"Now, when you go inside," said Bean, "you have to remember that Formic-based life-forms probably all have some degree of mental communication. Even if it's just a sharing of impulses and desires and warnings, they can tell each other what they need to know. So if any of the rabs notices you, they all know you're there. They might be smart enough to set ambushes. You have to be alert. And if it gets dangerous, get out. You are not replaceable. Do you understand me?"
Sergeant nodded, Carlotta gulped, and Ender looked bored.
"Ender," said Bean, "it looks to me as if you think you're
not going in with the others."
That woke him up. "Me?"
"Three," said Bean. "I'd go myself, but you know my limitations."
"But I'm the biology guy," said Ender.
"Precisely why you need to go," said Bean. "Three for defense is the minimum anyway, but if you're there, you can learn things on the spot instead of waiting for them to bring things back for you to study."
"But I'm -- I'm not trained for --"
Sergeant looked at him with contempt. "You think you're above getting your hands dirty."
"I was up to my elbows in rat-crab blood," said Ender.
"He didn't mean literally 'dirty,'" said Carlotta. "You think we're expendable and you're the irreplaceable one."
"Nobody's expendable," said Ender. "I just won't be much help."
"You beat me," said Sergeant dryly. "Don't pretend you're helpless."
"He's scared," said Bean. "That's all."
"I'm not a coward," said Ender coldly.
"We're all scared," said Carlotta.
"Terrified," said Sergeant. "When those rab bastards came at me I pooped my pressure suit. Nobody in his right mind isn't scared going into unknown territory facing fast-moving enemies and more potential foes that you don't even know about."
"So why are we doing it?" asked Ender. "The ship is dead, it's not going to follow our trail back to Earth. The human race isn't in danger. Let's just make our report and move on."
The others didn't even bother to answer such a ridiculous suggestion.
"I think we're ready, Father," said Cincinnatus.
The Giant's voice came over the cabin speakers. "Attach yourself to a wall and strap in. I don't want to have to worry about you bouncing around in there while I'm maneuvering."
"So you're planning to show off what a hotshot pilot you are?" asked Ender. Cincinnatus made sure that they were all leaning against the wall of the cabin as the walls extended grips to hold them firmly. The lander was designed to carry cargo -- there were no seats. The walls were designed to restrain whatever was placed up against them, whether people or cargo.
"Eh," said the Giant. "It's been a while since I had a chance to fly a sweet machine like the Hound."
After the experience of bumping around in the Puppy, Cincinnatus was duly impressed with the Giant's piloting skills. The Hound detached and puffed free of the Herodotus, and then suddenly it was moving forward. There were no lurches, no abrupt changes of direction. One smooth parabola, a marvel of efficiency, and they were positioned over the still-open airlock of the ark.
From the belly of the Hound, a self-shaping tube extended and created a seal against the surface of the ark, completely surrounding the airlock door. The children watched on a holodisplay at the front of the cabin. They felt the sudden gust as air from the Hound puffed into the tube and the open airlock.
"We're connected," said the Giant. "When you get the inner airlock door open, command passes to Cincinnatus."
Carlotta dropped down the tube first and made sure the outer airlock could close behind them, in case some accident detached the tube from the ark's surface. She closed it and reopened it twice. Then she called, and Cincinnatus and Ender dropped down the tube into the airlock, carrying their shotguns, with the spray packs on their backs and the nozzles attached to their wrists.
Cincinnatus switched on his helmet's display, and after a moment's recon, the helmet computer began to outline and label all the key features of the airlock. That was the easy part -- Carlotta had already programmed in all the information from Cincinnatus's first foray. As they went farther into the ark, Carlotta would orally label whatever she saw that needed labeling, so that the helmets could create maps on the fly, and they would all see the same names for everything.