Maps in a mirror, p.95

Maps in a Mirror, page 95

 

Maps in a Mirror
 



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  There were still battles every day, but for a while they were normal, with grids and stars and sudden plunges through the gate. And after the battles, Ender and Bean and four other soldiers would leave the main group and practice strange maneuvers. Attacks without flashers, using feet to physically disarm or disorient an enemy. Using four frozen soldiers to reverse the enemy’s gate in less than two seconds. And one day Bean came to workout with a 300-meter cord.

  “What’s that for?”

  “I don’t know yet.” Absently Bean spun one end of the cord. It wasn’t more than an eighth of an inch thick, but it could have lifted ten adults without breaking.

  “Where did you get it?”

  “Commissary. They asked what for. I said to practice tying knots.”

  Bean tied a loop in the end of the rope and slid it over his shoulders.

  “Here, you two, hang on to the wall here. Now don’t let go of the rope. Give me about fifty yards of slack.” They complied, and Bean moved about ten feet from them along the wall. As soon as he was sure they were ready, he jackknifed off the wall and flew straight out, fifty yards. Then the rope snapped taut. It was so fine that it was virtually invisible, but it was strong enough to force Bean to veer off at almost a right angle. It happened so suddenly that he had inscribed a perfect arc and hit the wall hard before most of the other soldiers knew what had happened. Bean did a perfect rebound and drifted quickly back to where Ender and the others waited for him.

  Many of the soldiers in the five regular squads hadn’t noticed the rope, and were demanding to know how it was done. It was impossible to change direction that abruptly in nullo. Bean just laughed.

  “Wait till the next game without a grid! They’ll never know what hit them.”

  They never did. The next game was only two hours later, but Bean and two others had become pretty good at aiming and shooting while they flew at ridiculous speeds at the end of the rope. The slip of paper was delivered, and Dragon Army trotted off to the gate, to battle with Griffin Army. Bean coiled the rope all the way.

  When the gate opened, all they could see was a large brown star only fifteen feet away, completely blocking their view of the enemy’s gate.

  Ender didn’t pause. “Bean, give yourself fifty feet of rope and go around the star.” Bean and his four soldiers dropped through the gate and in a moment Bean was launched sideways away from the star. The rope snapped taut, and Bean flew forward. As the rope was stopped by each edge of the star in turn, his are became tighter and his speed greater, until when he hit the wall only a few feet away from the gate he was barely able to control his rebound to end up behind the star. But he immediately moved all his arms and legs so that those waiting inside the gate would know that the enemy hadn’t flashed him anywhere.

  Ender dropped through the gate, and Bean quickly told him how Griffin Army was situated. “They’ve got two squares of stars, all the way around the gate. All their soldiers are under cover, and there’s no way to hit any of them until we’re clear to the bottom wall. Even with shields, we’d get there at half strength and we wouldn’t have a chance.”

  “They moving?” Ender asked.

  “Do they need to?”

  “I would.” Ender thought for a moment. “This one’s tough. We’ll go for the gate, Bean.”

  Griffin Army began to call out to them.

  “Hey, is anybody there!”

  “Wake up, there’s a war on!”

  “We wanna join the picnic!”

  They were still calling when Ender’s army came out from behind their star with a shield of fourteen frozen soldiers. William Bee, Griffin Army’s commander, waited patiently as the screen approached, his men waiting at the fringes of their stars for the moment when whatever was behind the screen became visible. About ten yards away the screen suddenly exploded as the soldiers behind it shoved the screen north. The momentum carried them south twice as fast, and at the same moment the rest of Dragon Army burst from behind their star at the opposite end of the room, firing rapidly.

  William Bee’s boys joined battle immediately, of course, but William Bee was far more interested in what had been left behind when the shield disappeared. A formation of four frozen Dragon Army soldiers was moving headfirst toward the Griffin Army gate, held together by another frozen soldier whose feet and hands were hooked through their belts. A sixth soldier hung to his waist and trailed like the tail of a kite. Griffin Army was winning the battle easily, and William Bee concentrated on the formation as it approached the gate. Suddenly the soldier trailing in back moved—he wasn’t frozen at all! And even though William Bee flashed him immediately, the damage was done. The formation drifted to the Griffin Army gate, and their helmets touched all four corners simultaneously. A buzzer sounded, the gate reversed, and the frozen soldier in the middle was carried by momentum right through the gate. All the flashers stopped working, and the game was over.

  The teachergate opened and Lieutenant Anderson came in. Anderson stopped himself with a slight movement of his hands when he reached the center of the battleroom. “Ender,” he called, breaking protocol. One of the frozen Dragon soldiers near the south wall tried to call through jaws that were clamped shut by the suit. Anderson drifted to him and unfroze him.

  Ender was smiling.

  “I beat you again, sir,” Ender said.

  Anderson didn’t smile. “That’s nonsense, Ender,” Anderson said softly. “Your battle was with William Bee of Griffin Army.”

  Ender raised an eyebrow.

  “After that maneuver,” Anderson said, “the rules are being revised to require that all of the enemy’s soldiers must be immobilized before the gate can be reversed.”

  “That’s all right,” Ender said. “It could only work once, anyway.” Anderson nodded, and was turning away when Ender added, “Is there going to be a new rule that armies be given equal positions to fight from?”

  Anderson turned back around. “If you’re in one of the positions, Ender, you can hardly call them equal, whatever they are.”

  William Bee counted carefully and wondered how in the world he had lost when not one of his soldiers had been flashed and only four of Ender’s soldiers were even mobile.

  And that night as Ender came into the commanders’ mess hall, he was greeted with applause and cheers, and his table was crowded with respectful commanders, many of them two or three years older than he was. He was friendly, but while he ate he wondered what the teachers would do to him in his next battle. He didn’t need to worry. His next two battles were easy victories, and after that he never saw the battleroom again.

  It was 2100 and Ender was a little irritated to hear someone knock at his door. His army was exhausted, and he had ordered them all to be in bed after 2030. The last two days had been regular battles, and Ender was expecting the worst in the morning.

  It was Bean. He came in sheepishly, and saluted.

  Ender returned his salute and snapped, “Bean, I wanted everybody in bed.”

  Bean nodded but didn’t leave. Ender considered ordering him out. But as he looked at Bean it occurred to him for the first time in weeks just how young Bean was. He had turned eight a week before, and he was still small and—no, Ender thought, he wasn’t young. Nobody was young. Bean had been in battle, and with a whole army depending on him he had come through and won. And even though he was small, Ender could never think of him as young again.

  Ender shrugged and Bean came over and sat on the edge of the bed. The younger boy looked at his hands for a while, and finally Ender grew impatient and asked, “Well, what is it?”

  “I’m transferred. Got orders just a few minutes ago.”

  Ender closed his eyes for a moment. “I knew they’d pull something new. Now they’re taking—where are you going?”

  “Rabbit Army.”

  “How can they put you under an idiot like Cam Carby!”

  “Cam was graduated. Support squads.”

  Ender looked up. “Well, who’s commanding Rabbit
then?”

  Bean held his hands out helplessly.

  “Me,” he said.

  Ender nodded, and then smiled. “Of course. After all, you’re only four years younger than the regular age.”

  “It isn’t funny,” Bean said. “I don’t know what’s going on here. First all the changes in the game. And now this. I wasn’t the only one transferred, either, Ender. Ren, Peder, Brian, Wins, Younger. All commanders now.”

  Ender stood up angrily and strode to the wall. “Every damn toon leader I’ve got!” he said, and whirled to face Bean. “If they’re going to break up my army, Bean, why did they bother making me a commander at all?”

  Bean shook his head. “I don’t know. You’re the best, Ender. Nobody’s ever done what you’ve done. Nineteen battles in fifteen days, sir, and you won every one of them, no matter what they did to you.”

  “And now you and the others are commanders. You know every trick I’ve got, I trained you, and who am I supposed to replace you with? Are they going to stick me with six greenohs?”

  “It stinks, Ender, but you know that if they gave you five crippled midgets and armed you with a roll of toilet paper you’d win.”

  They both laughed, and then they noticed that the door was open.

  Lieutenant Anderson stepped in. He was followed by Captain Graff.

  “Ender Wiggins,” Graff said, holding his hands across his stomach.

  “Yes, sir,” Ender answered.

  “Orders.”

  Anderson extended a slip of paper. Ender read it quickly, then crumpled it, still looking at the air where the paper had been. After a few moments he asked, “Can I tell my army?”

  “They’ll find out,” Graff answered. “It’s better not to talk to them after orders. It makes it easier.”

  “For you or for me?” Ender asked. He didn’t wait for an answer. He turned quickly to Bean, took his hand for a moment, and then headed for the door.

  “Wait,” Bean said. “Where are you going? Tactical or Support School?”

  “Command School,” Ender answered, and then he was gone and Anderson closed the door.

  Command School, Bean thought. Nobody went to Command School until they had gone through three years of Tactical. But then, nobody went to Tactical until they had been through at least five years of Battle School. Ender had only had three.

  The system was breaking up. No doubt about it, Bean thought. Either somebody at the top was going crazy, or something was going wrong with the war—the real war, the one they were training to fight in. Why else would they break down the training system, advance somebody—even somebody as good as Ender—straight to Command School? Why else would they ever have an eight-year-old greenoh like Bean command an army?

  Bean wondered about it for a long time, and then he finally lay down on Ender’s bed and realized that he’d never see Ender again, probably. For some reason that made him want to cry. But he didn’t cry, of course. Training in the preschools had taught him how to force down emotions like that. He remembered how his first teacher, when he was three, would have been upset to see his lip quivering and his eyes full of tears.

  Bean went through the relaxing routine until he didn’t feel like crying anymore. Then he drifted off to sleep. His hand was near his mouth. It lay on his pillow hesitantly, as if Bean couldn’t decide whether to bite his nails or suck on his fingertips. His forehead was creased and furrowed. His breathing was quick and light. He was a soldier, and if anyone had asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he wouldn’t have known what they meant.

  There’s a war on, they said, and that was excuse enough for all the hurry in the world. They said it like a password and flashed a little card at every ticket counter and customs check and guard station. It got them to the head of every line.

  Ender Wiggins was rushed from place to place so quickly he had no time to examine anything. But he did see trees for the first time. He saw men who were not in uniform. He saw women. He saw strange animals that didn’t speak, but that followed docilely behind women and small children. He saw suitcases and conveyor belts and signs that said words he had never heard of. He would have asked someone what the words meant, except that purpose and authority surrounded him in the persons of four very high officers who never spoke to each other and never spoke to him.

  Ender Wiggins was a stranger to the world he was being trained to save. He did not remember ever leaving Battle School before. His earliest memories were of childish war games under the direction of a teacher, of meals with other boys in the gray and green uniforms of the armed forces of his world. He did not know that the gray represented the sky and the green represented the great forests of his planet. All he knew of the world was from vague references to “outside.”

  And before he could make any sense of the strange world he was seeing for the first time, they enclosed him again within the shell of the military, where nobody had to say There’s a war on anymore because no one within the shell of the military forgot it for a single instant of a single day.

  They put him in a spaceship and launched him to a large artificial satellite that circled the world.

  This space station was called Command School. It held the ansible.

  On his first day Ender Wiggins was taught about the ansible and what it meant to warfare. It meant that even though the starships of today’s battles were launched a hundred years ago, the commanders of the starships were men of today, who used the ansible to send messages to the computers and the few men on each ship. The ansible sent words as they were spoken, orders as they were made. Battleplans as they were fought. Light was a pedestrian.

  For two months Ender Wiggins didn’t meet a single person. They came to him namelessly, taught him what they knew, and left him to other teachers. He had no time to miss his friends at Battle School. He only had time to learn how to operate the simulator, which flashed battle patterns around him as if he were in a starship at the center of the battle. How to command mock ships in mock battles by manipulating the keys on the simulator and speaking words into the ansible. How to recognize instantly every enemy ship and the weapons it carried by the pattern that the simulator showed. How to transfer all that he learned in the nullo battles at Battle School to the starship battles at Command School.

  He had thought the game was taken seriously before. Here they hurried him through every step, were angry and worried beyond reason every time he forgot something or made a mistake. But he worked as he had always worked, and learned as he had always learned. After a while he didn’t make any more mistakes. He used the simulator as if it were a part of himself. Then they stopped being worried and gave him a teacher.

  Maezr Rackham was sitting cross-legged on the floor when Ender awoke. He said nothing as Ender got up and showered and dressed, and Ender did not bother to ask him anything. He had long since learned that when something unusual was going on, he would often find out more information faster by waiting than by asking.

  Maezr 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. Maezr was at least forty, which made him the oldest man Ender had ever seen close up. He had a day’s growth of black and 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 without interest.

  Ender turned back to the door and tried again to open it.

  “All right,” he said, giving up. “Why’s the door locked?”

  Maezr continued to look at him blankly.

  Ender became impatient. “I’m going to be late. If I’m not supposed to be there until later, then tell me so I can go back to bed.” No answer. “Is it a guessing game?” Ender asked. No answer. Ender decided that maybe the man was trying to make him angry, so he went through a relaxing exercise as he leaned on the door, and soon he was calm again. Maezr didn’t take his eyes off Ender.

  F
or the next two hours the silence endured, Maezr watching Ender constantly, Ender trying to pretend he didn’t notice the old man. The boy became more and more nervous, and finally ended up walking from one end of the room to the other in a sporadic pattern.

  He walked by Maezr as he had several times before, and Maezr’s hand shot out and pushed Ender’s left leg into his right in the middle of a step. Ender fell flat on the floor.

  He leaped to his feet immediately, furious. He found Maezr sitting calmly, cross-legged, as if he had never moved. Ender stood poised to fight. But the other’s immobility made it impossible for Ender to attack, and he found himself wondering if he had only imagined the old man’s hand tripping him up.

  The pacing continued for another hour, with Ender Wiggins trying the door every now and then. At last he gave up and took off his uniform and walked to his bed.

  As he leaned over to pull the covers back, 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 Maezr’s arm. Ender was helpless to use his arms, and 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 Wiggins.

  “All right,” Ender gasped. “You win.”

  Maezr’s knee thrust painfully downward..

  “Since when,” Maezr asked in a soft, rasping voice, “do you have to tell the enemy when he has won?”

  Ender remained silent.

  “I surprised you once, Ender Wiggins. Why didn’t you destroy me 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. “I’ve had too many damned teachers, how was I supposed to know you’d turn out to be a—” Ender hunted for a word. Maezr supplied one.

  “An enemy, Ender Wiggins,” Maezr whispered. “I am your enemy, the first one you’ve ever had who was smarter than you. There is no teacher but the enemy, Ender Wiggins. No one but the enemy will ever tell you what the enemy is going to do. No one but the enemy will ever teach you how to destroy and conquer. I am your enemy, from now on. From now on I am your teacher.”

 
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