what she used to be, but it's the most important part. If she can get back into the ansible net, she'll
have what she needs to get back into the computer nets as well."
"But they're not linking the computer nets to the ansibles," said Wang-mu.
"That's the order sent by Congress," said Grace. "But not all orders are obeyed."
"Then why did Jane bring us here?" Peter asked plaintively. "If Malu and you deny that you have
any influence over Aimaina, and if Jane has already been in contact with you and you're already
effectively in revolt against Congress--"
"No, no, it's not like that," Grace reassured him. "We were doing what Malu asked us, but he
never spoke of a computer entity, he spoke of a god, and we obeyed because we trust his wisdom
and we know he sees things that we don't see. Your coming told us who Jane is."
When Malu learned in turn what had been said, he pointed at Peter. "You! You came here to bring
the god!" Then he pointed at Wang-mu. "And you came here to bring the man."
"Whatever that means," said Peter.
But Wang-mu thought she understood. They had survived one crisis, but this peaceful hour was
only a lull. The battle would be joined again, and this time the outcome would be different. If Jane
was to live, if there was to be any hope of restoring instantaneous starflight, Ender had to give at
least one of his bodies to her. If Malu was right, then Ender had to die. There was a slight chance
that Ender's aiua might still keep one of the three bodies, and go on living. I am here, Wang-mu
said silently, to make sure that it is Peter who survives, not as the god, but as the man.
It all depends, she realized, on whether Ender-as-Peter loves me more than Ender-as-Valentine
loves Miro or Ender-as-Ender loves Novinha.
With that thought she almost despaired. Who was she? Miro had been Ender's friend for years.
Novinha was his wife. But Wang-mu-- Ender had only learned of her existence mere days or at
most weeks ago. What was she to him?
But then she had another, more comforting and yet disturbing thought. Is it as important who the
loved one is as it is which aspect of Ender desires him or her? Valentine is the perfect altruist-- she
might love Miro most of all, yet give him up for the sake of giving starflight back to us all. And
Ender-- he was already losing interest in his old life. He's the weary one, he's the worn-out one.
While Peter-- he's the one with the ambition, the lust for growth and creation. It's not that he loves
me, it's that he loves me, or rather that he wants to live, and part of life to him is me, this woman
who loves him despite his supposed wickedness. Ender-as-Peter is the part of him that most needs
to be loved because he least deserves it-- so it is my love, because it is for Peter, that will be most
precious to him.
If anyone wins at all, I will win, Peter will win, not because of the glorious purity of our love, but
because of the desperate hunger of the lovers.
Well, the story of our lives won't be as noble or pretty, but then, we'll have a life, and that's
She worked her toes into the sand, feeling the tiny delicious pain of the friction of tiny chips of
silicon against the tender flesh between her toes. That's life. It hurts, it's dirty, and it feels very, very
Over the ansible, Olhado told his brother and sisters on the starship what had happened with Jane
and the mothertrees.
"The Hive Queen says it can't last long this way," said Olhado. "The mothertrees aren't all that
strong. They'll slip, they'll lose control, and pretty soon Jane will be a forest, period. Not a talking
one, either. Just some very lovely, very bright, very nurturing trees. It was beautiful to see, I
promise you, but the way the Hive Queen tells it, it still sounds like death."
"Thanks, Olhado," Miro said. "It doesn't make much difference to us either way. We're stranded
here, and so we're going to get to work, now that Val isn't bouncing off the walls. The descoladores
haven't found us yet-- Jane got us in a higher orbit this time-- but as soon as we have a workable
translation of their language we'll wave at them and let them know we're here."
"Keep at it," said Olhado. "But don't give up on coming back home, either."
"The shuttle really isn't good for a two-hundred-year flight," said Miro. "That's how far away we
are, and this little vehicle can't even get close to the speeds necessary for relativistic flight. We'd
have to play solitaire the whole two hundred years. The cards would wear out long before we got
Olhado laughed-- too lightly and sincerely, Miro thought-- and said, "The Hive Queen says that
once Jane gets out of the trees, and once the Congress gets their new system up and running, she
may be able to jump back in. At least enough to get into the ansible traffic. And if she does that,
then maybe she can go back into the starflight business. It's not impossible."
Val grew alert at that. "Is that what the Hive Queen guesses, or does she know?"
"She's predicting the future," said Olhado. "Nobody knows the future. Not even really smart queen
bees who bite their husbands' heads off when they mate."
They had no answer to what he said, and certainly nothing to say to his jocular tone.
"Well, if that's all right now," said Olhado, "back on your heads, everybody. We'll leave the
station open and recording in triplicate for any reports you make."
Olhado's face disappeared from the terminal space.
Miro swiveled his chair and faced the others: Ela, Quara, Val, the pequenino Firequencher, and
the nameless worker, who watched them in perpetual silence, only able to speak by typing into the
terminal. Through him, though, Miro knew that the Hive Queen was watching everything they did,
hearing everything they said. Waiting. She was orchestrating this, he knew. Whatever happened to
Jane, the Hive Queen would be the catalyst to get it started. Yet the things she said, she had said to
Olhado through some worker there in Milagre. This one had typed in nothing but ideas concerning
the translation of the language of the descoladores.
She isn't saying anything, Miro realized, because she doesn't want to be seen to push. Push what?
Val. She can't be seen to push Val, because ... because the only way to let Jane have one of
Ender's bodies was for him to freely give it up. And it had to be truly free-- no pressure, no guilt, no
persuasion-- because it wasn't a decision that could be made consciously. Ender had decided that he
wanted to share Mother's life in the monastery, but his unconscious mind was far more interested in
the translation project here and in whatever it is Peter's doing. His unconscious choice reflected his
true will. If Ender is to let go of Val, it has to be his desire to do it, all the way to the core of him.
Not a decision out of duty, like his decision to stay with Mother. A decision because that is what he
Miro looked at Val, at the beauty that came more from deep goodness than from regular features.
He loved her, but was it the perfection of her that he loved? That perfect virtue might be the only
thing that allowed her-- allowed Ender in his Valentine mode-- to willingly let go and invite Jane
in. And yet once Jane arrived, the perfect virtue would be gone, wouldn't it? Jane was powerful
and, Miro believed, good-- certainly she had been good to him, a true friend. But even in his
wildest imaginations he could not conceive of her as perfectly virtuous. If she started wearing Val,
would she still be Val? The memories would linger, but the will behind the face would be more
complicated than the simple script that Ender had created for her. Will I still love her when she's
Why wouldn't I? I love Jane too, don't I?
But will I love Jane when she's flesh and blood, and not just a voice in my ear? Will I look into
those eyes and mourn for this lost Valentine?
Why didn't I have these doubts before? I tried to bring this off myself, back before I even half
understood how difficult it was. And yet now, when it's only the barest hope, I find myself-- what,
wishing it wouldn't happen? Hardly that. I don't want to die out here. I want Jane restored, if only to
get starflight back again-- now that's an altruistic motive! I want Jane restored, but I also want Val
I want all bad things to go away and everybody to be happy. I want my mommy. What kind of
childish dolt have I become?
Val was looking at him, he suddenly realized. "Hi," he said. The others were looking at him, too.
Looking back and forth between him and Val. "What are we all voting on, whether I should grow a
"Voting on nothing," said Quara. "I'm just depressed. I mean, I knew what I was doing when I got
on this ship, but damn, it's really hard to get enthusiastic about working on these people's language
when I can count my life by the gauge on the oxygen tanks."
"I notice," said Ela dryly, "that you're already calling the descoladores 'people.'"
"Shouldn't I? Do we even know what they look like?" Quara seemed confused. "I mean, they have
a language, they--"
"That's what we're here to decide, isn't it?" said Firequencher. "Whether the descoladores are
raman or varelse. The translation problem is just a little step along that road."
"Big step," corrected Ela. "And we don't have time enough to do it."
"Since we don't know how long it's going to take," said Quara, "I don't see how you can be so sure
"I can be dead sure," said Ela. "Because all we're doing is sitting around talking and watching
Miro and Val make soulful faces at each other. It doesn't take a genius to know that at this rate, our
progress before running out of oxygen will be exactly zero."
"In other words," said Quara, "we should stop wasting time." She turned back to the notes and
printouts she was working on.
"But we're not wasting time," said Val softly.
"No?" asked Ela.
"I'm waiting for Miro to tell me how easily Jane could be brought back into communication with
the real world. A body waiting to receive her. Starflight restored. His old and loyal friend, suddenly
a real girl. I'm waiting for that."
Miro shook his head. "I don't want to lose you," he said.
"That's not helping," said Val.
"But it's true," said Miro. "The theory, that was easy. Thinking deep thoughts while riding on a
hovercar back on Lusitania, sure, I could reason out that Jane in Val would be Jane and Val. But
when you come right down to it, I can't say that--"
"Shut up," said Val.
It wasn't like her to talk like that. Miro shut up.
"No more words like that," she said. "What I need from you is the words that will let me give up
Miro shook his head.
"Put your money where your mouth is," she said. "Walk the walk. Talk the talk. Put up or shut up.
Fish or cut bait."
He knew what she wanted. He knew that she was saying that the only thing holding her to this
body, to this life, was him. Was her love for him. Was their friendship and companionship. There
were others here now to do the work of translation-- Miro could see now that this was the plan,
really, all along. To bring Ela and Quara so that Val could not possibly consider her life as
indispensable. But Miro, she couldn't let go of him that easily. And she had to, had to let go.
"Whatever aiua is in that body," Miro said, "you'll remember everything I say."
"And you have to mean it, too," said Val. "It has to be the truth."
"Well it can't be," said Miro. "Because the truth is that I--"
"Shut up!" demanded Val. "Don't say that again. It's a lie!"
"It's not a lie."
"It's complete self-deception on your part, and you have to wake up and see the truth, Miro! You
already made the choice between me and Jane. You're only backing out now because you don't like
being the kind of man who makes that sort of ruthless choice. But you never loved me, Miro. You
never loved me. You loved the companionship, yes-- the only woman you were around, of course;
there's a biological imperative playing a role here with a desperately lonely young man. But me? I
think what you loved was your memory of your friendship with the real Valentine when she came
back with you from space. And you loved how noble it made you feel to declare your love for me
in the effort to save my life, back when Ender was ignoring me. But all of that was about you, not
me. You never knew me, you never loved me. It was Jane you loved, and Valentine, and Ender
himself, the real Ender, not this plastic container that he created in order to compartmentalize all
the virtues he wishes he had more of."
The nastiness, the rage in her was palpable. This wasn't like her at all. Miro could see that the
others were also stunned. And yet he also understood. This was exactly like her-- for she was being
hateful and angry in order to persuade herself to let go of this life. And she was doing that for the
sake of others. It was perfect altruism. Only she would die, and, in exchange, perhaps the others in
this ship would not die, they'd go back home when their work here was done. Jane would live,
clothed in this new flesh, inheriting her memories. Val had to persuade herself that the life that she
was living now was worthless, to her and everyone else; that the only value to her life would be to
And she wanted Miro to help her. That was the sacrifice she asked of him. To help her let go. To
help her want to go. To help her hate this life.
"All right," said Miro. "You want the truth? You're completely empty, Val, and you always were.
You just sit there spouting the exactly kindest thing, but there's never been any heart in it. Ender
felt a need to make you, not because he actually has any of the virtues you supposedly represent,
but because he doesn't have them. That's why he admires them so much. So when he made you, he
didn't know what to put inside you. An empty script. Even now, you're just following the script.
Perfect altruism my ass. How can it be a sacrifice to give up a life that was never a life?"
She struggled for a moment, and a tear flowed down her cheek. "You told me that you loved me."
"I was sorry for you. That day in Valentine's kitchen, all right? But the truth is I was probably just
trying to impress Valentine. The other Valentine. Show her what a good guy I am. She actually has
some of those virtues-- I care a lot about what she thinks of me. So ... I fell in love with being the
kind of guy who was worthy of Valentine's respect. That's as close to loving you as I ever got. And
then we found out what our real mission was and suddenly you aren't dying anymore and here I am,
stuck with having said I loved you and now I've got to keep going and going to maintain the fiction
even as it becomes clearer and clearer that I miss Jane, I miss her so desperately that it hurts, and
the only reason I can't have her back is because you won't let go--"
"Please," said Val. "It hurts too much. I didn't think you-- I--"
"Miro," said Quara, "this is the shittiest thing I've ever seen anybody do to anybody else and I've
seen some doozies."
"Shut up, Quara," said Ela.
"Oh, who made you queen of the starship?" retorted Quara.
"This isn't about you," said Ela.
"I know, it's about Miro the complete bastard--"
Firequencher launched himself gently from his seat and in a moment had his strong hand clamped
over Quara's mouth. "This isn't the time," he said to her softly. "You understand nothing."
She got her face free. "I understand enough to know that this is--"
Firequencher turned to the Hive Queen's worker. "Help us," he said.
The worker got up and with astonishing speed had Quara out of the main deck of the shuttle.
Where the Hive Queen took Quara and how she restrained her were questions that didn't even
interest Miro. Quara was too self-centered to understand the little play that Miro and Val were
acting out. But the others understood.
What mattered, though, was that Val not understand. Val had to believe that he meant what he was
saying now. It had almost been working before Quara interrupted. But now they had lost the thread.
"Val," said Miro wearily, "it doesn't matter what I say. Because you'll never let go. And you know
why? Because you aren't Val. You're Ender. And even though Ender can wipe out whole planets in
order to save the human race, his own life is sacred. He'll never give it up. Not one scrap. And that
includes you-- he'll never let go of you. Because you're the last and greatest of his delusions. If he
gives you up, he'll lose his last hope of really being a good man."
"That's nonsense," said Val. "The only way he can be a really good man is to give me up."
"That's my point," said Miro. "He isn't a really good man. So he can't give you up. Even to attempt
to prove his virtue. Because the tie of the aiua to the body can't be faked. He can fool everybody
else, but he can't fool your body. He's just not good enough to let you go."
"So it's Ender that you hate, not me."
"No, Val, I don't hate Ender. He's an imperfect guy, that's all. Like me, like everybody else. Like
the real Valentine, for that matter. Only you have the illusion of perfection-- but that's fine, because
you're not real. You're just Ender in drag, doing his Valentine bit. You come off the stage and
there's nothing there, it comes off like makeup and a costume. And you really believed I was in
love with that?"
Val swiveled on her chair, turning her back to him. "I almost believe you mean these things," she
"What I can't believe," said Miro, "is that I'm saying them out loud. But that's what you wanted me
to do, wasn't it? For me to be honest with you for the first time, so maybe you could be honest with
yourself and realize that what you have isn't a life at all, it's just a perpetual confession of Ender's
inadequacy as a human being. You're the childhood innocence he thinks he lost, but here's the truth
about that: Before they ever took him away from his parents, before he ever went up to that Battle
School in the sky, before they made a perfect killing machine out of him, he was already the brutal,
ruthless killer that he always feared he was. It's one of the things that even Ender tries to pretend
isn't so: He killed a boy before he ever became a soldier. He kicked that boy's head in. Kicked him
and kicked him and the kid never woke up. His parents never saw him alive again. The kid was a
prick but he didn't deserve to die. Ender was a killer from the start. That's the thing that he can't live
with. That's the reason he needs you. That's the reason he needs Peter. So he can take the ugly
ruthless killer side of himself and put it all on Peter. And he can look at perfect you and say, 'See,
that beautiful thing was inside me.' And we all play along. But you're not beautiful, Val. You're the
pathetic apologia of a man whose whole life is a lie."
Val broke down sobbing.
Almost, almost Miro had compassion and stopped. Almost he shouted at her, No, Val, it's you I
love, it's you I want! It's you I longed for all my life and Ender is a good man because all this
nonsense about you being a pretense is impossible. Ender didn't create you consciously, the way
hypocrites create their facades. You grew out of him. The virtues were there, are there, and you are
the natural home for them. I already loved and admired Ender, but not until I met you did I know
how beautiful he was inside.
Her back was to him. She couldn't see the torment that he felt.
"What is it, Val? Am I supposed to pity you again? Don't you understand that the only
conceivable value that you have to any of us is if you just go away and let Jane have your body?
We don't need you, we don't want you. Ender's aiua belongs in Peter's body because that's the only
one that has a chance of acting out Ender's true character. Get lost, Val. When you're gone, we have
a chance to live. While you're here, we're all dead. Do you think for one second that we'll miss you?
I will never forgive myself for saying these things, Miro realized. Even though I know the
necessity of helping Ender let go of this body by making this an unbearable place for him to stay, it
doesn't change the fact that I'll remember saying it, I'll remember the way she looks now, weeping
with despair and pain. How can I live with that? I thought I was deformed before. All I had wrong
with me then was brain damage. But now-- I couldn't have said any of these things to her if I hadn't
thought of them. There's the rub. I thought of these terrible things to say. That's the kind of man I
Ender opened his eyes again, then reached a hand up to touch Novinha's face, the bruises there. He
moaned to see Valentine and Plikt, too. "What did I do to you?"
"It wasn't you," said Novinha. "It was her."
"It was me," he said. "I meant to let her have ... something. I meant to, but when it came right
down to it, I was afraid. I couldn't do it." He looked away from them, closed his eyes. "She tried to
kill me. She tried to drive me out."
"You were both working way below the level of consciousness," said Valentine. "Two strong-
willed aiuas, unable to back off from life. That's not so terrible."
"What, and you were just standing too close?"
"That's right," said Valentine.
"I hurt you," said Ender. "I hurt all three of you."
"We don't hold people responsible for convulsions," said Novinha.
Ender shook his head. "I'm talking about ... before. I lay there listening. Couldn't move my body,
couldn't make a sound, but I could hear. I know what I did to you. All three of you. I'm sorry."
"Don't be," said Valentine. "We all chose our lives. I could have stayed on Earth in the first place,
you know. Didn't have to follow you. I proved that when I stayed with Jakt. You didn't cost me
anything-- I've had a brilliant career and a wonderful life, and much of that is because I was with
you. As for Plikt, well, we finally saw-- much to my relief, I might add-- that she isn't always in
complete control of herself. Still, you never asked her to follow you here. She chose what she
chose. If her life is wasted, well, she wasted it the way she wanted to and that's none of your
business. As for Novinha--"
"Novinha is my wife," said Ender. "I said I wouldn't leave her. I tried not to leave her."
"You haven't left me," Novinha said.
"Then what am I doing in this bed?"
"You're dying," said Novinha.
"My point exactly," said Ender.
"But you were dying before you came here," she said. "You were dying from the moment that I
left you in anger and came here. That was when you realized, when we both realized, that we
weren't building anything together anymore. Our children aren't young. One of them is dead.
There'll be no others. Our work now doesn't coincide at any point."
"That doesn't mean it's right to end the--"
"As long as we both shall live," said Novinha. "I know that, Andrew. You keep the marriage alive
for your children, and then when they're grown up you stay married for everybody else's children,
so they grow up in a world where marriages are permanent. I know all that, Andrew. Permanent--
until one of you dies. That's why you're here, Andrew. Because you have other lives that you want
to live, and because of some miraculous fluke you actually have the bodies to live them in. Of
course you're leaving me. Of course."
"I keep my promise," Ender said.
"Till death," said Novinha. "No longer than that. Do you think I won't miss you when you're
gone? Of course I will. I'll miss you as any widow misses her beloved husband. I'll miss you
whenever I tell stories about you to our grandchildren. It's good for a widow to miss her husband. It
gives shape to her life. But you-- the shape of your life comes from them. From your other selves.
Not from me. Not anymore. I don't begrudge that, Andrew."
"I'm afraid," said Ender. "When Jane drove me out, I've never felt such fear. I don't want to die."
"Then don't stay here, because staying in this old body and with this old marriage, Andrew, that
would be the real death. And me, watching you, knowing that you don't really want to be here, that
would be a kind of death for me."
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