The chapter begins with another anonymous conversation, apparently between the same two people from the last chapter. X says that “the subject” is adjusting to his new life without a monitor, and has just beaten up the leader of a gang. X and Y agree to see what “he” does with his brother. X mutters, “I like the kid. I think we’re going to screw him up.” Y agrees, and points out that it’s their job to “mess up” children.
This opening section echoes the themes of the first chapter’s opening section, but in more overt language. The two anonymous manipulators celebrate Ender for the very thing he hates most about himself—his capacity for violence. Understandably, encouraging this capacity in Ender will have deep psychological consequences for him—a consequence that X (Graff) and Y (Anderson) callously accept and even joke about.
Ender is sitting at home with his older sister, Valentine. Valentine gently tells Ender that she’s sorry. Suddenly, their brother Peter, the oldest child, walks in. Peter is a charismatic 10-year-old boy, but from Ender’s perspective he’s a brutal bully. Peter immediately notices that Ender’s monitor has been removed. He mutters that Ender “almost made it,” and adds that he lost his monitor at the age of 5, while Valentine lost hers at 3. Peter, who seems angry, proposes that he and Ender play a game, “Astronauts and Buggers.” Ender is afraid of Peter, but agrees to play. Peter tells Ender to play a Bugger, even though the Buggers never win the game. Ender thinks about “the war” that’s going on between humans and Buggers. Because the war is ever-present and doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon, Ender’s parents have agreed that it’s best to let their children play war games, thereby preparing them for the real war.
Card gives us a sense for the family dynamic between Peter, Ender, and Valentine. All the children are super-intelligent, and apparently have been monitored by the government since birth. Peter, the oldest, is violent and cruel, which means that he wants “Them” to choose him after watching his monitor. The fact that “They” clearly haven’t chosen him, then, makes Peter despise Ender. It’s also important to note that games are important in the family’s life. The children play games with each other to prepare for the massive war that seems to dominate life on earth: an ongoing war between the alien “Buggers” and the humans. By conditioning children to enjoy fighting, adults can look forward to a future in which their children grow up to be willing warriors.
Peter and Ender begin playing Astronauts and Buggers. Ender imagines the Buggers, living on another planet, playing their own version of the game in which the Buggers always win. Peter punches Ender and pushes him to the floor. He jeers that he could kill Ender if he wanted—he could pretend that he didn’t know he was killing his brother, and their parents would believe him. Valentine, who’s been watching the game, says that she’d tell the truth. Peter threatens to kill her, too. Valentine calmly says that Peter could never “get elected” if his two siblings died under mysterious circumstances. She adds that she and Ender are just as clever as Peter, and cleverer in some ways. Peter lets Ender up. He seems angry for a split second, but then begins laughing hysterically at Valentine and Ender, insisting that he was only joking.
On the surface, this exchange is grotesquely comic—a ten-year-old boy is worrying about his future “electability.” But this only drives home the point that Peter, Ender, and Valentine aren’t children at all—they’re basically intelligent adults who happen to be very young. We get the sense that Valentine is Ender’s protector against Peter, while Ender, for his part, seems like a mixture of Peter and Valentine: like Valentine, he seems gentle and peaceful, but like Peter, he’s willing to fight or manipulate others. It’s also important to note that Ender is already trying to see things from the Bugger’s point of view—he’s good at putting himself in his enemy’s shoes.
Shortly after the game of Astronauts and Buggers, Ender’s parents come home from work. Ender’s mother, whom he simply calls Mother, tells Ender that she’s sorry about his pain. Father points out that it was an honor that the government allowed their family to have three children—proof of their children’s vast intelligence.
Compared with their brilliant, lively children, Mother and Father seem curiously bland. This is deliberate on Card’s part. The “children” in his books have complex inner lives and face fascinating moral dilemmas, while the adults, by and large, are ordinary and rather simple.
Later in the night, Ender goes to bed. Peter, who sleeps in the bunk above Ender’s bed, walks into the room, and stops by Ender’s bed. To Ender’s great surprise, Peter doesn’t try to attack Ender. Instead, he whispers to Ender that he’s sorry for Ender’s pain and fear, and adds that he loves Ender. With this, Peter climbs into his bunk and falls asleep. Ender stays up for a long time, crying to himself.
This comes as a surprise, especially after we’ve seen Peter torture Ender physically and psychologically. We sense that Peter, in spite of his capacity for evil, also wants to be loved, and can experience regret for his actions. This is precisely what makes Ender cry: Ender recognizes that he really is like Peter, not only in the sense that he’s capable of great harm, but also because he wants to be good.