In hindsight, I feel like I should have gotten around to revising all of this much sooner.
Church switched his thrusters to stealth mode as he descended to the ground several hundred feet below him. Stealth mode was good for little else other than hovering, but it reduced the emissions and the sounds emitted from the thruster pack, so it was preferable for sneaking up on angry German Representative Candidates yelling into headsets.
As he reached the base of the twisted tower, he engaged active camouflage to further hide himself. This equipment scanned the environment around Exeter, and replicated it onto the outer panels of the armor, effectively making Church invisible. Of course, it wasn't perfect; anyone paying close enough attention would notice a distortion in the air where there shouldn't be one. The effect, if noticed, looked a lot like heat waves coming off of blacktop.
Knowing that his footfalls in the heavy suit would cause far more noise than he needed, Church adjusted the levels of the energy shield on the bottoms of his feet to maximum, so that he could soundlessly slide towards his destination instead of walk. It was a bit like ice skating, and according to the techies back in the States, "Not recommended for combat operations."
Satisfied that all of the necessary stealth precautions had been taken, Church began to make his way towards the grove of trees and the lake in the central grounds of the Academy, where he had seen the girl he was interested in. The combination of shield-sliding and grass was awkward at first, but Church readjusted his movements without much trouble, and silently made it to his destination without incident.
Seeing his target of observation ahead, Church slid behind a large tree, and mentally issued Cerberus an order to maintain silence. Cerberus, amplify voice recognition to required levels for overhearing the target's conversation. Neutralize background noise.
The neutral tone that answered gave no emotion to hint at its thoughts on the eavesdropping, and merely complied with a bland, Affirmative, Operator.
Church smiled as all other sounds,be it the wind or chirping birds, were drowned out and the voice he was eavesdropping on became clear. Whether or not she was speaking in German, Japanese, or any other language, he didn't know. Whatever it was, Exeter translated it into English before it reached his ears, and even in her tone of voice. Modern technology never ceased to amaze him.
"What do you mean it's not ready!? Blitzkrieg was supposed to be completed months ago! What's the delay?"
Of course Church couldn't hear the other voice on the headset, but it was easy enough to tell that one of the conversationalists was unhappy and the other was making excuses, though whether or not they were valid was a mystery.
"When will the weapon data be available? I need it as soon as possible! Schwarzer Regen's railgun wasn't powerful enough to destroy the Gospel, so it's hardly likely that it will suffice for this new American creation either..."
That statement was enough for Church to piece together the gist of this conversation. The German Representative Candidate expected conflict with him, she was unaware of Exeter's strength, and she wanted a new, powerful weapon to fight him with. Clearly she already considered him a threat. The only question was whether or not she was actually suspicious of his motives or simply being cautious.
Deciding that he had heard enough to satisfy his curiosity, Church turned to make his escape when his slippery footing threw him under the bus. Having forgotten that they were active, the low friction on the bottom of his shielded feet caused him to practically kick his own legs out from under him. Attempting to save himself from a noisy reveal, Church grabbed onto a nearby branch, but his quick reaction exerted more force than he had intended: his grip snapped the branch in two, and he ungracefully fell to the ground with a loud crash of metal on dirt and bark.
Knowing that there was no way the German girl had not heard him at this point, Church quickly deactivated his armor in order to avoid a tragic misunderstanding about the situation. If he appeared to be sneaking up on her in that, she could have misconstrued his intent as lethal, and that certainly wouldn't have been good. As his suit was collapsing in on itself and compressing into a smaller pieces, Church scrambled to get back to his feet. He was only half way up when the girl he had been spying on discovered him.
Church got back to his feet as quickly as possible. Coming face to face with the girl, Church affirmed that she was most definitely Laura Bodewig, one of the Representative Candidates he had read about before arrival. Of course, he had been pretty positive of that before now, but seeing her face left absolutely zero room for doubt. "Ah, uh… hello Miss Bodewig. Sorry I startled you."
His apology had no effect on the stern and suspicious gaze of the eye-patched girl. "Is that so? It's more likely that you're just sorry I caught you spying on me."
Seeing that her expression wasn't softening in the slightest, Church struggled to hold back a grimace. He remembered Bodewig's dossier mentioning her as quite the astute young girl, at least when it came to piloting and logical application. Apparently her social skills left much to be desired, but it was not as if she needed those at the moment.
That being the case, Church decided to take a different approach to this situation, besides trying to lie himself out of it. "Alright, fine. Yes, I was spying on you, but not for the reasons you think."
Bodewig cocked an eyebrow at him. "For what other reasons would you be sneaking through the trees like you were? I hardly see how you could have had good intentions."
Church thought carefully about his answer, and decided he would tell an altered truth. "Well, to be honest with you, I was just trying to get my mind off of my situation. After seeing my room, I got kind of depressed about my stay here. I saw you while flying around and decided to investigate, but you looked rather angry, so I wasn't going to approach you directly..."
Apparently not believing him, the girl he was trying to deceive scowled. "Is that the best excuse you could come up with? The student body notwithstanding, this is one of the most prestigious institutions in the entire world. I'm sure your quarters are of the finest standards-"
"The previous occupant of my room was an opossum. I'm still not even sure what one is doing in Japan..."
The German girl's argument died with that revelation. "Oh… I see. You were assigned to that room. Well, I guess I do feel sort of bad for even you… however, I still do not believe your story. Your impressive stealth is a testament to your true intentions. Well... impressive right up until the end, that is..."
Church shrugged as he thought of ways to salvage this awkward meeting. "Well that's not necessarily true. I mean sure, I could've been sneaking up on you to stab you in the back or something, but on the other hand, maybe I was hiding because a guy like myself suddenly coming up behind a beautiful woman like you could be misinterpreted as something more… questionable. I mean, someone with excellent training like you would probably roundhouse me if I showed up unannounced."
Clearly surprised at the very unexpected compliments, Bodewig blushed slightly and scratched the back of her head in embarrassment. Seeing that this had aided Church's cause considerably, Cerberus quipped up from within his mind.
Well played, Operator, well played indeed.
Even so, the girl in front of Church quickly recovered her composure and glared at him accusingly. "Still, you are an untrustworthy individual, and the possibility of hostile intentions is too high! You are no doubt spying on the Representative Candidates so that you may acquire an advantage when battling us later."
That last sentence caused a spike of panic within Church. Battling them? Damn, does she already know about our mission? But how?
Cerberus answered him calmly. It is not possible for this human to be aware of our objective. Remain calm, Operator, and proceed with caution; this one possesses excellent logical skills…for a meat-bag.
Church would've rolled his eyes at Cerberus' derogatory name for humans had the German in front of him not been watching him so closely. However, Cerberus was right, and the chance of his ulterior motive being known by anyone in the Academy was almost zero, even if they had somehow been aware about the existence of the Exeter suit in the first place.
"Battling you? I'm only here to observe, not fight. Were you told otherwise?"
The girl in front of him frowned. "It is currently a possibility that you will be an opponent in the near future. As such, you are under my highest level of scrutiny until your permanent departure from the Academy."
Seeing that this conversation was only going further and further downhill the longer it dragged on, Church devised an efficient, yet crude way to distract this girl from her suspicious thoughts on him. "Is that so? You take things mighty seriously don't you? Then again, most flat girls have that type of personality, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised…"
The victim of this slander merely cocked an eyebrow at him, seemingly not irritated at all or even understanding his point. "I hardly see what that has to do with this conversation."
Despite his confusion in regards to the ineffectiveness of his words, Church shrugged nonchalantly. "Well you know, small girls like you tend to have more brusque and sometimes violent personalities, so..."
Even this didn't seem to affect the girl before him, though she did seem to finally understand what he meant as she glanced down at her modest bust. "Hm. I suppose that may be true in most circumstances. After all, it certainly applies to Rinin... still, what does that have to do with our discussion?"
Church resisted the urge to frown as his plan failed miserably. He had hoped to get the girl before him angry and flustered to distract her from her suspicions of him, but it wasn't working, at least not along this tangent. Surely there was some quality this girl had that she didn't like pointed out...
He briefly wondered if her eye was a touchy subject for her, but even in order to escape this situation, Church was unwilling to verbally attack this girl over that. If it truly was something painful for her, doing that would just be cruel. That being the case, wasn't there something a little less harmless to tease her over...?
Operator, if it has not occurred to you yet, I advise you to realize that this meat-bag is very short. Four foot eleven, in fact. Compared to you at approximately five foot seven, she is a whole eight inches shorter than you. Generally speaking, short people do not like being reminded that they are short.
Mentally face-palming for not realizing this sooner, Church put on the smuggest expression he could muster. "Well, it that isn't the reason for your hostile disposition, it has to be something else. But what, I wonder? Is it perhaps...? But no, it couldn't be..."
Laura seemed entirely confused by what Church was hinting at, but said nothing as she waited for him to finish.
"Well, they do say that the shorter you are the closer you are to hell-"
Before he could even check to see how effective his goading was, Church was forced to recoil away from a laser blade swing to his torso. Apparently he had hit the mark this time around. The look of cold malice on Bodewig's face was enough to inform him of that.
"Since you're so eager to die, allow me."
Church briefly wondered if he had made a terrible mistake, but he was soon too busy dodging lethal swings to answer himself. As for Cerberus, he felt the need to state the obvious for some reason.
Operator, while we have succeeded in distracting the female meat-bag from her suspicions, it is high time we make ourselves scarce.
With killer intent filling the immediate area around him, Church hastily retreated away from his attacker. Unfortunately, he only made it a few steps before a black and purple wire found its way around his neck.
Jesus, isn't that a little much?!
Looking back to see the German pilot mobilizing different parts of her Schwarzer Regen to murder him with, Church quickly activated Exeter, or at least the right arm of it, which possessed his plasma blade. Seriously fearing for his life at the very most, never mind the very least, the American pilot quickly sliced through the wire coiled around him, before activating the rest of his suit and taking off into the air.
Once he made it a somewhat safe distance away, Church looked back at the girl who had nearly killed him, if only to gloat as he escaped. Thankfully, turning towards the girl allowed him to dodge the railgun shot she had just fired at him as well, at which point Church discarded gloating for simply retreating as quickly as he possibly could from the devil he had inadvertently created.
Ironically, nothing about this situation had debunked the saying regarding short people and hell. In fact, it had only reinforced it many, many times over.
Hours later, Church twisted one of Exeter's fiber optic cables around the corner of one of the Academy's hallways, careful to avoid contact with anyone (Especially Bodewig), as he made his way back to his decrepit room.
Fortunately, the German girl had decided against chasing him down and murdering him earlier that day, likely because unauthorized I.S. combat on Academy grounds was practically begging for a political shitstorm. Whether or not she had aimed so well on purpose, Laura's railgun blast earlier had missed the Academy tower by a wide margin, but if it had hit, who knows what could have happened...
But that was all moot at this point. Church had gotten away, and he had not encountered his assailant since the fiasco. All he had to do was keep it that way as he returned to his sorry excuse for living quarters...
That was still a risky proposition, as he was on floor eighty-one, and still had roughly sixty more to go. Since he was averse to using the elevator, lest he bring unwanted attention to himself from all the girls that used it, Church was making use of the stairs, as low tech and tiresome as they were.
After confirming that the hallway was indeed clear at five in the afternoon, he proceeded to silently creep along the linear path that led to a separate flight of stairs. Cerberus couldn't help but question his pilot's overly-cautious behavior.
Operator, it is unlikely that any students are in the vicinity at this time. They are most likely attending their final classes, which are all held on floors other than this one. In fact, if you think about it, nearly 80% of this tower is uninhabited at any time... no one should be this far up at this particular time besides you.
Church responded mentally to his A.I. companion. Yeah, but you can never be too careful… why does this place have so many floors anyway? There certainly aren't enough students to fill them all, even back when they had a larger roster.
Cerberus responded nonchalantly. It is likely because they built the tower as a fancy monument before a practical building. They probably didn't consider the excess space until after construction was completed, or they just didn't care. Either way, I seem to have been mistaken about the presence of others this far up. There are two heat signatures four rooms down the hall.
Church froze at the mention of it, now more vigilant in maintaining silence. You idiot, why didn't you tell me sooner?
It did not seem important at the time.
Well it was definitely important for me!
But not for me.
Exeter's pilot retorted, Well what's important to me takes priority over what's important to you!
But according to the Constitution, we're all equals.
Church rolled his eyes as Cerberus tried this approach. That applies to humans, not machines. And we aren't even in America!
Cerberus responded with a stereotypical, exaggerated hillbilly accent. Really? No matter where we are, aren't we all on the same great team of Amurica?
Shut up. You're a machine; you can't have a sense of humor... heck, can you even have a sense of patriotism?
Can I? Creator-Sir-Awesomeness may have endowed me with one or both.
Church finally realized he was arguing with a machine (and possibly losing said argument) and returned his attention to moving down the hallway as silently as possible. As he neared the door Cerberus had marked a few moments ago, that same A.I. spoke up once more.
Oh dear, how scandalous...
Such an unexpected remark caused a moment of confusion to scramble Church's thoughts. What? What the hell are you talking about?
Cerberus replied with a tone of amusement. The aforementioned heat signatures are engaged in some… intimate activity. If you'd like, I could activate the X-ray to let you see for yourself.
Church blushed and shook his head vigorously. Considering that 99.9% of the student body was female, the first image that came to his mind with 'intimate activities' involved girls on both sides. N-no! I'm not going to use the suit to peep on two people doing that!
Cerberus imitated a human laugh, but it was distinctly metallic, and therefore unnerving. Oh dear, Operator, get your mind out of the gutter! They are merely kissing. And they seem to be two very important people as well…
Cerberus took a few moments to respond, likely because it was running through some process or another. It would seem that the French Representative Candidate and the only other male within five miles are secretly star-crossed lovers: although that is just an assumption based on the passion I am witnessing. Are you sure you don't want to see?
Yes, I'm sure. And forgive me for sounding like a crotchety old man, but shouldn't they be in class? Or in their dorms or something? I mean what, they came all the way up here for this? Don't those two live together in the first place? I was sure I read something like that on the way over...
Church questioned the idea of Dunois and Orimura having that type of relationship. Such a thing as teenage romance may seem like a minor aspect of the grand scheme of things, but in this specific situation, it had more far-reaching implications. According to the dossiers Shadow Sector had compiled for him, several of the Representative Candidates shared feelings for Orimura, so the fact that he had already chosen one of them could have a seriously negative impact on the behavior of the others. Church didn't even want to know what Chifuyu's reaction to this revelation would be: provided she didn't already know. She seemed like a hard woman to keep secrets from. Either way, she'd be furious if she knew her younger brother was skipping out on class to make out, instead of whatever excuse he had used to explain away his absence.
Of course, now that he thought about it, maybe that was why the two of them had come all the way up here: to avoid the other girls who were constantly hounding Orimura. Even if the two of them lived in the same dorm room, everyone knew where that room was, so it was hardly a safe location...
Church shook his head as if to clear his mind. C'mon, Cerberus, this is none of our business. Besides, we still have another sixty flights of stairs to go, so we'd better get a move on.
His A.I. sighed at this. As you wish Operator. I merely thought that a hormone driven human male such as yourself would be interested in such a thing. I for one find the idea of kissing repulsive. Do you have any idea how unsanitary the mixing of two muscles that-
Shut up, before you ruin something I'm seriously looking forward to in the future.
The rest of their trip to their ancient room consisted of a futile attempt to keep Cerberus from spouting the facts about human intimate relations. While he was unsure of how he would, Church made a mental note to wipe all of these facts from his memory at a later date.
I had originally had the conversation between Laura and Church much different, only to realize that Infinite Stratos itself lampshades the fact that Laura doesn't have a bust size complex. Sure, I could have waved my author's license around, but personally I think the new conversation is more fun anyway.