To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Re: When Andrew Returns Home
Dear John Paul and Theresa Wiggin,
You understand that during the recent attempt by the Warsaw Pact to take over the International Fleet, our sole concern at EducAdmin was the safety of the children. Now we are finally able to begin working out the logistics of sending the children home.
We assure you that Andrew will be provided with continuous surveillance and an active bodyguard throughout his transfer from the IF to American government control. We are still negotiating the degree to which the IF will continue to provide protection after the transfer.
Every effort is being made by EducAdmin to assure that Andrew will be able to return to the most normal childhood possible. However, I wish your advice about whether he should be retained here in isolation until the conclusion of the inquiries into EducAdmin actions during the late campaign. It is quite likely that testimony will be offered that depicts Andrew and his actions in damaging ways, in order to attack EducAdmin through him (and the other children). Here at IFCOM we can keep him from hearing the worst of it; on Earth, no such protection will be possible and it is likelier that he will be called to "testify."
Theresa Wiggin was sitting up in bed, holding her printout of Graff's letter. "'Called to "testify."' Which means putting him on exhibit as -- what, a hero? More likely a monster, since we already have various senators decrying the exploitation of children."
"That'll teach him to save the human race," said her husband, John Paul.
"This is not a time for flippancy."
"Theresa, be reasonable," said John Paul. "I want Ender home as much as you do."
"No you don't," said Theresa fiercely. "You don't ache with the need for him every day." Even as she said it she knew she was being unfair to him, and she covered her eyes and shook her head.
To his credit, he understood and didn't argue with her about what he did and did not feel. "You can never have the years they've taken, Theresa. He's not the boy we knew."
"Then we'll get to know the boy he is. Here. In our home."
"Surrounded by guards."
"That's the part I refuse to accept. Who would want to hurt him?"
John Paul set down the book he was no longer pretending to read. "Theresa, you're the smartest person I know."
"He's a child!"
"He won a war against incredibly superior forces."
"He fired off one weapon. Which he did not design or deploy."
"He got that weapon into firing range."
"The formics are gone! He's a hero, he's not in danger."
"All right, Theresa, he's a hero. How is he going to go to middle school? What eighth grade teacher is ready for him? What school dance is he going to be ready for?"
"It will take time. But here, with his family --"
"Yes, we're such a warm, welcoming group of people, a love nest into which he'll fit so easily."
"We do love each other!"
"Theresa, Colonel Graff is only trying to warn us that Ender isn't just our son."
"He's nobody else's son."
"You know who wants to kill our son."
"No, I don't."
"Every government that thinks of American military power as an obstacle to their plans."
"But Ender isn't going to be in the military, he's going to be --"
"This week he won't be in the American military. Maybe. He won a war at the age of twelve, Theresa. What makes you think he won't be drafted by our benevolent and democratic government the moment he gets back to Earth? Or put into protective custody? Maybe they'll let us go with him and maybe they won't."
Theresa let the tears flow down her cheeks. "So you're saying that when he left here we lost him forever."
"I'm saying that when your child goes off to war, you will never get him back. Not as he was, not the same boy. Changed, if he comes back at all. So let me ask you? Do you want him to go where he's in the greatest danger, or to stay where he's relatively safe?"
"You think Graff is trying to get us to tell him to keep Ender with him out there in space."
"I think Graff cares what happens to Ender, and he's letting us know -- without actually saying it, because every letter he sends can be used against him in court -- that Ender is in terrible danger. Not ten minutes after Ender's victory, the Russians made their brutal play for control of the IF. Their soldiers killed thousands of fleet officers before the IF was able to force their surrender. What would they have done if they had won? Brought Ender home and put on a big parade for him?"
Theresa knew all of this. She had known it, viscerally at least, from the moment she read Graff's letter. No, she had known it even before, had known it with a sick dread as soon as she heard that the Formic War was over. He would not be coming home.
She felt John Paul's hand on her shoulder. She shrugged it off. His hand returned, stroking her arm as she lay there, facing away from him, crying because she knew she had already lost the argument, crying because she wasn't even on her own side in their quarrel.
"We knew when he was born that he didn't belong to us."
"He does belong to us."
"If he comes home, his life belongs to whatever government has the power to protect him and use him -- or kill him. He's the single most important asset surviving from the war. The great weapon. That's all he'll be -- that and such a celebrity he can't possibly have a normal childhood anyway. And would we be much help, Theresa? Do we understand what his life has been for the past seven years? What kind of parents can we be to the boy -- the man -- that he's become?"
"We would be wonderful," she said.
"And we know this because we're such perfect parents for the children we have at home with us."
Theresa rolled onto her back. "Oh, dear. Poor Peter. It must be killing him that Ender might come home."
"Take the wind right out of his sails."
"Oh, I'm not sure of that," said Theresa. "I bet Peter is already figuring out how to exploit Ender's return."
"Until he finds out that Ender is much too clever to be exploited."
"What preparation does Ender have for politics? He's been in the military all this time."
John Paul chuckled.
"All right, yes, of course the military is just as political as government."
"But you're right," said John Paul. "Ender's had protection there, people who intended to exploit him, yes, but he hasn't had to do any bureaucratic fighting for himself. He's probably a babe in the woods when it comes to maneuvering like that."
"So Peter really could use him?"
"That's not what worries me. What worries me is what Peter will do when hefinds out that he can't use him."
Theresa sat back up and faced her husband. "You can't think Peter would raise a hand against Ender!"
"Peter doesn't raise his own hand to do anything difficult or dangerous. You know how he's been using Valentine."
"Only because she lets him use her."
"Exactly my point," said John Paul.
"Ender is not in danger from his own family."
"Theresa, we have to decide: What's best for Ender? What's best for Peter and Valentine? What's best for the future of the world?"
"Sitting here on our bed, in the middle of the night, the two of us are deciding the fate of the world?"
"When we conceived little Andrew, my dear, we decided the fate of the world."
"And had a good time doing it," she added.
"Is it good for Ender to come home? Will it make him happy?"
"Do you really think he's forgotten us?" she asked. "Do you think Ender doesn't care whether he comes home?"
"Coming home lasts a day or two. Then there's living here. The danger from foreign powers, the unnaturalness of his life at school, the constant infringements on his privacy, and let's not forget Peter's unquenchable ambition and envy. So I ask again, will Ender's life here be happier than it would be if ..."
"If he stays out in space? What kind of life will that be for him?"
"The IF has made its commitment -- total neutrality in regard to anything happening on Earth. If they have Ender, then the whole world -- every government -- will know they'd better not try to go up against the Fleet."
"So by not coming home, Ender continues to save the world on an ongoing basis," said Theresa. "What a useful life he'll have."
"The point is that nobody else can use him."
Theresa put on her sweetest voice. "So you think we should write back to Graff and tell him that we don't want Ender to come home?"
"We can't do anything of the kind," said John Paul. "We'll write back that we're eager to see our son and we don't think any bodyguard will be necessary."
It took her a moment to realize why he seemed to be reversing everything he'd said. "Any letters we send Graff," she said, "will be just as public as the letter he sent us. And just as empty. And we do nothing and let things take their course."
"No, my dear," said John Paul. "It happens that living in our own house, under our own roof, are two of the most influential formers of public opinion."
"But John Paul, officially we don't know that our children are sneaking around in the nets, manipulating events through Peter's network of correspondents and Valentine's brilliantly perverse talent for demagoguery."
"And they don't know that we have any brains," said John Paul. "They seem to think they were left at our house by fairies instead of having our genetic material throughout their little bodies. They treat us as convenient samples of ignorant public opinion. So ... let's give them some public opinions that will steer them to do what's best for their brother."
"What's best," echoed Theresa. "We don't know what's best."
"No," said John Paul. "We only know what seems best. But one thing's certain -- we know a lot more about it than any of our children do."
Valentine came home from school with anger festering inside her. Stupid teachers -- it made her crazy sometimes to ask a question and have the teacher patiently explain things to her as if the question were a sign of Valentine's failure to understand the subject, instead of the teacher's. But Valentine sat there and took it, as the equation showed up in the holodisplay on everybody's desk and the teacher covered it point by point.
Then Valentine drew a little circle in the air around the element of the problem that the teacher had not addressed properly -- the reason why the answer was not right. Valentine's circle did not show up on all the desks, of course; only the teacher's computer had that capability.
So the teacher then got to draw his own circle around that number and say, "What you're not noticing here, Valentine, is that even with this explanation, if you ignore this element you still can't get the right answer."
It was such an obvious ego-protective coverup. But of course it was obvious only to Valentine. To the other students, who were barely grasping the material anyway (especially since it was being explained to them by an unobservant incompetent), it was Val who had overlooked the circled parenthetical, even though it was precisely because of that element that she had asked her question in the first place.
And the teacher gave her that simpering smile that clearly said, "You aren't going to defeat me and humiliate me in front of this class."
But Valentine was not trying to humiliate him. She did not care about him. She simply cared that the material be taught well enough that if, God forbid, some member of the class became a civil engineer, his bridges wouldn't fall down and kill people.
That was the difference between her and the idiots of the world. They were all trying to look smart and keep their social standing. Whereas Valentine didn't care about social standing, she cared about getting it right. Getting the truth -- when the truth was gettable.
She had said nothing to the teacher and nothing to any of the students and she knew she wouldn't get any sympathy at home, either. Peter would mock her for caring about school enough to let that clown of a teacher get under her skin. Father would look at the problem, point out the correct answer, and go back to his work without ever noticing that Val wasn't asking for help, she was asking for commiseration.
And Mother? She would be all for charging down to the school and doing something about it, raking the teacher over the coals. Mother wouldn't even hear Val explaining that she didn't want to shame the teacher, she just wanted somebody to say, "Isn't it ironic, that in this special advanced school for really bright kids, they have a teacher who doesn't know his own subject!" To which Val could reply, "It sure is!" and then she'd feel better. Like somebody was on her side. Somebody got it and she wasn't alone.
My needs are simple and few, thought Valentine. Food. Clothing. A comfortable place to sleep. And no idiots.
But of course a world with no idiots would be lonely. If she herself were even allowed there. It's not as if she never made mistakes.
Like the mistake of ever letting Peter rope her into being Demosthenes. He still thought he needed to tell her what to write every day after school -- as if, after all these years, she had not completely internalized the character. She could write Demosthenes' essays in her sleep.
And if she needed help, all she had to do was listen to Father pontificate on world affairs -- since he seemed to echo all of Demosthenes' warmongering jingoistic demagogic opinions despite claiming never to read the columns.
If he knew his sweet naive little daughter was writing those essays, he'd poop petunias.
She fumed into the house, headed straight for her computer, scanned the news, and started writing the essay she knew Peter would assign her -- a diatribe on how the IF should not have ended the hostilities with the Warsaw Pact without first demanding that Russia surrender all her nukes, because shouldn't there be some cost to waging a nakedly aggressive war? All the usual spewings from her Demosthenes anti-avatar.
Or am I, as Demosthenes, Peter's real avatar? Have I been turned into a virtual person?
Click. An email. Anything would be better than what she was writing.
It was from mother. She was forwarding an email from Colonel Graff. About Ender having a bodyguard when he came home.
"I thought you'd want to see this," Mother had written. "Isn't it just THRILLING that Andrew's homecoming is SO CLOSE?"
Stop shouting, Mother. Why do you use caps for emphasis like that? It's so -- junior high school. It's what she told Peter more than once. Mother is such a cheerleader.
Mother's epistle went on in the same vein. It'll take NO time at ALL to get Ender's room back into shape for him and now there doesn't seem to be any reason to put off cleaning the room a SECOND longer unless what do you think, would Peter want to SHARE his room with his little brother so they could BOND and get CLOSE again? And what do you think Ender will want for his VERY FIRST meal home?
Food, Mother. Whatever it is will definitely be "SPECIAL enough to make him feel LOVED and MISSED."
Anyway. Mother was so naive to take Graff's letter at face value. Val went back and read it again. Surveillance. Bodyguard. Graff was sending her a warning, not trying to get her all excited about Ender's homecoming. Ender was going to be in danger. Couldn't Mother see that?
Graff asks if they should keep Ender in space till the inquiries were over. But that would take months. How could Mother have gotten the idea that Ender was coming home so soon it was time to clear out the junk that had gotten stacked in his room? Graff was asking her to request that he not be sent home just yet. And his reason was that Ender was in danger.
Instantly the whole range of dangers that Ender faced loomed before her. The Russians would assume that Ender was a weapon that America would use against them. The Chinese would think the same -- that America, armed with this Ender-weapon, might become aggressive about intruding into China's sphere of influence again. Both nations would breathe easier if Ender were dead. Though of course they'd have to make it look like the assassination had been carried out by some kind of terrorist movement. Which meant that they wouldn't just snipe Ender out of existence, they'd probably blow up his school.
No, no, no, Val told herself. Just because that's the kind of thing Demosthenes would say doesn't mean it's what you have to think!
But the image of somebody blowing Ender up or shooting him or whatever method they used -- all the methods kept flashing through her mind. Wouldn't it be ironic -- yet typically human -- for the person who saved the human race to be assassinated? It was like the murder of Abraham Lincoln or Mohandas Gandhi. Some people just didn't know who their saviors were. And the fact that Ender was still a kid wouldn't even slow them down.
He can't come home, she thought. Mother will never see it, I could never say it to her, but ... even if they weren't going to assassinate him, what would his life be like here? Ender was never one to seek fame or status, and yet everything he did would end up on the vids with people commenting on how he did his hair (Vote! Like it or hate it?) and what classes he was taking in school (What will the hero be when he grows up? Vote on the career you think The Wiggin should prepare for!)
What a nightmare. It wouldn't be coming home. They could never bring Ender home anyway. The home he left didn't exist. The kid who was taken out of that home didn't exist either. When Ender was here -- not even a whole year ago -- when Val went to the lake and spent those hours with him, Ender seemed so old. Playful sometimes, yes, but he felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. Now the burden had been taken off -- but the aftermath would cling to him, would tie him down, tear down his life.
The years of childhood were gone. Period. Ender didn't get to be a little boy growing up into an adolescent in his father's and mother's house. He was already an adolescent now -- in years and hormones -- and an adult in the responsibilities he'd borne.
If school feels empty to me, how will it feel to Ender?
Even as she finished writing her essay on Russia's nukes and the cost of defeat, she was mentally structuring another essay. The one explaining why Ender Wiggin should not be brought back to Earth because he'd be the target of every crank and spy and paparazzo and assassin and a normal life would be impossible.
She didn't write it, though. Because she knew there was a huge problem: Peter would hate it.
Because Peter already had his plans. His online persona, Locke, had already started laying the groundwork for Ender's homecoming. It was clear to Valentine that when Ender returned, Peter intended to come out of the closet as the real author of the Locke essays -- and therefore the person who came up with the terms of the truce that was still holding between the Warsaw Pact and the IF. Peter meant to piggyback on Ender's fame. Ender saved the human race from the formics, and his big brother Peter saved the world from civil war in the aftermath of Ender's victory. Double heroes!
Ender would hate the notoriety. Peter was so hungry for it that he intended to steal as much of Ender's as he could get.
Oh, he'd never admit that, thought Valentine. Peter will have all kinds of reasons why it's for Ender's own good. Probably the very reasons I've thought of.
And since that's the case, am I doing just what Peter does? Have I come up with all these reasons for Ender not to come home, solely because in my heart I don't want him here?
At that thought, such a wave of emotion swept over her that she found herself weeping at her homework table. She wanted him home. And even though she understood that he couldn't really come home -- Colonel Graff was right -- she still yearned for the little brother who was stolen from her. All these years with the brother I hate, and now, for the sake of the brother I love, I'll work to keep him from ...
From me? No, I don't have to keep him from me. I hate school, I hate my life here, I hate hate hate being under Peter's thumb. Why should I stay? Why shouldn't I go out into space with Ender? At least for a while. I'm the one he's closest to. I'm the only one he's seen in the past seven years. If he can't come home, one bit of home -- me -- can come to him!
It was all a matter of persuading Peter that it wasn't in his best interest to have Ender come back to Earth -- without letting Peter know that she was trying to manipulate him.
It just made her tired, because Peter wasn't easy to manipulate. He saw through everything. So she had to be quite forthright and honest about what she was doing -- but do it with such subtle overtones of humility and earnestness and dispassion and whatever that Peter could get past his own condescension toward everything she said and decide that he had thought that way all along and ...
And is my real motive that I want to get off planet myself? Is this about Ender or about me getting free?
Both. It can be both. And I'll tell Ender the truth about that -- I won't be giving up anything to be with him. I'd rather be with him in space and never see Earth again than stay here, with or without him. Without him: an aching void. With him: the pain of watching him lead a miserable, frustrated life.
Val began to write a letter to Colonel Graff. Mother had been careless enough to include Graff's address. That was almost a security breach. Mother was so naive sometimes. If she were an IF officer, she would have been cashiered long ago.
At dinner that night, Mother couldn't stop talking about Ender's homecoming. Peter listened with only half his attention, because of course Mother couldn't see past her personal sentimentality about her "lost little boy coming back to the nest" whereas Peter understood that Ender's return would be horribly complicated. So much to prepare for -- and not just the stupid bedroom. Ender could have Peter's own bed, for all he cared -- what mattered was that for a brief window of time, Ender would be the center of the world's attention, and that was when Locke would emerge from the cloak of anonymity and put an end to the speculation about the identity of the "great benefactor of humanity who, because of his modesty in remaining anonymous, cannot receive the Nobel prize that he so richly deserves for having led us to the end of the last war of mankind."
That from a rather gushy fan of Locke's -- who also happened to be the head of the opposition party in Great Britain. Naive to imagine even for a moment that the brief attempt by the New Warsaw Pact to take over the IF was the "last war." There's only one way to have a "last war," and that's to have the whole of Earth under a single, effective, powerful, but popular leader.
And the way to introduce that leader would be to find him on camera, standing beside the great Ender Wiggin with his arm flung across the hero's shoulders because -- and who should be surprised by this? -- the "Boy of War" and the "Man of Peace" are brothers!
And now Father was blathering about something. Only he had addressed something to Peter directly and so Peter had to play the dutiful son and listen as if he cared.
"I really think you need to commit to the career you want to pursue before your brother gets home, Peter."
"And why is that?" asked Peter.
"Oh, don't pretend to be so naive. Don't you realize that Ender Wiggin's brother can get into any college he wants?"
Father pronounced the words as if they were the most brilliant ever spoken aloud by someone who had not yet been deified by the Roman senate or sainted by the Pope or whatever. It would never occur to Father that Peter's perfect grades and his perfect score on all the college-entry tests would already get him into any school he wanted. He didn't have to piggyback on his brother's fame. But no, to Father everything good in Peter's life would always be seen as flowing from Ender. Ender Ender Ender Ender what a stupid name.
If Father's thinking this way, no doubt everybody else will, too. At least everybody below a certain minimum intelligence.
All Peter had been seeing was the publicity bonus that Ender's homecoming would offer. But Father had reminded him of something else -- that everything he did would be discounted in people's minds precisely because he was Ender the Great's older brother. People would see them standing side by side, yes -- but they'd wonder why Ender's brother had not been taken into Battle School. It would make Peter look weak and inferior and vulnerable.
There he'd stand, noticeably taller, the brother who stayed home and didn't do anything. "Oh, but I wrote all the Locke essays and shut down the conflict with Russia before it could turn into a world war!" Well, if you're so smart, why weren't you helping your little brother save the human race from complete destruction?
Public relations opportunity, yes. But also a nightmare.
How could he use the opportunity Ender's great victory offered, yet not have it look like he was nothing but a hanger on, sucking at his brother's fame like a remora? How ghastly if his announcement sounded like some sad kind of me-too-ism. Oh, you think my brother's cool? Well, I'll have you know that I saved the world too. In my own sad, needy little way.
"Are you all right, Peter?" asked Valentine.
"Oh, is something wrong?" asked Mother. "Let me look at you, dear."
"I'm not taking my shirt off or letting you use a rectal thermometer on me, Mother, because Val is hallucinating and I look just fine.
"I'll have you know that if and when I start hallucinating," said Val, "I can think of something better that seeing your face looking pukish."
"What a great commercial idea," said Peter, almost by reflex now. "Choose Your Own Hallucination! Oh, wait, they have that one -- they call it 'illegal drugs.'"
"Don't sneer at us needy ones," said Val. "Those who are addicted to ego don't need drugs."
"Children," said Mother. "Is this what Ender will find when he comes home?"
"Yes," said Val and Peter simultaneously.
Father spoke up. "I'd like to think he might find you a bit more mature."
But by now Peter and Val were laughing uproariously. They couldn't stop, so Father sent them from the table.
Peter glanced through Val's essay on Russian nukes. "This is so boring."
"I don't think so," said Valentine. "They have the nukes and that keeps other countries from slapping them down when they need it -- which is often."
"What's this thing you've got against Russia?"
"It's Demosthenes who has something against Russia," said Val with fake nonchalance.
"Good," said Peter. "So Demosthenes will not be worried about Russian nuclear weapons, he'll be worried about Russia getting its hands on the most valuable weapon of them all."
"The Molecular Disruption Device?" asked Val. "The IF will never bring it within firing range of earth."
"Not the M.D. Device, you poor sap. I'm referring to our brother. Our civilization-destroying junior sib."
"Don't you dare talk about him so mockingly!"
Peter's expression turned into a mocking simper. But behind his visage there was anger and hurt. She still had the power to get to him, just by making it clear how much more she loved Ender.
"Demosthenes is going to write an essay pointing out that America must get Andrew Wiggin back to Earth immediately. No more delays. The world is too dangerous a place for America not to have the immediate services of the greatest military leader the world has ever known."
Immediately a fresh wave of hatred for Peter swept over Valentine. Partly because she realized his approach would work far better than the essay she had already written. She hadn't internalized Demosthenes as well as she thought. Demosthenes would absolutely call for Ender's immediate return and enlistment in the American military.
And that would be as destabilizing, in its own way, as a call for forward deployment of nukes. Demosthenes' essays were watched very carefully by the rivals and enemies of the United States. If he called for Ender to come home at once, they would all start maneuvering to keep Ender in space; and some, at least, would openly accuse America of having aggressive intentions.
It would then be Locke's place, in a few days or weeks, to come up with a compromise, a statesmanlike solution: Leave the kid in space.
Valentine knew exactly why Peter had changed his mind. It was that stupid remark of Father's at dinner -- his reminder that Peter would be in Ender's shadow, no matter what he did.
Well, even political sheep sometimes said something that had a good result. Now Val wouldn't even have to persuade Peter of the need to keep Ender away from Earth. It would be all his idea instead of hers.
Theresa once again sat on the bed, crying. Strewn about her were printouts of the Demosthenes and Locke essays that she knew would keep Ender from returning home.
"I can't help it," she said to her husband. "I know it's the right thing -- just as Graff wanted us to understand it. But I thought I'd see him again. I really did."
John Paul sat beside her on the bed and put his arms around her. "It's the hardest thing we ever did."
"Not giving him up in the first place?"
"That was hard," said John Paul, "but we didn't have a choice. They were going to take him anyway. This time, though. You know that if we went on the nets and put up vids of us pleading for our son to come home -- we'd have a pretty good chance."
"And our little boy is going to wonder why we don't do it."
"Not he's not."
"Oh, you think he's so smart he'll figure out what we're doing? Why we're doing nothing?"
"Why wouldn't he?"
"Because he doesn't know us," said Theresa. "He doesn't know what we think or feel. As far as he can tell, we've forgotten all about him."
"One thing I feel good about, in this whole mess," said John Paul. "We're still good at manipulating our genius children."
"Oh, that," said Theresa dismissively. "It's easy to manipulate your children when they're absolutely sure you're stupid."
Re: You know the truth
You know who decides what to write. No doubt you can even guess why. I'm not going to try to defend my essay, or how it's being used by others.
You once used the sister of Andrew Wiggin to persuade him to go back into space and win that little war you were fighting. She did her job, didn't she? Such a good girl, fulfills all her assignments.
Well I have an assignment for her. You once sent her brother to her, for comfort and company. He'll need her again, more than ever, only he can't come to her. No house by the lake this time. But there's no reason she can't go out into space to be with him. Enlist her in the IF, pay her as a consultant, whatever it takes. But she and her brother need each other. More than either of them needs Life On Earth.
Don't second guess her on this. Remember that she's smarter than you are, and she loves her younger brother more than you do, and besides, you're a decent man. You know this is right and good. You always try to bring about what's right and good, don't you?
Do us both a favor. Take this letter and shred it and stick it where the sun don't shine.
Your devoted and humble servant -- everybody's devoted and humble servant -- the humble and devoted servant of truth and noble jingoism -- Demosthenes.
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