It is seven am and Jaania is…not entirely sure how she is so awake. She is a university student and she hasn’t had any coffee or anything containing caffeine at all and she is about 99.99999999872% sure that there is some sort of universal law against university students being capable of being fully awake and aware at seven in the morning. Especially when they haven’t had any form of caffeine. (A universal law that, she notes, looking around the classroom, her classmates are very good at following.)
But, against the laws of the universe or not, she is awake.
There is the sound of footsteps, and a familiar smell which grabs her attention. She turns to see a young man, probably about her own age given they are taking the same class and the fact that he – like herself - is still dressed in the basic mecha pilot outfit, rather than the uniform of whichever house he is in; the uniforms took a while took a few days to arrive, after all, since they were fitted and had to be made first. This is the second thing that grabs her attention. The third thing which grabs her attention is the fact that his hair, blond, is quite blatantly defying gravity. But then, defying laws of the universe seems to be A Thing this particular morning.
The first thing which grabs her attention is the cup in his hand, from which the familiar smell is coming; coffee.
She expects him to continue up the row and find a seat, but instead he slips, somehow gracefully, into the empty seat next to her. A few moments later, he has put the cup of coffee down on the desk and is rummaging through his bag for something.
She turns her attention back to the front of the class, drumming her fingers on the desk absentmindedly, to wait for the teacher.
Her attention is drawn back to her fellow student, who is now pouring a can of energy drink into his coffee. He turns from this action to meet her eyes through a pair of blue goggles and gives her a wide grin. The liquid stops running from the can and he puts it down, picking up the cup of energy-drink-and-coffee without once breaking eye contact.
“I’m going to die,” he says, voice absurdly cheerful and grin not faltering once.
And then he downs the whole thing.
Frankly, she doesn’t know if she should be deeply concerned for his well-being or if she should be impressed.
She settles on a bit of both.
It is seven am and universal laws seem to have reasserted themselves. Jaania feels exhausted and isn’t entirely sure how she made it to class, let alone how she’s going to make it through class.
She is in the middle of badly suppressing a yawn when the same student as last time she had this class arrives. His hair is still defying gravity, she notes. She feels mildly annoyed that apparently universal laws can bend enough to allow his hair to exist and yet not enough to allow her to be awake this morning.
She watches with bleary eyes as he puts a cup of coffee, practically identical to the one from last time, and opens a can of energy drink.
When the can has been fully emptied into the cup she does something that she will blame on sleep deprivation for years afterwards.
“Mind if I join you in the ‘going to die’ club?” she asks, and before he can respond her hand has darted across the desk, grabbed the cup and she has drunk the whole thing.
To her surprise – when she can actually register what she just did – he doesn’t seem at all annoyed that she just stole his drink. In fact, he is grinning widely.
He shifts slightly in his seat and holds out a hand.
“I’m Sys-Zero,” he says.
She hesitates barely a moment before accepting and shaking his hand.
“Jaania,” she replies.
It is seven am, and this is the beginning.
It is seven am and there is a war about to end surrounding them.
Whether this is good or bad, they have yet to see. If this shall be their victory or if it shall be their loss…
Whichever way it goes, this is it.
Shadowscythe ships fill the air to the point of blocking much of the light from the sun. Every battle-capable pilot is either already fighting or about to join the battlefield.
“So, this is it, huh?” a very familiar voice says.
Jaania heaves a deep sigh and nods, not needing to turn around to know who is behind her.
“Yes,” she says, eyes tracking another Shadowscythe ships as it falls from the sky in a ball of flaming wreckage. “This is it. All of our plans, all of our battles, all of our preparation. It all comes down to today,”
Sys-Zero steps up beside her, in full Star Captain uniform and looking grave in a way that she had never seen before this war started. In one hand he holds two mugs full of a familiar, dark liquid by the handle, both tilting with the liquid sloshing around in a rather precarious way. In the other hand he holds two also familiar cans.
“How did you managed to carry these here like that without spilling it everywhere?” she asks as she takes one of the mugs from his hand.
“Who says that I didn’t just avoid spilling it on myself?” he replies, handing her a can as well.
“Ah, of course,” she says, smiling. “Wouldn’t do to get coffee on your important uniform right before our climactic battle, would it, Commander?”
“Absolutely not!” he replies, flinging the hand with an energy drink over his chest dramatically, as if the thought hurt him. “The very idea!”
She laughs, the first time she has done so in days. Sys-Zero’s smile is wide and genuine and for a moment the two of them can almost pretend that they are university students again, in days of more freedom and innocence, before the beginning of this war.
And then that moment ends.
There is a distant eruption as several mechas – friend and foe alike – are destroyed in unison.
“They’re going to need us out there soon,” she says, as the flames fly high into the sky before dissipating.
“They need us out there now,” is his reply.
Wordlessly, they both open their cans and empty the contents into the coffee mugs. They smile ruefully at each other and then gulp down their drinks.
And then, without once looking back to each other, they head to their mechas, words from a distant past which should not seem quite so distant as it does echoing in their heads.
“I’m going to die,”
“Mind if I join you in the ‘going to die’ club?”
Spoken at the time, they were jokes. Now, surrounded by the realities of war and lost friends, they are truths they have come to live with.
Any day, any battle, they could die.
And though neither of them have said it, they both know that the other has a feeling that that battle will be today.
It is seven am and this is the end.