Out Of The Dark – Snippet 06

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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35 Responses to Out Of The Dark – Snippet 06

  1. Thirdbase says:

    Can’t anyone write a story where the Human race doesn’t develop at rate that is many times as fast as normal.

  2. Maggie says:

    I don’t suppose these guys could just sit down to a steak and baked potato and discuss their differences…

  3. JMN says:

    @1 Theodore Sturgeon, “The Microcosmic God” IIRC.


  4. alejo says:

    If you want a book showing the human race advancing at a fast speed, read Ursula K. Le Guin’s books. You could technically say Larry Niven’s Known Universe has humans advancing much faster than normal if you decide to consider them a Pack species and consider their pre-spaceflight status as something of a hiatus from technical advancement. It’s a stretch though. If you want a “first contact” sort of book where humans are the advanced newcomers from the beyond, try Rocheworld by Forward.

  5. Tim says:

    Where the hell are all of the sapient species out there anyway? Seriously. It’s almost enough to give credence to one or another of the SF novels in which some earlier race culled the immediate vicinity of all sapient species in the not-so-distant past.

  6. Grant says:

    @Thirdbase: you’re just going to have to get used to it if you want to read Weber, the common theme in pretty much everything he writes is that the good guys out-innovate the bad guys… which often means humans out-innovate the aliens.

    Harrington series: Manticore are the tech wizards of the galaxy, developing their military tech way faster than everyone else (although Mesa at least got some cool ship drives Manticore didn’t come up with first recently)

    Dahak Series: Humans develop tech uber-fast, the Achultanni have been technologically stagnant for millenia.

    Safehold Series (which I am pretty sure he came up whith while writing Armageddon Inheritance in the Dahalk series): Humans develop tech super fast, the Gbaba have been technologically stagnant for millenia.

    The Excaliber Alternative: Humans are the fastest innovators in the galaxy, the Federation has been technologically stagnant for millenia.

  7. Grant says:

    PS… that catalogue of series after series with the same theme shouldn’t be read as a criticism, I happen to be a big fan of stories where the benefits of technological innovation and scientific progress are thrown into stark relief. Probably the engineer in me, I always get a bit of an ego boost about my chosen profession when I read Weber and you get clubbed over the head with the “scientific and technological progress wins” message. ;)

  8. Michael says:

    It’s also somewhat hard to write ‘traditional’ SF space opera without that trope. If most civilizations advanced at the same rate, the odds that you’d have two comparable enemies to fight it out would be beyond astronomical. Everyone you’d meet flying out among the stars would either be cavemen or gods, nothing in between.

  9. Mike says:

    Microcosmic God is one of my all-time favorites, at least in part because it doesn’t follow the general Campbellian precept that humans are “special.”

    Another case where somebody assumed humans were much slower developing and not particularly special was Robert Forward’s Dragon’s Egg and Starquake.

  10. @1 Yes, sort of.

    The IQ-85 aliens conquer earth — Analog, about 1960 — through superior numbers and technology if slowly reached. At the close of the novel the aliens say the humans are welcome to their organization, but there is this little problem they humans have to solve first…the aliens have encountered a species with an average IQ of (I forget) 130 or so, and the humans get to figure out how to handle the matter.

  11. robert says:

    John Ringo does it ALL the time. With him it is humans Über Alles even if we are food.
    Arthur C. Clarke had the aliens being god. But then what?
    To travel the galaxy (with an advanced AI spacecraft, no less) and not find a single alien, see Mark Van Name. What a relief-just us.
    All in all, I liked Hal Clement’s approach to aliens best. they were interesting, not cannon fodder.

    @6 Grant, actually you are right. The Armageddon Inheritance had more in common with the Safehold plot than Gbaba/Achultanni: the technically advanced, nearly indestructible kids/Merlin versus the evil religion keeping the locals from moving onward goes all the way back to…where? Certainly earlier than Lord Kalvan. Hmmm, time for an Amazon topic?

  12. @11

    A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, it goes back to.

  13. robert says:

    Thank you, George. No Amazon topic needed. Back to 1889 and Twain. Saved by a solar eclipse–now there’s a trope.

  14. Alan says:

    What I want is a story where the Galactics are amazed by the level of human social organisation.

  15. robert says:

    @14 right, instead of being disgusted by their highly organized killing of one another in wars over really dumb stuff.

  16. Virgil says:

    It an answer to the Fermi Paradox, if we were/are not advancing at such a rapid pace then where ae all the aliens? But we are so it obvious that they have not developed tech to reach us yet.

    War is the big incentive for tech. advancement on earth. we have only had like 280+ years without a war on earth in recorded history, 6000+ years.

  17. Summertime says:

    Poul Anderson’s FLANDRY: Human pluck and nerve against alien cunning and treachary save the Empire.

  18. robert says:

    @17 Funny you should mention that. In the process of weeding out the bookshelves for donation to the Friends of the Library Book Sale, I came across, and started rereading Anderson’s The Game of Empire, where Diana Crowfeather, illegitimate daughter of Flandry, saves a small bit of the Empire. The book is very nicely dedicated to Jim Baen, and it features a 4+ meter tall Christian sauroid and several other very exotic intelligent species, all members of the Empire. Anderson had been better, but it is an OK read.

  19. Scott says:

    So, after the invasion is handed it’s head on a platter will Earth take reprisals against the Hegemony Council?

  20. Summercat says:

    Humans are conflict-driven innovators. *shrug*

  21. Ken says:

    On average cultures that are safe, stable, comfortable, peaceful and happy do not innovate as fast as cultures where there is danger, conflict, trouble, war, harsh enviroment, people wanting to become wealthy. Government controlled economies also promote things being stable and not rapid change and innovation of capitalist economies on average. In other words if things are going great for everyone there is not such a drive for change and if your government is very powerful there is not a great drive to change things. How much fun would be stupid humans get their asses kicked and enslaved by aliens who are smarter and innovate faster. We are screwed.

  22. Thirdbase says:

    I should have been a bit more clear. I don’t have a problem with humanity technologically advancing, even doing so at the current or a faster rate. What I am tired of is aliens scouting earth between say 800 and 1300 AD (or whatever) and then returning 700 – 1200 years later and finding that humans are their near technological equivalent, and that alien civilization took 10s of thousands of years to make the same advances. As an example humanity went from inventing powered aircraft to manned space flight in 50 or so years, the alien civilization took 50,000 years for the same advances.

    How about an alien that checks out earth, and comes back expecting lunar colonies, belters, flying cars, etc. and finds us.

  23. Daryl says:

    @22 Harry Turtledove in his World War series, Larry Niven’s Lucifer’s Hammer, Saberhagen’s Beserker series, L. Ron Hubbard (the Scientologist) wrote a large series, Doc Smith’s Lensman series; all are of the human evolving quickly and belated alien invasion or attack pattern. Greg Bear’s The Venging is somewhat grimmer where a benevolent alien race lends the very few human survivors a ship to seek out those who destroyed Earth so that they can return the favour. Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy also had the Earth destroyed but that was ok as the sentinent dolphins escaped (“so long & thanks for the fish”).
    Despite this I’m still looking forward to Weber’s interpretation of the theme. A bit like trying out a new top chef to cook your favourite meal. Or a new sports car from a different respected maker. Mind you this reminds me that we should be looking for additional homes for our species.

  24. @14

    Analog published it. They want us to teach them how not to have interstellar wars on a regular basis. The Fermi paradox is solved with the comment (forget the numbers; it was 50 years ago) 50 years ago the galactic Federation had 63 members. We’ve been through a bad patch and are down to 42 at the moment.

    I wrote one myself. The Minutegirls, available from Third Millennium.

    The Senate War Committee assumes the attackers are French, not alien, and is no more resistant to contrary evidence than we were resistant to the Project Sign report.

  25. TimC says:

    There is a Clarke story in which the humans escape their planet by chemical rockets before the sun goes nova. The aliens wonder what such a race will be able to do in the future. Anyone remember the title?

  26. Captain Button says:

    @25 – The Clarke story is “Rescue Mission”, I think.

    John Campbell, long time editor of the SF magazine “Astounding” is said to have been fond of this theme, which may have helped spread it.

    On TvTropes it is a subset of “Humans Are Special”.


    @14 I think humans ability to form communities was unusual in the “Babylon 5” universe, or so Delennn claimed.

    @23 “Larry Niven’s Lucifer’s Hammer” – I think youman “Footfall”. here.

    Two counterexamples:

    “The Mote in God’s Eye” by Niven and Pournelle – Moties are smarter and faster breeding than humans.

    “Original Sin” by Vernor Vinge – The aliens are much smarter than humans, fast breeding, and extremely predatory, but fortunately only live a few years.

  27. Captain Button says:

    My bad. The Clarke story is actually “Rescue Party”. And it is availabel as one of the free sample chapters there:


  28. Danny KCW says:

    Tim, I remember that short story as well. A couple of decades ago I had a fascination with short scfi stories and borrowed a few books filled with them authored by Asimov and Clarke. Of course I can’t remember the titles of those books and short stories, but thank God for the internet. It was written by Clarke in 1946 and is titled “Rescue Party”. This is the link http://jordan179.livejournal.com/100430.html for a summary of the story and a critique. And this is the link for the actual short story http://www.webscription.net/chapters/0743498747/0743498747___1.htm Hope everyone enjoys reading it!

  29. robert says:

    Well Weber is giving it a different twist, with the good guys having the local supernaturals lend a hand. So the issues are, is Shongairi blood safe to drink? And are they too tough to chew raw or do they need to be cooked? I guess Weber thinks that Ringo got it backwards as to who eats who.

  30. Grant says:

    @TimC: “Rescue Party” http://www.webscription.net/chapters/0743498747/0743498747___1.htm

    It’s a bit strange reading looking back on how he saw technology developing way back then… the height of computing of the human civilization that launched the rockets was a super-massive punch-card computer and he was big on the universal appeal of helicopters for personal transportation…

  31. Tim says:

    If there are intelligent species out there, why haven’t we received the interstellar equivalent of the Nigerian email scam?

  32. robert says:

    @27 Maybe Nigerian scammers are aliens. They never seem to get caught so they must be pretty smart.

  33. craig says:

    Niven and Pournelle wrote Mote in a God’s Eye where the Aliens were the danderously fast innovators and Humans had to deal with the issues caused by their rate of progress.

  34. TimC says:

    @30 Thanks for the link, great to read it again. Apropos how technology developed you (all)may remember the computer in ‘City and the Stars’ which was a huge warm room full of vacuum tubes- and the comment that the perfect machine had no moving parts.

  35. Bret Hooper says:

    @6&7 Grant, and several others: One of my personal favorites is Schmitz: The Demon Breed, at least in part because it is not clear until the end WHICH is the demon bred, them or us. And the answer may not be what you expect!

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