So up comes Achilles, swaggering -- or maybe that was just the rolling gait that his bent leg forced on him -- and Poke makes an exaggerated show of cowering and trying to get away. Bad job, thought Bean. Achilles gets it already. Something's wrong. You were supposed to act like you normally do! Stupid! So Achilles looks around a lot more. Wary. She tells him she's got something stashed -- that part's normal -- and she leads him into the trap in the alley. But look, he's holding back. Being careful. It isn't going to work.
But it does work, because of the gimp leg. Achilles can see the trap being sprung but he can't get away, a couple of little kids pile into the backs of his legs while Poke and Sergeant push him from the front and down he goes. Then there's a couple of bricks hitting his body and his bad leg and they're thrown hard -- the little kids get it, they do their job, even if Poke is stupid -- and yeah, that's good, Achilles is scared, he thinks he's going to die.
Bean was off his perch by now. Down the alley, watching, closer. Hard to see past the crowd. He pushes his way in, and the little kids -- who are all bigger than he is -- recognize him, they know he earned a view of this, they let him in. He stands right at Achilles' head. Poke stands above him, holding a big cinderblock, and she's talking.
"You get us into the food line at the shelter."
"Sure, right, I will, I promise."
Don't believe him. Look at his eyes, checking for weakness.
"You get more food this way, too, Achilles. You get my crew. We get enough to eat, we have more strength, we bring more to you. You need a crew. The other bullies shove you out of the way -- we've seen them! -- but with us, you don't got to take no shit. See how we do it? An army, that's what we are."
OK, now he was getting it. It was a good idea, and he wasn't stupid, so it made sense to him.
"If this is so smart, Poke, how come you didn't do this before now?"
She had nothing to say to that. Instead, she glanced at Bean.
Just a momentary glance, but Achilles saw it. And Bean knew what he was thinking. It was so obvious.
"Kill him," said Bean.
"Don't be stupid," said Poke. "He's in."
"That's right," said Achilles. "I'm in. It's a good idea."
"Kill him," said Bean. "If you don't kill him now, he's going to kill you."
"You let this little walking turd get away with talking shit like this?" said Achilles.
"It's your life or his," said Bean. "Kill him and take the next guy."
"The next guy won't have my bad leg," said Achilles. "The next guy won't think he needs you. I know I do. I'm in. I'm the one you want. It makes sense."
Maybe Bean's warning made her more cautious. She didn't cave in quite yet. "You won't decide later that you're embarrassed to have a bunch of little kids in your crew?"
"It's your crew, not mine," said Achilles.
Liar, thought Bean. Don't you see that he's lying to you?
"What this is to me," said Achilles, "this is my family. These are my kid brothers and sisters. I got to look after my family, don't I?"
Bean saw at once that Achilles had won. Powerful bully, and he had called these kids his sisters, his brothers. Bean could see the hunger in their eyes. Not the regular hunger, for food, but the real hunger, the deep hunger, for family, for love, for belonging. They got a little of that by being in Poke's crew. But Achilles was promising more. He had just beaten Poke's best offer. Now it was too late to kill him.
Too late, but for a moment it looked as if Poke was so stupid she was going to go ahead and kill him after all. She raised the cinderblock higher, to crash it down.
Copyright © 1999 Orson Scott Card. From Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card. Used by permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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