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CHAPTER 16


"HOW DO YOU KNOW THEY AREN'T QUIVERING IN TERROR?"

Children of the Mind

"O Gods! You are unjust!

My mother and father

deserved to have

a better child

than me!"

from The God Whispers of Han Qing-jao



"You had the Little Doctor in your possession and you gave it back?" asked Quara, sounding incredulous.

Everyone, Miro included, assumed she meant that she didn't trust the fleet not to use it.

"It was dismantled in front of my eyes," said Peter.

"Well, can it be mantled again?" she asked.

Wang-mu tried to explain. "Admiral Lands isn't going to be able to go down that road now. We wouldn't have left things unsettled. Lusitania is safe."

"She's not talking about Lusitania," said Ela coldly. "She's talking about here. The descolada planet."

"Am I the only person who thought of it?" said Quara. "Tell the truth -- it would solve all our worries about followup probes, about new outbreaks of even worse versions of the descolada --"

"You're thinking of blowing up a world populated by a sentient race?" asked Wang-mu.

"Not right now," said Quara, sounding as if Wang-mu were the stupidest person she had ever wasted time talking to. "If we determine that they're, you know, what Valentine called them. Varelse. Unable to be reasoned with. Impossible to coexist with."

"So what you're saying," said Wang-mu, "is that --"

"I'm saying what I said," Quara answered.

Wang-mu went on. "What you're saying is that Admiral Lands wasn't wrong in principle, he simply was wrong about the facts of the particular case. If the descolada had still been a threat on Lusitania, then it's his duty to blow up the planet."

"What are the lives of the people of one planet compared to all sentient life?" asked Quara.

"Is this," said Miro, "the same Quara Ribeira who tried to keep us from wiping out the descolada virus because it might be sentient?" He sounded amused.

"I've thought a lot about that since then," said Quara. "I was being childish and sentimental. Life is precious. Sentient life is more precious. But when one sentient group threatens the survival of another, then the threatened group has the right to protect themselves. Isn't that what Ender did? Over and over again?"

Quara looked from one to another, triumphant.

Peter nodded. "Yes," he said. "That's what Ender did."

"In a game," said Wang-mu.

"In his fight with two boys who threatened his life. He made sure they could never threaten him again. That's how war is fought, in case any of you have foolish ideas to the contrary. You don't fight with minimum force, you fight with maximum force at endurable cost. You don't just pink your enemy, you don't even bloody him, you destroy his capability to fight back. It's the strategy you use with diseases. You don't try to find a drug that kills ninety-nine percent of the bacteria or viruses. If you do that, all you've accomplished is to create a new drug-resistant strain. You have to kill a hundred percent."

Wang-mu tried to think of an argument against this. "Is disease really a valid analogy?"

"What is your analogy?" answered Peter. "A wrestling match? Fight to wear down your opponent's resistance? That's fine -- if your opponent is playing by the same rules. But if you stand there ready to wrestle and he pulls out a knife or a gun, what then? Or is it a tennis match? Keep score until your opponent sets off the bomb under your feet? There aren't any rules. In war."

"But is this war?" asked Wang-mu.

"As Quara said," Peter answered. "If we find out there's no dealing with them, then yes, it's a war. What they did to Lusitania, to the defenseless pequeninos, was devastating, soulless, total war without regard to the rights of the other side. That's our enemy, unless we can bring them to understand the consequences of what they did. Isn't that what you were saying, Quara?"

"Perfectly," said Quara.

Wang-mu knew there was something wrong with this reasoning, but she couldn't lay her finger on it. "Peter, if you really believe this, why didn't you keep the Little Doctor?"

"Because," said Peter, "we might be wrong, and the danger is not imminent."

Quara clicked her tongue in disdain. "You weren't here, Peter. You didn't see what they were throwing at us -- a newly engineered and specially tailored virus to make us sit as still as idiots while they came and took over our ship."

"And they sent this how, in a nice envelope?" said Peter. "They sent an infected puppy, knowing you couldn't resist picking it up and hugging it?"

"They broadcast the code," said Quara. "But they expected us to interpret it by making the molecule and then it would have its effect."

"No," said Peter, "you speculated that that's how their language works, and then you started to act as if your speculation were true."

"And somehow you know that it's not?" said Quara.

"I don't know anything about it," said Peter. "That's my point. We just don't know. We can't know. Now, if we saw them launching probes, or if they started trying to blast this ship out of the sky, we'd have to start taking action. Like sending ships after the probes and carefully studying the viruses they were sending out. Or if they attacked this ship, we'd take evasive action and analyze their weapons and tactics."

"That's fine now," said Quara. "Now that Jane's safe and the mothertrees are intact so she can handle the starflight thing she does. Now we can catch up with probes and dance out of the way of missiles or whatever. But what about before, when we were helpless here? When we had only a few weeks to live, or so we thought?"

"Back then," said Peter, "you didn't have the Little Doctor, either, so you couldn't have blown up their planet. We didn't get our hands on the M. D. Device until after Jane's power of flight was restored. And with that power, it was no longer necessary to destroy the descolada planet until and unless it posed a danger too great to be resisted any other way."

Quara laughed. "What is this? I thought Peter was supposed to be the nasty side of Ender's personality. Turns out you're the sweetness and light."

Peter smiled. "There are times when you have to defend yourself or someone else against relentless evil. And some of those times the only defense that has any hope of succeeding is a one-time use of brutal, devastating force. At such times good people act brutally."

"We couldn't be engaging in a bit of self-justification, could we?" said Quara. "You're Ender's successor. Therefore you find it convenient to believe that those boys Ender killed were the exceptions to your niceness rule."

"I justify Ender by his ignorance and helplessness. We aren't helpless. Starways Congress and the Lusitania Fleet were not helpless. And they chose to act before alleviating their ignorance."

"Ender chose to use the Little Doctor while he was ignorant."

"No, Quara. The adults who commanded him used it. They could have intercepted and blocked his decision. There was plenty of time for them to use the overrides. Ender thought he was playing a game. He thought that by using the Little Doctor in the simulation he would prove himself unreliable, disobedient, or even too brutal to trust with command. He was trying to get himself kicked out of Command School. That's all. He was doing the necessary thing to get them to stop torturing him. The adults were the ones who decided simply to unleash their most powerful weapon: Ender Wiggin. No more effort to talk with the buggers, to communicate. Not even at the end when they knew that Ender was going to destroy the buggers' home planet. They had decided to go for the kill no matter what. Like Admiral Lands. Like you, Quara."

"I said I'd wait until we found out!"

"Good," said Peter. "Then we don't disagree."

"But we should have the Little Doctor here!"

"The Little Doctor shouldn't exist at all," said Peter. "It was never necessary. It was never appropriate. Because the cost of it is too high."

"Cost!" hooted Quara. "It's cheaper than the old nuclear weapons!"

"It's taken us three thousand years to get over the destruction of the hive queens' home planet. That's the cost. If we use the Little Doctor, then we're the sort of people who wipe out other species. Admiral Lands was just like the men who were using Ender Wiggin. Their minds were made up. This was the danger. This was the evil. This had to be destroyed. They thought they meant well. They were saving the human race. But they weren't. There were a lot of different motives involved, but along with deciding to use the weapon, they also decided not to attempt to communicate with the enemy. Where was the demonstration of the Little Doctor on a nearby moon? Where was Lands's attempt to verify that the situation on Lusitania had not changed? And you, Quara -- what methodology, exactly, were you planning to use to determine whether the descoladores were too evil to be allowed to live? At what point do you know they are an unbearable danger to all other sentient species?"

"Turn it around, Peter," said Quara. "At what point do you know they're not?"

"We have better weapons than the Little Doctor. Ela once designed a molecule to block the descolada's efforts to cause harm, without destroying its ability to help the flora and fauna of Lusitania to pass through their transformations. Who's to say that we can't do the same thing for every nasty little plague they send at us until they give up? Who's to say that they aren't already trying desperately to communicate with us? How do you know that the molecule they sent wasn't an attempt to make us happy with them the only way they knew how, by sending us a molecule that would take away our anger? How do you know they aren't already quivering in terror down on that planet because we have a ship that can disappear and reappear anywhere else? Are we trying to talk to them?"

Peter looked around at all of them.

"Don't you understand, any of you? There's only one species that we know of that has deliberately, consciously, knowingly tried to destroy another sentient species without any serious attempt at communication or warning. We're the ones. The first xenocide failed because the victims of the attack managed to conceal exactly one pregnant female. The second time it failed for a better reason -- because some members of the human species determined to stop it. Not just some, many. Congress. A big corporation. A philosopher on Divine Wind. A Samoan divine and his fellow believers on Pacifica. Wang-mu and I. Jane. And Admiral Lands's own officers and men, when they finally understood the situation. We're getting better, don't you see? But the fact remains -- we humans are the sentient species that has shown the most tendency to deliberately refuse to communicate with other species and instead destroy them utterly. Maybe the descoladores are varelse and maybe they're not. But I'm a lot more frightened at the thought that we are varelse. That's the cost of using the Little Doctor when it isn't needed and never will be, given the other tools in our kit. If we choose to use the M. D. Device, then we are not ramen. We can never be trusted. We are the species that would deserve to die for the safety of all other sentient life."

Quara shook her head, but the smugness was gone. "Sounds to me like somebody is still trying to earn forgiveness for his own crimes."

"That was Ender," said Peter. "He spent his life trying to turn himself and everyone else into ramen. I look around me in this ship, I think of what I've seen, the people I've known in the past few months, and I think that the human race isn't doing too badly. We're moving in the right direction. A few throwbacks now and then. A bit of blustery talk. But by and large, we're coming closer to being worthy to associate with the hive queens and the pequeninos. And if the descoladores are perhaps a bit farther from being ramen than we are, that doesn't mean we have a right to destroy them. It means we have all the more reason to be patient with them and try to nurse them along. How many years has it taken us to get here from marking the sites of battles with piles of human skulls? Thousands of years. And all the time, we had teachers trying to get us to change, pointing the way. Bit by bit we learned. Let's teach them -- if they don't already know more than we do."

"It could take years just to learn their language," said Ela.

"Transportation is cheap now," said Peter. "No offense intended, Jane. We can keep teams shuttling back and forth for a long time without undue hardship to anyone. We can keep a fleet watching this planet. With pequeninos and hive workers alongside the human researchers. For centuries. For millennia. There's no hurry."

"I think that's dangerous," said Quara.

"And I think you have the same instinctive desire that we all have, the one that gets us in so damn much trouble all the time," said Peter. "You know that you're going to die, and you want to see it all resolved before you do."

"I'm not old yet!" Quara said.

Miro spoke up. "He's right, Quara. Ever since Marc~ao died, you've had death looming over you. Think about it, everybody. Humans are the short-lived species. Hive queens think they live forever. Pequeninos have the hope of many centuries in the third life. We're the ones who are in a hurry all the time. We're the ones who are determined to make decisions without getting enough information, because we want to act now, while we still have time."

"So that's it?" said Quara. "That's your decision? Let this grave threat to all life continue to sit here hatching their plans while we watch and watch from the sky?"

"Not we," said Peter.

"No, that's right," said Quara, "you're not part of this project."

"Yes I am," said Peter. "But you're not. You're going back down to Lusitania, and Jane will never bring you back here. Not until you've spent years proving that you've got your personal bugbears under control."

"You arrogant son-of-a-bitch!" Quara cried.

"Everybody here knows that I'm right," said Peter. "You're like Lands. You're too ready to make devastatingly far-reaching decisions and then refuse to let any argument change your mind. There are plenty of people like you, Quara. But we can never let any of them anywhere near this planet until we know more. The day may come when all the sentient species reach the conclusion that the descoladores are in fact varelse who must be destroyed. But I seriously doubt any of us here, with the exception of Jane, will be alive when that day comes."

"What, you think I'll live forever?" said Jane.

"You'd better," said Peter. "Unless you and Miro can figure out how to have children who can launch starships when they grow up." Peter turned to Jane. "Can you take us home now?"

"Even as we speak," said Jane.

They opened the door. They left the ship. They stepped onto the surface of a world that was not going to be destroyed after all.

All except Quara.

"Isn't Quara coming with us?" asked Wang-mu.

"Maybe she needs to be alone for a while," said Peter.

"You go on ahead," said Wang-mu.

"You think you can deal with her?" said Peter.

"I think I can try," said Wang-mu.

He kissed her. "I was hard on her. Tell her I'm sorry."

"Maybe later you can tell her yourself," said Wang-mu.

She went back inside the starship. Quara still sat facing her terminal. The last data she had been looking at before Peter and Wang-mu arrived in the starship still hung in the air over her terminal.

"Quara," said Wang-mu.

"Go away." The husky sound of her voice was ample evidence that she had been crying.

"Everything Peter said was true," said Wang-mu.

"Is that what you came to say? Rub salt in the wound?"

"Except that he gave the human race too much credit for our slight improvement."

Quara snorted. It was almost a yes.

"Because it seems to me that he and everyone else here had already decided you were varelse. To be banished without hope of Parole. Without understanding you first."

"Oh, they understand me," said Quara. "Little girl devastated by loss of brutal father whom she nevertheless loved. Still searching for father figure. Still responding to everyone else with the mindless rage she saw her father show. You think I don't know what they've decided?"

"They've got you pegged."

"Which is not true of me. I might have suggested that the Little Doctor ought to be kept around in case it was necessary, but I never said just to use it without any further attempt at communication. Peter just treated me as if I was that admiral all over again."

"I know," said Wang-mu.

"Yeah, right. I'm sure you're so sympathetic with me and you know he's wrong. Come on, Jane told us already that the two of you are -- what was the bullshit phrase? -- in love."

"I wasn't proud of what Peter did to you. It was a mistake. He makes them. He hurts my feelings sometimes, too. So do you. You did just now. I don't know why. But sometimes I hurt other people, too. And sometimes I do terrible things because I'm so sure that I'm right. We're all like that. We all have a little bit of varelse in us. And a little bit of raman."

"Isn't that the sweetest little well-balanced undergraduate-level philosophy of life," said Quara.

"It's the best I could come up with," said Wang-mu. "I'm not educated like you."

"And is that the make-her-feel-guilty technique?"

"Tell me, Quara, if you're not really acting out your father's role or trying to call him back or whatever the analysis was, why are you so angry at everybody all the time?"

Quara finally swiveled in her chair and looked Wang-mu in the face. Yes, she had been crying. "You really want to know why I'm so filled with irrational fury all the time?" The taunting hadn't left her voice. "You really want to play shrink with me? Well try this one. What has me so completely pissed off is that all through my childhood, my older brother Quim was secretly molesting me, and now he's a martyr and they're going to make him a saint and nobody will ever know how evil he was and the terrible, terrible things he did to me."

Wang-mu stood there horrified. Peter had told her about Quim. How he died. The kind of man he was. "Oh, Quara," she said. "I'm so sorry."

A look of complete disgust passed across Quara's face. "You are so stupid. Quim never touched me, you stupid meddlesome little do-gooder. But you're so eager to get some cheap explanation about why I'm such a bitch that you'll believe any story that sounds halfway plausible. And right now you're probably still wondering whether maybe my confession was true and I'm only denying it because I'm afraid of the repercussions or some dumb merda like that. Get this straight, girl. You do not know me. You will never know me. I don't want you to know me. I don't want any friends, and if I did want friends, I would not want Peter's pet bimbo to do the honors. Can I possibly make myself clearer?"

In her life Wang-mu had been beaten by experts and vilified by champions. Quara was damn good at it by any standards, but not so good that Wang-mu couldn't bear it without flinching. "I notice, though," said Wang-mu, "that after your vile slander against the noblest member of your family, you couldn't stand to leave me believing that it was true. So you do have loyalty to someone, even if he's dead."

"You just don't take a hint, do you?" said Quara.

"And I notice that you still keep talking to me, even though you despise me and try to offend me."

"If you were a fish, you'd be a remora, you just clamp on and suck for dear life, don't you!"

"Because at any point you could just walk out of here and you wouldn't have to hear my pathetic attempts at making friends with you," said Wang-mu. "But you don't go."

"You are unbelievable," said Quara. She unstrapped herself from her chair, got up, and went out the open door.

Wang-mu watched her go. Peter was right. Humans were still the most alien of alien species. Still the most dangerous, the most unreasonable, the least predictable.

Even so, Wang-mu dared to make a couple of predictions to herself.

First, she was confident that the research team would someday establish communications with the descoladores.

The second prediction was much more iffy. More like a hope. Maybe even just a wish. That someday Quara would tell Wang-mu the truth. That someday the hidden wound that Quara bore would be healed. That someday they might be friends.

But not today. There was no hurry. Wang-mu would try to help Quara because she was so obviously in need, and because the people who had been around her the longest were clearly too sick of her to help. But helping Quara was not the only thing or even the most important thing she had to accomplish. Marrying Peter and starting a life with him -- that was a much higher priority. And getting something to eat, a drink of water, and a place to pee -- those were the highest priorities of all at this precise moment in her life.

I guess that means I'm human, thought Wang-mu. Not a god. Maybe just a beast after all. Part raman. Part varelse. But more raman than varelse, at least on her good days. Peter, too, just like her. Both of them part of the same flawed species, determined to join together to make a couple of more members of that species. Peter and I together will call forth some ai'ua to come in from Outside and take control of a tiny body that our bodies have made, and we'll see that child be varelse on some days and raman on others. On some days we'll be good parents and some days we'll be wretched failures. Some days we'll be desperately sad and some days we'll be so happy we can hardly contain it. I can live with that.


CHAPTER 15 | Children of the Mind | CHAPTER 17



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