"I didn't call you in here to waste time. How in hell did the computer do that?"
"I don't know."
"How could it pick up a picture of Ender's brother and put it into the graphics in this Fairyland routine?"
"Colonel Graff, I wasn't there when it was programmed. All I know is that the computer's never taken anyone to this place before. Fairyland was strange enough, but this isn't Fairyland anymore. It's beyond the End of the World, and--"
"I know the names of the places, I just don't know what ney mean."
"Fairyland was programmed in. It's mentioned in a few other places. But nothing talks about the End of the World. We don't have any experience with it."
"I don't like having the computer screw around with Ender's mind that way. Peter Wiggin is the most potent person in his life, except maybe his sister Valentine."
"And the mind game is designed to help shape them, help them find worlds they can be comfortable in."
"You don't get it, do you, Major Imbu? I don't want Ender being comfortable with the end of the world. Our business here is not to be comfortable with the end of the world!"
"The End of the World in the game isn't necessarily the end of humanity in the bugger wars. It has a private meaning to Ender."
"Good. What meaning?"
"I don't know, sir. I'm not the kid. Ask him."
"Major Imbu, I'm asking you."
"There could be a thousand meanings."
"You've been isolating the boy. Maybe he's wishing for the end of this world, the Battle School. Or maybe it's about the end of the world he grew up with as a little boy, his home, coming here. Or maybe it's his way of coping with having broken up so many other kids here. Ender's a sensitive kid, you know, and he's done some pretty bad things to people's bodies, he might be wishing for the end of that world."
"Or none of the above."
"The mind game is a relationship between the child and the computer. Together they create stories. The stories are true, in the sense that they reflect the reality of the child's life. That's all I know."
"And I'll tell you what I know, Major Imbu. That picture of Peter Wiggin was not one that could have been taken from our files here at the school. We have nothing on him, electronically or otherwise, since Ender came here. And that picture is more recent."
"It's only been a year and a half, sir, how much can the boy change?"
"He's wearing his hair completely differently now. His mouth was redone with orthodontia. I got a recent photograph from landside and compared. The only way the computer here in the Battle School could have got that picture was by requisitioning it from a landside computer. And not even one connected with the IF. That takes requisitionary powers. We can't just go into Guilford County North Carolina and pluck a picture out of school files. Did anyone at this school authorize getting this?"
"You don't understand, sir. Our Battle School computer is only a part of the IF network. lf we want a picture, we have to get a requisition, but if the mind game program determines that the picture is necessary--"
"It can just go take it."
"Not just every day. Only when it's for the child's own good."
"OK, it's for his good. But why. His brother is dangerous, his brother was rejected for this program because he's one of the worst human beings we've laid hands on. Why is he so important to Ender? Why, after all his time?"
"Honestly, sir. I don't know. And the mind game program is designed so that it can't tell us. It may not know itself, actually. This is uncharted territory."
"You mean the computer's making this up as it goes along?"
"You might put it that way."
"Well, that does make me feel a little better. I thought l was the only one."
Valentine celebrated Ender's eighth birthday alone, in the wooded back yard of their new home in Greensboro. She scraped a patch of ground bare of pine needles and leaves, and there scratched his name in the dirt with a twig. Then she made a small teepee of twigs and needles and lit a small fire. It made smoke that interwove with the branches and needles of the pine overhead. All the way into space, she said silently. All the way to the Battle School.
No letters had ever come, and as far as they knew their own letters had never reached him. When he first was taken, Father and Mother sat at the table and keyed in long letters to him every few days. Soon, tnough, it was once a week, and when no answers came, once a month. Now it had been two years since he went, and there were no letters, none at all, and no remembrance on his birhday. He is dead, she thought bitterly, because we have forgotten him.
But Valentine had not forgotten him. She did not let her parents know, and above all never hinted to Peter how often she thought about Ender, how often she wrote him letters that she knew he would not answer. And when Mother and Father announced to them that they were leaving the city to move to North Carolina, of all places, Valentine knew that they never expected to see Ender again. They were leaving the only place where he knew to find them. How would Ender find them here, among these trees, under this changeable and heavy sky? He had lived deep in corridors all his life, and if he was still in the Battle School, there was less of nature there. What would he make of this?
Valentine knew why they had moved here. It was for Peter, so that living among trees and small animals, so that nature in as raw a form as Mother and Father could conceive of it, might have a softening influence on their strange and frightening son. And, in a way, it had. Peter took to it right away. Long walks out in the open, cutting through woods and out into the open country-- going sometimes for a whole day, with only a sandwich or two sharing space with his desk in the pack on his back, with only a small pocket knife in his pocket.
But Valentine knew. She had seen a squirrel half-skinned, spiked by its little hands and feet with twigs pushed into the dirt. She pictured Peter trapping it, staking it, then carefully parting and peeling back the skin without breaking into the abdomen, watching the muscles twist and ripple. How long had it taken the squirrel to die? And all the while Peter had sat nearby, leaning against the tree where perhaps the squirrel had nested, playing with his desk while the squirrel's life seeped away.
At first she was horrified, and nearly threw up at dinner, watching how Peter ate so vigorously, talked so cheerfully. But later she thought about it and realized that perhaps, for Peter, it was a kind of magic, like her little fires; a sacrifice that somehow stilled the dark gods that hunted for his soul. Better to torture squirrels than other children. Peter has always been a husbandman of pain, planting it, nurturing it, devouring it greedily when it was ripe; better he should take it in these small, sharp doses than with dull cruelty to chldren in the school.
"A model student," said his teachers. "I wish we had a hundred others in the school just like him. Studies all the tlme, turns in all his work on time. He loves to learn."
But Valentine knew it was a fraud. Peter loved to learn, all right, but the teachers hadn't taught him anything, ever. He did his learning through his desk at home, tapping into libraries ano databases, studying and thinking and, above all, talking to Valentine. Yet at school he acted as though he were excited about the puerile lesson of the day. Oh, wow, I never knew that frogs looked like this inside, he'd say, and then at home he studied the binding of celIs into organisms through the philotic collation of DNA. Peter was a master ot flattery, and all his teachers bought it.
Still, it was good. Peter never fought anymore. Never bullied. Got along well with everybody. It was a new Peter.
Everyone believed it. Father and Mother said it so often it made Valentine want to scream at them. It isn't the new Peter! It's the old Peter, only smarter!
How smart? Smarter than you, Father. Smarter than you, Mother. Smarter than anybody you have ever met.
But not smarter than me.
"I've been deciding," said Peter, "whether to kill you or what."
Valentine leaned against the trunk of the pine tree, her little fire a few smoldering ashes. "I love you, too, Peter."
"It would be so easy. You always make these stupid little fires. It's just a matter of knocking you out and burning you up. You're such a firebug."
"I've been thinking of castrating you in your sleep."
"No you haven't. You only think of things like that when I'm with you. I bring out the best in you. No, Valentine, I've decided not to kill you. I've decided that you're going to help me."
"I am?" A few years ago, Valentine would have been terrified at Peter's threats. Now, though, she was not so afraid. Not that she doubted that he was capable of killing her. She couldn't think of anything so terrible that she didn't believe Peter might do it. She also knew, though, that Peter was not insane, not in the sense that he wasn't in control of himself. He was in better control of himself than anyone she knew. Except perhaps herself. Peter could delay any desire as long as be needed to; he could conceal any emotion. And so Valentine knew that he would never hurt her in a fit of rage. He would only do it if the advantages outweighed the risks. And they did not. In a way, she actually preferred Peter to other people because of this. He always, always acted out of intelligent self-interest. And so, to keep herself safe, all she had to do was make sure it was more in Peter's interest to keep her alive than to have her dead.
"Valentine, things are coming to a head. I've been tracking troop movements in Russia."
"What are we talking about?"
"The world, Val. You know Russia? Big empire? Warsaw Pact? Rulers of Eurasia from the Netherlands to Pakistan?"
"They don't publish their troop movements, Peter."
"Of course not. But they do publish their passenger and freight train schedules. I've had my desk analyzing those schedules and figuring out when the secret troop trains are moving over the same tracks. Done it backward over the past three years. In the last six months, they've stepped up, they're getting ready for war. Land war."
"But what about the League? What about the buggers?" Valentine didn't know what Peter was getting at, but he often launched discussions like this, practical discussions of world events. He used her to test his ideas, to refine them. In the process, she also refined her own thinking. She found that while she rarely agreed with Peter about what the world ought to be, they rarely disagreed about what the world actually was. They had become quite deft at sifting accurate information out of the stories of the hopelessly ignorant, gullible news writers. The news herd, as Peter called them.
"The Polemarch is Russian, isn't he? And he knows what's happening with the fleet. Either they've found out the buggers aren't a threat after all, or we're about to have a big battle. One way or another, the bugger war is about to be over. They're getting ready for after the war."
"If they're moving troops, it must be under the direction of the Strategos."
"It's all internal, within the Warsaw Pact."
This was disturbing. The facade of peace and cooperation had been undisturbed almost since the bugger wars began. What Peter had detected was a fundamental disturbance in the world order. She had a mental picture, as clear as memory, of the way the world had been before the buggers forced peace unon them. "So it's back to the way it was before."
"A few changes. The shields make it so nobody bothers with nuclear weapons anymore. We have to kill each other thousands at a time instead of millions." Peter grinned. "Val, it was bound to happen. Right now there's a vast international fleet and army in existence, with American hegemony. When the bugger wars are over, all that power will vanish, because it's all built on fear of the buggers. And suddenly we'll look around and discover nat all the old alliances are gone, dead and gone, except one, the Warsaw Pact. And it'll be the dollar against five million lasers. We'll have the asteroid belt, but they'll have Earth, and you run out of raisins and celery kind of fast out there, without Earth."
What disturbed Valentine most of all was that Peter did not seem at all worried. "Peter, why do I get the idea that you are thinking of this as a golden opportunity for Peter Wiggin?"
"For both of us, Val."
"Peter, you're twelve years old. I'm ten. They have a word for people our age. They call us children and they treat us like mice."
"But we don't think like other children, do we, Val? We don't talk like other children. And above all, we don't write like other children."
"For a discussion that began with death threats, Peter, we've strayed from the topic, I think." Still, Valentine found herself getting excited. Writing was something Val did better than Peter. They both knew it. Peter had even named it once, when he said that he could always see what other people hated most about themselvee, and bully them, while Val could always see what other people liked best about themselves, and flatter them. It was a cynical way of putting it, but it was true. Valentine could persuade other people to her point of view-- she could convince them that they wanted what she wanted them to want. Peter, on the other hand, could only make them fear what he wanted them to fear. When he first pointed this out to Val, she resented it. She had wanted to believe she was good at persuading people because she was right, not because she was clever. But no matter how much she told herself that she didn't ever want to exploit people the way Peter did, she enjoyed knowing that she could, in her way, control other people. And not just control what they did. She could control, in a way, what they wanted to do. She was ashamed that she took pleasure in this power, and yet she found herself using it sometimes. To get teachers to do what she wanted, and other students. To get Mother and Father to see things her way. Sometimes, she was able to persuade even Peter. That was the most frightening thing of all-- that she could understand Peter well enough, could empathize with him enough to get inside him that way. There was more Peter in her than she could bear to admit, though sometimes she dared to think ahout it anyway. This is what she thought as Peter spoke: You dream of power, Peter, but in my own way I am more powerful than you.
"I've been studying history," Peter said. "I've been learning things about patterns in human behavior. There are times when the world is rearranging itself, and at times like that, the right words can change the world. Think what Pericles did in Athens, and Demosthenes--"
"Yes, they managed to wreck Athens twice."
"Pericles, yes, but Demosthenes was right about Philip--"
"Or provoked him--"
"See? This is what historians usually do, quibble about cause and effect when the point is, there are times when the world is in flux and the right voice in the right place can move the world. Thomas Paine and Ben Franklin, for instance. Bismarek. Lenin."
"Not exactly parallel cases, Peter." Now she was disagreeing with him out of habit; she saw what he was getting at, and she thought it might just be possible.
"I didn't expect you to understand. You still believe that teachers know something worth learning."
I understand more than you think, Peter. "So you see yourself as Bismarck?"
"I see myself as knowing how to insert ideas into the public mind. Haven't you ever thought of a phrase, Val, a clever thing to say, and said it, and then two weeks or a month later you hear some adult saying it to another adult, both of them strangers? Or you see it on a video or pick it up on a net?"
"I always figured I heard it before and only thought I was making it up."
"You were wrong. There are maybe two or three thousand people in the world as smart as us, little sister. Most of them are making a living somewhere. Teaching, the poor bastards, or doing research. Precious few of them are actually in positions of power."
"I guess we're the lucky few."
"Funny as a one-legged rabbit, Val."
"Of which there are no doubt several in these woods."
"Hopping in neat little circles."
Valentine laughed at the gruesome image and hated herself for thinking it was funny.
"Val, we can say the words that everyone else will be saying two weeks later. We can do that. We don't have to wait until we're grown up and safely put away in some career."
"Peter, you're twelve."
"Not on the nets I'm not. On the nets I can name myself anything I want, and so can you."
"On the nets we are clearly identified as students, and we can't even get into the real discussions except in audience mode, which means we can't say anything anyway."
"I have a plan."
"You always do." She pretended nonchalance but she listened eagerly.
"We can get on the nets as full-fledged adults. with whatever net names we want to adopt, if Father gets us onto his citizen's access."
"And why would he do that? We alreads have student access. What do you tell him, I need citizen's access so I can take over the world?"
"No, Val. I won't tell him anything. You'll tell him how you're worried about me. How I'm trying so very hard to do well at school, but you know it's driving me crazy because I can never talk to anybody intelligent, everybody always talks down to me because I'm young, I never get to converse with my peers. You can prove that the stress is getting to me."
Valentine thought of the corpse of the squirrel in the woods and realized that even that discovery was part of Peter's plan. Or at least he had made it part of his plan, after it happened.
"So you get him to authorize us to share his citizen's access. To adopt our own identities there, to conceal who we are so people will give us the intellectual respect we deserve."
Valentine could challenge him on ideas, but never on things like this. She could not say, What makes you think you deserve respect? She had read about Adolf Hitler. She wondered what he was like at the age of twelve. Not this smart, not like Peter that way, but craving honor, probably that. And what would it have meant to the world if in childhood he had been caught in a thresher or trampled by a horse?
"Val," Peter said. "I know what you think of me. I'm not a nice person, you think."
Valentine threw a pine needle at him. "An arrow through your heart."
"I've been planning to come talk to you for a long time. But I kept being afraid."
She put a pine needle in her mouth and blew it at him. It dropped almost straight down. "Another failed launch." Why was he pretending to be weak?
"Val, I was afraid you wouldn't believe me. That you wouldn't believe I could do it."
"Peter, I believe you could do anything, and probably will."
"But I was even more afraid that you'd believe me and try to stop me."
"Come on, threaten to kill me again, Peter." Did he actually believe she could be fooled by his nice-and-humble-kid act?
"So I've got a sick sense of humor. I'm sorry. You know I was teasing. I need your help."
"You're just what the world needs. A twelve-year-old to solve all our problems."
"It's not my fault I'm twelve right now. And it's not my fault that right now is when the opportunity is open. Right now is the time when I can shape events. The world is always a democracy in times of flux, and the man with the best voice will win. Everybody thinks Hitler got to power because of his armies, because they were willing to kill, and that's partly true, because in the real world power is always built on the threat of death and dishonor. But mostly he got to power on words-- on the right words at the right time."
"I was just thinking of comparing you to him."
"I don't hate Jews, Val. I don't want to destroy anybody. And I don't want war, either. I want the world to hold together. Is that so bad? I don't want us to go back to the old way. Have you read about the world wars?"
"We can go back to that again. Or worse. We could find ourselves locked into the Warsaw Pact. Now, there's a cheerful thought."
"Peter, we're children, don't you understand that? We're going to school, we're growing up--" But even as she resisted, she wanted him to persuade her. She had wanted him to persuade her from the beginning.
But Peter didn't know that he had already won. "If I believe that, if I accept that, then I've got to sit back and watch while all the opportunities vanish, and then when I'm old enough it's too late. Val, listen to me. I know how you feel about me, you always have. I was a vicious, nasty brother. I was cruel to you and crueler to Ender before they took him. But I didn't hate you. I loved you both, I just had to be-- had to have control, do you understand that? lt's the most important thing to me, it's my greatest gift, I can see where the weak points are, I can see how to get in and use them, I just see those things without even trying. I could become a businessman and run some big corporation, I'd scramble and maneuver until I was at the top of everything and what would I have? Nothing. I'm going to rule, Val, I'm going to have control of something. But I want it to be something worth ruling. I want to accomplish something worthwhile. A Pax Americana through the whole world. So that when somebody else comes, after we beat the buggers, when somebody else comes here to defeat us, they'll find we've already spread over a thousand worlds, we're at peace with ourselves and impossible to destroy. Do you understand? I want to save mankind from self-destruction."
She had never seen him speak with such sincerity. With no hint of mockery, no trace of a lie in his voice. He was getting better at this. Or maybe he was actually touching on the truth. "So a twelve-year-old boy and his kid sister are going to save the world?"
"How old was Alexander? I'm not going to do it overnight. I'm just going to start now. If you'll help me."
"I don't believe what you did to those squirrels was part of an act. I think you did it because you love to do it."
Suddenly Peter wept into his hands. Val assumed that he was pretending, but then she wondered. It was possible, wasn't it, that he loved her, and that in this time of terrifying opportunity he was willing to weaken himself before her in order to win her love. He's manipulating me, she thought, but that doesn't mean he isn't sincere. His cheeks were wet when he took his hands away, his eyes rimmed in red. "I know," he said. "It's what I'm most afraid of. That I really am a monster. I don't want to be a killer but I just can't help it."
She had never seen him show such weakness. You're so clever, Peter. You saved your weakness so you could use it to move me now. And yet it did move her. Because if it were true, even partly true. then Peter was not a monster, and so she could satisfy her Peter-like love of power without fear of becoming monstrous herself. She knew that Peter was calculating even now, but she believed that under the calculations he was telling the truth. It had been hidden layers deep, but he had probed her until he found her trust.
"Val, if you don't help me, l don't know what I'll become. But if you're there, my partner in everything, you can keep me from becoming -- like that. Like the bad ones."
She nodded. You are only pretending to share power with me, she thought, but in fact i have power over you. even though you don't know it. "I will. I'll help you."
As soon as Father got them both onto his citizen's access, they began testing he waters. They staved away from the nets that required use of a real name. That wasn't hard because real names only had to do with money. They didn't need money. They needed respect, and that they could earn. With false names, on the right nets, they could be anybody. Old men, middle-aged women, anybody, as long as they were careful about the way they wrote. All that anyone would see were their words, their ideas. Every citizen started equal, on the nets.
They used throwaway names with their early efforts. not the identities that Peter planned to make famous and influential. Of course they were not invited to take part in the great national and international political forums -- they could only be audiences there until they were invited or elected to take part. But they signed on and watched, reading some of the essays published by the great names, witnessing the debates that played across their desks.
And in the lesser conferences, where common people commented about the great debates, they began to insert their comments. At first Peter insisted that they be deliberately inflammatory. "We can't learn how our style of writing is working unless we get responses -- and if we're bland, no one will answer."
They were not bland, and people answered. The responses that got posted on the public nets were vinegar; the responses that were sent as mail, for Peter and Valentine to read privately, were poisonous. But they did learn what attributes of their writing were seized upon as childish and immature. And they got better.
When Peter was satisfied that they knew how to sound adult, he killed the old identities and they began to prepare to attract real attention.
"We have to seem completely separate. We'll write about different things at different times. We'll never refer to each other. You'll mostly work on the west coast nets, and I'll mostly work in the south. Regional issues, too. So do your homework."
They did their homework. Mother and Father worried sometimes, with Peter and Valentine constantly together, their desks tucked under their arms. But they couldn't complain-- their grades were good, and Valentine was such a good influence on Peter. She had changed his whole attitude toward everything. And Peter and Valentine sat together in the woods, in good weather, and in pocket restaurants and indoor parks when it rained, and they composed their political commentaries. Peter carefully designed both characters so neither one had all of his ideas; there were even some spare identities that they used to drop in third party opinions. "Let both of them find a following as they can," said Peter.
Once, tired of writing and rewriting until Peter was satisfied, Val despaired and said, "Write it yourself, then!"
"I can't," he answered. "They can't both sound alike. Ever. You forget that someday we'll be famous enough that somebody will start running analyses. We have to come up as different people every time."
So she wrote on. Her main identity on the nets was Demosthenes -- Peter chose the name. He called himself Locke. They were obvious pseudonyms, but that was part of the plan. "With any luck, they'll start trying to guess who we are."
"If we get famous enough, the government can always get access and find out who we really are."
"When that happens, we'll be too entrenched to suffer much loss. People will be shocked that Demosthenes and Locke are two kids, hut they'll already be used to listening to us."
They began composing debates for their characters. Valentine would prepare en opening statement, and Peter would invent a throwaway name to answer her. His answer would be intelilgent and the dehate would be lively, lots of clever invective and good political rhetoric. Valentine had a knack for alliteration that made her phrases memorable. Then they would enter the debate into the network, separated by a reasonable amount of time, as if they were actually making them up on the spot. Sometimes a few other netters would interposee comments, but Peter and Val would usually ignore them or change their own comments only slightly to accommodate what had been said.
Peter took careful note of all their most memorable phrases and then did searches from time to time to find those phrases cropping up in other nlaces. Not all of them did, but most of them were repeated here and there, and some of them even showed up in the major debates on the prestige nets. "We're being read," Peter said. "The ideas are seeping out."
"The phrases, anyway."
"That's just the measure. Look, we're having some influence. Nobody quotes us by name, yet, but they're discussing the points we raise. We're helping set the agenda. We're getting there."
"Should we try to get into the main debates?"
"No. We'll wait until they ask us."
They had been doing it only seven months when one of the west coast nets sent Demosthenes a message. An offer for a weekly column in a pretty good newsnet.
"I can't do a weekly column," Valentine said. "I don't even have a monthly period yet."
"The two aren't related," Peter said.
"They are to me. I'm still a kid."
"Tell them yes, but since you prefer not to have your true identity revealed, you want them to pay you in network time. A new access code through their corporate identity."
"So when the government traces me--"
"You'll just be a person who can sign on through CalNet. Father's citizen's access doesn't get involved. What I can't figure out is why they wanted Demosthenes before Locke."
"Talent rises to the top."
As a game, it was fun. But Valentine didn't like some of the positions Peter made Demosthenes take. Demosthenes began to develop as a fairly paranoid anti-Warsaw writer. It bothered her because Peter was the one who knew how to exploit fear in his writing -- she had to keep coming to him for ideas on how to do it. Meanwhile, his Locke followed her moderate, empathic strategies. It made sense, in a way. By having her write Demosthenes, it meant he also had some empathy, just as Locke also could play on others fears. But the main effect was to keep her inextricably tied to Peter. She couldn't go off and use Demosthenes for her own purposes. She wouldn't know how to use him. Still, it worked both ways. He couldn't write Locke without her. Or could he?
"I thought the idea was to unify the world. If I write this like you say I should, Peter, I'm pretty much calling for war to break up the Warsaw Pact."
"Not war, just open nets and prohibition of interception. Free flow of information. Compliance with the League rules, for heaven's sake."
Without meaning to, Valentine started talking in Demosthenes' voice, even though she certainly wasn't speaking Demosthenes' opinions. Everyone knows that from the beginning the Warsaw Pact was to be regarded as a single entity where those rules were concerned. International free flow is still open. But between the Warsaw Pact nations these things are internal matters. That was why they were willing to allow American hegemony in the League."
"You're arguing Locke's part, Val. Trust me. You have to call for the Warsaw Pact to lose official status. You have to get a lot of people really angry. Then, later, when you begin to recognize the need for compromise--"
"Then they stop listening to me and go off and fight a war."
"Val, trust me. I know what I'm doing."
"How do you know? You're not any smarter than me, and you've never done this before either."
"I'm thirteen and you're ten."
"And I know how these things work."
"All right, I'll do it your way. But I won't do any of these liberty or death things."
"You will too."
"And someday when they catch us and they wonder why your sister was such a warmonger. I can just bet you'll tell them that you told me to do it."
"Are you sure you're not having a period, little woman?"
"I hate you, Peter Wiggin."
What bothered Valentine most was when her column got syndicated into several other regional newsnets, and Father started reading it and quoting from it at table. "Finally, a man with some sense," he said. Then he quoted some of the passages Valentine hated worst in her own work. "It's fine to work with these hegemonist Russians with the buggers out there, but after we win, I can't see leaving half the civilized world as virtual helots, can you, dear?"
"I think you're taking this all too seriously," said Mother.
"I like this Demosthenes. I like the way he thinks. I'm surprised he isn't in the major nets. I looked for him in the international relations debates and you know, he's never taken part in any of them."
Valentine lost her appetite and left the table. Peter followed her after a respectable interval.
"So you don't like lying to Father." he said. "So what? You're not lying to him. He doesn't think that you're really Demosthenes, and Demosthenes isn't saying things you really believe. They cancel each other out, they amount to nothing."
"That's the kind of reasoning that makes Locke such an ass." But what really bothered her was not that she was lying to Father -- it was the fact that Father actually agreed with Demosthenes. She had thought that only fools would follow him.
A few days later Locke got picked up for a column in a New England newsnet, specifically to provide a contrasting view for their popular column from Demosthenes. "Not bad for two kids who've only got about eight pubic hairs between them," Peter said.
"It's a long way between writng a newsnet column and ruling the world," Valentine reminded him. "It's such a long way that no one has ever done it."
"They have, though. Or the moral equivalent. I'm going to say snide things about Demosthenes in my first column."
"Well, Demosthenes isn't even going to notice that Locke exists. Ever."
With their identities now fully supported by their income from writing columns, they used Father's access now only for the throwaway identities. Mother commented that they were spending too much time on the nets. "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," she reminded Peter.
Peter let his hand tremhle a little, and he said, "If you think I should stop, I think I might be able to keep things under control this time. I really do."
"No, no," Mother said. "I don't want you to stop. Just be careful, that's all."
"I'm careful, Mom."
Nothing was different -- nothing had changed in a year. Ender was sure of it, and yet it all seemed to have gone sour. He was stil the leading soldier in the standings, and no one doutbted that he deserved it now. At the age of nine he was a toon leader in the Phoenix Army, with Petra Arkanian as his commander. He still led his evening practice sessions, and now they were attended by an elite group of soldiers nominated by their commanders, though any Launchy who wanted to could still come. Alai was also a toon leader, in another army, and they were still good friends; Shen was not a leader, but that was no barrier. Dink Meeker had finally accepted command and succeeded Rose the Nose in Rat Army's command. All is going well, very well, I couldn't ask for anything better--
So why do I hate my life?
He went through the paces of the practices and games. He liked teaching the boys in his toon, and they followed him loyally. He had the respect of everyone, and he was treated with deference in his evening practices. Commanders came to study what he did. Other soldiers approached his table at mess and asked permission to sit down. Even the teachers were respectful.
He had so much damn respect he wanted to scream.
He watched the young kids in his army, fresh out of their launch groups, watched how they played, how they made fun of their leaders when they thought no one was looking. He watched the camaraderie of old friends who had known each other in the Battle School for years, who talked and laughed about old battles and long-graduated soldiers and commanders.
But with his old friends there was no laughter, no remembering. Just work. Just intelligence and excitement about the game, but nothing beyond that. Tonight it had come to a head in the evening practice. Ender and Alai were discussing the nuances of open-space maneuvers when Shen came up and listened for a few moments, then suddenly took Alai by the shoulders and shouted, "Nova! Nova! Nova!" Alai burst out laughing, and for a moment or two Ender watched them remember together the battle where open-room maneuvering had been for real, and they had dodged past the older boys and--
Suddenly they remembered that Ender was tnere. "Sorry, Ender," Shen said.
Sorry. For what? For being friends? "I was there, too, you know," Ender said.
And they apologized again. Back to business. Back to respect. And Ender realized that in their laughter, in their friendship, it had not occurred to them that he was included.
How could they think I was part of it? Did I laugh? Did I join in? Just stood there, watching, like a teacher.
Thats how they think of me, too. Teacher. Legendary soldier. Not one of them. Not someone that you embrace and whisper Salaam in his ear. That only lasted while Ender still seemed a victim. Still seemed vulnerable. Now he was the master soldier, and he was completely, utterly alone.
Feel sorry for yourself, Ender. He typed the words on his desk as he lay on his bunk. POOR ENDER. Then he laughed at himself and cleared away the words. Not a boy or girl in this school who wouldn't he glad to trade places with me.
He called up the fantasy game. He walked as he often did through the village that the dwarves had built in the hill made by the Giant's corpse. It was easy to build sturdy walls, with the ribs already curved just right, just enough space between them to leave windows. The whole corpse was cut into apartments, opening onto the path down the Giant's spine, The public amphitheatre was carved into the pelvic bowl, and the common herd of ponies was pastured between the Giant's legs. Ender was never sure what the dwarves were doing as they went about their business, but they left him alone as he picked his way through the village, and in return he did them no harm either.
He vaulted the pelvic bone at the base of the public square, and walked through the pasture. The ponies shied away from him. He did not pursue them. Ender did not understand how the game functioned anymore. In the old days, before he had first gone to the End of the World, everything was combat and puzzles to solve defeat the enemy before he kills you, or figure out how to get past the obstacle. Now, though, no one attacked, there was no war, and wherever he went, there was no obstacle at all.
Except, of course, in the room in the castle at the End of the World. It was the one dangerous place left. And Ender, however often he vowed that he would not, always went back there, always killed the snake, always looked his brother in the face, and always, no matter what he did next, died.
It was no different this time. He tried to use the knife on the table to pry through the mortar and pull out a stone from the wall. As soon as he breached the seal of the mortar, water began to gush in through the crack, and Ender watched his death as his figure, now out of his control, struggled madly to stay alive, to keep from drowning. The windows of his room were gone, the water rose, and his figure drowned. All the while, the face of Peter Wiggin in the mirror stayed and looked at him.
I'm trapped here, Ender thought, trapped at the End of the World with no way out. And he knew at last the sour taste that had come to him, despite all his successes in the Battle School. lt was despair.
There were uniformed men at the entrances to the school when Valentine arrived. They weren't standing like guards, but rather slouched around as if they were waiting for someone inside to finish his business. They wore the uniforms of IF Marines, the same uniforms that exeryone saw in bloody combat on the videos. It lent an air of romance to that day at school: all the other kids where excited about it.
Valentine was not. It made her think of Ender, for one thing. And for anotther it made her afraid. Someone had recently published a savage commentary on the Demosthenes' collected writings. The commentary, and therefore her work, had been discussed on te open conference of the international relations net, with some of the most important people of the day attacking and defending Demosthenes. What worried her most was the comnuent of an Englishman: "Whether he likes it or not, Demosthenes cannot remain incognito forever. He has outraged too many wise men and pleased too many fools to hide behind his too-appropriate pseudonym much longer. Either he will unmask himself in order to assume leadership of the forces of stupidity he has marshalled, or his enemies will unmask him in order to better understand the disease that has produced such a warped and twisted mind."
Peter had been delighted, but then he would be. Valentine was afraid, that enough powerful people had been annoyed by the vicious persona of Demosthenes that she would indeed be tracked down. The IF could do it, even if the American government was constitutionally bound not to. And here were IF troops gathered at Western Guilford Middle School, of all places. Nor exactly the regular recruiting grounds for the IF Marines.
So she was not surprised to find a message marching around her desk as soon as she logged in.
PLEASE LOG OFF AND GO TO DR. LINEBERRY'S OFFICE AT ONCE.
Valentine waited nervously outside the principal's office until Dr. Lineberry opened the door and beckoned her inside. Her last doubt was removed when she saw the soft-bellied man in the uniform of an IF colonel sitting in the one comfortable chair in the room.
"You're Valentine Wiggin," he said.
"Yes," she whisnered.
"I'm Colonel Graff. We've met before."
Before? When had she had any dealings with the IF?
"I've come to talk to you in confidence, about your brother."
It's not just me, then, she thought. They have Peter. Or is this something new? Has he done something crazy? I thought he stopped doing crazy things.
"Valentine, you seem frightened. There's no need to be. Please, sit down. I assure you that your brother is well. He has more than fulfilled our expectations."
And now, with a great inward gush of relief, she realized that it was Ender they had come about. Ender. It wasn't punishment at all, it was little Ender, who had disappeared so long ago, who was no part of Peter's plots now. You were the lucky one, Ender. You got away before Peter could trap you into his conspiracy.
"How do you feel about your brother, Valentine?"
"How can I feel about him? I haven't seen him or heard from him since I was eight."
"Dr. Lineberry, will you excuse us?"
Lineberry was annoyed.
"On second thought, Dr. Lineberry, I think Valentine and I will have a much more productive conversation if we walk outside. Away from the recording devices that your assistant principal has placed in this room."
It was the first time Valentine had seen Dr. Lineberry speechless. Colonel Graff lifted a picture out from the wall and peeled a sound-sensitive membrane from the wall, along with its small broadcast unit. "Cheap," said Graff, "but effective. I thought you knew."
Lineberry took the device and sat down heavily at her desk. Graff led Valentine outside,
They walked out into the football field. The soldiers followed at a discreet distance: they split up and formed a large circle, to guard them from the widest possible perimeter.
"Valentine, we need your help for Ender."
"What kind of help?"
"We aren't even sure of that. We need you to help us figure out how you can help us."
"Well, what's wrong?"
"That's part of the problem. We don't know."
Valentine couldn't help but laugh. "I haven't seen him in three years! You've got him up there with you all the time!"
"Valentine, it costs more nuoney than your father will make in his lifetime for me to fly to Earth and back to the Battle School again. I don't commute casually."
"The king had a dream," said Valentine, "but he forgot what it was, so he told his wise men to interpret the dream or they'd die. Only Daniel could interpret it, because he was a prophet."
"You read the Bible?"
"We're doing classics this year in advanced English. I'm not a prophet."
"I wish I could tell you everything about Ender's situation. But it would take hours, maybe days, and afterward I'd have to put you in protective confinement because so much of it is strictly confidential. So let's see what we can do with limited information. There's a game that our students play with the computer." And he told her about the End of the World and the closed room and the picture of Peter in the mirror.
"It's the computer that puts the picture there, not Ender. Why not ask the computer?"
"The computer doesn't know."
"I'm supposed to know?"
"This is the second time since Ender's been with us that he's taken this game to a dead end. To a game that seems to have no solution.".
"Did he solve the first one?"
"Then give him time, he'll probably solve this one."
"I'm not sure. Valentine, your brother is a very unhappy little boy."
"I don't know."
"You don't know much, do you?"
Valentine thought for a moment that the man might get angry. Instead, though, he decided to laugh. "No, not much. Valentine, why would Ender keep seeing your brother Peter in the mirror?"
"He shouldn't. It's stupid."
"Why is it stupid?"
"Because if there's ever anybody who was the opposite of Ender, it's Peter."
Valentine could not think of a way to answer that wasn't dangerous. Too much questioning about Peter could lead to real trouble. Valentine knew enough about the world to know that no one would take Peter's plans for world domination seriously, as a danger to existing governments. But they might well decide he was insane and needed treatment for his megalomania.
"You're preparing to lie to me," Graff said.
"I'm preparing not to talk to you anymore," Valentine answered.
"And you're afraid. Why are you afraid?"
"I don't like questions about my family. Just leave my family out of this."
"Valentine, I'm trying to leave your family out of this. I'm coming to you so I don't have to start a battery of tests on Peter and question your parents. I'm trying to solve this problem now, with the person Ender loves and trusts most in the world, perhaps the only person he loves and trusts at all. If we can't solve it this way, then we'll sequester your family and do as we like from then on. This is not a trivial matter, and I won't just go away."
The only person Ender loves and trusts at all. She felt a deep stab of pain, of regret, of shame that now it was Peter she was close to. Peter who was the center of her life. For you, Ender, I light fires en your birthday. For Peter I help fulfil all his dreams. "I never thought you were a nice man. Not when you came to take Ender away, and not now."
"Don't pretend to be an ignorant little girl. I saw your tests when you were little, and at the present moment there aren't very many college professors who could keep up with you."
"Ender and Peter hate each other."
"I knew that. You said they were opposites. Why?"
"Peter -- can be hateful sometimes."
"Hateful in what way?"
"Mean. Just mean, that's all."
"Valentine, for Ender's sake, tell me what he does when he's being mean."
"He threatens to kill people a lot. He doesn't mean it. But when we were little, Ender and I were both afraid of him. He told us he'd kill us. Actually, he told us he'd kill Ender."
"We monitored some of that."
"It was because of the monitor."
"Is that all? Tell me more about Peter."
So she told him about the children in every school that Peter attended. He never hit them, but he tortured them just the same. Found what they were most ashamed of and told it to the person whose respect they most wanted. Found what they most feared and made sure they faced it often.
"Did he do this with Ender?"
Valentine shook her head.
"Are you sure? Didn't Ender have a weak place? A thing he feared most, or that he was ashamed of?"
"Ender never did anything to be ashamed of." And suddenly, deep in her own shame for having forgotten and betrayed Ender, she started to cry.
"Why are you crying?"
She shook her head. She couldn't explain what it was like to think of her little brother, who was so good, whom she had protected for so long, and then remember that now she was Peter's ally, Peter's helper, Peter's slave in a scheme that was completely out of her control. Ender never surrendered to Peter, but I have turned, I've become part of him, as Ender never was. "Ender never gave in," she said.
"To Peter. To being like Peter."
They walked in silence along the goal line.
"How would Ender ever be like Peter?"
Valentine shuddered, "I already told you."
"But Ender never did that kind of thing. He was just a little boy."
"We both wanted to, though. We both wanted to to kill Peter."
"No, that isn't true. We never said it, Ender never said that he wanted to do that. I just -- thought it. It was me, not Ender. He never said that he wanted to kill him."
"What did he want?"
"He just didn't want to be--"
"To be what?"
"Peter tortures squirrels. He stakes them out on the ground and skins them alive and sits and watches them until they die. He did that, he doesn't do it now. But he did it. If Ender knew that, if Ender saw him, I think that he'd--"
"He'd what? Rescue the squirrels? Try to heal them?"
"No, in those days you didn't undo what Peter did. You didn't cross him. But Ender would be kind to squirrels. Do you understand? He'd feed them."
"But if he fed them, they'd become tame, and that much easier for Peter to catch."
Valentine began to cry again. "No matter what you do, it always helps Peter. Everything helps Peter, everything, you just can't get away, no matter what."
"Are you helping Peter?" asked Graff.
She didn't answer.
"Is Peter such a very bad person, Valentine?"
"Is Peter the worst person in the world?"
"How can he be? I don't know. He's the worst person I know."
"And yet you and Ender are his brother and sister. You have the same genes, the same parents, how can he be so bad if--"
Valentine turned and screamed at him, screamed as if he were killing her. "Ender is not like Peter! He is not like Peter in any way! Except that he's smart, that's all-- in every other way a person could possibly be like Peter he is nothing nothing nothing like Peter! Nothing!"
"I see," said Graff.
"I know what you're thinking, you bastard, you're thinking that I'm wrong, that Ender's like Peter. Well maybe I'm like Peter, but Ender isn't, he isn't at all, I used to tell him that when he cried, I told him that lots of times, you're not like Peter, you never like to hurt people, you're kind and good and not like Peter at all!"
"And it's true."
His acquiescence calmed her. "Damn right it's true. It's true."
"Valentine, will you help Ender?"
"I can't do anything for him now."
"It's really the same thing you always did for him before. Just comfort him and tell him that he never likes to hurt people, that he's good and kind and not like Peter at all, That's the most important thing. That he's not like Peter at all."
"I can see him?"
"No. I want you to write a letter."
"What good does that do? Ender never answered a single letter I sent."
Graff sighed. "He answered every letter he got."
It took only a second for her to understand. "You really stink."
"Isolation is -- the optimum environment for creativity. It was *his* ideas we wanted, not the -- never mind, I don't have to defend myself to you."
Then why are you doing it, she did not ask.
"But he's slacking off. He's coasting. We want to push him forward, and he won't go."
"Maybe I'd be doing Ender a favor if I told you to go stuff yourself."
"You've already helped me. You can help me more. Write to him."
"Promise you won't cut out anything I write."
"I won't promise any such thing."
"Then forget it."
"No problem. I'll write your letter myself. We can use your other letters to reconcile the writing styles. Simple matter."
"I want to see him."
"He gets his first leave when he's eighteen."
"You told him it would be when he was twelve."
"We changed the rules."
"Why should I help you!"
"Don't help me. Help Ender. What does it matter if that helps us, too?"
"What kind of terrible things are you doing to him up there?"
Graff chuckled. "Valentine, my dear little girl, the terrible things are only about to begin."
Ender was four lines into the letter before he realized that it wasn't from one of the other soldiers in the Battle School. It had come in the regular way -- a MAIL WAlTING message when he signed into his desk. He read four lines into it, then skipped to the end and read the signature. Then he went back to the beginning, and curled up on his bed to read the words over and over again.
THE BASTARDS WOULDN'T PUT ANY OF MY LETTERS THROUGH TILL NOW. I MUST HAVE WRITTEN A HUNDRED TIMES BUT YOU MUST HAVE THOUGHT I NEVER DID. WELL, I DID. I HAVEN'T FORGOTTEN YOU. I REMEMBER YOUR BIRTHDAY. I REMEMBER EVERYTHING. SOME PEOPLE MIGHT THINK THAT BECAUSE YOU'RE BEING A SOLDIER YOU ARE NOW A CRUEL AND HARD PERSON WHO LIKES TO HURT PEOPLE, LIKE THE MARINES IN THE VIDEOS, BUT I KNOW THAT ISN'T TRUE. YOU ARE NOTHING LIKE YOU-KNOW-WHO. HE'S NICER-SEEMING BUT HE'S STILL A SLUMBITCH INSIDE. MAYBE YOU SEEM MEAN, BUT IT WON'T FOOL ME. STILL PADDLING THE OLD KNEW, ALL MY LOVE TURKEY LIPS,
DON'T WRITE BACK THEY'LL PROBLY SIKOWANALIZE YOUR LETTER.
Obviously it was written with the full approval of the teachers. But there was no doubt it was written by Val. The spelling of psychoanalyze, the epithet slumbitch for Peter, the joke about pronouncing knew like canoe were all things that no one could know but Val.
And yet they came pretty thick, as though someone wanted to make very sure that Ender believed that the letter was genuine. Why should thry be so eager if it's the real thing?
It isn't the real thing anyway. Even if she wrote it in her own blood, it isn't the real thing because they made her write it. She'd written before, and they didn't let any of those letters through. Those might have been real, but this was asked for, this was part of their manipulation.
And the despair filled him again. Now he knew why. Now he knew what he hated so much. He had no control over his own life. They ran everything. They made all the choices. Only the game was left to him, that was all, everything else was them and their rules and plans and lessons and programs, and all he could do was go this way or that way in battle. The one real thing, the one precious real thing was his memory of Valentine, the person who loved him before he ever played a game, who loved him whether there was a bugger war or not, and they had taken her and put her on their side. She was one of them now.
He hated them and all their games. Hated them so badly that he cried, reading Val's empty asked-for letter again. The other boys in Phoenix Army noticed and looked away. Ender Wiggin crying? That was disturbing. Something terrible was going on. The best soldier in any army, lying on his bunk crying. The silence in the room was deep.
Ender deleted the letter, wiped it out of menuory and then punched up the fantasy game. He was not sure why he was so eager to play the game, to get to the End of the World, but he wasted no time getting there. Only when he coasted on the cloud, skimming over the autumnal colors of the pastoral world, only then did he realize what he hated most about Val's letter. All that it said was about Peter. About how he was not at all like Peter. The words she had said so often as she held him, comforted him as he trembled in fear and rage and loathing after Peter had tortured him, that was all that the letter had said.
And that was what they had asked for. The bastards knew about that, and they knew about Peter in the mirror in the castle room, they knew about everything and to them Val was just one more tool to use to control him, just one more trick to play. Dink was right, they were the enemy, they loved nothing and cared for nothing and he was not going to do what they wanted, he was damn well not going to do anything for them. He had had only one memory that was safe, one good thing, and those bastards had plowed it into him with the rest of the manure -- and so he was finished, he wasn't going to play.
As always the serpent waited in the tower room, unraveling itself from the rug on the floor. But this time Ender didn't grind it underfoot. This time he caught it in his hands, knelt before it, and gently, so gently, brought the snake's gaping mouth to his lips.
He had not meant to do that. He had meant to let the snake bite him on the mouth. Or perhaps he had meant to eat the snake alive, as Peter in the mirror had done, with his bloody chin and the snake's tail dangling from his lips. But he kissed it instead.
And the snake in his hands thickened and bent into another shape. A human shape. It was Valentine, and she kissed him again.
The snake could not be Valentine. He had killed it too often for it to be his sister. Peter had devoured it too often to bear it that it might have been Valentine all along.
Was this what they planned when they let him read her letter? He didn't care.
She arose from the floor of the tower room and walked to the mirror. Ender made his figure also rise and go with her. They stood before the mirror, where instead of Peter's cruel reflection there stood a dragon and a unicorn. Ender reached out his hand and touched the mirror; the wall fell open and revealed a great stairway downward, carpeted and lined with shouting, cheering multitudes. Together, arm in arm, he and Valentine walked down the stairs. Tears filled his eyes, tears of relief that at last he had broken free of the End of the World. And because of the tears, he didn't notice that every member of the multitude wore Peter's face. He only knew that wherever he went in this world, Valentine was with him.
Valentine read the letter that Dr. Lineberry had given her. "Dear Valentine," it said, "We thank you and commend you for your efforts on behalf of the war effort. You are hereby notified that you have been awarded the Star of the Order of the League of Humanity, First Class, which is the highest military award that can be given to a civilian. Unfortunately, IF security forbids us to make this award public until after the successful conclusion of current operations, but we want you to know that your efforts resulted in complete success. Sincerely, General Shimon Levy, Strategos."
When she had read it twice Dr. Lineberry took it from her hands. "I was instructed to let you read it, and then destroy it." She took a cigarette lighter from a drawer and set the paper afire. It burned brightly in the ashtray. "Was it good or bad news?" she asked.
"I sold my brother," Valentine said, "and they paid me for it."
"That's a bit melodramatic, isn't it, Valentine?"
Valentine went back to class without answering.
That night Demosthenes published a scathing denunctalion of the population limitation laws. People should be allowed to have as many children as they like, and the surplus population should be sent to other worlds, to spread mankind so far across the galaxy that no disaster, no invasion could ever threaten the human race with annihilation. "The most noble title any child can have," Demosthenes wrote, "is Third."
For you, Ender, she said to herself as she wrote.
Peter laughed in delight when he read it. "That'll make them sit up and take notice. Third! A noble title! Oh, you have a wicked streak."