"Our great civilizations are nothing more than social machines to create the ideal female setting,
where a woman can count on stability; our legal and moral codes that try to abolish violence and
promote permanence of ownership and enforce contracts-- those represent the primary female
strategy, the taming of the male.
"And the tribes of wandering barbarians outside the reach of civilization, those follow the mainly
male strategy. Spread the seed. Within the tribe, the strongest, most dominant males take
possession of the best females, either through formal polygamy or spur-of-the-moment copulations
that the other males are powerless to resist. But those low-status males are kept in line because the
leaders take them to war and let them rape and pillage their brains out when they win a victory.
They act out sexual desirability by proving themselves in combat, and then kill all the rival males
and copulate with their widowed females when they win. Hideous, monstrous behavior-- but also a
viable acting-out of the genetic strategy."
Ender found himself very uncomfortable, hearing Valentine talk this way. He knew all this was
true as far as it went, and he had heard it all before, but it still, in a small way, made him as
uncomfortable as Planter was to learn similar things about his own people. Ender wanted to deny it
all, to say, Some of us males are naturally civilized. But in his own life, hadn't he performed the
acts of dominance and war? Hadn't he wandered? In that context, his decision to stay on Lusitania
was really a decision to abandon the male-dominant social model that had been engrained in him as
a young soldier in battle school, and become a civilized man in a stable family.
Yet even then, he had married a woman who turned out to have little interest in having more
children. A woman with whom marriage had turned out to be anything but civilized, in the end. If I
follow the male model, then I'm a failure. No child anywhere who carries on my genes. No woman
who accepts my rule. I'm definitely atypical.
But since I haven't reproduced, my atypical genes will die with me, and thus the male and female
social models are safe from such an in-between person as myself.
Even as Ender made his own private evaluations of Valentine's interpretation of human history,
Planter showed his own response by lying back in his chair, a gesture that spoke of scorn. "I'm
supposed to feel better because humans are also tools of some genetic molecule?"
"No," said Ender. "You're supposed to realize that just because a lot of behavior can be explained
as responses to the needs of some genetic molecule, it doesn't mean that all pequenino behavior is
"Human history can be explained as the struggle between the needs of women and the needs of
men," said Valentine, "but my point is that there are still heroes and monsters, great events and
"When a brothertree gives his wood," said Planter, "it's supposed to mean that he sacrifices for the
tribe. Not for a virus."
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"If you can look beyond the tribe to the virus, then look beyond the virus to the world," said
Ender. "The descolada is keeping this planet habitable. So the brothertree is sacrificing himself to
save the whole world."
"Very clever," said Planter. "But you forget-- to save the planet, it doesn't matter which
brothertrees give themselves, as long as a certain number do it."
"True," said Valentine. "It doesn't matter to the descolada which brothertrees give their lives. But
it matters to the brothertrees, doesn't it? And it matters to the brothers like you, who huddle into
those houses to keep warm. You appreciate the noble gesture of the brothertrees who died for you,
even if the descolada doesn't know one tree from another."
Planter didn't answer. Ender hoped that meant they were making some headway.
"And in the wars," said Valentine, "the descolada doesn't care who wins or loses, as long as
enough brothers die and enough trees grow from the corpses. Right? But that doesn't change the
fact that some brothers are noble and some are cowardly or cruel."
"Planter," said Ender, "the descolada may cause you all to feel-- to come more quickly to a
murderous rage, for instance-- so that disputes erupt into warfare instead of being settled among the
fathertrees. But that doesn't erase the fact that some forests are fighting in self-defense and others
are simply bloodthirsty. You still have your heroes."
"I don't give a damn about heroes," said Ela. "Heroes tend to be dead, like my brother Quim.
Where is he now, when we need him? I wish he hadn't been a hero." She swallowed hard, holding
down the memory of recent grief.
Planter nodded-- a gesture he had learned in order to communicate with humans. "We live in
Warmaker's world now," he said. "What is he, except a fathertree acting as the descolada instructs?
The world is getting too warm. We need more trees. So he's filled with fervor to expand the forests.
Why? The descolada makes him feel that way. That's why so many brothers and fathertrees listened
to him-- because he offered a plan to satisfy their hunger to spread out and grow more trees."
"Does the descolada know that he was planning to put all these new trees on other planets?" said
Valentine. "That wouldn't do much to cool Lusitania."
"The descolada puts hunger in them," said Planter. "How can a virus know about starships?"
"How can a virus know about mothertrees and fathertrees, brothers and wives, infants and little
mothers?" said Ender. "This is a very bright virus."
"Warmaker is the best example of my point," said Valentine. "His name suggests that he was
deeply involved and successful in the last great war. Once again there's pressure to increase the
number of trees. Yet Warmaker chose to turn this hunger to a new purpose, spreading new forests
by reaching out to the stars instead of plunging into wars with other pequeninos."
"We were going to do it no matter what Warmaker said or did," said Planter. "Look at us.
Warmaker's group was preparing to spread out and plant new forests on other worlds. But when
they killed Father Quim, the rest of us were so filled with rage that we planned to go and punish
them. Great slaughter, and again, trees would grow. Still doing what the descolada demanded. And
now that humans have burned our forest, Warmaker's people are going to prevail after all. One way
or another, we must spread out and propagate. We'll snatch up any excuse we can find. The
descolada will have its way with us. We're tools, pathetically trying to find some way to convince
ourselves that our actions are our own idea."
He sounded so hopeless. Ender couldn't think of anything to say that Valentine or he hadn't
already said, to try to wean him away from his conclusion that pequenino life was unfree and
So it was Ela who spoke next, and in a tone of calm speculation that seemed incongruous, as if she
had forgotten the terrible anxiety that Planter was experiencing. Which was probably the case, as
all this discussion had led her back to her own specialty. "It's hard to know which side the
descolada would be on, if it were aware of all this," said Ela.
"Which side of what?" asked Valentine.
"Whether to induce global cooling by having more forests planted here, or to use that same
instinct for propagation to have the pequeninos take the descolada out to other worlds. I mean,
which would the virus makers have wanted most? To spread the virus or regulate the planet?"
"The virus probably wants both, and it's likely to get both," said Planter. "Warmaker's group will
win control of the ships, no doubt. But either before or after, there'll be a war over it that leaves half
the brothers dead. For all we know, the descolada is causing both things to happen."
"For all we know," said Ender.
"For all we know," said Planter, "we may be the descolada."
So, thought Ender, they are aware of that concern, despite our decision not to broach it with the
"Have you been talking to Quara?" demanded Ela.
"I talk to her every day," said Planter. "But what does she have to do with this?"
"She had the same idea. That maybe pequenino intelligence comes from the descolada."
"Do you think after all your talk about the descolada being intelligent that it hasn't occurred to us
to wonder that?" said Planter. "And if it's true, what will you do then? Let all of your species die so
that we can keep our little second-rate brains?"
Ender protested at once. "We've never thought of your brains as--"
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"Haven't you?" said Planter. "Then why did you assume that we would only think of this
possibility if some human told us?"
Ender had no good answer. He had to confess to himself that he had been thinking of the
pequeninos as if they were children in some ways, to be protected. Worries had to be kept as secrets
from them. It hadn't occurred to him that they were perfectly capable of discovering all the worst
horrors on their own.
"And if our intelligence does come from the descolada, and you found a way to destroy it, what
would we become then?" Planter looked at them, triumphant in his bitter victory. "Nothing but tree
rats," he said.
"That's the second time you've used that term," said Ender. "What are tree rats?"
"That's what they were shouting," said Planter, "some of the men who killed the mothertree."
"There's no such animal," said Valentine.
"I know," said Planter. "Grego explained it to me. 'Tree rat' is a slang name for squirrels. He
showed me a holo of one on his computer in jail."
"You went to visit Grego?" Ela was plainly horrified.
"I had to ask him why he tried to kill us all, and then why he tried to save us," said Planter.
"There!" cried Valentine triumphantly. "You can't tell me that what Grego and Miro did that night,
stopping the mob from burning Rooter and Human-- you can't tell me that that was just the acting
out of genetic forces!"
"But I never said that human behavior was meaningless," said Planter. "It's you that tried to
comfort me with that idea. We know that you humans have your heroes. We pequeninos are the
ones who are only tools of a gaialogical virus."
"No," said Ender. "There are pequenino heroes, too. Rooter and Human, for instance."
"Heroes?" said Planter. "They acted as they did in order to win what they achieved-- their status as
fathertrees. It was the hunger to reproduce. They might have looked like heroes to you humans,
who only die once, but the death they suffered was really birth. There was no sacrifice."
"Your whole forest was heroic, then," said Ela. "You broke free from all the old channels and
made a treaty with us that required you to change some of your most deeply-rooted customs."
"We wanted the knowledge and the machines and the power you humans had. What's heroic about
a treaty in which all we have to do is stop killing you, and in return you give us a thousand-year
boost in our technological development?"
"You aren't going to listen to any positive conclusion, are you," said Valentine.
Planter went on, ignoring her. "The only heroes in that story were Pipo and Libo, the humans who
acted so bravely, even though they knew they would die. They had won their freedom from their
genetic heritage. What piggy has ever done that on purpose?"
It stung Ender more than a little, to hear Planter use the term piggy for himself and his people. In
recent years the term had stopped being quite as friendly and affectionate as it was when Ender first
came; often it was used now as a demeaning word, and the people who worked with them usually
used the term pequenino. What sort of self-hatred was Planter resorting to, in response to what he'd
"The brothertrees give their lives," said Ela, helpfully.
But Planter answered in scorn. "The brothertrees are not alive the way fathertrees are. They can't
talk. They only obey. We tell them what to do, and they have no choice. Tools, not heroes."
"You can twist anything with the right story," said Valentine. "You can deny any sacrifice by
claiming that it made the sufferer feel so good to do it that it really wasn't a sacrifice at all, but just
another selfish act."
Suddenly Planter jumped from his chair. Ender was prepared for a replay of his earlier behavior,
but he didn't circle the room. Instead he walked to Ela where she sat in her chair, and placed both
his hands on her knees.
"I know a way to be a true hero," said Planter. "I know a way to act against the descolada. To
reject it and fight it and hate it and help destroy it."
"So do I," said Ela.
"An experiment," said Planter.
She nodded. "To see if pequenino intelligence is really centered in the descolada, and not in the
"I'll do it," said Planter.
"I would never ask you to."
"I know you wouldn't ask," said Planter. "I demand it for myself."
Ender was surprised to realize that in their own way, Ela and Planter were as close as Ender and
Valentine, able to know each other's thoughts without explaining. Ender hadn't imagined that this
would be possible between two people of different species; and yet, why shouldn't it be?
Particularly when they worked together so closely in the same endeavor.
It had taken Ender a few moments to grasp what Planter and Ela were deciding between them;
Valentine, who had not been working with them for years as Ender had, still didn't understand.
"What's happening?" she asked. "What are they talking about?"
It was Ela who answered. "Planter is proposing that we purge one pequenino of all copies of the
descolada virus, put him in a clean space where he can't be contaminated, and then see if he still has
"That can't be good science," said Valentine. "There are too many other variables. Aren't there? I
thought the descolada was involved in every part of pequenino life."
"Lacking the descolada would mean that Planter would immediately get sick and then eventually
die. What having the descolada did to Quim, lacking it will do to Planter."
"You can't mean to let him do it," said Valentine. "It won't prove anything. He might lose his mind
because of illness. Fever makes people delirious."
"What else can we do?" asked Planter. "Wait until Ela finds a way to tame the virus, and only then
find out that without it in its intelligent, virulent form, we are not pequeninos at all, but merely
piggies? That we were only given the power of speech by the virus within us, and that when it was
controlled, we lost everything and became nothing more than brothertrees? Do we find that out
when you loose the virus-killer?"
"But it's not a serious experiment with a control--"
"It's a serious experiment, all right," said Ender. "The kind of experiment you perform when you
don't give a damn about getting funding, you just need results and you need them now. The kind of
experiment you perform when you have no idea what the results will be or even if you'll know how
to interpret them, but there are a bunch of crazy pequeninos planning to get in starships and spread
a planet-killing disease all over the galaxy so you've got to do something."
"It's the kind of experiment you perform," said Planter, "when you need a hero."
"When we need a hero?" asked Ender. "Or when you need to be a hero?"
"I wouldn't talk if I were you," said Valentine dryly. "You've done a few stints as a hero yourself
over the centuries."
"It may not be necessary anyway," said Ela. "Quara knows a lot more about the descolada than
she's telling. She may already know whether the intelligent adaptability of the descolada can be
separated from its life-sustaining functions. If we could make a virus like that, we could test the
effect of the descolada on pequenino intelligence without threatening the life of the subject."
"The trouble is," said Valentine, "Quara isn't any more likely to believe our story that the
descolada is an artifact created by another species than Qing-jao was able to believe that the voice
of her gods was just a genetically-caused obsessive-compulsive disorder."
"I'll do it," said Planter. "I will begin immediately because we have no time. Put me in a sterile
environment tomorrow, and then kill all the descolada in my body using the chemicals you've got
hidden away. The ones you mean to use on humans when the descolada adapts to the current
suppressant you're using."
"You realize that it may be wasted," said Ela.
"Then it would truly be a sacrifice," said Planter.
"If you start to lose your mind in a way that clearly isn't related to your body's illness," said Ela,
"we'll stop the experiment because we'll have the answer."
"Maybe," said Planter.
"You might well recover at that point."
"I don't care whether I recover," said Planter.
"We'll also stop it," said Ender, "if you start to lose your mind in a way that is related to your
body's illness, because then we'll know that the experiment is useless and we wouldn't learn
anything from it anyway."
"Then if I'm a coward, all I have to do is pretend to be mentally failing and my life will be saved,"
said Planter. "No, I forbid you to stop the experiment, no matter what. And if I keep my mental
functions, you must let me continue to the end, to the death, because only if I keep my mind to the
end will we know that our soul is not just an artifact of the descolada. Promise me!"
"Is this science or a suicide pact?" asked Ender. "Are you so despondent over discovering the
probable role of the descolada in pequenino history that you simply want to die?"
Planter rushed to Ender, climbed his body, and pressed his nose against Ender's. "You liar!" he
"I just asked a question," whispered Ender.
"I want to be free!" shouted Planter. "I want the descolada out of my body and I never want it to
come back! I want to use this to help free all the piggies so that we can be pequeninos in fact and
not in name!"
Gently Ender pried him back. His nose ached from the violence of Planter's pressing.
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