Ten years after the release of alien-invasion thriller Out of the Dark, authors David Weber and Chris Kennedy are back to continue the story with Into the Light. Humankind is still battling aliens, but there’s suddenly a new power player: Earth’s long-hidden population of vampires. Turns out they’re also quite protective of their home planet.
Into the Light isn’t out until early 2021, but io9 has an exclusive look at this new military sci-fi saga today! Here’s a brief summary, followed by the full cover and an excerpt showcasing the book’s second chapter.
In New York Times-bestselling science fiction epic Out of the Dark, Earth beat back an alien invasion. Now we’ve got to make sure they don’t come back, in Into the Light.
The Shongairi conquered Earth. In mere minutes, half the human race died, and our cities lay in shattered ruins.
But the Shongairi didn’t expect the survivors’ tenacity. And, crucially, they didn’t know that Earth harbored two species of intelligent, tool-using bipeds. One of them was us. The other, long-lived and lethal, was hiding in the mountains of eastern Europe, the subject of fantasy and legend. When they emerged and made alliance with humankind, the invading aliens didn’t stand a chance.
Now Earth is once again ours. Aided by the advanced tech the aliens left behind, we’re rebuilding as fast as we can.
Meanwhile, a select few of our blood-drinking immortals are on their way to the Shongairi homeworld, having commandeered one of the alien starships...the planet-busting kind.
Starszy Chorąży Szymański looked up from his paperwork with an incip ient snarl as someone knocked once on his office door, then opened it.
It was late, they were running low on ballpoint pens (among altogether too many other things), the wind outside the unfortunately ramshackle “head quarters block” was cold, his fingers were clumsy because of the chill, and the old-fashioned kerosene lamp on his desk was remarkably frugal with its illumination.
None of which was designed to put him in what anyone would have called a happy mood.
“What?” he growled.
“Sorry, Panie Chorąży,” Starszy Sierżant Jacob Makinowski replied. “I know you don’t want anyone disturbing you, but I think you’d better talk to this guy.”
“And what ‘guy’ would that be?” Szymański’s tone wasn’t a lot more pleasant.
“Says he’s Ukrainian.” Makinowski shrugged. “His Polish is pretty damned good, if he is. Big guy, blond hair, blue eyes. But he also says he’s a captain in the Ukrainian Army, only he’s not wearing Ukrainian uniform.”
“And this is a surprise because—?” Szymański asked sarcastically, twitching his head at Makinowski’s own lack of sartorial splendor.
The starszy chorąży had a point, Makinowski conceded, looking down at his own sturdy but worn civilian boots, the two layers of knitted sweater under his summer-weight army tunic with its homemade epaulets. One of the two five-pointed stars of a starszy sierżant was homemade (and undeniably more lopsided than the other), since the shoulder boards had belonged to a plutonowy—a corporal—before the invasion, and the supply chain had been pretty thoroughly disrupted when ninety percent of the Polish military went up in the fireballs of the Shongairi’s initial bombardment.
More than ninety percent, really. That was how a civilian had become a staff sergeant and inherited the epaulets of a corporal named Krystian Szymański when the corporal in question became a sergeant major. The Sergeant Major, actually.
“Sorry,” Makinowski said again. “What I meant is, he’s in uniform, but it’s not Ukrainian. Not Russian, either. I think it’s American.”
Szymański laid down his ballpoint and shoved back in his chair, both eyebrows rising.
“Let me get this straight. This wieśniak says he’s Ukrainian, but he’s in Jank eskim mundurze—an American uniform? And he just turned up in the middle of the night? And you think he’s important enough to interrupt me at a chore you know I love so much?”
“Panie Chorąży,” Makinowski said frankly, “I think you need to talk to him, and then you’re probably going to get into a shitpot of trouble when you wake up the Pułkownik. And he’s probably going to have to wake up the Generał Brygady.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?” Szymański said slowly.
“Damn straight I am.”
“Then I guess you’d better show him in.”
• • • • •
Pułkownik Marek Peplinski, who’d been a starszy chorąży until five or six months ago, blinked bleary eyes and took another sip of the ersatz tea. The cup didn’t match the saucer, but at least they were both intact. Not that the liquid the cup contained was anything to celebrate. Except that it was at least warm.
They did have some tea and coffee left, but very little, and what they had was dwindling rapidly. Generał Brygady Lutosławski had decreed that the remaining supplies would be conserved and doled out as rewards for service above and beyond the call of duty. Pepliński supported the decision. In fact, he thought it was a very good idea. But he did miss the caffeine.
He missed a lot of things, actually. He especially missed the ability to know what was happening beyond their brutally truncated horizon here in Widawa. It probably wouldn’t matter much in the end, but it would be nice to know why they hadn’t heard a single word from the Shongair invaders over their remaining radios in almost two weeks. He’d never thought he would miss those broadcasts or the combination of threats and promises that came with them.
(Some of the oldest citizens of Widawa had compared them—unfavorably—to the worst of the old Stalinist “news broadcasts” from their “fraternal Soviet comrades.” Personally, Pepliński had always been grateful he was too young to remember those.)
But he’d discovered he did miss the Shongairi’s version. The silence was unnerving, like some vast, quivering void. He had enough other problems and uncertainties. He damned well didn’t need the fucking Puppies deciding to go silent on him on top of everything else!
He held the cup under his nose, inhaling the steam’s warmth, then set it back on the saucer. His office was cold, but at least it was free of drafts. That was quite a lot, with winter already upon them. Whether it would be enough in the end was yet to be seen.
And aren’t you a cheerful fellow when they wake you up at two in the morning? he asked himself. Gotten too used to being an officer, have you?
The thought restored at least a little badly needed humor and he set the cup carefully on its saucer and inhaled deeply.
“All right, Krystian. I suppose I’m as awake as I’m getting.”
Szymański came briefly to attention, then turned sharply and marched out of the office, and Pepliński smiled tiredly as he watched the sergeant major go.
Szymański had been one of Pepliński’s motor pool corporals before the at tack. The two of them had been off-base, returning from a NATO training exercise. If Pepliński hadn’t been delayed by a last-minute piece of paperwork idiocy and caught a ride back in Szymański’s Jelcz truck, neither of them would have been alive today. Despite which—or, possibly because of which—Szymański was always careful to maintain proper military formality between them. Which was undoubtedly wise of him. Private habits could spill over into public behavior, and the one thing none of Lutosławski’s officers and noncoms could afford was to let the illusion that the Polish military still existed slip.
Not that it was likely to hold up a lot longer, no matter what they did.
Ludwik Lutosławski had been a porucznik—a first lieutenant—in the Polish Army when the Shongairi attacked. His current rank wasn’t quite completely self awarded; theoretically, he’d been promoted by Fryderyk Sikorcz, the sole surviving member of the zarząd województwa, the executive board of Województwa Łódzkiego. That made him the closest thing to a governor available, and he’d named Lutosławski military governor of gmina Widawa, commanding all regular and reserve military personnel in it. There hadn’t been a lot of those.
The gmina—an administrative district of perhaps seven thousand, before the invasion—was centered on the village of Widawa, fifty-odd kilometers southwest of what had once been the regional capital of Łódź. None of Łódź’s 700,000 people had survived the initial bombardment, and casualties in the immediately surrounding urban areas had been close to total, as well. For that matter, the town of Łask, the seat of gmina Widawa, had been destroyed at the same time, probably because of the Air Force base located there, which had killed over a quarter of the gmina’s total population. The bombardment’s survivors—not just from Łódź but from every major city and most of the larger towns—had fled to the farming country which had escaped attack, and the pre dictable result had been chaos as what remained of local government collapsed and starving refugees fought to keep themselves and their children fed.
Initially, many of the farmers had shared generously, but that had changed as the locusts flowed over them and they’d realized how completely and totally their country had been devastated. As they’d realized they would need that food to keep their own families alive in the face of such an utter collapse of transportation and all the other infrastructure people had taken so much for granted. As that understanding swept through them, they’d begun refusing to feed refugees. They’d started hiding food to protect it from looters, and they’d organized to defend what they had by force.
Until Ludwik Lutosławski . . . changed their minds.
No one had denied the farmers owned their own food. It simply hadn’t mattered who owned what. Not in the face of such disruption and starvation. And so “hoarding” had become a capital offense and squads of Lutosławski’s troopers—the majority of whom had been civilians only weeks earlier—had swept over every farmhouse pantry and barn to make that perfectly clear.
Perhaps some of them, even the majority of them, had sympathized with the farmers, but that hadn’t mattered anymore, either. What had mattered was feeding as many people as possible while simultaneously building at least some cushion for the looming winter, and the generał brygady’s men had taken their cue from him.
Marek Pepliński didn’t actually like Lutosławski very much. The one-time lieutenant had a streak of brutality he wasn’t shy about showing. Pepliński couldn’t decide whether that brutality had always been there or whether it was a response to the nightmare situation in which Lutosławski had found himself. For that matter, he wasn’t certain how much of it was genuine and how much of it was theater, designed to make sure no one defied him or his authority. It wasn’t the brutality itself that worried the promoted sergeant major.
Hanging onto some semblance of order, dealing with the flood of refugees, and somehow keeping people fed—so far, at least—required a certain degree of brutality. No, what worried him was that he wasn’t at all confident Lutosławski still knew how much of it was born of necessity and how much was his . . . default setting. So far he’d at least given accused hoarders, or thieves, or rapists a drumhead court-martial before he had them shot, but over the last couple of months, he’d seemed less and less firmly anchored. And that frightened Pepliński. Winter would have them by the throat within weeks, and for better or worse, Lutosławski was the core of gmina Widawa and its survival. If he truly was beginning to crumble. . . .
Someone rapped crisply on the opened door’s frame and then Szymański waved a tall, broad-shouldered, blond-haired man through it. The newcomer certainly looked Slavic, but he was improbably neat, obviously well fed, and impeccably attired in what really did look like the uniform of the United States military. Although, Pepliński realized, its epaulets carried the four Maltese crosses of a Ukrainian army captain rather than the silver bars an American officer should have worn.
“Kapitan Ushakov, Panie Pułkowniku,” the starszy chorąży said crisply.
“Kapitan,” Pepliński said a bit warily, then nodded to Szymański. “That will be all for now, Starszy Chorąży.”
The noncom came briefly to attention once more and withdrew, not without a wary sidelong glance of his own as he left his colonel alone with the stranger.
“So, Kapitan,” Pepliński said as the door closed behind him. “I understand you want to see the Generał Brygady?”
“Yes, Sir. I would indeed appreciate a few moments of conversation with Generał Brygady Lutosławski,” the stranger—Ushakov—replied. “I realize it’s rather late, however there are certain . . . logistic constraints in play.” He smiled slightly. “I fear it will be some time before I could arrange to be here during his normal working hours.”
His Polish was flawless, Pepliński realized. Indeed, he suspected it was better than his own, grammatically. Which didn’t explain why a Ukrainian in American uniform was standing in his dreary, chill little office in the middle of the night.
“Might I inquire as to precisely why you want to see him?” he asked.
“I have a message for him from my own superiors.” Ushakov shrugged. “Given the state of the world communications net, a personal emissary was the only practical way to deliver it.”
“I see.” Pepliński looked the stranger up and down, then cocked his head.
“I’m sure you can understand why I’d have some questions, Kapitan,” he said. “For example, how does a Ukrainian officer find himself in American uniform? And who might those ‘superiors’ of yours be?”
“Reasonable questions,” Ushakov acknowledged with a nod. “Answering them may take a while, however.”
“We’re both already awake, Kapitan,” Pepliński pointed out with a thin smile, and pointed at the wooden chair—it had been salvaged from someone’s dining room—in front of his desk. “Have a seat.”
• • • • •
“This had better be good, Marek,” Ludwik Lutosławski growled as he stalked into the parlor of the farmhouse which had been requisitioned for his HQ. A fresh fire had been lit in the parlor’s open hearth, but it hadn’t even begun taking the chill off the room yet, and his hands were buried deep in the pockets of a thick dressing gown. “You do realize what frigging time it is?”
“Yes, Sir,” Pułkownik Pepliński replied. There was something just a bit odd about his voice, although Lutosławski was too irritated—and groggy from being awakened at three o’clock in the morning—to notice.
“Then what the fuck is this about?” the one-time lieutenant demanded.
“Sir, there’s someone here you need to talk to.”
“At three in the goddamned morning?! I don’t think so!” Lutosławski snapped.
“Sir, I wouldn’t have roused you at this hour if it wasn’t really important,” Pepliński said. “You know that.”
“What I know is that I didn’t get to sleep until after midnight,” Lutosławski snarled. “And that I’m going to be back up in less than three hours for that sweep toward Marzeńska to deal with those goddamned hoarders.”
“Excuse me for interrupting, Generał Brygady,” the third man in the parlor said, “but I’m afraid I’m the one who insisted the Pułkownik disturb you.”
“And who the fuck are you?” Lutosławski demanded, turning his head to glare at the stranger. It was a glare whose anger transmuted—slightly, at least—into something else as he truly saw the other man’s uniform for the first time.
“Kapitan Pieter Ushakov.” The stranger bowed slightly as he introduced himself.
“And you’re here because—?”
“I bear a message for you from my superior,” Ushakov replied.
“And who might that be and why might I want to hear whatever he has to say?” Lutosławski asked unpleasantly.
“There are several reasons you should want to hear what he has to say,” Ushakov said calmly. “The best reason is that he wants to offer you assistance, under certain conditions.”
“What sort of ‘assistance’?” Suspicion edged Lutosławski’s tone. “Everyone else who’s offered to ‘assist’ me had no intention of doing anything of the sort. Which is why most of them are dead now,” he added warningly.
“I’m here on behalf of Governor Judson Howell,” Ushakov said, apparently oblivious to the not-so-veiled threat. “He’s in a position to offer medical assistance and at least limited assistance with food and other logistic issues. Assuming you’re able and willing to meet those conditions I mentioned.”
“Howell?” Lutosławski repeated the name. His expression was puzzled for a moment, but then his eyes narrowed. “Howell! The asshole who was collaborating with the Puppies?!”
“That’s how the Puppies described it,” Ushakov acknowledged. Howell’s “cooperation” with the Shongairi had figured prominently in some of the aliens’ broadcasts.
“Actually, he was outsmarting them ‘three ways to Sunday,’ as an American friend of mine would put it.” The big Ukrainian smiled thinly. “They didn’t like what happened when he was finished outsmarting them very much, either.”
“Sure they didn’t, and I can believe however much of that I want,” Lutosławski growled suspiciously. He glowered at his uninvited visitor. “Even assuming there’s a word of truth in that, are you seriously suggesting an American, on the other side of the world, could help us here even if he wanted to?”
“In fact, North Carolina, Governor Howell’s state, is less than seventy-five hundred kilometers from Widawa, which isn’t even a quarter of the way around the world,” Ushakov observed. “The actual distance doesn’t matter, however.”
He shrugged. “I assure you, the Governor has the capability to reach you here at any time he chooses.”
“Oh, of course he does!”
“You might want to reflect upon the fact that I’m here,” Ushakov pointed out.
Lutosławski started a quick reply, then paused, and Ushakov smiled ever so slightly.
“And what would those ‘conditions’ of his be?” the Pole asked instead, after a moment.
“The most immediate would be that you will refrain from seizing any supplies or assistance directed to you,” Ushakov said levelly. “The ruthlessness you’ve shown in forcibly confiscating food and other supplies is . . . understandable, under the circumstances you’ve confronted. And the Governor knows as well as you do how unlikely you are to survive the winter without losing all too many of your people to malnutrition or sickness. But if he agrees to help you, he’ll expect his assistance to be passed on through you to the communities around you. Even to Wojewoda Konarski.”
Lutosławski’s nostrils flared and he darted a glance at Pepliński. The pułkownik’s expression was as bleak as his own, and both of them looked back at Ushakov. Tadeusz Konarski had declared himself governor of a territory somewhat smaller than gmina Widawa’s current size, centered on the tiny village of Zabrzezie, just over thirty-five kilometers from Widawa itself. His and Lutosławski’s foragers had clashed more than once. Indeed, they’d fought a pitched battle over a newly discovered hoard of rye only three days ago. Lutosławski’s people had won that one, but they’d taken losses. And they hadn’t won all of the other clashes, either.
“That bastard’s willing to starve all of my people!” he snarled. “Why should I give him the sweat off my balls?!”
“Because if the two of you—and the other people around you who have managed to hold onto at least a little of what passes for civilization—don’t cooperate with one another, the Governor will be unable to help any of you.
More than that, he won’t even try. Believe me, he has any number of at least equally pressing emergencies much closer to home, and that means he has to prioritize ruthlessly. If he can count on local cooperation, he can make a significant difference to your chance of surviving the winter, because that cooperation will be what you might call a ‘force multiplier’ for his own resources and people. If that cooperation isn’t forthcoming here, he’ll concentrate his efforts on other places where it is.”
“And you’re seriously suggesting someone only a quarter of the way around the world could offer assistance remotely great enough to convince that murderous bastard to ‘cooperate’ with me?”
“You are aware Wojewoda Konarski thinks of you in much the same terms?” Ushakov asked with a crooked smile. “To be fair, I think the label applies rather better to him than to you, but you’ve both had to be fairly ‘murderous’ to survive this far, Generał Brygady. My Governor understands that. But if you wish his assistance in continuing to survive, the two of you will have to learn to work together.”
“Assuming for the moment this American governor really could reach Poland with some sort of assistance, what’s to keep Konarski—or me—from agreeing to cooperate and then seizing all of that assistance for himself?”
“I can think of several moral arguments which should dissuade you. However, I’m a practical man, so I’ll move straight to the most pressing reason neither of you should do anything so foolish. If you do, you’ll die.”
Lutosławski’s eyes widened.
“Are you threatening me?!”
“Not unless I must,” Ushakov said in that same calm tone. “And I would prefer not to, to be honest. While I might quibble with some of your methods, you’ve done a remarkable job of maintaining order in the area under your control. We would very much prefer to work with you rather than replace you.”
Lutosławski looked at the other man for a moment. Then his right hand came out of the house coat pocket with a WIST-94 pistol. It was the 94L variant, and he showed his teeth in a humorless smile as the crimson dot of the integral laser settled on the center of Ushakov’s chest.
“I don’t think you’re in a very strong position to be throwing around threats, Kapitan Ushakov,” he said very softly.
“Actually, I’m in a far stronger position than you are.” Ushakov seemed remarkably unfazed. “I anticipated this situation might arise after I’d studied your methods a bit, so why don’t we go ahead and get it over with? Feel free to squeeze the trigger.”
Lutosławski’s eyes narrowed as the lunatic smiled at him and made a small welcoming gesture with his right hand. The generał brygady’s index finger tightened on the double action trigger, a half kilogram or so from firing, but he stopped himself.
“Don’t think I won’t,” he warned.
“Oh, I’m quite certain you would,” Ushakov replied. “If I permitted it, that is.”
Lutosławski stared at him in disbelief, and then the other man . . . blurred.
That was the only description for it. The lighting was poor, but not poor enough to explain the way in which Ushakov seemed to flow suddenly through the air. The Ukrainian—if that was what he truly was—vanished, transmuted into a coil of smoke that snaked across the parlor towards him. The impossibility of it froze him for half a pulse beat . . . and that was long enough for the smoke to suddenly re-consolidate three feet from him and a sinewy hand to twist the pistol out of his hand with humiliating ease.
“A fine weapon,” Ushakov observed, stepping back in a more normal fashion to stand before the parlor’s small hearth with the pistol in his own hand. “I believe I would probably prefer it to the Makarov or the FORT.” He smiled.
“I like its ergonomics, and I always felt the Luger round was superior. Unfortunately, neither round is adequate for what you intended to do, Generał Brygady.”
Lutosławski gawked at him, trying to understand how he could have moved that quickly. It wasn’t possible! He darted a quick look at Pepliński, but his executive officer seemed as frozen as he was.
“Pułkownik Pepliński,” Ushakov said, never looking away from Lutosławski, “would you be kind enough to ask the sentries to step into the parlor? I wouldn’t want there to be any . . . misunderstandings.”
Pepliński looked at Lutosławski, and the generał brygady glared for a moment. Then he inhaled.
“Do it, Marek,” he said.
Pepliński nodded. He disappeared, and Lutosławski stood glowering at Ushakov until the pułkownik returned with the two men from his headquarters guard force who had the night’s sentry duty. They looked more than a little apprehensive, and their apprehension clicked up another notch as they saw the stranger standing there with their CO’s pistol in his hand.
“Thank you, Pułkowniku,” the stranger in question said politely, and nodded to the newcomers. “I didn’t want you to feel alarmed,” he explained, then pressed the muzzle of the pistol to his temple and squeezed the trigger.
The sudden, explosive “CRAAACK!” of the shot hit their ears like a sledgehammer in the small parlor’s confines, a plate displayed on the mantel above the hearth shattered into dozens of pieces, and every man in the room flinched, their eyes wide with horror as they realized Ushakov had just shot himself in the head in front of them! What kind of maniac—?
But then they realized Ushakov hadn’t collapsed to the floor. In fact, he was smiling at them, the pistol still against the side of his head. For an instant, Lutosławski wondered if the deafening shot still reverberating in his bones had been some sort of illusionist’s trick. But then a large fragment of broken plate slid off the mantel and splintered on the hearth.
And Ushakov was totally unmarked. His temple had seemed to . . . ripple under the force of the shot, but there wasn’t even a powder burn in its wake!
“As you can see, Generał Brygady,” he said, lowering the pistol with a faint smile, “shooting me would accomplish very little beyond leaving holes in my uniform.” His voice sounded far away, distant beyond the ringing in Lutosławski’s ears. “It certainly couldn’t prevent me from reaching you, wherever you might be, whenever I chose.” His smile disappeared. “And before you ask, I’ve already demonstrated that fact to Wojewoda Konarski, as well.”
“What—” Lutosławski swallowed hard. “What are you?” he asked hoarsely.
“That really doesn’t matter at the moment,” Ushakov replied. “What matters is that I’m here, that I can do what I’ve said I can do, and that Governor Howell can—and wants to—help you and all the people under your control survive. So, what reply would you like me to take home to him?”
Excerpt from Into the Light by David Weber and Chris Kennedy reprinted by permission. Copyright Tor Books.
Into the Light by David Weber and Chris Kennedy is out January 12; you can pre-order a copy here.
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