"I heard that too," said Bean. "And it's probably necessary. Just frustrating for an inquirer like me."
"How are you feeling?" she asked him.
"Physically? Look at the machinery and tell me whether I'm alive or not."
"Good heartbeat," she said. "Other vitals fine -- for a man your size."
He slept again. When next he woke, it was dusk, and all three children were gathered around him.
"Father," said Ender. "I have something to tell you. Good and bad. Good, mostly."
"Then tell me," said Bean. "I don't want to die during a preamble. Get to the meat."
"Then here it is," said Ender. "The Formics have inadvertently taught me how to cure our condition. We can turn on the normal human patterns of growth and then the end of growth, without switching off Anton's Key."
"How?" asked Bean.
"They do it with organelles. Like our mitochondria. The queens could mix up a bacterial soup in glands that are only vestigial in the workers and drones. Then they infect the eggs of workers with these bacteria, and the bacteria take up residence in every cell in their bodies.
"The organelles are responsive to the mental connection between the Queen and the workers. They sense whether it's there. And if it isn't, they shut down the metabolism of every cell in the body, virtually at once. We can put the off switch we need in an organelle."
"You can't just make organelles for humans," said Bean. "We've had mitochondria for so long that -- they joined the cells long before there were humans. The mitochondria reproduce when the cells divide. The Hive Queens had to insert their organelles into every egg."
"Right," said Ender.
"This is the clever part," said Carlotta.
"We use a virus to insert the snippet of altered gene into the naturally occurring mitochondria. They get the off-switch and then express it at the appropriate time."
"Well, it's not as if we've reached puberty yet," said Ender. "We have to wait and see. But one thing is certain -- the change has gone through every cell in our bodies."
"You've already done it?" said Bean. His heart raced.
"Calm, calm, Father," said Carlotta.
"Of course we did it," said Cincinnatus.
"And in a few years, we'll see if it worked," said Ender. "If not, we'll still have time to try again. Or try something else."
He slept well that night, better than he had in five long years in space, because his children were safe, and perhaps cured, and certainly able to take care of themselves. He had accomplished it all -- if not directly, then by raising them to be the kind of people who would dare to take the steps necessary to save themselves.
In the morning, they were all busy, but Bean was content to lie there and listen to the sounds of life in the meadow. He didn't know the names of any of the animals, but there were some who hopped and some that chirped and croaked, and some that landed lightly on him and crawled or wriggled to somewhere else and dropped or leapt off of him. He was part of the life here. Soon his body would be even more deeply involved with it. Meanwhile, he was happy.
And maybe when he died, he'd find out that one religion or another was right after all. Maybe Petra would be there waiting for him -- impatient, scolding. "What took you?"
"I had to finish my work."
"Well, you didn't -- the children had to do it."
And others. Sister Carlotta, who saved his life. Poke, who also saved his life, and also died for it. His parents, though he didn't meet them until after the war. His brother Nikolai.
Bean woke again. He hadn't known he was going to fall asleep. But now the children were gathered around him, looking serious.
"You had a little heart incident," said Cincinnatus.
"It's called happiness," said Bean.
He propped himself carefully on his elbows and knees. A position he had not adopted in at least a year, ever since he stopped trying to roll over. He hadn't been sure he could even do it. But there he was, on elbows and knees, like a baby. Panting, exhausted. I can't do this.