The starship Herodotus left Earth in 2210 with four passengers. It accelerated nearly to lightspeed as quickly as it could, and then stayed at that speed, letting relativity do its work.
On Herodotus, just over five years had passed; it had been 421 years on Earth.
On Herodotus, the three thirteen-month-old babies had turned into six-year-olds, and the Giant had outlived his life expectancy by two years.
On Earth, starships had been launched to found ninety-three colonies, beginning with the worlds once colonized by the Formics and spreading to other habitable planets as soon as they were found.
On Herodotus, the six-year-old children were small for their age, but brilliant beyond their years, as the Giant had been when he was little, for in all four of them, Anton's Key had been turned, a genetic defect and a genetic enhancement at the same time. Their intelligence was beyond the level of savants in every subject matter, without any of the debilitations of autism. But their bodies never stopped growing. They were small now, but by age twenty-two, they would be the size of the Giant, and the Giant would be long dead. For he was dying, and when he died, the children would be alone.
In the ansible room of Herodotus, Andrew "Ender" Delphiki sat perched on three books atop a seat designed for adults. This was how the children operated the main computer that processed communication through the ansible, the instant communicator that kept Herodotus linked to all the computer networks of the ninety-four worlds of Starways Congress.
Ender was reviewing a research report on genetic therapy that showed some promise, when Carlotta came into the ansible room. "Sergeant wants a sibmoot."
"You found me," said Ender. "So can he."
Carlotta looked over his shoulder at the holodisplay. "Why do you bother?" she said. "There's no cure. Nobody's even looking for it anymore."
"The cure is for us all to die," said Ender. "Then Anton syndrome disappears from the human species."
"How can you research it without lab equipment, without test subjects, without anything?"
"I have this incredibly brilliant mind," said Ender cheerfully. "I look at all the genetic research they're doing and I'm connecting it with what we already know about Anton's Key from back in the days when top scientists were working hard on the problem. I connect things that the humans could never see."
"We'll die eventually," said Carlotta. "The Giant is dying now."
"You know that's all Sergeant wants to talk about."
"The giant's supposedly as brilliant as we are. Let him work on Anton's Key. Now come along so Sergeant doesn't get mad."
"We can't let Sergeant boss us around just because he gets so angry when we don't obey." Still, Ender knew Carlotta was right. It wasn't his intent to pacify Sergeant. He simply understood that if Sergeant got angry, it would take him twice as long to say what he wanted. Ender's research time would be eaten up by his brother's ranting.
Ender expected to find Sergeant in the Puppy -- the maintenance craft that was programmed by the Giant to remain within five meters of the surface of Herodotus no matter what contrary instructions it might be given. Ender knew Carlotta had tried for months to untether the Puppy, but she couldn't defeat the programming.
"It's the gravity lensing field," said Ender. "And it's active."
"It's just gravity. Ten percent of Earth. And we're sandwiched between two plates, it's not like we can fall."
"I hate the way it feels." They had played in that space when they were two-year-olds. It was like spinning around until you were dizzy. Only worse.
"Get over it," said Carlotta. "We've tested it, and sound really does get nullified in here."
"Right," said Ender. "How are we going to hear each other speak?"
"Tin can telephones," said Carlotta.
Of course they weren't the toy sound transmitters that they had made when they were really little. Carlotta had long since reengineered them so that, without any power source, they transmitted sound cleanly along ten meters of fine wire, even around corners or pinched in doors.
Sure enough, there was Sergeant, his eyes closed, "meditating" -- which Ender interpreted to mean that Sergeant was plotting how he would take over all the human worlds before he died of giantism at age twenty.
"Nice of you to come," said Sergeant. Ender couldn't hear him, but he could read his lips and besides, he already knew it was exactly what Sergeant was likely to say.
Soon they were hooked up in a three-way connection with Carlotta's tin cans. They all had to lie in a line with their heads turned, Ender between Carlotta and Sergeant so he couldn't decide to end the conversation and slither out.
"The Giant is taking a long time to die," said Sergeant.
In that instant, Ender understood the entire meeting. Sergeant was getting impatient. He was son of the king and ready to inherit.
"So what do you propose?" asked Ender neutrally. "Evacuate the air from the payload area? Poison his water or his food? Or will you insist we all hold knives and stab him to death in the Senate?"
"Don't be melodramatic," said Sergeant. "The bigger he gets, the harder it will be to deal with the carcass."
"Open the cargo bay and jettison it into space," said Carlotta.
"How clever," said Sergeant. "More than half our nutrients are tied up in his body and it's beginning to affect life support. We have to be able to reclaim those nutrients so we have something to eat and breathe as we get larger. If the Giant thinks we're going to kill him, he'll kill us first."
"Don't assume that the Giant is as evil as you," said Ender.
Carlotta tugged on his foot. "Play nice, Ender," she said.
Ender knew how this would play out. Carlotta would express her regret but she'd agree with Sergeant. If Ender tried to give the Giant extra calories, Sergeant would beat him and Carlotta would stand by, or even help hold him. Not that the beatings ever lasted long. Ender just had no interest in fighting, so he didn't defend himself. After a few blows, he always gave in.
But this was different. The Giant was dying anyway. That caused Ender enough anguish that the idea of hastening the process was unbearable.
Nothing unbearable had ever been proposed before. So Ender's reaction surprised even him. No, especially him.
Sergeant's head was right there, just above Ender's own. Ender reached up, and with all the power of his arms, he rammed Sergeant's head into the wall.
Blood sprayed out Sergeant's nose and floated in globules that "fell" in every direction in the turbulent gravity field.
Ender shaped his hand into a fist and drove a knuckle into Sergeant's eye.
Carlotta twisted on Ender's foot, shouting, "What are you doing? What's going on?"
Ender braced himself against her grip and drove the edge of his hand into Sergeant's throat.