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Authors: John Scalzi

Tags: #Colonial Defense Force, #John Scalzi, #Old Man's War

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KULKARNI: 

 

How did you eventually get out of the creature’s mouth?

 

 

 

PERRY: 

 

It involved a lot of digging. (laughter) But my experience explained why this world, which seemed so suitable for intelligent life, was in fact entirely clear of any species we’d met before. Any creatures who landed on its surface were turned into worm food in a matter of hours or even minutes. Those vast plains were the worm’s roaming grounds — and not only that, they seemed
designed
that way. Remember the “grass” I told you about? Within an hour of our worm attacks, that “grass” had completely covered where the worms had come out of the ground. Visually, it was like the attack had never happened. We did sonic tests — unmanned tests — and the ground underneath the plains was hardly packed at all, even hundreds of feet down. It was like topsoil. Which made it easy for the worms. It was like they were swimming in the earth. And these plains covered almost all of the landmass of the planet. Which our scientists said didn’t make sense, because the planet was tectonically active. It should have had mountains and rock formations like any other planet.

 

 

 

VILLAGER #3: 

 

Could the worms have changed the entire planet to their liking?

 

 

 

PERRY: 

 

See, that’s just it, isn’t it? Did the worms make the planet the way it is, or do the worms exist because the planet is the way it is? And if it’s the first of these, does that mean the worms did it
intentionally
, and that they’re intelligent? You don’t have to be an intelligent animal to completely change an ecosystem. Back on Earth, animals like sheep or goats could completely strip an area of vegetation, changing the character of the land. Now, they were managed by humans, which means somewhere along the line there was an intelligence at work. But deer, which were not domesticated, could do the same thing: by eating certain young plants, they’d help create forests with only a few plant species in them. 

 

 

 

But even then, we’re talking a forest, or part of a grassland. Here, it’s an entire planet, and the ecosystem isn’t being damaged; it’s being
managed
. The more we looked at it, the more it seems like conscious engineering. 

 

 

 

KULKARNI: 

 

Perhaps someone should go back and try to talk to them.

 

 

 

PERRY: 

 

Maybe someone should. Just not me. I’d hate to think what would happen if they carried grudges. Yes, ma’am.

 

 

VILLAGER #4: 

 

Yes, Captain Perry, how would you respond if I told you that the current political structure of the Colonial Union was one of imperial colonialism and totalitarianism, and that you yourself represented the racist, colonial impulses of that system of control? (audible groans) 

 

 

 

PERRY: 

 

Nice to meet you, too.

 

 

 

KULKARNI: 

 

You’ll have to excuse Savitri, Captain Perry. Her parents were political exiles to this colony after the Subcontinental War. Rightly or wrongly. But they indoctrinated their daughter well, even though she was born a colonist. She enjoys rabble rousing, although the rabble here isn’t often roused. Most of us chose to be here. 

 

 

 

VILLAGER #4:

 

I don’t need you to excuse me, Administrator. And I don’t need
you
to patronize me, Captain Perry. All we have to do is look at the reality. The colonists, the people who the Colonial Union is built on, are all from poor countries on Earth, most of which are outside the Western sphere of countries. Only Norway regularly sends colonists from Europe, and we all know of that country’s ecological disasters. But the Colonial Defense Forces are exclusively taken from rich, affluent countries back on earth, most especially your own United States. Americans practically run the CDF as far as we can tell. And the Colonial Union administration is taken from old-line Colonial stock, which is to say Western countries, before the Colonial Union decided only to take colonists from third-world countries. So: Western administration, American military, poor brown people as colonists and pawns. What about this set-up
doesn’t
stink of colonial imperialism?

 

 

 

KULKARNI: 

 

You can ignore her question if you would like, Captain.

 

 

 

VILLAGER #4: 

 

That would be entirely in character for the Colonial Union.

 

 

 

PERRY: 

 

Why would I ignore her? Maybe she’s right.

 

 

 

VILLAGER #4: 

 

Excuse me?

 

 

 

PERRY: 

 

Well, aren’t you? Colonists
are
from third world countries, or except for those from the earliest colonies, come from populations that were. CDF personnel are from the first world, particularly from the U.S., although not always, since I’ve served with people from Argentina, the UK and Japan as well as various parts of Europe. And while no one wants to talk about it, from time to time the CDF is made to step in with colonial issues. One of my dear friends lost her life during a labor uprising on Elysium; some petroleum drillers blew her up and then fed her to a fish while she was still alive, so you can imagine the CDF did not tread lightly when it retaliated. Now, as it happens, Elysium is one of the first generation colonies. I think it’s mostly Greeks there; the name would fit, anyway. But the larger point stands. 

 

 

 

I have to tell you that while I think your point of view makes some sense, those of us in the CDF look at it a little bit differently. Here
we
are, members of the richest countries on Earth — and we’re told by the Colonial Union we can’t colonize. We’re not given a reason, other than that the Colonial Union simply chooses not to recruit colonists from the US or other rich countries. There’s no appeal, since the Colonial Union enforces its monopoly on space travel. And so we see the citizens
of India, of Pakistan, of Ethiopia, of Guatemala and New Guinea filling up the universe while we’re stuck on planet Earth. The only way
we
get to go is if we agree to fight, and we have to wait until we’re old men and women before they’ll take us.
Then
we have to wait, and survive, for another ten years before we’re given permission to colonize. Not many of us make it that long.

 

 

 

So I can understand why you feel that the Western countries are trying to keep the third world in line, even out in the universe. But I can promise you that if most of us had been given the
choice
between colonizing and fighting, we would have gladly chosen colonizing, and equally gladly would have let others have the military responsibilities we’ve had to take on. Those of us in the CDF are just as much pawns in whatever master plan the Colonial Union has as you are.

 

 

 

VILLAGER #4: 

 

Except that
you
have the guns. 

 

 

 

PERRY: 

 

Well, there
is
that. The only thing I can say to that is that at some point in the future, if I live that long, I’ll be putting my weapon down and colonizing myself. Then you and I will be in the same boat. I’d rather colonize than fight, personally. But this was how I was allowed to get out in the universe. For better or worse, I agreed to the terms. If I could change the terms, believe me, I would. But it wasn’t up to me.

 

 

 

VILLAGER #5: 

 

Why doesn’t the CDF let colonists sign up to fight, too?

 

 

 

PERRY: 

 

You know, I wish they did! (laughter) My understanding of it is that very early on in the Colonial Union, the Union decided that it would be better if the colonists were allowed to focus on building the colonies while the CDF chose recruits who weren’t tied to one colony or another. I’m sure — and here you see me nodding in the direction of my former questioner here — that there are several levels of Machiavellian
realpolitik
I’m skating over here, and that the true reason for this is more complex than I just gave it. But on the surface this reason makes good sense to me. I’ve been touring the colonies for the last few months. From what I can see, colonizing seems like incredibly hard work, and in many colonies, especially the newer ones, there hardly seem to be enough people to do the work that’s needed. Huckleberry has been colonized for a while now — how long, Administrator?

 

 

 

KULKARNI: 

 

We will be celebrating our fifty-eighth anniversary in another two months.

 

 

 

PERRY: 

 

Right. Okay, Huckleberry’s been colonized for almost sixty years, which is time enough for the planetary population to fill out some, both from immigration and natural birth rates. That’s enough time for several million people to be here. But some of these new colonies have just a couple thousand people as part of the “seeding” colony; that’s the people who work to prepare things for a second wave of colonists. Those people never stop working. Three stops before I was here, I was on Orton, which is only in its first year. I got tired just
watching
them work. They certainly can’t afford to ship any of their people off to fight. And to be honest, I don’t see why anyone who is already a colonist would want to sign up for the CDF.

 

 

 

VILLAGER #4: 

 

To have control of our own collective destinies, that’s why.

 

 

 

PERRY: 

 

She’s back! (laughter) That’s not a bad reason, but I don’t know if the reality of CDF life matches that. Your vision of what it means to be in the CDF — and I mean no disrespect — is romanticized. On a day-to-day basis, you wouldn’t be fighting for your colony, other than in the most generalized sense. You’d be fighting to keep some alien creature from killing you or killing one of your squadmates. You’d be fighting not to die, and to stop other people — some you know and some you don’t — from dying. Destiny gets compressed, you know, into just that small fraction of a second you have right in front of you at any one time. And there’s nothing romantic about keeping your head down to avoid getting shot, or trying to save a friend who’s been injured, or coming face to face with a creature who is as smart and mean and as terrified of dying as you are, and who wants to make sure that if someone is left on the ground there, it’s you and not it. 

 

 

 

I mean, let me say it again, just to make it clear: Eight out of ten CDF members die in ten years of service. Most of those in the first couple of years. It’s one thing to say you’re willing to die to be in control of your own destiny, whether it’s personal or political. But it’s another thing to actually
be
dead, light-years away from everyone you ever knew, by the hand or paw or claw or
whatever
of some thing whose motivations for fighting you can hardly begin to understand. 

 

 

 

VILLAGER #5: 

 

And yet
you
chose to serve. 

 

 

 

PERRY: 

 

I did. Although when I look back on it now, if I had known then what I know now, I might have chosen to stay in Ohio and die in my own bed. I would be lying if I didn’t say that when I signed up I had my own romantic notions of what military life would be like. I guess I thought I would be, oh, I don’t know, swashbuckling around and fighting Ming the Merciless and kissing green-skinned maidens. Although, come to think of it, I
have
kissed green-skinned maidens. (laughter) So maybe it hasn’t been so bad. But to be more serious again, the reality of life in the CDF is far different and far more difficult than I could have imagined. 

 
BOOK: Questions for a Soldier
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