Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 25
Stories
Under the Surface
by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Nanoparticle Jive
by Tomas Martin
Walks Before Greatness
by Kate Marshall
Counterclockwise
by Alethea Kontis
Whiteface Part II
by Jared Oliver Adams
Orson Scott Card - Sneak Preview
Shadows in Flight - Chapter 2
by Orson Scott Card
IGMS Audio
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews

Shadows in Flight
    by Orson Scott Card
    Concept Art by Nick Greenwood

Shadows in Flight

Chapter 2
Seeing the Future

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. These children had no idea how transparent they were to him. Learning to read other people took time, no matter how clever a child might be.

Though they might be better at it than Bean supposed. What if they knew exactly what emotions they were showing now, and let them show deliberately?

Petra, you got the easier bargain. I never thought how challenging it would be, raising children who were so grimly determined to survive -- however they chose to define that -- and so preternaturally good at acquiring the skills to do it.

I must have been just a little terrifying myself at that age, if anyone had cared to notice. If Achilles had understood me only a little better, he would have killed me and not Poke. But Achilles was insane, and killed out of need rather than policy.

Ender had the self-control not to plead his case, despite the criticism, nor to try to build more of a case against the others. Instead he stood patiently, despite that slight blush, which was already fading.

"Bella," said Bean to Carlotta.

"That's not my name," she said sullenly.

"It's the name on your birth certificate."

"On a world I will never see again."

"Carlotta, then," said Bean. "You do understand that avoiding conflict by constantly allying yourself with the stronger brother is not going to work, because these boys are evenly matched."

"No one knew that until today," said Carlotta.

"I did," said Bean.

"I still don't," said Sergeant.

"Then your absurd self-esteem is completely undeserved, Cincinnatus. Because it was very careless of you to think that Ender was only what he seemed. Though if he were truly a killer, you'd be dead now, taken utterly by surprise."

Sergeant flashed a tiny microsmile.

"No, 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."

"Thank you for the lesson, Father," said Sergeant. "I am always wiser after these little interviews."

Bean let out a roar -- a long one, and so loud the whole cargo compartment vibrated. The children visibly quailed before him. Not long ago, they would have knelt. By reflex -- Bean had never asked them to do so.

"You stand charged with planning my murder, Cincinnatus. Perhaps a faint effort at showing rue would be better than open snottiness."

"What are you going to do, Father? Kill me? You know I was right. You're an unproductive drain on our --"

"I know that you're still so young and ignorant that you think you don't need me any longer," said Bean. "But someday you will reenter the human universe, completely unprepared for what you'll find there because you're so filled with arrogance that it doesn't cross your mind that there are many humans who are more than a match for you."

Sergeant said nothing.

"I have lived among them. On the streets of Rotterdam as a child I survived among human beings at their most feral, and found among them human beings at their best and most civilized. I know how humans make war. I know how they plot murder. I know what they care about -- a thousand different things that you know nothing of. And to kill me now, when I've taught you almost none of that --"

"Why haven't you taught us?" demanded Carlotta. "You haven't even told us enough for us to know that we didn't know enough yet."

"You didn't seem ready or interested," said Bean. "But since my heart might give out at any time, perhaps I should begin your lessons. Let's start with this: People resent it when you try to kill them."

"I'm sorry if I caused you resentment," said Sergeant. His imitation of regret was getting better, but it was still not good.

"They tend to try to kill you back. You're clever, Cincinnatus, but you're also tiny. An ordinary ten-year-old could kill you without much effort. An adult could break you in his hands."

"Could they?" said Sergeant. "My research tells me that there's a strong resistance to killing infants."

"Then your research is inadequate. Alpha males of a certain type kill children by instinct, and it takes all of society's efforts to keep them from doing so at the slightest provocation. You provide provocations that are more than slight."

"We're your children," said Carlotta. "You told us the story of Poke and Achilles, how you told Poke to kill Achilles the first time you brought him into your jeesh."

"We called it a 'family' -- the jeesh was something else, later. And yes, I told her to kill Achilles and I was right, because Achilles was a sociopath who had to kill anyone who had humiliated him. I didn't know that until I saw him on the ground, humiliated, and then I knew. He posed a direct threat. For the defense of Poke and the children she protected, he had to die. She didn't kill him, and so he eventually strangled her and threw her in the Rhine. How does that apply to our situation here?"

"You consume so much of our resources," began Sergeant.

"I consume exactly twice as many calories as an ordinary human adult, and the three of you combined consume as many as one adult, which adds up to the consumption of three on a ship that can sustain twenty adults for ten years, or five for forty years. I'm puzzled at your sense of crisis about this, Sergeant. Why do you feel a need for me to die? Have I been too burdensome a taskmaster?"

"I was making a point," said Carlotta, "and as usual you digressed in order to talk to one of the boys."

"I wish your mother hadn't given you that special message about feminism. It's made you prickly about nothing, Carlotta. You brought up my insistence on killing Achilles, and apparently your point wasn't that because I wanted to kill a dangerous enemy when I was your age, you should be planning to kill people."

Carlotta looked nonplussed. "I guess that was my point. In a way."

"I answered it. Why weren't you listening? I was in a kill-or-be-killed situation on the streets of Rotterdam. If we didn't kill Achilles, he would kill us, and he ended up doing many terrible things before he died. All you have against me is my consumption -- so as long as we're making analogies, I came to Poke's group as a starving toddler."

"Our size," said Carlotta, skeptical.

"Smaller," said Ender. "I read his metrics when he was tested for Battle School and that was after his group had been eating well for months. We were big fat bruisers compared to him at the same age."

"You've been studying his records?" asked Carlotta.

"Suckup," murmured Sergeant.

"He's the only test case for Anton syndrome prior to us," said Ender. "Of course I've studied every scrap of information on the course of his physical and mental development."

"To continue my response to Carlotta's false comparison," said Bean. "I was one more mouth to feed and I didn't look like I could contribute anything to her small group of children. Poke could have kicked me out -- they could have beaten me to death for even trying to join them. Many groups had done such things and worse. I had been watching and I saw that she was merciful, within the limits that the brutal conditions of street life allowed. Unlike me today, I posed a definite threat to their survival -- a drain on their resources, unlikely to help them gather more. But she heard me out. Do you understand that? Killing wasn't her first response to a genuine threat. She gave me a chance."

"And her mercy got her killed later," said Sergeant.

"Not her mercy to me," said Bean.

"Yes it was her mercy to you," said Sergeant. "The way you talked her into keeping you was by proposing your plan to get a bigger boy to be your protector so you could get into the soup kitchen for one decent meal a day, right?"

Bean saw where he was going, but he'd let him finish. "Right."

"And you even suggested Achilles as the obvious boy because he was big but he had a limp so he needed Poke's group to help him forage as much as you needed him to protect you from bullies and thieves."

"I was right on every point except the choice of Achilles, and I was only wrong about him for reasons that I couldn't know until I saw his response to our tackling him and physically subduing him."

"But if she had simply had her group drive you away from the start, she wouldn't have died."

Bean sighed. "What was foreseeable, Sergeant? My plan worked perfectly, and everybody in the group ate better. Maybe Poke would have lived longer without my mistakes, but those kids were all living on the margin, and some of them would certainly have died. I didn't foresee murder -- but I got the social dynamics exactly right."

"I think Carlotta's example is exactly right," said Sergeant. "When you're surrounded by enemies, you have to be ruthless."

Time to roar again. "Where are your enemies, you stupid git!"

Sergeant quailed again, but the kid had spunk. "The whole human universe!" he shouted back.

"The whole human universe doesn't know you exist, or care either," said Ender mildly.

"They should know!" Sergeant shouted, whirling on his brother. "They made promises and they didn't keep them! They've abandoned us!"

"They have not," said Bean. "The people who actually made the promises kept them, and so did the next generation, and so did the next."

"But they found nothing," said Sergeant.

"They found more than two hundred possibilities that didn't work, though some still show some promise. That's a lot of something, to anyone who knows how science works. Maybe we have to find five hundred dead ends before we reach the right answer, and they helped us enormously."

"But they stopped." Carlotta was just as stubborn as Sergeant.

"That doesn't make them our enemies. After all, Carlotta, you and Sergeant have done absolutely nothing to help Ender and me in our research. By your reasoning, you are our enemies as much as they are, and in your case you're ignoring our own self-interest."

"This ship is our world!" Carlotta answered hotly. "For all we know we'll be living here our entire lives. Somebody needs to know how to repair and rebuild every aspect of it."

"I know how," said Bean.

"But you can't do anything, you live in this box where you hardly dare exert yourself because you'll have a coronary episode and die."

"I can control the Puppy remotely from here, and I've done so several times when repairs were necessary."

"And when you die, who'll do it then? Me," said Carlotta. "I didn't abandon your project to cure Anton syndrome, I worked on a project every bit as important to our survival."

"That's true," said Bean, "and I approve of it. I shouldn't have lumped you in with Sergeant when I turned his accusation back on him."

"And I'm preparing to defend us against our enemies," said Sergeant.

"That's complete kuso," said Bean. "It took you about three days to figure out how to weaponize the ship's equipment, and you spend a few minutes a day working out so you're strong and agile enough to fight -- if we happen to have enemies who are really short and don't take you by surprise and only come at you one at a time, like in the vids. The rest of the time you've spent fantasizing about nonexistent enemies, then trying to force your sibs into living in your paranoid universe."

"When we run into enemies, you'll be glad I spent time --"

"All of you are geniuses," Bean said sharply. "When an enemy comes any of you is capable of outsmarting them, without spending week after week living in this absolute madness."

"You're calling me insane," said Sergeant. "This from the great warrior who installed Peter Wiggin as Hegemon." He turned to Ender. "I didn't study the Giant's metrics, I studied his battles."

"I didn't install Peter as anything," said Bean. "I helped him quell the wars that threatened to consume the human race after we beat the Formics."

"Speaking of which," said Sergeant, "you were twice as good a strategist and tactician as that kid you named Ender for."

"But I wasn't half as good a commander because I didn't know how to love or trust anybody until I learned it from your mother, years later. You can't command men in war if you don't know how to trust, and you can't defeat an enemy if you don't know how to love."

"I don't have to command anyone in battle because there's nobody to command. There's just me."

"Nobody to command, and yet you spend your life bossing your brilliant sibs and manipulating them. The opposite of a good commander -- a tyrant who's too terrified of imaginary threats to recognize rational advice when he hears it."

"The worst thing Mother ever did was leaving you to raise us alone," said Sergeant. "Calling me names."

"How dare I," said Bean. "The son who plotted to murder me, and I dare to call him names. Stupid is how you act, it's a name you've earned. Look at you -- supposedly preparing to face all enemies, and your brother just mashed your face and your throat so you look like meat and you sound like a creaking door."

"He sprang on me without warning!" Sergeant shouted.

"Stupid again," said Bean. "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."

"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.

"What does that mean to an antonine! 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.

"Well damn," said Bean. "Why didn't you say something before?"

"Because he didn't know that this is what was pissing him off until right now," said Ender.

"I knew all along!" Sergeant tried to shout, but now his voice had given out entirely. It was just a rasp in his throat.

"You're not going to get your voice back for a month," commented Carlotta mildly.

"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."

"She can't help that," said Carlotta. "She's dead."

"The others got to know her, they lived with her, she talked to them every day," said Sergeant. "We have the Giant."

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."

"The genetic problem is very complicated," said Ender.

"If we'd stayed on Earth, you'd all be long since dead. Your normal sibs lived to be what, a hundred and ten?"

"Two of them," said Ender. "All got at least a century."

"And you three would have been a sad little memory -- long-ago siblings who had a tragic genetic defect and died with only one-fifth of a life."

"One-fifth of a life is better than this," whispered Sergeant.

"No it's not," said Bean. "I've had that one-fifth of a life, and it's not enough."

"You changed the world," said Ender. "You saved the world twice."

"But I'll never live to see you get married and have children," said Bean.

"Don't worry," said Carlotta. "If Ender and you don't find a cure for this, I'm never having children. I'm not passing this thing on to anybody."

"That's my point," said Bean. "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.

It's a good life, thought Bean, and I don't want it to end. I'm afraid of what will happen to these 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.


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