"She has one friend," said Libo.
Pipo had forgotten that his son was there -- Libo was so quiet that he was easy to
overlook. Dona Cristã also seemed startled. "Libo," she said, "I think we were indiscreet,
talking about one of your schoolmates like this."
"I'm apprentice Zenador now," Libo reminded her. It meant he wasn't in school.
"Who is her friend?" asked Pipo.
"Marcos Ribeira," said Dona Cristã. "The tall boy--"
"Ah, yes, the one who's built like a cabra."
"He is strong," said Dona Cristã. "But I've never noticed any friendship between them."
"Once when Marcão was accused of something, and she happened to see it, she spoke for
"You put a generous interpretation on it, Libo," said Dona Cristã. "I think it is more
accurate to say she spoke against the boys who actually did it and were trying to put the blame on
"Marcão doesn't see it that way," said Libo. "I noticed a couple of times, the way he
watches her. It isn't much, but there is somebody who likes her."
"Do you like her?" asked Pipo.
Libo paused for a moment in silence. Pipo knew what it meant. He was examining
himself to find an answer. Not the answer that he thought would be most likely to bring him
adult favor, and not the answer that would provoke their ire -- the two kinds of deception that
most children his age delighted in. He was examining himself to discover the truth.
"I think," Libo said, "that I understood that she didn't want to be liked. As if she were a
visitor who expected to go back home any day."
Dona Cristã nodded gravely. "Yes, that's exactly right, that's exactly the way she seems.
But now, Libo, we must end our indiscretion by asking you to leave us while we--"
He was gone before she finished her sentence, with a quick nod of his head, a half-smile
that said, Yes, I understand, and a deftness of movement that made his exit more eloquent proof
of his discretion than if he had argued to say. By this Pipo knew that Libo was annoyed at being
asked to leave; he had a knack for making adults feel vaguely immature by comparison to him.
"Pipo," said the principal, "she has petitioned for an early examination as xenobiologist.
To take her parents' place."
Pipo raised an eyebrow.
"She claims that she has been studying the field intensely since she was a little child.
That she's ready to begin the work right now, without apprenticeship."
"She's thirteen, isn't she?"
"There are precedents. Many have taken such tests early. One even passed it younger
than her. It was two thousand years ago, but it was allowed. Bishop Peregrino is against it, of
course, but Mayor Bosquinha, bless her practical heart, has pointed out that Lusitania needs a
xenobiologist quite badly -- we need to be about the business of developing new strains of plant
life so we can get some decent variety in our diet and much better harvests from Lusitanian soil.
In her words, "I don't care if it's an infant, we need a xenobiologist."
"And you want me to supervise her examination?"
"If you would be so kind."
"I'd be glad to."
"I told them you would."
"I confess I have an ulterior motive."
"I should have done more for the girl. I'd like to see if it isn't too late to begin."
Dona Cristã laughed a bit. "Oh, Pipo, I'd be glad for you to try. But do believe me, my
dear friend, touching her heart is like bathing in ice."
"I imagine. I imagine it feels like bathing in ice to the person touching her. But how
does it feel to her? Cold as she is, it must surely burn like fire."
"Such a poet," said Dona Cristã. There was no irony in her voice; she meant it. "Do the
piggies understand that we've sent our very best as our ambassador?"
"I try to tell them, but they're skeptical."
"I'll send her to you tomorrow. I warn you -- she'll expect to take the examinations cold,
and she'll resist any attempt on your part to pre-examine her."
Pipo smiled. "I'm far more worried about what will happen when she takes the test. If
she fails, they she'll have very bad problems. And if she passes, then my problems will begin."
"Libo will be after me to let him examine early for Zenador. And if he did that, there'd
be no reason for me not to go home, curl up, and die."
"Such a romantic fool you are, Pipo. If there's any man in Milagre who's capable of
accepting his thirteen-year-old son as a colleague, it's you."
After she left, Pipo and Libo worked together, as usual, recording the day's events with
the pequeninos. Pipo compared Libo's work, his way of thinking, his insights, his attitudes, with
those of the graduate students he had known in university before joining the Lusitania Colony.
He might be small, and there might be a lot of theory and knowledge for him yet to learn, but he
was already a true scientist in his method, and a humanist at heart. By the time the evening's
work was done and they walked home together by the light of Lusitania's large and dazzling
moon, Pipo had decided that Libo already deserved to be treated as a colleague, whether he took
the examination or not. The tests couldn't measure the things that really counted, anyway.
And whether she liked it or not, Pipo intended to find out if Novinha had the
unmeasurable qualities of a scientist; if she didn't, then he'd see to it she didn't take the test,
regardless of how many facts she had memorized.
* * *
Pipo meant to be difficult. Novinha knew how adults acted when they planned not to do
things her way, but didn't want a fight or even any nastiness. Of course, of course you can take
the test. But there's no reason to rush into it, let's take some time, let me make sure you'll be
successful on the first attempt.
Novinha didn't want to wait. Novinha was ready.
"I'll jump through any hoops you want," she said.
His face went cold. Their faces always did. That was all right, coldness was all right, she
could freeze them to death. "I don't want you to jump through hoops," he said.
"The only thing I ask is that you line them up all in a row so I can jump through them
quickly. I don't want to be put off for days and days."
He looked thoughtful for a moment. "You're in such a hurry."
"I'm ready. The Starways Code allows me to challenge the test at any time. It's between
me and the Starways Congress, and I can't find anywhere that is says a xenologer can try to
second guess the Interplanetary Examination Board."
"Then you haven't read carefully."
"The only thing I need to take the test before I'm sixteen is the authorization of my legal
guardian. I don't have a legal guardian."
"On the contrary," said Pipo. "Mayer Bosquinha was your legal guardian from the day of
your parents' death."
"And she agreed I could take the test."
"Provided you came to me."
Novinha saw the intense look in his eyes. She didn't know Pipo, so she thought it was
the look she had seen in so many eyes, the desire to dominate, to rule her, the desire to cut
through her determination and break her independence, the desire to make her submit.
From ice to fire in an instant. "What do you know about xenobiology! You only go out
and talk to the piggies, you don't even begin to understand the workings of genes! Who are you
to judge me! Lusitania needs a xenobiologist, and they've been without one for eight years. And
you want to make them wait even longer, just so you can be in control!"
To her surprise, he didn't become flustered, didn't retreat. Nor did he get angry in return.
It was as if she hadn't spoken.
"I see," he said quietly. "It's because of your great love of the people of Lusitania that
you wish to become xenobiologist. Seeing the public need, you sacrificed and prepared yourself
to enter early into a lifetime of altruistic service."
It sounded absurd, hearing him say it like that. And it wasn't at all what she felt. "Isn't
that a good enough reason?"
"If it were true, it would be good enough."
"Are you calling me a liar?"
"Your own words called you a liar. You spoke of how much they, the people of
Lusitania, need you. But you live among us. You've lived among us all your life. Ready to
sacrifice for us, and yet you don't feel yourself to be part of this community."
So he wasn't like the adults who always believed lies as long as they made her seem to be
the child they wanted her to be. "Why should I feel like part of the community? I'm not."
He nodded gravely, as if considering her answer. "What community are you a part of?"
"The only other communities on Lusitania are the piggies, and you haven't seen me out
there with the tree-worshippers."
"There are many other communities on Lusitania. For instance, you're a student --
there's a community of students."
"Not for me."
"I know. You have no friends, you have no intimate associates, you go to mass but you
never go to confession, you are so completely detached that as far as possible you don't touch the
life of this colony, you don't touch the life of the human race at any point. From all the evidence,
you live in complete isolation."
Novinha wasn't prepared for this. He was naming the underlying pain of her life, and she
didn't have a strategy devised to cope with it. "If I do, it isn't my fault."
"I know that. I know where it begins, and I know whose fault it was that it continues to
"Mine. And everyone else's. But mine most of all, because I knew what was happening
to you and I did nothing at all. Until today."
"And today you're going to keep me from the one thing that matters to me in my life!
Thanks so much for your compassion!"
Again he nodded solemnly, as if he were accepting and acknowledging her ironic
gratitude. "In one sense, Novinha, it doesn't matter that it isn't your fault. Because the town of
Milagre is a community, and whether it has treated you badly or not, it must still act as all
communities do, to provide the greatest possible happiness for all its members."
"Which means everybody on Lusitania except me -- me and the piggies."
"The xenobiologist is very important to a colony, especially one like this, surrounded by a
fence that forever limits our growth. Our xenobiologist must find ways to grow more protein and
carbohydrate per hectare, which means genetically altering the Earthborn corn and potatoes to
"To make maximum use of the nutrients available in the Lusitanian environment. Do you
think I'm planning to take the examination without knowing what my life's work would be?"
"Your life's work, to devote yourself to improving the lives of people you despise."
Now Novinha saw the trap that he had laid for her. Too late; it had sprung. "So you
think that a xenobiologist can't do the work unless she loves the people who use the things she
"I don't care whether you love us or not. What I have to know is what you really want.
Why you're so passionate to do this."
"Basic psychology. My parents died in this work, and so I'm trying to step into their
"Maybe," said Pipo. "And maybe not. What I want to know, Novinha, what I must know
before I'll let you take the test, is what community do you belong to."
"You said it yourself! I don't belong to any."
"Impossible. Every person is defined by the communities she belongs to and the ones she
doesn't belong to. I am this and this and this, but definitely not that and that and that. All your
definitions are negative. I could make an infinite list of the things you are not. But a person who
really believes she doesn't belong to any community at all invariably kills herself, either by
killing her body or by giving up her identity and going mad."
"That's me, insane to the root."
"Not insane. Driven by a sense of purpose that is frightening. If you take this test you'll
pass it. But before I let you take it I have to know: Who will you become when you pass? What
do you believe in, what are you part of, what do you care about, who do you love?"
"Nobody in this or any other world."
"I don't believe you."
"I've never known a good man or woman in the world except my parents and they're
dead! And even then -- nobody understands anything."
"I'm part of anything, aren't I? But nobody understands anybody, not even you,
pretending to be so wise and compassionate but you're only getting me to cry like this because
you have the power to stop me from doing what I want to do--"
"And it isn't xenobiology."
"Yes it is! That's part of it, anyway."
"And what's the rest of it?"
"What you are. What you do. Only you're doing it all wrong, you're doing it stupidly."
"Xenobiologist and xenologer."
"They made a stupid mistake when they created a new science to study the piggies. They
were a bunch of tired old anthropologists who put on new hats and called themselves xenologers.
But you can't understand the piggies just by watching the way they behave! They came out of a
different evolution! You have to understand their genes, what's going on inside their cells. And
the other animals' cells, too, because they can't be studied by themselves, nothing lives in
Don't lecture me, thought Pipo. Tell me what you feel. And to provoke her to be more
emotional, he whispered, "Except you."
It worked. From cold and contemptuous she became hot and defensive. "You'll never
understand them! But I will!"
"Why do you care about them? What are the piggies to you?"
"You'd never understand. You're a good Catholic." She said the word with contempt.
"It's a book that's on the Index."
Pipo's face glowed with sudden understanding. "The Hive Queen and the Hegemon."
"He lived three thousand years ago, whoever he was, the one who called himself the
Speaker for the Dead. But he understood the buggers! We wiped them all out, the only other
alien race we ever knew, we killed them all, but he understood."
And you want to write the story of the pequeninos the way the original Speaker wrote of
"The way you say it, you make it sound as easy as doing a scholarly paper. You don't
know what it was like to write the Hive Queen and the Hegemon. How much agony it was for
him to -- to imagine himself inside an alien mind -- and come out of it filled with love for the
great creature we destroyed. He lived at the same time as the worst human being who ever lived,
Ender the Xenocide, who destroyed the buggers -- and he did his best to undo what Ender did,
the Speaker for the Dead tried to raise the dead--"
"But he couldn't."
"But he did! He made them live again -- you'd know it if you had read the book! I don't
know about Jesus. I listen to Bishop Peregrino and I don't think there's any power in their
priesthood to turn wafers into flesh or forgive a milligram of guilt. But the Speaker for the Dead
brought the hive queen back to life."
"Then where is she?"
"In here! In me!"
He nodded. "And someone else is in you. The Speaker for the Dead. That's who you
want to be."
"It's the only true story I ever heard," she said. "The only one I care about. Is that what
you wanted to hear? That I'm a heretic? And my whole life's work is going to be adding
another book to the Index of truths that good Catholics are forbidden to read."
"What I wanted to hear," said Pipo softly, "was the name of what you are instead of the
name of all the things that you are not. What you are is the hive queen. What you are is the
Speaker for the Dead. It's a very small community, small in numbers, but a great-hearted one.
So you chose not to be part of the bands of children who group together for the sole purpose of
excluding others, and people look at you and say, poor girl, she's so isolated, but you know a
secret, you know who you really are. You are the one human being who is capable of
understanding the alien mind, because you are the alien mind; you know what it is to be
unhuman because there's never been any human group that gave you credentials as a bona fide
"Now you say I'm not even human? You made me cry like a little girl because you
wouldn't let me take the test, you made me humiliate myself, and now you say I'm unhuman?"
"You can take the test."
The words hung in the hair.
"When?" she whispered.
"Tonight. Tomorrow. Begin when you like. I'll stop my work to take you through the
tests as quickly as you like."
"Thank you! Thank you, I--"
"Become the Speaker for the Dead. I'll help you all I can. The law forbids me to take
anyone but my apprentice, my son Libo, out to meet the pequeninos. But we'll open our notes to
you. Everything we learn, we'll show you. All our guesses and speculation. In return, you also
show us all your work, what you find out about the genetic patterns of this world that might help
us understand the pequeninos. And when we've learned enough, together, you can write your
book. you can become the Speaker. But this time not the Speaker for the Dead. The pequeninos
In spite of herself, she smiled. "The Speaker for the Living."
"I've read the Hive Queen and the Hegemon, too," he said. "I can't think of a better place
for you to find your name."
But she did not trust him yet, did not believe what he seemed to be promising. "I'll want
to come here often. All the time."
"We lock it up when we go home to bed."
"But all the rest of the time. You'll get tired of me. You'll tell me to be quiet and not
mention my ideas."
"We've only just become friends, and already you think I'm such a liar and cheat, such an
"But you will, everyone does; they all wish I'd go away--"
Pipo shrugged. "So? Sometime or other everybody wishes everybody would go away.
Sometimes I'll wish you would go away. What I'm telling you now is that even at those times,
even if I tell you to go away, you don't have to go away."
It was the most bafflingly perfect thing that anyone had ever said to her. "That's crazy."
"Only one thing. Promise me you'll never try to go out to the pequeninos. Because I can
never let you do that, and if somehow you do it anyway, Starways Congress would close down all
our work here, forbid any contact with them. Do you promise me? Or everything -- my work,
your work -- it will all be undone."
"When will you take the test?"
"Now! Can I being it now?"
He laughed gently, then reached out a hand and without looking touched the terminal. It
came to life, the first genetic models appearing in the air above the terminal.
"You had the examination ready," she said. "You were all set to go! You knew that
you'd let me do it all along!"
He shook his head. "I hoped. I believed in you. I wanted to help you do what you
dreamed of doing. As long as it was something good."
She would not have been Novinha if she hadn't found one more poisonous thing to say.
"I see. You are the judge of dreams."
Perhaps he didn't know it was an insult. He only smiled and said, "Faith, hope, and love
-- these three. But the greatest of these is love."
"You don't love me," she said.
"Ah," he said. "I am the judge of dreams, and you are the judge of love. Well, I find you
guilty of dreaming good dreams, and sentence you to a lifetime of working and suffering for the
sake of your dreams. I only hope that someday you won't declare me innocent of the crime of
loving you." He grew reflective for a moment. "I lost a daughter in the Descolada. Maria. She
would have been only a few years older than you."
"And I remind you of her?"
"I was thinking that she would have been nothing at all like you."
She began the test. It took three days. She passed it, with a score a good deal higher than many a
graduate student. In retrospect, however, she would not remember the test because it was the
beginning of her career, the end of her childhood, the confirmation of her vocation for her life's
work. She would remember the test because it was the beginning of her time in Pipo's Station,
where Pipo and Libo and Novinha together formed the first community she belonged to since her
parents were put into the earth.
It was not easy, especially at the beginning. Novinha did not instantly shed her habit of
cold confrontation. Pipo understood it, was prepared to bend with her verbal blows. It was much
more of a challenge for Libo. The Zenador's Station had been a place where he and his father
could be alone together. Now, without anyone asking his consent, a third person had been added,
a cold and demanding person, who spoke to him as if he were a child, even though they were the
same age. It galled him that she was a full-fledged xenobiologist, with all the adult status that
that implied, when he was still an apprentice.
But he tried to bear it patiently. He was naturally calm, and quiet adhered to him. He
was not prone to taking umbrage openly. But Pipo knew his son and saw him burn. After a
while even Novinha, insensitive as she was, began to realize that she was provoking Libo more
than any normal young man could possibly endure. But instead of easing up on him, she began
to regard it as a challenge. How could she force some response from this unnaturally calm,
gentle-spirited, beautiful boy?
"You mean you've been working all these years," she said one day, "and you don't even
know how the piggies reproduce? How do you know they're all males?"
Libo answered softly. "We explained male and female to them as they learned our
languages. They chose to call themselves males. And referred to the other ones, the ones we've
never seen, as females."
"But for all you know, they reproduce by budding! Or mitosis!"
Her tone was contemptuous, and Libo did not answer quickly. Pipo imagined he could
hear his son's thoughts, carefully rephrasing his answer until it was gentle and safe. "I wish our
work were more like physical anthropology," he said. "Then we would be more prepared to
apply your research into Lusitania's subcellular life patterns to what we learn about the
Novinha looked horrified. "You mean you don't even take tissue samples?"
Libo blushed slightly, but his voice was still calm when he answered. The boy would
have been like this under questions by the Inquisition, Pipo thought. "It is foolish, I guess," said
Libo, "but we're afraid the pequeninos would wonder why we took pieces of their bodies. If one
of them took sick by chance afterward, would they think we caused the illness?"
"What if you took something they shed naturally? You can learn a lot from a hair."
Libo nodded; Pipo, watching from his terminal on the other side of the room, recognized
the gesture -- Libo had learned it from his father. "Many primitive tribes of Earth believed that
sheddings from their bodies contained some of their life and strength. What if the piggies
thought we were doing magic against them?"
"Don't you know their language? I thought some of them spoke Stark, too." She made
no effort to hide her disdain. "Can't you explain what the samples are for?"
"You're right," he said quietly. "But if we explained what we'd use the tissue samples
for, we might accidentally teach them concepts of biological science a thousand years before they
would naturally have reached that point. That's why the law forbids us to explain things like
Finally Novinha was abashed. "I didn't realize how tightly you were bound by the
doctrine of minimal intervention."
Pipo was glad to hear her retreat from her arrogance, but if anything, her humility was
worse. The child was so isolated from human contact that she spoke like an excessively formal
science book. Pipo wondered if it was already too late to teach her how to be a human being.
It wasn't. Once she realized that they were excellent at their science, and that she knew
almost nothing of it, she dropped her aggressive stance and went almost to the opposite extreme.
For weeks she spoke to Pipo and Libo only rarely. Instead she studied their reports, trying to
grasp the purpose behind what they were doing. Now and then she had a question, and asked;
they answered politely and thoroughly.
Politeness gradually gave way to familiarity. Pipo and Libo began to converse openly in
front of her, airing their speculations about why the pequeninos had developed some of their
strange behaviors, what meaning lay behind some of their odd statements, why they remained so
maddeningly impenetrable. And since the study of pequeninos was a very new branch of
science, it didn't take long for Novinha to be expert enough, even at second hand, to offer some
hypotheses. "After all," said Pipo, encouraging her, "we're all blind together."
Pipo had foreseen what happened next. Libo's carefully cultivated patience had made
him seem cold and reserved to others of his age, when Pipo could prevail on him even to attempt
to socialize; Novinha's isolation was more flamboyant but no more thorough. Now, however,
their common interest in the pequeninos drew them close -- who else could they talk to, when no
one but Pipo could even understand their conversations?
They relaxed together, laughed themselves to tears over jokes that could not possibly
amuse any other Luso. Just as the piggies seemed to name every tree in the forest, Libo playfully
named all the furniture in the Zenador's Station, and periodically announced that certain items
were in a bad mood and shouldn't be disturbed. "Don't sit on Chair! It's her time of the month
again." They had never seen a pequenino female, and the males always seemed to refer to them
with almost religious reverence; Novinha wrote a series of mock reports on an imaginary
pequenino woman called Reverend Mother, who was hilariously bitchy and demanding.
It was not all laughter. There were problems, worries, and once a time of real fear that
they might have done exactly what the Starways Congress had tried so hard to prevent -- make
radical changes in pequenino society. It began with Rooter of course. Rooter, who persisted in
asking challenging, impossible questions, like, "If you have no other city of humans, how can
you go to war? There's no honor for you in killing Little Ones." Pipo babbled something about
how humans would never kill pequeninos, Little Ones; but he knew that this wasn't the question
Rooter was really asking.
Pipo had known for years that the pequeninos knew the concept of war, but for days after
that Libo and Novinha argued heatedly about whether Rooter's question proved that the piggies
regarded war as desirable or merely unavoidable. There were other bits of information from
Rooter, some important, some not -- and many whose importance was impossible to judge. In a
way, Rooter himself was proof of the wisdom of the policy that forbade the xenogolers to ask
questions that would reveal human expectations, and therefore human practices. Rooter's
questions often gave them more answers than they got from his answers to their own questions.
The last information Rooter gave them, though, was not in a question. It was a guess,
spoken to Libo privately, when Pipo was off with some of the others examining the way they
built their log house. "I know I know," said Rooter. "I know why Pipo is still alive. Your
women are too stupid to know that he is wise."
Libo struggled to make sense of this seeming non sequitur. What did Rooter think, that if
human women were smarter, they would kill Pipo? The talk of killing was disturbing -- this was
obviously an important matter, and Libo did not know how to handle it alone. Yet he couldn't
call Pipo to help, since Rooter obviously wanted to discuss it where Pipo couldn't hear.
When Libo didn't answer, Rooter persisted. "Your women, they are weak and stupid. I
told the others this, and they said I could ask you. Your women don't see Pipo's wisdom. Is this
Rooter seemed very agitated; he was breathing heavily, and he kept pulling hairs from his
arm, four and five at a time. Libo had to answer somehow. "Most women don't know him," he
"Then how will they know if he should die?" asked Rooter. Then, suddenly, he went
very still and spoke very loudly. "You are cabras!"
Only then did Pipo come into view, wondering what the shouting was about. He saw at
once that Libo was desperately out of his depth. Yet Pipo had no notion what the conversation
was even about -- how could he help? All he knew was that Rooter was saying humans -- or at
least Pipo and Libo -- were somehow like the large beasts that grazed in herds on the prairie.
Pipo couldn't even tell if Rooter was angry or happy.
"You are cabras! You decide!" He pointed at Libo and then at Pipo. "Your women don't
choose your honor, you do! Just like in battle, but all the time!"
Pipo had no idea what Rooter was talking about, but he could see that all the pequeninos
were motionless as stumps, waiting for him -- or Libo -- to answer. It was plain Libo was too
frightened by Rooter's strange behavior to dare any response at all. In this case, Pipo could see
no point but to tell the truth; it was, after all, a relatively obvious and trivial bit of information
about human society. It was against the rules that the Starways Congress had established for
him, but failing to answer would be even more damaging, and so Pipo went ahead.
"Women and men decide together, or they decide for themselves," said Pipo. "One
doesn't decide for the other."
It was apparently what all the piggies had been waiting for. "Cabras," they said, over and
over; they ran to Rooter, hooting and whistling. They picked him up and rushed him off in to the
woods. Pipo tried to follow, but two of the piggies stopped him and shook their heads. It was a
human gesture they had learned long before, but it held stronger meaning for the pequeninos. It
was absolutely forbidden for Pipo to follow. They were going to the women, and that was the
one place the pequeninos had told them they could never go.
On the way home, Libo reported how the difficulty began. "Do you know what Rooter
said? He said our women were weak and stupid."
"That's because he's never met Mayor Bosquinha. Or your mother, for that matter."
Libo laughed, because his mother, Conceição, ruled the archives as if it were an ancient
estação in the wild mato -- if you entered her domain, you were utterly subject to her law. As he
laughed, he felt something slip away, some idea that was important -- what were we talking
about? The conversation went on; Libo had forgotten, and soon he even forgot that he had
That night they heard the drumming sound that Pipo and Libo believed was part of some
sort of celebration. It didn't happen all that often, like beating on great drums with heavy sticks.
Tonight, though, the celebration seemed to go on forever. Pipo and Libo speculated that perhaps
the human example of sexual equality had somehow given the male pequeninos some hope of
liberation. "I think this may qualify as a serious modification of pequenino behavior," Pipo said
gravely. "If we find that we've caused real change, I'm going to have to report it, and Congress
will probably direct that human contact with pequeninos be cut off for a while. Years, perhaps."
It was a sobering thought -- that doing their job faithfully might lead Starways Congress to
forbid them to do their job at all.
In the morning Novinha walked with them to the gate in the high fence that separated the
human city from the slopes leading up to the forest hills where the piggies lived. Because Pipo
and Libo were still trying to reassure each other that neither of them could have done any
differently, Novinha walked on ahead and got to the gate first. When the others arrived, she
pointed to a patch of freshly cleared red earth only thirty meters or so up the hill from the gate.
"That's new," she said. "And there's something in it."
Pipo opened the gate, and Libo, being younger, ran on ahead to investigate He stopped at
the edge of the cleared patch and went completely rigid, staring down at whatever lay there.
Pipo, seeing him, also stopped, and Novinha, suddenly frightened for Libo, ignored the
regulation and ran through the gate. Libo's head rocked backward and he dropped to his knees;
he clutched his tight-curled hair and cried out in terrible remorse.
Rooter lay spread-eagled in the cleared dirt. He had been eviscerated, and not carelessly.
Each organ had been cleanly separated, and the strands and filaments of his limbs had also been
pulled out and spread in a symmetrical pattern on the drying soil. Everything still had some
connection to the body -- nothing had been completely severed.
Libo's agonized crying was almost hysterical. Novinha knelt by him and held him,
rocked him, tried to soothe him. Pipo methodically took out his small camera and took pictures
from every angle so the computer could analyze it in detail later.
"He was still alive when they did this," Libo said, when he had calmed enough to speak.
Even so, he had to say the words slowly, carefully, as if he were a foreigner just learning to
speak. "There's so much blood on the ground, spattered so far -- his heart had to be beating
when they opened him up."
"We'll discuss it later," said Pipo.
Now the thing Libo had forgotten yesterday came back to him with cruel clarity. "It's
what Rooter said about the women. They decide when the men should die. He told me that, and
I--" He stopped himself. Of course he did nothing. The law required him to do nothing. And at
that moment he decided that he hated the law. If the law meant allowing this to be done to
Rooter, then the law had no understanding. Rooter was a person. You don't stand by and let this
happen to a person just because you're studying him.
"They didn't dishonor him," said Novinha. "If there's one thing that's certain, it's the
love that they have for trees. See?" Out of the center of his chest cavity, which was otherwise
empty now, a very small seedling sprouted "They planted a tree to mark his burial spot."
"Now we know why they name all their trees," said Libo bitterly. "They planted them as
grave markers for the piggies they tortured to death."
"This is a very large forest," Pipo said calmly. "Please confine your hypotheses to what is
at least remotely possible." They were calmed by his quiet, reasoned tone, his insistence that
even now they behave as scientists.
"What should we do?" asked Novinha.
"We should get you back inside the perimeter immediately," said Pipo. "It's forbidden
for you to come out here."
"But I meant -- with the body -- what should we do?"
"Nothing," said Pipo. "The pequeninos have done what pequeninos do, for whatever
reason pequeninos do it." He helped Libo to his feet.
Libo had trouble standing for a moment; he leaned on both of them for his first few steps.
"What did I say?" he whispered. "I don't even know what it is I said that killed him."
"It wasn't you," said Pipo. "It was me."
"What, do you think you own them?" demanded Novinha. "Do you think their world
revolves around you? As you said, the piggies did it, for whatever reason they have. It's plain
enough this isn't the first time -- they were too deft at the vivisection for this to be the first
Pipo took it with black humor. "We're losing our wits, Libo. Novinha isn't supposed to
know anything about xenology."
"You're right," said Libo. "Whatever may have triggered this, it's something they've
done before. A custom." He was trying to sound calm.
"But that's even worse, isn't it?" said Novinha. "It's their custom to gut each other
alive." She looked at the other trees of the forest that began at the top of the hill and wondered
how many of them were rooted in blood.
Pipo sent his report on the ansible, and the computer didn't give him any trouble about
the priority level. He left it up to the oversight committee to decide whether contact with the
piggies should be stopped. The committee could not identify any fatal error. "It is impossible to
conceal the relationship between our sexes, since someday a woman may be xenologer," said the
report, "and we can find no point at which you did not act reasonably and prudently. Our
tentative conclusion is that you were unwitting participants in some sort of power struggle, which
was decided against Rooter, and that you should continue your contact with all reasonable
It was complete vindication, but it still wasn't easy to take. Libo had grown up knowing
the piggies, or at least hearing about them from his father. He knew Rooter better than he knew
any human being besides his family and Novinha. It took days for Libo to come back to the
Zenador's Station, weeks before he would go back out into the forest. The piggies gave no sign
that anything had changed; if anything, they were more open and friendly than before. No one
ever spoke of Rooter, least of all Pipo and Libo. There were changes on the human side,
however. Pipo and Libo never got more than a few steps away from each other when they were
The pain and remorse of that day drew Libo and Novinha to rely on each other even more,
as though darkness bound them closer than light. The piggies now seemed dangerous and
uncertain, just as human company had always been, and between Pipo and Libo there now hung
the question of who was at fault, no matter how often each tried to reassure the other. so the only
good and reliable thing in Libo's life was Novinha, and in Novinha's life, Libo.
Even though Libo had a mother and siblings, and Pipo and Libo always went home to
them, Novinha and Libo behaved as if the Zenador's Station were an island, with Pipo a loving
but ever remote Prospero. Pipo wondered: Are the pequeninos like Ariel, leading the young
lovers to happiness, or are they like Calibans, scarcely under control and chafing to do murder?
After a few months, Rooter's death faded into memory, and their laughter returned,
though perhaps it was not as carefree as before. By the time they were seventeen, Libo and
Novinha were so sure of each other that they routinely talked of what they would do together
five, ten, twenty years later. Pipo never bothered to ask them about their marriage plans. After
all, he thought, they studied biology from morning to night. Eventually it would occur to them to
explore stable and socially acceptable reproductive strategies. In the meantime, it was enough
that they puzzled endlessly over when and how the pequeninos mated, considering that the males
had no discernable reproductive organ. Their speculations on how the pequeninos combined
genetic material invariably ended in jokes so lewd that it took all of Pipo's self-control to pretend
not to find them amusing.
So the Zenador's Station for those few short years was a place of true companionship for
two brilliant young people who otherwise would have been condemned to cold solitude. It did
not occur to any of them that the idyll would end abruptly, and forever, and under circumstances
that would send a tremor through the Hundred Worlds.
It was all so simple, so commonplace. Novinha was analyzing the genetic structure of the
fly-infested reeds along the river, and realized that the same subcellular body that had caused the
Descolada was present in the cells of the reed. She brought several other cell structures into the
air over the computer terminal and rotated them. They all contained the Descolada agent.
She called to Pipo, who was running through transcriptions of yesterday's visit to the
pequeninos. The computer ran comparisons of every cell she had samples of. Regardless of cell
function, regardless of the species it was taken from, every alien cell contained the Descolada
body, and the computer declared them absolutely identical in chemical proportions.
Novinha expected Pipo to nod, tell her it looked interesting, maybe come up with a
hypothesis. Instead he sat down and ran the same test over, asking her questions about how the
computer comparison operated, and then what the Descolada body actually did.
"Mother and Father never figured out what triggered it, but the Descolada body releases
this little protein -- well, pseudo-protein, I suppose -- and it attacks the genetic molecules,
starting at one end and unzipping the two strands of the molecule right down the middle. That's
why they called it the descolador -- it unglues the DNA in humans, too."
"Show me what it does in alien cells."
Novinha put the simulation in motion.
"No, not just the genetic molecule -- the whole environment of the cell."
"It's just in the nucleus," she said. She widened the field to include more variables. The
computer took it more slowly, since it was considering millions of random arrangements of
nuclear material every second. In the reed cell, as a genetic molecule came unglued, several large
ambient proteins affixed themselves to the open strands. "In humans, the DNA tries to
recombine, but random proteins insert themselves so that cell after cell goes crazy. Sometimes
they go into mitosis, like cancer, and sometimes they die. What's most important is that in
humans the Descolada bodies themselves reproduce like crazy, passing from cell to cell. Of
course, every alien creature already has them."
But Pipo wasn't interested in what she said. When the descolador had finished with the
genetic molecules of the reed, he looked from one cell to another. "It's not just significant, it's
the same," he said. "It's the same thing!"
Novinha didn't see at once what he had noticed. What was the same as what? Nor did
she have time to ask. Pipo was already out of the chair, grabbing his coat, heading for the door.
It was drizzling outside. Pipo paused only to call out to her, "Tell Libo not to bother coming, just
show him that simulation and see if he can figure it out before I get back. He'll know -- it's the
answer to the big one. The answer to everything."
He laughed. "Don't cheat. Libo will tell you, if you can't see it."
"Where are you going?"
"To ask the pequeninos if I'm right, of course! But I know I am, even if they lie about it.
If I'm not back in an hour, I slipped in the rain and broke my leg."
Libo did not get to see the simulations. The meeting of the planning committee went way
over time in a argument about extending the cattle range, and after the meeting Libo still had to
pick up the week's groceries. By the time he got back, Pipo had been out for four hours, it was
getting on toward dark, and the drizzle was turning to snow. They went out at once to look for
him, afraid that they might take hours to find him in the woods.
They found him all too soon. His body was already cooling in the snow. The piggies
hadn't even planted a tree in him.
Copyright © 1986 Orson Scott Card