"Brother and sister. They had layered themselves five times through the nets -- writing for companies that paid for their memberships, that sort of thing. Devil of a time tracking them down."
"What are they hiding?"
"Could be anything. The most obvious thing to hide, though, is their ages. The boy is fourteen, the girl is twelve."
"Which one is Demosthenes?"
"The girl. The twelve-year-old."
"Pardon me. I don't really think it's funny, but I can't help but laugh. All this time we've been worried, all the time we've been trying to persuade the Russians not to take Demosthenes too seriously, we held up Locke as proof that Americans weren't all crazy warmongers. Brother and sister, prepubescent--"
"And their last name is Wiggin."
"*The* Wiggin is a third. They are one and two."
"Oh, excellent. The Russians will never believe--"
"That Demosthenes and Locke aren't as much under our control as *the* Wiggin."
"Is there a conspiracy? Is someone controlling them?"
"We have been able to detect no contact between these two children and any adutl who might be directing them."
"That is not to say that someone might not have invented some method you can't detect. It's hard to believe that two children--"
"I interviewed Colonel Graff when he arrived from the Battle School. It is his best judgment that nothing these children have done is out of their reach. Their abilities are virtually identical with -- *the* Wiggin. Only their temperaments are different. What surprised him, however, was the orientation of the two personas. Demosthenes is definitely the girl, but Graff says the girl was rejected for Battle School because she was too pacific, too conciliatory, and above all, too empathic."
"Definitely not Demosthenes."
"And the boy has the soul of a jackal."
"Wasn't it Locke that was recently praised as 'The only truly open mind in America'?"
"It's hard to know what's really happening. But Graff recommended, and I agree, that we should leave them alone. Not expose them. Make no report at this time except that we have determined that Locke and Dernosthenes have no foreign connections and have no connections with any domestic group, either, except those pubiicly declared on the nets."
"In other words, give them a clean bill of health,"
"I know Demosthenes seems dangerous, in part because he or she has such a wide following. But I think it's significant that the one of the two of them who is most ambitious has chosen the moderate, wise persona. And they're still just talking. They have influence, but no power."
"In my experience, influence is power."
"If we ever find them getting out of line, we can easily expose them."
"Only in the next few years. The longer we wait, the older they get, and the less shocking it is to discover who they are."
"You know what the Russian troop movements have been. There's always the chance that Demosthene is right. In which case--"
"We'd better have Demosthones around. All right. We'll show them clean, for now. But watch them. And I, of course, have to find ways of keeping the Russians calm."
In spite of all her misgivings, Valentine was having fun being Demosthenes. Her column was now being carried on practically every newsnet in the country, and it was fun to watch the money pile up in her attorney's accounts. Every now and then she and Peter would, in Demosthenes' name, donate a carefully calculated sum to a particular candidate or cause: enough money that the donation would be noticed, but not so much that the candidate would feel she was trying to buy a vote. She was getting so many letters now that her newsnet had hired a secretary to answer certain classes of routine correspondence for her. The fun fetters, from national and international leaders, sometimes hostile, sometimes friendly, always diplomatically trying to pry into Demosthenes' mind -- those she and Peter read together, laughing in delight sometimes that people like *this* were writing to children, and didn't know it.
Sometimes, though, she was ashamed. Father was reading Demosthenes regularly; he never read Locke, or if he did, he said nothing about it. At dinner, though, he would often regale them with some telling point Demosthenes had made in that day's column. Peter loved it when Father did that -- "See, it shows that the common man is paying attention" -- but it made Valentine feel humiliated for Father. If he ever found out that all this time *I* was writine the columns he told us about, and that I didn't even believe half the things I wrote, he would be angry and ashamed.
At school, she once nearly got them in trouble, when her history teacher assigned the class to write a paper contrasting the views of Demosthenes and Locke as expressed in two of their early columns. Valentine was careless, and did a brirrliant job of analysis. As a result, she had to work hard to talk the principal out of having her essay published on the very newsnet that carried Demosthenes' column. Peter was savage about it. "You write too much like Demosthenes, you can't get published, I should kill Demosthenes now, you're getting out of control."
If he raged about that blunder, Peter frightened her still more when he went silent. It happened when Demosthenes was invited to take part in the President's Council on Education for the Future, a blue-ribbon panel that was designed to do nothing, but do it splendidly. Valentine thought Peter would take it as a triumph, but he did not. "Turn it down," he said,
"Why should I?" she asked, "It's no work at all, and they even said that because of Demosthenes' well-known desire for privacy, they would net all the meetings. It makes Demosthenes into a respectable person, and--"
"And you love it that you got that before I did."
"Peter, it isn't you and me, it's Demosthenes and Locke. We made them up. They aren't real. Besides, this appointment doesn't mean they like Demosthenes better than Locke, it just means that Demosthenes has a much stronger base of support. You knew he would. Appointing him pleases a large number of Russian-haters and chauvinists."
"It wasn't supposed to work this way. Locke was supposed to be the respected one."
"He is! Real respect takes longer than official respect. Peter, don't be angry at me because I've done well with the things you told me to do."
But he was angry, for days, and ever since then he had left her to think through all her own columns, instead of telling her what to write. He probably assumed that this would make the quality of Demosthenes' columns deteriorate, but if it did no one noticed. Perhaps it made him even angrier that she never came to him weeping tor help. She had been Demosthenes too long now to need anyone to tell her what Demosthenes would think about things.
And as her correspondence with other politically active citizens grew, she began to learn things, information that simply wasn't available to the general public. Certain military people who corresponded with her dropped hints about things without meaning to, and she and Peter put them together to build up a fascinating and frightening picture of Warsaw Pact activity. They were indeed preparing for war, a vicious and bloods earthbound war. Demosthenes wasn't wrong to suspect that the Warsaw Pact was not abiding by the terms of the League.
And the character of Demosthenes gradually took on a life of his own. At times she found herself thinking like Demosthenes at the end of a writing session, agreeing with ideas that were supposed to be calculated poses. And sometimes she read Peter's Locke essays and found herself annoyed at his obvious blindness to what was really going on.
Perhaps it's impossible to wear an identity without becoming what you pretend to be. She thought of that, worried about it for a few days, and then wrote a column using that as a premise, to show that politicians who toadied to the Russians in order to keep the peace would inevitably end up subservient to them in everything. It was a lovely bite at the party in power, and she got a lot of good mail about it. She also stopped being frightened of the idea of becoming, to a degree, Demosthenes. He's smarter than Peter and I ever gave him credit for, she thought.
Graff was waiting for her after school. He stood leaning on his car. He was in civilian clothes, and he had gained weight, so she didn't recognize him at first. But he beckoned to her, and before he could introduce himself she remembered his name.
"I won't write another letter," she said. "I never should have written that one.
"You don't like medals, then, I guess."
"Come for a ride with me, Valentine."
"I don't ride with strangers."
He handed her a paper. It was a release form, and her parents had signed it.
"I guess you're not a stranger. Where are we going?"
"To see a young soldier who is in Greensboro on leave."
She got in the car. "Ender's only ten years old," she said. "I thought you told us the first time he'd be eligible for a leave was when he was twelve."
"He skipped a few grades."
"So he's doing well?"
"Ask him when you see him."
"Why me? Why not the whole family?"
Graff sighed. "Ender sees the world his own way. We had to persuade him to see you. As for Peter and your parents, he was not interested. Life at the Battle School was -- intense."
"What do you mean, he's gone crazy?"
"On the contrary, he's the sanest person I know. He's sane enough to know that his parents are not particularly eager to reopen a book of affection that was closed quite tightly four years ago. As for Peter -- we didn't even suggest a meeting, and so he didn't have a chance to tell us to go to hell."
They went out Lake Brandt Road and turned offjust past the lake, following a road that wound down and up until they came to a white clapboard mansion that sprawled along the top of a hill. It looked over Lake Brandt on one side and a five-acre private lake on the other. "This is the house that Medly's Mist-E-Rub built," said Graff. "The IF picked it up in a tax sale about twenty years ago. Ender insisted that his conversation with you should not be bugged. I promised him it wouldn't be, and to help inspire confidence, the two of you are going out on a raft he built himself. I should warn you, though. I intend to ask you questions about your conversation when it is finished. You don't have to answer, but I hope you will."
"I didn't bring a swimming suit."
"We can provide one."
"One that isn't bugged?"
"At some point, there must be trust. For insance, I know who Demosthenes really is."
She felt a thrill of fear run through her, hut said nothing.
"I've known since I landed from the Battle School, There are, perhaps, six of us in the world who know his identity. Not counting the Russians -- God only knows what they know. But Demosthenes has nothing to fear from us. Demosthenes can trust our discretion. Just as I trust Demosthenes not to tell Locke what's going on here today. Mutual trust. We tell each other things."
Valentine couldn't decide whether it was Demosthenes they approved of, or Valentine Wiggin. If the former, she would not trust them; if the latter, the perhaps she could. The fact that they did not want her to discuss this with Peter suggested that perhaps they knew the difference between them. She did not stop to wonder whether she herself knew the difference any more.
"You said he built the raft. How long has be been here?"
"Two months. We meant his leave to last only a few days. But you see, he doesn't seem interested in going on with his education."
"Oh. So I'm therapy again."
"This time we can't censor your letter, We're just taking our chances. We need your brother badly. Humanity is on the cusp."
This time Val had grown up enough to know just how much danger the world was in. And she had been Demosthenes long enough that she didn't hesitate to do her duty. "Where is he?"
"Down at the boat slip."
"Where's the swimming suit?"
Ender didn't wave when she walked down the hill toward him, didn't smile when she stepped onto the floating boat slip. But she knew that he was glad to see her, knew it because of the way his eyes never left her face.
"You're bigger than I remembered," she said stupidly.
"You too," he said. "I also remembered that you were beautiful."
"Memory does play tricks on us."
"No. Your face is the same, but I don't remember what beautiful means anymore. Come on. Let's go out into the lake."
She looked at the small raft with misgivings.
"Don't stand up on it, that's all," he said. He got on by crawling, spiderlike, on toes and fingers. "It's the first thing I built with my own hands since you and I used to build with blocks. Peter-proof buildings."
She laughed. They used to take pleasure in building things that would stand up even when a lot of the obvious supports had been removed. Peter, in turn, liked to remove a block here or there, so the structure would be fragile enough that the next person to touch it would knock it down. Peter was an ass, but he did provide some focus to their childhood.
"Peter's changed," she said.
"Let's not talk about him," said Ender.
She crawled onto the boat, not as deftly as Ender. He used a paddle to maneuver them slowly toward the center of the private lake. She noticed aloud that he was sunbrowned and strong.
"The strong part comes from Battle School. The sunbrowning comes from this lake. I spend a lot of time on the water. When I'm swimming, it's like being weightless. I miss being weightless. Also, when I'm here on the lake, the land slopes up in every direction."
"Like living in a bowl."
"I've lived in a bowl for four years."
"So we're strangers now?"
"Aren't we, Valentine?"
"No," she said. She reached out and touched his leg. Then, suddenly, she squeezed his knee, right where he had always been most ticklish.
But almost at the same moment, he caught her wrist in his hand. His grip was very strong, even though hts hands were smaller than hers and his own arms were slender and tight. For a moment he looked dangerous; then he relaxed. "Oh, yes," he said. "You used to tickle me."
In answer, she dropped herself over the side of the raft. The water was clear and clean, and there was no chlorine in it. She swam for a while, then returned to the raft and lay on it in the hazy sunlight. A wasp circled her, then landed on the raft beside her head. She knew it was there, and ordinarily would have been afraid of it. But not today. Let it walk on this raft, let it bake in the sun as I'm doing.
Then the raft rocked, and she turned to see Ender calmly crushing the life out of the wasp with one finger. "These are a nasty breed," Ender said. "They sting you without waiting to be insulted first," He smiled. "I've been learning about preemptive strategies. I'm very good. No one ever beat me. I'm the best soldier they ever had."
"Who would expect less?" she said. "You're a Wiggin."
"Whatever that means," he said.
"It means that you are going to make a difference in the world." And she told him what she and Peter were doing.
"How old is Peter, fourteen? Already planning to take over the world?"
"He thinks he's Alexander the Great. And why shouldn't he be? Why shouldn't you be, too?"
"We can't both be Alexander."
"Two faces of the same coin. And I am the metal in between." Even as she said it, she wondered if it was true. She had shared so much with Peter these last few years that even when she thought she despised him, she understood him. While Ender had been only a memory till now. A very small, fragile boy who needed her protection. Not this cold-eyed, dark-skinned manling who kills wasps with his fingers. Maybe he and Peter and I are all the same, and have been all along. Maybe we only thought we were different from each other out of jealousy.
"The trouble with coins is, when one face is up, the other face is down."
And right now you think you're down. "They want me to encourage you to go on with your studies."
"They aren't studies, they're games. All games, from beginning to end, only they change the rules whenever they feel like it." He held up a limp hand. "See the strings?"
"But you can use them, too."
"Only if they want to be used. Only if they think they're using you. No, it's too hard, I don't want to play anymore. Just when I start to be happy, just when I think I can handle things, they stick in anothet knife. I keep having nightmares, now that I'm here. I dream I'm in the battleroom, only instead of being weightless, they're playing games with gravity. They keep changing its direction. So I never end up on the wall I launched for. I never end up where I meant to go. And I keep pleading with them just to let me get to the door, and they won't let me out, they keep sucking me back in."
She heard the anger in his voice and assumed it was directed at her. "I suppose that's what I'm here for. To suck you back in."
"I didn't want to see you."
"They told me."
"I was afraid that I'd still love you."
"I hoped that you would."
"My fear, your wish -- both granted."
"Ender, it really is true. We may be young, but we're not powerless. We play by their rules long enough, and it becomes our game." She giggled. "I'm on a presidential commission. Peter is so angry."
"They don't let me use the nets. There isn't a computer in the place, except the household machines that run the security system and the lighting. Ancient things. Installed back a century ago, when they made computers that didn't hook up with anything. They took away my army, they took away my desk, and you know something? I don't really mind."
"You must be good company for yourself."
"Not me. My memories."
"Maybe that's who you are, what you remember."
"No. My memories of strangers. My memories of the buggers."
Valentine shivered, as if a cold breeze had suddenly passed. "I refuse to watch the bugger vids anymore. They're always the same.
"I used to study them for hours. The way their ships move through space. And something funny, that only occurred to me lying out here on the lake. I realized that all the battles in which buggers and humans fought hand to hand, all those are from the First Invasion. All the scenes from the Second Invasion, when our soldiers are in IF uniforms, in those scenes the buggers are always already dead. Lying there, slumped over their controls. Not a sign of struggle or anything. And Mazer Rackham's battle -- they never show us any footage from that battle."
"Maybe it's a secret weapon."
"No, no, I don't care about how we killed them. It's the buggers themselves. I don't know anything about them, and yet someday I'm supposed to fight them. I've been through a lot of fights in my life, sometimes games, sometimes -- not games. Every time, I've won because I could understand the way my enemy thought. From what they *did*. I could tell what they thought I was doing, how they wanted the battle to take shape. And I played off of that. I'm very good at that. Understanding how other people think."
"The curse of the Wiggin children." She joked, but it frightened her, that Ender might understand her as completely as he did his enemies. Peter always understood her, or at least thought he did, but he was such a moral sinkhole that she never had to feel embarrassed when he guessed even her worst thoughts. But Ender -- she did not want him to understand her. It would make her naked before him. She would be ashamed. "You don't think you can beat the buggers unless you know them."
"It goes deeper than that. Being here alone with nothing to do, I've been thinking about myself, too. Trying to understand why I hate myself so badly."
"Don't tell me 'No, Ender.' It took me a long time to realize that I did, but believe me, I did. Do. And it came down to this: In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it's impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them--"
"You beat them." For a moment she was not afraid of his understanding.
"No, you don't understand. I destroy them. I make it impossible for them to ever hurt me again. I grind them and grind them until they don't exist."
"Of course you don't." And now the fear came again, worse than before. Peter has mellowed, but you, they've made you into a killer. Two sides of the same coin, but which side is which?
"I've really hurt some people, Val. I'm not making this up."
"I know, Ender." How will you hurt me?
"See what I'm becoming, Val?" he said softly. "Even you are afraid of me." And he touched her cheek so gently that she wanted to cry. Like the touch of his soft baby hand when he was still an infant. She remembered that, the touch of his soft and innocent hand on her cheek.
"I'm not," she said, and in that moment it was true.
"You should be."
No. I shouldn't. "You're going to shrivel up if you stay in the water. Also, the sharks might get you.
He smiled. "The sharks learned to leave me alone a long time ago." But he pulled himself onto the raft, bringing a wash of water across it as it tipped. It was cold on Valentine's back.
"Ender, Peter's going to do it. He's smart enough to take the time it takes, but he's going to win his way into power -- if not right now, then later. I'm not sure yet whether that'll be a good thing or a bad thing. Peter can be cruel, but he knows the getting and keeping of power, and there are signs that once the bugger war is over, and maybe even before it ends, the world will collapse into chaos again. The Warsaw Pact was on its way to hegemony before the First Invasion. If they try for it afterward--"
"So even Peter might be a better alternative."
"You've been discovering some of the destroyer in yourself, Ender. Well, so have I. Peter didn't have a monopoly on that, whatever the testers thought. And Peter has some of the builder in him. He isn't kind, but he doesn't break every good thing he sees anymore. Once you realize that power will always end up with the sort of people who crave it, I think that there are worse people who could have it than Peter."
"With that strong a recommendation, I could vote for him myself."
"Sometimes it seems absolutely silly. A fourteen-year-old boy and his kid sister plotting to take over the world." She tried to laugh. It wasn't funny. "We aren't just ordinary children, are we. None of us."
"Don't you sometimes wish we were?"
She tried to imagine herself being like the other girls at school. Tried to imagine life if she didn't feel responsible for the future of the world. "It would be so dull."
"I don't think so." And he stretched out on the raft, as if he could lie on the water forever.
It was true. Whatever they did to Ender in the Battle School, they had spent his ambition. He really did not want to leave the sun-warmed waters of this bowl.
No, she realized. No, he *believes* that he doesn't want to leave here, but there is still too much of Peter in him. Or too much of me. None of us could be happy for long, doing nothing. Or perhaps it's just that none of us could be happy living with no other company than ourself.
So she began to prod again. "What is the one name that everyone in the world knows?"
"And what if you win the next war, the way Mazer did?"
"Mazer Rackham was a fluke. A reserve. Nobody believed in him. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time."
"But suppose you do it. Suppose you beat the buggers and your name is known the way Mazer Rackham's name is known."
"Let somebody else be famous. Peter wants to be famous. Let him save the world."
"I'm not talking about fame, Ender. I'm not talking about power, either. I'm talking about accidents, just like the accident that Mazer Rackham happened to be the one who was there when somebody had to stop the buggers."
"If I'm here," said Ender, "then I won't be there. Somebody else will. Let them have the accident."
His tone of weary unconcern infuriated her. "I'm talking about my life, you self-centered little bastard." If her words bothered him, he didn't show it. Just lay there, eyes closed. "When you were little and Peter tortured you, it's a good thing I didn't lie back and wait for Mom and Dad to save you. They never understood how dangerous Peter was. I knew you had the monitor, but I didn't wait for them, either. Do you know what Peter used to do to me because I stopped him from hurting you?"
"Shut up," Ender whispered.
Because she saw that his chest was trembling, because she knew that she had indeed hurt him, because she knew that just like Peter, she had found his weakest place and stabbed him there, she fell silent.
"I can't beat them," Ender said softly, "I'll be out there like Mazer Rackham one day, and everybody will be depending on me, and I won't be able to do it."
"If you can't, Ender, then nobody could. If you can't beat them, then they deserve to win because they're stronger and better than us. It won't be your fault."
"Tell it to the dead."
"If not you, then who?"
"Nobody, Ender. I'll tell you something. If you try and lose then it isn't your fault. But if you don't try and we lose, then it's all your fault. You killed us all."
"I'm a killer no matter what."
"What else should you be? Human beings didn't evolve brains in order to lie around on lakes. Killing's the first thing we learned. And a good thing we did, or we'd be dead, and the tigers would own the earth."
"I could never beat Peter. No matter what I said or did. I never could."
So it came back to Peter. "He was years older than you. And stronger."
"So are the buggers."
She could see his reasoning. Or rather, his unreasoning. He could win all he wanted, but he knew in his heart that there was always someone who could destroy him, He always knew that he had not really won, because there was Peter, undefeated champion.
"You want to beat Peter?" she asked.
"No," he answered.
"Beat the buggers. Then come home and see who notices Peter Wiggin anymore. Look him in the eye when all the world loves and reveres you. That'll be defeat in his eyes, Ender. That's how you win."
"You don't understand," he said.
"Yes I do."
"No you don't. I don't want to beat Peter."
"Then what do you want?"
"I want him to love me."
She had no answer. As far as she knew, Peter didn't love anybody.
Ender said nothing more. Just lay there. And lay there.
Finally Valentine, the sweat dripping off her, the mosquitos beginning to hover as the dusk came on, took one final dip in the water and then began to push the raft in to shore. Ender showed no sign that he knew what she was doing, but his irregular breathing told her that he was not asleep. When they got to shore, she climbed onto the dock and said, "I love you, Ender. More than ever. No matter what you decide."
He didn't answer. She doubted that he believed her. She walked back up the hill, savagely angry at them for making her come to Ender like this. For she had, after all, done just what they wanted. She had talked Ender into going back into his training, and he wouldn't soon forgive her for that.
Ender came in the door, still wet from his last dip in the lake. It was dark outside, and dark in the room where Graff waited for him.
"Are we going now?" asked Ender.
"If you want to," Graff said.
"When you're ready."
Ender showered and dressed. He was finally used to the way civilian clothes fit together, but he still didn't feel right without a uniform or a flash suit. I'll never wear a flash suit again, he thought. That was the Battle School game, and I'm through with that. He heard the crickets chirping madly in the woods; in the near distance he heard the crackling sound of a car driving slowly on gravel.
What else should he take with him? He had read several of the books in the library. but they belonged to the house and he couldn't take them. The only thing he owned was the raft he had made with his own hands. That would stay here, too.
The lights were on now in the room where Graff waited. He, too, had changed clothing. He was back to uniform.
They sat in the back seat of the car together, driving along country roads to come at the airport from the back. "Back when the population was growing," said Graff, "they kept this area in woods and farms. Watershed land. The rainfall here starts a lot of rivers flowing, a lot of underground water moving around. The Earth is deep, and right to the heart it's alive, Ender. We people only live on the top, like the bugs that live on the scum of the still water near the shore."
Ender said nothing.
"We train our commanders the way we do because that's what it takes -- they have to think in certain ways. They can't be distracted by a lot of things, so we isolate them. You. Keep you separate. And it works. But it's so easy, when you never meet people, when you never know the Earth itself, when you live with metal walls keeping out the cold of space, it's easy to forget why Earth is worth saving. Why the world of people might be worth the price you pay."
So that's why you brought me here, thought Ender. With all your hurry, that's why you took three months, to make me love Earth. Well, it worked. All your tricks worked. Valentine, too; she was another one of your tricks, to make me remember that I'm not going to school for myself. Well, I remember.
"I may have used Valenrine," said Graff, "and you may hate me for it, Ender, but keep this in mind -- it only works because what's between you, that's real, that's what matters. Billions of those connections between human beings. That's what you're fighting to keep alive."
Ender turned his face to the window and watched the helicopters and dirigibles rise and fall.
They took a helicopter to the IF spaceport at Stumpy Point. lt was officially named for a dead Hegemon, but everybody called it Stumpy Point, after the pitiful little town that had been paved over when they made the approaches to the vast islands of steel and concrete that dotted Pamlico Sound. There were still waterbirds taking their fastidious little steps in the saltwater, where mossy trees dipped down as if to drink. It began to rain lightly, and the concrete was black and slick; it was hard to tell where it left off and the Sound began.
Graif led him through a maze of clearances. Authority was a little plastic ball that Graff carried. He dropped it into chutes, and doors opened and people stood up and saluted and the chutes spat out the ball and Graff went on. Ender noticed that at first everyone watched Graff, but as they penetrated deeper into the spaceport, people began watching Ender. At first it was the man of real authority they noticed, but later, where everyone had authority, it was his cargo they cared to see.
Only when Graff strapped himself into the shuttle seat beside him hid Ender realize Graff was going to launch with him.
"How far?" asked Ender. "How far are you going with me?"
Graff smiled thinly. "All the way, Ender."
"Are they making you administrator of Command School?"
So they had removed Graff from his post at Battle School solely to accompnany Ender to his next assignment. How important am I, he wondered. And like a whisper of Peter's-voice inside his mind, he heard the question, How can I use this?
He shuddered and tried to think of something else. Peter could have fantasies about ruling the world, but Ender didn't have them. Still, thinking back on his life in Battle School, it occurred to him that although he bad never sought power, he had always had it. But he decided that it was a power born of excellence, not manipulation. He had no reason to be ashamed of it. He had never, except perhaps with Bean, used his power to hurt someone. And with Bean, things had worked well after all. Bean had become a friend, finally, to take the place of the lost Alai, who in turn took the place of Valentine. Valentine, who was helping Peter in his plotting. Valentine, who still loved Ender no matter what happened. And following that train of thought led him back to Earth, back to the quiet hours in the center of the clear water ringed by a bowl of tree-covered hills. That is Earth, he thought. Not a globe thousands of kilometers around, but a forest with a shining lake, a house hidden at the crest of the hill, high in the trees, a grassy slope leading upward from the water, fish leaping and birds strafing to take the bugs that lived at the border between water and sky. Earth was the constant noise of crickets and winds and birds. And the voice of one girl, who spoke to him out of his far-off childhood. The same voice that had once protected him from terror. The same voice that he would do anything to keep alive, even return to school, even leave Earth behind again for another four or forty or four thousand years. Even if she loved Peter more.
His eyes were closed, and he had not made any sound but breathing; still, Graff reached out and touched his hand across the aisle. Ender stiffened in surprise, and Graff soon withdrew, but for a moment Ender was struck with the startling thought that perhaps Graff felt some affection for him. But no, it was just another calculated gesture. Graff was creating a commander out of a little boy. No doubt Unit 17 in the course of studies included an affectionate gesture from the teacher.
The shuttle reached the IPL satellite in only a few hours. Inter-Planetary Launch was a city of three thousand inhabitants, breathing oxygen from the plants that also fed them, drinking water that had already passed through their bodies ten thousand times, living only to service the tugs that did all the oxwork in the solar system and the shuttles that took their cargos and passengers back to the Earth or the Moon. It was a world where, briefly, Ender felt at home, since its floors sloped upward as they did in the Battle School.
Their tug was fairly new; the IF was constantly casting off its old vehicles and purchasing the latest models. It had just brought a vast load of drawn steel processed by a factory ship that was taking apart minor planets in the asteroid belt. The steel would be dropped to the Moon, and now the tug was linked to fourteen barges. Graff dropped his ball into the reader again, however, and the barges were uncoupled from the tug. It would be making a fast run this time, to a destination of Graff's specification, not to be stated until the tug had cut loose from IPL.
"It's no great secret," said the tug's captain. "Whenever the destination is unknown, it's for ISL." By analogy with IPL, Ender decided the letters meant Inter-Stellar Launch.
"This time it isn't," said Graff.
"I don't have security clearance even to know where that is, sir."
"Your ship knows," said Graff. "Just let the computer have a look at this, and follow the course it plots." He handed the captain the plastic ball.
"And I'm supposed to close my eyes during the whole voyage, so I don't figure out where we are?"
"Oh, no, of course not. I.E. Command is on the minor planet Eros, which should be about three months away from here at the highest possible speed. Which is the speed you'll use, of course."
"Eros? But I thought that the buggers burned that to a radioactive -- ah. When did I receive security clearance to know this?"
"You didn't. So when we arrive at Eros, you will undoubtedly be assigned to permanent duty there."
The captain understood immediately, and didn't like it. "I'm a pilot, you son of a bitch, and you got no right to lock me up on a rock!"
"I will overlook your derisive language to a superior officer. I do apologize, but my orders were to take the fastest available military tug. At the moment I arrived, that was you. It isn't as though anyone were out to get you. Cheer up. The war may be over in another fifteen years, and then the location of IF Command won't have to be a secret anymore. By the way, you should be aware, in case you're one of those who relies on visuals for docking, that Eros has been blacked out. Its albedo is only slightly brighter than a black hole. You won't see it."
"Thanks," said the captain.
It was nearly a month into the voyage before he managed to speak civilly to Colonel Graff.
The shipboard computer had a limited library -- it was geared primarily to entertainment rather than education. So during the voyage, after breakfast and morning exercises, Ender and Graff would usually talk. About Command School, About Earth. About astronomy and physics and whatever Ender wanted to know.
And above all, he wanted to know about the buggers.
"We don't know much," said Graff. "We've never had a live one in custody. Even when we caught one unarmed and alive, he died the moment it became obvious he was captured. Even the he is uncertain -- the most likely thing, in fact, is that most bugger soldiers are females, but with atrophied or vestigial sexual organs. We can't tell. It's their psychology that would be most useful to you, and we haven't exactly had a chance to interview them."
"Tell me what you know, and maybe I'll learn something that I need."
So Graff told him. The buggers were organisms that enuld conceivably have evolved on Earth, if things had gone a different way a billion years ago. At the molecular level, there were no surprises. Even the genetic material was the same. It was no accident that they looked insectlike to human beings. Though their internal organs were now much more complex and specialized than any insects, and they had evolved an internal skeleton and shed most of the exoskeleton, their physical structure still echoed their ancestors, who could easily have been very much like Earth's ants. "But don't be fooled by that," said Graff. "It's just as meaningful to say that our ancestors could easily have been very much like squirrels."
"If that's all we have to go on, that's somethig," said Ender.
"Squirrels never built starships," said Graff. "There are usually a few changes on the way from gathering nuts and seeds to harvesting asteroids and putting permanent research stations on the moons of Saturn."
The buggers could probably see about the same spectrum of light as human beings, and there was artificial lighting in their ships and ground installations. However, their antennae seemed airnost vestigial. There was no evidence from their bodies that smelling, tasting, or hearing were particularly important to them. "Of course, we can't be sure. But we can't see any way that they could have used sound for communication. The oddest thing of all was that they also don't have any communication devices on their ships. No radios, nothing that could transimit or receive any kind of signal."
"They communicate ship to ship. I've seen the videos, they talk to each other."
"True. But body to body, mind to mind. It's the most important thing we learned from them. Their communication, however they do it, is instantaneous. Lightspeed is no barrier. When Mazer Rackham defeated their invasion fleet, they all closed up shop. At once. There was no time for a signal. Everything just stopped."
Ender remembered the videos of uninjured buggers lying dead at their posts.
"We knew then that it was possible to communicate faster than light. That was seventy years ago, and once we knew it could be done, we did it. Not me, mind you, I wasn't born then."
"How is it possible?"
"I can't explain philotic physics to you. Half of it nobody understands anyway. What matters is we built the ansible. The official name is Philotic Parallax Instantaneous Communicator, but somebody dredged the name ansible out of an old book somewhere and it caught on. Not that most people even know the machine exists."
"That means that ships could talk to each other even when they're across the solar system," said Ender.
"It means," said Graff, "that ships could talk to each other even when they're across the galaxy. And the buggers can do it without machines."
"So they knew about their defeat the moment it happened," said Ender. "I always figured -- everybody always said that they probably only found out they lost the battle twenty five years ago."
"It keeps people from panicking," said Graff. "I'm telling you things that you can't know, by the way, if you're ever going to leave IF Command. Before the war's over."
Ender was angry. "If you know me at all, you know I can keep a secret."
"It's a regulation. People under twenty-five are assumed to be a security risk. It's very unjust to a good many responsible children, but it helps narrow the number of people who might let something slip."
"What's all the secrecy for, anyway?"
"Because we've taken some terrible risks, Ender, and we don't want to have every net on earth second-guessing those decisions. You see, as soon as we had a working ansible, we tucked it into our best starships and launched them to attack the buggers home systems."
"Do we know where they are?"
"So we're not waiting for the Third Invasion."
"We *are* the Third Invasion."
"We're attacking them. Nobody says that. Everybody thinks we have a huge fleet of warships waiting in the comet shield--"
"Not one. We're quite defenseless here."
"What if they've sent a fleet to attack us?"
"Then we're dead. But our ships haven't seen such a fleet, not a sign of one."
"Maybe they gave up and they're planning to leave us alone."
"Maybe. You've seen the videos. Would you bet the human race on the chance of them giving up and leaving us alone?"
Ender tried to grasp the amounts of time that had gone by. "And the ships have been traveling for seventy years--"
"Some of them. And some for thirty years, and some for twenty. We make better ships now. We're learning how to play with space a lttle better. But every starship that is not still under construction is on its way to a bugger world or outpost. Every starship, with cruisers and fighters tucked into its belly, is out there approaching the buggers. Decelerating. Because they're almost there. The first ships we sent to the most distant objectives, the more recent ships to the closer ones. Our timing was pretty good. They'll all be arriving in combat range within a few months of each other. Unfortunately, our most primitive, outdated equipment will be attacking their homeworld. Still, they're armed well enough -- we have some weapons the buggers never saw before."
"When will they arrive?"
"Within the next five years. Ender. Everything is ready at IF Command. The master ansible is there, in contact with all our invasion fleet; the ships are all working, ready to fight. All we lack, Ender, is the battle commander. Someone who knows what the hell to do with those ships when they get there."
"And what if no one knows what to do with them?"
"We'll just do our best, with the best commander we can get."
Me, thought Ender, they want me to be ready in five years. "Colonel Graff, there isn't a chance I'll be ready to command a fleet in time."
Graff shrugged. "So. Do your best. If you aren't ready, we'll make do with what we've got."
That eased Ender's mind,
But only for a moment, "Of course, Ender, what we've got right now is nobody."
Ender knew that this was another of Graff's games. Make me believe that it all depends on me, so I can't slack off, so I push myself as hard as possible.
Game or not, though, it might also be true. And so he would work as hard as possible. It was what Val had wanted of him. Five years. Only five years until the fleet arrives, and I don't know anything yet, "I'll only be fifteen in five years," Ender said.
"Going on sixteen," said Graff. "It all depends on what you know."
"Colonel Graff," he said. "I just want to go back and swim in the lake."
"After we win the war," said Graff, "Or lose it. We'll have a few decades before they get back here to finish us off. The house will be there, and I promise you can swim to your heart's content."
"But I'll still be too young for security clearance."
"We'll keep you under armed guard at all times. The military knows how to handle these things."
They both laughed, and Ender had to remind himself that Graff was only acting like a friend, that everything he did was a lie or a cheat calculated to turn Ender into an efficient fighting machine. I'll become exactly the tool you want me to be, said Ender silently, but at least I won't be *fooled* into it. I'll do it because I choose to, not because you tricked me, you sly bastard.
The tug reached Eros before they could see it. The captain showed them the visual scan, then superimposed the heat scan on the same screen. They were practically on top of it -- only four thousand kilometers out -- but Eros, only twenty-four kilometers long, was invisible if it didn't shine with reflected sunlight.
The captain docked the ship on one of the three landing platforms that circled Eros. It could not land directly because Eros had enhanced gravity, and the tug, designed for towing eargos, could never escape the gravity well. He bade them an irritable goodbye, but Ender and Graff remained cheerful. The captains was bitter at having to leave his tug; Ender and Graff felt like prisoners finally paroled from jail. When they boarded the shuttle that would take them to the surface of Eros they repeated perverse misquotations of lines from the videos that the captain had endlessly watched, and laughed like madmen. The captain grew surly and withdrew by pretending to go to sleep. Then, almost as an afterthought, Ender asked Graff one last question.
"Why are we fighting the buggers?"
"I've heard all kinds of reasons," said Graff. "Because they have an overcrowded system and they've got to colonize. Because they can't stand the thought of other intelligent life in the universe. Because they don't think we are intelligent life. Because they have some weird religion. Because they watched our old video broadcasts and decided we were hopelessly violent. All kinds of reasons."
"What do you believe?"
"It doesn't matter what I believe."
"I want to know anyway."
"They must talk to each other directly, Ender, mind to mind. What one thinks, another can also think; what one remembers, another can also remember. Why would they ever develop language? Why would they ever learn to read and write? How would they know what reading and writing were if they saw them? Or signals? Or numbers? Or anything that we use to communicate? This isn't just a matter of translating from one language to another. They don't have a language at all. We used every means we could think of to communicate with them, but they don't even have the machinery to know we're signaling. And maybe they've been trying to think to us, and they can't understand why we don't respond."
"So the whole war is because we can't talk to each other."
"If the other fellow can't tell you his story, you can never be sure he isn't trying to kill you."
"What if we just left them alone?"
"Ender, we didn't go to them first, they came to us. If they were going to leave us alone, they could have done it a hundred years ago, before the First Invasion."
"Maybe they didn't know we were intelligent life. Maybe--"
"Ender, believe me, there's a century of discussion on this very subject. Nobody knows the answer. When it comes down to it, though, the real decision is inevitable: if one of us has to be destroyed, let's make damn sure we're the ones alive at the end. Our genes won't let us decide any other way. Nature can't evolve a species that hasn't a will to survive. Individuals might be bred to sacrifice themselves, but the race as a whole can never decide to cease to exist. So if we can, we'll kill every last one of the buggers, and if they can they'll kill every last one of us."
"As for me," said Ender, "I'm in favor of surviving."
"I know," sail Graff. "That's why you're here."