Miles arrives in Culver Creek Boarding School in Alabama, where his dreams of a luxurious dorm room are crushed under white cinder-block walls and the heat.
Miles's parents leave, but not before reminding Miles not to do drugs, smoke cigarettes, or drink, and not before embarrassing him by blurting out their love for him. He says he won't (but we think he will).
Miles tries to cool off and imagines his first conversation, during which he will no doubt make a good first impression.
Miles is less than impressed by the shower that is only three-and-a-half feet high and has low water-pressure.
Upon exiting the bathroom, Miles meets Chip Martin, his roommate. Chip is short and muscular and reeks of cigarette smoke.
After his mother drops him off, Chip snags the top bunk, looks at the world map Miles put up, and starts naming countries in alphabetical order.
Chip's gift is that he memorizes things. Miles's talent is that he knows "a lot of people's last words" (128before.52).
Like Miles, Chip is a junior; unlike Miles, he's also a scholarship kid; he wanted to go to read long books, and at home he had to keep the books he read short and paperback because his dad hit him with the books (128before.58).
Chip refuses to be Miles's lifeline into social life and explains that there are two groups—boarders and Weekday Warriors (rich kids who go home on the weekends).
After pronouncing that Miles will call him The Colonel, Chip renames Miles Pudge because Miles is so skinny.
The Colonel and Miles go to Alaska's room to get cigarettes (Alaska has a single because the girl who was supposed to room with her was kicked out at the end of last year). Miles thinks Alaska is H-O-T hot.
In Alaska's room, the Colonel buys some cigarettes, Alaska makes fun of Miles's baggy shorts, and they all agree to meet at the lake in a few minutes.
At the lake, Miles tries a cigarette but almost throws up.
The Colonel tells Miles about the Eagle a.k.a. Mr. Starnes a.k.a. the dean of students a.k.a. the man who will bust you for all infractions he catches.
Miles admits he's scared to get in trouble, but the Colonel promises that trouble is inevitable—the only important rule is not to snitch, even on the rich snots.
When the Colonel goes to meet his girlfriend, Miles decides to stay on the swing by the lake, trying to smoke a cigarette and hoping Alaska comes along. She does, and they chat about last words and literature, especially Simon Bolivar's last words, "how will I get out of this labyrinth" (128before.120).
Alaska explains that even though she hasn't read all the books in her room—what she calls her Life's Library—she will, and she also gives some backstory about her and the Colonel.
Reciprocation alert. Alaska says that Miles is smart like her boyfriend and cuter too, but she loves her boyfriend. If Miles can figure out the labyrinth, she vows to get with Miles.