Read a sample from CHILDREN OF THE MIND by Orson Scott Card
Read the first chapter of Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card, the fourth book in the classic Ender series.
‘I’M NOT MYSELF’
‘Mother. Father. Did I do it right?’
The last words of Han Qing-jao, from
The God Whispers of Han Qing-jao
Si Wang-mu stepped forward. The young man named Peter took her hand and led her into the starship. The door closed behind them.
Wang-mu sat down on one of the swiveling chairs inside the small metal-walled room. She looked around, expecting to see something strange and new. Except for the metal walls, it could have been any office on the world of Path. Clean, but not fastidiously so. Furnished, in a utilitarian way. She had seen holos of ships in flight: the smoothly streamlined fighters and shuttles that dipped into and out of the atmosphere; the vast rounded structures of the starships that accelerated as near to the speed of light as matter could get. On the one hand, the sharp power of a needle; on the other, the massive power of a sledgehammer. But here in this room, no power at all. Just a room.
Where was the pilot? There must be a pilot, for the young man who sat across the room from her, murmuring to his computer, could hardly be controlling a starship capable of the feat of traveling faster than light.
And yet that must have been precisely what he was doing, for there were no other doors that might lead to other rooms. The starship had looked small from the outside; this room obviously used all the space that it contained. There in the corner were the batteries that stored energy from the solar collectors on the top of the ship. In that chest, which seemed to be insulated like a refrigerator, there might be food and drink. So much for life support. Where was the romance in starflight now, if this was all it took? A mere room.
With nothing else to watch, she watched the young man at the computer terminal. Peter Wiggin, he said his name was. The name of the ancient Hegemon, the one who first united all the human race under his control, back when people lived on only one world, all the nations and races and religions and philosophies crushed together elbow to elbow, with nowhere to go but into each other’s lands, for the sky was a ceiling then, and space was a vast chasm that could not be bridged. Peter Wiggin, the man who ruled the human race. This was not him, of course, and he had admitted as much. Andrew Wiggin sent him; Wangmu remembered, from things that Master Han had told her, that Andrew Wiggin had somehow made him. Did this make the great Speaker of the Dead Peter’s father? Or was he somehow Ender’s brother, not just named for but actually embodying the Hegemon who had died three thousand years before?
Peter stopped murmuring, leaned back in his chair, and sighed. He rubbed his eyes, then stretched and groaned. It was a very indelicate thing to do in company. The sort of thing one might expect from a coarse fieldworker.
He seemed to sense her disapproval. Or perhaps he had forgotten her and now suddenly remembered that he had company. Without straightening himself in his chair, he turned his head and looked at her.
‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I forgot I was not alone.’
Wang-mu longed to speak boldly to him, despite a lifetime retreating from bold speech. After all, he had spoken to her with offensive boldness, when his starship appeared like a fresh-sprouted mushroom on the lawn by the river and he emerged with a single vial of a disease that would cure her home world, Path, of its genetic illness. He had looked her in the eye not fifteen minutes ago and said, ‘Come with me and you’ll be part of changing history. Making history.’ And despite her fear, she had said yes.
Had said yes, and now sat in a swivel chair watching him behave crudely, stretching like a tiger in front of her. Was that his beast-of-the-heart, the tiger? Wang-mu had read The Hegemon. She could believe that there was a tiger in that great and terrible man. But this one? This boy? Older than Wang-mu, but she was not too young to know immaturity when she saw it. He was going to change the course of history! Clean out the corruption in the Congress. Stop the Lusitania Fleet. Make all colony planets equal members of the Hundred Worlds. This boy who stretched like a jungle cat.
‘I don’t have your approval,’ he said. He sounded annoyed and amused, both at once. But then she might not be good at understanding the inflections of one such as this. Certainly it was hard to read the grimaces of such a round-eyed man. Both his face and his voice contained hidden languages that she could not understand.
‘You must understand,’ he said. ‘I’m not myself.’
Wang-mu spoke the common language well enough at least to understand the idiom. ‘You are unwell today?’ But she knew even as she said it that he had not meant the expression idiomatically at all.
‘I’m not myself,’ he said again. ‘I’m not really Peter Wiggin.’
‘I hope not,’ said Wang-mu. ‘I read about his funeral in school.’
‘I do look like him, though, don’t I?’ He brought up a hologram into the air over his computer terminal. The hologram rotated to look at Wang-mu; Peter sat up and assumed the same pose, facing her.
‘There is a resemblance,’ she said.
‘Of course, I’m younger,’ said Peter. ‘Because Ender didn’t see me again after he left Earth when he was – what, five years old? A little runt, anyway. I was still a boy. That’s what he remembered, when he conjured me out of thin air.’
‘Not air at all,’ she said. ‘Out of nothing.’
‘Not nothing, either,’ he said. ‘Conjured me, all the same.’ He smiled wickedly. ‘I can call spirits from the vasty deep.’
These words meant something to him, but not to her. In the world of Path she had been expected to be a servant and so was educated very little. Later, in the house of Han Fei-tzu, her abilities had been recognized, first by her former mistress, Han Qing-jao, and later by the master himself. From both she had acquired some bits of education, in a haphazard way. What teaching there had been was mostly technical, and the literature she learned was of the Middle Kingdom, or of Path itself. She could have quoted endlessly from the great poet Li Qing-jao, for whom her one-time mistress had been named. But of the poet he was quoting, she knew nothing.
‘I can call spirits from the vasty deep,’ he said again. And then, changing his voice and manner a little, he answered himself. ‘Why so can I, or so can any man. But will they come when you do call for them?’
‘Shakespeare?’ she guessed.
He grinned at her. She thought of the way a cat smiles at the creature it is toying with. ‘That’s always the best guess when a European is doing the quoting,’ he said.
‘The quotation is funny,’ she said. ‘A man brags that he can summon the dead. But the other man says that the trick is not calling, but rather getting them to come.’
He laughed. ‘What a way you have with humor.’
‘This quotation means something to you, because Ender called you forth from the dead.’
He looked startled. ‘How did you know?’
She felt a thrill of fear. Was it possible? ‘I did not know, I was making a joke.’
‘Well, it’s not true. Not literally. He didn’t raise the dead. Though he no doubt thinks he could, if the need arose.’ Peter sighed. ‘I’m being nasty. The words just come to my mind. I don’t mean them. They just come.’
‘It is possible to have words come to your mind, and still refrain from speaking them aloud.’
He rolled his eyes. ‘I wasn’t trained for servility, the way you were.’
So this was the attitude of one who came from a world of free people – to sneer at one who had been a servant through no fault of her own. ‘I was trained to keep unpleasant words to myself as a matter of courtesy,’ she said. ‘But perhaps to you, that is just another form of servility.’
‘As I said, Royal Mother of the West, nastiness comes unbidden to my mouth.’
‘I am not the Royal Mother,’ said Wang-mu. ‘The name was a cruel joke—’
‘And only a very nasty person would mock you for it.’ Peter grinned. ‘But I’m named for the Hegemon. I thought perhaps bearing ludicrously overwrought names was something we might have in common.’
She sat silently, entertaining the possibility that he might have been trying to make friends.
‘I came into existence,’ he said, ‘only a short while ago. A matter of weeks. I thought you should know that about me.’
She didn’t understand.
‘You know how this starship works?’ he said.
Now he was leaping from subject to subject. Testing her. Well, she had had enough of being tested. ‘Apparently one sits within it and is examined by rude strangers,’ she said.
He smiled and nodded. ‘Give as good as you get. Ender told me you were nobody’s servant.’
‘I was the true and faithful servant of Qing-jao. I hope Ender did not lie to you about that.’
He brushed away her literalism. ‘A mind of your own.’ Again his eyes sized her up; again she felt utterly comprehended by his lingering glance, as she had felt when he first looked at her beside the river. ‘Wang-mu, I am not speaking metaphorically when I tell you I was only just made. Made, you understand, not born. And the way I was made has much to do with how this starship works. I don’t want to bore you by explaining things you already understand, but you must know what – not who – I am in order to understand why I need you with me. So I ask again – do you know how this starship works?’
She nodded. ‘I think so. Jane, the being who dwells in computers, she holds in her mind as perfect a picture as she can of the starship and all who are within it. The people also hold their own picture of themselves and who they are and so on. Then she moves everything from the real world to a place of nothingness, which takes no time at all, and then brings it back into reality in whatever place she chooses. Which also takes no time. So instead of starships taking years to get from world to world, it happens in an instant.’
Peter nodded. ‘Very good. Except what you have to understand is that during the time that the starship is Outside, it isn’t surrounded by nothingness. Instead it’s surrounded by uncountable numbers of aiúas.’
She turned away her face from him.
‘You don’t understand aiúas?’
‘To say that all people have always existed. That we are older than the oldest gods . . . ’
‘Well, sort of,’ said Peter. ‘Only aiúas on the Outside, they can’t be said to exist, or at least not any kind of meaningful existence. They’re just . . . there. Not even that, because there’s no sense of location, no there where they might be. They just are. Until some intelligence calls them, names them, puts them into some kind of order, gives them shape and form.’
‘The clay can become a bear,’ she said, ‘but not as long as it rests cold and wet in the riverbank.’
‘Exactly. So there was Ender Wiggin and several other people who, with luck, you’ll never need to meet, taking the first voyage Outside. They weren’t going anywhere, really. The point of that first voyage was to get Outside long enough that one of them, a rather talented genetic scientist, could create a new molecule, an extremely complex one, by the image she held of it in her mind. Or rather her image of the modifications she needed to make in an existing . . . well, you don’t have the biology for it. Anyway, she did what she was supposed to do, she created the new molecule, calloo callay, only the thing is, she wasn’t the only person doing any creating that day.’
‘Ender’s mind created you?’ asked Wang-mu.
‘Inadvertently. I was, shall we say, a tragic accident. An unhappy side effect. Let’s just say that everybody there, everything there, was creating like crazy. The aiúas Outside are frantic to be made into something, you see. There were shadow starships being created all around us. All kinds of weak, faint, fragmented, fragile, ephemeral structures rising and falling in each instant. Only four had any solidity. One was that genetic molecule that Elanora Ribeira had come to create.’
‘One was you?’
‘The least interesting one, I fear. The least loved and valued. One of the people on the ship was a fellow named Miro, who through a tragic accident some years ago had been left somewhat crippled. Neurologically damaged. Thick of speech, clumsy with his hands, lame when he walked. He held within his mind the powerful, treasured image of himself as he used to be. So – with that perfect self-image, a vast number of aiúas assembled themselves into an exact copy, not of how he was, but of how he once was and longed to be again. Complete with all his memories – a perfect replication of him. So perfect that it had the same utter loathing for his crippled body that he himself had. So . . . the new, improved Miro – or rather the copy of the old, undamaged Miro – whatever – he stood there as the ultimate rebuke of the crippled one. And before their very eyes, that old rejected body crumbled away into nothing.’
Wang-mu gasped, imagining it. ‘He died!’
‘No, that’s the point, don’t you see? He lived. It was Miro. His own aiúa – not the trillions of aiúas making up the atoms and molecules of his body, but the one that controlled them all, the one that was himself, his will – his aiúa simply moved to the new and perfect body. That was his true self. And the old one . . . ’
‘Had no use.’
‘Had nothing to give it shape. You see, I think our bodies are held together by love. The love of the master aiúa for the glorious powerful body that obeys it, that gives the self all its experience of the world. Even Miro, even with all his self-loathing when he was crippled, even he must have loved whatever pathetic remnant of his body was left to him. Until the moment that he had a new one.’
‘And then he moved.’
‘Without even knowing that he had done so,’ said Peter. ‘He followed his love.’
Wang-mu heard this fanciful tale and knew that it must be true, for she had overheard many a mention of aiúas in the conversations between Han Fei-tzu and Jane, and now with Peter Wiggin’s story, it made sense. It had to be true, if only because this starship really had appeared as if from nowhere on the bank of the river behind Han Fei-tzu’s house.
‘But now you must wonder,’ said Peter, ‘how I, unloved and unlovable as I know I am, came into existence.’
‘You already said. Ender’s mind.’
‘Miro’s most intensely held image was of his own younger, healthier, stronger self. But Ender, the images that mattered most in his mind were of his older sister Valentine and his older brother Peter. Not as they became, though, for his real older brother Peter was long dead, and Valentine – she has accompanied or followed Ender on all his hops through space, so she is still alive, but aged as he has aged. Mature. A real person. Yet on that starship, during that time Outside, he conjured up a copy of her youthful self. Young Valentine. Poor Old Valentine! She didn’t know she was so old until she saw this younger self, this perfect being, this angel that had dwelt in Ender’s twisted little mind from childhood on. I must say, she’s the most put-upon victim in all this little drama. To know that your brother carries around such an image of you, instead of loving you as you really are – well, one can see that Old Valentine – she hates it, but that’s how everyone thinks of her now, including, poor thing, herself – one can see that Old Valentine is really having her patience tried.’
‘But if the original Valentine is still alive,’ said Wang-mu, puzzled, ‘then who is the young Valentine? Who is she really? You can be Peter because he’s dead and no one is using his name, but . . . ’
‘Quite puzzling, isn’t it?’ said Peter. ‘But my point is that whether he’s dead or not, I’m not Peter Wiggin. As I said before, I’m not myself.’
He leaned back in his chair and looked up at the ceiling. The hologram above the terminal turned to look at him. He had not touched the controls.
‘Jane is with us,’ said Wang-mu.
‘Jane is always with us,’ said Peter. ‘Ender’s spy.’
The hologram spoke. ‘Ender doesn’t need a spy. He needs friends, if he can get them. Allies at least.’
Peter reached idly for the terminal and turned it off. The hologram disappeared.
This disturbed Wang-mu very much. Almost as if he had slapped a child. Or beaten a servant. ‘Jane is a very noble creature, to treat her with such disrespect.’
‘Jane is a computer program with a bug in the id routines.’
He was in a dark mood, this boy who had come to take her into his starship and spirit her away from the world of Path. But dark as his mood might be, she understood now, with the hologram gone from the terminal, what she had seen. ‘It isn’t just because you’re so young and the holograms of Peter Wiggin the Hegemon are of a mature man,’ said Wang-mu.
‘What,’ he said impatiently. ‘What isn’t what?’
‘The physical difference between you and the Hegemon.’
‘What is it, then?’
‘He looks – satisfied.’
‘He conquered the world,’ said Peter.
‘So when you have done the same, you will get that look of satisfaction?’
‘I suppose so,’ said Peter. ‘It’s what passes for a purpose in my life. It’s the mission Ender has sent me on.’
‘Don’t lie to me,’ said Wang-mu. ‘On the riverbank you spoke of the terrible things I did for the sake of my ambition. I admit it – I was ambitious, desperate to rise out of my terrible lowborn state. I know the taste of it, and the smell of it, and I smell it coming from you, like the smell of tar on a hot day, you stink of it.’
‘Ambition? Has a stench?’
‘I’m drunk with it myself.’
He grinned. Then he touched the jewel in his ear. ‘Remember, Jane is listening, and she tells Ender everything.’
Wang-mu fell silent, but not because she was embarrassed. She simply had nothing to say, and therefore said nothing.
‘So I’m ambitious. Because that’s how Ender imagined me. Ambitious and nasty-minded and cruel.’
‘But I thought you were not yourself,’ she said.
His eyes blazed with defiance. ‘That’s right, I’m not.’
He looked away. ‘Sorry, Gepetto, but I can’t be a real boy. I have no soul.’
She didn’t understand the name he said, but she understood the word soul. ‘All my childhood I was thought to be a servant by nature. To have no soul. Then one day they discovered that I have one. So far it has brought me no great happiness.’
‘I’m not speaking of some religious idea. I’m speaking of the aiúa. I haven’t got one. Remember what happened to Miro’s broken-down body when his aiúa abandoned it.’
‘But you don’t crumble, so you must have an aiúa after all.’
‘I don’t have it, it has me. I continue to exist because the aiúa whose irresistible will called me into existence continues to imagine me. Continues to need me, to control me, to be my will.’
‘Ender Wiggin?’ she asked.
‘My brother, my creator, my tormentor, my god, my very self.’
‘And young Valentine? Her too?’
‘Ah, but he loves her. He’s proud of her. He’s glad he made her. Me he loathes. Loathes, and yet it’s his will that I do and say every nasty thing. When I’m at my most despicable, remember that I do only what my brother makes me do.’
‘Oh, to blame him for—’
‘I’m not blaming, Wang-mu. I’m stating simple reality. His will is controlling three bodies now. Mine, my impossibly angelic sister’s, and of course his own very tired middle-aged body. Every aiúa in my body receives its order and place from his. I am, in all ways that matter, Ender Wiggin. Except that he has created me to be the vessel of every impulse in himself that he hates and fears. His ambition, yes, you smell his ambition when you smell mine. His aggression. His rage. His nastiness. His cruelty. His, not mine, because I am dead, and anyway I was never like this, never the way he saw me. This person before you is a travesty, a mockery! I’m a twisted memory. A despicable dream. A nightmare. I’m the creature hiding under the bed. He brought me out of chaos to be the terror of his childhood.’
‘So don’t do it,’ said Wang-mu. ‘If you don’t want to be those things, don’t do them.’
He sighed and closed his eyes. ‘If you’re so bright, why haven’t you understood a word I’ve said?’
She did understand, though. ‘What is your will, anyway? Nobody can see it. You don’t hear it thinking. You only know what your will is afterward, when you look back in your life and see what you’ve done.’
‘That’s the most terrible trick he’s played on me,’ said Peter softly, his eyes still closed. ‘I look back on my life and I see only the memories he has imagined for me. He was taken from our family when he was only five. What does he know of me or my life?’
‘He wrote The Hegemon.’
‘That book. Yes, based on Valentine’s memories, as she told them to him. And the public documents of my dazzling career. And of course the few ansible communications between Ender and my own late self before I – he – died. I’m only a few weeks old, yet I know a quotation from Henry IV, Part I. Owen Glendower boasting to Hotspur. Henry Percy. How could I know that? When did I go to school? How long did I lie awake at night, reading old plays until I committed a thousand favorite lines to memory? Did Ender somehow conjure up the whole of his dead brother’s education? All his private thoughts? Ender only knew the real Peter Wiggin for five years. It’s not a real person’s memories I draw on. It’s the memories Ender thinks that I should have.’
‘He thinks you should know Shakespeare, and so you do?’ she asked doubtfully.
‘If only Shakespeare were all he had given me. The great writers, the great philosophers. If only those were the only memories I had.’
She waited for him to list the troublesome memories. But he only shuddered and fell silent.
‘So if you are really controlled by Ender, then . . . you are him. Then that is yourself. You are Andrew Wiggin. You have an aiúa.’
‘I’m Andrew Wiggin’s nightmare,’ said Peter. ‘I’m Andrew Wiggin’s self-loathing. I’m everything he hates and fears about himself. That’s the script I’ve been given. That’s what I have to do.’
He flexed his hand into a fist, then extended it partway, the fingers still bent. A claw. The tiger again. And for a moment, Wang-mu was afraid of him. Only a moment, though. He relaxed his hands. The moment passed. ‘What part does your script have in it for me?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Peter. ‘You’re very smart. Smarter than I am, I hope. Though of course I have such incredible vanity that I can’t really believe that anyone is actually smarter than I am. Which means that I’m all the more in need of good advice, since I can’t actually conceive of needing any.’
‘You talk in circles.’
‘That’s just part of my cruelty. To torment you with conversation. But maybe it’s supposed to go farther than that. Maybe I’m supposed to torture you and kill you the way I so clearly remember doing with squirrels. Maybe I’m supposed to stake your living body out in the woods, nailing your extremities to tree roots, and then open you up layer by layer to see at what point the flies begin to come and lay eggs in your exposed flesh.’
She recoiled at the image. ‘I have read the book. I know the Hegemon was not a monster!’
‘It wasn’t the Speaker for the Dead who created me Outside. It was the frightened boy Ender. I’m not the Peter Wiggin he so wisely understood in that book. I’m the Peter Wiggin he had nightmares about. The one who flayed squirrels.’
‘He saw you do that?’ she asked.
‘Not me,’ he said testily. ‘And no, he never even saw him do it. Valentine told him later. She found the squirrel’s body in the woods near their childhood home in Greensboro, North Carolina, on the continent of North America back on Earth. But that image fit so tidily into his nightmares that he borrowed it and shared it with me. That’s the memory I live with. Intellectually, I can imagine that the real Peter Wiggin was probably not cruel at all. He was learning and studying. He didn’t have compassion for the squirrel because he didn’t sentimentalize it. It was simply an animal. No more important than a head of lettuce. To cut it up was probably as immoral an act as making a salad. But that’s not how Ender imagined it, and so that’s not how I remember it.’
‘How do you remember it?’
‘The way I remember all my supposed memories. From the outside. Watching myself in horrified fascination as I take a fiendish delight in cruelty. All my memories prior to the moment I came to life on Ender’s little voyage Outside, in all of them I see myself through someone else’s eyes. A very odd feeling, I assure you.’
‘Now I don’t see myself at all,’ he said. ‘Because I have no self. I am not myself.’
‘But you remember. You have memories. Of this conversation, already you remember it. Looking at me. You must, surely.’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I remember you. And I remember being here and seeing you. But there isn’t any self behind my eyes. I feel tired and stupid even when I’m being my most clever and brilliant.’
He smiled a charming smile and now Wang-mu could see again the true difference between Peter and the hologram of the Hegemon. It was as he said: Even at his most self-deprecating, this Peter Wiggin had eyes that flashed with inner rage. He was dangerous. You could see it looking at him. When he looked into your eyes, you could imagine him planning how and when you would die.
‘I am not myself,’ said Peter.
‘You are saying this to control yourself,’ said Wang-mu, guessing but also sure she was right. ‘This is your incantation, to stop yourself from doing what you desire.’
Peter sighed and leaned over, laying his head down on the terminal, his ear pressed against the cold plastic surface.
‘What is it you desire?’ she said, fearful of the answer.
‘Go away,’ he said.
‘Where can I go? This great starship of yours has only one room.’
‘Open the door and go outside,’ he said.
‘You mean to kill me? To eject me into space where I’ll freeze before I have time to suffocate?’
He sat up and looked at her in puzzlement. ‘Space?’
His confusion confused her. Where else would they be but in space? That’s where starships went, through space.
Except this one, of course.
As he saw understanding come to her, he laughed aloud. ‘Oh, yes, you’re the brilliant one, they’ve remade the entire world of Path to have your genius!’
She refused to be goaded.
‘I thought there would be some sensation of movement. Or something. Have we traveled, then? Are we already there?’
‘In the twinkling of an eye. We were Outside and then back Inside at another place, all so fast that only a computer could experience our voyage as having any duration at all. Jane did it before I finished talking to her. Before I said a word to you.’
‘Then where are we? What’s outside the door?’
‘We’re sitting in the woods somewhere on the planet Divine Wind. The air is breathable. You won’t freeze. It’s summer outside the door.’
She walked to the door and pulled down the handle, releasing the airtight seal. The door eased open. Sunlight streamed into the room.
‘Divine Wind,’ she said. ‘I read about it – it was founded as a Shinto world the way Path was supposed to be Taoist. The purity of ancient Japanese culture. But I think it’s not so very pure these days.’
‘More to the point, it’s the world where Andrew and Jane and I felt – if one can speak of my having feelings apart from Ender’s own – the world where we might find the center of power in the worlds ruled by Congress. The true decision makers. The power behind the throne.’
‘So you can subvert them and take over the human race?’
‘So I can stop the Lusitania Fleet. Taking over the human race is a bit later on the agenda. The Lusitania Fleet is something of an emergency. We have only a few weeks to stop it before the fleet gets there and uses the Little Doctor, the M.D. Device, to blow Lusitania into its constituent elements. In the meantime, because Ender and everyone else expects me to fail, they’re building these little tin can starships as fast as possible and transporting as many Lusitanians as they can – humans, Piggies, and Buggers – to other habitable but as yet uninhabited planets. My dear sister Valentine – the young one – is off with Miro – in his fresh new body, the dear lad – searching out new worlds as fast as their little starship can carry them. Quite a project. All of them betting on my – on our – failure. Let’s disappoint them, shall we?’
‘By succeeding. Let’s succeed. Let’s find the center of power among humankind, and let’s persuade them to stop the fleet before it needlessly destroys a world.’
Wang-mu looked at him doubtfully. Persuade them to stop the fleet? This nasty-minded, cruel-hearted boy? How could he persuade anyone of anything?
As if he could hear her thoughts, he answered her silent doubt. ‘You see why I invited you to come along with me. When Ender was inventing me, he forgot the fact that he never knew me during the time in my life when I was persuading people and gathering them together in shifting alliances and all that nonsense. So the Peter Wiggin he created is far too nasty, openly ambitious, and nakedly cruel to persuade a man with rectal itch to scratch his own butt.’
She looked away from him again.
‘You see?’ he said. ‘I offend you again and again. Look at me. Do you see my dilemma? The real Peter, the original one, he could have done the work I’ve been sent to do. He could have done it in his sleep. He’d already have a plan. He’d be able to win people over, soothe them, insinuate himself into their councils. That Peter Wiggin! He can charm the stings out of bees. But can I? I doubt it. For, you see, I’m not myself.’
He got up from his chair, roughly pushed his way past her, and stepped outside onto the meadow that surrounded the little metal cabin that had carried them from world to world. Wangmu stood in the doorway, watching him as he wandered away from the ship; away, but not too far.
I know something of how he feels, she thought. I know something of having to submerge your will in someone else’s. To live for them, as if they were the star of the story of your life, and you merely a supporting player. I have been a slave. But at least in all that time I knew my own heart. I knew what I truly thought even as I did what they wanted, whatever it took to get what I wanted from them. Peter Wiggin, though, has no idea of what he really wants, because even his resentment of his lack of freedom isn’t his own, even that comes from Andrew Wiggin. Even his self-loathing is Andrew’s self-loathing, and . . .
And back and back, in circles, like the random path he was tracing through the meadow.
Wang-mu thought of her mistress – no, her former mistress – Qing-jao. She also traced strange patterns. It was what the gods forced her to do. No, that’s the old way of thinking. It’s what her obsessive-compulsive disorder caused her to do. To kneel on the floor and trace the grain of the wood in each board, trace a single line of it as far as it went across the floor, line after line. It never meant anything, and yet she had to do it because only by such meaningless mind-numbing obedience could she win a scrap of freedom from the impulses controlling her. It is Qing-jao who was always the slave, and never me. For the master that ruled her controlled her from inside her own mind. While I could always see my master outside me, so my inmost self was never touched.
Peter Wiggin knows that he is ruled by the unconscious fears and passions of a complicated man many lightyears away. But then, Qing-jao thought her obsessions came from the gods. What does it matter, to tell yourself that the thing controlling you comes from outside, if in fact you only experience it inside your own heart? Where can you run from it? How can you hide? Qing-jao must be free by now, freed by the carrier virus that Peter brought with him to Path and put into the hands of Han Fei-tzu. But Peter – what freedom can there be for him?
And yet he must still live as if he were free. He must still struggle for freedom even if the struggle itself is just one more symptom of his slavery. There is a part of him that yearns to be himself. No, not himself. A self.
So what is my part in all of this? Am I supposed to work a miracle, and give him an aiúa? That isn’t in my power.
And yet I do have power, she thought.
She must have power, or why else had he spoken to her so openly? A total stranger, and he had opened his heart to her at once. Why? Because she was in on the secrets, yes, but something else as well.
Ah, of course. He could speak freely to her because she had never known Andrew Wiggin. Maybe Peter was nothing but an aspect of Ender’s nature, all that Ender feared and loathed about himself. But she could never compare the two of them. Whatever Peter was, whoever controlled him, she was his confidante.
Which made her, once again, someone’s servant. She had been Qing-jao’s confidante, too.
She shuddered, as if to shake from her the sad comparison. No, she told herself. It is not the same thing. Because that young man wandering so aimlessly among the wild-flowers has no power over me, except to tell me of his pain and hope for my understanding. Whatever I give to him I will give freely.
She closed her eyes and leaned her head against the frame of the door. I will give it freely, yes, she thought. But what am I planning to give him? Why, exactly what he wants – my loyalty, my devotion, my help in all his tasks. To submerge myself in him. And why am I already planning to do all this? Because however he might doubt himself, he has the power to win people to his cause.
She opened her eyes again and strode out into the hip-high grass toward him. He saw her and waited wordlessly as she approached. Bees buzzed around her; butterflies staggered drunkenly through the air, avoiding her somehow in their seemingly random flight. At the last moment she reached out and gathered a bee from a blossom into her hand, into her fist, but then quickly, before it could sting her, she lobbed it into Peter’s face.
Flustered, surprised, he batted away the infuriated bee, ducked under it, dodged, and finally ran a few steps before it lost track of him and buzzed its way out among the flowers again. Only then could he turn furiously to face her.
‘What was that for?’
She giggled at him – she couldn’t help it. He had looked so funny.
‘Oh, good, laugh. I can see you’re going to be fine company.’
‘Be angry, I don’t care,’ said Wang-mu. ‘I’ll just tell you this. Do you think that away off on Lusitania, Ender’s aiúa suddenly thought, “Ho, a bee!” and made you brush at it and dodge it like a clown?’
He rolled his eyes. ‘Oh, aren’t you clever. Well gosh, Miss Royal Mother of the West, you sure solved all my problems! I can see I must always have been a real boy! ‘And these ruby shoes, why, they’ve had the power to take me back to Kansas all along!’
‘What’s Kansas?’ she asked, looking down at his shoes, which were not red.
‘Just another memory of Ender’s that he kindly shared with me,’ said Peter Wiggin.
He stood there, his hands in his pockets, regarding her.
She stood just as silently, her hands clasped in front of her, regarding him right back.
‘So are you with me?’ he finally asked.
‘You must try not to be nasty with me,’ she said.
‘Take that up with Ender.’
‘I don’t care whose aiúa controls you,’ she said. ‘You still have your own thoughts, which are different from his – you feared the bee, and he didn’t even think of a bee right then, and you know it. So whatever part of you is in control or whoever the real “you” happens to be, right there on the front of your head is the mouth that’s going to be speaking to me, and I’m telling you that if I’m going to work with you, you better be nice to me.’
‘Does this mean no more bee fights?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ she said.
‘That’s just as well. With my luck Ender no doubt gave me a body that goes into shock when I’m stung by a bee.’
‘It can also be pretty hard on the bee,’ she said.
He grinned at her. ‘I find myself liking you,’ he said. ‘I really hate that.’
He strode off toward the starship. ‘Come on!’ he called out to her. ‘Let’s see what information Jane can give us about this world we’re supposed to take by storm.’