CHAPTER ONE

Unfulfilled Role

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"Dreams are not reliable.

"Statistics…science – that is what matters to survive. What is definite and sure, when the truth is broken down and permitted to be real. When it is genetics separating genius children from a choice of life, hopes and dreams are a mere delusional – a test of temptation that can ultimately lead to the sudden end of that intellect's purpose. What are those children left with then?

"An unused brain and time spent growing up just to be given a childhood too late."

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As the session drew to a close, Dana Pewter forced back the statement dancing on the tip of her tongue as her patient's last words drifted into the artificial air processing and cycling throughout the room by a duct resting in the upper right corner of the far wall. From where she lay in the chair, neck craned uncomfortably over one armrest, and legs over the other, Alex let her mind process and repeat her spoken thoughts carefully. The ship's psychologist seemed unsure of how to react to the girl's words, despite the six years they had spent in therapy together.

At last, Dana forced a registered, carefully worded sentence from her mouth, crossing one leg over the other as if to hide what she had typed on her desk in her lap. "How long have you been thinking this, Alexandra?"

The truth was that Alex had analyzed and modified her opinion on the matter repeatedly – ever since she had first realized at age four, that she hadn't lived up to the I.F. Command's expectations. Despite that the unpredictable change in genetics had come through a highly unlikely error, those aboard the ship still treated Alex as an outsider.

With an even tone, the girl replied after a minute, "Week or so."

Eyes darting to her psychiatrist, Alex could tell by Dana's raised eyebrows and skeptical look that she didn't believe her. That's all right, Alex told her secretly. I don't need your approval to think on my own.

With a sigh that resembled contempt, Dana informed her client, "You know I can't give a real opinion on the subject matter. I have spent most of my life on this ship, as you have."

No, Alex argued quietly. You have seen Earth. You have seen the genius children there, matching up against those without the blessed genes. You see me as the others do – a disappointment. Just not to the same degree.

Alex didn't see any reason worth voicing these thoughts aloud though. The rest of the session would be spent simply arguing until Alex was forced to give way into Dana's logic and thinking – the same thinking that hadn't changed in seventy years.

Sighing at this, Alex shook her head in irritation. Straightening to sit up in the chair stiffly, she noted, "That doesn't mean that we can't have an opinion. It isn't right that I should be treated so unjustly because of something that can't be helped."

Recognizing the truth in the girl's words, Dana felt at a loss of what to say. She had seen the way the crewmembers treated Alexandra – as if she were a mere nuisance and not a child; just a being who couldn't fulfill her promised role as pilot to the interstellar spacecraft, because her mind didn't have the quick thought process required. Mental observations and tests showed deficiencies in reaction timing.

How many years did they have before they reached the buggers' home planet? Before they were deployed into battle? These were the same worrisome thoughts plaguing the crew's mind. Though they were all carefully chosen individuals who chose to come onto this seventy year flight, it didn't stop fear from shifting into their thoughts now and again.

"We have been over this several times, Alexandra. You can't allow the matter to interfere with the crew, or your parents' roles in this mission."

Nodding with a scoff, Alex rolled her eyes, muttering, "Yeah…I know."

The sharp tone of the alarm repeating three times alerted Dana to the watch clasped around her wrist. Entering a few digits into the laptop notebook resting on her legs, Dana let the lid close as the computer processed her notes. Pushing herself to her feet, she gestured for her patient to stand as well. Alex did as she was bid, knowing that the alert confirmed the end of the session.

Resting a hand on the girl's back in a comforting gesture that went unnoticed, Dana guided Alex towards the doublewide, mechanical doors, telling her in a gentle voice, "I know things may look grim, Alexandra, but just remember that there are people aboard who care about you."

Every psychiatrist's famous line, Alex noted quietly, casting a quick glare towards Mrs. Pewter before pausing before the doors as they opened wide. Turning towards the middle-aged woman expectantly, observing the fine brunette hairs thinning to gray at her temples, and the faint lines tracing her lips and brow, Alex looked up at the woman expectantly.

Gazing back into the girl's hazy, hazel eyes, Dana felt her heart clench tightly, and she wished she could do more for her. Dana's role aboard the spaceship was to ensure that the crew kept their wits about them, and didn't retract into deep depression. Their mission, after all, was a certain, bitter end, with no commander waiting back on Earth to give the interstellar fleet the needed directions and guidance for battle in the Third Invasion.

When Mrs. Pewter nodded towards the doors, Alex knew it was her sign to go. Without a word or gesture, she turned and stepped across the threshold and into the dim, white hallway. After the doors closed behind her, and the distant sound of Mrs. Pewter departing through another pair, the anti-gravity field turned on, and Alex floated towards the ceiling.

Hand gripping the metal bar lining the hall, Alex pulled her way towards the corner and the single door that led towards the rooms. There at least, she would find peace of mind in her desk and the access to countless digital books, documents, and articles over the net. Despite that she was on a one-way course, Alex was subdued to her studies daily. The I.F. mustn't have found a need for high security on the spacecraft's network, because Alex had discovered a couple of weeks previous, a way to hack into the system library she was receiving her articles of general studies and courses from.

With a new arsenal of information at hand, Alex had come to hope that perhaps she could learn something that could be of use to those on board. For two weeks, she had shuffled through various articles and teachings in hopes of finding something to dedicate herself to. Instead, Alex had discovered a whole world and life that existed outside her own; one that had advanced without them. If she lived, would she be useful to this new world when they returned?

Pausing as the door opened, Alex stared up into the familiar, wrinkled, round face of Catherina Cato. Spotting the straying form of her daughter, Catherina offered a pleasant smile that eased the fine lines around her eyes and mouth. For a moment, Alex recognized the young woman who had began as a promising, educated teenager in physics, on this flight from the spaceship network's visual recordings.

More than fifty years ago, Alex realized. It took them forty years to have a child that could be born here…and I can't even provide what the I.F. is looking for.

If these thoughts were filtering through her mind, Catherina didn't express them. With one hand gripping the bar, she pulled herself down to Alex's level so her knees rested on the floor, and pulled her daughter into a warm embrace with her free arm. Alex allowed her mother the affectionate moment, even wrapping her own arm beneath her mother's to awkwardly pat the shoulder there.

When the moment passed, Catherina's smile had faltered some as she re-oriented herself. In a low, but caring tone, she told the attentive girl, "Be sure to complete your homework, and stay out of your father's way if he enters. He's rather stressed this morning."

Nodding in understanding of this, Alex watched her mother drift her way expertly down the hall and around the corner out of view. For a minute longer, the girl remained where she was, pondering over her mother's careful words. Father only stressed when ill news arrived from the I.F. concerning the bugger war and the children recruited into Battle School in space just outside Earth's orbit.

At times, Alex envied the young children training in Battle School. From age five or so onwards, they knew nothing but combat and tactics. Their minds had been refined into what the I.F. wanted of them. Would they have accepted her, if her parents had stayed to live on Earth?

If I had failed, then I would have been sent home, and my childhood destroyed, Alex reminded herself. Just like what I had told Mrs. Pewter in today's session.

Shaking her mind to clear it of these ill thoughts, Alex pressed her hand to the keypad beside the door, and pulled herself through over the threshold as it slid aside. Entering into the hall with single doors spreading down a good twenty yards, Alex drifted aimlessly in the open space until an overhead ding announced the shift to gravity.

Feet sinking to the smooth, straight metal floor, Alex strode down the hallway with eyes locked on the doors to the left – mouthing the count as she passed. Reaching a door with a simple engraved "thirty-one" on it, Alex stretched her arm up to press her hand on the third palm scanner, speaking her name. The door, recognizing her imprints and individual skin cells and voice, opened as the scanner light shined green.

Taking away her hand revealed the smooth black of the square once more, and Alex took one large step over the threshold and into the inclined room that served as a sort of living space. Various pieces of sitting furniture was laid out neatly around the small, square space, with locked stands resting beside each chair and couch side. The room had the same look as every other room. All of the furniture was embedded and bolted into the room's walls so it was unmovable. It gave each room in the spaceship a dreary and boring appearance.

Heading for a door resting in the right wall, Alex disappeared into the small space serving as her bedroom. There were only three things of importance that rested here: a bunk pressed against the wall, a locked stand beside it, and a wide, metal locker with a scanner resting on top. The locker had three drawers, and was built so Alex could just walk over and lay her hand atop it with ease for the scanner to recognize her.

After repeating the confirmation process, the locker drawers jutted open slightly, slamming against her knees. Ignoring the way they buckled slightly, Alex kneeled down and pulled the third locker out. Here rested her personal items – an adult sized desk that was too wide for her lap and keys too big for her small fingers, and a few tokens her parents had given her.

Pulling the desk out with some difficulty, Alex closed the bottom locker with her foot, which in turn, closed the other two. Pulling the laptop into her arms, she headed back into the living space, and picking her favorite corner opposite of her room to sit.

Opening up the desk and signing on, Alex read the warning message about her history homework being due. Pointer straying over the "Open" and "Close" buttons concerning the document, Alex decided that it could wait. Bringing up the net instead, she headed back for her studies site source. Breaking into the system had become a simple two minute task.

With access to all the articles resting within the library, and codes to libraries further out of reach, Alex picked through random documents – opening them and reading a line or two before closing them. An hour or so passed in silence. Her father came in once and disappeared into his room.

Stepping out a minute later with his own desk resting beneath his arm, Ewout paused at the doorway to peer to the left at his daughter. Clearly already in an impatient and irritated mood, he asked indignantly, "Why don't you sit in a chair? Money wasn't spent to embed them into the ship for you to rest on the floor."

Without looking up, Alex replied in a bored tone, "I get better net access over here." The statement was a blatant lie, but Ewout took it and strode out without another word.

After another ten minutes, Alex was about to put aside her exploration when an interesting article with the beginning title "WigginThird" made her pause in interest. It was in a classified folder she had dismissed, since it was just a list of Third born children who hadn't made it into the Battle School program. Though it related somewhat to her own circumstance, Alex had found it too familiar and unsettling to explore just yet.

However, she had seen the name "Wiggin" pop up briefly in other articles, and felt drawn to this one. There had been mention of three children – all considered for Battle School – but were then reconsidered as inadequate for one reason or another.

Deciding this would be the last document before returning to her homework, and then heading for rightful sleep, Alex brought it up. She watched the sentences and words stream blearily down in rows and columns for thirty seconds, and was amazed at how much information the article contained.

Reading the first opening statements, all thoughts of homework were shoved aside, as Alex let a crafty smile slip onto her young features, and intrigued words emanate from her lips; "Why, hello Ender Wiggin."