Enders game, p.24
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       Ender's Game, p.24

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

  "I've known since I landed from the Battle School. There are, perhaps, six of us in the world who know his identity. Not counting the Russians--God only knows what they know. But Demosthenes has nothing to fear from us. Demosthenes can trust our discretion. Just as I trust Demosthenes not to tell Locke what's going on here today. Mutual trust. We tell each other things."

  Valentine couldn't decide whether it was Demosthenes they approved of, or Valentine Wiggin. If the former, she would not trust them; if the latter, then perhaps she could. The fact that they did not want her to discuss this with Peter suggested that perhaps they knew the difference between them. She did not stop to wonder whether she herself knew the difference anymore.

  "You said he built the raft. How long has he been here?"

  "Two months. We meant his leave to last only a few days. But you see, he doesn't seem interested in going on with his education."

  "Oh. So I'm therapy again."

  "This time we can't censor your letter. We're just taking our chances. We need your brother badly. Humanity is on the cusp."

  This time Val had grown up enough to know just how much danger the world was in. And she had been Demosthenes long enough that she didn't hesitate to do her duty. "Where is he?"

  "Down at the boat slip."

  "Where's the swimming suit?"

  Ender didn't wave when she walked down the hill toward him, didn't smile when she stepped onto the floating boat slip. But she knew that he was glad to see her, knew it because of the way his eyes never left her face.

  "You're bigger than I remembered." she said stupidly.

  "You too," he said. "I also remembered that you were beautiful."

  "Memory does play tricks on us."

  "No. Your face is the same, but I don't remember what beautiful means anymore. Come on. Let's go out into the lake."

  She looked at the small raft with misgivings.

  "Don't stand up on it, that's all," he said. He got on by crawling, spiderlike, on toes and fingers. "It's the first thing I built with my own hands since you and I used to build with blocks. Peter-proof buildings."

  She laughed. They used to take pleasure in building things that would stand up even when a lot of the obvious supports had been removed. Peter, in turn, liked to remove a block here or there, so the structure would be fragile enough that the next person to touch it would knock it down. Peter was an ass, but he did provide some focus to their childhood.

  "Peter's changed," she said.

  "Let's not talk about him," said Ender.

  "All right."

  She crawled onto the boat, not as deftly as Ender. He used a paddle to maneuver them slowly toward the center of the private lake. She noticed aloud that he was sunbrowned and strong.

  "The strong part comes from Battle School. The sunbrowning comes from this lake. I spend a lot of time on the water. When I'm swimming, it's like being weightless. I miss being weightless. Also, when I'm here on the lake, the land slopes up in every direction."

  "Like living in a bowl."

  "I've lived in a bowl for four years."

  "So we're strangers now?"

  "Aren't we, Valentine?"

  "No," she said. She reached out and touched his leg. Then, suddenly, she squeezed his knee, right where he had always been most ticklish.

  But almost at the same moment, he caught her wrist in his hand. His grip was very strong, even though his hands were smaller than hers and his own arms were slender and tight. For a moment he looked dangerous; then he relaxed. "Oh, yes," he said. "You used to tickle me."

  "Not any more," she said, taking back her hand.

  "Want to swim?"

  In answer, she dropped herself over the side of the raft. The water was clear and clean, and there was no chlorine in it. She swam for a while, then returned to the raft and lay on it in the hazy sunlight. A wasp circled her, then landed on the raft beside her head. She knew it was there, and ordinarily would have been afraid of it. But not today. Let it walk on this raft, let it bake in the sun as I'm doing.

  Then the raft rocked, and she turned to see Ender calmly crushing the life out of the wasp with one finger. "These are a nasty breed," Ender said. "They sting you without waiting to be insulted first." He smiled. "I've been learning about preemptive strategies. I'm very good. No one ever beat me. I'm the best soldier they ever had."

  "Who would expect less?" she said. "You're a Wiggin."

  "Whatever that means," he said.

  "It means that you are going to make a difference in the world." And she told him what she and Peter were doing.

  "How old is Peter, fourteen? Already planning to take over the world?"

  "He thinks he's Alexander the Great. And why shouldn't he be? Why shouldn't you be, too?"

  "We can't both be Alexander."

  "Two faces of the same coin. And I am the metal in between." Even as she said it, she wondered if it was true. She had shared so much with Peter these last few years that even when she thought she despised him, she understood him. While Ender had been only a memory till now. A very small, fragile boy who needed her protection. Not this cold-eyed, dark-skinned manling who kills wasps with his fingers. Maybe he and Peter and I are all the same, and have been all along. Maybe we only thought we were different from each other out of jealousy.

  "The trouble with coins is, when one face is up, the other face is down." And right now you think you're down. "They want me to encourage you to go on with your studies."

  "They aren't studies, they're games. All games, from beginning to end, only they change the rules whenever they feel like it." He held up a limp hand. "See the strings?"

  "But you can use them, too."

  "Only if they want to be used. Only if they think they're using you. No, it's too hard, I don't want to play anymore. Just when I start to be happy, just when I think I can handle things, they stick in another knife. I keep having nightmares, now that I'm here. I dream I'm in the battleroom, only instead of being weightless, they're playing games with gravity. They keep changing its direction. So I never end up on the wall I launched for. I never end up where I meant to go. And I keep pleading with them just to let me get to the door, and they won't let me out, they keep sucking me back in."

  She heard the anger in his voice and assumed it was directed at her. "I suppose that what I'm here for. To suck you back in."

  "I didn't want to see you."

  "They told me."

  "I was afraid that I'd still love you."

  "I hoped that you would."

  "My fear, your wish--both granted."

  "Ender, it really is true. We may be young, but we're not powerless. We play by their rules long enough, and it becomes our game." She giggled. "I'm on a presidential commission. Peter is so angry."

  "They don't let me use the nets. There isn't a computer in the place, except the household machines that run the security system and the lighting. Ancient things. Installed back a century ago, when they made computers that didn't hook up with anything. They took away my army, they took away my desk, and you know something? I don't really mind."

  "You must be good company for yourself."

  "Not me. My memories."

  "Maybe that's who you are, what you remember."

  "No. My memories of strangers. My memories of the buggers." Valentine shivered, as if a cold breeze had suddenly passed. "I refuse to watch the bugger vids anymore. They're always the same."

  "I used to study them for hours. The way their ships move through space. And something funny, that only occurred to me lying out here on the lake. I realized that all the battles in which buggers and humans fought hand to hand, all those are from the First Invasion. All the scenes from the Second Invasion, when our soldiers are in I.F. uniforms, in those scenes the buggers are always already dead. Lying there, slumped over their controls. Not a sign of struggle or anything. And Mazer Rackham's battle--they never show us any footage from that battle."

  "Maybe it's a secret weapon."

 
"No, no, I don't care about how we killed them. It's the buggers themselves. I don't know anything about them, and yet someday I'm supposed to fight them. I've been through a lot of fights in my life, sometimes games, sometimes--not games. Every time, I've won because I could understand the way my enemy thought. From what they did. I could tell what they thought I was doing, how they wanted the battle to take shape. And I played off of that. I'm very good at that. Understanding how other people think."

  "The curse of the Wiggin children." She joked, but it frightened her, that Ender might understand her as completely as he did his enemies. Peter al-ways understood her, or at least thought he did, but he was such a moral sinkhole that she never had to feel embarrassed when he guessed even her worst thoughts. But Ender--she did not want him to understand her. It would make her naked before him. She would be ashamed. "You don't think you can beat the buggers unless you know them."

  "It goes deeper than that. Being here alone with nothing to do, I've been thinking about myself, too. Trying to understand why I hate myself so badly."

  "No, Ender."

  "Don't tell me 'No, Ender.' It took me a long time to realize that I did, but believe me, I did. Do. And it came down to this: In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it's impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them--"

  "You beat them." For a moment she was not afraid of his understanding. "No, you don't understand. I destroy them. I make it impossible for them to ever hurt me again. I grind them and grind them until they don't exist."

  "Of course you don't." And now the fear came again, worse than before. Peter has mellowed, but you, they've made you into a killer. Two sides of the same coin, but which side is which?

  "I've really hurt some people, Val. I'm not making this up."

  "I know, Ender." How will you hurt me?

  "See what I'm becoming, Val?" he said softly. "Even you are afraid of me." And he touched her cheek so gently that she wanted to cry. Like the touch of his soft baby hand when he was still an infant. She remembered that, the touch of his soft and innocent hand on her cheek.

  "I'm not," she said, and in that moment it was true.

  "You should be."

  No. I shouldn't. "You're going to shrivel up if you stay in the water. Also, the sharks might get you."

  He smiled. "The sharks learned to leave me alone a long time ago." But he pulled himself onto the raft, bringing a wash of water across it as it tipped. It was cold on Valentine's back.

  "Ender, Peter's going to do it. He's smart enough to take the time it takes, but he's going to win his way into power--if not right now, then later. I'm not sure yet whether that'll be a good thing or a bad thing. Peter can be cruel, but he knows the getting and keeping of power, and there are signs that once the bugger war is over, and maybe even before it ends, the world will collapse into chaos again. The Russian Empire was on its way to hegemony before the First Invasion. If they try for it afterward--"

  "So even Peter might be a better alternative."

  "You've been discovering some of the destroyer in yourself, Ender. Well, so have I. Peter didn't have a monopoly on that, whatever the testers thought. And Peter has some of the builder in him. He isn't kind, but he doesn't break every good thing he sees anymore. Once you realize that power will always end up with the sort of people who crave it, I think that there are worse people who could have it than Peter."

  "With that strong a recommendation, I could vote for him myself."

  "Sometimes it seems absolutely silly. A fourteen-year-old boy and his kid sister plotting to take over the world." She tried to laugh. It wasn't funny. "We aren't just ordinary children, are we. None of us."

  "Don't you sometimes wish we were?"

  She tried to imagine herself being like the other girls at school. Tried to imagine life if she didn't feel responsible for the future of the world. "It would be so dull."

  "I don't think so." And he stretched out on the raft, as if he could lie on the water forever.

  It was true. Whatever they did to Ender in the Battle School, they had spent his ambition. He really did not want to leave the sun-warmed waters of this bowl.

  No, she realized. No, he believes that he doesn't want to leave here, but there is still too much of Peter in him. Or too much of me. None of us could be happy for long, doing nothing. Or perhaps it's just that none of us could be happy living with no other company than ourself.

  So she began to prod again. "What is the one name that everyone in the world knows?"

  "Mazer Rackham."

  "And what if you win the next war, the way Mazer did?"

  "Mazer Rackham was a fluke. A reserve. Nobody believed in him. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time."

  "But suppose you do it. Suppose you beat the buggers and your name is known the way Mazer Rackham's name is known."

  "Let somebody else be famous. Peter wants to be famous. Let him save the world."

  "I'm not talking about fame, Ender. I'm not talking about power, either. I'm talking about accidents, just like the accident that Mazer Rackham happened to be the one who was there when somebody had to stop the buggers."

  "If I'm here," said Ender, "then I won't be there. Somebody else will. Let them have the accident."

  His tone of weary unconcern infuriated her. "I'm talking about my life, you self-centered little bastard." If her words bothered him, he didn't show it. Just lay there, eyes closed. "When you were little and Peter tortured you, it's a good thing I didn't lie back and wait for Mom and Dad to save you. They never understood how dangerous Peter was. I knew you had the monitor, but I didn't wait for them, either. Do you know what Peter used to do to me because I stopped him from hurting you?"

  "Shut up," Ender whispered.

  Because she saw that his chest was trembling, because she knew that she had indeed hurt him, because she knew that just like Peter, she had found his weakest place and stabbed him there, she fell silent.

  "I can't beat them," Ender said softly. "I'll be out there like Mazer Rackham one day, and everybody will be depending on me, and I won't be able to do it."

  "If you can't, Ender, then nobody could. If you can't beat them, then they deserve to win because they're stronger and better than us. It won't be your fault."

  "Tell it to the dead."

  "If not you, then who?"

  "Anybody."

  "Nobody, Ender. I'll tell you something. If you try and lose then it isn't your fault. But if you don't try and we lose, then it's all your fault. You killed us all."

  "I'm a killer no matter what."

  "What else should you be? Human beings didn't evolve brains in order to lie around on lakes. Killing's the first thing we learned. And a good thing we did, or we'd be dead, and the tigers would own the earth."

  "I could never beat Peter. No matter what I said or did. I never could." So it came back to Peter. "He was years older than you. And stronger."

  "So are the buggers."

  She could see his reasoning. Or rather, his unreasoning. He could win all he wanted, but he knew in his heart that there was always someone who could destroy him. He always knew that he had not really won, because there was Peter, undefeated champion.

  "You want to beat Peter?" she asked.

  "No," he answered.

  "Beat the buggers. Then come home and see who notices Peter Wiggin anymore. Look him in the eye when all the world loves and reveres you. That'll be defeat in his eyes, Ender. That's how you win."

  "You don't understand," he said.

  "Yes I do."

  "No you don't. I don't want to beat Peter."

  "Then what do you want?"

  "I want him to love me."

  She had no answer. As far as she knew, Peter didn't love anybody. Ender said nothing more. Just lay there. And lay the
re.

  Finally Valentine, the sweat dripping off her, the mosquitos beginning to hover as the dusk came on, took one final dip in the water and then began to push the raft in to shore. Ender showed no sign that he knew what she was doing, but his irregular breathing told her that he was not asleep. When they got to the shore, she climbed onto the dock and said, "/ love you, Ender. More than ever. No matter what you decide."

  He didn't answer. She doubted that he believed her. She walked back up the hill, savagely angry at them for making her come to Ender like this. For she had, after all, done just what they wanted. She had talked Ender into going back into his training, and he wouldn't soon forgive her for that.

  Ender came in the door, still wet from his last dip in the lake. It was dark outside, and dark in the room where Graff waited for him.

  "Are we going now?" asked Ender.

  "If you want to," Graff said.

  "When?"

  "When you're ready."

  Ender showered and dressed. He was finally used to the way civilian clothes fit together, but he still didn't feel right without a uniform or a flash suit. I'll never wear a flash suit again, he thought. That was the Battle School game, and I'm through with that. He heard the crickets chirping madly in the woods; in the near distance he heard the crackling sound of a car driving slowly on gravel.

  What else should he take with him? He had read several of the books in the library, but they belonged to the house and he couldn't take them. The only thing he owned was the raft he had made with his own hands. That would stay here, too.

  The lights were on now in the room where Graff waited. He, too, had changed clothing. He was back in uniform.

  They sat in the back seat of the car together, driving along country roads to come at the airport from the back. "Back when the population was growing," said Graff, "they kept this area in woods and farms. Watershed land. The rainfall here starts a lot of rivers flowing, a lot of underground water moving around. The Earth is deep, and right to the heart it's alive, Ender. We people only live on the top, like the bugs that live on the scum of the still water near the shore."

  Ender said nothing.

  "We train our commanders the way we do because that's what it takes--they have to think in certain ways, they can't be distracted by a lot of things, so we isolate them. You. Keep you separate. And it works. But it's so easy, when you never meet people, when you never know the Earth itself, when you live with metal walls keeping out the cold of space, it's easy to forget why Earth is worth saving. Why the world of people might be worth the price you pay."

 
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