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Into the Light Snippet #3

Aliens? Invading aliens? What will Earth do? Well...we may have a few more resources than we first thought. Come join a friendly discussion about David Weber's newest Tor series - "Out of the Dark."
Into the Light Snippet #3
Post by runsforcelery   » Sat May 18, 2019 2:47 pm

runsforcelery
First Space Lord

Posts: 2360
Joined: Sun Aug 09, 2009 10:39 am
Location: South Carolina

Okay, so the manuscript has been handed in to TOR and we await comments and publication dates. In the meantime, however, here is a third snippet. I will try to get on here and drop at least one or two a week going forward, but my life is very . . . fraught at the moment. :roll:


.III.
Cold Mountain,
Transylvania County, North Carolina
United States


A remarkably beady pair of blue eyes considered Dave Dvorak across the cheerful kitchen table, dark with distrust as he folded the phone and shoved it into his pocket.

It wasn't actually a "phone," of course, although it was already obvious that was what people were going to go on calling it, just as they'd called the portable computers companies like Apple and Samsung had been selling their customers for years "phones," despite how little they resembled the device he remembered hanging on his parents' kitchen wall. Of course, this one went a bit farther than iPhones or Galaxies had . . . although, now that he thought about it, "Galaxy" might not be all that bad a name for it. While it resembled the flip phones that smart phones had long since made obsolete, the folding unit was actually only the interface for the slim two inch-by-two inch, wafer-thin sliver of molecular circuitry unshakably attached to his belt via a nanotech-based "sticky surface" whose physics would probably have been enough to induce massive migraines even in someone who actually understood the laws of physics.

Or someone who understood what humanity had thought were the laws of physics six months earlier, anyway.

The communications satellites the Shongairi had parked in geosynchronous orbits to replace the human satellites they'd exterminated once they realized the Internet was more trouble than it was worth, were still there and operating under new management. The "phone" attached to his belt could reach any other "phone" anywhere on the planet — or within several light seconds of Earth, for that matter — courtesy of that satellite net. According to Chester Gannon, a Lawrence Livermore physicist who'd happened to be visiting relatives in Kernersville when the Shongairi arrived, it could also perform somewhere around two "petaflops" worth of calculations in a second. Dvorak was a historian by inclination, and a pretty fair gunsmith, but he'd always been a bit fuzzy about the magic that went on inside even merely human computers. So he understood that a "petaflop" meant "a whole big bunch" of calculations and that packing that kind of power into a small, portable unit that ran on self-contained power was going to change the world more than iPhones and Galaxies ever had. Beyond that, it was just better magic than he'd had before . . . and he hoped to hell that AutoCorrect worked better on it than it had on his iPhone!

And the reason you're thinking about that is because you don't want to think about the fact that the love of your life just heard your end of the conversation, Dave, he reflected.

"'Sam and Longbow and Howell are out of their damn minds if they think I'm going to agree to run for the Senate,' I believe you said," Sharon Dvorak quoted from memory with devastating accuracy. "'Oh, no, you're not getting me into Washington — or Raleigh, or wherever the hell else we put the capital once we get around to rebuilding it! I've got me a cabin up in the hills with a bunker, by God, and I'm a-staying in it!'" She leaned back and folded her arms. "Did I get that approximately right?"

"Nobody said anything about the Senate," he said in a hopeful sort of tone, and she raised one eloquent eyebrow with a magnificent snort of disdain. "Well, they didn't!" he protested. "Not one single word!"

"Of course they didn't," she retorted. "After all, you might lose an election, 'Mister Special Advisor,' so of course they decided to do a workaround!"

"But, Honey," he said reasonably, "I can't just sit around up here in the mountains while they're trying to put an entire world back together. You know that."

"No. I don't know that." She glowered at him. "There are a lot of other things you could be doing, including getting your sorry butt well again before you go charging off after the next windmill on your list."

"Hosea says I'll be fine, and it feels a lot better already, honest!"

He shifted his left shoulder cautiously, and it really did hurt a lot less than it had a couple of weeks ago. Which wasn't to say it didn't still hurt like a son-of-a-bitch if he moved it without thinking about it. On the other hand, for a joint which had been thoroughly shattered — as in "reduced to the consistency of fine gravel" — by a Shongair bullet, it was doing remarkably well. And once the rebuilding process was complete, it should be good as new. Really! Not that Sharon (and he himself, if he was going to be honest about it) hadn't experienced the odd qualm about volunteering as the first test subject for the medical nanotech Doctor James Hosea MacMurdo and a dozen or so docs from the Duke University School of Medicine had reprogrammed to work on humans instead of Shongairi, Kreptu, Barthoni, or any of a dozen other alien species.

The neural educators Mircea Basarab — otherwise known as Vlad Drakulya — had left in Governor Judson Howell's care were capable of "teaching" almost anyone with incredible speed. It turned out they couldn't teach quite everyone — about eleven percent of human brains didn't seem to take to it — but that was still pretty damned good, and the computers aboard the fabrication ships Vlad had left behind contained pretty much the entire technical and scientific database of the Galactic Hegemony. So — theoretically — any human could learn anything in that database overnight. And MacMurdo, who'd happened to be one of the best physicians Howell had available, had been tapped to dig into the medical portion of that database and drag out anything that could possibly help in the face of the appalling wreckage the Shongair invasion had left in its wake.

As it turned out, there were quite a few things in that medical portion that could help quite a lot . . . assuming the human physicians involved got their sums right when they reprogrammed it. The Galactic Hegemony's practice of medicine was just a bit more advanced than Earth's had been, including a body of knowledge literally tens of thousands of years deep which had been distilled down into techniques and custom-tailored nanotech that could be programmed to work with scores of different physiologies, as long as the people responsible for the programming knew what they were doing.

That was where the "theoretical" bit about the neural educator learning process came into play. There was a difference between simply acquiring data and learning to use it as knowledge, and it wasn't too surprising Sharon had nursed a few reservations about using her one and only husband (not to mention the father of her three children) as a test subject. So far, though, it seemed to be working as advertised, and he hadn't turned green or started growing antennae at all.

Yet, at least.

"It may — and I stress, may — be 'fine' eventually," she said now. "It isn't yet, though, and the kids need you right here being part of the stability in their lives."

He sighed and sat back in his own chair, looking across the table at her in the cheerful, sunny kitchen of the cabin where they and their family had ridden out Apocalypse and, beyond all expectation, survived it. And he knew she had a point. On the other hand, so did Howell.

"Honey, you're right," he said quietly and watched her eyes widen at his admission. "But there are millions — probably billions — of other kids out there in the holy, howling hell of a mess the frigging Puppies left in their wake, and they need somebody to pull them out of it. I can't be out with the contact teams like Longbow or Pieter or even Rob and Sam. Not with this." He tapped the sling supporting his left arm with his functional hand. "And nobody's asking me to be out there, either. But we've got to build something better on the ruins, and we've got to build it fast. And Howell needs all the help he can get doing that."

"You don't have to kill yourself." Sharon's tone was almost pleading. "It's not like you're the only person he could ask! Hell, Dave — most of the North Carolina University system survived! You're telling me that with all of that available, you're the one guy he needs? I mean, I love you, and I think you're pretty darned smart, but really? And he needs you right now — can't even wait the couple of months Hosea says it'll take to finish fixing your shoulder?"

Her fury was obvious to him . . . and so were the real reasons for it.

"There are a lot of other 'guys' available to him," he said. "And, frankly, I think a lot of them are a lot smarter than me. But he trusts me. Maybe just as importantly, Pieter and Longbow — and Vlad — trust me. It's likely to take a while for them to start trusting anyone else as much as they already trust me."

"So what?" She glared at him. "The one thing we've got is time, Dave! Given how long it takes to get from star to star, it'll be centuries before anybody else from the Hegemony —" her lips twisted with disgust as she used the term "— gets here to see what the Shongairi did to us. Or to do anything else to us, for that matter."

"It'll probably be centuries," he corrected gently. "I'll even give you that we almost certainly have centuries, but we can't guarantee that. Besides, the Hegemony's not who I'm worried about. Not right now, anyway."

Her blue eyes narrowed, and she cocked her head with a questioning expression he'd learned to recognize over the years.

"Right this minute, Howell has a monopoly on the tech base Vlad left behind, and I trust him," he said. "Matter of fact, he's one of the very few people I would trust with that kind of lever. And with Longbow and Pieter and the other vampires looking over his shoulder, I doubt he's likely to succumb to any latent delusions of Godhead. But there's an entire planet out there, and most of it — especially the developed 'most of it' — has been shot to hell. Best estimate right now, we're down to maybe — maybe — a quarter of the planetary population we had this time last year. Think about that. I know you understand — we all understand — what that means in human terms, in terms of dead parents and children and learning to live with all the holes it's torn in our lives. But it also means virtually every government in the world's been destroyed or at least mortally wounded and left for dead. Now that the teams are starting to spread out, I'm beginning to realize — really realize, I mean — what an unbelievable job Howell did of maintaining order and stability here in North Carolina, even if he did have to pretend to collaborate with the Puppies to pull it off.

"Most of the rest of the world wasn't that lucky, Honey."

He shook his head, his eyes haunted as his memory replayed the recon images Judson Howell had relayed directly to his contact lenses courtesy of that "phone" attached to his belt. He hadn't shared those with Sharon, and he didn't intend to unless she insisted. Better that only one of them should have those particular nightmares.

"There are spots that had their own Howells," he continued, "but they're few and far between, and as nearly as we can tell, none of them managed it on the scale he did. North Carolina, southern Virginia, what's left of South Carolina, and eastern Kentucky and Tennessee represent the biggest single organized unit of governance in the entire world. Think about that. In the entire world, honey. Everything else is patchworks, bits and pieces — warlords here, county or state governments over there, self-organized communes somewhere else. The only places where central authority held up over big geographic distances were like rural Canada or Australia, where there weren't any people. I mean, theoretically Canada's still there, but its total population is no more than fifteen million or so, and that's less than Howell has right here. And Brazil's still technically intact, but the Federal government doesn't really control anything outside the acting capital.

"The world's broken, Babe. Even before the Puppies, there were countries that were . . . dysfunctional, let's say. Now?" He shook his head again. "Now there's nothing but 'dysfunction,' once you get past the purely local level. Hell, as far as we can tell, aside from Representative Jeffers, none of our own senators or congressmen are even still alive! And I'm talking about 'our' in terms of the entire damned country. I'm sure there have to be at least some of them left, but we don't know where they are, and even if we did know, Jeffers is right: Vlad left Howell in charge for a reason, and until we can start fixing all the broken places, nobody in his right mind wants to start screwing around with that."

"I know all that," she said when he paused. "Oh, I haven't been watching the data feeds he's been sending you, and I don't want to." Her face was suddenly twenty years older. "I can't hug all those babies, Dave. I can't pick them up, feed them, find their moms and dads for them. And if they have faces, then I have to, and the fact that I can't would just —"

"I know." He reached across the table, held out his hand, and she took it. "I know, Babe, believe me. And that's part of the problem. I did look, and they do have faces, and there are thousands of almost-Howells out there who aren't going to trust anybody outside their own little enclaves. People who forted up, dug in to defend themselves and theirs against all comers. Some of them would love to work with us, assuming they could really trust us. Others enjoy being in charge or are sure to figure their claim to the Puppies' tech stash is just as good, just as legitimate, as Howell's. They sure as hell won't see any reason to leave him in charge of it instead of themselves, but somebody — some one body, for at least the foreseeable future — has to be in charge. Right now that's Judson Howell, God help him, and somehow he has to convince all these people not just to let us help them survive but to come together and build a genuine world government."

"And how did that work out with the UN?" Sharon asked cynically. "You're the historian — you and Malachi. So tell me again just how well that worked!"

"It never worked because it was never intended to be a government," he replied. "Howell's not talking about a debating society, or a place to posture on the international stage for domestic consumption. He's talking about a genuine government, one with the ability to make — and enforce — not just pious policy hopes but actual law anywhere on the face of the planet. A government that would supersede all other governments . . . including ours."

"You're serious," she said slowly, after a moment.

"Dead serious." Dvorak nodded. "I don't know if even Howell can pull that one off, but I do know that if he can't, nobody can, and we've got to do it. We're one planet with maybe — maybe — a couple of billion people left on it, and from everything I can see from the limited amount of galactic history I've been able to look at so far, the Hegemony's going to want all of us dead once it gets to know us better."

"What?" She stiffened in her chair, eyes wide, and he shrugged.

"I've been looking for trends. Seventy-five thousand of their years — next best thing to a hundred and fifty thousand Earth years — of recorded history isn't something you can just whip right through, even with a neural educator, but some things are pretty damned glaringly obvious, and one of them is that the Hegemony prizes 'stability' above almost anything else. That's one reason they were willing to point the Shongairi in our direction. The Puppies were already destabilizing things, so the Hegemony figured it might as well use them to keep us from becoming a problem in the fullness of time. I have to wonder just what sort of contingency plans some of the older races might have been putting together to deal with the Shongairi in the long run, but in the meantime, they made a convenient hammer to deal with another pugnacious bunch of violent primitives. That would be us. But, I gotta tell you, Honey, I don't think the Hegemony researched the problem carefully enough before they handed this over to Thikair and his people, because the Puppies were nothing compared to us."

"What do you mean?"

"It's obvious from Thikair and Shairez's notes and memos that nobody in the Hegemony expected us to be as technologically advanced as we were when they got here. Got back here, I should say; they paid us their first visit back in the fifteenth century. Honey, they expected us to just be getting around to inventing flintlocks and crude steam engines. The Shongairi are quite a bit more innovative than the Hegemony as a whole, and compared to us they're the Mikado closing his borders to keep out dangerous foreign innovation. Once the rest of the Hegemony realizes humans aren't big fans of stagnation, it's going to decide we're the Puppies on steroids, and I just can't rid my mind of the possibility that they might be willing to burn down the damned house to get rid of the cockroaches."

"You mean they might come back to finish what the Puppies started," she said.

"No. I mean worse than that." He met those beloved blue eyes levelly. "The Shongairi started out to enslave us, to channel our taste for innovation to support their own designs against the Hegemony. Thikair's own memos make that clear enough. They only decided to wipe us out once they realized they'd never be able to conquer the planet and keep it conquered as long as there were still humans living on it. When they figured that out, they were perfectly willing to exterminate us . . . and figured the rest of the Hegemony would give them a pass on it. I'm not sure they were right about that, but I sort of suspect that if any of the other races had objected it would have been more because they saw what happened to us as club to use against the Shongairi, not because they really cared about a bunch of primitive, hairy monkey boys and girls on a planet in the back of beyond.

"More to the point, I'm pretty damn sure that if the Hegemony catches up with Thikair's evaluation of us and realizes how fundamentally . . . at odds with their basic matrix humanity and human nature really are, none of them're going to be interested in just conquering us. From what I can see, the 'older races' — who are almost all herbivores, as nearly as I can tell — have spent a lot of time looking down on the 'murderous' carnivorous Shongairi, but I doubt they'll hesitate for a moment to swat us like mosquitoes once they realize how much worse we're likely to destabilize things for them.


"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
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Re: Into the Light Snippet #3
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sat May 18, 2019 6:31 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2237
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 2:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

LIKE! :D
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Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: Into the Light Snippet #3
Post by richardinor   » Sun May 19, 2019 1:00 am

richardinor
Commander

Posts: 199
Joined: Sat Jul 31, 2010 12:23 am
Location: Oregon

Thanks for the snippet. I look forward to many more.
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Re: Into the Light Snippet #3
Post by Eagleeye   » Sun May 19, 2019 12:48 pm

Eagleeye
Captain of the List

Posts: 704
Joined: Sun Aug 09, 2009 3:41 am
Location: Halle/Saale, Germany

Thank you very much, RFC!
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