"General Pace, please sit down. I understand you have come to me about a matter of some urgency."
"Ordinarily, Colonel Graff, I would not presume to interfere in the internal workings of the Battle School. Your autonomy is guaranteed, and despite our dfference in ranks I am quite aware that it is my authority only to advise, not to order, you to take action."
"Do not be disingenuous with me, Colonel Graff. Americans are quite apt at playing stupid when they choose to, but I am not to be deceived. You know why I am here."
"Ah. I guess this means Dap filed a report?"
"He feels paternal toward the students here. He feels your neglect of a potentially lethal situation is more than negligence -- that it borders on conspiracy to cause the death or serious injury of one of the students here."
"This is a school for children, General Pace. Hardly a matter to bring the chief of IF military police here for."
"Colonel Graff, the name of Ender Wiggin has percolated through the high command. It has even reached my ears -- I have heard him described modestly as our only hope of victory in the upcoming invasion. When it is his life or health that is in danger, I do not think it untoward that the military police take some interest in preserving and protecting the boy. Do you?"
"Damn Dap and damn you too, sir, I know what I'm doing."
"Better than anyone else."
"Oh, that is obvious, since nobody else has the faintest idea what you're doing. You have known for eight days that there is a conspiracy among some of the more vicious of these 'children' to cause the beating of Ender Wiggin, if they can. And that some members of this conspiracy, notably the boy named Bonito de Madrid, commonly called Bonzo, are quite likely to exhibit no self-restraint when this punishment takes place, so that Ender Wiggin, an inestimably important international resource, will be placed in serious danger of having his brains pasted on the walls of your simple orbiting schoolhouse. And you, fully warned of this danger, propose to do exactly--"
"You can see how this excites our puzzlement."
"Ender Wiggin has been in this situation before. Bock on Earth, the day he lost his monitor, and again when a large group of older boys--"
"I did not came here ignorant of the past. Ender Wiggin has provoked Bonzo Madrid beyond human endurance. And you have no military police standing by to break up disturbances. It is unconscionable."
"When Ender Wiggin holds our fleets in his control, when he must make the decisions that bring us victory or destruction, will there be military police to came save him if things get out of hand?"
"I fail to see the connection."
"Obviously. But the connection is there Ender Wiggin must believe that no matter what happens, no adult will ever, ever step in to help him in any way. He must believe, to the core of his soul, that he can only do what he and the other children work out for themselves. If he does not believe that, then he will never reach the peak of his abilities."
"He will also not reach the peak of his abilities if he is dead or permanently crippled."
"He won't be."
"Why don't you simply graduate Bonzo? He's old enough."
"Because Ender knows that Bonzo plans to kill him. If we transfer Bonzo ahead of schedule, he'll know that we saved him. Heaven knows Bonzo isn't a good enough commander to be promoted on merit."
"What about the other children? Getting them to help him?"
"We'll see what happens. That is my first, final, and only decision."
"God help you if you're wrong."
"God help us all if I'm wrong."
"I'll have you before a capital court martial. I'll have your name disgraced throughout the world if you're wrong."
"Fair enough. But do remember if I happen to be right to make sure I get a few dozen medals."
"For keeping you from meddling."
Ender sat in a corner of the battleroom, his arm hooked through a handhold watching Bean practice with his squad. Yesterday they had worked on attacks without guns, disarming enemies with their feet. Ender had helped them with some techniques from gravity personal combat -- many things had to be changed, but inertia in flight was a tool that could be used against the enemy as easily in nullo as in Earth gravity.
Today, though, Bean had a new toy. It was a deadline, one of the thin, almost invisible twines used during construction in space to hold two objects together. Deadlines were sometimes kilometers long. This one was just a bit longer than a wall of the battleroom and yet it looped easily, almost invisibly, around Bean's wrist. He pulled it off like an article of clothing and handed one end to one of his soldiers. "Hook it to a handhold and wind it around a few times." Bean carried the other end across the battle oom.
As a tripwire it wasn't too useful, Bean decided. It was invisible enough, but one strand of twine wouldn't have much chance of stopping an enemy that could easily go above or below it. Then he got the idea of using it to change his direction of movement in midair. He fastened it around his waist, the other end still fastened to a handhold, slipped a few meters away, and launched himself straight out. The twine caught him, changed his direction abruptly, and swung him in an arc that crashed him brutally against the wall.
He screamed and screamed. It took Ender a moment to realize that he wasn't screaming in pain. "Did you see how fast I went! Did you see how I changed direction!"
Soon all of Dragon Army stopped work to watch Bean practice with the twine. The changes in direction were stunning, especially when you didn't know where to look for the twine, When he used the twine to wrap himself around a star, he attained speeds no one had ever seen before,
It was 2140 when Ender dismissed the evening practice. Weary but delighted at having seen something new, his army walked through the corridors back to the barracks. Ender walked among them, not talking, but listening to their talk. They were tired, yes -- a battle every day for more than four weeks, often in situations that tested their abilities to the utmost. But they were proud, happy, close -- they had never lost, and they had learned to trust each other. Trust their fellow soldiers to fight hard and well; trust their leaders to use them rather than waste their efforts; above all trust Ender to prepare them for anything and everything that might happen.
As they walked the corridor, Ender noticed several older boys seemingly engaged in conversations in branching corridors and ladderways; some were in their corridor, walking slowly in the other direction. It became too much of a coincidence, however, that so many of them were wearing Salamander uniforms, and that those who weren't were often older boys belonging to armies whose commanders most hated Ender Wiggin. A few of them looked at him, and looked away too quickly; others were too tense, too nervous as they pretended to be relaxed. What will I do if they attack my army here in the corridor? My boys are all young, all small, and completely untrained in gravity combat. When would they learn?
"Ho, Ender!" someone called. Ender stopped and looked back, It was Petra. "Ender, can I talk to you?"
Ender saw in a moment that if he stopped and talked, his army would quickly pass him by and he would be alone with Petra in the hallway. "Walk with me," Ender said.
"It's just for a moment."
Ender turned around and walked on with his army. He heard Petra running to catch up. "All right, I'll walk with you." Ender tensed when she came near. Was she one of them, one of the ones who hated him enough to hurt him?
"A friend of yours wanted me to warn you. There are some boys who want to kill you."
"Surprise," said Ender. Some of his soldiers seemed to perk up at this. Plots against their commander were interesting news, it seemed.
"Ender, they can do it. He said they've been planning it ever since you went commander."
"Ever since I beat Salamander, you mean."
"I hated you after you beat Phoenix Army, too, Ender."
"I didn't say I blamed anybody."
"It's true. He told me to take you aside today and warn you, on the way back from the battleroom, to be careful tomorrow because--"
"Petra, if you had actually taken me aside just now, there are about a dozen boys following along who would have taken me in the corridor. Can you tell me you didn't notice them?"
Suddenly her face flushed. "No. I didn't. How can you think I did? Don't you know who your friends are?" She pushed her way through Dragon Army, got ahead of him, and scrambled up a ladderway to a higher deck.
"Is it true?" asked Crazy Tom.
"Is what true?" Ender scanned the room and shouted for two roughhousing boys to get to bed.
"That some of the older boys want to kill you?"
"All talk," said Ender. But be knew that it wasn't. Petra had known something, and what he saw on the way here tonight wasn't imagination.
"It may be all talk, but I hope you'll understand when I say you've got five toon leaders who are going to escort you to your room tonight."
"Humor us. You owe us a favor."
"I owe you nothing." He'd be a fool to turn them down. "Do as you want." He turned and left. The toon leaders trotted along with him. One ran ahead and opened his door. They checked the room, made Ender promise to lock it, and left him just before lights out.
There was a message on his desk.
DON'T BE ALONE. EVER. -- DINK
Ender grinned. So Dink was still his friend. Don't worry. They won't do anything to me. I have my army.
But in the darkness he did not have his army. He dreamed that night of Stilson, only he saw now how small Stilson was, only six years old, how ridiculous his tough-guy posturing was; and yet in the dream Stilson and his friends tied Ender so he couldn't fight back, and then everything that Ender had done to Stilson in life, they did to Ender in the dream. And afterward Ender saw himself babbling like an idiot, trying hard to give orders to his army, but all his words came out as nonsense.
He awoke in darkness, and he was afraid. Then he calmed himself by remembering that the teachers obviously valued him, or they wouldn't be putting so much pressure on him; they wouldn't let anything happen to him, nothing bad, anyway. Probably when the older kids attacked him in the battleroom years ago, there were teachers just outside the room, waiting to see what would happen; if things had got out of hand, they would have stepped in and stopped it. I probably could have sat here and done nothing, and they would have seen to it I came through all right. They'll push me as hard as they can in the game, but outside the game they'll keep me safe.
With that assurance, he slept again, until the door opened softly and the morning's war was left on the floor for him to find.
They won, of course, but it was a grueling affair, with the battleroom so filled with a labyrinth of stars that hunting down the enemy during mop-up took forty-five minutes. It was Pol Slattery's Badger Army, and they refused to give up. There was a new wrinkle in the game, too -- when they disabled or damaged an enemy, he thawed in about five minutes, the way it worked in practice. Only when the enemy was completely frozen did he stay out of action the whole time. But the gradual thawing did not work for Dragon Army. Crazy Tom was the one who realized what was happening, when they started getting hit from behind by people they thought were safely out of the way. And at the end of the battle, Slattery shook Ender's hand and said, "I'm glad you won. If I ever beat you, Ender, I want to do it fair."
"Use what they give you," Ender said. "If you've ever got an advantage over the enemy, use it."
"Oh, I did," said Slattery. He grinned. "I'm only fair-minded before and after battles."
The battle took so long that breakfast was over. Ender looked at his hot, sweating, tired soldiers waiting in the corridor and said, "Today you know everything. No practice. Get some rest. Have some fun. Pass a test." It was a measure of their weariness that they didn't even cheer or laugh or smile, just walked into the barracks and stripped off their clothes. They would have practiced if he had asked them to, but they were reaching the end of their strength, and going without breakfast was one unfairness too many.
Ender meant to shower right away, but he was also tired. He lay down on his bed in his flash suit, just for a moment, and woke up at the beginning of lunchtime. So much for his idea of studying more about the buggers this morning. Just time to clean up, go eat, and head for class.
He peeled off his flash suit, which stank from his sweat. His body felt cold, his joints oddly weak. Shouldn't have slept in the middle of the day. I'm beginning to slack off. I'm beginning to wear down. Can't let it get to me.
So he jogged to the gym and forced himself to climb the rope three times before going to the bathroom to shower. It didn't occur to him that his absence in the commanders' mess would be noticed, that showering during the noon hour, when his own army would be wolfing down their first meal of the day, he would he completely, helplessly alone.
Even when he heard them come into the bathroom he paid no attention. He was letting the water pour over his head, over his body; the muffled sound of footsteps was hardly noticeable. Maybe lunch was over, he thought. He started to soap himself again. Maybe somebody finished practice late.
And maybe not. He turned around, There were seven of them, leaning back against the metal sinks or standing closer to the showers, watching him. Bonzo stood in front of them, Many were smiling, the condescending leer of the hunter for his cornered victim. Bonzo was not smiling, however.
"Ho," Ender said,
So Ender turned off the shower even though there was still soap on him, and reached for his towel. It wasn't there. One of the boys was holding it. It was Bernard. All it would take for the picture to be complete was for Stilson and Peter to be there, too. They needed Peter's smile; they needed Stilson's obvious stupidity.
Ender recognized the towel as their opening point. Nothing would make him look weaker than to chase naked after the towel. That was what they wanted, to humiliate him, to break him down. He wasn't going to play. He refused to feel weak because he was wet and cold and unclothed. He stood strongly, facing them, his arms at his sides. He fastened his gaze on Bnnzo.
"Your move," Ender said,
"This is no game," said Bernard. "We're tired of you, Ender. You graduate today. On ice."
Ender did not look at Bernard. It was Bonzo who hungered for his death, even though he was silent. The others were along for the ride, daring themselves to see how far they might go. Bonzo knew how far he would go.
"Bonzo," Ender said softly. "Your father would be proud of you."
"He would love to see you now, come to fight a naked boy in a shower, smaller than you, and you brought six friends. He would say, Oh, what honor."
"Nobody came to fight you," said Bernard, "We just came to talk you into playing fair with the games. Maybe lose a couple now and then."
The others laughed, but Bonzo didn't laugh, and neither did Ender.
"Be proud, Bonito, pretty boy. You can go home and tell your father, Yes, I beat up Ender Wiggin, who was barely ten years old, and I was thirteen. And I had only six of my friends to help me, and somehow we managed to defeat him, even though he was naked and wet and alone -- Ender Wiggin is so dangerous and terrifying it was all we could do not to bring two hundred."
"Shut your mouth, Wiggin," said one of the boys.
"We didn't come to hear the little bastard talk," said another.
"You shut up," said Bonzo. "Shut up and stand out of the way." He began to take off his uniform. "Naked and wet and alone, Ender, so we're even. I can't help that I'm bigger than you. You're such a genius, you figure out how to handle me." He turned to the others. "Watch the door. Don't let anyone else in."
The bathroom wasn't large, and plumbing fixtures protruded everywhere, It had been launched in one piece, as a low-orbit satellite, packed full of the water reclamation equipment; it was designed to have no wasted space. It was obvious what their tactics would have to be. Throw the other boy against fixtures until one of them does enough damage that he stops.
When Ender saw Bonzo's stance, his heart sank. Bonzo had also taken classes. And probably more recently than Ender. His reach was better, he was stronger, and he was full of hate. He would not be gentle. He will go for my head, thonght Ender. He will try above all to damage my brain. And if this fight is long, he's bound to win. His strength can control me. If I'm to walk away from here, I have to win quckly, and permanently. He could feel agan he sickening way that Stilson's bones had given way. But this time it will be my body that breaks, unless I can break him first.
Ender stepped back, flipped the showerhead so it turned outward, and torned on pure hot water. Almost at once the steam began to rise. He turned on the next and the next.
"I'm not afraid of hot water," said Bonzo. His voice was soft.
But it wasn't the hot water that Ender wanted. It was the heat. His body still had soap on it, and his sweat moistened it, made his skin more slippery than Bonzo would expect.
Suddenly there was a voice from the door. "Stop it!" For a moment Ender thought it was a teacher, come to stop the fight, but it was only Dink Meeker. Bonzo's friends caught him at the door held him. "Stop it, Bonzo!" Dink cried. "Don't hurt him!"
"Why not?" asked Boozo, and for the first time he smiled. Ah, thought Ender, he loves to have someone recognize that he is the one in control, that he has power.
"Because he's the best, that's why! Who else can fight the buggers! That's what matters, you fool, the buggers!"
Bonzo stopped smiling. It was the thing he hated most about Ender, that Ender really mattered to other people, and in the end, Bonzo did not. You've killed me with those words, Dink. Bonzo doesn't want to hear that I might save the world.
Where are the teachers? thought Ender. Don't they realize that the first contact between us in this fight might be the end of it? This isn't like the fight in the battleroom, where no one had the leverage to do any terrible damage. There's gravity in here, and the floor and walls are hard and jutted with metal. Stop this now or not at all.
"If you touch him you're a buggerlover!" cried Dink. "You're a traitor, if you touch him you deserve to die!" They jammed Dink's face backward into the door and he was silent.
The mist from the showers dimmed the room, and the sweat was streaming down Ender's body. Now, before the soap is carried off me. Now, while I'm still too slippery to hold.
Ender stepped back, letting the fear he felt show in his face. "Bonzo, don't hurt me," he said. "Please."
It was what Bonzo was waiting for, the confession that he was in power. For other boys it might have been enough that Ender had submitted; for Bonzo, it was only a sign that his victory was sure. He swung his leg as if to kick, but changed it to a leap at the last moment. Ender noticed the shifting weight and stooped lower, so that Bonzo would be more off-balance when he tried to grab Ender and throw him.
Bonzo's tight, hard ribs came against Under's face, and his hands slapped against his back, trying to grip him. But Ender twisted, and Bonzo's hands slipped. In an instant Ender was completely turned, yet still inside Bonzo's grasp. The classic move at this moment would be to bring up his heel into Bonzo's crotch, but for that move to be effective required too much accuracy, and Bonzo expected it. He was already rising onto his toes, thrusting his hips backward to keep Ender from reaching his groin. Without seeing him, Ender knew it would bring his face closer, almost in Ender's hair; so instead of kicking he lunged upward off the floor, with the powerful lunge of the soldier bounding from the wall, and jammed his head into Bonzo's face.
Ender whirled in time to see Bonzo stagger backward, his nose bleeding, gasping from surprise and pain. Ender knew that at this moment he might be able to walk out of the room and end the battle. The way he had escaped from the battleroom after drawing blood. But the battle would only be fought again. Again and again until the will to fight was finished. The only way to end things completely was to hurt Bonzo enough that his fear was stronger than his hate.
So Ender leaned back against the wall behind him, then jumped up and pushed off with his arms. His feet landed in Bonzo's belly and chest. Ender spun in the air and landed on his toes and hands; he flipped over, scooted under Bonzo, and this time when he kicked upward into Bonzo's crotch, he connected, hard and sure.
Bonzo did not cry out in pain. He did not react at all, except that his body rose a little in the air. It was as if Ender had kicked a piece of furniture. Bonzo collapsed, fell to the side, and sprawled directly under the spray of streaming water from a shower. He made no movement whatever to escape the murderous heat.
"My God!" someone shouted. Bonzo's friends leaped to turn off the water. Ender slowly rose to his feet. Someone thrust his towel at him. It was Dink. "Come on out of here," Dink said. He led Ender away. Behind them they heard the heavy clatter of adults running down a ladderway. Now the teachers would come. The medical staff. To dress the wounds of Ender's enemy. Where were they before the fight, when there might have been no wounds at all?
There was no doubt now in Ender's mind. There was no help for him. Whatever he faced, now and forever, no one would save him from it. Peter might be scum, but Peter had been right, always right; the power to cause pain is the only power that matters, the power to kill and destroy, because if you can't kill then you are always subject to those who can, and nothing and no one will ever save you.
Dink led him to his room, made him lie on the bed. "Are you hurt anywhere?" he asked,
Ender shook his head.
"You took him apart. I thought you were dead meat, the way he grabbed you. But you took him apart. If he'd stood up longer, you would've killed him."
"He meant to kill me."
"I know it. I know him. Nobody hates like Bonzo. But not anymore. If they don't ice him for this and send him home, he'll never look you in the eye again. You or anybody. He had twenty centimeters on you, and you made him look like a crippled cow standing there chewing her cud."
All Ender could see, though, was the way Bonzo looked as Ender kicked upward into his groin. The empty, dead look in his eyes. He was already finished then. Already unconscious. His eyes were open, but he wasn't thinking or moving anymore, just that dead, stupid look on his lace, that terrible look, the way Stilson looked when I finished with him.
"They'll ice him, though," Dink said. "Everybody knows he started it. I saw them get up and leave the commanders' mess. Took me a couple of seconds to realize you weren't there, either, and then a minute more to find out where you had gone. I told you not to be alone."
"They're bound to ice him. Troublemaker. Him and his stinking honor."
Then, to Dink's surprise, Ender began to cry. Lying on his back, still soaking wet with sweat and water, he gasped his sobs, tears seeping out of his closed eyelids and disappearing in the water on his face.
"Are you all right?"
"I didn't want to hurt him!" Ender cried. "Why didn't he just leave me alone!"
He heard his door open softly, then close. He knew at once that it was his battle instructions, He opened his eyes, expecting to find the darkness of early morning, before 0600. Instead, the lights were on, He was naked and when he moved the bed was soaking wet, His eyes were puffy and painful from crying. He looked at the clock on his desk. 1820, it said. It's the same day. I already had a battle today, I had two battles today -- the bastards know what I've been through, and they're doing this to me.
WILLIAM BEE, GRIFFIN ARMY, TALO MOMOE, TIGER ARMY, 1900
He sat on the edge of the bed. The note trembled in his hand. I can't do this, he said silently. And then not silently. "I can't do this."
He got up, bleary, and looked for his flash suit. Then he remembered -- he had put it in the cleaner while he showered. It was still there.
Holding the paper, he walked out of his room. Dinner was nearly over, and there were a few people in the corridor, but no one spoke to him, just watched him, perhaps in awe of what had happened at noon in the bathroom, perhaps because of the forbidding, terrible look on his face. Most of his boys were in the barracks.
Ho, Ender. There gonna be a practice tonight?
Ender handed the paper to Hot Soup. "Those sons of bitches," he said. "Two at once?"
"Two armies!" shouted Crazy Tom.
"They'll just trip over each other," said Bean.
"I've got to clean up," Ender said. "Get them ready, get everybody together, I'll meet you there, at the gate."
He walked out of the barracks. A tumult of conversation rose behind him. He heard Crazy Tom scream, "Two farteating armies! We'll whip their butts!"
The bathroom was empty. All cleaned up. None of the blood that poured from Bonzo's nose into the shower water. All gone. Nothing bad ever happened here.
Ender stepped under the water and rinsed himself, took the sweat of combat and let it run down the drain. All gone, except they recycled it and we'll be drinking Bonzo's bloodwater in the morning. All the life gone out of it, but his blood just the same, his blood and my sweat, washed down in their stupidity or cruelty or whatever it was that made them let it happen.
He dried himself, dressed in his flash suit, and walked to the battleroom. His army was waiting in the corridor, the door still not opened. They watched him in silence as he walked to the front to stand by the blank grey forcefield. Of course they all knew about his fight in the bathroom today; that and their own weariness from the battle that morning kept them quiet, while the knowledge that they would be facing two armies filled them with dread.
Everything they can do to beat me, thought Ender. Everything they can think of, change all the rules, they don't care, just so they beat me. Well, I'm sick of the game. No game is worth Bonzo's blood pinking the water on the bathroom floor. Ice me, send me home, I don't want to play anymore.
The door disappeared. Only three meters out there were four stars together, completely blocking the view from the door.
Two armies weren't enough. They had to make Ender deploy his forces blind.
"Bean," said Ender. "Take your boys and tell me what's on the other side of this star."
Bean pulled the coil of twine from his waist, tied one end around him, handed the other end to a boy in his squad, and stepped gently through the door. His squad quickly followed. They had practiced this several times, and it took only a moment before they were braced on the star, holding the end of the twine. Bean pushed off at great speed, in a line almost parallel to the door; when he reached the corner of the room, he pushed off again and rocketed straight out toward the enemy. The spots of light on the wall showed that the enemy was shooting at him. As the rope was stopped by each edge of the star in turn, his arc became tighter, his direction changed, and he became an impossible target to hit. His squad caught him neatly as he came around the star from the other side. He moved all his arms and legs so those waiting inside the door would know that the enems hadn't flashed him anywhere.
Ender dropped through the gate.
"It's really dim," said Bean, "but light enough you can't follow people easily by the lights on their suits. Worst possible for seeing. It's all open space from this star to the enemy side of the room. They've got eight stars making a square around their door. I didn't see anybody except the ones peeking around the boxes. They're just sitting there waiting for us."
As if to corroborate Bean's statement, the enemy began to call out to them. "Hey! We be hungry, come and feed us! Your ass is draggin'! Your ass is Dragon!"
Ender's mind felt dead. This was stupid. He didn't have a chance, outnumbered two to one and forced to attack a protected enemy. "In a real war, any commander with brains at all would retreat and save his army."
"What the hell," said Bean. "It's only a game."
"It stopped being a game when they threw away the rules."
"So, you throw 'em away, too."
Ender grinned. "OK. Why not, Let's see how they react to a formation."
Bean was appalled. "A formation! We've never done a formation in the whole time we've been an army!"
"We've still got a month to go before our training period is normally supposed to end. About time we started doing formations. Always have to know formations," He formed an A with his fingers, showed it to the blank door, and beckoned, A toon quickly emerged and Ender began arranging them behind the star. Three meters wasn't enough room to work in, the boys were frightened and confused, and it took nearly five minutes just to get them to understand what they were doing.
Tiger and Griffin soldiers were reduced to chanting catcalls, while their commanders argued about whether to try to use their overwhelming force to attack Dragon Army while they were still behind the star. Momoe was all for attacking -- "We outnumber him two to one" -- while Bee said, "Sit tight and we can't lose, move out and he can figure out a way to beat us."
So they sat tight, until finally in the dusky light they saw a large mass slip out from behind Ender's star. It held its shape, even when it abruptly stopped moving sideways and launched itself toward the dead center of the eight stars where eighty-two soldiers waited.
"Doobie doe," said a Griffin. "They're doing a formation."
"They must have been putting that together for all five minutes," said Momoe. "If we'd attacked while they were doing it, we could've destroyed them."
"Eat it, Momoe," whispered Bee. "You saw the way that little kid flew. He went all the way around the star and back behind without ever touching a wall. Maybe they've all got hooks, did you think of that? They've got something new there."
The formation was a strange one. A square formation of tightly-packed bodies in front, making a wall. Behind it, a cylinder, six boys in circumference and two boys deep, their limbs outstretched and frozen so they couldn't possibly be holding on to each other. Yet they held together as tightly as if they had been tied -- which, in fact, they were.
From inside the formation, Dragon Army was firing with deadly accuracy, forcing Griffins and Tigers to stay tightly packed on their stars.
"The back of that sucker is open,"said Bee. "As soon as they get between the stars, we can get around behind--"
"Don't talk about it, do it!" said Momoe. Then he took his own advice and ordered his boys to launch against the wall and rebound out behind the Dragon formation.
In the chaos of their takeoff, while Griffin Army held tight to their stars, the Dragon formation abruptly changed. Both the cylinder and the front wall split in two, as boys inside it pushed off; almost at once, the formations also reversed direction, heading back toward the Dragon gate. Most of the Griffins fired at the formations and the boys moving backward with them; and the Tigers took the survivors of Dragon Army from behind.
But there was something wrong. William Bee thought for a moment and realized what it was. Those formations couldn't have reversed direction in midflight unless someone pushed off in the opposite direction, and if they took off with enough force to make that twenty-man formation move backward, they must be going fast.
There they were, six small Dragon soldiers down near William Bee's own door. From the number of lights showing on their flash suits, Bee could see that three of them were disabled and two of them damaged; only one was whole. Nothing to be frightened of. Bee casually aimed at them, pressed the button, and--
The lights went on.
The game was over.
Even though he was looking right at them, it took Bee a moment to realize what had just happened. Four of the Dragon soldiers had their helmets pressed on the corners of the door. And one of them had just passed through. They had just carried out the victory ritual. They were getting destroyed, they had hardly inflicted any casualties, and they had the gall to perform the victory ritual and end the game right under their noses.
Only then did it occur to William Bee that not only had Dragon Army ended the game, it was possihie that, under the rules, they had won it. After all, no matter what happened, you were not certified as the winner unless you had enough unfrozen soldiers to touch the corners of the gate and pass someone through into the enemy's corridor. Therefore, by one way of thinking. you could argue that the ending ritual was victory. The battleroom certainly recognized it as the end of the game.
The teachergate opetied and Major Anderson came into the room. "Ender," he called, looking around.
One of the frozen Dragon soldiers tried to answer him through jaws that were clamped shut by the flash suit. Anderson hooked over to him and thawed him.
Ender was smiling. "I beat you again, sir," he said.
"Nonsense, Ender," Anderson said softly. "Yout battle was with Griffin and Tiger."
"How stupid do you think I am?" said Ender.
Loudly, Anderson said, "After that little maneuver, the rules are being revised to require that all of the enemy's soldiers must be frozen or disabled before the gate can be reversed."
"It could only work once anyway," Ender said.
Anderson handed him the hook. Ender unfroze everyone at once. To hell with protocol. To hell with everything. "Hey!" he shouted as Anderson moved away. "What is it next time? My army in a cage without guns, with the rest of the Battle School against them? How about a little equality?"
There was a loud murmur of agreement from the other boys, and not all of it came from Dragon Army. Anderson did not so much as turn around to acknowledge Ender's challenge. Finally, it was William Bee who answered. "Ender, if you're on one side of the battle, it won't be equal no matter what the conditions are."
Right! called the boys. Many of them laughed. Talo Momoe began clapping his hands. "Ender Wiggin!" he shouted. The other boys also clapped and shouted Ender's name.
Ender passed through the enemy gate. His soldiers followed him. The sound of them shouting his name followed him through the corridors.
"Practice tonight?" asked Craty Tom.
Ender shook his head.
"Tomorrow morning then?"
"Never again, as far as I'm concerned."
He could hear the murmurs behind him.
"Hey, that's not fair," said one of the boys. "It's not our fault the teachers are screwing up the game. You can't just stop teaching us stuff because--"
Ender slammed his open hand against the wall and shouted at the boy. "I don't care about the game anymore!" His voice echoed through the corridor. Boys from other armies came to their doors. He spoke quietly into the silence -- "Do you understand that?" And he whispered. "The game is over."
He walked back to his room alone. He wanted to lie down, but he couldn't because the bed was wet. It reminded him of all that had happened today, and in fury he tore the mattress and blankets from the bedframe and shoved them out into the corridor. Then he wadded up a unifortn to serve as a pillow and lay on the fabric of wires strung across the frame. It was uncomfortable, but Ender didn't care enough to get up.
He had only been there a few minutes when someone knocked on his door.
"Go away," he said softly. Whoever was knockine didn't hear him or didn't care. Finally, Ender said to come in.
It was Bean.
"Go away, Bean."
Bean nodded but didn't leave. Instead he looked at his shoes. Ender almost yelled at him, cursed at him, screamed at him to leave. Instead he noticed how very tired Bean looked, his whole body bent with weariness, his eyes dark from lack of sleep; and yet his skin was still soft and translucent, the skin of a child, the soft curved cheek, the slender limbs of a little boy. He wasn't eight years old yet. It didn't matter he was brilliant und dedicated and good. He was a child. He was *young*.
No he isn't, thought Ender. Small, yes. But Bean has been through a battle with a whole army depending on him and on the soldiers that he led, and he performed splendidly, and they won. There's no youth in that. No childhood.
Taking Ender's silence and softening expression as permission to stay, Bean took another step into the room. Only then did Ender see the small slip of paper in his hand.
"You're transferred?" asked Ender. He was incredulous, but his voice came out sounding uninterested, dead.
"To Rabbit Army."
Ender nodded. Of course. It was obvious. If I can't be defeated with my army, they'll take my army away. "Carn Carby's a good man," said Ender. "I hope he recognizes what you're worth."
"Carn Carby was graduated today. He got his notice while we were fighting our battle."
"Well, who's commanding Rabbit then?"
Bean held his hands out helplessly. "Me."
Ender looked at the ceiling and nodded. "Of course. After all, you're only four years younger than the regular age."
"It isn't funny. I don't know what's going on here. All the changes in the game. And now this. I wasn't the only one transferred, you know. They graduated half the commanders, and transferred a lot of our guys to command their armies."
"It looks like -- every toon leader and every assistant."
"Of course. If they decide to wreck my army, they'll cut it to the ground. Whatever they're doing, they're thorough.""
"You'll still win, Ender. We all know that. Crazy Tom, he said, 'You mean I'm supposed to figure out how to beat Dragon Army?' Everybody knows you're the best. They can't break you down, no matter what they--"
"They already have."
"No, Ender, they can't--"
"I don't care about their game anymore, Bean. I'm not going to play it anymore. No more practices. No more battles. They can put their little slips of paper on the floor all they want, but I won't go. I decided that before I went through the door today. That's why I had you go for the gate. I didn't think it would work, but I didn't care. I just wanted to go out in style."
"You should've seen William Bee's face. He just stood there trying to figure out how he had lost when you only had seven boys who could wiggle their toes and he only had three who couldn't."
"Why should I want to see William Bee's face? Why should I want to beat anybody?" Ender pressed his palms against his eyes. "I hurt Bonzo really bad today, Bean. I really hurt him bad."
"He had it coming."
"I knocked him out standing up. It was like he was dead, standing there. And I kept hurting him."
Bean said nothing.
"I just wanted to make sure he never hurt me again."
"He won't," said Bean. "They sent him home."
"The teachers didn't say much, they never do. The official notice says he was graduated, but where they put the assignment -- you know, tactical schoot, support, precommand, navigation, that kind of thing -- it just said Cartagena, Spain. That's his home."
"I'm glad they graduated him."
"Hell, Ender, we're just glad he's gone. If we'd known what he was doing to you, we would've killed him on the spot. Was it true he had a whole bunch of guys gang up on you?"
"No. It was just him and me. He fought with honor." If it weren't for his honor, he and the others would have beaten me together. They might have killed me, then. His sense of honor saved my life. "I didn't fight with honor," Ender added."I fought to win."
Bean laughed. "And you did. Kicked him right out of orbit."
A knock on the door, Before Ender could answer, the door opened. Ender had been expecting more of his soldiers. Instead it was Major Anderson. And behind him came Colonel Graff.
"Ender Wiggin," said Graff.
Ender got to his feet. "Yes sir."
"Your display of temper in the battleroom today was insubordinate and is not to be repeated."
"Yes sir," said Ender,
Bean was still feeling insubordinate, and he didn't think Ender deserved the rebuke. "I think it was about time somebody told a teacher how we felt about what you've been doing."
The adults ignored him. Anderson handed Ender a sheet of paper. A full-sized sheet. Not one of the little slips of paper that served for internal orders within the Battle School; it was a full-fledged set of orders. Bean knew what it meant. Ender was being transferred out of the school.
"Graduated?" asked Bean. Ender nodded. "What took them so long? You're only two or three years early. You've already learned how to walk and talk and dress yourself. What will they have left to teach you?"
Ender shook his head, "All I know is, the game's over." He folded up the paper. "None too soon. Can I tell my army?"
"There isn't time," said Graff. "Your shuttle leaves in twenty minutes. Besides, it's better not to talk to them after you get your orders. It makes it easier."
"For them or for you?" Ender asked. He didn't wait for an answer. He turned quickly to Bean, took his hand for a moment, and then headed for the door.
"Wait," said Bean. "Where are you going? Tactical? Navigational? Support?"
"Command School," Ender answered.
"Command," said Ender, and then he was out the door, Anderson followed him closely. Bean grabbed Colonel Graff by the sleeve. "Nobody goes to Command School until they're sixteen!"
Graff shook off Bean's hand and left, closing the door behind him.
Bean stood alone in the room, trying to grasp what this might mean. Nobody went to Command School without three years of Pre-command in either Tactical or Support. But then, nobody left Battle School without at least six years, and Ender had had only four.
The system is breaking up. No doubt about it. Either somebody at the top is going crazy, or something's gone wrong with the war, the real war, the bugger war. Why else would they break down the training system like this, wreck tne game the way they did? Why else woud they put a little kid like me in command of an army?
Bean wondered about it as he walked back down the corridor to his own bed. The lights went out just as he reached his bunk. He undressed in darkness, fumbling to put his clothing in a locker he couldn't see. He felt terrible. At first he thought he felt bad because he was afraid of leading an army, but it wasn't true. He knew he'd make a good commander. He felt himself wanting to cry. He hadn't cried since the first few days of homesickness after he got here. He tried to put a name on the feeling that put a lump in his throat and made him sob silently, however much he tried to hold it down. He bit down on his hand ta stop the feeling, to replace it with pain. It didn't heip. He would never sec Ender again.
Once he named the feeling, he could control it. He lay back and forced himself to go through tne relaxing routine until he didn't feel like crying anymore. Then he drifted off to sleep. His hand was near his mouth. It lay on his pillow hesitantly, as if Bean couldn't decide whether to bite his nails or suck on his fingertips. His forehead was creased and furrowed. His breathing was quick and light. He was a soldier, and if anyone had asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he wouldn't have known what they meant.
When he was crossing into the shuttle, Ender noticed for the lirst time that the insignia on Major Anderson's uniform had changed. "Yes, he's a colonel now," said Graff. "In fact, Major Anderson has been placed in command of the Battle School, as of this afternoon. I have been reassigned to other duties."
Ender did not ask him what they were.
Graff strapped himself into a seat across the aisle from him. There was only one other passenger, a quiet man in civilian clothes who was introduced as General Pace. Pace was carrying a briefcase, but carried no more luggage than Ender did. Somehow that was comforting to Ender, that Graff also came away empty.
Ender spoke only once on the voyage home. "Why are we going home?" he asked. "I thought Command School was in the asteroids somewhere."
"It is," said Graff. "But the Battle School has no facilities for docking long-range ships. So you get a short landside leave."
Ender wanted to ask if that meant he could see his family. But suddenly, at the thought that it might be possible, he was afraid, and so he didn't ask. Just closed his eyes and tried to sleep. Behind him, General Pace was studying him; for what purpose, Ender could not guess.
It was a hot summer afternoon in Florida when they landed. Ender had been so long without sunlight that the light nearly blinded him, He squinted and sneezed and wanted to get back indoors. Everything was far away and flat; the ground, lacking the upward curve of Battle School floors, seemed instead to fall away, so that on level ground Ender felt as though he were on a pinnacle. The pull of real gravity felt different and he scuffed his feet when he walked. He hated it. He wanted to go back home, back to the Battle School, the only place in the universe where he belonged.
"Well, it's a natural thought. General Pace is the head of the military police. There *was* a death in the Battle School."
"They didn't tell me whether Colonel Graff was being promoted or court-martialed. Just transferred, with orders to report to the Polemarch."
"Is that a good sign or bad?"
"Who knows? On the one hand, Ender Wiggin not only survived, he passed a threshold, he graduated in dazzlingly good shape, you have to give old Graff credit for that. On the other hand, there's the fourth passenger on the shuttle. The one travelina in a bag."
"Only the second death in the history of the school. At least it wasn't a suicide this time."
"How is murder better, Major Imbu?"
"It wasn't murder, Colonel. We have it on video from two angles. No one can blame Ender."
"But they might blame Graff. After all this is over, the civilians can rake over our files and decide what was right and what was not. Give us medals where they think we were rignt, take away our pensions and put us in jail where they decide we were wrong. At leatt they had the good sense not to tell Ender that the boy died."
"Its the second time, too."
"They didn't tell him about Stilson, either."
"The kid is scary."
"Ender Wiggin isn't a killer. He just wins -- thoroughly. If anybody's going to be scared, let it be the buggers"
"Makes you almost feel sorry for them, knowing Ender's going to be coming after them."
"The only one I feel sorry for is Ender. But not sorry enough to suggest they ought to let up on him. I just got access to the material that Graff's been geffing all this time. About fleet movements, that sort of thing. I used to sleep easy at night."
"Time's getting short?"
"I shouldn't have mentioned it. I can't tell you secured information."
"Let's leave it at this: they didn't get him to Command School a day too soon. And maybe a couple of years too late."