"I'm not worth a bean, remember?" said the boy. "You kill one bully, get another to fight for you, he want your food, he scared of you too."
She didn't know what to say to such a preposterous idea.
"They eating you up," said the boy. "Eating you up. So you got to kill one. Get him down, everybody as small as me. Stones crack any size head."
"You make me sick," she said.
"Cause you didn't think of it," he said.
He was flirting with death, talking to her that way. If she injured him at all, he'd be finished, he must know that.
But then, he had death living with him inside his flimsy little shirt already. Hard to see how it would matter if death came any closer.
Poke looked around at her crew. She couldn't read their faces.
"I don't need no baby telling me to kill what we can't kill."
"Little kid come up behind him, you shove, he fall over," said the boy. "Already got you some big stones, bricks. Hit him in the head. When you see brains you done."
"He no good to me dead," she said. "I want my own bully, he keep us safe, I don't want no dead one."
The boy grinned. "So now you like my idea," he said.
"Can't trust no bully," she answered.
"He watch out for you at the charity kitchen," said the boy. "You get in at the kitchen." He kept looking her in the eye, but he was talking for the others to hear. "He get you all in at the kitchen."
"Little kid get into the kitchen, the big kids, they beat him," said Sergeant. He was eight, and mostly acted like he thought he was Poke's second-in-command, though truth was she didn't have a second.
"You get you a bully, he make them go away."
"How he stop two bullies? Three bullies?" asked Sergeant.
"Like I said," the boy answered. "You push him down, he not so big. You get your rocks. You be ready. Ben't you a soldier? Don't they call you Sergeant?"
"Stop talking to him, Sarge," said Poke. "I don't know why any of us is talking to some two-year-old."
"I'm four," said the boy.
"What your name?" asked Poke.
"Nobody ever said no name for me," he said.
"You mean you so stupid you can't remember your own name?"
"Nobody ever said no name," he said again. Still he looked her in the eye, lying there on the ground, the crew around him.
"Ain't worth a bean," she said.
"Am so," he said.
"Yeah," said Sergeant. "One damn bean."
"So now you got a name," said Poke. "You go back and sit on that garbage can, I think about what you said."
"I need something to eat," said Bean.
"If I get me a bully, if what you said works, then maybe I give you something."
"I need something now," said Bean.
She knew it was true.
She reached into her pocket and took out six peanuts she had been saving. He sat up and took just one from her hand, put it in his mouth and slowly chewed.
"Take them all," she said impatiently.
He held out his little hand. It was weak. He couldn't make a fist. "Can't hold them all," he said. "Don't hold so good."
Damn. She was wasting perfectly good peanuts on a kid who was going to die anyway.
But she was going to try his idea. It was audacious, but it was the first plan she'd ever heard that offered any hope of making things better, of changing something about their miserable life without her having to put on girl clothes and going into business. And since it was his idea, the crew had to see that she treated him fair. That's how you stay crew boss, they always see you be fair.
So she kept holding her hand out while he ate all six peanuts, one at a time.
After he swallowed the last one, he looked her in the eye for another long moment, and then said, "You better be ready to kill him."
Copyright © 1999 Orson Scott Card. From Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card. Used by permission.
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