Shadow Puppets

The Shadow Series (Volume 3)

Orson Scott Card

Tor Science Fiction

SHADOW PUPPETS (chapter 1:GROWN)

From: NoAddress@Untraceable.com#14h9cc0/SIGN UP NOW AND STAY ANONYMOUS!
To: Trireme%Salamis@Attica-vs-Sparta.hst
Re: Final decision

Wiggin:

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

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

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

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

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

Your faithful servant in motley.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bean had, and it was not a game.

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

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

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

"Sir," said Suriyawong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Suriyawong will command this mission," said Peter.

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

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

Bean looked at Suriyawong, who smiled back at him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bean saw her and immediately erupted with anger.

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

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

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

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

"You always overestimate yourself."

"Ho, Bean."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Ever?" asked Bean.

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

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

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

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

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

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

They didn't stop to argue.

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

Bean laughed.

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

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

"Who, Achilles?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No," said Petra.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You fight dirty."

"I fight like a girl."

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

"No we won't," said Petra.

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

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

"The new improved human."

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

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

"Just as camouflage."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes it is," said Petra.

"Not to me."

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

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

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

"For what I don't know."

"For letting me save your life."

"When did that happen?" asked Bean.

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

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

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

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

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

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

SHADOW PUPPETS Copyright © 2002 by Orson Scott Card