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Perspective Shift

Title: Perspective Shift
Fandom: Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card)
Rating/Pairing: PG/gen
Summary: Ender likes to listen to other students talk about the battles, because he can learn things that way. He's the sort to learn best by doing, but it isn't possible to be doing everything at once, and so he tries to absorb what he can. Written for Moebius for yuletide 2007.

There are two ways to win.

The more common way is to be the best that you can within the established framework. Learn the rules, follow the rules, do what people expect you to and do it well.

The other way, Ender's way, is to go outside the framework to get a new perspective on the whole thing. The actions you take from outside are obvious from the outside viewpoint, and yet so unfathomable to those trapped within. It's a more thorough and more efficient way of doing things.

Ender finds it easy to switch perspectives. Sometimes he realizes he's doing it, sometimes he doesn't. It's how he does as well as he does in the battleroom, especially early on; when so many others were still clinging to the framework of gravity, he let the whole thing shift.

The enemy's gate is down.

There's gravity in the game room, but it's low enough that Ender can jump high and scramble on top of one of the tall console units for a Launchie game that doesn't get used much. From there he can see the entire game room, and watch the kids, and they don't tend to look up and so don't tend to see him there.

(He finds himself thinking of them as 'the kids' -- not 'the other kids', not including himself among them -- even though half of them are older than he is. Once, he wondered idly when that happened, when it became them and not us. It didn't take him long to realize that it had never been a matter of us. Even back before they arrived on the Battle Station, before Graff had done his part to make sure Ender wasn't welcomed in his group, before there was any reason to be separate, he hadn't been thinking of himself as part of an us.)

"Ho, Ender." The voice comes from beside him and a bit behind. "Shouldn't you be in class?"

Ender doesn't even need to look down to see who it is; he would recognize that voice anywhere. "I know everything," he says, and Alai laughs. "I've known everything since I was three." He holds down a hand, and Alai takes it and scrambles up. There's enough room for them both to sit there, side by side, not quite touching.

They don't talk; there isn't anything to say.

Dap comes in, shepherding a new class of Launchies. His gaze flicks to where Ender and Alai sit, but he makes no gesture to them, and his attention seems focused on the younger children. The Launchies all look young and small and lost, half awed and half scared.

"They look so young," Alai murmurs, echoing Ender's thoughts.

"Yeah, and we so old." Ender's mocking himself as well as Alai. They aren't that much older than the Launchies; they just feel older.

Most of the Launchies huddle together in small groups. There are a few that stand alone. It's hard to tell whether that's by choice, or whether they're the buggers, the unwanted ones, the isolated. Nothing changes.

"See you in practice," Alai says softly, and jumps lightly off. Ender doesn't watch him leave.

The first time Ender freezes Alai in battle, it's a bit of a jolt.

Rat was fighting Condor, but Ender hadn't realized he'd known anyone in Condor army; the enemy was a mass of faceless suits, not actual people. Not friends (or, at least, the closest thing Ender had to a friend). But he froze a soldier (it took two shots, since the first one was a glancing shot due to the boy twisting away) and a few moments later used him for a mid-flight course correction, and he made the mistake of looking into the helmet. Alai's dark eyes gazed back at him, inscrutable. It wasn't a look of injury, of how-dare-you, but it made Ender pause for a moment.

Freezing Alai, as such, wasn't a new thing. Their skirmishes in the battleroom, during Ender's free play "training", usually involved anywhere from two teams to a chaotic free-for-all, and Ender and Alai tended to be on opposing teams. He'd frozen Alai a thousand times, Alai had returned the favor, and none of it meant anything.

But battle -- that was different. And it changed the way he saw things.

The Rat/Condor battle was almost as chaotic as the free-play skirmishes tended to be, especially since Dink's toon felt to Ender like a third army, allied with Rat but not a part of it. For the rest of the battle, though, Ender couldn't see the Condor boys as soldiers. He kept seeing them as faces, some familiar due to common classes or shared mealtimes, some unfamiliar, all people. Kids, not enemies.

It wasn't one of his better games. When the standings came out, Dink gave Ender an odd look for his position (decent for someone of Ender's age and experience, pathetic for Ender himself) but said nothing, and Ender didn't try to explain.

He likes to listen to other students talk about the battles, because he can learn things that way. Ender is the sort to learn best by doing, but it isn't possible to be doing everything at once, and so he tries to absorb what he can.

From other armies' failures, and even sometimes their successes, he pieces together things not to do. From the better wins, and from the wild strategies that shouldn't work but do, he pieces together things to do or things to try. From the things that don't get mentioned, he sorts out the framework of expected rules and behaviours, and plans his methods accordingly.

Some of what he picks up is personal strategies, for his own place as a soldier in a toon and in an army. The standard way of running armies doesn't leave much room for personal initiative, and Ender knows the importance of following orders, but he can still improve. It helps that Dink doesn't mind some variability within his toon, doesn't expect Ender to be just like everyone else.

But a lot of what he picks up is leadership strategies. For the practice sessions during free play, but mainly for the day when he has command of a toon or of a full army. Command isn't guaranteed, but Ender considers it likely, and he'd rather be ready for it when it comes.

He gets traded to Badger the following year. Rose thinks he's insane for wanting it, because Badger isn't half as good an army as Rat is, but Ender's spoken to the commander of Badger and knows that he's going to be second-in-command of a toon, under a toon leader that's likely to be given command of his own army within a few months.

Ender tells Rose, quite honestly, "We can't all be like you. Some of us need to work at being a good leader."

Rose hears what Ender intended him to hear, that he's a born leader, and he preens. (There's a bit of insecurity beneath the preening, that Ender pretends not to see.) He doesn't hear what Ender actually meant, that Rose barely succeeds and most of that is luck. Ender doesn't want to rely on luck. He wants to win, and win thoroughly.

When Ender leaves, Dink just gives him a blank look. Ender knows he isn't intended to read the expression, so he doesn't try. "Thank you," Ender says quietly to him. "For everything." Dink wasn't his first friend here, but he was the first commander to trust in Ender; Bonzo refused to, Rose didn't know how.

Dink shrugs. "Remember what I've taught you," is all he says. Ender knows he doesn't just mean battleroom strategies.

"Yeah," Ender says. "Good luck."

Badger has a battle against Rat within two months. Rat wins, but it isn't easy, and Ender's toon does a significant amount of damage.

During the fight, Ender sees flashes of familiar faces, but he also sees soldiers; he's learned to balance it out. It doesn't matter that he knows these people. All that matters is that the enemy's gate is down.



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