"Abu! This is no time to panic!"
Then he saw the cavern walls they were about to careen into.
The Magic Carpet swept Aladdin and his simian sidekick Abu downward, avoiding the stone walls and still trying to evade the oncoming tidal wave of lava pursuing them.
"Now that was intense!" Ichika said, sitting on the edge of his seat. While Aladdin went on the adventure of his life, Ichika Orimura and every other student at the Infinite Stratos Academy looked on and met the action on the screen with cheers, gasps, and plenty of laughs. Each semester, after a series of brutal week-long IS training dubbed "The Gauntlet," the students would wind down with some of their favorite activities on a special three-day weekend. Friday night's campus event was always a movie night in the huge auditorium, and this month the famed Disney classic was the hands-down winner from a group of films they could vote on.
"Yeah," Rin said, who sat two seats away from Ichika. "But imagine if he had an IS. He could just blast through those walls no problem."
"I think it would be awesome to actually ride a flying carpet like that," Ichika replied. He grabbed a handful of popcorn from the bucket that Houki, who was sitting right next to him on his right, was holding. His very first childhood friend sat in silence, her head propped up by her hand.
"Ever the daredevil, Ichika dear," said Cecilia, who sat immediately to the boy's left. Britain's Representative Contender pretended to swoon and laid her head on his shoulder. "And I would so love to join you."
Ichika chuckled at this, and Houki tried her best to keep her irritated growl to a minimum, but to little avail.
"Something up, Houki?" Ichika asked, turning to face her.
"Yes, it sounded like your stomach growled," Charl added, who sat in the row above them with Laura. "Perhaps you should eat a little more."
Houki dipped her head forward and sighed. "I'm fine," she said blankly.
"You've been quiet for a bit. I thought this was your favorite Disney movie," Ichika continued.
"What, can't I quietly appreciate it?" the young lady answered sharply.
"Uh, okay, sure…" Ichika said. "As long as you're okay."
At the top of the auditorium, head instructor Chifuyu Orimura and her assistant Ms. Yamada kept an eye on the film and the students at the same time.
"It's so nice to see them all relax and have a good time," Ms. Yamada said.
"Yes, but how much do you want to bet the peace won't last?" Chifuyu posed.
"What do you mean?"
Chifuyu pointed down toward where Ichika and his friends were sitting. The girls (except for Houki) were all starting to sniffle at the scene where Jasmine was lamenting the apparent execution of Aladdin at the behest of Jafar.
"I don't get what you mean, Ms. Orimura," Ms. Yamada said, raising an eyebrow above her spectacles. "Everyone's just reacting to the movie."
"Just wait until they get to the middle of the picture," Chifuyu pointed out. "And see if the usual hijinks doesn't start up."
The film progressed to right after the grand entrance of Robin Williams' Genie and the "Friend Like Me" musical number, and the group soon proved the head teacher right.
"Why can't he wish for infinite genies?" Ichika inquired as Genie explained what he could and couldn't do for Aladdin.
"Now there's an idea," Houki said, breaking her silence. "Imagine what you could then."
Ichika chuckled a little and turned to Houki. "You got that right. What would you wish…"
"It's the principle of the thing!" Cecilia interjected, thumping Ichika on the head. "The movie wouldn't be any good like that."
"I don't get this whole wish thing," Laura added in her harsh German accent, crossing her arms. "You can't just wish for something. You've got to go after it!"
"And not even that works so well…" Houki said to herself, scowling at the two.
"You can be such a drag, Laura!" Rin cried. "That's what the genie is for!"
The two girls gritted their teeth and began to reach over the seats to tussle with one another.
"Hey now, calm down…" Ichika nervously suggested. "It's only a movie."
"Yes, Ichika's right. So please…"Charl said, trying to intervene.
"Did you rub my lamp? Did you wake me up?" The Genie asked Aladdin onscreen.
"Oh, stop kissing up to him, you tomboyish frog!" Laura yelled, slapping Ichika upside his head and grabbing both Rin and Charl by the hair. And then everyone joined in the fracas.
Away from the disruptive action, Ms. Yamada had her palm to her face while Chifuyu shook her head. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a remote device that controlled the film player. She clicked one of the buttons a few times, sharply increasing the volume just as the Genie was stepping toward Aladdin.
"You're gettin' your wishes. SO SIT DOWN!"
All six IS pilots jumped back in fright and sat down again, not saying a word.
"That was perfectly timed, ma'am." Ms. Yamada said, uncovering her ears.
"They won't listen to me, so I'm sure they'll listen to the biggest, bluest, loudest guy in the room." Chifuyu replied, smiling just a little bit.
The crowd settled down as the movie continued. Houki smoothed down her massive swath of hair, which had been mussed up in the little struggle with her comrades.
"I'm getting my wishes. Yeah, right."
"Genie, I wish for you to make me a prince!"
The silence in the theater gave way to elated exhalations and cooing as Aladdin told the Genie of his love for Princess Jasmine, wishing to become a prince in order to win her hand.
"See, Laura?" Rin piped up. "He's going to get her. He just had to become even more uber handsome first!"
"I suppose so," Laura said, grinning a little as the main character became magically garbed in robes of white and violet.
"Now that's a man!" Cecilia called, her eyes glowing bright. "Regal, poised, and still a rugged hunk!" She leaned over to Ichika and said, "Remind you of anyone?"
"I haven't met any princes yet, so no," Ichika answered, rubbing the back of his head and hoping the aristocrat wouldn't strike him again.
Charl giggled and touched the boy's shoulder. "You wouldn't have to look far, Ichika. He would only be, how you say, a mirror away."
Ichika just smiled and laughed. It was the best course of action when things got weird like this.
As the film progressed and made it through the "Prince Ali" musical sequence, Houki began to show a little more life. She smiled a bit more and even sang along with the tune. Ichika noticed how happy she was looking, how her deep blue eyes seemed to get a little brighter and her voice a little peppier.
"You certainly look a little more excited," he said to her.
Houki shrugged her shoulders "Yeah, well, my favorite part of the movie is coming up."
The young male pilot reached over and put his arm around her for a moment. "I knew you'd feel better," he said, jostling her a bit.
In the past, Houki would practically melt on the inside from Ichika's touch, but she kept cool and kept the same expression on her face. It was a bit easier for her to do because it just felt right. The same could not be said for the other four girls, who raised their eyebrows and grimaced.
"Well played, Little Miss Shinonono," Rin whispered to herself.
"If anyone's getting close with Ichika, it's me," Laura said quietly.
The pilots momentarily forgot about their little competition as Prince Ali wondered what he could do to win Jasmine's heart, even though she was not some prize to be won. Even the Genie was grasping at straws during the palace balcony scene.
"You're very…" Ali started.
"Wonderful! Magnificent! Glorious! Punctual!" the Genie suggested.
"Punctual?" Jasmine asked.
"Sorry…" the Genie buzzed.
"Now that reminds me of someone we all know," Chifuyu said to Ms. Yamada, who laughed lightly. From their vantage point, everything looked okay for the moment, but as soon as the next song hit…
Houki drew in a deep breath as she watched the princess rebuff the bumbling prince. She knew this scene was coming. She took another look at Ichika, who had that same content smile on his face. He still had his arm around her. Did he know he still had his arm around her? The sights and sounds of the movie and auditorium were lost in that one thought.
"Oh, I just love the next song coming up!" Cecilia cried, moving closer to the boy. "Would you be a dear and sing it with me, Ichika?"
"No no no! Please sing with me!" Charl protested, doing her best to nudge Cecilia out of the way. She clasped Ichika's hand, much to Houki's irritation.
By this point, "A Whole New World" was beginning to ring throughout the building as Aladdin and Jasmine took flight onscreen. The whole place seemed to be filled with a collective "Aww," as the scene played.
"I must request we sing this song about the world together," Laura said, elbowing the European IS emissaries out of her way.
"You don't even know this song!" Rin nearly shouted, getting in Laura's face.
Houki just kept her head low, not saying a word. Ichika looked toward the upper deck and saw his sister and Ms. Yamada just shaking their heads.
"Well…" he began.
"Unbelievable sights! Indescribable feelings!"
The whole room had joined in singing along with Jasmine, giving Ichika an idea.
"Hey, let's all sing together! Come on guys!" he said. The quarreling females cheered and got in tune with everyone else, even singing the male sections. Ichika sank back in his seat and wiped his brow.
"That was close," he sighed. Houki didn't respond. Even as the song drew to a close and Aladdin and Jasmine shared their first kiss (much to the delight of the crowd), she didn't make a peep. That's how the rest of the show went, with the battle-ready teenagers getting into the final fight scenes and cheering the happy ending, all except the one.
As soon as Aladdin came to a close, Houki bolted out of her seat and up the stairs.
"Houki? Hey, wait up!" Ichika called, immediately following her through the crowd of students.
"Ichika? Where are you going?" Laura asked. She received no answer.
"Ugh, there he goes chasing that little commoner again," Cecilia said. "Honestly, what does he see in her?"
"Probably the same things we see in Ichika," Charl interrupted as the four girls went upstairs. "They obviously care much for each other."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Laura interjected.
"Well, we all have some feelings for Ichika, right?" Charl said. The others concurred.
"Perhaps he has the same feelings for Houki. Deeply."
"I see…" Laura said.
"You mean…true love?" Cecilia quipped, her voice breaking a little.
Charl nodded, a small smile curving her lips.
Houki ran past the two teachers down the corridor to the door that led to the scenic fourth-floor garden outside. Ichika did his best to catch up to her before running into the two himself.
"You seem to be in it this time, huh bonehead?" Chifuyu said.
"No time," Ichika said, continuing on. Before he went any further, he turned and said, "And I'm not the bonehead you think I am, ma'am." Chifuyu and Ms. Yamada just stared at him as he ran off.