Read an Excerpt
The Cobra Trilogy
By Timothy Zahn
Baen BooksISBN: 0-7434-8847-4
The music all that morning had been of the militant type that had dominated the airwaves for the past few weeks; but to the discerning ear there was a grim undertone to it that hadn't been there since the very start of the alien invasion. So when the music abruptly stopped and the light-show patterns on the plate were replaced by the face of Horizon's top news reporter, Jonny Moreau clicked off his laser welder and, with a feeling of dread, leaned closer to listen.
The bulletin was brief and as bad as Jonny had feared. "The Dominion Joint Military Command on Asgard has announced that, as of four days ago, Adirondack has been occupied by the invading Troft forces." A holosim map appeared over the reporter's right shoulder, showing the seventy white dots of the Dominion of Man bordered by the red haze of the Troft Empire to the left and the green of the Minthisti to the top and right. Two of the leftmost dots now flashed red. "Dominion Star Forces are reportedly consolidating new positions near Palm and Iberiand, and the ground troops already on Adirondack are expected to continue guerrilla activity against the occupation units. A full report-including official statements by the Central Committee and Military Command-will be presented on our regular newscast at six tonight."
The music and light pattern resumed, and as Jonny slowly straightened up, a hand came to rest on his shoulder. "They got Adirondack, Dader," Jonny said without turning around.
"I heard," Pearce Moreau said quietly.
"And it only took them three weeks." Jonny squeezed the laser he still held. "Three weeks."
"You can't extrapolate the progress of a war from its first stages," Pearce said, reaching over to take the laser from his son's hand. "The Trofts will learn that controlling a world is considerably more difficult than taking it in the first place. And we were caught by surprise, don't forget. As the Star Forces call up the reserves and shift to full war status, the Trofts will find it increasingly hard to push them back. I'd guess we might lose either Palm or Iberiand as well, but I think it'll stop there."
Jonny shook his head. There was something unreal about discussing the capture of billions of people as if they were only pawns in some cosmic chess game. "And then what?" he asked, with more bitterness than his father deserved. "How do we get the Trofts off our worlds without killing half the populations in the process? What if they decide to stage a 'scorched earth' withdrawal when they go? Suppose-"
"Hey; hey," Pearce interrupted, stepping around in front of Jonny and locking eyes with him. "You're getting yourself worked up for no good reason. The war's barely three months old, and the Dominion's a long way from being in trouble yet. Really. So put the whole thing out of your mind and get back to work, okay? I need this hood plate finished before you head for home and homework." He held out the laser welder.
"Yeah." Jonny accepted the instrument with a sigh and adjusted his de-contrast goggles back over his eyes. Leaning back over the half-finished seam, he tried to put the invasion out of his mind ... and if his father hadn't made one last comment, he might have succeeded in doing so.
"Besides," Pearce shrugged as he started back to his own workbench, "whatever's going to happen, there's not a thing in the universe we can do about it from here."
Jonny was quiet at dinner that evening, but in the Moreau household one more or less silent person wasn't enough to change the noise level significantly. Seven-year-old Gwen, as usual, dominated the conversation, alternating news of school and friends with questions on every subject from how weathermen damp out tornadoes to how butchers get the back- blades out of a breaff hump roast. Jame, five years Jonny's junior, contributed the latest on teen-age/high school social intrigue, a labyrinth of status and unspoken rules that Jame was more at home with than Jonny had ever been. Pearce and Irena managed the whole verbal circus with the skill of long practice, answering Gwen's questions with parental patience and generally keeping conversational friction at a minimum. Whether by tacit mutual consent or from lack of interest, no one mentioned the war.
Jonny waited until the table was being cleared before dropping in his studiously casual request. "Dader, can I borrow the car tonight to go into Horizon City?"
"What, there isn't another game there this evening, is there?" the other frowned.
"No," Jonny said. "I wanted to look at some stuff out there, that's all."
Jonny felt his face growing warm. He didn't want to lie, but he knew that a fully truthful answer would automatically be followed by a family discussion, and he wasn't prepared for a confrontation just yet. "Yeah. Just ... things I want to check out."
"Like the Military Command recruitment center?" Pearce asked quietly.
The background clatter of dishes being moved and stacked cut off abruptly, and in the silence Jonny heard his mother's sharp intake of air. "Jonny?" she asked.
He sighed and braced himself for the now inevitable discussion. "I wouldn't have enlisted without talking to all of you first," he said. "I just wanted to go get some information- procedures, requirements; that sort of thing."
"Jonny, the war is a long way away-" Irena began.
"I know, Momer," Jonny interrupted. "But there are people dying out there-"
"All the more reason to stay here."
"-not just soldiers, but civilians, too," he continued doggedly. "I just think-well, Dader said today that there wasn't anything I could do to help." He shifted his attention to Pearce. "Maybe not ... but maybe I shouldn't give up to statistical generalities quite so quickly."
A smile twitched briefly at Pearce's lip without touching the rest of his face. "I remember when the full gist of your arguments could be boiled down to 'because I said so, that's why.'"
"Must be college that's doing it," Jame murmured from the kitchen door. "I think they're also teaching him a little about fixing computers in between the argument seminars."
Jonny sent a quick frown in his brother's direction, annoyed at the apparent attempt to sidetrack the discussion. But Irena wasn't about to be distracted. "What about college, now that we're on that topic?" she asked. "You've got a year to go before you get your certificate. You'd at least stay that long, wouldn't you?"
Jonny shook his head. "I don't see how I can. A whole year-look at what the Trofts have done in just three months."
"But your education is important, too-"
"All right, Jonny," Pearce cut off his wife quietly. "Go to Horizon City if you'd like and talk to the recruiters."
"Pearce!" Irena turned stunned eyes on him.
Pearce shook his head heavily. "We can't stand in his way," he told her. "Can't you hear how he's talking? He's already ninety percent decided on this. He's an adult now, with the right and responsibility of his own decisions." He shifted his gaze to Jonny. "Go see the recruiters; but promise me you'll talk with us again before you make your final decision. Deal?"
"Deal," Jonny nodded, feeling the tension within him draining away. Volunteering to go fight a war was one thing: scary, but on a remote and almost abstract level. The battle for his family's support had loomed far more terrifyingly before him, with potential costs he hadn't wanted to contemplate. "I'll be back in a few hours," he said, taking the keys from his father and heading for the door.
The Joint Military Command recruiting office had been in the same city hall office for over three decades, and it occurred to Jonny as he approached it that he was likely following the same path his father had taken to his own enlistment some twenty-eight years previously. Then, the enemy had been the Minthisti, and Pearce Moreau had fought from the torpedo deck of a Star Force dreadnaught.
This war was different, though; and while Jonny had always admired the romance of the Star Forces, he had already decided to choose a less glamorous-but perhaps more effective-position.
"Army, eh?" the recruiter repeated, cocking an eyebrow as she studied Jonny from behind her desk. "Excuse my surprise, but we don't get a lot of volunteers for Army service here. Most kids your age would rather fly around in star ships or air fighters. Mind if I ask your reasons?"
Jonny nodded, trying not to let the recruiter's faintly condescending manner get to him. Chances were good it was a standard part of the interview, designed to get a first approximation of the applicant's irritation threshold. "It seems to me that if the Troft advance continues to push the Star Forces back, we're going to lose more planets to them. That's going to leave the civilians there pretty much at their mercy ... unless the Army already has guerrilla units in place to coordinate resistance. That's the sort of thing I'm hoping to do."
The recruiter nodded thoughtfully. "So you want to be a guerrilla fighter?"
"I want to help the people," Jonny corrected.
"Um." Reaching for her terminal, she tapped in Jonny's name and ID code; and as she skimmed the information that printed out, she again cocked an eyebrow. "Impressive," she said, without any sarcasm Jonny could hear. "Grade point high school, grade point college, personality index ... you have any interest in officer training?"
Jonny shrugged. "Not that much, but I'll take it if that's where I can do the most good. I don't mind just being an ordinary soldier, though, if that's what you're getting at."
Her eyes studied his face for a moment. "Uh-huh. Well, I'll tell you what, Moreau." Her fingers jabbed buttons and she swiveled the plate around for his scrutiny. "As far as I know, there aren't any specific plans at present to set up guerrilla networks on threatened planets. But if that is done-and I agree it's a reasonable move-then one or more of these special units will probably be spearheading it."
Jonny studied the list. Alpha Command, Interrorum, Marines, Rangers-names familiar and highly respected. "How do I sign up for one of these?"
"You don't. You sign up for the Army and take a small mountain of tests-and if you show the qualities they want they'll issue you an invitation."
"And if not, I'm still in the Army?"
"Provided you don't crusk out of normal basic training, yes."
Jonny glanced around the room, the colorful holosim posters seeming to leap out at him with their star ships, atmosphere fighters, and missile tanks; their green, blue, and black uniforms. "Thank you for your time," he told the recruiter, fingering the information magcard he'd been given. "I'll be back when I've made up my mind."
He expected to return home to a dark house, but found his parents and Jame waiting quietly for him in the living room. Their discussion lasted long into the night, and when it was over Jonny had convinced both himself and them of what he had to do.
The next evening, after dinner, they all drove to Horizon City and watched as Jonny signed the necessary magforms.
"So ... tomorrow's the big day."
Johnny glanced up from his packing to meet his brother's eyes. Jame, lounging on his bed across the room, was making a reasonably good effort to look calm and relaxed. But his restless fiddling with a corner of the blanket gave away his underlying tension. "Yep," Jonny nodded. "Horizon City Port, Skylark Lines 407 to Aerie, military transport to Asgard. Nothing like travel to give you a real perspective on the universe."
Jame smiled faintly. "I hope to get down to New Persius some day myself. A hundred twenty whole kilometers. Any word yet on the tests?"
"Only that my headache's supposed to go away in a couple more hours." The past three days had been genuine killers, with back-to-back tests running from seven in the morning to nine at night. General knowledge, military and political knowledge, psychological, attitudinal, physical, deep physical, biochemical-they'd given him the works. "I was told they usually run these tests over a two-week period," he added, a bit of information he hadn't been given until it was all over. Probably fortunately. "I guess the Army's anxious to get new recruits trained and in service."
"Uh-huh. So ... you've said your good-byes and all? Everything settled there?"
Jonny tossed a pair of socks into his suitcase and sat down beside it on his bed. "Jame, I'm too tired to play tag around the mountain. What exactly is on your mind?"
Jame sighed. "Well, to put it bluntly ... Alyse Carne is kind of upset that you didn't discuss this whole thing with her before you went ahead and did it."
Jonny frowned, searching his memory. He hadn't seen Alyse since the tests began, of course, but she'd seemed all right the last time they'd been together. "Well, if she is, she didn't say anything to me about it. Who'd you find out from?"
"Mona Biehl," Jame said. "And of course Alyse wouldn't have told you directly-it's too late for you to change things now."
"So why are you telling me?"
"Because I think you ought to make an effort to go see her tonight. To show that you still care about her before you run off to save the rest of humanity."
Something in his brother's voice made Jonny pause, the planned retort dying in his throat. "You disapprove of what I'm doing, don't you?" he asked quietly.
Jame shook his head. "No, not at all. I'm just worried that you're going into this without really understanding what you're getting into."
"I'm twenty-one years old, Jame-"
"And have lived all your life in a medium-sized town on a frontier-class world. Face it, Jonny-you function well enough here, but you're about to tackle three unknowns at the same time: mainstream Dominion society, the Army, and war itself. That's a pretty potent set of opponents."
Jonny sighed. Coming from anyone else, words like that would have been grounds for a strong denial ... but Jame had an innate understanding of people that Jonny had long since come to trust. "The only alternative to facing unknowns is to stay in this room the rest of my life," he pointed out.
"I know-and I don't have any great suggestions for you, either." Jame waved helplessly. "I guess I just wanted to make sure you at least were leaving here with your eyes open."
"Yeah. Thanks." Jonny sent his gaze slowly around the room, seeing things that he'd stopped noticing years ago.
Excerpted from The Cobra Trilogy by Timothy Zahn Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.