The Galactic Hegemony has been around a long time, and it likes stabilitythe kind of stability that member species like the aggressive, carnivorous Shongairi tend to disturb. So when the Hegemony Survey Force encountered a world whose so-called "sentients""humans," they called themselveswere almost as bad as the Shongairi themselves, it seemed reasonable to use the Shongairi to neutralize them before they could become a second threat to galactic peace. And if the Shongairi took a few knocks in the process, all the better.
Now, Earth is conquered. The Shongairi have arrived in force, and humanity's cities lie in radioactive ruins. In mere minutes, more than half the human race has died.
Master Sergeant Stephen Buchevsky, who thought he was being rotated home from his latest tour in Afghanistan, finds himself instead prowling the back country of the Balkans, dodging alien patrols and trying to organize scattered survivors without getting killed. And in the southeastern US, firearms instructor and former Marine Dave Dvorak finds himself at the center of a growing network of resistanceputting his extended family at lethal risk, but what else can you do?
On the face of it, Buchevsky's and Dvorak's chances look bleak, as do prospects for the rest of the surviving human race. But it may well be that Shongairi and the Hegemony alike have underestimated the inhabitants of that strange planet called Earth... in David Weber's Out of the Dark.
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Out of the Dark
By David Weber, Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2010 David Weber
All rights reserved.
"So, fearless hunter, are you ready for your venture into the deepest, darkest wilderness? And did you pack enough pemmican and jerky?" Sharon Dvorak inquired with a sweet smile.
"Was that last question a shot?" her husband responded suspiciously. He turned and cocked an eyebrow in her direction. "It was, wasn't it? It was a shot! Nay, a veritable aspersion — that's what it was!"
"It's sad to see a grown man — theoretically, at least — who's so sensitive about these things." Sharon sighed, shaking her head with infinite sadness.
"Yeah, sure!" Dave Dvorak snorted. "That from the woman who invented the word 'zinger'! I know. You're just being nasty because of that little faux pas the last time we took you hunting."
"Oh?" Sharon widened her eyes innocently at him. "You wouldn't be referring to that failure to bring along sufficient comestibles, would you? The memory failure — on my brother's part, I believe you said — where the food was concerned?"
"It was not a memory failure," Dvorak replied with immense dignity. "We simply regarded it as an opportunity for you to learn to subsist on the bounty of nature in the same fashion as us hardened hunter-gatherers. Nuts and berries, mushrooms instead of toadstools — that sort of thing."
"I could've sworn I heard my beloved spouse bitching and moaning about 'nuts and berries' for that entire trip."
"I'm sure your memory is simply playing you false."
"Oh? Then you aren't the one who said 'I'll trip him and sit on him while you go through his pockets for Slim Jims'?"
"Oh, I suppose the words might have slipped out somehow, since the greedy bastard wasn't willing to share with us. I mean, because of the low blood sugar associated with starvation, of course," Dvorak amended hastily. "Assuming any such episode had ever occurred, which I very much doubt."
"Oh, of course not."
Sharon shook her head and smacked him — gently, for her — across the top of the head. She had to stand on tiptoe to manage it, since he was a full foot taller than her own five feet two, but she'd had plenty of practice over the years.
He grinned down at her and wrapped both arms around her. She was exactly the right height to hug with his chin resting on the crown of her head, and he closed his eyes as he savored the embrace.
"You sure you don't want to come with us?" he asked in a much more serious voice. "Rob and I can still make room. And your tree stand'll fit just fine."
"You two can go out and sit in the woods in the rain if you want. Me, I'm staying home and curling up in front of the TV with that nice box of chocolates someone bestowed upon me — no doubt while in the grip of a guilty conscience."
"It may stop raining, you know," Dvorak pointed out, studiously ignoring the rain pattering on the roof even as he spoke.
"Yeah, and the horse may learn to sing." Sharon shook her head, but she also smiled at him. "Go on. Have fun. I'll even smear on the VapoRub when you come dragging home with pneumonia. But don't expect me to come to your rescue when your loving kids look at you reproachfully across a plate of Bambi stroganoff."
"Hah! As if that silly movie ever slowed any of your carnosaur offspring for a minute. Velociraptors don't care where the meat came from as long as it's fresh, you know."
"Of course they don't. But you know they're not going to pass up the chance to cast their woebegone gazes upon you." Sharon shook her head. "And don't blame me! It's your mother's fault."
Dvorak considered that for a moment, seeking a proper rejoinder. None came to him, so he contented himself with sticking out his tongue and making a rude noise. Then he kissed her cheek quickly, gave her another squeeze, and headed out to the waiting pickup.
* * *
"So did she give you a hard time?"
"I'll have you know," Dave Dvorak told his brother-in-law, Rob Wilson, severely, "that I am the master of my household. My lightest whim is law, my least desire instantly realized by all about me."
"Sure." Wilson rolled his eyes. "You do remember that I've known my sweet little sister for, oh, the better part of forty years?"
"If that's the case, then I think you might want to reconsider the phrase 'the better part of' when it comes in front of that particular number," Dvorak replied.
"I can still take her three falls out of four," Wilson replied, elevating his nose slightly.
"I seem to remember a Thanksgiving dinner when she got hold of your asp and pretty nearly broke your right kneecap," Dvorak said in a reminiscent tone.
"Only because I didn't want to hurt her."
"Yeah, sure." Dvorak looked away from the road for a moment to grin at his brother-in-law. "You sure you weren't afraid she was the one who was going to hurt you?"
"Well, I guess the possibility — the remote possibility, you understand — had crossed my mind," Wilson allowed. Both of them chuckled, and Dvorak returned his attention to the rain-streaked windshield.
The two men got along well. Dvorak, an NRA-certified firearms instructor, ran an indoor shooting range. Wilson, after twenty years in the US Marine Corps, had gone into law enforcement. He'd risen to sergeant with one of the smaller upstate municipalities and served as the force's designated marksmanship instructor before a high-speed car chase and a nasty collision led to a broken leg, significant loss of mobility, and a medical retirement. One of the best pistol shots Dvorak had ever met (he routinely ran the tables in the once-a-week pin-shooting contests at Dvorak's range), he'd moonlighted helping Dvorak out while he was on the force. He'd gotten his own NRA certification back when he was his police force's senior instructor, as well, so it had been logical for him to buy an interest in the business and go to work there full-time. It was a comfortable arrangement, and one which gave both of them the opportunity to expend a great deal of ammunition every week ... and get paid for it. Sharon Dvorak and Veronica Wilson referred to it as "boys and their toys," but neither Dvorak nor Wilson minded that. Anyway, both of the women had been known to outshoot them.
Deer season was one of their favorite times of year, although as he looked out the windshield at the day's weather Dvorak wondered exactly why that was. Of course, it was only five o'clock. There was plenty of time for the weather to get better before dawn, he reminded himself.
At the moment they were on US-276, headed towards the small town of Travelers Rest, with their ultimate destination the Caesars Head / Jones Gap Wildlife Management Area just south of the South Carolina–North Carolina state line. Dvorak's deer season had been disappointing to date — he'd only gotten to use up one of his tags so far — and Wilson had been fairly insufferable about it, since he only had one tag left. Had the ratio been reversed, Dvorak suspected, he would have opted to remain warmly in bed this sodden October morning. Such, alas, was the weakness of his character.
Well, he thought, leaning forward and peering through the upper quadrant of the windshield at the still black heavens, at least if I do fill a tag today, I'll have damn well earned it. He grinned, sitting back again. I can see it now. "Here, woman — hunter brings back food. Go. Cook!" He shook his head. I'd be lucky if she didn't decide to cook me! Assuming, of course, that I wasn't the cook in the first place.
Thunder rumbled overhead, loud enough to be audible even through the hissing sound of tires on rain-soaked asphalt, but he studiously failed to hear it.CHAPTER 2
The attention signal whistled on Fleet Commander Thikair's communicator.
He would remember later how prosaic and ... normal it had sounded, but at that moment, as he looked up from yet another ream of deadly dull paperwork, when he still didn't know, he felt an undeniable sense of relief for the distraction. Then he pressed the acceptance key, and that sense of relief vanished when he recognized his flagship commander's face ... and worried expression.
"What is it, Ahzmer?" he asked, wasting no time on formal greetings.
"Sir, we've just received a preliminary report from the scout ships. And according to the message, they've made a rather ... disturbing discovery," Ship Commander Ahzmer replied.
"Yes?" Thikair's ears cocked inquisitively as Ahzmer paused.
"Sir, they're picking up some fairly sophisticated transmissions."
"Transmissions?" For a moment or two, it didn't really register. But then Thikair's eyes narrowed and his pelt bristled. "How sophisticated?" he demanded much more sharply.
"Very, I'm afraid, Sir," Ahzmer said unhappily. "We're picking up digital and analog with some impressive bandwidth. It's at least Level Three activity, Sir. Possibly even" — Ahzmer's ears flattened — "Level Two."
Thikair's ears went even flatter than the ship commander's, and he felt the tips of his canines creeping into sight. He shouldn't have let his expression give so much away, but he and Ahzmer had known one another for decades, and it was obvious the other's thoughts had already paralleled his own.
The fleet's main body had reemerged into normal-space barely four day-twelfths ago, after eight standard years, subjective, of cryogenic sleep. The flight had lasted some sixteen standard years, by the rest of the galaxy's clocks, since the best velocity modifier even in hyper allowed a speed of no more than five or six times that of light in normal-space terms. The capital ships and transports were still two standard months of normal-space travel short of the objective, sliding in out of the endless dark like huge, sleek hasthar, claws and fangs still hidden, while the medical staffs began the time-consuming task of reviving the thousands of ground personnel who would soon be needed. But the much lighter scout ships' lower tonnages made their drives more efficient in both n-space and h-space, and he'd sent them ahead to take a closer look at their target. Now he found himself wishing he hadn't.
Stop that, he told himself sternly. Your ignorance wouldn't have lasted much longer, anyway. And you'd still have to decide what to do. At least this way you have some time to start thinking about it!
His mind began to work again, and he sat back, one six-fingered hand reaching down to groom his tail while he thought.
The problem was that the Hegemony Council's authorization for this operation was based on the survey team's report that the objective's intelligent species — "humans," they called themselves — had achieved only a Level Six civilization. The other two systems on Thikair's list were both classified as Level Five civilizations, although one had crept close to the boundary between Level Five and Level Four. It had been hard to get the Council to sign off on those two. Indeed, the need to argue the Shongairi's case so strenuously before the Council was the reason the mission had been delayed long enough to telescope into a three-system operation.
But a Level Six culture was primitive enough for its "colonization" to be authorized almost as an afterthought, the sort of mission any of the Hegemony's members might have mounted. And in this particular case, authorization had been even prompter than usual. Indeed, Thikair knew some of the Council's omnivores — even some of its herbivores — had actually given their approval where KU-197-20 was concerned with hidden satisfaction. The visual and audio recordings the original survey team had brought back had horrified the vast majority of the Hegemony's member species. Even after making all due allowance for the humans' primitivism, most of the Hegemony had been none too secretly revolted by the bloodthirstiness those recordings had demonstrated.
Thikair's species wasn't revolted, which was one of the reasons those hypocrites on the Council had taken such ill-concealed satisfaction in turning KU-197-20 over to the Shongairi. Despite that, they'd never agreed to the conquest of a Level Three civilization, far less a Level Two! In fact, anything which had attained Level Two automatically came under protectorate status until it attained Level One and became eligible for Hegemony membership in its own right or (as a significant percentage of them managed) destroyed itself first.
Cowards, Thikair thought resentfully. Dirt-grubbers. Weed-eaters!
The epithets his species routinely applied to the Hegemony's herbivorous member races carried bottomless contempt, which was fair enough, since that emotion was fully reciprocated. The Shongairi were the only carnivorous species to have attained hyper-capability. Indeed, before them, the prevailing theory among the various Hegemony members' xenoanthropologists had been that no carnivorous species ever would attain it, given their natural propensity for violence. Over forty percent of the Hegemony's other member races were herbivores, who regarded the Shongairi's dietary habits as barbarous, revolting, even horrendous. And even most of the Hegemony's omnivores were ... uncomfortable around Thikair's people.
Their own precious Constitution had forced them to admit the Shongairi when the Empire reached the stars, but the Shongairi were still the Hegemony's newest members, and the other species had never been happy about their presence among them. In fact, Thikair had read several learned monographs arguing that pre-Shongairi xenoanthropological theory had been correct; carnivores were too innately self-destructive to develop advanced civilizations. His people's existence (whether they could truly be called "civilized" or not) was simply the exception which proved the rule — one of those incredible flukes that (unfortunately, in the obvious opinion of the authors of those monographs) had to happen occasionally. What they ought to have done, if they'd had the common decency to follow the example of other species with similarly violent, psychopathically aggressive dispositions, was blow themselves back into the Stone Age as soon as they discovered atomic fission.
Unhappily for those racist bigots, Thikair's people hadn't. Which didn't prevent the Council from regarding them with scant favor. Or from attempting to deny them their legitimate prerogatives.
It's not as if we were the only species to seek colonies. There's the Shentai and the Kreptu, just for starters. And what about the Liatu? They're herbivores, but they've got over fifty colony systems!
Thikair made himself stop grooming his tail and inhaled deeply. Dredging up old resentments wouldn't solve this problem, and if he were going to be completely fair (which he didn't really want to be, especially in the Liatu's case), the fact that some of those other races had been roaming the galaxy for the better part of seventy-four thousand standard years as compared to the Shongairi's nine hundred might help to explain at least some of the imbalance.
Besides, that imbalance is going to change, he reminded himself grimly.
There was a reason the Empire had established no less than eleven colonies even before Thikair's fleet had departed on its current mission, and why the Shongairi's Council representatives had adamantly defended their right to establish those colonies even under the Hegemony's ridiculous restrictions.
No one could deny any race the colonization of any planet with no native sapient species, but most species — the Barthoni came to mind — had deep-seated cultural prejudices against colonizing any world which was already inhabited. Unfortunately, there weren't all that many habitable worlds, and they tended to be located bothersomely far apart, even for hyper-capable civilizations. Worse, a depressing number of them already had native sapients living on them. Under the Hegemony Constitution, colonizing those worlds required Council approval, which wasn't as easy to come by as it would have been in a more reasonable universe.
Thikair was well aware that many of the Hegemony's other member species believed the Shongairi's "perverted" warlike nature (and even more "perverted" honor codes) explained their readiness to expand through conquest. And to be honest, they had a point, because no Shongair ever born could resist the seduction of the hunt. But the real reason, which was never discussed outside the Empire's inner councils, was that an existing infrastructure, however crude, made the development of a colony faster and easier. And even more importantly, the ... acquisition of less advanced but trainable species provided useful increases in the Empire's labor force. A labor force which — thanks to the Constitution's namby-pamby emphasis on members' internal autonomy — could be kept properly in its place on any planet belonging to the Empire.
And a labor force which was building the sinews of war the Empire would require on the day it told the rest of the Hegemony what it could do with all of its demeaning restrictions.
Excerpted from Out of the Dark by David Weber, Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Copyright © 2010 David Weber. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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