The system is breaking up. No doubt about it. Either somebody at the top is going crazy, or something's gone wrong with the war, the real war, the bugger war. Why else would they break down the training system like this, wreck tne game the way they did? Why else woud they put a little kid like me in command of an army?
Bean wondered about it as he walked back down the corridor to his own bed. The lights went out just as he reached his bunk. He undressed in darkness, fumbling to put his clothing in a locker he couldn't see. He felt terrible. At first he thought he felt bad because he was afraid of leading an army, but it wasn't true. He knew he'd make a good commander. He felt himself wanting to cry. He hadn't cried since the first few days of homesickness after he got here. He tried to put a name on the feeling that put a lump in his throat and made him sob silently, however much he tried to hold it down. He bit down on his hand to stop the feeling, to replace it with pain. It didn't help. He would never see Ender again.
Once he named the feeling, he could control it. He lay back and forced himself to go through tne 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.
When he was crossing into the shuttle, Ender noticed for the first time that the insignia on Major Anderson's uniform had changed. "Yes, he's a colonel now," said Graff. "In fact, Major Anderson has been placed in command of the Battle School, as of this afternoon. I have been reassigned to other duties."
Ender did not ask him what they were.
Graff strapped himself into a seat across the aisle from him. There was only one other passenger, a quiet man in civilian clothes who was introduced as General Pace. Pace was carrying a briefcase, but carried no more luggage than Ender did. Somehow that was comforting to Ender, that Graff also came away empty.
Ender spoke only once on the voyage home. "Why are we going home?" he asked. "I thought Command School was in the asteroids somewhere."
"It is," said Graff. "But the Battle School has no facilities for docking long-range ships. So you get a short landside leave."
Ender wanted to ask if that meant he could see his family. But suddenly, at the thought that it might be possible, he was afraid, and so he didn't ask. Just closed his eyes and tried to sleep. Behind him, General Pace was studying him; for what purpose, Ender could not guess.
It was a hot summer afternoon in Florida when they landed. Ender had been so long without sunlight that the light nearly blinded him, He squinted and sneezed and wanted to get back indoors. Everything was far away and flat; the ground, lacking the upward curve of Battle School floors, seemed instead to fall away, so that on level ground Ender felt as though he were on a pinnacle. The pull of real gravity felt different and he scuffed his feet when he walked. He hated it. He wanted to go back home, back to the Battle School, the only place in the universe where he belonged.
"Well, it's a natural thought. General Pace is the head of the military police. There *was* a death in the Battle School."
"They didn't tell me whether Colonel Graff was being promoted or court-martialed. Just transferred, with orders to report to the Polemarch."
"Is that a good sign or bad?"
"Who knows? On the one hand, Ender Wiggin not only survived, he passed a threshold, he graduated in dazzlingly good shape, you have to give old Graff credit for that. On the other hand, there's the fourth passenger on the shuttle. The one traveling in a bag."
"Only the second death in the history of the school. At least it wasn't a suicide this time."
"How is murder better, Major Imbu?"
"It wasn't murder, Colonel. We have it on video from two angles. No one can blame Ender."
"But they might blame Graff. After all this is over, the civilians can rake over our files and decide what was right and what was not. Give us medals where they think we were rignt, take away our pensions and put us in jail where they decide we were wrong. At least they had the good sense not to tell Ender that the boy died."
"Its the second time, too."
"They didn't tell him about Stilson, either."
"The kid is scary."
"Ender Wiggin isn't a killer. He just wins -- thoroughly. If anybody's going to be scared, let it be the buggers"
"The only one I feel sorry for is Ender. But not sorry enough to suggest they ought to let up on him. I just got access to the material that Graff's been geffing all this time. About fleet movements, that sort of thing. I used to sleep easy at night."
"Time's getting short?"
"I shouldn't have mentioned it. I can't tell you secured information."
"Let's leave it at this: they didn't get him to Command School a day too soon. And maybe a couple of years too late."
Chapter 13 -- Valentine
"Brother and sister. They had layered themselves five times through the nets -- writing for companies that paid for their memberships, that sort of thing. Devil of a time tracking them down."
"What are they hiding?"
"Could be anything. The most obvious thing to hide, though, is their ages. The boy is fourteen, the girl is twelve."
"Which one is Demosthenes?"
"The girl. The twelve-year-old."
"Pardon me. I don't really think it's funny, but I can't help but laugh. All this time we've been worried, all the time we've been trying to persuade the Russians not to take Demosthenes too seriously, we held up Locke as proof that Americans weren't all crazy warmongers. Brother and sister, prepubescent--"
"And their last name is Wiggin."
"*The* Wiggin is a third. They are one and two."
"Oh, excellent. The Russians will never believe--"
"That Demosthenes and Locke aren't as much under our control as *the* Wiggin."
"Is there a conspiracy? Is someone controlling them?"
"We have been able to detect no contact between these two children and any adult who might be directing them."
"That is not to say that someone might not have invented some method you can't detect. It's hard to believe that two children--"
"I interviewed Colonel Graff when he arrived from the Battle School. It is his best judgment that nothing these children have done is out of their reach. Their abilities are virtually identical with -- *the* Wiggin. Only their temperaments are different. What surprised him, however, was the orientation of the two personas. Demosthenes is definitely the girl, but Graff says the girl was rejected for Battle School because she was too pacific, too conciliatory, and above all, too empathic."
"Definitely not Demosthenes."
"And the boy has the soul of a jackal."
"Wasn't it Locke that was recently praised as 'The only truly open mind in America'?"
"It's hard to know what's really happening. But Graff recommended, and I agree, that we should leave them alone. Not expose them. Make no report at this time except that we have determined that Locke and Dernosthenes have no foreign connections and have no connections with any domestic group, either, except those pubiicly declared on the nets."
"In other words, give them a clean bill of health,"
"I know Demosthenes seems dangerous, in part because he or she has such a wide following. But I think it's significant that the one of the two of them who is most ambitious has chosen the moderate, wise persona. And they're still just talking. They have influence, but no power."
"In my experience, influence is power."
"If we ever find them getting out of line, we can easily expose them."
"Only in the next few years. The longer we wait, the older they get, and the less shocking it is to discover who they are."
"You know what the Russian troop movements have been. There's always the chance that Demosthene is right. In which case--"
"We'd better have Demosthones around. All right. We'll show them clean, for now. But watch them. And I, of course, have to find ways of keeping the Russians calm."
In spite of all her misgivings, Valentine was having fun being Demosthenes. Her column was now being carried on practically every newsnet in the country, and it was fun to watch the money pile up in her attorney's accounts. Every now and then she and Peter would, in Demosthenes' name, donate a carefully calculated sum to a particular candidate or cause: enough money that the donation would be noticed, but not so much that the candidate would feel she was trying to buy a vote. She was getting so many letters now that her newsnet had hired a secretary to answer certain classes of routine correspondence for her. The fun fetters, from national and international leaders, sometimes hostile, sometimes friendly, always diplomatically trying to pry into Demosthenes' mind -- those she and Peter read together, laughing in delight sometimes that people like *this* were writing to children, and didn't know it.
Sometimes, though, she was ashamed. Father was reading Demosthenes regularly; he never read Locke, or if he did, he said nothing about it. At dinner, though, he would often regale them with some telling point Demosthenes had made in that day's column. Peter loved it when Father did that -- "See, it shows that the common man is paying attention" -- but it made Valentine feel humiliated for Father. If he ever found out that all this time *I* was writing the columns he told us about, and that I didn't even believe half the things I wrote, he would be angry and ashamed.
At school, she once nearly got them in trouble, when her history teacher assigned the class to write a paper contrasting the views of Demosthenes and Locke as expressed in two of their early columns. Valentine was careless, and did a brirrliant job of analysis. As a result, she had to work hard to talk the principal out of having her essay published on the very newsnet that carried Demosthenes' column. Peter was savage about it. "You write too much like Demosthenes, you can't get published, I should kill Demosthenes now, you're getting out of control."
If he raged about that blunder, Peter frightened her still more when he went silent. It happened when Demosthenes was invited to take part in the President's Council on Education for the Future, a blue-ribbon panel that was designed to do nothing, but do it splendidly. Valentine thought Peter would take it as a triumph, but he did not. "Turn it down," he said,
"Why should I?" she asked, "It's no work at all, and they even said that because of Demosthenes' well-known desire for privacy, they would net all the meetings. It makes Demosthenes into a respectable person, and--"
"And you love it that you got that before I did."
"Peter, it isn't you and me, it's Demosthenes and Locke. We made them up. They aren't real. Besides, this appointment doesn't mean they like Demosthenes better than Locke, it just means that Demosthenes has a much stronger base of support. You knew he would. Appointing him pleases a large number of Russian-haters and chauvinists."
"It wasn't supposed to work this way. Locke was supposed to be the respected one."
"He is! Real respect takes longer than official respect. Peter, don't be angry at me because I've done well with the things you told me to do."
But he was angry, for days, and ever since then he had left her to think through all her own columns, instead of telling her what to write. He probably assumed that this would make the quality of Demosthenes' columns deteriorate, but if it did no one noticed. Perhaps it made him even angrier that she never came to him weeping tor help. She had been Demosthenes too long now to need anyone to tell her what Demosthenes would think about things.
And as her correspondence with other politically active citizens grew, she began to learn things, information that simply wasn't available to the general public. Certain military people who corresponded with her dropped hints about things without meaning to, and she and Peter put them together to build up a fascinating and frightening picture of Warsaw Pact activity. They were indeed preparing for war, a vicious and bloods earthbound war. Demosthenes wasn't wrong to suspect that the Warsaw Pact was not abiding by the terms of the League.
And the character of Demosthenes gradually took on a life of his own. At times she found herself thinking like Demosthenes at the end of a writing session, agreeing with ideas that were supposed to be calculated poses. And sometimes she read Peter's Locke essays and found herself annoyed at his obvious blindness to what was really going on.
Perhaps it's impossible to wear an identity without becoming what you pretend to be. She thought of that, worried about it for a few days, and then wrote a column using that as a premise, to show that politicians who toadied to the Russians in order to keep the peace would inevitably end up subservient to them in everything. It was a lovely bite at the party in power, and she got a lot of good mail about it. She also stopped being frightened of the idea of becoming, to a degree, Demosthenes. He's smarter than Peter and I ever gave him credit for, she thought.
Graff was waiting for her after school. He stood leaning on his car. He was in civilian clothes, and he had gained weight, so she didn't recognize him at first. But he beckoned to her, and before he could introduce himself she remembered his name.
"I won't write another letter," she said. "I never should have written that one.
"You don't like medals, then, I guess."
"Come for a ride with me, Valentine."
"I don't ride with strangers."
He handed her a paper. It was a release form, and her parents had signed it.
"I guess you're not a stranger. Where are we going?"
"To see a young soldier who is in Greensboro on leave."
She got in the car. "Ender's only ten years old," she said. "I thought you told us the first time he'd be eligible for a leave was when he was twelve."
"He skipped a few grades."
"So he's doing well?"
"Ask him when you see him."
"Why me? Why not the whole family?"
Graff sighed. "Ender sees the world his own way. We had to persuade him to see you. As for Peter and your parents, he was not interested. Life at the Battle School was -- intense."
"What do you mean, he's gone crazy?"
"On the contrary, he's the sanest person I know. He's sane enough to know that his parents are not particularly eager to reopen a book of affection that was closed quite tightly four years ago. As for Peter -- we didn't even suggest a meeting, and so he didn't have a chance to tell us to go to hell."
They went out Lake Brandt Road and turned off just past the lake, following a road that wound down and up until they came to a white clapboard mansion that sprawled along the top of a hill. It looked over Lake Brandt on one side and a five-acre private lake on the other. "This is the house that Medly's Mist-E-Rub built," said Graff. "The IF picked it up in a tax sale about twenty years ago. Ender insisted that his conversation with you should not be bugged. I promised him it wouldn't be, and to help inspire confidence, the two of you are going out on a raft he built himself. I should warn you, though. I intend to ask you questions about your conversation when it is finished. You don't have to answer, but I hope you will."
"I didn't bring a swimming suit."
"We can provide one."
"One that isn't bugged?"
"At some point, there must be trust. For insance, I know who Demosthenes really is."
She felt a thrill of fear run through her, but said nothing.
"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, the 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 any more.
"You said he built the raft. How long has be 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.
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 hts 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."
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 anothet 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's 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 IF 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."