Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Minority Report

The first thought Anderton had when he saw the young man was: I'm getting bald. Bald and fat and old. But he didn't say it aloud. Instead, he pushed back his chair, got to his feet, and came resolutely around the side of his desk, his right hand rigidly extended. Smiling with forced amiability, he shook hands with the young man.

"Witwer?" he asked, managing to make this query sound gracious.

"That's right," the young man said. "But the name's Ed to you, of course. That is, if you share my dislike for needless formality." The look on his blond, overly-confident face showed that he considered the matter settled. It would be Ed and John: Everything would be agreeably cooperative right from the start.

"Did you have much trouble finding the building?" Anderton asked guardedly, ignoring the too-friendly overture. Good God, he had to hold on to something. Fear touched him and he began to sweat. Witwer was moving around the office as if he already owned it—as if he were measuring it for size. Couldn't he wait a couple of days—a decent interval?

"No trouble," Witwer answered blithely, his hands in his pockets. Eagerly, he examined the voluminous files that lined the wall. "I'm not coming into your agency blind, you understand. I have quite a few ideas of my own about the way Precrime is run."

Shakily, Anderton lit his pipe. "How is it run? I should like to know."

"Not badly," Witwer said. "In fact, quite well."

Anderton regarded him steadily. "Is that your private opinion? Or is it just cant?"

Witwer met his gazeguilelessly. "Private and public. The Senate's pleased with your work. In fact, they're enthusiastic." He added, "As enthusiastic as very old men can be."

Anderton winced, but outwardly he remained impassive. It cost him an effort, though. He wondered what Witwer really thought. What was actually going on in that closecropped skull? The young man's eyes were blue, bright-and disturbingly clever. Witwer was nobody's fool. And obviously he had a great deal of ambition.

"As I understand it," Anderton said cautiously, "you're going to be my assistant until I retire."

"That's my understanding, too," the other replied, without an instant's hesitation.

"Which may be this year, or next year—or ten years from now." The pipe in Anderton's hand trembled. "I'm under no compulsion to retire. I founded Precrime and I can stay on here as long as I want. It's purely my decision."

Witwer nodded, his expression still guileless. "Of course."

With an effort, Anderton cooled down a trifle. "I merely wanted to get things straight."

"From the start," Witwer agreed. "You're the boss. What you say goes." With every evidence of sincerity, he asked: "Would you care to show me the organization? I'd like to familiarize myself with the general routine as soon as possible."

As they walked along the busy, yellow-lit tiers of offices, Anderton said: "You're acquainted with the theory of precrime, of course. I presume we can take that for granted."

"I have the information publicly available," Witwer replied. "With the aid of your precog mutants, you've boldly and successfully abolished the postcrime punitive system of jails and fines. As we all realize, punishment was never much of a deterrent, and could scarcely have afforded comfort to a victim already dead."

They had come to the descent lift. As it carried them swiftly downward, Anderton said: "You've probably grasped the basic legalistic drawback to precrime methodology. We're taking in individuals who have broken no law."

"But they surely will," Witwer affirmed with conviction.

"Happily they don't—because we get them first, before they can commit an act of violence. So the commission of the crime itself is absolute metaphysics. We claim they're culpable. They, on the other hand, eternally claim they're innocent. And, in a sense, they are innocent."

The lift let them out, and they again paced down a yellow corridor. "In our society we have no major crimes," Anderton went on, "but we do have a detention camp full of would-be criminals."

Doors opened and closed, and they were in the analytical wing. Ahead of them rose impressive banks of equipment—the data-receptors, and the computing mechanisms that studied and restructured the incoming material. And beyond the machinery sat the three precogs, almost lost to view in the maze of wiring.

"There they are," Anderton said dryly. "What do you think of them?"

In the gloomy half-darkness the three idiots sat babbling. Every incoherent utterance, every random syllable, was analyzed, compared, reassembled in the form of visual symbols, transcribed on conventional punchcards, and ejected into various coded slots. All day long the idiots babbled, imprisoned in their special high-backed chairs, held in one rigid position by metal bands, and bundles of wiring, clamps. Their physical needs were taken care of automatically. They had no spiritual needs. Vegetable-like, they muttered and dozed and existed. Their minds were dull, confused, lost in shadows.

But not the shadows of today. The three gibbering, fumbling creatures, with their enlarged heads and wasted bodies, were contemplating the future. The analytical machinery was recording prophecies, and as the three precog idiots talked, the machinery carefully listened.

For the first time Witwer's face lost its breezy confidence. A sick, dismayed expression crept into his eyes, a mixture of shame and moral shock. "It's not—pleasant," he murmured. "I didn't realize they were so—" He groped in his mind for the right word, gesticulating. "So—deformed."

"Deformed and retarded," Anderton instantly agreed. "Especially the girl, there. Donna is forty-five years old. But she looks about ten. The talent absorbs everything; the esp-lobe shrivels the balance of the frontal area. But what do we care? We get their prophecies. They pass on what we need. They don't understand any of it, but we do."

Subdued, Witwer crossed the room to the machinery. From a slot he collected a stack of cards. "Are these names that have come up?" he asked.

"Obviously." Frowning, Anderton took the stack from him. "I haven't had a chance to examine them," he explained, impatiently concealing his annoyance.

Fascinated, Witwer watched the machinery pop a fresh card into the now empty slot. It was followed by a second—and a third. From the whirring disks came one card after another. "The precogs must see quite far into the future," Witwer exclaimed.

"They see a quite limited span," Anderton informed him. "One week or two ahead at the very most. Much of their data is worthless to us—simply not relevant to our line. We pass it on to the appropriate agencies. And they in turn trade data with us. Every important bureau has its cellar of treasured monkeys."

"Monkeys?" Witwer stared at him uneasily. "Oh, yes, I understand. See no evil, speak no evil, et cetera. Very amusing."

"Very apt." Automatically, Anderton collected the fresh cards which had been turned up by the spinning machinery. "Some of these names will be totally discarded. And most of the remainder record petty crimes: thefts, income tax evasion, assault, extortion. As I'm sure you know, Precrime has cut down felonies by ninety-nine and decimal point eight percent. We seldom get actual murder or treason. After all, the culprit knows we'll confine him in the detention camp a week before he gets a chance to commit the crime."

"When was the last time an actual murder was committed?" Witwer asked.

"Five years ago," Anderton said, pride in his voice.

"How did it happen?"

"The criminal escaped our teams. We had his name-in fact, we had all the details of the crime, including the victim's name. We knew the exact moment, the location of the planned act of violence. But in spite of us he was able to carry it out." Anderton shrugged. "After all, we can't get all of them." He riffled the cards. "But we do get most."

"One murder in five years." Witwer's confidence was returning. "Quite an impressive record . . . something to be proud of."

Quietly Anderton said: "I am proud. Thirty years ago I worked out the theory-back in the days when the self-seekers were thinking in terms of quick raids on the stock market. I saw something legitimate ahead-something of tremendous social value."

He tossed the packet of cards to Wally Page, his subordinate in charge of the monkey block. "See which ones we want," he told him. "Use your own judgment."

As Page disappeared with the cards, Witwer said thoughtfully: "It's a big responsibility."

"Yes, it is," agreed Anderton. "If we let one criminal escape—as we did five years ago—we've got a human life on our conscience. We're solely responsible. If we slip up, somebody dies." Bitterly, he jerked three new cards from the slot. "It's a public trust."

"Are you ever tempted to—" Witwer hesitated. "I mean, some of the men you pick up must offer you plenty."

"It wouldn't do any good. A duplicate file of cards pops out at Army GHQ. It's check and balance. They can keep their eye on us as continuously as they wish." Anderton glanced briefly at the top card. "So even if we wanted to accept a—"

He broke off, his lips tightening.

"What's the matter?" Witwer asked curiously.

Carefully, Anderton folded up the top card and put it away in his pocket. "Nothing," he muttered. "Nothing at all."

The harshness in his voice brought a flush to Witwer's face. "You really don't like me," he observed.

"True," Anderton admitted. "I don't. But—"

He couldn't believe he disliked the young man that much. It didn't seem possible: it wasn't possible. Something was wrong. Dazed, he tried to steady his tumbling mind.

On the card was his name. Line one—an already accused future murderer! According to the coded punches, Precrime Commissioner John A. Anderton was going to kill a man-and within the next week.

With absolute, overwhelming conviction, he didn't believe it.

Copyright 1956 by Philip K. Dick. Copyright renewed 1984 by Laura Coelho, Christopher Dick, and Isa Dick.

The Minority Report

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Crack in Space

The young couple, black-haired, dark-skinned, probably Mexican or Puerto Rican, stood nervously at Herb Lackmore's counter and the boy, the husband, said in a low voice, 'Sir, we want to be put to sleep. We want to become bibs.'
Rising from his desk, Lackmore walked to the counter and although he did not like Cols -- there seemed to be more of them every month, coming into his Oakland branch office of the U.S. Department on Special Public Welfare -- he said in a pleasant tone of voice designed to reassure the two of them, 'Have you thought it over carefully, folks? It's a big step. You might be out for, say, a few hundred years. Have you shopped for any professional advice about this?'
The boy, glancing at his wife, swallowed and murmured, 'No, sir. We just decided between us. Neither of us can get a job and we're about to be evicted from our dorm. We don't even own a wheel, and what can you do without a wheel? You can't go anywhere. You can't even look for work.' He was not a bad-looking boy, Lackmore noticed. Possibly eighteen, he still wore the coat and trousers which were army-separation issue. The girl had long hair; she was quite small, with black, bright eyes and a delicately-formed almost doll-like face. She never ceased watching her husband.
'I'm going to have a baby,' the girl blurted.
'Aw, the heck with both of you,' Lackmore said in disgust, drawing his breath in sharply. 'You both get right out of here.'
Ducking their heads guiltily the boy and his wife turned and started from Lackmore's office, back outside onto the busy downtown early-morning Oakland, California street.
'Go see an abort-consultant!' Lackmore called after themirritably. He resented having to help them, but obviously someone had to; look at the spot they had gotten themselves into. Because no doubt they were living on a government military pension, and if the girl was pregnant the pension would automatically be withdrawn.
Plucking hesitantly at the sleeve of his wrinkled coat the Col boy said, 'Sir, how do we find an abort-consultant?'
The ignorance of the dark-skinned strata, despite the government's ceaseless educational campaigns. No wonder their women were often preg. 'Look in the phone book,' Lackmore said. 'Under abortionists, therapeutic. Then the subsection advisors. Got it?'
'Yes, sir. Thank you.' The boy nodded rapidly.
'Can you read?'
'Yes. I stayed in school until I was thirteen.' On the boy's face fierce pride showed; his black eyes gleamed.
Lackmore returned to reading his homeopape; he did not have any more time to offer gratis. No wonder they wanted to become bibs. Preserved, unchanged, in a government warehouse, year after year, until -- would the labor market ever improve? Lackmore personally doubted it, and he had been around a long time; he was ninety-five years old, a jerry. In his time he had put to sleep thousands of people, almost all of them, like this couple, young. And -- dark.
The door of the office shut. The young couple had gone again as quietly as they had come.
Sighing, Lackmore began to read once more the pape's article on the divorce trial of Lurton D. Sands, Jr, the most sensational event now taking place; as always, he read every word of it avidly.
This day began for Darius Pethel with vidphone calls from irate customers wanting to know why their Jiffi-scuttlers hadn't been fixed. Any time now, he told them soothingly, and hoped that Erickson was already at work in the service department of Pethel Jiffi-scuttler Sales & Service.
As soon as he was off the vidphone Pethel searched among the litter on his desk for the day's copy of U.S. Business Report; he of course kept abreast of all the economic developments on the planet. This alone set him above his employees; this, his wealth, and his advanced age.
'What's it say?' his salesman, Stu Hadley, asked, standing in the office doorway, robant magnetic broom in hand, pausing in his activity.
Silently, Pethel read the major headline.
And there, in 3-D, animated, was a pic of James Briskin; the pic came to life, Candidate Briskin smiled in miniature, as Pethel pressed the tab beneath it. The Negro's mustache-obscured lips moved and above his head a balloon appeared, filled with the words he was saying.
My first task will be to find an equitable disposition of the tens of millions of sleeping.

'And dump every last bib back on the labor market,' Pethel murmured, releasing the word tab. 'If this guy gets in, the nation's ruined.' But it was inevitable. Sooner or later, there would be a Negro president; after all, since the Event of 1993 there had been more Cols than Caucs.
Gloomily, he turned to page two for the latest on the Lurton Sands scandal; maybe that would cheer him up, the political news being so bad. The famous org-trans surgeon had become involved in a sensational contested divorce suit with his equally famous wife Myra, the abort-consultant. All sorts of juicy details were beginning to filter out, charges on both sides. Dr Sands, according to the homeopapes, had a mistress; that was why Myra had stomped out, and rightly so. Not like the old days, Pethel thought, recalling his youth in the late decades of the twentieth century. Now it was 2080 and public -- and private -- morality had worsened.
Why would Dr Sands want a mistress anyhow, Pethel wondered, when there's that Golden Door Moments of Bliss satellite passing overhead every day? They say there're five thousand girls to choose from.
He, himself, had never visited Thisbe Olt's satellite; he did not approve of it, nor did very many jerries -- it was too radical a solution to the overpopulation problem, and seniors, by letter and telegram, had fought its passage in Congress back in '72. But the bill had gone through anyhow . . . probably, he reflected, because most Congressmen had the idea of taking a jet'ab up there themselves. And no doubt regularly did, now.
'If we whites stick together--' Hadley began.
'Listen,' Pethel said, 'that time has passed. If Briskin can dispose of the bibs, more power to him; personally, it keeps me awake at night, thinking of all those people, most of them just kids, lying in those gov warehouses year after year. Look at the talent going to waste. It's -- bureaucratic! Only a swollen socialist government would have dreamed up a solution like that.' He eyed his salesman harshly. 'If you hadn't gotten this job with me, even you might--'
Hadley interrupted quietly, 'But I'm white.'
Reading on further, Pethel saw that Thisbe Olt's satellite had grossed a billion U.S. dollars in 2079. Wow, he said to himself. That's big business. Before him was a pic of Thisbe; with cadmium-white hair and little high conical breasts she was a superb sight, an aesthetic as well as a sexual treat. The pic showed her serving male guests of her satellite a tequila sour -- an added fillip because tequila, being derived from the mescal plant, had long been illegal on Earth proper.
Pethel touched the word tab of Thisbe's pic and at once Thisbe's eyes sparkled, her head turned, her stable, dense breasts vibrated subtly, and in the balloon above her head the proper words formed.
Embarrassing personal urgency, Mr American businessman? Do as many doctors recommend: visit my Golden Door!

It was an ad, Pethel discovered. Not an informative article.
'Excuse me.' A customer had entered the store and Hadley moved in his direction.
Oh lord, Darius Pethel thought as he recognized the customer. Don't we have his 'scuttler fixed yet? He rose to his feet, knowing that he would be personally needed to appease the man; this was Dr Lurton Sands, and because of his recent domestic troubles he had become, of late, demanding and hot-tempered.
'Yes, Doctor,' Pethel said, walking toward him. 'What can I do for you today?' As if he didn't know. Trying to fight off Myra as well as keep his mistress, Cally Vale, Dr Sands had enough problems; he really needed the use of his Jiffi-scuttler. Unlike other customers it was not going to be possible to put this man off.
Plucking by reflex at his great handlebar mustache, presitial candidate Jim Briskin said tentatively, 'We're in a rut, Sal. I ought to fire you. You're trying to make me out the epitome of the Cols and yet you know I've spent twenty years playing up to the white power structure. Frankly, I think we'd have better luck trying to get the white vote, not the dark. I'm used to them; I can appeal to them.'
'You're wrong,' his campaign manager, Salisbury Heim, said. 'Your appeal -- listen and understand this, Jim -- is to the dark kid and his wife scared to death their only prospect is winding up bibs in some gov warehouse. "Bottled in bond," as they say. In you these people see...'
'But I feel guilty.'
'Why?' Sal Heim demanded.
'Because I'm a fake. I can't close the Dept of SPW warehouses; you know that. You got me to promise, and ever since I've been sweating my life away trying to conceive how it could be done. And there isn't any way.' He examined his wristwatch; one quarter-hour remained before he had to give his speech. 'Have you read the speech Phil Danville wrote for me?' He reached into his disorganized, lumpy coat-pouch.
'Danville!' Heim's face convulsed. 'I thought you got rid of him; give me that.' He grabbed the folded sheets and began going over them. 'Danville is a nut. Look.' He waved the first sheet in Jim Briskin's face. 'According to him, you're going to ban traffic from the U.S. to Thisbe's satellite. That's insane! If the Golden Door is closed, the birth rate will jump back up again where it was -- what then? How does Danville manage to counter that?'
After a pause Briskin said, 'The Golden Door is immoral.'
Spluttering, Heim said, 'Sure. And animals should wear pants.'
'There's just got to be a better solution than that satellite.'
Heim lapsed into silence as he read further into the speech. 'And he has you advocate this outmoded, thoroughly discredited planet-wetting technique of Bruno Mini.' He tossed the papers into Jim Briskin's lap. 'So what do you wind up with? You back a planetary colonization scheme tried twenty years ago and abandoned; you advocate closing the Golden Door satellite -- you'll be popular, Jim, after tonight. But popular with whom, though? Just answer me; who is this aimed at?' He waited.
There was silence.
'You know what I think?' Heim said presently. 'I think this is your elaborate way of giving up. Of saying to hell with the whole thing. It's how you shed responsibility; I saw you start to do the same thing at the convention in that crazy doomsday speech you gave, that morbid curiosity which still has everyone baffled. But fortunately you'd already been nominated. It was too late for the convention to repudiate you.'
Briskin said, 'I expressed my real convictions in that speech.'
'What, that civilization is now doomed because of this overpopulation biz? Some convictions for the first Col President to have.' Heim got to his feet and walked to the window; he stood looking out at downtown Philadelphia, at the jet-copters landing, the runnels of autocars and ramps of footers coming and going, into and out of every high-rise building in sight. 'I once in a while think,' Heim said in a low voice, 'that you feel it's doomed because it's nominated a Negro and may elect him; it's a way of putting yourself down.'
'No,' Briskin said, with calm; his long face remained unruffled.
'I'll tell you what to say in your speech for tonight,' Heim said, his back to Briskin. 'First, you once more describe your relationship with Frank Woodbine, because people go for space explorers; Woodbine is a hero, much more so than you or what's-his-name. You know; the man you're running against. The SRCD incumbent.'
'William Schwarz.'
Heim nodded exaggeratedly. 'Yes, you're right. Then after you gas about Woodbine -- and we show a few shots of you and him standing together on various planets -- then you make a joke about Dr Sands.'
'No,' Briskin said.
'Why not? Is Sands a sacred cow? You can't touch him?'
Jim Briskin said slowly, painstakingly, 'Because Sands is a great doctor and shouldn't be ridiculed in the media the way he is right now.'
'He saved your brother's life. By finding him a wet new liver just in the nick of time. Or he saved your mother just when . . .'
'Sands has preserved hundreds, thousands, of people. Including plenty of Cols. Whether they were able to pay or not.' Briskin was silent a moment and then he added, 'Also I met his wife Myra and I didn't like her. Years ago I went to her; I had made a girl preg and we wanted abort advice.'
'Good!' Heim said violently. 'We can use that. You made a girl pregnant -- that, when Nonovulid is free for the asking; that shows you're a provident type, Jim.' He tapped his forehead. 'You think ahead.'
'I now have five minutes,' Briskin said woodenly. He gathered up the pages of Phil Danville's speech and returned them to his inside coat pouch; he still wore a formal dark suit even in hot weather. That, and a flaming red wig, had been his trademark back in the days when he had telecast as a TV newsclown.
'Give that speech,' Heim said, 'and you're politically dead. And if you're . . .' He broke off. The door to the room had opened and his wife Patricia stood there.
'Sorry to bother you,' Pat said. 'But everyone out here can hear you yelling.' Heim caught a glimpse, then, of the big outside room full of teen-age Briskinettes, uniformed young volunteers who had come from all over the country to help elect the Republican Liberal candidate.
'Sorry,' Heim murmured.
Pat entered the room and shut the door after her. 'I think Jim's right, Sal.' Small, gracefully-built -- she had once been a dancer -- Pat lithely seated herself and lit a cigar. 'The more naive Jim appears, the better.' She blew gray smoke from between her luminous, pale lips. 'He still has a lingering reputation for being cynical. Whereas he should be another Wendell Wilkie.'
'Wilkie lost,' Heim pointed out.
'And Jim may lose,' Pat said; she tossed her head, brushing back her long hair from her eyes. 'But if he does, he can run again and win next time. The important thing is for him to appear sensitive and innocent, a sweet person who takes the world's suffering on his own shoulders because he's made that way. He can't help it; he has to suffer. You see?'
'Amateurs,' Heim said, and groaned.
The TV cameras stood inert, as the seconds passed, but they were ready to begin; the time for the speech lay just ahead as Jim Briskin sat at the small desk which he employed when addressing the people. Before him, near at hand, rested Phil Danville's speech. And he sat meditating as the TV technicians prepared for the recording.

Excerpted from

The Crack in Space

by Philip K. Dick
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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Communion: A True Story

December 26, 1985

My wife and I own a log cabin in a secluded corner of upstate New York. It is in this cabin that our primary experiences have taken place. I will deal first with what I remember of December 26, 1985, and then with what was subsequently jogged into memory concerning October 4, 1985. Until I sought help, I remembered only that there was a strange disturbance on October 4. An interviewer asked if I could recall any other unusual experiences in my past. The night of October 4 had also been one of turmoil, but it took discussions with the other people who had been in the cabin at the time to help me reconstruct it.

This part of my narrative, covering December 26, is derived from journal material I had written before undergoing any hypnosis or even discussing my situation with anybody.

When I was alone, this is what it was like.

Our cabin is very hidden and quiet, part of a small group of cabins scattered across an area served by a private dirt road, which itself branches off a little-used country road that leads to an old town that isn't even mentioned on many maps. We spend more than half of our time at the cabin, because I do most of my work there. We also have an apartment in New York City.

Ours is a very sedate life. We don't go out much, we rarely drink more than wine, and neither of us has ever used drugs. From 1977 until 1983 1 wrote imaginative thrillers, but in recent years I had been concentrating on much more serious fiction about peace and the environment, books that were firmly grounded in fact. Thus, at this time in my life, I wasn't even working on horror stories, and at no time had I everbeen in danger of being deluded by them.

We were having a lovely Christmas at the cabin in late December 1985. On Christmas Eve there was snow, which continued for two more days. My son had discovered to his delight that the snow would fall in perfect crystalline flakes on his gloves if he stood still with his hands out.

On December 26 we spent a happy morning breaking in his new sled, then went cross-country skiing in the afternoon. For supper we had leftover Christmas goose, cranberry sauce, and cold sweet potatoes. We drank seltzer with fresh lime in it. After our son went to bed, Anne and I sat quietly together listening to some music and reading.

At about eight-thirty I turned on the bur I alarm, which covers every accessible window an all the doors. For no reason then apparent, I haddeveloped an unusual habit the previous fall. As secretly as ever I made a tour of the house, peering in closets and even looking under the guest-room bed for hidden intruders. I did this immediately after setting the alarm. By ten o'clock we were in bed, and eleven both of us were asleep.

The night of the twenty-sixth was cold and cloudy. There were perhaps eight inches of snow on the ground, and it was still falling lightly.

I do not recall any dreams or disturbances at all. There was apparently a large unknown object seen in the immediate vicinity at approximately this time of month, but a report of it would not be published for another week. Even when I read that report, though, I did not relate it in any way to my experience. Why should I? The report attributed the sightings to a practical joke. Only much later, when I researched it myself, did I discover how inaccurate that report was.

I have never seen an unidentified flying object. I thought that the whole subject had been explained by science. It took me a couple of months to establish the connection between what had happened to me and possible nonhuman visitors, so unlikely did such a connection seem.

In the middle of the night of December 26 -- 1 do not know the exact time -- I abruptly found myself awake. And I knew why: I heard a peculiar whooshing, swirling noise coming from the living room downstairs. This was no random creak, no settling of the house, but a sound as if a large number of people were moving rapidly around in the room.

I listened carefully. The noise just didn't make sense. I sat up in bed, shocked and very curious. There was an edge of fear. The night was dead still, windless. My eyes went, straight to the burglar-alarm panel beside the bed. The system was armed and working perfectly. Not a covered window or door was opened, and nobody had entered -- at least according to the row of glowing lights.

What I did next may seem peculiar. I settled back in bed. For some reason the extreme strangeness of what I was hearing did not rouse me to action. Over the course of this narrative this sort of inappropriate response will be repeated many times. If something is strange enough, the reaction is very different from what one would think. The mind seems to tune it out as if by some sort of instinct.

No sooner had I settled back than I noticed that one of the double doors leading into our bedroom was moving closed. As they close outward, this meant that the opening was getting smaller, concealing whatever was behind that door. I sat. up again. My mind was sharp. I was not asleep, nor in ahypnopompic state between sleep and waking. I wish to be clear that I felt, at that moment, wide awake and in full possession of all my faculties. I could easily have gotten up and read a book or listened to the radio or gone for a midnight walk in the snow.

I could not imagine what could be going on, and I got very uneasy.

Excerpted from

Communion: A True Story

by Whitley Strieber
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Monday, February 11, 2008

Ender's Game

“I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one. Or at least as close as we’re going to get.”

“That’s what you said about the brother.”

“The brother tested out impossible. For other reasons. Nothing to do with his ability.”

“Same with the sister. And there are doubts about him. He’s too malleable. Too willing to submerge himself in someone else’s will.”

“Not if the other person is his enemy.”

“So what do we do? Surround him with enemies all the time?”

“If we have to.”

“I thought you said you liked this kid.”

“If the buggers get him, they’ll make me look like his favorite uncle.”

“All right. We’re saving the world, after all. Take him.”

* * *

The monitor lady smiled very nicely and tousled his hair and said, “Andrew, I suppose by now you’re just absolutely sick of having that horrid monitor. Well, I have good news for you. That monitor is going to come out today. We’re going to take it right out, and it won’t hurt a bit.”

Ender nodded. It was a lie, of course, that it wouldn’t hurt a bit. But since adults always said it when it was going to hurt, he could count on that statement as an accurate prediction of the future. Sometimes lies were more dependable than the truth.

“So if you’ll just come over here, Andrew, just sit right up here on the examining table. Thedoctor will be in to see you in a moment.”

The monitor gone. Ender tried to imagine the little device missing from the back of his neck. I’ll roll over on my back in bed and it won’t be pressing there. I won’t feel it tingling and taking up the heat when I shower.

And Peter won’t hate me anymore. I’ll come home and show him that the monitor’s gone, and he’ll see that I didn’t make it, either. That I’ll just be a normal kid now, like him. That won’t be so bad then. He’ll forgive me that I had my monitor a whole year longer than he had his. We’ll be—

Not friends, probably. No, Peter was too dangerous. Peter got so angry. Brothers, though. Not enemies, not friends, but brothers—able to live in the same house. He won’t hate me, he’ll just leave me alone. And when he wants to play buggers and astronauts, maybe I won’t have to play, maybe I can just go read a book.

But Ender knew, even as he thought it, that Peter wouldn’t leave him alone. There was something in Peter’s eyes, when he was in his mad mood, and whenever Ender saw that look, that glint, he knew that the one thing Peter would not do was leave him alone. I’m practicing piano, Ender. Come turn the pages for me. Oh, is the monitor boy too busy to help his brother? Is he too smart? Got to go kill some buggers, astronaut? No, no, I don’t want your help. I can do it on my own, you little bastard, you little Third.

“This won’t take long, Andrew,” said the doctor.

Ender nodded.

“It’s designed to be removed. Without infection, without damage. But there’ll be some tickling, and some people say they have a feeling of something missing. You’ll keep looking around for something, something you were looking for, but you can’t find it, and you can’t remember what it was. So I’ll tell you. It’s the monitor you’re looking for, and it isn’t there. In a few days that feeling will pass.”

The doctor was twisting something at the back of Ender’s head. Suddenly a pain stabbed through him like a needle from his neck to his groin. Ender felt his back spasm, and his body arched violently backward; his head struck the bed. He could feel his legs thrashing, and his hands were clenching each other, wringing each other so tightly that they arched.

“Deedee!” shouted the doctor. “I need you!” The nurse ran in, gasped. “Got to relax these muscles. Get it to me, now! What are you waiting for!”

Something changed hands; Ender could not see. He lurched to one side and fell off the examining table. “Catch him!” cried the nurse.

“Just hold him steady—”

“You hold him, doctor, he’s too strong for me—”

“Not the whole thing! You’ll stop his heart—”

Ender felt a needle enter his back just above the neck of his shirt. It burned, but wherever in him the fire spread, his muscles gradually unclenched. Now he could cry for the fear and pain of it.

“Are you all right, Andrew?” the nurse asked.

Andrew could not remember how to speak. They lifted him onto the table. They checked his pulse, did other things; he did not understand it all.

The doctor was trembling; his voice shook as he spoke. “They leave these things in the kids for three years, what do they expect? We could have switched him off, do you realize that? We could have unplugged his brain for all time.”

“When does the drug wear off?” asked the nurse.

“Keep him here for at least an hour. Watch him. If he doesn’t start talking in fifteen minutes, call me. Could have unplugged him forever. I don’t have the brains of a bugger.”

* * *

He got back to Miss Pumphrey’s class only fifteen minutes before the closing bell. He was still a little unsteady on his feet.

“Are you all right, Andrew?” asked Miss Pumphrey.

He nodded.

“Were you ill?”

He shook his head.

“You don’t look well.”

“I’m OK.”

“You’d better sit down, Andrew.”

He started toward his seat, but stopped. Now what was I looking for? I can’t think what I was looking for.

“Your seat is over there,” said Miss Pumphrey.

He sat down, but it was something else he needed, something he had lost. I’ll find it later.

“Your monitor,” whispered the girl behind him.

Andrew shrugged.

“His monitor,” she whispered to the others.

Andrew reached up and felt his neck. There was a bandaid. It was gone. He was just like everybody else now.

“Washed out, Andy?” asked a boy who sat across the aisle and behind him. Couldn’t think of his name. Peter. No, that was someone else.

“Quiet, Mr. Stilson,” said Miss Pumphrey. Stilson smirked.

Miss Pumphrey talked about multiplication. Ender doodled on his desk, drawing contour maps of mountainous islands and then telling his desk to display them in three dimensions from every angle. The teacher would know, of course, that he wasn’t paying attention, but she wouldn’t bother him. He always knew the answer, even when she thought he wasn’t paying attention.

In the corner of his desk a word appeared and began marching around the perimeter of the desk. It was upside down and backward at first, but Ender knew what it said long before it reached the bottom of the desk and turned right side up.


Ender smiled. He was the one who had figured out how to send messages and make them march—even as his secret enemy called him names, the method of delivery praised him. It was not his fault he was a Third. It was the government’s idea, they were the ones who authorized it—how else could a Third like Ender have got into school? And now the monitor was gone. The experiment entitled Andrew Wiggin hadn’t worked out after all. If they could, he was sure they would like to rescind the waivers that had allowed him to be born at all. Didn’t work, so erase the experiment.

The bell rang. Everyone signed off their desks or hurriedly typed in reminders to themselves. Some were dumping lessons or data into their computers at home. A few gathered at the printers while something they wanted to show was printed out. Ender spread his hands over the child-size keyboard near the edge of the desk and wondered what it would feel like to have hands as large as a grown-up’s. They must feel so big and awkward, thick stubby fingers and beefy palms. Of course, they had bigger keyboards—but how could their thick fingers draw a fine line, the way Ender could, a thin line so precise that he could make it spiral seventy-nine times from the center to the edge of the desk without the lines ever touching or overlapping. It gave him something to do while the teacher droned on about arithmetic. Arithmetic! Valentine had taught him arithmetic when he was three.

“Are you all right, Andrew?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You’ll miss the bus.”

Ender nodded and got up. The other kids were gone. They would be waiting, though, the bad ones. His monitor wasn’t perched on his neck, hearing what he heard and seeing what he saw. They could say what they liked. They might even hit him now—no one could see them anymore, and so no one would come to Ender’s rescue. There were advantages to the monitor, and he would miss them.

It was Stilson, of course. He wasn’t bigger than most other kids, but he was bigger than Ender. And he had some others with him. He always did.

“Hey Third.”

Don’t answer. Nothing to say.

“Hey, Third, we’re talkin to you, Third, hey bugger-lover, we’re talkin to you.”

Can’t think of anything to answer. Anything I say will make it worse. So will saying nothing.

“Hey, Third, hey, turd, you flunked out, huh? Thought you were better than us, but you lost your little birdie, Thirdie, got a bandaid on your neck.”

“Are you going to let me through?” Ender asked.

“Are we going to let him through? Should we let him through?” They all laughed. “Sure we’ll let you through. First we’ll let your arm through, then your butt through, then maybe a piece of your knee.”

The others chimed in now. “Lost your birdie, Thirdie. Lost your birdie, Thirdie.”

Stilson began pushing him with one hand; someone behind him then pushed him toward Stilson.

“See-saw, marjorie daw,” somebody said.



This would not have a happy ending. So Ender decided that he’d rather not be the unhappiest at the end. The next time Stilson’s arm came out to push him, Ender grabbed at it. He missed.

“Oh, gonna fight me, huh? Gonna fight me, Thirdie?”

The people behind Ender grabbed at him, to hold him.

Ender did not feel like laughing, but he laughed. “You mean it takes this many of you to fight one Third?”

“We’re people, not Thirds, turd face. You’re about as strong as a fart!”

But they let go of him. And as soon as they did, Ender kicked out high and hard, catching Stilson square in the breastbone. He dropped. It took Ender by surprise—he hadn’t thought to put Stilson on the ground with one kick. It didn’t occur to him that Stilson didn’t take a fight like this seriously, that he wasn’t prepared for a truly desperate blow.

For a moment, the others backed away and Stilson lay motionless. They were all wondering if he was dead. Ender, however, was trying to figure out a way to forestall vengeance. To keep them from taking him in a pack tomorrow. I have to win this now, and for all time, or I’ll fight it every day and it will get worse and worse.

Ender knew the unspoken rules of manly warfare, even though he was only six. It was forbidden to strike the opponent who lay helpless on the ground; only an animal would do that.

So Ender walked to Stilson’s supine body and kicked him again, viciously, in the ribs. Stilson groaned and rolled away from him. Ender walked around him and kicked him again, in the crotch. Stilson could not make a sound; he only doubled up and tears streamed out of his eyes.

Then Ender looked at the others coldly. “You might be having some idea of ganging up on me. You could probably beat me up pretty bad. But just remember what I do to people who try to hurt me. From then on you’d be wondering when I’d get you, and how bad it would be.” He kicked Stilson in the face. Blood from his nose spattered the ground nearby. “It wouldn’t be this bad,” Ender said. “It would be worse.”

He turned and walked away. Nobody followed him. He turned a corner into the corridor leading to the bus stop. He could hear the boys behind him saying, “Geez. Look at him. He’s wasted.” Ender leaned his head against the wall of the corridor and cried until the bus came. I am just like Peter. Take my monitor away, and I am just like Peter.

Copyright © 1977, 1985, 1991 by Orson Scott Card

Excerpted from

Ender's Game

by Orson Scott Card

Monday, February 4, 2008

Shadow of the Giant


“You think you’ve found somebody, so suddenly my program gets the ax?”
“It’s not about this kid that Graff found. It’s about the low quality of what you’ve been finding.”
“We knew it was long odds. But the kids I’m working with are actually fighting a war just to stay alive.”
“Your kids are so malnourished that they suffer serious mental degradation before you even begin testing them. Most of them haven’t formed any normal human bonds, they’re so messed up they can’t get through a day without finding something they can steal, break, or disrupt.”
“They also represent possibility, as all children do.”
“That’s just the kind of sentimentality that discredits your whole project in the eyes of the I.F.”
* * *
Poke kept her eyes open all the time. The younger children were supposed to be on watch, too, and sometimes they could be quite observant, but they just didn’t notice all the things they needed to notice, and that meant that Poke could only depend on herself to see danger.
There was plenty of danger to watch for. The cops, for instance. They didn’t show up often, but when they did, they seemed especially bent on clearing the streets of children. They would flail about them with their magnetic whips, landing cruel stinging blows on even the smallest children, haranguing them as vermin, thieves, pestilence, a plague on the fair city of Rotterdam. It was Poke’s job to notice when a disturbance in the distance suggested that the cops might be running a sweep.Then she would give the alarm whistle and the little ones would rush to their hiding places till the danger was past.
But the cops didn’t come by that often. The real danger was much more immediate—big kids. Poke, at age nine, was the matriarch of her little crew (not that any of them knew for sure that she was a girl), but that cut no ice with the eleven- and twelve- and thirteen-year-old boys and girls who bullied their way around the streets. The adult-size beggars and thieves and whores of the street paid no attention to the little kids except to kick them out of the way. But the older children, who were among the kicked, turned around and preyed on the younger ones. Any time Poke’s crew found something to eat—especially if they located a dependable source of garbage or an easy mark for a coin or a bit of food—they had to watch jealously and hide their winnings, for the bullies liked nothing better than to take away whatever scraps of food the little ones might have. Stealing from younger children was much safer than stealing from shops or passersby. And they enjoyed it, Poke could see that. They liked how the little kids cowered and obeyed and whimpered and gave them whatever they demanded.
So when the scrawny little two-year-old took up a perch on a garbage can across the street, Poke, being observant, saw him at once. The kid was on the edge of starvation. No, the kid was starving. Thin arms and legs, joints that looked ridiculously oversized, a distended belly. And if hunger didn’t kill him soon, the onset of autumn would, because his clothing was thin and there wasn’t much of it even at that.
Normally she wouldn’t have paid him more than passing attention. But this one had eyes. He was still looking around with intelligence. None of that stupor of the walking dead, no longer searching for food or even caring to find a comfortable place to lie while breathing their last taste of the stinking air of Rotterdam. After all, death would not be such a change for them. Everyone knew that Rotterdam was, if not the capital, then the main seaport of Hell. The only difference between Rotterdam and death was that with Rotterdam, the damnation wasn’t eternal.
This little boy—what was he doing? Not looking for food. He wasn’t eyeing the pedestrians. Which was just as well—there was no chance that anyone would leave anything for a child that small. Anything he might get would be taken away by any other child, so why should he bother? If he wanted to survive, he should be following older scavengers and licking food wrappers behind them, getting the last sheen of sugar or dusting of flour clinging to the packaging, whatever the first comer hadn’t licked off. There was nothing for this child out here on the street, not unless he got taken in by a crew, and Poke wouldn’t have him. He’d be nothing but a drain, and her kids were already having a hard enough time without adding another useless mouth.
He’s going to ask, she thought. He’s going to whine and beg. But that only works on the rich people. I’ve got my crew to think of. He’s not one of them, so I don’t care about him. Even if he is small. He’s nothing to me.
A couple of twelve-year-old hookers who didn’t usually work this strip rounded a corner, heading toward Poke’s base. She gave a low whistle. The kids immediately drifted apart, staying on the street but trying not to look like a crew.
It didn’t help. The hookers knew already that Poke was a crew boss, and sure enough, they caught her by the arms and slammed her against a wall and demanded their “permission” fee. Poke knew better than to claim she had nothing to share—she always tried to keep a reserve in order to placate hungry bullies. These hookers, Poke could see why they were hungry. They didn’t look like what the pedophiles wanted, when they came cruising through. They were too gaunt, too old-looking. So until they grew bodies and started attracting the slightly-less-perverted trade, they had to resort to scavenging. It made Poke’s blood boil, to have them steal from her and her crew, but it was smarter to pay them off. If they beat her up, she couldn’t look out for her crew now, could she? So she took them to one of her stashes and came up with a little bakery bag that still had half a pastry in it.
It was stale, since she’d been holding it for a couple of days for just such an occasion, but the two hookers grabbed it, tore open the bag, and one of them bit off more than half before offering the remainder to her friend. Or rather, her former friend, for of such predatory acts are feuds born. The two of them started fighting, screaming at each other, slapping, raking at each other with clawed hands. Poke watched closely, hoping that they’d drop the remaining fragment of pastry, but no such luck. It went into the mouth of the same girl who had already eaten the first bite—and it was that first girl who won the fight too, sending the other one running for refuge.
Poke turned around, and there was the little boy right behind her. She nearly tripped over him. Angry as she was at having had to give up food to those street-whores, she gave him a knee and knocked him to the ground. “Don’t stand behind people if you don’t want to land on your butt,” she snarled.
He simply got up and looked at her, expectant, demanding.
“No, you little bastard, you’re not getting nothing from me,” said Poke. “I’m not taking one bean out of the mouths of my crew, you aren’t worth a bean.”
Her crew was starting to reassemble, now that the bullies had passed.
“Why you give your food to them?” said the boy. “You need that food.”
“Oh, excuse me!” said Poke. She raised her voice, so her crew could hear her. “I guess you ought to be the crew boss here, is that it? You being so big, you got no trouble keeping the food.”
“Not me,” said the boy. “I’m not worth a bean, remember?”
“Yeah, I remember. Maybe you ought to-remember and shut up.”
Her crew laughed.
But the little boy didn’t. “You got to get your own bully,” he said.
“I don’t get bullies, I get rid of them,” Poke answered. She didn’t like the way he kept talking, standing up to her. In a minute she was going to have to hurt him.
“You give food to bullies every day. Give that to one bully and get him to keep the others away from you.”
“You think I never thought of that, stupid?” she said. “Only once he’s bought, how I keep him? He won’t fight for us.”
“If he won’t, then kill him,” said the boy.
That made Poke mad, the stupid impossibility of it, the power of the idea that she knew she could never lay hands on. She gave him a knee again, and this time kicked him when he went down. “Maybe I start by killing you.”
“I’m not worth a bean, remember?” said the boy. “You kill one bully, get another to fight for you, he want your food, he scared of you too.”
She didn’t know what to say to such a preposterous idea.
“They eating you up,” said the boy. “Eating you up. So you got to kill one. Get him down, everybody as small as me. Stones crack any size head.”
“You make me sick,” she said.
“Cause you didn’t think of it,” he said.
He was flirting with death, talking to her that way. If she injured him at all, he’d be finished, he must know that.
But then, he had death living with him inside his flimsy little shirt already. Hard to see how it would matter if death came any closer.
Poke looked around at her crew. She couldn’t read their faces.
“I don’t need no baby telling me to kill what we can’t kill.”
“Little kid come up behind him, you shove, he fall over,” said the boy. “Already got you some big stones, bricks. Hit him in the head. When you see brains you done.”
“He no good to me dead,” she said. “I want my own bully, he keep us safe, I don’t want no dead one.”
The boy grinned. “So now you like my idea,” he said.
“Can’t trust no bully,” she answered.
“He watch out for you at the charity kitchen,” said the boy. “You get in at the kitchen.” He kept looking her in the eye, but he was talking for the others to hear. “He get you all in at the kitchen.”
“Little kid get into the kitchen, the big kids, they beat him,” said Sergeant. He was eight, and mostly acted like he thought he was Poke’s second-in-command, though truth was she didn’t have a second.
“You get you a bully, he make them go away.”
“How he stop two bullies? Three bullies?” asked Sergeant.
“Like I said,” the boy answered. “You push him down, he not so big. You get your rocks. You be ready. Ben’t you a soldier? Don’t they call you Sergeant?”
“Stop talking to him, Sarge,” said Poke. “I don’t know why any of us is talking to some two-year-old.”
“I’m four,” said the boy.
“What your name?” asked Poke.
“Nobody ever said no name for me,” he said.
“You mean you so stupid you can’t remember your own name?”
“Nobody ever said no name,” he said again. Still he looked her in the eye, lying there on the ground, the crew around him.
“Ain’t worth a bean,” she said.
“Am so,” he said.
“Yeah,” said Sergeant. “One damn bean.”
“So now you got a name,” said Poke. “You go back and sit on that garbage can, I think about what you said.”
“I need something to eat,” said Bean.
“If I get me a bully, if what you said works, then maybe I give you something.”
“I need something now,” said Bean.
She knew it was true.
She reached into her pocket and took out six peanuts she had been saving. He sat up and took just one from her hand, put it in his mouth and slowly chewed.
“Take them all,” she said impatiently.
He held out his little hand. It was weak. He couldn’t make a fist. “Can’t hold them all,” he said. “Don’t hold so good.”
Damn. She was wasting perfectly good peanuts on a kid who was going to die anyway.
But she was going to try his idea. It was audacious, but it was the first plan she’d ever heard that offered any hope of making things better, of changing something about their miserable life without her having to put on girl clothes and going into business. And since it was his idea, the crew had to see that she treated him fair. That’s how you stay crew boss, they always see you be fair.
So she kept holding her hand out while he ate all six peanuts, one at a time.
After he swallowed the last one, he looked her in the eye for another long moment, and then said, “You better be ready to kill him.”
“I want him alive.”
“Be ready to kill him if he ain’t the right one.” With that, Bean toddled back across the street to his garbage can and laboriously climbed on top again to watch.
“You ain’t no four years old!” Sergeant shouted over to him.
“I’m four but I’m just little,” he shouted back.
Poke hushed Sergeant up and they went looking for stones and bricks and cinderblocks. If they were going to have a little war, they’d best be armed.
* * *
Bean didn’t like his new name, but it was a name, and having a name meant that somebody else knew who he was and needed something to call him, and that was a good thing. So were the six peanuts. His mouth hardly knew what to do with them. Chewing hurt.
So did watching as Poke screwed up the plan he gave her. Bean didn’t choose her because she was the smartest crew boss in Rotterdam. Quite the opposite. Her crew barely survived because her judgment wasn’t that good. And she was too compassionate. Didn’t have the brains to make sure she got enough food herself to look well fed, so while her own crew knew she was nice and liked her, to strangers she didn’t look prosperous. Didn’t look good at her job.
But if she really was good at her job, she would never have listened to him. He never would have got close. Or if she did listen, and did like his idea, she would have got rid of him. That’s the way it worked on the street. Nice kids died. Poke was almost too nice to stay alive. That’s what Bean was counting on. But that’s what he now feared.
All this time he invested in watching people while his body ate itself up, it would be wasted if she couldn’t bring it off. Not that Bean hadn’t wasted a lot of time himself. At first when he watched the way kids did things on the street, the way they were stealing from each other, at each other’s throats, in each other’s pockets, selling every part of themselves that they couldings could be better if somebody had any brains, but he didn’t trust his own insight. He was sure there must be something else that he just didn’t get. He struggled to learn more—of everything. To learn to read so he’d know what the signs said on trucks and stores and wagons and bins. To learn enough Dutch and enough I.F. Common to understand everything that was said around him. It didn’t help that hunger constantly distracted him. He probably could have found more to eat if he hadn’t spent so much time studying the people. But finally he realized: He already understood it. He had understood it from the start. There was no secret that Bean just didn’t get yet because he was only little. The reason all these kids handled everything so stupidly was because they were stupid.
They were stupid and he was smart. So why was he starving to death while these kids were still alive? That was when he decided to act. That was when he picked Poke as his crew boss. And now he sat on a garbage can watching her blow it.
She chose the wrong bully, that’s the first thing she did. She needed a guy who made it on size alone, intimidating people. She needed somebody big and dumb, brutal but controllable. Instead, she thinks she needs somebody small. No, stupid! Stupid! Bean wanted to scream at her as she saw her target coming, a bully who called himself Achilles after the comics hero. He was little and mean and smart and quick, but he had a gimp leg. So she thought she could take him down more easily. Stupid! The idea isn’t just to take him down—you can take anybody down the first time because they won’t expect it. You need somebody who will stay down.
But he said nothing. Couldn’t get her mad at him. See what happens. See what Achilles is like when he’s beat. She’ll see—it won’t work and she’ll have to kill him and hide the body and try again with another bully before word gets out that there’s a crew of little kids taking down bullies.
So up comes Achilles, swaggering—or maybe that was just the rolling gait that his bent leg forced on him—and Poke makes an exaggerated show of cowering and trying to get away. Bad job, thought Bean. Achilles gets it already. Something’s wrong. You were supposed to act like you normally do! Stupid! So Achilles looks around a lot more. Wary. She tells him she’s got something stashed—that part’s normal—and she leads him into the trap in the alley. But look, he’s holding back. Being careful. It isn’t going to work.
But it does work, because of the gimp leg. Achilles can see the trap being sprung but he can’t get away, a couple of little kids pile into the backs of his legs while Poke and Sergeant push him from the front and down he goes. Then there’s a couple of bricks hitting his body and his bad leg and they’re thrown hard—the little kids get it, they do their job, even if Poke is stupid—and yeah, that’s good, Achilles is scared, he thinks he’s going to die.
Bean was off his perch by now. Down the alley, watching, closer. Hard to see past the crowd. He pushes his way in, and the little kids—who are all bigger than he is—recognize him, they know he earned a view of this, they let him in. He stands right at Achilles’ head. Poke stands above him, holding a big cinderblock, and she’s talking.
“You get us into the food line at the shelter.”
“Sure, right, I will, I promise.”
Don’t believe him. Look at his eyes, checking for weakness.
“You get more food this way, too, Achilles. You get my crew. We get enough to eat, we have more strength, we bring more to you. You need a crew. The other bullies shove you out of the way—we’ve seen them!—but with us, you don’t got to take no shit. See how we do it? An army, that’s what we are.”
OK, now he was getting it. It was a good idea, and he wasn’t stupid, so it made sense to him.
“If this is so smart, Poke, how come you didn’t do this before now?”
She had nothing to say to that. Instead, she glanced at Bean.
Just a momentary glance, but Achilles saw it. And Bean knew what he was thinking. It was so obvious.
“Kill him,” said Bean.
“Don’t be stupid,” said Poke. “He’s in.”
“That’s right,” said Achilles. “I’m in. It’s a good idea.”
“Kill him,” said Bean. “If you don’t kill him now, he’s going to kill you.”
“You let this little walking turd get away with talking shit like this?” said Achilles.
“It’s your life or his,” said Bean. “Kill him and take the next guy.”
“The next guy won’t have my bad leg,” said Achilles. “The next guy won’t think he needs you. I know I do. I’m in. I’m the one you want. It makes sense.”
Maybe Bean’s warning made her more cautious. She didn’t cave in quite yet. “You won’t decide later that you’re embarrassed to have a bunch of little kids in your crew?”
“It’s your crew, not mine,” said Achilles.
Liar, thought Bean. Don’t you see that he’s lying to you?
“What this is to me,” said Achilles, “this is my family. These are my kid brothers and sisters. I got to look after my family, don’t I?”
Bean saw at once that Achilles had won. Powerful bully, and he had called these kids his sisters, his brothers. Bean could see the hunger in their eyes. Not the regular hunger, for food, but the real hunger, the deep hunger, for family, for love, for belonging. They got a little of that by being in Poke’s crew. But Achilles was promising more. He had just beaten Poke’s best offer. Now it was too late to kill him.
Too late, but for a moment it looked as if Poke was so stupid she was going to go ahead and kill him after all. She raised the cinderblock higher, to crash it down.
“No,” said Bean. “You can’t. He’s family now.”
She lowered the cinderblock to her waist. Slowly she turned to look at Bean. “You get the hell out of here,” she said. “You no part of my crew. You get nothing here.”
“No,” said Achilles. “You better go ahead and kill me, you plan to treat him that way.”
Oh, that sounded brave. But Bean knew Achilles wasn’t brave. Just smart. He had already won. It meant nothing that he was lying there on the ground and Poke still had the cinderblock. It was his crew now. Poke was finished. It would be a while before anybody but Bean and Achilles understood that, but the test of authority was here and now, and Achilles was going to win it.
“This little kid,” said Achilles, “he may not be part of your crew, but he’s part of my family. You don’t go telling my brother to get lost.”
Poke hesitated. A moment. A moment longer.
Long enough.
Achilles sat up. He rubbed his bruises, he checked out his contusions. He looked in joking admiration to the little kids who had bricked him. “Damn, you bad!” They laughed—nervously, at first. Would he hurt them because they hurt him? “Don’t worry,” he said. “You showed me what you can do. We have to do this to more than a couple of bullies, you’ll see. I had to know you could do it right. Good job. What’s your name?”
One by one he learned their names. Learned them and remembered them, or when he missed one he’d make a big deal about it, apologize, visibly work at remembering. Fifteen minutes later, they loved him.
If he could do this, thought Bean, if he’s this good at making people love him, why didn’t he do it before?
Because these fools always look up for power. People above you, they never want to share power with you. Why you look to them? They give you nothing. People below you, you give them hope, you give them respect, they give you power, cause they don’t think they have any, so they don’t mind giving it up.
Achilles got to his feet, a little shaky, his bad leg more sore than usual. Everybody stood back, gave him some space. He could leave now, if he wanted. Get away, never come back. Or go get some more bullies, come back and punish the crew. But he stood there, then smiled, reached into his pocket, took out the most incredible thing. A bunch of raisins. A whole handful of them. They looked at his hand as if it bore the mark of a nail in the palm.
“Little brothers and sisters first,” he said. “Littlest first.” He looked at Bean. “You.”
“Not him!” said the next littlest. “We don’t even know him.”
“Bean was the one wanted us to kill you,” said another.
“Bean,” said Achilles. “Bean, you were just looking out for my family, weren’t you?”
“Yes,” said Bean.
“You want a raisin?”
Bean nodded.
“You first. You the one brought us all together, OK?”
Either Achilles would kill him or he wouldn’t. At this moment, all that mattered was the raisin. Bean took it. Put it in his mouth. Did not even bite down on it. Just let his saliva soak it, bringing out the flavor of it.
“You know,” said Achilles, “no matter how long you hold it in your mouth, it never turns back into a grape.”
“What’s a grape?”
Achilles laughed at him, still not chewing. Then he gave out raisins to the other kids. Poke had never shared out so many raisins, because she had never had so many to share. But the little kids wouldn’t understand that. They’d think, Poke gave us garbage, and Achilles gave us raisins. That’s because they were stupid.

Copyright © 1999 by Orson Scott Card

Excerpted from

Shadow of the Giant
by Orson Scott Card
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