"The sister is our weak link. He really loves her."
"I know. She can undo it all, from the start. He won't wont to leave her."
"So, what are you going to do?"
"Persuade him that he wants to come with us more than he wants to stay with her."
"How will you do that?"
"I'll lie to him."
"And if that doesn't work?"
"Then I'll tell the truth. We're allowed to do that in emergencies. We can't plan for everything, you know."
Ender wasn't very hungry during breakfast. He kept wondering what it would be like at school. Facing Stilson after yesterday's fight. What Stilson's friends would do. Probably nothing, but he couldn't be sure. He didn't want to go.
"You're not eating, Andrew," his mother said.
Peter came into the room. "Morning. Ender. Thanks for leaving your slimy washcloth in the middle of the shower."
"Just for you," Ender murmured.
"Andrew, you have to eat."
Ender held out his wrists, a gesture that said, So feed it to me through a needle.
"Very funny." Mother said. "I try to be concerned, but it makes no difference to my genius children."
"It was all your genes that made us, Mom." said Peter. "We sure didn't get any from Dad."
"I heard that," Father said, not looking up from the news that was being displayed on the table while he ate.
"It would've been wasted if you hadn't."
The table beeped. Someone was at the door.
"Who is it?" Mother asked.
Father thumbed a key and a man appeared on hts video. He was wearing the only military uniform that meant anything anymore, the IF, the International Fleet.
"I thought it was over," said Father.
Peter said nothing, just poured milk over his cereal.
And Ender thought, Maybe I won't have to go to school today after all.
Father coded the door open and got up from the table. "I'll see to it," he said. "Stay and eat."
They stayed, but they didn't eat. A few moments later, Father came back into the room and beckoned to Mother.
"You're in deep poo," said Peter. "They found out what you did to Stilson, and now they're gonna make you do time out in the Belt."
"I'm only six, moron. I'm a juvenile."
"You're a Third, turd. You've got no rights."
Valentine came in, her hair in a sleepy halo around her face. "Where's Mom and Dad? I'm too sick to go to school."
"Another oral exam, huh?" Peter said.
"Shut up, Peter," said Valentine.
"You should relax and enjoy it," said Peter. "It could be worse."
"I don't know how."
"It could be an anal exam."
"Hyuk hyuk," Valentine said. "Where are Mother and Father?"
"Talking to a guy from IF."
Instinctively she looked at Ender. After all, for years they had expected someone to come and tell them that Ender had passed, that Ender was needed.
"That's right, look at him," Peter said. "But it might he me, you know. They might have realized I was the best of the lot after all." Peter's feelings were hurt, and so he was being a snot, as usual.
The door opened. "Ender," said Father, "you better come in here."
"Sorry, Peter," Valentine taunted.
Father glowered. "Children, this is no laughing matter."
Ender followed Father into the parlor. The IF officer rose to his feet when they entered, but he did not extend a hand to Ender.
Mother was twisting her wedding band on her finger. "Andrew," she said. "I never thought you were the kind to get in a fight."
"The Stilson boy is in the hospital," Father said. "You really did a number on him. With your shoe, Ender, that wasn't exactly fair."
Ender shook his head. He had expected someone from the school to come about Stilson, not an officer of the fleet. This was more serious than he had thought. And yet he couldn't think what else he could have done.
"Do you have any explanation for your behavior, young man?" asked the officer.
Ender shook his head again. He didn't know what to say, and he was afraid to reveal himself to be any more monstrous than his actions had made him out to be. I'll take it, whatever the punishment is, he thought. Let's get it over with.
"We're willing to consider extenuating circumstances," the officer said. "But I must tell you it doesn't look good. Kicking him in the groin, kicking him repeatedly in the face and body when he was down-- sounds like you really enjoyed it."
"I didn't," Ender whispered.
"Then why did you do it?"
"He had his gang there," Ender said.
"So? This excuses anything?"
"Tell me why you kept on kicking him. You had already won."
"Knocking him down won the first fight. I wanted to win all the next ones, too, right then, so they'd leave me alone." Ender couldn't help it, he was too afraid, too ashamed of his own acts: though he tried not to, he cried again. Ender did not like to cry and rarely did; now, in less than a day, he had done it three times. And each time was worse. To cry in front of his mother and father and this military man, that was shameful. "You took away the monitor," Ender said. "I had to take care of myself, didn't I?"
"Ender, you should have asked a grown-up for help," Father began.
But the officer stood up and stepped across the room to Ender. He held out his hand. "My name is Graff. Ender. Colonel Hyrum Graff. I'm director of primary training at Battle School in the Belt. I've come to invite you to enter the school."
After all. "But the monitor--"
"The final step in your testing was to see what would happen if the monitor comes off. We don't always do it that way, but in your case--"
"And I passed?"
Mother was incredulous. "Putting the Stilson boy in the hospital? What would you have done if Andrew had killed him, given him a medal?"
"It isn't what he did, Mrs. Wiggin. It's why." Colonel Graff handed her a folder full of papers. "Here are the requisitions. Your son has been cleared by the IF Selective Service. Of course we already have your consent, granted in writing at the time conception was confirmed, or he could not have been born. He has been ours from then, if he qualified."
Father's voice was trembling as he spoke. "It's not very kind of you, to let us think you didn't want him, and then to take him after all."
"And this charade about the Stilson boy," Mother said.
"It wasn't a charade, Mrs. Wiggin. Until we knew what Ender's motivation was, we couldn't be sure he wasn't another-- we had to know what the action meant. Or at least what Ender believed that it meant."
"Must you call him that stupid nickname?" Mother began to cry.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Wiggin. But that's the name he calls himself."
"What are you going to do, Colonel Graff?" Father asked. "Walk out the door with him now?"
"That depends," said Graff.
"On whether Ender wants to come."
Mother's weeping turned to bitter laughter. "Oh, so it's voluntary after all, how sweet!"
"For the two of you, the choice was made when Ender was conceived. But for Ender, the choice has not been made at all. Conscripts make good cannon fodder, but for officers we need volunteers."
"Officers?" Ender asked. At the sound of his voice, the others fell silent.
"Yes," said Graff. "Battle School is for training future starship captains and commodores of flotillas and admirals of the fleet."
"Let's not have any deception herc!" Father said angrily. "How many of the boy's at the Battle School actually end up in command of ships!"
"Unfortunately, Mr. Wiggin, that is classified information. But I can say that none of our boys who makes it through the first year has ever failed to receive a commission as an officer. And none has served in a position of lower rank than chief executive officer of an interplanetary vessel. Even in the domestic defense forces within our own solar system, there's honor to be had."
"How many make it through the first year?" asked Ender.
"All who want to," said Graff.
Ender almost said, I want to. But he held his tongue. This would keep him out of school, but that was stupid, that was just a problem for a few days. It would keep him away from Peter-- that was more important, that might be a matter of life itself. But to leave Mother and Father, and above all, to leave Valentine. And become a soldier. Ender didn't like fighting. He didn't like Peter's kind, the strong against the weak, and he didn't like his own kind either, the smart against the stupid.
"I think," Graff said, "that Ender and I should have a private conversation."
"No," Father said.
"I won't take him without letting you speak to him again," Graff said. "And you really can't stop me."
Father glared at Graff a moment longer, then got up and left the room. Mother paused to squeeze Ender's hand. She closed the door behind her when she left.
"Ender," Graff said, "if you come with me, you won't be back here for a long time. There aren't any vacations from Battle School. No visitors, either. A full course of training lasts until you're sixteen years old-- you get your first leave, under certain circumstances, when you're twelve. Believe me, Ender, people change in six years, in ten years. Your sister Valentine will be a woman when you see her again, if you come with me. You'll be strangers. You'll still love her, Ender, but you won't know her. You see I'm not pretending it's easy."
"Mom and Daddy?"
"I know you, Ender. I've been watching the monitor disks for some time. You won't miss your mother and father, not much, not for long. And they won't miss you long, either."
Tears came to Ender's eyes, in spite of himself. He turned his face away, but would not reach up to wipe them.
"They do love you, Ender. But you have to understand what your life has cost them. They were born religious, you know. Your father was baptized with the name John Paul Wieczorek. Catholic. The seventh of nine children."
Nine children. That was unthinkable. Criminal.
"Yes, well, people do strange things for religion. You know the sanctions, Ender-- they were not as harsh then, but still not easy. Only the first two children had a free education. Taxes steadily rose with each new child. Your father turned sixteen and invoked the Noncomplying Families Act to separate himself from his family. He changed his name, renounced his religion, and vowed never to have more than the allotted two children. He meant it. All the shame and persecution he went through as a child-- he vowed no child of his would go through it. Do you understand?"
"He didn't want me."
"Well, no one wants a Third anymore. You can't expect them to be glad. But your father and mother are a special case. They both renounced their religions-- your mother was a Mormon-- but in fact their feelings are still ambiguous. Do you know what ambiguous means?"
"They feel both ways."
"They're ashamed of having come from noncompliant families. They conceal it. To the degree that your mother refuses to admit to anyone that she was born in Utah, lest they suspect. Your father denies his Polish ancestry, since Poland is still a noncompliant nation, and under international sanction because of it. So, you see, having a Third, even under the government's direct instructions, undoes everything they've been trying to do."
"I know that."
"But it's more complicated than that. Your father still named you with legitimate saints' names. In fact, he baptized all three of you himself as soon as he got you home after you were born. And your mother objected. They quarreled over it each time, not because she didn't want you baptized, but because she didn't want you baptized Catholic. They haven't really given up their religion. They look at you and see you as a badge of pride, because they were able to circumvent the law and have a Third. But you're also a badge of cowardice, because they dare not go further and practice the noncompliance they still feel is right. And you're a badge of public shame, because at every step you interfere with their efforts at assimilation into normal complying society."
"How can you know all this?"
"We monitored your brother and sister, Ender. You'd be amazed at how sensitive the instruments are. We were connected directly to your brain. We heard all that you heard, whether you were listening carefully or not. Whether you understood or not. We understand."
"So my parents love me and don't love me?"
"They love you. The question is whether they want you here. Your presence in this house is a constant disruption. A source of tension. Do you understand?"
"I'm not the one who causes tension."
"Not anything you do, Ender. Your life itself. Your brother hates you because you are living proof that he wasn't good enough. Your parents resent you because of all the past they are trying to evade."
"Valentine loves me."
"With all her heart. Completely, unstintingly, she's devoted to you, and you adore her. I told you it wouldn't be easy."
"What is it like, there?"
"Hard work. Studies, just like school here, except we put you into mathematics and computers much more heavily. Military history. Strategy and tactics. And above all, the Battle Room."
"War games. All the boys are organized into armies. Day after day, in zero gravity, there are mock battles. Nobody gets hurt, but winning and losing matter. Everybody starts as a common soldier, taking orders. Older boys are your officers, and it's their duty to train you and command you in battle. More than that I can't tell you. It's like playing buggers and astronauts-- except that you have weapons that work, and fellow soldiers fighting beside you, and your whole future and the future of the human race depends on how well you learn, how well you fight. It's a hard life, and you won't have a normal childhood. Of course, with your mind, and as a Third to boot, you wouldn't have a particularly normal childhood anyway."
"A few girls. They don't often pass the tests to get in. Too many centuries of evolution are working against them. None of them will be like Valentine, anyway. But there'll be brothers there, Ender."
"Peter wasn't accepted, Ender, for the very reasons that you hate him."
"I don't hate him. I'm just--"
"Afraid of him. Well, Peter isn't all bad, you know. He was the best we'd seen in a long time. We asked your parents to choose a daughter next they would have anyway hoping that Valentine would be Peter, but milder. She was too mild. And so we requisitioned you."
"To be half Peter and half Valentine."
"If things worked out right."
"As far as we can tell. Our tests are very good, Ender. But they don't tell us everything. In fact, when it comes down to it, they hardly tell us anything. But they're better than nothing." Graff leaned over and took Ender's hands in his. "Ender Wiggin, if it were just a matter of choosing the best and happiest future for you, I'd tell you to stay home. Stay here, grow up, be happy. There are worse things than being a Third, worse things than a big brother who can't make up his mind whether to be a human being or a jackal. Battle School is one of those worse things. But we need you. The buggers may seem like a game to you now, Ender, but they damn near wiped us out last time. But it wasn't enough. They had us cold, outnumbered and outweaponed. The only thing that saved us was that we had the most brilliant military commander we've ever found. Call it fate, call it God, call it damnfool luck, we had Mazer Rackham."
"But we don't have him now, Ender. We've scraped together everything mankind could produce, a fleet that makes the one they sent against us last time seem like a bunch of kids playing in a swimming pool. We have some new weapons, too. But it might not be enough, even so. Because in the eighty years since the last war, they've had as much time to prepare as we have. We need the best we can get, and we need them fast. Maybe you're not going to work out for us, and maybe you are. Maybe you'll break down under the pressure, maybe it'll ruin your life, maybe you'll hate me for coming here to your house today. But if there's a chance that because you're with the fleet, mankind might survive and the buggers might leave us alone forever then I'm going to ask you to do it. To come with me."
Ender had trouble focusing on Colonel Graff. The man looked far away and very small, as if Ender could pick him up with tweezers and drop him in a pocket. To leave everything here, arid go to a place that was very hard, with no Valentine, no Mom and Dad.
And then he thought of the films of the buggers that everyone had to see at least once a year. The Scathing of China. The Battle of the Belt. Death and suffering and terror. And Mazer Rackham and his brilliant maneuvers, destroying an enemy fleet twice his size and twice his firepower, using the little human ships that seemed so frail and weak. Like children fighting with grown-ups. And we won.
"I'm afraid," said Ender quietly. "But I'll go with you."
"Tell me again," said Graff.
"It's what I was born for, isn't it? If I don't go, why am I alive?"
"Not good enough," said Graff.
"I don't want to go," said Ender, "but I will."
Graff nodded. "You can change your mind. Up until the time you get in my car with me, you can change your mind. After that, you stay at the pleasure of the International Fleet. Do you understand that?"
"All right. Let's tell them."
Mother cried. Father held Ender tight. Peter shook his hand and said, "You lucky little pinheaded fart-eater." Valentine kissed him and left her tears on his cheek.
There was nothing to pack. No belongings to take. "The school provides everything you need, from uniforms to school supplies. And as for toys-- there's only one game."
"Good-bye," Ender said to his family. He reached up and took Colonel Graff's hand and walked out the door with him.
"Kill some buggers for me!" Peter shouted.
"I love you, Andrew!" Mother called.
"We'll write to you!" Father said.
And as he got into the car that waited silently in the corridor, he heard Valentine's anguished cry. "Come back to me! I love you forever!"