Enders game, p.25
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       Ender's Game, p.25
 

         Part #1 of Ender's Saga series by Orson Scott Card

  So that's why you brought me here, thought Ender. With all your hurry, that's why you took three months, to make me love Earth. Well, it worked. All your tricks worked. Valentine, too; she was another one of your tricks, to make me remember that I'm not going to school for myself. Well, I remember.

  "I may have used Valentine," said Graff, "and you may hate me for it, Ender, but keep this in mind--it only works because what's between you, that's real, that's what matters. Billions of those connections between human beings. That's what you're fighting to keep alive."

  Ender turned his face to the window and watched the helicopters and dirigibles rise and fall.

  They took a helicopter to the I.F. spaceport at Stumpy Point. It was officially named for a dead Hegemon, but everybody called it Stumpy Point, after the pitiful little town that had been paved over when they made the approaches to the vast islands of steel and concrete that dotted Pamlico Sound. There were still waterbirds taking their fastidious little steps in the saltwater, where mossy trees dipped down as if to drink. It began to rain lightly, and the concrete was black and slick; it was hard to tell where it left off and the Sound began.

  Graff led him through a maze of clearances. Authority was a little plastic ball that Graff carried. He dropped it into chutes, and doors opened and people stood up and saluted and the chutes spat out the ball and Graff went on. Ender noticed that at first everyone watched Graff, but as they penetrated deeper into the spaceport, people began watching Ender. At first it was the man of real authority they noticed, but later, where everyone had authority, it was his cargo they cared to see.

  Only when Graff strapped himself into the shuttle seat beside him did Ender realize Graff was going to launch with him.

  "How far?" asked Ender. "How far are you going with me?"

  Graff smiled thinly. "All the way, Ender."

  "Are they making you administrator of Command School?"

  "No."

  So they had removed Graff from his post at Battle School solely to accompany Ender to his next assignment. How important am I, he wondered. And like a whisper of Peter's voice inside his mind, he heard the question, How can I use this?

  He shuddered and tried to think of something else. Peter could have fantasies about ruling the world, but Ender didn't have them. Still, thinking back on his life in Battle School, it occurred to him that although he had never sought power, he had always had it. But he decided that it was a power born of excellence, not manipulation. He had no reason to be ashamed of it. He had never, except perhaps with Bean, used his power to hurt someone. And with Bean, things had worked well after all. Bean had become a friend, finally, to take the place of the lost Alai, who in turn took the place of Valentine. Valentine, who was helping Peter in his plotting. Valentine, who still loved Ender no matter what happened. And following that train of thought led him back to Earth, back to the quiet hours in the center of the clear water ringed by a bowl of tree-covered hills. That is the Earth, he thought. Not a globe thousands of kilometers around, but a forest with a shining lake, a house hidden at the crest of the hill, high in the trees, a grassy slope leading upward from the water, fish leaping and birds strafing to take the bugs that lived at the border between water and sky. Earth was the constant noise of crickets and winds and birds. And the voice of one girl, who spoke to him out of his far-off childhood. The same voice that had once protected him from terror. The same voice that he would do anything to keep alive, even return to school, even leave Earth behind again for another four or forty or four thousand years. Even if she loved Peter more.

  His eyes were closed, and he had not made any sound but breathing; still, Graff reached out and touched his hand across the aisle. Ender stiffened in surprise, and Graff soon withdrew, but for a moment Ender was struck with the startling thought that perhaps Graff felt some affection for him. But no, it was just another calculated gesture. Graff was creating a commander out of a little boy. No doubt Unit 17 in the course of studies included an affectionate gesture from the teacher.

  The shuttle reached the IPL satellite in only a few hours. Inter-Planetary Launch was a city of three thousand inhabitants, breathing oxygen from the plants that also fed them, drinking water that had already passed through their bodies ten thousand times, living only to service the tugs that did all the oxwork in the solar system and the shuttles that took their cargoes and passengers back to the Earth or the Moon. It was a world where, briefly, Ender felt at home, since its floors sloped upward as they did in the Battle School.

  Their tug was fairly new; the I.F. was constantly casting off its old vehicles and purchasing the latest models. It had just brought a vast load of drawn steel processed by a factory ship that was taking apart minor planets in the asteroid belt. The steel would be dropped to the Moon, and now the tug was linked to fourteen barges. Graff dropped his ball into the reader again, however, and the barges were uncoupled from the tug. It would be making a fast run this time, to a destination of Graff's specification, not to be stated until the tug had cut loose from IPL.

  "It's no great secret," said the tug's captain. "Whenever the destination is unknown, it's for ISL." By analogy with IPL, Ender decided the letters meant Inter-Stellar Launch.

  "This time it isn't," said Graff.

  "Where then?"

  "I.F. Command."

  "I don't have security clearance even to know where that is, sir."

  "Your ship knows," said Graff. "Just let the computer have a look at this, and follow the course it plots." He handed the captain the plastic ball.

  "And I'm supposed to close my eyes during the whole voyage, so I don't figure out where we are?"

  "Oh, no, of course not. I.F. Command is on the minor planet Eros, which should be about three months away from here at the highest possible speed. Which is the speed you'll use, of course."

  "Eros? But I thought that the buggers burned that to a radioactive--ah. When did I receive security clearance to know this?"

  "You didn't. So when we arrive at Eros, you will undoubtedly be assigned to permanent duty there."

  The captain understood immediately, and didn't like it. "I'm a pilot, you son of a bitch, and you got no right to lock me up on a rock!"

  "I will overlook your derisive language to a superior officer. I do apologize, but my orders were to take the fastest available military tug. At the moment I arrived, that was you. It isn't as though anyone were out to get you. Cheer up. The war may be over in another fifteen years, and then the location of I.F. Command won't have to be a secret anymore. By the way, you should be aware, in case you're one of those who relies on visuals for docking, that Eros has been blacked out. Its albedo is only slightly brighter than a black hole. You won't see it."

  "Thanks," said the captain.

  It was nearly a month into the voyage before he managed to speak civilly to Colonel Graff.

  The shipboard computer had a limited library--it was geared primarily to entertainment rather than education. So during the voyage, after breakfast and morning exercises, Ender and Graff would usually talk. About Command School. About Earth. About astronomy and physics and whatever Ender wanted to know.

  And above all, he wanted to know about the buggers.

  "We don't know much," said Graff. "We've never had a live one in custody. Even when we caught one unarmed and alive, he died the moment it became obvious he was captured. Even the he is uncertain--the most likely thing, in fact, is that most bugger soldiers are females, but with atrophied or vestigial sexual organs. We can't tell. It's their psychology that would be most useful to you, and we haven't exactly had a chance to interview them."

  "Tell me what you know, and maybe I'll learn something that I need." So Graff told him. The buggers were organisms that could conceivably have evolved on Earth, if things had gone a different way a billion years ago. At the molecular level, there were no surprises. Even the genetic material was the same. It was no accident that they looked insectlike to human beings. Though their internal organs were n
ow much more complex and specialized than any insects, and they had evolved an internal skeleton and shed most of the exoskeleton, their physical structure still echoed their ancestors, who could easily have been very much like Earth's ants. "But don't be fooled by that," said Graff. "It's just as meaningful to say that our ancestors could easily have been very much like squirrels."

  "If that's all we have to go on, that's something," said Ender. "Squirrels never built starships," said Graff. "There are usually a few changes on the way from gathering nuts and seeds to harvesting asteroids and putting permanent research stations on the moons of Saturn."

  The buggers could probably see about the same spectrum of light as human beings, and there was artificial lighting in their ships and ground installations. However, their antennae seemed almost vestigial. There was no evidence from their bodies that smelling, tasting, or hearing were particularly important to them. "Of course, we can't be sure. But we can't see any way that they could have used sound for communication. ^The oddest thing of all was that they also don't have any communication devices on their ships. No radios, nothing that could transmit or receive any kind of signal."

  "They communicate ship to ship. I've seen the videos, they talk to each other."

  "True. But body to body, mind to mind. It's the most important thing we learned from them. Their communication, however they do it, is instantaneous. Lightspeed is no barrier. When Mazer Rackham defeated their invasion fleet, they all closed up shop. At once. There was no time for a signal. Everything just stopped."

  Ender remembered the videos of uninjured buggers lying dead at their posts.

  "We knew then that it was possible. To communicate faster than light. That was seventy years ago, and once we knew what could be done, we did it. Not me, mind you, I wasn't born then."

  "How is it possible?"

  "I can't explain philotic physics to you. Half of it nobody understands anyway. What matters is we built the ansible. The official name is Philotic Parallax Instantaneous Communicator, but somebody dredged the name ansible out of an old book somewhere and it caught on. Not that most people even know the machine exists."

  "That means that ships could talk to each other even when they're across the solar system," said Ender.

  "It means," said Graff, "that ships could talk to each other even when they're across the galaxy. And the buggers can do it without machines."

  "So they knew about their defeat the moment it happened," said Ender. "I always figured--everybody always said that they probably only found out they lost the battle twenty-five years ago."

  "It keeps people from panicking," said Graff. "I'm telling you things that you can't know, by the way, if you're ever going to leave I.F. Command. Before the war's over."

  Ender was angry. "If you know me at all, you know I can keep a secret."

  "It's a regulation. People under twenty-five are assumed to be a security risk. It's very unjust to a good many responsible children, but it helps narrow the number of people who might let something slip."

  "What's all the secrecy for, anyway?"

  "Because we've taken some terrible risks, Ender, and we don't want to have every net on earth second-guessing those decisions. You see, as soon as we had a working ansible, we tucked it into our best starships and launched them to attack the buggers home systems."

  "Do we know where they are?"

  "Yes."

  "So we're not waiting for the Third Invasion."

  "We are the Third Invasion."

  "We're attacking them. Nobody says that. Everybody thinks we have a huge fleet of warships waiting in the comet shield--"

  "Not one. We're quite defenseless here."

  "What if they've sent a fleet to attack us?"

  "Then we're dead. But our ships haven't seen such a fleet, not a sign of one."

  "Maybe they gave up and they're planning to leave us alone."

  "Maybe. You've seen the videos. Would you bet the human race on the chance of them giving up and leaving us alone?"

  Ender tried to grasp the amounts of time that had gone by. "And the ships have been traveling for seventy years--"

  "Some of them. And some for thirty years, and some for twenty. We make better ships now. We're learning how to play with space a little better. But every starship that is not still under construction is on its way to a bugger world or outpost. Every starship, with cruisers and fighters tucked into its belly, is out there approaching the buggers. Decelerating. Because they're almost there. The first ships we sent to the most distant objectives, the more recent ships to the closer ones. Our timing was pretty good. They'll all be arriving in combat range within a few months of each other. Unfortunately, our most primitive, outdated equipment will be attacking their homeworld. Still, they're armed well enough--we have some weapons the buggers never saw before."

  "When will they arrive?"

  "Within the next five years, Ender. Everything is ready at I.F. Command. The master ansible is there, in contact with all our invasion fleet; the ships are all working, ready to fight. All we lack, Ender, is the battle commander. Someone who knows what the hell to do with those ships when they get there."

  "And what if no one knows what to do with them?"

  "We'll just do our best, with the best commander we can get."

  Me, thought Ender. They want me to be ready in five years. "Colonel Graff, there isn't a chance I'll be ready to command a fleet in time."

  Graff shrugged. "So. Do your best. If you aren't ready, we'll make do with what we've got."

  That eased Ender's mind.

  But only for a moment. "Of course, Ender, what we've got right now is nobody."

  Ender knew that this was another of Graff's games. Make me believe that it all depends on me, so I can't slack off, so I push myself as hard as possible.

  Game or not, though, it might also be true. And so he would work as hard as possible. It was what Val had wanted of him. Five years. Only five years until the fleet arrives, and I don't know anything yet. "I'll only be fifteen in five years," Ender said.

  "Going on sixteen," said Graff. "It all depends on what you know."

  "Colonel Graff," he said. "I just want to go back and swim in the lake."

  "After we win the war," said Graff. "Or lose it. We'll have a few decades before they get back here to finish us off. The house will be there, and I promise you can swim to your heart's content."

  "But I'll still be too young for security clearance."

  "We'll keep you under armed guard at all times. The military knows how to handle these things."

  They both laughed, and Ender had to remind himself that Graff was only acting like a friend, that everything he did was a lie or a cheat calculated to turn Ender into an efficient fighting machine. I'll become exactly the tool you want me to be, said Ender silently, but at least I won't befooled into it. I'll do it because I choose to, not because you tricked me, you sly bastard.

  The tug reached Eros before they could see it. The captain showed them the visual scan, then superimposed the heat scan on the same screen. They were practically on top of it--only four thousand kilometers out--but Eros, only twenty-four kilometers long, was invisible if it didn't shine with reflected sunlight.

  The captain docked the ship on one of the three landing platforms that circled Eros. It could not land directly because Eros had enhanced gravity, and the tug, designed for towing cargoes, could never escape the gravity well. He bade them an irritable good-bye, but Ender and Graff remained cheerful. The captain was bitter at having to leave his tug; Ender and Graff felt like prisoners finally paroled from jail. When they boarded the shuttle that would take them to the surface of Eros, they repeated perverse misquotations of lines from the videos that the captain had endlessly watched, and laughed like madmen. The captain grew surly and withdrew by pretending to go to sleep. Then, almost as an afterthought, Ender asked Graff one last question.

  "Why are we fighting the buggers?"

  "I've heard all kinds of reas
ons," said Graff. "Because they have an over-crowded system and they've got to colonize. Because they can't stand the thought of other intelligent life in the universe. Because they don't think we are intelligent life. Because they have some weird religion. Because they watched our old video broadcasts and decided we were hopelessly violent. All kinds of reasons."

  "What do you believe?"

  "It doesn't matter what I believe."

  "I want to know anyway."

  "They must talk to each other directly, Ender, mind to mind. What one thinks, another can also think; what one remembers, another can also remember. Why would they ever develop language? Why would they ever learn to read and write? How would they know what reading and writing were if they saw them? Or signals? Or numbers? Or anything that we use to communicate? This isn't just a matter of translating from one language to another. They don't have a language at all. We used every means we could think of to communicate with them, but they don't even have the machinery to know we're signaling. And maybe they've been trying to think to us, and they can't understand why we don't respond."

  "So the whole war is because we can't talk to each other."

  "If the other fellow can't tell you his story, you can never be sure he isn't trying to kill you."

  "What if we just left them alone?"

  "Ender, we didn't go to them first, they came to us. If they were going to leave us alone, they could have done it a hundred years ago, before the First Invasion."

  "Maybe they didn't know we were intelligent life. Maybe--"

  "Ender, believe me, there's a century of discussion on this very subject. Nobody knows the answer. When it comes down to it, though, the real decision is inevitable: If one of us has to be destroyed, let's make damn sure we're the ones alive at the end. Our genes won't let us decide any other way. Nature can't evolve a species that hasn't a will to survive. Individuals might be bred to sacrifice themselves, but the race as a whole can never decide to cease to exist. So if we can we'll kill every last one of the buggers, and if they can they'll kill every last one of us."

 
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