scattered among the shopping areas – it had been a long time since they'd been short of cash and they weren't likely to be again soon.

“Evening” was arbitrary in an orbiting habitat, but Alpha had been designed with the same 24-hour cycle as Terra. Louvers adjusted to allow calculated amounts of mirror-routed sunlight through the filtered armorglas of the inner surface; even seasonal variations had been programmed, though for the 45th parallel rather than Hannebuth's native Manitoba, and the atmosphere and temperature also varied, if very mildly, to simulate seasons. The cows were convinced, and there was plenty of solar power to heat the Humans' homes in “winter”. It happened to be mid-Spring at the simulated latitude, so as “evening” fell, the crew gathered at one of the restaurants scattered throughout the park.
“High Gulch Saloon”, said the sign above the door, and the place was decorated like the set of an old 2D Western film, complete with swinging doors, poker tables, a polished hardwood bar and the wide mirror behind it. More-private dining booths lined the walls; the crew chose one their size and used the unobtrusive terminal to order; live waiters were available for a small fee. The menu highlighted traditional Western dishes but was in fact very complete.
Danner no longer wore a headset transmitting live video to Aurora; instead one of her compact remotes followed him, silently hovering on fans which would have gently whirred without the sound-canceling feature it carried. She might never become sentient – few did and fewer observers could be certain of it – but she was included in conversation nonetheless. The remote, a 15cm white sphere dotted with intake and exhaust grills, holoreceptors and projectors, settled to the center of the table, extending three legs on which to rest. The little white ball held more computer power than Aurora had been built with, and less than ten percent of what her mainframe carried now.
As the crew were beginning their desserts, the sphere sounded a tone and projected a hologram of the ancient envelope icon, indicating new mail – a regular packet had been routed though Marsten Devices and more conventional servers. Personal mail was already routed to each crewmember's 'puter, which would light or sound or vibrate to the owner's preference; this display indicated mail to the ship generally, or the crew as a whole.
“What news, Aurora?” Prrg asked the sphere.
“Message from Grbblb, sir, to the crew and myself.”
Sarah's ears pricked. “Play it!” True to the Navigator's word, she and Aurora had built a subroutine to constantly update a Transit to New Israel from whatever world they happened to orbit. This was the crew's second day at Alpha, and packets typically arrived hourly; with Sixth Generation Device speeds well over c100,000, and Epsilon Indi little more than 100,000 light-hours away, the message had likely been sent within the last three hours. Some said simultaneity was a meaningless concept between stars, but h-mail gave a convincing illusion.
“Wait-” Jenny pressed the button to draw the privacy shield across the restaurant booth. “He's our crew and the rest of the galaxy can't have him. Now play.”

Aurora's sphere projected Grbblb's image. He was perched on the pedestal Glaut used for seats, secured with one tentacle spiraling down the pole, leaving the others free for work. The pedestal was in the center of a large and powerful desk 'puter, which in turn was in an office – his own, as Mayor of Glautopolis and Colonel of his militia regiment. It was also his home, as government was not counted as a career by Jeffersonians but as a slightly distasteful duty; to be named “career politician” was to require satisfaction.
The large window behind him showed a fair portion of Glautopolis, and the crew were surprised to see so much had been built in a mere seven hundred hours. Prefab components and robots which needed neither rest nor daylight accelerated growth, but few of the crew had witnessed much planetside construction and they were unaccustomed. It was indeed a handsome town, on and across the water's edge like a Boksi community; indeed, a few Boksi could be seen through the window among the Glaut residents, going about their business on the street, along with the occasional Human and Eyani. Hung from the wall to one side of the window was his harness, similar in concept to an Eyani's, bearing the pistol and smallsword his family had made for him, and the throwing knives Prrg had given him.
His missing eye and limb had not been replaced. There was only so much to be expected, of geneticist or cyberneticist, in a mere month.
“Hlossh, my brother,” Grbblb began, “and the rest of my family, greetings. By this time you should be at Terra, and I hope this message finds you well.
“I also am well, as is our community, as you can see.” Grbblb waved a tentacle at the window behind him. “I am constantly amazed at the warm welcome we have received here. Consolidation propaganda gives my people a very misleading image of our nation, when acknowledging the Republic's existence at all. I had been somewhat isolated, by my own inclination, in my treasured years of travel with you, only briefly glimpsing Jeffersonian society, but now I am discovering new wonders and joys each day. I am more convinced than ever that ours is the finest nation ever conceived, and more grateful to you, my brother, and to all of you, than I can express.
“I think of you constantly and miss you greatly, but as we all know, I am needed here. My years with you prepared me most thoroughly to integrate with society at large, so different from my upbringing; those years also place me in constant demand as liaison and consultant for the other Glaut communities which are now growing throughout known space. Rarely do I have a moment to myself! Always I am meeting with representatives or delegates or emissaries, answering mail, teleconferencing – I look forward to the end of my term of office!
“Let that be the brightest news of this message: When this term ends in three years, I will not seek reelection. When this duty is done, I intend to return to my home and family, my brother Hlossh and my sister Aurora.” Eyani communicated much with their ears; both straight up indicated a smile. Sarah's began to ache from the exertion, and wide grins from the Humans in the crew matched her emotion.
“The 1st Glautopolis Infantry Regiment as yet numbers barely a company, but it will be an excellent one, thanks largely to what I learned from you, sister Holly and brother Prrg. The Service's Third Legion has agreed in principle to accept the Regiment into its organization, after much development and expansion of course.” At this point, Grbblb spliced in holo of the Glaut militia in training.
“Holy crap!” Jack exclaimed. “Look at 'em move!” Many of the Glaut refugees from Rllbtl had been maimed; for practical reasons, enlistment in the Regiment was limited to those with at least four limbs and at least two eyes. Even these were capable of surprising ground speed and remarkable agility. But a swarm of the Whole, scaling or descending cliffs or rappelling lines at speeds which would have been self-destructive for vertebrates like Eyani or Humans, charging the camera with weapons in tentacle, was the stuff of nightmares.
“And they're damn small targets,” Danner observed. “I'm glad these are on our side.”
“I gotta wonder... these castes they have. How many do they have?” Holly said. “And do even they know?” She activated her own 'puter to ask Grbblb by h-mail.
“Pause, please.” The holo froze. “You mean they might have a warrior caste?” Sarah asked.
“If so,” Jenny wondered, “it must be loyal to the Glautak regime. And it must be hidden. Glub said the enforcers we saw are otherwise ordinary Glauteb, selected young and given different indoctrination, led by Glautak officers.”
“Or,” Prrg contemplated, “this supposed caste did their job so well in the past, suppressing dissent and establishing control, they were eliminated as no longer necessary and as a potential threat to that control. There are parallels in my world's history. Ages ago, some entire clans were exterminated at the end of their usefulness.”
“The same thing has happened on Terra,” Ralph added. “Look up 'brownshirts', 20th Century CE Europe.”
Sturmabteilung,” Sarah provided; she had been raised by a Jeffersonian family of Germanic descent, and Jeffersonians learned from their pasts rather than flinching from them.
Ralph nodded thanks. “That's just one example, more common was for dynastic lines to be hunted down after losing wars.”
“This also is common among Nikar,” Prrg agreed.
“The murder of the Romanov family,” Danner added, “and Stalin's purges later.”
“The Great Famine in Old Nippon,” Daisuke contributed. “Also throughout much of mainland Asia and Africa. Stalin also used such methods in his time.”
“But Glub never mentioned a third caste, and we saw no evidence of one during our time there,” Sarah noted. Holly nodded and expanded her query; she would compare notes with the rest of the crew later, before sending it. Glaut history was a mystery to be solved, and they all had a family interest.
“I bet the Glautak want a warrior caste now,” Hlossh commented in a harsh tone. “And we're building one instead. I just love giving fascists more things to worry about.” He flipped on his own 'puter to suggest his brother use the Regiment's training holos as propaganda weapons against the Consolidation, if he hadn't already done so.
The original message resumed: “We have settled on a variant of the OcuCorp 9F pulse-laser rifle as our standard weapon, and Casetti is making a new run of Model G pistols for our sidearms, altered as my sisters did for mine.” Grbblb gestured to the harness on the wall behind him. “I have heard that large orders for both have been placed from Gambori and elsewhere. Our mere presence stimulates the Republic's economy!
“The doctors and scientists here have learned more about Glaut physiology in one month than I believe the Consolidation will admit to ever having known. Your own work, brother Ralph, has been of inestimable value to them, and they sing your praises constantly. Their latest data are attached for you. Alas, there is as yet no hope for regeneration, but Dr. Nagata tells me a bionic limb may be available for testing very soon. I have volunteered for the process.”
Grbblb's desk chimed at him. “Ah! Another meeting. I must be away. My love to you all, my dearest family.” Grbblb dismounted from his pedestal and reached for his weapons. “I thank you all again for these gifts. The sight and the fact of them do more to enlighten my people than any speech I could give. Fare you well, until we meet again.” The message ended.
Continued in the next excerpt....
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