And whether she thought of it as her plan or Bean's didn't matter to
Bean in the least, at least not till he had the first soup in his mouth. He drank
it as slowly as he could, but it was still gone so fast that he could hardly believe
it. Was this all? And how had he managed to spill so much of the precious
stuff on his shirt?
Quickly he stuffed his bread inside his clothing and headed for the door.
Stashing the bread and leaving, that was Achilles' idea and it was a good one.
Some of the bullies inside the kitchen were bound to plan retribution. The
sight of little kids eating would be galling to them. They'd get used to it soon
enough, Achilles promised, but this first day it was important that all the little
kids get out while the bullies were still eating.
When Bean got to the door, the line was still coming in, and Achilles
stood by the door, chatting with the woman about the tragic accident there in
the line. Paramedics must have been summoned to carry the injured boy away
-- he was no longer groaning in the street. "It could have been one of the little
kids," he said. "We need a policeman out here to watch the traffic. That driver
would never have been so careless if there was a cop here."
The woman agreed. "It could have been awful. They said half his ribs
were broken and his lung was punctured." She looked mournful, her hands
"This line forms up when it's still dark. It's dangerous. Can't we have a
light out here? I've got my children to think about," said Achilles. "Don't you
want my little kids to be safe? Or am I the only one who cares about them?"
The woman murmured something about money and how the soup
kitchen didn't have much of a budget.
Poke was counting children at the door while Sergeant ushered them out
into the street.
Bean, seeing that Achilles was trying to get the adults to protect them in
line, decided the time was right for him to be useful. Because this woman was
compassionate and Bean was by far the smallest child, he knew he had the
most power over her. He came up to her, tugged on her woollen skirt. "Thank
you for watching over us," he said. "It's the first time I ever got into a real
kitchen. Papa Achilles told us that you would keep us safe so we little ones
could eat here every day."
"Oh, you poor thing! Oh, look at you." Tears streamed down the
woman's face. "Oh, oh, you poor darling." She embraced him.
Achilles looked on, beaming. "I got to watch out for them," he said
quietly. "I got to keep them safe."
Then he led his family -- it was no longer in any sense Poke's crew --
away from Helga's kitchen, all marching in a line. Till they rounded the corner
of a building and then they ran like hell, joining hands and putting as much
distance between them and Helga's kitchen as they could. For the rest of the
day they were going to have to lie low. In twos and threes the bullies would be
looking for them.
But they could lie low, because they didn't need to forage for food today.
The soup already gave them more calories than they normally got, and they
had the bread.
Of course, the first tax on that bread belonged to Achilles, who had eaten
no soup. Each child reverently offered his bread to their new Papa, and he
took a bite from each one and slowly chewed it and swallowed it before
reaching for the next offered bread. It was quite a lengthy ritual. Achilles took
a mouthful of every piece of bread except two: Poke's and Bean's.
"Thanks," said Poke.
She was so stupid, she thought it was a gesture of respect. Bean knew
better. By not eating their bread, Achilles was putting them outside the family.
We are dead, thought Bean.
That's why Bean hung back, why he held his tongue and remained
unobtrusive during the next few weeks. That was also why he endeavored
never to be alone. Always he was within arm's reach of one of the other kids.
But he didn't linger near Poke. That was a picture he didn't want to get
locked in anyone's memory, him tagging along with Poke.
From the second morning, Helga's soup kitchen had an adult outside
watching, and a new light fixture on the third day. By the end of a week the
adult guardian was a cop. Even so, Achilles never brought his group out of
hiding until the adult was there, and then he would march the whole family
right to the front of the line, and loudly thank the bully in first position for
helping him look out for his children by saving them a place in line.
It was hard on all of them, though, seeing how the bullies looked at
them. They had to be on their best behavior while the doorkeeper was
watching, but murder was on their minds.
And it didn't get better; the bullies didn't "get used to it," despite Achilles'
bland assurances that they would. So even though Bean was determined to be
unobtrusive, he knew that something had to be done to turn the bullies away
from their hatred, and Achilles, who thought the war was over and victory
achieved, wasn't going to do it.
So as Bean took his place in line one morning, he deliberately hung back
to be last of the family. Usually Poke brought up the rear -- it was her way of
trying to pretend that she was somehow involved in ushering the little ones in.
But this time Bean deliberately got in place behind her, with the hate-filled
stare of the bully who should have had first position burning on his head.
Right at the door, where the woman was standing with Achilles, both of
them looking proud of his family, Bean turned to face the bully behind him and
asked, in his loudest voice, "Where's your children? How come you don't bring
your children to the kitchen?"
The bully would have snarled something vicious, but the woman at the
door was watching with raised eyebrows. "You look after little children, too?"
she asked. It was obvious she was delighted about the idea and wanted the
answer to be yes. And stupid as this bully was, he knew that it was good to
please adults who gave out food. So he said, "Of course I do."
"Well, you can bring them, you know. Just like Papa Achilles here.
We're always glad to see the little children."
Again Bean piped up. "They let people with little children come inside
"You know, that's such a good idea," said the woman. "I think we'll make
that a rule. Now, let's move along, we're holding up the hungry children."
Bean did not even glance at Achilles as he went inside.
Later, after breakfast, as they were performing the ritual of giving bread
to Achilles, Bean made it a point to offer his bread yet again, though there was
danger in reminding everyone that Achilles never took a share from him.
Today, though, he had to see how Achilles regarded him, for being so bold and
"If they all bring little kids, they'll run out of soup faster," said Achilles
coldly. His eyes said nothing at all -- but that, too, was a message.
"If they all become papas," said Bean, "they won't be trying to kill us."
At that, Achilles' eyes came to life a little. He reached down and took the
bread from Bean's hand. He bit down on the crust, tore away a huge piece of
it. More than half. He jammed it into his mouth and chewed it slowly, then
handed the remnant of the bread back to Bean.
It left Bean hungry that day, but it was worth it. It didn't mean that
Achilles wasn't going to kill him someday, but at least he wasn't separating him
from the rest of the family anymore. And that remnant of bread was far more
food than he used to get in a day. Or a week, for that matter.
He was filling out. Muscles grew in his arms and legs again. He didn't
get exhausted just crossing a street. He could keep up easily now, when the
others jogged along. They all had more energy. They were healthy, compared
to street urchins who didn't have a Papa. Everyone could see it. The other
bullies would have no trouble recruiting families of their own.
Sister Carlotta was a recruiter for the International Fleet's training
program for children. It had caused a lot of criticism in her order, and finally
she won the right to do it by pointedly mentioning the Earth Defense Treaty,
which was a veiled threat. If she reported the order for obstructing her work on
behalf of the I.F., the order could lose its tax-exempt and draft-exempt status.
She knew, however, that when the war ended and the treaty expired, she would
no doubt be a nun in search of a home, for there would be no place for her
among the Sisters of St. Nicholas.
But her mission in life, she knew, was to care for little children, and the
way she saw it, if the Buggers won the next round of the war, all the little
children of the Earth would die. Surely God did not mean that to happen --
but in her judgment, at least, God did not want his servants to sit around
waiting for God to work miracles to save them. He wanted his servants to labor
as best they could to bring about righteousness. So it was her business, as a
Sister of St. Nicholas, to use her training in child development in order to serve
the war effort. As long as the I.F. thought it worthwhile to recruit
extraordinarily gifted children to train them for command roles in the battles to
come, then she would help them by finding the children that would otherwise
be overlooked. They would never pay anyone to do something as fruitless as
scouring the filthy streets of every overcrowded city in the world, searching
among the malnourished savage children who begged and stole and starved
there, for the chance of finding a child with the intelligence and ability and
character to make a go of it in Battle School was remote.
To God, however, all things were possible. Did he not say that the weak
would be made strong, and the strong weak? Was Jesus not born to a humble
carpenter and his bride in the country province of Galilee? The brilliance of
children born to privilege and bounty, or even to bare sufficiency, would hardly
show forth the miraculous power of God. And it was the miracle she was
searching for. God had made humankind in his own image, male and female
he created them. No Buggers from another planet were going to blow down
what God had created.
Over the years, though, her enthusiasm, if not her faith, had flagged a
little. Not one child had done better than a marginal success on the tests.
Those children were indeed taken from the streets and trained, but it wasn't
Battle School. They weren't on the course that might lead them to save the
world. So she began to think that her real work was a different kind of miracle
-- giving the children hope, finding even a few to be lifted out of the morass, to
be given special attention by the local authorities. She made it a point to
indicate the most promising children, and then follow up on them with email to
the authorities. Some of her early successes had already graduated from
college; they said they owed their lives to Sister Carlotta, but she knew they
owed their lives to God.
Then came the call from Helga Braun in Rotterdam, telling her of certain
changes in the children who came to her charity kitchen. Civilization, she had
called it. The children, all by themselves, were becoming civilized.
Sister Carlotta came at once, to see a thing which sounded like a miracle.
And indeed, when she beheld it with her own eyes, she could hardly believe it.
The line for breakfast was now flooded with little children. Instead of the bigger
ones shoving them out of the way or intimidating them into not even bothering
to try, they were shepherding them, protecting them, making sure each got his
share. Helga had panicked at first, fearful that she would run out of food --
but she found that when potential benefactors saw how these children were
acting, donations increased. There was always plenty now -- not to mention
an increase in volunteers helping.
"I was at the point of despair," she told Sister Carlotta. "On the day
when they told me that a truck had hit one of the boys and broken his ribs. Of
course that was a lie, but there he lay, right in the line. They didn't even try to
conceal him from me. I was going to give up. I was going to leave the children
to God and move in with my oldest boy in Frankfurt, where the government is
not required by treaty to admit every refugee from any part of the globe."
"I'm glad you didn't," said Sister Carlotta. "You can't leave them to God,
when God has left them to us."
"Well, that's the funny thing. Perhaps that fight in the line woke up
these children to the horror of the life they were living, for that very day one of
the big boys -- but the weakest of them, with a bad leg, they call him Achilles
-- well, I supposed I gave him that name years ago, because Achilles had a
weak heel, you know -- Achilles, anyway -- he showed up in the line with a
group of little children. He as much as asked me for protection, warning me
that what happened to that poor boy with the broken ribs -- he was the one I
call Ulysses, because he wanders from kitchen to kitchen -- he's still in
hospital, his ribs were completely smashed in, can you believe the brutality? --
Achilles, anyway, he warned me that the same thing might happen to his little
ones, so I made the special effort, I came early to watch over the line, and
badgered the police to finally give me a man, off-duty volunteers at first, on
part pay, but now regulars -- you'd think I would have been watching over the
line all along, but don't you see? It didn't make any difference because they
didn't do their intimidation in the line, they did it where I couldn't see, so no
matter how I watched over them, it was only the bigger, meaner boys who
ended up in the line, and yes, I know they're God's children too and I fed them
and tried to preach the gospel to them as they ate, but I was losing heart, they
were so heartless themselves, so devoid of compassion, but Achilles, anyway,
he had taken on a whole group of them, including the littlest child I ever saw
on the streets, it just broke my heart, they call him Bean, so small, he looked
to be two years old, though I've learned since that he thinks he's four, and he
talks like he's ten at least, very precocious, I suppose that's why he lived long
enough to get under Achilles' protection, but he was skin and bone, people say
that when somebody's skinny, but in the case of this little Bean, it was true, I
didn't know how he had muscles enough to walk, to stand, his arms and legs
were as thin as an ant -- oh, isn't that awful? To compare him to the Buggers?
Or I should say, the Formics, since they're saying now that Buggers is a bad
word in English, even though I.F. Common is not English, even though it began
that way, don't you think?"
"So, Helga, you're telling me it began with this Achilles."
"Do call me Hazie. We're friends now, aren't we?" She gripped Sister
Carlotta's hand. "You must meet this boy. Courage! Vision! Test him, Sister
Carlotta. He is a leader of men! He is a civilizer!"
Sister Carlotta did not point out that civilizers didn't often make good
soldiers. It was enough that the boy was interesting, and she had missed him
the first time around. It was a reminder to her that she must be thorough.
In the dark of early morning, Sister Carlotta arrived at the door where
the line had already formed. Helga beckoned to her, then pointed
ostentatiously at a rather good-looking young man surrounded by smaller
children. Only when she got closer and saw him take a couple of steps did she
realize just how bad his right leg was. She tried to diagnose the condition.
Was it an early case of rickets? A club foot, left uncorrected? A break that
It hardly mattered. Battle School would not take him with such an
Then she saw the adoration in the eyes of the children, the way they
called him Papa and looked to him for approval. Few adult men were good
fathers. This boy of -- what, eleven? Twelve? -- had already learned to be an
extraordinarily good father. Protector, provider, king, god to his little ones.
Even as ye do it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me. Christ had a
special place deep in his heart for this boy Achilles. So she would test him,
and maybe the leg could be corrected; or, failing that, she could surely find a
place for him in some good school in one of the cities of the Netherlands --
pardon, the International Territory -- that was not completely overwhelmed by
the desperate poverty of refugees.
"I can't leave my children," he said.
"But surely one of the others can look after them."
A girl who dressed as a boy spoke up. "I can!"
But it was obvious she could not -- she was too small herself. Achilles
was right. His children depended on him, and to leave them would be
irresponsible. The reason she was here was because he was civilized; civilized
men do not leave their children.
"Then I will come to you," she said. "After you eat, take me where you
spend your days, and let me teach you all in a little school. Only for a few
days, but that would be good, wouldn't it?"
It would be good. It had been a long time since Sister Carlotta had
actually taught a group of children. And never had she been given such a class
as this. Just when her work had begun to seem futile even to her, God gave
her such a chance. It might even be a miracle. Wasn't it the business of
Christ to make the lame walk? If Achilles did well on the tests, then surely God
would let the leg also be fixed, would let it be within the reach of medicine.
"School's good," said Achilles. "None of these little ones can read."
Sister Carlotta knew, of course, that if Achilles could read, he certainly
couldn't do it well.
But for some reason, perhaps some almost-unnoticeable movement,
when Achilles said that none of the little ones could read, the smallest of them
all, the one called Bean, caught her eye. She looked at him, into eyes with
sparks in them like distant campfires in the darkest night, and she knew that
he knew how to read. She knew, without knowing how, that it was not Achilles
at all, that it was this little one that God had brought her here to find.
She shook off the feeling. It was Achilles who was the civilizer, doing the
work of Christ. It was the leader that the I.F. would want, not the weakest and
smallest of the disciples.
Bean stayed as quiet as possible during the school sessions, never
speaking up and never giving an answer even when Sister Carlotta tried to
insist. He knew that it wouldn't be good for him to let anyone know that he
could already read and do numbers, nor that he could understand every
language spoken in the street, picking up new languages the way other
children picked up stones. Whatever Sister Carlotta was doing, whatever gifts
she had to bestow, if it ever seemed to the other children that Bean was trying
to show them up, trying to get ahead of them, he knew that he would not be
back for another day of school. And even though she mostly taught things he
already knew how to do, in her conversation there were many hints of a wider
world, of great knowledge and wisdom. No adult had ever taken the time to
speak to them like this, and he luxuriated in the sound of high language well
spoken. When she taught it was in I.F. Common, of course, that being the
language of the street, but since many of the children had also learned Dutch
and some were even native Dutch speakers, she would often explain hard
points in that language. When she was frustrated though, and muttered under
her breath, that was in Spanish, the language of the merchants of XXXXXXX
street, and he tried to piece together the meanings of new words from her
muttering. Her knowledge was a banquet, and if he remained quiet enough, he
would be able to stay and feast.
School had only been going for a week, however, when he made a
mistake. She passed out papers to them, and they had writing on them. Bean
read his paper at once. It was a "Pre-Test" and the instructions said to circle
the right answers to each question. So he began circling answers and was
halfway down the page when he realized that the entire group had fallen silent.
They were all looking at him, because Sister Carlotta was looking at him.
"What are you doing, Bean?" she asked. "I haven't even told you what to
do yet. Please give me your paper."
Stupid, inattentive, careless -- if you die for this, Bean, you deserve it.
He handed her the paper.
She looked at it, then looked back at him very closely. "Finish it," she
He took the paper back from her hand. His pencil hovered over the page.
He pretended to be struggling with the answer.
"You did the first fifteen in about a minute and a half," said Sister
Carlotta. "Please don't expect me to believe that you're suddenly having a hard
time with the next question." Her voice was dry and sarcastic.
"I can't do it," he said. "I was just playing anyway."
"Don't lie to me," said Carlotta. "Do the rest."
He gave up and did them all. It didn't take long. They were easy. He
handed her the paper.
She glanced over it and said nothing. "I hope the rest of you will wait
until I finish the instructions and read you the questions. If you try to guess at
what the hard words are, you'll get all the answers wrong."
Then she proceeded to read each question and all the possible answers
out loud. Only then could the other children set their marks on the papers.
Sister Carlotta didn't say another thing to call attention to Bean after
that, but the damage was done. As soon as school was over, Sergeant came
over to Bean. "So you can read," he said.
"You been lying to us," said Sergeant.
"Never said I couldn't."
"Showed us all up. How come you didn't teach us?"
Because I was trying to survive, Bean said silently. Because I didn't
want to remind Achilles that I was the smart one who thought up the original
plan that got him this family. If he remembers that, he'll also remember who it
was who told Poke to kill him.
The only answer he actually gave was a shrug.
"Don't like it when somebody holds out on us."
Sergeant nudged him with a foot.
Bean did not have to be given a map. He got up and jogged away from
the group. School was out for him. Maybe breakfast, too. He'd have to wait
till morning to find that out.
He spent the afternoon alone on the streets. He had to be careful. As
the smallest and least important of Achilles' family, he might be overlooked.
But it was more likely that those who hated Achilles would have taken special
notice of Bean as one of the most memorable. They might take it into their
heads that killing Bean or beating him to paste and leaving him would make a
dandy warning to Achilles that he was still resented, even though life was
better for everybody.
Bean knew there were plenty of bullies who felt that way. Especially the
ones who weren't able to maintain a family, because they kept being too mean
with the little children. The little ones learned quickly that when a papa got too
nasty, they could punish him by leaving him alone at breakfast and attaching
themselves to some other family. They would eat before him. They would have
someone else's protection from him. He would eat last. If they ran out of food,
he would get nothing, and Helga wouldn't even mind, because he wasn't a
papa, he wasn't watching out for little ones. So those bullies, those marginal
ones, they hated the way things worked these days, and they didn't forget that
it was Achilles who had changed it all. Nor could they go to some other kitchen
-- the word had spread among the adults who gave out food, and now all the
kitchens had a rule that groups with little children got to be first in line. If you
couldn't hold onto a family, you could get pretty hungry. And nobody looked
up to you.
Still, Bean couldn't resist trying to get close enough to some of the other
families to hear their talk. Find out how the other groups worked.
The answer was easy to learn: They didn't work all that well. Achilles
really was a good leader. That sharing of bread -- none of the other groups did
that. But there was a lot of punishing, the bully smacking kids who didn't do
what he wanted. Taking their bread away from them because they didn't do
something, or didn't do it quickly enough.
Poke had chosen right, after all. By dumb luck, or maybe she wasn't all
that stupid. Because she had picked, not just the weakest bully, the easiest to
beat, but also the smartest, the one who understood how to win and hold the
loyalty of others. All Achilles had ever needed was the chance.
Except that Achilles still didn't share her bread, and now she was
beginning to realize that this was a bad thing, not a good one. Bean could see
it in her face when she watched the others do the ritual of sharing with
Achilles. Because he got soup now -- Helga brought it to him at the door -- he
took much smaller pieces, and instead of biting them off he tore them and ate
them with a smile. Poke never got that smile from him. Achilles was never
going to forgive her, and Bean could see that she was beginning to feel the pain
of that. For she loved Achilles now, too, the way the other children did, and the
way he kept her apart from the others was a kind of cruelty.
Maybe that's enough for him, thought Bean. Maybe that's his whole
Bean happened to be curled up behind a newsstand when several bullies
began a conversation near him. "He's full of brag about how Achilles is going
to pay for what he did."
"Oh, right, Ulysses is going to punish him, right."
"Well, maybe not directly."
"Achilles and his stupid family will just take him apart. And this time
they won't aim for his chest. He said so, didn't he? Break open his head and
put his brains on the street, that's what Achilles'll do."
"He's still just a cripple."
"Achilles gets away with everything. Give it up."
"I'm hoping Ulysses does it. Kills him, flat out. And then none of us take
in any of his bastards. You got that? Nobody takes them in. Let them all die.
Put them all in the river."
The talk went on that way until the boys drifted away from the
Then Bean got up and went in search of Achilles.
Copyright © 1999 Orson Scott Card