The Giant hummed a long low "Ummmmmm" and said, "The Formics didn't have to do that because when they colonized, they had this gas that broke down all life-forms into a protoplasmic goo. Their strategy was to get rid of the local flora and fauna and replace it with fast-growing flora of their own."

"So when the Formics came to Earth, they didn't probe or test at all?" asked Carlotta.

"Not as far as we could tell," said Cincinnatus. "I've been going over all that during the past couple of months and the Formics didn't do any of the things we would have expected. Now we understand why, but at the time we had no idea of their mission."

"So are you saying that these aliens are like the Formics?" asked Carlotta.

"No," said Cincinnatus. "What I think is that this ship isn't like the Formics. It is the Formics."

Carlotta and Ender were so surprised that Ender laughed and Carlotta even let out a single derisive hoot. "The Formics are all dead."

"It's got the Formic look. No attempt at grace or proportion. The colony expedition they sent to Earth was a new model. Smaller and leaner than this one. Also faster. Not as close to lightspeed as the Herodotus, but near enough to get relativistic benefits. But this ship -- do you see anything that could possibly cope with relativistic speeds?"

Carlotta blushed. "No. This is a slow ship."

"Well, what do we do? If it's really a Formic ship," said Carlotta, "we can't exactly call it with our ID code."

"I think there's no choice but to send an ambassador," said the Giant. "Or, if you prefer more accurate terminology, a spy."

"Who?" asked Ender.

"Well, I can't fit in the Puppy," said the Giant. "So I think it has to be one of you."

"The Puppy can't leave the Herodotus," said Carlotta.

"It can if I tell it to," said Bean.

"I'll go," said Cincinnatus. "I'm the most prepared if things go wrong, and I'm the most expendable if things go really wrong."

"Circle it and see what response you get," The Giant said. "Land on the surface. If you can open a door, open it and invite inspection. Show your shape to them. Get out of there if it seems dangerous. Opening a door is all. Don't go inside."

"I won't go inside," said Cincinnatus.

"He'll go inside," said Ender. "He practically has to. This is Sergeant we're talking about."


Ender knew that Sergeant was piloting the Puppy around the alien spaceship. For a while he had even kept the image of it in a small corner of his holodisplay. But it kept distracting him from the genetic models that had just come through from a research team that they had funded through one of their foundations.

Alien ship -- interesting. Maybe vital for the survival of the human race. Happening in real time, so that consequences of a mistake would be immediate and irreversible.

But what Ender was looking at was also immediate. He was looking at failure and death.

There was simply no way to reverse the portion of Anton's Key that caused the Giant and his children to keep growing at a steady pace throughout their lives without also reversing the process that allowed the continuous formation of new neural cells and structures at an accelerated pace.

Even if they could work out a mechanism for simultaneously changing the genetic molecules in every cell in their bodies -- which was by no means likely, not without damage and loss -- there was no simple one-step change in their DNA that would stop the giantism without also making them stupid.

Not stupid. Normal. But that was the unbearable alternative. Turning Anton's Key was the point of the experiment that had created the Giant and his murdered siblings in Volescu's illegal laboratory twenty-two years ago. But you could not turn or unturn only a portion of it. The segments of protein doing the two primary jobs could not be separated.

Ender swapped displays and there was the Puppy, attached to the surface of the alien ship near an apparent access point. Ender zoomed in and now the hovering drone was showing Sergeant emerging from the Puppy in a pressure suit. He was adhering to the surface using magnetics rather than the mini-gravitator onboard the Puppy, because they didn't want to risk lensing the gravity on the other side of the ship's surface -- who knew what damage or chaos that might cause? Magnetics were awkward to work with and made movement slow and ponderous, but they would cause no damage.

Don't bother being so cautious, Sergeant, he wanted to say. If you lose your life now, it won't be much of a loss. It's not as if you have much of a life ahead of you, anyway.

Carlotta had located a door. The Puppy approached it.

"Should I knock?" asked Sergeant. "It only opens from the inside."

"Any kind of lock or keypad or palmpad?" asked Carlotta.

Tags: Orson Scott Card The Shadow Science Fiction