Such a shame that I have to come all the way back here just to fix stuff.

Well, that was certainly not how I intended my first impression to go. Not only do I seem to be on the bad side of who may possibly be the most skilled I.S. pilot alive, but she somehow knew about Exeter before I even arrived. Yet she didn't seem worried about it... just what the hell is going on there?

The neutrality of Cerberus' synthesized voice was slightly irritating as it responded to Epsilon's inner thoughts.

It is possible that the falsified documents Shadow Sector instructed me to send to the Academy included revealing the Exeter suit. Perhaps they believed there would be less complications with the mission if you were not forced to use the suit in absolute secrecy.

But if they know about it, isn't it practically guaranteed that they'll know America was behind attacking the installation when I assault it?

So long as we ensure that there are no survivors to escape and tell the tale, I could easily jam all transmissions from this Academy to prevent them from revealing us to the world.

Honestly, Epsilon felt like there were far too many holes in this operation, and it had just started. Do you think the entire Academy is aware, or just Orimura?

Cerberus contemplated its answer before replying. There is unfortunately no way to be sure. However, I can sweep government mainframes and web tangents at a later date to see just where and why we are mentioned if we are.

You can do that? Remotely?

Of course. I find your lack of faith... disturbing.

Epsilon mentally sighed as he followed a green-haired teacher down one of the Academy's many halls on the 147th floor. Conversation with Cerberus may have been educational and even important to the mission, but it was also entirely frustrating and stressful. What made it even worse was that as long as Epsilon's nervous system was attached to Exeter, the insufferable machine could speak inside his head. Epsilon merely had to think his words and Cerberus would hear him. He wasn't sure if the machine could read his mind or not, but the possibility of such a thing scared him.

Likely feeling awkward walking in total silence, Yamada made some effort to start a conversation. "S-so, what's your name...?"

The question made Epsilon grimace, if only because he was not very fond of his name. In fact he hated it, so he always told people to simply refer to him by last name if they needed to. "You can just call me Church."

This answer earned a cocked eyebrow from the woman leading him on. "Is that your first name...? How strange..."

"No, it isn't. But isn't it common to refer to people by last name in Japan?"

Yamada was unable to refute that, so she instead struggled to find something else to talk about. Unfortunately she was not particularly good at conversation. On the other hand, she apparently did not need to think of anything else, as she ended up reaching their destination.

"Ah, here we are!"

The young pilot was struck with confusion as his guide stopped in front of dull wooden door, far down at the end of the hall. Wooden? Wasn't this place supposed to be all high-tech and futuristic? This didn't quite fit the bill, especially since every other door he had seen on the way here was a metal sliding one.

Church couldn't help but inquire. "Why is this one... different? This is literally the only door that looks like this."

Miss Yamada smiled apologetically. "W-well, you see... all of our dorm rooms are full. A few years ago when the student body was larger, we had rooms in the tower's higher levels like this one. We were going to have them all renovated when we downsized the maximum student body size, but we only made it to this floor before deciding to save our money. All of the other rooms that used to act as dorms are really just storage now: this is the only one we haven't filled with a bunch of stuff, so it's the only place on campus that has a free bed for you."

Church cocked an eyebrow at her. "I thought Miss Orimura said that the vacancy was recent?"

The bespectacled woman smiled again, much in the same way as she had just a few moments ago. "Well we did, technically. There was an opossum living in there a little while ago, until we ran it out a few days earlier."

This piece of unsettling news caused Church to eye the woman before him incredulously. "You've got to be kidding me! That... that's some kind of weird joke right? A hazing for the new people? I mean, how would one even get all the way up here?! Wait, does Japan even have opossums?!"

Leaving the last two very valid questions unanswered, Yamada giggled, though it seemed a little forced. "Oh no, the hazing for new students is much worse than that! R-right after we tar and feather them, we move onto the whips and chains..."

Cerberus quipped up within Church's mind. This place was not so perfect as it seemed, Operator-Epsilon.

Backing a few steps away from the woman, Church wondered if he was in some significant danger here.. "'re not... serious, are you?"

She took a step forward and eyed him menacingly, though something about it wasn't entirely convincing. "Am I?"

Church scrambled for an answer, trying to determine if the woman was serious or not. "U-uh..."

After a few awkward moments, Miss Yamada returned to her normal self, and began smiling apologetically once more. "I'm sorry... it's just that Orimura-kun said I should try to lighten up sometimes, and so I've tried making jokes every once in awhile. But I'm not very good at it... we would never do anything like that to our students. But I was serious about the opossum. The room may be a little, er... disheveled."

Instead of taking her word for it, Church walked past her and pushed the ancient looking door open. Dust fell from the ceiling as he did so. Cerberus quipped up once more.

Hmm... is this what humans refer to as irony? Such a decrepit room in a technologically advanced school?

Church nodded, despite the fact that such a motion held no meaning for the A.I. who could not see him in it's current standby state.

Yeah, I guess this qualifies as ironic, but more importantly...

"You have got to be kidding me."

That last part had been uttered vocally, as Church laid eyes on the 'room' he was supposed to stay in for the duration of his stay. Nightmare didn't even begin to describe it. Dust was falling from the ceiling, half of the walls were covered in mold -some of it a sickly shade of blue- and the dim light-bulb in the ceiling was cracked down the middle. Besides that, Church could've sworn he saw a cockroach retreating from the light that had invaded the darkness.

After recovering from his shock, he turned to his guide and muttered, "A-are you serious? I mean... why does this room even exist here!?"

The buxom woman bowed and put on that same apologetic grin that Church could tell was her response to everything that wasn't necessarily her fault. "L-like I said, this is the only vacant room in the school, and we never bothered bringing it up to par since we never expected to use it again..."

Church sighed and sagged his shoulders. Isn't this some sort of human rights violation...?

"I'm not on probation or anything right? Can I go tour the grounds or something? I'm not sure I want to go in there yet..."

Yamada smiled, somewhat amused by the new arrival's demeanor. It seemed to be her default facial expression for nearly every situation. "Of course! Would you like directions to a certain place in particular? The cafeteria, perhaps? Or..."

Thinking back to the girl he had rescued earlier, it was not hard for Church to decide on a location. After all, he hardly had anything more important to do at that exact moment. "Could you please direct me to the infirmary?"

A major drawback to painkillers was that they were not wholly effective. An even bigger flaw was that they did not last nearly long enough.

Rin knew of these flaws because she was regaining feeling in her left leg, starting at her toes and working its way painstakingly upwards. To say that the gradual return of pain to her body was unpleasant was a drastic understatement.

The Chinese girl lay on her bruised back on one of the infirmary's comfortable beds, a stark white curtain separating her from the rest of the room. She could barely move, not only because of the cast that was holding her fractured right arm together, but also because the mere thought of moving made shivers run up her spine. She had already tried that once, and the sheer agony had almost knocked her out. It was actually surprising that she was awake at all, but apparently the medical staff had decided that injecting her with anesthesia was a bad idea, so long as whatever substances her mysterious rescuer had injected her with were still present within her body. For that reason, she had to suffer awake until said substances dissipated. She only wished she could have stayed unconscious a little longer.

Unfortunately, being awake allowed Rin to seriously frown upon her own stupidity. She had fallen out of a window for God's sake. Who in their right mind would sit on the sill of an open window thousands of feet above the ground? Her, apparently. Granted, she had technically lost consciousness and couldn't really be blamed for that, but nevertheless she had put herself in a ridiculously stupid situation. And now, to top it all off, she still had a headache, even as her physical pains continued to increase every minute. She had no doubt that she'd have to be put to sleep soon: with broken ribs and arms, she didn't think staying awake would be a viable option for her.

Rin's dismal thoughts were interrupted by the sound of conversation on the opposite side of the curtain that cut her off from the rest of the room. It was a brief distraction, as she didn't really care what was being talked about, but the sound of a vaguely male voice caught her attention. She wondered if Ichika had come to see her? That would be have been unusually thoughtful of him, since Ichika was usually as dense as a rock: or maybe a neutron star...

Even so, her heartbeat quickened as she heard footsteps approaching. Who would have thought that a terrible accident like this one would actually have a bright side to it?

But as the curtain was pulled back, Rin was filled with disappointment. Sure, it was a guy, but not the guy she had been hoping for. In the place of what she wanted to be Ichika was a brown-haired boy of similar age and height in a red jacket and jeans.

She let her eyes roam over this stranger, seeing as how the only male who should've been on the entire campus was Ichika. He was a pretty handsome guy, though obviously not as good-looking to her as Ichika was, of course. Still, his facial features were at the very least desirable, and he had dark blue eyes that were very captivating.

As she took note of his eyes, Rin noticed that this stranger was doing the same thing to her; although his examination of the girl on the cot was more analytical than intrigued. He seemed to take special notice of all of her injuries, specifically her right arm.

"So I take it you're doing better then? I mean, you don't seem to be dying or anything..."

The sudden English speech threw Rin off, as she was so busy thinking that she wasn't focused on actually talking to her visitor. Thankfully, anyone who seriously aimed to attend the I.S. Academy learned both fluent Japanese and English before arrival. They were the most frequently spoken languages at the school, after all.

"H-huh? Oh, yeah... uh...sure, I guess if you can call this better, I am. Who wants to know, anyway?"

The boy shrugged. "Just a worried student, of course."

Rin could easily detect a distinct American accent in the boy's speech: clearly it was a first language for him, unlike her, though she spoke it just as well as he did. "Uh-huh, sure you are. Aside from the lack of uniform, I'm not even going to get into why it's obvious that you're not."

The boy smiled in a way that could best be described as charming. "You got me there... well, in all humility, I'm the one who saved you from a very messy and unfortunate death. You're welcome, by the way."

Rin figured this must have been the guy Cecilia was talking about a few hours ago when the obnoxious British girl had brought Rin to the infirmary. Although her description of him had been anything but 'savior'. Rin had not been happy to hear all of that during her brief stint of consciousness at that point.

"So you're the guy who stripped me in the park, huh? I really appreciated that, trust me."

The boy blushed and waved his hands in front of him, aiming to make his denial more evident. "W-wait, it wasn't like that! I was just checking you out..."

The infirm girl cocked an eyebrow at him. She might have been angry under normal circumstances, but right now she was hurting far too much to do that. "Just checking me out, huh?"

The redness on the boy's cheeks grew even more intense as Rin pointed out his poor choice of words. "That's not what I meant! I mean, I was just, er... I had to make sure I treated all of your injuries, OK!? You could've bled out if I hadn't!"

Rin snickered at this stranger's over-reaction, although the pain it sent through her chest stopped it short. "Ouch... calm down, I'm just kidding, y'know... no hard feelings."

A look of concern spread across the boy's countenance as he beheld the grimace on Rin's face. "Hey, are you sure you're okay? Don't the nurses have you on painkillers or something? I mean, you broke a lot of bones, and I'd be willing to bet that you suffered some internal injuries too..."

The wounded girl frowned. She knew better than anyone just how not okay she was. "Ugh, they wore off a little while ago. My arms, legs, chest... everything is killing me."

"Before long, so will we."

Caught off guard by such an unexpected reply, Rin cast a shocked look at the boy. Did he really just say that? It didn't sound quite like his voice, but nobody else was in the room. "W-what?"

The red-jacketed boy faltered in his response, looking as surprised as she was. "Oh, uh, something wrong? You look a"

"Repeat what you just said."

The stranger scratched the back of his head before replying. "I said you look a little off. Did you hear something else?"

Rin squinted at the boy, suspecting a lie, but then again, she wasn't in the best mental state right now, so maybe she really had been hearing things. "Yeah, I guess I did. My bad. I have a splitting headache. Makes it hard to focus."

The boy smiled sympathetically. "I had something similar to that once. Although mine was caused by an accident not quite as severe as being flung into a tree at ninety miles an hour or so. Well I guess the change in inertia slowed you down a bit, so it was probably less than that, but still..."

Of course Rin's headache had not been caused by her miraculous and risky rescue, although it had definitely intensified its severity. But she said nothing to set the facts straight; she still didn't want anyone to know about her head until after the tournament, although participating in it now was an incredibly unlikely prospect at best, and completely impossible at worst.

She decided to change the subject, uncomfortable with the topic of her injuries. "So I guess you're the new student Chifuyu was talking about, right?"

The American shook his head in reply. "No, I'm not here to be a student. All of that high-tech gizmo stuff confounds me."

Rin was a bit annoyed with the her visitor for using a word she didn't know, and also for the fact that her own homeroom teacher had neglected to mention that he wasn't going to be a student at all. She had simply said that there would be a new boy arriving, not that he was outside of the student body. "Uh...confounds?"


Worried that she might have come off as stupid, Rin frowned. "Oh... Wait, so then why are you the one piloting a high-tech armor suit then? Shouldn't they use someone smarter to use it?"

Now it was the boy's turn to frown. "Are you saying I'm not smart enough to use it?"

Rin grinned slightly, glad to have turned the tables. With this she could avoid looking like an idiot. "No, but I mean, you did say that it confuses you. So..."

"Do you understand everything about your I.S.? All of the processing algorithms and whatnot that make up the software?"

Another advanced word... then again, English wasn't her first language like it was his. "A-algo...rithms? Um, yeah, sure I do. Don't you?"

"No. And I know you don't either. Your profile said something about a relatively low IQ... apparently that's an official fact."

Needless to say, Rin was appalled to hear this. "No way! That can't be in my profile! Hey wait, when did you read that anyway? You a stalker or something?!"

The boy laughed cheerily, apparently amused by Rin's response. He found it especially funny since he knew that this girl was no idiot at all. Her dossier had her IQ listed as one hundred thirty-one: seven points above the average IQ for I.S. pilots worldwide and a whole thirty-one points above her own nation's average IQ. Of course, one hundred thirty one was still relatively low compared to most of the other Representative Candidates in the school, so Church had not been entirely insincere with his joke.

"No, I'm definitely not a stalker, at least since the last time I checked. Besides, I read all of the Representative Candidate's profiles. It was a requirement before coming. And even though it does say that thing about a low IQ, you're pretty cute, so it cancels out, right?"

HAving hardly expected such a blunt compliment, Rin blushed just a little. Ichika rarely ever complimented her looks. And even though this boy was saying it as a form of consolation, it still made her happy to some small extent. " thanks... I think..."

"You seem awfully bothered by something that simple. Don't tell me no one has ever said that before? That would be hard to believe. Oh, and I'm uh, talking about the cute part. Not the intelligence thing."

Rin frowned dejectedly, not at all happy that it was so obvious, even to a stranger who had known her for maybe five minutes. "O-of course not, my situation's nowhere near that pathetic..."

Her visitor seemed a little suspicious of this answer, but before he could say anything he was interrupted by one of the white clad nurses pulling aside the curtain. "Excuse me you two, but it's time to administer some more pain medication, and probably anesthesia as well."

Nodding at this, the boy turned back towards Rin with a slightly disappointed expression. "Well then, I guess I'll get going. I ran into Miss Orimura on the way here, and apparently I have to fix that wall I busted. Although I'm not sure if she even has the authority to order me around like that..."

The thought of it made Rin smile. This guy had a lot to learn about Chifuyu. "She doesn't need someone else's authority, she makes her own."

The boy smiled too, though his was more disconcerted than pleased. "How comforting... well, I'll see you around then. Not in class, but around, nevertheless."

As he turned to leave, Rin called out to him. She found it strange that the most obligatory part of a conversation between strangers had not taken place."Hey, wait!"

He turned to face her, a questioning look evident on his face. "What?"

"You didn't tell me your name. Pretty rude, don't you think?"

The boy made a displeased face upon hearing this, but it didn't seem to be directed at the question itself. More like the answer to the question. "Right... it's uh, Church. Yes, like a congregation or a building, but it's a family name, so what am I gonna do?"

Rin cocked an eyebrow at him. "Well if you don't like it just use your first name. Duh."

Church's look of displeasure intensified. "I'd really rather not..."

Rin closed her eyes and leaned her head back as the nurse inserted a syringe into the only exposed part of her left arm. With all of the other pains in her body, she barely felt it. "Whatever you say. Anyway, if we talk again at some point, my name's Rinin. I'd let you shorten it, but that's only for guys I actually like."

Somewhat sure that was a joke, Church seemed amused by the sentiment. "What, are you still mad about what happened under the tree? I thought it was pretty romantic, if I do say so myself."

Nowhere near as amused as he by this, Rin frowned. "Yeah, I don't think so. Look, I'm getting kinda sleepy here, so..."

She could hear her new acquaintance recede a few steps from her bedside as he headed for the door. "Right. Well then, maybe later."

"Yeah, maybe..."

It was the last thing she said before drifting off into a drug-induced sleep, for which she was extremely grateful. Whether or not she actually encountered that particular individual again, she didn't really care either way.

Thirty minutes later, having not found a way to accomplish any of his data retrieval objectives yet, Church found himself with nothing to do. So for now, he settled with berating his A.I. for being stupid.

"What the hell was that back there, Cerberus?"

Church was flying circles around the Academy's central spire, the shape of which seemed quite impractical to him, scanning the campus as he did so in case he needed the data later at some point in his future assault. He didn't actually plan on fixing that wall he had destroyed anyway. The ends justified his means. So while he utilized his time here, he questioned Cerberus' outburst back in the infirmary.

I'm afraid you'll have to be more specific, Operator-Epsilon. There are many things you could be referring to in the brief span of time you are mentioning.

Certain that the A.I. knew exactly what he was referring to, Church addressed the machine sarcastically. "I say and I quote; 'Before long, so will we.' What the hell? Why would you say that to her? Apart from almost making me look like a jackass, are you trying to let people know what we're planning to do here?"

Cerberus replied without emotion or hesitation. I do not understand your anger, Operator-Epsilon. I was merely stating a fact. We will indeed be killing her in due time. That is why we are here, yes?

Church sighed as he rocketed around another twist in the tower's strange architecture. "Yes, but that doesn't mean... that doesn't mean you have to tell her about it! Don't you know about the element of surprise? It's kinda ruined when you mention it to the people you are going to try and surprise."

Cerberus switched to a more calming side of itself. I apologize, Operator-Epsilon. I did not intend to reveal our motives to the enemy.

Wondering how an A.I. could possibly be so stupid, Church answered with what was left of his dissipating anger. "For God's sake, stop calling me that. I have a name you know."

I see. Would you prefer that I address you as Operator-Church?

Church cut the energy supply to his jet-pack and landed on the side of the tower, using the magnetic mesh on his gauntlets and boots to effortlessly stick to the surface.

"Acceptable if you drop the 'Operator'."

Cerberus answered in its neutral tone once more. Apologies Operator-Epsilon, but I cannot remove Operator from your title. It is a written algorithm in my processor. Creator-Sir-Awesomeness made it so.

Even though he was still a little miffed, Church couldn't help but laugh as he heard that. "Creator-Sir-Awesomeness? Let me guess, Marcus programmed 'that' into your algorithms as well? A little stuck up, isn't he?"

Cerberus replied in an aggressive, insulted tone. Certainly not, Meat-bag! Creator-Sir-Awesomeness made me, a perfect marvel of ingenious engineering. That is enough to ensure his title.

Church cocked an eyebrow, since Cerberus could see his face as long as his helmet was on. "Meat-bag? What is that supposed to be?"

Oh, excuse my language, Operator-Epsilon. It's just that you humans have so much water and meat sloshing around inside of you. The sight of it through my X-ray is...unpleasant.

The suit's pilot could only shrug in response. After all, it was true; that was pretty much what humans were made of. As for Cerberus, he was moving onto a new point of curiosity already.

Operator-Epsilon, direct your attention 49.8 degrees southward, and increase magnification to 3.5x. I believe you will see something of interest.

Church did as he was told, and he did indeed find something of interest. A zoomed view of a certain silver-haired Representative Candidate, looking none-too pleased as she yelled something into a headset.

"Hmm... well, it will certainly be more interesting than hanging around up here. Shall we?"

Ugh, dialogue rewrites... sometimes my own old works appalls me.