I looked again in the large mirror on the wall, where my clothing hung on a hook. My
shoulders were still broad from hours and days and weeks with sword, staff, spear, and bow;
and more recently with the bellows at the forge. My hips still slim from running and riding.
My stomach ridged with muscle, hard and solid and virile. And then, ridiculously soft and
inviting, my breasts --
I took my knife from the belt hanging on the wall and pressed its sharp silver edge
against my breast. It hurt too badly -- I cut only an inch deep and had to stop. There was a
sound at the door. I turned.
A little black Cramer bowed her head so she would not see me. I remembered that she
had been taken in the last war (which Father won), and so belonged to us for life; I spoke
gently to her because she was a slave.
"You're all right, don't worry," I said to her, but she didn't relax.
"My lord Ensel wants to see his son Lanik. He says immediately,."
"Damn!" I said, and she knelt to receive my anger. I didn't hit her, though, only
touched her head as I walked to my clothing and put it on. I couldn't help but see my
reflection as I left -- my chest heaving up and down as I strode out of the room. The little
Cramer murmured her thanks as I left.
I started to run down the stairs to Father's chambers. I hadn't learned yet to walk like
a woman, smoothing my steps and rolling my hips to avoid needless jostling. After three
steps I stopped and leaned on the banister until the pain and fear subsided. When I turned
around to go down more slowly, I saw my brother Dinte at the bottom of the stairs He was
smirking, as fine a specimen of budding asshood as the Family had ever produced.
"I see you've heard the news," I said, walking carefully downstairs.
"May I suggest you acquire a halter?" he offered blandly. "I'd loan you one of
Mannoah's but hers are far too small."
I put my hand on my knife and he retreated a few steps. I had cut off his fingers and
put out his eyes so many times in childhood quarrels that I knew the futility of it -- but the
knife felt necessary in my hands when I was angry.
"You mustn't do any more of that, Lanik," Dinte said, still smirking. "I'll be heir
now, and head of the Family soon enough, and I'll remember."
I tried to think of some answer. Some scornful reply, to let him know that nothing he
could ever do to me would compare in agony to what had just happened, to what was about
But to confess that much fear and pain is what you do with your most trusted friend,
and perhaps not even then. So I said nothing and walked past him toward Father's private
room. As I passed he hummed in the back of his throat, as one does to call the prostitutes on
Hivvel Street. I did not kill him, however.
"Hello, my son," said Father when I came into his chamber.
"You might advise your second son," I answered, "That I still know how to kill."
"I'm sure you meant to say hello. Greet your mother."
I looked over to where he glanced and saw the Turd, as we children of Daddy's first
wife less-than-affectionately called Number Two, who had moved up into my mother's
position when she died of a strange and sudden heart attack. Father didn't think it was
strange and sudden, but I did. The Turd's official name was Ruva; she was from Schmidt and
had been part of a package deal that included an alliance, two forts, and about three million
acres. She was only supposed to be a concubine, but chance and Father's inexplicable passion
had moved her up in the world. We were compelled by custom, law, and Father's wrath to
call her mother.
"Hello, Mother," I said coldly. She only smiled her sweet, gentle, murderous smile.
Father didn't waste time with gentleness or sympathy. "Homarnoch tells me that
you're a radical regenerative."
"I'll kill anyone who tries to put me in the pens," I said. "Even you."
"Someday I'll take your treasonous statements seriously, boy, and have you strangled.
But you can remove that fear, at least. I'd never put one of my own sons in the pens, even if
he's a rad."
"It's been done before," I pointed out. "I've studied a little Family history."
"Then you'll know what's happening now. Come in, Dinte," Father said, and I turned
to see my little brother walking in. It was then that I lost control for the first time.
I shouted: "You're going to let that half-assed moron ruin Mueller, you bastard, when
you know I'm the only one who can hope to hold this flimsy empire together when you've
had the courtesy to die! I hope you live long enough to see it all crumble!" Later I would
remember those words bitterly, but how could I have known at the time that this hot-hearted
curse would someday come true?
Father leaped to his feet and strode around his table to where I stood. I expected a
blow, and braced for it. Instead he put his hands at my throat and I felt a sickening
momentary fear that he was at last going to carry out his threat to strangle me. Then he
ripped open my tunic, put his hands on my breasts, and pushed them together brutally. I
gasped in pain and pulled away.
"You're weak now, Lanik!" he shouted. "You're soft and womanly, and no man of
Mueller would follow you anywhere!"
"Except to bed," Dinte added lewdly. Father turned and slapped his ear.
When he turned away I covered my chest with my arms like a virgin girl and spun
around, coming face to face with the Turd. She was still smiling, and I watched her eyes move
from my face down to my bosom --
Not my breasts! I cried out silently. Not mine, not a part of me, and I felt an
overwhelming desire to retreat, to back out of my body completely, let it stay there while I
went elsewhere, still a man, still an heir with the expectation of power, still a man, still
"Put on a cloak," Father ordered.
"Yes, my lord Ensel," I murmured, and instead of fading from my body I covered it,
and felt the rough fabric of the cloak harsh against my tender nipples. I stood there and
watched as Father went through the ritual of declaring me a bastard and my brother Dinte the
heir. My brother looked tall and blond and strong and clever, though I knew better than
anyone that his cleverness was merely a tendency to be sly; his strength was not equaled by
any quickness or skill. When the ceremony was over, Dinte sat naturally in the chair that had
for so many years been mine.
I stood before them then, and Father commanded me to swear allegiance to my
"I would rather die," I said.
"That's the choice," Father said, and Dinte smiled.
I swore eternal allegiance to Dinte Mueller, heir to the Mueller Family holdings, which
included the Mueller estate and the lands my father had conquered: Cramer, Helper, Wizer,
and the island of Huntington. I made the pledge because Dinte so obviously wanted me to
refuse and die. Now, with me alive, he would have to worry constantly; I wondered idly how
many guards he would post around his bed tonight.
But I knew I wouldn't try to kill him. Removing Dinte wouldn't put me in his place;
it would only mean a savage dispute over the succession -- or worse: Ruva might be allowed
to spawn some hideous offspring with half my father's genes in it to take his place. No matter
what, a rad like me could never hope to govern in Mueller. Besides, rads rarely lived into
their thirties, and it was illegal for them -- no, for me -- to interbreed with ubermen. I felt a
sudden pang as I realized what this would do to poor Saranna. The women would take the
child out of her now, and destroy it. She would find herself now the former concubine of a
monster instead of the potential first wife of the father of the Family. On the day the Women
chose me to be her breeding-partner she had set her foot on the road of glory; now the road
was crumbling under her feet. Not just my future was destroyed, but hers also.
"Do I see the thoughts of a strangler in your eyes, Lanik?" Father asked. He thought I
was still thinking about Dinte.
"Never, Father," I assured him.
"Poison, then. Or deep water. I think my heir is not safe with you here in Mueller."
I glared at him. "Dinte's worst enemy is himself. He needs no help from me to end in
"I've read Family history, too," Father said. "Every Mueller who was too sentimental
to send his radical regenerative offspring to the pens regretted it soon after."
"Then have me killed with dignity, Father." It was as close as I would come to
pleading. Yet silently I begged him: Don't let them feed and harvest me, reaping limbs and
organs from me the way wool is sheared from a lamb, or milk pulled down from a cow, or
silk spun out of a spider.
"I'm too affectionate," said Father. "I don't want to kill you. So I'm sending you on
an embassy, a long one and far away, so that I have a reasonable hope of keeping Dinte alive."
"I'm not afraid of him," Dinte said scornfully.
"Then you are a fool," Father said sharply. "Teats or no teats, Lanik is more than a
match for you, boy, and I won't trust you with my empire until you show me that you're at
least half as clever as your brother."
Dinte was silent then, but I knew that my father had written my death sentence in
Dinte's mind. Deliberately? I hoped not. But it occurred to me that Father might have
decided that the best test for Dinte's fitness to rule was seeing how well he managed my
"An embassy to what nation?" I asked.
"Nkumai," he answered.
"A kingdom of tree-dwelling savage blacks far to the east," I said, remembering my
geography lessons. "Why should we send emissaries to animals?"
"Not animals," Father said. "They've lately been using steel swords in battle. They
conquered Drew two years ago. Allison is falling easily while we're talking here."
I felt my anger rise to think of tree-dwelling blacks conquering the proud stonecarvers
of Drew or the backwater religious folk of Allison. Hadn't we just conquered Cramer, and
taught them the true place of blacks in the world by enslaving them? "Why are we sending
embassies instead of armies?" I asked angrily.
"Am I a fool?" Father asked in return. "If I wanted mindless bigotry I could call a
moot and listen to the nobility."
I found it at once encouraging and painful that he expected me to think like the
Mueller and not like some common soldier who had no responsibility. So I answered him
truly now. "If they have hard metal, it means that they've found something that the Offworld
will buy. We don't know how much metal they have; we don't know what they're selling.
Therefore my embassy is not to make a treaty, but rather to find out what they have to sell
and what the Ambassador is paying for it."
"Very good," Father said. "Dinte, you may go."
"If these are affairs of the kingdom," Dinte said, "shouldn't I be here to hear them?"
Father didn't answer. Dinte got up and left. And then Father waved a hand at the
Turd, who also left the room, waggling her hips insolently.
"Lanik," Father said when we were alone, "Lanik, I wish to God there were something
I could do." His eyes filled with tears and I realized with some surprise that Father cared
enough to grieve for me. But not really for me, I thought. For his precious empire, which
Dinte could not possibly hold together.
"Lanik, never in the three thousand years of Mueller has there been a mind like yours,
in a body like yours, a man truly fit to lead men. And now the body is ruined. Will the mind
still serve me? Will the man still love his father?"
"Man? If you saw me on the street you'd want to take me to your bed."
"Lanik!" he cried out. "Can't you believe my grief?" He pulled out his golden dagger,
raised it high, and jabbed it through his left hand, pinning it to the table. When he pulled out
the weapon the blood spouted and pulsed from the wound, and he rubbed the hand across his
forehead, covering his face with blood. Then he wept, while the bleeding stopped and scar
tissue formed across the wound.
I sat and watched him in the ritual of grief. We were silent except for his heavy
breathing until his hand was healed. Then he looked at me from heavy eyes.
"Even if this hadn't happened," he said, "I would have sent you to Nkumai. For forty
years we've been the only ones in the world, the only ones we knew about, who had enough
hard metals to make a difference in war. Nkumai is now our only rival, and we know
nothing about that Family. You have to go secretly; if they know you're from Mueller they'll
kill you. Even if you lived they'd be sure you saw nothing of importance."
I laughed bitterly. "And now I have the perfect disguise. No one would ever believe
Mueller would send a woman to do a man's work."
There, I said it, gave myself the name that might keep me from ceasing to exist. But I
knew that this was just as impossible; Mueller would no more accept a rad as a woman than as
a man. Only outside Mueller could I be taken as human. Father might call it an embassy, or
even spying, but we both knew that the true name for it was exile.
He smiled back at me. Then his eyes filled with tears again and I wondered if, after all,
his love might be for me.
The interview was over and I left.
I saw to arrangements, setting the grooms to tending my horses and shoeing them for
the journey; instructing the scullers to preparing packs for my journey; getting the scholars to
make me a map. When the work was in motion, I left the castle proper and walked through
the covered corridors to the Genetics Laboratories.
The news had spread quickly -- all the high-ranking officers avoided me, and only the
students were there to open doors and lead me to the place I wanted to see.
The pens were kept brightly lit day and night, and I looked through the high
observation window at the bodies endlessly scattered across the soft lawns. Here and there
dust rose from the wallows. All the flesh was nude, and I watched as the noon food was
spread into the feeders. Some of them looked like any other men. Others had small growths
here and there on their bodies, or defects barely noticeable from a distance -- three breasts, or
two noses, or extra toes and fingers.
And then there were those that were ready for harvest. I watched one creature as it
lumbered toward the troughs. Its five legs didn't move well together, and it flailed its four
arms awkwardly, to keep a balance. An extra head dangled uselessly from its back; a second
spine curved away from the body like a sucking snake clinging rigidly to its victim.
"Why have they let this one go so long unharvested?" I asked the student who was near
"Because of the head," he said. "Complete heads are very rare, and we didn't dare
interfere with the regeneration until it was complete."
"Do we get a good price for heads?" I asked.
"I'm not in merchandising," he answered, which meant that the price was very high
I looked at the monster as it struggled to bring food to its mouth with unresponsive
arms. Could it be Velinisik? I shuddered.
"Are you cold?" asked the student, over-solicitously.
"Very," I answered. "My curiosity is satisfied. I'll go now."
I wondered why I wasn't even slightly grateful that my exile at least saved me from the
pens. Perhaps because I knew that if I were sentenced to live there, supplying extra parts for
the Offworld, I would kill myself. As it was I was still this side of suicide, and so had no
retreat from the terrible knowledge of my loss.
Saranna met me in the greeting room of the Genetics Laboratories. I couldn't avoid
"I thought I would find you here," she said, "being morbid."
I knew she was trying to cheer me up, trying to pretend that all was still well between
us. Under the circumstances, such a pretense was grotesque. Rather I wanted her to grieve for
me, to speak to me as if I were only a memory of one who was dead, for that's what I felt then
that I was.
I tried to walk past her. She caught my arm, clung to me and wouldn't let me pull
""Do you think it makes any difference to me?" she cried out.
"You're being indecorous," I hissed. Several people were looking at the floor in
embarrassment, and the servants were already kneeling. "You're causing us shame."
"Come with me then," she said. To avoid causing any more awkwardness for the
others in the room I went with her. As we left I could hear the rods being whipped across the
servants' backs because they had seen the highborn acting in a low manner. I felt the blows as
if they fell on me.
"How could you do that?" I asked her.
"And how could you stay away from me for all these days?"
"Not that long."
"Longer! Lanik, do you think I didn't know? Do you think my love for you was just
because you were the Mueller's heir?"
"What do you plan to do?" I demanded. "Go in there with me? Let yourself be
She pushed herself away from me, horror in her eyes.
"Next time be luckier," I said. "Next time love a human being."
"Lanik!" she cried, and then put her arms around me and pressed her head to my chest.
When she leaned against soft breasts instead of hard muscle, she pulled her head away for a
moment, then resolutely held to me even tighter.
With her head on my bosom I found myself wondering if I should feel motherly.
Didn't she realize that her touch was no comfort to me now, only a reminder of all that I had
lost? I pushed her away and ran. I stopped at a turn in the corridor and looked back. She was
already slitting her wrists and crying out, the blood dripping onto the stone floor. The cuts
were savage -- the loss of blood would make her sick for hours, with that many lacerations. I
went quickly to my room.
I lay on my bed, looking up at the delicate gold inlay on the ceiling. Set in the middle
of the gold was a single pearl of iron, black and angry and beautiful. For iron, I said silently.
For iron we have bred ourselves into monsters; the "normal" Muellers able to heal from any
wound, and the rads serving as domesticated animals, selling their extra parts to the Offworld
for more iron. Iron is power in a world with no hard metals. With our arms and legs and
hearts and bowels we buy that power.
Put an arm in the Ambassador, and in a half hour a pound of iron appears in the cube
of dancing light. Put living frozen sex organs in the cube and five pounds of iron replace it.
An entire head? Who knows the price.
At that rate, how many arms and legs and eyes and livers must we give before we have
enough iron to make one starship?
The walls pressed in on me and I felt myself trapped on Treason, our planet forming
high walls of poverty that tied us down, that kept us from the Offworld, that made us
prisoners as surely as the creatures in the pens. And like them, we lived under watching eyes,
Family competing madly against Family in order to produce something, anything that the
Offworld would buy, paying us in precious metals like iron, aluminum, copper, tin, zinc.
We Muellers had been first. The Nkumai were second, perhaps. A battle for
supremacy, sooner or later. And whoever the victor, the pyrrhic prize would be a few tons of
iron. Could a technology be built on that?
I slept like a prisoner, tied to my bed by the immense manacles of gravity on our poor
prison planet; bound to despair by two full and lovely breasts that rose and fell regularly. I
I woke to darkness in the room, and the rasping sound of labored breath. The breath
was mine, and in sudden panic I felt liquid in my lungs and began to cough violently. I threw
myself to the edge of the bed, coughing a dark liquid out of my throat, each cough an
exquisite pain. My gasping brought the breath in coldly at my throat, not through my
I touched the gaping wound under my chin. My larynx had been cut out, and I could
feel the veins and arteries that were covered with scar tissue as they tried to heal, sending
blood into my brain whatever the cost. The wound went from ear to ear. But finally my
lungs were clear of blood, and I lay on the bed and tried to ignore the pain as my body's vigor
surged to heal the gash.
But it wouldn't do it quickly enough, I realized. Whoever had tried so clumsily to kill
me would be back to make sure of his work (or her work -- Ruva?) and they wouldn't be so
careless next time. So I stood, not waiting to be healed, breath still hissing in and out of the
open wound at my throat. At least the bleeding had stopped, and if I moved carefully the scar
tissue working gradually inward from the edges of the wound would eventually close it.
I stepped out into the corridor, faint from loss of blood. No one; but the packs I had
ordered were stacked outside my room, awaiting inspection. I dragged them in. The strain
caused a little bleeding, so I rested a moment while the blood vessels healed again. Then I
sorted through the packs and combined the most essential items into one bundle. My bow
and the glass-tipped arrows were the only things I took with me from my room; carrying the
single pack, I made my way carefully down the corridors and stairways to the stable.
When I passed the sentry stall I was relieved to see that no one was there to challenge
me. A few steps later on I realized what that meant and whirled around, drawing my dagger
as I turned.
But it was not an enemy who stood there. Saranna gasped when she saw the wound in
"What happened to you!" she cried out.
I tried to answer, but my body had not yet rebuilt the larynx I had lost, and so all I
could do was shake my head slowly and put a finger to her lips, to silence her.
"I heard that you were leaving, Lanik. Take me with you."
I turned my back and went to my horses, which were standing new-shod at the
woodsmith's bar. Their wooden shoes clumped softly on the stone floor as they moved. I
threw the pack over Himmler's back and saddled the stallion, Hitler, to ride.
"Take me with you," Saranna pleaded. I turned to her. Even if I could have spoken,
what would I have said? So I said nothing, only kissed her and then, because I had to leave in
silence and could not hope to persuade her to let me go alone, I struck her sharply with the
hilt of my dagger on the back of her head, and she fell softly into the hay and straw on the
stable floor. If she hadn't been a Mueller, the blow might well have killed her. As it was, I'd
be lucky if she stayed unconscious for five minutes.
The horses were quiet as I led them out of the stable, and there was no further incident
as I led them to the gate. The high collar of my cloak hid the wound in my throat as I passed
the guards. I half expected to be challenged there, but no. And I wondered why it made so
much difference to Dinte whether I was dead or left Mueller. Either way I would not be there
to plot against him; and I knew that if I ever tried to return a hundred hired assassins would
wait for me behind every corner. Why had he bothered trying to kill me?
As I mounted Hitler and led Himmler along in the faint light of Dissent, the quick
moon, I almost laughed. Only Dinte could have botched the attempt to kill me so badly. But
in the moonlight I soon forgot Dinte, and remembered only Saranna, white with loss of blood
in grief for me as she lay on the floor of the stable. I let the reins fall and plunged my hands
into my tunic to touch my breasts and so remember hers.
Then the slow moon, Freedom, rose in the east, casting a bright light over the plain. I
took the reins again, and urged the horses on, so that daylight would find me far from the
Nkumai. What would I find there? And did I even care?
But I was a dutiful son of Ensel Mueller. I would go, I would see, so that Mueller
might, with luck, conquer.
Behind me I saw lights come on in the castle; torches ran along the walls. They had
discovered I was gone. I could not count on Dinte being bright enough even now to realize
that killing me would be pointless. I dug my heels into Hitler's flanks. He galloped off, and I
clung to the reins with one hand as with the other I tried to ease the pain of the horse's violent
footfalls, each one jarring my chest until I realized that I felt no pain in my breasts. Nor in
the wound in my throat. The pain was deeper in my chest, and in the back of my throat, and
I wept as I sped eastward -- not toward the highway as they would surely, knowing my
mission, suppose; not toward the surrounding enemies who would be glad to give shelter to a
possible tool in their struggle against Mueller imperialism. I went eastward, to the forest of
Ku Kuei, where no man went, and so where no man would think to look for me.
Copyright © 1979, 1988 Orson Scott Card