"Took your time, didn't you, Graff? The voyage isn't short, but the three month vacation seems excessive."
"I prefer not to deliver damaged merchandise."
"Some men simply have no sense of hurry. Oh well, it's only the fate of the world. Never mind me, You must understand our anxiety. We're here with the ansible, receiving constant reports of the progress of our starships. We have to face the coming war every day. If you can call them days. He's such a very *little* boy."
"There's greatness in him. A magnitude of spirit."
"A killer instinct, too, I hope."
"We've planned out an impromptu course of study for him. All subject to your approval, of course."
"I'll look at it. I don't pretend to know the subject matter, Admiral Chamrajnagar. I'm only here because I know Ender. So don't be afraid that I'll try to second guess the order of your presentation. Only the pace."
"How much can we tell him?"
"Don't waste his time on the physics of interstellar travel."
"What about the ansible?"
"I already told him about that, and the fleets. I said they would arrive at their destination within five years."
"It seems there's very little left for us to tell him."
"You can tell him about the weapons systems. He has to know enough to make intelligent decisions."
"Ah. We can be useful after all, how very kind, We've devoted one of the five simulators to his exclusive use."
"What about the others?"
"The other simulators?"
"The other children."
"You were brought here to take care of Ender Wiggin."
"Just curious. Remember, they were all my students at one time or another."
"And now they are all mine. They are entering into the mysteries of the fleet, Colonel Graff, to which you, as a soldier, have never been introduced."
"You make it sound like a priesthood."
"And a god. And a religion. Even those of us who command by ansible know the majesty of flight among the stars. I can see you find my mysticism distasteful. I assure you that your distaste only reveals your ignorance. Soon enough Ender Wiggin will also know what I know; he will dance the graceful ghost dance through the stars, and whatever greatness there is within him will be unlocked, revealed, set forth before the universe far all to see. You have the soul of a stone, Colonel Graff, but I sing to a stone as easily as to another singer. You may go to your quarters and establish yourself."
"I have nothing to establish except the clothing I'm wearing."
"You own nothing?"
"They keep my salary in an account somewhere on Earth. I've never needed it. Except to buy civilian clothes on my vacation."
"A non-materialist. And yet you are unpleasantly fat. A gluttonous ascetic? Such a contradiction."
"When I'm tense, I eat. Whereas when you're tense, you spout solid waste."
"I like you, Colonel Graff. I think we shall get along."
"I don't much care, Admiral Chamrajnagar. I came here for Ender. And neither of us came here for you."
Ender hated Eros from the moment he shuttled down from the tug. He had been uncomfortable enough on Earth, where floors were flat; Eros was hopeless. It was a roughly spindle-shaped rock only six and a half kilometers thick at its narrowest point. Since the surface of the planet was entirely devoted to absorbing sunlight and converting it to energy, everyone lived in the smooth-walled rooms linked by tunnels that laced the interior of the asteroid. The closed-in space was no problem for Ender -- what bothered him was that all the tunnel floors noticeably sloped downward. From the start, Ender was plagued by vertigo as he walked through the tunnels, especially the ones that girldled Eros's narrow circumference. It did not help that gravity was only half of Earth-normal -- the illusion of being on the verge of falling was almost complete.
There was also something disturbing about the proportions of the rooms -- the ceilings were too low for the width, the tunnels too narrow. It was not a comfortable place.
Worst of all, though, was the number of people. Ender had no important memories of cities of Earth. His idea of a comfortable number of people was the Battle School, where he had known by sight every person who dwelt there. Here, though, ten thousand people lived within the rock. There was no crowding, despite the amount of space devoted to iife support and other machinery. What bothered Ender was that he was constantly surrounded hy strangers.
They never let him come to know anyone. He saw the other Command School students often, but since be never attended any class regularly, they remained only faces. He would attend a lecture here or there, but usually he was tutored y one teacher after another, or occassionally helped to learn a process by another student, whom he met once and never saw again. He ate alone or with Colonel Graff. His recreation was in a gym, but he rarely saw the same people in it twice.
He recognized that they were isolating him again, this time not by setting the other students to hating him, but rather by giving them no opportunity to become friends. He could hardly have been close to most of them anyway -- except for Ender, the other students were all well into adolescence.
So Ender withdrew into his studies and learned quickly and well. Astrogation and military history he absorbed like water; abstract mathematics was more difficult, but whenever he was given a problem that involved patterns in space and time, he found that his intuition was more reliable than his calculation -- he often saw at once a solution that he could only prove after minutes or hours of manipulating numbers.
And for pleasure, there was the simulator, the most perfect videogame he had ever played. Teachers and students trained him, step by step, in its use. At first, not knowing the awesome power of the game, he had played only at the tactical level, controlling a single fighter in continuous maneuvers to find and destroy an enemy. The computer-controlled enemy was devious and powerful, and whenever Ender tried a tactic he found the computer using it against him within minutes.
The game was a holographic display, and his fighter was represented only by a tiny light. The enemy was another light of a different color, and they danced and spun and maneuvered through a cube of space that must have been ten meters to a side. The controls were powerful. He could rotate the display in any direction, so he could watch from any angle, and he could move the center so that the duel took place nearer or farther from him.
Gradually, as he became more adept at controlling the fighter's speed, direction of movement, orientation, and weapons, the game was made more complex. He might have two enemy ships at once; there might be obstacles, the debris of space; he began to have to worry about fuel and limited weapons; the computer began to assign him particular things to destroy or accomplish, so that he had to avoid distractions and achieve an objective in order to win.
When he had mastered the one-fighter game, they allowed him to step back into the four-fighter squadron. He spoke commands to simulated pilots of four fighters, and instead of merely carrying out the computer's instructions, he was allowed to determine tactics himself, deciding which of several objectives was the most valuable and directing his squadron accordingly. At any time he could take personal command of one of the fighters for a short time, and at first he did this often; when he did, however, the other three fighters in his squadron were soon destroyed, and as the games became harder and harder he had to spend more and more of his time commanding the squadron. When he did, he won more and more often.
By the time he had been at Command School for year, he was adept at running the simulator at any of fifteen levels, from controlling an individual fighter to commanding a fleet. He had long since realized that as the battleroom was to Battle School, so the simulator was to Command School. The classes were valuable, but the real education was the game. People dropped in from time to time to watch him play. They never spoke -- hardly anyone ever did, unless they had something specific to teach him. The watchers would stay, silently, watching him run through a difficult simulation, and then leave just as he finished. What are you doing, he wanted to ask. Judging me? Determining whether you want to trust the fleet to me? Just remember that I didn't ask for it.
He found that a great deal of what he learned at Battle School transferred to the simulator. He would routinely reorient the simulator every few minutes, rotating it so that he didn't get trapped into an up-down orientation, constantly reviewing his positoon from the enemy point of view. It was exhilarating at last to have such control over the battle, to be able to see every point of it.
It was also frustrating to have so little control, too, for the computer-controlled fighters were only as good as the computer allowed. They took no initiative. They had no intelligence. He began to wish for his toon leaders, so that he could count on some of the squadrons doing well without having his constant supervision.
At the end of his first year he was winning every battle on the simulator, and played the game as if the machine were a natural part of his body. One day, eating a meal with Graff, he asked, "Is that all the simulator does?"
"Is what all?"
"The way it plays now, It's easy, and it hasn't got any harder for a while."
Graff seemed unconcerned. But then, Graff always seemed unconcerned. The next day everything changed. Graff went away, and in his place they gave Ender a companion.
He was in the room when Ender awoke in the morning. He was an old man, sitting cross-legged on the floor. Ender looked at him expectantly, waiting for the man to speak. He said nothing. Ender got up and showered and dressed, content to let the man keep his silence if he wanted. He had long since learned that when something unusual was going on, something that was part of someone else's plan and not his own, he would find out more information by waiting than by asking. Adults almost always lost their patience before Ender did.
The man still hadn't spoken when Ender was ready and went to the door to leave the room. The door didn't open. Ender turned to face the man sitting on the floor. He looked to be about sixty, by far the oldest man Ender had seen on Eros. He had a day's growth of white whiskers that grizzled his face only slightly less than his close-cut hair. His face sagged a little and his eyes were surrounded by creases and lines. He looked at Ender with an expression that bespoke only apathy.
Ender turned back to the door and tried again to open it.
"All right," he said, giving up. "Why's the door locked?"
The old man continued to look at him blankly.
So this is a game, thought Ender. Well, if they want me to go to class, they'll unlock the door. If they don't, they won't. I don't care.
Ender didn't like games where the rules could be anything and the objective was known to them alone. So he wouldn't play. He also refused to get angry. He went through a relaxing exercise as he leaned on the door, and soon he was calm again. The old man continued to watch him impassively.
It seemed to go on for hours, Ender refusing to speak, the old man seeming to be a mindless mute.
Sometimes Ender wondered if he were mentally ill, escaped from some medical ward somewhere in Eros, living out some insane fantasy here in Ender's room. But the longer it went on, with no one coming to the door, no one looking for him, the more certain he became that this was something deliberate, meant to disconcert him. Ender did not want to give the old man the victory. To pass the time he began to do exercises. Some were impossible without the gym equipment, but others, especially from his personal defense class, he could do without any aids.
The exercises moved him around the room. He was practicing lunges and kicks. One move took him near the old man, as he had come near him before, but this time the old claw shot out and seized Ender's left leg in the middle of a kick. It pulled Ender off his feet and landed him heavily on the floor.
Ender leapt to his feet immediately, furious. He found the old man sitting calmly, cross-legged, not breathing heavily, as if he had never moved. Ender stood poised to fight, but the other's immobility made it impossible for Ender to attack. What, kick the old man's head off? And then explain it to Graff -- oh, the old man kicked me, and I had to get even.
He went back to his exercises; the old man kept watching.
Finally, tired and angry at this wasted day, a prisoner in his room, Ender went back to his bed to get his desk. As he leaned over to pick up the desk, he felt a hand jab roughly between his thighs and another hand grab his hair. In a moment he had been turned upside down. His face and shoulders were being pressed into the floor by the old man's knee, while his back was excruciatingly bent and his legs were pinioned by the old man's arm.
Ender was helpless to use his arms, he couldn't bend his back to gain slack so he could use his legs. In less than two seconds the old man had completely defeated Ender Wiggin.
"All right," Ender gasped. "You win."
The man's knee thrust painfully downward. "Since when," asked the man, his voice soft and rasping, "do you have to tell the enemy when be has won?"
Ender remained silent.
"I surprised you once, Ender Wiggin. Why didn't you destroy tne immediately afterward? Just because I looked peaceful? You turned your back on me. Stupid. You have learned nothing. You have never had a teacher."
Ender was angry now, and made no attempt to control or conceal it. "I've had too many teachers, how was I supposed to know you'd turn out to be a--"
"Au enemy, Ender Wiggin," whispered the old man. "I am your enemy, the first one you've ever had who was smarter than you. There is no teacher but the enemy. No one but the enemy will ever tell you what the enemy is going tu do. No one but the enemy will ever teach you how to destroy and conquer. Only the enemy shows you where you are weak. Only the enemy tells you where he is strong. And the only rules of the game are what you can do to him and what you can stop him from doing to you. I am your enemy from now on. From now on I am your teacher."
Then the old man let Ender's legs fall. Because he still held Ender's head to the floor, the boy couldn't use his arms to compensate, and his legs hit the surface with a loud crack and a sickening pain. Then the old man stood and let Ender rise.
Slowly Ender pulled his legs under him, with a faint groan of pain. He knelt on all fours for a moment, recovering. Then his right arm flashed out, reaching for his enemy. The old man quickly danced back, and Ender's hand closed on air as his teacher's foot shot forward to catch Ender on the chin.
Ender's chin wasn't there. He was lying flat on his back, spinning on the floor, and during the moment that his teacher was off balance from his kick, Ender's feet smashed into the old man's other leg. He fell in a heap -- but close enough to strike out and hit Ender in the face. Ender couldn't find an arm or a leg that held still long enough to be grabbed, and in the meantime blows were landing on his back and arms. Ender was smaller -- he couldn't reach past the old man's flailing limbs. Finally he managed to pull away and scramble back near the door.
The old man was sitting cross-leged again, but now the apathy was gone. He was smiling. "Better, this time, boy. But slow. You will have to be better with a fleet than you are with your body or no one will be safe with you in command. Lesson learned?"
Ender nodded slowly. He ached in a hundred places.
"Good," said the old man. "Then we'll never have to have such a battle again. All the rest with the simulator. I will program your battles now, not the computer; I will devise the strategy of your enemy, and you will learn to be quick and discover what tricks the enemy has for you. Remember, boy. From now on the enemy is more clever than you. From now on the enemy is stronger than you. From now on you are always about to lose."
The old man's face grew serious again. "You will be about to lose, Ender, but you will win. You will learn to defeat the enemy. He will teach you how."
The teacher got up. "In this school, it has always been the practice for a young student to be chosen by an older student. The two become companions, and the older boy teaches the younger one everything he knows. Always they fight, always they compete, always they are together. I have chosen you."
Ender spoke as the old man walked to the door. "You're too old to be a student."
"One is never too old to be a student of the enemy. I have learned from the buggers. You will learn from me."
As the old man palmed the door open, Ender leaped into the air and kicked him in the small of the back with both feet. He hit hard enough that he rebounded onto his feet, as the old man cried out and collapsed on the floor.
The old man got up slowly, holding onto the door handle, his face contorted with pain. He seemed disabled, but Ender didn't trust him. Yet in spite of his suspicion, he was caught off guard by the old man's speed. In a moment he found himself on the floor near the opposite wall, his nose and lip bleeding where his face had hit the bed. He was able to turn enough to see the old man standing in the doorway, wincing and holding his back. The old man grinned.
Ender grinned back. "Teacher," he said. "Do you have a name?"
"Mazer Rackham," said the old man. Then he was gone.
From then on, Ender was either with Mazer Rackham or alone. The old man rarely spoke, but he was there; at meals, at tutorials, at the simulator, in his room at night. Sometimes Mazer would leave, but always, when Mazer wasn't there, the door was locked, and no one came until Mazer returned. Ender went through a week in which he called him Jailor Rackham, Mazer answered to the name as readily as to his own, and showed no sign that it bothered him at all. Ender soon gave it up.
There were compensations -- Mazer took Ender through the videos of the old batties from the First Invasion and the disastrous defeats of the IF in the Second Invasion. These were not pieced together from the censored public videos, but whole and continuous. Since many videos were working in the major battles, they studied bugger tactics and strategies from many angles. For the first time in his life, a teacher was pointing out things that Ender had not already seen for himself. For the first time, Ender had found a living mind he could admire.
"Why aren't you dead?" Ender asked him. "You fought your battle seventy years ago. I don't think you're even sixty years old."
"The miracles of relativity," said Mazer. "They kept me here for twenty years after the battle, even though I begged them to let me command one of the starships they launched against the bugger home planet and the bugger colonies. Then they -- came to understand some things about the way soldiers behave in the stress of battle."
"You've never been taught enough psyholgy to understand. Enough to say that they realized that even though I would never be able to command the fleet -- I'd be dead before the fleet even arrived -- I was still the only person able to understand the things I understood about the buggers. I was, they realized, the only person who had ever defeated the bugeers by intelligence rather than luck. They needed me here to teach the person who *could* command the fleet."
"So they sent you out in a starship, got you up to a relativistic speed--"
"And then I turned around and came home. A very dull voyage, Ender. Fifty years in space. Officially, only eight years passed for me, but it felt like five hundred. All so I could teach the next commander everything I knew."
"Am I to be the commander, then?"
"Let's say that you're our best bet at present."
"There are others being prepared, too?"
"That makes me the only choice, then, doesn't it'?"
"Except you. You're still alive, aren't you? Why not you?"
Mazer shook his head.
"Why not? You won before."
"I cannot be the commander for good and sufficient reasons."
"Show me how you beat the buggers, Mazer."
Mayer's face went inscruta ble.
"You've shown me every other battle seven times at least. I think I've seen ways to beat what the buggers did before, but you've never shown me how you actually did beat them."
"The video is a very tightly kept secret, Ender."
"I know. I've pieced it together, partly. You, with your tiny reserve force, and their armada, those great big heavy-bellied starships launching their swarms of fighters. You dart in at one ship, fire at it, an explosion. That's where they always stop the clips. After that, it's just soldiers going into bugger ships and already finding them dead inside."
Mazer grinned. "So much for tightly kept secrets. Come on, let's watch the video."
They were alone in the video room, and Ender palmed the door locked. "All right, let's watch."
The video showed exactly what Ender had pieced together. Mazer's suicidal plunge into the heart of the enemy formation, the single explosion, and then--
Nothing. Mazer's ship went on, dodged the shock wave, and wove his way among tOe other bugger ships. They did not fire on him. They did not change course. Two of them crashed into each other and exploded a needless collision that either pilot could have avoided. Neither made the slightest movement.
Mazer sped up the action. Skipped ahead. "We waited for three hours," he said. "Nobody could believe it." Then the IF ships began approaching the bugger starships. Marines began their cutting and boarding operations. The videos showed the buggers already dead at their posts.
"So you see," said Mazer, "you already knew all there was to see."
"Why did it happen?"
"Nobody knows. I have my personal opinions. But there are plenty of scientists who tell me I'm less than qualified to have opinions."
"You're the one who won the battle."
"I thought that qualified me to comment, too, but you know how it is. Xenobiologists and xenopsychologists can't accept the idea that a starpilot scooped them by sheer guesswork. I think they all hate me because, after they saw these videos, they had to live out the rest of their natural lives here on Eros. Security, you know. They weren't happy."
"The buggers don't talk. They think to each other, and it's instantaneous like the philotic effect. Like the ansible. But most people always thought that meant a controlled comunication like language -- I think you a thought and then you answer me. I never believed that. It's too immediate, the way they respond together to things. You've seen the videos. They aren't conversing and deciding among possible courses of action. Every ship acts like part of a single organism. It responds the way your body responds during combat, different parts automatically, thoughtlessly doing everything they're supposed to do. They aren't having a mental conversation between peopie with different thought processes. All their thoughts are present, together, at once."
"A single person, and each bugger is like a hand or a foot?"
"Yes. I wasn't the first person to suggest it, but I was the first person to believe it. And something else. Something so childish and stupid that the xenobiologists laughed me to silence when I said it after the battle. The buggers are bugs. They're like ants and bees. A queen, the workers. That was maybe a hundred million years ago, but that's how they started, that kind of pattern. It's a sure thing none of the buggers we saw had any way of making more little buggers. So when they evolved this ability to think together, wouldn't they still keep the queen? Wouldn't the queen still be the center of the group? Why would that ever change?"
"So it's the queen who controls the whole group."
"I had evidence, too. Not evidence that any of them could see. lt wasn't there in the First Invasion, because that was exploratory. But the Second Invasion was a colony. To set up a new hive, or whatever."
"And so they brought a queen."
"The videos of the Second Invasion, when they were destroying our fleets out in the comet shell." He began to call them up and display the buggers' patterns. "Show me the queen's ship."
It was subtle. Ender couldn't see it for a long time. The bugger ships kept moving, all of them. There was no obvious flagship, no apparent nerve center. But gradually, as Mazer played the videos over and over again, Ender began to see the way that all the movements focused on, radiated from a center point. The center point shifted, but it was obvious, after he looked long enough, that the eyes of the fleet, the *I* of the fleet, the perspective from which all decisions were being made, was one particular ship. He pointed it out.
"You see it. I see it. That makes two people out of all of those who have seen this video. But it's true, isn't it."
"They make that ship move just like any other ship."
"They know it's their weak point."
"But you're right. That's the queen. But then you'd think that when you went for it, they would have immediately focused all their power on you. They could have blown you out of the sky."
"I know. That part I don't understand. Not that they didn't try to stop me -- they were firing at me. But it's as if they really couldn't believe, until it was too late, that I would actually kill the queen. Maybe in their world, queens are never killed, only captured, only checkmated. I did something they didn't think an enemy would ever do."
"And when she died vhe others all died,"
"No, they just went stupid. The first ships we boarded, the buggers were still alive. Organically. But they didn't move, didn't respond to anything, even when our scientists vivisected some of them to see if we could learn a few more things about buggers. After a while they all died. No will. There's nothing in those little bodies when the queen is gone."
"Why don't they believe you?"
"Because we didn't find a queen."
"She got blown to pieces."
"Fortunes of war. Biology takes second place to survival. But some of them are coming around to my way of thinking. You can't live in this place without the evidence staring you in the face."
"What evidence is there in Eros?"
"Ender, look around you. Human beings didn't carve this place. We like taller ceilings, for one thing. This was the buggers' advance post in the First Invasion. They carved this place out before we even knew they were here. We're living in a bugger hive. But we already paid our rent. lt cost the marines a thousand lives to clear them out of these honeycombs, room by room. The buggers fought for every meter of it."
Now Ender understood why the rooms had always felt wrong to him. "I knew this wasn't a human place."
"This was the treasure trove. If they had known we would win that first war, they probably' would never have built this place. We learned gravity manipulation because they enhanced the gravity here. We learned efficient use of stellar energy because they blacked out this planet. In fact, that's how we discovered them. In a period of three days, Eros gradually disappeared from telescopes. We sent a tug to find out why. It found out. The tug transmitted its videos, including the buggers boarding and slaughtering the crew. It kept right on transmitting through the entire bugger examination of the boat. Not until they finally dismantled the entire tug did the transmissions stop. It was their blindness -- they never had to transmit anything by machine, and so with the crew dead, it didn't occur to them that anybody could be watching."
"Why did they kill the crew?"
"Why not? To them, losing a few crew members would be like clipping your nails. Nothing to get upset about. They probably thought they were routinely shutting down our communications by turning off the workers running the tug. Not murdering living, sentient beings with an independent genetic future. Murder's no big deal to them. Only queen-killing, really, is murder, because only queen-killing closes off a genetic path."
"So they didn't know what they were doing."
"Don't start apologizing for them, Ender. Just because they didn't know they were killing human beings doesn't mean they weren't killing human beings. We do have a right to defend ourselves as best we can, and the only way we found that works is killing the buggers before they kill us. Think of it this way. In all the bugger wars so far, they've killed thousands and thousands of living, thinking beings. And in all those wars, we've killed only one."
"If you hadn't killed the queen, Mazer, would we have lost the war?"
"I'd say the odds would have been three to two against us. I still think I could have trashed their fleet pretty badly before they burned us out. They have great response time and a lot of firepower, but we have a few advantages, too. Every single one of our ships contains an intelligent human being who's thinking on his own. Every one of us is capable of coming up with a brilliant solution to a problem. They can only come up with one brilliant solution at a time. The buggers think fast, but they aren't smart all over. Even when some incredibly timid and stupid commanders lost the major battles of the Second Invasion, some of their subordinates were able to do real damage to the bugger fleet."
"What about when our invasion reaches them? Will we just get the queen again?"
"The buggers didn't learn interstellar travel by being dumb. That was a strategy that could work only once. I suspect that we'll never get near a queen unless we actually make it to their home planet. After all, the queen doesn't have to be with them to direct a battle. The queen only has to be present to have little baby buggers. The Second invasion was a colony -- the queen was coming to populate the Earth. But this time -- no, that won't work. We'll have to beat them fleet by fleet. And because they have the resources of dozens of star systems to draw on, my guess is they'll outnumber us by a lot, in every battle."
Ender remembered his battle against two armies at once. And I thought they were cheating. When the real war begins, it'll be like that every time. And there won't be any gate I can go for.
"We've only got two things going for us, Ender. We don't have to aim particularly well. Our weapons have great spread."
"Then we aren't using the nuclear missiles from the First and Second Invasions?"
"Dr. Device is much more powerful. Nuclear weapons, after all, were weak enough to be used on Earth at one time. The Little Doctor could never be used on a planet. Still, I wish I'd had one during the Second Invasion."
"How does it work?"
"I don't know, not well enough to build one. At the focal point of two beams, it sets up a field in which molecules can't hold together anymore. Electrons can't be shared. How much physics do you know, at that level?"
"We spend most of our time on astrophysics, but I know enough to get the idea."
"The field spreads out in a sphere, but it gets weaker the farther it spreads. Except that where it actually runs into a lot of molecules, it gets stronger and starts over. The bigger the ship, the stronger the new field."
"So each time the field hits a ship, it sends out a new sphere--"
"And if their ships are too close together, it can set up a chain that wipes them all out. Then the field dies down, the molecules come back together, and where you had a ship, you now have a lump of dirt with a lot of iron molecules in it. No radioactivity, no mess. Just dirt. We may be able to trap them close together on the first battle, but they learn fast. They'll keep their distance from each other."
"So Dr. Device isn't a missile -- I can't shoot around corners.
"That's right. Missiles wouldn't do any good now. We learned a lot from them in the First Invasion, but they also learned from us -- how to set up the Ecstatic Shield, for instance."
"The Little Doctor penetrates the shield?"
"As if it weren't there. You can't see through the shield to aim and focus the beams, but since the generator of the Ecstatic Shield is always in the exact center, it isn't hard to figure it out."
"Why haven't I ever been trained with this?"
"You always have. We just let the computer tend to it for you. Your job is to get into a superior strategic position and choose a target. The shipboard computers are much better at aiming the Doctor than you are."
"Why is it called Dr. Device?"
"When it was developed, it was called a Molecular Detachment Device. M.D. Device."
Ender still didn't understand.
"M.D. The initials stand for Medical Doctor, too. M.D. Device, therefore Dr. Device. It was a joke." Ender didn't see what was funny about it.
They had changed the simulator. He could still control the perspective and the degree of detail, but there were no ship's controls anymore. Instead, it was a new panel of levers, and a small headset with earphones and a small microphone.
The technician who was waiting there quickly explained how to wear the headset.
"But how do I control the ships?" asked Ender.
Mazer explained. He wasn't going to control ships anymore. "You've reached the next phase of your training. You have experience in every level of strategy, but now it's time for you to concentrate on commanding an entire fleet. As you worked with toon leaders in Battle School, so now you will work with squadron leaders. You have been assigned three dozen such leaders to train. You must teach them intelligent tactics; you must learn their strengths and limitations; you must make them into a whole."
"When will they come here?"
"They're already in place in their own simulators. You will speak to them through the headset. The new levers on your control panel enable you to see from the perspective of any of your squadron leaders. This more closely duplicates the conditions you might encounter in a real battle, where you will only know what your ships can see."
"How can I work with squadron leaders I never see?"
"And why would you need to see them?"
"To know who they are, how they think--"
"You'll learn who they are and how they think from the way they work with the simulator. But even so, I think you won't be concerned. They're listening to you right now. Put on the headset so you can hear them."
Ender put on the headset.
"Salaam," said a whisner in his ears.
"Alai," said Ender.
"And me, the dwarf."
And Petra, and Dink; Crazy Tom, Shen, Hot Soup, Fly Molo, all the best students Ender had fought with or fought against, everyone that Ender had trusted in Battle School. "I didn't know you were here," he said, "I didn't know you were coming."
"They've been flogging us through the simulator for three months now," said Dink.
"You'll find that I'm by far the best tactician," said Petra. "Dink tries, but he has the mind ot a child."
So they began working together, each squadron leader commanding individual pilots, and Ender commanding the squadron leaders. They learned many ways of working together, as the simulator forced them to try different situations. Sometimes the simulator gave them a larger fleet to work with; Ender set them up then in three or four toons that consisted of three or four squadrons each. Sometimes the simulator gave them a single starship with its twelve fighters, and he chose three squadron leaders with four fighters each.
It was pleasure; it was play. The computer-controlled enemy was none too bright, and they always won despite their mistakes, their miscommunications. But in the three weeks they practiced together, Ender came to know them very well. Dink, who deftly carried out instructions but was slow to improvise; Bean, who couldn't control large groups of ships effectively but could use only a few like a scalpel, reacting beautifully to anything the computer threw at him; Alai, who was almost as good a strategist as Ender and could be entrusted to do well with half a fleet and only vague instructions.
The better Ender knew them, the faster he could deploy them, the better he could use them. The simulator would display the situation on the screen. In that moment Ender learned for the first time what his own fleet would consist of and how the enemy fleet was deployed. It took him only a few minutes now to call for the squadron leaders that he needed, assign them to certain ships or groups of ships, and give them their assignments. Then, as the battle progressed, he would skip from one leader's point of view to another's, making suggestions and, occasionally, giving orders as the need arose. Since the others could only see their own battle perspective, he would sometimes give them orders that made no sense to them; but they, too, learned to trust Ender. If he told them to withdraw, they withdrew, knowing that either they were in an exposed position, or their withdrawal might entice the enemy into a weakened posture. They also knew that Ender trusted them to do as they judged best when he gave them no orders. If their style of fighting were not right for the situation they were placed in, Ender would not have chosen them for that assignment.
The trust was complete, the working of the fleet quick and responsive. And at the end of three weeks, Mazer showed him a replay of their most recent battle, only this time from the enemy's point of view.
"This is what he saw as you attacked. What does it remind you of? The quickness of response, for instance?"
"We look like a bugger fleet."
"You match them, Ender. You're as fast as they are. And here -- look at this."
Ender watched as all his squadrons moved at once, each responding to its own situation, all guided by Ender's overall command, but daring, improvising, feinting, attacking with an independence no bugger fleet had ever shown.
"The bugger hive-mind is very good, but it can only concentrate on a few things at once. All your squadrons can concentrate a keen intelligence on what they're doing, and what they've been assigned to do is also guided by a clever mind. So you see that you do have some advantages. Superior, though not irresistible, weaponry; comparable speed and greater available intelligence. These are your advantages. Your disadvantage is that you will always, always be outnumbered, and after each battle your enemy will learn more about you, how to fight you, and those changes will be put into effect instantly."
Ender waited for his conclusion.
"So, Ender, we will now begin your education. We have programmed the computer to simulate the kinds of situations we might expect in encounters with the enemy. We are using the movement patterns we saw in the Second Invasion. But instead of mindlessly following these same patterns, I will be controlling the enemy simulation. At first you will see easy situations that you are expected to win handily. Learn from them, because I will always be there, one step ahead of you, programming more difficult and advanced patterns into the computer so that your next battle is more difficult, so that you are pushed to the limit of your abilities."
"The time is short. You must learn as quickly as you can. When gave myself to starship travel, just so I would still be alive when you appeared, my wife and children all died, and my grandchildren were my own age when I came back. I had nothing to say to them. I was cut off from all the people that I loved, everything I knew, living in this alien catacomb and forced to do nothing of importance but teach student after student, each one so hopeful, each one, ultimately, a weakling, a failure. I teach, I teach, but no one learns. You, too, have great promise, like so many students before you, but the seeds of failure may be in you, too. It's my job to find them, to destroy you if I can, and believe me, Ender, if you can be destroyed I can do it."
"So I'm not the first."
"No, of course you're not. But you're the last. If you don't learn, there'll be no time to find anyone else. So I have hope for you, only because you are the only one left to hope for."
"What about the others? My squadron leaders?"
"Which of them is fit to take your place?"
Ender had no answer, then.
"I am not a happy man, Ender. Humanity does not ask us to be happy. It merely asks us to be brilliant on its behalf. Survival first, then happiness as we can manage it. So, Ender, I hope you do not bore me during your training with complaints that you are not having fun. Take what pleasure you can in the interstices of your work, but your work is first, learning is first, winning is everything because without it there is nothing. When you can give me back my dead wife, Ender, then you can complain to me about what this education costs you."
"I wasn't trying to get out of anything."
"But you will, Ender. Because I am going to grind you down to dust, if I can. I'm going to hit you with everything I can imagine, and I will have no mercy, because when you face the buggers they will think of things I can't imagine, and compassion for human beings is impossible for them."
"You can't grind me down, Mazer."
"Oh, can't I?"
"Because I'm stronger than you."
Mazer smiled. "We'll see about that, Ender."
Mazer wakened him before morning; the clock said 0340, and Ender felt groggy as he padded along the corridor behind Mazer. "Early to bed and early to rise," Mazer intoned, "makes a man stupid and blind in the eyes."
He had been dreaming that buggers were vivisecting him. Only instead of cutting open his body, they were cutting up his memories and displaying them like holographs and trying to make sense of them. It was a very odd dream, and Ender couldn't easily shake loose of it, even as he walked through the tunnels to the simulator room. The buggers tormented him in his sleep, and Mazer wouldn't leave him alone when he was awake. Between the two of them he had no rest. Ender forced himself awake. Apparently Mazer meant it when he said he meant to break Ender down -- and forcing him to play when tired and sleepy was just the sort of cheap and easy trick Ender should have expected. Well, today it wouldn't work.
He got to the simulator and found his squadron leaders already on the wire, waiting for him. There was no enemy yet, so he divided them into two armies and began a mock battle, commanding both sides so he could control the test that each of his leaders was going through. They began slowly, but soon were vigorous and alert.
Then the simulator field went blank, the ships disappeared, and everything changed at once. At the near edge of the simulator field they could see the shapes, drawn in holographic light, of three starships from the human fleet. Each would have twelve fighters. The enemy, obviously aware of the human presence, had formed a globe with a single ship at the center. Ender was not fooled -- it would not be a queen ship. The buggers outnumbered Ender's fighter force by two to one, but they were also grouped much closer together than they should have been -- Dr. Device would be able to do much more damage than the enemy expected.
Ender selected one starship, made it blink in the simulator field, and spoke into the microphone. "Alai, this is yours; assign Petra and Vlad to the fighters as you wish." He assigned the other two starships with their fighter forces, except for one fighter from each starship that he reserved for Bean. "Slip the wall and get below them, Bean, unless they start chasing you -- then run back to the reserves for safety. Otherwise, get in a place where I can call on you for quick results. Alai, form your force into a compact assault at one point in their globe. Don't fire until I tell you. This is maneuver only."
"This one's easy, Ender," Alai said.
"It's easy, so why not be careful? I'd like to do this without the loss of a single ship."
Ender grouped his reserves in two forces that shadowed Aiai at a safe distance; Bean was already off the simulator, though Ender occasionally flipped to Bean's point of view to keep track of where he was.
It was Alai, however, who played the delicate game with the enemy. He was in a bullet-shaped formation, and probed the enemy globe. Wherever he came near, the bugger ships pulled back, as if to draw him in toward the ship in the center, Alai skimmed to the side; thc bugger ships kept up with him, withdrawing wherever he was close, returning to the sphere pattern when he had passed.
Feint, withdraw, skim the globe to another point, withdraw again, feint again; and then Ender said "Go on in, Alai."
His bullet started in, while he said to Ender, "You know they'll just let me through and surround me and eat me alive."
"Just ignore that ship in the middle."
"Whatever you say, boss."
Sure enough, the globe began to contract, Ender brought the reserves forward: the enemy ships concentrated on the side of the globe nearer the reserves. "Attack them there, where they're most concentrated," Ender said.
"This defies four thousand years of military history," said Alai, moving his fighters forward. "We're supposed to attack where we outnumber them."
"In this simulation they obviously don't know what our weapons can do. It'll only work once, but let's make it spectacular. Fire at will."
Alal did. The simulation responded beautifully: first one or two, then a dozen, then most of the enemy ships exploded in dazzling light as the field leapt from ship to ship in the tight formation. "Stay out of the way," Ender said.
The ships on the far side of the globe formation were not affected by the chain reaction, but it was a simple matter hunting them down and destroying them. Bean took care of stragglers that tried to escape toward his end of space -- the batle was over. It had been easier than most of their recent exercises.
Mazer shrugged when Ender told him so. "This is a simulation of a real invasion. There had to be one battle in which they didn't know what we could do. Now your work begins. Try not to be too arrogant about the victory. I'll give you the real challenges soon enough."
Ender practiced ten hours a day with his squadron leaders, but not all at once; he gave them a few hours in the afternoon to rest. Simulated battles under Mazer's supervision came every two or three days, and as Mazer had promised, they were never so easy again. The enemy quickly abandoned its attempt to surround Ender, and never again grouped its forces closely enough to allow a chain reaction. There was something new every time, something harder. Sometimes Ender had only a single starship and eight fighters; once the enemy dodged through an asteroid belt; sometimes the enemy left stationary traps, large installations that blew up if Ender brought one of his squadrons too close, often crippling or destroying some of Ender's ships. "You cannot absorb losses!" Mazer shouted at him after one battle. "When you get into a real battle you won't have the luxury of an infinite supply of computer-generated fighters. You'll have what you brought with you and nothing more. Now get used to fighting without unnecessary waste."
"lt wasn't unnecessary waste, Ender said. "I can't win battles if I'm so terrified of losing a ship that I never take any risks."
Mazer smiled. "Excellent, Ender. You're begiioning to learn. But in a real battle, you would have superior officers and, worst of all, civilians shouting those things at you. Now, if the enemy had been at all bright, they would have caught you here, and taken Tom's squadron." Together they went over the battle; in the next practice, Ender would show his leaders what Mazer had shown him, and they'd learn to cope with it the next time they saw it.
They thought they had been ready before, that they had worked smoothly together as a team. Now, though, having fought through real challenges together, they all began to trust each other more than ever, and battles became exhilarating. They told Ender that the ones who weren't actually playing would come into the simulator rooms and watch. Ender imagined what it would be like to have his friends there with him, cheering or laughing or gasping with apprehension; sometimes he thought it would be a great distraction, but other times he wished for it with all his heart. Even when he had spent his days lying out in the sunlight on a raft in a lake, he had not been so lonely. Mazer Rackham was his companion, was his teacher, but was not his friend.
He said nothing, though. Mazer had told him there would be no pity, and his private unhappiness meant nothing to anyone. Most of the time it meant nothing even to Ender. He kept his mind on the game, trying to learn from the battles. And not just the particular lessons of that battle, but what the buggers might have done if they had been more clever, and how Ender would react if they did it in the future. He lived with past battles and future battles both, waking and sleeping, and he drove his squadron leaders with an intensity that occasionally provoked rebelliousness.
"You're too kind to us," said Alai one day. "Why don't you get annoyed with us for not being brilliant every moment of every practice. If you keep coddling us like this we'll think you like us."
Some of the others laughed into their microphones. Ender recognized the irony, of course, and answered with a long silence. When he finally spoke, he ignored Alai's complaint. "Again," he said, "and this time without self-pity." They did it again, and did it right.
But as their trust in Ender as a commander grew, their friendship, remembered from the Battle School days, gradually disappeared. It was to each other that they became close; it was with each other that they exchanged confidences. Ender was their teacher and commander, as distant from them as Mazer was from him, and as demanding.
They fought all the better for it. And Ender was not distracted from his work.
At least, not while he was awake. As he drifted off to sleep each night, it was with thoughts of the simulator playing through his mind. But in the night he thought of other things. Often he remembered the corpse of the Giant, decaying steadily; he did not remember it, though, in the pixels of the picture on his desk. Instead it was real, the faint odor of death still lingering near it. Things were changed in his dreams. The little village that had grown up between the Giant's ribs was composed of buggers now, and they saluted him gravely, like gladiators greeting Caesar before they died for his entertainment. He did not hate the buggers in his dream; and even though he knew that they had hidden their queen from him, he did not try to search for her. He always left the Giant's body quickly, and when he got to the playground. the children were always there, wolven and mocking; they wore faces that he knew. Sometimes Peter and sometimes Bonzo, sometimes Stilson and Bernard; just as often, though, the savage creatures were Alai and Shen, Dink and Petra; sometimes one of them would be Valentine, and in his dream he also shoved her under the water and waited for her to drown. She writhed in his hands, fought to come up, but at last was still. He dragged her out of the lake and onto the raft, where she lay with her face in the rictus of death, he screamed and wept over her, crying again and again that it was a game, a game. he was only playing!--
Then Mazer Rackharn shook him awake. "You were calling out in your sleep," he said.
"Sorry," Ender said.
"Never mind. It's time for another battle."
Steadily the pace increased. There were usually two battles a day now, and Ender held practices to a minimum. He would use the time while the others rested to pore over the replays of past games, trying to spot his own weaknesses, trying to guess what would happen next. Sometimes he was fully prepared for the enemy's innovations; sometimes he was not.
"I think you're cheating," Ender told Mazer one day,
"You can observe my practice sessions. You can see what I'm working on. You seem to be ready for everything I do."
"Most of what you see is computer simulations," Mazer said. "The computer is programmed to respond to your innovations only after you use them once in battle."
"Then the computer is cheating."
"You need to get more sleep, Ender."
But he could not sleep. He lay awake longer and longer each night, and his sleep was less restful. He woke too often in the night. Whether he was waking up to think more about the game or to escape from his dreams, he wasn't sure. It was as if someone rode him in his sleep, forcing him to wander through his worst memories, to live in them again as if they were real. Nights were so real that days began to seem dreamlike to him. He began to worry that he would not think clearly enough, that he would be too tired when he played. Always when the game began, the intensity of it awoke him, but if his mental abilities began to slip, he wondered, would he notice it?
And he seemed to be slipping. He never had a battle anymore in which he did not lose at least a few fighters. Several times the enemy was able to trick him into exposing more weakness than he meant to; other times the enemy was able to wear him down by attrition until his victory was as much a matter of luck as strategy. Mazer would go over the game with a look of contempt on his face. "Look at this," he would say. "You didn't have to do this." And Ender would return to practice with his leaders, trying to keep up their morale, but sometimes letting slip his disappointment with their weaknesses, the fact that they made mistakes.
"Sometimes we make mistakes," Petra whispered to him once. It was a plea for help.
"And sometimes we don't," Ender answered her. If she got help, it would not be from him. He would teach; let her find her friends among the others.
Then came a battle that nearly ended in disaster. Petra led her force too far; they were exposed, and she discovered it in a moment when Ender wasn't with her. In only a few moments she had lost all but two of her ships.
Ender found her then, ordered her to move them in a certain direction; she didn't answer. There was no movement. And in a moment those two fighters, too, would be lost.
Ender knew at once that he had pushed her too hard because of her brilliance -- he had called on her to play far more often and under much more demanding circumstances than all but a few of the others. But he had no time now to worry about Petra, or to feel guilty about what he had done to her. He called on Crazy Tom to command the two remaining fighters, then went on, trying to salvage the battle; Petra had occupied a key position, and now all of Ender's strategy came apart. If the enemy had not been too eager and clumsy at exploiting their advantage, Ender would have lost. But Shen was able to catch a group of the enemy in too tight a formation and took them out with a single chain reaction. Crazy Tom brought his two surviving fighters in through the gap and caused havoc with the enemy, and though his ships and Shen's as well were finally destroyed, Fly Molo was able to mop up and complete the victory.
At the end of the battle, he could hear Petra crying out, trying to get a microphone, "Tell him I'm sorry, I was just so tired, I couldn't think, that was all, tell Ender I'm sorry."
She was not there for the next few practices, and when she did come back she was not as quick as she had been, not as daring. Much of what had made her a good commander was lost. Ender couldn't use her anymore, except in routine, closely supervised assignments. She was no fool. She knew what had happened. But she also knew that Ender had no other choice, and told him so.
The fact remained that she had broken, and she was far from being the weakest of his squad leaders. It was a warning -- he could not press his commanders more than they could bear. Now, instead of using his leaders whenever he needed their skills, he had to keep in mind how often they had fought. He had to spell them off, which meant that sometimes he went into battle with commanders he trusted a little less. As he eased the pressure on them, he increased the pressure on himself.
Late one night he woke up in pain. There was blood on his pillow, the taste of blood in his mouth. His fingers were throbbing. He saw that in his sleep he had been gnawing on his own fist. The blood was still flowing smoothly. "Mazer!" he called. Rackham woke up and called at once for a doctor.
As the doctor treated the wound, Mazer said, "I don't care how much you eat, Ender, self-cannibalism won't get you out of this school."
"I was asleep," Ender said. "I don't want to get out of Command School."
"The others. The ones who didn't make it."
"What are you talking about?"
"Before me. Your other students, who didn't make it through the training. What happened to them?"
"They didn't make it. That's all. We don't punish the ones who fail. They just -- don't go on."
"He went home."
"Not like Bonzo."
"What then? What happened to them? When they failed?"
"Why does it matter, Ender?"
Ender didn't answer.
"None of them failed at this point in their course, Ender. You made a mistake with Petra. She'll recover. But Petra is Petra, and you are you."
"Part of what I am is her. Is what she made me."
"You won't fail, Ender. Not this early in the course. You've had some tight ones, but you've always won. You don't know what your limits are yet, but if you've reached them already you're a good deal feebler than I thought."
"Do they die?"
"The ones who fail."
"No, they don't die. Good heavens, boy, you're playing games."
"I think that Bonzo died. I dreamed about it last night. I remembered the way he looked after I jammed his face with my head. I think I must have pushed his nose back into his brain. The blood was coming out of his eyes. I think he was dead right then."
"It was just a dream."
"Mazer, I don't want to keep dreaming these things. I'm afraid to sleep. I keep thinking of things that I don't want to remember. My whole life keeps playing out as if I were a recorder and someone else wanted to watch the most terrible parts of my life."
"We can't drug you if that's what you're hoping for. I'm sorry if you have bad dreams. Should we leave the light on at night?"
"Don't make fun of me!" Ender said. "I'm afraid I'm going crazy."
The doctor was finished with the bandage. Mazer told him he could go. He went.
"Are you really afraid of that?" Mazer asked.
Ender thought about it and wasn't sure.
"In my dreams," said Ender, "I'm never sure whether I'm really me."
"Strange dreams are a safety valve, Ender. I'm putting you under a little pressure for the first time in your life. Your body is finding ways to compensate, that's all. You're a big boy now. It's time to stop being afraid of the night."
"All right," Ender said. He decided then that he would never tell Mazer about his dreams again.
The days wore on, with battles every day, until at last Ender settled into the routine of the destruction of himself. He began to have pains in his stomach. They put him on a bland diet, but soon he didn't have an appetite for anything at all. "Eat," Mazer said, and Ender would mechanically put food in his mouth. But if nobody told him to eat, he didn't eat.
Two more of his squadron leaders collapsed the way that Petra had; the pressure on the rest became all the greater. The enemy outnumbered them by three or four to one in every battle now; the enemy also retreated more readily when things went badly, regrouping to keep the battle going longer and longer. Sometimes battles lasted for hours before they finally destroyed the last enemy ship. Ender began rotating his squadron leaders within the same battle, bringing in fresh and rested ones to take the place of those who were beginning to get sluggish.
"You know," said Bean one time, as he took over command of Hot Soup's four remaining fighters, "this game isn't quite as fun as it used to be."
Then one day in practice, as Ender was drilling his squadron leaders, the room went black and he woke up on the floor with his face bloody where he had hit the controls.
They put him to bed then, and for three days he was very ill. He remembered seeing faces in his dreams, but they weren't real faces, and he knew it even while he thought he saw them. He thought he saw Valentine sometimes, and sometimes Peter; sometimes his friends from the Battle School, and sometimes the buggers vivisecting him. Once it seemed very real when he saw Colonel Graff bending over him speaking softly to him, like a kind father. But then he woke top and found only his enemy, Mazer Rackham.
"I'm awake," said Ender.
"So I see," Mazer answered. "Took you long enough. You have a battle today."
So Ender got up and fought the battle and won it. But there was no second battle that day, and they let him go to bed earlier. His hands were shaking as be undressed.
During the night he thought he felt hands touching him gently. Hands with affection in them, and gentleness. He dreamed he heard voices.
"You haven't been kind to him."
"That wasn't the assignment."
"How long can he go on? He's breaking down."
"Long enough. It's nearly finished."
"A few days, and then he's through."
"How will he do, when he's already like this?"
"Fine. Even today, he fought better than ever."
In his dream, the voices sounded like Colonel Graff and Mazer Rackham. But that was the way dreams were, the craziest things could happen, because he dreamed he heard one of the voices saying, "I can't bear to see what this is doing to him." And the other voice answered, "I know. I love him too." And then they changed into Valentine and Alai, and in his dream they were burying him, only a hill grew up where they laid his body down, and he dried out and became a home for buggers, like the Giant was.
All dreams. If there was love or pity for him, it was only in his dreams.
He woke up and fought another battle and won. Then he went to bed and slept again and dreamed again and then he woke up and won again and slept again and he hardly noticed when waking became sleeping. Nor did he care.
The next day was his last day in Command School, though he didn't know it. Mazer Rackham was not in the room with him when he woke up. He showered and dressed and waited for Mazer to come unlock the door. He didn't come. Ender tried the door. It was open.
Was it an accident that Mazer had let him be free this morning? No one with him to tell him he must eat, he must go to practice, he must sleep. Freedom. The trouble was, he didn't know what to do. He thought for a moment that he might find his squadron leaders, talk to them face to face, but he didn't know where they were. They could be twenty kilometers away, for all he knew. So, after wandering through the tunnels for a little while, he went to the mess hall and ate breakfast near a few marines who were telling dirty jokes that Ender could not begin to understand. Then he went to the simulator room for practice. Even though he was free, he could not think of anything else to do.
Mazer was waiting for him. Ender walked slowly into the room. His step was slightly shuffling, and he felt tired and dull.
Mazer frowned. "Are you awake, Ender?"
There were other people in the simulator room. Ender wondered why they were there, but didn't bother to ask. It wasn't worth asking; no one would tell him anyway. He walked to the simulator controls and sat down, ready to start.
"Ender Wiggin," said Mazer. "Please turn around. Today's game needs a little explanation."
Ender turned around. He glanced at the men gathered at the back of the room. Most of them he had never seen before. Some were even dressed in civilian clothes. He saw Anderson and wondered what he was doing there, who was taking care of the Battle School if he was gone. He saw Graff and remembered the lake in the woods outside Greensboro, and wanted to go home. Take me home, he said silently to Graff. In my dream you said you loved me. Take me home.
But Graff only nodded to him, a greeting, not a promise, and Anderson acted as though he didn't know him at all.
"Pay attention, please, Ender. Today is your final examination in Command School. These observers are here to evaluate what you have learned. If you prefer not to have them in the room, we'll have them watch on another simulator."
"They can stay." Final examination. After today, perhaps he could rest.
"For this to be a fair test of your ability, not just to do what you have practiced many times, but also to meet challenges you have never seen before, today's battle introduces a new element. It is staged around a planet. This will affect the enemy's strategy, and will force you to improvise. Please concentrate on the game today."
Ender beckoned Mazer closer, and asked him quietly, "Am I the first student to make it this far?"
"If you win today, Ender, you will be the first student to do so. More than that I'm not at liberty to say."
"Well, I'm at liberty to hear it."
"You can be as petulant as you want, tomorrow. Today, though, I'd appreciate it if you would keep your mind on the examination. Let's not waste all that you've already done. Now, how will you deal with the planet?"
"I have to get someone behind it, or it's a blind spot."
"And the gravity is going to affect fuel levels -- cheaper to go down than up."
"Does the Little Doctor work against a planet?"
Mazer's face went rigid. "Ender, the buggers never attacked a civilian population in either invasion. You decide whether it would be wise to adopt a strategy that would invite reprisals."
"Is the planet the only new thing?"
"Can you remember the last time I've given you a battle with only one new thing? Let me assure you, Ender, that I will not be kind to you today. I have a responsibility to the fleet not to let a second-rate student graduate. I will do my best against you, Ender, and I have no desire to coddle you. Just keep in mind everything you know about yourself and everything you know about the buggers, and you have a fair chance of amounting to something."
Mazer left the room.
Ender spoke into the microphone. "Are you there?"
"All of us," said Bean. "Kind of late for practice this morning, aren't you?"
So they hadn't told the squadron leaders. Ender toyed with the idea of telling them how important this battle was to him, but decided it would not help them to have an extraneous concern on their minds. "Sorry," he said. "I overslept."
They laughed. They didn't believe him.
He led them through maneuvers, warming up for the battle ahead. It took him longer than usual to clear his mind, to concentrate on command, but soon enough he was up to speed, responding quickly, thinking well. Or at least, he told himself, thinking that I'm thinking well.
The simulator field cleared. Ender waited for the game to appear. What will happen if I pass the test today?
Is there another school? Another year or two of grueling training, another year of isoiation, another year of people pushing me this way and that way, another year without any control over my own life? He tried to remember how old he was. Eleven. How many years ago did he turn eleven? How many days? It must have happened here at the Command School, but he couldn't remember the day. Maybe he didn't even notice it at the time. Nobody noticed it, except perhaps Valentine.
And as he waited for the game to appear, he wished he could simply lose it, lose the battle badly and completely so that they would remove him from training, like Bonzo, and let him go home. Bonzo had been assigned to Cartagena. He wanted to see travel orders that said Greensboro. Success meant it would go on. Failure meant he could go home.
No, that isn't true, he told himself. They need me, and if I fail there might not be any home to return to.
But he did not believe it. In his conscious mind he knew it was true, but in other places, deeper places, he doubted that they needed him. Mazer's urgency was just another trick. Just another way to make me do what they want me to do. Another way to keep him from resting. From doing nothing, for a long, long time.
Then the enemy formation appeared, and Ender's weariness turned to despair.
The enemy outnumbered him a thousand to one, the simulator glowed green with them. They were grouped in a dozen different formations shifting positions, changing shapes, moving in seemingly random patterns through the simulator field. He could not find a path through them -- a space that seemed open would close suddenly, and another appear, and a formation that seemed penetrable would suddenly change and be forbidding. The planet was at the far edge of the field, and for all Ender knew there were just as many enemy ships beyond it, out of the simulator's range.
As for his own fleet, it consisted of twenty starships, each with only four fighters. He knew the four-fighter starships they were old-fashioned, sluggish, and the range of their Little Doctors was half that of the newer ones. Eighty fighters, against at least five thousand, perhaps ten thousand enemy ships.
He heard his squadron leaders breathing heavily; he could also hear, from the observers behind him, a quiet curse. It was nice to know that one of the adults noticed that it wasn't a fair test. Not that it made any difference. Fairness wasn't part of the game, that was plain. There was no attempt to give him even a remote chance at success. All that I've been through, and they never meant to let me pass at all.
He saw in his mind Bonzo and his vicious little knot of friends, confronting him, threatening him; he had been able to shame Bonzo into fighting him alone. That would hardly work here. And he could not surprise the enemy with his ability as he had done with the older boys in the battleroom. Mazer knew Ender's abilities inside and out.
The observers behind him began to cough, to move nervously. They were beginning to realize that Ender didn't know what to do.
I don't care anymore, thought Ender. You can keep your game. If you won't even give me a chance, why should I play?
Like his last game in Battle School, when they put two armies against him.
And just as he remembered that game, apparently Bean remembered it, too, for his voice came over the headset, saying, "Remember, the enemy's gate is *down*."
Molo, Soup, Vlad, Dumper, and Crazy Tom all laughed. They remembered, too.
And Ender also laughed. It was funny. The adults taking all this so seriously, and the children playing along, playing along, believing it too until suddenly the adults went too far, tried too hard, and the children could see through their game. Forget it, Mazer. I don't care if I pass your test, I don't care if I follow your rules, if you can cheat, so can I. I won't let you beat me unfairly -- I'll beat you unfairly first.
In that final battle in Battle School, he had won by ignoring the enemy, ignoring his own losses; he had moved against the enemy's gate.
And the enemy's gate was down.
If I break this rule, they'll never let me be a commander. It would be too dangerous. I'll never have to play a game again. And that is victory.
He whispered quickly into the microphone. His commanders took their parts of the fleet and grouped themselves into a thick projectile, a cylinder aimed at the nearest of the enemy formations. The enemy, far from trying to repel him, welcomed him in, so he could be thoroughly entrapped before they destroyed him. Mazer is at least taking into account the fact that by now they would have learned to respect me. thought Ender. And that does buy me time.
Ender dodged downward, north, east, and down again, not seeming to follow any plan, but always ending up a little closer to the enemy planet. Finally the enemy began to close in on him too tightly. Then, suddenly, Ender's formation burst. His fleet seemed to melt into chaos. The eighty fighters seemed to follow no plan at all, firing at enemy ships at random, working their way into hopeless individual paths among the bugger craft.
After a few minutes of battle, however, Ender whispered to his squadron leaders once more, and suddenly a dozen of the remaining fighters formed again into a formation. But now they were on the far side of one of the enemy's most formidable groups; they had, with terrible losses, passed through and now they had covered more than half the distance to the enemy's planet.
The enemy sees now, thought Ender. Surely Mazer sees what I'm doing.
Or perhaps Mazer cannot believe that I would do it. Well so much the better for me.
Ender's tiny fleet darted this way and that, sending two or three fighters out as if to attack, then bringing them back. The enemy closed in, drawing in ships and formations that had been widely scattered, bringing them in for the kill. The enemy was most concentrated beyond Ender, so he could not escape back into open space, closing him in. Excellent, thought Ender. Closer. Come closer.
Then he whispered a command and the ships dropped like rocks toward the planet's surface. They were starships and fighters, completely unequipped to handle the heat of passage through an atmosphere. But Ender never intended them to reach the atmosphere. Almost from the moment they began to drop, they were focusing their Little Doctors on one thing only. The planet itself.
One, two, four, seven of his fighters were blown away. It was all a gamble now, whether any of his ships would survive long enough to get in range. It would not take long, once they could focus on the planet's surface. Just a moment with Dr, Device, that's all I want. It occurred to Ender that perhaps the computer wasn't even equipped to show what would happen to a planet if the Little Doctor attacked it. What will I do then, shout Bang, you're dead?
Ender took his hands off the controls and leaned in to watch what happened. The perspective was close to the enemy planet now, as the ship hurtled into its well of gravity. Surely it's in range now, thought Ender. It must be in range and the computer can't handle it.
Then the surface of the planet, which filled half the simulator field now, began to bubble; there was a gout ot explosion, hurling debris out toward Ender's fighters. Ender tried to imagine what was happening inside the planet. The field growing and growing, the molecules bursting apart but finding nowhere for the separate atoms to go.
Within three seconds the entire planet burst apart, becoming a sphere of bright dust, hurtling outward. Ender's fighters were among the first to go: their perspective suddenly vanished, and now the simulator could only display the perspective of the starships waiting beyond the edges of the battle. It was as close as Ender wanted to be. The sphere of the exploding planet grew outward faster than the enemy ships could avoid it. And it carried with it the Little Doctor, not so little anymore, the field taking apart every ship in its path, erupting each one into a dot of light before it went on.
Only at the very periphery of the simulator did the M.D. field weaken. Two or three enemy ships were drifting away. Ender's own starships did not explode. But where the vast enemy fleet had been, and the planet they protected, there was nothing meaningful. A lump of dirt was growing as gravity drew much of the debris downward again. It was glowing hot and spinning visibly; it was also much smaller than the world had been before. Much of its mass was now a cloud still flowing outward.
Ender took off his headphones, filled with the cheers of his squadron leaders, and only then realized that there was just as much noise in the room with him. Men in uniform were hugging each other, laughing, shouting; others were weeping; some knelt or lay prostrate, and Ender knew they were caught up in prayer. Ender didn't understand. It seemed all wrong. They were supposed to be angry.
Colonel Graff detached himself from the others and came to Ender. Tears streamed down his face, but he was smiling. He bent over, reached out his arms, and to Ender's surprise he embraced him, held him tightly, and whispered, "Thank you, thank you Ender. Thank God for you, Ender."
The others soon came, too, shaking his hand, congratulating him. He tried to make sense of this. Had he passed the test after all? It was his victory, not theirs, and a hollow one at that, a cheat; why did they act as if he had won with honor?
The crowd parted and Mazer Rackham walked through. He came straight to Ender and held out his hand.
"You made the hard choice, boy. All or nothing. End them or end us. But heaven knows there was no other way you could have done it. Congratulations. You beat them, and it's all over."
All over. Beat them. Ender didn't understand. "I beat *you*."
Mazer laughed, a loud laugh that filled the room.
"Ender, you never played *me*. You never played a *game* since I became your enemy."
Ender didn't get the joke. He had played a great many games, at a terrible cost to himself. He began to get angry.
Mazer reached out and touched his shoulder. Ender shrugged him off. Mazer then grew serious and said, "Ender, for the past few months you have been the battle commander of our fleets. This was the Third Invasion. There were no games, the battles were real, and the only enemy you fought was the buggers. You won every battle, and today you finally fought them at their home world, where the queen was, all the queens from all their colonies, they all were there and you destroyed them completely. They'll never attack us again. You did it. You."
Real. Not a game. Ender's mind was too tired to cope with it all. They weren't just points of light in the air, they were real ships that he had fought with and real ships he had destroyed. And a real world that he had blasted into oblivion. He walked through the crowd, dodging their congratulations, ignoring their hands, their words, their rejoicing. When he got to his own room he stripped off his clothes, climbed into bed, and slept.
Ender awoke when they shook him. It took a moment to recognize them. Graff and Rackham. He turned his back on them. Let me sleep.
"Ender, we need to talk to you," said Graff. Ender rolled back to face them.
"They've been playing out the videos on Earth all day, all night since the battle yesterday."
"Yesterday?" He had slept through until the next day.
"You're a hero. Ender. They've seen what you did. You and the others. I don't think there's a government on Earth that hasn't voted you their highest medal."
"I killed them all, didn't I?" Ender asked.
"All who?" asked Graff. "The buggers? That was the idea."
Mazer leaned in close. "That's what the war was for."
"All their queens. So I killed all their children, all of everything."
"They decided that when they attacked us. It wasn't your fault. It's what had to happen."
Ender grabbed Mazer's uniform and hung onto it, pulling him down so they were face to face. "I didn't want to kill them all. I didn't want to kill anybody! I'm not a killer! You didn't want me, you bastards, you wanted Peter, but you made me do it, you tricked me into it!" He was crying. He was out of control.
"Of course we tricked you into it. That's the whole point," said Graff. "It had to be a trick or you couldn't have done it. It's the bind we were in. We had to have a commander with so much empathy that he would think like the buggers, understand them and anticipate them. So much compassion that he could win the love of his underlings and work with them like a perfect machine, as perfect as the buggers. But somebody with that much compassion could never be the killer we needed. Could never go into battle willing to win at all costs. If you knew, you couldn't do it. If you were the kind of person who would do it even if you knew, you could never have understood the buggers well enough."
"And it had to be a child, Ender," said Mazer. "You were faster than me. Better than me. I was too old and cautious. Any decent person who knows what warfare is can never go into battle with a whole heart. But you didn't know. We made sure you didn't know. You were reckless and brilliant and young. It's what you were born for."
"We had pilots with our ships, didn't we."
"I was ordering pilots to go in and die and I didn't even know it."
"*They* knew it, Ender, and they went anyway. They knew what it was for."
"You never asked me! You never told me the truth about anything!"
"You had to be a weapon, Ender. Like a gun, like the Little Doctor, functioning perfectly but not knowing what you were aimed at. We aimed you. We're responsible. If there was something wrong, we did it."
"Tell me later," Ender said. His eyes closed.
Mazer Rackham shook him. "Don't go to sleep, Ender," he said. "It's very important."
"You're finished with me," Ender said. "Now leave me alone."
"That's why we're here." Mazer said, "We're trying to tell you. They're not through with you, not at all, it's crazy down there. They're going to start a war, Americans claiming the Warsaw Pact is about to attack, and the Pact saying the same thing about the Hegemon. The bugger war isn't twenty-four hours dead and the world down there is back to fighting again, as bad as ever. And all of them are worried about you. And all of them want you. The greatest military leader in history, they want you to lead their armies. The Americans. The Hegemon. Everybody but the Warsaw Pact, and they want you dead."
"Fine with me," said Ender.
"We have to take you away from here. There are Russian marines all over Eros, and the Polemarch is Russian. It could turn to bloodshed at any time."
Ender turned his back on them again. This time they let him. He did not sleep, though. He listened to them.
"I was afraid of this, Rackham. You pushed him too hard. Some of those lesser outposts could have waited until after. You could have given him some days to rest."
"Are you doing it, too, Graff? Trying to decide how I could have done it better? You don't know what would have happened if I hadn't pushed. Nobody knows. I did it the way I did it, and it worked. Above all, it worked. Memorize that defense, Graff. You may have to use it, too."
"I can see what it's done to him. Colonel Liki says there's a good chance he'll be permanently damaged, but I don't believe it. He's too strong. Winning meant a lot to him, and he won."
"Don't tell me about strong. The kid's eleven. Give him some rest, Rackham. Things haven't exploded yet. We can post a guard outside his door."
"Or post a guard outside another door and pretend that it's his."
They went away. Ender slept again.
Time passed without touching Ender, except with glancing blows. Once he awoke for a few minutes with something pressing his hand, pushing downward on it, with a dull, insistent pain. He reached over and touched it; it was a needle passing into a vein. He tried to pull it out, but it was taped on and he was too weak. Another time he awoke in darkness to hear people near him murmuring and cursing. His ears were ringing with the loud noise that had awakened him; he did not remember the noise. "Get the lights on," someone said. And another time he thought he heard someone crying softly near him.
It might have been a single day; it might have been a week; from his dreams, it could have been months. He seemed to pass through lifetimes in his dreams. Through the Giant's Drink again, past the wolf-children, reliving the terrible deaths, the constant murders; he heard a voice whispering in the forest, You had to kill the children to get to the End of the World. And he tried to answer. I never wanted to kill anybody. Nobody ever asked me if I wanted to kill anybody. But the forest laughed at him. And when he leapt from the cliff at the End of the World, sometimes it was not clouds that caught him, but a fighter that carried him to a vantage point near the surface of the buggers' world, so he could watch, over and over, the eruption of death when Dr. Device set off a reaction on the planet's face; then closer and closer, until he could watch individual buggers explode, turn to light, then collapse into a pile of dirt before his eyes. And the queen, surrounded by infants; only the queen was Mother, and the infants were Valentine and all the children he had known in Battle School. One of them had Bonzo's face, and he lay there bleeding through the eyes and nose, saying, You have no honor. And always the dream ended with a mirror or a pool of water or the metal surface of ship, something that would reflect his face back to him.
At first it was always Peter's face, with blood and a snake's tail coming from the mouth. After a while, though, it began to be his own face, old and sad, with eyes that grieved for a billion, billion murders -- but they were his own eyes, and he was content to wear them.
That was the world Ender lived in for many lifetimes during the five days of the League War.
When he awoke again he was lying in darkness. In the distance he could hear the thump, thump of explosions. He listened for a while. Then he heard a soft footstep.
He turned over and flung out a hand, to grasp whoever was sneaking up on him. Sure enough, he caught someone's clothing and pulled him down toward his knees, ready to kill him if need be.
"Ender, it's me, it's me!"
He knew the voice. It came out of his memory as if it were a million years ago.
"Salaam, pinprick. What were you trying to do, kill me?"
"Yes. I thought you were trying to kill *me*."
"I was trying not to wake you up. Well, at least you have some survival instinct left. The way Mazer talks about it, you were becoming a vegetable."
"I was trying to. What's the thumping."
"There's a war going on here. Our section is blacked out to keep us safe."
Ender swung his legs out to sit up. He couldn't do it, though. His head hurt too bad. He winced in pain."
"Don't sit up, Ender. It's all right. It looks like we might win it. Not all the Warsaw Pact people went with the Polemarch. A lot of them came over when the Strategos told them you were loyal to the IF."
"I was asleep."
"So he lied. You weren't plotting treason in your dreams, were you? Some of the Russians who came in told us that when the Polemarch ordered them to find you and kill you, they almost killed him. Whatever they may feel about other people, Ender, they love you. The whole world watched our battles. Videos, day and night. I've seen some. Complete with your voice giving the orders. It's all there, nothing censored. Good stuff. You've got a career in the vids."
"I don't think so," said Ender.
"I was joking. Hey, can you believe it? We won the war. We were so eager to grow up so we could fight in it, and it was us all the time. I mean, we're kids. Ender. And it was us." AIai laughed. "It was you, anyway. You were good, bosh. I didn't know how you'd get us out of that last one. But you did. You were good."
Ender noticed the way he spoke in the past good. "What am I now, Alai?"
"At -- anything. There's a million soldiers who'd follow you to the end of the universe."
"I don't want to go to the end of the universe."
"So where do you want to go? They'll follow you."
I want to go home, thought Ender, but I don't know where it is.
The thumping went silent.
"Listen to that," said Alai.
They listened. The door opened. Someone stood there. Someone small. "It's over," he said. It was Bean. As if to prove it, the lights went on.
"Ho, Bean," Ender said.
Petra followed him in, with Dink holding her hand. They came to Ender's bed. "Hey, the hero's awake," said Dink.
"Who won?" asked Ender.
"We did, Ender," said Bean. "You were there."
"He's not *that* crazy, Bean. He meant who won just now." Petra took Ender's hand. "There was a truce on Earth. They've been negotiating for days. They finally agreed to accept the Locke Proposal."
"He doesn't know about the Locke Proposal--"
"It's very complicated, but what it means here is that the IF. will stay in existence, but without the Warsaw Pact in it. So the Warsaw Pact marines are going home. I think Russia agreed to it because they're having a revolt of the Slavic helots. Everybody's got troubles. About five hundred died here, but it was worse on Earth."
"The Hegemon resigned," said Dink. "It's crazy down there. Who cares."
"You OK?" Petra asked him, touching his head. "You scared us. They said you were crazy, and we said *they* were crazy."
"I'm crazy," said Ender. "But I think I'm OK."
"When did you decide that?" asked Alai.
"When I thought you were about to kill me, and I decided to kill you first. I guess I'm just a killer to the core. But I'd rather be alive than dead."
They laughed and agreed with him. Then Ender began to cry and embraced Bean and Petra, who were closest. "I missed you," he said. "I wanted to see you so bad."
"You saw us pretty bad," Petra answered. She kissed his cheek.
"I saw you magnificent," said Ender. "The ones I needed most, I used up soonest. Bad planning on my part."
"Everybody's OK now," said Dink. "Nothing was wrong with any of us that five days of cowering in blacked-out rooms in the middle of a war couldn't cure."
"I don't have to be your commander anymore, do I?" asked Ender. "I don't want to command anybody again."
"You don't have to command anybody," said Dink, "but you're always our commander."
Then they were silent for a while.
"So what do we do now?" asked Alai. "The bugger war's over, and so's the war down there on Earth, and even the war here. What do we do now?"
"We're kids," said Petra. "They'll probably make us go to school. It's a law. You have to go to school till you're seventeen."
They all laughed at that. Laughed until tears streamed down their faces.