The chapter begins with a conversation between General Pace, an important American officer, and Colonel Graff. Pace has learned from Dap that Graff is intentionally putting Ender’s life in danger. Pace warns Graff that if Bonzo Madrid and his friends attack Ender, then Ender could be severely injured. He adds that Graff could easily be court-martialed for endangering a child’s life by manipulating Bonzo against Ender. Graff seems to accept this possibility—but he adds that if his methods pay off, he’s going to “get a few dozen medals.”
Graff clearly pitted Ender and Bonzo against one another because he knew that Bonzo would be furious in defeat. Clearly, Bonzo is planning to hurt Ender, and Graff knows this full-well—he just sees it as another part of Ender’s training. Graff always offers the same defense—everything is in the service of helping Ender defeat the Buggers. Graff doesn’t take random chance or accident into account, however, so there is still suspense regarding Ender’s fate.
As the chapter begins, Ender and Bean are practicing with their troops. Bean has found a “new toy”—a deadline (long, thin wire), used for construction in space. Bean realizes that he can use the wire to change directions in zero gravity. Ender and the troops are excited with this discovery—they imagine using the deadline in future battles to confuse and outmaneuver their opponents.
Ender seems to be turning to “toys”—like deadline—because he doesn’t want to think about all the soldiers who despise him, or the commander (Bonzo) who wants him dead. Seen from another angle, however, this is Ender still being endlessly inventive and resourceful, no matter how much pressure is put on him.
After practice, Ender and his troops walk through the halls, and notice that there are too many Salamander soldiers nearby. Suddenly, Ender hears someone calling his name. It’s Petra, asking if she could talk to Ender. Ender is reluctant to stop, so he keeps walking, forcing Petra to follow him. Petra rushes toward Ender, and tells him the truth: there are some older boys who want to kill Ender. Ender nods, and coolly asks Petra if she noticed the Salamander soldiers walking behind him—if he’d stopped to talk to her, they could have attacked him easily. Petra flushes and denies that she was trying to hurt him. She walks away from him quickly.
In one of the most ambiguous sections in the novel, Petra seems to be trying to protect Ender, but also might be luring Ender into a place where it’s easy for the Salamander Army to attack him. While Card doesn’t explain Petra’s motives here, in one sequel to the novel, Ender’s Shadow, he shows that Petra was trying to look out for Ender—she thought that if she could fight off some of the Salamander soldiers who would inevitably try to attack Ender, she would be able to scare the rest of them into leaving Ender alone.
In the barracks, Crazy Tom informs Ender that toons will now walk with Ender at all times. Ender accepts this protection—he realizes he’d be a fool not to. He also finds a message on his desk from Dink, telling him not to be alone. Ender finds this strangely reassuring, as it proves Dink is still his friend.
Ender’s situation at the Battle School is so grim that he’s forced to find happiness and friendship in unlikely places. Dink warning Ender that his life is in danger isn’t exactly a peace offering, but from Ender’s point of view it’s proof of friendship.
Ender’s next battle is against the Badger Army. In the battle, Badger troops don’t stay frozen permanently—instead, they unfreeze after five minutes. Ender manages to win the battle, but it’s very close. Afterwards, he so exhausted that he orders his army to get some sleep instead of going to practice as usual.
Ender is finally breaking under the pressure of leadership. It’s telling that the first sign of this is that Ender goes easy on his troops—it suggests that Ender wants to go easy on himself as well.
Ender uses his free time to work out at the Battle School gym, and to take a shower. While he’s showering, he notices that he’s all alone. Suddenly, he hears the sound of boys entering the showers. Even before he turns around, he knows that Bonzo is there. Bonzo is accompanied by a gang of other boys, including Ender’s old rival, Bernard. Bonzo insists that he’s going to “graduate” Ender today. Ender teases Bonzo for needing a gang to beat up one weaker boy, whispering, “Your father would be proud of you.” Ender’s tactic works, and Bonzo takes off his jumpsuit and pushes his friends aside: he’ll fight Ender one-on-one.
It’s a nasty surprise that Ender’s former friend (and former former enemy) has reverted to being his enemy. Bernard seemed to getting along with Ender while they were both friends with Alai—but now his true nature as a bully is plain. Ender, always resourceful under pressure, is able to convince Bonzo to fight him one-on-one, just as he convinced Stilson to do the same years ago. Ender uses Bonzo’s pride and family values against him, greatly increasing his chances.
Ender prepares to fight Bonzo in the showers. He can see right away that Bonzo is an experienced fighter, and he imagines that Bonzo will aim to damage Ender’s most important asset: his brain. Ender turns on all the showers, making his body slipperier and more difficult for Bonzo to hold. Suddenly, Dink Meeker runs into the bathroom, and Bonzo’s gang grabs him. Dink yells for Bonzo to stop—Ender is the human race’s only chance of defeating the Buggers. Ender realizes that this is exactly what Bonzo doesn’t want to hear: he can’t stand thinking that Ender is better than he is.
Unwittingly, Dink seals Ender’s fate by trying to save his life. Bonzo despises Ender for being better than him—he wants to believe that Ender is replaceable, and that he’s not the best military commander in the Battle School. Bonzo is then the ultimate example of narrow-minded arrogance and insecurity—he places his own pride above the lives of millions of others.
Bonzo turns to Ender and lunges at him. He tries to grab Ender, but Ender’s body is too slippery for him to get a good hold. Ender is able to break free of the hold and jump up, smashing Bonzo’s nose with his head. Ender realizes that he could run out of the bathroom in this instant—but if he did this, then Bonzo would come back later, angrier than ever. Ender’s best option, then, is to stay and fight. Ender turns to Bonzo and kicks him in the chest and crotch. Bonzo falls backward and doesn’t get up.
Ender uses Bonzo’s weight against him—an apt metaphor for how Ender plays to his strengths. Ender is always the underdog in these situations, and he has to use his intelligence to win. Just as was the case with Stilson, Ender refuses to run away before his job is done—even though he’s already hurt Bonzo, he chooses to hurt Bonzo again, ensuring that there will be no second fight.
Ender staggers away from Bonzo’s unmoving body, followed by Dink. Bonzo’s friends make no attempt to stop them—they’re too shocked by the sight of Bonzo. Ender realizes what’s happened: the IF has manipulated him into fighting Bonzo, and has refused to intervene. Dink mutters that the IF will expel Bonzo from Battle School immediately. Ender begins to cry—he says, “I didn’t want to hurt him! Why didn’t he just leave me alone!”
Ender realizes what’s going on—but a little too late. This fight is very real and visceral, but in the larger scheme of things (for the IF at least), it’s another kind of “virtual reality” preparing Ender to fight the Buggers. Ender has (unknowingly) killed another boy, but his reaction shows that he still does have some innocence and compassion left—the IF has not destroyed his sense of guilt at least.
Ender is lying alone in his room, hours after his fight with Bonzo. Suddenly, he hears a noise—a note has been slipped under his door. The note says that Ender’s army will be fighting two other armies that day.
The IF knows no mercy. Any other authority would give Ender some time to himself, but Graff insists on challenging Ender on the very day that he’s had this horrible fight.
Ender brings his army to the battleroom. He’s dismayed to find that the two enemy armies have already taken their positions within the battleroom: they’re ready to shoot the Dragon soldiers at a moment’s notice. Ender consults Bean on how best to proceed. Bean is reluctant to continue at all—it’s an unfair fight, and any sane general would bring his army to retreat in such a dire situation.
Twice in one day, Ender finds himself in the middle of a seemingly unwinnable fight. He’s already won one, but can’t think of a way to “even the odds” here, as he did with Bonzo in the shower. After the life-threatening fight with Bonzo, it seems like the stakes are lower here, but Card still creates a mood of suspense as Ender seeks yet another creative solution.
The chapter cuts to the perspective of William Bee, the commander of Griffin Army. Bee witnesses the Dragon soldiers shooting through the battleroom. He orders his troops to fire. His soldiers shoot many of the Dragon soldiers, and it seems that the Dragon Army is about to lose. Then, suddenly, the lights turn on and the game ends. Bee realizes what’s just happened: Ender has sent five soldiers to the enemy’s gate, performing the standard “victory ritual” that ends the game. Even though Ender’s army had sustained heavy casualties and was badly outnumbered, it was able to “win” by technicality.
Ender wins his battle by breaking the rules of the Battle School. He’s technically won the game, but only because of the arbitrary way that the School defines winning. It’s a blatant sign of disrespect to the teachers at Battle School—and this is just what Ender intends. One of Ender’s greatest strengths is that he’s willing to think outside the box. As with the Giant’s game, he doesn’t choose between “two potions,” so to speak—instead, he goes directly for the throat. This shows him taking back at least a little agency, in a situation where he is usually being totally manipulated.
We return to Ender’s perspective. He just won, ingeniously, by bending the rules of the battleroom. Overjoyed, Crazy Tom congratulates Ender and asks him when the next practice will be. Ender mutters that there will be no more practices, and screams, “The game is over!”
Ender seems to have reached a breaking point, even as he’s just proved he’s the unbeatable champion of the battleroom. It’s not clear what’s going to happen next, but clearly Ender needs a break of some kind if he’s to continue functioning.
Ender is sitting in his room when he hears a knock. It’s Bean. Bean has just been transferred to command the Rabbit Army, he tells Ender. Bean seems proud of Dragon’s victory in the battle, but Ender can’t share his enthusiasm. He tells Bean about how he hit Bonzo, seriously injuring him. Bean nods but insists that Bonzo “had it coming.”
At the end of the day, it seems that Bean cares most about winning, while Ender cares about compassion for his enemies. Ender can no longer care about meaningless games—Bean, on the other hand, is still too young and indoctrinated in Battle School competitiveness to see how pointless and cruel the “game” has become.
Suddenly, Colonel Graff enters Ender’s room. Ignoring Bean, he informs Ender that he’s been transferred to Command School. Bean protests that no one is sent to Command School before the age of 16—Ender is barely 10. Ender realizes that the Bugger war must be dire: the IF is accelerating student training, in preparation for a massive battle. Graff sends Bean back to his room, and there, Bean cries—he’s never going to see Ender again.
Once again Ender is distanced from a friend, and in this moment Bean proves just how close he felt to Ender—he cries at their separation. We get the sense that Graff is continuing his strategy of isolating Ender, but that there are also larger forces at work—the Buggers may be approaching, meaning that the novel is slowly drawing to a close and Ender is nearing a climactic encounter with his enemies.
The next day, Ender prepares to leave Battle School, accompanied by Anderson and Graff. Anderson has been promoted from Major to Colonel in the IF. Graff says that Ender has been granted a short military leave on Earth. Ender travels to Earth with Graff. They fly to Florida, and Ender realizes that he no longer feels at home on Earth—Battle School has become his home, the “only place in the universe where he belonged.”
It seems that Graff is finally going easy on Ender in giving him a military leave so that he can enjoy his time on Earth. This is surely calculated carefully, though (to allow Ender to rest after his near-breakdown), and it also becomes clear that Ender isn’t really going home at all. Battle School has seemingly robbed him of everything except military strategy—his only home is the battleroom now.
There is then a conversation between Major Imbu and Colonel Anderson. They discuss the recent death that’s occurred in Battle School: Bonzo Madrid’s death in the showers. Anderson tells Imbu that Graff has been summoned by the Polemarch, possibly to be court-martialed for endangering Ender’s life. Anderson also reveals that Bonzo is the second person Ender has murdered: Ender killed Stilson, years ago. Nevertheless, Ender has no idea he’s a murderer. Imbu speculates that one day, video footage of Ender’s murders will be used against him.
In this dramatically ironic section, we learn that Ender is a double murderer. Ender himself has no idea that this is the case—we can imagine that he would give up in despair if he knew how dangerous he’d become. The IF is focused on keeping Ender ignorant of the extent of his crimes, allowing him to maintain a strange innocence. This “innocence,” will be an important weapon for the IF in the future as well.