Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2016, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part IX: Coming Home
Continued from the previous excerpt
Seven months earlier
Rllbtl II (nicknamed “Rollbottle” in Jeffersonian English), Glautak Consolidation
Third colony world settled by Glaut, 2.4 parsecs from Glauthome
Hlossh took the term 'shore leave' literally. On most worlds which supported life, that life had, if you went back far enough, crawled out of a saltwater ocean. On a few of them, it never entirely left. The Boksi race's cities were nearly all coastal, sprawling right through the shore and extending as much underwater as overland; their non-corroding ceramic construction techniques had become a valuable export since Contact.
Hlossh made a hobby of sampling the oceans of every world he visited, and dreamed of someday publishing a Boksi tourist guide. He had tasted the waters, and the prey, of nearly every world in the Republic and a few beyond. Rllbtl II had similarities to most, but also much uniqueness. He had assimilated the Glaut planetologists' reports, such as they were, centuries old without updates, and carefully avoided species which might be poisonous to him; there was no evidence of any higher intelligences among this world's seas. The water had some trace salts which would have been harmful in higher concentrations, but here only gave it an exotic flavor. He had found a sort of fruit-bearing seaweed; the fruit was horrible to a Boksi's taste but the fronds it grew from might make a very pleasant salad. The spherical, slow-moving piscoids which fed on the fruit were too big for a lone Boksi to take without weapons, but seemed nothing more than thoughtless eating machines; dictating to his 'puter, in bubbling Boksi speech evolved for use both in atmosphere and underwater, he made notes to investigate further on some future visit.
That same 'puter now buzzed at him, as it was time to return to his ship, the cargoliner Chliishra now in orbit, an all-Boksi ship out of Kshir, the homeworld itself. His one-Boksi flitter was parked on the beach; he would take it back to the planet's primary spaceport, and load it into its cradle with the others on the ship's shuttle. He began scuttling back to the surface, occasionally using his not-vestigial jets to swim a dozen meters or so at a time. He soon reached the interface and as he broke the boundary to air, directly in front of him he found one of the Glaut colonists.
“Whoa!” he exclaimed. “Pardon me, buddy, just passing through.” The Glaut stared blanky at him, seeming to not comprehend. “Just taking a little swim is all,” Hlossh continued.
Then the Boksi noticed the Glaut's missing eye, the wound crusted over but still leaking. This led to his noticing the amputated tentacle. “Hey, friend, you're hurt! We gotta get you some help!” Hlossh had been, at that time, only intellectually aware of how Glaut society treated the Un-Whole.
Still the Glaut did not respond. Hlossh switched on his 'puter's vox and said, the little machine translating, “You are injured. Let me help you.”
“No,” came the reply. “Let me go.”
“No way, pal! We have to get those wounds tended!” The Glaut said nothing, and crawled, obviously in great pain, around Hlossh, heading for the water. “Hey, wait!” Hlossh reached out a pincer-arm to block the other being's path. “What happened?”
“I am... heretic,” the vox translated. “Criminal. Un-Whole. Shunned. None will... help. Do not be... seen with me. You will be shunned.”
“Screw that!” Hlossh responded. “What crime is worth this kind of punishment? What did you do?” Hlossh had no objection to a death penalty – few Jeffersonians did, with a tradition of all classes bearing arms and standing ready to defend against foreign invaders or domestic criminals – but a hanging, beheading, or firing squad was clean. Even torture had its arguable place, to procure vital information from terrorists or in time of war, but mutilation as punishment for a crime was not to be countenanced. Under Jeffersonian law, one who had violated another would pay restitution, give indentured servitude, face the victim or next of kin on the field of honor, or in the worst cases be executed by the state - and the last hadn't been necessary since before Kshir was Contacted. Even the old penal mines on Crunch had been converted to tourist attractions generations ago.
But the Glaut would not explain. “I must... go.” Again it moved toward the water.
Hlossh followed, his 'puter automatically using the appropriate sonic frequencies for underwater communication. “Hey, stop, please! Listen, my name's Hlossh, I'm a Boksi from the Republic. You know, the Jeffersonian Republic? I'm an amphibian like you. Us water-folk have to stick together! At least tell me your name and what happened to you!”
Finally the Glaut stopped and took notice of Hlossh. “Jeffersonian?” it said.
“Yeah, the Republic! My world joined over a century ago – well most of it anyway. What's your name, friend?”
“Come on, you're hurt bad, I only want to help!”
“...I am Grbblb.”
“Friend Grbblb-” Boksi and Glaut languages used many of the same sounds, and the 'puter's vox handled the rest- “what happened to you?”
Grbblb, haltingly, sketched out how and why he came to be mutilated. Hlossh was a proud veteran of the Patrol, and his response had been a thundering, “Oh HELL NO! Buddy, you're coming with me! I'm taking you to my ship where our doc can patch you up! I am getting you the hell off this planet and away from your sorry excuse for a government!”
Doctor Lloshka had treated Grbblb's wounds as well as she could, but Glaut physiology was still a mystery to Jeffersonian medicine; the Glaut themselves had not delved far, and shared little. She recommended seeking regeneration treatment on one of the Central Worlds but cautioned against false hopes; it had taken years, after the War, to crack even the Eyani genetic codes for regen, and their DNA was startlingly similar to Human. Breakthroughs on Boksi and Nikar equivalents had come only after decades of research, and techniques for Siv and Chikarans still eluded the Republic's best scientists.
Captain Brissh had been sympathetic, but fearful of causing an international incident. Hlossh quickly accessed Rllbtl's net – such as that was – and discovered, and pointed out, that as far as Glaut law was concerned, Grbblb no longer existed. Brissh had relented only to taking Grbblb to the ship's next Republic port of call, requiring Hlossh to be responsible for him until then.
Hlossh had enlisted in the Patrol to earn his Citizenship and the rights which came with it, but also to protect the innocent and defend the cause of liberty. This literally-spineless Glaut had shown more spine in defense of those principles than he ever had – and had paid for it horribly. Hlossh took a good long look at himself and decided to do something about it. When Grbblb left Chliishra at Waramid III, three months later, Hlossh went with him. They'd made a 'beeline', in Human terms, or as much of one as one could in hyperspace, for Wilson's Colony and High City, the busiest port in the known galaxy – if any help or home could be found, it would be found there. The day the pair had arrived, Hlossh had seen a net alert from The Hungry Kraken. “Come on, Grbblb,” he'd said. “We're gonna get us a place to live.”
24 Fourthmonth 543
Beta Station, Synchronous Orbit
Alexandria, Jeffersonian Republic
Doctor Lloshka, though in uncharted territory, had done well. Grbblb's wounds had healed, and he had adjusted to life without his missing parts.
Clancy was an easy-going man, rarely angry, but if he'd been within reach of the Glauts responsible for his new friend's mutilation, he'd have begun experimenting with a new “calamari” dish. He was an Irishman, and above that a Terran; but above all he was a Jeffersonian. Like Hlossh, when Clancy had enlisted in the Space Patrol, he'd sworn an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The thought that a person could be so violated, just for handing out copies of that document, could drive even a soul as gentle as his to murder. “Let me just say this, by Jaysus,” he told Grbblb. “Anyone who would do what was done to ye, for the reason they did it, should be burned down where he stands and no question. Should opportunity ever arise, it's honored I'd be to help ye with the doing of it.” Clancy reached a hand across the table, and Grbblb placed a tentacle in it.
New Farsala, Thessaly Province
Hellene Continent, Alexandria
Meanwhile, Captain Danner had his own errands to run. He didn't get back to his homeworld often, and was obliged to visit his... other family.
...Yes, “obliged” seemed an appropriate word. “Mom, for crying out loud, she's a light cruiser! Never mind her age, even by today's standards she'd fit in with the regular Patrol and she has a BuShips certificate to prove it! I'm safer in her than I am on most planets!”
“But I worry so! Especially after that horrible business at Rocktown or whatever it was!”
“Mom, quit,” Tina said with a smile. Danner's older sister went on, “I spent my five years in the ECS and I never noticed you fretting about my safety.”
“That's only because you weren't here! Though at least you wrote once a month!” Danner cleared his throat and looked away. “And the Service is even more dangerous than the Patrol, with all those alien monsters and poisonous plants and-”
“Enough, Shel,” her husband, Michael, said gently. “Both our children are grown. We've done our job raising them. And a fine job in both cases, I think.” He placed a hand on the shoulder of each of his children; father and son looked much alike, average height and build with straight brown hair, but Sol had his mother's eyes. “When can we see this ship of yours, son?”
“I have my car out front, we can be there in an hour. C'mon, mom!”
“Oh, no! You won't get me into one of those spaceship things! I'm staying right here on solid ground!”
“But you have to meet the crew! My First Mate is Prrg, a Nikar I've known for years, the Second Mate is a young Eyani named Sarah, she's very sweet, then there's the two new Engineer's Mates, a Boksi and a Glaut, they're swell guys-”
“Aaah!” Shel buried her face in her hands.
“Quit teasing, brother,” Tina said as the trio exited the Danners' planetside house for Sol's Corona. Once outside, she continued, “That's my job. Seriously dad, why did you marry her?”
“Love knows no logic, daughter. And you turned out all right, didn't you?”
“Could explain to her,” Tina went on with half a scowl, “again, that our ancestors happily climbed into 'those spaceship things' to colonize this planet, and if they hadn't she wouldn't even be here.” It was an old argument between mother and daughter, who shared petite builds and curly golden hair, though Tina's eyes were brown like her father's. “Nor would her son my brother of whom I am so very jealous.” She punctuated this last with a fist to Sol's shoulder.
“Hey!” he protested. “I'm a starship captain now, you can't beat me up anymore!”
“Oh really?” she asked, tickling him. “Gonna make me walk the plank?”
“Keelhaul ya!” he shouted with a grin, running to the car. It was good to be home... but he couldn't wait to be home.
“Son,” Michael Danner said in awed tones, “I sometimes wondered if I'd been a good father. Now I'm pretty sure I was.”
“I reckon so,” his son answered.
“So. Very. Jealous,” said his sister.
The Corona floated a few hundred meters from Aurora, slowly closing, allowing a view of her entire length as she lay docked off one end of Beta Station. The pylon was mated amidships, just forward of the small-craft bays at the waist, and was long enough for her grav-rings to be at full extension, though only the forward ring was; spinning twice a minute on a 110-meter radius, it provided about 4.8 meters acceleration, roughly ½g for most Human worlds. Centuries of experience had proven that to be enough for good health, and at their maximum 3rpm they would provide roughly twice the weight, one full Monticellan gravity of 10.9mps2. The aft ring, reserved for passengers and currently unoccupied, was retracted and locked to conserve RCS fuel, and also to leave clearance for the coming tanker to fill the main holds, which were on either side of the ring. Aurora's guns, and there were many, were neatly locked fore and aft, armor shutters secure over missile tubes.
Her running and identification lights were on – including those on each corner of each ring-section and at intervals along the cables connecting them to the ship – illuminating her name and giving a good idea of her shape, but suddenly the Station swung out of the shadow of the planet and the lights snapped off as the hull was bathed in sunlight, gleaming pure white. Tina gasped at the sight and even Michael drew a sudden breath. Sol was silent, but no less thrilled. His lips soundlessly formed her name.
Michael said softly, “Damn me if I'm not jealous myself.” Commodore Michael Danner was, like Gunner Cates, a Permanent Citizen, retired from the Patrol after rather more than the official forty years, having commanded two support vessels and five warships including the carrier James Madison.
“Damn straight,” Sol answered, smiling.
The Corona docked smoothly in craft bay 4C, and the trio, all experienced spacers, made their way to the hatch leading to the ship's central hull. “Unidentified personnel,” Aurora's computer stated as they emerged from the aircar. “Please identify.”
“Aurora, this is my father Michael Danner, Commodore JRSP Retired, and my sister Tina Caren, Full Citizen. Grant them full access.” Sol entered a quick sequence on the keypad by the hatch, indicating he was not under duress. He and Grbblb were communicating quite well on how Aurora's computer was to develop. 'Full access' did not include the ship's engines or weapons, except with escort. Becoming a member of the crew was more complex, as were Aurora's lockouts. Asimov's ancient Laws of Robotics were holding up well, but had also been modified, long ago, for military use. In particular circumstances, Aurora could kill. She was Solomon Danner's ship, and no one would take her from him.
“Yes, Captain,” Aurora answered, in her pleasant Human female voice. “Commodore, Ms. Caren, please speak your names so I may record your voiceprints.” When this was done the hatch slid open and they passed through.
“Aurora, who's aboard?” Sol asked as he floated forward. The ship had automatically notified the others of his arrival; if they needed him they could find him, and he hadn't asked them to.
“Engineer Blain and Purser Taniyama are in their respective quarters,” the computer answered. “Bosun Epstein is expected to return within the hour. The tanker with our cargo is expected to arrive in two hours, twenty-seven minutes. All other crew are expected to return before then.”
“How powerful is your AI?” Tina asked.
“Technically just another computer,” Sol answered. “As far as I can tell. But I have hopes.”
“I've read Eppo's report,” Michael stated. “'Reserve Privateer' my ass, son, you've built what they used to call a destroyer-leader, optimized for frontier operations! And that's only by her tonnage, otherwise she'd still be a light cruiser. I know some brass hats in Plans who'd sell organs for a dozen ships like this! Especially if those speed figures are to be believed.”
“They are,” Sol stated firmly. “I have the best damn Engineer flying, you'll meet her later. Her job was building Drives, then she spent a couple years with the CAF at Wilson's.” Alexandria was the Confederate Air Force's homeworld, as Sol's father and sister well knew.
“Do you really have a Glaut in your crew?” Michael asked in a neutral tone.
“Yes,” Sol replied, “and if you're suggesting the Glaut are not nice people, this Glaut would agree with you. He's a dissident exile, rapidly becoming a fangs-out Jeffersonian patriot, except he doesn't actually have fangs.” Sol stopped in the passageway to look at his father. “I can tell what you're thinking.”
“I'm retired.” One of Michael's last assignments had been in naval intelligence.
“There's retired and there's 'retired'. I doubt if he has the kind of military information you're looking for, but if he wants to give you any that's his choice. And no one else's.”
“Understood.” Sol knew his father would never be a party to coercion against a member of Aurora's crew, but his former, or not-so-former, superiors might. Sol had just given notice that every member of his crew was under his, and Aurora's, considerable protection. Michael had tacitly indicated that he would, if the question arose, make that protection exceedingly plain and add his own weight in the crew's favor.
They continued forward to the bridge, where his father and sister expressed their jealousy again. “You can actually-” Tina began.
“'-Look out the window,'” Sol finished, grinning. “Yes, Eppo said the same. Even took holos of himself.”
“Speaking of which-” His sister produced a camera and started snapping.
Sol continued the tour, showing off his own quarters in one entire section of the forward grav-ring. With the rings extended, this was accessed by a collapsible elevator car constructed of carbonan and other advanced materials, riding the cables down from the interface to the ring-section. Tina wondered aloud how her mother would feel, knowing a literal hairs'-breadth of material was all that stood between her entire family and hard vacuum. She snapped another holo.
Each ring-section was configured for two directions of acceleration, the furniture automatically changing its angle as needed, so people could live in the same quarters whether the rings were spinning or the thrusters were boosting. There were redundant safeties preventing maneuvering while the rings were extended, and systems to rapidly brake and retract the sections in emergencies; they could also be jettisoned, but this was the very last resort as they were not only personal living space, but the ship's lifeboats, though there were smaller, short-duration escape pods throughout the ship. When a section was partitioned, with collapsible panels which were easily stowed until needed, a passageway was created along the forward wall of each section for privacy between the resulting compartments. The 1st and 2nd Mates shared a split section, as did Purser and Engineer; the Engineer's Mates, Hlossh and Grbblb, shared their section, the passageway sealed against the water they enjoyed, while Gunner and Bosun shared another. Steward Clancy took half a section, the other half occupied by his beloved galley. The remaining two sections were configured as dining/recreation rooms, and could quickly be partitioned for new crew members if any were to join.
Sarah, raised as Shipfolk, had written a little guide for stowing gear and arranging furniture for varying or absent weight; every crewmember had a copy, and more would be given to eventual passengers. When retracted, the sections were all connectible, and with the permission of the occupants or the construction of passageways, one could walk nonstop around the circumference; Sol did sacrifice a fraction of his floorspace for another such passage, for convenience. When Sol eventually took on passengers, Clancy would bring their food directly from the galley to the adjacent dining room, with the rings flush to the hull at 3rpm, giving about 1/6g. The rings operated independently, and each could be set to a different radius or rotation; usually they spun in opposite directions to counter torque and prevent a spin being imparted to the hull. The aft ring was already configured for three different classes of passenger berths, with a current capacity of 26, but Sol and the crew already had plans for everything from a handful of luxury passengers to well over a hundred low-cost colonists or emigrants. Any of these, or any combination, could be assembled in a few hours, and even the sections themselves were interchangeable; Hlossh's technical library included complete original drawings for the Adamant class, and if necessary Blain could fabricate replacements. As the crew stood now, everyone had his or her own private living space. Compared to most ships, every member of Aurora's crew lived in decadence.
“You'll get soft, son,” Michael commented. Aurora's accommodations were so far beyond anything he'd seen in the Patrol he was nearly speechless. Sol's cabin alone rivaled most luxury liners' first-class berths.
“Tell me you've never dreamed of exactly what I have here,” he smiled back.
“No. No, I can't do that.”
“Too jealous for words,” Tina muttered. She had a well-established career as a veterinarian on Alexandria, but a big part of her wanted to ask her brother if he could find room for another hand.
Michael was similarly tempted, but he would not leave his wife and she would not come – besides, this was his son's ship, and having his flag-rank father in the crew would be awkward to say the least. Instead he busied himself taking more holos, dictating extensive notes to his 'puter. As his son had noted, there was retired and there was 'retired', and if BuShips wouldn't pay attention to Lieutenant Commander Eppo's excellent report, they'd damn well notice Commodore Danner's. Despite being over three Republic centuries old, this ship was full of new, good ideas which would benefit the entire Patrol – and which would then spin off into “civilian” ships, as far as the distinction meant anything in the Republic.
Presently Bosun Epstein returned from whatever recreation he had sought, and was introduced to the other Danners. Jack went off to re-inspect the main holds, and soon reported by intercom that they were still ready. The other crew began returning from their various errands and met Sol's family in turn.
Hlossh had seen the conversion of the rifles begun correctly, and would pick them up when done in another 20 hours. Prrg had completed his business with the small Nikar community planetside, maintaining his complex relationship with his people's system of clan and territory, though as a sworn Citizen his first fealty was to the Republic – the specifics had been codified into Gnoppan law generations ago. Sarah had done something similar, but less involved, with the far larger Eyani community in the University District's “Beartown” – most Eyani Jeffersonians were simply Jeffersonians who happened to be Eyani. Clancy and Grbblb returned from their shopping trip, Grbblb seeming more open and emotionally secure than before, Clancy towing a robocart loaded with fresh groceries. Cates had borrowed the other 208 shuttle and spent the day on a hillside, just breathing the air, reveling in having escaped the classroom.
Comming home, Michael notified his wife that he and their daughter would be staying aboard for a few hours, to watch the loading of cargo – the prawn tanker was docking now – and to have dinner.
Michael took more holos and notes of the holds and the loading procedure, complimenting Epstein sincerely on his improvements; two of the elder Danner's commands, including his first, had been Patrol supply ships, and the Commodore knew what he was looking at. The freight lifts and waldos, the retention arrays, the hull and bulkheads themselves, had been treated or sealed against the now-inrushing water, using techniques developed on Kshir generations before the first Boksi spaceflight; Hlossh was certainly earning his pay, and so was Grbblb, quickly finding the most efficient methods to implement his friend's suggestions.
The prawns were transferred by a large hose mated to a sub-hatch set into one of the large external cargo locks Epstein had designed. The tanker crew were professionals and knew what they were about; they carried universal adapters for every conceivable type of cargolock, and Epstein had chosen the most common model. The hose, as it pumped the water and prawns into the hold, allowed the displaced air to travel the other way, replacing the necessary volume in the tanker. The hose passed through the lock and well into the hold, moving as necessary as the globe of water expanded in freefall, chasing the shrinking globe as required in the tanker on the other end – the same apparatus was used on all tankers which carried normal-pressure fluids. Hlossh assured Sol that a similar arrangement would be waiting at Kshir. When one hold was full, it was sealed, the hose purged to space to remove any contamination from one variety of prawn to another, and the next hold was filled with the next variety. Epstein watched over every phase of the operation – this was only his second cargo under his new Captain, and this one was far more fragile than bales of cloth – but he had planned well and there was little for him to do.
In time the loading was done and crew and guests sat down to dinner in the forward ring. Clancy had cooked on Patrol warships, and upheld their tradition of quality food, vital to morale on long cruises. Michael proclaimed Clancy the equal of even the carrier Madison's cook, and offered to arrange for the purchase of any recipes he wanted to share with the Patrol.
Eventually the conversation brought Michael and Grbblb together. Sol had already spoken to the Glaut, giving him some idea what to expect; the molluscoid had proven himself a valuable member of the crew since the refit was still underway, and Sol would not tolerate anyone interfering with him. Grbblb had thanked his Captain and assured Danner he was ready to face the Commodore.
Again Grbblb related his story, but this time he did not flinch from the sharp anger which radiated from his crewmates and the ship's guests. He knew now where it was directed. Michael Danner probed carefully but Grbblb answered frankly: “Commodore, in my former life, I was merely a bureaucrat, shuffling stacks of documents and columns of numbers. I am not certain even my superiors knew what it all meant, or cared. I have no knowledge of our military or their capabilities.”
“I understand,” Michael said, seeming to end the line of inquiry with no hard feelings.
But Grbblb wasn't done. “My Captain said that you might raise such questions, and explained your reasoning behind them. If you had such knowledge, would you use it to attack or invade Glaut worlds?”
The Commodore considered his words before answering. “Not without clear provocation for doing so. The Republic does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” That was a quote from an early American President. Most of the Jeffersonian Founders had Escaped the ruins of that nation, and brought her original ideals with them.
“This also has been explained to me by my Captain, and by friend Holly, our Gunner-” Grbblb indicated the Marine with a tentacle- “who like yourself served our nation-” he now considered it his nation too- “long enough to earn Permanent Citizenship. It is a wise and just policy which I do not seek to change. But there are times I wish it were otherwise.”
“We've talked about this before, Commodore, me and Grbblb,” Hlossh contributed. “On my world, there's three provinces left which still run things like Grbblb's people, or like the governments your ancestors fled from. Once in a while we get some volunteers together and knock over another one; we've got some rifles on the way to do just that now in fact. In another decade or two they'll all be gone. Our monsters are in our own backyards, but the alternative is in theirs. They can't keep their own people in.” Hlossh then turned to Grbblb.
The Glaut took the cue and said, “Glaut never had such examples, or if we had, they were purged from our histories ages ago. We have been conditioned, not by centuries but by millennia, to never question authority, to always obey, to always accept our places in society. There are two classes: Glautak and Glauteb. The first are the authorities, planners, executives. The second are workers, laborers, enforcers. I was – in perspective – 'fortunate' to have been Glautak. Had I been Glauteb I would simply have been executed for my 'crime'. But since I was of their kind, since I betrayed them, they made an example of me.”
“There are analogues throughout Human history,” Michael stated darkly; flag-rank officers of the Patrol, or those who aspired to the boxed stars, tended to be at least amateur historians; and even “civilian” children were well-educated in their peoples' pasts, by any school which wanted to stay in business. “We finally managed to dispose of most of them, but someday, in a hundred years or ten thousand, they may return. We may forget what it was like.”
“My people have no such memory, no such history. I am pleased that my new nation teaches otherwise; I have seen the monuments of our Constitution, massive, durable, in plain sight for all to behold and understand. But among my people, Glautak rule and Glauteb serve,” Grbblb stated. “As far as the Glaut masses know, it has always been thus.”
“Nothing 'has always been,'” Sol commented. “Somebody had to start it.”
“Very true, Captain. I have learned more about my own people in the last few months than I had known in my entire previous life. My research shows that Glautak and Glauteb have a common ancestor, that once we were the same. Unfortunately that was so long ago that we are now considered, by those in power, to be separate species. Contact between the classes is kept to a minimum, the giving of orders, the taking of production. The ultimate taboo in my society is to be... intimate... across that barrier. The punishment is for all involved to be publicly incinerated alive.” This brought fresh gasps of outrage from around the dining table. “Contact with the Republic is the most destabilizing event in recorded Glaut history, moreso even than the invention of our Drive. Before my new nation discovered my old one, no one dared question the established order. Now there are more questions every day – and, I am sad to say, more victims like myself, few of whom have the good fortune to find such generous friends.” Grbblb gestured to Hlossh, who would have blushed if his species were capable of it.
“Some of us have called for trade embargoes in protest,” Michael said. “But there's no way to enforce them, consistent with our Constitution and our traditions. A lot of traders do voluntarily refuse to do business with the Consolidation, but others have bills to pay and mouths to feed.”
“I do not object to Jeffersonians doing business with Glaut,” Grbblb replied. “To the contrary, I wish for more contact between my people and my countrymen. I wish to – as Humans say – 'rub their noses' in the differences between the two societies. The greatest favor ever done for my race, in all the available history of my homeworld, was when some anonymous Jeffersonian spacer handed another anonymous Glaut a copy of our Constitution... and the Glaut read it. It must have seemed such a small thing at first, but the upheavals now are comparable to Hlossh's goddess Ksshrosha teaching her people how to breathe air and make fire. My race resists change, because we cannot grasp that it is possible. It has taken generations since that first happy accident, but the opening of Glaut minds is becoming a chain reaction. It may take generations more, but in time it will be unstoppable. In time my people will be free.
“I only wish,” Grbblb concluded, “that so many would not have to suffer as I did in the process. But perhaps this also is for the best, for of what value is freedom if it has not been fought for?”
The dinner ended and the conversations trailed off – Aurora had places to be and her crew had things to do. Sol's father and sister were sent on their way, on a shuttle from the Station, with a fatherly handshake and a sisterly hug.
In a quiet aside, Michael told his son, “I learned more about the Glaut in one hour than most people could in a year. Thank you for the opportunity.”
“Thank Glub,” Sol answered. “He didn't have to attend.” That was both statement and reminder.
“I know, and please give him my gratitude as well. I'll make sure what I've learned makes it to the right ears; and I'll make it plain it's from a protected source.” They clasped hands again.
Continued in the next excerpt....