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The Human Division

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The Human Division

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Author: John Scalzi
Publisher: Tor, 2013
Series: Old Man's War: Book 5
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Military SF
Space Opera
Avg Member Rating:
(92 reads / 43 ratings)


Following the events of The Last Colony, John Scalzi tells the story of the fight to maintain the unity of the human race.

The people of Earth now know that the human Colonial Union has kept them ignorant of the dangerous universe around them. For generations the CU had defended humanity against hostile aliens, deliberately keeping Earth an ignorant backwater and a source of military recruits. Now the CU's secrets are known to all. Other alien races have come on the scene and formed a new alliance--an alliance against the Colonial Union. And they've invited the people of Earth to join them. For a shaken and betrayed Earth, the choice isn't obvious or easy.



The B-Team, Parts One and Two



Ambassador Sara Bair knew that when the captain of the Polk had invited her to the bridge to view the skip to the Danavar system, protocol strongly suggested that she turn down the invitation. The captain would be busy, she would be in the way and in any event there was not that much to see. When the Polk skipped dozens of light-years across the local arm of the galaxy, the only way a human would register the fact would be that their view of the stars would change slightly. On the bridge, that view would be through display screens, not windows. Captain Basta had offered the invitation merely as a formality and was sure enough of its rejection that she had already made arrangements for the ambassador and her staff to have a small reception marking the skip in the Polk's tiny and normally unused observation desk, wedged above the cargo hold.

Ambassador Bair knew protocol suggested she turn down the invitation, but she didn't care. In her twenty-five years in the Colonial Union diplomatic corps she'd never once been on a starship bridge, didn't know when she'd be invited to one again, and regardless of protocol, she was of the opinion that if one was going to issue an invitation, one should be prepared to have it accepted. If her negotiations with the Utche went well, and at this point in the game there was no reason to suspect they would not, no one anywhere would care about this single breach of convention.

So screw it, she was going to the bridge.

If Captain Basta was annoyed by Bair accepting her invitation, she didn't show it. Lieutenant Evans produced the ambassador and her assistant, Brad Roberts, on the bridge five minutes prior to skip; the captain disengaged from her duties and quickly but politely welcomed the pair to the bridge. Formalities fulfilled, she turned her attention back to her pre-skip duties. Lieutenant Evans, knowing his cue, nudged Bair and Roberts into a corner where they could observe without interfering.

"Do you know how a skip works, Ambassador?" Evans asked. For the duration of the mission, Lieutenant Evans was the Polk's protocol officer, acting as a liaison between the diplomatic mission and the ship's crew.

"My understanding of it is that we are in one place in space, and then the skip drive turns on, and we are magically someplace else," Bair said.

Evans smiled. "It's not magic, it's physics, ma'am," he said. "Although the high-end sort of physics that looks like magic from the outside. It's to relativistic physics what relativistic physics is to Newtonian physics. So that's two steps beyond everyday human experience."

"So we're not really breaking the laws of physics here," Roberts said. "Because every time I think of starships skipping across the galaxy, I imagine Albert Einstein in a policeman's uniform, writing up a ticket."

"We're not breaking any laws. What we're doing is literally exploiting a loophole," Evans said, and then launched into a longer explanation of the physics behind skipping. Roberts nodded and never took his eyes off of Evans, but he had a small smile on his face that Bair knew was meant for her. It meant that Roberts was aware he was doing one of his primary tasks, which was to draw away from Bair people who wanted to make pointless small talk with her, so she could focus on what she was good at: paying attention to her surroundings.

Her surroundings were not in fact all that impressive. The Polk was a frigate--Bair was sure Evans would know what type specifically, but she didn't want to train his attention back on her at the moment--and its bridge was modest. Two rows of desks with monitors, with a slightly raised platform for the captain or officer of the watch to oversee operations, and two large monitors forward to display information and, when desired, an outside view. At the moment neither display was on; the bridge crew were instead focused on their individual monitors, with Captain Basta and her executive officer walking among them, murmuring.

It was about as exciting as watching paint dry. Or more accurately, as exciting as watching a crew of highly trained individuals do an action they have done hundreds of times before without drama or incident. Bair, who by dint of years in the diplomatic corps was aware that trained professionals doing their thing was not usually a gripping spectator sport, was nevertheless vaguely disappointed. Years of dramatic entertainments had prepared her for something more action oriented. She sighed without realizing it.

"Not what you were expecting, ma'am?" Evans asked, turning his attention back to the ambassador.

"I didn't know what to expect," Bair said, annoyed with herself at having sighed loudly enough to be heard, but hiding it. "The bridge is more quiet than I would have assumed."

"The bridge crew has worked together for a long time," Evans said. "And you have to remember that they pass a lot of information internally." Bair looked over to Evans with an arched eyebrow at this; Evans smiled and pointed a finger to his temple.

Oh, right, Bair thought. Captain Basta and the rest of the bridge crew were all members of the Colonial Defense Forces. This meant that aside from the obvious distinguishing genetically-engineered characteristics of green skin and a youthful appearance, each of them had a computer called a BrainPal nestled up inside their brains. CDF members could use their BrainPals to talk or share data with one another; they didn't have to use their mouths to do it. The murmuring indicated that they still did, however, at least part of the time. CDF members used to be normal people without green skin or computers in their heads. Old habits died hard.

Bair, who had been born on the planet Erie and had spent the last twenty years stationed out of the Colonial Union home planet of Phoenix, had neither green skin nor a computer in her head. But she had spent enough time around CDF members during her diplomatic travels that they no longer seemed particularly notable among the variety of humans she worked with. She sometimes forgot that they were, in fact, a genetically-engineered breed apart.

"One minute to skip," said the Polk's executive officer. Bair's brain popped up a name: Everett Roman. Aside from Commander Roman's notation of the time, nothing else on the bridge had changed; Bair suspected the announcement was for her and Roberts's benefit. Bair's eyes flicked over to the large monitors to the fore of the room. They were still dark.

"Commander Roman," Evans said, and then motioned his head toward the monitors when he had gotten the executive officer's attention. The XO nodded. The monitors sprang to life, one with an image of a star field, the other with a simple schematic of the Polk.

"Thank you, Lieutenant Evans," Bair said, quietly. Evans smiled.

Commander Roman counted off the last ten seconds of the skip. Bair trained her eyes on the monitor showing the star field. When Roman counted zero, the stars in the field seemed to shift at random. Bair knew that the stars hadn't actually shifted. These were entirely new stars. The Polk had, without fuss or noise, instantly traveled light-years.

Bair blinked, unsatisfied. If you thought about what just happened in terms of what was physically accomplished, it was a staggering event. As a personal human experience, however ...

"So that's it?" Roberts asked, to no one in particular.

"That's it," Evans said.

"Not very exciting," Roberts said.

"Not exciting means we did it right," Evans said.

"Well, where's the fun in that?" Roberts joked.

"Other people can do fun," Evans said. "We do precise. We get you where you need to go, on time. Or ahead of time, in this case. We were asked to get you here three days ahead of the Utche arrival. We delivered you three days, six hours early. Here you are, ahead of time twice."

"About that," Bair said. Evans turned his head to the ambassador to give her his full attention.

The deck of the bridge leaped up at the trio, with violence.

Voices on the bridge suddenly became very loud, detailing damage to the ship. Hull breaches, loss of power, casualties. Something had gone very wrong with the skip.

Bair looked up from the deck and saw that the images on the monitors had changed. The schematic of the ship now featured sections blinking in red. The star field had been replaced with a representation of the Polk in three-dimensional space. It was at the center of the representation. At the periphery of the representation was an object, heading toward the Polk.

"What is that?" Bair asked Evans, who was picking himself up off the deck.

Evans looked at the screen and was quiet for a second. Bair knew he was accessing his BrainPal for more information. "A ship," he said.

"Is it the Utche?" Roberts asked. "We can signal them for help."

Evans shook his head. "They're not the Utche."

"Who are they?" Bair asked.

"We don't know," Evans said.

The monitors chirped, and then there were multiple additional objects on the screen, heading quickly toward the Polk.

"Oh, God," Bair said, and stood as the bridge crew reported missiles en route.

Captain Basta ordered the missiles lanced out of the sky and then turned toward Bair--or, more directly, to Evans. "Those two," she said. "Escape pod. Now."

"Wait--," Bair began.

"No time, Ambassador," Basta said, cutting her off. "Too many missiles. My next two minutes are about getting you off the ship alive. Don't waste them." She turned back to her bridge crew, telling them to prep the black box.

Evans grabbed Bair. "Come on, Ambassador," he said, and pulled her off the bridge, Roberts following.

Forty seconds later, Bair and Roberts were shoved by Evans into a cramped box with two small seats. "Strap in," Evan said, yelling to make himself heard. He pointed below one of the seats. "Emergency rations and hydration there." He pointed below the other. "Waste recycler there. You have a week of air. You'll be fine."

"The rest of my team--," Bair said again.

"Is being shoved into escape pods right now," Evans said. "The captain will launch a skip drone to let the CDF know what happened. They keep rescue ships at skip distance for things just like this. Don't worry. Now strap in. These things launch rough." He backed out of the pod.

"Good luck, Evans," Roberts said. Evans grimaced as the pod sealed itself. Five seconds later, the pod punched itself off the Polk. Bair felt as if she had been kicked in the spine and then felt weightless. The pod was too small and basic for artificial gravity.

"What the hell just happened back there?" Roberts said, after a minute. "The Polk was hit the instant it skipped."

"Someone knew we were on our way," Bair said.

"This mission was confidential," Roberts said.

"Use your head, Brad," Bair said, testily. "The mission was confidential on our end. It could have leaked. It could have leaked on the Utche side."

"You think the Utche set us up?" Roberts asked.

"I don't know," Bair said. "They're in the same situation as we are. They need this alliance as much as we do. It doesn't make any sense for them to string the Colonial Union along just to pull a stupid stunt like this. Attacking the Polk doesn't gain them anything. Destroying a CDF ship is a flat-out enemy action."

"The Polk might be able to fight it out," Roberts said.

"You heard Captain Basta as well as I did," Bair said. "Too many missiles. And the Polk is already damaged."

"Let's hope the rest of our people made it to their escape pods, then," Roberts said.

"I don't think they were sent to the other escape pods," Bair said.

"But Evans said--"

"Evans said what he needed to shut us up and get us off the Polk," Bair said.

Roberts was quiet at this.

Several minutes later, he said, "If the Polk sent a skip drone, it will need, what, a day to reach skip distance?"

"Something like that," Bair said.

"A day for the news to arrive, a few hours to gear up, a few hours after that to find us," Roberts said. "So two days in this tin can. Best-case scenario."

"Sure," Bair said.

"And then we'll be debriefed," Roberts said. "Not that we can tell them anything about who attacked us or why."

"When they look for us, they'll also be looking for the Polk's black box," Bair said. "That will have all the data from the ship right up until the moment it was destroyed. If they were able to identify the attacking ships at any point, it'll be in there."

"If it survived the destruction of the Polk," Roberts said.

"I heard Captain Basta tell her bridge crew to prep the box," Bair said. "I'm guessing that means that they had time to do whatever they needed to to make sure it survived the ship."

"So you, me and a black box are all that survived the Polk," Roberts said.

"I think so. Yes," Bair said.

"Jesus," Roberts said. "Has anything like this ever happened to you before?"

"I've had missions go badly before," Bair said, and looked around the confines of the escape pod. "But, no. This is a first."

"Let's hope the best-case scenario is what we get here," Roberts said. "If it's not, then in about a week things are going to get bad."

"After the fourth day we'll take turns breathing," Bair said.

Roberts laughed weakly and then stopped himself. "Don't want to do that," he said. "Waste of oxygen."

Bair began to laugh herself and then was surprised as the air from her lungs rushed the other way, pulled out by the vacuum of space invading the escape pod as it tore apart. Bair had an instant to register the look on her assistant's face before the shrapnel from the explosion that was shredding the escape pod tore into them as well, killing them. She had no final thoughts, other than registering the feel of the air sliding past her lips and the brief, painless pushing feeling the shrapnel made as it went through and then out of her. There was a final, distant sensation of cold, then heat, and then nothing at all.


Sixty-two light-years away from the Polk, Lieutenant Harry Wilson stood stiffly near the edge of a seaside cliff on the planet Farnut, along with several other members of the Colonial Union diplomatic courier ship Clarke. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, warm without being so hot that the humans would sweat in their formal attire. The Colonial diplomats formed a line; parallel to that line was a line of Farnutian diplomats, their limbs resplendent in formal jewelry. Each human diplomat held a baroquely decorated flagon, filled with water brought specially from the Clarke. At the head of each line was the chief diplomat for each race at the negotiation: Ckar Cnutdin for the Farnutians and Ode Abumwe for the Colonials. Cnutdin was currently at a podium, speaking in the glottal Farnutian language. Ambassador Abumwe, to the side, appeared to listen intently, nodding from time to time.

"What is he saying?" Hart Schmidt, standing next to Wilson, asked, as quietly as possible.

"Standard boilerplate about friendship between nations and species," Wilson said. As the sole member of the Colonial Defense Forces in the diplomatic mission, he was the only one in the line able to translate Farnutian on the fly, via his BrainPal; the rest of them had relied on translators provided by the Farnutians. The only one of those present at the ceremony was now standing behind Ambassador Abumwe, whispering discreetly into her ear.

"Does it sound like he's wrapping up?" Schmidt asked.

"Why, Hart?" Wilson glanced over to his friend. "You in a rush to get to the next part?"

Schmidt flicked his eyes toward his opposite number on the Farnutian line and said nothing.

As it turned out, Cnutdin was indeed just finishing. He did a thing with his limbs that was the Farnutian equivalent of bowing and stepped back from the podium. Ambassador Abumwe bowed and stepped toward the podium for her speech. Behind her, the translator shifted over to stand behind Cnutdin.

"I want to thank Trade Delegate Cnutdin for his stirring words about the growing friendship between our two great nations," Abumwe began, and then launched into boilerplate of her own, her words delivered with an accent that betrayed her status as a first-generation Colonial. Her parents had emigrated from Nigeria to the Colonial planet of New Albion when Abumwe was an infant; traces of that country's speech overlaid the New Albion rasp that reminded Wilson of the American Midwest that he had grown up in.

Not too long ago, in an attempt to start a rapport with the ambassador, Wilson had noted to Abumwe that the two of them were the only members of the Clarke crew who had been born on Earth, the rest of the crew having been Colonials all their life. Abumwe had narrowed her eyes at him, asked him what he was implying and stalked off angrily. Wilson had turned to his friend Schmidt, who was looking on with horror, and asked what he had done wrong. Schmidt told him to access a news feed.

That was how Wilson learned that the Earth and the Colonial Union appeared to be undergoing a trial separation and were probably headed for a divorce. And learned about who was splitting them apart.

Ah, well, Wilson thought, watching Abumwe wrap up her speech. Abumwe had never warmed to him; he was pretty sure she vaguely resented having any CDF presence on her ship, even in the relatively innocuous form of a technology advisor, which was Wilson's role. But as Schmidt liked to point out, it wasn't personal. By all indications, Abumwe had never really warmed up to anyone, ever. Some people just didn't like people.

Not the best temperament for a diplomat, Wilson thought, not for the first time.

Abumwe stepped away from the podium, bowed deeply to Ckar Cnutdin, and at the end of her bow took her flagon and nodded to her line of diplomats. Cnutdin likewise signaled to his line.

"This is it," Schmidt said to Wilson, and then they both stepped forward, toward the Farnutians, just as the Farnutians slid forward to them. Each line stopped roughly half a meter from the other, still parallel.

As a unit and as they had practiced, every human diplomat, Ambassador Abumwe included, thrust forward their flagon. "We exchange water," they all said, and with ceremonial pomp upended their flagons, spilling the water at what passed for the Farnutians' feet.

The Farnutians replied with a hurking sound that Wilson's BrainPal translated as We exchange water, and then spewed from their mouths seawater they had stored in their bodies' ballast bladders, directly into the faces of the human diplomats. Every human diplomat was drenched with salty, Farnutian body-temperature water.

"Thanks for that," Wilson said to his opposite number on the Farnutian line. But the Farnutian had already turned away, making a hiccuping sound at another of its kind as it broke ranks. Wilson's BrainPal translated the words.

Thank God that's over, it had said. When do we get lunch?

* * *

"You're unusually quiet," Schmidt said to Wilson, on the shuttle ride back to the Clarke.

"I'm ruminating on my life, and karma," Wilson said. "And what I must have done in a previous life to deserve being spit on by an alien species as part of a diplomatic ceremony."

"It's because the Farnutian culture is so tied to the sea," Schmidt said. "Exchanging the waters of their homeland is a symbolic way to say our fates are now tied together."

"It's also an excellent way to spread the Farnutian equivalent of smallpox," Wilson said.

"That's why we got shots," Schmidt said.

"I would at least like to have poured the flagon on someone's head," Wilson said.

"That wouldn't have been very diplomatic," Schmidt said.

"And spitting in our faces is?" Wilson's voice rose slightly.

"Yes, because that's how they cement their deals," Schmidt said. "And they also know that when humans spit in someone's face, or pour water on someone's head, it doesn't mean the same thing. So we devised something that everyone agreed was symbolically acceptable. It took our advance team three weeks to hammer that out."

"They could have hammered out a deal where the Farnutians learn to shake hands," Wilson pointed out.

"We could have," Schmidt agreed. "Except for the little fact that we need this trade alliance a lot more than they do, so we have to play by their rules. It's why the negotiations are on Farnut. It's why Ambassador Abumwe accepted a deal that's a short-term loser. It's why we stood there and got spit on and said thank you."

Wilson looked toward the forward part of the shuttle, where the ambassador sat with her top aides. Schmidt didn't rate inclusion; Wilson certainly didn't. They sat in the back, in the cheap seats. "She got a bad deal?" he asked.

"She was told to get a bad deal," Schmidt said, looking toward the ambassador as well. "That defense shielding you trained their people on? We traded it for agricultural products. We traded it for fruit. We don't need their fruit. We can't eat their fruit. We're probably going to end up taking everything they give us and stewing it down to ethanol or something pointless like that."

"Then why did we make the deal?" Wilson asked.

"We were told to think of it as a 'loss leader,'" Schmidt said. "Something that gets the Farnutians through the door so we can make better deals later."

"Fantastic," Wilson said. "I can look forward to getting spit on again."

"No," Schmidt said, and settled back into his chair. "It's not us that will be coming back."

"Oh, right," Wilson said. "You get all the crappy diplomatic missions, and once you've done the scut work, someone else comes in for the glory."

"You say it like you're skeptical," Schmidt said to Wilson. "Come on, Harry. You've been with us long enough now. You've seen what happens to us. The missions we get are either low-level or ones where if they fail, it'll be easy enough to blame it on us, rather than our orders."

"Which kind was this one?" Wilson asked.

"Both," Schmidt said. "And so is the next one."

"This brings me back to my question about my karma," Wilson said.

"You probably set kittens on fire," Schmidt said. "And the rest of us were probably there with you, with skewers."

"When I joined the CDF we probably would have just shot the hell out of the Farnutians until they gave us what we wanted," Wilson said.

"Ah, the good old days," Schmidt said sarcastically, and then shrugged. "That was then. This is now. We've lost the Earth, Harry. Now we have to learn to deal with it."

"There's going to be a hell of a learning curve on that one," Wilson said, after a minute.

"You are correct," Schmidt said. "Be glad you don't have to be the teacher."


I need to see you, Colonel Abel Rigney sent to Colonel Liz Egan, CDF liaison to the secretary of state. He was heading toward her suite of offices in the Phoenix Station.

I'm a little busy at the moment, Egan sent back.

It's important, Rigney sent.

What I'm doing right now is also important, Egan returned.

This is more importanter, Rigney sent.

Well, when you put it that way, Egan replied.

Rigney smiled. I'll be at your office in two minutes, he sent.

I'm not there, Egan returned. Go to the State Department conference complex. I'm in Theater Seven.

What are you doing there? Rigney sent.

Scaring the children, Egan replied.

Three minutes later, Rigney slipped into the back of Theater Seven. The room was darkened and filled with midlevel members of the Colonial Union diplomatic corps. Rigney took a seat at one of the higher rows in the room and looked across at the faces of the people there. They appeared rather grim. Down on the floor of the theater stood Colonel Egan, a three-dimensional display, currently unlit, behind her.

I'm here, Rigney sent to Egan.

Then you can see I'm working, she replied. Shut up and give me a minute.

What Egan was doing was listening to one of the midlevel diplomats drone on in the vaguely condescending way that midlevel diplomats will do when presented with someone they assume is below their station. Rigney, who knew that in her past life Egan had been the CEO of a rather substantial media empire, settled in to enjoy the show.

"I'm not disagreeing that the new reality of our situation is challenging," the diplomat was saying. "But I'm not entirely convinced that the situation is as insoluble as your assessment suggests."

"Is that so, Mr. DiNovo," Egan said.

"I think so, yes," the diplomat named DiNovo said. "The human race has always been outnumbered out here. But we've managed to keep our place in the scheme of things. Small, albeit important details have changed here, but the fundamental issues are largely the same."

"Are they," Egan said. The display behind her flashed on, picturing a slowly rotating star field that Rigney recognized as the local interstellar neighborhood. A series of stars flashed blue. "To recap, here we are. All the star systems which have human planets in them. The Colonial Union. And here are all the star systems with other intelligent, star-faring races in them." The star field turned red as a couple thousand stars switched colors to show their allegiance.

"This is no different than what we've always had to work with," the diplomat named DiNovo said.

"Wrong," Egan said. "This star chart is misleading, and you, Mr. DiNovo, appear not to realize that. All that red up there used to represent hundreds of individual races, all of whom, like the human race, had to battle or negotiate with any other race they encountered. Some races were stronger than others, but none of them had any substantial strength or tactical advantage over most of the others. There were too many civilizations too close to parity for any one of them to gain a long-term lead in the power struggle.

"That worked for us because we had one advantage other races didn't," Egan said. Behind her, one blue star system, somewhat isolated from the main arc of human systems, glowed more brightly. "We had Earth, which supplied the Colonial Union with two critical things: colonists, with which we could rapidly populate the planets we claimed, and soldiers, which we could use to defend those planets and secure additional worlds. Earth supplied the Colonial Union more of each than it would have been politically feasible to provide itself from its own worlds. This allowed the Colonial Union both a strategic and tactical advantage and allowed humanity to come close to upending the existing political order in our region of space."

"Advantages we can still exploit," DiNovo began.

"Wrong again," Egan said. "Because now two critical things have changed. First, there's the Conclave." Two-thirds of the formerly red stars turned yellow. "The Conclave, formed out of four hundred alien races which formerly fought among themselves, but now acting as a single political entity, able to enforce its policies by sheer mass. The Conclave will not allow unaffiliated races to engage in further colonization, but it does not stop those races from raiding each other for resources or for security purposes or to settle old scores. So the Colonial Union still has to contend with two hundred alien races targeting its worlds and ships.

"Second, there's Earth. Thanks to the actions of former Roanoke Colony leaders John Perry and Jane Sagan, the Earth has at least temporarily suspended its relationship with the Colonial Union. Its people now believe that we've been holding back the planet's political and technological development for decades to farm it for colonists and soldiers. The reality is more complicated, but as with most humans, the people on Earth prefer the simple answer. The simplest answer is the Colonial Union's been screwing them. They don't trust us. They don't want anything to do with us. It may be years before they do."

"My point is that even without the Earth we still have advantages," DiNovo said. "The Colonial Union has a population of billions on dozens of planets rich with resources."

"And you believe that the colony worlds can replace the colonists and soldiers the Colonial Union until very recently received from Earth," Egan said.

"I'm not saying there won't be grumbling," DiNovo said. "But yes, they could."

"Colonel Rigney," said Egan, speaking her compatriot's name but keeping her eyes on DiNovo.

"Yes," Rigney said, surprised at being called on. An entire room of heads swiveled to look at him.

"You and I were in the same recruiting class," Egan said.

"That's right," Rigney said. "We met on the Amerigo Vespucci. That was the ship that took us from Earth to Phoenix Station. It was fourteen years ago."

"Do you remember how many recruits were on the Vespucci?" Egan asked.

"I remember the CDF representative telling us there were one thousand fifteen of us," Rigney said.

"How many of us are still alive?" Egan asked.

"There are eighty-nine," Rigney said. "I know that because one of us died last week and I got a notification. Major Darren Reith."

"So a ninety-one percent fatality rate over fourteen years," Egan said.

"That's about right," Rigney said. "The official statistic that the CDF tells recruits is that in ten years of service the fatality rate is seventy-five percent. In my experience, that official statistic is low. After ten years recruits are allowed to leave the service, but many of us stay in." Because who wants to start getting old again, Rigney thought, but did not say.

"Mr. DiNovo," Egan said, returning her full attention to her diplomat, "I believe you are originally from the colony of Rus, is that correct?"

"That's correct," DiNovo said.

"In its entire history of more than one hundred and twenty years, Rus has never been asked to supply the Colonial Union with soldiers," Egan said. "I want you to tell me how you believe the colony will respond when it is informed by the Colonial Union that it will require--require, not ask--one hundred thousand of its citizens annually to join the Colonial Defense Forces, and that at the end of those ten years seventy-five percent of them will be dead. I want you to tell me how the Rus citizens will respond when they learn that part of their job is to quell rebellions on colonies, which happens more often than the Colonial Union prefers to admit. How will recruits from Rus feel about firing on their own people? Will they do it? Will you, Mr. DiNovo? You are in your early fifties now, sir. You're not that far off from the CDF recruitment age. Are you ready to fight and very likely die for the Colonial Union? Because you are, in yourself, the advantage you say we have."

DiNovo had nothing to say to this.

"I've been giving these presentations to the diplomatic corps for a month now," Egan said, turning her eyes away from the silenced DiNovo and scanning the room. "In every presentation I have someone like Mr. DiNovo here making the argument that the situation we are in is not that bad. They, like he, are wrong. The Colonial Defense Forces lose a staggering number of soldiers on an annual basis and have for more than two hundred years. Our developing colonies cannot quickly grow themselves to a size sufficiently large to avoid extinction by breeding alone. The existence of the Conclave has changed the math of human survival in ways we cannot yet imagine. The Colonial Union has survived and thrived because it has exploited an unearned surplus of humans from Earth. We don't have that surplus anymore. And we don't have the time to develop a new surplus from within the Colonial Union system and population."

"How bad is it, then?" Rigney heard himself ask. He was as surprised as anyone to hear his own voice.

Egan glanced at him, then drew her attention back to the crowd. "If things continue as they are, based on historical CDF fatality rates, in three years we'll no longer have sufficient forces to defend our colonies from predation and genocidal aggression by other races," she said. "From there, our best estimate is that the Colonial Union as a political entity collapses within five to eight years. Without the overarching protective structure of the Colonial Union, all remaining human planets are attacked and wiped out within twenty years. Which is to say, ladies and gentlemen, that from this very moment, the human race is thirty years from extinction."

The room was dead silent.

"The reason I'm telling you this is not so you can run home and hug your children," Egan said. "The reason I'm telling you this is that for more than two hundred years, the Department of State has been the vermiform appendix of the Colonial Union. An afterthought to the CU's strategy of aggressive defense and expansion." She stared at DiNovo. "A nice sinecure for mediocrities to be shoved into, where they can do no real harm. Well, all that changes now. The Colonial Union can no longer afford to live the way we've lived. We don't have the resources and we don't have the people. So from this moment forward the State Department has two missions. One: Bring Earth back into the fold, for the advantage of us both. Two: Whenever possible, avoid conflict with the Conclave and unaffiliated alien races. Diplomacy is the best way to make that happen.

"What that means, ladies and gentlemen, is that from now on, the Colonial Union State Department actually matters. And you, my friends, now all have to work for a living."

* * *

"Do you always squash someone as hard as you squashed DiNovo?" Rigney asked. Theater Seven was now empty; the midlevel diplomats had shuffled out, grumbling to one another. He and Egan were now both standing near the display, which had again shut down.

"Usually," Egan said. "DiNovo was doing me a favor, actually. For every one like him who is stupid enough to open his mouth, there's about fifty of these people who keep their traps shut and plan to ignore what I have to say. This way I get to drive the message home to all of them. Marginally more of them will listen to me this way."

"You think they really are all mediocrities, then," Rigney said.

"Not all of them," Egan said. "Most of them. And certainly the ones I have to deal with." She waved at the empty theater. "These people are cogs. They're stationed here, pushing the proverbial paper. If they were any good at what they did, they'd be out there in the universe. The ones out there are the A-teams. Hell, they're the B-teams, too. The ones here are teams C through K."

"Then you're not going to like this," Rigney said. "One of your A-teams has gone missing."

Egan frowned. "Which one?" she asked.

"Ambassador Bair's team," Rigney said. "Along with, I should add, one of our frigates, the Polk."

Egan was silent for a moment, processing the news. "When did this happen?" she finally asked.

"It's been two days since there's been a skip drone sent back from the Polk," Rigney said.

"And you're only telling me this now?" Egan said.

"I would have told you sooner, but you wanted me to see you scare the children," Rigney said. "And two days without drone contact is our standard alarm raiser. Particularly with missions like this one, which are supposed to be secret. I came to find you as soon as we confirmed two days of dead air."

"What did your recovery mission find?" Egan asked.

"No recovery mission," Rigney said, and caught Egan's look. "We had a hard enough time negotiating a military frigate for the mission. If the Utche show up and see several military ships in the area, none of them with diplomats on them, everything blows up."

"Recon drones, then," Egan said.

"Of course," Rigney said. "Everything's preliminary because the drones have just arrived, but they're not finding anything."

"You sent the drones to the correct system," Egan said.

"Come on, Liz," Rigney said.

"Doesn't hurt to ask," Egan said.

"We sent the drones to the right system," Rigney said. "We sent the Polk to the right system. The Danavar system is where the Utche wanted to meet."

Egan nodded. "A system with nothing but gas giants and airless moons. No one will think to look for you there. Perfect for secret negotiations."

"Apparently not so secret after all," Rigney said.

"You're presuming the Polk met with a bad end," Egan said.

"Our frigates don't have a history of randomly vaporizing," Rigney said. "But whatever or whoever did this isn't in the Danavar system now. There's nothing there but planets and moons and a big yellow star."

"Have we told the Utche about this?" Egan asked.

"We haven't told anyone about it," Rigney said. "Outside of command, you're the first person to know. We haven't even told your boss that her team is missing. We figured we'd let you do that yourself."

"Thanks," Egan said, wryly. "But surely the Utche have noticed there is no one negotiating a treaty with them."

"The Polk arrived three days early," Rigney said.

"Why?" Egan said.

"Ostensibly to give Bair's team time to prep away from the distractions of Phoenix Station," Rigney said.

"And in reality?" Egan asked.

"In reality to make sure we were militarily prepared for an immediate withdrawal if necessary," Rigney said.

"Seems drastic," Egan said.

"You'll recall the Utche have handed our ass to us in three out of the last five military engagements we've had with them," Rigney said. "Just because they came to us for this alliance doesn't mean we trust them entirely."

"And you don't think the Utche might have figured out the CU's trust issues," Egan said.

"We're pretty sure they have," Rigney said. "In part because we let them know we were arriving early. Your boss signed off on the cover story, but we don't assume the Utche are stupid. It was a sign to us of how much they want the alliance that they were willing to give us a tactical advantage."

"You've entertained the possibility the Utche blasted the Polk out of the sky," Egan said.

"Obviously," Rigney said. "But they've been as transparent with us as we've been with them, and where they're not transparent, we have spies. This is something we would have known about. And nothing they're doing indicates that they think anything is out of the ordinary. Their diplomatic mission is on a ship called the Kaligm, and it's a day out from skip distance."

Egan said nothing to this but instead fired up the display, turning to it. Phoenix Station floated in the display, the limb of the planet Phoenix below it. At a distance from Phoenix Station, CDF and trade ships floated; their names appeared in labels hovering aside them in the display. The image pulled out and both Phoenix Station and Phoenix shrank to a single dot, taking with them thousands of starships arriving at or departing from the Colonial Union's capital. The image pulled farther out and displayed, as dots, dozens of ships, each working its way toward a sufficiently flat spot of space-time to make a skip. Egan began pulling information from a few, crew manifests spilling onto the display.

"Okay, I give up," Rigney said, after several minutes of this. "Tell me what you're doing."

"Ambassador Bair isn't on our A-list," Egan said, still scanning crew manifests. "She's on our A Plus–list. If she was pipped to negotiate, then this mission is an actual priority, not just a top secret diplomatic circle jerk."

"Okay," Rigney said. "So?"

"So, you don't know Secretary Galeano like I do," Egan said, naming the secretary of state. "If I walk into her office, tell her one of her best diplomats and her entire team is probably dead and their mission therefore a complete failure, without a backup plan already in place and ready to implement, things will be very grim indeed. I will be without a job, you will probably be without a job simply for being the messenger, and the secretary will go out of her way to make sure that the next posting for both of us will be someplace where our life expectancy will be measured with an egg timer."

"She sounds nice," Rigney said.

"She's perfectly lovely," Egan said. "Until you piss her off." The display, which had been scrolling through ships and crew manifests, suddenly stopped on a single ship. "Here."

Rigney peered up at the image. "What is this?"

"This is the B-team," Egan said.

"The Clarke?" Rigney said. "I don't know this ship."

"It handles various low-level diplomatic missions," Egan said. "Its chief diplomat is a woman named Abumwe." The image of a dark and severe-looking woman hovered on the screen. "Her most significant negotiation was with the Korba a few months back. She impressed them by having a CDF officer stationed on the ship fight with one of their soldiers, and lose in a diplomatically meaningful way."

"That's interesting," Rigney said.

"Yes, but not entirely her doing," Egan said, and popped up the images of two men, one of whom was green. "The fight was set up by a deputy, Hart Schmidt. Lieutenant Harry Wilson was the one who fought."

"So why these people?" Rigney asked. "What makes them the right people to take over this mission?"

"Two reasons," Egan said. "One, Abumwe was part of an embassy to the Utche three years ago. Nothing came of it at the time, but she has experience dealing with them. That means she can get brought up to speed quickly. Two"--she pulled out the view to show the Clarke in space--"the Clarke is eighteen hours away from skip distance. Abumwe and her people can still get to the Danavar system ahead of the Utche and participate in the negotiations, or at the very least allow us to set up a new round of talks. There's no other diplomatic mission that can make it on time."

"We send in the B-team because it's marginally better than nothing," Rigney said.

"Abumwe and her people aren't incompetent," Egan said. "They just wouldn't be your first choice. But right now we're short on choices."

"Right," Rigney said. "You're really going to sell this to your boss, then."

"Unless you have a better idea," Egan said.

"Not really," Rigney said, then furrowed his brow for a moment. "Although..."

"Although what?" Egan said.

"Bring up that CDF guy again," Rigney said.

Egan popped the image of Lieutenant Harry Wilson back onto the display. "What about him?" she said.

"He still on the Clarke?" Rigney asked.

"Yes," Egan said. "He's a technical advisor. Some of the Clarke's recent missions have had military tech and weapons as part of the negotiations. They have him on hand to train people on the machines we're offering. Why?"

"I think I may have found a way to sweeten your B-team plan to Secretary Galeano," Rigney said. "And to my bosses, too."

Copyright © 2013 by John Scalzi


The Human Division

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The Human Division

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The Human Division

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