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.”