The toons lined up in five columns. A and E were ready to grab the side handholds and flip themselves out toward the sides. B and D lined up to catch the two parallel ceiling holds and flip upward into null gravity. C toon were ready to slap the sill of the doorway and flip downward.
Up, down, left, right; Ender stood at the front, between columns so he’d be out of the way, and reoriented them. “Which way is the enemy’s gate?”
Down, they all said, laughing. And in that moment up became north, down became south, and left and right became east and west.
The grey wall in front of them disappeared, and the battleroom was visible. It wasn’t a dark game, but it wasn’t a bright one either – the lights were about half, like dusk. In the distance, in the dim light, he could see the enemy door, their lighted flash suits already pouring out. Ender knew a moment’s pleasure. Everyone had learned the wrong lesson from Bonzo’s misuse of Ender Wiggin. They all dumped through the door immediately, so that there was no chance to do anything other than name the formation they would use. Commanders didn’t have time to think. Well, Ender would take the time, and trust his soldiers’ ability to fight with flashed legs to keep them intact as the came late through the door.
Ender sized up the shape of the battleroom. The familiar open grid of most early games, like the monkey bars at the park, with seven or eight stars scattered through the grid. There were enough of them, and in forward enough positions, that they were worth going for. “Spread to the near stars,” Ender said. “C try to slide the wall. If it works, A and E will follow. If it doesn’t, I’ll decide from there. I’ll be with D. Move.”
All the soldiers knew what was happening, but tactical decisions were entirely up to the toon leaders. Even with Ender’s instructions, they were only ten seconds late getting through the gate. Rabbit Army was already doing some elaborate dance down at their end of the room. In all the other armies Ender had fought in, he would have been worrying right now about making sure he and his toon were in their proper place in their own formation. Instead, he and all his men were only thinking of ways to slip around past the formation, control the stars and the corners of the room, and then break the enemy formation into meaningless chunks that didn’t know what they were doing. Even with less than four weeks together, the way they fought already seemed like the only intelligent way, the only possible way. Ender was almost surprised that Rabbit Army didn’t know already that they were hopelessly out of date.
C toon slipped along the wall, coasting with their bent knees facing the enemy. Crazy Tom, the leader of C toon, had apparently ordered his men to flash their own legs already. It was a pretty good idea in this dim light, since the lighted flash suits went dark wherever they were frozen. It made them less easily visible. Ender would commend him for that.
Rabbit Army was able to drive back C toon’s attack, but not until Crazy Tom and his boys had carved them up, freezing a dozen Rabbits before they retreated to the safety of a star. But it was a star behind the Rabbit formation, which meant they were going to be easy pickings now.
Han Tzu, commonly called Hot Soup, was the leader of D toon. He slid quickly along the lip of the star to where Ender knelt. “How about flipping off the north wall and kneeling on their faces?”
“Do it,” Ender said. “I’ll take B south to get behind them.” Then he shouted, “A and E slow on the wall!” He slid footward along the star, hooked his feet on the lip, and flipped himself up to the top wall, then rebounded down to E toon’s star. In a moment he was leading them down against the south wall. They rebounded in near perfect unison and came up behind the two starts that Carn Carby’s soldiers were defending. It was like cutting butter with a hot knife. Rabbit Army was gone, just a little cleanup left to do. Ender broke his toons up into half-toons to scour the corners for any enemy soldiers who were whole or merely damaged. In three minutes his toon leaders reported the room clean. Only one of Ender’s boys was completely frozen – one of C toon, which had borne the brunt of the assault – and only five were disabled. Most were damaged, but those were leg shots and many of them were self-inflicted. All in all, it had gone even better than Ender expected.
Ender had his toon leaders do the honors at the gate – four helmets at the corners, and Crazy Tom to pass through the gate. Most commanders took whoever was left alive to pass the gate; Ender could have picked practically anyone. A good battle.
The lights went full, and Major Anderson himself came through the teachergate at the south end of the battleroom. He looked very solemn as he offered Ender the teacher hook that was ritually given to the victor in the game. Ender used it to thaw his own army’s flash suits, of course, and he assembled them in toons before thawing the enemy. Crisp, military appearance, that’s what he wanted when Carby and Rabbit Army got their bodies under control again. They may curse us and lie about us, but they’ll remember that we destroyed them, and no matter what they say other soldiers and other commanders will see that in their eyes; in those Rabbit eyes, they’ll see us in neat formation, victorious and almost undamaged in our first battle. Dragon Army isn’t going to be an obscure name for long.