"Isn't it nice to know that Ender can do the impossible?"'
"The player's deaths have always been sickening. I've always thought the Giant's Drink was the most perverted part at the whole mind game, but going for the eye like that-- this is the one we want to put in command of our fleets?"
"What matters is that he won the game that couldn't be won."
"I suppose you'll move him now."
"We were waiting to see how he handled the thing with Bernard. He handled it perfectly."
"So as soon as he can cope with a situation, you move him to one he can't cope with. Doesn't he get any rest?"
"He'll have a month or two, maybe three, with his launch group. That's really quite a long time in a child's life."
"Does it ever seem to you that these boys aren't children? I look at what they do, the way they talk, and they don't seem like little kids."
"They're the most brilliant children in the world, each in his own way."
"But shouldn't they still act like children? They aren't normal. They act like-- history. Napoleon and Wellington. Caesar and Brutus."
"We're trying to save the world, not heal the wounded heart. You're too compassionate."
"General Levy has no pity for anyone. All the videos say so. But don't hurt this boy."
"Are you joking?"
"I mean, don't hurt him more than you have to."
Alai sat across from Ender at dinner. "I finally figured out how you sent that message. Using Bernard's name."
"Me?" asked Ender.
"Come on. who else? It sure wasn't Bernard. And Shen isn't too hot on the computer. And I know it wasn't me. Who else? Doesn't matter. I figured out how to fake a new student entry. You just created a student named Bernard-blank, B-E-R-N-A-R-D-space, so the computer didn't kick it out as a repeat of another student."
"Sounds like that might work," said Ender.
"OK, OK. It does work. But you did that practically on the first day."
"Or somebody. Maybe Dap did it, to keep Bernard from getting too much control."
"I found something else. I can't do it with your name."
"Anything with Ender in it gets kicked out. I can't get inside your files at all, either. You made your own security system."
Alai grinned. "I just got in and trashed somebody's files. He's right behind me on cracking the system. I need protection, Ender. I need your system."
"If I give you my system, you'll know how I do it and you'll get in and trash me."
"You say me?" Alai asked. "I the sweetest friend you got!"
Ender laughed. "I'll setup a system for you."
"Can I finish eating?"
"You never finish eating."
It was true. Ender's tray always had food on it after a meal. Ender looked at the plate and decided he was through. "Let's go then."
When they got to the barracks. Ender squatted down by his bed and said, "Get your desk and bring it over here. I'll show you how." But when Alai brought his desk to Ender's bed, Ender was just sitting there, his lockers still closed.
"What up?" asked Alai.
In answer Ender palmed his locker. "Unauthorized Access Attempt," it said. It didn't open.
"Somebody done a dance on your head, mama," Alai said. "Somebody eated your face."
"You sure you want my security system now?" Ender got up and walked away from his bed.
"Ender," said Alai.
Ender turned around. Alai was holding a little piece of paper.
"What is it?"
Alai looked up at him. "Don't you know? This was on your bed. You must have sat on it."
Ender took it from him.
ENDER WIGGIN -- ASSIGNED SALAMANDER ARMY -- COMMANDER BONZO MADRID -- EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY -- CODE GREEN GREEN BROWN -- NO POSSESSIONS TRANSFERRED
"You're smart, Ender, but you don't do the battle-room any better than me."
Ender shook his head. It was the stupidest thing he could think of, to promote him now. Nobody got promoted before they were eight years old. Ender wasn't even seven yet. And launches usually moved into the armies together, with most armies getting a new kid at the same time. There were no transfer slips on any of the other beds.
Just when things were finally coming together. Just when Bernard was getting along with everybody, even Ender. Just when Ender was beginning to make a real friend out of Alai. Just when his life was finally getting livable.
Ender reached down to pull Alai up from the bed.
"Salamander Army's in contention, anyway," Alai said.
Ender was so angry at the unfairness of the transfer that tears were coming to his eyes. Mustn't cry, he told himself.
Alai saw the tears but had the grace not to say so. "They're fartheads, Ender, they won't even let you take anything you own."
Ender grinned and didn't cry after all. "Think I should strip and go naked?"
Alai laughed, too.
On impulse Ender hugged him, tight, almost as if he were Valentine. He even thought of Valentine then and wanted to go home. "I don't want to go," he said.
Alai hugged him back. "I understand them, Ender. You are the best of us. Maybe they're in a hurry to teach you everything."
"They don't want to teach me everything," Ender said. "I wanted to learn what it was like to have a friend."
Alai nodded soberly. "Always my friend, always the best of my friends," he said. Then he grinned. "Go slice up the buggers."
"Yeah." Ender smiled back.
Alai suddenly kissed Ender on the cheek and whispered in his ear. "Salaam." Then, red faced, he turned away and walked to his own bed at the back of the barracks. Ender guessed that the kiss and the word were somehow forbidden. A suppressed religion, perhaps. Or maybe the word had some private and powerful meaning for Alai alone. Whatever it meant to Alai, Ender knew that it was sacred; that he had uncovered himself for Ender, as once Ender's mother had done when he was very young, before they put the monitor in his neck, and she had put her hands on his head when she thought he was asleep, and prayed over him. Ender had never spoken of that to anyone, not even to Mother, but had kept it as a memory of holiness, of how his mother loved him when she thought that no one, not even he, could see or hear. That was what Alai had given him: a gift so sacred that even Ender could not be allowed to understand what it meant.
After such a thing nothing could be said. Alai reached his bed and turned around to see Ender. Their eyes held for only a moment, locked in understanding. Then Ender left.
There would be no green green brown in this part of the school; he would have to pick up the colors in one of the public areas. The others would be finished with dinner very soon; he didn't want to go near the mess hall. The game room would be nearly empty.
None of the games appealed to him, the way he felt now. So he went to the bank of public desks at the back of the room and signed on to his own private game. He went quickly to Fairyland. The Giant was dead when he arrived now; he had to climb carefully down the table, jump to the leg of the Giant's overturned chair, and then make the drop to the ground. For a while there had been rats gnawing at the Giant's body, but Ender had killed one with a pin from the Giant's ragged shirt, and they had left him alone after that.
The Giant's corpse had essentially finished its decay. What could be torn by the small scavengers was torn; the maggots had done their work on the organs, now it was a dessicated mummy, hollowed-out, teeth in a rigid grin, eyes empty, fingers curled. Ender remembered burrowing through the eye when it had been alive and malicious and intelligent. Angry and frustrated as he was, Ender wished to do such murder again. But the Giant had become part of the landscape now, and so there could be no rage against him.
Ender had always gone over the bridge to the castle of the Queen of Hearts, where there were games enough for him; but none of those appealed to him now. He went around the giant's corpse and followed the brook upstream, to where it emerged from the forest. There was a playground there, slides and monkeybars, teeter-totters and merry-go-rounds, with a dozen children laughing as they played. Ender came and found that in the game he had become a child, though usually his figure in the games was adult. In fact, he was smaller than the other children.
He got in line for the slide. The other children ignored him. He climbed up to the top, watched the boy before him whirl down the long spiral to the ground. Then he sat and began to slide.
He had not slid for a moment when he fell right through the slide and landed on the ground under the ladder. The slide would not hold him.
Neither would the monkey bars. He could climb a ways, but then at random a bar seemed to be insubstantial and he fell. He could sit on the see-saw until he rose to the apex; then he fell. When the merry-go-round went fast, he could not hold onto any of the bars, and centrifugal force hurled him off.
And the other children: their laughter was raucous, offensive. They circled around him and pointed and laughed for many seconds before they went back to their play.
Ender wanted to hit them, to throw them in the brook. Instead he walked into the forest. He found a path, which soon became an ancient brick road, much overgrown with weeds but still usable. There were hints of possible games off to either side, but Ender followed none of them. He wanted to see where the path led.
It led to a clearing, with a well in the middle, and a sign that said, "Drink, traveler." Ender went forward and looked at the well. Almost at once, he heard a snarl. Out of the woods emerged a dozen slavering wolves with human faces. Ender recognized them-- they were the children from the playground. Only now their teeth could tear; Ender, weaponless, was quickly devoured.
His next figure appeared, as usual, in the same spot, and was eaten again, though Ender tried to climb down into the well.
The next appearance, though, was at the playground. Again the children laughed at him. Laugh all you like, Ender thought. I know what you are. He pushed one of them. She followed him, angry. Ender led her up the slide. Of course he fell through; but this time, following so closely behind him, she also fell through. When she hit the ground, she turned into a wolf and lay there, dead or stunned.
One by one Ender led each of the others into a trap. But before he had finished off the last of them, the wolves began reviving, and were no longer children. Ender was torn apart again.
This time, shaking and sweating, Ender found his figure revived on the Giant's table. I should quit, he told himself. I should go to my new army.
But instead he made his figure drop down from the table and walk around the Giant's body to the playground.
This time, as soon as the child hit the ground and turned into a wolf, Ender dragged the body to the brook and pulled it in. Each time, the body sizzled as though the water were acid; the wolf was consumed, and a dark cloud of smoke arose and drifted away. The children were easily dispatched, though they began following him in twos and threes at the end. Ender found no wolves waiting for him in the clearing, and he lowered himself into the well on the bucket rope.
The light in the cavern was dim, but he could see piles of jewels. He passed them by, noting that, behind him, eyes glinted among the gems. A table covered with food did not interest him. He passed through a group of cages hanging from the ceiling of the cave, each containing some exotic, friendly-looking creature. I'll play with you later, Ender thought. At last he came to a door, with these words in glowing emeralds:
THE END OF THE WORLD
He did not hesitate. He opened the door and stepped through.
He stood on a small ledge, high on a cliff overlooking a terrain of bright and deep green forest with dashes of autumn color and patches here and there of cleared land, with oxdrawn plows and small villages, a castle on a rise in the distance, and clouds riding currents of air below him. Above him, the sky was the ceiling of a vast cavern, with crystals dangling in bright stalactites.
The door closed behind him. Ender studied the scene intently. With the beauty of it, he cared less for survival than usual. He cared little, at the moment, what the game of this place might be. He had found it, and seeing it was its own reward. And so, with no thought of consequences, he jumped from the ledge.
Now he plummeted downward toward a roiling river and savage rocks; but a cloud came between him and the ground as he fell, and caught him, and carried him away.
It took him to the tower of the castle, and through the open window, bearing him in. There it left him, in a room with no apparent door in floor or ceiling, and windows looking out over a certainly fatal fall.
A moment ago he had thrown himself from a ledge carelessly; this time he hesitated.
The small rug before the fire unraxeled itself into a long, slender serpent with wicked teeth.
"I am your only escape," it said. "Death is your only escape.
Ender looked around the room for a weapon, when suddenly the screen went dark. Words flashed around the rim of the desk.
REPORT TO COMMANDER IMMEDIATELY. YOU ARE LATE. -- GREEN GREEN BROWN.
Furious, Ender snapped off the desk and went to the color wall, where he found the ribbon of green green brown, touched it, and followed it as it lit up before him. The dark green, light green, and brown of the ribbon reminded him of the early autumn kingdom he had found in the game. I must go back there, he told himself. The serpent is a long thread; I can let myself down from the tower and find my way through that place. Perhaps it's called the end of the world because it's the end of the games, because I can go to one of the villages and become one of the little boys working and playing there, with nothing to kill and nothing to kill me, just living there.
As he thought of it, though, he could not imagine what "just living" might actually be. He had never done it in his life. But he wanted to do it anyway.
Armies were larger than launch groups, and the army barracks room was larger, too. It was long and narrow, with bunks on both sides; so long, in fact, that you could see the curvature of the floor as the far end bent upward, part of the wheel of the Battle School.
Ender stood at the door. A few boys near the door glanced at him, but they were older, and it seemed as though they hadn't even seen him. They went on with their conversations, lying and leaning on bunks. They were discussing battles, of course; the older boys always did. They were all much larger than Ender. The ten- and eleven-year-olds towered over him; even the youngest were eight, and Ender was not large for his age.
He tried to see which of the boys was the commander, but most were somewhere between battle dress and what the soldiers always called their sleep uniform-- skin from head to toe. Many of them had desks out, but few were studying.
Ender stepped into the room. The moment he did, he was noticed.
"What do you want?" demanded the boy who had the upper bunk by the door. He was the largest of them. Ender had noticed him before, a young giant who had whiskers growing raggedly on his chin. "You're not a Salamander."
"I'm supposed to be, I think," Ender said. "Green green brown, right? I was transferred." He showed the boy, obviously the doorguard, his paper.
The doorguard reached for it. Ender withdrew it just out of reach. "I'm supposed to give it to Bonzo Madrid."
Now another boy joined the conversation, a smaller boy, but still larger than Ender, "Not bahn-zoe, pisshead. Bone-So. The name's Spanish. Bonzo Madrid. Aqui nosotros hablamos espa¤ol, Se¤or Gran Fedor."
"You must be Bonzo, then?" Ender asked, pronouncing the name correctly.
"No, just a brilliant and talented polyglot. Petra Arkanian. The only girl in Salamander Army. With more balls than anybody else in the room."
"Mother Petra she talking?" said one of the boys. "She talking, she talking."
Another one chimed in. "Shit talking ... shit talking, shit talking!"
Quite a few laughed.
"Just between you and me," Petra said, "if they gave the Battle School an enema, they'd stick it in at green green brown."
Ender despaired. He already had nothing going for him: grossly undertrained, small, inexperienced, doomed to be resented for early advancement. And now, by chance, he had made exactly the wrong friend. An outcast in Salamander Army, and she had just linked him with her in the minds of the rest of the army. A good day's work. For a moment, as Ender looked around at the laughing, jeering faces, he imagined their bodies covered with hair, their teeth pointed for tearing. Am I the only human being in this place? Are all the others animals, waiting only to devour?
Then he remembered Alai. In every army, surely, there was at least one worth knowing.
Studdenly, though no one said to be quiet, the laughter stopped and the group fell silent. Ender turned to the door. A boy stood there, tall and dark and slender, with beautiful black eyes and slender lips that hinted at refinement. I would follow such beauty, said something inside Ender. I would see as those eyes see.
"Who are you?" asked the boy quietly.
"Ender Wiggin, sir," Ender said. "Reassigned from launch to Salamander Army." He held out the orders.
The boy took the paper in a swift, sure movement, without touching Ender's hand. "How old are you, Wiggin?" he asked.
Still quietly, he said, "I asked how old you are, not how old you almost are."
"I am six years, nine months, and twelve days old."
"How long have you been working in the batle room?"
"A few months, now. My aim is better."
"Any training in battle maneuvers? Have you ever been part of a toon? Have you ever carried out a joint exercise?"
Ender had never heard of such things. He shook his head.
Madrid looked at him steadily. "I see. As you will quickly learn, the officers in command of this school, most notably Major Anderson, who runs the game, are fond of playing tricks. Salamander Army is just beginning to emerge from indecent obscurity. We have won twelve of our last twenty games. We have surprised Rat and Scorpion and Hound, and we are ready to play for leadership in the game. So of course, of course I am given such a useless, untrained, hopeless specimen of of underdevelopment as yourself."
Petra said, quietly, "He isn't glad to meet you."
"Shut up, Arkanian," Madrid said. "To one trial we now add another. But whatever obstacles our officers choose to fling in our path, we are still--"
"Salamander!" cried the soldiers, in one voice. Instinctively, Ender's perception of these events changed. It was a pattern, a ritual. Madrid was not trying to hurt him, merely taking control of a surprising event and using it to strengthen his control of his army.
"We are the fire that will consume them, belly and bowel, head and heart, many flames of us, but one fire."
"Salamander!" they cried again.
"Even this one will not weaken us."
For a moment, Ender allowed himself to hope. "I'll work hard and learn quickly," he said.
"I didn't give you permission to speak," Madrid answered. "I intend to trade you away as quickly as I can. I'll probably huve to give up someone valuable along with you, but as small as you are you are worse than useless. One more frozen, inevitably, in every battle, that's all you are, and we're now at a point where every frozen soldier makes a difference in the standings. Nothing personal, Wiggin, but I'm sure you can get your training at someone else's expense."
"He's all heart," Petra said.
Madrid stepped closer to the girl and slapped her across the face with the back of his hand. It made little sound, for only his fingernails had hit her. But there were bright red marks, four of them, on her cheek, and little pricks of blood marked where the tips of his fingernails had struck.
"Here are your instructions, Wiggin. I expect that it is the last time I'll need to speak to you. You will stay out of the way when we're training in the battleroom. You have to be there, of course, but you will not belong to any toon and you will not take part in any maneuvers. When we're called to battle, you will dress quickly and present yourself at the gate with everyone else. But you will not pass through the gate until four full minutes after the beginning of the game, and then you will remain at the gate, with your weapon undrawn and unfired, until such time as the game ends."
Ender nodded. So he was to be a nothing. He hoped the trade happened soon.
He also noticed that Petra did not so much as cry out in pain, or touch her cheek, though one spot of blood had beaded and run, making a streak down to her jaw. Outcast she may be, but since Bonzo Madrid was not going to be Ender's friend, no matter what, he might as well make friends with Petra.
He was assigned a bunk at the far end of the room. The upper bunk, so that when he lay on his bed he couldn't even seen the door; the curve of the ceiling blocked it. There were other boys near him, tired-looking boys, sullen, the ones least valued. They had nothing of welcome to say to Ender.
Ender tried to palm his locker open, but nothing happened. Then he realized the lockers were not secured. All four of them had rings on them, to pull them open. Nothing would be private, then, now that he was in an army.
There was a uniform in the locker. Not the pale green of the Launchies, but the orange-trimmed dark green uniform of Salamander Army. It did not fit well. But then, they had probably never had to provide such a uniform for a boy so young.
He was starting to take it off when he noticed Petra walking down the aisle toward his bed. He slid off the bunk and stood on the floor to greet her.
"Relax," she said. "I'm not an officer."
"You're a toon leader, aren't you?"
Someone nearby snickered.
"Whatever gave you that idea, Wiggin?"
"You have a bunk in the front."
"I bunk in the front because I'm the best sharpshooter in Salamander Army, and because Bonzo is afraid I'll start a revolution if the toon leaders don't keep an eye on me. As if I could start anything with boys like these." She indicated the sullen-faced boys on the nearby bunks.
What was she trying to do, make it worse than it already was?
"Everybody's better than I am," Ender said, trying to dissociate himself from her contempt for the boys who would, after all, be his near bunkmates.
"I'm a girl," she said, "and you're a pissant of a six-year-old. We have so much in common, why don't we be friends?"
"I won't do your deskwork for you," he said.
In a moment she realized it was a joke. "Ha," she said. "It's all so military, when you're in the game. School isn't like it is for Launchies. Histories and strategy and tactics and buggers and math and stars, things you'll need as a pilot or a commander. You'll see."
"So you're my friend. Do I get a prize?" Ender asked. He was imitating her swaggering way of speaking, as if she cared about nothing.
"Bonzo isn't going to let you practice. He's going to make you take your desk to the battleroom and study. He's right, in a way-- he doesn't want a totally untrained little kid start screwing up his precision maneuvers." She lapsed into giria, the slangy talk that imitated the pidgin English of uneducated people. "Bonzo, he pre-cise. He so careful, he piss on a plate and never splash."
"The battleroom is open all the time. If you want, I'll take you in the off hours and show you some of the things I know, I'm not a great soldier, but I'm pretty good, and I sure know more than you."
"If you want," Ender said.
"Starting tomorrow morning after breakfast."
"What if somebody's using the room? We alway's went right after breakfast, in my launch."
"No problem. There are really nine battlerooms."
"I never heard of any others."
"They all have the same entrance. The whole center of the battle school, the hub of the wheel, is battlerooms. They don't rotate with the rest of the station. That's how they do the nullg, the no-gravity-- it just holds still. No spin, no down. But they can set it up so that any one of the rooms is at the battleroom entrance corridor that we all use. Once you're inside, they move it along and another battleroom's in position."
"Like I said. Right after breakfast."
"Right," Ender said.
She started to walk away.
"Petra," he said.
She turned back.
She said nothing, just turned around again and walked down the aisle.
Ender climbed back up on his bunk and finished taking off his uniform. He lay naked on the bed, doodling with his new desk, trying to decide if they had done anything to his access codes. Sure enough, they had wiped out his security system. He couldn't own anything here, not even his desk.
The lights dimmed a little. Getting toward bedtime. Ender didn't know which bathroom to use.
"Go left out of the door," said the boy on the next bunk. "We share it with Rat, Condor, and Squirrel."
Ender thanked him and started to walk on past.
"Hey," said the boy. "You can't go like that. Uniforms at all times out of this room."
"Even going to the toilet?"
"Especially. And you're forbidden to speak to anyone from any other army. At meals or in the toilet. You can get away with it sometimes in the game room, and of course whenever a teacher tells you to, but if Bonzo catch you, you dead, eh?"
"And, uh, Bonzo get mad if you skin by Petra."
"She was naked when I came in, wasn't she?"
"She do what she like, but you keep you clothes on. Bonzo's orders."
That was stupid. Petra still looked like a boy, it was a stupid rule. It set her apart, made her different, split the army. Stupid stupid. How did Bonzo get to be a commander, if he didn't know better than that? Alai would be a better commander than Bonzo. He knew how to bring a group together.
I know how to bring a group together, too, thought Ender. Maybe I'll be commander someday.
In the bathroom, he was washing his hands when somebody spoke to hmm. "Hey, they putting babies in Salamander uniforms now?"
Ender didn't answer just dried off his hands.
"Hey, look! Salamander's getting babies now! Look at this! He could walk between my legs without touching my balls!"
"Cause you got none, Dink, that's why," somebody answered.
As Ender left the room, he heard somebody else say, "It's Wiggin. You know, the smartass from the game room."
He walked down the corridor smiling. He may be short, but they knew his name. From the game room, of course, so it meant nothing. But they'd see. He'd be a good soldier, too. They'd all know his name soon enough. Not in Salamander Army, maybe, but soon enough.
Petra was waiting in the corridor that led to the battleroom. "Wait a minute," she said to Ender. "Rabbit Army just went in, and it takes a few minutes to change to the next battleroom."
Ender sat down beside her. "There's more to the battleroom than just switching from one to the next," he said. "For instance, why is there gravity in the corridor outside the room, just before we go in?"
Petra closed her eyes. "And if the battlerooms are really free-floating, what happens when one is connected? Why doesn't it start to move with the rotation of the school?"
"These are the mysteries," Petra said in a deep whisper. "Do not pry into them. Terrible things happened to the last soldier who tried. He was discovered hanging by his feet from the ceiling of the bathroom, with his head stuffed in the toilet."
"So I'm not the first person to ask the question."
"You remember this, little boy." When she said little boy it sounded friendly, not contemptuous. "They never tell you any more truth than they have to. But any kid with brains knows that there've been some changes in science since the days of old Mazer Rackham and the Victorious Fleet. Obviously we can now control gravity. Turn it on and off, change the direction, maybe reflect it-- I've thought of lots of neat things you could do with gravity weapons and gravity drives on starships. And think how starships could move near planets. Maybe tear big chunks out of them by reflecting the planet's own gravity back on itself, only from another direction, and focused down to a smaller point. But they say nothing."
Ender understood more than she said. Manipulation of gravity was one thing; deception by the officers was another; but the most important message was this: the adults are the enemy, not the other armies. They do not tell us the truth.
"Come, little boy," she said. "The battleroom is ready. Petra's hands are steady. The enemy is deady." She giggled. "Petra the poet, they call me."
"They also say you're crazy as a loon."
"Better believe it, baby butt." She had ten target balls in a bag. Ender held onto her suit with one hand and the wall with the other, to steady her as she threw them, hard, in different directions. In the null gravity, they bounced every which way. "Let go of me," she said. She shoved off, spinning deliberately; with a few deft hand moves she steadied herself, and began aiming carefully at ball after ball. When she shot one, its glow changed from white to red. Ender knew that the color change lasted less than two minutes. Only one ball had changed back to white when she got the last one.
She rebounded accurately from a wall and came at high speed back to Ender. He caught her and held her against her own rebound, one of the first techniques they had taught him as a Launchy.
"You're good," he said.
"None better. And you're going to learn how to do it."
Petra taught him to hold his arm straight, to aim with the whole arm. "Something most soldiers don't realize is that the farther away your target is, the longer you have to hold the beam within about a two-centimeter circle. It's the difference between a tenth of a second and a half a second, but in battle that's a long time. A lot of soldiers think they missed when they were right on target, but they moved away too fast. So you can't use your gun like a sword, swish swish slice-em-in-half. You got to aim."
She used the ballcaller to bring the targets back, then launched them slowly, one by one. Ender fired at them. He missed every one.
"Good," she said. "You don't have any bad habits."
"I don't have any good ones, either," he pointed out.
"I give you those."
They didn't accomplish much that first morning. Mostly talk. How to think while you were aiming. You've got to hold your own motion and your enemy's motion in your mind at the same time. You've got to hold your arm straight out and aim with your body, so in case your arm is frozen you can still shoot. Learn where your trigger actually fires and ride the edge, so you don't have to pull so far each time you fire. Relax your body, don't tense up; it makes you tremble.
It was the only practice Ender got that day. During the army's drills in the afternoon, Ender was ordered to bring his desk and do his schoolwork, sitting in a corner of the room. Bonzo had to have all his soldiers in the battleroom, but he didn't have to use them.
Ender did not do his schoolwork, however. If he couldn't have drill as a soldier, he could study Bonzo as a tactician. Salamander Army was divided into the standard four toons of ten soldiers each. Some commanders set up their toons so that A toon consisted of the best soldiers, and D toon had the worst. Bonzo had mixed them, so that each consisted of good soldiers and weaker ones.
Except that B toon had only nine boys. Ender wondered who had been transferred to make room for him. It soon became plain that the leader of toon B was new. No wonder Bonzo was so disgusted-- he had lost a toon leader to get Ender.
And Bonzo was right about another thing. Ender was not ready.
All the practice time was spent working on maneuvers. Toons that couldn't see each other practiced performing precision operations together with exact timing; toons practiced using each other to make sudden changes of direction without losing formation. All these soldiers took for granted skills that Ender didn't have. The ability to make a soft landing and absorb most of the shock. Accurate flight. Course adjustment using the frozen soldiers floating randomly through the room. Rolls, spins, dodges. Sliding along the walls-- a very difficult maneuver and yet one of the most valuable, since the enemy couldn't get behind you.
Even as Ender learned how much he did not know, he also saw things that he could improve on. The well-rehearsed formations were a mistake. It allowed the soldiers to obey shouted orders instantly, but it also meant they were predictable. Also, the individual soldiers were given little initiative. Once a pattern was set, they were to follow it through. There was no room for adjustmemmt to what the enemy did against the formation. Ender studied Bonzo's formations like an enemy commander would, noting ways to disrupt the formation.
During free play that night, Ender asked Petra to practice with him.
"No," she said. "I want to be a commander someday, so I've got to play the game room." It was a common belief that the teachers monitored the games and spotted potential commanders there. Ender doubted it, though. Toon leaders had a better chance to show what they might do as commanders than any video player.
But he didn't argue with Petra. The after-breakfast practice was generous enough. Still, he had to practice. And he couldn't practice alone, except a few of the basic skills. Most of the hard things required partners or teams. If only he still had Alai or Shen to practice with.
Well, why shouldn't he practice with them? He had never heard of a soldier practicing with Launchies, but there was no rule against it. It just wasn't done; Launchies were held in too much contempt. Well, Ender was still being treated like a Launchy anyway. He needed someone to practice with, and in return he could help them learn some of the things he saw the older boys doing.
"Hey, the great soldier returns!" said Bernard. Ender stood in the doorway of his old barracks. He'd only been away for a day, but already it seemed like an alien place, and the others of his launch group were strangers. Almost he turned around and left. But there was Alai, who had made their friendship sacred. Alai was not a stranger.
Ender made no effort to conceal how he was treated in Salamander Army. "And they're right. I'm about as useful as a sneeze in a spacesuit." Alai laughed, and other Launchies started to gather around. Ender proposed his bargain. Free play, every day, working hard in the battleroom, under Ender's direction. They would learn things from the armies, from the battles Ender would see; he would get the practice he needed in developing soldier skills. "We'll get ready together."
A lot of boys wanted to come, too. "Sure," Ender said. "If you're coming to work. If you're just farting around, you're out. I don't have any time to waste."
They didn't waste any time. Ender was clumsy, trying to describe what he had seen, working out ways to do it. But by the time free play ended, they had learned some things. They were tired, but they were getting the knack of a few techniques.
"Where were you?" asked Bonzo.
Ender stood stiffly by his commander's bunk. "Practicing in a battleroom."
"I hear you had some of your oid Launchy group with you."
"I couldn't practice alone."
"I won't have any soldiers in Salamander Army hanging around with Launchies. You're a soldier now."
Ender regarded him in silence.
"Did you hear me, Wiggin?"
"No more practicing with those little farts."
"May I speak to you privately?" asked Ender.
It was a request that commanders were required to allow. Bonzo's face went angry, and he led Ender out into the corridor. "Listen, Wiggin, I don't want you, I'm trying to get rid of you, but don't give me any problems or I'll paste you to the wall."
A good commander, thought Ender, doesn't have to make stupid threats.
Bonzo grew annoyed at Ender's silence. "Look, you asked me to come out here, now talk."
"Sir, you were correct not to place me in a toon. I don't know how to do anything."
"I don't need you to tell me when I'm correct."
"But I'm going to become a good soldier. I won't screw up your regular drill, but I'm going to practice, and I'm going to practice with the only people who will practice with me, and that's my Launchies."
"You'll do what I tell you, you little bastard."
"That's right, sir. I'll follow all the orders that you're authorized to give. But free play is free. No assignments can be given. None. By anyone.
He could see Bonzo's anger growing hot. Hot anger was bad. Ender's anger was cold, and he could use it. Bonzo's was hot, and so it used him.
"Sir, I've got my own career to think of. I won't interfere in your training and your battles, but I've got to learn sometime. I didn't ask to be put into your army, you're trying to trade me as soon as you can. But nobody will take me if I don't know anything, will they? Let me learn something, and then you can get rid of me all the sooner and get a soldier you can really use."
Bonzo was not such a fool that anger kept him from recognizing good sense when he heard it. Still, he couldn't let go of his anger immediately.
"While you're in Salamander Army, you'll obey me."
"If you try to control my free play, I can get you iced."
It probably wasn't true. But it was possible. Certainly if Ender made a fuss about it, interfering with free play could conceivably get Bonzo removed from command. Also, there was the fact that the officers obviously saw something in Ender, since they had promoted him. Maybe Ender did have influence enough with the teachers to ice somebody. "Bastard," said Bonzo.
"It isn't my fault you gave me that order in front of everybody," Ender said. "But if you want, I'll pretend you won this argument. Then tomorrow you can tell me you changed your mind."
"I don't need you to tell me what to do."
"I don't want the other guys to think you backed down. You wouldn't be able to command as well."
Bonzo hated him for it, for the kindness. It was as if Ender were granting him his command as a favor. Galling, and yet he had no choice. No choice about anything. It didn't occur to Bonzo that it was his own fault, for giving Ender an unreasonable order. He only knew that Ender had beaten him, and then rubbed his nose in it by being magnanimous.
"I'll have your ass someday," Bonzo said.
"Probably," said Ender. The lights out buzzer sounded. Ender walked back into the room, looking dejected. Beaten. Angry. The other boy's drew the obvious conclusion.
And in the morning, as Ender was leaving for breakfast, Bonzo stopped him and spoke loudly. "I changed my mind, pinprick. Maybe by practicing with your Launchies you'll learn something, and I can trade you easier. Anything to get rid of you faster."
"Thank you, sir," Ender said.
"Anything," whispered Boozo. "I hope you're iced." Ender smiled gratefully and left the room. After breakfast he practiced again with Petra. All afternoon he watched Bonzo drill and figured out ways to destroy his army. During free play he and Alai and the others worked themselves to exhaustion. I can do this, thought Ender as he lay in his bed, his muscles throbbing, unknotting themselves. I can handle it.
Salamander Army had a battle four days later. Ender followed behind the real soldiers as they jogged along the corridors to the battleroom. There were two ribbons along the walls, the green green brown of Salamander and the black white black of Condor. When they came to the place where the battleroom had always been, the corridor split instead, with green green brown heading to the left and black white black to the right. Around another turn to the right, and the army stopped in front of a blank wall.
The toons formed up in silence. Ender stayed behind them all. Bonzo was giving his instructions. "A take the handles and go up. B left, C right, D down." He saw that the toons were oriented to follow instructions, then added, "And you, pinprick, wait four minutes, then come just inside the door. Don't even take your gun off your suit."
Ender nodded. Suddenly the wall behind Bonzo became transparent. Not a wall at all, then, but a forcefield. The battleroom was different, too. Huge brown boxes were suspended in midair, partially obstructing the view. So these were the obstacles that the soldiers called stars. They were distributed seemingly at random. Bonzo seemed not to care where they were.
Apparently the soldiers already knew how to handle the stars.
But it soon became clear to Ender, as he sat and watched the battle from the corridor, that they did not know how to handle the stars. They did know how to softland on one and use it for cover, the tactics of assaulting the enemy's position on a star. They showed no sense at all of which stars mattered. They persisted in assaulting stars that could have been bypassed by wall-sliding to a more advanced position.
The other commander was taking advantage of Bonzo's neglect of strategy. Condor Army forced the Salamanders into costly assaults. Fewer and fewer Salamanders were unfrozen for the attack on the next star. It was clear, after only five or six minutes, that Salamander Army could not defeat the enemy by attacking.
Ender stepped through the gate. He drifted slightly downward. The battlerooms he had practiced in always had their doors at floor level. For real battles, however, the door was set in the middle of the wall, as far from the floor as from the ceiling.
Abruptly he felt himself reorient, as he had in the shuttle. What had been down was now up, and now sideways. In null-g, there was no reason to stay oriented the way he had been in the corridor. It was impossible to tell, looking at the perfectly square doors, which way had been up. And it didn't matter. For now Ender had found the orientation that made sense. The enemy's gate was down. The object of the game was to fall toward the enemy's home.
Ender made the motions that oriented himself in his new direction. Instead of being spread out, his whole body presented to the enemy, now Ender's legs pointed toward them. He was a much smaller target.
Someone saw him. He was, after all, drifting aimlessly in the open. Instinctively he pulled his legs up under him. At that moment he was flashed and the legs of his suit froze in position. His arms remained unfrozen, for without a direct body hit, only the limbs that were shot froze up. It occurred to Ender that if he had not been presenting his legs to the enemy, it would have been his body they hit. He would have been immobilized.
Since Bonzo had ordered him not to draw his weapon, Ender continued to drift, not moving his head or arms, as if they had been frozen, too. The enemy ignored him and concentrated their fire on the soldiers who were firing at them. It was a bitter battle. Outnumbered now, Salamander Army gave ground stubbornly. The battle disintegrated into a dozen individual shootouts. Bonzo's discipline paid off now, for each Salamander that froze took at least one enemy with him. No one ran or panicked, everyone remained calm and aimed carefully.
Petra was especially deadly. Condor Army noticed it and took great effort to freeze her. They froze her shooting arm first, and her stream of curses was only interrupted when they froze her completely and the helmet clamped down on her jaw. In a few minutes it was over. Salamander Army offered no more resistance.
Ender noted with pleasure that Condor could only muster the minimal five soldiers necessary to open the gate to victory. Four of them touched their helmets to the lighted spots at the four corners of Salamander's door, while the fifth passed through the forcefield. That ended the game. The lights came back on to their full brightness, and Anderson came out of the teacher door.
I could have drawn my gun, thought Ender, as the enemy approached the door. l could have drawn my gun and shot just one of them, and they would have been too few. The game would have been a draw. Without four men to touch the four corners and a fifth man to pass through the gate, Condor would have had no victory. Bonzo, you ass, I could have saved you from this defeat. Maybe even turned it to victory, since they were sitting there, easy targets, and they wouldn't have known at first where the shots were coining from. I'm a good enough shot for that.
But orders were orders, and Ender had promised to obey. He did get some satisfaction out of the fact that on the official tally Salamandem Army recorded, not the expected forty-one disabled or eliminated, but rather forty eliminated and one damaged. Bonzo couldn't understand it, until he consulted Anderson's book and realized who it was. Damaged, Bonzo, thought Ender. I could still shoot,
He expected Bonzo to come to him and say, "Next time, when it's like that, you can shoot." But Bonzo didn't say anything to him at all until the next morning after breakfast. Of course, Bonzo ate in the commanders mess, but Ender was pretty sure the odd score would cause as much stir there as it did in the soldiers dining hall. In every other game that wasn't a draw, every member of the losing team was either eliminated-- totally frozen-- or disabled, which meant they had some body parts still unfrozen, but were unable to shoot or inflict damage on the enemy. Salamander was the only losing army with one man in the Damaged but Active category.
Ender volunteered no explanation, but the other members of Salamander Army let it be known why it had happened. And when other boys asked him why he hadn't disobeyed orders and fired, he calmly answered, "I obey orders."
After breakfast, Bonzo looked for him. "The order still stands," he said, "and don't you forget it."
It will cost you, you fool. I may not be a good soldier, but I can still help and there's no reason you shouldn't let me.
Ender said nothing.
An interesting side effect of the battle was that Ender emerged at the top of the soldier efficiecies list. Since he hadn't fired a shot, he had a perfect record on shooting-- no misses at all. And since he had never been eliminated or disabled, his percentage there was excellent. No one else came close. It made a lot of boys laugh, and others were angry, but on the prized efficiency list, Ender was now the leader.
He kept sitting out the army practice sessions, and kept working hard on his own, with Petra in the mornings and his friends at night. More Launchies were joining them now, not on a lark but because they could see results-- they were getting better and better. Ender and Alai stayed ahead of them, though. In part, it was because Alai kept trying new things, which forced Ender to think of new tactics to cope with them. In part it was because they kept making stupid mistakes, which suggested things to do that no self-respecting, well-trained soldier would even have tried. Many of the things they attempted turned out to be useless. But it was always fun, always exciting, and enough things worked that they knew it was helping them. Evening was the best time of the day.
The next two battles were easy Salamander victories; Ender came in after five minutes and remained untouched by the defeated enemy. Ender began to realize that Condor Army, which had beaten them, was unusually good; Salamander, weak as Bonzo's grasp of strategy might be, was one of the better teams, climbing steadily in the ratings, clawing for fourth place with Rat Army.
Ender turned seven. They weren't much for dates and calendars at the Battle School, but Ender had found out how to bring up the date on his desk, and he noticed has birthday. The school noticed it, too: they took his measurements and issued him a new Salamander uniform and a new flash suit for the battleroom. He went back to the barracks with the new clothing on. It felt strange and loose, like his skin no longer fit properly.
He wanted to stop at Petra's bunk and tell her about his home, about what his birthdays weme usually like, just tell her it was his birthday so she'd say something about it being a happy one. But nobody told birthdays. It was childish. It was what landsiders did. Cakes and silly customs. Valentine baked him his cake on his sixth birthday. It fell and it was terrible. Nobody knew how to cook anymore; it was the kind of crazy thing Valentine would do. Everybody teased Valentine about it, but Ender saved a little bit of it in his cupboard. Then they took out his monitor and he left and for all he knew, it was still there, a little piece of greasy yellow dust. Nobody talked about home, not among the soldiers; there had been no life before Battle School. Nobody got letters, and nobody wrote any. Everybody pretended that they didn't care.
But I do care, thought Ender. The only reason I'm here is so that a bugger won't shoot out Valentine's eye, won't blast her head open like the soldiers in the videos of the first battles with the buggers. Won't split her head with a beam so hot that her brains burst the skull and spill out like rising bread dough, the way it happens in my worst nightmares, in my worst nights, when I wake up trembling but silent, must keep silent or they'll hear that I miss my family. I want to go home.
It was better in the morning. Home was merely a dull ache in the back of his memory. A tiredness in his eyes. That morning Bonzo came in as they were dressing. "Flash suits!" he called. It was a battle. Ender's fourth game.
The enemy was Leopard Army. It would be easy. Leopard was new, and it was always in the bottom quarter in the standings. It had been organized only six months ago, with Pol Slattery as its commander. Ender put on his new battle suit and got into line; Bonzo pulled him roughly out of line and made him march at the end. You didn't need to do that, Ender said silently. You could have let me stay in line.
Ender watched from the corridor. Pol Slattery was young, but he was sharp, he had some new ideas. He kept his soldiers moving, darting from star to star, wallsliding to get behind and above the stolid Salamanders. Ender smiled. Bonzo was hopelessly confused, and so were his men. Leopard seemed to have men in every direction. However, the battle was not as lopsided as it seemed. Ender noticed that Leopard was losing a lot of men, too-- their reckless tactics exposed them too much. What mattered, however, was that Salamander was defeated. They had surrendered the initiative completely. Though they were still fairly evenly matched with the enemy, they huddled together like the last survisors of a massacre, as if they hoped the enemy would overlook them in the carnage.
Ender slipped slowly through the gate, oriented himself so the enemy's gate was down, and drifted slowly eastward to a corner where he wouidn't be noticed. He even fired at his own legs, to hold them in the kneeling position that offered him the best protection. He looked to any casual glance like another frozen soldier who had drifted helplessly out of the battle.
With Salamander Army waiting abjectly for destrucdon, Leopard obligingly destroyed them. Tney had nine boys left when Salamander finally stopped firing. They formed up and started to open the Salamander gate.
Ender aimed carefully with a straight arm, as Petra had taught him. Before anyone knew what was happening, he froze three of the soldiers who were about to press their helmets against the lighted corners of the door. Then some of the others spotted him and fired-- but at first they hit only his already frozen legs. It gave him time to get the last two men at the gate. Leopard had only four men left unfrozen when Ender was finally hit in the arm and disabled. The game was a draw, and they never had hit him in the body.
Pol Slattery was furious, but there had been nothing unfair about it. Everyone in Leopard Army assumed that it bad been a strategy of Bonzo's, to leave a man till the last minute. It didn't occur to them that little Ender had fired against orders. But Salamander Army knew. Bonzo knew, and Ender could see from the way the commander looked at him that Bouzo hated him for rescuing him from total defeat. I don't care, Ender told himself. It will just make me easier to trade away, and in the meantime you won't drop so far in the standings. You trade me. I've learned all I'm ever going to learn from you. How to fail with style, that's all you know, Bonzo.
What have I learned so far? Ender listed things in his mind as he undressed by his bunk. The enemy's gate is down. Use my legs as a shield in battle. A small reserve, held back until the end of the game, can be decisive. And soldiers can sometimes make decisions that are smarter than the orders they've been given.
Naked, he was about to climb into bed when Bonzo came toward him, his face hard and set. I have seen Peter like this, thought Ender, silent with murder in his eye. But Bonzo is not Peter. Bonzo has more fear.
"Wiggin, I finally traded you. I was able to persuade Rat Army that your incredible place on the efficiency list is more than an accident. You go over there tomorrow."
"Thank you, sir," Ender said.
Perhaps he sounded too grateful. Suddenly Bonzo swung at him, caught his jaw with a vicious open-handed slap. It knocked Ender sideways, into his bunk, and he almost fell. Then Bonzo slugged him, hard, in the stomach. Ender dropped to his knees.
"You disobeyed me," Bonzo said. Loudly, for all to hear. "No good soldier ever disobeys."
Even as he cried from the pain, Ender could not help but take vengeful pleasure in the murmurs he heard rising through the barracks. You fool, Bonzo. You aren't enforcing discipline, you're destroying it. They know I turned defeat into a draw. And now they see how you repay me. You made yourself look stupid in front of everyone. What is your discipline worth now?
The next day, Ender told Petra that for her sake the shooting practice in the morning would have to end. Bonzo didn't need anything that looked like a challenge now, and so she'd better stay clear of Ender for a while. She understood perfectly. "Besides," she said, "you're as close to being a good shot as you'll ever be."
He left his desk and flash suit in the locker. He would wear his Salamander uniform until he could get to the commissary and change it for the brown and black of Rat. He had brought no possessions with him; he would take none away. There were none to have-- everything of value was in the school computer or his own head and hands.
He used one of the public desks in the game room to register for an earth-gravity personal combat course during the hour immediately after breakfast. He didn't plan to get vengeance on Bonzo for hitting him. But he did intend that no one would he able to do that to him again.