The chapter opens with Graff—just arrived at Eros—talking to the director of Command School, Admiral Chamrajnagar. Graff tells the Admiral that he’s planning a new course of study for Ender, incorporating the latest weapons technology. Chamrajnagar mentions that he used to have Graff’s job, supervising students at Battle School.
By this point in the book, the short conversations about Ender that begin each chapter are a matter of course. Here Graff is preparing a challenging new syllabus for Ender. It’s as if Card is eager to get the point, and wants to waste as little time as possible.
Ender has been living on Eros for a few weeks. He hates it from the first second he sees it—Eros is too small, with low gravity, depressingly bleak planes, and long, shadowy tunnels in which humans live. There is a large group of students at the Command School on Eros, but Ender barely sees them. He’s not on Eros to go to class—he receives private lessons from the school’s professors. He eats with Colonel Graff, and has no other contacts. He decides to devote his free time to studying topics like mathematics and military history, which might be useful to him during combat. He also practices tactics by playing a fighter game in which he directs ships into combat.
As before, Ender is almost entirely cut off from his peers—and at Eros, he basically has no peers. He eats and lives alone, except for Graff—a man he mostly despises. It’s telling that Ender chooses to devote his free time (the time that, theoretically, could be used for relaxing or sleeping) to studying more military history. As we saw in his last visit to Earth, Ender has been training with the Battle School for so long that he can’t imagine any other kind of life. He recognizes that he is being honed as a perfect weapon, and so he gives up on any aspect of life that distracts from this purpose.
One day, Ender awakes to find an old man sitting in his room. Ender asks the old man his name, but the man doesn’t reply. Instead, the man stares ahead, blankly, at the wall. Ender wonders if the man is an invalid, or if he’s mentally ill. Ender decides to do his daily exercises until Graff arrives in his quarters. This is a mistake: while Ender is doing pushups, the old man grabs his legs. Irritably, Ender pulls away and goes back to his bed. As he leans over, he feels the old man pull him back and push him to the floor. The old man speaks—he asks Ender why he didn’t attack him, even after Ender know he was a threat. With this, the man releases Ender, and gets up to leave. As he opens the door, he tells Ender that from now on, he will be programming Ender’s military exercises. Ender asks the man if he has a name, and the man replies, “Mazer Rackham.”
In this strange section, Mazer teaches by example. As aggressive as Ender can be, he’s thus far always resorted to fighting defensively. He didn’t go out and try to hurt Bonzo—he had to wait for Bonzo to fight him. This scene is a memorable way of reminding us (and Ender) that the old, defensive strategies aren’t part of the IF’s current plan. Ender has to seize every advantage he has, even if it means hurting people who haven’t hurt him yet. In essence, he’s being taught to “shoot first and ask questions later.” The revelation of Mazer is also a surprise, as he has so far been a mysterious and legendary figure, and someone presumably long dead.
In the coming weeks, Ender spends his days learning strategy from Mazer. Every day Mazer programs battles for Ender on a simulation computer. Ender asks Mazer how he came to be living on Eros, and, more importantly, how he’s still alive: his victory over the Buggers happened more than 70 years ago, and Mazer looks no older than 60. Mazer explains that he’s been traveling at near light-speed for many years, thereby slowing down his aging. From his perspective, only about 20 years have gone by since the end of the Bugger War.
Here Card shows that relativity plays an important role in the technology of his “Ender universe.” It’s theoretically possible for people to live long lives, provided that they travel at near-light speed, as time flows slower for objects moving quickly. It’s clear that Mazer, like Ender, is seen as a powerful weapon—something to be preserved and used for as long as possible.
Ender asks Mazer the question he’s been considering for years: he wants to know how, exactly, Mazer defeated the Buggers. Mazer smiles and explains that this secret has been tightly guarded for decades. During his combat days, he tells Ender, he noticed that the Bugger ships moved as if they were being controlled (instantaneously) by a single powerful being. He intuited that the Buggers themselves were being “moved” by a single “queen,” to whom each individual Bugger was only a small, insignificant thing. By killing the queen, Rackham was able to kill all the Buggers in the same instant. Rackham admits that if he hadn’t killed the Bugger queen, humans probably would have lost the war.
Here Mazer gives Ender the final piece of the puzzle of the Buggers. The Buggers don’t really understand the concept of the individual (although as we’ll see later, they understand it in some limited ways, like caring for children). Instead, the Buggers are controlled by a single, powerful queen. The implications of this—which Ender seems unwilling to consider for now—are staggering. Perhaps the queen didn’t realize that she was “killing” humans, as the concept of taking an individual life just isn’t relevant to the queen’s existence. Ender, so indoctrinated in Battle School teachings, doesn’t seem to realize all this right now.
Mazer explains his new military strategies to Ender. The humans have invented a new weapon: the so-called “Dr. Device,” which is capable of destroying any molecular structure in the universe. If the IF can find the location of the Bugger queen, then it will be able to use the Dr. Device to destroy not only the queen but the Bugger planet, and the war will be over.
Mazer implies that if Ender gets a chance to use the Dr. Device to destroy the queen, he should do so, since this will essentially end the war in one fell swoop. Ender seems to avoid considering the fact that he’d be murdering an entire species, and also that the “war” might well be one-sided now. He’s been trained in military ways for so long that he can’t see the forest for the trees.
Ender proceeds with his military training. Every day he conducts fake military exercises in which he controls ships and sends them to fight with a computerized version of the Bugger fleet. After some weeks of this, he discovers that he’s been prepared to command an elite group of commanders, including his old friends Alai, Bean, Dink, Shen, Crazy Tom, and many of his other loyal commanders from Dragon. Ender relays orders to this group of talented commanders, and they improvise with their assigned portions of the IF fleet. With Mazer’s direction, Ender learns to use his subordinates like a Bugger queen using her drones: whenever he gives an order, it passes efficiently to the fleet.
Whereas before Ender was being cut off from his friends, here he’s united with some of his oldest comrades, including Bean, Shen, and Alai—but as subordinates, not friends. This is exactly the kind of relationship Graff was trying to foster—these soldiers like and respect Ender, but don’t see him as a peer. Ender tries to imitate the Bugger queen’s strategy by making sure that his orders pass smoothly from his mouth to the simulation ships that his commanders control. Once again, we see Ender “loving” his enemy, learning from her, and using that knowledge to wage war.
Every day, Ender and his commanders begin a new military exercise against a computerized enemy programmed by Mazer Rackham, and every day the enemy is more challenging. Rackham warns Ender that he’s going to grind Ender “into dust.” Ender replies that Mazer won’t succeed, because he’s stronger and smarter than Mazer.
Ender’s relationship with Mazer reiterates the proximity of love and hate: although the two seem to be rivals, and talk about being each other’s enemies, there is also clearly a deep mutual respect in their relationship. Mazer isn’t given as much character development as someone like Graff—this final part of the novel is mostly devoted to Ender’s almost hallucinatory state of constant warfare.
One day, Ender and his commanders participate in a training exercise that seems fairly easy. The enemy fleet is big and grouped close together, giving Ender the opportunity to use the Dr. Device. Ender instructs his forces to be careful—he doesn’t want to lose a single ship. He tasks Alai with luring the enemy into a large clump that will be especially vulnerable to the device. Alai successfully causes the Bugger fleet to group tightly together, and when this is the case, Ender launches the device, instantly wiping out a huge chunk of the Bugger fleet.
The first time Ender uses the Dr. Device, it’s devastating—clearly his computer-simulated opponent isn’t ready for it. It’s unclear at what point the “simulations” become real, but at some point (as we learn later) Ender is fighting real Bugger ships, and is simply kept ignorant of the real destruction he is inflicting. It is only because he thinks that he is still playing games that Ender is able to remain sane.
The training exercises in the days following Ender’s first use of the Dr. Device are more difficult than the previous ones. Ender realizes that he has a bad habit of trying to save every single ship in his fleet: he never tries anything brilliant because he’s afraid of even the smallest losses. Mazer encourages Ender to try bolder strategies that involve sacrificing larger numbers of ships.
Ender must now purge himself of his last protective instincts—he has to master the military concept of “acceptable losses.” It’s interesting that Ender has managed to make it this far without learning to sacrifice his own people. His loyalty to his followers (and also, perhaps, his confidence) is so strong that it’s always hard for him to make such sacrifices.
Gradually, the commanders under Ender develop a good, smooth relationship with him. Strangely, Ender’s friendship with his commanders weakens during this period: Alai, Petra, and Bean respect Ender and become excellent at understanding his commands, but they cease to think of him as a friend in any way. At night, Ender worries about his friends, and dreams about the Giant. Sometimes in his dreams he sees wolves with the faces of children—Stilson, Bonzo, and Peter, but also Alai, Dink, and Valentine. Once in his dream Ender attacks Valentine and drowns her in a river. He wakes up crying.
Although Ender is improving as a commander, he still struggles with the same problems he’s always faced. He has nightmares in which it becomes clear that he hasn’t forgiven himself for his fights with Bonzo and Stilson. Worst of all, Ender comes to realize that he’s been trained to be an indiscriminate killer: he could even kill Valentine, if given the order. He’s terrified that the IF is turning him into a monster—but his ability to still cry and feel such pain proves that his humanity hasn’t been totally crushed.
One day, Ender commands a battle in which he sustains horrible losses. Petra overextends her fleets, and ends up losing all but two ships. Ender calls on Crazy Tom and Shen to help Petra, and in the end Ender is able to win the battle, but with huge losses. Petra bursts into tears, and Ender hears her through his microphone, whispering, “Tell Ender I’m sorry.” After this near-fiasco, Ender is careful not to push his commanders too far. As a result, he pushes himself even farther. One night Mazer wakes him up, and he notices that he’s been gnawing on his own hand. He begins to eat less and less, to the point where he’ll only eat if Mazer explicitly tells him to. Then, during one battle in which he’s outnumbered three to one, Ender faints and falls on his own computer. In his delirium, he imagines being torn apart by the Buggers, and tended by Valentine. When Ender wakes up, three days have passed. Mazer informs him that he has a battle that day. Ender nods, goes to his command station, and wins the battle.
In this section, Card reminds us that Ender is always the hardest worker in his own armies. He doesn’t cut corners and expect his troops to pick up the slack—instead, he bears whatever burdens his soldiers are incapable of bearing by themselves. The result of this is that Ender begins to suffer in every way: physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Miraculously, he continues to play well, winning game after game. Eventually, though, the pressure becomes too much for him, and he cracks. But this is only a temporary setback—Mazer (now far more ruthless than Graff) pushes Ender to fight harder, even when he’s in no physical condition to fight. At this point we no longer sense Graff’s manipulations behind Ender’s life—something larger is at work.
Ender enters a strange stage in which he’s neither fully awake nor fully asleep. During his battles he’s brilliant, and plays better than ever. At night, he thinks that he hears voices, some of which are kind and fatherly, and others that are harsher. He thinks he hears Graff and Mazer talking about him, with Graff arguing that Mazer should go easy on Ender. Mazer says that Ender has been playing better than ever, and suggests that Ender will be finished with Command School soon enough.
In this strange section—half-dreamed, half-real—Ender thinks that he hears Graff defending him before Mazer. This is highly unlikely, since, as we’ve seen, Graff is always the one who insists that Ender be pushed harder and harder. We can sense that Ender’s performances in the battle simulations are uniformly excellent, however—this part of the dream is not imagined.
The next day, the narrator says, is Ender’s last in Command School, though he doesn’t know it. Ender wakes up and finds that Mazer isn’t waiting for him, as usual. He walks out of his bedroom and sees Mazer and Graff waiting for him, along with a group of men dressed in civilian clothes. Mazer explains that his battle for the day is his final assignment—if he wins, he’ll be the first student ever to make it so far in the IF training process. Mazer shows Ender the simulation he’ll be dealing with. There is a large Bugger planet, surrounded by Bugger ships. Mazer reminds Ender that the Buggers have never attacked a human civilian population—Ender will have to decide whether or not it’s a good “strategy” to attack a planet that’s presumably full of unarmed Buggers. Mazer adds that the simulation he’s programmed will be by far the most difficult Ender has ever faced. With this, he goes to sit, and invites Ender to take his position.
For one of the last times in the book, Card deviates from Ender’s perspective to inform us that today is Ender’s last day. He fights a battle for which it seems he’s meant to make a difficult decision: blow up the simulation planet, or fight around the planet, sparing Bugger “civilians.” Mazer gives Ender good reasons not to attack the Bugger planet—for example, Buggers have never attacked human civilians. And yet we’re also meant to remember Ender’s first encounter with Mazer, in which Mazer told Ender to attack preemptively—and also Ender’s past fights with bullies, in which he used excessive force to prevent future conflicts. Ultimately, this is basically placing a vast moral decision on the shoulders of a child—but enabling him to bear this burden by also convincing him that it’s all “just a game.”
Ender greets his commanders, all of whom are ready to fight. He considers what will happen if he loses this battle. He’ll probably be sent back to Earth—and with this in mind, he considers losing the battle on purpose in order to return to Greensboro. Then the simulator screen turns on, and he sees that the enemy outnumbers him 1000 to 1. Ender remembers all the unequal fights he’s faced: against Stilson, against Bonzo, and against two Battle School armies at once. Bean, remembering the same Battle School episode, mutters, “Remember, the enemy’s gate is down.’ Ender laughs. It occurs to him that he’s always won by breaking the rules, ignoring his own losses, and moving straight toward his opponent.
In this climactic scene, Ender realizes that his only chance is to do what he’s always excelled at—bending the rules to his advantage—as represented by Bean’s reminder that “the enemy’s gate is down). The rules of battle state that a good commander tries to save his troops’ lives while killing as many foes as possible. But here, Ender decides to send his troops to end the battle more simply—by blowing up the enemy’s planet. Ender thinks that in doing this he’s defying the rules of the Command School program, and disobeying Mazer Rackham’s example.
Ender whispers instructions to his commanders, and their fleets move toward the planet. The enemy ships surround the human ships, and Ender’s forces sustain heavy losses. Ender’s fleet gets closer and closer to the Bugger planet, but loses ships left and right. Suddenly, there are only a few human ships left—including the ship that holds the Dr. Device. As the ship falls toward the Bugger planet, the Device launches, and the planet explodes. Every object near the planet, including Ender’s own fighter ships, is destroyed. The battle is over: Ender has sustained heavy casualties, but he’s won.
In only a few moments, Ender has won the battle—in his mind, by “cheating.” He’s killed many of his own troops, but he’s technically won by defeating his opponent. One thinks back to Ender’s experience in the battleroom, when he technically won an unwinnable battle by twisting the rules of the game. Here, he’s done the same thing on a larger scale. He doesn’t yet have an idea of just how large a scale, however.
Ender turns and sees that the group of adults watching him is cheering. He’s surprised: he’d expected to be chewed out by Mazer and Graff for losing so many of his own ships and “bending” the rules of his game. Instead, Graff, who’s crying, embraces Ender and says, “Thank God for you.” Mazer tells Ender that’s he’s made an impossible choice: “End them or end us.” Ender is confused. Mazer explains: Ender was never playing a computer simulation programmed by Mazer, as Mazer had always claimed. Ender was commanding actual ships, fighting against actual Bugger fleets. The “game” was always real. As Ender hears this, his mind goes blank. Silently, he walks back to his room, takes off his clothes, and goes to sleep.
In this shocking scene, we learn the truth (if we hadn’t already guessed it): the “game” has been real ever since Ender arrived at Eros—whenever he sent simulated pilots into war, he was commanding an actual battle. The horrific genius of this deception on the IF’s part is that Ender treats war like a game—something with rules, to be followed or selectively broken—rather than treating it as a grim reality. Anyone who knew that the game was real would have been more cautious with sacrificing his own troops, or with attacking enemy civilians—only a child, fooled into believing that it was only a game, could have mustered the enthusiasm and creativity to think of a “solution” to the game, especially one such massive amounts of casualties.
Ender wakes up to find Graff and Mazer standing over him. Graff informs Ender that news of his victory over the Buggers has reached Earth: he’s an international hero. Ender can only reply, “I killed them all, didn’t I?” He screams at Graff, accusing Graff of tricking him into becoming a mass-murderer. Graff agrees: he realized long ago that the child who commanded the fleet against the Buggers would have to be extraordinarily compassionate in order to win the loyalty of his troops. But such a compassionate child could never force himself to murder so easily, so the child would have to be tricked. Mazer adds that Ender himself didn’t choose to murder the Buggers—that choice lies with Mazer and Graff. “If there was something wrong, we did it.”
Here Graff finally shows his hand—a hand he’s been hiding from Ender for years. Graff knew long ago that the only way to ensure, to a certainty, the survival of the human race, was to murder every single Bugger. But this was an act of genocide—surely inconceivable for any decent human being. The only way to win the war was to train soldiers who wouldn’t understand what they were doing when they killed the Buggers: children who were so used to playing games that they wouldn’t have any problem believing that their battles with the Buggers were only computer simulations. While it’s important that Graff and Mazer accept responsibility for the Bugger extermination, we should note that really they’re sharing the blame with Ender. Neither Ender nor Graff is entirely guilty or innocent of the crime: Graff did the planning but not the execution, while Ender had no idea of the plan, but was responsible for the execution. The hero’s nickname also becomes darkly prophetic here—he is the “ender” of the Bugger species.
Graff then gives Ender some important information: as soon as news of the victory over the Buggers reached Earth, the Earth fell into a state of war. America fears that Russia and its satellite states will start a war, and Russia fears much the same about the U.S. Every country on the planet wants to claim Ender as its own commander. Because most of the troops stationed on Eros are Russian, Ender could easily be abducted by the Russians and forced to fight against America. Ender refuses to listen to anything more, though, and he rolls over and closes his eyes. Instead of falling asleep, he listens to Mazer and Graff speak to each other. Graff tells Mazer that Mazer has pushed Ender too hard. Mazer replies, “It worked.”
In this pessimistic scene, Card reminds us who Ender has been fighting for: flawed, violent human beings. It doesn’t take 24 hours after Ender’s victory before the people of Earth start fighting again. This suggests that the uneasy peace on Earth was only the result of a shared extraterrestrial enemy—now that this enemy is gone, the humans turn on each other. Ender seems to be entering a stage of trauma, and he can barely focus. The reality that he has murdered billions of Buggers is finally hitting him.
Ender spends the next day, or week, or month, half-asleep. He can’t tell how long he’s out, but at times he opens his eyes and sees a group of adults standing over him. He dreams about the Giant, and sees the Dr. Device destroying an entire world of Buggers. He sees Bonzo, who tells Ender, “You have no honor.”
Ender is hardly free from his old demons—on the contrary, they seem stronger and more dangerous than ever before. Because this has all been a “game” to him, the war is still mostly playing out on a psychological level for Ender.
Ender wakes up to find Alai standing over him. Alai informs Ender that a war has been going on between the powers of Earth. The Polemarch has ordered Russian forces on Eros to kill Ender, but the Russian forces have refused out of respect for Ender. Bean and Petra enter the room after Alai, and explain to Ender that the war is dying down now—the countries of Earth are negotiating for peace. The terms of peace have been drafted by none other than Locke, who Ender knows (from Valentine) to be Peter.
Ina cruel twist of fate, Ender’s plunge into guilt—he knows that he’s a killer—coincides almost exactly with Peter’s rise to world prominence as an agent of peace and enlightenment. Ender has always been afraid that he’s “just like Peter,” but the final irony seems to be that he’s actually much worse than Peter—at least in the results of his actions, if not in his intentions.
More of Ender’s friends enter the room, including Dink. Ender looks at his friends and says, “I don’t want to be your commander anymore.” Dink insists that Ender will always be their commander, whether there’s a war or not. Petra offhandedly mentions that they’ll have to go back to Earth and go to school “by law.” Everyone sees the humor in this, and they laugh “until tears streamed down their faces.”
After all the trauma and violence they’ve been through, Card allows his characters one small moment of happiness together before they go their separate ways. As always, the “joke” is that Ender and his friends aren’t children, even if they’re young: they have always had adult minds, and adult responsibilities.