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L. Neil Smith's
Number 442, November 4, 2007

"Night-Dark Wasting Time!"

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Brain Death in Synopsis
by L. Neil Smith

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
First appeared at L. Neil Smith at Random

Our friend Albert Perez has asked me to tell the backstory of Will Sanders.

You may remember Will. The last time we saw him, he was living in the North American Confederacy, in Greater LaPorte, on Genet Place, across the street from Win Bear and Win's wife Clarissa MacDougall Olson-Bear.

Like Win, Will was a relative newcomer to the Confederacy, but had already won the captaincy of the local militia (the NAC won't tolerate a standing army) and not one, but two beautiful wives, the former Kendall sisters, daughters of the retired militia captain Will had replaced.

At the time, both sisters were pregnant, and Will—coming from another universe a great deal more like ours than like the Confederacy—alternated between being proud of his imminent dual fatherhood and embarrassed. The sisters, however, were having a blast being pregnant together, and thought that their husband's occasional discomfiture was funny.

I had mentioned—I can't recall whether it was in The Nagasaki Vector or The American Zone that something genuinely horrific had come to pass in whatever universe Will came from, and that he had arrived in LaPorte by sheer force of personality—an extraordinary act of will (no pun intended)—rather than courtesy of the customary interdimensional portal generator we all know as the Probability Broach.

What Albert couldn't know is that the entire terrifying story of Will Sanders is told in a novel I began writing around 1980 or 1981, which I intended to call Brain Death. It's basically a horror novel (with a backstory of its own that's science fictional) that I got about a third of the way into before it became clear to me that my agent at the time had "type-cast" me as a science fiction writer and wouldn't even consider trying to sell something I'd written that fell outside of the razor-wired border fences of "conventional" science fiction.

The story of Brain Death is told in dual tracks, or alternating chapters. The first track concerns itself with the disintegrating personal life (somewhat typical for a cop) of Denver Police Detective Will Sanders. The second track is all about the horror itself, with which, despite all of his other troubles, Will is soon fated to collide.

To make a long story short, Will is part of the Burglary Division of the Denver Police Department. His boss, in this universe so similar to and parallel to our own and to others we're aware of, is Detective Captain Roger MacDonald—Win Bear's boss in The Probability Broach—who has not been killed by Homeland Security Police as he was elsewhere.

Will has been happily married for six years, to an attractive blond approximately his own age. By choice, they have had no children. Then, suddenly, he meets and falls hard for a girl at least ten years his junior. She works as a clerk-stenographer in the same department he does. It's an absolutely overwhelming and bewildering emotional experience—akin to insanity—and it carries him away like a riptide.

Will and the girl—her name is Jill—have absolutely nothing in common. Where his wife—whom he still loves and deeply wishes not to hurt—is more or less voluptuous, well-educated, and subtly funny when she wishes to be, Jill is shockingly slender—unselfconsciously graceful in repose and heartbreakingly beautiful to Will, rather like a Tolkien elf—and almost completely self-educated. She is also very young and inexperienced in some ways that drive him mad, and has the same attitude toward the idea of humor as the average Vulcan science officer.

Will is helplessly in love with Jill. It doesn't help that their sexual relationship is intense in a way he has never known, like an explosive religious experience, or an epileptic seizure. When they are together, his consciousness is flooded by a "white light" he sees at the supreme moment. Other times, his life with Jill (he's separated from his wife and lives with the girl) is miserable. He knows that the chemistry works for her, as well, that he can please her as no other man ever has, but he doesn't know if she loves him—or even if she understands what love is—and she's unable, or unwilling, to tell him.

On the job, his behavior becomes more and more erratic. One night, he interrupts a burglar during a job, and when the criminal offers some minimal resistance, Will beats him half to death. While his actions fall within accepted police policy, Will's boss understands perfectly that they were motivated, not by self-defense or any desire to enforce the law, but by the stress and confusion in his personal life.

Captain MacDonald orders Will to take a long-overdue vacation by himself. He is to go away and stay for a few weeks with his original patrol partner—his mentor or "rabbi"—now retired and living in North Park with his wife. A little fishing, and a great deal of badly overdue sleep, lots of wandering the prairie that fills the crater- like valley, all of it without Jill's distracting and bewildering presence, is just what the doctor (or in this case, the captain) ordered.

The alternate chapters start with one set billions of years in the past, when a brutal interplanetary war rages between the inhabitants of ancient Mars, and those of a fifth world orbiting between Mars and Jupiter.

At about the time that people on the fifth planet create a truly terrible biological weapon—a genocidal thing capable of rendering every warm-blooded species on a planet extinct—their enemies on the fourth planet, Mars, discover a way to blow an entire planet into fragments.

Each side deploys its Doomsday weapon. The fifth planet is utterly destroyed and eventually becomes the Asteroid Belt, but even before the biological weapon it has launched can reach Mars, that world is bombarded with fragments from the shattered fifth planet. Its surface is soon covered with overlapping craters, its atmosphere is ionized and ripped away by the solar wind, and all but microbial life is wiped out.

Most of the Fifth Planet's biological weapons descend into oceans of boiling lava on Mars, and are consumed. A few float free in deep space for the next few billion years. At least one falls to Earth sometime in the late 19th century, in North Park, Colorado. Decades later, influenced by Beringer's investigations of the famous meteor crater in Arizona that will eventually bear his name, geologists from the famous Colorado School of Mines set up a drilling rig and start to probe for whatever fell in North Park and created a modest crater there.

They never find the object that fell, but pack up and return to the School of Mines, their expedition a failure. They don't know—and can't imagine—that they've loosened soil and rocks, creating a pathway to the surface. Stimulated by the drilling, something pops out of its tough metallic chrysalis and begins slowly climbing into the light.

The artificial organism is tiny, and the trek takes decades. At last the thing encounters a nest of baby field mice and has its way with them, one at a time, and then with their mother. It grows and climbs.

Meanwhile, Will has arrived in North Park. He settles in with his retired mentor. They talk over old times—MacDonald has phoned the older man, so it isn't necessary to bring up why Will is suddenly on vacation—go out to the dump and shoot at tin cans, and make fishing plans.

Now on the surface, the artificial creature has grown with each victim it's consumed. It takes a dog, then the rancher the dog belongs to.

We begin to meet new people, one by one, and finally see the full horror in the light of day. The rancher comes across a Rural Electric Association lineman and seizes him by the upper arms. Something redly hideous bursts out of the rancher's eye sockets and plunges deep into those of the lineman. His skull an empty husk, the rancher collapses and the monster, having recoalesced inside the lineman's skull, eats his brain while it looks out through his blank face for its next victim.

Early one morning, Will goes to a coffee shop in the small North Park town of Walden and meets a pretty young woman who works at the local REA office. They strike up a conversation and she invites him to a dance in town next Saturday. Will surprises himself by accepting the invitation.

The same day, late in the afternoon, a travelling salesman stops on the road to Walden to assist an REA lineman who is apparently having engine problems with his company pickup truck. When he joins the man under the open hood, he quickly becomes the extraterrestrial organism's next victim. He gets into his own car and continues into town.

As it grows, the organism is increasingly able to use its victims' memories. The salesman keeps as assignation that evening, as he has many times before, with the closest thing the little town has to a prostitute, a waitress at the coffee shop who often has "gentlemen callers". She and the salesman have known each other for several years, but she doesn't know the thing that attacks her until it's too late.

Somewhere around in here, people begin noticing that other people are missing. A number of things happen at once. Will and the REA lady end up in bed together. Later, Will meets her six-year-old daughter. The mayor and the sheriff come to consult Will's mentor about the disappearances.

And Jill shows up in town.

Being separated from Will has helped her straighten out her feelings for him, and she doesn't want to lose him. She discovers what's going on with him and the other woman, but wisely doesn't let it throw her. At the moment when they are reconciling, the woman shows up—and the alien inside her tries to attack Jill. When Will manages tp prevent it, the woman staggers off in search of another victim. Will and Jill hurry to see whether the woman's little girl is still safe.

The girl is safe. There's no sign of her mother. The three hurry to Will's mentor's house, only to find the REA woman's dead body in the front yard. Will's mentor lunges for him, but his wife hits him with a shovel, pours kerosene over him, and lights it. He goes up in flames.

They believe they are safe—until thousands of small objects burst out of the fire and drift, lighter than feathers, into the sky. They are the creature's spawn, and now they will infest an entire world.


So there you are, Albert. Lots of gaps to bridge and plot holes to plug, but I always handle that in the actual writing. Presumably at some point during the systematic extinction of all mammalian life on Earth—probably sometime after monsters have gotten Jill and the little girl—Will goes to sleep and awakens in the North American Confederacy.

Yes, I know it's horrible. It's supposed to be. What else could compel or enable a man to leap from one alternative reality to another?


Rap music?

Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas was recently completed and is presently looking for a literary home.

Neil is presently working on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Roswell, Texas, with Rex F. "Baloo" May.

The stunning 185-page full-color graphic-novelized version of The Probability Broach, which features the art of Scott Bieser and was published by BigHead Press has recently won a Special Prometheus Award. It may be had through the publisher, at, or at


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