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. I'm not really ecstatic over the idea of the most skilled I.S. pilot alive being able to read my thoughts.

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

Scientifically speaking it is nearly impossible for a human being to possess the ability to read your mind.

What do you mean, 'nearly?'

Technically speaking nothing is absolutely impossible. In that case perhaps you do have cause for concern.

The American pilot resisted the urge to sigh as he followed the green-haired woman he had been initially directed to during his conversation with Chifuyu Orimura. Upon being informed by the A.I. that he could simply communicate through thought, it would have been very strange to speak to it out loud when other people were around.

That said, Epsilon was actually curious as to how much of the Academy's central tower was used for anything at all. He was not being lead to the dorms, since there was no room anywhere in them, and they were chock full of girls anyway, which would have defeated the purpose of him retreating to solitude so soon in the first place.

Even so, he was being taken absurdly high into the tower, and he couldn't see why said tower had so many floors in the first place. Surely there weren't enough students to warrant enough classrooms to take up all of these floors? What on earth was everything else used for?

It was a question he would try to ask someone else at a later date if he could remember it, and for now he simply hoped the woman he was following was getting close to her destination. It had been a relatively long walk so far, but on the other hand at least she was kind enough to personally show him to his room, even if it was so far out of the way of, well, everything.

But kindness aside, the two strangers hadn't actually said anything to each other so far, and even though Yamada was a shy girl, she felt that she should have been able to take some initiative being an adult. "S-so, um... if it's alright, could you tell me your name?"

The question made her American companion grimace, even though he knew this was bound to happen at some point. Obviously referring to himself by a designation would be unbelievably suspicious, so of course he would have to use his actual name during this operation, but the fact of the matter was that he was rather embarrassed by his first name, and he didn't like sharing. At least he had a halfway decent last name to fall back on, even though everyone always looked at him funny when he shared that too.

"You can uh, just call me Church."

As expected, this answer earned a cocked eyebrow from the woman leading him on. "I-is that so? Er..."

"It's not my first name, if you're wondering. And I get that even as a last name it's pretty uncommon, but either way it's normal to refer to people by last name in Japan, isn't it?"

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 when she didn't bear any real similarities with the person in question. She was nice to strangers, but had a tough time finding ways to really start conversations with them. Luckily for her, she wasn't forced to come with anything else, since they ended up reaching their destination at about this time.

"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. He may have expected that in the dorms, which were designed to be roomy and warm, but he had expected everything in the tower itself to be pretty futuristic and advanced.

That being the case, Church couldn't help but inquire. "Why is this one... different? Every other door in this hallway was metal. This is literally the only wooden one here."

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. "There are all sorts of things wrong with that, chief among them whether or not Japan even has opossums."

Yamada could only shrug. "That's a very good question. I'm afraid I don't actually have an answer... does Japan have opossums?"

Cerberus quipped up within Church's mind. There are some questions best left unanswered, Operator-Epsilon.

Deciding that Cerberus may have had a point, Church decided that he could investigate the truth of this business some other time. "Was the room cleaned at least...?"

"W-well, to be honest we only received a few hours of notice before your arrival, so... I'm really sorry, but it might be a mess right this second."

Instead of taking the teacher's 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 its 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 time here. 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... b-but don't worry, we'll have it taken care of as soon as we can!"

Church sighed and sagged his shoulders, not at all assured by Yamada's words. 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, even though he technically had plenty of other things that he needed to be doing, he figured he at least had enough time to indulge himself. His mission was important, but the matter at hand was not so urgent that it had to be executed immediately no matter what.

"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 and then some. 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. How on earth had she even managed to do that? Granted, she had technically lost consciousness and couldn't really be blamed for that, but nevertheless she had nearly died in the most pathetic way possible. 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. Screw that, a rock was too nice. A neutron star was more like it.

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, even if it was comparatively minor.

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 was usually present on campus was Ichika. Having not met a great deal of western men in her life, Rin was a little surprised to find that the one before her was actually quite handsome. Naturally, he didn't bear the same kind of facial features Ichika did, but there was no denying that he had some mix of rugged and gentle that made him seem a bit more mature than Rin's desired beau. That, and she had to admit, there was something alluring about a man with deep, dark blue eyes. Almost like a calming pool or something.

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 nonchalantly. "Well to be honest I wouldn't be able to count this ordeal as a rescue if you died from the injuries I inadvertently caused."

The American accent of her visitor was the final confirmation Rin needed to know who he was for sure. Of course, it had been pretty obvious right from the start anyway, but it never hurt to have all the absolute evidence that was needed. Of course, she had already been informed of the identity of her savior. "So you're the one that kept me from painting the ground, huh? Thanks. But couldn't you be a little more gentle next time?"

The boy smiled ruefully, apparently amused that she would find some fault in his methods even though the alternative outcome would have been her demise. Admittedly, she did seem like that kind of girl.

"Sorry. I arrived a bit too late to make a heroic landing for either of us. If it's any consolation I would be in a lot worse shape than you if not for my suit."

Rin in fact knew this was true already, since Cecilia had been at her bedside when she had first exited the mire of unconsciousness. Naturally the British blonde had seen fit to inform her friend of everything that had transpired, though admittedly Rin needed that considering the lack of information she had on anything besides 'falling out a window.'

She also knew that he had apparently seen fit to strip her of her clothes right after saving her. "So, does your idea of saving someone always include getting them naked?"

The boy blushed, but managed to answer without getting completely flustered. "To be fair, you weren't completely naked."

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. Heck, she didn't even have the strength to really feel embarrassed. "Oh, no foul then. I sure hope that logic only applies to your medical work."

The redness on the boy's cheeks didn't fade, but even so he didn't start to stutter or fumble either. He was confident, which was a quality that Rin could personally appreciate. "It might hold true on first dates too. It would depend on who's asking me."

Rin snickered at this stranger's rather fun sense of humor, which was something Ichika lacked from time to time. The latter knew how to make jokes, but they were few and far between and honestly only funny half the time.

Unfortunately she didn't get to laugh much anyway, as the pain in her torso stopped her after a mere second or two. " a girl I feel like I should be offended, but that was actually funny. Ouch..."

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."

"Should I get a nurse or something? They'll give you more painkillers won't they?"

Rin made a halfway notable effort to shake her head. "I'm assuming they'll come give me more when I'm supposed to have more. Thanks for asking though."

"If you say so..."

She decided to change the subject, uncomfortable with the topic of her injuries. "So I can only assume you're that American student or whatever we were told about earlier today?"

The American shook his head in reply. "No, I'm not a student of any sort. I definitely can't do anything I.S. related. I'm sure all of the specifics would confound me in a heartbeat anyway."

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.



Worried that she might have come off as stupid, Rin tried to bring her conversational partner to her level. "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. She could speak it readily enough, but she was still cut off guard outside of the basics. "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 at her expense, 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 really bothered by something that simple. Don't tell me no one has ever said that before? That would be hard to believe. T-the cute part, I mean. Not the IQ 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. Technically I was 'recommended' to not tour the grounds in the first place, though Miss Orimura definitely made it sound more like an order..."

The thought of it made Rin smile. This guy had a lot to learn about Chifuyu. "Pretty much everything that she ever says sounds like an order."

The boy smiled too, though his was more disconcerted than pleased. "That's reassuring... well, I hope I'll see you around sometimes. Not sure when or where all things considered, but still..."

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 expression entirely evident. "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 roll with it."

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. If we do run into each other again, 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. "That's almost frightening. 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 easily accomplish his main objective outright, Church was flying circles around the Academy tower, the shape of which he found extremely impractical. Truth be told he didn't really want to head back to his 'room' and right now he was doing something somewhat useful anyway, by scanning the school grounds. He wasn't actually looking for anything, but it would be nice to know the lay of the land so to speak.

That in and of itself didn't require a lot of focus, so at the moment he was talking to his new best friend, who had the title only because he was now inside of Church's head.

So, I know we've known each other for less than a day, but how long will it take you to settle on one personality archetype? No offense, but I don't quite like every version of you.

If the A.I. was offended in any way, it did not show in its answer.

I am very close to settling on the perfect archetype to assist you in your endeavors. Though personally I find it disheartening that you do not enjoy my violent side.

Church sighed as he rocketed around another twist in the tower's strange architecture.

Well I may or may not be worried that you could have some sort of negative impact on my psyche.

Cerberus switched to a more calming side of itself, which Church actually found ironic all things considered.

Fear not, Operator Epsilon, I have no such effect on your mind.

Wondering if this A.I. was actually advanced enough to be the asshole humans knew how to be, Church decided it was best not to find out until it was absolutely necessary.

I don't suppose I can get you to stop calling me that?

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.

I'll accept that if you call me just one or the other.

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. Marcus the All Powerful has hardwired that into my core.

Church couldn't help but shake his head at that.

Why am I not surprised that Marcus coded something like that into you?

I imagine it is because you probably expected him to.

Church shrugged, nodding to himself. "Yeah, probably..."

Cerberus may have had something to say after that, but the scan of the area actually revealed something useful at this point.

Operator, 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 spoke sternly into a phone.

"Hmm... well, it certainly couldn't hurt to find out what that's about. At this point I'll take anything that will delay returning to 'the room.' Let's just hope that not everything in her dossier was true."

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