"I want to move the ansible," she said.

Bean hadn't anticipated that one. "Eventually," he said. "But your network is reaching between the ships just fine. You can access human communications systems just fine from there."

"Ender and I hacked the tech years ago," said Carlotta. "We thought you'd be angry so we didn't tell you."

At last it was time for Bean to make the voyage.

It had been hard enough for him to walk into Herodotus when he took the toddlers aboard and left Petra and the other babies -- for their normal children truly were still babies then, just learning to talk, toddling about on unsteady legs. He hadn't cared much about the uselessness of the enlargements that had been attempted. He knew that even the taller table and larger chair would soon be useless to him. He wasn't going to make another. He knew from the start that he would end up lying on his back or his side in the cargo bay, with gravity set as close to nothing as possible.

But he had walked onto the ship. Now Carlotta cut the gravity to nothing, then turned on the gravitator she had rigged on the Hound. It drew him upward very slowly. She and Cincinnatus rose with him, rotating him slowly in midair, so that when he reached the padded flooring of the Hound, he settled into it very gently on his back.

"Carlotta," he said, "we can't go until I'm rigged to control the Hound. Bring me my holotop."

She laughed. "We know how you pilot ships, Father. You're deft at it, but the trajectory you used on every trip you've piloted for us would kill you. Cincinnatus is taking you, and instead of an hour, the trip is going to take the best part of a day. So snuggle in and sleep."

It was a better flight than Bean would have given himself, and as they drifted into the open airlock in the side of the ark, Bean could only admire how deftly Cincinnatus brought the Hound to a stop in the middle of the air.

This high off the ground, Bean felt almost no gravity. Then the door opened and he saw the ecotat with his own eyes for the first time.

The relief he had felt when the ceiling lifted in the Herodotus had been nothing compared to this. It was so large, and the false sun in the center of the opposite hub gave such a sincere imitation of sunlight that Bean felt for a dizzying moment as if he had come back home to Earth.

Then he saw how the world bent upward in both

directions, and formed a clearly visible ceiling overhead, with trees and meadows and even small lakes -- ponds, really. But there were birds flying -- had anyone mentioned the birds? -- and while the trees were all from the Formic worlds, Bean had never become an expert on the trees of Earth. They were forest enough for him. The green took his breath away; the strange colors here and there still seemed to belong.

It wasn't a planet, but it was as close to one as he would ever come. He had never thought to be in a living world like this again.

Carlotta and Cincinnatus had rigged a scaffolding opposite the door, and as they drew him from the bay in the wheel, Bean realized that the cloth under him was a sturdy cargo net -- a hammock, but with rods to keep it from collapsing into a wad with him folded up inside it.

When he was completely free of the door, he was resting comfortably within the hammock. Then they swayed him down like good sailors, and the illusion of gravity grew for him as gently and naturally as if he had climbed down a ladder.

It was just a bit more gravity than he had been used to. He had to breathe just a little more deeply and often. But he wasn't panting. He could do this. He could live this way. For a while.

When he was at rest on the ground, the cloth of the hammock under him, the birds came swooping down, and he realized they were not birds at all. They were the drones.

They hovered around him, then came to rest on the ground. Ender came then -- the lab wasn't far away -- and he seemed happy. Too happy for the occasion, really -- his lab work must be going well. Bean had been tracking his lines of research as best he could, but Carlotta had set up this network, and Bean found that she had blocked, or simply not created, the back doors and surreptitious channels he had used constantly on the Herodotus. They were cutting him loose from his close supervision of their lives, even as they solemnly obeyed him in all his overt decisions.

"They want to begin at once," said Ender. "Talking to you."

"Before you die," said Cincinnatus dryly.

"Then we'll start at once," said Bean.

The images came slowly, gently, and feelings were not pushed hard. Suggestions, really.

At first Bean spoke aloud what he was getting from the drones. Ender, who was also touching them and seeing all, affirmed for him that he was understanding them well.

Soon it was Carlotta who kept him company. And then Cincinnatus took his turn. The drones also worked in shifts, two at a time staying with him.

Three days he lived in the dream. Unlike the Hive Queens, Bean did not attempt to hide anything. His whole life he laid bare before the drones. Let them feel what it meant to be a human, a man -- one with responsibilities to others, but ultimately an agent unto himself, free to choose as long as he also accepted the consequences of his choices.

They marveled. They were horrified at some things -- at the idea of murder. Bean let them see that he thought it was murder when the Hive Queen broke off contact with the mind of a worker, killing her. But the drones were merely amused at his obvious misinterpretation. Not like you, she's not like you humans, you don't understand. They didn't say those words, but he understood the idea from their amused, patient, dismissive feelings. Like adults talking to precocious children. Like Bean talking to his own children when they weren't yet two and had not yet begun to educate themselves completely on their own.

At last the drones withdrew themselves, and then Bean slept for real, deeply, completely. Not dreamlessly, but they were the comfortable dreams of ordinary sleep. No nightmares.

Then he woke, and spoke to his children. "I learned much, but what was most interesting were the things the Hive Queen never showed them. They didn't believe that anything was left out, they believed she was completely open to them, but what else could they believe? Their lives were surrounded by the lies she wove for them."

"Parents do that to protect their children, I heard," said Carlotta.


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