The chapter begins with a conversation between X and Y (who, we can now guess, are Graff and Anderson, respectively). Anderson congratulates Graff for “masterfully” manipulating Ender into fighting his fellow students. Anderson also proposes that Ender can’t be allowed to feel anything but a strong sense of isolation: if he develops strong friendships, then he’ll “take the easy way out” and refuse to become a truly great commander.
The implication of Graff’s argument is that isolation and opposition make great commanders. Once again there is a tension here regarding what makes a great leader, and it connects to the “Peter vs. Valentine” aspects of Ender—he must be isolated and not have any close friends, or he might act irrationally regarding them, but he also must be likeable and empathetic enough to inspire loyalty and to understand both his troops and his enemies.
Now Ender is in a soldier’s barracks, immediately after the events of the previous chapter. Because he spoke to Graff, he’s the last student to choose a bed, and has been given the worst bed in the barracks—the low bunk next to the front door. Ender looks at his bunk, and finds that he’s been issued a set of jumpsuits, a small desk, and a small pistol.
From the beginning of his time in Battle School, Ender is alone and isolated from his peers—he’s given the worst bed in the barracks. The immediate introduction of a pistol also emphasizes the cutthroat nature of life here.
A man enters the barracks and orders the students to pay attention. He introduces himself as Dap, the new students’ “mom” and counselor, and explains a few things about Battle School. The school consists of a centrifugal machine that spins quickly, creating a strong outward “push.” In this way, the Battle School simulates the feeling of gravity. Dap also explains the concept of “icing”—if students flunk their classes or bully others excessively, they’ll be iced, or dismissed from school. As Dap says this, Ender notices the boy whose arm he broke, who seems to have made a quick recovery. The boy has already assembled a gang, much as Stilson did back at school.
Dap claims to be a “mom” figure, but it’s clear that there is no real compassion or comfort behind the word, as he immediately moves on to describing how easily students can be kicked out. The Battle School is a centrifugal structure, with the outward force substituting for gravity (this is an interesting connection between the work of Card and his idol, Arthur C. Clark, who introduced the concept of a centrifugal space station in 2001: A Space Odyssey). It’s also important that Ender compares Stilson and the boy whose arm he broke: Ender seems to face an endless array of similar, bullying antagonists.
At dinner, Ender eats alone. He thinks about his home, and about Valentine. He also notices the other students in the dining hall, who are much older than he is. The older students have been assigned into teams with names like Scorpion and Flame, and wear uniforms that correspond to their team name. There’s a large billboard in the dining hall, which shows the results of war games between the various teams.
In these games the students naturally compete and seek to improve at fighting and commanding, having “fun” minus the stakes of combat. In other words, by playing games, students get all the learning experience (and potential for excitement) of war without the reality of death and blood.
As Ender eats alone, a boy—who looks about 13—sits down next to him and introduces himself as Mick. Mick explains to Ender that the teachers like to isolate students, just as they’ve isolated Ender. Mick is a mediocre student by Battle School standards, he explains to Ender—he’ll probably be sent to a second-rate military program after finishing Battle School. Mick says that Ender is too young and stupid to understand what Mick is saying. Privately, Ender vows never to end up like Mick—an older boy who’s too untalented to be a success.
Although Ender is a gentle person, and seems to prefer to not fight at all, he’s also highly ambitious (and he recognizes his own abilities). When he sees Mick, he resolves to be successful at Battle School—and this will require him to be violent.
That night, Ender finds it hard to sleep. He cries and thinks about his family. He tries—somewhat successfully—to stifle his tears by relaxing and counting high numbers in his head. As he listens to the loud sounds of his peers weeping, he realizes that living with Peter has trained him to suppress embarrassing emotions.
Ender doesn’t cry about being isolated from his family—in this respect, he seems stronger and more put-together than his parents. We see that Ender’s experiences with Peter and other enemies have trained him to appear calm even in times of great sadness—a tragic suppression of natural emotion, but also a skill that is useful in Ender’s harsh world.
Ender and his peers proceed with Battle School. Every day, he goes to classes on mathematics, history, and other subjects relevant to the military. One day early on, Dap shows the new students how to play battle games. Most battle games are simple arcade games. Ender goes to the arcade area, where older boys play these strategy games, and observes them for a few hours. After some time, Ender realizes that he understands how to play. He challenges a much older boy to play the game. At first, the boy is dismissive, but eventually he agrees. Ender loses the first game, but convinces the boy to play 2 out of 3. Ender wins the next two games. The boy and his gang of friends walks away without congratulating Ender for his victory. Ender is secretly proud of himself.
Ender is ambitious, and already senses that he can be the best in Battle School—there’s no Peter here to compete with him. Notably, Card doesn’t linger on descriptions of Ender’s classes, reminding us that all his education here is in the purpose of one thing: warfare. There are many forms of war games in the Battle School, as every aspect of life is somehow militarized—even when it’s just children having fun. On the whole, Battle School shows how warfare “progresses” in a more technologically advanced society—it is not more moral or humane, but instead one’s enemies are more detached and dehumanized (we can see this today in drone warfare—basically playing a video game to kill real people).
In the coming weeks, Ender notices that the boy whose arm he broke—a French boy named Bernard—has assembled a gang of followers. The gang begins harassing Ender in small ways—pushing him, jostling his lunch tray, etc. Ender doesn’t get overtly angry at these small acts of bullying. Instead, he studies Bernard’s group carefully, probing for weaknesses. He notices a boy named Shen whom Bernard bullies for being small and wiggling his butt when he walks. One day, Ender uses his electronic desk to send an anonymous message to the students: “COVER YOUR BUTT. BERNARD IS WATCHING.” Ender sends other messages, this time labeling them, “Bernard.” Bernard is furious, and yells for Dap to help him. Dap looks at the messages and finds them amusing. He tells Bernard that he knows who hacked onto the message system, but refuses to say. After this incident, Bernard becomes a figure of ridicule, and his gang of followers is broken.
Ender is insightful and shrewd in the way he deals with Bernard. First, he tries to understand Bernard: Bernard is charismatic, bullying, and cruel, but also clearly insecure. Ender then attacks his weakness. Like most bullies, Bernard is particularly upset by other people’s teasing, so when Ender sends this simple message, Bernard is immediately furious. We get the sense that Dap (who seemed like a kindly person) isn’t really there to make the children feel better—he’s actually been instructed to allow the children to fight among themselves, in the hope that the fighting will reveal a new commander.
The next week, Shen and Ender sit together at lunch. Ender doesn’t admit that he was the one who sent the fake messages, but Shen laughs and says that he knows Ender was. Shen and Ender become friends, bonding over Bernard’s embarrassment.
The chapter ends on a note of optimism—Ender finally has a friend—but we also sense that this friend will be taken away soon enough, all in the service of the “greater good.”