"Infinite Stratos" series property of author Izuru Yumizuru
Original Characters or Concepts property of author "Person With Many Aliases"
(An Alternate Universe. Liberties will be taken.)
2012 had turned out to be a convenient year to end the world after all.
He could remember the crowded streets, the orderly, but packed evacuation that lined every walkway, people walking, people running, people trying to escape to the shelters.
In a few hours, the missiles of the world would land in Japan, and everything he ever knew would be reduced to irradiated dust.
At his age, it was difficult to comprehend the breadth of this destruction, but even then, seated in the back of the van, he could look out the window, watching the people rush, hear the air fill with frenzied car horns and local police and soldiers trying to maintain order. He could understand the immediacy of the fear, and know that everyone he could see was in danger, himself, his friend...
The family of his friend.
"Ichika, you haven't heard from Chifuyu or my sister yet?"
He rode in the same van with Houki and her family. Her parents debated and conferred in the front, speaking about complicated things that a nine year old boy and a girl wouldn't understand well. All they could do was sit amongst the quickly packed survival necessities in the back, and wonder where their siblings were, their siblings that had to just be unaccounted for at a time where the world was about to end. His sibling? Chifuyu was essentially his only family. His parents... Chifuyu refused to speak about them.
"They're not answering their cellphones... where are they...?" He muttered, exiting the inbox option of his own phone.
"You think we'll find them later...?" Houki muttered from under her long bangs. Far as Ichika remembered, she always tried her hardest to put up a strong front, but in this moment, they were just two kids caught up in the wave of events far beyond their control. Ichika knew Houki probably was worried and scared out of her head, no matter how nonchalantly she tried to pass off her question. It wasn't just how he noticed the subtle trembling of her body, or the way she was trying to pass off her shrinking her body inwards as folding her arms.
Ichika only knew she was scared because in this situation, he was scared himself.
Even if he was afraid, the only way he could speak was a faithfully blind optimism, "D-Don't worry! We'll find them at the shelter, I'm sure! Everything will be okay!"
At that moment, the world ended, but not by fire or by ice, but by thunder and radio.
The roar of simultaneous explosions echoed in the horizon. Houki's parents turned up the volume of the news report.
"Amazing", the voice said, "Some sort of white light dancing around the hurtling long range missiles like they were toys, making them explode."
In an hour, something saved Japan.
With bombs no longer falling over their heads, Ichika restlessly pulled himself halfway out of the van's sliding window, letting himself sit on the sill as he stared at the sky.
The streets were filled with wild cheering as radios continued to confirm that a miracle occurred, though it would only be later discovered it was a miracle of science.
These were of course, words too large for a child. He was staring at the sky, and realized a white blur was soaring above him. It was impossible to see what it was, but he wanted to imagine it was what stopped the missiles. Perhaps it was even a person, a lone hero that made history.
The white speck turned away, and assumed a course out of his sight.
He wanted to be able to change the world, as well...
Six years later, though, Orimura Ichika had to begrudgingly accept maybe that wasn't going to happen.
What was happening was that his friend was trying to kill him.
"Would you stop messing up your tie! ?"
"I can't breathe in this, Rin." Ichika complained, pulling at blue silk on his neck. He wouldn't be fooled by the expensive cloth. As far as he was concerned, a noose was a noose, and here his friend was betray-
"Gaghk!" The boy, now a teenager, gave a great exaggerated cry of choking to death as a diminutive girl in a Chinese Officer's dress uniform closed the tie up properly for the umpteenth time.
"Stop being such a baby, Ichika, or I'll kick you out and find a more obedient guest!" She snorted, brushing straight the suit he was wearing.
He raised his arms in mock surrender, "Yes, Huang Lingyin, my Chinese overlord, I surrender."
"Good boy. If you keep this up until we leave, I might even throw in a bone for you, Ichika." Rin smirked, petting her taller friend's head.
"Right, right..." Came the final defeated sigh, before Ichika turned to look out the window at the Yokohama night sky. He and Rin were seated in the middle of a fairly impressive convoy of vehicles that had just taken a ramp off the highway and was now moving towards the Pacifico Yokohama. The waterside convention center still managed looked rather modern after all these years.
Rin picked up on the silence, "Whatcha thinking about now?"
"Just thinking how much things changed in six years... since the White Knight Incident."
She couldn't fault him. She may have saw him as Ichika, but as far as the world was concerned he was Orimura Ichika, and he couldn't escape that.
Six years since a technological miracle saved Japan. Then a genius claimed responsibility for the creation of the weapon used. Infinite Stratos, or an "I.S.". A genius hands out the basic operating blueprints for a veritable super weapon, hands out 467 Cores, that no one can pry into, and disappears, almost mocking the world with a Gordian Knot that holds the doors of the future shut. 467 cores snapped up by the world's militaries and corporations.
467 cores that won't respond to male users. Some angry mutters at the inconvenience, and now female pilots are being trained by the air forces of each respective country, given their own special treatment. Extraordinary weapons now fielded and flown by veritable superstars.
Though the cores have yet to be successfully studied, the technology of the IS was ground breaking enough in itself. Passive Inertia Cancelling. Hyper Sensors. Advanced computing. Hologram technology. Particle weapons.
467 cores, one original blueprint, and six years later, the world was in its silicon renaissance.
But no matter how much the technology advances, it all comes back to the Infinite Stratos, the new jealously guarded and openly flaunted. No matter how much radical new technology can be indebted to it, and how much popular sensationalism could be attributed to their photogenic, beautiful new pilots, the IS were just a new angle for which world politics bark and bray.
Which brought things to Yokohama, now. Another year meant another annual Global Advanced Air Show, which naturally meant every country showing off and scrutinizing each other's Infinite Stratos. This time, the Chinese had a new IS worth showing off, with it, the newest pilot. Of course, the new pilot was allowed to invite one other person...
Ichika sighed again. Life was so troublesome.
"You're moaning and groaning again, Ichika." His friend testily noted, "You can't possibly still be thinking about how 'the world has changed'."
"No. Just how I could have spent tonight deciding where to go for high school."
Rin barely avoided laughing out loud at that one.
"Pph, are you kidding? You're invited to one of the coolest events of the year by your best friend for one night and you're worried about the most boring, all year one?"
"Well..." Ichika drawled, landing one hand heavily on Rin's head and giving it a patronizing rub, "Unlike my best friend who's going to leave to become world famous and have these social events all the time, I gotta worry about my future as an ordinary human being."
"You're... you're not upset, are you?"
That surprisingly quiet question brought Ichika out of his reverie, "Upset? What are you talking about?"
"It's just, you know. I'll be going back to China once we show off the Shenlong. Things have been really messed up after my folks split up... I'm going to be an IS pilot, but you're going to be stuck here, alone. I just wanted to make sure we had one last good memory together."
"...That's surprisingly thoughtful of you."
"Are you saying I'm usually not?"
Ichika raised his hands defensively, "Of course not! Do you have to be so defensive?"
"Hmph." The Chinese girl folded her arms.
"Don't worry, Rin. We'll always be friends. We don't need to make flashy memories to remember that."
That (inexplicably) managed to bring a blush to her face, "R-Really?"
"...Besides, I go to big shows like these in Chifuyu-nee's absence all the time. This is probably my third party this year."
"... You were just waiting to say that, weren't you."
Ichika managed to keep a completely still face for five seconds. Then he choked back a laugh.
"Ichika, you ass! I'm going to stretch that face of yours!"
"Ah! I'm sorry!"
But the tension already broke as two old friends wrestled in the back of the car, smiling and laughing as always.
Within a few more minutes, the convoy containing the ostensibly Chinese delegation stopped at the front entrance of convention center. Among many other guests that exited the line of cars, Ichika, nice suit, blue noose and all, joined them. He turned around to look at Rin, who remained in the car. Her head emerged from the opening window, with her two tails of brown hair brushing the bottom sill.
"I'm part of the show, so I'm going in through the back with the rest of the stuff. Just go where the party is and... do whatever it is they do there until they introduce me. Hey, you want me to do anything once I get into the air?"
Ichika waved off Rin's mischievous grin, "I don't want you to get into trouble for my sake. Just do what you need to, and don't do anything like buzzing the audience."
"What! ? That's a brilliant idea!"
"Fine, I'll jump through the hoops like my bosses want me to." Rin said, rolling her eyes, "You go stuff your face at the party. Remember! We're going to have a better send off than your so-called 'Childhood Friend Number One', ever did!"
Rin ducked back into the car, which promptly drove past Ichika, along with the great train of vehicles of the delegation. As they passed, the boy noted that one closer to the back was a large flatbed truck, with something large misshapen upon it, covered in tarp and tied down in rope. The procession disappeared around the corner, turning down a ramp into the loading bays of the convention center.
"Well, of course. It's not like they'd let Rin run around with an IS wrapped around her wrist..." Ichika murmured to himself.
He tried to ignore the last of Rin's passing comments, but it stung a part of him that had he did his best to keep buried. She had meant it as an inside joke for the two of them, but she didn't realize the sort of sour memories it brought up.
Childhood Friend Number One.
His friend who had disappeared off the face of the planet, six years ago, with not even a chance to say goodbye. One day she was there, and the next, it was like she had been erased from existence. Her connection to her older sister apparently meant it was necessary to "protect" her at all costs, Chifuyu-nee had said. All it left to Ichika was a loose end that had bothered him in his quietest moments. Where was she now...
Then something else caught up to his attention.
"...Wait, 'stuff my face'? Is that what she thinks of me?"
The elevator chimed and promptly ejected the teenager into a large atrium that had been turned into a party. Half of the atrium had been converted to a sort of makeshift restaurant, with tables, seats, and a floor mounted hologram set up to slideshow whatever achievements were being shown off this year. At this point though, the guests were still mulling about and talking amongst themselves on the other side, where they stood about smaller tables with display cases and smaller digital displays.
Ichika took one long look and sighed. It was the usual pretentions. Men and women in their expensive clothing, filling the air with loud nonsense amidst the clinking and clacking of champagne glasses and plates of hors d'oeuvres, doing very adult things like gossiping, rumor mongering, and politicking through thin veils. The crowd before him represented the consortium built around the Infinite Stratos, made of men and women from all over the world. The military, the governmental, the intellectual, the corporate, and sadly, Orimura Ichika was part of this rabble by implication of presence.
"Someone told me it's all happening at the zoo, I do believe it's true..." Ichika muttered quietly.
Rin was right. He would pretty much stuff his face, considering it would be more productive that getting caught up with these folk.
Ichika danced around the crowds, making his way to several sadly neglected tables full of snacks, stray bits of conversation passing him by.
"The Dunois are here, too... He got some kid with him..."
"The Chinese are pretty proud of their third generation machine, but it's pointless if they can't even reach limited production..."
There were a lot of useless cracker-type snacks, and salad, which he could care less about. On the other hand, there was a whole dish full of crab croquettes, which nobody seemed to be touching. Ichika helped himself to what the small desert plate could support.
"America should do the smart thing and decommission the Silver Gospel. The Mid-East countries are practically frothing at the mouth that Israel was involved in its development. You can't call a weapon a deterrent if it's going to cause more conflicts than it prevents..."
"If the IS could be piloted by men, we could integrate IS R&D into the military structure better. Right now we have to deal with fraternization, training fresh recruits, handling logistics and construction for female personnel... we have to pay for two of everything..."
Plate full with what would probably be his dinner for the night (then again, it was probably better than his hundredth cup of instant noodles), Ichika very intentionally moved to the edge of the rabble, where things would at least be a little quieter.
"That missing prototype hasn't turned up yet? ...You're just being biased against the North Koreans. If they had really stolen it, it'd have been paraded up and down the moment they got their hands on it, but it's been gone for almost two years now-"
"Mr. Ichika Orimura, I presume?" A soft velvet voice suddenly cut through the noise and addressed Ichika very directly. The boy in question fought back a sigh and turned around. Probably some bigwig who wanted to know where his sister was-
Ichika found himself face to face with a blonde girl his age. Well, he guessed she was his age, given she was around his height. Unlike Ichika, though, who still felt the get up he was in made him feel like a clown, the blonde was wearing a slinky deep blue evening gown that daringly hugged her figure, like she was made for it. Light ringlets curled the tips of her hair and a white laced blue band of cloth framed the top of her head. With a coy smirk, a pair of folded, gloved arms, and a hand holding a thin glass of champagne, the blonde seemed a more natural fit with all the older guests at the convention than he did.
Ichika hoped his jaw hadn't dropped open, "I... I, uh... have we met before?"
She gave a ridiculously dainty giggle, covering one mouth with her free hand, eye glinting, "Of all the lines you start with, you open with that cliché old pick up?"
"What...! ? No! Of course not, I didn't mean it that way..."
The woman laughed again, and the boy realized she had a British accent, "Never fear. We've never met before. My name is Cecilia Alcott."
The back of her hand was proffered to Ichika, who somewhat awkwardly took it and turned it into a handshake, unsure otherwise of what to do.
"And you know me, obviously. I'm guessing you're rather looking for my sister?"
"Oh, there's no need for that. I'm quite aware that Ms. Orimura won't be attending, nor is she the type to want to. I'm rather interested in the brother."
Aforementioned brother swallowed, "You are? But I'm nobody, really, I just make sure she's represented here. Can't have the people here say things behind her back..."
"You really do undersell yourself, Mr. Orimura. You may not make as large a splash in the circles here, but if I recall, just last month you wrote a rather detailed rebuttal to a certain researcher's claims on his blog...?"
"You read that?" Ichika tried to laugh that off, scratching the back of his head nervously, "He just had a few facts wrong, and I wanted to correct him before he messed up..."
"Everybody read that, Mr. Orimura. Not anybody can light a fire strong enough to make a development group release a formal apology."
"I'm sure I didn't have anything to do with that, really..."
The amused look on Cecilia's face showed she was obviously unconvinced. Ichika was worried he'd end up believing the same. He looked for another avenue of conversation.
"So, uh, what brings you to this show? It's not really a place for people our age..."
"The Alcott estate represents a number of England's interests in technological fields, so it's natural the head of the family personally appear for these functions."
"'Head of the Family'...?" Ichika had to cock an eyebrow at that. Cecilia could fit into a party, no doubt, but if she was implying she was...
"I know what you're thinking, Mr. Orimura, but I assure you... well... an extenuating circumstance here and there, a few deals cut, and even someone my age can be given large responsibilities." She failed to explain, brushing one of her curling bangs for effect. Ichika digested the sentence for a second before deciding to answer.
"That must be-"
"But enough about me, Mr. Orimura, for we are hardly alone. There are plenty of other young guests at this establishment!" Cecilia waved an arm at the crowd of middle aged and plus crowds before them.
"That's really convincing." Ichika couldn't help but jab at his conversation partner, before quickly jamming one of his croquettes into his mouth and chewed it as quick as he could before the British girl started speaking back. Dinner wasn't going to wait for him.
"You merely aren't looking in the right places, though I forgive you for not being a socialite like I."
"No doubt you heard that Sir Dunois' daughter is attending. The Americans sent a military delegation, including Lieutenant Natasha Fairs-"
A loud crash of glass and ceramic echoed behind them, snapping the pair's attention behind them. There were two girls their age, as Cecilia had in fact claimed. They both had blue hair, though one was in a black dress and the other in white. Though what caught Ichika's attention was the broken mish mash of food and plate at their feet, and the fact the girl in white and shorter hair was rubbing her cheek from where she was struck, while the one in black and with hair accessories was on the verge of sobbing.
"I had enough of this, Tatenashi!" The black girl hissed before storming off.
"Don't talk to me!"
The duo pursued each other until they disappeared from Ichika's sight. Cecilia hummed, wickedly amused.
"Those were Russia's test pilots for their IS program, I'm guessing..."
"Hm." Ichika had moved onto a second croquette, trying to keep himself out of the picture, though a part of him questioned how two Japanese girls were part of Russia's program, if Alcott was correct.
"Oh, and I do believe that's the Schwarzer Hase's field commander over there..."
That was the sound of Ichika choking on the crab meat when he swallowed too early. Gulping down the rough breaded exterior with some tears and effort, he blurted to Cecilia, "What! Bodewig's here?"
Cecilia pointed in one direction. He was stupid enough to follow it.
At the other end of the crowds, he could see a girl with silver hair and a pitch black uniform, baggy pants, and high boots. She had turned and for a moment had an expression of shock as she looked back at Ichika through the crowds with her lone red eye.
The shock turned into a bitterly dark glare, seemed to dismiss herself from whatever conversation she was having earlier and was stomping over.
Ichika swirled around, hands slamming onto the edge of the table behind him, and frantically hoped to find a solution at the bottom of a salad bowl he was leaning over, "Crap! Crap, she saw me...!"
"Oh, General Woundwort herself has an enmity with her mentor's younger brother? I didn't expect this..." The British girl cooed.
"Cecilia! Can't you do something? Catch her attention so I can get away?" Ichika desperately whispered over to her. He could almost feel Laura Bodewig's single death eyeball cutting a groove in the ground behind him and up his back, oh so slowly.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Orimura, but by myself it'd be too obvious, and she wouldn't go for it. The minimum number for a crowd is three. You'd need one more person to dissuade Ms. Bodewig from approaching." Cecilia shrugged, like she were helpless. It was clear she was enjoying herself too much, though.
"Crap! Craaap...!" The boy was on the verge of sweating bullets out.
Then, out of nowhere, another girl's voice suddenly cried out in his direction.
"Ah! Tetsuo! There You Are! Ha ha!"
"Huh?" Was Ichika's reaction.
"...What?" Was Cecilia's.
They turned around just in time to see another girl in a yellow gown quickly pacing up to them. She had a forced smile on her face and her lavender eyes carried an intense desperation from under her loose hair of darker blonde. She barged past Cecilia and wrapped herself around Ichika's arm.
"Aren't you...?" Cecilia began to ask, frowning.
The new interloper pointedly ignored her as she exclaimed loudly, "Tetsuo! It's been such a long time! Remember me? Charlotte?"
'Tetsuo' was still reeling in obvious confusion, "Tetsu... Char... who the-?"
The girl reached up for a moment to hiss into his ear, "Just play along! Please!"
By then Ichika, who was supposed to be Tetsuo (Tetsuo! ? What was a Tetsuo supposed to act like?), noticed a number of men that came trailing after 'Charlotte', all seemingly intent to pick continue some conversation with her.
"Miss Charlotte, wait-"
Huh, so her name really is Charlotte.
Before Ichika could follow that line of thought, he was thrown to the proverbial wolves as he was swung into their line of sight. There was a horrifying second where he felt a series of sharp objects being hurled via their eyes.
"I'm sorry gentlemen, but Tetsuo's such an old friend of mine when he was in my school before he transferred out! Imagine the odds of meeting him again! Ha! Ha ha...!"
Ichika couldn't help but note that that was the worst laugh he ever heard attempted.
One of the men in the group dogging Charlotte squinted skeptically, "Wait, didn't he come with-"
"Well-I-gotta-go-reminisce-on-old-times-with-him-bye!" The lady in yellow interrupted without a second's delay before charging away from the group, dragging her Tetsuo away by the arm, perhaps with a bit more force than necessary. The boy gave a quick "Hrk!" as he head whipped to one side as he was dragged off.
"Hm, she's not bad..." Cecilia smiled to herself as sipped from her champagne. As the crowd of men broke up, seemingly dejected, they gave way for a black clad German, who followed the escaping duo with a critical eye as she stopped by the remaining woman. At this proximity, the Alcott head could see the intricate eyepatch that sat on Laura Bodewig's face, with all the fine hinges and subtle sensors that sat on its surface.
"Orimura seems to find himself interesting company." Laura managed to neutrally snort over her shoulder at Cecilia.
"Oh, is this praise coming from Germany's ace?" Alcott tittered from behind her glass.
"The Dunois brat aside, I'd make sure my mentor doesn't hear that her brother was in speaking distance of Cecilia Alcott." Laura turned her unamused look on the girl in blue, "Your career isn't as vague as you'd like to think it is. I could care less about him, but if anything you two do reflects on the Instructor, you'll be hearing from me again."
"Blunt directness is a virtue of German efficiency, no doubt. I'll take your words under advisement."
Cecilia reached beside her and stretched a plate over to Laura, "Would you like a crab croquette? Those high-minded intellectuals over there have been leaving the poor dish alone in favor of yet more liver from birds."
"I have no interest in accepting a gift from someone of the-"
"I believe Mr. Orimura had hoped these would be his dinner." She sweetly added.
The British woman could swear she could see the skin under Laura's eyepatch twitch as she stared at the dish.
"...This is beneath me. I know this is petty, but..." She ground out quietly, before she darted out and stuffed one into her mouth.
"Oh, don't worry, frau Bodewig. We're women in an IS convention, if we're allowed to have anything, it's our petty little vices." Cecilia smiled, before her napkin covered hand plucked up one of the crab croquettes too. She made a satisfied noise as she bit in.
The atrium had a doorway that lead to an outdoor balcony that overlooked a large open park that sat between the shoreline in the distance, and the side of the building that faced it. Party as it was, there were still yet more people speaking into the warm air.
Along one high balcony, one Charlotte Dunois took a large, unladylike sigh as she rested her chin upon it, arms draped over the other side. She turned to her abductee.
"Thanks for sticking with me, and sorry for dragging you away from that girl you were chatting up." She weakly grinned.
Ichika shrugged, "I don't even really know her, anyways. Who were those guys?"
The girl in yellow sighed, "Friends of the family, young boys, suitors, potential allies. The pawns of politics, pretty much, myself included. They're really bad at flirting. I was going to go crazy if I had to stand in the middle of them for another hour."
One word caught Ichika's attention, "Politics? So you mean...?"
She straightened herself up, "My father is Jean-Benoit Dunois, head of Dunois Designs. I'm his youngest daughter, Charlotte. Nice to meet you."
This time, it was a proper, intentional handshake. Ichika felt it was solid and honest and felt himself easing up as she continued speaking.
"I don't really have much to offer to the 'empire' as it were, so at most, Sir Dunois is hoping I can at least hit it off with one of his corporate allies, the younger the better. So he throws rich, noble boys at me all the time, like tonight."
"...That's not right." Ichika blurted that out on pure instinct before he caught the last word that escaped, "Uh... er..."
Charlotte's face flushed from embarrassment as she waved a defense for her family, "It's not like they're all just... well, I mean, back home, I'm actually very popular anyways, so they come anyways, so I just end up having all these silly boys all the time... I'm putting you on the spot, aren't I?"
"Eheh, it's alright..." Ichika laughed, "So you came to this show just because of your Dad?"
"Well, no. I actually have some interest in Infinite Stratos, and I wanted to see a new one up close. Of course, Jean didn't exactly want to turn it into a family outing, so we ended up compromising. I could go..."
"And he would throw together some more wannabe boyfriends at you?" Ichika dryly surmised.
"And then I abducted you." Charlotte weakly finished.
There was some lame laughter. It really wasn't that funny. Ichika's new friend (?) tried to change the subject, murmuring over something.
"Orimura... Orimura... Isn't that the name of that IS instructor...? The one who tutors all the IS pilots across the world?"
Ichika nodded, knowing how the next few lines would go, but humored her, "Chifuyu Orimura, yeah. She's my older sister."
There would be a dead silent for a second as Charlotte, in this case, boggled at the growing realization of the man standing in front of her, and then:
"You're Chifuyu's brother! ?"
"Chifuyu has a brother...! Well, I mean, where..."
"Last I heard, she's somewhere, up north. She's looking at the local pilots, but she didn't tell me where exactly."
"Wow! I mean... what's it like...?"
"Charlotte, I promise it's actually not that amazing. It's mostly me getting her mail, picking up calls at home from people thinking she's actually there and not halfway around the world, and... going to shows like these all the time. It gets old fast."
"So you're here for more of the same?"
"Noooot exactly... It's a little different this time." Ichika slid that admission out uneasily. He wasn't sure whether it was a good thing to say he was a personal friend of the pilot, "But the exception proves the norm. Most of the time, invitations get sent for my sister, so the least I can do is go for her."
"The 'least' you could do?" Charlotte asked. She felt something a little off about the way he phrased it. He turned to face the sea.
"Well, you know, my sister always looked out for me. I'm... well... just an average guy, compared to my sister. So I do what I can to at least not make my sister look bad."
"So you decided to represent for her?"
"Yeah. I ended up reading a lot about IS so I wouldn't look like an idiot when somebody at these things decided to try and crucify me in replacement for my sister with complicated questions. I forced myself to read the basic operating guide for an IS, as a start..."
Charlotte winced with him, "I heard those things are the size of a phonebook..."
"They aren't kidding. Infinite Stratos... well, I know the subject like the back of my hand. I keep my reading up."
"Really? Prove it." The French girl challenged jokingly. Ichika shrugged.
"Hm... you know the Alaska Treaty?"
"Sort of. It's the thing where they limited the situations the IS are allowed to be deployed in?"
"Yeah. Did you know that there plans to create an Academy to train IS pilots, here in Japan?"
"Wait, a school? Instead of the military handling it?"
"The American President said that the Japanese government should take responsibility for the creation of the IS, since Shinonono Tabane was their citizen. Foot the bill and everything."
"That's a bit... disproportionate." Charlotte laughed rather nervously at the idea.
"That's why that little idea was quickly dropped... and we have what we have today." Ichika laughed with her, though the tone quickly turned wane and humorless.
There was a silence that existed for the two of them amidst the party, as they looked at the Yokohama skyline across the bay.
"Orimura... what do you think about the Infinite Stratos?"
He gave one deep sigh as he already knew the answer, "It's... bogged down. In the beginning, I thought it was actually sort of cool. Especially after the White Knight incident. You know, a person with the power to save the world, and all that. But between all these functions I keep going to, and overhearing my sister just talk about training exercises so dispassionately, the IS is just... a tool. A thing. It's just another accessory for the military, it's just another thing for companies and governments to scheme over. It's... the Infinite Stratos isn't miraculous or cool. Not anymore."
As if on cue, a voice came over the intercoms about the atrium and the balcony the two were on.
"May I have your attention please. Tonight's demonstration of CATIC's third generation Infinite Stratos, the Shenlong is about to begin shortly. May all guests please move towards the presentation stage for viewing..."
As the announcement spoke again in several more languages, Charlotte put in her two cents.
"I guess that's true."
"... I depressed you, didn't I."
"No! It's not your fault! I asked for your opinion after all." The girl in yellow waved more apologies again, "I can't really say anything about this, but... maybe things will get better... I don't think I can hide from Jean-Benoit while the demonstration is going on, so I'll go ahead. I'm sorry. It really was good to meet you, Mr. Ichika. Try to enjoy the party some more."
Charlotte Dunois took her leave to walk back inside, where the people continued to aggregate. Ichika took a minute to start at the lights across the dark of the bay.
Nearly six years. The silicon renaissance, and the grandeur of the Infinite Stratos was now just for show. There was also a part of Ichika that wanted to blame Tabane. Six years of his sister running around the world, instructing other people while he looked after an empty house. Six years and counting of his closest friend live as a non-person who was only alive in his memories as a small girl. Six years later, Huang Lingyin was going to leave Japan and decide to be a pilot.
Always left behind, trapped in these farces, because of the Infinite Stratos.
"Tabane, is this what you wanted?"
Ichika sighed. It wasn't like he was going to have an answer now. As far as he knew, whatever Tabane wanted, she didn't get it, same as him. It's been six years, and only the surface changed, and that was as far as things were going to get.
Above ground, by several floors, a party for those who thought they knew was ongoing.
Below ground, in a starkly lit, gray and white concrete loading bay, a meeting for those who knew was being carried out.
There were two groups of men, both wearing dark suits, sunglasses, radio earpieces, and guns under their clothes. Standing atop the loading dock, the leaders of each men spoke. Beside one party, a flatbed truck sat parked. Beside the other, on the dock, was something large and misshapen, covered in tarp and tied down.
"I need verification. Snow."
The leader of the group listening folded his arms as he listened. At the end, he nodded before walking forward.
"Emoto. Japan Special Forces Group."
"I am Fung. PLA Special Operations Forces."
They shook hands briefly, though their expressions were as stern as ever. Things were of paramount importance. Emoto, jerked his head to the truck, "Do you understand the nature of our deal?"
"Yes. Japan is entrusting the safekeeping of this prototype to our men to transport it through Chinese territory and to keep it hidden until we are contacted by the next link and we make the subsequent trade to them. During the interim period, we will be granted permission to harvest data from it, but not to make a deep analysis."
"Understand this goes above our heads, to the highest levels. If we screw this up, they'll cut us off."
"We will take every precaution necessary."
Emoto nodded. The two men shouted at their men to get moving, and in an instant there was movement. As they stepped back, there seemed to be a decreasing tension. For a moment, two groups of men, involved in a very dangerous game, could take respite that they were playing together for now, and thus were comrades. Japanese and Chinese were at work. One entered the large truck and backed it up towards the dock. Others worked together to push the large cargo towards the transport. Others still kept watch.
Fung took a moment to speak personally, "It was very convenient cover that we were coming in with an Infinite Stratos for this show. Easy to hide large machinery together."
"It is. Thanks for taking this risk."
"I heard rumors about this transport. Do you have clearance to confirm any of them?"
"...If you agree to keep it to yourself."
"There's a lot of loud noise going on right now. No one can confirm anything we say."
"Hm. I'm guessing you heard that the Professor personally requested this cargo."
"Does she really have that sort of contact with our governments? She struck me as the rebellious type."
"It's only circumstantial evidence, but that's what I assume. But it's not like we have a hotline to her either. She speaks with us only when she wants to. But if she's making a personal request to the very governments she's hiding from, I think there's a possibility she's afraid of something."
"Afraid of what, though? The tarp may conceal this..." Fung motioned to the object loaded to the center of the truck, and was being lashed tight, "...but it's obvious it's an Infinite Stratos. What does she want from this one?"
"It's hard to say what exactly. Far as I know, it's a shoddy, broken prototype that's been collecting dust for a few years. But it is... different."
Emoto was silent for a moment, before answering, "When set out our deal to restrict you from deeply analyzing it, it's for your own safety. There's been atempts tried to study it before, and it rebuffed all efforts. Sometimes more seriously than others. It can burn out equipment through the same connection. The machine may be inactive, but it's still aware..."
"Temperamental and isolated. Truly, if there was a machine that has the Professor's signature all over it... this machine does have a name, right?" Fung smirked, "It might be listening to us, after all. It'll make the ride more difficult for us if the guest thinks we're rude."
Emoto gave a wolfy grin of his own, "It has a pretty good name, for what it's worth. Translated, it's called White Expressions."
"White Expressions, huh..."
The last rope was tied down. The men saluted.
Therefore in Japan, it is called...
There were things like pre mission jitters. You felt jumpy. The nerves fired. You felt tense as you felt the electricity through your veins. Your mind started going through the what-ifs. You recited the objectives to console yourselves that things would go fine. Then you realize with horror, that you could clearly recall the quote by Helmuth von Motke the Elder: "No plan survives contact with the enemy".
For her though, she had passed this stage by years ago. Now, she sat on a cold metal bench, and there were only harsh red lights that provided a modicum of illumination, though it really only meant, dark red and pitch black. All she could feel was the cold air on the other side of the skin tight pilot's suit that stuck to her skin. The comforting drone of prop engines had since disappeared. The largest aircraft now were powered by the same gravity technology the Infinite Stratos possessed, though far bulkier and far less elegant, little more than eco-friendly replacement engines that were powered by intricate and expensive electric battery systems.
So in the darkness, she really only felt one thing: pre mission boredom. She had already counted the number of blue guide lights that ran along the ground, three times even, so she was pretty sure she was right. Eighty Seven to her left, Twenty Nine to her right-
"KZZZT-Camilla, come in."
She brought a hand to the earphone she wore, responding to the grainy voice that approached her, "This is Camilla."
"This is the cockpit. We're just a hundred kilometers from the target site. Figured you wanted to have a quick look before the shit storm starts."
"I'll be there."
She stood up inside the packed interior of the cargo plane. Technically, it was a Lockheed C-5M Super Galaxy, but the awkward years since the arrival of the Infinite Stratos included lots of refitting. The Super Galaxy she was in was a testament of such insanity, what with the new engines. But the body was the tried and tested frame of a much older vehicle. Within its massive hull, Camilla easily walked by the large steel boxes stacked atop each other, one after the next. The entire interior was loaded to the brim with the containers.
Stepping around a corner and up some narrow stairs, Camilla jerked the door open and found herself in the Super Galaxy's cockpit, its two pilots at the controls. They well concealed under the thick piloting outfits of their own and their dark helmets and headsets. One turned to her and nodded.
She looked out the windows, and indeed, saw they were closing in on the target. She could see the lights of the city in the distance.
"ETA till we're right over top?"
"Ten or twelve minutes, I'm guessing. We're pretty heavy right now. You ready?"
"Of course. What's the status of the Reaper?"
"Gonna check right now."
The other pilot turned spoke over his shoulder, "We're getting a lot of chatter from the local air control. They know we're here. They're asking for identification."
"No point." Camilla bluntly put it.
"Yeah, I know. They'll be shutting up pretty soon."
The first pilot spoke up again, "I just got word from Reaper Control. They're over top the target and they're gonna fire in a few moments. Time to get going."
"I'll see you two later."
With that Camilla spun about and descended back into the cargo hold, and quickly rushed back to the rear of the Super Galaxy, where she had just sat, where there was just enough free space left between the cargo actual, and the closed rear loading ramp.
There it sat in its deep black glory, passive and open, waiting for her, its pilot.
Her Infinite Stratos.
With practiced moves, she climbed on and settled her limbs into the open slots. The machine responded, with clamps closing onto her body.
[C.O.O.S: COMBAT ORIENTED OPERATING SYSTEM.]
[PILOT BIOMETRICS: CLEAR.]
[POWER SYSTEM: CLEAR.]
[HYPER SENSOR: CLEAR.]
[SUBSPACE ACCESS: CLEAR.]
[WEAPON FEED: CLEAR.]
[FINAL CHECKS: CLEAR.]
[INFINITE STRATOS SYSTEM: UCHIGANE HANA-B. ALL CLEAR.]
The joints of her limbs came loose.
She put on her helmet.
Somewhere, far away, an slim, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle carried a payload of several short range, air to ground missiles which hung from its underside and all across its wing span. Propelled by the incessant buzzing of its single propeller affixed to the back, the machine silently banked into a lazy curve and made a slow dive.
Below it was Yokohama's power planet, which sat besides the bay. It provided an energy supply for everything that ringed that body of water, and a large portion of the city besides.
The Reaper drone received its orders, and promptly fired the entirety of its payload at a row of buildings off to one side that contained the facility's power transformers.
And after a delay of six years, missiles finally crashed into Japan's soil, and the world as they knew it finally ended.
The Yokohama waterline was plunged into darkness.
A/N: Once again, I prove I am totally incapable of writing small chapters. No, I haven't stopped writing that one Touhou fic I posted a while back. Chapter 3 is about halfway written as I put this down. I'll just go back and forth as best I can. I'm sure that's really reassuring. *Eye rolling*.
Anyways, Infinite Stratos. I really don't know what to say. It's an AU. It'll taste more Real Robot. The plot thrust isn't finished, but I'm going carry this thing as far as I got. Look forward to lots of things exploding.