Round 7 of The Exeter Project is now here. As a side note, I would like a better title, but I can't really think of one. If anybody has some ideas on that, I would appreciate it.
Five days. Five long days was what it took for Church to repair that accursed wall. And even after all of those bone-breaking hours of work, it still looked like a drywall patch-up attempt rather than a professional repair. Church eyed the wall that had earned his eternal hatred. If he had his way, he would never lay eyes on it again.
I think we have done a fine job, Operator-Church.
I think that I don't care whether or not I did a fine job: Chifuyu will like it or I'll blast this place weeks ahead of schedule.
As if Church's dour thoughts had been overheard through some sort of telepathy, he was addressed from behind. "Oh, Church-Kun, the wall looks rather nice."
The American pilot turned to face Yamada, standing behind him and admiring his fixer-upper handiwork. "Hm... well, if you say so. At this point, I'm so frustrated I may end up breaking it again."
The comment was met with a short laugh from the woman, despite the fact that he had meant it quite literally. "I see. Well, it is Saturday, so if you would like, the students are allowed to participate in mock battles on the field in preparation for tomorrow's weekend tournament. It may help you release your pent up frustration."
"I'm not a student. Also, no one else is supposed to know about the suit."
Yamada made that trademark apologetic grin of hers, as well as a nervous laugh, and Church got the feeling that he was about to hear something he didn't want to hear.
"Well Church-Kun, the whole school...er...kinda already knows."
Oh my... this is unfortunate.
"W-what?! Why?! How?!"
Yamada kneaded her hands anxiously. "W-well... it's quite difficult to keep such a secret, especially when you accidentally crashed into one of the Academy buildings. Not to mention that you were seen by two other girls, so we had no choice but to come out with the truth."
Church cradled his head in his hands and sighed. "Grr... this ruins everything..."
Mistaking his dissatisfaction as anger at her, Yamada bowed apologetically and quickly tried to remove blame from herself. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry! Please don't be angry! I only told the classes because Orimura-Sensei made me!"
Control your temper, Cerb.
Church waited for Yamada to finish her unnecessary apologies before speaking to her again. "Well, it that's the case, I guess I might as well take out the frustration that has just been amplified. Lead the way."
Upon stepping onto the training area, Church began to analyze all of the aspects of the would-be battlefield. There wasn't much to analyze. It was really just a large stadium surrounded by bleachers. What type of training field didn't have any form of cover? Church began to think that, but quickly remembered that I.S. combat was mostly aerial. Sometimes he forgot his new purpose, considering that Exeter was originally a power-suit for infantry.
Since the field wasn't too terribly interesting, Church began to identify all of the students that occupied it. Most of them were students he didn't recognize, although he did spot the girl who had been wearing the 'Pikachu' pajamas on Monday, although know she was wearing one of the student I.S. sync suits. Unfortunately, off to the right was not only the RCs, but also Shinonono and both Orimura siblings. Of course, Chifuyu wasn't arming herself for combat, but all of the others were.
Church noticed that Rin was not among them, although a moment of searching showed that the girl was seated nearby in the bleachers above. She didn't have anywhere near as many bandages as before, but her fatigued look and occasional massages of her aching body attested to the fact that she was in no condition to be piloting. Besides, her right arm was still in a sling, and was probably still broken. Such gruesome injuries didn't heal in a week.
Yamada led Church over to the group of teens, and Church already knew that his opponent would be one of them. The thought made him a little anxious, since he hadn't fought an I.S. in a while. However, he was confident in his abilities, and he quickly dispelled his misgivings. Still, he hadn't dealt with all that many specialized I.S., so Church didn't really know what he was up against. Then again, these girls had never fought Exeter either, so the disadvantage went to both sides.
Having already activated Exeter before entering the field, Church carefully noted the expressions of the people surrounding him. Bodewig glared at him maliciously. Alcott gave him a derisive look. Dunois was examining Church's suit, clearly fascinated by the tech. Shinonono cast a brief glance in his direction, but she quickly returned her attention to Ichika, who was merely staring out into the field. All in all, none of them seemed to have any good interest in Church. Or any interest at all really. Only Bodewig and Alcott seemed to look at him as a person, but it was obviously as a person that they hated.
On the other hand, Church didn't like the idea of not being recognized. He'd make sure the rest of this crew noticed him very soon. "So, who wants three weeks of repairs on their hands? I'm more than happy to deliver."
That comment garnered the irritated looks of all the girls around him. Even Ichika seemed a little annoyed by American's arrogant tone. Chifuyu on the other hand, smiled.
"Eager to get started are we? And feisty too. I can see why you and Miss Huang get along."
The rest of the crew did not seem so amused. Bodewig's angry gaze intensified. "If you're so eager to receive an early grave, I'll gladly scrap you. And your death will be seen as a complete accident. Sounds like a perfect situation to me."
Chifuyu glanced at the German girl with disapproval. "You won't be fighting him, Bodewig."
"What! Why not? Instructor, I-!"
"Don't start with me, Laura."
The silver haired girl fell silent, although the menace in her pointed gaze was not diminished. Church was glad he was inside of his suit, safe from the petite girl's fury.
"Well then, I assume you'll be choosing my opponent then?"
Chifuyu nodded. "That's right. And since that is the case... Ichika! Get ready."
"W-what?! Why me?"
The boy's older sibling grinned. "Because, you're the least challenging pilot here, and I think our guest needs to start on a low tier."
Now both of the young men were offended. Church didn't say it out loud, but his thoughts were none too pleased. Low tier?! Bitch, I could own every single one of you Mecha-flying motherfuckers with one armament!
Cerberus commented on Church's angry thoughts. That's the way to tell the meat-bags, Operator! Well, if you had actually told them, but since you merely thought it...
Shut up Cerb, just warm up the weapons.
The would-be opponents walked themselves to opposite sides of the field, and the students that had been frivolously polluting the arena with a lack of activity scattered. Once the field was clear of any possible 'accidents', both pilots readied up their separate combat systems. As Orimura's I.S. materialized, Church opened up the database in his visor and searched for info on the hostile machine.
Cerberus, have we never fought with this model before?
Cerberus took mere seconds to search for all information relevant to the Japanese model. I'm afraid not Operator. The model being used by our opponent is a rare one; Byakushiki has not found much use in the last decade. It is a difficult model to use, and is not favored by most 2nd Gen pilots. However, it has a very limited range of armaments. In fact, it only has one melee weapon,the Yukihira, and is devoid of ranged armaments.
Church nodded to himself. Is that so? However, if it only has one weapon, we can assume that it is either very powerful, or has some sort of special ability that compensates for its other shortcomings. Not to mention that this kid played a key role in destroying the Gospel. His sister is just ribbing him when she brings up a lack of skill. We can't underestimate him, or that Bya-whatever.
Ever chary Operator. That is a valuable attribute. However, it seems our time for analysis is over.
The brief mental conversation between the two of them was interrupted by a shout from the sidelines. "Whenever you're ready, you may begin."
No other confirmation was needed. In Church's mind, this whole area had just become a free-fire zone. Similar to I.S. weaponry, the armaments Church intended to use materialized onto Exeter on hard points around the suit. These hard points stored data of weapons, which, after selected, were rapidly constructed by some advanced technology that less than point two percent of the world's population understood. All Church knew was that his weapons appeared when he needed them, and that the Instant Armor Modification Module would operate in the same manner when it was complete.
Exeter's Konig-Wolf Dual Sniper Rifles materialized on the suit's shoulder hard points. They were actually automatic, and more like machine guns, but the accuracy and range of the weapons classified them as sniper rifles. Their long barrels locked into position, as Exeter's reticule simultaneously locked onto Orimura's I.S. He released the safety on the weapons and began firing, sending a high-speed, accurate volley of fifty-caliber rounds at his target.
Despite the speed that the projectiles traveled, Orimura had plenty of time to evade them by increasing his altitude. Exeter automatically tracked his movements and compensated, keeping focused fire on the target. Orimura continued to strafe back and forth in an attempt to dodge all of the fire. Church wasn't really hitting him, and therefore not accomplishing anything, but for now, Orimura was kept at bay by the attack, and he couldn't get close with his one melee weapon. It gave Church time to work out a strategy, but it also gave his opponent time to do the same.
Cerberus, arm the AZ missiles.
This missile pod materialized on Exeter's back Hard Point. When a target was locked, it would launch twenty-six homing missiles at the enemy. Having to dodge the DSRs and AZ missiles would be difficult for Orimura to do. Activating the new weapon, Cerberus modified the firing lines so that the missiles would split evenly and target the enemy from both the left and right. With the DSR fire down the middle, Orimura would be trapped in a kill box.
The missiles launched out of the back module, split evenly into two groups of thirteen, and accelerated towards their target. With bullets above, and missiles on both sides, Orimura was pinned. Church smiled as he thought of how easily this battle had been won. He watched with satisfaction as the missiles converged on their target: but there was no explosion. At the last moment, Orimura rocketed forward and cut through the missiles as a whole, while they were bunched together. Before Exeter could redirect its DSR fire to intercept the approaching target, the distance between the two machines had dwindled to mere feet. Deciding that evasion was his best option, Church ducked down as far as he could, barely dodging Yukihira. Unfortunately, the left DSR barrel was sliced in two by the weapon.
Using his thrusters to increase the distance between he and Orimura once more, Church threw a displeased glare at his opponent as he deposited his damaged Konig-Wolf rifles. He noticed the other RC's on the edge of the field, watching the battle with amusement. Cecilia laughed derisively.
"Is that the best that American piece of trash can do! I can't believe you thought you could beat Ichika with that!"
Church glared at the girl, but noted that most of the other RCs were thinking the same thing. At least it looked like it, from the looks on their faces. Well, except for Rin. Still in the bleachers, she merely looked on with interest, not seeming to root for either side. In fact, it looked as though she were debating over which pilot to support.
Knowing that he was getting distracted, Church returned his attention to his opponent, who had not moved after his dash at Exeter. Seeing an opportunity to show off, Church deposited the AZ missile module and selected the plasma blade, Sieglinde, for his wrist HP. He noted the looks of amazement in the audience's faces as they witnessed the blade manifest itself. Most, if not all I.S. used lasers when it came to energy type weapons. Plasma was unheard of as a form of combat, and therefore, Exeter's plasma weaponry was the pride and joy of its engineering team.
Warming up his thrusters for the series of close-range clashes about to take place, Church readied another special weapon in his other wrist HP. Although technically this weapon was considered lethal even to shielded pilots, Church was hoping that Byakushiki's Absolute Defense would protect its pilot from serious harm. Despite the awe being experienced by the audience, Orimura was not distracted in the slightest. He simply readied Yukihira to meet Sieglinde.
The two pilots ignited their thrusters and rocketed towards each other, and the meters between them dwindled rapidly. As one closed in on the other, both Church and Orimura aimed their respective blades at the torso of their opponent. Church, at the last second, twisted his body in a way that evaded his enemy's attack while still landing his own. However, he only landed a glancing blow with Sieglinde, and Byakushiki's shields were still holding up after the encounter.
As the two machines slid to a stop across from each other, Church noted the look of worry on Orimura's face. And he had good reason for it. Exeter was a much smaller unit than any I.S., and it also functioned like a human body instead of a mech. Those two aspects made Exeter a very maneuverable machine, making close quarters difficult for any enemy pilot. Of course, a smaller target also meant that he was harder to hit as well.
This time, Church decided not to participate in this high-tech joust with Orimura. Instead, he let the Japanese boy come to him. As his adversary blasted towards him, Church noticed that the Yukihira he wielded had entered a second attack form of some sort. This must've been the special ability that Church himself had predicted. In preparation for a counter, Church readied the secret weapon of his own that he had armed earlier. He raised his arm and pointed at the oncoming enemy in front of him, and began charging up Niddhog, Exeter's current most powerful weapon; a sonic cannon that could exert three times the yield of the city-buster dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The difference in this weapon, however, was that it concentrated all of that force in one small area. The blast would pulverize both Byakushiki and its pilot.
As Orimura drew near, a small spike of conflict arose within the American operative. He was about to kill another human being. One close to his own age even. One with lots of friends and a sister, who would be heartbroken over his death. And for what? Following orders?
He had mere seconds to reach a decision, and when Orimura was less than thirty meters away, he did. Church aimed Niddhog at the ground in-between he and his opponent, and braced himself for a massive shock wave and a lot of debris. As he fired the super weapon, the entire stadium was filled with a deafening clap that would have easily destroyed the hearing of Orimura and himself had they not been protected by their respective technologies. The wave of sound was followed by a wave of force, followed by tons of earth dislodged by the blast. Church, despite his attempts to the contrary, was blasted backwards by an impact greater than a bullet train, and he was flung all the way to the opposite end of the stadium. He slammed into the metal alloy wall, and despite the armor he was wearing, was instantly rendered unconscious by the impact.
"...is he alright?"
"We can't tell, since his suit is still active."
Church heard the foggy and distant voices in his head, but the only thing they did was intensify his headache. He slowly cracked one eye open, and then the other, and his vision was filled with his HUD, which was playing a recording of the battle with Orimura.
Church's tentative question was met with an enthusiastic response. Ah, Operator! You are not discontinued! How tragic-
Yeah, yeah, whatever. Where am I? What happened? Go.
Having cut off the pointless banter of the machine, it continued with a neutral tone that bore no emotion, as if Church had smitten its enthusiasm with his words.
Yes, yes, of course Operator. The close proximity from Niddhog's discharge caused an impact that rendered you unconscious. You were carried to the infirmary by Academy instructors. You are still in your suit because Failsafe Tau 29X-SS prevents Exeter from shutting down while the pilot is unconscious. I also regret to inform you that you missed earlier. Your opponent is still very much alive and his Byakushiki has only suffered level C structural damage. Exeter on the other hand, has suffered no damage to the frame. Weapons are generally not as effective against their creators...
I wasn't trying to hit him Cerberus, because it would have killed him.
Cerberus thought this was a joke. Oh, nonsense Operator! Why waste such an opportunity? There is no need to feel ashamed about missing your target. Niddhog has quite a kick-
I'm serious. I wasn't ready to kill him. And I don't think I will be for a while.
Cerberus remained quiet as it processed this, but when it finished, its tone once more lacked emotion. So long as you are ready when it is necessary, Operator-Epsilon. You have a mission to fulfill.
Cerberus then signed off in order to check on the suit itself, but Church followed it with a remark anyway. "Yeah. Don't remind me..."
A tapping on his visor startled Church out of his own thoughts.
"I think I heard something. Hey, are you awake in there?"
Church deactivated the battle replay, and its image was replaced with the face of a well-known Chinese girl, trying to peer past Exeter's reflective visor. Before she treated him like a fish at an aquarium again, Church deactivated Exeter completely, and the suit began to fold. As it finished, Church found himself lying in the exact same bed Rinin had about a week ago.
Rin smiled at him. "Isn't it? Anyway, if your spine isn't broken or anything, You need to get off your lazy ass and come on already. You've been lying there for nearly three hours."
Church rubbed the side of his face as he sat up. "You don't have any questions?"
Rin shrugged. "Sure I do. You blasted a crater half the size of the stadium and almost as deep into the ground. But I doubt you would tell me what that weapon was even if I asked." She leaned forward and pecked him on the cheek. "All I'm gonna say is thanks for not shooting Ichika with it. I saw how you pointed it away at the last second."
Church blushed just a little, but managed to keep his composure. "Isn't that a little much for a thanks between two people who've only known each other for a week?"
"You almost killed my future husband. But you chose not to; I think that deserves a little more than a thank you, and my arms hurt too much to give you a hug. One is broken, in case you've forgotten."
Church decided not to press the matter any further. "Chifuyu isn't going to make me fix that hole too, is she?"
Rin laughed at the thought of the misery that would bring upon the boy in front of her. "Nah, I don't think so. Something like that is going to need professional repairs. Not like your DIY crap on the gym wall."
"You're welcome... anyway, you said I need to come on already, where am I going?"
Rin gave him a look that said she couldn't believe he didn't know their destination. "It's Saturday, you idiot. I said I would prove to you that my food is a better quality than that fast food crap in your country. I've already got all the ingredients in my bag, so now we'll just head to your room to cook it. So let's go already. Every second we waste is another second the good name of gourmet Chinese food is tarnished by your heretical beliefs!"
"I... uh... don't think you want to go to my room..."
"Well you aren't going to mine."
Church shrugged, unwilling to debate with the girl, especially since she was doing him a favor by cooking dinner. "Fine. But you're going to regret this. Follow me."
"What the hell? Church, you actually have to sleep in this... whatever the hell this is?"
Church nodded as Rinin gawked at his terrible living quarters. "Yep. It hasn't been all bad. Minus the occasional cockroach, the miasma of musty stench, and the earwigs, it's-"
"I take it you aren't cooking for me then?'
Rin looked at him defiantly. "Of course I am! But not here! This place is a dump, I can't believe you have to sleep here! Even you don't deserve that!"
"Even me? What the hell does that mean?"
"Just shut up and follow me. Geez, now we gotta go another thirty floors back down..."
Church stared after the girl as she stormed off, and wondered if he really wanted to be anywhere alone with her. But then he looked back into his 'room', and knew that anywhere was better than there.
Bah, I wanted to write the next scene, but I'm so tired and I want to go ahead and publish this! I'll work it into the next one, I guess.