Shadows in flight, p.1
Shadows in Flight, page 1part #5 of The Shadow Series Series
The starship Herodotus left Earth in 2210 with four passengers. It accelerated nearly to lightspeed as quickly as it could, and then stayed at that speed, letting relativity do its work.
On Herodotus, just over five years had passed; it had been 421 years on Earth.
On Herodotus, the three thirteen-month-old babies had turned into six-year-olds, and the Giant had outlived his life expectancy by two years.
On Earth, starships had been launched to found ninety-three colonies, beginning with the worlds once colonized by the Formics and spreading to other habitable planets as soon as they were found.
On Herodotus, the six-year-old children were small for their age, but brilliant beyond their years, as the Giant had been when he was little, for in all four of them, Anton's Key had been turned, a genetic defect and a genetic enhancement at the same time. Their intelligence was beyond the level of savants in every subject matter, without any of the debilitations of autism. But their bodies never stopped growing. They were small now, but by age twenty-two, they would be the size of the Giant, and the Giant would be long dead. For he was dying, and when he died, the children would be alone.
In the ansible room of Herodotus, Andrew "Ender" Delphiki sat perched on three books atop a seat designed for adults. This was how the children operated the main computer that processed communication through the ansible, the instant communicator that kept Herodotus linked to all the computer networks of the ninety-four worlds of Starways Congress.
Ender was reviewing a research report on genetic therapy that showed some promise, when Carlotta came into the ansible room. "Sergeant wants a sibmoot."
"You found me," said Ender. "So can he."
Carlotta looked over his shoulder at the holodisplay. "Why do you bother?" she said. "There's no cure. Nobody's even looking for it anymore."
"The cure is for us all to die," said Ender. "Then Anton syndrome disappears from the human species."
"How can you research it without lab equipment, without test subjects, without anything?"
"I have this incredibly brilliant mind," said Ender cheerfully. "I look at all the genetic research they're doing and I'm connecting it with what we already know about Anton's Key from back in the days when top scientists were working hard on the problem. I connect things that the humans could never see."
"We'll die eventually," said Carlotta. "The Giant is dying now."
"You know that's all Sergeant wants to talk about."
"The giant's supposedly as brilliant as we are. Let him work on Anton's Key. Now come along so Sergeant doesn't get mad."
"We can't let Sergeant boss us around just because he gets so angry when we don't obey." Still, Ender knew Carlotta was right. It wasn't his intent to pacify Sergeant. He simply understood that if Sergeant got angry, it would take him twice as long to say what he wanted. Ender's research time would be eaten up by his brother's ranting.
Ender expected to find Sergeant in the Puppy -- the maintenance craft that was programmed by the Giant to remain within five meters of the surface of Herodotus no matter what contrary instructions it might be given. Ender knew Carlotta had tried for months to untether the Puppy, but she couldn't defeat the programming.
"It's the gravity lensing field," said Ender. "And it's active."
"It's just gravity. Ten percent of Earth. And we're sandwiched between two plates, it's not like we can fall."
"I hate the way it feels." They had played in that space when they were two-year-olds. It was like spinning around until you were dizzy. Only worse.
"Get over it," said Carlotta. "We've tested it, and sound really does get nullified in here."
"Right," said Ender. "How are we going to hear each other speak?"
"Tin can telephones," said Carlotta.
Of course they weren't the toy sound transmitters that they had made when they were really little. Carlotta had long since reengineered them so that, without any power source, they transmitted sound cleanly along ten meters of fine wire, even around corners or pinched in doors.
Sure enough, there was Sergeant, his eyes closed, "meditating" -- which Ender interpreted to mean that Sergeant was plotting how he would take over all the human worlds before he died of giantism at age twenty.
"Nice of you to come," said Sergeant. Ender couldn't hear him, but he could read his lips and besides, he already knew it was exactly what Sergeant was likely to say.
Soon they were hooked up in a three-way connection with Carlotta's tin cans. They all had to lie in a line with their heads turned, Ender between Carlotta and Sergeant so he couldn't decide to end the conversation and slither out.
"The Giant is taking a long time to die," said Sergeant.
In that instant, Ender understood the entire meeting. Sergeant was getting impatient. He was son of the king and ready to inherit.
"So what do you propose?" asked Ender neutrally. "Evacuate the air from the payload area? Poison his water or his food? Or will you insist we all hold knives and stab him to death in the Senate?"
"Don't be melodramatic," said Sergeant. "The bigger he gets, the harder it will be to deal with the carcass."
"Open the cargo bay and jettison it into space," said Carlotta.
"How clever," said Sergeant. "More than half our nutrients are tied up in his body and it's beginning to affect life support. We have to be able to reclaim those nutrients so we have something to eat and breathe as we get larger. If the Giant thinks we're going to kill him, he'll kill us first."
"Don't assume that the Giant is as evil as you," said Ender.
Carlotta tugged on his foot. "Play nice, Ender," she said.
Ender knew how this would play out. Carlotta would express her regret but she'd agree with Sergeant. If Ender tried to give the Giant extra calories, Sergeant would beat him and Carlotta would stand by, or even help hold him. Not that the beatings ever lasted long. Ender just had no interest in fighting, so he didn't defend himself. After a few blows, he always gave in.
But this was different. The Giant was dying anyway. That caused Ender enough anguish that the idea of hastening the process was unbearable.
Nothing unbearable had ever been proposed before. So Ender's reaction surprised even him. No, especially him.
Sergeant's head was right there, just above Ender's own. Ender reached up, and with all the power of his arms, he rammed Sergeant's head into the wall.
Blood sprayed out Sergeant's nose and floated in globules that "fell" in every direction in the turbulent gravity field.
Ender shaped his hand into a fist and drove a knuckle into Sergeant's eye.
Carlotta twisted on Ender's foot, shouting, "What are you doing? What's going on?"
Ender braced himself against her grip and drove the edge of his hand into Sergeant's throat.
Sergeant choked and gasped.
"Here's how it's going to be," said Ender. "Your reign of terror is over. You proposed murder and you meant it."
"He didn't mean it," said Carlotta.
"He meant it and you would have helped him with it," said Ender. "If you try to give orders to anybody again, I'll kill you. Do you understand me?"
"You would never kill me," croaked Sergeant.
"I think you're terrified by the fact that nobody ever stopped you from doing anything. Well, this is your lu
"The Giant's going to ask what happened to Sergeant," Carlotta said.
"He won't have to ask," said Ender. "I'm going to repeat our conversation to him, verbatim, and the two of you will be there to listen."
Bean looked at his three children and it was only with effort that he concealed the depth of his grief and fear for them. He had known it was only a matter of time, and while he was relieved that Ender had finally woken out of his long pacifist slumber to end Sergeant's domination, he knew that they had only set the scene for conflict to come. What will happen when I'm gone? thought Bean.
Petra, I have botched this completely, but I don't know how I could have done it better. They've had too much freedom, but I couldn't chase them through corridors where my body no longer fit.
"Andrew," said Bean, "I appreciate your loyalty to me, and the fact that you repeated all conversations verbatim, including the incredibly stupid and dangerous things you said."
Bean watched as Ender blushed a little -- not from embarrassment, but from anger. He also saw how Carlotta looked a little relieved, and Cincinnatus -- Bean had always hated the nickname "Sergeant" -- got a sudden look of triumphant hope.
"Cincinnatus," said Bean. "The fact that Ender is not a killer does not mean he won't kill you, if he feels the need. You see, you're an attacker, a competitor, and you don't understand what Ender is -- a defender, like the boy I named him for. Just because he feels no need to control other people doesn't mean he'll let you take what he doesn't mean for you to have -- including my life. Including his own."
"He sprang on me without warning!" Sergeant shouted.
"You were introducing an entirely new element into your little world -- the murder of Ender's father. And you were so hopelessly ignorant of him that it never crossed your mind that he would react differently to this threat than he had to all your previous bullying," said Bean.
"He wasn't my enemy," said Sergeant.
"He's been the only enemy you faced since you first met him when Petra and I finally located all of you and brought you together when you were one year old. The other male antonine. The rival. You've done nothing that wasn't designed to keep him under your thumb for the past five years. Your imaginary enemies are all surrogates for Andrew Delphiki. You've designed humiliation after humiliation for him, manipulating your sister to side with you against Ender, and here's the sad result. Ender and Carlotta are productive members of our little four-person society, as am I. But you, Cincinnatus Delphiki, are a drain on our resources, producing nothing of value and disrupting the functioning of everyone else. Not to mention criminal conspiracy to commit first-degree murder."
To Bean's surprise, tears filled Sergeant's eyes. "I didn't ask to be on this voyage! I didn't want to go! I didn't like you, I liked Petra, but you never even asked what I wanted!"
"You were only a year old," said Bean.
"You weren't even a year old when you escaped from the lab where they were disposing of your fellow experiments! We could talk, we could think, we had feelings, and you didn't even ask, we were just ripped out of our homes and you and Petra announced that you were our real parents. This big ugly giant and an Armenian military genius. I wanted to stay with the family that was raising me, the woman I called Mother, the ordinary-sized, hardworking man I called Father, but no, you and your wife owned us. Like slaves! Taken here, sent there, your property. And I end up here? In space, near lightspeed, while the rest of the human race moves through time eighty-five times faster than we do. Each year of our lives is a whole lifetime for members of the human race. And you talk to me about my crimes? I'll tell you why I want you dead. You stole me from my real family! You gave me your emossin' Anton's Key and then you took away everybody who ever cared about me and trapped me here with an inert giant and two weaklings who don't even have the sense to know they're slaves!"
Bean had no answer. In the five years of this voyage so far, it had never crossed his mind that the children might remember the women who had borne them when, as embryos, they were stolen and dispersed around the world, implanted in women who had no reason to suspect they were the in vitro offspring of the great generals Julian Delphiki and Petra Arkanian.
"Our birth families were all stupid," said Ender, "and they were terrified of us. Yours was no different. They could hardly bear to touch you, they thought you were a monster, you told us that yourself."
"Well what's this family," Sergeant whispered fiercely. "Father is a talking mountain in the cargo hold, and Mother is a hologram who says the same things over and over and over and over and over and over."
Bean lay back and stared at the ceiling. Then he closed his eyes because he couldn't see the ceiling anyway. Closing his eyes squeezed out the tears that had filled them.
"It was a terrible choice," said Bean softly. "No matter what we did it would be wrong. We didn't talk to you about it because you didn't have enough experience of life to make an intelligent choice. You three were doomed to die by age twenty or so. We thought we'd find a cure quickly -- ten years, twenty -- and you could come back to Earth while you were still young enough to have your whole lives ahead of you." Bean sighed. It took great effort to expel the air from his lungs. "When Petra and I conceived you, it was because we believed there was a scientist who could sort things out. He was the one who turned Anton's Key in me in the first place. The one who killed all my fellow experiments. We never meant to do this to you. But it was done, and all we could think to do was whatever it took to give you a real life."
"Your life is real," said Ender. "I'd be content with a life like yours."
"I'm living in a box that I can never leave," said Bean, clenching his fists. He had never meant to say anything like this to them. The humiliation of his own self-pity was unbearable to him, but they had to understand that he was right to do whatever it took to keep them from getting cheated the way he had been. "If you spend the first five or ten years of your life in space like this, so what? As long as it gives you the next ninety years -- and children who will have their century, and grandchildren. I'll never see any such thing -- but you will."
"No we won't," whispered Sergeant. "There is no cure. We're a new species that has a life span of twenty-two years, apparently, as long as we spend our last five years at ten percent gravity."
"So why do you want to kill me?" asked Bean. "Isn't my life short enough for you?"
In answer, Sergeant clung to Bean's sleeve and cried. As he did, Ender and Carlotta held each other's hands and watched. What they were feeling, Bean didn't know. He wasn't even sure what Sergeant was crying for. He didn't understand anybody and he never had. He was no Ender Wiggin.
Bean tracked him now and then, checking in with the computer nets through the ansible, and as far as he could tell, Ender Wiggin wasn't having much of a life, either. Unmarried, childless, flying from world to world, staying nowhere very long, and then getting back to lightspeed so he stayed young while the human race aged.
Just like me. Ender Wiggin and I have made the same choice, to stay aloof from humanity.
Why Ender Wiggin was hiding from life, Bean could not guess. Bean had had his brief sweet marriage with Petra. Bean had these miserable, beautiful, impossible children and Ender Wiggin had nothing.
Mine is a good life, thought Bean, and I don't want it to end. I'm afraid of what will happen to this children when I'm gone. I can't leave them now and I have no choice. I love them more than I can bear and I can't save them. They're unhappy and I can't fix it. That's why I'm crying.
Carlotta was doing gravity calibrations in the field footing at the very back of the ship when Ender came in to life support, which was just above where she was working. Or just forward of it, depending on how you thought of the ship.
"Sergeant needs a dog," said Carlotta.
Ender jumped. "What are you doing down here?"
"My work," said Carlotta. "What are yo
"Samples," said Ender. "We've been working with viruses for gene splices for a long time, but there's some productive work being done with bacterial latency and chemical triggers."
He sounded so happy.
"I was hoping you could help me come up with something that will help Sergeant bear his life. He suffers more from loneliness than you and I do. He's more like Father."
"The Giant and Sergeant? I never thought of that, but I think you might be right. Sergeant needs to be a street kid in constant danger of starving or getting killed. That would occupy him nicely. So what you really want is not a dog for Sergeant. More like a sabertooth tiger. Something that is stalking him constantly so that he can devote himself to fighting off genuine threats so he doesn't have to keep making them up."
"I was thinking more along the lines of a companion that extends his life beyond the boundaries of the ship."
"A dog on another world?" asked Ender. "There are bio-research labs on several worlds that are studying various xenofauna. I assume you're suggesting that I invent some kind of excuse for this to be a project of mine, which I would talk about with believable enthusiasm, so that Sergeant will think he's sneaking behind my back to get control of the creature and divert it to his own purposes."
"Something like that," said Carlotta.
Ender said nothing more. He closed the lid on his last sample and left life support.
Carlotta was already finished with her readings. As usual, everything was working fine.
What routine, boring, lonely job was next? She hadn't checked the tracking software for a while. Weeks? Days? At least days. She closed up the floor panel over the gravitational field sensors and made her way to the elevator shaft.
When she first stepped onto the platform, it was a small floor under her feet. But as it moved upward, it passed into a flux zone, where she felt herself falling in every direction. She was used to it, though it still gave her a bit of an adrenaline rush as her body felt the usual momentary panic. The limbic nodedeep in her brain didn't understand that she no longer lived in a tree, no longer had to panic when she felt herself to be falling.
by Orson Scott Card / Science Fiction & Fantasy / Poetry / Nonfiction have rating 5.3 out of 5 / Based on32 votes