The children had all memorized every word. They could say them along with her. And at various times they had wept while hearing them, repeated them mockingly, screamed them at the hologram, refused to listen, and finally just watched her thoughtfully.

Until they stopped summoning the holograms at all.

Bean thought that the holograms had done their job. They had given the children a relationship with their absent mother. She was grateful that Petra had made the recordings.

Even thought she had never actually sent them.

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Additional Content From Chapter 9

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It made Carlotta feel a little bitter that the communication between the Hive Queen and her daughters had been so perfect that they didn't need writing, they didn't need intercoms or radios, they didn't even need language. Memories were transferred perfectly. The mother was present within her children's minds always.

While my mother ...

Alone of the children, Carlotta knew that Mother had never sent them the hologram messages they had played over and over again.

The question had arisen quite early. "Why are the holograms so jumpy? Between every sentence she shifts."

The Giant's explanations had made perfect sense. "Your mother didn't like making speeches or sending messages. She always felt like she made constant mistakes. I'm sure she edited this a hundred times before she sent it."

Ender had been his normal complacent self, accepting the explanation completely. Sergeant had naturally made snotty remarks about how it was so nice of her to go to so much trouble to send them exactly one highly-edited, unnatural message in all the years that she had known they were on this voyage.

Carlotta alone seemed to understand that the Giant's explanation sounded like a just-so story, designed to fend off a child's question without actually answering it.

Obviously the holograms had been edited. Also, the histories and biographies agreed that Petra wasn't much for public speaking and had largely dropped out of public life after she married Peter the Hegemon. Yet there was still something wrong with the Giant's explanation, and Carlotta thought she knew what it was.

It seemed obvious to her that it wasn't Mother who had edited her messages, it was the Giant. And that meant that somewhere in the ship's computers there must be some copy or at least a palimpsest of the full, original, uncut message. The Giant had some reason for keeping them from seeing it. Very well, when Carlotta found it, she would keep his secret from the others, if she agreed that the Giant had been right to edit the message.

But that wouldn't stop her from searching.

It was that quest that had prompted Carlotta to become so intimately familiar with the computers on the Herodotus, and then all the supporting computer systems and all the ansible record systems on other worlds. Along the way, she became intimately familiar with the inner workings of the ship in a way the others didn't even attempt, and she pretended that her goal was to be able to repair or replace or jury-rig anything.

But she was searching for Mother's messages.

And she found them.

About a year ago, she found a palimpsest in a backup of a backup. It was a fragment of one of the familiar holograms, and the piece that had been accidentally preserved lasted only two seconds. But one of those two seconds had been omitted from the message the Giant had shown them.

There was a date associated with the backup that had been backed up, which gave her a rough upper time limit for when the Giant had done the editing; the lower time limit was the earliest possible time when Mother could have sent a message saying what it said -- that their full siblings, the five normal children of Julian Delphiki and Petra Arkanian, had all left home and were living adult lives.

Then she pulled up transmission records from Earthside ansibles until finally, in the storage computer of an ansible relay on a moon of Saturn which was almost never visited and only rarely used, she found the entire original transmission from Mother.

Mother had never sent it at all.

Instead, it was part of a message from a computer program that was managing the Giant's investment portfolio. It had been slipped in among financial reports with this notation: "Item culled from the personal computer of Petra Arkanian at the moment of deletion."

And it was nothing like the holograms that the Giant had spliced together. Oh, every moment of the "message from Mother" was in that long transmission, but most of it was not directed to the children at all. Most of it was an angry, sad, lonely, accusatory, but also yearning and forgiving monologue the Petra had made.

It had begun as an attempt to send a message to her first husband, Bean. "I feel like I'm standing at your grave and reporting on my entire life since you died," she began. "Except that unlike most widows, I know you'll actually hear me, and I can really tell you just how much I hate you for stealing three of my children and running away like the coward you always were."

Oh, she was furious. And unfair. Carlotta knew enough of the real story to know that Petra was talking from pure emotion. She was a middle-aged woman when she recorded it; she had been wife of Peter the Hegemon a long time. Yet her words to Bean sounded as hot with emotion as if she had only been wounded by him the day before.

In the process of the long diatribe she kept starting over -- not erasing anything, just saying, "No, I'll never send that," and then beginning again. Several times she stopped to wash her face or get a drink or go to the toilet or whatever, so there were long sequences of recorded furniture.

But at the end, exhausted, sad, she said, "Why should I cause you such pain? To you it's only been a couple of years. And in truth I'm not unhappy. I'm unhappy right now but in the main I've done pretty well with the life I've had here, and Peter is a good husband. At least he never stole half my children from me. There I go again. Bitter and sad, sad and bitter. I'm not going to send this. I suppose it was therapy. Or menopause." Petra sighed. "Delete," she said.

Tags: Orson Scott Card The Shadow Science Fiction