bodies and blow ourselves up in the midst of our enemies. We are, when the cause is sufficient,
They don't believe we'll use Dr. Device because the only way to use it is to destroy our own ships
in the process. From the moment Ender started giving orders, it was obvious to everyone that this
was a suicide run. These ships were not made to enter an atmosphere. And yet to get close enough
to the planet to set off Dr. Device, they had to do exactly that.
Get down into the gravity well and launch the weapon just before the ship burns up. And if it
works, if the planet is torn apart by whatever force it is in that terrible weapon, the chain reaction
will reach out into space and take out any ships that might happen to survive.
Win or lose, there'd be no human survivors from this battle.
They've never seen us make a move like that. They don't understand that, yes, humans will always
act to preserve their own lives -- except for the times when they don't. In the Buggers' experience,
autonomous beings do not sacrifice themselves. Once they understood our autonomy, the seed of
their defeat was sown.
In all of Ender's study of the Buggers, in all his obsession with them over the years of his training,
did he somehow come to *know* that they would make such deadly mistakes?
I did not know it. I would not have pursued this strategy. I *had* no strategy. Ender was the only
commander who could have known, or guessed, or unconsciously hoped that when he flung out his
forces the enemy would falter, would trip, would fall, would fail.
Or *did* he know at all? Could it be that he reached the same conclusion as I did, that this battle
was unwinnable? That he decided not to play it out, that he went on strike, that he quit? And then
my bitter words, "the enemy's gate is down," triggered his futile, useless gesture of despair, sending
his ships to certain doom because he did not know that there were real ships out there, with real
men aboard, that he was sending to their deaths? Could it be that he was as surprised as I was by
the mistakes of the enemy? Could our victory be an accident?
No. For even if my words provoked Ender into action, he was still the one who chose *this*
formation, *these* feints and evasions, *this* meandering route. It was Ender whose previous
victories taught the enemy to think of us as one kind of creature, when we are really something
quite different. He pretended all this time that humans were rational beings, when we are really the
most terrible monsters these poor aliens could ever have conceived of in their nightmares. They had
no way Of knowing the story of blind Samson, who pulled down the temple on his own head to
slay his enemies.
On those ships, thought Bean, there are individual men who gave up homes and families, the
world of their birth, in order to cross a great swatch of the galaxy and make war on a terrible
enemy. Somewhere along the way they're bound to understand that Ender's strategy requires them
all to die. Perhaps they already have. And yet they obey and will continue to obey the orders that
come to them. As in the famous Charge of the Light Brigade, these soldiers give up their lives,
trusting that their commanders are using them well. While we sit safely here in these simulator
rooms, playing an elaborate computer game, they are obeying, dying so that all of humankind can
And yet we who command them, we children in these elaborate game machines, have no idea of
their courage, their sacrifice. We cannot give them the honor they deserve, because we don't even
know they exist.
Except for me.
There sprang into Bean's mind a favorite scripture of Sister Carlotta's. Maybe it meant so much to
her because she had no children. She told Bean the story of Absalom's rebellion against his own
father, King David. In the course of a battle, Absalom was killed. When they brought the news to
David, it meant victory, it meant that no more of his soldiers would die. His throne was safe. His
*life* was safe. But all he could think about was his son, his beloved son, his dead boy.
Bean ducked his head, so his voice would be heard only by the men under his command. And
then, for just long enough to speak, he pressed the override that put his voice into the ears of all the
men of that distant fleet. Bean had no idea how his voice would sound to them; would they hear his
childish voice, or were the sounds distorted, so they would hear him as an adult, or perhaps as some
metallic, machinelike voice? No matter. In some form the men of that distant fleet would hear his
voice, transmitted faster than light, God knows how.
"O my son Absalom," Bean said softly, knowing for the first time the kind of anguish that could
tear such words from a man's mouth. "My son, my son Absalom. Would God I could die for thee, O
Absalom, my son. My sons!"
He had paraphrased it a little, but God would understand. Or if he didn't, Sister Carlotta would.
Now, thought Bean. Do it now, Ender. You're as close as you can get without giving away the
game. They're beginning to understand their danger. They're concentrating their forces. They'll
blow us out of the sky before our weapons can be launched --
"All right, everybody except Petra's squadron," said Ender. "Straight down, as fast as you can.
Launch Dr. Device against the planet. Wait till the last possible second. Petra, cover as you can."
The squadron leaders, Bean among them, echoed Ender's commands to their own fleets. And then
there was nothing to do but watch. Each ship was on its own.
The enemy understood now, and rushed to destroy the plummeting humans. Fighter after fighter
was picked off by the inrushing ships of the Formic fleet. Only a few human fighters survived long
enough to enter the atmosphere.
Hold on, thought Bean. Hold on as long as you can.
The ships that launched too early watched their Dr. Device burn up in the atmosphere before it
could go off. A few other ships burned up themselves without launching.
Two ships were left. One was in Bean's squadron.
"Don't launch it," said Bean into his microphone, head down. "Set it off inside your ship. God be
Bean had no way of knowing whether it was his ship or the other that did it. He only knew that
both ships disappeared from the display without launching. And then the surface of the planet
started to bubble. Suddenly a vast eruption licked outward toward the last of the human fighters,
Petra's ships, on which there might or might not still be men alive to see death coming at them. To
see their victory approach.
The simulator put on a spectacular show as the exploding planet chewed up all the enemy ships,
engulfing them in the chain reaction. But long before the last ship was swallowed up, all the
maneuvering had stopped. They drifted, dead. Like the dead Bugger ships in the vids of the Second
Invasion. The queens of the hive had died on the planet's surface. The destruction of the remaining
ships was a mere formality. The Buggers were already dead.
Bean emerged into the tunnel to find that the other kids were already there, congratulating each
other and commenting on how cool the explosion effect was, and wondering if something like that
could really happen.
"Yes," said Bean. "It could."
"As if you know," said Fly Molo, laughing.
"Of course I know it could happen," said Bean. "It *did* happen."
They looked at him uncomprehendingly. When did it happen? I never heard of anything like that.
Where could they have tested that weapon against a planet? I know, they took out Neptune!
"It happened just now," said Bean. "It happened at the home world of the Buggers. We just blew it
up. They're all dead."
They finally began to realize that he was serious. They fired objections at him. He explained about
the faster-than-light communications device. They didn't believe him.
Then another voice entered the conversation. "It's called the ansible."
They looked up to see Colonel Graff standing a ways off, down the tunnel.
Is Bean telling the truth? Was that a real battle?
"They were all real," said Bean. "All the so-called tests. Real battles. Real victories. Right,
Colonel Graff? We were fighting the real war all along."
"It's over now," said Graff. "The human race will continue. The Buggers won't."
They finally believed it, and became giddy with the realization. It's over. We won. We weren't
practicing, we were actually commanders.
And then, at last, a silence fell.
"They're *all* dead?" asked Petra.
Again they looked at Graff. "We have reports. All life activity has ceased on all the other planets.
They must have gathered their queens back on their home planet. When the queens die, the Buggers
die. There is no enemy now."
Petra began to cry, leaning against the wall. Bean wanted to reach out to her, but Dink was there.
Dink was the friend who held her, comforted her.
Some soberly, some exultantly, they went back to their barracks. Petra wasn't the only one who
cried. But whether the tears were shed in anguish or in relief, no one could say for sure.
Only Bean did not return to his room, perhaps because Bean was the only one not surprised. He
stayed out in the tunnel with Graff.
"How's Ender taking it?"
"Badly," said Graff. "We should have broken it to him more carefully, but there was no holding
back. In the moment of victory."
"All your gambles paid off," said Bean.
"I know what happened, Bean," said Graff. "Why did you leave control with him? How did you
know he'd come up with a plan?"
"I didn't," said Bean. "I only knew that I had no plan at all."
"But what you said -- 'the enemy's gate is down.' That's the plan Ender used."
"It wasn't a plan," said Bean. "Maybe it made him think of a plan. But it was him. It was Ender.
You put your money on the right kid."
Graff looked at Bean in silence, then reached out and put a hand on Bean's head, tousled his hair a
little. "I think perhaps you pulled each other across the finish line."
"It doesn't matter, does it?" said Bean. "It's finished, anyway. And so is the temporary unity of the
"Yes," said Graff. He pulled his hand away, ran it through his own hair. "I believed in your
analysis. I tried to give warning. *If* the Strategos heeded my advice, the Polemarch's men are
getting arrested here on Eros and all over the fleet."
"Will they go peacefully?" asked Bean.
"We'll see," said Graff.
The sound of gunfire echoed from some distant tunnel.
"Guess not," said Bean.
They heard the sound of men running in step. And soon they saw them, a contingent of a dozen
Bean and Graff watched them approach. "Friend or foe?"
"They all wear the same uniform," said Graff. "You're the one who called it, Bean. Inside those
doors" -- he gestured toward the doors to the kids' quarters -- "those children are the spoils of war.
In command of armies back on Earth, they're the hope of victory. *You* are the hope."
The soldiers came to a stop in front of Graff. "We're here to protect the children, sir," said their
"The Polemarch's men seem to be resisting arrest, sir," said the soldier. "The Strategos has ordered
that these children be kept safe at all costs."
Graff was visibly relieved to know which side these troops were on. "The girl is in that room over
there. I suggest you consolidate them all into those two barrack rooms for the duration."
"Is this the kid who did it?" asked the soldier, indicating Bean.
"He's one of them."
"It was Ender Wiggin who did it," said Bean. "Ender was our commander."
"Is he in one of those rooms?" asked the soldier.
"He's with Mazer Rackham," said Graff. "And this one stays with me."
The soldier saluted. He began positioning his men in more advanced positions down the tunnel,
with only a single guard outside each door to prevent the kids from going out and getting lost
somewhere in the fighting.
Bean trotted along beside Graff as he headed purposefully down the tunnel, beyond the farthest of
"If the Strategos did this right, the ansibles have already been secured. I don't know about you, but
I want to be where the news is coming in. And going out."
"Is Russian a hard language to learn?" asked Bean.
"Is that what passes for humor with you?" asked Graff.
"It was a simple question."
"Bean, you're a great kid, but shut up, OK?"
Bean laughed. "OK."
"You don't mind if I still call you Bean?"
"It's my name."
"Your name should have been Julian Delphiki. If you'd had a birth certificate, that's the name that
would have been on it."
"You mean that was true?"
"Would I lie about something like that?"
Then, realizing the absurdity of what he had just said, they laughed. Laughed long enough to still
be smiling when they passed the detachment of marines protecting the entrance to the ansible
"You think anybody will ask me for military advice?" asked Bean. "Because I'm going to get into
this war, even if I have to lie about my age and enlist in the marines."
CHAPTER 24 -- HOMECOMING
"I thought you'd want to know. Some bad news."
"There's no shortage of that, even in the midst of victory."
"When it became clear that the IDL had control of Battle School and was sending the kids home
under I.F. protection, the New Warsaw Pact apparently did a little research and found that there
was one student from Battle School who wasn't under our control. Achilles."
"But he was only there a couple of days."
"He passed our tests. He got in. He was the only one they could get."
"Did they? Get him?"
"All the security there was designed to keep inmates inside. Three guards dead, all the inmates
released into the general population. They've all been recovered, except one."
"So he's loose."
"I wouldn't call it loose, exactly. They intend to use him."
"Do they know what he is?"
"No. His records were sealed. A juvenile, you see. They weren't coming for his dossier."
"They'll find out. They don't like serial killers in Moscow, either."
"He's hard to pin down. How many died before any of us suspected him?"
"The war is over for now."
"And the jockeying for advantage in the next war has begun."
"With any luck, Colonel Graff, I'll be dead by then."
"I'm not actually a colonel anymore, Sister Carlotta."
"They're really going to go ahead with that court-martial?"
"An investigation, that's all. An inquiry."
"I just don't understand why they have to find a scapegoat for victory."
"I'll be fine. The sun still shines on planet Earth."
"But never again on *their* tragic world."
"Is your God also their God, Sister Carlotta? Did he take them into heaven?"
"He's not *my* God, Mr. Graff. But I am his child, as are you. I don't know whether he looks at
the Formics and sees them, too, as his children."
"Children. Sister Carlotta, the things I did to these children."
"You gave them a world to come home to."
"All but one of them."
It took days for the Polemarch's men to be subdued, but at last Fleetcom was entirely under the
Strategos's command, and not one ship had been launched under rebel command. A triumph. The
Hegemon resigned as part of the truce, but that only formalized what had already been the reality.
Bean stayed with Graff throughout the fighting, as they read every dispatch and listened to every
report about what was happening elsewhere in the fleet and back on Earth. They talked through the
unfolding situation, tried to read between the lines, interpreted what was happening as best they
could. For Bean, the war with the Buggers was already behind him. All that mattered now was how
things went on Earth. When a shaky truce was signed, temporarily ending the fighting, Bean knew
that it would not last. He would be needed. Once he got to Earth, he could prepare himself to play
his role. Ender's war is over, he thought. This next one will be mine.
While Bean was avidly following the news, the other kids were confined to their quarters under
guard, and during the power failures in their part of Eros they did their cowering in darkness. Twice
there were assaults on that section of the tunnels, but whether the Russians were trying to get at the
kids or merely happened to probe in that area, looking for weaknesses, no one could guess.
Ender was under much heavier guard, but didn't know it. Utterly exhausted, and perhaps unwilling
or unable to bear the enormity of what he had done, he remained unconscious for days.
Not till the fighting stopped did he come back to consciousness.
They let the kids get together then, their confinement over for now. Together they made the
pilgrimage to the room where Ender had been under protection and medical care. They found him
apparently cheerful, able to joke. But Bean could see a deep weariness, a sadness in Ender's eyes
that it was impossible to ignore. The victory had cost him deeply, more than anybody.
More than me, thought Bean, even though I knew what I was doing, and he was innocent of any
bad intent. He tortures himself, and I move on. Maybe because to me the death of Poke was more
important than the death of an entire species that I never saw. I knew her -- she has stayed with me
in my heart. The Buggers I never knew. How can I grieve for them?
After they filled Ender in on the news about what happened while he slept, Petra touched his hair.
"You OK?" she asked. "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."
There was more banter, but then Ender's emotions overflowed and for the first time any of them
could remember, they saw Ender cry. Bean happened to be standing near him, and when Ender
reached out, it was Bean and Petra that he embraced. The touch of his hand, the embrace of his
arm, they were more than Bean could bear. He also cried.
"I missed you," said Ender. "I wanted to see you so bad."
"You saw us pretty bad," said Petra. She was not crying. She kissed his cheek.
"I saw you magnificent," said Ender. "The ones I needed most, I used up soonest. Bad planning on
"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
Bean believed him. And believed also that Ender never *would* command in battle again. He
might still have the talents that brought him to this place. But the most important ones didn't have
to be used for violence. If the universe had any kindness in it, or even simple justice, Ender would
never have to take another life. He had surely filled his quota.
"You don't have to command anybody," said Dink, "but you're always our commander."
Bean felt the truth of that. There was not one of them who would not carry Ender with them in
their hearts, wherever they went, whatever they did.
What Bean didn't have the heart to tell them was that on Earth, both sides had insisted that they be
given custody of the hero of the war, young Ender Wiggin, whose great victory had captured the
popular imagination. Whoever had him would not only have the use of his fine military mind --
they thought -- but would also have the benefit of all the publicity and public adulation that
surrounded him, that filled every mention of his name.
So as the political leaders worked out the truce, they reached a simple and obvious compromise.
All the children from Battle School would be repatriated. Except Ender Wiggin.
Ender Wiggin would not be coming home. Neither party on Earth would be able to use him. That
was the compromise.
And it had been proposed by Locke. By Ender's own brother.
When he learned that it made Bean seethe inside, the way he had when he thought Petra had
betrayed Ender. It was wrong. It couldn't be borne.
Perhaps Peter Wiggin did it to keep Ender from becoming a pawn. To keep him free. Or perhaps
he did it so that Ender could not use his celebrity to make his own play for political power. Was
Peter Wiggin saving his brother, or eliminating a rival for power?
Someday I'll meet him and find out, thought Bean. And if he betrayed his brother, I'll destroy him.
When Bean shed his tears there in Ender's room, he was weeping for a cause the others did not yet
know about. He was weeping because, as surely as the soldiers who died in those fighting ships,
Ender would not be coming home from the war.
"So," said Alai, breaking the silence. "What do we do now? 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."
They all laughed until they cried again.
They saw each other off and on again over the next few days. Then they boarded several different
cruisers and destroyers for the voyage back to Earth. Bean knew well why they traveled in separate
ships. That way no one would ask why Ender wasn't on board. If Ender knew, before they left, that
he was not going back to Earth, he said nothing about it.
Elena could hardly contain her joy when Sister Carlotta called, asking if she and her husband
would both be at home in an hour. "I'm bringing you your son," she said.
Nikolai, Nikolai, Nikolai. Elena sang the name over and over again in her mind, with her lips. Her
husband Julian, too, was almost dancing as he hurried about the house, making things ready.
Nikolai had been so little when he left. Now he would be so much older. They would hardly know
him. They would not understand what he had been through. But it didn't matter. They loved him.
They would learn who he was all over again. They would not let the lost years get in the way of the
years to come.
"I see the car!" cried Julian.
Elena hurriedly pulled the covers from the dishes, so that Nikolai could come into a kitchen filled
with the freshest, purest food of his childhood memories. Whatever they ate in space, it couldn't be
as good as this.
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