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. Preview John Harris’ cover art for all four episodes here, and read an excerpt below!
So, I’m supposed to tell you how I became a brain in a box.
Huh. Well, that starts off a little dark, doesn’t it.
Also, I don’t really know, technically, how they did it to me. It’s not like once I woke up as a disembodied brain they showed me an informational video about how they did it, just in case I was curious. Here’s the part where we snipped off all the blood vessels and peripheral nerves, the video would say. Here’s how we removed the skull and spinal column, and here’s how we stuffed your brain full of nifty little sensors to track your thoughts. Pay attention, there’s a test later.
Jesus, I’m really bad at this.
I’m not a writer or an orator. I’m not a storyteller. I’m a spaceship pilot, so let me just get that right out there. The Colonial Union asked me to tell what happened to me, because they think that information will be useful to them. Fine, I’ll do it, happy to help. But it’s not going to be, you know, classic literature. It’s going to skip around. I’m going to get lost telling the story and come back to points and then get lost again. I’m doing this off the top of my head.
Well, metaphorically. I don’t have a head anymore. Pretty sure they tossed my head into an incinerator or something.
See what I mean?
Someone’s going to have to edit this if it’s going to make any sense at all. So to you poor anonymous Colonial Union editor: I salute you and I apologize to you. I’m not trying to make your life difficult, I swear. I just don’t know what they really want, or how they want me to do it.
Just tell us everything, I was told. Get it all down. Don’t worry. We’ll sort it out. Which I guess is where you come in, anonymous editor. Happy sorting.
And if you’re reading this: I’m sure the editor did an excellent job.
Where to start this damn thing? I don’t think any of you will give a crap about my childhood; it was standard-issue pretty happy, mostly noneventful, with decent parents and friends. Schooling likewise unremarkable with all the usual bits of stupidity and libidinousness with occasional moments of cramming for tests. Honestly, no one will want to hear about any of that. I hardly do and I lived it.
So, I think I’ll start at the job interview.
Yes, that’s a good place to start. The interview that gave me the job that turned me into a headless wonder.
In retrospect, I kind of wish I hadn’t of gotten the gig.
Oh, and maybe I should say what my name is. Just for the record.
It’s Rafe. Rafe Daquin.
I’m Rafe Daquin, and I’m a brain in a box.
* * *
The reason I got the interview at all was because of a university friend of mine, Hart Schmidt. He works as a Colonial Union diplomat, which I always thought was the very definition of a thankless job, and in some recent downtime was in a bar on Phoenix Station and talking to the executive officer of the Chandler, a cargo hauler doing a standard triangle run between Phoenix, Huckleberry, and Erie. Not exactly a prestige job, but a gig is a gig. They can’t all be glamour postings.
Anyway, in conversation the XO was griping about how when they got to Phoenix Station the Chandler was met by a bunch of law enforcement types. Seems one of the Chandler’s pilots had a little side thing going, down on the actual planet of Phoenix, the details of which I’m still a little hazy on but which involved blackmail, intimidation, graft, and bigamy, the last of these being one not so much like the others. The point was the Chandler was now down a pilot and needed one, fast.
Which was nice, because I was a pilot, and I needed a job. Also fast.
“This tells me you were a programmer before you were a pilot,” the XO said, as he looked at my work history. We were in a burger joint on Phoenix Station; I had hauled my ass up from the planet as soon as Hart told me about the gig. The burgers were legend, but I wasn’t really there for the culinary thrills. The XO’s name was Lee Han and he had the look of someone who was going through the motions. I had a feeling that as long as I didn’t admit to murdering adorable kittens in front of children, I was going to get the gig.
“I went to school for computer engineering,” I said. “Graduated and did that and programming for a couple of years. Worked for Eyre Systems, mostly on starship navigation and maintenance software. You might have one of our setups on the Chandler.”
“We do,” Han said.
“I can throw in some technical support,” I said. It was a joke.
I’m not entirely sure Han got that. “It’s not the usual move from programming to piloting,” he said.
“It’s the programming that got me interested in piloting,” I said. “I was one of the programmers who had some semblance of social skills, so eventually I was assigned to go up to Phoenix Station and work on ships to customize the software. So I spent a lot of time in ships and talking to crew and listening to them talk about where they’ve been in the universe. You do that long enough and just sitting at a desk pushing code seems like a way to spend a lot of time wasting your life. I wanted to see what was out there. So I hustled my way into an apprentice piloting gig. That was seven years ago.”
“Not exactly an upward move, paywise,” Han said.
I shrugged. I figured that the shrug would come across as a casual and cool Hey, some things are more important than money rather than Hey, I’m living with my parents who are beginning to resent that fact so I will take what I can get. Anyway both were true. Lots of things can be more important than money when you lacked other options.
Not to paint my parents as the bad people here. It’s just that they had made it clear that it was one thing to support me while I was working my way up a ladder, and another thing to support a thirty-two-year-old human while I was sitting on my ass at home between gigs. Maybe they wouldn’t let me starve, but they weren’t going to make me comfortable.
Which was fine. I wasn’t out of work because I was lazy.
“Says here you’ve been out of work for the last nine months,” Han said.
“I’ve been between ships, yes,” I said.
“Want to explain that?” Han asked.
Well, there was no way around that one. “I’m being blackballed,” I said.
“By Captain Werner Ostrander of the Lastan Falls.”
I thought I saw a faint smile on Han’s lips when I said this. “Go on,” he said.
“There’s not much to say,” I said. “I was second pilot on the Baikal and the first pilot wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so when I heard there was an opportunity to move up to first pilot on the Lastan, I took it. What I didn’t know was that there was a reason why the Lastan had gone through six pilots in two years, and by the time I found out it was too late. I ended up breaking my contract.”
“That must have been expensive.”
“It was worth every penny,” I said. “Also, as I was leaving the ship I dropped my mother’s name to the chief steward. My mother’s a labor lawyer. The class action suit against Ostrander that followed was, shall we say, very satisfying.”
Han definitely smiled at that.
“But it also meant that Ostrander now goes out of his way to warn off anyone I try to get a pilot’s job with,” I said. “No one likes a troublemaker.”
“No, no one does,” Han agreed, and inside I groaned, because I figured this was where I just blew the gig. “But then, I crewed on the Lastan Falls for a year, early in my career.”
I blinked. “You did?” I said.
“Yes,” Han said. “Let’s just say I can understand wanting to break your contract. And also that at some point I want to hear the details of that suit.”
I grinned. “You got it, sir,” I said.
“I’m going to be blunt, Mr. Daquin, this position is a step back for you,” Han said. “It’s third pilot, and it’s a straight bread-and-butter trade run. We go here, we go to Huckleberry, we go to Erie, we repeat. It’s not exciting, and just like the Baikal, there’s little chance for advancement.”
“Let me be equally blunt, sir,” I said. “I’ve spent nine months at the bottom of a gravity well. You know as well as I do that if I spend too much more time there, I’m going to get stuck. You need another pilot right now so you don’t lose time and money on your trade run. I get that. I need to get off the rock so I can have another shot at first pilot somewhere else without Ostrander’s blackball over my head. I figure we’re both in a spot and can help each other out.”
“I just wanted to be sure everyone’s expectations were in order,” Han said.
“I have no illusions, sir.”
“Good. Then I can give you a day to close out your business here.”
I reached down and patted the crew bag at my feet. “Business closed. The only thing I have to do is find my friend Hart and buy him a drink for setting up this interview.”
“If you can do that quickly there’ll be a shuttle to the Chandler at gate thirty-six in a couple of hours.”
“I’ll be on it, sir,” I said.
“Well, then,” Han said, stood up, and extended his hand. “Welcome to the Chandler, pilot.”
I took the hand. “Thank you, sir. Glad to be aboard.”
Excerpted from The Life of the Mind © John Scalzi, 2015