Carlotta immediately complied; a moment later, Sergeant reached the same conclusion. Ender sent his shotgun drifting slowly toward Sergeant. He took off his helmet and sent it toward Carlotta. Then he rolled over onto his back.
Carlotta realized that this put his eyes on the top of his head, like the Formic eyes. She caught his helmet and held it.
Ender was keeping his arms down at his sides as he drifted toward the control panel where the Formics waited. Carlotta realized he was treating his arms like wings, showing them folded against his body. He was imitating their posture. Was this how the Formics showed submission? Were they submitting to us, and is Ender now submitting to them?
As Ender drifted closer to them, the Formics began to move. They were so small. Staying hooked to various controls -- controls that were definitely not designed for their use, Carlotta could see that now -- three of the five of them reached out for Ender's head.
She heard Sergeant's quick intake of breath.
"Let him be," came the Giant's voice softly through the helmets. "It's a chance that he has to take."
Carlotta could not help but marvel at Ender's stillness as the Formic males reached out and touched his head, bringing him carefully to a stop. Those Y-shaped claws, the mouths so near his face. The residual pain in her jaw reminded her of how dangerous it could be to let aliens near your head.
The three Formics who were holding him lowered their mouths toward his head. The other two were standing watch, it seemed.
They pressed the tips of their forejaws against Ender's head.
Ender let out a low moan, almost a cry.
Sergeant started forward.
"No," said the Giant.
Carlotta caught Sergeant, helped him back down to where his boots could remagnetize to the floor.
Ender sighed a
gain. Again. Then his voice came, an urgent whisper. "Don't hurt them," he said. "They're showing me."
"Showing you what?" asked Carlotta, trying to keep her voice soft, to keep the fear out of it. Who knew what sense the Formics could make of the sounds they managed to hear?
"Everything," said Ender. "How they've lived since the Queen died."
Ender had never felt such loss of control over his own mind. Even in a nightmare, when nothing is going the way you want, the images still came from somewhere. You knew what you were seeing.
But the images that started passing through his mind the moment the Formic males touched him were chaotic and strange. Half the time he didn't even know what he was seeing.
Slow down! he felt as if his mind were shouting at them. Yet they did not respond at all. He caught glimpses of this and that. The Hive Queen alive. The small males flying around her, and then landing on her. Some she batted away, but others she helped stay in place while they attached. Images of the Hive Queen's own hand bringing slugs to the mouths of the males.
But as Ender experienced it, the slugs came to his own mouth. He smelled them, he saw them wriggle, and they looked delicious. His mouth watered. He was so, so hungry.
Ender tried to picture someone moving slowly, but their images overwhelmed what he was imagining. Then, desperate for communication, he tried simply feeling sluggish. Heavy-lidded. Tired.
He got a jolt of some strong emotion that would certainly have wakened him, if he had really been dozing off. The emotion wasn't anger, it was -- alertness. They sent him what they wanted him to feel.
They were definitely in control of this exchange.
He tried something else. He took an image they gave him -- this time it seemed to be rabs bouncing around in a corridor -- and tried to freeze it. Hold still. Wait.
Immediately they sent the image again; again he froze it. Examined it.
And now they understood. The next image came, not as a pure memory, in motion, but rather as a frozen moment.
Now he saw the image of a Hive Queen, tall, magnificent; he felt the devotion they felt for her, and the hunger as well. They needed to be close to her.
She was covered with drones. If Ender hadn't seen her without the males, he would have assumed their backs were her belly, they coated her so completely.