A work of Stellvia fanfiction
Stellvia created and owned by XEBEC. All rights reserved; I make no claim to the characters within. I do ask that nothing be done with this work without my permission.
For once, Najima Gable was at a loss for words.
Three hundred pilots were all around her, graceful creatures of the ether of space. The indigo and red of the Keittys around her gave her comfort; Stellvia, it seemed, protected its own, at least subconsciously. Beyond the colors of her school, other Keittys flew in the same general direction, each staying relatively close to friends. Occasionally one would deviate from formation, usually to pick up a rescue pod; even then, the actions were done in silence, with no word broadcast over the general channel.
Three hundred spacecraft, birds of many feathers, all flying as one pack. And no one was saying a word.
Space, according to her display, had changed hues once more. The angry red of the cosmic string was fading to a soft bluish tinge. She'd read somewhere that blue was the natural color of space, that the expanding universe resulted in a blueshifting of the light. This was space at its most truthful, without the taint of stellar matter or cosmic fractures to cloud it.
What she found was that the infinite of space was far more dangerous than anyone suspected. Second Wave was well-prepared for, as they'd had 189 years to prepare. The cosmic string, on the other hand, was prepared for with less than two months of warning. The body count reflected that; many of the voices that had celebrated December's release had been silenced within the jaws of the fracture. Death had occurred at a symbolic level as well; Vision was the only Foundation to survive this last threat.
This was a beginning, she knew - a beginning she would cry over once she'd made it back, but still a beginning. The next destination for her, for all of them, was the stars. This few, this band of brothers, had faced the abyss and lived to tell the tale - but, in some ways, they would never come home.
Space was their home. This was the sacrifice that everyone had made the moment they had applied for the Foundations. Earth was their place of birth, but the stars - these cruel, cold stars - were most definitely their destination.
The words came thick and heavy to her tongue, a whisper that would only go so far as the air around her. She knew what her fate held, and what it meant.
"'This... thing of darkness... I acknowledge mine.' Shakespeare, The Tempest."
She had come to space to find truth beyond herself. She had found what she was looking for. Truth didn't just hurt. Truth killed; truth burned and froze and crashed and disintegrated. The truth scared her.
And, yet... here she felt more alive than anywhere else. Here she could push herself to the limit; here she could stare infinity in the face and not blink. Here was the future; here was herself on the only terms she could accept. Here, in any way that truly mattered, the truth set her free.
Shirogane Jinrai frowned as he looked over the crowd. He was, first and foremost, a teacher; for him, to face crowds of men and women who hung on his every word (or, alternatively, slept through his sermon) was second nature. He'd taught everything from Shakespeare to combat theory; no subject should faze him at all - not even this one, a subject he'd had to teach once before.
There were two problems with this. The last time he'd had to teach on this subject, he didn't have several worlds watching his every move. To make matters worse, the only experts on the subject were the subjects of the sermon itself.
He looked down at his carefully-crafted speech, and sighed. As much as he wished otherwise, this could not be avoided. "Good morning, everyone." He glanced out over the crowd, purposely avoiding the eyes of any children. "When I first became a teacher to the students on Stellvia, my own mentor, James-sensei, warned me about what I was getting into. He said that the rewards of teaching far outweighed the costs... but that there would be days that would break my heart."
He licked his lips nervously. "Today... today we come to the most painful duty we face in our chosen life. Today, we say goodbye."
His eyes met a former student's; the emptiness there cut to the core. He'd also taught the young man's wife, once... "The six hundred and fifteen people listed behind me... how can we even begin to describe what they've given with their lives? Because of them, humanity is able to find its destiny, whether here or among the stars. They gave their lives so that we could go on. We do not and cannot question their sacrifice; we don't... we..."
Shirogane looked at the child resting on the young man's lap. The toddler was too young to understand why Mommy wasn't coming home, and could only wonder at the chaos around him.
A vision of a young girl in the bright orange of Stellvia's prep uniform caught his mind. Laughing blue eyes, deft fingers as she played her guitar... soft, husky alto voice. He stabbed a finger to his datapad, switching it off, then burned his eyes into the crowd.
"I'm sorry," he said shakily. "I had prepared a speech to memorialize their deaths. History is full of such speeches, as too many people have made such sacrifices over the years. I made such a speech a few months ago after the Ultima debacle. But these speeches - these discussions on sacrifice and the gifts they've given us with their deaths - miss the point entirely."
Shirogane stomped over to one of the names on the wall; his eyes met those of the child he'd just seen. "Trish Berman. An excellent, incredibly creative pilot; a bit flighty, but a joy to have as a student. What I remember most about her is her voice; she could sing and play guitar, and made money in school by playing in Stellvia's bars and coffeeshops. She had this... joy inside her that never seemed to go away; she could fill a room with happiness just by entering." His finger stabbed at another name on the board; he remembered a young man - boy, really - pierrouetting in a Bianca. "Larry Wang. As a freshman, he could pivot on a dime, and put upperclassmen to shame with his piloting. He ended up on the Astroball team, and he nearly pulled off a win against Odyssey in the championship." His eyes rested on a third name. The fervor of his tirade was beginning to fade; his mind took in another vision in orange. He found who he was looking for in the crowd - a bearded man in uniform near the back, struggling to keep his children in line. "Ellen LeBlanc. She was one of the original "Big Four" at Stellvia, one of those so talented and driven that the concept was created around them." For the first time, tears started to flow from his eyes. "She... she left behind a husband and three kids."
His tears flowed freely, now; he stared down at his hands, as though some unknown power resided there. "I can't tell you if their sacrifice was worth it. It's not my place to. I can't tell you what they lived and died for, either. What I do know is that they're gone. And, as a teacher, there isn't anything that hurts more than outliving your students."
He raised his head to the crowd once more. This was his lesson, given the only way he could, and he was going to finish it. "Already, plans for monuments to them are being made. Whatever they gave their lives for... remember them for who they were. Remember a smile; remember laughing eyes; remember a gentle voice and a sharp wit and an odd quirk and a million other things that form our memories of them. All of us have friends up on this board; you shared your life with them, and they with you. Remember those times; that's the best monument anyone can give." He shook his head. "They deserve at least that much."
Shirogane went back toward his seat on the stage, feeling like he'd done something wrong. The crowd was stunned to tears; he wasn't sure if that was a bad thing or a good thing. He sat down, closed his eyes, and tried to remember the faces of people listed on the board. All things considered, it was the least he could do.
Katase Shima stared at the indigo sky above her. A salty breeze blew in from the ocean, teasing her hair; the surf came in, mixing with the sand in her toes.
She supposed that, out there somewhere, a boat was patrolling, keeping the island isolated. Other bodyguards were located inside, and she suspected at least one was eyeing her as she pondered the stars. This was her new life. She barely escaped from the throngs of well-wishers after Second Impact; her family could not escape from them after the cosmic fracture was sealed, save to exile themselves to Kouta's island.
Once upon a time, a little girl had a wish - to see the stars as equals, to face them head-on, rather than to look up at them like gods. This was the future; the stars had called to the world, and the world - and she - would respond. It was a silly sentiment, in a way, yet the past year had yet to truly contradict her dreams.
She could not go home again. It seemed that she could save the home of her birth only twice. Once would attract attention, to see the girl who had saved them all. Two... they wanted a piece of the girl, to take a small part of her life. Kouta had said that "they were reaching for something beyond them", but she still didn't understand it. She was just a girl, nothing special. But, because of their... zeal?... naivete?... greed?... she could never go home again.
Her eyes looked up to the stars. She still wasn't sure if she preferred the blue; while she was no fan of the greenish glow of Second Impact, the red-glow of the sky during Christmastime was so... perfect. She guessed she could get used to it in time.
She'd better, as her life was out there. Home would be in that future, in that unexplored void. She'd laughed and cried in that nothing - but, more than anything else, she had felt at home in there. It wasn't something she could explain to her parents; about the only people who understood were out there with her.
"Shima-chan?" A hand snaked around her waist; she felt warm breath against her ear.
"Are you okay? After what happened..."
She bit her lip. "Will my family be okay?"
Kouta nodded. "They're a little shook up, but they'll be fine. They're welcome to stay for as long as they need to." His grip on her shifted; his intense brown eyes bore into her. "Now. Are you okay?"
"Me?" She looked at his eyes. Some people said they could see infinity in a person's eyes; Kouta's eyes could see infinity on their own. She felt the warmth of a blush come to her cheeks, glanced up at the skies, then gave him her best smile. "I... I'm fine, Kouta-kun. I..." Hot tears rolled down her cheeks. "I know where I belong, now."
Kouta nodded. "Well, you've always been welcome here."
Shima shook her head. "I... I'm not talking about here, Kouta-kun." She looked up at him, then pointed to the sky with her eyes. "You know where we belong."
He looked at her, confused for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah we do, don't we?" His arms pressed her in close; she smiled, and looked in his eyes.
Oh, yeah... she knew where she belonged.
Some people just didn't appreciate what it was like to fly.
Fujisawa Yayoi danced through the asteroid field, her nimble Bianca darting among the obstacles there. Building a space station required materials, usually acquired from the asteroid belt; her assignment was to scan this particular area to find appropriate materials for eventual mining. Speed was secondary to maneuverability and sensor strength, so the Bianca was her craft for the day. It was the sort of task that made most pilots cringe - but she didn't mind at all.
She knew what this was worth. The other pilots might complain about rough jobs with high concentration, comparatively low speed, and little glory, but she didn't mind.
To her, zero feet per second was far too painful. Waking up in the hospital bed, her body wrapped up and numb from painkillers... she found her speed slowed to absolutely nothing. To make matters worse, her body was immobilized in exactly the most painful position possible as she healed - flat on her back, with her eyes to the sky. They angled the monitor so she could watch anything she wanted, but the view outside her window always grabbed her attention.
Rehab hurt. Even moving her legs was agony; learning to stand and walk again left her in tears every day. The pain didn't go away, either; every day since then, she'd forced herself to move through the pain, to get up and go - to turn zero into zero point one. That's where it all begins, she told herself - start slow, then learn to fly.
And fly she did. This was a privilege, one earned by hard work and study and determination. She earned her way back up here, earned her way through pain and agony and long nights, and it was worth every ounce of pain. It may not be glamorous to cruise and dodge in the middle of an asteroid field, but she was flying. That was more than enough.
Jojo's knee hit the floor; Akira's breath caught in her throat.
She'd been expecting this for awhile, but it still sent chills down her spine. Jojo had been more nervous and secretive than usual over the past few weeks. She just wasn't as good as recognizing these signs as the others were; she had been about to call him on it before her girlfriends calmed her down and gave an alternative to his activities.
So. Here it was. She'd fallen in love; she wasn't supposed to do that. Wasn't there supposed to be a schedule for this sort of thing - maybe pencil it in during her second year as a full student? This was so inconvenient it wasn't even funny.
She'd never been much of a fan of romance. Becoming a pilot had always been her overriding goal; besides, most of the boys she grew up with were idiots. Jojo, sad to say, was no exception - but he was a cute idiot. Boys were like that, she surmised; for all that she tried to understand them, they had some strange goals and ideas at times. She shuddered at his concept of war; dying wasn't worth anything unless you were saving someone.
But... she'd die for him, if the need arose. And he knew that he'd die for her. She'd been waiting for over a year now for things to be sufficiently messed up for the relationship to not work - and, somehow, it had worked, despite the pressures of school, despite their own innate beliefs and prejudices. She'd heard the rumors back on planet, about Akira the "ice queen" and how she never let her guard down, rarely even said a word.
He melted her. He relieved her, in a way she didn't think he really understood. With him, she could take off the mask; she could let down her defenses, speak what was on her mind if she felt like it, or say absolutely nothing if need be. With him, everything worked; they could have entire conversations without saying a word.
Shock was starting to take over as reality hit; she and he... they were going to take the next step in their lives together. She touched a hand to his shoulder, and nodded through her tears.
In the end, it was all that needed to be said.
The door slid open as Arisa dragged herself into her apartment. She forced one leg in front of another, seeming to will herself through the door and onto one of the stools next to the countertop. The teapot was automatically filling; Shima had programmed the pot to automatically fill upon entry, a small favor for which Arisa was grateful each night.
Another day, another dollar. Finishing construction of the new Stellvia had been her second job for the past one-and-a-half years, now; while it would be another year before it was complete (and another decade before all six Foundations were complete), it was at least finished enough to be operational, as of six months ago. The first classes in Stellvia were met with celebration; for her, it was a day to savor, soon followed by weeks of more work.
Still, it was all for a good cause - she hoped. She poured a cup of tea for herself and savored the aroma; she wasn't sure exactly what Shima had done to make it taste so good (one of her mother's tricks, she always said), but it was the perfect way to unwind after a hard day. She closed her eyes after the first sip; a day of classes and homework followed by evenings manipulating multiple Biancas at once tended to leave her wishing for blindness, and it felt good to just not see anything for a little while.
The doorbell chime shook her from her zazen state; she didn't know who it was, but this was not the time for late-night parties. She staggered to the door. "Listen, I don't know who this is, but now's not-" The words died on her lips as the door opened.
James-sensei stood on the other side of the door. Like her, he was still clad in his work uniform; like her, he was clearly working late, as the papers and datapad in his hands attested. "May I come in? I hope it's not too late..."
"No, of course not," Arisa replied automatically, then gestured to the teapot. "Would you like some tea?"
"Yes, please," James-sensei replied, and for the first time, Arisa caught all-too-familiar signs from Stellvia's director. The gentle eyes and soft smile she'd always thought of as the byproduct of a quiet, contempative soul; as he sat with only the kitchen light to illuminate them, she noticed just how tired he was. He set down the set of papers in his hands and raised the mug to his lips in a two-handed grip. "You know how to make a good cup of tea. What's your recipe?"
Arisa chuckled and gestured over to Shima, contentedly sleeping away. "You'd have to ask her. Some sort of family secret. As long as I get some each night, I'm not complaining." She raised her own mug to her lips and smiled. "So what brings you here? Don't tell me some cosmic string or shower of stellar matter is on its way again..."
James-sensei chuckled, then shook his head. "No... nothing like that. It's just that, as her guardian, I thought you might want a copy of this." He reached into his stack of papers and pulled out an envelope. "This should look familiar to you."
Arisa's breath caught in her throat. She tore open the envelope, noted the seal of the Stellvia Foundation, and glanced through words she'd read once before. "She... she made it?"
James-sensei let out a low chuckle. "Mia is very much like you, I think - perhaps too much. Gifted, though no more or less than any other student here; a bit unpredictable, but surprisingly driven. The two of you planned this together - and, fortunately for both of you, you both have shown the initiative to work through to your goals. I suspect I'll have to wonder about her on occasion - to be honest, she's even more of a loose cannon than you are - but, all things considered... I, and the rest of the committee, felt that both she and Stellvia would be made better by her coming here."
Arisa took a ragged breath as she hugged the letter to her chest. They'd made it. Everything they'd worked so hard for, every bit of hard work, every sleepless night... this made all of it worthwhile.
She thought of Mom and Dad, of nights of staring up at the stars, and started to cry, even as the smile made it to her face. "Th... thank you, James-sensei. Thank you."
James-sensei chuckled. "I've already sent a copy to your sister; I'll let you decide whether or not to break the news to her early. Congratulations." He took one more sip of his tea, then set the mug down on the counter. "Now shouldn't you be getting some sleep?"
Despite the tears, Arisa managed a weak chuckle. "Y... Yes, sir." She watched as James-sensei made his way to the door and closed it as he left.
Sleep came surprisingly easy that night.
Leila Barton looked at the flight schedule, a frown on her features.
The new Stellvia was designed with additional flight bays, in part because they had to share a space station with Odyssey and El Santo. This made sharing time, space, and materials for flight training problematic. Coordinating between the Foundations - the juggling of classes, operational flights, and the construction of the new Foundations - was a nightmare, with little room for all. She'd had long arguments with the other administrators over flight time; how did they expect her to teach the next generation of students with half the flight times?
But... that wasn't what was bothering her. She'd been working with a far worse schedule for the past two years, making do with what times she could get and using simulators for the rest. There should be nothing different this time. Why, then, was this bothering her so much? In fact...
She smiled ruefully. While conditions would remain crowded, the completion of Foundation Stellvia made for added flexibility in scheduling. If she wanted to take a few days or even a few weeks off, she could do so; already, she was beginning to make plans for her and Jinrai to spend a week or two in Hawaii. Ayaka or Manuel could easily fill in for any of her classes - or all of them if need be.
She took a deep breath, and understood what she had been looking at all along. While their relationship had progressed a great deal in the past two years, she and Jinrai really hadn't done much with it in terms of commitment. Sure, they'd shared dinners and dates and couches and the occasional bed, but they had a general agreement: their careers wouldn't allow for a normal long-term relationship. It was a convenient excuse, one they'd used to keep from going deeper, from becoming man and wife, from becoming a family.
And right now, the idea of starting a family was tempting her. She'd never had the option or the possibility of raising a family until now - and she knew that chances like this didn't come often. If she didn't take it now, she never would.
One heck of a decision. She'd long accepted that she would never have a family; it was a decision made long ago, with scars as old as time. Those scars were bleeding tonight; every sacrifice she'd made so far felt hollow compared to the cost. A part of her she'd kept buried, a part of her she thought she'd outgrown, ached for it tonight.
A child - a family - of her own. For probably the only time in her adult life, it was a possibility.
Leila sighed, and walked to the sink to grab a glass of water. Jinrai's class would end shortly, and then he'd head here - maybe twenty minutes before he rang her doorbell.
She only hoped she had an answer for him by then.
Machida Ayaka looked at herself in the mirror as though she still didn't know what to make of it.
The red flightsuit was an intimidator's dream, now that she looked at it. Blood-red suit, severe dark eyes, a "Do you know how many things you did wrong?" scowl... no wonder it was chosen as the instructor's uniform. Prep students would quake in fear at it; even regular students would give the uniform pause.
She grimaced at the very concept. No wonder they wanted her for this job; who better to beat some sense into prep students than someone who had experience - and with Stellvia's best, no less? Her reasons weren't good, of course... but she had to consider herself better than her students, even when she knew when those students would surpass her one day.
She'd learned a lot from Leila in the past few months. Teaching, if she really was honest about it, scared her; Leila had related tales on prep students both precocious and less so. Equally sobering was the fact that Leila was ready to give up on Shima as a pilot - a move whose consequences in the long run would have been disastrous.
When was a teacher supposed to urge a student to perform a tactical withdrawal, as Leila had put it? Arisa's move from piloting to engineering was probably the most famous defection among the new regular students; others went into medical, communications, operations, and the sciences. Several, as expected, had been attritted from the program, and gone on to lives outside of the Foundations.
It's not the ones that get through that make a teacher wonder, Leila said. It's the ones that got away.
But the ones that get through... that's where the reward is. Leila had glowingly described what it was like to watch students develop, what it was like seeing her students push the boundaries of space. Humanity was free to explore the cosmos now, and the students she had trained would lead the way. If that wasn't a legacy to leave behind, nothing was.
That would be the legacy she would be building from here on. She already had enough stories to last a lifetime - after all, how many people could say that they surfed the Fracture? The stories would be for her students to make, now.
And she would enjoy every minute of hearing them.
Earth receded from the port window's view, a brilliant bluish-white marble in the emptiness of space. Strange how beautiful it looked from a distance; perhaps her sister was right, and they had been too close to it for their own good. She didn't feel much about it on leaving, save a strange relief.
Mia's eyes stayed fixed on the infinite of space. Stellvia would be out there somewhere, a half-completed marvel of engineering and construction; Arisa's letters had told glowing tales of its resurrection, as the frame structure and modular sections had come together to form something more - something with spirit.
She let out a breath she didn't know she was holding. Was Earth weighing so much on her? She felt the tears coming; she didn't even try to hold them back as the ship made its way through the emptiness.
They'd made it - together. She and her sister, while treated well, were still orphans; nobody believed that they'd be able to do what they have. Their relatives said it was a pipe dream for Arisa to make it, let alone both of them; Arisa used what was left from the settlement to make her way through school, then worked as an engineer while in school to finance both of their educations.
In some ways, it was disturbing what she was going into. It wasn't like her sister was Katase Shima; no, her sister was just Katase Shima's roommate. Moreover, Arisa was the top engineer in her class. Arisa had helped prep the Infi for flight at Second Impact, and delivered and installed critical equipment at the Cosmic Fracture. The reputation of being Arisa's sister wouldn't be easy to live up to.
But... as disturbing as it was, it was a whole lot better than staying planetside. This was her future - this was their future - and no force on heaven or earth would stop them. She'd made it, and she'd be damned if she ever let this chance go.
"Excuse me..." The words brought her back to reality. She looked over at a boy her age; he held out a handkerchief for her. "Wipe it with this."
She took the handkerchief from him, and wiped her eyes. She probably looked a sight, crying so much over this. She held the handkerchief out for him to take back. "Thank you."
He looked mildly uncomfortable for a second. "Um... no... your nose..."
It was then that she noticed that her nose was running. "Oh." She quickly wiped her nose, then folded the handkerchief. "I... I'll wash it for you, then give it back."
He chuckled (he did have nice eyes, she thought), looked back at his chair for a moment, then smiled at her. "I'm going to watch from the window. Do you want something to drink?"
She smiled shyly. "Um... yes, please." She bit her lip nervously as she followed him to the vending machines. Boys had generally considered her weird up to now; she had her goals, and she had her issues. Arisa's commentary on the boys at Stellvia had been decidedly mixed, though encouraging in its own way; after all, the boys there were just as strange as she was. Maybe...
Otoyama Kouta stared out into the void.
The void rippled in pleasure.
He was alone on Halcyon, but not. He never quite understood why people always said that space was empty; to him, space had always had such a beautiful texture. Jojo had once asked him what he saw when he stared out into the void of space, and he literally had no words. About the closest he could think of was feeling a symphony - it had the organization and chaos inherent in music, but engaged all of his senses at once. He could touch the ripples as he passed through them, see them through his visor, hear them in the comm system's whispers. It was a complete sense of who he was and where he was and the order of everything around him.
He was one with the universe, and it was almost everything he could ever need.
The unsure, modest voice from the comm system was the rest. What he could hear, just in the feed, spoke volumes. There was the stubbornness inherent in all of Stellvia's regular students, the drive that had taken all of them this far into space. As it was, that stubbornness was probably the only thing keeping her talking; she hated to truly lead, and it showed in the quiver of her voice. She would never have Leila's authoritarian fire or Ayaka's calculating ice; her heart loved too completely to allow herself that. Insecurities also showed as she spoke to the incoming students; in some respects, she still saw herself as just an ordinary girl from the outskirts of Tokyo. He never understood that insecurity about her; he merely accepted it as part of who she was, and left it at that.
For she could feel the universe with him. He was beginning to understand just how rare that was. He had been alone, always alone; with her, he wasn't. And, yet, he could feel things she could not, and she could see things he couldn't. He was her hands, and she his eyes. Without her, he had the feel of the universe, but he could not see its order, its completeness.
With himself alone, he could find lies in space; he could be fooled by what he felt. With Shima beside him, with her heart and mind and soul... there was only truth.
Author's 2009 notes:
By rights, I shouldn't enjoy this series so much. On the surface, it's a "Teenagers save the world" series; how silly is that? But... the characters are worth coming back to. Shima makes the anime a good one to watch if I want to get motivated to work. Anyone who's ever done math-based academic research will understand all too well that sometimes you do hit the wall, but the key is picking yourself up and trying again after you hit it.
Original version send to FFML: June 8, 2006
Sent to fanfiction dot net: March 10, 2009