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Orson Scott Card is the author of the novels Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, and Speaker for the Dead. Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead both won Hugo and Nebula Awards, making Card the only author to win these two top prizes in consecutive years. There are seven other novels to date in The Ender Universe series. Card has also written fantasy: The Tales of Alvin Maker is a series of fantasy novels set in frontier America; his most recent novel, The Lost Gate, is a contemporary magical fantasy. Card has written many other stand-alone sf and fantasy novels, as well as movie tie-ins and games, and publishes an internet-based science fiction and fantasy magazine, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. Card was born in Washington and grew up in California, Arizona, and Utah. He served a mission for the LDS Church in Brazil in the early 1970s. Besides his writing, Card directs plays and teaches writing and literature at Southern Virginia University. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Kristine Allen Card, and youngest daughter, Zina Margaret.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
THE CALL OF EARTH (Chapter BETRAYAL)
THE DREAM OF THE GENERAL
General Vozmuzhalnoy Vozmozhno awoke from his dream, sweating, moaning. He opened his eyes, reached out with his hand, clutching. A hand caught his own, held it.
A man's hand. It was General Plodorodnuy. His most trusted lieutenant. His dearest friend. His inmost heart.
"You were dreaming, Moozh." It was the nickname that only Plod dared to use to his face.
"Yes, I was." Vozmuzhalnoy--Moozh--shuddered at the memory. "Such a dream."
"Was it portentous?"
"Tell me. I have a way with dreams."
"Yes, I know, like you have a way with women. When you're through with them, they say whatever you want them to say!"
Plod laughed, but then he waited. Moozh did not know why he was reluctant to tell this dream to Plod. He had told him so many others. "All right, then, here is my dream. I saw a man standing in a clearing, and all around him, terrible flying creatures--not birds, they had fur, but much larger than bats--they kept circling, swooping down, touching him. He stood there and did nothing. And when at last they all had touched him, they flew away, except one, who perched on his shoulder."
"Ah," said Plod.
"I'm not finished. Immediately there came giant rats, swarming out of burrows in the Earth. At least a meter long--half as tall as the man. And again, they kept coming until all of them had touched him--"
"With what? Their teeth? Their paws?"
"And their noses. Touched him, that's all I knew. Don't distract me."
"When they'd all touched him, they went away."
"Yes. It clung to his leg. You see the pattern."
"What came next?"
Moozh shuddered. It had been the most terrible thing of all, and yet now as the words came to his lips, he couldn't understand why. "People."
"People? Coming to touch him?"
"To . . . to kiss him. His hands, his feet. To worship him. Thousands of them. Only they didn't kiss just the man. They kissed the--flying thing, too. And the giant rat clinging to his leg. Kissed them all."
"Ah," said Plod. He looked worried.
"So? What is it? What does it portend?"
"Obviously the man you saw is the Imperator."
Sometimes Plod's interpretations sounded like truth, but this time Moozh's heart rebelled at the idea of linking the Imperator with the man in the dream. "Why is that obvious? He looked nothing like the Imperator."
"Because all of nature and humankind worshipped him, of course."
Moozh shrugged. This was not one of Plod's most subtle interpretations. And he had never heard of animals loving the Imperator, who fancied himself a great hunter. Of course, he only hunted in one of his parks, where all the animals had been tamed to lose their fear of men, and all the predators trained to act ferocious but never strike. The Imperator got to act his part in a great show of the contest between man and beast, but he was never in danger as the animal innocently exposed itself to his quick dart, his straight javelin, his merciless blade. If this was worship, if this was nature, then yes, one could say that all of nature and humankind worshipped the Imperator. . . .
Plod, of course, knew nothing of Moozh's thoughts in this vein; if one was so unfortunate as to have caustic thoughts about the Imperator, one took care not to burden one's friends with the knowledge of them.
So Plod continued in his interpretation of Moozh's dream. "What does it portend, this worship of the Imperator? Nothing in itself. But the fact that it revolted you, the fact that you recoiled in horror--"
"They were kissing a rat, Plod! They were kissing that disgusting flying creature . . ."
But Plod said nothing as his voice trailed off. Said nothing, and watched him.
"I am not horrified at the thought of people worshipping the Imperator. I have knelt at the Invisible Throne myself, and felt the awe of his presence. It wasn't horrible, it was . . . ennobling."
"So you say," said Plod. "But dreams don't lie. Perhaps you need to purge yourself of some evil in your heart."
"Look, you're the one who said my dream was about the Imperator. Why couldn't the man have been--I don't know--the ruler of Basilica."
"Because the miserable city of Basilica is ruled by women."
"Not Basilica, then. Still, I think the dream was about. . ."
"How should I know? I will purge myself, just in case you're right. I'm not an interpreter of dreams." That would mean wasting several hours today at the tent of the intercessor. It was so tedious, but it was also politically necessary to spend a certain amount of time there every month, or reports of one's impiety soon made their way back to Gollod, where the Imperator decided from time to time who was worthy of command and who was worthy of debasement or death. Moozh was about due for a visit to the intercessor's tabernacle anyway, but he hated it the way a boy hates a bath. "Leave me alone, Plod. You've made me very unhappy."
Plod knelt before him and held Moozh's right hand between his own. "Ah, forgive me."
Moozh forgave him at once, of course, because they were friends. Later that morning he went out and killed the headmen of a dozen Khlami villages. All the villagers immediately swore their eternal love and devotion to the Imperator, and when General Vozmuzhalnoy Vozmozhno went that evening to purge himself in the holy tabernacle, the intercessor forgave him right readily, for he had much increased the honor and majesty of the Imperator that day.
IN BASILICA, AND NOT IN A DREAM
They came to hear Kokor sing, came from all over the city of Basilica, and she loved to see how their faces brightened when--finally--she came out onto the stage and the musicians began gently plucking their strings or letting breath pass through their instruments in the soft undercurrent of sound that was always her accompaniment. Kokor will sing to us at last, their faces said. She liked that expression on their faces better than any other she ever saw, better even than the look of a man being overwhelmed with lust in the last moments before satisfaction. For she well knew that a man cared little who gave him the pleasures of love, while the audience cared very much that it was Kokor who stood before them on the stage and opened her mouth in the high, soaring notes of her unbelievably sweet lyric voice that floated over the music like petals on a stream.
Or at least that was how she wanted it to be. How she imagined it to be, until she actually walked onstage and saw them looking at her. The audience tonight was mostly men. Men with their eyes going up and down her body. I should refuse to sing in the comedies, she told herself again. I should insist on being taken as seriously as they take my beloved sister Sevet with her mannishly low, froggishly mannered voice. Oh, they look at her with faces of aesthetic ecstasy. Audiences of men and women together. They don't look her body up and down to see how it moves under the fabric. Of course, that could be partly because her body is so overfleshed that it isn't really a pleasure to watch, it moves so much like gravel under her costume, poor thing. Of course they close their eyes and listen to her voice--it's so much better than watching her.
What a lie. What a liar I am, even when I'm talking only to myself!
I mustn't be so impatient. It's only a matter of time. Sevet is older--I'm still barely eighteen. She had to do the comedies, too, for a time, till she was known.
Kokor remembered her sister talking in those early days--more than two years ago, when Sevet was almost seventeen--about constantly having to dampen the ardor of her admirers, who had a penchant for entering her dressing room quite primed for immediate love, until she had to hire a bodyguard to discourage the more passionate ones. "It's all about sex," said Sevet then. "The songs, the shows, they're all about sex, and that's all the audience dreams of. Just be careful you don't make them dream too well--or too specifically!"
Good advice? Hardly. The more they dream of you, the greater the cash value of your name on the handbills advertising the play. Until finally, if you're lucky, if you're good enough, the handbill doesn't have to say the name of a show at all. Only your name, and the place, and the day, and the time . . . and when you show up they're all there, hundreds of them, and when the music starts they don't look at you like the last hope of a starving man, they look at you like the highest dream of an elevated soul.
Kokor strode to her place on the stage--and there was applause when she entered. She turned to the audience and let out a thrilling high note.
"What was that?" demanded Gulya, the actor who played the old lecher. "Are you screaming already? I haven't even touched you yet."
The audience laughed--but not enough. This play was in trouble. This play had had its weaknesses from the start, she well knew, but with a mere smattering of laughter like that, it was doomed. So in a few more days she'd have to start rehearsing all over again. Another show. Another set of stupid lyrics and stupid melodies to memorize.
Sevet got to decide her own songs. Songwriters came to her and begged her to sing what they had composed. Sevet didn't have to misuse her voice just to make people laugh.
"I wasn't screaming," Kokor sang.
"You're screaming now," sang Gulya as he sidled close and started to fondle her. His gravelly bass was always good for a laugh when he used it like that, and the audience was with him. Maybe they could pull this show out of the mud after all.
"But now you're touching me!" And her voice rose to its highest pitch and hung there in the air--
Like a bird, like a bird soaring, if only they were listening for beauty.
Gulya made a terrible face and withdrew his han...
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