(Content: familial/ partner abuse. Fun content: OSC writing an atheist talking about scripture.)
Speaker for the Dead: p. 108--122
Chapter Seven: The Ribeira House
Last time, Miro mentioned that he likes the Little One named Human, and this time we start with Ouanda's notes giving us some information about him and their slow puzzling-out of how to make babies. Ouanda mentions that she saw Miro talking to Human "before you took off for the Questionable Activity", which I normally wouldn't turn into a masturbation joke except that these two are barely-abstinent teens and I was at a house party last night with people who are terrible (in a good way).
Another Little One named Mandachuva then mentioned that Human is really smart, already talking by the time he could walk, and gestured about ten centimetres off the ground. Ouanda is apparently eighty times smarter than any of the previous xenologers, as she deduces this means they start walking at that height, smaller than they've ever seen one. Mandachuva also conspiratorially added that Pipo knew Human's father: Rooter. Ouanda proves her aptitude again by coming up with more than one theory that could explain this: it could be a 'spiritual' fatherhood, it could be that Little Ones gestate for twenty-four years, or have a twenty-four-year childhood hidden away somewhere, or they might just have some way of saving genetic material. (She half-jokingly suggests they've saved Rooter's sperm in a jar, for which I dock her a couple of points since as yet they completely lack evidence that Little One reproduction involves human-analogue gametes.)
She also notes that this means Rooter, despite apparently being an executed criminal, was named as a father, and in turn that means that this group isn't a bunch of ostracised failures, but potential fathers, and since Human is so special and hangs out with them too, this group must actually have some prestige after all. That's probably going a little far--high-prestige human men continue to be cared for by oppressed and denigrated human women--but Ouanda is still the first competent xenologer yet. She concludes with some notes asking Miro to wake her up for a kiss when he gets home, which is going to get awkward next chapter.
The stinger to all this is that these notes are excerpted "from Lusitanian files by Congressional order and introduced as evidence in the Trial In Absentia of the Xenologers of Lusitania on Charges of Treason and Malfeasance". I would be worried more if only the last book hadn't acquitted all the protagonists of abuse, neglect, murder, and genocide after we spent three hundred pages watching them do exactly those things.
Back to Ender. He arrives at the Ribeira's patchwork house--all houses are a bit patchwork, since new couples get one built for them by friends and family, and they then expand it as they pump out more and more children. Theirs varies from simple plastic sheets in the old parts to proper bricks and plumbing for the more recent rooms. Ender notes that Lusitania's economy is completely controlled and so there is no poverty: "The lack of decoration, of individuality, showed the family's contempt for their own house; to Ender this bespoke contempt for themselves as well." I'm not sure that's a natural conclusion for Ender to reach after a formative childhood in which everything was regulation-made for practical purposes and individuality was largely suppressed, but I suppose he must have had some kind of character growth in the last couple of decades. Eventually we might even see it!
Olhado and Quara ventured right in, and Ender asks Quara (who settles in a slump against the wall, blank-faced) if he can enter, but she doesn't respond at all. Ender muses again on how there's a disease in the house. There's a lot of that going around. The plague and the dysfunctional families and the stuff we're going to find out killed Marcos--disease appears to be the big theme we're running with for this book.
Another boy (Grego) shows up at a sprint, six years old to Quara's seven, and "unlike Quara, his face showed plenty of understanding. Along with a feral hunger." Boy's got a kitchen knife taped to his leg, which he draws, and lunges at Ender for a crotch stab.
A moment later Ender had the boy tucked under his arm and the knife jammed into the ceiling. Ender had to use both hands to control his limns; the boy ended up dangling in front of him by his hands and feet, for all the world like a calf roped for branding.
Ender looked steadily at Quara. "If you don't go right now and get whoever is in charge in this house, I'm going to take this animal home and serve it for supper."Apparently Ender is still a ninja after all these years, despite no mention of training. Quick reminder, since I keep forgetting myself: Ender is the only white guy on this planet; everyone else is some substantial degree of black. Because this whole barging-in-and-taking-charge-of-the-broken-home would be freaky enough if it were just the usual 'social worker tames the underclass' type of thing we've seen before, but at least in those situations I think the tradition is the Magical Negro rather than Mighty Whitey. We're not even taking the 102-level problematic trope here; we've just got straight up racist overtones.
Quara flees and fetches Ela, who is briefly apologetic, then panics when she realises he's the Speaker she called, then apologetic again when he mentions the knife attack.
"Grego," she said to the boy, "it's wrong to poke at people with the knife."
Grego growled in his throat.
"His father dying, you see."
"They were that close?"
A look of bitter amusement passed across her face. "Hardly. He's always been a thief, Grego has, ever since he was old enough to hold something and walk at the same time. But this thing for hurting people, that's new. Please, let him go."Ender refuses to let him go until he's satisfied that he won't be attacked again, and Ela gets rightfully angry about this strange dude who's barged into her house and is essentially holding her brother ransom. Ender brushes this off by asking for a chair, and then ninjas his way into it by hurling Grego into the air, sitting down, and catching him again and locking him down in his lap. Grego hammers his heels ineffectually into Enders shins as they all exchange names. Ela suggests that Ender should come back tomorrow, and she gets backed up by another older boy (Quim):
"Didn't you hear my sister? You aren't wanted here!"
"You show me too much kindness," Ender said. "But I came to see your mother, and I'll wait here until she comes home from work."Ender's passive-aggression kung fu also remains strong, but I suspect he's had plenty of time to practice that over the last twenty years. They all fall silent at the mention of their mother, and Ender takes the opportunity to Bible-banter with Quim, so forgive me if I indulge my love for Christian authors trying to write atheists discussing scripture, because it is always comedy gold:
"You must be Estevão Rei Ribeira. Named for St. Stephen the Martyr, who saw Jesus sitting at the right hand of God."
"What do you know of such things, atheist!"
"As I recall, St. Paul stood by and held the coats of the men who were stoning him. Apparently he wasn't a believer at the time. In fact, I think he was regarded as the most terrible enemy of the church. And yet he later repented, didn't he? So I suggest you think of me, not as the enemy of God, but as an apostle who has not yet been stopped on the road to Damascus."You know Ender down with the rad jive lingo. Scriptural metaphor is definitely the best way to earn the trust of an angry fifteen-year-old, and not just seem like yet another pompous authority figure on a world literally populated by pompous authority figures who make scriptural metaphors. Fortunately, Ender is a level 25 Protagonist and so gets a +30 bonus to his Diplomacy rolls. Ender calls himself "apostle to the piggies" and Miro arrives.
Miro was young--surely not yet twenty. But his face and bearing carried the weight of responsibility and suffering far beyond his years. [Does anyone not, in this family?] Ender saw how all of them made space for him. It was not that the backed away from him the way they might retreat from someone they feared. Rather, they oriented themselves to him, walking parabolas around him, as if he were the center of gravity in the room and everything else was moved by the force of his presence.How does that even--no one is walking anywhere; where do these parabolas go? This is what comes of telling rather than showing. For the rest of the book I'm just going to imagine that every time Miro enters the room, rather than getting a leitmotif, everyone else just does a ten-second ballet routine around him. (Ender is of course the centre of his own universe, and so pirouettes in place.)
Miro also calls for Grego's release, and Ela tries to explain the situation, indicating that everything's okay, but Grego claims he's being tortured.
"I am hurting him," said Ender. He had found that the best way to earn trust was to tell the truth. "Every time he struggles to get free, it causes him quite a bit of discomfort. And he hasn't stopped struggling yet."First: what does it say about Ender's concept of 'truth' that he opens with a misleading statement, given that he's largely not responsible for Grego's discomfort and yet can't resist setting up a 'gotcha'? Second: how does he know when Grego is or isn't in pain? He's apparently keeping nigh-absolutely still, since it seems no one else can tell that Grego is still trying to break free. Bah. Miro's good with this and tells Grego he's not saving him this time. Quim is disgusted, and Miro remarks that people starting calling him Quim (pronounced much like 'king') because his middle name is Rei, but "now it's because he thinks he rules by divine right". So, Miro the Centre of Ribeiran Gravity has arrived and his first three actions are to declare that he might defy the law and let an offworld stranger meet the Little Ones, abandon his six-year-old brother to said strange adult, and mock his younger brother to said adult. Maybe this is supposed to be because he instantly and flawlessly assessed Ender's quality and so decided to treat him as a confidante, but mostly he looks like a massive suck-up to me.
Miro asks why Ender is there, and is deeply relieved to hear he's looking for Novinha (not for Miro himself, since he called a speaker for Libo). She's of course in her lab, "trying to develop a strain of potato that can compete with the grass here". Wait, I thought they controlled the spread of plants via herbicide. They can't seal a field off to keep out the grass? Has it occurred to anyone that the xenobiologist's job would be like 90% easier and the risk of introducing an invasive species to the rest of the world would be slashed if they just built a goddamn greenhouse? Hey, if they made the entire colony a greenhouse dome, they would have a much easier time keeping people from looking in by climbing a nearby hill, too! I wonder if that could have some benefits!
(Miro adds that the potato breakthrough is in high demand, as the miners and farmers have made vodka into the stuff of dream and legend. It would be those blue-collar types and not any of the hundreds of scientists who presumably spend so much time studying other aspects of Lusitania. (Yes, I continue to refuse to believe that this colony of 3000 exists purely to support two teenage xenologers.))
Miro's smile is literally compared to sunlight coming into a cave, and everyone relaxes. Grego relaxes most of all: he stops fighting and instead enthusiastically wets himself. Ender mentally notes that his reflexes are under conscious control--he can toggle them on and off--and so doesn't flinch, although everyone else is shocked. Ender just says it's a meaningful gift and he'll never let him go.
"Why are you doing this!" said Ela.
"He's expecting Grego to act like a human being," said Miro. "It needs doing, and nobody else has bothered to try."
"I've tried," said Ela. [....]
"We're not a very happy home," said Miro.(I am 95% sure we're never going to find out how Ela has tried to engage Grego or why she failed where Ender will succeed, but I'm going to go ahead and guess that it's got a lot to do with Ela being a mere eighteen-year-old girl and Ender being a manly white Protagonist whose empathy is indistinguishable from overwhelming physical force.)
They finally start discussing Marcos' recent death, and it's obvious to Ender that most everyone is pretty happy about his death, but Quim gets furious whenever anyone hints at their family's problems. When Ender asks if Macros beat them, Ela says no, but Miro decides he's had enough too, and there is much shouting and disagreement, especially once Ela lets slip that she called Ender to speak their father's death. She counters by launching into a rant, how everyone in town is so understanding, they overlook Grego's thieving and Quara's silence and pretend the family is okay, brilliant grandchildren of Os Venerados, and ignore the way Marcos would come home drunk, brutally beat their mother, and verbally abuse Miro until he fled the house. Quim is still upset that this is all being revealed, and Olhado finally snaps and plugs his eye into the computer, revealing that he secretly recorded the assaults.
Seeing Olhado jam a cable into his 'eye' sends Ender into a flashback to the Giant's Drink, the nightmares of which the formic queens used to anchor a philotic connection to his head, linking him to the hive-queen, infodump infodump. Jane snaps him out of it by quietly remarking that while Olhado is plugged in, she's copying all of his other recorded vision, because, as y'all will recall, in the Enderverse it is legally mandatory to violate privacy at every possible opportunity.
The holoprojector shows Marcos shouting Miro away (Grego clinging to his father's leg, shouting along) and then attacking Novinha. Ender notes that the real Grego is just shaking now. More outbursts: Quim reveals that he prayed for their father to die, prayed to Mary and Jesus and his own grandparents, so he now believes he's going to hell and he's not sorry.
"Well, another certified miracle to the credit of Os Venerados," said Miro. "Sainthood is assured." [....]
"Papa, papa, papa," whispered Grego. His trembling had given way to great shudders, almost convulsive in their violence. [....]
"Papa's gone now," said Miro comfortingly. "You don't have to worry now."
Ender shook his head. "Miro," he said, "didn't you watch Olhado's memory? Little boys don't judge their fathers, they love them. Grego was trying as hard as he could to be just like Marcos Ribeira."The siblings are all shocked and horrified that they failed to understand Grego's turn for violence was in response to Marcos' death, which is weird, since you'll note that a bit up the page I quoted Ela explaining Grego's violence by noting that his father just died. So... yeah, no, she totally got that. The only thing she didn't apparently grasp was that Grego liked their father, despite, you know living with him*. Forget Olhado's Steadicam eyes**; Miro was literally there when those events occurred, again and again. No one noticed that Grego was attached to their father? No one noticed that, presumably, their father was relatively kind to Grego rather than abusing him like his wife and eldest son? (If he did verbally or emotionally abuse Grego or anyone else the way he did Miro, we don't hear about it.)
Ender says it's the type of thing it takes a stranger to see, which is at least a kind way of excusing his protagonist powers, and explains that Grego couldn't confide in any of them because he heard what they said about their father and so thought they hated him by extension. Grego spins and hugs Ender around the neck, sobbing. Jane congratulates Ender in his ear for "the way you turn people into plasma", which... I'm going to need someone to explain the analogy to me.
Ender couldn't answer her, and she wouldn't believe him anyway. He hadn't planned this, he had played it by ear. How could he have guessed that Olhado would have a recording[...]? His only real insight was with Grego, and even that was instinctive, a sense that Grego was desperately hungry for someone to have authority over him [...].Quara tells Ender he stinks and marches out of the room. Olhado says this is impressive; the most she's said to anyone outside the family in months, and Ender thinks: "Didn't you notice? I'm in the family now, whether you like it or not. Whether I like it or not." I... am at a loss on that one. How long is this conversation--twenty minutes? Thirty? He figures out that Grego's concept of a loving father figure has been fucked up by an abusive environment and suddenly he's convinced (despite no one in the family saying so) that he's part of the family now? These people might be terrible colonists, but at least they've got colonialism down solid.
Grego cries himself out, then falls asleep, and Ela takes him away to clean him up and put him to bed. Miro offers a pair of his own pants to wear while they clean Ender's, which Ender accepts though his own have "long since dried", reminding us all again that this author has no concept of the passage of linear time. I stepped in a tiny puddle yesterday and my sock was damp for a couple of hours; there is no way Grego let loose on Ender half an hour ago and he's been dry for ages already. Whatever. Miro says Ender can stay until their mother arrives in another hour, and that's it for now with Ender Wiggin, Patriarchal White Social Worker. Next week, he goes back into detective mode, though his jackwagonry remains the same. Obvs.
*Also, can I just note that I had definitely transitioned into judging my father before age ten? Not viciously judging, and not by age six, admittedly, but my father was also never awful on this scale, and not physically abusive. I'm just saying that the whole Fight Clubby 'our fathers are our models for God' thing never resonated with me at all. (Of course, I also wasn't raised religious, so there are a few factors at play there, I guess.)
**Incidentally, we're told the hologram is in "bas relief" since it was recorded from a single individual's perspective, not true 3D, but there's still no explanation of how Olhado has any real depth perception. I guess he could have a certain amount of parallax if he had multiple optics all slightly apart, but wouldn't it be way simpler and cooler if he had echolocation? His eye could have one camera and one echolocator and then combine the data to figure out which parts of the image should be perceived closer than others, like turning a map topographical. I would demand Bat-eyes, in his position.