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Shadow Puppets
by Orson Scott Card
Tor Books, 2002


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Chapter One
Grown

From: NoAddress@Untraceable.com #14h9cc0/SIGN UP NOW AND STAY ANONYMOUS!

To: Trireme%Salamis@Attica-vs-Sparta.hst

Re: Final decision

Wiggin:

Subj not to be killed. Subj will be transported according to plan 2, route 1. Dep Tue. 0400, checkpoint #3 @ 0600, which is first light. Please be smart enough to remember the international dateline. He is yours if you want him.

If your intelligence outweighs your ambition you will kill him. If vice versa, you will try to use him. You did not ask my advice, but I have seen him in action: Kill him.

True, without an antagonist to frighten the world you will never retrieve the power the office of hegemon once had. It would be the end of your career.

Let him live, and it is the end of your life, and you will leave the world in his power when you die. Who is the monster? Or at least monster #2?

And I have told you how to get him. Am I monster #3? Or merely fool #1?

Your faithful servant in motley.


Bean kind of liked being tall, even though it was going to kill him.

And at the rate he was growing, it would be sooner rather than later. How long did he have? A year? Three? Five? The ends of his bones were still like a child's, blossoming, lengthening; even his head was growing, so that like a baby he had a soft patch of cartilage and new bone along the crest of his skull.

It meant constant adjustment, as week by week his arms reached farther when he flung them out, his feet were longer and caught on stairs and sills, his legs were longer so that as he walked he covered ground more quickly, and companions had to hurry to keep up. When he trained with his soldiers, the elite company of men that constituted the entire military force of the Hegemony, he could now run ahead of them, his stride longer than theirs.

He had long since earned the respect of his men. But now, thanks to his height, they finally, literally, looked up to him.

Bean stood on the grass where two assault choppers were waiting for his men to board. Today the mission was a dangerous one -- to penetrate Chinese air space and intercept a small convoy transporting a prisoner from Beijing toward the interior. Everything depended on secrecy, surprise, and the extraordinarily accurate information the Hegemon, Peter Wiggin, had been receiving from inside China in the past few months.

Bean wished he knew the source of the intelligence, because his life and the lives of his men depended on it. The accuracy up to now could easily have been a set-up. Even though "Hegemon" was essentially an empty title now, since most of the world's population resided in countries that had withdrawn their recognition of the authority of the office, Peter Wiggin had been using Bean's soldiers well. They were a constant irritant to the newly expansionist China, inserting themselves here and there at exactly the moment most calculated to disrupt the confidence of the Chinese leadership.

The patrol boat that suddenly disappears, the helicopter that goes down, the spy operation that is abruptly rolled up, blinding the Chinese intelligence service in yet another country -- officially the Chinese hadn't even accused the Hegemon of any involvement in such incidents, but that only meant that they didn't want to give any publicity to the Hegemon, didn't want to boost his reputation or prestige among those who feared China in these years since the conquest of India and Indochina. They almost certainly knew who was the source of their woes.

Indeed, they probably gave Bean's little force the credit for problems that were actually the ordinary accidents of life. The death of the foreign minister of a heart attack in Washington DC only minutes before meeting with the U.S. President -- they might really think Peter Wiggin's reach was that long, or that he thought the Chinese foreign minister, a party hack, was worth assassinating.

And the fact that a devastating drought was in its second year in India, forcing the Chinese either to buy food on the open market or allow relief workers from Europe and the Americas into the newly captured and still rebellious subcontinent -- maybe they even imagined that Peter Wiggin could control the monsoon rains.

Bean had no such illusions. Peter Wiggin had all kinds of contacts throughout the world, a collection of informants that was gradually turning into a serious network of spies, but as far as Bean could tell, Peter was still just playing a game. Oh, Peter thought it was real enough, but he had never seen what happened in the real world. He had never seen people die as a result of his orders.

Bean had, and it was not a game.

He heard his men approaching. He knew without looking that they were very close, for even here, in supposedly safe territory -- an advance staging area in the mountains of Mindanao in the Philippines -- they moved as silently as possible. But he also knew that he had heard them before they expected him to, for his senses had always been unusually keen. Not the physical sense organs -- his ears were quite ordinary -- but the ability of his brain to recognize even the slightest variation from the ambient sound. That's why he raised a hand in greeting to men who were only just emerging from the forest behind him.

He could hear the changes in their breathing -- sighs, almost-silent chuckles -- that told him they recognized that he had caught them again. As if it were a grownup game of Mother-May-I, and Bean always seemed to have eyes in the back of his head.

Suriyawong came up beside him as the men filed by in two columns to board the choppers, heavily laden for the mission ahead.

"Sir," said Suriyawong.

That made Bean turn. Suriyawong never called him "sir."

His second-in-command, a Thai only a few years older than Bean, was now half a head shorter. He saluted Bean, and then turned toward the forest he had just come from.

When Bean turned to face the same direction, he saw Peter Wiggin, the Hegemon of Earth, the brother of Ender Wiggin who saved the world from the formic invasion only a few years before --Peter Wiggin, the conniver and gamesman. What was he playing at now?

"I hope you aren't insane enough to be coming along on this mission," said Bean.

"What a cheery greeting," said Peter. "That is a gun in your pocket, so I guess you aren't happy to see me."

Bean hated Peter most when Peter tried to banter. So he said nothing. Waited.

"Julian Delphiki, there's been a change of plans," said Peter.

Calling him by his full name, as if he were Bean's father. Well, Bean had a father -- even if he didn't know he had one until after the war was over, and they told him that Nikolai Delphiki wasn't just his friend, he was his brother. But having a father and mother show up when you're eleven isn't the same as growing up with them. No one had called Bean "Julian Delphiki" when he was little. No one had called him anything at all, until they tauntingly called him Bean on the streets of Rotterdam.

Peter never seemed to see the absurdity of it, talking down to Bean. I fought in the war against the Buggers, Bean wanted to say. I fought beside your brother Ender, while you were playing your little games with rabble-rousing on the nets. And while you've been filling your empty little role as Hegemon, I've been leading these men into combat that actually made a difference in the world. And you tell me there's been a change of plans?

"Let's scrub the mission," said Bean. "Last-minute changes in plan lead to unnecessary losses in battle."

"Actually, this one won't," said Peter. "Because the only change is that you're not going."

"And you're going in my place?" Bean did not have to show scorn in his voice or on his face. Peter was bright enough to know that the idea was a joke. Peter was trained for nothing except writing essays, shmoozing with politicians, playing at geopolitics.

"Suriyawong will command this mission," said Peter.

Suriyawong took the sealed envelope that Peter handed him, but then turned to Bean for confirmation.

Peter no doubt noticed that Suriyawong did not intend to follow Peter's orders unless Bean said he should. Being mostly human, Peter could not resist the temptation to jab back. "Unless," said Peter, "you don't think Suriyawong is ready to lead the mission."

Bean looked at Suriyawong, who smiled back at him.

"Your Excellency, the troops are yours to command," said Bean. "Suriyawong always leads the men in battle, so nothing important will be different."

Which was not quite true -- Bean and Suriyawong often had to change plans at the last minute, and Bean ended up commanding all or part of a mission as often as not, depending on which of them had to deal with the emergency. Still, difficult as this operation was, it was not too complicated. Either the convoy would be where it was supposed to be, or it would not. If it was there, the mission would probably succeed. If it was not there, or if it was an ambush, the mission would be aborted and they would return home. Suriyawong and the other officers and soldiers could deal with any minor changes routinely.

Unless, of course, the change in mission was because Peter Wiggin knew that it would fail and he didn't want to risk losing Bean. Or because Peter was betraying them for some arcane reason of his own.

"Please don't open that," said Peter, "until you're airborne."

Suriyawong saluted. "Time to leave," he said.

"This mission," said Peter, "will bring us significantly closer to breaking the back of Chinese expansionism."

Bean did not even sigh. But this tendency of Peter's to make claims about what would happen always made him a little tired.

"Godspeed," said Bean to Suriyawong. Sometimes when he said this, Bean remembered Sister Carlotta and wondered if she was actually with God now, and perhaps heard Bean say the closest thing to a prayer that ever passed his lips.

Suriyawong jogged to the chopper. Unlike the men, he carried no equipment beyond a small daypack and his sidearm. He had no need of heavy weaponry, because he expected to remain with the choppers during this operation. There were times when the commander had to lead in combat, but not on a mission like this, where communication was everything and he had to be able to make instant decisions that would be communicated to everyone at once. So he would stay with the e-maps that monitored the positions of every soldier, and talk with them by scrambled satellite uplink.

He would not be safe, there in the chopper. Quite the contrary. If the Chinese were aware of what was coming, or if they were able to respond in time, Suriyawong would be sitting inside one of the two biggest and easiest targets to hit.

That's my place, thought Bean as he watched Suriyawong bound up into the chopper, helped by the outstretched hand of one of the men.

The door of the chopper closed. The two aircraft rose from the ground in a storm of wind and dust and leaves, flattening the grass below them.

Only then did another figure emerge from the forest. A young woman. Petra.

Bean saw her and immediately erupted with anger.

"What are you thinking?" he shouted at Peter over the diminishing sound of the rising choppers. "Where are her bodyguards? Don't you know she's in danger whenever she leaves the safety of the compound?"

"Actually," said Peter -- and now the choppers were high enough up that normal voices could be heard -- "she's probably never been safer in her life."

"If you think that," said Bean, "you're an idiot."

"Actually, I do think that, and I'm not an idiot." Peter grinned. "You always underestimate me."

"You always overestimate yourself."

"Ho, Bean."

Bean turned to Petra. "Ho, Petra." He had seen her only three days ago, just before they left on this mission. She had helped him plan it; she knew it backward and forward as well as he did. "What's this eemo doing to our mission?" Bean asked her.

Petra shrugged. "Haven't you figured it out?"

Bean thought for a moment. As usual, his unconscious mind had been processing information in the background, well behind what he was aware of. On the surface, he was thinking about Peter and Petra and the mission that had just left. But underneath, his mind had already noticed the anomalies and was ready to list them.

Peter had taken Bean off the mission and given sealed orders to Suriyawong. Obviously, then, there was some change in the mission that he didn't want Bean to know about. Peter had also brought Petra out of hiding and yet claimed she had never been safer. That must mean that for some reason he was sure Achilles was not able to reach her here.

Achilles was the only person on earth whose personal network rivaled Peter's for its ability to stretch across national boundaries. The only way Peter could be sure that Achilles could not reach Petra, even here, was if Achilles was not free to act.

Achilles was a prisoner, and had been for some time.

Which meant that the Chinese, having used him to set up their conquest of India, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, and to arrange their alliance with Russia and the Warsaw Pact, finally noticed that he was a psychopath and locked him up.

Achilles was a prisoner in China. The message contained in Suriyawong's envelope undoubtedly told him the identity of the prisoner that they were supposed to rescue from Chinese custody. That information could not have been communicated before the mission departed, because Bean would not have allowed the mission to go forward if he had known it would lead to Achilles's release.

Bean turned to Peter. "You're as stupid as the German politicians who conspired to bring Hitler to power, thinking they could use him."

"I knew you'd be upset," said Peter calmly.

"Unless the new orders you gave Suriyawong were to kill the prisoner after all."

"You realize that you're way too predictable when it comes to this guy. Just mentioning his name sets you off. It's your Achilles heel. Pardon the jest."

Bean ignored him. Instead he reached out and took Petra's hand. "If you already knew what he was doing, why did you come with him?"

"Because I wouldn't be safe in Brazil anymore," said Petra, "and so I'd rather be with you."

"Both of us together only gives Achilles twice the motivation," said Bean.

"But you're the one who survives no matter what Achilles throws at you," said Petra. "That's where I want to be."

Bean shook his head. "People close to me die."

"On the contrary," said Petra. "People only die when they aren't with you."

Well, that was true enough, but irrelevant. In the long run, Poke and Sister Carlotta both died because of Bean. Because they made the mistake of loving him and being loyal to him.

"I'm not leaving your side," said Petra.

"Ever?" asked Bean.

Before she could answer, Peter interrupted. "All this is very touching, but we need to go over what we're doing with Achilles after we get him back."

Petra looked at him as if he were an annoying child. "You really are dim," she said.

"I know he's dangerous," said Peter. "That's why we have to be very careful how we handle this."

"Listen to him," said Petra. "Saying 'we.'"

"There's no 'we,'" said Bean. "Good luck." Still holding Petra's hand, Bean started for the forest. Petra had only a moment to wave cheerily at Peter and then she was beside Bean, jogging toward the trees.

"You're going to quit?" shouted Peter after them. "Just like that? When we're finally close to being able to get things moving our way?"

They didn't stop to argue.

Later, on the private plane Bean chartered to get them from Mindanao to Celebes, Petra mocked Peter's words. "'When we're finally close to being able to get things moving our way?'"

Bean laughed.

"When was it ever our way?" she went on, not laughing now. "It's all about increasing Peter's influence, boosting his power and prestige. Our way."

"I don't want him dead," said Bean.

"Who, Achilles?"

"No!" said Bean. "Him I want dead. It's Peter we have to keep alive. He's the only balance."

"He's lost his balance now," said Petra. "How long before Achilles arranges to have him killed?"

"What worries me is, how long before Achilles penetrates and coopts his entire network?"

"Maybe we're assigning Achilles supernatural powers," said Petra. "He isn't a god. Not even a hero. Just a sick kid."

"No," said Bean. "I'm a sick kid. He's the devil."

"Well, so," said Petra, "maybe the devil's a sick kid."

"So you're saying we should still try to help Peter."

"I'm saying that if Peter lives through his little brush with Achilles, he might be more prone to listen to us."

"Not likely," said Bean. "Because if he survives, he'll think it proves he's smarter than we are, so he'll be even less likely to hear us."

"Yeah," said Petra. "It's not like he's going to learn anything."

"First thing we need to do," said Bean, "is split up."

"No," said Petra.

"I've done this before, Petra. Going into hiding. Keeping from getting caught."

"And if we're together we're too identifiable, la la la," she said.

"Saying 'la la la' doesn't mean it isn't true."

"But I don't care," said Petra. "That's the part you're leaving out of your calculations."

"And I do care," said Bean, "which is the part you're leaving out of yours."

"Let me put it this way," said Petra. "If we separate, and Achilles finds me and kills me first, then you'll just have one more female you love deeply who is dead because you didn't protect her."

"You fight dirty."

"I fight like a girl."

"And if you stay with me, we'll probably end up dying together."

"No we won't," said Petra.

"I'm not immortal, as you well know."

"But you are smarter than Achilles. And luckier. And taller. And nicer."

"The new improved human."

She looked at him thoughtfully. "You know, now that you're tall, we could probably travel as man and wife."

Bean sighed. "I'm not going to marry you."

"Just as camouflage."

It had begun as hints but now it was quite open, her desire to marry him. "I'm not going to have children," he said. "My species ends with me."

"I think that's pretty selfish of you. What if the first homo sapiens had felt that way? We'd all still be neanderthals, and when the Buggers came they would have blasted us all to bits and that would be that."

"We didn't evolve from neanderthals," said Bean.

"Well, it's a good thing we have that little fact squared away," said Petra.

"And I didn't evolve at all. I was manufactured. Genetically created."

"Still in the image of God," said Petra.

"Sister Carlotta could say those things, but it's not funny coming from you."

"Yes it is," said Petra.

"Not to me."

"I don't think I want to have your babies, if they might inherit your sense of humor."

"That's a relief." Only it wasn't. Because he was attracted to her and she knew it. More than that. He truly cared about her, liked being with her. She was his friend. If he weren't going to die, if he wanted to have a family, if he had any interest in marrying, she was the only female human that he would even consider. But that was the trouble -- she was human, and he was not.

After a few moments of silence, she leaned her head on his shoulder and held his hand. "Thank you," she murmured.

"For what I don't know."

"For letting me save your life."

"When did that happen?" asked Bean.

"As long as you have to look out for me," said Petra, "you won't die."

"So you're coming along with me, increasing our risk of being identified and allowing Achilles to get his two worst nemeses with one well-placed bomb, in order to save my life?"

"That's right, genius boy," said Petra.

"I don't even like you, you know." At this moment, he was annoyed enough that the statement was almost true.

"As long as you love me, I don't mind."

And he suspected that her lie, too, was almost true.


Chapter Two
Suriyawong's Knife

From: Salaam%Spaceboy@Inshallah.com

To: Watcher%OnDuty@International.net

Re: What you asked

My Dear Mr. Wiggin/Locke,

Philosophically speaking, all guests in a Muslim home are treated as sacred visitors sent by God and under his care. In practice, for two extremely talented, famous, and unpredictable persons who are hated by one powerful non-Muslim figure and aided by another, this is a very dangerous part of the world, particularly if they seek to remain both hidden and free. I do not believe they will be foolish enough to seek refuge in a Muslim country.

I regret to tell you, however, that your interest and mine do not coincide on this matter, so despite our occasional cooperation in the past, I most certainly will not tell you whether I encounter them or hear news of them.

Your accomplishments are many, and I have helped you in the past and will in the future. But when Ender led us in fighting the formics these friends were beside me. Where were you?

Respectfully yours,

Alai


Suriyawong opened his orders and was not surprised. He had led missions inside China before, but always for the purpose of sabotage or intelligence gathering, or "involuntary high officer force reduction," Peter's mostly-ironic euphemism for assassination. The fact that this assignment had been to capture rather than kill suggested that it was a person who was not Chinese. Suriyawong had rather hoped it might be one of the leaders of a conquered country -- the deposed prime minister of India, for instance, or the captive prime minister of Suriyawong's native Thailand.

He had even entertained, briefly, the thought that it might be one of his own family.

But it made sense that Peter was taking this risk, not for someone of mere political or symbolic value, but for the enemy who had put the world into this strange and desperate situation.

Achilles. Erstwhile gimp-legged cripple, frequent murderer, fulltime psychotic, and warmonger extraordinaire, Achilles had a knack for finding out just what the leaders of nations aspired for and promising them a way to get it. So far he had convinced a faction in the Russian government, the heads of the Indian and Pakistani governments, and various leaders in other lands to do his bidding. When Russia found him a liability, he had fled to India where he already had friends waiting for him. When India and Pakistan were both doing exactly what he had arranged for them to do, he betrayed them using his connections inside China.

The next move, of course, would have been to betray his friends in China and jump ahead of them to a position of even greater power. But the ruling coterie in China was every bit as cynical as Achilles and recognized his pattern of behavior, so not all that long after he had made China the world's only effective superpower, they arrested him.

If the Chinese were so smart, why wasn't Peter? Hadn't Peter himself said, "When Achilles is most useful and loyal to you, that is when he has most certainly betrayed you"? So why was he thinking he could use this monstrous boy?

Or had Achilles managed to convince Peter, despite all the proof that Achilles kept no promises, that this time he would remain loyal to an ally?

I should kill him, thought Suriyawong. In fact, I will. I will report to Peter that Achilles died in the chaos of the rescue. Then the world will be a safer place.

It's not as if Suriyawong hadn't killed dangerous enemies before. And from what Bean and Petra had told him, Achilles was by definition a dangerous enemy, especially to anyone who had ever been kind to him.

"If you've ever seen him in a condition of weakness or helplessness or defeat," Bean had said, "he can't bear for you to stay alive. I don't think it's personal. He doesn't have to kill you with his own hands or watch you die or anything like that. He just has to know that you no longer live in the same world with him."

"So the most dangerous thing you can do," Petra had said, "is to save him, because the very fact that you saw that he needed saving is your death sentence in his mind."

Had they never explained this to Peter?

Of course they had. So in sending Suriyawong to rescue Achilles, Peter knew that he was, in effect, signing Suriyawong's death warrant.

No doubt Peter imagined that he was going to control Achilles, and therefore Suriyawong would be in no danger.

But Achilles had killed the surgeon who repaired his gimp leg, and the girl who had once declined to kill him when he was at her mercy. He had killed the nun who found him on the streets of Rotterdam and got him an education and a chance at Battle School.

To have Achilles's gratitude was clearly a terminal disease. Peter had no power to make Suriyawong immune. Achilles never left a good deed unpunished, however long it might take, however convoluted the path to vengeance might be.

I should kill him, thought Suriyawong, or he will surely kill me.

He's not a soldier, he's a prisoner. To kill him would be murder, even in a war.

But if I don't kill him, he's bound to kill me. May a man not defend himself?

Besides, he's the one who masterminded the plan that put my people into subjugation to the Chinese, destroying a nation that had never been conquered, not by the Burmese, not by colonizing Europeans, not by the Japanese in the Second World War, not by the Communists in their day. For Thailand alone he deserves to die, not to mention all his other murders and betrayals.

But if a soldier does not obey orders, killing only as he is ordered to kill, then what is he worth to his commander? What cause does he serve? Not even his own survival, for in such an army no officer would be able to count on his men, no soldier on his companions.

Maybe I'll be lucky, and his vehicle will blow up with him inside.

Those were the thoughts he wrestled with as they flew below radar, brushing the crests of the waves of the China Sea.

They skimmed over the beach so quickly there was barely time to register the fact, as the onboard computers made the assault craft jog left and right, jerk upward and then drift down again, avoiding obstacles on the ground while trying to stay below radar. Their choppers were thoroughly masked, and the onboard disinfo pretended to all watching satellites that they were anything other than what they actually were. Before long they reached a certain road and turned north, then west, zipping over what Peter's intelligence sources had tagged as checkpoint number three. The men at that checkpoint would radio a warning to the convoy transporting Achilles, of course, but they wouldn't have finished the first sentence before....

Suriyawong's pilot spotted the convoy.

"Armor and troop transport fore and aft," he said.

"Take out all support vehicles."

"What if the prisoner has been put in one of the support vehicles?"

"Then there will be a tragic death by friendly fire," said Suriyawong.

The soldiers understood, or at least thought they understood -- Suriyawong was going through the motions of rescuing the prisoner, but if the prisoner died he would not mind.

This was not, strictly speaking, true, or at least not at this moment. Suriyawong simply trusted the Chinese soldiers to go absolutely by the book. The convoy was merely a show of force to keep any local crowds or rebels or rogue military groups from attempting to interfere. They had not contemplated the possibility of -- or even a motive for -- a rescue from some outside force. Certainly not from the tiny commando force of the Hegemon.

Only a half dozen Chinese soldiers were able to get out of the vehicles before the Hegemony missiles blew them up. Suriyawong's soldiers were already firing before they leapt from the settling choppers, and he knew that in moments all resistance would be over.

But the prison van carrying Achilles was undisturbed. No one had emerged from it, not even the drivers.

Violating protocol, Suriyawong jumped down from the command chopper and walked toward the back of the prison van. He stood close as the soldier assigned to blow the door slapped on the unlocking charge and detonated it. There was a loud pop, but no backblast at all as the explosive tore open the latch.

The door jogged open a couple of centimeters.

Suriyawong extended an arm to stop the other soldiers from going into the van to rescue the prisoner.

Instead he opened the door only far enough to toss his own combat knife onto the floor of the van. Then he pushed the door back into place and stood back, waving his men back also.

The van rocked and lurched from some violent activity inside it. Two guns went off. The door flew open as a body collapsed backward into the dirt at their feet.

Be Achilles, thought Suriyawong, looking down at the Chinese officer who was trying to gather his entrails with his hands. Suriyawong had the irrational thought that the man ought really to wash his organs before jamming them back into his abdomen. It was so unsanitary.

A tall young man in prison pajamas appeared in the van door, holding a bloody combat knife in his hand.

You don't look like much, Achilles, thought Suriyawong. But then, you don't have to look all that impressive when you've just killed your guards with a knife you didn't expect someone to throw on the floor at your feet.

"All dead inside?" asked Suriyawong.

A soldier would have answered yes or no, along with a count of the living and dead. But Achilles hadn't been a soldier in Battle School for more than a few days. He didn't have the reflexes of military discipline.

"Very nearly," said Achilles. "Whose stupid idea was it to throw me a knife instead of opening the mossin' door and blasting the hell out of those guys?"

"Check to see if they're dead," Suriyawong said to his nearby men. Moments later they reported that all convoy personnel had been killed. That was essential if the Hegemon was to be able to preserve the fiction that it was not a Hegemony force that had carried out this raid.

"Choppers, in twenty," said Suriyawong.

At once his men scrambled to the choppers.

Suriyawong turned to Achilles. "My commander respectfully invites you to allow us to transport you out of China."

"And if I refuse?"

"If you have your own resources in country, then I will bid you good-bye with my commander's compliments."

This was not at all what Peter's orders said, but Suriyawong knew what he was doing.

"Very well," said Achilles. "Go away and leave me here."

Suriyawong immediately jogged toward his command chopper.

"Wait," called Achilles.

"Ten seconds," Suriyawong called over his shoulder. He jumped inside and turned around. Sure enough, Achilles was close behind, reaching out a hand to be taken up into the bird.

"I'm glad you chose to come with us," said Suriyawong.

Achilles found a seat and strapped himself into it. "I assume your commander is Bean and you're Suriyawong," said Achilles.

The chopper lifted off and began to fly by a different route toward the coast.

"My commander is the Hegemon," said Suriyawong. "You are his guest."

Achilles smiled placidly and silently looked around at the soldiers who had just carried out his rescue.

"What if I had been in one of the other vehicles?" said Achilles. "If I had been in charge of this convoy, there's no chance the prisoner would have been in the obvious place."

"But you were not commanding the convoy," said Suriyawong.

Achilles's smile broadened a little. "So what was that business with tossing in a knife? How did you know my hands would even be free to get the thing?"

"I assumed that you would have arranged to have free hands," said Suriyawong.

"Why? I didn't know you were coming."

"Begging your pardon, sir," said Suriyawong. "But whatever was or wasn't coming, you would have had your hands free."

"Those were your orders from Peter Wiggin?"

"No sir, that was my judgment in battle," said Suriyawong. It galled him to address Achilles as "sir," but if this little play was to have a happy ending, this was Suriyawong's role for the moment.

"What kind of rescue is this, where you toss the prisoner a knife and stand and wait to see what happens?"

"There were too many variables if we flung open the door," said Suriyawong. "Too great a danger of your being killed in the crossfire."

Achilles said nothing, just looked at the opposite wall of the chopper.

"Besides," said Suriyawong. "This was not a rescue operation."

"What was it, target practice? Chinese skeet?"

"An offer of transportation to an invited guest of the Hegemon," said Suriyawong. "And the loan of a knife."

Achilles held up the bloody thing, dangling it from the point. "Yours?" he asked.

"Unless you want to clean it," said Suriyawong.

Achilles handed it to him. Suriyawong took out his cleaning kit and wiped down the blade, then began to polish it.

"You wanted me to die," said Achilles quietly.

"I expected you to solve your own problems," said Suriyawong, "without getting any of my men killed. And since you accomplished it, I believe my decision has proven to be, if not the best course of action, at least a valid one."

"I never thought I'd be rescued by Thais," said Achilles. "Killed by them, yes, but not saved."

"You saved yourself," said Suriyawong coldly. "No one here saved you. We opened the door for you and I lent you my knife. I assumed you might not have a knife, and the loan of mine might speed up your victory so you would not delay our return flight."

"You're a strange kind of boy," said Achilles.

"I was not tested for normality before I was entrusted with this mission," said Suriyawong. "But I have no doubt that I would fail such a test."

Achilles laughed. Suriyawong allowed himself a slight smile.

He tried not to guess what thoughts the inscrutable faces of his soldiers might be hiding. Their families, too, had been caught up in the Chinese conquest of Thailand. They, too, had cause to hate Achilles, and it had to gall them to watch Suriyawong sucking up to him.

For a good cause, men -- I'm saving our lives as best I can by keeping Achilles from thinking of us as his rescuers, by making sure he believes that none of us ever saw him or even thought of him as helpless.

"Well?" said Achilles. "Don't you have any questions?"

"Yes," said Suriyawong. "Did you already have breakfast or are you hungry?"

"I never eat breakfast," said Achilles.

"Killing people makes me hungry," said Suriyawong. "I thought you might want a snack of some kind."

Now he caught a couple of the men glancing at him, only their eyes barely moving, but it was enough that Suriyawong knew they were reacting to what he said. Killing makes him hungry? Absurd. Now they must know that he was lying to Achilles. It was important to Suriyawong that his men know he was lying without him having to tell them. Otherwise he might lose their trust. They might believe he had really given himself to the service of this monster.

Achilles did eat, after a while. Then he slept.

Suriyawong did not trust his sleep. Achilles no doubt had mastered the art of seeming to be asleep so he could hear the conversations of others. So Suriyawong talked no more than was necessary to debrief his men and get a full count of the personnel from the convoy that they had killed.

Only when Achilles got off the chopper to pee at the airfield on Guam did Suriyawong risk sending a quick message to Ribeirão Preto. There was one person who had to know that Achilles was coming to stay with the Hegemon: Virlomi, the Indian Battle-Schooler who had escaped from Achilles in Hyderabad and had become the goddess guarding a bridge in eastern India until Suriyawong had rescued her. If she was in Ribeirão Preto when Achilles got there, her life would be in danger.

And that was very sad for Suriyawong, because it would mean he would not see Virlomi for a long time, and he had recently decided that he loved her and wanted to marry her when they both grew up.


Chapter Three
Mommies and Daddies

encrypt key ********

decrypt key *****

To: Graff%pilgrimage@colmin.gov

From: Locke%erasmus@polnet.gov

Re: Unofficial request

I appreciate your warning, but I assure you that I do not underestimate the danger of having X in RP. In fact, that is a matter with which I could use your help, if you are inclined to give it. With JD and PA in hiding, and S compromised by having rescued X, persons close to them are in danger, either directly or through being used as hostages by X. We need to have them out of X's reach, and you are uniquely able to accomplish this. JD's parents are used to being in hiding, and have had some near misses; PA's parents, having already suffered one kidnapping, will also be inclined to cooperate.

The difficulty will come from my parents. There is no chance they will accept protective concealment if I propose it. If it comes from you, they might. I do not need to have my parents here, exposed to danger, where they might be used for leverage or to distract me from what must be accomplished.

Can you come yourself to RP to gather them up before I return with X? You would have about 30 hours to accomplish this. I apologize for the inconvenience, but you would once again have my gratitude and continue to have my support, both of which, I hope, will someday be more valuable than they are under present circumstances.

PW


Theresa Wiggin knew Graff was coming, since Elena Delphiki gave her a hurried call as soon as he had left her house. But she did not change her plans in the slightest. Not because she hoped to deceive him, but because there were papayas on the trees in the back yard that had to be harvested before they dropped to the ground. She had no intention of letting Graff interfere with something really important.

So when she heard Graff politely clapping his hands at the front gate, she was up on a ladder clipping off papayas and laying them into the bag at her side. Aparecida, the maid, had her instructions, and so Theresa soon heard Graff's footsteps coming across the tiles of the terrace.

"Mrs. Wiggin," he said.

"You've already taken two of my children," said Theresa without looking at him. "I suppose you want my firstborn, now."

"No," said Graff. "It's you and your husband I'm after this time."

"Taking us to join Ender and Valentine?" Even though she was being deliberately obtuse, the idea nevertheless had a momentary appeal. Ender and Valentine had left all this business behind.

"I'm afraid we can't spare a followup ship to visit their colony for several years yet," said Graff.

"Then I'm afraid you have nothing to offer us that we want," said Theresa.

"I'm sure that's true," said Graff. "It's what Peter needs. A free hand."

"We don't interfere in his work."

"He's bringing a dangerous person here," said Graff. "But I think you know that."

"Gossip flies around here, since there's nothing else for the parents of geniuses to do but twitter to each other about the doings of their brilliant boys and girls. The Arkanians and Delphikis have their children all but married off. And we get such fascinating visitors from outer space. Like you."

"My, but we're testy today," said Graff.

"I'm sure Bean's and Petra's families have agreed to leave Ribeirão Preto so that their children don't have to worry about Achilles taking them hostage. And someday Nikolai Delphiki and Stefan Arkanian will recover from having been mere bit players in their siblings' lives. But John Paul's and my situation is not at all the same. Our son is the idiot who decided to bring Achilles here."

"Yes, it must hurt you to have the one child who simply isn't at the same intellectual level as the others," said Graff.

Theresa looked at him, saw the twinkle in his eye, and laughed in spite of herself. "All right, he isn't stupid, he's so cocky he can't conceive of any of his plans failing. But the result is the same. And I have no intention of hearing about his death through some awful little email message. Or -- worse -- from a news report talking about how 'the brother of the great Ender Wiggin has failed in his bid to revive the office of Hegemon' and then watch how even in death Peter's obituary is accompanied by more footage of Ender after his victory over the Formics."

"You seem to have a very clear view of all the future possibilities," said Graff.

"No, just the unbearable ones. I'm staying, Mr. Colonization Minister. You'll have to find your completely inappropriate middle-aged recruits somewhere else."

"Actually, you're not inappropriate. You're still of child-bearing age."

"Having children has brought me such joy," said Theresa, "that it's really marvelous to contemplate having more of them."

"I know perfectly well how much you've sacrificed for your children, and how much you love them. And I knew coming here that you wouldn't want to go."

"So you have soldiers waiting to take me with you by force? You already have my husband in custody?"

"No, no," said Graff. "I think you're right not to go."

"Oh."

"But Peter asked me to protect you, so I had to offer. No, I think it's a good thing for you to stay."

"And why is that?"

"Peter has many allies," said Graff. "But no friends."

"Not even you?"

"I'm afraid I studied him too closely in his childhood to take any of his present charisma at face value."

"He does have that, doesn't he. Charisma. Or at least charm."

"At least as much as Ender, when he chooses to use it."

Hearing Graff speak of Ender -- of the kind of young man Ender had become before he was pitched out of the solar system in a colony ship after saving the human race -- filled Theresa with familiar, but no less bitter, regrets. Graff knew Ender Wiggin at age seven and ten and twelve, years when Theresa's only links to her youngest, most vulnerable child were a few photographs and fading memories and the ache in her arms where she could remember holding him, and the last lingering sensation of his little arms flung around her neck.

"Even when you brought him back to Earth," said Theresa to Graff, "you didn't let us see him. You took Val to him, but not his father, not me."

"I'm sorry," said Graff. "I didn't know he would never come home at war's end. Seeing you would have reminded him that there was someone in the world who was supposed to protect him and take care of him."

"And that would have been a bad thing?"

"The toughness we needed from Ender was not the person he wanted to be. We had to protect it. Letting him see Valentine was dangerous enough."

"Are you so sure that you were right?"

"Not sure at all. But Ender won the war, and we can never go back and try it another way to see if it would have worked as well."

"And I can never go back and try to find some way through all of this that doesn't end up filling me with resentment and grief whenever I see you or even think of you."

Graff said nothing for the longest time.

"If you're waiting for me to apologize," began Theresa.

"No, no," said Graff. "I was trying to think of any apology I could make that wouldn't be laughably inadequate. I never fired a gun in the war, but I still caused casualties, and if it's any consolation, whenever I think of you and your husband I am also filled with regret."

"Not enough."

"No, I'm sure not," said Graff. "But I'm afraid my deepest regrets are for the parents of Bonzo Madrid, who put their son into my hands and got him back in a box."

Theresa wanted to fling a papaya at him and smear it all over his face. "Reminding me that I'm the mother of a killer?"

"Bonzo was the killer, ma'am," said Graff. "Ender defended himself. You entirely mistook my meaning. I'm the one who allowed Bonzo to be alone with Ender. I, not Ender, am the one responsible for his death. That's why I feel more regret toward the Madrid family than toward you. I've made a lot of mistakes. And I can never be sure which ones were necessary or harmless or even left us better off than if I hadn't made them."

"How do you know you're not making a mistake now, letting me and John Paul stay?"

"As I said, Peter needs friends."

"But does the world need Peter?" asked Theresa.

"We don't always get the leader that we want," said Graff. "But sometimes we get to choose among the leaders that we have."

"And how will the choice be made?" asked Theresa. "On the battlefield or the ballot box?"

"Maybe," said Graff, "by the poisoned fig or the sabotaged car."

Theresa took his meaning at once. "You may be sure we'll keep an eye on Peter's food and his transportation."

"What," said Graff, "you'll carry all his food on your person, buying it from different grocers every day, and your husband will live in his car, never sleeping?"

"We retired young. One has to fill the empty hours."

Graff laughed. "Good luck, then. I'm sure you'll do all that needs doing. Thanks for talking with me."

"Let's do it again in another ten or twenty years," said Theresa.

"I'll mark it on my calendar."

And with a salute -- which was rather more solemn than she would have expected -- he walked back into the house and, presumably, on out through the front garden and into the street.

Theresa seethed for a while at what Graff and the International Fleet and the Formics and fate and God had done to her and her family. And then she thought of Ender and Valentine and wept a few tears onto the papayas. And then she thought of herself and John Paul, waiting and watching, trying to protect Peter. Graff was right. They could never watch him perfectly.

They would sleep. They would miss something. Achilles would have an opportunity -- many opportunities -- and just when they were most complacent he would strike and Peter would be dead and the world would be at Achilles's mercy because who else was clever and ruthless enough to fight him? Bean? Petra? Suriyawong? Nikolai? One of the other Battle School children scattered over the surface of Earth? If there was any who was ambitious enough to stop Achilles, he would have surfaced by now.

She was carrying the heavy bag of papayas into the house -- sidling through the door, trying not to bump and bruise the fruit -- when it dawned on her what Graff's errand had really been about.

Peter needs a friend, he said. The issue between Peter and Achilles might be resolved by poison or sabotage, he said. But she and John Paul could not possibly watch over Peter well enough to protect him from assassination, he said. Therefore, in what way could she and John Paul possibly be the friends that Peter needed?

The contest between Achilles and Peter would be just as easily resolved by Achilles's death as by Peter's.

At once there flashed into her memory the stories of some of the great poisoners of history, by rumor if not by proof. Lucretia Borgia. Cleopatra. What's-her-name who poisoned everybody around the Emperor Claudius and probably got him in the end, as well.

In olden days, there were no chemical tests to determine conclusively whether poison had been used. Poisoners gathered their own herbs, leaving no trail of purchases, no co-conspirators who might confess or accuse. If anything happened to Achilles before Peter had decided the monster boy had to go, Peter would launch an investigation ... and when the trail led to his parents, as it inevitably would, how would Peter respond? Make an example of them, letting them go on trial? Or would he protect them, trying to cover up the result of the investigation, leaving his reign as hegemon to be tainted by the rumors about Achilles's untimely death. No doubt every opponent of Peter's would resurrect Achilles as a martyr, a much-slandered boy who offered the brightest hope to mankind, slain in his youth by the crawlingly vile Peter Wiggin, or his mother the witch or his father the snake.

It was not enough to kill Achilles. It had to be done properly, in a way that would not harm Peter in the long run.

Though it would be better for Peter to endure the rumors and legends about Achilles's death than for Peter himself to be the slain one. She dare not wait too long.

My assignment from Graff, thought Theresa, is to become an assassin in order to protect my son.

And the truly horrifying thing is that I'm not questioning whether to do it, but how. And when.

Excerpted from Shadow Puppets by Orson Scott Card. Copyright © 2002 by Orson Scott Card. All rights reserved. Excerpted by permission of Tor Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.











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