"He loved you," said Wiggin. "But you were right to be afraid of him."
"Don't make me hurt you," said Zeck.
"I'm not worried about you," said Wiggin. "You're twice the man your father is. Now that you've seen the violence inside you, you can control it. You won't hit me for telling you the truth."
"Nothing that you've said is true."
"Zeck," said Wiggin. "'It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.' Did your father quote that very much?"
He wanted to kill Wiggin. He also wanted to cry. He didn't do either. "He quoted it all the time."
"And then he took you out and made all those scars on your back."
"I wasn't pure."
"No, he he wasn't pure. wasn't pure. He He wasn't." wasn't."
"Some people are looking so hard to find Satan that they see him even where he isn't!" cried Zeck.
"I don't remember that from the Bible."
It wasn't the Bible. It was Mother. He couldn't say that.
"I'm not sure what you're saying," said Wiggin. "That I'm I'm finding Satan where he isn't? I don't think so. I think a man who whips a little kid and then blames the kid for it, I think that's exactly where Satan lives." finding Satan where he isn't? I don't think so. I think a man who whips a little kid and then blames the kid for it, I think that's exactly where Satan lives."
The urge to cry was apparently going to win. Zeck could hardly get the words out. "I have to go home."
"And do what?" asked Wiggin. "Stand between your mother and father until your father finally loses control and kills you?"
"If that's what it takes!"
"You know my biggest fear?" said Wiggin.
"I don't care about your fear," said Zeck.
"As much as I hate my brother, what I'm afraid of is that I'm just like him."
"I don't hate my father."
"You're terrified of him," said Wiggin, "and you should be. But I think what you're really planning to do when you go home is kill the old son of a bitch."
"No I'm not!" cried Zeck. The rage filled him again, and he couldn't stop himself from lashing out, but at least he aimed his blows at the wall and the floor, not at Wiggin. So it hurt only Zeck's own hands and arms and elbows. Only himself.
"If he laid one hand on your mother-" said Wiggin.
"I'll kill him!" Then Zeck hurled himself backward, threw himself to the floor away from Wiggin and beat on the floor and kept beating on it till the skin of the palm of his left hand broke open and bled. And even then, he only stopped because Wiggin took hold of his wrist. Held it and then put something in his palm and closed Zeck's fist around it.
"You've done enough bleeding," said Wiggin. "In my opinion, anyway."
"Don't tell," whispered Zeck. "Don't tell anybody."
"You haven't done anything wrong," said Wiggin, "except try to get home to protect your mother. Because you know your father is crazy and dangerous."
"Just like me," said Zeck.
"No," said Wiggin. "The opposite of you. Because you controlled it. You stopped yourself from beating the little kid. Even when he deliberately provoked you. Your father couldn't stop himself from beating you-even when you did absolutely nothing wrong at all. You are not alike."
"The rage," said Zeck.
"One of the soldierly virtues," said Wiggin. "Turn it on the Buggers instead of on yourself or your father. And especially instead of me."
"I don't believe in war."
"Not many soldiers do," said Wiggin. "You could get killed doing that stuff. But you train to fight well, so that when a war does come, you can win and come home and find everything safe."
"There's nothing safe at home."
"I bet that things are fine at home," said Wiggin. "Because, see, with you not there, your mother doesn't have any reason to stay with your father, does she? So I think she's not going to put up with any more crap from him. Don't you think so? She can't be weak. If she were weak, she could never have produced somebody as tough as you. You couldn't have gotten your toughness from your father-he doesn't have much, if he can't even keep himself from doing what he did. So your toughness comes from her, right? She'll leave him if he raises his hand against her. She doesn't have to stay to look out for you anymore."
It was as much the tone of Wiggin's voice as the words he said that calmed him. Zeck pulled his body together, rolled himself up into a sitting position. "I keep expecting to see some teacher rush down the corridor demanding to know what's going on."
"I don't think so," said Wiggin. "I think they know exactly what's going on-probably watching it on a holo somewhere-and maybe they're keeping any other kids from coming along here to see. But they're going to let us work it out on our own."
"Work what out?" said Zeck. "I got no quarrel with you."
"You had a quarrel with everybody who stood between you and going home."
"I still hate this place. I want to get out of here."
"Welcome to the club," said Wiggin. "Look, we're missing lunch. You can do what you want, but I'm going to go eat."
"You still planning to limp on that left ankle?"
"Yes," said Wiggin. "After you kicked me? I won't have to act."
"Chest okay? I didn't break any ribs, did I?"
"You sure have an inflated opinion of your own strength," said Wiggin.
Then he stepped into the elevator and held the bar as it drifted upward, carrying him along with it.
Zeck sat there awhile longer, looking at nothing, thinking about what just happened. He wasn't sure if anything had been decided. Zeck still hated Battle School. And everybody in Battle School hated him. And now he hated his father and didn't believe in his father's phony pacifism. Wiggin had pretty much convinced him that his father was no prophet. Hell, Zeck had known it all along. But believing in his father's spirituality was the only way he could keep himself from hating him and fearing him. The only way he could bear it. Now he didn't have to bear it anymore. Wiggin was right. Mother was free, now that she didn't have to look out for Zeck.
He unclenched his fist and saw what Wiggin had stuffed into it to stanch the bleeding. One of his socks, covered in blood.
Dink saw how Wiggin walked with his food tray and knew something was wrong. And it wasn't just because his tray was double-loaded. Who was he getting lunch for? Didn't matter-what mattered was that Wiggin was in pain. Dink pulled out the chair beside him.
"What happened?" he asked as soon as Wiggin sat down.
"Got lunch for Zeck," said Wiggin.
"I mean what happened to you, you," said Dink.
"Happened?" Wiggin's voice was all innocence, but his eyes, lasering in at Dink's eyes, were telling him to back off.
"Suit yourself," said Dink. "Keep your dandruff to yourself for all I care."
The conversation at the table flowed around them after that. Dink joined in now and then, but he noticed that Wiggin just ate, and that he was careful about how he breathed. Something had injured his chest. Broken rib? No, more likely a bruise. And he'd been favoring one leg when he walked. Trying not to show it, but favoring it all the same. And he was saving lunch for Zeck. They'd had a fight. The pacifist and the genius? Fighting each other? That was stupid. But what else could it have been? Who else but a pacifist would attack somebody as little as Wiggin?
Half the soldiers were gone from the table by the time Zeck came in. The food line had already closed down, but Wiggin saw him and stood up and waved him over. He was slow raising his hand to wave, though, what with his chest hurting and all.
Zeck approached. "Got lunch for you," said Wiggin, stepping away from his chair so that Zeck could sit in it.
The other kids at the table were obviously poising themselves to leave if Zeck sat down there.
"No, I'm not hungry," said Zeck.
Had he been crying? No. And what was with his hand? He kept it in a fist, but Dink could see that it had been injured. That there had been blood.
"I just wanted to give you something," said Zeck.
He laid a stocking down on the table beside Wiggin's tray.
"Sorry it's wet," said Zeck. "I had to wash it."
"Toguro," said Wiggin. "Now sit and eat." He almost pushed Zeck down into the chair.
It was the stocking that did it. Wiggin had given Zeck a gift-a Santa Claus gift, of all things-and Zeck had accepted it. Now Wiggin stood with his hands on Zeck's shoulders, staring at each of the other Rat Army soldiers in turn, as if he was daring them to stand up and go.
Dink knew that if he he got up, the others would too. But he didn't get up, and the others stayed. got up, the others would too. But he didn't get up, and the others stayed.
"So I've got this poem," said Dink. "It really sucks, but sometimes you just gotta say it to get it out of your system."
"We've just eaten, Dink," said Flip. "Couldn't you wait till our food is digested?"
"No, this will be good for you," said Dink. "Your food's turning to shit right now, and this will help."
That got him a laugh, which bought him enough time to finish coming up with the rhymes he needed.
"What do you do with Zeck?You want to break his neck.But I warn you not to tryCause Zeck's too stubborn to die."
As poems go, it was pretty weak. But as a symbol of Dink's decision that Zeck should be given another chance, well, it did the job. Between Wiggin's stocking and Dink's poem, Zeck had returned to his previous status: barely tolerated.
Dink looked up at Wiggin, who was still standing behind Zeck-who now seemed to be eating with some appetite.
"Merry Christmas," Dink mouthed silently.
BY ORSON SCOTT CARD FROM TOR BOOKS.
Ender's GameEnder's ShadowShadow of the HegemonShadow PuppetsShadow of the GiantSpeaker for the DeadXenocideChildren of the MindFirst MeetingsA War of Gifts HOMECOMING.
The Memory of EarthThe Call of EarthThe Ships of EarthEarthfallEarthborn WOMEN OF GENESIS.
SarahRebekahRachel & Leah FROM OTHER PUBLISHERS.
EnchantmentHomebodyLost BoysMagic StreetStone TablesTreasure BoxHow to Write Science Fiction and FantasyCharacters and Viewpoint OTHER FICTION.
EmpireThe Folk of the FringeFuture on Fire (editor) (editor)Future on Ice (editor) (editor)Invasive Procedures (with Aaron Johnston) (with Aaron Johnston)Lovelock (with Kathryn Kidd) (with Kathryn Kidd)Maps in a Mirror: The ShortFiction of Orson Scott CardPastwatch: The Redemption ofChristopher ColumbusSaintsSongmasterTreasonThe Worthing SagaWyrms THE TALES OF ALVIN MAKER.
Seventh SonRed ProphetPrentice AlvinAlvin JourneymanHeartfireThe Crystal City