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STICKY: Out of the Dark Snippets

This is the place where we will be posting snippets of soon-to-be published works!
STICKY: Out of the Dark Snippets
Post by Duckk   » Fri Aug 13, 2010 9:08 am

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Reserved for official Out of the Dark snippets.
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Re: STICKY: Out of the Dark Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Fri Aug 13, 2010 12:27 pm

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David's gotten me a copy of this upcoming TOR book of his and gave me permission to snippeted it.

Not sure how far we'll get into it as it is due out Sept 28.


Out Of The Dark - Snippet 01

Out Of The Dark
By David Weber


For Fred and Joan Saberhagen.
Friends and inspirations, in more than one way.
I hope you like Basarab, Fred!


PROLOGUE

PLANET
KU-197-20

Year 73,764 of the Hegemony


"Garsul, are you watching this?"

Survey Team Leader Garsul grimaced. Just what, exactly, did Hartyr think he was doing? Of all the stupid, unnecessary, infuriating --

The team leader made himself stop and draw a deep breath. He also made himself admit the truth, which was that as effortlessly irritating as Hartyr could be anytime he tried, there was no excuse for allowing his own temper to flare this way. And it wouldn't have been happening if he hadn't been watching . . . and if both his stomachs hadn't been hovering on the edge of acute nausea. Then there were his elevated strokain levels, not to mention the instinctual fight-or-flight reflexes (mostly flight in his species' case, in point of fact) quivering down his synapses.

"Yes, Hartyr, I'm watching," he heard his own voice say over the link. He knew it was his voice, even though it seemed preposterously calm given what was going on inside him at the moment. But his next words betrayed the fact that his calm was only voice-deep. "And did you have something in mind for us to do about it?" he asked pointedly.

"No, but surely...."

Hartyr's reply began strongly only to taper off plaintively, and Garsul felt most of his irritation dissipate into something much more like sympathy. His deputy team leader's natural officiousness and pomposity were an undeniable pain in the excretory orifice, and his fanatical devotion to paperwork was rare even among Barthoni. Hartyr was also prone to assume his answer was always the right answer to any problem that came along, and he was a pusher -- the sort of fellow who would trample his own dam and herd brothers in pursuit of the tastiest grazing. But at this moment the sick horror echoing in the depths of his voice was completely understandable. It wasn't going to make him likable (nothing was ever likely to accomplish that miracle), but Garsul felt an unusually powerful sense of kinship with Hartyr as he heard it.

"I wish there were something we could do to stop it, too," he said more quietly. "Unfortunately, there isn't. Unless we want to break protocol, at least."

He heard Hartyr inhale at the other end of the link, but the deputy team leader didn't respond to that last sentence. It did put their options -- or, rather, their lack of options -- into stark relief, Garsul reflected. The Hegemony Council had established its survey protocols long ago, and the Barthoni had played a prominent part in their creation. There was an excellent reason for each and every aspect of the protocols' restrictions . . . including the need to restrain the enormous temptation for a survey team to intervene at a moment like this.

"Make sure Kurgahr and Joraym are recording this," he said now. He could easily have passed the message himself, but it was kinder to give Hartyr something to do. "This is going to be an important part of our final report."

"All right," Hartyr acknowledged.

The easygoing, centaurlike Barthoni were singularly ill-suited to the sort of spit and polish some of the Hegemony's other member species seemed to favor. A few of those other races made bad jokes about it, Garsul knew, but that was all right with him. He and his team didn't need a lot of "sirs" or bowing and scraping to get on with their jobs. They knew who was in charge, just as they knew each of them (likable or not) was a highly trained and invaluable specialist. And every one of them was a volunteer, out here because they were the sort who always wanted to see what was on the other side of the next hill. And perhaps even more importantly, because of their race's species-wide commitment to what the Hegemony Survey Force stood for.

Unlike some other species I could mention, he thought sourly, and returned his attention to the visual display.

The planet they were currently surveying -- designated KU-197-20 -- was a pleasant enough place. Its hydrosphere was a little more extensive than most Barthoni would really have preferred, and the local vegetation would have been poorly suited to their dietary requirements. But the temperature range was about right, and however unsustaining the planetary plant life might be, parts of it were tasty enough, and it came in shades of green that were undeniably easy on the eye.

The only real drawbacks, if he was going to be honest, were certain aspects of the planetary fauna. Especially the dominant planetary fauna.

At the moment, the scene the survey remotes were showing him was less green than it could have been, for a lot of reasons. First, because the area he was watching was well into local autumn, splashing the landscape with vivid color... and showing more than a few bare limbs, as well. Secondly, because those remotes were focused on a narrow strip of open ground between two patches of woodland, and that strip had been recently plowed. The even more recent rain had transformed the turned earth into a mud bath deep enough to satisfy even a Liatu, just waiting to happen. Which, he thought, only underscored the insanity of what he was watching. Surely the lunatic local sentients (and he used the term loosely) could have found a better spot for their current madness!

"Garsul?"

The new voice on the link belonged to Joraym, the team's xenoanthropologist, and Garsul was darkly amused by his tentative tone. Joraym was the team member who'd been most insistent on their remembering that the local sentients -- "humans," they called themselves -- were still mired deep in their planetary childhood. One could scarcely expect them to act like adults, and it would be both unfair and unjust to hold their behavior to the standards of civilized races. The team leader couldn't quibble with Joraym's analysis of KU-197-20's dominant species, but the xenoanthropologist had been looking down his snout for "Barthoncentric prejudice" at anyone who criticized the "humans" ever since they'd arrived in- system. Garsul suspected it was Joraym's way of demonstrating his own enlightened superiority to his teammates.

"Yes, Joraym?" he said aloud.

"Can I deploy some audio remotes?" the xenoanthropologist requested.

"Why in Clahrdu's name d'you want to do that? The video's going to be bad enough!" Garsul made a harsh sound deep in his throat. "I hope the Council's going to put this under scholar's seal when we get it home, but even some of the scholars I know are going to be losing their lunches if this is half as bad as I think it's going to be!"

"I know. I know!" Joraym sounded unhappy, but he also sounded determined.
"It's not often we get a chance to actually see something like this happen, though," he continued. "We don't do it, and neither do most of the other races, but from what we've been able to determine about the local societal units, these . . . people think this is a reasonable way to settle political differences. Hopefully, if I can get the pickups close enough to the leaders on each side, I'll be able to establish that and monitor their reactions and decisions as the . . . effort proceeds."

"And just why is that so important?" Garsul demanded.

"Because some of my colleagues back home are going to reject my analysis without a hell of a lot of supporting data. It's so alien to the way we think."

"Excuse me, Joraym, but could that possibly be because they are aliens?"
Garsul heard the asperity in his own voice, but he didn't really care.

"Well, of course it is!" the xenoanthropologist shot back. "But these creatures are more . . . comfortable with this than anyone else I've ever observed. They remind me a lot of the Shongairi, actually, and we all know how well that's working out. I'm only saying I'd like to have as much substantiation as possible when our report goes before the Council. Their attitude just isn't natural, even for omnivores, and I think we're going to have to keep a very close eye on them for a long time to come. Thank Clahrdu they're as primitive as they are! At least they've got time to do some maturing before we have to worry about them getting off-planet and infesting the rest of the galaxy!"

Garsul's nostrils flared at the mention of the Shongairi. As far as he could tell these "humans" probably weren't any worse than the Shongairi had been at the same stage in their racial evolution. On the other hand, they probably weren't a lot better than the Shongairi had been, either. And as Joraym had just pointed out, unlike the Shongairi, they were omnivores, which made their behavior even more bizarre.

Which presented Garsul with an unwelcome command decision, given that never mentioned, never admitted to codicil to Survey's official protocols. The one which had been slipped into place very quietly -- by executive order and without any debate before the General Assembly of Races -- after the Shongairi were granted Hegemony membership. This was the first time Garsul had actually found himself in the uncomfortable position of applying that codicil, but the classified clause of his mission orders made it clear one of his team's responsibilities was to provide the Council with the means to evaluate any new species' threat potential. Exactly what the Council meant to do with such an evaluation had never been explained to him, and he'd been careful not to ask, but Joraym's last sentence had brought him squarely face-to-face with that classified clause.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Re: STICKY: Out of the Dark Snippets
Post by Duckk   » Mon Aug 16, 2010 8:47 am

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Hmm, strange, Drak posted Snippet 2 on the Bar but not here. Well, here it is:

Out Of The Dark - Snippet 02


The team leader still didn't care much for the thought of recording everything that was about to happen in full color, complete with sound effects, but he was forced to admit -- grudgingly -- that in light of the orders Joraym knew nothing about, his request might not be totally insane, after all.

"What do you think, Kurgahr?"

"I think Joraym has a point, Garsul," the team's xenohistorian said. He, too, knew nothing about Garsul's classified orders, so far as the team leader was aware, but his tone was firm. Not remotely anything like happy, but firm. "Like you, I hope they'll put all this under scholar's seal when we get it home, but this is pretty close to a unique opportunity to get something like this fully recorded. The data really could be invaluable in the long run."

"All right," Garsul sighed. "I'll ask Ship Commander Syrahk to see to it."

***

Far below the orbiting Barthon starship, a young man with a long, pointed nose and a savagely scarred face stood looking out through the morning mists. His name was Henry, Duke of Lancaster, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Chester, Duke of Aquitaine, claimant to the throne of France, and, by God's grace, King of England, and he was twenty- nine years old. He was also, although no one could have guessed it from his expression, in trouble.

Deep trouble.

It was obvious to anyone that he had overreached, and the chivalry of France intended to make him pay for it. His siege of Harfleur had succeeded, but it had taken a full month to force the port to surrender, and his own army had been riddled with disease by the time he was finished. Between that, combat casualties, and the need to garrison his new capture, his original field force of over twelve thousand men had been whittled down to under nine thousand, and only fifteen hundred of them were armored knights and men-at-arms. The other seven thousand were longbow-armed archers -- nimble, deadly at long range (under the proper circumstances, at least), but hopelessly outclassed against any armored foe who could get to sword range. And truth to tell, Harfleur wasn't all that impressive a result for an entire campaign. Which was why, two weeks after the port's surrender, Henry had put his army into motion towards Calais, the English stronghold in northern France, where his troops could reequip over the winter.

It might, perhaps, have been wiser to withdraw his army by sea, but Henry had chosen instead to march overland. Some might have called it a young man's hubris, although despite his youth, Henry V was a seasoned warrior who'd seen his first battlefield when he was only sixteen years old. Others might have called it arrogance, although not to his face. (Not a man to whom the wise offered insult, Henry of Lancaster.) It might even have been a sound strategic sense of the need to salvage at least something more impressive than Harfleur from the expedition. Something he could show Parliament that winter when it came time to discuss fresh military subsidies. But whatever his reasoning, he'd decided to reach Calais by marching across his enemy's territory as proof the enemy in question couldn't stop him.

Unfortunately, the French had other ideas, and they'd raised an army to confront the English invasion. Although it hadn't assembled in time to save
Harfleur and wasn't much larger than Henry's army when he started cross-country to Calais, there was time for it to grow, and it had proved sufficient to block his progress along the line of the Somme River. In fact, it had succeeded in pushing him south, away from Calais, until he could find a ford which wasn't held against him in force.

By that time, unhappily for the English, the French force had swelled to almost thirty-six thousand men.

Which was why Henry was looking out into the autumn mist this morning.
Confronted by four times his own numbers, he'd chosen a defensive position calculated to give the French -- who had long and painful memories of what had happened to their fathers and grandfathers at places with names like Crecy and Poitiers -- pause. At the moment his army held the southern end of a narrow strip of clear, muddy earth between two patches of woodland, the forests of Agincourt and Tramecourt. It was plowed, that stretch of dirt, and the autumn had been rainy. In fact, it had rained the night before, and the fresh-turned earth was heavy with water.

The French vastly outnumbered him in both mounted and dismounted knights and men-at-arms, whose heavy armor would give them a huge advantage in hand-to-hand combat against the unarmored archers who constituted better than eighty percent of his total force. That was why he'd formed his own limited number of knights and men-at-arms to cover the center of his line and massed archers on either flank. That was a fairly standard English formation, but he'd added the innovation of driving long, heavy, pointed wooden stakes into the ground, sharpened tips angled towards the French. The Turks had employed the same tactic to hold off the French cavalry at the Battle of Nicopolis, seventeen years before, and it had served them well. Perhaps it would serve him equally well.

The dense woodland covered both of his flanks, preventing the French men-at-arms from circling around to turn them, and his total frontage was less than a thousand yards. A frontal attack -- the only way the French could get at him -- would constrict their forces badly, preventing them from making full use of their numerical advantage, and the mucky terrain would only make bad worse. In fact, the potential battlefield was so unfavorable (from their perspective) that it seemed unlikely they'd attack at all. Besides, time favored them. At the moment, Henry was in a formidable defensive position, true, and the French were only too well aware of their previous failures in attacking prepared English defensive positions, but this time they had him trapped.

Henry was short of food, his weary army had marched two hundred and sixty miles in barely two and a half weeks, and many of his men were suffering from dysentery and other diseases. Charles d'Albret, the Constable of France, commanding the French army, was still between him and Calais; his enemies outnumbered him hugely; and his strength could only decline while theirs increased. Constable d'Albret could expect additional reinforcements soon -- indeed, the Dukes of Brabant, Anjou, and Brittany, each commanding another fifteen hundred to two thousand men, were even now marching to join him -- and if the English were foolish enough to move out of their current position the overwhelming French cavalry would cut them to pieces. They knew they had him and, in the fullness of time, they intended to repay the arrogant English with interest for those earlier battles like Crecy and Poitiers. But for now the Constable, in no hurry to bring on a battle, preferred to negotiate and stall for time and the arrival of yet more troops. After all, the English position was ultimately hopeless.

Which was why Henry had decided to attack.

***

"Does anyone have any idea why those humans -- the 'English' -- are doing that?" Garsul asked almost plaintively.

Despite the nausea roiling around inside him, he'd discovered he couldn't look away from the outsized display. There was something so hideously . . . mesmerizing about watching thousands upon thousands of putatively intelligent beings march towards one another bent on organized murder. No Barthon could have done it, he knew that much!

"I'm not certain," Kurgahr said slowly.

Of all the watching Barthoni, the historian came closest to possessing some knowledge of "military history," although even his knowledge of the subject was slight. There wasn't any Barthon "military history" to study, and while some other member species of the Hegemony were considerably more combative than the Barthoni, very, very few of them were remotely as bloodthirsty -- a term no one in the Hegemony had even used until the Shongairi arrived -- as humans appeared to be. None of them were represented in Garsul's survey team, either, but Kurgahr at least had their histories available.

"I think the 'English' have decided they have nothing to lose," he went on slowly. "Surely they must realize as well as the 'French' that they can't hope to win, yet they appear to have chosen to provoke combat, anyway." He twitched his upper shoulders in a shrug of bafflement. "I think this race may be even crazier than we thought. It looks to me like they'd rather attack, even knowing it means they'll all be killed, than do the sane thing and surrender!"

"That's a classic example of the worst sort of species chauvinism!" Joraym said testily. "You're unfairly applying our Barthoncentric psychological standards to a juvenile, alien race, Kurgahr. As a historian, you of all people should know how inherently fallacious that kind of pseudo-logic is!"

"Oh?" Kurgahr looked at the xenoanthropologist scornfully. "And do you have a better explanation for why they're doing that?"

He gestured towards the display, where the English army had slogged its way northward along the plowed, muddy strip of open ground towards its overwhelmingly powerful foe. The unarmored archers moved much more easily and nimbly than the armored men-at-arms, even with the long, sharpened stakes they carried. On the other hand, that same lack of armor meant that if the other side ever got to grips with them....

If the longbow men were worried about that, they showed no evidence of it -- which, in Garsul's opinion, only proved Kurgahr's point about their lack of sanity. They simply waded through the mud, marching steadily towards the French.

The French, on the other hand, seemed taken aback by the English advance. They obviously hadn't expected it, and it took them a while to get themselves organized. By the time they'd taken up their own battle formation, the English had halted about three hundred yards from them, and the archers were busy hammering their stakes back into the ground.
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Re: STICKY: Out of the Dark Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Aug 17, 2010 11:00 pm

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Out Of The Dark - Snippet 03

***

Charles d'Albret was not a happy man.

He and his principal subordinates (inasmuch as fifteenth-century French noblemen could truly conceive of the concept of being subordinate to anyone other than -- possibly -- God) had prepared a battle plan. None of them had been blind to the defensive advantages of the English position, and they'd had a plenitude of experience with what English bowmen could do. Those Welsh and English bastards had demonstrated only too often that no other archers in Europe could match their lethal range and rate of fire. Worse, theirs was a weapon which let commonly born men, men of no blood, kill even the most aristocratic of foes. That was one reason French armies routinely chopped off the fingers of captured archers' right hands . . . on those rare occasions when they weren't in the mood for more inventive penalties, at least.

This time the Constable had almost as many archers -- counting his mercenary Genoese crossbowmen -- as Henry, however, and his initial plan had been to deploy them across his entire front to give the English a taste of their own medicine. It would be hard on his own archers, given the superiority of the longbow, but better them than their more nobly born betters. Besides, whatever else happened, the unarmored English archers would take serious losses of their own in the exchange, which was the entire point. Once casualties had shaken their formation, his armored cavalry would fall upon them and break the bastards up, at which point the English would be lost.

But after three motionless hours of glaring at one another, some of his mounted troops had dismounted to rest, or to water their horses, or to water themselves. God knew plate armor was a stifling, oven like burden, even in October, so it was easy enough to understand their actions. Yet it meant they were out of position, unable to launch the charge which would have devastated Henry's army if they'd managed to catch him on the move, when the English surprised them all with their sudden advance. By the time Charles had been able to reform his troops with some eye towards launching that sort of attack, Henry had stopped and those nasty, pointed stakes were back in place to protect his archers' frontage.

At which point, at a range of three hundred yards, they opened fire.

***

Every one of the watching Barthoni flinched, almost in unison, as the first flights of arrows streaked into the French formation. The audio pickups Joraym and Kurgahr had requested brought them the screams and cries of wounded humans and their four-footed riding beasts -- their "horses" -- with hideous clarity. And no Barthon could have witnessed the sudden eruption of blood from rent and torn bodies without feeling physically ill. Yet, for all their revulsion, they couldn't look away, either. It was like watching some natural catastrophe -- an avalanche, perhaps, sliding down to engulf and destroy. But this "natural catastrophe" was the result of willfully perverted intelligence, and somehow that made it even more mesmerizing.


"There!" Kurgahr said suddenly, pointing at the display. "I wondered when they'd do that!" He twitched his head in the Barthon gesture of resignation.
"Insane or not, what's about to happen to those English is going to be ugly."

The historian had a pronounced gift for understatement, Garsul thought grimly, watching the better part of two thousand mounted knights charge the English line. It occurred to him that it probably would have been better to attack the English before they could settle into their new position, but the French charge began only after the English had begun pelting them with arrows. Still, it shouldn't matter all that much. It was clear from the display that the knights' armor was more than sufficient to turn the vast majority of the arrows sleeting towards them.

***

Charles d'Albret swore viciously as his heavy cavalry pelted towards the English line. Now they attacked!

Yet even as he swore, the Constable knew it would have been foolish to expect any other response. That heavy rain of arrows was unlikely to kill or even wound many of those heavily armored men, but their horses were quite another matter. No cavalry in the world could stand in place under the aimed fire of seven thousand longbows, each firing as many as twelve shafts a minute. Its only options were to attack or run away to get out of range of those
deadly horse-killing bows, and these were French knights. Running away was
out of the question.

Not that attacking was any better option, when all was said.

The muddy field slowed the charging horse men, and the English arrows continued to slash into them. Unlike their riders, only the horses' heads were truly armored, and they began to go down. Each fallen animal formed its own individual obstacle for its companions, but the wounded and panicked horses were almost worse. Many of them were uncontrollable, rearing and bolting with the maddening pain of their injuries, and the charge came apart in confusion, mud, mire, blood, and bodies. Unable to close with the English, the cavalry retreated back the way they'd come, which churned the already muddy earth into a slick, slithery morass dotted with dead and wounded horses like reefs in a sea of muck.

***

Henry watched the French cavalry recoil and smiled thinly. He knew all about the goading, maddening effect of archery. Even the best armored knight or man-at-arms could be killed or wounded under the wrong circumstances. The scars on his own face were the result of a Welsh rebel's arrow which had hit a sixteen-year-old Prince Henry in the face at the Battle of Shrewsbury. For that matter, Sir Henry Percy, the rebels' commander at Shrewsbury, had also been hit in the face. In his case, however, the experience had proved fatal.

The king saw very few armored bodies lying about in the mud, and most of those he did see appeared to be pinned by dead horses or injured when their mounts went down, rather than felled by arrow fire. But it was unlikely the French would simply stand there and take the English fire, and even if they managed to reorder their formation to get their own archers into position to engage, crossbowmen could never match the combination of his longbows' range and rate of fire. Which meant....

***

Garsul felt the others' shocked disbelief. It seemed ridiculous -- impossible! -- that such a thundering mass of heavily armored warriors could have been routed by nothing more than arrows propelled by muscle powered bows.

Still, the French mounted troops were only a portion of their total force, and it was obvious the mounted men's comrades intended to avenge their repulse.

***

Charles d'Albret's original battle plan had become a thing of the past. There was no way he could have reorganized his own forces under that plunging arrow fire. Partly because of the arrows themselves, but even more because of the nature of his army. The nobles and knights arrayed on the field had too many defeats to avenge, their numerical advantage was too overwhelming, and the taunting yells and yelps of contempt from the commoner longbow men which had pursued the retreating cavalry were too much for men of blood to stomach.

And so they advanced.

The first French line, with almost five thousand dismounted knights and men-at-arms, was personally commanded by Constable d'Albret, along with Marshal Boucicault and the Dukes of Orleans and Bourbon, while the Count of Vendome and Sir Clignet de Brebant commanded its supporting cavalry wings. The second line was commanded by the Dukes of Bar and Alencon and the Count of Nevers, following in the first line's wake, and a third line, under the Counts of Dammartin and Fauconberg, was ready behind the second. All told, ten thousand armored men-at-arms, including the very flower of the French aristocracy, stood poised to crush the mere fifteen hundred English men-at-arms arrayed against them, and once those English men-at-arms had been disposed of, the archers would be easy meat.

Except....

***

"I don't believe it," Kurgahr said flatly.

"Perhaps that's because we've had technology for so long," Garsul replied, still unable to look away from the display. "How long has it been since a few thousand Barthoni tried to walk across a muddy field together?" He snorted harshly. "Especially a muddy field like this one!"

The rain-soaked, plowed earth had been churned into mud by the French cavalry; now the marching feet of thousands of men-at-arms turned the mud into watery muck. What would have been slow going under any circumstances became a nightmare ordeal for men wearing fifty and sixty pounds of unventilated, sunbaked armor. Some of the men in the center of the field found themselves wading through liquid mud that was literally knee-deep, and even as they slogged slowly forward, the drumbeat of English arrows continued to slam into them.
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Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Re: STICKY: Out of the Dark Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Aug 19, 2010 11:00 pm

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Out Of The Dark - Snippet 04

***

Henry watched through merciless eyes, fingering the scars on his face, as the French struggled forward. Their heavy mail and plate armor might defeat his archers' arrows, but those same arrows forced the advancing French to close their helmet visors and keep their heads down lest the same thing happen to them as had happened to Henry and Percy at Shrewsbury. Visibility, as Henry knew from harsh personal experience, was hugely restricted under those circumstances, and just breathing through a visor's airholes could become a tortuous ordeal, especially for someone fighting his way through knee-deep mud in the hot, sweaty prison of his armor. Exhaustion was going to be a factor, he thought coldly, and so was crowding. As they advanced towards him, the field narrowed. They piled in on one another, packing closer and closer together, and the more congested their formation became, the more it slowed.

And not even the best armor could stop all arrows. Men were going down -- dead, wounded, sometimes simply fallen and unable to rise in the mud -- and those still on their feet became even more tightly packed, their formation even more confused, as they tried to avoid treading the casualties yet deeper into the mire. Even those still upright were being battered by the incessant impacts of thousands of arrows. They might not penetrate their targets' armor, but arrows driven from longbows with pulls of a hundred and forty and even two hundred pounds hit a man like the blows of a sledgehammer. The painful battering, added to all of the advancing Frenchmen's other miseries, had to have an effect.

***

Garsul's skin twitched in disbelief. It was no longer shock; he was beyond that by now. No, this was duller than that. Almost numbing.

Despite everything, the lurching French advance had finally reached the English lines. They were so tight packed by the time they did that none of them could even take a full stride forward any longer. By Garsul's estimate, they'd probably been slowed by at least seventy percent simply because of the crowding. Yet, despite that, they'd covered the three hundred agonizing yards between them and their enemies somehow.

***

The French men-at-arms were exhausted; Henry's were rested and ready. The short English line of men-at-arms was four deep, and their supporting archers continued to fire -- now into the French flanks -- until they literally ran out of arrows. Yet even so, when the first line crunched into the English position, the outnumbered English were driven back by sheer weight of numbers. Not far, but back. Yet they fought savagely for each yard they were forced to yield, and the French formation was so crowded that many of its individual soldiers could find no room to use their personal weapons. Then the second French line drove into the melee, and the congestion got only worse.

At which point the longbow men, arrows exhausted, swarmed over the French flanks and rear with hatchets, swords, daggers, mauls, pickaxes, and hammers. They were unarmored, true, but that meant they were far more mobile than their heavily armored, mud-mired opponents, and if they lacked the protective visored helms of their foes, they also had unimpaired vision.
Worse, they were fresh, while many of the French were so exhausted from their long slog through the mud, the heat, and the lack of oxygen in their closed helmets that they could scarcely even lift their weapons. The situation could have been specifically designed -- indeed, it had been, by Henry -- to negate the heavily armored men-at-arms' advantages in close combat, and when a Frenchman went down, even if he'd only stumbled and fallen, he couldn't get back up under the longbow men's mercilessly murderous attack.

***

"Clahrdu!" Hartyr muttered the better part of three human hours later. "It doesn't seem... How could anyone ...?"

His voice trailed off, and Garsul shook himself. "Humans" weren't Barthoni. In fact, despite his own decades- long commitment to Survey and his belief that all sentient species should be treated with dignity and respect, he couldn't really think of them as "people" at all. Joraym was right about that, and it shamed Garsul somewhere deep down inside to admit the xenoanthropologist was correct about his prejudices. But even so, they were sentients, and what these "English" and "French" had done to one another was going to leave him with nightmares for the rest of his life.

He didn't envy the Council when it read the confidential report he was going to have to file, either.

There were literal heaps of bodies, some taller than Garsul himself, piled in front of the "English" position. Clahrdu only knew how many of the French had simply suffocated, drowned in mud, or been crushed to death by the weight of their own dead, and the third and final French line had declined to advance. Sensibly, in Garsul's opinion, given what had already happened to three-quarters of their armored warriors. It seemed incredible, preposterous, that such an outnumbered force could have so decisively defeated such an overwhelming foe, yet the English had, and the evidence of their ferocity and bloodthirstiness was horrifying.

"Do you still think they're simply 'juvenile' and 'immature,' Joraym?" he heard Ship Commander Syrahk ask bitingly.

"I don't know." The xenoanthropologist sounded badly shaken. "I mean, they are juvenile and immature -- they couldn't be any other way at their current level of advancement. But this -- !" Joraym tossed his head in a Barthon gesture of bafflement. "I've never read anything in the literature about this kind of brutality."

"Let's not get too carried away," Kurgahr put in. The ship commander and xenoanthropologist both looked at him disbelievingly, and he snorted. "I'm not trying to make excuses for anything we've just seen, but I've read enough history to know this sort of conduct isn't entirely unheard of among other species. For that matter, there were periods in our own pretechnic era when we did some things we'd be horrified to admit to today. Not over simple political disagreements, perhaps, and nothing remotely as bad as this, but when herds were faced with starvation conditions and forced to fight for range, they were capable of some pretty horrific actions. And I think if you looked into the histories of some of our omnivorous fellow citizens you might find some pretty bloody episodes there, as well."

"And then there's the Shongairi," Garsul pointed out. A symphony of scowls greeted the remark, and he shrugged his upper shoulders. "I'm just saying these creatures at least have the excuse of their social and technical primitivism. The Shongairi don't."

"Well, true," Joraym said in the tone of someone trying very hard to be detached, "but the Shongairi are bound to be a little . . . twisted, you know.
I mean, they are . . . carnivores." The xenoanthropologist's distaste for the
near-obscene term was evident. "I hate to say it, but these 'humans' are omnivores. They don't have that excuse, Garsul."

"I know, but—"

"Wait!" Syrahk interrupted. "Something's happening!"

***

"My Liege!"

Henry looked up at the messenger's cry. The king was on his knees, beside the pallet on which his youngest brother Humphrey, the Duke of Gloucester, lay. Humphrey was barely three weeks past his twenty-fifth birthday, and Henry had personally led his guard to Humphrey's rescue when he went down. They'd gotten him out of the maelstrom and back to the surgeons, but he'd been wounded in the abdomen, and belly wounds were fatal far more often than not.

"What is it?" the king asked harshly now, fatigue and worry over his brother shadowing even his indomitable visage.

"My Liege, I think the French are regrouping!"

Henry rose abruptly, striding through his protective cordon of knights and men-at-arms to see for himself. The French rearguard had never advanced, but now the third line was stirring, and his jaw tightened. There were almost as many men in that line as in his entire army, and his archers' arrows were exhausted. It would take hours to get more of them up from the baggage train, and in the meantime his men were weary and out of formation and their prisoners were still unsecured. Literally thousands of armored Frenchmen lay in the mud -- exhausted and fallen, perhaps, but unwounded -- and their weapons lay with them.

Henry looked up the length of the field at the remaining French host and his nostrils flared.

"Fetch me Baron de Camoys!" he commanded.

"At once, Your Majesty!"

A messenger hurried off and returned minutes later with Sir Thomas de Camoys, who'd commanded the English left wing throughout the battle. With the death of Edmund of Norwich, the Duke of York, who'd commanded the right wing (and who, like hundreds of Frenchmen, had suffocated under a crushing pile of dead men and horses), Baron de Camoys had become Henry's senior field commander.

"Your Majesty," de Camoys said, bowing, and Henry jabbed a gauntleted finger at the stirring French third line.

"Those bastards mean to attack us, Baron," the king said flatly, his scarred face grim, "and we cannot chance what will happen here" -- the same hand indicated the mud-mired Frenchmen heaped and piled before the English line -- "when they do."

***

This time, Garsul did vomit.

Perhaps it was simply cumulative revulsion. Perhaps it was more than that. Whatever it was, when the English began methodically slaughtering the helpless French men-at-arms and knights, thrusting daggers through visors or using axes and hammers and mattocks to literally hack open their armored carapaces and get at the men within, it was too much.

He turned away from the display at last.

"Kill the audio!" he said harshly. "We don't need to hear this!"

The sound of screams, babbled pleas for mercy, and prayers cut off abruptly, and Garsul shook himself.

Clahrdu, he thought sickly. Clahrdu, preserve me. Of Your mercy, grant that I never see anything like this again! I thought those "secret orders" of mine undermined everything Survey stands for, but not now. Now I know how wise the Council truly was to issue them!

"We're done on this world," he said, his voice flat. "We've got all the physical data we need, and Clahrdu knows we've got more 'societal' data than any sane being is ever going to want to look at. Ship Commander," he looked at Syrahk, "I want us out of orbit and headed home within two day segments."
*
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Re: STICKY: Out of the Dark Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Aug 22, 2010 10:58 pm

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Out Of The Dark - Snippet 05


PLANET
KU-197-20

Year 74,065 of the Hegemony

Chapter .I.


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 house hold. 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 U.S. 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 out-shoot 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.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Re: STICKY: Out of the Dark Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Aug 24, 2010 11:03 pm

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Admiral

Posts: 2097
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Out Of The Dark - Snippet 06


Chapter .II.

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 bother somely 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.
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Re: STICKY: Out of the Dark Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Aug 26, 2010 11:00 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

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Out Of The Dark - Snippet 07


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.

That was one reason the Shongairi had been so secretly delighted when the more pacific members of the Council had decided that anyone as bloodthirsty as "humans" deserved whatever happened to them. In fact, Thikair was of the
same opinion as the Emperor's senior ministers -- the majority of the Council members who'd approved KU- 197- 20's colonization had seen it as an opportunity to neutralize the humans before they could become a second Shongairi. Better, in their opinion, to have only a single expansionist, bloodthirsty, hyper-aggressive species to deal with. Besides, a lot of them had probably salved their consciences with the reflection that conquest by the Shongairi would at least shortcut the humans' almost inevitable self-destruction once they got around to acquiring nuclear capability. Looked at from that perspective, it was actually their moral responsibility to see to it that KU-197-20's unnaturally twisted development was aborted by an outside force while it was still primitive.

And if it happened that, in the process of being conquered, the humans should most unfortunately be rendered extinct, well, it wouldn't be the Hegemony's fault, now would it? No, it would be the fault of those vile, wicked, insanely combative Shongairi, that's whose fault it would be! And however regrettable such an outcome might be, at least the civilized races would be spared yet another batch of bloodthirsty deviants.

But the Shongairi saw humans in rather a different light. The majority of their client races (it would never have done to call them "slaves," of course) were as thoroughly useless in a military sense as the Hegemony's more developed herbivores. Most of them weren't exactly over-blessed with intelligence, either. They could be taught relatively simple tasks, but only three of them could be trained, at least without significant surgical intervention, using the neural educator technology the Hegemony took for granted. And none of them had any of the hunter's aggressiveness, the drive -- the fire -- that fueled Shongair civilization. Workers and drones, yes, but never soldiers. Never warriors. It simply wasn't in them.

But the humans, now . . . They might have some potential. It was obvious from the survey team's records that they were hopelessly primitive, and from their abysmal tactics in the single battle the survey team had observed, they were just as hopelessly inept. Still, they were the first species to come the Shongairi's way who might possibly -- with serious long-term training -- make useful slave-soldiers. According to the survey team's admittedly no more than superficial physiological data, it might even be possible to teach them using neural educators without surgically inserted receptors. While they would never be the equal of the Shongairi as warriors even if that were true, they'd at least make useful cannon fodder. And who knew? A few generations down the road, with the right training and pruning and a suitable breeding program, they really might at least approach Shongair levels of utility.

The Emperor had made the importance of exploring KU-197-20's utility in that respect clear before Thikair's expedition departed. And the fact that the weed-eaters and their only slightly less contemptible omnivore fellows had so cavalierly handed the planet over to the Empire only made the possibility that it would prove useful that much more delicious.

None of which did much about his current problem.

"You say it's possibly a Level Two," he said. "Why do you think that?"

"Given all the EM activity and the sophistication of so many of the signals, the locals are obviously at least Level Three, Sir." Ahzmer didn't seem to be getting any happier, Thikair observed. "In fact, preliminary analysis suggests they've already developed fission power -- possibly even fusion. But while there are at least some fission power sources on the planet, there seem to be very few of them. In fact, most of their power generation seems to come from burning hydrocarbons! Why should any civilization that was really Level Two do anything that stupid?"

The fleet commander's ears flattened in a frown. Like the ship commander, he found it difficult to conceive of any species stupid enough to continue consuming irreplaceable resources in hydrocarbon-based power generation if it no longer had to. That didn't mean such a species couldn't exist, however. Alien races could do incredibly stupid things -- one had only to look at the pathetic excuses for civilizations some of the weed- eaters had erected to realize that was true! Ahzmer simply didn't want to admit it was possible in this case, even to himself, because if this genuinely was a Level Two civilization it would be forever off-limits for colonization.

"Excuse me, Sir," Ahzmer said, made bold by his own worries, "but what are we going to do?"

"I can't answer that question just yet, Ship Commander," Thikair replied a bit more formally than usual when it was just the two of them. "But I can tell you what we're not going to do, and that's let these reports panic us into any sort of premature reactions. Survey's always off a little when it estimates a primitive species' probable tech level; the sheer time lag makes that inevitable, I suppose. I admit, I've never heard of them being remotely as far off as the scouts' reports seem to be suggesting in this case, but let's not jump to any conclusions until we've had time to thoroughly evaluate the situation. We've spent eight years, subjective, just getting here, and Medical is already half a month into reviving Ground Commander Thairys' personnel from cryo. We're not going to simply cross this system off our list and move on to the next one until we've thoroughly considered what we've learned about it and evaluated all of our options. Is that clear?"

"Yes, Sir!"

"Good. In the meantime, however, we have to assume we may well be facing surveillance systems considerably in advance of anything we'd anticipated. Under the circumstances, I want the fleet taken to a covert stance. Full-scale emissions control and soft recon mode, Ship Commander."

"Yes, Sir. I'll pass the order immediately."
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Re: STICKY: Out of the Dark Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Aug 29, 2010 10:58 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2097
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
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Out Of The Dark - Snippet 08


Chapter .III.

Master Sergeant Stephen Buchevsky climbed out of the MRAP, stretched, collected his personal weapon, and nodded to the driver.

"Go find yourself some coffee. I don't really expect this to take very long, but you know how good I am at predicting things like that."

"Gotcha, Top," the corporal behind the wheel agreed with a grin. He stepped on the gas, and the Cougar four-by-four (officially redesignated years ago as an MRAP, or Mine Resistant Ambush Protection vehicle, largely as a PR move after IED attacks had taken out so many Humvees in Iraq) moved away. It headed for the mess tent at the far end of the position, while Buchevsky started hiking towards the sandbagged command bunker perched on top of the sharp-edged ridge.

The morning air was thin and cold, but little more than a month from the end of his current deployment, Buchevsky was used to that. It wasn't exactly as if it were the first time he'd been here, either. And while many of Bravo Company's Marines considered it the armpit of the universe, Buchevsky had seen substantially worse during the seventeen years since a deceitfully honest-faced recruiter had taken shameless advantage of an impressionable youth -- a family friend, no less! -- to fill his recruiting quota.

"Oh, the places you'll go -- the things you'll see!" the recruiter in question had told him enthusiastically. And Stephen Buchevsky had indeed been places and seen things since. Along the way, he'd been wounded in action no less than six times, and at age thirty- five, his marriage had just finished coming unglued, mostly over the issue of lengthy, repeat deployments. He walked with a slight limp the physical therapists hadn't been able to completely eradicate, the ache in his right hand was a faithful predictor of rain or snow, and the scar that curved up his left temple was clearly visible through his buzz- cut hair, especially against his dark skin. But while he sometimes entertained fantasies about sitting down with "Uncle Rob" and . . . "discussing" his inducements to get him to sign on the dotted line, he'd always reupped.

Which probably says something unhealthy about my personality. Besides, Dad would be really pissed with me for blaming it all on someone else! He reflected as he paused to gaze down at the narrow twisting road so far below.

On his first trip to sunny Afghanistan, he'd spent his time at Camp Rhine down near Kandahar. That was when he'd acquired the limp, too. For the next deployment, he'd been located up near Ghanzi, helping to keep an eye on the A01 highway from Kandahar to Kabul. That had been less . . . interesting than his time in Kandahar Province, although he'd still managed to take a rocket splinter in the ass. Which had been good for another gold star on the purple heart ribbon (and unmerciful "humor" from his so- called friends). But then the Poles had taken over in Ghanzi, and so, for his third Afghanistan deployment, he'd been sent back to Kandahar, where things had been heating up again. He'd stayed there, too . . . until his battalion had gotten new orders, at least. The situation in Paktika Province -- the one the Poles had turned down in favor of Ghanzi because Paktika was so much more lively -- had also worsened, and they'd been moved to help deal with the situation.

At the moment he was on his fourth deployment, and he and the rest of First Battalion, Third Marine Regiment, Third Marine Division (known as the "Lava Dogs"), had been operating in Helmand Province, conducting operations in support of the Afghan Army. Although, in Buchevsky's opinion, it had been rather the other way around as far as who was supporting whom was concerned. Still, like most professional members of the United States military he'd gotten used to the sometimes inventive fashion in which operations' purposes were described to the public. In this case he even understood why it had to be described that way. And despite his own lingering concerns over the corruption of the national government, the overall situation really had improved a lot. The local governor in Helmand seemed to be working hard to provide the people of his province with genuine security, and most of the Afghan soldiers they'd been working with this time around seemed motivated to keep it that way. For that matter, they were even acquiring the rudiments of genuine fire discipline! They weren't as good as Marines, of course, but then, who was?

His lips twitched at that thought, which he reminded himself to keep to himself. At the moment, Bravo Company -- his company -- had been detached from Battalion and sent back up into Paktika yet again, this time tasked as backup for the Army's 508th Parachute Infantry while the Army tried to pry loose some of its own people for the job.

Despite all the emphasis on "jointness," it hadn't made for the smoothest relationship imaginable. The fact that everyone recognized it as a stopgap and Bravo as only temporary visitors (they'd been due to deploy back to the States in less than three months when they got the call) didn't help, either. They'd arrived without the logistic support which would normally have accompanied them, and despite the commonality of so much of their equipment, that had still put an additional strain on the 508th's supply services. But the Army types had been glad enough to see them and they'd done their best to make the "jarheads" welcome.

The fact that the Vermont-sized province shared six hundred miles of border with Pakistan, coupled with the way the political situation in Pakistan had once more become "interesting" (in the Chinese sense of the word) and the continuing upsurge in opium production under the Taliban's auspices (odd how the fundamentalists' onetime bitter opposition to the trade had vanished when they decided they needed cash to support their operations), had prevented Company B from feeling bored. There was always a large-scale trade in opium, and the recent upsurge in weapon-smuggling, infiltration, and cross- border attacks by the jihadists based among the Pakistani hill tribes hadn't helped, either. Still, the situation was beginning to show signs of stabilizing, and Buchevsky still preferred Paktika to his 2004 deployment to Iraq. Or his more recent visit to Helmand, for that matter.

Now he looked down through the thin mountain air at the twisting trail Second Platoon was here to keep a close eye on.

All the fancy recon assets in the world couldn't provide the kind of constant presence and eyes- on surveillance needed to interdict traffic through a place like this. An orbiting unmanned reconnaissance drone wasn't very good at intercepting a bunch of mujahedin backpacking in rocket-propelled grenades, for example. It could spot them, but it couldn't suppress the traffic. Not even helicopter-borne pounces could do that as well as troops permanently on the ground with good lines of oversight... and infantry wasn't likely to be downed by MANPADs, either. Not that anything was ever going to make the job simple. It was probably easier than the job Buchevsky's father had faced trying to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail -- at least his people could see a lot farther! -- but that wasn't saying very much, all things taken together. And he didn't recall his dad's mentioning anything about lunatic martyrs out to blow people up in job lots for the glory of God.

He found himself thinking about the odd twists and turns fate took as he gazed down at the serpentine trail. His father had been a Marine, too, serving two enlistments as a combat infantryman before he got his divinity degree and transferred to the Navy to become a chaplain. Buchevsky the Younger, as he'd been referred to by his dad's buddies, had grown up on one Marine or Navy base after another, so if anyone should have known the truth when Uncle Rob spoke his seductive lies, it should have been Stephen Buchevsky.

Face it, he told himself. You did know what you were getting into, and you'd do the same thing today. Which probably proves you are an idiot, just like Trish says. He smiled sadly, thinking about that last conversation. You could've
gotten out, just like she wanted. God knows you've put in more than your share of time in places like this! And she had a point about what you owe the girls, too. You knew she did. That was why you got so pissed at her for playing that card. Because you knew she was absolutely right to say it... and you were too much of a coward to admit it. You're just lucky -- damned lucky -- she wants your daughters to grow up knowing their daddy. How many cases have you seen where it went the other way?

He thought about the perversity of his own nature, but he knew the real reason he'd reupped so many times and why he was where he was. His dad had put it into words years ago, when Commander Buchevsky had finally retired and taken over a small church in his South Carolina hometown.

"Son," Alvin Buchevsky had said sadly, looking somehow like a stranger out of the uniform he'd worn as long as his son had been alive, "you're not just a lifer, you're a combat arms lifer. You're just never going to be satisfied doing anything else, and that's the way it is. I've seen it in plenty of others. In fact, to be honest, I was afraid I saw it in myself, once upon a time. Might be I really did, too, looking back on it. That's the real reason I was so relieved when I realized I had a genuine call to the ministry."

The Methodist pastor had looked up at his towering son and shaken his head.

"You've got that protective bug, too," he'd said. "That crazy notion -- probably your mom's and my fault -- that you're supposed to fix everything. Just don't have it in you to not answer to it, either. And you're good at leading Marines, and you're good at killing people you think need killing. I don't say you like doing it, because I know you don't, and I hate what I know that's costing you. But the truth is you'd never be happy leaving 'your job' to someone else -- someone who might not be as good at it as you are and got more of your Marines killed because they screwed up where you might not've. I know better than most that sometimes people like you are exactly what we need, too. There's always going to be plenty of bad people in the world, and that means we need people like you to stop 'em. You know I'll never condemn you for it, either. Never love you any less. But what you do . . . it can be hard on a man's soul, and it's hard on his family, Steve. It's awful hard."

You were right, Dad, he thought now. Accepting that hadn't been the easiest thing he'd ever done, yet he'd had no choice, in the end. And sometimes I think the real reason Trish is working so hard on "keeping the channels open" is because she wants to make damned sure she and the girls stay close to you and Mom, thank God. I don't know what I did to deserve you, but what ever it was, I'm glad I did it.

He gave himself a shake. He had a lot on his plate organizing the Company's rotation home, and he turned back towards the command bunker to inform Gunnery Sergeant Wilson that his platoon's Army relief would begin arriving within forty-eight hours. It was time to get the turnover organized and Second Platoon back to its FOB to participate in all the endless paperwork and equipment checks involved in any company movement.

Not that Buchevsky expected anyone to complain about this move.
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Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: Out of the Dark Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Aug 31, 2010 11:07 pm

DrakBibliophile
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Out Of The Dark - Snippet 09

Chapter .IV.

The gathering in Star of Empire's conference room consisted of Thikair's three squadron commanders, his ground force commander, Ship Commander Ahzmer, and Ground Base Commander Shairez. Despite the fact that Shairez was technically junior to Ground Force Commander Thairys, she was the expedition's senior ground base commander, and as such she, too, reported directly to Thikair.

At the moment, the flagship, along with the rest of the fleet, lay on the far side of KU-197-20's single large moon from the planet. Only the highly stealthy scout ships had been permitted to approach closer to the objective than that, and all but two of them -- one in each polar position -- had since been withdrawn, leaving even less easily detected remote platforms to continue the monitoring function.

Rumors about those scout ships' findings had spread, of course. It would have required divine intervention to prevent that! Still, if it turned out there was no landing after all, it would scarcely matter, would it?

"What's your interpretation of the scout ships' data, Ground Base Commander?" Thikair asked Shairez without bothering to call the meeting formally to order. Most of them seemed surprised by his disregard for protocol, and Shairez didn't look especially pleased to be the first person called upon. But she could scarcely have been surprised by the question itself. Unlike most of the Hegemony's other species, the Shongairi had little use for xenoanthropology. Still, at least some expertise in dealing with other races was necessary if one was going to manage them efficiently. One of the main reasons Shairez was the expedition's senior ground base commander was her experience in dealing with and studying the Empire's subject species, which made her the closest thing to a true xenologist Thikair had.

"I've considered the data, including that from the stealthed orbital platforms, carefully, Fleet Commander," she replied. "I'm afraid my analysis confirms Ship Commander Ahzmer's original fears. I would definitely rate the local civilization at Level Two. A surprisingly advanced Level Two, in some areas, in fact."

Unhappy at being called upon or not, she hadn't flinched, Thikair thought approvingly.

"Expand upon that, please," he said.

"Yes, Sir." Shairez tapped the virtual clawpad of her personal computer, and her eyes unfocused slightly as she gazed at the memos projected directly upon her retinas.

"First, Sir, this species has developed nuclear power. Of course, their technology is extremely primitive and it would appear they're only beginning to experiment with fusion, but there are significant indications that their general tech level is much more capable than we would ever anticipate out of anyone with such limited nuclear capacity. Apparently, for some reason known only to themselves, these people -- I use the term loosely, of course -- have chosen to cling to hydrocarbon- fueled power generation well past the point at which they could have replaced it with nuclear generation."

"That's absurd!" Squadron Commander Jainfar objected. The crusty old space dog was Thikair's senior squadron commander and as bluntly uncompromising as one of his dreadnoughts' main batteries. Now he grimaced as Thikair glanced at him, one ear cocked interrogatively.

"Apologies, Ground Base Commander," the squadron commander half growled. "I don't doubt your data. I just find it impossible to believe any species that stupid could figure out how to use fire in the first place!"

"It is unique in our experience, Squadron Commander," Shairez acknowledged.
"And according to the master data banks it's also unique in the experience of every other member of the Hegemony. Nonetheless, they do possess virtually all of the other attributes of a Level Two culture."

She raised one hand, ticking off points on her claws as she continued.

"They have planet- wide telecommunications. Their planetary data net, while still rudimentary in a technical sense, is planet- wide, as well. And, to be honest, our initial probes confirm that their security measures are surprisingly good.

"Although they've done little to truly exploit space, it isn't because of any inherent inability to do so. They have numerous communications and navigational satellites, what appear to be quite competent orbital astronomy platforms, and at least one crude space station. Their military aircraft are capable of trans-sonic flight regimes, they make abundant use of advanced -- well, advanced for any pre-Hegemony culture -- composites, and we've observed experiments with early- generation directed energy weapons, as well. They have not established a unified planetary government as yet, which is virtually unheard of for a species at this level of advancement, but there are indications that they are headed in that direction at this time. And while their technological capabilities are not distributed uniformly about their planet, they're spreading rapidly and should achieve that level of distribution within the next generation or two. Indeed, they might manage it even sooner, if their ridiculous rate of technological advancement to this point is any guide!"

The silence around the conference table was profound. Thikair let it linger for several moments, then leaned back in his chair.

"How would you account for the discrepancy between what we're now observing and the initial Survey report?"

"Sir, I can't account for it," she said frankly. "I've double-checked and triple-checked the original report. There's no question that it was accurate at the time it was made, yet now we find this. Every projection says this species ought to be experimenting with muzzle-loading black powder firearms and crude steam engines. Instead, its has somehow made the jump from animal transport, wind power, and muscle-powered weapons to what's clearly a Level Two culture more than three times as rapidly as any other species. And please note that I said 'any other species.' The one I had in mind were the Ugartu."

The fleet commander saw more than one grimace at that. The Ugartu had never attained Hegemony membership . . . since they'd turned their home star system into a radioactive junkyard first. The Council of the time had breathed a quiet but very, very profound sigh of relief when it happened, too, given that the Ugartu had been advancing technologically at twice the galactic norm. Which meant these people . . .

"Well, I suppose that explains how Survey's estimate of their tech level could be so far off," Jainfar said dryly. "Now if we only knew why it's happened!"

"Is it possible the initial survey team broke procedure, Sir?" Ship Commander
Ahzmer asked, his expression troubled. Thikair glanced at him, and his flagship's commander flicked both ears. "I'm just wondering if the surveyors might inadvertently have made direct contact with the locals? Accidentally given them a leg up?"

"Possible, but unlikely, Ship Commander," Ground Force Commander
Thairys said. "I wish I didn't have to say that, since I find this insanely rapid advancement just as disturbing as you do. Unfortunately, the original survey was conducted by the Barthoni."

Several of Thikair's officers looked as if they'd just smelled something unpleasant. Actually, from the perspective of any self-respecting carnivore, the
Barthoni smelled simply delicious. But the timid plant-eaters were one of the Shongairi's most severe critics. And the reason the miserable little centaurs were so heavily represented in the Hegemony's survey forces, despite their inherent timidity, was because of their fanatic support for the Council regulations limiting contact with inferior races.

"I'm afraid I agree with the Ground Force Commander," Shairez said.

"And it wouldn't matter if that were what had happened," Thikair pointed out. "The Constitution doesn't care where a species' technology came from. What matters is the level it's attained, however it got there."

"That, and the way the Council would react to finding out about it,"
Jainfar said sourly, and ears moved in agreement all around the table.

"I'm afraid Squadron Commander Jainfar has a point, Sir." Thairys sighed heavily. "It was hard enough getting approval for our other objectives, and they're far less advanced than these creatures have turned out to be. Or I hope to Dainthar's Hounds they still are, at any rate!"

More ears waved agreement, Thikair's among them. However aberrant, this species' development clearly put it well outside the parameters of the Council's authorization. However....

"I'm well aware of just how severely our discoveries have altered the circumstances envisioned by our mission orders," he said. "On the other hand, there are a few additional points I believe bear consideration."

Most of them looked at him with obvious surprise, but Thairys' tail curled up over the back of his chair, and his ears flattened in speculation.

"First, one of the points I noticed when I reviewed the first draft of Ground Base Commander Shairez' report was that these people not only have remarkably few nuclear power stations, but for a species of their level, they also have remarkably few nuclear weapons. Only their major political powers seem to have them in any quantity, and even they have very limited numbers compared to their nonnuclear capabilities. Of course, they are omnivores, but the numbers of weapons are still strikingly low. Lower even than for some of the Hegemony's weed-eaters at a comparable point in their development. That becomes particularly apparent given the fact that there are military operations underway over much of the planet. In particular, several more advanced nation-states are conducting operations against adversaries who obviously don't even approach their own capabilities. Yet even though those advanced -- I'm speaking relatively, of course -- nation-states have nuclear arsenals and their opponents, who don't, would be incapable of retaliation, they've chosen not to employ them. Not only that, but they must have at least some ability to produce bioweapons, yet we've seen no evidence of their use. For that matter, we haven't even seen poison gas or neurotoxins!"

He let that settle in, then leaned forward once more to rest his folded hands on the conference table.

"This would appear to be a highly peculiar species in several respects," he said quietly. "Their failure to utilize the most effective weapons available to them, however, suggests that in some ways they haven't advanced all that greatly since the Barthoni first visited this world. In fact, it suggests they're almost as lacking in... military pragmatism as many of the Hegemony's weed-eaters. That being the case, I find myself of the opinion that they might well make a suitable client species after all."

The silence in the conference room was absolute as the rest of Thikair's listeners began to realize what Thairys had already guessed.

"I realize," the fleet commander continued, "that to proceed with this operation would violate the spirit of the Council's authorization. However, after careful review, I've discovered that it contains no specific reference to the attained level of the local sapients. In other words, the letter of the authorizing writ wouldn't preclude our continuing. No doubt someone like the Barthoni or Liatu might choose to make a formal stink afterward, but I rather suspect they would . . . find their allies thinner on the ground than they might anticipate in this case, let's say."
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Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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