A hymn before battle lot.., p.1
A Hymn Before Battle lota-1, page 1part #1 of Legacy of the Aldenata Series
A Hymn Before Battle
( Legacy of the Aldenata - 1 )
This debut from a strong new talent in military science fiction tells the powerful story of military personnel chosen to battle an approaching alien force. It should appeal to fans of David Drake and David Weber.
A Hymn Before Battle
by John Ringo
This book is dedicated to my loving wife, Karin, and my wonderful daughters Jenny and Lindy, for not leaving me while I wrote it.
Living with a writer is a lesser Circle of Hell.
“How many worlds does this make?” The dialogue took place before a wall-sized view-screen. The image was not one to make for happy conversation.
The aide knew the question was rhetorical. As the Ghin aged he was becoming soft, without direction. Yet powerful still.
“Not including Barwhon or Diess.”
“They have not yet fallen.”
The answer was silence. Then,
“We will use the humans.”
“Yes, your Ghin.”
Silence, a glance at the view-screen.
“That makes you happy, does it not, Tir.”
“I believe it to be a wise decision, as all of your decisions are wise, your Ghin.”
“But slow to come, late. Without decisiveness, without, what is that human word? ‘Élan.’ ”
The words of the aide’s reply were carefully chosen. “Had the decision been reached sooner, there, perhaps, would have been greater profit. Certainly the loss would have been reduced.”
A long minute later the answer: “The profit will be greater in the short run, surely. But at what loss in the long, Tir?”
“Surely the programs have taken effect. The humans are controllable.”
“So thought the Rintar group.”
“Those humans were half formed, brutish. They were unrefined and wild. The new races are much more malleable and well adjusted to technological controls. They are minimally dangerous and after the invasion the few that remain will be grateful for any bone we toss them.”
Another long silence as the Ghin stared at the view-screen.
“Perhaps you are right, Tir. But I doubt it. Do you know why I am allowing the human project to go forward?”
“If you think the premise flawed, I wonder, yes.”
A pause, a breath, then a longer pause.
“Because we will lose many more worlds without their aid?”
“In small part. Tir, we will lose all the worlds without the humans.”
“Your Ghin, our projections indicate that the Posleen will fail if slowed to their current rate, they will senesce. However, we stand to lose two hundred more worlds before that happens, surely an unacceptable loss.”
“Those projections are flawed as our projections of the humans are flawed. At the end of this era the humans will be the masters and the Darhel will be an outcast race living on the edge of civilization scavenging the garbage. And your human project will be the cause.”
The Tir carefully schooled his features. “I… question that projection, your Ghin.”
“It isn’t a projection, you young fool, it’s a statement.”
On the view-screen a world burned.
Norcross, GA Sol III
1447 EDT March 16, 2001 ad
Michael O’Neal was a junior associate web consultant with an Atlanta web-page design firm. What this meant in practice was that he worked eight to twelve hours a day with HTML, Java and Perl. When the associate account executives or the account executives needed somebody along who really understood what the system was doing, when, for example, the client group included an engineer or computer geek, he would be invited to the meeting to sit there and be quiet until they hit a snag. Then he opened his mouth to spit out a bare minimum of technobabble. This indicated to the customer that there was at least one guy working on their site who had more going for him than good hair and a low golf score. Then the sales consultant would take the client to lunch while Mike went back to his office.
While Mike had fine hair, he played neither golf nor tennis, was ugly as a troll and short as an elf. Despite these handicaps he was working himself steadily up the corporate ladder. He had recently gotten an unasked-for raise in lieu of promotion, which surprised the hell out of him, and other rattling noises had been heard that indicated the possibility of further upward mobility.
The office he moved into was not much; there was barely room to turn his swivel chair, it was right next to the break room so several times a day it was overwhelmed by the smell of popcorn, and he had to install a hanging book rack for his references. But it was an office, and in a time of cube farms that meant everything. Someone in the background was grooming him for something and he just hoped it was not a guillotine. Unlikely — he was the kind of aggressive pain in the ass every company secretly needed.
He was currently in a mood to kill. The overblown applets on the newest client’s site were slowing their page to a crawl. Unfortunately, the client insisted on the “little” pieces of code that were taking up so much of their bandwidth, so it was up to him to figure out how to reduce it.
He sat with his feet propped on his overloaded desk, gripping and releasing a torsional hand exerciser as he stared up at the “Tick” poster on his ceiling and thought about his next vacation. Two more weeks and then it would be blue surf, cold beer and coral reefs. I should have gone SEAL, he thought, his face fixed in a perpetual frown from weight lifting, and become a surfing instructor. Sharon looks good in a bikini.
He had just taken a sip of stale, cold coffee, thinking blue thoughts of Java surgery, when his phone rang.
“Michael O’Neal, Pre-Publish Design, how can I help you?” The phone snag and stock answer were performed before his forebrain kicked in. Then he nearly spit out his coffee when he recognized the voice.
“Hi, Mike, it’s Jack.”
His feet slammed to the floor with a crash and XML for Dummies followed it. “Good morning, sir, how are you?” He had not talked to his former boss in nearly two years.
“Good enough. Mike, I need you down at McPherson on Monday morning.”
Whaaa? “Sir, it’s been eight years. I’m not in the Army market anymore.” By nearly Pavlovian response, he started to catalog everything he would need to take.
“I just got finished talking to your company’s president. This is not, currently, an official recall…”
I like that little hidden threat boss, Mike thought.
“But I pointed out that whether it was or not, you would be eligible to return under the Soldiers and Sailors Act…”
Yup, that’s Jack. Thanks a million, ole boss o’ mine.
“That didn’t seem to be a problem. He seemed to be kind of upset at losing you right now. Apparently they just got a new contract he really wanted you to work on…”
Yes! Mike chortled silently. We got the First Onion upgrade! The site was a plum job the company had been chasing for nearly a year. The account would guarantee at least a solid two years of lucrative business.
“But I convinced him it would be for the best,” the general continued. Mike could hear other conversations in the background, some argumentative, some subdued. It seemed almost like the general was calling from a telephone solicitation company. Or several of his cohorts were making the same calls. Some of the muted voices in the background seemed almost desperate.
“What’s this about, sir?”
The answer was met by silence. In the background a male voice started sho
“Let me guess, OPSEC?” Any answer to the question would violate operational security directives. Mike scratched at a spot of ink on the varnished desktop then started working the gripper again. Blood pressure… It was security and dominance games like this that had partially driven him away from the military. He had no intention of being sucked back in.
“Be there, Mike. The SigInt building attached to FORCECOM.”
“Airborne, General, sir.” He paused for a moment, then continued dryly. “Sharon is going to go ballistic.”
* * *
Mike was cleaning broccoli when he heard the car pull up. He wiped his hands and opened the door to the carport so the kids could get in, waved and went back to the sink.
Cally, the four-year-old, made it through the door first and got a big, wet hug from daddy.
“Daddy! You got me all wet!”
“Big, wet daddy hugs! Arrrh!” He gestured at her with soapy hands as she went shrieking towards her room.
In the meantime Michelle, the two-year-old, had toddled in and handed him her latest creation from preschool. She got a big, wet daddy hug, too.
“And what is this masterpiece?” He looked at the scrawl of green, blue and red and flashed a quick helpless glance at his wife, just coming through the door.
“Cow!” she mouthed.
“Well, Michelle, that’s a very nice cow!”
“Okay, can my big girl say please?” Mike asked with a smile, already headed for the refrigerator.
“P’ease,” she answered, mildly.
“Okay,” he reached into the fridge and extracted the cup. “No spill.”
“Mess!” she countered, clutching the no-spill cup to her chest.
She carried the cup into the living room for her afternoon video. “Pooh!”
He heard the video player start, courtesy of the older girl as his wife walked back into the kitchen after a quick change. Slim and tall with long raven black hair and high, firm breasts, even after two pregnancies she still moved with the grace of the dancer she was when they first met. She’d joined the club he worked at to improve her muscle tone. He was the best in the club at muscle management schemes so he got assigned to her, naturally. One thing led to another and here they were eight years later. Sometimes Mike wondered what kept her around. On the other hand it would take a crowbar to separate him from her. Or, at least, the hand of duty.
“Your agent called me at work,” she said, “he said you weren’t in.”
“Oh?” he said, noncommittally he hoped. His stomach had already started to churn. He pulled a bottle of domestic Chardonnay out of the refrigerator and began hunting for the corkscrew.
“He says he needs another rewrite, but Dunn may be interested.” She leaned back against the counter, watching him carefully. He was giving off all the wrong vibes.
“You’re home early,” she continued, crossing her arms. “What’s wrong? You should be excited.”
“Umm.” He bought time by wrenching out the cork and pouring her a glass of wine.
“What?” She looked at the Chardonnay suspiciously, as if wondering if it were poisoned. After six years of marriage there was not much he could get past her. She might not know exactly what was coming, but she could tell it was nasty.
“Uh. It’s not bad, really,” he said, taking a pull of his own beer. The mellow home-brewed concoction dropped to his stomach like lead and started doing dances with the butterflies. Sharon was really going to hit the roof.
“Oh, shit, just spit it out,” she snapped. “What, did you get fired?”
“No, no, I got called back up. Sort of.” He turned back to the stove, picking up the pot and dumping the al dente pasta into the colander.
“What? By the Army? You’ve been out, what? eight years?” The words were low but angry. They tried to never argue in front of the kids.
“Almost nine,” he agreed, head down and concentrating on getting the pasta just right. The smell of garlic permeated the air as he tossed the crushed cloves into the mix. “I’d been out nearly six months when we met.”
“You’re not reserve anymore!” She reached out and touched his arm to get him to turn around and look at her.
“I know, but Jack called Dave and twisted his arm into letting me go for a while.” He looked up into her blue eyes and wondered why he could not tell Jack, “No.” The hurt in her gaze was almost more than he could bear.
“Jack. You mean General Horner. The ‘Jack’ who wanted you to get a commission?” she asked with dark suspicion, setting the wine down. It was her way of clearing the decks and he took it for a bad sign.
“How many Jacks do you know?” he asked playfully, trying to lighten the mood.
“I don’t know him — you know him.” She had moved in close to him, crowding his space and more or less making him back up.
“You’ve talked to General Horner before.” He turned back to the pasta, running from the argument and he knew it.
“Once, and it was until you got to the phone.”
“And why the hell do they want you?” she asked, still crowding in. He could faintly feel the heat from her body, raised by a combination of the wine and the argument.
“I don’t know.” The fettuccine ready, he added the Alfredo sauce, covered and warming on the stove top. The heady smell of parmesan and spices filled the air.
“Well, call General Horner and tell him you’re not coming until we know why. And fettuccine Alfredo will not get you out of anything.” She crossed her arms again, then relented and picked up the wine for a sip.
“Honey, you know the drill. When they call, you go.” He portioned out the kids’ supper, readying trays for them to eat in front of the TV. Normally they tried to eat together, but tonight seemed like a good night to create a little distance from them.
“No. Not with me,” she retorted, gesturing sharply enough to slosh the Chardonnay. “Not that anybody has asked, but they’d get a little more argument if they tried to get me back in the Navy. The hell if I’m ever serving on another carrier.” She tossed her head to move an imaginary hair out of the way and waited for a response.
“Well, I guess I don’t know what to say,” he said softly.
She looked at him for a long moment. “You want to go back.” It was clearly an accusation. “You know, I’m going to have a hell of a time keeping up with both work and home if you’re gone!”
“Well…” The pause after that looked to go on forever.
“God, Mike, it’s been years! It’s not like you’re eighteen anymore.” With her mouth pursed into a frown, she looked like a little girl “saving up spit.”
“Honey,” he said, rubbing his chin and looking at the ceiling, “generals don’t recall you from civilian status, personally, to go run around in the boonies.” He dropped his eyes to meet hers and shook his head.
“Whatever it is, they’ll want me for my know-how, not my biceps. And sometimes, yeah, I wonder if being, maybe, by now, a company commander in the Eighty-Deuce wouldn’t be a little more… important, useful, I don’t know, something more than building a really boss web page for the country’s fourth largest bank!” He garnished the generous helping of fettuccine with a chicken breast in garlic and herbs and extended it to her.
She shook her head, understanding the argument intellectually, but still not happy. “Do you have to leave this evening?”
She took the plate and looked at it with the same suspicion as the wine. A little alcohol and complex carbohydrates to calm the hysterical wifey. Unfortunately she knew that was exactly how she was acting. He knew all about her knee-jerk reaction to the military and was trying to compensate. Trying hard.
“No, but if you think I’m taking the kids to south Atlanta you’re out of your mind,” she retorted, losing ground and knowing it. She sensed that this was a critical argument and wondered what would happen if she said it was her or the Army. She had thought about it a few times before, but it had never come up. Now she was afraid to ask. What really made her mad was that she understood her emotions and knew she was in the wrong. Her own experiences had poisoned her against the military as a career, but not against the basic call to duty. And it made her wonder what would happen if she faced the same question.
“Hey, I may be commuting. And it may not be for long,” Mike said with a purely Gallic shrug and rubbed his chin. His dark, coarse hair had raised a respectable five-o’clock shadow.
“But you don’t think so,” she countered.
“No, I don’t think so,” he agreed, somberly.
“Why?” She sat down at the kitchen table and cut a bite of the chicken. It was perfectly done; delicious as usual. It tasted like sand in her mouth.
“Well… just say it’s a gut call.” Mike began to fill his own plate. He suspected poulet avec herb was going to be lacking in his diet in the near future.
“But we have the weekend?” she asked taking a sip of the oaky Chardonnay to wash down the wonderful meal in a mouth gone quite dry.
“Well, let’s see what we can think of to do.” The smile was weak, but at least it was a smile.
* * *
“Can I see some ID, sir? Driver’s license?”
I got up pretty damn early for this crap. Three hours driving separated his home in the Georgia Piedmont from Fort McPherson, Georgia, home of the Army’s Forces Command. Perched just off of Interstate 75-85, the green lawns and numerous brick structures hid a mass of secure buildings. Since it commanded all the combat forces in the Army its secure meeting facilities were top-notch but the press hardly noticed it. If a large number of military and civilian personnel suddenly congregated in Fort Myers, Virginia or Nellis AFB it would be noticed; places like that were carefully watched but not Fort McPherson. Serviced by Hartsfield Airport, the largest in the United States, and covered by Atlanta’s notorious traffic, the only people who noticed the gathering were the carefully selected soldiers acting as military police. But, while the soldiers had been carefully selected, they had not been selected from the ranks of MPs.
by John Ringo have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes