Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2016, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part XXXVI: Aftermath
Continued from the previous excerpt
8 Thirdmonth 553JR
Republic Astronomical Survey 1441
After the destruction of the freighter that refused to surrender, the remaining pirates lost heart. Danner was relieved; in their position, knowing his life would be forfeit for capital crimes, he would have fought to the death.
Now came the mopping up, securing pirates and freeing slaves - after sending messages requesting any help the nearby Republic systems could send. Those ships wouldn't arrive for hundreds of hours, though confirmations came in only a few. Aurora was her own communications officer, and Daisuke, contrary to his taciturn nature but slipping on the role like a costume, became the ship's public relations officer, answering questions and sending updates as more was discovered about the Flotilla, the perpetrators, and the victims. Cargomaster Epstein became a logistics officer, overseeing the distribution of food and the like, when he wasn't doubling as an Engineer's Mate with his wife and Hlossh. Ralph and Delilah would have been overwhelmed by casualties if not for Aurora's robots and the volunteers from Mark's World. Only a handful of critical cases were transferred to Aurora's sickbay, some of them being placed in cryo for later treatment - there was simply no room, and most had to be treated in place or by remote instruction.
The liner, Elysium Pearl, had been a cruise ship specializing in Frontier tourism at the outbreak of this new wave of piracy. She was one of its first victims. Roger Brown had stolen her from another pirate, who had stolen her from the one who seized her in the first place. Cates and Prrg in power-armor, and Markser volunteers in more conventional armored suits, set about a compartment-by-compartment search, binding pirates and sending them to secure sections aft, while more Marksers took shuttles to the planet's surface, erecting emergency shelters from ships' stores. It wasn't hard to tell pirate from prisoner, by their wounds and their state of nutrition.
Roger Brown was found dead on the bridge of his battlecruiser, along with most of his lieutenants and, as predicted, a Flike “advisor”. Other pirates began cooperating, hoping to avoid the death penalty under international law.
“I should've brought more volunteers,” Cates observed. The pirates still outnumbered Aurora's crew and the Marksers by about eight to one, and were held in check only by the crippling of their ships and Solomon's demonstrated willingness to massacre them. The crew of the other freighter had tried to regain control during boarding, but Prrg and Cates had simply started smashing them with their power-armor until the survivors gave up again.
“Where would we have put them?” Danner countered. “Aurora hasn't had, or needed, her design complement for a long time. Much of the crew quarters were converted to cargo holds. The original crew took shifts hot-bunking in spin-weight during Transit or orbit. And besides, there was no time. Even as it was we caught them here by only minutes.”
“Don't remind me,” she said. “You're not the only one who wouldn't've been able to live with it.”
“You made the right choice, Holly,” her Captain told her. “If we'd waited for more volunteers to board, we'd still be chasing the Flotilla in hyper.” While slaves continued to suffer and die.
Clearing operations continued, with Prrg, Cates, and a reservist Marine Gunnery Sergeant from their own world leading the volunteers in shifts. By stages, the pirates were removed from the ships and transferred to the second planet's surface and the habitats still being erected there. They were, in very-ancient pirate terms, marooned, without so much as a spacesuit, only life-support. Other authorities would deal with them at leisure.
Freed prisoners from all the ships were transferred to the liner, whose Drive and torches had been declared repairable by Jenny Blain. That left the two pirate warships empty; Danner had them guided to parking orbits for future salvage. Even among so much horror, he would be remiss in his duties as a Shipfolk Captain to not consider prize money.
Also, after conferring with Blain, Cates, and an awakening Aurora, he salvaged four of the Class-10 Marsten Guns from the ex-Russian heavy cruiser. During the ship's upcoming refit, these would be mounted on the A and D ring-turrets, giving her powerful chase armament fore and aft.
No one knew how many people the raiders had taken from Mark's World - part of the terror of their methods was to leave craters behind. But, forty-seven Markser children had been recovered. Most were uninjured, physically, though some had been raped. Cates had them point out their attackers and felt no remorse in flushing them from an airlock.
At least one of the children had been eaten by the “renegade” Flike. Three Flike had been taken alive, all badly wounded and at least one probably brain-damaged from vacuum exposure. They were carefully bound and contained. There had been as many as twenty Flike in the Flotilla, several of which had been present at Mark's World and at least two of which had landed. Some had been killed by Aurora, others committed suicide rather than be captured by “inferior” races they viewed as potential food. It was unlikely the survivors would reveal their status or break under interrogation. A few others had been captured in recent years; some had suicide devices implanted, others forced their captors to kill them in self-defense.
The adult women had been chosen, on the fly during the attack, for attractiveness. At least fifteen had been taken and all had been violated, not always by the same who had raped the children. Two had committed suicide and another five had been murdered for sport. Flike had reportedly eaten some of them too. Four Eyani females had also been seized and received similar abuse from Eyani, and Human, renegades among the Flotilla. Only one of those had survived, scarred inside and out.
About 300 pirates had survived the battle, though some were shortly put out airlocks on prima facie evidence or testimony. They came from all the major known races, including Boksi and Siv joining for plunder or the sadistic pleasure of slaves, though the seasonal, oviparous Boksi hadn't the same concept of rape as most Common Life.
Counting those taken from Mark's World, over a hundred and twenty slaves were recovered, mostly Human with a few additional Eyani, Boksi and Siv. Some had been captive for years and were insane. On difficult nights, Danner reminded himself of those, and the thought of giving their fellows mercy eased his guilt over destroying the freighter.
12 Thirdmonth 553JR
The other freighter held enough food to support the surrendered Flotilla until relief ships arrived. Fortunately some had departed Mark's World shortly after receiving the message Aurora had sent when testing engines and weapons; less than a hundred hours after the battle, freighters brought more food and life-support necessities, while a few hours behind them was a commandeered liner carrying hundreds of the planet's militia to, finally, properly guard and process the pirates.
Those hundred hours were the most terrifying and exhausting Solomon Danner had ever lived, with the risk of uprising and the horrible necessity of massacre to put it down before the pirates were all safely marooned. He would have collapsed with relief when he received word of the Marksers' arrival, if the bridge hadn't been in freefall. Prrg assumed command and had Aurora's robots carry Danner to his quarters.
Another forty hours later, Danner had recovered enough to confer in his quarters with the Markser commander, James Brayden, a reserve Colonel and the fifth-highest-ranking military officer on Mark's World. This Colonel had never seen combat - few had in the Republic's long peace - but was well-educated in its realities.
“By God, Captain,” he said with reverence, “you'll get the Legion of Honor for this. If you'd been in active service you'd be up for the Medal.” The Jeffersonian Medal of Honor was only given to uniformed military personnel, for actions in combat against a declared enemy of the Republic. A direct successor to the American, its requirements were strict. Only six had been awarded for well over two hundred Monticellan years, since the defeat of the Terran Empire. The Legion of Honor was closely equivalent, with similar requirements but broader eligibility, rather like the former United Kingdom's George Cross, compared to their Victoria Cross. Alongside the Medal, the Legion of Honor was the highest award the Republic's government could bestow.
Danner shook his head, still thinking of the ship he'd killed. “Give it to my crew,” he answered, “and your volunteers who joined us. I regret three of them lost their lives in the battle, and two more during boarding actions. They died with honor, in the performance of their duties. The rest have performed admirably in the face of horror.”
“They will be remembered,” Col. Brayden pronounced. The conversation was being recorded and would be the first official interview. Danner could see in the Colonel's eyes that the Legion of Honor would be awarded regardless, and he resigned himself to its acceptance. The Republic needed a hero out of this affair and he was the logical choice.
Despite his reluctance, he resolved to have the award's facsimile mounted on Aurora's hull, in the tradition of pre-Escape warships, for she, and their family, had earned it as much as he had. Yes - he'd demand a Pentamvirate Unit Citation instead of a personal award. He could live with that. And he'd make sure the Marksers were included, all of them who joined the ship, or their next of kin, having the right to wear the same ribbon.
“News of this incident has already spread,” Brayden continued. “You can expect word from the Pentamvirate soon. And the media.” Danner winced. Though not as despicable as the American media had been at the time of the Escape, even Jeffersonian “journalists” remained distasteful, and frequently tasteless. There were a few who weren't trash. He'd have to hold out for those - they could help him sort out the award situation. And he'd need their help with Aurora's new status too.... “The government of Mark's World will be paying in full for all repairs to your ship,” Brayden added.
Danner shook his head again at this. “No, Colonel,” he said. “Your world's bled enough. If the Pentamvirate, the Republic, wants to reward me, they can dilute the cost through the federal coffers. This is a Reserve Privateer after all, that's what the Bureau is for. The supplies and volunteers your world donated made this victory possible. Make sure your people know that. It was a matter of minutes, and of inches.” Though the Republic used metric, the old term survived as linguistic flavoring. “For just one example, without the armor that foundry donated, and the volunteers to install it at the later risk of their own lives, we'd all be dead and the enemy would have escaped with their slaves.” Danner rose from his spin-weight seat and called the lift to return them to Aurora's hull from the extended grav-ring. “Come, I'll show you how close the damage came. For another example, that family tanker who made a Close Transit to refuel us - there are people who deserve medals. Just minutes later and we'd still be chasing them, if they hadn't shaken us off.”
“You may be pleased to know, Captain,” Brayden supplied, “that the owner of that foundry is the mother of one of the children you rescued. They've already traded messages. You remember that if you wake up troubled some nights.” As the lift arrived, Brayden extended his hand. “You are a hero.”
27 Thirdmonth 553JR
After another hundred hours, Aurora left the battlefield to return to Mark's World and a hero's welcome. The celebrations were subdued; the planet had much to mourn, but when Danner's family arrived, they discovered there were now statues of him on two worlds. Embarrassed, Danner sought to expedite his departure, spending only eleven hours in an orbital shipyard ensuring Aurora could safely travel further. He didn't want to stay at a world whose people he had killed, even if all agreed his actions were proper.
A very few families rejoiced in the return of their loved ones. A larger number took solace in closure; Brown's Flotilla had been completely defeated. Though none could ever know which had been kept on the freighter Danner had destroyed, their survivors now knew their relatives had died sometime between the battle and Brown's destructive exit from their world, and were not still suffering as slaves. Danner was pleased to discover his statue wouldn't be alone; several Marksers, ordinary Jeffersonian Citizens and Subjects, routinely armed in their daily life as the Founders had intended, had died in ground combat, taking more than their number of pirates with them. Mark's World had her own heroes and didn't need to import them. That was the substance of the one short speech he allowed to be pulled out of him.
In the confusion and disorder, the artwork from Salvation had not been transshipped after all, simply placed under guard in an orbital warehouse - none even realized what it was, nor would have dared violate cargo from the ship which came, and shortly went, to their rescue. Trllbl quickly declared it complete and intact, and it was returned to Aurora. The entire consignment was bound for New Israel, where the family wanted to go anyway. With Aurora reporting readiness, they fled the scene. They carried no passengers or other cargo, save more armor and other materials to make additional repairs during Transit. From here they intended to bypass their previously-intended waypoints and fly, as directly as practicable, to New Israel. Haifa Station would be the site of Aurora's next major refit, paid in full by the Reserve Privateer Bureau - and their brother Grbblb would at last come home.
Before he left, Danner performed one more service for the planet. He had Daisuke use his banker's skills to set up the Mark's World Recovery Fund and, after checking Aurora's flight recordings to confirm they weren't the ones used to destroy the freighter, donated both Marsten Guns and both 19Mw lasers from her D-turret to be auctioned. They would go on to defend other ships or stations.
Epsilon Indi was a long way from Mark's World and RAS1441. Counting fueling stops, it would be over two thousand hours' flight. This suited a crew, a family, who could share some things only with each other, and needed time to do so.
11 Fourthmonth 553JR
Hyperspace Transit, Mark's World to Clearsky
Once the battle was done and the family was safely in hyperspace, Ralph Vatelius, the ship's Doctor, had time to follow up on the potential breakthroughs he had made with the Engineer, Jenny Blain. Before the Very Close Transit over the pirate flotilla, Ralph had hastily amplified the Fanouu Field in the Chikaran cryogenic rig where he'd been storing the various Glaut genetic samples. He had also asked for and received fresh samples from Trllbl. Some of these he left in the reinforced cryo, others in a standard rig. The results were exactly as he'd hoped: Samples in reinforced cryo showed no change, while those in conventional cryo, even with the reduced Transition Effects of Aurora's now-Improved Field, showed the precursors to regeneration. After years traveling with his maimed Glaut ship-brother Grbblb, he was finally on the right track to heal him.
This of course raised more questions. What of the potential Cure for Anomalous Addiction? What of regeneration for Anomalous Eyani, who occurred at a greater frequency than Human? (Sarah Heusner was not one, and samples from her - which he did request and receive and include in the experiment, along with his own for scientific completeness - taught him nothing new.) He began formally recording his theory, with Blain's cooperation since her scientific field was as much a part of it as his own - but he still made no announcement or discussion of his findings outside the Family, not even to Trllbl; he had lied to her that her samples were destroyed in the first battle, when they reached Mark's World, and had still not even alerted his brother Grbblb. He didn't want a statue or a lynching until he deserved it.
“My husband and daughter were killed by the pirates' orbital strikes,” Delilah said without preamble, a couple hundred hours into the Transit. The time being right - no one could judge it for her - she simply floated into sickbay, found Ralph alone there at his work, hooked a foot into a grab-loop and began speaking, looking at nothing. “I had just been talking to him, there in the hospital,” she went on, rushing the words a bit to get the pain of them out of her. “Our daughter was in an artificial womb down the hall.” That technology dated back to shortly after the Escape. Aurora carried two herself. “He had come to visit and we were going out for lunch after. I had some screenwork to finish and he went ahead, I was going to join him in a few minutes.
“It was a kinetic strike. Random I guess, to create terror and use up the responders. It leveled half the building. I thought it was an earthquake, there had been a few over the years. I turned to look and everything on that side was... gone. I could see the sky, through the dust and smoke.
“Then the screaming started....” She spoke dispassionately, coldly. Much had been burned out of her that day. “I put it away, in my mind, not looking at it. I helped with the injured, followed my training. Then I heard about this ship. Someone at the capitol decided to broadcast your Captain's conversation with our last Councillor, it was on every screen that still worked. Suddenly I just... knew what I had to do, where I needed to be. Away from there.
“I threw away my wedding ring somewhere along the way. I don't remember doing it.” She lifted her head to look into Ralph's eyes. “I haven't cried,” she said. “Why haven't I cried?”
2 Fifthmonth 553JR
Hyperspace Transit, Clearsky to Selm
“I was... not happy, but content at Salvation,” Trllbl stated. “But here, I have more meaningful work, and a friend who has so eased my pain.” Ralph had treated many maimed Glaut during the Relief of Rllbtl and had become the galaxy's leading expert in Glaut surgical techniques. The Consolidation enforcers simply chopped off limbs and gouged out eyes, intending to cause suffering.
Delilah and Trllbl had a thing in common - the violent destruction of their families and old lives. They had drifted together and began talking, not so much of their pasts as of their futures. “So, this other Glaut in the crew, Gr- ah, Glub. He's a hero to your people?”
“To many, yes. To the regime, a villain.”
“I can see which is the villian there.” Delilah's wounds were beginning to heal, or at least scar over, but like Danner, she was quickly growing to hate the Glautak Consolidation as representive of all injustice in the universe. The pirates who murdered her family were dead - news had come, only a handful had escaped capital punishment for indenture - but something in her still needed vengeance and the Consolidation would do. Also, the Flike Empire, whose provocations were allegedly, but not yet proven, behind the attack on Mark's World. “What are your plans now? Meet with Glub, join him in the Opposition?”
“We have exchanged messages-” many, as it happened- “and I look forward to our meeting,” Trllbl answered, “but Grbblb intends rejoining this ship. I do not know what I will do. What of you, friend Delilah? Will you find a hospital to work in, on New Israel?”
The Human woman frowned. She had been working in a hospital when her old life ended. She could imagine it, doing screenwork at a nurse's station, turning around to look down a hallway- “...No,” she replied, a concept taking shape in her mind. “I wonder....”
Delilah, Trllbl, and Anna were the only people aboard not of the Family - and Anna had already grown closer to those who had saved her life. Aurora's wounds had been at least patched over, a simple expedient being fabricated to replace the spin-weight dining section and Aurora's own memory providing detailed plans to rebuild Clancy's galley from her own fabbers; she could refine stainless steel from ore if she had too, but proper ingots had been part of her farewell gifts from Mark's World. The thirteen beings had no reason not to dine together, and it was at such a meal Delilah Howell broached the subject. “There's nothing for me at... that place. I need to start over. Trillbill and I were wondering if... there could be a place here for us.”
“She has my vote,” Ralph said at once. “She's good at her work, competent. Even taught me a thing or two, her training's more recent than mine. And Trillbill too, though I expect Jenny and Hlossh will be even more in favor.”
“I am, boss,” the Boski replied. “She's as good with her fingers as Grbblb, and... you remember how he and I came here.” Jenny simply nodded her agreement.
“Yes,” Danner said, nodding slowly. “Yes, I think we can make room for you. Unless there are objections?” There weren't.
21 Fifthmonth 553JR
Hyperspace Transit, Selm to New Israel
It was at another such gathering that the ship's Purser finally told his tale. “My name was Takeo Nakayama.”
The man his ship-family knew as Daisuke Taniyama explained what had really happened that infamous night. “I always knew there was something fishy about that story,” Jack Epstein observed. It had been one of the most spectacular cases in Republic history, and the most shocking crime on New Israel since the Occupation. Delilah sat silently, eyes wide at hearing yet another story as monstrous as her own. When Grbblb returned, that would make four in the same ship.
“Do you think you'll be recognized?” Danner asked.
“Doubtful,” the Nikkei answered. “The cosmetic surgery was of a good quality, and even my speech and mannerisms have changed since then. I did not fear recognition by the media after... our recent battle.” He did not give name to the world his new ship-sister once called home. “I believe I am, at last, ready to return to... life.”
“I owe you my life,” Anna told Daisuke - who, like her, now lived under a different name from the one that could mean his death. “Um-” She looked at Captain Danner.
He nodded. “I think everyone's already thinking of you as family,” he said. “Again, unless there are objections?”
Some variation of, “Oh hell no,” was the consensus.
Finally, Aurora and her family ended their self-imposed isolation and arrived at New Israel.
Continued in the next excerpt....