The Orimura household got new next-door neighbors. They were a pair of foreign man a little older than Chifuyu. One had a medium-length blonde hair and the other had short spiky brown hair. Of course, two men living together without any girls would raise questions. None of the other neighbors asked the million dollar question, though, since it would be considered rude to ask them in front of their face. In fact, they rarely interacted with the neighbors. Ichika assumed that maybe both of them wasn't well-versed in Japanese language and thus trying to avoid talking to others.
But somehow Ichika was standing in front of the front gate of his new neighbor.
It was not his fault, really! He was playing catch together with his friends but he threw it a little too strong and it ended up inside the new neighbor's yard.
So he tried to into the attention of the resident. He tried shouting loudly with an English word he learned in school.
The front door opened and the brown-haired one came out. "Yes? Can I help you?" he asked in completely fluent Japanese.
"U-Um, my ball went inside your yard. Can I take it?"
The man then exited the house and opened the gate, letting Ichika inside, "Sure."
After he collected the ball, he bowed to the man, "Thank you!"
"Don't mention it, kiddo,"
"What?" he went to enter his house, but he turned back as he heard Ichika muttering.
"Are you gay?"
Let it be known that Ichika wasn't wise.
Asking the question that people considered rude since he had the chance was foolish, though.
The man frowned and Ichika gulped. Damn mouth, would he be angry and lash out? Then the man started to laugh.
"Oh my god, that was a blast, hahahaha me? gay? Hahahahaha… Oh, wait! It's because I'm here with Quenser, isn't it? QUENSEEEEERRRRR!" the man ran inside and in seconds, he dragged the other resident out.
"What the fuck, Heivia? I'm in the middle of learning the new hotness Infinite Stratos! Don't drag me out! You know it's my study time!" The blonde man which Ichika now knew was named Quenser complained to the brown man which name was Heivia. They sure were foreigners, but their Japanese was good.
"This kiddo here," Heivia pointed at him, and now Ichika became the target of Quenser's angry glare. "Thinks that we're gay couples."
That angry glare slowly but surely changed into amusement as the blonde also laughed. "Bahahahahaha! Who the hell want to sleep with this annoying bastard? Hell no, I'm still searching for a girlfriend, kid."
"And yet all you're doing is learning about those IS machines. Why don't you make it your girlfriend?" Heivia retorted with a snort.
"Shut up, you shitty noble! We commoner doesn't have the same privilege as you to be arranged into marriage with a cute girl!" Quenser struck back at Heivia.
"Don't you bring my love life into yours, you tech-fetishist!"
"I don't have tech fetish!"
"The past two weeks says otherwise!"
Ichika just looked at the two of them bickering, not knowing what to do. And it didn't stop, at least, until Heivia remembered that there was a little kid.
"Oh damn! Quenser! We spewed so many swear words!"
You just realized that now? Ichika's mind retorted. He didn't say anything though.
"From what I heard from other neighbors his big sister is one scary girl! To put it into words, she's like an even stricter Frolaytia!"
Both of them had horrified expression as they looked at him. ""Kiddo!"" Both of them shouted as they jumped at him. In reflex that has been trained by his big sister, Ichika with away.
Also, he didn't know his sister had that kind of reputation around here.
"Please don't blab to your sister!"
"We'll owe you!"
He didn't exactly understand why but he nodded anyway. Their expression turned into smiles as they stood up.
"So kid, what's your name?"
"Orimura Ichika," he answered.
"Mine's Quenser Barbotage. And this idiot here is Heivia Winchell. It's nice to meet you."
"Yeah! Can I go back to my friends now?"
"Sure," Heivia nodded.
And Ichika went back to his friends as he waved at the two foreigners.
Later that night, Ichika let out some words he learned today. His sister froze and demanded to know where he learned it. Not wanting to incur his sister's wrath, Ichika pointed at his two neighbors.
The next day, Heivia and Quenser both had too many bandages on their face when he greeted them as Heivia muttered something about 'no debt between us'.
As time goes by, Ichika got to know his two neighbors. Quenser once was a student turned low-ranked soldier in France, his birth country while Heivia was from a high-class family but want to prove himself in the military. For some reason that they didn't divulge, they came to Japan and since they knew each other from their military days, they decided to save money and live together.
Quenser was also as Heivia put it 'tech-fetishist'. Seriously, having come inside his room, Ichika couldn't describe Quenser with any other words than that. Of course, he didn't understand the word at first but the time spent flipping dictionary helped.
His room was littered with so much metal junk and cables that Ichika didn't recognize. Quenser took his time explaining each one when Ichika asked, and the curiosity made Ichika also interested in engineering. So, when Ichika asked Quenser to teach him about engineering, he complied and began teaching him what he knew.
Heivia himself was the 'more sane one' between the two as he said it and since he had been a soldier, he taught Ichika what he knew about firearms and being a radar analyst which was his old job. (Though he always heard Heivia complained about being sent into the front lines, something he didn't understand since there was no war going on after the Alaskan Treaty).
Since Quenser was interested in Infinite Stratos specifically, Ichika of course also learned about it, though since Quenser didn't have much knowledge other than what he could get from the internet, they ended up didn't learn much. His tutelage under Quenser focused more on the ins and outs of many modern machines and how to theoretically create them, repair them, and dismantle them.
His sister looked after his tutelage when she had the time, since as she said she didn't want Ichika to 'be as uncouth as them'. Though, after several times, she was confident in leaving him in their care.
All in all, Ichika's life was good.
And then it happened.
It was such a fine day and Quenser-sensei had said that he would teach him something new, but then he felt a hand restraining his arms from behind and a white cloth being shoved into his face before he fell unconscious.
When he regained consciousness, he found himself seeing darkness, his mouth gagged, and his arm restrained on his back. He concluded that he was kidnapped as he tried to remember what Quenser-sensei taught him.
[i]"Ichika-kun, do you know about the hostage situation?" Quenser asked him.
"No, I don't, Sensei. Why?"
"It's a situation where somebody is taken hostage to force the one in power to comply with the taker's whim in return of the hostage. In other words, a ransom," Quenser explained. "Once, my eighteen years old superior officer got threatened with a call that said her nine years old child has been taken."
Ichika gave Quenser an incredulous expression. "Ridiculous, I know. The kidnapper got the wrong number and called her personal number instead. Though we didn't let the news that our single commander got a child lightly."
"So what happened next?" Ichika asked in curiosity, but his face still held the incredulous expression.
"She was so pissed she ordered the entire battalion to rescue the kid. Heivia and I ended up uncovering some kinds of conspiracy."
"I don't even know if you're joking or serious, Sensei."
"Point is, I want to tell you what to do in a hostage situation, especially if you're the hostage," Quenser began. "The most important one is to judge your worth in the target's eyes. How likely is the target to comply? If the chances are high, then don't do anything. Wait for someone to release you or rescue you. If the chances are small, try to create chaos amidst the taker's place and run away."[/i]
That was it. He was taken by some mysterious group, placed into a dark room with gagged mouth and restrained arm. No one bothered him for information, thus this was no interrogation capture tactics. So why would someone kidnap him? He was Orimura Ichika, no one important… ah, so that was it.
Today was the final of the second Mondo Grosso, a competition of IS that his sister excelled, she even won the first one and smoothly went into the final of the second one, which was today. Somebody didn't want his sister to win, maybe even calling her before the match about his condition, which would force her to concede.
The situation was clear. Her sister would comply with the demand or rescue him, both choices ensured his safety. He just had to wait and do nothing to agitate the kidnapper. He just had to do that.
Doing nothing and just wait for his eventual release or rescue would mean he sacrificed his sister!
Ichika began to struggle, trying to untie the knot on his arm. He scrubbed it against the floor, pulled it, and tried searching sharp edge on the dark, but all of them failed to cut the rope untied it.
He began to despair. What if his sister truly had to forfeit the match because of him? He didn't want that! Not just because he didn't want to feel responsible, he didn't want that because it would mean disappointing his Chifuyu-nee and that was unacceptable to him.
As he was about to cry, a sound of something being slammed was heard and blinding light showered his eyes.
"Oi oi, Ichika-kun, was that tears I see in your eyes? What? Are you crying because you're kidnapped? Do not fear, because the great Heivia-sama is here to save the day!"
He was here.
Heivia was here.
With a rifle on his hand, Heivia bombarded his left side with bullets before he went into the room and cut the rope restraining his arm and removed the gag from his mouth.
"Heivia-san!" Ichika shouted in joy.
"Calm down, kiddo. Now let's get out of here."
And they got out safely.
Turned out both Heivia and Quenser was the only people rescuing him and that was because of the beacon for a signal that Quenser put on his clothes. Also, he learned that the two of them demolished the entire group by themselves. Truly, ex-soldier was fearsome.
"What about Chifuyu-nee?" he asked in worry. "They kidnapped me because of Chifuyu-nee, weren't they?"
"Yup," Quenser confirmed. "You're the ransom that they used to try to block Chifuyu-san from winning the final match."
"She just completely destroyed her opponent instead, disregarding the threat. Damn woman to left things to us like that…" Heivia muttered the last part.
…That meant either she trusted them enough to go and save him, or she didn't care enough for him. He dreaded the latter but was not convinced of the former.
"How do you know she left me to you?"
"We called her. She just said 'I trust you' and left it at that. Damn woman."
"Speaking of, why were you crying, Ichika-kun? We certainly didn't teach you to cry from just being kidnapped," Heivia suddenly asked him.
"W-Well, I realize the situation I was in as soon as I opened my eyes. I tried to be calm and recall Quenser-sensei's advice on the hostage situation. The situation was clear, I was targeted because of Chifuyu-nee. So the safe things are just to wait until I got rescued or released since Chifuyu-nee cared for me. But I don't want to be more of a burden to Chifuyu-nee, to just wait until I got rescued or released? If that was enough then that means I am just another burden to her. I don't want that so I tried to release myself, but I can't do anything to remove my binding. I thought if Chifuyu-nee wanted to release me she would be forced to forfeit the match, I don't want that. I don't want to disappoint her anymore. But there was nothing that I can do so… so…" as he explained what was on his mind, tears began leaking from his eyes.
Without warning, he was embraced from behind. "Wha?"
"I'm sorry if you ever thought I was disappointed in you, Ichika…"
"I'm truly sorry, Ichika."
"Oi oi woman! Release him! You're pressing too hard!"
"Huh?" Chifuyu released Ichika in shock and Ichika let out a breath of relief.
"So…" Quenser began.
"What do you two want?"
"Eh? What?" Heivia asked in confusion.
"You two want compensation for saving Ichika, right? As long as it is something that I can grant, I will grant it," Chifuyu took a deep bow. "Thank you for saving my little brother, and being there for him when I wasn't."
"Err, it's okay, no need to bow like that. But hell yes!"
"Whoa! A favor from the champions of Mondo Grosso two times in a row!"
"Language!" Chifuyu growled and both of them instantly goes quiet. This woman certainly reminded them of their former commander.
"That's it!" Heivia shouted. "Call me Heivia-sama for the rest of the month and we'll call it even. With your general attitude and mannerism, it wouldn't be hard to imagine our former commander calling me that, ehehehehe! Take that, Major Capistrano!"
"As for me, another book detailing about IS that isn't available on the internet would be enough. I'll crack that women only machine soon. Hehehehe," Quenser finished as he breathed heavily. Truly a tech-fetishist.
"Better yet, I'll give you IS creator," she fiddled with her phone before putting it on her ear. "Hello, Tabane? Yes. No. NO! …Yes… anyway, I want to introduce you to someone. No, you won't take that attitude with him. He's one of the two who saved Ichika just now, do you understand? He wanted to know more about IS," then she glanced at Ichika and smiled, "Oh yeah, he's also teaching Ichika about engineering, so maybe you can teach both of them at the same time. Good, goodbye."
The three men looked at her with differing expression. Heivia in amusement, Quenser in delight, and Ichika in terror.
"She said she'll take you two to three months crash course of Intermediate to Advanced IS material. Prepare yourself."
"What? Chifuyu-nee! You're evil! I have just been kidnapped I don't want to be kidnapped once moreeeeeeeeee!" was the last thing Ichika said before something took him away along with Quenser into the unknown.
"…Damn. Does crazy and technology came in one package or what?" Heivia commented once he couldn't see any dot of Quenser or Ichika or the strange things.
"Heivia-sama," Chifuyu started.
"Whoa, you really called me that! Please stop, turns out it's something which sounds great in theory but weird in practice."
"Alright then, Heivia-san. You're a former military man, right?" to which Heivia nodded. "I was asked to instruct several soldiers in Germany for three months and in turn, I have their cooperation in digging around about the group which kidnapped Ichika. Would you like to accompany me? I was never a soldier myself despite my strong front. Having you there would be an immense help."
Heivia blinked. Once, twice, thrice.
"You mean I get to yell at them and being all hard-ass to them but cover it up with 'showing tough love' excuse? Count me in!"
Chifuyu smiled slightly. "I knew you would say that."
Years passed by, and Ichika grew to be a nice young man as his knowledge and skill about engineering also grew. He got promoted from student to partner for Quenser and began to have the same tech-fetish, not that he realized it. Being Quenser's student also meant several of his habit and mannerism was picked up from his Sensei, and it showed on his denseness about women. Sure, he expressed some like and fancy for girls but no one told him that she loved him to his face so he thought he wouldn't have a girlfriend for the rest of his life.
Surprisingly, Quenser and Tabane hit it off when they were taken away by her, from that, Tabane would sometimes pop into Quenser's room with her teleportation machine which took Quenser some months to crack. He dreaded what would happen if they ever have children. Sensei or not, family friend or not, mad scientists were mad!
He didn't realize he was on the way to be one.
He wasn't some asocial boy, though, he had many friends, and the closest one was Gotanda Dan. Dan was the first friend he had in middle school. At first, Dan was interested in the tech Ichika always had such as modified smartphone and camera, but once they grew closer, Dan began to gravitate towards Heivia and Heivia seemed happy to 'have found a protégé'.
Currently, Ichika was trying to find his supposed examination room for high school entrance but was lost. "Where is it?" he looked down at the map on his hand and then at the door sign.
He stopped when he saw a sign saying 'keep out'.
Now, he wasn't a bad guy. If there were signs trying to keep you out of a room, chances are it was there for good reasons. But his inner mischievous side which grew under Quenser's tutelage demanded him to peek. Quenser-sensei did love to say 'always have a good intel and read about the situation.'
Slowly and quietly, Ichika opened the door slightly. Seeing nothing threatening, Ichika entered the room still with caution before he closed the door when he was completely inside and still alive. Switching on the lights, Ichika saw a unit of Infinite Stratos in full glory.
His eyes sparkled as his breath became heavier and heavier. Despite his sister being the champion of Mondo Grosso tournament, he had never seen or touched an IS aside from the one in Tabane's mysterious lab. He and Quenser definitely weren't allowed to tamper with Kurezakura, his sister's IS.
Now, seeing one model of IS sitting without any protection, his inner mad scientist definitely couldn't leave it alone. Opening his bag, Ichika took papers and pen and ready to analyze the IS.
Just as he tried to touch the unit to measure its length, the IS began to glow.
Then three female staffs chose that time to check the room.
They stared at each other, and Ichika shouted while still glowing, "This isn't what it looks like!"
It didn't end well for him.
The day didn't start well for Quenser.
So here he was, trying to hack the satellite to display the traffic situation near his house because Heivia asked him to buy grocery. He was halfway done when Orimura Chifuyu barged into his room and choke hold him.
"My brother somehow activated an IS. What have you done?"
"It wasn't me! It wasn't me!"
Chifuyu released him.
"Well, we did try many kinds of thing to try to crack an IS."
He was lifted off the ground again. He should've kept his mouth shut.
"Lemme explain! Lemme explain!"
Chifuyu released him again.
"Sheesh, let me finish, you crazy woman. We did try many kinds of things, but what we tried on Ichika was also applied to me. So if Ichika can operate one because of me, I should also be able to operate one, but I don't think it's because of my experiments. If it is, then Tabane would definitely come here and congratulate me."
Then his television chose that time to be turned on.
A voice and face that can be attributed to Shinonono Tabane came up on the screen with a big smile.
Seeing that, Chifuyu didn't waste her time to pummel him to the ground.
"Ouch! Forgive me! Chifuyu-sama! Mercy mercy!"
"Eeeeh? Chii-chan, why are you kicking Quen-kun's ass literally?"
"Because of his experiments, Ichika got tangled up with IS," Chifuyu explained shortly and then continued to pummel Quenser.
"But it's not because of him. I can assure you if it's because of him then he would also be able to activate one," Tabane explained.
"Then why did you congratulate him?"
"I'm congratulating you, Chii-chan. Now you can teach Ikkun!"
"You're absolutely right."
"I know right?!" Tabane cheered.
"I'm off to see Ichika's paperwork," Chifuyu left in a blitz.
"Now we can talk privately, Quen-kun."
"Sheesh, that woman had too much muscle. Anyway, is this your work, Tabane-san?"
"Nein! I didn't do anything. On another note, you're curious about yourself? Why don't you try activating one? I'll send it right away."
"I'm not hoping much but thanks."
Because of the rules and vouched by his sister, Ichika had to attend IS Academy instead of his first choice High School. It didn't sound that bad. He would have the opportunity to learn more about IS, the machine that shaped the world since its first introduction. He would also have on hand experience in piloting one, and it would definitely be nice to tinker with his own unit.
Then he heard that he would be the only male attending the school.
Of course, how could he forget that?
Heivia, Quenser, and Dan were in tears when they heard Ichika would attend what sounded like an all-girls school, with Quenser lamenting his old university was full of sweaty males but his student got heaven instead.
Anyway, he passed his time before attending the academy by refreshing his knowledge of IS engineering and theory together with Quenser and occasionally Tabane when she popped up. On his last day before attending, he and Chifuyu had dinner in Heivia and Quenser's house, which had been his second home especially when Chifuyu had to go for a few days.
The next day arrived and Ichika said goodbye to Heivia, Quenser, Dan, his sister Ran, and Chifuyu. He was escorted by people from the government with a car and had to use a train to get to the island where IS Academy was built.
Nervously, he entered his classroom, which was stated as class 1-1. On the way there, there were whispers of him coming from the other students. Well, once the news of him being the first male to activate an IS, of course, the world would go into an uproar. Even he didn't understand why, Quenser-sensei told him that if his ability was the result of their experiment then logically Quenser could also do the same, but Quenser couldn't, so that meant it wasn't the side-effect of some of the experiments they have done.
As he sat on his desk, he glanced around his classroom, taking the sight of his classmates and-oh? Is that Houki? He smiled widely. He hadn't met Houki since they were children and she had to move out.
He stood up and approached Houki's desk, "Hey, Houki?"
Houki looked at him in shock, "Ichika, you remember me?"
"Of course," he replied, making the smile and blush on her face grew. "Your sister always updated me with your situation, congratulations on winning the Kendo Tournament."
"Th-Thank you…" she blushed, and then the realization of what he said hit her hard. "What? My sister?"
Ichika nodded, "She always come and go as she pleases to my teacher's place. Oh!" Ichika scooted over closer to Houki, which made her blush harder. "Don't tell anyone, but I suspect my teacher and your sister fancied each other."
"Wh-what?! You're lying!"
"I'm not," Ichika looked at her seriously. "I know it sounds weird, but you know her, right? She wouldn't latch herself to other people easily," Ichika whispered conspiratorially.
Their conversation was halted as the bell rang. Ichika went back to his seat with the promise to talk in details about the love life of their respective teacher and sister.
A green-haired figure came inside the room… she didn't wear the standard uniform of IS Academy, was she their teacher?
"I-Is everyone here? Then we can start Homeroom."
Ichika observed her. From what he saw, she… definitely wasn't teacher material. A slight stammer at her words, her hunched back, and droopy eyes was definitely not what he expected from a school that taught its student to use a Weapon of Mass Destruction disguised as a sport and kept in line by a treaty that can be broken by anyone else.
She began to call everyone one by one and then came his turn to be called.
"Orimura Ichika? Please introduce yourself."
He went to the front of the class and turned back so he faced the entire class. He gulped. Now that he was facing them, he felt the nervousness that went away after his talk with Houki came back to him. All of his classmate, twenty-nine of them, all girls, were staring at him seriously. No, not all of them, one or two were staring at him like a piece of meat.
He took a deep breath and released it.
"Hello, everyone. My name is Ichika Orimura, sixteen years old. It's nice to meet you. Truthfully, being here is a little overwhelming, but when I think about all the machinery that I can play with I actually get excited so much, ehehehehe ehehehehee-Ouch!"
Suddenly someone knocked his head with something hard.
As he rubbed his head, he muttered, "This kind of hitting is familiar. Even the spot is exactly the same. Only one person can do this, and that person is currently home."
"Who's home, Orimura?"
"Eh? That voice… Chifuyu-nee?"
Once again, something hit him in the same spot as before.
"It's Orimura-sensei to you."
"Y-Yes, Orimura-sensei. Why did you hit me anyway?" he grumbled.
"Because you disrespected me, you fool," was her sharp reply.
"No, I mean the first time."
"Oh," Chifuyu smirked, "That was because you had Quenser's creepy laugh and heavy breathing I had to stop you before it creeps out your classmates."
Guh, that was a major blow to his heart.
"Now, go back to your seat. We'll continue the role-call and introduction."
The first period was over, but before Chifuyu left the room, Ichika called her and led Houki to them.
"Orimura-sensei, I was just talking with Houki about Tabane-nee's interest in Quenser-sensei and vice versa. Houki doesn't believe me. Please back me up on this," Ichika put his hand together and beg her.
With a raised eyebrow, Chifuyu looked at him begging like that at her in front of the entire class. Her little brother was ignoring the entire class' attention on them, or maybe he was tuning them out like Tabane and sometimes Quenser?
"Don't butt into other people's love life when you don't even have one, Ichika. I know you like your teacher but setting him up with her sister is not what you should do as his student," she replied with amusement at her own jab at him. Seemed like the rowdy nature of the two neighbors rubbed off her. This must be because they spent so much time together.
"Seriously, am I the only seeing it? Anyway, Houki, you can see it with your eyes later. Let's catch up!"
They went back to chat at her desk.
Was he making a move at his childhood friend? Nah, he was too dense to realize her jab. Ichika was just a natural chick magnet. She suspected Quenser's own chick magnet aura rubbed off to Ichika, his student. From what he heard from Heivia, Quenser got his own band of admirers and yet still lamenting the fact that he had no girlfriend. It would be amusing if Ichika mirrored his teacher.
Later that night, Ichika looked back at his first day of IS Academy. The positives were, he met his childhood friend, Houki, which coincidentally was placed in the same room as him, the same room he was in now. He was a little startled but accepting of the arrangement. Houki, on the other hand, objected quite strongly but relented in the end.
Since he brought his essential equipment to the academy, currently he was trying to connect the screen of his phone to the bigger PC monitor he ordered to the dorm. He wanted to with it because he wanted to have a good medium for video call. He was inspired by how Tabane always contacted Quenser via his television before coming with her teleportation machine. The other reason was that Houki was taking a bath and Ichika had to distract himself or else his mind wandered elsewhere.
Where was he again? Oh yeah, after he and Houki reminisced their past, suddenly this one arrogant British came and acted all superior to him. He simply didn't care, not that he tried to escalate or anything, he just felt it wasn't important enough. Tabane-nee never acted like that despite being the creator of IS, Quenser-sensei never acted like that despite his brilliance. Heivia-san sometimes acted like that but just in jest to rile up his buddy and usually, it ended up in a bicker. Chifuyu-nee never acted like that despite being the champion of two Mondo Grosso tournament in a row. Houki didn't act like that despite being the national kendo champion. So this British girl named Cecilia Alcott acted all superior just because she was a representative candidate and had her own personal IS unit simply wasn't important for him.
He tried to avoid conflict but it came for him anyway. Cecilia felt insulted by his action and the climax was when they decided their class representative, with others nominating him for it, she objected strongly and demanded a match. Who was he to object? And besides, the opportunity to analyze a personal IS unit would be too valuable to pass.
As he finished connecting the phone, he left a note to Houki to not touch anything and went to his sister. He wanted to have a discussion and he felt she could help him. She went with him to his room. When they arrived, Houki had already finished her bath and was wearing a pajama.
"You told me to not touch anything, and I don't," was what came out of her mouth.
"Thank you, Houki."
"Why is Orimura-sensei here?"
"Ah, I'm gonna call my teacher and needed advice, I thought she could also help me so I brought her here," Ichika explained.
"Ichika, what were you making?" Chifuyu who was not a tech-fetishist like Quenser and Ichika didn't really understand what Ichika was trying to do.
"You'll see," Ichika replied as he put his teacher's number and called him. The monitor lit and the face of Quenser came.
"Yo, Sensei," he greeted.
Ichika then told him and the newly arrived Heivia about what happened. He needed advice on what to do about his IS. He was promised a new IS but Chifuyu insisted to the government that Ichika built one himself. Chifuyu thought at that time was if there was a unit that she could safely trust for Ichika, it was the one made by Ichika himself. And besides, with Quenser's mind and Tabane's resource, he had all he needed to make his own personal IS.
In the middle of their discussion Tabane ended up joining and Houki saw with her own eyes how close Tabane and Quenser really was. In the end, the design was decided and Tabane would personally manufacture the IS unit. They also had decided on its name. Shirayuki. Their video call ended with Tabane saying that Shirayuki had the potential to be the first 4th generation model. Ichika had no idea why they suddenly jumped into 4 when the 3rd generation was still new. Maybe when he called Tabane again he should ask.
The match day arrived. Ichika stood in front of his IS, Shirayuki. Tabane said that she used the core of Shirokishi for his IS, that was why she insisted on the name containing 'white'. Ichika asked the question in his mind since a week ago, namely why Tabane said Shirayuki could be the first 4th generation model and got his answer. It was because Tabane was designing a 4th generation model and his Shirayuki had the same quality with what she had theorized. It put a smile on his face.
Before his match, he reluctantly trained with Houki in Kendo, mostly because he had stopped training after being taught by Quenser, also his IS had a sword! How cool is it to use a lightsaber?! Well, the technical term was energy blade, but lightsaber sounded cooler. Although, the energy blade could only be equipped after the IS underwent the first shift, otherwise, the sword was a standard metal sword. Besides that, his IS was also equipped with Fold-Out armor which was designed by Tabane and optimized by Quenser to make the IS switch functions in real time, something which only realized in the paper for the rest of the world. Shirayuki didn't actually have long range weapon but Quenser insisted on at least one, so it had a standard laser rifle to repel the enemy.
One more thing. He didn't read the file for Blue Tears. It was not like he was underestimating her by doing that, but Quenser in his sensei mode told him to observe the IS using his own eyes in the field as it would train his brain and in a real fight he would not have the time to analyze the enemy before it engaged. He read the file about Cecilia Alcott though and found some interesting things. Her parents were dead and she was left with the family fortune and fought tooth and nail to protect it from other people who wished to have it for themselves. Because of that, she held a certain kind of standard. Maybe he didn't pass that?
Nevertheless, he remembered Quenser's advice.
"For every woman doing bad things, there is tragic backstory behind them. It's our job as a knight in shining armor to help them. Maybe with that, we can get a girlfriend, huh?"
While it was not that tragic, he understood Cecilia Alcott after reading her file. That was why he wanted to win. Cecilia was strong.
Yamada-sensei, the green-haired shy one said over the comm that it was the time. He prepared himself and launched.
The match was over not even two minutes after Ichika launched. He lost. Embarrassingly, it was because he switched the Fold-Out armor too many times and used the energy blade form of Yukihira Nigata while matching Cecilia's shot blow for blow using his rifle, his IS ran out of energy.
He definitely heard Chifuyu's palm smacking her face.
Don't blame him too much! Piloting an IS was very different altogether from designing one! All his training using Shirayuki before the match was just simply field testing before Tabane had to optimize some things so he didn't know the usual energy output!
Anyway, the matter was settled in Cecilia's favor. She became the class representative and held Ichika in high regard despite his embarrassing loss. She said that if Ichika trained some more to familiarize himself with the IS he designed himself, then she would definitely lose. Not a far-off prediction because the Fold-Out armor was just cheating when he observed Blue Tears which was fairly new 3rd generation IS. Life was good.
Or not because the next week a certain friend of him transferred to the Academy and became another class representative. Yup, Rin was back. She was a good friend from middle school but had to move to China. He didn't know she was the representative candidate of China.
Between his tinkering, rooming with Houki, chatting with Rin, and the occasional hanging out with Cecilia, life was good. Life was good until it threw another curveball at him.
The next month, two transfer students came to his class.
One was a blonde handsome boy. While surprising, he was glad there was another man beside him. The other was a white-haired girl with a stern expression.
"My name is Charles Dunois, it's nice to meet you."
The girls swooned at his introduction.
The other one was silent, she just stared at Chifuyu.
"Go on. Introduce yourself," Chifuyu spoke.
"Yes, Instructor Orimura."
"Simply call me Orimura-sensei here. I'm your school teacher."
Seemed like this girl was one of the people Chifuyu and Heivia drilled when he was off with Quenser on Tabane's mysterious lab.
"I'm Laura Bodewig."
The class stared at her, expecting more.
"That's all," she then approached me.
"So it's you, huh?"
Then suddenly Laura slapped him hard.
"What the hell was that for?!"
"It's because you're Instructor Orimura's brother and Instructor Winchell's protégé. I won't accept that."
"Oi oi, I can't exactly choose who should be my sister, can I? And besides, while I learned several things from Heivia-san, I'm more of his old buddy's student. Heivia-san got his own protégé, my friend Dan. You can judge him all you want, maybe I'll sic you on him when he's being a bastard."
He and Laura exchanged glare.
Then shockingly Laura bowed. "Then I'm sorry about my remark concerning Instructor Winchell. I still won't accept you as Instructor Orimura's little brother, though."
"I don't care about your opinion, though. No matter what you say, in the end, Orimura-sensei is still my sister."
The class went without more interruption. After the last period, he had to move from Houki's room to the new boys only room since there was two male IS Pilots now. He talked with Charles about many things, mostly about France since Charles came from there. He wanted to know more about his teacher's birth country.
There were no other complications life threw at him after that. Life was good. Laura didn't treat him like he was Chifuyu's brother, that was fine. Like he had said he didn't need other people's acknowledgment. He just needed Chifuyu's and that was what mattered.
Life was good.
And of course, he should have learned the lesson to not tempt fate. Sadly, that wasn't something that his teacher taught him since Quenser had done it many times before.
It began when he couldn't find Charles on one morning. He asked around but nobody knew. Charles even missed class in the process. Then there was a news about data leak on the academy's server and people went into uproars.
How? What? Why? Who? That was what on everyone's mind, including Ichika. How was the security breached? What happened to the data center? Why would someone do this? Who did this anyway?
And then Ichika's mind connected it.
What if... what if Charles was the one who did it?
He tried to banish that thought from his mind but to no avail. It didn't help that nobody had seen Charles since last night. Ichika looked around him, people whispering about the incident. He tried to hear what they were saying. Luckily nobody had suspected the same.
Ichika conspicuously went back to his room and tried to search for clues. Any clues to deny the possibility of his only male friend in the Academy would be a good news. He didn't want to suspect his only male friend goddammit. That would be just wrong. He hoped that he was wrong, that Charles was just spending times somewhere and would be back in five minutes.
Nothing was disturbed on Charles' side of the room. No mess, nothing unusual. Everything looked perfectly the same from the outside.
But nothing could say the same about its inside. Now, he wasn't some kind of pervert who enjoyed ransacking other's undergarments, especially of the same gender because ew. But just this time, he had no choices.
He opened Charles' wardrobe.
His bishonen friend couldn't be a panty thief!
He immediately closed the wardrobe.
What was that? Ichika asked himself. He clearly saw a stack of folded women panties inside the wardrobe. Was this why Charles went missing? His secret criminal hobby was discovered by someone?
No no, clearly if anyone discovered Charles' criminal hobby, it was Ichika who peeked at his wardrobe. So nobody knew about Charles' hobby but himself. Maybe Charles wasn't here because he was trying to get more panties?
Now, he wasn't condemning Charles or anything. He was just worried about Charles' wellbeing. Nobody could be normal when they had a weird hobby like this. Charles clearly had some kind of problem growing up. As his friend, Ichika would be glad to help.
Nodding to himself, Ichika slowly opened Charles' wardrobe once again. This time, he observed its content more seriously. No, he didn't saw the panties for more than just a glance, especially the lacy black panty that was located on the top of the stack.
Reluctantly straying away from the panties, he saw something concerning. Why would Charles need a tape? Was he injured? Why did he never talk about it?
Ichika then went back observing the wardrobe. No, he didn't observe the panties for information. The panties certainly won't help to get any information especially the cute pink one with ribbon under the lacy black one, so he should look away but what is that white slipping between the pink one and green one under it?
Ichika took a deep breath and prepared himself. What he was about to do was a borderline crime. To ransack other people's wardrobe no matter what the reason was a crime. Especially when he was about to ransack a panty thief's collection! But he had to do this. That white thing did not look like a panty to him. The light's reflection didn't match the other panties.
Slowly, he touched the white thing. From the texture, it wasn't made from fabrics. It is a little rough but soft... Yes, if he was talking about texture, then it was similar to a paper.
Before he did something more than just touching the paper, the door to his room was slammed. Startled, Ichika fell down, the content of the wardrobe buried him.
That certainly wouldn't give him any good points, when he realized the door was opened by none other than his sister. Standing up and shrugging the pile of panties, Ichika laughed sheepishly.
"Ehehe, this isn't what it looks like?"
"I don't need your question," she replied coldly.
"Come on, Chifuyu-nee, you're the one who raised me. I won't even thought about being a panty thief!" He reasoned. "And besides, yours was much more risque than these."
"For the last part, I'll knock you out in Kendo spar later."
"E-Eh? Chifuyu-nee? Are you serious? Please don't! This isn't mine! Nor is this my collections! This wardrobe is Charles'! He's clearly the thief, not me!"
His sister then sighed. "I was afraid of that. As of last night, Charles Dunois is missing. Presumably, he's the one who stole all the data on the server. There are many IS' specs and details and more secret information."
"...I was also afraid of that, you know? That's why I tried to search for any clue. Here, I found this," Ichika opened the paper.
"'To Ichika-kun. Don't look for me. -Charles.'"
Both siblings sighed in unison. "What should we do, Chifuyu-nee?"
"I will report this to the government. Dunois-kun is most likely the culprit to the data leak, from there, I don't know. Dunois might be declared as international criminal."
Chifuyu then looked at the glint in Ichika's eyes. "Ichika. Don't-"
"You can't stop me, Chifuyu-nee," Ichika firmly spoke.
"Don't cut my words, you idiot. I was about to say 'Don't do whatever you're going to do alone.'"
Ichika beamed. "Thank you, Chifuyu-nee!" he then inserted many essential things into his backpack. Most of them are the components for experimental tracking tech he tried to model after Quenser's but modified a bit.
That glint in Ichika's eyes was familiar to her. The same glint appeared on Quenser and Heivia's eyes when they were determined to do something. If she couldn't stop her little brother from going, at least she wanted him to be safe.
"Take Dan with you. His lesson with Heivia is finished, right?"
Ichika nodded, "Yup. Thanks, Chifuyu-nee, to think we got the chance to pull a Heivia-Quenser..."
"Still, be careful, brat."
Finishing his preparation, Ichika took one last look at his sister before smiling. "Thanks, Chifuyu-nee."
"That's Orimura-sensei to you, idiot."
Ichika then went back to home. He contacted Dan once he got there and he agreed excitedly. Heivia and Quenser just smiled and prepped them with enough tech to survive whatever they would face. Dan got a modular smart rifle designed by Quenser, it had infrared cameras and microphones as an alternative way to find enemies.
With everything prepared, he and Dan flew to France.
"What is it, Dan?"
"I get that you want to pull our teachers' combination for ourselves, but what are we doing exactly?" Dan asked him as they get out from the airport and entered a taxi.
After asking the taxi to drive them to a hotel, Ichika replied his best friend, "I want to get my friend."
"And? What's the problem? Is he or she here?"
Then the taxi's radio news informed the masses that France now was the target of the rest of the world's ire because of the act pulled by someone to steal the data about other nation's IS.
The radio continued, it seemed like the other nations would raise their arms to counteract France. France ministry of internal affair denied any involvement, but that move apparently got more nations to oppose France. And now they launched investigations to find the culprit.
When they got out of the taxi and checked in to the hotel, they continued the conversation.
"So yeah. The one who stole the data in IS Academy is most likely my friend, Charles Dunois. I want to know why. He's an alright person, and a great friend to have so I don't want to assume the worst about him until he said it himself."
"What if he's really the culprit and wants to do it because the great friend he showed is just an act to get you to lower your guards?"
"I'll catch him and get him behind bars. It's that simple."
"You just wanted closure, huh?"
"And I feel like he's telling me something. His last message is to not look for him."
Dan rolled his eyes, "Of course you'd look for him now after you got that message. So how are we going to find him?"
"I had already tagged him with my beacon, now I just have to inject some lines to the satellite's programming and connected it to this device to find him. I'm also hoping to finish the mobile version of the device so we can track him anytime especially when we're moving."
"So we're just preparing now?" Dan asked him while assembling his rifle. By virtue of being modular, it passed airport inspection so he could bring it anywhere.
"Yup," Ichika replied as he opened a screw on his device-in-the-making. "Let's turn on the news to consider things for our plan of action."
Charlotte Dunois was standing in front of her father, but her gaze went anywhere but her father. She was nervous to face her father. He was the one who gave her the mission to infiltrate IS Academy and steal the data, all in the name of advancing her Father's company.
"You did a good job, Charlotte," her father said behind his desk. His voice truly made her sick and want to vomit. "All of the world's secret about IS is now in my hand."
Charlotte forced herself to smile, even if it appeared bitter. "Yes, Father."
"To think that infiltrating IS Academy as a transfer student was that easy..."
Charlotte didn't reply. She didn't want to.
"Now, it's time to cut some loose end."
With a clap, several black-dressed men coming into the room, all equipped with a rifle pointed at her. What?
"What is the meaning of this, Father?! I've done your bidding!" Charlotte shouted to her father in fright.
"And becoming the world's most wanted man in the process. I simply need to give you to the minister of defense and I'm safe. Now, off you go," he said coldly.
Charlotte couldn't hold back her emotions. Tears were leaking from her eyes. Her father... her scumbag of a father just disposed of her after she had risked her life to do her father's bidding.
One of the black-dressed men grabbed her and dragged her out of the room. She had no choice but to comply.
When they were out of her father's earshot, one of the black-dressed men spoke to her.
"What a tragedy. The unwanted daughter thrown into the trashes after bringing her bastard of father gold."
She didn't reply. Her emotion was still jumbled after what had just transpired.
"Don't people like that just piss you off? It would be nice if the real evil people like him to be wiped off the earth, wouldn't it?"
This time, Charlotte looked at the man who accompanied her. The man opened her helmet and grinned at her.
"I am part of an organization who aimed to do that. What do you say you join with us?"
"But, aren't you with the government?" Charlotte asked in confusion. She believed that she would be handed to the minister of defense.
"Killed all of the people assigned to take you. I'm taking you because I know exactly what people like him will do to a useless asset. Now I'm offering you a way out. We have people everywhere."
Charlotte looked at the hand offered to her. This organization... It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that she had become the most wanted woman in the entire world. This organization offered her a way out.
She held no delusion that this organization was what the man said. Most likely, the members were also criminals like her, wrongly persecuted or not. If she took it, she would leave the normal world, and enter the underground world. Was she ready for something like that?
She took a deep breath, then she shook the hand offered to her.
The man grinned at her. "Welcome to the Phantom Task. Let's go to a safe house."
The man brought her inside a car.
"Jolly, the mission is completed. Let's go back to the safe house," the man said to the driver. However, the driver didn't reply, nor did he turn on the car.
"Jolly, what is the meaning of this? I repeat, the mission is complete. Let's go back to the safe house."
"I'm sorry, sir. But Jolly is preoccupied with something else. Instead, your friendly driver Gotanda Dan is here to serve you," the driver turned to them with a grin.
"What?" The man brought out his rifle, intending to shoot the driver. But before he could do that, his neck was strangled by someone else from behind. He was gasping for airs before his body went limp seconds later.
The newcomer then threw the dead body out before he took the seat occupied by the man from Phantom Task before. "Dan, start driving now before the crowd formed."
Charlotte gasped when she realized the man who just strangled someone to death beside her was Ichika. The same Ichika from IS Academy.
"Hey, Charles. Long time no see," Ichika greeted as the car started going. Ichika then spoke to the driver again. "Dan, get us to the hotel room. We'll finish this operation now."
Charlotte was still overwhelmed by what just happened. She saw Ichika fiddled with his smartphone.
"Is there something on my face, Charles?"
"I-Ichika?! What? How? Why? When?"
"Your last message was to not look for you. Do you want to make me worry to death? Of course, I'd look for you! As for the how, I placed a tracker on you so it's only a matter of me finishing my tracking monitor system and voila! You're found."
Ichika made it sound easier than it did. "When-"
"When did I enter the car? After we got your location two days ago, I did not simply barge in. I monitored your father. He contacted the minister of defense and wanted to give you to him as a scapegoat. No way in hell I would let him do that. So as I was about to sabotage the team sent after you, it turns out another organization killed them and took their place. After that, I know I have to rescue you immediately."
Ichika then put his smartphone in his pocket. He looked at his hands. Then it hit her, Ichika had just killed a man. Sooner or later, he would be in shock.
"I'm not actually shocked. Sure, I expect to have a kill count. IS despite limitations placed upon it, it is still a weapon of mass destruction. Sooner or later, I would be forced to kill, especially since I am a special snowflake in this world."
"But you didn't expect to take a life this soon, huh?" Charlotte finished for him. "Thank you very much, Ichika."
"No problem, Charles," Ichika put a grin, but even someone who had known Ichika for a short time like her knew that it was forced. After all, she had worn it every time she had to face her father.
"Done being all chummy?" The driver, Gotanda Dan suddenly spoke to them. "Ichika, you've disabled the security camera around the hotel, right?"
Ichika brought out the smartphone in his pocket. "Still 90 percent. Take a detour, Dan. Any pursuer?"
"Thankfully none so far."
"Good," Ichika then turned to her. "We won't park. So I want you to be ready to jump out when Dan signaled it."
"Huh?" Charlotte didn't understand.
"Parking this car would only draw suspicions, especially since this car belongs to whatever that organization before us. We're gonna crash this car."
Charlotte's eyes widened upon hearing that. Ichika was just a normal high school student, wasn't he? How did he do all this?
"One hundred percent! Be ready, Dan!"
Ichika grabbed the rifle left by the Phantom Task operative, and opened the door. Following his cue, Charlotte also opened the door.
"On three! One, two, three!"
Ichika rolled out, and Charlotte did the same. Feeling a little disoriented, Charlotte immediately search for Ichika. The street was suspiciously empty of other cars. She found Ichika entering a hotel leisurely.
Not wanting to draw any suspicions, Charlotte also entered the hotel without pressure. Behind her, she could feel the driver, Gotanda Dan kept his eyes around.
When they arrived inside the lobby, Dan made a gesture to follow him, and Charlotte did so. They entered an elevator and Dan pressed the thirty-fifth floor.
Dan didn't say anything. Was it because they were inside an elevator? Charlotte then found a security camera inside the elevator. Who knew if they were monitoring this?
They arrived at the thirty-fifth floor, and Dan guided her to their room.
"Welcome, Charles-san. Sorry I didn't want to say anything there."
"Ah... it's okay. I understand," Charlotte replied.
"Ichika. Your friend's here."
"Thank you, Dan. Sorry, Charles. I was preoccupied with making sure the security camera stays offline and displays dummy video."
"It's okay, Ichika-kun," Charles smiled.
"Now, you must have some questions. Ask away. Tomorrow we'll disguise you and get out of this place."
"D-Disguise?" Charlotte couldn't hide the surprise in her tone. Ichika wanted to disguise her?
"Yeah," Ichika nodded. "The world is searching for Charles Dunois. If we change your hair and eye color, I can do the rest to make sure you pass the airport inspection."
"O-Oh... how can you do this so easily?"
Ichika and Dan looked at each other and grinned. "That's the joke, Charles-san. There's nothing easy about this. I nearly got myself killed by the original driver."
"Almost got caught when I'm about to hide the body. Now I feel bad for that guy. I dumped the body in a dumpster in panic," Dan admitted bashfully.
"It's inhumane, but at least it got the job done. No complaint from me."
"Right. It's a tiring day. I'll sleep first," Dan laid his body on one of the two bed. Not long after, they heard his snore, signaling that he slept.
"Ichika..." Charlotte looked at his dark bags under his eyes. He was working really hard for her, huh? She smiled at the thought.
"What is it, Charles?"
"I... have something to confess."
There was actually a surprise and uncertainty present at Ichika's face after she said those words.
"W-What would you confess, Charles?" Ichika replied with a stutter.
"...I'm a girl."
There was silence after that. Charlotte and Ichika only stared at each other without saying anything.
Ichika then nodded in understanding. "So that's why your cupboard is full of women undergarments."
What?! Charlotte's face reddened in embarrassment. "Wh-What do you mean by that, Ichika?"
"Nothing! It's nothing!"
"It's not nothing! Please elaborate on what you just said, Ichika-kun!"
Ichika averted his eyes, looking at anything but her. "I err, might assume that you were a panty thief. I'm sorry, Charles."
Charlotte forced a smile, "I-It's okay, Ichika. Also, my real name is Charlotte. Charlotte Dunois. Although I have to discard my family name now..."
"I've ordered some hair dye to be delivered here. It's black. You don't mind, do you? As for contact lens, it's also black."
"It's okay, Ichika-kun. Though, why did you chose that color?"
"I just chose the closest to the 'buy' button."
Charlotte sighed. "Why are you so... like this, Ichika-kun?"
"Nothing," Charlotte shook her head. It wouldn't change anything. Even if she told him to his face, she doubted it would change anything. Ichika was just like that.
From what she observed when she was rooming with him, Ichika could lose himself in his own world, and only two other people could reach that world, one was his sister, and the other his teacher.
She wondered if someday she could also enter that world...
"Right then, Ichika-kun. Good night."
The flight back to Japan was free of any incident. Ichika fooled the inspection machine by creating a fake id and mucking the database of a fingerprint, so when Charlotte, now known as Caroline Diane, put her finger, the machine showed the identity of Caroline Diane rather than Charlotte or Charles Dunois.
The smart rifles were modular, and individually they looked nothing like a weapon. Worst case scenario they could show that the airport several days ago passed their cargo, so no reason to hold it now.
They immediately went to Ichika's house to return the smart rifle. Caroline ended up living with Heivia and Quenser for a while before she was enrolled as a transfer student by Chifuyu.
When class 1-1 had a new transfer student, nobody was surprised anymore because now it was just another day. Although, the class was curious about her relationship with the resident male IS Pilot because she acted demure and shy around Ichika, whilst otherwise, she acted normal. All they got from her was just 'Ichika-kun saved me', and Ichika just said that 'I helped her once'. Seems like they wouldn't divulge anything more private.
This, of course, incite jealousy between Houki and Rin who liked Ichika, but the storm was overlooked by said man because he was having fun building a hypothetical IS using a software made by Tabane.
Without his knowledge, of course, his viable designs were blueprinted by Tabane. She also had a stack of blueprints from Quenser's designs.
For one Orimura Ichika, life was good.