Crash and Burn
Chapter Four: The Academy's Best
Bearit's Notes: Okay, here's an explanation why this chapter took a little longer to get out than the other ones: I was working on, and finished, the interlude that was supposed to go in between this chapter and the last one, but then I decided, I wanted this story to flow a little better, and having these interludes inserted every third chapter would just be too jarring. So, with the power invested in me by Eagle Muse, I decided not to post the interlude and just to work on the fourth chapter instead. I think it's better this way.
Anyway, here's a chapter you've been waiting for, complete with a teacher that is reminiscent of my crazy sophomore year history teacher, and please, as always, review! Thanks, and enjoy!
"You know," said Zazu one day as he waited for Eagle at the door of their dorm room, "it would be so much easier to wake you up if you napped in the library."
Eagle laughed as he grabbed some texts from his desk and followed Zazu out the door. "I like my privacy," he replied as the door slid shut behind them and the two walked towards the elevator.
"Yeah, but it would save so much more time for both of us if you napped in the library. That way, I can spend more time enjoying my lunch, and you can spend more time sleeping. And then class is just right there. See how it works out for both of us?"
They reached the gray doors of the elevator as soon as they swung open, and of course, nobody stood inside; everyone by this time was either heading to class or scarfing down the last of their midday meal at the risk of afternoon detention for sitting in their seats two seconds too late. Even then, that was pretty generous by now, a month after the first day of classes.
After almost being late to morning review the second day of classes, Zazu made it a point to return to the room almost immediately after eating dinner so while he completed his homework he could talk to Eagle. Because of this, he was able to go to bed at a decent hour and wake up in enough time to usher Eagle out of bed and to make sure his friend was dressed and on time for breakfast and morning review.
Sometimes Zazu would sneak back portable foods from the cafeteria during the lunch and dinner hours; he was convinced that Eagle never ate aside from the morning meals, though Eagle always found sneaky ways to snack in between classes and recently, during his mecha training class, though he knew today that was going to be brought to a pleasing close.
At the bottom level of the elevator, after handing Eagle a piece of brown cake ("I know you like sweet stuff, so here's a rare treat courtesy of the Academy chefs"), the two separated with a smile, a short wave, and a "see you later" towards their respective buildings.
Finally, Eagle's instructor felt the cadets mature enough to hop into the virtual reality machines and today was the first class meeting in the battle domes. Eagle finished the last of the rather stale cake and wandered down the stairs to the basement level, where he found his classmates waiting anxiously in front of the huge double doors of the training room, each glancing over their notes as if the instructor was going to give them a pop quiz on the controls of the mecha. Eagle couldn't help but to force back a giggle; hadn't they taken enough of those quizzes in the classroom that they should feel confident by now? Then again, Eagle figured, most of them spent their off times in the cafeteria or out on the town of Integra enjoying life. No matter.
He didn't feel like waiting outside for all eternity for the teacher, who would find a way to get them all into trouble. So, Eagle walked up to the blue doors, took out his green key card (which he recently discovered worked for all facilities on the Academy campus), and slid it through the narrow slot on the pad adjacent to the doors. His classmates gasped.
"What are you doing?" one of the girls exclaimed.
Eagle threw a smile over his shoulder. "Just seeing if it works here like it does at the library."
One boy glared at him and folded his arms across his chest. "Of course it doesn't, are you stupid or someth—"
The doors slowly creaked open.
Eagle continued to grin at his classmates, who all had their jaws crashing through the floor, and chuckled. "See? It never hurts to try."
"C-can we go in?" asked a girl tentatively.
"I don't know, maybe only the sons of presidents get access," some boy murmured under his breath. Unfortunately, this boy was right next to Eagle, and when he looked at him, the boy cringed behind another boy cadet. "I didn't say nothing," he said a little louder, just enough for Eagle to hear.
"Of course you didn't," said Eagle kindly. To everyone else, he shrugged and waved a friendly departing hand. "Well, I'm going to go in now. The instructor might be waiting."
And so he turned on his heel and walked inside the dimly lit, huge room, with only the center illuminated with the two fighter mecha latched onto the far walls of the center. Eagle grinned; he remembered. The NSU and the TVR. Eagle briefly wondered if he would finally be able to meet that one boy again, the tanned one, who he battled those few months ago, but shook the idea out of his head. Of course not. That boy was a year older. In the Academy, people rarely spoke with people from outside their grade level.
Still, Eagle could not help but to hold onto that hope. Something about that boy struck him as something memorable…
"Ah, there you children are!" said the instructor, a smooth-headed bald man with a black mustache pasted under his nose, with open arms of exasperation. He stood by the center controls of the circle of virtual simulators that lined the perimeter of the center ring, with a twisted frown with twisted eyes. "I was getting worried that you lost your way! Now, hurry along, get into one of this consoles, but don't you hook in any cables until I tell you to do so, or you will pay the penalty and believe you me you don't want to know what that is."
Each of the cadets meandered towards one of the virtual reality simulators; already they were used to this instructor's condescending posture and speech, but he was also known for handing out the worst of punishments so all obeyed and did not touch a single button on the console in front of them.
Once all were seated, the instructor took a glance around and nodded. "Good. Now you may plug in. Is everyone confident enough that they won't electrocute themselves trying to get this done?"
No one said anything but Eagle caught the rolling eyes of his the boy sitting next to him. "No," the boy muttered, "we've only been doing this since we were old enough to walk."
The instructor turned and glared at the boy. "What was that, Protege?"
"Nothing, sir," he replied promptly.
"Good. I'll see you for afternoon and evening detention today. I need someone to clean these machines after everyone else put their grubby hands on them."
The boy sighed and plugged in the cords from his headband into the ports of the simulation computer. Eagle offered an unwanted apologetic smile that the boy ignored and took the cords of his headband and stuck them into the holes at the edge of the console. The screen switched onto a bright blue screen that scanned all of Eagle's data for a moment, and then beeped, asking if he wanted to attempt a simulated battle.
"Alrighty, then," said the instructor with his hands clasped behind his back. "You may begin a simulation. I expect none of you to win with anything intact. A hand if you're lucky, maybe. Enjoy your first death, children."
So Eagle nodded, and the computer accepted his mental communication, and on the screen another mecha fizzled into sight. Yellow words declaring the start of the battle begun, and Eagle could have laughed at the lack of speed the other mecha had. With a swift move, Eagle's simulated mecha swung an arm and sent the other mecha flying.
COMPUTER DOWN, the screen said.
Eagle looked up from his console, found his instructor, and raised a hand. "Um, sir?"
The instructor turned, his twisted eyebrows illuminating his twisted smirk. "What's this, the class brainiac already lost? I expected more from you, Vision."
Eagle dropped his hand and pointed his eyes towards his console. "Actually…"
The instructor frowned and approached Eagle's console. "Actually what?" As soon as he came behind Eagle the instructor sputtered, "Y-you… you won? That quickly? For your first time?" Eagle grinned, and the instructor shook his head. "I need to see this to believe it. Restart. And—" Eagle glanced over his shoulder to see the instructor rubbing his chin with his forefinger. "—let's make the level harder."
The instructor stiffly moved past five consoles the center controls. He typed in a few keys, and then hurried to Eagle's back again. "Alright, let's see how you handle this."
Again, the mecha on the screen fizzled in an upright position, and before Eagle could blink, the mecha flew at him, and Eagle quickly dodged and moved to get the opposing mecha in his view again. This time, the mecha outstretched an arm, and the hand transformed into a cannon-like limb and began firing at Eagle's virtual mecha. Eagle made sure that the mecha ducked, and by doing so, he was out of the line of fire, and Eagle flew towards the other mecha with a strange saber made of light from his extended arm. He smiled, and pointed the tip of the saber to the head of the computer's mecha. Upon penetration, the computer beeped again.
"Impressive," said the instructor slowly. "Very, very impressive." He sniffed a mimic of a snort. "I think you might have broken Metro's record."
At that, the immediately surrounding students swiveled their heads towards Eagle and started incessantly whispering.
"Metro, sir?" Eagle asked. Apparently, this was a name familiar to everyone else in his class. He could not recall that name ever showing up in his texts, so he had to be a living legend of the nearer past that no one would have written about so soon.
"Only the best in the sophomore level, Vision," said the instructor firmly. "He could probably beat a few of the upperclassmen with his skills. And I almost wonder…" He shook his head. "Never mind. You may proceed." And the instructor turned on his heel curtly and headed for the center controls once more, his hands clasped behind his back.
As the many pairs of eyes unglued themselves from Eagle and back to their own respective simulations, Eagle's small smile ignited a flame of pride, and he continued to duel against many mecha, each at differing levels in no particular order, possibly because the instructor kept testing Eagle and his battle tactic skills.
As soon as the class was over and many of the students pulled their friends to the side and hopelessly discreetly glanced at Eagle and murmured what had to be more rumors, the instructor waved Eagle over to the center console. Eagle made his way over without apparent enthusiasm; however, inside, he knew that this could only mean very good things.
When the last cadet left the basement room of the doors, a few older cadets were already pouring inside and looking at blue computer screens affixed to the dark walls of the room. Some cheered, others complained. The instructor cleared his throat, and Eagle turned his full attention to him.
"I was talking to the headmaster just now," he said, "and I had him monitor a few of your simulations. He and I are in agreement, and tomorrow you will not be meeting here directly after lunch."
Eagle frowned. "Sir…?"
"Vision, tomorrow, at this time, you will be going to the basics class you usually go to after this class. After that class, you will be here, with the sophomores. Is that understood?"
Eagle took this in for a moment and smiled. "Is this a permanent schedule change?"
"Yes, Vision, yes, it is. I knew it was no coincidence you aced every quiz and exam without even blinking an eye."
"Thank you, sir."
The instructor nodded and waved away Eagle. "Go to your basics class. That's the last time you will be in there with those bunch of children. You better enjoy it—or suffer one last time, however you choose to see it."
Eagle laughed all the way out of the battle domes and into his basics class, where the teacher kept yelling at his classmates to stop staring at the president's son; he was not going to give them the answers to the homework.
The schedule swap did not happen as smoothly as Eagle thought it would have happened, and it took the entire time after classes and half of dinnertime in the headmaster's office before everything cleared. Such a silly process for a simple schedule swap, Eagle thought, and he knew that he would hear a pout from Zazu as soon as he walked back into the dorm room. Sure enough, as soon as the doors to the room parted open, he saw Zazu at his computer with a worried frown that quickly turned displeased as soon as he noticed Eagle.
"Did you really get detention?" asked Zazu. "I mean, it's such a relief if that's all that happened, but you? Detention?"
Eagle chuckled and shook his head as he set his texts to the floor and sat on his bed. "No, I was just getting transferred."
"Transferred?" Zazu yelped as he hopped out of the computer and onto Eagle's bed, the impact enough to have Eagle come an inch off the mattress in the process. "You're leaving? You can't leave me! I don't want another roommate! What's so bad about the Academy anyway? You're not going to get a better challenge anywhere else!"
Eagle smiled. "How about in the second year mecha combat class?"
Zazu froze in mid-rant.
"Oh," he said quietly, almost sheepishly. "They're letting you skip a level?" He crossed his arms and frowned. "But that still means—"
"No, Zazu, I'm only getting moved up for just that class. Don't worry about it. I'll be in your basics class after lunch and in the sophomore mecha class after that. And—" He winked. "I'll still be your roommate. I just spent all of my time at the headmaster's to get that cleared up, that's all. Sorry to have made you worried," said Eagle, still smiling. Zazu sighed a breath of relief, which made Eagle beam a little bit brighter. "You thought I was in detention?"
Zazu scratched behind his ear. "Well, uh, no, not really, I thought something worse happened, like, I don't know, just… something bad. At dinner, well, my stepbrother just kind of guessed that maybe you were just in detention or something." Zazu laughed. "I didn't believe him, of course, until you came back not hurt or anything, but… yeah."
Eagle laughed. "Thanks, Zazu."
"Hey, congrats on getting moved up!" said Zazu as he headed back for his computer. "Man, that's so lucky! We're still working on stupid repairing cleaning gadgets and cooking utensils. Come on, now, this is a military academy!" He put his hands to his face. "'Oh, no, we're under attack! Break out the vacuum cleaners!'" He threw his hands down. "Come on."
"It's just getting the basic idea of mechanics down for everyone else who isn't a genius," said Eagle. "Just be patient."
"Yeah, well, even when—if—we do get onto mechas within the next month, I don't think my brilliance will get me moved up. I'm still 'too young,' remember?"
Eagle shrugged and moved towards his computer. "You never know."
There was a brief moment of silence as Zazu furiously typed and Eagle hooked into the computer; then, Eagle remembered what his instructor had talked about earlier, what the headmaster commented on—it was a name, a name everyone seemed to know but him…
"Yeah?" said Zazu almost disinterested.
"Who is Metro?"
"Metro?" He sounded a little baffled. "Where'd you hear that name?"
Eagle smiled. Well, at least he wasn't the only one out of the loop. "In my class today. They kept saying that I beat this guy's record, this Metro guy, and all of my classmates knew him and I was just wondering—"
"Only Metro I know is Geo. He's a sophomore, friends with my stepbrother, also in the mecha combating but has more of a concentration in it than you do, and he—wait." Zazu chair squeaked as he swiveled around, and Eagle complemented the action. "You beat Geo's record?"
Zazu put his hands to his belly and just about near cackled. Needless to say, Eagle was quite puzzled. "Oh, so you do know him?"
"Yeah, he's only the best mecha fighter in the school. Well, second only to you, I guess. But still! That's pretty amazing! I'm surprised they didn't move you up two levels."
"Well, they did keep saying how he could probably beat some upperclassmen," Eagle offered hesitantly. Zazu kept laughing maniacally.
"Well, yeah, he was offered to skip a whole level," said Zazu. "Since he's not doing mecha combat as a side thing, he could have been a junior right now. But then he didn't because, well." Zazu completely stopped his laughing and his talking as he thought long and hard. "Well, he didn't, because…" He silenced himself again. "Because he was… oh, fine, I don't know why he didn't. Maybe because he just didn't feel like it? Kids from the Lynx are like that."
Eagle widened his eyes and gaped at his friend. "He's from the Lynx? And he's that good?"
Zazu shrugged. "I think it's more of a 'Because he's from the Lynx he's that good' more than a 'He's from the Lynx and he's that good.' From what I heard from Meson—my stepbrother, you know, you really should meet him sometime—things are a bit rough there."
"That's what I've heard from my father, too, but—"
"So, you see? It makes sense!"
Eagle frowned; he disagreed, but there was no use arguing with Zazu over this. Maybe Zazu's stepbrother had actually been to the ghettos of Autozam, and that's how he met this Metro guy, and that's why Zazu might have a better idea than Eagle did from just having heard about it from his father, who probably never made his way down there, either. Still, from the stories he heard from the Lynx, only recently did the technological advances from the rest of Autozam made their permanent move into the slums, and so Eagle doubted there were any virtual reality simulators there yet.
Of course, Eagle had to remind himself, without having ever been in a virtual simulator, or any simulator for that matter, and having only read texts about mecha combat, he was able to beat that one boy in the training domes that one day he visited the Academy with his father. Maybe Metro was like that.
"I guess so," said Eagle. "Thanks for telling me all that. I was just wondering, that's all."
Zazu smirked. "Hey, best not to start your first day in a new class blind, right? Don't worry about it though. Geo's a cool guy. You'll like him. I promise."
Eagle smiled. "I'll remember that." And he did.
The next day after lunch, the normal routine began with Zazu waking up Eagle for class, and ended when the two did not separate at the bottom floor of the Academy's dormitories. Together they walked into class, and though they could not sit anywhere near each other, at least Eagle finally understood the breadth of Zazu's boredom. Eagle thought he was having a hard time staying awake in his classes, but Zazu kept nodding himself awake every five minutes, struggling to listen to the teacher's lecture. What was particularly odd was that the teacher kept rambling over Zazu even when he noticed that his eyes were closed, but when someone else in the class started wandering their eyes around the classroom, the teacher would immediately give him a week of evening detention.
Eagle was most amused by watching his friend throughout the class period. Amazingly, no one seemed to care that Eagle was in their class now; nobody paid any attention to the two as they walked into the room. Eagle wished it were like that for all of his classes, and he knew the mecha combat class today would be the worst it's been his entire life.
After the teacher dismissed them and the students filed out of the classroom, all engaged in their own conversations and their eyes only on their friends, Eagle and Zazu waved to each other as they parted ways, Zazu offering a quick "Good luck" as he followed his classmates to their next class. And so, Eagle walked alone to the battle domes, and when he reached the bottom of the stairs, the doors to the basement training room doors were already spread wide open and many older kids casually entered.
Eagle followed, trying to blend in as best as he could with the others, but for most people the growth spurt took a happy rate and most were at least three inches or so taller than him. Still, he had been here before, so there was no excuse to act timid or naive or green, which worked well into his advantage until he noticed many study the blue screens embedded into the wall.
"Hey, what's this name?" asked one boy, stern, pale, and a bit of a heavyweight. Others crowded around him and Eagle quickly glanced around for a good place to make himself inconspicuous.
"What? The president has experience with this sort of stuff? Oh, oh, are we getting a demo?"
"No, idiot, the president's son, see? The first name? President's first name is Chrysler, dolt!"
"Hey, you think I care about this political shit?"
"He would be under 'guest' if he was going to give us a demo, anyway."
"I thought he was a freshman, though, the president's son…"
Yes, Eagle decided. Getting in the middle of the crowd would be the best way to go unnoticed. So he slowly slinked his way in the midst of the sophomores and decided to see what the blue screen thing was all about. Listed in the left hand column were the names of the students in the class, and in the right hand column were lists describing what each cadet were assigned to do during the session. Next to Eagle's name, he had to spend the first five minutes, like everyone else it seemed, on the virtual simulator, and then after that, unlike everyone else…
"Whoa, Metro! Get a load of this!"
"What?" a rough, amused voice piped up as a slightly taller figure than everyone else pushed through the crowd. Eagle turned to see who this boy was, this fighter who everyone knew as the best, and he gasped, and then, he almost fell over in a maniac guffaw as he put two and two together.
Of course. When he and his father ran away from the battle domes those months ago, his father even said that the boy he battled was "the strongest fighter in the freshman class of the Academy," a whole year older than Eagle. The boy that had always stuck in Eagle's mind, the boy he always looked for while he lived at the Grand Mansion, always spending his free time at the battle domes of the Academy, looking for him. What for, Eagle never knew, but here he was now, the spiky-haired, tanned, muscular boy with a criss-cross scar on his chin, and everything suddenly made sense.
That was Metro. He should have figured. Well, he didn't exactly have the prodigious brains of Zazu Torque to figure it all out before now, that was for sure.
"This new kid, this Vision kid, he's your first opponent today," said the boy who had called Metro over.
Metro grinned. "Yeah, the headmaster was talking to me about that this morning. He's apparently really good, beat my record."
Everyone in the crowd gaped at him. "No way!" one of them murmured.
Metro laughed just as the patronizing voice of the instructor rose over the crowd. "Oh, yes way," said the instructor, not at all amused with his arms loosely crossed at his belly. "This kid can blow all of you way out of the water. Only Metro here stands a chance."
"Well, then," said a boy, "why didn't he skip another level?"
"Because Metro turned down skipping a level, so the headmaster wouldn't let me do that to this one."
The boy frowned. "That doesn't make sense."
"Do you want to spend your free time with the freshmen, Forester?"
The boy immediately clammed. Many chuckled, a girl with short hair next to Eagle giggled, and Eagle let a corner of his mouth tug upwards. The tone of the sophomore level class certainly was different from the freshman level class; everybody could relax a little more here.
"Now, then, boys—"
"Ahem!" coughed the girl next to Eagle.
The instructor sighed. "And girl." She grinned almost mockingly. "Please, go warm-up, die for the millionth time, and if you're lucky you might be able to hop into one of the robots today."
As the crowd filed out towards the virtual simulators, Eagle glanced around, a little baffled that this girl was the only one in this class. In the freshman class, the ratio was fifty-fifty as far as male and female cadets went, so it struck Eagle as odd that this class was filled with nearly all boys. Before he could ponder this further, however, he locked eyes with the tanned boy, Metro, and something of understanding passed through the boy's hazel eyes, and he grinned a lopsided grin.
"So, you're the kid everyone keeps talking about," he said.
Eagle nodded. "That's what it seems."
The boy extended an arm. "I'm Geo, by the way. Geo Metro."
Eagle could not help but to return the friendly smile of the class ace and shook hands with the boy. "Eagle Vision."
"I think I've seen you around somewhere," said Geo almost carelessly, but there was a definite way in which he chose his words; he spoke deliberately, but also with haste, a paradox that Eagle would come to understand better later. Geo smirked. "Hey, I remember now—"
"Hey, you boys! Chop chop!" the instructor barked as he clapped his hands with the last two words.
Geo cringed. "Ow, man, I better get going. I've been doing a better job about not getting into trouble so far this year." He grinned at Eagle again. "I guess I'll be seeing you after the warm-up, eh?"
Eagle nodded, and the two went to the last two unoccupied virtual simulators. After the brief warm-up in which Eagle managed to get through seven battles, his computer beeped at him and all but ordered him to man the NSU. Funny twist, Eagle thought with a laugh as he headed for the training mecha, that he would have to battle the same robot he manned the last time he was in the mecha. And funny how his opponent was the same one as before, and vice versa!
Quickly Eagle hooked his cables into the consoles of the mecha, which was very similar to the other one across the way. His mecha triggered online only seconds after the other mecha, and the two began combat.
The battle lasted longer this time than the last, and the opposing mecha, the TVR, after a minute or two of scuffle, took out an arm with a gun attached and shot beams of light. There was a mimic of an impact, and the screen indicated Eagle's loss. Luckily, this was two out of three, and Eagle smiled as the battle restarted. More scuffling, then when Eagle decided to experiment and found a similar saber made of light from the virtual simulator from the other day, he attacked the TVR successfully to the mid torso. There was a tie now between the NSU and the TVR, and Eagle knew just as well as his opponent, Geo, that neither side would give in easily.
There was a definite deadlock as the two exchanged blows, dodged each other's weapon shots, and outsmarted the other. Eagle found himself smiling the entire battle—for the first time in a long time, Eagle was thoroughly enjoying himself, and what an incredible feeling it was. And yet, he concentrated. He concentrated hard enough so that he could find an opening whenever Geo accidentally got careless, while making sure that he himself would not fall into the same trap that he was certain his opponent was planning for him, too.
Finally, it was there. The two robots locked arms, and for a while there seemed to be no progress since neither were willing to yield. And then, Eagle wondered, there were two extra limbs on the robot; why not utilize those to his advantage?
And so, after a quick robotic knee blow to the gut of the TVR, the computer beeped wildly, indicating a win for Eagle. He sighed and took off the visor and unplugged his headbands and exited the cockpit of the mecha, only to climb down the ladder to see all of the cadets surrounding the instructor, all either wide-eyed or wide-mouthed, except for, of course, the instructor, who looked very satisfied.
Well, Eagle didn't get to see what happened after his battle against Geo Metro, so he decided to head back to the blue screens to see what was next for him. Apparently, the tanned boy had the same problem, and the two met just in front of the blue screen. Eagle noted everyone else's eyes following their movements while the instructor picked out two more cadets at random and ushered them into the robots, snapping threats and orders as he made sure they climbed the ladders to the cockpit.
"Not bad," said Geo with his same lopsided grin. "You've definitely improved since we last fought."
Eagle smiled. "You too."
"Hey, you doing anything later?"
That was not something Eagle expected out of this boy. "What?"
"Are you doing anything later?" said Geo with a face torn between keeping his friendly face and a frown.
"Um, well, I usually do homework after classes…"
"Yeah, um, that's what after dinner is for. We'll hang out. Invite Zazu along, too, because after classes he's kind of a hermit and we want to break that habit."
"Zazu, too?"Eagle knew that Geo and Zazu were already friends through Zazu's stepbrother, that much he remembered from the night before, but for Geo to actually know that Eagle and Zazu knew each other?
"He's your roommate, right? That kid never stops talking about you."
"Oh," said Eagle quietly, and then he smiled. Well, what harm could come out of spending the afternoon with his friend and his friend's friend? "Sure, we'll hang out, I guess. Why not?"
Geo grinned. "Great! Grab Zazu after classes and meet me at the cafeteria, okay?"
Eagle nodded, still smiling. "Will do," he said.
Then, instead of the other students having gone back to the simulators, they all immediately swarmed the two, jabbering on and on about how awesome the battle was, how they never saw anything like it before—other than in actual competitions, of course—and how they thought that Eagle only moved up to the sophomore level because he was the son of the president, but no, he was legitimate, he was real, and a friend of Geo's was a friend of theirs.