Maps in a mirror, p.94

Maps in a Mirror, page 94

 

Maps in a Mirror
 



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  “Dragon Army against Rabbit Army, Ender Wiggins and Cam Carby, 0700.”

  The first battle. Ender got out of bed and quickly dressed. He went rapidly to the rooms of each of his toon leaders and told them to rouse their boys. In five minutes they were all gathered in the corridor, sleepy and slow. Ender spoke softly.

  “First battle, 0700 against Rabbit Army. I’ve fought them twice before but they’ve got a new commander. Never heard of him. They’re an older group, though, and I know a few of their old tricks. Now wake up. Run, doublefast, warmup in workroom three.”

  For an hour and a half they worked out, with three mock battles and calisthenics in the corridor out of the nullo. Then for fifteen minutes they all lay up in the air, totally relaxing in the weightlessness. At 0650 Ender roused them and they hurried into the corridor. Ender led them down the corridor, running again, and occasionally leaping to touch a light panel on the ceiling. The boys all touched the same light panel. And at 0658 they reached their gate to the battleroom.

  The members of toons C and D grabbed the first eight handholds in the ceiling of the corridor. Toons A, B, and E crouched on the floor. Ender hooked his feet into two handholds in the middle of the ceiling, so he was out of everyone’s way.

  “Which way is the enemy’s door?” he hissed.

  “Down!” they whispered back, and laughed.

  “Flashers on.” The boxes in their hands glowed green. They waited for a few seconds more, and then the gray wall in front of them disappeared and the battleroom was visible.

  Ender sized it up immediately. The familiar open grid of most early games, like the monkey bars at the park, with seven or eight boxes scattered through the grid. They called the boxes stars. There were enough of them, and in forward enough positions, that they were worth going for. Ender decided this in a second, and he hissed, “Spread to near stars. E hold!”

  The four groups in the corners plunged through the forcefield at the doorway and fell down into the battleroom. Before the enemy even appeared through the opposite gate Ender’s army had spread from the door to the nearest stars.

  Then the enemy soldiers came through the door. From their stance Ender knew they had been in a different gravity, and didn’t know enough to disorient themselves from it. They came through standing up, their entire bodies spread and defenseless.

  “Kill ’em, E!” Ender hissed, and threw himself out the door knees first, with his flasher between his legs and firing. While Ender’s group flew across the room the rest of Dragon Army lay down a protecting fire, so that E group reached a forward position with only one boy frozen completely, though they had all lost the use of their legs—which didn’t impair them in the least. There was a lull as Ender and his opponent, Cam Carby, assessed their positions. Aside from Rabbit Army’s losses at the gate, there had been few casualties, and both armies were near full strength. But Cam had no originality—he was in a four-corner spread that any five-year-old in the teacher squads might have thought of. And Ender knew how to defeat it.

  He called out, loudly, “E covers A, C down. B, D angle east wall.” Under E toon’s cover, B and D toons lunged away from their stars. While they were still exposed, A and C toons left their stars and drifted toward the near wall. They reached it together, and together jackknifed off the wall. At double the normal speed they appeared behind the enemy’s stars, and opened fire. In a few seconds the battle was over, with the enemy almost entirely frozen, including the commander, and the rest scattered to the corners. For the next five minutes, in squads of four, Dragon Army cleaned out the dark corners of the battleroom and shepherded the enemy into the center, where their bodies, frozen at impossible angles, jostled each other. Then Ender took three of his boys to the enemy gate and went through the formality of reversing the one-way field by simultaneously touching a Dragon Army helmet at each corner. Then Ender assembled his army in vertical files near the knot of frozen Rabbit Army soldiers.

  Only three of Dragon Army’s soldiers were immobile. Their victory margin—38 to 0—was ridiculously high, and Ender began to laugh. Dragon Army joined him, laughing long and loud. They were still laughing when Lieutenant Anderson and Lieutenant Morris came in from the teachergate at the south end of the battleroom.

  Lieutenant Anderson kept his face stiff and unsmiling, but Ender saw him wink as he held out his hand and offered the stiff, formal congratulations that were ritually given to the victor in the game.

  Morris found Cam Carby and unfroze him, and the thirteen-year-old came and presented himself to Ender, who laughed without malice and held out his hand. Cam graciously took Ender’s hand and bowed his head over it. It was that or be flashed again.

  Lieutenant Anderson dismissed Dragon Army, and they silently left the battleroom through the enemy’s door—again part of the ritual. A light was blinking on the north side of the square door, indicating where the gravity was in that corridor. Ender, leading his soldiers, changed his orientation and went through the forcefield and into gravity on his feet. His army followed him at a brisk run back to the workroom. When they got there they formed up into squads, and Ender hung in the air, watching them.

  “Good first battle,” he said, which was excuse enough for a cheer, which he quieted. “Dragon Army did all right against Rabbits. But the enemy isn’t always going to be that bad. And if that had been a good army we would have been smashed. We still would have won, but we would have been smashed. Now let me see B and D toons out here. Your takeoff from the stars was way too slow. If Rabbit Army knew how to aim a flasher, you all would have been frozen solid before A and C even got to the wall.”

  They worked out for the rest of the day.

  That night Ender went for the first time to the commanders’ mess hall. No one was allowed there until he had won at least one battle, and Ender was the youngest commander ever to make it. There was no great stir when he came in. But when some of the other boys saw the Dragon on his breast pocket, they stared at him openly, and by the time he got his tray and sat at an empty table, the entire room was silent, with the other commanders watching him. Intensely self-conscious, Ender wondered how they all knew, and why they all looked so hostile.

  Then he looked above the door he had just come through. There was a huge scoreboard across the entire wall. It showed the win/loss record for the commander of every army; that day’s battles were lit in red. Only four of them. The other three winners had barely made it—the best of them had only two men whole and eleven mobile at the end of the game. Dragon Army’s score of thirty-eight mobile was embarrassingly better.

  Other new commanders had been admitted to the commanders’ mess hall with cheers and congratulations. Other new commanders hadn’t won thirty-eight to zero.

  Ender looked for Rabbit Army on the scoreboard. He was surprised to find that Cam Carby’s score to date was eight wins and three losses. Was he that good? Or had he only fought against inferior armies? Whichever, there was still a zero in Cam’s mobile and whole columns, and Ender looked down from the scoreboard grinning. No one smiled back, and Ender knew that they were afraid of him, which meant that they would hate him, which meant that anyone who went into battle against Dragon Army would be scared and angry and less, competent. Ender looked for Cam Carby in the crowd, and found him not too far away. He stared at Carby until one of the other boys nudged the Rabbit commander and pointed to Ender. Ender smiled again and waved slightly. Carby turned red, and Ender, satisfied, leaned over his dinner and began to eat.

  At the end of the week Dragon Army had fought seven battles in seven days. The score stood 7 wins and 0 losses. Ender had never had more than five boys frozen in any game. It was no longer possible for the other commanders to ignore Ender. A few of them sat with him and quietly conversed about game strategies that Ender’s opponents had used. Other much larger groups were talking with the commanders that Ender had defeated, trying to find out what Ender had done to beat them.

  In the middle of the meal the teacher door opened and the
groups fell silent as Lieutenant Anderson stepped in and looked over the group. When he located Ender he strode quickly across the room and whispered in Ender’s ear. Ender nodded, finished his glass of water, and left with the lieutenant. On the way out, Anderson handed a slip of paper to one of the older boys. The room became very noisy with conversation as Anderson and Ender left.

  Ender was escorted down corridors he had never seen before. They didn’t have the blue glow of the soldier corridors. Most were wood paneled, and the floors were carpeted. The doors were wood, with nameplates on them, and they stopped at one that said “Captain Graff, supervisor.” Anderson knocked softly, and a low voice said, “Come in.”

  They went in. Captain Graff was seated behind a desk, his hands folded across his potbelly. He nodded, and Anderson sat. Ender also sat down. Graff cleared his throat and spoke.

  “Seven days since your first battle, Ender.”

  Ender did not reply.

  “Won seven battles, one every day.”

  Ender nodded.

  “Scores unusually high, too.”

  Ender blinked.

  “Why?” Graff asked him.

  Ender glanced at Anderson, and then spoke to the captain behind the desk. “Two new tactics, sir. Legs doubled up as a shield, so that a flash doesn’t immobilize. Jackknife takeoffs from the walls. Superior strategy, as Lieutenant Anderson taught, think places, not spaces. Five toons of eight instead of four of ten. Incompetent opponents. Excellent toon leaders, good soldiers.”

  Graff looked at Ender without expression. Waiting for what, Ender wondered. Lieutenant Anderson spoke up.

  “Ender, what’s the condition of your army?”

  Do they want me to ask for relief? Not a chance, he decided. “A little tired, in peak condition, morale high, learning fast. Anxious for the next battle.”

  Anderson looked at Graff. Graff shrugged slightly and turned to Ender.

  “Is there anything you want to know?”

  Ender held his hands loosely in his lap. “When are you going to put us up against a good army?”

  Graff’s laughter rang in the room, and when it stopped, Graff handed a piece of paper to Ender. “Now,” the captain said, and Ender read the paper: “Dragon Army against Leopard Army, Ender Wiggins and Pol Slattery, 2000.”

  Ender looked up at Captain Graff. “That’s ten minutes from now, sir.”

  Graff smiled. “Better hurry, then, boy.”

  As Ender left he realized Pol Slattery was the boy who had been handed his orders as Ender left the mess hall.

  He got to his army five minutes later. Three toon leaders were already undressed and lying naked on their beds. He sent them all flying down the corridors to rouse their toons, and gathered up their suits himself. When all his boys were assembled in the corridor, most of them still getting dressed, Ender spoke to them.

  “This one’s hot and there’s no time. We’ll be late to the door, and the enemy’ll be deployed right outside our gate. Ambush, and I’ve never heard of it happening before. So we’ll take our time at the door. A and B toons, keep your belts loose, and give your flashers to the leaders and seconds of the other toons.”

  Puzzled, his soldiers complied. By then all were dressed, and Ender led them at a trot to the gate. When they reached it the forcefield was already on one-way, and some of his soldiers were panting. They had had one battle that day and a full workout. They were tired.

  Ender stopped at the entrance and looked at the placement of the enemy soldiers. Some of them were grouped not more than twenty feet out from the gate. There was no grid, there were no stars. A big empty space. Where were most of the enemy soldiers? There should have been thirty more.

  “They’re flat against this wall,” Ender said, “where we can’t see them.”

  He took A and B toons and made them kneel, their hands on their hips. Then he flashed them, so that their bodies were frozen rigid.

  “You’re shields,” Ender said, and then had boys from C and D kneel on their legs and hook both arms under the frozen boys’ belts. Each boy was holding two flashers. Then Ender and the members of E toon picked up the duos, three at a time, and threw them out the door.

  Of course, the enemy opened fire immediately. But they mainly hit the boys who were already flashed, and in a few moments pandemonium broke out in the battleroom. All the soldiers of Leopard Army were easy targets as they lay pressed flat against the wall or floated, unprotected, in the middle of the battleroom; and Ender’s soldiers, armed with two flashers each, carved them up easily. Pol Slattery reacted quickly, ordering his men away from the wall, but not quickly enough—only a few were able to move, and they were flashed before they could get a quarter of the way across the battleroom.

  When the battle was over Dragon Army had only twelve boys whole, the lowest score they had ever had. But Ender was satisfied. And during the ritual of surrender Pol Slattery broke form by shaking hands and asking, “Why did you wait so long getting out of the gate?”

  Ender glanced at Anderson, who was floating nearby. “I was informed late,” he said. “It was an ambush.”

  Slattery grinned, and gripped Ender’s hand again. “Good game.”

  Ender didn’t smile at Anderson this time. He knew that now the games would be arranged against him, to even up the odds. He didn’t like it.

  It was 2150, nearly time for lights out, when Ender knocked at the door of the room shared by Bean and three other soldiers. One of the others opened the door, then stepped back and held it wide. Ender stood for a moment, then asked if he could come in. They answered, of course, of course, come in, and he walked to the upper bunk, where Bean had set down his book and was leaning on one elbow to look at Ender.

  “Bean, can you give me twenty minutes?”

  “Near lights out,” Bean answered.

  “My room,” Ender answered. “I’ll cover for you.”

  Bean sat up and slid off his bed. Together he and Ender padded silently down the corridor to Ender’s room. Ender entered first, and Ender closed the door behind them.

  “Sit down,” Ender said, and they both sat on the edge of the bed, looking at each other.

  “Remember four weeks ago, Bean? When you told me to make you a toon leader?”

  “Yeah.”

  “I’ve made five toon leaders since then, haven’t I? And none of them was you.”

  Bean looked at him calmly.

  “Was I right?” Ender asked.

  “Yes, sir,” Bean answered.

  Ender nodded. “How have you done in these battles?”

  Bean cocked his head to one side. “I’ve never been immobilized, sir, and I’ve immobilized forty-three of the enemy. I’ve obeyed orders quickly, and I’ve commanded a squad in mop-up and never lost a soldier.”

  “Then you’ll understand this.” Ender paused, then decided to back up and say something else first.

  “You know you’re early, Bean, by a good half year. I was, too, and I’ve been made a commander six months early. Now they’ve put me into battles after only three weeks of training with my army. They’ve given me eight battles in seven days. I’ve already had more battles than boys who were made commander four months ago. I’ve won more battles than many who’ve been commanders for a year. And then tonight. You know what happened tonight.”

  Bean nodded. “They told you late.”

  “I don’t know what the teachers are doing. But my army is getting tired, and I’m getting tired, and now they’re changing the rules of the game. You see, Bean, I’ve looked in the old charts. No one has ever destroyed so many enemies and kept so many of his own soldiers whole in the history of the game. I’m unique—and I’m getting unique treatment.”

  Bean smiled. “You’re the best, Ender.”

  Ender shook his head. “Maybe. But it was no accident that I got the soldiers I got. My worst soldier could be a toon leader in another army. I’ve got the best. They’ve loaded things my way—but now they’re loading it all against me. I don’
t know why. But I know I have to be ready for it. I need your help.”

  “Why mine?”

  “Because even though there are some better soldiers than you in Dragon Army—not many, but some—there’s nobody who can think better and faster than you.” Bean said nothing. They both knew it was true.

  Ender continued, “I need to be ready, but I can’t retrain the whole army. So I’m going to cut every toon down by one, including you. With four others you’ll be a special squad under me. And you’ll learn to do some new things. Most of the time you’ll be in the regular toons just like you are now. But when I need you. See?”

  Bean smiled and nodded. “That’s right, that’s good, can I pick them myself?”

  “One from each toon except your own, and you can’t take any toon leaders.”

  “What do you want us to do?”

  “Bean, I don’t know. I don’t know what they’ll throw at us. What would you do if suddenly our flashers didn’t work, and the enemy’s did? What would you do if we had to face two armies at once? The only thing I know is—there may be a game where we don’t even try for score. Where we just go for the enemy’s gate. That’s when the battle is technically won—four helmets at the corners of the gate. I want you ready to do that any time I call for it. Got it? You take them for two hours a day during regular workout. Then you and I and your soldiers, we’ll work at night after dinner.”

  “We’ll get tired.”

  “I have a feeling we don’t know what tired is.” Ender reached out and took Bean’s hand, and gripped it. “Even when it’s rigged against us, Bean. We’ll win.”

  Bean left in silence and padded down the corridor.

  Dragon Army wasn’t the only army working out after hours now. The other commanders had finally realized they had some catching up to do. From early morning to lights out soldiers all over Training and Command Center, none of them over fourteen years old, were learning to jackknife off walls and use each other as living shields.

  But while other commanders mastered the techniques that Ender had used to defeat them, Ender and Bean worked on solutions to problems that had never come up.

 
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