Authors: John Scalzi
Tags: #Colonial Defense Force, #John Scalzi, #Old Man's War
Questions for a Soldier
Copyright © 2005 by John Scalzi.
All rights reserved.
Cover and interior illustrations
Copyright © 2005 by Bob Eggleton.
All rights reserved.
PO Box 190106
Burton, MI 48519
COLONIAL DEFENSE FORCES
Colonial Outreach Command
CDF Public Relations, 3rd Platoon
Colonel Wm. Schafer, Cmdr
(see linked table for local equivalents)
FILE TITLE: Public Speech, CDF Capt. John Perry, Huckleberry Colony, 238.05.10
Capt. Perry meets with citizens of village of New Goa on Huckleberry Colony; answers questions about life of CDF servicepersons and other queries.
Capt. Perry, New Goa administrator Rohit Kulkarni,
seven New Goa villagers
None. Editing for clarity: Standard voice to text algorithms
Capt. John Perry, unedited BrainPal audio feed
Cpl. John Scalzi, Acting Librarian, CDFPR 3rd Platoon
CC: Col. Wm. Schafer
——TRANSCRIPT BEGINS 238.05.10 03:05:34
Please, please, everyone. I see Naren Bhatia setting down his dessert, so I truly know that it is time to move on to the next portion of the evening. (laughter) You
licked that bowl clean, Naren? (laughter) My Anjali will be pleased to know her contribution to the evening met with such success.
It is not often that our simple village receives a visitor of such esteem as the man I have the honor of presenting to you this evening. As with all of the colonies in the Union, Huckleberry and New Goa remember with horror of the Rraey invasion of Coral, one of the oldest and most precious of our colonies. The Rraey slaughtered all of the colonists there, more than 100,000 lives ended. It was one of the darkest hours in the history of the Union.
But the Rraey did not hold Coral for long, thanks in part to the efforts of our guest, whose courageous actions in battle caused him to be awarded the Silver Star and the Distinguished Service Cross, as well as the first Order of Coral award. He is here tonight to share some of his experiences as part of the Colonial Defense Forces that keep all of the colonies safe, including our own. With great honor, I present to you Captain John Perry.
Thank you, and thank you, Administrator Kulkarni. It was your wife who made tonight’s dessert? No wonder you look so happy. (laughter) The whole dinner was wonderful, really. I don’t think I’ve eaten this well in years.
I don’t doubt you say that everywhere you go.
Well, I do, but this time I mean it. (laughter) And I’ve been having a wonderful visit here in New Goa. I have to warn you all that in addition to doing this goodwill tour of the Colonies for the CDF, I also have an ulterior motive: I’m checking out colonies for when I retire. So get a good look at this face; you might have to get used to it one day. (laughter)
We would welcome you, Captain.
You say that
, Administrator. (laughter) I do have to say that one advantage of settling in New Goa is that although I come from a different culture than you back on Earth, we do share a common language, or at least share
common language. Before I came to Huckleberry, I was on Shaw Colony, which was settled by Norwegians. I had to use an interpreter while I was there. I think I accidentally declared war on them at least once. (laughter) There is much less of a chance of that here.
Now, my understanding is that I’m supposed to stand up here and lecture you all on how the Colonial Defense Forces are working to protect you from the rest of the universe, but I have to say that I did that a couple of times and then I got really bored of hearing my own voice. And everywhere I go, people have questions that they want to ask. So if it’s all right with you, I’m going to suggest we skip whatever bad speech I would give you and go right to the questions. (pause) Since I see about two dozen hands, I’m guessing that means it’s okay with you. (laughter) Yes, ma’am. You here in the front.
Are you married? (Uproarious laughter) Not for me! For my niece. She is about your age.
Well, thank you. I’m deeply flattered, although I’m sure your niece would be surprised to find out you’re trying to get her hitched.
Not at all! She’s here in the room! Aparna! Stand up! (more laughter)
Hello, Aparna. Please, sit. You’re safe from me. (laughter) To answer the question, I’m not married. But it’s also against CDF policy for soldiers to be married. We ship all over this part of the universe and it would be very difficult to maintain a marriage. In fact, when we sign up for service back on Earth, we’re legally declared dead, which ends any marriage we were in. Some of the people I served with were thankful for that, (laughter) but I don’t think it would have made me happy. I was married before I signed up, but my wife passed away before I left. We had been married for over 40 years.
look. I get that every time I mention something relating to my age. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m 77 years old. So, ma’am, not only am I too old for Aparna, I’m too old for
. (laughter) One of the advantages of joining the CDF is that they give you a new body. I’m older than I look. Yes, sir.
Why are you green?
The food was so good, I ate too much. (laughter) The real answer is that these bodies we’re given are engineered to use chlorophyll to give us an extra energy boost, which we need to help maintain other improvements in this body, like more and denser muscles, faster reflexes and other things. We can also go longer without food than most people, although we don’t like it any more than anyone else.
I can see some of you wish that you could have an improved body, but I want to make you aware of the tradeoffs. First, this body is so modified that it can’t reproduce. That’s definitely not an advantage on a colony. Second, the only way to get a body like this is join the CDF, where you’ll have to serve for ten years. In those ten years eight out of ten of the people you joined with will have died in service. I know for myself that of the people I met and became friends with when I joined up, only two are still alive. Look around you in this room and imagine that sort of mortality rate among the people you love and care for. So you have to ask yourself if the new body is really worth it. Yes, sir. Yes, you.
I am sure you have encountered many alien species. Is there one encounter that is more vivid than others?
Well, there was the time I was eaten. (audible muttering)
I believe we would all like to hear about that.
All right. It was about a month before the Battle of Coral, and I and my platoon were sent to an unexplored planet to find a colonial survey team that had disappeared. The first tip-off that something was strange about the planet should have been that it looked gorgeous — perfect for human habitation — but it was completely uninhabited. That’s strange because if a planet is perfect for us, it’s perfect for a couple hundred other intelligent species, too. And that means it should have been colonized by then. It’s like that old joke: A doctor and economist are walking down the street when the doctor looks down and says “there’s a $20 bill on the sidewalk.” And the economist says “Impossible! If it were a $20 bill, someone would have picked it up by now!” This planet was a $20 bill on the street if there ever was one. It was impossible that it would be uninhabited. And yet it seemed to be. So they sent out a survey team, and after a couple of days they disappeared.
We landed at the coordinates where the survey team had been, and there was no sign the survey team had ever been there — I mean, nothing: No portable buildings, no vehicle tracks or hover pressure damage, no litter. And no bodies. It was as if they simply hadn’t landed. All we saw was a long, rolling plain of what looked like some form of grass. It was very pretty, actually. It was like the universe’s biggest front lawn. It was very peaceful, at least until the worms came out of it.
Have any of you ever seen a blue whale? You’ve seen pictures at least. Imagine something of that size coming up out of the ground right underneath you. We felt a rumbling before they breached the surface — but not as much as you might expect — and then these huge things were all around us. I remember feeling the ground rumbling and then looking over to see one of my platoonmates fall. As she was trying to stand up, the ground lifted up under her. One of those worms had tunneled under her and had opened its mouth just as it was coming up, so about two or three meters of ground on every side of her was already in the thing’s mouth. She was reaching up as the mouth shut on her. I saw her arm and hand dangling out as the worm slid back into the ground, waving like a parody of
I and some of my squadmates started running back for the landing craft when one of the worms surfaced behind us and literally jumped into the air to come down on where we were. My friend Alan Rosenthal was directly in front of me, so I shoved him forward as hard as I could. It worked, because the thing missed Alan. But it got me. It was like a big fleshy wall came down on top of my head, and then I was tumbling ass over head — excuse the language — in this thing’s mouth, along with about a ton of dirt. After a minute of this I felt the dirt clearing behind me. The worm was starting to swallow what was in its mouth, dragging me down its throat.
My Empee — that’s the rifle we use — was somewhere in the worm’s mouth with me, but I didn’t keep a grip on it and it was pitch black in there, so it was useless to me. I tried grabbing onto the side of the mouth to keep from sliding back but I had no traction. Finally I took the combat knife from my belt and jammed it into what I guessed was its lower jaw. That kept me from sliding long enough for me to get out my multi-purpose tool. I don’t know if any of you know about this; it’s a block of nanobots that can take the form of just about any sort of thing you need. It’s like the Swiss army knife of the gods. I ordered it into a barbed hook and jammed it in right next to the combat knife just as worm jostled the knife free. The knife slipped out of my hand and down the worm’s throat, and I hoped the worm would choke on it. No such luck, though.
I wasn’t in danger of being digested at that minute, but it didn’t mean I wasn’t in trouble. If the worm opened its mouth, there would be a new avalanche of dirt coming in on me, and that could knock me off my hook and down its throat. No matter what, every second I was in the worm was another second I was moving away from my platoonmates. If the worm went deep into the ground, even if I managed to kill it, I would be buried alive. So I had to kill the thing, and kill it fast. I had two grenades on me, so after I got as secure a grip on my hook as I could with my left hand, I activated the grenades and threw them behind me, down the worm’s gullet.
They didn’t go down as far as I hoped — I was struck in the foot with shrapnel as they detonated — but they did the job, because the worm’s mouth immediately started filling with blood, and the thing stopped moving forward and began twitching. After a few minutes of this the worm stopped moving altogether. I waited a few more minutes to make sure it really was dead, and then I endured the worst part of the whole ordeal: I had to actually force myself down the worm’s throat to get my Empee. Because you don’t leave your rifle behind if you can help it.