Armenian she had spoken then was a five-year-old's language. It was so hard to speak it now, and
harder still to understand it.
How could she tell Father that it would help her greatly if he would speak to her in Fleet Common -
- English, in effect? He spoke it, of course -- he and Mother had made a point of speaking English
at home when she was little, so she would not be handicapped linguistically if she was taken into
Battle School. In fact, as she thought about it, that was part of her problem. How often had Father
actually called candy by the Armenian word? Whenever he let her walk with him through town and
they stopped for candy, he would make her ask for it in English, and call each piece by its English
name. It was absurd, really -- why would she need to know, in Battle School, the English names of
"What are you laughing for?"
"I seem to have lost my taste for candy while I was in space, Father. Though for old time's sake, I
hope you'll have time to walk through town with me again. You won't be as tall as you were the last
"No, nor will your hand be as small in mine." He laughed, too. "We've been robbed of years that
would be precious now, to have in memory."
"Yes," said Petra. "But I was where I needed to be."
Or was I? I'm the one who broke first. I passed all the tests, until the test that mattered, and there I
broke first. Ender comforted me by telling me he relied on me most and pushed me hardest, but he
pushed us all and relied upon us all and I'm the one who broke. No one ever spoke of it; perhaps
here on Earth not one living soul knew of it. But the others who had fought with her knew it. Until
that moment when she fell asleep in the midst of combat, she had been one of the best. After that,
though she never broke again, Ender also never trusted her again. The others watched over her, so
that if she suddenly stopped commanding her ships, they could step in. She was sure that one of
them had been designated, but never asked who. Dink? Bean? Bean, yes -- whether Ender assigned
him to do it or not, she knew Bean would be watching, ready to take over. She was not reliable.
They did not trust her. She did not trust herself.
Yet she would keep that secret from her family, as she kept it in talking to the prime minister and
the press, to the Armenian military and the schoolchildren who had been assembled to meet the
great Armenian hero of the Formic War. Armenia needed a hero. She was the only candidate out of
this war. They had shown her how the online textbooks already listed her among the ten greatest
Armenians of all time. Her picture, her biography, and quotations from Colonel Graff, from Major
Anderson, from Mazer Rackham.
And from Ender Wiggin. "It was Petra who first stood up for me at risk to herself. It was Petra who
trained me when no one else would. I owe everything I accomplished to her. And in the final
campaign, in battle after battle she was the commander I relied upon."
Ender could not have known how those words would hurt. No doubt he meant to reassure her that
he did rely upon her. But because she knew the truth, his words sounded like pity to her. They
sounded like a kindly lie.
And now she was home. Nowhere on Earth was she so much a stranger as here, because she ought
to feel at home here, but she could not, for no one knew her here. They knew a bright little girl who
was sent off amid tearful good-byes and brave words of love. They knew a hero who returned with
the halo of victory around her every word and gesture. But they did not know and would never
know the girl who broke under the strain and in the midst of battle simply ... fell asleep. While her
ships were lost, while real men died, she slept because her body could stay awake no more. That
girl would remain hidden from all eyes.
And from all eyes would be hidden also the girl who watched every move of the boys around her,
evaluating their abilities, guessing at their intentions, determined to take any advantage she could
get, refusing to bow to any of them. Here she was supposed to become a child again -- an older one,
but a child nonetheless. A dependent.
After nine years of fierce watchfulness, it would be restful to turn over her life to others, wouldn't
"Your mother wanted to come. But she was afraid to come." He chuckled as if this were amusing.
"Do you understand?"
"No," said Petra.
"Not afraid of you," said Father. "Of her firstborn daughter she could never be afraid. But the
cameras. The politicians. The crowds. She is a woman of the kitchen. Not a woman of the market.
Do you understand?"
She understood the Armenian easily enough, if that's what he was asking, because he had caught
on, he was speaking in simple language and separating his words a little so she would not get lost in
the stream of conversation. She was grateful for this, but also embarrassed that it was so obvious
she needed such help.
What she did not understand was a fear of crowds that could keep a mother from coming to meet
her daughter after nine years.
Petra knew that it was not the crowds or the cameras that Mother was afraid of. It was Petra herself.
The lost five-year-old who would never be five again, who had had her first period with the help of
a Fleet nurse, whose mother had never bent over her homework with her, or taught her how to
cook. No, wait. She had baked pies with her mother. She had helped roll out the dough. Thinking
back, she could see that her mother had not actually let her do anything that mattered. But to Petra
it had seemed that she was the one baking. That her mother trusted her.
That turned her thoughts to the way Ender had coddled her at the end, pretending to trust her as
before but actually keeping control.
And because that was an unbearable thought, Petra looked out the window of the flivver. "Are we
in the part of town where I used to play?"
"Not yet," said Father. "But nearly. Maralik is still not such a large town."
"It all seems new to me," said Petra.
"But it isn't. It never changes. Only the architecture. There are Armenians all over the world, but
only because they were forced to leave to save their lives. By nature, Armenians stay at home. The
hills are the womb, and we have no desire to be born." He chuckled at his joke.
Had he always chuckled like that? It sounded to Petra less like amusement than like nervousness.
Mother was not the only one afraid of her.
At last the flivver reached home. And here at last she recognized where she was. It was small and
shabby compared to what she had remembered, but in truth she had not even thought of the place in
many years. It stopped haunting her dreams by the time she was ten. But now, coming home again,
it all returned to her, the tears she had shed in those first weeks and months in Ground School, and
again when she left Earth and went up to Battle School. This was what she had yearned for, and at
last she was here again, she had it back ... and knew that she no longer needed it, no longer really
wanted it. The nervous man in the car beside her was not the tall god who had led her through the
streets of Maralik so proudly. And the woman waiting inside the house would not be the goddess
from whom came warm food and a cool hand on her forehead when she was sick.
But she had nowhere else to go.
Her mother was standing at the window as Petra emerged from the flivver. Father palmed the
scanner to accept the charges. Petra raised a hand and gave a small wave to her mother, a shy smile
that quickly grew into a grin. Her mother smiled back and gave her own small wave in reply. Petra
took her father's hand and walked with him to the house.
The door opened as they approached. It was Stefan, her brother. She would not have known him
from her memories of a two-year-old, still creased with baby fat. And he, of course, did not know
her at all. He beamed the way the children from the school group had beamed at her, thrilled to
meet a celebrity but not really aware of her as a person. He was her brother, though, and so she
hugged him and he hugged her back. "You're really Petra!" he said.
"You're really Stefan!" she answered. Then she turned to her mother. She was still standing at the
window, looking out.
The woman turned, tears streaking her cheeks. "I'm so glad to see you, Petra," she said.
But she made no move to come to Petra, or even to reach out to her.
"But you're still looking for the little girl who left nine years ago," said Petra.
Mother burst into tears, and now she reached out her arms and Petra strode to her, to be enfolded in
her embrace. "You're a woman now," said Mother. "I don't know you, but I love you."
"I love you too, Mother," said Petra. And was pleased to realize that it was true.
They had about an hour, the four of them -- five, once the baby woke up. Petra shunted aside their
questions -- "Oh, everything about me has already been published or broadcast. It's you that I want
to hear about" -- and learned that her father was still editing textbooks and supervising translations,
and her mother was still the shepherd of the neighborhood, watching out for everyone, bringing
food when someone was sick, taking care of children while parents ran errands, and providing
lunch for any child who showed up. "I remember once that Mother and I had lunch alone, just the
two of us," Stefan joked. "We didn't know what to say, and there was so much food left over."
"It was already that way when I was little," Petra said. "I remember being so proud of how the other
kids loved my mother. And so jealous of the way she loved them!"
"Never as much as I loved my own girl and boy," said Mother. "But I do love children, I admit it,
every one of them is precious in the sight of God, every one of them is welcome in my house."
"Oh, I've known a few you wouldn't love," said Petra.
"Maybe," said Mother, not wishing to argue, but plainly not believing that there could be such a
The baby gurgled and Mother lifted her shirt to tuck the baby to her breast.
"Did I slurp so noisily?" asked Petra.
"Not really," said Mother.
"Oh, tell the truth," said Father. "She woke the neighbors."
"So I was a glutton."
"No, merely a barbarian," said Father. "No table manners."
Petra decided to ask the delicate question boldly and have done with it. "The baby was born only a
month after the population restrictions were lifted."
Father and Mother looked at each other, Mother with a beatific expression, Father with a wince.
"Yes, well, we missed you. We wanted another little girl."
"You would have lost your job," said Petra.
"Not right away," said Father.
"Armenian officials have always been a little slow about enforcing those laws," said Mother.
"But eventually, you could have lost everything."
"No," said Mother. "When you left, we lost half of everything. Children are everything. The rest is
Stefan laughed. "Except when I'm hungry. Food is something!"
"You're always hungry," said Father.
"Food is always something," said Stefan.
They laughed, but Petra could see that Stefan had had no illusions about what the birth of this child
would have meant. "It's a good thing we won the war."
"Better than losing it," said Stefan.
"It's nice to have the baby and obey the law, too," said Mother.
"But you didn't get your little girl."
"No," said Father. "We got our David."
"We didn't need a little girl after all," said Mother. "We got you back."
Not really, thought Petra. And not for long. Four years, maybe fewer, and I'll be off to university.
And you won't miss me by then, because you'll know that I'm not the little girl you love, just this
bloody-handed veteran of a nasty military school that turned out to have real battles to fight.
After the first hour, neighbors and cousins and friends from Father's work began dropping by, and it
was not until after midnight that Father had to announce that tomorrow was not a national holiday
and he needed to have some sleep before work. It took yet another hour to shoo everyone out of the
house, and by then all Petra wanted was to curl up in bed and hide from the world for at least a
But by the end of the next day, she knew she had to get out of the house. She didn't fit into the
routines. Mother loved her, yes, but her life centered around the baby and the neighborhood, and
while she kept trying to engage Petra in conversation, Petra could see that she was a distraction,
that it would be a relief for Mother when Petra went to school during the day as Stefan did,
returning only at the scheduled time. Petra understood, and that night announced that she wanted to
register for school and begin class the next day.
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