Hey, everyone. This is my first Orson Scott Card fic, based entirely on Ender's Shadow. Yes, I read Ender's Game first, but this book is SO much better if you ask me. I mean, I loved 'em both (uh, duh), but Bean is, like, the ultimate underdog. Yay!
So, um, here's the fic! Hope you like it.
Disclaimer: I own nothing from Ender's Shadow or any of the other books.
Chapter One: Achilles
Bean froze. Nobody else was in the game room now; they were finishing school work or plotting ways to defeat the infamous Dragon Army. This game was nothing but a foul trick. So this was the fantasy game that they wanted him to play so badly? No wonder. They were shamelessly trying to pry into his mind, not even trying to hide it.
He tore his eyes away, breathing hard. But how did it know? It was only a machine, wasn't it? It defied logic, tapping into his head like that.
Swallowing hard, he turned his back on it. It was only stress. He hadn't really seen Achilles' face on the screen; that was absurd. Laughable, even, that he was this far over the edge to see things that were thousands and thousands of miles away. Rotterdam was another lifetime. This was Battle School, not the streets.
Thoroughly comforted by his resolution, he turned back to the screen just to prove to himself how silly he was being. But there it was again. Achilles, right on the screen. He could hear his heart beat, ringing in his ears. What was this terrible game? Why did all of the other kids play it so often, if it showed things that you didn't want to see? A life you'd struggled to survive through? He found it hard to believe that he was the only kid who had ever ignored it. It was evil, really.
But this time, he couldn't look away. Mesmerized, he walked back to the screen, sitting down in the chair. His fingers trembled. Don't touch it. You know it's only what they want, a voice of reason told him. But who the hell cared what they wanted? Did it matter if they knew what he was thinking?
Then again, what if they didn't like what they analyzed? He knew that they'd watch his every move in the game and find some complex psychological bullshit to explain it. And maybe it wouldn't just be Achilles. Maybe it could help him figure out his past. True, he didn't really need to know where he came from, but it wouldn't hurt to see if this thing—however evil it was—could help him remember. His parents had to be…well, pretty smart. Maybe if he tried hard enough, he'd remember.
And all of the Battle School officials tracking the game would know, too. Was it worth it?
His hands lifted unconsciously, touched the screen. Then he was too far gone. There was no getting away from it now.
"Ho, Ender," Nikolai greeted his commander, putting his desk aside. Stupid homework. This was really getting out of hand. He just blew up at Bean a second ago, telling him he didn't need anymore damn help with the work, and instantly regretted it. He did need help. But Bean would understand.
Question was, why was Ender here?
"Ho, Nikolai. You seen Bean anywhere?" the boy asked him.
Nikolai frowned. "No. He been hacking again?" he joked, grinning. Ender didn't laugh. He looked about as tired as everyone, if not more. He was commander, after all.
"Well, if you see him, tell him to come see me," said Ender. "Thanks."
He turned to leave. "Wait. I kicked him out a couple of minutes ago. I think he was headed for the game room," Nikolai remembered. Bean had muttered something about it. Probably telling him so Nikolai could go back for help when he'd accepted defeat—but not yet. It was only algebra. He'd get it soon enough.
"Oh. Thanks, then. See you at practice," Ender bid him, leaving the room.
Nikolai frowned, distracted from his work. What was so important that Ender would leave the quarters to go find Bean? Maybe the teachers had sent him. Bean did have unusually high scores. Or maybe something about Bean's performance? He was extremely high up in the rankings, which was pretty notable considering his small stature.
He shook his head. It was probably nothing. Now was the time to catch up on the near impossible workload he had ahead of him, no thanks to whoever the hell was setting up battle after battle after battle for their army.
"Bean," the Achilles greeted him, smiling wide.
Bean realized that the Achilles in the screen was talking to him. He looked around the room for a second. Yes, it was empty. Then the room seemed to dissolve and it was just him and the game.
"Achilles," he whispered.
"Wow, it's been awhile. You missed your Papa?" he said. The words hinted mockery. Bean felt a sudden flash of fear—he'd killed Poke and Bean knew it. Only Bean knew it. Did Achilles know that Bean had been there that night?
He reminded himself that it wasn't a matter of Achilles knowing—it was the game knowing. It was all a simulation, right? So why was he sweating, feeling an irrational sense of uneasiness?
Bean just nodded at the screen helplessly, unsure of how to answer. No, you've haunted me since the day I stood over you and said, "Kill him." Since the day you refused to share your bread with me, you cut me out of your circle, you planned to kill me, you killed Poke instead…
Achilles took a step closer to him. Bean's breath grew shallow; it was as if he was in the game. The outside world meant nothing to him now. He was alone in this with nobody to help. Sister Carlotta wouldn't whisk him off the street, a teacher wouldn't come running if Achilles killed him.
"Why are you here?" Bean asked in a strangled voice.
Achilles shrugged. "To make sure you don't forget," he said. The figure walked till there was nothing but two inches of dead air between them. Bean could have sworn he felt Achilles' breath on his head, towering over him. He'd never felt so small in his life. Everything was exactly as it had been in Rotterdam, except—
His leg was fixed.
"Don't try to run," Achilles taunted.
Bean swung a punch. Achilles ducked swiftly, leaving Bean feeling like a blubbering idiot. No, he'd calculated that attack. It was supposed to hit! Nobody was that fast, let alone Achilles. The boy seemed inhuman in his agility.
Desperately Bean swung again, barely making a scratch on his shoulder. Achilles kicked at his knees, sending him to the ground. He jabbed at Bean's jaw with his leg. Bean doubled over in agony.
Wasn't this a game? Why was he really in pain? It wasn't even the pain that bothered him. Pain he could deal with. But coming from Achilles, the only guy who'd ever outsmarted him—just for a second, too, and that's all it had taken to kill poor Poke—it was unbearable. Shaming. He didn't deserve to be in Battle School, he should have starved. God didn't save me, Sister Carlotta, he cursed me, Bean thought, mind swimming. You said he took all of the starved children into his heart. I asked you if he didn't love me, and you didn't explain. Now I know.
"You k-killed Poke," Bean choked, struggling to his feet. Was this real? Or only his imagination? "You kissed her and you killed her!"
Achilles only grinned a maddening grin, shaking his head at Bean. "No, kid, you killed her. She died trying to save you." Then he laughed mirthlessly. "It's your fault. I wouldn't have had to kill her, but you had to come up with your little plan."
Bean covered his hands with his ears. His eyes stung. Was he…crying? He couldn't remember ever crying in his life, not even when he was young.
Achilles' voice overpowered the pathetic attempt to drown him out. "That's right, kid. You came out of nowhere. Find a bully, you told Poke, kill him to warn the others."
"You don't know that!" Bean yelled. "No one ever told you that!"
"You think I didn't know? C'mon, what did you take me for?" Achilles' arm moved so fast Bean couldn't even see where it was until it was right in front of his face, knocking him off of his feet. Bean cried out, hitting the hard ground with a thud. Pain shot through his head, tears ran down his cheeks. He reached up, his face a mixture of tears and blood. He stared at the hand in horror. Crying? Bleeding? In a game that wasn't supposed to be real?
What was this hell that the teachers had created?
"Who else have you killed?" Bean demanded. "How many people have to die? You were going to kill me whether or not Poke died, you know it! I didn't kill her!"
"Yes, you did. You didn't figure it out. They're only kissing, you thought. You left me there to kill her. You could have stopped me, isn't that right, Bean?"
"I was four years old," Bean reasoned, his voice cracking. He buried his head in his knees, muffling sobs. "I didn't know, Poke, I didn't know…"
"I didn't know," Achilles mocked him in a baby voice, kicking his small form. "And here I thought you were supposed to be a genius. Beat me to Battle School, didn't you? Top marks, right?"
"Leave me alone. You're not real," Bean whispered.
Achilles' leer burned through Bean's conscious. "But I am, Bean. I always will be."
Bean let out an animal cry, lunging towards Achilles, ready to take him down. Kill him. Kill him. Kill him, Poke.
Another voice, an unexpected one, called out his name. Bean quieted his choking breaths, trying to figure out where it was coming from. Achilles disappeared. Bean fell to the floor in the space he'd lunged for Achilles' in, yelling in frustration.
That voice! Damn it, what was it? He looked around in the black abyss of the game. No one. He was alone.
"Bean, what the hell—"
Bean gasped, coming back from the screen. His heart beat wildly, his palms were sweating. He was shaking, abnormally cold. He felt his mouth. Blood. His stomach ached from the blow, everything stung. He sucked in air, trying not to scream.
"What the hell happened?"
He looked up and saw his commander staring down at him.
Damn those teachers and their fantasy game. Damn them all to hell.
And there you go! Press the blue button. It says review...most of the time. MWAHAHAHA.
...yeah, it's weird, I know, but the evil laugh is how I get my kicks. So deal with it. Now review! This fanfic area seems kind of like a small community, so I really want opinions on this, whether you liked it or not. It would be cool if the criticism were constructive, but eh, I'm not gonna lose any sleep. :D