Lex Falk is a veteran reporter who's spent most of his life chasing news stories across human space. When he suspects something is happening on the contested colony world of Eighty-Six, he drops in to investigate. Unfortunately, the local Settlement Office Military Division is giving him and all the other journalists the runaround. Frustrated by the media blackout and the hints that something big is going on, Falk looks for a way around it, and finds an unusual ally: an interstellar mining corporation operating on Eighty-Six is just as interested in finding out what is happening. They give him an offer: using state-of-the-art telepresence technology, he can enter the body of a SOMD soldier and see everything he sees, and report back on what's happening.
Falk finds himself in the body of Corporal Nestor Bloom, right as he and his squad are being deployed into a warzone. Bloom's squad goes in to investigate disappearances in a mining town, and Falk discovers things are worse than they seem, right about the point where Bloom gets shot in the head.
Things get worse from there. Bloom may have a bullet lodged in his skull, but Falk finds himself in control of the Corporal's body, with his squad cut down and enemy soldiers approaching from all sides. Falk has to adapt fast if he wants to find out what's really going on and blow the whole story wide open.
Embedded provides examples of:
- Absent Aliens: No aliens have been discovered beyond local, earthlike wildlife on the various planets. The artifact buried in the mine subverts this, and is the point behind the whole plot.
- Action Survivor: Falk is not a trained fighter, and it shows.
- All Planets Are Earthlike: Averted with Eighty-Six. While humans can live there, the planet is unpleasantly hot and bright by terran standards.
- Alternate History: It's briefly mentioned that the first man on the moon was Virgil Grissom in June 1967. The real Grissom died in January.
- Battle Couple: Bloom and Stabler, which makes Falk finding Stabler's corpse all the worse, because he feels Bloom's horrified grief.
- Becoming the Mask: Falk slowly develops a strong sense of duty and loyalty to his fellow soldiers as time passes. In this case, it is partially a byproduct of being in Bloom's body, as Bloom's memories begin to influence him.
- The Big Guy: SOMD trooper "Bigmouse."
- Black-and-Gray Morality: Though the SOMD troops are no angels, the Bloc soldiers are ruthless killers who take no chances and gun down civilians as well as SOMD troops. They really want that artifact. Though, judging from the actions of SO Human Services,SOMD would likely do the same if the situation were reserved.
- Brand X: Lots of the everyday things that Falk uses as a civilian are mentioned. Once Falk ends up in Bloom's body, the stark lack of these civilian comforts becomes apparent.
- Chekhov's Skill: A few of Falk's civilian skills prove to be invaluable as The Squad tries to keep ahead of the Bloc troops. In particular, his understanding of signals technology and his father's experience with aircraft engines both become useful later on.
- Dirty Communists: Generally averted; while the Bloc is made of the "classic" Communist nationalities, they're more united in opposition to the United Status than by any ideology.
- Dirty Coward: Masry, the ordnance officer who survived the initial ambush. He eventually suffers a complete breakdown when the squad is attempting to escape on a damaged transport VTOL, he lifts off without waiting for the rest of the squad to get aboard.
- Energy Weapon: The "hardbeam piper" weapons essentially serve this role. In combat, they're used as armor-piercing weapons, able to punch through vehicle plating and personal armor.
- Engineered Public Confession: Falk talks Tedders into one of these,a s she doesn't realize he's controlling Bloom's body.
- Future Slang: There's a few specific terms used by the various characters. "Scorch" is used to refer to someone getting killed, and the SOMD troops refer to getting into combat as "the Hard Place." Using a word that starts with "re" is adjusted to "pre," i.e. "retard" -> "pretard," or "research" -> "presearch."
- Genius Bruiser: Bigmouse is an enormous, strong man who specializes in infiltration and technical skills.
- Goggles Do Something Unusual: The "glares" that all SOMD troops carry have a number of valuable functions, such as IFF scanning, displaying medical status, recording video, taking snapshots, and so on.
- Intrepid Reporter: Falk, who is almost a Determinator in his focus on getting to the story.
- Karmic Death: Masry, after bailing on the squad, gets crushed when his VTOL crashes.
- The Nicknamer: Falk nicknames people based on superficial details, though he stops doing this when he takes over Bloom's body.
- More Dakka: The PAP 20 assault rifles have a two-hundred round magazine that fires ridiculously fast; an unarmored man getting shot with one is splattered across a wall.
- People Puppets: Falk is a neutral version of this, as he's essentially puppeting and controlling Bloom's body for most of the story. He has to spend a significant amount of time just figuring out how to walk, let alone fight and shoot.
- Pretty Little Headshots: Bloom suffered a headshot from a low-caliber bullet (literally, about 2 millimeters wide) but the actual wound is not that terribly bad - a dark crater underneath his eye. It's still debilitating and would have been lethal if Falk hadn't been embedded in his body.
- Shout-Out: The S.O.M.D. M3A Hardlaser (beam) Emitter, nicknamed the "Pipe" or "Piper" since the barrel looks like a black plastic drainpipe. Frequently reduced to h-beam piper for brevity.
- Sound-Effect Bleep: People who get outfitted with a "ling patch" that alters their language. One of the possible patches replaces all vulgarity with the word "Freek" which is an "acceptable" (read: copyrighted) swear. Apparently, getting fitted for this patch earns whoever gets one some money from the company that copyrighted the word.
- Space Cold War: Between the NATO-style United Status and the Warsaw Pact-style Central Bloc. It's been ongoing for three hundred years without flaring up, mostly because with hundreds of worlds for settling, there's been no space constraints.
- The Squad: The SOMD survivors that Falk and his fellows pick up as they flee from the Central Bloc troops gradually become this.
- Took a Level in Badass: Thanks to both his determination and Bloom's muscle memory, Falk gradually shifts from being barely able to fire a weapon to a competent soldier who guns down most of a squad of Bloc troopers.
- Translator Microbes: The "ling" patches allow those outfitted with them to speak a language fluently, to the point that they don't even realize they're speaking the language. This gets Falk in trouble when his benefactors patch him to speak Russian without telling him, and he starts speaking it in front of the other paranoid SOMD troops.