The eighth 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.
The Colonial Defense Forces usually protect humanity from alien attack, but now the stability of the Colonial Union has been threatened, and Lieutenant Heather Lee and her squad are called to squash a rebellion on a colony world. It seems simple enough—but there's a second act to the rebellion that finds Lee captive, alone, and armed with only her brains to survive.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
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 Eight: The Sound of Rebellion
Heather Lee heard the whisper of the slap's approach before she felt it, a strike designed to bring her back into consciousness. With the hit, she took a sharp intake of breath and tried to get her bearings.
She quickly became aware of three things. One, she was nude underneath a rough blanket that draped her body as she sat in a chair of some sort.
Two, she was restrained, with her wrists, ankles, neck and waist strapped down to the chair.
Three, she was blind, with something tightly binding and covering her head and face.
None of these were positive developments, in Lee's opinion.
"You're awake," said a voice, weirdly modulated. It jumped around in pitch and timbre.
This interested Lee. "What's going on with your voice?" she asked.
There was a brief pause before the response. "That's not the first question we got from your two compatriots," the voice said. "They were more concerned with where they were and why they were being held."
"I'm sorry," Lee said. "I wasn't aware there was a protocol."
This got a chuckle. "My voice is being modulated because we know you have one of those computers in your head," the voice said. "And we know that if you're not recording me already, you will be at some point in time, and that you could use that to record and identify me. I would prefer that not to happen. For the same reason we've blindfolded you, so you cannot record any visual things that would give us away. And of course we've also restrained you so that you stay put for now. We've taken your combat uniform because we know it provides you with strength and defense advantages, and we don't want you to have that. I do apologize for that."
"Do you," Lee said, as dryly as she could in the circumstance.
"Yes," the voice said. "Although you have no reason to believe me at the moment, you should understand that we have no interest in abusing you, either physically or sexually. Removing your combat uniform was a defensive procedure, nothing more."
"I'd believe you more if you hadn't slapped me awake," Lee said.
"You were surprisingly resistant to waking up," the voice said. "How do you feel?"
"I have a headache," Lee said. "My muscles are sore. I am dying of thirst. I have to pee. I am restrained. I'm blind. How are you?"
"Better than you, I will admit," the voice said. "Six, water."
What? Lee thought, and then there was something at her lips, a hard plastic nipple. Liquid came out of it; Lee drank it. It was water, so far as she could tell.
"Thank you," she said, after a minute. "Why did you say 'six'?"
"The person in the room with you is called Six," the voice said. "The number has no significance; it's randomly selected. We change them for every mission."
"What number are you?" Lee asked.
"This time I am Two," the voice said.
"And you're not in the room with me," Lee said.
"I am close by," Two said. "But I have no interest in having my own voice leak in so you can isolate it. So I listen and watch, and Six takes care of everything else."
"I still need to pee," Lee said.
"Six," Two said. Lee could hear Six move, and then suddenly a portion of the hard bottom of her chair disappeared. "Go ahead," Two said.
"You're kidding," Lee said.
"I'm afraid not," Two said. "Again, apologies. But you can't honestly expect me to unbind you. Even naked and blind, a Colonial Defense Forces soldier is a formidable opponent. There is a pan underneath your chair that will catch your waste. Six will then deal with it."
"I feel as if I should apologize to Six," Lee said. "Especially because eventually I will have to do something else than pee."
"This is not Six's first time doing this," Two said. "We're all professionals here."
"How reassuring," Lee said. Then she made an inward shrug and relieved herself. After she was finished, there was a scrape as a pan was removed and another scraping sound as the bottom of her chair was replaced. There were steps, followed by a door opening and then closing.
"Your compatriots told me that you are Lieutenant Heather Lee, of the Colonial Defense Forces ship Tubingen," Two said.
"That's right," Lee said.
"Well, then, Lieutenant Lee, let me tell you how this is going to work," Two said. "You have been captured and you are my prisoner. I am going to ask you questions and you are going to answer them truthfully, as fully and completely as you can. If you do so, then when we are done I will have you released, obviously very far away from where we are now, but released all the same. If you do not do so, or if I catch you in a lie even once, I will kill you. I will not torture you, or abuse you, or have you raped or violated or any such nonsense. I will simply have a shotgun put to your head, in order to kill you, and to destroy that computer in your skull. It's old-fashioned but very effective. I regret to say that one of your compatriots, a Private Jefferson, already tested me on this score and learned to his misfortune that I am not joking. The lesson does him no good at this point, I'm afraid. But I hope his example might be useful to you."
Lee said nothing to this, thinking about Jefferson, who was always too enthusiastic for his own good.
The door opened; presumably Six was coming back into the room. "Six will now feed you and bathe you if you wish and will then leave. I have other matters to attend to for the next few hours. In that time, if you wish, you may consider what I've just told you. Do what we ask, and no harm will come to you. Do anything other than what we ask, and you will be dead. It's a binary choice. I hope you will choose wisely."
* * *
Left to herself, Lee reviewed her situation.
First: She knew who she was. Heather Lee, originally of Robeson County, North Carolina. Mother Sarah Oxendine, father Joseph Lee, sister Allie, brothers Joseph Jr. and Richard. In her past life a musician: a guitarist or cellist, depending on the gig. Joined up with the CDF six years previous, stationed with the Tubingen for the last two years six months. All this was important. If you were fuzzy on who you were, there were going to be other critical gaps in your knowledge base and you wouldn't know what they were.
Second: She knew where she was, in a general sense, and why she was there. She was on the planet of Zhong Guo. She and her company on the Tubingen were dispatched to quell a separatist rebellion in the provincial capital city of Zhoushan. The rebels had taken the local administration headquarters and broadcast media, securing hostages as they did so, and started airing screeds declaring Zhong Guo independent of the Colonial Union and seeking a new union with Earth, the "native and true home of humanity," as they put it. The local police had moved in to clear them out and were surprised when the rebels had more and better firepower than they did; the rebels killed two dozen police and took several more hostage, adding to their store of human shields.
The success of the rebels sparked a series of "Earth Rule" protests in other cities and towns including Liuzhau, Karhgar and Chifeng, the latter of which experienced severe property damage as rioters marched through the central business district, burning shops and buildings in an apparently indiscriminate fashion. By this time, the administration in the planetary capital of New Harbin had had enough and requested CDF intervention.
Lee and her platoon did a standard drop from high altitude at night with cloaking on; they were inside the administration and broadcast buildings before the rebels knew they had even landed on the roof. The fight was brief and lopsided; the rebels had only a few good fighters with them, the ones they had put out in front when the local police had gone at them. The rest of the rebels were recruited from the ranks of the young and excitable and had rather more enthusiasm than skill. The genuinely skilled rebel fighters engaged the CDF and were quickly subdued or killed, being no match for trained Colonial soldiers with superior physical and tactical skills; the rest surrendered without too much resistance.
Two rebel vehicles outside the administration offices opened fire at the building and were turned into a glowing piles of slag by the Tubingen, which had targeted them from orbit. The hostages, kept in a basement-level wing filled with conference rooms, were dirty and tired but generally unharmed. The entire event took less than thirty minutes, with no casualties on the CDF side.
Their work done, the CDF soldiers asked for and received shore leave in Zhoushan, where they were welcomed enthusiastically, or so it seemed, by the locals, although that might have also been because the Colonial Union was known to pick up the tab for Colonial Defense Forces on shore leave, encouraging the soldiers to spend foolishly and the local shops and vendors to charge exorbitantly. If there were any rebel sympathizers among the burghers of Zhoushan, they kept their mouths shut and took the CDF's money.
The last thing Lee remembered prior to waking up in the room she was in now, she, Jefferson and Private Kiana Hughes were having dinner in a hofbräuhaus (Zhong Guo, despite its Chinese naming conventions, had mostly middle and southern Europeans, an irony that Lee, with Chinese ancestry on her father's side, found somewhat amusing). She recalled the three of them getting more than a little drunk, which in retrospect should have been a warning, since thanks to CDF soldiers' genetically-engineered physiology, it was almost impossible for them to actually get smashed. At the time, however, it just seemed like a pleasant buzz. She remembered piling out of the hofbräuhaus very late local time, wandering toward the hotel at which they had been booked and then nothing else until now.
Lee ruefully revised her assessment of the state of enthusiasm of the locals for the CDF's work. Clearly, not everyone was pleased.
Her memory checked out, and Lee turned her attention to where she might be now. Her BrainPal's internal chronometer told her that she had been out for roughly six hours. Given that expanse of time, it was possible that she, the apparently late Jefferson and (she rather strongly suspected) Hughes were now on the other side of the planet from Zhoushan. She doubted that, however. It would have taken at least some time for Two and Six to have gotten her naked and strapped to a chair and otherwise prepped for what they were planning to do to her. Two also mentioned that he (she? Lee decided to go with "he" in her brain for now) had already had enough time to talk to Jefferson and Hughes and to kill Jefferson when he had not cooperated. For these reasons, Lee suspected she was still somewhere in Zhoushan.
She also suspected, since she was still in fact in the hands of Two and Six and not already rescued by her platoon, that wherever she was had shielding that kept her BrainPal from transmitting her whereabouts. She tested this by trying to make a connection to Hughes and then to several other people in the platoon: nothing. She tried pinging the Tubingen: also nothing. Either this room specifically had a signal blocker or she was somewhere that was designed with (or had among its capabilities) the ability to block signals. If it was the latter, that would bring down the number of possible buildings it could be in Zhoushan.
Lee thought again, more deeply, about her situation and realized she was sitting on a clue. She was in a restraint chair of some sort — moreover, a restraint chair designed for someone to sit in for an extended period of time, given that the seat of the chair had a sliding trapdoor to allow waste through. Lee did not fancy herself a connoisseur of restraint systems, but as she was now in her ninth decade of life, she had seen a thing or two. In her experience, restraint chairs showed up in three places: hospitals, prisons and particularly specialized brothels.
Of the three, Lee dismissed the idea of a brothel first. It was possible, but brothels were a place of business and not particularly secure. People lived in them and worked in them, and there were (if the brothel was at all successful) all sorts of new and different clientele coming in and going out at all times of the day. Brothels would ensure some privacy, but probably not so much that a shotgun blast wouldn't be noticed, not to mention a corpse or two being dragged out of the premises.
In a hospital a corpse would not be a problem, but the shotgun blasts probably would be. An abandoned hospital might solve that issue, but hospitals also generally were not signal-proof — too much medical information was shuttled about electronically to make it a feasible idea.
So, a prison or jail seemed to be the mostly likely location: chairs, signal-blocking structure and easy disposal of dead bodies, as the prison would likely have its own morgue. It also meant that whoever was holding her and Hughes also had the ability to discreetly bring people in and out of a prison setting: someone in the local police, or at least the local government.
Lee had been given a map of Zhoushan as part of the briefing for the mission; she called it up on her BrainPal and then winced slightly as the computer in her head activated the visual cortex. Not actually seeing for several hours made even the illusion of light slightly painful. She let her brain acclimate to the visuals and then started scanning through.
As far as she could see (an expression that at the moment held some irony), there were two buildings in Zhoushan she was likely to be in: the municipal jail, which was in downtown Zhoushan and less than a kilometer away from the hofbräuhaus from which they were nabbed, and the province prison, which was ten klicks out from Zhoushan city center. Lee had no detailed maps of either building — they had those only for the administration and broadcast buildings — but either way, she was comforted by at least the idea that she knew where she might be. It could come in handy.
She now turned her attention to her own situation, which she continued to deem not especially positive. The nakedness did not especially bother her on a personal level, as she'd never been particularly self-conscious about her body, but it did bother her that she was unarmored. Two had been correct that the CDF uniform gave its wearer certain protections and advantages, although its strengths in that regard were more passive than active. The uniform didn't make Lee stronger; it just made her tougher. Without it she would be more vulnerable to physical assault, which she suspected likely to happen despite assurances. Not to mention being vulnerable to shotgun blasts.
Speaking of which, she was also unarmed as well as unarmored. This was a problem, but one she spent little time concerning herself with. There was no point wishing for her weapons when she didn't have them.
The part where she was bound was also of concern to her. As discreetly as she could, she flexed against the binds. They felt soft, slick and supple rather than hard and unyielding, which told her that they were of some sort of woven substance rather than straight-up metal cuffs. She strained against the left arm restraint to see if there was any give to it, but there was none. The other restraints were the same. She had all the genetically-engineered superstrength of a CDF soldier, but no leverage to apply it with. If the binds had even the slightest tearing in them, she could work against that, but as far as she could tell, the binds were in excellent condition.
Finally, Lee took stock of her assets, which at the moment consisted of her brain and not much else: She had no eyes, no physical strength and no way to communicate to anyone except possibly to Two, which did her no good, and Six, which likewise did not give her much to go on. And as much as Lee thought she had a reasonably good brain, all things concerned, there was only so much it could do, trapped as it was in her head.
"Well, shit," she said aloud, listening to the sound of her voice travel around the room. The room was large enough and had walls made of a substance that made it acoustically bouncy, probably bare rock or concrete.
Hello, her brain said.
She spent the next half hour alone in her head, occasionally humming to herself. If Two was watching, it might confuse him a bit.
Eventually, the door to the room opened and Six (Lee presumed) came back in.
"Lieutenant Lee," said the voice of Two, "are you ready to begin?"
"I am ready to talk your ears off," Lee said.
* * *
For the next two hours, Lee spoke at length about any subject that Two wished to know about, which included current CDF troop strength and disposition, CDF and Colonial Union messaging about the break from Earth, what the two organizations were doing to compensate for the loss of human resources from Earth, the state of rebellions of various colonies, both in Lee's direct experience and from hearsay from other soldiers and Colonial Union staff and the details of Lee's particular mission on Zhong Guo.
Excerpted from "The Human Division #8: The Sound of Rebellion"
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.
Table of Contents
About the Author,
Tor Books by John Scalzi,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Colonial Union soldier Heather Lee wakes up naked and blindfolded and bound to a chair. She is being interrogated, and none of her genetic enhancements are working. To date, this is my favorite installment in the series.
Not a bad story. This novel seems more a collection of short stories.
Dang...I will finish out this series but I won't buy another. This one was only 56 pages long! We are being taken advantage of. I don't like paying a buck chapter...I expected more!