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Far Horizons All New Tales From the Greatest Worlds of Science Fiction 13


  All this amused Valentine no end. As long as the royalty checks came to the right place and nobody tried to slip in a faked-up book under her pseudonym, she couldn’t care less who claimed the credit personally. She had worked with pseudonyms—this pseudonym, actually—since childhood, and she was comfortable with that odd mix of fame and anonymity. Best of both worlds, she said to Andrew.

  She had fame, he had notoriety. Thus he used no pseudonym—everyone just assumed his name was a horrible faux pas on the part of his parents. No one named Wiggin should have the gall to name their child Andrew, not after what the Xenocide did, that’s what they seemed to believe. At twenty years of age, it was unthinkable that this young man could be the same Andrew Wiggin. They had no way of knowing that for the past three centuries, he and Valentine had skipped from world to world only long enough for her to find the next story she wanted to research, gather the materials, and then get on the next starship so she could write the book while they journeyed to the next planet. Because of relativistic effects, they had scarcely lost two years of life in the past three hundred of realtime. Valentine immersed herself deeply and brilliantly—who could doubt it, from what she wrote?—into each culture, but Andrew remained a tourist. Or less. He helped Valentine with her research and played with languages a little, but he made almost no friends and stayed aloof from the places. She wanted to know everything; he wanted to love no one.

  Or so he thought, when he thought of it at all. He was lonely, but then told himself that he was glad to be lonely, that Valentine was all the company he needed, while she, needing more, had all the people she met through her research, all the people she corresponded with.

  Right after the war, when he was still Ender, still a child, some of the other children who had served with him wrote letters to him. Since he was the first of them to travel at lightspeed, however, the correspondence soon faltered, for by the time he got a letter and answered it, he was five, ten years younger than they were. He who had been their leader was now a little kid. Exactly the kid they had known, had looked up to; but years had passed in their lives. Most of them had been caught up in the wars that tore Earth apart in the decade following the victory over the Buggers, had grown to maturity in combat or politics. By the time they got Ender’s letter replying to their own, they had come to think of those old days as ancient history, as another life. And here was this voice from the past, answering the child who had written to him, only that child was no longer there. Some of them wept over the letter, remembering their friend, grieving that he alone had not been allowed to return to Earth after the victory. But how could they answer him? At what point could their lives touch?

  Later, most of them took flight to other worlds, while Ender served as the child-governor of a colony on one of the conquered Bugger colony worlds. He came to maturity in that bucolic setting, and, when he was ready, was guided to encounter the last surviving Hive Queen, who told him her story and begged him to take her to a safe place, where her people could be restored. He promised he would do it, and as the first step toward making a world safe for her, he wrote a short book about her, called The Hive Queen. He published it anonymously—at Valentine’s suggestion. He signed it, “The Speaker for the Dead.”

  He had no idea what this book would do, how it would transform humanity’s perception of the Bugger Wars. It was this very book that changed him from the child-hero to the child-monster, from the victor in the Third Bugger War to the Xenocide who destroyed another species quite unnecessarily. Not that they demonized him at first. It was a gradual, step-by-step process. First they pitied the child who had been manipulated into using his genius to destroy the Hive Queen. Then his name came to be used for anyone who did monstrous things without understanding what he was doing. And then his name—popularized as Ender the Xenocide—became a simple shorthand for anyone who does the unconscionable on a monstrous scale. Andrew understood how it happened, and didn’t even disapprove. For no one could blame him more than he blamed himself. He knew that he hadn’t known the truth, but he felt that he should have known, and that even if he couldn’t have intended that the Hive Queens be destroyed, the whole species in one blow, that was nevertheless the effect of his actions. He did what he did, and had to accept responsibility for it.

  Which included the cocoon in which the Hive Queen traveled with him, dry and wrapped up like a family heirloom. He had privileges and clearances that still clung to him from his old status with the military, so his luggage was never inspected. Or at least had not been inspected up to now. His encounter with the tax man Benedetto was the first sign that things might be different for him as an adult.

  Different, but not different enough. He already carried the burden of the destruction of a species. Now he carried the burden of their salvation, their restoration. How would he, a twenty-year-old, barely a man, find a place where the Hive Queen could emerge and lay her fertilized eggs, where no human would discover her and interfere? How could he possibly protect her?

  The money might be the answer. Judging from the way Benedetto’s eyes got large when he saw the list of Andrew’s holdings, there might be quite a lot of money. And Andrew knew that money could be turned into power, among other things. Power, perhaps, to buy safety for the Hive Queen.

  If, that is, he could figure out how much money there was, and how much tax he owed.

  There were experts in this sort of thing, he knew. Lawyers and accountants for whom this was a specialty. But again he thought of Benedetto’s eyes. Andrew knew avarice when he saw it. Anyone who knew about him and his apparent wealth would start trying to find ways to get part of it. Andrew knew that the money was not his. It was blood money, his reward for destroying the Buggers; he needed to use it to restore them before any of the rest of it could ever rightfully be called his own. How could he find someone to help him without opening the door to let the jackals in?

  He discussed this with Valentine, and she promised to ask among her acquaintances here (for she had acquaintances everywhere, through her correspondence) who might be trusted. The answer came quickly: No one. If you have a large fortune and want to find someone to help you protect it, Sorelledolce was not the place to be.

  So day after day Andrew studied tax law for an hour or two and then, for another few hours, tried to come to grips with his own holdings and analyze them from a taxability standpoint. It was mind-numbing work, and every time he thought he understood it, he’d begin to suspect that there was some loophole he was missing, some trick he needed to know to make things work for him. The language in a paragraph that had seemed unimportant now loomed large, and he’d go back and study it and see how it created an exception to a rule he thought applied to him. At the same time, there were special exemptions that applied to only special cases and sometimes only to one company, but almost invariably he had some ownership of that company, or owned shares of a fund that had a holding in it. This wasn’t a matter of a month’s study, this was a career, just tracking what he owned. A lot of wealth can accrue in four hundred years, especially if you’re spending almost none of it. Whatever portion of his allowance he hadn’t used each year was plowed back into new investments. Without even knowing it, it seemed to him that he had his finger in every pie.

  He didn’t want it. It didn’t interest him. The better he understood it the less he cared. He was getting to the point that he didn’t understand why tax attorneys didn’t just kill themselves.

  That’s when the ad showed up in his e-mail. He wasn’t supposed to get advertising—interstellar travelers were automatically off-limits to advertisers, since the advertising money was wasted during their voyage, and the backlog of old ads would overwhelm them when they reached solid ground. Andrew was on solid ground, now, but he hadn’t spent anything, other than subletting a room and shopping for groceries, and neither activity was supposed to get him on anybody’s list.

  Yet here it was: Top Financial Software! The Answer You’re Looking For!

  It was like h
oroscopes—enough blind stabs and some of them are bound to strike a target. Andrew certainly needed financial help, he certainly hadn’t found an answer yet. So instead of deleting the ad, he opened it and let it create its little 3-D presentation on his computer.

  He had watched some of the ads that popped up on Valentine’s computer—her correspondence was so voluminous that there was no chance for her of avoiding it, at least not under her public Demosthenes identity. There were plenty of fireworks and theatrical pieces, dazzling special effects or heart-wrenching dramas used to sell whatever was being sold.

  This one, though, was simple. A woman’s head appeared in the display space, but facing away from him. She glanced around, finally looking far enough over her shoulder to “see” Andrew.

  “Oh, there you are,” she said.

  Andrew said nothing, waiting for her to go on.

  “Well, aren’t you going to answer me?” she asked.

  Good software, he thought. But pretty chancy, to assume that all the recipients would refrain from answering.

  “Oh, I see,” she said. “You think I’m just a program unspooling on your computer. But I’m not. I’m the friend and financial adviser you’ve been wishing for, but I don’t work for money, I work for you. You have to talk to me so I can understand what you want to do with your money, what you want it to accomplish. I have to hear your voice.”

  But Andrew didn’t like playing along with computer programs. He didn’t like participatory theater, either. Valentine had dragged him to a couple of shows where the actors tried to engage the audience. Once a magician had tried to use Andrew in his act, finding objects hidden in his ears and hair and jacket. But Andrew kept his face blank and made no movement, gave no sign that he even understood what was happening, till the magician finally got the idea and moved on. What Andrew wouldn’t do for a live human being he certainly wouldn’t do for a live human being he certainly wouldn’t do for a computer program. He pressed the Page key to get past this talking-head intro.

  “Ouch,” said the woman. “What are you trying to do, get rid of me?”

  “Yes,” said Andrew. Then he cursed himself for having succumbed to the trick. This simulation was so cleverly real that it had finally got him to answer by reflex.

  “Lucky for you that you didn’t have a Page button. Do you have any idea how painful that is? Not to mention humiliating.”

  Having once spoken, there was no reason not to go ahead and use the preferred interface for this program. “Come on, how do I get you off my display so I can get back to the salt mines?” Andrew asked. He deliberately spoke in a fluid, slurring manner, knowing that even the most elaborate speech-recognition software fell apart when it came to accented, slurred, and idiomatic speech.

  “You have holdings in two salt mines,” said the woman. “But they’re both loser investments. You need to get rid of them.”

  This irritated Andrew. “I didn’t assign you any files to read,” he said. “I didn’t even buy this software yet. I don’t want you reading my files. How do I shut you down?”

  “But if you liquidate the salt mines, you can use the proceeds to pay your taxes. It almost exactly covers the year’s fee.”

  “You’re telling me you already figured out my taxes?”

  “You just landed on the planet Sorelledolce, where the tax rates are unconscionably high. But using every exemption left to you, including veterans’ benefit laws that apply to only a handful of living participants in the War of Xenocide, I was able to keep the total fee under five million.”

  Andrew laughed. “Oh, brilliant, even my most pessimistic figure didn’t go over a million five.”

  It was the woman’s turn to laugh. “Your figure was a million and a half starcounts. My figure was under five million firenzette.”

  Andrew calculated the difference in local currency and his smile faded. “That’s seven thousand starcounts.”

  “Seven thousand four hundred and ten,” said the woman. “Am I hired?”

  “There is no legal way you can get me out of paying that much of my taxes.”

  “On the contrary, Mr. Wiggin. The tax laws are designed to trick people into paying more than they have to. That way the rich who are in the know get to take advantage of drastic tax breaks, while those who don’t have such good connections and haven’t yet found an accountant who does are tricked into paying ludicrously higher amounts. I, however, know all the tricks.”

  “A great come-on,” said Andrew. “Very convincing. Except the part where the police come and arrest me.”

  “You think so, Mr. Wiggin?”

  “If you’re going to force me to use a verbal interface,” said Andrew, “at least call me something other than Mister.”

  “How about Andrew?” she said.

  “Fine.”

  “And you must call me Jane.”

  “Must I?”

  “Or I could call you Ender,” she said.

  Andrew froze. There was nothing in his files to indicate that childhood nickname.

  “Terminate this program and get off my computer at once,” he said.

  “As you wish,” she answered.

  Her head disappeared from the screen.

  Good riddance, thought Andrew. If he gave a tax form showing that low an amount to Benedetto, there wasn’t a chance he could avoid a full audit, and from the way Andrew sized up the tax man, Benedetto would come away with a large part of Andrew’s estate for himself. Not that Andrew minded a little enterprise in a man, but he had a feeling Benedetto didn’t know when to say when. No need to wave a red flag in front of his face.

  But as he worked on, he began to wish he hadn’t been so hasty. This Jane software might have pulled the name “Ender” out of its database as a nickname for Andrew. Though it was odd that she should try that name before more obvious choices like Drew or Andy, it was paranoid of him to imagine that a piece of software that got e-mailed into his computer—no doubt a trial-size version of a much larger program—could have known so quickly that he really was the Andrew Wiggin. It just said and did what it was programmed to say and do. Maybe choosing the least-likely nickname was a strategy to get the potential customer to give the correct nickname, which would mean tacit approval to use it—another step closer to the decision to buy.

  And what if that low, low tax figure was accurate? Or what if he could force it to come up with a more reasonable figure? If the software was competently written, it might be just the financial adviser and investment counselor he needed. Certainly it had found the two salt mines quickly enough, triggered by a figure of speech from his childhood on Earth. And their sale value, when he went ahead and liquidated them, was exactly what she had predicted.

  What it had predicted. That human-looking face in the display certainly was a good ploy, to personalize the software and get him to start thinking of it as a person. You could junk a piece of software, but it would be rude to send a person away.

  Well, it hadn’t worked on him. He had sent it away. And would do it again, if he felt the need to. But right now, with only two weeks left before the tax deadline, he thought it might be worth putting up with the annoyance of an intrusive virtual woman. Maybe he could reconfigure the software to communicate with him in text only, as he preferred.

  He went to his e-mail and called up the ad. This time, though, all that appeared was the standard message: “File no longer available.”

  He cursed himself. He had no idea of the planet of origin. Maintaining a link across the ansible was expensive. Once he shut down the demo program, the link would be allowed to die—no point in wasting precious interstellar link time on a customer who didn’t instantly buy. Oh, well. Nothing to be done about it now.

  Benedetto found the project taking him almost more time than it was worth, tracing this fellow back to find out whom he was working with. It wasn’t that easy, tracking him from voyage to voyage. All his fights were special issue, classified—again, proof that he worked with some branch of some
government—and he only found the voyage before this one by accident. Soon enough, though, Benedetto realized that if he tracked his mistress or sister or secretary or whatever this Valentine woman was, he would have a much easier time of it.

  What surprised him was how briefly they stayed in any one place. With only a few voyages, Benedetto had traced them back three hundred years, to the very dawn of the colonizing age, and for the first time it occurred to him that it wasn’t inconceivable that this Andrew Wiggin might be the very…

  No, no. He could not let himself believe it yet. But if it were true, if this were really the war criminal who…

  The blackmail possibilities were astounding.

  How was it possible that no one else had done this obvious research on Andrew and Valentine Wiggin? Or were they already paying blackmailers on several worlds?

  Or were the blackmailers all dead? Benedetto would have to be careful. People with this much money invariably had powerful friends. Benedetto would have to find friends of his own to protect him as he moved forward with his new plan.

  Valentine showed it to Andrew as an oddity. “I’ve heard of this before, but this is the first time we’ve ever been close enough to attend one.” It was a local newsnet announcement of a “speaking” for a dead man.