Vilcabamba

Vilcabamba

by Harry Turtledove

NOOK BookA Tor.com Original (eBook - A Tor.com Original)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429926164
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 02/01/2011
Series: Tor.Com Original Series
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 32
Sales rank: 267,428
File size: 267 KB

About the Author

Harry Turtledove is an American fantasy and science fiction writer who Publishers Weekly has called the "Master of Alternate History." He has received numerous awards and distinctions, including the Hugo Award for Best Novella, the HOMer Award for Short story, and the John Esthen Cook Award for Southern Fiction. Turtledove’s works include the Crosstime Traffic, Worldwar, Darkness, and Opening of the World series; the standalone novels The House of Daniel, Fort Pillow, and Give Me Back My Legions!; and over a dozen short stories available on Tor.com.
The author of many science fiction and fantasy novels, including The Guns of the South, the "World War" series, and The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump, Harry Turtledove lives in Los Angeles with his wife, novelist Laura Frankos, and their four daughters.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Washington, D.C., remained the de jure capital of the United States. Harris Moffatt III had never been there. Neither had his father, President Harris Moffatt II. His grandfather, President Harris Moffatt I, got out of Washington one jump ahead of the Krolp. That the USA was still any kind of going concern came from his ever-so-narrow escape.

Harris Moffatt III was also Prime Minister of Canada, or of that small and mountainous chunk of Canada the Krolp didn't control. The two countries had amalgamated early on, the better to resist the invading aliens. That, of course, was before they realized how far out of their weight they were fighting.

When the enormous ships were first detected, between Mars' orbit and Earth's, every nation radioed messages of welcome and greeting. The Krolp ignored them all. The enormous ships landed. There were still videos — Harris Moffatt III had them on his computer — of human delegations greeting the aliens with bouquets and bands playing joyful music. At last! Contact with another intelligent race! Proof we weren't alone in the universe!

"Better if we were," the President muttered. When the Krolp came out, they came out shooting. Some of those fifty-year-old videos broke off quite abruptly. And "shooting" was the understatement of the millennium. Their weapons made ours seem like kids' slingshots against machine guns.

Seeing how the Krolp wanted things to go, half a dozen militaries launched H-bomb-tipped missiles at the great ships. They couldn't live through that, could they? As a matter of fact, they could. Most of the missiles got shot down. Most of the ones that did land on target didn't go off. And the handful that did harmed the Krolpish ships not a bit and the rampaging, plundering aliens running around loose very little.

They weren't invulnerable. Humans could kill them. Unless somebody got amazingly lucky, the usual cost was about two armored divisions and all their matériel for one Krolp. Back in the old days, the United States was the richest country in the world. All the pre-Krolp books said so. Not even it could spend men and equipment on that scale.

Back before the Krolp came, a fellow named Clarke had written, Any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic. Harris Moffatt III didn't know about that. What the Krolp did wasn't magic. The best scientists in the USA — the best ones left alive, anyhow — had been studying captured or stolen Krolpish gadgets for half a century now. Their conclusion was that the aliens manipulated gravity and the strong and weak forces as thoroughly as humans exploited electromagnetism.

Humans could use Krolpish devices and weapons. They could even use them against the invaders, for as long as they kept working. What humans couldn't do was make more such devices themselves. The machines weren't there. Neither was the theory. And neither was the engineering to turn theory into practice.

And so Harris Moffatt III ruled an attenuated state between the Rockies and the Wasatch Range. He understood too well that he ruled here not least because the Krolp hadn't yet taken the trouble to overrun this rump USA (and Canada).

From everything he'd heard, the United States still was the richest country in the world. The richest human-ruled country, anyhow. And if that wasn't a telling measure of mankind's futility in the face of the aliens, Harris Moffatt III was damned if he could figure out what would be.

* * *

His appointments secretary stuck his head into the Oval Office. "Excuse me, Mr. President, but Grelch wants to see you."

"Tell him I'll be with him in a few minutes, Jack," Moffatt said. "I really do need to study this appropriations bill." Calling the economy in the independent USA rotten would have praised it too much. So would calling it hand-to-mouth. Robbing Peter to pay Paul came closest, except Paul mostly got an IOU instead.

Jack Pagliarone turned to pass the news on to Grelch — but Grelch didn't wait to hear it. The Krolp shoved past the appointments secretary and into the office. "I see you, Moffatt," he said — loudly — in his own language.

"I see you, Grelch," Harris Moffatt III answered — resignedly — also in Krolpish. There was a lot of Grelch to see. He was big as a horse: bigger, because he was a tiger-striped centauroid with a head like a vampire jack-o'-lantern. He had sharp, jagged jaw edges — they weren't exactly teeth, but they might as well have been — and enormous eyes that glowed like a cat's. He smelled more like Limburger cheese than anything else.

"I have some things to tell you, Moffatt," he declared. No titles of respect: the Krolp had them for one another, but rarely wasted them on humans.

"I listen," the President said, more resignedly yet, wondering what Grelch would want this time. He was bound to want something, and he'd make trouble if he didn't get whatever it was.

Not for the first time, Harris Moffatt III wondered what Grelch had done to be forced to flee to Grand Junction. A dozen or so alien renegades lived here. Humans had learned a lot from them, and from their predecessors. But they were deadly dangerous. They were Krolp, and had Krolpish defenses and Krolpish weapons. And they were almost all of them sons of bitches even by Krolpish standards. No alien who hadn't done something awful to his own kind would have to stoop so low as to live with humans.

"I need snarfar, Moffatt. You've got to get me snarfar," Grelch said.

"I can do that, Grelch." The President tried to hide his relief. Some Krolp chewed snarfar. It gave them a buzz, the way nicotine or maybe cocaine did for humans. Harris Moffatt III didn't know the details; snarfar poisoned people. He did know the aliens turned mean — well, meaner — when they couldn't get the stuff.

But he could get it. They grew it in the flatlands of the Midwest — what had formerly been wheat and corn country. He still had connections in the lands his grandfather once governed. People and things informally slid over the border all the time. He'd arranged to bring in snarfar before. He'd known he would have to do it again, for one Krolp or another, before too long.

"You better do that, Moffatt. By the stars, you better," Grelch snarled. He turned — which, with that four-legged carcass, needed some room — and stomped out of the Oval Office. The ripe reek that came off his hide lingered in the air.

The President sighed. "That's always so much fun."

"Yes, sir," Jack Pagliarone said sympathetically. Even a renegade Krolp, an alien who'd put himself beyond the pale of his own kind, was convinced down to the bottom of whatever he used for a soul that he was better than any mere human ever born. All the evidence of fifty years of conquest and occupation said he had a point, too.

"If we didn't need to pick their brains ..." Harris Moffatt III sighed again. Humanity needed nothing more.

"By the stars, Mr. President, if the first big uprising had worked —" Jack sadly shook his head.

Back when Harris Moffatt III was a boy, Americans, Russians, and Chinese all rebelled against the centauroids at once. They rocked the Krolp, no doubt about it. They killed forty or fifty of them, some with stolen arms, others with poison. But close didn't count. The Krolp crushed mankind again, more thoroughly this time.

Jack had spoken English with the President. Humans in the free USA mostly did. Even humans in Krolp-occupied America did when they talked among themselves. But the appointments secretary said By the stars anyhow.

Well, Harris Moffatt III sometimes said By the stars himself. More and more humans these days believed what the Krolp believed and tried to imitate the conquerors any way they could. Weren't the Krolp stronger? Didn't that prove they were wiser, too? Plenty of people thought so.

The President had when he was younger. Like his father before him, like Harris Moffatt IV now, he'd spent several years in St. Louis, the center from which the Krolp ruled most of the USA. He'd gone to what was called, with unusual politeness, a finishing school. In point of fact, he'd been a hostage for his father's good behavior, as his older son was hostage now for his.

He'd learned Krolpish — learned it more thoroughly, that is, because he'd already started lessons in Grand Junction. He'd learned the Krolp creed, too. He'd kept company with the pampered sons and daughters of the men and women who helped the centauroids run the occupied USA. Some of them were descendants of people who'd served in the American government with Harris Moffatt I. They were all much more Krolpified than he was. They thought him a hick from the sticks, and weren't shy about telling him so.

By the time he finished finishing school, he was much more Krolpified himself than he had been when he got there. He was so much more Krolpified, in fact, that he didn't want to go back to the independent United States. His own people had come to look like hicks to him.

He hoped he'd got over that. He hoped Harris Moffatt IV would get over it when the kid came home. You had to hope. If you didn't hope, you'd give up. And where would free humans be then?

Come to that, where were free humans now? In places like Grand Junction, Colorado, that was where. Happy day!

* * *

One of the men with whom the President had gone to finishing school was the grandson of an important official in the DEA. No one in the United States these days, free or occupied, worried about enforcing human drug laws. No one had time for that kind of nonsense. But Ommat — he even had a Krolpish name — knew how to get his hands on snarfar, and how to slip it discreetly over the border. Grelch got his chew. He didn't bother Harris Moffatt III for a while.

As far as Moffatt was concerned, that was all to the good. He had other things to worry about. The Krolp in St. Louis announced that they were going to send an embassy to Grand Junction. Not that they wanted to send one, but that they were going to. Asking permission of humans wasn't a Krolpish habit.

The U.S. Army still had a few tanks that ran. It had plenty of machine guns. And it had several dozen Krolpish weapons, which cut through a tank's armor as if it weren't there. As soon as one of those weapons hit it, it wasn't.

Several suits of Krolpish body armor had fallen into American hands, too. The only trouble was, humans had no way to adapt those to their own shape. Nothing people knew how to do would cut or weld the transparent stuff. The tools ... The science ... The engineering ...

Harris Moffatt III received the envoy and his retinue with a mixture of human and Krolpish ceremonial. The Stars and Stripes and the Maple Leaf flew behind him. He wore a polyester suit and tie and shirt from the days before the invaders came. Bugs and moths ignored polyester. They sure didn't ignore wool or linen, the independent USA's usual fabrics.

A star shone over the President's left shoulder. That sort of display was standard among the Krolp. With them, as far as human observers and savants could tell, it was a real star, even if a tiny one. And it hung in the air with no means of support at all, visible or otherwise. The Krolp routinely did things that drove human physicists to drink.

Humans ... imitated and improvised. This star was made from LEDs surrounding a battery pack. It hung from invisibly fine wires. It wasn't as good as one of the originals, but it showed Harris Moffatt III claimed sovereign status. (Its weakness might say he didn't deserve it, but he refused to dwell on that.)

A star followed the Krolp envoy, too. His name, Moffatt had been given to understand, was Prilk. His star was brighter than the human-made simulacrum, but did not float so high. He was a representative, not a sovereign.

Prilk's overlord wasn't the Krolpish governor of North America. He was the ruler of the Krolp, back on their home planet. He wasn't exactly a king or a president or an ayatollah. Not being a Krolp, Harris Moffatt III didn't understand exactly what he was. He was the boss: Moffatt understood that much. Krolp here could petition him. So could humans. Letters took months to reach the homeworld. Decisions took ... as long as they took. Answers took more months to come back. Once in a blue moon, those answers made things better for people, not worse. It wasn't likely, but it did happen.

Prilk's guards kept a wary eye on the American soldiers carrying Krolpish hand weapons. Those were dangerous to them and to the envoy, unlike almost any merely human arms. Reading Krolpish body language and expressions was a guessing game for people. Harris Moffatt III's guess was that the centauroids thought humans had no business getting their hands on real weapons. Well, too bad.

The envoy surprised Moffatt: he said, "I see you, Mr. President," in slow, labored English.

"And I see you, Ambassador Prilk," the President replied, also in English. He hadn't expected to use his own language at all in this confab. He smiled broadly.

Then the envoy went back to his own harsh tongue: "I see you, Moffatt." In Krolpish, he didn't waste time with any polite titles. That he'd done it in English was remarkable enough.

"I see you, Envoy Prilk," Harris Moffatt III answered, in Krolpish this time. He might not grant special honorifics to any of the renegades who were such uncomfortable guests here, but he had to give the ruler's representative his due. The Krolp often acted as if humans offended them by existing, and especially by refusing to become Krolpified. They only got worse when they discovered real reasons for affront.

"Good," Prilk said, continuing in his own language. Chances were he didn't truly speak English at all: he'd memorized a phrase or two to impress the natives. And impress them he had. Now he could get down to business. He could, and he did: "We want something from you, Moffatt."

"You can't have the renegades. They're under my protection," the President said. They were what Prilk was most likely to want, as far as he could see. The Krolp didn't like it when free humans learned from them, although their finishing schools and other academies taught people in the broad occupied zones quite a bit.

Prilk waved his hands. They looked funny by human standards: they had four fingers in the middle and a thumb on each side. The thumbs had nails. The fingers had claws. Even a weaponless and unarmored Krolp was no bargain. "I do not care about the renegades, Moffatt. We do not care about the renegades. If we cared about the renegades, you would have never seen them. Believe it. It is true."

Maybe so, maybe not. The Krolp weren't immune to bullshit: one more hard lesson out of so many the past fifty years had taught mankind. But if Prilk said the renegades weren't the issue now, they weren't. They probably aren't, Harris Moffatt III amended to himself. Prilk might find a way to come back to them later.

Warily, the President asked, "Well, what do you want, then?"

Prilk waved his hands again, this time purposefully. A map appeared in the air between the envoy and Harris Moffatt III. It was, naturally, a Krolpish map, with the place names written in the Krolpish language. That hardly mattered. Moffatt read Krolpish as well as speaking it. And the aliens had borrowed most of the place names from English. Why not? That was easier than making up their own.

Long before the Krolp landed, Americans had borrowed a lot of place names from the Native Americans who'd lived in these parts before them. Much good that did the Native Americans, most of whom were swiftly dispossessed. And much good the English toponyms on a Krolpish map did the USA, too.

"You see this place here?" Prilk pointed. A small patch of northeastern Utah glowed red on the map. How? Harris Moffatt III didn't know, any more than he knew how the map appeared when Prilk waved. Krolpish technology was that far ahead of anything humanity could do. Or — shit — maybe it was magic. Harris Moffatt III sure couldn't prove it wasn't.

"I see that place there," Moffatt said. "What about it? I see it is in the territory that belongs to the free United States. I see that it is in territory that belongs to me. Not to you. Not to Vrank." Vrank was Prilk's immediate superior, the Krolpish governor of North America. The President took a deep breath. "Not to your ruler, back on your planet, either."

There. He'd made it as plain as he could. Too plain, maybe. As far as the Krolp were concerned, anything they could get their weird hands on belonged to them. But that glowing patch lay right in the middle of what was left of the USA. Harris Moffatt III had to do whatever he could to hang on to it. If he didn't, what point to being President?

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Vilcabamba"
by .
Copyright © 2010 Harry Turtledove.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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.

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Vilcabamba 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
JGolomb More than 1 year ago
I've got a deep amateur interest in the story of the Incas...particularly the story of the Spanish Conquest and downfall of the Incas. So the title of Turtledove's short story, "Vilcabamba" caught my eye. Vilcabamba is Andean jungle hideaway of the last rules of the Inca nation who were holding out against Francisco Pizarro and his Conquistadors. Turtledove's story paints a parallel portrait of a future America overrun by aliens. Like the Incas, humans weren't completely obliterated as soon as the aliens arrived. They hid (sometimes in plain sight), and some chose to try and get along with their new rulers. They even led their own government in their isolated mountain fiefdom. Turtledove's story follows a similar path. The President of the Free United States is trying to find ways to fight back against a vastly superior fighting force. There aren't many options beyond coordinated guerrilla tactics. The story was fun...and at only about 20 pages long, Turtledove did a terrific job fleshing out a couple of key characters which would make for a strong start to a longer form work in this Universe. At only $.99, it's totally worth the download.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story alone improves when you read the postcript. Well written, relentless and worth every minute of the read.
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Well written, as all of Harry Turtledove's works are, but very dark. A distopian future putting humanity in the roll of conquered people.
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It's a great short read. Even though the idea and story itself was enjoyable, it ends so quickly and with so much potential for more you feel the story hasn't ended at all. But don't let that stop you from reading it.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I downloaded the sample to try it out and it didn't seem to contain any more than the synopsis.