Except, of course, in the room in the castle at the End of the World. It was the one dangerous place left. And Ender, however often he vowed that he would not, always went back there, always killed the snake, always looked his brother in the face, and always, no matter what he did next, died.
It was no different this time. He tried to use the knife on the table to pry through the mortar and pull out a stone from the wall. As soon as he breached the seal of the mortar, water began to gush in through the crack, and Ender watched his death as his figure, now out of his control, struggled madly to stay alive, to keep from drowning. The windows of his room were gone, the water rose, and his figure drowned. All the while, the face of Peter Wiggin in the mirror stayed and looked at him.
I'm trapped here, Ender thought, trapped at the End of the World with no way out. And he knew at last the sour taste that had come to him, despite all his successes in the Battle School. lt was despair.
There were uniformed men at the entrances to the school when Valentine arrived. They weren't standing like guards, but rather slouched around as if they were waiting for someone inside to finish his business. They wore the uniforms of IF Marines, the same uniforms that exeryone saw in bloody combat on the videos. It lent an air of romance to that day at school: all the other kids where excited about it.
Valentine was not. It made her think of Ender, for one thing. And for another it made her afraid. Someone had recently published a savage commentary on the Demosthenes' collected writings. The commentary, and therefore her work, had been discussed on the open conference of the international relations net, with some of the most important people of the day attacking and defending Demosthenes. What worried her most was the comnuent of an Englishman: "Whether he likes it or not, Demosthenes cannot remain incognito forever. He has outraged too many wise men and pleased too many fools to hide behind his too-appropriate pseudonym much longer. Either he will unmask himself in order to assume leadership of the forces of stupidity he has marshalled, or his enemies will unmask him in order to better understand the disease that has produced such a warped and twisted mind."
Peter had been delighted, but then he would be. Valentine was afraid, that enough powerful people had been annoyed by the vicious persona of Demosthenes that she would indeed be tracked down. The IF could do it, even if the American government was constitutionally bound not to. And here were IF troops gathered at Western Guilford Middle School, of all places. Nor exactly the regular recruiting grounds for the IF Marines.
So she was not surprised to find a message marching around her desk as soon as she logged in.
PLEASE LOG OFF AND GO TO DR. LINEBERRY'S OFFICE AT ONCE.
Valentine waited nervously outside the principal's office until Dr. Lineberry opened the door and beckoned her inside. Her last doubt was removed when she saw the soft-bellied man in the uniform of an IF colonel sitting in the one comfortable chair in the room.
"You're Valentine Wiggin," he said.
"Yes," she whisnered.
"I'm Colonel Graff. We've met before."
Before? When had she had any dealings with the IF?
"I've come to talk to you in confidence, about your brother."
It's not just me, then, she thought. They have Peter. Or is this something new? Has he done something crazy? I thought he stopped doing crazy things.
"Valentine, you seem frightened. There's no need to be. Please, sit down. I assure you that your brother is well. He has more than fulfilled our expectations."
And now, with a great inward gush of relief, she realized that it was Ender they had come about. Ender. It wasn't punishment at all, it was little Ender, who had disappeared so long ago, who was no part of Peter's plots now. You were the lucky one, Ender. You got away before Peter could trap you into his conspiracy.
"How do you feel about your brother, Valentine?"
"How can I feel about him? I haven't seen him or heard from him since I was eight."
"Dr. Lineberry, will you excuse us?"
Lineberry was annoyed.
"On second thought, Dr. Lineberry, I think Valentine and I will have a much more productive conversation if we walk outside. Away from the recording devices that your assistant principal has placed in this room."
It was the first time Valentine had seen Dr. Lineberry speechless. Colonel Graff lifted a picture out from the wall and peeled a sound-sensitive membrane from the wall, along with its small broadcast unit. "Cheap," said Graff, "but effective. I thought you knew."
Lineberry took the device and sat down heavily at her desk. Graff led Valentine outside,
They walked out into the football field. The soldiers followed at a discreet distance: they split up and formed a large circle, to guard them from the widest possible perimeter.
"Valentine, we need your help for Ender."
"What kind of help?"
"We aren't even sure of that. We need you to help us figure out how you can help us."
"Well, what's wrong?"
"That's part of the problem. We don't know."
Valentine couldn't help but laugh. "I haven't seen him in three years! You've got him up there with you all the time!"
"Valentine, it costs more nuoney than your father will make in his lifetime for me to fly to Earth and back to the Battle School again. I don't commute casually."
"The king had a dream," said Valentine, "but he forgot what it was, so he told his wise men to interpret the dream or they'd die. Only Daniel could interpret it, because he was a prophet."
"You read the Bible?"
"We're doing classics this year in advanced English. I'm not a prophet."
"I wish I could tell you everything about Ender's situation. But it would take hours, maybe days, and afterward I'd have to put you in protective confinement because so much of it is strictly confidential. So let's see what we can do with limited information. There's a game that our students play with the computer." And he told her about the End of the World and the closed room and the picture of Peter in the mirror.
"It's the computer that puts the picture there, not Ender. Why not ask the computer?"
"The computer doesn't know."
"I'm supposed to know?"
"This is the second time since Ender's been with us that he's taken this game to a dead end. To a game that seems to have no solution.".
"Did he solve the first one?"
"Then give him time, he'll probably solve this one."
"I'm not sure. Valentine, your brother is a very unhappy little boy."
"I don't know."
"You don't know much, do you?"
Valentine thought for a moment that the man might get angry. Instead, though, he decided to laugh. "No, not much. Valentine, why would Ender keep seeing your brother Peter in the mirror?"
"He shouldn't. It's stupid."
"Why is it stupid?"
"Because if there's ever anybody who was the opposite of Ender, it's Peter."
Valentine could not think of a way to answer that wasn't dangerous. Too much questioning about Peter could lead to real trouble. Valentine knew enough about the world to know that no one would take Peter's plans for world domination seriously, as a danger to existing governments. But they might well decide he was insane and needed treatment for his megalomania.
"You're preparing to lie to me," Graff said.
"I'm preparing not to talk to you anymore," Valentine answered.
"And you're afraid. Why are you afraid?"
"I don't like questions about my family. Just leave my family out of this."
"Valentine, I'm trying to leave your family out of this. I'm coming to you so I don't have to start a battery of tests on Peter and question your parents. I'm trying to solve this problem now, with the person Ender loves and trusts most in the world, perhaps the only person he loves and trusts at all. If we can't solve it this way, then we'll sequester your family and do as we like from then on. This is not a trivial matter, and I won't just go away."
The only person Ender loves and trusts at all. She felt a deep stab of pain, of regret, of shame that now it was Peter she was close to. Peter who was the center of her life. For you, Ender, I light fires en your birthday. For Peter I help fulfil all his dreams. "I never thought you were a nice man. Not when you came to take Ender away, and not now."
"Don't pretend to be an ignorant little girl. I saw your tests when you were little, and at the present moment there aren't very many college professors who could keep up with you."
"Ender and Peter hate each other."
"I knew that. You said they were opposites. Why?"
"Peter -- can be hateful sometimes."
"Hateful in what way?"
"Mean. Just mean, that's all."
"Valentine, for Ender's sake, tell me what he does when he's being mean."
"He threatens to kill people a lot. He doesn't mean it. But when we were little, Ender and I were both afraid of him. He told us he'd kill us. Actually, he told us he'd kill Ender."
"We monitored some of that."
"It was because of the monitor."
"Is that all? Tell me more about Peter."
So she told him about the children in every school that Peter attended. He never hit them, but he tortured them just the same. Found what they were most ashamed of and told it to the person whose respect they most wanted. Found what they most feared and made sure they faced it often.
"Did he do this with Ender?"
Valentine shook her head.
"Are you sure? Didn't Ender have a weak place? A thing he feared most, or that he was ashamed of?"
"Ender never did anything to be ashamed of." And suddenly, deep in her own shame for having forgotten and betrayed Ender, she started to cry.
"Why are you crying?"
She shook her head. She couldn't explain what it was like to think of her little brother, who was so good, whom she had protected for so long, and then remember that now she was Peter's ally, Peter's helper, Peter's slave in a scheme that was completely out of her control. Ender never surrendered to Peter, but I have turned, I've become part of him, as Ender never was. "Ender never gave in," she said.
"To Peter. To being like Peter."
They walked in silence along the goal line.
"How would Ender ever be like Peter?"
Valentine shuddered, "I already told you."
"But Ender never did that kind of thing. He was just a little boy."
"No, that isn't true. We never said it, Ender never said that he wanted to do that. I just -- thought it. It was me, not Ender. He never said that he wanted to kill him."
"What did he want?"
"He just didn't want to be--"
"To be what?"
"Peter tortures squirrels. He stakes them out on the ground and skins them alive and sits and watches them until they die. He did that, he doesn't do it now. But he did it. If Ender knew that, if Ender saw him, I think that he'd--"
"He'd what? Rescue the squirrels? Try to heal them?"
"No, in those days you didn't undo what Peter did. You didn't cross him. But Ender would be kind to squirrels. Do you understand? He'd feed them."
"But if he fed them, they'd become tame, and that much easier for Peter to catch."
Valentine began to cry again. "No matter what you do, it always helps Peter. Everything helps Peter, everything, you just can't get away, no matter what."
"Are you helping Peter?" asked Graff.
She didn't answer.
"Is Peter such a very bad person, Valentine?"
"Is Peter the worst person in the world?"
"How can he be? I don't know. He's the worst person I know."
"And yet you and Ender are his brother and sister. You have the same genes, the same parents, how can he be so bad if--"
Valentine turned and screamed at him, screamed as if he were killing her. "Ender is not like Peter! He is not like Peter in any way! Except that he's smart, that's all-- in every other way a person could possibly be like Peter he is nothing nothing nothing like Peter! Nothing!"
"I see," said Graff.
"I know what you're thinking, you bastard, you're thinking that I'm wrong, that Ender's like Peter. Well maybe I'm like Peter, but Ender isn't, he isn't at all, I used to tell him that when he cried, I told him that lots of times, you're not like Peter, you never like to hurt people, you're kind and good and not like Peter at all!"
"And it's true."
His acquiescence calmed her. "Damn right it's true. It's true."
"Valentine, will you help Ender?"
"I can't do anything for him now."
"It's really the same thing you always did for him before. Just comfort him and tell him that he never likes to hurt people, that he's good and kind and not like Peter at all, That's the most important thing. That he's not like Peter at all."
"I can see him?"
"No. I want you to write a letter."
"What good does that do? Ender never answered a single letter I sent."
Graff sighed. "He answered every letter he got."
It took only a second for her to understand. "You really stink."
"Isolation is -- the optimum environment for creativity. It was *his* ideas we wanted, not the -- never mind, I don't have to defend myself to you."
Then why are you doing it, she did not ask.
"But he's slacking off. He's coasting. We want to push him forward, and he won't go."
"Maybe I'd be doing Ender a favor if I told you to go stuff yourself."
"You've already helped me. You can help me more. Write to him."
"Promise you won't cut out anything I write."
"I won't promise any such thing."
"Then forget it."
"No problem. I'll write your letter myself. We can use your other letters to reconcile the writing styles. Simple matter."
"I want to see him."
"He gets his first leave when he's eighteen."
"You told him it would be when he was twelve."
"We changed the rules."
"Why should I help you!"
"Don't help me. Help Ender. What does it matter if that helps us, too?"
"What kind of terrible things are you doing to him up there?"
Graff chuckled. "Valentine, my dear little girl, the terrible things are only about to begin."
Ender was four lines into the letter before he realized that it wasn't from one of the other soldiers in the Battle School. It had come in the regular way -- a MAIL WAlTING message when he signed into his desk. He read four lines into it, then skipped to the end and read the signature. Then he went back to the beginning, and curled up on his bed to read the words over and over again.
THE BASTARDS WOULDN'T PUT ANY OF MY LETTERS THROUGH TILL NOW. I MUST HAVE WRITTEN A HUNDRED TIMES BUT YOU MUST HAVE THOUGHT I NEVER DID. WELL, I DID. I HAVEN'T FORGOTTEN YOU. I REMEMBER YOUR BIRTHDAY. I REMEMBER EVERYTHING. SOME PEOPLE MIGHT THINK THAT BECAUSE YOU'RE BEING A SOLDIER YOU ARE NOW A CRUEL AND HARD PERSON WHO LIKES TO HURT PEOPLE, LIKE THE MARINES IN THE VIDEOS, BUT I KNOW THAT ISN'T TRUE. YOU ARE NOTHING LIKE YOU-KNOW-WHO. HE'S NICER-SEEMING BUT HE'S STILL A SLUMBITCH INSIDE. MAYBE YOU SEEM MEAN, BUT IT WON'T FOOL ME. STILL PADDLING THE OLD KNEW, ALL MY LOVE TURKEY LIPS,
DON'T WRITE BACK THEY'LL PROBLY SIKOWANALIZE YOUR LETTER.
Obviously it was written with the full approval of the teachers. But there was no doubt it was written by Val. The spelling of psychoanalyze, the epithet slumbitch for Peter, the joke about pronouncing knew like canoe were all things that no one could know but Val.
And yet they came pretty thick, as though someone wanted to make very sure that Ender believed that the letter was genuine. Why should they be so eager if it's the real thing?
It isn't the real thing anyway. Even if she wrote it in her own blood, it isn't the real thing because they made her write it. She'd written before, and they didn't let any of those letters through. Those might have been real, but this was asked for, this was part of their manipulation.
And the despair filled him again. Now he knew why. Now he knew what he hated so much. He had no control over his own life. They ran everything. They made all the choices. Only the game was left to him, that was all, everything else was them and their rules and plans and lessons and programs, and all he could do was go this way or that way in battle. The one real thing, the one precious real thing was his memory of Valentine, the person who loved him before he ever played a game, who loved him whether there was a bugger war or not, and they had taken her and put her on their side. She was one of them now.
He hated them and all their games. Hated them so badly that he cried, reading Val's empty asked-for letter again. The other boys in Phoenix Army noticed and looked away. Ender Wiggin crying? That was disturbing. Something terrible was going on. The best soldier in any army, lying on his bunk crying. The silence in the room was deep.
Ender deleted the letter, wiped it out of memory and then punched up the fantasy game. He was not sure why he was so eager to play the game, to get to the End of the World, but he wasted no time getting there. Only when he coasted on the cloud, skimming over the autumnal colors of the pastoral world, only then did he realize what he hated most about Val's letter. All that it said was about Peter. About how he was not at all like Peter. The words she had said so often as she held him, comforted him as he trembled in fear and rage and loathing after Peter had tortured him, that was all that the letter had said.
And that was what they had asked for. The bastards knew about that, and they knew about Peter in the mirror in the castle room, they knew about everything and to them Val was just one more tool to use to control him, just one more trick to play. Dink was right, they were the enemy, they loved nothing and cared for nothing and he was not going to do what they wanted, he was damn well not going to do anything for them. He had had only one memory that was safe, one good thing, and those bastards had plowed it into him with the rest of the manure -- and so he was finished, he wasn't going to play.
As always the serpent waited in the tower room, unraveling itself from the rug on the floor. But this time Ender didn't grind it underfoot. This time he caught it in his hands, knelt before it, and gently, so gently, brought the snake's gaping mouth to his lips.
He had not meant to do that. He had meant to let the snake bite him on the mouth. Or perhaps he had meant to eat the snake alive, as Peter in the mirror had done, with his bloody chin and the snake's tail dangling from his lips. But he kissed it instead.
And the snake in his hands thickened and bent into another shape. A human shape. It was Valentine, and she kissed him again.
The snake could not be Valentine. He had killed it too often for it to be his sister. Peter had devoured it too often to bear it that it might have been Valentine all along.
Was this what they planned when they let him read her letter? He didn't care.
She arose from the floor of the tower room and walked to the mirror. Ender made his figure also rise and go with her. They stood before the mirror, where instead of Peter's cruel reflection there stood a dragon and a unicorn. Ender reached out his hand and touched the mirror; the wall fell open and revealed a great stairway downward, carpeted and lined with shouting, cheering multitudes. Together, arm in arm, he and Valentine walked down the stairs. Tears filled his eyes, tears of relief that at last he had broken free of the End of the World. And because of the tears, he didn't notice that every member of the multitude wore Peter's face. He only knew that wherever he went in this world, Valentine was with him.
Valentine read the letter that Dr. Lineberry had given her. "Dear Valentine," it said, "We thank you and commend you for your efforts on behalf of the war effort. You are hereby notified that you have been awarded the Star of the Order of the League of Humanity, First Class, which is the highest military award that can be given to a civilian. Unfortunately, IF security forbids us to make this award public until after the successful conclusion of current operations, but we want you to know that your efforts resulted in complete success. Sincerely, General Shimon Levy, Strategos."
When she had read it twice Dr. Lineberry took it from her hands. "I was instructed to let you read it, and then destroy it." She took a cigarette lighter from a drawer and set the paper afire. It burned brightly in the ashtray. "Was it good or bad news?" she asked.
"I sold my brother," Valentine said, "and they paid me for it."
"That's a bit melodramatic, isn't it, Valentine?"
Valentine went back to class without answering.
That night Demosthenes published a scathing denunctalion of the population limitation laws. People should be allowed to have as many children as they like, and the surplus population should be sent to other worlds, to spread mankind so far across the galaxy that no disaster, no invasion could ever threaten the human race with annihilation. "The most noble title any child can have," Demosthenes wrote, "is Third."
For you, Ender, she said to herself as she wrote.
Peter laughed in delight when he read it. "That'll make them sit up and take notice. Third! A noble title! Oh, you have a wicked streak."
Chapter 10 -- Dragon
"I suppose so.
"It has to be an order, Colonel Graff. Armies don't move because a commander says 'I suppose it's time to attack.'"
"I'm not a commander. I'm a teacher of little children."
"Colonel, sir, I admit I was on you, I admit I was a pain in the ass, but it worked, everything worked just like you wanted it to. The last few weeks Ender's even been, been--"
"Content. He's doing well. His mind is keen, his play is excellent. Young as he is. We've never had a boy better prepared for command. Usually they go at eleven. but at nine and a half he's top flight."
"Well, yes. For a few minutes there, it actually occurred to me to wonder what kind of a man would heal a broken child of some of his hurt, just so he could throw him back into battle again. A little private moral dilemma. Please overlook it. I was tired."
"Saving the world, remember?"
"Call him in."
"We're doing what must be done, Colonel Graff."
"Come on, Anderson, you're just dying to see how he handles all those rigged games I had you work out."
"That's a pretty low thing to--"
"So I'm a low kind of guy. Come on, Major. We're both the scum of the earth. I'm dying to see how he handles them, too. After all, our lives depend on him doing real well. Neh?"
"You're not starting to use the boys' slang, are you?"
"Call him in, Major. I'll dump the rosters into his files and give him his security system. What we're doing to him isn't all bad, you know. He gets his privacy again."
"Isolation, you mean."
"The loneliness of power. Go call him in."
"Yes sir. I'll be back with him in fifteen minutes."
"Good-bye. Yes sir yessir yezzir. I hope you had fun, I hope you had a nice, nice time being happy, Ender. It might be the last time in your life. Welcome, little boy. Your dear Uncle Graff has plans for you."
Ender knew what was happening from the moment they brought him in. Everyone expected him to go commander early. Perhaps not this early, but he had topped the standings almost continuously for three years, no one else was remotely close to him, and his evening practices had become the most prestigious group in the school. There were some who wondered why the teachers had waited this long.
He wondered which army they'd give him. Three commanders were graduating soon, including Petra, but it was beyond hope for them to give him Phoenix Army. No one ever succeeded to command of the same army he was in when he was promoted.