This story is a crossover with Orson Scott Card's rather excellent science fiction novel Ender's Game. In the novel's timeline, this story takes place about fifteen years after the Second Invasion and in the early, experimental stages of the Battle School. Any discrepancies in regards to how the school is run can be attributed to this setting. Yep.
You need to capture the upper right star.
"I know, I know," Hikaru muttered.
"Did you say 'Go, go?'" asked Waya.
"...Yeah. Take your toon and slide along the wall on the left. Formation Delta. I'm taking my toon and we're gonna attack the upper right star, Formation Gamma. I need you to give us cover fire, don't be too obvious about it. We want to flank them."
"Don't be too obvious yourself," said Waya with a grin, before turning to his soldiers and shouting "Go go go!" for real. Ten boys including Waya launched themselves from the gate, sliding along the wall in zero gravity conditions with the ease of long practice. They were putting themselves in an area of the Battle Room that contained no stars and therefore no cover, but that was the idea.
Hikaru's best trait as a commander was his willingness to make sacrifices, and Waya's best trait as a toon leader was his willingness to be the sacrifice. The battle went smoothly once the upper right star was taken, though Waya's toon was almost completely frozen as usual.
The enemy commander's eyes were hateful as he bowed to the victor.
"Thanks for the game," he said.
"Thank you," Hikaru replied.
As he turned to leave, he could still feel the other boy's eyes on his back. One more person who hated him.
"Another day, another battle for Tiger Army, hey?" said Waya.
"Yeah," Hikaru replied.
It is the nature of this game, said Sai.
"Lunch, lunch! Hurry up!" Hikaru called out.
"Don't get your flash suit in a knot, commander," said Waya, laughing as he pulled himself away from his toon.
It was on the tip of Hikaru's tongue to tell Waya not to get so chummy with his subordinates. But who was he to talk?
They got in the lunch line and started going over the game they had just won.
"Pretty good follow-through on the flanking manoeuver, Shindou. You got a little birdie in your ear telling you what to do?"
"I just cheat is all."
"Well, keep at it. We're not just scraping by anymore. Big wins. Wouldn't it be nice if we could get a recording of our games or something so we could show it off?"
Kifu, thought Hikaru, but aloud he said, "You just like watching yourself doing it."
A boy who was passing by gave him a disdainful look, and by the time Hikaru realized it was Touya Akira the other boy had already moved away.
Waya was glaring at Touya's back. "What a freak. Have you ever met anyone as arrogant as that?"
"I think he just hates me."
"I admit that he does hate your guts. What did you do to him anyway? It's not like you've ever beaten him."
"Thanks for the reminder. You want lunch now?"
"After you tell me why Touya hates you. You're the only one who's managed to piss Mr. Ice Cube off that much, you're like a local legend."
"Waya," said Hikaru shortly, "I don't have to answer any of this."
Waya's hands loosened their grip on his tray for a moment, then tightened again.
"You just pulled rank on me, didn't you."
They finally got their meal and sat down together at their usual table. It was an unspoken rule in Tiger Army that the commander and his second were to be left alone at mealtimes.
"I'm going to be a commander before next year," said Waya grimly as he stabbed a piece of macaroni with his fork. "Even if it kills me."
"Or kills me," added Hikaru.
Waya didn't even crack a smile. "Our next battle is against Wolf."
"Wolf Army. This is my chance. Isumi's graduating soon so they'll need a new commander to replace him. I won't hold back when we fight him, even if it's his last game. Even if it's Isumi-san."
"I don't think Isumi would want it any other way," Hikaru replied. He wondered if Waya realized that he'd slipped from English into Japanese."
After lunch, Waya took off for the exercise room and Hikaru went back to the Tiger Army bunks, where a message was waiting for him on his desk.
Don't hold back. Please.
Hikaru thought of Waya, of the unnatural seriousness etched into his features. So Hikaru promised to himself: I won't hold back. And I won't lose.
He was losing. He was losing too many men, his formation in the center was not going to hold, he could feel defeat edging into his vision. To make things worse Waya's toon had advanced too far into Wolf Army's territory, they were trapped, Hikaru had no one to turn to.
Sai, he implored, Sai, tell me what to do.
Adapt, said Sai.
Sai said nothing more.
So Hikaru did the first thing he thought of and threw his flash gun at Waya. It floated in an impossibly straight line through the zero-grav air right at the other boy's head. No one seemed to believe what he was doing, because no one grabbed the gun as it sailed by. It was ridiculous.
"Waya!" he yelled.
Waya looked up just in time to grab the gun.
"What is this for?" he yelled back.
It wasn't the name of any formation they'd practiced. Waya was giving him a blank look, even some the enemy soldiers were giving him a blank look. Most of them probably didn't even know what the word meant. Then Waya started barking orders and, as one, Toon A launched themselves from the star they'd been cornered behind, screaming all the way and flash guns flashing like an insane light show.
But now Hikaru didn't have a gun. He turned to one of his soldiers from Toon C and said, "Give me your flash suit."
"Just do it!"
The boy stripped down and handed his suit over. He was naked underneath, but Hikaru could hardly worry about that right now. He curled his body up as small as he could, covered himself with the second flash suit, and kicked off hard and fast. The extra flash suit was just enough to protect his torso and his gun arm. After a moment his left leg was shot and frozen, but that didn't really matter.
Hikaru's target was an isolated Wolf soldier whose back was turned. He reached him in one and a half seconds of agonizingly long airtime.
Thankfully, the enemy soldier's attention was elsewhere-he was frantically firing at Waya's toon-so it wasn't hard for Hikaru to grab him from behind and squeeze the boy's right wrist until he cried out and released his flash gun. It crossed Hikaru's mind that if this were a movie he would take the enemy hostage, but this wasn't a movie, and no one else in the room would get the reference anyway. He grabbed the gun and froze the other boy quickly.
By now there were more than a few Wolf soldiers firing on him, but Hikaru scrunched up behind his frozen captive and covered his other side with the flash suit. He'd chosen a big soldier on purpose, but his shield wouldn't last forever. He had to make use of his remaining soldiers.
Confusion-that was the key to this battle. Hold this Wolf soldier as a shield, make the enemy fire at their own men, make them feel like they were being attacked from everywhere at once. Hikaru understood that this would unravel Isumi's careful formations more than anything else. The enemy's attention was on him now after that dumb stunt, so...
"Toon B! Kamikaze! Go!" Hikaru yelled. Then he took his own advice and threw off the extra flash suit, freeing up a hand, and stuck his gun through his captive's armpit so he could start firing. His soldiers-who had been getting picked off as they cowered behind their stars-were suddenly shooting from all the impossible directions that a zero gravity room would allow. A few of them followed Hikaru's example and grabbed disabled Wolf soldiers as shields.
They won, somehow. Toon A and B were completely frozen at the end of the battle, but by then they had taken down Wolf's core defenses. Waya-who was the best shot in Tiger Army, and apparently ambidextrous-personally froze Wolf Army's commander less than a minute after launching Toon A's attack.
"Chop off the head," muttered one of Hikaru's men.
"And the army shall fall," added another.
After the game, Hikaru couldn't be sure whether Isumi's expression was one of shock or disappointment or relief, because Hikaru refused to look.
Hikaru had hoped not to run into Isumi.
Isumi's smile was as warm as ever. He was seated before a chess board, though he had no opponent. He was losing.
"Hey." Hikaru tried to sound friendly. "Were you playing someone?"
Isumi looked down at the board. "No, I'm just recreating a game. I'm not very good at chess, but it's fun to look at these things."
"Shindou, I wanted to talk to you about our game yesterday."
Hikaru didn't have to say anything; he knew he had a guilty look on his face.
"I want to thank you," said Isumi. "You didn't hold back."
"Consider it your graduation present."
"It was a good present."
Neither of them said anything for a moment, and Hikaru was surprised to find the pause was not an awkward one.
"So do you know where you're being stationed? Tactical School? Navigation?" he finally asked.
Isumi folded his hands together and looked downwards, as if studying the board.
"Not yet. But if I have to guess, I think they'll be sending me home. I'm not cut out for this. And I think the teachers know what I think of them and their school," Isumi said wryly.
"I've never heard you say anything about that."
"You've never heard it because I've never said it aloud before. Hikaru, haven't you ever wondered what we're doing here? We're children playing war games on a space station. We shoot at each other and hate each other and pretend we know what we're doing, but really we're all scared because no one knows and no one wants to admit it."
Isumi was looking at the chess board again and fingering one of the black pawns. Hikaru didn't bother pointing out the blatant symbolism.
"It's to win the war," said Hikaru simply. "So we'll be ready to command the fleet if the earth ever gets attacked again."
Isumi gave him a sympathetic look.
"You still believe we're saving the world, huh?"
"Well, maybe you're right. But I don't believe in it anymore."
"So why don't you quit?"
"Because I love this," answered Isumi with a crooked smile. "Because I can't give up the game. It's funny, don't you think, that the teachers made Battle School like this just because we're kids. As if we wouldn't play otherwise."
Hikaru thought of Touya Kouyo, and of Sai. "You'd be surprised at the games adults will play."
"We'll never grow up, will we."
"Peter Pan syndrome for all of us Battle School kids."
"...Who's Peter Pan?"
Hikaru stared. "How can you not know who Peter Pan is?"
"I entered Battle School when I was seven. There's a lot of things I don't know."
"Sorry. I forgot."
Isumi had a thoughtful look on his face. "I never asked you about it before, but you're really strange, Hikaru. How old were you when you came here?"
Hikaru hesitated for a moment, then said, "Ten."
"You probably remember a lot things about your home then. Your family." Isumi looked wistful. "I don't know if that's a blessing or a curse."
"A blessing. Remembering the past is a blessing." Hikaru's voice was surprisingly fierce.
"The past. We never talk about it here. Why is that? We weren't born out of nothing."
"Because everyone here is trying to act like an adult, and no one wants to be seen crying for their mommy."
"It's not right."
Hikaru thought about it, how know one seemed to talk about anything but the game around here, and said, "Isumi, my graduation present for you sucked."
"I didn't think so."
"It did suck. So I'm going to give you something else. I'm going to tell you why Touya hates me so much."
Isumi looked up in amazement.
"You can't tell anyone," Hikaru added. "Not even Waya. Especially not Waya. It's actually a pretty boring story anyway."
"I promise," said Isumi seriously.
"Thank you. Okay." Hikaru took a deep breath. "When I first met him, Touya I mean, back when I'd just started at Battle School, I tried to give him a message from his dad. His dad's a famous Go player. You know what Go is, right?"
"Yes. My mom played it. She wanted me to learn it too, but then I got taken away..."
"I played a bit of Go before I came to Battle School." Hikaru felt odd revealing that much. Isumi was right, no one ever spoke about the past in Battle School.
"So it's true then, the rumour about the teachers 'discovering' you because of some brilliant game you played?" Isumi laughed.
"It wasn't me playing," said Hikaru. "But that's not important. The thing is, Touya Kouyo asked me to give his son this message: 'When we meet again, it would please me greatly if we might play a game together.'"
Isumi frowned. "That's a cold message for a father to give to a son he hasn't seen in years."
He doesn't understand our world, said Sai, as Hikaru calmed his temper.
Isumi must have seen that he'd raised Hikaru's hackles, because he quickly said, "Why did Touya get mad about that?"
"I don't know. When I gave him the message the only thing he said was that Go is for children and old fools."
"This place makes people cruel."
"It does," said Hikaru, thinking of the Wolf soldier he'd injured yesterday.
But Isumi wasn't looking at him anymore. He was looking over Hikaru's shoulder with solemn eyes, so Hikaru turned to look too.
It was a teacher. "Time to go, Shinichiro."
As Isumi stood, Hikaru said, "Wait. Wait, you have to say goodbye to your army, and Waya."
"It's better this way," Isumi said, sounding very adult. "Goodbye, Shindou. I hope I'll see you again."
"Where are you stationing him?" Hikaru demanded.
"Classified," said the teacher as he took Isumi by the elbow and steered him away.
They were gone by the time Hikaru realized he hadn't said goodbye in return.
When Hikaru got back to his room, there was something distinctly missing from Tiger Army.
"Where's Waya?" he asked.
The leader of Toon B looked up from his desk.
"You didn't know? The teachers took him away."
"Probably promoted," someone added.
"They also dropped this off," said the toon leader, handing Hikaru a sheet of paper.
Commanders assigned new sleeping quarters. See attached map for room assignments.
Rank of Second In Command abolished due to complaints of unequal treatment of toon leaders. Seconds required to relinquish all marks of insignia to assigned teacher.
"Sucks that there's no second rank anymore, huh? Though it doesn't really matter to us, with Waya gone. But we do need a new toon leader." The boy gave Hikaru a hopeful look.
"Pretty sweet that you get your own room now," said another Tiger soldier. "And I hear they're building a mess hall just for the commanders too."
"Pretty sweet," Hikaru replied dully.
He went to his new room, which was indeed very large and private and empty of noise or clutter. Hikaru sat down on his bunk and felt very alone.
No path should be walked alone, said Sai.
As he lay down to sleep that night, Hikaru thought of Touya Kouyo.
When Hikaru ran into Waya the next day, he was wearing the Wolf insignia on his flash suit and a commander's pin on his collar.
"You're happy, right?"
Waya managed a crooked smile. "I didn't think I'd get my own room," he said.
"That's something new."
The banter between them wasn't quite as smooth anymore.
"Who's your first opponent?"
Waya stared at him. "You mean you haven't looked at the new schedule yet?"
"That's where I was headed," Hikaru replied, and had a sudden fear. "It's not Tiger you're fighting first, is it?"
"No. It's Phoenix."
Ah. Of all the bad luck. Touya Akira's army.
"I think they like to keep all us Japanese guys together," said Waya, attempting a bit of humour.
"Never cry, Wolf."
"You're up against Phoenix in a few weeks too, Shindou."
Hikaru sucked in a breath. "Good luck to both of us then."
"Much as I hate to admit it, we need it against that guy."
Waya lost his first battle, predictably. Hikaru wanted to say something comforting, even just send him a message, but it didn't seem right to do so.
Sometimes you have to leave people behind, said Sai.
"You're right, I don't have time to worry about Waya," Hikaru answered. "It's my turn to play Touya."
When the day finally arrived, he felt calm. He stepped into the Battle Room, his army behind him, and took stock of the playing field.
There were only nine stars. They were laid out in a perfectly symmetrical square of three by three, four corners and four sides and one star in the exact centre of the room.
"Why do I feel like I've been preparing for this game my whole life?" Hikaru asked no one in particular, and then stopped wondering because Touya was there.
They shook hands.
"Please, let's play a good game."
"Not like your game against Wolf," Touya added softly.
There were a hundred things Hikaru could have said. If you are going to win, win thoroughly. It is the nature of this game. Adapt. There is beauty in battle. Don't be soft or you will lose. Sometimes you have to leave people behind. Cruelty can be a kindness. No path should be walked alone.
Sai had told him all these things at one time or another.
But Hikaru chose to say nothing, and returned to his army as Touya returned to his own.
Each and every step leads to the next.
"Yes," said Hikaru. All the pieces were assembled. Then: "Here I go."
The game was hardly over and people were already whispering as he passed them in the halls.
You played very well today, said Sai.
Hikaru didn't know what to think.
"It was so easy," he murmured to Sai. "Almost as if he gave up. It wasn't what I wanted."
You played very well today.
He didn't feel strong, and he was tired of trying to look strong. He was exhausted.
When he got back to his room and to his desk, there was a message waiting for him.
Congratulations. I guess you can win without me.
Hikaru was too tired for this. "Not the Hand of God at all," he said as he collapsed on his bed.
He nearly had a heart attack when he opened his door the next morning to find a goban and two go-ke on the floor outside his room.
It looked ancient and worn, well-loved and completely out of place among the clean grey edges of the corridor. It wasn't supposed to be there.
"It's kaya wood. The real thing, " Hikaru noted as he picked up the goban. It was reassuringly heavy.
Touya, he thought.
Hikaru had no idea where to find him, but he walked until he found the red-black-red pattern along the wall that led to Phoenix Army's quarters. He met a group of Touya's soldiers who were on their way to breakfast; they eyed the goban he carried with suspicion.
"Where's your commander?" he asked, forestalling their questions, and they warily pointed the way to Touya's room. "He hasn't come out yet today," one of them said with a shrug.
Touya didn't look happy to see him.
"You won," Touya said, clutching at the frame of his door with white knuckles. "You won, so get out and don't ever talk to me."
If Touya was not going to bother with hellos, neither was Hikaru. "You left this in front of my door. I'm just returning it."
"I don't want it," Touya replied, but Hikaru was already pushing his way into the room, the goban held in front of him like a tea tray with the two go-ke balanced on top. Touya moved aside, glaring, and shut the door after Hikaru.
Hikaru set the goban down reverently on a table and turned to face Touya.
"I've been chasing after you for a long time, and now I've caught you. I won yesterday. You're going to talk to me," he said firmly.
"You have no right-"
"You left this goban outside my room. Tell me why."
"I don't want it anymore."
"But you've kept this goban a secret for years, haven't you? Ever since you entered Battle School. You're the only person who got to bring something into the school with you-I guess the teachers let you do it because you're special, huh? Meijin's son and all, certified genius. They had such high hopes for you."
"Shut up. My father-" Touya's voice faltered for a moment. "He told the teachers he wouldn't let me come to Battle School unless I could take this goban with me."
"And now you're getting rid of it."
"I won't let them do me any favours. I'm not going to play their games anymore." Touya's eyes were feverish. "The teachers are the enemy, don't you see? They brought us here and make us fight each other, make us care about nothing but the game, but now I'm tired of it. I'm tired of hating each other. I won't give another minute of my life to this stupid, stupid game."
Hikaru thought of what Isumi had said the day before. Haven't you ever wondered what we're doing here?
"All these changes to the school lately," Touya continued. "The way they isolate the commanders. We're just an experiment to them. They don't care about us, they don't care whether we're happy or not, as long as we keep playing their game."
"You're wrong," said Hikaru."This school wasn't created just to make us miserable. They have a purpose. Can't you feel it? We're moving toward something, trying to accomplish something. Maybe not for ourselves, but for something in the future."
"You sound like my father," said Touya with a harsh laugh. "You sound the way he did when he spoke of the Hand of God."
Hikaru felt Sai's heart jump.
Touya must have misunderstood the stricken look on Hikaru's face for confusion, because he said, "The Hand of God...you must have heard of it. It's a term in Go -no, not a term, more of a philosophy, or maybe a myth-it's the perfect hand, the perfect game of Go."
Touya halted, and Hikaru filled in the blank. "You once believed in it, didn't you."
It was remarkable to see Touya's gaze waver for once.
"A game for children and old fools," Hikaru continued, his voice soft.
Touya looked away.
"I apologize for my behaviour back then. I didn't want to look bad in front of my army."
"I was a stupid overgrown launchie and you were a commander. It's understandable."
"I couldn't understand why they'd let you into Battle School when you were ten. I knew you had to be really special or an idiot."
"And then you spoke to me of Go, and my father. I couldn't bear it. Because..."
"Because you gave up Go."
"My father is still strong, right?" asked Touya. "You played against him and saw his strength, right?"
"I wasn't good enough of a player to judge."
"But you were good enough to be playing people like my father."
"Not me," said Hikaru quietly. Then he lied a little. "He only noticed me because I was going to Battle School. He wanted me to give his son a message."
Touya's breath hitched. "It's all games. It's all for fools."
"But I love the game. And I love Go. I guess I'm a fool."
"I don't understand you. How can you-you were older than I was when you were taken away. You must have understood what they were going to do to you. I was only six years old when I was taken, I didn't understand anything."
"I was older, and I was smarter than you. I knew exactly what I was getting into. I came here so I could reach the Hand of God."
Impossibly, Touya laughed.
"The Hand of God! There's nothing here of that."
"There is. To be able to save the world, the way Mazer Rackham did-"
"He got lucky."
"He got brilliantly lucky. He was trying to survive and trying to win and he had to kill. But he was desperate and he did what no one else could. I've studied his battles, what I could find of them. He was a genius. He touched it, he came closer to the Hand of God than anyone ever has before."
The look Touya gave him was incredulous.
"You think you can actually do it. You think you can save the world."
"Maybe I'll command the starship that saves us. Maybe I'll fire the shot that wins the war."
Touya would not meet his eyes, would not meet his ideals.
"Who taught you Go?" he asked instead.
If Hikaru was surprised by the question, he tried not to show it. "A...friend taught me. He was very kind to me. He's gone now."
"I wasn't a very good friend to him," said Hikaru with a slight twist of his mouth.
Touya chose not to open that wound. "Was he strong?"
"He was very, very strong."
Touya's hands were clasped very tightly. "I stopped believing in it. I won't believe in anything the adults tell me. Children and old fools. But what does it matter? If they have it their way I'll be put on a starship and I'll never see my father again."
Hikaru thought of Sai, of the grave he had never been able to find in Innoshima.
"He's still with you," he said quietly. "In your Go."
"I don't play anymore. I don't remember how."
"We're kids. Genius kids, but still kids. We play games."
"I don't want to play anymore."
"You were supposed to become the strongest Go player of your generation. Maybe you were supposed to become the best player the world has ever seen." Maybe you were supposed to find the Hand of God with me, Hikaru did not say.
"It never happened and it never will," Touya answered. "My father is dead to me."
Hikaru shook his head.
"One day you'll meet him again. It might be a long way away, but you can't just forget the past. One day, no matter what, you'll meet him again. Even if you get put on a starship and you fly away from the earth forever...even so, you'll see him again."
His voice was earnest, but also so sad that Touya could not help but listen.
"You really believe it," he said softly.
"I do. I know...I know I'll see my friend again. Even now, sometimes I feel as if I can still hear his voice. And I know you'll meet your father."
Touya buried his face in his hands.
"I can't face him."
"But you want to see him again, don't you."
Touya lifted his eyes and looked out his window at the stars, then at Hikaru, who had seated himself at the goban.
"This really is a nice goban," Hikaru murmured, running his hands over the surface.
Touya sat down opposite him. He looked a little lost as he opened up one of the go-ke. Then he said: "'When we meet again, it would please me greatly if we might play a game together.'"
"You're black," Hikaru noted.
"I think that means...I go first?"
Touya placed a stone.
Anyone who's made it far enough to read this, I congratulate you. Especially if you haven't read Ender's Game before, in which case this story must have been heckuva confusing. I tried to make it understandable for the uninitiated, but I'm not sure I succeeded.
I never meant for this story to be this long. The only reason I wrote it was because I liked the thought of the stars in the Battle Room being like the stars on a goban. It was supposed to just be a little taste of what a crossover between HnG and Ender's Game would be like. Stupid long-winded conversations.
Isumi and Waya took on Dink and Petra's roles respectively, although they've been softened. Hikaru and Touya are both kind of based on Ender himself, but not really. If anyone cares to know, my favourite character from Ender's Game is Dink and my favourite HnG character is Waya.
Thanks for reading! Would appreciate any comments or criticisms, especially from those who are unfamiliar with Ender's Game.