Maps in a mirror, p.97

Maps in a Mirror, page 97

 

Maps in a Mirror
 



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  One day as he was drilling his toon leaders the room went black and he woke up on the floor with his face bloody where he had hit the controls.

  They put him to bed then, and for three days he was very ill. He remembered seeing faces in his dreams, but they weren’t real faces, and he knew it even while he thought he saw them. He thought he saw Bean sometimes, and sometimes he thought he saw Lieutenant Anderson and Captain Graff. And then he woke up and it was only his enemy, Maezr Rackham.

  “I’m awake,” he said to Maezr.

  “So I see,” Maezr answered. “Took you long enough. You have a battle today.”

  So Ender got up and fought the battle and he won it. But there was no second battle that day, and they let him go to bed earlier. His hands were shaking as he undressed.

  During the night he thought he felt hands touching him gently, and he dreamed he heard voices saying, “How long can he go on?”

  “Long enough.”

  “So soon?”

  “In a few days, then he’s through.”

  “How will he do?”

  “Fine. Even today, he was better than ever.”

  Ender recognized the last voice as Maezr Rackham’s. He resented Rackham’s intruding even in his sleep.

  He woke up and fought another battle and won.

  Then he went to bed.

  He woke up and won again.

  And the next day was his last day in Command School, though he didn’t know it. He got up and went to the simulator for the battle.

  Maezr was waiting for him. Ender walked slowly into the simulator room. His step was slightly shuffling, and he seemed tired and dull. Maezr frowned.

  “Are you awake, boy?” If Ender had been alert, he would have cared more about the concern in his teacher’s voice. Instead, he simply went to the controls and sat down. Maezr spoke to him.

  “Today’s game needs a little explanation, Ender Wiggins. Please turn around and pay strict attention.”

  Ender turned around, and for the first time he noticed that there were people at the back of the room. He recognized Graff and Anderson from Battle School, and vaguely remembered a few of the men from Command School—teachers for a few hours at some time or another. But most of the people he didn’t know at all.

  “Who are they?”

  Maezr shook his head and answered, “Observers. Every now and then we let observers come in to watch the battle. If you don’t want them, we’ll send them out.”

  Ender shrugged. Maezr began his explanation. “Today’s game, boy, has a new element. We’re staging this battle around a planet. This will complicate things in two ways. The planet isn’t large, on the scale we’re using, but the ansible can’t detect anything on the other side of it—so there’s a blind spot. Also, it’s against the rules to use weapons against the planet itself. All right?”

  “Why, don’t the weapons work against planets?”

  Maezr answered coldly, “There are rules of war, Ender, that apply even in training games.”

  Ender shook his head slowly. “Can the planet attack?”

  Maezr looked nonplussed for a moment, then smiled. “I guess you’ll have to find that one out, boy. And one more thing. Today, Ender, your opponent isn’t the computer. I am your enemy today, and today I won’t be letting you off so easily. Today is a battle to the end. And I’ll use any means I can to defeat you.”

  Then Maezr was gone, and Ender expressionlessly led his toon leaders through maneuvers. Ender was doing well, of course, but several of the observers shook their heads, and Graff kept clasping and unclasping his hands, crossing and uncrossing his legs. Ender would be slow today, and today Ender couldn’t afford to be slow.

  A warning buzzer sounded, and Ender cleared the simulator board, waiting for today’s game to appear. He felt muddled today, and wondered why people were there watching. Were they going to judge him today? Decide if he was good enough for something else? For another two years of grueling training, another two years of struggling to exceed his best? Ender was twelve. He felt very old. And as he waited for the game to appear, he wished he could simply lose it, lose the battle badly and completely so that they would remove him from the program, punish him however they wanted, he didn’t care, just so he could sleep.

  Then the enemy formation appeared, and Ender’s weariness turned to desperation.

  The enemy outnumbered him a thousand to one, the simulator glowed green with them, and Ender knew that he couldn’t win.

  And the enemy was not stupid. There was no formation that Ender could study and attack. Instead the vast swarms of ships were constantly moving, constantly shifting from one momentary formation to another, so that a space that for one moment was empty was immediately filled with a formidable enemy force. And even though Ender’s fleet was the largest he had ever had, there was no place he could deploy it where he would outnumber the enemy long enough to accomplish anything.

  And behind the enemy was the planet. The planet, which Maezr had warned him about. What difference did a planet make, when Ender couldn’t hope to get near it? Ender waited, waited for the flash of insight that would tell him what to do, how to destroy the enemy. And as he waited, he heard the observers behind him begin to shift in their seats, wondering what Ender was doing, what plan he would follow. And finally it was obvious to everyone that Ender didn’t know what to do, that there was nothing to do, and a few of the men at the back of the room made quiet little sounds in their throats.

  Then Ender heard Bean’s voice in his ear. Bean chuckled and said, “Remember, the enemy’s gate is down.” A few of the other toon leaders laughed, and Ender thought back to the simple games he had played and won in Battle School. They had put him against hopeless odds there, too. And he had beaten them. And he’d be damned if he’d let Maezr Rackham beat him with a cheap trick like outnumbering him a thousand to one. He had won a game in Battle School by going for something the enemy didn’t expect, something against the rules—he had won by. going against the enemy’s gate.

  And the enemy’s gate was down.

  Ender smiled, and realized that if he broke this rule they’d probably kick him out of school, and that way he’d win for sure: He would never have to play a game again.

  He whispered into the microphone. His six commanders each took a part of the fleet and launched themselves against the enemy. They pursued erratic courses, darting off in one direction and then another. The enemy immediately stopped his aimless maneuvering and began to group around Ender’s six fleets.

  Ender took off his microphone, leaned back in his chair, and watched. The observers murmured out loud, now. Ender was doing nothing—he had thrown the game away.

  But a pattern began to emerge from the quick confrontations with the enemy. Ender’s six groups lost ships constantly as they brushed with each enemy force—but they never stopped for a fight, even when for a moment they could have won a small tactical victory. Instead they continued on their erratic course that led, eventually, down. Toward the enemy planet.

  And because of their seemingly random course the enemy didn’t realize it until the same time that the observers did. By then it was too late, just as it had been too late for William Bee to stop Ender’s soldiers from activating the gate. More of Ender’s ships could be hit and destroyed, so that of the six fleets only two were able to get to the planet, and those were decimated. But those tiny groups did get through, and they opened fire on the planet.

  Ender leaned forward now, anxious to see if his guess would pay off. He half expected a buzzer to sound and the game to be stopped, because he had broken the rule. But he was betting on the accuracy of the simulator. If it could simulate a planet, it could simulate what would happen to a planet under attack.

  It did.

  The weapons that blew up little ships didn’t blow up the entire planet at first. But they did cause terrible explosions. And on the planet there was no space to dissipate the chain reaction. On the planet the chain reaction found more and more
fuel to feed it.

  The planet’s surface seemed to be moving back and forth, but soon the surface gave way in an immense explosion that sent light flashing in all directions. It swallowed up Ender’s entire fleet. And then it reached the enemy ships.

  The first simply vanished in the explosion. Then, as the explosion spread and became less bright, it was clear what happened to each ship. As the light reached them they flashed brightly for a moment and disappeared. They were all fuel for the fire of the planet.

  It took more than three minutes for the explosion to reach the limits of the simulator, and by then it was much fainter. All the ships were gone, and if any had escaped before the explosion reached them, they were few and not worth worrying about. Where the planet had been there was nothing. The simulator was empty.

  Ender had destroyed the enemy by sacrificing his entire fleet and breaking the rule against destroying the enemy planet. He wasn’t sure whether to feel triumphant at his victory or defiant at the rebuke he was certain would come. So instead he felt nothing. He was tired. He wanted to go to bed and sleep.

  He switched off the simulator, and finally heard the noise behind him.

  There were no longer two rows of dignified military observers. Instead there was chaos. Some of them were slapping each other on the back; some of them were bowed, head in hands; others were openly weeping. Captain Graff detached himself from the group and came to Ender. Tears streamed down his face, but he was smiling. He reached out his arms, and to Ender’s surprise he embraced the boy, held him tightly, and whispered, “Thank you, thank you, thank you, Ender.”

  Soon all the observers were gathered around the bewildered child, thanking him and cheering him and patting him on the shoulder and shaking his hand. Ender tried to make sense of what they were saying. Had he passed the test after all? Why did it matter so much to them?

  Then the crowd parted and Maezr Rackham walked through. He came straight up to Ender Wiggins and held out his hand.

  “You made the hard choice, boy. But heaven knows there was no other way you could have done it. Congratulations. You beat them, and it’s all over.”

  All over. Beat them. “I beat you, Maezr Rackham.”

  Maezr laughed, a loud laugh that filled the room. “Ender Wiggins, you never played me. You never played a game since I was your teacher.”

  Ender didn’t get the joke. He had played a great many games, at a terrible cost to himself. He began to get angry.

  Maezr reached out and touched his shoulder. Ender shrugged him off. Maezr then grew serious and said, “Ender Wiggins, for the last months you have been the commander of our fleets. There were no games. The battles were real. Your only enemy was the enemy. You won every battle. And finally today you fought them at their home world, and you destroyed their world, their fleet, you destroyed them completely, and they’ll never come against us again. You did it. You.”

  Real. Not a game. Ender’s mind was too tired to cope with it all. He walked away from Maezr, walked silently through the crowd that still whispered thanks and congratulations to the boy, walked out of the simulator room and finally arrived in his bedroom and closed the door.

  He was asleep when Graff and Maezr Rackham found him. They came in quietly and roused him. He awoke slowly, and when he recognized them he turned away to go back to sleep.

  “Ender,” Graff said. “We need to talk to you.”

  Ender rolled back to face them. He said nothing.

  Graff smiled. “It was a shock to you yesterday, I know. But it must make you feel good to know you won the war.”

  Ender nodded slowly.

  “Maezr Rackham here, he never played against you. He only analyzed your battles to find out your weak spots, to help you improve. It worked, didn’t it?”

  Ender closed his eyes tightly. They waited. He said, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

  Maezr smiled. “A hundred years ago, Ender, we found out some things. That when a commander’s life is in danger he becomes afraid, and fear slows down his thinking. When a commander knows that he’s killing people, he becomes cautious or insane, and neither of those help him do well. And when he’s mature, when he has responsibilities and an understanding of the world, he becomes cautious and sluggish and can’t do his job. So we trained children, who didn’t know anything but the game, and never knew when it would become real. That was the theory, and you proved that the theory worked.”

  Graff reached out and touched Ender’s shoulder. “We launched the ships so that they would all arrive at their destination during these few months. We knew that we’d probably have only one good commander, if we were lucky. In history it’s been very rare to have more than one genius in a war. So we planned on having a genius. We were gambling. And you came along and we won.”

  Ender opened his eyes again and they realized that he was angry. “Yes, you won.”

  Graff and Maezr Rackham looked at each other. “He doesn’t understand,” Graff whispered.

  “I understand,” Ender said. “You needed a weapon, and you got it, and it was me.”

  “That’s right,” Maezr answered.

  “So tell me,” Ender went on, “how many people lived on that planet that I destroyed.”

  They didn’t answer him. They waited awhile in silence, and then Graff spoke. “Weapons don’t need to understand what they’re pointed at, Ender. We did the pointing, and so we’re responsible. You just did your job.”

  Maezr smiled. “Of course, Ender, you’ll be taken care of. The government will never forget you. You served us all very well.”

  Ender rolled over and faced the wall, and even though they tried to talk to him, he didn’t answer them. Finally they left.

  Ender lay in his bed for a long time before anyone disturbed him again. The door opened softly. Ender didn’t turn to see who it was. Then a hand touched him softly.

  “Ender, it’s me, Bean.”

  Ender turned over and looked at the little boy who was standing by his bed.

  “Sit down,” Ender said.

  Bean sat. “That last battle, Ender. I didn’t know how you’d get us out of it.”

  Ender smiled. “I didn’t. I cheated. I thought they’d kick me out.”

  “Can you believe it! We won the war. The whole war’s over, and we thought we’d have to wait till we grew up to fight in it, and it was us fighting it all the time. I mean, Ender, we’re little kids. I’m a little kid, anyway.” Bean laughed and Ender smiled. Then they were silent for a little while, Bean sitting on the edge of the bed, Ender watching him out of half-closed eyes.

  Finally Bean thought of something else to say.

  “What will we do now that the war’s over?” he said.

  Ender closed his eyes and said, “I need some sleep, Bean.”

  Bean got up and left and Ender slept.

  Graff and Anderson walked through the gates into the park. There was a breeze, but the sun was hot on their shoulders.

  “Abba Technics? In the capital?” Graff asked.

  “No, in Biggock County. Training division,” Anderson replied. “They think my work with children is good preparation. And you?”

  Graff smiled and shook his head. “No plans. I’ll be here for a few more months. Reports, winding down. I’ve had offers. Personnel development for DCIA, executive vice-president for U and P, but I said no. Publisher wants me to do memoirs of the war. I don’t know.”

  They sat on a bench and watched leaves shivering in the breeze. Children on the monkey bars were laughing and yelling, but the wind and the distance swallowed their words. “Look,” Graff said, pointing. A little boy jumped from the bars and ran near the bench where the two men sat. Another boy followed him, and holding his hands like a gun he made an explosive sound. The child he was shooting at didn’t stop. He fired again.

  “I got you! Come back here!”

  The other little boy ran on out of sight.

  “Don’t you know when you’re dead?” The boy shoved his hands in his pocke
ts and kicked a rock back to the monkey bars. Anderson smiled and shook his head. “Kids,” he said. Then he and Graff stood up and walked on out of the park.

  MIKAL’S SONGBIRD

  The doorknob turned. That would be dinner.

  Ansset rolled over on the hard bed, his muscles aching. As always, he tried to ignore the burning feeling of guilt in the pit of his stomach.

  But it was not Husk with food on a tray. This time it was the man called Master, though Ansset believed that was not his name. Master was always angry and fearsomely strong, one of the few men who could make Ansset feel and act like the eleven-year-old child his body said he was.

  “Get up, Songbird.”

  Ansset slowly stood. They kept him naked in his prison, and only his pride kept him from turning away from the harsh eyes that looked him up and down. Ansset’s cheeks burned with shame that took the place of the guilt he had wakened to.

  “It’s a good-bye feast we’re having for you, Chirp, and ye’re going to twitter for us.”

  Ansset shook his head.

  “If ye can sing for the bastarrd Mikal, ye can sing for honest freemen.”

  Ansset’s eyes blazed. “Watch how you speak of him, you barbarian traitor! He’s your emperor!”

  Master advanced a step, raising his hand angrily. “My orders was not to mark you, Chirp, but I can give you pain that doesn’t leave a scar if ye don’t mind how you talk to a freeman. Now ye’ll sing.”

  Ansset, afraid of the man’s brutality as only someone who has never known physical punishment can be afraid, nodded—but still hung back. “Can you please give me my clothing?”

  “It ain’t cold where we’re going,” Master retorted.

  “I’ve never sung like this,” Ansset said, embarrassed. “I’ve never performed without clothing.”

  Master leered. “What is it then that you do without clothing? Mikal’s catamite has naw secrets we can’t see.”

  Ansset didn’t understand the word, but he understood the leer, and he followed Master out the door and down a dark corridor with his heart even more darkly filled with shame. He wondered why they were having a “good-bye feast” for him. Was he to be set free? (Had someone paid some unknown ransom for him?) Or was he to be killed?

 

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