"If you touch him you're a buggerlover!" cried Dink. "You're a traitor, if you touch him you deserve to die!" They jammed Dink's face backward into the door and he was silent.
The mist from the showers dimmed the room, and the sweat was streaming down Ender's body. Now, before the soap is carried off me. Now, while I'm still too slippery to hold.
Ender stepped back, letting the fear he felt show in his face. "Bonzo, don't hurt me," he said. "Please."
It was what Bonzo was waiting for, the confession that he was in power. For other boys it might have been enough that Ender had submitted; for Bonzo, it was only a sign that his victory was sure. He swung his leg as if to kick, but changed it to a leap at the last moment. Ender noticed the shifting weight and stooped lower, so that Bonzo would be more off-balance when he tried to grab Ender and throw him.
Bonzo's tight, hard ribs came against Ender's face, and his hands slapped against his back, trying to grip him. But Ender twisted, and Bonzo's hands slipped. In an instant Ender was completely turned, yet still inside Bonzo's grasp. The classic move at this moment would be to bring up his heel into Bonzo's crotch, but for that move to be effective required too much accuracy, and Bonzo expected it. He was already rising onto his toes, thrusting his hips backward to keep Ender from reaching his groin. Without seeing him, Ender knew it would bring his face closer, almost in Ender's hair; so instead of kicking he lunged upward off the floor, with the powerful lunge of the soldier bounding from the wall, and jammed his head into Bonzo's face.
Ender whirled in time to see Bonzo stagger backward, his nose bleeding, gasping from surprise and pain. Ender knew that at this moment he might be able to walk out of the room and end the battle. The way he had escaped from the battleroom after drawing blood. But the battle would only be fought again. Again and again until the will to fight was finished. The only way to end things completely was to hurt Bonzo enough that his fear was stronger than his hate.
So Ender leaned back against the wall behind him, then jumped up and pushed off with his arms. His feet landed in Bonzo's belly and chest. Ender spun in the air and landed on his toes and hands; he flipped over, scooted under Bonzo, and this time when he kicked upward into Bonzo's crotch, he connected, hard and sure.
Bonzo did not cry out in pain. He did not react at all, except that his body rose a little in the air. It was as if Ender had kicked a piece of furniture. Bonzo collapsed, fell to the side, and sprawled directly under the spray of streaming water from a shower. He made no movement whatever to escape the murderous heat.
"My God!" someone shouted. Bonzo's friends leaped to turn off the water. Ender slowly rose to his feet. Someone thrust his towel at him. It was Dink. "Come on out of here," Dink said. He led Ender away. Behind them they heard the heavy clatter of adults running down a ladderway. Now the teachers would come. The medical staff. To dress the wounds of Ender's enemy. Where were they before the fight, when there might have been no wounds at all?
There was no doubt now in Ender's mind. There was no help for him. Whatever he faced, now and forever, no one would save him from it. Peter might be scum, but Peter had been right, always right; the power to cause pain is the only power that matters, the power to kill and destroy, because if you can't kill then you are always subject to those who can, and nothing and no one will ever save you.
Dink led him to his room, made him lie on the bed. "Are you hurt anywhere?" he asked,
Ender shook his head.
"You took him apart. I thought you were dead meat, the way he grabbed you. But you took him apart. If he'd stood up longer, you would've killed him."
"He meant to kill me."
"I know it. I know him. Nobody hates like Bonzo. But not anymore. If they don't ice him for this and send him home, he'll never look you in the eye again. You or anybody. He had twenty centimeters on you, and you made him look like a crippled cow standing there chewing her cud."
All Ender could see, though, was the way Bonzo looked as Ender kicked upward into his groin. The empty, dead look in his eyes. He was already finished then. Already unconscious. His eyes were open, but he wasn't thinking or moving anymore, just that dead, stupid look on his lace, that terrible look, the way Stilson looked when I finished with him.
"They'll ice him, though," Dink said. "Everybody knows he started it. I saw them get up and leave the commanders' mess. Took me a couple of seconds to realize you weren't there, either, and then a minute more to find out where you had gone. I told you not to be alone."
"They're bound to ice him. Troublemaker. Him and his stinking honor."
Then, to Dink's surprise, Ender began to cry. Lying on his back, still soaking wet with sweat and water, he gasped his sobs, tears seeping out of his closed eyelids and disappearing in the water on his face.
"Are you all right?"
"I didn't want to hurt him!" Ender cried. "Why didn't he just leave me alone!"
He heard his door open softly, then close. He knew at once that it was his battle instructions, He opened his eyes, expecting to find the darkness of early morning, before 0600. Instead, the lights were on, He was naked and when he moved the bed was soaking wet, His eyes were puffy and painful from crying. He looked at the clock on his desk. 1820, it said. It's the same day. I already had a battle today, I had two battles today -- the bastards know what I've been through, and they're doing this to me.
WILLIAM BEE, GRIFFIN ARMY, TALO MOMOE, TIGER ARMY, 1900
He sat on the edge of the bed. The note trembled in his hand. I can't do this, he said silently. And then not silently. "I can't do this."
He got up, bleary, and looked for his flash suit. Then he remembered -- he had put it in the cleaner while he showered. It was still there.
Holding the paper, he walked out of his room. Dinner was nearly over, and there were a few people in the corridor, but no one spoke to him, just watched him, perhaps in awe of what had happened at noon in the bathroom, perhaps because of the forbidding, terrible look on his face. Most of his boys were in the barracks.
Ho, Ender. There gonna be a practice tonight?
Ender handed the paper to Hot Soup. "Those sons of bitches," he said. "Two at once?"
"Two armies!" shouted Crazy Tom.
"They'll just trip over each other," said Bean.
"I've got to clean up," Ender said. "Get them ready, get everybody together, I'll meet you there, at the gate."
He walked out of the barracks. A tumult of conversation rose behind him. He heard Crazy Tom scream, "Two farteating armies! We'll whip their butts!"
The bathroom was empty. All cleaned up. None of the blood that poured from Bonzo's nose into the shower water. All gone. Nothing bad ever happened here.
Ender stepped under the water and rinsed himself, took the sweat of combat and let it run down the drain. All gone, except they recycled it and we'll be drinking Bonzo's bloodwater in the morning. All the life gone out of it, but his blood just the same, his blood and my sweat, washed down in their stupidity or cruelty or whatever it was that made them let it happen.
He dried himself, dressed in his flash suit, and walked to the battleroom. His army was waiting in the corridor, the door still not opened. They watched him in silence as he walked to the front to stand by the blank grey forcefield. Of course they all knew about his fight in the bathroom today; that and their own weariness from the battle that morning kept them quiet, while the knowledge that they would be facing two armies filled them with dread.
Everything they can do to beat me, thought Ender. Everything they can think of, change all the rules, they don't care, just so they beat me. Well, I'm sick of the game. No game is worth Bonzo's blood pinking the water on the bathroom floor. Ice me, send me home, I don't want to play anymore.
The door disappeared. Only three meters out there were four stars together, completely blocking the view from the door.
Two armies weren't enough. They had to make Ender deploy his forces blind.
"Bean," said Ender. "Take your boys and tell me what's on the other side of this star."
Bean pulled the coil of twine from his waist, tied one end around him, handed the other end to a boy in his squad, and stepped gently through the door. His squad quickly followed. They had practiced this several times, and it took only a moment before they were braced on the star, holding the end of the twine. Bean pushed off at great speed, in a line almost parallel to the door; when he reached the corner of the room, he pushed off again and rocketed straight out toward the enemy. The spots of light on the wall showed that the enemy was shooting at him. As the rope was stopped by each edge of the star in turn, his arc became tighter, his direction changed, and he became an impossible target to hit. His squad caught him neatly as he came around the star from the other side. He moved all his arms and legs so those waiting inside the door would know that the enems hadn't flashed him anywhere.
Ender dropped through the gate.
"It's really dim," said Bean, "but light enough you can't follow people easily by the lights on their suits. Worst possible for seeing. It's all open space from this star to the enemy side of the room. They've got eight stars making a square around their door. I didn't see anybody except the ones peeking around the boxes. They're just sitting there waiting for us."
As if to corroborate Bean's statement, the enemy began to call out to them. "Hey! We be hungry, come and feed us! Your ass is draggin'! Your ass is Dragon!"
Ender's mind felt dead. This was stupid. He didn't have a chance, outnumbered two to one and forced to attack a protected enemy. "In a real war, any commander with brains at all would retreat and save his army."
"What the hell," said Bean. "It's only a game."
"It stopped being a game when they threw away the rules."
"So, you throw 'em away, too."
Ender grinned. "OK. Why not, Let's see how they react to a formation."
Bean was appalled. "A formation! We've never done a formation in the whole time we've been an army!"
"We've still got a month to go before our training period is normally supposed to end. About time we started doing formations. Always have to know formations," He formed an A with his fingers, showed it to the blank door, and beckoned, A toon quickly emerged and Ender began arranging them behind the star. Three meters wasn't enough room to work in, the boys were frightened and confused, and it took nearly five minutes just to get them to understand what they were doing.
Tiger and Griffin soldiers were reduced to chanting catcalls, while their commanders argued about whether to try to use their overwhelming force to attack Dragon Army while they were still behind the star. Momoe was all for attacking -- "We outnumber him two to one" -- while Bee said, "Sit tight and we can't lose, move out and he can figure out a way to beat us."
So they sat tight, until finally in the dusky light they saw a large mass slip out from behind Ender's star. It held its shape, even when it abruptly stopped moving sideways and launched itself toward the dead center of the eight stars where eighty-two soldiers waited.
"Doobie doe," said a Griffin. "They're doing a formation."
"They must have been putting that together for all five minutes," said Momoe. "If we'd attacked while they were doing it, we could've destroyed them."
"Eat it, Momoe," whispered Bee. "You saw the way that little kid flew. He went all the way around the star and back behind without ever touching a wall. Maybe they've all got hooks, did you think of that? They've got something new there."
The formation was a strange one. A square formation of tightly-packed bodies in front, making a wall. Behind it, a cylinder, six boys in circumference and two boys deep, their limbs outstretched and frozen so they couldn't possibly be holding on to each other. Yet they held together as tightly as if they had been tied -- which, in fact, they were.
From inside the formation, Dragon Army was firing with deadly accuracy, forcing Griffins and Tigers to stay tightly packed on their stars.
"The back of that sucker is open,"said Bee. "As soon as they get between the stars, we can get around behind--"
"Don't talk about it, do it!" said Momoe. Then he took his own advice and ordered his boys to launch against the wall and rebound out behind the Dragon formation.
In the chaos of their takeoff, while Griffin Army held tight to their stars, the Dragon formation abruptly changed. Both the cylinder and the front wall split in two, as boys inside it pushed off; almost at once, the formations also reversed direction, heading back toward the Dragon gate. Most of the Griffins fired at the formations and the boys moving backward with them; and the Tigers took the survivors of Dragon Army from behind.
But there was something wrong. William Bee thought for a moment and realized what it was. Those formations couldn't have reversed direction in midflight unless someone pushed off in the opposite direction, and if they took off with enough force to make that twenty-man formation move backward, they must be going fast.
There they were, six small Dragon soldiers down near William Bee's own door. From the number of lights showing on their flash suits, Bee could see that three of them were disabled and two of them damaged; only one was whole. Nothing to be frightened of. Bee casually aimed at them, pressed the button, and--
The lights went on.
The game was over.
Even though he was looking right at them, it took Bee a moment to realize what had just happened. Four of the Dragon soldiers had their helmets pressed on the corners of the door. And one of them had just passed through. They had just carried out the victory ritual. They were getting destroyed, they had hardly inflicted any casualties, and they had the gall to perform the victory ritual and end the game right under their noses.
Only then did it occur to William Bee that not only had Dragon Army ended the game, it was possihie that, under the rules, they had won it. After all, no matter what happened, you were not certified as the winner unless you had enough unfrozen soldiers to touch the corners of the gate and pass someone through into the enemy's corridor. Therefore, by one way of thinking. you could argue that the ending ritual was victory. The battleroom certainly recognized it as the end of the game.
The teachergate opetied and Major Anderson came into the room. "Ender," he called, looking around.
One of the frozen Dragon soldiers tried to answer him through jaws that were clamped shut by the flash suit. Anderson hooked over to him and thawed him.
Ender was smiling. "I beat you again, sir," he said.
"Nonsense, Ender," Anderson said softly. "Yout battle was with Griffin and Tiger."
"How stupid do you think I am?" said Ender.
Loudly, Anderson said, "After that little maneuver, the rules are being revised to require that all of the enemy's soldiers must be frozen or disabled before the gate can be reversed."
"It could only work once anyway," Ender said.
Anderson handed him the hook. Ender unfroze everyone at once. To hell with protocol. To hell with everything. "Hey!" he shouted as Anderson moved away. "What is it next time? My army in a cage without guns, with the rest of the Battle School against them? How about a little equality?"
There was a loud murmur of agreement from the other boys, and not all of it came from Dragon Army. Anderson did not so much as turn around to acknowledge Ender's challenge. Finally, it was William Bee who answered. "Ender, if you're on one side of the battle, it won't be equal no matter what the conditions are."
Right! called the boys. Many of them laughed. Talo Momoe began clapping his hands. "Ender Wiggin!" he shouted. The other boys also clapped and shouted Ender's name.
Ender passed through the enemy gate. His soldiers followed him. The sound of them shouting his name followed him through the corridors.
"Practice tonight?" asked Craty Tom.
Ender shook his head.
"Tomorrow morning then?"
"Never again, as far as I'm concerned."
He could hear the murmurs behind him.
"Hey, that's not fair," said one of the boys. "It's not our fault the teachers are screwing up the game. You can't just stop teaching us stuff because--"
Ender slammed his open hand against the wall and shouted at the boy. "I don't care about the game anymore!" His voice echoed through the corridor. Boys from other armies came to their doors. He spoke quietly into the silence -- "Do you understand that?" And he whispered. "The game is over."
He walked back to his room alone. He wanted to lie down, but he couldn't because the bed was wet. It reminded him of all that had happened today, and in fury he tore the mattress and blankets from the bedframe and shoved them out into the corridor. Then he wadded up a unifortn to serve as a pillow and lay on the fabric of wires strung across the frame. It was uncomfortable, but Ender didn't care enough to get up.
He had only been there a few minutes when someone knocked on his door.
"Go away," he said softly. Whoever was knocking didn't hear him or didn't care. Finally, Ender said to come in.
It was Bean.
"Go away, Bean."
Bean nodded but didn't leave. Instead he looked at his shoes. Ender almost yelled at him, cursed at him, screamed at him to leave. Instead he noticed how very tired Bean looked, his whole body bent with weariness, his eyes dark from lack of sleep; and yet his skin was still soft and translucent, the skin of a child, the soft curved cheek, the slender limbs of a little boy. He wasn't eight years old yet. It didn't matter he was brilliant und dedicated and good. He was a child. He was *young*.
No he isn't, thought Ender. Small, yes. But Bean has been through a battle with a whole army depending on him and on the soldiers that he led, and he performed splendidly, and they won. There's no youth in that. No childhood.
Taking Ender's silence and softening expression as permission to stay, Bean took another step into the room. Only then did Ender see the small slip of paper in his hand.
"You're transferred?" asked Ender. He was incredulous, but his voice came out sounding uninterested, dead.
"To Rabbit Army."
Ender nodded. Of course. It was obvious. If I can't be defeated with my army, they'll take my army away. "Carn Carby's a good man," said Ender. "I hope he recognizes what you're worth."
"Carn Carby was graduated today. He got his notice while we were fighting our battle."
"Well, who's commanding Rabbit then?"
Bean held his hands out helplessly. "Me."
Ender looked at the ceiling and nodded. "Of course. After all, you're only four years younger than the regular age."
"It isn't funny. I don't know what's going on here. All the changes in the game. And now this. I wasn't the only one transferred, you know. They graduated half the commanders, and transferred a lot of our guys to command their armies."
"It looks like -- every toon leader and every assistant."
"Of course. If they decide to wreck my army, they'll cut it to the ground. Whatever they're doing, they're thorough.""
"You'll still win, Ender. We all know that. Crazy Tom, he said, 'You mean I'm supposed to figure out how to beat Dragon Army?' Everybody knows you're the best. They can't break you down, no matter what they--"
"They already have."
"No, Ender, they can't--"
"I don't care about their game anymore, Bean. I'm not going to play it anymore. No more practices. No more battles. They can put their little slips of paper on the floor all they want, but I won't go. I decided that before I went through the door today. That's why I had you go for the gate. I didn't think it would work, but I didn't care. I just wanted to go out in style."
"You should've seen William Bee's face. He just stood there trying to figure out how he had lost when you only had seven boys who could wiggle their toes and he only had three who couldn't."
"Why should I want to see William Bee's face? Why should I want to beat anybody?" Ender pressed his palms against his eyes. "I hurt Bonzo really bad today, Bean. I really hurt him bad."
"He had it coming."
"I knocked him out standing up. It was like he was dead, standing there. And I kept hurting him."
Bean said nothing.
"I just wanted to make sure he never hurt me again."
"He won't," said Bean. "They sent him home."
"The teachers didn't say much, they never do. The official notice says he was graduated, but where they put the assignment -- you know, tactical school, support, precommand, navigation, that kind of thing -- it just said Cartagena, Spain. That's his home."
"I'm glad they graduated him."
"Hell, Ender, we're just glad he's gone. If we'd known what he was doing to you, we would've killed him on the spot. Was it true he had a whole bunch of guys gang up on you?"
"No. It was just him and me. He fought with honor." If it weren't for his honor, he and the others would have beaten me together. They might have killed me, then. His sense of honor saved my life. "I didn't fight with honor," Ender added."I fought to win."
Bean laughed. "And you did. Kicked him right out of orbit."
A knock on the door, Before Ender could answer, the door opened. Ender had been expecting more of his soldiers. Instead it was Major Anderson. And behind him came Colonel Graff.
"Ender Wiggin," said Graff.
Ender got to his feet. "Yes sir."
"Your display of temper in the battleroom today was insubordinate and is not to be repeated."
"Yes sir," said Ender,
Bean was still feeling insubordinate, and he didn't think Ender deserved the rebuke. "I think it was about time somebody told a teacher how we felt about what you've been doing."
The adults ignored him. Anderson handed Ender a sheet of paper. A full-sized sheet. Not one of the little slips of paper that served for internal orders within the Battle School; it was a full-fledged set of orders. Bean knew what it meant. Ender was being transferred out of the school.
"Graduated?" asked Bean. Ender nodded. "What took them so long? You're only two or three years early. You've already learned how to walk and talk and dress yourself. What will they have left to teach you?"
Ender shook his head, "All I know is, the game's over." He folded up the paper. "None too soon. Can I tell my army?"
"There isn't time," said Graff. "Your shuttle leaves in twenty minutes. Besides, it's better not to talk to them after you get your orders. It makes it easier."
"For them or for you?" 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," said Bean. "Where are you going? Tactical? Navigational? Support?"
"Command School," Ender answered.
"Command," said Ender, and then he was out the door, Anderson followed him closely. Bean grabbed Colonel Graff by the sleeve. "Nobody goes to Command School until they're sixteen!"
Graff shook off Bean's hand and left, closing the door behind him.
Bean stood alone in the room, trying to grasp what this might mean. Nobody went to Command School without three years of Pre-command in either Tactical or Support. But then, nobody left Battle School without at least six years, and Ender had had only four.