"I'm from Area 17 in Neo-Asia," the geeky-looking boy stepped forward and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "My name is Jun Lee; pleased to meet you."
"My name is Tsugumi Rosenmeier, I'm from the Northeast German Defense Zone…" she shuffled, fidgeting nervously.
"Fweet! Over here!" Pierre whistled, jerking a thumb at himself before spreading out a fake-magnanimous hand. "What're your measurements, Tsugumi?"
"Do I have to answer that…?" she murmured the inquiry out of the corner of her mouth to Sophia, who chuckled, sweatdropping.
"Just ignore him…"
"Sorry I'm late," the voice, unexpected, drew everyone's attention to the back of the lecture hall. "But I had to lure her with these." A bag of chips rose, momentarily obscuring the visage of the speaker, before she was revealed to be Rena.
"Ah, yes, we have another newcomer, folks." Sophia tried to smooth over the awkwardness. "This promising young woman hails from Ark City."
Quiet, on feet well practiced at stalking, hiding, a girl entered the room. Her bright red-orange mess of tangled hair reached down to her shoulders, unrestrained. Army-green shorts and a vest were her only covering, save for a pair of sturdy tan boots and a masculine-looking but beautiful necklace. She descended the steps with casual, calm strides. At the sight of her, Silvia stood up and indignantly whisper-cried "That ditch rat!"
Regally, the redheaded girl surveyed the classroom from the higher level. "So this is a school, huh? Looks more like voluntary imprisonment to me."
"I can't believe you! How dare you ruin my first merge!" Silvia yelled, outraged.
Completely blowing off the annoyed princess, she calmly strolled down the steps, as whispers sprung up all around. Her glance flitted restlessly across the classroom, and she seemed almost to be taking inventory, examining the various students.
Her gaze lingered quietly on the form of the young man who had been called Sirius, but she recalled his pigheaded reaction to her presence and casually tracked her glance off to the left. Didn't matter how interesting his scent had been; she'd find out more about him later.
"All by herself…!"
"Hey, what's this Solar Wing they're talking about?" Tsugumi tentatively asked the only person in the room she knew.
"Well, it's the other name of Apollonia, the legendary hero written about in the Book of Holy Genesis of the ancient Alisia empire. Twelve thousand years ago, along with Stellos and the other Element Users, she controlled Aquarion and battled the Shadow Angels." Jun explained in an undertone.
"How do you know all that?" Pierre asked the harmless-looking boy, evidently not as innocent as he appeared.
"That's classified information." Sirius pronounced.
"DEAVA's firewall was a cinch for me to break, former Prince Sirius de Alisia." Jun said casually, propping his hands on his hips.
"You hacked into their system?" Tusgumi asked her companion incredulously.
He turned to her and grinned shyly, putting a hand behind his head. "Yeah, made it all the way into the core databases. Turns out they were monitoring me the whole time and coulda fried my computer anytime they wanted.
"So, where's the giant robot?" Apolla asked laconically, reaching the end of the steps. "C'mon, we haven't got all day! I've got a friend to rescue."
"Haven't you learned your lesson yet?" Silvia taunted, her face deadly seriousness as she leapt from her seat and geared up a psychokinetic blast in her right hand. Reacting lightning fast, Apolla crouched down quickly and sprang back up again, releasing the power in her muscles like a spring to jump clean over Silvia's head, landing safely on a desk a couple of meters away.
"I should tell you," she growled as she leapt on all fours from desktop to desktop, "I never fall for the same trick twice!" the street girl came up just behind Silvia, and with a quick motion, the world for Silvia flipped.
The former princess screamed as she held up the bottom of her dress to keep her modesty. Grinning triumphantly, Apolla gently swung her prize back and forth before, sensing danger, she dropped the girl and leapt backwards, only to be caught at one side by Reika, eyes like gray ice, and on the other side by Sirius' blade.
"You animal! What makes you think you can touch my sister?" the former prince's eyes held absolute disgust for the girl crouching on the floor.
"Get over yourself," the girl scoffed, unimpressed by his swordsmanship. The imposing blade was functional enough by the look of it, but the razor sharpness and soft gleam of light along the flat, uninterrupted by scratches or nick marks, told her the truth; this sword had probably never been used for its practical, original purpose. Waste of beautiful workmanship, although, admittedly, it was a bit fancy for proper use. Apolla would've given her eyeteeth, figuratively speaking, for a sword like that. "I came here to rescue my friend."
"And you can, Apolla." Sophia's voice cut in. "But there are tests we have to run first."
"Tests!" an indignant Apolla yelled. "I controlled the frickin' thing twice!"
"Yes, and your excellent control destroyed a town." Sophia took a remote control and pressed a button, activating the screen to show a snapshot of the crater they'd left and the wreckage surrounding it. Gasps and whispers sprang up.
Apolla was silent.
"What?" Sirius' calm, even now, was nearly perfect; only those who knew him could tell it was ruffled. "Am I to believe, with all due respect, sir, that I am to be the sim-flight trainer for this…this…" beyond words, he gestured at Apolla, who was warily observing anything and everything going on.
"Yes, Sirius, you are." Sophia's calm, rational voice cut through all protests. "After all, Sirius, as you are the reincarnation of Stellos, the girl beside you could very well be the reincarnation of your one true love."
Disgusted, the prince looked at the urchin, who was now absorbedly following a scent trail away from his side. "You tell a joke. Please, tell me you tell a joke."
"Can you cut all this noise? I'd like to get a move on with things." Apolla's voice was aggravatingly patient as she stood there calmly with her weight shifted over onto one hip. "And I'm no baby, to be helped around every little turn by some nancy-boy nanny."
"The simulator is as close to real life as we can get it; that's the purpose of a simulator. Besides, kinship with your Element partners is key to merging properly." Sophia was, as always, calm and irrefutable.
"Kinship?" Apolla mused. "Hn…got no idea what that is. There's probably some translation into plain Esperanto somewhere."
Sirius shot her a withering look. "Can't you at least bother to read up a little on your course texts? And for that matter, why on earth aren't you wearing your Element suit?"
"Excuse me?" it was a battle of the death-glares, neither one willing to back down. They wound up slowly leaning closer and closer to each other…and Sophia's voice cut them off.
"Sirius, if your partner can't manage to learn response control, your rank will be bumped down as a result." Stony indifference clamped down on Sirius' features as he turned away, using this opportunity to distance himself.
As the others loaded up, they were giving last-minute advice to their buddies. Silvia paused in chivvying Jun into the seat to shoot Apolla a death-glare of her own. The street-girl would have given as good as she got, but Sirius did some chivvying of his own, unceremoniously grasping her left forearm and dragging her forcibly over to the capsule before releasing her like a slimy worm and wiping his hand off on a handkerchief with delicately theatric shudders.
"Give me the controls!" Silvia yelled at Jun after their accidental crash. "Vector Sol, what are you doing!"
"Don't look at me; ask this buffoon here what happened." Sirius' voice was even icier than ever. In the cockpit of the mock vector, Apolla was growling intimidatingly at the controls as she clicked them back and forth, to no apparent effect. During Sirius' monologue of complaint, he was cut off with a yelp of surprise as they suddenly went into a nosedive. Just as they were about to hit the canyon floor, the vector made a swift recovery and soared off, more or less smoothly.
"Well? I'm flying it, aren't I!" Apolla growled, still wrestling with the controls.
Sirius reached forward and smacked her. "Don't be absurd; I took over the controls."
The growl rising audibly, Apolla tested the controls to make sure, then swiveled around in the seat. Her growl rose to a roar. "YOU!" she leapt up, heedless of safety precautions, and turned around to jump into the copilot seat.
Back in the control room, Pierre scoffed. "It's just some bad joke…that girl can't be the reincarnation of Solar Wing!"
"Sirius' claims of his past life seem, honestly, rather dubious, too." Kurt contributed. At the moment, in the viewscreen of the cockpit, they were seeing Apolla and Sirius going at it, neither one being obviously trounced.
"Drop all three of them two levels," Jerome sighed, exasperated.
"Look at the aura dynamics of those two!" Sophia exclaimed, examining the feedback charts. "Their mind levels are all over the place, but the red domain of the spirit level is in sync."
"Huh? The red domain?" Jerome asked, convinced the charts must have some malfunction.
"Red for passion. Red for the First Chakra." Sophia nodded confirmation. She pulled up the live feed charts on the viewscreen so everyone could see the red and orange pulsing in synchronized waves from the red chakra point.
"Give it back!" Apolla yelled, the superior strength in her wiry form overcoming Sirius' own muscular power and pinning him back in the seat while Sirius tried valiantly to keep her from seizing control of the joystick.
"What're you doing!" Sirius was shocked out of his usual formal pattern of speech.
The three Vectors rocketed across the sky, Vector Luna and Vector Mars desperately attempting to keep from crashing into Vector Sol.
In Vector Luna, Tsugumi fisted her hand over her heart, hoping it would lower the heart rate, but to no avail. Arcing electricity flickered around the base of the machine.
Vector Sol was careening wildly around the false sky; Apolla was trying to fit herself into the copilot seat so she could take the controls, while Sirius tried to keep her out of the seat and pry her muscled, scarred hands off the controls at the same time. "Cut it out!" Sirius yelled at her.
"Spirit level rising!" an automatic voice notification chimed as on screen the red energy began to pulse faster, reaching between the two figures to form a red-orange lattice, the energy of either not quite touching the other's form.
"Makes you wonder…" Pierre mused. "Sure, they're pushing each other away, but do they really mean it?"
As the vectors began to form the characteristic triangle shape, Vector Sol, in the lead, suddenly took off, spiraling even higher in the air.
Tsugumi's panic slowly grew, beginning to reach the breaking point.
Apolla gave up on trying to retain her position in the copilot's seat, instead turning to face the prince and kneeling on his lap, trying to brace herself against him. Slowly, the acceleration pushed them towards each other…
Their lips met. Everyone in the control room blinked. Some gasped, and one of Sirius' fangirls fainted. The fainting seemed to be contagious; Tsugumi followed the anonymous fangirl's example and swooned in the cockpit, her heart rate overcoming her body's capacity as the machine crashed.
As the lids popped open, Sirius leapt out of the copilot's seat like it was on fire and hared off to the bathroom, while Apolla just sat there, her fingertips up to her mouth, eyes wide with shock.
While everyone else filed off, the street girl remained. Eventually, she shook herself out of her shock and looked around, before sitting in the copilot seat and grasping the controls in her hands.
"That rat!" Sirius exclaimed, alone in the bathroom. The others had come and gone; he'd brushed his teeth, mouthwashed, gargled, taken a shower, then come out to brush his teeth some more. "I can't believe she! That little!" that's right, ladies and gentlemen. His first kiss had robbed Sirius de Alisia of the power of coherent speech.
It was later, and Apolla was still crouched in the simulator, restlessly, emptily moving the joystick around. "Barron…"
"You're still here?" Sophia's voice, soft and kind, broke the quiet. Apolla let go of the controls and took up a defensive position before turning to look at the panel.
"What does it take to fly this thing? That kinship you were talking about? And what is kinship?" she asked the source of the voice.
"What do you think?" the scientist walked over to the machine.
"I don't know; that's why I'm asking!" Apolla lost her temper and yelled at the infuriatingly calm woman.
Sirius was walking back to his rooms from the showers; despite knowing that eavesdropping was a shameful activity, he ducked behind the doorframe and listened in on the conversation.
"During that battle, weren't you in total control?" Sophia asked.
"Back then…I heard a voice. It was coming from…I don't know, somewhere. Don't ask me where."
"A voice?" Sophia asked.
"And I thought…I know it's crazy, but I thought I saw a woman with wings behind me."
"A woman with wings?" Sophia seemed able only to parrot back the sentences that fell out of Apolla's mouth.
Not Solar Wing! Sirius thought, hissing in a breath of his own.
"Yeah…she had huge wings, and hair like fire…but it was her eyes I remember the most. Angry, and sad at the same time."
"Just like your eyes." Sophia murmured. Apolla looked up at her in mute disbelief. "Angry, and sad."
"I'm not sad!" Apolla yelled, offended.
"The denial proves it." The scientist said gently.
"She's sad?" Sirius murmured to himself. "That doesn't make any sense! How could someone like her feel such a delicate emotion?"
"And? What did this winged woman do?" Sophia prompted Apolla.
"I don't remember…" Apolla began. "I don't remember anything…but wanting to rescue Barron…"
Sirius twitched. A shadow of jealousy crossed his face at the name. A male name…was this Barron a relative, or something more?
"…and before I knew it, I was in that machine, fighting…"
"We were in the same internment camp…" Apolla began her story. "It was the first winter after the catastrophe. I was an orphan, starving, no food or shelter, on the verge of death. He gave me his own food to keep me from dying. We ran together ever since. We escaped that hell-on-earth together, and he gave me this." Scarred fingertips gently traced the outline of her chest-plate, which hung on strings. Red feathers tufted at the corners, and a dreamcatcher hung in the middle.
"He gave me the name…Apolla…" the girl tilted her head down, bangs obscuring her eyes.
"There you have it." Sophia said. "The meaning of kinship, of what it takes to merge. Simulation and reality are two different things. People's thoughts and bodies make reality happen."
"What do you mean?" Apolla asked.
"Your feelings for Barron; that made reality. That made Aquarion act."
"So…wait…our feelings control Aquarion?"
That was when the alarm went off.
"Earth Area City Number Three! Harvest Beast sighted! Vector Mars, Sirius. Vector Sol, Reika. Vector Luna, Silvia. Prepare to fly immediately." Sirius began to walk away, bumping with uncharacteristic clumsiness into a table conveniently placed especially for bumping into. An exclamation flew from his lips to join the clatter.
"Huh? Hey! You were-!" Apolla cried as Sirius stumbled into the open doorway.
"Sorry; gotta go!" the prince rushed off, as Apolla gave chase, reverting to her animalistic behavior and sniffing the young man out with her nose.
"Why didn't I get called!" Apolla yelled as she rocketed down the hallway.
Eventually, she came to an intersection of hallways, with various metal tubes. "Where'd he go…?" she sniffed around. A memory flashed from a scent trail; the two of them in the cockpit, lips pressed together, completely shocked. Her golden eyes flashed. "There!" she backed up and kicked open a panel, jumping into the tube and zooming off.
"Stand by for launch! Stand by for launch!" the intercom announced as the transport-tubes attached to the Vectors and the pilots zipped down them, landing in the cockpit. The merge-green crept up their bodies, and the Element suit was left in its wake.
The tubes began to retract as the Vectors pulled up and prepared for launch, but nobody noticed that the transport-tube on Vector Mars was malfunctioning for some reason. The only reason could be that someone was in the tube, and had it been noticed, the determined street urchin would have been intercepted. It did indeed happen in another reality, but not here…
And the rest is history.