Enders game, p.11
Part #1 of Ender's Saga series by Orson Scott Card
Ender turned seven. They weren't much for dates and calendars at the Battle School, but Ender had found out how to bring up the date on his desk, and he noticed his birthday. The school noticed it, too; they took his measurements and issued him a new Salamander uniform and a new flash suit for the battleroom. He went back to the barracks with the new clothing on. It felt strange and loose, like his skin no longer fit properly.
He wanted to stop at Petra's bunk and tell her about his home, about what his birthdays were usually like, just tell her it was his birthday so she'd say something about it being a happy one. But nobody told birthdays. It was childish. It was what landsiders did. Cakes and silly customs. Valentine baked him his cake on his sixth birthday. It fell and it was terrible. Nobody knew how to cook anymore, it was the kind of crazy thing Valentine would do. Everybody teased Valentine about it, but Ender saved a little bit of it in his cupboard. Then they took out his monitor and he left and for all he knew, it was still there, a little piece of greasy yellow dust. Nobody talked about home, not among the soldiers; there had been no life before Battle School. Nobody got letters, and nobody wrote any. Everybody pretended that they didn't care.
But I do care, thought Ender. The only reason I'm here is so that a bugger won't shoot out Valentine's eye, won't blast her head open like the soldiers in the videos of the first battles with the buggers. Won't split her head with a beam so hot that her brains burst the skull and spill out like rising bread dough, the way it happens in my worst nightmares, in my worst nights, when I wake up trembling but silent, must keep silent or they'll hear that I miss my family, I want to go home.
It was better in the morning. Home was merely a dull ache in the back of his memory. A tiredness in his eyes. That morning Bonzo came in as they were dressing. "Flash suits!" he called. It was a battle. Ender's fourth game.
The enemy was Leopard Army. It would be easy. Leopard was new, and it was always in the bottom quarter in the standings. It had been organized only six months ago, with Pol Slattery as its commander. Ender put on his new battle suit and got into line; Bonzo pulled him roughly out of line and made him march at the end. You didn't need to do that, Ender said silently. You could have let me stay in line.
Ender watched from the corridor. Pol Slattery was young, but he was sharp, he had some new ideas. He kept his soldiers moving, darting from star to star, wallsliding to get behind and above the stolid Salamanders. Ender smiled. Bonzo was hopelessly confused, and so were his men. Leopard seemed to have men in every direction. However, the battle was not as lopsided as it seemed. Ender noticed that Leopard was losing a lot of men, too--their reckless tactics exposed them too much. What mattered, however, was that Salamander felt defeated. They had surrendered the initiative completely. Though they were still fairly evenly matched with the enemy, they huddled together like the last survivors of a massacre, as if they hoped the enemy would overlook them in the carnage.
Ender slipped slowly through the gate, oriented himself so the enemy's gate was down, and drifted slowly eastward to a corner where he wouldn't be noticed. He even fired at his own legs, to hold them in the kneeling position that offered him the best protection. He looked to any casual glance like another frozen soldier who had drifted helplessly out of the battle.
With Salamander Army waiting abjectly for destruction, Leopard obligingly destroyed them. When Salamander finally stopped firing, Leopard had
nine boys left. They formed up and started to open the Salamander gate.
Ender aimed carefully with a straight arm, as Petra had taught him. Be-fore anyone knew what was happening, he froze three of the soldiers who were about to press their helmets against the lighted corners of the door. Then some of the others spotted him and fired--but at first they hit only his already-frozen legs. It gave him time to get the last two men at the gate. Leopard had only four men left unfrozen when Ender was finally hit in the arm and disabled. The game was a draw, and they never had hit him in the body.
Pol Slattery was furious, but there had been nothing unfair about it. Everyone in Leopard Army assumed that it had been a strategy of Bonzo's, to leave a man till the last minute. It didn't occur to them that little Ender had fired against orders. But Salamander Army knew. Bonzo knew, and Ender could see from the way his commander looked at him that Bonzo hated him for rescuing him from total defeat. I don't care, Ender told himself. It will just make me easier to trade away, and in the meantime you won't drop so far in the standings. Just trade me. I've learned all I'm ever going to learn from you. How to fail with style, that's all you know, Bonzo.
What have I learned so far? Ender listed things in his mind as he un-dressed by his bunk. The enemy's gate is down. Use my legs as a shield in battle. A small reserve, held back until the end of the game, can be decisive. And soldiers can sometimes make decisions that are smarter than the orders they've been given.
Naked, he was about to climb into bed when Bonzo came toward him, his face hard and set. I have seen Peter like this, thought Ender, silent with murder in his eye. But Bonzo is not Peter. Bonzo has more fear.
"Wiggin, I finally traded you. I was able to persuade Rat Army that your incredible place on the efficiency list is more than an accident. You go over there tomorrow."
"Thank you, sir," Ender said.
Perhaps he sounded too grateful. Suddenly Bonzo swung at him, caught his jaw with a vicious open-handed slap. It knocked Ender sideways, into his bunk, and he almost fell. Then Bonzo slugged him, hard, in the stomach. Ender dropped to his knees.
"You disobeyed me," Bonzo said. Loudly, for all to hear. "No good soldier ever disobeys."
Even as he cried from the pain, Ender could not help but take vengeful pleasure in the murmurs he heard rising through the barracks. You fool, Bonzo. You aren't enforcing discipline, you're destroying it. They know I turned defeat into a draw. And now they see how you repay me. You made yourself look stupid in front of everyone. What is your discipline worth now?
The next day, Ender told Petra that for her sake the shooting practice in the morning would have to end. Bonzo didn't need anything that looked like a challenge now, and so she'd better stay clear of Ender for a while. She understood perfectly. "Besides," she said, "you're as close to being a good shot as you'll ever be."
He left his desk and flash suit in the locker. He would wear his Salamander uniform until he could get to the commissary and change it for the brown and black of Rat. He had brought no possessions with him; he would take none away. There were none to have--everything of value was in the school computer or his own head and hands.
He used one of the public desks in the game room to register for an earth-gravity personal combat course during the hour immediately after breakfast. He didn't plan to get vengeance on Bonzo for hitting him. But he did intend that no one would be able to do that to him again.
"Colonel Graff, the games have always been run fairly before. Either random distribution of stars, or symmetrical."
"Fairness is a wonderful attribute, Major Anderson. It has nothing to do with war."
"The game will be compromised. The comparative standings will be-come meaningless."
"It will take months. Years, to develop the new battlerooms and run the simulations."
"That's why I'm asking you now. To begin. Be creative. Think of every stacked, impossible, unfair star arrangement you can. Think of other ways to bend the rules. Late notification. Unequal forces. Then run the simulations and see which ones are hardest, which easiest. We want an intelli-gent progression here. We want to bring him along."
"When do you plan to make him a commander? When he's eight?"
"Of course not. I haven't assembled his army yet."
"Oh , so you're stacking it that way, too?"
"You're getting too close to the game, Anderson. You're forgetting that it is merely a training exercise."
"It's also status, identity, purpose, name; all that makes these child
"So I hope Ender Wiggin truly is the one, because you'll have degraded the effectiveness of our training method for a long time to come."
"If Ender isn't the one, if his peak of military brilliance does not coincide with the arrival of our fleet at the bugger homeworlds, then it doesn't really matter what our training method is or isn't."
"I hope you will forgive me, Colonel Graff, but I feel that I must report your orders and my opinion of their consequences to the Strategos and the Hegemon."
"Why not our dear Polemarch?"
"Everybody knows you have him in your pocket."
"Such hostility, Major Anderson. And I thought we were friends."
"We are. And I think you may be right about Ender. I just don't believe you, and you alone, should decide the fate of the world."
"I don't even think it's right for me to decide the fate of Ender Wiggin."
"So you won't mind if I notify them?"
"Of course I mind, you meddlesome ass. This is something to be decided by people who know what they're doing, not these frightened politicians who got their office because they happen to be politically potent in the country they come from."
"But you understand why I'm doing it."
"Because you're such a short-sighted little bureaucratic bastard that you think you need to cover yourself in case things go wrong. Well, if things go wrong we'll all be bugger meat. So trust me now, Anderson, and don't bring the whole damn Hegemony down on my neck. What I'm doing is hard enough without them."
"Oh, is it unfair? Are things stacked against you? You can do it to Ender, but you can't take it, is that it?"
"Ender Wiggin is ten times smarter and stronger than I am. What I'm doing to him will bring out his genius. If I had to go through it myself, it would crush me. Major Anderson, I know I'm wrecking the game, and I know you love it better than any of the boys who play. Hate me if you like, but don't stop me."
"I reserve the right to communicate with the Hegemony and the Strategoi at any time. But for now--do what you want."
"Thank you so very kindly."
"Ender Wiggin, the little farthead who leads the standings, what a plea-sure to have you with us." The commander of Rat Army lay sprawled on a lower bunk wearing only his desk. "With you around, how can any army lose?" Several of the boys nearby laughed.
There could not have been two more opposite armies than Salamander and Rat. The room was rumpled, cluttered, noisy. After Bonzo, Ender had thought that undiscipline would be a welcome relief. Instead, he found that
he had come to expect quiet and order, and the disorder here made him uncomfortable.
"We doing OK, Ender Bender. I Rose de Nose, Jewboy extraordinaire, and you ain't nothin but a pinheaded pinprick of a goy. Don't you forget it."
Since the I.F. was formed, the Strategos of the military forces had always been a Jew. There was a myth that Jewish generals didn't lose wars. And so far it was still true. It made any Jew in the Battle School dream of being Strategos, and conferred prestige on him from the start. It also caused resentment. Rat Army was often called the Kike Force, half in praise, half in parody of Mazer Rackham's Strike Force. There were many who liked to remember that during the Second Invasion, even though an American Jew, as President, was Hegemon of the alliance, an Israeli Jew was Strategos in overall command of I.F. defense, and a Russian Jew was Polemarch of the fleet, it was Mazer Rackham, a little-known, twice-court-martialled, half-Maori New Zealander whose Strike Force broke up and finally destroyed the bugger fleet in the action around Saturn.
If Mazer Rackham could save the world, then it didn't matter a bit whether you were a Jew or not, people said.
But it did matter, and Rose the Nose knew it. He mocked himself to forestall the mocking comments of anti-semites--almost everyone he defeated in battle became, at least for a time, a Jew-hater--but he also made sure everyone knew what he was. His army was in second place, bucking for first.
"I took you on, goy, because I didn't want people to think I only win because I got great soldiers. I want them to know that even with a little puke of a soldier like you I can still win. We only got three rules here. Do what I tell you and don't piss in the bed."
Ender nodded. He knew that Rose wanted him to ask what the third rule was. So he did.
"That was three rules. We don't do too good in math, here."
The message was clear. Winning is more important than anything. "Your practice sessions with half-assed little Launchies are over, Wiggin. Done. You're in a big boys' army now. I'm putting you in Dink Meeker's toon. From now on, as far as you're concerned, Dink Meeker is God."
"Then who are you?"
"The personnel officer who hired God." Rose grinned. "And you are forbidden to use your desk again until you've frozen two enemy soldiers in the same battle. This order is out of self-defense. I hear you're a genius programmer. I don't want you screwing around with my desk."
Everybody erupted in laughter. It took Ender a moment to understand why. Rose had programmed his desk to display and animate a bigger-than-lifesize picture of male genitals, which waggled back and forth as Rose held the desk on his naked lap. This is just the sort of commander Bonzo would trade me to, thought Ender. How does a boy who spends his time like this win battles?
Ender found Dink Meeker in the game room, not playing, just sitting and watching. "A guy pointed you out," Ender said. "I'm Ender Wiggin."
"I know," said Meeker.
"I'm in your toon."
"I know," he said again.
"I'm pretty inexperienced."
Dink looked up at him. "Look, Wiggin, I know all this. Why do you think I asked Rose to get you for me?"
He had not been dumped, he had been picked up, he had been asked for. Meeker wanted him. "Why?" asked Ender.
"I've watched your practice sessions with the Launchies. I think you show some promise. Bonzo is stupid and I wanted you to get better training than Petra could give you. All she can do is shoot."
"I needed to learn that."
"You still move like you were afraid to wet your pants."
"So teach me."
"I'm not going to quit my freetime practice sessions."
"I don't want you to quit them."
"Rose the Nose does."
"Rose the Nose can't stop you. Likewise, he can't stop you from using your desk."
"So why did he order it?"
"Listen, Ender, commanders have just as much authority as you let them have. The more you obey them, the more power they have over you."
"What's to stop them from hurting me?" Ender remembered Bonzo's blow.
"I thought that was why you were taking personal attack classes."
"You've really been watching me, haven't you?"
Dink didn't answer.
"I don't want to get Rose mad at me. I want to be part of the battles now, I'm tired of sitting out till the end."
"Your standings will go down."
This time Ender didn't answer.
"Listen, Ender, as long as you're part of my toon, you're part of the battle."
Ender soon learned why. Dink trained his toon independently from the rest of Rat Army, with discipline and vigor; he never consulted with Rose, and only rarely did the whole army maneuver together. It was as if Rose commanded one army, and Dink commanded a much smaller one that happened to practice in the battleroom at the same time.
Dink started out the first practice by asking Ender to demonstrate his
feet-first attack position. The other boys didn't like it. "How can we attack lying on our backs?" they asked.
To Ender's surprise, Dink didn't correct them, didn't say, "You aren't attacking on your back, you're dropping downward toward them." He had seen what Ender was doing, but he had not understood the orientation that
They practiced attacking an enemy-held star. Before trying Ender's feet-first method, they had always gone in standing up, their whole bodies available as a target. Even now, though, they reached the star and then assaulted the enemy from one direction only; "Over the top," cried Dink, and over they went. To his credit, he then repeated the exercise, calling, "Again, upside down," but because of their insistence on a gravity that didn't exist, the boys became awkward when the maneuver was under, as if vertigo seized them.
They hated the feet-first attack. Dink insisted that they use it. As a result, they hated Ender. "Do we have to learn how to fight from a Launchy?" one of them muttered, making sure Ender could hear. "Yes," answered Dink. They kept working.
And they learned it. In practice skirmishes, they began to realize how much harder it was to shoot an enemy who is attacking feet first. As soon as they were convinced of that, they practiced the maneuver more willingly.
That night was the first time Ender had come to one of his laundry practice sessions after a whole afternoon of work. He was tired.
"Now you're really in an army," said Alai, "you don't have to keep practicing with us."
"From you I can learn things that nobody knows," said Ender.
"Dink Meeker is the best. I hear he's your toon leader."
"Then let's get busy. I'll teach you what I learned from him today."
He put Alai and two dozen others through the same exercises that had worn him out all afternoon. But he put new touches on the patterns, made the boys try the maneuvers with one leg frozen, with both legs frozen, or using frozen boys for leverage to change directions.
Halfway through the practice, Ender noticed Petra and Dink together, standing in the doorway, watching. Later, when he looked again, they were gone.
So they're watching me, and what we're doing is known. He did not know whether Dink was his friend; he believed that Petra was, but nothing could be sure. They might be angry that he was doing what only commanders and toon leaders were supposed to do--drilling and training soldiers. They might be offended that a soldier would associate so closely with Launchies. It made him uneasy, to have older children watching.
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card / Science Fiction / Young Adult / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes