"They won't like it," said Carlotta.

"If they're asleep, they won't mind anything," said Sergeant.

Carlotta conceded the point, though she still didn't like it. They opened the next helm door, a fifth of the way around the ship, where the sunlight wasn't so direct. It was a helm all right, several Formic-shaped perches and control sets. Lots of unlabeled dials and displays that consisted of arrangements of small lights. And perches in front of the viewports, so observers could be stationed there.

But there wasn't a soul in the room. Not even a corpse.

"Proof of concept, anyway," said Sergeant. "Now we know that helm rooms are arranged symmetrically around the hull, and not hidden away in the hub."

"And we know the Formics wanted to look, not just take the Hive Queen's data," said Ender.

"Or this is how she got her data," said Carlotta.

"Could be," said Sergeant. "Observers in all the helm rooms, but actual pilots in only one."

"So let's go find the one," she said.

Sergeant seemed not to mind that she had, in effect, preemptively given the order. He led the way back into the corridor. No need for more spray -- the fog they had originally sprayed was still spreading through this corridor all the way around the ship. In smaller concentration, it wasn't so quick -- there were rabs still waggling their limbs and jaws. But Sergeant and Ender didn't spray again. These rabs weren't trying to attack anything, they were trying to stay awake. And failing.

The third helm was dark. Nightside. But when Carlotta shone her helmlight on the door, she pointed to shininess on the metal near the lower and upper sills. This door had been opened repeatedly in recent years.

They got in position. Carlotta stood away from where the opening would be -- lesson learned -- and shifted the lever. The door slid open.

Nothing came out. Not a sound from inside.

Sergeant lowered himself into the room and drifted downward, toward the wall with the viewports, setting his helmet to illuminate the room and do a sweep of motion search.

"No movement," he said softly. "But there's a heat source."

Carlotta came into the room.

Ender hesitated at the doorway. "Keep watch out here?" he asked.

"Come in and shut the door," said Sergeant. "We may have found our pilots."

Carlotta got to the windowed wall and then followed Sergeant as he walked lightly toward the control bay of the helm.

Unmoving, several small shapes with iridescent colors clung to the control panel. They were smaller than Carlotta, about half her height, but longer than the rabs. They had wings -- that was the iridescence. No claws. In fact, the two front arms on each side seemed to be fused together, parting only near the end. But the "Y" formed by the ends of the feet was able to grasp levers and controls. And the jaws were Formic-like, also able to grasp.

"What are they?" asked Carlotta softly. "Did the Hive Queens breed special pilot creatures?"

"No," Ender said, focusing his eyes on the creatures.

"Formics?" asked Sergeant. "These are Formics?"

"Pretty sure," said Ender. "Males, I think."

"Why didn't they die when the Hive Queen died?" asked Carlotta.

"Very interesting question," said Ender. "But maybe they don't react the way the workers do. Maybe when a Hive Queen dies, they stay alive so they can attach to the next one." Then he said, "Wait, I think we're as close as they can bear. That one is about to take flight."

Carlotta could see it now, too. The wings were extending. The eyes were standing straight up. "Is there any hope of communicating with them?" she asked.

"I hope we're communicating lack of threat," said Ender. "Don't point your hands at them. Set the shotguns down."

"No," said Sergeant.

"You're right," said Ender. "But the two of you back away, all right? Let me go in unarmed and alone."


Tags: Orson Scott Card The Shadow Science Fiction
Source: www.StudyNovels.com