Free time was over. Dink went to practice. Then he ate with the rest of Rat Army--complete with the ritual of pretending that all their food was rat food. Dink noticed how Wiggin observed and seemed to enjoy the game--but didn't take part. He stayed aloof, watching.

That's something else we have in common.

Something else? Why had he thought of it that way? What was the first thing they had in common, that made it so standing aloof was something else?

Oh, that's right. I almost forgot. We're the smartest kids in the room.

Dink silently laughed at himself with perfect scorn. Right, I'm not competitive. I know I'm not the best--but without even thinking about it, I assume that I'm therefore second best. What an eemo.

Dink went to the library and studied awhile. He hoped that Petra would come by, but she didn't. Instead of talking to her--the only other kid he knew who shared his contempt for the system--he actually finished his assignments. It was history, so it mattered that he do well.

He got back to the barracks a little early. Maybe he'd sleep. Maybe play some game on his desk. Maybe there'd be somebody in a talkative mood and Dink would have a conversation. No plans. He refused to care.

Flip was there, too. Already getting undressed for bed. But instead of putting his shoes in his locker with the rest of his uniform and his flash suit and the few other possessions a kid could have in Battle School, he had set his shoes down on the floor near the foot of his bed, toes out.

There was something familiar about it.

Flip looked at him and smiled wanly and rolled his eyes. Then he swung up onto his bed and started reading something on his desk, scrolling through what must be homework, because now and then he'd run his finger across some section of the text to highlight it.

The shoes. This was December fifth. It was Sinterklaas Eve. Flip was Dutch, so of course he had set out his shoes.

Tonight, Sinterklaas--Sint Nikolaas, patron saint of children--would come from his home in Spain, with Black Peter carrying his bag of presents, and listen through the chimneys of the houses throughout Holland, checking to see if children were quarreling or disobedient. If the children were good, then they would knock on the door and, when it was opened, fling candy into the house. Children would rush out the door and find presents left in baskets--or in their shoes, left by the front door.

And Flip had set his shoes out on Sinterklaas Eve.

For some reason, Dink found his eyes clouding with tears. This was stupid. Yes, he missed home--missed his father's house near the strand. But Sinterklaas was for little children, not for him. Not for a child in Battle School.

But Battle School is nothing, right? I should be home. And if I were home, I'd be helping to make Sinterklaas Day for the younger children. If there had been any younger children in our house.

Without really deciding to do it, Dink took out his desk and started to write.

His shoes will sit and gather moss

Without a gift from Sinterklaas

For when a soldier cannot cross

The battle room without a loss

Then why should Sinterklaas equip

A kid who cannot fly with zip

But crawls instead just like a drip

Of rain on glass, not like a ship

That flies through space: I speak of Flip.

It wasn't a great poem, of course, but the whole idea of Sinterklaas poems was that they made fun of the recipient of the gift without giving offense. The lamer the poem, the more it made fun of the giver of the gift rather than the target of the rhyme. Flip still got teased about the fact that when he first was assigned to Rat Army, a couple of times he had bad launches from the wall of Battle Room and ended up floating like a feather across the room, a perfect target for the enemy.

Dink would have written the verse in Dutch, but it was a dying language, and Dink didn't know if he spoke it well enough to actually use it for poem-writing. Nor was he sure Flip could read a Dutch poem, not if there were any unusual words in it. Netherlands was just too close to Britain. The BBC had made the Dutch bilingual; the European Community had made them mostly anglophone.

The poem was done, but there was no way to extrude printed paper from a desk. Ah well, the night was young. Dink put it in the print queue and got up from bed to wander the corridors, desk tucked under his arm. He'd pick up the poem before the printer room closed, and he'd also search for something that might serve as a gift.

In the end he found no gift, but he did add two lines to the poem:

If Piet gives you a gift today,

Tags: Orson Scott Card Ender's Saga Science Fiction