A/N: Again, thanks go to Lakewood for his beta work.
3 – All the Right Moves
"Good morning," the speaker crackled, interrupting Mr. La Flaga's vain attempt to organize his class into the seats of their choice. He welcomed the interruption so he could tear up sheets of paper, number them, and drop them into a Naturals baseball hat. "This is Vice-Principal Kisaka with your morning announcements. First off, club recruitment will begin Thursday afternoon after school. Academic clubs will set up tables in the blue cafeteria and recreational clubs will be in the red. Organizations, please note that the year's budget cuts have been factored into your initial account deposits."
That was met with a groan all around. "This stinks," the student in front of Kira muttered, tossing a pencil to the edge of his desk. Noticing the question in his eyes, he turned around. "The Stand-Up Club was on the verge of going pro, but we got hit with the football team's request for funding. What is the deal with regional championships? I guess it's a matter of school pride that we assert ourselves over the Groton Hollanders. Heaven forbid we just pay some more attention to our Haroball team, what with their fantastic 0-12 record. Role models all around, people!"
"Right…" Kira tried to nod. Feldstein was terrific with bad jokes behind a microphone, but he had a tendency to back a bad schtick into a corner.
"We apologize for the sudden cut, but we are confident that the Student Council and the Organizational Committee will be able to make ends meet this semester. I remind you all that our doors are always open. Finally, the Strike mascot costume was stolen last night from the storage garage. The perpetrators responsible are asked to come forward immediately to return the costume, no questions asked, no punishment given. If it is not recovered by the end of the day, the police will be contacted and an investigation will commence. I would hope that Heliopolis High students will abide by our school's honor code and do the right thing."
"Tell it to Durandal and ZAFT!" a heckler yelled out, generating some laughter from the students.
"We already have," the speaker replied. "Don't forget that these speakers work both ways." The PA clicked off and the heckler sunk into his desk a little.
"I think it goes without saying that this class will not be taking part in any retaliatory actions if this was ZAFT's doing," La Flaga warned, finishing up his seating randomization. "Pick a number and check it against the seating chart. Congratulations, that'll beyour new real estate. Mr. Yamato, a word before next class, please." Mwu handed the hat to the first student in the first row. "Take one and pass it back."
The class eventually broke up before the next bell. Kira slid out of his new seat, not too far from the window. "You wanted to see me, Mr. La Flaga?"
"Yes. You were there yesterday. We're trying to ascertain where those people came from and whether it was hooligans or ZAFT. I was hoping you'd be willing to come forward with anything you remember."
"What are you doing here… and what are you doing in the Strike!"
"That's what I'd like to know! Why are you here in Heliopolis? This isn't where you belong!"
Kira shook his head. "I guess they were from ZAFT," he speculated. "I don't really know any of their people too well, so I guess it was just some jocks out for a joyride."
La Flaga kicked back, resting his feet on the far corner of his desk. "That's a shame," he said, shaking his head. "Especially since you were so friendly with the one guy who took the Strike. "
Kira clenched his back swallowed. "But I didn't- "
"Nope, you didn't." Mwu grinned. "I'm guessing you probably had a good reason for not launching into a flying tackle and pinning him in a Texas four-square leg lock. Nobody expects you to be a hero, but in the future, it's okay to call for help."
"Right. Call for help." Kira nodded. "But I really didn't have anything to do with him."
Mwu sighed and rolled his chair back, sitting on the desk in front of Kira. "You've been going to Heliopolis since freshman year, so you know how it's been since the Bloody Valentine. We can't end the rivalry of sports teams versus sports teams, but we can all do our part to work with each other for a better world. Clear?"
"Yeah. Crystal clear."
"Good. Lecture over." Mwu patted Kira on the shoulder. "Will you be joining Stage Crew again this semester? We could use your know-how on that ancient lighting console. You probably single-handedly saved The Pajama Game."
"I don't have any reason not to."
"Good, because we've got a decent surprise for you." The handsome blonde teacher grinned. "Go on and get ready for class. You're right next door, aren't you?"
"Yeah, and you have Cagalli, right?"
"One doesn't teach your sister, one enters into conflict with her." A chuckle.
"You guys can have her." Kira laughed as well.ZAFT High
The physics lecture room was starting to fill up, but it didn't take much. It was the biggest small classroom he'd ever seen, with three semicircles of five swivel chairs each, all in one big table. It was closer to a college classroom than the row seats of Pequot Prep.
"Have you had this teacher before?" Athrun asked the student to his right, who was unfolding a laptop computer.
"Yeah, last year. He may look like he's a washout from a war movie, but at least he's not Dr. Vajpayee."
"Seats, seats," a gruff, bearlike voice called out, followed by two handclaps. "We're here to shoot electricity through things and read a lot of Newton." The source of the announcement was a tall, almost scruffy-looking man in his late 30s. His tanned skin and parted, sandy-brown hair made him look more like a mechanic; his features stood out all too well against his lab coat. "I'm Dr. Andy Waltfeld, Ph.D. This is Physics IIIA, Section 1. I took this job not because I love to teach, but because I love to calculate particulate masses and their reaction to thermal expansion."
With a heavy thud, he withdrew an hourglass-shaped device suspended over a Bunsen burner and planted it on the table. "Meet my life's work," he proclaimed. "The Waltfeld brewing device. It turns coffee into ambrosia with twice the efficiency of the $3,000 Italian espresso makers you have at home. This apparatus will be the basis of at least two of the major experiments you'll be performing this year. One will be on fluid dynamics, the other will be on thermal expansion and/or exchange. Exciting, right?"
Waltfeld grinned. "Apparently, excitement still doesn't come easily at 8:05 AM." He unscrewed the bottom half of the hourglass and poured in a gallon of distilled water. "Let's start this year off right. Physics is probably the most dismally procedural of sciences out there, but we'll at least reward your work. Who here drinks coffee? I've been dying to try out my new dark-roast Kona blend on some willing subjects."Heliopolis High
The final bell rang on the quintessential second-day-back blues. Kira didn't give two craps about not really having the best summary on Mr. La Flaga's assigment, nor did he plan on doing any work on the rest of his homework. The keys to the Hierophant jangled in his pocket as he walked past his locker, having been passed on earlier by Cagalli.
"Fencing team tryouts start next week. I'm sticking around to train a little. I'll catch the late bus home." She'd dangled the keys on their Haro keychain in front of Kira. "Congratulations, you get to recharge the fuel cell on your way back."
"Thanks, sis." Kira took the keys with a grimace akin to a man punched in the stomach with a sack of fifty-dollar bills. "This means I get to skip cooking dinner tonight, right?"
"Sure, if that means we get to avoid eating your food, I'll do anything."
"I'm sure that all the guys in the athletic training rooms will appreciate your immense bench-pressing skills, Rambo."
Cagalli shoved Kira towards the exit of the English wing. "I'll see you later. Don't forget to recharge the fuel cell!"
So it was that Kira fired up the Hierophant and shifted the clutch to first. A little throttle and a gentle ease-off on the clutch got the old car moving steadily.
I was all over the place today. In Algebra, I found X by answering "here it is," got beaned in the head with a volleyball in gym, totally blew Mr. La Flaga's Q&A…
A recharge station was just down the road. He parked the car by an automated recharger and walked inside, swiping his debit card in one of the quick-pay slots.
I need some caffeine.ZAFT High
Athrun reorganized his locker at the speed of light. It had been six hours since he'd been volunteered to participate in Dr. Waltfeld's coffee experiment.
"You there, you look new." Dr. Waltfeld had pointed right at Athrun. It wasn't difficult since most of the students near him had either ducked under their desks or pretended not to speak English when he looked around the room. "Why don't you come down here and help me out a little, Mr…"
"Um… me?" Athrun stood up.
"Yes, you. What's your name?"
"Athrun Zala, you look a little worn out." Dr. Waltfeld flipped a switch, igniting the Bunsen burner. "Are you too sleepy to find the molar mass of C8H10N4O2?"
"No, I can do that." Athrun pulled a calculator and a sheet of paper from his bag and started punching in numbers."
"Good. Then you're alert enough to help me out down here." Waltfeld gestured like a majordomo, ushering him down with a sweep of his arm. "The first thing we'll need to do is prime the grounds. A shot of espresso comes from about four scoops of fine-grind Italian roast, so let's have you open up that white tin and bring it over here. Oh, you drink coffee, right? No heart conditions or pregnancies in your future?"
The resulting batch of espresso made enough to fill a small coffee pot. Dr. Waltfeld had "rewarded" him with a cup in a small espresso mug; about twenty minutes after finishing it off (between note-taking about thermal expansion) Athrun felt the urge to get up and run laps.
"You OK?" Nicol walked up to Athrun's locker. "We didn't see you at lunch."
"Yeah, I… uh…" Athrun's heart was thumping the same way frightened rabbits ran from wolves, his eyes wide open. "You know how Yzak drank about six Red Bulls last night while waiting in line?"
"I had the equivalent in one shot of espresso."
"Oh man!" Dearka's laughing voice wafted from behind Athrun's locker door. "You volunteered for Waltfeld's coffee contraption? It's always the new guys, man."
Athrun closed the locker door, satisfied with the alphabetical-by-subject arrangement of his textbooks and folders. "I feel like running. Anyone feel like running? I really seriously need to bleed off this energy. Dearka, is there a weight room or a treadmill or an Olympic track or pool or ski slope?"
"Whoa, whoa. Calm down there, Cochise. I know just the thing." Dearka patted him on the shoulder and winked. "You need some DDR."
44 Beacon Cliff Street
Kira saw Miriallia and Tolle before they saw him. A sharp beep on the Hierophant's horn got everyone's attention, though. Kira didn't know it was a custom job, and instead of the usualbeep...
"I'm so sorry, Kira." Miriallia was doubled over laughing, brushing tears from the corner of her eyes. "I shouldn't be laughing, but it's just too funny."
Tolle was rolling on the floor. "Oh man. That's… oh man…"
Kira slammed the door closed and sighed. Why didn't we check this before we signed off on the title? he thought, pressing the remote lock button. The car chirped in response, a normal sound compared to the musical horn.
"'I Wish I Was in Dixie…'" Miriallia laughed. "I can't believe your horn plays 'I Wish I Was In Dixie!'"
"Hey, Kira, is that the kind you can change the music for?" Tolle teased. "Can you make it play 'Hava Nagila' for my parents? They'd love it!"
"I blame my sister and my sister alone." Kira held up his hands defensively, shaking his head. "We wanted a car, she wanted a Hierophant, we found this one, and she's going to be the one who gets that stupid horn outta here."
"C'mon, let's go inside, General Lee," Tolle switched into a Southern drawl. "We done gonna git them Yanks when we circle 'round the side o' Antietam!"
Minerva's was packed, loud, and happy. Heliopolis High wasn't too far off, and even some of the local junior high school kids came around. It was lit almost entirely by the big picture windows in the front and background lights from countless arcade games. A wall of flat screen TVs hanging from the ceiling were lit up and tuned to everything from the Yankees postseason game to a Japanese animated show about robot pilots battling something or each other. Games were scattered in clusters, loosely organized by type and genre. A jukebox off to the side was tied into the stereo system and was blaring out something poppy, electronic, and bassy.
"Hey, you guys want anything?" Tolle shouted over the music, pointing over to the snack bar in the far left corner. "You probably only drink good ol' Kentucky mint Juleps, right, Kira?"
"I'm good, thanks," Kira wryly responded, holding up a bottle of something green and cafffeinated. "You can feel free to put up for our first few rounds if you're feeling generous."
The banter in the arcade had been at the normal shout-above-the-music level, but as Kira put a bill into the change machine, the clinking of his coins was the only sound from a human. The jukebox kept singing about a quiet, peaceful night in bass and trance beats, but all the voices in the room had fallen silent.
A ZAFT High student, easily spotted due to his red jacket and its distinctive trim, had stepped through the doors to Minerva's and started looking around. His face was an angry blend of nerves and concern as he glanced around the arcade.
"What's the ZAFTie doing here?" Tolle asked, stepping next to Kira, Miriallia in tow. "Not like this isn't public, but he knows damn well that Heliopolis people come here after school."
"Yeah, and I think he knows it," Kira nervously replied as he took a swig of his soda. The ZAFT student was up at the snack bar, talking to the part-timer who was slinging food and drinks.
"Hey!" someone barked. "Looks like he's out to steal something else from us!"
"Not so badass on your own, you asshole Coordinator!" another voice joined in.
"Whoa, hey!" Kira yelped as he felt himself get shoved aside by an angry-looking Heliopolis student, obviously a Haroball player from his build.
The ZAFT student turned as he heard Kira, just in time to face down the charging Haroballer. Too late.
The Haroball player executed perfect running takedown grab, normally a fielding maneuver. Only this time, instead of grabbing an errantly bouncing Haroball, it was the unsuspecting ZAFT student.
"Let me go! Hey, I'm just trying to find someone!" the ZAFT student protested, trying to shove away the Haroball player.
"Your school took our mascot, you bastard!" the Haroball player shouted, roaring with anger. "We're gonna take something of yours!"
The Haroball player gestured, and two other tall, strong students came around from the crowd. They manhandled the ZAFT student into the men's restroom at the back of the arcade.
There was a silence as the jukebox switched tracks, punctuated by the flush of a toilet and a protesting scream.
"I haven't seen that since sixth grade," Tolle intoned mournfully. "He just got a swirlie."
Oh man. This is not good. Nobody's been hit like that since Junius Seven itself…
The ZAFT student ran out of the men's room, his jacket covering his head as he dashed clear. The Haroball players followed, jeering and teasing the student as he practically dove into his car, driving off in a huff.
"Hey, Kira, you OK?" Tolle waved his hand in front of his friend's face. "You're all spaced out."
"Oh, yeah…" Kira brushed some errant hair dangling onto his forehead. "I was just wondering what he was doing here, that's all."
"ZAFT people come here, but not in uniform since Bloody Valentine," Miriallia remarked. "They know it makes 'em stand out like sore thumbs."
Miriallia dragged Tolle over to one of the rhythm games, and they each ponied up their fair share. A small line of mostly junior high students backed up the machine's popularity, and Kira was content to lean against one of the Ms. Pac-Man machines that had started collecting dust.
It really has been some time since I was here.
Tolle and Miriallia had managed to jump the line when most of the crowd, bored with the hyperactive light and sounds of the dance game, went to the vending machines near the entrance.
Not since at least the night before Cagalli came back. She was –
"Hey, where's the change machine at?" an uninvited voice cut into Kira's thoughts.
"Oh, right over there, behind the Initial DX machines." He pointed behind a bank of four linked racing games.
"Thanks." A tall, slim boy that Kira didn't recognize departed in a flash of tanned skin and blonde hair. Another one followed, all pale eyes and light hair. His sneer met Kira's noncommittal countenance.
Are they new here or something?
"Hey, Athrun, what's your poison?" Dearka asked, trading Athrun's dollar for four quarters.
"That looks fun, but I've never played anything like DDR before." The three ZAFT students had left their jackets in Dearka's car. "Right now, though, I just need to burn off all this damn caffeine."
"Heh… I think Yzak probably feels the same way."
Yzak let out a yawn that could have swallowed a small plane. "Shut up, you bastard…" he tried to shout between deep yawning. "I'll thrash you to pieces." He stretched his arms and then rubbed his eyes. "Can we go home yet? I need a nap or something."
"You're just getting old, huh?" Dearka ribbed as they waited in line behind the two people on one of the dance machines.
"I'll kill you, you bastard… yawn"
Tolle couldn't hope to compete against Miriallia, especially since his Easy was up against her Extreme. After being thoroughly booed by the machine, he stepped aside and sulked off to a zombie-shooting game, Condominium of the Dead 4.
"Go to it, Athrun." Dearka gave him a playful shove onto the platform. Athrun fumbled, almost tripping, but grabbed a support bar and got up onto the game.
Tolle is out already?
Wait… that hair…
He remembered from the day before, as his old friend had run towards the car in the Strike costume…
"Hey, Mil," Kira placed a hand on his friend's shoulder. "I love this song, You mind if I give it a shot?"
"Sure, if you're paying for the next round." Miriallia winked and hopped off to join in on the other gun with Tolle.
Kira waited for Athrun to pick his mode and level, not announcing his presence. "Go easy on me," his friend said, still fixed on the screen as he put in his selections. "I'm kinda new to this."
"Yeah," Kira replied, deadpan. "The last time you played Dance Dance Renovation was just before I moved to Heliopolis."
Athrun was pressing the Start button just as Kira spoke. He froze, stunned, before looking up at his old friend's face. His amethyst eyes were angry, betraying the disappointment across Kira's face.
"Kira! What happened to the girl who was here!"
"Why'd you do it, Athrun?"
"It's time to Dance Dance Renovate!" the machine screamed out as a thudding beat started to pound out.
"Friend of yours?" Dearka asked over Yzak's yawning.
"Kira, I don't want to do this!" Athrun stamped on the up, right, and down arrows in rapid succession. "It's not like I want to fight against you!"
"Neither do I!" Kira shouted back, mirroring Athrun's movements. Oh crap, this is on Extreme level! I'm going to kill you, Mir! "I didn't have anything to do with Bloody Valentine! I was just selling snacks at the time!"
"But you're a Natural!" Athrun followed a quick left/right freeze with a jump move. "It doesn't matter if you're selling snacks or kicking or batting the Haroball!"
"Does it really?" Up, up, right left down down, up, up, left right down. The arrows kept falling from the top of the screen as they leapt, stomped, and danced, eerily in unison. "Does it really matter what you're doing at Heliopolis? You should have been at Pequot! You should have been in ZAFT! You should have been with me!"
"I wish I could have, but I didn't have a choice, Athrun!" Kira missed a left arrow, breaking a combo. "I didn't want to stay there, but when Cagalli left with my parents, I had to stay here!"
"Hey, did he say something about ZAFT?" someone shouted over the small crowd that had gathered to watch. "Are those guys Coordinators?"
"Oh crap." Dearka shook Yzak a few times. "Hey, we may be in trouble."
"But still, you could have made it!" This time, Athrun missed the step. "I don't care about being a Coordinator or a Natural. I don't want to fight you, Kira!"
"I don't want to fight you either, Athrun, but you stole the Strike! We can't just let it go! That's our mascot! It belongs to Heliopolis, and we've gotta get it back!"
To be continued…