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Into the Light snippet #15

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 #15
Post by runsforcelery   » Fri Aug 09, 2019 3:30 pm

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"I'd sure like to know, anyway," Buchevsky replied, and Vlad snorted again.

"No doubt you would, but there are many aspects of the experience which remain confusing to me, even now. So, where shall I begin?"

He sat silent for several moments, eyes unfocused as he stared at something only he could see. Then he gave his head a little toss and his attention focused on Buchevsky once again.

"First," he said, "so far as I am aware, I am the only vampire who has no 'parent,' and I have never understood how that could be. We may not drink blood as the legends declare, yet so far as I have ever been able to discover, blood transfer is the only way to make a vampire. The blood flows in the opposite direction, perhaps — from sire or dam to . . . offspring — and offers no sustenance to the sire, yet it is necessary, the only way to bring someone through the change. Yet there was no blood exchange in my own case."

Buchevsky frowned, and Vlad waved one hand.

"Tell me, what do you know of my actual history?" he asked.

"Not as much as I wish I did," Buchevsky admitted. "I know you were technically Prince of Wallachia three different times." He shook his head. "From everything I've been able to find, it must've been like living in the middle of a dogfight!"

"One way to put it, indeed. Although the title voivode does not actually translate as 'prince.' A closer approximation might be 'duke,' although there was little difference, in practice. And so far as the situation in Wallachia at the time is concerned, to call it a dogfight is to make things far neater and simpler than they actually were. What is today Romania was the bulwark between Christian Europe and the Ottoman Empire, especially after the fall of Constantinople, the year I turned twenty-one. Both the sultans and the kings of Hungary — not to mention the Pope, the Albanians, and the Saxon merchants who did so much business in the Balkans — were all deeply involved in Wallachia. It is important to remember that, just as it is important to remember that most of the official record of my life was written by my enemies, which is not to say that it is all false. Much of it is, however, and much which is not false is presented in . . . rather different terms than the ones in which I would have presented it.

"I have told you of what the boyars did to my father and brother." He paused, one eyebrow raised, and Buchevsky nodded. "At the time, my younger brother Radu and I were hostages in Adrianople. Sultan Murad had not trusted my father — with reason, I must confess — but promised to help him regain his position as voivode. Technically, he had been a vassal of Hungary prior to that, but there was bad blood between him and John Hunyadi, who drove him out and replaced him with his cousin, Basarab II. Murad promised his support to restore Father in return for an annual tribute, and Radu and I were the 'insurance' he demanded to ensure Father's loyalty. I was eleven at the time, and while Father returned to Wallachia, Radu and I remained in Adrianople for several years. Indeed, Radu eventually converted to Islam and became a trusted member of the Sultan's court. Suffice it to say that in my time as a breather, no man could trust another, betrayal was the common coin of all involved — myself not least among them — and if sufficient bloodshed could have procured peace, Romania would have been a garden, with no need of walls or swords."

He fell silent for a long moment, brooding over a past long dead. Then he shook himself.

"I will not bore you with the complexities of my own . . . dealings with Hunyadi, Corvinus, the Dans, and the Sultan. Suffice it to say that I knew my position must always be precarious and that anything that smacked of indecision or weakness would be my downfall. I had concluded that the only way to secure my position was to eliminate all within Wallachia who might turn against me and to create a new nobility — new boyars — whose loyalty would be solely to me, and I attempted to do so by destroying the old boyars mercilessly and without pity. Perhaps I might have succeeded, had I been given more time. But from the perspective I have since been granted, I do not think there was ever much liklihood of that.

"Still, I did do my best to terrorize those who would be my enemies, and at the same time, I sought to protect the commons against the pillaging, rape, and brutality which had become their lot. Partly, of course, that was to bring them to my side against the boyars and our 'foreign' enemies in general, yet not all of it was. There came a time at which someone had to take their side, and if I could simultaneously buy their support, so much the better. There is a reason the folklore about my reign extols my determination to protect the property and persons of my subjects. And, of course, I did it in my own way — the way of the time in which I was born — with brutal punishment for any who violated my justice.

"I do not seek to excuse myself, my Stephen, or to make myself any less of the monster I was, yet it is fair to say that a punishment intended to deter must be such that no one would lightly risk incurring it. When it is not, one tends to think in terms of 'what have I to lose,' which means that in desperate times, punishment must be severe enough to deter even desperate individuals. And so I handed out death sentences on every hand, and I decreed that the executions must be public and terrible enough that no one would willingly risk a similar fate. I found that impalement worked quite well in that regard."

His voice was calm, almost detached, but his green eyes were dark and shuttered, and his mouth was grim below his bushy mustache.

"Yet, in the end, my position was ultimately hopeless, particularly when fresh warfare against the Turks rolled across Wallachia. It was not because of lack of valor; my men followed me into battle against terrible odds more than once. And it was not because we won no victories — this very ship is named, now, for one of those victories. But the odds were simply too great. We were outnumbered ten- or even twenty-to-one, which is the true reason I dealt with so many Turks — not all of them soldiers, I confess to my shame — as I dealt with those Shongairi in the forest near Lake Vidaru, creating forests of impaled dead in the Turkish armies' path. I suppose I was the classic enemy against whom you fought in Afghanistan, my Stephen. It was 'asymmetrical warfare' in which I, as the weaker side, embraced terrorism as a . . . psychological weapon. And it was effective. That, of course, is the reason it has been employed so often throughout history.

"But be a man's cause however just it may, the cost of setting one's hand to tactics such as those is the loss of one's soul, so perhaps it is fitting that I became what I have become. And, in the end, terror was not enough, especially when I had no monopoly upon it. Your military may have frowned upon 'fighting fire with fire,' but the Turks and my Romanian and Hungarian foes did not. In the end, my Wallachians began to desert to the invaders in ever greater numbers, and who shall blame them? My cause was ultimately doomed, and who did not have family or position to think of? And so, ultimately, my small army was crushed in a battle near Bucharest and I was forced to flee the field accompanied by a handful of my loyal Moldavian bodyguards.

"That is not, of course, the end that history has recorded for me. According to my foes, I was slain, my body was dismembered, my head was taken to Constantinople, and what was left of me was buried in an unmarked grave. I have no idea who was actually dismembered in my place or whose head was displayed by Mehmed the Conqueror, although I am quite certain that he knew it was not mine, as we knew one another quite well. On the other hand, his need to 'prove' my death to deal the final blow to any who might have continued to follow me was understandable. And he no doubt believed I had, indeed, been killed and that my actual body had simply never been identified.

"In fact, a handful of my Moldavians and I cut our way out of the battle. There were only eleven of us, several with minor wounds, and we fled north, seeking to reach at least temporary safety. Yet we were forced away from the direct route home and became lost, until we found ourselves in a high, narrow Carpathian valley. It was December, the falling snow and bitter winds made it almost impossible to see, and we knew we were in danger of freezing to death. There was no shelter to be found, but then — miraculously — Yoet, one of my most loyal bodyguards, literally fell into the opening of a cavern. Or, we thought it was cavern, at least initially."

He paused once again, his eyes very distant. Then he inhaled a sharp breath that he no longer needed and exhaled it in a long sigh.

"Tell me, my Stephen. I know you and I have never watched it together, but would it happen that you have seen the movie Dracula Untold? It was released in 2014, I believe, so it would fall within your admittedly narrow viewership envelope."

He smiled with the last sentence, but those distant eyes remained dark.

"Well, yeah," Buchevsky admitted. "Have to say it wasn't the best Dracula movie I ever saw. Not the worst, you understand, but definitely not the best."

"A fair assessment, although it did represent the more recent trend towards rehabilitating my tattered reputation. And, alas, I was never as handsome as Luke Evans' Dracula! However, although it created its 'origin' story line out of whole cloth, it struck uncomfortably close to the truth."

"You met a monster inside the cavern?" Buchevsky knew he sounded incredulous, and Vlad shook his head.

"No, my Stephen. To this day, I do not know what we did meet, but it was not the monster of the film. Nor was the cavern actually a cavern at all, I believe. My memory is less than clear, you understand. All of us were suffering from hypothermia by the time we found what seemed to be shelter. We were more concerned with getting ourselves and our remaining horses under cover than with anything else. Yet as we moved deeper into the 'cavern,' the walls — visible but poorly in the light of our two or three torches — appeared unnaturally smooth to me. And deep in the cavern, I . . . sensed something. A vibration, perhaps, like that given off by the Puppies' counter gravity. It was not that, but I had no other reference for it. And then, I turned a bend, and there was a glow before me. I believed it was natural fluorescence clinging to a stone face, but when I reached out to touch it, my hand seemed to pass straight through it. I had only a moment to register that it had, and then the world exploded."

"Exploded?" Buchevsky repeated, and Vlad nodded.

"It is the only word that seems to apply. There was a tremendous burst of blinding brilliance — of course, our eyes were so acclimated to the dark that any light might have seemed blinding, yet this struck my eyes with a physical agony I had never felt before. And I had very little time to feel it before something — something my blinded eyes could not see — slammed into my face. It invaded my nostrils, as if I had inhaled a living flame, and then it was my brain's turn to explode and I plummeted into a deep, bottomless darkness."

He pushed up out of his chair to pace back and forth across the compartment.

"Eventually, I crawled back up out of that darkness, but I was . . . disoriented, scarcely able to recall even my own name. It was only later that I realized I could see perfectly in the total darkness of the 'cavern,' but what I saw made very little sense to me in my state. I have scattered, chaotic memories of the way in which I made my way out of the cavern. Among those memories, however, is that I was alone. Utterly alone. I stumbled and almost fell when I tripped over the armor of one of my Moldavians, but there were no bodies. There was only the empty armor, the empty garments, lying as my bodyguards must have fallen, yet they were empty. There were no bones, no dust. Simply . . . nothing."

"It was night when I emerged from the cavern, and it was also summer. In my state, that meant little to me, but I staggered down the valley, seeking aid and shelter from pure instinct, for I was incapable of anything so clear as rational thought. I do not know how far from the cavern I had come before the sun arose, but when it did, the pain was terrible. I crawled into the forest, burrowed under the leaves like an animal, hiding myself from its punishing brilliance. And when merciful darkness fell once more and I was again able to think — however poorly — I realized what I must have become and that I must at all costs stay away from other humans. So I became one more beast, living — or subsisting, at least — in the trackless mountains.

"I do not know how long I remained in that state of confusion and animal instinct, but it was long enough for my clothing to become rent and tattered and my beard to grow long and tangled. It was only later that I learned to command hair and beard to grow — or not to grow — as suited me best. I recall the day my mind was finally clear enough to be called my own again, however. I recall looking down into a pool of water from which I had been drinking like an animal and seeing my own reflection in the light of an evening sun which merely made me 'itch,' as you have put it. And I remember thinking that I had never seen a more demented looking lunatic in my entire life.

"I will not bore you with the long, painful time I spent hiding in those mountains, seeking to understand how I had become what I was. Learning that I had been transformed into whatever had formed the basis for the legends of the nosferatu — the vampyr in which I had never truly believed, despite the time in which I was born. One thing I knew was that I could never return to who and what I had been, and that was even before I discovered that it was the year 1519, forty-three years since my final battle against the Turks.

"But that is the true story of how I became what I — what we — have become, my Stephen."

"Jesus," Buchevsky said. "That's one hell of a lot different from all the legends!"

"Believe me, you are no more aware of that than I." There was far more of his usual tart humor in Vlad's tone. "In truth, I have never really understood why Mister Stoker chose me as the central figure for his novel, and he got virtually every detail about the historic 'Dracula' wrong . . . assuming he ever intended to use more than simply my name. But given how wrong even my peasants' folklore proved about our state, I feel little temptation to criticize him for his artistic license."

Buchevsky snorted in amusement, then tipped back in his chair once more.

"Did you ever go back and explore that 'cavern' of yours?"

"No." Vlad shook his head. "Not for want of trying, you understand. But I had wandered so far from it by the time something which approached rationality returned to me that I could never find my way back to it."

"Damn. I sure would like a peek inside it myself!"

"I sought it because I wanted some fuller explanation for my curse, yet the truth is, that the very thought of returning to it filled me with terror," Vlad admitted with stark honesty. "My memories of that night, of what followed from it, were my own Purgatory, in many ways, my Stephen. Not sufficient to cleanse me of my sins, of the blood upon my hands, but the most terrifying punishment ever visited upon me."

"I can see that," Buchevsky said softly.

"Perhaps you understand now why I stayed so close to hand during your own . . . transition," Vlad told him. "It took me the better part of a half-century to begin truly coming to grips with all of the ways in which I had been transformed. I had no guidance. Certainly the legends about what I had become offered none! But, in time, I began to accept what I had become and learn to control it."

Buchevsky nodded, and wondered how many other men in Vlad's situation could have accomplished that.

"And, in the centuries since," Vlad continued more briskly, "I have continued to improve my control and in the process I have learned how to . . . assist others in making the same change. The process takes far less time now, and I am able to bring others across as I did you, without the disorientation, the loss of memory. Although even today, not all make the transition successfully. In the early days, perhaps one in twenty of those I attempted to bring across survived. Today, I lose only about one in twenty. Even today, however, some of those I bring across succumb to the madness which must, in fact, be the basis for the legends of vampires' murderous nature. In the grip of that madness, they would rend and destroy anyone they encountered, and so, in those cases, I must . . . undo that which I have done, take away the renewed life I have given. And sometimes, as I warned Pieter and Longbow, in the fullness of time that same madness comes upon even some of our kind who appear to have weathered the change intact.

"But, by the time I had achieved sufficient control to once again move among the breathers, I was a man adrift. No one I had known before was still alive, I certainly had no throne — nor any desire for one! And so I became someone else just as I had become something else. I turned away from the man who had created the legend of Vlad the Impaler, and until the Puppies' arrival, I had never reverted to him. Not as fully as I have now. There were times when I . . . intervened, but for the most part, Take and I have lived quiet lives, drawing little attention to ourselves. And I would so very much have preferred for it to stay that way."

"I understand," Buchevsky said. "I really do. But if you had, the Puppies would have wiped out our entire species. You know that, too."

"Aside from the minor qualifier that I am not certain Homo sapiens remains our 'species,' you are correct," Vlad admitted. "But perhaps you understand now why I seem a trifle . . . detached upon occasion."

Buchevsky snorted again, but behind the humor, he knew he understood something else now, as well. He understood why the man who had been Vlad Tepes was so drawn to flawed cinematic heroes who sought to protect and to avenge others.

"But enough of that!" Vlad flopped back into his own chair. "I believe we were about to watch a movie, were we not?"

"Yes, we were," Buchevsky agreed. "Bring it on!"

"I shall," Vlad said, and tapped the "Play" key.









"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
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Re: Into the Light snippet #15
Post by WeberFan   » Fri Aug 09, 2019 4:11 pm

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Thanks David!

Most enjoyable reading.
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Re: Into the Light snippet #15
Post by Randomiser   » Fri Aug 09, 2019 5:56 pm

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Well, beam me up, Scotty! Assuming it's not supernatural, it sure sounds like alien visitors. But why did the survey team decide to break the Prime Directive this time? Mind you, the nosferatu legends, which Vlad learned as a boy, suggest this wasn't the first time.

40 years or so is enough for a 240 light year round trip in the deep freeze, with a bit of "structural intervention" at the far end. Where are his bodyguards? Did they get beamed up and haven't been returned for some reason? Or were they the unsuccessful attempts which enabled the process to be refined enough for Vlad's transformation to work? Or did the blast just kill them and the grey ooze gobble them up? What a lot of lovely room for speculation!

On a different tack "And sometimes, as I warned Pieter and Longbow, in the fullness of time that same madness comes upon even some of our kind who appear to have weathered the change intact." Chekov's gun?
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Re: Into the Light snippet #15
Post by WeberFan   » Sat Aug 10, 2019 6:13 am

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WeberFan wrote:Thanks David!

Most enjoyable reading.


Hmmm...

Bright lights. Unknown technology taking over...

Ah HA! It's Sector Command and Control Unit AZ12-b14-c000 Mk. XIV from "The General" series by S.M. Stirling and David Drake! :lol:
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Re: Into the Light snippet #15
Post by Bluesqueak   » Sat Aug 10, 2019 8:29 am

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Randomiser wrote:Well, beam me up, Scotty! Assuming it's not supernatural, it sure sounds like alien visitors. But why did the survey team decide to break the Prime Directive this time? Mind you, the nosferatu legends, which Vlad learned as a boy, suggest this wasn't the first time.

40 years or so is enough for a 240 light year round trip in the deep freeze, with a bit of "structural intervention" at the far end. Where are his bodyguards? Did they get beamed up and haven't been returned for some reason? Or were they the unsuccessful attempts which enabled the process to be refined enough for Vlad's transformation to work? Or did the blast just kill them and the grey ooze gobble them up? What a lot of lovely room for speculation!

On a different tack "And sometimes, as I warned Pieter and Longbow, in the fullness of time that same madness comes upon even some of our kind who appear to have weathered the change intact." Chekov's gun?


The strangely smooth walls sound like this series is going firmly for SF, not supernatural interventions. Likewise, the writing sounds like Vlad inhaled something (nanites?) that made him ... what?

I wonder if it was some kind of bioweapon, and Vlad was the only survivor? The real life Vlad III was one tough guy. So vampires were not initially a plan, they were a mistake; the point that he was then effectively dumped does hint at a 'don't mention the minor fact that we killed a few indigenes with our automatic defence mechanism. Oh, don't worry about that one, he'll be dead very shortly.'

Only Vlad didn't die.

The vampire legends date back at least to ancient Persia, but I bet RFC is well aware of the vampire panic that hit Eastern Europe in the late 17th to early 18th Century. That would give the 'madness' about 150, 170 years to appear. So, yes, the phrase 'Chekhov's Gun' is springing to my mind, as well. :D
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Re: Into the Light snippet #15
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sat Aug 10, 2019 8:36 am

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Like! :D

Alien Technology or Ancient "Human" Technology?

Accident or Planned?

Still more questions to be answered. :twisted:
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Re: Into the Light snippet #15
Post by PeterZ   » Sat Aug 10, 2019 7:01 pm

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I still say a Hegemony race found Earth before the survey team described in Out of the Dark. They experimented on humans outside whatever passes for ethical/security codes the Hegemony practiced. Whatever Vlad found was the product of those experiments.

Whether that product was a desired outcome or something horrendously NOT desired (from the experimenters POV), is open to speculation.

DrakBibliophile wrote:Like! :D

Alien Technology or Ancient "Human" Technology?

Accident or Planned?

Still more questions to be answered. :twisted:
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Re: Into the Light snippet #15
Post by Lunan   » Sat Aug 10, 2019 7:23 pm

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Honestly the trope of "ancient advanced humans" is getting really boring to me the last few years. let us apes evolve the way we evolved, intervention fine, but not by another set of humans.
That all said Vlad could have been wandering the wilderness for 40 years not in the "cavern" for 40 years.

so many things could have happened there, my primary question is. With the advanced tech that they now have access to why hasn't Vlad or Stephen taken themselves down to the medical bay and oh say run advance medical tests to see what the heck they are and how they work? I imagine that that will quickly give the anwsers of "oh look at this hegemony tech in our bodies"

DrakBibliophile wrote:Like! :D

Alien Technology or Ancient "Human" Technology?

Accident or Planned?

Still more questions to be answered. :twisted:
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Re: Into the Light snippet #15
Post by Joat42   » Sat Aug 10, 2019 10:18 pm

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Lunan wrote:..snip..With the advanced tech that they now have access to why hasn't Vlad or Stephen taken themselves down to the medical bay and oh say run advance medical tests to see what the heck they are and how they work? I imagine that that will quickly give the anwsers of "oh look at this hegemony tech in our bodies"

Which happens in the out of order snippet rfc shared earlier and the result was more or less OMG!!! (which doesn't really tell us what the heck is really going on either because rfc is sneaky).

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Re: Into the Light snippet #15
Post by Randomiser   » Sun Aug 11, 2019 8:36 am

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Joat42 wrote:
Lunan wrote:..snip..With the advanced tech that they now have access to why hasn't Vlad or Stephen taken themselves down to the medical bay and oh say run advance medical tests to see what the heck they are and how they work? I imagine that that will quickly give the anwsers of "oh look at this hegemony tech in our bodies"

Which happens in the out of order snippet rfc shared earlier and the result was more or less OMG!!! (which doesn't really tell us what the heck is really going on either because rfc is sneaky).


Indeed! That snippet declares that the very thought of being examined made Vlad (and now Ushakov) "acutely uneasy". Hence no exam till then. The snippet also implies actually doing the exam was far from simple. At a guess, the subject cut off blood supply to the part of the body where the needle was going in a kind of autonomic reaction for the first several tries. "Someone" is covering up something.
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