Can Long Endure

Humans expanded into space…only to find a universe populated with multiple alien species bent on their destruction. Thus was the Colonial Union formed, to help protect us from from a hostile universe. The Colonial Union used the Earth and its excess population for colonists and soldiers. It was a good arrangement… for the Colonial Union. Then the Earth said: no more.

Now the Colonial Union is living on borrowed time—a couple of decades at most, before the ranks of the Colonial Defense Forces are depleted and the struggling human colonies are vulnerable to the alien species who have been waiting for the first sign of weakness, to drive humanity to ruin. And there’s another problem: A group, lurking in the darkness of space, playing human and alien against each other—and against their own kind—for their own unknown reasons.

In this collapsing universe, CDF Lieutenant Harry Wilson and the Colonial Union diplomats he works with race against against the clock to discover who is behind attacks on the Union and on alien races, to seek peace with a suspicious, angry Earth, and keep humanity’s union intact… or else risk oblivion, and extinction—and the end of all things.

Hugo-award winning author, John Scalzi returns to his best-selling Old Man’s War universe with The End of All Things, the direct sequel to 2013’s The Human Division. The End of All Things will be published by Tor Books in four ebook-only episodes throughout the month of June, beginning with “The Life of the Mind, on June 9th. Read an excerpt from the third episode, “Can Long Endure,” below! Please note that this installment contains spoilers for The Human Division, so read at your own risk.

 

 

Chapter I

 

It was Tuesday, and we had to murder a revolution.

“It is Tuesday, yeah?” Terrell Lambert asked. There were four of us in the squad for this mission, and we waited, slowly circling, in a shuttle twenty-five klicks above the planet surface.

In one way, it was a reasonable question. Days fade into each other in the Colonial Defense Forces, especially when you’re traveling from one mission to the next. One day is very much like another on a starship, there are no real “days off.” Tracking days might make sense if you were waiting for your term of service to end, but recently we’d been made aware that our terms of service were likely to be extended indefinitely. This is what happens when your sole source of soldiers has been taken from you and you have no way to get any more anytime soon.

That being the case, tracking specific days didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Was it Tuesday? It might be. Did it matter that it was Tuesday? Not as much as it might otherwise.

In another way it was a ridiculous question because every CDF soldier has a computer called a BrainPal in their head. The BrainPal is a marvelous piece of equipment which can tell you instantly what day it is, what time it is, what the ambient temperature around is, and every single mission spec—along with, really, anything else you might want or need, information-wise.

Lambert knew exactly what day it was, or could know. He wasn’t asking as a point of information. He was making an existentialist point about the nature of a life in the Colonial Defense Forces. It’s worth saying that it’s doubtful that Lambert was specifically intending to bring attention to the existential nature of his question. That didn’t mean it wasn’t there.

Also, he asked because he was bored, waiting for our mission to begin. Boredom also happened a lot in the Colonial Defense Forces.

“Yeah, it’s Tuesday,” Sau Salcido replied. “Ask me how I know.”

“Because of your BrainPal?” Ilse Powell asked.

“No. Because yesterday was Pizza Day in the Tubingen mess. Pizza Day is always Monday. Therefore: It’s Tuesday.”

“That messes me up,” Lambert said.

“That it’s Tuesday?” Salcido asked.

“No, that Monday is Pizza Day. Back on Earth I was a custodian at an elementary school. Pizza Day was always on Friday. The teachers used it to keep the kids in line. ‘Behave yourself or you don’t get pizza on Friday.’ Having Monday be Pizza Day subverts the natural order of things.”

“You know what’s worse than that,” Powell said. “That Tubingen’s mess serves tacos on Wednesday.”

“When it should be on Tuesday,” Salcido said.

“Right, ‘Taco Tuesday.’ It’s right there.”

“Well, only in English,” Salcido pointed out. “If you speak Spanish, for example, it’s ‘martes de tacos,’ which isn’t alliterative at all. I think it’s ‘martes de tacos.’ I could be messing up the translation.”

“You could just check with your BrainPal,” Lambert said.

“And you could have checked with your BrainPal about what day it is, so what’s your point.”

“At the school we always had tacos on Thursday,” Lambert said, changing the subject.

“Why would you do that?” Powell asked.

“Why wouldn’t you? It’s still a day that starts with a ‘t’.”

“In English,” Salcido interjected.

“In English,” Lambert continued. “It’s still alliterative.”

Technically it’s alliterative,” Powell said. “Functionally a ‘th’ sound and a hard ‘t’ aren’t alliterative at all.”

“Sure they are.”

“ ‘Thhhhhhhh,’ ” Powell hissed. “It’s nothing like ‘t’.”

“You’re reaching,” Lambert said.

“Help me out here,” Powell said, to Salcido.

“She’s got a point,” Salcido said, to Lambert.

“ ‘Taco Thursday’ still makes more sense than ‘Pizza Monday,’ ” Lambert said.

“Only in English,” Salcido said. “In Spanish it’s lunes. So ‘lunes de pizza.’ Which kind of makes sense.”

“That doesn’t make sense at all,” Lambert said. “Not even a little bit.”

“Sure it does,” Salcido said. “There’s that old song. ‘When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.’ ‘Lunes’ comes from ‘luna,’ which is moon. So there you go.”

“I have never once heard of this song,” Powell said. “You just made it up. This is a thing you just made up to win an argument.”

“Agreed,” Lambert said.

“I did not.”

“It’s complete bullshit.”

“No.”

“Vote,” Lambert said. His hand went up. So did Powell’s. “The motion passes. It’s bullshit.”

“I said it was an old song,” Salcido protested.

“Lieutenant,” Lambert said, “you’ve never heard of this pizza moon song, have you?”

“I am not being drawn into your stupid argument,” I said. “Or more accurately, another of your stupid arguments.”

“The lieutenant has never heard of your pizza moon song either,” Lambert said to Salcido. “And she was a musician. She would know.”

“There are a lot of different types of musicians,” Salcido said, only a little defensively.

A notification pinged in my view. “They’re done talking,” I said, to my squad. “We’re on. Forty-five seconds. Suit up.” I grabbed my gear, which in this case included a nanobot pack, a drone, and my Empee rifle.

“When we get back to the Tubingen I’m going to find that song,” Salcido said, grabbing his own gear. “I’m going to find it and I’m going to make all of you listen to it. You’ll see. You’ll all see.”

“Masks,” I said. I signaled my combat unitard to create a mask, covering my face. It crept up my head, obscuring my view until my BrainPal offered up a visual feed.

“What’s for lunch today?” Lambert asked, through his BrainPal, because his mouth was now snugly covered, like everyone else’s.

“Hamburgers,” Salcido said. “Because it’s Tuesday.”

The shuttle door opened, exposing us to the frigid temperatures of the upper atmosphere of Franklin.

“Out you go,” I said to the three. They jumped out of the shuttle without further prompting. I counted off thirty and then jumped out of the shuttle myself.

Franklin was close to the size and mass of the Earth, basically perfect for human life, and was one of the first few planets colonized, back in the early days of the Colonial Union. It was densely populated, with citizens whose ancestry ranged from first-wave North American colonists to recent refugees from the Indonesian civil war, most of them on the large, thin continent of Pennsylvania, which dominated the northern hemisphere. There were a number of provinces and sub-provinces, but New Philadelphia, the city above which I now found myself, was the home of the planet’s global government.

The global government which was, in a matter of minutes, about to vote on a bill to declare independence from the Colonial Union.

My BrainPal alerted me to the location of the other three members of my squad, some thousands of meters below me. They had a different mission objective than I did, although we were all headed for the same place: the global capitol building, affectionately (or perhaps not so affectionately) called “the glass slipper.” It was named so because the architect gave it a swooping, rising profile that vaguely resembled a shoe—very vaguely in my opinion—and because the building was clad in a transparent, glass-like material, designed, or so the architect said, to be a metaphor for the transparency of the Franklin government itself.

The primary entrance to the Franklin capitol was a large, open arch that led into a rotunda, from which, if you looked up, you could see the shoes of the global representatives, because on the highest level of the “slipper” was the legislative chamber, which boasted a lovely, sloping roof and a transparent floor which looked down into the rotunda. It was my understanding that it wasn’t until the construction that someone pointed out that the transparent floor meant visitors could look up and see the underwear (or not) of the legislators wearing open leg coverings like skirts and kilts, at which point piezoelectric opaquing elements were added to the floor at considerable additional expense. Someone also neglected to consider the fact that a large room whose walls were entirely composed of transparent elements might turn into something of a greenhouse during warmer months, leading to several early heat prostration events before the air-conditioning to the legislative chamber was improved.

Another thing no one had considered: that placing one’s global legislative chamber at the very top of a transparent building might make it uniquely vulnerable to attack from above. But then, with the exception of a single incursion by the Conclave right after the Colonial Union’s attack on their fleet at Roanoke, Franklin, as one of the core planets of the Colonial Union, hadn’t been meaningfully attacked by an alien species in decades. And by the Colonial Union itself, never. Why would it have been? It was a constituent part of the Colonial Union.

Until, possibly, today.

“We’re down,” Powell said to me. That meant that the three of them had landed and were heading toward the capitol rotunda, bristling with weapons and general menace. The idea was for them to draw the capitol security force—such as it was—to them, and to cause a lockdown of the legislative chamber, sealing all 751 representatives inside the room.

Which was where I was going.

I signaled to the Tubingen, the CDF ship on which I was stationed, that I was ready to begin. The Tubingen was currently floating directly above New Philadelphia. Normally Franklin’s planetary sensors would have spotted the Tubingen after it had skipped in literally (and dangerously) close to the planet’s upper atmosphere. The problem was that the planet’s sensor apparatus—from its satellites to its ground stations—were designed, installed, and still largely operated by, the Colonial Union. If the Colonial Union doesn’t want a ship to be seen, it won’t be. Someone would have to be looking directly for it to see it. And why would they be looking directly for it if the sensors didn’t say it was there?

The Tubingen acknowledged my hail and reported that it would begin in ten seconds, and that I should keep clear the beam. I agreed with this and acknowledged the warning. The capitol building was directly below me now. My BrainPal lit up a column that represented the incoming beam. If I were to wander into the path of the beam I might be uncomfortable just long enough for my brain to register the pain before I was turned into a floating pile of carbon dust. That was not on my schedule for the day. I kept myself well clear of its path.

A few seconds later my BrainPal visualized the high-energy beam, pulsing on and off faster than my eye could register, vaporizing a three-meter hole in the roof of the legislative chamber one micrometer at a time. The goal was to create the hole without shattering the roof or vaporizing the legislators directly below the beam. At this juncture of the mission we didn’t want anyone dead.

Path cleared, I thought. Time to make an impression.

“Here we go,” I said out loud, found the hole, and dove for it.

Excerpted from Can Long Endure © John Scalzi, 2015

2 Comments

Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in Tor.com's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? Tor.com members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!