As soon as I wrote this story I realised I would most likely have to self-publish it. To my delighted surprise, though, an editor at one of the big online magazines offered me, shortly after, to publish it. Two days later, however, the publisher of the same magazine declined the story, not wanting to deal with any potential fallout. I then showed it – unofficially – to a handful of people, and got a potential offer to publish it in another big magazine, if only I were to change some of the references in the story.
I decided, instead, to publish it here.
Note: if, after reading the story, you feel like contributing a buck or two towards it, please click on the Paypal button below. I would ideally like to make the $60-$120 I would have been paid for this story, but I don’t necessarily expect to. However, I will raffle one signed printout of the story amongst contributors just in case you fancy one of those. If you just want to leave a comment, of whatever nature, feel free to do so too.
By Lavie Tidhar
There had been another boy at the school, called Ender, but he’d attacked and seriously hurt and in at least one case we knew of killed one of the other boys, and they finally had to put him down, though he kept protesting, the day they came for him, that it wasn’t his fault.
No-one wanted to be put down at the school. They bred us very carefully, lines of genetic lineage, great-great-grandparents and parents all down the generations selected by the board and certified and mated to produce us. If we were an aberration we were put down and our progenitors were mated again, to try and create a better version.
My earliest memory is of white men in white coats holding clipboards, examining me. They measured my skull and prodded me with thick pink fingers and made careful notes. There was a war coming, they kept saying, and we had to be prepared.
Because of aliens.
White people are better than brown people and white people of Nordic extraction are better than dirty-white people like the Italians or the Irish. When I grew up I learnt there had been factions amongst the Teachers and that one faction had tried, over centuries, to breed a new kind of human, blending African and Jewish genetic lines–“to mix the African’s physical prowess with the Jew’s intellectual power”, I think it says that in the original notes. But the project was disbanded and all the samples destroyed, and now they only breed us out of good white stock–the best kind.
When a technologically-advanced society meets an alien society with less firepower, the only result–so the Teachers say–is war. There is, the Teachers say, admonishing us, no other possible outcome, no negotiation, no compromise.
This is known as the David Weber Axiom.
Humans are the best possible life form and white humans are the best possible humans and, also, we have a manifest destiny and the universe is our heritage.
This is known as the John W. Campbell Axiom.
There was a boy at the school who raised his hand once when a Teacher said that, when she was telling us about war and why it was inevitable; and he said that in the South Pacific, in Melanesian society (everyone sort of sniggered when he said Melanesians) they had a strange concept called Pis, which was absolute. So, say, if a neighbour killed your son, or you stole his cow, or whatever, you couldn’t fight it out; you had to do a Pis Seremoni and exchange goods, both the victim and the perpetrator had to pay each other off, to maintain the peace. Even when they had wars, they were agreed on in advance and lasted a specific length of time and the winner got tallied by official score keepers, and then there was peace again and everyone went home for tea.
There was a silence after the boy said that and then the teacher said, “There aren’t any Melanesians any more.”
Also, they sent the boy to the showers shortly after.
We had showers at the school, and then we had showers. That type of shower didn’t have water in the taps, it had a very humane sort of gas and that’s how they put you down. There was also a small crematorium, and we had to use a wheelbarrow to transport the boys who didn’t make it from the one to the other.
“It is a great opportunity for you boys,” the Teachers always told us. We had a picture of the Leader in the communal dining room and he looked down at us with sad, wise eyes. “The galaxy will be ours,” the Teachers said. “Think how lucky you boys are.”
There were no girls at the school. Girls are for childbearing.
The school was in low Earth orbit, in a specially constructed habitat. It was inside a hollowed-out asteroid and had the most advanced training programme of the time. There had been an enemy called the Buggers but the Leader had long ago initiated a gay extermination policy just like we did with the Jews a few centuries later. “We have to destroy the aliens within,” the Leader said, “before we can destroy the aliens without.”
Homosexuality is a genetic defect. This is known as the Eric James Stone Axiom.
We had a fleet of starships, billions of tiny, deadly devices, a swarm controlled from a distance by a human mind–which would be one of us. Each swarm was to take on a different solar system. Each boy from the school would control one swarm. Each swarm would descend on all inhabited planets in said solar system and destroy all potentially threatening life forms, before human colonisation could commence.
Each of us would be a hero, each of us the liberator of entire worlds.
Think of the glory!
There are aliens out there. Non-human, dirty, disgusting things. They have to be exterminated. This is our destiny.
But recently I’ve been having doubts. I keep thinking about the Ender boy. I keep wondering if it was really his fault. Soon it’s going to be my turn at the controls, the swarm descending on a solar system far away, the billions of robotic killing machines obeying my every move as I sweep down to exterminate the vermin of space. I’m not sure what I’ll encounter there, what manner of strange creatures live on those nameless planets, Buggers or Jews, but they must be removed from the universe for humanity–for the right kind of humanity–to live on.
Can I do it, I wonder? They bred me for this, the Teachers; they programmed me and planned my childhood the way they had planned my genetic line and selected my parents and their parents and their parents’ parents. They had tested me in every way and conditioned me to do it, and absolved me from responsibility, for I am just following their orders.
Will I do it?
Even raising the question I risk the showers, I must hide it deep inside of me and never let it out, never let it betray me. Some say the Ender boy never died, that he ran away and joined the aliens and took up Buggery. If so, the story gives us hope.
But these are lies, misinformation fed to us by the Teachers, to test us.
Press the button, and they die. Press the button, and something inside you might die. But you’ve been trained for it. You’ve been bred for it. Let go of childish doubts. You are ready, now. Press the button. Press the button. Press the button. Press the button. Press the button.