Infinite Stratos, and all its characters, belong to Izuru Yumizuru.
Text means point-of-view character's thoughts.
Unknown Date, Unknown Time
Phantom Task Base, Unknown Location
Houki was sparring with Winter, grinding her teeth as she barely managed to push Winter back from a heavy one-handed blow that Houki had to use both of her katanas to push back.
Dammit- I'm still not strong enough...
Below her was a pool, filled with water. The room had blank white walls, but over the past few years, this blankness, and neutrality had started to seem less comforting to Houki and more oppressive- stagnating, almost.
She couldn't advance, she couldn't improve enough. Houki knew that at her current progression, without achieving Second Shift, her position as a Season was in jeopardy.
At this rate, she would never be taken by Ichika!
Never respected, never liked, she would never dominate!
She turned her back on everything she cared about for this!
Couldn't they see, couldn't Akatsubaki see, that she needs, even deserves, Second Shift?
And now, Houki was close to losing her rank, and she can hear the conversation that she knows Madoka-chan and Akemi-Obaasan are having on the other end, and that doesn't help anything, but they're doing it anyway, because it's exactly what she'd be doing in this kind of situation, and it's all just them talking about replacing Houki, and Houki knows that it's going to happen, but she can't let it...
Houki lets out a frustrated scream, as she charged at Winter once again.
Part 3, Chapter 2: The Liberation of Japan, Part II
October 4th, 2033, 09:35 Hours
Tokyo Harbor District
Charlotte sighed lightly to herself as she put down her sniper rifle after taking out another enemy agent who had tried to infiltrate her line at the harbor.
Shooting, sniping, it's not like being on the front lines. It's more impersonal. When you're fighting up close, you can look your enemies in their eyes as you kill them.
When you're a sniper, when you specialize in long-distance combat, if you can look in their eyes, you're doing your job wrong.
That's not to say that I can't fight up close. I can.
I just doesn't want to have to watch the life leave her enemy's eyes again.
I can't take it. Not anymore. Not ever. Not when my first kill just looked at me, without even any judgement. Just dawning horror, mirrored on my own face, as Spring realized what was happening.
Shock and fear forever etched on her features.
I don't want to see that anymore. But, I do know that I won't be able to feel anything but self-loathing should I withdraw, should I resign.
This is the Right Thing to do, no matter what others might say about war.
As a leader, I have to be strong. As a woman, surrounded by men- marines, even- who consider themselves tough, I have to be strong.
I can't be weak, not anymore.
I can care, certainly. I, at least, would like to say that kindness isn't a weakness, (though deep down, I know that Ichika would disagree).
I would like to say that the world will make sense again, after all this is over.
That I can go back to whatever it is that I want to do with my life- whatever that may be- and spend the rest of my life happily achieving my dreams.
Whatever those may be, because no matter how much I love dancing, I really doubt that I'll be able to pursue that professionally after having spent this war using dancing to keep myself in shape and flexible enough to fight the way that I do.
Deep down, though, I'd really just be happy if I and the people I care about get out alive.
Charlotte saw a ghost of movement out of the corner of her eye, but when she looked in its direction, it was gone.
Charlotte turned back, noticing that more golems were appearing nearby. She opened up a channel with her men.
"Keep the golems pinned! I'm going investig-" Charlotte was interrupted by a chain wrapping around her torso, yanking her back at a velocity she wasn't very comfortable with going out of her own control.
She materialized a rocket launcher, and bent back as far as she could, just barely seeing a figure pulling her back. She fired.
October 4th, 2033, 9:35 Hours
Phantom Task Command Tower, Tokyo, Japan
Ichika had his arms crossed as he looked at the tower before him. He was standing in a mobile command vehicle that the UNJAAF uses on all of its larger scale missions.
Phantom Task was primarily located in the cities and islands around Tokyo, but from what he had learned from Dan's information, the primary operational base for the NoJOBs was directly before him. The problem was that the doors, while still weaker, were almost a foot thick, and heavily reinforced, like the rest of the wall, with an amount of shield energy that rivaled, from what Ichika could estimate, that of the Novum Saeculo.
The wall was roughly fifty feet high, give or take maybe a foot. The entire structure was pure black, and almost seemed to suck the light out of its surrounding environment. Unlike the earlier walls and bases he and his men had broken through, there was no indication that this fortress had popped out from under the city.
The fortress spanned over ten complete city blocks, or at least, those were the areas walled in. Every wall looked like it was lined with a wide variety of projectile weapons. Every building over sixty feet that might once have been in the surrounding three miles had been leveled, so that it stuck into the air as a powerful reminder of Phantom Task's presence.
The Gardeners' job in UNJAAF is to break through defenses, level everything in their path, then charge ahead to the next base. We don't concern ourselves with securing our captures, we just plow ahead to the next target. That's not to say that we can't, it's just that we don't. Any method is considered viable, we don't just blow everything up.
We plow the field, and leave it to our allies to plant the seeds.
However, there is a disadvantage to such a strategy. We have roughly an hour and a half before we need to establish a more permanent and defensible base. That's how long the others will keep enemies out of Tokyo before we need to have better defenses entrenched.
But, even with Yukihira, I'll be far too exposed to attack to be able to just break the energy shield surrounding that fortress. We can't get close enough for Alessandra to bombard a consistent enough point to just let our men march through, and there's the same problem with Laura. Flying over might work, but none of our actual infantry could do it, and I have no idea how many enemies are in there.
Piercing charges could work, but again, that will expose us to an unacceptable amount of damage. Any bomb that's large enough to actually damage this shield will also damage the surrounding area, and we want to defend this location, as well.
Ichika stared at the building for another couple of minutes before an idea came to him. Slowly, as he calculated more of the route and materials necessary, it became more possible, and less prone to failure or self-destruction.
Almost... plausible. How long would transport take?
That depends on how much of delay that the harbor has to deal with...
October 4th, 2033 9:36 Hours
Harbor District, Tokyo, Japan
The resulting detonation from the rocket that Charlotte had fired at whomever had wrapped a chain around her waist likely brought attention to the area. Charlotte couldn't really care, as she knew that her men were fighting in the background. She could hear the swearing and gunfire in the distance where her men had been deployed, and knew that there was probably a fairly large stream of golems coming from that direction.
The chain around her waist withdrew into the smoke, and Charlotte flipped in the air as she brought herself onto the roof of a nearby warehouse and waited for the smoke to clear.
"All men! I have engaged an unknown IS. She seems to wield chains. Please keep out of the way, and I want this place clear of all vermin by the time I'm done."
Charlotte materialized a pair of pistols and blindly fired into the smoke. Charlotte doubted that she had actually hit anything, but the smoke had at least cleared a bit.
The woman standing across from Charlotte had long limbs and an average chest. Her rich brown hair curled towards the ends, and came down just below her shoulders. A silver, chain-like circlet wrapped around her forehead, with a visor that wrapped around her eyes.
The woman's IS, which covered her entire body besides her face in light armor, was a sickly green with golden, vine-like patterns intertwining across her arms and legs. Her chest had a pair of silver chains wrapped around in a 'X' pattern, and chains were wrapped around her wrists, dangling loosely at about ten feet in length. A massive pod was attached to her IS's back, and the chains on her torso, as well as the ones wrapped around her wrist, both led into the pod. The tips on the chains dangling from her wrist had what looked to be spiked, heavy balls. The entirety of the chains seemed to be glowing a soft, fluorescent blue light. A quartet of orbs floated behind the IS's body, each of which had a spiked point dangling out of the bottom.
Charlotte fired another couple of shots while jumping in the air, away from her enemy.
The Phantom Task pilot wrapped her arms around her torso and the attached chains wrapped themselves around the pilot's body, preventing her from taking any damage from Charlotte's attack.
"I am Typhoon of Phantom Task! Charlotte Dunois, by order of Summer-sama, I am here to kill you!"
Charlotte responded with a pair of shots from the pistols that she was holding as both of Typhoon's chains flew right at her. She jumped back into a backflip as the chains continued to pursue her, gravity pulling the chains down before they were sent flying again.
Charlotte ducked under one chain, then rolled to the side away from the other. She started running towards Typhoon, hopping over the gaps between rooftops on the way.
Charlotte's communicator crackled to life.
"Captain Dunois, status report." She heard Kanzashi state.
When Typhoon responded with another chain coming out from her chest, Charlotte jumped into the air, replacing her pistols with a pair of SMGs and unloading on Typhoon's torso.
"Presently engaging enemy unit. Codenamed Typhoon. Wields chains."
After the first two bullets, Typhoon had managed to bring her chains close enough to cover her body. Charlotte dropped from the sky almost immediately afterwards, raising her right leg high in the air crashing it into Typhoon's crossed arms.
The sheer force of Charlotte's blow put a small crack into the light blue energy shield surrounding Typhoon's chain, before it refreshed itself. Charlotte brought her left leg around and shoved herself off Typhoon, firing a burst of bullets from her left anklet as she performed a perfect pirouette. While she was spinning, a circle of bullets hitting the ground below her as she fired her SMGs.
Charlotte landed, then immediately took off again, intending to stay in the air, as she had felt some sort of displacement in the roof beneath her.
"End it quickly, Captain Dunois. We have jets to deliver at the central command tower, and the route needs to be clear."
"Understood. Dunois out." Charlotte stated.
Looking back down at Typhoon, who hadn't yet moved from her initial position, Charlotte noticed that the spikes that were once so noticeable on Typhoon's back were now burrowed into the warehouse below the NoJOB Agent. Charlotte's eyes widened just before she felt a pair of spiked chains wrapping around her wrists.
A half-second later, another pair of chains wrapped around her ankles, immobilizing her. Charlotte took a quick glance behind herself, closing her eyes, even as the spiked balls came flying towards her.
She felt the first impact.
A second impact, and Charlotte knew that she couldn't take another with that level of force.
There was a white flash.
October 4th, 2033, 09:45 Hours
Phantom Task Command Tower, Tokyo, Japan
Alessandra Moressi sometimes felt as if she was insignificant; an afterthought. It wasn't really that she wasn't skilled, it was just that she wasn't mentioned in the same breath as Colonel Tatenashi "Valkyrie" Sarashiki or Alessandra's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Ichika "Sen'nen Fubuki" Orimura, or especially Chifuyu "Brunhilde" Orimura. Part of Alessandra wanted to unhappy about Chifuyu being considered the Brunhilde, especially considering that Adele Ambrosi, Alessandra's colleague, mentor, and friend, from her home of Italy, was the most recent winner of the Mondo Grosso, but Alessandra had grown up as a pilot listening to stories about Chifuyu Orimura, so she couldn't complain too much.
Alessandra was actually one of the older IS pilots in Tatenashi's brigade, having celebrated her 21st birthday roughly three months prior. Her eyes were a stern hazel containing a hint of warmth, while her lips were almost always twisted into a rather severe and tight-lipped frown. Her brown hair was kept in a tight bun. A pair of bright red fingerless gloves were wrapped around both of her hands, and a white, form-fitting bodysuit wrapped around her womanly figure.
Her father was a police officer and her mother was a nurse. Despite lacking innate talent, she compensated for her own shortcomings with sheer hard work and determination. Her father and mother installed both a sense of justice and a need to help the unfortunate or ill into her at an early age.
With her drive and determination, despite only ranking in the middle of Italy's overall IS compatibility ratings, she rose near the top of their national skill rankings.
She was assigned to Lieutenant Colonel Orimura's initial platoon because their superiors believed that they would make an excellent. This meant that she had been placed in the same classroom as the other IS pilots in their platoon during their military training.
During their military training, she came to respect Lieutenant Colonel Orimura, though it took some time, and so the press, and shortly after the grunts, named Alessandra the Tempesta Di Fuoco.
Alessandra's IS was called the Bagliore Drago Cannone. Designed for high-impact combat, the Bagloire Drago Cannone made up for its lack of firing rate by being one of the fastest and most maneuverable ISs in the UNJAAF.
Bright red, spiked gauntlets protected her hands and arms. A golden helmet, with a pair of silver horns extending to the back of her head offered Alessandra both further protection and superior vision. Bright red, tight armor, with designs resembling a dragon's scales, covered her torso, upper arms, and upper legs. A silver roaring dragon was inscribed on Alessandra's chest, and the scales seemed to have golden tips in a random pattern on her arms and legs. A pair of wings, each over 4 feet wide, were attached to Alessandra's back. These bright red wings each had spikes on the tips, and a set of vents on the bottom from which not only Alessandra's Fold-Out armor deployed, but also where they provided increased thrust to aid Alessandra in traveling faster. This enabled her to use Fold-Out Armor to increase her speed. A pair of heavy boots, bright red and smooth, covered her legs, and both of those boots had a set of thrusters attached to their soles. This combination of features were what made the Bagliore Drago Cannone faster than most other ISs.
Tabane considered Alessandra's IS to be a 4.5 generation machine. The primary offensive use for the Bagliore Drago Cannone's Fold-Out Armor was a feature Tabane had coined 'Free-Form Energy Manipulation.' Free-Form Energy Manipulation was designed explicitly to work with energy- especially projectile- weapons. The use of Free-Form Energy Manipulation enabled Alessandra to control the speed, impact damage, and explosion size of every shot that she fired with her main projectile weapon, the Zanna Di Drago. The Zanna Di Drago connected with her helmet, enabling much faster and more efficient aiming compared to a standard sniper rifle- which is basically what the Zanna Di Drago looked like- a red sniper rifle.
Also equipped on the IS is a halberd called the Dragartigli. It splits down the center into a spear and an axe, both of which Alessandra can wield with great skill. However, Bagliore Drago Cannone's primary defensive ability is that it can manifest up to a dozen cannons, called 'Bagliore's, on any part of the IS, excluding its weapons. The Bagliores could fly freely, but also they had extremely strong magnets attached to their back so that they can grip onto any part of the ISs' body. With practice, Alessandra was be able to deploy these Bagliores up to about three meters away from her IS.
At the voice of her commanding officer, she straightened to attention. She knew that tone. That was 'I have an idea'. That meant to listen closely.
"We are going to do an air-drop into this location. I need you to go to the harbor, escort the transport jets that I just requested back here, and be prepared for an intensive operation. Can you do it?"
Alessandra understood, easily, why Lieutenant Colonel Orimura had chosen her for escorting those transport jets from the harbor back to her current location- she was one of the fastest in the UNJAAF over longer distances. Lieutenant Colonel Orimura could travel with temporary boosts, and some of the other members of their platoon could fly quickly, too, but only two other pilots in UNJAAF could keep up with her. And while Dunois and Vasquez could keep up with her, neither were present or suited for such a mission.
Alessandra felt that functioning as an escort, while important, was more than a little frustrating and involved enemies getting close far too frequently for her preference. Her Dragartigli only even came about because Lieutenant Colonel Orimura had stubbornly insisted that she have some close-combat capability.
While such glances had become less frequent, sometimes between the time when she and Lieutenant Colonel Orimura had become mutually respectful, and the time that they had graduated, Lieutenant Colonel Orimura had started giving her unusual- slightly remorseful, even- looks from time-to-time. She didn't really understand them, but the only people who seemed to really get what went through Lieutenant Colonel Orimura's head were Chifuyu Orimura and Charlotte Dunois. Alessandra didn't feel it was her place, and Bodewig wasn't comfortable enough with emotions for such a thing.
It was around then that Lieutenant Colonel Orimura had begun to insist on a melee weapon. At one point, Dunois, with an apologetic glance at Alessandra, had whispered that she thought it was kind of annoying when he made her do it, but after it was only her close-combat capabilities that had saved her life against a faster opponent who stuck to melee weaponry, Dunois had seen the wisdom in his insistence.
'Don't over-specialize.' Dunois had been told.
Alessandra would like to say that she knew that, and it might have been true. She didn't understand it, however, until after having fought Lieutenant Colonel Orimura.
After fighting him, Alessandra understood- he never would have won using only one of his abilities. Yukihira was powerful, yes, but alone, Yukihira just made you an easy-to-predict, one-trick pony.
True Sight worked well, but you needed intellect in order to actually make proper use of such an ability.
A powerful and variable gun is great, but you needed to actually use it well to be able to win.
Alessandra took these perspectives to the weapons on her IS, and put together for herself a list of what kinds of abilities she would like for her IS, if or when she hit Second Shift.
Fortunately for her, her IS seemed to care about her list, so when she did hit Second Shift, she did get many of the items filled without making her seem identical to her teammates.
Shaking herself from her thought, Alessandra nodded, and Lieutenant Colonel Orimura jerked his head once.
"Good. Deploy now."
Alessandra materialized her IS and flew off in the direction of the harbor.
After Charlotte had teleported out of the chains wrapped around her ankles and wrists, Typhoon contented herself with staying in one location and Charlotte was almost certain that Typhoon was wearing a smug smirk underneath her armor.
Four chains extended from the ground beneath Typhoon, forcing Charlotte to stay in constant motion to avoid them. Typhoon's Fold-Out Armor caused those chains to glow light blue, and rendered them difficult for Charlotte to damage. The chains attached to Typhoon's wrists were covering her body, which made a part of Charlotte curious about just how Typhoon was directing her chains that weren't.
Charlotte knew that Ichika had requested transport jets for his squad and that there was somebody, probably Alessandra, coming to escort the jets safely to Ichika's present location. However, the UNJAAF assault on Tokyo was only meant to last for another hour and a half, following which their allied forces defending the perimeter would withdraw into Tokyo. The city itself would hopefully have been sufficiently evacuated by that point. With the rest of the UNJAAF forces' withdrawal, The Gardeners' job was to have secured an area that was easy enough to defend from external forces.
While an assault on the location had its disadvantages, the UNJAAF had wanted to secure Phantom Task's command tower for a few reasons. For one, it was relatively easy to defend, and the risks of secret passages were just something taken into account when plans were being made.
Charlotte grimaced slightly at the sounds of distant gunfire coming from where her men were. From the few quick glances she had been able to get, as well as some overheard conversations, a new type of golem was being used. These new types split themselves into smaller parts, each individual part having its own weapon, and could probably crush any human that they got close enough to, not to mention making it incredibly difficult to actually shoot the damned things.
Staring at Typhoon, Charlotte materialized a powerful, anti-armor sniper rifle and looked at Typhoon's arrangement of chains through the scope. She noticed a small area, slightly thinner than the rest, and took aim. The bullet traveled at a much faster rate than any of Charlotte's other weapons, and it went right through Typhoon's armor, actually breaking the chain that was covering Typhoon.
Typhoon looked slightly disconcerted, then unwrapped the chains from herself and instead wrapping them around her hands into much stronger fists. Charlotte fired twice more, both hits connecting with Typhoon's IS.
Charlotte then teleported, to be almost directly in front of Typhoon, at the same time that Typhoon thrusted both of her fists forward and shot all of her chains at Charlotte's- former- location.
Within Typhoon's guard, Charlotte materialized a stand-alone claw from her armory to shove Typhoon's left arm to the side with her right hand. This claw had thrusters attached in order to maximize its ability to immobilize even without a wall to shove it into or a pilot holding it in place.
At the same time Charlotte drew her left hand back in a fist, spikes materializing on her bracelet to form a Shield Pierce.
As Charlotte moved the barrel of the close-quarters handgun newly materialized in her right hand to Typhoon's temple, her left fist connected with Typhoon's stomach
Charlotte glanced behind herself in time to see most of Typhoon's chains finally moving back to the pair of combatants, so Charlotte fired her handgun at what she thought was Typhoon's temple before teleporting away.
A resounding crash echoed through the now-quiet harbor district as the momentum from the chains sent Typhoon crashing into the warehouse behind her.
Charlotte blinked for a split-second before pulling out a rocket launcher and firing at the warehouse that Typhoon had just crashed into.
The scene that Alessandra saw when she arrived at the harbor was that of chaos. She saw Dunois firing at the ruins of what was likely once a warehouse, some teams from the Novum Saeculo clearing out the wrecked golems, Dunois' marines keeping watch, and several evacuation vans pulling in.
She materialized her maximum amount of Bagliores before firing them at the same location as Dunois.
"So." Alessandra stated, over their intercom while looking at Dunois.
"Why am I doing this?" Dunois asked.
"My opponent landed in there after I think I finished her, and though I think I hit her with a point-blank bullet through the temple after dropping her shields, I wasn't able to confirm a body, so, well..."
Alessandra sighed, with fond exasperation.
"They aren't dead unless you see 'bits, a body, or a boom,' right?"
"I actually helped him come up with that one. He wanted to say 'entrails, a corpse, or an explosion. I told him that the alternative was more memorable."
"It still surprises me how pragmatic you have gotten, Dunois."
Dunois glanced quickly at Alessandra just as a large explosion finally detonated in the area that they had been firing at, throwing shockwaves through the air as Dunois and Alessandra put down their weapons.
"Look at it this way; I have a utility belt. I should learn how to use it."
Alessandra glanced at her out of the corner of her eye before nodding.
"I'm going to get Lieutenant Colonel Orimura his jets."
Alessandra's flight back to the command tower was uneventful. She kept alert, but no enemies approached her while she was flying. She was safe, and her armed escort wasn't necessary, but Lieutenant Colonel Orimura always did care more about the possibility of failure than actual failure.
Alessandra supposed that was better than the alternative, and the one time she had asked him about it, he told her that it was necessary to balance recklessness and caution.
A formation of jets were flying behind the dozen ISs that were in Ichika's platoon. Ichika himself flew at the head, with Yukihira and Hyouzan deployed in his hands. A veritable mass of Hyouchuu surrounded the transport jets, each loaded with about a dozen Gardeners.
Ichika looked at the black fortress he and his men were about to break.
It was intimidating, to a degree, but he knew that his platoon could do it.
The plan was fairly simple- Ichika would fly to the very top of the barrier surrounding the Phantom Task base, stab it with Yukihira, then use Yukihira to cut a hole in the side of a nearby building and start hacking his way through.
The IS pilots would do something similar with the other buildings, while the rest of the Gardeners would jump out of the jets into the fortress' main courtyard. Every member of the Gardeners had a USB key somewhere easy to access that was designed to transfer all of the data on any possible servers in the building to the UN intelligence division.
Ichika was glad that every member of the UN forces had a small Active Inertia Canceler field on their elbows, knees, and the bottoms of their boots. Air drops, especially in urban areas, were much easier when you didn't have to deal with parachutes and falling slowly enough to be a sitting duck while in the air.
Ichika flew ahead of the formation, with a quartet of Hyouchuu active orbiting around him. He oriented himself so that he would be flying in head first, then waited until all of the jets were in position by the walls.
He took a deep breath, and dove.
The collapse of the barrier, Alessandra would later consider, was rather impressive.
It was full of all sorts of dramatics, really- the barrier's collapse resembled thousands of little flower petals all being spread around in the sky.
Lieutenant Colonel Orimura would later tell her that those petals closely resembled those of the Camellia, which, considering whom they encountered there, would make a great deal of sense.
Alessandra saw all of the Gardeners jumping out of their transport jets as Second Lieutenant Bodewig was raining blades of energy down upon their foes. Lieutenant Colonel Orimura dove into the fray, shielding himself with Hyouzan before dematerializing both it and Yukihira just as a pair of his Hyouchuu in blade mode finished spinning around and destroying several defensive guns built into the structure that the Gardeners were attacking. He caught both those Hyouchuu as they passed by his hands and began hacking his way through the enemy, only stopping to throw one at a golem before materializing Yukihira in that empty hand and stabbing an enemy piloting a Hunter that was sneaking up behind him.
Phantom Task has three manned ISs in mass production, in addition to the several golem variants, and all but a few of the current ranking members of the organization once piloted a generic IS of one of those three types.
Hunters; white, sleek, and smooth. Primarily wield pairs of small arms, Hunters are extremely fast. Their wings look much like a dragonfly's or a hummingbird's, and their Fold-Out Armor increases their speed exponentially.
Alessandra deployed her Dragartigli and used it to cut a hole in the door to the building before her, a small hole, before sticking her hand through it, deploying a Bagliore on her hand, and firing several times. Once she felt comfortable that she had cleared the room enough, she moved her hand back and used it to wrench the door open.
Sentinels; black and hardy. They mostly wield heavy weaponry, in one hand or two. Their wings are short and stubby, with Fold-Out Armor taking the form of a kinetic barrier surrounding their IS in addition to the higher-than-normal reserves of shield energy and extremely heavy and sturdy plating that covers every inch of the pilot's body. If they wield a one-handed weapon, a Sentinel will often have a tower shield as big as they are in their other hand.
Alessandra took a quick look behind herself to see if she was clear to enter, and when she saw the variety of Gardeners who were pinning or killing enemy infantry and restraining their IS pilots, without Lieutenant Colonel Orimura or Second Lieutenant Bodewig in sight, she knew that she was clear to enter.
Subjugators; gray and threatening. Subjugators can generally be found wielding any weapon that strikes their fancy, though they always will have some form of either a melee weapon or, in absence of that, a large amount of high firing rate guns that they don't have to hold. Which one of those two they have will depend upon the pilot's specialization in melee or ranged weaponry, and those who specialize in melee weaponry will have Fold-Out Armor that manifests as a standard coating of energy around their weapon. Either way, they will have two pairs of wings that resemble a bat's.
Each pilot of these three often have different patterns and armor designs on their IS, and weapons, of course, vary depending on the pilot. The ISs, upon hitting Second Shift, can cause a drastic change in design and features.
Personally, I can destroy Subjugators and Sentinels fairly easily. My weapons were designed to pierce through heavy armor, which makes it easy to break through the defenses of a Sentinel. A Subjugator can be a bit more difficult to break, because it's usually important to watch out for their more damaging weapons, but I still find it doable.
Three rooms later, Alessandra was getting a bit annoyed with the number of enemies, though in the room she was currently in she found a terminal and hacked it for a floor plan that she installed into her IS' HUD.
So... this place is the production building, huh?
The fabricators are to my right by five rooms.
Yes, let's go break those.
Alessandra followed her map, keeping careful to not break too many walls one her way to her destination- they did need to keep these buildings under control after the Gardeners finish taking them, after all.
Ichika was in what he was pretty sure was the tower where the enemy commander, likely a Season, was staying.
He came to this conclusion because of the three Sentinels, pair of Hunters, and pair of Subjugators that were hiding around the area where he had initially entered the tower.
After those grunts was a series of offices, likely there for communications and management of the entire region. He was very, very careful to do nothing that could damage those, because they certainly held vital information.
Ichika continued to climb the tower.
It appears that Phantom Task has already evacuated this building. I wonder why?
The building Laura was in was empty, almost eerily so. Several computers had been left running, like the members of Phantom Task had just run away as soon as they had heard of an attack, leaving their stations unmanned.
Laura carefully walked through the room, aware that there was a distinct possibility of getting attacked.
She kicked down doors, but even after checking the entire first floor, there still wasn't anything.
She checked the final room that she had entered, noting that every other door had been opened and that, judging by how large the building was before she entered it, that extra door wasn't likely to lead to anything beyond possibly an elevator shaft.
Where are the Golems?
They would be here somewhere.
Laura looked at the door before blasting it back with an energy sword and jumping down the shaft.
Ichika would really liked to have said he was happy to have seen someone at the top of the tower.
Just my luck it had to be Summer. Shinonono. That-crazy-traitorous-bitch-we-can't-kill-because- she's-Tabane's-sister.
Shinonono was already in her IS, to boot. How quaint.
Ichika set Fubuki for its maximum output, pointed it at the traitor, and pulled the trigger.
The blast threw Shinonono through a wall, vaporized that wall, and made Ichika crash into the stairs behind him.
Dammit, Joey, you pyromaniacal engineer. Don't you know that bigger doesn't mean better?
Ichika shook his head a little before flying out of the hole after Summer.
She was floating outside of the wall, as if she had been waiting for him.
She seemed to radiate a much more restrained, controlled aura from the last time he had seen her.
Of course, he had last seen her on July 9th, 2032, during a joint operation between Summer and Autumn, because the forces they had anticipated were known to be strong.
It was the assault on the Schwarzer Hase base, the one where Laura got to watch her companions burn to death in their hangar, courtesy of Autumn, while Summer destroyed the building that most of the super soldier project's scientists, as well as most of the next generation soldiers themselves, were working, killing everyone inside save a single super soldier and a pair of scientists.
Those two scientists would be assimilated into the UN research division, the girl was named Feuer, after the first word that she said, and Laura began to care for her.
From what Ichika understood, the UN had neither seen nor heard absolutely anything of Summer since that day.
And there she was, in Second Shift, even.
She wore a black mask that covered her entire face, but the floral pattern- a camellia- as well as the coloring and general design of the IS and its weapons, definitely made it obvious that it was Summer.
Akatsubaki Hanabira Ken, as Ichika's True Sight was telling him the IS was named, had a higher attack output than its previous incarnation. Significantly higher, though its Fold-Out Armor's kinetic shield was one of the strongest Ichika had even seen. The katanas that Akatsubaki wielded, still named Amatsuki and Karaware, seemed to have lengthened slightly. There were several points of the IS that the Pop-up on Ichika's HUD noted to seem to be capable of having blades protrude from those locations, including the insides and outsides of both wrists, the tips of her feet, all of her knuckles, and both shoulders.
It almost looked like those blades were energy-based, and several dozen could be released constantly from each of those location, but that sounded just ridiculous, because that many full-length swords were far too awkward to control.
Then again, it's not saying anything about those blades' length...
Summer's hair most likely had to have been cut short, because the IS now had a red helmet that wrapped around Summer's head, and its knee pad jutted out much less noticeably. Golden armor covered Summer's torso, and golden, spiked shoulder pads covered her shoulders.
Ichika looked at her, looked at the various Hyouchuu he had flying around the area, and gave them a couple of orders.
"So, Houki, how has life been treating you? Are you feeling good, these days? You have become quite beautiful, haven't you?" He asked, crossing his fingers and hoping that he sounded more sincere than he actually was feeling.
She stared at him, almost blankly, and suddenly Ichika was starting to get a little worried about her mental state.
"You know, Ichika, for the longest time I thought we were going to get married, you know? But, well, because of you... That's not really going to happen."
Ichika felt disturbed.
She's not normally this sedate. What happened? Why isn't she talking about our eternal love anymore?
"And then, well, after I killed those scientists..."
Summer seemed completely ignorant to the Hyouchuu that were gathering behind her.
"I learned a lesson."
She reached up to remove her mask, revealing that the right side of her face had frayed skin stretched out and covering her eyes, while her left side was metal and robotic.
"Do you know that Phantom Task only has two types of members?" She asked, a grim smile playing upon her half-face.
July 10th, 2032 15:07 Hours
Phantom Task Main Base, ?
Houki woke up not in her room. Her room had a bed, and a heater. This room was cold, almost oppressively so, and she was chained to a wall. She recognized the pitch, seeing-yet-unseeing, seemingly infinite blackness as a trait of the interrogation rooms.
The panic almost immediately began to set in. She knew what this was.
This is it. My bad ending.
I have, after all, accidentally destroyed the building that those crucial scientists had been in, killing them and the super soldiers that the Akemi-obaachan had wanted.
Akemi-obaachan, no, Akemi-sama is probably going to deal with me personally. Failure of this level requires nothing less than her... personal attention.
She was left to stew with her thoughts, for several hours, before finally being graced with Akemi's presence.
Akemi walked in wearing a very, very disappointed frown that Houki had now, in her reflection, finally realized was completely fake.
She isn't disappointed because she had never expected anything of me, in the first place. All that she had wanted me for was as a hostage and the advanced technology in my IS. Anything beyond that was a bonus.
This could have happened at any time.
Houki's face began to show the dawning horror as she looked at the woman she had once thought of as her mother-in-law.
I just hadn't failed majorly enough until now.
I alienated all of the men and women under me. None of them will come to save me now.
I'm alone. Did Madoka-chan even care about me?
Akemi smiled warmly, and Houki almost broke into tears, she was so relieved.
And then she saw, and felt, the malice in Akemi's eyes.
Akemi walked over to the side of the room, where all of their tools were kept.
"You know, Houki-chan, I'm honestly surprised it took you this long to screw up."
Akemi looked at her with cold eyes, devoid of any emotion, as she brandished a small, razor-sharp knife from the table in the corner.
"Really, didn't you ever wonder why?"
Akemi punctuated her last word by shoving the knife in Houki's left hand.
"Why you never became Japan's Representative? Why you were never even considered?"
"Seriously, your older sister invented them. You'd think that, if you were even halfway decent at piloting, they'd give you some education, thinking that you could do something with yourself."
Akemi yanked the blade diagonally out of Houki's hand before placing it in her blouse and taking some smooth, sturdy cloth and carefully, delicately, but tightly, wrapped it around Houki's hand.
"But no. They didn't. And do you want to know why?"
Houki shook her head.
Akemi leaned in to Houki's ear.
"Because you're useless. You aren't a good pilot. You'll never be a good pilot. IS Academy accepted you because of your sister, and because national kendo champions make a school look good."
Akemi ignored Houki as she focused on wrapping Houki's hand.
"That's the problem with you, isn't it? You're always riding in on someone else's laurels. Never achieving anything on your own, beyond your art. And that's why you really hate your sister, isn't it? Because no matter what you do, people don't look at you and say, 'Look! That's the Kendo Champion, Houki Shinonono! Isn't she pretty?' do they? They always say, 'Look! That's Houki Shinonono, the younger sister of Tabane Shinonono, the inventor of the IS!' That's all you are to them!"
Akemi paused, as if considering something.
"To be honest, that's all you really were to us, as well. Your IS is probably the only reason we've been winning this war, really, with its sheer technological capabilities compared to what every other IS in the world was at the time. And the only reason you have that IS is because you are Tabane Shinonono's younger sister."
Akemi smirked darkly.
"I'm sure that you, of course, are aware of the two types of members our organization has, aren't you?"
"The Irreplaceable, and everyone else." Houki stated flatly.
"Exactly. Phantom Task has only two types of members: The Irreplaceable, and everyone else."
Akemi withdrew the knife from within her blouse before placing its blade on Houki's throat.
"And you, Houki, my dear, are no longer irreplaceable."
Akemi slit Houki's throat deeply before daintily setting the knife down on the ground and smiling demurely.
She pressed a button on her blouse, and Madoka came rushing in, carefully beginning to preserve Houki's body.
Akemi dispassionately began to clean the blood off of the knife as she looked at her youngest daughter.
"Is your robotics project complete?"
Akemi looked back up at her mother, slight fear in her eyes vanishing back to careful consideration.
"Yes, mother, it is done. I'll begin work on her immediately."
As Houki's vision went black, she could barely hear Akemi command,
"See that you do."
Omake 3: Jessica's IS
Charlotte looked at Jessica in her IS, which had hit Second Shift in their last training exercise.
Jessica's IS had changed a great deal after Second Shift. The cowboy chaps remained, but they had changed colors to blue. The boots had become white, and her upper arms had become bright red, with twenty-five small white stars decorating each upper arm. The sling storing her hunting rifle was now absent, and the now-white hunting rifle was now attached to her back. On her left thigh was a white lasso, and on her right was a pair of revolvers. One revolver was red, the other blue.
"Jessica... I didn't realize that you were so... patriotic..." Charlotte said, grimacing immediately after.
Jessica crossed her arms and looked away, blushing slightly in embarrassment.
"Yeah, well, er, I didn't think I was this damned patriotic either, but apparently, the core has a sense of humor."
"I still find it hard to believe that an IS core is that intelligent, but Tabane-san and Ichika both tell me that they are, so..."
Although Jessica looked slightly displeased at the mention of Ichika's name, she nodded anyway.
"Yeah, those two squints are good for telling us that sort of stuff."
Charlotte looked at Jessica kindly.
"So? What's it called?" She asked.
Jessica flushed again and mumbled something unintelligible.
"What?" Charlotte asked, not at all flustered.
"It's called the 'United Independence,' alright?"
Charlotte's calm and kind mask cracked a bit, but she managed to hold it in.
Jessica looked a even more embarrassed, and said,
"Before you ask, the blue boxing glove that gives off red flames is 'Right-Wing,' the red boxing glove that gives off blue flames is 'Left-Wing,' and the lasso is called 'Third-Party.'"
Charlotte smiled, but seemed to be shaking.
Jessica's cheeks seemed to be burning red, but she valiantly continued.
"The flames that the boxing gloves give off are the 'Flames of Liberty.' The red revolver is 'Life,' the blue one is 'Liberty,' and the white one is called 'Pursuit of Happiness.'"
At that point, Charlotte could no longer restrain herself, and collapsed to the ground in a fit of giggles.
After Charlotte had regained control of herself, Jessica grit her teeth and said,
"We are never speaking of this again."
Before dematerializing her IS and stomping away from the room.
Charlotte stared at her for a couple of seconds, and then began to laugh and laugh and laugh...
AN: I'm alive. I missed the one-year mark on this story by a month, but I'm alive.
That omake is actually the sort of thing I've been more in the mood to write lately, which is why this took so long. I can't see any of my characters actually acting like teenagers or young adults during combat when they've been at war for three years.
And yes, I know that the omake is one hell of a case of mood whiplash. I wanted to put it in this chapter, and I had actually written it before I finished this chapter, and this is the result.