Bean looked down into the air vent in his quarters and marveled that he had ever been small
enough to fit in there. What was he then, the size of a rat?
Fortunately, with a room of his own now he wasn't limited to the outflow vents. He put his chair
on top of his table and climbed up to the long, thin intake vents along the wall on the corridor side
of his room. The vent trim pried out as several long sections. The paneling above it was separate
from the riveted wall below. And it, too, came off fairly easily. Now there was room enough for
almost any kid in Battle School to shinny in to the crawl space over the corridor ceiling.
Bean stripped off his clothes and once again crawled into the air system.
It was more cramped this time -- it was surprising how much he'd grown. He made his way
quickly to the maintenance area near the furnaces. He found how the lighting systems worked, and
carefully went around removing lightbulbs and wall glow units in the areas he'd be needing. Soon
there was a wide vertical shaft that was utterly dark when the door was closed, with deep shadows
even when it was open. Carefully he laid his trap.
Achilles never ceased to be astonished at how the universe bent to his will. Whatever he wished
seemed to come to him. Poke and her crew, raising him above the other bullies. Sister Carlotta,
bringing him to the priests' school in Bruxelles. Dr. Delamar, straightening his leg so he could
*run*, so he looked no different from any other boy his age. And now here he was in Battle School,
and who should be his first commander but little Bean, ready to take him under his wing, help him
rise within this school. As if the universe were created to serve him, with all the people in it tuned
to resonate with his desires.
The battleroom was cool beyond belief. War in a box. Point the gun, the other kid's suit freezes.
Of course, Ambul had made the mistake of demonstrating this by freezing Achilles and then
laughing at his consternation at floating in the air, unable to move, unable to change the direction of
his drift. People shouldn't do that. It was wrong, and it always gnawed at Achilles until he was able
to set things right. There should be more kindness and respect in the world.
Like Bean. It looked so promising at first, but then Bean started putting him down. Making sure
the others saw that Achilles *used* to be Bean's papa, but now he was just a soldier in Bean's army.
There was no need for that. You don't go putting people down. Bean had changed. Back when Poke
first put Achilles on his back, shaming him in front of all those little children, it was Bean who
showed him respect. "Kill him," Bean had said. He knew, then, that tiny boy, he knew that even on
his back, Achilles was dangerous. But he seemed to have forgotten that now. In fact, Achilles was
pretty sure that Bean must have told Ambul to freeze his flash suit and humiliate him in the practice
room, setting him up for the others to laugh at him.
I was your friend and protector, Bean, because you showed respect for me. But now I have to
weigh that in the balance with your behavior here in Battle School. No respect for me at all.
The trouble was, the students in Battle School were given nothing that could be used as a weapon,
and everything was made completely safe. No one was ever alone, either. Except the commanders.
Alone in their quarters. That was promising. But Achilles suspected that the teachers had a way of
tracking where every student was at any given time. He'd have to learn the system, learn how to
evade it, before he could start setting things to rights.
But he knew this: He'd learn what he needed to learn. Opportunities would appear. And he, being
Achilles, would see those opportunities and seize them. Nothing could interrupt his rise until he
held all the power there was to hold within his hands. Then there would be perfect justice in the
world, not this miserable system that left so many children starving and ignorant and crippled on
the streets while others lived in privilege and safety and health. All those adults who had run things
for thousands of years were fools or failures. But the universe obeyed Achilles. He and he alone
could correct the abuses.
On his third day in Battle School, Rabbit Army had its first battle with Bean as commander. They
lost. They would not have lost if Achilles had been commander. Bean was doing some stupid
touchy-feely thing, leaving things up to the toon leaders. But it was obvious that the toon leaders
had been badly chosen by Bean's predecessor. If Bean was to win, he needed to take tighter control.
When he tried to suggest this to Bean, the child only smiled knowingly -- a maddeningly superior
smile -- and told him that the key to victory was for each toon leader and, eventually, each soldier
to see the whole situation and act independently to bring about victory. It made Achilles want to
slap him, it was so stupid, so wrongheaded. The one who knew how to order things did not leave it
up to others to create their little messes in the corners of the world. He took the reins and pulled,
sharp and hard. He whipped his men into obedience. As Frederick the Great said: The soldier must
fear his officers more than he fears the bullets of the enemy. You could not rule without the naked
exercise of power. The followers must bow their heads to the leader. They must *surrender* their
heads, using only the mind and will of the leader to rule them. No one but Achilles seemed to
understand that this was the great strength of the Buggers. They had no individual minds, only the
mind of the hive. They submitted perfectly to the queen. We cannot defeat the Buggers until we
learn from them, become like them.
But there was no point in explaining this to Bean. He would not listen. Therefore he would never
make Rabbit Army into a hive. He was working to create chaos. It was unbearable.
Unbearable -- yet, just when Achilles thought he couldn't bear the stupidity and waste any longer,
Bean called him to his quarters.
Achilles was startled, when he entered, to find that Bean had removed the vent cover and part of
the wall panel, giving him access to the air-duct system. This was not at all what Achilles had
"Take your clothes off," said Bean.
Achilles smelled an attempt at humiliation.
Bean was taking off his own uniform. "They track us through the uniforms," said Bean. "If you
aren't wearing one, they don't know where you are, except in the gym and the battleroom, where
they have really expensive equipment to track each warm body. We aren't going to either of those
places, so strip."
Bean was naked. As long as Bean went first, Achilles could not be shamed by doing the same.
"Ender and I used to do this," said Bean. "Everybody thought Ender was such a brilliant
commander, but the truth is he knew all the plans of the other commanders because we'd go spying
through the air ducts. And not just the commanders, either. We found out what the teachers were
planning. We always knew it in advance. Not hard to win that way."
Achilles laughed. This was too cool. Bean might be a fool, but this Ender that Achilles had heard
so much about, *he* knew what he was doing.
"It takes two people, is that it?"
"To get where I can spy on the teachers, there's a wide shaft, pitch black. I can't climb down. I
need somebody to lower me down and haul me back up. I didn't know who in Rabbit Army I could
trust, and then ... there you were. A friend from the old days."
It was happening again. The universe, bending to his will. He and Bean would be alone. No one
would be tracking where they were. No one would know what had happened.
"I'm in," said Achilles.
"Boost me up," said Bean. "You're tall enough to climb up alone."
Clearly, Bean had come this way many times before. He scampered through the crawl space, his
feet and butt flashing in the spill from the corridor lights. Achilles noted where he put his hands and
feet, and soon was as adept at Bean at picking his way through. Every time he used his leg, he
marveled at the use of it. It went where he wanted it to go, and had the strength to hold him. Dr.
Delamar might be a skilled surgeon, but even she said that she had never seen a body respond to the
surgery as Achilles' did. His body knew how to be whole, expected to be strong. All the time
before, those crippled years, had been the universe's way of teaching Achilles the unbearability of
disorder. And now Achilles was perfect of body, ready to move ahead in setting things to rights.
Achilles very carefully noted the route they took. If the opportunity presented itself, he would be
coming back alone. He could not afford to get lost, or give himself away. No one could know that
he had ever been in the air system. As long as he gave them no reason, the teachers would never
suspect him. All they knew was that he and Bean were friends. And when Achilles grieved for the
child, his tears would be real. They always were, for there was a nobility to these tragic deaths. A
grandeur as the great universe worked its will through Achilles's adept hands.
The furnaces roared as they came into a room where the framing of the station was visible. Fire
was good. It left so little residue. People died when they accidentally fell into fire. It happened all
the time. Bean, crawling around alone ... it would be good if they went near the furnace.
Instead, Bean opened a door into a dark space. The light from the opening showed a black gap not
far inside. "Don't step over the edge of that," Bean said cheerfully. He picked up a loop of very fine
cord from the ground. "It's a deadline. Safety equipment. Keeps workmen from drifting off into
space when they're working on the outside of the station. Ender and I set it up -- it goes over a beam
up there and keeps me centered in the shaft. You can't grip it in your hands, it cuts too easily if it
slides across your skin. So you loop it tight around your body -- no sliding, see? -- and brace
yourself. The gravity's not that intense, so I just jump off. We measured it out, so I stop right at the
level of the vents leading to the teachers' quarters."
"Doesn't it hurt when you stop?"
"Like a bitch," said Bean. "No pain no gain, right? I take off the deadline, I snag it on a flap of
metal and it stays there till I get back. I'll tug on it three times when I get it back on. Then you pull
me back up. But *not* with your hands. You go out the door and walk out there. When you get to
place where we came in, go around the beam there and go till you touch the wall. Just wait there
until I can get myself swinging and land back here on this ledge. Then I unloop myself and you
come back in and we leave the deadline for next time. Simple, see?"
"Got it," said Achilles.
Instead of walking to the wall, it would be simple enough to just keep walking. Get Bean floating
in the air where he couldn't get hold of anything. Plenty of time, then, to find a way to tie it off
inside that dark room. With the roar of the furnaces and fans, nobody would hear Bean calling for
help. Then Achilles would have time to explore. Figure out how to get into the furnaces. Swing
Bean back, strangle him, carry the body to the fire. Drop the deadline down the shaft. Nobody
would find it. Quite possibly no one would ever find Bean, or if they did, his soft tissues would be
consumed. All evidence of strangulation would be gone. Very neat. There'd be some improvisation,
but there always was. Achilles could handle little problems as they came up.
Achilles looped the deadline over his head, then drew it tight under his arms as Bean climbed into
the loop at the other end.
"Set," said Achilles.
"Make sure it's tight, so it doesn't have any slack to cut you when I hit bottom."
"Yes, it's tight."
But Bean had to check. He got a finger under the line. "Tighter," said Bean.
Achilles tightened it more.
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