Authors: Christopher Nuttall
Their Darkest Hour
(Their Darkest Hour – Book One)
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Their Darkest Hour Cover
No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own...across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us
When alien starships from a hostile interstellar power arrive in orbit, Britain is one of their first targets. Swiftly, the aliens take control of Britain’s cities and force the remainder of the British military to go on the run. With the government destroyed, the population must choose between fighting and collaborating with the alien overlords. This is truly Britain’s darkest hour.
Caught up in these events are a handful of ordinary people, struggling to survive. The Prime Minister, forced into hiding, and an unscrupulous politician looking to find fame and power by serving the aliens. Soldiers fighting an insurgency and senior officers trying desperately to find the key to driving the aliens away from Earth; police officers faced with a choice between collaboration or watching the aliens brutalise the civilian population. And ordinary citizens, trying to survive a world turned upside down.
But resistance seems futile and the aliens appear unstoppable – and the entire population is caught in the middle. As the alien grip tightens, the last best hope for freedom lies with those who will never surrender...and are prepared to pay any price for the liberation of Earth.
The senior officers of the Conquest Force rose to their feet as the Command Triad entered the briefing room.
Oheghizh bowed his head in submission as they took their three seats, each one representing and commanding an element of the fleet. Together, they would oversee the conquest – and pose no threat to the state, back home. They’d be too suspicious of one another to ever plot treachery together.
“We have been observing Earth for the past five of its rotations,”
, Oheghizh reminded himself, careful to think in the language of the prey. “The humans are a curious race. They may well be more unlike us than the Uteck.”
A rustle ran around the compartment as his words sank in. The Uteck, unlike most known races, didn’t possess two arms, two legs and one head. They were utterly alien – which hadn’t stopped them fighting the Eridiani to a standstill in fifty years of bloody warfare. The State still believed that they could defeat the Uteck and occupy their worlds, but it would be a long time before anyone saw fit to resume the war. It had simply been too costly.
“The humans have progressed remarkably unevenly,” Nak’tak reported. “Their space presence is pathetic; they have yet to establish a base on their moon or start mining asteroids for war materials. They are literally unable to pose any threat to the Conquest Fleet, even once we are in orbit around their world. Furthermore, their ruling power seems curiously unwilling to crush its enemies – they appear to be willing to accept the hatred of their inferiors, instead of forcing their inferiors to submit. This is without a precedent in all of known space.”
There was a pause. “However, in certain areas, they are actually more advanced than ourselves,” he continued. “Their most advanced computer systems are more capable than the devices we use on these starships – and certain other advancements may pose a threat to the Landing Force once we start taking up positions on the planetary surface. In particular, they have an alarmingly high number of nuclear weapons and – we must assume – a willingness to use them if they face defeat.”
Azhadib, the Director of Conquest, spoke into the silence. “Do you believe that this race will make acceptable clients for the State?”
“We believe that it may be harder than we expect to convince them to submit,” Nak’tak said. “Unlike our previous encounters with low-tech races” – all of which had been brought into the service of the State, their development short-circuited by their natural masters – “they offer the promise of a workforce that will not require extensive training to grasp the basics of our technology, assuming that they are capable of grasping it at all. We have a secondary reason not to simply exterminate this race. They will be very useful to us.”
He didn’t mention the first reason, Oheghizh noted, in the privacy of his own mind. Known space had many mysteries – races blossomed to life, built their empires, dominated the galactic scene for a few million years and then faded away – but even the State had heard rumours of the Elders. They’d been warned that genocide would be harshly punished. Oheghizh wasn't sure if he believed the tales or not – the idea of someone being more powerful than the State was difficult to grasp – yet it seemed clear that
believed them. There was no other explanation for the prohibition on genocide.
Earth spun in the centre of the compartment, a luminous orb glowing with blue-green light. It looked almost homelike, yet it was home to over seven
humans. He glanced down at the reports the observers had filed in their long study of Earth, carefully monitoring the humans and devising plans for the invasion and conquest of their world. As one of the senior Land Force commanders, Oheghizh could expect high honours and rewards if he succeeded in bringing his portion of Earth under control – and endless infamy if he failed. The humans would pose a formidable problem, even to the State. But they would succeed. Failure would not be tolerated.
The assignments had been sorted out by the Command Triad and passed down as a unanimous decision. Oheghizh would be assigned to a medium-sized island nation, still one of the most advanced and developed states on Earth. Quite why they hadn’t developed any form of unity was a surprise – technological advancement tended to unite previously separated nations – but it hardly mattered. Their political divisions would work against them when the Conquest Fleet revealed its presence. They would have no time to plan a unified defence before they were overwhelmed.
And slowly, but surely, Oheghizh and his companions drew up their plans against Earth. The Human Race would never know what had hit them until it was far too late.
RAF Coningsby/Salisbury Plain/London
United Kingdom, Day 1
“It looks like a busy day for us, boys and girls.”
Flying Officer Alexandra Horton smiled as Squadron Leader Rupert Paddington opened the briefing. The men – and single woman – of No. 3 Squadron rarely had an uneventful day, even when they were patrolling the skies over Britain. After 9/11, every civilian aircraft that went off course sent ripples of alarm running through the United Kingdom Air Defence Region and it wasn’t uncommon for Tornados or Eurofighter Typhoons to be scrambled in response to an aircraft that had simply lost its way. Not that anyone was allowed to become complacent, of course. The Eurofighters were scrambled with live weapons and everyone knew that one day a hapless pilot would be faced with the choice of shooting down a civilian aircraft or watching it plunge into the Houses of Parliament. Alex was mildly surprised that none of the thousands of terrorist plots monitored by MI5 had ever come close to taking off.
“We’ve been informed that the UKGDE boys have been tracking more ghosts,” Paddington continued. “Someone higher up the food chain is getting just a little bit concerned with these reports and they’d like some hard data. You may be directed to perform an interception if a ghost shows up while you’re in the air.”
Alex frowned, thoughtfully. Over the last few weeks, radar sets in Britain – and America as well, she’d been given to understand – had been tracking a handful of transient contacts that seemed to be travelling right at the edge of Earth’s atmosphere. The general feeling was that someone – perhaps in Britain, but more likely in the United States – was testing a new model of stealth drone by flying it through one of the most advanced air defence environments in the world. It wasn't an uncommon procedure, but surely
would have said something by now, if only to prevent an interception that brought one of the craft down. Rumours she’d heard suggested that some of the top brass were more concerned than they admitted, at least to the pilots. There was a distant possibility that the Russians might have produced something new that they were using to probe NATO’s defence environment.
She shook her head, reaching up to feel her short blonde hair. Her fellow pilots had nicknamed her Starbuck back when she’d started training to fly the Eurofighter and the name had stuck. Being assigned to No. 3 Squadron was hardly a blot on her record, even if defence cutbacks did make their position increasingly insecure. She’d heard that some of the top brass were worried about their ability to defend the UKADR if more squadrons were placed in reserve, or eliminated altogether. Buying the Eurofighter might have seemed like a good idea back before 9/11, but now the money was flowing to the army and aircraft that could provide support to British troops on the ground. The Eurofighter was an excellent piece of kit, yet it didn't have the close-support capability of an Apache helicopter. Their service in Afghanistan had always been far less decisive than the MOD had hoped.
“Horton and Davidson, you’ll be on routine patrol, taking over from the lads out there now,” Paddington said, finally. “Jackson and Stuart will be on QRA, ready to provide backup if there’s a problem or you need to return to base. Don’t forget to keep one eye on your radar sets at all times. You never know what you might run into up there.”
There were some chuckles from the pilots, although they all knew that a mission could shift from routine boredom to sheer terror within seconds. Up in the air,
would be in the front line, not some paper-pusher in Whitehall who would happily question every little decision made by the men at the front. Alex knew pilots and soldiers who had been hounded out of the service by the MOD, or the government, merely for making poor decisions on the battlefield. It seemed to have escaped their notice that soldiers and pilots had to make their decisions within seconds and there was no time to take a balanced view of anything…
She shook her head as Paddington dismissed them and headed for her plane. The flight plan said that she would be in the air within half an hour. There was nothing quite like flying over Britain as the dawn rose. And if she was lucky, it might even be a routine patrol.
Darkness shrouded Salisbury Plain, but the sound of humming engines could be heard – faintly – in the gloom. Dawn was approaching, the horizon starting to light up in the distance, leaving the French with little time to get across the river.
Brigadier Gavin Lightbridge-Stewart allowed himself a tight smile as he lay on the ground, using his night-vision goggles to peer into the shadows. The French didn’t know it, but the British Army had prepared a nasty surprise for when they tried to reach the mock town.
Full-scale exercises were rare – the days when the British Army could roam across Germany on exercises were in the past, and it was incredibly expensive to ship men and equipment to Canada or the USA – but the bean-counters had finally agreed to allow a joint exercise with the French. A section of French tankers had agreed to play the attacking force, simulating an attack from Russia into the European Union. Officially, the French were playing a fictional nation – it was typical of the politicians to be more worried about upsetting the Russians than helping out the soldiers who defended them – but everyone knew the truth. Russia had been rather more noisy than usual over the last few months and senior officers had been warning the politicians that important skills were being lost.
His lips twitched into a smile. The British Army was intimately familiar with the terrain and they’d used it to their advantage. A troop of Challenger tanks had been positioned to give the French a bloody nose, while ground-based air defence systems had been deployed to prevent the French from using a drone to spy out the British defences. Once the French tanks started to cross the river, they’d find themselves caught in a trap – unless they had a surprise of their own up their sleeves. The politicians on both sides of the Atlantic might deride the French, but the French military was tough and very professional. And it had picked up rather more experience in the years since Algeria than many outsiders realised.