"So why do you want to kill me?" asked Bean. "Isn't my life short enough for you?"
In answer, Sergeant clung to Bean's sleeve and cried. As he did, Ender and Carlotta held each other's hands and watched. What they were feeling, Bean didn't know. He wasn't even sure what Sergeant was crying for. He didn't understand anybody and he never had. He was no Ender Wiggin.
Bean tracked him now and then, checking in with the computer nets through the ansible, and as far as he could tell, Ender Wiggin wasn't having much of a life, either. Unmarried, childless, flying from world to world, staying nowhere very long, and then getting back to lightspeed so he stayed young while the human race aged.
Just like me. Ender Wiggin and I have made the same choice, to stay aloof from humanity.
Why Ender Wiggin was hiding from life, Bean could not guess. Bean had had his brief sweet marriage with Petra. Bean had these miserable, beautiful, impossible children and Ender Wiggin had nothing.
Mine is a good life, thought Bean, and I don't want it to end. I'm afraid of what will happen to this children when I'm gone. I can't leave them now and I have no choice. I love them more than I can bear and I can't save them. They're unhappy and I can't fix it. That's why I'm crying.
Carlotta was doing gravity calibrations in the field footing at the very back of the ship when Ender came in to life support, which was just above where she was working. Or just forward of it, depending on how you thought of the ship.
"Sergeant needs a dog," said Carlotta.
Ender jumped. "What are you doing down here?"
"My work," said Carlotta. "What are yo
"Samples," said Ender. "We've been working with viruses for gene splices for a long time, but there's some productive work being done with bacterial latency and chemical triggers."
He sounded so happy.
"I was hoping you could help me come up with something that will help Sergeant bear his life. He suffers more from loneliness than you and I do. He's more like Father."
"The Giant and Sergeant? I never thought of that, but I think you might be right. Sergeant needs to be a street kid in constant danger of starving or getting killed. That would occupy him nicely. So what you really want is not a dog for Sergeant. More like a sabertooth tiger. Something that is stalking him constantly so that he can devote himself to fighting off genuine threats so he doesn't have to keep making them up."
"I was thinking more along the lines of a companion that extends his life beyond the boundaries of the ship."
"A dog on another world?" asked Ender. "There are bio-research labs on several worlds that are studying various xenofauna. I assume you're suggesting that I invent some kind of excuse for this to be a project of mine, which I would talk about with believable enthusiasm, so that Sergeant will think he's sneaking behind my back to get control of the creature and divert it to his own purposes."
"Something like that," said Carlotta.
Ender said nothing more. He closed the lid on his last sample and left life support.
Carlotta was already finished with her readings. As usual, everything was working fine.
What routine, boring, lonely job was next? She hadn't checked the tracking software for a while. Weeks? Days? At least days. She closed up the floor panel over the gravitational field sensors and made her way to the elevator shaft.
When she first stepped onto the platform, it was a small floor under her feet. But as it moved upward, it passed into a flux zone, where she felt herself falling in every direction. She was used to it, though it still gave her a bit of an adrenaline rush as her body felt the usual momentary panic. The limbic nodedeep in her brain didn't understand that she no longer lived in a tree, no longer had to panic when she felt herself to be falling.
Ender was in the lower lab when she got there. It took her a couple of steps to move fully into the zone of Earth-normal gravity that the ship maintained in the forward compartments, where Father couldn't go anyway. Ender didn't look up -- he was busy inserting his samples into various bits of equipment, some of them for freezing, some to be worked with right away. He had no time for her.
Wordlessly she passed Ender and climbed up into the upper lab. She sat down at the terminal for the tracking computer, brought up the holocharts, and began going through all the star systems that fell anywhere near their future path, starting with the stars they were just about to pass and working forward. The computer was looking for the arrangement of mass in each system in order to estimate how the gravitator would have to adjust its lensing.
It was on the fortieth star she looked at -- one that was still several months in their future, but would come fairly near to them -- that the computer pointed out an anomaly. There was an object that was being tracked as belonging to that star system, but according to the computer report, the object's mass kept changing.
That was impossible, of course, a mere artifact of the data. The mass didn't change, that's simply how it was reported. What was actually happening was that the object was not moving on a path that was predictable in relation with the known masses of the star and its larger planets. So the software kept adjusting the estimate of the object's mass to make it conform to its most recent movements.
It wasn't an "object" at all. It was using its own power to move on a path it chose itself, independent of the gravity of the star and its planets.
Carlotta told the software to regard the object as a starship.
Immediately she got a very different report of its past movements. The ship now had a constant mass -- more than a thousand times more massive than the Herodotus. But the trajectory now made perfect sense. The ship was slowing down as it entered the star system. It was heading, not toward the star, but toward a rocky planet in the goldilocks zone.