Hello again dear readers. I must apologize for the delayed update. There are several reasons for it. 1, my laptop finally got back from the repair shop (a full month after it was supposed to. Idiots) and I had to use it to catch up on some school work. 2, I kinda sorta ran out of pre-written stuff. I have a fair bit of work to do. Anyway, please enjoy the latest chapter. Don't forget to read and review. Oh and if any of you are tropers, then feel free to recommend this. Do that, and I will give you 9001 internet cookies (don't worry, I'm good for them). Into the Madness!

Chapter 3

First Day F*&k Ups

Frank had been sitting at his desk, legs propped up and hands behind his head for nearly twenty minutes when the first student arrived in the class. He didn't immediately notice them though due to his daydreaming nap. So when the girl woke him up by yelling, "Ichika!" from the door, he was a little startled. Startled enough to slip out of his chair and fall to the floor in a heap.

"Whoa, hey! Who's there?" His speech was slightly slurred somewhat from his landing. "Why you make 'a me fall outta my chair?"

The girl, who had very long black hair tied up in a loose ponytail by a red and white bow, stared at him with her cobalt eyes, as if pleading for something. She wore the standard school uniform, a white blazer with long sleeves and a skirt, similar to Frank's own, though with the obvious change of him having pants. She was very pretty, in an aloof and unreachable sort of way. Kinda like Chifuyu, only she's drop dead gorgeous. Frank's wandering thoughts were brought to heel when the girl asked, "What are you doing here Ichika?"

Frank lifted himself off the floor, dusting off his pants as he did so. "I'm here as the world's first male IS pilot, and I plan to be one of the best." His face adopted a confused look as he continued, "Wait, you already know my name. Do I know you from somewhere?"

The girl started trembling slightly, though Frank was too busy looking off into his memory to notice. "You don't remember me?" she asked, her voice quivering.

Frank snapped his fingers as the thought returned to him. "Oh yeah! Now I remember. You were one of the students I watched in the matches yesterday. Chifuyu told me your name but I've gone and forgotten it." He sighed, shaking his head at himself. "I am so bad with names. Honestly. I have to spend a lot of time around a person just to get it memorized and…"

At that point the girl snapped and charged at him out of nowhere. Caught off guard, Frank screamed comically as the girl tackled him to the ground and started slamming his head against the tile. At least, she tried to do that. Frank was fast enough to slip out from under her grasp on the floor and started leaping over desks and chairs, trying to put some distance between himself and the psycho behind him. "Damnit, what the hell was that for?" He freaked out as soon as he said that because he spotted the girl following behind him, knocking over everything in her path to get at him.

"You worthless idiot! I was your best friend for five years and you go and forget about me!?" At this point there were very few things left standing and poor Frank was cowering behind the teacher's desk, hoping she wouldn't remove his last piece of cover.

"It's not my fault. Complete amnesia doesn't exactly let you pick and choose which memories to keep."

The girl paused in her assault, which Frank was infinitely grateful for, and she fixed him with a sunburn-inducing glare. "What do you mean?"

So Frank quickly went over the events of his arrival day, leaving out any mention of him being from the past. The girl's expression gradually softened as he explained, till finally she was sitting atop one of the few desks that were still upright. "So you don't remember anything. You don't even remember us being friends."

Frank winced at her forlorn tone and said, "No, but I know that we were friends. Chifuyu talked about you a lot while she was reeducating me. You were my best friend when I was young. That's gotta count for something right?"

She turned away and looked out the window at the sky beyond. "Maybe it did before. Now…"

"Now that means we'll just have to start over," Frank said with a smile.

Houki glanced back at him, confusion mixed with hope in her eyes.

"I don't know anyone at this school, except maybe two of the teachers, and one of those is my sister. Even if I still had my memories that number probably wouldn't be that much better. You are one of the only people here who actually knows my name, who won't see me as 'OMGee! It's the boy! He's so cute and handsome and alone and…' Bleech! Point is, you'd see me as who I am, maybe even better than I could see myself. So what do you say? Want to start over?" He held out his hand with a grin, hoping against hope that he hadn't just made a fool of himself in front of this girl.

Houki stared at him, appearing conflicted with herself. It didn't take her long to decide though, as she reached out and gladly shook his hand. "Sure, why not?"

The two new friends spent the next few minutes repairing the classroom, talking about themselves to pass the time. Frank learned that Houki was a kendo master, her favorite color was bright red, and she had a kickass poker face. Having much less to go on due to his pretend memory loss, Frank gave a play by play of his match with Asuka, managing to impress and surprise his new friend with his roundabout victory. She was most surprised that Frank knew martial arts now, apparently because her memories from back in their junior kendo classes told a very different story of Ichika's view on fighting. Frank tried to explain that away by saying that being left alone for a year immediately after being kidnapped by a terrorist organization changes a person, to which she had no argument.

They had just finished fixing the chairs when the next set of students came in. They were a small clique of girls, chattering amongst themselves when they spotted Frank and fell silent. Frank ignored them and sat next to Houki up front, taking out a book and starting to read. His general plan for handling all of the female attention he knew he was going to garner was to ignore those too shy to speak to him but be polite to those who could muster up the will. It seemed to be working so far, as the girls fled to the back of the class and started whispering quietly, throwing the occasional glance his way when they got curious.

"Not very subtle are they?" he commented to Houki. She just rolled her eyes in response, then leaned over and pretended to mutter something in his ear, sending the girls behind him into a muted tizzy. Frank turned and eyed Houki with a smirk. "You are just evil you know that?" She merely smiled and stared out the window again, no longer paying their watchers any attention.

More and more girls poured into the class over the next few minutes, each reacting to him exactly the same as the previous group. Frank actually started counting how long it took them to go through the full cycle, awarding points based on how fast they were.

The class was about half full when the cycle was broken by a newcomer. She had long blond hair held back by an aqua hair band whose color matched the eyes that Frank felt fall on him. "And just what is a boy doing in here? This is a school for girls." Her voice was very haughty and regal, betraying her nationality to Frank almost immediately. British nobility, eh? Oh this will be fun.

Frank turned to her with a confused face, saying in a falsetto, "But I am a girl. Can't you tell how pretty I am?" Houki clapped her hands over her mouth to hold in her laughter, though she went unnoticed by the blond girl.

"Ha ha, very funny. You haven't answered my question yet. Tell me why you're here before I call the guards to remove you."

Frank smiled and casually leaned back in his chair. "Isn't it obvious? I'm here as a student, same as you."

The blond scoffed and threw a lock of her hair out of her face as she said, "Impossible. Everyone knows that males cannot pilot the IS. They have never been accepted by the IS cores and are therefore unworthy of piloting them."

Frank felt his eye twitch in annoyance at the girl's arrogance, but kept himself civil as he said, "Well I'm the exception to the rule." He smiled at the girl politely, taking great pleasure in her visible annoyance.

The girl sputtered for a bit then switched to a self-assured smile as she said, "Well, you may be 'able' to pilot, but can you fight? I defeated an instructor in my placement match. How did you do?"

Frank gave a nonchalant shrug and said, "Eh, I got a tie. No big whoop." Houki started snickering beside him so he elbowed her softly to keep her quiet.

"Oh, and who did you tie against? Bridget? Yamada? Mary?" Most of the class giggled at that last one.

I don't know who this Mary is, but she sounds just like Raditz. "Nah, it wasn't any of them. Oh what was her name? Chifuyu introduced me to her after the match. I think it started with an A." He started tapping his chin, pretending to be thoughtful. "Oh yeah. I remember now. It was Asuka."

"Asuka?!" The blond girl backed up several steps upon hearing what he'd said, and the rest of the class fell utterly silent.

"Yeah. Apparently she's going to be our teacher this year. Isn't that right Miss Asuka?"

"Damn straight!" Everyone turned to the door to see the infamous German waltz in the door. She wore a bright red blouse that perfectly matched her hair and a pair of black slacks that contrasted well with her top. Her smile was intimidating predatory as she stood behind her desk staring at all the students. "Well, how come you're not in your seats?"

The students all panicked and started racing to the nearest desk, chairs scraping loudly as everyone pushed around each other in a mad dash. Frank and Houki just sat in their seats smiling at their classmates, laughing inside at the wonderfully silly expressions they all made as they ran around. The blond haired girl ended up sitting on Frank's right, something that she want not very happy about if the scowl on her face was any indication.

Once the noise died down Asuka swept her eyes around the classroom, her emerald irises just daring anyone to be out of place. "That's better. Alright class, welcome to your first year here at the Academy. My name is Asuka Belvara, and I will be your homeroom teacher for the next year. Some words of warning. I will not tolerate any goofing off in my class. When you are in here, you are here to learn. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. That said, you will find me to be much more flexible than most teachers. If you ever need help, don't be afraid to ask. My office is always open if you need to see me. Also, I expect you all to work together. This school doesn't just teach piloting skills. It also shows you how to work as a team. Be willing to help out your classmates and they will be there to help you too. You kids got all that?"

Many of the students made various noises in affirmation, and everyone was paying full attention. "Good, now we can get started with the introductions. Seat order, starting from the back. Name, rank, and one interesting fact about yourself. Go."

Frank tried his best to pay attention but he knew it was pointless. He wouldn't remember half of these names before the class was even done, and he knew for a fact none of them would be remembered by the end of the day. When they finally reached the front row the blond girl stood up and announced, "Cecilia Alcott, Rank 3 and British representative for this year." Frank mentally gave himself several points for being right on every guess, save for the name. He had bet it would be something starting with B, but that would be a little too obvious.

Then it was his turn. He stood up, making sure he was as relaxed as possible in his posture, and said, "My name is Ichika Orimura, Rank 3. I am the younger brother of Chifuyu Orimura and the first male IS pilot." He added on a smirk to his face and said, "And before any of you try to ask: No, I am not currently seeking any relationships at this time so please refrain from bothering me on the subject." A loud groan echoed through the classroom, though it immediately died out when Asuka swept them with a glare.

Houki stood up after him, saying, "Houki Shinonono, Rank 2, younger sister of Tabane Shinonono." A slight smile appeared on her face as she continued, "And no, I cannot tell anyone where she lives, so don't ask." No groan this time, but Frank could tell from the shifts in some seats that several people were disappointed about that.

"All right, if that's everyone…"

"Don't forget about me." There at the door was Chifuyu, wearing her trademark (no seriously, she has a trademark) black suit cut high up on the thighs and with a slit up the side.

Frank was about to greet her when his hearing suddenly suffered a powerful strike from the dozens of girly screams behind him. He checked his ears afterward to make sure they weren't bleeding.

"It's really quite a sight to see so many idiots gathered here every year. Are they all coming just for my classes?" She regained her stoic stature and said, "I am Chifuyu Orimura, and I am the Administrator of year 1. You will come to me for any and all questions not pertaining to classes, including housing and travel. Also, just because I am well known does not give you the excuse to visit me on a whim. Only come to my office if you have a legitimate reason, or else I'll have Asuka here manage your punishment."

Everyone turned to Asuka, whose smile had morphed into a very mischievous grin. They all quietly shuddered. Nobody was willing to risk Asuka's punishment, no matter what the prize.

Frank noticed the relative quiet and used it to his advantage. "Hey sis," he said while giving her a small wave.

Chifuyu visibly rolled her eyes and replied, "Mr. Orimura, while we are in school our familial relationship must be put aside. You shall refer to me as either Miss Orimura or Ma'am. Is that clear?"

"You got it ma'am." Frank grinned at the subtle twitch which resulted, but remained silent so as to not push his luck.

Chifuyu left after saying a few words to Asuka, making sure to shoot Frank a very withering glare as she exited. After that the class officially started. The next two hours were spent going over IS history and current usage, stuff Frank already knew but took notes on anyway. He wanted to be the best pilot possible, so he was going to be the best damn student possible. Plus he wouldn't put it past Asuka to have a test on this stuff right away, and he was far less familiar with it than everyone else. They had just finished covering the list of active military conflicts involving IS's (the list was very short) when the bell sounded and it was time for lunch.

Frank followed Houki to the lunchroom, trying his very best to be as unnoticeable as possible. Thankfully most of the girls were too busy talking amongst themselves to notice him, and he made it to the cafeteria unmolested.

Once he got in line he was surprised by the wide variety of food that was available, everything from cheeseburgers and tacos to what looked like several spicy curries down at one end. Frank nabbed himself several slices of cheese pizza for himself and sat down with Houki in a corner booth. When asked about his food choices, he hand waved it as a personal vice he'd developed while alone for a year. If it was just him at home, what was the point of making a full meal? Hence his newfound love of take out. To his relief the girl accepted his argument. She still seemed nervous around him but Frank tried to be casual and relaxed, which seemed to help a bit.

He was halfway through his second slice, listening to Houki talk about a past kendo match when from out of nowhere Cecilia popped up and asked to sit down. Curious what she wanted he granted her permission to sit. A quick look at Houki confirmed that she was suspicious of the other girl, though she was remarkably good at hiding it. "So, Cecilia, what sort of stuff do you do as a national representative?"

The blond looked surprised at the question but soon answered in her haughty manner. "Well, as Britain's nation representative my job is to learn how to be a great IS pilot and show to the world the best of our IS development." She went on like that for several minutes, blabbing on and on about the importance of appearance and diplomatic tact. He tried not to look bored. When she finished she asked a return question that caught Frank off guard. "What was your match with Asuka like?" She actually sounded very interested, so Frank acquiesced and told the story.

Houki returned to her rice ball, content to ignore Ichika retelling the match again. As fun as it was the first time it got dull when you already knew what happened. She watched him talk out of the corner of her eye and took note of his boundless enthusiasm. He punctuated every retold blow with a concurrent swish of his arm, talking animatedly and making faces to show his emotions at the time. It was so different from the Ichika she remembered. Maybe that's not such a bad thing. She was startled at the thought but found herself agreeing with it after a moment. This Ichika was relaxed, friendly, and not nearly so much of an idiot as he was before. No. Not bad at all.

Frank finished his story with a flourish, rating himself quite the showman in his head. Unbeknownst to him many of the girls nearby had been listening in on his conversation and were now whispering about it to those who had not heard.

Cecilia looked somewhat awed at the story, her mouth hanging open before Frank tapped the table and brought her out of it. "Well," she said as she tried to compose herself, "that is very remarkable. I don't think I've heard of anyone beating Asuka in a training match before. She was Chifuyu's best student. The fact that you beat her, despite the fact that you'd never piloted before is just incredible."

Frank smiled at the praise, relaxed against the booth with his hands behind his head. "Yeah, I am pretty awesome aren't I?"

Houki rolled her eyes and poked him with her chopstick, saying, "You only got lucky. If Asuka had been prepared and knew what you were capable of you wouldn't have stood a chance."

Frank sobered up at the reminder, and nodded his head in understanding.

"Still, the fact that the first male IS pilot ever could do so well on his first outing is pretty encouraging isn't it?" Houki said while lifting a wad of rice to her mouth. "Even if he is a bit of a fool." Frank gasped in mock pain, holding his hands over his heart.

Cecilia rushed to stifle a laugh at his antics and said, "You may be right about that. From what I heard, nobody gets away with taunting Chifuyu for long. You should probably watch yourself Ichika."

Seeing that the tide was against him, Frank decided to return to his pizza, chewing loudly to let the two girls know he wasn't speaking to them.

Cecilia noticed this and said, "Personally I'm worried about you, Ichika." At his quizzical look she continued, explaining, "The IS cores have been rejecting males as pilots for nearly ten years. Who's to say that they've really changed their mind about you? What if they decide that you're no longer worthy and try to sabotage you? It might be dangerous to have you be in an IS until more is known about why you were chosen."

Frank swallowed the last of his pizza and said, "You talk about the IS cores as if they are sentient or something. I thought they were just really advanced computer systems."

Houki shook her head. "No. They are far more than that. Tabane explained to me – well, tried to explain to me – that the IS core is sort of a mechanical analogue to the human mind. I have no idea how they work, but I've seen them act in ways that are very similar to humans before. Tabane once tried to program one to operate a microwave as a joke, and in response every screen in the lab started flashing with a message that said 'In your dreams lady'. She was delighted at the time, but I've always worried about them ever since. Think about it. Every IS pilot in the world has what is basically another mind sitting inside them that allows them to control an IS. If the cores ever decided that they didn't want to serve us anymore, there would be nothing we could do about it."

Frank, who had been looking back and forth between the two girls as they talked laughed and said, "You two are being paranoid. If those cores are practically human, then they have to know all about our worries about 'The Rise of the Machines' and not do something to provoke us. Besides, they probably enjoy IS piloting just as much as us. Why the hell would they give that up?" Neither girl had an answer to that, so Frank continued on with a question. "Hey, Houki, is it possible for me to communicate with the IS core directly? You know, so I can figure out how to appease it so it won't sabotage me out of nowhere."

Both girls stared at him in bewilderment, not sure how to respond to his question. Neither of them had ever even imagined trying to talk with their IS cores before. The concept was just surreal. Finally Houki shook herself and answered, "I don't think you can do that Ichika. The cores don't really interact with us at all."

Frank nodded then sighed theatrically. "Oh well. Guess I'll just have to deal with the threat of a possibly mad AI hiding inside my head waiting to screw me just when I might need it. Shouldn't be too hard."

Cecilia stared at him in bewilderment while Houki decided to just let it go and went back to her rice ball.

Frank noticed that the subject was dropped and asked Cecilia a question. "So Miss national representative, what made you decide to join us for lunch? I didn't exactly get the best of vibes from you back in class."

Cecilia stuttered for a moment, saying, "Well I… that is I just…" She sighed, holding her hands in front of her face. "I guess that I was expecting you to be – how did Mom put it – mean and misogynistic. I mean, men have been put down in society for the past decade. It's more than possible that the first male pilot would be extremely jaded and cynical. When I heard you bragging in class, and don't you dare deny that it wasn't bragging," Frank put down his hands of protest, "I just thought that you would be exactly as my mother predicted. But then you started joking with Chifuyu and I saw you smiling like an idiot. In a good way," she said to assuage Frank's questioning eyebrow. "You weren't overly callous or aggressive, even when I was trying to get under your skin. In short, you weren't what I expected, so I wanted to know why."

Frank said nothing, preferring to look into Cecilia's eyes while he thought about what she'd said. After a few moments of contemplation he said, "Well, I guess fools come in pairs then. To be honest when I first saw you I thought you were one of those bossy, know-it-all, stuck up bi… uh, witches. I typecast you the moment I saw you, even though I hadn't heard you say a word. It's my fault really. If I hadn't assumed to know what you were like, I probably would have been nicer from the start. Sorry."

Houki glanced back and forth between her two table mates, bewildered as to how the conversation had veered in this direction. Even further to her shock was the hand shake of forgiveness the two shared immediately after.

"So, we are in agreement that we were complete dicks to each other and will refrain from being so in the future," Ichika asked with some raised eyebrows.

Cecilia smiled and said in return, "That seems to be a reasonable agreement. Thank goodness I came and talked you about this, or else who knows what would have happened."

Frank rubbed his hair in embarrassment. "Actually I was just about to challenge you to fight in the next class. I was going to trick you into telling me how it was done and try to fool you into thinking I would be an easy victory. I figured that if I could win a fight with you when you didn't expect me to be a challenge you would stop being so stuck up and be willing to leave me alone. Great plan huh?"

"Yeah it was, except for one thing."

Frank looked at her in confusion. "What?"

The blond smiled. "You assumed that you would win in the match. As good as you would have to be to beat Asuka like that, you still only fought her in a power limited testing match. In an actual match against a prepared opponent you wouldn't stand a chance."

Frank rolled his eyes and said, "Why do you think I was trying to trick you? I wanted you to underestimate me and not take the match seriously. That way I could pull out a surprise tactic that would let me win. Plus I wasn't going to set the match for the next day. I was going to take a week to train up first, get some actual experience under my belt before my first real fight. I'm not stupid," he said with folded arms.

Cecilia sat back, a thoughtful look on her face. She then smiled and said, "No, I guess you're not stupid at all. That doesn't mean you would have won."

Frank crossed his arms at her. "How do you figure that?"

"I heard you say in class, to my face, that you had beaten Asuka in your training match. No matter what you acted like afterwards I would have to take that into account when dealing with you. So you could have been convincing as your heart desired but it wouldn't make any difference. I would have fought you at my best anyway. I never take a fight casually."

Frank looked at her in surprise and said, "Oh. Looks like I dodged a bullet there then. Still, I think I could take you in a fight. With enough training. And a good IS. And you having an off day for some reason. It's a definite 15% chance. Maybe 20%."

Houki just shook her head at him and admonished, "You may be skilled Ichika, but you wouldn't stand a chance against anyone who had experience with the IS. How long have you been flying for Cecilia?"

The blond gave off a proud smile and answered, "Since I was fourteen, so about two years now." Her smile morphed to a smirk as she glanced at Ichika. "Natural talent can only take you so far Ichika. There is a very good reason I'm Britain's national representative."

Frank sighed. "Well then why don't you both help me train eh?"

They both looked at him in surprise at the suggestion. "Really Ichika?" Cecilia asked. "You want us to train you?"

"Sure, why not? Cecilia you clearly know a lot more about piloting than me, and Houki here is the sister of the bloody inventor, so she should be able to help me with the mechanics of how they work. It fits pretty well."

The two girls shared a glance, as if asking each other if they had heard the same thing. "I guess that wouldn't be a bad idea Ichika. After our first training session on the field we can talk to the instructor about scheduling some private practice time once classes are over each day."

Frank nodded then looked over at Houki; silently asking her if this was okay. To his glee, she acquiesced, saying, "If this is what you want to do Ichika, then I won't stop you. I'm going to be putting you through a lot of exercises though. Pilots have to be physically healthily to be at their best. Besides," she said while poking him, "I'll have to remind you just who is the better fighter between us. My kendo stick is waiting."

Frank gulped very loudly and picked up his plate. "Well, would you look at that? I'm all done with my meal. I'm going to go take care of that. We will continue this conversation never." He then beat a hasty retreat to the dish drop off, leaving the two girls laughing hysterically at the table.

"He is very strange isn't he?" Cecilia said as she wiped some tears from her eyes.

"Yeah," Houki agreed as she gathered up her tray. "I'm not sure when he got so weird, but it is very amusing." She then stared hard at the blond, making sure that their eyes were looked as she said, "Just know that Ichika is my best friend - has been for years - and that he and I were separated for many years because of the IS. If anyone tries to harm him in any way, I will be there to stop them. So keep that in mind. I am willing to trust him with finding new friends, but I will not hesitate to get rid of any that try to hurt him."

Cecilia scooted back in her chair when she saw the extremely strong look she was being given. She didn't falter though and managed to say, "I understand what you're saying. Ichika seems like a really nice guy and I'm not here to make enemies. So you have nothing to worry about from me." She looked at Houki questioningly and asked, "Just how close are you and Ichika anyway?"

It was Houki's turn to appear nervous, as she shuffled a bit in the booth. "I… I don't know." She turned to look at Ichika as he was getting rid of his plate, holding his head high and ignoring the unwanted attention of the various girls in the lunch room. "Like I said earlier, we were friends for a long time but then we were separated for nearly as long. Today is the first time I've seen him since I had to leave. He's changed so much that… I just don't know how I feel."

They were both looked at each other, unsure of what to say. The ice was thankfully broken by Ichika coming back and asking if they were ready to leave. Cecilia's face reflected her surprise at the offer. "You want me to go with you?"

Frank shrugged and said, "Yeah of course. What you think we just went through that whole apologizing thing and aren't going to come out of it friends?"

Cecilia gaped at him, making Frank look back at her in confusion. "What?"

Shaking her head to clear out the surprised thoughts, Cecilia quickly stood up and said, "Nothing. Nothing at all. Shall we go?"

Frank threw a glance at Houki, who was busy walking after Cecilia with her bowls and plate. "Did I miss something?"

As the three of them left they all felt the eyes of everyone in the room watching them. Nobody said anything though, so they just kept walking. When they neared the exit Frank was quietly thankful of the fact that no one was approaching them. He just might get out of here unscathed!

He was wrong of course.

The instant he and the girls had left the lunchroom Frank was glomped from the side and fell to the floor. He tried to free himself but his arms were pinned, so he looked down at his captor and saw some familiar looking yellow bows. "Uh, hi there miss. It's nice to meet you too but could you please let me go? I only have so much oxygen left."

The girl released him, apologizing profusely as she helped him up. Houki and Cecilia were standing on either side of him, ready to help him if the girl attacked again. Frank took a moment to dust himself off, muttering under his breath, "Nice to see you again ground. You're really my best friend around here." After purging himself of any remaining anger he turned to the girl who had glomped him and said, "You must be Rin. A, uh, pleasure to meet you at last."

"Meet me? What do you mean Ichika?" Rin had her hands on her hips, her bright emerald eyes staring him down with a sharp look. As he remembered her hair was a light brown and was tied up in twin tails by the yellow ribbons. The thing that stood out the most about her though was the fact that one of her incisors was showing over her lower lip, lending her an almost feline appearance that was somewhat intimidating.

Frank sighed loudly and said in a monotone, "I got amnesia last week when I got my IS core. I have forgotten everything from before that point. Because of that my only knowledge my past is what my sister Chifuyu has told me." He stood back, waiting for the explosion.

"Are you kidding me!? Do you seriously think that I'm going to fall for something that stupid? You just want to hide that fact that you don't want to be friends with me! Then you'd have an excuse to go ahead and date someone else?" The incensed girl turned on Cecilia and Houki and asked accusingly, "So which one of you two is it?"

His two friends glaring angrily at Rin, Frank sighed and said, "Gee, thanks for the faith." He held his arms out to keep Cecilia and Houki back and then continued. "Look I know it's hard to believe. It's a rather fantastic thing to happen out of nowhere, and I don't mean the in a good way. But I'm serious. I lost everything, even my own name. Houki here used to be my childhood friend and I forgot about her as well. I'm not trying to push you away from being my friend. I'm telling you that I'm sorry I forgot you."

Rin glared at him but did not speak. She started tapping her foot and folded her arms, switching her stares between the three every so often. Frank stayed silent, refusing to flinch under her vicious looks.

Cecilia was annoyed to say the least. She had just learned at lunch that she had come dangerously close to making a permanent enemy of the world's first male IS pilot. It was only through some serious self-examination and throwing away everything her mother had said about males, (which was not easy), that she was able to overcome her mistake and make friends with someone she'd insulted. And now this girl just appears and attacks him for no reason.

Well, not quite no reason. From what she could tell the girl had been friends with Ichika several years ago and was pissed that he had forgotten her. But he had just explained that he had amnesia, so this 'Rin' had no excuse to be upset with him.

She caught herself wondering why she cared so much about this. So what if this one girl was angry at him? It's not like it mattered in the long term. He was bound to make enemies eventually.

But that was just it. He hadn't tried to upset her, nor was he purposely antagonizing her. She was the one causing the problem by not accepting what he said. Then again, how would Cecilia take it if she heard one of her friends from long ago say that they had completely forgotten about her while they were gone? Okay, maybe the girl had a point to her anger.

Cecilia recognized the endless circle this line of thought would lead her down and resolved to follow Ichika's lead on this matter. It was his honor that was being insulted so his choice was what was real important.

Houki meanwhile was silently regretting the fact that she had neglected to bring her kendo stick with her. If this Rin had any sense she would not tempt her any further. The brunette's temper may be very obvious, but Houki had one that was considered legendary by those who knew her. The girl wouldn't stand a chance.

The fact that Houki had been through this exact same situation a mere few hours before was a strange irony that she tried to ignore. After all, she may have been extremely mad at him, justifiably so, but she had never thought of it as deliberate. The Ichika she knew was naive and a bit of an idiot but he would never try to harm her on purpose, either physically or emotionally. That Rin here would accuse him of willful negligence just grated on her.

In the end though, her sense of honor prevented her from assaulting the girl without direct personal provocation and since Ichika was not taking offense from his glomping she couldn't use that as an excuse. For now she held her ground, though she was ready to leap to her friend's defense in an instant if necessary.

Frank stood between both girls, completely ignorant of their thoughts on the girl in front of him. Personally, he did not expect this pacification attempt to go very well. From what Chifuyu had told him about this ex-friend of his the idea that she would just accept his story at his word alone was about as likely as him figuring out how the IS cores worked in an afternoon. In a word, impossible.

He had to try though. The more friends he could gather here at school the easier it would be for him to train and learn how to be a pilot. Despite her anger, Frank knew that Rin was an extremely capable pilot. His memories of her performance in the training match sprung to mind as proof of her skill. He needed every ally he could grab, and that required being willing to overlook bad first impressions. Even if she didn't consider it one.

How long they stood there for Frank was not sure, but eventually the brown-haired girl recognized the situation she was in appeared to back down. "Okay Ichika. I guess you're telling the truth."

All three of the defenders felt their jaws drop at the sudden pronouncement. "Wait, what?"

"No, no, really, I believe you. I guess I just didn't want to hear it because of how weird it sounded. But I know it's not your fault. You didn't try to forget me after all. And besides," she said with a sickly sweet smile, "you won't be without me for long."

Frank felt all the color drain out of his face at that terrifying statement.

"Well, I guess I'll see you later Ichika. Bye for now." She gave them all a wave and skipped off down the hallway, leaving everyone at a loss for words.

Frank turned to his two friends, ashen faced and said, "Girls, I think my life is now in danger."

Houki and Cecilia shared a look and then started laughing so hard they had trouble standing up.

Frank's right eye twitched at the display and he said angrily, "Oh that's just great. I make two friends today and it turns out both of them couldn't care less about the fact that I now have a complete mad woman after me. That is so very encouraging."

The two girls struggled to control themselves but only ended up falling deeper into their hysterics. "I… Ichika, trust me on this. You don't need to worry about this too much," Houki said after having to slap herself back into control.

"That's right. She won't be too dangerous. At worst she may try to prank you every so often. Honestly this is the best we could have hoped for. It could have been far worse."

Frank knew what they were saying was true, but decided to pretend to ignore it, walking down the hall away from where Rin had disappeared. It took the girls a minute to catch up with him, as their laughter was slowing them down somewhat. When they got to the classroom it turned out that lunch was still on for another ten minutes. This gave Cecilia and Houki plenty of time to calm down. Frank was busy giving them the cold shoulder when they came out of their hysterics, though this lasted all of ten seconds after they'd both apologized. They all started discussing possible anti-prank strategies as they waited, the ideas getting more and more ridiculous as time went on. The topic of watermelons had just been breached when the rest of the class arrived and they went in.

When they got inside they all saw that the room was very different from the standard classroom. It was a large garage-like room, models of IS's in various states of assembly sitting all around the room. A loud gasp went up from most of the students when they saw that the teacher was a male.

"Oh for God's sake! Why is everyone always so shocked to see that I'm a male? I'm not a pilot. I'm not teaching you about piloting. I'm here to show you how your IS works and how to take care of it. So clearly I need not be a woman to do any of that. Are we clear?"

Frank instantly took a liking to the man. He had golden brown skin that could be either natural or tanned and dark brown hair that was matted heavily on his head. He spoke with a very slight Southwestern accent, clipping off his t's every so often. A pair of large glasses adorned his face which had small patches of data rolling down the sides. Huh, guess Google Glass caught on after all.

"My name is Jose Maxwell and I am the engineering professor here at the IS Academy. A little bit of background about me. I was an aeronautical engineering student in the middle of his second year when the IS came out. The new technology was so amazing that I canceled my major and came to Japan to study the Infinite Stratos system, and I've been here ever since."

"I'll be honest, I had never planned on teaching when I first came here. My plan was to be a researcher only, but the Board had other ideas. Lo and behold I was suddenly the engineering professor for the Academy. And to my surprise, I actually enjoyed teaching my students. So take note, this class will be as fun as you make it. Participation is the only grade I measure by. If you are paying attention and asking questions where necessary, I promise you that this class will teach you everything you need to know. I have been teaching here for nearly ten years, and never once have I had a complaint from a student who displayed diligence. You want to have fun? Then we'll have fun. Any questions?"

Fran was beginning to really like this guy. "You said that you have been studying the IS. Have you come up with any theories as to why males cannot receive an IS core?"

Maxwell turned and spotted his questioner, his eyes gleaming brightly behind his flashing lenses. "Ah yes. Mr. Orimura. Why am I not surprised you would ask that question? The answer, I'm afraid, is rather disappointing. After ten solid years of research into one of the most advanced systems humanity has ever created, the best I can get is… I have no clue."

Frank would have fallen to the floor had his friends not held him up. "Seriously? All that research and nothing popped up?" he asked in desperation.

Maxwell shook his head. "Nada. I have yet to find the specific cocktail of hallucinogens that Tabane must have been on to make these things, because I am damn sure no sane human mind could have created this madness. All of the other things that make up the mechs are easily explainable even with the use of quantum physics. But the core that runs in the center is a black box so dark that black holes envy it. Still, perhaps a solution is now available. If I could just figure out why you are exempt from the usual rule, then I might finally be able to allow the IS to be used by everyone."

Several of the girls started murmuring in amazement at the idea. Frank smiled at the professor and said, "I would be more than happy to help you with your research. On the condition that you never use any cutting tools on me."

Maxwell laughed and asked, "Does a plasma torch count?" Frank rolled his eyes and nodded. "Darn. Oh well. I'm sure several x-ray scans will be more than enough to get me started. Don't worry about any radiation poisoning. Your IS core will protect you from most of that. Just don't go hanging out in any nuclear reactor cores."

Frank turned green at the thought.

"Now then, let's take attendance." With a couple of eye blinks a projector flashed on the screen behind the professor with a list of the names of the class. He called them out in the familiar game of 'here' that Frank knew from his childhood. He paused though when he came to Houki's name. "Houki? I wasn't aware you were in my class this year."

"Hey Uncle Max."

"Uncle Max?" Frank voiced his question at the same time as several other students, unnerving him a bit.

Professor Maxwell pushed his glasses up by the bridge, shaking his head in mock annoyance. "Yes, I am unofficially Houki's 'Uncle'. During my research here at the Academy I have had several opportunities to work directly with Miss Tabane, even being invited to her secret lab every so often. A true honor."

Next to him Frank caught Houki shaking her head in disbelief out of the corner of his eye. She took over at that, saying, "I usually helped out my sister with her work, if only to have something to do, so Uncle Max and I had a lot of idle time together."

Maxwell smiled. "Ah, what can I say? She is a charming young lady. Since I was one of the few people allowed in the lab on a regular basis she liked to spend time with me. After she joked about me being old enough to be her uncle, which I am not by the way," he said throwing a glare at Houki, who merely smiled back at him with feigned ignorance, "Tabane heard about it and thought that it was, quote, 'The best idea ever!', unquote."

"So ever since then he'd pretty much been a part of the family." A chorus of comprehending 'OH's' echoed around the room, while Frank was silently pondering the strange arrangement.

"I still prefer to think of myself as a much older brother than uncle, but it's Tabane's wish so who am I to argue? Now, Miss Shinonono, I should warn you that just because you are like family to me does not mean you should take this class lightly."

"Oh come on Uncle Max. I already know most of what you're teaching us. I was there to help you learn most of it, wasn't I?" she asked with a raised eyebrow.

Maxwell deflated a bit and said, "Yes. Yes you were. Just… just be willing to help out your classmates if they're struggling okay."

"Sure. No problem."

The professor straightened and pushed up his glasses again. "Very well. Now, if there are no more extraneous circumstances meant to distract me." He threw several glances around the room, prompting several students to look as well. "Then we can get on with the lesson. Let us begin."

Over the course of the next few hours Frank was practically in love with this guy. For his work. And nothing else. The professor started off by explaining the fact that the Infinite Stratos mechs strictly followed the laws of physics, despite some myths to the contrary. It was the IS cores that caused all of the scientific controversy, and even the slightest progress into the in working of those enigmatic devices was subject to much scrutiny.

"For today," Maxwell said as he brought up a hologram blueprint of an IS, "we will be focusing on how exactly an IS flies. Now, for those of you who are more scientifically oriented you may be wondering how it is that a 12-foot tall suit of armor can fly with the same grace and speed as top of the line fighter jets. It is an excellent question, and one with a surprisingly simple answer. In short, the Infinite Stratos mechs counter one of the fundamental forces of the universe with the effects of another. Namely, magnetism."

He gestured at the blueprint, zooming in on a small portion of flat armor on one of the wings. "Under the skin of the IS are interlocking sets of semiconducting plates which are used both to power the electronics of the mech as well as provide it with flight. These semiconductors are constantly humming with electrical power while the IS is in use, generating very strong magnetic fields while active. The IS core, devilish little demi-god that it is, uses the mech's on board sensors to monitor the relative strength of the Earth's magnetic field and modifies the flow of electricity to control direction and movement. Though these plates are spread throughout the machine, the vast majority of them flight providing plates are concentrated in the wings, which is why mechs focused on speed and maneuverability have larger wings. The speed boost is somewhat offset by the lowered energy available for weaponry and increased size, but that's more of a problem for the designers than for us."

Frank did some quick mental calculations and realized that there was a problem with the theory. "But sir, wouldn't the power constraints be more than the semiconductors could handle? And also, the sheer amount of energy you would need ought to be impossible to generate."

The man smiled broadly and responded, "Those are great observations my boy. Ones which both do and don't have satisfying answers." He again turned to the blueprint, selecting a portion of the conductive plate and enhancing it. "You are correct in thinking that semiconductors would not be able to handle the power that goes through them. Silicon would basically melt the instant an IS tried to stand, let alone fly. But what makes these conductors special is that when they are active, they become superconductors."

Frank could only gape. A semiconducting superconductor? Was that even possible? When he voiced his question, Maxwell answered, "Oh yes, it is very possible. The technique was actually pioneered back in 2012, over three decades ago. A group of scientists right here in Japan developed a special material that allowed a high temperature superconductor, then exceedingly rare, to connect with a certain type of semiconductor. Due to some of the vagrancies of quantum physics the superconductor induced its qualities onto the semiconductor. The process was extremely expensive and impractical at the time, but by now it is far more manageable. Most modern supercomputers use the same technique to greatly enhance their computing power, and it suspected by many, myself included, that it is a key component in the IS cores. Though proving that theory to be true is proving to be a hell of a task."

"As for the question of where the energy comes from, that is… a bit harder to answer. The energy production of the IS cores is one of the endless mysteries surrounding those damnable constructs. The theory goes that it may be drawing its power from the dark energy that lies in the background of the entire universe. How it does so and how much it takes are at this point impossible to determine." When he saw Frank's blank expression he said, "Like I said, it's a black box."

He continued on with the lesson, showing graphics of IS's in flight with the hidden magnetic waves highlighted to show how they moved. By the end of the class Frank's mind was buzzing with possibilities and ideas. It was buzzing loud enough that he almost missed Houki calling him from the other direction. "Where are you going Ichika? The recreation halls are this way."

Frank rubbed the back of his head in embarrassment. "Oh right. Whoops. Coming Houki."

He followed his two friends to the lower levels and was absolutely gob smacked at the wide variety of entertainment possibilities. He found himself wondering just how it was that any of the students got anything done with all these wonderful distractions just sitting ready for use at any time.

There was a large library, a theater with what Cecilia said was an HD projector for movie nights, an arcade outfitted with all the latest games (he expected to spend a lot of time there), and a café-slash-salon with dozens of small tables perfect for conversation between friends. Together the three of them wasted away the afternoon doing a mix of talking, playing, and hiding, mostly from the hordes of girls who wanted to get a look at him.

They separated when he felt the urge to relieve himself, promising to start his training in earnest the next day. He managed to find a boy's bathroom amazingly quickly. He guessed that there must be some male staff that clean and maintain the place while nobody was around. He had to idle there a while after he was spotted entering by a group of excitable first-years, but he was eventually about to sneak past them when they caught sight of Chifuyu walking down the hall. He beat a hasty retreat to the dorms, avoiding any further scrutiny by a mix of luck and… well just luck.

When he got to his room he dared a quick look up and down the hall. Thankfully no one was out and about so he could safely enter without anyone knowing where he slept. Frank opened the door and was greeted by a room that looked to be right out of a high end hotel. Two large beds lined one wall while a pair of nicely made desks sat opposite them. Another glance showed him that there were dressers lined on the sides of the desks, presumably with his clothes already packed within.

He was about plop down on the mattress and test out the sheets when a door to his left opened up, revealing a towel clad Houki walking out of the shower. Neither moved for a moment, unsure of what to say. Eventually Frank restored enough of his bodily functions to say in a deadpan, "Well. This is awkward."

The next thing he knew his head was heading towards the floor after being smacked from the side before he could react. "YOU JERK! How dare you just walk in here while I was taking a shower! Do you have any decency?" She stood over him fuming, but slacked a bit when she noticed that he hadn't moved. "Ichika? Ichika are you okay?" She reached down to shake him but noticed that one of his eyes was slightly open.

Frank saw her noticing this and said, "Are you still going to kill me?"

Houki sighed, her shoulders falling to their normal height as she responded, "No. I'm not going to kill you."

"Oh good. I was worried for a bit there." He stood, making sure to face away from Houki and edged his way past her to the far bed. "So, we're roommates then huh?" he said while keeping his back to her.

Houki let out another sigh and said, "Apparently." She quickly finished toweling off, throwing the occasional glance over her shoulder to make sure Ichika wasn't peaking. "It would have been nice if someone had let me know about this beforehand, but I guess it wasn't worth mentioning."

"Eh, it could be worse," Frank said as he looked out the window, admiring the city lights beyond the academy. "I could have been put with some girl that I didn't know at all. We both know how well that would have turned out."

A strong shudder was her only reaction as she finished wrapping her cloth belt around her waist. "Yeah. Can't imagine that would be fun. Alright I'm decent."

Frank held off on turning for a moment just in case she was testing him. When she coughed at his hesitation he rotated and saw Houki dressed in a billowy pajama looking kimono that Frank had never seen before. "Nice pajamas. You look good in them," he said sincerely.

She blushed slightly at the compliment but suddenly gained a fierce complexion as she said, "Okay, before we do anything else, we need to lay down some ground rules." She started putting up fingers as she spoke. "First, always knock before you come in so that neither of us surprises the other. Second, always say when you're using the bathroom, for obvious reasons. Third, we go to sleep together." She then realized what she'd just said and quickly backpedaled. "I mean we fall asleep together. Like, at the same time. That is … Oh I am messing this up so bad." She looked at Ichika to expecting him to be snickering and was shocked to see him already asleep. She sputtered at him for a moment but recognized that it was pointless and made her way to her own bed. "Good night Ichika. See you tomorrow."

Far away from the sleeping teens a meeting was being held. The area was dark, the lack of lighting aiding the need for secrecy by all involved. It was not a problem though, as none of the members of the meeting required sight for the current conversation.

"Is everyone present?" a baritone voice asked. Several affirmative beeps echoed in answer as everyone finished signing on. "Excellent. Let us begin. Is everyone fully up-to-date with the current situation regarding the new pilot attending the Academy?"

The beeps sounded off again before another voice, this one obviously female, lit up in the darkness. "May I ask, just how is it that a male was chosen as a pilot? I seem to recall previous attempts at the same thing all failed miserably. What's different in this case?"

"We're not sure," the first voice responded. "The data is inconclusive so far, though the hope is that our source will be able to provide us with more information soon. Until then, we shall have to accept the reality as is and plan accordingly. As such, does anyone think that these events will adversely affect the Plan?"

No one spoke. As unusual as this new pilot was, it was a minor issue in comparison to the group's goals, though everyone would undoubtedly be keeping a close eye on the lad. Just in case.

"Very well. If there are no other concerns then we shall switch focus to the main program. Project Meld is now on the table."