The seventh episode of The Human Division, John Scalzi's new thirteen-episode novel in the world of his bestselling Old Man's War. Beginning on January 15, 2013, a new episode of The Human Division will appear in e-book form every Tuesday.
CDF Lieutenant Harry Wilson has one simple task: Watch an ambassador's dog while the diplomat is conducting sensitive negotiations with an alien race. But you know dogs—always getting into something. And when this dog gets into something that could launch an alien civil war, Wilson has to find a way to solve the conflict, fast, or be the one in the Colonial Union's doghouse.
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About the Author
JOHN SCALZI is the author of several SF novels including the bestselling Old Man's War sequence, comprising Old Man's War, The Ghost Brigades, and the New York Times bestselling The Last Colony. He is a winner of science fiction's John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and he won the Hugo Award for Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, a collection of essays from his popular blog Whatever. His latest novel, Fuzzy Nation, hit the New York Times bestseller list in its first week on sale. He lives in Ohio with his wife and daughter.
John Scalzi won the 2006 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novel for Redshirts, and his debut novel Old Man’s War was a finalist for Hugo Award as well. His other books include The Ghost Brigades, The Android’s Dream, The Last Colony and The Human Division. He has won the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award for science-fiction, the Seiun, The Kurd Lasswitz and the Geffen awards. His weblog, The Whatever, is one of the most widely-read web sites in modern SF. Born and raised in California, Scalzi studied at the University of Chicago. He lives in southern Ohio with his wife and daughter.
Read an Excerpt
Episode Seven: The Dog King
"Don't step on that," Harry Wilson said to Deputy Ambassador Hart Schmidt, as the latter walked up to the shuttle that the former was working on. An array of parts and tools was splayed out on a work blanket; Schmidt was on the edge of it. Wilson himself had his arm shoved deep into an outside compartment of the shuttle. From the inside of the compartment, Schmidt could hear bumping and scraping.
"What are you doing?" Schmidt asked.
"You see tools and parts and my arm shoved inside a small spacecraft, and you really have to ask what I'm doing?" Wilson said.
"I see what you're doing," Schmidt said. "I just question your ability to do it. I know you're the mission's field tech guy, but I didn't know your expertise went to shuttles."
Wilson shrugged as best he could with his arm jammed inside a shuttle. "Captain Coloma needed some help," he said. "This 'new' ship of hers is now the oldest active ship in the fleet, and she's got the rest of the crew going through all its systems with a microscope. She didn't have anyone to go over the shuttle. I didn't have anything else to do, so I volunteered."
Schmidt backed up a step and looked over the shuttle. "I don't recognize this design," he said, after a minute.
"That's probably because you weren't born when this thing was first put into service," Wilson said. "This shuttle is even older than the Clarke. I guess they wanted to make sure we kept the vintage theme going."
"And you know how to fix these things how, exactly?" Schmidt asked.
Wilson tapped his head with his free hand. "It's called a BrainPal, Hart," he said. "When you have a computer in your head, you can become an instant expert on anything."
"Remind me not to step inside that shuttle until someone actually qualified has worked on it," Schmidt said.
"Chicken," Wilson said, and then smiled triumphantly. "Got it," he said, extracting his arm from the shuttle compartment. In his hand was a small blackened object.
Schmidt leaned forward to look. "What is that?"
"If I had to guess, I'd say it's a bird nest," Wilson said. "But considering that Phoenix doesn't actually have native birds per se on it, it's probably a nest for something else."
"It's a bad sign when a shuttle has animal nests in it," Schmidt said.
"That's not the bad sign," Wilson said. "The bad sign is that this is the third nest I found. I think they may have literally hauled this shuttle out of a junkyard to give it to us."
"Lovely," Schmidt said.
"It's never a dull day in the lower reaches of the Colonial Union diplomatic corps," Wilson said. He set down the nest and reached for a towel to wipe the soot and grime from his hand.
"And this brings us to the reason I came down to see you," Schmidt said. "We just got our new mission assigned to us."
"Really," Wilson said. "Does this one involve me being held hostage? Or possibly being blown up in order to find a mole in the Department of State? Because I've already done those."
"I'm the first to acknowledge that the last couple of missions we've had have not ended on what are traditionally considered high notes," Schmidt said. Wilson smirked. "But I think this one may get us back on the winning track. You know of the Icheloe?"
"Never heard of them," Wilson said.
"Nice people," Schmidt said. "Look a little like a bear mated with a tick, but we can't all be beautiful. Their planet has had a civil war that's been flaring up off and on for a couple hundred years, since the king disappeared from his palace and one faction of his people blamed the other faction."
"Was it their fault?" Wilson said.
"They say no," Schmidt said. "But then they would, wouldn't they. In any event, the king left no heir, his sacred crown went missing and apparently between those two things no one faction could legitimately claim the throne, thus the two centuries of civil war."
"See, this is why I can't support monarchy as a system of government," Wilson said. He reached down to start reassembling the portion of the shuttle he had taken apart.
"The good news is that everyone's tired of it all and they're all looking for a face-saving way to end the conflict," Schmidt said. "The bad news is that one of the reasons they are trying to end the conflict is that they are thinking of joining the Conclave, and the Conclave won't accept them as members unless there is a single government for the entire planet. And this is where we come in."
"We're going to help them end their civil war in order to join the Conclave?" Wilson asked. "That seems counterintuitive to our own agenda."
"We've volunteered to mediate between the factions, yes," Schmidt said. "We're hoping that by doing so, we'll generate enough goodwill that the Icheloe will choose an alliance with us, not the Conclave. That in turn will help us build alliances with other races, with an eye toward establishing a counterweight to the Conclave."
"We tried that before," Wilson said, reaching for a spanner. "When that General Gau fellow was putting the Conclave together, the Colonial Union tried to form an alternative. The Counter-Conclave."
Schmidt handed him the spanner. "That wasn't about building actual alliances, though," he said. "That was about disrupting the Conclave so it couldn't form at all."
Wilson smirked at this. "And we wonder why no other intelligent race out there trusts the Colonial Union any further than they can throw us," he said. He went to work with the spanner.
"It's why this negotiation is important," Schmidt said. "The Colonial Union got a lot of credibility with the Danavar negotiations. The fact we put one of our ships in the path of a missile showed a lot of alien races that we were serious about building diplomatic solutions. If we can be seen as good-faith negotiators and mediators with the Icheloe, we're in a much better position going forward."
"Okay," Wilson said. He replaced the outside panel on the shuttle and began sealing it. "You don't have to sell me on the mission, Hart. I'm going regardless. You just need to tell me what I'm supposed to do."
"Well, so you know, Ambassador Abumwe isn't going to be the lead on this mediation," Schmidt said. "The ambassador and the rest of us will be acting in support of Ambassador Philippa Waverly, who has experience with the Icheloe and who is friendly with a Praetor Gunztar, who is acting as a go-between between the factions on the negotiating council."
"Makes sense," Wilson said.
"Ambassador Waverly doesn't travel alone," Schmidt said. "She's a little quirky."
"Okay," Wilson said, slowly. The shuttle compartment was now completely sealed.
"And the important thing to remember here is that there are no small jobs on a diplomatic mission, and that every task is important in its own unique way," Schmidt said.
"Hold on," Wilson said, and then turned around to face Schmidt directly. "Okay, hit me with it," he said. "Because with an introduction like that, whatever idiot thing you're going to have me do has got to be good."
"And of course, Praetor Gunztar, you remember Tuffy," Ambassador Philippa Waverly said, motioning to her Lhasa apso, which stuck out its tongue and lolled it, winningly, at the Icheloe diplomat. Wilson held the leash attached to the dog's collar. He smiled at Praetor Gunztar as well, not that it was noticed.
"Of course I do," Praetor Gunztar exclaimed in a chittering burst duly translated by a device on his lanyard, and leaned toward the dog, which scampered with excitement. "How could I possibly forget your constant companion. I was worried that you were not going to be able to get him past quarantine."
"He had to go through the same decontamination process as the rest of us," Waverly said, nodding toward the rest of the human diplomatic mission, which included Abumwe and her staff. They had all been formally introduced to their Icheloe counterparts, with the exception of Wilson, who was clearly an adjunct to the dog. "He was very unhappy about that, but I knew he wouldn't want to miss seeing you."
Tuffy the Lhasa apso barked at this, as if to confirm that his excitement at being close to Praetor Gunztar had elevated him to near bladder-voiding levels of joy.
From behind the leash, Wilson glanced over to Schmidt, who was assiduously not looking in his direction. The entire group of them, human and Icheloe alike, were taking part in a formal presentation ceremony at the royal palace, in the same private garden where the long-missing king was last seen before the mysterious disappearance that plunged his planet into a civil war. The two groups had met in a central square surrounded by low planters arrayed in a circular design, which featured flora from all over the planet. In every planter was a spray of fleur du roi, a gorgeously sweet-smelling native flower that by law could be cultivated only by the king himself; everywhere else on the planet it was allowed only to grow wild.
Wilson remembered vaguely that the fleur du roi, like the aspen on earth, was actually a colony plant, and the sprays of flowers were all clones of one another, connected by a vast root system that could extend for kilometers. He knew this because as part of his dog-minding job, he needed to find out which plants in the private garden could tolerate being peed on by Tuffy. He was pretty sure that the fleur du roi would be hardy enough if it came to that, and it almost certainly would. Tuffy was the only dog on the planet. That was a lot of territory to mark.
"Now that we have all been introduced, I believe it is time to move forward with our initial meeting," Praetor Gunztar said, turning his attention away from the Lhasa apso and back again to Ambassador Waverly. "Today I thought we'd take care of merely procedural items, such as confirming the agenda and opening formal statements."
"That would of course be fine," Waverly said.
"Excellent," Gunztar said. "One reason for a short schedule today is that I would like to offer you and your people a special consideration. You may not know that the royal palace sits above one of the most extensive cave systems on the planet, one that ultimately travels almost two kilometers into the planet and meets up with a vast subterranean river. The caves have been used by the palace as a keep, as a place of refuge and even as a catacomb for the royal family. I would like to offer you a tour of these caves, which no one but Icheloe have been in before. It's a token of our appreciation for the Colonial Union's willingness to mediate these possibly contentious negotiations."
"What an honor," Waverly said. "And of course we accept. The caves really descend that far into the planet?"
"Yes, although we will not follow them down that deep," Gunztar said. "They are blocked off for reasons of security. But what you will see is extensive enough. The cave system is so vast that even now it has never been fully explored."
"How fascinating," Waverly said. "If nothing else, it will give us an impetus to get through the day's business as quickly as possible."
"There's that, too," Gunztar said, and everyone had a laugh, in their own species' fashion, at this. Then the entire mass, human and Icheloe, was herded toward the palace, to the suite of rooms reserved for the negotiations themselves.
As they moved, Waverly glanced toward Abumwe, who in turn glanced toward Schmidt, who held back with Wilson. Wilson stood, hand on leash, restraining the little dog, who was becoming anxious at seeing his mistress wander off without him.
"So, today will just be a couple of hours," Schmidt said. "The agenda's already been agreed to by both sides, so all we're doing is going through the motions. All you have to do is keep Tuffy here busy until we break. After today you and Tuffy will be at our embassy for the duration."
"I've got it, Hart," Wilson said. "This isn't exactly rocket science."
"You've got all your stuff?" Schmidt asked.
Wilson pointed to a jacket pocket. "Kibble and treats here," he said. He pointed to a trouser pocket. "Poop bags here. The pee I'm not picking up."
"Fair enough," Schmidt said.
"They know he's going to do his business, right?" Wilson asked. "It's not going to cause a major diplomatic incident if one of the grounds staff here sees li'l Tuffy in a poop squat, right? Because I am not ready to deal with that sort of thing."
"It's one of the reasons you're staying behind here," Schmidt said. "It's a private garden. He's been given approval for taking care of business. We've been asked not to let him do any digging."
"If he does that, I can just pick him up," Wilson said.
"I know I said it before, but sorry about this, Harry," Schmidt said. "Dog sitting isn't in your job description."
"De nada," Wilson said, and then rephrased at the sight of Schmidt's puzzled expression. "It's no big deal, Hart," he said. "It's like working on the shuttle. Someone's got to do it, and everyone else has something more useful to do. Yes, I'm overqualified to watch the dog. That just means you don't have to worry about anything. And that you owe me drinks after this."
"All right," Schmidt said, smiling. "But if something does happen, I have my PDA set to accept your call."
"Will you please get out of here now and go be useful to someone," Wilson said. "Before I have Tuffy here mate with your boot."
Tuffy looked up at Schmidt, apparently hopefully. Schmidt left hastily. Tuffy looked over to Wilson.
"You leave my boots alone, pal," Wilson said.
I have a problem, Wilson sent to Schmidt, roughly an hour later.
What is it? Schmidt sent back, using the texting function of his PDA so as not to interrupt the talks.
It would be best explained in person, Wilson sent.
Is this about the dog? Schmidt sent.
Sort of, Wilson sent.
Sort of? Schmidt sent. Is the dog okay?
Well, it's alive, Wilson sent.
Schmidt got up as quickly and quietly as possible and headed to the garden.
"We give you one thing to do," Schmidt said, as he walked up to Wilson. "One thing. Walk the damn dog. You said I didn't have to worry about anything."
Wilson held up his hands. "This is not my fault," he said. "I swear to God."
Schmidt looked around. "Where's the dog?"
"He's here," Wilson said. "Kind of."
"What does that even mean?" Schmidt said.
From somewhere came a muffled bark.
Schmidt looked around. "I hear the dog," he said. "But I can't see it."
The bark repeated, followed by several more. Schmidt followed the noise and eventually found himself at the edge of a planter filled with fleur du roi flowers.
Schmidt looked over to Wilson. "All right, I give up. Where is it?" Another bark. From inside the planter.
From below the planter.
Schmidt looked over to Wilson, confused.
"The flowers ate the dog," Wilson said.
"What?" Schmidt said.
"I swear to God," Wilson said. "One second Tuffy was standing in the planter, peeing on the flowers. The next, the soil below him opened up and something pulled him under."
"What pulled him under?" Schmidt asked.
"How should I know, Hart?" Wilson said, exasperated. "I'm not a botanist. When I went over and looked, there was a thing underneath the dirt. The flowers were sprouting up from it. They're part of it."
Schmidt leaned over the planter for a look. The dirt in the planter had been flung about and below it he could see a large, fibrous bulge with a meter-long seam running across its top surface.
Another bark. From inside the bulge.
"Holy shit," Schmidt said.
"I know," Wilson said.
"It's like a Venus flytrap or something," Schmidt said.
"Which is not a good thing for the dog," Wilson pointed out.
"What do we do?" Schmidt asked, looking at Wilson.
"I don't know," Wilson said. "That's why I called you in the first place, Hart."
The dog barked again.
"We can't just leave him down there," Schmidt said.
"I agree," Wilson said. "I am open to suggestion."
Schmidt thought about it for a moment and then abruptly took off in the direction of the entrance to the garden. Wilson watched him go, confused.
Schmidt reemerged a couple of minutes later with an Icheloe, dusty and garbed in items that were caked with dirt.
"This is the garden groundskeeper," Schmidt said. "Talk to him."
"You're going to have to translate for me," Wilson said. "My BrainPal can translate what he says for me, but I can't speak in his language."
"Hold on," Schmidt said. He pulled out his PDA and accessed the translation program, then handed it to Wilson. "Just talk. It'll take care of the rest."
"Hi," Wilson said, to the groundskeeper. The PDA chittered out something in the Icheloe language.
"Hello," said the groundskeeper, and then looked over to the planter that had swallowed the dog. "What have you done to my planter?"
"Well, see, that's the thing," Wilson said. "I didn't do anything to the planter. The planter, on the other hand, ate my dog."
"You're talking about that small noisy creature the human ambassador brought with it?" the groundskeeper asked.
"Yes, that's it," Wilson said. "It went into the planter to relieve itself and the next thing I know it's been swallowed whole."
"Well, of course it was," the groundskeeper said. "What did you expect?"
Excerpted from "The Human Division #7: The Dog King"
Copyright © 2013 John Scalzi.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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