So they hadn't told the squadron leaders. Ender toyed with the idea of telling them how important this battle was to him, but decided it would not help them to have an extraneous concern on their minds. "Sorry," he said. "I overslept."
They laughed. They didn't believe him.
He led them through maneuvers, warming up for the battle ahead. It took him longer than usual to clear his mind, to concentrate on command, but soon enough he was up to speed, responding quickly, thinking well. Or at least, he told himself, thinking that I'm thinking well.
The simulator field cleared. Ender waited for the game to appear. What will happen if I pass the test today?
Is there another school? Another year or two of grueling training, another year of isoiation, another year of people pushing me this way and that way, another year without any control over my own life? He tried to remember how old he was. Eleven. How many years ago did he turn eleven? How many days? It must have happened here at the Command School, but he couldn't remember the day. Maybe he didn't even notice it at the time. Nobody noticed it, except perhaps Valentine.
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 training, like Bonzo, and let him go home. Bonzo had been assigned to Cartagena. He wanted to see travel orders that said Greensboro. Success meant it would go on. Failure meant he could go home.
No, that isn't true, he told himself. They need me, and if I fail there might not be any home to return to.
But he did not believe it. In his conscious mind he knew it was true, but in other places, deeper places, he doubted that they needed him. Mazer's urgency was just another trick. Just another way to make me do what they want me to do. Another way to keep him from resting. From doing nothing, for a long, long time.
Then the enemy formation appeared, and Ender's weariness turned to despair.
The enemy outnumbered him a thousand to one, the simulator glowed green with them. They were grouped in a dozen different formations shifting positions, changing shapes, moving in seemingly random patterns through the simulator field. He could not find a path through them -- a space that seemed open would close suddenly, and another appear, and a formation that seemed penetrable would suddenly change and be forbidding. The planet was at the far edge of the field, and for all Ender knew there were just as many enemy ships beyond it, out of the simulator's range.
As for his own fleet, it consisted of twenty starships, each with only four fighters. He knew the four-fighter starships they were old-fashioned, sluggish, and the range of their Little Doctors was half that of the newer ones. Eighty fighters, against at least five thousand, perhaps ten thousand enemy ships.
He heard his squadron leaders breathing heavily; he could also hear, from the observers behind him, a quiet curse. It was nice to know that one of the adults noticed that it wasn't a fair test. Not that it made any difference. Fairness wasn't part of the game, that was plain. There was no attempt to give him even a remote chance at success. All that I've been through, and they never meant to let me pass at all.
He saw in his mind Bonzo and his vicious little knot of friends, confronting him, threatening him; he had been able to shame Bonzo into fighting him alone. That would hardly work here. And he could not surprise the enemy with his ability as he had done with the older boys in the battleroom. Mazer knew Ender's abilities inside and out.
The observers behind him began to cough, to move nervously. They were beginning to realize that Ender didn't know what to do.
I don't care anymore, thought Ender. You can keep your game. If you won't even give me a chance, why should I play?
Like his last game in Battle School, when they put two armies against him.
And just as he remembered that game, apparently Bean remembered it, too, for his voice came over the headset, saying, "Remember, the enemy's gate is *down*."
Molo, Soup, Vlad, Dumper, and Crazy Tom all laughed. They remembered, too.
And Ender also laughed. It was funny. The adults taking all this so seriously, and the children playing along, playing along, believing it too until suddenly the adults went too far, tried too hard, and the children could see through their game. Forget it, Mazer. I don't care if I pass your test, I don't care if I follow your rules, if you can cheat, so can I. I won't let you beat me unfairly -- I'll beat you unfairly first.
In that final battle in Battle School, he had won by ignoring the enemy, ignoring his own losses; he had moved against the enemy's gate.
And the enemy's gate was down.
If I break this rule, they'll never let me be a commander. It would be too dangerous. I'll never have to play a game again. And that is victory.
He whispered quickly into the microphone. His commanders took their parts of the fleet and grouped themselves into a thick projectile, a cylinder aimed at the nearest of the enemy formations. The enemy, far from trying to repel him, welcomed him in, so he could be thoroughly entrapped before they destroyed him. Mazer is at least taking into account the fact that by now they would have learned to respect me. thought Ender. And that does buy me time.
Ender dodged downward, north, east, and down again, not seeming to follow any plan, but always ending up a little closer to the enemy planet. Finally the enemy began to close in on him too tightly. Then, suddenly, Ender's formation burst. His fleet seemed to melt into chaos. The eighty fighters seemed to follow no plan at all, firing at enemy ships at random, working their way into hopeless individual paths among the bugger craft.
After a few minutes of battle, however, Ender whispered to his squadron leaders once more, and suddenly a dozen of the remaining fighters formed again into a formation. But now they were on the far side of one of the enemy's most formidable groups; they had, with terrible losses, passed through and now they had covered more than half the distance to the enemy's planet.
The enemy sees now, thought Ender. Surely Mazer sees what I'm doing.
Or perhaps Mazer cannot believe that I would do it. Well so much the better for me.
Ender's tiny fleet darted this way and that, sending two or three fighters out as if to attack, then bringing them back. The enemy closed in, drawing in ships and formations that had been widely scattered, bringing them in for the kill. The enemy was most concentrated beyond Ender, so he could not escape back into open space, closing him in. Excellent, thought Ender. Closer. Come closer.
Then he whispered a command and the ships dropped like rocks toward the planet's surface. They were starships and fighters, completely unequipped to handle the heat of passage through an atmosphere. But Ender never intended them to reach the atmosphere. Almost from the moment they began to drop, they were focusing their Little Doctors on one thing only. The planet itself.
One, two, four, seven of his fighters were blown away. It was all a gamble now, whether any of his ships would survive long enough to get in range. It would not take long, once they could focus on the planet's surface. Just a moment with Dr, Device, that's all I want. It occurred to Ender that perhaps the computer wasn't even equipped to show what would happen to a planet if the Little Doctor attacked it. What will I do then, shout Bang, you're dead?
Ender took his hands off the controls and leaned in to watch what happened. The perspective was close to the enemy planet now, as the ship hurtled into its well of gravity. Surely it's in range now, thought Ender. It must be in range and the computer can't handle it.
Then the surface of the planet, which filled half the simulator field now, began to bubble; there was a gout ot explosion, hurling debris out toward Ender's fighters. Ender tried to imagine what was happening inside the planet. The field growing and growing, the molecules bursting apart but finding nowhere for the separate atoms to go.
Within three seconds the entire planet burst apart, becoming a sphere of bright dust, hurtling outward. Ender's fighters were among the first to go: their perspective suddenly vanished, and now the simulator could only display the perspective of the starships waiting beyond the edges of the battle. It was as close as Ender wanted to be. The sphere of the exploding planet grew outward faster than the enemy ships could avoid it. And it carried with it the Little Doctor, not so little anymore, the field taking apart every ship in its path, erupting each one into a dot of light before it went on.
Only at the very periphery of the simulator did the M.D. field weaken. Two or three enemy ships were drifting away. Ender's own starships did not explode. But where the vast enemy fleet had been, and the planet they protected, there was nothing meaningful. A lump of dirt was growing as gravity drew much of the debris downward again. It was glowing hot and spinning visibly; it was also much smaller than the world had been before. Much of its mass was now a cloud still flowing outward.
Ender took off his headphones, filled with the cheers of his squadron leaders, and only then realized that there was just as much noise in the room with him. Men in uniform were hugging each other, laughing, shouting; others were weeping; some knelt or lay prostrate, and Ender knew they were caught up in prayer. Ender didn't understand. It seemed all wrong. They were supposed to be angry.
Colonel Graff detached himself from the others and came to Ender. Tears streamed down his face, but he was smiling. He bent over, reached out his arms, and to Ender's surprise he embraced him, held him tightly, and whispered, "Thank you, thank you Ender. Thank God for you, Ender."
The others soon came, too, shaking his hand, congratulating him. He tried to make sense of this. Had he passed the test after all? It was his victory, not theirs, and a hollow one at that, a cheat; why did they act as if he had won with honor?
The crowd parted and Mazer Rackham walked through. He came straight to Ender and held out his hand.
"You made the hard choice, boy. All or nothing. End them or end us. 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. Ender didn't understand. "I beat *you*."
Mazer laughed, a loud laugh that filled the room.
"Ender, you never played *me*. You never played a *game* since I became your enemy."
Ender didn't get the joke. He had played a great many games, at a terrible cost to himself. He began to get angry.
Mazer reached out and touched his shoulder. Ender shrugged him off. Mazer then grew serious and said, "Ender, for the past few months you have been the battle commander of our fleets. This was the Third Invasion. There were no games, the battles were real, and the only enemy you fought was the buggers. You won every battle, and today you finally fought them at their home world, where the queen was, all the queens from all their colonies, they all were there and you destroyed them completely. They'll never attack us again. You did it. You."
Real. Not a game. Ender's mind was too tired to cope with it all. They weren't just points of light in the air, they were real ships that he had fought with and real ships he had destroyed. And a real world that he had blasted into oblivion. He walked through the crowd, dodging their congratulations, ignoring their hands, their words, their rejoicing. When he got to his own room he stripped off his clothes, climbed into bed, and slept.
Ender awoke when they shook him. It took a moment to recognize them. Graff and Rackham. He turned his back on them. Let me sleep.
"Ender, we need to talk to you," said Graff. Ender rolled back to face them.
"They've been playing out the videos on Earth all day, all night since the battle yesterday."
"Yesterday?" He had slept through until the next day.
"You're a hero. Ender. They've seen what you did. You and the others. I don't think there's a government on Earth that hasn't voted you their highest medal."
"I killed them all, didn't I?" Ender asked.
"All who?" asked Graff. "The buggers? That was the idea."
Mazer leaned in close. "That's what the war was for."
"All their queens. So I killed all their children, all of everything."
"They decided that when they attacked us. It wasn't your fault. It's what had to happen."
Ender grabbed Mazer's uniform and hung onto it, pulling him down so they were face to face. "I didn't want to kill them all. I didn't want to kill anybody! I'm not a killer! You didn't want me, you bastards, you wanted Peter, but you made me do it, you tricked me into it!" He was crying. He was out of control.
"Of course we tricked you into it. That's the whole point," said Graff. "It had to be a trick or you couldn't have done it. It's the bind we were in. We had to have a commander with so much empathy that he would think like the buggers, understand them and anticipate them. So much compassion that he could win the love of his underlings and work with them like a perfect machine, as perfect as the buggers. But somebody with that much compassion could never be the killer we needed. Could never go into battle willing to win at all costs. If you knew, you couldn't do it. If you were the kind of person who would do it even if you knew, you could never have understood the buggers well enough."
"And it had to be a child, Ender," said Mazer. "You were faster than me. Better than me. I was too old and cautious. Any decent person who knows what warfare is can never go into battle with a whole heart. But you didn't know. We made sure you didn't know. You were reckless and brilliant and young. It's what you were born for."
"We had pilots with our ships, didn't we."
"I was ordering pilots to go in and die and I didn't even know it."
"*They* knew it, Ender, and they went anyway. They knew what it was for."
"You never asked me! You never told me the truth about anything!"
"You had to be a weapon, Ender. Like a gun, like the Little Doctor, functioning perfectly but not knowing what you were aimed at. We aimed you. We're responsible. If there was something wrong, we did it."
"Tell me later," Ender said. His eyes closed.
Mazer Rackham shook him. "Don't go to sleep, Ender," he said. "It's very important."
"You're finished with me," Ender said. "Now leave me alone."
"That's why we're here." Mazer said, "We're trying to tell you. They're not through with you, not at all, it's crazy down there. They're going to start a war, Americans claiming the Warsaw Pact is about to attack, and the Pact saying the same thing about the Hegemon. The bugger war isn't twenty-four hours dead and the world down there is back to fighting again, as bad as ever. And all of them are worried about you. And all of them want you. The greatest military leader in history, they want you to lead their armies. The Americans. The Hegemon. Everybody but the Warsaw Pact, and they want you dead."
"Fine with me," said Ender.
"We have to take you away from here. There are Russian marines all over Eros, and the Polemarch is Russian. It could turn to bloodshed at any time."
Ender turned his back on them again. This time they let him. He did not sleep, though. He listened to them.
"I was afraid of this, Rackham. You pushed him too hard. Some of those lesser outposts could have waited until after. You could have given him some days to rest."
"Are you doing it, too, Graff? Trying to decide how I could have done it better? You don't know what would have happened if I hadn't pushed. Nobody knows. I did it the way I did it, and it worked. Above all, it worked. Memorize that defense, Graff. You may have to use it, too."
"I can see what it's done to him. Colonel Liki says there's a good chance he'll be permanently damaged, but I don't believe it. He's too strong. Winning meant a lot to him, and he won."
"Don't tell me about strong. The kid's eleven. Give him some rest, Rackham. Things haven't exploded yet. We can post a guard outside his door."
"Or post a guard outside another door and pretend that it's his."
They went away. Ender slept again.
Time passed without touching Ender, except with glancing blows. Once he awoke for a few minutes with something pressing his hand, pushing downward on it, with a dull, insistent pain. He reached over and touched it; it was a needle passing into a vein. He tried to pull it out, but it was taped on and he was too weak. Another time he awoke in darkness to hear people near him murmuring and cursing. His ears were ringing with the loud noise that had awakened him; he did not remember the noise. "Get the lights on," someone said. And another time he thought he heard someone crying softly near him.
It might have been a single day; it might have been a week; from his dreams, it could have been months. He seemed to pass through lifetimes in his dreams. Through the Giant's Drink again, past the wolf-children, reliving the terrible deaths, the constant murders; he heard a voice whispering in the forest, You had to kill the children to get to the End of the World. And he tried to answer. I never wanted to kill anybody. Nobody ever asked me if I wanted to kill anybody. But the forest laughed at him. And when he leapt from the cliff at the End of the World, sometimes it was not clouds that caught him, but a fighter that carried him to a vantage point near the surface of the buggers' world, so he could watch, over and over, the eruption of death when Dr. Device set off a reaction on the planet's face; then closer and closer, until he could watch individual buggers explode, turn to light, then collapse into a pile of dirt before his eyes. And the queen, surrounded by infants; only the queen was Mother, and the infants were Valentine and all the children he had known in Battle School. One of them had Bonzo's face, and he lay there bleeding through the eyes and nose, saying, You have no honor. And always the dream ended with a mirror or a pool of water or the metal surface of ship, something that would reflect his face back to him.
At first it was always Peter's face, with blood and a snake's tail coming from the mouth. After a while, though, it began to be his own face, old and sad, with eyes that grieved for a billion, billion murders -- but they were his own eyes, and he was content to wear them.
That was the world Ender lived in for many lifetimes during the five days of the League War.
When he awoke again he was lying in darkness. In the distance he could hear the thump, thump of explosions. He listened for a while. Then he heard a soft footstep.
He turned over and flung out a hand, to grasp whoever was sneaking up on him. Sure enough, he caught someone's clothing and pulled him down toward his knees, ready to kill him if need be.
"Ender, it's me, it's me!"
He knew the voice. It came out of his memory as if it were a million years ago.
"Salaam, pinprick. What were you trying to do, kill me?"
"Yes. I thought you were trying to kill *me*."
"I was trying not to wake you up. Well, at least you have some survival instinct left. The way Mazer talks about it, you were becoming a vegetable."
"I was trying to. What's the thumping."
"There's a war going on here. Our section is blacked out to keep us safe."
Ender swung his legs out to sit up. He couldn't do it, though. His head hurt too bad. He winced in pain."
"Don't sit up, Ender. It's all right. It looks like we might win it. Not all the Warsaw Pact people went with the Polemarch. A lot of them came over when the Strategos told them you were loyal to the IF."
"I was asleep."
"So he lied. You weren't plotting treason in your dreams, were you? Some of the Russians who came in told us that when the Polemarch ordered them to find you and kill you, they almost killed him. Whatever they may feel about other people, Ender, they love you. The whole world watched our battles. Videos, day and night. I've seen some. Complete with your voice giving the orders. It's all there, nothing censored. Good stuff. You've got a career in the vids."
"I don't think so," said Ender.
"I was joking. Hey, can you believe it? We won the war. We were so eager to grow up so we could fight in it, and it was us all the time. I mean, we're kids. Ender. And it was us." AIai laughed. "It was you, anyway. You were good, bosh. I didn't know how you'd get us out of that last one. But you did. You were good."
Ender noticed the way he spoke in the past good. "What am I now, Alai?"
"At -- anything. There's a million soldiers who'd follow you to the end of the universe."
They listened. The door opened. Someone stood there. Someone small. "It's over," he said. It was Bean. As if to prove it, the lights went on.
"Ho, Bean," Ender said.
Petra followed him in, with Dink holding her hand. They came to Ender's bed. "Hey, the hero's awake," said Dink.
"Who won?" asked Ender.
"We did, Ender," said Bean. "You were there."
"He's not *that* crazy, Bean. He meant who won just now." Petra took Ender's hand. "There was a truce on Earth. They've been negotiating for days. They finally agreed to accept the Locke Proposal."
"He doesn't know about the Locke Proposal--"
"It's very complicated, but what it means here is that the IF will stay in existence, but without the Warsaw Pact in it. So the Warsaw Pact marines are going home. I think Russia agreed to it because they're having a revolt of the Slavic helots. Everybody's got troubles. About five hundred died here, but it was worse on Earth."
"The Hegemon resigned," said Dink. "It's crazy down there. Who cares."
"You OK?" Petra asked him, touching his head. "You scared us. They said you were crazy, and we said *they* were crazy."
"I'm crazy," said Ender. "But I think I'm OK."
"When did you decide that?" asked Alai.
"When I thought you were about to kill me, and I decided to kill you first. I guess I'm just a killer to the core. But I'd rather be alive than dead."
They laughed and agreed with him. Then Ender began to cry and embraced Bean and Petra, who were closest. "I missed you," he said. "I wanted to see you so bad."
"You saw us pretty bad," Petra answered. She kissed his cheek.
"I saw you magnificent," said Ender. "The ones I needed most, I used up soonest. Bad planning on my part."
"Everybody's OK now," said Dink. "Nothing was wrong with any of us that five days of cowering in blacked-out rooms in the middle of a war couldn't cure."
"I don't have to be your commander anymore, do I?" asked Ender. "I don't want to command anybody again."
"You don't have to command anybody," said Dink, "but you're always our commander."
Then they were silent for a while.
"So what do we do now?" asked Alai. "The bugger war's over, and so's the war down there on Earth, and even the war here. What do we do now?"
"We're kids," said Petra. "They'll probably make us go to school. It's a law. You have to go to school till you're seventeen."