Wednesday, August 25

what i'm writing while i'm procrastinating


In Kansas it was thundering loud and long, the kind of thunder that shakes houses and wakes the sleeping. In Brazil the moon was dim, shaded by translucent clouds. Perfect weather in both places.
Eben listened to the phone ring in between cracks of thunder. It was the middle of the night—two hours later in Brazil—and he expected to wait a couple of rings. It took five rings, but the voice on the other end was surprisingly fresh. “Hello.”
“Hello, Mr. Wiggin.” Eben smiled. “How are you?”
“Is this urgent?”
“Yes.”
Silence. One, two, three, wait. Eben counted seconds off in his head. Peter gave in first. “What can I do for you?”
“I have a proposition.”
Peter did not sound particularly interested as he replied, “Yes?”
“You aren’t the smartest little boy in the world. Or the meanest. We never got to play games, did we, Peter?”
This disconcerted Peter a little, which was obvious from the change in his breathing. “That’s classified information, stranger.”
Short laugh, like nothing was funny. “Russian military movement is also classified, but we both know that. Your phone number is classified. Your identity was, too, for awhile, but I knew.”
“I suspect you’re bluffing.”
“Mr. Wiggin, I’m surprised it took you so long to figure it out. The nets, I mean. I’ve been doing it since I was eight. Longer than you and better, because no one ever knew my identity.”
“And who’s nominated for the hegemony?”
Eben laughed, for real this time, because Peter had let his arrogance get in the way. “Games, Peter. A test of wit. Forty-two games, to be exact, you pick the first one.”
“Forty-two is an even number.”
“I have no doubt there will be a winner.”
Lightning struck then, half a block away, severing the phone line that connected Eben to the would-be Hegemon. Didn’t matter. They’d talk face to face in two days.

The flight was long and boring. Eben had brought reading material, but his eyes could see and memorize while his mind concentrated on other things—except there was nothing to think about. Except Peter. What to expect? Eben had seen vids, newscasts, interviews, stock photos. But he imagined Peter smaller in person, his words softer and less rehearsed. He imagined Peter in jeans instead of pressed suit-pants.
Even imagining was getting boring. Eben folded his legs under himself and looked out the window. The sky was clear and below him he saw cities, villages, crops, pastures pass by. They were high enough up that even going 500 miles an hour things going by did so slowly.
He pulled out his desk and read, again, Peter Wiggin’s personal corrospondance over the last few days. Except there was something new—a request for information about one Eben Kaplan, resident of 611 River Drive in Kansas City, Kansas. In Peter’s signature telegraphic-style, he finished the memo with, “Dangerous?”
Eben smiled. He had rattled Peter. It was a lot easier than he expected.

Upon arrival in Brazil, Eben switched to Portuguese mode. It was one language of many he spoke; he couldn’t count them all on two hands. Sometimes there wasn’t much to do for a genius except learn new languages. He had several Ph.D.s in foreign languages as well as interpretor certificates in three of them.
His accent was flawless, and as he checked into the hotel the receptionist asked him if he was in the process of moving. In his own signature style, he said nothing. Her chatter soon ceased and she handed him the appropriate forms in terse silence.
Eben dropped some things off in his room, but kept his desk tucked under his arm, no matter how unwieldy it was. This was probably not the time to get things stolen. It was mid-afternoon, right about fiesta hour—though it didn’t exist in actuality anywhere in the world. Too many things to get done, too many people to see, to spend an afternoon napping and eating.
Which reminded Eben that he was hungry.
At a small family-owned (wow, they still exist? he thought) café, he ordered foods he didn’t recognize and asked a local if they knew were Peter Wiggin was living. “Pensa América.”
Eben didn’t show his surprise. There wasn’t much of it to show, anyway. Apparently only people in-the-know knew that Peter wasn’t living in Greensboro anymore—hadn’t been for at least a year—but Eben knew just about everything, short of if Peter wore boxers or briefs.
As he was eating, he logged on to his desk and called up a triple-passworded file. Peter Wiggin’s location. He realized with an internal grin how one-tracked he’d been lately, how stalkerish. “Dangerous?” Peter had asked, and if Eben hadn’t known himself, he would’ve answered with an affirmative. He wasn’t obsessing, he told himself. Just keeping track of things. If Peter couldn’t handle hegemony, it was better to never let him have it. That’s all Eben was doing.

A short walk later and he was at Peter’s house. It was quaint, with no visible security system, and there certainly weren’t any in Peter’s bank statement. Eben figured Peter had done the same thing he would’ve: install it himself. Fool-proof.
Eben pulled out a device he had put together and turned it on. It redirected the security system’s attention to nonexistent movement in the vicinity for thirty seconds—plenty of time for Eben to stroll up to the front door and walk in, unnoticed.
Peter noticed. Something Eben didn’t expect: Peter, in boxers and white ankle socks, splayed on the couch and staring at the ceiling. Until the door opened.
Well, that answers the boxers or briefs question, Eben thought, just as Peter thought, Oh, look, an assassin. He did not get up.
Eben took a seat in the recliner across from the couch. Peter sighed. After five minutes: “Kill me or something already, eh?”
Eben curled his legs under him. It was clear Peter didn’t have any urge to attack him physically, so why be so tense? “I never said anything about killing. Just games.”
“Lesser things have killed a man.”
“Boy.”
“Adolescent.”
“Acceptable.”
Peter looked at him, something he hadn’t done since he first walked in the door. “I expected you to look differently.”
Eben, quick: “I expected you to wear briefs, if anything.”
“I didn’t,” Peter said, “expect you to be contemplating my underwear.”
“Non-assassins contemplate all things, Mr. Wiggin.”
“And seem to have very extensive access to very protected areas, how did you manage that?”
“Computers are infallible at whatever you program them to do—they are only machines. What many people forget these days is that they can be reprogrammed, if you know how.”
“No one can reprogram security systems so complex—“
“You may not be able to reprogram that kind of code.”
“If you were smarter than me they would have taken you to Battle School, regardless of how ‘mean’ you may be.”
“Yes, well, that’s why I refer to Battle School as BS.”
Peter, despite his depression, couldn’t help laughing. “I was too concerned about not getting in to think of how ridiculous it was.”
“And jealous?”
“You can’t know things I don’t send through the nets. Stop fishing.”
“Fishing is only useless when you don’t catch anything.”
Peter was quiet for a long time after that. I don’t feel anything, he reminded himself. I am the person that Valentine and Ender always believed I was: powerful, terrible, a killer. Like the buggers.
Of course, a small voice said, the buggers turned out to not be like that at all.
“About the games,” he said.
Eben smiled.

Peter chose Risk. “World Domination,” he read on the box, “I need the practice.”
Eben watched his hands as he set it up. “I assumed we’d be playing on our desks.”
“With you, the master programmer? I don’t think so.”
Eben smiled for the second time in his life. “I have honor, Mr. Wiggin.”
“What is honor to you and I and what is honor to other people are two very different concepts. I’m sure you knew that.”
It was midnight, August 24, and Peter was in only boxers again. Despite his career in sitting around, playing with his desk, he had a surprisingly fit body. Not ripped, but not flabby. The hint of the abdominal six flexed under browned skin as he reached across the board to place pieces. Eben did not watch. He was sizing up the game, coming up with hundreds of strategies in less than hundreds of seconds.
Eben crossed his legs. He knew it was the most childish thing about him, preferring that position, but he liked people to underestimate him. Peter moved first. They played in silence for awhile, neither one gaining or losing much.
And so the game went in silence. Every night, midnight until one of them was too tired to stay awake any longer (usually Peter—he spent the days writing and working his way even more surely into the public conscience, while Eben slept off the night before), every night until the game was finished nearly 14 nights later. Eben won.
Peter stared at the board for a long, long time. It had been going badly for a couple nights, looking worse and worse for his troops as they shrunk and shrunk—but to lose? He had never expected it could actually happen. He finally let his eyes rise to meet Eben’s. “Congratulations,” he said.
Eben nodded. “One down.”
“I hope the others go faster,” Peter started,
“Or you’ll be hegemon before we’re done,” Eben finished.

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