Enders game, p.9
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       Ender's Game, p.9
 

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

  One by one Ender led each of the others into a trap. But before he had finished off the last of them, the wolves began reviving, and were no longer children. Ender was torn apart again.

  This time, shaking and sweating, Ender found his figure revived on the Giant's table. I should quit, he told himself. I should go to my new army.

  But instead he made his figure drop down from the table and walk around the Giant's body to the playground.

  This time, as soon as the child hit the ground and turned into a wolf, Ender dragged the body to the brook and pulled it in. Each time, the body sizzled as though the water were acid; the wolf was consumed, and a dark cloud of smoke arose and drifted away. The children were easily dispatched, though they began following him in twos and threes at the end. Ender found no wolves waiting for him in the clearing, and he lowered himself into the well on the bucket rope.

  The light in the cavern was dim, but he could see piles of jewels. He passed them by, noting that, behind him, eyes glinted among the gems. A table covered with food did not interest him. He passed through a group of cages hanging from the ceiling of the cave, each containing some exotic, friendly-looking creature. I'll play with you later, Ender thought. At last he came to a door, with these words in glowing emeralds:

  THE END OF THE WORLD

  He did not hesitate. He opened the door and stepped through.

  He stood on a small ledge, high on a cliff overlooking a terrain of bright and deep green forest with dashes of autumn color and patches here and there of cleared land, with oxdrawn plows and small villages, a castle on a rise in the distance, and clouds riding currents of air below him. Above him, the sky was the ceiling of a vast cavern, with crystals dangling in bright stalactites.

  The door closed behind him; Ender studied the scene intently. With the beauty of it, he cared less for survival than usual. He cared little, at the moment, what the game of this place might be. He had found it, and seeing it was its own reward. And so, with no thought of consequences, he jumped from the ledge.

  Now he plummeted downward toward a roiling river and savage rocks; but a cloud came between him and the ground as he fell, and caught him, and carried him away. It took him to the tower of the castle, and through the open window, bearing him in. There it left him, in a room with no apparent door in floor or ceiling, and windows looking out over a certainly fatal fall.

  A moment ago he had thrown himself from a ledge carelessly; this time he hesitated.

  The small rug before the fire unraveled itself into a long, slender serpent with wicked teeth.

  "I am your only escape," it said. "Death is your only escape."

  Ender looked around the room for a weapon, when suddenly the screen went dark. Words flashed around the rim of the desk.

  REPORT TO COMMANDER IMMEDIATELY.

  YOU ARE LATE.

  GREEN GREEN BROWN.

  Furious, Ender snapped off the desk and went to the color wall, where he found the ribbon of green green brown, touched it, and followed it as it

  lit up before him. The dark green, light green, and brown of the ribbon reminded him of the early autumn kingdom he had found in the game. I must go back there, he told himself. The serpent is a long thread; I can let myself down from the tower and find my way through that place. Perhaps it's called the end of the world because it's the end of the games, because I can go to one of the villages and become one of the little boys working and playing there, with nothing to kill and nothing to kill me, just living there.

  As he thought of it, though, he could not imagine what "just living" might actually be. He had never done it in his life. But he wanted to do it anyway.

  Armies were larger than launch groups, and the army barracks room was larger, too. It was long and narrow, with bunks on both sides; so long, in fact, that you could see the curvature of the floor as the far end bent up-ward, part of the wheel of the Battle School.

  Ender stood at the door. A few boys near the door glanced at him, but they were older, and it seemed as though they hadn't even seen him. They went on with their conversations, lying and leaning on bunks. They were discussing battles, of course--the older boys always did. They were all much larger than Ender. The ten-and eleven-year-olds towered over him; even the youngest were eight, and Ender was not large for his age.

  He tried to see which of the boys was the commander, but most were somewhere between battle dress and what the soldiers always called their sleep uniform--skin from head to toe. Many of them had desks out, but few were studying.

  Ender stepped into the room. The moment he did, he was noticed. "What do you want?" demanded the boy who had the upper bunk by the door. He was the largest of them. Ender had noticed him before, a young giant who had whiskers growing raggedly on his chin. "You're not a Salamander."

  "I'm supposed to be, I think," Ender said. "Green green brown, right? I was transferred." He showed the boy, obviously the doorguard, his paper.

  The doorguard reached for it. Ender withdrew it, just out of reach. "I'm supposed to give it to Bonzo Madrid."

  Now another boy joined the conversation, a smaller boy, but still larger than Ender. "Not bahn-zoe, pisshead. Bone-So. The name's Spanish. Bonzo Madrid. Aqui nosotros hablamos espanol, Senor Gran Fedor."

  "You must be Bonzo, then?" Ender asked, pronouncing the name correctly.

  "No, just a brilliant and talented polyglot. Petra Arkanian. The only girl in Salamander Army. With more balls than anybody else in the room."

  "Mother Petra she talking," said one of the boys, "she talking, she talking."

  Another one chimed in. "Shit talking, shit talking, shit talking!"

  Quite a few laughed.

  "Just between you and me," Petra said, "if they gave the Battle School an enema, they'd stick it in at green green brown."

  Ender despaired. He already had nothing going for him--grossly under-trained, small, inexperienced, doomed to be resented for early advancement. And now, by chance, he had made exactly the wrong friend. An outcast in Salamander Army, and she had just linked him with her in the minds of the rest of the army. A good day's work. For a moment, as Ender looked around at the laughing, jeering faces, he imagined their bodies covered with hair, their teeth pointed for tearing. Am I the only human being in this place? Are all the others animals, waiting only to devour?

  Then he remembered Alai. In every army, surely, there was at least one worth knowing.

  Suddenly, though no one said to be quiet, the laughter stopped and the group fell silent. Ender turned to the door. A boy stood there, tall and slender, with beautiful black eyes and slender lips that hinted at refinement. I would follow such beauty, said something inside Ender. I would see as those eyes see.

  "Who are you?" asked the boy quietly.

  "Ender Wiggin, sir," Ender said. "Reassigned from launch to Salamander Army." He held out the orders.

  The boy took the paper in a swift, sure movement, without touching Ender's hand. "How old are you, Wiggin?" he asked.

  "Almost seven."

  Still quietly, he said, "I asked how old you are, not how old you almost are."

  "I am six years, nine months, and twelve days old."

  "How long have you been working in the battleroom?"

  "A few months, now. My aim is better."

  "Any training in battle maneuvers? Have you ever been part of a toon? Have you ever carried out a joint exercise?"

  Ender had never heard of such things. He shook his head.

  Madrid looked at him steadily. "I see. As you will quickly learn, the officers in command of this school, most notably Major Anderson, who runs the game, are fond of playing tricks. Salamander Army is just beginning to emerge from indecent obscurity. We have won twelve of our last twenty games. We have surprised Rat and Scorpion and Hound, and we are ready to play for leadership in the game. So of course, of course I am given such a useless, untrained, hopeless specimen of underdevelopment as yourself."

  Petra said, quietly, "He isn't glad to meet
you."

  "Shut up, Arkanian," Madrid said. "To one trial, we now add another. But whatever obstacles our officers choose to fling in our path, we are still--"

  "Salamander!" cried the soldiers, in one voice.

  Instinctively, Ender's perception of these events changed. It was a pattern, a ritual. Madrid was not trying to hurt him, merely taking control of a surprising event and using it to strengthen his control of his army.

  "We are the fire that will consume them, belly and bowel, head and heart, many flames of us, but one fire."

  "Salamander!" they cried again.

  "Even this one will not weaken us."

  For a moment, Ender allowed himself to hope. "I'll work hard and learn quickly," he said.

  "I didn't give you permission to speak," Madrid answered. "I intend to trade you away as quickly as I can. I'll probably have to give up someone valuable along with you, but as small as you are you are worse than useless. One more frozen, inevitably, in every battle, that's all you are, and we're now at a point where every frozen soldier makes a difference in the standings. Nothing personal, Wiggin, but I'm sure you can get your training at someone else's expense."

  "He's all heart," Petra said.

  Madrid stepped closer to the girl and slapped her across the face with the back of his hand. It made little sound, for only his fingernails had hit her. But there were bright red marks, four of them, on her cheek, and little pricks of blood marked where the tips of his fingernails had struck.

  "Here are your instructions, Wiggin. I expect that it is the last time I'll need to speak to you. You will stay out of the way when we're training in the battleroom. You have to be there, of course, but you will not belong to any toon and you will not take part in any maneuvers. When we're called to battle, you will dress quickly and present yourself at the gate with everyone else. But you will not pass through the gate until four full minutes after the beginning of the game, and then you will remain at the gate, with your weapons undrawn and unfired, until such time as the game ends."

  Ender nodded. So he was to be a nothing. He hoped the trade happened soon.

  He also noticed that Petra did not so much as cry out in pain, or touch her cheek, though one spot of blood had beaded and run, making a streak down to her jaw. Outcast she may be, but since Bonzo Madrid was not going to be Ender's friend, no matter what, he might as well make friends with Petra.

  He was assigned a bunk at the far end of the room. The upper bunk, so that when he lay on his bed he couldn't even see the door: The curve of the ceiling blocked it. There were other boys near him, tired-looking boys, sullen, the ones least valued. They had nothing of welcome to say to Ender.

  Ender tried to palm his locker open, but nothing happened. Then he realized the lockers were not secured. All four of them had rings on them, to pull them open. Nothing would be private, then, now that he was in an army.

  There was a uniform in the locker. Not the pale green of the Launchies, but the orange-trimmed dark green of Salamander Army. It did not fit well. But then, they had probably never had to provide such a uniform for a boy so young.

  He was starting to take it off when he noticed Petra walking down the aisle toward his bed. He slid off the bunk and stood on the floor to greet her.

  "Relax," she said. "I'm not an officer."

  "You're a toon leader, aren't you?"

  Someone nearby snickered.

  "Whatever gave you that idea, Wiggin?"

  "You have a bunk in the front."

  "I bunk in the front because I'm the best sharpshooter in Salamander Army, and because Bonzo is afraid I'll start a revolution if the toon leaders don't keep an eye on me. As if I could start anything with boys like these." She indicated the sullen-faced boys on the nearby bunks.

  What was she trying to do, make it worse than it already was? "Everybody's better than I am," Ender said, trying to dissociate himself from her contempt for the boys who would, after all, be his near bunkmates.

  "I'm a girl," she said, "and you're a pissant of a six-year-old. We have so much in common, why don't we be friends?"

  "I won't do your deskwork for you," he said.

  In a moment she realized it was a joke. "Ha," she said. "It's all so military, when you're in the game. School for us isn't like it is for Launchies. History and strategy and tactics and buggers and math and stars, things you'll need as a pilot or a commander. You'll see."

  "So you're my friend. Do I get a prize?" Ender asked. He was imitating her swaggering way of speaking, as if she cared about nothing.

  "Bonzo isn't going to let you practice. He's going to make you take your desk to the battleroom and study. He's right, in a way--he don't want a totally untrained little kid to screw up his precision maneuvers." She lapsed into giria, the slangy talk that imitated the pidgin English of uneducated people. "Bonzo, he pre-dse. He so careful, he piss on a plate and never splash."

  Ender grinned.

  "The battleroom is open all the time. If you want, I'll take you in the off hours and show you some of the things I know. I'm not a great soldier, but I'm pretty good, and I sure know more than you."

  "If you want," Ender said.

  "Starting tomorrow morning after breakfast."

  "What if somebody's using the room? We always went right after breakfast, in my launch."

  "No problem. There are really nine battlerooms."

  "I never heard of any others."

  "They all have the same entrance. The whole center of the battle school, the hub of the wheel, is battlerooms. They don't rotate with the rest of the station. That's how they do the nullo, the no-gravity--it just holds still. No spin, no down. But they can set it up so that any one of the rooms is at the battleroom entrance corridor that we all use. Once you're inside, they move it along and another battleroom's in position."

  "Oh."

  "Like I said. Right after breakfast."

  "Right," Ender said.

  She started to walk away.

  "Petra," he said.

  She turned back.

  "Thanks."

  She said nothing, just turned around again and walked down the aisle. Ender climbed back up on his bunk and finished taking off his uniform. He lay naked on the bed, doodling with his new desk, trying to decide if they had done anything to his access codes. Sure enough, they had wiped out his security system. He couldn't own anything here, not even his desk.

  The lights dimmed a little. Getting toward bedtime. Ender didn't know which bathroom to use.

  "Go left out of the door," said the boy on the next bunk. "We share it with Rat, Condor, and Squirrel."

  Ender thanked him and started to walk on past.

  "Hey," said the boy. "You can't go like that. Uniforms at all times out of this room."

  "Even going to the toilet?"

  "Especially. And you're forbidden to speak to anyone from any other army. At meals or in the toilet. You can get away with it sometimes in the game room, and of course whenever a teacher tells you to. But if Bonzo catch you, you dead, eh?"

  "Thanks."

  "And, uh, Bonzo get mad if you skin by Petra."

  "She was naked when I came in, wasn't she?"

  "She do what she like, but you keep you clothes on. Bonzo's orders." That was stupid. Petra still looked like a boy, it was a stupid rule. It set her apart, made her different, split the army. Stupid stupid. How did Bonzo get to be a commander, if he didn't know better than that? Alai would be a better commander than Bonzo. He knew how to bring a group together.

  I know to bring a group together, too, thought Ender. Maybe I'll be commander someday.

  In the bathroom, he was washing his hands when somebody spoke to him. "Hey, they putting babies in Salamander uniforms now?"

  Ender didn't answer. Just dried off his hands.

  "Hey, look! Salamander's getting babies now! Look at this! He could walk between my legs without touching my balls!"

  "Cause you got none, Dink, that's why," somebody answered.

 
; As Ender left the room, he heard somebody else say, "It's Wiggin. You know, the smartass Launchie from the game room."

  He walked down the corridor smiling. He may be short, but they knew his name. From the game room, of course, so it meant nothing. But they'd see. He'd be a good soldier, too. They'd all know his name soon enough. Not in Salamander Army, maybe, but soon enough.

  Petra was waiting in the corridor that led to the battleroom. "Wait a minute," she said to Ender. "Rabbit Army just went in, and it takes a few minutes to change to the next battleroom."

  Ender sat down beside her. "There's more to the battleroom than just switching from one to the next," he said. "For instance, why is there gravity in the corridor outside the room, just before we go in?"

  Petra closed her eyes. "And if the battlerooms are really free-floating, what happens when one is connected? Why doesn't it start to move with the rotation of the school?"

  Ender nodded.

  "These are the mysteries," Petra said in a deep whisper. "Do not pry into them. Terrible things happened to the last soldier who tried. He was discovered hanging by his feet from the ceiling of the bathroom, with his head stuffed in the toilet."

  Of course she was joking, but the message was clear. "So I'm not the first person to ask the question."

  "You remember this, little boy." When she said little boy it sounded friendly, not contemptuous. "They never tell you any more truth than they have to. But any kid with brains knows that there've been some changes in science since the days of old Mazer Rackham and the Victorious Fleet. Obviously we can now control gravity. Turn it on and off, change the direction, maybe reflect it--I've thought of lots of neat things you could do with gravity weapons and gravity drives on starships. And think how starships could move near planets. Maybe tear big chunks out of them by reflecting the planet's own gravity back on itself, only from another direction, and focused down to a smaller point. But they say nothing."

  Ender understood more than she said. Manipulation of gravity was one thing; deception by the officers was another; but the most important message was this: the adults are the enemy, not the other armies. They do not tell us the truth.

 
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