But it did matter, and Rose the Nose knew it. He mocked himself to forestall the mocking comments of anti-semites-- almost everyone he defeated in battle became, at least for a time, a Jew-hater-- but he also made sure everyone knew what he was. His army was in second place, bucking for first.
"I took you on, guy, because I didn't want people to think I only win because I got great soldiers. I want them to know that even with a little puke of a soldier like you I can still win. We only got three rules here. Do what I tell you and don't piss in the bed."
Ender nodded. He knew that Rose wanted him to ask what the third rule was. So he did.
"That was three rules. We don't do too good in math here."
The message was clear. Winning is more important than anything.
"Your practice sessions with half-assed little Launchies are over, Wiggin. Done. You're in a big boys' army now. I'm putting you in Dink Meeker's toon. From now on, as far as you're concerned, Dink Meeker is God."
"Then who are you?"
"The personnel officer who hired God." Rose grinned. "And you are forbidden to use your desk again until you've frozen two enemy soldiers in the same battle. This order is out of self-defense. I hear you're a genius programmer. I don't want you screwing around with my desk.
Everybody erupted in laughter. It took Ender a moment to understand why. Rose had programmed his desk to display-- and animate-- a bigger-than-life sized picture of male genitals, which waggled back and forth as Rose held the desk on his naked lap. This is just the sort of commander Bonzo would trade me to, thought Ender. How does a boy who spends his time like this win battles?
Ender found Dink Meeker in the game room, not playing, just sitting and watching. "A guy pointed you out," Ender said. "I'm Ender Wiggin."
"I know," said Meeker.
"I'm in your toon."
"I know," he said again.
"I'm pretty inexperienced."
Dink looked up at him. "Look, Wiggin, I know all this. Why do you think I asked Rose to get you for me?"
He had not been dumped, he had been picked up, he had been asked for. Meeker wanted him. "Why?" asked Ender.
"I've watched your practice sessions with the Launchies. I think you show some promise. Bonzo is stupid and I wanted you to get better training than Petra could give you. All she can do is shoot."
"I needed to learn that."
"You still move like you were afraid to wet your pants."
"So teach me."
"I'm not going to quit my freetime practice sessions."
"I don't want you to quit them."
"Rose the Nose does."
"Rose the Nose can't stop you. Likewise, he can't stop you from using your desk."
"I thought commanders could order anything."
"They can order the moon to turn blue, too, but it doesn't happen. Listen, Ender, commanders have just as much authority as you let them have. The more you obey them, the more power they have over you."
"What's to stop them from hurting me?" Ender remembered Bonzo's blow.
"I thought that was why you were taking personal attack classes."
"You've really been watching me, haven't you?"
Dink didn't answer.
"I don't want to get Rose mad at me. I want to be part of the battles now, I'm tired of sitting out till the end."
"Your standings will go down."
This time Ender didn't answer.
"Listen, Ender, as long as you're part of my toon, you're part of the battle."
Ender soon learned why. Dink trained his toon independently from the rest of Rat Army, with discipline and vigor; he never consulted with Rose, and only rarely did the whole army maneuver together. It was as if Rose commanded one army, and Dink commanded a much smaller one that happened to practice in the battleroom at the same time.
Dink started out the first practice by asking Ender to demonstrate his feet-first attack position. The other boys didn't like it. "How can we attack lying on our backs?" they asked.
To Ender's surprise, Dink didn't correct them, didn't say, "You aren't attacking on your back, you're dropping downward toward them." He had seen what Ender was doing, but he had not understood the orientation that it implied. It soon became clear to Ender that even though Dink was very, very good, his persistence in holding onto the corridor gravity orientation instead of thinking of the enemy gate as downward was limiting his thinking.
They practiced attacking an enemy-held star. Before trying Ender's feet-first method, they had always gone in standing up, their whole bodies available as a target. Even now, though, they reached the star and then assaulted the enemy from one direction only; "Over the top," cried Dink, and over they went. To his credit, he then repeated the exercise, calling, "Again, upside down," but because of their insistence on a gravity that didn't exist, the boys became awkward when the maneuver was under, as if vertigo seized them.
They hated the feet-first attack. Dink insisted that they use it. As a result, they hated Ender. "Do we have to learn how to fight from a Launchy?" one of them muttered, making sure Ender could hear. "Yes," answered Dink. They kept working.
And they learned it. In practice skirmishes, they began to realize how much harder it was to shoot an enemy attacking feet first. As soon as they were convinced of that, they practiced the maneuver more willingly.
That night was the first time Ender had come to a practice session after a whole afternoon of work. He was tired.
"Now you're in a real army," said Alai. "You don't have to keep practicing with us."
"From you I can learn things that nobody knows," said Ender.
"Dink Meeker is the best. I hear he's your toon leader."
"Then let's get busy. I'll teach you what I learned from him today."
He put Alai and two dozen others through the same exercises that had worn him out all afternoon. But he put new touches on the patterns, made the boys try the maneuvers with one leg frozen, with both legs frozen, or using frozen boys for leverage to change directions.
Halfway through the practice, Ender noticed Petra and Dink together, standing in the doorway, watching. Later, when he looked again, they were gone.
So they're watching me, and what we're doing is known. He did not know whether Dink was his friend; he believed that Petra was, but nothing could be sure. They might be angry that he was dome what only commanders and toon leaders were supposed to do-- drilling and training soldiers. They might be offended that a soldier would associate so closely with Launchies. It made him uneasy, to have older chiidrcn watching.
"I thought I told you not to use your desk." Rose the Nose stood by Ender's bunk.
Ender did not look up. "I'm completing the trigonometry assignment for tomorrow."
Rose bumped his knee into Ender's desk. "I said not to use it."
Ender set the desk on his bunk and stood up. "I need trigonometry more than I need you."
Rose was taller than Ender by at least forty centimeters. But Ender was not particularly worried. It would not come to physical violence, and if it did, Ender thought he could hold his own. Rose was lazy and didn't know personal combat.
"You're going down in the standings, boy," said Rose.
"I expect to. I was only leading the list because of the stupid way Salamander Army was using me."
"Stupid? Bonzo's strategy won a couple of key games."
"Bonzo's strategy wouldn't win a salad fight. I was violating orders every time I fired my gun."
Rose hadn't known that. It made him angry. "So everything Bonzo said about you was a lie. You're not only short and incompetent, you're insubordinate, too."
"But I turned defeat into stalemate, all by myself."
"We'll see how you do all by yourself next time." Rose went away.
One of Ender's toonmates shook his head. "You dumb as a thumb."
Ender looked at Dink, who was doodling on his desk. Dink looked up, noticed Ender watching him, and gazed steadily back at him. No expression. Nothing. OK, thought Ender, I can take care of myself.
Battle came two day's later. It was Ender's first time fighting as part of a toon; he was nervous. Dink's toon lined up against the right-hand wall of the corridor and Ender was very careful not to lean, not to let his weight slip to either side. Stay balanced.
"Wiggin!" called Rose the Nose.
Ender felt dread come over him from throat to groin. a tingle of fear that made him shudder. Rose saw it.
"Shivering? Trembling? Don't wet your pants, little Launchy." Rose hooked a finger over the butt of Ender's gun and pulled him to the forcefield that hid the battleroom from view. "We'll see how well you do now, Ender. As soon as that door opens, you jump through, go straight ahead toward the enemy's door."
Suicide. Pointless, meaningless self-destruction. But he had to follow orders now, this was battle, not school. For a moment Ender raged silently; then he calmed himself. "Excellent, sir," he said. "The direction I fire my gun is the direction of their main contingent."
Rose laughed. "You won't have time to fire anything, pinprick."
The wall vanished. Ender jumped up, took hold of the ceiling handholds, and threw himself out and down, speeding toward the enemy door.
It was Centipede Army, and they only beginning to emerge from their door when Ender was halfway across the battleroom. Many of them were able to get under cover of stars quickly but Ender had doubled up his legs under him and, holding his pistol at his crotch, he was firing between his legs and freezing many of them as they emerged.
They flashed his legs, but he had three precious seconds before they coud hit his body and put him out of action. He froze several more, then flung out his arms in equal and opposite directions. The hand that held his gun ended up pointing toward the main body of Centipede Army. He fired into the mass of the enemy, and then they froze him.
A second later he smashed into the forcefield of the enemy's door and rebounded with a crazy spin. He landed in a group of enemy soldiers behind a star; they shoved him off and spun him even more rapidly. He rebounded out of control through the rest of the battle, though gradually friction with the air slowed him down. He had no way of knowing how many men he had frozen before getting iced himself, but he did get the general idea that Rat Army won again, as usual.
After the battle Rose didn't speak to him. Ender was still first in the standings, since he had frozen three, disabled two, and damaged seven. There was no more talk about insubordination and whether Ender could use his desk. Rose stayed in his part of the barracks, and left Ender alone.
Dink Meeker began to practice instant emergence from the corridor-- Ender's attack on the enemy while they were still coming out of the door had been devastating. "If one man can do that much damage, think what a toon can do." Dink got Major Anderson to open a door in the middle of a wall, even during practice sessions, instead of just the floor level door, so they could practice launching under battle conditions. Word got around. From now on no one could take five or ten or fifteen seconds in the corridor to size things up. The game had changed.
More battles. This time Ender played a proper role within a toon. He made mistakes. Skirmishes were lost. He dropped from first to second in the standings, then to fourth. Then he made fewer mistakes, and began to feel comfortable within the framework of the toon, and he went back up to third, then second, then first.
After practice one afternoon, Ender stayed in the battleroom. He had noticed that Dink Meeker usually came late to dinner, and he assumed it was for extra practice. Ender wasn't very hungry, and he wanted to see what it was Dink practiced when no one else could see.
But Dink didn't practice. He stood near the door, watching Ender.
Ender stood across the room, watching Dink.
Neither spoke. It was plain Dink expected Ender to leave. It was just as plain that Ender was saying no.
Dink turned his back on Ender, methodically took off his flash suit, and gently pushed off from the floor. He drifted slowly toward the center of the room, very slowly, his body relaxing almost completely, so that his hands and arms seemed to be caught by almost nonexistent air currents in the room.
After the speed and tension of practice, the exhaustion, the alertness, it was restful just to watch him drift. He did it for ten minutes or so before he reached another wall. Then he pushed off rather sharply, returned to his flash suit, and pulled it on.
"Come on," he said to Ender.
They went to the barracks. The room was empty, since all the boys were at dinner. Each went to his own bunk and changed into regular uniforms. Ender walked to Dink's bunk and waited for a moment till Dink was ready to go.
"Why did you wait?" asked Dink.
"Well, now you know why I'm not a commander."
Ender had wondered.
"Acttually, they promoted me twice, and I refused."
"They took away my old locker and bunk and desk, assigned me to a commander cabin and gave me an army. But I just stayed in the cabin until they gave in and put me back into somebody else's army."
"Because I won't let them do it to me. I can't believe you haven't seen through all this crap yet, Ender. But I guess you're young. These other armies, they aren't the enemy. It's the teachers, they're the enemy. They get us to fight each other, to hate each other. The game is everything. Win win win, it amounts to nothing. We kill ourselves, go crazy trying to beat each other, and all the time the old bastards are watching us, studying us, discovering our weak points, deciding whether we're good enough or not. Well, good enough for what? I was six years old when they brought me here. What the hell did I know? They decided I was right for the program, but nobody ever asked me if the program was right for me."
"So why don't you go home?"
Dink smiled crookedly. "Because I can't give up the game." He tugged at the fabric of his flash suit, which lay on the bunk beside him. "Because I love this."
"So why not be a commander?"
Dink shook his head. "Never. Look what it does to Rosen. The boy's crazy. Rose de Nose. Sleeps in here with us instead of in his cabin. Why? Because he's scared to be alone, Ender. Scared of the dark."
"But they made him a commander and so he has to act like one. He doesn't know what he's doing. He's winning, but that scares him worst of all, because he doesn't know what he's winning, except that I have something to do with it. Any minute somebody could find out that Rosen isn't some magic Israeli general who can win no matter what. He doesn't know why anybody wins or loses. Nobody does."
"It doesn't mean he's crazy, Dink."
"I know, you've been here a year, you think these people are normal. Well, they're not. We're not. I look in the library, I call up books on my desk. Old ones, because they won't let us have anything new, but I've got a pretty good idea what children are, and we're not children. Children can lose sometimes, and nobody cares. Children aren't in armies, they aren't commanders, they don't rule over forty other kids, it's more than anybody can take and not get a little crazy."
Ender tried to remember what other children were like, in his class at school, back in the city. But all he could think of was Stilson.
"I had a brother. Just a normal guy. All he cared about was girls. And flying. He wanted to fly. He used to play ball with the guys. A pickup game, shooting balls at a hoop, dribbling down the corridors until the peace officers confiscated your ball. We had a great time. He was teaching me how to dribble when I was taken."
Ender remembered his own brother, and the memory was not fond.
Dink misunderstood the expression on Ender's face. "Hey, I know, nobody's supposed to talk about home. But we came from somewhere. The Battle School didn't create us, you know. The Battle School doesn't create anything. It just destroys. And we all remember things from home. Maybe not good things, but we remember and then we lie and pretend that-- look, Ender, why is that nobody talks about home, ever? Doesn't that tell you how important it is? That nobody even admits that-- oh hell."
"No, it's all right," Ender said. "I was just thinking about Valentine. My sister."
"I wasn't trying to make you upset."
"It's OK. I don't think of her very much, because I always get like this."
"That's right, we never cry. Christ, I never thought of that. Nobody ever cries. We really are trying to be adult. Just like our fathers. I bet your father was like you. I bet he was quiet and took it, and then busted out and--"
"I'm not like my father."
"So maybe I'm wrong. But look at Bonzo, your old commander. He's got an advanced case of Spanish honor. He can't allow himself to have weaknesses. To be better than him, that's an insult. To be stronger, that's like cutting off his balls. That's why he hates you, because you didn't suffer when he tried to punish you. He hates you for that, he honestly wants to kill you. He's crazy. They're all crazy."
"And you aren't?"
"I be crazy too, little buddy, but at least when I be craziest, I be floating all alone in space and the crazy, she float out of me, she soak into the walls, and she don't come out till there be battles and little boy's bump into the walls and squish out de crazy."
"And you be crazy too," said Dink. "Come on, let's go eat."
"Maybe you can be a commander and not be crazy. Maybe knowing about the craziness means you don't have to fall for it."
"I'm not going to let the bastards run me, Ender. They've got you pegged, too, and they don't plan to treat you kindly, look what they've done to you so far."
"They haven't done anything except promote me."
"And she make you life so easy, neh?"
Ender laughed and shook his head. "So maybe you're right."
"They think they got you on ice. Don't let them."
"But that's what I came for," Ender said. "For them to make me into a tool. To save the world."
"I can't believe you still believe it."
"The bugger menace. Save the world. Listen. Ender, if the buggers were coming back to get us, they'd be here. They aren't invading again. We beat them and they're gone.
"But the videos--"
"All from the First and Second Invasions. Your grandparents weren't born yet when Mazer Rackham wiped them out. You watch. It's all a fake. There is no war, and they're just screwing around with us."
"Because as long as people are afraid ot the buggers, the IF can stay in power, and as long as the IF is in power, certain countries can keep their hegemony. But keep watching the vids, Ender. People will catch onto this game pretty soon, and there'll be a civil war to end all wars. That is the menace, Ender, not the buggers. And in that war, when it comes, you and I won't be friends. Because you're American, just like our dear teachers. And I am not."
They went to the mess hall and ate, talking about other things. But Ender could not stop thinking about what Dink had said. The Battle School was so enclosed, the game so important in the minds of the children, that Ender had forgotten there was a world outside. Spanish honor. Civil war. Politics. The Battle School was really a very small place, wasn't it?
But Ender did not reach Dink's conclusions. The buggers were real. The threat was real. The IF controlled a lot of things, but it didn't control the videos and the nets. Not where Ender had grown up. In Dink's home in the Netherlands, with three generations under Russian hegemony, perhaps it was all controlled, but Ender knew that lies could not last long in America. So he believed.
Believed, but the seed of doubt was there, and it stayed, and every now and then sent out a little root. It changed everything, to have that seed growing. It made Ender listen more carefully to what people meant, instead of what they said. It made him wise.
There weren't as many boys at the evening practice, not by half.
"Where's Bernard?" asked Ender.
Alai grinned. Shen closed his eves and assumed a look of blissful meditation.
"Haven't you heard?" said another boy, a Launchy from a younger group. "Word's out that any Launchy who comes to your practice sessions won't ever amount to anything in anybody's army. Word's out that the commanders don't want any soldiers who've been damaged by your training."
"But the way I brain it," said the Launchy, "I be the best soldier I can, and any commander worth a damn, he take me. Neh?"
"Eh," said Ender, with finality.
They went on with practice. About a half hour into it, when they were practicing throwing off collisions with frozen soldiers, several commanders in different uniforms came in. They ostentatiously took down names.
"Hey," shouted Alai. "Make sure you spell my name right!"
The next night there were even fewer boys. Now Ender was hearing the stories little Launchies getting slapped around in the bathrooms, or having accidents in the mess hall and the game room, or getting their files trashed by older boys who had broken the primitive security system that guarded the Launchies' desks.
"No practice tonight," Ender said.
"The hell there's not," said Alai.
"Give it a few days. I don't want any of the little kids getting hurt."
"If you stop, even one night, they'll figure it works to do this kind of thing. Just like if you'd ever backed down to Bernard back when he was being a swine."
"Besides," said Shen. "We aren't scared and we don't care, so you owe it to us to go on. We need the practice and so do you."
Ender remembered what Dink had said. The game was trivial compared to the whole world. Why should anybody give every night of his life to this stupid, stupid game?
"We don't accomplish that much anyway," Ender said. He started to leave.
Aiai stopped him. "They scare you, too? They slap you up in the bathroom? Stick you head in the pissah? Somebody gots a gun up you bung?"
"No," Ender said.
"You still my friend?" asked Alai, more quietly.
"Then I still you friend, Ender, and I stay here and practice with you."
The older boys came again, but fewer of them were commanders. Most were members of a couple of armies. Ender recognized Salamander uniforms. Even a couple of Rats. They didn't take names this time. Instead, they mocked and shouted and ridiculed as the Launchies tried to master difficult skills with untrained muscles. It began to get to a few of the boys.
"Listen to them," Ender said to the other boys. "Remember the words. If you ever want to make your enemy crazy, shout that kind of stuff at them. It makes them do dumb things, to be mad. But we don't get mad."
Shen took the idea to heart, and after each jibe from the older boys, he had a group of four Launchies recite the words, loudly, five or six times. When they started singing the taunts like nursery rhymes, some of the older boys launched themselves from the wall and came out for a fight.
The flash suits were designed for wars fought with harmless light; they offered little protection and seriously hampered movement if it came to hand-to-hand fighting in nullo. Half the boys were flashed, anyway, and couldn't fight; but the stiffness of their suits made them potentially useful. Ender quickly ordered his Launchies to gather in one corner of the room. The older boys laughed at them even more, and some who had waited by the wall came forward to join in the attack, seeing Ender's group in retreat.