“And that will end our brief lecture on the role of mecha preceding the Valkyrie Project.”
The gray-haired general education instructor waved his hand across the holoboard, shuttering the image in front of his classroom of fifty-two students. As one of the elder members of the faculty at Taiyotawa, he had seen his share of students longer than most of his colleagues. This group, as far as he could tell, were earnest and hard-working cadets. Each cadet wore the same streamlined uniform with the only difference between them being the color of their highlighted trim: red for engineers, yellow for operators, and green for pilots.
As his students collected their datapads and binders, the instructor’s eyes looked at each student as chatter filled the room as the alert for the beginning of lunch rung out on the speakers in the classroom as the clock struck 1200.
“And don't forget that I want your essays on Isao Taiyōtawa in my databanks by tuesday!”
The sliding doors swung open with a metallic ‘thunk’ as the sound of footsteps ushered in unison out of the room.
The food at Taiyotawa was around what one could expect of a confederate university that was fully funded by the admiralty. The food wasn’t luxurious and it didn’t particularly taste good. Food dispensers compounded proteins into liquid-solids with a flavor profile attributed to it to stave off any sensitive stomach. It had been thirty planetary cycles since the school year had begun so any first years that were used to more traditional food products were no longer surprised by what they were forced to consume for good of their health and physique. Some may have whined initially, but the window for that had long since passed. Generally.
The flashes of red, yellow, and green took their places in the gigantic mess hall. Among them stood two lone students bearing the color blue though they had decided to sit far from clear-view.
It wasn’t super public knowledge, but it had become clear that the confederacy was preparing to run through its next generation of special pilots—those who had the ability to link together and pilot the Special ICW’s known as Valkyries. Last year Xalese Hol and Heres Konicek had been attached as a operator and a piloting track respectively. They were the first of a new generation, among others, whom had been assigned to a pool of potential Valkyrie candidates. Some of their peers had failed out of the program after a few interstellar months, others hadn’t. Earlier in the morning, their supervisor, the assistant to Dr. Donati, had told them that the new string of tests would begin and hopefully that a batch with the right compatibility could qualify to join the program. Xalese remembered how it worked for her, though she wondered how they would adjust should they all check out. Her eyes scanned the hundredfold of students in the mess hall, wondering which of the many would make the cut and how they would react to being forced to move their quarters to an entirely different part of the ship with more regulations and rules.
You couldn’t quite hide a Zhenko Bar into your diet if they are checking your irregularities.
“Do you think they are going to finally clear us for tests anytime soon?”
Heres laughed, “What, are you sick of doing regular simulations?”
“I suppose once we are ready they will take us off-station and we'll see what the legends of the past went through.”
Legends. It was an interesting word to use in this case. Her parents were legends. Icons. But for Ese all they were was gravestones. She sighed, though she supposed her anticipation had gotten worse when a certain individual failed to make the grade and he was pushed out of the program. There were others, too. He wasn’t the only one. But she had a particular grudge against that specific fellow student. At least she was paired with Heres. The blond-haired boy was affable and charismatic. The antithesis to her. They hadn’t properly synchronized, but all of the tests since they made it into the Valkyrie Program had told them that they were perfectly in sync.
Dr. Donati had told her that once they were linked in-machine that they would have part of each other in their being all the time. Idle thoughts. Shared dreams. Fragments of memories. She was still a little offset by that idea, but she supposed it was all part of being a Valkyrie. Not that she wanted that responsibility or the veneration it garnered. After all, Ese absolutely loathed the Valkyrie Project and what the admiralty did to her parents. Told them to sit in place while the hero got to save the day while they burned into plasma and ion. It was just a cruel irony that she was good at the same thing her parents had been good at and she was not one to shy away from honoring their deaths. She wasn’t a Hero of the Confederacy. She was just a girl who was good at being an operator.
“All we can do is wait and see how things go.” Heres assured, “Besides, you should enjoy the time you have left as a normal student.”
She raised a brow, but decided not to retort.
Heres was dense, full of kindness and empathy, but dense. They and the few others who remained from last year’s induction into the Valkyrie Program were already micro-celebrities with the blue stripe on their uniforms shoulders. There were new students that she didn’t even know who knew her name. It was uncomfortable. But perhaps he was right in a way. Once they went off-station and suited up for real, her school days would be over.
She drove her spoon into the semi-solid matter that was deemed her “food” and took a bite.
What she couldn’t give for a Zhenko Bar right now…
Almost the moment the professor declared the lecture had ended, a rather tall, dark-haired young man in the back row had already closed out of his desk terminal, risen to his feet, slung a somewhat ragged and worn backpack over one shoulder, and headed for the door. At a glance, one might have assumed based on his frown and his haste to get out of the classroom that there was somewhere else he needed to be - after all, he did seem to be in quite the hurry, and gave off a certain impression that he didn't want to be meddled with. But of course, that wasn't entirely the case, as he, like those who followed after him, simply made his way to the lunch hall as expected.
Bel always had a policy of trying to arrive at lunch as early as possible. Front of the line meant first to get in. First to get in meant first to get served. First to get served meant he could find his own spot to eat off in some small corner of the dining hall without ending up crowded out by his fellow engineering cadets, or worse, those damned stuck-up piloting candidates. Of the two, the former were infinitely more welcoming, but that in and of itself made them almost as bad as the alternative. After all, the only reason they'd even bother talking to him was because they saw in him the potential for some sort of camaraderie which Bel had no intention of participating in. Just because he'd ended up in their program, they assumed he was some kind of failure who'd join them in resenting and envying everyone else who'd actually managed to cut it. But what was there to envy? He wasn't a failure.
He'd outperformed all those stuck-up asshats who, starting this year, would be wearing the coveted blue and looking down their noses at him like he was some sort of insect, as if all those times he'd shot them down in simulation had never even happened. Even without a partner, he still could easily have qualified for the normal piloting program, and probably could have done quite well for himself if he'd just been allowed to try. But that man... That damned man... He'd pushed Bel aside just because he wasn't fit to be his protege, and had tried to cover up his own embarrassment at trying to force his own son into that role and failing by shoving Bel as far out of the limelight as possible.
Of course, even if he had been able to make it into the green program, Bel would have surely refused had the choice been given to him. That would be settling for second best, and second best wasn't his style. The result would have doubtless been the same, so that wasn't why he was angry. He just resented not being given the choice.
After skimming through the serving line and grabbing a few different flavors of the soupy, synthetic ooze that passed for food - all of which were equally bad, by the way, but his prior year's experience had already taught him that blending a few of the least offensive flavors could make the resulting culinary abomination at least marginally more palatable - Bel had just found a nice spot near the back of the cafeteria and sat down to eat when a shadow was suddenly cast over him from behind. He cocked his head back just enough to make out a white and red uniform like his own. It was strange, though... He didn't remember anyone quite so tall being in the program. Well, whatever.
"Yeah? Whaddya want?" He half-mumbled, half-growled as he kicked back in his chair, turning to give a barely concerned half-glance back at the unseen individual now looming over him. The person in question cleared his throat very pointedly, and it was around this point that Bel realized his mistaken assumption. Throwing down his food, he shot bolt upright and turned around, standing immediately at attention before the bowl containing what passed for his lunch could even finish rattling and wobbling on the unsteady table he'd jostled in his wake.
"Captain Zaren, sir!" He exclaimed as he met the gaze of his team's supervisor. The tall, tan-skinned man gave a slight chuckle, his lips forming into a lopsided grin as he removed one hand from his pocket and waved it dismissively.
"At ease, kid."
"My bad. ...Thought you were someone else," Bel somewhat awkwardly apologized despite himself, his posture relaxing back to his usual slouch as he dragged the chair out to one side, then dropped once more into his seat. It was remarkable how quickly his conditioned discipline gave way to complete disregard for order once his surprise had passed, but thankfully, his teacher didn't exactly make a point of standing on ceremony. What would otherwise have probably been seen as disrespect passed between them as normal - so long as they were outside of class. Either way, he decided it would be best to get to the point before the grinning captain could tease him any further. "So what's the deal? I thought we didn't have any meetings or exercises or whatever set until the project tomorrow?"
"And you'd be right," The captain replied with a shrug, tossing himself down in the seat across from his student. "So, since you're so free these days, I thought you could give this old man a hand with some of his work."
"'Old man?' Really?" Bel replied scathingly, raising an eyebrow. "You're... what, like 35? It's a little early to be begging for sympathy, even with that gray hair of yours, 'gramps.'"
"39, actually. And be that as it may, you're a little late to be learning respect for your elders, kid."
"I told you to stop calling me that."
"Whatever you say, son."
"Oh, shut up!" Bel growled irritably, shooting a glare across the table. The captain merely chuckled, and Bel grumpily sighed, shaking his head. "What do you even want my help with, anyway?"
"Nothing much. Just basic setup for a training exercise for some of the piloting newbies. The flight instructor asked me to help out since he's shorthanded at the moment. Just need to move a few seats, maybe calibrate some sim equipment..." Zaren trailed off, giving a knowing smile. Bel only realized a few moments later that he'd started grinning the moment he'd heard the words 'calibrate' and 'sim equipment,' and quickly wiped the smirk off his face. Clearing his throat, he took a moment before answering, averting his gaze so as not to be seen through.
"Well, I guess I can help you out," He responded at last, trying his best to sound inconvenienced by the whole affair. Zaren stood up with his usual lopsided grin and reached out, unexpectedly tousling the grumpy young man's already messy hair. "Hey!" Bel growled, trying to shake off the unwanted gesture.
"Knew I could count on you, kid. Head down to storage B on deck 2 when you're done eating. I'll be waiting!" With that, just as suddenly as he had appeared, the captain strolled off, leaving Bel flushed and angrily glaring after as he brushed the hair out of his face.
So this was paradise. Finally away from the terror and uncertainty of a dysfunctional post war society, replaced with boredom and mundanity. Well, as mundane a military academy that turned kids into soldiers could be. It was an odd sensation for Seiichi to be in since he had always gazed upon the military structure as a civilian observer but now he would be a bolt screwed inside the machine, supporting one of the pillar foundations of the Confederacy's future.
Paradise was paralyzing. Each day's lecture he is subjected to somehow manage to be more boring than the last. While he had met each academic requirement, Seiichi acknowledged that he merely inserted the minimum effort to check off the requirements. This latest assignment about the late Taiyōtawa would meet the same fate as the rest of his work as Seiichi had already planned to write it out at the eleventh hour before the deadline. Scheduled procrastination helped bring joy to his life, the same way the lunch period stole all of it each day. He couldn't quite understand how the other students could stomach the synthetic sustenance paste, let alone look at it. As they were dismissed by their instructor, Seiichi would be in no rush to get the cafeteria as he chose to be one of the last out of the classroom. Unfortunately, he still needed to eat and would reluctantly go to the cafeteria.
One of the only benefits of artificial nutrition compounds is the fact that the last scoop of goop is just as good as the first one. Cold or hot, the grey matter served by the cafeteria affected Seiichi's grey matter the same way. Prior to this, he had only seen this type of food being served to the garrison soldiers and the poor citizens of his homeworld during the war time rationing. He, along with the rest of the upper class of Oppnaris, had access to food with actual flavor and texture. The farmlands under Kapteyn's Star did not produce much but the fruits of its harvest placated his mercurial tendencies. Fortunately, one of the other benefit of this slime's staunch structure was its application for architectural art pieces. Perhaps today he would form his villa from memory.
As Seiichi sat down at his preferred table, the fellow students in his lunch group had already finished up and started chatting among each other. He would flash them a quick courtesy smile before returning to his neutral expression, not even stating a hello to anyone there. His relationship with them had been established as one of tolerated co-existence as he never bothered to learn their names and he was certain they didn't as well. It seemed pointless to make niceties with others you'd probably only interact with one hour everyday. Heck, he barely remembered his household servants' names and they served Seiichi for all three meals each day. Speaking of which, the final form of his food had finally been achieved. To his disappointment, the paste did not hold his villa construct intact for too long.
A slope of slop for Seiichi Cepheid's subsistence solely sustained.
Cinny had managed to balance the stylus of her data pad between her nose and upper lip for nearly five minutes when class suddenly ended, and she realized she’d missed most of the lecture. Oops. New record, but oops.
“And don't forget that I want your essays on Isao Taiyōtawa in my databanks by Tuesday!”
Right, she knew she’d forgotten something. Essays, important robot history, big ol’ chunk of her final grade; she hadn’t started it yet. Oops, again. Seemed like she was going to have a few late nights ahead of her, which wasn’t a big problem. Cinny had always been a bit of a night-owl—everyone back home was, really. This wouldn’t be the first assignment she’d cranked out on a tight-deadline, and like the others, it wouldn’t be pretty but it’d keep her afloat.
Some of her classmates enjoyed the history lessons, enjoyed learning about all of the egg-heads and big-wigs that’d built the mecha programs up, but Cinny just didn’t. It wasn’t why she was here. Isao Taiyōtawa was probably very smart, and very important—you didn’t name schools after idiot nobodies—and like every other hero and scientist they’d learned about, he wouldn’t matter when it came time to actually pilot. The bullets weren’t going to fly any faster because she knew Taiyōtawa’s favorite color.
The lot of them were herded into the cafeteria. She waited in line, never overly eager to get first-slop. They’d had weeks to adjust to the academy’s tailored-diet, and while the groaning had mostly stopped, she knew better than most that silence was not the same as complacence. Cinny hadn’t said anything the whole time, and she hated the paste. Every meal was a reminder of how nice she’d had it back on the farm. Sure, things were usually tight, dark, and miserable, but in addition to good company she could always count on a well-cooked meal at the end of the day. Not all of the invasive creatures introduced to her home were safe to eat, but some were. Some were downright delicious.
Finally seated, Cinny stared down at the goop on her tray, mouth twisted in distaste, and started to eat.
Someone sat down across from her at the long table, an upper-classman she didn’t recognize. He had an untouched tray of his own goop, and he looked at her with the sort of muted intrigue of someone who didn’t want to appear desperate. But Cinny had been dealing with looks like that for weeks now, she knew exactly why he was here.
“I heard you, uh…” he mumbled. Cinny cocked a brow, feigning ignorance, and the student chewed his lip. “You’re Cincinna, right? Uh, sorry, I mean Cinny.”
She nodded, and he stared at her until it became clear that she wasn’t going to offer anything else. Something approaching frustration seeped onto his face. “This stuff tastes like solid-vomit,” he said, poking the goop with his fork. “And word is you…like…have stuff that doesn’t taste like that. Maybe. Right?”
Cinny put a finger on her chin and batted her lashes at him. Who, me? she seemed to say.
“Yeah,” he said. Most people were quick to pick up what she put down. A bit impatiently he added, “so do you or not?”
He was reaching a familiar point, she saw, contemplating whether or not that sweet, delectable contraband was worth putting up with her. Unlike most students who got their hands on—admittedly harmless—illicit goodies, Cinny didn’t charge, but people who came to her thinking that meant they got stuff for free were always sorely mistaken. The price was that they were subjected to Cinny’s weird bullshit.
Ugh, she loved it. It was so hard to find reasons to smile up here.
Cinny conceded, nodding, but just when he seemed ready to thank her, she held up a finger. He watched exasperated as she tugged down one of her sleeves, showing that it was empty, and then did the same to the other.
“What are you doing.”
She twinkled her fingers, waving her hands in mystical circles. Lem used to chant ridiculous incantations when he did parlor tricks, Cinny just turned up the gestures. He flinched when she reached out at him, but stilled at a placating look from her. Her hand went past his face and into his hair, and she screwed up her face with mock-puzzlement, only to pop her mouth into a little ‘o’ imitating discovery. Then, as if from thin air, she produced a Zhenko bar from behind his ear.
Lem would have said something like: “Now how did that get back there?” Cinny just mimed amazement. The student blinked. He was more than just unamused, he was now openly aggravated. Without so much as a thank-you, he snatched the bar from her, stuffed it into his pocket, and stalked off with his tray.
“Fuckin’ hell,” she heard him mutter under his breath.
Cinny was beaming. The next bite of goop didn’t taste quite so bad.
The shrill chime of the academy's PA system shook Sirius from his inattentive trance, and it was as close to a mercy as he could receive on this godforsaken station. He had imagined an allegedly prestigious university such as Taiyotawa would have been, at the very least, worthy of his time. But in the month since his on-boarding, the youth had been subjected to the menial busywork one expected of a secondary school student. On what miserable world would writing an essay on Isao fucking Taiyotawa make somebody a more suitable pilot? He was just another colonist in an era of colonialism. Probably never set foot in the cockpit of an ICW. The indignity of it was infuriating, and Sirius could only imagine that was the point. The esteem with which the rest of the Confederacy held this school was just a sop to an otherwise inglorious exile. Ruminating on it all just caused fury to roil up in his throat like bile, and it fueled Sirius' hasty exit from the classroom, muscling his way through what few students dared to cross paths with him.
What spurned his break from academic drivel certainly didn't promise to alleviate his frustration either. The finest pilot school in the whole of the Confederacy and they couldn't even manage to serve solid food to their cadets. It was sold to the student body as a health service, to ensure they received the optimum nutrition to keep themselves in top form. Sirius knew better than that. He could spot a cost-saving measure when he saw one. It was to be expected, though: the Confederacy was little more than a collection of hanger-ons and grifters, clinging to the coattails of a few prominent planets. Any joint endeavor by its constituent worlds was bound to cut corners wherever possible. This knowledge did not make stomaching the slop they dispensed to the student body any more tolerable.
It was all just another trial to preserve through. He would do it just as he had with all others. Receiving his daily share in spite of the crowds was of no great difficulty—he was head taller than the majority of his peers, and had taken care to remind them that if they did not make way for him when he willed it, he would make them make way. It was perhaps this reputation for black moods that ensured his ability to find an empty table once his tray was full of the ill-considered paste. That suited him just fine. Solitude allowed him to decompress from the frustrations of the day without the inane chittering of his so-called peers. As he settled in, the teen reached into his belongings and produced a small, vacuumed sealed bag. The hiss it produced as he tore away the edge with his canines was like music to his ears, and in lieu of a mouthful of chemically-enriched sludge, he treated himself to the bite of contraband aurochs jerky.
It was pathetic that something so essentially human as the consumption of meat managed to soften his mood, but deprivation bred fondness, and he had already fished another piece from the bag as he laid out his datapad and tapped away upon the holographic interface. For all the ire he had towards the food served, the free time lunch intermission gave him at least had some value. It gave him enough time to check up on basquash scores, a small consolation for being unable to watch the matches directly.
What little goodwill the flesh of the humble steer had managed to provide him disappeared almost instantly as he navigated his way through the holonet. His expression darkened visibly, and he had to fight the urge to swear out loud as the results displayed before him.
97-124?! How did anybody manage to lose that badly?!
The sound came out unwillingly, the brunette holding a hand over her mouth as she squeezed her eyes shut. The first and last bite of these 'meals' were always the hardest in the girl's opinion, but at the very least she was able to stuff them down without throwing up at this point. She naively believed after a month she'd get used to it, but honestly, the tasteless meals just made her depressed whenever it was mealtime. The only silver lining was that she was probably thinner than ever, but she had to admit it came at a price too great. Would it really be too much to make this stuff have some kind of flavor?
Aurora placed down her utensils, more relieved that she was finished. The smart thing to do was to probably get started on her assignment; the science side of being a coordinator was definitely a weakness of hers. Sure, she was brilliant of course, but actually sitting down and writing out these assignments bored her to death. Not that she'd let that stop her, but it did require giving herself a pep talk anytime just to start. If only she was back in high school where she had droves of nerds willing to do her assignments for her again.
Clucking her tongue at the thought, the brunette decided to take her leave; there wasn't any point in dawdling in a sea of strangers. Maybe she should take some of her pent-up energy and actually try to get to know someone, but no one really caught her attention. Well, there was Erik Nyqvist-Åkerfeldt, the adopted son of Dr. Øystein Åkerfeldt, but it wasn't like she was familiar with him. The two had met in passing some time ago at a fundraiser but barely exchanged pleasantries. He was definitely cute, yes, and she would give him some credit in that he was certainly enthusiastic when it came to anything involving the Valkyries. But she wasn't looking for a lecture, she was looking for fun.
No sooner had she let out a tiny sigh of exasperation when she spotted a dark-haired boy staring down at something. That one was in her class, too, wasn't he? She wracked her brain for a name, eventually landing on Sirius. Not that she remembered his last name, but as far as she was aware, it wasn't relevant. What was relevant was that she was very much a fan of the tall, dark, and handsome type. He looked annoyed at something, but that could easily be remedied.
With her mind made up, Aurora disposed of her tray before confidently taking a seat across from the boy. Resting her elbows on the table and her chin in her hands, she put on her best smile. "No need to get so worked up, here I am. Don't worry, you still have two other wishes," She teased, holding back a giggle.
Sirius wasn't sure if the disbelief made his outrage better or worse, as he seethed in the second-hand embarrassment of having invested his emotional energy into a group of losers. It was a small consolation that he hadn't put money on the match; he would need his stipend from home to continue purchasing outside food, or his rage truly would have nothing holding it back. Still, his inquiring mind needed to know just how it was possible a team with such a track record managed to botch such a simple game, and as he frantically tapped his way across the screen to find just that out, he caught sight of something—someone—in his peripheral vision.
"No need to get so worked up, here I am. Don't worry, you still have two other wishes,"
He looked up just in time to hear that, and witness the bright, bubbly smile that accompanied it. The sweetness with which it was delivered might have softened the resolve of many a male cadet. Not so for Sirius. He had known this type before, even attracted them. The green stripes on her uniform at least separated her from the average harlot in his mind. Aurora de Realis-Donati, a fellow pilot-in-training. He had gone to the lengths of memorizing at least those who would be his competition in the rankings, something those of lesser colors did not have the privilege of. But acknowledgement wasn't a shield from his wrath. He affixed her with piercing silver eyes for a long moment, expressing both disdain and perplexity at her statement as he mowed over his response. Apart from her pedigree, there wasn't so very much that separated her from the others of her ilk.
Well, aside from one thing. The vexation of his gaze changed to a certain sharpness as he came to a decision.
"You aren't the kind of cow I was wishing for."
Another piece of jerky found itself between his lips after he deadpanned those words.
At the highest level of the lecture hall, an engineering student resisted the urge to yawn into his hand.
“And that will end our brief lecture on the role of mecha preceding the Valkyrie Project.”
The doctor had been sure to brief him on the general curriculum of the academy before his enrollment, but he'd hoped that by thirty days into his stay at Taiyōtawa they would've at least gotten past subjects he'd already read up on years prior. From the way the vids had described it, Taiyōtawa Academy was the highest institution of learning in the entire Confederacy; where the galaxy's brightest minds flocked to determine the future of all who lived in it. So far, other than the frankly uncomfortable amount of attention he'd gotten from his teachers and classmates alike, the experience had been singularly unengaging.
While his peers all but began stampeding out of the classroom the instant the clock hit 1200, Erik listlessly opened his datapad, cycling through a number of diligently organized screens before tapping a label simply marked 'Taiyōtawa Essay'. The words had hardly left his instructor's lips before Erik was submitting the assignment and turning his datapad off once again. He hoped he'd get his results sometime over the weekend, not that it particularly mattered.
As the last student to make his way out of the classroom, Erik bowed respectfully towards the instructor and took his leave.
If there was one thing Erik could appreciate about the academy, it was the food. Not only was it parsecs above the kind of barely edible gruel they called food on Gandvik, but there was an almost endless amount of it. He didn't understand why the rest of the student body turned their noses up at it. If they'd ever felt real hunger in their lives their tunes would change in a heartbeat. Nevertheless, unlike many others, lunch was the highlight of Erik's day. The slightest hint of a smile even crossed his lips when it was his turn in line.
If not for his concentrated effort to avoid doing it, the former orphan likely would've gotten his food all over his uniform after he found a seat on the outskirts of the cafeteria. Even then, he devoured his meal uncharacteristically swiftly when compared to most everyone else in attendance. Although he'd been one of if not the last people to enter the lunch line, he was certainly the first to make a second, and probably the only, to make a third trip. To think, Dr. Donati thought the meals would be his least favorite part of school life.
Slowly blinking her eyes, Aurora was a little confused. For one, the comparison was less than flattering--cows weren't exactly cute or nice to look at. She opened her mouth to ask before the realization hit her: he was comparing her unfavorably. But why? Was he blind? No, he wasn't if he knew what a cow looked like, but why would he say that? Every hair of hers was perfectly in place, her skin was smooth, and while the uniform wasn't the best, she didn't think it was that bad. It must have been a misunderstanding of some sorts--unless he was from some backwater planet that revered cows?
Either way, the brunette wasn't amused. She tried not to show it, but it wasn't often that she was handed an insult right off the bat like this. Was there something she had done to unintentionally insult him? Considering this was the first time they were interacting, no. She supposed the best thing to do would be to take her leave, but that would be too boring, wouldn't it? The best thing to do would be to brush it off; his type probably reveled from the attention.
Pursing her lips, Aurora made a small hum as she closed her eyes. "I suppose missing real food can do that to anyone," She mused out loud, placing her hands on the table as she thought of a way to recover. "I hope you'll forgive the intrusion, I just couldn't help myself. I think it'd be nice if we got to know each other a little better."
“And that will end our brief lecture on the role of mecha preceding the Valkyrie Project.”
Eyrie hadn't reacted to the professor's concluding statement as the rest of the class began to leave the classroom, eyes still locked to her datapad up until a fellow student brushed past her seat on their way to the door. Like waking from a dream, her head snapped upward from the desk, eyes blinking rapidly as she noticed the lack of people in the room aside from a couple of students slowly packing their things and a bored-looking boy still seated in his chair. Scrambling to collect her belongings, she was one of the last to rush out the door, sending the instructor a hurried "have a good day" as she passed him by.
As she moved through the hallways, Eyrie pulled out her datapad once more, reopening it to reveal multiple windows, each of them for every single one of the subjects in her curriculum. Eyes darted across the screen and ignored their surroundings, relying entirely on muscle memory to take her to the cafeteria as she attempted to absorb as much information as possible with what little time she had. A month was a short time for most, but to Eyrie it had been the longest month of her life.
She knew better than anyone else that the only reason she was at Taiyōtawa at all was through her parents' efforts and not her own. Unlike the naturally gifted elite who come to Taiyōtawa because it was the best the galaxy could offer, Eyrie had to work hard for every single inch she could take on the mile-long trek to graduation. Every second she didn't spend studying was a second she was wasting.
When Eyrie entered the cafeteria, she didn't even look to see what sort of paste they had for the day as she momentarily put away her datapad to take the offered tray. All of it tasted the same to her, no matter what sort of artificial flavoring they put in it. Goop was goop. But in all honesty, it was better than the sand-encrusted leftovers that were normal on her planet, so she didn't much care what it was.
Though she looked for a place to sit, she couldn't find an open spot. Sure, there were seats left unoccupied, but most of them were either next to tables with friend groups, reserved, or just a single spot surrounded by crowded seats. She knew, no matter how hard she tried, she wasn't going to be getting anything done with all those people around. Too much noise. Too little privacy.
So she left, tray in hand, headed for the bathroom. Seated in a locked cubicle, she picked at her daily dose of food paste with one hand while the other interacted with her datapad, propped up to the wall on top of the toilet roll holder. It was a sad sight, and she would most certainly die of embarrassment if anyone ever saw her, but it was a necessity. She couldn't let any of her classes suffer just because she wanted to have a comfortable lunch rather than sitting cramped on a toilet with her food in her lap.
A loud bang of something hitting the metal of a neighboring cubicle startled her, nearly causing her to squeak with surprise. Only a hand covering her mouth kept her from making her presence known as she began to hear the sounds of girly gossip. Though she couldn't see them, she guessed it was a group of four or so standing by the sink. Silently, as she began to move her spoon slowly and gently as to not make a sound that would draw their notice, Eyrie internally sighed.
She hoped they left soon. She didn't want to miss her next class.
Bel had been somewhat preoccupied by his mentor's whirlwind arrival and then departure, and as such, had failed to do two things. Firstly, he hadn't paid much attention to the crowd of fellow students slowly surrounding him and filling up the nearby tables, until the air had already begun filled with a rather annoying drone of constant chatter. Secondly, he hadn't managed to finish eating his dish of ration slurry until the already unappetizing paste had now become lukewarm to boot. He poked at it with his spoon, a grimace of disgust forming on his face as he realized that one of the only saving graces of the alleged "food" had now come and gone, despite his dedication to arriving early. He was just lamenting the inevitability that his lunch was already ruined, however, when he caught sight of a rather furious looking boy rising up and storming off from a nearby table holding... Wait a second, was that a bloody Zhenko bar? It was. It was.
...To be honest, under normal circumstances, the sweet snack would have been a welcome addition to his meal, but it wasn't something he'd go out of his way to obtain - particularly not to the point of bothering someone just to get his hands on it. However, that girl over there looked awfully proud of herself, and he had heard rumors about a black marketeer who could get contraband foods and was willing to trade for them... And the nightmare called "lunch" sitting in front of him definitely meant this situation wasn't normal by any stretch of the imagination.
So it was that, steeling his resolve to deal with the inevitable hassle of social interaction, the dark-haired lad slowly stood up and approached Cicinna's table. Rapping a knuckle against the back of the chair opposite her, he glanced down with one eyebrow quizzically raised, his eyes awkwardly sliding between the seated girl and the area around them, as if suspecting that one of the station's administrators would come bursting in at any moment to bust the illegal contraband trade that was about to go down.
"Oi, you wouldn't happen to... uh... have any more of those, would ya?"
Just as the dopamine was wearing off, and the food was beginning to taste like the garbage slop that it was again, lo and behold, there be delivered before her another hungry sap to torture. He approached cautiously, with all the confidence of a lost fawn. His eyes were mile-a-minute between her and everywhere that wasn’t her, and she craned her head this way and that trying to snatch his gaze up in the brief instants they made eye-contact.
God, how come nobody’d told her it was her birthday?
There was a touch of command in his voice that the rest of him couldn’t back up, which was surprising coming from a red. As far as she’d seen in the past few weeks, the engineering students tended to keep to themselves, and she’d picked up a sort of toothless hostility from them towards the operators and, especially, the pilot-cadets. Of course, it didn’t help that the pilots played into it. Some of her peers relished in the envy, which seemed like a great way to utterly ruin things for themselves down the line, when their livelihoods would depend on those reds.
Of course, that didn’t mean Cinny was about to show the guy any mercy.
Cinny tapped her lips in feigned thought, then snapped her fingers and, at a prompt from her, he held out his hand. She dug into her pockets, miming excitement when she found what she was looking for. With the reverence and sincerity of someone bequeathing a precious family heirloom to a loved one, Cinny took his hand in hers, and gently closed his fingers around the prize that had been hiding amongst the lint in her pocket. When he opened his hand, there it was.
An empty, crumpled Zhenko wrapper.
Cinny pretended to be shocked. She quickly snatched the wrapper up, inspected it, sniffed it, pulled it flat and taut. She rolled her eyes and smacked her palm against her head, as if to say, Ah, of course, how silly. The wrapper was sealed at one end, so Cinny put the other end to her lips and with a quick breath, inflated it. Then she licked her finger, sealed the other end, and playfully bounced the ballooned wrapper between her hands.
This went on for some moments. Patience was a rope you could measure many times, but cut only once, so before too much time had been wasted, she signaled again for her victim to hold out his hand. She was surprised when he did, but not very. Taking the featherlight wrapper, she waved it about like a wand and tapped it three arbitrary times against her forehead, before holding it out over the red’s hand.
Lem would have said: “Now you really, really have to want it.” Cinny just waggled her eyebrows. She let go, and the wrapper dropped like a rock into Bel’s open palm, full of Zhenko-goodness.
Cinny did some mystical jazz-hands, then picked up her fork and let the serotonin persuade her to take a few more bites of slop.
If there was any satisfaction to be had on this day, it was the small sliver Sirius managed to gain as he watched the cogs in Miss Realis-Donati's head turn. She had done well enough to hide her offense, something that gave him an inkling as to her social strata, but the sharpness of his words seemed to catch her just off guard enough that it shone through. It was unfortunate that she had so much composure, as verbally sparring with someone would have been a worthwhile distraction from pitiful sports scores. Instead, it seemed his unwanted guest insisted on remaining, brushing off his comment like so much water off a duck's back.
"I wouldn't know," Sirius fired back in retort, flicking the retort pouch that held the remainder of his lunch. He wasn't about to let her totally sidestep his attempts to inflame her, after all. But he didn't entirely intend on hinging the whole of their conversation on her bovine like endowments—she had come to him for some reason or another, and it was at least worth inquiring as to why.
"Most people can't help themselves when it comes to irritating me. But, you've come all this way, so you might as well tell me—just why do you think you'd like to get to know me?"
This one wasn't much of a talker, was he? Or at least, he didn't seem the type to enjoy a conversation with anyone. Still, he hadn't dismissed Aurora entirely--not yet, anyway--and actually continued said conversation. She was, however, just a touch surprised that he didn't seem to recognize her. Unless he did recognize her and was still being dismissive? Could that be it? No, there was absolutely no reason for her to doubt that her status had gone unawares even by the rabble. Aha, maybe that was it! She would love to put a name to his face, after all, so an introduction was definitely in order.
His next question did put a halt to that line of thinking, however. She thought the reason she was here was obvious, but he must have missed it. Perhaps she should be more straightforward. And less...aware of her chest, since for whatever reason, it didn't seem to please him. That was definitely a first, too, but she wasn't going to dwell on that for long, either.
Aurora gave him a small smile as she placed her hands on her lap. "I think most people don't aim to irritate you," She let out a small, girlish giggle. "But you should look at it from their perspective! You keep to yourself and give off this air of mystery...I would very much like to unravel you if you know what I mean." She concluded, giving him a wink.
Sirius was quick to retort at the intruder to his reprieve. After all, she surely hadn't set off with the intention of gaining his ire, but her incessant giggling and airy demeanor had managed it all the same. The way she winked at him only stoked his anger all the more; had she really come all this way just to flirt with him and make vague innuendo? If he hadn't been in such a foul mood he might have admired the initiative. However, he had arrived at Taiyōtawa to dominate the rankings of the ICW course, not the first airheaded bimbo to come drifting his way after class. A firm rebuke was in order, to make this fact clear.
"We all have things we'd like to do," he mused coldly, "A tragedy that more often than not they don't come to pass."
It was hard to get a read on him. If she didn't know better, she would think that he didn't want her around. Aurora straightened up a touch, smoothing out her skirt as she thought of her next step. Subtlety would get her nowhere--or at least, nowhere she wanted. She rested her elbow back on the table and perched her chin in her palm, examining the boy carefully. Her spirit wouldn't be downcast just yet, however; she was persistent above all else.
"Tragic? That's an interesting way to put it," Aurora replied. "But where are my manners? I haven't even introduced myself! My name is Aurora de Realis-Donati, heiress to the Realis-Donati Conglomerate."
She paused for just a second to let the implication sink in before continuing with, "And you are?'